Conn Smythe Trophy watch: Leading candidates after Game 2

In some ways, the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks’ most prominent Conn Smythe Trophy candidates probably haven’t changed much since we last took a look in mid-May. Yet with the field of teams down to two and Vancouver’s first two home games in the books, we can take a deeper look at which Canucks and Bruins players have the best chance to win the playoff MVP award.

We’ll start with the Canucks since they’re up 2-0 in the series.

Vancouver Canucks

Frontrunner: Ryan Kesler – One thing I think many potential voters overlook is the benefits Kesler receives from a matchup standpoint. He often draws easier opportunities to score since the Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara-type defensemen are usually sent at the Sedin twins. Let’s not forget that the Sedins took over the third period of Game 2 and weren’t much less dominant against the San Jose Sharks than Kesler was versus the Nashville Predators.

Of course, the converse side of getting better chances to score is that he also often faces much more difficult defensive assignments than the Sedin twins. Kesler does a little of everything from scoring (19 points in 20 games), winning faceoffs (54.6 to Henrik Sedin’s weak 45.6 percent) and killing penalties (he’s averaging 3:04 minutes of shorthanded per game, first among Vancouver forwards and second overall). He’s the do-everything forward for the Canucks and while many knew he was an impact player already, the 2011 playoffs have been a star-making experience for the American two-way forward.

His big goals and assists late in many games make him a no-brainer No. 1 candidate … for now.

Strong candidate 1: Roberto Luongo – For all the abuse he took in the first round, he’s been a huge difference maker in the playoffs. Despite a great performance by Tim Thomas in Game 1, Luongo stopped all 36 shots for a 1-0 shutout. He made 28 out of 30 saves to turn Boston away in Game 2 and really hasn’t had many low moments since struggling against the Chicago Blackhawks. Whether it’s skin-tight games against the Predators/Bruins or more wide-open affairs versus the Sharks and Blackhawks, he’s been the better goalie more often than not. Overall, his numbers are fantastic, with 14-6 record, .928 save percentage and 2.16 GAA.

Strong candidate(s) 2 and 3: The Sedin twins – Henrik Sedin has a league-leading 21 points and Daniel Sedin has 18 himself. Kesler is the obvious frontrunner right now, but if Henrik or Daniel put together a couple more multiple point explosions like they did at times in the Sharks series, you just never know.

Dark horse: Alex Burrows – The noted vegetarian might not be as steady of a threat as the other three forwards, but he’s made some huge plays in the postseason. Obviously, those two big OT goals would be the video clips of note, but he has 17 points in 20 games overall.

Boston Bruins

Frontrunner: Tim Thomas – The gulf between Thomas and any other Bruins contributor – even Zdeno Chara – seems pretty huge if you ask me. Thomas hasn’t always been pretty (and allowed a few bad goals, most notably that Game 2 OT tally), but the sum of his work has been astounding. If the Bruins get back into this series, it’ll probably take an astounding set of performances by Thomas, which would make his chances that much stronger. It’s been a great run either way, considering that fact that he has a .93 save percentage in the postseason, with a nice 2.27 GAA.

Strong candidate: Zdeno Chara – It’s been an up-and-down playoffs at times for the Bruins big defenseman, but he’s done everything for Boston. He plays huge minutes (28:17 per game), shows a willingness to comply with wacky power play experiments and has more better days than bad ones amid a very suspect Bruins defense.

Dark horse: David Krejci – The most underrated part of the Bruins’ team is their impressive top line, powered most by Krejci. He has 18 points in 20 games, including 10 goals (four game-winners). If Dan Hamhuis can’t play again, his line could create enough opportunities to turn this series around. An explosive finals round could give Krejci a solid chance to win the Smythe.

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With 2-5 games remaining, there’s still plenty of time for these (and other) players to improve their argument for one of the best trophies in hockey. Who’s your frontrunner so far?

Rebuild on hold? Red Wings reportedly eye Girardi, Hainsey, Daley

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For the first time in ages, the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. To some, the sliver lining was that this might send a message to management to truly commit to a rebuild.

Perhaps GM Ken Holland & Co. aren’t quite ready for that.

Look, one or even a couple of potential free agent signings won’t disqualify the Red Wings from going younger. Still, the rumored defensemen they’re targeting aren’t exactly spring chickens.

Three names floating out there are Trevor Daley, Dan Girardi, and Ron Hainsey.

Daley was mentioned by The Athletic’s Craig Custance, MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, and the Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James. Khan and Custance both mention Hainsey and Girardi, too.

Even in one-case mentions, the “veteran” theme continues, with Brian Campbell‘s name coming up while forward Thomas Vanek seems like at least a remote possibility to return to Detroit.

Let’s look at the ages of the defensemen mentioned, noting that Daley is older than some might have expected.

Daley – 33
Girardi – 33
Hainsey – 36
Campbell – 38

In the case of Daley and Girardi, you could also argue that each blueliner also has a lot of “mileage” for their age. Girardi, in particular, plays the sort of grinding, shot-blocking style that might have accelerated his troubles with the Rangers.

As great as experience might be, even for a “final push,” this sends a troubling signal. In Mike Green (31), Jonathan Ericsson (33), and Niklas Kronwall (36), the Red Wings already have an aging group of defensemen. Kronwall and Ericsson are dealing with injuries that may hinder them for the remainder of their careers, too.

When you also note that Holland exposed 25-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek instead of 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, the picture isn’t especially pretty.

Maybe the Red Wings can have their cake (push for a playoff rebound) and eat it too (start to transition to youth), yet it’s not necessarily the aggressive move toward a rebuild that many likely hoped to see.

At least there’s time for Holland to prove these early worries wrong.

Note: In other Red Wings news, the team signed Ben Street to a one-year extension.

Blue Jackets sign Schroeder after trading for him

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Not long after acquiring him in a minor trade from the Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Jordan Schroeder to a two-year contract.

The team confirms that it is a two-way deal for 2017-18 and then becomes one-way in 2018-19.

Schroeder is guaranteed $350K for the first year of that contract and then $650K in 2018-19, according to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

The 22nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft receives a fitting contract: he’s been a “tweener,” bouncing around the NHL and AHL. He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact, Schroeder at least provides some organizational depth.

That could come in handy, as Portzline indicates that Sam Gagner – not so surprisingly – is expected to garner a lot more attention this time around in free agency. Perhaps Schroeder could serve as insurance for Gagner?

NCAA star Spencer Foo chooses the Flames

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NCAA standout forward Spencer Foo decided to sign with the Calgary Flames, as The Sports Corporation and team confirmed. The signing might not be official until free agency kicks off on Saturday, July 1, but he apparently made his decision.

After managing 25 points in each of his first two seasons with Union College, Foo exploded in 2016-17, racking up 26 goals and 62 points. You can see some of his highlights in the video above.

He didn’t go drafted, so this could be a case of another scorer blossoming late.

Foo is an Edmonton native, so playing close to home in Calgary likely factored into his decision. He was connected to the Edmonton Oilers in earlier rumors while MLive.com’s Ansar Khan indicates that his final choice came down to the Flames or the Detroit Red Wings.

Calgary is already classifying him as a RW. Perhaps he’ll be that long-desired fit for Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan? There’s another positive aspect for the Flames, as this might help to soften the blow of giving up a bundle of assets in the Travis Hamonic deal.

The Sports Corporation tweeted out a photo of Foo, 23, in a Flames jersey:

Which NHL teams face toughest, easiest schedules in 2017-18?

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For NHL schedule nerds, Tuesday felt a bit like Christmas.*

On the Forecheck’s Dirk Hoag is mostly retired from hockey blogging, but he still puts out his beloved “super schedule,” and he combined with Alex Daugherty to do a 2017-18 version, which you should absolutely check out here.

Hoag and Daughtery listed all 31 teams’ total miles traveled and also their number of back-to-back games for next season.

Here are the top five teams for most miles:

1. Avalanche – 48,639
2. Flames – 47,931
3. Blackhawks – 47,926
4. Coyotes – 46,856
5. Oilers – 46,815

Note: the Panthers are the sixth-ranked team and face easily the most travel among East teams with 44,395, up from 41,891.

Now, here are the bottom five for travel time:

31: Penguins – 34,041
30: Devils – 34,052
29. Sabres – 34,175
28. Red Wings – 34,759
27. Maple Leafs – 35,689

The Los Angeles Kings tend to be frequent flyers, but not here; they face the least travel of any West team with 39,915.

That’s not the entire picture, however. These teams face the most back-to-back sets:

1 (tied) – Penguins and Senators with 19
3. Hurricanes – 18
4 (tied) Blackhawks, Blue Jackets – 17
6 (tied) Blues, Islanders, Sabres, and Devils – 16

While these teams face the fewest.

1. Jets – 9 (Winnipeg faces 43,296 miles of travel.)
2. Canucks – 10
3 (tied) – Avalanche, Oilers, Predators, Ducks, and Rangers – 11

Oh, and in their inaugural season, the Vegas Golden Knights travel 42,128 miles and must endure 12 back-to-back sets, so they deal with a pretty middle-of-the-road haul.

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As you can see, plenty of teams see their low travel rates balanced out by high back-to-back game totals. The Penguins are a good example of that.

Then again, some teams just suffer tough draws. As much as conspiracy theorists love to harp on the Blackhawks, they face the third-most travel miles and deal with 17 back-to-back sets.

On The Forecheck’s full list can be seen here, yet they are not the only outlet to do some interesting schedule analysis. Hockey Viz’s Micah Blake McCurdy put together a list of rested/tired games for each team:

Though he also narrowed it down in a way that might make the biggest difference: a rested home team facing a tired road opponent.

Long story short, it’s difficult to really boil down who has the toughest schedule based on one metric. It’s a subjective matter, as you can weigh these “rest/tired” factors, go broad with sheer back-to-back sets, and even lean on jet lag more than anything else.

Still, if you’re the type to wear a tin foil hat, the lists above could really help you cook up some theories about the bad hand your team allegedly drew.

(Opinion: it does seem like Chicago faces more than just salary cap challenges next season, however.)

* – Or whatever holiday resonates. So, Festivus?