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Time for Sabres to upgrade in goal

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Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill confirmed that the team will not give starting netminder Robin Lehner a qualifying offer, which means he’ll be a free agent on July 1st. That means there’s an opening for a new number one goalie in Buffalo.

Lehner hasn’t had much to work with since he joined the Sabres, but he’s had plenty of issues with consistency and staying healthy. Again, the inconsistency isn’t all on him because the players in front of him haven’t been good enough. Still, his tenure in Buffalo didn’t go as planned.

The Sabres have a franchise center in Jack Eichel and they’re about to land a franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, so it’s time they land a goalie that can help push them in the right direction. What are their options?

Last season, the team gave 24-year-old Linus Ullmark a look between the pipes, and he did relatively well over five games. Ullmark will likely be one of the two goaltenders in Buffalo in 2018-19.

For those hoping Botterill will dip his toe in the free-agent pool, you may be disappointed. There’s no number one goalie available this year. Top options include: Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Cam Ward, Jonathan Bernier and Carter Hutton.

Could one of those veterans be paired with Ullmark? Sure, but how much confidence would that give this Buffalo team. Hutton has been one of the better backup goalies in the league over the last couple of years. That would likely be the best free-agent fit for the Sabres. Management might be able to land him if they can sell the idea of him playing quite a bit more than he’s used to.

Hutton could be an option.

The only other way to land a goalie right now is by trading for one.

There’s Philipp Grubauer, who’s currently a Washington Capital. Acquiring Grubauer would cost the Sabres an asset, but he could still be worth looking into if they believe he’s capable of playing at the same level he did in the second half of the season. The 26-year-old has never played more than 35 games in a season, so making him a starter won’t come without risk. At this point though, there are no slam-dunk number one goalies available, so GM Jason Botterill will have to roll the dice on somebody.

If they want someone a little more proven, they have to think outside the box. Would they be willing to take a risk on Cam Talbot in Edmonton? There have been rumblings that he’s available. Sure, he’s coming off a down year, but he was outstanding two seasons ago. He’s scheduled to become a free agent in 2019 and the Oilers might not be willing to pay a 30-year-old netminder the type of money he may command.

Now this is a really “outside the box” kind of idea, but would the Predators be willing to move one of their goalies? Pekka Rinne, who just won the Vezina Trophy, has one year left on his contract and he struggled pretty badly in the playoffs. Juuse Saros, who’s the goalie of the future, is an RFA and he’ll be getting a raise this summer. Nashville doesn’t have to do anything with their goaltenders this year, so this is very unlikely, but it’s just something to think about.

Another veteran option could Sens netminder Craig Anderson, who is available, per TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

No matter how they do it, the Sabres have to find a way to upgrade the roster as a whole, but specifically in goal. They don’t have to find a franchise netminder like a Braden Holtby or a Carey Price, but they need to get better at that position if they’re going to come close to making the playoffs one of these days.

It’s up to Botterill to figure out how he wants to do that.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Marc Bergevin’s tenure has slowly but surely made Canadiens worse

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Let’s go back in time a few years to the summer of 2012.

The Montreal Canadiens are coming off of a disappointing 2011-12 season that saw them miss the playoffs, change head coaches, and fire their general manager. To fill those vacancies they hired Marc Bergevin away from the Chicago Blackhawks to serve as their new GM and brought back Michel Therrien for his second stint behind the team’s bench.

The big hire here would be the Bergevin one because he was the one responsible for shaping the direction of the team and is still doing so today.

Despite the struggles on the ice during the 2011-12 season there was still a promising young core in place that he was inheriting in which to build around.

  • Max Pacioretty was 23 years old and coming off of his first 30-goal season.
  • P.K. Subban was 22 years old, already starting to blossom into a star, and was about to enter a season where he would go on to win the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
  • They had a young franchise goalie in Carey Price.
  • They had a 22-year-old Lars Eller who had doubled his offensive production from his rookie season and a 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher set to make his debut the following season
  • On top of all that they had the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, a selection that would ultimately be used on Alex Galchenyuk.

At times over the past six seasons the Canadiens have had some success. They went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2013-14, went to the second round in 2014-15, and topped the 100-point mark three times. It hasn’t been a totally disastrous few years. You could easily — and justifiably — make the argument that some of that success was driven in large part by having Price mask a lot of the team’s flaws and carry it further than it probably otherwise should have gone. But it was still success in the short-term.

The important question to ask at this point is if the Canadians organization is in a better place today than it was six years ago when Bergevin was hired to re-shape the organization. That is, after all, the goal of a GM: To make their organization better than they found it.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that Bergevin has done that, while the young core that he inherited has slowly but surely been squandered.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been good moves here and there.

Getting Pacioretty signed to a long-term contract extension that paid him less than $5 million per year was one of the biggest steals in the league. Signing Alexander Radulov in his return from the KHL added some desperately needed talent and creativity to a stagnant offense. Today, though, Pacioretty is entering the final year of his contract and is the subject of trade speculation. Radulov, having been unable to work out a new contract with the Canadiens after his one year with the team, is in Dallas and coming off of a career-best season that saw him score 28 goals and 72 points for the Stars.

And the rest of the players mentioned above? That group of Price, Subban, Galchenyuk, and Eller? Only Price remains, while the trio of Subban, Eller, and Galchenyuk has been traded for a package of players and assets that amounts to Shea Weber, Max Domi, Joni Ikonen and a yet-to-be-used 2018 second-round draft pick (No. 62 overall).

Look at those two groups of players and then ask yourself which group you would rather have on your team this season and in the immediate future with all of the circumstances considered.

It’s not that Weber and Domi are bad or can’t provide value for the Canadiens. But how are the Canadiens better for having them instead of what they had?

Look at the fact that P.K. Subban, who was traded straight up for Shea Weber after the 2015-16 season, is four years younger, has been more productive the past two years, and is a finalist for the Norris Trophy this season. Weber, meanwhile, is entering his age 33 season, coming off an injury shortened season, and is signed until he is 40 at more than $7.8 million per season. Combined with Price, the Canadiens now have two players, both of whom are already over the age of 30 and have likely already played their best hockey, signed through 2026 at a total salary cap hit of more than $18 million. You can’t fault them for signing Price because he has literally been the backbone of the team, but given the ages, salary structure, and positions they play it is a very unique core for a team to build around. Unique does not always mean good.

During that same offseason the Canadiens made the decision to trade skill for more grit and toughness (a trend they followed all season in their roster transactions) when they sent Lars Eller, still under contract for two more years at a salary cap hit of $3.5 million, to the Washington Capitals for two second round draft picks (one used to select Ikonen, the other one to be used this weekend).

They then turned around and traded two second-round draft picks in 2016 to Chicago for Andrew Shaw and signed him to a six-year, $23.4 million contract extension — in other words, slightly more money than they were paying Eller.

Again, it’s not that Shaw is necessarily a bad player, but are the Canadiens better today for it?

If nothing else the optics of it look bad after Eller played a massive role in helping the Capitals win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Last summer there was the free agent signing of Karl Alzner, giving the Canadiens what is currently one of the oldest defensive lineups in the league, and one that is severely lacking in mobility and offensive production. Between Weber, Alzner, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn and David Schlemko the Canadiens will open this season with five defensemen age 30 or older. Together, they will take up nearly $22 million in salary cap space. That coincided with the trading of top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin. The jury is still very much out on that trade but year one of the Drouin era in Montreal probably did not go as planned considering that Sergachev, an 18-year-old defenseman, finished the season just six points shy of Drouin’s offensive output.

Then there is the most recent move to trade Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Domi.

This comes after years of not really being sure what to do with Galchenyuk. Through all of it, Galchenyuk still managed to produce at a consistent top-six level as a player you could pencil in for 20 goals and 50 points every year. Domi, who is only a few months younger than Galchenyuk and about $1 million cheaper under the cap, is coming off a two-year stretch that has seen him score 18 goals in more than 140 games.

Keep in mind that Galchenyuk has scored fewer than 18 goals in a single season just once over the past four years, and that when when he scored 17 during the 2016-17 season … in only 61 games.

There are a lot of reasons to like Domi’s potential. There is reason to believe he could bounce back. It is, however, not a given and the question yet again must be asked … how are the Canadiens better after this? 

The answer, yet again, seems to be that they really aren’t.

And this has pretty much been the story of the Marc Bergevin era in Montreal: They’re not really that much worse, but they’re not really that much better.

Most of the trades (here is the full list) are inconsequential that don’t really hurt or help either team involved. But when it comes to the big moves involving the key players they all seem to end up making the Canadiens marginally worse or leave them in a slightly worse situation, whether it be from a talent perspective, a salary cap perspective, or some combination of the two.

None of them have really been a complete disaster (though, the Subban-for-Weber swap could drift that way depending how Weber ages in the coming years), but none of them have really done anything to improve the situation. Perhaps even more than the actual results is the thought process behind the moves, where grit and size seems to take precedence over skill and talent. It has left them with a mediocre team that lacks goal-scorers and skill and has committed an awful lot of money to get older and less skilled.

No general manager is perfect. Mistakes will happen and they will make bad evaluations from time to time. But when those little mistakes keep happening over and over again they eventually add up into one big mistake that leaves you in a hole that is difficult to get out of.

This should be concerning for Canadiens fans when they realize Pacioretty could be traded. Or that the Canadiens are open to potentially trading the No. 3 pick this year.  It is entirely possible one or both could get moved in the coming days.

If history is any indicator it probably won’t be a total disaster. But it probably won’t be great, either.

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.

Cheap Domi extension makes Galchenyuk trade easier for Habs to defend

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If Hockey Twitter felt like too much of an “echo chamber” after the Arizona Coyotes landed Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens in a trade for Max Domi, consider that PHT readers also heartily believe that Arizona got the best end of the deal.

As of this writing, it isn’t even close.

Arizona’s already collected more than 1,000 votes; Montreal hasn’t hit 100 yet. Yeah.

Ouch.

Now, to be fair, that poll didn’t consider scale. The consensus is that the Coyotes won this trade, but the future can sand off some of the hard edges from this move in a few ways.

Part of it comes down to Max Domi playing better. Some of his scoring woes come down to poor shooting luck, yet there’s growing concern that he may simply struggle to score at the NHL level. He also doesn’t change anything about Montreal’s issues down the middle.

One other factor: Domi’s freshly signed contract extension. The Canadiens announced today that the 23-year-old signed a two-year deal that carries a cap hit of $3.15 million. If Domi and Galchenyuk end up producing at similar levels, there are two points in Montreal’s favor thanks to this extension.

  • Domi is considerably cheaper, as Galchenyuk’s deal carries a $4.9M cap hit. (Both expire after 2019-20.)
  • After Domi’s deal expires, he’d be an RFA. Galchenyuk, meanwhile, would be slated for unrestricted free agency. So it’s plausible that Domi’s next contract will be more affordable, too.

A fair take is that the Domi – Galchenyuk trade sums up Marc Bergevin’s time as Montreal GM, but this morning’s announcement actually provides a fuller picture.

Because, as lousy as Bergevin has been at making winning trades, he’s managed to leverage RFA rights and other situations to gain some bargain contracts. (Granted, I’d argue that he went too far and thus soured the organization’s relationship with P.K. Subban in 2013, but that’s a debate for another day.)

While Carey Price‘s $10.5M looks terrifying considering the goalie’s recent health/consistency issues, Bergevin grabbed some nice value earlier in players’ careers. Galchenyuk stands as an example, actually.

  • Despite the comical heat Max Pacioretty absorbs at times in Montreal, he’s entering the final season of a six-year deal that carries just a $4.5M cap hit. You can rank that among the best steals outside of entry-level contracts.
  • Brendan Gallagher is only halfway through his own cheap six-year deal. His $3.75M cap hit runs through 2020-21.
  • There may come a point when Jonathan Drouin‘s $5.5M cap hit looks a lot better than it does today. He’s gifted and only 23 years old, so if the narrative shifts away from the negatives (not being “the answer” at center, Mikhail Sergachev possibly being the better player), Montreal landed talent at a reasonable rate.

Honestly, the main gripe about Domi’s contract is that it would have been far more exciting if it carried more term.

If the speedy winger ends up exceeding expectations, Montreal will need to reward him fairly quickly. That mitigates some of the positives from “buying low” from a cap hit perspective.

Still, there’s a chance that Domi’s reasonable price will change the way people look at this trade in months or years.

(My guess is that the Coyotes still come out the winners, though.)

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.

Six players who should stay put this summer

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Over the next couple of months there will be a lot of trades that get made throughout the NHL.

Some of them will be good for everybody involved. Some of them will be bad for somebody. Some of them should not happen. After taking a look at six players that probably should be traded, let us now take a look at six players that should not be traded.

Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins. Based on his career it seems that the Phi Kessel experience has a shelf life with whatever organization he is playing for.

Based on the reports coming out of Pittsburgh regarding his relationship with coach Mike Sullivan in the wake of their second-round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals he could be on the verge of reaching the end of that shelf life in Pittsburgh

That, of course, has led to trade speculation.

General manager Jim Rutherford has downplayed the whole thing and summed up the entire ordeal becoming a story this offseason as perfectly as anyone could have when he said this to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a week ago.

“They always had good communication directly and indirectly through the assistant coaches,” Rutherford said. “I don’t see where that has changed. The only thing that’s changed is that we won the first two years, so nobody wants to talk about it. We didn’t win the Stanley Cup this year, so it’s become a bigger public issue. To me, that’s the only reason.”

Basically, when you win nobody cares that you don’t get along. When you lose, suddenly it is the most important thing in the world.

There are probably a lot of truths when it comes to the Kessel-Penguins situation.

Kessel is probably the type of player that drives coaches crazy.

He and Sullivan may not always see eye-to-eye.

But he is also one of the best offensive players in the world and is more than just a one-trick pony that can only score goals (not that being a goal-scorer is a bad thing).

If I am Jim Rutherford my message to Kessel and Sullivan is simple: Hey Mike, Phil is too good, too productive, and too much of a bargain for me to trade because I will never get fair value back in return and it is only going to make our team worse if I do trade him. Hey Phil, Mike is the coach … try to be a little less of a pain in the ass sometimes.

The Penguins could probably use a tweak or two or to their roster. They could stand to dump a contract or two (Conor Sheary, perhaps). But it should not be the guy that was just one of the top-10 scorers in the NHL and has been a central cog in a team that has won the Stanley Cup in two of the past three years.

Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers. There is a disturbing cycle in Edmonton.

It usually starts with the team underperforming or just flat out being terrible on the ice.

Then you start to hear rumblings about how one of the core players is falling out of favor even though they aren’t really the biggest part of the problem. Then that player gets traded for an underwhelming return and goes to their new team and excels while the Oilers are left holding a bag of magic beans and looking like they do not really know what they are doing.

Justin Schultz. Taylor Hall. Jordan Eberle.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you are paying close attention it seems to be happening again, and this time the player at the center of that discussion is defenseman Oscar Klefbom.

Knowing the history of the Oilers and the history of general manager Peter Chiarelli making these kinds of deals it should send a shiver up the back of every Oilers fans because there is no way this would end well.

Klefbom was tremendous as a top-pairing defenseman for the Oilers in 2016-17 but regressed this past season as he played through a shoulder injury.

He is still only 24 years old, he is signed long-term, when healthy he has shown that he can be an outstanding player. He is not the reason their defense stinks and if they try to trade him now they are doing so at what is probably his lowest value — coming off of an injury plagued, injury shortened season where he did not play at his best. Only bad things can come from a trade in that situation.

Give him a chance to rebound. Keep your best defenseman. Just do not do anything dumb.

Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. Everything we just said about Klefbom? Say it again, only this time about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Not that he is someone that seems to be on the trading block, but he carries a big contract, the Oilers have to clear some salary cap space somewhere, and with Schultz, Hall and Eberle all gone he is one of the few long-time members of the “core” that lost so much that still remains in Edmonton.

He is good. He is not your problem. Keep him.

Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes. There has been some speculation for more than a year now that Domi has been shopped, and there was even a rumor that the Pittsburgh Penguins could be interested in him (Domi’s father, long-time NHL tough-guy Tie Domi, and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux are very close).

Given how much smoke there has been around Domi when it comes to trade speculation there is always the possibility that it could happen but I really can’t think of a compelling reason why it should happen.

Yes, he had a tough season in 2017-18. Yes, he is a restricted free agent and in line for a new contract. But he is still only 22 years old. The Coyotes have reportedly struck a deal with defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson indicating that they are trying to build something around their current young core. Domi could still be a part of that. Plus, he just does not seem like the type of player that would bring enough of a return to warrant trading him at this point.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens. You could try to give me a lot of good reasons why the Canadiens could — or maybe even should — trade him. The only one that even begins to make sense is the contract situation as he enters the final year of his deal.

Still, let’s be serious here: The Canadiens are not really in a position to rebuild after committing a ton of money into a veteran core. Whether or not they should rebuild is another question entirely, but given the makeup of the team that just does not seem to be in the cards.

That brings us to Pacioretty.

He is their best player not named Carey Price and has been one of the best goal scorers in the NHL throughout his career. He is also coming off of a career-worst performance offensively. Trading him now is trading him at his absolute lowest value given that he did not play great in 2017-18 and only has one year left on his contract. There is no upside to moving him at this point. Even though he is entering his age 30 season he is the type of player that should be able to maintain a lot of his value as an offensive contributor for several more years and there is plenty to indicate that he is due for a bounce back season, from the fact he was a 53 percent possession player this past season, to the fact he still averaged more than 3.30 shots on goal per game, to the fact he had one of the worst shooting percentages of his career.

There is a very real chance that he comes back in 2018-19 and is once again a 30-35 goal scorer. Make sure he has that season for your team and not somebody else.

Regarding the contract situation? You are the Montreal Canadiens. You can afford to re-sign an elite goal-scorer. Make it work.

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. The only reason the Maple Leafs might even consider something like this is because they want to maybe deal from a position of strength (young, talented forwards) to fill a position of weakness (defense).

Here is another idea: Don’t do it. Find another way to fix your defense. You don’t want to do something crazy like pulling a Hall-for-Larsson here.

Nylander is a great young player and is going to be one of the key building blocks of a team that could, maybe, one day, finally end your Stanley Cup drought.

He just turned 22 years old and already has a pair of 60-point seasons under his belt, something that only 33 players have accomplished since the start of the 2000 season.

Players like that do not typically get traded. Out of that aforementioned group of 33, only 11 of them have been traded at any point in their careers. One of them, Filip Forsberg, was traded before his NHL debut. Several others (like Ilya Kovalchuk, Eric Staal, Paul Stastny, Marian Gabroik) were traded later in their careers just before they were set to become unrestricted free agents or due to some other contractual issue. The only players out of that group that were traded before their 25th birthdays were Tyler Seguin and Ryan Johansen.

One of those trades (Johansen) worked out well for everybody. The other (Seguin) was a disaster for the team that gave up the player.

Do you want to take that chance?

Players that produce like Nylander at this age usually go on to be All-Star level players. They are also incredibly difficult to find. When you get one, you want to hang on to them for as long as you possibly can.

MORE: Six players who should be traded this summer

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.

Braden Holtby no longer NHL’s tough luck postseason loser

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The dominant storyline in the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup win is, obviously, centered around Alex Ovechkin finally kicking down the championship door and silencing whatever critics he had left.

It is understandable.

Ovechkin is one of the game’s greatest all-time players and finally has the final accomplishment so many felt he needed to complete his resume as one of the NHL’s best. No matter how many goals he scored in the regular season or playoffs, no matter how much he produced or how many highlights he created there was always going to be that person rattling the cage about how he hadn’t yet won the Stanley Cup, whether that was his fault or not.

Those days are now, officially, gone.

Related: Ovechkin overcame plenty of heartbreak to become Stanley Cup champion]

He is not the only long-time member of the Capitals’ core that was probably long overdue for postseason success, so let’s talk about starting goaltender Braden Holtby, statistically speaking one of the best performing postseason goalies in NHL history.

Holtby’s story is in some ways even more incredible than Ovechin’s because Holtby plays the one position in the sport where a great performance can single-handedly drive team success in the playoffs. For almost his entire postseason career Holtby has played at that level for the Capitals.

The numbers are sparking. In some cases incredible.

Going back to the start of the 1960 playoffs Holtby’s .929 career postseason save percentage is the third best all-time (minimum 40 playoff games played), trailing only Tim Thomas’ .932 mark and Johnny Brower’s .931.

Until this season Holtby was the only goalie in the top-10 of that list, and one of only three in the top-25 (Curtis Joseph and Carey Price being the other two) that had never played in a Stanley Cup Final.

Fourteen of the top-25 had won at least one Stanley Cup.

Until this season, Holtby had not only never won a cup or been to the Final, he had never been out of the second round, a baffling fact considering how consistently great he has performed.

First, just look at his series-by-series performance since arriving in the NHL in 2012. Just look at the save percentages, particularly the ones in the loss column.

In only one postseason series in his career has he finished with a save percentage lower than .916. In only three of them has he been below .920, and oddly enough two of them were his past two series wins against Tampa Bay and Vegas this season. And even in that Tampa Bay series he pitched back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 with his team facing elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In the five series before this season that Holtby and the capitals had lost he had a combined save percentage of .924, and that includes the .887 clunker against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017. Those five series accounted for 34 games. Among active goalies that have appeared in at least 34 playoff games only four of them have a save percentage better than .924 (and yes, Holtby is one of them).

Again, those are his performances in the series that he lost.

It defies logic, and in a lot of ways Holtby, more than any other player on the Capitals (Ovechkin included), illustrates the team’s postseason frustrations prior to this season.

When you get that level of goaltending you are supposed to win. Or at least get closer to winning than the Capitals did. And it’s not just the overall series performances and results that were baffling. It was the individual games, including some of the potential knockout games and elimination games.

Prior to this season Holtby was on the losing end of four postseason games where he allowed just one goal. The only other active goalie that has lost that many is Henrik Lundqvist, who has lost four … in 128 career playoff games. Holtby has only played in 82.

In three of the five games where he was eliminated he allowed only two goals. One of the two games where he allowed more, a Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers where he surrendered five goals, came after he lost one of those aforementioned one-goal games in a potential knockout game in Game 6 of the series. In two of those elimination games his team was shutout. In another they scored just one goal.

Holtby was already one of the best goalies of his era. He has a Vezina Trophy and another year as the runner-up. He has a Jennings Trophy. He has numbers in both the regular season and playoffs that stack up with, or just flat out exceed, any of his peers.

But just like Ovechkin until he finally got his name on the Stanley Cup there was always going to be that crowd that completely disregarded it because they foolishly believed he couldn’t do it when it mattered most, ignoring the confluence of events independent of any one player that need to perfectly align for a team to win a championship.

It all finally happened this year, and after years of dominant play and tough-luck losses he too finally has the last accomplishment his resume was missing.

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.