Conn Smythe watch: Is it Tim Thomas’ award no matter what?

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With there being at most two games left in the playoffs and the Canucks just one win away from winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, the debate over who the playoffs’ most valuable player is raging. With so many stellar performances throughout the playoffs going on and culminating into the Stanley Cup finals we’ve seen a number of players raise their game in the postseason. The one guy who might win the Conn Smythe Trophy might just get it whether or not his team wins the Cup or not – Boston’s Tim Thomas has been just that good.

Thomas’ consistency through the finals has helped keep the Bruins in the three games they’ve lost and in the two games he’s won against Vancouver he’s played brilliantly including a shutout in Game 4. That kind of play has been a microcosm of how he’s played throughout the playoffs though. His numbers in these playoffs are stellar with a 2.07 goals against average and a .937 save percentage.

That said, if the Bruins lose in six games to Vancouver, can it be justifiable to give him the playoff MVP award when he couldn’t even get his team to a seventh game in the finals? That might be the debate we end up having late Monday night if the Canucks end the series in Boston.

We’ve seen goalies take home the Conn Smythe Trophy in modern NHL time when their team has lost but their teams needed to go seven games in the finals to help make it happen. Ron Hextall did it in 1987 for Philadelphia against Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers and Jean-Sebastien Giguere did it for Anaheim against New Jersey in 2003. In 1966 we saw Roger Crozier win the award for Detroit after being bounced in six games from the finals by Montreal in six games. Glenn Hall won it for the St. Louis Blues in 1968 for St. Louis after helping the Blues win the first two rounds in seven games before they were swept from the finals by Montreal. Philadelphia’s Reggie Leach is the only non-goalie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy on a losing team doing so in 1976 when the Flyers were swept by Montreal.

Who from Vancouver could steal the award away from him though? Boston fans will likely hate the choices.

At the top of the list is Roberto Luongo, the guy who said even he could’ve stopped Maxim Lapierre’s lone goal in Game 5. Outside of the two blowouts in the finals, Luongo’s been solid if not brilliant in the playoffs. His numbers pale in comparison to that of Thomas (2.43 goals against average, .919 save percentage) but if he’s the guy that gets to skate the Stanley Cup around  after playing so brilliantly for two rounds and for most of the finals, he’d be tough to ignore. If Luongo earned a third shutout in the finals, that might be the only thing to keep Thomas from winning it. Yes the award is for playoffs MVP but three shutouts in the finals would probably be enough to help him win it. That’s asking a lot, however.

Another guy you could look at is Alex Burrows. While he’s had more than his fair share of ridiculous nonsense to take attention from how he’s played, he’s the one guy producing in the finals for Vancouver with two goals and an assist (all in Game 2) and throughout the playoffs he’s been solid earning 17 points including nine goals. He helped Vancouver win Game 2 of the finals on his own and he was a menace against both Nashville and San Jose.

We’d throw Henrik Sedin’s name into the mix as he’s second in the playoffs in scoring (behind Boston’s David Krejci now tops with 22 points, four ahead of teammate Patrice Bergeron) but he’s had zero points in the finals. Tough to be a playoff MVP when you’re not producing when the team needs you the most. The same can be said of Ryan Kesler. Kesler appeared to be the front runner for the award heading into the finals after coming off dominating series against Nashville and San Jose, but he too has disappeared in the finals earning just one assist in Game 1 against Boston. It was a big assist just the same leading to the game’s only goal, but his 19 points in the playoffs may not be enough to get the attention of the voters.

It’s not unprecedented that a losing player can earn the playoff MVP award and it’s not even without prior examples of doing it without going all the way to seven games in the finals to make it happen. Granted it hasn’t happened since 1976, but if you had to lay a bet down on who was going to win the Conn Smythe Trophy the easy money appears to be on Tim Thomas.

What do you think? Is it Thomas’ to lose or is there a Canucks player with a shot at it? Is there a Bruins teammate that’s got a chance to steal it from Thomas? Let us know in the comments and vote in our poll.

Gulutzan thinks Flames can be ‘a 100-point club’

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Calgary Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan covered a wide array of topics in a great Q & A with the Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson, with his discussion of how well 2017-18 could go possibly being the most interesting note:

“The challenge, for sure, is managing expectations. We weren’t a 5-10-1 team to start last year, and we weren’t a 16-5 team to end,” Gulutzan said. “We finished with 94 points. I think, realistically, we can do better than that. But to make a jump from 77 to 94 to 118 isn’t realistic. So we have to manage that expectation. Our goal is we think we could be a 100-point club. That’s kind of what I think a lot about in the summer — trying to manage that expectation but also have something in mind that we think we could be.”

Interesting.

Adding Travis Hamonic to a defensive mix that was already quite impressive should raise Calgary’s ceiling to begin with. It doesn’t hurt that many of their best players are in the meat of their primes, from Johnny Gaudreau to Dougie Hamilton to Sean Monahan and more.

Gulutzan praised the size, character, and “play” of new goalies Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, yet that might once again be the reason to wonder if the Flames can make that next step from a team fighting for a playoff spot to a team legitimately contending.

(The jury’s still out on Gulutzan, too, though he makes a reasonable point that 2017-18 could be more stable as his second season after the “mega changes” of his debut season.)

There are some other interesting bits in this interview, which is worth your time, including:

  • Micheal Ferland is slated to start the season as Calgary’s first-line winger alongside Gaudreau and Monahan.
  • Hamonic will likely pair up with T.J. Brodie to begin; Gulutzan says that while Hamonic isn’t a “void” on offense, he expects Hamonic to open things up for Brodie.
  • Gulutzan expects a “big leap” from Sam Bennett.

Check out the full back-and-forth at the Calgary Sun.

If you need even more Flames action, there’s also this:

Francis hopes Hurricanes live up to hype

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t been able to make the jump that some have been anticipating for a while, but that hasn’t shaken GM Ron Francis’ confidence in head coach Bill Peters. At least not yet.

Francis had high praise for Peters and other facets of this Hurricanes team in a detailed interview with Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer.

And, oh yeah, Francis also doesn’t have an issue with the Hurricanes being a dark horse candidate in many eyes.

“It all starts with us and we have a lot of belief in our players and we think we’re capable of having a good year and doing some good things,” Francis said. “I have no problem with people talking about that and putting those kind of expectations on us. Hopefully, they’re right.”

Even so, Francis had some interesting things to say about the makeup of the team, including the fact that while he’s comfortable with where Carolina stands, he’s also open to making a move if an opportunity comes up.

Don’t expect him to bash what they have, though.

Take the team’s set of centers, for instance.

“If you look around the league and you say ‘This guy is a legitimate No. 1, top-line center,’ there’s probably 16 of those guys in the entire league,” Francis said. “They are not easy to find, and a lot of time you have to draft those guys and develop them. We’re hoping we have that kind of guy in our system already, but I certainly feel the guys we have in the middle are elite center men.”

Francis reasonably views Jordan Staal as a sturdy “horse” for the team, and doesn’t seem too concerned by Victor Rask‘s uneven 2016-17 season. Even in also flattering depth options, those two will indeed play a role in Carolina taking the next step, as long as some big changes – Scott Darling getting a significant contract, Justin Williams coming back – end up working out.

That said, file this under “Easier said than done,” as the Hurricanes must navigate the brutal Metropolitan Division to get a “foot in the playoffs.” For all we know, that might not work out even if this group makes some big strides in 2017-18.

Either way, it’s enjoyable to get Francis’ perspective on the team, being that he was one of the most cerebral players of his era. Read the full article here.

Looking to make the leap: Haydn Fleury

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

The Carolina Hurricanes have built an impressive stockpile of young defensemen, arguably the best in the NHL.

Looking at their current NHL roster there isn’t one defensemen under contract for this season that is over the age of 26, while three of their best — and youngest — are all signed to long-term deals. Not only are they young, they are also already really, really good and just need a more stable goaltending situation behind them to help the Hurricanes take a big leap forward this season.

For as good and promising as that group already is, there is another young player in the pipeline that hasn’t even had a chance to make an impact yet in 2014 first-round pick (No. 7 overall) Haydn Fleury.

The 21-year-old Fleury is coming off of his first year of pro hockey, spending the 2016-17 season with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Other than missing part of the season due to injury it was mostly a successful pro debut for the young rearguard, appearing in 69 games and scoring seven goals to go with 19 assists and showing considerable improvement down the stretch following a slow start.

The logjam of young defensemen already in Carolina is going to make it tough for Fleury to crack the lineup, but the No. 6 spot on the blue line does seem to be up for grabs between him and Klas Dahlbeck. Even if he doesn’t grab that spot at the start of the season it seems reasonable to assume that at some point during the season — whether it be due to injury, a trade, or just a lack of performance from somebody else — that he is going to make his NHL debut.

When he does it will be just another promising young player added to a defensive core that already boasts Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Given the contracts Faulk, Slavin and Pesce are signed to, and the fact Hanifin and Fleury are still on their entry level deals it gives the Hurricanes a ton of flexibility when it comes to constructing their roster. Any of them would be attractive pieces in trade talks to make improvements elsewhere, or they can be the foundation of the defense — and the team itself — for the next six or seven years for a remarkably affordable price.

Scott Darling will be the key to the Hurricanes’ season

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This post is a part of Hurricanes day at PHT…

A few numbers to keep in mind about the Carolina Hurricanes as they prepare to enter the 2017-18 season:

  • Over the past three seasons only one team in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings — has allowed fewer shots on goal per game than the 27.3 allowed by the Hurricanes. An impressive number, especially given how young their defense has been during that stretch.
  • Despite those low shot totals the Hurricanes are only 19th in the NHL in goals against. The are the only team in the top-eight in shots against that finished outside of the top-12 in goals against and the only one that has not made the playoffs at least once. Two of those teams have made the Stanley Cup Final at least once. Four have made the the Conference Finals at least once.

So how is a team that is so good at suppressing shots so bad at preventing goals and winning games?

Goaltending.

They are hoping that newly acquired goalie Scott Darling, getting what will be his first chance at a full-time starting job, will be able to help fix that issue.

Over that same three-year stretch mentioned above, Hurricanes goalies — a revolving door made up of Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, and Anton Khudobin — have not managed a save percentage that placed them higher than 26th in the entire league in any one season. That is a pretty significant problem and it has been, perhaps, the single biggest factor in the team’s lack of success on the ice. No one position in hockey can impact the fortunes of a team more than a goalie. Carey Price has taken an average Canadiens team and made them a contender. The opposite has been happening in Carolina.

Let’s just look at this past season as an example, when the duo of Ward and Lack finished with a .904 mark, with Ward (playing in 61 of the games) leading the way at .905.

If the Hurricanes had been able to replace Ward’s performance with a league average number (in the .912 range) in his 61 starts the Hurricanes would have allowed 12-14 fewer goals right off the bat. A league average duo across the board would have cut close to 20 goals off the board over 82 games. That is a potentially significant swing and Darling is the newest goalie that will get a chance to make it happen.

Darling spent the past three seasons serving as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago and playing at a level that made him one of the league’s best No. 2 goalies. Among the 58 goalies that have appeared in at least 60 games over the past three seasons Darling’s .923 save percentage has him sixth in the NHL behind only Carey Price, Matt Murray, Antti Raanta (another backup getting a chance to start this season), Devan Dubnyk and Braden Holtby.

The test for him is whether or not he can maintain that level of play — or anything close to it — when he is counted on to be the No. 1 goalie that gets the top teams every night.

If he can be, the Hurricanes are going to have a great shot to end that eight-year playoff drought given how good their defense already is and how many young, talented forwards they have in their lineup.

If he is not, it will probably be more of the same — a promising young team that just seems to keep falling short in the regular season.