New York Islanders

New York Islanders: Barry And Lou’s Recipe For Success

The New York Islanders Surprised Everyone This Year. But Change Is Coming, And With It Likely A Step Backwards

 

Nobody seen this coming. 

After the loss of former captain John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs through free agency last July, experts and pundits all unanimously agreed that the New York Islanders were destined to finish in the bottom third of the overall National Hockey League standings for the 2018-19 campaign. 

Even with the addition of general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz, both Stanley Cup winners, one look at the roster showed that it was simply going to take some time and patience to get the Islander ship pointed in the right direction again. 

But the Islanders fan base was beyond hungry. It had been years since they really had anything to get excited about with this team. So Lamoriello and Trotz got in the kitchen, put the aprons on and went to work. 

It started with an ounce of structure. They added a dash of overachievement. Of course a pinch of luck was needed, and then with it a heapin’ helping of pride and suddenly by January of this year the Islanders had baked a cake that all of New York wanted a piece of.

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A 23-point improvement over the previous season brought renewed hope to the Islander faithful. And they gobbled it up. Anyone associated with the royal blue, orange and white rallied around the loss of Tavares and proved to the entire league that hockey is the ultimate team sport, and the loss of a franchise player can be tackled. 

Long Layoff Didn’t Payoff

After a succesful first-round sweep of the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins to start the NHL playoffs, the Islanders were forced to wait 10 days between games before starting their second round against the Carolina Hurricanes.  

For some teams, a break of this length does wonders. It can help heal some busted bodies, and give the players a chance to mentally reset for the next series. But for other teams, including the Islanders in this case, the long layoff proves to be costly. Some will argue that as professionals this shouldn’t be the case. But it’s the most logical explanation for a team that looked so dominant in the first round, only to look like a team that was simply behind a step while being swept by the Hurricanes. 

But after a few days to mourn, both the Islanders and their fans will look back on the 2018-19 season as beyond successful. Amassing 103 points in the regular season,  the most for the Islanders since 1984, was about 30 more points than anyone was pegging them for in pre-season predictions. No question that Trotz will win the Jack Adams Trophy as coach-of-the-year in the NHL after pulling this team out of his hat. 

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So, what now?  What can this franchise do for an encore?

Now The Hard Work Begins

The Islanders are in good shape when it comes to the salary cap. Going into the summer, the Islanders have just under $48M committed to 16 players next season. With the cap expected to rise to approximately $83M before puck drop next year, it leaves the Islanders roughly $35M under the cap. 

But the Islanders do have a bundle of free agents to deal with this off-season, both restricted and unrestricted. The biggest of all likely being goaltender Robin Lehner, who is free to hit the open market as of July 1st, the first day of the NHL free agent period. 

Lehner had a terrific season, posting 25 wins while fashioning a .930 save percentage and (rightfully so) being one of the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. The sense is that Lehner would love to stick around, as he seems to have final found some comfort, both personally and professionally, on Long Island. 

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And the Islanders should do whatever they can to keep him on board. Only 27-years-old, Lehner is young enough to help this Islanders team grow into its next pair of contending shoes, and along with Thomas Greiss has solidified the goaltending situation in New York. Those words have not been uttered in quite some time. 

Some Key Free Agents Need To Return

While it looks as though signing Lehner should not be an issue, there are a couple of other free agents the Islanders must really focus on and try to get back in the fold. 

Brock Nelson was a big part of the Islanders resurgence this season, putting up a career-high 53 points while averaging almost three minutes per game more ice-time over the year before. He seem to thrive in Trotz’s system and at only 26-years-old, more of the same should be expected from him for the next few seasons. There may even be a bit more upside in him yet.  An unrestricted free agent, numerous teams likely will be kicking tires on Nelson should the Islanders allow him to see the light of day on July 1st. 

Anthony Beauvillier is a restricted free agent this season, and the Islanders need to make his signing a priority. While taking a bit of a step back this past season offensively, there is no denying the speedy winger still has some untapped potential going forward. 

Playing under 15 minutes a night, Beauvillier still managed 18 goals while totaling more takeaways than giveaways for the second straight season. The left side is a bit of a weak spot for the Islanders, and his signing would help create some stability in a potentially altered islander line-up. 

So long, Long Island

One player that could very well be on the move is unrestricted winger Jordan Eberle. As streaky as they come, Eberle has always left fans breathless with his tantalizing soft hands and relentless drive. But as he did in his days with the Edmonton Oilers, Eberle also leaves those same fans with a feeling of wanting more, and for large stretches throughout the season, he simply doesn’t provide it. 

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Eberle turns 29 next week, and will certainly be seeking a long-term deal at no less than the $6M per year he was making previously. And he will likely get it, but realistically it won’t be from the Islanders. Eberle has proven that he can’t produce with Mat Barzal over a full season with first-line minutes, he’s simply too inconsistent. Expect the Islanders to keep that money and look for a bigger fish somewhere else to flank Barzal.

Anders Lee is another unrestricted free agent that will be looking for a significant raise before the start of next season. Though his numbers were down slightly this year, Lee still produced 28 goals after notching 40 and 34 respectively the previous two seasons. 

Like Eberle, Lee will also be 29-years-old by time training camp rolls around next year. With over 100 goals scored combined over the last three seasons, Lee will be seeking to nearly double his annual salary from last year of $3.75M, as well as something long-term.  And it’s very unlikely the Islanders will go for that.

If Lee does re-sign, expect to be closer to the start of training camp after no other team has agreed to his salary demands, and the Islanders can get him at a more team-friendly rate, in the range of 3-4 years. 

Michael Dal Colle is the only other restricted free agent under the Islanders umbrella this off-season, and he will likely re-up with the team. 

Other free agents that likely won’t return next year are Valtteri Flippula, Tom Kuhnhackl, Luca Sbisa and Dennis Seidenberg. 

Follow me on Twitter @cbradley2928

Statistics provided by hockey-reference and TheScore

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

 

 

 

 

 

New York Islanders

New York Islanders: Regular Season Was The Appetizer

The New York Islanders regular season has ended. 

This is the time when most people predicted the Islanders would have completed their exit interviews, taken all of their belongings and went to the place they all called home for the summer.

That obviously has not happened. They ended the regular season one point behind and three points ahead of the last three Stanley Cup Champions. There are three huge keys to what got the Islanders to this point one year after being blind sided losing their franchise player and receiving nothing in return and left for dead. Here are those keys to one of the most improbable seasons including last seasons’ Vegas Golden Knights in recent memory.

First Key

The first key was culture change. But, what exactly is culture change? The Islanders have been ranging between nipping at the fringes of NHL success and living in the basement of the NHL standings for three decades. The last time they had the home ice advantage in the ANY round of the playoffs was 1988. Despite having the legacy of maybe the greatest hockey team in the history of the game from 1979-1984 the Islanders suffered a myriad of ownership, management, arena and player issues that many books have been written about. Players did not want to be here. Owners did not want to own the team. The team tried for decades to get a new home. Management and coaches were people who had no experience running any kind of winning team. Wash, rinse and repeat.

Scott Malkin, the new power broker owner of the Islanders had the wisdom to reach out and grab Lou Lamoriello to run his rudderless ship. Lou’s resume of success is among the best in NHL history. He took a Devils team and turned them into a perennial NHL power. When the Devils moved on Lou went to Toronto and turned a team whose lack of success had reached comical proportions into a winner. Toronto decided to move Lamoriello to an advisory position Scott Malkin pounced and made him the new Godfather of the New York Islanders. When a guy like that, a proven winner comes in to take the reins it turned heads. Instantly with one hire Scott Malkin changed the culture of the New York Islanders.

Second Key

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The second key to success was coaching. Only through hiring an executive like Lou Lamoriello does hiring a coach like Barry Trotz even seem remotely possible for a team like the Islanders. Islander fans were justifiably for the first time in 30 years expecting the Islanders to follow-up the culture changing hire of Lou with a coach that could right the ship on the ice now that the front office was under capable leadership. Then in a flash it happened. The defending Stanley Cup Champions decided to move on from Barry Trotz as expected and much like Scott Malkin made the most of his opportunity to hire Lou Lamoriello, Lou made the most of his chance to hire Barry Trotz to take over the behind the bench duties for his new team. Now instead of a beleaguered 11 year general manager who was never quite able to make the most of his opportunity and a first year coach who more than a few times looked like he had zero answers on how to mold the Islanders into a winner the Islanders had a front office and coaching staff to rival any in the entire NHL.

Third Key

There was one other huge key that needed to be cut to open the door to success.

The final key was the players. The Islander players are the ones who have the play the games. Taking the wisdom of their new bench boss and apply it on the ice. So much credit rightfully so has been given to Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz for getting the Islanders to 103 points this season. The players had to buy-in to what their new general manager and coach were preaching AND be able to implement it on the ice in the division that produced the last three Stanley Cup Champions. They also needed to do this mere months after their long-term captain essentially told them “you guys aren’t good enough” and abandoned them, taking with him a lot of the respect he had in that locker room and burning most of the love Islander fans had for him with the swipe of a pen and one horribly timed tweet.

Adding Top 6 Forwards And Top 4 Defensemen?

In the aftermath, journeyman forward Valtteri Filppula, utility man Leo Komarov and jack of all trades Tom Kuhnhackl were brought in. Plus, the Islanders brought Matt Martin back to Long Island. Martin was a healthy scratch throughout the 2017-2018 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and it was evident that the Leafs weren’t interested in keeping the enforcer long-term. But, Islanders fans near revolted at the guys Lou was bringing in.

Islander fans were hoping beyond hope that Erik Karlsson, Matt Duchene, Mark Stone or some other team’s star was going to be the answer they all were looking for was going to come in and save the day. Little did they know what was already in that locker room was the answer. Young defensemen Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech all flourished under Coach Trotz faster than anyone could have predicted.

Forward Group Re-vitalized

Mathew Barzal, who was like a wild, out of control stallion last season was taught to run in a straight line with the rest of the pack. Brock Nelson was written off by most writers and Islander fans has blossomed into a solid two-way center with career highs in points. Brock’s contribution to the team’s success this season cannot be under-stated. Casey Cizikas was put back between his favorite two partners in crime in Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin and given the ice time no other coach has given him obliterated his former career high in goals. Josh Bailey is a player who is still despite his All-Star season last year was written off as a product of playing with John Tavares thrived in the new system. Bailey makes up for what he lacks in flash and dash,  makes the right decision with and without the puck. New Captain Anders Lee took his new assignment as team captain with an infectious attitude that has spread to every corner of the locker room.

Losing Tavares, But Goaltending/Defense Becomes Elite 

Sure offensive production team wide was down. Losing your best offensive player for nothing will do that. Everyone knew the Islanders would be better defensively. No one predicted how much better. For the first time in 100 years. A team in the NHL went from worst to first in goals against.

That remarkable turn of events came with the two men tasked with patrolling the Islanders goal. Prior to the season, no one looked at the Islanders goaltenders and thought they were going to win any awards.

Robin Lehner

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Robin Lehner was cast-off by the Buffalo Sabres. Many Sabre fans blamed their team’s inconsistent play on Lehner himself. Lou met with Robin and a one year “prove yourself” contract was worked out. The deal was a no-risk/high-reward deal. 

Everyone knows of the struggles Lehner endured. He was brave enough to admit his struggles and he publicly addressed his mental illness and alcoholism. How has he responded in the Islanders system and with a clear head? Second in save percentage. Third in goals against average.

Thomas Greiss

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Thomas Greiss had one of the ugliest on ice seasons a full-time goaltender had in 2017-18. Dead last in save percentage and goals against average. Greiss worked his tail off in the off-season to get better for this year. Under goaltending guru Mitch Korn and coach Pierre Greco he has shut the mouths of every critic he had finishing fourth in save percentage and fourth in goals against average.

Taking Home The William H. Jennings Trophy

Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner won the William H. Jennings trophy. To put that in perspective here are some of the players who won the Jennings Trophy in recent history:

Jonathan Quick

Carey Price

Roberto Luongo

Braden Holtby

John Gibson

Frederik Andersen

Martin Brodeur

Tim Thomas

Chris Osgood

Dominik Hasek

Cory Schneider

Corey Crawford

All elite goaltenders that most share something in common. Out of the 12 goaltenders listed SEVEN of them have Stanley Cup rings.

This is not an award that is easy to win and the Islanders tandem of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner just won it one season removed from the worst of both of their professional careers.

That is the most incredible thing that has happened to the New York Islanders this past regular season in a season of many incredible things they were able to accomplish.

Time To Get The Cup

Islanders players and the fans are ready for the main course of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Will it be as surprisingly satisfying and delicious as the appetizer? The meal will begin to be served to a fan base starved for a great meal tonight.

stats from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

 

New York Islanders

New York Islanders: Back to Relevance?

The New York Islanders are relevant?

No one saw this coming.

There are four games left in the 2018-19 regular season and the New York Islanders, yes the same New York Islanders that lost their franchise player this past off-season are sitting directly between the two teams that have won the last three Stanley Cups in the standings.

This statement in of itself would have drawn laughter if predicted before the season began even if John Tavares did not discover his childhood dream at 28 years old on July 1, 2018.

Replacing him in the Islander lineup with Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, Robin Lehner and Tom Kuhnhackl did nothing to divert that way of thinking. Everyone predicted that at best the Islanders would maybe challenge for a playoff spot and then fade away to play meaningless hockey after New Years. This was despite first ballot Hall of Famer to be and newly minted Stanley Cup Champion coach Barry Trotz steering the ship.

Defensive Concerns Are Gone

From game one of the season something seemed different. The Islanders were making the smart plays.

Prior to the season many fans questioned If they could chip the puck out of the defensive zone. Well, they’ve showed they can. They did it instead of the higher risk of skating or passing it out.  If they were challenged in the neutral zone and had no other option the puck was simply thrown into one of the corners harmlessly instead of turning it over, resulting in an odd man rush against.

Again, fans questioned the Islanders defense. Fans were worried about their defense shutting down opposing forwards from entering into their zone with the puck. But, the Islanders did it again. They ensured that their opposition had little to no room to create a scoring chance. Cross ice passes for open one timers were minimized. Game after game the Islanders frustrated the most talented offensive teams in the National Hockey League.

Barry Trotz calls it “playing the right way”.

What a night and day difference from the run and gun Islanders of 2017-18. The ones that allowed the most goals in the league. The ones that other players on the Lightning and Barry Trotz’ own Washington Capitals laughing on how easy the Islanders were to play against when they dropped five or six goals on Islander goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak.

The Roster That Garth Built

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The Islanders now sit number one in the NHL in goals against after being dead last last season with 90% of the same personnel, and 100% of the same defensive core.

We’ve never seen a team turn it around like this. How often does a team have a remarkably awful season, lose their best player and dramatically improve?

The Islanders have done it because of two simple facts. One, by doing the little things and doing them right.

Second, if it is one thing that the Islanders new regime has proven its that Garth Snow for all of his faults was not a bad judge of talent. Unfortunately, he was horrendous at was picking coaches. He was bad at forming a culture of winning. Snow was bad at putting a winning front office in place. All that is true. But, the Islanders are winning with a team primarily composed of players that Garth Snow brought here. That statement will definitively get all Garth haters fired up, but at the same time they cannot deny it as fact.

Now, before I alienate the Islander fans who ruthlessly attack anyone saying anything positive about Snow, please note that I was begging for him to be fired many years ago. He was a bad general manager. That being said you can’t deny the positives of the players on the team at this moment. They’ve helped drive this time from an abysmal season last year to a playoff berth and they’ve done it all without Tavares.

Trust The Process

Barry Trotz has the players believing. Barry Trotz and the Islander players got Islanders fans to believe again. Trust the process. Sorry Philadelphia for stealing your motto, but it’s true. Plus, the Islanders now have the rest of the hockey world believing. 

Finally, the New York Islanders are back after over three decades of failure.

player profiles from Hockey-Reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

 

 

If The Playoffs Started Today

Let’s breakdown the matchups if the playoffs started today, in all three formats.

Current Format.

Eastern Conference: 

Tampa Bay Lightning vs.  Columbus Blue Jackets

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This matchup may present a unique challenge for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Most people would anticipate that all the deadline acquisitions for the Blue Jackets would be living up to the expectations by the time they reach the playoffs. This may be the last gasp effort to attract Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin to stay in Columbus. If Columbus could pull off the upset, they just may swing the Free Agents back to the Ohio Valley. The biggest obstacle for the Blue Jackets will be able to match the production on the bottom 6. Tampa has consistently rolled all four lines all season long. No forward on the Lightning roster has averaged more than 20 minutes per game.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

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Look away Leafs fans because this train crash is happening again. The big question remains; Can the Maple Leafs flip the script? The answer to that question will fall squarely on the Toronto blue line. Frederik Andersen will be amongst the candidates vying for Vezina consideration, and he deserves all the praise that will be thrown on him. What makes Andersen stand out is the insane amount of shots that he faces on a nightly basis. If the Maple Leafs cannot limit the shots, it is likely that Freddy gets burned out by the end of this series and inevitably lets in a soft goal. The key to this series on the Boston side will be their ability to match speed with Toronto. Assuming that David Pastrnak is healthy, we all know what to expect from the top unit with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. The questions will come from the bottom half of their forward units. Charlie Coyle has proven to be a good fit so far, but how will he stack up against Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

Washington Capitals vs. Carolina Hurricanes

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This matchup has the potential to be an exciting one. Who isn’t excited to see what kind of creative celebrations Rod Brind’Amour‘s team comes up with. Of course, that is all reliant on their ability to win a game. My biggest concern with the Hurricanes is their lack of scoring depth. More than 30% of their goals have come from their top unit. Also, the recent injury to Calvin de Haan could be cause for concern. Special Teams could play a key part in a divisional series, as well. Carolina ranks 20th in Power Play and 6th in Penalty Kill, while Washington ranks 10th in Power Play and 22nd in Penalty Kill. The goaltender matchup heavily favors the Capitals. Todd Reirden‘s group should be able to feast on the Hurricanes, who have not made a playoff appearance since 2008-09.

New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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Barry Trotz vs. Mike Sullivan has been a recurring theme since Sullivan joined the Penguins. This may not be the high-powered matchup that the Penguins and Capitals usually offer, but New York offers a different challenge to the Pens. The Isles play a very smothering, in your face defense, that takes away time and space to mitigate opponents’ speed. Many people will point to the Islanders lack of top line talent, and I always say that while they may not have a true top line, they may have the 4 best 3rd lines in hockey. Every line they roll out can hit and play strong on the forecheck. Trotz’ team is the hardest working team in hockey, and I don’t think there is an argument to be made against it. Since the trade deadline, Pittsburgh has had an identity overhaul. They have a renewed commitment to team defense. Much of this is due to the injuries they had on their blue line, but if they can maintain this discipline through the playoffs, they could be a tough out. The goaltending in this matchup may be the most unique in the playoffs. Both net-minders have scars on their resume, but their recent success may present a great duel for fans.

Western Conference: 

San Jose Sharks vs. Arizona Coyotes

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The San Jose Sharks success may not surprise a lot of people, but considering the injuries they have faced, it is quite surprising that they are leading the Western Conference. Many of their top producers have missed significant time. The other thing that makes the Sharks success a mystery is their goaltending play, not in a good way either. Martin Jones has a .900 SV% and a 2.83 GAA, while Aaron Dell has a .889 SV% and 3.06 GAA. The special teams matchup in this series could be a make or break scenario for either team. The Coyotes have a franchise-record 15 short-handed goals this season and rank 2nd in Penalty Kill. The biggest concern for Arizona fans should be their lack of scoring. They rank 27th in goals with 189 on the season, but even scoring so few goals, they still only have a -7 goal differential. That tells me that Rick Tocchet‘s crew is willing to play team defense.

Calgary Flames vs. Vegas Golden Knights

This may end up being the hardest matchup to predict. These teams matchup so perfectly on paper. The top 6 for both of these teams can take over a game. Both teams have defenseman that can activate and spark the offense. Both have goaltenders that can swing the tide of a game. Both teams have an underdog mentality that motivates them. If special teams becomes a factor, Calgary could really swing the momentum. The Flames lead the NHL with 16 short-handed goals. Calgary has the 9th ranked Power Play, while Vegas boasts the 7th ranked Penalty Kill.

Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues

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I don’t think many of us had this penciled in on January 1st, when the Blues occupied last place in the Western Conference. Enter Jordan Binnington. All the young goaltender has done was go 16-4-1 with a .928SV% and 1.81 GAA. He may not be the sole reason that the Blues are back in the playoff conversation, but he is an integral part of it. If I were a hockey writer with a vote, I would be willing to put his name on my Hart Ballot. The Jets are another team that is succeeding in spite of their injuries. Dustin Byfuglien and Nikolaj Ehlers have both missed significant time with injuries, and Patrick Laine had his worst scoring drought of his young career. Through all of that, the Jets are still one of the highest scoring teams in the league. Maybe we can stop overlooking Blake Wheeler when we talk about the best captains in the league now.

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars

If you were waiting for the matchup that featured two goaltenders standing on their head and taking the spotlight, this is the series that you were waiting to read about. This matchup features the defending Vezina Trophy winner going against the likely Vezina Trophy winner. Ben Bishop has been on an unprecedented run over the past two weeks. He set a Stars record for time since giving up a goal at over 230 minutes. In 40 games this season, he has a .932 SV% and 2.08 GAA. Pekka Rinne has been steady in his own right. He has a .912 SV% and 2.54 GAA.

Conferences Seeded 1-8

Eastern Conference: 

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

We see the same matchup that appears in the current format.

Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes

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This would be a rivalry matchup of sorts, Carolina Hurricanes vs. Don Cherry‘s old club. Okay, that may be harder to market than the current divisional format. In this format, it may be harder for teams like the Bruins to muster the passion for each game. I know that it’s the playoffs and they should be ready to play regardless, but it is hard to hype such a one-sided series.

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Okay, so everyone wins in this matchup. The NHL gets the best rivalry in hockey and the detractors get seeded playoff bouts. I don’t have to write much of a preview for this series. Just go back and watch the last 3 playoffs. The script will be the same in this series, except maybe the Penguins have enough physicality to match Washington this time around.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. New York Islanders

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The Matt Martin revenge series that we are all hoping for. Oh, this series may have some added gusto for that Tavares guy, as well. This matchup would definitely be must watch TV. The chants and the scrums would add a bit of extra flare. Although, I don’t know if the Islanders fans have enough Tavares jerseys to burn for an entire series.

Western Conference: 

San Jose Sharks vs. Arizona Coyotes

This would be the same matchup as the current format.

Calgary Flames vs. St. Louis Blues

This would be a unique matchup. Although many of us would have envisioned the roles being reversed at the beginning of the season. It would be interesting to see how Bill Peters tried to match his lines against St. Louis, who has a decided advantage at the center ice position. The counter to that would be watching how St. Louis matches with Calgary’s speed.

Winnipeg Jets vs. Dallas Stars

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Another divisional matchup to appease the NHL here. At least we get to watch the ongoing battle between Jamie Benn and Mark Scheifele in the last off the ice challenge. The biggest obstacle for the Jets will be whether Connor Hellebuyck can go save for save with Ben Bishop

Nashville Predators vs. Vegas Golden Knights

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The battle for daddy’s attention between the Subban brothers. Okay, so we would suspect that only one of the brothers would get any attention in this series. I suspect this series would hinge on the deadline additions of both teams. Mark Stone has been stellar since joining the Knights. Wayne Simmonds and Brian Boyle add some grit and grind in front of the crease that could cause problems for Marc-Andre Fleury.

League Seeded 1-16

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. St. Louis Blues

Everything gets kinda turned inside out with this format. The matchups don’t really get much easier for the Bolts, and the added travel would only add to the burdens. It would be fun to see one of the most defensively structured teams play against an offensive juggernaut like Tampa though.

San Jose Sharks vs. Dallas Stars

This is another matchup that doesn’t do the favored team any favors. I still believe the Sharks would be heavy favorites, but they actually play a better team than they would in the previous formats. The interesting part of this matchup would be Martin Jones. If he cannot make enough saves to keep up with Ben Bishop, then this matchup could be the upset of the tournament.

Calgary Flames vs. Montreal Canadiens

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This cross-country battle would actually be amazing to witness. Young stars on both squads and veteran net-minders would definitely be a selling point for this series. We have learned not to write Carey Price off. He certainly has the potential to steal this series, especially if Mike Smith regresses or David Rittich shows his inexperience on a big stage.

Boston Bruins vs. Vegas Golden Knights

This is where this format gets complicated. I have always claimed that it was harder for east coast teams to travel west due to the time change. I mean a 7:00 puck drop on the west is 10:00 to an east coast body. When you go through this time change three times in a short period of time, it is bound to have an effect. Even through all that though, I think Boston has a distinctive advantage in this series.

Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Now here is a matchup that I can get hyped for. A rematch of last season’s epic collapse by the Blue Jackets. There would be no shortage of attention on this matchup that features 6 pending free agents for the Jackets.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Oh, so this is why all the Leafs fans on my Twitter timeline are lobbying for a format change. The bonus to this matchup would be the rants on Hockey Night in Canada about the Hurricanes. I would lobby for the Canes to have custom warmup jerseys made that looked like one of Don Cherry‘s suits.

New York Islanders vs. Nashville Predators

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The Barry Trotz revenge series? Ok, so most Predators fans probably don’t remember that he was their head coach. The other thing that people may not realize is that the Islanders could lose another captain to free agency. This matchup could generate buzz as the best goaltender duel in the opening round.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Winnipeg Jets

Many of my colleagues here at Puck 77 could tell you how gut-wrenching this matchup would be for me. These two teams are 1 & 2 in my heart. It would be an emotional roller coaster for me to have to watch one of them lose in the first round. Personal feelings aside, this would be an amazingly competitive series. Both teams have a blend of size and skill with goaltenders that can steal you a game or two.

Which Format Do You Like?

So there is how the playoffs would line up featuring the three most touted playoff formats. Which one do you favor and which matchup stands out? Let me know in the comments section.

stats provided by nhl.com and hockey-reference.com