Ben Bishop

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Poll: Will Blues compete for Central Division title next season?

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

The St. Louis Blues went through a number of changes last offseason. They key veterans David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott in free agency, and no one really knew how it would affect them on the ice.

After struggling pretty badly in January, they fired head coach Ken Hitchcock and they ended up replacing him with coach-in-waiting Mike Yeo.

At the time of the firing, the Blues were clinging to the final Wild Card spot in the West. In the end, they were able to move up to third place in the Central Division.

Thanks to some masterful goaltending by Jake Allen, they were able to knock off the Wild in five games in the opening round, but they fell to Nashville in round two.

The Blues didn’t make a ton of changes to their roster this summer. They acquired Brayden Schenn from Philadelphia at the draft and they added winger Beau Bennett in free agency.

Is it enough to come away with the Central Division crown?

Both the Blackhawks and Wild finished ahead of them in the standings last season. The ‘Hawks made some major changes to their roster, as they dealt Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Scott Darling and Marcus Kruger away. They’ve also already lost Marian Hossa for the season, too.

The Wild got off to a fantastic start last season, but they crumbled down the stretch and were no match for the Blues in the postseason.

As of right now, the biggest threat for the division crown is probably Nashville.  The Predators didn’t have a great regular season, but they managed to find a way to come together during a run to the Stanley Cup Final. They also added Nick Bonino, Scott Hartnell and Alexei Emelin this offseason. Notable losses include: James Neal, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson.  How will a long playoff run affect the Preds going into next season?

The most intriguing team in the division might just be Hitchcock’s new team, the Dallas Stars. They spent some money upgrading their roster, as they landed goalie Ben Bishop, winger Alex Radulov, center Martin Hanzal, defenseman Marc Methot. The Stars have had a tough time keeping the puck out of their own, so if Hitchcock and his new acquisitions can help them in that area, they’ll be tough to stop.

The Winnipeg Jets have an up-and-coming roster with plenty of skilled players. They signed Steve Mason to help young goalie Connor Hellebuyck out, but will that be enough? The Jets will likely be a dangerous squad in the near future, it just might not be this season.

And as for the Colorado Avalanche, well, let’s just say they still have a ton of work to do before we can put them in the conversation for the division title.

The Blues aren’t going to be the favorites to land the Central Division crown. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a shot. The key to this whole thing might just be Allen, who has always struggled with consistency at the NHL level.

If Allen can play anywhere close to the way he did during the playoffs (1.96 goals-against-average, .935 save percentage), they’ll have a chance to do some damage.

The biggest question is, did he just catch lightning in a bottle, or is he finally starting to take his game to the next level?

Alright, it’s your turn to have your say. Vote in the poll below and leave your opinion in the comments section below.

With a new deal in Dallas, Radulov must prove himself once again

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This post is part of Stars Day on PHT…

Alex Radulov returned from the KHL, had a productive season while exciting hockey fans in Montreal, and then cashed in on a long-term contract with the Dallas Stars.

It was argued in February by Washington’s head coach Barry Trotz that Radulov was “maybe the best signing of the year,” which Habs general manager Marc Bergevin deserved credit for during a period of controversy in his tenure thanks to the P.K. Subban trade.

One season is all Radulov spent with the Habs, scoring 18 goals and 54 points, finishing second on the team in total scoring.

He then turned that into a five-year deal worth $31.25 million with the Stars — the contract announced two days before his 31st birthday. He’s now the third highest paid forward in Dallas, per CapFriendly. It’s a large sum of money for a player that will be nearing his 36th birthday when the contract expires.

For the Stars, it’s the addition of a forward they’ll hope can have an immediate impact on an already skilled team at a time when Dallas is in its window to win. The moves general manager Jim Nill has made this summer would certainly suggest the time is now for this group of players he has assembled.

Based on reports, term was what separated the Canadiens and Radulov during their contract talks. Much will be made about the microscope Nill will be under following such an active offseason — this deal included — and missing the playoffs in 2017. There will be considerable pressure on Radulov to perform, as well, under this new contract.

It sounds like Radulov could get the opportunity to start on the wing with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, at least based on comments coach Ken Hitchcock made earlier this summer. If so, that should give their prized free agent signing the best chance to be successful.

“I’ve coached against Radulov both in the NHL and internationally, and he brings an intensity to the game,” said Hitchcock. “You notice him and you have to account for him. Now, put Jamie Benn on the other wing, and you have the same thing. You know he’s there, and you know you have to account for him. Same with Seguin.

“I just think they will all feed off of each other if that’s the line we come up with.”

There is always risk in signing any free agent to a new team.

There are the usual questions: How will they handle a different market? How quickly can they adjust to a different coach? Different system? Different linemates? The Stars have placed their bets on a few key players this summer, with the additions of Ben Bishop, Marc Methot and Martin Hanzal.

Radulov, at a $6.25 million cap hit per season, is the most expensive.

Radulov was able to prove himself with the Habs. Trotz was certainly on to something with his comments this past winter.

With greater term and salary, Radulov will need to do it again in Dallas. If he does, it could help lead to a lofty reward for the Stars.

After aggressive offseason, Nill needs moves to pay off

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This post is part of Stars Day on PHT…

It has been a very busy offseason for general manager Jim Nill.

Now he needs it all to pay off.

After a disastrous 2016-17 that saw his Dallas Stars go from division champs to missing the playoffs by 15 points, Nill got aggressive.

First he fired head coach Lindy Ruff and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock. Then he went to work on the roster, adding via trade or free agency the likes of Ben Bishop, Alexander Radulov, Martin Hanzal, and Marc Methot.

In signing Bishop, Nill hoped to solve his team’s biggest problem: goaltending. Which, of course, was a problem that Nill had already tried, and failed miserably, to solve two years ago with the signing of Antti Niemi.

In other words, Bishop better be the right guy, otherwise the GM could find his seat getting rather hot.

Ditto for Hitchcock being the right head coach. Because while Hitch has had a great deal of success in the NHL, it remains to be seen if his style will mesh with a team that’s been more run-and-gun than heavy-and-hard-to-play-against.

Heck, some might say Radulov was a risky signing, even after salvaging his reputation last season in Montreal. After all, he just turned 31 and won’t be playing for a contract anymore. Nill gave him a five-year term with a cap hit of $6.25 million.

Related: Ben Bishop is under pressure

In an interview with Edmonton’s 630 CHED radio, Nill was asked if he was feeling the pressure in the wake of all his moves.

“I wouldn’t say there was pressure,” he said, per FanRag Sports. “We knew we were going to make some changes. Last year was a tough year. The injuries devastated our team and we’d end up chasing it. The league is too tight nowadays. If you get behind in this league, it’s tough to catch up. It’s too close. We’re all within three-to-five wins of each other. So it was a tough year that way.

“But I get back to we knew we were going to have cap room. We knew we were going to make some changes. Probably the silver lining was because of all of the injuries last year, we had a lot of young kids we brought up to have to fill in those roles. They got extra experience because of that. I think between the additions and the experience the younger players got, I’m looking forward to a pretty strong bounce-back year.”

Nill may not want to admit there’s pressure, but considering all the money he’s committed to this roster, it’s fair to conclude that owner Tom Gaglardi will want to see some results.

The Stars will head into the season with Stanley Cup aspirations. At the very least, they need to get back into the playoffs and make some noise.

Under Pressure: Ben Bishop

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This post is part of Stars Day on PHT…

For a contract year, things could’ve gone better for Ben Bishop.

It started in Tampa Bay, where he felt he was playing okay, but “goofy goals on tips and bounces, goals off your own players” kept beating him.

It ended in Los Angeles after being traded at the deadline. In seven games with the Kings, he went 2-3-2 with a .900 save percentage. Not great.

Still, despite finishing with an overall save percentage of just .910, Bishop was a hot commodity heading into free agency. The Stars, desperate to upgrade their goaltending, traded for his rights then signed him to a six-year, $29.5 million deal.

After getting his guy, Stars GM Jim Nill called Bishop “an elite goaltender in this league.” Which was a fair comment to make, given we’re talking about a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist.

But of all the offseason acquisitions the Stars have made, nobody will be under more pressure to perform than the 30-year-old netminder.

“I think it’s a great team. It has a lot of potential,” Bishop said, per NHL.com. “With [Ken Hitchcock] coming in [as coach] the sky is the limit and I am excited to be a part of it.”

We all know how things have gone in Dallas the past three years. In 2014-15, the Stars had the second-worst team save percentage (.895) in the league. In 2015-16, the year they won the Central Division, it still wasn’t very good (.904). Last season, it was the NHL’s worst (.893).

And so the Stars bought out Antti Niemi and got Bishop. Kari Lehtonen is still around, but his contract expires next summer.

There’s an old saying that goes: “Goaltending is 50 percent of hockey. Unless you don’t have it, then it’s 100 percent.”

No team has encapsulated that saying better than the Dallas Stars the past few years. And that must change if the Stars are to become legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Bishop absolutely, positively cannot flop.

Poll: Are Preds favorites in West?

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This post is part of Predators Day on PHT…

The Nashville Predators qualified for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the second Wild Card team in the Western Conference. But it’s not about where you start, it’s where you finish, and the Preds made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Led by a phenomenal group of defensemen like Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, the Predators were able to knock off the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks before losing to the Penguins in six games.

Now, it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to translate the Stanley Cup run into regular-season dominance and more postseason success.

As of right now, they still have the same top four defensemen on their roster. They also added former Canadiens blue liner Alexei Emelin to fold.

Also, don’t forget that on top getting acclimated to his new surroundings last year, Subban also missed 16 games with an upper-body injury. If his postseason success carries over into the regular season, you can expect him to be a whole lot better in 2017-18.

Up front, GM David Poile was able to add a few interesting pieces via free agency. Nick Bonino, who is coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with Pittsburgh, will add some quality depth down the middle. His two-way style should make him an ideal candidate to center the second or third line.

Poile also signed veteran Scott Hartnell, who was bought out by the Blue Jackets. He’s back in Nashville after spending the first six years of his NHL career there. The veteran winger had 13 goals and 37 points in 78 games with Columbus last season.

Are those moves enough to propel them to another Stanley Cup Final berth in 2018? Well, lets look at the competition.

On paper, the Chicago Blackhawks seemed to have taken a step back this offseason, as they traded away Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Scott Darling and Marcus Kruger. Marian Hossa has a mysterious allergy that will keep him out for the year, and Brian Campbell hung up his skates to join the team’s front office.

The San Jose Sharks were able to re-sign Joe Thornton, but they lost Patrick Marleau to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Other than losing Marleau, their roster hasn’t changed too much this summer.

Like the Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks didn’t make a huge acquisition this offseason. They managed to retain potential free agent Patrick Eaves, who they acquired from Dallas at the deadline. Still, they should be plenty competitive in the West this season.

The Edmonton Oilers ended their long playoff drought last spring thanks to Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot. Edmonton swapped Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome and they signed Jussi Jokinen in free agency. All things considered, the Oilers should be ready to make a run, but how far can this young group go?

The Calgary Flames are another intriguing team. They got off to a slow start last season, but their roster eventually came to life and it’s easy to see why. They’re loaded with quality defensemen like Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic, who they got from the Islanders during the draft. They also have Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk  leading the way up front.

The Stars went into last season with plenty of expectation, but they ultimately missed the mark completely by not even making the playoffs. This summer, they added goalie Ben Bishop and winger Alexander Radulov. Those two moves should help them get back on track.

The Minnesota Wild got off to a great start last year, but they weren’t able to sustain that once the playoffs came around. On paper, they still have a very talented roster that could compete with any team in the conference.

The St. Louis Blues went through a bit of a transition phase last season, but they still managed to finish in the top three of their division. It might be a bit of a stretch to consider them as legit candidates to win the West, but they aren’t far off.

How do the Predators stack up against these teams? Are they the favorites to make it to the Stanley Cup Final?

Alright, I’m turning things over to you. Cast your vote in our poll and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.