Posts tagged National Hockey League
Alex Ovechkin finally brings home Lord Stanley's Cup
caps3.jpg

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Vegas Golden Knights is making history as an expansion NHL team
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Vegas is for real. And they are on their way to making history.

The Golden Knights currently have 61 points in 42 games - good for 2nd place in the entire league behind Tampa Bay. They are fifth in the league in goals scored and goals against too.

Oh, did I mention that this is an expansion team? Because that’s what makes this so crazy!

This team has been almost entirely assembled of guys not considered “protectable” by their former teams not making the 8 or 10-man lists. These players, along with coach Gerard Gallant, whose firing last season in Florida was controversial and had fans and pundits divided.

Taking a look at some of the prominent players for Vegas you will see a mixed bag. Jonathan Marchessault is averaging over 1 point per game, which is more than a lot of people expected but his availability to Vegas shocked many. Marchessault was a quality player in his time with Florida and him being available to Vegas was a huge gift as they just locked him up to a six-year extension.

Nate Schmidt was another great pickup as the Capitals just had too many players to protect and Schmidt had to be made available. He has the most points among defensemen on the team with 19 and leads the team in ice time with over 22 minutes.

AP / Nam Y. Huh

AP / Nam Y. Huh

Reilly Smith, David Perron and captain James Neal have all contributed to this team and their veteran presence bolstered the team's success. The play from cup-winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban has been nothing short of outstanding. This team has gone through five goalies this season due to injuries and have still stayed afloat.

However, a crucial element of this team has been William Karlsson. The young Swedish forward was an unheralded pickup from Columbus with 50 points in over 180 games before this year. The Blue Jackets even traded a first round pick to Vegas so that they would take Karlsson instead of someone else they wanted to keep! At the time it looked like a good deal by Columbus but now we are seeing Karlsson with an astounding 23 goals in 42 games.

This storybook team is on pace to blow past all expansion teams in every major league. The best NHL expansion team was the 1993-94 Florida Panthers who finished with 83 points in the 84 game season. In 1961, the Los Angeles Angels expansion team went 70-91 in their first year, which is the best in MLB history. The 1966-67 Chicago Bulls set the expansion team record by going 33-48 in their first year. The best expansion team in NFL history was the 7-9 Carolina Panthers in 1995. The Bulls were the only team to make the playoffs in their inaugural season and all expansion teams had sub .500 records. All Vegas needs to do is win 11 of their last 40 games to finish the season above .500, which is a pretty safe bet at this point.

Now while expansion rules have given teams a better chance to succeed and survive in the league, surely nobody expected Vegas to have this hot of a start and sustaining it to this point. This is unheard of and they deserve any attention they get because this is like something out of a Hollywood movie.

Changing the NHL points system

The NHL could use a big change.

The current point system isn’t very good with “loser points” becoming impactful in today’s game. Two overtime or shootout losses should not equal one clean win.

I'm an advocate of a 3-2-1-0 points system for teams as opposed to the 2-1-0 in place now. Overtime/shootout losses would be 1 point and regulation losses will obviously net you nothing. The difference will be separating wins in regulation and wins in overtime/shootout. I believe that teams that can win within 60 minutes should get 3 points while teams who win in the arcade-like overtime and shootout should get 2 points.

The main impact of this new system would mean that pretty much every team’s point totals go up due to the new category of wins adding to current totals. I measured the effect of this system on the standings of last year.

As you can see the point total numbers all go up as they range from worst to best team goes from 48 to 118 in the current system and 62 to 163 in the new system. Most teams enjoy similar jumps with the top teams rising more than the bottom teams. The biggest riser was the best team in the league (Washington) and the one who had the lowest increase was the worst team (Colorado). An interesting note: the second-lowest increase were from the Detroit Red Wings who finished 25th, which is not surprising given they had the highest amount of shootout wins in the league with nine. Meanwhile the second-biggest rise came from the Anaheim Ducks who came 9th in overall standings with the current system. They clearly won a lion’s share of their games in regulation and were dragged down by a 3-10 record in overtime.

These changes weren’t just made to see how much teams would’ve climbed in the standings or fallen as a result from it as this had significant implications. First we’ll look at the draft lottery. Two of the top three selections went to teams who finished outside the bottom five teams. Instead of the Dallas Stars who received the #3 pick, they would be replaced by the Florida Panthers who would have slipped one spot below them. Also, the Philadelphia Flyers team that just missed the playoffs ended up with the #2 pick. But under the new system, that pick would’ve gone to the Carolina Hurricanes who won more in regulation.

The playoff impact was the most important. There were not too many changes but some of them were big. In the East there was just one change. The Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins would swap places which is definitely something given that the Sens beat the Bruins in game 7 in Ottawa, the swap of home ice advantage lead many to believe a different outcome would’ve occurred and Ottawa may not have beaten Boston as they did and not gone on to the Eastern Conference Final.

The Western Conference had a couple big changes that affected the entire result. The Minnesota Wild would jump Chicago for the #1 spot in the conference and you Blackhawks fans would’ve been very happy to avoid the Nashville Predators. However, the Minnesota Wild would also avoid playing the Preds as the other standings change involved Nashville pushing ahead of Calgary. As a result 3 of the 4 matchups would be different. The Western Conference champion Predators would’ve had a completely different path going through the Pacific division by starting against their Western Conference Final opponents from Anaheim. Minnesota would take on Calgary and the Blackhawks would face the Blues.

Perhaps the Predators make the Finals again but it is clear they would’ve had a much different path. In sports there are a lot of “what ifs” and this is another one with a system that people are interested in and we could see eventually in the league. Draft lottery orders could change franchises given the talent of young players we’ve seen in recent years, and Playoff scenarios could change who hoists the Stanley Cup.

For those of you interested in seeing how this season’s standings could be affected by the new system and the playoff chances stay tuned for a future piece covering the current adjusted standings.