Faceoff: The Maple Leafs... win?
The second round of the playoffs are ongoing, and we'll get to all the action down below. But by far the biggest moment of the weekend, everyone would no doubt agree, was Saturday's lottery to determine the selection order for the 2016 entry draft.
No? Not everyone? That was mainly a Canadian thing?
OK, it's possible that the lottery was a bigger deal north of the border than it was down there in the country that actually produces playoff teams. Still, for one night at least, fans of Canadian teams had something to root for.
On paper, the Leafs Leafs winning the top pick was the most likely result; they went in with a 20 percent chance of taking the top spot. In reality, it was all but unthinkable. These are the Maple Leafs. Nothing good ever happens to the Maple Leafs. This is a team that's become the NHL's version of the Browns or Cubs, the go-to synonym for a perpetually bad team that never wins anything. And yet they somehow hadn't had the top pick since 1985, and while they used that on one of the most beloved players in franchise history in Wendel Clark, they were just one year away from getting Mario Lemieux instead. The Leafs hadn't even had the second overall pick since then—oh, they'd finished second last twice over that span, but both times had already traded their pick in advance. They'd only picked as high as third once, and they used that on a career fourth-liner.
All of which is to say that every true Leafs fan went into the lottery already knowing what was going to happen: The Leafs would lose all three drawings, drop out of the top three, and wind up picking fourth in a draft with three franchise players. It was the twist ending that everyone could see coming a mile away.
And that's why, when Bill Daly flipped over the No. 4 card to reveal an Oilers logo instead, you could almost hear the collective record scratch from Leafs Nation. The Leafs had won something. A few minutes later, we found out they'd won it all.
And sure, winning it all is relative. We're still talking about a draft lottery, which by definition is the domain of the league's losers. The eight teams still alive in the playoffs are the ones who are actually trying to win something meaningful.
But the Maple Leafs haven't been part of the group for a very long time, and on Saturday they may have taken a big step toward finally getting there. And it was the weekend's biggest shock, no matter what the odds said going in.
Celebrating those who've had the best week.
5. Winnipeg Jets—The Leafs may have been the draft lottery winners by virtue of securing the first overall pick, but the biggest jump was by the Jets. They came in holding the sixth slot, and moved all the way up to second. That probably means they'll end up with Finnish winger Patrik Laine, a gifted sniper who's drawn comparisons to Alexander Ovechkin. (And who delivered the evening's unquestioned highlight with this impressively laid-back interview.)
Hmm... a flashy Finnish winger with a knack for scoring goals. It feels like that's worked out pretty well in Winnipeg once before. And it's the reason that you could make a strong case for the Jets being Saturday's biggest winners.
4. Jonathan Drouin—Last week, we highlighted the production of Tampa's Triplets line, particularly Nikita Kucherov. That line remains hot, with Tyler Johnson moving to within two points of the league's postseason lead. But Drouin deserves some love, too, especially given what he had to overcome to get here.
You know the story by now: Drouin was the third overall pick of the 2013 draft, but had yet to break through in the NHL. He didn't play much as a rookie in last year's playoffs, and after an underwhelming start to this season he was sent down to the minors. He responded by walking out on the team, hoping to force a trade that never came. He eventually returned, although without any guarantee that the Lightning would give him another shot at the NHL.
They eventually did, in part due to the absence of Steven Stamkos, and Drouin is making the most of it. After recording four points in the opening round against Detroit, he's added three more in two games for the Lighting. That included this goal, the first of his playoff career, in Saturday's crucial Game 2 win.
Drouin is the sort of player who can be awfully fun to watch when he's on. But he may be even more fun once the offseason arrives, and the Lightning have to figure out what to do with him. If they're still going to trade him, you'd have to think the price is rising with every strong game. But could they bury the hatchet and keep him? If Stamkos is on the way out, that may start to seem like the best option... if the various egos involved can handle it.
3. The Capitals/Penguins series—Heading in, the matchup looked like the best of the second round, perhaps the best of the playoffs period. So far, it's lived up to the hype, delivering an overtime thriller in Game 1 and a late-regulation winner in Game 2. It's been great hockey. And it still feels like both teams have another gear or two.
It's possible that the eventual Stanley Cup winner comes out of this series. It's also possible that the two teams will take so much out of each other that the winner will have nothing left for round three. But either way, this has the early makings of the classic that we were hoping for.
The schedule-maker has given the two teams the spotlight Monday night, when they're the only game on the slate. That's just fine. Right now, this is the series everyone should be watching.
2. Jonathan Tavares—While fans in Toronto salivate over Auston Matthews, Tavares is providing a pretty good demonstration of what a No. 1 overall pick can mean to a franchise. The top pick from the 2009 draft didn't elevate the Islanders directly to contender status—they're in the second round for the first time in his career—but it's not for lack of production on his part. After nearly winning the scoring title last season, Tavares leads the Eastern Conference with 11 points so far during the postseason. He had five goals against the Panthers, including an epic Game 6 performance in which he scored the tying goal in the final minute and then added the series-winner in overtime.
He added two more points in the Islanders' series-opening win in Tampa before being held off the scoreboard in a Game 2 loss. It's not hard to see shutting down Tavares as being the Lightning's key to taking this series. Best of luck with that.
1. Brent Burns—He leads all defensemen/players in playoff scoring, was named as a finalist for the Norris, and his Sharks lead their series with the Predators 2-0. Other than that, he hasn't accomplished much lately.
It's always tricky to talk about a player on a West Coast team having a breakout season, because you'll inevitably be told that he's been this good all along and you'd have known that if all the lazy East Coast fans and media weren't already snuggled into bed every time he takes the ice. But it's fair to say that this really does feel like the year when Burns made the leap from being the very good player with the funny beard to being one of the league's biggest stars (with the funny beard).
A career-best 75-point season was a big part of that, as was his show-stealing turn at All-Star weekend. He won't win the Norris—that will go to Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson—but in a league where reputation matters, he may be setting the stage to make a run at next year's. And at this rate, he might even be putting the trophy next to this year's Conn Smythe.
A look at the week's underachievers.
5. Vancouver Canucks—In theory, every team that didn't move up ended up losing the lottery. But some lost worse than others, and the two biggest drops were the Oilers and Canucks, both of whom fell two spots. The Oilers went from two to four, a tough break in a year where the consensus is that the top tier has three players in it. But nobody has any sympathy for the Oilers given all their lottery luck over the years, so we'll turn to the Canucks, who fell from three to five. For a team that's teetering on the edge of a rebuild but can't seem to decide whether to make the leap, getting one of the big three could have been just what they needed. Instead, they'll get a very good prospect but not necessarily a franchise guy. After a season where everything that could go wrong did, the lottery was just another kick in the shin for Canucks fans.
4. The Predators' stars—After Sunday night's 3-2 loss in San Jose, the Predators head home trailing the series 2-0. And a big part of the reason why is that they've only managed four goals. Against some teams, scoring two goals a game is enough to win in the playoffs. This year's Sharks do not appear to be one of those teams.
For years, the Predators had a reputation as a team that didn't have enough firepower up front. It wasn't necessarily true this year—the Predators scored 228 goals, good for a respectable 12th overall. But so far in the postseason, some of their biggest stars have been quiet.
Nine games in, Filip Forsberg has just one goal and three points. James Neal has two goals and three points. And Mike Ribeiro has just a lone assist. Those three were among the Predators' top five scorers in the regular season, so their lack of production is a major story. It's fair to say that when Colin Wilson is your leading scorer, things may not be going according to plan.
The Predators aren't done yet—conventional wisdom, not in trouble until you lose one at home, you know the drill. But they're going to need their big guns to be firing, because the Sharks' sure are.
3. Steve Ott—The Blues superpest is the sort of player that could charitably be described as "divisive." Some see him as an old-school agitator, the kind of player who won't put up big numbers but does the little things that help you win the playoffs—the classic guy that you love to hate when he's on the other side, but love when he's wreaking his havoc for your team.
In either case, Ott may want to work on his pregame trash-talk. Heading into Game 1 against Dallas, he was asked about fellow pest and Stars winger Antoine Roussel. Ott's resonse: "There are a lot better players to worry about over there." Which is no doubt true. But Roussel went out on Friday and opened the scoring. It was his second goal of the playoffs (and first scored from in front of the net).
In Sunday's second game, Roussel once again had an impact. This time, it was by taking the overtime penalty that allowed the Blues to even the series with a powerplay winner. No word on what Ott thought about that.
2. Brooks Orpik—Let's not sugarcoat anything: this hit on Olli Maatta was pure garbage.
Elbows to the head are bad. Elbows to the head that come with the puck nowhere nearby are worse. The league suspended Orpik for three games yesterday, and it could have been more.
At this point, there's no word on how much time Maatta may miss.
1. Bob Murray—After watching his Ducks blow a 3-2 series lead and then drop a Game 7 for the fourth straight year, Murray has apparently seen enough. On Friday, the Ducks' GM pulled the trigger on firing coach Bruce Boudreau, a move that he'd held off on early in the season when Anaheim stumbled out to an awful start and a coaching change felt inevitable. A second-half surge rewarded him for that patience; two days after the Ducks' season ended with a seven-game upset at the hands of the Predators, it apparently ran out.
Boudreau will be fine. Unless he chooses to take time off, he'll be coaching somewhere on opening night. There are openings in Ottawa and Minnesota, and Boudreau is the sort of coach whose availability could encourage other teams to make an unexpected change. With eight division titles in eight full seasons behind the bench, he'll be snapped up quickly despite a reputation for Game 7 failures that isn't entirely fair.
But in announcing the Boudreau firing on Friday, Murray saved his harshest words for his players, blasting their lacked emotion early in the series and promising "They're going to have to be held accountable, too."
That sounds like a GM who's ready to break up his core. There's one problem: Murray might not be able to. His two key players, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, are both signed to huge cap hit deals through 2021, and both reportedly have no-movement clauses. Ryan Kesler's six-year extension, one we hated when it was signed last summer, still hasn't even kicked in yet, and will run through 2022 when he'll be 38.
If that's your core, and it is, how do you break it up? Murray could find himself in a similar situation to Sharks' GM Doug Wilson, who seemed to desperately want to move on from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau but had his hands tied by contracts and no-trade clauses.
Of course, that all worked out OK for Wilson, at least this year. Maybe it plays out similarly for Murray. But it's hard not to look at the Ducks current cap situation and wince a little. This is a budget team, remember, and they've given huge deals to three players who are all now on the wrong side of 30. Getzlaf and Perry are the sort of contracts you give out hoping to win now, while being willing to eat some pain down the road. (Kesler's contract, meanwhile, might be the sort you just don't give out at all.) That "win now" hasn't arrived for the Ducks, and now it looks like the pain half of the equation is done with its warmup tosses and ready to head into action.
Murray is a smart guy. He might be able to dig his way out of this. But, man, he has his work cut out for him.