The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue in earnest as it enters its second round. Before we look ahead to the next duels of the fates, let us look at and quite possibly laugh at some or all of the fallen who had to be axed to get to this point.
St. Louis Blues - The Sour Note Quartet (COL 4-0)
Well, this was sort of expected. Considering how the Blues barely made the playoffs this year, and the personnel they were missing during this series, including their team leader in point production and several key components of their defense, pretty much no one had them beating the Avs in this series. The offense couldn’t crack Grubauer and the defense stumbled into the elimination round. Face the music - Binnington hasn’t been the same since that run of glory in 2019, as he’s only declined since lifting Lord Stanley. Remember, the Blues locked him down for 6 more years at 6 million per. Stop snickering cause it possibly gets worse. It has an NTC for the first half and an M-NTC for the back half - something they might be regretting already despite the fact that the contract only comes into effect in July. This is also bringing up regrets about sending Jake Allen out of the Gateway to the West. Now comes the more present and serious concern - their free-agent situation. Look at some of the names that will be contractless come July 28th: Jaden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak, Mike Hoffman, Ivan Barbashev, Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Vince Dunn, Alexander Steen, and Carl Gunnerson. Most of them are key contributors to the core and were core pieces to that 2019 run (save Hoffman) and that’s not even the worst part. Barbashev and Dunn are arbitration-eligible RFAs. They are going to want to get paid for their first big-boy contracts and the Blues may have to perform some Expansion Draft bribery and Flat Cap gymnastics to be able to keep one if not both of them. This is where giving so much cap to other players comes to bite a franchise where it hurts the most - paying for the talents of other players. Let’s be honest with ourselves, that run in 2019 is looking more and more like a miraculous fluke than a run of destiny the further away we get from it, and it’s showing in the Blues’ performance year after year, first in getting unceremoniously dethroned by Vancouver, now in getting beat to a pulp by Colorado. This is the splitting of the road for this team, and it’s looking like they might have to blow it all up way sooner than expected.
Washington Capitals - Steamed Caps: Lavioletted (BOS 4-1)
Another year, yet another lethargic and apathetic playoff performance, accompanied by a first-round loss in 5 games. The Caps seemed to, once again, either not realize that it was playoff time or not care about the meaning of the games being played until it was FAR too late. However, this time it is a more damning statement about the locker room culture in the District in terms of the apathy and generally not caring about the games being played that was seen on the ice. This wasn’t a series against the Islanders who only got in last year because of the pause and expanded playoffs which caused the Caps to overlook their opponent. No, this was the almost white-hot Bruins who more than EARNED their spot. The panic buttons should have been pushed until broken when these same Caps barely beat the NHL equivalent of the Providence Bruins in the season finale, and that feat of suckitude showed in this series after Game 1. The issues this time around come in the form of a stalling offense, a feckless and ineffective defense, and overall goaltending woes - i.e. the usual issues plaguing the Capitals in the playoffs. Vanachek was good until he got hurt in game 1. Anderson was somewhat serviceable but was then replaced by returning Samsonov in Game 3. To say that Samsonov’s netminding in this series sucked would be a vast understatement. Why Laviolette kept him in the net especially after his Game 3 2OT losing giveaway is a mystery that will never be solved. Oh and by the way, he’s an arbitration-eligible RFA this summer. Speaking of free-agents, Ovechkin is a UFA come July, and who knows if he stays in DC after the past three years of winning a combined 5 playoff games and not making it past the first round. Yet another reminder that the Caps should have paid Trotz his championship tax in the summer of Ovi, and this failure might lead to the core being blown up back to the pre-Ovi era. Oh, but it gets worse - their first-round pick is property of the Red Wings due to the Mantha Trade, who, by the way, has 3 years left on his contract. They went all-in on that trade and busted HARD. Also, don’t forget that Kuznetsov isn’t on the right side of the line with Caps management, both on and off the ice, so he might be gone as well for far below his value as a possible cancer dump move - retained salary possibly included. Now they get the joy of an uncertain future, which includes another expansion draft to ready up for. The tides of the Metro might be changing soon, and it’ll leave the Caps stuck in the riptide of change. Even if they somehow keep holding on, there are also the tidbits of your team being closer to the wrong end of 30 and the Cap Overage for Zdeno Chara being Zdeno Chara and earning his games played bonus. Being completely honest, the Caps have hit the back end of the bell curve, and this series all but confirms it after the Carolina and Islanders series of the last two years.
Edmonton Oilers: Crude Jet Fuel (WPG 4-0)
Seriously, what in all of Alberta and Saskatoon was that? Arguably their team’s best season in a very long time, along with the most potential for a deep run and expectations for said deep run, and they end the season like that? Three consecutive overtime losses in a sweep by the WINNIPEG JETS? I know the Jets are a good and very solid team, well deserving of their place in the bracket, but this was a series that should have gone to seven, not ended with an ACME bomb blowing up in your face, AGAIN. Do the Oilers like wasting the production of McDavid and Draisaitl that much? Cause that’s what they did AGAIN. Start playing the circus music folks because this team is nothing more than a total joke of a clown show, and it isn’t even close to being fiction. Even Gretzky saw this dumpster fire of a volcano and decided to abandon ship, switching into an on-air analyst for TNT. Mike Smith went from a somewhat decent goalie who could steal a few games and maybe a series to having more holes than Swiss Cheese, yet less than Tristian Jarry (more on HIM later), although to be fair the warning signs were overly present in his 4 goals allowed on 4 shots against the Canucks. I didn’t realize this team had a secret passion for baking pastries, cause they cooked up so many costly turnovers which all but ended their season. The depth scoring and defense vanished yet again as they wasted another season where you should have done something with the opportunity you had. Last year you could at least make the weak argument about the pause affecting the series against the Hawks, not like it would have done much, but now there are no excuses to be said. This was a team that should have been much more than just McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins flailing around trying to win you to some sort of relevance. They even had a 4-1 lead in the 3rd period of Game 3 and they blew that like it was Game 5 against the Ducks from 2017, all to the laughter from the past chagrin of the Leafs. Normally I’d be understanding of the gut-wrenching way you went out in that 3OT game 4, but considering you blew ANOTHER LEAD for that to happen, I don’t care. This team should honestly be embarrassed beyond anything else. Now they have to figure out what they’re going to do with the expiring contracts on your hands which includes Nugent-Hopkins, Larson, and Barrie. They have a lot of questions to ask themselves this off-season, and the most likely solution can be summed up in 4 words - BLOWING IT ALL UP. I’m being dead serious - they probably need to liquidate the core. This core has proven time and time again that it can not perform when asked to and constantly underachiever to the point where even the Maple Leafs, who haven’t won a playoff series in about if not over 18 YEARS now, have to look on and laugh. Way to disappoint the fanbase, again. This team does not have my pity or sympathy, nor that of anyone else in the league cause they don’t deserve it. They are single-handedly turning McDavid into the True North’s Jack Eichel. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wants out soon, and if he does, congratulations on wasting arguably the best player the league has seen since the likes of Lemuix and Gretzky when the latter was in your hands. I swear if they make any more dumb moves and underperform expectations next year the fanbase is gonna riot. The only bright side of this implosion is that they give up the 4th Rounder next year. That’s the only positive that came out of this series.
Pittsburgh Penguins: No Tristian Jarry (NYI 4-2)
Well, that was the loudest thud that Pittsburgh Sports Teams have had so far this year. First, you had the Steelers getting wrecked by the Browns in January, which caused half the city to turn into a rich salt mine. Now, the East Division Champion Penguins get manhandled by the Islanders for the second consecutive series against and 2 times in 3 years and that salt mine has once again opened up as well as expanded. In the wise words of noted Pittsburgher and Pens fan UrinatingTree, “Tristan Jarry, get your bags packed. Here are two tickets for a Greyhound bus to [Middle-of-Nowhere], USA. The extra ticket is for the shreds of your destroyed confidence”. The Pens once again felt the ripple effects of giving up Fleury to Vegas - even though it was the better move at the time. Jarry could not get a handle on stopping shots fired at his glove side up high, and the Pens could barely hold on to a lead for long - either through a horribad defensive play or by Jarry not being able to make a save. The overtime winner in Game 1 was especially weak, as Jarry got caught cheating by not sealing up the post, leaving enough room for Palmeri to pot it home. Game 5 was a completely different monster - with Jarry giving Bailey the gift of a free goal in 2OT which all but ended the series right there and then. Game 6 was the epitome of the entire series. The Penguins got a lead, and the Islanders tied it up. Pens regain the lead, Isles tie it up again. Pens get a THIRD one-goal lead, Isles glance at it, laugh at it for a few seconds, and knot it right back up. Then the Isles got 2 more quick blows past Jarry in the span of 13 seconds, both through the pads, ending the Penguins season. What makes this even more disastrous for Tristian Jarry is the fact that he had a very solid season before this dumpster fire of a series. Now, this is the part where they are not firing their head coach after LAST YEAR’S nightmare of a postseason performance looks even dumber. He’s been significantly outcoached for the 4th straight series and is looking like Bylsma did towards the end of his tenure. They even got the guy that the Isles beat in the first round last year to aid on the bench and it did nothing to help the Penguins’ cause. The Penguins aren’t in as much of a situation regarding free agents this time, as none of their really big names are done with the playing time on their contracts, but this offseason still signals the reaching of a major crossroads for them. Will the Penguins try to reinforce the struggling core, or will they start trying to sell off pieces to try and rebuild it on the fly? Either way, they need to figure out what they are going to do with their goaltending issue because the netminding role hasn’t been the same since Vegas made their picks in the summer of 2017. There’s also the Kraken Expansion Draft to worry about considering the team’s lack of usable draft picks to trade, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they are more stingy with them considering what happened to the pick they gave to Vegas. But hey, at least they won games this time.
Florida Panthers: Crouching Kitten Hidden Thunder (TBL 4-2)
This season was one of great progress for this team. They were able to be a strong team and got back to the playoffs. They were starting to reach the higher heights of the mountain and kept on climbing higher. However, Andrei Vasaleski laughs as he and his Lightning shove you down the mountain as they beat you in 6 games. Despite the series loss, this was a season of promise for the team just as much as 2016 was. Now as long as they don’t make the same mistakes as they did last time they should be back in the fray next year. Although their free-agent/cap situation isn’t looking as clean as one would hope. There’s also the situation with Bobrovsky, as he was once again unable to do anything positive for this team in the playoffs, and it’s starting to become a trend. He should be on the hot seat but his NMC and 10 million cap hit are all but unmovable and will probably be so for a few years to come. He still has 5 years left on that deal and the clause doesn’t change to a possibly movable contract until 2024. The Panthers better hope that Sergei doesn’t hurt them in the long run. On the bright side, Spencer Knight has real promise to perform at the NHL level, it's a shame that he was left out to dry like that in Game 6.
Nashville Predators: Not Exactly Smashing, Another Banner Perhaps? (CAR 4-2)
Despite the fact they lost, the Predators put up a good fight against the Hurricanes. However, a good fight alone was not enough to move past the division winner on the rise when they are on the backend of their bell curve. We finally got to see Saros get some sort of support, however, it still was not enough. Sebastian Aho in OT guaranteed that they wouldn’t see another game this spring. This was a close and competitive series, but the better team won in the end. Now comes the question of the Expansion Draft, more particularly who the Preds will ship off to Seattle. They have the draft picks at hand to convince Seattle, but the main question is who is going to be protected and who is going to be exposed and how much the person who gets picked is going to affect the Preds as a whole. They also have next to no cap room with a bunch of RFAs, most of them Arbitration Eligible, so they are in a tight crunch come July. Hopefully for them, this doesn’t continue to hurt them in the long run, despite the fact that Pekka might be on the way out soon. Shame really.
Minnesota Wild: A Wildly Silent Knight (VGK 4-3)
Well, that was a disappointing end to the series. For a second I thought they’d be able to have Vegas choke another 3-1 series lead only for the Wild to get absolutely whipped in the seventh and deciding game. Vegas’ deadline acquisition in Mattias Janmark paid dividends in scoring a hat trick in that game, the first of his career and the first in Vegas playoff history, single-handedly outsourcing the entire Wild lineup. That trade is looking even more of an absolute steal, considering that Vegas only gave up a second, and a future third and fifth to get Janmark, Desimone, and a future 5th. At this point, it seems like Vegas blowing 3-1 series leads and having to play a game 7 is their general strategy from how often they’ve done it, and now that they’ve won that 7th game 2 out of 3 times in those 3-1 series disappearances. Minnesota had a season full of hope, amplified by forcing game 7 after being down 3-1, only to pull the same crap they usually do to be close, but never close enough to winning the series. Vegas just outplayed them the entire game, and Minnesota looked almost lethargic and tired throughout. What was supposed to be a cup run full of noise turned into a muffled thud in the first round. I would say they have hope for next season, but their cap and free-agent situations are looking quite bleak, especially considering there are still 5 years left on the Suter/Parise double deal which has bogged the cap roof down on the State of Hockey. If they manage to pull some impressive cap gymnastics off, it could either make the team stronger or cause the team to completely collapse from the inside again. No matter what happens, the Wild will not be the same team as they were this year. If they are, I will gladly be proven wrong.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 54 Years and Counting (MTL 4-3)
CONGRATULATIONS - the Maple Leafs STILL can’t make it past the first round. They had a 3-1 series lead with home ice and they went and BLOW IT. Here’s the thing - this isn’t just the general goose-egg they usually lay on the ice to move on to the golf courses, this emulated last year’s goose-egg. They gave their fanbase hope - tying games 5 and 6 after clawing out of multi-goal holes, only to turn the puck over in OT and lose. This happened in both games 5 and 6. Game 7 was essentially a repeat of Game 6 formula - a hard fought first period where Campbell stood on his head to try to outduel Price, followed by a second and third period where the rest of the team decided to stop giving it their all, if they even cared. The PK which was perfect through the first 5 games faltered in the final 2 games, undoing the effort of the Leafs. That’s not even the worst part of all of this. Ilya Mikheyev had a yawning cage with the puck about a foot away from the line in the dying seconds of Game 5 - only for the puck to slip right between his legs. That one play symbolizes the entire series - the Leafs are so close to finishing it off, only for it to slip through their fingers. Make it 8 consecutive losses in series-clinching games, 18 years without winning a playoff series and 54 years since their last cup and appearance in the finals. More disappointment from a team that had high expectations placed upon them. All they got for their efforts was a division title and tons of disappointment. Now they get to enjoy another year of cap hell, the major questions regarding the expansion draft, and almost no draft capital to try to fix either of these problems. Way to waste Campbell’s first playoff appearance and the talent of your offense. I feel so bad for Steve Dangle, how does he constantly deal with this season after season?
After all has been said, done, and played, to dub the LOLCOW OF THE ROUND- Awarded to The Toronto Maple Leafs for blowing a 3-1 series lead while also finding a new way to twist the knife in their fans even more than before. Again - they were a foot away from not losing the series, and now they have the longest cup drought in NHL history. Way to go guys.
I’ll see you after round two!