Today, From the Pressbox:
What a great Final Series, wrapping up the playoffs with more dramatics.
We look ahead to the offseason, with a significant trade already completed, the coaching carousel sees two prominent bench bosses trading cities and the NHL, salary amnesty season is under away, the Amateur Draft and free agency period are only a few days away.
The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped a nice bow around the 2012-13 season as they punctuated their President's Trophy win with a six-game series victory over a determined Boston Bruins team.
After the first three games, the Bruins had a 2-1 series lead and their goalie Tuukka Rask
was already being touted as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the NHL Playoff MVP. Certainly, the Bruins were dictating the physical, close checking style of this series, but most pundits were guilty of forgetting about the quality and depth of the team from Chicago.
That all changed in a wild Game 4 in Boston where the teams engaged in a wild shootout that was more in keeping with the wide-open game that the Hawks probably enjoy more than the Bruins. In fact, a sequence early in the second period of this game may have been the pivotal point. In a span of 2:08 during the middle frame of Game 4, Chicago's signature offensive stars, Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Kane
, finally imposed their will on this series, each scoring a goal, to snap a 1-1 tie and shift the flow of the game from a defensive struggle to one of more scoring chances.
From that point on, the clubs traded chances with abandon and though the Bruins did eventually pull even at 5-5 to send the game into overtime, Chicago ultimately prevailed on a slapshot from Brent Seabrook
at 9.51 of the first overtime period. Both goalies were called out in the media for some shaky work, as people were shocked that Rask surrendered a career-worst, six goals against and Corey Crawford
was exposed for a weak catching-hand. It was the first time either goalie was really cited for underperforming in this post-season.
Game 5 marked a return to usual form for both of these goalies, but the opportunistic stick of Kane proved decisive in this key match as he notched the first two goals on the game, thanks to some deft work in close to the Boston goal. Those would be the only markers against Rask on this night, but Crawford was only nicked for an early third period goal by Zdeno Chara
. That 2-1 Chicago lead made for some dramatic moments, but the Hawks eventually put the clamps on any notion of a comeback as they limited the Bruins to one shot on goal in the last eight minutes of play before an empty net-goal by Dave Bolland
sealed the Hawks 3-1 win with 12 seconds remaining.
Game 6 was another close affair, which seemed to be going Boston's way as the Bruins parlayed an emotion-charged opening into an early lead on a goal from one of their plucky grinders, Chris Kelly
after some fine spadework by Tyler Seguin
. From that early goal, it looked like Boston was on their way to dictating the pace again.
However, Jonathan Toews
had other ideas. In advance of this game both he and the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron
, the two top centers in this series, were playing with injuries that would have sidelined them if the stakes were so high. Remarkably, both played at a high level in this game, in spite of these injuries. Toews actually tied the proceedings on a solo dash through the neutral zone, off a face-off win, which he culminated with a quick wrist shot through Rask's pads at 4:24 of the second period.
From there, the teams real clamped down defensively and stayed even on the scoreboard until Boston's bruising winger Milan Lucic
notched the go-ahead marker by picking a puck out of the air with a quick move, to put the bouncing puck past a startled Crawford, with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation time.
It looked, for all the world like the Bruins were about to force a Game 7. Chicago has too much firepower to make that a cinch and the Bruins paid dearly for expecting anything less, if they can even be accused for any role in the decisive final couple of minutes. First, the Hawks pulled their goalie and a Duncan Keith
pinch and a pass from Toews set up Bryan Bickell
with a tap in past Rask. Then, incredibly, only 17 seconds later, Dave Bolland
watched Michael Frolik
deflect a Johnny Oduya
shot off the post and land behind Rask before Bolland batted the loose puck over the goal-line.
Flashing back to Round 1, Boston fans were now on the other side of an improbable result after seeing the Bruins triumph in the deciding game of their series with Toronto. The remaining 59 seconds of play would bring a shocking end to this series, dramatically concluding one of the most suspenseful playoffs in NHL history.
Coaches Trading Places
Vancouver and the New York Rangers, two of the leagues most stable franchises effectively swapped head coaches in the past week as Alain Vigneault landed in the Big Apple last week and Tortorella was introduced on the left coast early this week.
While neither coach is a stranger to the media, they land in compelling scenarios. Vigneault looks the part of the polished leader who exudes a class that might be expected of a bench boss in the biggest city on the NHL circuit. He will be tasked with bringing an offensive flair to a franchise, which has been defined by a defensive culture built around All-Star goalie Henrik Lundquist.
Meanwhile, Tortorella will be challenged to make the Canucks less dependent on an offensive style and work toward a more balanced, defensively aware, posture. In Vancouver, Tortorella, who was maligned for being difficult with the New York media, will not be able to skirt media obligations in one of Canada's big hockey cities and will have to show that he can get along with the local observers and critics.
In another interesting move, the Dallas Stars inked Lindy Ruff, another veteran hockey coach, who did not wait long after being let go from the NHL's longest current coaching assignment that he held in Buffalo.
All three of these coaches are among the most experienced coaches currently employed in the league.
, who moved on from a very well regarded stint as the Toronto Marlies (AHL) bench boss to take on the head coaching assignment with the Edmonton Oilers, will join the three veteran coaches. Eakins made a name for himself, developing a number of young players who have gone on to make a mark with the Maple Leafs and he will be charged to mold a young group of talented Oilers in much the sane way.
Goalie News, Free Agency and the Amateur Draft
In addition to coaches, a number of goalies are in the news this week.
A trade finally moved Jonathan Bernier
out of his perennial backup role behind Jonathan Quick
in Los Angeles. Bernier, long sought after by many clubs, was dealt to the Maple Leafs in exchange for winger Matt Frattin
, goalie Ben Scrivens
, a second-round draft pick in 2014 or 2015 (Leafs to decide) and $500k in cap relief. This move sets Toronto up with a pair of 25-year old goalies, as Bernier will battle James Reimer
, who earned his stripes this season, in leading Toronto back into the playoffs after a nine-year absence.
ended his long and distinguished NHL career as he announced his retirement this week.
In Philadelphia, the Flyers have again admitted an error in judging their goalie situation as they used one of their amnesty buyouts to release Ilya Bryzgalov
. That leaves the Flyers with only Steve Mason
in goal and they still have to feel limited under their current salary cap structure.
Undoubtedly there will be some more news around the likes of Roberto Luongo
and possibly Ryan Miller
as more netminders will be on the move this offseason.
In fact, many teams will have to deal with similar salary cap limitations, while other clubs are poised to take advantage of significant cap space. We have already seen the Flyers use the amnesty provision to jettison Daniel Briere
. All NHL clubs must make their two allotted amnesty decisions in the next couple of days. These moves will further increase the depth and quality of players available in free agency as some other prominent names are likely to show up here. As a result, trades and the usual free agent flurry of player movement could reach a high water mark this summer.
The NHL's annual Amateur Draft takes place this weekend and while players like Nathan McKinnon, Seth Jones
, Jonathan Drouin
will find out their first NHL affiliations, this event will also be the backdrop for more player movement.
All in all, the fun continues for hockey fans even though the Chicago Blackhawks have skated off with the 20123 Stanley Cup. Thanks for following my column this year and keep an eye out for my offseason reports.
Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and is an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter (statsman22).