Pittsburgh Penguins

Poll: Are the Preds legit Stanley Cup contenders?

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The Nashville Predators are one of the big surprise teams of the 2014-15 NHL season.

Probably the biggest, actually.

Even with a healthy Pekka Rinne in goal and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber on the blue line, we can’t recall anyone who predicted the Preds would be 25-9-4 after 38 games, good for the highest points percentage in the NHL.

In fact, prior to the season, online sportsbook Bovada set Nashville’s point total at just 76.5. To fall short of that now, the Preds would need to finish something like 12-31-1. That’s how good they’ve been, relative to expectations.

So, with a spot in the playoffs seeming all but assured, the question is begging to be asked — do the Preds have what it takes to win it all?

The argument for ‘Yes’

Nashville has the second-best goals-against average in the NHL. And if there’s one thing that recent Stanley Cup winners have shown us, it’s that defense wins championships.

Goals against of past six Stanley Cup champs
2013-14 Kings (1st, 2.05)
2012-13 Blackhawks (1st, 2.02)
2011-12 Kings (2nd, 2.07)
2010-11 Bruins (2nd, 2.30)
2009-10 Blackhawks (6th, 2.48)

And as the Preds showed this weekend, they can also put the puck in the net. Nashville’s offense is now tied for seventh in the league, averaging 2.95 goals per game. Five-on-five, no team has a higher goals for/against ratio than the Preds, at 1.47.

The argument for ‘No’

It’s more of a subjective one. No matter how good Nashville’s numbers look right now, and no matter how much talent they have in goal and on the back end, can a team really win the Stanley Cup with Mike Ribeiro as its first-line center? Because that’s who it is for the Preds — the 34-year-old who signed for peanuts after he got bought out by the Coyotes due to “behavioral issues” and has never entered the conversation when debating the truly elite centers in hockey.

That conversation has been limited to the likes of Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Thornton, and Anze Kopitar. You know, players that have won Stanley Cups. Or Hart Trophies. Or Selke Trophies. Or Conn Smythe Trophies.

Go ahead and search the list. Try to find a team that’s won the Stanley Cup without a top center with some serious credentials. You won’t find many.

Time to vote!

Ducks begin extension talks with leading goalscorer Beleskey

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One thing Anaheim GM Bob Murray probably didn’t expect this season was negotiating new deal for his top sniper.

Under normal circumstances, that guy would be Corey Perry, who’s locked in through 2021. But this year, Anaheim’s leading goalscorer is an unlikely individual — Matt Beleskey — who’ll be a UFA at season’s end. Beleskey’s agent, Murray Kuntz, has already started negotiations with the Ducks.

“You do think about the future,” Beleskey said, per the O.C. Register. “I want nothing more than to stay in Anaheim. I’ve never been anywhere else and I don’t think there’s a reason to go anywhere else.

“This is where I’d like to be. Hopefully we’ll see what happens.”

We’ve written about Beleskey’s breakout campaign already, but a quick refresher: The 26-year-old, a career checking forward that’s never scored more than 11 goals in a single season, currently sits tied for ninth in the NHL (17 goals) with the likes of Evgeni Malkin, James van Riemsdyk and John Tavares.

What’s more, Beleskey sits tied atop the league in game-winning goals, with five.

Translation: He’s about to get paaaaaaid.

The question now is, how much? Ducks GM Bob Murray isn’t commenting on negotiations and one has to think that, at the bargaining table, Murray will mention that Beleskey’s greatly benefited from playing with Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.

(One also wonders if Murray will do something similar to what Brian Burke did with Brendan Morrison in Vancouver a few years ago. During an arbitration hearing, Burke used a parable about “a mouse crossing a river on the back of an elephant, then taking equal credit for the crossing.” Morrison, who racked up career-best numbers playing alongside Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi, was the mouse.)

One thing seems for certain: Beleskey will get a raise on the $1.35 million he’s currently making.

Contract year or not (or, sustainable metrics or not), GMs cannot ignore stats or try to downplay production; just ask Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who shelled out $33 million over five years for Nick Foligno, who’s currently in the midst of a career-best campaign in his UFA year.

“The way contract negotiations go in this league, it’s impossible not to take into consideration how guys are producing in the statistics,” Kekalainen explained, per the Boston Globe. “If you don’t put enough weight in them, the other side will make sure you’re aware of the statistical side of the negotiation.”

Have you noticed? All three Vezina finalists have been pretty average this season

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Barring a dramatic turnaround, we’ll not only have a new Vezina Trophy winner in 2015, we’ll have three new finalists.

If you’ll recall, the finalists for last season were Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov, Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, and eventual winner Tuukka Rask of Boston, thanks in large part to save percentages of .927, .924, and .930, respectively.

This season, however, those save percentages are .911, .911, and .911, respectively. (Yep, all three are the same.)

In a related story, the Avalanche and Bruins are currently on the outside of the playoff picture after winning their divisions last season, while the Lightning are fortunate to have the league’s top offense to outscore their 22nd-ranked team save percentage.

According to online bookmaker Bovada, Pekka Rinne (3/2), Carey Price (7/2), and Marc-Andre Fleury (7/2) are the favorites to win the Vezina this season.

Related: A brief post on the unpredictable nature of goaltending

Oilers return Leon Draisaitl to juniors

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The Edmonton Oilers announced Sunday afternoon that forward Leon Draisaitl has been returned to the Western Hockey League.

They took him with the third overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and the Oilers had hoped that he would be able to serve as their second-line center this season, in part due to how thin they are up the middle. Draisaitl ended up scoring two goals and nine points in 37 contests. He also won just 40.6% of his draws and ranked near the bottom of the team with a minus-17 rating.

By allowing him to play in at least 10 games, this will still count as the first season of Draisaitl’s entry-level contract. However, he would have been eligible to become an unrestricted free agent a year earlier had he reached the 40-contest mark.

With their hopes of making the playoffs a distant memory, the Oilers have been making changes lately. GM Craig MacTavish has fired head coach Dallas Eakins, claimed Matt Fraser off of waivers, acquired Derek Roy from the Nashville Predators in exchange for Mark Arcobello, and shipped David Perron to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Rob Klinkhammer and a 2015 first-round pick.

Edmonton will play against the New York Islanders at 9:30 p.m. ET tonight.

Video: Perron scores in Penguins debut

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Upon realizing that he’d join the Pittsburgh Penguins, David Perron remarked that he grew up idolizing Alex Kovalev. His debut with the team was more like a different memorable Penguins scorer, however, as he scored on his first shot with Pittsburgh (like Mario Lemieux):

Talk about a change of fortune: Perron goes from slumming it with the Edmonton Oilers to skating on a line with Sidney Crosby. It remains to be seen if the 26-year-old will stick with Crosby once players like Patric Hornqvist come back, but either way, he’s likely delighted to be in this situation.

So far, it looks like he might make the most of his opportunity, too.

Here’s Perron’s press conference from before today’s game: