Cross Checks: Western Conference
With some simple math, it will be easier to make the playoffs in the Western Conference with 14 teams instead of the 16 in the East.
Also, losing the Red Wings, a team that hasn't missed the playoffs in a couple of decades, should clear up another spot.
But there is still more than enough talent left in the West -- just ask Pierre LeBrun -- to make things challenging.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will return most of last season's core, but the Cup hangover has proved time and again to be too much to overcome.
The Los Angeles Kings are still an elite team in the league, but they have played a lot of hockey the past two seasons. Add on that goaltender Jonathan Quick likely will be in Sochi for the Olympics in February and lost backup Jonathan Bernier, and the Kings could fade this season.
It will be interesting to see how the Vancouver Canucks respond to new coach John Tortorella's style. This seems like it will either be a grand slam or a complete strikeout.
Dave Tippett finally has an owner in Phoenix, so the team could get the resources to back the effort it has put out in recent seasons.
The Winnipeg Jets are finally out of the Eastern Conference, but facing the tough competition in the West could make them long for trips to Florida.
Now you make the call: Who will win the Western Conference?
NEWARK, N.J. -- Talk about a blur of humanity.
Shortly after 3 p.m. ET Sunday, the Colorado Avalanche made good on their word to pick Halifax star Nathan MacKinnon with the first pick of the NHL draft, and some seven hours later the Chicago Blackhawks closed the draft circle by selecting Robin Press of Sweden with the 211th and final pick, bringing to an end the league's annual feast of hockey's "what-if and what might be."
Not long after the lockout ended with the league and its players agreeing to a 48-game schedule, it was decided that the draft -- normally a two-day event with the first round held on Friday night and the remaining six rounds the following day -- would be jammed into one frenzied day at the Prudential Center.
As always, it was a day that began with wild rumors and speculation about mega-deals and ended with something less exciting unfolding. That said, it was an important day on a number of fronts for a number of teams.
Here's a look at those teams that stepped forward and those that stepped in something else, or maybe stepped in a different direction altogether:
NEW YORK -- Of the many memorable hours leading up to the epic gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 between Canada and the United States, this is one that has stayed with us.
It was a conversation with then-U.S. associate GM David Poile the day before that game.
He had spoken earlier in the process about the importance of the Olympics, specifically the impact a strong showing might have on future generations of U.S. players. About how the 1980 Miracle on Ice team became a beacon for a generation or more of American players as well as -- to a lesser degree -- the U.S. team that defeated Canada in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship.
As the gold-medal game approached, it was hard not to be swept up in the emotion of what lay ahead.
“I don't think anybody knew how good we'd be. We didn't know how good we'd be,” Poile said that Saturday. “Let's call it like it is.”
The Americans would be denied a shot at Olympic immortality by the slimmest of margins, a Sidney Crosby goal in overtime, from a bad angle at that.
We were reminded of the legacy -- or at least the potential legacy -- of that team Saturday, when we were swept up once again in the quest for Olympic glory as Poile was formally announced as GM of the U.S. team for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Part of the charm of the Vancouver team was the fact it was the youngest team in the tournament. As GM, Brian Burke was fond of repeating that no one gave the Americans a spit of a chance to earn a medal, let alone battle for gold.
No question the dynamics will be dramatically different in Sochi on a host of fronts.
“In Vancouver, we were turning the page,” Poile told ESPN.com on Saturday.
That team was the first that didn’t hearken to the glory days of Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Keith Tkachuk et al. The idea was that if the team had any success at all, it would provide a good base on which to build for 2014.
The Americans’ run to the silver (going 5-1 in the tournament) means they will not sneak up on anyone in Sochi. Not with the past two Conn Smythe Trophy winners on the roster in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Quick. Throw in top-end talent like Ryan Suter, who in our book was the hands-down best defenseman in the NHL this season (finished second to P.K. Subban in Norris Trophy voting), Minnesota Wild teammate Zach Parise, David Backes, Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown and there will be a strong core returning from the Vancouver squad.
Still, trying to handicap Olympic contenders based on results from a tournament four years in the past is a mug’s game. Yes, some continuity is important. Understanding the routines of an Olympic tournament, the media, the schedule and the ebbs and flows of a short, high-drama competition is critical to how a team comes together.
But each tournament represents a different world, and that is where the management structure and coaching staff are so critical to a team’s success.
USA Hockey neatly sidestepped a potential public relations problem early on by structuring its management team in the manner it did. Poile moved up the ladder and will be joined by Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, who will act as associate. The two worked together for the Nashville Predators and were part of the U.S. management committee that helped put together the 2010 team.
But Burke, the architect of that team, has been kept in the fold as director of player personnel. He will accompany the team to Sochi.
It was Burke who came up with the idea of opening the process of selecting teams for international competition to American GMs. He invited colleagues like Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia Flyers), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles Kings), Stan Bowman (Chicago Blackhawks), Dale Tallon (Florida Panthers) and former Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell to join in the process.
The openness and inclusiveness established by Burke was universally praised by those involved, and as Poile pointed out Saturday, the validation of the process was in the result -- a silver medal.
That Burke, dismissed from his post as GM and president of the Toronto Maple Leafs on the eve of the lockout-shortened regular season in January, continues to have a strong voice in the building of the 2014 team is an important nod to what he’s accomplished. To have marginalized him would have sent a disappointing message.
“He will have a big part in the formation of this team in 2014,” Poile said.
But a nod to the past is also being balanced by a nod to the future, which is critical given that neither Canada nor the U.S. medaled in the two Olympics held away from North American soil since the NHL began participation in 1998 in Nagano. (2006 in Torino was the other.)
A bigger ice surface, time issues and different cultures will conspire to make life in Sochi exponentially more difficult than it was in Vancouver and, before that, Salt Lake City in 2002, when Canada defeated the U.S. for the gold medal.
The committee, which represents 150 years of NHL GM experience and six Stanley Cup championships, will have to keep all those things in mind, Poile said, when making selections, just as it did in choosing the Pens’ Dan Bylsma as head coach.
Burke built a team that could play an NHL-style game with a blend of hard-nosed forechecking, strong defense and goaltending mixed with opportunistic scoring, but the style of play in Sochi may make some of those qualities less important.
Clearly, skating and puck movement will be at a premium on the big ice surface, which suggests players like Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk and perhaps Matt Carle or John Carlson may be more attractive than other, more physical defensemen.
What about a speedy, skilled forward like Alex Galchenyuk, who had a strong rookie campaign for the Montreal Canadiens?
“Our philosophy is going to be a little bit different because this is in Europe,” Poile said. “We have to tune up our thinking a little bit.”
One thing Poile made clear is that, while a résumé of strong play has historically been a factor in inclusion on the final roster handed in late in December, getting off to a good start next fall will be key in the committee’s final decisions.
In introducing the management team Saturday in New York, president of USA Hockey Ron DeGregorio suggested that an American team is no longer the stuff of miracles but rather the stuff of expectations.
A fine sentiment, and after Vancouver, it would seem it is true. Now it’s up to Poile and the rest to meet those heady expectations.
“This is the ultimate honor and challenge,” Poile said.
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Boston Bruins appeared ready to shake things up Saturday on the eve of the NHL draft.
All confirmed by sources:
• Nathan Horton's camp informed Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli on Saturday afternoon that the unrestricted free agent winger was leaving the organization.
“Nathan Horton has informed the Bruins that he is going to explore his options via unrestricted free agency," agent Paul Krepelka reiterated to ESPN.com, a statement that he first gave to TSN's Bob McKenzie.
• Tyler Seguin’s name was making the rounds in trade chatter, with the Bruins willing to listen.
• The Bruins would like to move up in the draft.
• And add Boston to the long list of teams that have inquired about UFA center Vincent Lecavalier.
The Bruins have a lot of balls in the air, a rival team executive told ESPN.com, and they are talking to a lot of teams about a lot of things. Chiarelli was spotted at one point Saturday chatting closely with Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. Could it have been about Seguin? Hard to say. Maybe Chiarelli was getting a scouting report on Lecavalier. Or maybe they were making a dinner date.
Meanwhile, Lecavalier and agent Kent Hughes were in the process of reducing their list of suitors. The expectation was that they would have a short list by the end of the night or early Sunday.
Hughes was also meeting with interested teams Saturday. Aside from Boston, other confirmed teams that have expressed varying degrees of interest for Lecavalier include the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues. As reported Friday, some 15 teams have called.
Don't sleep on Dallas. The Stars have serious interest in Lecavalier. They want to make the playoffs next year, and new GM Jim Nill sees Lecavalier as a perfect addition.
But you can scratch the Chicago Blackhawks off that list. A source told ESPN.com on Saturday that the Hawks are not interested. Some fans may have dreamed of having Lecavalier fit in as the team’s No. 2 center, but the Hawks aren’t going to enter the fray, instead focusing on trying to re-sign winger Bryan Bickell. The Hawks and Bickell’s agent, Todd Diamond, have had constant dialogue throughout the week and spoke again Saturday.
The reasoning behind the Lecavalier camp wanting to produce a short list in quick order is that the teams involved need to know as soon as possible. For whichever teams are seriously in the hunt, it could have a domino effect on what needs to be done with the rest of their rosters and potentially in the draft.
So in fairness to that reality, the Lecavalier camp is keen to try to expedite the process this weekend.
He can’t officially sign with a team until July 5, but all the leg work can be done now.
Schneider in play
Saturday got off to quite a bang in NHL circles with my colleague Darren Dreger of TSN breaking the story via Twitter that the Canucks were suddenly putting Cory Schneider in play.
After trying without success for a year to unload Roberto Luongo and his monster contract, could it be the Canucks figured they had to move the younger goalie instead?
“To be honest, it makes sense in a way,” a rival GM told ESPN.com on Saturday after the news broke.
With a lack of trade interest in Luongo, the thinking is that if a team pays big for Schneider, the Canucks can improve and still have a world-class goalie in net.
Another player who generated a lot of calls toward Vancouver is defenseman Alex Edler. His no-trade clause kicks in July 1, but teams are already calling.
Schneider would be a good fit on teams like the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames or Edmonton Oilers.
“He’s definitely in play,” an agent told ESPN.com on Saturday afternoon.
Schneider has two years left on his deal at $4 million per season.
Thing is, dealing away Schneider wouldn’t necessarily solve the Luongo mess. I believe Luongo wants out regardless. Trading Schneider, I don’t think, would change his feelings on that.
Oye, stay tuned ...
• Hearing positive vibes out of the talks between pending UFA netminder Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes. GM Don Maloney and some of his staff met with Smith in Vancouver last week to have a heart-to-heart session. Still a factor is the future of the franchise, so I wouldn’t expect Smith to be willing to sign until after that July 2 Glendale lease vote. But the re-signing of coach Dave Tippett was an important move in terms of Smith wanting to stay. If he does sign, I believe it will be a six-year deal.
• Hughes, the agent for Kris Letang, was slated to meet with Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero on Saturday afternoon in the N.Y./N.J. area. In the wake of Letang rejecting Pittsburgh’s $56 million, eight-year offer Thursday, sources around the league confirm that Shero made some calls to other teams Friday to lay the groundwork for potential trade talks. But Saturday’s meeting, I think, is being viewed by both sides as a chance to salvage the situation and find common ground on keeping Letang in Pittsburgh. We shall see.
• The Canadiens hold the 25th pick in the first round Sunday. I’m told they would like to move up and have made some calls to that effect. But I think the Habs will wait until the draft has begun and see how it progresses before making a move in that regard. It will depend on whether certain prospects they have circled on their scouting list are still available.
• The Flyers are taking calls on blueliner Braydon Coburn, multiples sources confirm. He has three years on his deal with a $4.5 million cap hit.
• USA Hockey announced its coaching staff for the Olympics on Saturday, and the Penguins’ Dan Bylsma gets the nod as head coach. If the NHL and NHLPA can wrap up the Olympic deal at Monday’s meeting with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation, the plan is for Hockey Canada to announce its coaching staff shortly thereafter, perhaps within a day or two. As I reported in April, the Canadian coaching staff will have Mike Babcock at the helm again, along with Ken Hitchcock, Lindy Ruff and newcomer Claude Julien (who replaces the retired Jacques Lemaire).
While the 33-year-old center technically can’t sign with anyone other than the Tampa Bay Lightning until July 5, league rules allow his camp to talk to other teams until then. And that process started in a hurry.
"We have been reached out to by a number of teams, easily a dozen or more," Kent Hughes, Lecavalier’s agent, told ESPN.com Friday afternoon. "This is the beginning of the process in trying to understand the various situations and trying to narrow it down."
It was still way too early, Hughes said, to declare any potential front-runners. The process will need some time before that becomes clear.
But it’s an important time for the Lecavalier camp. The ability to speak to teams right away gives him a leg up on regular UFAs, who have to wait until the July 3-4 window. Hughes will want to get a lot of the legwork done before getting ready to sign his client to a new team July 5.
In the meantime, Lecavalier is organizing his thoughts right now, trying to figure out what markets would best suit him, etc.
During a media call Thursday, Lecavalier mentioned the Detroit Red Wings as a team he liked growing up (along with the Montreal Canadiens). Well, the feeling is apparently mutual. A source Friday said that the Wings have interest in Lecavalier, although certainly not at any cost. It’s going to have to make sense both in salary and term. And the Wings know they won’t be alone in a courtship of Lecavalier.
Pending UFA Stephen Weiss is another potential option for the second-line center job in Detroit, but there will be lots of competition for his services as well.
The Wings are not approaching their buying season with any kind of desperation. They feel they’re in good shape. They’ve got youth coming up, their AHL team just won the Calder Cup, and they’re not going to go out of their way to overspend in free agency for the sake of it.
And if they can’t find a center in free agency or via trade, they can always put Henrik Zetterberg in the No. 2 slot, separating him from Pavel Datsyuk.
This is all pending the expectation that Valtteri Filppula is headed to market. The pending UFA forward is not close to a new deal with Detroit, and while the Wings and his agent were slated to speak again this weekend, odds of a new deal don’t seem great.
And that is why guys like Lecavalier and Weiss could be options in free agency.
Keep an eye on former Detroit assistant GM Jim Nill, by the way. I hear the new Dallas Stars GM also would like to add a veteran forward, and Lecavalier and Weiss are on his radar. He could be competing with his old pal Ken Holland for some of the same players.
The Stars have the long view of wanting to key on drafting and development, but in the short term they also want to shore up the roster with a few more veterans in order to contend for the playoffs next season. They already began that process by trading for and signing defenseman Sergei Gonchar.
• In the wake of my report Thursday night that the Kris Letang camp had rejected a $56 million, eight-year offer from the Pittsburgh Penguins, both sides were mostly quiet Friday.
Penguins GM Ray Shero declined to comment on the situation when reached by ESPN.com Friday. His quiet demeanor leads you to believe that perhaps he has begun to look at the trade market on Letang. Mind you, it’s also expected that Shero and Hughes, who is also Letang’s agent, would speak this weekend at some point to see where they can take this after so far failing to find the right number for an extension.
“Our goal remains to see if there’s a deal that can be worked out,” Hughes told ESPN.com Friday afternoon.
• I’m not surprised the New York Rangers decided to not buy out Brad Richards. With a new coach in place, it behooves the Blueshirts to see if Alain Vigneault can get Richards back on track. (Vigneault and Richards met for a 90-minute chat recently.) Richards has been working out with Martin St. Louis in Connecticut lately, and in speaking to him the other day, Richards sounded like a man hell bent on proving to people he’s still an elite player.
This was the right call by the Rangers. Besides, if Richards doesn’t bounce back, the Rangers can use their last compliance buyout on him next summer.
• Hearing that goalie Jonas Hiller could be available for the right price. He’s got one more year on his contract at $4.5 million, so this is the time to move him for maximum value. From talking to sources around the league, the sense is that the Anaheim Ducks are not really shopping Hiller, but given their depth in goal -- 19-year-old John Gibson is a highly rated prospect, plus Viktor Fasth proved himself this past season -- a good offer on Hiller would probably make the team think, at the very least.
• The Ottawa Senators got great news Friday with captain Daniel Alfredsson informing them he’d be returning for another season. And they got the news in a timely fashion, before the offseason really got going.
“He brings to the table not only talent, but the intangibles are just as important for the most part: leadership, character, the willingness to work with young players,” veteran Sens GM Bryan Murray told ESPN.com Friday afternoon. “It’s nice to hear that he wants to play. Now it’s just a matter of getting a contract done with him.”
Well, there is that. Alfredsson will be UFA July 5. His agent, J.P. Barry of CAA Sports, was slated to speak with Murray later Friday to get the ball rolling in talks.
It’s funny. Most people view this as a formality given that Alfredsson has never played anywhere else. Thing is, even at his age, Alfredsson was third in team scoring this past season with 26 points (10-16) in 47 games, albeit on an injury-ravaged team. He’s not going to sign for peanuts, is what I’m saying.
• The Senators, by the way, would like to move up in the draft from their current 17th overall spot. Murray has made a few calls to see if there’s any possibility of ending up in the 5-10 range.
• The Carolina Hurricanes are taking calls on the No. 5 overall pick and are willing to move down for the right price. The Canes are on the lookout for a top-four blueliner this offseason.
• Bill Zito, agent for star goalie Tuukka Rask, expects to meet with Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli on Saturday here during draft weekend. Rask, of course, is an RFA July 5 and is going to rake it in.
• Perhaps a hint of what’s to come for Thomas Vanek? The Buffalo Sabres have yet to approach his camp with any word of a contract extension. With one year left on his deal, either you sign the player this summer or trade him. Makes no sense to let him enter next season on an expiring deal and have the asset diminish in value.
And I leave you with some food for thought:
One thing to look for over the next week, according to one NHL player agent: If talks break down between pending UFAs and their respective teams, the possibility exists of a sign-and-trade to take advantage of the CBA rule that allows teams to sign their free agents to eight-year deals, whereas players can get only seven years on the open market.
Both the player and team would have a potential gain. The former team could get more value in a trade if the player is signed, and the player gets an extra year in term with his new team.
The Minnesota Wild didn't get any help on the scoreboard Thursday night with both the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets winning.
So Friday night's game with the Edmonton Oilers does indeed matter, the Wild needing a victory to clinch their first postseason berth since the 2007-08 season.
After lackluster losses to the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames threatened Minnesota's playoff standing, the Wild faced basically a must-win game Tuesday night at home against the reigning Cup champs and responded with a huge 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
"I think that was the best game, if not all year, it was the best game we played in a long time," Wild star winger Zach Parise told ESPN.com Thursday. "So that was kind of refreshing because we've had some tough games. We had a pretty bad game out in San Jose [6-1 loss last Thursday]. And we couldn't win at home for a while. So it was real good to have one that we felt good about."
The never-say-die Blue Jackets beat the Dallas Stars 3-1 on the road Thursday to tie the eighth-place Wild at 53 points, but Minnesota has a game in hand plus the regulation and overtime wins tiebreaker. So, beat the visiting Oilers and the Wild -- a team with so much offseason hype -- will achieve their goal of reaching the postseason.
"Just around town, you can really tell how bad people want us to get into the playoffs and how long they've been waiting for it," Parise said. "Hopefully, we can get ourselves in there and see what happens after that."
Just get in and see what happens. You hear lots of players saying that this time of year, and why not?
Parise saw it first-hand a season ago when the unheralded, sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils got all the way to the Cup finals, only to lose to the eighth-seeded Kings.
Just get in.
"We got a matchup that I thought was favorable for us in the first round [Florida Panthers], and we got better as the playoffs went along," Parise said. "We beat two really good teams after that in Philadelphia and New York.
"And you know, everyone is so obsessed with the home-ice thing," he added. "Last year proves it right. L.A., last year as an eighth seed, started each series on the road and went up 2-0 every time. We also started on the road the first three series, and we did fine, too. So I think more than ever now that home ice isn't as much of an advantage as it used to be."
First, the Wild have to get there. And they might have to do so without trade deadline acquisition Jason Pominville, who took a hit to the head from Kings captain Dustin Brown (which cost the latter a two-game suspension) Tuesday and missed practice Thursday.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told ESPN.com via email Thursday that Pominville remained "day to day at this point, upper body."
It's a sizable loss, but if the Wild are fortunate, it won't be prolonged.
"He's played very well for us," Parise said of the former Buffalo Sabres captain. "That line, with [Pierre-Marc] Bouchard and [Kyle] Brodziak, was great for us the last little stretch.
"I don't know Jason's status. I saw him in the locker room [Thursday], and he looked good, but I don't know. Hopefully, he's good to go, because he's a big part of our lineup."
Few players have been a bigger part of Minnesota's lineup than Ryan Suter, who, like Parise, signed a 13-year, $98 million deal last summer to join the Wild as a prized free agent. The star defenseman is a strong Norris Trophy contender, leading the NHL in minutes played while doing it all at both ends of the ice.
"He's been what people expected of him and more," Parise said. "He's played a ton of minutes and plays them well. I feel like the more he plays, the better he plays. And you look at how tough it is for a young defenseman to come into the NHL, just the way Ryan has helped [Jonas] Brodin out this year. To me, Brodin is one of the very best rookies in the NHL. You look at how Ryan has helped out his game; I think he's been unbelievable."
Parise and Suter were brought in for all kinds of reasons, but certainly their experience at crunch time is also valuable for a young team.
"That's a big part of why they wanted to bring Ryan and I in: to share some of that experience that we've had," Parise, who took home Olympic silver with Suter in February 2010 for Team USA, said. "It's hard as a player the first time you play in the playoffs. I know going into New Jersey we had a lot of playoff experience there, and that helped me my first couple of years. So we'll try to help here that way.
"And not just in the playoffs, but just trying to get into the playoffs. Our games lately have been essentially playoff games, too, for us. We got to win them. There's a different atmosphere around the locker room. You try to keep everything in perspective. You lose one game in the playoffs and you think the world is ending. You win the next one and you think you’re winning the Cup."
Win the next one and the Wild are in. That shouldn't be hard to keep in perspective.
Not on Z's watch.
Those were Dan Cleary's words Tuesday when discussing how badly the Detroit Red Wings want to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 seasons.
It just can't happen in Henrik Zetterberg's first tour of duty wearing the C.
"It's his first year as captain, he's such a great captain, we respect him so much as a player and love him so much as a guy, we just don't want to see it happen on his watch," Cleary told ESPN.com. "And all of us have a lot of pride -- 21 years and counting in the playoffs for this organization, no one wants to be on the team that ends it."
The Red Wings enter Wednesday night's big tilt with the visiting Los Angeles Kings one point out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference (held by the Columbus Blue Jackets), but with one game in hand.
The Wings hear the talk that after 20-plus years near the top of the hockey world, four Stanley Cups and easily the model organization in the game during that span, their time has come to find out how the regular folk live.
Talk of Detroit's demise also fuels the veterans in that dressing room who have Cup rings.
"It's a huge part, to be honest," said Cleary, a Cup champion in 2008 with the Wings. "We know. Every hockey player knows what's being said about their team."
Truth is, battling for their playoff lives in the home stretch of the regular season is simply an uncommon feeling for the veteran core of this team.
"It is, there's no other way to put it; we've never been in this position, quite frankly," Cleary said. "If anything, we're usually battling for first place or home ice in the playoffs. It's been different."
Also different is the team's offensive struggles. The Wings sit 21st overall in goals per game (2.47), nearly half a goal down from last season (2.92), when they were seventh in the league.
"When you're struggling offensively and losing, it falls on the guys that are counted on to score, and it hurts. Guys take it personally. Obviously I'm one of those guys," said Cleary, who has nine goals in 45 games.
Monday night's 4-0 win over the visiting Phoenix Coyotes, only the fourth time in a dozen games the Wings scored three or more goals, was a welcome sight.
"Monday night was good, [Valtteri] Filppula scored, [Johan] Franzen scored," Cleary said. "Once Franzen scores, next thing you know he reels off six or seven goals in a few games.
"We also scored three on the power play, which was really huge, to be honest."
Filppula had only one goal and one assist in his past 15 games before Monday's tally, so the Wings hope he's ready to turn it around. The center plays nearly 18 minutes a game, and the Wings need consistent offensive production from him.
A tough test awaits Wednesday night in the reigning Cup champs from L.A.
"L.A. is a great team," Cleary said. "They started the season with a bit of a lull, which happens. But they're firing on all cylinders now.
"That team is rolling now. L.A. can't win the division but they're still jockeying for home ice. It's a big game."
The Kings' 2-1 road loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, coupled with the San Jose Sharks' 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars, has L.A. and the Sharks tied at 57 points in the 4-5 battle in the West; the Kings own the tiebreaker, with more regulation/overtime wins. To Cleary's point, the Kings still have plenty to play for in terms of wanting to nail down the No. 4 spot.
After Wednesday's game, the Wings host the Nashville Predators the next night before closing out the regular season Saturday at Dallas.
Just get in. That's all Detroit wants. Because after that, who knows in this parity-filled league?
"Obviously you have Chicago and Anaheim playing really well [in the West], and Pittsburgh in the East, but other than that, everybody is so tight," Cleary said. "If you don't think that all you need to do is get in and that you have a legitimate chance to move on, then you're crazy; because you really do. We have a great goalie [Jimmy Howard], and a great goalie can bring you a long way."
Speaking of gifts, could the New York Rangers have scripted their big day any better? After unloading their top pure scorer in Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets in an effort to redefine their personality, the goal-starved Rangers poured six past the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to a 6-1 shellacking of the Eastern Conference leaders. And wouldn't you know it: Three newcomers, Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard and John Moore, figured prominently in the win by combining for four goals and four assists -- and this after racing from Columbus and, in Clowe's case, San Jose to join their new team.
The goals were the first two of the season for Clowe, who illustrated the sometimes bizarre nature of the trade-deadline period as he became one of the hottest properties available in spite of the goose egg in the goal column. No more. And now the Rangers hope this makeover in midstream will carry them not just to the postseason but to something more grand come playoff time. Certainly the earliest returns are sparkling, as they jumped into seventh in the conference, although they have same number of points as the eighth-place New Jersey Devils and ninth-place New York Islanders.
Speaking of the Penguins, that’s two lopsided losses in a row for a team that began the week on a 15-game winning streak and with an eye toward making history. Didn't happen, of course, as they were whipped 4-1 by the Buffalo Sabres at home Tuesday, then were spanked at Madison Square Garden after GM Ray Shero added another piece to the Pens' arsenal in the form of veteran forward Jussi Jokinen.
Probably not a bad thing to have a few stinkers down the stretch, just in case anyone in that locker room was thinking the 15-game win streak meant they could just throw their sticks on the ice and come away with a W. We were in Chicago recently and talked to some there who weren't all that disappointed to see the Blackhawks' record 24-game point streak come to an end, what with all the media attention.
Sometimes it's easier for a coach to get his team's attention when it's facing a little adversity. But the twin Pittsburgh losses also highlight the challenges in integrating a handful of new, prominent faces into your lineup with a dozen or so games left in the season. The Pens are also battling the injury bug, with captain Sidney Crosby out indefinitely with a broken jaw, Kris Letang recuperating from a toe injury and defenseman Paul Martin out until playoff time or longer with a hand injury.
Lots of moving parts for coach Dan Bylsma to figure out in the next 3½ weeks.
The curious case of Steve Mason
It wasn't the classic Paul Holmgren "holy cow" move, a la obtaining Chris Pronger or moving Mike Richards or Jeff Carter, but the Philadelphia Flyers GM did not disappoint Wednesday, even if the move he made was a little more subtle. The acquisition of former rookie of the year Steve Mason from the Blue Jackets for Michael Leighton (remember him from Game 6 of the ’10 Stanley Cup final?) and a third-round pick has the potential to create an interesting ripple effect in Philly.
Never mind the roller-coaster Mason has been on since bursting onto the scene with 10 shutouts in his first season (2008-09). In fact, if you're a fan of irony, one of the reasons the Blue Jackets were surprise buyers Wednesday was the play of former Flyers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who was dealt to Columbus in the offseason. Bobrovsky may win the Vezina Trophy and the Blue Jackets may make the playoffs, so Mason was deemed expendable. Go figure.
Now Holmgren is going to give Mason a look in the final weeks of the season as he wrestles with a rather huge decision regarding Ilya Bryzgalov, who has been OK this season. With two amnesty buyouts available to him, Holmgren will have to look hard at what remains on Bryzgalov's nine-year, $51 million contract. There were multiple reports Thursday that Mason was on the verge of signing a new deal with the Flyers, which means Holmgren's plan is to give Mason a chance -- if not as a starter than certainly to replace the depth that went out the door with the Bobrovsky deal.
If Mason impresses, does it change Holmgren's mind about Bryzgalov?
For the record, Bryzgalov got the win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, as the Flyers kept their playoff heart beating faintly. They were four points out of eighth place with 12 games remaining heading into play Thursday.
Kudos to Sharks GM Wilson
We have often been critical of the San Jose Sharks for their inability to capitalize on what is a perennially talent-laden lineup. But you have to tip your hat to GM Doug Wilson, who appears to have navigated the competing waters of trimming fat and maintaining a competitive team with great skill. The Sharks are the hottest team in the NHL with six wins in a row, the latest coming Wednesday night over the Minnesota Wild. The win moved them into a tie with the Wild and Vancouver Canucks with 44 points and gave the Sharks a good shot at getting home-ice advantage in the first round as the conference's fourth seed, something that seemed implausible even a month ago.
Meanwhile, Wilson got good return for Clowe: a second-, a third- and a conditional second-round pick from the Rangers. He also obtained a fourth-round pick from Chicago for Michal Handzus, and got two more second-round picks from Pittsburgh for Douglas Murray (the second of which is conditional). And then Wilson added some grit and tenacity in the form of Raffi Torres.
The moves give Wilson all kinds of options in terms of assets with which to help restock a barren prospects cupboard, as well as additional cap space. That doesn't even take into account the potential for a long playoff run. That's a pretty good bit of work.
Can Sullivan restart Devils?
If ever there was a team that's all about bringing things full circle, it's the Devils. And so it was that GM Lou Lamoriello brought home veteran winger Steve Sullivan almost 19 years after the team selected him with the 233rd pick in the 1994 draft. Sullivan played in 16 games for the Devils in 1995-96 and 33 the next season before he was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade that would see iconic Leafs captain Doug Gilmour and defenseman Dave Ellett go to the Devils. Gilmour would go on to finish a Hall of Fame career while Sullivan, 38, continues his hockey odyssey after being dealt for a seventh-round pick by the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday.
We've had the opportunity to catch up with the Timmins, Ontario, native (dubbed by some the "Timmins Tornado") at various stops along the way, and he has proved to be unfailingly upbeat even in the face of injuries that threatened his career a few years back. Although it hasn't been a banner year for Sullivan, who signed with the Coyotes after a one-season stop in Pittsburgh and had just five goals in 33 games, there's something about the Devils' culture that allows guys like Sullivan to thrive. He'll need to, as the Devils are sliding their way out of the playoff picture without the injured Ilya Kovalchuk.
No easy answers in Buffalo
Say what you will about the state of the Sabres, but GM Darcy Regier did well to maximize his return for captain Jason Pominville on Wednesday. He coaxed a first- and a second-round draft pick and two prospects out of Minnesota (the Wild also got a fourth-round pick from the Sabres). That's two years in a row Regier has done a nice job in making the most of what has become an unsightly mess in Buffalo by bringing in young players and draft picks.
But there's the rub, no? Who made the mess?
It's not just Regier; every year, a GM of an underachieving team sets about trying to restock the shelves with picks and assets after plans go awry. If it's a blip on the radar kind of thing -- as we saw with playoff bubble teams Phoenix and Nashville shedding assets in recent days after being competitive playoff teams the past few years -- that's one thing. But what if it's a systemic kind of thing?
Given that the Sabres fired longtime coach Lindy Ruff already this season and look likely to miss the playoffs for a second straight season, there is an expectation that owner Terry Pegula will finish the top-end makeover by relieving Regier of his duties after the season. If that's the plan, then where is the logic in having Regier make these kinds of significant moves (he also traded Robyn Regehr to the Los Angeles Kings)? It's not easy to replace a GM in midseason, although the Blue Jackets showed it can be done with impressive results.
Buffalo is not unique in dealing with this dynamic, and there are certainly lots of problems that will be left over for a new GM to deal with if a change is made. But it remains an annual curiosity in the NHL as some GMs' final moves may end up having significant long-term impacts on teams they're about to part company with.
The league in conjunction with the NHL Players’ Association has worked diligently over the past two weeks on realignment, including a meeting in Toronto Tuesday morning between the two sides.
"The last two weeks we’ve been in constant communication with the NHLPA on realignment issues," deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com Tuesday. "We’ve been exchanging information and we’re trying to get to a resolution as soon as possible." The NHLPA, through a spokesman, confirmed that there has been communication between the sides over the last two weeks, adding that it is committed to continuing to work with the league in an effort to reach an agreement.
Time is of the essence because the league’s schedule-maker needs to get going on next season’s matrix.
If all goes well between the NHLPA and NHL -- the two sides are slated to meet again next week -- the NHL could have a realignment framework for the 30 owners to vote on the week of Feb. 25. Similarly, the NHLPA would run the realignment plan past its executive board (30 player reps) for approval.
Several team executives and governors contacted by ESPN.com Tuesday were in the dark about what the league was determining for realignment. And just what exactly the league and union have been working on the past two weeks, neither NHL nor NHLPA officials would divulge Tuesday. But it’s believed the framework is a slight variation from the December 2011 realignment format. And when I say variation, I believe there are a couple of teams that have been switched around from the original December 2011 format.
Here’s how the board of governors realigned the league in December 2011:
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
The realignment plan in December 2011 was quashed by the NHLPA, which is why the league this time is working alongside the union before bringing it to a board vote.
Realignment, the union argued, affects the players’ terms and conditions of employment, and the CBA requires the league to obtain the NHLPA’s consent before implementation.
The two key bones of contention for the NHLPA at the time: (1) whether the new format would result in increased and more onerous travel; and (2) the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions.
My guess is the NHL has altered the playoff format or criteria in some form or other to help ease the NHLPA’s concern over the inequity of having seven teams each in two conferences and eight teams apiece in the other two conferences.
The timing of realignment talks between the NHL and NHLPA is no coincidence, with Olympic meetings scheduled for Thursday and Friday in New York with the IOC and IIHF. The NHLPA and NHL need to figure out realignment and how the Olympics fit within that schedule next season, if indeed all parties involved can agree on terms for NHL players to participate in Sochi.
So the whole thing is kind of tied together, beginning with realignment.
No NHL club, meanwhile, needs realignment to happen more than the Winnipeg Jets.
Traveling more than any other Eastern Conference club this season, playing in the Southeast Division as the former Atlanta Thrashers for a second straight season, the Jets need to find new friends to hang out with.
"It’s our hope obviously that we get out of the Southeast Division and we end up in something along the lines that we agreed to [in December 2011]," Jets chairman and governor Mark Chipman told ESPN.com Tuesday. "But I’m not aware of what, if any changes, are being contemplated."
Detroit, Columbus, Nashville and Dallas were among the clubs that had the most to say in the last go-around when realignment was a hot topic, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets being a pair of Western Conference clubs in the Eastern time zone with obvious travel complaints under the existing format. The Red Wings have longed for a return to the East, which the Jackets would also like.
"I know our fans have spoken loudly about wanting to be in the East," Blue Jackets president John Davidson told ESPN.com Tuesday. "Whether that’s feasible or not, the league will tell us. We’re waiting to find out what they have to say. We’re an organization that wants to do what’s best for us and our fans, but we also realize we have to do what’s best for the league."
Dallas has long wanted out of the Pacific Division, annoyed by its massive travel plus late starting times for TV in its divisional road games.
So the December 2011 model certainly works for the Stars, who would play more clubs in the Central time zone.
"We’re fully on board with it," Stars president and CEO Jim Lites told ESPN.com Tuesday. "It needs to happen. You have to take care of Winnipeg, the Jets can’t run around in Carolina every night. That’s got to be fixed.
"Listen, there will always be issues no matter what," Lites added. "But what you can’t do is put your head in the sand about the Dallas Stars playing in a division that is two time zones away and the Detroit Red Wings playing playoff series every year against teams three time zones away. You have to address those issues, they’re anti-competitive."
In the end, the majority of clubs were appeased by the December 2011 model because of the schedule matrix, which called for all 30 teams to play each other at least twice in a home-and-home series.
"You have to play every team every year, you just have to," said Lites.
Not every club was thrilled. It’s believed the Tampa Bay Lightning rejected that realignment plan in December 2011, unhappy with the increased travel in their new grouping with Northeast clubs.
And then there’s the Phoenix situation to deal with. It’s doubtful the league will know for sure where the Coyotes are playing next season before it wraps up realignment plans. So the new format will most likely have to go ahead without knowing what lies ahead for the Coyotes. If the Coyotes have to relocate after this season, whatever new locale the franchise moves to, it will have to live in its new conference for at least a season before the NHL can accommodate it. No different from the Jets franchise playing in the Southeast the past two years after moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta.
The four-conference model from December 2011 isn’t perfect, with two seven-team groups and two eight-team groups. But it also invites future expansion to 32 teams -- thus four eight-team conferences -- which I would guess will happen within the next five years or so, whether that’s to Seattle, Quebec City or a second team in Toronto.
In the end, it’s impossible to satisfy all 30 teams in realignment. But the current format must change, that much is certain. And it will.
NHL ANNOUNCES DATES, START TIMES, NATIONAL TELEVISION COVERAGE
FOR GAMES 1 & 2 OF CONFERENCE FINAL SERIES
Western Conference Starts Sunday; East Gets Under Way Monday
NEW YORK (May 10, 2012) -- The National Hockey League announced today the dates, start times and national television coverage for Games 1 and 2 of the Conference Final round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Western Conference Final opens Sunday, May 13 in Glendale, Arizona, where the Phoenix Coyotes will host the Los Angeles Kings at Jobing.com Arena (8 p.m., ET, NBC Sports Network, TSN, RDS). Game 2 of the series will be played in Glendale on Tuesday, May 15, beginning at 9 p.m., ET.
Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final will be played on Monday, May 14 and Wednesday, May 16, respectively, and pit the New Jersey Devils against the winner of the Conference Semifinal series between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. That series currently is deadlocked at 3-3, with Game 7 set for Saturday night in New York (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, RDS).
Should the Rangers advance, they would host the Devils in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final at Madison Square Garden in New York. Should the Capitals win, the Devils would host Washington in Games 1 and 2 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Additional Conference Final schedule information will be released soon.
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF SCHEDULE THROUGH WEDNESDAY, MAY 16
Saturday, May 12
Washington @ NY Rangers, Eastern Conference Semifinal Game 7, series tied 3-3
(7:30 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Sunday, May 13
Los Angeles @ Phoenix, Western Conference Final Game 1 (8 p.m., ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS)
Monday, May 14
Eastern Conference Final Game 1, @ New York or New Jersey (8 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Tuesday, May 15
Los Angeles @ Phoenix, Western Conference Final Game 2 (9 p.m., ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS)
Wednesday, May 16
Eastern Conference Final Game 2, @ New York or New Jersey (8 p.m., ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, you’re in St. Louis to start the playoffs. That’s as good a place as any to begin our discussion about what has to be the most difficult group of series to sort through in one conference in many a year. I took the coward’s way out when making my predictions and called for all four series to go the full seven games. That way I can always point out, hey, I missed by just one game if I happened to have predicted (guessed?) wrong. But seriously, I don’t think it’s overstating it to say you can make a significant case for all eight Western Conference teams to go right to the Stanley Cup finals. That includes 8-seed Los Angeles, which lost its grip on the Pacific Division crown by dropping both ends of a home-and-home with San Jose (one in a shootout, the other in overtime) to close out the regular season, a pair of losses that allowed the Sharks to jump over the Kings into seventh place. But the Kings have lots going for them, including netminder Jonathan Quick, who will get well-deserved consideration for the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender and the Hart Trophy as league MVP. The Kings also found offense under head coach Darryl Sutter in the second half and will face a Canucks team that might be facing its own goaltending dilemma, depending on which Roberto Luongo shows up, and will be waiting to see just how Daniel Sedin responds to trying to get back in playoff form after suffering a concussion last month. Before we get to the nitty-gritty of who wins the wild West, do any of the bottom three seeds have a shot to get out of the first round? I think I already know the answer.
LEBRUN: I think No. 6 Chicago, No. 7 San Jose and No. 8 Los Angeles all have a shot. The Blackhawks are seen by many as the favorite against No. 3 Phoenix because they finished with more regular-season points than the Coyotes. So, it's hardly a stretch to say the Hawks could get out of the first round. I would not sell the Coyotes short, however. They won three out of four games against the Hawks this season, and no NHL goalie is hotter than Mike Smith. And there's the matter of Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. He's been out since Feb. 19 with a concussion, and while he appears set to return for the playoffs, one has to monitor how he fares. He's the straw the stirs the Blackhawks' drink. He's the X factor in the series.
But, wait a minute, you wanted me to talk about my annual September Cup pick, didn’t you? Yes, certainly the Sharks are an interesting team to watch as an upset possibility. Picture it this way: If this were 12 months ago, how would you feel about a Blues-Sharks series? Well, last season St. Louis didn't make the playoffs and San Jose was the No. 2 seed in the West. Obviously, things have changed since then, with the Blues skyrocketing up the standings under new coach Ken Hitchcock, the Sharks struggling with consistency all season. The Blues play the kind of grind-it-out game that's perfectly suited for the playoffs, so they'll be mighty tough to beat. But the Sharks have a chance because of their vast playoff experience. You're talking about a club that's gone to back-to-back conference finals and, perhaps more notably, has eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in consecutive years. The Sharks are certainly the wild card among the bottom bracket teams in the West.
BURNSIDE: Agreed on Phoenix, although there’s always this nagging question about whether the Coyotes will have enough offense. And even if Toews isn’t available or isn’t 100 percent to start the postseason, this Chicago offense is still formidable and finished tied for the lead in the Western Conference in goals scored per game. Weird stat for that series? In spite of all that talent, the Hawks' power play tied for 25th in the league. Phoenix? It was worse, 29th on the power play. Something tells me at least one of these teams will get it right come playoff time, and that could be the difference in the series. The goaltending will be fun to watch in that series as well, given that Smith has virtually no playoff experience and Corey Crawford is coming off an up-and-down season for the Blackhawks. He was excellent, though, in the first-round loss to Vancouver a year ago.
Back to St. Louis, though: I liked the Blues to get past San Jose, although, like you, I was impressed with the way the Sharks really got it going down the stretch. The Blues, meanwhile, wobbled a bit, winning just one of their last five games to give up the top seed in the conference and a shot at the Presidents’ Trophy. I'm curious to see how Hitchcock handles his goaltending, given that Brian Elliott has the superior numbers and Jaroslav Halak has the playoff experience and was so good for Montreal in their run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2010.
As for the best series of the bunch, in my opinion, with Detroit starting in Nashville, has there been a more important series for the Predators? They made important moves at the trade deadline in acquiring Andrei Kostitsyn, Paul Gaustad and Hal Gill, then got Alexander Radulov and now have to get past their old nemesis, the Red Wings, if they want to duplicate last year’s first-ever playoff series victory. The outcome is so important as it relates not just to this spring but also to the team’s ability to lock up Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
LEBRUN: Oh, not much on the line at all in Nashville. Just the very existence of its franchise. OK, I'm exaggerating. But as you point out, so much is tied to the futures of Suter (slated to be a UFA on July 1) and Weber (RFA on July 1) and the playoff performance of this team this spring as it pertains to whether they decide to commit long-term to the Predators. I think you can't underestimate how much finally winning a playoff series last spring, the first in Nashville franchise history, has helped the team's psyche. I talked to head coach Barry Trotz about this earlier this season, and he couldn't stress enough how beating Anaheim in the playoffs last season kicked a giant elephant out of the Preds' room. Whether they would admit or not before they won, there's self-doubt that creeps into your mind, as players and coaches, when year after year you keep losing in the first round -- even if you were the small-payroll, plucky underdog most of those years. You still want to get one under your belt to build a belief in your room. Now that's there. It's why I picked the Preds to win a difficult series in seven games. They know what it's like to win a series, and that's paramount as they prepare to face the NHL's most consistent, winning franchise of the past two decades.
BURNSIDE: OK, we haven’t really talked about the Presidents’ Trophy winners, last year’s Stanley Cup finalists, the Vancouver Canucks. They look to get Daniel Sedin back, and I think their experiences of a year ago will carry them past a Los Angeles Kings team that looked at times during the last third of the season like it could be capable of a couple of playoff series wins. But who will be tending goal by the end of that series for the Canucks? That’s a toss-up. GM Mike Gillis said earlier that Roberto Luongo will be the team’s starter in Game 1, but you have to believe that coach Alain Vigneault won’t wait long to go to Cory Schneider, who was terrific this season, turning in a sparkling 1.96 GAA and .937 save percentage. So, let’s get down to brass tacks here. The way I have my grid working out in the Western Conference: the Blackhawks and the Canucks in the second round with Nashville and St. Louis battling in the other semifinal. Then, I’ve got Chicago and Nashville in the conference finals, and going back to my preseason prediction for consistency (and because I really had no clue other than that), I have Chicago advancing to the Cup finals. Regardless of how this shakes down, the route through the Western Conference promises to be one hellacious journey. What does your crystal ball tell you, my friend?
LEBRUN: After I conversed with my 3-year-old daughter, Melanie, we decided we’d go with a Vancouver-Nashville Western Conference finals. Because I like to go against the grain of society, I’m going to take the plucky Preds to make it the Cup finals. Of course, now you know that means they’re out in the first round against Detroit. Which wouldn’t surprise me a bit. That’s the West this season for you, eight teams with a real shot at it. But you’re right on the Canucks’ goalie situation. I guarantee you, and so does Melanie, that both Luongo and Schneider will see action in these playoffs. And as much as Luongo is on a short leash, so is Schneider. Vigneault feels he has two 1A netminders to choose from. And it's no different from swapping a player from his power-play unit. I think the Canucks head coach is going to swap netminders without reservation knowing he has full confidence in both of them.
Well, sir, enjoy your playoffs in the East. I think I’ve got my hands full here in the West.
- The Canucks had the fourth-best power play (19.8 percent); the Kings had the fourth-best penalty kill (87.0 percent).
- Since 2006, Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo is second in the league in playoff win (32) and tied for first in shutouts (5).
- Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick finished with a league-best 10 shutouts.
- Quick lost nine games this season when he allowed one goal or less (shootouts included).
St. Louis Blues (2) vs San Jose Sharks (7)
- The Blues allowed a league-low 102 goals in 5-on-5 situations.
- The Blues goaltending duo of Brian Elliott (9) and Jaroslav Halak (6) combined for 15 shutouts, the most shutouts by one team since Chicago had 15 in 1969-70.
- The Sharks averaged 33.8 shots per game, second highest in the league; the Blues allowed a league-low 26.7 shots.
- The Sharks finished second in the league in faceoff winning percentage (53.3)
- The Sharks had three 30-goal scorers this season, led by Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture with 31 goals each.
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs Chicago Blackhawks (6)
- If the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews (concussion) is healthy, the 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy winner is a point-per-game player in the playoffs (46 points, 46 games).
- The Coyotes had the 29th-ranked power play in the league as they converted just 13.6 percent of their chances.
- Conversely, the Blackhawks had the fourth-worst penalty kill in the league at 78.1 percent in the regular season.
- Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith was 3-0-0 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .959 save percentage against the Blackhawks in the regular season.
- Since Feb. 1, Smith is 20-4-3 with a 1.82 goals-against average, six shutouts and .962 save percentage.
Nashville Predators (4) vs Detroit Red Wings (5)
- The Predators took an average of 8.4 penalty minutes per game this season, the fewest of any team in the league.
- The Predators have faced the Red Wings in three of their eight trips to the playoffs (lost in 2004, 2008 in six games).
- The Red Wings had the best 5–on-5 goals for-against ratio (1.44 goals per game) in the league in the regular season.
- Since 2005-06 season, the Red Wings have three of the top six playoff goal scorers: Henrik Zetterberg (46), Johan Franzen (37) and Pavel Datsyuk (29).
- The Predators had the top power-play unit in the regular season as they converted 21.7 percent of their chances.
BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, it's the end of another week. We have just a little more than two weeks left in the regular season, yet there have been significant developments. Tops on the list has to be the loss of Vancouver Canucks star winger Daniel Sedin, who took a nasty elbow to the head courtesy of former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith earlier this week and left the team to return to Vancouver. There's no real timetable for Sedin’s return, who suffered a concussion, and that could spell real trouble for the defending Western Conference champions. Although his numbers may be off a bit from last season's Art Ross scoring turn, Sedin leads the Canucks with 30 goals and 10 power-play goals. Can we start to calculate the potential impact his loss would have on the Canucks’ Stanley Cup dreams? They rebounded nicely with a big 2-1 win in Dallas on Thursday, a win that set the dominoes tumbling in the crazy Pacific Division, but it’s hard to imagine the Canucks advancing deep in the playoffs if their top goal scorer isn’t able to play.
As for the Pacific, the Stars' loss coupled with the Los Angeles Kings’ shootout win over St. Louis vaulted the Kings into the top spot in the Pacific. Phoenix, without Shane Doan, who was serving the first of a three-game suspension for elbowing in a play not all that different from the Keith-Sedin incident, held off Colorado. The Avs technically dropped out of the top eight in the Western Conference, although they’re tied with Dallas in points. Finally, the beleaguered San Jose Sharks came up with a monster 2-1 win over the defending Cup champs from Boston. How tough are things out West? San Jose is currently in 10th place, a point behind Dallas and Colorado. Wow!
LEBRUN: I'm going to require a cat nap on my office couch at some point today, Scotty, because I couldn't resist staying up to watch those Pacific Division games Thursday night. Just wish my 9-month-old twins would learn to sleep past 6 a.m. Speaking of twins, Henrik Sedin rocked on without his brother Daniel, showing leadership in a strong effort with two assists -- setting up the opening goal by Mason Raymond -- as the Canucks bounced back in Dallas. I spoke with Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman on Thursday, and Daniel was going to require further medical evaluation before the club would have any idea what it was looking at in terms of his absence.
In the meantime, the fate of Duncan Keith took a bizarre twist Thursday. At first, from what my sources told me, the league informed the Keith camp that he would have a phone hearing (meaning a suspension five games or fewer) on Friday at 2 p.m. ET. Later in the day, according to a source on Thursday night, Keith was asked about waiving his rights for an in-person hearing. In other words, the league would have the right to suspend Keith north of six games per the terms of the CBA (but it doesn't necessarily mean the league would). As of Thursday night, it wasn't clear whether Keith was going to waive his right to an in-person hearing or to fly to New York. But it certainly muddied the picture on his hearing.
But back to the ice, where the action was furious Thursday night, I was flipping back and forth especially between the games in L.A. and San Jose. There was some big-time hitting in both games. The Kings made it a season-high six in a row with the Jeff Carter shootout winner. They’re now 10-3-0 in their past 13 games, outscoring opponents 42-25. I wouldn't want to face this Kings team in the first round, Scotty. And the Sharks -- on life support -- pulled off a must-win over the Cup champs. I spoke with Sharks captain Joe Thornton Thursday morning, and it was clear in his voice that he would make sure his troops understood they had run out of chances and needed to buckle down. He led the way on the opening goal by creating the turnover that led to Joe Pavelski's marker. That set the tone for the evening.
BURNSIDE: You know how Vancouver fans and the local media will respond if Keith isn’t given a hefty suspension given their constant paranoia vis-a-vis conspiracies and the like. And there was no need for Keith to make that play on Daniel Sedin regardless of whatever transpired earlier in the game.
Meanwhile, you’ve got to feel a bit for Dallas. How tough would it be for the Stars to fall out of the playoffs after such a nice run for a team that was an afterthought for many prognosticators this past fall? I spoke to Stars owner Tom Gaglardi and president Jim Lites this week, and they’ve really seen the fan base respond in recent days, and not making the playoffs would be a real kick in the shins. But there they are in eighth place as we speak Friday morning. They’ve won one of their past four and now face a home-and-home with Calgary on Saturday and Monday. The Flames are on their last playoff legs and need to sweep this series to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.
But let’s turn our attention eastward, my friend. Speaking of flickering, the Winnipeg Jets have an absolutely must-win situation on their hands Friday night in Washington. The Jets are five points back of eighth-place Washington with a game in hand. The Caps lost in a shootout in Philadelphia on Thursday, so the door is open for the Jets to close the gap a little. You can bet Buffalo will be cheering for the Jets or at least keeping a close eye on the scoreboard at Madison Square Garden, where the Sabres will be Friday night for a date with the Rangers. The charging Sabres are just a point out of eighth, and you know a surprise playoff berth would take some of the sting out of a largely disappointing season for the Sabres.
LEBRUN: I can’t let you get away with that Vancouver conspiracy comment, my friend. That was a nasty hit on a franchise player. I don’t blame Canucks fans for being up in arms. Keith isn’t a dirty player, but he deserves to get suspended for that one. Originally, I was thinking two to three games, but the more I watched it, I’d be more comfortable with four to five games for that hit -- an outright blow to the head, and the puck wasn’t around.
OK, now that I’ve tapped your knuckles a bit, let’s move back to the Eastern playoff race. Friday is a massive night in the battle for eighth, indeed, and let’s face it: The Jets need two points in regulation or it’s over. The Sabres, meanwhile, face a mighty tough one at MSG. I have a Ryan Miller Q&A blog today, Scotty, and you’ll be interested to read how he explains his team’s charge up the standings after a disastrous first half to the season. He’s certainly a huge reason the Sabres have rocketed up the standings, sporting a .939 save percentage in his past 15 starts (11-1-3). Does Miller remind you right now of the dude who nearly stole the gold medal for Team USA in February 2010?
BURNSIDE: Just so we’re clear, I’m not suggesting Keith doesn’t deserve to take a seat for his hit on Sedin. But you also understand that, whatever the penalty, it won’t be enough for the riotous fans in Vancouver. That’s just the way it is.
As for the Sabres, Miller is leading, as franchise netminders do, by putting aside all the external distractions and giving his team a chance every night. But it needs more, in my books, and this is the time for guys like Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Derek Roy to show their stuff, to show their mettle. This is a team that has failed to rise to the challenge in recent years -- witness its turn against Boston two years ago in the first round of the playoffs or last season when it had Philadelphia on the ropes in the first round and couldn’t close the deal. Although the Sabres' surge to the edge of the playoff bracket is admirable, it will mean absolutely zero if they can’t get over the hump. I still think the Caps, with Alex Ovechkin playing his best hockey of the season, will keep the Sabres outside the dance and will set up a long summer of reflection for the underachieving Sabres.
LEBRUN: After Friday night, the Sabres have seven games left: home games against Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Toronto; road games at Washington, Toronto, Philadelphia and Boston. While ending the season at Philadelphia and Boston seems like a daunting task, those two teams may have nothing to play for come April 5-7. Call me crazy, but I think the Sabres are going to pull this off, my friend.
Have a great weekend, Scotty, and stay clear of Vancouver fans.
1. Claude Giroux, F, Flyers
3. Pavel Datsyuk, F, Red Wings
5. Daniel Sedin, F, Canucks
7. Erik Karlsson, D, Senators
9. Corey Perry, F, Ducks
11. Kris Letang, D, Penguins
13. Patrick Kane, F, Blackhawks
15. Marian Hossa, F, Blackhawks
17. John Tavares, F, Islanders
19. Tyler Seguin, F, Bruins
21. Logan Couture, F, Sharks
23. Jordan Eberle, F, Oilers
25. Brian Campbell, D, Panthers
27. Henrik Lundqvist, G, Rangers
29. Keith Yandle, D, Coyotes
31. Kimmo Timonen, D, Flyers
33. Jimmy Howard, G, Red Wings
35. Zdeno Chara, D, Bruins
37. Carey Price, G, Canadiens
39. Milan Michalek, F, Senators
41. Jason Pominville, F, Sabres
|Team Where's Ovie?
2. Evgeni Malkin, F, Penguins
4. Steven Stamkos, F, Lightning
6. Henrik Sedin, F, Canucks
8. Shea Weber, D, Predators
10. Ryan Suter, D, Predators
12. Jason Spezza, F, Senators
14. Daniel Alfredsson, F, Senators
16. Marian Gaborik, F, Rangers
18. Phil Kessel, F, Maple Leafs
20. Joffrey Lupul, F, Maple Leafs
22. Jamie Benn, F, Stars
24. Alexander Edler, D, Canucks
26. James Neal, F, Penguins
28. Dion Phaneuf, D, Maple Leafs
30. Jarome Iginla, F, Flames
32. Jonathan Quick, G, Kings
34. Dennis Wideman, D, Capitals
36. Tim Thomas, G, Bruins
38. Scott Hartnell, F, Flyers
40. Dan Girardi, D, Rangers
42. Brian Elliott, G, Blues
First period: Lundqvist
Second period: Price
Third period: Howard
|Team Where's Ovie
First period: Thomas
Second period: Elliott
Third period: Quick
Just a day after spouting off about his frustrations with the way the team was playing, Cammalleri was gone.
Was it a rash move by embattled Habs GM Pierre Gauthier?
Consider this: One NHL GM told ESPN.com Thursday night he wished he would have known Cammalleri was available because he had some interest in the player.
Whether or not the Canadiens informed a lot of teams, the Flames say this deal was not done overnight.
"It's been percolating for quite some time, we've been having a lot of conversations," Flames GM Jay Feaster told reporters in Calgary after the deal was announced.
The Habs also dealt goalie Karri Ramo and a fifth-round pick in 2012 in exchange for forwards Rene Bourque, Patrick Holland and a second-round pick in 2013.
The Flames got the better player in Cammalleri, but the Habs will save cap space; Bourque has a $3.3 million yearly cap hit, while Cammalleri is at $6 million.
Will the trade spark more moves? Another NHL GM told ESPN.com before this trade that he thought the chatter had more volume this early on compared with other years.
Let’s start in Boston with the Stanley Cup champs:
Bruins looking with cautionWhen you’re leading the NHL in goals for and goals against, and blowing away the opposition on some nights, just what exactly do you need ahead of the trade deadline?
"Obviously we have a lot of cap room, so there’s a lot of flexibility," Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told ESPN.com Thursday. "I would like to add depth-wise on the forward front and depth-wise on the defenseman front. But I don’t want to subtract anything."
A year ago, Chiarelli was a busy man, adding Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle ahead of the deadline en route to a Stanley Cup championship.
This year, while willing to add again, Chiarelli is treading more carefully.
"The difference between last year and this year is that I’m a little more certain about the chemistry at this point," said the Bruins GM. "So I have to be a little more careful about adding. I don’t want to subtract in order to add. If I can add, I want to be careful about chemistry."
Chiarelli declined, like all GMs, to name any possible targets, so I’ll do a little sleuthing on my own.
I think two names that bear watching are forward Tuomo Ruutu and/or defenseman Tim Gleason in Carolina. Both are slated to be unrestricted free agents July 1.
But those are just two possibilities. Like any buyer at this time of year, the B’s would have more than a dozen names on their shopping list.
Parise's futureThere has been lots of chatter this past week about Zach Parise and his future. The Devils' star captain is slated to be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
I’m not convinced the Feb. 27 trade deadline means a whole lot to Devils GM Lou Lamoriello in this particular case. Normally, when a pending UFA star like Parise hasn’t signed an extension yet and has the potential to walk away July 1 without compensation, the team will try to move him before the trade deadline to maximize his remaining asset value -- much like the former Atlanta Thrashers did with both Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk and the Nashville Predators may be forced to do with Ryan Suter this season.
But from talking to people around the league, there’s a growing feeling that Lamoriello will not move Parise.
"He can’t trade away his captain, the face of the franchise, with the team sitting in a playoff spot," one source told ESPN.com Thursday.
Another factor is that the Devils need Parise to make the playoffs, and the club -- still in an ownership mess -- can really use the additional revenue.
"Don’t discount that part of it," said the source.
The feeling is that Lamoriello will use the remaining months between now and July 1 to try to convince Parise to stay on board.
The other option for the Devils is that if Parise hasn’t signed by the June entry draft, they can move his rights then. It won’t fetch as much as trading him now would, but it’s better than nothing.
Wild hoping to buyThe Minnesota Wild, like many teams, don’t quite know yet if they’ll be buyers or sellers, as it depends on where they sit in the standings come Feb. 27.
They’re certainly hoping to be buyers and, if that’s the case, it’s pretty obvious they’ll be looking to upgrade a 29th-place offense.
"We’ve been talking to teams for a couple of months now," Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told ESPN.com Thursday. "We haven’t scored a lot of goals this year. I think there’s room for internal improvement, I think we have guys who will score more goals. But obviously if we could find a way to upgrade our team, we will."
What the Wild won’t do, however, is mortgage the future. Fletcher and his front office have worked hard to replenish the prospect base and minor league system in Minnesota.
"We’re not going to trade any of our top young prospects," Fletcher said. "We think we’ve worked hard to put together a pretty good crop of prospects going forward and we’re not looking to dismantle the whole thing for a quick fix. But if we can find a way to make a good hockey trade here, or move something that isn’t as critical to our future, then we’ll certainly look at that."
My sense is that the Wild would be willing to move a B-level prospect, a draft pick or a player off their current roster if that helps get them a top-six forward.
Fletcher, of course, would not mention any names, but I’ll put this guess out there: Vaclav Prospal, UFA July 1, is available in Columbus and Fletcher had him in Florida. I’m sure the Wild have a dozen targets on their wish list, but I’d be surprised if Prospal wasn’t one of them.
- I can confirm reports that Philadelphia and Toronto have chatted over the past week. The Leafs have long coveted winger James van Riemsdyk. Sources on both teams, however, told ESPN.com Thursday that nothing was close to imminent on any deal. The Flyers' top priority is to get help on defense, and it just so happens that's where Toronto has extra bodies. Still, as I reported earlier this week, Philly's top name on its shopping list is Suter. Tim Gleason of the Hurricanes also interests the Flyers.
- The New York Rangers, we’re hearing, are looking for either a top-six forward who can put the puck in the net and/or a power-play defenseman with a good shot. Like most other contenders, including the likes of Philadelphia and Detroit, the Rangers are keeping a close eye on Nashville and what the Predators are going to do with either Suter (UFA July 1) or Shea Weber (RFA July 1). Needless to say, the Rangers would covet either one of those studs on defense.
- The Detroit Red Wings have more cap space than they’ve ever had since this system was put in place in 2005. They’ll be looking to add, but not at all costs.
"We got cap space, I’m going to work the phones like I always do over the next six to seven weeks," Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com Thursday. "If there’s a fit, we’ll do something, but if there isn’t, I don’t feel the urge to do something for the sake of doing something. I like our team."
As I reported earlier this season, I believe the Wings have some interest in Oilers winger Ales Hemsky, who is UFA July 1. I also believe an upgrade on backup goalie Ty Conklin would be a target.
- The Vancouver Canucks are looking for size up front, most likely in the form of a bottom-six forward. Backup goalie Cory Schneider, who is starting material, would need to fetch a big-time offer to move before Feb. 27. My sense is he’s more likely to move in the offseason.
- New York-based rumors this week had Shane Doan possibly on the move with the Rangers a team that would covet him. Well, the Rangers do like him, but he’s not available at this point. "No truth in that whatsoever," Coyotes GM Don Maloney responded via email when asked about those Doan trade rumors. The Coyotes captain is slated to be an UFA July 1.
- The Florida Panthers want to get healthy before they decide what they’re going to do regarding the trade deadline.
"We don’t know yet, hopefully we’ll have everybody back in the lineup in the next couple of weeks and then we’ll see what we have," Panthers GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com Thursday. "And then we’ll see where we’re at as well. There’s no rush here."
The Panthers feel pretty good about their blue line, so odds are they’ll be looking to add up front, more specifically in my opinion, a No. 2 center to help beef up the secondary scoring.
- The San Jose Sharks made a lot of their moves last summer but could still use more depth in the form of a third-line forward. They’re also shopping goalie Antero Niittymaki.