Pekka Rinne finally wins first Vezina

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After being a finalist three other times and serving as the Nashville Predators’ top goalie since 2008-09, Pekka Rinne finally won his first Vezina Trophy.

Rinne delivered an outstanding season, going 42-13-4 with a 2.31 GAA, a sparkling .927 save percentage, and eight shutouts. During his previous Vezina finalist finishes, Rinne finished second (in 2010-11 and 2014-15) and third (in 2011-12).

For much of this past season, Andrei Vasilevskiy seemed to be the frontrunner for the Vezina, and he finished with strong numbers. Still, a sputtering finish allowed Rinne to pass him by.

It seemed like the Vezina voting essentially came down to Rinne, Vasilevskiy, and “everyone else.” Connor Hellebuyck ended up emerging as the third finalist, edging plenty of quality choices among the rest of the pack.

Actually, as you can see from the voting, Vasilevskiy didn’t even finish second. This might be a good time to note that NHL GMs vote for the award instead of players or the PHWA.

As you can see, 10 goalies received at least a third-place vote. Vasilevskiy didn’t get a single first-place one, while non-finalists Frederik Andersen and Marc-Andre Fleury grabbed one No. 1 nod apiece. Interesting stuff.

Much like Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist, Rinne is a goalie who managed to win a Vezina despite an inauspicious start to his career. Rinne was selected in the now-non-existent eighth round (258th overall) in 2004 and now owns a Stanley Cup Final appearance, 311 wins, and a Vezina. Not too shabby.

U.S. routs South Korea, Czechs blank Belarus at IIHF Worlds

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ERNING, Denmark (AP) — Captain Patrick Kane scored two goals and added three assists as the United States demolished South Korea 13-1 at the ice hockey world championship on Friday for a fifth straight victory.

The Czech Republic shut out Belarus 3-0, and Denmark closed in on a quarterfinal berth after beating Norway, also 3-0.

Also, France defeated newcomer Austria 5-2 to stay in contention.

Charlie McAvoy, playing his first game for the U.S. after being knocked out of the NHL playoffs last weekend, made his presence felt with two goals and two assists. Derek Ryan and Cam Atkinson also scored a couple each.

”It was a long day, got here a couple hours ago,” McAvoy said. ”We have such a good team. It was a great opportunity for me to go out there and just feel the puck and get ready for the rest of tournament.”

When the U.S. won its first five games in 1933, it claimed its only world championship. But there were no more games then.

Jin Hui Ahn scored South Korea’s third goal at the worlds for a 1-0 surprise lead. It was South Korea’s first lead in any of its five games.

Libor Sulak, Roman Horak and Michal Repik scored for the Czechs against Belarus. Goaltender Pavel Francouz stopped all 11 shots.

Defenseman Nicklas Jensen scored twice and Frederik Storm added one all on power plays against Norway for Denmark’s third victory in the first world championship on home ice.

The players sang the national anthem after the match along with the Jyske Bank Boxen arena crowd mostly wearing red and white national jerseys.

Goaltender Frederik Andersen made 21 saves for his first shutout.

”The crowd delivered again,” Andersen said.

The United States move into the sole lead of Group B in Herning, three points ahead of Canada which has a game in hand. Finland was four points behind, followed by Denmark. South Korea has yet to win.

The Czechs shared third place in Group A in Copenhagen with Switzerland, trailing group leader Sweden by three points and Russia by one. Then followed Slovakia, France, Austria, and Belarus.

Leafs GM job means huge challenges, opportunities for Dubas

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Earlier today, the rumblings were confirmed, as the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that 32-year-old Kyle Dubas was promoted to the level of being their new GM. By many accounts, the push for Lou Lamoriello’s successor came down to Dubas or more experienced executive Mark Hunter.

However Leafs fans feel about this bold (if expected) choice, it should be grab-your-popcorn-level fun to see how everything plays out. Well, if you’re enraptured by nerdy team-building stuff, that is.

(Raises hand emphatically.)

The good news is that Lamoriello & Co. left behind a great situation for Dubas, who’s been learning the ropes since joining the organization in July 2014. With great organizational powers come great responsibility, however, and the young executive faces an array of short and long-term decisions that will make a huge impact on the fortunes of the massively popular NHL franchise.

Let’s take a look at some the opportunities at his fingertips, the obstacles in his way, and ponder some important situations that could go well or blow up in Toronto’s face.

An outstanding young core, a fairly clean slate

The best is almost certainly yet to come for this outstanding nucleus of young players.

Auston Matthews is 20, Mitch Marner is 21, William Nylander is 22, and even Morgan Rielly is only 24. Frederik Andersen should have prime years left at 28.

Toronto managed to get rid of Dion Phaneuf‘s contract, while Joffrey Lupul will no longer need to shade the Leafs about using his deal as a loophole. Aside from a few exceptions (Matt Martin, Nikita Zaitsev), there isn’t the baggage you normally see amid a regime change. Chalk that up to the Shanaplan if you want, but the world is Dubas’ oyster.

A small window and some big extensions

According to Cap Friendly, the Maple Leafs have $50.1 million devoted to 15 players for 2018-19. Dubas faces some intriguing possibilities considering the fact that the cap ceiling is expected to range between $78-$82M.

Sure, some of that space will be eaten up by RFA deals, most notably that of William Nylander.

The bottom line, though, is that the Maple Leafs should be flush … for one summer. The entry-level contracts for Matthews and Marner are set to expire after 2018-19, with those two becoming eligible for proactive extensions as early as this July.

First things first, Dubas is charged with pushing the right buttons as far as signing Matthews, Nylander, and Marner to team-friendly deals. Any free agent moves would surely be made realizing that those three will make this cushion evaporate with considerable speed.

With that in mind, Dubas might opt for creative one-year contracts. If James van Riemsdyk ends up unhappy with the market, would he take a rich, one-year deal to stay with Toronto? Would the Maple Leafs be able to convince a useful player to take a one-year deal under similar circumstances in the more likely case where JVR leaves?

Tavares or another blockbuster addition?

Again, with just about any situation, a team should make it work if John Tavares is interested in signing up. Of course, the Maple Leafs join the Sharks on the short list of teams that make the most realistic sense for Tavares if he doesn’t re-sign with the Islanders. The Maple Leafs could give Tavares a real chance to win it all; on the other hand, he might not appreciate being under such a magnifying glass with Toronto.

(Personally, I think Tavares would love the challenge, but it’s tough to know for sure what he actually wants to do.)

The Maple Leafs could get some ancillary benefits from signing Tavares to what would almost certainly demand a $10M+ cap hit. Signing Tavares could conceivably help to set a ceiling of sorts for Matthews, and perhaps Marner and/or Nylander would be more willing to sacrifice a bit of cash to be a part of what could really be a contender? One wouldn’t expect these RFAs to take an extreme cut from what they might otherwise get, but even a million here or there could be huge if Toronto ends up scraping against the cap ceiling with rapid speed.

There’s also the amusing thought of Tavares signing close to the maximum for one year, although it’s difficult to picture the star player signing such a risky deal.

Interestingly, similar circumstances could arise if the Maple Leafs landed a big fish in a trade. The Senators wouldn’t trade Erik Karlsson to their bitter rivals, but maybe he’d sign there in the 2019 summer? Maybe the Maple Leafs would land another would-be 2019 free agent in Drew Doughty or Oliver Ekman-Larsson?

This flexibility in 2018-19 could help the Maple Leafs into the future, especially if Dubas gets creative.

Liked by Mike?

Mike Babcock might have his old-school tendencies, yet he’s also shown plenty of signs of being pretty progressive, especially for a coach with his impeccable resume. Chances are, he’ll be fair to Dubas.

Still, there’s a human nature element to this that should be fascinating to watch, even if the juicy stuff would likely only happen behind closed doors.

Consider this. Like Mark Hunter, Babcock is 55 years old. Lou Lamoriello is old enough to be Babs’ father at 75, while Dubas could be the grandchild at 32. As professional as everyone involved surely must be, that could make for an odd dynamic when inevitable turmoil surfaces. Granted, it certainly helps that Dubas has already been with the organization for about four years, giving him plenty of chances to build chemistry and trust.

You wonder how often Dubas will feel compelled to “throw Babcock a bone.” Like just about every NHL coach, Babcock has “his guys.” Will Dubas grudgingly sign off on some minutes for Roman Polak if the Maple Leafs otherwise embody a more modern approach?

It’s going to be a little uncomfortable at times for Babcock to take orders from a guy who’s 23 years younger than him. Here’s hoping that the situation doesn’t devolve like Art Howe grumbling about analytics in “Moneyball,” although it might be fun to banter about which Hollywood actor would play Babcock.

***

As expansive as this post is, it doesn’t cover everything facing Dubas. That tells you how complex a GM’s job can be, particularly in a high-pressure market such as Toronto.

Dubas will be charged with finding ways to improve the Maple Leafs’ defense. He’ll need to manage the cap with those sweetheart rookie deals set to expire. Eventually, it will be crucial for the Maple Leafs to find new sweetheart rookie deals by drafting well, even with less favorable draft positions.

It’s been ages since the Maple Leafs boasted such potential at just about every level, not to mention a coach who can get the most out of those players. Toronto fans have been patient with the process so far, but that honeymoon stage probably won’t last longer than Matthews’ ELC.

Fair or not, Dubas will be judged as a failure if he can’t mold this potential into a contender, if not a flat-out champion.

He’s been handed the keys to a great situation, but Dubas must avoid some serious pot holes. Either way, it will be fascinating to observe, and considering his age and preferences, it might just change how NHL teams conduct business.

No pressure, barely-not-a-kid.

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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.

US shut out Danes, Czechs top Slovakia at ice hockey worlds

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HERNING, Denmark (AP) — The United States dominated host Denmark 4-0 for a second straight victory at the world ice hockey championship on Saturday.

The Czech Republic rallied from a goal down to beat Slovakia 3-2 in overtime, and South Korea’s debut at the championship was memorable for the wrong reason as it lost to Finland 8-1.

Also, France beat Belarus 6-2 to rebound from losing to Russia 7-0 on Friday in Group A in Copenhagen. Latvia outlasted Norway to win 3-2 in overtime, and Switzerland prevailed over Austria 3-2, also in overtime.

After an opening win over favorite Canada in a shootout, the U.S. had an easier time against Denmark.

After saving 40 shots against Canada, goalie Keith Kinkaid was outstanding again, finishing with a 20-shot shutout.

”I felt pretty sharp today,” Kinkaid said. ”Maybe even sharper than yesterday.”

Will Butcher and Chris Kreider each had a goal and an assist.

Butcher wristed the first goal over the shoulder of goalie Frederik Andersen in the first period.

Kreider deflected a slap shot by Quinn Hughes on a power play to double the lead in the second, and Cam Atkinson made it 3-0 on a rebound.

The U.S. killed Denmark’s two-man advantage in that period.

”It was a good job by us to finish out,” Kreider said.

Nick Jensen finished the scoring in the final period.

In Copenhagen, Dmitrij Jaskin scored the winner for the Czechs in overtime that was forced by a goal from Martin Necas with 10 seconds to go in regulation.

Sebastian Aho scored twice and added two assists for Finland. His NHL teammate Teuvo Teravainen also had a goal and three assists.

”We’ve been playing together a couple years now, we know our game pretty good, and we know where we are on the ice,” Teravainen said. ”We just try to make some plays and have some fun.”

Canada-born Matt Dalton in the South Korea goal made 37 saves.

”You cannot give up three short-handed goals,” Dalton said. ”It’s a different level.”

South Korea next faces Canada.

Latvia’s Rudolfs Balcers scored just 24 seconds into overtime to settle their match with Norway in Herning.

Anders Bastiansen and Alexander Bonsaksen established a 2-0 lead for Norway before Balcers reduced the deficit with his first goal and Rodrigo Abols equalized in the third period.

Enzo Corvi scored the winner for Switzerland with 1:42 remaining against Austria in Copenhagen.

Nino Niederreiter and Gaetan Haas also had a goal each for a Swiss 2-0 lead.

With eight minutes remaining in the second, Austria defenseman Steven Strong received a hit from Sven Andrighetto and was taken off on a stretcher.

Dominic Zwerger scored the first goal for Austria on the subsequent power play and Manuel Ganahl equalized in the final period, forcing overtime.

Lou Lamoriello not returning as Maple Leafs GM; time for Dubas or Hunter?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs will have a new general manager next season as Lou Lamoriello will not return in that role for the 2018-19 NHL season.

When Lamoriello was hired in 2o15, the deal was that he would be the GM for three seasons and then move to an advisor position. Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement on Monday that he wouldn’t be altering from that original plan. “I will now focus all of my attention towards making a decision regarding our next general manager,” he wrote.

It’s been quite a turnaround in the last three years for the Maple Leafs. Auston Matthews sure helps, but Lamoriello also dealt for goaltender Frederik Andersen (2016) and signed Patrick Marleau (2017), both of whom played big parts in helping the team return to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. (Pension Plan Puppets has a great breakdown of all of his moves as Toronto’s GM.)

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Now comes the two-headed speculation monster: Who takes over for Lamoriello and will Lamoriello remain as an advisor with the Maple Leafs?

First things first, ever since Lamoriello was installed as GM in 2015, the thought was that next in line would be Kyle Dubas or Mark Hunter, the team’s assistant GMs. Both are still with the club with the Maple Leafs blocking Dubas from taking the job of running the entire hockey operations department of the Colorado Avalanche when they came calling last year. One issue that might stem from Shanahan choosing one over the other is what will happen to the one who doesn’t get the job? Will he stay or leave for a bigger opportunity elsewhere? Both are highly thought of in the organization.

The GM decision needs to happen fast as there are some big off-season decisions to make for the Maple Leafs. James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak are their big-name unrestricted free agents, while William Nylander, set to become a restricted free agent, needs a new contract. They could have around $28 million in cap space should the ceiling go up at least $3 million like it’s expected, so how would extensions, plus any other free agent signings fit into their plans for next season? Big decisions ahead.

Finally, the hot rumor of the week has Lamoriello leaving the Maple Leafs to join the New York Islanders and replacing Garth Snow as GM. Lamoriello’s son, Chris, is the team’s assistant GM. Would Lou head to Long Island, run the show for a few years and hand the reins to his son? Co-owner Jon Ledecky said last month that he will be “evaluating all aspects” of the organization this off-season. Could that mean “waiting for the right name(s) to come available” in regards to the futures of Snow and head coach Doug Weight?

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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.