Western Conference playoff field all set – Familiar faces get reacquainted

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After the Wild disposed of the Dallas Stars and put the Chicago Blackhawks into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed, it set the table for the Western Conference playoffs to have a familiar feel to it all. While there’s some new flavor in some of the pairings, there’s a couple match-ups that will look really familiar to fans from last year.

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 8. Chicago Blackhawks

For the third straight season these two teams will meet in the playoffs. This time it’s in the first round and this time it comes with Vancouver in a much more dominant position. They’re the Presidents’ Trophy winners, they’ve been killing it all season long and now they have destiny set things up nicely for them so they can exorcise the demons of playoffs past right off the bat. Should Vancouver get over this psychological mountain in the form of a Blackhawks team living like they’ve been granted a new life, they’ll be very dangerous to deal with throughout the playoffs.

Chicago will instead hope to get in the Canucks heads like they have in the past and pull off a tremendous upset in their effort to retain the Stanley Cup. For Vancouver, this series has a Ric Flair feel about it: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 7. Los Angeles Kings

An all-California playoff series is something we’ve been rooting for to happen for all season long and with all three California teams in the playoffs, things broke down perfect to get these two to face off against each other. The Sharks have the “playoff choker” thing still following them around but that doesn’t apply to this team. Antti Niemi has been lights out, they’ve got a host of new blood in the form of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski to go along with the quietly monstrous year from Patrick Marleau as well as his running crew of Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi, and Dany Heatley. The Sharks are firing on all cylinders now and very dangerous.

Los Angeles meanwhile is hurting without Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams. Their offense isn’t as lethal as it once was without them and it’ll be up to Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown to score goals while Jon Quick will need to be lights out to keep the Kings involved. One thing they’ll really need is for Drew Doughty to once again look like the Norris Trophy finalist he was last year. He’s been off a bit and they could really use big production at both ends of the ice from him.

3. Detroit Red Wings vs. 6. Phoenix Coyotes

They meet yet again. Last year it was Detroit ending Phoenix’s dream season in Game 7 in the desert during the first round of the playoffs. These two teams are more than familiar with each other and they’ll get to dance once again, this time with Detroit having home ice advantage. Detroit’s been a bit erratic to close out the year and they’ll start their series without Henrik Zetterberg. They’ll have a fully healthy defensive corps with Niklas Kronwall returning but they’ll need to be tough offensively to deal with the tough Coyotes defense.

Phoenix has been similarly hot and cold going into the end of the season and matching up against a skilled veteran squad like Detroit means they’ll have to be especially sharp. It’s a dangerous draw for both teams as they each have parts of their game that the opponent can struggle with. Phoenix’s physicality can give Detroit fits and the Wings’ savvy in big moments frustrates the Coyotes. If Shane Doan can break out his “DoanFace” a couple more times, the Coyotes might be able to finally make the second round.

4. Anaheim Ducks vs. 5. Nashville Predators

What a brawl this one should be. Both teams play overtly physical hockey. Anaheim comes in with offense to burn with Rocket Richard trophy winner Corey Perry and old man dominator Teemu Selanne scoring tons of goals. Not to mention Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan along with defensemen Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky, these Ducks aren’t like the Ducks from 2007 that won the Cup and would mug your grandmother to do it. The Predators are going to have to add that kind of snarl to the series if they’re going to win their first playoff series in franchise history.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne will need to be the best player for Nashville while they try to generate offense from Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, and Steve Sullivan. The Preds have been here before and at some point they’re going to get through. Whether or not captain Shea Weber can rally his team to do it this time against a Ducks squad that’s been uber-dangerous the last two months should make for some great drama and even better hockey.

Liam Kirk 1st born-and-trained Brit selected in NHL draft

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DALLAS (AP) Liam Kirk has become the first player born and trained in England to be selected in the NHL draft.

The Arizona Coyotes picked the 18-year-old left wing 189th overall on Saturday with their seventh-round pick.

Kirk was home, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean about 4,600 miles away from Dallas, when he was drafted.

The 6-foot, 161-pound Kirk played this season for Sheffield Steelers in the Elite Ice Hockey League, the highest level of competition in the United Kingdom. He had nine goals and seven assists in 52 games for the Steelers in his second season with the team.

When Kirk attended this year’s NHL scouting combine in Buffalo, he became the first player born and trained in Britain to attend that annual pre-draft event.

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/tags/NHLhockey

Winners and losers from the 2018 NHL Draft

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DALLAS — The picks are in and the 2018 NHL Draft has come to a close. The weekend began with the Buffalo Sabres selecting Rasmus Dahlin No. 1 overall and it ended with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals choosing Eric Florchuk with the 217th and final pick.

A lot happened, like some surprise selections, a few trades and plenty of intrigue as we approach free agency. Let’s take a look at some winners and losers from draft weekend.

Winner: New York Islanders

Landing Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson in back-to-back picks was something GM Lou Lamoriello probably didn’t expect when arrived at the draft, but that’s how things fell for the Islanders in the opening round. A dynamic offensive player in Wahlstrom and a good puck-moving blue liner in Dobson really add to the franchise’s prospect pool. The good off-season continues for them days after hiring Barry Trotz as their new head coach. Aside from finding a new goaltender, the biggest concern now facing the team is re-signing John Tavares, which we should know what his plans are within the next week.

Winner: 2018 NHL Draft music

The American Airlines Center DJ — Michael Gruber — spun an impeccable playlist during Friday night and Saturday afternoon. From the Beastie Boys to Weezer to Red Hot Chili Peppers to Sublime to Radiohead, the soundtrack to the weekend was flawless.

Loser: Fans who like trades involving players

One of the most exciting moments of the NHL draft is when Commissioner Gary Bettman steps to the podium and says, “We have a trade to announce!” Those words were uttered many times this weekend, but majority of the moves were teams swapping selections. Only two big trades that included players went down this weekend, which is kind of disappointing considering all of the speculation as the hockey world decended on Dallas. Maybe now that all of the teams are shifting their focus to free agency, some moves will happen this week before the market opens July 1.

Winner: Colorado Avalanche

The Avs made the first big move of the weekend by trading for goaltender Philipp Grubauer and defenseman Brooks Orpik from the Washington Capitals. Grubauer, a restricted free agent, is expected to sign a deal in the neighborhood of three years and $10 million, which gives Colorado a netminder for the future as Semyon Varlamov enters the final year of his deal.

Loser: Calgary Flames

The Flames dealt Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and highly-touted defense prospect Adam Fox to the Carolina Hurricanes for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. That move breaks up one of the league’s top blue line pairings in Hamilton and Mark Giordano. Hanifin and Lindholm, who both rejected contract extension before being dealt, are set to become restricted free agents on July 1.

Winner: Sweden

With 28 Swedish-born players selected this weekend that matches the country’s record which was set during the 2011 draft. Also celebrating are England (Liam Kirk, Arizona) and Jamaica (Jermaine Loewen, Dallas). Kirk is first British-born and trained player to be drafted, while Loewen is the first Jamaican-born player to be picked.

Loser: Slovakia

While the number of Slovakian players drafted this year (5) is up from 2017 (2), the amount continues to remain low for a country that once regularly produced NHL players. Slovakia has seen only 15 players selected over the last six NHL Drafts.

Winner: Brooks Orpik

It’s been quite a month for the 37-year-old defenseman. First, he wins his second Stanley Cup. Then two weeks later he’s traded to the Colorado Avalanche along with goaltender Philipp Grubauer. But as soon as the deal was consummated, Avs GM Joe Sakic said the plan was to try and flip him or buy him out. No suitable offers were made, so Orpik was placed on waivers Saturday with the intent to buy him out. That sets up a situation that could see him headed back to the Capitals.

Loser: Adam Mascherin

Mascherin was originally a 2016 second round pick by the Florida Panthers, but could not agree to a contract wth the team. “He didn’t want to play for the Panthers. That’s what happened,” GM Dale Tallon said earlier this week. He was eligible to re-enter the draft this year and ended up dropping to the fourth round where the Dallas Stars picked him. In the two seasons since being picked by the Panthers, he’s posted 75 goals and 186 points in 132 games with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers.

Winner: The Sutter legacy

The only thing that will outlast us all are cockroaches, Jaromir Jagr and a hockey playing Sutter. Riley Sutter was selected by the Capitals at No. 93 and is the son of Ron. The Sutter NHL tree dates all the way back to 1976 and doesn’t look like it will stop growing any time soon..

Loser: Max Pacioretty trade rumors

A rumor going around late in the draft was that Pacioretty was going to be traded to the San Jose Sharks. But that was quickly shot down despite it being “confirmed.” The only news about the Montreal Canadiens captain, who has one year left on his deal, was that he’s parted ways with Pat Brisson and has hired Allan Walsh as his new agent.

Winner: Unique names

There were 217 picks in the 2018 draft and many, if you scour all of the selections, featured some pretty interesting names. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jett Woo, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Jasper Weatherby, Angus Crookshank, Blade Jenkins, Magnus Chrona, Dmitry Zavgorodniy, and Shamil Shamakov are just a handful of what we heard over the two days.

Loser: Nando Eggenberger

The Swiss winger who owns arguably the best name out of any of the eligible 2018 prospects did not get to hear his named called in Dallas. There’s always next year in Vancouver.

Winner: The Krygier family

Christian and Cole Krygier went five picks apart in the seventh round. The twin sons of former NHLer Todd Krygier, Christian landed with the Islanders while Cole ended up with the Panthers.

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Goalie of the future: Avs reportedly sign Grubauer

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Heading into the off-season, the Colorado Avalanche’s future in net was a little blurry. Now it’s clear that Philipp Grubauer will be their go-to guy.

On Friday, the Avalanche sent the 47th pick to the Washington Capitals for Grubauer, also absoring Brooks Orpik‘s contract. Today, Colorado got the wheels turning on a buyout for Orpik, and reportedly agreed to a three-year deal with Grubauer.

Significant investment

The three-year pact will be worth about $10 million, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie. If that’s accurate, the 26-year-old would carry about a $3.33M cap hit from 2018-19 through 2020-21. Do note that the Avalanche haven’t made the signing official just yet.

So, let’s consider the cost, then:

  • Cap hit between Grubauer and Orpik in 2018-19: About $5.83M.
  • In 2019-20: About $4.83M.
  • 2020-21: Just Grubauer’s $3.3M.
  • Also, the 47th pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, which ended up being Kody Clark, Wendel Clark’s son.

Not exactly cheap, but the Avalanche have a pretty clean slate, and Grubauer was the most coveted goalie believed to be available this summer.

As usual with goalies, there are risks

Aside from brief struggles during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Grubauer’s passed just about every test thrown in way. In accruing 101 total regular-season games of NHL experience, Grubauer generated a strong .923 save percentage, the same mark he produced over 35 games during the 2017-18 campaign.

It’s easy to play hindsight 20/20 and say that Braden Holtby was “the clear choice” for the Capitals the whole time, but the truth is that Grubauer deserved that nod considering his superior play. While Holtby regained the starting job in Washington during the Stanley Cup run, Grubauer’s steadying presence was important.

Much like other rising backups, there’s a risk factor to investing heavily in Grubauer, who’s never carried a big workload.

The scariest comparison is probably Scott Darling.

Like Grubauer, Darling amassed a small but impressive resume as a backup for a good team. In Darling’s case, the towering goalie had only played 75 regular-season games for Chicago, generating a (wait for it) .923 save percentage, playing in 32 games during his final campaign with the Blackhawks. The Hurricanes are already regretting the four-year deal they handed to Darling, which carries a $4.15M cap hit.

There are plenty of counterpoints. Darling is three years older than Grubauer, and rarely excelled at other levels. Grubauer, on the other hand, put together respectable numbers in the ECHL and AHL before becoming a sturdy backup for the Caps.

Colorado likely hopes that Grubauer works out as well (or better) than more successful backup-turned-starters such as Antti Raanta and Cam Talbot.

Interesting setup

Will the Avalanche roll with a platoon situation involving Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov, whose $5.9M cap hit is set to expire after 2018-19? That’s at least the public plan right now.

It wouldn’t be one bit surprising if the Avalanche tried to find a trade partner for Varlamov, an expensive performer who’s dealt with some injury issues and other concerns in recent years. (One can’t help but note that, amusingly, the Avalanche also sent quite a bit of future assets to Washington in hopes that Varlamov would fix their goalie issues. Life moves fast.)

A Grubauer – Varlamov duo would cost about $9.2M in cap space, while Varlamov’s salary ($5.75M) is only slightly cheaper than his $5.9M cap hit next season.

You would think that would be too rich for the Avs, but maybe Colorado would just eat the coast with the advantage being that Varlamov’s presence could help Grubauer ease into the No. 1 role?

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With Varlamov seemingly on his way out sooner or later and valuable backup Jonathan Bernier headed out the door, the Avalanche are passing the torch to Grubauer.

We’ll see what happens regarding who the other goalie will be in Colorado, but either way, Grubauer gets his wish: to be the man. Will the Avalanche look back at this as a smart decision, or could this be another case where an understudy flops in a headlining role?

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.

Huge Flames – Hurricanes trade features Hamilton, Hanifin, Lindholm

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For a while, things were getting a little sleepy on draft weekend, but the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes changed that with a massive trade.

Here’s how the five-player trade looks for each side.

Calgary Flames receive: Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm.

Carolina Hurricanes receive: Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and defensive prospect Adam Fox.

There are a lot of facets to break down here.

Contract challenges

One factor is that both Hanifin and Lindholm need new contracts as RFAs, so the prices they eventually come in on for Calgary will play a big role in how we judge this franchise-altering trade.

The Hurricanes have changed huge portions of their front office, and this appears to be the first major shockwave stemming from the new regime.

Apparently the contract tiffs aren’t just on the Carolina end. There’s some belief that Fox, a well-regarded prospect who was taken in the third round (66th overall) in 2016, was not going to sign with the Flames. SBNation Flames blog Matchsticks & Gasoline posits that Fox could tip the scales of this trade depending upon how his development goes.

Prime-age players exchange hands on both sides, but one objective remark is that the Flames generally landed the younger players.

The talent is young and substantial enough that plenty of players involved could affect how we look back at this massive move. Let’s consider the biggest names.

Blue chippers, plus a big forward

It’s honestly bewildering to consider the high-end draft picks involved in this move.

Dougie Hamilton, 25, was drafted ninth overall by the Boston Bruins in 2011. This is the second time the high-scoring defenseman’s been traded, as the Bruins sent him to Calgary for a first-round pick and two second-rounders back in 2015.

Despite scoring a career-high 17 goals and continuing a four-season streak of 10+ tallies, Hamilton remains a divisive figure in the NHL, not unlike players like P.K. Subban and Phil Kessel, who he’ll be connected to for the rest of his career thanks to how his pick landed in Boston. Hamilton has been excellent for much of his days, yet plenty of people either believe that he’s ineffective in his own end, brings chemistry issues, or …?

Hamilton’s cap hit is $5.75 million running through 2020-21. Much like everything else with the defenseman, hockey people are likely divided regarding that contract being a bargain or being too rich.

(Fun.)

Noah Hanifin, 21, was the fifth pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.

While Hamilton’s resume is pretty robust with tangible evidence that he’s a difference-maker, Hanifin stumbled a bit out of the gate. He’s corrected in promising ways recently, however, generating career-highs of goals (10) and points (32) in 2017-18.

As much as anything else, it’s his youth, speed, and potential that makes him fascinating. Of course, on the other hand, you can talk yourself into expecting too much thanks to that high draft pick pedigree.

Elias Lindholm, 23, also went fifth overall, but in 2013.

The Swedish forward has been productive, yet not exactly spectacular, so far during his NHL career. He’s already played in 374 regular-season games, generating 64 goals and 124 assists for 188 points.

Micheal Ferland, 26, isn’t of the same draft pedigree, as he went in the fifth round (133rd overall) back in 2010.

You could make a reasonable argument that Ferland could be reasonably comparable to Lindholm from an immediate viewpoint, though. Ferland is coming off of a 21-goal, 41-points season from 2017-18.

Some of that production is likely inflated by playing with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Still, it’s worth noting that he fit in very nicely with those two players, bringing a big body and some nice finishing ability to the table.

Ferland has one year left on a team-friendly $1.75M cap hit.

If you want a fancy perspective:

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This is a really fascinating move for both teams. No doubt about it, the Flames’ take has to be heavily influenced by the hiring of former Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters. The contract situations for Lindholm, Hanifin, Fox, and eventually Ferland will play a role in how hindsight gazes upon this blockbuster.

Let’s get a feel for the immediate viewpoint, though. Who do you think got the better end of the trade?

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.