And then there were six: So much for Nashville’s mid-season reload

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For just the second time in their franchise’s history, the Nashville Predators advanced to the second round of the playoffs. They defeated the Detroit Red Wings in five games, which is no small accomplishment, but they wanted more.

It was fair for their fans to expect more too after they made this season a priority by trading for Andrei Kostitsyn, Hal Gill, and Paul Gaustad. They also got Alexander Radulov back, who skipped town to play in the KHL after the 2007-08 campaign.

Still, despite all those additions, the Predators didn’t get any further than they did a year ago, so let’s begin the dissection…

What happened?

Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith certainly deserves a fair amount of credit for limiting the Predators to just one goal in their final two games. However, Phoenix’s best players never rose to the occasion in this series.

It’s also worth noting that Nashville was the best team in the NHL with the man advantage during the regular season, but they only managed three power-play goals in the second round.

Who takes the blame?

Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will take the lion’s share of the blame. They were suspended for Game 3 over a team rule violation, which incidentally was the only contest Nashville actually won in this series.

Even when Radulov played in the second round, he wasn’t the star that they needed him to be. In fact, he might have actually done more harm then good. Kostitsyn got two goals in the second round, but his off-ice activities were a distraction.

What will they do about it?

The Predators have some tough decisions to make. Andrei Kostitsyn is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and do they really want to re-sign him after what happened? What about Alexander Radulov, who is scheduled to become a restricted free agent?

Who knows if Radulov even wants to stay in the NHL, but it wouldn’t be shocking if neither of them are wearing Predators’ uniforms at the start of the 2012-13 campaign.

Of course, we’re sidestepping the elephant in the room because the truth is Kostitsyn and Radulov will not be the big summer stories in Nashville. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter will be.

Weber is scheduled to become a restricted free agent, but the Predators will probably want to sign him to a long-term contract. The only question is if he’ll agree to be tied down to Nashville. His decision might depend largely on what happens with Suter.

If Nashville can’t re-sign him, Suter will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Their decision to go out and acquire players for a playoff push was probably largely motivated by a desire to show Suter that they’re serious about competing.

However the trades didn’t produce the desired results. They may have in fact only hurt the Predators in the long-term seeing as Kostitsyn, Gill, and Gaustad might all walk as free agents. So will Suter factor that into his decision this summer?

For that matter, is it really the beginning of the end for Nashville if Suter leaves? They have two very talented young blueliners in Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum. Maybe the Suter/Weber era is drawing to it’s close in Nashville, but all hope is not lost for the Predators.

More

And then there were 15: Is Detroit’s dynasty on its last legs?

And then there were 14: Sharks come out flat in playoffs

And then there were 13: Powerhouse Pens fall flat

And then there were 12: Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks bounced in Round 1

And then there were 11: Another first-round exit for Blackhawks

And then there were 10: Bruins run out of Game 7 magic

And then there were 9: Senators out, but future’s bright

And then there were 8: Panthers go out swinging

And then there were seven: Blues swept out of Western Conference semifinal

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

 

 

Ducks say they’ve allowed Draisaitl too much freedom, too much fun

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Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.

That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.

“He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win.  “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”

The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.

Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.

But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.

Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.

As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.

 

 

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%