Los Angeles Kings v San Jose Sharks - Game Seven

Ranking the five best 2014-2015 home openers

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The NHL released the list of home openers in 2014-2015 for all 30 teams on Saturday afternoon and while everyone will be excited to see the league back in action in October, there are a few games that stand out above all.

After taking a look at who each team will get to host, we’ve picked out five games that are appointment viewing in the opening week of the season. Let’s rank them out, shall we? And before you ask, no, there was no debate over which game would be No. 1. Sorry Sabres-Blue Jackets and Islanders-Hurricanes, you didn’t make the cut.

1. Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks — October 8

Not only will the Kings be raising their 2014 Stanley Cup championship banner that night, the NHL was kind/cruel enough to have the Sharks be the guests of honor. You don’t need to be reminded that the Kings overcame a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and went on to win it all.

Will Joe Thornton be there to soak in the agony of having the knife twisted one last time? Will Drew Doughty remark about the fear in the eyes of Sharks players again? If the Sharks can’t get up for this game…

source: AP2. Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins — October 16

The Habs will have to start the season on the road but when they do get back to Bell Centre, the Boston Bruins will be there to greet them. After the Canadiens took out the Bruins in the postseason and their Stanley Cup hopes with them, this ancient rivalry will get to reboot once again.

Seeing P.K. Subban on the ice should be enough motivation for Zdeno Chara and the Bruins to get up for the game. The Habs hope the respect they earned by beating Boston won’t be forgotten.

Let’s just hope Milan Lucic will be on his best behavior.

3. Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche — October 9 & 11

A bit of a funky situation with these two 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs combatants and division rivals as they start the year with a home-and-home series against each other. After going to seven games in the first-round of the playoffs ultimately won by the Wild, Patrick Roy’s Avs will get to start the season trying to wrangle Zach Parise and Ryan Suter all over again.

Big question for the Avs will be whether they’ll have Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly there to try and get the season off to a good start. Equally good question for the Wild? Who will they have in goal? Ilya Bryzgalov was key for them in the playoffs but so was Darcy Kuemper. Niklas Backstrom is still around and Josh Harding may still be in the discussion.

source: AP4. Detroit Red Wings vs. Boston Bruins — October 9

It’s a playoff rematch between a Red Wings team that was game and beat up and a Bruins team that was too good and too much for the Wings. Now that they’re division rivals and they have a playoff battle under their belts, perhaps we’ve got the start of a good rivalry.

The Red Wings should have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg at full strength while the Bruins will still have Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron excelling. These two teams bring the best out of each other but the Bruins will be coming off an opening night game at home against Philadelphia. Nothing like back-to-backs to start the season.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens — October 8

It’s one of the most storied rivalries in the NHL and having the Leafs and Habs open up against each other in Toronto makes opening night all the more special. With the pomp and circumstance the Maple Leafs provide on opening night, it provides all the hockey feelings fans get tingly about.

It’ll also feature a Leafs team that hits the ice for the first time since an incredible season-ending collapse that saw them fall from third in the Eastern Conference to 12th in just over a month’s time. Meanwhile, the Canadiens are coming off an Eastern Conference Final appearance and were perhaps a Carey Price injury away from making the Stanley Cup Final.

Phil Kessel and Jonathan Bernier are about the only two Leafs players we know for sure will be on the ice for Toronto as they’ve got a summer filled with rumors and intrigue ahead of them.

San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

Quite a promising present

So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

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via EA Sports
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EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

 

Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

91rinneea

To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

Some other debate-starters

Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

***

Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.

NHL says it isn’t bothered by Coyotes’ salary cap methods

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 02:  Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skate after the loose puck in Game Three of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is deftly playing the system when it comes to the salary cap to the point that some might accuse him of exploiting loopholes.

If the NHL bristles as such tactics, they’re at least not showing it in public.

In taking on the absolutely dead money of Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk along with the possibly dead money of Dave Bolland, the Coyotes are getting to the cap floor while saving money in the actual cash they’re dishing out.

The Score’s Ian MacLaren succinctly explains the savings they’re enjoying thanks to these clever trades:

That’s how the league is viewing Arizona taking on the salaries of Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk and Dave Bolland. The cap hits amount to almost $18 million but result in less than $2 million in actual salary paid out by the club, while simultaneously allowing it to reach the cap floor.

Honestly, it’s difficult to shake the image of Gary Bettman & Co. bristling at the tactics of a franchise they’ve defended year after year amid myriad arena issues.

Today’s Slapshot’s Craig Morgan caught up with Bill Daly, whose overall message is that the league is OK with what Arizona is doing.

“I would say that it’s a matter that we monitor, like all other areas of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and if we believe it starts to be abused in a way that is inconsistent with how the system is designed to work, at that point, we would try to correct it in collective bargaining with the union,” Daly said. “I would say we aren’t at that point on this issue — we do not view it as the loophole that‎ some describe it as.”

One key point from Daly is that he doesn’t view Bolland’s case as the same as that of Pronger or Datsyuk. The critical distinction is that Bolland at least hopes to become healthy enough to play again.

(Chakya’s update wasn’t particularly optimistic in that regard, but a return isn’t totally inconceivable since Bolland is just 30.)

Best of both worlds for Coyotes

Again, the Coyotes are really reaping the benefits of this gameplan. Not only are they saving real dollars by absorbing other teams’ dead money, they’re using those trades to acquire promising assets like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse.

These are the sort of moves that make the team look bright today and possibly terrifying for opponents in the future, even if the 2016-17 product may be a little hit-or-miss.

Time may tell how the NHL truly feels

To some extent, we probably won’t know how the NHL truly feels about this situation until the next CBA eventually gets hashed out.

Then again, the league did make a big stink about cap circumvention during the memorable days of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations, so perhaps such maneuvering really doesn’t bother the NHL?

Maybe, but you’re free to picture Bettman grumbling about Chayka’s moves either way.

(H/T to the Score.)

Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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via Alex Ovechkin's Twitter page
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Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.