Alex Ovechkin

Bodog’s oddsmakers aren’t worried about Alex Ovechkin’s tough 2010-11

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To most casual hockey fans, Alex Ovechkin fell off the map last season. It’s tough to fault that mindset when you consider the fact that Ovi makes about $10 million per year – not counting endorsements involving chocolate and magic powers.

The thing is, sometimes the bounces just don’t go your way. That’s exactly what happened to Ovechkin in 2010-11; the Washington Capitals superstar connected on a career-low 8.7 percent of his shots (the only time he’s ever been under double digits). To give you an idea of how big of a drop that is, Ovechkin took an almost identical amount of shots the last two seasons: 368 in 09-10 and 367 in 10-11, yet he scored 50 goals (13.8 percent) in 09-10 and 32 last season.

It’s fair to assume that at least some of that wasn’t related to luck – maybe Ovechkin was a little worn down, perhaps the Capitals’ decelerated system handcuffed him a bit – but the smart money is on a bounce-back season. In fact, big gambling Web site Bodog wasn’t fooled by Ovi’s off year; they gave him the best odds to win the Hart Trophy next season.

Here are their top six choices (with a tie for fifth):

Ovechkin 4/1 odds
Steven Stamkos 11/2
Sidney Crosby 13/2
Daniel Sedin 12/1
Henrik Sedin 14/1
Pavel Datsyuk 14/1

Interestingly, the Anze Kopitar bandwagon keeps getting more crowded, as the Los Angeles Kings’ previously underrated star was the next highest choice with 25/1 odds. It’s surprising – but delightful – to see the Kings’ marquee talent (not named Drew Doughty) get so much attention after sliding under the radar for quite some time. Maybe that has something to do with LA’s proximity to Las Vegas, but it’s still pleasant to see him get his due.

Here are the top three expected finalists for the Vezina Trophy:

Ryan Miller 5/1
Tim Thomas 7/1
Roberto Luongo 15/2

Looking down the list, Pekka Rinne (10/1) and Tomas Vokoun (18/1) are interesting dark horse choices, with Jonas Hiller (25/1) being an intriguing sleeper as well.

Moving on, here are their guesses for the Norris Trophy:

Shea Weber 4/1
Zdeno Chara 9/2
Nicklas Lidstrom 13/2

Interestingly enough, the Norris process is the only one with the same three anticipated finalists as there were last season. It’s honestly a bit surprising – but likewise delightful – to see Weber get the appreciation he deserves. As far as other awards, Bodog pegs Philadelphia Flyers center Brayden Schenn over 2011 top pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the Calder Trophy and Stamkos tops Ovechkin for the Maurice Richard Trophy.

If you are a gambling fan, Vokoun at (18/1) sure seems appealing. Michal Neuvirth is likely to steal his fair share of starts, but that setup didn’t really hurt Tim Thomas in 2010-11. (Of course, Thomas put together a historic year, but don’t count out Vokoun for big numbers playing behind the first truly dominant team of his impressive career.)

There are plenty of ways to predict how the 2011-12 season will pan out, but looking at gambling odds can be an interesting way to gauge public opinion. So far, the oddsmakers seem like they know their stuff – for the most part, anyway. What do you think about those choices, though?

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.

After advancing to Cup final, DeBoer had Sharks fans coming up to him with ‘tears in their eyes’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Head coach Peter DeBoer addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — When Pete DeBoer was hired to coach the San Jose Sharks, he wasn’t totally cognizant of how much heartbreak the fan base had experienced throughout the years.

Now he knows.

“First year in the community, I didn’t realize kind of the baggage that was carried around,” DeBoer said this morning ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Twenty-five-year season-ticket holders coming up to you with tears in their eyes and crying.”

The Sharks, of course, have never been this far in the playoffs. Prior to this year, they’d made it three times to the Western Conference Final, losing each time.

More painful were the first-round exits. Like in 2009 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and got knocked out by the Ducks, and two years ago when they led the Kings 3-0 before dropping four straight.

It was only after the Sharks beat the Blues that DeBoer fully realized the “gravity of what they’ve been through” as fans in San Jose, and “how important this is to them.”

Not that he’s satisfied with getting this far.

“The business at hand now is to get off on the right foot, plant the right seeds for this series, impose our game,” he said. “Every series is the same — it’s whatever team can impose their game on the other team the quickest and for the longest. That’s our goal here tonight.”

Related: For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

Kopitar will play for Slovenia in Olympic qualifiers

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Anze Kopitar #11 of Slovenia skates against Russia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar will spend part of his offseason trying to help Slovenia qualify for the Olympics.

RTV Slovenia has the story here.

The qualification games will be played September 1-4 in Minsk. Slovenia is in a group with Belarus, Denmark and Poland. The winner of the group will qualify for the Olympics.

The NHL reportedly has no issue with Kopitar’s participation, even though the league has yet to commit to sending its players to Pyeongchang.

Slovenia made its Olympic debut in ice hockey at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

Kopitar will also represent Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup later in September.

Related: Slovenia beats Slovakia for historic win

Zubrus in, Nieto likely out for Sharks in Stanley Cup Final opener

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Dainius Zubrus #9 of the San Jose Sharks skates against Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues 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 Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Matt Nieto is healthy, and ready to go.

But it doesn’t look like he’ll go tonight.

The San Jose Sharks are unlikely to make any lineup changes for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh — at Monday’s optional morning skate, Nieto stayed out late with the extras while the guy he’d (presumably) replace in the lineup, Dainius Zubrus, told NHL.com he was in.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wouldn’t reveal any lineup decisions during his morning media availability, instead talking up both Nieto (for his speed) and Zubrus (for his “heavy” game), adding he liked the versatility the two give the club on a night-by-night basis.

Nieto suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of the Nashville series, and missed all of the Western Conference Final.

Prior to getting hurt, he had three points in 11 games — this after a regular season in which he scored eight goals and 17 points in 67 games.