PHT Predicts: Second round of Western Conference Playoffs

The second round of the NHL playoffs gets under way tonight in Vancouver as the recently exorcised Canucks take on the first-round-monkey-off-their-back Nashville Predators to see who moves on to the Western Conference final. The Canucks are teeming with talent both offensive and defensive alike while the Predators are rising to the occasion in the postseason and making believers of them all over the league.

Whoever gets the upper hand in that series gets to take on either Detroit or San Jose for the right to go to the Stanley Cup final. In that series, a pair of old rivals renew pleasantries after the Sharks humbled the Red Wings in five games in the second round last year. Detroit is a bit more rested this time around compared to last season but the Sharks would like to get to the Stanley Cup final some day soon.

As for how we see things breaking down out West, we’re a bit more divided in thought than we were during the first round.

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 5. Nashville Predators

James says:

One must evaluate Vancouver’s performance in shades of gray rather than black and white terms. Yes, going to seven games after building a 3-0 lead made them look bad, but they played great hockey in Game 6 as well as Game 7. That decisive game was truly a display of the team’s power, though, as they boasted a ferocious forecheck, a creative offense and – oh yes – a quietly outstanding Roberto Luongo. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne will keep things from getting out of hand, but Nashville just doesn’t have the horses to keep pace with the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler.

The Predators could make things interesting if they take advantage of a Canucks team that’s less than 48 hours removed from a dramatic Game 7 win, but I think this will be that all-important short series for Vancouver. Don’t get me wrong, though; this five-game series will be akin to the Capitals’ tougher-than-it-looked set against the Rangers. I’d wager that the Canucks will win this series quickly, but they won’t ever be glad to face the bruising Predators.

Pick: Vancouver in five.

Joe says:

This series is intriguing to me for a thousand different reasons. It’s Nashville’s first time in the second round while Vancouver is looking to make the Western Conference final for the first time since 1994. History means nothing here though but I can’t help but wonder if Vancouver finally getting past Chicago regardless of what round it happened in is just what they needed mentally to roll through the playoffs. Neither Roberto Luongo nor Pekka Rinne dazzled in the opening round and while both teams showed glimpses of solid offense, I’ve got a funny feeling this one plays out similarly to how the Canadiens-Bruins series did with tight checking, defense, and scoring at a minimum. When it breaks down like that, I defer to the more talented team.

Pick: Vancouver in six

Who do you think takes this second round battle?

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 3. Detroit Red Wings

James says:

It’s stunning how many people are treating this series as a no-brainer for the Red Wings, especially since San Jose beat them in a tidy (if thrilling) five games in 2010 and the Sharks also took the 2010-11 season series 3-1.Yes, these teams are in different situations than last year. And yes, the thought of Tomas Holmstrom tormenting an already-fragile Antti Niemi gives me serious pause.

Still, I cannot shake the feeling that San Jose and Detroit carry the same core strengths and weaknesses – ridiculous offense, top-heavy defense and an average goalie – yet the Sharks happen to be considerably younger and resoundingly bigger than the Red Wings. There’s plenty of reasons to go with both teams, but my gut says to go with the Sharks.

Pick: San Jose in six.

Joe says:

This one is an instant contender for best series of the second round. There’s a genuine dislike between both teams. Joe Thornton comes up big against the Wings, Detroit gets driven nuts by Devin Setoguchi, and Antti Niemi has some of that leftover Chicago swagger from last year. Detroit meanwhile has Henrik Zetterberg coming back, Pavel Datsyuk’s brilliance, and the savvy leadership of Nicklas Lidstrom. You want a heavyweight battle, this is it.

In my mind, this one is destined for seven games. The X-factor here being how good Jimmy Howard can be in goal for the Wings. I think he’s just a tad better than Niemi and the Wings are very well motivated to avenge last year’s defeats.

Pick: Detroit in seven

Disagree with either James or I? Let us know in our poll

Simmonds to miss 2-3 weeks as Flyers’ injury woes continue

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The Philadelphia Flyers are winning a lot of hockey games right now but the injury bug has taken a pretty big bite out of them over the past couple of weeks.

After running out of veteran goalies (Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both sidelined for 4-6 weeks) and needing to trade for Petr Mrazek on Monday night, the team announced on Tuesday that forward Wayne Simmonds will be sidelined for the next two-to-three weeks due to an upper body injury.

Simmonds’ absence will be a big blow to the Flyers’ power play where he has become one of the best net-front players in the league. He leads the team with 10 power play goals this season.

[Related: Flyers acquire Mrazek from Red Wings]

He played 14 minutes in the Flyers’ 7-4 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday and got into a fight with Anthony DeAngelo early in the first period.

In 59 games this season he has scored 20 goals. It is the fifth consecutive season, and sixth time in seven years, he has topped the 20-goal mark. The only time during that stretch he did not reach 20 goals was the lockout shortened 2012-13 season when he scored 15 goals in 45 games.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Canucks don’t trade Erik Gudbranson, instead hand him 3-year extension

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The wondering can now stop as the Vancouver Canucks have extended defenseman Erik Gudbranson for three more years.

The extension is worth $12 million and Gudbranson’s deal will carry a $4 million cap hit through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season.

“Erik is an important part of our team and provides a physical element to our blueline,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning in a statement. “His leadership qualities help us as we continue to integrate younger players in our lineup. He is a quality person, a great teammate, outstanding in the community and we are excited to have him as part of our team moving forward.”

It was two years ago that Benning, who inked an extension with the Canucks last week, traded Jared McCann and a pair of 2016 draft picks to the Florida Panthers for the defenseman. With the direction that the team is currently moving, and with the Boston Bruins coughing up a third-round pick for Nick Holden of the New York Rangers on Tuesday, couldn’t Benning have flipped Gudbranson for something similar before moving on to a Thomas Vanek trade before Monday’s trade deadline?

The Canucks are currently a weird mix of youth and veterans with big contracts, especially at forward — contracts that last beyond next season. They have all but one of their picks in the next three drafts at the moment, and should at least recoup one with a Vanek trade.

This extension is Benning digging his feet in and standing by a bad deal from two years ago. As Dimitri Filipovic of Sportsnet pointed out last week, flipping Gudbranson, whose minutes and possession numbers have dipped in Year 2 in Vancouver, would be the GM waiving the white towel and saying he lost the trade. Now he gets to stand by it and throw platitudes at the defenseman to convince himself that this was the correct way to go.

The one beneficial part of the Gudbranson deal for the Canucks? The lack of a no-trade clause, as per TSN’s Bob McKenzie. NHL GMs love themselves big defensemen and at 6-foot-6, 220 lbs., the 26-year-old checks that box. So there is a chance to pass this contract onto another team looking to add size to their blue line. But for now, that’s clearly not the plan for the Canucks.

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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.

Trade: Rangers trade Nick Holden to Bruins

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The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins have been rumored to be possible trade partners for a defenseman, and on Tuesday afternoon it happened.

It just wasn’t the defenseman — Ryan McDonagh — that people were talking about.

Instead it is Nick Holden heading to Boston.

The Trade: The New York Rangers send Nick Holden to the Boston Bruins for defenseman Rob O'Gara and a 2018 third-round draft pick.

Why the Rangers make this trade: They told their fans changes were coming. The team is falling out of the playoff race, it needs to hit the reset button, and Holden is an unrestricted free agent after this season that probably did not fit in with the new direction of the team.

At 24 and with only 11 games of NHL experience under his belt O’Gara probably isn’t much in the way of a prospect, while the third-round pick is probably the key to the deal for the Rangers.

Why the Bruins make this trade: They get a veteran defenseman to add some depth to their blue line for a potential Stanley Cup run. It’s not the blockbuster move that acquiring a player like McDonagh would have been, but given the low cost it could prove to be a pretty solid depth move.

Holden, 30, has been with the Rangers since the start of the 2016-17 season and has 14 goals and 32 assists in 135 games with the team over the past two years. He had a really strong year offensively a season ago (setting career highs across the board) but has seen a bit of a regression this season. He won’t need to play the 20 minutes a night he was playing in New York and could fit in nicely as a depth defenseman in Boston.

Who won the trade: Both teams get what they’re looking for. The Bruins get a depth defender for a Stanley Cup and don’t have to pay a steep price, while the Rangers cash in an asset that probably wasn’t going to re-sign with them after the season.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Red Wings ‘open for business’ as GM Ken Holland eyes the future

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This is unique ground for the Detroit Red Wings. They are on the verge of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season, something they haven’t experienced since 1983. It’s a new experience for general manager Ken Holland, who is looking toward the future and selling assets, as opposed to bolstering his lineup for the postseason.

Monday’s trade of Petr Mrazek for draft picks isn’t the start of Holland’s overhaul of the roster — he said he doesn’t believe in “massive rebuilds” — it’s just the continuation of a process that he hopes will make the Red Wings contenders again.

Mrazek’s the first to go, and next will likely be Mike Green, an unrestricted free agent on July 1, before Monday’s NHL trade deadline. The Red Wings have a number of players set to become restricted free agents this summer like Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, among others, so there could also be some salary shedding in the next six days (Hi, Luke Glendening!)

“I want us to be a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup,” Holland said as he met the media on Tuesday morning. “I want us to be a better team. We’re competitive. We’re not quite where we need to be. In order to be where we want to be, I’ve got to acquire draft picks, and we need to hit on those draft picks. The more draft picks that I can acquire or young players through trades is a better chance that we’re going to wake up three, four, five years from now, two years from now, and start to see the young players coming onto the team and having an impact on the team.”

The Red Wings currently have seven picks in the first four rounds of June’s entry draft and four in the opening three rounds of the 2019 draft. There will likely be more added before Monday, which will help Holland’s plan.

Hitting on draft picks was a huge reason why the Red Wings became a model franchise beginning in the late 1990s. Scout Hakan Andersson is credited with finding franchise pillars like Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, all of whom played big roles in their Cup victories over the last 20 years.

Hitting on draft picks is also very difficult, which is why the Red Wings were so fortunate that many of their draftees turned into backbones of those Cup winning teams. That’s why Holland says he’s open for business and wants more and more draft choices in his possession so his scouting staff can uncover those gems to lead future teams.

“It’s going to happen at the draft table,” he said.

While there’s an eye on the future, Holland says he’s not looking to tear it all down. He also isn’t putting all of his eggs in the draft lottery basket, noting that just because your odds are high doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to have one of the first few choices; and even then, no team is guaranteed a homerun.

If the Red Wings are to be back to the level they once were, fans can expect what Mike Babcock said when he took over the Toronto Maple Leafs’ job: “pain.” Holland noted that, and while he’s trying to accumulate futures, he still wants to have veterans around to guide those young players. And if you look at their salary cap picture and some of the long-term deals he’s handed out, he won’t have to worry about older guys not being around. Some will be there for quite a while still.

But the one thing hanging over all of this is whether Holland is going to be the guy to see this retooling through. His contract reportedly expires after this season and there are those Seattle rumors, plus the Illitch family may decide it’s finally time to have someone else in the GM’s chair.

Maybe Holland gets kicked upstairs after the season and bides his time before connecting with Seattle whenever they enter the league. But for now his focus is the tough job ahead of turning the Red Wings back into a consistent winner.

“We’re not good enough quite right now,” he said. “For me, it’s about trying to acquire pieces that I think can have an impact on this team three, four years down the road in order to build a team that’s a playoff team, that’s got a young foundation.

“That’s the goal. Those are the decisions that I’m making.”

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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.