Conference finals highlight rise of European goaltending

niemi5.jpgOne of the lingering lessons of the Olympics (for me, anyway) was how far European/non-North American goaltending has come in the last four years. Just look at the great tournament Jonas Hiller had for the Swiss national team. That trend is definitely continuing in the NHL playoffs as three of the four conference finalists feature a goalie born and trained outside of Canada.

Antti Niemi is the longest-surviving Finn now that Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins somehow managed to get reverse-swept. Evgeni Nabokov is a native of Kazakhstan and played for Team Russia. Jaroslav Halak provided steady netminding for Slovakia before he became a household name in Montreal.

Here’s more from the International Ice Hockey Federation.

But it’s interesting to note that despite Canada’s historic dominance between NHL pipes, only one of the teams that has advanced has a Canadian backup: Montreal, with Carey Price.

Supporting Nabokov is Germany’s Thomas Greiss, while Niemi is backed up by France’s Cristobal Huet. With the USA’s Brian Boucher having suffered a sprained knee, the Philadelphia Flyers are starting Canada’s Michael Leighton, with Sweden’s Johan Backlund serving as the backup.

Overall, it is less a signal that Canada’s quality of netminding has dropped off than that the rest of the world is steadily catching up, year by year.

Much like US basketball, the world is catching up to Canada on the ice but that closing gap is most evident between the pipes.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner)

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    Dallas Stars’ Rick Bowness still has ‘passion’ to coach

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    Dallas Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin felt empty. Jamie Benn, their longtime captain, was almost speechless.

    Like head coach Rick Bowness, who likely soon will shed the interim tag, they were disappointed and drained after more than two months inside the NHL bubble, where this most unusual season ended with a loss in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

    ”Go through a lot with that group,” Benn said before going silent for more than a full minute, even when asked another question. ”It was a good run … it’s tough here, you’re two games away from the Stanley Cup.”

    It was a group that overcame miserable stretches to start and finish the regular season, and an unexpected coaching change in between. A group not really expected to be one of the last two teams playing in a season that wrapped up nearly a full year after it began, especially as the injures mounted.

    Now the focus turns to the future of the 65-year-old Bowness, the interim head coach who has been behind NHL benches in parts of five different decades.

    After Dallas wrapped up the Western Conference final two weeks ago, general manager Jim Nill said Bowness had ”definitely” earned the right to come back as coach. Team owner Tom Gaglardi has indicated the same.

    Bowness was hired by Dallas before the 2018-19 season as an assistant for first-year coach Jim Montgomery, who made the jump from the college ranks. Bowness became the interim head coach when Montgomery was fired for off-ice issues last December.

    Nill and Bowness agreed then that the interim tag would hold through the season, and they would discuss things after that. No one could have known that would be nearly 10 months later – after a 4 1/2-month pause to the NHL season because of the pandemic, and then the team’s first Stanley Cup Final since 2000.

    After repeatedly deflecting questions about his future all postseason, Bowness gave some indication of his thoughts after the season-ending 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay.

    ”What I learned is that I still have the passion to compete, I still have the passion to coach,” Bowness said. ”I know I’m getting up there, and there’s a lot more behind me than ahead of me. But I still have the passion. That’s the most important thing. … I’m just going to keep pushing.”

    FREE DOBBY

    Khudobin, with his fifth different team over 11 NHL seasons, had never started a playoff game before Ben Bishop was declared unfit to play for pretty much the entire time in Edmonton. Khudobin went 14-10 with a 2.69 goals-against average and .917 save percentage this postseason.

    After two years as Bishop’s primary backup, and an impressive playoff run, the 34-year-old Khudobin is an unrestricted free agent. Bishop just finished the third season of his $29.5 million, six-year contract.

    TIME TO RECOVER

    Dallas ended the season with several injured regulars, including Bishop, who last played Aug. 31, and forwards Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau and Roope Hintz. Everybody else had plenty of bumps, bruises and assorted ailments; Tyler Seguin talked about waiting in line to get in into the trainer’s room.

    ”We left everything on the ice,” Bowness said. ”We pushed this team as far as it could get.”

    PAVS AND PERRY

    Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry combined to score the Stars’ last six goals in the Stanley Cup Final. The veteran forwards were the primary additions in free agency last summer, along with veteran defender Andrej Sekera.

    The 13 goals by Pavelski, who still has two seasons left on his deal, were more in a single postseason than any other player 36 or older and only one fewer than his 14 during the regular season. His 61 career playoff goals are now the most for an American-born skater.

    Perry, 35, and Sekera, 34, are free agents again. Center Mattias Janmark, an effective penalty killer with the Stars since his NHL debut in 2015-16, is headed into free agency for the first time at the age of 27.

    YOUNG STARS

    Miro Heiskanen, who got a taste of the playoffs as a 19-year-old rookie last season, produced on both ends of the ice this postseason. He finished with six goals and 20 assists inside the bubble.

    Rookie forward Denis Gurianov, who led the team with 20 goals during the regular season, had four goals and an assist in the Game 6 clincher over Calgary in the first round. The second round ended when Joel Kiviranta, who had one goal in 11 regular-season games, finished off a hat trick with his overtime goal in Game 7 against Colorado.

    Rangers buy out final year of Henrik Lundqvist’s contract

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    The New York Rangers have announced that they have bought out the final year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s contract.

    “Few players have been as important to the Rangers franchise as Henrik Lundqvist, and we are incredibly grateful for all he has done for our organization,” said Rangers owners James Dolan. “Over his 15-year tenure, he not only established himself as one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game, he has also been one of hockey’s fiercest competitors and most effective ambassadors. He will always be a part of the Rangers family.”

    “We would like to thank Henrik for his immeasurable contributions to the New York Rangers,” said Rangers President John Davidson. “From the time I met Henrik when he first came to New York in 2005, he has been the consummate professional. His tireless work ethic, passion for the game, and love of the Rangers and New York City enabled him to become one of the greatest goaltenders in hockey and one of the best players in the history of our franchise. We all wish Henrik and his family the best going forward.”

    An expected end to a great tenure in New York

    This move was expected after the NHL’s first buyout window opened at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final. The emergence of Igor Shesterkin, and with Alexandar Georgiev also fighting for time, it was clear Lundqvist’s time in New York would be ending.

    Per CapFriendly, the move will charge the Rangers with $5.5M of cap space for the 2020-21 season and $1.5M for 2021-22. Lundqvist will join Kevin Shattenkirk ($6.08M), Dan Girardi ($1.11M), and Ryan Spooner (300K) as dead money on their cap for next season.

    Lundqvist, the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner, finishes his Rangers career with a .927 even strength save percentage, 459 wins, 64 shutouts, and over 50 franchise records. He also helped New York make the playoffs 12 times and reach the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

    We’ll see if he wants to join another NHL team, play home in Sweden, or hang up his skates after a Hall of Fame career. The only certainty is that his No. 30 will be hanging from the Madison Square Garden rafters someday.

    ————

    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.

    2020 NHL Draft: Date, time, order of picks for all 31 teams

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    The 2020 NHL Draft will be held virtually with Round 1 taking place on Tuesday, Oct. 6 beginning at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Rounds 2-7 will be held Wednesday, Oct. 7 beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET on NHL Network.

    The Rangers won Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft lottery in August and will select first overall. Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) winger Alexis Lafreniere is expected to go No. 1.

    After that? It could go a lot of different ways. Quinton Byfield (Sudbury – C- OHL), Tim Stutzle (Adler Mannheim – C/LW – DEL), Lucas Raymond (Frolunda – LW/C – SHL), Jamie Drysdale (Erie – D – OHL), Marco Rossi (Ottawa – C – OHL), Cole Perfetti (Saginaw – C – OHL), Jake Sanderson (D – USNTDP) are among the top prospects expected to be selected early.

    [NHL Midseason Mock Draft: Lafreniere head of the 2020 prospect class]

    Here is the full 2020 NHL Draft order.

    2020 NHL Draft order

    Round 1

    1. New York Rangers
    2. Los Angeles Kings
    3. Ottawa Senators (from SJS)
    4. Detroit Red Wings
    5. Ottawa Senators
    6. Anaheim Ducks
    7. New Jersey Devils
    8. Buffalo Sabres
    9. Minnesota Wild
    10. Winnipeg Jets
    11. Nashville Predators
    12. Florida Panthers
    13. Carolina Hurricanes (from TOR)
    14. Edmonton Oilers
    15. Toronto Maple Leafs (from PIT)
    16. Montreal Canadiens
    17. Chicago Blackhawks
    18. New Jersey Devils (from ARZ)
    19. Calgary Flames
    20. New Jersey Devils (from VAN via TB)
    21. Columbus Blue Jackets
    22. New York Rangers (from CAR)
    23. Philadelphia Flyers
    24. Washington Capitals
    25. Colorado Avalanche
    26. St. Louis Blues
    27. Anaheim Ducks (from BOS)
    28. Ottawa Senators (from NYI)
    29. Vegas Golden Knights
    30. Dallas Stars
    31. San Jose Sharks (from TB)

    Round 2

    32. Detroit Red Wings
    33. Ottawa Senators
    34. San Jose Sharks
    35. Los Angeles Kings
    36. Anaheim Ducks
    37. Nashville Predators (from NJ)
    38. Buffalo Sabres
    39. Minnesota Wild
    40. Winnipeg Jets
    41. Carolina Hurricanes (from NYR)
    42. Nashville Predators
    43. Florida Panthers
    44. Toronto Maple Leafs
    45. Detroit Red Wings (from EDM)
    46. Chicago Blackhawks (from PIT via VGK)
    47. Montreal Canadiens
    48. Montreal Canadiens (from CHI)
    49. No selection (Originally Arizona Coyotes*)
    50. Calgary Flames
    51. Los Angeles Kings (from VAN)
    52. Ottawa Senators (from CBJ)
    53. Carolina Hurricanes
    54. Philadelphia Flyers
    55. Detroit Red Wings (from WSH)
    56. San Jose Sharks (from COL via WSH)
    57. Montreal Canadiens (from STL)
    58. Boston Bruins
    59. Ottawa Senators (from NYI)
    60. Los Angeles Kings (from VGK)
    61. Ottawa Senators (from DAL via VGK)
    62. Tampa Bay Lightning

    *Coyotes forfeit pick No. 49 due to punishment for violating NHL pre-combine testing rules.

    Round 3

    63. Detroit Red Wings
    64. Ottawa Senators
    65. Detroit Red Wings (from SJ)
    66. Los Angeles Kings
    67. Anaheim Ducks
    68. Vegas Golden Knights (from NJ)
    69. Carolina Hurricanes (from BUF)
    70. Nashville Predators (from MIN)
    71. Ottawa Senators (from WPG)
    72. New York Rangers
    73. Nashville Predators
    74. Florida Panthers
    75. Colorado Avalanche (from TOR)
    76. Edmonton Oilers++
    77. Pittsburgh Penguins
    78. Montreal Canadiens
    79. Chicago Blackhawks
    80. Washington Capitals (from ARI via COL)
    81. Calgary Flames+++
    82. Vancouver Canucks
    83. Los Angeles Kings (from CBJ via OTT via TOR)
    84. New Jersey Devils (from CAR)
    85. Tampa Bay Lightning (from PHI via SJ)
    86. St. Louis Blues (from WSH via MTL)
    87. Florida Panthers (from COL)
    88. St. Louis Blues
    89. Boston Bruins
    90. New York Islanders
    91. Vegas Golden Knights
    92. New York Rangers (from DAL)
    93. Tampa Bay Lightning

    ++ Oilers have yet to announce whether they will give their 2020 or 2021 third-round pick to the Flames as part of the James Neal trade. If they give up the 2020 choice, the Blackhawks will get No. 76 as part of the Erik Gustafsson treads. If they give up their 2021 pick, the Blackhawks will get the No. 81 pick from the Flames.

    +++ If Calgary does not receive Edmonton’s 2020 third-round pick, they will send their own 2020 third-round pick to the Blackhawks.

    Round 4

    94. Tampa Bay Lightning (from DET)
    95. Ottawa Senators
    96. Calgary Flames (from SJ vis MTL via BUF)
    97. Los Angeles Kings
    98. Montreal Canadiens (from ANA)
    99. New Jersey Devils
    100. Buffalo Sabres
    101. Minnesota Wild
    102. Montreal Canadiens (from WPG)
    103. New York Rangers
    104. Anaheim Ducks (from NSH via PHI)
    105. Florida Panthers
    106. Toronto Maple Leafs
    107. Detroit Red Wings (from EDM)
    108. Pittsburgh Penguins
    109. Montreal Canadiens
    110. Chicago Blackhawks
    111. Arizona Coyotes
    112. Los Angeles Kings (from CGY)
    113. Vancouver Canucks
    114. Columbus Blue Jackets
    115. Carolina Hurricanes
    116. Philadelphia Flyers
    117. Washington Capitals
    118. Colorado Avalanche
    119. St. Louis Blues
    120. New Jersey Devils (from BOS)
    121. New York Islanders
    122. Toronto Maple Leafs (from VGK)
    123. Dallas Stars
    124. Tampa Bay Lightning

    Round 5

    125. Detroit Red Wings
    126. San Jose Sharks (from OTT)
    127. San Jose Sharks
    128. Los Angeles Kings
    129. Anaheim Ducks
    130. New Jersey Devils
    131. Buffalo Sabres
    132. Minnesota Wild
    133. Winnipeg Jets
    134. New York Rangers
    135. Nashville Predators
    136. Montreal Canadiens (from FLA)
    137. Florida Panthers (from TOR)
    138. Edmonton Oilers
    139. Pittsburgh Penguins
    140. Carolina Hurricanes (from MTL)
    141. Chicago Blackhawks
    142. Arizona Coyotes
    143. Calgary Flames
    144. Vancouver Canucks
    145. Columbus Blue Jackets
    146. St. Louis Blues (from CAR)
    147. Philadelphia Flyers
    148. Washington Capitals
    149. Colorado Avalanche
    150. St. Louis Blues
    151. Boston Bruins
    152. New York Islanders
    153. Toronto Maple Leafs (from VGK)
    154. Dallas Stars
    155. Ottawa Senators (from TB)

    Round 6

    156. Detroit Red Wings
    157. Tampa Bay Lightning (from OTT)
    158. Ottawa Senators (from SJ)
    159. Los Angeles Kings
    160. Anaheim Ducks
    161. New Jersey Devils
    162. Dallas Stars (from BUF via CAR via FLA)
    163. Minnesota Wild
    164. Winnipeg Jets
    165. New York Rangers
    166. Nashville Predators
    167. Colorado Avalanche (from FLA)
    168. Toronto Maple Leafs
    169. Edmonton Oilers
    170. Pittsburgh Penguins
    171. Montreal Canadiens
    172. Chicago Blackhawks
    173. Arizona Coyotes
    174. Calgary Flames
    175. Vancouver Canucks
    176. Columbus Blue Jackets
    177. Toronto Maple Leafs (from CAR)
    178. Philadelphia Flyers
    179. Washington Capitals
    180. Toronto Maple Leafs (from COL)
    181. Ottawa Senators (from STL via EDM)
    182. Boston Bruins
    183. New York Islanders
    184. Vegas Golden Knights
    185. Dallas Stars
    186. Tampa Bay Lightning

    Round 7

    187. Detroit Red Wings
    188. Montreal Canadiens (from OTT)
    189. Toronto Maple Leafs (from SJ)
    190. Los Angeles Kings
    191. Vancouver Canucks (from ANA)
    192. New Jersey Devils
    193. Buffalo Sabres
    194. Minnesota Wild
    195. Toronto Maple Leafs (from WPG via MIN)
    196. New York Rangers
    197. New York Rangers (from NSH)
    198. Florida Panthers
    199. Carolina Hurricanes (from TOR)
    200. Edmonton Oilers
    201. San Jose Sharks (from PIT)
    202. Philadelphia Flyers (from MTL)
    203. St. Louis Blues (from CHI via MTL)
    204. Arizona Coyotes
    205. Calgary Flames
    206. New York Rangers (from VAN)
    207. Columbus Blue Jackets
    208. Carolina Hurricanes
    209. Philadelphia Flyers
    210. San Jose Sharks (from WSH)
    211. Colorado Avalanche
    212. Toronto Maple Leafs (from STL)
    213. Boston Bruins
    214. New York Islanders
    215. Vegas Golden Knights
    216. Buffalo Sabres (from DAL)
    217. Tampa Bay Lightning

    NHL Draft order procedure

    Round 1
    Picks 1-15: Determined by Phases 1 and 2 of 2020 NHL Draft Lottery
    Picks 16-27: Teams eliminated in Rounds 1 and 2 of 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, in inverse order of 2019-20 regular season points percentage
    Picks 28-29: Teams eliminated in 2020 Conference Finals, in inverse order of 2019-20 regular season points percentage
    Pick 30: Team eliminated in 2020 Stanley Cup Final
    Pick 31: 2020 Stanley Cup champion

    Rounds 2-7
    Picks 1-7: Teams who did not participate in the Return To Play, in inverse order of 2019-20 regular season points percentage
    Picks 8-15: Teams eliminated in 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, in inverse order of 2019-20 regular season points percentage
    Picks 16-27: Teams eliminated in Rounds 1 and 2 of 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, in inverse order of 2019-20 regular season points percentage
    Picks 28-29: Teams eliminated in 2020 Conference Finals, in inverse order of 2019-20 regular season points percentage
    Pick 30: Team eliminated in 2020 Stanley Cup Final
    Pick 31: 2020 Stanley Cup champion

    Lightning have everything it takes to win another Stanley Cup

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    There is no longer a “yeah, but…” hanging over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Now that this core of players has its championship, there can no longer be any debate as to where they stand among the best teams of this era. For six years now they have been the best team in hockey. Nobody has won more games than them in the regular season, nobody has won more games than them in the playoffs, and they finally — finally! — had everything go their way at the right time.

    The idea that this team has somehow “underachieved” come playoff time is completely unfair and takes away from the daunting challenge that is winning the Stanley Cup. They have been in the Eastern Conference Final in four of the past six seasons, and twice made it through to the Stanley Cup Final. In the other two years they lost Game 7s to the team that went on to eventually win the Stanley Cup. No other team in the league has consistently gone that far in the playoffs during that stretch. It was only a matter of time until a team this successful and this good had it all click.

    The Lightning are a lesson in patience, trusting your talent, and sticking to your plan that you know is successful, instead of overreacting and dismantling something before you have to.

    They are a lesson in not being afraid to go for it at the trade deadline and add the one or two pieces you need to fully round out your roster (Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow). A late first-round pick might make it to the NHL someday. There is a small chance they will have a productive career. But banners? Banners hang forever.

    [More: Lightning win Stanley Cup]

    Now that they have this banner, there is no reason to think they can not add another one in the very near future with this core.

    Potentially as soon as next season.

    They have every ingredient on their roster to do it again.

    For starters, we already know this team is capable of making a deep run. Even when it fell short of a championship in recent years it was still RIGHT THERE on the threshold of greatness.

    • They went through this postseason without the face of their franchise, Steven Stamkos. He will be back next season and is still an elite goal scorer.
    • They have a superstar in Nikita Kucherov that is one of the most dominant offensive players in the league and still in the prime of his career.
    • Brayden Point has gone from “good young player” to “top-tier scorer” in the blink of an eye.
    • Victor Hedman is the best all-around defenseman in hockey, and for as much as we talk about their offensive brilliance, they are also a fantastic defensive team.
    • They have a dominant second line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow returning for what should be a bargain price.
    • As if that is not enough, they also have one of the league’s best goalies in Andrei Vasilevskiy, also still in the prime of his career. This team is so good and so loaded that Vasilevskiy just went through a Stanley Cup winning postseason where he played every minute in goal for his team, posted a .927 save percentage, recorded a shutout in the Cup-clinching game, and was not even one of the top-three or four contenders for the Conn Smythe trophy. He was an afterthought.

    It is an insanely talented and deep roster with almost all of the major players under contract long-term.

    [Related: What is next for Dallas Stars?]

    That brings us to the questions they do have to face this offseason.

    For starters, their blue line could take a hit in free agency as Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Braydon Coburn are the only players currently under contract for next season.

    Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak are restricted free agents, while Kevin Shattenkirk, Luke Schenn, and Zach Bogosian are unrestricted.

    Shattenkirk would be a big loss, and it is difficult to see them being able to bring him back on another cheap deal given the season he had, but they do still have the rights to Sergachev and Cernak.

    Restricted free agency is going to be tricky. Along with the two defenders, they also have to re-sign Anthony Cirelli and Carter Verhaege. At the moment, the Lightning have just a little more than $5 million in salary cap space at their disposal.

    That will not be enough to re-sign all of Sergachev, Cirelli, Verhaege, and Cernak, so some corresponding moves will have to be made. Tyler Johnson ($5 million cap hit) and Alex Killorn ($4.5 million cap hit) would seem to be the most logical places to start. The only potential issue there is both players have no-trade clauses as part of their contracts. That doesn’t mean they can not or will not be moved. And while such a move would hurt, it is another good argument for why the Coleman and Goodrow trades were so impactful given their value and cheap contracts for next season.

    In the end, the Lightning roster will almost certainly look a little different next season. But as long as the same core is in place, and as long as they continue to have a steady pipeline of young talent coming through their system (could someone like Alex Barre-Boulet be their next hidden gem?) there is no reason to think they are going away as Stanley Cup favorites.

    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.