Category Archives: NHL Playoffs
Erik Karlsson has sat atop the NHL’s defensive food chain for multiple years now and the 2017 NHL playoffs are not the first instance of his brilliance. Rather, this year’s playoffs have acted as a magnifying glass to show off Karlsson’s raw and dynamic talent. Karlsson should be considered a top-three player in the NHL, and this year’s playoffs is the perfect opportunity for the hockey world to realize this fact.
Gone are, or should be, the days of the old school mentality that in order to be a good defenseman, you need to block shots and be anchored down in the defensive zone. Karlsson is the quintessential model of the break in this trend. Ottawa’s run to the Eastern Conference Final has finally pitted a spotlight on Karlsson and his genius as a defender, and furthermore has augmented the fact that he should be considered amongst the league’s best with Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.
Erik Karlsson has notoriously been regarded as a poor defensive player by the media. He does not play the stereotypical role of a defenseman who blocks shots and lays the body on his opponents. Instead, Karlsson uses his stick and speed to strip the puck from the players he is defending in order to transition the play in the reverse direction.
Karlsson is not the Norris Trophy winner that Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, and Zdeno Chara were. He is a new, hybrid breed of a defenseman. He exemplifies all the NHL has become over the past half a decade — quick and smart. Defenseman who stay trapped in their own end were once regarded as heroes and the best in the league. But now, those players, such as Dan Girardi, Brooks Orpik, and Kris Russell, now carry a stigma with them. The ideology has shifted from “good defensively” to “poor analytically”. Karlsson’s game is the new best in the NHL and he himself is the best at doing it. He was once regarded as an inadequate defenseman because people never saw him playing defense. He rarely has to even skate backwards. Karlsson’s game had evolved five years before the rest of the NHL followed suit, and everyone is now just catching on.
Karlsson has been as good as it gets for the past three years and beyond. As the classic HERO Chart from Own the Puck shows, Karlsson is at the top of his game in virtually every category:
His ice time skyrockets to absurd numbers, so the data is not a result of a small sample size. This past regular season, Karlsson averaged 26:50 time on ice per game. This was only behind three players, those being Dustin Byfuglien, Drew Doughty, and Ryan Suter. Oh, and Karlsson outscored the nearest of those three (Byfuglien) by 19 points in three less games.
Karlsson is averaging over two full minutes more of ice time in the playoffs. In the 13 games that the Senators have played, Karlsson has an average time on ice of 29:04. He is out there for every other shift and for half the game in some instances. It is a feat of human endurance that is rarely seen in the game today. Along with this, just to show how preposterous this whole situation is, Karlsson has two hairline fractures in his foot. Karlsson mentioned this himself after Round One, which is rare given the NHL’s unwritten injury protocol. Even if he were to usually mentioned something, it would have likely been limited to a “lower-body injury”.
“It’s something that’s done with. I just felt like getting it out of the way instead of having it keep lingering on,” Karlsson said. “I’m not much for secrets.”
Karlsson’s admittance to the injury is a refreshing change to the usual ambiguity of the league today, even if it was just to clear the air with the media. It also makes watching what Karlsson is doing on the ice even more spectacular. He’s still the fastest and most agile guy out there on any given night despite the injury.
The brilliance of Erik Karlsson this season also comes in an odd scenario, that being with Guy Boucher as coach. There was a lot of speculation prior to the season as to how Boucher and Karlsson would mix, but so far it has worked out to perfection. Boucher, a noted trap-playing and defensive-oriented coach, lets Karlsson play to his ability and freely. Karlsson is not bound to any constraints or to any system under Boucher. It is a symbiotic relationship that has provided considerable benefits for both coach and player.
Boucher has a clear admiration for Karlsson and the way he plays. He publicly praises Karlsson on the regular, especially towards the end of the season when he was dealing with a multitude of injuries.
“To see where this guy is right now, to see him this year throughout the year, he has put the building blocks one on top of the other to become the player he is now and the man that he is now. I’m really fortunate to have lived it and seen it. Everybody benefits from it,” Boucher told The National Post.
Karlsson’s run in the 2017 playoffs has truly proven to the hockey world that he should not only be considered among the best in the world, but the elite. Karlsson needs to be considered as a person who sits atop the food chain of the NHL with Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. No three players are more dominant at what they do in the game than these three men.
When it is all said and done, Erik Karlsson will be looked back on as a revolutionary for the game. His model of play has already paved the way for many defensemen who have entered the league after him, and it will continue to be a prime example for those moving forward. Being able to watch Karlsson in his prime is a privilege that should be marveled in and not skewed by a preconceived and old-school media bias.
It is hard to believe it took this long, but Erik Karlsson is finally getting the praise he deserves. Let’s not let that notion change anytime soon.
As the hockey season moves from April to May, the playing field shrinks. Currently eight teams remain, but soon enough the group will whittle down to four.
As of now, Pittsburgh, Washington, Ottawa, New York (Rangers), St. Louis, Nashville, Edmonton, and Anaheim remain. For these series, Pittsburgh leads Washington 2-0, Ottawa leads New York 2-0, Nashville leads St. Louis 2-1, and Edmonton leads Anaheim 2-1. Each of these are far from over, however the odds have begun to shift to the favor of one team per series. But the questions that begs is who, of the teams currently down in a series, has the best chance of making a comeback and advancing to the Conference Finals?
For me, it’s the New York Rangers. Although their defense, with the likes of Holden, Staal, and Girardi, is shaky, their lightning quick offense and superstar goalie could be enough to propel them on a run past Ottawa.
The Rangers and Senators have been locked in a back-and-forth series through the first two games. In Game 1, Erik Karlsson scored the game winner from the goal line with 4:11 left in regulation. Game 2 was a barn burner that resulted in a 6-5 Senators win in double overtime. The games cannot be defined as anomalies by any means, but regardless the series is not over by any stretch of the imagination.
To win the series, the Rangers need Henrik Lundqvist to go into Conn Smythe form. His save percentage in the series so far is .888, but not all of that can be attributed to him. The defensive core in front of him is less than ideal, but that is the Rangers mantra. They need Lundqvist to bail them out, which is something he did not do in Game 2.
In terms of the other teams, this is not to say that they do not have a chance to come back in the series. Each team is in the second round for a reason.
Anaheim is a rigid, experienced team that needs to take advantage of that fact against Edmonton. But, Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot are unbelievable players capable of turning a series in an instant (which they have done already).
St. Louis is in the same category as Anaheim to a sense, but Nashville is playing great right now. The series against the Blues has not come as easy as the series against Chicago did, but it is hard to bet against the Predators currently. They are using their fast paced tactics to their advantage perfectly.
Lastly, Washington has fallen into a deep hole with Pittsburgh once again. It’s hard to go against the Penguins right now given Washington’s history in the second round and against Pittsburgh in general. If they can overcome this challenge, it’s hard to argue against the fact that they will win the Cup. But it’s one hurdle at a time for Alex Ovechkin at company.
Of the teams down currently, who do you think has the best chance of moving on to the second round?
Eastern Conference prediction can be found here.
(C1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (WC2) Nasvhille Predators
The Blackhawks finished atop the Western Conference once again and drew the Predators in the first round. A lot of Chicago’s success this season came from young players, like Tyler Motte and Nick Schmaltz, finally breaking through. Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin were dominant yet again, and Jonathan Toews picked up his game near the end of the year.
The Predators main concern has to be goaltending. Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros are not a bad tandem, but Rinne especially has not been as good in recent years as he was in the past.
Much like Washington, it’s hard to bet against Chicago early on in the playoffs.
Verdict: Chicago in 6
(C2) Minnesota Wild vs. (C3) St. Louis Blues
For the second time in three years, the Wild and Blues will be facing off in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Wild won the series 4-2 the last time around.
The Wild are much better this year than they were two years ago and the Blues are much worse. The goaltending for the Blues is a specific concern, as they do not have a stable 1/2 tandem anymore with Brian Elliott gone.
A key factor, in my opinion, for this series is Zach Parise and Eric Staal. If the two veterans can step up for Minnesota, they’ll experience success in a big way.
Verdict: Minnesota in 6
(P1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (WC1) Calgary Flames
This is the most interesting first round matchup this season. The Ducks only had a halfway decent season under Randy Carlyle, despite the fact that they finished first in their division.
As for the Flames, they’re a pesky squad. Matthew Tkachuk has proved, in just one season, to be one of the best pests in the league. Brian Elliott has also proved to be a good backbone in net that the Flames, something they have not had in a few years.
Verdict: Flames in 6
(P2) Edmonton Oilers vs. (P3) San Jose Sharks
Lead by Connor McDavid, and for the first time since 2006, the Oilers are back in the playoffs. The resurgence of the Oilers has been remarkable to watch. McDavid, Draisaitl, and Talbot have been nothing short of spectacular this season.
For the Sharks, they’re coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance in which they lost to the Penguins. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are coming into unrestricted free agency this summer and time is running out for both of them.
In terms of the series, this should be an exciting one. It’s hard to find two hungrier teams for a deep playoff run than the Oilers and Sharks. Connor McDavid shifting into a second gear is a scary thought as well, at least for the rest of the NHL.
Verdict: Sharks in 7
The NHL playoffs are upon us and the guessing game can now begin. The NHL playoffs usually come with plenty of excitement and surprises, so many times it can prove difficult to predict what will happen. Regardless, here’s a go at it.
Heading into the final weekend of the NHL season, fifteen out of the sixteen playoff teams have been determined. The last spot remaining is in the Eastern Conference and has come down to the Maple Leafs, Islanders, and Lightning.
With a shootout win over Boston on Thursday night, the Ottawa Senators locked up their playoff hopes. On that same night, both the Islanders and Lightning won in regulation while the Maple Leafs lost in regulation. The young Toronto team now finds themselves in a precarious situation, however they do control their own destiny.
All three teams currently sit with 80 games played. Toronto has 93 points, whereas Tampa Bay and New York each have 90. In terms of ROW (regulation plus overtime wins), the denoted first tie breaker in the NHL, Toronto has 38, the Islanders have 37, and Tampa Bay has 36.
For scheduling, Toronto has definitely been dealt the worst hand on the surface. They play Columbus and Pittsburgh over the final three days of the season. However, both of those teams have already punched their ticket to the playoffs and already have their seeding (second and third place in the Metropolitan Division respectively) locked down. The Penguins and Blue Jackets technically have nothing to play for heading into the final weekend, so it is possible that they will rest their star players and starting goalies. But, the argument could be made that the Penguins and Blue Jackets want to win in order to pass the Blackhawks in points, in the case that one of those teams meets up with Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Islanders and Lightning each play a team in the playoffs and a team outside of the playoffs in their final two games. For the Islanders it is going to be New Jersey and Ottawa, and for Tampa Bay it is going to be Montreal and Buffalo.
In order for Toronto to fall out of a playoff position, they have to lose their final two games in regulation and either the Islanders or Tampa Bay need to win their final two games. If Toronto loses one game in overtime or a shootout and loses the other in regulation, only the Islanders can overtake them if they win both of their games in regulation. Two overtime or shootout losses by Toronto would put them into the playoffs.
There are still a lot of moving parts and a lot can change over the course of the next 72 hours. Tampa Bay plays tomorrow, Friday night, in Montreal. A loss of any kind and they will be eliminated from playoff contention.
Although there is not as much as usual, the end of the NHL season will have some drama to keep an eye on. Toronto has their fate in their own hands, but New York and Tampa Bay remain knocking at the door.
Keep up with our Twitter for updates on the playoff race.
The 2017 NHL trade deadline has come and gone. Quite frankly, it was pretty boring this year. No big or surprising names were moved. However, there was certainly enough action to determine winners or losers of the past few days.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a mixed bag filled with ebbs and flows and many surprises. It can be tough to predict who will win it all, although Chicago and Los Angeles have made that fairly easy over the past few years. Who will take it all this year? My predictions:
#1 Washington vs WC2 Flyers
Verdict: Capitals in 6
The resilient Flyers will certainly put a beating on the Capitals, and vice versa, but the Capitals are likely to prevail. It’ll be a battle of superstar against superstar in Ovechkin and Giroux. The series will be won or lost on defense, which Washington has the upper hand. Ovechkin and company will have fun tormenting Nick Schultz and Andrew MacDonald for four of the seven (possible) games of the series.
#2 Pittsburgh vs #3 NY Rangers
Verdict: NY Rangers in 7
Just like last year, the Rangers will defeat the Penguins in Round 1. The Penguins are the hottest team heading into the playoffs, but you can’t count out a team with Henrik Lundqvist backstopping them. I feel the Rangers will kick it into overdrive, at least for this series, and squeak out a win.
#1 Florida vs WC1 NY Islanders
Verdict: NY Islanders in 7
This series is a toss-up. Both the Panthers and Islanders, in my mind, are evenly matched. It’ll come down to goaltending and injuries. If Jaroslav Halak can make it back by the end of the series, that’ll be a gamechanger. Still, I think the Isles take this one. Barely.
#2 Tampa Bay vs #3 Detroit
Verdict: Tampa Bay in 6
Another rematch from last year, I give the upperhand to Tampa Bay once again, even without Anton Stralman and Steven Stamkos. The Bolts have better goaltending and better depth in my opinion, plus will be hungry to return to the finals.
#1 Dallas vs WC2 Minnesota
Verdict: Minnesota in 6
The Wild have faced and triumphed over some tough opponents over the past few years and that does not change here. The Wild have a better overall game in my opinion, especially on defense. Devan Dubnyk can steal some games as well. This will be a high flying, goal fest of a series.
#2 St. Louis vs #3 Chicago
Verdict: Chicago in 6
The Blues will continue their playoff woes as they fall to Chicago in six games. The battle tested Blackhawks will try to solidify their dynasty, and it starts by taking down the Blues. Goaltending health will play a big factor in this series.
#1 Anaheim vs WC1 Nashville
Verdict: Ducks in 5
The Ducks battled back from a horrendous start and found their way atop the Pacific Division, but still face a tough Predators opponent. Pekka Rinne hasn’t been stellar this year, so his abilities will factor in largely in this series. The Ducks also have fantastic special teams with both their powerplay and penalty kill being #1 in the league.
#2 Los Angeles vs #3 San Jose
Verdict: Los Angeles in 6
Facing Californian rival San Jose as well as former goalie Martin Jones, the Kings are in for a tough series. That goes for the Sharks as well. This series could go either way, but the edge has to be given to the Kings given the history.
#1 Washington vs #3 NY Rangers
Verdict: Washington in 6
The Capitals cannot be contained, even with Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Their offense and defensive core sate too lethal. The Rangers back end with Boyle, Girardi, and Staal will have a tough time containing them.
#2 Tampa Bay vs WC1 NY Islanders
Verdict: Tampa Bay in 6
The Lightning continue on their quest to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals by edging out the New York Islanders. Ben Bishop returns to form and leads Tampa Bay to the next round.
#3 Chicago vs WC2 Minnesota
Verdict: Chicago in 6
Another year, another Chicago versus Minnesota series. The Blackhawks prevail again. The quad-threat of Toews, Kane, Panarin, and Hossa is too much for the Wild to handle as they lose yet again in disappointing fashion.
#1 Anaheim vs #2 Los Angeles
Verdict: Anaheim in 7
Now, wouldn’t this be an amazing series? The Ducks and Kings meet in the semi-finals and beat each other to a pulp, however the Ducks get the series win.
#1 Washington vs #2 Tampa Bay
Verdict: Washington in 6
Tampa’s bid to return to the finals falls short at the expense of the President’s Trophy winners. The Capitals remain a force to be reckoned with. Steven Stamkos could return by this point, but it’s up in the air. Still, I don’t see him being enough to turn the tide of the series in Tampa’s favor.
#1 Anaheim vs #3 Chicago
Verdict: Anaheim in 7
A rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, however this time Anaheim takes home the win. The Ducks get an added boost from their superb special teams to win the series. The weak bottom half of Chicago’s defense will have a tough time keeping up with Anaheim’s depth.
STANLEY CUP FINAL
#1 Washington vs #1 Anaheim
Verdict: Anaheim in 6
The Anaheim Ducks are your 2016 Stanley Cup champs!
There is obviously a tremendous amount of pressure on each team as they enter the Stanley Cup playoffs. Some, however, have more than others.
1. Washington Capitals: The Capitals already have a target on their back after winning the Presidents Trophy, but their lack of playoff success over the past few seasons magnifies that. Can Barry Trotz’s team do what Bruce Boudreau’s team never did? There’s no doubt a severe sense of disappointment will be felt throughout the organization if Alex Ovechkin leaves June without raising the Cup over his head.
2. Chicago Blackhawks: The reigning Stanley Cup champions always have pressure weighing down on them as they enter the next year of playoffs. The Blackhawks face another impending cap crunch as well, with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane making 10.5 million each and Artemi Panarin due for a big pay raise. This could be the last run with core players such as Andrew Shaw.
3. St. Louis Blues: The Blues have had their fair share of playoff disappointments over the last four years, which have only included one second round appearance. Captain David Backes is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and GM Doug Armstrong will want to make some big moves with the core if another playoff flop happens.
4. New York Rangers: The Cup window for the Rangers is closing fast as Henrik Lundqvist is already 34 years old. The Rangers also face uncertainty moving forward on defense with Dan Boyle’s and Keith Yandle’s future undecided.
5. Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks had an awful start of the year but turned it around, although the struggle is far from over. The Ducks were one win away from advancing to the finals last year, and Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry haven’t been back since they won it all in 2007.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning: The young, energetic Lightning made it to the finals last year, but haven’t had an easy road back to the top this year. With the drama of Jonathan Drouin and Steven Stamkos becoming a mainstay, there’s no indication if either will be on Tampa Bay’s roster next year. The Lightning, luckily, have an easier route to the conference finals than most, but unluckily have lost captain and superstar Steven Stamkos to a bloodclot. It’ll be an interesting postseason for the Bolts.
7. San Jose Sharks: Much like the Blues, the Sharks have had very little playoff success in the recent past. They made some nice offseason acquisitions this offseason, like Martin Jones and Joel Ward, but it’s still yet to be seen what they’ll do in the playoffs. Time is potentially running out in teal for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins haven’t seen much playoff success since they went to back-to-back finals in 2008 and 2009, although they look to be back in form this season. Can Sidney Crosby help break the idea that the Penguins are playoff chokers? It remains to be seen.
9. Los Angeles Kings: After missing the playoff last year, the Kings came back with an impressive season. The Kings are not a low seeded team this time around, like they were when they won the Cup (#6 seed and #8 seed). The Kings will be looking to defeat the Blackhawks and become the class of the west once again.
10. New York Islanders: The Islanders and captain John Tavares head into this playoffs looking for their first series win since 1993. Garth Snow hasn’t made any major moves since acquiring Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy in October 2014, in belief that the current roster is good enough. If he’s wrong, the consequences could be severe with new owners stepping in on July 1st.
11. Dallas Stars: Dallas missed the playoffs last season but has survived the hell that is the Central Division so far this year. It remains to be seen if they’ll play Chicago or Minnesota (it’ll be decided tonight) but the high flying Stars won’t have an easy road regardless.
12. Detroit Red Wings: The likes of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Kronwall are getting older. However, they have a good crop of young players such as Mantha, Larkin, Tatar, and Nyquist to take over. The Wings get Tampa Bay in Round 1, a rematch from last year. Seems pretty sure fire to go 7.
13. Nashville Predators: The Predators are a good team, but will have a tough time escaping the West. If they can claw their way to a round or two, or even more, good for them. They’re in almost an underdog role in that conference.
14. Minnesota Wild: The Wild have had a rough year but have been playing well under new coach John Torchetti. They need Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville to step it up big time during the playoffs. Are changes looming? Regardless, I don’t think many are expecting a Cup run out of this Wild club.
15. Florida Panthers: The young Panthers surprised some people by being atop the Atlantic Division this year. They’ll get either the Rangers or the Islanders in the first round. They are a good team who can squeak out a series of two, but I don’t think many will be overly angry if the playoffs end quickly. They’ll be back for sure with Barkov, Ekblad, and company with playoff experience. The Panthers are in a good spot.
16. Philadelphia Flyers: Let’s be honest, midway through January, when the Flyers were behind New Jersey and Carolina in the Metro, did anyone really expect them to be here? I definitely didn’t. The Flyers get Washington in Round 1 and are the heavy underdogs. But as we saw a few weeks back, the Flyers can beat them. That’ll be an interesting series for sure.
This list isn’t meant to put a knock on any team saying that they don’t have any expectations. Everyone does. But, some have more than others. We can expect a fun playoffs like usual filled with exciting endings and thrilling upsets.
Once the matchups are decided, I’ll put out predictions. In the mean time, join The NHL Files’ bracket challenge:
The trade deadline is just two weeks away which means rumors and potential deals will start to heat up. These are some predictions for the 2016 NHL trade deadline. These are pretty much a crapshoot, but here goes nothing.
Andrew Ladd will be shipped out of Winnipeg to the New York Rangers in a surprise deal. Pavel Buchnevich would not be a part of the package heading back to the Jets.
Justin Schultz will get a fresh start in Toronto, traded from Edmonton in exchange for a lower end prospect that would have a tough time cracking the Leafs’ roster in a few years.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will sweep in and acquire Dan Hamhuis from under the noses of Washington and Dallas. Much to the dismay of Penguins fans, it will cost them some nice future assets.
Kris Russell will remain a Calgary Flames player but Jiri Hudler will not. The Devils will get Hudler in an attempt to make a run at a wild card or divisional spot.
Roman Polak will be traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a third and sixth round pick.
PA Parenteau and Brad Boyes will also be going out of Toronto, with the Blues and Capitals acquiring them respectively.
The Panthers will wind up taking Teddy Purcell for a lower price than some other options on the market.
Radim Vrbata will be traded to the New York Islanders in exchange for picks.
Eric Staal, Kyle Okposo, and Travis Hamonic will all remain with their current clubs.
Loui Eriksson will be traded to the Nashville Predators.
Jonathan Drouin will be traded to the Ottawa Senators at some point or another before next season.
For the shocking deal of the day, the Sharks and Blues will pull off a blockbuster involving Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Marleau. Both players are unrestricted at the end of next season, but more assets would certainly be going to the Blues. Could Mirco Mueller be an option? This is pure speculation.
Ladd -> NYR
Schultz -> TOR
Hamhuis -> PIT
Hudler -> NJD
Polak -> LAK
Parenteau -> STL
Boyes -> WSH
Purcell -> FLA
Vrbata -> NYI
Eriksson -> NSH
Drouin -> OTT
Shattenkirk -> SJS
Marleau -> STL
Next year’s cap situation will play a big factor but we are regardless setting up for a big trade deadline.
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.
Preview for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Western Conference Round 1