Boyle, Luongo, Staal are 2018 Masterton Trophy Finalists

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Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils, Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes have been named finalists for the 2017-18 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The award, which is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association is given to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

PHWA chapters in each NHL market nominate a player for the award each year and the top three vote-getters are then designated as finalists.

The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Brian Boyle’s story – via the NHL:

Before Boyle set foot on the ice as a New Jersey Devil, he faced his biggest test. At the start of training camp the 33-year-old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of bone marrow cancer. He worked his way back into the lineup by Nov. 1 and notched 10 goals over his first 25 games, including a memorable goal on the Devils’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Prudential Center, a 3-2 win over Vancouver on Nov. 24. Boyle missed just three games after his season debut and represented the Devils at the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Tampa Bay. While handling his own illness, his family and his career, Boyle has approached every day with the same optimistic attitude and perseverance that has inspired and lifted the Devils’ locker room.

Roberto Luongo’s story – via the NHL:

Luongo, 39, overcame hand and groin injuries during the season and backstopped the Panthers’ drive for an Eastern Conference Playoff berth. Sidelined by injury since early December, the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, shutouts and appearances returned on Feb. 17 to help the Panthers defeat Calgary 6-3 and ignite a Florida rally in the East’s Wild Card race. In a 13-game span, Luongo went 9-3-1 with a 2.44 GAA and .928 SV%. On Feb. 22, Luongo delivered a heartfelt, unscripted speech to the crowd at BB&T Center prior to Florida’s game against Washington. The 12-year resident of nearby Parkland, Fla., addressed the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting during the Panthers’ pregame ceremony to honor the victims.

Jordan Staal’s story – via the NHL: 

Showing leadership and strength amidst a family tragedy, Staal was a key component of the Hurricanes throughout the season. In late February, Staal and his wife, Heather, announced their daughter, Hannah, was delivered stillborn due to a terminal birth defect previously diagnosed by doctors. Staal, who had assumed a bigger leadership role with the young Hurricanes by being named co-captain before the season, missed just three games following the tragedy. He registered 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) in 79 games, the second-highest goal and point totals in his six seasons with Carolina. The 29-year-old skated in his 800th NHL game on Dec. 27 against Montreal and scored his 200th goal on Jan. 12 against Washington.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Calder Trophy (Sunday)
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Barkov, Karlsson, O’Reilly are 2018 Lady Byng Trophy finalists

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Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights, and Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, the NHL announced on Friday. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Aleksander Barkov: The Panthers center certainly has the “high standard of playing ability” part down with a season that saw him lead the team with 78 points and finish tied for third in goals with 27. Barkov played the fifth-most minutes (1,743:32) among NHL forwards and only picked up seven minor penalties. This is the second time he’s been named a finalist in the last three seasons.

The Case for William Karlsson: Karlsson had a monster of a season with 43 goals and 78 points during the Golden Knights’ historic first year. In playing 1,534:47, the 25-year-old forward racked up only 12 PIMs. Should Karlsson win, he would become the first player to win an end-of-season trophy for a team in its inaugural season since Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers won the Byng and Hart Trophy and in 1979-80.

The Case for Ryan O'Reilly: O’Reilly missed one game this season and logged 1,686:10 of ice time for the Sabres. He recorded only one penalty all season, way back on Oct. 24 versus Detroit, a slashing call. His one penalty is the fewest among NHL players who suited up for at least 41 games this season. He’s a previous winner having taken home the trophy in 2014 while a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Bill Masterton Trophy (Saturday)
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Don’t blame expansion draft rules for Vegas’ success, blame your GM

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After completing their four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, the Vegas Golden Knights began Wednesday as the new favorites to win the Stanley Cup, at least according to the folks at Bovada.

Whether they actually do it doesn’t really matter at this point because this season is already one of the most stunning stories in North American sports history. A first-year expansion team finishing the regular season as one of the best teams in the league, winning its division, and then blowing through an organization in the first round that just a couple of years ago was one of the elite powers in the league is the stuff that gets turned into movies.

The popular consensus on how this all happened always seems to go back to the expansion draft and the rules that opened Vegas up to more talent than any first-year team in league history.

In all fairness to the teams that preceded them, Vegas certainly had an advantage in that area.

It still should not have resulted in a team this good, this fast.

The fact it happened is not an indictment on the rules the league put in place to aid Vegas in becoming an immediate success.

It is an indictment on the NHL’s 30 other general managers, the way they build their teams, the way analyze and value their own talent, and what they value.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The NHL begins to make a lot more sense if you just go into every season with the mindset that nobody really understands what they’re doing, what will happen, or why it will happen, and that everything is just random.

Maybe that’s overstating things. Maybe it’s unfair. Maybe there a lot of variables that go into moves that get made (or do not get made), but every year otherwise smart people that have been around the game forever make inexplicably dumb transactions that just look like a mistake the second they get completed. The 2017-18 season was a treasure trove for this sort of thing. Look no further than the Artemi Panarin trade, or the fact that Taylor Hall is probably winning the MVP one year after being run out of Edmonton.

The expansion draft also exposed a lot of the sometimes backwards thinking that goes on around the NHL.

To be fair, there were some teams that were stuck between a rock and a hard place when it came to protecting assets in the expansion draft. A lot of teams were going to lose a good player through no fault of their own, other than the fact they had too many good players to protect.

Nashville comes to mind as one. The Predators needed to protect four defensemen (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis) which meant a really good forward was going to be left exposed. Maybe you can quibble with the fact they chose to protect Calle Jarnkrok over James Neal, but their decision makes sense. Jarnkrok is $3 million cheaper under the cap this season (that extra cap space would come in handy for moves that followed — signing Nick Bonino, trading for Kyle Turris) and signed long-term, while Neal was probably going to leave after this season anyway as an unrestricted free agent.

Pittsburgh was definitely going to lose a good goalie (it turned out to be Marc-Andre Fleury).

Washington was definitely going to have to lose a good defenseman or a good goalie (it turned out to be Nate Schmidt).

Anaheim was kind of stuck because it had to protect Kevin Bieksa (no-move clause) which meant it had to leave Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen exposed. So the Ducks gave Vegas Shea Theodore to entice them to take Clayton Stoner, leaving Manson and Vatanen in Anaheim. That was a lot to give up, but Manson is a really good player and Vatanen was used as the trade chip to acquire Adam Henrique from the New Jersey Devils when the Ducks quite literally ran out of centers.

Vegas was able to get a solid foundation out of that. Fleury has been everything they could have hoped for him to be and probably more. Had he not missed so much time due to a concussion, he might have been a Vezina Trophy finalist (he probably could have been anyway), and he just dominated the Kings in the first-round. Neal scored 25 goals in 71 games, while Theodore and Schmidt look like solid young pieces to build their blue line around.

Those players alone weren’t enough to turn Vegas into an overnight Stanley Cup contender. Other than Fleury, none of them were really the most important pieces on this year’s team.

So who is most responsible for what happened in Vegas?

[Related: Golden Knights sweep Kings, becomes first team to advance to second round]

Let’s start with the St. Louis Blues, a team that has seemingly escaped criticism for the way they handled the expansion draft which resulted in them losing David Perron.

In his first year with the Golden Knights, Perron went on to finish with 16 goals and 50 assists in 70 games and was one of their top offensive players. While his production increased from what it was in recent years, Perron has still been a 20-goal, 50-point player in the NHL with a really high skill level. He’s a good player. Sometimes a really good player.

The Blues decided that it was more important to protect Ryan Reaves and Vladimir Sobotka over him. Why? Who knows. Maybe the Blues soured on Perron because he had a bad playoff run a year ago (which would be dumb). Maybe they figured they weren’t going to re-sign him after this season and he was going to leave as a free agent (more sensible). But even if it was the latter, protecting Sobotka, and especially Reaves, over him just seems like misplaced priorities.

“But Adam,” you might be saying. “The Blues had to protect Reaves so they could trade him a week later at the draft to the Penguins to move up 20 spots in the draft where they selected Klim Kostin, and he’s a really good prospect! It worked!”

Fair. Fair point.

But do you really think Vegas was going to select Reaves over the other players the Blues had exposed? I know Reaves later ended up in Vegas, but that was mostly due to the Penguins having to send a warm body their way in an effort to re-work that convoluted Derick Brassard trade. Reaves barely played once he arrived in Vegas and may never see the ice in the playoffs. And beyond that, St. Louis traded Jori Lehtera to Philadelphia three days after the expansion draft for Brayden Schenn and didn’t feel the need to protect him in order to preserve that trade.

It was just bizarre asset management to protect two bottom-six players over a top-six winger.

Then there’s Minnesota, who ended up trading Alex Tuch — who was a 2014 first-round pick — to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights selecting Erik Haula.

Where teams like Minnesota come away looking bad is that, 1) They may have given up more than they had to in an effort to protect other players, and 2) Not really realizing what they had in previous years.

Tuch, playing in his first full NHL season at age 21, scored 15 goals for Vegas while Haula went on to score 29 goals in 76 games, nearly doubling his previous career high.

Minnesota was another team in kind of a tough spot. It had to protect Jason Pominville (no-trade clause) and one of the players left unprotected as a result was Eric Staal, who went on to score 40 goals this season in Minnesota. They also left a couple of solid defensemen exposed.

Back in November, The Athletic’s Michael Russo wrote about the anatomy of the deal that sent Tuch and Haula to Vegas and the thought process for both teams. According to Russo, general manager Chuck Fletcher’s approach was to clear salary cap space (which was necessary) while also protecting his defenseman so he could trade one for forward help.

All of that ended up happening. Vegas didn’t take a defenseman, and the Wild eventually traded Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to the Buffalo Sabres for Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis. When combined with losing Haula (who ended up signing for $2.75 million per season) the Wild definitely cleared a lot of salary cap space. They also ended up getting the short-end of the trade-off talent wise when you consider what Haula and Tuch did. Together Foligno and Ennis scored 16 goals this season.

Tuch scored 15 on an entry-level contract and Haula scored 29.

Here’s where Minnesota is deserving of some criticism: Why wasn’t Haula scoring 29 goals for them? Why didn’t they realize what they had in him, and maybe given themselves a reason to keep him instead of giving him away to protect someone else? Or, perhaps having a trade asset that could have actually brought them something meaningful in return if they had to lose him. Over the past two years Haula was getting third-or and at times fourth-line minutes for the Wild and still scoring 15 goals.

On a per-minute basis he was consistently one of their most productive players. Before you write off his 29-goal season this year as a fluke, just look at what he was doing individually during 5-on-5 play.

Kind of the same. The big difference this season is that in Vegas he had the opportunity to play 18 minutes per night instead of 12 minutes per night. Keep in mind that last year Minnesota had Haula on their roster and decided it had to trade for Martin Hanzal (giving up first-and second-round draft picks) and then gave him more minutes than Haula over the final 20 regular season games and playoffs.

It’s your job as a GM to know what you have. The Wild had Haula and wasted him, then willingly gave him away plus another pretty good young forward.

Then there is Columbus, who traded William Karlsson and a first-round draft pick in an effort to rid itself of David Clarkson‘s contract and to protect Josh Anderson and their backup goalie. Karlsson, of course, went on to score 40 goals. I’m skeptical that Karlsson will ever come close to duplicating this season, and I’m a little hesitant to really fault them too much here because nobody should have expected this sort of a breakout from Karlsson at this point in his career. But the optics are certainly bad when you look at who Columbus was trying to protect.

That, finally, brings us to Florida’s contribution to the Golden Knights roster, and with every passing day and every goal that Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith produce it becomes more and more indefensible.

And it was never really defensible.

The Panthers were looking to shed Smith’s $5 million per year contract and were able to trade him to Vegas for a fourth-round pick. In return, Florida would also leave Marchessault, quite literally their leading goal-scorer from a year ago, unprotected as payment for taking Smith’s contract. Wanting to get out of Smith’s contract on its own wasn’t a terrible thought. It was pricey and he was coming off of a down year. But there had to be a better way to do it than by trading a player as good as Marchessault (no contract is untradeable).

Especially when Florida only protected four forwards and instead opted to protect Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk on the blue line.

Vegas was always going to get some solid players out of the expansion draft, but where would it be this season without Perron, Marchessault, Smith, Haula, Tuch, and Karlsson, players that their former teams all willingly gave away when they did not need to? They would not be playing in the second round of the playoffs, that is for certain.

But that’s not the only thing that Vegas exposed this season.

They went into the big, bad Pacific Division where all of the big, bad big boy hockey teams play and basically skated circles around them.

How many times have you heard somebody say that you need to be big and tough to compete with those teams in the Pacific and their brand of heavy hockey?

Edmonton, for example, has spent three years trying to build a team in that image, wasting Connor McDavid‘s entry-level contract in the process.

Now, look at the roster Vegas assembled.

They entered the year in the bottom-10 of the league in both height and weight and were the smallest team in the Pacific Division.

Of the top-200 tallest players in the NHL, only four of them played in Vegas this season.

Of the top-200 heaviest players in the NHL, only six of them played in Vegas this season.

Even those numbers are a little misleading because a lot of the Vegas players on that list barely played. Reaves was in both the top-200 in height and weight and played 20 games for them. Jason Garrison was in there, and he played eight games, as did Stefan Matteau.

It’s a speed game today and with a clean slate, able to build their team in any way they saw fit, Vegas smartly embraced where the league is and where it is going.

The Golden Knights were definitely given a pretty good hand in the beginning, and they deserve credit for taking advantage of that.

They also exposed one of the biggest market inefficiencies in the NHL. That inefficiency being that nobody really knows what they’re doing.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sedins, Sharp, Vrbata among NHL retirements

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Henrik and Daniel Sedin didn’t play their final NHL game in Vancouver, yet you could almost be fooled into thinking otherwise. That was the sort of reception the retiring twins received in Edmonton on Saturday, as Oilers fans treated the Canucks icons with a fantastic send-off from the NHL.

(You can see some of the great gestures in the video above this post’s headline.)

One can speculate about other NHL players who are mulling over retirement. Names like Jussi Jokinen float around, which makes particular sense when you consider how Jokinen bounced almost cruelly around the league this season.

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Bracket, Streams and More

Some players will probably need time to mull over retirement. Others might not really get to make that call, as they may find no takers in free agency. There could be quite a few who simply haven’t made the announcement yet.

This post focuses on four noteworthy names who’ve made it clear that their careers are over: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Patrick Sharp, and Radim Vrbata. All four players enjoyed distinguished runs, and while they finished things up past their primes, they didn’t make the mistake of hanging around for several sad seasons, either.

Note: as we’ve seen with Mike Fisher, players can also change their minds about retirement. Still, it certainly looks like these players are winding things down.

Sedins

Henrik Sedin ended his career with two straight 50-point seasons in 82 games. In the case of his final campaign, he scored three goals and 47 assists. He also generated 55 points in 2015-16.

Henrik’s most recent standout season was 2014-15, when he generated 18 goals and 55 assists for 73 points in 82 games. The 37-year-old managed 1,070 points in 1,330 regular-season games.

Daniel Sedin (also 37, of course) scored two goals in his final home game with the Canucks, while neither Sedin twin generated a point on Saturday. Daniel generated 23 goals and 55 points in 81 games during this final season. He collected 44 in 2016-17 and 61 in 2015-16.

Daniel’s most recent standout season was also in 2014-15, when he scored 20 goals and 76 points. In fitting Sedins fashion, they deflected attention to Derek Dorsett upon retirement:

Read more about the Sedins hanging up the skates here. Also, you can see some fun stuff at #ThankYouSedins.

Patrick Sharp

Sharp’s descent was, er, sharper than that of the Sedins. He only managed 21 points this season and 18 in 2016-17, though last season he was limited to 48 games. That said, much like the Sedins, Sharp isn’t that far removed from a strong run, as he scored 20 goals and 55 points in 2015-16. The 36-year-old also scored 78 points in 2013-14, a career-high.

If this is truly it for Sharp – he did throw “probably” around at least once – he’d finish with 620 points in 939 regular-season games, serving as a significant contributor to three Stanley Cup wins for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Radim Vrbata

All four players fall into a similar age group, as Vrbata is 36 and will turn 37 in June. There seems to be little doubt that he’s done, at least in the NHL.

Vrbata finishes up with a 14-point season, a let down for a Panthers team that could have used the added punch. At the time of the signing, it seemed like a savvy, cheap addition, as he was coming off of a 20-goal, 55-point season with the Arizona Coyotes.

Then again, it was almost a meme that Vrbata was simply better in the desert. He’ll end up with 623 points in 1,057 career regular-season games (.59 points-per-game), with 343 of those points coming in 509 contests with Arizona/Phoenix (.67).

***

Will more veteran players decide to end their NHL careers?

Here’s hoping the answer is “No” in many cases, unless it’s best for everyone involved. Either way, we’ll likely hear more announcements soon.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Final Hart pushes, glory in garbage time

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Six of eight playoff matchups resolved, all 16 teams determined

During the afternoon, the Flyers finalized the East’s eight by beating the Rangers, pulling the plug on Florida’s surge. Late on Saturday, the Avalanche swiped the final West spot by beating the Blues. Get the lowdown on the matchups that have been determined here and learn how Panthers – Bruins will impact the rest of the East situation in this post.

#FiredAV

Not long after the Rangers’ regular season ended, they announced that Alain Vigneault has been fired.

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Bracket, Streams and More

Final Hart pushes

  • Heading into the 2018-19 season, Claude Giroux crossed the 90-point mark once (93 in 2011-12) and never reached 30 goals in a campaign. Giroux collected his first career hat trick in clinching a playoff spot for the Flyers on Saturday, pushing him to career-highs in goals (34), assists (68), points (102), and even plus/minus (+28). Giroux finished the regular season with a 10-game point streak, generating a ridiculous eight goals (all in the last five contests) and 11 assists for 19 points.

Giroux already courted some Hart buzz, but with this finish, he might just check all the boxes as far as being vital to his team’s success, getting the big numbers as one of the season’s 100-point scorers, and also coming up huge in key situations.

  • With two assists in Edmonton’s shootout victory, Connor McDavid finishes the season with 108 points. In this era, it’s pretty mind-blowing to see a player generate consecutive Art Ross victories and consecutive 100-point seasons. He won the Art Ross by a healthy margin, but the Oilers’ incompetence could very well cost him another Hart Trophy. That shouldn’t diminish another great season for number 97, even though he’s sure to be unhappy with the team results.

  • Nathan MacKinnon slowed down the stretch, so he probably won’t beat out a fierce group of Hart bidders. Still, he’s at least orbiting the discussion, and came through with a strong performance. MacKinnon collected the game-winning goal and an assist, finishing this season with 97 points. Remarkable stuff, especially since injuries limited him to 74 games played.
  • Alex Ovechkin fell just short of 50 goals in 2018-19, collecting two goals in Washington’s win to finish with 49. He’ll settle for yet another Maurice Richard Trophy, and a decent argument to be a Hart Trophy finalist.

Garbage time glory

(Yes, McDavid could fit in this category, too.)

  • With teams either punting on the season or, in many cases, resting players for the postseason, there were some weird results. The Flames bombarded the Golden Knights 7-1, and Mark Jankowski probably made someone big money in DFS, generating a random four-goal game. Wow.

  • Jamie Benn hasn’t had the greatest season, yet he finished it in a way that inspires hope for 2018-19. His natural hat trick helped the Stars spoil the Kings’ bid at improved seeding, and it’s the second hat trick in Benn’s past three games. Benn generated eight goals and two assists for 10 points in his last five games.
  • The Predators already locked up the Presidents’ Trophy, so they didn’t really need Filip Forsberg to generate a hat trick. Still, with nine points in his last five games, maybe he’ll come into the postseason on a high note after a solid but somewhat streaky season?

Highlights

If this is John Tavares‘ last goal and game with the Islanders, at least he’d be going out with style:

Too bad the Panthers didn’t roll with Nick Bjugstad alongside Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov a little sooner:

More factoids

Connor Hellebuyck‘s mark slips under the radar a bit, but might come in handy at the negotiating table (he’s a pending RFA):

Should they re-name it the Ovi Trophy?

Squandering Mathew Barzal‘s sensational rookie season has to sting.

Scores

Flyers 5, Rangers 0
Jets 4, Blackhawks 1
Bruins 5, Senators 2
Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 2
Islanders 4, Red Wings 3 (OT)
Panthers 4, Sabres 3
Capitals 5, Devils 3
Hurricanes 3, Lightning 2 (OT)
Predators 4, Blue Jackets 2
Ducks 3, Coyotes 0
Avalanche 5, Blues 2
Flames 7, Golden Knights 1
Oilers 3, Canucks 2 (SO)
Stars 4, Kings 2
Wild 6, Sharks 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.