May 19 — Parity, Traditions & SHL Awards

Tuesday’s Toe Drags

BEING BLASHFUL: The Red Wings are bringing coach Jeff Blashill back next season — an expected move — though not without its critics.

THIS IS 40: Pittsburgh’s Jeff Carter scored his 40th playoff goal in Tuesday’s 2-1 series-evening win over the Islanders. Carter is now the 12th active NHL player to score 40 goals in the postseason.

THEIR NATRUAL HAB-ITAT: The Montreal Canadiens announced they will be able to welcome 2,500 fans to the Bell Centre beginning May 28, thanks to loosening pandemic restrictions. In case you’re wondering, that aligns with a potential Game 6 against Toronto.

REST IN PEACE: Former Canadiens defenseman Gilles Lupien, who won the Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1978 and 1979, passed away Tuesday after a courageous battle against cancer. He was 67 years old.

SHL Award Time

If you haven’t heard of the Swedish Hockey League, it’s understandable — international hockey can be a beast to try and keep up with. Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered! A number of top NHL prospects have made their presence felt in the SHL this season, highlighted by all of the hardware they collected at Tuesday’s 2020-21 SHL awards. Check it out below — if you don’t recognize these names now it won’t be long before you do!

Player: Moritz Seider
Affiliation: Detroit Red Wings
Awards Won: Defenseman of the Year, Elite Prospects Award

Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman had a number of people scratching their heads when he selected Seider sixth overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, but two years later that talent Yzerman saw is on full display for the world to see. The 20-year-old German does almost everything exceedingly well, and was honored not only as the SHL’s top junior player, but also as the league’s top defenseman. It wasn’t even close — Seider garnered 307 out of a possible 696 votes (the next-closest player had 239) after a 28-point, 91-hit season highlighted by his skill and physicality. No doubt the next time you see him in action he’ll be donning a Winged Wheel.

Player: William Eklund
Affiliation: N/A (eligible for 2021 NHL entry draft)
Awards Won: Rookie of the Year

Eklund doesn’t even have a final stop scheduled in the NHL yet, but any team with a top-5 pick in this year’s entry draft are likely licking their chops. Consistently ranked as a lottery pick, the 18-year-old forward brings superb speed and playmaking ability to the table, and wrapped a stellar SHL rookie season with 23 points in 40 regular season games and contributed two points in three playoff games. Although we don’t yet know which team he’ll end up with, we are already offering our congratulations to them!

Player: Nils Höglander
Affiliation: Vancouver Canucks
Awards Won: Goal of the Year

The Canucks’ second-round pick in the 2019 NHL entry draft (40th overall), Höglander has a knack for his creativity in finding the back of the net, so it’s no surprise that he won Goal of the Year in the SHL despite only playing 23 games in the league. Just look at it. It’s ridiculous! Höglander started the 2020-21 season in the SHL before he departed for Vancouver’s training camp, earning a permanent spot with the team. In 55 NHL games he’s posted 27 points — oh, by the way, he has more absurd goals in his arsenal.

Why NHL Playoff Hockey’s the Best:

Everybody’s Got a Shot

If you’re a daily reader of the Morning Skate (thank you, by the way!), then the above headline might seem to contradict yesterday’s edition, where we celebrated the Stanley Cup as the hardest trophy to win. However, the difficulty associated with winning the Cup and the parity that exists across the NHL actually compliment each other rather than contradict.

You see, it is that parity that ensures that nothing comes easy. I mean, just look at the MassMutual East Division playoff picture. At season’s end, just six points separated the division’s four playoff-bound teams. Now, with the postseason underway, a pair of series between the Penguins and Islanders and the Capitals and Bruins have produced twin 1-1 series scores, three overtime games and a perfect four-for-four in one-goal games.

That parity has even been felt by the defending champion Lightning. Yes, they got Nikita Kucherov back for their playoff push and now own a 2-0 series lead on the Panthers, but their cross-state rivals have not been making the bid for repeat Cups easy thus far. Florida edged the Lightning out for the No. 2 seed in the Discover Central Division and have been holding their own in two tight and highly competitive games thus far.

Historically, the competitive balance is also there. The past seven NHL seasons have produced six different champions, all unique except for Pittsburgh’s back-to-back wins in 2016 and 2017. Included among those winners were the Blues (2019) and Capitals (2018), two teams that achieved Stanley Cup glory for the first time in their franchise history.

Typically, the notion of “anyone can win” is an exaggeration of sorts. In the NHL, it rings surprisingly accurate. You could make a reasonable argument for the chances of any of the league’s 16 postseason teams. Even the No. 4 seeds in each division seem Cup-worthy — from collecting the most points of any No. 4 seed (Islanders), to boasting a recent championship pedigree (Blues), to coming into the playoffs red hot (Predators), to featuring world class goaltending (Canadiens).

Predictable? No way!

Whacky Wednesday

Playoff Traditions

Each team has some kind of playoff tradition, right? Whether it is towel power in Vancouver or the C of Red in Calgary each organization has something to bring to the postseason table. This time of year not only brings fans amazing hockey, but it introduces some fun and whacky traditions that in some cases become legendary. Yes, I’m looking at you Detroit. Here are just a few traditions we will see this postseason — minus the Octopus Toss, sorry Wings fans.

It’s Raining Rats… Hallelujah?

It all started with a player by the name of Scott Mellanby. Before the Panthers home opener in October 1995, he killed a rat that was scurrying across the locker room with his stick. He proceeded to score two goals in the game with the same stick. The Panthers goalie at the time, John Vanbiesbrouck, called Mellanby’s achievement the “Rat Trick.” Fast forward and now Panthers fans will throw — plastic — rats onto the ice after each goal scored by the home team. We can take comfort knowing that no animals are harmed in this tradition.

Smash Car in Smashville

Did you know about the Smash Car in Smashville? Before each round of the playoffs a car painted with the opposing team colors and logos is placed outside of Bridgestone Arena. Fans can pay $5.00 to take a swing and all the money earned will be donated to the Preds Foundation. What makes this even more of a standout? When the Preds faced the Jets in 2018 they brought in a small plane. Iconic.

The Playoff Beard

You love it, you hate it, you can’t escape it — The Stanley Cup Playoff beard. We can thank the New York Islanders for beginning this tradition in the early 1980s. Something must have worked because the Islanders were Stanley Cup Champions in 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983. I also want to note the Islanders were in the Stanley Cup Final in 1984. This was a tradition that happened due to players’ superstition and has evolved into something all its own. To be honest if I was a hockey player in the early 80s and saw a correlation between beards and Stanley Cup wins I would throw my razor away too.