Five Thoughts: Apparently home ice is that important

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Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals provided fans without a rooting interest in who wins just about everything they could hope for in these finals. A physical game loaded with scoring chances paired up with great goaltending and an exciting finish is about all you can hope for out of a Stanley Cup finals. The histrionics were kept to a minimum and the players just shut up and played. Perfect, right? We can only hope the trend continues.

1. Some readers who commented on our last Five Thoughts column found it silly that something as simple as getting last change could make all the difference in the world in how things broke down in this series. Getting home ice isn’t just about having the fans rallying around you and trying to raise the volume level high enough to make everyone deaf, it’s about giving coaches the chance to get the right matchups they want and it’s proving to make a huge difference here.

You noticed Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin a lot more last night because coach Alain Vigneault was able to get them away from the Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg pairing. Sure they didn’t score any points again but they created chances and got the cycle going against guys like Tomas Kaberle and Johnny Boychuk as well as Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid. That’s no accident. Claude Julien did his best to get his matchups right but just couldn’t do it consistently.

Then again, Maxim Lapierre was able to score the game’s only goal against Seidenberg and Chara. Hockey’s a funny game that way.

2. We’re sure that Boston fans are going to be good and lathered up still over what Roberto Luongo had to say last night when he told the media that he would’ve made the stop on Lapierre’s goal because he doesn’t wander from the crease the way Thomas does. Bruins fans will yell about how Luongo has no class in victory and they’re more than welcome to that opinion of him. Let’s just hope they remember that the next time we see something like Brad Marchand comically “wiping his hands” after getting involved with half of the Canucks on the ice in Game 4.

Fans in seek of moral high ground on either side of these Stanley Cup finals are going to find themselves coming up very empty. There’s a lot to dislike about both of these teams but coming up with ways to get yourself even more worked up about things is a self-defeating process. Enjoy the wins, get bummed about the losses but getting caught up in how the players are acting out at each other isn’t going to save your sanity. Let them handle it… They are professionals after all.

3. Claude Julien’s insistence on putting Gregory Campbell on the power play over Tyler Seguin is one of the more baffling choices he’s made in these playoffs. Campbell is a penalty killer and a grinder normally and while Julien insisted that Campbell’s job out there on the power play was to help screen Luongo and tip shots in front he did neither of these things. No one on the Bruins had any sort of net presence at all in fact as Luongo’s night was made easier thanks to not having to deal with any traffic.

Seguin is a purely offensive player at this point in his career and not giving him the few extra minutes in an opportunity made for offense is just stunning. Boston, of course, went 0-4 on the power play including going 0-3 in the first period alone. The Bruins power play hasn’t been anything to write home about at all in the playoffs but it’s choices like this that help it fail.

4. One thing we didn’t see out of Vancouver last night was shoddy defensive play and turnovers from their blue line corps. What that means to us is that we’re probably done seeing Keith Ballard as a Vancouver Canuck in this series and perhaps for good. With Vigneault opting for Chris Tanev over Ballard and Tanev playing a solid Game 5 paired up with Andrew Alberts we’d be stunned to see Ballard again in this series , barring injury of course.

Ballard makes $4.2 million against the salary cap through 2014-2015 and if he’s being utilized as Vancouver’s 7th or 8th defenseman now it’s impossible to see him sticking around after this season. He’s a good player but he’s struggled in Vigneault’s system and his shoddy play in Game 4 will keep him in the press box the rest of the way. The Canucks would be better off with Ballard if he was fitting in as he can be a solid guy, but with how his mental shape has to be and how his confidence has to be shot it’s hard to see him sticking around in Vancouver now.

5. The Canucks have now scored just six goals in this series and they’re one win away from the Stanley Cup. That’s a stunning lack of offense but it proves what it takes for them to win: Keep it tight. Two 1-0 wins in Game 1 and Game 5 as well as a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2. The fact Boston has outscored them so badly in the finals (14-6) makes things look really lopsided but the Canucks are doing the things they need to win. Piling up goals in lopsided games help make things look far different, but the Canucks are a team that’s adjusted all playoffs long to do just what they have to to get by. Whether or not they make the adjustments needed to win in Boston and take home their first Stanley Cup on the road in Game 6 will prove to be their biggest test to date. If they can keep the Bruins uncomfortable at home, they’ll prove to be a champion.

Report: Coyotes to talk to Todd Nelson about coaching vacancy

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The Arizona Coyotes had a somewhat unexpected shakeup this past week when the team and long-time head coach Dave Tippett mutually agreed to part ways after nine seasons together.

The search for a replacement began immediately and according to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal the Coyotes will be speaking to former Oilers coach Todd Nelson about the vacancy.

Nelson spent 51 games behind the Oilers bench during the 2014-15 season replacing Dallas Eakins. Nelson was replaced at the conclusion of that season by former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan. While his NHL head coaching experience is limited to that brief time in Edmonton, he has an extensive track record in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton’s top farm team) and currently the Grand Rapids Griffins (the Detroit Red Wings’ top farm team).

He has spent the past two seasons in Grand Rapids — replacing Jeff Blashill after he was promoted to the Detroit job — and has had a ton of success, leading the team to the Calder Cup this past season.

Predators won’t trade defense for forward help

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After losing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this past week the Nashville Predators have a pretty glaring hole in their top-six that is going to need to be addressed. Along with that, captain Mike Fisher is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is also considering retirement.

Because of those two developments general manager David Poile has made adding a top-six forward a priority for this summer, and he certainly has the salary cap space to get something done.

One thing he is not going to do, however, is trade one of his defensemen to find that help up front.

“We’ve traded enough defensemen in my recent history,” Poile said on Saturday, via the Tennessean. “I think everybody would be pretty much on the same page that our defense drives our team and our corps is as good as any in the league. We will not be touching our defense in the near future here.”

Over the past two years Poile has traded Shea Weber and Seth Jones off of his blue line but has still managed to assemble the NHL’s best defense. The quartet of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm is so good that Poile made sure to protect all four of them in the expansion draft and leave Neal — a consistent 25-to 30-goal scorer signed for one more year on a pretty good contract — exposed for Vegas to take.

Without dealing one of their top-four defensemen it might be difficult to find an impact winger via the trade route, which might force them to turn to the free agent market.

But even that is going to be difficult because it is such a limited market. Now that T.J. Oshie has re-signed with the Washington Capitals Alexander Radulov would probably be the top winger available, but given his history with Nashville there is virtually no chance of that reunion happening. Justin Williams would be an intriguing veteran option, while Joe Thornton could help fill the void at center if Fisher does not return.

Still, not trading from the defense is the absolute right path for Poile and the Predators to take. Not only is that group the backbone of the Predators’ organization and one of the driving forces behind its success, it is also an extremely young group that is all signed long-term on cap friendly deals.

Even with the loss of Neal Nashville still has a deep group of forwards, while youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala could get an increased role and an opportunity to shine.

 

Rangers GM ‘open to anything’ on new Zibanejad contract

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Along with working to fix his team’s defense, the big issue at hand for New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton this offseason is coming to terms with restricted free agents Jesper Fast and Mika Zibanejad.

Following the NHL draft on Saturday, Gorton was asked where things stand in those talks and he said he was hoping to get something done “rather soon.”

What those contracts will look like, however, seems to be a bit of a mystery and Gorton doesn’t seem to have his mind set on any particular structure as far as it being long-term or a bridge deal.

“We’re open to anything as far as Mika. We want to make a good deal.” Gorton said (via the Daily News).

“It could be short-term, it could be long-term. We’re wide open.”

The Rangers acquired the 24-year-old Zibanejad before the 2016-17 season in the trade that sent Derick Brassard to the Ottawa Senators.

His first year on Broadway was mostly a success when he was healthy, scoring 14 goals and adding 23 assists in 56 games. That point per game average would have put him on a 54-point pace over 82 games which would have been a new career high. Zibanejad is just now entering what should be his peak years in the NHL and he’s already proven that he can be penciled in for 20 goals and 50 points every year (he’s been close to the pace for three straight years now). Given that there were only 69 forwards in the NHL that topped both 20 goals and 50 points this past season, that is easily first-or second-line production and a valuable asset.

Following the buyout of defenseman Dan Girardi and the trade of forward Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes the Rangers were able to clear out a significant amount of cap space over the past couple of weeks and currently have more than $20 million in cap space with 17 players under contract for this season. That should not only give them more than enough space to re-sign Zibanejad and Fast, but also perhaps take a run at a free agent like defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk. They only have eight players under contract for next season.

NHL teams can begin talking to pending free agents today

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After completing the NHL draft on Saturday the offseason rolls on for the league’s 31 teams on Sunday.

That is the day pending free agents can begin talking to teams around the league to gauge their potential interest in one another. Obviously no contracts can be signed until July 1, and technically there is to be no discussion of contract terms, but the window is open for discussions to begin.

T.J. Oshie re-signing with the Washington Capitals on Friday already removed one of the big-ticket players from the market. But several of his teammates will be available, including forwards Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner.

Shattenkirk is probably the top free agent available on the market and headlines a weak group of defensemen. He is expected to draw heavy interest from the New York Rangers as they look to reshape their defense.

Up front there is Alexander Radulov if the Montreal Canadiens are unable to come to terms on a new contract with him, while it could be the end of an era in San Jose as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are eligible for UFA status on July 1.