GO FOR THE GOLD: Team USA announced its roster for the IIHF Men’s World Championship on Thursday, and there are some familiar faces — and an Olympian — on the team.
LEETCH THERAPY: Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Leetch resigned from his post as the Rangers’ hockey operations advisor on Thursday, the latest domino to fall in a string of firings that’s included former president John Davidson, former GM Jeff Gorton, and former coach David Quinn.
O-H-L YEAH!: Just three weeks after cancelling its 2020-21 season in its entirety, the OHL announced its key dates for 2021-22. Next season’s 68-game regular season is slated to begin on Oct. 7th.
PRESIDENTS > KINGS: The Avalanche rode a five-game win streak to the Presidents’ Trophy, claiming the league’s best record after a 5-1 win over the Kings on Thursday. Although they finished tied in points, the Avs held the tiebreaker with five more regulation wins than the Golden Knights.
The Presidents’ Trophy Curse
The Colorado Avalanche have won the Presidents’ Trophy! Now — before all the “Karens” come out of the woodwork to say the Avalanche are cursed and their postseason is doomed — let’s stop for a moment. The “curse” that accompanies the Presidents’ Trophy is only a myth.
Although the 1985-86 Edmonton Oilers were the first team to fall victim to said curse — in the inaugural year of the Presidents’ Trophy no less — they repeated the feat the following year and won the Stanley Cup, their third in four years. In the 33 seasons following those Oilers teams, there have been seven other teams who won the Presidents’ Trophy and moved on to hoist the Stanley Cup. Between the 1998-99 and 2001-02 seasons, three out of four of the Presidents’ Trophy winners would go on to win the Stanley Cup — the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks being most recent team to achieve this feat.
Colorado has finished the regular season with the best record for third time in the organization’s history. The team’s first win, back in 1996-97, ended with a Western Conference Final loss to the Detroit Red Wings. That said, they captured it again just four seasons later (the team’s last until this season) and defeated the New Jersey Devils to win the Stanley Cup.
This season — with the winners of each division being reseeded based on regular season standings — winning the Presidents’ Trophy could end up being a blessing.
Power, Beniers to Take on the World(s)
The recent IIHF U18 World Championship offered a tantalizing potential preview of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, featuring a gold medal showdown between Canadian 15-year-old phenom Connor Bedard and Russian 16-year-old wunderkind Matvei Michkov. Likewise, the upcoming IIHF World Championships might offer another draft preview, with the inclusion of 2021 prospects Owen Power and Matthew Beniers looming large.
TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday that Power, a standout defenseman with the NCAA’s Michigan Wolverines, will join Team Canada at the tournament, which begins next weekend in Latvia. One day later, USA Hockey announced that Beniers, a teammate of Power’s at Michigan, would be a part of the American squad. The Wolverines teammates will face off on May 23rd in a preliminary round match-up that will double as the latest chapter of the Canada-USA rivalry.
The World Championship performance of the two 18-year-old collegians, born just 17 days apart, could impact what is a wide open 2021 draft. Power and Beniers are two of at least six players who could hear their name called out first on July 23rd. It could help their cause that they actually had a season this year, allowing pro scouts to watch Power anchor the U of M blue line and see Beniers earn a share of the team lead in goals (10) while averaging a point per game.
Their impact on their respective senior national teams will ultimately come down to opportunity, especially as both countries gradually add players from eliminated NHL clubs. Still, expect plenty of eyes on the two teens, with scouts getting a rare chance to not only see 2021 prospects play actual games, but also go up against NHL-level competition.
First Round Forecast
At long last, the NHL playoff picture is finally coming into focus, and with the postseason set to begin on Saturday, we’ll take a look ahead at each upcoming series. Given the division-exclusive regular season format we just witnessed, each of these matchups will feature teams that are — shall we say — painfully familiar with one another.
Honda West Division
No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues
Well, it took until their very last regular season game, but the Colorado Avalanche are rolling into the playoffs — having won five in a row and eight of nine en route to winning the Presidents’ Trophy. The Avs are an offensive machine, led by forwards Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog, and though MacKinnon has been hurt as of late, he is expected to return for the postseason. The team’s 197 goals led all teams this season, while the 133 goals allowed was third-best in the league.
Don’t sleep on the fourth-seeded St. Louis Blues, who not only scored seven unanswered goals last night to beat the Minnesota Wild 7-3, but also went 8-1-3 in their last 12 games to help them surge past the Arizona Coyotes for the final playoff spot in the Honda West Division. Led primarily by team leaders David Perron and Ryan O’Reilly, they were middle of the pack in goals for (169, ranked 12th), although the 170 goals scored against them raise some red flags on defense. The Avalanche took the season series 5-3 while outscoring the Blues 26-21.
No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild
Poor Vegas. The 2018 Stanley Cup runner-up had a stellar season — they actually earned one more victory than the Avalanche — but with fewer regulation wins, the tiebreaker ultimately awarded the league’s top record to Colorado. Not to worry, as the Golden Knights’ well-balanced attack, combined with the league’s top goaltending tandem, gives them as good a shot as any to survive and advance. Boy, oh boy, did they got hot at the right time — finishing the season having won 15 of their last 18 games.
The Wild, on the other hand, have seemingly been treading water as of late. They are 5-3-2 in their last 10, have lost three of their last five, and were outscored 11-3 in their last two games. That said, Minnesota has a lethal, not-so-secret, weapon on its side: Calder Trophy finalist Kirill Kaprizov. The 2015 135th-overall pick (YUP!) led the team with 51 points and 27 goals, and rested up during the team’s regular season finale on Thursday.
As it usually does, this one will likely come down to the goaltending. Vegas holds an enormous advantage, considering Marc-Andre Fleury (1.98 GAA) and Robin Lehner (2.29) both rank in the league’s top-15 among goalies who have played at least 19 games. You’ll need to scroll a little further down to find Minnesota’s Cam Talbot (2.63) and Kaapo Kahkonen (2.88), who both rank outside the top-20.
Hey, if this doesn’t work out for the Knights, perhaps they can try their hand in football.