The race for number one… In the 2011 NHL draft

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While attention to the playoff position jockeying is rightfully gathering a lot of attention through most cities in the NHL, there’s a special race of its own developing for the also-rans.

Fans in Ottawa, Denver, Edmonton, and Long Island haven’t had too much to get excited about this year but perhaps the prospect of being able to draft one of the NHL Central Scouting bureau’s top prospects is a reason to have hope for the future. Sure there’s no one guy like John Tavares or Steve Stamkos that stands out above all nor a Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin kind of debate shaping up for 2011, but there’s a host of potential stars that these playoff non-hopefuls can look forward to.

Among the names worth remembering right now there’s top ranked skater from the OHL Gabriel Landeskog, Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, QMJHL forward Sean Couturier, WHL forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and QMJHL forward Jonathan Huberdeau. When it comes time to draft in St. Paul this summer, those names could be arranged in any order at the top of the draft and with the race for the top pick being as curious to see as the race for the playoffs is the speculation is rampant as to who people believe is the best.

As it stands as of this writing, the race for the best odds in the NHL draft lottery looks this way:

  1. Ottawa – 53 points
  2. Edmonton – 54 points
  3. Colorado – 60 points
  4. NY Islanders – 60 points
  5. Florida – 60 points

With things being as tight there, there’s a new storyline developing in the race for the top pick and it surrounds the Senators and Avalanche. As you recall, the two teams swung a deal at the deadline trading for each other’s starting goalie. Brian Elliott headed to Colorado and continued to be his mediocre self from this season whereas Craig Anderson has been lights out and fantastic in Ottawa. Depending on how you view things as a Senators fan, it’s either great to see the team rally like this or terrible because now they’re not tanking for the top pick.

The Denver Post’s Adrian Dater ruminates about things today and says that the work Anderson is doing in Ottawa helping them win more games might actually help his old team land the top pick in the draft.

Anyway, one of the reasons for paying attention to the rest of the season, for Avs fans, is where they’ll finish in the overall standings. Right now, they have more points than only three teams – Islanders, Oilers and Senators. All three teams are actually playing some of their best hockey of the season right now, and the gap between the Avs and the lowest-place team (Ottawa) was only seven points.

While it’s still likely the Avs will finish ahead of both Edmonton and Ottawa, the Oilers do play the Avs twice more this season, so that six-point gap could be more easily narrowed. That leaves Ottawa maybe only standing in the way of that No. 1 pick, and Anderson’s red-hot goaltending since the trade (though he lost his last start) could make the difference in dropping Colorado to No. 30.

Obviously Anderson isn’t a secret agent working against the Senators and for the Avalanche (or Oilers) to help them get closer to the top pick. If there was a definitive talent at the top of the draft in 2011 perhaps the tinfoil hat brigade could have a leg to stand on, but as it is who would be taken by which teams is anyone’s guess.

If you’d like a really premature scouting report on the 2011 draft, you’d have to think that Edmonton with their wealth of young forward talent in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Linus Omark they’d be looking at defense meaning Sweden’s Adam Larsson would ideally be at the top of their shopping list.

Ottawa has a dearth of young  forward talent in their farm system and haven’t had a great forward drafted since Jason Spezza. Any one of Couturier, Landeskog, and Nugent-Hopkins are possibilities for them.

For Colorado though, they’re a wild card. They could stand to have a little more forward talent but you’d have to bet they’d love to get their hands on Larsson and have him grow up with Erik Johnson along their blue line for the foreseeable future. Consider the Islanders also as a team that would love to get a hold of Larsson. The Panthers would like to get anyone talented at all, period.

Kings hire John Stevens as next head coach

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The Los Angeles Kings moved fairly quickly when it comes to replacing Darryl Sutter, and they did not have to go very far to do it.

The Kings announced on Sunday that John Stevens will take over as the team’s next head coach. The team will have a press conference on Monday.

Stevens has been an assistant coach with the Kings since the start of the 2010-11 season and spent four games as an interim head coach with the team during the 2011-12 season after Terry Murray was fired, and before Sutter was hired. Following the arrival of Sutter, Stevens went back to his role as an assistant, remaining in that position until now.

“John and I had very productive dialogue this last week in relation to his head coaching philosophy and specifically how he would implement a strategy to activate our players offensively while maintaining the defensive philosophies we have come to be known for,” general manager Rob Blake said in a statement released by the team.

“I am confident that we are both in agreement on how that can be executed. With that said, we believe John has the ideal qualities to lead our hockey club. His wide array of coaching experience, including success as an NHL head coach and his inherent knowledge of our players and those in our development system, is very appealing to us. We are confident he is the best person to lead our hockey club forward.”

Prior to his time with the Kings, Stevens served as the head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers between 2006-07 and 2009-10, reaching the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2007-08 season.

He has a 122-111-34 record as an NHL head coach.

The fact the Kings are promoting from within (something they already did with the general manager role) is a pretty clear sign that even though they are seeking a different direction, they are maybe not quite prepared to go through a complete teardown of the organization.

They have missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, and have not won a postseason series since 2014.

Canadiens spent too much time getting tougher, not enough time getting better

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For several years now the Montreal Canadiens have been a very good, but very flawed hockey team.

Before this season their biggest issue was an overreliance on starting goaltender Carey Price, where they would be content to allow him to make as many saves as he had to make for the team to squeeze out a bunch of 2-1 or 2-0 wins. When he was healthy and on top of his game, his performance masked a lot of the flaws and the team won a lot of games (and he won a lot of awards). When he wasn’t there a year ago, the entire thing collapsed on itself and the Michel Therrien-led Canadiens were exposed for the house of cards they always were. If they were ever going to make the leap to serious Stanley Cup contender they were going to have to find a way to offer their All-Everything goalie some additional support and give him some help.

Their apparent strategy in doing that for this season only seemed to create more flaws. They were on display in their six-game first-round exit at the hands of the New York Rangers.

From the very start of the offseason the Canadiens’ plan for this season seemed to revolve around getting bigger, tougher, stronger, grittier and more difficult to play against. Before the start of the 2015-17 season they traded Lars Eller for draft picks. They traded different draft picks for Andrew Shaw and his playoff experience and “hate to lose” mentality. They traded P.K. Subban for Shea Weber in a deal that will be dissected, analyzed and second-guessed for decades.

To be fair, they also added Alexander Radulov during the offseason, and he not only proved to be the best free agent signing by any team this summer, he was almost certainly the most impactful move the Canadiens made. But even with that addition, the direction general manager Marc Bergevin and then-coach Michel Therrien wanted to take the team in was clear.

It became even clearer at the trade deadline when almost every move the Canadiens made was centered around adding size and grit to the bottom six as opposed to some much-needed offensive punch. Along with adding Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson to their defense, they made the following changes to their forwards before the deadline.

  • They traded for noted cage-rattler Steve Ott, a fourth-line forward that has scored just six goals and recorded only 14 assists in 152 games over the past three seasons.
  • They traded for 6-4, 229-pound winger Dwight King from the Los Angeles Kings.
  • They traded for 6-3, 220-pound winger Andreas Martinsen from the Colorado Avalanche

After the deadline Bergevin talked about not being able to add offense because the price was too high, and that a lot of their goal scoring issues could be fixed by improved confidence from within and that because playoff hockey gets tougher there would not be as many goals scored anyway.

From the Montreal Gazette:

“For us, we felt we had a good start (and) we had four lines producing,” said Bergevin. “Of late, that hasn’t been the case but I feel comfortable that, as guys get more confidence as we move forward, they’ll be able to chip in. And down the road, there won’t be as many goals and there will be those one-goal hockey games 2-1, 3-2, 1-0. It’s a tight league.

“I always say you can play with a bad shoulder or a bad foot but if you have no confidence, you can’t play,” said Bergevin. “Also down the stretch, it’s hard to score. You look at Columbus last night, one of the highest scoring teams in the league. You have to grind it out to score goals down the stretch.”

In other words: We might as well just try to embrace continuing to win every game 2-1.

As for the players they did add, those three forwards (Ott, King, Martinsen) combined to score 15 goals this season. These were their big trade deadline acquisitions.

The Canadiens played two games in this series where all three of them played in the same game. They lost one 2-0. They were 18 seconds away from losing the other one if not for some late-game (and overtime) heroics from Radulov to set up the tying goal in the closing seconds then score the winner early in overtime.

When it came to the decisive Game 6, when Martinsen and Shaw were out of the lineup (and Torrey Mitchell, who had played well in his limited action in this series was, also scratched) Brian Flynn and Michael McCarron (seven combined goals between the two this season) were inserted in.

The Canadiens were basically playing as a (at best) three-line team when it came to creating offense, and that is simply not good enough, especially when the whole mindset of the team seemed to be focussed on getting bigger and tougher. It runs counter to most everything the NHL’s most successful teams have done in recent years. The Pittsburgh Penguins are 20-9 the past two seasons with one of the NHL’s smallest, least physical rosters. When the Chicago Blackhawks had their mini-dynasty they were consistently one of the smallest, least physical teams in the league. Even the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that reached the NHL’s final four in two of the past three seasons, did it with a collection of forwards that can be described as “undersized.”

It is a speed, skill league, and you can’t beat teams anymore by simply grinding them down with bigger, stronger players (you could argue there was never a time that was possible, but that’s a different argument for a different day). The Canadiens seemed to lose the plot on that one from the start, and then doubled down on it later in the season just before the playoffs began.

The Canadiens added their size and grit. But the end result was the same as we have seen from them in recent years: A flawed team that couldn’t produce anywhere near enough offense to make a deep playoff run with arguably the NHL’s best goalie playing at a high level.

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Schedule for Sunday, April 23

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Only two series remain in the first-round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and both of them continue on Sunday.

First, the Boston Bruins look to push their first-round series to a seventh game after their double overtime win on Friday when they host the Ottawa Senators on Sunday afternoon. That game will be followed by Washington Capitals trying to, as Barry Trotz wants to see, push the Toronto Maple Leafs off the cliff.

Here is everything you for Sunday’s games, both of which will be shown on the NBC networks and streamed online.

Boston Bruins vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream Online Here)

Video: Oilers showed off depth beyond McDavid in beating Sharks

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As the Art Ross winner and Hart Trophy frontrunner, there’s no doubt that Connor McDavid is the catalyst for the Edmonton Oilers.

Still, the scary thing for opponents is that, while he created chances against the San Jose Sharks, McDavid wasn’t exactly lighting them up for points.

Nope, as Mike Rupp and Jeremy Roenick discuss in the video above, the Oilers advanced thanks as much to depth scorers – and deft goaltending from Cam Talbot – as they did because of McDavid’s blistering combination of skill and speed.

Now, the Anaheim Ducks rank as an interesting opponent. While the Sharks could slow McDavid with one of the few blueliners who could really give him trouble – relatively speaking – in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it remains to be seen if Anaheim can accomplish the same.

(A fully healthy Hampus Lindholm would increase their odds, mind you.)

Either way, the Oilers’ “other guys” deserve some credit, and they get it in the video above.