PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Roundtable: Slowing the Sharks, X-factors

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1. What changes do you see if the Washington Capitals fail to get by the Pittsburgh Penguins again?

SEAN: The first is an easy one: Barry Trotz is gone. The head coach is without a contract beyond this season and Capitals GM Brian MacLellan quietly received an extension in March. The next part is a trickier one. You’re not trading Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov. If Braden Holtby regressing from his first-round play, does that make trading him more palatable, should a team that’s part of his his modified no-trade clause come calling?

T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller signed long-term deals within the past year and Brooks Orpik still has three seasons left on his contract. John Carlson‘s likely not returning given what he’ll bring in on the open market, so where do you make bold changes? It might just be carving the bottom six and maybe a little on the blue line, but a major roster overhaul isn’t likely.

JAMES: It’s no secret that Barry Trotz lacks a contract extension with Washington, and we saw how such a situation played out for the Wild when it came to their GM who seemed to suffer from hockey’s version of “Groundhog Day.” If Washington fails to give its Penguins trilogy a happy ending, Trotz is almost certainly out.

Fascinatingly, John Carlson’s future is muddy either way. On one hand, losing might prompt the Capitals to balk at paying him the big bucks. If they win, a deep playoff run could conceivably price him out of Washington.

ADAM: I think the obvious is that Barry Trotz does not come back, but would it shock you to see a general manager change, too? I really don’t think they do anything drastic from a player standpoint. They’re not trading Ovechkin. They’re not trading Backstrom. They’re not trading Kuznetsov. Even though Grubauer looked good, they’re not trading Holtby. They might make some changes around the edges but I think the two big ones would be coach and maybe — maybe — the GM.

JOEY: Unless they’re ready to blow up their team, there’s not much they can do. I don’t think they’re going to unload Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom or Alex Ovechkin. Also, they inked T.J. Oshie to a long-term deal that might be hard to move. Even if they get bounced by the Penguins, they’ll probably still push to bring back pending UFA John Carlson, too. It’s hard to envision any major changes in Washington.

SCOTT: Figure out a way to go back in time and never trade Filip Forsberg. Then make a second stop at last July and never trade Marcus Johansson. And steal the Pittsburgh Penguins coach and general manager while you’re at it. That would be ideal for the Capitals, surely.

Realistically, it probably means Barry Trotz goes (although he might be gone even if they win the Cup). Not really his fault, in my opinion. Trotz is a good coach trying to lead a team that historically over the past decade can’t get it done in the playoffs, especially against their arch-nemesis in the Penguins. Then you got to figure out your goaltending situation and get that squared away. Two more years of Holtby until he’s an unrestricted free agent. Perhaps he needs to go to the same trainer as Devan Dubnyk and Connor Hellebuyck.

2. Will the time off for the Tampa Bay Lightning affect them against Boston Bruins?

SEAN: Any sort of rest during the Stanley Cup Playoffs is good for you, no matter how long. The Lightning will have had six full days off before Game 1 against the Bruins on Saturday. With the injuries that hit the lineup near the end of the regular season and Andrei Vasilevskiy publicly stating he was feeling tired, this will do nothing but benefit Tampa.

JAMES: It’s a huge plus for the Lightning, something Jon Cooper and even their owner acknowledged. Steven Stamkos probably benefits from a little more recovery time after he missed the end of the regular season, while we all know about Andrei Vasilevskiy’s energy questions. Meanwhile, the Bruins needed three shots to eliminate the Leafs, seeing Patrice Bergeron miss some action and Zdeno Chara log more than 28 high-stress minutes in Game 7 alone. Rest is worth the risk of “rust.”

ADAM: Not at all, I think it’s a huge advantage for them, especially for Andrei Vasilevskiy. There was already talk about him being tired and fatigued down the stretch and I thought they should have been resting some people off and on at the end of the regular season. Boston just played a marathon series, Tampa Bay is coming in fresh, I think it helps. I do not buy the “rust” factor here. Will it be the difference in the series? I doubt it. But I also don’t think it hurts.

JOEY: It might affect them for the beginning of Game 1, but judging by the speed and skill they have (especially up front), they probably won’t mind having guys like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson get an extended period of rest. Victor Hedman averaged almost 27 minutes in the first round, so they’ll probably have to lean on him heavily going forward. Rest can only help in that regard. Getting the extra time off, while Toronto-Boston battled to Game 7 clearly gives the Bolts an advantage.

SCOTT: In a good way, I believe. I’m of the opinion that several days off is better than grinding out a series win in seven games. The Bruins could use a breather after Toronto gave them all they could handle. Tampa might struggle in the opening game, but I think the rest pays off later in the round, both mentally and physically.

3. What do the Vegas Golden Knights need to do in order to slow the San Jose Sharks’ offense?

SEAN: They’re going to need Marc-Andre Fleury to throw up another .977 save percentage in this series. They also need to keep San Jose’s shots to the outside. The Sharks did a good job of creating high-danger scoring chances, something Vegas was able to prevent against the Los Angeles Kings. The Golden Knights were able to keep LA’s top threats at bay and slow down and already slow team en route to a sweep. They’ll have their hands full against a San Jose team that couldn’t stop scoring against Anaheim.

JAMES: For Vegas, the best defense will be a good offense. The VGK are built to be speedy and to keep the puck moving. Jonathan Marchesssault’s line can hog the puck at times. While the Golden Knights lack a shutdown defenseman like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, they’ve been pretty solid by committee. Naturally, it would also help if Marc-Andre Fleury continues to play the best hockey of his career.

ADAM: Hope Marc-Andre Fleury keeps playing the way he did against Los Angeles would be a big one. This is going to be a big challenge for Vegas because the Kings were probably the best possible round one matchup for them. Los Angeles was slow, had an anemic offense, and just isn’t very talented beyond its top four or five players. Vegas could easily exploit them. The Sharks are faster, more skilled, and are going to pose a much bigger threat offensively.

JOEY: Exactly what they did to the Kings in the first round. Sure, the Sharks are more dynamic than the Kings, but the Golden Knights have shown that they can dictate the pace of the game against most opponents. As long as they keep using their speed and depth to their advantage, they can match up with any team. Having a razor-sharp Marc-Andre Fleury should also help keep the puck out of the Golden Knights’ net.

SCOTT: The same performance they displayed in the first round against Los Angeles should do the trick. They limited the Kings to just three goals in the sweep. That’s bloody impressive. Marc-Andre Fleury was sensational in the series and needs to continue that path. And the rest of the players in front of them just need to stay the course. The Golden Knights gave up a league-low 25 high-danger scoring chances in the first round. That’s pretty conducive to winning. MAF’s save percentage in those 25 chances against? 100 percent. Keep on keeping on, really.

4. What will be the X-factor swings the Winnipeg Jets-Nashville Predators series?

SEAN: The Predators didn’t rely on just the Ryan Johansens, Filip Forsbergs and Viktor Arvidssons to carry the offense against the Colorado Avalanche. Their depth help lead the way and entering Round 2 it’s Auston Watson (4 goals, 7 points) and Colton Sissons (3 goals, 7 points) leading the team in scoring. Add in Nick Bonino‘s five points and Craig Smith‘s two goals and it’s a team that, when healthy, can fight back against an impressive Winnipeg offense.

JAMES: Discipline.

The Predators took the most penalties in the NHL – by a healthy margin – during the regular season with 372. Winnipeg was more in control, yet Dustin Byfuglien can lose his cool at times (with frightening results for his opponents and his own team) and both teams saw players suspended in their respective first-round series. Winnipeg (fourth, 64 PPG) and Nashville (sixth, 58 PPG) both finished in the top 10 in power-play goals during the regular season, so this might come down to who can walk the line between playing with an edge and shooting yourself in the foot with dopey penalties.

ADAM: Both goalies were amazing this season, but I also think both probably played over their heads a bit and could come back down to earth at any moment. If either one is going to do it might just be in a series against a powerhouse offensive team — and both of these teams are. So I think that’s my X-factor here: Which goalie is able to maintain his great season and not turn into a pumpkin at midnight.

JOEY: Both teams have great goalies, a strong group of defenders, but there’s clearly a gap up front. I’m interested to see if the Predators forward can keep pace with Jets players like Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. Filip Forsberg did his part in the first round, but it’ll be interesting to see who steps up if any particular game opens up. Viktor Arvidsson, who led the team in goals during the regular season, scored three points in six games in the Colorado series. He’ll need to shoulder more of the load this time around.

SCOTT: Goaltending. Jets coach Paul Maurice said this week that the goalie that gives up one less goal will win the series. I tend to agree. Both teams have firepower, don’t give up much on the back end, and are physical as anyone in the league. They both also have Vezina Trophy candidates this year. It’s like they cancel each other out in all facets. Connor Hellebuyck posted back-to-back shutouts to close out the Minnesota Wild in five games and posted a 9.24 save percentage. Rinne had a shutout in Game 6 to see off the Colorado Avalanche and had a .909 save percentage, which is fairly pedestrian, if not below average. But it’s Hellebuyck who struggled to a .882 save percentage in four starts during the season series with Nashville.

They are both impressive netminders who have had incredible seasons in the crease. This series will come down to a showdown between the two and the winner will be decided by the goalie who plays the best.

More:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.