Playoffs & Ping-Pong Balls ’19
Atlantic Division (Mar. 12)
Bolts face tough test in schedule; Leafs & B’s battle for home ice
Steve Kournianos | 3/11/2019 | Nashville |
NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — With the NHL’s postseason scheduled to start exactly one month from today, the Stanley Cup playoff picture in either conference appears a lot less foggy than it did several weeks ago. The reality of a spring without playoff hockey is beginning to set in for an increasing number of teams, while only a few dreamers on the bubble, stubbornly fighting for survival, will be able to avoid a dreaded trip to the proverbial guillotine. Technically speaking, not a single team has been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, including the league-worst Ottawa Senators with 52 points (and no first-round pick in 2019). Nonetheless, the domino-like effect of pink slips and ticket punching usually happen within the final two weeks of the regular season, which ends officially on Saturday, Apr. 6.
When determined, the playoff schedule is observed by hockey fans from across the standings spectrum with a keen interest in seedings and matchups. One common example of this is the condition of playoff success that is placed on a traded draft pick. A year ago, the New York Rangers sent Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay for a package of prospects and picks, one of which being a second-round selection in the 2019 draft that becomes a first-round pick if the Lightning with this year’s Stanley Cup. Last month, those same Rangers moved Mats Zuccarello to Dallas for a second rounder in 2019 and a third in 2020. If Dallas gets in and wins two playoff rounds with Zuccarello playing regularly, the pick in 2019 becomes a first. Safe to say that Rangers fans are pulling for Tampa to beat Dallas in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Whether it’s for playoff seeding, home-ice advantage or salvaging a lost season by earning extra draft lottery balls, every team and their fans should have a vested interest in how the final month of the season unfolds. From contenders all the way down to the bottom feeders, we’ll spend the next month taking a look at all 31 teams, broken down by each division.
|Tampa Bay Lightning*||31st||70||53||13||4||47||110||272||183|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||25th||69||42||22||5||42||89||246||199|
|Detroit Red Wings||2nd||69||24||35||10||21||58||188||238|
*Standings as of 11 March 2019
2019 Draft Position
Order via Tankathon
2019 Draft Picks
|4th||4th (NYR)||4th (STL)||2nd (CBJ)||3rd (EDM)||4th (SJ)||2nd (NYI)||2nd (FLA)|
|6th||6th||4th||3rd||4th||6th||2nd (SJ)||3rd (PIT)|
|7th (CHI)||7th (NYR)||5th||4th||4th (MIN)||6th (WIN)||3rd||4th|
|7th||7th (DAL)||5th (CHI)||4th (PIT)||6th (TOR)||4th||5th|
|5th (ARI)||6th||5th (CBJ)|
Courtesy of CapFriendly’s 2019 Draft Board
Tampa Bay Lightning (Ranked No. 1): Best record. Best offense. Best power play. Best penalty kill. It’s easy to see why Tampa Bay are early Stanley Cup favorites at (+280). The team that lost in seven games to Washington in last year’s Eastern Conference finals stood pat at the trade deadline, and why not? They are on pace to become the league’s first 60-win team since the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings, plus they already roll four lines, with each capable of providing offense. With all-star depth at both forward and defense, plus a Vezina-caliber goalie like Andrei Vasilevskiy and an excellent head coach in John Cooper, the Bolts are the kind of steamroller Eastern Conference teams would rather avoid than face in the playoffs
There are, however, several barriers for the Bolts to overcome. For starters, those aforementioned Red Wings from 1996 were known more for what they didn’t accomplish rather than the records they broke. Their elimination in the second round by the eventual-champion Colorado Avalanche can serve more as a warning to all top-seeded teams that tend to become intoxicated with a feeling of invincibility. And what about the dreaded President’s Trophy jinx? Since the turn of the century, only four teams — none since Chicago in 2013 — won the Stanley Cup after finishing first overall in the standings. Conversely, five No. 1 teams in that same time frame were eliminated in the first round, and last year’s Nashville Predators were the third straight President’s Trophy winner to not even make the conference finals. Another concern should be that only two Stanley Cup champions in the last 30 years – the 1992 and 2017 Penguins – won the championship after finishing first in goals scored during the regular season.
Yet still, it’s incredibly hard to envision this well-oiled machine being on the outside looking in when the Stanley Cup finals begin in June. Even a second-round matchup with a 100-point team like either Boston or Toronto doesn’t tip the scales in favor of Tampa’s opponent. They were built to win the Cup, and this is the best team we’ve seen since the 2005 lockout.
Power vs. Power: WAS (3/16), at WAS (3/20), at STL (3/23), BOS (3/25), WAS (3/30), at TOR (4/4), at BOS (4/6)
Tampa Bay is 6-4-0 combined vs. Boston (1-1-0), NYI (2-1-0), PIT (2-1-0) and TOR (1-1-0). GF/GA differential is in those 10 games is -3 (+26/-29).
Also have a tough final schedule. Wonder how Cooper attacks it.
@ CAR, @ TOR (x2), BOS, @ BOS, @ MTL, @ STL, WAS (x2), @ WAS, ARI
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) March 11, 2019
Boston Bruins (Ranked 2nd): The Bruins began a tough three-game road trip with a 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday, ending their ridiculous 19-game point streak. It doesn’t get any easier for the B’s, as they visit a cornered Columbus squad on Tuesday before wrapping it up with Winnipeg on Thursday in a potential Stanley Cup preview. In fact, only four of Boston’s final 13 games will be played at TD Garden, where they own the NHL’s second-best home record at 27-7-3. You have to figure the Bruins want the comfort of home ice against their eventual first-round opponent in Toronto, which lost Game 7 in Boston both last year and in 2013. The Bruins are just four points up on the Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division, and the Leafs have a game in hand. Schedule-wise, Boston went 3-1 against Toronto in their now-completed season series, including two wins on Garden ice.
Power vs Power: at WIN (3/14), at NYI (3/19), at TBL (3/25), at MIN (4/4), TBL (4/6)
Toronto Maple Leafs (Ranked 5th): The Maple Leafs have one of the easiest remaining schedules among Cup contenders, with 10 of their final 14 games coming against non-playoff or bubble teams. They’ll need to make the most out of their upcoming schedule’s soft underbelly, because their last four games – at the Islanders, then home against Carolina and Tampa before wrapping the regular season in Montreal on Apr. 6 – could be the critical factor in deciding which team hosts Game 1 of their opening-round series with Boston. It also might be good for them to get away from the Toronto pressure cooker, as they are 21-9-4 on the road and play seven of their final 11 away from home.
Power vs Power: at NAS (3/19), at NYI (4/1), TBL (4/4)
Montreal Canadiens (Ranked 15th): Montreal picked a horrible time to play its worst hockey of the season and now sit (barely) on the outside of the playoff bubble. Granted, the Canadiens are tied in points with Columbus at 79, and three of their next four games are against Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia. But the Blue Jackets not only hold the ROW tiebreaker by a good three wins, but also host the final regular-season meeting with Montreal on Mar. 28. With three blowout losses in their last four, including a horrendous effort in Anaheim on Mar. 8 in an 8-2 shellacking against the league’s worst offense, the warm and fuzzy feeling that once surrounding the hard-working Habs appears to be dissipating. They operate the league’s worst power play (12.38 percent), and their final five games — road tilts in Columbus, Winnipeg and Washington plus hosting Tampa and the season finale with Toronto — paint an even bleaker picture. If the Canadiens make the playoffs, they certainly would have earned it.
Bubble vs Bubble: at PHI (3/19), at CAR (3/24), at CBJ (3/28)
Florida Panthers (Ranked 23rd): A recent six-game slide should serve as the death knell for Southern Florida’s favorite hockey team, which is seven points behind both Montreal and Columbus for the final wild card spot in the east. As good as the offense was in recent blowout wins over Minnesota and Detroit, the goaltending is among the league’s worst, and you can pretty much point fingers at both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer for not making the most out of the substantial goal support they receive from up front. Making matters worse is a grueling remaining schedule that features two four-game road trips – one out west against the California teams; the other within six days against four division rivals. Tough to say for some, but stick a fork in the Cats – they’re done for 2018-19. But at least they have some good prospects to build around, plus a pick in every round in the upcoming draft. All things considered and lottery drawing notwithstanding, the Panthers could be picking in the top 10 for the 15th time since joining the league 26 years ago.
Tank vs Tank: at LAK (3/16), at ANA (3/17), at OTT (3/28), NJD (4/6)
Buffalo Sabres (Ranked 22nd): Everything for the Sabres has gone wrong after an incredible first half, which may have put added pressure on a thin roster that wasn’t expected to win at all, let alone sustain excellence for five or six months. They’re 13-23-7 since climbing atop of the NHL’s overall standings (yes, those overall standings) on Nov. 27, and a solid 10 points behind Columbus and Montreal for the conference’s final wild-card berth. The first-round pick they traded to Anaheim for Brandon Montour at the trade deadline belonged to St. Louis (from the Ryan O’Reilly trade), so by keeping their own pick they can at least they get another shot at the draft lottery. Adding Buffalo to the pushover category certainly took longer than expected, so a tip of the cap is in order for the job done by general manager Jason Botterill, especially if they finish near the 80-point mark, which would be nearly a 20-point increase from a season ago. With 69 points and two games apiece remaining with Ottawa and Detroit, the Sabres are looking at a pre-lottery slot between seventh and 10th overall.
Tank vs Tank: at NJD (3/25), at OTT (3/26), DET (3/28), OTT (4/4), at DET (4/6)
Detroit Red Wings (Ranked 30th): The Dead Things are back, and with a shiny new (empty) arena to showcase them. Harsh as that may sound, the truth is that the Red Wings unloaded veterans Gustav Nyquist and Nick Jensen from a club that was already hovering near the bottom of the overall standings. Still, the cupboard is loaded with quality youngsters, many of whom played regularly this season. The biggest problem facing Detroit, however, is the mere strength of its division. Good times will certainly come again, yet how long that will take remains the biggest question facing a franchise that hasn’t been accustomed to losing of this magnitude for almost three decades. Right now, Detroit (58 points), Los Angeles (58 points) and New Jersey (59 points) are practically in a dead heat to secure the second-worst record in the league. Why is that important? Because the team who finishes with the 30th best record also gets the second-highest odds to win the draft lottery. The collective belief among draft pundits is that the 2019 draft will have forwards Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko at the very top, and not getting the first or second overall pick means missing out on the cream of this year’s draft sweepstakes. Detroit has a tank-friendly schedule remaining that has them set up for home dates with Tampa, Boston and the Islanders; visits to St. Louis, Vegas and San Jose, plus a home-and-home with Pittsburgh. The biggest game remaining? How about Mar. 29, when they host the Devils? Sometimes losing can be just as exciting as winning.
Tank vs Tank: at NYR (3/19), at BUF (3/28), NJD (3/29), BUF (4/6)
Ottawa Senators (Ranked 31st): As much as Senators fans want an end to the worst season in franchise history, the current group of youngsters and nondescript veteran still have the ability to salvage a little bit of dignity by not finishing with the league’s worst record. We all know that the Colorado Avalanche own the rights to Ottawa’s 2019 first rounder, which at this point looks to be the first overall pick. And while living in the past and sulking over on woulda-coulda-shoulda scenarios seems to be a motif for being a Sens fan, the truth is that the organization constructed a loaded arsenal of future draft picks and blue-chip prospects, many of whom are in the NHL and playing (and excelling) as we speak. Ottawa is far from firmly ensconced in last place overall – Detroit and Los Angeles are both within six points. You have to think their roster – as young as it is – would like nothing more than to win as much as possible and decrease Colorado’s chances at landing Hughes or Kakko. With seven games remaining against elimination candidates, they might be able to pull it off.
Tank vs Tank: at VAN (3/20), at EDM (3/23), BUF (3/26), FLA (3/28), at NYR (4/3), at BUF (4/4)