The National Hockey League has a new Stanley Cup Champion, as the St. Louis Blues bested the Boston Bruins on home ice 4-1 in Game 7 for their first Cup in their 52-year history.
It normally is the case that other teams copy the traits of the Stanley Cup winner, and while clubs like Chicago and Pittsburgh influenced the league towards a game focused on speed and skill, the last two champions have sent a signal that clubs have to be multi-faceted and rely not only on skating and scoring, but also to have size, strength and defensive ability to win when it counts.
Both the Washington Capitals and Blues possess high-level offensive talent, but in last year’s Cup victory role players Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson and experienced defenders Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were difference makers.
The same thing occurred this year as Patrick Maroon, Samuel Blais, Oscar Sundqvist and Zach Sanford laid out body checks on the Bruins throughout the series and a big, veteran defense corps headed by Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester kept Boston in check at even strength.
The Toronto Maple Leafs possess the core players that the Caps, Blues and other Stanley Cup Champions have, but the task in front of GM Kyle Dubas will be to manage the salary cap while at the same time find players that can provide the element they are missing up front and on the blueline.
The Leafs had little physical pushback except from Zach Hyman, Jake Muzzin and Nazem Kadri against the Bruins and that was a determining factor in the series. Internal prospects like Mason Marchment may help in that area, but for Toronto to be able to survive the two-month ordeal that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Dubas will have to find his group of role players to make the Leafs a team that can get past the Bruins, Tampa Bay and Washington to their first Cup Final in over 50 years.
TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that numerous trade discussions will begin to percolate in advance of the NHL Draft in Vancouver next week. Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev has drawn interest from the Canucks and on Thursday Dreger indicated that the Edmonton Oilers have some interest in the 27-year-old blueliner.
Oilers GM Ken Holland was said to be interested in Zaitsev when Toronto signed him out of the KHL in 2016 and with a reasonable cap hit of $4.5 Million, it would make sense for Edmonton to be kicking tires. There continue to be rumors that the Oilers have interest in winger Connor Brown, who was junior teammates with Connor McDavid in Erie.
Toronto is known to be looking to bolster their blueline, with Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey headed for unrestricted free agency, Travis Dermott out to start the season and Zaitsev requesting a trade. Based on the Dubas affinity for former Soo Greyhounds, the Leafs might be targeting big blueliner Darnell Nurse, who has a year left on a two-year bridge deal and will be looking for a big payday next summer.
Vancouver is said to be looking to make changes on defense and with the Leafs need for manpower on the blueline, the potential for GTA native Chris Tanev being included in the deal would make sense. Tanev has one year left before unrestricted free agency and his cap hit ($4.45 Million) is nearly identical to Zaitsev.
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