Ramblings: Some more post-mortems (TOR, VGK, NSH, WSH), Babcock, “The Penalty”, Mrazek and more (Apr 29)
Four more teams were eliminated last week. Here are my thoughts on those teams, the players, and what the future holds…
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Mike Babcock issue – I’ve heard from a lot of Leafs fans (I live in a small city outside of Toronto called Pickering, so I have a lot of exposure and full disclosure: Leafs and Penguins are my favorite teams, and I’m also very partial to the Oilers and Jets). In my effort to avoid over-talking about the Leafs (and Penguins, for that matter) I probably have the opposite result and don’t discuss them enough here. Leafs fans are pissed off and many – not all, but many – want to see Babcock go. What a pantload that notion is. Toronto was a team that was dead last, and four years later they hit 100 points three times. Fire the coach? Really? This is a team that Babcock could have coached past Columbus, NY Islanders, Carolina and Washington. I would have dropped a lot of money on them once they got past the Bruins. To me, that Game 7 was for the Stanley Cup. They lost. Did Babcock screw a few things up? Of course – most coaches would have screwed a few things up, though each would have made different types of mistakes. Babcock’s was to play Patrick Marleau in too many key situations, not shake up his lines, not put Auston Matthews out there enough, and not rein in Nazem Kadri. But the reality is this is a young team and they just gained valuable experience. They completely understand that there is no taking the foot off the gas at all. Ever. Next year you will see how this experience helped them. Babcock easily deserves another year, don’t be silly. This should not have even been a topic of discussion, shame on you if you even floated the idea.
John Tavares never wins – This one is stupid. He was on an Islanders team that was mostly crap while he was there. We’ve gotta stop with the “this player will never win” crap. Most players don’t win, that’s why it’s such a prized trophy. So if you label a player as a non-winner, you’re probably going to be right. But don’t pat yourself on the back because that’s just statistics and probabilities. Steve Yzerman at the age of 29 had never played more than 11 games in a single postseason before. A lot of people said he would never win either. Alex Ovechkin…well, you get the point.
The Jake Gardiner issue – In terms of postseason hopes, this could actually be addition by subtraction. I actually really like his puck-moving talent and I think this summer he will go to a new team and become a 50-point player there. But he panics under pressure. Nothing against him, a lot of people are like this. Hell, I’m like this. I have a buddy who, no matter what the game – tennis, cards, chess, road hockey, pool, darts, whatever – if I beat him I have to beat him by a mile. Because if it’s close, he’s winning. Period. I panic. I make mistakes. Happens 10 times out of 10. Tennis is especially frustrating because I think I’m as good or even a little better than him. But because those games are always close, I will always lose. Many of us are like that. Gardiner is like that. The mistakes are glaring, and they seem to happen the most when it’s an elimination game and it’s close. If he didn’t drop pass to Marcus Johansson, Boston doesn’t score the second goal and to me the Leafs are still very much in that game. The clutch players are the ones who do it when it matters most. Carolina’s Warren Foegele is a great example of this – he gets the points when everything depends on it.
The Salary Cap – Mitch Marner could get more than Auston Matthews, or at the very least gets close to the $11.634 million. So the Leafs will need to shed a ton of salary. Right now if the cap goes up a bit they will be at $7 million for space for Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Igor Ozhiganov and to replace Gardiner and Ron Hainsey. Ideally the Leafs will trade William Nylander and gain $3.5 million in cap space there. Even more ideally they would trade Nikita Zaitsev and take minimum salary back to free up another $3.5 million. To me, even after the above two moves, they still need another $5-$6 million in cap space and frankly I don’t know how they get there. This is going to take a lot of imagination on Kyle Dubas’ part. The Leafs may be the most active team of the summer.
I don’t think this one shocked anybody. The Predators, on paper (to me), are an elite team. They are the gold standard of the NHL. High-quality depth in net, one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. The best top-six defensemen in hockey, especially after adding Dante Fabbro. And there have been times when Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson could be spoken of in the same breath as that MacKinnon line. Well, maybe not that good. But close! And they added Mikael Granlund and on paper he, Craig Smith and Kyle Turris are as good a second line as most teams. Nick Bonino, Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons and Auston Watson are depth players that I really like. But not once this season did any of us get that feeling that the Predators were an elite team. Only one player reached 60 points (Johansen – 64). And what a disappearing act in the playoffs. The only forward to get more than two points in six games was Rocco Grimaldi (who actually only played five and got three points). Two points for Johansen, Forsberg and Granlund! Arvidsson had zero! Embarrassing. I don’t know if that’s on the coach and Laviolette is just losing the room, but to me the entire season was a disgrace.
In the AHL, Nashville’s top prospect Eeli Tolvanen is pointless in four playoff games (minus-4) and has three points in his last 10 games overall for Milwaukee. I doubt he makes the jump in the fall to help out.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Penalty – Doesn’t need more of a description than that. It’s the stuff of legends. I’ll remember that one until the day I die. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen four goals on one power play, and certainly never seen one player get four points on a single power play (Kevin Labanc). There are rumblings about adding a replay option for the refs on major penalties. Hard disagree on that one, as this was such a rare circumstance we probably won’t see it again in our lifetime. But to satisfy everyone, why not set a two-goal limit? For five-minute majors, if the team with the man advantage scores for the second time, the player gets out of the box. Simple, and it doesn’t waste time staring at a tablet twice a game after each big hit.
It was a real shame because frankly I think Vegas is the better team. And due to goaltending I don’t think the Sharks go very far. The bigger shame is that Vegas built themselves to win now, win next year, and maybe squeeze two more years out of it. Max Pacioretty already seems to be slowing just a bit. Mark Stone is still in his prime and will be for another three years. Ditto for Jonathan Marchessault. Paul Stastny is already over-reaching. How long does M-A Fleury have? I just feel like Vegas has three very strong shots at a Cup before they get downgraded to ‘modest shots at the Cup’ and one of those strong shots just got burned away.
Then again…taking advantage of the other 30 teams leading up to the Seattle expansion draft could simply re-inject life into the Golden Knights and extend their window…
I will say this – I’m very excited to see Mark Stone take the next step to elite-hood next season. What he did in the playoffs was ridiculous and if he can stay healthy (always a question mark with him), he will drag the aforementioned Pacioretty and Stastny along with him. Based on the nutty scoring this season, we can’t rule out Mark Stone getting 100 points. If he does that, what does it mean for Patio-ready and Stastny? I’m thinking Max can set career highs, something above 80. And given that Stastny can’t possibly play more than 65 games we’d have to cap him at still a very solid 65. Stone’s playoff performance has given the impression that this could be the next MacKinnon – Landeskog – Rantanen line. Just on this tantalizing possibility I would be making inquiries as to Pacioretty’s availability.
Funny thing is, the Capitals were a better team this year than they were when they won the Cup. Last year they won purely on heart and very good goaltending. This year, the goaltending wasn’t as good. And Alex Ovechkin aside (he still brought it big time), the heart wasn’t quite there as much. But Brett Connolly has emerged and Jakub Vrana has emerged. I feel like Connolly could be a regular 50-point player. This wasn’t a fluke the way Lars Eller’s was a fluke in 2017-18. And Vrana is just getting started. But both Connolly (two points) and Vrana (zero points) didn’t step up in the postseason and that lack of secondary scoring is what killed the Caps.
By the way, Ovechkin had 38 Hits in those seven games. That’s a 445-Hit full-season pace.
It’s a much tighter second round and things are interested in a different way because we don’t know what the outcome will be. I mean, we really don’t have a clue. If there are eight Cinderella teams (well, seven if you take out Boston), how can we decide if one Cinderella team is better than the one they play against?
Petr Mrazek, who posted a 0.943 SV% in the final quarter (11 games) and has two shutouts in these playoffs, was just getting himself back into the “Hey! I’m a starter!” conversation again, when he suffered an injury Sunday. Here was the play:
Mrazek was roughed up in his first two games of the playoffs (seven goals on 50 shots) and had another bad one in Game 5 against Washington. But in his other six games he’s been great. Not yet enough to earn him a starting-goalie contract, but maybe he could have gotten there had he not been injured. He is considered day to day.
I don’t think this news impacts the Hurricanes’ chances. Their success is team-based and coaching based, not goalie-based. Curtis McElhinney will fill in just as well and if he gets hurt – Alex Nedeljkovic would probably pull a Binnington.
McElhinney, by the way, became the third-oldest goaltender in NHL history (35) to earn his first postseason win.
Other injury updates from beatwriter Luke DeCock – Saku Maenalanen is out for two weeks (hand), and Trevor van Riemsdyk is out indefinitely, which I hear is going to be longer term. Maenalanen was just filling in for Micheal Ferland, who could be back soon anyway. The TVR injury just puts Haydn Fleury back into the lineup.
Warren Foegele does it again. He scored his fifth of the playoffs and that goal got things going to start the third. Nino Niederreiter tallied 48 seconds later and those two goals were all Carolina needed. Foegele had earned himself some nice ice time during his hot streak, and ironically after two games without a point he was cut back down to 12:28 – and that’s when he scores again.
Brent Burns had three more points on Sunday giving him seven points in his last two playoff games. But the Sharks lost and the series is deadlocked. Joe Pavelski is still sitting out after that controversial play late in the last game against Vegas.
San Jose’s line combos last night without Pavelski:
Colorado’s line combos:
Both MacKinnon and Rantanen are enjoying six-game points streaks. The last Avs player to do this in the postseason was back in 2004 when Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg did it.
I didn’t catch this until Sunday, but I guess on Friday Jannik Hansen announced his retirement from hockey at the age of 33. His best season was in 2012-13 at 27 years old when he tallied 28 points in 47 games, a 49-point pace. His career high was 39 points. I know a few poolies who hung onto him for several years, hoping for even a 50-point player that never arrived.
3. Brent Burns
5. Patrick Kane
I am against a player on a team far out of the playoffs all season long getting a nod. I have Kane there, but lower down, because honestly the Blackhawks had a bit of a sniff of it as late as March 16. But then they went 4-4-1 down the stretch and fell out. As for the reasoning behind the other players, I just mentally take them out of the lineup and decide how catastrophic that would have been. Who would be your picks?
I am targeting May 1 for the opening of the presale for the Fantasy Prospects Report (and the packs, both Ultimate and Keeper). The 13th annual FPR will be out on June 1, as it has been every year since 2007. Thank you for your support!
This is an awesome goal that didn’t count. And something to think about: if a team was under pressure and wanted to stop play, apparently if a player from the opposition kicks it not in the direction of the net at all – just deflect it in your own net and play will stop and the goal won’t count. Rule definitely needs better wording/adjusting. “Kicking motion” should also be accompanied by “the puck was going towards the net”. Because if it’s not going towards the net and just ricochets off of something and goes in, it should be a goal.
See you next Monday.
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