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

Streit on Canadiens return: ‘Montreal always had a special place in my heart’

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Whether he’s Andrei Markov‘s replacement or a depth addition, the bottom line is that Mark Streit is slated for his second run with the Montreal Canadiens.

Streit, 39, would be justified in feeling like this signing could really tie his career in a nice bow.

MORE: Canadiens sign Streit

(Amusingly for everyone beyond his accountant, with a reported $700K cap hit for 2017-18, Streit is drawing almost the exact same salary as he did from the start; Streit received $600K in 2006-07 and 2007-08, according to Cap Friendly/Cap Geek.)

Back in 2004, the Canadiens drafted him … barely. He was a ninth-round pick, going 262nd overall in 2004.*

All things considered, Streit jumped to the NHL remarkably quickly, playing more than half a season in 2005-06. He would bounce from the Canadiens to the Islanders, Flyers, Penguins, and now back to Montreal. Despite him pretty well-traveled, the Swiss-born blueliner feels most at home with the Habs, as he told the team website.

“Montreal always had a special place in my heart because I started there,” Streit said. “One thing I really always missed was playing at the Bell Centre. It’s a unique rink with unique fans and a unique atmosphere. If you get the chance to play in front of them every night – with the atmosphere and the life in the city – I think it’s very motivating.”

Streit acknowledged the pressure that comes with playing there, and he’d certainly feel some if Canadiens fans are expecting a player who struggled to even crack the Pittsburgh Penguins’ postseason lineup to replace Markov.

Considering his $700K cap hit, Canadiens fans should keep expectations reasonable, especially since Streit tends to really blossom when people don’t expect much from him.

* – In case you’re wondering, that was a respectable ninth round. Danniel Winnik (717 games played, 265th overall), Grant Clitsome (205 GP, 271), Adam Cracknell (203, 279), and Jannik Hansen (580 GP, 287) all made solid careers for themselves. Not bad for guys who were drafted in rounds that wouldn’t even take place today.

Canada would consider Doan, Iginla for 2018 Winter Olympics

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When discussing the construction of Canada’s possible roster heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics, Sean Burke can be almost frustratingly coy. Still, in leaving virtually every available avenue at least conceivably open, he leaves room for some fascinating scenarios.

It might be tough to top this one discussed on TSN’s Overdrive 1050: if NHL teams pass on signing Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan, perhaps the Olympics could be their swan song?

Yes, there are quite a few “ifs” involved, but it’s an intriguing thought during the dog days of the hockey summer.

Burke likely presented more realistic possibilities in acknowledging that professional players plying their trade in Europe, particularly the KHL, might be the greatest source for talent.

“Most of our players will be guys that come from Europe playing in the KHL,” Burke said to TSN’s Overdrive 1050.

When pondering possible entries, recent international tournaments could be helpful.

Looking at Canada’s 2016 Deutschland Cup roster and who they’re sending to the 2017 Sochi Open, NHL castoffs such as Derek Roy, Gilbert Brule, Nigel Dawes, Andrew Ebbett, Chris Lee, and Mason Raymond all seem likely logical choices. College players such as Cale Makar make things more complicated – both for Canada and the U.S. – as well.

In a separate interview with TSN, Burke noted that he would rather not supply specific names himself. Even in being vague, he provided an additional interesting detail: upcoming tournaments may illuminate what Canada lacks on its roster as much as who could have a leg-up on making the team.

And, if nothing else, they’ll get a good look at some players through a rigorous process.

Wow.

That notion makes you wonder if AHL players will be at a significant disadvantage to make both Team Canada and the United States rosters. As the Associated Press notes, AHL teams look poised to loan certain players, but only for a window of Feb. 5-26.

Burke notes that he’ll want a significant chunk of his roster more or less settled around December, and he already pointed to a preference for those who are playing in Europe.

Now, that doesn’t mean Canada or the U.S. will ignore an obvious AHL talent – if available – yet it sounds like those players would face an uphill battle to making the 2018 Winter Olympics.

That said, a lot can change, especially considering how often injuries can throw a wrench in things.

As much as we’d all love to watch a “best-on-best” tournament featuring NHL players, the alternative is also intriguing: seeing how different teams construct rosters from a variety of other leagues/resources.

And, hey, it could be awfully fun to see the likes of Iginla and/or Doan leading a motley crew of young players and former NHLers. Such a thought might even get Doan to admit that he was out of bounds in blaspheming “Miracle.”

Zibanejad jumps at opportunity to be Rangers’ No. 1 center

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It’s reasonable to assume that the New York Rangers were comfortable trading Derek Stepan in part because they believed Mika Zibanejad could step into the No. 1 center role.

That puts a lot of pressure on Zibanejad, who’s never been the top pivot on an NHL team before. If that wasn’t enough, now he’ll need to justify the first big contract of his career (seeing his cap hit rise from $2.625 million to $5.35 million).

MORE: Rangers lock up Zibanejad for five years

At least he isn’t oblivious to this challenge, and as the Rangers website notes, he’s actually super happy* to raise the stakes.

“I think even before signing, seeing Derek being traded was a little bit of an alert to me that I might get a chance to play a bigger role,” Zibanejad said. “As a player, you always want more responsibility and a bigger role. It’s something that I’m working really hard to make sure that I’m … taking advantage of the chance I’m getting.”

Stepan drew criticism – arguably unfair criticism – from Rangers fans for not being quite the No. 1 center many of them wanted, so it will be interesting to see how Zibanejad handles the challenge/burden.

If you were to grade his first season with the Rangers, you might be tempted to hand him an “Incomplete.”

Injuries really limited him for much of 2016-17, but when he played, he was solid, scoring 14 goals and 37 points in 56 games. Zibanejad had a flair for the dramatic, too.

Still, in full seasons, Zibanejad’s produced nice-but-unspectacular numbers. Two straight 20+ goal seasons to finish his Senators days were helpful, but many of his stats more or less fell in line with Stepan’s production.

Now, at 24, it’s reasonable to believe that Zibanejad’s best days are in front of him. It’s also true that, while he’s received nice opportunities to succeed, he wasn’t quite getting those top-line reps that Stepan received.

In all likelihood, it will come down to expectations. If Rangers fans want Zibanejad to produce at a level far exceeding Stepan, they might be disappointed; the bar for a successful season by most forwards’ standards has changed in the NHL, and Stepan’s mostly made the grade. On the other hand, if expectations are kept in check, Zibanejad could be a very nice fit for the Rangers.

Though he might miss the Derick Brassard comparisons now that the measuring stick changed to Derek Stepan.

* – Seriously, the guy said “super happy” a lot.

Yandle is happy Tallon is back running the Panthers

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It’s that time.

We’re approaching August, which means that the deluge of hockey optimism is really headed our way.

Players on teams that missed the playoffs – sometimes badly – will fill notebooks with quotes about how excited they are about next season. Guys whose past seasons were riddled by injuries will say that they’re in the best shape of their lives.

Now, look, there’s nothing wrong with that. And, hey, some of those players will almost certainly end up being right. Sometimes they provide some substance beyond the blindly positive comments.

That’s not really the interesting part of Keith Yandle‘s gushing comments about the Florida Panthers, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. Nope, it’s interesting because he’s praising GM Dale Tallon regaining his post.

“Having Dale back in charge, I think that was the main thing that got everyone going,” Yandle said. “You sense the power over the locker room that Dale can have. It’s such a positive thing when you have a guy like Dale Tallon. Everyone respects him and everything he does for the team. Going into the season knowing he has our back, he has the team, and obviously that he hired great coaches too, it’s a great thing.”

Yandle’s enthusiasm regarding Tallon is interesting because, frankly, Yandle seems like he was part of the batch of analytics-driven signings.

Without knowing for sure, Yandle seems like the sort of defenseman “old-school-types” might not like. There were rumblings that he refused to waive his NMC for the expansion draft, only fueling thoughts that the very executive he’s praising might have wanted him out.

Tallon’s already done work to walk back certain moves from that not-so-old-regime, as he engineered the moves to send not just Jonathan Marchessault but also Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights. There were also rumors that the Panthers were shopping Jason Demers, possibly more than once.

Now, it’s possible that Yandle could be excited about the direction of the team, even if said team might prefer that he was playing elsewhere. Still, it’s an amusing note amid a fairly typical round of optimistic quotes.

(Yandle does make some solid points about why 2017-18 could be better, by the way.)