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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.

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
PHT 2018 Conference Finals Roundtable
PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Capitals vs. Lightning: PHT’s 2018 Eastern Conference Final preview

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How much of an underdog can you be when you won your division, and done so by a significant margin?

In the case of the Washington Capitals, it seems like you could be a genuine underdog. Really, they sure felt like one against the Pittsburgh Penguins, too, despite being a higher seed with home-ice advantage.

It was probably a refreshing change of pace for the Capitals to be less of a juggernaut, and that will certainly carry over against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

By going 54-23-5 with 113 standings points, the Lightning finished with the best record in the East, generating eight more than the Capitals. After missing the playoffs thanks to a bumpy, injury-ravaged 2016-17 season, the Lightning justified all of the optimism surrounding this roster … and more.

Neither the Capitals (two six-game series) nor the Lightning (two five-game series) have faced elimination so far during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. To advance to the championship round, it’s quite likely that they’ll face their greatest tests yet.

SCHEDULE

OFFENSE

Capitals: Washington has scored 43 goals so far in 12 postseason games, a slightly higher per-game rate (3.58) than Tampa Bay (3.50). They’re generating a healthy 32.8 shots on goal per contest. Via Natural Stat Trick, Washington’s generated a robust 110 high-danger chances at even-strength so far during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Through 12 games, the Capitals’ highest-scoring forwards are three players you’d expect: Alex Ovechkin (eight goals, 15 points), Evgeny Kuznetsov (14 points, seven goals including the OT tally that ended Pittsburgh’s season), and Nicklas Backstrom (10 assists, 13 points despite missing Game 6 against the Penguins).

Washington’s forward balance should return to its impressive form now that Tom Wilson‘s suspension is over and especially if Backstrom is healthy.

Lightning: Thus far, the Lightning are the scary mix of high-end offense (Nikita Kucherov leads them with 12 points after a 100-point regular season) and dangerous depth (three players with at least a point-per-game). They’re right up there with the Capitals and Golden Knights as teams averaging at least 3.5 goals each contest. They’ve scored 35 goals in 10 games.

They’ve generated 73 high-danger chances versus just 52 allowed.

ADVANTAGE: Lightning. During the season, Tampa Bay scored 290 goals while Washington generated 256. The Bolts are a more versatile scoring machine than the Capitals, especially with the Caps dealing with a little more attrition.

If the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs are any indication, this battle is closer than those regular season numbers would make you think.

[Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team]

DEFENSE

Capitals: The Caps have allowed 32 goals and given up 30.2 shots per contest during the playoffs, so they’ve been winning those battles. They’ve given up as many high-danger chances (110) as they’ve generated.

John Carlson rounds out the Capitals’ group of four players who are in the double-digits in points with 11, and he’s unlikely to relent as he tries to beef up an already impressive contract year. Carlson’s also a workhorse for Washington (26:44 TOI average) along with Matt Niskanen (26:52) and Dmitry Orlov (25:31). While Orlov and Niskanen aren’t lighting up the scoreboard like Carlson, they’ve been key pieces, with Orlov and Niskanen carrying a difficult workload against Sidney Crosby. It will be fascinating to see whether Barry Trotz prefers sending out Niskanen and Orlov against the Stamkos or Point lines.

Lightning: Tampa Bay’s allowed just 25 goals in 10 games, 10 fewer than they’ve generated so far during the postseason. Makes sense since they’ve won eight of 10 games, yet it’s another reminder that the Lightning have been a buzzsaw. Again, they’ve limited dangerous chances as well as any team in the postseason.

There is quite a bit of talent on this blueline. Victor Hedman is the obvious headliner as a playoff-proven, Norris-quality performer. The Lightning eventually managed to slow down the Bruins’ terrifying top line, and a lot of that credit goes to Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman. Mikhail Sergachev continues to be a scoring threat on defense even as they ease him into the mix.

ADVANTAGE: Lightning. Despite scoring 34 more goals than Washington in 2017-18, the Lightning allowed four fewer (234 to the Caps’ 238). They’re generally able to create a ton of high-danger chances while keeping such dangerous threats moderate-to-low. If you could only pick one defenseman in this series, just about anyone would choose Victor Hedman. Tampa Bay has lock-down options and depth at the position, with McDonagh looking quite good lately.

The Capitals have absorbed some painful losses on offense and defense, but they play in a strong defensive system with Trotz. They’re unlikely to give up many easy chances when Matt Niskanen is on the ice. Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson can create offense, and some depth options like Michal Kempny have really improved their balance. Washington’s defense is pretty solid; Tampa Bay’s is just better.

GOALTENDING

Capitals: After regaining the Capitals top job after Philipp Grubauer‘s early postseason struggles, Braden Holtby is looking a lot like the guy who was putting up some of the best goalie numbers over the past few years, with the added bonus of overcoming the Penguins this time around.

 So far during this postseason run, Holtby generated an 8-3-0 record and .926 save percentage. It’s funny yet very “hockey” that his most rewarding playoff run comes after his first rocky regular season in some time (34-16-4 but with a mediocre .907 save percentage).

One nice thing Washington enjoys that few teams can match is employing a quality backup. While Grubauer struggled in his audition as the top guy, his excellent regular season shouldn’t be disregarded. If something happens to Holtby, the Caps have a nice Plan B.

Lightning: Fatigue and a bumpy finish to the regular season took much of the air out of Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s Vezina campaign, but it makes sense that he managed to be a finalist.

After going 44-17-3 with a .920 save percentage and eight shutouts, Vasilevskiy’s been steady in the playoffs, raising his save percentage to .927. He’s been a strong playoff performer overall when he’s managed to get the chances, as his career mark is a lofty .923 in 22 games.

Tampa Bay’s backups are unproven at best, and a real problem at worst, so it’s probably Vasi-or-bust.

ADVANTAGE: Lightning. This is extremely close. Let’s not forget, however, that Holtby was sputtering and losing his top job just a month ago. With their postseason numbers so close, Vasilevskiy’s superior regular season gives him the slight edge.

This category’s another tough call, though, for two reasons: 1) Holtby is really good and is an experienced, proficient playoff goalie and 2) Grubauer gives Washington a much better backup option if something happens.

In other words, this situation could change if Vasilevskiy stumbles or someone stumbles into him and he ends up with an injury.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Capitals: The Capitals’ 13 power-play goals leads the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and their impressive 30.9 percent success rate ranks second (and first among teams that are still in the mix). Washington’s man advantage has been stout for ages now, and Alex Ovechkin continues to be one of the NHL’s singular special teams threats from “his office.”

Washington’s PK killed just under 80 percent of its opponents chances (79.1 percent), slightly lower than the Caps’ regular season success rate of 80.3 (which was middle-of-the-pack). They’ve allowed nine power-play goals during this postseason, with five of them coming during Games 3-5 of the Penguins series.

Overall, special teams seem to be a healthy net-positive for Washington.

Lightning: Tampa Bay has as many power-play goals (10) as playoff games played so far. They’ve generated a PPG on 26.3 percent of their chances; about the only downside of this unit is that it allowed two shorthanded goals. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov’s cross-ice passes simply must be stopped, as their work is right up there with the threat of Ovechkin’s wheelhouse. The Bolts’ PP was deadly during the regular season, too.

Tampa Bay gave up eight power-play goals without generating any shorthanded tallies through 10 postseason contests, killing 74.2 percent of their penalties taken.

Generally speaking, the Lightning’s PK has been a rare area of relative weakness, as they struggled during the regular season, too.

ADVANTAGE: Capitals. These two teams feature power plays that can both take over a series. Washington’s enjoyed better all-around work this postseason, with a PK that seems more reliable.

As with every category, it’s close.

X-FACTORS

Capitals: The Capitals were able to eliminate the Penguins in Game 6 despite Nicklas Backstrom’s absence, but if their criminally underrated center isn’t good to go during this series, there could be problems. The Lightning boast Stamkos and Point, so having two quality centers would really help. At this point, Backstrom’s health is a real question. That could be a make-or-break factor in Washington’s chance to hang in this series.

Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy’s looked like he’s back in form after acknowledging fatigue during the regular season, a lot like his goalie counterpart Braden Holtby. That said, the Lightning haven’t exactly faced adversity during this run, dispatching both opponents in just five games. If Washington starts to get to Vasilevskiy, will his confidence fade?

PREDICTION

Lightning in six games. Tampa Bay has been tearing through its opponents, including an impressive (if banged-up) Bruins team. Washington possesses balance that the Bruins and Devils arguably lacked are built to give the Bolts some headaches. The Lightning have at least a little, often a lot, of everything you’d hope for in a contender; they’re likely to end the Capitals’ post-Penguins honeymoon with cruel precision.

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
PHT 2018 Conference Finals Roundtable
PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Home ice hasn’t been huge advantage for Predators, Jets

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NHL teams grind through an 82-game season to make the playoffs, but also to try to gain home-ice advantage, particularly if a Game 7 is needed.

Sometimes playing in front of a roaring crowd, getting that home cooking and the final change (plus a friendly call or two, depending upon who you ask) makes a big difference. Through six games of Jets – Predators, the edge has instead seemed negligible. So far, each team is 1-2 at home during this series.

We’ll find out on Thursday if that will remain the same when the two teams battle in Game 7 in Nashville.

(Game 7 airs at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN Thursday.)

Here are a few considerations going into that Game 7, from home-road stats to hypotheses.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Louder than a jet engine

Going into this series, much has been made about how loud things could get between spirited fans in Winnipeg and Nashville. Sometimes it came down to splitting hairs and counting decibels. Chris Jericho also made an offer for a friendly wager with Carrie Underwood.

High decibel levels could create some positive energy for the Predators, who’ve really benefited from scoring early goals in this series (erm, aside from that squandered 3-0 lead). Then again, such energy could also help the Jets stay aggressive, which would be to their advantage as it seems like they’ve thrived when the action is faster and more end-to-end.

But, yeah, it could be really loud. There also will probably be catfish and maybe a wild offensive lineman or two.

Good Pekka/bad Pekka

During the Predators’ run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, Rinne was all-world in Nashville and closer to a backup on the road:

Rinne in 11 games at home during 2017 run: 9-2 record, ridiculous .951 save percentage even without a shutout.
Rinne in 11 road games during 2017 run: 5-6 record, .905 save percentage despite two shutouts.

(Excuse Predators fans if they’re having bad flashbacks of some of those championship round struggles in Pittsburgh.)

Anyway, that home-road disparity has strangely flipped in 2017-18. Rinne was quite good at home during the regular season (25-6-2, .919 save percentage, three shutouts), yet was astounding on the road (17-7-2, .937 save percentage, five shutouts). While it’s naturally a smaller sample size through two rounds of the postseason, that pattern’s only become more pronounced during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Rinne in six home games during this current run: 3-3, Scott Darling-like .881 save percentage, no shutouts.
Rinne in six road games during current run: 4-2, .933 save percentage, two shutouts.

Steady as Hellebuyck

While there’s been quite a difference between Home Rinne and Road Rinne, Connor Hellebuyck‘s been surprisingly steady. The American-born netminder’s home save percentage is .922 and his road mark is .923 so far in the postseason. There’s not much of a difference in home/road play during the larger sample size of the regular season, either.

Maybe the stakes will break Hellebuyck’s steady, sometimes creepy-looking focus, yet so far he’s been as reliable as a modern goalie can be (and he could really make himself some cash with a strong Game 7, considering his pending RFA status).

*shudder*

Human nature

In some ways, the Jets theoretically enjoyed a great officiating advantage, subjectively, in Game 6 for a simple reason: refs will sometimes feel pressured to “let them play” in a Game 7 situation. Whether mistakes were made or not, the Jets received four power-play opportunities in Game 6 while Nashville only enjoyed one. It’s difficult to imagine so many calls being made with both teams’ seasons on the line.

If you ask me, there’s nothing really nefarious about the way thousands of loud fans might affect officials, even if it’s on more of an unconscious level. That human-nature edge could very well be nullified by officials leaning toward not making calls.

But, much like how an early goal one way or another might affect the noise levels at Bridgestone Arena, early calls may signal what kind of night will be in store. If officials are being pretty objective about calling infractions when they see them, then home ice could be that little edge that moves the needle for Nashville.

***

Great players or even mere clutch performances can silence a crowd in a hurry or bring them to their feet.

Game 7 between the Predators and Jets would be fun anywhere, whether it happened at a neutral site or an outdoor frozen pond. It’s actually taking place in Nashville, which should make for a fun atmosphere and also another interesting narrative: will “Smashville” help the Predators break through to the 2018 Western Conference Final?

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.

Hurricanes owner on changes, Brind’Amour: ‘Strategy is pretty overrated’

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Hope you like buzzwords. And Rod Brind’Amour.

The Carolina Hurricanes held a press conference to elaborate on their decisions to make Brind’Amour their new head coach and give Don Waddell the title of GM. There were certainly some … interesting comments from the parties involved.

Interesting, but not necessarily all that informative. Just about every “here’s our shiny new head coach” press conference keeps things fairly non-specific. It’s not like you’ll want to lay out every detail of your scheme, and sports teams often guard their ideas as if they’re precious snowflakes and not fairly obvious blueprints.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Still, with plenty of questions about (possibly meddling?) new owner Tom Dundon, it’s tough not to furrow your brow at certain comments, unless you’re a real sucker for talk of intangibles.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that strategy is pretty overrated,” Dundon said, via Canes Country. “I don’t believe the strategy differences are as important as getting the right culture and the right attitude. I think [Brind’Amour] gives us the best chance to get the most out of our players.”

This sort of old-school talk was pretty prevalent. Brind’Amour also vaguely spoke of “getting more out of players.”

That’s all well and good, and hey, you’re probably more likely to fear a coach who’s probably more ripped than just about everyone in the locker room. Perhaps the comparison is that Brind’Amour will be “tough” where Bill Peters was more … analytical? Maybe things are simply going to be more fluid for a guy who was a Selke-level two-way player but hasn’t ever been a head coach?

It’s difficult to shake the impression that the Hurricanes are going “traditional” after years of being possession-driving darlings who sputtered short of the postseason finish line. That’s how the messaging feels, at least.

That doesn’t mean that Dundon, Waddell, and Brind’Amour are guaranteed to pull a Florida Panthers-style takedown of the elements of the roster and team that inspired people to make Carolina a chic dark horse pick for years, though.

For all we know, this franchise might more progressive that it’s leading on. Dundon at least provides good lip service to progressive-leaning mindsets, as Elliotte Friedman noted in an edition of “31 Thoughts” when Dundon sought the sort of thinking that powered the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that boldly goes with analytics when it comes to approaching fourth downs and other decisions.

Wherever the Hurricanes organization falls on the spectrum of “old, stuffy, and obsessed with notions of grit” to “waves of small, skilled players who never dump the puck,” the bottom line is that goaltending will probably still determine Carolina’s fortunes.

There might be some downsides if Brind’Amour struggles tactically; it’s something we seemingly witnessed during this past season with Doug Weight and the porous New York Islanders.

On the other hand, perhaps a regime change might help Scott Darling view 2018-19 as a truly clean slate?

The Hurricanes are locked into the towering goalie for three more seasons at a $4.15 million cap hit, as it’s tough to imagine a trade happening that wouldn’t require Carolina giving up useful assets. The best course of action is to take a “nowhere to go but up” approach, and a new voice might help in that regard.

A rebound might have happened either way, as it’s tough to imagine Darling sporting a horrific .888 save percentage again. And, even if that risk is real, you’d have to hope that the Hurricanes – old school or not – will be smart enough to invest in a “1b” backup and finally move on from their “Cam Ward, shrug” days.

If the goaltending exceeds the “average” they’ve fallen short of for years and instead is downright great, then people will look like geniuses even if all of the buzzword-talk is largely hot air.

There’s also no denying the fact that Hurricanes fans really, really, love “Rod the Bod.” Granted, not everyone is optimistic.

Can Brind’Amour cut it as an NHL head coach? Will the Hurricanes start to get the bounces (more goals, more saves) after years of being on the wrong side of the PDO? Is Dundon going to be the wrong sort of meddling owner?

Today’s press conferences were never going to answer those questions. They provided interesting fodder as this franchise approaches what should be an intriguing summer nonetheless.

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.

What if Predators need more from second line in Game 7?

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It’s remarkable that the Nashville Predators managed to push the Jets to a Game 7, and not just because of the wealth of talent in Winnipeg.

Instead, it’s a testament to how dangerous the top line (Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson) can be and, while there have been some ups and downs, how much of a difference Pekka Rinne and that defense can make. Because, frankly, the Predators’ second line has been a letdown.

An effective second line really helped Nashville win its first Central Division title and Presidents’ Trophy in 2017-18.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

On nights that the top line struggled, or the Predators simply needed to trade goals, the trio of Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith often soared. Sometimes they looked like another top line, particularly during Turris’ hot start after being traded from the Ottawa Senators.

Now, it’s true that there have been some moments of brilliance. They came through during one especially big moment when the Predators needed them, as Turris made a nice play to unleash Craig Smith, who fed Fiala for a big overtime goal earlier in the Jets series:

Those moments have been few and far between for this intriguing line, though.

So far during the postseason, Turris has been a bust, only managing three assists in 12 playoff contests. Much like Johansen, Turris tends to pass first, but his minimal numbers stand as maybe the most troubling of that trio.

Smith’s numbers are a bit reminiscent of Rick Nash, as the possession stats and shots are there (29 SOG through 12 games). This moment captures some of Smith’s struggles:

Fiala might represent the most extreme highs and lows for the second line.

On one hand, he scored that huge OT goal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy winger made some big plays in Game 7. Fiala seems to have a sense of the moment, as he also scored a big OT goal against Chicago during the 2017 run.

The bigger picture is mixed for the young forward, though. He’s been limited to three goals and one assist for four points during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Fiala has even been a healthy scratch during this series.

When you consider these struggles, the Predators have to be pretty happy that they’re a win away from another trip to the third round. Forsberg’s ascent to stardom alongside that lethal top line stands as a big reason why, and Nashville’s seen players like Austin Watson and Colton Sissons step up (particularly during the first round).

[Soak in Forsberg and the rest of the first line’s dominant Game 6 performances]

It’s conceivable that Nashville could survive this huge challenge even if the second line flounders. It’s also worth acknowledging that the Predators are far from the only team that’s wanted more from supporting cast members during this postseason. You can file some of this under “easier said than done.”

Still, whether it’s in Game 7 against the Jets on Thursday, or against the Golden Knights if Nashville manages to advance, the Predators are going to want more from Fiala, Turris, and Smith sooner rather than later. So far, that group hasn’t really been able to deliver as hoped.

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.