PHT’s Season Preview: 30 questions, 180 answers

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We made a list of 30 questions ahead of the 2013-14 NHL season, then we tried to answer those questions. Enjoy:

1. Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, or Alex Ovechkin: Who will have the best season, with individual and team success taken into account?

Jason Brough: Crosby. Assuming he can stay healthy, he’s the best player of the three, on the best team of the three.

Mike Halford: Crosby. Plenty of motivation after losing the Hart to Ovechkin (Ovi now leads Sid 3-1 in that category) and another disappointing playoff exit.

Joe Yerdon: Crosby, and it won’t be close unless he’s injured again. He was on a record pace last year before his jaw got smashed.

Ryan Dadoun: Sidney Crosby. His injury history is obviously a concern, but if he can finally stay healthy, then he could surpass his career high of 120 points.

James O’Brien: At some point, Crosby has to shake his Forsbergian injury luck, so why not 2013-14? This team is loaded and Sid remains almost unstoppable.

Cam Tucker: Alex Ovechkin. He’ll be extra motivated to have a good season in part because the Olympics are in Russia.

2. The biggest worry for the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks is…

JB: Motivation. Some of them struggled with it last time they won the Cup. One of the many reasons repeat champions have been rare.

MH: Getting worn down. One, this was an unusually short offseason. Two, almost all their key players look to figure prominently in the Olympics. And three, they’re the champs. Everybody’s going to be gunning for them.

JY: The Los Angeles Kings. The Blues will knock them around in the division, but the Kings are built to win the Cup again as well.

RD: Whether or not their young complimentary players can perform as advertised to give them a solid bottom six and, to a lesser extent, general fatigue.

JO: Injuries. Marian Hossa is the most obvious example, but the 2013 run put tough miles on everyone.

CT: Health. With an even shorter offseason than normal, the wear of last season’s playoff run may still take its toll early on.

3. True or false: the Red Wings have a better chance to win the Cup than the Senators. (A.k.a. was Daniel Alfredsson right?)

JB: True. The biggest concern remains the defense, but it grew leaps and bounds last season, thanks to a masterful coaching job from Mike Babcock.

MH: True, based purely on experience. The likes of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and Kronwall know what it takes to win a Cup; Ottawa’s talented, but lacks the veteran know-how.

JY: Can I say “push?” No? I’ll say true then, as they return a team that was a win away from beating Chicago.

RD: Neither team strikes me as much more than a second-round squad this season. If I had to pick though, I’d go with Detroit; the presence of Alfredsson is the thing that tips the scales.

JO: True, but by a very slim margin.

CT: True. Ottawa will be tough in the East, but the Sens don’t yet have players on their roster with that championship experience.

4. Of all the teams that missed the playoffs last season, the most likely to make the playoffs this season is…

JB: Philly. Too many good players on the Flyers, and I have more confidence in Ray Emery than I had in Ilya Bryzgalov.

MH: Dallas, which greatly improved its two main areas of need — defense and center. The Stars will also benefit from new head coach Lindy Ruff, who has nearly 600 career wins.

JY: It’s hard to not like the Oilers for this role. Yes, early injuries, but that youth has to evolve eventually…right?

RD: The Philadelphia Flyers. They have so much talent and I think their goaltending will be less of an issue this season.

JO: New Jersey. Losing Ilya Kovalchuk hurts a lot, but this team was better than its record in 2013 and added some enticing pieces, especially Cory Schneider.

CT: Hard to imagine the Flyers missing the playoffs again, although with goalies like Ray Emery and Steve Mason, making them is no guarantee.

source: Getty Images

5. The Edmonton Oilers have the longest playoff drought in the NHL, at seven straight seasons. Will they finally make it this year?

JB: Yes. So long as they can tread water early in the season with Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the sidelines.

MH: Nope. Still too many question marks on the blueline and, perhaps more pressingly, in goal. Devan Dubnyk’s never won more than 20 games in a single season.

JY: Looks like I just answered this question. Yes, they’ll make it as the fourth seed in the Pacific Division.

RD: No, but they’ll be close. They still have depth and defensive issues to work through.

JO: No. Big injuries to start and will probably struggle defensively.

CT: Yes. Young crop of talented forwards is augmented by an improved group of veteran players. Time to take the next step.

6. Of all the teams that made the playoffs last season, the most likely to miss the playoffs is…

JB: Anaheim. It’ll be a long fall for the Ducks, from second in the West to out of the top eight.

MH: Toronto. Last year feels like it was a bit of smoke and mirrors, as the Leafs were routinely out-possessed and had unsustainable shooting percentages.

JY: I’m coming out of left field here a bit and saying Anaheim. Their defense is nerve-racking. Luckily they can score a bit.

RD: The New York Islanders. Losing Mark Streit hurts and I’m not sure how much longer Evgeni Nabokov can be heavily leaned on.

JO: The Isles. There’s a lot to like about what Garth Snow is building, but it looks like they’re sleeping on goaltending until Brooklyn.

CT: Montreal Canadiens. There is an awful lot riding on goaltender Carey Price, who didn’t have the best season in 2013.

7. Will the Toronto Maple Leafs make it back to the playoffs?

JB: Yes, they’ll sneak in. Two capable goalies makes it doubly possible one of them gets hot.

MH: No. See above.

JY: They’re close. They could be the team that steals a spot from the Metropolitan Division. Right now, I’m leaning towards no.

RD: Just barely, but yes. I didn’t like much of what they did this summer, but I like their goaltending a lot and I think their offensive core is solid.

JO: Despite a circus-like offseason, my gut says Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf contract years will squeeze this odd bunch in.

CT: Yes. After the disappointment of collapsing in Game 7 of the first round against Boston, they’ll be hungrier to prove they belong in the postseason.

8. The worst team in the NHL will be…

JB: Everyone’s going to say Calgary, so I’ll say Nashville. How is this team going to score?

MH: Calgary. Did anybody answer differently?

JY: The Calgary Flames, and it won’t even be close.

RD: The Calgary Flames. At least they’ve taken steps to build for the future.

JO: Calgary.

CT: The Tampa Bay Lightning. This isn’t a bad thing. Finishing at the bottom gives them more of a chance at selecting first overall in 2014.

9. The winner of the Presidents’ Trophy will be…

JB: Chicago. I said earlier that the ‘Hawks may struggle with motivation, but I meant more in the playoffs, when the intensity really picks up and prices have to be paid.

MH: The Blues. Ken Hitchcock has racked up the regular season wins (.670 winning percentage) since coming to St. Louis in 2011. Expect that trend to continue.

JY: Chicago Blackhawks. They’re still the team to beat and still have a ridiculously loaded roster.

RD: The Chicago Blackhawks. It helps that the Central Division is, in my mind, the weakest in the NHL.

JO: The super-deep Blues, at least if they can hold off Chicago in a cozier version of the Central Division.

CT: The Pittsburgh Penguins. Too much talent and it will come to the forefront as the season progresses. But the Penguins are judged by playoff performances.

10. The biggest wildcard team (i.e. could be good, could be awful) in the NHL is…

JB: Edmonton. So much talent there, but we said that last year, didn’t we? The “we’re too young” excuse has expired.

MH: Ottawa. There’s potential for the Jason Spezza-Bobby Ryan combo to rack up huge numbers…but it’s also possible Alfie’s departure is too much to overcome.

JY: Montreal. Does Carey Price bounce back? How does their defense hold up? Do their young forwards improve? I like them, but I wouldn’t throw money on them.

RD: Columbus. I don’t have a ton of confidence in Sergei Bobrovsky being better than solid, but if he plays like he did in the second half of the 2013 campaign, they could be good.

JO: Colorado. That offense could be deep and explosive but the D remains porous and their goalies are a huge coin flip.

CT: Columbus. Narrowly missed playoffs in lockout-shortened 2013. But that that Metropolitan Division appears highly competitive.

source: Getty Images

11. True or false: Roberto Luongo will prove he’s still an elite goalie in the NHL.

JB: False. For me, elite is in Vezina Trophy consideration, so this isn’t a huge slap in the face. He’ll probably be above average. I’m just not loving the vibe in Vancouver these days.

MH: True. Luongo will get massive playing time this year as there’s literally nobody challenging him (all apologies to Eddie Lack). Could be like his first season in Vancouver, when he played a career-high 76 games and earned a Vezina nomination.

JY: True. The fans were on him hard and now he’s won them over showing what a great guy he is on Twitter. Like in “Gladiator” you win the crowd, you win your freedom.

RD: You mean statistically or in the eyes of public? Statistically, I think he’ll be an elite goaltender, but every cold stretch he has will scare people.

JO: True (after a rocky start).

CT: True. He may start slow, because that’s what he does. But after Oct. 31, he’ll settle into a groove.

12. True or false: Tim Thomas will prove he’s still an elite goalie in the NHL.

JB: False. I think he’ll help the Panthers quite a bit though. Which says a lot about the goaltending they got last year.

MH: False. Too much time away from the game, and he’s playing on a Florida team filled with inexperienced players.

JY: False. He won’t be elite, but he’s not going to be bad either. Florida just needs competency in goal. He will do that.

RD: False. At best, I think he’ll be above average, but I don’texpect him to carry the Florida Panthers in his comeback season at the age of 39.

JO: False, but he could be above average.

CT: True. He should be, if nothing else, refreshed from his sabbatical from hockey. And Thomas has always had a knack for proving his critics wrong.

13. If the Devils make the playoffs, their starting goalie will be…

JB: Martin Brodeur, because he’s Martin Brodeur. Schneider will have the better regular season though. I don’t think the Devils will make it anyway.

MH: Cory Schneider.

JY: Cory Schneider. The team will do right by Martin Brodeur until it starts costing them games. Schneider will bring the consistency they need.

RD: Martin Brodeur, even if Schneider has a better season.

JO: Cory Schneider, and it’s not even close.

CT: Cory Schneider. Martin Brodeur has had a fine career but he’s also 41 years of age.  Schneider’s entering his prime.

14. The team that should be most concerned about its goaltending is…

JB: Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury has been awful the past two postseasons; Tomas Vokoun is 37 and dealing with a pretty serious health issue.

MH: Minnesota. Niklas Backstrom turns 36 in February and missed last year’s playoffs with a groin injury. If he falters, the gig falls to Josh Harding, who filled in admirably during the postseason but has significant health concerns of his own.

JY: It’s cliché but it’s Philadelphia. Steve Mason and Ray Emery could split to be great, but last season’s sample sizes were pretty small.

RD: I’ll cheat and go with Columbus. Not because I think Bobrovsky is the worst starter out there by any stretch of the imagination, but because Columbus is extremely dependent on Bobrovsky, who is in turn a big X-Factor.

JO: The Flames, unless they actually want to lose.

CT: The Vancouver Canucks. What do they do if Roberto Luongo gets injured or doesn’t perform? Eddie Lack, their current back-up, has never played in an NHL game.

source: AP

15. A young player who you expect to burst onto the scene is…

JB: Charlie Coyle in Minnesota. Seems like he has a great attitude. Zach Parise’s been raving about him.

MH: Boone Jenner. Big, physical forward that will open the season on Columbus’ top line with Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky.

JY: There are so many choices here that I’m going to pick two: Seth Jones and Valeri Nichushkin.

RD: Aleksander Barkov. He’s talented, has already played against men, and should get his fair share of opportunities in Florida.

JO: Mark Scheifele in Winnipeg, especially if he’s lining up with Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi.

CT: Morgan Rielly. Will begin the season in Toronto. Presence of young defensemen can come with a high number of mistakes. But can’t deny the talent.

16. Will Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller re-sign with the Sabres?

JB: No. I see Vanek in particular as a chip the Sabres can turn into some assets at the deadline.

MH: No. Buffalo will at the center of about 1,983 rumors heading into the trade deadline.

JY: I think they’re both elsewhere next year. Both guys could fetch huge returns for what will be one of the youngest teams in the league this year.

RD: No, I think Vanek will be traded by the deadline and Miller might end up walking as a free agent. I wouldn’t completely rule out Miller getting traded too, but trading a starting netminder midseason is rare.

JO: Vanek stays, Miller goes.

CT: No. In Miller’s case, it would appear his past few seasons in Buffalo have produced a fractured relationship with teammates, the franchise and fans.

17. Will Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf re-sign with the Leafs?

JB: Phaneuf, yes. Kessel, I’m not so sure. Does he really like playing in a market like Toronto? I don’t get the sense he does.

MH: Yes. Can’t envision a scenario where Toronto loses its captain and leading scorer.

JY: Kessel will stay and the Leafs will pay up huge for him to do so. Phaneuf should stick around but I suspect he’ll be gone after this year.

RD: Phaneuf should, but I’m not as confident about Kessel. I think what Kessel does will be partially dependent on what kind of season Toronto has.

JO: Yes, both do.

CT: No. Even with the salary cap expected to go up, the Leafs may have to turn in another direction if both are asking too much.

18. Will Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau re-sign with the Sharks?

JB: I’ll say yes, but Thornton will have to take a hometown discount after the Sharks locked up centers Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski.

MH: Yes, and so will Dan Boyle. Sharks GM Doug Wilson said he’s already spoken — and will continue to speak — with all three about extensions.

JY: Yes they will. The Sharks don’t really do “change” and they’re still top players in the league. They won’t get giant, long-term deals however.

RD: I think they both will end up finishing their careers in San Jose.

JO: Both take less money to stay in sunny San Jose.

CT: Yes. Patrick Marleau has never played for another NHL team so it’s easier to believe he would stay so as to potentially finish out his career in San Jose.

19. One big-name player that will get traded before the deadline is…

JB: Mike Cammalleri. No reason for Calgary to give the 31-year-old a big extension at this point in the rebuild.

MH: Paul Stastny. The Avs have an embarrassment of young riches at center in Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, and Stastny’s a UFA at season’s end.

JY: Keith Yandle. Coyotes GM Don Maloney has been dying to add another top-six forward and they’re loaded with defensive depth. Gotta give to get.

RD: I already said Vanek, but I’ll throw Marian Gaborik in the mix too. Like I said, Columbus is a wild card and if things don’t go as planned for them, I think they’ll put Gaborik on the block.

JO: Ryan Miller. Bonus guesses: Brad Richards and Dan Boyle.

CT: Does Steve Ott count as a big-name player? Entering final year of his contract, and other teams would love his toughness.

source: AP

20. The player with the most to prove is…

JB: Kris Letang. Got absolutely shredded by the critics for his playoff performance, and deservedly so. The Pens then gave him a $58 million contract extension. A lot of people thought they’d be better off trading him.

MH: Alex Pietrangelo. He played hardball with the Blues and was rewarded with a massive contract — now, the pressure’s on to prove he’s worth $45.5 million (and deserves a spot on the Canadian Olympic team).

JY: Claude Giroux. He didn’t have a great season last year and the Flyers missed the playoffs. He’ll have a lot of weight on his shoulders to get them back.

RD: Roberto Luongo, but I want to give an honorable mention to Ray Emery. After all the setbacks he’s endured, he’s slowly worked up to the point where he can fight for a starting job on a talented team. That opportunity is there now and it might never come again if he has a bad season.

JO: Marc-Andre Fleury could maintain his spot as Pittsburgh’s franchise goalie or land on the trading block based on his performance.

CT: Martin St. Louis. He’s small, he’s skilled and he’s getting older. But should be motivated to try and make Canada’s Olympic team.

21. True or false: Tyler Seguin will have a big year for the Dallas Stars.

JB: True. I’m expecting at least 70 points out of the 21-year-old. (Yes, remember, he’s still only 21.)

MH: True, because of an increased opportunity and role with the Stars. Remember that Seguin only averaged 17 minutes a game last year, and that was his highest TOI average in three seasons with the B’s.

JY: True. He was on pace for a 30-goal season last year in Boston even in spite of being a supposed party hound. He’ll flourish in Dallas.

RD: I think he’ll largely meet expectations, which in my mind translates to about 70 points.

JO: True, just make sure to give Jamie Benn credit, too.

CT: True. He got traded from a Stanley Cup contender because of his act off the ice. If that doesn’t wake him up, what will?

22. The best offseason signing (player joining a new team) will turn out to be…

JB: Brenden Morrow. He’s not what he used to be, but he’s perfect for the Blues.

MH: Jarome Iginla in Boston. Never gets hurt, is a perfect replacement for Nathan Horton and, despite talk of his demise last season, still managed to score 23 points in 28 games for the Penguins.

JY: Mikhail Grabovski in Washington. Mike Ribeiro gave them a taste of what it’s like to have a really good No. 2 center last year. Grabovski will be even better in Washington.

RD: Vincent Lecavalier. This free agent class wasn’t stunning overall, but Lecavalier is a great forward at a fair price.

JO: The Washington Capitals grabbing Mikhail Grabovski for peanuts.

CT: Mike Ribeiro. Re-united with former Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett. Seem to have a good rapport together.

23. The worst offseason signing (player joining a new team) will turn out to be…

JB: Nathan Horton. Don’t trust him to stay healthy.

MH: Valtteri Filppula in Tampa Bay. In seven NHL seasons, he’s only scored more than 40 points once. He’s also got to deal with the weight of heightened expectations (you know, signing for $25 million) and the inevitable “replacing Vinny” narrative.

JY: Considering how much Ryane Clowe has already been banged up in training camp, looking ahead to five seasons of that in New Jersey seems ominous.

RD: Valtteri Filppula. One good season – and not even his contract season – was apparently good enough to warrant $25 million.

JO: David Clarkson.

CT: Dustin Penner. At a price of $2 million this season, it’s not a terrible signing. But he’s underachieved in each of the last four regular seasons.

24. The first head coach to be fired will be…

JB: Claude Noel in Winnipeg. I thought he’d get the axe last season, so let’s go double or nothing.

MH: Claude Noel. Just seems like a matter of time.

JY: Mike Yeo in Minnesota. Some Wild fans were crowing to have Yeo sacked this summer even after making the playoffs. Tough crowd there and lots of pressure to win.

RD: Kirk Muller. This is a team that needs to be a serious contender for a playoff spot and if the Hurricanes underperform, I think they’ll change coaches rather quickly.

JO: Claude Noel, even though his GM isn’t providing him with much. Particularly in goal.

CT: Claude Noel. Jets are entering their third year back in Winnipeg and if they struggle, expect public outcry. And coaches are expendable.

25. True or false: Alain Vigneault’s first season as head coach of the New York Rangers will be successful.

JB: True, the Rangers will respond to a different voice. But can we stop acting like he’s the nicest guy in the world and the NHL’s version of Mike D’Antoni? He can still be hard on players, and he’s hardly a run-and-gun coach.

MH: True, if only because they respond to a new voice in the room. The Rangers looked burnt out under Tortorella last season.

JY: True. He’s not the offensive God-send some are making him out to be, but the culture change there will do wonders for the Rangers.

RD: True. The Rangers are a good team with some gifted forwards and a great goalie that should find success under Alain Vigneault.

JO: True, a smashing success.

CT: True. He’s a good coach, for starters. The team on the ice isn’t bad, either. And they have a top goalie in Henrik Lundqvist.

source: Getty Images

26. True or false: John Tortorella’s first season as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks will be successful.

JB: False. The Torts hiring reminds me of the time the Capitals tried to change their style. I think the entire Canucks organization is a bit lost right now.

MH: False, though it probably won’t be Tortorella’s fault. The window looks like it’s been closing on Vancouver in each of the last two seasons.

JY: True, to a point. He’ll get the accountability from the players the front office wants but if they can’t stay healthy it’ll look like a failure.

RD: False. I think Luongo will have a statistically great season and Vancouver is a capable team, but I don’t see Tortorella taking them very deep into the playoffs, which is what he was brought in there to do.

JO: True, at least if making the playoffs is the standard. (Though I guess if AV got fired after making them, it isn’t.)

CT: False. What counts as success in Vancouver is, at the very least, a berth in the Western Conference final. Seems beyond that team’s capabilities.

27. The Canadian team with the best chance to win the country’s first Stanley Cup since 1993 is…

JB: Vancouver. Considering what I said in my previous answer, this says a lot. But if Torts can help the Canucks get their swagger back, they’ve got the forwards, defensemen, and goalie to make another run.

MH: Ottawa. Which probably says more about the state of Canadian teams than it does the Senators.

JY: Ottawa. They’ve got the goaltending, offensive depth, and defensive skill to make a deep run. Their biggest issue will be escaping their division.

RD: Vancouver by default. I don’t think there will be a Canadian team in the conference finals.

JO: The Vancouver Canucks, even though they’re treading water.

CT: The Ottawa Senators. Nice run last year and they have solid goaltending in Craig Anderson.  But the team might not be at that level yet.

28. True or false: Phoenix Coyotes fans will show up to support their team.

JB: False. This will take some time. The Coyotes’ brand has been badly damaged in that market.

MH: True. It’s amazing what, you know, actually having an owner can do for club morale.

JY: True. Things can’t really get worse there and the new ownership seems dedicated to making the fans happy. Team-supported tailgating? Heck yes.

RD: False. I don’t think they will see a huge jump in interest compared to 2013.

JO: False, at least unless they make the playoffs.

CT: True. But only in the playoffs, provided the Coyotes make it that far.

29. True or false: the NHL will announce at least one expansion team in the next year.

JB: False. Seattle is coming relatively soon though.

MH: False, though it could happen during the 2014-15 campaign.

JY: False. I can’t see this happening for at least two years.

RD: False. But maybe in a couple years.

JO: A Supersonic truth.

CT: True. The Pacific Northwest is intriguing to the NHL, as per deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Lots of smoke there. Has to be fire.

30. Finally, make a crazy prediction that probably won’t happen, but on second thought, you never know…

JB: The Florida Panthers will go from worst to, well, not first, but the playoffs. Tim Thomas wins the Vezina, then retires to run for President.

MH: Poor weather conditions lead to the first-ever canceled outdoor game.

JY: Hyrbid icing becomes such a raging success that the NHL adopts a “Beat the Icing” event at the All-Star Skills Competition in 2015. Somehow, Tim Thomas will win it.

RD: We’ll have two players that reach the 60-goal mark this season.Stamkos and Ovechkin have done it before and look great going into this season.

JO: Jarome Iginla will score more goals than years he’s lived (36).

CT: An all-Canadian Stanley Cup Final. No Canadian team appears to be at a championship level and even if it were the case, in a numbers game alone, the odds are still stacked against this happening. But dare to dream for this Canadian.

Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has better coaching?

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Barry Trotz doesn’t have a contract beyond the conclusion of this current season. He entered the year with no job security, no sense of what his future would hold and still steering his troops to the top of the heap in the Metropolitan Division, and now, the Stanley Cup Final.

Washington’s start to the season didn’t help and rumors of Trotz’s pending axing swirled. But the man who sits fifth all-time in coaching wins turned his team around.

Trotz has found another gear behind the bench and has guided the Caps with calmness during these playoffs. It’s paid off. The Capitals were able to exercise their demons against the Pittsburgh Penguins and then come back from being 3-2 down against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Oh, and he did this:

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

There isn’t a world where Gerard Gallant doesn’t win the Jack Adams this year for top bench boss in the NHL. He’s simply done the unthinkable with a team no one expected to be competing, never mind being one of two teams set to do battle for the Stanley Cup.

Look, Gallant was given a bunch of players from all over the league and a mandate to try and figure out how they all fit together, who plays on what line. Who pairs with who on defense. What the power play and penalty kill look like. It was a tall task to begin with, but Gallant has nailed it every step of the way.

There’s been lots of talk of how poorly the Panthers fared when they lost both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith in the expansion draft. But one of Florida’s biggest losses was firing Gallant and leaving him on the side of the road.

That decision paved the way for Gallant to join the Golden Knights and smash nearly every record by an expansion team ever.

Gallant has given his players the controls. Mistakes don’t mean less ice time. Gallant has inspired his team and doesn’t have them playing scared. It’s a perfect approach and one that’s evidently paid off.

Advantage: Golden Knights

Trotz is a great coach, but there’s just something about the spirited way Gallant has Vegas playing that simply cannot be denied. We’ve seen it all season and all playoffs.

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW:

• Who has the better forwards?
Who has better defense?
• Who has better special teams?

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule


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

Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has better special teams?

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Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights. 

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

There is no team with a better weapon on the power play than Alex Ovechkin (sorry, Patrik Laine). The fact of the matter is Washington has clipped along at damn-near 30 percent (28.6%) in the playoffs on the power play through three rounds. The only team better is the Boston Bruins, and well, they were ousted in the second round.

And it’s not just Ovi producing on the power play (he has nine points). Defenseman John Carlson leads the team with 10 power play points. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has been simply sensational in the playoffs, has nine, as does T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom.

One of the X factors in this series is going to be special teams, and for Washington, specifically, they’re going to need to tighten up on the penalty kill. They allow one goal every four opportunities they give to an opposing team on the power play. Couple that with the fact that they’re the most penalized team in playoffs (61 times shorthanded), and you can see where this all could go wrong. Perhaps the good news for the Caps here is that their road PK percentage (79.3%) is better than their home numbers (71.9%).

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

Vegas’ pedestrian 17.6 percent power play success rate is a full 11 percent behind the Capitals, so Washington has them beat in this regard. Vegas is the second-most shorthanded team in these playoffs (57). Forward Erika Huala leads the team with 12 power-play points while William Karlsson (8), Reilly Smith (7), and Jonathan Marchessault (6) round out their top-four point producers.

The Golden Knights could use a spark on the power play away from home, where they take advantage of just 13 percent of their man advantages.

Vegas has been much better than the Caps when shorthanded, however, at 82.5 percent. Given how many penalties the Golden Knights have taken — and the fact they played Patrik Laine and the Jets in the Western Conference Final — that’s pretty impressive. They muzzled the Jets all over the ice, but were particularly good at keeping Laine and Mark Scheifele off their game on the power play.

Vegas’ PK has been good both on the home and away from T-Mobile Arena — much like everything they’ve done this season.

Marc-Andre Fleury owns a .909 save percentage on the penalty kill, compared to Braden Holtby‘s .857.

Advantage: Capitals (ever so slightly)

Washington’s power play pushes them just over the top here, especially against a team that gives up so many opportunities. It has to be said though that this battle is very close on paper. Vegas has the better goalie in shorthanded situations and they have a better penalty kill all-around.

Special teams is certainly an x-factor in this series and should be fun to watch given the talent on both teams. 

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW:

• Who has the better forwards?
Who has better defense?

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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

No contract, no problem: Trotz guides Caps into Cup final

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) One of the lasting images from the Capitals’ playoff run came the morning of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.

Usually Alex Ovechkin hustles around the rink in a hot lap prior to the morning skate. Only this time it was 55-year-old coach Barry Trotz, who answered the call from his players to do the lap.

“I was worried about the turns,” Trotz said. “The rudders haven’t been sharpened all year. … I almost bit it at the end there trying to imitate Ovi.”

The Capitals beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 that night to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final, but they might’ve won Game 7 at that moment. Rarely in previous postseasons had Trotz been that relaxed, the result of an unusual situation.

Trotz went into the season without – and still doesn’t have – a contract for next season, a circumstance that almost never happens to an experienced coach of a team with legitimate postseason hopes. But in a strange way, being a lame-duck coach might’ve helped Trotz not feel the pressure of past early exits and played a positive role in getting this far.

“I think it could be the same effect on a player, too, that’s becoming a free agent,” general manager Brian MacLellan said Friday. “He’s basically becoming a free agent as a coach, and what effect does that have? Do you have your best year when you’re a free agent?”

Trotz has. Even with the fifth-most victories of any coach in NHL history, until this spring he hadn’t made it past the second round in 18 previous seasons with the Nashville Predators and Capitals. He called it “luck of the draw,” running into championship-bound teams from Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

This improbable Capitals run that continues with Game 1 of the Cup Final on Monday in Las Vegas is not luck. It’s parts Ovechkin and goaltender Braden Holtby, and also the right moves by Trotz. He called on Philipp Grubauer to start the first round in goal before switching to Holtby in Game 2 against Columbus and watching him get on a roll. He put Jakub Vrana on the top line not long before the rookie scored the winner in Game 5 against the Penguins and pushed all the right buttons on rest and preparation.

Teams tend to read cues from a head coach, and those have been positive.

“I think his demeanor has changed a little bit,” MacLellan said. “He seems a little lighter, a little looser, a little less pressure, maybe a little more freedom in terms of how he goes about things.”

Despite back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, MacLellan and Capitals management didn’t offer Trotz an extension.

Before the playoffs, Trotz said he hadn’t lost any sleep over his status and referred questions to MacLellan and owner Ted Leonsis. In March, Leonsis said he doesn’t talk about contracts, and MacLellan has repeatedly stated that any talks would wait until after the playoffs. There are currently no vacancies in the NHL.

Toronto’s Mike Babcock is the highest-paid coach at $6.25 million, Chicago’s Joel Quenneville is next at $6 million and Montreal’s Claude Julien comes in at $5 million. Those three have combined to win the Cup five times.

Trotz’s price tag has gone up however the Final goes against the Golden Knights.

“He’s probably going to benefit from this, too,” MacLellan said. “I think he’s done a good job managing it. To come in this year with so many questions – not from my point of view the lineup questions were that a big deal – but just the emotional state of our team coming in to start the year and how to handle that, I think he’s done an outstanding job.”

Trotz survived a 10-9-1 start that culminated with 6-3 and 6-2 losses at Nashville and Colorado, and the Capitals winning 12 of their next 14 games might have saved his job. Players’ response to Trotz reading them the riot act showed he certainly hadn’t lost the room.

But a journey of self-discovery last summer went beyond not having a contract.

“It gave me just some clarity on what defines me, what defines us, what defines you,” Trotz said. “If you don’t win any awards or anything, I’m not going to look at you any different. If you’re a good person and you treat people right and you live your life right, then I’m going to think really highly of you. If you don’t, I’m not going to think so much of you. And I started getting that clarity that everybody looks for the wrong in people rather than the right and it gave me a lot of clarity. And some things happened in my life that allowed me to see that and it’s been good.”

Happy, relaxed Trotz has made more appearances in these playoffs than buttoned-down, terse Trotz. He hasn’t soured amid the road bumps this postseason.

The Capitals have followed Trotz’s even-keeled approach and even been upbeat following losses. Like his players, he’s enjoying the ride.

“Playoffs are fun,” Trotz said. “They are a grind. But they’re fun. And they should be treated as fun. They’re sort of all the hard that you have to put in just to get there and it takes even more hard work to go farther, but it is fun. I’m finding I’m having a blast during the games.”

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SWhyno

Golden Knights success raising stakes for next NHL expansion

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SEATTLE (AP) — From his office about 1,000 miles away from T-Mobile Arena, Tod Leiweke has watched the Stanley Cup playoffs with a growing appreciation for what is taking place in Las Vegas.

He was keeping an eye on the Golden Knights even before he became president of Seattle Hockey Partners LLC, the group looking to bring an expansion NHL franchise to the Pacific Northwest. Once he took charge of Seattle’s efforts , Leiweke’s interest intensified, just as Vegas began its run to the upcoming Stanley Cup Final.

”They’re playing the game with great joy and they’re having fun and it’s just inspirational to watch,” Leiweke said. ”We’re absolutely loving it and living vicariously through them.”

The Golden Knights’ success in their inaugural season has been unprecedented as Vegas prepares for Game 1 on Monday night against the Washington Capitals. It’s also seemed to have heightened the expectations for the next wave of NHL expansion.

Seattle is on deck. If the NHL awards the city a franchise, it could be on the ice as early as the 2020 season. It would require a $650 million expansion fee and a renovated arena. There’s also talk of future growth, with Houston mentioned regularly as a possible destination for the league.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has met with new Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who is certainly more open to acquiring an NHL franchise for Houston than former owner Les Alexander. Seattle is certainly further ahead in the process by showing interest, but Houston has the arena and a potential owner already in place for the near future.

For now all the focus is on what’s happening in Seattle. And if Leiweke is feeling any additional pressure for his potential franchise given Vegas’ success on and off the ice, he’s not showing it.

”Well, to tell you the truth, I guess someone could interpret it that way that there’s all of a sudden this unusual pressure on us but in fact all they’re doing is helping us,” Leiweke said. ”They’re showing us how successful this league could be, the brilliance of the game, they’re showing us what happens when a team comes together and plays inspired hockey. We don’t at all see it as anything other than just a great thing for the National Hockey League. Those that come before us will set the table for us. When I think about what they’ve done my endorphins go off and I have such admiration and we’re truly inspired by it.”

The indications about six weeks ago, when Leiweke was hired, led those involved in the expansion process to believe some type of conditional approval would be granted by the NHL Board of Governors during their June meeting, to be followed by full approval in September. The staggered approach was to make certain construction on the arena would begin in late October as scheduled.

That has changed. Bettman told The Associated Press this week that the Seattle expansion won’t be formally addressed next month.

”What we have said to the people – David Bonderman’s group – is we’re on your timetable. There’s information that needs to be gathered after information is submitted. We have to finish doing our due diligence and our homework. We need to have the timetable understanding as to when the building’s going to get done. We can move as fast or as slowly as you want. There’s no rush,” Bettman told the AP. ”We’re in the middle of the process. They’re doing their homework, and they’re proceeding on two fronts because they’ve got to renovate a building and they’ve got to pursue the team and they’re doing both very nicely. They’re working with the city, they hired Tod Leiweke.

”Is it going to be on the June agenda? No. After that, could it be September? Could it be the annual meeting in December? It’s possible.”

Leiweke was hoping to have a true rooting interest in the finals, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were ousted in the Eastern Conference finals by the Capitals. Leiweke was the CEO of the Lightning from 2010-15 and was part of the group that turned around the organization, both with its on-ice success and in the stands, rejuvenating a fan base that had slumped following Tampa Bay’s title run in 2004.

The experience in Tampa Bay gave Leiweke an understanding of what it’ll take for Seattle to have a successful franchise. And while it may not be on par with what Vegas is accomplishing, Leiweke sees no reason why Seattle won’t have a chance to be a contender from the start.

”I won’t be foolish enough to say we’re going to make it to the Stanley Cup (Final) in our first year but I believe that we can absolutely build a team that is long-term competitive here,” Leiweke said. ”So when we think about this we don’t say look, we’re resetting a goal and our goal is to make the Stanley Cup in year one. But our goal is to replicate a good part of what they’ve done by building an incredibly competitive program where those players are proud to pull on that sweater.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

More Stanley Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/StanleyCupFinals

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule