NHL 2017-18 Season Second Quarter Report

It is now approximately halfway through the current season and the second quarter of this year was much different from the second quarter of last year which was characterized by long double digit winning streaks by a few teams. Nobody has had a double digit winning streak this year though the amazing Las Vegas Golden Knights have come the closest so far. Here is a summary of those who won and lost during the second part of the season.

Biggest Winner

New York Islanders

Actually it should be the Knights but the Islanders ended over 30 years of frustration when New York State agreed that a proper, new arena which will seat over 18,000 will finally be built for them. The Islanders are currently in a slump and out of the playoffs but thanks to this news, they could lose every remaining game and still be the biggest winner of the year except for Las Vegas and whoever wins the Stanley Cup. Getting a new arena means that the Islanders ownership and management can at last concentrate on building a true, contending team, starting with the resigning of John Tavares. It also means that the would-be returned Hartford Whalers will have to find either a new potential expansion franchise owner or get another NHL team to consider relocating.

Runners Up

Las Vegas Golden Knights

That the expansion Knights can actually win a playoff spot is a true miracle. That they can actually win the whole Western Conference and be a true Stanley Cup contender might be described as a miracle of miracles. This team had one of the longest winning streaks in the whole NHL during the second part of the season and have yet to have a slump. Do the new Las Vegas fans think this is normal? Their current season and fast development will be the model for every new future NHL expansion team.

Winnipeg Jets

Nobody expected the Jets to be this good. Unless they go into a horrendous slump, it’s likely they will make the playoffs and be regarded as a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. They have been winning, lost one of their best players, Mark Scheifele and are still winning. But if they make the playoffs, all the improvements that most of the other top contenders have made will make it tough to take the next step.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins had not done anything noteworthy during the first part of the season largely because the hadn’t played many games. But during the second part of the season they have blossomed and now have a comfortable playoff position. Like the Jets, unless a horrendous slump occurs, expect to see Boston, now regarded as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender back in the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils

Unlike last year, the Devils have not gone into decline after a good first quarter. They are still holding on to a playoff position and top pick Nico Hischier has been everything they had wanted. Their playoff position is precarious but at least they are showing some staying power which they did not have last season.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues are still responding to Mike Yeo’s coaching and have a real shot at winning not only their division but the entire Western Conference. If they make the playoffs, have they improved enough to not only win a playoff round but get over two humps and make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, something they have not done since being coached by Scotty Bowman in the 1960s?

Tampa Bay Lightning

They have been the best team in the NHL for the entire year. One big question mark, their goaltending looks solid. But the other big question is can this team stay healthy for once? As was shown last year, this true playoff contender can be undone if certain players get injured.

Nashville Predators

The Stanley Cup runners up of last year actually got better when they got Kyle Turris from Ottawa through Colorado and he has been making a significant contribution since he arrived. Is Turris enough to finally take them all the way? They will have tougher competition in the playoffs this year so their new asset is certainly needed.

Los Angeles Kings

Are they finally back? Have they finally found the chemistry again that won two Stanley Cups during the past decade? They are in position to win not only their division but their conference. If they are indeed back to what they once were, they could be the team to beat in the Western Conference this year.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Boy did he ever get a good second quarter. In fact it is possible to say that he got a better second quarter than the Islanders and the Knights. He was in trouble when he set a $500 million expansion fee and only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec agreed to pay it. To make matters worse, Quebec’s bidder was unacceptable and only Las Vegas was considered good enough to join the NHL, leaving the league with 31 teams, one short of being able to realign into a more comfortable NFL structure (still unannounced). It seemed that if the NHL were to expand again in the immediate future, Bettman would have to refund some of the expansion money back to Las Vegas owner, Bill Foley and set a lower, more realist expansion fee that the investment world would accept.

Then Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman of Seattle appeared and actually set a new $650 million expansion fee record. The Seattle “approval process” is now a mere formality. And then there was Tilman Fertitta of Houston who said he would like see an NHL team in his arena which will mean another NHL expansion fee of at least $650 million if not higher. That’s probably an unannounced “done deal”. And finally the New York Islander 30 year arena problem got solved. That’s not like getting icing on the cake, that’s like getting three large iced cakes for your birthday. The two main problems left are Quebec and Phoenix.

Biggest Loser

Matt Duchene

Question: When did the Ottawa Senators go into the tank?

Answer: When they got Matt Duchene from Colorado.

How would you like to be the answer to that question? Not even P. K. Subban of Nashville, who at this time of year, last year was playing with a bag over his head because his old team, the Montreal Canadiens, were leading the Eastern Conference while the Predators were struggling to get the last playoff position, was in this kind of trouble. Ottawa traded for him because he was supposed to have the talent of number ones like Crosby, McDavid, Toews, Laine, Matthews, etc. He was supposed to be a step up from Kyle Turris who was let go to Nashville. Now after being in the shadow of Nathan McKinnon of Colorado, he was being given his own NHL team to lead. Instead of moving upward, the Senators are now out of playoff contention with almost no chance of turning things around and Duchene has contributed almost nothing. The vital team chemistry is gone and somehow Duchene is a big part of it. No one can explain why. This subject probably merits a full article.

Dishonorable Runners Up

Buffalo Sabres

At the start of the second quarter, they still had a chance of making the playoffs, but instead of going upwards in the second quarter, they plunged down toward the depths of the Arizona Coyotes. Last year, owner Terry Pegula got impatient with the Sabres when he saw the progress that teams like Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton were making and fired his coach and general manager. But “cleaning house” only made things worse and the Sabres are left vying with the Coyotes for the number one draft pick.

Arizona Coyotes

They played better than they did in the first quarter but remain the most horrible team in the NHL. Actually the only interesting thing about the Arizona Coyotes is if there is going to be an Arizona Coyotes at the end of next season. The horrendous play of this season will ensure that there will be no public money coming to build a new downtown Phoenix arena for a franchise that has iced only one contending team in its entire history. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns publicly insulted the Coyotes by refusing to be partners to build a new arena. I’ve advanced the idea that the best solution will be to add two more Western Conference expansion teams besides Seattle and then shift the Coyotes with its current ownership to Quebec to get rid of the unsuitable Pierre Karl Peladeau. A new Houston expansion team would be part of the process. Whether the Coyotes get the number one pick is irrelevant. The existence of the team is now the main factor.

Ottawa Senators

This is just a continuation of the Duchene problem that seems to be at the heart of the issue as to why the Senators are so bad. Is it coach Guy Boucher’s fault? But he had the Senators in playoff contention before Duchene came and Ottawa was Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh’s toughest playoff opponent last year. Is it General Manager Pierre Dorion’s fault? But he was not the only general manager to believe that Duchene was a number one talent. It also hurts him to know that the Nashville Predators are getting significant contributions from the traded Kyle Turris while he gets almost nothing from Duchene. He is probably in shock just like everybody else. Everything points to Duchene. It is not a happy place to be in.

Florida Panthers

They actually played respectable hockey during the second quarter but nothing, short of making the playoffs can cover up the bonehead decision of getting rid of coach Gerard Gallant even though he had a winning record with the Panthers last season when he became the first NHL coach to be fired. Every time the Las Vegas Knights win, it is a blow to the Deathwish Panthers who like the Coyotes have a horrible history, seldom making the playoffs. And if Las Vegas is the model of how a desert team should be run for the Arizona Coyotes, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the model of how a Florida team should be run for the Florida Panthers. The success of both Tampa Bay and Las Vegas only emphasizes how badly these two losing franchises have operated.

Montreal Canadiens

Both the Canadiens and the New York Rangers started out with horrible records, but while the Rangers recovered and have a chance to make the playoffs, the Canadiens are virtually out of the picture. They needed to start moving upward during the second quarter but have at best been just wheel spinning. They lost two veteran defencemen during the off season, goaltender Carey Price is a good international goaltender when he plays for team Canada, but is a suspect NHL playoff goaltender, and General Manager Marc Bergevin guessed wrong about P. K. Subban.

The Bubble Burst

Detroit Red Wings And Vancouver Canucks

At the start of the second quarter, both these teams which had been playing well had a chance to make the playoffs. But during the second quarter, reality caught up with them. Neither of these teams which had been Stanley Champions or contenders for so long have the talent any more to contend and now need top draft choices to rebuild. Most of Detroit’s old stars have retired and the Sedins of Vancouver are in their declining years. At least they have a legitimate excuse for why they out of contention, not like the teams listed above.

When Are You Going To Wake Up?

Pittsburgh Penguins

Mysteriously, the two time defending champion Penguins have been playing stumblebum hockey. The playoffs are certainly attainable but Pittsburgh needs to start putting together some of the long winning streaks that have characterized the past two seasons. It is too early to panic but some of the teams above them are starting to pull away and some teams from below are starting to challenge them. Maybe it is time to get a little uneasy.

Edmonton Oilers

If it is not time to panic for Pittsburgh, it almost is for Edmonton. They played well during the second quarter but not well enough to make up for their bad first quarter. And what I warned about in my first quarter report is starting to happen. At least seven Western Conference teams pulled away and cannot be caught up to and two others are poised to become that way. Only the last playoff spot is now available to them and that is now fast flickering away. They need long winning streaks during the next quarter to have any chance to make playoffs.

We’ve Seen It Before

Washington Capitals

Yes, the Capitals had their usual long regular season winning streak and now have a chance to win their usual President’s Trophy. And yes, Alexander Ovechkin has his usual pretty individual statistics. But nobody should pay attention to what the Capitals do during the regular season. In the Marcel Dionne (whoops!) Ovechkin era, the Capitals have never even made the Eastern Conference Final. So now (yawn) that they have had another great second quarter, it means almost nothing. In fact the best thing that they may have going for them is that Pittsburgh is currently out of a playoff spot leaving the door open for the Capitals to finally get to at least the Eastern Conference Final.

Minnesota Wild

The western playoff wheel spinner Minnesota Wild played well too during this quarter and now precariously have the last playoff spot. But as long as ex-coach Mike Yeo is coaching the Blues who humiliated the Wild and General Manager Chuck Fletcher with an easy playoff victory last year, it is not enough to just make the playoffs, but to go deep into the playoff picture, especially surpassing Yeo’s Blues. Every year the Washington Wild and the Minnesota Capitals play for the wheel spinning Stanley Cup. Will that ever change?

 

It Didn’t Take Long, Julien Is Back

I said in my previous article about Claude Julien that he would become one of the three most sought after coaches for rehiring, but the speed with which he returned to the NHL leaves me a little breathless. And to be hired by Boston’s most hated rival, Montreal -for the second time- there’s a lot of surrealism here.

It makes sense. Julien simply is a better coach than Michel Therrien who could not take either the Montreal Canadiens or the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup. The Canadiens collapsed last year after goaltender Carey Price got injured and the players, notably P K Subban took the blame. But this time, with Montreal seemingly about to collapse again, this time with an uninjured Price and Therrien still at the helm, General Manager Marc Bergevin removed his coach.

Even though it is over a decade, there is something hilariously surreal in Julien’s personal professional career. To be the coach of the Canadiens, then to be fired and hired by arch-rival Boston, and then to be rehired by arch-rival Montreal… it reminds me of the Duke of Clarence in the Wars of the Roses who switched from the Yorkists to the Lancastrians and back to the Yorkists again. What`s next on Julien`s calendar, to be rehired by the Bruins when he gets fired by Montreal again?

The immediate task is to get the Canadiens out of their current slump and play like they did at the beginning of the season. Bergevin made major changes during the off season, most notably the trading of Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber. He certainly showed himself willing to put his own neck on the chopping block to get the Canadiens turned around.

The hiring of Julien also raises two major questions. First, are there going to be more major changes to the Canadiens roster before the trade deadline? If the trading of Subban and the hiring of Julien is not enough, what other changes have to be made? What if Julien cannot turn the team around this year?

Second, what is an acceptable finish to the Montreal season this year? The only obvious fact is that missing the playoffs is unacceptable. But how far does Julien have to take the team in the playoffs for the fans and management to agree that this was a successful year, that there was a major improvement and they are on the right track? Put up a good struggle in the first round against a superior opponent and lose? Win one round? Two rounds?

An unacceptable finish could mean sweeping changes to the roster next year like the Subban trade this year. It could mean realizing that the current set of players are just not good enough and a major rebuilding job, starting from scratch is in order. For these reasons, Montreal will be closely watched for the remainder of this season.

It’s Almost Unanimous: Firing Claude Julien Is An Unpopular Move

Just days after one Stanley Cup winning coach, Ken Hitchcock lost his job, another Stanley Cup winner, Claude Julien, got fired by the Boston Bruins. Hitchcock was going to retire from coaching at the end of the season anyway but it was not the way he wanted to go out. Nor did Julien want to leave the Bruins.

He had been coaching the Bruins for ten years and had become the franchise’s all time leader in coaching wins. In 2011, he finally got the Bruins over the hump and won the team’s first Stanley Cup since the Bobby Orr-Phil Esposito years of 1970-72, a drought of 39 years. He would also bring the Bruins back to the Final in 2013 which they lost after a tough struggle to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Julien seems to have lost the favor of Bruins management, President Cam Neely, and General Manager Don Sweeney long ago. There have been rumors of his firing for the past few years after the Bruins began to slip from the top ranks. The last straw for Sweeney and Neely was a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice, a team that Julien’s teams used to beat easily and regularly with different personnel, in the same manner as the crushing defeat of Toronto (the Leafs blew a three goal lead in the few minutes of the third period of the seventh game) a few years ago when the two teams last played each other in the playoffs.

The news of the firing has not been taken kindly by either the local press or Bruins fans. They are not likely to forget that Julien finally got the Bruins over the hump that other coaches could not do and ended the long drought since 1972. Or how close he came to victory two years later. One article I read listed all the Bruins players whom Julien once coached when he was winning the Stanley Cup and the current roster of “inferiors” with whom he now tried to find a way to win with.

As with Hitchcock, the coach can win with only the material management supplies him with and the high turnover on the Bruins roster since 2011 shows that Julien was now coaching a much different team. It will be left to his successor, Bruce Cassidy, to see if he can do something with the current Bruins roster.

Julien was once the coach of arch-rival Montreal, the team that has heaped the most humiliations on the Bruins in its history. Using the old cliche philosophy of if you can’t beat them, join them, the Bruins hired the French Canadian, ex-Montreal coach and it paid off in 2011. For once Montreal is now waiting in a longer drought for victory than Boston.

There was particular anger by Bruins fans that the firing was timed to coincide with the victory parade of the New England Patriots. It was almost that the Bruins were trying to usurp and disturb the euphoria of the Super Bowl victory. But whereas the Patriots are still built around Tom Brady and much of the past New England champions, the team that Julien leaves is much different from his championship year.

In firing Julien, Sweeney and Neely now put themselves on the line. If the Bruins do not improve within the next year or two, they will have no one to hide behind. They are already suspect because of the roster changes from the championship year. They better hope that the new coach can get something out of the Bruins and that they make the right draft choice next year.

This is not a good year to be a Bruins fan. Recently the franchise lost one its greatest players, legendary Milt Schmidt. Now the coach with the most victories in team history is gone too. Julien now joins Gerard Gallant (fired Florida coach), and Ralph Krueger (Team Europe coach) as one of the three men who will be most sought after to coach another NHL team next year.

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Recap

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are over with the Pittsburgh Penguins returning to the top again. But what does this year’s result mean for now and for the past and future? It is the purpose of this final installment of this year’s series of predictions to clarify and make sense of it all…

The Winner Of The 2016 Stanley Cup Tournament Is...

It is my sad duty to announce that the winner of the 2016 Stanley Cup actually ended in a tie between the Coronary Heart Disease team and the World Health Care Industry team which has been concealing a cure for coronary heart disease for at least two decades. The way that coronary heart disease was allowed to significantly affect this year’s NHL playoffs is a disgrace that only people like myself who have been cured of this dreadful scourge years ago without any open heart surgery know. I have published three articles on this blog so far about how this killer has recently significantly affected hockey and I hope to publish more to make as many readers as possible aware of what is really going on. First this disease forced the unnecessary retirement of Pittsburgh Penguin Pascal Dupuis. It followed up that success by forcing Tampa Bay star forward Steve Stamkos to accept unnecessary surgery to remove blood clots, the same problem that forced Dupuis’s retirement. Stamkos never appeared in the playoffs until the desperate game 7 with Pittsburgh when he probably still should have been kept out. Finally the world’s worst killer struck again in the Final by killing living legend Gordie Howe with a series a strokes over the past three years. The joy of the Final is now clouded over.

And all the while a cure existed that I took eight years ago and which others took before me and which thousands more have discovered after me. The chelation remedy which I and thousands of others have taken that has saved our lives is officially condemned by governmental bodies like the FDA and Health Canada to be “alternative medicine” which means that it can never be legally prescribed by state doctors or Heart Associations. To get it, a person has to have the courage to fly in the face of official denunciation and ridicule, to have the courage to be one’s own doctor and buy it directly over the Internet, or to try the privately established chelation clinics and get the heart plaque removed under a doctor’s supervision. Pascal Dupuis would still be playing; Steve Stamkos would not have missed a single playoff game; and Gordie Howe would still be alive. That is the triumph of coronary heart disease and the corrupt health care industry. Step forward and collect the Stanley Cup. This year it is rightfully yours.

Team At The Top

Who else but the Pittsburgh Penguins who have returned to their projected future after floundering in the wilderness for the past seven years. Pittsburgh owes its return to the top to goaltender Matt Murray who replaced the erratic Marc Andre Fleury and to coach Mike Sullivan who stressed defensive commitment to which the entire team including star players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin dedicated themselves. Suddenly after being lost for so long Pittsburgh is back and if they continue to get the same goaltending and defensive commitment, they are going to be very hard to dethrone.

The Real Conn Smythe Winner

With all due respect to Sidney Crosby, the real Conn Smythe Trophy winner of this year’s playoffs was his goaltender Matt Murray and Crosby would be the first to say so. The big difference between this Pittsburgh team and the chokers who succeeded the champions of 2009 was the improved defensive play of the team and that starts with Murray in goal. As soon as Murray was installed as the starting goaltender instead of the erratic Marc Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh roared down the finish of the regular season and never looked back. Coach Mike Sullivan’s one attempt at bringing back Fleury resulted in an overtime loss against Tampa Bay and he never gave the matter any consideration again.

Players Who Made A Breakthrough

The 2016 playoffs marked the emergence of Matt Murray, Martin Jones, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, John Tavares, and T. J. Oshie.

Teams On The Way Up

Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers all showed that if the right off season moves are made, they have the potential to advance farther than they did in this year’s playoffs.

Spinning Wheels Stuck In The Mud Of The Same Old Round

The Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild remain mired in the same old first or second rounds. Minnesota seems to think that by acquiring Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to escape missing the playoffs altogether is also enough to be a true Stanley Cup contender instead of upgrading its talent still further. Washington with  the same old Ovechkin-Backstrom-Orpik core that it has had for nearly a decade probably needs a good shakeup and fresh blood. Also Anaheim’s first round defeat was a severe setback that cost coach Bruce Boudreau his job.

See Ya

1. Brooks Orpik’s play was a significant reason why Washington suffered its usual first or second round choke. Three direct or indirect Orpik actions led to situations in which Pittsburgh took full advantage. Should Washington give him one last chance out of loyal service over the years or is time to give him a gold watch and bid adieu?

2. After years of trying to give away his job by his erratic playoff play, particularly a horrible series against the Philadelphia Flyers which may have been the worst goaltending performance for an entire playoff series that I have ever seen, Pittsburgh Penguin goaltender Marc Andre Fleury finally succeeded in watching his backup, Matt Murray take his job from him. Pittsburgh will no longer keep Fleury with his large contract and erratic playoff play. The one game coach Mike Sullivan allowed him to start saw him give up his usual 4+ goals including the overtime winner to Tampa Bay. The only question is which teams still believe in Fleury to give him a chance to start his career again?

Deja Vu

Coach Peter DeBoer took the underdog New Jersey Devils all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost. Then he took the underdog San Jose Sharks all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is going to be a difficult off season for the San Jose Sharks. On the one hand, they made significant breakthroughs by getting all the way to the Stanley Cup Final where they had never been before. On the other hand, they were outclassed by Pittsburgh. The offense that was getting contributions from almost everybody was almost completely shut down and when that happened, Martin Jones, their goaltender of the future was not enough. How much longer do they continue with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau despite their wonderful contributions this year? What will it take and what do they need to get them over the top? Next year might see a returned Chicago and a retooled Los Angeles. And if Dallas, St. Louis, and Nashville make the right off season moves, they could be significantly improved next year. Returning to the Stanley Cup Final will not be easy for the Sharks. In some ways, they had win this year while they had the chance. It is not easy to see and find an answer for what they need.

Partly Over A Hump

The San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and New York Islanders all got through rounds where they usually lose or choke. They did not win the big one but it was progress.

Marriage Made In Heaven – Birds Of A Feather Flock Together

Bruce Boudreau was fired by both the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks because in the playoffs his teams were able to beat equal or lesser teams than themselves but could never beat true Stanley Cup contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. Now Boudreau gets to be coach of the wheel-spinning Minnesota Wild, a team that can beat lesser teams like Colorado but always loses to true contenders like Chicago and Los Angeles. One can hardly wait to see the result.

Will They Return?

Chicago and Los Angeles were alternating as Stanley Cup Champion the past four years. It was supposed to be Los Angeles’s turn to win the Cup this year but they were put out quickly in the first round by the inspired San Jose Sharks. Will some inspired off season retooling bring back the Kings and the Blackhawks? It will not take much to return these teams to glory status.

Most Anguished Defeat

When Pittsburgh closed out the Washington Capitals 4-2, it left one the worst chokers in the NHL along with Minnesota stuck behind its mound. To add salt to its wounds, the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders made playoff progress by getting through the rounds where they usually lose or choke. Washington won the President’s Trophy by a country mile but to show real progress they HAD to get to at least the Eastern Conference Final. Alexander Ovechkin, once Sidney Crosby’s main rival still has never played in a Conference Final, let alone contend for the Stanley Cup. His international Russian team Olympic record is just as dismal. He has loads of individual trophies and honors but his team record is horrible. He is the successor to Marcel Dionne who had a similar career. What is even more galling is that Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom outplayed their rivals Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and got an outstanding effort from T. J. Oshie and it still was not enough. Brooks Orpik played like a bonehead and Braden Holtby failed to deliver difference-making goaltending. The coming off season in Washington is going to be critical about where they go from here.

The 50-50 Team

The Nashville Predators made progress when they beat superior opponent Anaheim to win their first ever 7 game series. Nashville was ready for that game 7 but when the same situation came up again against San Jose, they were shamefully shut out, causing goaltender Pekka Rinne to smash his stick in frustration at his team’s lack of preparedness.

Best Team Not In The Playoffs

The Boston Bruins were the only team that had a plus goal differential and somehow did not qualify for the playoffs while the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Redwings who had minus goal differentials did.

The What If Playoff Series

What if Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop did not get injured?
What if Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos had been given the same “alternative medicine” that removes coronary heart disease blockages that I took to save my life, instead of being operated on to remove blood clots that kept him out of the playoffs until Tampa Bay’s final game?
What if the NHL started trying “alternative medicine” instead of always towing the government line set by the FDA and Health Canada?
What if the corrupt health care industry had been exposed for what it is?
Would Tampa Bay have beaten Pittsburgh?

Best NHL Playoff Feud

You can bet the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to be steaming after losing the Eastern Conference Final because their number one goaltender and best forward were out with injuries. Currently Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are the best teams in the Eastern Conference and this was only round 2 of the Crosby-Malkin era which is now squared 1-1. There will probably be many more Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay playoff match-ups in the immediate future so each team will get to know each other very well in the coming years.

You Should Have Been Here – Where Are You?

With all the high draft choices that have been nurtured and stockpiled for over half a decade, the Edmonton Oilers should have been a Stanley Cup contender – long ago. In a year when Canada did not ice a single playoff team and despite the acquisition of Connor McDavid, the alleged heir to Sidney Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain that stretches back to Maurice Richard, Edmonton never even threatened to make the playoffs. Instead they finished near the bottom of the league as they usually do. There is some undiagnosed rot eating away at this team and until it is properly investigated and removed, Edmonton will remain a joke.

Hurry Up And Make It 8

For the first time since 1970, Canada did not have a single team in the playoffs. The odds are stacked against them 23-7 and this result may occur many more times in the future. So Canada is praying that the NHL opens the door for Quebec to join in the near future.

Bitter End For The Bruins

At the end of the 2016 regular NHL season, the Boston Bruins are not competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They become the only NHL team in the current season that has a positive goal differential – something both Detroit and Philadelphia lack – not to participate in the post season. Somehow defensive excellence did not add up to a playoff spot. And since defense is counted as a strength in Boston, it is the lack of offense that must be blamed for no playoffs in Boston.

Ex-General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, now with Edmonton, did a great job while he was with Boston, building a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the first since the days of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito back in the early 1970s. Under Chiarelli, the Bruins were a consistent contender to win the Eastern Conference every year, if not win the Stanley Cup itself. New GM, Don Sweeney has a tough legacy to live up to. But it is one of Chiarelli’s trades that many Bruin fans feel that haunts this team.

Thanks to Toronto’s stupidity during the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Fund regime, the Bruins acquired a top pick which they used to draft Tyler Seguin. Seguin was with the Bruins and played  а not  insignificant part when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011. But Chiarelli became disenchanted with Seguin’s subsequent development and dealt him to the Dallas Stars. This year, the Bruins are on the sidelines watching Seguin in the playoffs. That trade now hangs like a dark cloud over the Bruins, probably the greatest mistake of Chiarelli’s management.

The Bruins also let forward Milan Lucic go to the Los Angeles Kings. Lucic was like a sleeping giant with the Bruins, playing dopey hockey at times, but when he woke up, look out. When you deduct Seguin and Lucic from the Bruins’ roster, that is two big holes in the forward line.

But all is not dark for the Bruins. As long as defense is a strength of the team, it will not take long to get back in the playoffs. All one has to do is look at the Edmonton Oilers, ironically Chiarelli’s new team, with all its high draft talent that cannot play defense and remains at the bottom of the Western Conference to realize that Boston is not too far off to contend again. If they can acquire a few goal scorers either by draft or trade, to go along with the Bruins’ excellent defensive system, it will not be too hard to get back into the playoffs and contend for the Eastern Conference title, if not for the Stanley Cup itself, as early as next season. 2016 was a bitter disappointment for the Bruins, but if management makes the right moves and drafts during the off season, this year will be only a temporary fall. It will be a real challenge for new General Manager, Sweeney, and an opportunity to demonstrate his managing savvy and put his own stamp on this team.

Thoughts about Games 1 and 2

When this year’s Stanley Cup final started I was more excited about it than I had ever remembered being. Not only was it an original six match up, but you have the Chicago Blackhawks who dominated the regular season and the Boston Bruins who are trying to bring Lord Stanley to a town marked by tragedy. Game 1 of the series did not disappoint. For most of the game the teams were evenly matched. It was a seesaw possession game with the teams trading moments of sustained pressure in the offensive zone the entire game. The goalies were phenomenal. A lot of the saves had me yelling at my tv “how on earth did he save that?!?” The intensity of the game was everything I had expected of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The pace of the game and the multiple scrums after the plays were awesome.

The intensity didn’t let up, even through the first overtime period. Chicago came out feeding on the energy of the crowd and the momentum of overcoming a two-goal deficit so I expected a quick end to the game. Boston didn’t give up though. No one really dominated the first OT. As the game went on Boston was getting more chances than Chicago. I really thought Boston was going to win and they might have if Horton hadn’t gotten injured late in the first OT. The Horton, Krejci, Lucic line was really the thorn in Chicago’s side all game long. Horton’s injury took the productivity away from that line. This allowed Chicago to get more chances and eventually they were able to get a deflection past Rask to win.

After the excitement of Game 1, Game 2 was a disappointment. It lacked the intensity that Game 1. Perhaps this had to do with fatigue from Game 1 but the teams had 2 days off and didn’t have to travel. Both coaches gave their teams ample time to rest between games, so I don’t think that was the issue. Chicago dominated the 1st period, but began to slow down in the 2nd and continued to play at half speed throughout the rest of the game. Boston on the other hand came alive with about 5 minutes to go in the 1st and continued to get better as the game went on. As a Blackhawks fan, I had been praying that when Boston tied up the game it would light a fire under the Hawks and they would start playing the game again. Chicago never got back to the level of play that they had in the 1st and Boston dominated overtime and deserved to win the game.

Now that the series is tied, it changes the dynamic of the series. I expected the crowd to play into the Blackhawks favor and they would go into Boston up 2-0. It is going to be for Chicago difficult to win one in the Garden, and they could easily be headed back into United Center down 3-1. In order for Chicago to win the Cup, they have to shut down the Horton, Krejci, Lucic line. That line killed them in the first two games of this series. They also need Kane and Toews to get back on the scoreboard. For Boston to win the Cup, they just need to keep up the intensity, play their physical game, and generate more offensive chances. They cannot afford to let Chicago dominate them again.