NHL Playoff Preview

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The NHL Postseason is among the best of any sport.

Hockey is often thought of as a cold-weather sport, but the best hockey of the year takes place in the springtime. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are fast approaching, and the NHL is ready to kick its season into high gear. Here’s a comprehensive preview of the NHL’s second season.

*This article also appears in the Spring issue of Allentown High School’s newspaper, the Nutshell.*

Trade Deadline Recap: The NHL Trade Deadline passed on March 1, and every single team made at least one trade before time was up. Some moves were naturally bigger than others, and it can be extremely difficult to keep tabs on all the action. Here are some of the biggest trades that happened at the deadline and what they mean for the postseason push.

  1. Ben Bishop to LA: Although the Tampa Bay Lightning were a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup this year, they have struggled with injuries and are currently outside the playoff picture. With elite goalie Ben Bishop an impending free agent and seeming unlikely to re-sign in Tampa, the Lightning got what they could for his services, flipping Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings for a package centered around goalie Peter Budaj and prospects. The Kings now boast the top goaltending duo in the game with Bishop and starter Jonathan Quick, and they did not even have to give up too much to make it happen.

    1. Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington: Kevin Shattenkirk is one of the NHL’s top young defensemen. But when he and the St. Louis Blues couldn’t agree on a long-term contract extension, Shattenkirk was made available. Enter the Washington Capitals. Although the Capitals did not need a defenseman that badly, the price was right and the Capitals are now the NHL’s best overall team. Captain Alexander Ovechkin has yet to take the Capitals out of the second round of the playoffs, but this is his best team yet. The Capitals look ready to soar, as they eye their first Stanley Cup Championship.

     

    1. Colorado Stays Put: Simply put, the Colorado Avalanche are having one tough season. Well on their way to setting the league record for losses in a season, the consensus was that the Avalanche would sell big at the deadline, electing to start over fresh next year. While they did trade veteran Jarome Iginla, the Avs decided to keep their young talent, such as Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie, and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Don’t forget that Colorado was division champs as recently as 2014 and was just one spot out of the postseason last year. Likely to get the top pick in this draft, the Avs decided to build around what they have already developed instead of tearing it all down.

Contenders and Pretenders: It’s always fun to figure out who the real championship contenders are, and who is merely a pretender. There are always a few surprises every playoff season, so let’s get right to it.

  1. Washington Capitals: Contender

I know that the Capitals choke in the playoffs every year, but this time is different. The Capitals have the NHL’s most dominant roster. The Capitals’ third line and third defense pair could be top units on some teams. The Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals have a history of never making it out of the second round of the playoffs, but they will have home ice advantage all playoffs long and may have to face less divisional opponents than some of their other Metropolitan Division rivals, which could save the Capitals some stamina and energy for the later rounds.

 

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets: Contender

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been rebuilding basically since the franchise was first founded in 2000. However, they have had a record-setting season this year, and look poised to give the Capitals a run for their money. The Blue Jackets have impressive balance on their roster, often icing the same lineup every night. They have set the club record for wins in a season with more time still to go, and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is playing at Vezina-caliber level again.

 

  1. Montreal Canadiens: Pretender

The NHL’s winningest franchise, the Montreal Canadiens actually have one of the league’s longest Stanley Cup droughts, standing at 23 years. I wouldn’t expect that streak to end this year, however. The Canadiens always have a talented team, and their current roster is a nice blend of skill, grit, youth, and veterans, all along with the best goalie in the NHL. But the Canadiens are always a fragile bunch in the postseason, and a potential first-round matchup with the New York Rangers doesn’t look good for Montreal.

 

  1. San Jose Sharks: Contender

Last year’s Western Conference Champions, the Sharks look poised for a repeat effort this year. The Sharks a bit top-heavy, but no team can match the star power of the Sharks (Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and more). With a battle-tested roster, the Sharks are hungrier than ever. It will be tough to get by teams like Chicago, Anaheim, Minnesota, and even Edmonton, but the Sharks have the makeup of a winner.

 

  1. Chicago Blackhawks: Contender

One can never count the Blackhawks out, and coming off a first-round exit last year, the Hawks are eager to get revenge come playoff time. Chicago is always able to contend in spite of their hefty salaries due to their ability to turn water into wine with role players. The Blackhawks brought back a familiar face on “D” with Johnny Oduya, and they are as complete a team from top to bottom as any in the NHL.

 

  1. Minnesota Wild: Pretender

How is the top seed in the Western Conference a pretender? Well, let’s look at the projected matchups. The Wild will likely draw the eighth seed in Round One, but a matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks almost seems guaranteed for the Western Conference Semifinals. The Wild are a much-improved team, but they just haven’t been able to ever beat the Blackhawks. Minnesota has one of the deepest rosters in the league, but if they cannot beat their Central Division rivals, their run will end sooner than expected.

Predictions:

NHL Awards

Hart Trophy (MVP)

Connor McDavid

Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman)

Brent Burns

Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie)

Braden Holtby

Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)

Auston Matthews

Rocket Richard Trophy (Most Goals)

Brad Marchand

Eastern Conference Champs

Washington Capitals

Western Conference Champs

San Jose Sharks

Stanley Cup Champs

San Jose Sharks

 

 

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