Buffalo Sabres win NHL draft lottery; Hart Trophy finalists announced

The Buffalo Sabres finally hit the NHL Draft Lottery jackpot on April 28th when they were awarded with the first overall pick at this summer’s event on June 22-23 in Dallas, Texas. Buffalo had the best overall odds of landing the number one pick at 18.5 per cent after finishing dead last in the 31-team league this season with a record of 25-45-12. This is the third time the Sabres have held the first overall pick after selecting Gilbert Perreault in 1970 and Pierre Turgeon in 1987. It’s expected the club will be choosing Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin this time around.
The Sabres missed out on winning the draft lottery in recent years while stars such as Aaron Ekblad, . Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were all taken with the first overall pick. However, Buffalo did manage to land forward Jack Eichel with the second-overall selection after McDavid in 2015. The Sabres are hoping Dahlin will be as good as fellow countrymen Nicklas Lidstrom, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman and is expected to make the roster straight out of training camp later this year. There’s no doubt the club could use an excellent young blueliner after finishing the 2017/18 campaign with just 62 points.
The Sabres haven’t made the postseason in seven years with their last playoff series win coming 11 years ago. In addition, they’ve never won a Stanley Cup since entering the NHL as an expansion franchise in 1970, but did reach the Final in 1974/75 and 1998/99. They’re now just the second team in the last seven years to win the draft lottery after finishing in last place. The Toronto Maple Leafs also won it after placing last two years ago and selecting Matthews in 2016. The Carolina Hurricanes moved up a total of nine spots in this year’s lottery and will draft second while the Montreal Canadiens moved up a spot and will select third.
The NHL announced the order of the top 15 draft picks for June during the lottery which consisted of the 15 teams which didn’t make this season’s playoffs. The order is: 1-Buffalo Sabres, 2-Carolina Hurricanes, 3-Montreal Canadiens, 4-Ottawa Senators, 5-Arizona Coyotes, 6-Detroit Red Wings, 7- Vancouver Canucks, 8-Chicago Blackhawks, 9-New York Rangers, 10-Edmonton Oilers, 11-New York Islanders, 12-New York Islanders, 13-Dallas Star, 14-Philadelphia Flyers, 15-Florida Panthers. The rest of the picks will be determined following the playoffs.

With Dahlin expected to go first overall there are some other top prospects who could go in the first five or six picks. These include left-winger Brady Tkachuk of Boston University, right-winger Filip Zadina of the Halifax Mooseheads, defenceman Evan Bouchard of the London Knights, defenceman Noah Dobson of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, defenceman Quintin Hughes of the University of Michigan and fellow blueliner Adam Boqvist of Swedish junior league club Brynas.

The NHL also announced this year’s finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy which is awarded to the player deemed most valuable to his team. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas on June 20th. The finalists are forwards Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils. The 26-year-old Hall finished sixth in league scoring this year with 39 goals and 54 assists for 93 points and helped New Jersey reach the postseason for the first time since the 2011/12 campaign. No New Jersey player has won the Hart before.

The 30-year-old Kopitar led the Kings in offence with 92 points on 35 goals and 57 assists which was good enough for a seventh-place tie in league scoring with Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kopitar helped the Kings reach the postseason after missing it last season. He’s the first Kings player to hit the 90-point mark since 1993/94 when Wayne Gretzky had 130. Kopitar was also named as a finalist for this year’s Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward and won the award in
2016. This is the first time Kopitar’s been a finalist for the Hart Trophy with Gretzky being the only Los Angeles player to ever win it.
The 22-year-old MacKinnon racked up 39 goals and 58 assists for 97 points in 74 games this season to finish fifth in the NHL scoring parade. His averaged 1.31 points-per-game to finish second to McDavid’s 1.32. MacKinnon had 12 game-winning goals to finish in a first-place tie with Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning and also tie the Avalanche franchise record. The youngster helped Colorado reach the playoffs and improve by 47 points this season after finishing in last place in 2016-17. He’s hoping to become the third member of the franchise to win the Hart Trophy after Peter Forsberg in 2003 and Joe Sakic in 2001.

NHL announces trophy finalists

While NHL fans await the outcome of the first-round playoff series and the confirmed matchups for the second round, the league has kept them busy by announcing the trophy finalists. The majority of  individual trophies are awarded on a voting basis while the Rocket Richard, Art Ross and William Jennings awards are based on statistics. The results of the balloting will be announced in Las Vegas, Nevada at the league’s awards ceremony on June 20th.  
We already know Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has captured his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals with 49. Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers took home his second straight Art Ross for leading the league in points with 41 goals and 67 assists for 108 and Jonathan Quick won his second Jennings Trophy for leading the Los Angeles Kings to the fewest goals against in 2017/18.
Calder Memorial Trophy
The three finalists for the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year are forwards Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes and the Vancouver Canucks’ Brock Boeser.
The 20-year-old Barzal was drafted 16th overall by the Islanders in 2015 and the centre led the league in rookie scoring with 22 goals and 63 assists for 85 points.

The 21-year-old Boeser is a right-winger who was drafted 23rdoverall by Vancouver in 2015. He racked up 29 goals and 26 assists for 55 points. He ranked second in goals for rookies and fifth in points. However, he played just 62 games due to a back injury. Boeser has already been recognized for his fine play this season as he was named the MVP of this year’s NHL All-Star Game.

Keller is a 19-year-old center who was drafted seventh overall by Arizona in 2016. He finished the season with 23 goals and 42 assists. He was second in rookie scoring to Barzal and the top rookie scorer ever for the franchise since it moved to Arizona.

James Norris Trophy
The Norris Trophy finalists for the league’s best defenceman are Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. This is the second straight nomination for Hedman after he finished third in last year’s voting. The 27-year-old was tied for first in goals scored for a blueliner with 17 and added 46 assists for 63 points. He also finished the season at plus-32.

The 28-year-old Doughty racked up 10 goals and 50 assists for a career-best 60 points and led the NHL in total ice time at an average of 26:50 per game. He also reached his milestone 100th goal, 300th assists and 400th point this season. This is Doughty’s fourth time as a Norris finalist and he won the award in 2016.

The 28-year-old Subban scored a career-high 16 goals and added 43 helpers for 59 points and finished the season with a plus-18 ranking. He’s been a finalist for the award on two previous occasions and won it back in 2013. Subban’s hoping to become the first defenceman in Predators’ history to take home the Norris Trophy.

Frank J. Selke Trophy
The Selke Trophy is given to the best defensive forward each season and this year’s finalists are centres Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings. The 32-year-old Bergeron has been a finalist for the award for a league-record seven straight years and is currently tied with Bob Gainey for the most Selke awards in history at four.
Bergeron was ranked sixth in the NHL this year for faceoff percentage at 57.3 per cent and led the league in shorthanded draws at 58.3 per cent. He finished the year with 30 goals and 33 assists for 63 points in 64 games and was a plus-21.

The 25-year-old Couturier was ranked third in the league in plus/minus at plus-34 and his 21:35 minutes of average ice time per game ranked third for forwards. He also led his team in shorthanded ice time and puck possession. This is Couturier’s first time as a finalist for the trophy and he finished the season with 34 goals and 45 assists for 76 points in 82 games.

The 30-year-old Kopitar led all NHL forwards when it came to total ice time and averaged 22:05 minutes per contest. He also led the Kings forwards at shorthanded ice time and ranked third in the league for total faceoffs and faceoff wins. Kopitar has now been a finalist for the Selke Trophy four times in the last five years. He won it in 2016, came in second place in 2014 in third place in 2015. Kopitar chipped in with 35 goals and 57 assists for 92 points in 82 games and was a plus-21.
Vezina Trophy
The Vezina Trophy is awarded to the league’s top goaltender and this year’s finalists are Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. The 35-year-old Rinne was third in wins at 42 and helped his team finish first overall this season. His posted a franchise-record eight shutouts, was fifth-best in the league for goals-against average at 2.31 and owned the seventh-best percentage at 92.7. He’s a finalist for the fourth time after finishing second in voting in 2010/11 and 2014/15 and third back in 2011/12.
The 24-year-old Hellebuyck is a finalist for the first time and he’s also the first finalist in his franchise’s history. He was tied for first in the league for wins with 44 and set a new record for wins in a season by an American-born goalie. He set a franchise-record nine straight wins and finished eighth in the league in goals-against average at 2.36 and was 10th-best in save percentage at 92.4
The 23-year-old Vasilevskiy was tied with Hellebucyk in league wins ant 44 and helped Tampa Bay to their best season in history. The Russian-born netminder posted a goals-against-average of 2.62 and a save percentage of 92.0. He also set a franchise record with nine consecutive wins. He’s a first-time finalist for the award and aiming to become the first Tampa goalie ever to win it.

Plenty of goals and hits in NHL playoffs

The first week of the NHL playoffs has featured an explosion of goals and plenty of big hits as several of the series are off to a nasty start. In fact, there has already been a pair of suspensions. Defenceman Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings was banned for the second game of his series against the Vegas Golden Knights for what was ruled a hit to the head of forward Will Carrier. In addition, Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward Nazem Kadri was handed a three-game suspension for an illegal hit on forward Tommy Wingels of the Boston Bruins. Let’s take a quick look and recap each series.

The Winnipeg Jets downed the Minnesota Wild 3-2 at home in their opener and then followed up with a 4-1 win in the physical second game. The Wild then got back into the series with a big 6-2 win in their first home outing. The series has seen 16 goals in its three contests for an average of six goals per game.

The Pittsburgh Penguins drilled the Philadelphia Flyers 7-0 at home in their opener only to see the Flyers return the favour with a 5-1 drubbing in the second encounter. The Penguins then won the first game in the City of Brotherly love by a score of 5-1. There have been 19 goals in the three contests for an average of 6.33 goals per game.

The lowest-scoring series of the bunch has been the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights as it’s been a goaltending duel up to now. The Knights won 1-0 in the opener at home and then followed up with a 2-1 win in double overtime. The highest-scoring contest was a 3-2 Vegas victory in the first game in Los Angeles to take a 3-0 stranglehold in the series. Knights’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury leads the league with a save percentage of 97.0 with 96 saves on 99 shots. Kings’ netminder Jonathan Quick isn’t far behind him with a 94.5 save percentage with 104 stops on 110 shots. There have been nine goals in the three contests for 3 goals per game.

The Tampa Bay Lightning took care of the New Jersey Devils 5-2 in the opener at home and followed up with a 5-3 victory in the second match. The series has seen 15 goals scored in two games for an average of 7.5 per outing.

The Nashville Predators got past the Colorado Avalanche 5-2 in their series opener in Music City and followed it up with a 5-4 nail-biter in the second contest. This series has seen 16 goals in the first two games for an average of 8 per outing.

The Boston Bruins spanked the Toronto Maple Leafs by scores of 5-1 and 7-3 in the first two games in Beantown. There have been 16 goals in the series so far for an average of 8 per game. Incredibly, the Boston forward line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has combined for 20 points in the first two contests. Pastrnak leads the postseason in goals with four and points with nine. Marchand has chipped in with a goal and five assists while Bergeron has five helpers. In addition, all three of them are plus-6.

The closest series has been the Columbus Blue Jackets vs the Washington Capitals as both games have been decided in overtime. Columbus won the opener 4-3 and followed up in the second game with a 5-4 triumph with both wins coming on the road. The series has featured a total of 16 goals for an average of 8 per game.

Another relatively low-scoring series has been between the San Jose sharks and Anaheim Ducks. This has also seen the road team win the first two encounters as the Sharks were 3-0 and 3-2 winners. There have been eight goals scored for an average of 4 per game.

The first 19 contests of the playoffs resulted in 117 goals scored for an average of 6.2 per game. With all of the pucks entering the net so far in the postseason, fans have witnessed several goaltenders being pulled during games. Connor Hellebucyk was yanked in Winnipeg’s 6-2 game-three loss to Minnesota and Frederik Andersen of Toronto suffered the same fate in the Leafs’ 7-3 defeat in game two against Boston. Keith Kinkaid of New Jersey was relieved in the Devils’ 5-3 loss to Tampa in the second game and Phillip Grubauer of Washington was replaced in his team’s 5-4 loss in game two to Columbus. Also, Brian Elliot of Philadelphia was pulled in his team’s opening 7-0 loss to Pittsburgh.  

NHL playoff matchups locked and loaded

After a gruelling 82-game schedule for each of the NHL’s 31 teams we’re finally down to the playoffs. However, it came down to the very last day of the season to figure out who’s playing who. This was because the Boston Bruins still had a chance to win the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference when they took on the visiting Florida Panthers on April 8th, but ended up losing 4-2. Therefore, the Bruins will now take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in an original-six showdown while the East’s top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning will face off against the New Jersey Devils.

Let’s check out the eight playoff matchups since they get underway this Wednesday, April 11th and may very well take a couple of months to crown the eventual Stanley Cup winner as all series follow the best four-out-of-seven format.

Over in the East we have the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning taking on the second wildcard team the New Jersey Devils. This is New Jersey’s first postseason appearance since 2011/12 when they lost the Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings. As mentioned, the second-seeded Atlantic Division Boston Bruins take on the third-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs and the Leafs are hoping to snap their 51-year Stanley Cup drought. 

The Metropolitan Division-winning Washington Capitals will be meeting the first Eastern wildcard team the Columbus Blue Jackets and there’s an all-Pennsylvania showdown as the second-seeded Metropolitan team the Pittsburgh Penguins will be battling it out with the third-seeded Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins are aiming to become the first team to win three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980 to 1983.

In the Western Conference, the top-seeded team and Central Division-winning Nashville Predators will be taking on the second wildcard club the Colorado Avalanche. The second and third-seeded sides in the Central Division square off against each other as the Winnipeg Jets will duel with the Minnesota Wild. We also have the first-year expansion and Pacific Division-winning Vegas Golden Knights meeting the first wildcard Los Angeles Kings as the Knights enter the first playoff round in the club’s short history. And the final matchup will see the second and third-seeded Pacific Division squads the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks clashing with each other.

With the regular season now over we already know the winners of some of the silverware. Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers led the league in scoring for the second straight season with 41 goals and 67 assists for 108 points to capture the Art Ross Trophy. Russian sniper Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals won his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals as he notched 49. Los Angeles Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick won the William M. Jennings Trophy for the second time in his career as the goaltender to allow the fewest goals against while playing a minimum of 25 games. Quick ranked ninth in wins with 33, 10thin goals-against-average at 2.40 and tied for fourth in shutouts with five.

The NHL’s playoff format isn’t without controversy though since two of the league’s top four teams will be eliminated after the second round. This means two of Nashville, Tampa, Winnipeg and Boston will be going home and it’s due to the fact the top two clubs in each conference could meet each other in round two. This will happen if Nashville and Winnipeg win their series in the West and Tampa and Boston win theirs in the East. The current format will remain in effect until after the 2019/20 season though.

Is Mitch Marner worth as much as Austin Matthews to the Toronto Maple Leafs?

With the Toronto Maple Leafs eventually having to sign their young players to new deals once their entry-level contracts expire there’s been a lot of talk about how to go about it. In addition, the Leafs’ top goalscorer James van Riemsdyk will be a free agent at the end of the season and management will need to sit down and figure how to handle matters. This is basically because they’re going to have to re-sign forwards Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner and give them all hefty raises.

Matthews is generally regarded as the club’s franchise player after being drafted first overall in 2016, but there are numerous hockey people who believe Marner may be his equal or even a more valuable player. Some of them are suggesting the leafs offer both players the exact same contract once they start negotiating with the youngsters. Both players enjoyed fine rookie seasons in 2016/17 with Matthews leading the team with 40 goals and 29 assists for 69 points and Marner not far behind him with 19 goals and 42 assists for 61 points. 

This season, Matthews has missed close to 20 games, but still has 31 goals and 26 assists for 57 points in 59 games and is plus-23 while averaging 18 minutes and 13 seconds of ice time. Marner has 22 goals and leads the team in assists and points with 47 and 69 respectively in 79 games, but is a minus-2. However, he averages just 16 minutes and 20 seconds of ice per contest. The two are both 20 years old, but play a different style of hockey. Matthews, a center, is 6-feet-3-inches tall and weighs in at 216 lbs while right-winger Marner is generously listed at 6-feet and 175 lbs. However, he was just 5-foot-7 and 130 lbs five years ago when the London Knights drafted him into the Ontario Hockey league.

Both players have helped the Leafs set new franchise records for wins and home wins in a season and Marner entered the team’s game on March 31stwith an 11-game scoring streak intact. Mark Hunter was with the Knights when Marner was drafted in 2013 and was also with the Leafs when he was drafted fourth overall in 2015. In between, he helped London win the OHL title and Memorial Cup in 2015/16. There’s no doubt Hunter had a lot of influence during the 2015 draft and at the moment the Leafs look like they certainly took the right player, even though many fans felt they should have selected a defenceman such as Ivan Provorov, Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski.

All of those players were taken after Marner, but Hunter appears to have known what he was doing. Marner has proven to be a highly-effective and exciting player who can produce at the top level with 41 goals and 89 assists for 130 points in his first 157 games. In comparison, Matthews has 71 goals and 55 assists for 126 points in 141 encounters The Leafs simply drafted who they believed to be the best overall player available regardless of position and it’s a decision that’s turned out well for them. Marner has also proven to be able to handle the physicality of the NHL, perhaps even better than Matthews has. The question the Leafs now have to ask themselves is how to decide who’s worth what when it’s time to negotiate new contracts.