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.)

Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

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There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

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— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

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George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.