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?

 

Next Year The Penguins Challenge The Steelers

Something unthinkable in 1967, something laughable in 1979 could occur next year in Pittsburgh professional sports history. The Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL have the opportunity to move into a tie to become the city’s most successful professional sports franchise. The Penguins have already tied MLB’s Pirates who have been around since 1882 with 5 professional championships. Next year they can tie the Steelers with 6.

That would seem unthinkable 50 years ago when the Penguins were born, one of six new teams in the first NHL expansion that doubled the size of the league. And Pittsburgh was the worst of the bunch. During the first few years the Penguins were the worst team in the league and seldom sold out their small arena. People wondered if NHL hockey would survive.

The Penguins then moved from bad to respectable mediocrity. They made the playoffs but were never a true Stanley Cup contender. Most of the years were forgettable and in 1983, Pittsburgh sank to the bottom again.

Then the Penguins got two back-to-back breaks. In professional hockey since the 1940s, Canada has always produced one hockey player who stands above all others both in the NHL and internationally, a chain that has always resulted in at least one Stanley Cup championship. Starting with Maurice Richard, this golden chain includes Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky.

In 1983, with Gretzky just starting to reach his NHL prime, fans wondered who his successor would be and the Penguins would draft him in 1984, Mario Lemieux. And then years later they would draft Lemieux’s successor, Sidney Crosby. (Crosby’s reputed successor is Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers.) Since 1990, the result has been 5 Stanley Cups.

Now the Penguins who never compared with the Pirates and Steelers before are poised to become Pittsburgh’s greatest sports franchise. They are now already the NHL’s most successful American expansion team with 5 Stanley Cups one more than the legendary New York Islander teams that won 4 in a row. And they are currently tied with Edmonton which has also won 5 Stanley Cups as the most successful expansion team in NHL history.

The current team is so good it won the Stanley Cup without its best defenceman Kris Letang playing a single playoff game, and their best goaltender, Matt Murray missed three quarters of the playoffs. They are good enough to win for a third time in a row and perhaps even more.

They have already tied the New York Rangers, one of the “Original 6″ teams with 5 Stanley Cups. If they win again next year, they tie two more “Original 6″ teams, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks with 6 victories and have the title, “greatest NHL expansion team”, all to themselves.

The Steelers are the all time Super Bowl Champion leaders with 6 so a victory by the Penguins next year puts them on an equal footing. And if they win again next year, it means 3 in a row, something neither the Pirates or Steelers have ever done.

The Penguins have already paid a visit to the Steelers training camp with the Stanley Cup and Sidney Crosby, on behalf of his Penguins teammates threw out the first pitch at a Pirates home game. So the friendly rivalry is on. The Penguins started out late compared to their MLB and NFL cousins and for just over two decades were in the doldrums. But in the last quarter of a century, they have caught up in a hurry and have a real chance to become Pittsburgh’s greatest professional sports team, something nobody would have dreamed of, half a century ago when the franchise was born.

 

Pittsburgh Team Is Just Too Good

The Penguins played without their best defenseman Kris Letang all through the playoffs. And Pittsburgh still won. The Penguins played without their best goaltender, Matt Murray for nearly three quarters of the playoffs. And Pittsburgh still won. They played without Sidney Crosby, the best player in the NHL for one game when he had a concussion. And Pittsburgh still won. They are that good.

Recently the NHL listed its top teams of all time. This team belongs on that list somewhere. The one-two combination of Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin plus Matt Murray in the nets has no counterpart in the current NHL. Murray has been the missing piece of the puzzle. The goaltender who finally gave the Penguins consistent championship playoff goaltending after years of being in the wilderness with the erratic Marc Andre Fleury. He shut out the Nashville Predators in the last two games of the final. Since he became their regular goaltender, it’s been two Stanley Cups and counting.

And more. There was Chris Kunitz, who played the game of his life just when his team needed him the most, the double overtime, 7th game thriller against gutsy Ottawa. There was Phil Kessel chipping in. A new star emerged who came up big in the playoffs, Jake Guentzel. Unlike the new Chicago players who were a distinct fizzle when their veteran stars struggled, Guentzel gives the Penguins hope for the future.

Pittsburgh is now the most successful American expansion franchise ever. They have now won 5 Stanley Cups, one more than the New York Islanders. I still prefer the Islanders as the greatest American expansion franchise because they won four Cups in a row, a much more difficult feat to accomplish that has only been done twice before, by Montreal. But this current Penguins team has given me the impression that they have possibility of matching that feat, if not exceeding it.

Pittsburgh now joins Edmonton as the expansion team that has won the most Stanley Cups since expansion began in 1967, with five. Ironic for a franchise that started out so poorly. Pittsburgh was the worst of the six teams that joined the NHL in 1967. They had the worst team in those years, the poorest attendance and people wondered if the team would survive. Eventually the team would climb to mediocrity, but do nothing noteworthy. By the mid-1980s, Pittsburgh had sunk to the bottom again.

Then Canada came to the rescue. Starting with Maurice Richard in the 1940s, Canada has produced an unbroken golden chain of players who are head and shoulders above all others in the NHL and the world for their generation. Each has won at least one Stanley Cup. In the mid-1980s, with Wayne Gretzky at his peak in Edmonton, fans wondered who his successor would be. In 1984 with the Penguins reaching rock bottom with the number one draft choice, Pittsburgh got him when they drafted Mario Lemieux.

The Penguins tried something unique, something unprecedented in NHL history. With the advent of Europeans in the NHL, Pittsburgh tried a combination of the top Canadian with a star European, Jaromir Jagr. That combination was enough to win Pittsburgh its first two Stanley Cups, back to back. When Pittsburgh got lucky again and was able to draft Lemieux’s successor, Sidney Crosby, they repeated the same formula when they drafted Evgeni Malkin.

Great fortune was predicted for this team. It’s taken a while, probably longer than expected, but the Crosby-Malkin duo has now passed the Lemieux-Jagr combination. It’s three Cups and still counting. With Murray in the nets giving the Penguins championship playoff goaltending, the team is finally matching the expectations that the Crosby-Malkin combination portended. Not only have the Penguins matched the best expansion team, the Oilers, they have passed the long time New York Rangers on the Stanley Cup list and look ready to match the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks.

In Pittsburgh, championship used to mean the Steelers. The Pirates occasionally put together a championship team in baseball. But now the late arriving Penguins are just one win behind the Steelers in championships. When you say greatest team in Pittsburgh, you have to mention them now. Not bad for a franchise that many people at the beginning of its history wondered if it would go out of business.

 

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.

Pittsburgh Reclaims Its Projected Future

After floundering in the wilderness for seven years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have finally returned to the place projected for them when they assembled a team based on the one-two punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But how different from the team of 2009. That team was expected to win by overwhelming offence. This team won by being committed to playing good defense, as stressed by new coach Mike Sullivan.

It started in goal when untried Matt Murray (the real Conn Smythe Trophy winner as “official” Conn Smythe Trophy winner Sidney Crosby would be the first to tell you) replaced the injured, erratic Marc Andre Fleury and gave Pittsburgh the steady goaltending they have sorely lacked since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Pittsburgh became the hottest team in the last month of the regular season and kept that momentum and dedicated defensive play for the whole of the playoffs. That defensive commitment, starting in goal is the main reason Pittsburgh is now the 2016 Stanley Cup Champion.

It is now two Stanley Cups and two Olympic gold medals for Sidney Crosby the player who now wears the invisible emblem of Canada’s golden hockey chain. This chain goes back to the days of Maurice Richard. It is the Canadian player who is head and shoulders above everybody else – Canadian and international – in his playing time era. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the line includes in this order, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and now Crosby.

Actually Crosby and Malkin did not have a particularly distinguished playoff period. They virtually disappeared during the Washington series and were outplayed by their rivals Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. But the very fact that they did not stick out is the reason why Pittsburgh is this year’s Stanley Cup Champion. Both stars bought in to Sullivan’s defensive commitment and what they gave was enough to carry the Penguins to the top. Actually they just played like one of the guys.

It has taken seven years for the Penguins to get back to the top. When Pittsburgh drafted Crosby and then Malkin it was projected that the Penguins would win Stanley Cups, not a Stanley Cup. But then General Manager Ray Shero tinkered the wrong way with the chemistry that had won the Cup in 2009 and Pittsburgh has been out in the wilderness ever since then searching for an answer.

A huge part of the problem was the erratic play of goaltender Marc Andre Fleury who never regained the form he displayed in 2009. In fact for Fleury this win is probably bitter sweet. He may be the champion but inside he probably knows he has played his last game as a Penguin. Pittsburgh is not going keep his large contract and his erratic goaltending after the steady performance Matt Murray gave the team. He is at the top of Pittsburgh’s trade list.

While Pittsburgh searched for an answer to get back to the top, there were casualties. General Manager Ray Shero who conceived the team as a one-two punch is now the GM of the New Jersey Devils. Former coach Dan Bylsma is now coaching the Buffalo Sabres. And the number of players who have come and gone while Pittsburgh searched for the winning formula around Crosby and Malkin are uncounted. But that is all in the past. Pittsburgh is back at the top where it was projected to be.

So who can stop Pittsburgh? At the top of the list has to be the Tampa Bay Lightning who barely lost to the Penguins in part thanks to a corrupt health industry that is concealing a cure for coronary heart disease that kept Steve Stamkos out of their line-up and unkind hockey gods who allowed their goaltender, Ben Bishop to be injured. Right beside them will be a re-tooled three time champion Chicago Blackhawks. And if they can find the chemistry again, the Los Angeles Kings could pose a challenge.

But if Pittsburgh continues to get the steady goaltending of Murray and the defensive commitment from the entire team, dethroning the Penguins is going to be a very tough task. Pittsburgh could reach the winner’s circle many more times before the Crosby-Malkin era ends.

2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final Playoff Predictions

And now the round everybody has been waiting for, featuring Pittsburgh and San Jose. I modestly congratulate myself for being 100% right as to my Conference Final predictions. As is my custom with all previous rounds, I’ll analyze what happened in the Conference Finals first and try to make sense of it all.

Biggest Winners: Players

1. Martin Jones

Jones continued his potential Conn Smythe goaltending performance by posting two back-to-back shutouts that destroyed any illusions that the St. Louis Blues were this year’s team of destiny. One more major challenge awaits him, but he, more than any other player is the reason why San Jose is in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time.

2. Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns

In fact I could list the entire San Jose offense here but these three players deserve special mention. No team has found a way to cool off any of these players or even some of the others not mentioned here. San Jose has been waiting a long time to get consistent playoff performances like this and if they continue to be this hot in the final round, San Jose just might celebrate its first Stanley Cup.

3. Matt Murray

Once again the Pittsburgh offense which is supposed to be the strength of this team was not the deciding factor but in the end it was Murray’s excellent goaltending that saved the day. Every game that Pittsburgh won, Murray held the Lightning attack to under three goals. He is the main reason Pittsburgh is back in the Stanley Cup Final.

Biggest Losers: Players

1. Brian Elliott/Jake Allen

It’s not that Elliott or Allen played poorly. It’s just that when you compare their performance to what Jones has given San Jose, Matt Murray’s performance for Pittsburgh, or when one remembers the performance that Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick gave when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, you realize that Elliott/Allen are just not good enough. Both are good goalies and Elliott was able to pull off the upset against Chicago and the defeat of Dallas but they are not consistent enough, nor stingy enough to carry a team to a Stanley Cup Championship. Goaltending is probably one of the major factors St. Louis must improve if they are going to go all the way.

2. Marc Andre Fleury

This is just a repeat of what I wrote in the Conference Final predictions. After Murray had a rough outing against tough Tampa Bay, coach Mike Sullivan started Fleury who gave up his usual 4-plus goals in a Lightning victory. Unless Murray is really horrible or gets injured against San Jose, Fleury has played his last game in Pittsburgh.

Biggest Winners: Teams

1. Toronto Maple Leafs

Imagine if the St. Louis Blues had won the third round. Then imagine if they had gone on to win the Stanley Cup. That would have meant that the poor Maple Leafs and all their fans, who have suffered under two long periods of bad ownership/management, first by Harold Ballard and then by the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund, who incredibly somehow managed to surpass Ballard’s horrible ownership record, now would have to be all by themselves instead of sharing the longest current streak, now officially at 49 years without winning the Stanley Cup. But if the Blues make the right moves in the off season, there is the chance they might finally get over the top next year. In contrast, the Leafs, still paying for  the Teachers’ time of ownership, are still at the bottom of the heap with next year’s number one draft choice. Every Leaf fan, player, and member of the organization, in gratitude for the ousting of St. Louis which spared the Leafs the ultimate humiliation, should put on a Sharks uniform and cheer unrepentantly for San Jose in this year’s Final.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are not so much a big winner as they escaped being a big loser. If they had lost to Tampa Bay in the playoffs for a second time, with Tampa Bay not having its best goaltender, Ben Bishop, or its best forward, Steve Stamkos except for the last game, they would have been behind a huge psychological eight ball. As it was they just squeaked through thanks to goaltender Matt Murray. The stage is set for future Penguin-Lightning playoff confrontations.

Team Eliminated By Corruption?

This may be monotonous but it is so important that I will repeat it now and probably again and again in future articles. I recently wrote two articles for this blog explaining that there is a cure for coronary heart disease that is being covered up by foul, slimy, underhanded practices in the world health industry. Tampa Bay was without its captain and best forward Steve Stamkos for the entire playoffs except for the desperate game 7 match with Pittsburgh. Had Stamkos been given this remedy (officially labeled “alternative medicine” by the FDA, Health Canada and the other official powers-that-be), it is likely he would not have had to have surgery to remove blood clots or have missed a single game in the playoffs. When Stamkos returned, he was probably too rusty to be effective, but what would have been the result if he had been able to play the entire Conference Final? On the Pittsburgh side, Pascal Dupuis has been forced into unnecessary retirement for the same reason. The NHL takes its marching orders from official government medicine and will not consider “alternative medicine”, much of which is far more effective and far more cheaper than “official” medical practices. Pittsburgh may have “officially” eliminated Tampa Bay but there may be truth in the belief that the Lightning were eliminated by a corrupt health industry.

Stupidity Redeemed By Repentance

After steady Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray had a tough game against Tampa Bay, coach Mike Sullivan made the worst coaching decision of the playoffs so far by starting Jekyll and Hyde, erratic, playoff goaltender Marc Andre Fleury in the next game. Fleury was his usual self, giving up four goals including the overtime winner. Fortunately it was only game 5 so Sullivan had a chance to repent the error of his ways and restore Murray and Fleury has not been seen since.

 

Stanley Cup Final

Pittsburgh-San Jose

This is the battle of the two up-and-coming, would-be-Conn Smythe Trophy winner goaltenders, Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray, and San Jose’s Martin Jones. The goaltending match-up is so even that whichever team’s goaltender is a little bit better will be the likely winner. The coaching match is even too, with San Jose’s Peter DeBoer who has a habit of taking underdog teams to the Stanley Cup Final against Mike Sullivan who seems to have finally righted the ship in Pittsburgh. Both coaches are seeking their first Stanley Cup.

On paper this seems a mismatch. San Jose has no player to compare with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The problem is that while Crosby and Malkin have made contributions to the Pittsburgh victories, they have not played like Crosby and Malkin who are supposed to be head and shoulders above everybody else. On the other hand, the San Jose offense has been getting contributions from everybody and there are too many players contributing to be entirely smothered. Pittsburgh is favored, has home ice advantage, and should win but I am going to pick an upset. I say that Martin Jones is just a little bit better than Matt Murray, that the San Jose offence cannot be stopped,  that San Jose is the team of destiny, and that coach Peter DeBoer will achieve with the underdog Sharks what he failed to do with the underdog New Jersey Devils and win San Jose’s first Stanley Cup in 6 games.

2016 NHL FIRST ROUND PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

So now that playoff time has arrived again and after 82 games, 14 teams have been removed from Stanley Cup competition, including all the Canadian ones, it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty. When I wrote for another blog I always listed first certain teams and players who will have extra pressure on them when the playoffs begin. I will continue the tradition in NYAHB. Some of them I have already mentioned in previous articles.

PLAYERS

1. Alexander Ovechkin

As mentioned in a previous article, nobody will have kind of pressure on them that Alexander Ovechkin will have, especially through April. He was expected to have the same type of career Sydney Crosby is having but instead it closely resembles Marcel Dionne, the best NHL player never to make even the Stanley Cup Conference Finals. Ovechkin and his Capitals have always been bounced out of the playoffs in the first two rounds, sometimes to teams of considerably lesser talent. Even more dismal is his Russian team international career with two ignominious Olympics finishes in Vancouver and even worse on home ice Sochi. He is now 30 years old and starting the downward side of his career. This may be his last chance to show he can lead a team – any hockey team – as the main man to a championship.

2. Marc Andre Fleury

Ever since Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009, Pittsburgh has been struggling to find themselves in the playoffs again and the prime suspect in the struggle has been Fleury’s goaltending. Like Washington, Pittsburgh has sometimes lost to teams of considerably lesser talent. What sticks out in my mind is a horrible playoff loss to arch-rival Philadelphia in which Fleury provided the consistently worst playoff goaltending for an entire series that I have ever seen by a supposedly top goaltender. If the same thing happens in ANY round this time, his Pittsburgh career could be over.

3. Joe Thornton

Okay, the pressure is really over. He’s 37 years old and way past his prime but somehow he is still San Jose’s main guy. Somehow he is still expected to lead this team to a championship when he should be a good support player by now. But now the pressure is off because it is asking the impossible. San Jose should be rebuilding around young star players, not hanging on with Joe. Joe is an anachronism now. I used to flay him regularly in the playoffs when he was younger because he was such a disappointment. Now it will be sad to see what will happen.

4. Zach Parise

When Zach Parise returned to his native Minnesota, he was expected to put the Wild on the level with Chicago and Los Angeles. The truth is that by himself, he is simply not enough. Depending on the opponent, Minnesota is good enough to win a playoff round on occasion but they are not good enough to beat the big boys. Like Joe, it will be asking the impossible from Zach.

TEAMS

1. Washington Capitals

As mentioned in a recent main article, this is the team with the most pressure on them. Ovechkin/Backstrom was supposed to produce a championship like 2009 Crosby/Malkin. All the players on this team who have been around for awhile are now much older, on the brink of the downward part of their careers. For any hope, any remaining belief that this core of players, that a team led by Alexander Ovechkin has ANY chance of winning a Stanley Cup in the future, they MUST make at least the Conference Final. If they get put out in an earlier playoff round – especially to a team with much lesser talent – AGAIN – the core of this team including Ovechkin may have to broken up and a complete rebuilding done. Coach Barry Trotz will face his most difficult coaching task yet if the Capitals start to lose to a mouse-that-roared team.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

When they drafted Sidney Crosby and then Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh was expected to win championships, not championship. Since the victory of 2009, Pittsburgh has struggled to find itself in the playoffs, several times losing to lesser teams. The two men who were at the helm in 2009, coach Dan Bylsma and General Manager Ray Shero are gone. Somehow the formula that had blossomed in 2009 has been sabotaged and nobody knows why for sure. Prime suspects have been bad overall defensive play and the goaltending of Marc Andre Fleury. Still worse, they will not have Malkin in the early rounds. Pittsburgh roared down the stretch like a good team, moving up from 7th to 2nd. But if they get put out in an early round by a lesser team when they are supposed to win, there will be anguished, gut searching in Pittsburgh and perhaps a shakeup with a key trade in the off season.

 
3. Minnesota Wild

Minnesota used to miss the playoffs regularly and then added Zach Parise and other talent to get up the scale. But the best they can do in the playoffs is win against lesser teams like themselves, not beat the big boys, Los Angeles and Chicago. Minnesota is stuck at a plateau, not moving up. If they lose again, especially to a team that is neither Blackhawks or Kings, a close examination of the structure of this team should be ordered and maybe an upheaval in the off season will occur.

4. St. Louis Blues

When they first got a team back in 1967, St Louis was the best expansion team and made the Stanley Cup Finals their first three years. Since then they seldom make even the Conference Final. They are stuck at the first two playoff levels despite sometimes finishing first in their conference overall. St. Louis desperately wants to be on the level of Chicago and Los Angeles and break through this rut. Despite the promise of their first three years, they are the only 1967 expansion team never to win the Stanley Cup, tied with Toronto for the longest current streak without a championship. They have been sorely lacking players who rise to the occasion when the playoffs begin. This year is no exception. It is win – especially if the team is neither Chicago or Los Angeles – or face possible serious team chemistry changes in the off season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Washington-Philadelphia

This should be a no-brainer choice but is it? There is something about this chemistry, Washington Capitals-Philadelphia Flyers that I don’t like. The Capitals 2016 record against the Flyers is 2 wins and 2 overtime losses. Washington versus Buffalo, Ottawa, Florida, Carolina, Toronto, Detroit, etc., would make it an easy choice but against some teams including Philadelphia, the choice isn’t so automatic. If this team starts to lose to the Flyers, their morale will start to plummet rapidly. It will be the same old Ovechkin, same old Backstrom, same old Orpik, etc. New coach Barry Trotz will have a horrible time trying to plug all the leaks and rally the troops. All the pressure is on the Capitals and the Flyers have nothing to lose. The Capitals cannot lose to this team like they have done so often to lesser teams in their immediate past. Can they? CAN THEY? Yes they can. Not even new coach Barry Trotz can save this group from themselves. Philadelphia will win in 6 or 7 games and there will begin a deep rethink of building a championship team with Alexander Ovechkin as its leader, supported by Backstrom, Orpik and others. Washington is playing for its future as well as the present.

2. Pittsburgh-New York Rangers

There are several teams in the Eastern Conference that the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team struggling to find the proper playoff chemistry that has been lost since the 2009 Stanley Cup victory, did not want to face and the New York Rangers might be at the top of that list. New York has established a winning tradition against the Penguins in recent years and this year the Penguins are even weaker than before because they have to play this round without the injured Evgeni Malkin. New York knows how to beat Pittsburgh and it will be the same result as before. New York in 6 games, then a lot of anguish and soul searching in the off season for the Penguin organization and possibly the end of Marc Andre Fleury’s career in Pittsburgh.

3. Tampa Bay-Detroit

A few years ago this would be a great match-up: up-and-coming Tampa Bay against the dynastic Red Wings. But almost all the players from the Detroit glory years are gone and only Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyk remain. No more Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom. Detroit also has a negative goal differential.  Tampa Bay made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last year and put up a good struggle against Chicago. They will win in 5 games or maybe even a 4 game sweep.

4. Florida-New York Islanders

There is more at stake than appears in this match-up. Not only are these two teams playing for moving on in the playoffs, they are playing for establishing a winning tradition in the playoffs, something that is vital for potential future Stanley Cup champions. Both these teams have not won a playoff round in eons so this is their big chance. But there are many factors that are tilting this series in New York’s favor. The only edge that Florida has is that they have home ice advantage, whatever that is worth. But the Islanders have playoff experience as opposed to the new-kid-on-the-block Panthers. And they are led by a young, up-and-coming superstar, John Tavares, in the prime of his career while the Panthers best player is legendary, soon-to-be hall of famer, Jaromir Jagr, well past his prime. He’ll give Florida some valuable experience and leadership but it is not enough. Finally there is the desperation factor and Tavares desperately wants to prove that this Islander team is a contender not only this year but for the immediate coming seasons. They have more to lose in this series than the Panthers do and they will play with more desperation. Islanders in 6 games.

 
WESTERN CONFERENCE

5. Dallas-Minnesota

Dallas picked up Chicago Blackhawks core player Patrick Sharp in the off season and the result is a first place finish in the Western Conference. If you get a player who knows how to win the big one, his effect could spill over, hopefully on to perennial underachievers Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, and possibly Tyler Seguin. They also have Johnny Oduya who knows how to win the big one and goaltender Antti Niemi who has won a Stanley Cup too, along with a competent backup, Kari Lehtonen. Minnesota simply does not have enough talent, particularly winning players. It will be Dallas in 5 games… and a big shakeup coming in the off season for Minnesota.

6. Anaheim-Nashville

If there is one team that has come close recently to breaking the Chicago-Los Angeles monopoly in the Western Conference it is Anaheim. Nashville has improved and will put up a good fight but still does not have the overall talent and experience of the Ducks. This is not a mismatch and even an upset could occur but it will not. Anaheim in 6 games.

7. St. Louis-Chicago

As mentioned above, St. Louis desperately wants to be on the level of Chicago and Los Angeles and now they get the chance to directly prove it themselves. If they can do it, they will deserve all the plaudits for dethroning a defending champion. The problem is that they will not. Chicago has had St. Louis’s number in the playoffs for several years. The Blues still have to prove they are good enough to beat this team. Until they do, it will be Chicago in 6 games and more off season chemistry tinkering in St. Louis that may not be just limited to the players.

8. Los Angeles-San Jose

Two time Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings against anachronistic San Jose Sharks led by the Joe Thornton-Patrick Marleau combination that has been around forever and cannot win the big one??? As long as there is life there is hope and the fact that San Jose will be lining up on the ice against Los Angeles means they still have a chance to win. But the Kings are too good to lose to a team based on a tried and untrue formula. Los Angeles in 5 games.