NHL Award winners celebrated

Last week was one of the busiest in the NHL season as the league handed out its annual awards and then followed up with the entry draft the very next night. The awards ceremony took place in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 20th with the draft being held in Vancouver over the next two days. Thirteen different awards were handed out and we’ll recap the major ones. Please take note that the award winners were ranked on their performances in the regular season only and not the postseason.

Nikita Kucherov, the Russian sniper from the Tampa Bay Lightning who led the league in scoring this year, was the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy as the player deemed the most valuable to his team. He also took home the Ted Lindsay Award  as the MVP as voted on by the league’s players. The 25-year-old captured the Art Ross Trophy for scoring 128 points this year on 41 goals and 87 assists. He set a new record for scoring in a season for a Russian-born player as Alexander Mogilny posted 127 points while playing for the Buffalo Sabres in 1992/93.

Kucherov’s 128 points were the most in the league since 1995 when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr racked up 161 and 149 respectively. Kucherov took 164 of the possible 171 first-place Hart Trophy votes with Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby coming second in the voting followed by Edmonton Oilers’ skipper Connor McDavid, both previous Hart Trophy winners. Tampa Bay went 54-5-3 this season when Kucherov registered a point and he earned at least one point in 62 of his 82 games played. When he didn’t manage a point the Lightning’s record was 8-11-1.

The Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender was awarded to Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay. He led the league with 39 wins, registered six shutouts and had a 92.5 save percentage with a 2.40 goals-against average in 53 games played. The league’s 31 general managers voted on the award and Vasilevskiy garnered  28 of the first-place votes. Ben bishop of the Dallas Stars and the New York Islanders’ Robin Lehner were also finalists.

Lehner didn’t go home empty handed though as he won the Bill Masterton Trophy for dedication to the sport as well as perseverance and sportsmanship. His record was 25-13-5 with a save percentage of 93.0, six shutouts and a 2.13 goals-against average. He also won the William M. Jennings Trophy this year with his Islanders’ teammate Thomas Greiss for allowing the fewest goals against over the campaign. The other finalists were Joe Thornton of the San Jose sharks and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nick Foligno.

The coach of the year award (Jack Adams Trophy) was won by Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders. His squad improved by 23 points over last season and also went from worst to first in the entire league when it came to goals-against per game. Trotz won the award in 2015/16 as well when he was bench boss of the Washington Capitals. Jon Cooper of Tampa and Craig Berube of the St. Louis Blues were also finalists this year. The general manger of the year award went the the Boston Bruins’ Don Sweeney with Doug Armstrong of the Blues and Don Waddell of the Carolina Hurricanes being the other finalists.

St. Louis center Ryan O’Reilly captured the Frank Selke Trophy for being recognized as the top defensive forward in the league. O’Reilly also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy this season as the MVP of the playoffs as he co-led the league in postseason scoring as the Blues won their first Stanley Cup. Fellow forwards Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights were the other finalists. O’Reilly also enjoyed his fair share of offence this season with 28 goals and 77 points in 82 contests.

Calgary Flames’ captain Mark Giordano won the James Norris Trophy as the best defenceman. The 35-year-old notched 17 goals and 74 points this season to rank second in the league for blue liners and led the league in plus/minus at plus-39. Victor Hedman of Tampa and Brent Burns of San Jose were the other finalists. Forward Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers won the Lady Byng Trophy for his sportsmanship and gentlemanly play. The 23-year-old also scored 35 goals and 61 assists to set a franchise record with his 96 points. Sean Monahan of Calgary and O’Reilly of St. Louis were also finalists.

Forward Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks took home the rookie of the year award (Calder Memorial Trophy). The 20-year-old scored 28 goals and 38 assists to set a new club record of 66 points in 71 games. The other finalists were netminder Jordan Binnington of St. Louis and defenceman Rasmus Dahlin of Buffalo.Nashville Predators’ Wayne Simmonds won the Mark Messier Leadership Award for leadership on and off the ice as well as community service with the other finalists being Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames and Justin Williams of the Carolina Hurricanes.

It’s business as usual in the NHL

With the St. Louis Blues edging the Boston Bruins in seven games on June 12th the 2018/19 NHL season went the distance. The Blues hoisted the cup for the first time since 1967/68 when they entered the league as they rode the hot hand of center Ryan O’Reilly and the goaltending of Jordan Binnington. O’Reilly netted eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in the playoffs to tie Brad Marchand of the Bruins for the scoring lead.

O’Reilly also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason for his efforts and put together a six-game streak in the series against Boston with five goals and four assists, including goals in four straight games. As for Binnington, the 25-year-old rookie who was called up mid-season from the minors, set a new NHL record for first-year goaltenders by winning 16 games in a playoff season. He’s could also win the Calder Trophy this year as the league’s rookie of the year as he’s one of three finalists for the award.

And speaking of the annual NHL Awards, they are next up on the league’s agenda as they take place in Las Vegas, Nevada  this Thursday, June 20th.  In fact, even though the on-ice action has come to a conclusion, the NHL is entering one of the busiest times of the year. The NHL Draft will be held on Friday, June 21st to Saturday, June 22nd at Rogers Arena in Vancouver with the New Jersey Devils selecting first overall. Shortly after that, the league’s free agency market opens and this is often a frenzied time of the calendar with numerous players switching uniforms for enormous amounts of money.

Unrestricted free agents have the power to sign with whoever they choose while restricted free agents are open game for offer sheets from pother teams with their own club having the right to match.

Offer sheets are quite rare in the NHL these days, but that could change this year with restricted free agents such as Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning being possible targets for competing teams. And with the draft and free agency heading our way shortly fans should expect to see several trades made over the summer.

General managers typically fine tune their squads during the offseason to prepare themselves for the next gruelling campaign. The Los Angeles Kings have wasted no time in trying to rebuild as GM Rob Blake got the ball rolling just after the season ended by buying out the contract of 34-year-old veteran defenceman Dion Phaneuf. Blake triggered the Kings’ option and bought out the remaining two years of the blue liner’s deal which was a mammoth contract worth $49 million over seven years.

Phaneuf signed the deal while a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has been traded to the Ottawa Senators and the Kings since then. Los Angeles acquired him in February of 2018 and he played 93 regular-season games with the club. However, he managed to post just 16 points on the west coast and occasionally found himself watching his teammates from the press box as a healthy scratch. The Kings finished in eighth place in the Pacific Division this season with the league’s worst record and Blake is trying to turn his side into a playoff contender as quickly as possible.


Stanley Cup Final goes to the wire

The Boston Bruins will host the St. Louis Blues in game seven of the Stanley Cup Final on Wed., June 12th in a winner-take-all battle to be crowned 2018/19 NHL champions. The Bruins forced a seventh and deciding contest with a 5-1 triumph at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on June 9th. The Bruins are seeking their seventh cup win in club history while St. Louis is hunting for their first since making their NHL debut back in 1967/68. That was the year the the league originally doubled in size from six to 12 franchises.

This is the 17th time in history that a Stanley Cup Final series has gone the full seven games. The Bruins earned home-ice advantage after finishing with the second-best record in the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and the league this season behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. The last time Boston went the full seven games in a Stanley Cup final was in the 2010/11 season when they downed the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 on the road at Rogers Arena. This is the first time a seventh game of a final series will take place in Boston in the 95 years since the club was formed.

Overall, the home team has won 12 times in the seventh game of a final while the visitors have been successful on four occasions. However, the last two game sevens were won by the road team as the Bruins beat the Canucks in 2010/11 and the Pittsburgh Penguins took care of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008/09 campaign. The Bruins own the league record for the most game-sevens in history with 27 as well as wins at 15 and have gone 14-8 in Boston. The Blues have played 17 game-sevens with a record of 9-8 including 4-6 as the away team.

Both clubs have won a seventh game in the playoffs this season as the Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1 in the first round after trailing 3-2 in the series and The Blues also fought back from 3-2 down to squeak past the Dallas Stars 2-1 in double overtime at home in the second round. Boston captain Zdeno Chara is expected to make NHL history on Wednesday night when he skates in his 14th game-seven. The game will feature a goaltending battle between the Bruins’ 32-year old veteran Tuukka Rask and the Blues’ Jordan Binnington, who’s a 25-year-old rookie.

Rask’s record in this year’s postseason is 3-0 when facing elimination with a 95.3 save percentage and a  1.34 goals-against average. He also leads the league in the playoffs with a 93.8 save percentage. The Blues will need to stay out of the penalty box if possible since the Bruins possess the best power-play in the league in the playoffs with a success rate of 32.9 per cent. Meanwhile, the Blues have killed off just 75 per cent of their penalties while their power-play is struggling at 16.3 per cent with just one goal in the series while having the man advantage.

On paper, it looks like all of the advantages are leaning Boston’s way but anything can happen in a game seven. History also points to the home team having the upper hand but St. Louis have been warriors on the road during this year’s playoffs with an excellent record of 9-3.

Stanley Cup Final now a two out of three series

The St. Louis Blues are halfway to winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history but the Boston Bruins are also just two games away from winning their seventh. The teams are tied at two games apiece with the series heading back to Boston for game five on June 6th. It’s now a two-out-of-three series with Boston having home ice in games five and seven if necessary and the Blues hosting game six. This may not faze the Blues since they have fared much better away from home during the postseason at 8-3 while they are just 6-6 at the Enterprise Center.

The Bruins opened the series with a 4-2 home win but the Blues bounced back in game two with a 3-2 overtime victory. Boston then hammered the home side 7-2 in game three with St. Louis rebounding once again with a 4-2 triumph in game four. The Blues have won their first home and away Stanley Cup Final game in franchise history so far this year after losing their 12 previous Final contests. They were swept in four straight games in their three other Finals in 1967/68, 68/69 and 69/70. The Montreal Canadiens downed them the first two times with the Bruins sweeping them in 69/70.

Boston’s special teams have run rampant in the first four games with six power-play markers on 16 chances as well as a shorthanded goal. They went four-for-four with the man advantage in game three in St. Louis by scoring four times on four shots. It’s no surprise the Blues cut down on their penalty minutes in game four with just two minors. It was the only game Boston hasn’t scored on the power-play but St. Louis gave up the shorthanded goal in that outing. Blues’ rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington was pulled in game three after conceding five goals and then rebounded with the win in game four. He now owns a 7-2 record in this year’s playoffs after a loss along with a save percentage of 93.3 and a 1.86 goals-against average.

Forward Oskar Sundqvist of St. Louis was suspended for game three of the series after boarding Boston defenceman Matt Grzelcyk in the second game. Grzelcyk missed games three and four with a concussion and his roster spot was taken over by John Moore. Grzelcyk’s status for the rest of the series is unclear at the moment and the same goes for fellow rearguard Zdeno Chara. The Bruins’ 42-year-old veteran captain was struck in the face with the puck in game four and may be sidelined. If he’s unable to play and Grzelcyk doesn’t return the Bruins may dress Steven Kampfer, Jeremy Lauzon or Urho Vaakanainen in his place.

St. Louis is proving to be a physical match for Boston and have outhit the Big Bad Bruins in all four contests. With the series tied 2-2 it means the Stanley Cup Final will go to at least six games for the 10th time in the past dozen seasons. It’s also the 26th time to go at least six since 1939 when the best-of-seven format was introduced by the NHL. The team that won game four to tie the series has won on three of the last five occasions but just 10 out of 25 times overall. The game four win was huge for the Blues as teams that have trailed 3-1 in a Stanley Cup Final have lost 33 of 34 series. The Toronto Maple Leafs were the only team to fight back and they did if after falling behind 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings in 1941/42.