A look at potential 2nd round matchups

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CanucksBlackhawks.jpgWith two Game 7’s left to play, we are that much closer to finalizing
the second round matchups. Here are the scenarios:

Western
Conference:

1) San Jose Sharks vs. 4) Phoenix
Coyotes OR 5) Detroit Red Wings

Obviously, this matchup is
dependent on tonight’s game. It’s tough to say which team would be the
better matchup for the San Jose Sharks, although you have to think that
the Sharks would see the younger and inexperienced Coyotes as a better
chance to make it out of the second round. Either way, neither the
Coyotes or Red Wings will be a pushover for the Sharks. I’ll start
researching Joe Thornton’s statistics versus each team shortly, although
I’ll just have to throw his regular-season numbers out the window.

2)
Chicago Blackhawks vs. 3) Vancouver Canucks

This is a
dream scenario for those of us that love fast paced, exciting hockey.
While the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t exactly look impenetrable against
the Predators, a big series against the firepower of the Sedins and (um)
Mikael Samuelsson could be exactly what they’ll need to prove they’re
prepared for what’s supposed to be a Stanley Cup run.

Eastern
Conference
(these are possible matchups based on either a Caps or
Habs win in Game 7)

4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 6) Boston Bruins (Caps win) OR
8) Montreal Canadiens (Habs win)

A Habs win in Game 7 would make the Penguins the the highest
seeded team left in the conference (who saw that coming?), and make for
an absolute ratings bananza between two of the biggest fanbases in the
NHL. Although we wouldn’t get to see another Sidney Crosby and Alex
Ovechkin rematch in the conference finals (sniff), it gives the Penguins
a supposedly much easier road back to the Stanley Cup. While Jaroslav
Halak was been great, I’m guessing the Penguins are watching these last
few games on television thinking “gee, we really do NOT want to play
against Tuukka Rask in the second round.”

1) Washington
Capitals vs. 7) Philadelphia Flyers (Caps win)

If the
Washington Capitals win in Game 7, then the Philadelphia Flyers’
Cinderella season is in serious jeopardy. While taking out the New
Jersey Devils in the first round was one heck of a feat, taking on
Ovechkin and the Capitals is a different animal altogether. After facing
the absolute terror of Jaroslav Halak in the first round, Brian Boucher
will be a much more welcome change of pace even if Boucher did outduel
Martin Brodeur.

6) Boston Bruins vs. 7) Philadelphia Flyers
(Habs win)

It’s amazing that the two teams that barely
backed into the playoffs (although the Bruins certainly turned it on at
the end) could be facing off in the second round. The Bruins and Flyers
took out the Sabres and the Devils, two of the most consistent and
successful teams this season, in a clear sign of just how unpredictable
the NHL playoffs are.

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

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Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.

Hjalmarsson shocked by Blackhawks trade, but Coyotes could improve soon

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Who could blame Niklas Hjalmarsson for being surprised that the Chicago Blackhawks traded him? The move blindsided … well, just about everyone outside of the Blackhawks organization, after all.

“It’s going to take some time to get used to that thought,” Hjalmarsson said, according to the Arizona Republic. “At the same time, I’m trying to always be a positive guy.”

Indeed, the 30-year-old defenseman did his best to say all the right things about the Arizona Coyotes, praising a roster that includes “a lot of young and promising players.”

MORE on the trade here

Described by some as the NHL’s best pure defensive defenseman, Hjalmarsson also gives the Coyotes good reason to be excited by a blueline that’s suddenly quite competitive. Consider the quartet that GM John Chayka helped assemble:

Hjalmarsson: An often-underrated part of the Blackhawks’ run. Consider some of the praise he received even before this move was made.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: One of the league’s best-kept secrets, “OEL” ranks as one of the most dangerous scoring defensemen. At 25, he’s still deep in his prime.

Alex Goligoski: When you consider the Dallas Stars’ lost 2016-17 season, don’t dismiss the absence of “Gogo.” He might not be perfect, but the 31-year-old is the sort of puck-mover you need to excel in the modern game.

Jakob Chychrun: At 19, he’s already getting reps at the NHL level. The Coyotes could pair him with a veteran and watch him grow.

***

When you look at those four, in particular, it’s easier to see Hjalmarsson’s excitement as more than just lip service. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Coyotes also added Derek Stepan, another sign that this franchise is taking the next step after absorbing other franchises’ problem contracts in the likes of Dave Bolland and Pavel Datsyuk’s last year.

Granted, it will still be an adjustment, as the Coyotes are likely aiming for “respectable” while anything less that a deep run was unacceptable for the Blackhawks.

Still, Hjalmarsson has plenty of power to make this move more palatable than it may have initially seemed.

And, hey, who would blame him for circling Oct. 21 on his calendar?

Report: Coyotes to talk to Todd Nelson about coaching vacancy

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The Arizona Coyotes had a somewhat unexpected shakeup this past week when the team and long-time head coach Dave Tippett mutually agreed to part ways after nine seasons together.

The search for a replacement began immediately and according to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal the Coyotes will be speaking to former Oilers coach Todd Nelson about the vacancy.

Nelson spent 51 games behind the Oilers bench during the 2014-15 season replacing Dallas Eakins. Nelson was replaced at the conclusion of that season by former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan. While his NHL head coaching experience is limited to that brief time in Edmonton, he has an extensive track record in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton’s top farm team) and currently the Grand Rapids Griffins (the Detroit Red Wings’ top farm team).

He has spent the past two seasons in Grand Rapids — replacing Jeff Blashill after he was promoted to the Detroit job — and has had a ton of success, leading the team to the Calder Cup this past season.

Predators won’t trade defense for forward help

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After losing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this past week the Nashville Predators have a pretty glaring hole in their top-six that is going to need to be addressed. Along with that, captain Mike Fisher is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is also considering retirement.

Because of those two developments general manager David Poile has made adding a top-six forward a priority for this summer, and he certainly has the salary cap space to get something done.

One thing he is not going to do, however, is trade one of his defensemen to find that help up front.

“We’ve traded enough defensemen in my recent history,” Poile said on Saturday, via the Tennessean. “I think everybody would be pretty much on the same page that our defense drives our team and our corps is as good as any in the league. We will not be touching our defense in the near future here.”

Over the past two years Poile has traded Shea Weber and Seth Jones off of his blue line but has still managed to assemble the NHL’s best defense. The quartet of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm is so good that Poile made sure to protect all four of them in the expansion draft and leave Neal — a consistent 25-to 30-goal scorer signed for one more year on a pretty good contract — exposed for Vegas to take.

Without dealing one of their top-four defensemen it might be difficult to find an impact winger via the trade route, which might force them to turn to the free agent market.

But even that is going to be difficult because it is such a limited market. Now that T.J. Oshie has re-signed with the Washington Capitals Alexander Radulov would probably be the top winger available, but given his history with Nashville there is virtually no chance of that reunion happening. Justin Williams would be an intriguing veteran option, while Joe Thornton could help fill the void at center if Fisher does not return.

Still, not trading from the defense is the absolute right path for Poile and the Predators to take. Not only is that group the backbone of the Predators’ organization and one of the driving forces behind its success, it is also an extremely young group that is all signed long-term on cap friendly deals.

Even with the loss of Neal Nashville still has a deep group of forwards, while youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala could get an increased role and an opportunity to shine.