Stanley Cup Media Day

PHT Predicts: Who will win the Stanley Cup?

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You’ve waited for far long enough for the Stanley Cup finals to start and tonight at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Game 1 will drop the puck in Vancouver. Finally we’ll see Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo square off in a Vezina Trophy-worthy battle in goal while Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Ryan Kesler get to square off with Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, and Vancouver boy Milan Lucic.

You know the matchups by now, but you don’t know how we here at PHT are picking things to go down. Buckle in as we give it to you as straight as we can. Remember, back when the playoffs began we picked the Vancouver Canucks to win it all over the Washington Capitals. Will we stick to our guns or jump on the Bruins bandwagon? All will be revealed.

Matt Reitz says:

The Canucks look like they’re getting better with every passing round.  Once they were able to get past their personal nemesis from Chicago, they’ve gone 8-3 and looked every bit like the team that won 54 games and earned 117 points.  For people who think special teams are a big deal in the playoffs, try this on for size: the Canucks had the best power play in the regular season and have continued the strong play into the playoffs.  On the other hand, the Bruins have a PK that looked like they couldn’t stop a bantam team in the Conference Finals.

Tim Thomas is the kind of goaltender who can steal a couple of games and Patrice Bergeron has been one of the most impressive players in the playoffs, but the Canucks just have too much depth.  They have more defensemen who can play big time minutes, more forwards who can score, more forwards who can shutdown opponents, just more of everything.

Canucks in 6.

James O’Brien says:

The Bruins showed a lot of moxie to get this far. They fought off tough starts in their first and third round series but managed narrow victories against the Canadiens and Lightning in Game 7 showdowns. Boston also shook off a serious 2010 demon in the form of the Philadelphia Flyers, sweeping one of the most powerful (if uneven) teams in the Eastern Conference.

That being said, their defense was exposed regularly by the Lightning’s talented forwards and their power play has been bad enough to become a running joke all around the Internet. The Canucks stumbled here and there, but they were the most complete squad in the NHL in 2010-11. Their offense is explosive and aggressive, their deep defense can provide plenty of offense and Roberto Luongo remains one of the best goalies in the league.

Tim Thomas has been so brilliant, it’s reasonable to imagine him stealing a game or two, especially if the Canucks give in to Boston’s likely urge to play this one close to the vest. While the Sedin twins + Alex Burrows line is one of the best in hockey and Ryan Kesler might rank as the best two-way forward in the game, the Bruins have a nice top line of Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton and an impressive Kesler facsimile (minus the snarl) in Patrice Bergeron.

I could see the Bruins putting up a solid fight, but I could also see the Canucks blowing them out of the water. What I cannot see is a Bruins championship in 2011, though.

Vancouver wins it in 5.

Joe Yerdon says:

Boston’s looked impressive at times through their playoff run while Vancouver has gotten better as the playoffs have gone on. Boston’s resilience against both Montreal and Tampa Bay are a credit to their team but they haven’t faced a team like Vancouver yet in these playoffs. Boston’s playing tough and hard hockey but the Canucks are like a Voltron-type of team that’s the best parts of all the teams they’ve faced and a little bit extra on top of it all. Vancouver can score, they’ve got tremendous depth at all positions, and they’re tough both physically and mentally. Throw in their ability to delve into theatrics when needed to get the heel-like edge and you’ve got yourself a series in which the Bruins have to play absolutely perfect in four games to have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup. I don’t like those odds.

If the Bruins can contain the Sedins, then there’s Ryan Kesler to deal with. If they can’t contain the Sedins, they’ve got much bigger problems on their hands. Asking Tim Thomas to be out-of-his-mind good for a long series might be tough. Boston’s going to have to find ways to get Luongo off his game and while that’s entirely possible, the Luongo we’ve seen since after the Chicago series has been beyond solid. The Bruins defense is going to need to be nearly flawless to win this series and I fear that the Canucks speed is going to catch up to them.

Vancouver wins in 6.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.

Capitals bump Todd Reirden up to associate coach

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals announced that Todd Reirden (pictured) was promoted from assistant to associate coach on Monday.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, most directly, the team shared word that he’ll run Capitals training camp while Barry Trotz works with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Giving Reirden a promotion makes sense, as he’s been linked to some head coaching searches. The Washington Post compiled some of his opportunities:

In the past two years, Reirden has been a serious candidate for two NHL head-coaching gigs. According to the Calgary Sun, Reirden was a finalist to coach the Flames before they settled on Glen Gulutzan, and he was considered for the New Jersey Devils’ vacancy last summer, too. Lane Lambert, another Capitals assistant, was a finalist for the Colorado Avalanche head-coaching job earlier this month, according to the Denver Post.

The Capitals have a pretty well-regarded coaching group, as many credit goaltending coach Mitch Korn with some of Braden Holtby‘s improvement since Trotz took over.

Maybe we’ll see Reirden and Lambert get head coaching gigs at some point, but for now, Trotz’s “coaching tree” stays intact.

Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

“All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.

Win now, worry later: Why the Lightning should go all-in

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

The Chicago Blackhawks employed some great teams in winning three championships so far during the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane era, but there was something special about that first group.

For one thing, Toews and Kane were playing out the final years of their entry-level contracts. Those CBA-powered savings gave the Blackhawks a surplus of players who would eventually be too expensive to retain, most notably Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell.

That fantastic group never faced elimination during an overpowering run to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

Thanks to deft maneuvering by GM Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks were able to reload and put together other strong supporting casts even after big losses, and that could be a profound lesson for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It might be tempting for the Bolts to merely keep their window open as long as possible. Instead, they should take a big swing in 2016-17 and then trust management to recover from any fallout.

Bishop’s expiring contract

The safe move would be to trade away some of the expiring contracts on Tampa Bay’s roster instead of risking getting nothing when they leave.

Many believe that Ben Bishop is on his way out. With one year left on a contract that carries about a $6 million cap hit and Andrei Vasilevskiy getting the Jake Allen-style “you’re the man” extension, it seems like a matter of time.

Keeping Bishop around for one more season might just pay off, though.

For one thing, Vasilevskiy’s shown signs of brilliance, yet his current NHL numbers aren’t overwhelmingly strong. Bishop, meanwhile, kept the Bolts afloat during some tough times in 2015-16.

Even if the Lightning feel like Vasy is the guy, what if he gets hurt? They’ve already seen goalies get injured at inopportune times, and the reigning champion Penguins provide another reminder.

(For more on the Bishop situation, click here.)

Win low, worry later

GM Steve Yzerman deserves ample credit for signing Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to relative bargain deals, but those are still expensive contracts. The squeeze is coming.

That said, the Lightning may want to identify their own Byfugliens and Ladds and go for broke in 2016-17. Let’s not forget how close they were to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance even with Stamkos on the shelf.

It’s tough to imagine the Bolts managing to keep all of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine many opponents managing to contain an attack that features Stamkos, Johnson, Palat, Drouin and other dangerous attackers.

(Plus, another year of evaluation would give Yzerman time to determine who is truly a core member.)

***

It’s a challenging situation, but the Lightning easily rank alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and maybe a few other select teams as the cream of the East crop.

They’re positioned to jostle with the elites for some time, but why not take their best shot in 2016-17 and then make the best of things later on?

Sometimes the difference between really good and truly great comes down to having the courage to make these tough calls.