PHT’s 2014 Stanley Cup Final staff picks

30 Comments

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.)

WATCH LIVE: Anaheim Ducks at Nashville Predators – Game 6

Getty
Leave a comment

Will we see a Game 7 in the Western Conference Final or will the Nashville Predators stamp their ticket to the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup Final?

We’ll find out soon enough on Monday, as the Predators host the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6.

Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks will get their chance to beat the Ryan Johansen-less Predators once again on NBCSN. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Here’s what you need to know:

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators (Preds lead 3-2)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

Check out the highlights from Nashville’s 3-1 win in Game 5

Related:

Ducks will be without Eaves and Rakell in Game 6

Pontus Aberg ‘face planted’ before scoring game-winning goal in Game 6

Report: Sharks sign Czech d-man Simek

Getty
Leave a comment

San Jose’s had good success scouting European leagues in recent years, and the club is hopeful that trend continued on Monday.

The Sharks have signed d-man Radim Simek out of the Czech League, per NBC Sports California. It’s a one-year, two-way pact for the 24-year-old, who just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship.

Simek had two points in eight games for the Czechs.

According to a report out of Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, Simek has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

Smith could re-up with Rangers, agent expects Gorton meeting soon

Leave a comment

Earlier this month, we wrote about how pending UFA d-man Brendan Smith impressed his Rangers teammates with his strong postseason play.

It was clear the Rangers wanted to keep Smith, a trade deadline pickup, in the fold. And now it sounds like the interest is mutual.

“He’s more than open to coming back,” agent Anton Thun told the New York Post. ““I’m sure I’ll be speaking to Jeff [Gorton, Rangers GM] in the next week or so and we’ll see if we can work something out.”

Smith, 28, just wrapped a two-year, $5.5 million deal with a $2.75M average annual cap hit. His stock certainly rose following the move from Detroit to New York, thanks in large part to a playoff in which he had four points through 12 games, and averaged just under 20 minutes per night.

Add it all up, and a raise is in the cards.

Helping Smith’s cause is a relatively weak crop of free-agent defensemen this summer. Kevin Shattenkirk will be the top dog, while the second tier includes under-30s like Smith, Karl Alzner and Michael Stone.

The Post estimated a $4M AAV could be on the horizon for Smith, which makes sense. Thun didn’t talk specific numbers, but did suggest the Rangers weren’t going to get any sort of discount.

“To pass up free agency,” he explained, “Brendan’s going to need a contract that reflects market value.”

 

 

Penguins redefining defense by committee

Getty
3 Comments

When the Pittsburgh Penguins lost defenseman Kris Letang for the entire postseason it was thought be a crushing blow to their chances to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Especially with a path that was likely to include two of the NHL’s best teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Not only is Letang one of the best defensemen in the world, he is one of the most important cogs in the Penguins’ machine. During last year’s Stanley Cup run he played close to 29 minutes per game and did so at an incredibly high level. Losing that sort of workhorse is nearly impossible to replace.

But even with Letang’s absence (and even additional injuries to defensemen Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz) the Penguins find themselves one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final without really having a true No. 1 defenseman to turn to.

This is almost unheard of in today’s NHL.

Every team that goes on a deep run in the playoffs has a minute-eating defenseman that can be counted on to play a significant portion of the game. Letang. Drew Doughty. Duncan Keith. Erik Karlsson. Zdeno Chara. Players like that.

When it comes to the playoffs, teams tend to roll with their top-four defensemen the most and do their best to hide or shelter their third pairing by limiting their minutes as much as they can. The Penguins have not had that luxury without Letang.

That means everybody has had to step up and take on an expanded role. Just about everybody is playing more than they are used to while there is virtually no difference between each role.

First, consider that every team (22 of them) that has reached the Stanley Cup Final since the 2005-06 season has had at least one defensemen average more than 22 minutes of ice-time per game. Twenty-one of those 22 teams have had at least two players log more than 22 minutes, while 18 of them have had at least one player average more than 25 minutes of ice-time per game.

The 2016-17 Penguins currently have none.

Brian Dumoulin is currently their ice-time leader, playing just over 21 minutes per game.

Let’s take a look at what that looks like from a usage perspective.

The table here looks at this year’s Penguins, the remaining final four teams this season, and every Stanley Cup Finalist dating back to 2011-12 and what percentage of a 60-minute game each of their top-six defensemen played on an average night. This year’s Penguins should stick out as a massive outlier.

 

Other than the 2014-15 Lightning and 2011-12 Devils every other team on here had a No. 1 defenseman that was on the ice for more than 40 percent of the game on a given night. And the Lightning and Devils were very close to it.

All of them had a No. 2 defenseman that played more than 36 percent of the game on a given night.

Again, the Penguins currently have nobody taking on that sort of a workload in either spot.

Every team on there was able to limit their playing time of their third pairing (some more than others) while there was a significant gap between the ice-time for their No. 1 and No. 6 defenseman.

For Pittsburgh, their third pairing plays almost as much as their second pairing, while there is minimal difference between the workload for their top pairing and their third pairing. Last year, as an example, Letang averaged more than 13 additional minutes per game than their No. 6 defenseman.

This year Dumoulin is only averaging three more minutes than their No. 6.

It really is a defense by committee approach and it has been kind of fascinating to watch.

They are clearly lacking the elite puck-moving presence that a player like Letang can provide, and at times their ability to smoothly and efficiently exit the defensive zone has been a struggle.

It is also a situation where a lot of players are being thrust into roles they are not used to playing.  This has at times led to extended zone time for their opponents and put them in a situation where they are giving up way more shots per game than they want. They are also fortunate to have two outstanding goalies in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury that have been fantastic this postseason to keep pucks out of the net. But overall it is a unit that has seemingly taken on a whatever it takes approach to get the job done.

It runs counter to everything we have seen from contending teams in recent years when it comes to the makeup of a defense, but they have somehow found a way to make this patchwork unit work. Now here they are, just one win away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final.