Posts in NHL
The Sports World is in the Middle of this Weird Period where it Kinda Sucks
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We’ve entered the lull in the sports calendar where the NFL has given way to spring training and the NBA is in full swing, quickly approaching its always-extravagant All-Star Game this weekend in Charlotte. This should be one of the most exciting times of the year - fresh off a thrilling Super Bowl, the anticipation of spring baseball and new faces on new ballclubs giving way to a captivating playoff race that only The League can provide.

Instead, the Big Game was a flop, highlighted by a sixth championship ring for that guy and that coach and that team everyone is tired of, 100 of Baseball’s biggest free agents remain unsigned, and while the NBA is in the midst of its most interesting Eastern Conference playoff race in almost a decade, the drama off the court has been much better water cooler talk than the action on it.

Hockey may be good, but unless the Blackhawks are going to the playoffs I wouldn’t know.

The Super Bowl was an anomaly. After the highest scoring season in NFL history, fans expected a high-octane match-up with the Rams, one of the league’s best attacks who delivered an all-timer against the Chiefs back in November, and the Patriots, with the greatest player and coach in history gunning for history. What we got was a defensive struggle - both on the field and on the eyes. No one cared if Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck won their record SIXTH Super Bowl together; the game was a slog lacking an indelible moment that gave people a reason to care the next morning. By the time the combine rolls around at the end of the month, the game will almost entirely have been forgotten, and it’s onto next season.

The MLB is in year two of a free agent Cold War. As pitchers and catchers report for spring training this week, baseball’s biggest stars are still looking for homes. It was peculiar a year ago when guys like JD Martinez and Yu Darvish were still unsigned as camp began, even moreso when former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta went until the middle of March before inking a deal believed to be less than his market value.

The excuse back then? Front offices were waiting until the great free agent class of 2018-19 to make a run at the game’s biggest superstars - former MVP Bryce Harper, and star shortstop Manny Machado, with the latter not even costing team’s draft compensation if they signed him.

We’re entering mid-February, and the most noise we’ve heard about either has been via negotiations through the media.

But it’s not just Harper and Machado caught up in the free agent freeze. Closer Craig Kimbrel, former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, and dozens of other players won’t be reporting to camp on time. The reasons why their future’s are stuck in limbo this late into the game vary, but what was one of the most exciting periods of the year in baseball has become back page news.

While baseball’s hot stove has cooled off, the drama in the NBA has reached a fever pitch. Clubs are building superteams in an attempt to knock the ultimate superteam - the Golden State Warriors - and the ones not competing are clearing cap space for the biggest fish in this summer’s free agency. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the two biggest sharks in the water, are battling their frustration in the media as rumors swirl about their plans to team up with the New York Knicks next year, all while their current teams are on a collision course for the NBA Finals.

There’s also the Lakers: the team that lives and dies by drama. It’s SHOWTIME! HOLLYWOOD! You can’t go a season in LA without drama. Insert the best player in the world and the biggest mover and shaker in sports, and you have a recipe for drama even Shakespeare couldn’t write.

First, LeBron James signs in LA, aiming to become a media and sports mogul and the NBA’s first billionaire. Then, Anthony Davis signs with Klutch Sports, the agency founded by Bron’s good friend Rich Paul. When Paul, on Davis’ behalf, relayed A.D.’s intention to leave the New Orleans Pelicans, all eyes immediately turned to the Lakers, the definitely-but-won’t-be-penalized act of collusion on Klutch Sports’ and the Lakers’ behalf, and whether or not Pelicans GM Dell Demps was really dumb enough to go through with the trade.

Turns out he wasn’t, and not only did the ensuing drama put a stain on Lakers legend Magic Johnson’s record, it may have caused a bigger rift between LeBron, coach Luke Walton and his young teammates openly involved in trade rumors.

All this and we haven’t talked about a single game yet this season.

One team is so far and away ahead of the pack that every season has become a formality to us as fans. It doesn’t matter what the other 29 teams in the league do, no one is stopping Golden State. We’ve given up hope that any team currently constructed - not MVP Harden and the Rockets, or the stacked Celtics, or Kawhi and the Raptors, or the newly-built Sixers core - has a chance of standing up against the Warriors dynasty. The games, and the season, are irrelevant.

As we get closer to March, the universe will get a little more interesting. The first Duke-Carolina game of the year is just nine days away, and in the blink of an eye we’ll be locked into Championship Week and March Madness games on television. The NFL calendar will turn. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, eventually, and day baseball will return. The drama in the Association will take a backseat to the Playoffs; whether or not the games are good or the outcome is predictable is up in the air.

But right now? Sports kinda sucks, and I’m dying for that feeling to change.

Random Acts of Podcast EP 193: The Return of Jalen Ramsey

This week on RAOP Devin & Amp start off with a prayer for the potential Teanna Trump & Brittany Renner porn, we chop it about cheating on barbers, dating cam girls, Metro Boomin's legacy and a ton more other topics. Also we answer emails from the listeners. Remember to send in your listener questions, #TheyNeedTheirAssBeat or #RealNiggaOfTheWeek submissions, email us at MAIL@RAOPodcast.com or call 424-260-RAOP to leave a voicemail.

Follow Devin: @DevinDavinci
Follow Amp: @Ampaveli

Alex Ovechkin finally brings home Lord Stanley's Cup
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After 43 years, the Washington Captials are finally Stanley Cup champions, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in 5 games to capture their first Stanley Cup.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Caps were led by their big 3 forwards in Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, the top three point scorers in the playoffs this year. Kuznetsov led the playoffs in points with 32 and Ovechkin led all players with 15 goals. Goaltender Braden Holtby allowed just 8 goals in the last four games after letting in 6 goals in game 1. He took off after being benched for the first two games of the playoffs and carried his solid form throughout the playoffs.

It wasn’t just the high-end players who performed for the Capitals. Role players like Devante Smith-Pelly and Lars Eller may have been further down the depth chart but they each had strong playoff performances with 7 goals each, including the game-tying goal in game 5 by Smith-Pelly and the game winning goal by Eller.

The Golden Knights are one of the greatest stories in the history of the NHL and one of the best in sports history. This loss will not detract from their historic season in any way and fans everywhere should applaud this group of players for making it so far.

Reilly Smith was the Knights’ top scorer with 6 points this round while Tomas Nosek pitched in with 3 goals in the series. Two big disappointments for the team were top line forwards William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, who combined for just 1 goal and 5 points in the series. The biggest disappointment, however, came from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. When you look at the entire playoffs, you will see how truly dominant Fleury was for Vegas, but the Final was a different story though as his save percentage was below .900 for every single game against Washington. He came crashing down to Earth hard, making it virtually impossible for Vegas to combat the hot form the Capitals were in.

 (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

 (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals have dealt with a lot of heartbreak the past dozen years. When you have a generational superstar like Alexander Ovechkin leading your team, the sky is the limit. Unfortunately, as all sports fans know, the playoffs are unpredictable and sometimes luck just isn’t on your side. The Capitals didn't need any luck this year; they just worked harder than everyone else and their elite skill made them almost unstoppable.

That concludes another NHL season filled with drama, skill and some major history. It will be hard to beat this year, but when it comes to sports, anything is possible. Just ask Vegas. And Conn Smythe winner Alexander Ovechkin.

Ball Don't Lie ep 18 - Same Old, Same Old
Stanley Cup Playoffs conference final preview
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals
Season Series: 2-1 TB

The Washington Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning as two of the most talented lineups face off. The Capitals finally conquered their demons in the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 6-game series win last round. Their first round started horribly with two home losses but a switch to Braden Holtby was a huge change and they haven’t looked back since. The Tampa Bay Lightning have rolled through the first two rounds by beating the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in 5 games each. The games haven’t all been one-sided blowouts but their playoffs have started just like their season did as they were dominant.

Alex Ovechkin will look to make the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in his illustrious career and has led this team through two tough opponents with 8 goals and 15 points. John Carlson leads all players with 10 powerplay points in the playoffs. The Lightning offense is very balanced and led by their two superstars in Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. The surprise for them has been Brayden Point with 10 points in 10 games for the team while Andrei Vasilevskiy has been lights out at home for the team.

The Capitals and Lightning both display elite powerplay units and the team who lacks discipline may be on the fast track to an early exit. Washington has been known to disappoint and fall apart with this core but after finally beating the Penguins, this could mean big things for the team. That being said, the Lightning have such a strong balance with their team and a return to their early season form may make them unstoppable.

(TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

(TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Winnipeg Jets vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Season series: 2-1 VGK

The Winnipeg Jets take on the Vegas Golden Knights in a matchup nobody would’ve predicted to happen here at the conference finals. The Jets dismantled the Minnesota Wild before engaging in a grueling 7-game series against the Nashville Predators. The Knights completely shut down the LA Kings in the first round before taking down the Sharks in 6-games.

The Knights top line guided them in this series with Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith combining for 25 points in round 2. Marc-Andre Fleury continued his stellar play with 2 more shutouts against the Sharks as his save percentage is an astounding .951 with a 1.53 Goals Against Average.

The Winnipeg Jets are the best Canadian team since the 2011 Vancouver Canucks and will also look to climb into the Finals. Mark Scheifele leads the league in goals in these playoffs with 7 more this round. Blake Wheeler led the league in assists in round 2 with 9 helpers while Dustin Byfuglien leads all defensemen with 13 points in these playoffs. Connor Hellebuyck has provided very strong goaltending for the team and has been proven to have the clutch gene.

The battle between the Jets high end powerplay and the Golden Knights elite penalty kill will be an interesting battle. Both these teams have never been here before so the nerves will be hitting both sides hard, it will be interesting to see which group of experienced players pull ahead. Fleury could use his ring-winning ways to lead the charge for the Vegas along with their amazing top line. Or the Jets could build off of solid goaltending to boast their high-powered offense that overwhelms the resilient Vegas squad.

What 2 Watch: Thursday May 10th

We don't have any basketball until Sunday. What the fuck am I gonna do with my life for the next three days?

While I try and maneuver my way through this thing called 'Life without the NBA', there's some pretty high stakes games on tonight, including a Game 7 in the NHL, a possible sweep in the Bronx, and Tiger and Phil teeing off at TPC. Enjoy your Thursday!


Boston Red Sox v. New York Yankees
7pm EST, MLB Network, MLB.TV, MLB At Bat app

The Evil Empire is back on top. The Yankees have won 17 of 18 and go for the sweep of the Red Sox tonight in the Bronx. It's been late hits from Aaron Judge in game one and Brett Gardner last night that have given the Yanks the edge. Now CC Sabathia goes for win #240 and a series sweep of their rivals.


(John Woods/The Canadian Press)

(John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg Jets v. Nashville Predators, Western Conference Semifinal Game 7
8pm EST, NBCSN, NBC Sports App

Thanks to an unusual playoff alignment in the NHL, the two best teams in the Western Conference are playing in the semis. The Jets are trying to make their first Western Conference Final since Winnipeg got their hockey team back a few years ago. The Preds have unfinished business after losing in the Stanley Cup Final last summer, and a Game 7 L at home would crush a lot of spirits in Smashville. Look out for Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien, Nashville's PK Subban and Filip Forsberg in this one.


Minnesota Twins v. Los Angeles Angels
10pm EST, FS1, Fox Sports GO, MLB.TV, MLB At Bat app

The Twins take a five-game winning streak into Anaheim to face the Orange County Angels. Jose Berrios (3-3, 3.98 ERA) meets Mike Trout for the very first time as Minnesota looks to break even with the Indians in the AL Central. Garrett Richards (4-1, 3.93 ERA) is red hot coming off of his best outing of the season against Seattle last week.


San Francisco Giants v. Philadelphia Phillies
1pm EST, Facebook

The Phillies go for the four-game sweep in this matinee affair. It would be their fourth of the season, their third at home where they're 14-5. Two teams over .500 and you can watch them while you dodge your family's desperate attempts to get your attention. Fun fun fun!


The Players Championship
1:52pm EST, Golf Channel, ESPN+

TPC at Sawgrass is the biggest non-major of the PGA Tour season, and while golf usually isn't appointment TV for me, it is when Tiger Woods is playing. You factor in he's teeing off with Phil Mickelson? Some mid-afternoon golf just turned into really good background noise for ya boy.


West Ham United v. Manchester United
2:45pm, NBCSN, NBC Sports App

Man U heads to East London in need of a point to secure the second spot in the Premier League table. There awaits former gaffer David Moyes, who got sacked 10 months into his stay at Old Trafford in 2014. Current Man U manager Jose Mourinho has a lot to figure out about his lineup before the summer transfer window opens.

Stanley Cup Playoffs roundup

We are roughly halfway through the second round of the NHL Playoffs and it sure looks good already. I have said before that all these matchups will provide entertaining hockey and it has delivered so far.

Three series are three games into the series while one is at two games. Every team remaining has at least one win this round so no sweeps. Every series started 1-1 so the teams’ abilities to win on the road will be tested in these playoffs and is incredibly important for these playoffs.

(Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

(Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins are tied up at 1-1 in the series. Boston came out firing in game 1 to stun the Lightning who managed to rally back for the game 2 win. The Bruins top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak have been outstanding so far combining for 15 points in just 2 games! The Lightning really started slowly but they bounced back in game 2 led by young playmaker Brayden Point who had a goal and 3 assists to even the series. Boston will be very pleased to split the opening 2 road games, especially after a tough 7 game series. However, Tampa Bay is a very dangerous team and they can win in Boston so this series could go the distance.

(AP Photo / Nic Wass)

(AP Photo / Nic Wass)

The Washington Capitals just pulled ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins with a crucial win tonight in Pittsburgh. This series was split in Washington but the Capitals used that home loss as fuel to silence the home crowd in game 3 in a thrilling back-and-forth affair. Jake Guentzel has continued his hot play with 6 more points already this series with Sidney Crosby pitching in 5. Alex Ovechkin is leading the way for the Capitals with 3 goals and 2 assists in the first 3 games. The Penguins should treat game 4 as a must win as they cannot afford to go down 3-1 in the series with the capitals having two chances to win it at home. Washington is in a good position right now but you can never count out Pittsburgh.

(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

The Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators are in the midst of a very high scoring series. They have combined for 25 goals so far in the series and it doesn’t look like they will be slowing down. The Jets were able to steal a road win in Nashville and have won the first game on their home turf. Mark Scheifele leads the league in points this round with 7 including a league-high 4 goals in the series. Blake Wheeler also has 6 points while Dustin Byfuglien leads all defensemen with 5 points. The Preds star forward Filip Forsberg has 5 points while star defenseman PK Subban has 4 points. Pekka Rinne has been very shaky for the Preds and if can’t pull it together than this might be it for them. The Jets are doing very well but their inexperience could be the cause of a collapse this round so they will need to stay focused.

(Benjamin Hager / Las Vegas Review Journal)

(Benjamin Hager / Las Vegas Review Journal)

The Vegas Golden Knights are in a heated battle with the San Jose Sharks this round. This series for Vegas involves over twice as many goals per game as their first round, as there were 10 total goals in 4 games last round while this round the teams have combined for 21. The top line of Karlsson, Marchessault and Smith have been lights out combining for 19 points in 3 games. Brent Burns leads the Sharks with 4 points while Logan Couture also has a couple of goals. The discipline issues and hatred in this series are on full display as these teams have contributed 95 penalty minutes in the first 3 games. If these penalties continue, the team with the best special teams units will succeed. The contrast of San Jose’s lengthy playoff experience vs. Vegas being an expansion team is an interesting consideration for the outcome of the series.

Stanley Cup Playoff round two preview

The first round of the NHL Playoffs is complete. To be honest, this wasn’t the best first round I have seen. Some powerhouses rolled through without much trouble but there were still some surprises, including a game 7. The second round has even more intriguing matchups.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins

Season Series: 3-1 Boston

(Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) 

(Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) 

The Tampa Bay Lightning will take on the Boston Bruins in the 2nd round. The Lightning rolled through the Devils while the Bruins struggled against the Leafs but still won the series.

The Lightning took care of the New Jersey Devils in 5 games. Despite a strong effort by the Devils led by Taylor Hall putting the team on his back, they were just unable to win enough against this loaded Tampa Bay team. A balanced attack from their group led by star Nikita Kucherov has propelled them to the next round.

The Boston Bruins took the Toronto Maple Leafs to 7 games and came home victorious. Both teams were victimized by poor goaltending but explosive offenses as evidenced by the 6-4 scoreline in game 7. David Pastrnak stood out as he is now tied for the league lead in playoff points with 13. Mitch Marner led the Leafs with 8 points but their star forward Auston Matthews had just 2 points in 7 games and their team just fell apart in game 7 after taking the lead twice.

The Bruins have arguably the best line in hockey and will definitely need them and the rest of the team to show up and compete with the Lightning juggernaut. Tampa Bay has multiple dangerous forward lines with stars Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Added to thatare strong defensemen like Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh and a great goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Bruins are no slouch however and you can never count them out based on their history in the playoffs as their depth always shines through when it matters most. That being said, the total firepower and depth of talent with Tampa Bay will likely lead them to the conference finals.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Season Series: 2-2

Another year, another playoff series between Washington and Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby is 38-26 all time against fellow superstar Alex Ovechkin and they both will look to carry the momentum from their first-round victories.

The Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers in a weird series. The lowest margin of victory in the first 4 games was 4 goals. The Flyers looked lifeless but stole game 5 on the road before falling in game 6 to a late collapse. Until Philly establishes a long-term solution to goaltending, their talented team will continue to fail. The Penguins scored 28 goals in 6 games. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel are tied for the lead in playoff points with 13 in this round.

The Capitals almost blew it this round against the Columbus Blue Jackets but won 4 straight to win the series. It took a solid, all around effort from Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones, and of course Sergei Bobrovsky for the Blue Jackets to win the first two games of the series in Washington. However, that slipped away as the Capitals, led by Alex Ovechkin, took over the series and won it largely due to their deadly powerplay. Braden Holtby probably should’ve started this series for the Caps but he still came in for game 3 and backstopped the team to the next round.

This is a true battle of special teams with the Capitals having the best powerplay in the playoffs and Penguins having the best powerplay this season. The injury of Evgeni Malkin could be potentially devastating to Pittsburgh if he misses multiple games, but deadline acquisition Derrick Brassard could step up and take over that role as he has been very good for the team thus far. The Penguins certainly have history on their side when it comes to this matchup, but the Capitals can only fall apart so many times in the playoffs before they finally burst through their invisible barrier. That time could be now…

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images North America)

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images North America)

Winnipeg Jets vs. Nashville Predators

Season Series: 2-2

This is the battle of the two best teams in the league this season. The Jets and Predators each have been led by a balanced attack, stable defense and strong goaltending this year.

The Predators certainly got a tougher fight than most would’ve seen from the Colorado
Avalanche. This series seemed the most likely for a sweep as Nashville had the best record in the league while Colorado had the fewest points for a playoff team. Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon did what they could but the class of the West couldn’t be stopped. Unexpectedly, its been Colton Sissons and Austin Watson leading the Preds in points so far, the team is getting contributions from everyone.

The Jets rolled through the Minnesota Wild in 5 games. The Jets looked like the most dangerous team in the first round with a balanced attack and strong goaltending from Connor
Hellebuyck. The Wild dealt with injuries throughout the series and their top defenseman Ryan Suter was already out for the playoffs. Mark Scheifele potted 4 goals while Dustin Byfuglien had 5 assists for the Jets.

A crucial factor in the Jets success has been the addition of Paul Stastny has surpassed expectations as he solidifies the line with young stars Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. The Predators have pushed through led by their defense core many consider as the best in the league featuring PK Subban (Norris Trophy finalist). Austin Waston may have led the team in PIMs this season but now he leads them in points after the first round. This is truly a powerful battle and while making a prediction is difficult, the Jets seem to have the stronger goaltending that will give them the edge in this series.

(Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

Vegas Golden Knights vs. San Jose Sharks

Season Series: 3-1 VGK

The wild and crazy season for Vegas takes its next stop in San Jose. Both these teams advanced with sweeps but still don’t get respect from the league as Cup contenders.

The Knights had one of the tightest sweeps ever as they beat the LA Kings. The Knights won each game by 1 goal and held the Kings to just 3 goals in the 4 games. The Cinderella story keeps on making history, cementing their status as the best expansion team in the history of sports. The Kings had no answer even with Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty coming off career years. Marc-Andre Fleury has been nothing short of outstanding and will look to carry forward this level to the next round.

The Sharks beat the Anaheim Ducks in what may have been the most surprising series. The Sharks and Ducks were fairly even teams so not a huge upset but not many could have foreseen a
sweep. The Ducks core is getting real old and their lack of offensive firepower hurt them this year.
Martin Jones was between the pipes for San Jose and only gave up 4 goals in 4 games to lock in the Sharks advancement.

The Knights continue to prove people wrong and fans everywhere are starting to take notice of their new stars Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith. The Sharks are another one of those teams always in the playoffs but can never win that Stanley Cup. This core is higher up in age but this has been supplemented with fresh and young talent. Martin Jones has been solid between the pipes along with Fleury bringing his highly successful experience to lead the charge of the Knights. This does seem like a tough matchup for Vegas but their style of play makes them a slight favourite here, never take them lightly.

Stanley Cup Playoff preview

Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Season series: 3-1 WSH

Russell LaBounty/USA Today Sports

Russell LaBounty/USA Today Sports

These two teams offer high powered offenses with strong bluelines to match. Alexander Ovechkin led the league in goals this year with 49, defying the age curve yet again. Fellow Russian star Artemi Panarin of the Blue Jackets has 30 points since the beginning of March which is the 2nd highest total in the league in that time. John Carlson leads the league in points by a defenseman with 68 for Washington. An X factor for Columbus is Thomas Vanek who has put up 15 points in 19 games since being traded from Vancouver. Capitals goaltending situation has become unexpectedly cloudy recently. Since the new year, starter Braden Holtby has a save percentage under .900 while backup Philipp Grubauer has the 2nd best save percentage and goals against average in the league in that same time.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Season series: 4-0 PIT

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Fans will love this matchup of the classic Pennsylvania showdown. These rivals will play with some extra motivation to beat their cross-state rivals. The Penguins seem to be the favourite with superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. However, Claude Giroux has taken a step forward and put up a 100-point season to guide Philly to this strong finish. The biggest concern for both teams is goaltending. The Flyers have had 4 different starting goalies make over 10 starts since January 1st.  The Penguins have also had multiple goalies start in the last half of the season. Matt Murray is the #1 for Pittsburgh but he just needs to stay healthy. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Petr Mrazek has taken over the crease since being traded and will face a tough test with the Penguins in the first round.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Season series: 3-0 NJ

Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Tampa Bay was everyone’s favourite to come out of the east since the beginning of the season and they started off hot to back that up too. The New Jersey Devils have come a long way since their 27th place finish last year and winning the draft lottery. Tampa Bay has a loaded roster. Kucherov is an MVP candidate, Hedman a Norris Trophy candidate and Vasilevskiy was a Vezina favourite. However, that is the reason people have lost confidence in the Lightning as Vasilevskiy’s play has dropped off significantly. The Devils don’t have the firepower of Tampa, but they possess a strong MVP candidate in Taylor Hall who has led this young, unproven, and hungry team into the playoffs. Their starting goalie for the past 5 seasons, Cory Schneider, has lost his job from poor play. Keith Kinkaid is now the starter and has proven to be a steady presence between the pipes.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Season series: 3-1 TOR

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

This is a classic original 6 matchup many traditional fans will enjoy. The Leafs have won 7 of their last 8 meetings against Boston but they lost to Boston in the 2013 playoffs in a thrilling 7 game series. The Bruins are led by arguably the strongest line in hockey of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand (each one has 30 goals this year). The Toronto Maple Leafs are on the upswing of their rebuild reaping the benefits of fast and skilled young players. Mitch Marner had a slow start to the season but excelled in the 2nd half of the season and is the points leader for the club. Frederik Andersen has faced the most shots in the league despite some missed games due to injury. It will be interesting to see if he can shoulder the load for these playoffs. Both teams have a top 5 powerplay in the league but Boston also has the 3rd best penalty kill.

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Los Angeles Kings
Season series: 2-2

Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

The hockey surprise of the decade has to be the rise of the Vegas Golden Knights to not only make the playoffs, but win the Pacific division in their first year in the league. They take on a Kings team that is very well experienced in playoff hockey. They won their Stanley Cup in 2012 as the 8th seed in the west so fans aren’t going to rule them out anytime soon. The 2012 throwback feelings also stem from the play of their core players from that Cup winning team. AnzeKopitar and Dustin Brown set career highs in goals, assists, and points. Drew Doughty also broke his career highs in assists and points. For Vegas, they have turned all these expansion players into a 100-point team. William Karlsson had the most unexpected season with his 43-goal season. Marc-Andre Fleury will look to add to his ring total as the goalie leads the team into the playoffs in the franchise’s first year of existence.

Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks
Season series: 3-1 SJ

John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ducks and the Sharks are big, physical rivals which should mean an enjoyable series for hockey fans. Anaheim won their last 5 games of the season to get into the playoffs and slide ahead of the Sharks for the important home ice advantage. These two teams don’t necessarily have anything stand out too much this season, they just have been consistently winning games through team efforts and they match up well in the playoffs. The Sharks core of Brent Burns, Logan Couture, and Joe Pavelskihave had solid years. The addition of Evander Kane has been important as he has 14 points in 17 games in San Jose. Anaheim has been led by their strong defense core along with the career year of Rickard Rakell and another strong year from Ryan Getzlaf. These teams will play a tough series and their strong defending and goaltending should keep this close.

Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche
Season series: 4-0 NSH

David Zalubowski/AP

David Zalubowski/AP

The Predators come into this matchup having won their last 10 games against Colorado. Nashville ended this year with the best record in the league with 117 points. Meanwhile, Colorado snuck into the playoffs beating the St. Louis Blues, which was basically an elimination game as the Blues missed the playoffs. According to most hockey people, the Preds have the best defense core in the league as 3 of their top 6 points leaders in the second half of the season are defensemen. For Colorado, not many predicted their rise from league worst 48-point season last year to almost double that total to 95 this year. Star forward Nathan MacKinnon is a solid MVP candidate who some see as the favourite for that award. Pekka Rinne has had a very strong year for Nashville and should warrant some Vezinaconsideration. This may look like a lopsided matchup to some fans, but this year has proven that you shouldn’t count out the Avalanche.

Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
Season series: 3-1 WPG

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Winnipeg Jets capped off a tremendous season with 5 straight wins. They are top 5 in the league in goals for and against. There are plenty of highlights this year for the Jets. Blake Wheeler finished in the top 10 for scoring with 91 points, Patrik Laine finished 2nd in goals with 44, and rookie Kyle Connor scored 31 goals. Matt Dumba had a career high 50 points for the Wild and needs to carry this level into the playoffs as they will be without Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon. Connor Hellebuyck had a terrific season as he hopes to take home the Vezina trophy for this season. Devan Dubnyk will look for more support from his team as he only allowed 10 goals in 5 games in last year’s playoffs, but still lost the series in 5 games. Winnipeg is firing on all cylinders but the veteran Minnesota lineup could provide some trouble.

NHLHarjan PaddaComment
NHL's MVP race heats up before season's end

We are officially one week away from the end of the season!

There are some good playoff battles to watch, especially in the west. However, the big battle on an individual level is for the Hart Trophy this year. The field is pretty wide open with several guys having a chance to win it without much argument. This will be a close vote so let’s look at the top 5 competitors.

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov was seemingly the favourite for MVP at the halfway point of the season. He was outproducing everyone for the top team in the league. Now, other players are starting to catch up who are also more important for their teams than Kucherov, who plays with several star players. That being said, he is still 2nd in the league in points and remains an elite force on the powerplay.

(Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins

It feels different to discuss an MVP candidate from the Penguins that isn’t Sidney Crosby (who has played every single game this year). But here we are and Malkindefinitely deserves this praise. He has been the driving force behind the Penguins clinching a playoff spot as they look to pull off the rare 3peat. Malkin is 3rd in the league in points while also racking up 60 points in the last 40 games.

(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers

This is the most controversial candidate. Connor McDavid is the best player in the league and had 40 goals and 100 points. He is #1 in the league in points, and top 5 in goals and assists. He dominates every time he is on the ice. He seems like the easy choice but to a lot of voters, he might not even make the ballot. Why? Because the Oilers currently are in 25th place in the league standings and some voters are opposed to players who can’t bring their team to the playoffs.

(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche

MacKinnon shot up MVP ballots with a scorching March of 22 points in 15 games to lead the charge for Colorado bringing them into the playoff picture. He is 5th in the league in points. Now, while the Avalanche still could miss the playoffs, there is no denying his impact on this team that wasn’t expected to go far this year.

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Taylor Hall – New Jersey Devils

Another leader from a team that wasn’t expected to do as well as they are doing, Taylor Hall has led this team to contention. He has had 25 goals and 28 assists in 38 games since the New Year and propelled the Devils ahead into a playoff spot right now.

There are some outside candidates like Rocket Richard favourite Alex Ovechkin as well as Philly forward Claude Giroux and the league leader in assists from Winnipeg Blake Wheeler. However, when it comes down to how I feel about the MVP, I have to go with McDavid. In my mind, the MVP should go to the player with the best season that means the most to his club. Connor McDavid contributes a higher percentage of his team’s production than any other player and has had a better season than anyone else. The poor management of a team shouldn’t impact the MVP caliber performance of a player, and Connor McDavid deserves it.

The tank wars are on in the NHL

There are two weeks left in the season and we have a good ole fashioned race to the bottom of the league standings. There are 5 teams within 5 points of each other engaging in a loser-takes-all battle for the top spot in the lottery. Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus top prospect as a game changing defenseman the draft hasn’t had for years.

(Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

Some may argue that tanking isn’t very effective given how the lottery can be cruel to the worst teams. Just last season, the top 3 spots went to teams outside the bottom 3 in the standings. The Devils won from the 5 spot, Flyers went to 2nd from the 13 spot and the Stars went to 3rd from 8. However, it is important to note that while tanking might not guarantee top spot in the 1st round, it does guarantee a higher position in the next rounds of the draft. While that distinction isn’t too large, it is still worth it for teams to gun for the bottom if they don’t have strong playoff chances. That being said let’s take a look at this year’s basement dwellers:

The Buffalo Sabres currently hold the worst record in the league. With 24 wins and 60 points in 76 games, their intentions are clear. Power forward Evander Kane was dealt at the deadline for futures which also helped the tank crusade. Jack Eichel is still playing at a high level along with Sam Reinhart and Ryan O’Reilly who also have 20 goal seasons. Rasmus Ristolainen took a step back offensively but is still a solid young defenseman. The issue is he seems to be their one young defenseman with potential, this makes their pursuit of Dahlin even more necessary.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks each have 63 points in 76 games. Currently, the Coyotes “win” the tiebreaker by having fewer regulation/overtime wins than the Canucks so they are in the 2nd spot for the lottery. The Coyotes are still rebuilding and several years into this new regime, they still don’t seem to be making much progress. Rookie forward Clayton Keller is a huge bright spot with 60 points in his first season poised to be a leader for this franchise for years to come. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a great defenseman in this league and is still only 26 years old. Now that they have a future leader in Keller, they should try to trade OEL at the height of his value and strengthen the rebuild. This move would be even better if they can get Dahlin in the draft to refresh that defense core with an elite prospect.

The Canucks meanwhile have a different story. They have refused to state that they are rebuilding with multiple questionable trades and signings that try to push the team from the league basement to the sunken place just outside the playoffs. Rookie Brock Boeser looks like another elite goal scorer for the league who has proven to be a star for the team. They have some solid young forwards in the pipeline but their defense core is abysmal. 2016 draft pick Olli Juolevi has been progressing steadily since the draft but still hasn’t made a jump to bea player with top pairing potential. Historically, the Canucks haven’t had many great, revered defensemen but Rasmus Dahlin could be that guy for a Canucks franchise that desperately needs him.

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Senators are the most surprising team in this bottom 5. They lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals last season. This year they find themselves on the opposite side of the league. Superstar Erik Karlsson had a rough start to the year and Mark Stone leads the team in points despite only playing 58 games. This team spiralled out of control this year and there were even rumours of the Senators trading Karlsson. Their prospects cupboard is fairly barrenwhich means this could signal the start of a full rebuild if Karlsson gets traded. This has truly been a disastrous season for Ottawa.

The Detroit Red Wings have the 5th worst record in the league with 65 points on the year in 76 games. The franchise’s streak of 25 straight years with playoff appearances ended last season. This year has proven to be another difficult one signalling the time for the Red Wings to rebuild. Young forwards Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha have shown signs of becoming quality players. The trade of Tomas Tatar has added to Detroit’s picks collection. If there’s one team to trust with scouting and development, it’s the Red Wings. But they certainly will have their work cut out for them.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The tank wars are even more interesting when you look at the remaining games because these 5 teams come from 2 divisions. Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit each have a game against each other while the Canucks and Coyotes play each other again this season. Needless to say, those games will be looked back on as crucial to the outcome of the draft lottery and determine the fate of these teams.

Stanley Cup Playoff chase hits the home stretch

The NHL season is winding down to a close next month and teams are roughly 10 games away from completing the season. Some teams are fighting for the chance to make the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Western Conference has some fierce competitions but we’ll start with the one wildcard battle in the East.

Here’s a little reminder of the playoff format: Ever since 2014, the Stanley Cup Playoffs haven’t been decided by just the eight best teams of the conference, but rather the best within each division. The top three teams from each of the four divisions automatically make it. However, the 4th seeds of each division could just be from each division of the 5th place team could cross over to the other if they have a better record than the 4th seed in that division.

(Photo by Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo by Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

The Eastern conference playoff picture is simple, there are just 9 teams vying for the 8 playoff spots. Tampa Bay and Boston are at the top of the Atlantic with Toronto safely in 3rd place. The Florida Panthers are 4th in the division and are currently outside of a playoff spot because the New Jersey Devils are ahead of them. The Panthers have 79 points in 70 games while the Devils have 82 in 72 games so Florida needs to make use of those games in hand to claim that playoff spot. Also, the Panthers have three games in hand on Columbus and Philadelphia but they each have 85 points so far.

Ever since the Panthers got healthy, they have been on fire and climbed back into playoff contention. Goaltender Roberto Luongo has propelled this club into a fight and they need to take advantage of an easier schedule within their division if they want to slide into the playoffs.

(Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Western conference has several teams in a fierce battle to play more than 82 games this year. Nashville, Winnipeg and Las Vegas are pretty much safe to make the playoffs. After that is where things get interesting. The Minnesota Wild have 90 points on the year and the San Jose Sharks have 89 but they are only a few points clear of the next batch of teams.

The Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are all tied with 86 points and hold playoff spots. The Dallas Stars are right on their tails with 84 points and the St. Louis Blues are also there with 83. The Calgary Flames are just 6 points back with 80 this year but they are in poor form and will likely miss the playoffs.

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Blues made a surprising move to deal Paul Stastny for picks but still remain in the hunt. Their inability to score will ultimately be the downfall for them. The Dallas Stars have only won 2 of their last 10 games and with goaltender Ben Bishop getting hurt again, there is good reason to be skeptical of the Stars. The Avalanche have been carried their leader and MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon. They have suffered just one regulation loss in their last 11 games. The Minnesota Wild have won 10 of 14 and been outshooting their opponents in almost all of those games. The resurgence of Eric Staal has led the team to a safer position right now.

The Pacific Division is tight between the Sharks, Ducks and Kings but they will look to take easy points against the weak bottom of that division. Anaheim have now won 3 in a row after dropping 3 straight and will look to keep this going to end the year. The Kings have been treading water for the last month but hope their strong defensive play will help them finish the season strong. The Sharks have won 7 of 9 games since the trade deadline and their acquisition of Evander Kane. Kane has had 5 goals, 5 assists and 31 hits in 9 games with the team as they look ahead to the playoffs.

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Western conference race is even more engaging when you look at the numbers of games between the contenders. There are 13 games played between the Ducks, Kings, Sharks, Wild, Avalanche and Stars until the end of the season. Games with this level of importance will be played at a playoff level given the grand implications of each matchup. Hockey fans are in for a treat to end the season.

A flurry of trades highlight NHL's deadline day

It was an exciting trade deadline day with lots of deals made. Divisions have as many as 6 teams competing for a playoff spot so there were lots of reasons for teams to buy. However, for this exact reason one would be cautious not to sacrifice too much of the future for an uncertain chance. Nevertheless, there were moves made and they will have an impact on the playoff picture this season. Here's a look at the big ones:

Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller

New York Rangers: Vladislav Namestnikov, Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, a 2018 first-round pick, and a 2019 conditional first-round pick.

This was the big trade of the day that everyone has a take on. It is very complex so not an easy one to pick sides for who got better value or if they each got the same. The Rangers have committed to the rebuild by picking up multiple solid futures for vets Nick Holden, Michael Grabner and Rick Nash. Today they waited until the clock struck 12:00 to complete this blockbuster. Out of all their trades, this seems like the lightest return given that McDonagh is a #1 defenseman with 26 points this year and Miller is a top 6 forward with 40 points thus far. Tampa Bay already were the Cup favourites for me and this move just pushes them even further ahead of the pack. The two prospects and picks won’t be a big loss as their window is now and McDonagh is locked up for one more year. Miller is an RFA this summer and Rangers dealt him to avoid a big payday and will have Namestnikov at a cheaper price coming off the 20-goal season he’s had so far. Hajek and Howden are both very strong prospects who will make an impact for the Rangers in the future. However, none of them are elite prospects which has some questioning the return. The conditional 2019 pick will become a second-rounder if the Lightning do not win the Stanley Cup by then. I would grade this trade as a win for the Lightning.

Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

San Jose Sharks: Evander Kane

Buffalo Sabres: Dan O'Regan,a 2019 conditional first-round pick, and a 2019 fourth-round pick

The San Jose Sharks needed this deal. Despite excellent goaltending and defense, they have the 24th ranked goal scoring offense at even strength. Evander Kane is a high-level goal scorer who has 20 goals already this season. He is also a stable penalty killer and ranks 10th among forwards in Goals Allowed per 60 on the PK. He’s had 3 straight years with 20 goals for the lowly Buffalo Sabres and will now get the chance to fight for the first playoff games in his career.O’Regan is not an elite prospect but he does offer considerable upside and is close to the big leagues. The 24-year-old German has had 83 points in 94 games in the AHL the past two season and looks to break into the lineup. The 2019 first-round pick to Buffalo becomes a second-round pick if Kane does not re-sign with the Sharks this summer as he is a pending free agent. San Jose should feel happy about this complete top 6 forward rental that could become a long-term fixture in their lineup if he shows out well at a less than premium price. For this reason, one has to think Buffalo failed to capitalize on having a premium rental asset with just a B level prospect and a risky 2019 pick.

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Vegas Golden Knights: Tomas Tatar

Detroit Red Wings: A 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 second-round pick, and a 2021 third-round pick

Most of the trades on the day worked out in favour of the buyers but this one is a controversial one. Vegas is defying all expectations with an overachieving lineup and needed improvements if they wanted to make a run this year despite their rebuild status as a new team. The team is rich in draft picks but this is a clear move towards contending immediately. These picks make it seem like a steeper price than it actually is because they are spread out over the next 4 drafts. Tatar is not a rental acquisition as he stands to earn $5.3 million per year for the next 3 years. He is currently in his worst full season in the league with under 0.5 PPG but is on pace for his 4thconsecutive 20 goal season. Detroit would have liked to have kept Tatar through the rebuild but this offer was too good to pass up. After decades of success the Red Wings are spiralling down and this is a great move for their new direction.

Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images

Winnipeg Jets: Paul Stastny

St. Louis Blues: 2018 first-round pick, rights to forward Erik Foley

This was another surprising trade given the fact there was zero buzz around a Stastny trade. Even more peculiar is that this deal involves the Blues who are right on the edge of a playoff spot. The Blues have had an abysmal February in terms of offense so trading away their 2nd line center is strange. However, it is believed that they couldn’t come to an agreement on a new contract so St. Louis decided to be proactive and deal the 40-point man for a nice return. The Jets missed out on getting Derrick Brassard but Stastny is a nice addition for their 3rd line in a deep lineup. The Jets do have trouble attracting payers to play for them but Stastny was willing to move there and will look to make a positive impact for the team.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Other trades: Ryan Hartman went to Nashville for a nice haul including a first round pick. He may be a young forward but this is a step in the right direction for Chicago. The Atlantic division also had some additions with Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner heading to the Devils and Thomas Vanek to the Blue Jackets. The past few days also saw some big trades. As I mentioned before Rick Nash was dealt to the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs responded by getting Tomas Plekanecso shore up their forward depth. The Pittsburgh Penguins made another big move by acquiring Derrick Brassard as they gear up for another Stanley Cup Run.

What's wrong with the Chicago Blackhawks?
Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Blackhawks have fallen off the cliff folks.

Before I get to the dissection of the team, I just want to bring attention to the disgusting display by a few fans of the team berating Devante Smith-Pelly of the Washington Capitals with racist insults. This kind of behaviour should not be tolerated at all and those fans deserve severe punishments.  (Editors note: those fans have since been banned from attending home games at the United Center) Sadly, this attack is not actually shocking given some previous incidents in the league.

  Anne-Marie Sorvin / USA TODAY SPORTS

  Anne-Marie Sorvin / USA TODAY SPORTS

The Chicago Blackhawks are currently in last place in the Central division and 24th in the league with just 58 points in 60 games. It is looking bleak for the Hawks and the injury to Corey Crawford has basically eliminated their chances of coming back this season. Crawford was having another great season between the pipes but this concussion/vertigo issue has taken him out and now his career is in doubt. Coach Quenneville believes he could come back at some point this year but by then it will be too late for the team.

According to Corsica they have the 3rd highest CF% in the league so they are getting their shots and chances. After doing a little digging we can see a big problem with their powerplay. They have the highest positive penalty difference in the league which means they have been getting more than their fair share of opportunities. However, they find themselves with just the 29th most effective powerplay in the league.

Chase Agnello-Dean / NHLI via Getty Images

Chase Agnello-Dean / NHLI via Getty Images

There are some positives. Patrick Kane is still producing just around a point per game. Rookie Alex DeBrincat and sophomore Nick Schmaltz have been terrific this year on pace to break through 50 points on the year. Other young forwards like Ryan Hartman and Chicago boy Vince Hinostroza have had good seasons too. Gustav Forsling has shown solid strides at just 21 and should be a fixture on their backend going forward. It looks like the group of young forwards they have right now has been good and will get better moving forward.

However, the team’s problems lie in the expensive veterans they have given big contracts to. Jonathan Toews is set to have the worst season of his career in terms of PPG and lowest point total other than the lockout shortened season where he still had over a point per game. This is only in year 3 of his new contract that will have him earning $50 million over the next 5 years which poses a significant cap problem to the team. Brandon Saad is also on pace for under 0.5 PPG this season for the first time in his career. Chicago got Saad back to propel Toews but both have had disappointing seasons while Artemi Panarin has 47 points this year which would be 2nd on the Hawks.

Getty Images

Getty Images

On defense, the star defensemen have not had great years. Duncan Keith will have his worst offensive season in 10 years but his total game has still been stellar. Brent Seabrook has become an unfathomable option. He carries a cap hit of $6.85 million over the next 6 seasons with a full no move clause for the next 4. Seabrook had 54 power play points for the past 3 seasons but this year he has only 5 PP points. Losing Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk has hurt their defense core far more than the team could’ve imagined.

The Corey Crawford injury was unexpected and devastating. Just a month ago I had him as a Vezina candidate given the year he was having but that injury was truly heartbreaking. This magnitude of this absence was amplified by the fact that Scott Darling left them team after a great year last season. The backups of Jeff Glass and Anton Forsberg have been 8-13 since he got hurt including a recent 7 game losing streak before redeeming a win against the Capitals on Saturday. The team has given up the 4th highest amount of goals since Crawford went on Injured Reserve in late December.

Michael Ainsworth / AP

Michael Ainsworth / AP

So how do they fix this?

The truth is there is no easy fix. You can’t just dump Jonathan Toews after all he’s done for the franchise captaining the best stretch in history for the club. Duncan Keith has also been incredible for the team and their run. You could try to dump Seabrook but it is past that because teams may not see him as a good player and that $6.85 million cap hit will require them to add quality prospects or draft picks. Don’t forget this can only happen if he waives his no movement clause too.

NHL.com

NHL.com

These 4 players made such an impact to this team that we cannot calculate it but they make up over 40% of the cap and you just can’t have that for a team to be effective. Trading Seabrook would be the first big step. Rebuilding through the draft to get more young players is exactly what they need to do. Trading Michal Kempny for a 3rd rounder has already started the process but this is a tricky one that will take time.

Nam Y. Huh / AP

Nam Y. Huh / AP

Let’s put it this way, the Blackhawks have been the best team in the league in this new millennium. With 3 cups in 6 years they achieved something almost every other fan in the world would want for their team. Now the Chicago faithful will have to deal with seeing their favourite players declining which is hard to take in. But at the end of the day, they brought so much happiness and success that you should just look to the future while enjoying the memories of those Stanley Cups.

NHLHarjan PaddaComment
Contenders and Pretenders in the NHL

 Atlantic Division

NHL

NHL

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team in the league with guys lined up to be Hart, Vezina, and Norris trophy finalists. The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are also locks to make the playoffs with recent hot stretches as Boston has had the best record in the league in 2018. Both these teams are contenders likely to face each other in the first round of the playoffs.

The rest of the division includes disappointing seasons from the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators, who both made the playoffs last year. They have fallen off a cliff and their priorities have shifted to the draft and possibly trading away some big pieces. The Florida Panthers have had injury problems and management ideology conflicts to prevent them from sniffing the playoffs. The Detroit Red Wings and the Buffalo Sabres both had bleak outlooks for the season and have lived up to that low billing so far.

Metropolitan Division

Photo: @wyshynski (twitter) 

Photo: @wyshynski (twitter) 

This is easily the toughest division in the league with pretty much all teams having a legitimate shot at the playoffs not so long ago. The Washington Capitals are leading the division and are on their way to another playoff series as strong contenders. The Pittsburgh Penguins can be considered contenders because they are always flying high.

The other sIx teams in the division are separated by just seven points. It’s hard to rule out any team but the New York Rangers are last and sliding. They seem to be committed to a rebuild despite being just two points out of a playoff spot.

The New Jersey Devils are 4th in the division but they are falling fast. The Devils have the worst record in the league since the new year and I believe they are truly pretenders.

The New York Islanders are 7th in the division and have the worst goal differential in the division. Despite an elite offense, their defense and goaltending relegate them to being pretenders.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have played very poorly in the past month but with their balanced lineup and star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, they look like they still are a formidable contender.

The Philadelphia Flyers have surprised many as they have the 3rd best record in 2018 and have won four straight games since the Eagles won the Super Bowl. They could very well make the playoffs but the goaltending just isn’t strong enough for me to label them as contenders.

The Carolina Hurricanes are the most intriguing team in that division. They have a young, skilled core on offense and defense with terrible goaltending holding them back. Much like the Flyers, they are on the bubble but I just can’t see them getting it done.

Central Division

 (Photo: Mark Humphrey / AP)

 (Photo: Mark Humphrey / AP)

The strongest division in the West has had some surprising developments. The only team out of the hunt is the Chicago Blackhawks. Getting three cups in nine years is something all other fanbases would dream of, but now the heavy contracts are taking their toll on the team, along with the Crawford injury.

The Nashville Predators are on a mission to get back to the Final and come home with the glory this year. The Preds have the best chance in the West.

The Winnipeg Jets have the best record among Canadian teams, which is a little shocking but they’ve always had a potent offense and stable defense. Connor Hellebuyck has taken the next step to lead the Jets into high end contention.

The St. Louis Blues have another balanced team with the added kick of Carter Hutton holding the league’s best stats for Goals Against Average and Save Percentage despite just being the backup. They’ve had experience on the big stage and are poised to take the next step as contenders this year.

The Dallas Stars have done their work on offense but the key lies in if they can rely on Ben Bishop between the pipes. However, he has done well this season and the team is a contender.

The Minnesota Wild have taken a step back this year and despite having the 2nd best home record in the league, their road play has been abysmal and prevents them from being contenders.

The Colorado Avalanche are two points out of a playoff spot, which is completely unexpected given their rebuild status, but their young firepower has propelled them into the hunt. Their leader Nathan MacKinnon will be back soon but I believe that this team just isn’t ready yet and a poor road record reflects that.

Pacific Division

CBS Sports

CBS Sports

A lot of surprises this year but none bigger than the Vegas Golden Knights. They have the best record in the west and rank in the top 10 for goals scored and against. I don’t think they match up well against the Central teams, but it’s hard to argue that they can dominate their division winning 13 of 15 games against Pacific opponents.

The San Jose Sharks have been the 4th best team in the league since January 1st and with their stable, albeit aging core, they are determined to push through their division as contenders.

The Calgary Flames have two great lines, arguably the best top 4 defense core and resurgent goaltending from Mike Smith but they are still on the brink of making the playoffs. I have the Flames as a contender but they need to do better than .500 in home games.

The LA Kings have done well defensively, but offensive issues are holding them back from taking over the division. It’s not wise to rule out this clutch team but this year, they seem like pretenders. The Anaheim Ducks window appears to have closed. The veteran forward group is getting older and slower and the high number of loser points has hurt them in the standings to the point of them being pretenders.

The Edmonton Oilers must be the most disappointing team this year as they have fallen back to draft lottery hopes despite having the best player in the league in Connor McDavid. The Vancouver Canucks and the Arizona Coyotes are meeting their expectations of basement level teams hoping for a high draft pick to aid their rebuilds.

NHLHarjan PaddaNHL, HockeyComment
The Winter Olympics is set to begin without the NHL's participation

The NHL will send no active players to the 2018 Winter Olympics.

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

For most of us, especially hockey fans, the hockey gold medal game is the most important event every Winter Olympics.

The league explained that one reason they chose not to go this year was just the impact on scheduling. A two-week break in February with a longer season that is more compressed would add to player fatigue.

However, many feel that the NHL refused to go along this year because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) balked at the idea of paying player insurance and travel costs. This figure is speculated to be over $10 million.

(NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

(NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Another factor at play is the injury risk. In 2014, star player John Tavares suffered an MCL/meniscus injury that ended his season. Fellow skilled players Aleksander Barkov and Henrik Zetterberg also missed the rest of the season after injuries in the 2014 Sochi games. The league would love to bring their game to the Olympics, but they can not deal with the expense of losing their star power.

It is important to note that the NHL was close to cancelling attendance at the 2014 games. That year though, the IOC agreed to pay the league for travel and insurance. The other added pressure came from the event being in Russia, the home country for many hockey players.

The start time of games was another issue for the league. The TV revenue would be severely affected by the games having to start between 3:00 and 10:00 am. The Sochi games also had time issues, but this was outweighed by the push from the players and the IOC deal.

A key reason for the NHL’s attendance at the Olympics is to grow the brand internationally. This year they decided to play some games in China and Sweden. They even created their own World Cup of Hockey, which wasn’t an overwhelming success, but the NHL could pocket the money from this event as opposed to the costly option of sending players to the Olympics. They also avoided schedule issues of a two-week break by putting the World Cup at the beginning of the season.

There are some logical, calculated reasons for the league not to participate in Pyeongchang. However, there are reasons they should’ve overcame these faults. The main reason being that this could be the biggest hockey event there is. Fans want to see their countries represented and competing for the flag. They want to watch their favourite players going up against the best everyone has to offer. More importantly, the players themselves have grown up as kids watching the Olympics. They have a desire to play for their country on the biggest stage to make an impact on an international level. Some players like Canadian Marc-Edouard Vlasic considered risking it all.

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Paying to play in a tournament overseas just adds unnecessary risk and extra costs that the financially savvy league office and team owners are not willing to take. The players will likely be unhappy but being able to continue the season as normal is a minor positive for those who appreciate consistency.

Also, some fans may forget that this doesn’t mean that there will be no Olympic hockey. The teams will be comprised of players currently playing overseas. For guys like Mason Raymond and Andrew Ebbett who haven’t been able to stay in the NHL, this is an extremely rare opportunity for guys to rise to the biggest stage and play for their country. I’m sure once the Olympics come around, fans will be engaged by the underdog aspect for all the players and hold some interest in the games.

No matter who’s playing, its still the Olympics and hockey fans will tune in.

Top 5 prospects in this year's NHL Draft

Rasmus Dahlin (Defenseman) 

Rasmus Dahlin is the best defensive prospect in years. He is pretty much the consensus #1 pick for the draft, and if true he will be just the third defenseman in the last 20 years to be drafted with the 1st pick.

He has 5 goals and 7 assists in 30 games this year in the Swedish Hockey League with Frölunda HC. Those numbers are very impressive given how most prospects play in the junior league, but Dahlin is up with the men’s league. He also had 6 assists in 7 games in the World Juniors last month. Dahlin has been dominating juniors his whole life and played with men since he was 16. Aside from just his numbers, the young defenseman has some unreal highlights showcasing his speed, smarts and of course the sheer skill with the puck.

 

Andrei Svechnikov (Forward) 

Andrei Svechnikov is widely seen as the top forward prospect in the upcoming draft. The young Russian has done quite well with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League with 19 goals and 13 assists in just 24 games. He also had 5 assists in 5 games with the Russian team at the World Juniors.

The team’s early exit and Svechnikov not being able to score hurt his draft stock for some but he still possesses high level talent. He can score and his size (6’3”) makes him a tough opponent and his underrated playmaking ability guided him to the USHL Rookie of the Year award for the 2016-17 season.

 

Filip Zadina (Forward) 

Filip Zadina is arguably having the best season of any of this year’s top draft prospects. The Czech forward has amassed 27 goals and 26 assists in 38 games for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He is currently 9th in the league in points and tied for 3rd in goals while playing fewer games than all in the top 10. He also had a terrific World Juniors tournament with 7 goals and 1 assist in 7 games.

Zadina brings more to the table than just offensive prowess as he is credited with demonstrating excellent hockey sense and a strong defensive work ethic. A true three zone player like him will surely be seen as a top player.

 

Adam Boqvist (Defenseman) 

Adam Boqvist is an elite offensive defenseman. His abilities in the attacking zone are the best of any defenseman in this draft. With the Brynäs junior league team he had 12 goals in just 20 games while also adding 7 assists. He was called up to the top club Brynäs for an 8 game stint before being loaned to Almtuna IS of the Allensvenskan league (2nd tier professional league in Sweden). While there are some doubts about his defensive capabilities in his own end, his pure gifts with the puck cannot be understated.

 

Brady Tkachuk (Forward) 

Brady Tkachuk brings the classic talent you would expect from a Tkachuk. His father Keith was a successful player and his older brother Matthew is also off to a great start in his career. The young Brady Tkachuk plays for Boston University in the NCAA and has 5 goals and 13 assists in 24 games for his team. His stock rose after a strong World Juniors performance with 3 goals and 6 assists in 7 games for the United States team. He lives up to the Tkachuk name with his grit and nasty play but he is also the bigger and faster Tkachuk and offers more in his offensive repertoire to make a more complete package.

 

Ball Don't Lie Ep.4: The Culture Always loses

On this week's episode Scott & Pierce talk another Tom Brady comeback, how all teams deemed "for the culture" always lose, NBA fights, a eulogy for the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty & wait for the end...someone's titantron music is playing.