NHL Playoff Push Heating Up

The NHL Playoff Push is just getting started.

*Note: Originally published in the Spring edition of Allentown High School’s school newspaper, the Nutshell*.

There are few better times of the year in the National Hockey League than the push for the playoffs. In today’s NHL, many teams are still within striking distance as the postseason approaches. Here’s the latest on the NHL’s race to the Stanley Cup.

Rookies Taking Over

The NHL is a pretty tough league for rookies to break into. The increase in speed, strategy, and physicality is a jump that few young guns are prepared for. Still, numerous rookies have bucked that trend this year. However, only one can take home the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year. Here are some of the finest freshmen, placed in order of projected Calder Trophy placement.

  1. Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers

There just aren’t applicable words to describe the impact that Shayne Gostisbehere has had on the Philadelphia Flyers. The 5’11”, 180 lb. defenseman has taken the NHL by storm over his 47-game trial. His speed is second to none, his shot from the point is deadly, his hockey IQ is off the charts, and he is improving day by day. He even had a ridiculous 15-game point streak at one point this year! “Ghost” hasn’t played a whole season, but his ability to transform the rebuilding Flyers into a bubble playoff squad has him as one of the Calder favorites.

  1. Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks

No rookie has scored at a more impressive rate than Panarin this season. His 61 points in 65 games are definitely impressive, but there are some asterisks with Panarin. “The Breadman” is 24 years old, an older rookie. Because he played in Russia professionally for seven years, he could lose some votes. He also has the privilege of playing alongside NHL scoring leader Patrick Kane, which could give anyone inflated scoring numbers. Still, Panarin has been a fantastic story for the Blackhawks, and he certainly has a chance to be the one up on the podium with the Calder Trophy.

  1. Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

Another surprising rookie has been Dylan Larkin in Detroit. The natural center has spent all of this season on the wing, and has still posted impressive statistics. He has 19 goals and 39 points in 64 games. While those numbers pale in comparison to Gostisbehere and Panarin, he has been super-clutch (five of his goals have been game-winners). Larkin has been quite good this year, but the other rookies are probably too good for Larkin to win the award.

NHL Trade Deadline Recap

This past NHL trade deadline saw the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, Florida Panthers, and New York Rangers loaded up, while bottom-third NHL teams sold vigorously.

The Blackhawks kicked off the festivities before deadline day, reacquiring left wing Andrew Ladd from the Winnipeg Jets while also adding defenseman Christian Erhoff and depth forwards Dale Wiese and Tomas Fleischmann. To get these guys, the Hawks gave up a lot in terms of prospects and picks, but it’s all okay if they get to hoist another Stanley Cup this summer, which is looking more and more likely.

The Rangers’ big splash was to acquire star center Eric Staal from the Carolina Hurricanes, where he’ll partner up with brother Marc. Staal fills the Rangers’ need for a big-bodied centerman, but they gave up a lot to get him, perhaps too much, especially when you consider the needs the Rangers have on defense.

The Florida Panthers have had a highly successful campaign thus far in 2015-16, and they bolstered their playoff chances by acquiring some solid veterans, including Jiri Hudler, Teddy Purcell, and Jakub Kindl. None of these guys are particularly splashy, but they help round out the Panthers’ roster.

All in all, it was a quiet trade deadline in terms of blockbusters, but it did feature a lot of activity in general. Keep in mind that the team that wins the trade deadline is anything but guaranteed to win the Stanley Cup. Only time will tell who the real winners and losers are.

Playoff Preview

The NHL playoff push is super-packed this year. In the East, the Capitals, Rangers, Lightning, Panthers, Bruins, and Islanders are likely locked in, but the final two spots are up for grabs. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, and Philadelphia Flyers are battling for the Wild Cards, and a late surge from Philly and a swoon from Detroit have kept things interesting. Still, I’d be surprised if the Flyers could find their way into the playoffs, considering how talented the Penguins and Red Wings are. But with the Flyers playing those two teams a combined five times from now until season’s end, anything is possible.

The West is much the same as the East. The Blackhawks, Ducks, Kings, Blues, Stars, and Sharks are not going anywhere, but the Wild Cards are very much unsettled. The Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild currently lay claims to the spots, but the Colorado Avalanche are not fading gently into the night. Much like the East, I see the two teams currently in remaining in power, but the Avalanche are a pesky bunch that made some deadline acquisitions that could prove invaluable.

Predictions:

Playoff Preview

Eastern Conference Western Conference
Eastern Conference Champs: Washington Capitals Western Conference Champs: Chicago Blackhawks
                                        Stanley Cup Champs: Chicago Blackhawks

 

Award Predictions

Award Winner
Hart Trophy (MVP) Patrick Kane
Rocket Richard Trophy (Most goals) Alex Ovechkin
Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie) Braden Holtby
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman) Erik Karlsson
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) Shayne Gostisbehere

 

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