If there were two “Cinderella” teams in the NHL last season, my votes would go to the Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche. Both teams were nearly-universal picks for the Western Conference basement, with little in name recognition and new coaches behind the bench.
While the Coyotes saw big losses (defenseman Zbynek Michalek) and significant additions (veteran playmaker Ray Whitney), the Avs have been pretty quiet. They at least maintained some of their highly touted young core, though, signing power forward in the making Chris Stewart to a two-year, $5.75 million contract according to Adrian Dater. Each year will amount to a $2.875 million cap hit and will bring the team’s total payroll to a bit under $41 million for the 2010-11 season.
That’s a solid deal for Stewart, at least considering the mediocre market this summer. The Avalanche provided a little more info on the gritty forward in a press release. Here are a few snippets.
Stewart, 22, led Colorado with 28 goals and finished second on the team in scoring with 64 points in 77 games last season. Stewart, who scored 25 of his 28 goals at even strength, also paced the Avalanche in both game-winning goals (5) and shots (221). The Toronto native was +4 for the season and added 100 hits and 73 penalty minutes. Stewart went on to lead the Avalanche with three goals (3g/0a) in six playoff games.
Colorado’s first-round pick (18th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Stewart made his NHL debut with the Avs in 2008-09, finishing as the club’s top rookie scorer with 11 goals and 19 points in 53 games. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound winger played three seasons of junior hockey with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League and also spent a season-and-a-half with Colorado’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Avalanche experience a little bit of a letdown next season, much like the better-than-expected St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets regressed after surprise playoff runs. Still, Colorado has a nice, young nucleus with forwards including Stewart, Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and T.J. Galiardi. Keeping Stewart in the fold will help them build the kind of core group that could gradually move them from scrappy upstarts to genuine contenders.
The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.
Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.
The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.
Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:
Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:
Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.
Yes, the St. Louis Blues fell short of the Stanley Cup Final, but they still broke some playoff hexes in 2015-16. Apparently Blues management saw enough to bring back Ken Hitchcock.
That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, who report that the Blues are expected to announce a one-year deal with the veteran head coach on Tuesday.
Friedman wonders if these one-year pacts (Hitchcock was on one for 2015-16 as well) may chase away other staffers:
When asked about these scenarios, Hitchcock seemed like he was in favor of experiencing a perpetual “contract year.”
“I scare myself because I think if I take long-term deal, I’m gonna get sloppy,” Hitchcock told Hockey Central at Noon and Sportsnet back in mid-May. “I want to stay on one-year deals.
For plenty of fans, it makes perfect sense to bring Hitchcock back after the Blues took steps forward.
Others wonder if Hitchcock’s style (which leans toward dump-and-chase and “gritty” hockey more than some other teams) may leave the Blues in the dust, however.
That’s a debate for a bar or a message board, yet one can see deeper logic in giving Hitchcock one more shot.
While the Blues have decisions to make – including what to do with free agent captain David Backes – the team is also structured to make another run. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko all have deals that will expire after 2016-17, and each contract is a bargain.
If St. Louis believes that Hitchcock is the right fit for that personnel group, then it makes sense to give him another go.
Generally speaking, the strategic talk heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final focused on the San Jose Sharks’ deeper defense vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blinding speed.
It’s very early, but so far: advantage Penguins.
Pittsburgh came roaring out of the gate in front of a boisterous Consol Energy Center crowd, but it took them a while to break through.
Once the Penguins did, they raced ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals just 1:02 apart.
First, Bryan Rust kept his red-hot streak going with the 1-0 tally.
Moments later, Sidney Crosby made a beautiful pass to Conor Sheary to put the Penguins up two.
There were a few other moments in which the Sharks looked like they were really struggling with the Penguins’ speed, but Martin Jones made some saves that could be big if San Jose can gather its wits.
Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.
Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”
In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.
The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.
One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.