Tag Archives: 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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.

Florida Panthers 2019-20 Season Preview

Florida Panthers

36-32-14, 86 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the postseason for the third straight year

Additions: F Noel Acciari, F Brett Connolly, F Joel Lowry, F Kevin Roy, F Dominic Toninato (acquired from COL), D Gustav Bouramman (acquired from MIN), D Tommy Cross, D Ethan Prow, D Anton Stralman, G Sergei Bobrovsky, G Philippe Desrosiers

Subtractions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea (signed with BUF), F Henrik Haapala (KHL), F Juho Lammikko (Liiga), F Derek MacKenzie (retired), F Maxim Mamin (KHL), F Vincent Praplan (NLA), F Riley Sheahan (signed with EDM), D Ludwig Bystrom (Liiga), D Michael Downing (signed with Florida, ECHL), D Jacob MacDonald (traded to COL), D Julian Melchiori (signed with Binghamton, AHL), G Scott Darling (acquired from CAR, then bought out), G Roberto Luongo (retired), G James Reimer (traded to CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Jamie McGinn

Re-signed: F Troy Brouwer (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Greco, F Jayce Hawryluk, F Dryden Hunt, F Denis Malgin, D Ian McCoshen, D Thomas Schemitsch, D MacKenzie Weegar, G Sam Montembeault

Offseason Analysis: The rules of the offseason are pretty simple. Don’t be that person that overpays.

But for Florida Panthers General Manager, Dale Tallon, apparently the rules don’t apply.

Yes, fixing the hole in the net left behind by Roberto Luongo’s decision to retire was a good idea. No, signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract isn’t a steal.

A $10.000 million cap hit for a goaltender that’s 30-years-old and only getting older won’t exactly look too great by the fourth year of the deal, but by then it might not even be Tallon’s problem.

Tallon is in “win now” mode.

The Panthers haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Final since their lone appearance in 1996, in which they were swept in four games– the final two on home ice– by the Colorado Avalanche.

As it is, Florida hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2016’s First Round loss to the New York Islanders in six games.

So they’ve bolstered their roster with Bobrovsky in the crease and three other players that were signed on July 1st– Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman.

Acciari’s a bottom-six forward who likes to hit and can hit clean, but at three-years and $1.667 million per season, might be a bit much to pay for someone who only had 14 points last season. Sure it was career-year, but his goal scoring production was down from 10 goals in 2017-18 to six goals in 2018-19.

Connolly signed a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and with a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the Washington Capitals in 2018, he brings more than just winning pedigree– he had career-highs in goals (22), assists (24) and points (46) in 81 games for the Caps last season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft is finally coming around to his potential at age 27. Better late than never and that’s why the Panthers are taking this gamble.

An improved offense in the top-nine forwards to go with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano, as well as an addition to the blue line in Anton Stralman’s three-year contract worth $5.500 million per season has the Panthers with high hopes for the 2019-20 season.

Especially when you consider the fact that their new head coach behind the bench is three-time Stanley Cup champion, Joel Quenneville.

Tallon, Quenneville and Florida’s roster don’t just have their sights set on a First Round appearance.

What if they don’t pull things off right away and age catches up to their free agent signings from this offseason? Is it right back to square one as an older, slower, knock-off version of their intra-state rival up in Tampa?

Ten players on the current NHL roster are pending free agents of the unrestricted and restricted variety after this season.

Florida currently has about $781,330 in cap space with Hoffman and Dadonov as their biggest pending-UFAs next July.

Thanks to Luongo’s early retirement, the Panthers will be stifled with a cap recapture penalty that’s not as significant as the one the Vancouver Canucks will face, but nonetheless costing Florida $1,094,128 per season through 2021-22.

But Tallon is used to maxing out the books to put his team in a position to win sooner rather than later– just ask the Chicago Blackhawks how their Cup winning core worked out for them.

Offseason Grade: B

Florida going “all-in” in free agency is out of character for their franchise history, it would seem. While nabbing top-end talent at a premium price lands the Panthers as a winner of the bidding war for free agents, there’s a lot of risk involved.

Long-term growth may have been stalled by short-term planning for gains that may or may not pan out as the season has yet to begin. As such, Tallon’s offseason was “above average”, but now comes the time to prove whether it was all worth it or else risk becoming the more expensive version of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2019 trade deadline.

Detroit Red Wings 2019-20 Season Preview

Detroit Red Wings

32-40-10, 74 points, 7th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the playoffs for the third straight season

Additions: F Adam Erne (acquired from TBL), F Valtteri Filppula, D Patrik Nemeth, G Calvin Pickard

Subtractions: F Louis-Marc Aubry (DEL), D Jake Chelios (KHL), F Martin Frk (signed with LAK), F Axel Holmstrom (SHL), F Wade Megan (retired), F Dylan Sadowy (signed with Utica, AHL), D Niklas Kronwall (retired), D Libor Sulak (KHL), D Luke Witkowski (signed with TBL), G Patrik Rybar (Liiga), G Harri Sateri (KHL)

Still unsigned: F Thomas Vanek

Re-signed: F Dominic Turgeon, D Joe Hicketts

Offseason Analysis: The Red Wings have a new General Manager in Steve Yzerman and with that, an entirely new outlook on their rebuild, as well as internal philosophy.

Yzerman is a proactive general manager, identifying and fixing holes before, during and after they occur, as well as assembling his own crew inside the front office and around the world in scouts.

Though Detroit isn’t expected to smash through the roof of annual Cup contenders this season, Yzerman is determined to bring the team he spent 22 seasons playing for back into relevancy.

Yes, that’s right, relevancy.

The Red Wings have missed the playoffs for the last three straight seasons and haven’t had an easy time adjusting to life in the salary cap era since winning the Cup in 2008 with a core largely built of players before the salary cap existed.

There have been a lot of smaller departures this offseason, but Yzerman’s brought in a familiar face from his days at the helm of the Tampa Bay Lightning, acquiring bottom-six forward, Adam Erne, from the Bolts in exchange for a 2020 4th round pick and the return of former Red Wing, turned Lightning, Philadelphia Flyer and most recently New York Islander, Valtteri Filppula via free agency.

Durable top-six defender, Patrik Nemeth was poached from the Colorado Avalanche in free agency and brings his up-and-down the defensive pairings style to an otherwise aging and oft-injured blue line.

Yzerman doesn’t get to lay claim to drafting Filip Zadina or Joseph Veleno, but he does get to reap the benefits of bringing them into the lineup.

One question that remains while the new regime in the front office continues to revaluate the situation and the long-term plan– what’s to become of current head coach, Jeff Blashill?

In four seasons with Detroit– albeit with a lackluster roster– Blashill has never led his team to higher than a 3rd place finish in the Atlantic Division and has a 1-4 record in the Stanley Cup Playoffs– dating back to his only appearance with the Red Wings in their First Round matchup with the Lightning in 2016.

There’s five pending-unrestricted free agents and seven pending-restricted free agents at season’s end, so things are very fluid in the Red Wings organization– especially with Yzerman in charge.

Offseason Grade: B

Detroit would have almost gotten an “A” grade for hiring Yzerman alone, but the fact that we have to consider the current roster and less than stellar free agent acquisitions– though still malleable and fitting for a team looking to speed up their transition from the basement back to the top– the Red Wings had a little bit of an “above average” offseason.

DTFR Podcast #159- Battle For Gloria (Part One)

Nick and Pete recap the Ottawa Senators coaching hire, two extensions, the latest rumors and the 2019 Western Conference Final while teasing their 2019 Stanley Cup Final preview.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #157- Play Gloria, You Jerks

Nick, Cap’n and Pete mourn the Columbus Blue Jackets, review the Vegas Golden Knights front office moves, Ken Holland to the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers new assistant coaches. Finally, the guys preview the 2019 Eastern Conference Final matchup between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the 2019 Western Conference Final matchup between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

2018 Offseason Preview: Dallas Stars

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Dallas Stars and their outlook for the summer.

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Ken Hitchcock reunited with the Dallas Stars for one last ride in 2017-18, amassing 92 points on the season, finishing 6th in the Central Divsion with a 42-32-8 record. Despite missing out on a wild card spot by three points, Hitchcock announced his retirement from the NHL as a head coach.

General Manager Jim Nill brought in Jim Montgomery from the University of Denver Pioneers as the next head coach and the Stars are looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016 next season.

With names like Ben Bishop, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, John Klingberg and Marc Methot on the roster, Dallas is looking for more than just another exit in the Second Round like in 2016, but they’ve got some work to do this offseason to make the jump from playoff bubble team to Cup contender.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Nill and the Stars have the 13th overall pick at this year’s draft and won’t have far to travel, thanks to American Airlines Center playing host to the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in a week.

Dallas will have plenty of talent to choose from in any of the best available players with a mid-first round pick in Isac Lundestrom, Joel Farabee, Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno or Serron Noel.

Similar to 2017 3rd overall pick Miro Heiskanen, the Stars won’t expect their 2018 first round pick to make the roster coming out of training camp this fall.

Pending free agents

The Stars have about $17.700 million to spend this summer, keeping in mind the salary cap ceiling is expected to rise.

By how much? That’s to be determined, so at least account for a little extra money to work with in all of these offseason previews, if you haven’t already figured that out on your own by now.

Nill has one pending-unrestricted free agent forward to consider re-signing in 28-year-old Antoine Roussel. His production was down 10 points from 2016-17 to 2017-18, notching 5-12–17 totals in 73 games with Dallas this season.

The Stars should likely pass on another year of Roussel, unless they view him as a fourth line winger with the potential to snag a third line spot from time-to-time.

Dallas has three pending-restricted free agents to sort out this summer in Gemel Smith, Devin Shore and Mattias Janmark.

Smith, 24, had six goals and five assists (11 points) in 46 games. That’s good enough over the course of a season as a fourth liner, but also might not be enough to stick around at the NHL level, depending on the team and how serious of a playoff contending run they intend on pursuing.

One good thing for Smith’s future with the organization is that he’s still young enough to sign on a small, bridge deal and give one more chance at NHL success (or scratch every night/send down the Texas Stars (AHL) if necessary).

Shore, 23, had 11-21–32 totals in 82 games played this season, falling short of last season’s offensive outcome by one point. If Dallas’s front office comes down to deciding between Shore and Roussel the choice is clear this offseason. Keep Shore for his consistency alone, let alone his five additional years of youth.

Janmark, 25, scored five points more this season than his 29-point rookie season. He had a career-high 19 goals and 15 assists for 34 points in 81 games played. It should be a no-brainer to keep Janmark around.

There’s two pending-UFA defenders in Dallas with 35-year-old, Dan Hamhuis, and 27-year-old, Greg Pateryn, possibly hitting the open market.

Hamhuis had his best season since 2014-15 with the Vancouver Canucks, scoring three goals and 21 assists (24 points) in 80 games with the Stars this season. At 35, he isn’t getting any younger, but he’s worth having as a veteran presence on the blueline.

Pateryn, in his first legitimate full-season, had one goal and 12 assists for 13 points in 73 games. If Nill is content with Pateryn as a top-six defender, then he should be back. Otherwise, there might be other options within the organization or outside of Dallas for the bottom-pair defense.

Pending-RFA Stephen Johns is the only pending free agent of the restricted variety on Dallas’s blueline. Johns set career highs in goals, assists and points with 8-7–15 totals in 75 games.

The problem with the Stars is they have a lot of lower pair defenders, meaning while Johns deserves a new contract, how new head coach Jim Montgomery envisions utilizing his defensive corps may play a hand in who gets renewed and who doesn’t.

In net, the Stars are looking at Ben Bishop as their presumptive starter through the end of his contract after the 2022-23 season with a cap hit of $4.917 million.

Bishop, 31, posted a 2.49 goals against average and .916 save percentage in 53 games played in his first season in the Big D, compiling a 26-17-5 record.

Backup netminder, Kari Lehtonen, 34, is a pending-UFA this July and secured a 2.56 GAA and .912 SV% in 37 games this season– his first as a full-time backup in Dallas. Lehtonen had a 15-14-3 record and improved in GAA and SV% as a result of the decrease in workload.

In fact, over his last few seasons as a starting goaltender, Lehtonen’s goals against average and save percentage were all over the place (2.94 and .903 in 2014-15, 2.76 and .906 in 2015-16 and 2.85 and .902 in 2016-17).

The main purpose of a backup goaltender is to stop pucks and give your starter a rest, while hopefully stealing more wins than losses in the meantime.

If Dallas can tighten up their defense, then Lehtonen can easily surpass the .500 mark as a winning backup goaltender next season– if he gets an extension, that is.

Considering how the Stars don’t have someone readily available in the system and the potentially weak market for goaltenders this summer (ignoring the hot commodity that is Stanley Cup champion Philipp Grubauer), Lehtonen should be back.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Curtis McKenzie (UFA), Andrew Bodnarchuk (UFA), Andrew O’Brien (UFA), Mike McKenna (UFA), Brian Flynn (UFA), Dillon Heatherington (RFA), Cole Ully (RFA), Jason Dickinson (RFA), Remi Elie (RFA), Philippe Desrosiers (RFA), Reece Scarlett (UFA), Brent Regner (UFA)

Buyouts on the books: Antti Niemi— $1.500 million through the end of 2018-19

Rangers, Vigneault will bounce back

Shortly after their last game of the season on Saturday, the New York Rangers relieved Alain Vigneault of his head coaching duties. In his fifth year with the organization, the Rangers went 34-39-9 (77 points) and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

It was Vigneault’s worst year in the Big Apple. It was a transition year for a team retooling on the fly– trading away Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and others for centerpieces in Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov (among other assets).

Now it’s time for someone else to take the reins behind the bench of King Henrik’s team.

The clock is ticking in goaltender Henrik Lundqvist‘s quest for his first Stanley Cup. Vigneault was almost the man to do it having brought the Rangers all the way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in his first season with New York.

That was the closest Lundqvist has ever been– just three wins away– but the Los Angeles Kings had other plans, given it only took them five games to beat New York for the Los Angeles’s second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

It was the closest the Rangers had come to winning its first Cup since defeating the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.

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The 2014-15 season witnessed a franchise record 113 points in the regular season– good enough to notch the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best record that year. Vigneault’s team knocked out Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games in the First Round in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then New York got behind in the Second Round series with the Washington Capitals, 3-1. Chris Kreider tied Game 5, McDonagh scored the game winner in overtime and the Rangers rallied back in the series to force the first Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since Game 7 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final against the Canucks.

For the first time in Stanley Cup Playoff history, the Rangers were to battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Despite a decisive 7-3 victory in Game 6 on the road at Amalie Arena, New York was shutout, 2-0, in Game 7 on home ice.

They wouldn’t get another chance to come that close to the Stanley Cup Final with Vigneault behind the bench.

The 2015-16 Rangers finished third in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and battled Mike Sullivan‘s Penguins in the First Round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It only took five games for the Rangers to be eliminated in Pittsburgh’s tear through the playoffs to their first Cup since 2009.

In 2016-17, New York regrouped with a 102-point season, but was cursed by the NHL’s current playoff format.

The Rangers were relegated to the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference since three teams finished ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division with at least 108 points or more.

New York had four more points in the regular season than the Ottawa Senators (98 points)– who finished second in the Atlantic Division– and seven more points than the Boston Bruins (95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic) and Toronto Maple Leafs (95 points, second wild card in the Eastern Conference by virtue of having three fewer regulation-plus-overtime wins than Boston).

Vigneault’s team got by Michel Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens in six games of the First Round in what was touted as a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

Then they ran into the streaking Senators who had beaten the Bruins in their own six game series.

Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with home ice advantage– despite having the worse of the two teams’s regular season records, but the Rangers seemed unfazed having won Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden 4-1 and 4-1, respectively.

Kyle Turris ended Game 5 almost six-and-a-half minutes into overtime at Canadian Tire Centre and the Rangers found themselves in a 3-2 series hole heading home for Game 6.

Senators captain, Erik Karlsson, had a goal and an assist in Ottawa’s decisive 4-2 victory on road ice and New York hit the golf course after just two rounds of the 2017 postseason.

Time kept ticking. Lundqvist got older.

Management grew more frustrated with the lack of a direction.

Dead last in the Metropolitan Division after all 82 games this season and under .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, Vigneault’s dismissal comes as no surprise.

It’s what is expected of any organization that expects to finish first, but fails in a rather large fashion.

Even more so with the league getting younger, skaters getting faster and teams placing more of an emphasis on a constant attack, a constant barrage of offense.

Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich, Spooner, Namestnikov and crew have already showcased a new face of the game in “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, while Vigneault’s systems might have been the only thing slowing them down in the waning days of the season.

It was time to shake things up and head in that new face of the game’s direction.

For the first time since the 1967-68 season only one coach was fired in-season (thanks to Mother Nature having played a part in extending the season by a day due to Boston’s rescheduled matchup from January with the Florida Panthers).

Unfortunately for Vigneault, he was that coach.

New York will be just fine.

They’re stockpiled with prospects and have already integrated youth, skill and speed into their lineup.

Now general manager Jeff Gorton will look to patch the blue line and give Lundqvist a high-caliber backup goaltender to ease the workload of the grueling regular season schedule.

It might not be the quickest turnaround, but it shouldn’t turn out to become an annual groan-fest watching the Blueshirts next season.

For Vigneault, there will be other opportunities.

He led Vancouver to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in the midst of President’s Trophy seasons. He led New York back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a generation. He’ll be studying hard, but he’s still in demand.

Somewhere there’s a team looking for his veteran coaching presence– like Buffalo– or a team that just missed the cut this season, but is on the brinks of a breakout year that very well might end up with their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1970– like St. Louis.

But alas, this is all merely speculation.

More coaches will be fired for their team’s shortcomings (of their own fault or otherwise) this offseason upon diligent review in front office’s league-wide.

Rangers fans may be glad and it should be a mutual feeling of respect and good luck. They had a good run that lasted a while, but ultimately came up empty handed. Times have changed, players moved on and the game evolved.

Somewhere, Vigneault is that missing piece a franchise is looking for and it won’t just be a team finally getting over that mountain, but a head coach too.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #80- Depth and Taxes

Nick and Connor recap the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series, talk transactions and go long about the Boston Bruins. Additionally, the guys discussed the Radko Gudas incident and never actually say how much time he should be sitting out for his shenanigans.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

November 28 – Day 47 – This time, in the style of B.B. King

All good things must come to an end. That includes the extended Thanksgiving weekend. Even worse, that signals the end of heavy scheduling, with only two games being played this evening. At 7 p.m., Calgary visits the New York Islanders followed an hour later by Dallas at St. LouisAll times eastern.

It’s been a week since we’ve featured a Western Conference team, and even longer since we’ve been to a Western arena. Add in that tonight is a Western Semifinals rematch, and we have to make our way to the Gateway to the West!

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I’ll admit that I’m a bit partial when it comes to the Blues, but this is what I remember from last year’s playoff series:

Game 3, the game where Ryan Reaves shared the love with Dallas‘ bench, was not a good showing by the Stars, as they fell 6-1 that night. That contest was not indicative of their series-long effort though, as neither team trailed by more than a game in the seven-game series.

St. Louis ended up winning Game 7 by the same 6-1 score to advance to the Western Conference Finals, besting the Stars by a combined 25-14 score against the best offense in the league last year. Of course, they would fall to San Jose in six game to miss the Stanley Cup Finals.

Dallas enters tonight’s game with a 9-8-5 record, barely on the outside of the playoff picture that is slowly starting to form – we are after Thanksgiving, after all. The reason they haven’t broken into that bracket is simple: they let a lot of goals by. 72, to be exact, the second-most in the league.

Although time has been almost evenly split between the Stars‘ two netminders, Kari Lehtonen has spent a little bit more time between the pipes. In his dozen starts, he’s earned a 4-6-3 record on an .884 save percentage and 3.38 GAA, both ranking third-worst among the 48 goalies with six or more appearances.

Those numbers are exceptionally poor, especially for a team that has the aspirations Dallas does. He has to take responsibility though, because the defense playing in front of him has done a moderately OK job keeping pucks off his cage. Before Johnny Oduya was placed on injured reserve, his 44 blocks led the blueline. That responsibility now rests on Jordie Benn‘s shoulders, the active block-leader with 41. Those efforts have led the blueline to allowing only 30.8 shots-against-per-game, the 11th-highest in the league.

As one might expect, Dallas‘ penalty kill has faced similar struggles. They’ve negated only 78.7% of opposing power plays, the seventh-worst effort. Oduya was active on the penalty kill as well, notching 12 shorthanded blocks, but he has been forced to hand this mantle off to Benn, too, who has 11 to his credit.

Hosting them this evening are the 12-7-3 Blues. Sitting in second in the Central Division, the Notes have found their success scoring the puck, with 58 tallies to their credit.

Who else to be leading St. Louis‘ offense than Vladimir Tarasenko and his 22 points? How he fell to the 16th-overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is beyond me. In addition to being the points leader, his nine goals is also tops for the club.

The success has carried into the special teams. St. Louis‘ power play ranks seventh-best in the league, successful on 21.3% of attempts. Kevin Shattenkirk joins Tarasenko with nine man-advantage points to lead the squad. The defenseman also ties for the team-lead in power play goals, but not with the right wing – instead, it’s Robby Fabbri who has also fired three extra-man goals.

The penalty kill has been even better than the power play. The Notes are second-best in the NHL at neutralizing their own penalties, refusing to yield a goal on 88.4% of opposing man-advantages. Captain Alex Pietrangelo tops the squad with 11 penalty kill blocks.

These teams have already met up once this year at the American Airlines Center, and the Stars took it to the Blues. They won 6-2, led by John Klingberg‘s two-goal night.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include DallasTyler Seguin (15 assists [tied for third-most in the league] for 22 points [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]) & St. LouisJake Allen (10 wins [tied for seventh-most in the league]) and Tarasenko (22 points [tied for fifth-most in the NHL]).

According to Vegas, St. Louis is favored by all accords to win tonight’s game as they have a -165 next to their name at most books in town. Seeing as they’ve done a good job keeping the opposition off the board, paired with an offense that will best Lehtonen, I’m confident the Notes defend home ice.

Hockey Birthday

  • Marc-Andre Fleury (1984-) – The 13-year veteran goaltender for Pittsburgh was the first pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Although he has two Stanley Cups to his credit, an emerging star in Matthew Murray has Flower’s future with the Penguins in question.
  • Mike Kostka (1985-) – Almost entirely an AHL lifer, this defenseman has played 85 NHL games with five different teams. His 35-game stint in Toronto in 2012-’13 has been his longest to date.

Ottawa must’ve read yesterday’s Game of the Day preview, because they didn’t seem to care for the high praise I was pouring on New York. They decided to spoil the Rangers‘ fun and shut them out for a 2-0 win.

The winning goal was struck after 21:54 of scoreless play. Second Star of the Game Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Tom Pyatt and Zack Smith) takes credit for the tally with a wrister. The lone insurance goal of the game found the back of the net with 3:49 remaining in the second period, courtesy of Third Star Mark Stone (Mike Hoffman)  on a power play wrister.

First Star Craig Anderson earns the victory and an extra shutout feather in his cap after saving all 33 shots faced, leaving the loss to Antti Raanta, who saved 18-of-20 (90%).

The roadies are pulling closer. After Ottawa‘s DtFR Game of the Day victory, the the home team has a 26-16-7 record, better than the roadies by only six points.

October 13 – Day Two – Trophy vs. Cup

*Editor’s Note: I wasn’t planning on doing a recap of any of the games last night, but I must simply state: Auston Matthews is very, very good.*

Yesterday might have officially been opening day, but tonight marks the first game of most teams’ seasons – read nine games being played this evening.  Three drop the puck at 7 p.m. (Montréal at Buffalo [RDS], the Islanders at the Rangers and Boston at Columbus), with two more getting started half an hour later (Detroit at Tampa Bay and New Jersey at Florida).  Another trio gets green lit at the top of the hour (Minnesota at St. Louis, Carolina at Winnipeg and Washington at Pittsburgh [NBCSN/TVAS2]) and Anaheim at Dallas, this evening’s nightcap, cleans things up 30 minutes later.  All times eastern.

Short list:

  • New York at New York: In addition to being the first Battle of New York of the year, the Rangers edged the Islanders by only a point last year. Even though the Islanders fared better in the playoffs, I expect the Isles to be unhappy by being barely beaten.
  • Detroit at Tampa Bay: A divisional rivalry and a rematch of a Eastern Quarterfinal for the past two seasons. This might be far from the best rivalry in the Atlantic Division all-time, but it might be pretty high on this season’s list.
  • New Jersey at Florida: In addition to being a good game, this is also the first official home game with the Panthers‘ new look.
  • Washington at Pittsburgh: It’s a rivalry. It’s a rematch of one of last season’s Eastern Semifinals. It’s the Penguins‘ banner raising ceremony. Should make for an exciting atmosphere in the arena and an emotionally charged environment on the ice.

I said it last year, and I have to say it again. There’s only one banner raising ceremony a year, so we have to head to the the City of Champions.

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After all the pomp-and-circumstance are done, a fantastic hockey game should commence. Washington, last season’s regular season champion comes in with probably the biggest chip on their shoulder possible, as this evening’s opponent forced them to settle for finding the bottom of 18 cups instead of hoisting the Cup.

That’s not the only thing they have going for them though. They bring back most of the incredible roster they had a season ago, led by future Hall-of-Famer Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams… you get the idea. Behind that firepower they have last year’s Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby. This squad is built to win now.

How many times have Capitals/Nationals fans heard that?

The Pens are also built to win now, but if you had picked them to win the Stanley Cup last December, many would have called you crazy. It took another coaching change and a hot run over the last month of the regular season to land them their fourth championship.

Like Washington, most of last season’s club will take to the ice tonight. Unfortunately, Sidney Crosby finds himself in street clothes due to sustaining a concussion at practice Friday – Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin will fill in leading the team during his absence. So does Matt Murray, the goaltending star from the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury retains his starting job unopposed for at least another week.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Pittsburgh‘s Fleury (35 wins [fourth-most in the NHL a year ago], five shutouts [fifth-most in the league last year], 2.29 GAA [ninth-best in the NHL last season] and .921 save percentage [10th-best in the league last year]), Kunitz (+29 [fourth in the NHL a season ago]), Kris Letang (51 assists [sixth in the NHL last season]) and  Olli Maatta (+27 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL last season]) & Washington‘s Nicklas Backstrom (50 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league last season]), Holtby (48 wins [led the league last season], 2.2 GAA [fifth-best in the league last year] and .922 save percentage [eighth-best in the NHL last season]), Kuznetsov (57 assists [fourth-most in the league a season ago], +27 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL last season] and 77 points [tied for ninth in NHL last season]) and Ovechkin (50 goals [led league last season])

Vegas marks Pittsburgh at a +105, so the Caps are barely favored in this one. The last two NHL banner raising ceremonies have ended in disappointment, so we’re getting close to a trend. That being said, Pittsburgh has never lost a celebratory game in their history, so they’ve got that going for them.

Last season, in addition to beating the Capitals in the playoffs in six games, Pittsburgh also took the regular season series 3-2-0. All of this adds up to quite the contest this evening. I pick the Pens to defend their newly-named ice and come away with an early-season statement win.