Five Thoughts: Sharks and Red Wings provide a Game 7 for the ages

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A legendary Game 7 between Detroit and San Jose fills us with tremendous pride as hockey fans that we can get such nice things this late in the year. With two more rounds to go we can only hope there’s more great things to be had because after this most anything else could feel like a letdown.

1. Let’s give it up for Patrick Marleau for helping get the monkey off his back in in clutch games. Marleau’s goal in the third period proved to be the eventual game winner in San Jose’s 3-2  Game 7 win over Detroit thanks to Pavel Datsyuk’s ridiculous late goal that cut San Jose’s lead from 3-1 to 3-2. It didn’t take too much effort for Marleau to earn the tap in on Devin Setoguchi’s original shot, but sometimes that’s all it takes to get things rolling for you in a positive way.

While Jeremy Roenick was more than critical of Marleau after San Jose’s Game 5 loss to Detroit, Roenick was more than happy to praise Marleau’s effort in Game 7 and for good reason. While Marleau wasn’t an overwhelming presence with the shots on goal or forcing the offensive pressure, he was involved in the play on both ends of the ice. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Marleau’s past in the playoffs, expect him to be a major factor against Vancouver.

2. It’s about time we retired the “Joe Thornton is a choker” label, isn’t it? Thornton had quite the history in Boston for coming up short in the playoffs and not leading the Bruins to the Stanley Cup. His time in San Jose hasn’t proven to be much better since being dealt to the Sharks but in these playoffs, he’s been impressive. Through 13 playoff games, Thornton has 11 points (two goals, nine assists) including a great assist on Devin Setoguchi’s first period power play goal. Thornton’s offensive work hasn’t been the only thing of note for him though as his work shadowing both L.A. and Detroit’s top forwards has been stellar.

Thornton isn’t much regarded as a solid defensive center but in these playoffs he’s given headaches to both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg while following them around the ice. We’ve advocated already this postseason to slow it down with the “playoff choker” label for Thornton and his play keeps making us feel good about that.

3. How about the work of Antti Niemi in the playoffs? He’s done some truly outstanding work and his efforts against Detroit in the second round have been other-worldly. Against Detroit he had just one game that you could hold against him in Game 5 where he gave up four goals on 22 shots. Aside from that, last year’s Stanley Cup winning goalie was solid allowing just 17 goals through seven games against Detroit with a .931 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average. While the GAA isn’t mind blowing, that save percentage is. Niemi was tested quite a bit by the Red Wings and still found a way to come out on top of things. That kind of effort will be needed against Vancouver in the next round in a big way. Vancouver went 3-0-1 against San Jose this season.

4. Since this was just a Conference semifinal round many fans won’t be quick to remember how great this series was and just how dominant a player Pavel Datsyuk is. With all the bumps and bruises the Wings had in Game 7 with Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi leaving the game with concussions, it’s scary to think what could’ve been had those players been able to play all along. Still, Datsyuk did his part to be a creative and dominant force all over the ice both offensively and defensively and came up with one of the prettiest goals you’ll see all playoffs in the third period in Game 7. Datsyuk is lauded rather often for his play but not generally brought up in the same context as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. It might be time to start adding another name to that list.

5. For as great as Antti Niemi was in this series, Jimmy Howard of Detroit was right there with him. The lack of solid backup goalie for the better part of the second half of the year didn’t affect Howard very much and while things were a bit hairy against Phoenix in the opening round, Howard looked outstanding throughout Detroit’s series with San Jose.  When the Sharks were able to put together shots in close Howard stood tall. Many fans wonder if Jimmy Howard is capable of being the tried and true starting goalie for the Detroit Red Wings. If this series and the regular season didn’t sell it to the skeptics, there’s little doubt that those fans will ever be satisfied with how things are. Jimmy Howard is here to stay in Detroit.

Golden Knights might just be best expansion team in NHL history

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LAS VEGAS (AP) Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley has repeatedly said he wants to win the Stanley Cup within the first six years of his new team’s existence.

After Vegas came away with a jackpot from the expansion draft, Foley’s franchise goalie is even bolder.

“Let’s do it earlier,” Marc-Andre Fleury said Thursday. “Why wait six years? I don’t know where I’ll be in six years. Right away our goal has to be to get good, to improve and to go out there.”

Vegas shouldn’t start blocking off the Strip for the parade just yet, but Sin City’s new team is holding a remarkable hand after general manager George McPhee’s 37-player haul from the expansion draft and several subsequent trades.

Nashville general manager David Poile is among many hockey observers who think the Golden Knights have the ingredients for the most competitive expansion team in league history. From Fleury on out, Vegas already has a solid NHL roster with a sturdy blue line and four lines of capable forwards.

What they don’t have is the game-changing playmakers and goal-scorers that separate decent teams from great ones, but they’ve got a plan for that, too: Vegas will add even more top-shelf talent Friday in the draft in Chicago, where McPhee holds three first-round picks, including the sixth overall.

The players who have already arrived in Vegas realize that although they’re starting over, they aren’t starting from scratch.

“They put a great group together,” said forward Reid Duke, who became the Golden Knights’ first player when he signed as a free agent in March. “You never really know what to expect, but they made some big splashes. Got a lot of good players, a lot of good picks. It’s nice to see that they are not only building for right now, but the future, too. They’ve got some smart guys up there, and they know exactly what they are doing.”

McPhee continued his moves Thursday, swinging two trades to add draft picks in place of claimed players who might not have made the Golden Knights’ roster. Vegas shipped defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a seventh-round pick next year to Carolina for Pittsburgh’s second-round pick this year, and then traded David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

After Foley paid $500 million to the league as an expansion fee, the Golden Knights were given favorable franchise-building terms explicitly designed to give them a better chance to be competitive more quickly than the new teams of the previous 25 years.

Instead of forcing Vegas fans to watch several years of plodding franchise-building, the NHL wants the Golden Knights to be decent from the start.

Can they be the best expansion team ever? It’s quite possible.

The NHL added nine franchises between 1991 and 2001, and no team did better than the Florida Panthers, who went 33-34-17 and racked up an expansion team-record 83 points in the 1993-94 season. The NHL still had ties in 1994, so teams didn’t pick up extra points through shootout wins.

All but four teams in the Western Conference recorded more than 83 points last season. An 84-point season would have put the Golden Knights in sixth place in an eight-team Pacific Division last season, ahead of Arizona and Vancouver.

The Golden Knights aren’t ready to make any predictions yet, but once they get together in Vegas for the first time under coach Gerard Gallant, they’ll start to figure out just how good they can be.

That transition to the desert will be easier for some Golden Knights: Deryk Engelland has lived in Las Vegas in the offseason for a decade.

“We’ll get our numbers out there for guys to reach out if they need anything, if it’s a place to crash, to see outside the Strip and come look for places (to live) or whatnot,” Engelland said. “Definitely ready for that part of it.”

The milestones will keep coming for the Golden Knights throughout the summer while they build toward the first game in franchise history in Dallas on Oct. 6, followed by their home debut Oct. 10 against the Coyotes.

Vegas’ first player development camp starts Tuesday.

“It’s a different situation for everybody in here to come into a team where there is no team,” said defenseman Jason Garrison, claimed from Tampa Bay. “It’s the first team. You just want to establish a friendship and a culture right away, and it starts right now and leads into training camp and continues forward to the first game.”

 

PHT Morning Skate: Who should be drafted first overall?

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–Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick, who should be drafted first overall in tonight’s NHL Entry Draft? Different general managers talk about the top two prospects up for grabs. (Top)

–Speaking of the draft, Rotoworld’s Michael Finewax put together his second and final mock draft of the off-season. In this version, Hischier is New Jersey’s pick at first overall, while the Flyers ended up with Patrick. (Rotoworld)

–Klim Kostin is an intriguing draft-eligible prospects in the draft, but there’s a lot of question marks surrounding his stock. The big Russian suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss a good chunk of time. “His physical talent is elite; protects the puck as well as anybody. His scoring got better as the (Ivan Hlinka) tournament went on. Reminds me of Nichushkin.” (The Hockey News)

–The NHL released their regular season schedule on Thursday and The Score looks at seven matchups that need to keep an eye on in 2017-18. Sidney Crosby faces Connor McDavid on Oct. 24, the Habs and Sens play an outdoor game on Dec. 16 and the Golden Knights play their home opener on Oct. 10. (The Score)

–The Golden Knights will continue to tweak their roster before the start of the regular season, but Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire looks at how Vegas stacks up against the rest of the NHL. By the looks of this article, it looks like they’re gonna struggle for a while. (Sportsnet)

–Even though they’ll probably struggle in their first season, the Golden Knights benefited from pretty favorable expansion draft rules and regulations compared to other teams that went through this same process. “This time (the NHL) got it right. They did it fair. Las Vegas is clearly going to have a very competitive club. All of that is to say maybe the league and the owners should have been a little fairer to past expansion teams.” (TSN.ca)

2017 NHL Draft especially big for Devils, Golden Knights

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CHICAGO (AP) The NHL stage belongs to Ray Shero and the New Jersey Devils. Then it goes right back to George McPhee and the Vegas Golden Knights.

In the wake of Vegas’ expansion draft, New Jersey is on the clock with the No. 1 pick of the amateur draft beginning Friday night at the United Center. The only other time the franchise had the first pick was in 1979, when the then-Colorado Rockies selected Rob Ramage.

“I think it’s been exciting for our franchise, exciting time for our scouts,” said Shero, who was hired as New Jersey’s general manager in May 2015. “In addition obviously to the first overall pick we’ve got the nine other picks, which are going to be very important on Day 2.

“But this is, I think, once the dust has settled now with expansion in terms of Vegas making all the selections or trades, whatever they’ve done, it really puts into focus again OK, the draft itself, which is important for every team.”

After New Jersey makes its pick – Shero said the Devils know who they are going to take, but he was keeping that to himself for now – Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado and Vancouver round out the top five. Then Vegas makes the first pick in franchise history.

The Golden Knights announced two more trades Thursday, running their total to 13 selections for this year’s draft. Vegas sent defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh-round draft pick to Carolina for a second-round selection on Saturday. It also shipped defenseman David Schlemko to Montreal for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

Vegas, which selected 30 players in its expansion draft Wednesday night, has three picks in each of the first two rounds. It also has two selections in the fifth and sixth.

“It’s a hard draft,” said McPhee, the franchise’s GM. “Going through it today, it’s been a harder draft that most so it’s taking some time … three picks, it’s a lot to manage and you really have to focus. When you have one pick in the first round, you’re looking for one guy. When you’ve got three, it’s harder. But it’s a good problem to have.”

Forwards Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Casey Mittelstadt and Cody Glass and defensemen Cale Makar and Miro Heiskanen are among the most coveted prospects. Patrick, whose father, Steve, and uncle James both played in the NHL, held the top spot in the NHL Central Scouting Department’s final rankings in April.

Despite missing much of last season with a groin injury, Patrick had 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games with Brandon of the Western Hockey League.

“At the end of the day I don’t care if I go one, two, three, four, like it doesn’t matter to me,” said Patrick, who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field. “I’m just excited to get drafted and have a chance to try out for an NHL team. So it doesn’t matter to me.”

Unlike the past two years, when Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews went No. 1 overall and immediately had a huge impact on their new teams, there doesn’t appear to be a transcendent talent at the top of the draft. Led by Patrick and Hischier, the forwards are generally considered the top position group.

“I think this still will be proven to be a good draft,” Shero said. “Especially as they always look back, there’s always one or two Hall of Famers in every draft. Doesn’t matter where, they’re going to be in this draft 20 years from now. And who is it? That’s what the challenge is for any team.”

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

End of an era: Coyotes part ways with Tippett days after Doan departure

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The Arizona Coyotes will look different in 2017-18, and not just because longtime captain Shane Doan won’t be back. The team confirmed that they’re parting ways with head coach Dave Tippett late on Thursday.

Tippett spent eight seasons as head coach of the Coyotes, peaking with a run to the 2012 Western Conference Final. Early on, he distinguished himself as being able to coach a sound enough defense to help the team correct for a low-budget roster.

In recent years, he hasn’t been able to conjure that same magic. The Coyotes missed the playoffs in the last five seasons of Tippett’s tenure.

“On behalf of the entire Coyotes organization, I would like to sincerely thank Tip for all of his hard work and the many contributions he made to our organization,” Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway said. “Tip is a man of high character and we are very grateful for his leadership during his tenure as our head coach. Ultimately, we have some philosophical differences on how to build our team. Therefore, we mutually agreed that it is in everyone’s best interest to have a coaching change in order to move our franchise forward.”

Along with Doan and Tippett, Mike Smith is also out of town, and the ownership situation has come into focus. Former GM Don Maloney was fired last summer, so this franchise has been making big changes for some time, even ignoring the perennial arena drama.

The Coyotes announced that a new coaching search would kick into gear “immediately.” They might not have scored points with potential candidates considering the last week or so …

It’s a true changing of the guard out in the desert. This is also a time of stability heading into Friday, the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft.

More on the changes

Coyotes receive criticism for the way they handled Doan’s departure.

Mike Smith traded to Calgary, “no consolation prize” for Flames.