PHT’s Season Preview: 30 questions, 180 answers

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We made a list of 30 questions ahead of the 2014-15 NHL season, then we tried to answer those questions. Enjoy:

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

Jason Brough: Washington. I considered a few teams here, but I think Barry Trotz will be good for the Caps, and I liked the Matt Niskanen signing.

James O’Brien: The Isles. The Capitals and Devils are awfully tempting choices, but I love what Garth Snow did this offseason.

Ryan Dadoun: The New York Islanders. I think their top two forward lines look pretty good and Jaroslav Halak should be solid between the pipes.

Cam Tucker:  Vancouver. Outside of trading Ryan Kesler, the core didn’t change, but they’ve added younger players and a new coach known for getting the most out of his players.

Dhiren Mahiban: Can’t argue with the Islanders choice. The additions of Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Halak certainly make them better on the back end. Throw in a healthy John Tavares and this is a playoff team.

Mike Halford: Isles. Three of the Metro’s playoff teams from last year — Rangers, Flyers and Blue Jackets — have their issues and could take a step back.

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

JB: Philadelphia. The blue line was already a concern before Kimmo Timonen was diagnosed with blood clots. Can’t say I’m the biggest believer in Steve Mason either.

JO: Philadelphia. Even if that offensive attack is so potent that it’s very scary to pick against them.

RD: Columbus. I really want to believe in the Blue Jackets, but with Nathan Horton out and Ryan Johansen missing training camp, I’m really wondering about the offense.

CT: Detroit. Aging core group of forwards that’s struggled to stay healthy. And that playoff streak, at 23 years now, has to end eventually, right?

DM: Detroit. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are coming off injuries and are a year older. Youngsters Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco won’t be catching anyone by surprise this season.

MH: Columbus. Will get off to a slow start (Horton/Jenner/Murray out, Johansen trying to get up to speed) and never recover.

3. The Red Wings have made the playoffs 23 straight seasons. Will they make it 24?

JB: No. I absolutely hate betting against a Mike Babcock-coached team, but it feels like the end of an era in Detroit.

JO: Yes. It won’t be pretty, but Babcock will scowl his way into another postseason and then gain the Bill Belichick-like power he craves … just maybe not in Detroit.

RD: Yes. They’re lucky they moved from the Western Conference to the East when they did.

CT: No. Again, health a big concern. Not entirely sold on their goaltending, either.

DM: No. Health and young players providing a repeat performance are big concerns.

MH: Yes. I don’t get why everybody’s so down on the Wings. They had 93 points last year with basically half their roster. Zetterberg’s healthy, Howard’s healthy and Nyquist is primed for his first full NHL season.

4. The Edmonton Oilers have missed the playoffs eight straight seasons. Will they make it nine?

JB: Yes. Too many good teams in the West, combined with too little experience down the middle. I think they’ll be harder to play against though.

JO: Yes. This is the first time I’ve nearly been lured in by the siren call of their potential, but a stacked West provides the beeswax to resist for one more year.

RD: Yes. I think the Oilers are moving in the right direction, but I look at their competition and I just don’t see how Edmonton can squeeze into the playoffs.

CT: Yes. They play in the Pacific Division.

DM: Yes. The Pacific Division is just too strong and the Oilers are predominantly young and inexperienced.

MH: I want to say no just to be different, but yes.

5. The worst team in the NHL will be…

JB: Calgary. But holy heck could the Flames be dangerous in a few years if they get Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

JO: Buffalo. The Sabres’ third jersey should be a tank … with swords.

RD: Buffalo. The Sabres were remarkably bad last season and I don’t think they’ve closed the gap between them and the rest of the league.

CT: Florida. Even with Roberto Luongo and Shawn Thornton.

DM: Carolina. Jordan Staal is out 3-4 months. Now Jeff Skinner’s health is in question.

MH: Carolina. Even the owner wants out of this mess.

6. The biggest wildcard team (i.e. could be good, could be awful) is…

JB: Islanders. On paper, they’re a lot better than last season. That said, I always get nervous about “good on paper” teams, and I have trouble putting 100 percent faith in an organization that hasn’t won a playoff series since 1993.

JO: Edmonton. They actually employ two goalies who could conceivably be above average. But…Oilers.

RD: Washington. If Braden Holtby plays well, if Barry Trotz can get the most out of the players, then they could be something special. This team has plenty of risks though.

CT: Toronto. The Leafs give up a lot of shots, and it caught up with them last season. But this team has good players. They just need to be used the right way.

DM: Toronto. So many “ifs” on this team. The roster has potential though.

MH: San Jose. I literally have no idea what to expect from a team that may have had a nervous breakdown this summer. The Sharks could win the division. They could also be a steaming pile of diapers. Neither would surprise me.

source: Getty Images7. Are the San Jose Sharks more likely to be a complete disaster or Stanley Cup champs?

JB: Stanley Cup champs. I just remember what people were saying about the Bruins after they blew that 3-0 lead to the Flyers in 2010. We all know what they did the next year. (That being said, I’m not ruling out complete disaster.)

JO: Stanley Cup champs. Even after a dopey offseason, the Sharks didn’t blow everything up. I will change my tune if they foolishly trade Joe Thornton and/or Patrick Marleau, however.

RD: Stanley Cup champs. It’s hard to look at their roster and see them as anything other than a playoff team.

CT: Stanley Cup champs. I would define complete disaster as missing the playoffs. Don’t see that happening.

DM: Stanley Cup champs?! C’mon, this team has never been past the conference final. It’ll stay that way.

MH: Complete disaster. No, wait, Stanley Cup champs. No, wait, complete disaster. No, wait…

8. True or false: the Colorado Avalanche will prove the analytics guys right and regress.

JB: True. Tough to say how far they’ll regress, but I sure don’t see them winning the Central again. Wouldn’t be shocked if they missed the playoffs.

JO: True. I don’t think Semyon Varlamov can replicate that “Dominik Hasek carrying Buffalo” impression from 2013-14.

RD: True. I can’t see them matching last season’s 52-22-8 record, but they should still make the playoffs.

CT: True, but they’ll still qualify for the playoffs.

DM: True, they set the bar awfully high last season, but they’ll still make the playoffs.

MH: True. And I, for one, welcome our new fancy stats overlords and would like to remind them that as a trusted internet blogger, I can be helpful in browbeating others into their nerdy ways.

9. One team that isn’t getting enough respect is…

JB: Pittsburgh. Yes, the Pens have had some serious postseason letdowns in recent seasons, but it’s not like they’ve gone out in the first round every year. I also really liked the Christian Ehrhoff signing.

JO: Vancouver. Their core is getting a little creaky, but everyone (save the occasional Chris Higgins) looked worse in John Tortorella’s ill-fitting system.

RD: The New York Rangers. They made it to the Stanley Cup Final, but seven teams have better odds than them to be the 2015 champions.

CT: Anaheim. They play in California. They’re in the shadow of the L.A. Kings, Stanley Cup champs.

DM: Pittsburgh. Sure they cleaned out their front office and fired their head coach, but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin give this team a chance to win every season. 

MH: Nashville. They played basically all of last year without Pekka Rinne, yet still finished with 88 points. And the Laviolette/Ribeiro/Roy additions should improve the offense.

10. One team that’s getting too much respect is…

JB: Dallas. The exciting Stars are one of my favorite teams to watch, but that blue line is nowhere near championship caliber.

JO: Dallas. Brutal conference, walking a tightrope with shaky defense and Kari Lehtonen’s fragility, yet that tantalizing array of talent makes them a fun watch.

RD: Anaheim. The Ducks have a strong offense and getting Ryan Kesler helps. However, they’re betting it all on a pair of talented, but still very inexperienced goaltenders.

CT: Colorado. Took some very good steps last year. But it was just one season. Do it again.

DM: Anaheim. Ryan Kesler was certainly a great offseason acquisition, but last time I checked, he doesn’t play goal. Two inexperienced goaltenders will hurt their chances. 

MH: Wait, when did Colorado get too much respect? And the correct answer is Dallas.

11. The number of teams with a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup is…

JB: Nine. (Los Angeles, Chicago, Anaheim, St. Louis, San Jose, Boston, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Montreal.)

JO: Same Nine. (Los Angeles, Chicago, Anaheim, St. Louis, San Jose, Boston, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Montreal.)

RD: Ten. (Boston, Tampa Bay, Montreal, Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers, St. Louis, Chicago, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim.)

CT: Seven (Boston, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, Anaheim, San Jose, Chicago, L.A.)

DM: Six (Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Anaheim, L.A., St. Louis)

MH: Six (Boston, Pittsburgh, L.A., Chicago, St. Louis, Tampa Bay)

source: Getty Images12. The last team to make your cut was…

JB: Montreal. With PK Subban, Carey Price, and the relatively easy Eastern Conference earning the Habs the nod.

JO: Anaheim. On one hand, the Ducks lack the depth and stability of the West’s best teams. On the other, they have more than $9 million in cap space if management wants to invest in some reinforcements.

RD: Anaheim, for the reasons mentioned above.

CT: Pittsburgh. Never really considered leaving them off.

DM: St. Louis. They haven’t made it past the second round since 2002, but the pieces are coming together nicely.  

MH: Tampa Bay. Love the upgrades.

13. The best team to miss your cut was…

JB: Minnesota. With the goaltending uncertainty and all the other tough Western Conference teams going against the Wild.

JO: The Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist heals many wounds, but they suffered some tough losses this offseason.

RD: Dallas. I have concerns about their blueline and that’s what kept them off my list, but they’re strong in every other respect.

CT: Montreal. They’re a final four team, but getting to the next level, I’m not sure.

DM: The Rangers. They got to the final last year, but lost some key players this summer.

MH: Anaheim. Loaded up front, not so much on defense.

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

JB: Obvious answer is Montreal. The sad thing for Canadian hockey fans? Vancouver ranks No. 2 on my list. And while I think they’ll fight for a playoff spot, it’s hard to call the Canucks Cup contenders anymore.

JO: Montreal faces the easier path to the championship round, boasts an elite goalie (Carey Price) and an elite blueliner (P.K. Subban) plus very good prime-age players and a potential breakout candidate in Alex Galchenyuk. They’re a tempting finalist pick even beyond the Canadian confines, honestly.

RD: Montreal by default. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Canadiens are a good team, but it’s not like they have much competition among their Canadian counterparts.

CT: Montreal. Wouldn’t surprise me if the Habs are the only Canadian team to make the playoffs — again.

DM: Montreal. With Carey Price healthy last season, they could’ve been in the final last year.

MH: Montreal. There’s no other real answer here.

source: Getty Images
John Gibson

15. The goaltending storyline you’re most interested to follow is…

JB: The one in Anaheim, where the Ducks are going with “the kids,” John Gibson and Frederik Andersen.

JO: Anaheim’s my first vote, although I’m quite excited to see what happens regarding contract years for Marc-Andre Fleury and Antti Niemi, too.

RD: Anaheim’s, but for the sake of being different, I’ll say St. Louis. I’m a big fan of the Blues and part of that is because I believe Brian Elliott is capable of leading that team.

CT: Vancouver. Ryan Miller was the big free agent signing and is working with a new goalie coach in Rollie Melanson. Plus, back-up Eddie Lack has looked good in the preseason. Plus, what is Vancouver without a goaltending controversy? Come on…

DM: Toronto. The Leafs brought back James Reimer despite an obvious rift with head coach Randy Carlyle. What happens if Jonathan Bernier suffers a significant injury this season? We all remember how it went down the stretch last year.

MH: Carolina. Is Cam Ward going to be the league’s highest-paid backup? And if he is, how bad will that look on what could be the NHL’s worst team?

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

JB: Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton. Currently pegged as the Oilers’ second-line center. A big job for an 18-year-old rookie, but a big opportunity, too.

JO: Seth Jones, unless that’s cheating because he already did burst onto the scene? Peter Laviolette’s system could be a fantastic fit for his skills.

RD: Jonathan Drouin. He might start the season on the sidelines, but he could end up leading all rookies in points if he gets a top-six role in Tampa Bay.

CT: Johnny Gaudreau. Might not be the biggest guy, but his skill is unreal.

DM: Johnny Gaudreau. From what I’ve seen in the rookie tournament and preseason action this kid has high-end skill.

MH: Curtis Lazar. Played his way onto Ottawa’s roster despite turning 19 just nine months ago. Bryan Murray loves the kid and already suggested he’ll be up for the whole year, not just a nine-game cameo.

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

JB: I had been all set to answer Bobby Ryan here, but now that he’s signed, I’ll have to go with…ummm…not many quality pending UFAs, are there…ummm…fine, screw it…Evander Kane.

JO: Antti Niemi strikes me as “the odd Shark out.”

RD: I think Evander Kane’s time in Winnipeg is finally drawing to a close.

CT: Evander Kane. Seriously, is he happy in Winnipeg?

DM: Boston still has defensemen Adam McQuaid and Matt Bartkowski, who become unrestricted after this season. With Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug also restricted after 2014-15, doubt both McQuaid and Bartkowski finish the season in Boston.

MH: Assuming the trade of Matt “Big-Name” Bartkowski doesn’t knock the earth off its rotational axis, I could see Jaromir Jagr going if the Devils are out of playoff contention.

18. The player with the most to prove is…

JB: It’s a tie, between Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Not only do they still have to prove it to everyone outside the Sharks organization, now they have to prove it to their coach and GM as well.

JO: P.K. Subban is already a magnet for often-absurd criticism, but slap a $9 million price tag on him and he best cure all of Montreal’s ills.

RD: Braden Holtby. The Capitals have put a lot of trust in him by signing Justin Peters rather than going with someone with a more realistic shot of competing for the starting gig.

CT: Steven Stamkos. Was on a torrid scoring pace when he suffered a devastating injury. Played in only 37 games last season. He’s the best scorer in the game and I think he wants to prove that over a full 82-game season. (And maybe win a Cup?)

DM: Ryan Johansen. After one good season he spent all summer in a bitter, well-documented contract dispute with the Jackets. I’d say he’s got something to prove.

MH: Mike Richards. The Kings showed faith by not buying him out and Richards returned the favor by actually working out this summer. Seems like both sides are expecting a bounce-back campaign.

source: Reuters19. True or false: this will be Marc-Andre Fleury’s last season in Pittsburgh.

JB: False. Mostly because, who else is going to be the starter? It’s not like the Pens have some stud youngster knocking on the door, and the options are going to be limited in free agency.

JO: True. Thomas Greiss showed some promise in backup gigs (and would probably receive a much cheaper extension), while this new front office is in no way married to “MAF.” Why pay a premium on average goaltending?

RD: False. I think if the Penguins were completely comfortable with Fleury, they would have made more of an effort to re-sign him before the start of the season, but the Penguins’ alternatives aren’t great.

CT: True. Flip of the coin, really. Pending UFA at the end of the season. Perhaps a change of scenery next summer might do him some good?

DM: True. Pending UFA and has some disastrous showings in the playoffs in years past. Not even his pal Sidney Crosby can save him now.

MH: False. Go look at the UFA goalies for 2015. Now tell me the Pens are ready to dump Fleury and test the market.

20. True or false: Barry Trotz will be good for Alex Ovechkin.

JB: True. I really don’t think Trotz wants to turn the Caps into a grinding, defensive team. I think he’s excited to coach a group with so much offensive potential, given that’s what he lacked during most of his tenure in Nashville. Washington just needs a bit more structure, and Trotz is the kind of coach who can teach them that. Which will help, not hinder, Ovechkin.

JO: True, mainly by being smart enough to move him back to LW and by merely not being Adam Oates or Dale Hunter. “Can they coexist?” is a fun story, no doubt, but the true key is getting more out of Ovechkin’s supporting cast.

RD: True. Trotz has been fighting against the idea that he’s a defensive coach and with that in mind, I think the changes he’ll seek from Ovechkin will largely be tweaks rather than part of an effort to reinvent him.

CT: True. Trotz has always been able to get more from less in Nashville. His biggest star was a defenseman in Shea Weber. Interesting to see what he can get out of with so much scoring ability.

DM: True. Trotz will get more out of Ovechkin than Adam Oates and Dale Hunter did.

MH: True. Moving Ovi back to left wing was a good start, too.

21. The most successful new head coach will be…

JB: Willie Desjardins in Vancouver. A much better fit than the last guy. 

JO: Desjardins, mainly by not being Torts.

RD: I’ll take the easy way out and say Willie Desjardins. The bar has been set very low.

CT: Mike Johnston. He has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Helpful.

DM: I’ll go Johnston. Crosby and Malkin. Enough said.

MH: Gerard Gallant in Florida. Mostly because the bar was set so low. Also, he hasn’t been mentioned yet.

22. The least successful new head coach will be…

JB: Bill Peters in Carolina. Not because of him, necessarily. That’s just not a very good team.

JO: Peters. Blame the people shopping for the groceries instead of the “cook” in this case, though.

RD: Peter Laviolette. He’s expected to make the Predators a better team offensively, but has he been given the tools to do that?

CT: Bill Peters. Carolina, man.

DM: Agreed Bill Peters has almost no chance with the way the injury bug has bitten already.

MH: Rhymes will Pill Beaters.

source: AP23. The first head coach to be fired will be…

JB: Randy Carlyle in Toronto. Frankly, I was surprised he kept his job at all.

JO: Logically it would be Carlyle, but I get a weird feeling he’s going to linger around. So, instead, I think Paul MacLean will be the fall guy in Ottawa.

RD: Dave Tippett. I realize I’m going against the board and certainly the popular opinion here, but Arizona seems to be setting itself up for a disappointing campaign and I think Tippett will ultimately be the one that pays for that.

CT: Randy Carlyle. The Leafs ended last season on a disastrous note. Honestly, how long does he last with a poor start to this season?

DM: Carlyle. With the promotion of Steve Spott, it appears Brendan Shanahan may have Carlyle’s replacement already on the bench.

MH: Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis. First sign of trouble and he’s gone. Remember, Doug Armstrong fired Davis Payne just 13 games into the ’11-12 campaign.

24. The NHL general manager on the hottest seat is…

JB: Has to be Doug Wilson in San Jose. Such a bizarre offseason. Nobody’s opened himself up to more criticism. 

JO: Dave Nonis is basically Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross at this point, watching in anger as some punk kid tries to tell him how to analyze hockey/sell real estate.

RD: David Poile. He removed Trotz. When that doesn’t get Nashville back into the playoffs, I think he’ll be next.

CT: Dave Nonis. He’s a remaining part from the Brian Burke era. Leafs might be best served to just get a fresh face in that post.

DM: Dave Nonis. Like Carlyle’s replacement, Shanahan is high on Kyle Dubas — could be Nonis’ replacement.

MH: I feel like James should go back and re-watch that movie. Anyway, my answer is Doug Wilson.

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

JB: Ehrhoff. That guy’s gonna rack up some points with the Pens.

JO: Eschewing sheer value picks (like Steve Downie on the cheap) in favor of overall impact, the Islanders needed reliable goaltending badly and Jaroslav Halak fits that bill.

RD: If we were going on impact compared to his cap hit, I really like the value Chicago is getting in Brad Richards. In terms of overall impact though, I think Ryan Miller will play a big role in turning Vancouver around.

CT: Radim Vrbata. Right-handed shot that loves to shoot, could help Sedin twins get back to their old offensive ways.

DM: Scott Hartnell. Adds experience to a young team.

MH: Ryan Kesler in Anaheim. Him and Getzlaf represent the West’s best one-two punch at center.

26. True or false: This will be Mike Babcock’s final season as head coach of the Red Wings.

JB: True. I don’t think he looks at that team and sees a Stanley Cup in the near future.

JO: True, mainly because he desires (and probably deserves) the kind of sweeping authority that’s unlikely to come in Detroit.

RD: True. There will be no shortage of interested parties and I can’t help but think that if he was committed to re-signing with Detroit, it would have happened by now.

CT: True. What more is left for him to do in Detroit?

DM: True. He’s ready for his next challenge.

MH: True. I think Detroit already has its next head coach under contract — AHL Grand Rapids bench boss Jeff Blashill.

source: Getty Images27. The team that should be most worried about its goaltending is…

JB: Winnipeg. It’s such a glaring weakness, and has been for a while.

JO: Winnipeg. Ondrej Pavelec is the Tyler Myers of goalies; his struggles have been lampooned for long enough that I almost feel kinda bad kicking that dead horse.

RD: Minnesota. Josh Harding is out and they can’t rely on Niklas Backstrom to stay healthy. The Wild have to hope that Darcy Kuemper doesn’t regress, because he might end up as their starter for significant stretches of the season.

CT: Tampa Bay. The Lightning are one Ben Bishop injury away from having to rely on 39-year-old Evgeni Nabokov. He is, however, a step up from the previous back-up, Anders Lindback.

DM: Winnipeg. With just three NHL games to his name, I’m not sure how much better Michael Hutchinson is behind Pavelec.

MH: Winnipeg. Did someone really say Tampa Bay?

28. Your worst prediction from last season was…

JB: The Oilers making the playoffs. Not my finest moment. Though I did nail the Canucks being a disaster. So, you know…whatever…gimme a break, predictions are hard.

JO: Let’s just say I was a bit too eager about the rebirth of the Seattle Sonics (in the form of an NHL team).

RD: Calling Vincent Lecavalier the best offseason signing and Valtteri Filppula the worst? Yeah, that didn’t play out like I thought it would.

CT: Oilers making the playoffs. I followed that up by saying that of the teams that made the playoffs in 2013, the Habs were the most likely to miss the post-season in 2014. Brutal.

DM: I’m new here, but trust me, my predictions are never wrong.

MH: I said nobody would challenge Luongo in Vancouver and ’13-14 would be like his first season as a Canuck, “when he played a career-high 76 games and earned a Vezina nomination.” Whoops.

29. The prediction you’re least confident about this season is…

JB: Um, all of them? But if I had to pick one, my instincts are telling me not to be so bullish about the Capitals.

JO: It’s a 28-way tie! Really though, forecasting firings makes me really uncomfortable, especially since Paul MacLean is a pretty good coach with an absolutely breathtaking ‘stache.

RD: I have a feeling I’ll be proved wrong when it comes to Tippett being fired.

CT: Trotz being good for Ovechkin. Just not confident.

DM: Dubas replacing Nonis as GM. Does he even have a driver’s license yet?

MH: Hitch getting fired first. Two years ago I said Joel Quenneville would be first out the door, and Chicago won the Cup. I’ve really got my finger on the coaching pulse.

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

JB: Andrew Barroway takes control of the Coyotes, promises to keep the team in Glendale, then starts making a lot of business trips to Seattle for some reason.

JO: Antti Niemi gets traded, then leads his new team to a playoff series victory against San Jose … because that’s just the kind of thing that always seems to happen to the Sharks.

RD: Joe Thornton will win the Art Ross Trophy. After being stripped of the captaincy, listening all summer about how the Sharks need to focus on their future, and perhaps being asked to waive his no-trade clause, he’ll have his best season since Boston sent him to San Jose.

CT: The Stanley Cup finalists come from California and Florida. I can see the headlines: ‘Sun shines on Stanley Cup Final’ and ‘Stanley Cup Final heats up.’ I’m bad with headlines.

DM: The Calgary Flames end their five-year drought and qualify for the playoffs. Hey… they’re further along in the rebuild than Edmonton.

MH: The Canucks and Ducks meet in the first round of the playoffs. In overtime of Game 7, Kesler gets called for diving, the Canucks score on the power play, and Luongo tweets something funny.

Enjoy the season, everyone!

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1

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The first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was filled with upsets, crazy comebacks, and incredible individual performances. Now that it is in the books and eight teams still have their Stanley Cup dreams alive, our focus in the PHT Power Rankings this week shifts to taking a look at the early favorites for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have combined to win the award in each of the past three seasons, but with both of their teams eliminated in Round 1 there will be a changing of the guard this year and some new names at the top of the list.

Let’s take a look at who some of them are.

To the rankings!

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. One of the league’s best players and perhaps the most valuable asset in the NHL right now. MacKinnon was a force in the Avalanche’s Round 1 upset win over the Calgary Flames, finishing with eight points in five games, playing more than 23 minutes per night (more than any other player on the team other than defender Tyson Barrie) and looking as unstoppable as any other player in the league. From start to finish he was the most impressive player in Round 1 on any team.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. Hertl scored six goals in the Sharks’ seven-game series win over the Vegas Golden Knights, including at least one in each of the final three games as they erased a 3-1 series deficit. They were huge goals, too. After scoring two goals in the Sharks’ 5-2 Game 5 win, his shorthanded double overtime goal in Game 6 sent the series to a seventh game where he would record two points as part of that insane third period rally. He might be the single biggest reason the Sharks are still standing.

3. Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars. HIs Round 1 performance is just one more reason for hockey fans in Nashville to hate him as he helped knock out the Central Division champs in six games. Dallas’ big-four of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Radulov were all great in the series, but Radulov was a special kind of dominant. He scored four goals in the series and looked like he was a threat to break the game wide open every single time he was on the ice. He not only helped carry the offense, the Stars only surrendered one goal in his 94 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time (they scored eight).

4. Robin Lehner, New York Islanders. He was a big reason the New York Islanders exceeded all expectations during the regular season, and he was a big reason they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in four straight games. He allowed just six goals against one of the league’s most dynamic offensive teams and finished the series with a .956 save percentage, tops in the playoffs so far.

5. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes’ defense is by far the strength of their team, and they did a tremendous job in Round 1 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Their best overall performer was Slavin, as he not only finished with nine points (highest on the team) but was also a crucial part of the Hurricanes’ ability to shut down the Capitals offense at even-strength. The Hurricanes were the better team for most of the series during 5-on-5 play, and there was probably no one player that did more to drive that defensively than Slavin. Every member of the Hurricanes’ defense is good, and he is starting to emerge as one of their best.

6. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Marchand has been one of the NHL’s most impactful players for about four years now and he continued that in Round 1 for the Bruins. He had three multi-point games in their latest postseason win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including a pair of three-point games.

7. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets. This is exactly what you hope to get from a big trade deadline acquisition. Duchene was a monster for the Blue Jackets in their stunning four-game sweep over the Tampa Bay Lightning, finishing with seven points while averaging just 15 minutes of ice-time per game. He was at his best in Game 2 of the series when he finished with four points, helping to turn the Lightning into “a five-alarm fire.”

8. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. After what was probably the worst regular season performance of his career, Schwartz came through at just the right time for the Blues to help ruin the Winnipeg Jets’ season. He scored four consecutive goals for the Blues by not only capping off their stunning Game 5 rally with a game-winning goal with 15 seconds to play, but then recording a hat trick in their 3-2 series-clinching win in Game 6.

9. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. In his first Stanley Cup Playoff appearance during the 2016-17 season Eberle failed to score a goal in any of his 13 games. He pulled a complete 180 in Round 1, scoring in all four of the Islanders’ wins over the Penguins. Each one of them proved to be a game-changer.

10. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars. He is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the third time in his career and showed why in the Stars’ Round 1 win with a sensational performance against the Predators. With his .945 save percentage in the six games, he is now up to a .930 save percentage 42 career postseason games.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Tortorella drives Blue Jackets into showdown with Bruins

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — John Tortorella was being battered on social media a month or so ago by doubters who thought his act had gotten stale in Columbus.

The 60-year-old Tortorella, the argument went, was having trouble getting his message across to a team that had loaded up with new talent at the trade deadline but was still stuck in the mud.

Then the Blue Jackets caught fire down the stretch. They won seven of their last eight games to reach the playoffs, swept the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and are shipping up to Boston – the city that produced the fiery coach – to start the next series on Thursday night.

Suddenly Tortorella is a genius and master motivator again to the chat room crowd, and strangers are waiting outside the gate at his house to tell him how much he means to the city.

Torts doesn’t care what the keyboard warriors think one way or another or what the people in the stands think. He would rather spend time around homeless animals – he and wife Christine are passionate about dog rescue – than interact with most people. He doesn’t give a spit about social media and has no idea what an emoji is.

”If I ever have to worry about what people think of me, one way or another, that’s a crappy way to live for a coach,” he said. ”So I don’t pay much attention.”

Torts is the same as he ever was.

He may have mellowed in subtle ways over 17 years as an NHL head coach, toned down some of the yelling or loosened up on the rigid discipline, but not that much. He’s still volatile, blunt and demands maximum, body-sacrificing effort. In an interview earlier this season he lamented that players are just too friendly to one another in today’s game.

Not enough hate.

Tortorella’s methods of motivating players take many forms, and anyone who has followed his career or watched him in YouTube videos knows that he’s an old-school shouter .

The latest of his greatest hits came before Game 1 when a camera was recording in the dressing room before his team went out against the top-seeded Lightning.

Tortorella came forth with an impassioned, f-bomb-packed rager that peeled the paint off the walls. A 26-second segment tweeted out by the local Blue Jackets TV affiliate (minus the profanities) quickly became social-media gold. The gist was that Columbus could beat the better team with the proper effort.

”I’ve seen him like that before,” 20-year-old center Pierre Luc-Dubois said, ”but it was a little extra.”

The Blue Jackets were down 3-0 in the first period before rallying to an improbable 4-3 win to set up a stunning four-game sweep of the Lightning .

”I wish the camera was never in there, first of all,” Tortorella said. ”I said what I thought, and I still believe that. It’s such a mindset that you have to have collectively, not worry about how you match up on paper. If we’re going to keep proceeding here and be competitive and maybe win, the mindset and belief have to be that strong.”

Columbus captain Nick Foligno said there is always a method to Tortorella’s mind games.

”I think Torts really enjoys the behavioral side of coaching, trying to get the most out of his athletes mentally,” Foligno said. ”I think he knows physically you’re already going to prepare and do the things necessary, but I think for the most part it’s, ‘How can I push the buttons to get more out of you than you ever thought possible?’ And I think that’s what he’s done with this group.”

On Wednesday, Tortorella wasn’t in the mood to talk about Boston, which beat Columbus two out of three games in the last month of the season.

”Yeah, guys, I’m not going to spend my time talking about the Bruins and all that stuff there,” he said. ”We have a tremendous amount of respect for them, I can tell you that. We’re just going to concentrate on our team.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

Bruins vs. Blue Jackets: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff preview

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For the first time in franchise history the Columbus Blue Jackets will get to see what life is like in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After pulling off a stunning upset in Round 1, where they not only beat the NHL’s best team, but completely dominated them, the Blue Jackets get to see if they can shock the world once again when they take on the Boston Bruins.

The big thing to watch early in this series will be whether or not the lengthy, week-long layoff for the Blue Jackets will be something that helps or hurts them against a Bruins team that is coming off of a grueling seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs where they had to win back-to-back games to fight off elimination.

From a big picture outlook the Bruins are the superior team on paper and based on their overall regular season performance, but the same thing was said about the Lightning in the previous round, and we all saw how that turned out.

Going back to March 24 the Blue Jackets are 11-1-0 in their past 12 games, with that only loss coming at the hands of the Bruins, a 6-2 defeat on April 2.

The two teams met three times during the regular season with each team winning once in a blowout, and the Bruins taking the extra game in a 2-1 overtime decision on March 16.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Schedule

Surging Players

Boston: It should be no surprise that the three-headed monster of of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak is leading the way offensively for the Bruins. They have been doing it for years, and they did it again in Round 1 against the Maple Leafs. What is really helping is they are getting a lot of contributions from players outside of that group. Charlie Coyle, one of the Bruins’ trade deadline acquisitions, scored three goals in Round 1, Brandon Carlo didn’t record a point but was outstanding at times defensively, and their Game 7 offense came from a lot of their unsung depth players. The Bruins are a team with superstars at the top of the lineup (all playing exceptionally well) and has found some depth to go with the. That is a dangerous combination.

Columbus: Instead of dealing away their pending free agents, the Blue Jackets went all in at the trade deadline with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid, and it not only helped produce the first postseason series win in franchise history, it helped them pull off one of the biggest Round 1 upsets ever. Duchene was one of the driving forces behind that four-game sweep of the Lightning, recording seven points in the four games. Artemi Panarin was also an impact player throughout the opening round, while young players Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand started to make a name for themselves.

Struggling Players

Boston: Marcus Johansson had what could probably described as an “up-and-down” series for the Bruins. He scored a huge goal in Game 7, but it was his only point in the five games he played while he also finished as a team-worst minus-4 in the series. Jake DeBrusk also had a quiet round, but that was mostly due to poor shooting luck (only one goal on 20 shots) than anything that he was or was not doing.

Columbus: When you sweep the best team in the NHL in four games there probably are not many players on your roster that are struggling, and even if there are, you haven’t had enough time to figure out who they are. Still, the Blue Jackets would probably like to see a little bit more from Dzingel and Brandon Dubinsky in Round 2, as both were held off the scoresheet entirely in their first four games.

Goaltending

Boston: Bruins fans always seem to be waiting for an opportunity to criticize Tuukka Rask and make him the scapegoat for whenever the team falls short in the playoffs. While his regular season performance wasn’t consistently great, and there is reason to believe he is not the same goalie he was four or five years ago, he is still a very capable starter that has the potential to steal a game or two, and perhaps even an entire series should it come to that. He was outstanding in the first round with a .928 save percentage and was at his best in Games 6 and 7 when the Bruins needed him most.

Columbus: This was always going to be the big question for the Blue Jackets. For as good as Sergei Bobrovsky has been throughout his career he has been one of the least productive goalies in the NHL come playoff time, consistently melting down at the worst possible time. He did a lot of work in Round 1 to quiet the doubters in helping to shut down one of the greatest offenses the NHL has ever seen. The Blue Jackets dominated the series so much that they didn’t even need Bobrovsky to be great, and he still finished with a .932 save percentage in what has been — by far — the best postseason performance of his career.

Special Teams

Boston: The Bruins’ power play can be a game-changer for them. It was among the best in the NHL during the regular season, and then absolutely dominated the Maple Leafs in Round 1 by scoring seven power play goals in the seven games (and they didn’t even get a power play in Game 7). And it wasn’t just any one player during the damage. They received power play goals from six different players in the first round (only Bergeron scored more than one) while eight different players recorded at least one point on the power play. The only flaw the unit has — and it is a big flaw — is that it is sometimes vulnerable to shorthanded goals against, giving up 15 during the regular season and another one in Round 1. The Bruins’ PK unit, on the other hand, is a tough group to figure out. With Bergeron, Marchand, and the defense they have behind them it should be a good group, at least based on the talent they have at their disposal. But they were only middle of the pack during the regular season and were just “okay” against the Maple Leafs, though they did kill have six in a row to end the series, including all five in Games 6 and 7 when facing elimination.

Columbus: It’s not always about how many goals you score, but when you score them. That was the case for the Blue Jackets’ power play that was one of the worst in the NHL during the regular season, but went off in Round 1 by scoring on five of its 10 attempts against the Lightning. Nobody should reasonably expect them to continue clicking at 50 percent into Round 2, but if they can find a couple of goals on the man-advantage and continue their excellent penalty kill that could be a huge difference in the series — especially if they can keep staying out of the box. Columbus was tied for best PK unit in the league during the regular season and then followed that up by taking just six minor penalties in the four games against Tampa Bay. Their PK will probably get more use in Round 2, and they are going to be challenged by a Bruins power play that is not only good, but is white-hot right now.

X-Factor for Bruins

After scoring 27 goals in only 68 games during the regular season Jake DeBrusk had a mostly quiet series against the Maple Leafs, but he still showed some signs (like the fact he had 20 shots on goal) that he could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way at some point very, very soon. If he does that would give the Bruins just one more weapon that Columbus has to contend with and try to slow down. In his first two years in the league he has already shown that he can be a legit top-six forward and could be a huge X-factor in Round 2 for the Bruins.

X-Factor for Blue Jackets 

Alexandre Texier was a late addition to the Blue Jackets’ roster, and the 19-year-old has already made a sizable impact. He has only played in six NHL games (two at the end of the regular season, all four playoff games to this point) and has already scored three goals and an assist. That includes his two goals in the Blue Jackets’ series-clinching win over the Lightning where he opened the scoring with an early power play goal.

Prediction

Bruins in 6. The Blue Jackets are not going to be an easy out, and even though they entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed the roster they have now is very different from the one they had for most of the regular season. And all of the new additions seem to have found their place in the lineup. They are legit. But so are the Bruins, and they not only have a trio of stars at the top of their lineup that are probably superior to Columbus’ top players, but they have also found some depth to complement them.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Stars vs. Blues
• Avalanche vs. Sharks
• Islanders vs. Capitals
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stars vs. Blues: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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If you’re looking for a high-scoring second-round series, it might be best to find another game to watch.

That isn’t to say the hockey will be bad, but this has gigantic defensive battle written all over it in what should look a lot like a good game of chess rather than checkers.

And as good defensively both teams are, neither goalie will be giving up an inch either.

The Dallas Stars vs. the St. Louis Blues will be a battle of the upsetters after both teams ousted teams seeded higher than them in Round 1.

The Stars come into the series having handled the Nashville Predators with relative ease in six games. Dallas’ tight style of game stymied the Predators. And even though Nashville had the lion’s share of possession, they were faced with trying to solve Ben Bishop, which they couldn’t.

St. Louis, meanwhile, rode a wave of momentum that began in January into their series with the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg struggled down the stretch and the Blues took advantage, including winning all three games they played on the road. The Blues just kept coming. Deficits were no big deal as the Blues showed tremendous resiliency in sticking within their structure.

The series will also act as a rematch. Both teams collided in Round 2 in 2016, with the Blues edging the Stars in seven games. There’s a good chance we experience some deja vu, at least in that seven-game region.

Dallas went 3-1-0 against the Blues during the regular season.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Schedule

Surging Players

Stars: You look at the stats sheet and see all the regulars there for the Stars. Names like Alex Radulov, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin all perform well in the playoffs and this year is no exception. For Dallas, depth scoring is key. Outside of that top line, they need players who can step up and find the back of the net to alleviate some of the pressure that is placed upon that line merely because it’s so bloody dominant. Roope Hintz has taken a big step in these playoffs, both in terms of contributions (two goals, one assist) and the trust of coach Jim Montgomery, who played him nearly 20 minutes in the deciding Game 6. Hintz looks dangerous with the puck on his stick and is providing the Stars with a solid second-line center that has complemented Mats Zuccarello well.

Blues: Jaden Schwartz could have had a more memorable Game 6 to knock out the Jets. He scored a hat trick in the game, which was a follow-up performance after he scored the game-winning goal to cap off a third-period comeback in Game 5 with just 15 seconds remaining in the third period. After going the first four games of that series with a single assist, Schwartz has burst onto the scene and will be riding a wave of confidence heading into this series. St. Louis’ top line is going to had a tough task with their counterparts on the Stars. A continuation from the latter half of Round 1 would go a long way for Schwartz and the Blues.

Struggling players

Stars: Paging that fourth line. Tyler Pitlick, Jason Spezza and Justin Dowling (or whoever is placed there) would most certainly be welcomed if they wanted to add some offense to this series. The trio above was together for the final three games, for the most part, and were run over possession-wise, and contributing nothing offensively. It’s the fourth line, I get it. but in a series where scoring will be at a premium, they could use a little from some unexpected places.

Blues: Dare I say Vladimir Tarasenko? He scored two goals in the series vs. Winnipeg, with both markers coming on the power play. The Jets did a great job of neutralizing Tarasenko’s game-breaking ability in the first round and there wasn’t much the latter could do about it. Tarasenko finished the year with 33 goals and 68 points. We all know he has it in him. Tarasenko produced a team-high 23 shots in the series, so perhaps a few more well-placed ones could see a different result.

Goaltending

Stars: Bishop is a Vezina candidate this season and very deserving of the nomination. He paced the NHL with a .934 save percentage in the regular season and hasn’t skipped a beat — and really, has only gotten better — in the playoffs with a .945 mark in six games against the Nashville Predators, allowing just 12 goals in the series. Only Robin Lehner has been better statistically speaking.

The Stars’ backbone, Bishop will be relied upon once again. The thing he gives his team is confidence, especially if Dallas engages in a track meet at times.

Blues: Binnington has been the story of the season in the crease, and perhaps the entire NHL, given what he’s done to help turn around the St. Louis Blues.

Many (including myself) thought Binnington, although seemingly very good, was going to suffer from inexperience and a stout offense against the Winnipeg Jets. And it appeared after Game 3, that was going to be the case. But Binnington recovered, posting a .949 and a .935 in Games 4 and 5, respectively to put the Blues ahead. Binnginton is going to be called upon again to shut down a high-powered offense. He can do it, he’s proven. But can he keep it up?

What was interesting about Binnington in Round 1 was how tough getting that first goal by him was. That can be a soul-sucking endeavor. But if you can get to him, he’s shown some cracks.

Special Teams

Stars: You can’t do much better than going a perfect 15-for-15 on the penalty kill against the Central Division’s best team in the regular season. It would be something special for them to replicate that against the Blues, who were five-for-19 against the Jets. The power play for Dallas was less than ideal, scoring just four times on 22 attempts (and were just one-for-18 if you take away a three PP-goal first period in Game 4). The Stars could take a big edge here if they’re able to find the back of the net more when up a man.

Blues: This is potentially where the series could be won for St. Louis. Breaching the walls on the power play will be a good start, and then repeating a bit of what Nashville was able to do to keep the Stars power play at bay will be critical. The Stars top line was simply too good five-on-five to allow them to continue that on the man-advantage, where all three of them line up on the first power-play unit. Binnington has seen a stout power play from Winnipeg, so he knows what’s coming. He was their best penalty killer and will be tasked in that role once more.

X-Factor For Stars

Their top line. Radulov, Benn and Seguin came as advertised in Round 1, combining for seven goals and 18 points as Nashville struggled to deal with their pace. They’ll be called upon once again to produce at a similar rate. If Dallas has a flaw (and they do) it’s that scoring depth drops off a cliff outside of that line. Zuccarello has helped, and contributions have come from other spots in a timely manner, but if Dallas’ top line went cold, what would happen? Simply, they can’t afford that, even with how good Bishop has been.

X-Factor For Blues

Binnington. Take away a six-goal burst from the Jets in Game 3 and Binnington would be sitting pretty with a save percentage in the .930 range. What the Jets did well in that game was build off of each goal. It took just four minutes in the second period for the Jets to amass three goals as Binnington didn’t adjust well to Winnipeg’s pressure. This, of course, was just one game in a series where Binnington was otherwise very, very good. Like I said, take away this blip on the radar screen and you get a Binnington that looked calm and collected against a high-powered offense. Dallas doesn’t have the scoring depth of Winnipeg, either. Binnington stole the will from the Jets on multiple occasions and there’s no reason to think he can’t do so again vs. the Stars.

Prediction

Stars in 7. Dallas has grown on me since the start of the playoffs. They were meshing down the stretch and seemed to benefit from the meaningful games they had to play to secure their first wild-card spot. But it’s that goaltending that has me hooked. Bishop has looked infallible. Unless that changes, I think Dallas can once again withstand getting out-possessed again.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable

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