Maple Leafs GM gives interesting take on ‘polarizing’ players

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are mired in a three-game losing streak, and generally speaking, have seemed a bit underwhelming so far in starting 2019-20 with a 9-7-4 record (22 points, currently in second wild card).

Through 20 games, you’ll see players talk about getting “swagger” back, and you probably won’t be able to scroll Hockey Twitter without stumbling upon at least a few debates about the job Mike Babcock is doing.

With as passionate a fan base as the Maple Leafs have, you’ll see people really drilling down to parse even the depth aspects of the team. Maybe that explains why we got an interesting take from GM Kyle Dubas, who almost seemed to break “the fourth wall” when he acknowledged the many takes that defensemen Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie inspire.

Buffet of opinions

Dubas’ comments about Ceci are especially fascinating, as you can see from TSN’s Karen Shilton.

“Cody is an interesting one. I think it goes back to the war between data and subjective scouting [in that] he seems to be a very polarizing player,” Dubas said. “Even when everything underlying about him has been relatively solid, especially when you consider his usage [as a top-pairing defenceman who averages 22:19 of ice time per game], it seems to be every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum on whether he’s good or not, which is mind-boggling to me. Every defenceman that plays that much and plays in that role is going to [make] mistakes. I think he’s been a good addition for us and has played above expectations from when we acquired him and we’re very happy with him.”

In particular, Dubas captures the tenure of some Hockey Twitter debates when he says “it seems like every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum.”

But it’s not that hard to see where many of Ceci’s critics are coming from.

When the Maple Leafs acquired Ceci, and it became clear that he’d actually stick around for at least a while, the hope (for many) was that he wouldn’t have the same role as he did in Ottawa, where some believe the Senators promoted him to a level of incompetence. What if Ceci was in an easier role, with fewer minutes and lesser opponents? Instead, his ice time has been virtually unchanged from last season, and defensive measures like his Hockey Viz heat maps (via Micah Blake McCurdy) look as bad as ever:

But, truly, Dubas isn’t totally off base when he says that there are certain underlying numbers where Ceci comes across at least a bit more respectably.

There’s the argument, advanced by people like Jonas Siegel of The Athletic (sub required), that it’s too early to judge Ceci.

Maybe it’s too late; perhaps there’s an “eye test vs. analytics” divide that won’t be broken easily. It could be that the biggest uproar would come if the Maple Leafs brought back Ceci after his expiring deal melts away.

(Opinion: they absolutely should not bring Ceci back.)

Tyson not knocking it out of the park

In the grand scheme of things, the Ceci situation is basically going as prescribed.

The bigger disappointment might be Tyson Barrie, even if you ignore Nazem Kadri‘s promising early results in Colorado. The book on Barrie is that he can be an explosive offensive performer, although there were red flags about him negating much of that prowess with shaky defense.

Those red flags carry over to those Hockey Viz charts, as there’s a lot of the bad sort of red when you consider Barrie’s defensive impact (and arguably not enough of the good red on offense to justify that bleeding).

Keeping it as simple as it gets, Barrie barely has more points (zero goals, five assists, thus five points) than Ceci (one goal, three assists for four points). Those numbers are underwhelming even if you viewed Barrie as something of a paper tiger with superficial scoring stats coming in.

Maybe it’s telling that Dubas’ comments are more milquetoast about Barrie, stating that “we just want him to continue to work and get comfortable here.”

***

Barrie, Ceci, and the Maple Leafs face a familiar foe on Friday in the Boston Bruins. In the Bruins’ own way, they want to get back on track too, as they’ve lost four in a row.

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.

Kevin Shattenkirk finds redemption after unlucky bounce

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As the Dallas Stars celebrated the tying goal with 8:25 remaining in the third period, Kevin Shattenkirk was experiencing a sinking feeling.

Joe Pavelski’s shot from the faceoff circle was stopped by Andrei Vasilevskiy, but the puck deflected off Shattenkirk’s knee and into the Tampa Bay Lightning net. Tie game, and any momentum gained from Alex Killorn’s go-ahead goal five minutes earlier was gone.

Despite the unlucky bounce, Shattenkirk was trying to keep a positive mind.

“In my head, I was thinking I deserved some sort of good karma after that,” he said after Game 4.

Karma would find him a little while later. 

On the power play in overtime, Shattenkirk took a pass from Victor Hedman in the Stars’ zone. He then skated into the same face-off circle where Pavelski took his shot that led to the tying goal. With Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and Lightning forward Pat Maroon providing the screens, Shattenkirk wired home his second career playoff overtime goal to put Tampa on the brink of a second Stanley Cup title.

“He’s been scoring some big ones for us all playoffs,” said forward Brayden Point. “He’s so steady for us. He works so hard. He’s great in the room. He’s a great leader for us, he keeps us even-keel. To see him bury one, it’s awesome.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It’s been almost 14 months since Shattenkirk signed a one-year deal with the Lightning. He was on the free agent market after being bought out by the Rangers, who signed him to a four-year, $26.65M deal in 2017. The end of his tenure with his hometown team wasn’t how he originally pictured it. A bad knee affected his play and ultimately factored into the decision, but time became an asset.

Time allowed Shattenkirk to get back to 100% health, and signing with Tampa put him on a blue line where he didn’t have to feel the pressure to produce or live up to a big contract. He scored eight goals and recorded 34 points during the regular season, his highest totals since the 2016-17 season. Carrying a chip on his shoulder kept his focus on a bounce-back season.

“I never kind of forget what happened last summer,” Shattenkirk said after Game 4. “I’ve used that to fuel me and just not get comfortable.”

Shattenkirk has two goals and four points in the Lightning’s three Cup Final wins. Friday night was his second game winner of the series after scoring Tampa’s third goal in a 3-2 win in Game 2.

[3 Takeaways from Lightning-Stars Game 4]

The universe has a way of evening out as Shattenkirk discovered this season. A year ago he was looking to get his NHL career back on track. Now he’s one win away from being a Stanley Cup champion.

“We’ve got a job to do here, it’s still not finished,” he said. “Anyway that I can contribute, whether it’s scoring goals or playing solid defensively, whatever the team asks, that’s what I aim to do every night. It’s been a great team effort so far. Looking forward to tomorrow night because then it could all come really full circle.”

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

3 Takeaways: Lightning beat Stars in Game 4 of 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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Through the first three games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the adage “No lead is safe” felt a bit unsafe. Leads worked out pretty well for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars.

But Game 4 ended up being a wilder affair. Ultimately, the Lightning beat the Stars 5-4 in overtime of Game 4, leaving Tampa Bay one win from a Stanley Cup with the two teams turning around to play Game 5 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on NBC: (livestream).

1. Fans, we have some controversies

Death, taxes, and complaints about penalties. When it comes to hockey, and really all professional sports, there aren’t many big games that go without fans griping.

Even by those standards, controversies abounded in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

In what is probably the least surprising development ever, the Stars weren’t happy with the tripping penalty Jamie Benn got whistled for after tangling with Tyler Johnson. Joe Pavelski griped in the most entertaining way.

Frankly, while Benn wasn’t guilty of tripping, it’s not outrageous to call some sort of obstruction penalty for that exchange.

And, let’s also be honest: officials might have been looking for a chance to whistle a “makeup call.” Brayden Point drew what could have been an honest penalty for some, er, stick work on Corey Perry. Instead, officials made a very questionable embellishment call on Point to even things up. From there, Tyler Seguin drew a penalty call when Mikhail Sergachev obstructed him greatly, giving the Stars a power play that was one part 4-on-3, and one part 5-on-4 in overtime.

Here’s the thing. When contests are as frenetic as Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final between the Stars and Lightning, you run into human limitations. Officials will miss things.

2. Seriously, the Stars need to avoid the penalty box as much as humanly possible

Look, if this style of play continues, hockey fans are in for a treat. Especially if the Stars can avoid being eliminated in Game 5.

But you have to wonder if the Stars might want to settle down the pace of this series.

On one hand, they’ve acquitted themselves nicely when things get wild during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Stars were able to hang with the Avalanche, and while they’re down 3-1, Game 4 was far from a certainty for the Lightning.

Faster play can force you to hook someone to slow them down. Or reach for a a puck on a breakaway and instead trip up your opponent. Or merely look like you’re doing things.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To that end, you wonder if the Stars can somehow find a way to slow things down like they did for the first two periods of Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. During the opening 40 minutes, the Lightning didn’t receive a single power-play opportunity. The Stars actually won the shots on goal battle during that frame, opening Game 1 up 18-14.

Of course, the Stars were rested, and the Lightning just finished slugging it out with the Islanders. It’s still worth chasing that if you’re Dallas, in my opinion.

That’s because the Lightning are feasting on the power play. Going 0-for-3 like the Stars did in Game 4? That happens; it’s only disastrous when the other team manages a ridiculous 3-for-4 output. Kevin Shattenkirk‘s OTGWG was the killer, but the Lightning won Game 4 by dismantling the Stars’ PK efforts.

There was some luck, yet the Lightning also moved the puck with confidence and a sense of danger.

Bowness needs to go back to the drawing board and find a way to mitigate what’s been a massive advantage for Tampa Bay. That unit has now scored six goals during this three-game winning streak. Yikes.

3. Tyler Seguin looked like Tyler Seguin again

OK, so Tyler Seguin’s shooting percentage remains … almost tragic?

It feels like his near-miss on a power play from Game 4 is the story of his playoff career, aside from winning a Stanley Cup with Boston when he was still wet-behind-the-ears.

Despite lacking that coveted goal, Seguin was a force for the Stars in Game 4 against the Lightning. Seguin did just about all of the work to set up Corey Perry’s goal.

It looked like Joe Pavelski’s 4-4 tally actually went off of Seguin, but instead it went off of Kevin Shattenkirk. But Seguin created some chaos to make that happen.

Seguin also forced the issue for Mikhail Sergachev, drawing a penalty in overtime. The Stars couldn’t cash in, but that, some near-misses, and two assists all roll up into an argument that Seguin might have his groove back.

(He’s probably dying to score that goal, of course. But at least Seguin looked alive for the Stars vs. the Lightning in Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT]. (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)

Lightning one win from Stanley Cup after winning Game 4 OT thriller vs. Stars

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After a thrilling, back-and-forth Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning grabbed a 3-1 series lead by beating the Stars 5-4 in OT on Friday. The Stars face elimination with little time to gather their thoughts, while the Lightning aim to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on NBC: (livestream).

Kevin Shattenkirk scored the overtime game-winner on a power play following a polarizing penalty call against Jamie Benn. Hockey fans aren’t likely to debate this point, though: Game 4 of Stars – Lightning was the most thrilling bout of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

So far, at least.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

This time, a strong start wasn’t enough

Throughout the first three games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, strong starts made way for successful finishes. Game 4, on the other hand, required both the Stars and Lightning to deal with lead changes.

First, the Stars struck early. John Klingberg pounced on a loose puck from his initial (blocked) shot attempt to sneak one past Andrei Vasilevskiy. From there, Alexander Radulov used the power of geometry to break out Jamie Benn, who made a nifty pass to set up a Joe Pavelski goal. With about a minute and a half left in the first period, the Stars were up 2-0.

They wouldn’t go into the first intermission with that two-goal edge, however.

Kevin Shattenkirk sent Ondrej Palat down the ice, then Palat fed Brayden Point with a fabulous pass. On that semi-breakaway, Palat scored a beautiful goal to make it 2-1 late in the first.

Not long into the second, Point scored once again to tie things 2-2. Point cashed in on a wacky bounce, but the Lightning power play looked dangerous before he scored. It wouldn’t be the last time that man advantage made a big play.

Tyler Seguin didn’t score the 3-2 goal, yet he made it happen. Seguin did just about everything but score while creating havoc around the Lightning net, then Corey Perry punched it in.

It looked like the Stars would go up 4-2 on a rebound attempt by Nicholas Caamano, but Vasilevskiy made a save so nice it earned its own post.

Instead of falling behind 4-2, the Lightning power play made it happen again, with Yanni Gourde cashing in on some more fortunate bounces.

Stars and Lightning continue to trade punches as Game 4 goes to OT

So, the two teams entered the third period tied 3-3, and the twists and turns would continue. To start, Alex Killorn put up a prayer of a shot that beat Anton Khudobin. Khudobin received criticism for that 4-3 goal, but it’s also fair to note an accidental screening by John Klingberg.

That could have been a gutting game-winner, but not in this one. Joe Pavelski’s shot took a bounce off of Kevin Shattenkirk (and almost off of Tyler Seguin?) to make it 4-4. Remarkably, Game 4 went to overtime, representing the first contest of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final to need OT.

Heading into overtime, Point drew a penalty on Corey Perry, only officials made an iffy embellishment call on Point. With the two teams at 4-on-4, Tyler Seguin drew what seemed like a fateful penalty on Mikhail Sergachev.

After the Lightning power play dominated during regulation, would the Stars score amid some controversy? Nope, not yet at least.

Following a successful kill by the Lightning PK, Tampa Bay received a power play chance early in overtime, too. That had its own controversy, as some didn’t buy Jamie Benn being guilty of an infraction against Tyler Johnson.

Late in that power-play opportunity, Kevin Shattenkirk continued his rollercoaster of a Game 4 (and couple of seasons, really) with the overtime game-winner. It took until Game 4 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final for the Stars to lose in OT for the first time during this postseason.

The Lightning power play kept striking in Game 4, and just like that, the Stars are on the brink of elimination in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1. (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2. (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 4 [OT].
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.