Ryan O’Reilly

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PHT Morning Skate: O’Reilly inspiration; Holland’s Lucic problem

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup Parade Felt Like Redemption. (Sports Illustrated)

• From his boredom in Buffalo to winning the Stanley Cup in St. Louis, Ryan O'Reilly‘s story should inspire. (St. Louis Game Time)

Brad Marchand regrets costly mistake made in Game 7. (Boston Hockey Now)

• Ken Holland’s thorniest problem: what are the Edmonton Oilers to do with Milan Lucic? (Edmonton Journal)

• Blues victory in Game 7 of Cup Final celebrated in nod to ‘NHL ’94’. (NHL.com)

• Senators enter a pivotal stretch going into NHL draft. (Ottawa Sun)

• Flames GM Treliving thinks RFA class could slow draft trade activity. (Sportsnet)

• Examining the trade possibilities of every first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. (The Athletic)

• Canucks’ most important 2020 free agent is a coach. (The Hockey Writers)

• What Binnington’s playoff run means for goalies. (Blue Line Station)

• Golden Knights, NFL’s Raiders to meet in Las Vegas charity softball game. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Jimmy Vesey is an interesting trade target for the Buffalo Sabres. (Die by the Blade)

• What should the New Jersey Devils do with Sami Vatanen? (Pucks and Pitchforks)


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

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.

To grandma with love: O’Reilly hopes to take Cup to big fan

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BOSTON (AP) — Ryan O'Reilly should expect another email from his 99-year-old grandmother.

Congratulations from Deirdre O’Reilly are certainly in order after her grandson won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the NHL playoffs. O’Reilly scored the opening goal for the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to help beat Boston 4-1 and give the franchise its first title in its 51st season.

”You dream of this for so long,” he said. ”As a kid, that feeling comes back to you of just what it means to win this thing. I still can’t believe this. I can’t believe I’m here right now and a Stanley Cup champion with this group of guys.”

O’Reilly made good on Doug Armstrong’s blockbuster trade to acquire him last summer – and the line he told the St. Louis general manager on that initial call: ”Let’s go win a Cup.”

O’Reilly was a major reason for that. He set a Blues record with 24 playoff points and became the first player since Wayne Gretzky in 1985 to score in four consecutive Cup Final games.

”His worth ethic and his production for us all year and then throughout the playoffs, he was just a relentless hockey player for a long time,” coach Craig Berube said. ”Never quits. Such a smart two-way player. He’s a special player.”

And O’Reilly did much of it after cracking a rib during the second round against Dallas and doing worse damage in the Western Conference final against San Jose. O’Reilly wanted so badly to excel in these moments that he played through the pain.

”There was a couple tough games, but once you kind of get going and the adrenaline takes over, I didn’t notice it,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly’s grandmother watches and emails him from Seaforth, Ontario, where he grew up playing hockey. She bought him multiple pairs of skates when he was a kid and has tracked his progress very closely.

”She’s obviously a big part of my career,” O’Reilly said.

The 28-year-old center’s career hit a new peak this season when he was a finalist for the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward and the Lady Byng for sportsmanlike and gentlemanly conduct. Then he raised his game even further.

After scoring just three goals in his first 22 playoff games, O’Reilly scored five in the past four to carry the Blues to the Stanley Cup.

”He looks energized to me a little bit more, more jump in his stride out there, and he’s finishing,” Berube said recently. ”He gets chances all the time, but he’s finishing right now.”

This is the time O’Reilly had been waiting for after several soul-crushing seasons in Buffalo. After getting a taste of the playoffs with Colorado in 2010 and 2014, he missed with the Avalanche in 2015 and with the Sabres from 2016-2018.

O’Reilly raised eyebrows on locker cleanout day in Buffalo 15 months ago when he said he’d “lost the love of the game” multiple times throughout a trying season and needed to get it back. The trade to St. Louis last summer changed everything, and now it’s back in every possible way.

”It’s very refreshing,” O’Reilly said. ”It just kind of helps remind you what it’s all about and why as a kid you play the game to have a chance to win a Stanley Cup and to be a part of a group like this, it just gave me a new life and reminder of how good and exciting this game can be.”

O’Reilly stated the obvious that winning is fun, losing is tough and ”it eats away at you.” It was fun for the Blues in coming back from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits in the final in large part because O’Reilly helped lead the way.

Following a horrendous faceoff performance in a blowout Game 3 loss, O’Reilly won 43 of 70 faceoffs the next three times out to help the Blues control play and take it to the Bruins.

O’Reilly of course scored some big goals in the process, too. Throughout the season, he earned a ton of respect from his teammates, referring Patrick Maroon to his sports psychologist dad and pulling a team together that had six new faces.

”Off the ice, he’s an unreal guy,” linemate Zach Sanford said. ”Everyone loves him. He’s a good guy, he’s a nice guy. He’s always putting in the work. You see him after practice, leading all these drills on the ice and before games doing all these warmup drills and stuff. Obviously on the ice he’s a great player. He’s good offensively and defensively. There’s not too many guys that can do it at the level he does.”

That showed in the Stanley Cup Final that made all those years watching playoffs this time of year feel like they had a purpose.

”The Cup is the ultimate goal,” O’Reilly said. ”(I was) just trying to go out there and be the spark and try to make a difference.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports