April 27 — Rookie Race, Thieving ‘Tenders & Why We Hate Vegas

Yesterday’s NHL Scores

Last Night’s News 📰

JUUSE SORROWS?: The Nashville Predators fell short of clinching a playoff spot on their own, losing 4-3 in overtime to the Calgary Flames. Although, more concerning for the Preds is the status of star goaltender Juuse Saros, who left the game part-way through the third period with an apparent leg injury. Along with Roman Josi, Saros has been one of the central factors in Nashville’s success this season. 

MARVELOUS MR. MATTHEWS: Toronto Maple Leafs star forward Auston Matthews scored two goals last night in a 3-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings, becoming the first American-born NHL player to reach 60 goals. The 24-year-old is also the first NHL player to score 60 goals since Steven Stamkos in 2011-12.

STOP, STAMMER TIME: Not to be outdone, Stamkos hit 100 points for the first time thanks to a four-point night in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 4-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Stamkos had two goals and two assists, including the game-winner—which also gave Victor Hedman his 600th career assist—giving him 39 goals and 62 assists in 79 games this season. 

OVECHKIN HONORED: Last night was the final regular-season home game for the Washington Capitals as they hosted the New York Islanders. However, the evening was all about Washington captain Alex Ovechkin. Although Ovechkin was out with an upper-body injury, the team honored his accomplishments this season with a heartfelt video message.

PLAYOFF PICTURES: With Toronto’s victory, the Maple Leafs locked up the second spot in the Atlantic Division, while the Edmonton Oilers’ 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins secured the Oilers second in the Pacific. Edmonton will have home ice in the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings, thanks to the Dallas Stars’ shootout triumph over the Vegas Golden Knights. Dallas’ victory also paved the way for the Nashville Predators to be postseason bound, as the point earned in last night’s overtime loss to the Calgary Flames was enough to punch their playoff ticket. Carolina will win its division in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history, with the Hurricanes setting a record for wins (53) and points (114) in a single season.

Why We Hate the Vegas Golden Knights

With the Vegas Golden Knights’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, the Stars all but mathematically eliminated the NHL’s 31st franchise from playoff contention. Vegas needs to win out at Chicago and St. Louis, while Dallas suffers regulation losses at home against—gulp—Arizona and Anaheim to keep its postseason streak alive. Congrats, Dallas!

If Stars fans are the happiest group over this development, all other non-Vegas fans aren’t far behind. Few organizations have inspired the same collective enmity that the Golden Knights seem to be drawing these days. So, why all the hate and schadenfreude? Let’s explore the root of these anti-Golden Knights sentiments.

Expansion Perks

Mainly because of the staggering $500 million expansion fee that owner Bill Foley paid to land an NHL franchise in Las Vegas, the organization got some cushy roster-building perks through the Expansion Draft. Having the ability to take a decent player off each existing roster gave then-GM George McPhee plenty of leverage to stockpile current and future assets and build a perennial playoff team from scratch. As for the conspiracy theories about Gary Bettman fixing things for the Golden Knights’ benefit? Hockey fans can be, um, creative.

Cap Manipulation

Vegas isn’t the only club that has, let’s say, pushed the limits of the $81.5 million salary cap. However, they have arguably been the most unashamed about it, with the acquisition of Jack Eichel and his $10 million per year looking particularly egregious. Everything GM Kelly McCrimmon and the Golden Knights front office have done has technically been within league rules, but carrying $92 million in salary seems like a middle finger to a mechanism designed to foster parity.

No Loyalty

On top of cap abuses, the cold, business-like way the Golden Knights have gone about their transactions doesn’t sit right with most fans. The significant turnover from their magical expansion roster is one thing. However, the emotionless manner they sent packing pivotal franchise pioneers like head coach Gerard Gallant, Nate Schmidt, and Marc-André Fleury doesn’t necessarily earn them a sterling reputation in league circles.

Goaltenders Who Can Steal Series

There is a reason the Stanley Cup is considered the hardest trophy in all sports to win. A team needs the correct combination of star power, depth scoring, defensive consistency, and solid goaltending to raise Lord Stanley’s ultimate prize come June. While scoring is essential—we all know you can’t win games if you don’t score goals—rounds are often decided by the team riding the hot goalie. Below are three goalies who can steal a series in the playoffs.

Ville Husso – St. Louis Blues

The million-dollar question in St. Louis is: which goaltender will the team start in the postseason. Jordan Binnington is the Blues’ $6 million man, but his below-average performance this season makes fans believe 2019 was a fluke. Husso has a record of 25-6-6 and should get the start in the playoffs. He has two wins against the Minnesota Wild—the Blues’ first-round opponent—and has earned the trust of his teammates and coaches. If the Blues are interested in re-signing Husso, they must give him a look against the Wild. 

Juuse Saros – Nashville Predators

It’s fair to say the Predators do not have the necessary depth needed to make a deep playoff run. They are a team that is only as good as Roman Josi and Juuse Saros. While the good news is Nashville’s goaltender has shown incredible skill over the past calendar year and has it in him to steal a series for his team, the bad news is he left last night’s game in the third period with an apparent injury. Seeing him limp to the locker room is not great for a team that recently clinched a playoff spot. This year, the Predators’ playoff run is dependent on Saros, plain and simple.

Igor Shesterkin – New York Rangers

Igor Shesterkin has the talent to take this team further this spring than most originally anticipated the Rangers would go. He is a lock for the Vezina Trophy and played himself into the Hart Trophy conversation. He has a goals-against-average of 2.07, which leads the league, and a save percentage of .935. Shesterkin is the goaltender to beat this postseason, and fans should not be surprised if the 26-year-old can lead his team to a deep playoff run. 

Calder Trophy Preview

With just a few days left until the end of the 2021-22 NHL regular season, it’s as good a time as ever to look at the award races. One of those races is for the Calder Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s best rookie. While there is a clear favorite to take home the award, plenty of candidates have an outside shot. Here is a look at the contenders for this year’s Calder Trophy.

Moritz Seider – Detroit Red Wings

Moritz Seider, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Seider, taken by the Detroit Red Wings with the sixth overall selection in the 2019 Draft, has separated himself from the field in the race. He is the current betting favorite to win the award, with his odds anywhere between -200 and -350. The 21-year-old defenseman has 49 points (six goals, 43 assists) in 81 games this season. He leads all rookie defensemen in every significant statistical category, and among all rookies in general, he ranks fourth in points and first in assists.

Michael Bunting – Toronto Maple Leafs

Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bunting, a 2014 fourth-round pick (117th overall) by the Arizona Coyotes, is an unlikely challenger for the Calder. The 26-year-old forward appeared in five games for the Coyotes in 2018-19 and 21 games last season, retaining rookie status. Toronto signed him as a free agent last July, and Bunting rewarded them with 63 points (23 goals, 40 assists) in 80 games for the playoff-bound Maple Leafs this season. He leads all rookies in points, ranking second in both goals and assists.

Trevor Zegras – Anaheim Ducks

Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Zegras, the ninth overall pick in the 2019 Draft, is unlikely to win the Calder Trophy, but he might be the rookie with the best highlight reel. The 21-year-old center has attempted and successfully executed several trick moves this season, including two lacrosse-style goals. After finishing with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 24 games for the Ducks last year, he has 60 points (23 g, 37 a) in 74 games this year. He’s second among rookies in points, fourth in goals, and third in assists.

Lucas Raymond – Detroit Red Wings

Lucas Raymond, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

At one point this season, Raymond, the fourth overall pick in the 2020 Draft, was the favorite to win the Calder Trophy. He faded a little, eventually getting passed by his teammate Seider, but the 20-year-old forward is still having a phenomenal debut season. Through 81 games, Raymond has 56 points (23 goals, 33 assists). He is fourth among all rookies in assists and third in goals and points.

Jeremy Swayman – Boston Bruins

Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The only goaltender in contention for the Calder Trophy, Swayman, a fourth-round pick (111th overall) in the 2017 Draft, has helped lead the Bruins to the postseason in a post-Tuuka Rask era. After going 7-3 with a 1.50 goals-against average (GAA) and .945 save percentage (SV%) last season, the 23-year-old has gone 23-13-3 with a 2.37 GAA and a .915 SV% in 40 games (38 of them starts) in 2021-22.

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