Jaroslav Halak

NHL Power Rankings: Six best playoff series of the decade

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What things do you look for in choosing the best NHL playoff series of the past decade?

The nail-biting action of sudden-death overtime? Grudges that inspire handshake line death threats?

(Please don’t say “lots of neutral-zone trap.” Even Jacques Lemaire would probably rather go fishing or something than watch that.)

During the weekend, the NHL and NHLPA made some traction toward a possible return to play, according to Pierre LeBrun. Even so, it’s pretty clear that if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happen, it will require some juggling.

Would it all really be worth it? That’s an extremely fair question to ask. Even so, all of this free time and the possible resumption of play give us a chance to think about how great, baffling, and nerve-wracking playoff hockey can be.

Let’s look at the six best NHL playoff series of the decade. In no way am I combining certain ones and generally cheating, kind of making it more than six series. I would never do that.

6. Sharks, Golden Knights engage in one wild Game 7

Personally, I don’t think it’s out of place to put last year’s Golden Knights – Sharks series on this list. And, yes, it can make it on this list based on the strength of that bewildering Game 7 alone.

In a vacuum, that Game 7 already inspires wonder.

Cody Eakin got whistled for that controversial major penalty when he bloodied Joe Pavelski. In mere minutes, the Golden Knights’ 3-0 Game 7 lead vanished as the Sharks scored a ridiculous four power-play goals. Almost as remarkably, Jonathan Marchessault showed that Vegas wouldn’t just quit, sending it to overtime. Then barely-used Barclay Goodrow scored a tremendous series-winner:

Sprinkle in added context and that Game 7 gets spicier.

Both Eakin and Pavelski are now on other teams. The Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant this season, replacing him with DeBoer, who Gallant called a “clown” during that series. Heck, even Goodrow is out of San Jose now.

5. Flyers complete “reverse” sweep against Bruins, Round 2 in 2009-10

It’s hard to believe it, but Pro Hockey Talk came into existence during the 2009-10 season, forming around the 2009-10 trade deadline. Let me tell you: the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs served as a playoff run that’s tough to top.

Beyond Patrick Kane‘s funky overtime goal becoming the first Stanley Cup-clincher for PHT, Jaroslav Halak and the Habs served up two stunning upsets to the Capitals and Penguins in respective seven-game series.

(The baffled face of Bruce Boudreau became quite the gift for meme enthusiasts.)

But the sheer chaos of the second-round series between the Bruins and Flyers takes the cake.

The Flyers became what was then the third (and now the fourth) NHL team to rage back from a 3-0 series deficit. Even according to those standards, Philly poured in extra drama.

It was almost a little too on-the-nose. Just like in the series, the Bruins took a jarring 3-0 lead in Game 7. Also like the series, the Flyers refused to roll over, eventually winning Game 7 4-3 in overtime thanks to a Simon Gagne goal.

4. Bruins torment Maple Leafs in Game 7’s, especially in 2012-13

Aside from a respectable first-round series loss to the Capitals in 2016-17, every Maple Leafs season since 2005-06 ended in one of two ways:

  • Missing the playoffs.
  • Or losing to the Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.

We didn’t know it yet, but the “it was 4-1” nightmare ended up being the most horrific part of a terrifying trilogy. After serving as the slasher movie villain who wouldn’t die in 2012-13, the Bruins kept hunting down the Maple Leafs in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

(Nazem Kadri definitely served as the horror movie character who investigates that strange noise. Or maybe he was the person who did something last summer? I can’t decide.)

That Game 7 on May 13, 2013 remains dizzying. The Maple Leafs were up 4-1 5:29 into the third period, yet that lead unraveled during a series of events that remains hard to believe. Ultimately, Patrice Bergeron ended the series at 5-4 with an overtime-winner.

Again, repeated Game 7 letdowns open up these old wounds, and create new ones for Maple Leafs fans. Ouch.

3. Another seven-game series between the Capitals and Penguins (2016-17)

How about we just cobble together all of the great series the Capitals and/or Penguins were in during the decade? When in doubt, go with Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.

After all, they both faced the Lightning in seven-game series. For sheer brutality and inanity, you could absolutely argue that the Flyers beating the Penguins in six games in 2011-12 should be a top-five series. And, of course, it was epic when the Capitals finally slayed the Penguins dragon in 2017-18.

But in boiling down this list to a manageable size, let’s go with another series that went seven between these two teams.

A truly fantastic Capitals team seemed to “choke,” falling behind 3-1 in the series. It’s easy forget that they defiantly forced a Game 7, though, because the Penguins ended up winning 2-0. Some rare tough moments for Braden Holtby set the stage for that redemptive run to win the Stanley Cup in 2018.

2. A riotous 2011 Stanley Cup Final series between the Canucks and Bruins

For a long time, I thought this series should be number one. It tops the list if you weigh memorable moments most heavily.

No doubt, the riots in Vancouver after Game 7 were ugly. It was also hard to look away.

The messiness started before all of the property damage, though. Tim Thomas didn’t want to “pump Roberto Luongo’s tires.” Brad Marchand was, well, Brad Marchand to the Sedin twins. An Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton backfired for the Canucks.

There was just so much going on. And, going by my tiebreaker standards, the Canucks also finally beat the Blackhawks earlier in that postseason.

But the actual hockey was hit-or-miss, at least compared to the best-of-the-best. Just look at the anticlimactic Game 7 itself, which the Bruins won 4-0.

Still, that was some wild stuff.

1. Kings beat Blackhawks in best NHL playoff series of the decade (2013-14)

As tempted as I was to go with riots and deflated tires, the epic back-and-forth between two of the best teams of the decade ultimately swayed me.

From 2009-10 through 2014-15, the Blackhawks and Kings won five of the six Stanley Cups. That 2014 Western Conference Final ended up being the peak of that rivalry.

From a Game 5 that required double overtime, to a Game 7 that also stretched beyond regulation, the hockey was truly sublime.

No doubt, the Kings pulling off the fourth-ever “reverse sweep” helped sway me, too. Los Angeles didn’t just come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks. They absolutely roared back, winning those last four games by a combined score of 19-5.

Drew Doughty claimed he saw fear in the eyes of his Sharks opponents. Can you blame him for saying that after such a rally?

It turned out that the Kings would not be denied that postseason, and I cannot deny that their battle with the Blackhawks was the best of a strong decade of playoff series for the NHL.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:
Teams with the best long-term outlook
Looking at the top 2020 free agents
Best 2019-20 free agent signings
The most underrated players
Our favorite classic Costacos Brothers hockey posters
How to spice up a possible virtual 2020 NHL Draft

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.

Crawford, Howard, and other interesting veteran NHL free agent goalies

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Earlier this week, PHT looked at uncertain futures for veteran NHL free agent forwards. The league’s other positions face just as much, if not more, uncertainty. So let’s keep this going by tackling veteran NHL free agent goalies.

As with that forward focus, this isn’t a comprehensive list of NHL free agent goalies. This revolves around veterans, with an admittedly arbitrary cutoff of 30 years or older.

Said veteran NHL free agent goalies must also hit a sweet spot. We’re ignoring goalies who should be no-brainer signings (Robin Lehner‘s been one of the best netminders, and he’s also only 28). We’re also going to skate past goalies with dubious chances of being signed to NHL contracts.

You might think such specific parameters would mean zero veteran NHL free agent goalies. Nope, there’s a pretty interesting list. Actually, if you feel like someone prominent didn’t make the cut, do tell.

(We’ll know you are trolling if you blurt out “Robin Lehner,” by the way.)

[Players who might be considering retirement]

Corey Crawford

I was tempted to leave Crawford off of this list. The reasoning is simple enough: Crawford has plenty of name recognition, and he was actually quite good (16-20-3, but with a .917 save percentage) this season.

Ultimately, Crawford warrants a mention, though. For one thing, he’s not that far removed from injury issues that credibly threatened his career. Also, with the Blackhawks firing team president John McDonough and other signs of turmoil, there’s increased uncertainty regarding Crawford’s future with his longtime team. Crawford is 35, too, so there’s the risk of a 35+ contract likely limiting his term options.

Honestly, the Blackhawks might be justified in flinching at bringing back Crawford for a more cynical reason. If Chicago wants to blow things up, or at least institute a mini-reboot, Crawford may foil such plans by … being too good.

The 2018-19 season stands as one of just two seasons where Crawford’s Goals Saved Against Average was on the negative side. With a 9.01 mark for 2019-20, Crawford ranked ahead of the likes of Carter Hart (4.47), stellar backup Jaroslav Halak (8.83), and resurgent Cam Talbot (7.53).

It would be absurd if someone didn’t want Crawford. The NHL can be an absurd league sometimes, though.

Jimmy Howard

During the 2019 NHL trade deadline, it was a little surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade Howard. Outsiders can only speculate if it was more about then-GM Ken Holland asking for too much, or the market being truly, totally dry.

But, either way, Howard’s market value looks much different (read: worse) after a brutal 2019-20, both for the Red Wings and for their veteran goalie. The 36-year-old suffered through a lousy .882 save percentage this season after being steady for two seasons (.909 and .910) and fantastic in 2016-17 (.927).

My guess is that someone will be interested in Howard, but it would be a surprise if he wore a Red Wings sweater in 2020-21. I’d also guess he’s slated to be a clear backup.

Mike Smith

There are goalies teams talk themselves out of (like, seemingly, Robin Lehner). Then there are goalies who gain a lot of leeway, such as Smith.

Familiarity sure seemed to help Smith land with the Oilers. It’s safe to assume that Dave Tippett fondly recalled Smith’s outstanding work during the Coyotes’ 2012 Western Conference Final run. That nostalgia didn’t lead to enough timely saves, though, as Mikko Koskinen soundly surpassed Smith (and Talbot was better in Calgary).

At 38, and with two straight below-average seasons under his belt, Smith may be teetering out of the league. Then again, he’s a big goalie, can handle the puck, and some might weigh those increasingly distant memories almost as heavily as Tippett and the Oilers did last summer.

Other NHL free agent goalies

  • I assume that 34-year-old goalies Thomas Greiss and Anton Khudobin should earn ample interest. They’ve both been fantastic, so I didn’t feel they needed a section. If interest isn’t certain though … it should be.
  • For the most part, Ryan Miller‘s future hinges on his own choices, and preference to be in the California area. Still, he’s worth mentioning, being that he’s 39 and didn’t perform as well in 2019-20.
  • Brian Elliott, 35, came through at times for the Flyers when Hart was injured. The overall picture of his season wasn’t pretty, however. It was fair to wonder about his future last offseason, and he’ll need to keep his expectations modest if he wants to stick in the NHL.
  • The curious trend of Craig Anderson flip-flopping average and elite seasons ended a while ago. It’s now been three rough seasons for the 39-year-old. Maybe someone would believe he could regain some of his past form on a more … hopeful team than the Senators?
  • Aaron Dell ranked as one of the NHL’s better backups in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Then the past two seasons happened, casting serious doubt over the 31-year-old’s future. Perhaps a team might pin that on the Sharks’ system and give Dell, say, a competitive third goalie spot?
  • Could be mostly sad emojis for 30-year-old Keith Kinkaid.

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.

Strong free agent goalie market takes a hit as Bruins extend Halak

Bruins extend extension Jaroslav Halak $2.25M free agent goalies
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In managing to extend Jaroslav Halak for $2.25M for 2020-21, the Bruins landed a nifty bargain. They also dealt a blow to what looks — at least on paper — to be a strong free agent market for goalies.

The Boston Globe’s Matt Porter reports that Halak’s contract includes a $1.25M bonus if he reaches 10+ games played. Those details don’t take away from this being a very nice deal for the Bruins.

Bruins extend Halak to keep together one of the NHL’s best tandems

Look, at 34, I’m not certain that Halak would have nabbed a starting job. From the Flames to the Hurricanes, I could certainly see places where the veteran goalie might make sense as a No. 1, but I understand if there was some apprehension. He’s had some injury issues here and there when asked to carry a larger burden.

But, at minimum, Halak carried the potential to be a strong “platoon” option.

Halak didn’t match Rask this season, but Rask likely deserves to be a Vezina finalist, so that’s no slight. Halak really makes that tandem even better, keeping Rask fresh while winning games. The Czech netminder managed a strong 18-6-6 record with a fabulous .919 save percentage. That’s actually a slight step back from an even better 2018-19 (22-11-4, .922) where he threatened Risk at times for the starting gig.

After a mild dip with the Islanders (.913 save percentage over four seasons), it seemed like Halak might slip into being “only” an average goalie. But, nope, when he joined his pal Zdeno Chara in Boston, Halak returned to sorely underrated status.

NHL teams were already warming up to “load management” even before the COVID-19 pause happened. Under those circumstances, Halak already served as quite the luxury for the Bruins.

Now, with discussions about squeezing games into smaller windows of time floating around? It only makes the team-friendly price that much more appealing.

The Bruins still need to strike a deal with pending UFA Torey Krug, while figuring out what’s next with Chara. Even so, this is a sweet deal for Boston. For Halak? If nothing else, he gains some certainty in uncertain times, and also gets to stick with a team that’s been a strong contender.

PHT takes a closer look at the Bruins:
• Looking at their 2019-20 season
Surprises and disappointments
Long-term outlook

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 is the long-term outlook for the Bruins?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Boston Bruins.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Bruins have two big things going for them to maintain a pretty big window for Stanley Cup contention.

The most important is that they have a great core of talent to build around in David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, David Krejci, and Brandon Carlo.

Along with that is the fact they have a significant portion of their team signed long-term on deals that not only have term, but are also below market value. Nobody on the team carries a salary cap hit of greater than $7.25 million (Krejci) while only two players (Krejci and starting goalie Tuukka Rask) count for more than $7 million against the cap in a single season.

The quartet of Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, and McAvoy, for example, takes up less than $25 million in salary cap space per season through the end of the 2021-22 season. That not only keeps a tremendous group of players together, it gives the team the type of salary cap flexibility it needs to build a powerhouse team around them. The Bruins have done exactly that.

Their big challenges this offseason are going to be re-signing UFA defenseman Torey Krug — one of their top blue-liners — and securing a new contract for restricted free agent forward Jake DeBrusk, currently one of their top complementary players. Because they are getting such bargains at the top of their lineup they should have the salary cap space to make it work.

Krug will definitely be the biggest challenge (especially if there is pressure to keep him around the $6.5 million mark that everyone else in their core currently makes) but there is room.

Long-term needs

It might seem like an outrageous thing to say right now given the way the team is built, but it is really tempting to put goaltending as a long-term question.

Right now the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak is as good as it gets in the NHL. They are both outstanding and capable of being No. 1 starters in the league, while Rask has been one of the league’s elites for most of his career. But there is some uncertainty beyond this season. For one, Halak is one of the Bruins’ biggest unrestricted free agents after this season so there is no guarantee that he returns. But there is also the fact that Rask recently hinted at the possibility of potentially retiring after next season (via the Boston Globe). Still a lot of unknowns there and a situation to keep an eye on in the future.

Beyond that, depth might be the other big long-term issue.

If they are unable to re-sign Krug that would love a pretty massive hole on their blue line, and there is going to come a point where Zdeno Chara is no longer part of this team. That is half of your top-four and would be an awful lot to replace at one time if neither one is there beyond this season.

Long-term strengths

It kind of relates to everything mentioned in the core part, but they have some of the league’s best players at forward signed for multiple seasons at below market contracts.

The trio of Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand is one of the best lines in the entire league. Individually, they are all among the top-20 players in the league. Together, they are almost unstoppable.

On the blue line, McAvoy and Carlo are both already outstanding defensemen and are just now starting to hit their prime years in the NHL.

Basically, the Bruins have the most important pieces for sustained success already in place (superstar forwards and young top-pairing defensemen), have them all signed long-term, and they are mostly at points in their career where they should still have several elite seasons ahead of them. The Bruins have been one of the league’s top-four teams for three years in a row now and there is no sign that they are going to drop off from that level anytime soon.

 

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins
Bruins surprises and disappointments

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.

Bruins get back on track with win over Stars

David Pastrnak’s NHL-leading 46th goal was the difference in the Boston Bruins’ 4-3 victory against the Dallas Stars.

The Bruins snapped a brief two-game skid and improved to 12-3-0 in their previous 15 games with the victory. Jaroslav Halak made 31 saves in his 17th win of the season.

Nick Ritchie scored his first goal in his second game since being acquired by Boston at the NHL Trade Deadline earlier this week. Charlie Coyle and Brad Marchand also found back of the net as the Bruins extended their lead in the Atlantic Division to seven points.

John Klingberg, Denis Gurianov and Miro Heiskanen scored for the Stars as their eight-game road point streak came to an end.

Charlie Coyle did what?

Klingberg opened the scoring to give Dallas a one-goal advantage but in the final seconds of the first period, Coyle showed he is ready for spring training.

The Bruins were on the power play due to Andrew Cogliano’s ill-advised slashing penalty. Torey Krug’s slap shot from the point generated a juicy rebound and Coyle swatted the puck out of mid-air to even the score. Coyle deflected the initial rebound up in the air, then batted the puck into the back of the net to show off his incredible hand-eye coordination.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.