(Side question: does this mean Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray is just on vacation or something?)
Now, there’s no telling how interested Kovalchuk would be in signing with either team.
That said, it’s not that difficult to imagine both teams being of some interest to the veteran sniper. Kovalchuk is reportedly weighing winning more than getting the biggest paycheck possible, so it’s worth noting that both teams made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and each franchise appears to be in win-now modes. Each squad boasts lengthy recent histories of success that surely registered to Kovalchuk during his time in the NHL, too.
Oh yeah, the weather’s also nice around those areas. That cannot hurt.
Let’s consider the other vantage point, then, and daydream about how much Kovalchuk could potentially help the Kings or Sharks.
Let’s assume that the Sharks a) fall short in the John Tavares sweepstakes but b) bring back Joe Thornton and sign Kovalchuk.
For hockey fans of a certain age, it would feel a lot like a generation’s Adam Oates being united with Brett Hull, albeit past their primes. (So maybe this would be akin to Hull joining Oates when the latter almost won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks?)
While you’ll get dissenters, combining the greatest passer of his time (Thornton) with the deadliest pure shooter (Kovalchuk) would feel like a fantasy hockey dream come true. Granted, that fantasy hockey dream would be from 2008, but it would probably still be a blast in 2018-19.
Hockey teaches us that those dream scenarios don’t always play out on the ice. Maybe Kovalchuk would mix better with Logan Couture. Perhaps the Sharks would rather load up Thornton with Kane and Joe Pavelski. There are probably even hypotheticals where San Jose moves the two around to try to put together three dangerous lines. And so on.
Considering how strong the Sharks looked with Thornton on the shelf, and how they have great assets including defensemen Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, it isn’t difficult to picture Kovalchuk to San Jose being mutually beneficial.
(And, hey, the Sharks have a history of landing some significant Russian players, right down to their early days.)
Speaking of delayed matches …
Speaking of Kovalchuk during his prime, it was no secret that the Kings were in hot pursuit of the winger when he hit the free agent market. Some would argue that his decision boiled down to the Kings or the New Jersey Devils.
The “What if?” scenarios are pretty fun there, as the Kings captured two Stanley Cups, including one by edging a Devils team that leaned heavily upon Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.
As much as Los Angeles hopes to modernize post-Darryl Sutter, the truth is that this franchise likely still values winning now over any true notion of a rebuild. Anze Kopitar‘s $10 million cap hit runs through 2023-24, Jonathan Quick‘s deal is only one year shorter, and they’re on the hook for multiple years of Dustin Brown still. For better or worse, they may also extend Drew Doughty to a lengthy deal this summer.
Seeking free agent fixes could very well be the Kings’ path for some time, and few opportunities seem as promising as adding Kovalchuk, even at 35.
The most enjoyable scenario if they landed him:
After logging around Brown and Alex Iafallo last season, Kopitar could set up reams of quality scoring chances for Kovalchuk, a player who would ideally be far more capably of burying such chances.
Now, it wouldn’t be shocking if Carter mixed better with Kovalchuk. (The fact that they’re both such dangerous shooters could really open up passing lanes, amusingly enough.)
Either way, a productive and useful Kovalchuk would be a boon for the Kings. Honestly, I’d argue that the Kings would want Kovalchuk more than the other way around … which is consistent with their feelings a decade ago, apparently?
The bottom line is that all Kovalchuk talk is speculation, as he cannot sign with an NHL team until July.
So, yes, these discussions are largely hypothetical. That’s really part of the fun, though, as imagining possible outcomes sometimes ends up being more entertaining than boring old reality.
Draft weekend maneuverings could very well alter the landscape and force a single, no-brainer choice for Kovalchuk. As of this writing, there would be a lot to like about the Sharks or Kings signing Kovalchuk, though.
This Washington Capitals team is a testament to people taking things for granted.
Think of all of the the achievements that were met, ridiculously, with a shoulder shrug:
Yet another Maurice Richard Trophy for Alex Ovechkin thanks to 49 goals. It will be his seventh such title.
Yawn: another division title, marking the eighth of the Ovechkin era.
Sheesh, they didn’t even win the Presidents’ Trophy this time around.
Hockey fans and pundits are probably also guilty of far-too-easily dismissing the brilliant work of Barry Trotz. Such things tend to happen for a bench boss who, much like the Capitals, never advanced beyond the second round before this magical run to 3-1 series lead in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
Maybe it’s too easy to forget the uncertainty Washington faced before Trotz took over.
Consider that, during the three seasons pre-Trotz, the Capitals missed the postseason once (in 2013-14) and failed to win a single playoff series. Perhaps it was easy to get lost in the “Pittsburgh Penguins curse” narrative and forget just how seamlessly they shot back up the ranks of the NHL. Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy during Trotz’s first two seasons – only to fall to the eventual champions – and owned the Metropolitan Division crown during his reign.
With the benefit of hindsight, this playoff run might honestly be the perfect way for Trotz to receive at least some of the credit he so richly deserves.
There might have been temptation to dismiss Trotz’s achievements because of all the talent on hand. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan viewed 2015-16 and 2016-17 as the Washington’s two-year championship window, or at least its biggest window for breakthrough success, only to face heartbreak and a hangover.
But maybe those letdowns and fewer roster riches allowed for some focus, and the release of some of the tension of “Oh, but you have to win with this team.”
The Capitals stood toe-to-toe with a strong possession team in Columbus to win that series.
Clearly outplayed the Penguins during that redemptive meeting in the semifinal round. Considering how lucky Pittsburgh’s Game 1 win felt, it’s fair to say that the right team – not just the fortunate one – advanced and justified it being called a “rivalry.”
Washington proved to be a riddle the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to solve, too. Andrei Vasilevskiy was able to help Tampa Bay steal some games, yet the Bolts failed to score against Holtby during the final two games of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning’s top line of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov generally lived off of the power play, as the Bolts had few answers for the Caps at five-on-five.
While the Vegas Golden Knights justifiably carry a “Cinderella” narrative with them, they also presented a fascinating stylistic challenge for the Capitals.
Through three rounds of the postseason, the Golden Knights have been able to create unyielding pressure on the opposition thanks to a ferocious forecheck and impressive team speed. Even the tight four-game sweep of the Kings was misleading, as Los Angeles was often hanging on for dear life, asking Jonathan Quick to carry a huge burden just to stay in games.
An experienced San Jose Sharks team was rattled early in their series via a 7-0 loss in Game 1, and Vegas kept rolling along. With all their waves of talent, the Winnipeg Jets never really found an answer for the Golden Knights’ gauntlet, falling in just five games.
Jonathan Marchessault and the rest of the Golden Knights’ top line made a strong argument that it was “for real” during the postseason.
The Capitals, in turn, made them feel a lot like Tampa’s top combo of Kucherov and Stamkos. Vegas had to feel a bit shackled and negated, not to mention frustrated. Some of that comes down to Washington’s talent, depth, and versatility. Still, it’s the Trotz blueprint that stands as the primary explanation for why the Golden Knights’ freight train approach screeched to a halt.
And, again, that unyielding structure is something people just came to expect from Trotz.
Beautiful hockey mind
Maybe we merely needed to see the game evolve to truly appreciate his work? The NHL is clearly (and from an entertainment standpoint, delightfully) turning to a more attacking, “modern” style. To some, it seems like coaches’ ability to kill all fun and offense hit a critical mass in recent years, and now it’s time for offenses to take over.
Trotz’s work stands as a counterpoint to that thought.
On the other hand, much of his genius is finding the right combination of offense and responsibility. Washington has shown an ability to be able to trade punches with the best of them when needed -Game 4 saw the adrenaline go through the roof, and the Caps were just fine, thank you – yet they’ve also thrived in the kind of grinding games people expect from the postseason.
Through some combination of design and necessity, Trotz has helped the Capitals transform into a hockey chameleon, and that versatility leaves them one win from the franchise’s – and coach’s – first Stanley Cup victory.
The beauty of it all is that Trotz is so widely loved and respected. His acumen and love of the sport can be seen in how he’d hold court with Nashville media, not unlike Herb Brooks going out of his way to teach sports reporters the finer points of hockey.
Barry Trotz is one of my favorite people ever. There were times he’d just stand around after the gaggle and talk hockey with guys who stuck around and much of what little I know about the actual mechanics of hockey came from those chats
That moment came as the Capitals were heading into the uncertainty that was another second-round series with the Penguins. There have been denials about that statement being made, but if there was a kernel of truth to such scuttlebutt, maybe the drive behind such feelings was that Trotz didn’t feel appreciated. Maybe he felt taken for granted.
(And, sure, there also might be a succession plan involving assistant Todd Reirden.)
Maybe such feelings leave the door open ever so slightly that, even if the Capitals win it all, Trotz might be somewhere else. It’s tough to imagine that actually happening, but stranger things have happened in sports.
Whatever the case may be, Barry Trotz has now earned the right to call his shot, and reminded us all of how brilliant he truly is along the way.
Now he just needs to make sure the Capitals don’t take that next win for granted.
The four teams still playing in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs are not only great teams, they are all experiencing some all-time great performances on both an individual and team level.
Let’s take a look at some crazy numbers.
1. Scheifele’s goal-scoring: We already know that Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele has set an NHL record for most road goals in a single playoff run (11) but he is also having one of the great goal-scoring outputs overall. With 14 goals in the Jets’ first 15 games he is averaging 0.93 goals per game in the playoffs, one of the highest marks in league history. Among players that have played in at least 14 playoff games in a single season that would put him ninth all-time. What is extra impressive about that is the fact that his performance is the only one in the top-15 that came after 1992. Twelve of the others all came between 1975 and 1992 when goal-scoring in the NHL was happening at a far higher rate than it does now. The only other recent players in the top-20 are Johan Franzen‘s 2007-08 performance (13 goals in 16 games) and Alex Ovechkin in 2008-09 (11 goals in 14 games).
2. The Fleury wall: Scheifele has even managed to get a couple of pucks behind Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, something that everyone else has struggled with mightily this postseason as he carries a .945 save percentage into Friday’s Game 4. Among goalies that have appeared in at least 12 playoff games in a season only three have ever finished with a save percentage that high: Jonathan Quick (.946) in 2011-12, Patrick Lalime (.946) in 2001-02, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2002-03. Quick and Giguere ended up winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in their seasons. Giguere did so in a losing effort in the Stanley Cup Final.
3. Tampa Bay and Washington’s power plays are unstoppable: Special teams have been the story of the Eastern Conference Final with the Capitals and Lightning both boasting exceptionally dangerous power play units. Entering Game 5 of the series in Tampa Bay on Saturday, the Lightning power play is clicking at 30.8 percent in its first 14 playoff games. The Capitals are at 28.6 percent. How impressive are those numbers? Among teams that have played in at least 14 playoff games the Lightning’s mark is the second-best all-time, trailing only the 1980-81 New York Islanders (37.8 percent), while the Capitals is sixth best. Of the four other teams in the top-six, three of them went on to win the Stanley Cup.
4. The Capitals offense: It is not just the power play where the Capitals are filling the net. They are doing it in every situation to the tune of 3.56 goals per game. Since the start of the 2000-01 season only two teams with at least 10 playoff games have averaged more, as both the 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings averaged 3.58.
5. Ovechkin and Kucherov the best in the business: Earlier we noted the great individual postseason goal-scoring performance from Scheifele. When it comes to career goal-scoring, though, Alex Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov are the top players going when it comes to playoff goal scoring. Among active players that have appeared in at least 50 career playoff games they are first and second in the league in goals per game. Ovechkin is first at 0.50 goals per game (56 goals in 113 games) while Kucherov is just behind him at 0.49 (29 goals in 59 games).
Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the better part of seven months, you know that the Vegas Golden Knights have been the surprise of the 2017-18 season. Will this incredible run continue or will they run out of steam against the San Jose Sharks?
Despite the Golden Knights’ incredible season, many picked them to bow out in the first round against the Kings. Yeah, big mistake. Not only did Vegas beat Los Angeles, they swept them in four games. That’s not to say that their first playoff series in franchise history was easy, but it went as well as anyone could have expected.
Of the 19 different skaters they used in the opening round, 13 picked up at least one point. That’s some impressive depth scoring for a team that should have been picking leftovers from the other 30 organizations during the expansion draft. If this season has taught us anything, it’s that the Golden Knights aren’t your typical expansion team.
As for the Sharks, they seemed to fly under the radar as much as any team that swept their first-round opponent can. Two of their games against the Anaheim Ducks were decided by one goal, but they also beat them 3-0 in Game 1 and they smoked them 8-1 in Game 3.
Many hockey fans expected the Sharks’ window to be closed by now, but they’ve found a way to be more than relevant so far this postseason. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau aren’t leading the charge anymore, so it’s up to the current cast to take this team as far as they can go.
Golden Knights: No player surged more for the Golden Knights than Marc-Andre Fleury. He was terrific against the Kings, as he allowed just three goals in four contests. The 33-year-old enters the second round with a stellar 0.65 goals-against-average and a .977 save percentage.
Reilly Smith was the only player on the team to pick up three points in Round 1. They were all assists and they each came in the last three games of the series. The 27-year-old registered the primary helper on Braden McNabb’s series-clinching goal in Game 4.
Sharks: Where to begin? Couture collected all five of his points in Games 2 and 3 of the series against the Ducks. He’s going to be counted on to play key minutes in the second round, so he’ll have to continue being productive if Sharks are going to be able to put the puck in the net.
Pavelski, who also had five points, picked up at least one in each game except Game 4. The 33-year-old had ups and downs through the regular season, but he seems to have found another gear in the playoffs.
Kane proved to be a lethal acquisition at the trade deadline. The 26-year-old has been the perfect for the Sharks, and it hasn’t even taken him long to find chemistry with his new teammates. He’s playing so well that the odds of him signing an extension in San Jose seem to be entirely possible.
As for Sorensen, he was the biggest surprise for the Sharks in the opening round. He had five goals in 32 games during the regular season, but he found the back of the net three times in four games against Anaheim. Can he keep it going?
And we have to mention Martin Jones, who was just as good as Fleury in Round 1. Jones gave up just four goals in four games. Yeah, goals might be hard to come by in this series.
Golden Knights: Golden Knights GM George McPhee gave up some key draft picks to get Tomas Tatar from Detroit, and he simply hasn’t lived up to expectations. Tatar was a healthy scratch in the final two games of their first-round series and he failed to pick up any points in the first two. They clearly need more from their prized acquisition.
Sharks: Suggesting that Brent Burns struggled in the first round is a little silly, but it’s surprising to see that eight of his teammates finished with more points than he did. Burns has a goal and an assist in the playoffs, which is nothing to scoff at. He has the ability to produce a little more though.
Golden Knights: As we’ve mentioned a couple of times already, Fleury has been a monster in the postseason so far. He came up with big save, after big save against the Kings and he’s fully capable of doing that again against the Sharks. San Jose is a lot more dynamic offensively, so the upcoming challenge will be different for Fleury, but he just seems to be so focused and so steady. If the Golden Knights come up short in this series, it probably won’t be because of bad goaltending.
Sharks: The matchup between Jones and Fleury should be incredible to watch. What Jones accomplished in the first round was as impressive as anything any other goaltender did this postseason. Even though the Sharks lost in the first round last year, he still posted some impressive individual numbers. He’s clearly comfortable when the chips are down.
Golden Knights: Vegas’ strength this postseason has been their penalty kill. They’re killing off opposing power plays at a 92.3 percent clip. During the regular season, they ranked 12th in the league at 81.4 percent. Obviously, the numbers are much better in the playoffs, but the sample size is smaller. Still, they’ve been running an affective PK unit all year.
The man-advantage is a different story. The Golden Knights’ power play operated at just 8.3 percent in the first round. Only their opponent, the Kings, had a worse percentage on the power play. They had the 11th best power play unit during the regular season.
Sharks: San Jose had a middle-of-the-pack power play unit during the regular season (they ranked 16th in the NHL), but they’ve hit their stride this postseason, as they clicked at 30 percent in Round 1. Only the Capitals and Bruins were better. The matchup between San Jose’s red-hot power play and Vegas’ stingy penalty kill will be something to keep an eye on.
Their penalty kill ranked eighth of all the teams in the first round at 83.3 percent. That’s a little surprising considering the Sharks had the second best PK in the league in 2017-18.
Golden Knights: Young blue liner Shea Theodore had the best possession stats of any player on the Golden Knights’ roster, as he finished the first round with a CF% of 61.96 percent. Not bad for a guy the Ducks traded away so that they could protect additional players in the expansion draft.
Believe it or not, only Theodore, Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson had a better CF% than Tatar, who we already mentioned was scratched in the last two games. Clearly, possession isn’t everything to head coach Gerard Gallant. In fairness, the fact that Tatar started in the offensive zone 65 percent of the time helped boost his Corsi rating.
As a team, the Golden Knights had the fifth best CF% (52.91) behind Winnipeg, Nashville, Tampa and Anaheim. They also ranked fifth in FF%. Their PDO was third in the league at 1.047. More often than not, that number comes back down to 1.000, but Fleury’s incredible save percentage contributed to it being that high.
Sharks: Surprisingly, the Sharks possession numbers weren’t very good in the first round. As we mentioned above, the Ducks had a good CF%, which means the Sharks were lacking in that department. In the end, they controlled less than 50 percent of the shot attempts (46.7 percent). Well, whatever works for you. San Jose and Anaheim also finished 50-50 when it came to high-danger CF%.
On an individual basis, Sorensen led the way for the Sharks with a CF% of 63.64. Again, he was the team’s biggest surprise in the first round. He got shot attempts off and he found the back of the net a lot more regularly than he did during the regular season.
As for Burns, Couturier, Pavelski and Kane, they all found themselves below the 50 percent mark. That’s surprising considering how good the team looked in the opening round.
Golden Knights: Vegas is relatively healthy heading into their second-round series against the Sharks. David Perron, who missed two games against Los Angeles, returned before the end of the series. Meanwhile, defenseman Luca Sbisa has been out since early March with an undisclosed injury.
Sharks: Thornton (right MCL) is the biggest name that’s been banged up for the Sharks. He took the pre-game warmup prior to a first-round game, but he didn’t suit up. It’s unclear when he’ll be able to return to the lineup. Barclay Goodrow and Joakim Ryan are depth players that are also banged up right now. Thornton and Ryan are considered day-to-day, while Goodrow (upper body) is done for the season.
X-Factor for Golden Knights
Golden Knights: For the Golden Knights to win this thing, Fleury will have to play like he did in the first round. That’s not to say that the guys in front of him aren’t good to get the job done, but facing the Kings’ attack and the Sharks’ attack are completely different things. The Sharks can come at you with strong skilled players and their depth guys showed that they can chip in as well if they have to.
X-Factor for Sharks
Sharks: It’s gotta be Burns. If he can start taking over games (especially offensively), he’ll add a different dimension to the Sharks’ offense that they didn’t necessarily have in the opening round. He led the team in scoring during the regular season, and he clearly has the ability to change a game and a series if he wants to.
Golden Knights in 7: I find the Sharks haven’t received enough love from the hockey community for what they accomplished so far. But in saying that, I still don’t think the Golden Knights’ run ends in the second round. They came up with just enough offense to sweep the Kings, but I think their group of forwards can do even more. Now that they have one round under their belts, I expect them to come out and be a little more comfortable than they’ve been around the net. Yes, Jonathan Quick had a lot to do with their limited offense in Round 1 and Jones won’t be an easy goalie to solve, but I think they’ll do just enough to win the series in seven games.