Los Angeles Kings v Vancouver Canucks

PHT staff projects the Western Conference playoff teams

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We fed you the Eastern Conference playoff picks earlier today and with those along with our Stanley Cup and awards predictions, you can piece together pretty well what we’re thinking about the NHL season. We’re not banking on you agreeing with us, this is just where we see things going for ourselves.

Don’t let that stop you from a supreme rant about how wrong we are though.

Joe Yerdon says:
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Chicago Blackhawks
5. San Jose Sharks
6. Nashville Predators
7. Anaheim Ducks
8. St. Louis Blues

It’s tempting to put any one of a handful of teams into the eighth spot (Minnesota, Calgary, Dallas) but I’m buying into the Blues hype. Everyone else, however, should be the same as last season just rearranged in a different order. The West is loaded with great teams and nasty. If the NHL played with a balanced schedule now, the West would thump on the East with reckless abandon. Instead, they’ll feast upon the Oilers and Coyotes. Vancouver gets to be tops in the West by virtual attrition thanks to how bad the rest of the division will be. I’m not sold on Colorado pressing for the playoffs. Same goes for Columbus. Regardless, games out of the Western Conference are all worth watching as the whole thing is crammed with great talent.

James O’Brien says:
1.  San Jose Sharks
2.  Vancouver Canucks
3.  Chicago Blackhawks
4.  Los Angeles Kings
5.  Detroit Red Wings
6.  St. Louis Blues
7.  Nashville Predators
8.  Anaheim Ducks

The Sharks are built for the regular season, although their backup situation is worrisome. My guess is that the Canucks are a little banged up entering the season, but they should still run roughshod over a weak Northwest. Chicago and Detroit is becoming an annual coin toss; I’m leaning toward the Blackhawks because they got better during the off-season while the Red Wings made lateral moves – at best. The Kings have a chance to usurp the Sharks because of their strong defense and stable goalie duo, but I think they’re better suited for racking up wins in the playoffs than in the regular season.

The Blues are my mild dark horse team. I don’t like their defense, but their offense is deep and Jaroslav Halak was sneaky-good at times last season. The Predators and Ducks are polar opposites. Nashville lacks a single star scorer but is rock solid on defense and net; the Ducks boast three genuine superstar forwards (and one still-great winger in Teemu Selanne) but features a Swiss cheese defense and a Swiss goalie with an unclear health situation.

Matt Reitz says:
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Detroit Red Wings
6. Nashville Predators
7. Anaheim Ducks
8. St. Louis Blues

The Canucks return most of the team that was the dominant team in the NHL last season—no reason to think they won’t be just as good this season. The Hawks should be substantially better because they know who their goaltender is going to be from the beginning of the season and because they won’t have a Cup hangover to deal with. Expect the Hawks to be back among the league’s elite next season. In the Pacific, the Kings had two huge weaknesses last season at center and left wing—and addressed both with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. With another year experience for all of their young players, this should be the year they make the jump. The Ducks may take a step back—but a full season with Jonas Hiller means they’re still a playoff team. A healthy team in St. Louis and a full season of Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk mean they should fulfill the expectations they had at the beginning of LAST season.

Disagree with all that? Let us know in our poll who you think will win the West.

People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One
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The Florida Panthers’ managerial shakeup continued this week with the firing of their director of player personnel, Tom Luce.

Luce had been with the club since 2002. According to his bio, he had “been responsible for the Panthers drafting notable players, including Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Dmitry Kulikov.”

The firing of Luce was particularly noteworthy, since it came just days after Dale Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey operations. That move was sold as a way for Tallon to do more of what he liked (scouting), while handing off other responsibilities (contracts, salary cap, etc.) to new GM Tom Rowe and his young assistants, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.

But not all in the Florida media are buying, apparently.

From Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde:

I can retire now. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen teams fire everyone after bad, average and even mildly disappointing seasons. But I’d never seen a team replace people who created a record-setting season that buoyed the franchise’s future.

Until the Florida Panthers over the last few days.

Hyde goes on to question the Panthers’ new, analytics-focused direction. (If that direction sounds similar, it’s because the Arizona Coyotes are taking the same route.)

His column finishes like this:

This should be an offseason of great hope for the Panthers. Instead, it’s now weighed down with a question of recent days. It’s not what Tallon’s diminished role is or who Rowe is.

The question starts here: Does Vinnie Viola know what he’s doing?

And that’s a fair question to ask of any owner. Especially a new one.

That being said, it’s also fair to question how much Tallon and Luce should be credited for the Panthers’ turnaround. After all, since Tallon was hired in 2010, Florida has had the first overall draft pick (Ekblad), the second overall pick (Barkov), and two third overall picks (Gudbranson, Huberdeau). Yes, there have been a few savvy picks — Vincent Trocheck in the third round stands out — and a few good additions via trade. But really, with all the blue-chip talent they’ve been gifted, making the playoffs this year was the least they should have expected.

“It’s a great game, but a tough business sometimes,” Rowe said of the firings, per the Sun Sentinel. “The fans came out in big numbers and it was awesome. We made the playoffs and that’s good. But at the end of the day, I didn’t think we had enough punch in the playoffs and I don’t think we gave [coach Gerard Gallant] enough options to get past the Islanders on our third and fourth lines.”

Regardless of where you stand on what’s happening in Florida, you can’t deny it’s all quite reminiscent of the summer of 2009, when Tallon was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks, replaced by the much-younger Stan Bowman.

Here’s a column that was written by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Morrissey after that decision was made:

Wirtz and McDonough wanted to have their own crew in place. Fair enough. They don’t even want a suggestion of the mustiness of the Bob Pulford era.

But let’s try to remember Tallon played a huge role in building a team that surprised a lot of people by getting to the Western Conference finals last season. How it came to be that they chose Stan Bowman over Tallon is no secret. There had been rumblings for most of the year that Tallon would be out.

Yes, anybody could have picked superstars-in-training Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But let’s remember that anybody could have picked Michael Jordan in the first round of the 1984 NBA draft. The teams with the first two picks didn’t.

The Blackhawks, of course, won the Stanley Cup the next year, a month after Tallon was introduced as the new GM in Florida.

Back to Matt: Facing elimination, Pens will start Murray

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 16:  Matt Murray #30 and Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins look on against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Consol Energy Center on May 16, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but there’s a goalie change coming in the conference final.

On Tuesday, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Matt Murray would be back in goal for tonight’s decisive Game 6 in Tampa Bay — this after Sullivan opted to park Murray in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5.

Technically speaking, Murray’s been parked since the second period of Game 4. That, of course, was the one in which he allowed four goals on 30 shots, paving the way for Fleury to enter the third with Pittsburgh down 4-0.

And that’s when things changed.

The goalie switch seemed to spark the Pens, who scored three times in the final frame to make things interesting. While that was going on, Fleury looked sharp — though not especially busy — stopping all seven shots faced, as his mates nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback.

The decision was then made to start Fleury on Saturday night.

He played to mixed reviews in a 4-3 OT loss, making just 21 saves (for an .840 percentage) while appearing shaky on a number of occasions. Though he could hardly be blamed for the game-winning goal — replays showed that Jason Garrison‘s point shot deflected off Tyler Johnson‘s behind — Fleury just didn’t look right, which isn’t a shock.

It was his first start since suffering a concussion on Mar. 31.

As mentioned above, goalie changes have been a predominant storyline among the final four playoff teams. St. Louis has started both Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, and the Bolts were forced to go to Andrei Vasilevskiy after Ben Bishop got hurt in the series opener.

In that light, Sullivan’s questionable decision to start Fleury in Game 5 is somewhat mitigated because, hey, other teams are having goalie issues too.

It’s also worth noting Pittsburgh’s situation in goal probably has much to do with its situation on defense. There’s little coincidence the club has conceded eight goals over the last two games with Trevor Daley (broken ankle) almost entirely out of action, Olli Maata being thrown into action and Kris Letang shouldering gigantic minutes — including a whopping 31:38 in Game 4.

Related: Rutherford says Fleury’s ‘absolutely not’ done in Pittsburgh, but logic suggests otherwise

Report: Wild parting ways with assistant coaches Wilson, Sydor

Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild
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Bruce Boudreau has some staffing to take care of in Minnesota.

Per the Star-Tribune, the Wild have elected to part ways with veteran assistant coaches Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor. The report comes just weeks after GM Chuck Fletcher hired Boudreau to replace outgoing interim bench boss John Torchetti.

Wilson assisted three different coaches — Torchetti, Mike Yeo, Todd Richards — during his six years in Minnesota, and worked mostly with the club’s defensemen and penalty kill.

Sydor had been one of Yeo’s most prominent right-hand men, dating back to their time together in AHL Houston. The longtime NHL blueliner was embroiled in controversy last season after he was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving and child endangerment, eventually getting jail time for DWI.

Fletcher has reportedly given Boudreau “free reign” to fill out his coaching staff, which may include a third open position.

Per the Tribune, it’s believed another of last year’s assistants — Andre Brunette — will move from behind the bench to the front office. Prior to taking a coaching gig last season, Brunette had been working as a special assistant to Fletcher.

The other coaches from last year — Darby Hendrickson and Bob Mason — will return in their roles. Hendrickson works out of the press box while Mason is the club’s goalie coach.

Related: With an aging core, the Wild could be Boudreau’s biggest challenge yet

Report: Habs’ Holloway signing in KHL

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One of the few bright spots from Montreal’s disappointing campaign could be on his way to Russia.

Per Championat, Bud Holloway — the 28-year-old journeyman that made his storybook NHL debut with the Habs last season — has opted to join KHL powerhouse CSKA Moscow.

Holloway joined the Habs last season after four highly productive years in Europe.

In 2011, he emerged as a Swedish League star — Holloway set a record for most points in a SHL postseason (23 in 19 games) and, in his second season, became just the second player in league history to score eclipse the 70-point plateau.

In ’14-15, Holloway signed in Switzerland and continued to be a productive scorer, with 37 points in 42 games for SC Bern.

His scoring exploits translated over to the AHL, as he led St. John’s with 61 points in 70 games.

Montreal called up Holloway for his first-ever big league game in late November, and head coach Michel Therrien was effusive in his praise.

“This is a great story,” Therrien told ECHL.com. “The guy has showed a lot of resilience through his career to come back after playing a few years in Europe, and he did really well for [St. John’s].

“For him to get an opportunity to play his first game in the NHL, those are great stories and he certainly deserves to finally get a shot in the NHL because he’s had success wherever he goes.”