PHT picks the Stanley Cup winner — 10 reasons it’ll be the Pittsburgh Penguins

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Picking a Stanley Cup winner isn’t easy. Of the 16 teams that made the playoffs this season, there might be 10 or 11 with a realistic shot to win a championship. And if the 2005-06 Oilers can make it to Game 7 of the finals, who are we to count out any?

But if we can only pick one team, we’re picking the Pittsburgh Penguins, and here are 10 reasons why.

1. Sidney Crosby – He’s the best player in hockey, and he’s arguably better today than he’s ever been. (Which makes sense given he’s only 24.) Consider: over the last two seasons, Crosby’s played 63 games and scored 103 points. Over 82 games, that’s 134 points. Obviously his recent concussion issues make you wonder if he can stay healthy the entire playoffs, but he’s looking pretty healthy now.

2. Evgeni Malkin – This guy’s winning the Hart Trophy. Fifty goals, 109 points, it’s a slam dunk. If Crosby’s the best center in the NHL, Malkin is the second best.

3. The best third-line center in the league – And that would be Jordan Staal. A Selke finalist last year, a lot of teams would kill to have Staal as their number one center. But the Pens are so stacked down the middle that he can focus on shutting down the other teams’ top lines.

4. A Norris-caliber defenseman – Of NHL d-men that played 50-plus games, only Erik Karlsson scored more points per game (.96) than Kris Letang (.82). While he’s not Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber when it comes to shutdown abilities, Letang has turned into one of the elite blue-liners in the league, and he’s more than made up for the loss of Sergei Gonchar, who was so key for the Pens during their trips to the finals in 2008 and 2009.

5. Above average goaltending – Which might be understating it. Marc-Andre Fleury’s numbers (.913 SV%, 2.36 GAA) aren’t up there with the best in the NHL, but he must be okay if he’s made it to the finals twice. With the second-most wins in the NHL (42), and playing goal on a team that likes to trade chances, many think Fleury should be in the Vezina discussion.

6. Special teams – The power play ranks fifth (19.7%) and the penalty kill third (87.8%). Add 19.7 and 87.8 together and you get 107.5. No team has a higher combined rate than Pittsburgh.

7. Scoring depth – When the Pens went to the finals in 2008 and 2009, they relied on Crosby and Malkin for so much of their offense. This year they’ve got a 40-goal scorer in James Neal, plus forwards like Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke enjoying career seasons.

8. Toughness – For all the talent they boast, you can’t push the Penguins around. Neal, Cooke, Arron Asham, Brooks Orpik, Craig Adams, Deryk Engelland, and Joe Vitale provide the requisite playoff grit. Not to mention Malkin, Crosby and Staal are no shrinking violets.

9. Coaching – Last year Dan Bylsma won the Jack Adams for getting the Pens into the playoffs despite Crosby, Malkin and Staal missing half the season. Bylsma was also behind the bench for the 2009 Cup victory.

10. Experience – With two trips to the finals since 2008, the Penguins know what it takes to win and they know what it’s like to play in big games. Among the current Pens that won rings in 2009: Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Staal, Letang, Kunitz, Cooke, Adams, Orpik, Dupuis, and Tyler Kennedy.

PHT Stanley Cup Playoffs Links

Eastern Conference previews

No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa Senators

No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals

No. 3 Florida Panthers vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils

No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers

Western Conference previews

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Kings

No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 7 San Jose Sharks

No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks

No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings

More:

Click here for the entire 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs TV schedule (all of which will be televised by NBC Universal).

– To weigh in on who you think will win the Cup, vote in our poll.

– For PHT staff playoff picks (in five words!), click here.

2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class to be named Monday; Selanne + who?

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The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class is expected to be announced on Monday, and every indication is that Teemu Selanne will be on the list. Beyond that, well, there are a lot of question marks.

NHL.com notes that there’s at least a possibility that Selanne will be the only NHL name to be part of this class, which would mark a first since 2010 (when Dino Ciccarelli was the lone addition).

It’s a nice way to continue what’s been a buffet for hockey fans: the 2017 Stanley Cup Final’s conclusion, the expansion draft and then the 2017 NHL Draft. The HHOF announcements are nice appetizer before free agency gets, well, frenzied?

“The Finnish Flash” was also an obvious top choice in last year’s poll to see who should be in the class.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is the only interesting name.

For one thing, Daniel Alfredsson will be eligible for the first time, much like Selanne. “Alf” falls in the “Maybe” category with some interesting, debatable other options: Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Chris Osgood, and more.

The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class included Eric Lindross, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and Pat Quinn.

Florida Panthers aren’t afraid to change, but will they actually improve?

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Change is often a necessary thing in sports, and the results can be swift and brutal. There’s a fine line between rolling with the punches and blindly swinging, however.

The Florida Panthers’ history as a franchise makes you wonder if they’ll ever find the right balance between stability and innovation. Amid all these years of flip-flopping and regime tweaks, there may only be one unsettling constant: the on-ice product being middling-to-terrible.

Just look at the way they burn through coaches.

Six of their 14 head coaches were behind the bench for fewer than 82 games, including Tom Rowe, who was seemingly thrown out with the analytical approach last season.

Their GMs haven’t fared much better. Dale Tallon’s probably received the longest leash of them all, and this past year or so made a mess of that situation. And it’s arguable that things have only degraded as Tallon aims to clean up supposed “messes.”

The Panthers didn’t just lose cheap 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Vegas; they also shipped Reilly Smith to the Golden Knights. Smith was a golden boy of sorts to the more stats-leaning members of the franchise, and while he struggled last season, it sure seemed like the Panthers were eager to get rid of him.

The same could be said about Jason Demers.

MORE: Welcome Demers to the trade rumor mill

As abrupt as the Gerard Gallant firing felt, the Panthers didn’t necessarily give the analytical approach much time. At least from an “optics” standpoint.

Now, parting ways with Marchessault, Smith, and possibly Demers may end up being reasonable in hindsight. Still, there’s no denying that Tallon made some mistakes in his stead; the “computer boys” didn’t sign an atrocious Dave Bolland contract and didn’t pick Erik Gudbranson over superior talent.

The bottom line is that the Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since John Vanbiesbrouck led them to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. There’s legitimate concern that this franchise will keep making the same mistakes – and keep changing the cooks in the kitchen – while the results leave much to be desired.

Will Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau share the same frustrating path as Jay Bouwmeester and others before them?

This summer could serve as a serious fork in the road, as Tallon has some building blocks in place and an estimated $20 million in cap space. Even if the Panthers remain a budget team, they’re likely to have some room to work with.

Perhaps they’ll finally make the right changes?

Related

Panthers look to be aggressive in adding scoring

Devils will give top pick Hischier a chance to make team right away

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There’s at least some question regarding whether Nico Hischier is ready to jump straight from being the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft to becoming an immediate part of the New Jersey Devils’ roster.

If he went back to junior, it would break a lengthy trend of No. 1 choices going to the big time right away.

Devils GM Ray Shero seems pretty optimistic that he can handle that jump, though, as you can see from this presser via MSG:

MORE: Devils pick Hischier over Patrick

As one would expect, Shero said that the Devils won’t rush him if it’s “apparent” that the Swiss-born forward isn’t ready. Still, Shero seems convinced that Hischier has the size, skill, and smarts to earn a spot.

Much like Nolan Patrick with the Philadelphia Flyers, Hischier didn’t deny that he wants to make the big time right off the bat.

“Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s my goal, so it is important for sure,” Hischier said on draft night. “I really want to achieve my goal, but I still know I have to prove a lot of things to play there.”

Hey, maybe Taylor Hall could even ease his adjustment?

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

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Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.