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Saturday 27th May 2017

The mighty Chicago Blackhawks have been eliminated from the 2017 NHL Playoffs after dropping four straight to the younger more aggressive Nashville Predators. The Minnesota Wild extended their series against the St. Louis Blues to a Game 5 with a 2-0 shutout in St. Louis. Anaheim put out the Flames Wednesday night, but after the Flames blew a 4-1 lead in Game 3, the series was really lost right there. Edmonton took a brutal pounding in Game 4 to even their series at two apiece. Then, last night, Edmonton pulled up their leggings and came back from a 3-1 hole to win in overtime to take a 3-2 lead in that Pacific Division titans clash. So, let’s break down the Western Conference here. 

Nashville put the Blackhawks away at home last night in Game 4 of their series. I’ve seen the Hawks come back from a 3-0 deficit to my Wings and will never count them out until the last whistle blows, but they are done this season. Lack of secondary scoring was a huge issue for Chicago. They have their superstars, but the rookies and role players didn’t show up, and their stars did not show up either. This 2017 Nashville team is not the Red Wings team that Chicago came back against, and most teams would kill to just have one or two of the Preds top four defensemen. 

Trading Shea Weber made the Predators younger all around, while his presence in Montreal coincides with Carey Price's prime years, so it was a win/win for both teams, as we are now seeing. Now think that Nashville has let walk or traded away Ryan Suter, Seth Jones and Shea Weber and they still dominate on the back end. That along with timely goals and watertight defense that has allowed only two goals to the second-best scoring differential team in the Western Conference. It will destroy all my brackets if the Hawks lose, but I had them going down to the Blues in the Conference Finals anyway, so we will see tonight what happens. Be assured though P.K Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and junior super scorer Ryan Ellis will be in the middle of the action in the next round as they were everywhere in this sweep of Chicago. Kudos to Nashville.

St. Louis is in a prime spot to take the Wild out of the playoffs as well, but Minnesota showed their teeth Wednesday night, finally. The Wild played the way they did throughout the season with shut down defense, lots of goals along with awesome net minding by should be Vezina winner Devan Dubnyk. Minnesota snuck only two goals behind St. Louis goalie Jake Allen, who has played excellent this series, and has been the Blues best player so far. He is the reason St. Louis is in position to put the Wild away for the season. I hope you’re seeing the theme here, great net minding and very solid defensive play, which isn’t the case in the East. St. Louis has depth and experience on the back end even after losing Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline. Alex Pietrangelo, the ageless defender, the swift-skating Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko make for some tough sledding for the Wild forwards.  

Anaheim took care of business last night up in Calgary and now awaits the winner of the San Jose/Edmonton matchup, which appears to be headed for seven games. The question on my mind is whether the Anaheim Ducks are the best team in the Western Conference. With superb goaltending from John Gibson and a stellar win in relief for Jonathan Bernier, the Ducks get to rest now, which is good for their older players up front. The defense for Anaheim is again playing tight and not allowing any second chances on rebounds. Eight times out of ten last night the Ducks cleared the front of the net so well that an elephant could have walked up to Gibson for a head of lettuce.  Captain Ryan Getzlaf led the Ducks on the offensive side with Rickard Rakell and young defenseman Shea Theodore registering five points each. Now with at least a week’s rest ahead, Anaheim can focus on their next assignment, and prepare for battle, but I still hate them. 

The Edmonton/San Jose series has been an absolute slugfest and a joy to watch. We have the salty dogs from last year's finals against the kids who are being led by Art Ross trophy winner Connor McDavid, who will undoubtedly be the number one pick in fantasy hockey drafts for the next decade. Now things shift back to San Jose for Game 6, where the Oilers hope to keep rolling in this excellent series. Game 4 was a wake-up call for both teams. It let Edmonton know that there’s plenty of game left in the Sharks, while also letting the Oilers know that there are no games off in the playoffs. It will be fun to watch more this weekend, when this old fart doesn’t have bedtime for work the next day. 

Be sure to talk hockey with me @PolkaPat and read about the Eastern Conference at Fighting Chance Sports.

As the NHL regular season came to an end, and I was watching the Red Wings close out the Joe in winning fashion, Henrik Zetterberg played in his 82nd game of the season, and 1000th of his career. Z’s stat line for the year was what was surprising for me, and he seemed to just punch the time clock, get a few points here and a few goals there and ended up with 17 goals and 68 points for the second to last place in the Atlantic Division Red Wings. This stat line made me look around the NHL and see what other players were silent but deadly in their statistical quest this past season, and I bet you thought this article would be about farts?

Ryan Getzlaf (C, Anaheim Ducks): As I mentioned in my DraftKings DFS piece yesterday, Getzlaf quietly amassed 73 points this season, and has also become a much better penalty killer, after he showed the hockey world he could kill the penalties after playing shut-down center for Mike Babcock in the Olympics. With 15 goals and 58 assists, which have always been Getzlaf’s forte, he was on an absolute tear at the end of the regular season. Six of his goals were on the power play and two were short-handed, and with Ryan Kesler as the top lock-down forward, Getz provides additional lock-down depth for the Ducks in their first round attempt to douse the Flames.

Patrick Eaves (RW, Anaheim Ducks): Acquired by the Ducks at the trade deadline from the Dallas Stars, this season’s biggest flame out, Eaves quietly posted 32 goals and will be very intriguing now in the playoffs. A player who has been waived on a few different occasions, Eaves showed what playing all year long with top end talent can do for your production. Anyone remember Jonathan Cheechoo and his 56-goal season in 2005-06? Anyone remember what happened to him after they took away his Jumbo Joe Action Figure? Cheechoo is now slugging it out in the Russian Elite League, the Kontinental Hockey League with the Dynamo (Minsk) in Croatia. Eaves split his time in Dallas with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and now with the Ducks, he lines up with Ryan Getzlaf and Anaheim's next superstar Rickard Rakell. He will be put in excellent situations to succeed this postseason.

Nicklas Backstrom (C, Washington Capitals): I know it seems impossible that the fourth leading scorer in the NHL did it unnoticed, but I feel that he has, and that the Caps have quietly amassed this 120-point season too. With 23 goals and 63 assists, Nicklas put together his fifth 60-plus assist season, and he centers probably the deadliest line in the NHL, with Alexander Ovechkin and first-time 30-goal scorer T.J. Oshie. Look closely at the box scores so you do not miss Backstrom populating it after each game as he’s done all year while leading the Caps to the Stanley Cup over the Blues.

Jake Gardiner (D, Toronto Maple Leafs): On a very young and inexperienced team, Gardiner led this team full of minuses with a solid +/- plus +24. Jake plays in the Leafs second defensive pair, and on the first power play unit, and is Toronto's most solid defender. In his fifth full season, Gardiner chipped in nine goals and 43 assists. He anchored the second-best power play in the NHL, which clicked at 23.36% and is loaded with players who cannot get into a bar in the United States. Jake also averaged just over 21 minutes per game with 52.6% Corsi For value. I was just impressed with this young defenseman, who went under the radar on a team in transition, in the hockey Mecca of North America, and with much higher profiled rookies around.  

Henrik Zetterberg (C, Detroit Red Wings): Yes, I covered Z in the opener, but I’m still going to dig a little deeper on the 14-year veteran. In his 14th full season, Zetterberg put up his highest point total since 2011-12, when he had one more point with 69 points. After regularly putting up 70, 80 and a 92-point season earlier in his career, Henrik is a steady veteran who is guiding some of the younger Wings down the path, teaching them how to prepare and play like a professional on and off the ice. The Red Wings have been blessed to have the success they have with this former 6th round draft pick. 

Be sure to tweet me @PolkaPat, and read more hockey from me at Fighting Chance Sports. 

Ever since the New York/Long Island/Brooklyn Islanders fired Head Coach Jack Capuano and implanted Doug Weight, the Islanders have been red hot. After a 3-0 shutout win tonight against the Montreal Canadiens, the Islanders are now 12-4-2 under Weight and making a push at the right time for a playoff run, going 7-3-0 in the last ten.

With the Eastern Conference so closely contested, coupled with the way the Isles are playing, the team just may keep the Wild Card spot they are holding currently. Carolina is in last place in the East, yet is only ten points out of the last Wild Card spot. This also makes for a very interesting trade deadline in a week and a half. Are the Isles buyers or sellers?

Is this current Islanders team anything more than a one-round wonder, or is there staying power? As stacked as the East is this year, I’m betting on "one and done" unless a few additions are made and some bodies can come off the injured reserve list, which currently has five players holding spots.

With over $5.5 million in available cap space, I could easily see New York adding a player or two, but I still do not think that is the answer. As for star power, the Islanders have one, John Tavares, and that’s it. Andrew Ladd had struggled mightily this season after signing as an Unrestricted Free Agent this past summer to try and fill Kyle Okposo’s skates. Travis Hamonic, on the IR since January 7th, is out indefinitely, and his return would bolster the defensive corps for sure. The Islanders are a very young team, but they need to act now or never, or risk losing John Tavares at the end of next season, and there will be 30 other teams all jumping for a player of his skill set. Nobody is going to want to play where the organization puts zero effort into trying to win, and Ladd is no refill for Okposo, but at least he tried.

Would adding Matt Duchene from Colorado be an answer? It would certainly add much needed offensive power, but the Islanders need help on the defensive side of the ice. While currently sitting at eighth in goals for and 23rd in goals against, tell me Kevin Shattenkirk wouldn’t look good in Brooklyn, and just to stick it to the Rangers to boot.

With Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee starting to play to their potential, and prospects such as Matthew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang, there are the means to add a player if so desired. The Isles also have the albatross contract of Jaroslav Halak sitting there, so maybe they could try to get rid of that. And then there are the two young and promising goalie prospects in Eamon McAdam and Stephon Williams. Going after Ben Bishop doesn’t sound all that far-fetched.

The recent shutout of Montreal was just game two of a nine-game road trip, and this road trip will either be the make or break point for New York. At Columbus Saturday, then having five days’ mandatory break before hitting Dallas and Chicago in back-to-back nights, then every other day in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and closing things out against the red-hot St, Louis Blues. If the Isles come out of this trip .500 or better, they are in a good place. As I look deeper into the season, the Isles also go on a four-game road trip to close out the season. Someone wasn’t on their side when making the schedule this year.

Getting back grinders Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck from IR will also toughen up the Islanders, and the sooner the better, as this scheduling may catch up with the boys before this road trip ends. Only three Islanders are over 50% IN Corsi for percentages: Tavares, Lee and Josh Bailey. So again, tightening up the defensive reigns will benefit this team dramatically, and since primary goaltender Thomas Greis isn’t quite Henrik Lundqvist, improving the team defense is imperative.

I for one would love to see the Islanders mortgage a few prospects and picks and make a run for playoff success, but with no guarantees that Bishop or Shattenkirk are going to sign with them when they become UFA’s at season’s end, it seems like a lot to risk for a one-year push.

You can always reach me @PolkaPat

As the trade deadline is a few days old, and the traded players get accustomed to their new homes for the foreseeable future, let’s look back at the good and bad that happened Wednesday afternoon.

Steve Yzerman, you did an outstanding job in shredding much needed salary to re-sign your three stud RFA’s this summer in Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin.  It was just impossible to keep all your toys in the salary cap era. Tampa now has over $17 million in cap space when taking away the long-term Injured Reserve players. So, let's say all three of the previously mentioned players get bridge deals like Nikita Kucherov, signed this past fall. Tampa may still have a little extra left to add some defensive depth.

It wasn’t just the dealing of Ben Bishop to the L.A. Kings, but there was also the three-team trade that sent Valtteri Filppula to Philadelphia along with his five million dollar contract that he wasn’t earning.  Also, Yzerman dealt heart and soul and extraordinarily hard defensive forward Brian Boyle north to Toronto on Wednesday. Filppula scored a goal last night in his debut for the struggling Flyers.

My second applause goes out to another great #19, Joe Sakic, for not trading any of his stud players just for the sake of trading them. I mentioned last week that the hauls for Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog would have to be huge. Those two are still so young and just need a better defensive corps and net minder to tighten up the defensive ranks. Sakic did send Jarome Iginla to Los Angeles for one last hurrah and hopefully a Stanley Cup for the great future Hall of Famer.  

Washington, you got the trophy catch of this year’s trade deadline deals, and hopefully you didn’t give up another Filip Forsberg in the process. Kevin Shattenkirk and his Caps teammates are all chips in and hopefully this move pays off for Washington this spring in a very tough Eastern Conference. The Caps will not have enough money in cap space to keep Shattenkirk beyond this season unless there is some creative financing this summer in the nation’s capital.  

Another move I liked was Pittsburgh being the third man in on the Filppula trade and getting veteran offensive defenseman Mark Streit from bitter rival Philadelphia. The Pens are already thin on the back end, with Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley both dinged up, and Kris Letang a cough away from pulling his groin. I'm still a little curious as to why goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t dealt away. I know a team in Winnipeg that could sure use a former stud goalie for their playoff push.
Chicago brought back Johnny Oduya to help make the push for Stanley Cup number four in the Windy City. They’re getting the band back together. Along with Oduya, the Blackhawks added depth with the addition of Tomas Jurco from Detroit.  

The Ottawa Senators added a couple depth players in Alexandre Burrows and Viktor Stalberg at the deadline, with Burrows potting both goals last night in his Ottawa debut. Will Ottawa win the Cup? Probably not, but these additions just made them that much tougher to face in the playoffs.  

The Detroit Red Wings' 25-year playoff streak will end this spring, so for the first time in a quarter-century, my team were sellers at the deadline. Along with Jurco going to Chicago, Detroit sent defenseman Brendan Smith to the New York Rangers and the vastly improved Thomas Vanek to the Florida Panthers, all for draft picks and conditional draft picks. Way to deal Ken Holland and way to pile up the picks for the future. Vanek stated that he would like to stay in Detroit, so maybe we can reward him this summer by bringing him back. In the meantime though, he will add more scoring depth to a Panthers team sorely in need of some secondary scoring, and with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau back healthy and scoring, Florida can make that final push into the playoffs in what has been a huge letdown season after last year’s 103-point awakening.

You can always talk pucks with me @PolkaPat.

As I am marveling at this year’s crop of rookies, I looked back to see which previous rookie classes have had this many impact players. I had to go back to 2005-06, with Calder winner Alexander Ovechkin along with Sidney Crosby, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Jeff Carter, Ryan Suter and Brent Seabrook. While not all of them had a major impact immediately, they are all still very relevant right now. The next class as stud worthy in my humble opinion was the 1990-91 class, which consisted of Calder winner Eddie Belfour and runner up Sergei Fedorov along with Mike Richter, Rob Blake, Mats Sundin and the mighty Jaromir Jagr. Each class has its share of good and bad players, but this year’s class could be bordering on legendary.  

Auston Matthews (C, Toronto Maple Leafs): The number one overall pick is living up to all the hype and is a generational talent. With 27 goals and 46 points so far this season, Matthews makes me wish I hadn’t let everyone else be the one who drafted him. He still goes through the usual rookie doldrums, but he will be a finalist come June for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie and in a class this deep, it will be earned.  

Patrik Laine (RW, Winnipeg Jets): The second pick in last year’s entry draft, Laine is a goal scoring machine, especially at home. Once Winnipeg learns to win the tough games on the road and these young guys mature, Laine and the Jets will be having parades in June up in Winnipeg. Laine currently sits at 26 goals and 47 points, and missed five games with concussion-like symptoms. The next ten years in the NHL are going to be very entertaining up north of the border. 

Mitch Marner (C, Toronto Maple Leafs): Marner is quietly and very effectively playing nose to nose with Auston Matthews as the future leaders of Leaf Nation. With his 15 goals and 48 points, the former London Knight is leading all rookies in scoring, with the Leafs separating all three uber rookies on three different lines often this season. Marner has blown doors off at each level of his development and I see him winning an Art Ross Trophy or two in his future as NHL’s leading scorer.  

Matthew Tkachuk (LW, Calgary Flames): Speaking of former London Knights, Marner’s former teammate Tkachuk has been on fire lately, and his season numbers are slowly piling up. The son of former NHL player Keith Tkachuk, Matthew is a chip off the old block, never afraid to get to the dirty spots in the corners and camping in front of the goalie. Matthew has 11 goals and 35 points so far, and 92 Penalties in Minutes and is most certainly the most physical forward of this rookie crop, all while only playing 14:21 minutes per game. 

Zach Werenski (D, Columbus Blue Jackets): This former Michigan Wolverine continues to chip away at the offensive numbers while providing the young Blue Jackets much needed defensive stability, which lacked in the past. With eight goals and 33 points and a plus/minus +14 halfway through the season, 50 points is very doable and the future is bright in C-Bus.   

William Nylander (C, Toronto Maple Leafs): After a 22-game stint last year, Nylander has hit the ice running this season as the third head of the three-headed rookie monster in the mecca of hockey. Willie usually plays on the top line for the Leafs with Leo Komorov and Nazem Kadri, and is a top power play unit contributor. With 15 goals and 38 points so far, this young Leaf and his rookie brethren will be killing it for years to come.  

Sebastian Aho (RW, Carolina Hurricanes): Small stature hasn’t stopped Aho from being a top offensive option for the Canes this year. With 17 goals and 32 points so far, Aho is emerging as one of the young, talented leaders of a very young Carolina team bursting from the seams with draft pick talent throughout the organization at all levels. My NHL League Pass has been used quite often to watch the Hurricanes and will be there more often as this young team grows and wins a Cup. 

Anthony Mantha (RW, Detroit Red Wings): After a 10-game debut last year, the hulking forward earned his time in the AHL across state here in Grand Rapids and is now a fixture on the Wings top line, and will be there for years to come. One of the few current bright spots on Detroit’s future watch along with Dylan Larkin, Mantha is averaging over 16 minutes per game and has added 13 goals and 16 helpers so far and is a plus/minus +14 on a team that hasn’t been very responsible on the defensive end, so that is a good thing. 

Mikko Rantanen (RW, Colorado Avalanche): GM Joe Sakic decided to let Mikko own his spurs on the thin Colorado roster, and he's doing ok for a rookie, with 11 goals and 26 points, but sits at plus/minus -22. However, this isn’t all his fault, as Colorado has been dreadful in their own end and is one of the worst puck possession teams in the NHL. Patience is the key in Denver, as this is a very young team, and I think it would be foolish of the franchise to trade away any of their young stars right now.   

You can reach me here or on Twitter @PolkaPat. 

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