Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada celebrates with his captain Scott Niedermayer #27 after scoring the matchwinning goal in overtime past Ryan Miller #39 of the United States during the ice hockey men's gold medal game between USA and Canada on day 17 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 28, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.
(February 27, 2010 - Source: Alex Livesey/Getty Images North America)

PHT staff Olympic predictions: Who’s going to win gold?

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Here are the picks from Jason Brough, James O’Brien, Joe Yerdon, Ryan Dadoun, Cam Tucker and yours truly for who’ll be golden at the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi…

Brough

Gold Medal Game: Canada beats Sweden

I’m keeping this simple. The two best teams on paper playing for gold. The best team on paper winning gold. Yeah, yeah, I know the best teams on paper don’t always win, but a lot of the times they do. Like in 2010, for example. Even without Steven Stamkos, Team Canada is still stacked up front, and there’s no matching its blue line. Goaltending could be problematic, but no team is without a potential Achilles’ heel. Canada’s goaltending could also end up being quite good.

Bronze Medal Game: United States beats Russia

Not the game the hosts wanted to play in, and it will show when they lose it. The fan in me hopes I’m wrong, because the Russians playing for gold at home would be a sight to behold. I just don’t think they’ve got the depth to make it that far.

O’Brien

Gold medal game: Canada beats Russia

As powerful as Russia’s offense and home-ice advantage will be, Canada is so deep and dynamic that even a seasoned nitpicker would struggle to uncover sore spots.

Bronze medal game: United States beats Sweden

Several other hockey powers have receded*, so the bronze comes down to a coin toss between Sweden and the U.S. Tre Kronor’s D combo of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson should make gorgeous music, but for some reason I have trouble betting against Team USA. That reason rhymes with Patrick Kane.

* – Points at Czech Republic

Yerdon

Gold medal game: United States beats Sweden

I’ll be plain about this: I’m making a very homer pick. Deal with it. That said, Team USA has a team very capable of winning gold. The offense is solid, the defense has strengths and the goaltending is great. The Americans’ speed on the big ice will be a major factor. The Swedes will be excellent but American brawn and nastiness will win out.

Bronze Medal Game: Russia beats Canada

Am I trolling? No. Well, maybe. Still, the Russians wants payback and they’ll be angry after not getting a shot at gold. They’ll want (need?) hardware and getting out of Canada makes for a perfect script. Except, you know, in the bronze medal game.

Dadoun

Gold Medal Game: Sweden beats Russia

At home and with the advantage of the bigger ice surface, I think Russia is going to end up doing very well in this tournament. That being said, Sweden has a significantly stronger defense and a more reliable goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. Losing Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin hurts, but the Swedes’ offense is still strong, making them a balanced squad.

Bronze Medal Game: Canada beats the United States

It’s 2010 all over again, but with the stakes lowered. The States’ goaltending and defense is capable of frustrating Canada, but in the end Canada’s legion of skilled forwards will be hard to contain.

Tucker

Gold medal game: Canada beats Russia

It would be the dream match-up. The Russians will certainly be motivated to win gold, not just because they are the host nation of these Olympics but how their competition came to an end four years ago in Vancouver. It would also pit two of the game’s best players against each other, in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Canada’s goaltending is the obvious question mark if it hopes to repeat as gold medal champions. But the depth up front and on defence should help nullify any potential short-comings in the crease.

Bronze medal game: Sweden beats Finland

Sweden’s lineup is as stacked as any in this tournament, even with Sedin and Franzen out due to injury. That should help the Swedes get back to the medal podium in men’s hockey in Sochi, and they’ll defeat their most fierce rivals, Finland, in the process.

Halford

Gold medal game: Canada beats United States

I’m along the same simple lines as Brough — two best teams playing for gold, though I think the Americans are better than the Swedes; more in-form snipers (Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James van Riemsdyk, most notably) and hard-skating forwards will get the U.S. to the final. In the end, however, Canada’s unparalleled depth on defense will be too much to overcome.

Bronze medal game: Sweden beats Russia

I saw the Russians as the fourth-best team heading into the Olympics, and that’s how I see it finishing. Major reservations about their blueline and bottom-six forwards; Sweden has the more complete team and stronger/more experienced goaltending with Lundqvist.

Sharks and DeBoer ready for Pittsburgh, ‘the fastest team in the league’

SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Head coach Peter DeBoer talks to his team during their game against the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center on October 10, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — The San Jose Sharks are one of the NHL’s best skating teams.

Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette, who watched his Predators get bounced by the Sharks in Round 2, said as much.

So too did St. Louis bench boss Ken Hitchcock, whose Blues were eliminated by San Jose in the Western Conference Final.

“They’re a fast team,” Hitchcock said. “They skate fast. They skate fast, they support the puck. They might look faster than they are, but they’ve got a lot of quick players.

“They’ve got a lot of aggressive skating players. They got a lot of guys that can motor.”

Yeah, the Sharks are quick.

But according to their head coach, maybe not the quickest.

During today’s Stanley Cup media availability, Peter DeBoer called the Pittsburgh Penguins “the fastest team in the league,” adding this series wouldn’t be just about skating, but the possession game as well.

“If you control the puck,” DeBoer explained, “it’s harder to create speed.”

And with that, the 2016 Stanley Cup Final blueprint took shape.

To be fair, the speed-versus-speed angle had already been established. Almost immediately after beating Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final, Pens captain Sidney Crosby was asked about his club’s looming matchup with the Sharks.

“It’s going to be fast hockey,” Crosby said. “Two teams that want to play the exact same way, that want to get their D involved (and) their power play is really dangerous.

“It’s going to be quite the series.”

On defense, both teams feature good mobility, highlighted by a star offensive defenseman: Brent Burns for San Jose, Kris Letang for Pittsburgh.

“Both have great shots and get pucks through,” Pens d-man Justin Schultz said, per the Tribune-Review. “Both are always jumping up. And great skaters. Both are very mobile.

“Tanger is for sure a lot smoother [as a skater]. But Burnsy is still fast. And more powerful, maybe. He’s a big boy, and he’s going to be tough to handle.”

Each respective blueline plays a big role in the generation of team speed. Both the Pens and Sharks have excellent transition games featuring quick, speedy forwards, so it makes sense — the defensemen, tasked with getting those forwards the pucks, need to be mobile too.

Up front, there’s speed across the board. Pittsburgh’s Carl Hagelin won fastest skater competition at All-Star weekend four years ago. Last week, Sharks d-man Brenden Dillon said 36-year-old Patrick Marleau is “still one of the fastest skaters in the league.” Phil Kessel and Matt Nieto can fly, too.

So when previewing the Stanley Cup Final, don’t be fooled when you read predictions of a “quick series.”

That doesn’t mean it’ll be over quick.

Just means it’ll be quick.

Related: Need for speed: Sharks, Pens brace for ‘fast hockey’ in Stanley Cup Final

Penguins or Sharks? PHT makes its Stanley Cup Final picks

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks skates on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on November 19, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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After 14 series, just one pick left — the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.

It’s a great match-up, with tons of talent on each side. However, we’d be lying if we said we saw it coming. (We didn’t.) The Penguins, who fired their coach halfway through the season, haven’t been this far since 2009. The Sharks, who missed the playoffs altogether last season, have never been this far.

Looking back on our conference finals picks, PHT staffers did fairly well, with both yours truly and James O’Brien nailing each series score (Penguins in 7, Sharks in 6) on the nose. Unfortunately, the virtual coin continued to struggle, as did the actual Ryan Dadoun.

Conference finals results (Overall record)

Brough: 2-0 (10-4)
Halford: 1-1 (8-6)
O’Brien: 2-0 (10-4)
Dadoun: 1-1 (6-8)
Tucker: 2-0 (10-4)
Alfieri: 2-0 (9-5)
Just Flip A Coin: 1-1 (6-8)

On to the Stanley Cup Final…

Brough: Sharks in 6

Despite what happened last season, I believed Pete DeBoer when he predicted a “big bounce-back” in San Jose. Because when a roster still boasts Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it shouldn’t be written off. That being said, I didn’t think they’d get this far. The one thing I was skeptical about was the goaltending, since Martin Jones had never been a full-time starter in the NHL. But he’s been solid enough. And besides, the Sharks have so much firepower, and they’ve been so committed to checking in these playoffs, that they’ve rarely needed their goalie to stand on his head. Obviously, the Penguins have been great too, but the Sharks look like an unstoppable force to me.

Halford: Sharks in 7

The Sharks either have incredible luck or a really good medical staff, because I can’t remember the last time a team came into a Stanley Cup Final this healthy. Right now, San Jose’s only injury concern is Matt Nieto‘s upper-body ailment, and it sounds like he might be back soon anyway. This is why I give San Jose the edge. I could honestly see Trevor Daley‘s broken ankle being the difference in a series between two such evenly matched teams.

O’Brien: Sharks in 6

Mike Sullivan’s turn with the Penguins has been both beautiful (in the exhilarating pace) and brilliant (in how that tempo leverages Pittsburgh’s strengths and camouflages weaknesses). The Sharks strike me as the antidote, however. If the pace is frenetic, San Jose boasts comparable firepower. If transition goes from lightning-fast to molasses-slow, Peter DeBoer enjoys a significant advantage on defense. Here’s hoping this series boasts the sort of thrilling hockey that can convert new fans. Either way … advantage Sharks.

Dadoun: Penguins in 7

There’s a lot of love for the Sharks so far and I have to admit I wouldn’t mind seeing Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau finally win a championship, but the Penguins shouldn’t be overlooked. This is a team that has the luxury of putting Phil Kessel on the third line, after all. That kind of offensive balance in the Penguins’ top three lines will make them the biggest challenge that goalie Martin Jones and the Sharks’ defense has faced yet. That depth is also the difference between this year’s Pittsburgh squad and the ones that have fallen short in recent years. Certainly there’s a lot of reasons to like the Sharks, too. This should be a great series.

Tucker: Sharks in 7

This series features the top scoring teams in these playoffs. The Sharks averaged 3.5 goals per game, while the Penguins averaged 3.2 goals per game. I expect this to be a thrilling match-up featuring some of the league’s most talented players on both sides. I think goaltending is going to be a huge factor. Can a 22-year-old rookie in Matt Murray continue his strong run of play in the biggest series of them all? He’s done well with every test so far, but if the Sharks get to him and force Marc-Andre Fleury into the series — or force Mike Sullivan to make that decision — I don’t think Fleury will be able to conjure a championship-winning performance against the lineup the Sharks possess.

Alfieri: Sharks in 6

At this stage of the game, there’s no doubt that these two teams are as evenly matched as can be. Offensively, the Sharks are led by Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, while the Penguins are led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. In goal, Martin Jones and Matt Murray have both had their moments of brilliance this postseason, but both have zero experience when it comes to the Stanley Cup Final. The biggest difference is on defense. That’s where I think the Sharks will win the series. San Jose is loaded with Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Martin, Justin Braun and company. The Pens, who area already without Trevor Daley, have Kris Letang, but the drop-off is significant after that.

Just Flip A Coin: Penguins in 6

Kessel takes World Cup snub in stride — ‘It is what it is’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 26:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 26, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — Phil Kessel has nine goals and nine assists in 18 playoff games. Some have said he’s playing the best of his hockey of his career.

Yet when Team USA announced its final World Cup roster on Friday, Kessel wasn’t on it. Four forwards — David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky — were added instead.

“Obviously, you’re disappointed,” Kessel said Sunday. “But it is what it is. I think I’ve had a pretty good playoffs, I’ve always done pretty well for (Team USA) in all the tournaments I’ve played in for them. But we’re in the Stanley Cup Final. I can’t be disappointed.”

Two years ago, Kessel led the Americans in the Olympics with eight points (5G, 3A) in six games. He was named the best forward in the tournament. Callahan, in comparison, had no goals and one assist in six games.

Of course, Callahan has a history with World Cup head coach John Tortorella. So does Dubinsky. And let’s face it, when you think of the kind of player that epitomizes Tortorella-coached teams, it’s not Kessel, it’s blue-collar workers like Callahan and Dubinsky.

Still, to not choose a guy who’s a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate?

“I’m surprised he was left off Team USA,” Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford said today, before head coach Mike Sullivan praised Kessel for his competitiveness and for improving his play away from the puck and along the boards.

At any rate, Kessel didn’t sound like getting left off the World Cup squad was bothering him too much. One day from playing in his first Stanley Cup Final, he’s pretty happy with where he’s at right now.

“I’ve never really been on a team that’s felt like this,” he said. “I don’t even know how to describe it, to be honest. I’m so excited to get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup and play with these guys.”

Pominville: ‘Name one guy who had my start who winds up having a good year’

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 18:  Jason Pominville #29 of the Minnesota Wild skates during an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on March 18, 2014 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
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Jason Pominville couldn’t have envisioned a worse start to his season.

Pominville picked up four assists in his first three games of 2015-16, but he didn’t score his first goal until Nov. 28 (22 games). The 33-year-old finished the year with 11 goals and 36 points in 75 games. Those are clearly disappointing numbers for a player who comes with a cap hit of $5.6 million per season.

“Last year it was just the start I had,” Pominville said during a Q & A with the Star Tribune. “I’m not even too worried about the rest of it. You get off to the start I had, and name me one guy who had my start who winds up having a good year. It’s tough to get behind the 8-ball. You lose confidence, you’re trying to find your play and get back to where you’ve had success, but you get away from it because you’re trying to overdo things or overthinking. I just need to get off to a better start, and my points will be where they normally would be.”

It’ll be intersting to see if the Wild give Pominville the opportunity to have a bounce-back season. A high cap hit combined with poor production could also lead to him finding himself elsewhere in 2016-17.

Wild beat reporter Michael Russo mentioned that Pominville could be bought out this summer, but that would be expensive. If Minnesota buys out the veteran, they’d have $877,777 of dead money on the cap next year, but a significantly higher amount after that.

Here’s what the full buyout would look like (via General Fanager):

Pominville

A $4.627,777 cap hit in 2017-18 is definitely steep.

The Wild could also decide to keep Pominville around and see if he can rebound from last year’s disaster. After all, he’s one year removed from an 18-goal, 54-point season and two years removed from a 30/30 season.