PHT staff predicts the Stanley Cup finals and award winners

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It’s time once again for all of us here at PHT to put our butts on the line. To put our money where our mouths are. To come up with another cliché for things.

That’s right, it’s our Stanley Cup predictions. We’ll give you who we think is making the finals and who’s going to take it all. As a bonus, we’ll even tell you who we think will take home the NHL’s biggest awards. As we’re expecting, you’ll make sure to remember all of these predictions by the end of the year and hold them over our heads when we’re wrong. Of course, if we turn out to be right, we’re going to gloat. A lot.

Without further ado, here’s our thoughts on the Stanley Cup finalists and winner. If you think we got it wrong, go ahead and comment here or vote in our poll. And make sure to check out previews for all 30 teams here.

Joe Yerdon says:

Stanley Cup finalists: Los Angeles Kings vs. Washington Capitals

Stanley Cup champions: Washington Capitals

Yeah, I know what you’re saying. “But Joe, you picked the Capitals to make the finals last year. When are you ever going to learn.” To that I say, “Hey… Shut up.” Much like a kid that can’t keep from touching a hot stove, the Capitals offseason addition of Tomas Vokoun as well as their blue collar additions of Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward along with Roman Hamrlik makes me believe they’ve got it figured out. Put me firmly on the Kings’ bandwagon this year as well. They would’ve been heavily in the mix last year if not for Anze Kopitar getting hurt, but such is life. The Kings are for real but the Capitals are ready to get over all the humps to win it all this year.

James O’Brien says:

Stanley Cup finalists: Los Angeles Kings vs. Washington Capitals

Stanley Cup champions: Washington Capitals

I picked the Sharks to win the Pacific, but the Kings sport the West’s best makeup for the playoffs – two impressive goalies, two first line-caliber centers and perhaps the best defense in the NHL (their fragile group of wingers needs to stay healthy, though). They’re a tough matchup for any West team, but Washington will have just enough of everything to steal the Cup away. The Capitals have a more potent offensive attack, a versatile defense and one of the best goalies in the world. It’s now or never for a significant chunk of this Capitals team – coach Bruce Boudreau included – and I’m leaning toward “Now.”

Matt Reitz says:

Stanley Cup Finalists: Vancouver Canucks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Stanley Cup champions: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Canucks were far and away the best team in the West last season. Most of the team returns intact with even more motivation.

The Pens lost the best player on the planet AND a former Hart winner, yet still were able to transform themselves into a defensive team and earn the 4th seed. Crosby and Malkin rejoin and already strong team–no teams’ offseason moves can compare.

source: Getty ImagesAs for our award predictions, here goes nothing.

Joe Yerdon says:

Hart Trophy:  Evgeni Malkin, Penguins
Art Ross Trophy:  Henrik Sedin, Canucks
Rocket Richard Trophy:  Steve Stamkos, Lightning
Vezina Trophy:  Tomas Vokoun, Capitals
Norris Trophy:  Zdeno Chara, Bruins
Calder Trophy:  Adam Larsson, Devils

James O’Brien says:

Hart Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Art Ross Trophy:  Henrik Sedin, Canucks
Rocket Richard Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
source: APVezina Trophy:  Pekka Rinne, Predators
Norris Trophy:  Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
Calder Trophy:  Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

Matt Reitz says:

Hart Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Art Ross Trophy:  Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Rocket Richard Trophy:  Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Vezina Trophy:  Ryan Miller, Sabres
Norris Trophy:  Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
Calder Trophy:  Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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The PHT NHL Trade Deadline Tracker is your one-stop shop for completed deals as the Feb. 26, 3 p.m. ET deadline approaches.

Feb. 24 — New York Islanders acquire Brandon Davidson from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 23 – Vegas Golden Knights acquire Ryan Reaves and a 2018 fourth-round pick; Pittsburgh Penguins acquire Derick Brassard, Vincent Dunn, Tobias Lindberg and a 2018 third-round pick; Ottawa Senators acquire Ian Cole, Filip Gustavsson, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – New Jersey Devils acquire Michael Grabner from New York Rangers for 2018 second-round pick and Yegor Rykov. | PHT analysis

Feb. 22 – Florida Panthers acquire Frank Vatrano from Boston Bruins for 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 21 – Washington Capitals acquire Jakub Jerabek from Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Feb. 21 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Tobias Rieder* and Scott Wedgewood from Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper. (*Arizona retains 15 percent of Rieder’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – Boston Bruins acquire Nick Holden from New York Rangers for Rob O’Gara and a 2018 third-round pick. | PHT analysis

Feb. 20 – San Jose Sharks acquire Eric Fehr from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2020 seventh-round pick.

Feb. 19 – Washington Capitals acquire Michal Kempny from Chicago Blackhawks for a conditional* 2018 third-round pick. (*Chicago will receive the higher of Washington’s own third-round draft choice or the third-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Washington acquired the Toronto draft pick from the New Jersey Devils as part of the Marcus Johansson trade on July 2, 2017.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 19 – Philadelphia Flyers acquire Petr Mrazek* from Detroit Red Wings for a conditional* 2nd round pick in 2018 or a 3rd round pick in 2018 or a 4th round pick in 2018 and a conditional* 3rd round pick in 2019 (*Red Wings retain half of Mrazek’s salary. *The 2018 fourth-round pick turns into a third-round pick if the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek wins five games during the regular season. That pick will become a second rounder if the Flyers win two playoff rounds and Mrazek wins six games. The 2019 third rounder becomes Red Wings property if Mrazek signs with the Flyers.) | PHT analysis

Feb. 15 – Chicago Blackhawks acquire Chris DiDomenico from Ottawa Senators for Ville Pokka.

Feb. 15 – St. Louis Blues acquire Nikita Soshnikov from Toronto Maple Leafs for 2019 fourth-round pick.

Feb. 13 – Los Angeles Kings acquire Dion Phaneuf*, Nate Thompson from Ottawa Senators for Marian Gaborik and Nick Shore. (*Senators retain 25 percent of Phaneuf’s salary.) | PHT analysis

Flyers defensemen coming up big; Nolan Patrick on the rise

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When it comes to the Philadelphia Flyers’ surge, some of it comes down to the usual suspects. Clearly, the training camp experiment of putting Sean Couturier at center with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek has been a smash success.

The NHL is funny in this regard, though: successful teams might have flaws, but most of them also boast some variety. More and more, this seems like a league where you need star power and versatility.

This season’s seen the big names rebound to old form, yet it’s exciting for Philly to see that Couturier isn’t the only guy who’s gone from “underrated gem” to a legitimate difference-maker.

Two Flyers defensemen have really delivered, in particular this season, and they’re names that are no surprise to hardcore hockey fans: Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are both coming along as planned, if not ahead of schedule.

It’s also not surprising that they’re providing excellent value in very different ways, although in at least one way they converge: scoring goals. As of this writing, there are only 13 NHL defensemen who have scored at least 10 goals in 2017-18, and the Flyers boast two of them.

(Fascinatingly, they aren’t the only teams that boast two defensemen at 10+. The Predators [P.K. Subban and Roman Josi] and Flames [Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton] also reach that mark, and the Sharks are close, as Brent Burns is there while Marc-Edouard Vlasic has scored nine.)

Again, they’ve arrived at this point in different ways.

“Ghost Bear” is just a blistering scorer. In just 58 games, he’s already at 50 points on the season, one of only three NHL defensemen to eclipse that mark so far.

Provorov’s 11 goals and 29 points are nothing to sneeze at, but he’s checking a few more boxes from an all-around standpoint. Provorov is averaging exactly three more minutes per game (24:24 to 21:24) to Gostisbehere, and those are sometimes challenging minutes; Provorov leads Flyers defensemen with an average of 2:43 shorthanded time on ice per game versus an average of three seconds per night for “Ghost Bear.”

This isn’t meant to disparage Gostisbehere, but rather to show that the Flyers boast a power-play phenom and an all-around, more defensive-minded stud on defense. Really, as you can see via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, Gostisbehere and Provorov are basically off the charts in every category.

(Wow.)

With Provorov only being 21 and Gostisbehere hitting his prime at 24, it’s the sort of duo that’s the envy of most of the league. Tantalizingly, it’s not just about the future, as the present is already very bright.

***

One other note: the Flyers are also seeing some signs that Nolan Patrick is coming into his own.

The prominent rookie has been lost in the shuffle due to a slow start (not to mention more injury issues), but now he’s really starting to heat up. In 40 games before the All-Star Break, Patrick only managed nine points. He now has nine points in the 13 games since, including an ongoing five-game point streak, which included a goal in today’s 5-3 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Tidily enough, Patrick’s point streak matches the Flyers’ five-game winning streak.

With injuries to Wayne Simmonds and goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, the Flyers are going to need other players to support the likes of Voracek, Couturier, and Giroux. Gostisbehere and Provorov have been doing just that, and it’s looking like Patrick will be a key cog, as well.

Such developments make you wonder if Ron Hextall might decide to add even more to an improving supporting cast with the trade deadline rapidly approaching on Monday …

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Olympic hockey medal-round shootouts aren’t going anywhere

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — As Tony Granato watched the clock wind down in overtime, he found it hard to believe that an elimination game at the Olympics had to go to a shootout.

The Czech Republic knocked Granato’s United States team out in the quarterfinals in the same skills competition used in the NHL for regular-season but never playoff games. It took a shootout for the U.S. women’s team to beat archrival Canada for the gold medal, and although Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s goal and Maddie Rooney’s saves provided theater, such a classic game going to a shootout felt wrong.

”It’s hard when it’s all said and done to say that it gets decided by a bunch of breakaways, but that’s the rules,” Granato said.

And it’s likely to stay the rule even after two important medal-round games at the Pyeongchang Olympics ended in shootouts instead of teams continuing to play until someone scores like in the Stanley Cup playoffs. International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said continuous sudden-death overtime is not possible in a tournament.

”You cannot let the team play the whole night,” Fasel said Saturday at a news conference in Pyeongchang. ”Yes, it’s a skills test, but it’s a game. … I will never convince North Americans to accept that but it is like it is.”

Fasel added, ”Maybe the Canadians can practice a little more the shootout,” and Granato was the first to admit that winning in a shootout doesn’t tarnish anything. U.S. women’s hockey coach Robb Stauber knows it can go both ways.

”Yesterday the men’s team lost in a shootout, and two of our coaches said, ‘God that’s a terrible way to lose,”’ Stauber said. ”And my first response was, ‘Unless you’re on the other end.”’

Being on the other end is no fun. Ask Eric Lindros or any of Canada’s players from 1994, or Canada’s women’s team that lost the Olympic final for the first time since 1998 after going back and forth for 80 minutes with the Americans.

”It sucks,” Canada goaltender Shannon Szabados said. ”It becomes more individual and less of a team thing, so a little harder to swallow but (it’s) the way it goes.”

IIHF overtime rules call for 10 minutes of 4-on-4 in the qualification, quarterfinal and semifinal rounds and 20 minutes of 4-on-4 in the final before a five-round shootout. The NHL implemented a three-round shootout in 2005-06 but never for the playoffs.

Shootouts have provided some of the most entertaining drama in sports, whether it was Peter Forsberg’s move to win gold for Sweden in 1994 that’s commemorated on a postage stamp, Dominik Hasek stopping all five of Canada’s shooters on the way to the Czech Republic getting gold in Nagano in 1998 or Brandi Chastain and the U.S. women’s soccer team beating China to win the World Cup in 1999.

That’s Fasel’s point: If it’s good enough for soccer, it’s good enough for hockey.

”We are growing up with football and we are used to it,” Fasel said. ”Football is the biggest sport in the world. It is. And they finish the final of the World Cup with a shootout, et voila. So I will never convince North Americans to accept that, but it is like it is. I cannot change it. I’m really sorry about that.”

AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golden in Gangneung, South Korea, and James Ellingworth in Pyeongchang, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno at https://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

Trade: Islanders get Brandon Davidson from Oilers

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Maybe the third time will be the charm for Peter Chiarelli.

The first two times he has made a trade with New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow he has, well, let us just say he has not done well.

There was the trade that sent two draft picks to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart. Those two draft picks turned into Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. Reinhart is no longer in the Oilers organization and only played 29 games for the team.

Then this past summer he traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome. So far this season Eberle has 21 goals and 44 total points  for the Islanders while Strome, who has topped 40 points in a season just once in his career, has just nine goals and 15 assists for the Oilers.

There is no way this trade can turn out to be that bad. Right? Right?!

Let us take a look at it.

The trade: The Edmonton Oilers traded defenseman Brandon Davidson to the New York Islanders in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick.

Why the Islanders are making this trade: Have you seen their defense? Have you seen the way they play defensively? They are DESPERATE. They have an offense that can score with the best teams in the NHL. They are getting amazing years out of John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle. They are fourth in the NHL in goals for. They are 31st in goals against. There are only 31 teams in the league. They need to find somebody — anybody! — that can help them prevent goals. Is Davidson a game-changer? Not at all. He is probably at best a bottom-pairing defenseman. But he is something.

The Islanders enter play on Saturday one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Why the Oilers are making this trade: They are going nowhere and looking to unload anyone they can. Davidson is in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent this season and would probably get a bit of a raise over his $1.4 million salary cap hit this season. That is something the Oilers simply can not afford given their salary cap situation. A third-round draft pick in 2019 isn’t a huge score, but it is something.

Davidson was originally drafted by the Oilers in 2010 and remained with the organization until he was traded to Montreal in February of 2017 for David Desharnais.

He played with the Canadiens until a few weeks ago when he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Oilers.

Who won the trade? The Islanders are, again, desperate for defense and picked up a warm body for very little price. The Oilers got a draft pick for somebody that was not even on their roster a few weeks ago and did not cost anything for them to originally acquire.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.