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.)

BREAKING: Isles acquire Eberle from Edmonton for Strome

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Everyone knew this was going to be a massive offseason for Islanders GM Garth Snow.

And Snow has now responded in kind.

Per TSN, the Isles are on the verge of acquiring Jordan Eberle from Edmonton. No word yet on what’s headed to New York in return. Sportsnet has confirmed the move, saying all involved parties are being informed of the move.

Update: Ryan Strome headed to Edmonton in exchange, per Darren Dreger.

The move comes after weeks of speculation about Eberle’s future with the Oilers. He had a solid regular season in Edmonton, with 20 goals and 51 points through 82 games, but struggled mightily in the postseason. He went scoreless through 13 games, finishing with just two points while watching his ice time dwindle to 14:32 per night.

Eberle is still a quality offensive talent, though, and should be thrilled about the prospect of playing with Isles captain John Tavares. Tavares, in turn, will undoubtedly be pleased with Snow’s bold move to bring in additional scoring up front, which could go a long way in him signing an extension with the Isles.

It’s safe to assume Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli will feel some heat for this deal. While he did get out from under Eberle’s contract — $6 million annually for each of the next two years — Strome is coming off a disappointing year, and was exposed by the Isles at last night’s expansion draft.

That said, Chiarelli does have bigger fish to fry. Connor McDavid is eligible to sign an extension this summer, as is Leon Draisaitl.

Needless to say, those contracts are going to be expensive.

Losing Neal to Vegas was a ‘pretty big price to pay’ for Predators

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The Vegas Golden Knights named their team on Wednesday, and it was no surprise that James Neal was among their selections in the expansion draft.

Why not? Since entering the league in 2008, Neal has scored at least 20 goals in each of his nine seasons, hitting the 40-goal mark in 2011-12 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But after coming up two wins shy of a Stanley Cup this spring, Neal was left unprotected by the Predators.

Predators general manager David Poile had reportedly been in talks with Vegas GM George McPhee, but a deal couldn’t be achieved.

“With how well we played in the playoffs, I’d certainly like to bring everybody back, but the prices [to make a deal with Vegas] were very high,” Poile told the Predators website.

“[McPhee] was looking for younger players or high draft picks, and at the end of the day, I just felt that we had to do what the Expansion Draft was set out to do and that was to lose a player. In this case, we lost James Neal and that’s a pretty big price to pay.”

Neal has one more year left on his six-year contract that has an annual cap hit of $5 million, before he’s a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.

Nashville has about $22.7 million in cap space, per CapFriendly, but five pending restricted free agents — Austin Watson, Frederick Gaudreau, Pontus Aberg and most notably Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — in need of contracts. In Arvidsson’s case, he’s due for a significant raise from the $640,000 he made in NHL salary last season, in which he scored 31 goals and 61 points.

“James had a much bigger contract and he only had one year left before he was an unrestricted free agent. We didn’t have any negotiations, but there was no guarantees that we would be able to keep him. It really was a business decision. It was as simple as that,” Poile the Tennessean.

Caps re-sign Christian Djoos, who could get his NHL shot next season

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The Washington Capitals have re-signed defenseman Christian Djoos to a two-year, $1.3 million contract.

It’s a two-way deal in 2017-18, and a one-way deal the following season.

Djoos, 22, is expected to push for an NHL spot next season, along with Madison Bowey and possibly Tyler Lewington.

That’s because Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, both unrestricted free agents, aren’t expected to re-sign with Washington.

On top of that, the Caps lost d-man Nate Schmidt in yesterday’s expansion draft.

Djoos, a seventh-round pick in 2012, had 13 goals and 45 assists in 66 games for AHL Hershey this past season.

It was his second full season in the AHL.

Bettman says NHL will call more slashes next season

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Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL will look to enforce slashing penalties more next season.

Following the league’s board of governors meeting, Bettman said pointless slashes to players’ hands will be called more. Ottawa’s Marc Methot and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau were among the players to miss time last season with hand injuries from slashes.

Related PHT coverage:

Gaudreau (finger) out six weeks, Treliving says Staal slash the culprit

— Flames made ‘mountain out of a molehill’ over Gaudreau slash

— Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby slash

— Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash