Jason Brough

Bulletin-board material: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

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This is the fourth straight year (2013, 2014, 2015) we’ve done this. We’ve only been wrong three times out of 48. Try and find more accurate NHL predictions than that. 

Minnesota Wild: The worst team to make the playoffs. There is absolutely nothing the Wild do really well, unless you count driving their coaches insane, which they do amazingly well. The worst thing for their poor fans is that it’s only going to get worse. Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, and Ryan Suter are all on the wrong side of 30. And on top of an aging core with big money and big term still left on their contracts, they’ve got a very mediocre collection of prospects. Good luck with that.

New York Rangers: There’s nothing wrong with your goalie being your best player, but it’s kind of a problem when your goalie is your best player and he’s playing awful. Henrik Lundqvist’s save percentage was .906 in March and .895 in April. That’s not good. Combine that with the loss of Ryan McDonagh, then add to the equation the Rangers are among the worst puck-possession teams in the league, and you’ve got the formula for a very early exit.

Philadelphia Flyers: A.k.a. this year’s Ottawa Senators, who only lasted six games last year. Look, the Flyers had a great late-season run. They made the playoff race interesting, and for that hockey fans should be thankful. But this remains a seriously flawed roster, especially on the back end where Shayne Gostisbehere can’t do it all. Also remember that the Flyers’ record wasn’t as good as it looked. They only won 27 times in regulation, which is one fewer than Buffalo, Winnipeg, and Arizona managed. Were the Sabres, Jets, or Coyotes good? No, they were not good.

Detroit Red Wings: This team hasn’t been a legitimate contender since Nicklas Lidstrom retired, and it sure isn’t now. The Wings qualified for the playoffs with a minus-13 goal differential. The only other team that qualified with a negative number was the aforementioned Flyers, at minus-4. Newsflash: it wasn’t just the money that convinced Mike Babcock to leave last summer. He saw the future in Detroit, and it wasn’t bright without Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg. Yes, Dylan Larkin has franchise-player potential, but he’s the only one, and you need more than one franchise player to win the Cup.

Dallas Stars: It’s too bad, because Stars games are fun to watch. They score lots of goals. They allow quite a few, too. And therein lies the problem. Teams like the Stars don’t win the Cup. It’s like their own coach says — too much “pond hockey.” For all the Stars’ talent, they’re in desperate need of a Selke Trophy-caliber forward.  You know, like in 1999, when they had Jere Lehtinen and it was impossible to score on them. Defense wins championships. You might have heard that phrase a billion times or so.

Florida Panthers: Anybody who was surprised that the Panthers made the playoffs wasn’t paying attention to basic roster construction. Aleksander Barkov is a stud center and Aaron Ekblad is a stud d-man. Those are your two most important building blocks, and Florida could easily win the Cup in a few years. But it won’t happen this year, because the young part of the core isn’t ready yet. Truly elite teams dominate all facets of the game, and the Panthers don’t do that on a consistent enough basis. That’s the next step, and this playoff experience will help. (OK, we were way too nice to the Panthers here, so here’s a little joke: What do you call a sellout crowd in Sunrise? Answer: Home-ice advantage for the Habs.)

San Jose Sharks: Another “surprise” playoff team that wasn’t really a surprise. The Sharks have a talented top six and a deep defense. They’ve also got two capable goalies, now that James Reimer is in the mix. The obvious knock on the Sharks is their history of choking in the playoffs. Because if you haven’t heard, they have a real reputation for choking in the playoffs. Like in 2009, when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and choked in the first round. Or in 2010 and 2011, when they made it to the conference finals and choked each time. Or especially 2014, when they had a 3-0 lead on the Kings and choked. It’s almost like this core has proven time and time and time and time again that it doesn’t handle the pressure well.

St. Louis Blues: Speaking of choking. At least the Sharks’ core has managed to win a few rounds. The Blues have been eliminated three straight years in the first round. There are plenty of theories about this team’s postseason failures, but here’s the best one — there’s no elite center. David Backes isn’t one. Paul Stastny isn’t one. Jori Lehtera isn’t one. Alex Steen isn’t one. Those guys are all decent, sure, but when was the last time a team won the Cup without an elite center? On second thought, maybe the Blues are just chokers. Chokers, without an elite center.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Less than a year after nearly winning it all, it’s obvious the Bolts’ problems go beyond the loss of Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman. Make no mistake, losing those two guys is huge. But this team hasn’t seemed right all season. Just the absolute stinkers they’ve had. It’s been really bizarre. “We have the guys,” Stamkos said a couple of weeks ago, following their latest no-show. “I believe in them and we’ve got to start believing in ourselves.” A couple of days later came the news that he was done for 1-3 months. The Lightning then finished with just one win out of four. Which wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring.

Nashville Predators: Remember when the Preds used to be a good defensive team? Because they’re not really a good defensive team anymore. They don’t check with the same intensity, they’re not as responsible structurally, and the result is a goals-against average that ranks 14th in the NHL. Even teams like the Islanders and Flyers allowed fewer goals than the Preds did this season. Some of that is on Pekka Rinne, who finished with a .908 save percentage, but if the Preds think they’re talented enough to outscore lax defense and/or bad goaltending, they’re seriously mistaken. This franchise needs to find its identity again.

New York Islanders: The problem with the Isles isn’t a lack of good players. They’ve got plenty of good players. The problem with the Isles is a lack of great players. In that category, only John Tavares qualifies. Now compare that to the Blackhawks, who’ve got at least four future Hall of Famers on their roster. Heck, compare that to the Islanders’ Cup-winning teams of the 1980s, who sent five players to the Hall. Oh, and another problem with the Isles is that Thomas Greiss is currently their starting goalie. Yeah, that’s a pretty big problem right there. That problem should’ve gone first.

Anaheim Ducks: A couple of years ago, Ducks GM Bob Murray was asked what was missing from his roster. He replied, “You watch the Kings and you watch how Drew Doughty has emerged as a superstar. Do we have a defenseman who can be that way? When we won the Stanley Cup, we had [Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.] That’s in the back of my mind all the time. Where is that guy, can you find that guy, and can you afford that guy?” Unfortunately for Murray, the answer has been no. The best they’ve got right now is Cam Fowler, and he’s far from Doughty. Or Duncan Keith. Or Zdeno Chara. You know, the kind of number-one defensemen who win Cups. The Ducks should try and find one of those, because they won’t win anything until they’ve got one.

Los Angeles Kings: How much ice time can Drew Doughty handle? We’re about to find out, because the Kings still haven’t replaced Slava Voynov. Assuming Alec Martinez is healthy – and that’s no guarantee for Game 1 – they’ll enter the postseason with just three defensemen that can be trusted: Doughty, Martinez, and Jake Muzzin. In effect, Luke Schenn may have to be their Voynov. Yes, the same Luke Schenn who used to get healthy scratched in Philly. And if it’s not Schenn, the choices are Brayden McNabb, who’s totally unproven in the playoffs, or Rob Scuderi, who’s 37. Bottom line: there is no way Darryl Sutter is confident with the depth of his defense. And he shouldn’t be. It’s not deep at all.

Pittsburgh Penguins: “Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.” That’s a quote from Mike Tyson, and it perfectly sums up the Pens. Lest we forget, these guys have gone into the postseason feeling good about their chances before. More often than not it ends badly. Like, really badly. Since 2009, no team in hockey has lost its collective mind like Pittsburgh in the playoffs. The Penguins, as they’re keenly aware, were supposed to be a dynasty. Maybe that’s why they’ve had so much trouble maintaining their composure. It’s all those expectations, balled up like a fist, ready to start punching them in the mouth.

Chicago Blackhawks: The easiest team to count out. The ‘Hawks won’t win the Cup because it’s too hard to repeat in the salary-cap era. It hasn’t been done yet, and the salary cap’s been around since 2005. The ‘Hawks know this. They’ve tried and failed twice. The closest they got was in 2014, when they still had some gas left in the tank after their lockout-shortened title in 2013. But their tanks are empty now, and their play down the stretch was proof of that. After peaking in January, they finished the season 11-10-5. Defensively, they were plain bad at times. Expect an early exit for the defending champs.

Washington Capitals: The Caps have everything going for them right now. After running away with the Presidents’ Trophy, they’re locked and loaded for their first Cup in franchise history. Just like in 2009-10, when they were locked and loaded and lost in the first round. The year before that, it was the Sharks who ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy, only to lose in the first round. The year after, it was the Canucks, who made it all the way to the finals before running into injuries and a hot goalie. The Caps are 4/1 betting favorites to win the Cup. That’s encouraging in a way, but it also means there’s a significantly better chance that they won’t win. For the majority of Presidents’ Trophy winners, the playoffs have only led to heartbreak.

Here are PHT’s first-round playoff predictions, featuring a virtual coin

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Once again in 2016, there’s no “Miracle on Manchester” potential in the NHL playoffs. The widest point discrepancy between first-round opponents is 24, between the Capitals and Flyers. Dallas and Minnesota, separated by 22 points, is the only other wide spread. In six out of the eight series, the discrepancy is seven points or fewer.

And that right there is our excuse, should we need one. First-round predictions in today’s NHL are hard.

With that in mind, we’d like to welcome Just Flip A Coin to this year’s proceedings. Last year, the 1972 Eisenhower Dollar went an impressive 11-4 and was thrown into the ocean for embarrassing the humans.

Washington Capitals versus Philadelphia Flyers

Brough: Caps in 7
Halford: Flyers in 7
O’Brien: Caps in 5
Dadoun: Caps in 6
Tucker: Caps in 6
Alfieri: Caps in 5
Just Flip A Coin: Flyers

Florida Panthers versus New York Islanders

Brough: Panthers in 7
Halford: Panthers in 6
O’Brien: Panthers in 6
Dadoun: Panthers in 6
Tucker: Panthers in 6
Alfieri: Panthers in 7
Just Flip A Coin: Panthers

Pittsburgh Penguins versus New York Rangers

Brough: Penguins in 7
Halford: Penguins in 7
O’Brien: Penguins in 6
Dadoun: Rangers in 6
Tucker: Penguins in 6
Alfieri: Penguins in 6
Just Flip A Coin: Rangers

Tampa Bay Lightning versus Detroit Red Wings

Brough: Wings in 6
Halford: Lightning in 6
O’Brien: Lightning in 7
Dadoun: Wings in 7
Tucker: Lightning in 7
Alfieri: Lightning in 7
Just Flip A Coin: Wings

Dallas Stars versus Minnesota Wild

Brough: Stars in 5
Halford: Stars in 6
O’Brien: Stars in 5
Dadoun: Stars in 6
Tucker: Stars in 5
Alfieri: Stars in 4
Just Flip A Coin: Stars

Anaheim Ducks versus Nashville Predators

Brough: Ducks in 5
Halford: Ducks in 6
O’Brien: Ducks in 6
Dadoun: Ducks in 5
Tucker: Ducks in 7
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Just Flip A Coin: Predators

Chicago Blackhawks versus St. Louis Blues

Brough: Blues in 7
Halford: ‘Hawks in 6
O’Brien: Blues in 6
Dadoun: Hawks in 6
Tucker: Blues in 7
Alfieri: ‘Hawks in 7
Just Flip A Coin: ‘Hawks

Los Angeles Kings versus San Jose Sharks

Brough: Sharks in 6
Halford: Sharks in 7
O’Brien: Kings in 6
Dadoun: Sharks in 7
Tucker: Kings in 7
Alfieri: Kings in 7
Just Flip A Coin: Sharks

Who’s going to win the Stanley Cup? PHT staffers make their picks…

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Sixteen teams out of 30 make the playoffs, but only one can win. Now that we know those 16 teams, we’re making our Stanley Cup picks again. Has anything changed our minds from the preseason? 

Jason Brough: Washington Capitals

I’ve been on the Caps’ bandwagon since October, when I was the only PHT staffer to pick them to win it all. Six months later, after they ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy, I don’t suppose I should jump off now. I still really like all the ways this team can win. It’s good offensively, it’s good defensively, the special teams are good, and so is the goaltending and coaching. Basically, it’s hard to find a glaring weakness in the lineup. The Caps are also healthy, and that’s huge. The one thing I don’t like is how they finished the season, winning just three of their last nine games. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt there, since they clinched the NHL’s best record with seven games left. This could really be the year, Caps fans. Be excited. (And be a bit terrified, too.)

(Preseason pick: Capitals over Blues)

Mike Halford: Chicago Blackhawks

I’d feel better about my original pick, Tampa Bay, if Steven Stamkos hadn’t needed a rib removed to fix his blood-clotting issue. And, also, if Anton Stralman hadn’t fractured his leg with eight games left in the season. But see, that stuff happened, man. Theoretically, my new pick should be the team I predicted would lose to the Bolts in the final — Anaheim. Right? WRONG. In a classic Halfordian twist, I’m going with Chicago. (“Halfordian” is Latin for “when all else fails, take the team that won it last year.”) For all the hand-wringing about how the ‘Hawks finished the season, remember this: Artemi Panarin had 13 points in his final five games of the year. Patrick Kane had 12. Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw, Artem Anisimov and Corey Crawford all appear healthy and ready for the playoff opener. And Duncan Keith is back for Game 2. The Stanley Cup, like it has three times in the last six years, goes through the Windy City.

(Preseason pick: Lightning over Ducks)

Ryan Dadoun: Anaheim Ducks

I was very optimistic heading into the season about the Ducks’ ability to overcome their playoff heartbreaks, and I’m more upbeat about them now. They had a horrible October, but were able to work through it to become one of the best teams in the second half. When I picked them in the preseason, I brought up their scoring depth, and that’s proved to be a big part of their turnaround. Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg in particular had really bad starts, but they’ve done a complete 180. That’s especially true of Kesler, who has 41 points in his last 43 games. And then you have goalies John Gibson and Frederik Andersen, who combined to win the Jennings Trophy. Ultimately, the Ducks still need to prove they can win the big series, or for that matter, the big game. I think they can.

(Preseason pick: Ducks over Rangers)

James O’Brien: Los Angeles Kings

The West could go any number of ways (ideal scenario: the Dallas Stars bless us with absurdly fun hockey and make the grass greener/sky bluer), but sometimes I default to the “If a gun was to my head” test. And, deep down, in that scenario, my answer would be the Los Angeles Kings. As always, the Kings remain possession monsters and check all the appropriate boxes (elite center, supporting scoring, all-world defenseman, goalie who can get hot). This may be the most versatile team in the NHL: able to win low-scoring games and also trade hay-makers with the most dangerous offenses in the league. Again, this gut choice comes with indigestion, as it wouldn’t be shocking if the Kings fell to the Sharks. That’s playoff hockey for you.

(Preseason pick: Ducks over Penguins)

Cam Tucker: Anaheim Ducks

I didn’t have an official, on-the-record preseason pick, but I can assure all of you, I was firmly on the Anaheim Ducks bandwagon at the start of the year. Obviously, that pick wasn’t looking so good by December, when the Ducks entered the holiday break at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. But they didn’t fire their coach and they eventually surged up the standings into top spot in the Pacific Division at season’s end. Getting through the West in these playoffs is going to seem like a nightmare at times, and facing the Predators in the opening round won’t be easy at all. But the Ducks have been red-hot since the holiday break and are coming off a loss in the Western Conference final a year ago. They take the next step this spring.

(Preseason pick: N/A)

Joey Alfieri: Anaheim Ducks

I didn’t make an official preseason pick either, but like most of my PHT colleagues, I felt a team from California would hoist the Cup. I thought the Ducks had the best chance and I’ll stick with them. Like most everyone, I was shocked with the way Anaheim opened the season. I couldn’t believe that a team with that much size and skill could get off to such a bad start. Not only did the Ducks turn things around, they also managed to swoop in and grab the Pacific Division crown, which is huge in my eyes. Winning the division allows the Ducks to avoid playing the Sharks and Kings in the opening round. Another reason I like the Ducks so much? Special teams. Anaheim is the first team since the ’85 Islanders to finish the regular season with the best power play and penalty kill. In a tight series, a big penalty kill here or a timely PP goal there could make the difference.

(Preason pick: N/A)

Devils recognize need to add goal-scorers

In a photograph taken with a fisheye lens, New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac, right, and teammate center Jacob Josefson, of Sweden, celebrate Zajac's goal after scoring a goal against the Arizona Coyotes during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The days of the New Jersey Devils being a permanent fixture in the Stanley Cup playoffs are long gone.

The postseason drought reached four years in John Hynes’ just concluded first season as coach. While the Devils were more competitive, they are still lacking key ingredients, the biggest being a superstar to carry the team.

Goaltender Cory Schneider is clearly the best player on the team that went 38-36-8, a six-point improvement from the previous season.

The relatively young defense was solid with the top pair of captain Andy Greene and Adam Larsson leading the way. The offense again is lacking despite having 30-goal scorers in Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri. It scored a league-low 184 goals.

“I think the expectations were quite low and I thought for the most part we came out and defied those. We stuck to our expectations and not anyone else,” Schneider said. “It was a step in the right direction but not the ultimate goal we wanted to achieve.”

What the Devils did in Ray Shero’s first season as general manager was changed the face of the club. It became a lot younger with the addition of Reid Boucher, Joseph Blandisi, Sergey Kalinin and Devante Smith-Pelly.

The team speed increased and there was an enthusiasm as players brought into Hynes’ system.

“The last couple years you haven’t left here with a good feeling,” veteran center Travis Zajac said. “That’s something we wanted to change this year, whether we made the playoffs or not. We wanted to leave this season feeling good about this group and our game.”

Looking back on the season, Zajac felt the Devils set the foundation for the future, playing an aggressive style that pressured the opposing players with the puck.

“We’re a quick team,” Hynes said. “We beat Pittsburgh. Washington’s a good team and we were neck and neck with them. I think we have pretty good team speed. Would we like to add some speed and some talent and some offensive players who can put the puck in the net? For sure. But I think if you look at our team in general, we’ve hung with most of the faster teams in the league pretty well.”

The problem has been the scoring.

There could be some immediate help next season. Pavel Zacha, the sixth pick overall in last year’s draft, was very impressive in his NHL debut in the season finale against the Maple Leafs. He picked up two assists and had a couple of great scoring chances.

If Mike Cammalleri can stay healthy, that’s another scorer. He had 14 goals in 42 games.

New Jersey also could get either another scorer or a puck-carrying defenseman with a top 10 pick in the draft.

“There’s been some times where there’s been some key games or some key situations that we didn’t come through, whether to get ourselves into that playoff hunt or stay in that playoff hunt,” Hynes said. “I think that was probably indicative of our season just in the sense of there was a lot of good, but we have to get over that hump; that’s the difference between winning and losing.”

Shero has some decisions to make on his unrestricted free agents, the biggest one involving soon-to-be 40-year-old Patrik Elias. The team’s all-time leading scorer missed most of the season with a knee injury. Defenseman David Schlemko also is unrestricted and played well.

Palmieri, Kalinin, Smith-Pelly, Boucher, Jacob Josefson and Jon Merrill are all restricted free agents.

No untouchables on Avalanche roster; Roy will be back as coach

Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy looks on intently against the Vancouver Canucks in the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016 in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP
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DENVER (AP) Coach Patrick Roy and his intense glare will be back. That’s about the only certainty after another season gone sour for the Colorado Avalanche.

There are no untouchable players with the team missing the playoffs for a second straight year. Call with an offer and general manager Joe Sakic intends to listen.

“Wayne Gretzky got traded – twice,” Sakic said. “We have to explore different options to see how we can become a better team.”

This is a squad that struggled not only to win at home, but to hold third-period leads. Even more, they’ve been trending in the wrong direction.

Under Roy, the team has gone from 112 points – and making the playoffs – in 2013-14, to 90 last season and 82 this time around.

Sakic, the Hall of Fame forward turned executive, doesn’t blame Roy, the Hall of Fame goaltender turned coach, and said “we’re in this thing together.” They captured two Stanley Cup titles together during their playing days with the Avalanche.

“Those guys have a plan and they’re carrying it out,” forward Matt Duchene said. “All of us as a group have to do our best.”

Just who may or may not be back remains to be seen. But no one is off limits – not even captain Gabriel Landeskog or goaltender Semyon Varlamov.

“I don’t think anybody is safe in this room,” Landeskog said. “We believe we have a good enough team to make the playoffs. There is no doubt in my mind about that. When you don’t, there are going to be consequences.”

The first game of the season provided a telling glimpse of things to come as the Avalanche squandered a three-goal, third-period lead to Minnesota in a 5-4 loss. The Wild ended up beating them out for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

In all, the Avalanche blew nine games when they had a lead in the final period, according to STATS.

“We all have to look in the mirror and figure out why it happened like this,” said Sakic, whose team went 17-20-4 at the Pepsi Center this season.

And it’s not like Minnesota was uncatchable down the stretch, either, with the Wild losing their final five games. Colorado closed out the year on a six-game slide.

“Minny opened the door for us and we slammed it on ourselves,” Duchene said.

Colorado was missing talented scorer Nathan MacKinnon for the last 10 games after he sprained the MCL in his knee. MacKinnon sat out the final 18 games a year ago because of a broken foot.

“It’s no fun being on the sidelines and watching the team,” MacKinnon said.

Here are things to know as the Avalanche head into what figures to be an active offseason:

STAY OR GO: Among Colorado’s free agents are forwards Shawn Matthias and Mikkel Boedker, two players the team picked up in trades to help them down the stretch.

“If it works out we’d love to keep both of them,” Sakic said.

Defenseman Tyson Barrie, goaltender Calvin Pickard and MacKinnon are among the team’s restricted free agents.

PART OF THE PLAN: Sakic said his faith in Roy hasn’t been shaken and they will tweak the system. Younger players such as forward Mikko Rantanen and defenseman Nikita Zadorov also will provide a boost.

“This isn’t a quick fix,” Sakic said. “We’re confident we can turn things around.”

WRATH OF ROY: Duchene drew the ire of Roy for the way he celebrated his 30th goal of the season late in a 5-1 loss to St. Louis on April 3. They’ve patched things up. Still, Duchene knows changes could be coming.

“We get paid a lot of money and we’re done too early again,” he said.

HOME STRUGGLES: In years past, the Pepsi Center has provided a decisive advantage. Not so much this season as Colorado earned 38 points at home and 44 on the road.

“It’s obvious our home record is not good enough,” Roy said.

IGINLA’S CHARGE: The 38-year-old Jarome Iginla played in all 82 games and reached the 20-goal plateau for a 17th time in his career. In addition, on the final day of the season, he scored career goal No. 611, moving him past Bobby Hull for sole possession of 16th place on the NHL’s all-time list. Next up, Sakic, who finished with 625 career goals.

Related: Duchene agrees goal celebration ‘wasn’t the right thing’