Five Thoughts: Wrapping up on Vancouver-Nashville

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Fare thee well Nashville, you put on a good show to prove that yes, hockey is part of the sports fabric in Tennessee. After some tough seasons the fans there showed well enough that they love them some Predators hockey. As for five thoughts…

1. It’s remarkable that the Canucks were able to win a playoff series without getting major contributions from Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. The twins combined for two goals and five assists in the series and weren’t exactly dominating forces the way they normally are in most other games.

Their absence was made up for by Ryan Kesler alone (five goals, six assists) but as we’ve been stressing all along, if the Canucks are going to win the Stanley Cup they need them both to be on their game and producing offense. A slump in the next round out of the twins would almost certainly mean a failure in the conference finals. Getting nothing from them against San Jose or Detroit will result in another Cup-less season in Vancouver.

2. As huge as Kesler was against Nashville, and let’s face it the Canucks basically get no offense if it isn’t for him, Roberto Luongo’s performance was the real story here. Six games, six starts (crazy to have to stress this after the first round nonsense) a 1.63 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He gave up six fewer goals to Nashville than he did to Chicago despite essentially playing the same number of games. If Luongo can keep this kind of play up, he’s going to silence a lot of his critics. It’s hard to believe that a guy as good as Luongo brings naysayers out as much as he does, but they’re there (yours truly included).

Luongo is a big name, big money goalie and we haven’t seen one of those win a Stanley Cup in a while. If the Canucks do go on to win it all, it wouldn’t be outlandish to give his backup Cory Schneider a lot of credit in helping to keep Luongo fresh by giving him a solid reliever. Luongo hasn’t really had a capable guy like that backing him up in his tenure in Vancouver leading to Luongo starting 70 games a year and running out of gas in the postseason.

3. In a postseason that’s been loaded with role players going above and beyond the call of duty, the Canucks haven’t really had a player like that emerge yet. They’ve gotten some good offense from their blue line with Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler, but up front it’s been the usual suspects doing their part. There’s always time for a secret hero to emerge and if there’s a guy to keep your eye on right now, it might be Chris Higgins.

Higgins has been playing well in the playoffs and with three goals and an assist through two rounds, some of those chances will improve. We’re not expected Conn Smythe-like play here really, just someone out of the woodwork to help spur a team on. Higgins is in that position to be that guy if he continues to play tough and inspired hockey. After bouncing around the last few seasons, he’s carved out a good place for himself in the playoffs with the Canucks.

4. We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a bit about the Predators here and what’s impressed us the most through these playoffs for them is the fans in Nashville. From the tossing of giant catfish on the ice, to the chants that make us think we’re at a college hockey game, to the volume of the crowd at Bridgestone Arena. Not to mention the country music celebrity appeal going on and all of a sudden you’ve got yourself a vibrant and bustling hockey market. It’s incredible to think that this city was in a lot of trouble years ago with maintaining this franchise, but a deeper-than-usual playoff run has sealed it up that this is a tremendous market for the game.

5. We know that Barry Trotz’s system isn’t the most exciting thing on earth, but the one thing that really hurt the Predators in this series was the lack of a game-breaking player. Without that sort of offensive force, the Predators had to try and grind things down and even use the occasional sneaky trick shot to score goals. Playing that brand of hockey is physically demanding and when the puck just isn’t going in the net times get frustrating. Having a guy that can fit into that system and plug 30-40 goals would do the Predators wonders. Unfortunately players like that don’t just fall out of the sky.

It’s Philadelphia Flyers day at PHT

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The Philadelphia Flyers missed the playoffs last season, but the disappointment probably didn’t last too long after the events of the draft lottery a few weeks later.

The Flyers entered the lottery with a 2.2 per cent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick. That selection eluded them, but they still moved up to the second overall pick in June’s Entry Draft. The Devils decided to take Nico Hischier first, leaving Philly to select fellow top prospect Nolan Patrick.

Philly has since signed Patrick to his entry-level contract. The biggest question for Patrick is his health, following a 2016-17 WHL season interrupted by injury. His aim was to resume skating in the middle of July.

Philly traded forward Nick Cousins to Arizona prior to the expansion draft. But the biggest shake-up this offseason in Philly was a draft-day trade that sent Brayden Schenn to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft and a conditional first-round pick in 2018.

Philly didn’t bring back goalie Steve Mason, who has signed with the Winnipeg Jets. The Flyers’ goaltending duo heading into next season has Michal Neuvirth alongside Brian Elliott, who left Calgary and signed for two years at $5.5 million in Philadelphia.

After three years with the Flyers, defenseman Michael Del Zotto has moved on to the Canucks, while Roman Lyubimov has returned to the KHL.

Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines facing the Flyers heading into next season.

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.