Cold as Ice

Editor’s note: Popblerd’s hockey correspondents Stephen Mapes and Jay Kumar take a final look at the 2013 season, which ended Monday night when the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins to win their second Stanley Cup in four years.

Jay:  Okay, so we just came off a pretty damn exciting Stanley Cup final that saw Chicago take it in 6. What did you think? Did it meet your expectations?

Stephen:  It met and exceeded, I’d say. While I would have loved to see a game 7, you can’t complain about 6 tightly played games, lots of overtime, and plenty of grit and drama. Chicago provided Boston their first challenge since the Leafs, and bounced back even when Rask got a shutout. And the Bruins were able to adapt to the high powered offense even when Rask wasn’t standing on his head. It was one of the best finals I can remember in some time.

Jay:  Yeah, probably the best since the Penguins beat the Red Wings in ’09. I picked the Bruins in 6, and after game 3 it looked like Boston was in control of the series. But to their credit, the Hawks never gave up and used their speed to wear down the Bruins, much like the Leafs did in round 1. Corey Crawford looked beatable in game 4, but to his credit he bounced back with big performances in the last two games.

Stephen:  He played well enough to keep his team in the game, even if he wasn’t nearly as flashy as Rask (partly because he faced far fewer shots on average). The Hawks played the way they were expected to all playoffs long. The speed was huge, as you said, and they cracked the neutral zone trap that caused my Pens such headaches with ease. Both teams did a lot of adjusting for the series. I thought the Bruins had the momentum, and was expecting them to come out guns blazing in Game 7. But just as the Bruins stunned a confident Leafs team with a last minute goal barrage, the Hawks did them in within 17 seconds. Oddly poetic, in a way.

At least as a reminder that there are very few safe leads in playoff hockey.

Jay:  No kidding! Have to admit as a Leafs fan, there was a small part of me that took solace that the B’s were burned in similar fashion (although a 4-1 lead in game 7 with 10 minutes to go SHOULD be a lead pipe cinch). Ultimately, the Bruins were let down by their offense. Guys like Horton, Seguin, Jagr, Marchand and even leading playoff scorer David Krejci were awful quiet the last few games of the finals. No doubt injuries were a factor. We all know about Patrice Bergeron playing through ridiculous injuries in that last game (broken rib, torn cartilage, separated shoulder, punctured lung). And I’m sure the top Boston D pair, Chara and Seidenberg, both were battling through injuries and fatigue…which is why Chicago targeted them with great success late in the series. Andrew Ference told the media today that he suffered a broken foot against the Leafs, but was back a week or so later. Of course, the Hawks had similar issues: Bickell and Hossa both played through serious injuries and Toews probably played game 6 with a mild concussion after getting crushed by Johnny Boychuk in game 5. It’s what the NHL playoffs are all about: Playing through pain for the big prize.

Stephen:  Yeah, both teams can take a huge amount of pride in the heart their players showed. If anyone doubts the toughness of hockey players, just look at the injury stories. I don’t know another sport where players will power through major injuries just to help their team out. I definitely agree that the Bruins offense was not where it should have been, and part of that was that the Hawks were much better about containing the puck and squashing opportunities (and fast enough to close the gap when needed). The Boston fans seemed pretty cross after the stunning upset, but I hope that days later they realize just how much they have to be proud of. A team most people wrote off as a first or second round exit took down one of the Cup favorites, then nearly did it to the Western favorites too. They weren’t a roster of huge superstars, but they played tough, controlled, textbook hockey.

But the Cup is just one of the many hockey-related news stories of the week, amazingly! There have been some HUGE shuffles in players and coaches.

Jay:  Yeah, the Rangers and Vancouver essentially traded coaches. Tortorella with that Canucks team is going to be interesting. Can’t see him having too much patience with the Sedins if they don’t buy in to his boring-ass prevent-defense style. Should be fun. And what do you think about your ol’ buddy Vigneault in NYC?

Stephen:  I actually think the Rangers make out far better on this deal. Vigneault had a lot of success in Vancouver taking developed younger talent and getting them into a top-tier game plan (even if he has yet to get a Cup). Plus, he’s a far more reserved presence and should allow the players to focus on the game and not the media drama. Rumors around the NY locker room was that the players were getting tired of Tort’s coaching style and hot-head reputation. I think the change will do them well.

Though I think that some of the egos in Vancouver could use some tough love. In that regard, maybe Torts will be the answer. But I shudder to think what the combination of his post-game media antics and the arrogant reputation of Kesler and the Sedins might produce. But it should make for some hilarious tweets from Luongo, at least!

Jay:  I agree. Torts and the smothering Vancouver media will be a match made in hell. It’ll be great for the rest of us to watch and laugh at. Although I can’t see Luongo sticking around there much longer…which brings us to our next topic: Compliance buyouts. The new CBA allows teams to buy out two onerous contracts over the next two years, and Luongo may be a big one for the Canucks to dump. Just today, Tampa bought out their captain, Vincent Lecavalier, which of course now introduces a new free agent into the mix this summer. Teams have until July 4 to decide on buyouts before free agency begins.

Stephen:  And the Flyers bought out Bryzgalov. It makes for some interesting roster strategies, and does help make teams locked into huge superstar contracts for players on the decline stay competitive. The Bolts definitely need some sort of change after their season, as do the Flyers. It will be interesting to see how both teams use the freed up salary cap room.

Jay:  There have already been some trades as well, including the Leafs sending third-liner Matt Frattin, backup goalie Ben Scrivens and a second-round pick to LA for their backup goalie, Jonathan Bernier. Of course, there’s much division in Toronto over this deal, as it appears Bernier will compete with current starter James Reimer, who carried the team to its first playoff birth in 9 years. Many feel the Leafs gave up too much for a goalie who may not even be the starter, but others (including me) feel Reimer is still kinda shaky and if nothing else the competition should bring out the best in both keepers. The Leafs plan on making other moves as well, including hopefully getting a top center to replace Tyler Bozak, who is expected to sign elsewhere as a free agent, and a good defensive d-man. But there were rumors flying today that your Penguins might deal Kris Letang to make cap room, and one of the rumored destinations is Toronto.

Stephen:  They signed Kunitz today, but after locking down Malkin and Crosby, we’re short of cap room. I think both Letang and Kennedy are on the chopping block. Kennedy could be a great center on a team that isn’t so stacked with center talent, and Letang’s current market value could buy us two strong defensive defensemen, something we desperately need. I think the Bernier get was a savvy one for Toronto, and I think Letang would be a good fit there. I’m also curious to see what becomes of Iginla, but knowing that Malkin and Crosby are here for the next five years makes me feel good about the future.

Jay:  I don’t think the Leafs should deal for Letang, because what they really need is a defenseman who can clear out guys like Lucic from in front of their net. But we shall see. And of course, the other hot topic for the NHL is the draft on Sunday afternoon. Colorado’s got the first pick and it appears they’re going to take Nathan McKinnon, but there may be some wheeling and dealing of picks if other teams try to move. Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin are the other two elite prospects, but many are saying there could be teams trying to move up in the draft as this year’s crop is a good one. It’s kind of strange this year because usually the draft is on a Saturday, but everything’s been compressed by the lockout-shortened season. Do you usually watch the draft? I love it, especially hearing guys like Pierre McGuire talk about how great each prospect is and then looking back years later to see how most of them were busts.

Stephen:  I actually haven’t watched it in recent years. The commentary is great, but the internet era has spoiled me and I can check the results later. Plus, my Pens usually end up further down the list because of our placing so it has less immediate impact for us. Still though, it’s exciting to see the new blood and which ones make it big and which ones fill benches in the minors.

Jay:  Yeah, I always have fun with the first few weeks after the playoffs end, between the draft and free agency and all the false hope that everybody gets when they sign some guy for big bucks. Everything looks great in July when you sign Ville Leino or Mike Komisarek to a ridiculous contract…until the season starts and you realize they suck. Or at least aren’t worth that kind of money. And then things die down and I start paying more attention to baseball for a few months before the hockey machine winds up again. Next season, we’ll have realignment, with Detroit joining an already tough Eastern conference, the Winter Olympics in February 2014 (although there’s no official agreement to send NHL players yet) and the Winter Classic with the Leafs taking on Detroit. All good stuff, in addition to another season for our teams to embark on a new quest for the Cup.

Stephen:  Indeed! It will be a short off season and then a full season of hockey goodness. I can’t wait!

Jay:  Cool. And with that, Cold As Ice is done until the fall, when we reconvene to do our season preview. Have a great summer!

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