Niklas Kronwall, Valtteri Filppula

Five Thoughts: Detroit is making life miserable on San Jose

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It’s probably for the best if you’re a San Jose fan that you read with caution as things are getting really awkward for the Sharks. They’ll have to find a way to inspire their inner Vancouver Canucks to prevent from being the fourth NHL team to ever get bounced out of the playoffs in a seven game series after leading the 3-0 at one point.

1. The heart of a champion is a dangerous thing. Vancouver got a taste of it in the first round in dealing with Chicago. Old demons that popped up there were eventually vanquished in overtime of Game 7 after the Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead. Now the Sharks get to try to do the same on Thursday night at home against the Red Wings. If there is a team in these playoffs that you absolutely cannot give life to when they’re down it’s the Detroit Red Wings.

Where other teams get down in the dumps after giving up a goal, these Wings don’t do anything of the sort. They rally, they fight back, they lay the big hit, the find a way to score the big goal. With San Jose’s temperamental nature now a major factor it can’t be stressed enough how badly the Sharks will need to get out to hot start and jump on Jimmy Howard early in Game 7.
Planning it and doing it are two entirely different things, however, and Detroit has been decidedly better than San Jose over the last four periods of play. This series has been very close all along but now Detroit is showing that killer instinct we’ve seen from them in the past.

2. Enough can’t be stated about what a difference Niklas Kronwall has been for the Wings. The last few seasons he’s battled injuries, defensive lapses in favor of making a statement hit, and grief for playing a reckless sort of game. Now he’s taken to playing alongside Swedish countryman Nicklas Lidstrom and he’s playing a smarter brand of hockey. Yes, the hits are still coming (just ask Ryane Clowe) but gone are the days of the defensively liable hit and in this new era for Kronwall he’s adding plenty of offense as well.

It was his big shot that Henrik Zetterberg tipped to get Game 6 tied up and he’s scored other goals in these playoffs. Generally when you’re thinking of offense from the Detroit blue line you’re thinking of Lidstrom. Now Kronwall is a factor that opponents have to account for on both ends of the ice.

3. Now what does San Jose do? They’ve had three shots to end Detroit’s season and now it comes down to a Game 7 where virtually anything can happen. It’s not the position that Todd McLellan wanted to see his team in and he seemed almost despondent during the post game press conference. He knows better than most how the Red Wings operate after being an assistant to Mike Babcock.

Still, all the inside knowledge in the world can’t help you if the players aren’t executing well enough to win and that’s where he’s stuck now. It’s not a comforting place for a head coach to be in as there’s no amount of riot act-reading or coddling possible that can snap a team out of a funk like this. The Sharks have to go back to the active pressure they laid out in the series’ first three games and go from there. Everyone’s got to be all in on it though and therein lies the trick.

4. The disappointing play from a pair of San Jose’s biggest stars while they’ve been slumping has been noticeable. We all have heard plenty about Patrick Marleau thanks to Jeremy Roenick’s most unkind but honest words in taking him down a peg but Dany Heatley’s been off his game as well. Whether he’s got a nagging injury throwing off his style of play or not he looked especially bad last night to the point his frustrations are showing on all shifts.

One particular shift saw Heatley get defended off and had the puck taken away from him. Rather than haul around the net and chase down the defender now skating away with the puck, Heatley flopped out in front of Jimmy Howard in an odd fashion only to get up and glare at the official to seemingly beg for a call. While Heatley should be happy the referee didn’t decide to use him as an example of diving, losing his cool after getting his pocket picked and then trying to make amends by giving up on the play to hit the ice has to make Todd McLellan want to pull his hair out. To say that Heatley and Marleau need to step it up in Game 7 is a no-brainer.

5. Speaking of dumb plays, two games in a row now Justin Abdelkader has taken a bad penalty in the waning minutes of the game. He’s been fortunate that Detroit’s killed off those penalties to prevent giving up a killer tying goal late in the game, but you have to wonder if those kinds of bad mistakes are going to cost him a start in Game 7. You can’t afford to have calls going against you and Abdelkader pushing the envelope two games in a row with selfish penalties could earn him a seat in the press box for the final game of the series. Detroit can always fall back on Kris Draper if need be to take his spot in the lineup. Detroit’s playing with fire late in games needlessly but for now Abdelkader is doing enough of the other things right to keep Babcock’s faith in him.

Who might be the next Artemi Panarin?

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks poses after winning the Calder Trophy named for the top rookie at the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Even in an information age where boundless information lies a few clicks away, talented players slip through the cracks.

Jamie Benn won the Art Ross in 2014-15 and came in second place last season, yet 128 players were selected before him in 2007. No-brainer Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby was selected in the fourth round.

We haven’t even covered quality players who weren’t even drafted.

Artemi Panarin stands as an especially mind-blowing example. He went from undrafted free agent to the 2016 Calder Trophy winner after developing – and eventually breaking through – overseas.

As we learned from Vladimir Tarasenko‘s recommendations to the Blues, Panarin was readily available in the summer of 2015, making his 30-goal, 77-point season burn plenty of executives and scouts.

While there are examples of players who fall through the cracks, Panarin feels pretty unusual. Still, NHL Tonight sets out to name a few international players who could make a Panarin-type impact … and, of course, one of those players could suit up for the Chicago Blackhawks:

Interesting stuff.

If you choose not to watch the video, two of the names highlighted were Michal Kempny of the Blackhawks and Nikita Zaitsev of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As defensemen, both overseas signings aren’t likely to make a Panarin-type splash on the scoreboard, but they remain interesting names to watch.

Not quite a Panarin parallel, but …

Allow for a comparison that breaks the rules quite a bit: Alex Radulov stands as likely the biggest impact import of all.

As the 15th pick of the 2004 NHL Draft and with a very high profile, he won’t slip in under the radar like Panarin did last summer.

Still, this is a player who already has 102 points to his name at the NHL level (in 154 regular season games), and despite the playoff drama with Nashville, he also has 14 career playoff points in 18 NHL postseason games.

Honestly, the Radulov signing might be the best move Montreal made during a turbulent off-season.

If any other import can compare to Radulov or Panarin, that team should be very, very happy.

Chances are, we won’t know who to expect, but feel free to name your own choices.

Oilers sign defenseman Matthew Benning, nephew of Canucks GM Jim

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Matt Benning #5 of the Northeastern Huskies skates against the Boston University Terriers during the first period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament Championship game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Even with Adam Larsson added to the mix, the Edmonton Oilers’ organization is short on right-handed defensemen.

It remains to be seen how long it will take for Matthew Benning to make the NHL jump, but the Oilers took a step in the right (right-handed defenseman) direction by signing him to a two-year deal on Saturday.

In case you have some jokes at the ready … yes, Benning is related to Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning. The occasionally lampooned executive is his uncle. His father Brian also enjoyed an NHL career.

*Nervous laugh*

The Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy views the move as the equivalent to landing a “free draft pick.” It might be a nice perk for Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli to land Benning being that he was a 2012 sixth-rounder of the Boston Bruins.

McCurdy indicates that Benning, 22, could rank fairly high among the Oilers’ defensive prospects right off the bat, even if scarce options play a role along with whatever the blueliner brings to the table:

This is the fourth free agent signing of an NCAA player by the Oilers this off-season, though the first involving a defenceman. Previously, highly-regarded forward Drake Caggiula had signed along with right winger Patrick Russell and netminder Nick Ellis. All four are in age 22-23 and well-positioned to make an impact on the pro ranks in the near future, even as their NHL potential is an open book. But collectively they add some meat on the bones of a franchise whose organizational depth has been questionable. 

Interestingly, McCurdy notes that the Canucks were in the running for Benning’s services.

(Waits for a few more Jim Benning jokes.)

Seems like the Northeastern University product received a decent deal, relatively speaking:

Flames management enjoys a rare luxury: a clean slate

CALGARY, CANADA - FEBRUARY 27: General manager Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames address the media before the trade deadline prior to the team's NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at the Scotiabank Saddledome on February 27, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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This is part of Calgary Flames day at PHT …

During the waning days of the Jarome Iginla/Miikka Kiprusoff years, the Calgary Flames ranked as one of the worst things a sports team could be: both expensive and uninspiring.

There were a lot of bloated contracts connected to those days, but when you look at sites like Cap Friendly or General Fanager, the slate looks a lot cleaner heading into 2016-17.

OK, so maybe you could also argue that there are still a few troubling deals to get rid of.

Dennis Wideman‘s $5.25 million salary cap hit, Ladislav Smid‘s $3.5 million mark and Deryk Engelland‘s bewildering $2.917 million cap hit all expire after next season. Chances are, you have an issue with one or maybe all of those deals, so the Flames must be giddy to close in on all that extra breathing room.

And, yes, there are some deals that Flames GM Brad Treliving may regret. Just consider today’s earlier post about Troy Brouwer.

Still, the point is clear: whatever mistakes or strokes of genius that come, at least those moves will be Treliving’s to make.

Consider some of the important calls that await:

  • Such as, how will they sort out Johnny Gaudreau‘s lingering RFA situation this summer?

The easiest path might be to try to convince him to take a deal that is identical to the one Sean Monahan received, but one or both sides likely want something different.

  • Despite bringing in both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, the goaltending future beyond 2016-17 is murky for a simple enough reason: neither netminder is signed beyond that point.

Elliott is receiving a bargain $2.5 million and is currently 31. Johnson, 30, barely comes in behind him at $1.7 million. It’s highly likely that Calgary will spend more money on its goalies in 2017-18, but who might be back?

And how much will the Flames need to see from Elliott and/or Johnson before trying to hammer out extensions?

The good news for Flames management is that they’re not saddled with a goaltending decision they might not have made. The scary part is that, if it doesn’t work out, it’s on them … and could cost someone a job.

  • The Flames ultimately have the power to determine who’s a marquee player and who is a part of the supporting cast.

Gaudreau is key, but it’s unclear if he’ll sign a long deal like Monahan or opt for a “bridge” deal. In addition to Monahan, the Flames signed these players to fairly long deals: Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Brouwer and Michael Frolik.

Yes, you can quibble with Brouwer and maybe another name, but plenty of teams would be jealous of that list overall.

***

Many general managers must navigate minefields of someone else’s mistakes. There are a lot of challenges to the job beyond that, but Treliving & Co. get to make their own.

It’s a luxury that is unlikely to last, but the Flames stand as an interesting team for armchair (and real-life) executives to follow.

Yahoo’s fantasy hockey position tweaks signal end of a very specific era

WINNIPEG, MB - FEBRUARY 11: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets prepares for the faceoff in second period action in an NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre on February 11, 2016 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
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Few things deepen your hockey geekery quite like playing fantasy hockey.

For sports haters and the sports-oblivious, it’s probably bad enough to see grown adults wearing hockey sweaters out in public. What about when someone is obsessing (and sometimes muttering profanities) about a team that only exists to about 8-15 people?

Still, this is the Internet, where niche obsessions can go really deep. Just fall down a rabbit hole about Star Wars extended universe if you want to get a taste.

Us fantasy hockey nerdy dorks got some understandable but still sad news today: it appears to be an end of an era for Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Burns being considered eligible as both right wings and defensemen.

NHL.com trotted out a list of changes to Yahoo’s popular format on Saturday, and the tweaks generally make total sense.

It’s a bit of a bummer, though, as being eligible for a forward and defensive position provided another example of the unusual natures of both Byfuglien and Burns. Luckily, there are about 1,000 Exhibits for each, especially true oddball Burns.

(The debate regarding where either player should line up has largely died out, though.)

Another thing of interest in NHL.com’s list is the most prominent players who can be placed in all three forward spots. That could be a good thing to keep handy if you’re the last-minute preparation type:

The six tri-eligible players among NHL.com’s top 200, Joe Pavelski of the Sharks, Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators, Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres, Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings, Patrick Sharp of the Dallas Stars and Jussi Jokinen of the Florida Panthers, have had their eligibilities reduced. Forsberg and Jokinen, who are now only eligible at LW, took the biggest hits from that bunch.

Forwards Robby Fabbri (now C/LW), of the St. Louis Blues, and Sam Reinhart, (now C/RW) of the Sabres, are the two players who have gone from single to dual eligibility in Yahoo leagues.

Check out the full article here.