Babcock’s Descision: What it Means for Toronto, Detroit, Buffalo, San Jose, and New Jersey

The Mike Babcock sweepstakes is over. On Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that Babcock will become the 30th head coach in Toronto Maple Leafs history, as he inked an eight year deal at 50 million total salary. Babcock was sought after by multiple teams, but in the end, money and organizational power were big determining factors. 

Babcock’s hiring is nothing short of spectacular for Toronto. With Shanahan and he in place, Toronto’s management is looking great, even without a new general manager in place at the moment. The key contributor to success in Toronto will be the heavily preached patience plan, as they are just about to commence their rebuild. Babcock, who had worked with many young players in his years in Detroit, will be able to help speed the rebuild along by doing the same work in Toronto. The Leafs are also in the market for a new AHL staff, which Mike Babcock can help pick out. It’s a good signing all around by Toronto, and no one questions that, but there are questions arising about the teams whom got the short end of the stick from the Babcock situation. 

The Buffalo Sabres for one are furious that they did not land Mike Babcock, mainly because they were given every indication up until the last second that they were the favorites to land the coach. They fired Ted Nolan just as the season ended and have not had an extensive search up until this point. John Tortorella is out for them (any many of the other team), he’s just not meant for that group. Dan Bylsma is an option, but he’s generated interest from multiple other teams and would have to get a decent amount of money from Buffalo to consider. Paul MacLean remains a serious option, although no major talks have been done yet. 

The Detroit Red Wings are another team without a coach now, but the decision seems pretty clear cut. Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill has been groomed up until this day to be an NHL coach and is ready to step in. Blashill is the favorite at this point, but GM Ken Holland says he would still like to interview two or three more candidates before deciding (per Pierre LeBrun).

The Sharks were yet another team in the mix for Babcock, although never strong contenders. They too are interested in Dan Bylsma, but have also interviewed Adam Oates, Peter DeBoer, and Randy Carlyle for the job. They seem to want to go down the lane of experience, rather than choosing a newbie coach like the Flyers did just a few days ago with Dave Hakstol. 

Although not in the mix for Mike Babcock, the Devils are also without a coach. Dan Bylsma like the other teams previously mentioned is high on their list. They’ve also could pursue Paul MacLean.

Some other things to keep in mind are that Dom Sweeney was named Boston’s general manager today, and comes from within the organization, so Claude Julien’s future is undecided. If Julien hits the market, he would bump to the top of many lists. Guy Boucher is another option for teams, but he recently interviewed for a job with the Leafs as an assistant under Mike Babcock. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

State of the Islanders: What’s Happened and What’s Going On

In terms of the first year coming out of the rebuild, this year was a very successful one for the Islanders, but it doesn’t mean changes aren’t needed. To keep moving forward and surpassing the success of this season, Garth Snow and company have to take a long, hard look at the roster and the management for next season and what they are going to do with it. 

Question 1: Who makes up the forward group next season?

The Islanders are a four line team. They had incredible depth over the season, and survived through major injuries, such as Mikhail Grabovski and Kyle Okposo, by it. With that depth comes major choices. The Islanders will have up to seventeen NHL ready forwards next season, although two haven’t played in an NHL game yet. There are around ten locks when it comes to the roster next season. John Tavares, Nikolay Kulemin, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck, and Mikhail Grabovski will all be there. That leaves seven players fighting for two spots, but there are two pretty obvious choices. 

The seven ready players that will be fighting going into next season are Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Colin McDonald, Eric Boulton, Michael Grabner, Michael Dal Colle, and Josh Ho-Sang. Eric Boulton will not be an everyday player, and neither will Colin McDonald, and Michael Grabner hasn’t been able to find his groove since scoring 30 in his first season with the Islanders. That leaves the last two spots on the roster for Anders Lee and Brock Nelson. Both players struggled during the later portion of the season and the playoffs, but that’s expected with most young players. They were a part of the core all year and will continue to be a part of the core moving forward. 

Lee and Nelson are RFAs this offseason, Boulton and McDonald are UFAs. 

Unfortunately for Dal Colle and Ho-Sang, they will have to wait their turn, much like Strome, Lee, Cizikas, and many others had to do. Both players could step into the NHL next season and make an impact, but the roster is too crowded as is, and their chance will come, most likely before the 2016-2017 season. I wouldn’t rule out either making the team, but it would take an outstanding camp, seeing that neither would be able to report to the AHL either. 

The tricky name of the group is Michael Grabner. Unlike Colin McDonald and Eric Boulton who know their roles if they return, Grabner’s is still undefined. Grabner has faced a plethora of injures over the past few seasons, and his offensive production has rapidly declined. Either he is going to be the odd man out next year and will walk to free agency in July 2016, or Garth Snow will work to trade him over this offseason. Grabner is still an effective penalty killer and player when healthy, but that’s the problem — staying healthy. Grabner has unfortunately fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, and is going to have a tough time cracking a fully-healthy roster if that’s the case when September comes around, if he’s even here to see that. 

Question 2: How will the defense look next season?

When it comes to defense, about two-thirds of the core is locked. Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, and Travis Hamonic are your big names, and Thomas Hickey will be there too. Hickey played great during the playoffs, and matched a career high in points during the regular season. The first three are guarantees, and Hickey has been a part of the core for three years now, and it doesn’t look like anything is changing. 

Lubomir Visnovsky appears to be done as an Islander, and maybe for his career. He suffered a concussion after a rough hit by Tom Wilson in Game 4 of their series against Washington, just adding to the list of injuries, ranging from back spasms to other concussions that Visnovsky has had to deal with over the past few seasons. Even if he is healthy, unless he wants to take a significantly lowered role, Visnovsky will not be back as a regular on the defense. Visnovsky is loved in the locker room, and the best case scenario for the club would be for him to retire and come back as a coach or in the organization is some way. 

Now, the tough part. Two spots on defense remain and four guys could take the spot: Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock, Calvin de Haan, and Brian Strait. Griffin Reinhart is another name there, but he has fallen down the depth chart behind those four and his future on the team is uncertain, especially after a brutal playoff performance. 

Speaking of brutal playoff performances, Calvin de Haan struggled through a major sophomore slump this season. de Haan is a smooth skating, reliable defenseman, but just couldn’t find his game all year, and eventually Brian Strait took his spot on the team. After being, well, not good at all at the start of the year, Strait steadied out at the end of the season and became a reliable defenseman for the most part, and that was essential when half of the Islanders’ main defense was hurt during the first round of the playoffs. 

If Visnovsky does retire, Ryan Pulock will be essential, especially on the powerplay. Drafted 15th overall in 2013, he had 17 goals in 54 games for the Sound Tigers (AHL) this year. The Islanders powerplay was great at the start of the year, but trailed off majorly during the later stages of the season. 

As previously mentioned, Scott Mayfield will also be fighting for a spot next year and has some leverage in doing it. Mayfield played well when briefly called upon during the 2013-2014 season, and impressed again when asked to fill in for Calvin de Haan during the playoffs. Mayfield didn’t only weather the storm, but he held his own, played the body, and showed why he could be a top-six defenseman in this league. Jack Capuano and his group will have a lot to contemplate going into next season, especially seeing the risk that icing two rookie defensemen will present. 

Matt Donovan is another defenseman that suited up for the Isles this season, but will most likely hold out or not come back due to consistently being in the coaches doghouse.

Lubomir Visnovsky is a UFA at the end of the season, and Thomas Hickey and Matt Donovan are RFAs. 

Overall, the roster next season could look like this: (doesn’t include trades / free agency)

Forwards: Tavares, Kulemin, Okposo, Strome, Nelson, Lee, Martin, Cizikas, Clutterbuck, Grabovski, Nielsen, Bailey

Extra: Boulton, Grabner, McDonald

On the cusp: Dal Colle, Ho-Sang

Defense: Hamonic, Boychuk, Leddy, Hickey, de Haan/Mayfield, Pulock

Extra: Strait

On the cusp: Reinhart

Question 3: Backup goalie?

After the Chad Johnson experiment failed, Garth Snow brought in pending-UFA Michal Neuvirth at the trade deadline to fill in the void. Kevin Poulin won’t, or shouldn’t, be an option moving forward, leaving a gap behind Jaroslav Halak. As Islanders fans and the team has learned, Halak needs his rest. He plays light years better when he has the rest, and some of his blunders this season came from having unreliable Chad Johnson backing him up.

Michal Neuvirth will most likely go to free agency on July 1st seeking a starting job, or at least somewhere he can challenge for one (like San Jose). Garth Snow will certainly try his hardest to keep Neuvirth, but it seems unlikely at this point. Some other options include Thomas Greiss, Martin Jones, Viktor Fasth, and Jonas Enroth. 

Question 4: What is Doug Weight’s future?

Despite being hot at the start of the year, the Islanders powerplay struggled down the stretch, capped off by an abysmal 0-for-13 in the playoffs. Doug Weight is currently running that powerplay, and has fallen out of the favor of many fans, but it’s the organization’s call on what they want to do. One of the major faults was not using Johnny Boychuk on the first unit, a unit that needed to shoot the puck a lot more. There’s was too much perimeter passing and not enough getting pucks to the net, and having their best shooter from the point not on the first unit didn’t help. 

Weight does bring a fire to the bench that Cronin and Capuano don’t show which is useful, and I think you’ll see him back next year, but beyond that is unknown. It would be interesting to possibly see if Lubomir Visnovsky would take a job running it, but his fate is still undecided as well. Even if he were to relinquish his job as assistant coach, he would still stay with the organization. 

Overall, there are a lot of questions looming in the air for the Islanders this offseason, but a lot of things to be excited about going along with that. This is only the surface, as there are many nooks to sort out before the season begins, including possibly trading for a top left wing to play with John Tavares. 

There’s good things coming for the Islanders next year….. in Brooklyn. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

Islanders Need to Control Their Emotions in Game 5

It’s no secret that the Islanders are irate over Tom Wilson’s hit on Lubomir Visnovsky in Game 4 of their series with Washington, and that hit will help dictate the pace of how Game 5 goes tonight. Whether the hit was clean or not is a matter of opinion, but either way, Visnovsky has a concussion and his season, and more importantly career, is in jeopardy. 

Visnovsky being out of the lineup is the Islanders’ second top-six defenseman missing, as he joins Travis Hamonic in the press box. Visnovsky was working the second powerplay unit, a void most likely to be filled by either Calvin de Haan or Thomas Hickey. Griffin Reinhart will take his place in the lineup, but he has only played just over a handful of NHL games. Visnovsky will still be around the team, but losing his veteran leadership in the locker room will be a huge blow to the team. 
In terms of the series, the hit is proving to be more important than initially thought when delivered. The Islanders players have publicly made their opinions known on the hit, and radio comments from Brooks Laich certainly did not make it better. 
Via: @ScottmCharles 

“We have to stay disciplined. We could have easily hit a lot of guys like that too. We stay within the rules.” -John Tavares on the hit

From a Washington radio station:

“What it did was Visnovsky got put out of the game and that puts them down to five defensemen in the second period. It’s a quote-unquote good penalty to take.” -Brooks Laich on the hit

There’s no doubt Game 5 will be high energy throughout the whole game, no matter which way it sways. The Islanders, however have to use the pent up anger inside themselves to their own good in the series, and not for retaliation. Using this as motivation could give them team the extra push they need to advance to the second round, but that will only happen if they don’t let Washington and Tom Wilson into their heads. 

At the end of the day, it’s the playoffs. Exerting your energy to on ice performance and possibly getting back to home ice with a 3-2 series lead should be a more enticing thought to the Islanders than getting payback on Tom Wilson is. Along with that, the Islanders fourth line has been their best line all series, and they can’t sacrifice that for a lengthy portion of the game just to get a fight in there. 

This series has the chance to get ugly, but I don’t think that will happen until the first time the teams play next season. Tom Wilson is a tough customer, and he will have no problem dancing with either Matt Martin or Eric Boulton if the bell does ring. 

The series is tied 2-2 and Game 5 is tonight (April 23rd) at 7 PM EST. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

Oilers Win 2015 Draft Lottery, Buffalo to Pick 2nd 

The Edmonton Oilers will pick 1st overall for the fourth time in six years at the NHL Entry Draft this coming June in Florida. General manager Craig MacTavish gave it “zero chance” that the team trades the pick, meaning that phenom Connor McDavid will more than likely be wearing Edmonton’s blue and orange next season. 

This draft lottery was one of the most anticipated lotteries of all time, with not one, but two generational talents in the mix. Connor McDavid from the OHL, and Jack Eichel from the NCAA are up for grabs in the draft, and Edmonton and Buffalo appear to be the lucky teams. McDavid had 120 points in 47 games for Erie this season, whereas Crosby (QMJHL) had 168 in 62 games in his draft year. Eichel played for Boston University this past season, tallying 71 points in 40 games. Both players have a very good chance of playing in the NHL for the 2015-2016 season. 

The official draft order is as follows. See you on June 26th for the big day. 

1. Edmonton Oilers

2. Buffalo Sabres

3. Arizona Coyotes

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

5. Carolina Hurricanes

6. New Jersey Devils

7. Philadelphia Flyers

8. Columbus Blue Jackets

9. San Jose Sharks

10. Colorado Avalanche 

11. Florida Panthers

12. Dallas Stars 

13. Los Angeles Kings

14. Boston Bruins 

Picks #15-30 to be determined once the playoffs are over. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

Summer is a Brewin': What’s next for Boston?

It took all 82 games in the 2014-2015 NHL regular season for a struggling Boston Bruins team to learn that they would fail to reach the playoffs by two points in an extremely frustrating season. An early summer wake up call hit the Bruins Saturday as they not only lost in the scoreboard watching game (both teams that they needed to lose, won) but their actual game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a shootout. 

During the end of year media availability day, both Greg Campbell and Daniel Paille learned they would not be Boston Bruins next season. There is no doubt that this is step one of many in regards to a roster revamp. The Bruins and the Jacobs family clearly do not want this to happen again, and it’s clear they will use every resource they possibly have to make sure the Bruins are a cup contender next year, even if that means getting rid of their head coach and/or their GM.

Coach Claude Julien is one of the most decorated coaches in Boston Bruins history. He’s led his team to two different cup runs, one in which they defeated the Vancouver Canucks, and another in which they just felt short and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, as well as numerous playoff births and a Presidents Trophy last season. There is no doubt that Julien’s resume is impressive. However in a down year, Julien has made numerous controversial calls that have raised questions as to if he is still the right man for the Bruins. Those calls included his heavy use of a struggling fourth line, and benching surging rookies Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak for Greg Campbell (no longer a Bruin) late in games. Despite the controversy, Julien was still able to bring a young and depleted team within two points of a playoff spot. Yes, Julien’s made a few questionable calls throughout the year, but fans have to remember that this was also a down year for almost every veteran on the team, and that Julien knows the Bruins system better than anyone. Now is not the time to fire your Stanley Cup winning head coach, especially in a re-vamp mode like the one the Bruins are in now. If this inconsistency continues, then Julien will be gone eventually, but for now, he should be allowed a “get out of jail for free” card. 

 On the other hand, GM Peter Chiarelli may have run out of “get out of jail for free” cards. Over the earlier half of his tenure as the mastermind of the team, Chiarelli did an outstanding job in regards to building a cup winning roster. However, the latter half of his tenure has not been so kind. Trading away their most skilled forward (Tyler Seguin) has been one of his worst trades as the return has not shaped out to be as good as it was expected to be. Seguin has dominated in Dallas. He also traded away one of his best defenseman in Johnny Boychuk for draft picks as part of the solution to fix a cap disaster that he created himself. Meanwhile, Boychuk is having his best offensive year of his career, and has signed a seven year extension with a 100+ point Islanders team. Chiarelli has also made controversial non trades in regards to Dennis Seidenberg and captain Zdeno Chara before they began regressing (both have had a terrible year). Chiarelli has also failed his team at the trade deadline, pulling the trigger way too late, and only being able to pull a two goal scoring Jaromir Jagr (none in the playoffs) and a disappointment in Andrej Meszároš in pivotal years. It’s clear that part of the mess has a heavy hand on Peter Chiarelli. He has made a few good moves that have landed them an elite status and a Stanley Cup, but after a year like this, it’s hard for the Bruins front office to not take a serious look into their future, and if Peter should be in it. 

 No matter who the Bruins have behind their bench or calling the shots on what the roster looks like, the Bruins have needs to fill this offseason, and what will most likely be the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft. The Bruins absolutely need a pure goal scorer, character to develop and restructure the fourth line (Max Talbot is a piece of this already), a few players that can amp up the pace of the team, a top two defenseman, as well as the ability to dig themselves out of their cap mess. It’s a lot of work, that will without a doubt force the Bruins to subtract a few familiar faces from the roster. Calling up unprepared rookies from Providence like they did this year (expect for Pastrnak, Spooner and Trotman), will not do it for the Bruins. If they want to win (and they do), things will need to change, and this summer is going to be one bumpy ride. Once the Stanley Cup playoffs end, the Bruins have work to do.

 -Anthony (AMB__12)

Playoff Preview: Western Conference Round 1

Preview for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Western Conference Round 1:

Anaheim Ducks (P1) vs Winnipeg Jets (WC2)

This series may surprise some people. The Ducks are arguably the best team in the West, as their record shows (although Blues and Blackhawks fans will disagree), but the Jets are entering the playoffs hot. Ondrej Pavelec was lights out at the end of the season, and his play will be crucial for Winnipeg’s success. Winnipeg could put up a bigger fight than expected. 

Both teams will play physical, with Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry leading they way. The pace will be tremendous, especially when the games head back to the MTS Center in Winnipeg. Goaltending will most likely determine this series, with John Gibson & Frederik Andersen being young and inexperienced, and Ondrej Pavelec being notoriously shaky before this season, and also having no playoff experience. 

St. Louis Blues (C1) vs Minnesota Wild (WC1) 

These familiar Central Division foes will face off once again, less than a week after they did in the final day of the regular season, a game in which St. Louis won 4-2. The Wild have the highest amount of points out of any wild card team at 100, and are no pushovers. Their rough start got them to where they are today — outside of the top three in the Central — but a resurgence, mainly on behalf of Devan Dubnyk, has carried them to a comfortable playoff position. 

The Blues are no pushover, however, and this should be one of the best series out of the eight. St. Louis looks primed to make a deep run this year, especially with avoiding Chicago for at least the first round. Goaltending will be a big factor going in, whether Ken Hitchcock decides to go with the experienced Brian Elliot or the young kid Jake Allen. On the flipside, Minnesota has Devan Dubnyk, who may very well be nominated for the Vezina trophy thanks to his second half play. Expect this to go to seven games. 

Nashville Predators (C2) vs Chicago Blackhawks (C3)

With the addition of Patrick Kane looming, the Blackhawks are set up for another deep run, although Nashville will put up a fight. Nashville’s success in this series will come on behalf of two factors: 1) if Pekka Rinne can regain his form from the first half of the season and 2) if their goal scoring can find it’s way again, something they couldn’t do as the Predators slid down the standings near the end of the season. 

There’s no counting out either team in this series, but betting against Chicago’s top five (Keith, Seabrook, Toews, Kane, and Hossa) and experience is tough to do. Chicago also has the advantage down the middle, primarily with Mike Ribeiro having to face Jonathan Toews.

Vancouver Canucks (P2) vs Calgary Flames (P3)

Not many picked these two teams to face off in the playoffs at the start of the year, or make the playoffs at all for that matter, but here they are, and there’s no hate lost between the two rivals. It would have been more interesting with John Tortorella behind the Vancouver bench, but we can’t have it all. 

The play of the Sedin twins has gotten Vancouver where they are today, and if they can keep it up, Vancouver is in good shape. Jonas Hiller will take the net for the Flames, where on the other side, either Eddie Lack or Ryan Miller will get the start, but don’t think the Canucks will hesitate to flip flop the goaltenders, depending how they are playing. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Round 1 

Preview for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Eastern Conference Round 1:

New York Rangers (M1) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (WC2)

It’s no secret that the Rangers were the best team in hockey this season, nor is it a secret that the Penguins barely got into the playoffs. Pittsburgh played a majority of it’s final games with five defensemen, and will still be missing two solid defensemen for at least the first round (Letang and Maatta). 

Henrik Lundqvist has regained his form, and the Rangers have one of the most lethal bluelines in hockey. The Rangers seem like an easy pick here, but you can never count out a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front. A lot of the Penguins success this postseason will rely on Marc-Andre Fleury. 

Montreal Canadiens (A1) vs Ottawa Senators (WC1)

This may be the most interesting matchup coming out of the Eastern Conference. The Senators ended the season on a miracle 21-3-3 run, good enough to erase a 20 point wild card deficit in under eight weeks. Andrew Hammond will most likely get the Game 1 start, but expect head coach Dave Cameron to go to Craig Anderson quickly if things are not swaying in Ottawa’s favor. 

On the other side, you have Carey Price and the Canadiens. Price has undoubtedly been the best goalie this season, boasting first place in wins (44), goals against average (1.96), and save percentage (.933), plus he is second in shutouts with nine, one behind Fleury. Max Pacioretty’s health is a big concern for Montreal, but if he can come back before the round is over, it will be a ginormous boost to the team. 

Washington Capitals (M2) vs New York Islanders (M3) 

Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares, two players who battled with each other for the Art Ross during the season, will become enemies once again in this series. The Capitals deadly powerplay, ranked first in the league at 25%, will be facing the abysmal (but better as of late) Islanders penalty kill, which is ranked 26th at 78%, even though the Islanders lead the league with ten short handed goals. The special teams will be a big determiner of who wins this series. 

Three of the four contests this year between the teams went to overtime or a shootout, with the teams splitting the season series. The Islanders will try to use their speed against the Capitals, whereas the Capitals will try to use their size. Either way it goes, I’d say most games end in the 3-2 score range. If Braden Holtby can keep up his play, the Capitals will be in good shape. 

Tampa Bay Lightning (A2) vs Detroit Red Wings (A3)

The Red Wings successfully kept their consecutive playoff streak alive, but face a tough challenge ahead of them in Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay will look to advance to the second round this year, a feat they couldn’t accomplish last season against Montreal due to an injury to Ben Bishop. Detroit will most likely go with Jimmy Howard in Game 1, but much like Ottawa, a switch to Petr Mrazek is possible if things go sour. 

Both teams will need contributions from their young players if they want to win this series. Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg will be big factors of course, but the likes of Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat could be the turning points of this series. 

Stay tuned for the West version in the upcoming days. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

Pastrnak takes the NHL by storm

Most eighteen year olds are either preparing for college or enjoying a blissful relaxing summer. But Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak is not like most eighteen year olds. The Bruins 1st round draft pick from last year’s draft has taken the league by storm. At 18 years, 11 months (315 days to be exact), the NHL’s youngest player has posted a 27 point season in just 41 games, projecting a 20 goal, 34 assist season (would currently lead the team in points) in just his first season in the pros. He is a catalyst to the Bruins recent success, as he’s faired well on a line with Milan Lucic and Ryan Spooner (2nd on team in points in March). Pastrnak also fairs well with the numbers of two former Bruins in their rookie years (and two very good players at that), Phil Kessel (12/18/30 in 67) and Tyler Seguin (11/11/22 in 74). That stat has to be exciting for Bruins fans, as Kessel and Seguin are among the league’s best in offensive production. 

 If Pastrnak can keep this pace the Bruins fans, players, and coaches are in for a wild ride. With a few years of development and training, a 21-22 year old David Pastrnak has the potential to be among the league’s elite in offensive production. 

Pastrnak (as most 18 year olds are) is a bit on the light side in terms of muscle weight. However, unlike most teens who will be partying this summer, David will get stronger, and the Bruins hope that translates into him becoming an aggressive and effective forechecker. How Pastrnak fell to the Bruins is still amazing, but the fact of the matter is, he is a member of the black and gold, and is poised for greatness. Regardless of how far he goes though, his presence on the 2014-2015 season has sparked the team, which looks to make a late playoff push. As for the future, we’ll just have to wait and see.

– Anthony (AMB__12)

Bruins’ Wild Card Push

With the Eastern Conference wild card standings being as congested as they are, the Boston Bruins are neck and neck with the surging Ottawa Senators for the eighth and final spot in the 2014-2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins (87 points) have had a series of hot and cold streaks throughout the season that have put them in the unexpected situation that they are in. Meanwhile, the Senators have had a late season surge off of rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond, who’s posted a 14-1-1 start to his pro career, a career that has only seen him fail to pick up at least a point once, in a blowout loss to the NY Rangers (every goalie is due for one bad game, especially when they start their with a 1.92 GAA). Hammond’s play is a huge factor as to why Ottawa has emerged as a playoff contender, and climbed to ninth in the standings (86 points, and a game in hand on the Bruins). 

Going down the stretch, the race to be “in” as a member of the great eight will be interesting. The Bruins have played well as of late, collecting three of a possible four points against the best teams in their respective conferences, the Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers. After losing to the Ducks in overtime during a tough game in which Anaheim tied it
in the closing seconds off of a controversial no goalie interference call, the Bruins bounced back and dominated the Rangers in the return of star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Bruins Milan Lucic scored two of Boston’s four goals, his 17th career multi-goal game, which ironically gave number seventeen his 16th and 17th goals of the year. The Bruins also saw Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith net goals, which is a good sign for Boston considering they are both in an offense “funk” as of late. On a sour note, Boston lost star goaltender Tuukka Rask at the beginning of the second period, but only due to dehydration. The Bruins hope the Rask will be okay, and if anything only miss Sunday’s matchup with Carolina, because if they have any hope of making the playoffs, they will need him.

The Bruins only have two home games remaining, which they must take advantage of. With five of their seven games remaining being away from the TD Garden, the Bruins must remain disciplined and focused. Key players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron must carry the team on their backs and hope they have a strong supporting cast behind them. The emergence of rookie Zach Trotman’s physical play in the absence of Dougie Hamilton has brought out the beast within the team, something that they have missed deeply all season. Defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Adam Mcquaid showed signs of what Bruins fans recognize as Bruins hockey in Saturday’s game: tough, gritty, physically dominant hockey. The Bruins also saw a familiar face return to the lineup. David Krejci returned after almost two months, and is already playing a key role into the lineup, as he’s collected a handful of assists in his return. However, with the Spooner line being as dominant as it is as of late, it’s forced Krejci to play as a wing on the Bergeron line, which is something the natural center must get adjusted to quickly.

The Bruins must also learn to close games out. A handful of the Bruins one point games have come from defeat in the always controversial shootout. With Tuukka Rask ranking in the bottom ten among goaltenders in the shootout, and the Bruins having one of the worst conversion percentages among NHL teams in the shootout, it is no surprise that they are struggling. It’s key that the Bruins deal with this issue, or else, they could lose out on key points down the stretch.

Key veterans like Dennis Seidenberg also need to step up and anchor the depleted and struggling defensive unit down this rough stretch. As of late, Seids has been paired with Matt Bartkowski. Despite Bartkowski’s on paper struggles (has yet to score a regular season goal in over 100 career games), it is Matt who has emerged as the likely candidate to get bumped up in the defensive rotation. After getting benched for a good chunk of the season, Bartkowski has re-emerged with a physical presence and a highly improved hockey IQ. Seidenberg on the other hand has been at arguably his lowest point as a Bruin. Coming off ACL surgery, Seidenberg has been nothing more than a shadow of his old self. However, against the Rangers Saturday, we saw Seidenberg become more aggressive with and without the puck, which contributed to the Bruins success against a perennial powerhouse in the East. The Bruins need that Seidenberg if they are to make another run for a cup.

In October, if someone came up to a Bruins fan and told them that the Celtics would be the only team to host a playoff game in the TD Garden, they would have seemed crazy. But the sad part is, that could be a reality. If the Bruins don’t smarten up and show up, they could be in for a very dark period. If the Bruins fail to make the playoffs, we could see major changes, both in the front offices, and on the ice. However, if they do make the playoffs, those changes could be minimal, as the Bruins need to work around a cap disaster. Regardless, the Bruins need to be playing their best hockey of the year for the next seven games, or else they could be one of the last teams in on the Connor McDavid hunt.

– Anthony (AMB__12)

Mistakes, Powerplay the Reason for the Islanders’ Recent Dry Spell

Following a 3-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday night, their second loss in as many nights, the Islanders fell to 4-4-2 in their last ten games. The team has lost four straight at home, and has hit one of their very few rough patches of the year, with only themselves to blame.

The Islanders have been a very solid, four line team this year. They experienced some injury issues in the middle of the year, but have shored that front up with the acquisition of Tyler Kennedy at the trade deadline. But things after the trade deadline have not been the same for the team. Their powerplay has not scored in it’s last 12 tries, despite the formerly abysmal penalty kill being successful in its last 20 go arounds, and they are finding it troubling to score overall. The first powerplay unit still hasn’t found it’s mojo with Kyle Okposo, and they haven’t had a consistent player on the blueline with the unit, having Nick Leddy, Lubomir Visnovsky, Frans Nielsen, and Johnny Boychuk all getting spins. They got their chances against Carey Price to no avail, but other than that nothing has been brewing. 

Silly mistakes have also been to blame for the struggles, and the game against Montreal personified exactly what the Islanders have done wrong. The first goal was the result of a poorly timed Thomas Hickey pinch at the redline, and the second from Michael Neuvirth’s mishandling of the puck behind the net. The Islanders have been too lenient with the puck in their last group of games, dating back to Strome’s blunder in overtime that lost them the game against Dallas. 

The recent struggles certainly haven’t come at the best time of the year with only 11 games left (after the one tonight against Montreal) but it’s nothing to panic too much about yet, unless the trend continues. The Islanders have escaped this year so far with little problems, outside of injuries to Kyle Okposo and Nick Leddy. The playoffs are a whole new game, and you can get by with a lackluster powerplay, although it’s not recommended. The penalty kill is the big factor, and it has dramatically improved over the last handful of games. Once Nick Leddy returns, the Islanders will have their full lineup back, but need to get back on track beforehand. The team still sits eight points ahead Washington for the wildcard and 15 points ahead of Ottawa overall. 

Six of the Islanders’ remaining eleven games will come against playoff teams. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

Islanders’ New Defense is Set for Now and the Future

Just over two weeks after the Islanders locked up Nick Leddy for seven years, Garth Snow and his team signed their other top-2 defenseman long term. The Islanders announced on Thursday afternoon that Johnny Boychuk would be returning for an identical seven years, but at six-million per year. Boychuk, acquired on October 4th, has put up career number with the Islanders this season, with seven goals and 32 points in 59 games. He and Leddy are both top-20 in the league for shots attempted and are the Islanders’ most consistent defensive pairing.
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Winners and Losers of the 2015 Trade Deadline

The trade deadline has come and gone, with a flurry of deals, some great, and others leaving us shaking our heads. Many of the highly sought out players like Antoine Vermette, Zbynek Michalek, Jeff Petry, and Erik Cole were traded, but some other wild cards were also thrown into the mix.

Many teams shored up their rosters for the playoffs, while some did the exact opposite and sat on their hands the entire day. Here are some of our picks for the winners and losers of the trade deadline.
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