Arizona Coyotes 2016 Offseason Plans

The Arizona Coyotes are a team in flux. As of April 27th, 2016, the team has still not confirmed where they will play their home games, who their General Manager will be and the majority of last season’s players are free agents. Even though they improved over their pitiful 2014-2015 season, the Coyotes missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year. The next GM, rumored to be 26 year old analytics guru John Chayka, will have the flexibility to move the team in a new direction this offseason.

One of the main priorities for the new decision maker will be to upgrade a defense and goaltending group that allowed the third most goals of any team in the league. Additionally, they finished third to last in penalty killing. The offense could also use some additional scoring punch as the top scorer on team was defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson with 55 points.

Pending Free Agents: The list of free agents this summer is incredibly long. The most notable player on the market is Captain Shane Doan. Nearing age 40, the league’s longest tenured captain turned back the clock and led the team with 28 goals. It remains to be seen whether he will want to continue playing, and if the team will want him back.

Outside of Ekman Larsson, the only other defenseman not up for free agency is Zbynek Michalek. Also, the team has only one goalie under contract, starter Mike Smith. The team will have to re-sign some of their own free agents, but there could be a potential “house cleaning” as well.

Draft Picks: Since Arizona has two young forwards that will likely make the jump to the pros next season in Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak, there is a good chance the team will select one of the team defenseman with their first pick. Depending on the teams picking in front of them, the Coyotes will likely miss out on top prospect Jacob Chychrun but could still choose from Jake Bean, Mikhail Sergachev or Olli Juolevi.

Free Agent Additions: If Chayka is selected as the new GM, it will be interesting to see if he will bring a “Moneyball” style approach to free agency. While the team should have cap room to land a big free agent or two, he may search for undervalued players to build a more well-rounded squad. There are not a lot of big name defenseman to go after, but Kyle Quincey (Detroit),Luke Schenn (Los Angeles) and Jason Demers (Dallas) may be options. In goal, 24 year old Louis Domingue played relatively well when called on this season and should be re-signed to backup Mike Smith.

East vs West

What is it about the Eastern Conference lately? They always have high scoring, talented, highlight reel teams, but can’t put in the final effort over the Western Conference to go all the way.
The evidence is the gritty, hard-nosed hockey that the Western Conference Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings played to win five of the last six Stanley Cups, with the Tim Thomas backed Boston Bruins narrowly beating the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 as the exception.
The Western Conference seems to have found a way to get through the blood, sweat, tears and grind of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This year feels the same.
The best team in the NHL in terms of points, the Washington Capitals, nearly let their series with the Philadelphia Flyers slip away. Mainly because of a simple goaltender change. If the Capitals are the dominating team that they are supposed to be, they would have decimated the Flyers as soon as they felt the rocking vending machine start to tip over. But they didn’t. They relied on their hot goaltender, which has to be done from time to time but not for the number one seed to squeak by the number eight seed. Ovechkin firing slap shots won’t get the Capitals the hardest trophy in professional sports to win, as previous years have proven.
On the other side of the bracket, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a much more dominating series against a much better team, the New York Rangers. With two rookie goaltenders, the same can be said for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but their games were much closer than the final result of the series indicates.
On the Western Conference side the teams seem to be playing full on playoff hockey. No holds barred, all the way to the finish seems to be the mantra of all the teams in the West. The Dallas Stars had some difficulty (similar to the Capitals) with the Minnesota Wild but they stayed their course that made them the highest scoring team in the regular season. They scored the goals that they have been scoring all year.They will continue to score goals until one of the other Western Conference team’s defence stops them. Defence and goaltending is the key.
That being said, the hottest team in the West is the San Jose Sharks and if the Stars run into them in the Western Finals they will need more than just a lot of shots on goal. Even now against the St. Louis Blues they will be in tough against a team that just beat the defending Stanley Cup champions and the league’s leading scorer in Patrick Kane.
But back to the Sharks, (who are arguably the best in the West with Pittsburgh being the best in the East so far) and the reasons they are clicking on all levels right now. They are the epitome of why the teams in the West have won more Stanley Cups in recent years. Great goaltending and defense when the game is on the line is the key to advancing. The Sharks didn’t do that the past few seasons but it looks like they have put those demons to rest.
The Kings scored only 11 goals in the series with the Sharks blocking 15 shots in Game 1, 28 in Game 2, 18 in Game 3, 25 in Game 4, and 29 in Game 5. When you see numbers like those going in an upward trend, one can surmise that the team is realizing how to win playoff hockey games. The Sharks are realizing this. One team all the time. No matter what the consequences.
Wayne Gretzky said after losing to the New York Islanders in the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals that he felt his Edmonton Oilers could play another series, but when walking by the winning Islanders dressing room there was no partying or jubilation from them. They were so worn out from the grind of winning the Stanley Cup they could barely stand. The Oilers knew then what it would take to win the Cup and did it the following year.

These are the little things (read: massive things) that make the difference between raising the Stanley Cup banner and raising the Conference Championship banner next year. The remaining Western Conference teams seem to have the sand to make it all the way. Will the Eastern teams step up?

Anything but the Blues in St. Louis

When the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks meet during the regular season expectations for an exciting match-up are high. When the Blackhawks and Blues meet in the playoffs the anticipation for fireworks is off the charts.

Sharing a division since 1970, the Hawks Blues rivalry is the most intense as far as penalty minutes and fighting goes. The hatred between these two teams has simmered for decades perhaps reaching it’s peak during what is referred to as the Saint Patrick’s Day Massacre, a brutal match on March 17, 1991 where nearly 300 penalty minutes were handed out along with 22 games worth of suspensions.

Flash forward to this year and once again we see the rivals meeting and this time the stakes couldn’t be higher. The Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions while the Blues have suffered 3 consecutive first round ousters, one of which came at the Hawks’ hands.

While the Blues managed to shake off their demons and nab a 4-3 series win it was the fans that came out ahead in this series. The hockey played was nothing short of amazing.

Game 1 was the Brian Elliott show as the Blues’ netminder stymied the Hawks for his first playoff shut out. David Backes scored the only goal of the night at 9:04 into overtime. With a bad bounce off a Blackhawks defenseman the solitary goal gave the home team a thrilling victory.

Enter Game 2 where a late third period goal after a Coach’s Challenge chalked up a win for the Hawks. Joel Quenneville’s challenge negated a Blues goal and set both teams up for another tense ending.  Andrew Shaw stuffed home a rebound with 4:19 remaining to tie the series 1-1.
Game 3 saw the teams moved to Chicago where the Blues retook the series lead 2-1 after a bruising match that ended with a power play goal set up by a high sticking penalty on Chicago star, and potential MVP, Patrick Kane.

With Game 4 the Blues took a commanding 3-1 lead made possible by two powerful wrist-shots by Vladimir Tarasenko. Jaden Schwartz scored the tie-breaking goal on a power play in the third period.
Back in St. Louis for Game 5 the Patrick Kane’s backhander in the second overtime gave the Hawks another win and put the series at 3-2. It was Kane’s fist goal of the playoffs and provided a much-needed psychological boost for a team that needed to stage a major comeback to overcome a 3-1 deficit.

Game 6 gave Blues fans some serious anxiety as a recharged Hawks team bowled them over 6-3, forcing Game 7. With three goals, the second period of this game might have been the best Hawks period of the entire season.

Which brings it all to Game 7, a barn-burner that ended with forward Troy Brouwer’s brilliant second effort getting the puck into the net for a Blues win. According to Brouwer, it was “the ugliest goal I’ve ever scored and probably the timeliest goal I’ve ever scored.”

The Blues have little time to rest on their laurels as their second round series against the Dallas Stars begins on Friday but for St. Louis fans a win against their fiercest rival is not only sweet, it’s been a long time coming.

Alternating goalies in the playoffs rarely results in Stanley Cup

The last time an NHL team won the Stanley Cup by splitting their goaltending duties during the playoffs was 44 years ago. However, with 21 different netminders being used by the 16 clubs during the first round of the 2015/16 postseason, this streak may soon come to an end. While some teams may go with goaltending tandems during the regular season, most of them stick with the goaltender who has the hot hand during the playoffs. Both the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks went with a successful two-goaltender system this season though and have had to use both goalies so far in the playoffs.

Dallas won the Western Conference and the Central Division this season by playing Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi in while Anaheim won the Pacific Division with John Gibson and Frederik Andersen sharing the crease. In fact, Anaheim’s duo won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals against in the league at 192. Anderson posted a record of 22-9-7 along with a 2.30 goals-against average and a 91.9 save percentage. Gibson went 21-13-4 with a goals-against average of 2.07 and a save percentage of 92.0.

Gibson started the playoffs in net, but after losing the first two games at home to the Nashville Predators, coach Bruce Boudreau has replaced him with Andersen and the Ducks have bounced back with three straight wins. Dallas also had the option of two fine netminders who both won 25 games each this year. Lehtonen went 25-10-2 with a 2.76 goals-against average and a 90.6 save percentage while Niemi was 25-13-7 with a 2.67 goals-against average and a 90.5 save percentage. Stars’ coach Lindy Ruff found himself in the same boat as Boudreau as he’s switched between goalies after they each suffered a loss.

The Detroit Red Wings used two goalies in their five-game defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the same reason. Veteran Jimmy Howard started the series, but was benched in favour of youngster Petr Mrazek after dropping the first two games on the road. But in all three of these instances, the goaltending duties were split as a way to spark the respective teams. The coaches felt a change was necessary before it was too late. The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers have also used two goalies so far in the postseason, but this was because the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist was injured and then played poorly and Pittsburgh also ran into injury problems.

Very rarely do you see a head coach change goaltenders during the playoffs these days when his team is winning because they don’t want to tinker with success. This wasn’t always the case though as the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1971/72 when coach Tom Johnson split the duties between veterans Gerry Cheevers and Eddie Johnston. Playoff tandems were also common in the 1980s as Chico Resch and Billy Smith often alternated in net for the New York Islanders. However, the team didn’t start winning Stanley Cups until Smith was handed the number-one job.

In the past 26 years, just seven clubs have reached the Conference Finals by alternating goalies in the playoffs. The Philadelphia Flyers were the last to do it when they made it as far as the Stanley Cup Final in 2009/10 by starting Michael Leighton 14 times and Brian Boucher 12 times. It didn’t work in the Final though as Chicago won the cup in six games. History has shown that teams which stick with a designated goalie, win or lose, have been the most successful in the playoffs.

Records show that just six teams have managed to win the Stanley Cup while playing more than one goalie on a regular basis in the playoffs. These were the New York Rangers in 1927/28, the Detroit Red Wings in 1936/37, the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1950/51, and the Montreal Canadiens in each of the 1952/53, 1964/65 and 1968/69 seasons. If a team does hoist the cup this year by using more than one goalie, it’ll likely be because of injury problems or poor play by one of the netminders rather than by design.

Winnipeg Jets 2016 Offseason Plans

After earning 99 points in 2014-2015 and clinching the team’s first playoff berth since moving to Winnipeg in 2011, the Jets plummeted to just 78 points in 2015-2016. Even though they play in arguably the NHL’s toughest division, many thought Winnipeg would be back in the playoffs. However, the team slogged through a rough season and traded away their captain, Andrew Ladd.

On paper, the Jets have the talent to compete. Winger Blake Wheeler led the team with 78 points while playing all 82 games this season. Top center Mark Scheifele, just 23 years old, also performed extremely well offensively. On defense, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers are two of the best in the game and Myers is still developing after coming over from the Buffalo Sabres in the trade for Evander Kane. This top talent overshadowed a lack of depth that was evident as the year progressed.

The real bright spot for Winnipeg this season was the emergence of goalie Connor Hellebuyck. The 22 year old was clearly the best netminder on the team, posting a 2.34 goals against average and .918 save percentage in his 26 games. Ondrej Pavelec, and his $3.9 million salary, was far worse than Hellebuyck.

Pending Free Agents: Winnipeg’s top priority will be working out a long term extension with Scheifele. He will be entitled to a significant payday, but the team has been hovering near the bottom of the league in spending so they have the funds. Another restricted free agent, Jacob Trouba, is a 22 year old top four defenseman that will also be looking for big money.

Draft Picks: While the team hopes to win the draft lottery and select Auston Matthews, the odds of that happening are pretty slim. While the team could use some help on defense, an interesting scenario would be selecting Left Wing Matthew Tkachuk. Matthew is the son of former Winnipeg Captain and fan favorite Keith Tkachuk.

Free Agent Additions: While he isn’t a true free agent, the Jets just signed last year’s first round pick, Kyle Connor, to a three year deal. He was on fire as a freshman at the University of Michigan, racking up 71 points in just 38 games. He may get a shot at the pro level sooner rather than later.

Since the team traded away Ladd, there is no true captain on the roster. While some of the young players could be given the role, or maybe even Wheeler, the Jets might look to fill the leadership void from the outside. St. Louis Blues Captain David Backes may be available this offseason. He could provide instant credibility and a winning attitude to a team that needs it.

The Next Guy

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a different brand of hockey. Almost a different sport. The intensity that goes into every single shift is the maximum amount that a player can give. The goaltender is zoned in for every single second the puck is in play. The coaches are constantly aware of every single player on the ice and how they plan to attack or defend every single shift because if you make one mistake, you make this difficult journey all the more arduous. One of the more difficult choices a coach has to make is which goaltender to start a game after losing momentum. Sometimes there is no choice, such as when there is an injury, but more often than not, there is the mind numbing conundrum of starting your backup goaltender in order to rejuvenate the team in front of him.
Injury is the reason why the Pittsburgh Penguins had to start third string goaltender Jeff Zatkoff in his playoff debut for games 1 and 2. Marc-Andre Fleury and backup Matt Murray were both out but the Penguins managed to give Zatkoff his first win. In game 3 coach Mike Sullivan had the opportunity to replace Zatkoff, after a loss in game 2, with Murray. Murray was amazing at the end of the regular season after Fleury was concussed, only to sustain an upper body injury on April 9. By re-instating Murray the Penguins played a solid, bounce-back game, only allowing 17 shots and 1 goal while scoring 3 goals on 31 shots.
The Washington Capitals were steamrolling the Philadelphia Flyers for the first three games, as many had expected, so this goaltender change was not such a hard decision for Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol. Steve Mason was benched for game 4 in favor of Michal Neuvirth and for good reason after a 6-1 loss and the 101 foot gaffe the previous game. Neuvirth came in and made 31 saves to get the Flyers a 2-1 win, their first of the series. Only time will tell if the Neuvirth can put the Flyers on his back and take down the best team in the league.
Again, changing goaltenders inspired the team in front of them to play a supercharged game to get back in the series. This time it was the Detroit Red Wings who found themselves in a 2-0 series hole and decided to put in Petr Mrazek after Jimmy Howard allowed 7 goals on 64 shots in the previous 2 games. The Red Wings only allowed 16 shots on Mrazek to give him the shut out and scored two goals on 30 shots. He played well in game 4, stopping 30 shots but the Red Wings fell 3-2 after a powerplay goal with 2:32 left in the third. Allowing 3 goals in two games will pretty much guarantee a third straight start for game 5.
If you need more examples of a team playing hard with a new goaltender in net, here they are:
After losing both home games 3-2, Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks decided to play Frederik Andersen instead of John Gibson. The result: a 27 save shutout and a 3-0 win for the Ducks.
The high-scoring Dallas Stars probably didn’t need to replace Kari Lehtonen with Antti Niemi but perhaps they just decided to give Lehtonen the night off after a 5-3 loss in game 3. The move worked. The Stars won 3-2 with Niemi making 28 saves and giving the Stars a 3-1 series lead.

Whether due to injury, need of inspiration, or because of poor play, having a reliable backup goaltender apparently is a huge part of winning games in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The next problem for the coaches is when, or if, to go back to the goaltender that got you there.

Way to Go

“Way to go.” Those may be the most depressing, condescending, and out-of-character words ever spoken through the public address system at a National Hockey League game. The fact that they were entirely appropriate given the chaos that was erupting in the arena doesn’t change the fact that things have gotten so bad in Philadelphia that the voice of the Flyers, Lou Nolan, actually resorted to the kind of language usually reserved for older brothers and upperclassmen rebuking their younger counterparts. “Way to go.” Could it get any worse than to hear those words amplified across the entire arena, through the cameras, and out into thousands of homes where stupefied hockey fans stare at each other and ask, “Did he just say that?”

For those not in the know Nolan’s words came after the second round of game disruption where fans threw promotional bracelets onto the ice as an expression of their disgust or their unhappiness or their whatever. They were mad at something or other and chose to convey that by tossing light-up LED trinkets not only on the ice but also at the officials and even opposing players. The fans earned a minor penalty for delay of game, which might have mattered more if the Capitals weren’t already trouncing Philly 5-1.

The ruckus began after Flyer’s forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare delivered a brutal check on defenseman Dmitry Orlov, slamming him headfirst into the boards. While Orlov managed to skate off the ice under his own power he clearly needed medical attention and the rest of the Capitals came to his defense. After officials pulled the ensuing scrum apart, Bellemare received a 5-minute major and a game misconduct. Two other Flyers’ players received penalties as well but the bracelet rain didn’t begin until the crowd realized none of the Capitals’ players would be receiving penalty time.

As the storm of white promotional toys gained momentum announcer Lou Nolan pleaded with fans to stop the madness. His appeal seemed to work for a time but it wasn’t long before the shower continued and the officials were forced to call a delay of game penalty on Philadelphia. It was at this point that a clearly exasperated Nolan offered his rebuke, ““OK, those of you that have been throwing, you’ve done it now. Two-minute bench minor on the Flyers for delay of the game … Way to go!”

Throwing items on the ice isn’t new and the list of items launched from the seats is as odd as it is long. From pennies and nickels in the 1940s to Detroit’s bizarre octopus fetish that began in the 50s. There’s also a 3-foot leopard shark that made its way onto the ice as a show of support of the San Jose Sharks or the slabs of Alberta beef thrown out for Edmonton’s Oilers. In Toronto, fans of the Maple Leafs became so disgusted with their team’s play they even threw their valuable jerseys over the glass. Former Hawk’s President Bill Tobin recalled a game in Montreal where some disgruntled fan threw an alarm clock into play. “They thought it was time we woke up, I guess,” Tobin was heard to say.

While celebratory traditions like throwing hats for a hat trick are rarely penalized the kind of angry demonstration exhibited in Philadelphia crossed the line. Orlov was even hit in the face by a bracelet while receiving medical treatment after Bellamare’s hit. Had the game been closer, or the series for that matter, the ramifications would have been more severe but not only did most Philly fans leave the Wells Fargo Center with a 6-1 loss; they had a bad taste in their mouths as well.

Do high Canadian taxes scare off NHL free agents?

Even though NHL contracts are paid in American dollars, Canadian teams are generally at a disadvantage when trying to attract big-name players due to the country’s high tax rates. The rate of tax players pay on their earnings varies greatly throughout the league depending on where they’re located. Those who believe money is the bottom line when it comes to contract time may be willing to take less cash in some cities because a lower tax rate means they’ll actually take home a bigger chunk of their pay.

A prime example is the case of forward Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st and is bound to have several suitors. However, if he’s just interested in making as much money as possible he’s probably better off staying where he is and signing a smaller contract. The reason for this is because there’s no state income tax in Florida. The Lightning has reportedly offered Stamkos a deal worth $8.5-million a season for eight years and he didn’t appear too interested in it.

As usual, the media in Toronto is getting involved in the situation by claiming Stamkos will sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs for no other reason than the fact that he hails from nearby Markham. But the Leafs would have to offer him more than $10 million per season just to equal Tampa’s offer of $8.5 million. Players who skate for Ontario-based teams Toronto and the Ottawa Senators are taxed at a rate of 53.53 percent by the Canadian government as are any other residents who are paid more than $220,000 per year.

If Stamkos stays in Tampa or signs with the neighbouring Florida Panthers for $8.5 million, he’d take home $4.6 million dollars a year after agent fees and federal taxes. However, in Ontario he’d keep just $4.3 million on a $10 million annual contract. The Leafs and Senators would have to dish out approximately $2 million more per year for Stamkos to take home the same amount of money as he does in Florida. On a seven year contract, this would see an Ontario based team paying out an extra $14 million, which could be a crucial amount due to the league’s salary cap rules.

Ontario teams are at the greatest disadvantage in the league and Canada it comes to money-hungry free agents. Players in Quebec are subject to a tax rate of 53.31 per cent, while those in Winnipeg fork over 50.4 per cent. Players on Alberta teams Edmonton and Calgary are taxed 48 per cent and those in British Vancouver pay 47.7 per cent. The tax rates in Ontario and Quebec are higher than any of the 50 American states and fans will notice that most NHL stars who become free agents tend to sign with U.S. teams.

Most Canadian clubs were at an advantage before the salary cap was introduced in 2005 since they could spend as much as they pleased on free agent contracts. This was easy to do since the majority of Canadian teams sold out their rinks night after night and were among the league’s top revenue earners. Things are tighter with the salary cap in place though and if Canadian franchises need to spend more money on big-name free agents it obviously means they have less to offer the remaining players on their rosters.

Players on the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators are also lucky enough to pay no state income tax and can sign for less money in these locations and still earn more. If two clubs are offering the same amount of money to a free agent there’s a good chance he’ll sign with the team that has a lower tax rate. There’s also an added bonus since the current exchange rate sees the American dollar worth roughly 30 per cent more than its Canadian counterpart. As soon as players cross the border or return home to Canada for the summer their wallets swell. Therefore, the more money they keep the better. This isn’t to say that all American-based NHL players pay little to no tax as California’s combined rate is 52.9 per cent, while Minnesota’s is 49.45 per cent, New Jersey’s is 48.57 per cent, Washington, D.C. pays 48.55 per cent and New York’s rate is 48.42 per cent.

As you can see these figures are higher than Alberta and British Columbia. But while American players may not be required to pay state tax, they still need to pay federal taxes with the lowest rates in the league being Florida and Texas at 39.6 per cent. In addition, the top tax rates in many states applied to a higher income level than in Canadian provinces. For example, people making over $220,000 in Ontario pay the highest rate while you need to earn more than $1 million in California to be hit with the most tax.

Not all free agents base their decisions on the almighty dollar though. Some of them are more interested in the city they’ll be living in as well as the quality of the team on the ice and what their role with the club will be. But whatever reason a free agent has for signing with a team, the higher taxes aren’t doing the Canadian based clubs any favours.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2016 Offseason Plans

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 2015-2016 started out as bad as can be, and never got much better. The team set a record for futility, losing the first eight games of the season in regulation. After firing Coach Todd Richards, John Tortorella came in and compiled a .500 record. The team that many thought would complete for a playoff spot ended up last in the Metropolitan division and second last in the Eastern Conference.

Columbus had a major problem in their own end, allowing the second most goals and the fourth most shots of any team in the league. The squad’s top goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, was hampered with groin injuries that limited him to only 37 games. Even while he was playing, he struggled to a 2.75 Goals Against Average and .908 save percentage. Considering his $7.425 million salary cap hit moving forward, the team will need him to return to form.

The Blue Jackets do have some exciting young talent to build around though. Brandon Saad (23 years old) and Boone Jenner (22) both scored over 30 goals this season. In addition, Cam Atkinson (26) tied Saad for the team lead with 53 points. On defense, Ryan Murray (22), David Savard (25) and Seth Jones (21) give the team a solid core to develop.

Pending Free Agents: The most notable free agent is Jones who was acquired in a mid-season trade. The former number four overall pick scored 20 points in 41 games with Columbus and is still growing. The team does not have a lot of cap room, but will need to use a good chunk of it to keep Jones long term. Right Winger Rene Bourque will likely not be re-signed.

Draft Picks: If the Jackets stay in the number four spot in the draft, they could take the best overall defenseman. However, considering they have Jones and Murray, there is a good chance they will take a top forward. They had to part with their top center, Ryan Johansen, to get Jones and this may be a way to bring back some of that scoring punch. Matthew Tkachuk, son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, could be an option.

Free Agent Additions: Free agency will be limited for Columbus based on their current cap situation. If they will sign someone, they will look for a veteran presence on defense to help develop the younger players. Adam Pardy of the the Winnipeg Jets or Christian Ehrhoff of the Chicago Blackhawks could be players to target.

The ‘X-Factor’ in the First Round Matchups

The playoffs start on Wednesday April 13th with three series, followed by four on Thursday, and the Ducks and the Predators finally starting on Friday. That means it’s time for any and all to weigh in on who they think is going to go all the way and win the Stanley Cup.
While this article will give predictions for the winners of each round, it will also discuss the ‘X-Factor’, or the player who will make the most difference, for each team.
Washington vs Philadelphia
Capitals – With many previous playoff failures, though not necessarily his fault, Alex Ovechkin is the leader and captain of this team and ultimately the success, or lack thereof, of this team is squarely on his shoulders. He will have the weight of the world on his shoulders for the entirety of the playoffs, right up until the final buzzer sounds.
Flyers – Sean Couturier is a big, strong center that will be charged with playing an extremely large roll. His task will be to try to limit the line of Ovechkin, TJ Oshie, and Nicklas Backstrom to as few points as possible. Not an easy task.
Washington in 5
Florida vs New York Islanders
Panthers – Jaromir Jagr, the ageless wonder, will have to see if he can take his 44 year old body through the grind of a potentially long playoff run. He will have to keep up his great play from the regular season where he led the Panthers with 66 points.
Islanders – Top defenceman Travis Hamonic has been out since March 31 but has practised and should be ready to go. With number one goalie Jaroslav Halak out for the first round, the Islanders will need all the defensive help they can get.
Florida in 6
Pittsburgh vs New York Rangers
Penguins – Marc-Andre Fleury is supposedly ready to go for game 1 after sustaining his second concussion of the season on March 31. He is obviously their backbone on the defensive side and has a ton of playoff experience. The Penguins will need him healthy.
Rangers – Again, the goalie is the story if the Rangers want to win. Henrik Lundqvist is a world class goalie that is going to have to steal some games from the third highest scoring team in the league. The Rangers also have some key injuries on defence and their offence isn’t scoring nearly at the rate the Penguins are.
Pittsburgh in 6
Tampa Bay vs Detroit
Lightning – Ben Bishop will have to steal a few (maybe all) of the games for the Lightning if they want to win. With Stamkos out, the rest of the team will have to find a way to replace a lot of goals and if they can’t do it, then it will be up to Bishop.
Red Wings – Dylan Larkin has had an outstanding year for the Red Wings and led the team with 23 goals. He will need to score on Ben Bishop for the Red Wings to have a chance.
Tampa Bay in 7
Dallas vs Minnesota
Stars – Tyler Seguin will have to see if he can return to his regular season form after suffering an achilles injury and missing the final 10 games. However, he scored 73 points in his 72 regular season games, including 33 goals.
Minnesota – The Wild limped into the playoffs with losses in their final five games and two of their best forwards injured. This will leave most of the weight on goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s shoulders. He will have his hands full against the NHL’s highest scoring team.
Dallas in 5
Anaheim vs Nashville
Ducks – Ryan Getzlaf is in the same boat as Alex Ovechkin in that he is the captain of a team that is, and has been, expected to win it all. After Anaheim’s slow start they roared back to the top of the standings and are primed for a long run with the best powerplay and penalty kill in the league.
Predators – One of the best defencemen in the league for many years has been Shea Weber and he will have a huge workload with the big, strong forwards in Anaheim. Plus he will have to handle the Ducks’ top-ranked powerplay.
Anaheim in 6
St. Louis vs Chicago
Blues – Alexander Steen had 52 points in 67 games this season but only 17 goals. The Blues need secondary scoring behind Vladimir Tarasenko and will need more than Steen’s 6 playoff goals in 31 games.
Blackhawks – Corey Crawford was (is?) having a Vezina trophy season before being injured for 11 games at the end of the season, only to come back for the last game and allow five goals. With Duncan Keith out for game 1 and a depleted defence already, he needs to shake off the rust and play like he, and everyone else, knows he can.
Chicago in 7
Los Angeles vs San Jose
Kings – The Kings playoff success has been largely dependant on the play of goalie Jonathan Quick. If the Kings can put up just a few goals per game than they can usually rely on Quick to close it out. However, the Kings were outscored 12-4 in third periods during a 7 game stretch in late March, early April so they might need Quick even more this year.
Sharks – At the other end of the ice will be goalie Martin Jones, who has never started a playoff game and will be doing so against his former team. If Jones can keep his wits about him then the Sharks will have the confidence to execute their high scoring offence in front of him.

Los Angeles in 7