Chicago Blackhawks

Islanders’ biggest question: Will they finally make a deep run?

3 Comments

The New York Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since they foiled Mario Lemieux’s quest for a three-peat.

In case that doesn’t provide you context (or if you’re a Penguins fan, memories of a bloodied Kevin Stevens), that came back in 1993.

Let’s skip the “insert list of historical events/amusing Geocities references since 1993” portion of the post and merely note that the Isles have seen seven first-round exits and 14 failed postseason bids since they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Eastern Conference Final.

One would assume that Islanders fans have learned to be patient over the years, and GM Garth Snow’s steady approach is really starting to pay off, even if some fans might feel a little antsy.

“We have a lot of players that still have term on their contracts,” Snow told NHL.com recently. “We’re looking for our younger players to take another step in the right direction, guys like Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee … they’re all good, young players that had quality seasons and they’re just going to keep getting better.”

When you pour over the Islanders’ roster, it’s clear that the team boasts a little of everything. John Tavares is absolutely one of the best forwards in the league. Their defense may lack a Duncan Keith-type superstar, but Johnny Boychuk isn’t chopped liver. They may not have the most mainstream recognition, but Jaroslav Halak – Thomas Greiss ranks as one of the better goalie tandems in the NHL.

The possession stats were there, too, last season.

Just about every sign points to the Islanders possessing the tools to finally make a nice playoff run, now they just have to get there.

It could get a little messy if they provide an all-too-familiar feeling, albeit in a new building.

PHT Morning Skate: Eddie Lack gets a taco tattoo

5 Comments

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Apparently Eddie Lack really loves his tacos. The Carolina Hurricanes’ goaltender recently added a taco tattoo to his arm.

Sidney Crosby’s off-ice life hardly reflects that of a superstar. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Friday was Marian Hossa’s day with the Stanley Cup and he decided to hang out with fellow cup champs Zdeno Chara and Marian Gaborik. (Bar Down)

The Hockey News takes a look at the 20 best free agents who could hit the open market next summer. (THN)

Islanders’ great Mike Bossy has been reunited with his “50 in 50 puck”. (TMZ)

Eddie Lack photos courtesy of @EddieLack

Under Pressure: Lindy Ruff

7 Comments

The Dallas Stars were a fun dark horse candidate for some time, but this summer ensured that they can’t get away with being a “work in progress” any longer. Much of the pressure to advance falls on Lindy Ruff’s shoulders.

Plenty of questions remain on defense

When you look beyond the flashy set of forwards and the gaudy prices on goalies, one cannot help but wonder if Dallas will still struggle to keep pucks out of its net.

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi should (potentially) at least give them average-to-good goaltending most nights, but will the Stars’ hyped defensive prospects mature in time to patch up a leaky group of blueliners?

For one thing, it’s a little odd that Tyler Seguin wasn’t shaken off of his belief that Stars couldn’t just outscore their opponents in 2014-15.

“We felt we had all these top players, all this firepower that could score a ton of goals. Automatically in training camp we were scoring a ton, but we weren’t focusing on defense,” Seguin told Sportsnet in early August.

“That’s not the on the coaches or GMs at all. That was all on us. We felt we could outscore every team.”

Yes, Seguin lets management off the hook, but it still seems a little strange.

Rising expectations

On the bright side, the Stars were a pretty strong possession team. Defending Big D goes deep on that front.

To some extent, the formula might not be ideal, though; the Stars’ blistering offense (third in the NHL in “SAT For”) in some ways camouflages the fact that Dallas also gave up far more scoring chances than they would have preferred (20th in “SAT Against”).

How much can we reasonably expect the Stars’ defense to improve from there? Again, it’s difficult to say which prospects may make an impact (and when), so the blueline may be largely similar to the shaky one from last season. Johnny Oduya serves as a nice upgrade over Trevor Daley, but only to a certain extent.

Fair or not, Ruff will absorb plenty of blame if the same problems blot out the Stars once more.

It’s Dallas Stars day at PHT

9 Comments

Whether you like the moves he’s made since becoming Dallas Stars GM or not, you really can’t accuse Jim Nill of being lazy.

Every summer, the Stars seem to be one of the “winners” of the off-season, yet they’re still searching for their first playoff series win since that surprisingly deep run in 2007-08.

The 2014-15 season might just be the last one where they were able to play the “scrappy upstart” role, even if they seem to carry somewhat similar strengths and weaknesses into next season. Broadly speaking, at least.

Off-season recap

Expectations are rising each year, and with good reason.

The Stars nabbed Antti Niemi’s rights from the San Jose Sharks and then handed him a three-year, $13.5 million contract. Backup goaltending – and let’s be honest, goaltending in general – was a big sore spot for Dallas last season. Now Nill is spending $10.4 million on “two No. 1 goalies.”

That was a big enough change in itself, yet Nill had another trick up his sleeve, sending Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt to the Chicago Blackhawks for Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns.

Each summer, the Stars have landed a big-name forward in a trade:

2013: Tyler Seguin
2014: Jason Spezza
2015: Sharp

You can’t do that forever and also retain a ton of cap space, even with bargains for Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, so now Dallas is close to the ceiling. Especially after blowing much of their remaining budget on Johnny Oduya.

There weren’t many subtractions beyond assets handed over in trades and the departure of Shawn Horcoff, so the Stars look imposing on paper. Now it’s up to Lindy Ruff to make it all work.

It’s Montreal Canadiens day at PHT

14 Comments

If you wanted the story of Montreal’s ’14-15 campaign, all you had to do was watch the NHL Awards.

Or more specifically, the Carey Price awards.

Price was at the microphone four times to celebrate his banner campaign: Once for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, once for the Vezina as the NHL’s top netminder, once for the Ted Lindsay award as the most outstanding player as voted by the players, and once for the William Jennings Trophy as a goalie on the team that allowed the fewest goals in the regular season.

OK, he did have to share that last one with Corey Crawford. But you get the idea.

Simplistic as it sounds, Montreal’s season was mostly about Price, in that the Habs went as far as their star goalie would take them. Sure, other Canadiens played integral roles — Max Pacioretty scored 37 goals, P.K. Subban was a Norris Finalist — but for the most part, the 50 wins and 110 points and second-round playoff appearance was due to No. 31.

Which begs the question:

Can he do it again?

Off-season recap

GM Marc Bergevin’s spent most of the summer attending to in-house business. All three of his trade deadline pickups — Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell and Jeff Petry — were extended, with Petry scoring the biggest with a six-year, $33 million deal.

Youngsters Alex Galchenyuk, Michael Bournival, Jarred Tinordi, Christian Thomas, Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu were also given new deals, while veterans Mike Weaver, Sergei Gonchar, Manny Malhotra and P.A. Parenteau (via buyout) were sent packing.

As for new faces? Zack Kassian was acquired from Vancouver in exchange for Brandon Prust, while Carolina castoff Alex Semin was signed to a one-year, $1.1M deal after the ‘Canes bought him out.

At the draft, Montreal used its first-round pick to select WHL Everett blueliner Noah Juulsen 26th overall.

All in all, it was a perfunctory offseason for the Habs. Firmly in the mix as an Eastern Conference contender, the club didn’t feel the need to make a big summer splash — in fact, based on the Flynn and Mitchell and Petry contracts, it could be argued that Bergevin’s upgrading happened on Mar. 2, not July 1.