It's the greatest day of the year. Seventh game great. Tuesday evening featured four clubs playing for their lives and that always brings the best/worst out of each player. Some rise to the occasion, others crumble under the pressure. As someone without a rooting interest, it's a very pleasurable experience. For all of you Leafs/Bruins/Sharks/Golden Knights fans out there, I apologize. I hope you tried some deep breathing exercises. I hear they can be helpful. Take note, Caps and Canes fans.
Boston kept their barn rocking with two first period tallies off of two terrible defensive plays by Toronto. One off the stick and Travis Dermott, the second off a Jake Gardiner turnover. With that minus, Gardiner now owns the dubious distinction of the worst plus-minus rating in game 7 history. Yikes. Do you hear that sound? That's the sound of his UFA contract dropping in value.
"Last year, Jake Gardiner was a minus-5 in Game 7. It's been a tough 1st period for the pair of Dermott-Gardiner. The reverse to nowhere…& a good job by Johansson to find the far post." @NHLonNBCSports analyst @BrianBoucher33 on Marcus Johansson's goal, 2-0 Bruins. #TORvsBOS pic.twitter.com/JVVH8aDUcV
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) April 23, 2019
John Tavares cut the lead to one with a second-period goal – his second of the series, but that was as close as they would come. The Bruins would tally three more goals in the final frame – two via the open cage variety, and sent the Leafs packing in game seven for the third time in the last seven seasons. Needless to say, the Bruins appear to have their number.
It didn't take long for pundits to call for Mike Babcock's head. To criticize his deployment, his inability to shuffle lines, or match up successfully while at home. These are all fair criticisms, but at the end of the day, Toronto's backend wasn't good enough, Freddie Andersen let in a soft one to begin the game, and outside of Auston Matthews, the big guns didn't do enough.
The Leafs remain one of the brightest, youngest teams and will continue on the rise in 2019-20. That said, their inability to win a playoff series is bordering on ridiculous and is clearly eating the fanbase from the inside out. Since the salary cap era began in 2005, only the Leafs and Panthers have yet to win a series. That's one ugly stat.
They've also now wasted the entry-level contract of Matthews and Mitch Marner. Things will only become more difficult from here to fit everyone in. So what kind of changes can we expect heading into next fall for the Buds? Well, Gardiner and his four million will be gone. They'll need to find 10 million for Marner, hefty raises for Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen. Things will need to be shuffled to keep the core together. Do the William Nylander rumours resurface? If so, there will likely a few teams standing around tossing boat anchor offers to Kyle Dubas.
Many pundits have been calling David Pastrnak out for his less than stellar play in the first round of the playoffs – this despite him producing six points over the seven-game series. That said, I've really enjoyed the David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk and Pastrnak combo on the second line. DeBrusk and Krejci have found some strong chemistry this season and adding a dynamic finisher like Pasta really opens things up. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are strong enough to drive a line without Pastrnak and still put up gaudy totals.
Don't be surprised if we see these combinations more next season. It's not ideal for fantasy owners as a complete top-line stack can be dynamite, but it's only a minor downtick for the big three and a nice uptick for DeBrusk and Krejci. I'll put this out here right now, DeBrusk has my seal of approval for a breakout in 2019-20.
Out west, the Sharks and Golden Knights met in Northern California. This series looked all but finished when Vegas dummied San Jose 5-0 in game four to take a 3-1 series lead. However, the Sharks came out and took games five and six to push it back home for a chance to eliminate the reigning Western Conference champions.
San Jose played well early, leading the shot count 11-4 through the first frame. However, as has been the case for much of Martin Jones' tenor, the Sharks found themselves down on the scoreboard. William Karlsson tallied to make it 1-0 before Cody Eakin found the back of the net in the second frame.
The third period came along and Max Pacioretty scored his fifth of the postseason to make it 3-0. He and Mark Stone continue to lead all playoff producers with 11 and 12 points respectively in seven contests. That appeared to be all the boys from Sin City needed to advance to second round and date with the upstart Avalanche.
UNTIL THIS HAPPENED!
Eakin takes a 5-minute major that ended Joe Pavelski's night with a scary incident as he lands on his head and needed help off the ice. It did not take long for the Sharks to rally around their fallen captain. Four power-play goals in 241 seconds with Kevin Labanc getting in on all of them – recording a goal and three helpers. That tied an NHL playoff record for the most points in a single period.
This is why you never change the channel too early!
But but but.. I had already written the Sharks obituary for tonight’s Ramblings when they were down 3-0 with half a period to play!
My poor words. They never had a chance.
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) April 24, 2019
I should've known better.
Labanc continued to play a role as he took a penalty with four minutes remaining but his mates picked him up – including the goaltender as Jones channelled his inner Trevor Kidd on this one
However, the Golden Knights would not go quietly into the night. With the goaltender pulled and SIX forwards on the ice, Jonathan Marchessault scored to tie the game with 47 seconds remaining to force overtime. I absolutely love that Gerard Gallant rolled out six forwards with the season on the line. Hazah for creativity!
Timo Meier was an absolute beast in this one. He played X amount with an assist and nine shots on goal. He almost ended it in OT with these sweet moves only to be stymied by Marc-Andre Fleury
Timo Meier with the filthy dangles. But no one gets by Fleury's poke. pic.twitter.com/u7x4A50LEV
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) April 24, 2019
All that was left to do was see who would play hero…
Barclay Goodrow in his second shift of overtime. The man with just seven minutes played on the evening completed the comeback in the game and in the series for San Jose in fabulous fashion. The Sharks move on.
Of course, Vegas will have a difficult time recovering from this one – especially Cody Eakin. But this team is loaded with nearly all of its players signed through next season. William Karlsson will need another deal, but it’s unlikely he pulls much of a raise on his current 5.25 million. They have one of the top prospects in the game in Cody Glass coming as well.
This is not the last we’ve heard from them.
On a less adrenaline-induced note, there have been several coaching changes already this spring and we have yet to conclude the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The odds say we’ll see at least one more before the calendar turns over to July. With a new man at the helm, there will inevitably be changes afoot. And with deployment acting as the literal lifeblood of the fantasy world, the implications can be massive.
In Florida, Bob Boughner is out and three-time Stanley Cup winner, Joel Quenneville is in. Quenneville will have no shortage of offensive firepower to deploy in South Florida (this remains true even if they don’t land Artemi Panarin in free agency), and he’s proven quite successful in finding elite minutes for elite players.
Under Quenneville, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews never witnessed their average ice-time drop below 18:30 – with a high-water mark of around 21:30 in 2016-17. We can rest assured that Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau will likely live in the same ballparks, but this represents a slight decrease for the 23-year-old Finn. Barkov has averaged over 22 minutes in each of the last two seasons. Huberdeau lives in the 17:00-18:30 arena and should comfortably be pegged there. We’ll have to wait and see if the new coach leans on the team’s superstar as much as his predecessor did.
As far as club achievements, clearly his 10+ season resume with the Hawks is chalked full of accomplishments. Outside of the three rings, he brought the club to 100-plus point seasons in seven of the campaigns, and a 97-point season tossed in as well. The concern was the stagnation that happened towards the end of his tenor in Chicago. The team immediately found their offensive prowess once he left town in November 2018, after many of the top guys witnessed career-lows the season prior. Successful franchises have steadily gotten faster and faster with each passing season, and this may not jive well with Coach Q’s penchant for airtight defensive schemes.
Here’s the thing though, losing a few goals to save a bucket more is exactly what this team needs. Their 267 tallies this past season was fifth most in the East and good for ninth best in the league. Florida also boasted the second most lethal power-play, clicking at 26.8 percent for the campaign. For reference, that mark is the third highest we’ve seen in the last 30 years.
However, it’s the 280 goals against that are the real problem. That mark landed them 14th in the East and 28th overall. Like I said, perhaps they can afford to lose a few goals for more team success – but that’s not exactly what fantasy owners want to hear.
Florida has a bright, young, fantasy-filled roster. Barkov is an elite pillar. Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Keith Yandle each bring upper echelon value to specific leagues. Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, and Aaron Ekblad are above-average. Additionally, they boast some of the brightest young prospects in the game with Henrik Borgstrom, Grigori Denisenko, Owen Tippett, and Aleksi Heponiemi coming up the pipe.
However, expecting a replication, or a continuation, on the career-high seasons by Barkov, Huberdeau and company may be foolish. Shave 5-8 points off of each skater, bump up the goaltender value (whomever that ends up being) and go about your draft preparation.
Over in Sweden, the World U18 Championships are underway. The Americans are destroying the competition thus far. At the top of the heap are linemates, Jack Hughes and Cole Caufield. You've likely heard all about Hughes by now. He's an explosive and creative skater who brings the entire buffet of offensive skills. Thus far, he has five goals and 12 points through four games and is pushing Alex Ovechkin for the most all-time points at this event. Hughes had 12 in seven games last year.
But it's Caufield I wanted to talk about. Standing just 5-6 and 157lbs, he's certainly not your prototypical first-round draft choice. Hell, most years a player that sized won't hear their name called at all. But Caufield is special. He's up to 69 goals in 61 games this season and recently broke the all-time goal record for the USNTDP. Sure, he lives next to supreme passers in Hughes and Trevor Zegras at the Program, but his ability to find the soft areas and quickly and efficiently put the puck into the back of the net is special.
It's a record breaking 10th goal of the tourney for Cole Caufield and a 2-0 Team USA lead.
— Stars n’ Stripes Hockey (@StarsStripesHKY) April 23, 2019
Clubs surely regret allowing Alex DeBincat to fall to the second round in 2016. There is much more risk in selecting a player his size in the top-15, but that appears to be exactly where he'll go. At this rate, I'd be somewhat surprised if he's still sitting there at #10. If Caufield were an elite skater, he could be making a very real case for third overall.
All this said he's a player you should have earmarked in dynasty drafts. One capable of filling the net and the shots on goal ticker.
Follow me on Twitter @Hockey_Robinson