Ryan Kesler

Race for the Conn Smythe Trophy

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Now that we’re down to the Conference finals in the East and West, it’s time to get serious about breaking down the race for the other postseason trophy to be handed out at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup finals.

The Conn Smythe Trophy goes out to the most valuable player during the Stanley Cup playoffs and with just four teams to choose from, we’ve got some good cases being made from each of them. We’ll take a look at each team and who the leader and the dark horse candidates are. Think a case needs to be made for someone else? You can always shout at us in the comments.

Boston Bruins

Front runner: Boston is all about the stellar work from Tim Thomas in goal. With a 2.03 goals against average and a .934 save percentage through 11 games in the postseason, Thomas is, statistically speaking, the second best goalie in the playoffs. He’s been rock solid the way he has been all year long in goal for the Bruins as he appears headed for another Vezina Trophy.

When things have gotten too wild around the Bruins goal, Thomas has been cool and collected shutting down opponents. Considering the Bruins haven’t been lights out with the offense, you have to look to the defense and goaltending to find the guys carrying the load and Thomas has been their man.

Dark horse pick: This might be more about betting on the future, but let’s take a look at David Krejci. Through the entire first series against Montreal, Krejci was invisible scoring just one goal. Against Philadelphia, however, Krejci piled up four goals and five assists and now with team playoff points leader Patrice Bergeron, Krejci’s importance is even higher to the team to lead the way at center.

San Jose Sharks

Front runner: Ryane Clowe is the guy we’re eyeballing as the favorite here. With 13 points he’s the team leader and he’s been instrumental to energizing the team throughout the playoffs. It’s no mistake that the Red Wings played their best game of the playoffs against San Jose in Game 6 with Clowe out of the lineup. Clowe plays physical, plays an offensive game that’s more grimy than it is pretty, and finds ways to upset opposing teams routinely. He should have a lot of chirping targets against Vancouver.

Dark horse: Joe Pavelski. Pavelski has just five goals and two assists through the playoffs but name a goal he’s scored that hasn’t been absolutely huge. Pavelski was a bit quiet during the Detroit series with two goals and an assist, but if Pavelski picks up on his heroics against Vancouver and gets the Sharks into their first Stanley Cup final, the legend of Joe Pavelski will only grow larger.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Front runner: Dwayne Roloson is the man. I know the first name that comes to mind is Martin St. Louis and for good reason as he’s got 13 points tying him for second in the playoffs. Roloson, however, has been out of his mind good. Roloson leads all goalies in the playoffs in goals against average (2.01), save percentage (.941), shots against and saves (389, 366). Without Roloson playing as well as he has, the Lightning are toast in the playoffs and likely booted in the first round by Pittsburgh. His work in frustrating the Caps was just as admirable. When you’re as good as he’s been in the playoffs, it’s hard not to pick him as the favorite.

Dark horse: Take your pick between Sean Bergenheim and Steve Downie here. Bergenheim is tied for the lead in goals scored in the playoffs with seven while Downie has shaken off his agitator reputation to put up 12 points. Virtual no-name guys rising to the occasion make for a great story but the truth is, Tampa is loaded with guys who could be in the running.

Vancouver Canucks

Front runner: Ryan Kesler is the runaway favorite here for Vancouver. Kesler’s work against Chicago was quiet but helpful earning four assists. Against Nashville, however, he was a holy terror on ice racking up five goals and six assists. Kesler’s 15 points tie him with the ousted Pavel Datsyuk for the NHL playoff lead in points. While the Sedin twins haven’t exactly been other-worldly the way they ought to be, Kesler’s been dynamic all around.

Dark horse: It’s not really a dark horse pick, but Roberto Luongo has to be up there. He’s earned a shutout in each round of the playoffs, his numbers were unreal against Nashville (1.63 GAA, .933 SV%), and now that he’s past the bogeymen from Chicago, another round or two of putting up big numbers like that could help him steal the trophy from his teammate if the Canucks win the Stanley Cup.

Kronwall out for World Cup, Sweden names Lindholm as replacement

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04:  Niklas Kronwall #55 of the Detroit Red Wings mugs for the camera during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Appropriate timing for this news, given it’s Red Wings day at PHT — Team Sweden has announced that Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall will miss the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, and has been replaced by Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm on the active roster.

Kronwall, 35, has been dealing with a troublesome knee issue all offseason. Shortly after getting eliminated by Tampa Bay, Kronwall acknowledged he had a “rough year” and was seeking options for the knee — but going under the knife wasn’t one of those options, according to Red Wings GM Ken Holland.

That he avoided surgery led some to believe that rest and rehab was the way the club and “Kronner” wanted to fix the injury. If that’s the case, missing the World Cup makes sense — it would give the veteran an additional month to get healthy.

As for Lindholm, scoring this roster spot is a nice feather in his cap. At 22, he’ll be the youngest d-man on the team and got the nod over the likes of Dallas’ John Klingberg, Edmonton’s Adam Larsson, Vancouver’s Alex Edler and Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom.

Lindholm is still without a contract, however, so his situation will be worth monitoring as the tournament draws close.

Related: Rakell added to Sweden World Cup roster to replace Alex Steen

Rich get richer: Dallas signs Hudler to one-year, $2 million deal

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10: Jiri Hudler #24 of the Florida Panthers looks up at the scoreboard as he skates prior to the game against the Ottawa Senators at the BB&T Center on March 10, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Senators 6-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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One of the NHL’s most dynamic offenses has gotten even better — per the Morning-News, the Dallas Stars have inked veteran winger Jiri Hudler to a one-year, $2 million pact.

The confirmation comes after some loud, heavy rumblings that Dallas was in on the former 30-goal man.

On Tuesday evening, a report from Today’s Slapshot claimed that Hudler’s agent, Petr Svoboda, confirmed a deal with Dallas was done.

That initial report was later corroborated by KTCK Radio Dallas host Bob Sturm who, on Wednesday morning, tweeted out “Hudler is true. Book it.”

Shortly thereafter, longtime Stars beat writer Mike Heika made it official.

Adding Hudler to the lineup is a major boon for Dallas. The 32-year-old is just one year removed from posting career-highs in goals (31) and points (76), capturing the Lady Byng trophy in the process.

Though Hudler had a tough time replicating that success last season, he was still fairly productive, scoring 35 points in 53 games for Calgary, and 11 in 19 games for Florida after being flipped to the Panthers at the deadline.

All told, Hudler finished the year with 46 points.

In Dallas, he’ll join a squad that led the league in offense last season (3.23 goals per game) and compete for top-nine minutes in a forward group that features the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin and Cody Eakin.

Loaded, to say the least.

The move also reunites Hudler with Stars GM Jim Nill. The two spent considerable time together in Detroit, and won a Stanley Cup together in 2008.

Looking to make the leap: Anthony Mantha

Detroit Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha (39) scores on Montreal Canadiens goalie Ben Scrivens (40) in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

Anthony Mantha’s been here before.

Two years ago, yours truly wrote a “Looking to make the leap: Anthony Mantha” piece. At the time, Mantha was a 19-year-old phenom attempting to make the jump from junior hockey to the Red Wings — who were still waiting to hear if Daniel Alfredsson would return for a second season.

Yeah, Daniel Alfredsson.

Yeah, it was a long time ago.

And much has happened since, especially for Mantha.

The 20th overall pick in 2013 broke his leg shortly after that piece went live, an injury that stalled his progression and resulted in a difficult year with AHL Grand Rapids. At the end of the ’14-15 campaign, Detroit senior VP Jim Devellano said Mantha had been “very, very, very disappointing,” and Mantha acknowledged he had to work on “a lot of aspects of my play.”

A two-time 50-goal scorer in the Quebec League, Mantha proceeded to watch his name surface in trade rumblings, then failed to crack the Wings roster out of training camp last September. Mantha’s disappointment was compounded when Detroit’s newer, shinier young phenom — Dylan Larkin — became the first 19-year-old to make the team since Mike Sillinger did it in ’90-91.

Head coach Jeff Blashill admitted expectations for Mantha were probably too high, and the club seemed committed to taking a more patient approach with his development.

Until Mantha started changing people’s minds, that is.

Everything seemed to come together for the 6-foot-5, 204-pounder last year. He scored 21 goals and 45 points in 60 games for the Griffins, and started pushing for a recall by scoring his first professional hat trick in February.

At the time, the Wings were still preaching patience. But that all changed in mid-March, as GM Ken Holland made the decision to bring Mantha up and give him his NHL debut.

The results were a mixed bag. Mantha had two goals and three points in 10 games, but his ice time steadily diminished (he received 14:45 in his first contest, and just 6:27 in his last one.) And as the season came to a close and the Wings were in danger of missing the playoffs, Mantha was dropped from the lineup and returned to Grand Rapids.

Mantha’s pedigree and raw ability should put him in position to make the Wings out of training camp this year, but it’s no slam dunk. Fellow prospects like Andreas Athanasiou and Tomas Nosek will push for spots as well, and it’s important to remember that Mantha is waiver eligible — meaning he can go up and down without Holland having to worry about losing him.

But if there was ever a time for Mantha to really make the leap, this is it. He’ll be 22 by the time the season starts, and has had a good taste of NHL hockey.

Now all he needs to do is stick around.

It’s Detroit Red Wings day at PHT

Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg (40) celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period of an NHL preseason hockey game in Detroit Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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The Detroit Red Wings continued their streak of playoff appearances earlier this spring, making it to the Stanley Cup tournament for a 25th consecutive season.

That’s great.

But their appearance was short, as they were once again bounced in the first round — for the third straight year, so consider that a streak of its own — by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With another early post-season exit, attention turned to the offseason. The big story was the future of Pavel Datsyuk, who is 38 years old and had one more year left on his contract, which came with a cap hit of $7.5 million. Speculation started with a report that the long-time Red Wing could leave that organization for his homeland, Russia, at the end of the NHL season and continued from there.

His contract — and cap hit — was eventually dealt to the Arizona Coyotes at the NHL Draft, officially ending Datsyuk’s time in Detroit. He won two Stanley Cups there, and scored 314 goals and 918 points in 953 games with the Red Wings.

Datsyuk has since signed a two-year contract in the KHL.

In hopes of replacing Datsyuk, the Red Wings signed free agent center Frans Nielsen to a six-year deal with a cap hit of $5.25 million.

The Red Wings also brought back goalie Petr Mrazek and defenseman Danny DeKeyser with no arbitration hearing necessary in both cases. Luke Glendening was signed to a four-year contract extension and Darren Helm avoided free agency, signing a five-year, $19.25 million deal.

Brad Richards also retired after 15 NHL seasons.

The Red Wings and the hockey world also lost the legendary Gordie Howe, who passed away at the age of 88.

So many from the hockey and sports world paid tribute to Howe, famously known as Mr. Hockey, including one from U.S. President Barack Obama, who said Howe defined hockey “for a life time.”