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National Hockey League: Who Will Take Home The Hart Trophy?

The NHL Awards Show is coming up, and the finalists have already been announced. There are favorites and there are snubs, and fans have been vocal about who should win, and who deserves a nomination.

 

The Hart trophy is no different, and there have been varying cases for all three finalists. The Hart Trophy, for those who don’t know, is awarded to the player who is judged to be the most valuable to his team. Here are the finalists, and why they should, or could, win.

 

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Why He Should Win: Kucherov finished the season with 128 points, which, for this era, is unbelievable. He showed dominance in the league that had not been seen since the Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux era in Pittsburgh. He has already claimed the Art Ross trophy for most points in the entire league. A guy so dominant deserves this trophy certainly, but are point totals really enough?

Why He Should Not Win: Kucherov has every reason to win, but let’s look at what awards the players this trophy. “The player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” His own team. This is not league MVP, which Kucherov would claim, hands down.

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Was Kucherov really that vital to his teams performance? Well, yes, but if you take him out, the Lightning will still be a playoff team. They have Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s also not a captain, nor an assistant captain, so you can’t turn to leadership qualities for help. Yes, he led his team in points by a wide margin, and yes, he had a historical season in every sense. But no, Tampa would not blow up if he were not there.

 

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Why He Should Win: Sidney Crosby is the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Phil Kessel was swirling in trade rumors and Evgeni Malkin struggled, Sidney Crosby remained Sidney Crosby. He led the Penguins in points with 100, 18 more than second place Kessel. He led the team in assists with 65, 10 more than second place Kessel. He finished second on the team in goals with 35, behind linemate Jake Guentzel (40) and ahead of third place Kessel (27). He was tied with Kessel for power play goals (12) and had the most time on ice among forwards, averaging 20:59. He is the heart and soul of the Penguins, and their captain.

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Why He Shouldn’t Win: The Penguins had a down year in terms of where they finished as a team, as well as some individually underwhelming production. Crosby did not, as he held strong to his name. However, he’s just like Kucherov in a sense that the Penguins may not be awful if he were to leave them. Crosby is a huge figure in the locker room, but the Penguins still have so much star power with Malkin, Guentzel, Kris Letang, Kessel, Justin Schultz, and Matt Murray. They would still be a far different team, but I still believe they’re good enough to make the playoffs.

 

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

Why He Should Win: As the captain of the Oilers, he went on to do McDavid things. He finished second in the league in points with 116, just 12 points behind the otherworldly production of Kucherov. He finished with 41 goals, which is tied with Kucherov for sixth in the league. He also notched 75 assists, second to only Kucherov (87) around the entire league. Edmonton is not a good team, and if you take McDavid off the roster, they’d be worse than the Ottawa Senators. What McDavid does for this team, no one can top it.

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Why He Shouldn’t Win It: While Kucherov was able to lead the Lightning towards a President’s Trophy, and Crosby was able to snag a playoff spot with the Penguins, McDavid was left golfing. He wasn’t good enough to get his team to the playoffs, despite being one of the best players in the league.

 

Deeper Dive

One way to decide whether or not a player was more lucky than successful is by looking at a stat that ultimately quantifies a players luck.

Higher than a 100 PDO means that person was lucky, and likely won’t repeat their season at that clip. Under 100 PDO is unlucky, and likely means that player could have done better. 100 PDO is average, not lucky or unlucky.

Kucherov finished the season with a 102.7, Crosby finished with a 101.9, and McDavid finished with a 100.7. That being said, Kucherov’s historic season was spectacular, but required a lot of luck, and he likely will never reach that total again in his career.

Crosby did not have as spectacular of a year, posting the lowest goal, assist, and point totals among the finalists, but still required some luck to reach triple digits, and if the Penguins struggles continue into next season, Crosby may not reach the 100-point plateau.

Meanwhile, McDavid was just a little over average, not requiring much luck to reach an incredible 116 points, and has a good chance of consistently hitting those marks despite being on a relatively weak roster.

 

In Conclusion

McDavid deserves this trophy through and through, because he produced at a very high rate, and didn’t need a lot of bounces to go his way to reach his mark, showing that he can consistently reach that same production season by season. He’s also the only guy you can look at and say “Without him, his team would really struggle.” He’s also the captain, and the captain of any team is extremely important as is. So while he didn’t produce like Kucherov did, he has the “C” on his sweater, and not as much luck on the ice.

 

Stats via NHL.com

PDO via Hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sign two key Defenders to new deals

Over the past several days, the Pittsburgh Penguins have signed a couple of their pending free agents to new contracts.

 

Chad Ruhwedel, 2-years $700k AAV

29-year old blue liner was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but he agreed to a two year extension. He brings depth to the right side of the Pens defense, though he lacks a lot of top end tools. Ruhwedel plays a very smart brand of hockey, and tends to be a quiet guy that listens to coaching. I don’t know that I have ever seen him make the same mistakes in consecutive shifts. He posted 1 goal and 2 assists in 18 games last season. While he was never a regular in the lineup, he was a key ingredient during the Penguins 2017 Stanley Cup run, when the team required the whole team to fill the void left by Kris Letang

Juuso Riikola, 1-year $850k

Rikola wowed the coaching out of training camp, and quickly earned a call up following the Justin Schultz injury. He appeared in 37 games, and had 2 goals and 3 assists. Both of his goals came as he was manning the 2nd power play unit. 

As news has been revealing, GM Jim Rutherford has been actively shopping Jack Johnson. And Olli Maatta‘s name has been rumored in each of the past few offseasons. It is likely that Rikola would be replacement, if Rutherford is able to find a trade partner for either of those defenseman. 

What’s Next

The team still has a few key Free Agents to re-sign, but I don’t think that we will hear about them until a Phil Kessel trade is completed. This will give the team a better understanding of their available cap space and remaining team needs. It is very likely the team will bring back Zack Aston-Reese, Marcus Petterson, and Teddy Blueger. They, also, want to work on an extension for Matt Murray, though I believe those negotiations are going to be tricky.

Their final order of business may be extending Jared McCann, before he has a huge season and drives himself out of the team’s price range. 

stats via hockey-reference.com

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IIHF World Hockey Championship: Recapping The Semi-finals

The fantastic Finns journey continued as they created another unbelievable upset to make the finals of the Worlds

The finalists have been found and it will be a repeat of the 2016 Final between Finland and Canada.

Finland deserves all the respect in the world. They are a team who has two NHLers in the rosters and neither got a goal this year. On team Russia they had 240+ goals this season. Yet they beat them and not just by luck. They beat them 1-0 in a game where they were deserving of the win.

In the other game, Canada blitzed past the Czechs who looked stunned and couldn’t find a way past Matt Murray.

Russia 0-1 Finland

Russia: The gold favorites has been eliminated in the semifinals! The Russian machine that has looked next to unstoppable throughout the tournament was shut down today by an amazing Finnish team, but also a lack of intensity shown from Russia. The fluent offense, where they seemed to always find room and passing lanes, was missing and combined with a tactically superior Finnish team. Then the offense came off the counter attacks, and here they had chances and some even fantastic, but they weren’t converting them like they have in games prior. Nikita Gusev was a shadow of himself and was one of the worst players on the ice. Alexander Ovechkin was trying a lot, had a few great chances but the puck just wouldn’t go. Like the rest of the Russians, his shot either went over the bar, hit it, or were robbed by the Finnish netminder.

Defensively I didn’t like Russia’s game either, since they made a lot of mistakes in the breakouts. The only reason the Russians only coincided one was due to a stunning performance from Andrei Vasilevskiy. He was absolutely awesome, and he made some fantastic saves, but little did it help in the end.

While Russia still have a bronze medal to fight for tomorrow against Czech Republic, this tournament and team had one clear goal. To win the gold medals and take the trophy back to Moscow. Today that mission failed and all they can do is get a minor bandage to the cover the stab wound.

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Finland: The Finnish Cinderella story will just not end. Winning against Sweden was stunning and an upset of the ages. For the encore, they beat the Russian NHL superstars to advance to the finals. And to make it even more impressive they did it in deserving fashion.

As the game started, it was clear that the Russians weren’t going to walk over Finland, like I think a few people feared. The structure and discipline from Finland were phenomenal and they never parted from the game plan. Every single player stuck to the plan and did everything they needed to do. Russia got stopped up the middle so many times due to them covering the passing lanes that Russia loves to hit, and then break on the counter. I don’t think I noticed one pinch that wasn’t timed to perfecting from the Finns. To do that for 60 minutes commands a lot of respect. They might not be the biggest names in hockey, but right now they seem to be the best TEAM in hockey. They fight and puts it all on the line and with a goalie like Kevin Lankinen, who is standing on his head, they are so tough to break down.

If Finland wins this tournament, with a team of European league players, it will be the biggest upset winner since Slovakia won in 2002. Especially considering the sheer talent they faced. And in that case, I hope Finland can build a statue of Lankinen or Marko Anttila. Both deserves to be praised for the contributions in the Worlds, but only if they win. And that requires one more win. A win against powerhouse Canada. A rematch of the first game of the tournament. To win they need to play another perfect game like that one.

Canada 5-1 Czech Republic

Canada: A flying start to the second period resulted in a goal after just ten seconds. After that Canada was in full control and ended up winning in commanding fashion. At least on the scoreboard, cause one of the main reasons for the win was a heroic performance in net by birthday boy, Matt Murray. He was showing the fans in Bratislava exactly why he won 2 Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh, with at least eight stunning saves. Especially in the end of the periods he was keeping the score comfortable for the Canucks. The offense was fantastic and lead by Mark Stone, they are a tough team to contain for 60 minutes.

If there was one negative that must be fixed ahead of tomorrow’s final, it’s the amount of passing lanes they gave up in the slot. Matt Murray had way too much to do and had to make a lot of key stop from that area of the ice. Finland will look to punish that, just as they did in the first game.

Is it going to be the return of the old rulers of hockey from Canada? Or will the underdogs find a way to end another hockey giant’s tournament in misery? To me it depends on the first goal. Canada showed today that once they have they lead, they are near impossible to play against and they will strike to extend it when given the chance in a hurry. However, Finland has shown the same. Take the first meeting against the two. Finland gets the lead and Canada start to chase. A little bit later and Finland punishes them.

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Czech Republic: They were perhaps a bit too respectful of Canada in the start of the game and sat back too much. This gave Canada a lot of possession and momentum and Canada promptly punished that. The goal did seem to wake up the Czechs and they were the better team the rest of the period. Creating chances and pressuring Canada at every moment but lacking finish.

Then disaster struck just ten seconds into the second period. A bad rebound by Patrik Bartosak and it was 2-0 Canada. From there Czech Republic looked flat and the crowd seemed to loss all its energy and hope when Pierre-Luc Dubois made it 3-0 and ended Bartosak’s night. They once again tried to rebound and created the chances, but it just wouldn’t go. Down 3-0 in the third and the game was done for the Czechs.  They did play a good tournament and have a chance of capping it off in style. Against the rivals from Russia. A win could easily salvage the worlds for them, but it takes a monumental task, or hoping the Russian stars don’t care about the game, for the Czechs to win.

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IIHF World Championship: What Did We Learn From Day 1

Day one of the Worlds is in the record books, but what did we learn from it?

Four games were played on opening night at the IIHF World Hockey Championships. Three of them with a minor to major upset in them.

In Group A things are full-on chaos. Filled with North American worries as both Canada and USA fail to score even a single point against Finland and Slovakia.

In group B things are a little more ordinary. Russia lived up to the praise they received as they beat Norway with a lethal powerplay. The second game was feisty and Sweden, the reigning champions, were on the losing end against Czech Republic.

Finland 3-1 Canada 

Canada: Well that was horrible for Canada. They looked slow, sloppy and lazy. Just plain and ordinary. This might be the most plain I have ever seen Canada. Johnathan Marchessault and Matt Murray were the only ones who had a decent game. The rest looked awful. The defense seemed slow and they need to find an offensive dynamo somewhere.

Pierre-Luc Dubois and Tyson Jost have accepted invitations and will be joining the team, which could be the spark they need. Its only one game, but there are a lot of worries for Canada.

Finland: Wow! Who saw that one coming before the game? Finland being the better team for two periods. Kaapo Kakko was flying out there. Marko Anttila beating Canada in the physical game. Who needs NHL talent when you got fight and determination? And Kevin Lankinen turning it on after a bad first period, making some quality saves late in the game.

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Outside of the penalty kill this team delivered the perfect game and we might have underestimated them a little since the NHLers were lacking. It turns out Liiga is a pretty good league.

Slovakia 4-1 USA

Slovakia: An incredible crowd combined with a great will to win = A VERY WELL DESERVED WIN! They were slightly overwhelmed in the first period, but after that they DOMINATED the NHL stars from USA. They wanted it more and the crowd were behind them every single shift and second of the game.

Star performance in net by Patrik Rybar helped them keep the pressure at bay, but overall the entire team was the star. Hats off to Slovakia for that one! This one was fully earned!

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USA: There was so much hype for this USA lineup. However, after a nice first period it all came crumbling. What happened?

Jack Hughes was the best player for the USA and had a lot of nice looks and plays, but that’s where the positive for USA ends. Jack Eichel might have played with a lot of heart, but he used his energy poorly as he was trying to create offense with individual plays rather than playing smart hockey. Johnny Gaudreau was completely invisible, and Patrick Kane was only around for the first period and an assist. Its only one game but they must change their attitude and switch gears if they are to avoid another year without gold.

Russia 5-2 Norway

Russia: Man, what a powerplay from Russia. What an exiting team, and they are so much fun to watch. However, I honestly expected more. Norway had a lot of good chances and they fully deserved the two goals.

Russia didn’t look safe on the back end and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was called upon a little too much for my liking. Vasilevskiy made a few stunning saves in the third before allowing two near the ending, as the game was pretty much over. Still, with this amazing powerplay Russia is showing why many picked them as the favorites to win the gold.

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Norway: A great game from Norway but they simply took too many penalties. Doing so is suicide against Russia and it showed today. 2-2 was the score in 5 on 5 play, but Russia went 3 for 4 on the powerplays and Norway’s penalty kill looked awful. Allowing a powerplay goal after two seconds is never okay. Not even against Russia.

All in all, Norway can be very happy with the game and if this game is an indication on their form throughout the tournament, they are going to be a big challenger for the Quarterfinals in Group B

Czech Republic 5-2 Sweden 

Sweden: You need more than three great minutes to win a hockey game. A fact Sweden learned the hard way against Czech Republic.

Uncharacteristic mistakes from them, especially the defenders like Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Henrik Lundqvist allowed a soft first goal and things went rolling from there.

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The reigning champions have added John Klingberg and Alexander Wennberg, which will help them a lot. Klingberg on the defensive side is going to add stability which they desperately needed. Wennberg can be a good spark for the offense which needs to step up, cause in this game they didn’t win the battles in front of the net that a three-peat will require.

Czech Republic: A great first and third period was enough for the Czechs, who played a nice game of hockey to start the tournament. In front of their “home” crowd in Bratislava they played big and smart in what turned out to be a very physical game.

Jakub Vrana was the star of the game scoring two goals and taking advantage of his speed and great shot. Going forward the Czech Republic might be a team to watch out for. Especially with the huge support they will get from the fans, since the Czech border is only 70 km away.

Statistics provided by TSN

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Jordan Eberle Is The Fuel That The New York Islanders Needed

Jordan Eberle was hot at the right time and helped power the New York Islanders to another victory last night. With last night’s victory, the Islanders managed to sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the first period of play, Eberle dominated. In the two videos below, you’ll see Eberle and Mathew Barzal capitalize on a 2-on-1. Barzal and Eberle skate through the neutral zone and go straight to Matt Murray. Once they get to Murray, Barzal throws the puck to Eberle and Eberle wrists the puck past Murray. In the second video, you’ll see Eberle try his luck once again. He tries to put a backhand shot past Murray, but the puck sails a bit too high. While it wasn’t a goal, it was a great scoring chance for Eberle. 

Eberle’s Impact On The Series

Not only did Eberle’s goal help the Islanders best the Pittsburgh Penguins on enemy ice, but he’s been pivotal to the Islanders success in each game during the series. In each game, Eberle has tallied a goal at even strength. 

What’s even more remarkable is that on April 10th, Eberle scored his first playoff goal ever. Yep, first playoff goal. Prior to April 10th, Eberle played in quite a few playoff games. He had played in 13 playoff games with the Edmonton Oilers, but he wasn’t able to light up the lamp in those appearances in an Oilers uniform. You would have thought with the talent (Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and etc) that Eberle had in Edmonton, that he would have had success in scoring goals in the post-season, but that wasn’t the case.

I guess Eberle just needed to wear a different blue/orange/white sweater. It appears that’s all the 28-year-old right-winger needed. 

Barzal/Eberle

It’s also evident that Eberle’s strong play has a lot to do with his line-mate, Mathew Barzal. Like Eberle, Barzal had a great series. Not only did Barzal help set up Eberle on his goal in the first period of last night’s affair, but he also helped set up eight of Eberle’s goals during the regular season. The Islanders’ top line of Anders Lee, Barzal and Eberle is working well and if general manager Lou Lamoriello can re-sign Lee and Eberle in the off-season, they could potentially replicate the same success or do even more damage next year.

Aside from Eberle and Barzal being a great combo, Barzal also showed off his vision, skating and speed last night as he tried to put a goal on the score sheet in the first period. In the video below, you’ll see Barzal cause a breakup in the Islanders zone. Then he skates from zone-to-zone unharmed. He weaves around traffic and takes a backhand shot against Murray. Unfortunately for Barzal, Murray read him well and shut him down, but it was an extraordinary sequence by Barzal. If Barzal continues to play just like that in the next round, the Islanders could keep their opponents up at night.

The Isles Can Prevail Yet Again

With Eberle and Barzal driving the ship, the Islanders can prevail yet again in round two. While we don’t know exactly who they’ll face, the duo was dominant against the Pittsburgh Penguins and there is no question that they can’t replicate their success again in round two. Watch out for these two.

stats from hockey-reference

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals