PHT’s 2014 Stanley Cup Final staff picks

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We’re back with another round of scintillating PHT staff picks! Here’s how our band of keyboard jockeys have fared thus far:

Jason Brough: 7-1 in Round 1, 2-2 in Round 2, 1-1 in Conference Finals (and the only guy to take L.A.) — 10-4 overall.

Mike Halford: 5-3 in Round 1, 3-1 in Round 2, 0-2 in Conference Finals — 8-6 overall.

Joe Yerdon: 7-1 in Round 1, 3-1 in Round 2, 0-2 in Conference Finals — 10-4 overall.

James O’Brien: 5-3 in Round 1, 3-1 in Round 2, 1-1 in Conference Finals — 9-5 overall.

Ryan Dadoun: 4-for-8 in Round 1, 2-2 in Round 2, 1-1 in Conference Finals — 7-7 overall.

Cam Tucker: 5-3 in Round 1, 3-1 in Round 2, 0-2 in Conference Finals — 8-6 overall.

Onto the Final we go…

Brough: Kings in 7

I picked the Kings to win the Cup before the season and also before the playoffs, so I can’t really change now. I’m not sleeping on the Rangers by any means — great goalie, emerging star on defense, good depth up front and on the back end, solid mix of youth and experience, healthy, and well-rested — but I don’t think they can match the power of L.A., which has already beaten three very good teams, including the defending champs. Sure, the Kings might be a bit tired, but remember they’ll get two days off before Game 1, then another two days between Games 1 and 2, and there’s a two-day break between Games 5 and 6, if necessary. The key for me is Jonathan Quick. He needs to be better than he was against the ‘Hawks, who it should be noted have made a lot of good goalies look average.

Yerdon: Kings in 7

It’s easy to understand why the Los Angeles Kings are seemingly everyone’s pick. They’ve got everything the New York Rangers have but more of it… except at one position. Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie the Kings will have seen in the playoffs and that means the Rangers have a great equalizer in their favor. That won’t be enough to get the Rangers to win it all, but it will be enough to treat us all to a legendary series.O’Brien: Kings in 6

Heading into the playoffs, I believed that two East teams could make the West’s best sweat: the Bruins and the Rangers. That holds true today; Martin St. Louis generates buckets of chances, Ryan McDonagh keeps climbing the defensive ranks and Henrik Lundqvist is one of the few goalies truly worthy of “elite” designation. Even so, if you apply the “your life depends on it” criteria, I’d pick the Kings every time. They already survived brutal competition and carry themselves like a force that simply won’t be denied. Expect a spirited fight from the Rangers, though.

Dadoun: Kings in 6

The resiliency the Kings have shown makes them hard to bet against. They overcame a 3-0 series deficit and came from behind in Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champions. That’s to say nothing of the fact that they now have the all-time points leader in Game 7s (Justin Williams) and have won 10 of 11 series under Kings coach Darryl Sutter — these are just the tip of the iceberg, though, as you could point to almost any player on the team and reference an example of them being the hero in 2014. On paper, they’re hard to top and in practice, keeping them down is almost unheard of.

Tucker: Kings in 6

The New York Rangers have had a great run, especially after coming back to defeat Pittsburgh in seven games in the second round. St. Louis, enduring the tragedy of the sudden passing of his mother, has been an inspirational story for his play. But the Kings … how do you not pick the Kings? Three times in these playoffs, they’ve gone into an opposing team’s building in a Game 7 and won. It started in historical fashion in the first round and their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final was punched with another gutsy effort against Chicago. They also have the benefit of having been to this stage two years ago.

Halford: Rangers in 7

What, you thought I was going to follow the crowd? For all the talk about L.A.s’ resiliency, do remember the Rangers rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit for the first time in franchise history this postseason, and have won two Game 7s to L.A.’s three — one of them coming on the road, in Pittsburgh, to clinch their historic comeback. There’s also the goaltending factor. Lundqvist is playing like a man on a mission this postseason and, as we saw in the case of Tim Thomas during in 2011 and Quick two years ago, one hot goalie can greatly alter the outcome of  the Stanley Cup Final. (And hey, it’s not like Quick has been on fire lately.)

Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

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A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.

Report: Red Wings grant Coyotes permission to interview Todd Nelson

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There’s some activity as far as the Arizona Coyotes’ coaching situation goes, and soon there may be some answers.

As noted during the weekend, the Coyotes were interested in speaking with Todd Nelson, who most recently coached the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate) to a Calder Cup victory. The Red Wings granted Arizona permission to interview Nelson, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James.

(Red Wings fans are greeting this news with despair.)

It’s not the only noteworthy development, either, as the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that the Coyotes parted ways with associate coach Jim Playfair today. (The Coyotes confirmed the news moments after this post went up.)

This is a time of change for this organization, and some are bristling at the way they’re handling things. Still, there’s also an argument that the team is ultimately making wise choices, and Nelson could end up being a big part of that.

Assuming they convince him to come on board, of course.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

 

 

Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

More:

On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.