Penguins win 2009 Stanley Cup

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.

Senators, Ceci agree to two-year, $5.6M contract

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 6: Cody Ceci #5 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 6, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion predicted 11 days ago that a new contract with defenseman Cody Ceci would get done “within the next few weeks.”

His timeline proved to be quite accurate.

On Tuesday, the Senators announced they had re-signed the 22-year-old Ceci, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal, worth a total value of $5.6 million.

The breakdown of the deal from the Senators states Ceci will receive $2.25 million in the first year of his new contract and $3.35 million in the second.

As per General Fanager, Ceci is slated to be a restricted free agent at the end of this deal, which means the Senators would have to match the salary Ceci made in the final season of the contract in their next qualifying offer to him two years from now.

It’s also a raise from the $1.369 million average annual value he was making with his entry-level contract. It was previously reported that the Senators offered Ceci both long and short-term deals.

The Senators put out a teaser of the news on Twitter, minutes before the announcement.

Ceci is from Ottawa, where he also played his junior hockey, and a first-round pick of the Senators in 2012.

In his second full season with the Senators, he posted a new single-season career high in goals with 10 and points with 26.

Report: Boughner and Dineen ‘major candidates’ for Avs gig, Arniel out

WINDSOR, ON - JANUARY 20:  Assistant Coach Bob Boughner of Team Orr points to a play on the ice during the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects game against Team Cherry on January 20, 2010 at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ontario. Team Cherry defeated Team Orr 4-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Just weeks after Patrick Roy’s shock departure, Colorado’s search for a new head coach appears to be taking shape.

There’s plenty to get into, so let’s go bullet points:

Per the Denver Post, a pair of assistant coaches — San Jose’s Bob Boughner and Chicago’s Kevin Dineen — have emerged as “major candidates” for the job.

• Also per the Post, Jared Bednar — the head coach of Columbus’ Calder Cup-winning AHL affiliate in Lake Erie — is in the mix for the Colorado gig as well.

• Another guy with Columbus ties, former head coach Scott Arniel, is reportedly out of contention, per the Dispatch. Arniel’s currently serving as Alain Vigneault’s right-hand man in New York.

• Other names in the mix include Vancouver property Travis Green (currently with AHL Utica) and longtime Barry Trotz assistant Lane Lambert (currently with Washington).

• Brad Larsen, currently one of John Tortorella’s assistants in Columbus and a former Avs player, won’t be getting an interview. Larsen’s name had apparently been floated earlier.

• And finally, if you’re wondering why so many guys with Columbus ties are in the mix, the Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline explained that former BJ’s assistant GM Chris McFarland now has the same job in Colorado under Joe Sakic.

So there you go.

Poll: What’s a realistic point total for the Sabres?

Buffalo Sabres' Evander Kane (9) celebrates with teammate Ryan O'Reilly (90) after O'Reilly scored the winning goal during the overtime session of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Saturday Dec. 12, 2015 in Buffalo, N.Y. Buffalo won 2-1. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
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This post is part of Buffalo Sabres day at PHT…

Last year, Detroit snagged the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 93 points.

Two years ago, Pittsburgh did the same with 98.

In light of those totals, it’s not surprising to hear what Sabres head coach Dan Byslma pegged as the mark for the upcoming campaign.

“We should expect to be 95 points or higher than that,” Bylsma told NHL.com earlier this summer. “We think we’re better on defense. We think we’re stronger. We’re deeper. If you’re looking at expectations from within, we should be above 95 points at the end of the season.”

It’s a lofty goal, to say the least. Buffalo only had 81 last season.

But there is something to be said for Bylsma’s prediction, because his previous one worked out pretty well. In that same chat with NHL.com, the Sabres head coach said he and GM Tim Murray pegged last year’s club as an 80-to-85 point team, which proved accurate.

And if the last few seasons have shown anything, it’s that Buffalo is on the rise.

The Sabres had a meager 52 points three seasons ago, and made the slight bump up to 54 in ’14-15. Last year signified a huge leap forward — 27 points — which is probably why Bylsma is banking on a 14-15 point improvement (or more) this season.

Of course, this next push will prove more difficult.

For the Sabres to snap their five-year playoff drought, certain areas will need to improve. The club’s 25th-ranked offense needs to find the back of the net with more regularity, and the addition of prized free agent Kyle Okposo should help in that department.

In goal, Robin Lehner will need to stay healthy and appear in significantly more games (just 21 last season). And it remains to be seen what the ramifications from Evander Kane‘s controversial offseason will be.

So… what do you expect from Buffalo next season? Vote away.

Wild officially change goal song to Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’

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In what might be the most Minnesota post you’ll ever see on Buffalo day, the Wild have announced they’ve officially changed their goal song to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”

The announcement, made on Monday afternoon, came after the club surveyed season ticket holders to see how they felt about making the move a permanent one.

During the playoffs — Game 6 of their opening-round series against Dallas, to be specific — the Wild made the temporary goal song switch to commemorate their beloved hometown artist, who passed away on April 21.

“Our in-arena experience is designed for the fans, so it’s great to be able to show them we take their feedback to heart,” said Wild vice president of brand, content and communications John Maher. “At the same time, it’s our privilege to celebrate an iconic hometown artist that clearly has had an incredible impact on our community and the world.”