Conn Smythe Power Rankings: Fleury running away with it

Getty
5 Comments

A lot has changed in the week since our first Conn Smythe Trophy watch, and by a lot, I mean a couple of the top contenders have been completely eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With Boston’s loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, bringing their season to an end in Game 5, their duo of David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand gets removed from the list, as does San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones after they were the latest team to lose to the buzzsaw that is the Vegas Golden Knights.

The new leader in the Conn Smythe race should be pretty obvious at this point, while we also have a couple of new names to consider.

Let’s take a look at this week’s update.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. If Fleury isn’t the front-runner for the award right now then just what exactly are we doing? Along with a series-clinching shutout in each of the first two rounds he has a league leading .951 save percentage this postseason and four shutouts. The Sharks did get to him a little bit more than than the Kings did in round one, scoring at least three goals in four of their six games, but he has still been mostly great for the Golden Knights. This is the best hockey he has ever played in the NHL.

2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He has always produced in the playoffs. He is once again producing in the playoffs and is having some signature moments along the way that will stand out … especially if they finally conquer the beast that has been the second-round of the playoffs. After helping lead the Capitals back from a 2-0 series deficit in the first-round, he has come back in the second-round with six point in the first five games of their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That includes a last-minute game-winning goal in Game 3 of the series and setting up the game-winning goal with five minutes to play in Game 5.

3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. He is doing everything he can to keep the Penguins’ quest for a three-peat going. And by everything, I mean almost literally everything. Through the first five games of the second round the Penguins have scored exactly one goal without Crosby on the ice. He has 19 points in 11 games, already matching his point total from his 2015-16 Conn Smythe run. The Penguins might lose, but it won’t be because of him.

4. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets. Perhaps the most underrated top-line player in the NHL. He has nine goals in the Jets’ first 10 playoff games and has recorded at least two points in six of their past seven games entering play on Monday night.

5. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. His point production slowed down a bit in round two but he still has 12 in the first 10 games for the Lightning and already three game-winning goals (most in the NHL at this point). During his career he has been one of the best postseason scorers in the league and is a big reason the Lightning have been in the Eastern Conference Final in three of the past four years.

6. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets. Byfuglien has been an absolute monster for the Jets this postseason averaging more than a point-per-game from the blue line, logging more than 26 minutes per night, throwing some devastating hits, and helping the Jets to a 15-6 goals advantage when he has been on the ice during even-strength play. He has stepped up in a big way for a Jets blue line that has been shorthanded at times this postseason.

7. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals. Remember when this guy didn’t start the playoffs? Holtby has the second-best postseason save percentage in NHL history and has been outstanding for the Capitals since getting his starting job back in the first-round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Washington is 7-2 this postseason with him in net while he has a .924 save percentage. Goaltending has been a huge advantage for the Capitals in the second round.

8. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. He is the NHL’s leading goal-scorer and point producer this postseason and along with Crosby is trying to carry the Penguins through their second-round series against the Capitals. Maybe he could (or should) be higher. But as I said a week ago trying to separate his production and Crosby’s production is tough. Have to give the edge to the player that is carrying the play and that still seems to be Crosby.

 

9. Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators. The Predators are such a deep, balanced team that can get contributions from all over their lineup that there really isn’t a clear-cut Conn Smythe favorite for them at this point. Forsberg has been consistently productive for the Predators, is their go-to-player offensively and has a couple of highlight reel plays on his postseason resume at the moment.

10. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. In all honesty he may have been the Lightning’s best player in their second-round series win over the Bruins. This is what makes the Lightning so dangerous. Not just the fact they have superstars at the top of their lineup, but the fact their farm system keeps producing top-line talent. Point is just the latest in the line of homegrown stars.

Related

Marc-Andre Fleury is playing the best hockey of his life
Alex Ovechkin is putting the Capitals on his back
The Penguins’ top line is doing all of the heavy lifting
Byfuglien continues to be key difference-maker for Jets

————

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.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

brunette dui
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
0 Comments

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.