Several NHL teams make moves before expansion draft

There were several NHL transactions before the league’s trade-freeze came into effect just before the expansion draft is announced on June 21st. The biggest deal took place on June 15th when the Tampa Bay Lightning traded forward Jonathan Drouin and a sixth-round draft pick in 2018 to the Montreal Canadiens for defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev and a second-round pick in the 2018 entry draft. The 22-year-old Drouin was then promptly signed to a six-year contract worth $33 million by the Habs.

Drouin, who was drafted third overall by Tampa in 2013, was scheduled to become a free agent on July 1st while the 18-year-old Sergachev was taken ninth overall by Montreal in 2016. Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman said the teams will only swap the draft picks if Sergachev plays fewer than 40 regular and postseason games with Tampa next season. Tampa decided to trade Drouin rather than risk losing him for nothing to the Vegas Golden Knights in the upcoming expansion draft. Sergachev doesn’t need to be protected in the draft since he’s signed to an entry-level contract.

Sergachev is a big offensive defenceman at 6-feet-3-inches tall and posted 10 goals and 43 points in 50 games for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season. He also helped the team win this year’s Memorial Cup. Drouin, who can play both wing and centre, chipped in with 21 goals and 53 points for Tampa in 2016/17 and gives Montreal some insurance in case free agent forward Alexander Radulov signs elsewhere this summer.

Montreal made another move just two days later when they dealt defenceman Nathan Beaulieu to the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick in this summer’s entry draft, which will be the 68th selection overall. The 24-year-old Beaulieu was drafted 17th overall by Montreal in 2011 and was also scheduled to become a free agent on July 1st. The 6-foot-2-inch defenceman played 74 games with the Habs in 2016/17 and posted four goals and 28 points and added an assist in five playoff contests.

The Arizona Coyotes also made a move by trading veteran goaltender Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames for goaltender Chad Johnson, defensive prospect Brandon Hickey, and a third-round draft pick. Johnson is scheduled to become a free agent on July 1st as is Calgary’s other goaltender Brian Elliot. The 35-year-old Smith played 55 games with Arizona last season with a record of 19-26-9 with a save percentage of 91.4 and a goals-against average of 2.92.

Smith still has two years left on his current contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $5.67 million.  Johnson went 18-15-1 in 2016/17 with a 91.0 save percentage and a 2.59 goals-against average in 38 games. Elliot played 49 games with the Flames with a 26-18-3 mark along with a 91.0 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against average. This move gives Calgary some goaltending insurance in case Elliot decides to leave town and sign with somebody else this summer.

Another move saw the New Jersey Devils make a trade with the San Jose Sharks as they picked up defenceman Mirco Mueller along with a fifth-round draft pick (143rd) this summer for a second (49th) and fourth-round (123rd) pick in June. The 22-year-old Mueller was chosen 18th overall by San Jose in 2013 and has spent his time since then between the AHL and NHL. He played just four games with the Sharks last season with a goal and assist to his name.

In addition, the Washington Capitals sent a fifth-round draft pick in 2018 to the Minnesota Wild for centre Tyler Graovac. The 24-year-old Graovac, who stands 6-feet-5-inches tall, scored seven goals and nine points in 57 career outings with the Wild. He was drafted 191st overall in the seventh round in the 2011 entry draft. Graovac also has 102 points in 202 career games in the AHL with Iowa on 49 goals and 53 assists.

There has also been a couple of coaching announcements since the Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup. The Buffalo Sabres appointed Hall of Fame defenceman Phil Housley as their new head coach on June 15th. Housley spent the past four seasons with the Nashville Predators as an assistant coach and replaces Dan Bylsma behind the bench in Buffalo. Also, on June 12th, the Florida Panthers announced Bob Boughner as their new bench boss. Boughner is a former assistant coach with San Jose and he replaces Tom Rowe. 

Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy stay in Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Penguins won their second straight Stanley Cup and captain Sidney Crosby won his second consecutive Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP with a 2-0 win over the Predators in Nashville on June 11th. Pittsburgh scored twice in the last 95 seconds to clinch the best-of-seven series in six games. It’s the franchise’s fifth NHL championship with all of five of their Stanley Cup-winning games coming on the road. The team is the first to win back-to-back Cups since the Detroit Red Wings achieved the feat in 1997 and 1998, but the Penguins are the first to do it in the salary cap era.

As for Crosby, he led Pittsburgh in scoring in the final series with a goal and six assists and came in second in playoff scoring to teammate Evgeni Malkin with 27 points on eight goals and 19 assists in 25 games. Malkin finished the postseason with 28 points. Crosby is just the third player to win the Conn Smythe in two consecutive seasons since the award originated back in the 1964/65 campaign. Former Penguins’ great Mario Lemieux won it in 1990/91 and 1991/92 and former Philadelphia Flyers’ goalie Bernie Parent took the trophy home in 1973/74 and 1974/75.

Crosby also won the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals this season and is finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy and this is his third Stanley Cup win overall. Former Predator Patric Hornqvist, who was drafted with the very last pick in 2005 when Crosby went first overall, scored the eventual game-winner with just 1:35 left on the clock while Matt Murray saved 27 shots for his second consecutive shutout in the series. Carl Hagelin then scored into an empty net with just 13.6 seconds to go after Nashville had pulled goaltender Pekka Rinne for an extra attacker.

Pittsburgh’s five Stanley Cups is now fifth on the all-time list for NHL championships, which brings the club level with the Edmonton Oilers. The loss in game six was just the first regulation time defeat for the Predators in the 2016/17 postseason. They thought they had opened the scoring early in the second period when Colton Sissons knocked a loose puck over the goal line. Referee Kevin Pollock blew the call though by whistling the play dead after apparently losing sight of the puck. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan also enters the record book as he becomes the first American coach to win a pair of Stanley Cups.

However, while Sullivan’s feat may very well be equaled in the future it’s going to be difficult to top goaltender Matt Murray’s achievement. Murray is the first goalie in history to win the Stanley Cup twice while still a rookie. He was called up late last season and didn’t appear in more than 25 games to lose his rookie status this season. The 23-year-old Murray also shut the Predators out over the last 126 minutes and 52 seconds of the final series and set a rookie mark in the finals with a pair of shutouts in the six-game series.

Nashville was enjoying its first Stanley Cup final as this is the furthest the franchise has advanced in the postseason in its 19-year history. The team entered the 2016/17 playoffs with just three postseason series victories out of seven. However the 16th-seeded team in the postseason reached the final by sweeping Chicago in four games and then taking care if St. Louis and Anaheim. In addition, captain Mike Fisher was the only player on the club’s roster to have ever played in a Stanley Cup final before. Pittsburgh beat Columbus in five games in the first round, but then had to go seven games to oust both Washington and Ottawa before facing Nashville.

NHL finalizes Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft Rules

The NHL will soon be holding its first expansion draft since June, 2000 when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild entered the league. With the 2017 draft being just a couple of weeks away, now’s a good time to go over the rules as the league prepares to accommodate its newest franchise the Vegas Golden Knights. The expansion team has already been given the green light to sign non-NHL free agents and NHL players who are playing overseas and to start acquiring draft picks from other clubs, which is a distinct possibility due to the expansion draft coming up on June 21st.

During the draft, the Golden Knights will be allowed to choose one unprotected player from each of the other 30 NHL teams to build their roster. However, several teams may be inclined to persuade the league’s 31st franchise to leave specific unprotected players alone by sending them draft picks or future considerations. For example, a club may offer a third-round pick if the Golden Knights turn a blind eye on a specific player in the draft. This year’s expansion draft choices will be revealed to the public live on television on June 21st, which is the same night the annual NHL Awards show is held in Las Vegas.

However, Vegas will actually send their draft picks to the NHL earlier in the day as they need to be in by 10 a.m. The league also clarified a few other rules recently as it released a timeline of draft-related events. The NHL has imposed a player-movement freeze for the time the Golden Knights receive the protection lists from the other teams until after the draft picks have been announced. The only team allowed to sign players or make deals in this time period will be the Golden Knights themselves. The movement freeze includes player signings, waivers and trades.

In addition, clubs will be allowed to ask roster players to waive their no-movement clauses in their contracts if they have them. If a player agrees to waive the clause he could be left unprotected in the draft. Also, any player who waives the clause will have it reinstated after the draft. Teams have until 5 p.m. Eastern time on June 12th to ask players to waive these clauses, but Pittsburgh and Nashville will have until 24 hours after the Stanley Cup Final if it ends after June 12th. The latest the Final will end is June 14th.

Once June 15th arrives on the calendar, teams will be able to buy-out players if they choose. If a club wants to buy-out a player with a no-movement clause they must ask him if he would like to be placed on waivers before the contract is bought out. NHL clubs will have until lunchtime Eastern time on June 16th to place players on waivers. Also on this day, players who have been asked to waive no-movement clauses have to agree by 5 p.m. The no-movement clause for the other 30 teams comes into effect on June 17th and all clubs have to hand in their protection lists this day.

All NHL teams will receive a copy of the protection lists by 10 a.m. on June 18th and the Golden Knights will be allowed to speak to free agents the same day. The Vegas franchise will submit the list of 30 players chosen in the draft by 10 a.m. on June 21st and they’ll be announced that evening at the awards ceremony. The players no-movement freeze will then be lifted one June 22nd at 8 a.m. As far as the protected lists go, each team is allowed to protect one goalie, three defencemen and seven forwards or a goalie and eight skates at any position.

Players with no-movement clauses have to be protected unless they agree to waive them. Teams don’t have to protect first and second year pro players and any unsigned draft choices since they’re all exempt from the draft. The clubs need to leave a defenceman and two forwards unprotected who are under contract for next season and played in at least 40 NHL contests this year or 70 games in the past two campaigns. They must also leave a goalie unprotected who is a restricted free agent this summer or who is under contract for next season.

In addition, if a team elects to leave a free-agent goalie unprotected they must give him a qualifying offer before submitting their protected list. Also, players who have missed at least 60 straight games due to injury or have career-ending injuries, can’t be left unprotected. Those are the main points of the expansion draft and it’ll be interesting to see the new lineup of the Vegas Golden knights come the evening of June 21st.

2016/17 Stanley Cup playoffs down to the final two

We’re down to the final two teams in the 2016/17 NHL playoffs as the Pittsburgh Penguins will be battling it out with the Nashville Predators for Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Penguins are the defending champions while the Predators will be playing in the finals for the first time. Nashville made the playoffs this year as the bottom seeded team with 94 points while the Penguins had 111. History will be made either way. Pittsburgh will become the first franchise to win back-to back cups in the salary-cap era with their fifth championship or Nashville will become the first 16th-seeded team to hoist the trophy. The last team to win two straight Stanley Cups was Detroit in 1997 and 1998.

The Predators enter the series as the NHL’s best defensive team, but they’re without one of their top offensive players in centre Ryan Johansen as well as fellow forward Kevin Fiala. They’re also hoping forwards Mike Fisher and Craig Smith will return from their injuries. Meanwhile, the Penguins will be missing one of their top defenceman as Kris Letang is sidelined, but forward Patrik Hornqvist should be back soon. The teams met each other just twice during the regular season with Nashville winning 5-1 at home in October and the Penguins doubling them 4-2 in Pittsburgh in January. This is the first time they’ve met each other in a playoff series.     

Matt Murray has now taken over from Marc-Andre Fleury in net for the Penguins and has posted a 94.6 save percentage in his four starts. Pekka Rinne has started all 16 games for Nashville with a save percentage of 94.1 so this has the potential to be quite a goaltending duel. This may be the first appearance in the finals for Nashville, but their coach Peter Laviolette has already won a Stanley Cup with Carolina back in 2005/06 and he also led Philadelphia to the finals in 2009/10. He’s just the fourth coach in NHL history to take three different teams to the finals.

Pittsburgh has made it this far by eliminating Columbus in five games in the first round and then beating both Washington and Ottawa in the seventh and deciding games. Nashville swept Chicago in four games in their opening series and then took care of both St. Louis and Anaheim in six contests. The Penguins have the edge on the power play during the postseason as they’re success rate is 23.6 per cent and Nashville’s is just 14.9 per cent. The Predators have the edge in penalty killing though at 88.1 per cent compared to Pittsburgh’s 84.9  per cent.

Pittsburgh has scored 2.89 goals per game in the postseason and allowed 2.21 goals against while Nashville has a league-best 2.89 goals for per game and 1.81 goals against. The final series gets underway on Monday, May 29th with games scheduled for May 31st, June 3rd, 5th, 8th, 11th and 14th. All games are set to face off just after 8pm Eastern Time. The two teams have met 25 times in the past with Pittsburgh holding the edge with a record of 12-10-2-1.   

One-goal games and comebacks rule in 2016/17 NHL playoffs

It’s never hard to tell when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is in the house during league events as he’s always greeted by a chorus of boos. However, it’s a little hard to figure out why since Bettman has brought parity to the world’s best hockey league and its unpredictability is one of the reasons fans are so addicted to it. You never know who’s going to win from night to night and this year’s playoffs have been a great example of that.

One-goal victories and comeback wins have been a highlight of the current postseason and it appears no lead is safe anymore. Fans saw one of the greatest come-from-behind wins in playoff history during the second round of the Western Conference when the Anaheim Ducks erased a late 3-0 deficit to win 4-3. The Ducks trailed the Edmonton Oilers with just 3:16 remaining in the third period in game five and managed to score three times with goalie John Gibson pulled for an extra attacker.

Rickard Rakell tied the game with just 15 seconds to go and Corey Perry won it for the home team at the 6:57 mark of the second overtime period. It was the second time in this year’s playoffs that Anaheim has erased a tree-goal deficit to win. They also trailed the Flames 4-1 in Calgary in game three of their first round series and won it 5-4 in overtime. Anaheim has fought back five times from multi-goal deficits this postseason and won four of those games.

The Ducks are now tied with four other teams for four multi-goal comeback wins during a postseason while the Philadelphia Flyers hold the record with five, set in the 1986/87 campaign. There have been 14 multi-goal comebacks in the this year’s playoffs which is just one shy of the record of 15 set in 2013/14. Edmonton was also involved in the only other NHL playoff game which saw a team wipe out a three-goal deficit with just four minutes to play in a game.

They found themselves trailing the Dallas Stars 3-0 at home with four minutes to go in the third game of the Western Conference quarterfinals on April 20th, 1997. The Oilers banged in two goals in 12 seconds and three in 1:56 to tie the game with 2:04 on the clock. They then won it at 9:15 of overtime. There has been 31 comeback wins in the 2016/17 playoffs in which a team has won after trailing by at least a goal. The record is 45 which was set in 1989/90.

The Nashville Predators have also excelled in comebacks this postseason with five come-from-behind wins.  As for one-goal victories in this year’s playoffs, there has been 48 of them up until May 22nd. The all-time record is 51 in 81 games which was set in 2006/07. There was a single-round record of 18 overtime games this season in the first round of the playoffs with the Washington vs Toronto series going past regulation time in five of their six contests.

Four games went to an extra period on the same night on April 17th. It was the third time in history that four games needed overtime on the same day and the first time it happened since 1984/85. The first time it occurred was in 1979/80. There’s also a chance the record for overtime games in a single playoff season will fall this year as there has been 26 of them so far with the record being 28 which was set in 1992/93. The Conference Finals still aren’t over yet and we then have the Stanley Cup Finals to go.

So whatever it is Bettman is doing to the NHL, fans should appreciate the closeness of the league these days. Yes there has still been a few blowouts in this year’s postseason, but the salary cap has definitely helped with the parity issue. We could also see this year’s 16th-seeded playoff team the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final.     

Washington Capitals to watch Stanley Cup Final on TV once again

They may not be chokers or losers, but whatever you want to call them, the Washington Capitals disappointed their fans once again during the 2016/17 NHL playoffs. They were eliminated at home in the seventh and final game of their second round playoff series 2-0 by the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 10th. The loss came exactly a year to the day since last year’s playoff letdown, which also came at the hands of the Penguins.   

This is the third time the Capitals have won the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best regular-season team and have been eliminated from the playoffs before the third round. That in itself shouldn’t come as much of a surprise though since the top regular-season team has only won the Stanley Cup twice since 2004/05. That represents just a 16.7 per cent success rate for the league’s President’s Trophy winners over the past 12 seasons, including this campaign.

At least Washington made it out of the first round this season as four of the past 11 President’s Trophy winners were eliminated in the first round. The Capitals had their hands full in the opening round though as it took them six games, with five of them going into overtime, to eliminate the Eastern Conference’s eighth-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs. A few of Washington’s key players were playing through injuries, including captain Alex Ovechkin Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson. Fans didn’t really want to hear about the injuries though since all teams have to who play through pain in the postseason.

The fact is Washington has now failed to reach the Conference Finals in their last 12 playoff appearances. Their only conference title came in 1997/98 while Ovechkin joined the club in 2005/06. Some fans are blaming the five-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner for the team’s lack of playoff success and point to the fact that the Russian star has missed the playoffs or been knocked out in the first round in six of his 12 seasons. The team made it as far as the second round in the other six years.

But it’s hard to pin the blame solely on the 31-year-old Ovechkin since the future Hall of Famer has scored 90 points in 97 career playoff games. Yes, injuries may have been a factor this season and there’s no doubt goaltender Braden Holtby struggled with a 90.9 save percentage and 2.47 goals-against average in this postseason. Holtby posted a 94.2 save percentage and a 1.72 goals-against average, but ultimately suffered the same fate.

Some critics of the Capitals will be calling for a complete rebuild which means firing coach Barry Trotz and trading Ovechkin. However, that will partially come down to Ovechkin since he has a modified no-trade clause in his contract. In all probability, the only way fans will see him leave town is if he feels his career needs a boost and he feels a new start somewhere else will benefit him. Ovechkin has the option of listing 10 teams he won’t accept a trade to which means there are 20 clubs the Capitals could work out a deal with.

It’s always possible that Ovechkin may be dealt, but he’s the centerpiece of the franchise and let’s not forget that NHL hockey is first and foremost a business. Since he’s still under contract for another four years and the Capitals posted the best record in the league over the 82-game regular season, it’s a good bet that Ovechkin hangs around for at least one more year.  

Phil Kessel once again proving to be a key playoff performer

Pittsburgh Penguins right-winger Phil Kessel is proving that last season’s excellent playoff performance definitely wasn’t a fluke. Kessel arguably should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy last campaign after leading his team in playoff scoring race with 10 goals and 12 assists in 24 games and guiding the Penguins to the Stanley Cup. He’s at it again this season with five goals and eight assists in his first 10 postseason contests to rank third in league scoring. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise since Kessel has now posted 56 points in his first 56 career playoff outings with 28 goals and 28 assists.

Kessel earned the ridiculous and undeserved reputation of being a coach killer while being the Toronto Maple Leafs best player for six seasons, but Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said nothing could be further from the truth. Sullivan said Kessel is able to lift the level of his game once the playoffs arrive, but also does an excellent gob for the team in the regular campaign. Kessel scored 26 goals and 59 points for Pittsburgh last season in his first year for the club and improved to 23 goals and 70 points in 2016/17. While he may not be scoring at a 30-goal pace in Pittsburgh, Kessel’s an extremely underrated passer and playmaker and was tied for 10th in the league in assists this season.   

There are currently just two active players who have scored points at a better pace in the playoffs in their career over a minimum of 40 game. These are Kessel’s Pittsburgh teammates and future Hall of Famers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And when it comes to goals per game in the playoffs, the 29-year-old Kessel ranks second in active players behind forward Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues. But unlike Crosby and Malkin, Kessel produces more points-per game in the playoffs than he does during regular seasons while those two players see their totals drop slightly.

Kessel’s no slouch in regular-season play though as he’s scored 296 goals along with 649 points in 832 games. He averages .78 points per game and .36 goals per game, but raises that number to one point and .50 goals per outing in the playoffs. Kessel has always been a clutch postseason performer no matter which team he suited up for. He scored three goals and for points in four games for Boston against Montreal back in 2007/08 in his playoff debut ad then added six goals and 11 points in 11 games for the Bruins the following year.

Kessel even managed to produce for a weak Leafs team in his one playoff venture with Toronto by scoring four goals and six points in seven games against Boston in 2012/13. The Penguins have already reaped the rewards by acquiring Kessel from Toronto. They have a Stanley Cup championship under their belt with the skilled right-winger in the lineup and coach Sullivan said he’s no longer surprised at Kessel’s outstanding play. Pittsburgh currently have their hands full with the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but there’s a good chance Kessel could win his second straight Stanley Cup this season to forever silence his critics.    

New Jersey Devils win 2017 NHL Draft Lottery

This year’s NHL draft lottery in Toronto came and went on April 29th without much fanfare due to the fact there’s no clear number-one prospect this summer. The last two drafts have featured stars Connor McDavid and Auston Mathews as the top picks respectively with an excellent supporting cast including Jack Eichel, Mitch Marner, and Zach Werenski in 2015 and Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljuj√§rvi and Matthew Tkachuk in 2016. This year’s top pick two picks could be centres Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings and Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads who are ranked one and two by NHL Central Scouting.

Teams will have to do their homework prior to the seven-round June 23/24 draft in Chicago though since there are no sure-fire franchise players available. There will certainly be some skilled youngsters up for grabs with solid NHL potential, but most experts view this as an average draft, much like 2012 when forward Nail Yakupov went first overall to the Edmonton Oilers. Winnipeg native Patrick is considered to be a good two-way forward, but missed much of the season due to an injury. He still managed 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games though.

Hischier of Switzerland is more offensive-minded than Patrick and finished the season with 38 goals and 86 points in just 57 games to finish 10th in scoring in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was also named the league’s rookie of the year. Other top-10 ranked players include high-school player Casey Mittelstadt of Minnesota as well as forwards Klim Kostin of Russia and Elias Pettersson of Sweden. As for the lottery itself, the big winners were the New Jersey Devils as they entered the proceedings with the fifth-best odds of 8.5 per cent and will now draft first overall next month.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars also lucked out as the Flyers jumped from 13th to second in the draft and the Stars hopped from eighth to third spot. The Flyers’ upward move of 11 draft spots was the highest jump since the lottery was first introduced back in 1995. On the other side of the coin, the new expansion franchise the Vegas Golden Knights fell from third to sixth and the Arizona Coyotes, who had the same odds as Vegas, fell to seventh. In addition, this season’s worst team, the Colorado Avalanche, fell to fourth spot after entering the lottery with the best odds of 17.9 per cent.

The Avalanche became the 11th last-place team with the best odds of winning the lottery to miss out on the number-one pick. It’s also the second time New Jersey has hit the jackpot as they won the 2011 lottery with just a 3.6 per cent chance to do so. The Devils didn’t draft first though since they entered the proceedings with the eighth pick and the rules at the time allowed a team to move up only four spots. New Jersey could use the help as they’ve missed the playoffs for the past five seasons.

The lottery settled the order of the top 15 draft picks, which go to the 15 teams that failed to make the playoffs. The remaining 16 draft positions depend on the results of the current postseason. The top 15 picks are as follows: 1-New Jersey, 2-Philadelphia, 3-Dallas, 4-Colorado, 5-Vancouver, 6-Las Vegas, 7-Arizona, 8-Buffalo, 9-Detroit, 10-Florida, 11-Los Angeles, 12-Carolina, 13-Winnipeg, 14-Tampa Bay and 15-the New York Islanders.

Nashville Predators the surprise of the NHL playoffs so far

The first round of the 2016/17 NHL playoffs have concluded with the Toronto Maple Leafs being both the last team to make the postseason and the last team to be eliminated in the first round. The Leafs were one of the top stories of the opening round, but there’s no doubt the Nashville Predators pulled of the most unlikely upset by ousting the Chicago Blackhawks in a four-game sweep. Yes, Leafs fans will have you believe their team deserved all the headlines, but it’s par for the course for the Toronto franchise to ultimately let their fans down once again. After 50 years of the same old thing they should be used to it by now.

The Leafs’ penchant for blowing leads cost them in their series against the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals as they held a 2-1 series lead and then lost three straight. They also had a 1-0 lead in the sixth and final game with just over seven minutes to go, but couldn’t hang on to it. It was quite a roller coaster ride for their fans though as all six games were decided by one goal with an NHL record-tying  five games going into overtime. This rookie-laden Leafs team could be a force to reckon with in the future with the addition of one or two good defenceman and another experienced forward.

And speaking of overtime, the first round saw an NHL record 18 games to into an extra period. The Toronto vs Washington series accounted for five of those games and the Ottawa vs Boston series featured four overtime contests with Ottawa winning the series in six games. But no matter what angle you look at it, Nashville’s four-game sweep was certainly more surprising than the Leafs taking Washington to six games, especially when you consider the problems the Capitals have had in the playoffs over the past few seasons.

Nashville was the lowest ranked of the 16 playoff teams this season with 94 points, one fewer than Toronto. They took on the Central Division and Western Conference champions in Chicago and had dropped the regular-season series 4-1 to the Hawks. However, goaltender Pekka Rinne shut the Hawks out in the first two games in the Windy City even though the Predators possessed the worst road record of all 16 playoff teams this season. This was the first-ever four-game series win for the Predators franchise and it was the first time in NHL history that an eighth-seeded team swept and top-seeded team in a conference series.

The 36-year-old Rinne allowed just three goals against all series and only one of those came at even strength. He stopped 123 of 126 shots against for a save percentage of 97.6. It’ll be interesting to see if Nashville’s youngsters and Rinne can keep it up in the second round as they’ll be taking on the St. Louis Blues, who eliminated the Minnesota Wild in five games in the first round. Other first round series saw the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the Eastern Conference.

In the West, the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames in four games and the young Edmonton Oilers ousted the San Jose Sharks in six. The second round matchups are the Washington Capitals vs the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators vs the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, St. Louis tangles with Nashville in the West while Anaheim will battle it out with Edmonton. No matter what happens from now on in the playoffs, the Predators have earned a spot in the history books with their first-round performance against Chicago.  

NHL sees coaching musical chairs at end of regular season

With the first round of the NHL playoffs in full swing and all of the excitement surrounding them, some fans may have missed some important news at the conclusion of the regular season. We’ll recap the coaching musical chairs and front office changes that took place once the season ended just in case you may have missed something. There were a total of 11 coaching changes in 2016/17 with five changes being made during the campaign and six more announcements after it ended.

Florida Panthers
We’ll start with the Florida Panthers since they fired Gerard Gallant back in late November after 22 games when they had an 11-10-1 record. This came even though Gallant led the team to a record 103 points the year before and finished as runner up in coach-of-the-year voting. He was replaced by general manager Tom Rowe, who had earlier taken over the GM duties from the displaced Dale Tallon. Florida went 24-26-10 under Rowe and missed the playoffs by 14 points and finished 22 points lower than last season. Rowe was relieved of both his coaching and general manager’s duties when the season ended. Tallon was reinserted as the GM and the club is still in the hunt for a new head coach. Rowe is still under contract for three more years though and will be given a front office job.

Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings dismissed head coach Darryl Sutter at season’s end even though he led the club to a pair of Stanley Cups in his five years behind the team’s bench. These are the only two titles the franchise has won. However, he also failed to make the playoffs twice in the last three years, including this year. Sutter wasn’t the only one the Kings cut loose though as general manager Dean Lombardi also lost his job. Lombardi has been replaced by former Kings’ defenceman Rob Blake who will also serve as vice-president while Luc Robitaille is the team’s new president. Sutter leaves as the Kings’ most successful coach ever with a record of 225-147-53.

Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks were another west coast franchise which got in on the action as they weren’t satisfied with the job Willie Desjardins has done for the club over the past three seasons. They missed the playoffs the last two years under Desjardins and have reached the postseason just twice in the last five campaigns and believed a change was in order. General manager Jim Benning managed to keep his job for the time being though even though the club finished 29th out of 30 this season at 30-43-9. Desjardins went 109-110-27 while in Vancouver. Assistant coaches Perry Pearn and Doug Lidster were let go along with Desjardins. 

Dallas Stars
Lindy Ruff of the Dallas Stars was another head coach who was sacked at the end of the season after four years behind the bench. Ruff went 131-85-30 with the Stars, but still failed to make the playoffs this season at 34-37-11 after they looked like Stanley Cup contenders last year. With stars such as Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp in the lineup it’s easy to see why management was disappointed this season. The Stars have already filled Ruff’s spot as they hired Ken Hitchcock as his replacement. Ironically, Hitchcock himself was fired earlier in the season as the St. Louis Blues let him go while he was in the midst of his sixth season with the club. Hitchcock coached Dallas from 1996 to 2002 and won two President’s Trophies and a Stanley Cup with the team. He said before the 2016/17 that it was going to be his last year as a head coach, but apparently changed his mind to rejoin Dallas.

Las Vegas Golden Knights
We now come full circle as we get back to Gerard Gallant, who was the first coach fired this season when Florida let him go. Gallant was named as the inaugural head coach of the new Las Vegas franchise, the Vegas Golden Knight. General manager George McPhee made the announcement on April 13th. The Knights are the 31st NHL franchise and will begin play in the 2017/18 season. The 53-year-old Gallant, a former player with Detroit and Tampa Bay, has also been a head coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and an assistant coach with the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens. His head-coaching record reads 152-141-31.