PHT staff picks: Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup?

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Once again, your beloved PHT writers — me (Mike Halford), Jason Brough, Joe Yerdon, James O’Brien, Ryan Dadoun and Cam Tucker — have submitted their picks for who’ll win the 2014 Stanley Cup.

We encourage you all to post your picks in the comments below. It’ll be nice to see that section used for some quality analysis rather than what it’s traditionally hosted: Penguins vs. Flyers turf wars, Elvis videos and a space for that one guy to keep calling me Hack Halford.

Heeeeere we go…

Jason Brough: Los Angeles Kings

I picked these guys before the season started, and I don’t see any reason to change my prediction. The Kings have a great two-way center, a stud on the blue line, and a proven goalie that performs when the pressure’s on. They’re excellent five-on-five and allowed the fewest goals in the league during the regular season. They’re also big, tough, and deep. Yet having said all that, I wouldn’t be at all shocked if they lost in the first round. The NHL!

Joe Yerdon: Los Angeles Kings

I know the Bruins are the hot (and probably right) pick for most everyone, but I can’t stop looking at what the Kings have going for them and not think of their Cup run in 2012. They underachieved, by their standards, most of the season and struggled to score goals. They made a savvy trade with Columbus to acquire an offensive spark plug that helped pick up the offense. Instead of Jeff Carter being the guy, it’s Marian Gaborik this time around. He’s not the dynamic guy he once was, but he’s been enough to give the Kings a lift in the one area it needed it most. Jonathan Quick is looking as strong as ever and has shown the ability to lift his game in the playoffs and, let’s face it, Darryl Sutter’s brand of hockey is meant for the postseason.I’m going out on a limb here since they could easily get beaten in the first round by the Sharks, but if they do that, I like the Kings to take their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

James O’Brien: Boston Bruins

Making predictions is rarely a comfortable thing, but this postseason replaces the comfort of gut feelings with the terror of blindness. With so many contenders limping into the playoffs thanks to worrisome injuries, the B’s stand out by being the best team that’s also largely intact. It doesn’t hurt that the East provides fewer obstacles than the power-packed West, either. The Bruins boast an even more dangerous top scoring line with Jarome Iginla instead of Nathan Horton, phenomenal two-way center Patrice Bergeron, maybe the game-changing defenseman in Zdeno Chara and a fantastic goalie in Tuukka Rask. The Red Wings are better than a typical eighth seed, however, so this prediction could look dumb/dumber than usual in mere weeks. It’s just that kind of year.

Ryan Dadoun: Anaheim Ducks

This is a pick I’m making more with my heart than mind, but I feel justified in doing so given how tight the competition is this year.  No team is without its flaws and I’d be lying if I said Jonas Hiller made me comfortable, especially given how he finished.  At the same time, the Ducks have one of the best offensive duos in the league in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, veteran leadership, depth, and one of the greatest to ever step onto the ice getting ready for his last hurrah.  We saw what Teemu Selanne could do for a battered Finnish squad facing giants in the Olympics.  He doesn’t need to be the playoff MVP, but if he steps up in the postseason, he could be the guy that pushes them over the top.

Cam Tucker: Boston Bruins

The Bruins were the best team in the regular season and just continued to gather strength down the stretch. Not to mention the fact this team has been there before, whether it’s a Stanley Cup win three years ago or an appearance in the final last season. This team has proven it wins, in many different ways, and it has the advantage in goaltending with Tuukka Rask, who was sensational this season with his 2.04 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Jarome Iginla has found his scoring touch over the last few months and his motivation for a first career Stanley Cup at the age of 36 should be extremely high. The Bruins are too big, too fast, and too skilled.

Mike Halford: Chicago Blackhawks

Picking a repeat champion is risky business, if only because of the history — three recent Cup winners  (Pittsburgh ’09, Chicago ’10, Boston ’11) all lost in either the first or second round the following postseason. But last year, things started to turn as L.A., the defending Cup champ, made it all the way to the Western Conference finals before losing to — guess who? — the Chicago Blackhawks. Look, for all this talk about Chicago possibly being complacent and worn down from playing so much hockey, consider this: 1) At 32, Patrick Sharp had arguably the best season of his life, leading the team with a career-high 78 points, 2) At 35, Marian Hossa scored 30 goals for the first time in five years. Yeah, all these guys have played a lot. But Chicago is still hungry.

(Did I mention I took Chicago last year too? Because I took Chicago last year too.)

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

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Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

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.