Tag Archives: 2016 Stanley Cup Final

Analysis: Marleau’s new team is his best chance for a Cup

The San Jose Sharks dealt Patrick Marleau to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a conditional 2021 3rd round pick at Monday’s trade deadline.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson was in a selling mood for the first time in a while as Penguins GM Jim Rutherford was buying low left and right in hopes of getting back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2017.

The two teams met in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, in which Marleau’s Sharks lost to the Penguins in six games, but it seems all is good between the competitors– or at least, Marleau’s going to one of his favorite teams as a kid and now has a chance of seeing at least one more postseason before he ultimately hangs up the skates.

San Jose will receive a 2021 2nd round pick instead of the Pens’ 2021 3rd round pick if Pittsburgh wins the Cup.

Marleau, 40, is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and had 10-10–20 totals in 58 games with San Jose this season.

The Aneroid, Saskatchewan native is 52 games shy of tying Gordie Howe’s record for the most games played all time and is in his 22nd NHL season (20 with San Jose and two with the Toronto Maple Leafs).

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound winger was previously traded in the offseason by the Maple Leafs to the Carolina Hurricanes along with a conditional 2020 1st round pick and a 2020 7th round pick in exchange for a 2020 6th round pick before he was bought out by Carolina and signed with the Sharks as a free agent on Oct. 9, 2019.

Marleau served as captain of the Sharks for five seasons (2003-09) and was an alternate captain in his time with San Jose (2002-03, 2009-16) and Toronto (2017-19).

He has 561 goals and 625 assists (1,186 points) in 1,715 career NHL games for the Sharks and Maple Leafs and was originally drafted by San Jose in the first round (2nd overall) of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, which was in (you guessed it) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

With the acquisition of the conditional 2021 3rd round pick and a 2020 1st round pick in a separate trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Sharks have 15 selections in the next two NHL Entry Drafts– including two in the 2020 2nd round and three in the 2021 3rd round.

While Marleau is best suited for a chance at his elusive first Stanley Cup championship in Pittsburgh, the same cannot be said for long-time Shark, Joe Thornton, who elected to stay in San Jose instead of waiving his no-movement clause for a trade to a Cup contender.

DTFR Podcast #182- Back In A New Year Groove

The DTFR Podcast is back from hiatus as Nick provides a State of the Podcast, reviews a few things from the last couple of months and delves into all of the transactions leading up to the 2020 NHL trade deadline.

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DTFR Podcast #181- Hall-iday Shopping

What’s the right price to pay for Taylor Hall? Plus, Cap’n Cornelius joins the show to talk about new NHL policies and coaching changes.

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Mike Babcock Fired: What Does This Mean for The– Bruins?

Wednesday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs fired their now former head coach, Mike Babcock, and promoted Sheldon Keefe as the new head coach of the Leafs from his previous head coaching duties with the Toronto Marlies (AHL).

It’s a move that everyone likely saw coming, but this soon? That’s impressive.

Babcock was adamant in his coaching abilities and in his belief in himself as “the greatest coach who ever lived” (paraphrasing, obviously), but could not salvage his hubris when it mattered most– right now.

Toronto is currently 9-10-4 (22 points) on the season, 5th place in the Atlantic Division and outside of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Luckily for the Leafs, the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, 25 points), Philadelphia Flyers (10-7-4, 24 points) and Buffalo Sabres (10-8-3, 23 points) aren’t that far ahead of them in the standings for now.

It’s the perfect time to be bold and make a move if you’re looking to provide a short-term spark that will hopefully re-ignite some cooling embers and launch the Maple Leafs back into playoff contention at the very least– if not Stanley Cup contention, as many have expected for a few years now before Toronto’s General Manager, Kyle Dubas, was forced to spend about $40.489 million on William Nylander, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner while somehow forgetting the importance of a defense and a backup goaltender in the process.

For a team that used to employ a coach that notoriously bet on himself and his process for better or worse, well, they’re betting heavily on the salary cap ceiling to make a significant jump by the time a new national TV rights distribution package in the United States is negotiated in 2022.

But that’s a separate discussion entirely.

For now, we’re left in the wake of a post-Babcock Leafs Era and what it means for the Boston Bruins– Toronto’s biggest rival most recently.

The 56-year-old former head coach in Toronto was in his 5th year of an eight-year, $50.000 million contract with the Maple Leafs.

Toronto went 29-42-11 in the 2015-16 season, which led them to drafting Matthews with the 1st overall pick in the 2016 Draft.

The following year, Babcock and the Maple Leafs improved to 40-27-15, qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013, before losing in six games to the Washington Capitals in the 2017 First Round.

Then history repeated itself as the Leafs went 49-26-7 in the 2017-18 regular season before losing in seven games to Boston in the 2018 First Round.

From there it was a broken record for Toronto– a 46-28-9 effort in 2018-19 led to another First Round matchup with Boston and another Game 7 loss on the road to the Bruins in the 2019 First Round.

This season, through 23 games, the Leafs have six wins in regulation. They have nine total.

Babcock hasn’t won a playoff series since he was still with the Detroit Red Wings in 2013. He hasn’t led a team back to the Stanley Cup Final since losing in 2009 with Detroit in the Red Wings-Penguins rematch from 2008.

He may be “Canada’s Coach”, but he isn’t “Canada’s favorite team’s head coach” anymore.

Enter Keefe, a 39-year-old, from Brampton, Ontario– a short drive from Toronto– emerging as “The Chosen One”.

Hired by Toronto to lead the Marlies on June 8, 2015, Keefe had a respectable first season with Toronto’s AHL affiliate in 2015-16, notching a 54-16-5-1 record (wins-losses-overtime losses-shootout losses, for those of you who aren’t AHL savvy).

Keefe pushed his team all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs (his rookie season as an AHL coach, mind you) before the Marlies succumbed to the Hershey Bears in five games.

In 2016-17, Keefe coached his team to a 42-29-4-1 record and a North Division Final appearance in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs that resulted in a Game 7 loss to the Syracuse Crunch.

That loss didn’t set the Marlies back, but instead motivated Keefe and his team as they marched to a 54-18-2-2 record in 2017-18 and a 2018 Calder Cup Final appearance.

They defeated the Texas Stars in seven games and captured Toronto’s first championship in ice hockey since the NHL’s Maple Leafs raised the Stanley Cup in 1967.

Though it was only the AHL, it proved that something was in the works.

Dubas’ masterplan was coming to fruition as the analytics guru rose to power– taking over as GM of the Maple Leafs with Lou Lamoriello’s departure in the 2018 offseason.

Keefe had followed Dubas from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) to the Maple Leafs organization in 2015, but Babcock stood in the way of his destiny, it seemed.

Babcock was Lamoriello’s choice and fit with Brendan Shanahan’s “Shanaplan”.

Keefe fit with Dubas in the contemporary game, “Shanaplan” be damned.

In 2018-19, Keefe led the Marlies to a 39-24-9-4 record and an Eastern Conference Final appearance for the 2nd year in a row in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Though the Marlies lost to the Charlotte Checkers in six games, one thing was for certain– Keefe had it going in the minor league.

It’s not every day that a coach is able to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in his rookie season, let alone in three of his first four full seasons as an AHL bench boss.

Up until his promotion to the NHL, Keefe amassed a 10-2-2-1 record with the Marlies this season.

They were 1st in the North Division at the time of his departure for the big league.

In 320 career AHL games with the Marlies, Keefe collected a 199-89-22-9 record and a .622 winning percentage in the process– plus one Calder Cup championship in 2018.

So, what does this mean for the Bruins?

A lot when you factor in advantages and disadvantages for each team in the promotion of Keefe from the Marlies to the Leafs.

First, for Toronto, the advantages of having Keefe for a potential playoff matchup with Boston.

The core of Toronto’s current roster (Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly and even Frederik Andersen) has lost in the First Round in at least one of the last three postseasons (Tavares is the only member who hasn’t had to endure three-straight soul crushing First Round departures under Babcock’s reign).

Yes, this may seem bad, but it actually speaks volumes for their playoff experience.

This team is hungry– right from its core– and its fanbase, its front office and its backyard media wants to win sooner rather than later.

Plus, Nylander’s 2nd season in the AHL (although it was only a partial season) overlapped with Keefe’s time behind the bench of the Marlies, so there’s some familiarity between one of the four highest paid players on the Leafs and their head coach.

Additionally, Kapanen, Hyman and others have experience with Keefe and the Marlies’ system.

There’s enough familiarity there for something– potentially something dangerous.

Now for the advantages for Boston.

History is on their side. Boston’s core (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask) has shown its capable of making another Cup run (even with an aging captain and 1-2 centers).

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, remains a constant and in control.

Boston missed the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, but Claude Julien was still their head coach then, so the combination of Cassidy, plus Chara, Bergeron and Krejci’s leadership made for an easier transition into getting the team back into a “top of their game” playoff performer (and eventual Cup contender in 2019).

This isn’t a luxury the Leafs have, where the team’s looking to get back into postseason contention, period, let alone win a series.

Toronto missed the playoffs in their first year with Babcock, but made it for the last three years and lost each year in the First Round.

This leads to Toronto’s disadvantages for another potential postseason meeting with the Bruins.

History is not on Toronto’s side and neither are the statistics.

Yes, Dubas’ 2nd favorite thing in the world– analytics– could get in the way of his 1st favorite thing in the world– bringing the Cup back to the Maple Leafs organization.

As things stand, the Leafs have a greater chance of missing the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs than making them currently.

Toronto– the city, the fans, the players, the front office and the media– wants to win right now. There’s no room for excuses (even if they’re legitimate, like taking one’s time to formulate a defense via prospects or trades and supplementing Andersen in the crease with a legitimate backup goaltender).

But, whereas Cassidy inherited broken pieces in Boston that were addressed and revamped as the team went from outside the playoffs two years in a row to making three consecutive postseason appearances under Cassidy in his head coaching tenure with the B’s– addressing the need for depth down the lineup in the process without the likes of a highly touted free agent acquisition– Keefe and the Leafs have the majority of this season to work on that necessary synergy with a better offense (on paper).

Cassidy was named interim head coach of the Bruins in Feb. 2017. Boston was ousted by the Ottawa Senators in six games in the 2017 First Round and lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the 2018 Second Round prior to their 2019 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Keefe has Tavares, Matthews and Marner (when healthy) to unleash on any given night and could very well pull a turnaround in one season a la the St. Louis Blues last season (who beat the Bruins in the Final in Game 7 at TD Garden) or the Penguins in 2009 (when Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien midseason and won the Cup) and 2016 (when Mike Sullivan replaced Bylsma midseason and won the Cup).

In that sense, recent history is actually on Toronto’s side.

Boston had some growing pains to go with their dramatic improvement, but the Leafs are built to counteract that pain if Keefe can find a better way to manage it than Babcock did.

As it is, Cassidy is 130-55-27 in 212 games with Boston from 2017-present (good enough for a .613 winning percentage), but 207-128-21-24 in 380 games with the Providence Bruins (AHL) from 2011-16 (.545 winning%).

Babcock was 173-133-45 in 351 games with the Maple Leafs from 2015-19 (.493 winning%).

Keefe gets the final say and has his .622 winning% in 320 games with the Marlies going for him as he steps into the biggest role behind any bench in the National Hockey League.

Playoffs or not, the rest of this season is about to be a wild ride for the Maple Leafs and their fans.

Bruins fans be worried or not.

DTFR Podcast #170- 2019-20 Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Brayden Point re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a bunch of other RFAs signed extensions, the Boston Pride were sold, Dan Girardi retired and DTFR’s season previews continued with the Atlantic Division.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Final Preview

If you didn’t learn your lesson from the First Round to the Second Round, hopefully you’ve learned it by now, because their is no “Third Chance Bracket”.

Yes, it’s time for the Conference Finals in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, ladies and gentlemen, and this year in the Western Conference it’s a familiar duo going at it again for the first time in three years.

P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)

The San Jose Sharks trailed, 3-0, on home ice in the third period of a Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights in the First Round, but everything changed when Joe Pavelski went down with an injury and Cody Eakin was given a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.

Sure, maybe the penalty was over the top and should have only been a two-minute minor penalty, but the Golden Knights also shouldn’t have ever allowed four power play goals against in a span of 4:01. San Jose took the lead, 4-3, then Vegas tied it in the final minute of regulation.

The Sharks became just the 2nd team in Stanley Cup Playoff history to erase a three-goal deficit and win in overtime, 5-4, as they eliminated the Golden Knights in seven games in the First Round.

Anybody see that coming? No?

But at the same time, we all had a warning sign when the Golden Knights blew a, 3-0, lead in the first period of Game 2 and the Sharks tied it, 3-3, heading into the first intermission. Though San Jose went on to lose that game, 5-3, it meant Vegas was vulnerable.

Since then, the Sharks rocketed back-and-forth with the Colorado Avalanche, ultimately coming out on top, 3-2, in Game 7 on Wednesday to advance to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016.

The St. Louis Blues have been riding the back of their rookie goaltender, Jordan Binnington, since a little over four months ago as the hottest team in the league since Jan. 1st.

As such, the Blues defeated the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the First Round– despite both teams dropping their first two home games in the series.

St. Louis then faced the best goaltender (statistically speaking) remaining in the postseason, Ben Bishop, and the rest of the Dallas Stars in the Second Round.

They trailed in the series, 3-2, entering Game 6 in Dallas and stormed out of American Airlines Center faster than a jet with the series tied, 3-3, heading back to home ice for Game 7.

Tuesday night, the Blues fired 54 shots on goal. Bishop stopped 52 of them, but Binnington only allowed one goal against.

Hometown hero, Pat Maroon, scored the game-winning, series clinching goal in double overtime to lift St. Louis over Dallas, 2-1, and punched his team’s ticket to the Western Conference Final for the first time since… 2016.

Sound familiar?

That’s because San Jose defeated St. Louis in six games in the 2016 Western Conference Final. The Blues had home ice in that series and utilized Jake Allen in the crease until Game 6 when then head coach, Ken Hitchcock, elected to start Brian Elliott facing elimination.

This time around, the Sharks have home ice and St. Louis appears to have an answer to the Allen wrench– it’s Binnington.

Can they enact revenge and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1970 or will San Jose make the trip back to the Final for the second time in franchise history– and first since losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final?

There’s good and bad news for both teams as Peter DeBoer prepares his Sharks to take on Craig Berube‘s Blues.

San Jose has made the postseason in 21 out of 27 seasons in their existence and Sharks fans have grown accustomed to usual playoff performers like Logan Couture (9-5–14 totals in 14 games played) on their ice at SAP Center.

But the Sharks have the added benefit of a three-way tie for the lead in scoring on their roster with Couture, Tomas Hertl (9-5–14 totals) and Brent Burns (5-9–14 totals) all having amassed 14 points through two rounds.

Not only that, but Hertl is tied with Couture in goals so far this postseason. It’s been a breakout year for the already star player in teal.

General Manager Doug Wilson landed the offseason’s biggest prize on the blue line via a trade with the Ottawa Senators back in September and his asset is paying off when it really counts.

Erik Karlsson may trail Burns among all Sharks defenders in points, but he does have 12 assists through 14 games and that’s good enough to lead his entire team in helpers.

DeBoer’s lineup is pretty deep with Timo Meier contributing three goals and seven assists (10 points) in 14 games and trade deadline acquisition, Gustav Nyquist, chipping in 1-7–8 totals from the top-nine.

San Jose has also had depth scoring from Kevin Labanc (three goals, three assists in 14 GP), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (three goals, three assists in 12 GP), Joe Thornton (2-4–6 totals in 12 games) and even Joonas Donskoi— who scored a goal for the first time in 35 games (regular season and postseason) against Colorado in Game 7.

Martin Jones (8-5 record, 2.72 goals against average, .910 save percentage in 14 games played this postseason) is having an old-school Stanley Cup Playoffs performance, whereby it’s not about the numbers, but rather how many games you win (and getting better as you go).

Backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (0-1, 3.33 GAA, .861 SV% in two games played this postseason) made a couple of relief appearances against Vegas, but was not required to save his team from the Avs.

St. Louis General Manager, Doug Armstrong, landed Ryan O’Reilly via a trade and important third line center, Tyler Bozak, in free agency last summer and built a roster that looked to be force coming out of the gate.

Things didn’t go so well from the get-go as then head coach, Mike Yeo, got his team off to a horrendous start and was replaced by the interim head coach (Berube) who has taken the roster from 31st in the league (dead last) as January began to the Western Conference Final as the calendar enters mid-May.

Jaden Schwartz (8-3–11 totals in 13 GP) is tied with Alex Pietrangelo (2-9–11 totals in 13 GP) in scoring on the Blues roster. While Schwartz is also a team-best plus-seven rating and leads St. Louis in goals with eight, Pietrangelo leads his team– both as the captain and– in assists with nine.

Selke Trophy finalist, O’Reilly has two goals and seven assists (nine points) through 13 games, but is a minus-five rating.

Worse, while Vladimir Tarasenko has five goals in 13 games, the usual star at Enterprise Center has yet to pickup an assist and is also a minus-five.

Maroon, however, has three timely goals and one assist (four points) in 13 games from the bottom-six and has helped solidified St. Louis’ all-around playing style.

Meanwhile, Binnington (8-5, 2.39 GAA, .915 SV% in 13 GP) has backstopped the Blues when it matters most, or rather, when he needs to since the defense is helping keep his workload relatively low.

The Stars only managed 30 shots on goal in Game 7– you know, a game that went into double overtime. Credit where credit is due to Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson and crew on the blue line in St. Louis.


The two teams split the season series 1-1-0, but as is a well-known fact of the postseason– it’s almost like an entirely new season altogether. Having home ice is one thing. Defending it is another.

Though Donskoi hasn’t scored as much, the Sharks have a deeper team than in 2016 and are a younger bunch– what with the lack of Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward on their roster– this time around.

St. Louis has their best chance to win the Cup in (well, it seems like this is said almost every year with Armstrong as their General Manager, but this year they mean it) years.

That said, San Jose has a lot of momentum working in their favor from the first two rounds after riding an emotional comeback and with the return of Pavelski to their lineup.

This series isn’t going to be a short one and the Sharks should pull off another seven-game stunner, cracking the Binnington code and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history.

Except this time around, the Sharks are out for blood.

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO SJS at SAP Center on March 9th, 4-0 STL at Enterprise Center on Nov. 9th

Schedule:

5/11- Game 1 STL @ SJS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

5/13- Game 2 STL @ SJS 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

5/15- Game 3 SJS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVAS

5/17- Game 4 SJS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

5/19- Game 5 STL @ SJS 3 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

5/21- Game 6 SJS @ STL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS*

5/23- Game 7 STL @ SJS 9 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN1, TVAS

*If necessary

DTFR Podcast #136- We’ve Got The Future Blues

More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.

Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.

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TRADE: Toronto flips Fehr to San Jose for a draft pick

A minor move could pay off for the San Jose Sharks after they acquired F Eric Fehr from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a 2020 7th round pick on Tuesday.

San Jose has been looking for a fourth line center all season and they just might have gotten their man.

UnknownFehr, 32, has 17-11–28 totals in 34 games with the San Diego Gulls (AHL) this season. He has two penalty minutes in four NHL games with Toronto in 2017-18.

A native of Winkler, Manitoba, the 6’4″, 208-pound center has 103 goals and 99 assists (202 points) in 566 career NHL games with the Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals.

He won a Stanley Cup championship with Pittsburgh in 2016 and has eight goals and two assists (ten points) in 60 career Stanley Cup Playoff games. Fehr was originally drafted by Washington in the 1st round (18th overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Unknown

Toronto now has eight picks in the 2020 draft as a result of this trade.

That might seem irrelevant now, but rest assured, someone’s going to have to remember the number of draft picks each team has for something in 2020.

DTFR Overtime: Fixing the Winter Classic

We’ve all had some time to digest the spectacle that was the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, now let’s reflect on the experience as a whole for a minute and discuss ways to make it more interesting, considering ratings fell for the third year in a row.

This is DTFR Overtime and I’ve been neglecting you all through the holidays.


The Winter Classic is great.

You heard that right. I love an outdoor NHL game. Not for the most commonly stated reason why NBC loves the game. No, I couldn’t care less about how much a player feels like they’re a kid again playing outdoors on their backyard rink, local pond, river or lake.

I love the Winter Classic because it’s different.

Different jerseys, different atmosphere, different venue and usually a different game winner.

The Buffalo Sabres-New York Rangers matchup actually turned out to be a good one. Just when all hope was thought to be lost after trailing 2-0 early, the Sabres showed up on the scoreboard.

In the end, the Rangers won and that was fitting, since they were closer to their home ice than the technically speaking “home” team in this year’s Winter Classic due to a clause in New York’s contract with Madison Square Garden that states the Rangers cannot play a home game outside MSG.

Overtime outdoors with flames in the end seemed like a perfect ending to a largely under-produced, under-promoted, sporting event.

The Winter Classic has always shown potential. Why not tap into it?

Let’s address the obvious elephant in the room from this year’s matchup– the matchup itself. Sure, letting Jack Eichel run around outside is a great idea and all, but against the New York Rangers at Citi Field? None of that makes sense, considering 1) if you’re going to go with the 10th anniversary narrative, at least invite the Pittsburgh Penguins alumni team and Sabres alumni team to skate around the mini rink during intermission or something and 2) it should have been you, New York Islanders.

Not a Sabres-Islanders matchup, but rather a Battle for New York (City). Rangers-Islanders at Citi Field would’ve made a lot more sense, because, you know. The Islanders are the New York Mets of the NHL. Jimmy Fallon loves the Rangers, Jon Stewart loves… well, the Mets. At least the Islanders have that whole color scheme going for them (oh and a new arena coming soon to Belmont Park).

NBC didn’t have a problem calling up archival footage of Sidney Crosby scoring the shootout winning goal from the first Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, NY.

Like Colby Kephart said on the podcast two weeks ago, Crosby’s path to glory at the NHL level started with that game winning shootout goal. He rose to stardom, but didn’t win a Cup immediately. Prior to appearing in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final (and 2009, 2016 and 2017 as well), Crosby’s biggest stage was his Winter Classic moment (again, until he lifted the Cup over his head in 2009, 2016 and 2017).

Eichel could’ve been played up as the American version of Crosby– still one of the greatest players in the league, though sometimes overlooked as if he had to prove himself some more.

Don’t like a Pittsburgh-Buffalo rematch 10 years in the making? That’s fine.

A Rangers-Islanders matchup would’ve made more sense on New Year’s Day if you really want to play the rivalry card. It also would’ve actually meant something in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

As much as people hate on NBC for taking away divisional or actual rivalry games from local media broadcasting crews, sometimes it must be done. Nationally displaced local fans want to be able to watch their teams with ease– having some of their biggest matchups on national television isn’t a bad thing when it’s done right.

Give us the standings– give us the storylines of recent hatred among the clubs and national audiences might eat it up more than hearing over and over again where somebody is from or how one goaltending coach taught the two goalies at opposite ends of the ice everything they know.

If the league could schedule one or two matchups between rivals within a week or two before they take things outside, imagine what a perfect storm of potential chaos that would be on the ice.

Of course, timing is everything when it comes to touting a rivalry as a premiere event to be seen by all.

Remember how the 2016 Winter Classic was a 5-1 blowout by the Montreal Canadiens on road ice at Gillette Stadium? The Boston Bruins missed the playoffs in 2015 and they went on to miss them again in 2016.

They were in a lull in talent on the ice. Their longest rivalry with Montreal had crescendoed when Bruins exorcised their demons in 2011 en route to the Cup, but not much of the championship roster from 2011 remained in 2016– except for core players in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask.

Then the rivalry went dormant as Boston fell asleep at the wheel in the Second Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Canadiens ousted the President’s Trophy winning Bruins in seven games.

And 2017’s Winter Classic matchup of the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at Busch Stadium didn’t go as hoped for a 50-year old rivalry– the Blues defeated the Blackhawks 4-1.

If you’re looking ahead to the 2019 Winter Classic between Boston and Chicago from Notre Dame Stadium, well, you better hope both teams are as lively as they’ve been at times this season on January 1, 2019.

Timing is everything.

If you’re worried about making adidas Winter Classic merchandise and getting it out to the consumers in time for the big game, let alone scheduling the right venue, teams and ticket sales, then why not have all 31 teams prepare something. Let every NHL franchise draw up a set of potential home and road Winter Classic sweaters.

Instead of announcing the following year’s Winter Classic a year and a half ahead of when it’s going to be played, just keep the fans in suspense– let rumors swirl about every team’s potential outdoor look and/or venue for just long enough until the league says “surprise, it’s going to be the Vegas Golden Knights against the Nashville Predators from Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee”. Trust me, people would want to go see that.

Worried about having jerseys made in time for fans to purchase? Make the Winter Classic announcement in July or August, then make the Winter Classic jerseys go on sale in pro shops in December.

Boost your holiday sales while not having to give in to the demands of consumers who want to get everything done and out of the way in October or November leading up to the December holidays and Happy Honda Days.

I know it’s hard, but actually keep some things secret.

The Winter Classic should be around through 2021 at least (pending NBC broadcasting rights and negotiations regarding an extension or who knows, maybe ESPN will want to cover hockey again in three years?), but we shouldn’t find out– through the league or anonymous sources– that the Blackhawks will be hosting the Penguins in a first ever home-and-home matchup in 2020 whereby Chicago hosts the Winter Classic and Pittsburgh hosts the Stadium Series until, say, before the start of the 2019-20 season.

The 2019 Winter Classic shouldn’t have been unveiled by a report from Barstool Sports in November 2017. Calendar-year-wise that’s a difference of two years.

That’s at least a year and six months of potential suspense that could’ve been building over where the local market cash grab outdoor game would be venturing off to– it’s Chicago again, isn’t it? Dammit.

At the very least, a league that’s pulling in $4.5 billion in revenue that also doesn’t want to share more money with the players (hello forthcoming lockout anytime between 2020 and 2022) should shell out $1 million to get someone like Lady Gaga or yes, even Coldplay (because hockey is played in the cold), or literally anyone other than Goo Goo Dolls, Nate Ruess or someone NBC wants on TV because they’re a winner or runner up from The Voice.

You can either praise Sidney Crosby all day during a game in which Crosby isn’t involved or you can give me a reality TV singing contestant that nobody’s heard of but you can’t have both in one day, NBC! *That sounded better in John Oliver’s voice in my head than it did when I wrote it, but the point still stands.*

Think of it this way, Mr. Bettman.

If you cast aside one or two outdoor games a year– because we all know three or four of them a year is too many– then you should have enough money to attract someone better than this year’s Super Bowl Pepsi Halftime Show performer, Justin Timberlake, and assert your dominance over the NFL in intermission/halftime entertainment at your very own “super bowl” (ahem, the Winter Classic) months before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I’ll even take more of whatever this year’s Road to the Winter Classic was actually about (I think it was a Honda ad) if you’d just entertain us all for once during intermission instead of putting us to sleep before the Blackhawks come back out of the locker room for their 82nd outdoor game of the season.

And if it’s supposed to have a winter carnival vibe, maybe don’t bring the same stuff every year to each venue.

Bubble hockey is great and all, but giant inflatable snow globes and inflatable jerseys have gotten old. NASCAR’s Fanatics merchandise tent is more exciting than your free FanFest or whatever.

And please, bring back the Winter Classic Alumni Game. Beg NBCSN to show that instead of whatever Mecum Auto Auction they’re rerunning on New Year’s Eve or whatever.

I just don’t want to go a day without hockey, especially when I’m starting a new calendar year.

Numbers Game: Vegas at Halftime (Through 41 GP in 2017-18)

The Western Conference leading Vegas Golden Knights entered their bye week at exactly 41 games played.

Due to an unintentional– completely accidental– oversight on my behalf, I didn’t remember to look at their stats after 40 games played (like I normally would every 20 games throughout the season). But for the perfectionists in the world out there– it’s better to split things right down the middle.

Vegas is back in action for the second half of their inaugural season on Saturday after going 29-10-2 (60 points) in their first 41 games in franchise history.

Earlier in the week, I pointed out that the New Jersey Devils have been quite a pleasant surprise this season. Of course, I made sure to mention the Golden Knights as one of the other pleasant surprises.

It’s not that nobody expected this team to fail as much as all the other expansion teams in the 100-year history of the league.

Given the talent pool to choose from and the overall development of professional hockey players/the league itself since the 1990s (it’s a younger, faster, game where great players last well into their 30s and good players are buried in the AHL or playing overseas by the time they’re 30-35 years old), it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Golden Knights are at the very least, a competitive– young– team.

Even still, it’s been quite the euphoric ride.

A team that poached the Florida Panthers– and many others– at the 2017 Expansion Draft, laid the foundation in 50-plus point scorer, Jon Marchessault, let alone with three-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury. Surely they would have some highlights in their first season.

Nobody could’ve imagined that same team would be seriously considering keeping Fleury or a guy like James Neal at the trade deadline in the midst of what could shape up to be a long playoff run in their first season, but alas, here we are.

It’s more than just “Real Deal” James Neal in Sin City. The Golden Knights are the real deal.

And their forecasted stats for the remaining half of the regular season show it. Though now is about the time where I make sure to mention one little standard disclaimer– my degree is in communication– not math– so any miscalculations or accolades that seem nearly impossible to ascertain are Microsoft Excel’s fault.

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Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 41 Games (41 Games Remaining)

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Simply put, Erik Haula (26-24–50 expected totals), William Karlsson (32-23–55 expected totals) and Marchessault (30-38–68 expected totals) are blazing through the rest of the league and showing no signs of flaming out any time soon.

It certainly helps that Neal and David Perron are both expected to reach the 60-point plateau, with Reilly Smith not so far behind amassing 19-38–57 expected totals.

On defense, Deryk Engelland, Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore have been leading the charge from the blue line all season long. For Engelland, the adopted son of Las Vegas, a revitalized season defending the league’s newest team might just keep him playing in his backyard for longer than just this season.

Miller and Schmidt were expected to take on more pronounced top-4 roles with the expectation that at least one of them would develop into a surefire top-2 shutdown defenseman. Miller should max out around 40 points, while Schmidt should put up a cool 30-point season in his first year outside of the United States capital.

After being sent to the AHL early on in the season, Shea Theodore was only motivated to work harder.

It wasn’t that he was not desired by an NHL team as clearly Vegas saw value in his game at the Expansion Draft, claiming Theodore from the Anaheim Ducks. Now that the Golden Knights front office and coaches have righted their wrong, Theodore could very well put up 24 points on the season in what is– by all means– a breakout season for the defenseman entering his prime.

In the net, the Golden Knights have been spectacular. Not only has general manager, George McPhee, come away looking even more like the genius that he already is, but Vegas is stacked at depth in the crease.

Malcolm Subban‘s playing like a backup that’s capable of taking on a starting role. That’ll be something to keep an eye on, given Fleury’s aging out of his prime– though he has yet to show it. It’s not often that a team has the right pieces to play two goalies almost equally in minutes and be successful.

In 2011, the Boston Bruins rode the backs of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask to the Stanley Cup Final. Interestingly enough, the Vancouver Canucks did the same with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.

Thomas played his last game as a Bruin in 2012. Luongo was traded by the Canucks in 2014– a year after Vancouver dumped Schneider in New Jersey.

Two tremendous goalies are better than one from a team record standpoint, but at some point general managers are either forced with a difficult decision due to the salary cap or fall into the fallacy that is the “there can only be one” mantra.

And Gerard Gallant might end up with some tough decisions down the stretch regarding who to start each night, reminiscent of Mike Sullivan‘s Fleury-Matt Murray swapping during en route to Pittsburgh’s 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup championships.

Nonetheless, Oscar Dansk filled in flawlessly when Fleury and Subban were out of the lineup with injuries. Meanwhile, Maxime Lagace performed on another level shortly after Dansk’s introduction to the game when Dansk went down himself due to injury.

With enough depth in goal to try to get something good in return, the ball is in Vegas’s court as the trade deadline approaches. Though the Golden Knights don’t have to rush things. A little competition for every goaltending job isn’t always a bad thing.

Being in first place in the Western Conference isn’t good enough for the Golden Knights. They’ve got their sights set even higher, like on a 2018 Stanley Cup Final run, for instance.

Sin City is looking to shine like gold. Vegas wants the Cup.