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.

Report: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

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With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

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National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.