It’s May, which not only means we’re into the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs semifinal round, but it is also my busiest time of year with the annual pre-NHL draft heavy lifting. Between my obligations to Red Line Report and New England Hockey Journal, haven’t had much time for the blog of late, but things will slow down considerably in the next week-10 days.
One bit of cool news- Red Line will be the NHL Network’s official content provider for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, so we’re excited to bring you, the fans some unique insights on many of the players as they get drafted. Kyle Woodlief and I will be working on profiles of players, so I encourage you to tune into NHLN’s draft broadcasts on Friday night and Saturday.
Now, as for the NHL postseason…
I went against my gut and picked against the St. Louis Blues in one of my playoff brackets and regretting that. They’re going to win the Stanley Cup, and I should have known better. There are no flaws on that team with top-to-bottom roster depth. They have elite skill from Vladimir Tarasenko, plus quality veterans like David Backes and Alex Steen. Their blue line is set with a great 1-2 punch of Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, plus huge and talented newcomer Colton Parayko looks like he’ll step in to fill the void when Shattenkirk likely becomes a cap casualty. In net, Brian Elliott is playing the best hockey of his career, and Jake Allen is the future of that club. Full marks to GM Doug Armstrong and his staff for putting a contender together…he really wanted to add Loui Eriksson to the mix but couldn’t make the cap numbers work enough to pursue the kind of trade Boston wanted, but make no mistake- this roster is good enough to go all the way, and they will.
Here’s a pet peeve of mine, and I’m sure to get some disagreement on it, but here goes nonetheless…
I keep seeing people out there on Twitter and elsewhere talking about how Joe Thornton “deserves” a Stanley Cup. Let me be clear here:
No. He. Doesn’t!
No one “deserves” anything in the NHL- you have to earn it. I felt the same way when Ray Bourque was playing for the Colorado Avalanche. I was absolutely happy when Bourque skated off into the sunset with his only NHL championship, but if he “deserved” to go out that way, he and his team earned that right after 16 wins and a come-from-behind effort against the Devils. Life is hard and often unfair- good people can work for something and not achieve it but I refuse to buy into the theory that just by playing a long and successful career, you “deserve” a championship. Championships are special and winning them not only takes a lot of skill and hard work, but a good amount of luck, too.
If Thornton and (Patrick Marleau) his Sharks win the Cup this year, so be it- it will have been earned. But pardon me for not jumping on the sentimentality train here…I don’t think the Sharks are good enough. They’ve never been able to win the big game and get over the hump. Wanting someone to win and them being good enough to do so are two different things. We can be happy for him if he succeeds, but you’ll never, ever see me pulling for a player to go all the way because he “deserves” it. I’ll pull for someone because I want him to win or because I think his team is good enough to be a champion.
It’s that simple.
(But while I’m on the subject of the Sharks- how about that Joe Pavelski, eh? Talk about a winner! Joe Playoffski is at it again and he looks like a man on mission, so if there is one guy who aims to make a difference vs the Blues in the Western Conference final, it’s him. (And for the record- snagging Pavelski late in the storied 2003 draft is one of Sharks chief scout and good guy Tim Burke’s finest moments.)
Hat’s off to the Tampa Bay Lightning. They took Game 1 against Pittsburgh of the Eastern Conference final after losing yet another key player.
That team has weathered injuries that would cripple just about anyone else, but like the Blues, the ‘Bolts are built to win it all after falling to the Chicago Blackhawks a year ago in the SCF final series.
Who would have thought that without Steven Stamkos, they would be where they are- up 1-0 over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final? With three more wins, Tampa has a chance to do what they could’t last year but the hits keep coming- Ben Bishop left Game 1 injured in an eerie parallel to last year’s playoffs. Depending on how much time Bishop misses, I wouldn’t bet against his backup, Andrei Vasilevskiy…the 19th overall pick in 2012 could be like another upstart young goalie turning heads in this year’s postseason (more on him later). He came in a year ago and performed well for Bishop, and he could do it again.
This club is talented, deep and experienced- don’t sleep on them.
I’ll admit it- I’m glad to see Mike Sullivan doing well with Pittsburgh. The Marshfield native and former BU star turned NHLer with multiple teams including the Bruins was a good coach for the B’s who was a victim of bad timing and a lack of vision by Boston ownership coming out of the lockout. As you may recall, he was behind the bench for Patrice Bergeron’s rookie season, recognizing the talent and character of Boston’s current franchise face even at 18.
Team owner Jeremy Jacobs allegedly issued instructions to then-GM Mike O’Connell not to sign any of the team’s unrestricted free agents entering the lockout season, anticipating the market to be flooded with veteran players when certain teams would have to become cap compliant. That meant that key guys like Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston and Michael Nylander were allowed to walk with no talent coming in that summer. Contracts tolling for the non-hockey year of 2004-05 resulted in the loss of 31-year-old D Sergei Gonchar to free agency, which cost them Shaone Morrisonn, their 2004 1st-round pick (Jeff Schultz) and 2004 2nd-rounder (Mikhail Yunkov) for what a rental player. Shades of Al Iafrate for Joe Juneau all over again- maybe one day the B’s will be able to fleece the Capitals like that.
Mr. Jacobs apparently didn’t see the salary rollback coming, so the deep talent pool never came to fruition and the B’s were caught holding the bag, missing out on prime FA targets in 2005. Sullivan paid the price, as the uninspired Bruins crashed in 2005-06, setting the stage for the major house cleaning that brought on the Peter Chiarelli era.
The Penguins were underachievers for much of the year until Sullivan stepped in and the players began firing on all cylinders. It’s similar to Dan Bylsma’s arrival in 2009. What’s most interesting is watching Matt Murray seize the starting job in net after Marc-Andre Fleury was lost to a concussion. Fleury’s healthy again, but watching from the bench.
Sullivan is a smart guy who was a grinding forward- he understands the game and quite frankly- I’m trying to figure out what took so long for him to get another NHL head coaching job. Looks like it was worth the wait.
It sure is looking like the Bruins will be able to draft a pretty good player at 14, assuming they hold onto the pick. It is entirely possible that in order for GM Don Sweeney to acquire the kind of young, cost-controlled NHL defenseman who can help stabilize and rebuild the Boston blue line, he’ll have to give that selection up. I can just sense the wailing and gnashing of teeth if that happens.
You can’t have it both ways, though- fans who want an upgrade on defense must be willing to sacrifice prime assets. San Jose beating Nashville in the second round took what would have been the 18th overall pick and dropped it to anywhere from 27-30 depending on how much further they go. That hurts, but the value of that pick as a trade chip just went down considerably.
The way the Bruins will look at it is this: if they can get a proven commodity at a position of critical need, they’ll give up that top-15 selection, which may or may not ever pan out and roll the dice with San Jose’s pick at the bottom of the 1st round. After a 10-selection 2015 draft, stockpiling draft choices is less important right now than hitting on the picks they do have. In the end, it all comes back to the old Sam Pollock-ism: Whichever team gets the best player, wins the trade. Calgary won when Boston dealt them Dougie Hamilton, with a wait-and-see caveat attached to Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon. Giving up a chance at what should be a nice player at 14 is the price you pay in the grand scheme of things to swallow hard and do what is right for the hockey club in order to make it better now.
So, while draftniks stand to be disappointed, I’d be surprised as it stands on May 16 if the Bruins end up making both selections in Buffalo. However, it takes two to tango for any trade to happen, and Sweeney has already shown that if he can’t get the right value, he’s willing to do the unpopular thing if he feels it’s best for his team.
I guess we shall see.