For some time, it seemed like the Eastern Conference’s playoff races and seeding battles would be the most interesting as the 2013-14 regular season came to a close. As it turns out, this final week might be far juicier out West.
Let’s take a tour through an increasingly interesting situation in the competitive conference.
- To begin, we’ll go with teams fighting for their playoff lives (rather than musical chairs for division/conference supremacy).
- The Dallas Stars managed to take a shootout win against the Nashville Predators, eliminating the Preds from the postseason race in the process. The Stars slightly strengthened their hold on the West’s final wild card spot …
- … Because the Phoenix Coyotes could only manage a point against the Columbus Blue Jackets, ultimately surrendering in overtime on Tuesday. Phoenix isn’t totally collapsing as much as the Coyotes seem to be running out of gas; they’ve lost five games in a row but earned three points during that span.
- Interestingly, the two teams will face the squads they rooted for tonight. Dallas takes on Columbus (and will trail the Blue Jackets 1-0 off the bat) in a game that was postponed to Wednesday. Meanwhile, Phoenix faces the Predators in Nashville on Thursday.
- The Minnesota Wild went from clinching a spot in general to securing the top wild card spot by winning against the Boston Bruins in a shootout. Ilya Bryzgalov is on fire right now.
- It’s not just the final West spots that are up for grabs in interesting ways thanks to the St. Louis Blues’ first three-game losing streak of the season.
- The Colorado Avalanche’s win against the Edmonton Oilers leaves them only two points behind St. Louis for the Central Division crown (Blues 111, Colorado 109) and possibly the Western Conference’s top seed (idle Anaheim is at 110 points). All three teams have three games remaining this season, with Sunday’s season finale between the Ducks and the Avalanche suddenly holding even more interesting implications (at least potentially).
- The idle San Jose Sharks aren’t out of the Pacific race, either. Ponder this: the runner-up in the Central race would face Chicago in the first round while the Pacific’s second-place team nets Los Angeles in an opening series. Yup, that’s plenty of motivation to finish strong.
- (Especially if the top wild card team Minnesota stays as hot as they’ve been.)
That’s a lot of information to disseminate, so if you just want to do the math for yourself, here’s a look at the updated standings:
After leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2016, Sidney Crosby has been named the captain of team Canada for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Hockey Canada made the announcement on Thursday morning.
Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber, also long-time members of Team Canada in international competition, will serve as the assistant captains.
Crosby has won gold with team Canada at various tournaments, including the 2015 World Championship (where he also served as captain) and the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics.
He is also a two-time Stanley Cup champion in the NHL with the Penguins, serving as captain on their 2009 and 2016 championship teams.
Crosby had a slow start to the 2015-16 season and through the first two months was posting some of the worst numbers of his career. But following the in-season coaching change and a new-look roster around him he quickly climbed the NHL’s scoring leaderboard and finished the season with 85 points in 80 games, good enough for third best in the league. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
In 31 games for Team Canada at the World Championships and Olympics, Crosby has scored 17 goals and recorded 17 assists.
The World Cup of Hockey takes place in Toronto between September 17 and October 1.
This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…
The Florida Panthers have been building a pretty impressive roster in recent years, introducing a young core that includes Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad into the NHL. They are helping the Panthers not only be a competitive team right now, but also a team that has the potential to do something special in the not-too-distant future.
Looking to join that young core group of talent is 22-year-old defenseman Michael Matheson, the No. 23 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft.
Other than five games at the AHL level in 2014-15, the 2015-16 season was pretty much Matheson’s first full year of pro hockey after playing his college hockey at Boston College.
He spent most of the year playing for Portland in the AHL where he recorded 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 54 games, a performance that earned him an opportunity to play three regular season games at the NHL level and five of the Panthers’ six playoff games where he recorded an assist.
He made perhaps his strongest statement after the season ended when he represented Canada at the World Championships and was one of the most productive defensemen in the tournament with six points (two goals, four assists) in 10 games.
The Panthers have done a lot of work to their blue line over the summer, losing Brian Campbell to free agency while also adding veterans Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk. With Ekblad and Alex Petrovic also returning it is definitely going to be a little crowded on the blue line, but Matheson had a promising 2015-16 season and should have an opportunity to crack the lineup and compete for playing time.
It’s Florida Panthers day at PHT so it’s only fitting that they would start the day by completing a trade, which they did on Thursday morning by sending veteran forward Dave Bolland and 2015 first-round draft pick Lawson Crouse to the Coyotes in exchange for two draft picks.
As part of the deal the Panthers will get a 2017 third-round pick and a conditional 2018 second-round pick. ESPN’s Craig Custance reports that 2018 second-round pick will become a third-round pick if Crouse does not play in Arizona this season.
“We are very pleased to acquire Lawson,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said in a team statement. “He’s a big, physical, power forward who is a strong skater with good hands. Players of his caliber and profile are extremely hard to find.”
The key to this deal for Florida is, obviously, dumping the remainder of Bolland’s contract and clearing a significant amount of cap space both this year and in the future. Bolland’s deal still has a salary cap hit of $5.5 million per season for another three years. Since signing the five-year, $27 million deal in free agency before the start of the 2014-15 season, Bolland has played in just 78 games for the Panthers and scored only seven goals.
At the time of the contract Bolland was just one year removed from scoring the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final for the Chicago Blackhawks, while his injury the following year was looked at as a costly blow to a Maple Leafs team that fell apart in the second half of the season. So even though his overall production throughout his career didn’t really match the hype or the interest, he was still able to get a huge deal in free agency.
It has been an extremely costly contract for the Panthers, and the price became even steeper on Monday when they had to give up a prospect that was the No. 11 pick (Crouse) in the draft just last year to get rid of it.
And that is what makes the deal worth it for Arizona.
The Coyotes are pretty much buying a top prospect, and adding to an already deep pool of young players, for the price of taking on another contract that has almost no value to anybody else in the league. They picked up a first-round pick from the Detroit Red Wings earlier this summer for taking the final year of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract after he left the NHL to play in Russia, and last year made a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers to take on the remainder of Chris Pronger‘s contract. Because the Coyotes are so far below the league’s salary cap they are able to take on these deals without much of an issue and use them to keep adding young talent to a fast improving team.
The Florida Panthers have a new look, a different general manager and heightened expectations following an ambitious offseason.
After claiming the Atlantic Division with 103 points, the Panthers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. But with a young, skilled nucleus of players mixed with productive veterans — including 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who had 66 points last season — the Panthers have served noticed to the Eastern Conference that they are an emerging force.
Their summer has consisted of re-shaping the front office by promoting Dale Tallon to president of hockey operations and Tom Rowe to general manager. They also fired their director of player personnel Scott Luce, which was a controversial move for the team, as it shifts to a more analytics-based approach. They also completely revamped their scouting staff.
During the height of the playoffs, the Panthers and Vancouver Canucks made a trade, as Florida acquired 20-year-old center Jared McCann — a former first-round pick — and sent defenseman Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver.
The Panthers also freed up a substantial amount of cap space by trading Marc Savard‘s contract, and a draft pick, to New Jersey.
And that’s when things really started to pick up. The Panthers acquired the rights to puck-moving defenseman and pending UFA Keith Yandle — a “risk worth taking,” said Rowe at the time of the deal — and eventually signed him to a seven-year deal. The Panthers also traded defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, while Brian Campbell signed as a free agent in Chicago.
The signings continued from there:
— Stud defenseman Aaron Ekblad signed an eight-year contract extension.
— Defenseman Jason Demers signed as a free agent.
— Forward Vincent Trocheck, 23, emerged last season with 25 goals and was rewarded with a six-year deal.
— Reilly Smith got a five-year contract extension.
So, yeah, a busy offseason in Florida.
Now, can the Panthers live up to the heightened expectations?