How are you enjoying these Stanley Cup Semifinals?
Big thumbs-up from me. Despite the prevailing narratives that the Canadiens and Islanders would have no chance against the Golden Knights and Lightning, respectively, our Stanley Cup Finalists remain very much in doubt as the series reach the halfway points.
With their win last night, the Islanders will at least match their playoff result from last season, when they fell to the Lightning in six games in the Eastern Conference Final. With the series now tied, they've guaranteed themselves at least one more game at Nassau Coliseum. They're also in a better position now than they ever were last year, when they lost their first two games against Tampa Bay. They never got closer than 2-1 and 3-2 series deficits.
The Islanders got absolutely smoked on the shot clock last year, too — outshot 213-165 over the six-game series. So far this time around, they've been almost even. The Lightning hold a 119-115 edge over four games.
So I'm not counting the Islanders out. My question now: if they win the Cup, does superstition dictate that they refuse to move into their fancy new arena next season?
Meanwhile, in Montreal, the Canadiens were down one Covid-stricken head coach, but overcame a shell-shocked start to stay close, get a lucky bounce, then ride that momentum to an overtime win and a lead in the series.
Pretty awesome for Alex Burrows, who was definitely acting as a right-hand man to Luke Richardson, the Canadiens' assistant who was officially running the bench.
Dominique Ducharme did a Zoom on Sunday morning, saying that he's symptom free and hopes he can be back behind the bench sooner rather than later. I expect he's also actively involved in planning for Sunday's Game 4.
I can barely imagine what it must feel like to get suddenly promoted into a dream job, then wildly exceed all expectations, only to find yourself on the sidelines at this stage of the journey. I hope the Habs can keep it going long enough for him to get back.
i was amused to see Travis Green pop up at Game 1 of the series, in Vegas, earlier in the week.
No surprise that he was in Vegas, of course; I'm sure there's poker that needs to be played at this point, and it's a pretty easy drive or flight from his off-season home in Anaheim.
But I am a little surprised that he was ready to take in an NHL game, not even a month after his Canucks' season finally came to an end.
Earlier this week, the Canucks' former assistant coach, Newell Brown, was a guest on the Vancast with Jeff Paterson and Thomas Drance. If you're a subscriber to The Athletic, you can listen ad-free in the app. If you aren't, click here
for the ad-supported version on Apple Podcasts.
The Canucks have a policy of not letting their assistants speak with the media, so this was a rare peek into that part of the operation. Brown has great perspective from his two stints behind the Canucks' bench, as well as with the Ducks and Coyotes, and shared a great deal about the nuances of the Canucks' power play and personnel. He also complimented Travis Green's all-round coaching skills, comparing him favourably to the other coaches that he has worked with during his career, and holds no bitterness about being let go — well aware that hockey is a volatile business and change is part of the career arc for just about everyone.
He also mentioned Green's tireless work ethic — that it wasn't unusual to get a text from him at midnight, or at 6 a.m.
I suspect that's the part of his brain that nudged him over to T-Mobile Arena last Monday.
And as the playoffs grind on, we're starting to hear noise that player movement could start as early as next week. It sounds like the Jack Eichel deal is going to get done sooner rather than later — which is amazing to me. What about that unresolved neck injury situation? I'm super curious to see how that plays out.
Sam Reinhart is another Buffalo forward who wants out, and who is said to be interested in coming to Vancouver. I tend to fall in the camp that thinks, "Will the Canucks give up more assets and offer a significant contract to a player who will basically slot into the spot that Tyler Toffoli left vacant?" Hmmph. And while, yes, Reinhart can play centre and, as such, is a bit more versatile than Toffoli, let's not overlook his exorbitant 19.2% shooting percentage when we admire his 25 goals this year. Yes, his accuracy was good last year, too, at 15.3%, but he's a career 13.6% shooter.
That's one of those numbers that tends to regress to the mean — just ask Elias Pettersson. He was 19.4% in his rookie season, 16.7% in his second year, and 15.9% last year. And despite the fact that he played just 26 games, he led the league this season in crossbars hit (4).
I would tread cautiously on Reinhart, unless the cost of acquisition was very low. But of course, any time Buffalo's trade possibilities come up, Rasmus Ristolainen is worth mentioning as well. He's big, he's a righty, he's used to playing heavy minutes, he can play a physical game, and he's pretty durable — although he did go through a tough bout with Covid
back in February.
Contract-wise, Ristolainen is in the same boat as Seth Jones — one year away from UFA status, with a cap hit of $5.4 million next season. A less expensive option would be Colin Miller, also one year away from UFA. He's two years older, but his cap hit is just $3.875 million.
Looking at Buffalo's expansion draft situation
on CapFriendly, it looks like the Sabres will need to make a trade or sign a defenseman before submitting their protected list on July 17. They're required to expose at least one defenseman who's under contract and has passed a games-played threshold that would qualify him as an NHL regular, so to speak. Right now, the only players on their roster who fit those criteria are Ristolainen and Miller.
As for Oliver Ekman-Larsson, apparently now back on the trade market once again — last I checked, he's still a lefty. And makes a ton of dough. Maybe Boston will find a way to make it work for him this year?