2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: Who is the new Conn Smythe favorite?

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Duncan Keith.jpgBefore this series started, I felt that the obvious early choices for
the Conn Smythe resided with the Blackhawks in Jonathan Toews and Antti
Niemi. After five games, it’s tough to include those two in the
conversation.

Niemi hasn’t played poorly, but after two strong
games to start the finals hasn’t exactly been as good as in previous
rounds. Jonathan Toews, after having a point in nearly every postseason
game for the Blackhawks headed into the finals, has struggled mightily
against the Flyers.

So if it’s not Toews and it’s Niemi, who
then? James and I set out to discuss our favorites for the award and
what was really odd, in a series that hasn’t exactly been known for it’s
great defense, two defensemen have risen to the top of the
conversation.

James: Chris Pronger

Whether
the Flyers win the Cup or not, Chris Pronger is the most valuable
player of this year’s playoffs.

Rather than just picking the most
productive player on the Cup-winning team, I think it’s wiser for a
voter to simply close his or her eyes and ask this question: “If you
could pick any player from the finalists to lead your team to victory,
who would it be?” Unless you’re so hateful toward the often-dirty (or if
we want to be politically correct, “rule-bending”) defenseman, is there
really any way you could say that the Philadelphia Flyers would be in
the Cup finals without Pronger?

He leads the playoffs in time on
ice per game by almost a full minute with a stunning 29:01 per game,
which accounts for almost half a contest. His 17 points would be a solid
output for a forward and it leads all blueliners in the postseason. He
kills nearly two penalties worth of time per night (3:57) yet is also a
force on the point with an average of 4:27 of powerplay time per game.

Yet
it’s not the numbers that make him the greatest candidate, but rather
the psychological effects of his presence. From his smack-talking, to
his gigantic hits and even the juvenile puck stealing antics, his shadow
looms over every game both literally and figuratively. Want the best
reason why the team stayed alive while their goalies went down like
flies? It’s easy: because they have Chris Pronger, the guy who almost
helped Jussi freaking Markkanen win a Stanley Cup.

Finally, as
much as he’s worthy of karmic comeuppance, Pronger is also flat-out
overdue for a Conn Smythe Trophy. In my mind, he should already be a
two-time winner. He did everything for that Edmonton Oilers team … he
even scored a penalty shot goal. While the Anaheim Ducks got by without
him when he was suspended, Pronger set the tone for that brutal bunch
and promoted them from a solid playoff team to a dominant, terrifying
force.

So, instead of throwing a dart at the Chicago Blackhawks
roster or a list of high-scoring Philadelphia Flyers forwards, just make
the obvious – if unpopular – choice. Pronger is the most valuable
player of these playoffs, even if he may also be the most volatile and
villainous.

Brandon: Duncan Keith

The numbers
are certainly there. 16 points in 21 games, over 27 minutes of ice time a
night, plus-3 for the postseason. But picking Keith isn’t about stats
or numbers, it’s about what you see on the ice while watching him play.

I
had the chance to see both games in Philadelphia in person and while
neither went well for the Hawks I walked away with a completely
different view on Duncan Keith as a hockey player. I always knew he was
great, I always knew he was one of the best but I still don’t think I
realized just how magical he really is.

Watching in person I was
able to focus on Keith and not have to follow the puck and it was tough
to find a flaw in his game. He’s in nearly the perfect position every
single time he’s on the ice and there is rarely a wasted movement when
he’s playing. Seeing the way he was able to close in on a loose puck,
beating a Flyers player to a spot and making the perfect play on the
puck to stop a scoring chance was just jaw-dropping to witness.

What
does this have to do with the Conn Smythe? For one, he’s the anchor on
an extremely talented blue line and while the rest of his team has
faltered at times against Philly he’s always been a rock. His play never
dropped off and when the Hawks were desperately trying to win two close
games he was the one that was pushing his team forward. He may not have
been successful, but when the rest of his team was struggling he was
the one that found a way to take his game to the next level.

He
may not be as outspoken as Chris Pronger nor as charismatic off the ice,
but he knows how to take care of business when needed. He’s the most
important player on a team poised to win the Stanley Cup, which is
generally the definition of an MVP. He has not taken a penalty in six
games, despite playing against a very physical and speedy opponent. He
finds a way to make the perfect play nearly every chance he gets, and he
is the steadying force that has led the Hawks to this moment tonight.

Consensus:

Since
I’m running this show, and since I believe the Hawks will find a way to
win tonight, then we’re going with Duncan Keith for the Conn Smythe.

Heinen over Wingels right choice for Bruins in Game 7

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The Boston Bruins will make one change to their lineup heading into Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.

Danton Heinen, who was a healthy scratch in Game 6, will be back in the lineup, while Tommy Wingels, who’s played in three of the six games during the series, will watch from the press box again on Wednesday. On paper, this doesn’t seem to be a significant change, but head coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t just making changes for the sake of making changes.

Neither player has made an offensive impact in the series. Wingels has no points and a plus-1 rating in three games, while Heinen has no points and a minus-1 rating in five contests. Even though neither player has popped up on the scoresheet, there’s a significant gap when it comes to their advanced stats. Heinen has a CF% of 49.49, which doesn’t jump off the page, but when you compare it to Wingels’ CF% (39.34), you realize that there’s a significant difference. To further point the arrow in Heinen’s direction, the 22-year-old has zone starts in the offensive zone just 37.5 percent of the time compared to 47.62 percent for Wingels.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 

So, in terms of offense, neither player has really contributed, but it appears to be pretty clear that the odds are on Heinen’s side when it comes to the way they’ve played this postseason.

If we take a look at the standard numbers during the regular season, it’s obvious that Heinen was the more productive player. The rookie had 16 goals and 47 points in 77 games, which is far from terrible for his first year in the NHL. Wingels, 30, had nine goals and 18 points in 75 games with the ‘Hawks and Bruins.

Getting an extra night off during the series could help Heinen find his game. And based on his comments after Tuesday’s practice, it sounds like the coaching staff made their instructions clear. Heinen mentioned that he needs to be more assertive, stronger on the puck and he needs to win puck battles so that he can have the puck on his stick a little more often.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Amid bevy of head shots, NHL attempts to explain rationale

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Drew Doughty watched other playoff games this season and couldn’t believe that George Parros, the NHL’s discipline czar, had suspended him for a head shot.

”I saw four hits last night that deserved more than that,” the Los Angeles Kings defenseman said.

Doughty’s one-game suspension was the first of several in the first round for a hit to the head of an opponent. Toronto’s Nazem Kadri got three games and Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey and Nashville’s Ryan Hartman got one game each. Washington’s Tom Wilson and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov were among those who got off without significant punishment.

The criticism, from Columbus to Colorado and from New Jersey to Los Angeles, was loud enough that the NHL’s department of player safety put out a video last week explaining its reasoning for suspending Doughty and Hartman but not Kucherov or Predators center Ryan Johansen.

”The illegal check to the head rule is often misunderstood or misstated,” the league said in the video. ”Illegal checks to the head and legal full body hits often look similar at first glance because the difference between legal and illegal can be a matter of inches in a sport that moves fast.”

Discontent over the goalie interference rule has been grabbing headlines for weeks, but the head shot discussion carries far more serious implications for a league still grappling with how best to protect its players. What’s acceptable has evolved from the early days of hockey through Scott Stevens’ then-legal crushing blow on Eric Lindros in 2000 to today, where checks to the head are parsed frame-by-frame to determine if a line was crossed. The NHL, too, is still facing a federal class-action concussion lawsuit filed by former players alleging it failed to warn them about the health risks associated with head injuries.

Meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman insisted there was nothing new about the subject. Asked about player safety, Bettman said Parros is off to good start in the former enforcer’s first season as vice president of player safety. He said he is proud of player safety’s transparency in the form of videos detailing the reasons for suspending a player.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

”Sometimes we get accused of splitting hairs, but that’s exactly what they have to do,” Bettman said. ”I think he’s reached the appropriate conclusion when it’s been a hockey play that doesn’t transcend the rules and I think he’s been appropriately punitive in cases where it warranted it. There’s never going to be a shortage of critics of what they do.”

Doughty, a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, said he hit Vegas forward William Carrier‘s shoulder first before his head in Game 1. Kings coach John Stevens added: ”As long as I’m on the earth, I’m going to agree to disagree with that decision.”

The league video emphasized that an illegal check to the head concerns a player’s head being the main point of contact, not the first point of contact. Based on experience, the league said, a player’s head snapping back on these kinds of hits indicates significant head contact.

Los Angeles general manager Rob Blake, who worked under Brendan Shanahan in the department of player safety from 2010-2013, said it’s a tough job while at the same time reiterating the organization was unhappy with the suspension of Doughty. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was upset forward Josh Anderson was ejected from Game 1 against Washington for boarding Michal Kempny and called a hit to the head of Alexander Wennberg from Washington’s Tom Wilson that got only a minor penalty ”dangerous.”

Wilson was not given a hearing or suspended. Wennberg missed Games 2, 3 and 4 and the hit was not included in the NHL’s explanation video.

Columbus coach John Tortorella didn’t want to weigh in on the lack of punishment for Wilson, a common refrain across the NHL because nothing can be done after the fact. For a more specific reason, Bettman doesn’t weigh in on suspensions because any appeals go to him. He does look at suspension videos before they are issued.

”I watch as a fan to make sure they make sense,” Bettman said. ”I want to make sure the videos we send out are clear.”

”I think player safety as a whole has done an extraordinarily good job of changing the culture,” Bettman said.” We have players not making certain types of hits anymore. We have players who are more accountable for their conduct and understand it and I believe that they’ve been consistent.”

AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, and Sports Deputy Editor for Newsgathering Howie Rumberg in New York contributed.

PHT Morning Skate: Is Tavares to Avs realistic?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Bruce Cassidy has a few important lineup decisions to make heading into Game 7 against the Leafs tonight. Does Danton Heinen come back into the lineup? Should Ryan Donato suit up? (Boston.com)

• It’s no secret that the Canadiens are lacking quality bodies on defense. Winning this weekend’s draft lottery and drafting Rasmus Dahlin would fix a lot of problems. (Sportsnet)

• It was a tough year for Braden Holtby, but he managed to come through at the most crucial time of the season. (Washington Post)

• Bill Peters opting out of his contract with the Carolina Hurricanes was a good thing for his former team because they badly needed a change behind the bench. (Cardiac Cane)

Leo Komarov is healthy, but it seems unlikely that Mike Babcock will play him in Game 7 against the Bruins tonight. (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Two Denver Post writers debate whether or not it’s realistic to think that John Tavares could end up in Colorado. (Denver Post)

Shea Theodore has played some good hockey for the Golden Knights this postseason, which isn’t surprising when you look at his body of work in last year’s playoffs. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Former NHL goalie Arturs Irbe is going to be honored by the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation. They’ll be retiring his number ahead of a game against Switzerland. (The Province)

• College basketball has a problem with their “one-and-done” rule. To fix it, they should take a page out of the NHL’s book when it comes to college prospects. (Raleigh News & Observer)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: NHL announces second round openers

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We have one game left in the opening round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will do battle at TD Garden Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in Game 7 with the winner advancing to face the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As we wait for the full second-round schedule, the NHL has released the start dates and times for opening games of each series, including the situations depending on whether the Bruins or Maple Leafs win.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Thursday, April 26

• The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will kick off at 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN) from Capital One Center in Washington, D.C.

• Out West, the San Jose Sharks will visit T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas Golden Knights for their opener at 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN).

Friday, April 27

• The top two teams in the NHL will meet in the first game of their best-of-7 at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN) as the Nashville Predators play host to Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets.

Saturday, April 28

If Boston advances, the Bruins and Lightning will play Game 1 at 3 p.m. ET (NBC) at AMALIE Arena in Tampa.

If Toronto advances, the Maple Leafs will get their Hockey Night in Canada timeslot and visit the Lightning at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.