Bulletin-board material: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup

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We did this last year and went a whopping 15-1, with only the Chicago Blackhawks ruining our perfect game. Pretty impressive, right? Let’s see if we can do even better this year…

Columbus Blue Jackets: The worst team to make the playoffs. Which, hey, is better than the best team to miss the playoffs, but still doesn’t bode well for their Cup chances. The fact is, the Jackets are the picture of mediocrity. They don’t score a ton of goals, they aren’t great defensively, and their special teams are merely average. We suppose it’s nice they’re in the playoffs for the second time in franchise history. Maybe this time they can actually win a game.

Dallas Stars: Cue all the stats nerds crowing about the Stars’ Corsi. Here’s what people who actually watch the games see: a team that’s way too reliant on Jamie Benn, a 24-year-old with zero playoff experience, and Tyler Seguin, a 22-year-old the Bruins deemed too soft and too unprofessional to trust. Even if the Stars can get past the Ducks (we’ll get to those paper tigers shortly), their second-round opponents will be either the Kings or Sharks. At which point Dallas won’t even have Corsi on its side.

Minnesota Wild: Ilya Bryzgalov is their goalie. Shall we move on? OK, fine – here’s something else about the Wild: they can’t score. Minnesota’s offense ranked 24th in the NHL, right below the Calgary freakin’ Flames. For all the money this team has spent in the last few years, you’d think they could put a few more pucks in the net. Of course, first you have to get shots if you want to score, and only the Buffalo Sabres finished with fewer of those this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning: No más! No más! Apologies for the dated boxing reference, but how much can one team take before it throws in the towel? The Lightning cannot overcome an injured Ben Bishop. To suggest they can beat Montreal without him would be to ignore how well he played during the season. Frankly, it would be an insult. And please, don’t be fooled by Anders Lindback and the three decent games he managed to string together. His overall numbers are beyond atrocious, and he’s got next to no playoff experience.

Philadelphia Flyers: To win a Stanley Cup, a team typically needs a great goalie, a great defenseman, and a great two-way center. The Flyers have not one of those three things, and it shows in their statistics. Defensively, Philly ranks 20th in the NHL, allowing 2.77 goals per game. Last year, Chicago finished first in that category. The year before, Los Angeles finished second. The year before that, Boston was second. Are you sensing a pattern?

New York Rangers: It’s always entertaining, in a head-shaking kind of way, to hear Alain Vigneault portrayed as some sort of coaching genius who was brought in to rescue the Rangers from the medieval methods of John Tortorella. In reality, it’s Torts who’s got a ring and Vigneault who was behind the bench for one of the great choke jobs in Stanley Cup history. Vancouver lost 10 of its last 11 playoff games under AV. He wasn’t fired there for nothing. When the pressure’s on, his teams melt down. Oh, and by the way, the Rangers last season under Torts: 2.62 goals per game. This season under AV: 2.61 goals per game.

Montreal Canadiens: Canada’s only hope has, well, very little hope. The Habs were one of the worst possession teams in the NHL this season, ranking 26th in five-on-five, score-close Corsi. The only four worse than that? Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Buffalo. Not good company to keep. Having said that, Montreal does have Carey Price, and he might be enough to get the Habs past Team No Mas. But sorry, just because he was able to stand around and watch a stacked Team Canada win gold in Sochi doesn’t mean he’s impervious to pressure and can carry the Canadiens on a deep playoff run. Certainly, his career .905 save percentage in the postseason leaves a lot to be desired. As does a team that finished the season with the 21st-ranked offense.

Detroit Red Wings: What a nice story it was: an injury-riddled team pulls together to make the playoffs, extending its postseason streak to 23 while playing the “Red Wing way.” Too bad it’s a bunch of nonsense. The only reason the Wings made the playoffs is because the teams below them were a bunch of pathetic disasters. Consider: no playoff side finished with a worse goal differential than Detroit (minus-8), and no team finished with fewer regulation/overtime wins (34). Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk weren’t hurt the whole season. Everyone realizes that, right?

Colorado Avalanche: Too much has already been written about the Avs and their poor underlying stats. By now, everyone knows how much they rely on Semyon Varlamov, so there’s no need to keep repeating how lucky they’ve been. All it does is encourage their fans to float more and more ridiculous theories about why the Avs are the exception that will prove the numbers wrong, like a pack of deranged gamblers who go on a nice little run at the tables and believe it’s their divine right to get rich playing blackjack. So instead of focusing on that angle, let’s focus on the Avs’ injuries. Because this is not a healthy team.

Los Angeles Kings: Speaking of lucky, say hello to the luckiest Stanley Cup champions in modern NHL history. In case you forgot (and we wouldn’t blame you if you did, given how boring this team is to watch), the Kings won their first championship ever in 2012, beating the basket-case Canucks, the banged-up Blues, and then – simply amazingly – the Coyotes and Devils, two teams that had no business advancing that far, and haven’t been back to the playoffs since. Last spring, the Kings were given the unenviable task of playing a legitimately good team in the playoffs, and lost in five to Chicago.

San Jose Sharks: Everyone’s favorite choke artists are back for another kick at the can. The Sharks got into playoff form early this year, dropping four of their last eight in regulation, thus blowing any chance they had at winning the Pacific Division and getting the cupcake Stars in the first round. Did we mention two of those four losses were at home to the Jets and Predators? Honestly, if the Sharks couldn’t take care of business against the likes of Winnipeg and Nashville, why would anyone think this group of career underachievers has developed the killer instinct it takes to win the Cup? Let’s just move on.

Anaheim Ducks: Not sure if anyone outside of Orange County has noticed, but the top seed in the Western Conference has a serious question mark in goal, which just so happens to be the most important position in all of hockey. Apparently, all signs point to rookie Frederik Andersen, a kid with 24 career NHL starts to his name, getting the nod in Game 1 versus the Stars. This was not how it was supposed to play out. It was supposed to be Jonas Hiller, and you’re crazy if you think Bruce Boudreau isn’t worried about it. And if he’s not worried, he’s the one that’s crazy.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Finished the regular season with just seven wins in their last 17, and didn’t have a single regulation victory in their last five. Injuries were a factor, sure, but one has to wonder about a team that openly admits it wasn’t motivated to win down the stretch. Truly great teams want to win all the time, regardless if the games are “meaningless” or not. The way the Pens have been eliminated their last two tries (read: melting down against the Flyers and going embarrassingly dry against the Bruins), one would think they’d be a touch more fired up. Heck, the only guy who seems to be rounding into playoff form is Marc-Andre Fleury, and that’s never a good thing.

St. Louis Blues: It’s sad, really. Expectations were so high for this team that’s been around since 1967 and, to this day, remains best known for getting posterized by Bobby Orr. The Blues lost their last six games by a combined score of 22 to 5. As punishment, they received a first-round matchup with the defending champs. Should we really be surprised though? This is a franchise with a long history of getting its fans’ hopes up, only to fall short when it counts. In hindsight, maybe the Blues shouldn’t have hitched their wagon to a goalie whose teams, from college to the pros, haven’t won a darn thing.

Boston Bruins: This won’t be easy to hear, B’s fans, so we’ll just come right out and say it – Zdeno Chara is old. Not old for the earth; but definitely for the NHL. In fact, only 12 defensemen league-wide are older than Chara, not one of them more important to his team’s success. Yes, Chara’s an extremely fit 37-year-old, but it’s no secret he got worn down last year. He was a combined minus-6 in the last three games against Chicago, and hasn’t gotten any younger since. Plus, he had to play in the Olympics. Throw in Dennis Seidenberg’s injury and the Bruins’ blue line is looking downright vulnerable. Look, put it this way: you know a team’s thin on the back end when it trades for a guy who was a regular healthy scratch in Philly.

Chicago Blackhawks: The last time they were the defending champs, they lost in the first round. There hasn’t been a back-to-back Cup winner in the age of the salary cap. The only champion that made it back to the final, the 2009 Red Wings, lost to Pittsburgh. Which is to say, history does not give the ‘Hawks a very good chance of repeating. Nor does common sense. It takes a massive commitment, physically and emotionally, to win 16 playoff games. Doing it back-to-back, in a league where parity rules, is just too much to ask. And that’s not even mentioning that the ‘Hawks two superstar forwards, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, have been out with injuries. PS – Is Michal Handzus still the second-line center? But…but…’Hawks fans told us Brandon Pirri was so amazing.

James van Riemsdyk on fatherhood, Flyers/NHL returning, and more

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Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk took a moment out of his day/put his car in park to chat with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live” on Friday. You can watch the full video above this post’s headline.

JVR didn’t do much to peel back the curtain on return-to-play issues, but he provided some useful information nonetheless.

  • Maybe most relevantly, JVR told Tirico that he’ll be close to 100 percent if the Flyers actually get to return to play. Van Riemsdyk injured his finger back in March.

JVR and Tirico didn’t really go into this, but the 31-year-old winger was heating up toward the end of 2019-20. Things didn’t start that smoothly, as Van Riemsdyk only managed five goals and 11 points through his first 17 games. Considering the $7M per year investment the Flyers made, JVR probably heard some grumbles.

But he played some of his best hockey with a still-fairly-new team before the injury and the pandemic struck. JVR scored 29 of his season’s 40 points (and 14 of his 19 goals) through the last 39 games. An updated version of Bill Comeau’s SKATR chart captures how much better JVR has been overall in 2019-20 after a disappointing return season with Philly:

JVR SKATR
via Bill Comeau

As disruptive as the pandemic has been, it had to be nice for JVR to be there for such a life event. An eager Tirico also learned that JVR’s child already has Gritty slippers.

(Please send Gritty slippers. I’m already quite googly-eyed from quarantining, anyway. At least my belly button doesn’t change colors [yet] though.)

  • He didn’t elaborate much, but JVR hinted that players prefer reseeding over a bracketed playoff format.

Really, though, the low-fi nature of the video pushes it to another level. Few things humanize a person quite like doing an interview in a parking lot. (Been there, JVR, been there. Kind of.)

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.

USA Hockey president Jim Smith facing investigations

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — USA Hockey president Jim Smith is the subject of two investigations surrounding his tenure as the president of Amateur Hockey Association Illinois.

USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer confirmed Friday that the organization has hired an independent investigator to look into Smith’s business dealings with AHAI. Fischer also said the US Center for SafeSport is investigating allegations that Smith was aware of sexual misconduct by a coach and didn’t take action against him during Smith’s tenure with AHAI.

The Athletic first reported on the two investigations.

Fischer said the US Center for SafeSport’s investigation is regarding allegations that were made against Thomas Adrahtas, a youth hockey coach. The Athletic reported in February that multiple players said Adrahtas had abused them.

The US Center for SafeSport said in a statement that ”consistent with best practices and federal law, the Center does not discuss matters to protect the integrity of the process and the privacy of the parties and any potential witnesses.”

Smith couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. He told The Athletic through a spokesperson earlier this month that ”in my time as president of AHAI, there were no reports alleging misconduct by Tom Adrahtas.”

Founded in 1937, USA Hockey is an organization focused on the support and development of grass-roots hockey programs. Smith was unanimously elected as president by the organization’s board of directors in 2015. He was unanimously re-elected in 2018.

Ducks’ offensive woes extend to rare 2-year playoff drought

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The last time the Anaheim Ducks missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, they went all the way to their franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final just one year later.

Not many observers expect the current Ducks to duplicate the feats of those beloved 2002-03 Mighty Ducks after they complete another long offseason made even longer by the coronavirus pandemic.

These Ducks are still in full rebuilding mode after winning just 29 of their 71 games this season, including a Western Conference-worst 24 non-shootout victories. The Ducks were in sixth place in the Pacific Division standings primarily on the sturdy strength of goalies John Gibson and Ryan Miller, who bailed out their teammates all winter long.

Just three years after the Ducks reached the conference finals for the second time in three seasons, a long road back to Cup contention appears to loom in Orange County. Anaheim got largely disappointing performances from its collection of forwards – a star-free group outside captain Ryan Getzlaf – and the blue line was inconsistent while coach Dallas Eakins worked young talent into the lineup amid injuries and trade departures.

But during a second straight season without a playoff appearance – matching their total playoff-less seasons over the previous 13 years combined – Eakins and general manager Bob Murray saw signs of the team they want the Ducks to become. They’ll have an extra-long offseason to contemplate the next steps to get there.

”While we would have preferred to conclude our season normally and play 82 games, it became obvious over time that was not practical,” Murray said this week. ”We remain excited about our future and can’t wait for the 2020-21 season.”

SELDOM SCORING

Perhaps appropriately for a team with a long-standing reputation as an intimidating, defense-first organization, the Ducks’ biggest problems during their two-year playoff drought have been all about offense. Eakins was hired last summer to implement a speed-based system designed to produce more scoring opportunities, but it’s just not happening yet.

One season after Anaheim finished last in the NHL in goals, its minus-39 goal differential this season was the conference’s worst. Anaheim scored two or fewer regulation goals in a whopping 39 of its 71 games. Only Adam Henrique (26 goals) and Jakob Silfverberg (21) found the net with any frequency.

The Ducks’ problems ranged from Rickard Rakell‘s two-year regression to the disappointing numbers from youngsters who weren’t ready to produce at the highest level. Murray also curiously gave up on Ondrej Kase and Daniel Sprong in February, trading two young forwards with clear NHL-caliber scoring ability when they didn’t produce enough for his liking.

IN THE CREASE

Gibson and Miller didn’t post impressive statistics, but anybody who watched these Ducks knew their most valuable players were between the pipes. Gibson’s game has grown and matured even while his team has regressed, and the 39-year-old Miller still shows no drop-off in his abilities. If Miller decides to return for another NHL season, he’ll have the chance to pass Dominik Hasek on the NHL’s career victories list – and the Ducks won’t have to worry about this vital position for another year.

DROP THE BALLS

The Ducks have an 8.5% chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL’s complicated draft lottery. Anaheim hasn’t had a top-five draft pick since 2005, when it snagged Bobby Ryan with the second overall choice. Murray and his scouting department have a long history of finding impressive talent outside the first round, but they’ll likely have the opportunity to choose a game-changing star this summer for the first time. The Ducks also have Boston’s first-round pick from their trade of Kase.

DARK BLUE LINE

Anaheim’s collection of defensemen appears to be thoroughly average, and none seems likely to get much better. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are solid pros, but they’re likely past the points in their development where they could become stars. The Ducks could use an injection of game-changing talent on the blue line.

GETTING BUCKETS

Linemates Henrique and Silfverberg bucked their team’s offensive struggles with a pair of impressive seasons, and they’ll be a foundation of the rebuilding effort. Henrique was particularly productive, leading the roster with 43 points. They’re both locked into long-term contracts.

GETZ BACK

The 35-year-old Getzlaf will head into the final season of his contract later this year when he begins his 16th season with Anaheim. The playmaker still racked up 29 assists this season despite finishing the year on a line with Danton Heinen and Sonny Milano, two 24-year-old recent additions with a combined 59 career NHL goals. It’s a long way down from his heyday with Corey Perry, but Getzlaf appears eager to keep working on the Ducks’ rebuilding project.

Supporters quickly raise $500K to try to save Alabama-Huntsville hockey program

UAH Hockey University of Alabama-Huntsville logo $500K
via UAH Chargers
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Mere days after it looked like the University of Alabama-Huntsville men’s hockey program was going to get cut, supporters raised a whopping $500K in hopes of keeping the UAH program alive.

With another $500K expected to come from boosters, the University of Alabama-Huntsville men’s ice hockey program reached the seemingly unrealistic goal of $1M to try to avoid the end of a program that stretches back four decades.

UAH supporters drove that $500K by combining a Go Fund Me account with T-shirt sales.

Now, this doesn’t outright guarantee the continuation of UAH’s men’s program.

“[School president Darren Dawson] did make us a verbal commitment that if you get to that number, we’ll make it happen,” former UAH player Sheldon Wolitski told AL.com. “We’re hoping he’s going to honor his word. We were asking for a formal statement from him to say that. It would be a shame to put all this effort and we raise it and he doesn’t follow through.”

Even if school officials stick to that verbal commitment, there are some hurdles to clear.

Not the first time the UAH men’s ice hockey program has been saved

Paul Gattis (also of AL.com) argues that the UAH men’s ice hockey program needs more than just money to survive. This is not, after all, the first time that this program needed saving. It was teetering on being canceled back in 2011 before victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Even so, it’s pretty remarkable, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Does it justify comparing UAH officials to “Dr. Evil?” I’d zip it on that one.)

Those fighting for the UAH men’s ice hockey program aim to preserve something quite unusual, as Joseph Goodman noted as fundraising intensified:

UAH hockey is the only NCAA Division I hockey program in the South. How cool is that? It’s one of one — a singular, special thing just like the city it skates for and represents.

Will we see this program survive after giving Cam Talbot and others the chance to chase their dreams? It seems a lot more likely after an eventful week.

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.