Vladimir Tarasenko

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Some surprises among NHL’s worst special teams units

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Earlier on Friday, PHT looked at the 13 teams who scored more goals than they allowed on special teams when you combine 2017-18 and 2018-19 season totals. If you’re a math whiz like me, you realize that leaves us with 18 teams on the negative side of the “special teams plus/minus” ledger.

[Part 1: Teams on the positive side.]

As a refresher, the very simple formula for special teams plus/minus is:

(Power play goals [PPG] for + shorthanded goals [SHG] for) – (PPG against + SHG against) = special teams plus minus.

Let’s run down the list of minuses (when you combine 2017-18 and 2018-19 results), with some commentary.

Teams at -16 or worse during the past two seasons combined.

  • Edmonton Oilers: -12 last season, -32 combined. Not surprising, even with Connor McDavid being capable of concealing some blemishes.
  • Detroit Red Wings: -17 last season, -32 combined. Also not a surprise.
  • Montreal Canadiens: -14 season, -29 combined. The Canadiens were a sneaky-strong team at even strength last season, so improved special teams play could mean playoffs.
  • Anaheim Ducks: -24 last season, -26 combined. One of two California teams who were a special teams disaster in 2018-19.
  • Philadelphia Flyers: -18 last season, -25 combined. Will Chuck Fletcher’s many changes lead to competence in this area?
  • Chicago Blackhawks: -16 last season, -24 combined. Much like the overall picture, a few dynamic scorers couldn’t fix all problems.
  • Ottawa Senators: -3 last season, -20 combined. Honestly, -3 seems like a small miracle considering the Senators’ skill squalor.
  • New York Islanders: -6 last season, -17 combined. The Trotz effect: improved PK, meh power play.
  • Los Angeles Kings: -28 last season, -17 combined. The other California disaster. When your power play only creates 22 more goals than it allows, you’re not going to have a good time.
  • Vancouver Canucks: -6 last season, -16 combined. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser may just keep Vancouver respectable here.

Teams with negative special teams, but less than double digits. Closer to mediocre than outright bad, generally speaking.

  • Columbus Blue Jackets: +6 last season, but -9 overall. The Blue Jackets failed to hit 40 PPG in either season, and now they lost Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky for the PK. Gulp.
  • St. Louis Blues: +5 last season, -8 overall. Back in the day, I complained about Alex Ovechkin being on the Capitals’ power play point far too often; now I’m chiding the Blues for not putting Vladimir Tarasenko in the right “office.”
  • Washington Capitals: -6 last season, -8 overall. Well, this is puzzling. During the past two seasons, Washington’s 104 power-play goals ranks eighth in the NHL, while they’re tied with Vancouver for the fifth-most allowed at 108.
  • New York Rangers: -11 last season, -6 overall. All of that incoming talent, plus Mika Zibanejad? Yow.
  • Buffalo Sabres: -1 last season, -5 overall. Pro tip: More Rasmus Dahlin, less Rasmus Ristolainen.
  • Dallas Stars: +6 last season, -4 overall. Joe Pavelski could make their top quintet absolutely terrifying.
  • Nashville Predators: -12 last season, -3 overall. If the Predators still rely on too many point shots, then what are we even doing?
  • Carolina Hurricanes: even last season, -2 overall. For all that’s holy, put Dougie Hamilton on the first unit instead of Justin Faulk. C’mon.

Here is the full list of 31 teams group from highest special teams plus/minus to lowest from 2018-19; you can also check the plus teams here. Some teams were positive one season and negative the other, so this chart adds some context.

TEAM special teams +/- 2017-18 +/- two years +/- PPG SHGA PPGA SHGF
Tampa Bay 43 8 51 74 3 40 12
Florida 19 7 26 72 13 43 3
Arizona 15 -13 2 42 9 34 16
Calgary 14 -6 8 53 7 50 18
Winnipeg 13 16 29 62 7 52 10
San Jose 12 24 36 57 9 45 9
Colorado 9 14 23 63 5 58 9
Boston 8 20 28 65 15 49 7
Pittsburgh 8 18 26 56 15 45 12
Minnesota 6 -1 5 49 4 44 5
Dallas 6 -10 -4 45 2 41 4
Columbus 6 -15 -9 34 6 30 8
New Jersey 5 13 18 45 10 40 10
St. Louis 5 -13 -8 50 7 43 5
Vegas 4 12 16 39 2 44 11
Toronto 1 12 13 46 9 41 5
Carolina 0 -2 -2 44 8 44 8
Buffalo -1 -4 -5 46 9 41 3
Ottawa -3 -17 -20 46 8 45 4
Washington -6 -2 -8 49 5 55 5
Vancouver -6 -10 -16 43 8 48 7
NY Islanders -6 -11 -17 33 1 44 6
NY Rangers -11 5 -6 44 4 58 7
Nashville -12 9 -3 33 8 45 8
Edmonton -12 -20 -32 47 7 62 10
Montreal -14 -15 -29 31 4 46 5
Chicago -16 -8 -24 48 7 63 6
Detroit -17 -13 -30 39 7 56 7
Philadelphia -18 -7 -25 40 11 51 4
Anaheim -24 -2 -26 36 10 55 5
Los Angeles -28 11 -17 35 13 54 4

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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.

Why Joe Pavelski is an unusual free agent risk-reward case

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It’s kind of hard to believe it, but Joe Pavelski will turn 35 on July 11.

Frankly, Pavelski doesn’t really feel like a player who’s about to turn 35, so maybe it’s fitting that his next contract apparently won’t fall under the 35+ designation, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and others note.

In a nutshell: 35+ contracts exist to keep teams from trying to sign veteran players to longer deals that are front-loaded to circumvent the salary cap, while the provisions also provide some protections for players fearing buyouts, AHL demotions, and other ignominious ends.

So, Pavelski not being eligible for that 35+ provision is great news for potential suitors, right?

Well … we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s remember how good Pavelski is.

Pavelski’s really good!

Either way, reports indicate that the market has been strong for Pavelski. In a free agent roundup on Friday (sub required), The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports that Pavelski’s suitors are in the “double digits,” while Friedman reports that Pavelski’s had the luxury of rejecting teams who (in his opinion) aren’t close to contending. There are mixed impressions of Pavelski’s willingness to sign with the Minnesota Wild, for example, as The Athletic’s Michael Russo indicates that the situation is fluid (sub required there, too).

Bottom line: it sounds like Pavelski has plenty of options, and Friedman indicates that Pavelski is seeking term and a chance to win a Stanley Cup.

On its face, that’s great, and the down-the-line flexibility of Pavelski not being a 35+ contract makes multiple years far less intimidating to bidders.

Because, let’s be clear: Pavelski remains a fantastic player. While it’s unrealistic to expect a 38 goal in 75 game pace like Pavelski enjoyed last season, what with a 20.2 shooting percentage that’s high even for a quality shooter with a 12.5 career average, 2018-19 marked the third season in a row of at least 64 points. Before that, Pavelski was even better, generating 70+ points for three consecutive seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16.

Pavelski’s scored 355 goals since coming into the NHL in 2006-07, ranking him 10th best. His 221 goals since the latest NHL lockout in 2012-13 is even more impressive, placing him at sixth, ahead of the likes of Steven Stamkos, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Phil Kessel.

It’s about more than scoring for Pavelski, too, as he checks plenty of “fancy stats” boxes, while also pleasing the old-school crowd by often playing through absolute agony during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If you’re a team hoping to take the next step by adding Pavelski – or, in the case of the Sharks, by keeping him – then you might be wondering what’s not to like?

Risky business

Here’s a medium-hot take: 35+ contracts might sometimes protect teams from themselves – they tend to make foolish decisions on July 1, or thereabouts – and that hurdle might have been a blessing in disguise for those who want Pavelski.

Personally, I’d probably want to spend more on Pavelski on a per-year basis, while keeping his term low. That way, if Pavelski hits the aging curve — not outrageous, especially after the extremely painful year he endured — you can at least mitigate the risk in term.

Instead, Pavelski is basically like every other UFA, and considering his substantial talent (and intangibles?), he’ll be one of the biggest targets. That means he gets to pick and choose, which probably means big money (fine) and maybe the most term he can find (probably not so fine).

You merely need to look to Patrick Marleau as an example of how this could go wrong for a Pavelski suitor.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Even with the 35+ provision hovering as a red flag, the Toronto Maple Leafs gave Marleau three years of term. In maybe the most predictable outcome ever, that deal went sour pretty quickly, especially when you consider how that extra year backed Toronto into a corner. They were able to get out of that bind, but at the extreme cost of a first-round pick. For a team that could really benefit from unearthing a difference-maker on a cheap entry-level contract, that really burns.

Again, Pavelski wouldn’t be on a 35+ contract, but signing an older player and not really worrying that much about the future can have adverse effects.

The Anaheim Ducks bought out Corey Perry, even though the benefits were actually … kind of minimal? Perry wasn’t 35+ (he’s 34, yet seems about five years older than Pavelski considering Perry’s decline), but he serves as a reminder that, actually, the buy out option isn’t always much of a boon, either.

A team could really take on some serious risks if they sign Pavelski for a considerable term. While there’s a risk with just about any free agent, those warning signs crop up sooner for a player who’s 35, and it’s not as though Pavelski’s lacking mileage even beyond his age.

Take the Stars, for example.

Right now, the idea of adding Pavelski is really enticing. The Stars struggled mightily to score beyond Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn, but with Roope Hintz rising, imagine how tough an out that team could be if they added Pavelski?

Fascinating, but if the term is excessive, then the Marleau parallels crop up, even though Pavelski wouldn’t be a 35+ contract.

In signing Pavelski, it would be that much tougher to squeeze everyone under the cap as time goes along. Miro Heiskanen could be in line for a huge raise once his rookie deal expires after 2020-21, and John Klingberg‘s bargain $4.25M cap hit only lasts through 2021-22.

There’s the thought that, if Pavelski was 35+, he might only sign for two or three years, in which case the Stars could funnel whatever he makes to Heiskanen or Klingberg. Instead, if there’s overlap, and especially if there’s overlap and Pavelski’s play plummets, then the Stars might have to bribe someone to take Pavelski off their hands, much like the Leafs with Marleau.

***

In other words, if Pavelski carried the greater risk of the 35+ contract, that might have … actually convinced teams to reduce their own risks?

Of course, this is also assuming that NHL GMs care, either way. In an auction-like setting such as the “free agent frenzy,” maybe GMs would have given Pavelski virtually the same, extremely risky deal, under even riskier 35+ circumstances. These executives aren’t always all that forward-thinking, particularly if their jobs are on the line.

Let’s recall what then-Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis said about signing David Clarkson to a terrifying seven-year contract:

“I’m not worried about six or seven right now,” Nonis said back in 2013, via The Globe & Mail. “I’m worried about one. And Year 1, I know we’re going to have a very good player. I believe that he’s got a lot of good years left in him.”

As it turned out, Clarkson was someone to worry about from the very beginning, but the point stands.

Is Pavelski worth the risk of a longer contract? That depends on a number of factors, including how much term might bring the per-year number down, and how much a given team actually believes in their Stanley Cup chances.

Ultimately, though, if you’re a team-building nerd like me, you’re amused by the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the heightened risk of Pavelski if he was a 35+ contract might have actually saved some teams from themselves. Pavelski’s been a great player, and could be great or at least very good in the near future, but Father Time’s punishment can be as sudden as it is cruel, so we’ll have to see how this all works out.

Be warned teams, even if that 35+ isn’t hovering like Michael Myers creeping on his next victim.

(Wait, is Michael Myers … Father Time?)

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.

Lessons we should (and should not) learn from the 2019 St. Louis Blues

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Another NHL season is in the books and for the second year in a row it resulted in a long-suffering franchise and fan-base getting its first taste of the Stanley Cup.

This time it was the St. Louis Blues completing one of the most incredible in-season turnarounds we have ever seen, going from the bottom of the NHL standings in early January to the top of the NHL mountain in June.

Now that the newest champion has been crowned it is time to begin my favorite offseason activity: Dissecting how they won and figuring out how the rest of the teams in the league can attempt to model their success.

As always there are some valuable and meaningful lessons that can be taken from this particular champion.

There are also a few that lessons that teams should avoid getting lost in.

We need to talk about both types of lessons.

Your last place team next January is NOT going to win the Stanley Cup

By now you have no doubt heard the story.

In the first week of January the St. Louis Blues had the worst record in the NHL and fought all the way back to not only make the playoffs, but also nearly win the Central Division and then went on to win the Stanley Cup once they made the playoffs.

It sounds amazing, because it is amazing, and an incredible turnaround that is worthy of praise and celebration.

Here is what you should not do: Take this as a “all you have to do is get in” lesson, or that your team that is in last place at the halfway point of the NHL season is going to be capable of turning its season around in this same way. Chances are, it is not.

Of the bottom 14 teams in the league standings on January 1 this season only two of them ended up making the playoffs — the Blues, and the Carolina Hurricanes, who were in 22nd place overall in the league standings on that same date.

If you go back to the start of the 2005-06 season when the NHL introduced the three-point game there have only been three teams in the bottom-five of the league standings on January 1 that came back to make the playoffs in that season.

Those teams were the 2019 Blues, the 2008-09 Blues, and the 2007-08 Washington Capitals. While this year’s Blues team won it all, the other two were eliminated in the first round winning just three total games between them in the playoffs.

There is also this when it comes to the Blues: They were not your run of the mill bad team at that point in the season. They were one of the NHL’s best defensive teams a year ago, had that same defensive core in place, and spent heavily over the summer to address its offense by acquiring Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Patrick Maroon, and Tyler Bozak, a series of transactions that added nearly $19 million to their cap, sending them close to the upper limits of the league’s salary cap.

This team was built to compete and win this season.

They were also not a team that just simply got hot and flipped a switch at the start of April.

Their early season record was a mirage that saw an otherwise good team get absolutely sabotaged by horrific goaltending. From January 1 on, especially after they found a competent goalie, they played at a championship level in every meaningful metric that we have to project future performance (and this isn’t 20/20 hindsight knowing the results … it is why I picked them to come out the Western Conference at the start of the playoffs. Yes, I also picked Tampa Bay in the East, but, hey, you win some and you lose some).

If your team is in the bottom-five of the standings next January it is probably there because it deserves to be there, and if your GM or coach starts talking about looking to the Blues for inspiration it is probably a sign something bad is about to happen in the form of a roster transaction.

The Blues winning the Stanley Cup is not the fluke here. Their record in January was the fluke.

Goaltending will crush you … and also save you

This is kind of related to the previous point, and it is not just good goaltending that matters.

Bad goaltending matters, too, in the sense that it significantly alters what happens to a team. This is the biggest reason why the Blues were in the position they were in at the start of the season to set the stage for this storybook ending.

From opening night through Jan. 1 the Blues’ goaltending duo of Jake Allen and Chad Johnson combined for an all-situations save percentage of .892 save percentage, a mark that was the third-worst in the NHL at that point. Goaltending that bad is nearly impossible to overcome (at that point only other team in the bottom-10 in save percentage — the San Jose Sharks — occupied a playoff spot).

It was crushing what was, for the most part, still a very good defensive team and made everyone think they were worse than they actually were.

At this point the jury is still very much out on Jordan Binnington because he still has such a small sampling of work to go on. Maybe he will be good, and maybe his career peaked this season. No matter what direction his career takes from here he gave the Blues what they needed in the second half to at least give them a chance to compete.

Maybe he did not steal many games for them, but he did the next best thing — he did not lose many games.

If you think your team that is built to win is not winning, do not assume you are worse than you thought you would be. You should start by looking at the performance of your goalies before you make more changes than you need to make.

At the same time, if your team is performing better than you thought it would do not automatically assume it is better than you thought it would be. Just assume your goalie is bailing it out.

Yes, big money stars still matter

Take a quick look at this Blues roster and name the biggest superstar.

Or the slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

Is there one of either?

Vladimir Tarasenko is probably the closest one in either category, and while I would definitely consider him a star player he is probably far from a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, if he even is one at all.

This is a team whose whole was far greater than the sum of its parts, and while general manager Doug Armstrong did a fabulous job building a well-rounded, deep team, this is a roster construction that is going to be nearly impossible to duplicate on a championship level.

Earlier in the playoffs when all of the big-name teams were eliminated there was a narrative starting to surface about big-money players and how teams that were winning didn’t have a lot of them. This postseason was very much an anomaly in that regard, but the Blues’ success is still probably going to push somebody out there in hockey-land to argue that their team is better off shedding its big-money player to build a more well-rounded team.

If (or when) it happens, it is going to be a mistake.

Here’s the thing about this Blues team: Even though it lacked a traditional “superstar” or a $10 million per year player it was still a team that carried some big contracts at the top of its lineup. Their top-five cap hits this season totaled $33 million, or 42 percent of the league’s cap ceiling. While recent Stanley Cup winners in Washington and Pittsburgh had slightly higher percentages (46 percent in Washington in 2017-18; around 50 percent for the Penguins in 2016 and 2017) it is still roughly in the same ballpark.

You still need stars to win. The Blues may not be overflowing with household name superstars, but they still have their share of big-money, impact players on their roster.

If you get the best player in the trade you will almost always win the trade

This also relates to the previous point where quality is better than quantity.

One impact player is better than two decent players.

The biggest move the Blues made before this season was to acquire Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres, and while O’Reilly isn’t a superstar he is still an excellent No. 1 center. He is a 60-70 point player offensively, he is a shutdown player defensively, and he plays big minutes against top players and does not take penalties. He can be a force on the ice. When the Blues traded Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, and a first-round draft pick for him it was viewed in some places as being a lot to give up and a solid return for the Sabres. But it wasn’t.

The Blues were still getting what was by far the best player in the trade, and a player that even before this season carried more value individually than all four assets going the other way did combined.

For the Sabres to come out ahead in this trade in the future Thompson and the first-round pick are probably both going to need to become top-line players, and the chances of that happening are just laughably small. Thompson is an okay prospect, but did not really take a step forward this season, and the historical track record of players taken with the No. 31 overall pick (or in that general vicinity) is not exactly a promising one.

The Blues feasted on a team that seemed almost desperate to get rid of an impact player and got him for what amounted to a pile of spare parts. Is it really a surprise to see the direction both teams took on the ice this season?

Play! To! Your!  Strengths!

Every word needs emphasized because the Blues’ championship is going to result in a bunch of think-tank discussions about the future of the NHL, the way the game is played, and the way teams should be built.

The only logical conclusion that anyone should come to is that there is more than one way to win and more than one style that can work.

It just depends on what your team is good at and if your team is getting the right players to fit that style.

Some teams, like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Chicago Blackhawks, have found success with speed and skill over the past few years.

Some teams, like this year’s Blues, found success with a bigger, more physical roster that played better defensively.

The 2017-18 Washington Capitals were kind of a blend of both, as were this year’s Bruins (though they are not anywhere near as big or physical as the Big Bad Bruins moniker will have you believe).

The key is finding your identity and sticking to it.

If your team is built around speed and skill, don’t deviate away from that just because you think you have to get bigger and stronger (See: Penguins, Pittsburgh). It will not work.

If your team is bigger and better defensively, don’t just find a bunch of lightning quick speedsters that have frying pans for hands and can’t defend. It will not work.

The Penguins and Blackhawks styles worked because their skilled players could score and defend. They were not fast for the sake of being fast. They were fast and good.

The Blues’ style worked because their big, heavy players could also score and play. They were not big and physical just for the sake of being big and physical. They were big and good.

This should be obvious and common sense, but I have watched, followed, and covered enough NHL hockey over the years to know there is a team out there (or two … or three … or even more) that is already sitting in its scouting meetings as I write this and wondering how they can get bigger because they feel they need to get bigger, whether it makes sense for them or not. If you are a team like Pittsburgh, Toronto, Carolina, or Colorado don’t think you need to get bigger just because the Blues won playing this particular way.

The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues were a unique team in a lot of ways, and there are definitely some lessons that we should take away from their season that can be applied to other teams.

They just may not be the lessons most teams will attempt to take away.

MORE BLUES STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Jay Bouwmeester finally gets his Stanley Cup
• Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup
• Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy
• Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle
• Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list

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.

Conn Smythe voting results shed interesting light on O’Reilly, Rask

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What a difference Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final makes.

Heading into Wednesday’s winner takes all contest, PHT wondered if anyone else had a chance to win the Conn Smythe, what with Tuukka Rask‘s numbers towering over everyone else’s stats. I thought that Rask deserved it even if the Boston Bruins lost. The Bruins did lose, and it turns out that Rask didn’t get a single first place vote. Oops.

Instead, Ryan O'Reilly took home the Conn Smythe, and the St. Louis Blues beat the Bruins 4-1 to win their first-ever Stanley Cup. Jordan Binnington outplayed Rask by a huge degree in Game 7, and PHWA voters understandably weighed that decisive game heavily.

ROR was a fine choice, but for those who like to peek behind the curtain, it might be interesting to look at the results. The PHWA released all of the voting results, with media members selecting a top three:

Jordan Binnington received five first-place votes, while Rask joined Alex Pietrangelo among those who received second-place votes. There’s one case of O’Reilly finishing third on a ballot.

The voting system worked out to where first place received five points, second was given three points, and third received one. Here’s how the totals panned out:

Totals (first place votes):

Ryan O’Reilly (St. Louis) – 78 points (13)
Jordan Binnington (St. Louis) – 46 points (5)
Tuukka Rask (Boston) – 21 points (0)
Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis) – 10 points (0)
Colton Parayko (St. Louis) – 7 points (0)

Interesting to see that Vladimir Tarasenko didn’t receive any votes. It isn’t too surprising that Brad Marchand didn’t get in the mix, either, although it’s worth noting that Marchand tied O’Reilly for the playoff points lead, as both finished with 23. It’s nice to see Colton Parayko get some votes, as he was fantastic during this postseason.

Overall, O’Reilly is a choice that’s easy to live with. If you’re like me, you tend to debate quite a few Conn Smythe victories over the years. (Jarome Iginla was robbed! Chris Pronger should have finished with one during his reign of playoff terror.) Honestly, this doesn’t really strike me as particularly out of line.

That said, it’s unfortunate that many will remember Rask’s postseason in a less than positive way. If you could somehow zoom out of a tough Game 7, Rask was still fantastic, finishing with a splendid .934 save percentage, far ahead of Binnington’s .914 save percentage.

Hot take: Rask would trade those stats for Binnington’s shiny new toy.

MORE BLUES STANLEY CUP COVERAGE:
• Jay Bouwmeester finally gets his Stanley Cup
• Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup
• Ryan O’Reilly wins Conn Smythe Trophy
• Berube helped Blues find identity after early-season struggle
• Blues latest team erased from Stanley Cup drought list

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.

Stanley Cup Buzzer: Binnington wins it all for Blues

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  • For the first time since coming into the league in 1967, the St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup champions. The Boston Bruins carried the play during what turned out to be a key first period, as even with that advantage in overall performance, the Blues went up 2-0 through the first 20 minutes. The Bruins never truly recovered, and the Blues were able to lock it down in Game 7.

St. Louis Blues 4, Boston Bruins 1 (Blues win series 4-3, thus winning their first Stanley Cup.)

Jordan Binnington was the star of this one, particularly when the level of play was especially lopsided early on. He was very close to pitching a shutout, allowing only a Matt Grzelcyk goal with about 2:10 remaining in the contest, when it was far out of reach. After holding onto that 2-0 lead through the first two periods, Binnington made a few other key saves, and the Blues turned Game 7 into more or less a blowout in the third. That allowed time for the shocking to sink in: the Blues were going to win it all, finally.

Three Stars

1. Jordan Binnington

Who else could it be?

Honestly, Binnington was so great in Game 7, there was the feeling that he might swipe the Conn Smythe.

That didn’t end up happening, and that’s fair, as Binnington had plenty of ups and downs. Those low moments don’t really matter now, and maybe most importantly, the tough times didn’t rattle Binnington. Yes, it was an almost-too-easy narrative that Binnington bounced back … but, again, it really says a lot that he didn’t blink as a rookie, no matter the stakes. Clearly. He was fantastic in a winner-takes-all situation.

Binnington finished Game 7 stopping 32 out of 33 Bruins shots. Really, Binnington was close to getting a shutout, and that would have made for an even better story. It doesn’t take away from his great performance, as he was clearly the top star.

2. Alex Pietrangelo

Picking the second-best player of Game 7 is a little tougher.

Let’s go with Pietrangelo, though. Much like the third star, Pietrangelo generated a goal and an assist in Game 7. Pietrangelo gets a slight edge for scoring the game-winner, and it was a nice one. Two goals proved to be too high of a mountain for the Bruins to climb, and for the goal to come in the waning moments of the already-frustrating first period was a killer.

Pietrangelo’s been splendid for much of this run, really. The Blues didn’t have an outrageously obvious top player of this run – though ROR is worthy – but they had a slew of really good ones, from Pietrangelo to Vladimir Tarasenko and beyond. Here’s hoping Pietrangelo and other top stars are remembered for standing out, even without the Conn Smythe.

3. Ryan O'Reilly

If you have any issues with O’Reilly being third instead of second, consider that ROR won the Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s doing well, and maybe letting an expletive or two or three fly.

O’Reilly deflected in the 1-0 goal, ending a considerable Blues shots on goal drought, and giving St. Louis a stunning lead. O’Reilly also generated a secondary assist on Zach Sanford‘s goal. About the only thing ROR “lost” was the faceoff battle, going 5-7.

Factoids

  • Again, the Blues ended a 52-year drought by winning their first-ever Stanley Cup. Check out the list of longest droughts now that St. Louis is no longer on it.
  • The Blues are the first team in 30 years, and only the fourth since 1943-44 to win a Stanley Cup without having a single previous champion on their roster. The 1989 Calgary Flames were the last ones to do it.
  • The Blues won the Stanley Cup after ranking last as late as January, but their accomplishment is rare for a team that would have been ranked last earlier. Sometimes you just have to soak it all in:

Yeah.

MORE FROM GAME 7

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.