E.J. McGuire is missed as NHL Combine starts today

The NHL Combine officially kicked off today as the players started the week long interview process with all 30 teams at the Westin Bristol Place in Toronto. After a few days of being asked hard questions, seemingly mundane questions, psychological questions and repetitive questions, they’ll finally get to show what they can do physically on Friday and Saturday as they go through medical and physical testing on Friday and Saturday. The structure of the Combine is no different than it was last year, but the spirit couldn’t have changed anymore if they tried.

The central figure of the combine, former Director of NHL’s Central Scouting, E.J. McGuire won’t be greeting players, scouts, and media members this year as he passed away from Leiomyosarcoma on April 7th at the age of 58. But even though he won’t physically be at this year’s combine, his spirit is at the forefront of many attendees’ minds.

Two members of Central Scouting shared their thoughts with Mike G. Morreale at NHL.com:

Central Scouting manager Nathan Ogilvie-Harris:
“We want to honor E.J. by making this a great event this year. This was his centerpiece. He helped grow the Combine from the days of starting out in a hotel basement (at the then-Park Plaza Hotel) in a small room with not much media exposure, to where we are today where we’re spread out and holding the physical testing in a more conducive setting (Toronto Congress Center).”

NHL Central Scouting videographer and scout David Gregory:
“He looked at it as an opportunity to make sure people understood everything that the NHL was about and certainly what our department was about. The Combine was a great opportunity to talk to a lot of media, a lot of teams, and people that you usually don’t get to see too often during the year. He had so much passion for what he did and what he believed in. E.J. took the opportunity to solidify all the relationships with vendors and those who worked the Combine. He would set up shop at the hotel and talk and meet with anybody. That was one of the amazing things about E.J.; he made everyone that wanted to talk to him feel like the most important person in the building.”

With the explosion of interest and accessibility with the internet, hockey fans are paying attention to prospects like never before. In the middle of the boom was EJ McGuire—sharing his knowledge with anyone who showed a remote interest (and sometimes even with those who didn’t). His passion shone through with every interview, as he’d talk about the players who were expected to excel, as well as the borderline prospects with the same enthusiasm. His eagerness to share his knowledge spread to all types of fans all over North America—from the casual fan who wanted to know who his team could select, to the super fan who wanted to know everything there was to know about the hidden gems.

Make no mistake that McGuire and his staff were some of the hardest working people associated with the sport 365 days per year; but the NHL Combine and Draft were his Super Bowl and World Series. Since his passing last month, people in the hockey world knew the Scouting Combine was going to be tough without McGuire. But while the show must go on, it’s great to hear he’s still one of the driving forces to make sure the event is a rousing success.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.