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National Hockey Now’s Playoff Predictions

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Sheng Peng's bracket

Five of eight ain’t bad.

That’s how many play-in round predictions I got right.

I didn’t fall for the Rangers’ buzz, picking the Hurricanes. I called Coyotes and Flames in four. The Canucks and Islanders advanced too, as I predicted.

On the other side of the ledger, in a toss-up series, I went with Toronto in five. I correctly predicted that Edmonton/Chicago would be the highest-scoring series, but I tabbed the Oilers in four. Finally, I bet against Carey Price — oops.

Now to the playoffs — and National Hockey Now’s predictions.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens

Sheng Peng: Philadelphia is on fire. I was wrong versus Pittsburgh, but I’m going to bet against Carey Price again. Flyers in 5.

Jimmy Murphy (Boston Hockey Now): If the Habs lose this series, they will have lost not just a chance at the Stanley Cup but also at Alexis Lafreniere, the top pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and a potential French Canadian superstar. That scenario won’t happen though as Claude Julien outcoaches Alain Vigneault again! Habs in 6.

Rob Simpson: Super Carey their main hope. Nah. Flyers rolling.

George Richards (Florida Hockey Now): It was fun watching the Canadiens in the qualifier and Carey Price is going to be a bear night in and night out. Philly just has too much going on not to win this. PHL in 6.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

SP: Victor Hedman potentially being out is huge. Columbus, as we saw against Toronto, is surprisingly deep up front, in the back-end, and between the pipes. Blue Jackets in 6.

JM: Once again, nobody is giving the Blue Jackets a chance here and still writing their 2019 first-round sweep of the Lightning off as a fluke. Well, maybe they should’ve watched the Blue Jackets more this season and in the qualifiers. Blue Jackets in 5.

RS: The Bolts will exorcise this demon. Vassy will be strong. Hedman’s health is very important, but they’ll win without him if necessary. Stammer already is missing but the forwards are deep. Lightning in 6.

GR: Yes, the Lightning are now beat up and the Blue Jackets are (pretty) healthy. Tampa Bay has a major league chip on its shoulder after the way last season ended in Columbus and aren’t going to let that happen again. TB in 6.

New York Islanders vs. Washington Capitals

SP: New York will find Washington tougher to slow down than Florida. Capitals in 5.

JM: The professor comes back to beat his protege and former students as Barry Trotz faces Todd Reirden and the Capitals for the first time in the playoffs. Isles in 5.

RS: Not enough here for the Islanders. They’ll have to play and win 4 perfect games. Not gonna happen. Teams/coaches know each other well, but Caps will get after it. Capitals in 6.

GR: Can the Islanders bottle up the Capitals the way they did Florida in the opening round? Maybe. But this is a seven-game series and the Capitals are better in too many areas. WSH in 6.

Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes

SP: Boston finds its game but Carolina proves to be a tough out. Can go either way, but Bruins in 7.

JM: The Boston Bruins could be playing with fire given the way they approached the round-robin games and looking at them as what Brad Marchand termed on Monday as “preseason games.” Can they turn the switch on and go from preseason to playoff mode? The read here is, not as much as they think they can but enough to pull the series out in seven games.

RS: Bad ice helps the Canes and their puck pressure. Former Bruin Dougie Hamilton is the key if he’s healthy. My upset special. Canes in 6.

GR: The Hurricanes completely outclassed the Rangers (sure they felt terrible about that outcome Monday night) but Boston is a different animal. This series will not be as lopsided as last year’s Eastern Finals, not even close to that, but Boston still moves on. BOS in 6.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

SP: Boston in 6 over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals.

JM: Reverse of ’93, Isles over Habs.

RS: Flyers vs. Capitals, Philly in 7.

GR: Tampa over Boston.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Vegas Golden Knights vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Sheng Peng: I’ll be disappointed if Vegas doesn’t steamroll Chicago. Golden Knights in 4.

Jimmy Murphy: Unlike the Canadiens in the East, I don’t see the Blackhawks’ Cinderella run going any further. Knights are just too deep, balanced, and too strong between the pipes. VGK in 4.

Rob Simpson: The magic wears off for the old posse. Vegas in 5.

George Richards: Vegas looked like the best team on the ice in Edmonton, play-in or round-robin, and is a team hitting its stride. The Knights are going to go deep in this thing. Real deep. VGK in 5.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Arizona Coyotes

SP: Colorado shouldn’t have too much trouble with Arizona. Avalanche in 5.

JM: Kudos to the Coyotes for making it to the dance after their GM bailed on them just prior to the qualifiers, but the Avs and Knights appear to be on a collision course in the West here. Darcy Kuemper will make it interesting but Colorado pulls away. Avs in 6.

RS: Next! Avs in 5.

GR: It has been fun watching the Coyotes do their thing, but now it is time to see the Avs do theirs. Going to be a lot of scoring in this one. COL in 6.

Dallas Stars vs. Calgary Flames

SP: Dallas is underrated, they’re a deep team that can grind things down effectively and should be able to score enough to win. Stars in 6.

JM: I picked the Jets to win the Western Conference so the Flames already made me eat major crow. I don’t like the taste of crow so going with the Flames here but in a battle. Flames in 7.

RS: Goaltending has suddenly become a strength for the Flames. Love the attack. Flames in 6.

GR: The Flames looked as good as they have in a long time in the opener and are feeling it right now. When the Flames are going, they are trouble. CAL in 6.

St. Louis Blues vs. Vancouver Canucks

SP: Vancouver isn’t ready for prime time. Blues in 6.

JM: I know it’s hard for contenders like the Blues and Bruins to take the round robin seriously but it does matter when you’re facing a fast, hungry, and young team in the first round as the Blues are with the upstart Canucks. Vancouver in 6.

RS: Defending champs will find their stride. All-around game superior.

GR: This is going to be one heck of an exciting series with games going back and forth. The Canucks have the potential but the Blues have the depth and the experience. That usually plays in the postseason. STL in 6.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

SP: Vegas in 6 over Dallas in the Western Conference Finals.

JM: Knights over Avs.

RS: Calgary vs. Colorado. Colorado will win it in 6.

GR: Vegas over St. Louis.

STANLEY CUP FINAL

SP: Bruins in 6 over the Golden Knights.

JM: VGK over Isles.

RS: Hart wins the Smythe as Philly upsets Colorado in 6.

GR: VGK over Boston.

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Hockey History

Mark Letestu & Mark Morris on John Madden the Coach

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Everybody knows about John Madden the player.

And why shouldn’t they?

Three-time Stanley Cup champion. 2001 Selke Trophy winner. Three-time Selke runner-up.

But not everybody knows about Madden the coach. Madden was an assistant coach on Kevin Dineen and Gerard Gallant’s staffs with the Florida Panthers from 2013-16. Madden took over as a head coach for the Cleveland Monsters from 2016-19.

Last week, Madden was announced as an assistant coach for the San Jose Sharks. As he did in Florida, he’ll be running the forwards and the penalty kill.

San Jose Hockey Now got some perspective about Madden’s time in Florida and Cleveland from fellow assistant coach Mark Morris and player Mark Letestu.

Florida

In 2014-15, Mark Morris worked with Madden in Florida. The Panthers weren’t remarkable on the PK during Madden’s tenure — they finished 30th, 24th, and 24th from 2013-16 — but perhaps Florida’s roster was made up of perhaps too many offensive-leaning players, a mix of too young and too old.

“You do the best with the people you have on the roster. It’s hard to say if there were any stalwart defensively-minded players,” Morris recalled. “Even if they’re veteran players, there’s no guarantee their forte is the defensive side of the puck.”

Morris, a preps/NCAA/AHL/NHL coaching veteran of 27 years by the time he settled in Florida, was impressed by Madden’s PK coaching acumen:

“In the college game, most of the penalty killing is in straight lines. In the pro game, they do what they call a trap-down. That’s where once you get the puck moving in a specific direction, if you’re the forward that’s forcing the play up top, you continue on down and press down on the guy on the half-boards.

“I remember one of the things he talked about was when you press down as the strong-side forward on the guy at the half-wall, keep your stick in a neutral position. That way, you’re eating up ice, as opposed to just keeping your stick in the passing lane

“Guys at the NHL are so skilled, it’s nothing to flip it over a stick.

“When you lead with your stick in the middle, it’s almost like you have to thread a needle to get it back up to guy at top.

“If you’re the guy on the half-wall with the puck, you have that stick in front of you, eating that ice up.

“It opened my eyes up to how intricate and detailed things are in his own mind.”

Cleveland

Mark Letestu was 34 when he played for Madden in Cleveland during 2018-19.

The first thing that Letestu noticed about Madden?

“The Stanley Cups. For a while, he was probably the gold standard in the NHL for a defensive, shutdown penalty kill guy,” he said. “It’s instant respect in the room.”

This might matter for a veteran-laden San Jose Sharks group. Something else that might matter to vets like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is Madden’s ability to connect with them.

“For me, just where I was in my career, he was an easy guy to have a conversation with. Share stories. Faceoff stuff. Penalty killing,” Letestu remembered. “He knew how to handle a veteran presence in the room.”

So what’s in store for the league-leading San Jose Sharks PK?

“I don’t think, when you get a new penalty kill coach, that there will be a ground-breaking system or a new scheme that’s going to change your team significantly,” Letestu pointed out. “But what I found with John, in the penalty-killing meetings we had, it was really clear. There wasn’t a lot of gray area. It took a lot of the guesswork out for players.”

The result?

“The hesitation suddenly leaves your game. Your PK and your players are suddenly faster because there’s no gray area,” Letestu observed. “He helped the players get the noise out and just react instead of thinking out there.”

For what it’s worth, Cleveland was 3rd, 26th, and 7th in the AHL in the PK during Madden’s tenure. Letestu gave Madden a lionshare of the credit for the success of the 2018-19 Monsters, who made the playoffs during the last game of the season, then knocked off top-seeded Syracuse Crunch in the first round.

Letestu acknowledged: “He got the most out of our team. We probably overachieved.”

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Hockey History

Where Does Joe Pavelski Rank Among Greatest American Skaters?

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Credit: NBC

Every Sunday at Peng to the Point, we talk about the world away from the San Jose Sharks.

It’s impossible to compare eras.

But yesterday, my colleague Jimmy Murphy from Boston Hockey Now threw this out there:

My initial reaction was there were at least 10 Americans that I could think of who I’d start a franchise with over prime Joe Pavelski.

However, Pavelski’s case to be a top-15 all-time American player might be stronger than you think.

After some spirited online debate, I identified three standards to compare between eras: Prime, Career, and Playoff.

And with the help of Hockey Reference’s Stathead, I actually had some measures to try to compare eras.

So who are the greatest American skaters? And where does Pavelski stack up?

But before we get going: To Brett or not to Brett?

Every significant American goal-scoring record is owned by Canadian-born Brett Hull, who represented the United States in international competition. You name it — Hull has the most single-season, career, and playoff goals of any American.

It’s because of Hull that every American NHL record has to be categorized as American-born, to simply give everybody else a chance.

Case in point:

Pretty good, right? Well, Pavelski is still 42 playoff goals away from catching Hull.

For the purpose of this debate and to include the best of the best, I’m making the executive decision to include Hull.

Prime

Including Hull, there have been 20 American 50-goal seasons:

PlayerSeasonTeamGoals
Brett Hull1990-91STL86
Brett Hull1989-90STL72
Brett Hull1991-92STL70
Brett Hull1993-94STL57
Jimmy Carson1987-88LAK55
Kevin Stevens1992-93PIT55
Brett Hull1992-93STL54
Pat LaFontaine1989-90NYI54
Kevin Stevens1991-92PIT54
Jeremy Roenick1991-92CHI53
Bobby Carpenter1984-85WSH53
Pat LaFontaine1992-93BUF53
Keith Tkachuk1996-97PHX52
John LeClair1997-98PHI51
John LeClair1995-96PHI51
Joe Mullen1988-89CGY51
John LeClair1996-97PHI50
Mike Modano1993-94DAL50
Keith Tkachuk1995-96WIN50
Jeremy Roenick1992-93CHI50

Hull owns five of the top-seven spots. For what it’s worth, every one of these 20 campaigns occurred from 1984-1997, a mostly high-scoring period of time in the league. Pavelski’s career-high 41-goal 2013-14 campaign is tied for just 41st among top American goal-scoring campaigns.

That 41st, however, becomes far more impressive when we use Hockey Reference’s Adjusted Goals metric:

PlayerSeasonTeamAdjusted Goals
Brett Hull1990-91STL78
Brett Hull1991-92STL63
Brett Hull1989-90STL61
John LeClair1997-98PHI59
Auston Matthews2019-20TOR56
Keith Tkachuk1996-97PHX54
Brett Hull1993-94STL52
John LeClair1996-97PHI52
Patrick Kane2015-16CHI52
Tony Amonte1998-99CHI51
Brett Hull1994-95STL50
John LeClair1995-96PHI49
John LeClair1998-99PHI49
Kevin Stevens1991-92PIT48
Keith Tkachuk1995-96WIN48
Brian Gionta2005-06NJD48
Zach Parise2008-09NJD48
Jeremy Roenick1991-92CHI47
Tony Amonte1999-00CHI47
Bill Guerin2001-02BOS47
Jimmy Carson1987-88LAK46
Joe Pavelski2013-14SJS46
Keith Tkachuk1997-98PHX46

Pavelski’s 2013-14 rises to tied for 21st on the list.

These adjustments for era matter.

Patrick Kane, for example, shows up just twice in the top-10 list for single-season assists by an American forward. His career-high 66 assists in 2018-19 is fourth all-time.

But using adjusted assists, Kane suddenly dominates, taking five of the top-10 spots. His 2018-19 also shoots up to second behind Pat Lafontaine.

Here’s a comparison, by the way, of top-10 points by an American skater, raw and adjusted:

 PlayerSeasonTeamPointsPlayerSeasonTeamAdjusted Points
1Pat LaFontaine1992-93BUF148Pat LaFontaine1992-93BUF119
2Kevin Stevens1991-92PIT123Patrick Kane2015-16CHI119
3Kevin Stevens1992-93PIT111Patrick Kane2018-19CHI111
4Patrick Kane2018-19CHI110Kevin Stevens1991-92PIT109
5Joe Mullen1988-89CGY110John LeClair1998-99PHI102
6Jeremy Roenick1993-94CHI107John LeClair1996-97PHI101
7Jeremy Roenick1992-93CHI107John LeClair1997-98PHI100
8Jimmy Carson1987-88LAK107Doug Weight1995-96EDM100
9Patrick Kane2015-16CHI106Johnny Gaudreau2018-19CGY99
10Craig Janney1992-93STL106Patrick Kane2019-20CHI99

All these adjusted stats suggest that Hull is the dominant American scorer, Pat Lafontaine and Kane are the dominant playmakers up front. We also get a good sense of how unstoppable John LeClair was in the “dead puck” era.

So that was the statistical portion of the argument. Subjectively, which American skaters, in their primes, are clearly ahead of Pavelski?

From these lists, Hull, Lafontaine, Kane, and LeClair jump out. For his strong two-way play and leadership, both Pavelski strong suits, coupled with otherworldly skills, Mike Modano can’t be denied. Among defensemen, it’s hard to dispute American Norris Trophy winners Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch, and Rod Langway. Three-time Norris Trophy runner-up Mark Howe deserves mention. Auston Matthews is simply too special a player right now, even at just 23 years old.

After this elite top-10 though, perhaps we can start to debate Pavelski. But it would be a fierce debate: Up front, prime Keith Tkachuk, Tony Amonte, Bill Guerin, Kevin Stevens, Joe Mullen, Bill Guerin, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise, Neal Broten, Jack Eichel, Phil Kessel, and Doug Weight are very much in this tier of the conversation. In the back-end, Phil Housley, Ryan Suter, Dustin Byfuglien, and John Carlson, among others, are in the discussion too.

Career

We’ll focus on regular season careers here.

The 36-year-old Pavelski actually shows well here.

Pavelski’s 792 points is 20th among all Americans. But let’s look at adjusted all-time points:

PlayerCareer PointsPlayerCareer Adjusted Points
Brett Hull1391Mike Modano1408
Mike Modano1374Brett Hull1390
Phil Housley1232Jeremy Roenick1228
Jeremy Roenick1216Patrick Kane1154
Keith Tkachuk1065Keith Tkachuk1150
Joe Mullen1063Phil Housley1148
Doug Weight1033Doug Weight1099
Brian Leetch1028Brian Leetch1039
Patrick Kane1022Phil Kessel968
Pat LaFontaine1013Tony Amonte953
Chris Chelios948Bill Guerin921
Neal Broten923Joe Mullen918
Tony Amonte900Chris Chelios908
Phil Kessel861Pat LaFontaine902
Bill Guerin856John LeClair893
Gary Suter844Joe Pavelski882
John LeClair819Zach Parise881
Ed Olczyk794Blake Wheeler857
Zach Parise792Brian Rolston828
Joe Pavelski792Scott Gomez820

Pavelski finds himself just outside the top-15 now and a lot closer to Hall of Famers Lafontaine and Mullen. Tkachuk, Weight, Amonte, Guerin, and Kessel’s careers suddenly start to look more impressive.

Meanwhile, Pavelski’s 369 goals is 13th among all American skaters. Once again, however, his adjusted figures are more impressive:

 PlayerCareer GoalsPlayerCareer Adjusted Goals
1Brett Hull741Brett Hull738
2Mike Modano561Keith Tkachuk584
3Keith Tkachuk538Mike Modano578
4Jeremy Roenick513Jeremy Roenick514
5Joe Mullen502Bill Guerin467
6Pat LaFontaine468Patrick Kane449
7Bill Guerin429John LeClair447
8Tony Amonte416Tony Amonte443
9John LeClair406Zach Parise435
10Patrick Kane389Joe Mullen432
11Zach Parise386Phil Kessel422
12Phil Kessel371Joe Pavelski418
13Joe Pavelski369Pat LaFontaine414

Pavelski has suddenly joined the 400-goal club, moving ahead of Lafontaine.

Do we start to have the argument that Pavelski can be a top-15 all-time American skater?

Playoffs

If we don’t yet, this is where Pavelski absolutely shines.

Unfortunately, Hockey Reference doesn’t have adjusted post-season stats. But we can do some quick-and-dirty math to approximate adjusted playoff figures — basically, I extrapolated regular-season adjustments and applied them to playoff goals.

Here’s your new top-six among Americans in post-season goals:

 Adjusted Playoff GoalsPlayoff Goals
Brett Hull103103
Joe Pavelski6961
Patrick Kane6052
Mike Modano6058
Jeremy Roenick5353
Joe Mullen5260

Obviously, Pavelski is still sitting pretty.

And here’s something truly striking. Among the top-13 all-time American regular season goal scorers, Pavelski is the only one whose goal-scoring pace increased in the playoffs, albeit marginally:

 PlayerRegular Season Goals Per Game Playoff Goals Per GameDifference
1Brett Hull0.580.51-0.07
2Mike Modano0.370.33-0.04
3Keith Tkachuk0.450.31-0.14
4Jeremy Roenick0.380.34-0.04
5Joe Mullen0.470.42-0.05
6Pat LaFontaine0.540.38-0.16
7Bill Guerin0.340.28-0.06
8Tony Amonte0.350.22-0.13
9John LeClair0.420.27-0.15
10Patrick Kane0.40.38-0.02
11Zach Parise0.380.35-0.03
12Phil Kessel0.350.350
13Joe Pavelski0.360.380.02

Now that’s impressive.

Top-30, Top-20, Top-10?

Prime Pavelski is a clear top-30 American skater. Factoring in his longevity, top-20 seems reasonable. Do his post-season exploits get him into the top-10 debate?

I’m not sure — but if you had to win a Game Seven with all U.S. skaters, Pavelski would be a sure-fire pick. Besides production, you’ll also get inspiring leadership and reliable two-way play.

We’ll see if Pavelski can keep adding to his illustrious playoff legacy tonight.

Welcome to your new home for San Jose Sharks breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to SJHN+ for all of our members-only content from Sheng Peng and the National Hockey Now network.
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NHL

Scouts on How Potential Buyout UFAs Would Fit Sharks

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Credit: NHL

There’s going to be a fresh batch of free agents starting tomorrow.

The NHL’s buyout window opens tomorrow and runs through October 8th. Bought-out players will become unrestricted free agents.

And there might be more buyouts than ever, because of the flat salary cap and teams looking to cut costs because of pandemic-reduced revenue.

Of course, “fresh” is generous. There’s a reason why these veterans are in danger of being axed.

But for the San Jose Sharks and other cap-strapped teams, these potential UFAs can be gold.

A buy-out means these players are still making the money from their old contracts, just over a longer period of time. Thus, when choosing a new team, money isn’t necessarily their primary motivation.

This is where you can find value, like when the 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks were able to pick up bought-out Brad Richards for a reduced rate over the summer. The ex-New York Ranger would contribute 14 points in the playoffs to the 2015 Stanley Cup champs.

In a salary cap world, unearthing the gems who outperform their cap hits is the difference between a Stanley Cup or a second-round loss, a playoff appearance or lottery balls.

Three scouts offered their thoughts to San Jose Hockey Now about how some of the higher-profile potential buyouts — James Neal, Kyle Turris, Olli Maatta, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Henrik Lundqvist, to name a handful — could help or hurt the San Jose Sharks.

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