Ray Shero

Bergevin, Lombardi, Murray named GM of the Year finalists

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Montreal’s Marc Bergevin, Los Angeles’ Dean Lombardi and Anaheim’s Bob Murray have been nominated for the 2014 General Manager of the Year award, the NHL announced on Friday.

This marks Lombardi’s first time as a finalist and the second for Murray and Bergevin, who finished behind Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero for last year’s award.

The voting, conducted among the 30 club general managers and a panel of NHL executives, managed to overlook what GM Jim Nill did in Dallas this year. Despite orchestrating the Tyler Seguin blockbuster, drafting Valeri Nichushkin and overseeing the end of a five-year playoff drought, Nill wasn’t named one of the three finalists — which has to come as something of a surprise, especially given this was his first year in charge.

That said, perhaps Nill will be relieved he wasn’t among the nominees.

Of the four previous GM of the Year award winners — the honor was implemented for the 2009-10 campaign — two have lost their jobs. Vancouver’s Mike Gillis, who won in 2010-11, was dismissed from his gig in early April; Shero, who won the award last year, was fired shortly after Pittsburgh’s collapse to the Rangers in the second round of this year’s playoffs.

Here’s the rundown of the three finalists, per NHL.com:

Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens

Bergevin guided the Canadiens (46-28-8, 100 points) to their second 100-point season since 1992-93, leading the team to the playoffs for the second time in as many years as general manager. He bolstered the offense with the summer signing of Daniel Briere and also added grit with the offseason acquisitions of Douglas Murray and George Parros. Bergevin then shored up the roster with midseason trades for Thomas Vanek, Mike Weaver and Dale Weise, all of whom played critical roles in the team advancing to the Eastern Conference Final for the second time in the past five seasons.

Dean Lombardi, Los Angeles Kings

Under the direction of Lombardi, the Kings (46-28-8, 100 points) earned their fifth consecutive playoff berth, recorded their fourth 100-point season in franchise history and made their third straight appearance in the Western Conference Final. He solidified the team’s blue line by re-signing defensemen Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov and did the same up front by bringing back Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Jordan Nolan. Lombardi then kick-started the club’s offense with the addition of Marian Gaborik at the Trade Deadline; after being blanked six times in 63 games prior to his arrival, the Kings were not shut out once in the final 19 contests of the regular season with Gaborik in the lineup.

Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks

Murray paved the way for the finest season in Ducks history, leading the team to its second straight Pacific Division title; the top record in the Western Conference for the first time in club history; and franchise records in wins (54), points (116), points percentage (.707), home wins (29) and road wins (25). He set the Ducks up for success by re-signing Matt Beleskey, Saku Koivu, Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Palmieri as well as enticing Teemu Selanne to return for one final season. Murray also traded for Mathieu Perreault during the preseason; added depth players in Mark Fistric, Tim Jackman, Stephane Robidas and Jakob Silfverberg; and oversaw the development of young goaltenders Frederik Andersen and John Gibson.

In case you’re wondering, the two GMs that won the award and are still employed are Phoenix’s Don Maloney and St. Louis’ Doug Armstrong.

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.