2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs: PHT predicts First Round, Stanley Cup champion

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We’ve made our way through the Qualifying Round and Round-robin games. It’s time to begin the traditional four-round journey to the Stanley Cup.

The First Round begins Tuesday, and to get here we’ve seen some upsets, dramatic comebacks, and star performances. What will the next two months bring us? Probably some more craziness and memorable Stanley Cup playoff moments.  The PHT team have locked in our First Round and Stanley Cup predictions. The surprises that happened over the last 10 days will surely continue as we make our way to the Cup Final in late September.

Will the Blues repeat? Can the Lightning overcome those pesky Blue Jackets? What Bruins team will we see after a sluggish round-robin? Is this the year for Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche? Those questions and more will be answered.

[FULL SECOND ROUND NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE]

Here are our picks for the First Round, Stanley Cup champion, and Conn Smythe winner. Let us know in the comments who you think will take it all.

Conference Champions

Sean Leahy, NHL writer – Hurricanes/Avalanche: Why not those “jerks”? They’re fun, entertaining to watch, employ plenty of young talent. Plus, it’s a wild idea to think they could make a run through this Eastern Conference. They shut down the Rangers and showed off just how strong defensively they are, even without the services of Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton. What the Hurricanes can do this postseason could really shine a light on how much more love Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho really deserve.

It won’t be easy, but the Avs’ road to the Cup Final may have to end up going through the Golden Knights or the defending champion Blues. But Sakic bolstering his roster has set them up for this opportunity. The Nazem Kadri trade could be looked back upon as the GM adding that final piece to a championship puzzle.

James O’Brien, NHL writer – Lightning/Blues: With everything in turmoil, why not … go with the prediction you made (does math counting on fingers) 5,000 days ago in October? Yes, the Lightning meandered into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and I’m worried about the health of Stamkos and Hedman. But let’s not forget that, before the Bolts were the team that got swept, they were a team that almost made a SCF with Stamkos almost entirely on the shelf. Maybe this loaded team will benefit from a little early turmoil? Look, the hockey has been good, but it’s also been unpredictable, so let’s roll with it.

The Blues are deep, they have a star player hungry to make those big bucks in Alex Pietrangelo, and Ryan O'Reilly & Co. showed they can win the toughest matchups. The defending champs boast basically every element you look for in a spirited push toward a repeat.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer – Lightning/Golden Knights: I will say up front that a lot of this pick depends on the availability of Steven Stamkos and/or Victor Hedman through the playoffs. But assuming they play and contribute, I am still very much a believer in this Lightning team. I know about the postseason failures. I know about how often their offense has wilted when they have been on the verge of doing something special. But I still believe in talent, and I am going to keep betting on talent. The Capitals eventually broke through. The Blues eventually broke through. I think the Lightning will eventually break through.

As much as I love the Avalanche roster and everything they can become in the future with this core, salary cap space, and young assets, I still think Vegas is the best team in the Western Conference this season … as long as the goaltending holds out, which was their biggest flaw early in the season when they stumbled out of the gate. Fortunately for them they addressed that at the trade deadline with the addition of Robin Lehner. It would not surprise me to see him get an opportunity in the playoffs and run with it.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Lightning/Golden Knights: Am I fully confident in this pick? No. I don’t know if the Blue Jackets are Tampa’s kryptonite, or if the Lightning will unleash a Bruins-circa-2011-vs-Philly revenge sweep. But Tampa is stacked and once again, and it feels like they made all the necessary additions to what was already a Cup-contending roster.

After watching Vegas go 3-0 in the Round Robin, all without their regular season leading scorer Max Pacioretty, they seem like the class of the Western Conference. I see the Avalanche giving them all they can handle in an epic seven-game series, but the Golden Knights will advance to their second Cup Final in three years.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor – Lightning/Avalanche: The Lightning win the East as they have the most talent, the best defenseman and best goaltender in the East. The only problem that could arise is if Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos are injured to a greater degree than we know about and the duo miss a lot of time. If those are the circumstances, they could have more trouble with Columbus who are an extremely well-coached defensive team.

The Avalanche will win the West because of their tremendous talent, including Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. The off-season addition of Nazem Kadri will do wonders for the Avs as long as he doesn’t get another post-season suspension that has been his tendency the last two years. I love Cale Makar and they get great goaltending from both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Stanley Cup Champion/Conn Smythe Trophy winner

Sean Leahy, NHL writer – Avalanche over Hurricanes (Nathan MacKinnon): Joe Sakic should be up for the Jim Gregory Award when GM of the Year finalists are announced after the Second Round. He added depth and secondary scoring and it’s paid off. Colorado finished with the second-best points percentage in the Western Conference and have a roster full of skill. Plus, Jared Bednar just wins. He’s won an ECHL Kelly Cup and AHL Calder Cup. Now he just needs that shiny silver one the NHL hands out every year.

James O’Brien, NHL writer – Lightning over Blues (Brayden Point): Again, sticking with the Lightning over the Blues in 7. These are two deep, talented teams, ones that can throw different looks at you if certain alignments don’t quite work. It doesn’t hurt that a big postseason run could fatten the bank accounts of the likes of Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Cirelli could very well propel his name into more mainstream minds with a big run, not unlike fellow Selke-worthy center Ryan O’Reilly has done in recent years. Let’s pencil in the Lightning to parallel the 2018 Capitals and win it all a year after you think they had their best chance.

Once again, I’m rolling with my picks from before. Point probably still isn’t as well-known as he should be among casual NHL fans. With Stamkos possibly out for a bit early, and Point seemingly healthy now that he’s further removed from offseason surgery, this could be the sort of mainstream breakout that could make him closer to a hockey equivalent to a “household name.” (Yes, you already knew well about Point, but we’re talking about hockey-less-knowers. *Shares your disapproving look tsk tsk*)

Adam Gretz, NHL writer – Lightning over Golden Knights (Nikita Kucherov): Everything I said about the Lightning up above remains true here. As long as Stamkos and Hedman are there (still a big if at this point) I like their chances. A lot. This is their year.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content – Lightning over Golden Knights (Andrei Vasilevskiy): Tampa is due. And recent history tells us this type of team is bound to break through. Just like Washington and St. Louis, who had been to the postseason year after year without winning it all, I predict a similar result for Tampa in 2020. They have been to the Eastern Conference Final four times in the last nine years, but have nothing to show for it…yet.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor – Avalanche over Lightning (Nathan MacKinnon): The Avalanche will win the Stanley Cup for the reasons listed above. I think they are the best team in the NHL and the lack of travel for Western teams (which used to really hurt as they could be travelling across three time zones in the first three rounds) will help the team.

Nathan MacKinnon, the second best player from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (in case you don’t know, it’s the same hometown as Sidney Crosby) is a Hart Trophy finalist and he will add the Conn Smythe to his trophy case.

MORE:
Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups
Conn Smythe Watch: Korpisalo, Aho leading entering First Round
Rangers win 2020 NHL draft lottery, will pick No. 1 overall
Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises; vulnerable top seeds

Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

“I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

“It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

“We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

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Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

“We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

“It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

NEW COACHES

The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

“Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

CAMP TRYOUTS

Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

“They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

EARLY START

Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

“We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

“I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

“The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

With that, Barkov was sold.

And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

“We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

“The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

“I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

“I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

CAMP ROSTER

Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

Terms of the deal were not released.

The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.