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: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

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With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

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National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.