Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin

Sedin twins’ struggles aren’t that different from other star slumps in recent Cup finals history

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Whenever a superstar player (or two, in this case) struggles on the league’s highest stage, the opposing defenses rarely get the credit they deserve. Usually media members and fans blame a deficit in an individual’s game – typically their “toughness” or ability to deal with pressure – for Stanley Cup finals failures.

The toughness factor certainly seems to be the major component of the criticism lobbed at the Vancouver Canucks’ Sedin twins, who are struggling to create their typically steady stream of offense against the Boston Bruins. Henrik Sedin hasn’t scored a single point in the 2011 finals series while reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Daniel Sedin scored a goal and an assist in Game 2 for his only points of the championship round. Henrik has a -2 rating so far while Daniel is -1.

For many old-timers, the Sedin twins fall victim to the supposedly “soft European” style of play that many believe doesn’t translate as well to the playoffs as the perceptively more “rugged” North American mindset. Yet when you also look at the struggles of two of the NHL’s biggest stars – two Canadian stars, by the way – in previous years, it’s clear that there’s nothing particularly special about the Sedins’ struggles. In fact, it’s possible that we probably should have seen it coming.

Jonathan Toews won last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy, but he was far from the finals MVP

It’s likely that more than a few sportswriters would love to depict Jonathan Toews as the mighty, hard-working antidote to the floating Sedin twins. Unfortunately for that knee-jerk reaction, the parallels between the Sedins’ slump and Toews’ title round torment are pretty clear.

In six games against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup finals, Toews managed three assists and an ugly -5 rating. Much like the Sedin twins, Toews was forced to deal with an all-world defenseman (Chris Pronger) and needed his teammates to help him win a Cup. As hot as Michael Leighton was during the playoffs, I think we can all agree that the Sedins also face a far more formidable goalie in Tim Thomas.

Sidney Crosby was often foiled by the Henrik Zetterberg-Nicklas Lidstrom combo

In 2009’s seven-game finals series against the Detroit Red Wings, Crosby managed just a goal and two assists with a -3 rating. Much like the Sedin twins against Zdeno Chara, Thomas and the Bruins’ forwards, Crosby found himself frequently frustrated by Lidstrom and Zetterberg.

Luckily for Crosby, Evgeni Malkin exploited the Red Wings’ lesser defensemen enough to win the team’s third Stanley Cup and take the Conn Smythe as well.

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The Sedin twins don’t deserve a “free pass” for their struggles, but they shouldn’t be singled out as “soft” either. Crosby and Toews received some mild criticism when they had tough moments, but the speculation didn’t focus on some perceived lack of intestinal fortitude. (Unless you’re talking about Washington Capitals or Red Wings fans critiquing Crosby, but that’s another discussion for another day.)

It’s really not that tough to figure out why the Sedin twins are having so much troubling filling the net. Much like their first round series against 2010 Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and their second round skirmish with Norris finalist Shea Weber’s Nashville Predators, the Sedin twins are trying to score points against some of the world’s best at denying scorers. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Sedins devoured a looser defense in the San Jose Sharks, either.

The Sedin twins aren’t above criticism for their struggles. The Canucks will probably need more production from them, whether it comes from the power play or 5-on-5 play. That being said, their issues have nothing to do with their manliness. It just shows that they’re human.

Oilers’ Yakimov going back to KHL — this time, on loan

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Bogdan Yakimov #39 of the Edmonton Oilers looks on prior to the start of the game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on October 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Bogdan Yakimov is on his way back to Russia.

On Wednesday, the Oilers announced they’ve loaned Yakimov to KHL club Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik, the same team he joined after leaving AHL Bakersfield last season.

The 83rd overall pick in 2013, Yakimov has appeared in one game for the Oilers since getting drafted. He’s spent almost all of his time in North America in the AHL, and didn’t impress the club last year when he bolted the farm team to return to his native land.

“He made a career decision to return to Russia and I’m not sure how he played or how many games he played,” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said at the time, per the Edmonton Sun (McLellan was then informed Yakimov was away for 11 games).

“Well, that’s 11 games he didn’t spend with us. During his time away, there were a number of players recalled. I would have preferred to see him in an Oilers uniform and he was real close. Now he has to reset his Oiler clock and get playing again.”

All told, Yakimov played in 36 games with the Condors last season, scoring five goals and 15 points.

At 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, Yakimov has impressive size and is still only 21 years old, so he’s got some value. But it remains to be seen whether he wants to try and push for an NHL career, or opt to stay in the KHL.

 

Max is back: Lapierre to attend Rangers camp on PTO

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 01: Maxim Lapierre #40 talks with Craig Adams #27 of the Pittsburgh Penguins before a face-off during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers at Consol Energy Center on April 1, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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After a year abroad, Maxim Lapierre is getting a shot to rejoin the NHL.

Per TVA, Lapierre has agreed to join the Rangers in training camp on a professional tryout. The news comes after he split last season between Swiss League outfit Lugano and Swedish League side Modo, with midseason rumblings there were NHL teams interested in bringing him back.

In New York, Lapierre will be reunited with Alain Vigneault, his former head coach in Vancouver. Vigneault has brought in a few former Canucks during his time with the Rangers, including Tanner Glass, Nicklas Jensen and Michael Grabner.

Lapierre, 31, last played in the NHL during the ’14-15 campaign, splitting time between Pittsburgh and St. Louis. A known agitator, he finished the year with 11 points in 80 games, and appeared in all five games of the Pens’ opening-round playoff loss to the Rangers.

Prior to his time in Pittsburgh and St. Louis, “Yappy Lappy” played in Montreal, Anaheim and Vancouver. His best season came in 2008-09, when he scored a career-high 15 goals and 28 points, earning a handful of Selke votes.

Ready for No. 1 duties, Elliott wants to be ‘backbone’ for Flames

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues tends goal during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 15, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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At 31, Brian Elliott will be one of most experienced guys on the Calgary roster next season.

But he’s also ready to embark on something unique.

Elliott will have the chance to be a clear-cut, unquestioned, No. 1 starting netminder for the first time in his career when the Flames open play in October — an opportunity he’s ready to embrace.

“As a goalie you want to be wanted. You want to have that opportunity,” Elliott said on Wednesday during his introduction to the Calgary media. “I’m going to do my best to be the backbone of the team and try to be a leader and just do whatever I can to be the rock for the guys on the back end and let the guys do the rest of the work.”

There’s little doubt about Elliott’s role in Calgary for next season. He was stellar in ’15-16, posting a .930 save percentage and 2.07 GAA, helping the Blues advance to the Western Conference Final. And the Flames further anointed Elliott as the No. 1 by signing career backup Chad Johnson to fill the No. 2 role.

So, next year is sorted.

But what about after that?

Elliott is a UFA after this season, and so is Johnson. Flames GM Brad Treliving did say at the draft that Elliott’s contractual status and cap hit played a role in the acquisition, adding that discussions about a new deal could be in the works.

“As part of this deal, Doug [Armstrong, Blues GM] allowed me to talk to [Elliot’s] representative, so there may be the opportunity to look at an extension,” Treliving said at the time. “We’ll look at that. There’s no need to rush, but maybe there is a need to look at something.”

It’s been long rumored that Calgary wasn’t looking for a long-term solution in goal, but rather a “transitional guy.” That’s why Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, currently under contract for two more years, had been tied to the Flames.

Looking down the road, it’s clear Calgary is anticipating one of their draftees pans out in goal. The club took Providence standout Jon Gillies 75th overall in 2012, Mason McDonald 34th overall in ’14, and Tyler Parsons 54th overall this  year — but none of them are close to being NHL ready.

Which brings us back to Elliott.

Given how erratic things were in Calgary’s net last year both performance- and contractual-wise, one would assume Treliving would like to keep “Moose” around for more than just this season.

With ‘no expectations’ for Franzen or Vitale to play, Wings aren’t worried about cap situation

Detroit Red Wings v Edmonton Oilers
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At first glance, Detroit’s current financial situation isn’t good. Petr Mrazek’s recent two-year, $8 million extension pushed the payroll to nearly $78 million, well over the $73M ceiling for next season.

But there is a catch.

“Certainly we have no expectations that [Johan] Franzen and [Joe] Vitale are playing hockey this year,” GM Ken Holland said Wednesday, per MLive. “I talked to Vitale after we traded (for) him. He’s having on-going issues with concussion.

“He certainly not expecting to be in camp. I’m not expecting to see Johan Franzen on the ice.”

Vitale, acquired from Arizona as part of the Pavel Datsyuk deal at the draft, carries at $1.16 million cap hit. Franzen, who played in just two games last year while dealing with concussion issues of his own, carries a $3.95M hit.

Putting those two on long-term injured reserve would almost get Detroit right back into cap compliance. Holland can also exercise a similar option with Teemu Pulkkinen, who underwent shoulder surgery this offseason (and makes $812,500).

Thing is, cap compliance isn’t all Holland wants to accomplish.

Though he re-signed Danny DeKeyser to a big six-year, $30 million contract earlier this week, Holland still wants to add to his blue line. The Wings have a surplus of forwards, and Holland has said he’d “love to get a top-three defenseman” prior to the start of next season.

A top-three defenseman will undoubtedly cost a fair bit of money. Which means a fair bit of money would need to go the other way in return.

Detroit has reportedly spoken to Anaheim about acquiring Cam Fowler. Fowler, 24, would be a good fit — he’s got a very reasonable contract ($4 million annually through 2018), the type of money the Wings could bring aboard if they were to part with the likes of, say, Gustav Nyquist ($4.75 million through 2019).

The catch, of course, is that the asking price for defensemen is sky high. It cost the Oilers Taylor Hall to get Adam Larsson out of New Jersey, and there are teams like Boston — still desperately searching for a “transitional” defenseman — that have publicly stated the acquisition cost is steep.

So while Detroit might not be worried about its cap situation for next season, it has to be concerned about having what it takes to upgrade the defense.

Related: Blues GM says he might just keep Kevin Shattenkirk