Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Game 7 X-factors, Conn Smythe contenders

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Is Tuukka Rask the only Conn Smythe candidate at this point, win or lose? Is there Blues player who has a shot?

SEAN: With what Rask has done this postseason, he probably should take it, win or lose, but there is a strong case for Ryan O’Reilly. He’s second in scoring among all players and has picked up his offensive game in the Stanley Cup Final with four goals and seven points. Since the award is for the entirety of the playoffs, outside of the San Jose series where he had a measly one goal and five points, he’s produced regularly and played a huge part in shutting down the top offensive threats on the other side of the ice.

JAMES: Look, points aren’t everything, but it says a lot that only two players who’ve scored more points than Logan Couture‘s 20 (Brad Marchand with 23, Ryan O'Reilly at 21). Not ideal when Couture’s Sharks were eliminated on May 21, and even then, Couture was on a three-game pointless drought.

For years, I’ve grumbled about should-be Conn Smythe winners losing out just because their teams didn’t win. In my opinion, Jarome Iginla and Chris Pronger should have had at least one playoff MVP apiece. No one deserves the Conn Smythe more than Rask, whether the Bruins win or the Blues break their Stanley Cup curse.

ADAM: I am 100 percent certain that if the Blues win someone on their team will get it, that does not mean I have to agree with it. Rask is everything the playoff MVP should be, win or lose. He has been the best player on the ice the entire postseason, he has played at a historically good level for his position, and is quite literally the single biggest reason his team is here. Without him playing the way he has they lose to Toronto or Columbus in the first or second round, and he pretty much broke the Hurricanes early in the Eastern Conference Final series. While the Blues have a great team and a lot of excellent players having really good postseasons, there is not one player on the team that reaches that level we have seen from Rask. If I had a vote, it is Rask win or lose.

JOEY: I think Rask has been unbelievable throughout the playoffs, but I don’t think I’d give him the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Bruins don’t get the job done in Game 7. In my mind, there are a couple of worthy candidates if the Blues hoist Lord Stanley. First, Ryan O’Reilly has to be a strong candidate. He’s put up points and he’s been terrific on the defensive end, too. I know there was a point last round where he didn’t produce as much, but he has to be up there. I also think Alex Pietrangelo has to be considered. He’s logged some heavy ice time and he’s been productive, too.

SCOTT: Rask is the only choice, although history has defied that many times over. But you can’t tell me for a second that Rask hasn’t been the best player for the majority of it. I can field an argument for Ryan O’Reilly, but only because it’s become increasingly rare for a non-winning team’s player to get the award. Given that, if St. Louis wins, it likely gets placed into the hands of ROR. And that would be shame to not recognize, win or lose, what Rask has done to get the Bruins this far.

RYAN: Ryan O’Reilly has an outside shot of winning the Conn Smythe Trophy if St. Louis takes Game 7, but even then Tuukka Rask is the heavy favorite.  The only scenario where I think Rask would fall short of the award is if he absolutely collapses in Game 7.  Assuming he at least has an okay game, he’ll win the Conn Smythe even if the Bruins lose.

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Who is your X-factor for each team and why?

SEAN: Ryan O’Reilly has been the engine for the Blues in the Cup Final. He’s played a strong two-way game that has put him ahead of the line on the roster for Conn Smythe Trophy consideration. For the way he leads that top line and how he’s been successful at helping neutralize the Bruins’ top line at times through six games, they’ll need him at his best one more time. Tuukka Rask has not had a game this postseason with a sub-.900 save percentage. That’s huge, and it’s a reason why the Bruins will need him again in an anything goes Game 7. 

JAMES: David Perron‘s been able to possess the puck in the offensive zone, and has 16 SOG in the series, but only a goal and an assist to show for it. A player with his skills could break open a tense situation like a Game 7. Speaking of being limited to only a goal during this series, Patrice Bergeron‘s stuck at a single tally despite 21 SOG (though his three assists give him a solid four points in six games). I’d wager that Bergeron is playing through an injury, but even with that in mind, the all-world, two-way center feels due for some puck luck. What better time for that to happen than Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final?

ADAM: Jaden Schwartz was so white-hot for the Blues for most of the playoffs and he’s just kind of disappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. He was never as good as he looked in the first part of the playoffs, he was never as bad as he looked during the regular season. There’s a middle ground there and the middle ground is a darn good player. I think he’s due to make an impact in this series and maybe score a big goal for the Blues. On the Boston side, I think I am looking at Jake DeBrusk. He has points in four of his past five games and seems to be getting better as this series goes on.

JOEY: I’m going back to Pietrangelo here. The Blues will need him to play 24 or 25 minutes (more if Game 7 goes to overtime) and they may need him to help set up some of his teammates, especially on the power play. All the players mentioned by others on this list will be key, but Pietrangelo is one of the key veterans on the team. As for the Bruins, I’m looking for David Pastrnak to come up with some big goals. He’s gone hot and cold at different points this postseason but Boston needs him to come up big on Wednesday night.

SCOTT: Brad Marchand. He knows how to get the job done in a Game 7 to decide the Stanley Cup Final. If you’ve done that once, it’s often more experience than anyone else has on the ice. The Bruins have five players who’ve been in this spot before. Marchand had two goals and three points as a rookie in 2011. The pressure didn’t seem to get to him that day. With several more years and now on a third Stanley Cup run, and the demons of 2013 still fresh enough pinch, I think Marchand plays a big role.

RYAN: Jordan Binnington has been more hit-than-miss in the playoffs, which is impressive for a rookie, but there nevertheless have been misses.  For the Blues to win Game 7, Binnington needs to be at the top of his game.  Patrice Bergeron is a big X-Factor for the Bruins.  He’s been somewhat quiet at times in this series, having been held off the scoresheet in four of the first six games.  He’s also minus-four and has averaged 17:31 minutes, down from 19:10 over the first three rounds.  He has the power to change the course of a game though, both on the ice and through his leadership.  A big night from him would make all the difference.

Finally, let’s hear it: Who wins Game 7?

SEAN: It’s Game 7, nothing that happened in the previous six games matters. Discipline, top players getting shut down, hot goaltending… this is the final game of the season and everyone knows what’s on the line. I think the Bruins shake off the Blues’ attempts at establishing their forecheck and rough and physical style and eek out a close out. Jordan Binnington has been fine, but Tuukka Rask has been unbelievable. 

JAMES: I’m on the record of having no sweet clue what will happen, and this series has been almost jarring in its tonal shifts, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blues win it all. I picked the Bruins head into the series, and as impressive as St. Louis has been, this Boston team seems like it has that fabled “extra gear.” So, I’ll choose Boston, with about as much confidence as someone has picking an AFC team other than the Patriots to reach the Super Bowl.

ADAM: Have been picking the Blues in every series from the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and am not going to go away from that now. They have been better on the road all postseason, they have always bounced back after tough games, they have been an outstanding team from top to bottom for months now. They win it.

JOEY: I had the Blues winning the series in seven games at the start so I have to stick with that now. Jordan Binnington will have a big say in who wins this game. If he struggles like he did in Game 6, the Blues will have a hard time winning it all. If he turns in another solid performance, there’s a good chance that this game will be low scoring. Give me St. Louis.

SCOTT: I picked the Bruins from the beginning on the playoffs and they haven’t let me down yet. Rask has been unbeatable in games that matter most and Bruins top line and power play seemed to get back to form in Game 6. Boston wins 4-1.

RYAN: My prediction going into this series was Blues in 7, so I’ll stick with that.  St. Louis has done a great job of bouncing back throughout the playoffs.  They just need to do it one more time after dropping Game 6.

Blues-Bruins Game 7 from TD Garden in Boston will be Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC (live stream).

Maple Leafs expect Hyman, Dermott to miss significant time

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Once you get beyond the sticker shock of the $10.89M cap hit, the Mitch Marner contract is a reason for the Toronto Maple Leafs to rejoice. Rather than the saga drag on deep into the season like the William Nylander fiasco, Marner is gearing up in training camp.

Apparently the Maple Leafs will still be without a noteworthy player or two anyway, even though their losses aren’t nearly as significant as the prospect of being without Marner.

Head coach Mike Babcock estimates that forward Zach Hyman could miss approximately 14-15 games, while defenseman Travis Dermott may be sidelined for a similar span (12-14 games), according to TSN’s Karen Shilton.

If that forecast is correct, then the Maple Leafs could anticipate Hyman and Dermott back sometimes during this range:

Game 12 – Oct. 25: home vs. Sharks
Game 13 – Oct. 26: at Canadiens
Game 14 – Oct. 29: home vs. Capitals
Game 15 – Nov. 2: at Flyers

Naturally, when it comes to injuries, things can change. Ailments can worsen, or players can heal up faster than expected.

All due respect to two useful players in Dermott and Hyman, but the cap management aspect — particularly use of LTIR, and juggling once they’re ready to come back — is likely the most interesting part of this situation.

We already know that Nathan Horton ($5.3M AAV) and David Clarkson ($5.25M) will be on LTIR through the final season of their tragic contracts, providing $10.55M. Hyman carries $2.25M, while Dermott weighs in at $863K. The window for an LTIR stay is at least 10 games and 24 days, so one would expect that Hyman and Dermott would join Clarkson and Horton on LTIR. With Dermott’s cost fairly minimal, things would be most cramped once Hyman is healthy enough to play again. Will Toronto be forced to make a trade, or waive someone they’d rather keep?

Losing Hyman and Dermott for what sounds like close to a month isn’t great to begin with, but things could be especially tricky once they can actually play.

Although the Maple Leafs solved some of their biggest riddles, they’ll still need to answer more questions in the short term, so Babcock could be a busy man — almost as busy as Kyle Dubas.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins get another major bargain with McAvoy contract

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Over and over again, the Boston Bruins find ways to sign core players at stunning discounts. They pulled off another steal with budding star defenseman Charlie McAvoy on Sunday.

Remarkably, they signed McAvoy for slightly less than what the Blue Jackets gave Zach Werenski. McAvoy’s contract is for three years, with just a $4.9 million AAV. That’s … incredible value.

Like with Werenski, it’s structured in a way that can make a future contract hefty, and open the door for eventual UFA status. But for a team that’s focused on now as much as the Bruins happen to be, this is even better. It also makes affording Torey Krug‘s next contract feel a lot more feasible. Also, Cap Friendly points out that McAvoy needs more time to reach UFA status than Werenski and Timo Meier, two players who’ve set a standard for how many RFAs approached negotiations this offseason.

When people try to beat up on the Maple Leafs for their expensive top guys, they often (almost unfairly) bring up Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak only costing about $20 million combined – less than John Tavares and Auston Matthews put together. This could be another contract people cite when they shake their head in awe at what the Bruins have done.

(Now, they just need to make sure not to give away any contracts to the likes of David Backes.)

About the only knock on McAvoy, 21, is that he’s dealt with some injury issues. Beyond that, he’s a really well-rounded defenseman, one who’s been instrumental in extending Zdeno Chara‘s career.

Check out how his RAPM charts at even-strength stack up against Werenski, via Evolving Hockey:

McAvoy made a resounding first impression during the 2016-17 postseason, making his NHL debut at that stage, and impressively logging 26:12 per playoff game. He then started strong in 2017-18, generating seven goals and 32 points in 63 games. This past season provided much of the same, as McAvoy scored seven goals and 28 points in 54 regular-season contests and delivering strong work in postseason appearances.

Again, the main concern is staying on the ice, as otherwise McAvoy’s passed his early tests with flying colors.

Cap Friendly estimates the Bruins’ remaining cap space at about $3.2M, and it’s possible that RFA defenseman Brandon Carlo might eat up all of that, or almost all of that breathing room.

This is fantastic stuff by the Bruins. Again.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Pavelski, Perry switch to Stars after long stays in first home

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FRISCO, Texas  — Joe Pavelski joined the Dallas Stars as an expensive free agent coming off one of his best goal-scoring years, while Corey Perry quietly signed a low-cost deal for one year after playing the fewest games of his career because of a knee injury.

That’s where the differences end for the veteran forwards trying to help the Stars make back-to-back playoff trips for the first time in more than a decade. The Stars will try to get past the second round after a Game 7 overtime loss to St. Louis, eventual winners of the Stanley Cup.

Pavelski and Perry both ended up on the same team after lengthy careers with the clubs that drafted them – 13 years for Pavelski in San Jose and 14 seasons for Perry with Anaheim, including a Cup title.

”It’s different. It’s fun,” said Pavelski, who signed a $21 million, three-year deal. ”It’s an exciting part of our career and it’s a change that I think you come in and you embrace that there’s going to be different things and learn to do it their way and help add to that how you can.

”It’s definitely fun to have a guy coming in with a similar situation.”

Pavelski scored 38 goals last regular season, three off his career high, and helped the Sharks reach the Western Conference finals. San Jose had the most successful stretch in franchise history during the four years he was captain, winning six playoff series.

The 35-year-old figures to play on one of the top lines, probably alongside either captain Jamie Benn or 2018-19 scoring leader Tyler Seguin. The Sharks wanted to re-sign Pavelski but couldn’t make it work under the salary cap after giving defenseman Erik Karlsson a $92 million contract.

Circumstances are a bit different for Perry, who is younger than Pavelski (34) but has seen declining production the past three seasons. Perry might miss the Oct. 3 opener at home against Boston after breaking a bone in his foot two days before the start of training camp.

Even when he’s healthy, Perry isn’t likely to fill a leading role similar to that of Pavelski. Both were drafted in 2003 – Perry with the 28th overall pick in the first round by the Ducks, Pavelski in the seventh round by the Sharks.

”It’s a new chapter,” said Perry, who signed for $1.5 million after the Ducks bought out the final two years of the contract for the franchise leader in games (988). ”It’s something different. I’m embracing it as change is sometimes a good thing, rejuvenates myself and my career.”

Benn figures Dallas is as good a place as any for two guys to start over after each spent so long with the only team he had known.

”I’m sure it’s pretty different for them,” Benn said. ”But we make it pretty easy for guys to come into this group. It’s something I take pride in being a captain is we want guys to be comfortable right from Day 1. I think they’re pretty comfortable. They’re fitting in well.”

The Stars are counting on Pavelski for offense after finishing near the bottom of the league in goals during Benn’s lowest-scoring full season since his rookie year in 2009-10. While Seguin led Dallas in points (80), goals (33) and assists (47), Benn scored just 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists).

”Obviously, he’s a goal-scorer,” Seguin said of Pavelski. ”But the biggest thing for him, too, is he’s another threat out there. You have him in the slot now and guys got to respect him. It’ll open up guys like me maybe for one-timers now and Jamie in front, so who knows.”

Despite career lows across the board because of the knee injury, Perry is a former champion (2007) and the only player on the Dallas roster with a 50-goal season (50 in 2010-11, when he was the NHL MVP).

”I think they’re a little different some ways,” Seguin said. ”I think with Joe you saw how San Jose rallied around him. He’s kind of more of a quiet leader. I think Corey Perry, he’s got the ultimate hockey player resume. He’s won everything. He’s been in every situation, and he’s going to know what to say at those moments.”

Seguin has emerged as a leader a year after signing a $79 million, eight-year extension that kicks in this season, adding him to a mix that includes Benn, veteran forward Alexander Radulov and goalie Ben Bishop, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season.

But there’s always room for more, particularly for a franchise that hasn’t made consecutive trips to the playoffs since the last of five straight postseason appearances in 2008.

”I think we have a couple of levels still to go in how we want to be and what we want to be about as a team,” second-year coach Jim Montgomery said. ”Those two are going to help propel us there.”

Pavelski and Perry start with some common ground.

Far from Czech home, Kubalik adjusts to life with Blackhawks

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CHICAGO — Dominik Kubalik is leaning on David Kampf while he transitions to life in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks. He peppers his Czech countryman with all sorts of questions.

”I think he’s a little bit mad at me right now,” a grinning Kubalik said, ”because I’m still asking ‘What’s that?’ and ‘Where are we going?’ and ‘Where’s the training room?’ Stuff like that.”

The Blackhawks have their own questions about Kubalik, one of the biggest variables in their pursuit of the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2017.

It sure looks as if Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane might play together on Chicago’s top line, and close friends and former juniors teammates Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat are a good bet for the second line. Kubalik is in the mix to play alongside one of those potent duos.

It would be quite an opportunity to walk into as a 24-year-old rookie, but Kubalik isn’t looking ahead.

”Everything is pretty new,” he said. ”I’m just trying to get used to it as quick as possible. But I feel great.”

Kubalik skated with Strome for at least part of Saturday’s session on the second day of training camp. Strome played against Kubalik at the world championships and saw him in the Ontario Hockey League a few years ago.

”He’s got a real hard shot, fast skater, some good hands,” Strome said. ”So I think he’s going to add a different element to our team. He’s got a great one-timer. He knows where to go and knows how to find open ice. Big body, too, so it’s a lot of good attributes to have in a player.”

Coach Jeremy Colliton said Kubalik has been ”as advertised” so far.

”It’s going to be somewhat of an adjustment for him,” Colliton said. ”He has played over here in North America before, so that’s good. But it’s still going to take some practices and games.”

Kubalik was drafted by Los Angeles in the seventh round in 2013. But the 6-foot-2 winger never played for the Kings, who shipped him to Chicago for a fifth-round pick in January.

He had spent most of his career in the Czech Republic before playing for HC Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland for part of the 2017-18 season and again last year.

Kubalik had 25 goals and 32 assists in 50 games for the Swiss club last season, and then had a goal and five assists in five playoff games. He also had six goals and six assists in 10 games at the worlds.

The move to Ambri-Piotta was a key moment for Kubalik in his journey to the NHL.

”I was still thinking that I just need to make another step in my career,” he said. ”So I decided to, if there was a chance to go to Switzerland, felt pretty good about it. So I tried it and it actually worked pretty well.”

Kubalik plans to stick to his strengths in his transition to the NHL.

”I think I’m playing pretty simple,” he said. ”I don’t want to handle the puck for a while. I want to just put it as quick as possible to the net. If there is a chance to shoot, I’m just going to take it.”

While Kubalik is learning his way around Chicago, there was at least one familiar face in the locker room when he joined the Blackhawks. He played with Kampf on a U-20 team in the Czech Republic a couple years ago.

He also could make his NHL debut in his home country when Chicago begins the season in Prague on Oct. 4 against Philadelphia.

”I don’t really want to think about it. It’s still pretty far away,” he said. ”But obviously I know it would be probably amazing.”