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.

Off Script: Eddie Olczyk opens up about his battle with colon cancer

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NHL on NBC analyst and 2019 NHL Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador Eddie Olczyk discusses his career and fight with colon cancer in an interview with Kathryn Tappen in a 30-minute special.

Olczyk was named the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador earlier this month and November marks Hockey Fights Cancer Month throughout the league.

Olczyk was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in Aug. 2017 and after a long journey was deemed cancer-free seven months later. Since beating cancer, he has been dedicated to be an advocate for those fighting the disease and their families.

MORE: Book excerpt from Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life

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What’s wrong with the Predators?

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When the Nashville Predators got off to an 8-3-1 start no one was really surprised. Most people expected them to be a good team this year, so why would those positive results be shocking? Well, on the flip side, this six-game losing streak they’re currently riding is pretty shocking. But why are they struggling so badly?

This slump started with an ugly 9-3 loss in Denver on Nov. 7. Since then, the Predators haven’t won a game and they’ve collected just one of a possible 12 points in the standings. As you’d imagine, they’ve been tumbling down the Western Conference standings. Only the Minnesota Wild (20 points) and the Los Angeles Kings (19 points) have fewer points than Nashville’s 21 (the Preds have a game in hand on both those teams though).

You don’t have to look far to see why they’re slumping so badly. They’ve given up at least five goals in four of the six losses. When they’ve held the opponent to two goals or fewer, they’ve only managed to score once. Yeah, that’s an issue.

The really strange thing about the boatload of goals that this team is giving up, is that they actually have lowest XGA in the league at 31.97, according to Natural Stat Trick. So the fact that they’re giving up so many goals while seemingly limiting their opponents’ quality scoring chances has to be concerning.

Pekka Rinne‘s been pulled in each of his last two starts and his individual stats aren’t flattering either. He owns a respectable 8-4-2 record, but his goals-against-average of 3.06 and his save percentage of .889 aren’t great by any means. Is the 37-year-old just showing his age or is this slide only temporary? Will they have to turn to Juuse Saros more often? These are all valid questions that need to be answered soon.

The goalies need to come up with some saves to bail out their team, but that doesn’t excuse the performance from everyone else on the team.

But blaming the goalie for Thursday night’s loss to the Canucks isn’t fair. The Predators surrendered five power play goals to Vancouver during the 6-3 defeat.

“Things aren’t bouncing our way right now, but at the same time, we’re not making it easy on ourselves either,” Matt Duchene said after the game, per NHL.com. “Whenever things are tough sledding like right now, you’ve got to do whatever you can to give yourself a chance. You take that many penalties, I don’t know how many we took, six or seven, I don’t know what it was. They got three or four great bounces on the power play and just put pucks to the net.”

Even though the Preds are 10th in the NHL in goals scored, they’ve seen a lot of their high-end offensive players go cold in the last few games. Here’s the statistical rundown for their top forwards:

— Matt Duchene: Six points in his last seven games, but he’s found the back of the net just once in his last five outings.
Filip Forsberg: No points in his last three games.
Ryan Johansen: One goal in his last 17 games.
Viktor Arvidsson: No goals in seven games and he’s scored just once in his last 12 contests.
Mikael Granlund: One goal in his last 16 games.

Those are some heavy offensive hitters that have gone cold in the goal department. You won’t win regularly if that many top players go quiet.

Overall, it’s quite clear that the Preds need some serious work in a lot of different areas. There’s no denying that the team is talented, but what happens if this drought lasts a little longer? Does head coach Peter Laviollette get the Mike Babcock treatment? For now, it looks like management will give everyone the benefit of the doubt before they make a major trade or a firing.

At least the group still seems to believe they can get this straightened out.

“We’ve got to stick together. It’s a tough time,” forward Rocco Grimaldi said after Tuesday’s loss to Winnipeg. “It’s a rough patch. But honestly everyone goes through it. You look at St. Louis last year and remember where they were, so it’s just something everyone goes through. And if you’re a great team, how do you respond to this? How do you guys grow closer together? How do you guys grow stronger together through this? So this is something we’ve just got to make it band us together and not break us apart.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Keefe: Toronto has enough talent for quick progress

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — New Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe spent a decent chunk of a 30-minute morning skate on Thursday teaching instead of running drills.

There’s a lot for his new team to learn and not much time to do it.

The 39-year-old Keefe is now in charge of the Maple Leafs after veteran coach Mike Babcock was fired Wednesday with the team mired in a six-game losing streak.

Keefe was officially introduced Thursday morning as the 31st head coach in Maple Leafs history. He’s got a long history with general manager Kyle Dubas, who hopes Keefe is the right choice to help Toronto bounce back from a disappointing 9-10-4 start.

Keefe believes it can be done.

”We’ve got a lot of talent and the ability to make life hard on the other team in a lot of ways,” he said. ”Focusing on that, we believe, will produce positive results. Because the players are good enough for that to happen.”

Keefe inherits a roster that includes talented forwards like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

Tavares said there were ”many mixed emotions” because Babcock was so dedicated and committed to the team. He said the team feels a burden because it hasn’t played up to expectations but is ”turning the page” and moving forward.

”Sheldon’s got a great mind for the game,” Tavares said. ”We’re excited about the energy and the things he’s bringing and trying to improve from where we’re at.”

Keefe will make his coaching debut during Toronto’s game against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

Dubas said the franchise must show patience as Keefe, a first-time NHL coach, embarks on the difficult task of taking over a team midseason and trying to quickly turn things around.

He’s confident the players understand there will be ups and down.

He’s also aware that outside perception might be a little less forgiving.

”It’s all part of what makes working and playing in Toronto great,” Dubas said. ”You can’t go anywhere in Toronto without people caring deeply about the team. I read the greatest quote this morning on the way here: ‘You can look at it as a burden or look at it as a trampoline.”’

Toronto is a team that needs quite a bounce.

The 56-year-old Babcock went 173-133-45 in his four-plus seasons with Toronto and made the playoffs the past three years, though the Maple Leafs lost in the first round each time. When the team started slowly this season, Dubas and team President Brendan Shanahan knew it was time for a change.

Shanahan flew to Arizona on Wednesday to break the news to Babcock, whom he hired in 2015.

He acknowledged it was a hard day. Some more hard days may follow as Keefe tries to quickly implement his system, though the franchise is confident it’s headed in the right direction.

Keefe was in his fifth season as head coach of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. He was 199-89-31 with the Marlies and helped the franchise win its first Calder Cup championship in 2018.

Several of the Leafs’ current players were coached by Keefe when he was with the Marlies, which is the franchise’s top minor-league affiliate.

PHT Morning Skate: Challenging Byfuglien’s suspension; Where is Sharks’ offense?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Should the Montreal Canadiens hire Mike Babcock? (Montreal Gazette)

• The Devils have been struggling badly on special teams. (All About the Jersey)

• Lightning forward Yanni Gourde is even better than you think. (Raw Charge)

• How easy will it be to fix the Toronto Maple Leafs? (Pension Plan Puppets)

Brett Connolly has been a very useful asset for the Florida Panthers. (Rat Trick)

• The Coyotes goalie tandem has been terrific this season. (Five For Howling)

• The NHLPA is challenging the Dustin Byfuglien suspension. (Winnipeg Free Press)

• The Bolts can benefit from this difficult start. (NHL.com)

• Where is the San Jose Sharks’ offense? (Rotoworld)

• The Ducks are satisfied with Garnet Hathaway‘s three-game suspension. (OC Register)

• Sheldon Keefe has a quiet confidence about him that should help him guide the Leafs. (TSN)

Zack Kassian has found a spot on the Oilers’ top line. (Sportsnet)

• There’s a lot of questions facing Keefe and his level of success will depend on how many he can answer. (Editor in Leaf)

Patrice Bergeron is starting to get healthier. (NBC Sports Boston)

• The Blue Jackets have added Paul MacLean to their staff (NHL.com/BlueJackets)

Brendan Perlini talks about his fresh start in Detroit and his English upbringing. (Sporting News)

• Isles goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin wants to be in the NHL next season. (The Sports Daily)

• Kris Versteeg left the Rockford Ice Hogs on Sunday and the team isn’t in a rush to name a new captain. (Second City Hockey)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.