All posts by Josh Gold-Smith

NHL Playoff Power Rankings: Vegas rolls into Cup Final

With the Stanley Cup Final now on the horizon, theScore's Josh Gold-Smith put together the third installment of the NHL Playoff Power Rankings. (Rankings 5-16 are unchanged from the previous edition.)

1. Vegas Golden Knights

Honestly, what else can we say about the best story in the NHL at this point?

Doubters keep expecting them to regress, but the expansion darlings continue to prove they belong among the NHL's elite clubs this spring, and they've been the most impressive team in these playoffs.

The Golden Knights made quick work of a deep, talented Winnipeg Jets squad, dispatching them in five games, and Vegas is now 12-3 in this postseason.

They've opened as the favorites in the Stanley Cup Final, and have a legitimate shot to win as long as Marc-Andre Fleury stays red-hot and the top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith continues to do serious damage.

2. Washington Capitals

The second-best story of the playoffs has undoubtedly been the Capitals exorcising their postseason demons, with Alex Ovechkin reaching the championship round for the first time in his 13-year NHL career.

Washington reeled off consecutive shutouts of the Tampa Bay Lightning as they forced Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and then won that in convincing fashion Wednesday night.

Ovechkin looked like a man on a mission as he scored the opening goal of Game 7 a mere 62 seconds in.

The Capitals are getting what they need out of their captain, as well as from Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and goaltender Braden Holtby, but they've also gotten all-important secondary scoring from the likes of Andre Burakovsky, Devante Smith-Pelly, Brett Connolly, and Lars Eller.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning had the Capitals on the ropes, taking a 3-2 series lead in the conference final before losing Games 6 and 7.

Tampa Bay's offense evaporated in those final two contests, and while the Capitals' goaltending and defense certainly deserve credit for that, the Lightning's most dynamic scorers didn't produce when they needed to most.

They should certainly hold their heads high after a solid season, but the Lightning had the Capitals where they wanted them and couldn't finish the job.

Don't blame Andrei Vasilevskiy, though. The Tampa Bay netminder - who won't turn 24 until late July - was stellar in the series, posting a .932 save percentage over the final five games. The Lightning's core should remain largely intact, so they should be one of the league's best teams once again next season.

4. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets had visions of the Cup dancing in their heads after a terrific regular season, and they looked to be on course to fulfilling that as their playoff run progressed. Then they ran into the upstart Golden Knights.

That series was closer than it appeared, but Winnipeg had no answer for Vegas' relentlessness.

Mark Scheifele tallied three times in the series but was held off the scoresheet in Games 4 and 5, managing only a single shot on goal in the latter, and Connor Hellebuyck wasn't terrible but was simply outplayed by Fleury.

Patrik Laine was neutralized, too, but the Jets will be back, and the futures of both the franchise and its brightest young star remain bright.

The rest

  • 5. Nashville Predators
  • 6. Pittsburgh Penguins
  • 7. Boston Bruins
  • 8. San Jose Sharks
  • 9. Toronto Maple Leafs
  • 10. Colorado Avalanche
  • 11. Columbus Blue Jackets
  • 12. Philadelphia Flyers
  • 13. New Jersey Devils
  • 14. Minnesota Wild
  • 15. Anaheim Ducks
  • 16. Los Angeles Kings

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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Why the Golden Knights are primed to become a perennial juggernaut

The Vegas Golden Knights probably aren't thinking too much about the future beyond the looming Stanley Cup Final. But boy, are they ever set up for it.

With the expansion darlings sitting a mere four wins from completing what was previously unthinkable, it's worth exploring how ideal their situation is this summer, and potentially also in the years ahead.

Yes, that's right: The Golden Knights could win the Cup and then improve dramatically this offseason, becoming a powerhouse that consistently contends for titles.

There are several reasons why Vegas is well-positioned to get significantly better going forward, ensuring their magical run isn't an anomaly.

All that cap space

Golden Knights general manager George McPhee will have some big items on his to-do list this summer. However, he still has enough money to re-sign key contributors while possibly adding a superstar or two.

A franchise entering its second season often has salary cap flexibility. Vegas has even more than usual, with a whopping projected $24.8 million to spend.

Here's one eyebrow-raising but fairly plausible offseason blueprint:

Will the Erik Karlsson trade that nearly happened at the deadline come to fruition in the offseason? Would John Tavares leave the New York Islanders for the Golden Knights?

Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said he's not going to trade his franchise defenseman during the draft. But a deal before or after the draft wouldn't be shocking because the Golden Knights reportedly made the "hardest push" for Karlsson back in February.

As the hypothetical scenario above shows, Vegas could take on both Karlsson's expiring deal and Bobby Ryan's unsavory contract (the latter being a likely condition of the trade), while still having enough wiggle room to make another major splash.

Tavares hasn't tipped his hand about whether he plans to sign elsewhere on July 1. But if he does, the Golden Knights would have a shot at landing him, especially if they get Karlsson in the fold beforehand.

The minor detail of Karlsson's long-term future would also need to be addressed, and there's been no indication Tavares will ditch the Islanders. Still, this Karlsson-Tavares scenario illustrates just how much room the Golden Knights will have to maneuver under the cap, and there are plenty of other free agents and stars on expiring deals they could target, too.

Meanwhile, retaining their own key contributors shouldn't be an issue. William Karlsson will need to be rewarded for his breakout 43-goal, 78-point campaign, and he should get an extension in the $5 million to $7 million range annually. Shea Theodore and Colin Miller are pending restricted free agents, but McPhee won't have to break the bank to bring them back.

James Neal and David Perron are pending UFAs. They're useful forwards, but Vegas could let one or both walk if it means upgrading with comparable or better players.

Draft picks aplenty

Cap room isn't the only weapon the Golden Knights will wield.

They don't hold first- or third-round picks in next month's draft. But Vegas has stockpiled two second-round picks and three third-round selections in 2019, plus three more second-round choices in 2020, in addition to their two future first-rounders.

Here's a look at their full array of upcoming draft choices:

2018 Round Number of Picks
1 0
2 1
3 0
4 2
5 2
6 2
7 0
2019 Round Number of Picks
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 1
5 2
6 1
7 1
2020 Round Number of Picks
1 1
2 3
3 1
4 1
5 1
6 1
7 1

Those picks could help facilitate a Karlsson trade or a move approaching that magnitude. They give McPhee some extra chips to bring to the table as he looks to further bolster the roster.

A team this new having a surplus of draft picks isn't surprising. But having so much success this fast is stunning, and now the Golden Knights can look to ship some of these future selections to a rebuilding club while acquiring established talent that can help them immediately.

More than just Sin City appeal

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

Las Vegas was already an intriguing free-agent destination because of everything the city has to offer. Now, it's arguably the league's most attractive landing spot thanks to the Golden Knights' unexpected run to the final.

The Golden Knights have already proven to pending free agents they're a legitimate threat to claim hockey's ultimate prize. Every talented piece they add is only going to help convince players who might be on the fence.

Given what a tremendous story Vegas' run has been, who wouldn't want to join this team and build on this season, no matter how it ends?

The Golden Knights have a lot of factors in their favor, and they're in a position to get even better on paper next season. If they take advantage of their circumstances they could become championship contenders for years to come.

(Salary and draft pick information courtesy: CapFriendly)

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Rangers name David Quinn head coach

David Quinn is now officially an NHL head coach.

The longtime Boston University bench boss was tabbed Wednesday as the next man to lead the New York Rangers.

Quinn spent the last five years guiding the Terriers, while recruiting numerous future NHL stars including Jack Eichel, Clayton Keller, and Charlie McAvoy.

The Rangers fired former head coach Alain Vigneault on the final Saturday night of the NHL's regular season after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009-10.

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Hunter dismisses notion he could join Islanders: ‘There is nothing to that’

Mark Hunter insists he hasn't discussed the possibility of joining the Islanders with Lou Lamoriello, the former Toronto Maple Leafs GM who was named New York's president of hockey operations Tuesday.

“Isn’t it quick how people want to (make those connections?)” Hunter said with a chuckle to the Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan on Tuesday night. “There is nothing to that. I have not talked to Lou. Lou has a million things going on right now. He has bigger fish.”

Hunter called the Leafs GM position "a job you dream of" and expressed disappointment with not being tabbed as the next one, but said he understood team president Brendan Shanahan's decision to promote Kyle Dubas.

“No, I don’t get bitter,” Hunter said. “People make decisions and Shanny had his reasons. (I) feel good about what has happened with the team, where we have gone and where we can go. Sure, it’s disappointing. But we all make decisions and move ahead and don’t look back.”

He has a non-compete agreement that will prevent other teams from hiring him until July 15.

Dubas was named Toronto's GM earlier this month, following Lamoriello's departure in late April.

Hunter parted ways with the Leafs on Tuesday morning, in a revelation that came about an hour before Lamoriello was officially appointed to his new role.

The former assistant GM served in Toronto's front office for about three-and-a-half years, beginning as director of player personnel in the fall of 2014 and becoming co-interim GM along with Dubas when Dave Nonis was fired in April 2015.

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Lamoriello declines to say whether he met with Tavares before joining Isles

Lou Lamoriello clearly wasn't interested in revealing whether he did, in fact, speak to John Tavares before officially taking on his new role.

"When it comes to talking with players ... I will never comment about it," the New York Islanders president of hockey operations told reporters on a conference call Tuesday, according to MSG's Shannon Hogan. "(I) never have in the past and (I) won’t (now).”

He did have some praise to heap on the captain, though.

Lamoriello was named to the post Tuesday, the day after The Athletic's Arthur Staple reported that the former Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils general manager would be getting the job.

In that same report, Staple confirmed with two sources that Lamoriello met with Tavares last week, "clearly in anticipation of assuming control of the Islanders."

The Islanders superstar is a pending unrestricted free agent who will be the most sought-after player in the class if he hits July 1 without a new contract.

Lamoriello departed the Leafs at the end of April after three seasons with Toronto, in a move that preceded Kyle Dubas' promotion to the GM position. Lamoriello's son, Chris, is the Islanders' assistant GM.

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Islanders name Lamoriello president of hockey operations

Lou Lamoriello is officially heading back to the Tri-State Area.

The former Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils general manager was named the New York Islanders' president of hockey operations Tuesday.

Lamoriello will have full authority over all hockey matters with the organization.

The Leafs revealed back on April 30 that the 75-year-old was leaving the club after serving as its GM for the last three seasons. Kyle Dubas was promoted to that role less than two weeks later.

Tuesday's move was first reported by The Athletic's Arthur Staple on Monday. Staple also reported that Lamoriello met with Islanders captain and pending unrestricted free agent John Tavares before officially assuming his new position.

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Niskanen takes responsibility for every Lightning goal in Game 5

Matt Niskanen took the blame for all three Tampa Bay Lightning goals in the Washington Capitals' Game 5 loss on Saturday night.

The Capitals defenseman picked his performance apart after Tampa Bay prevailed 3-2 to move within a win of the Stanley Cup Final.

“It’s pinballing around in the neutral zone there, I stepped up, didn’t get the man or the puck, they got a 2-on-1 out of it and scored,” Niskanen told reporters, via Sportsnet, in reference to the Lightning’s goal in the opening minute.

“(The) first three goals (were) all my fault," Niskanen added. "I had a tough first 20 minutes and 30 seconds. So I’ve got to be better next game.”

He had a point.

Niskanen failed to prevent Ryan Callahan from chipping the puck into the Capitals' defensive zone before Cedric Paquette opened the scoring 19 seconds in, screened Braden Holtby on Ondrej Palat's marker that gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead later in the opening frame, and then allowed Anton Stralman to blow past him before Callahan banged in the goal that made it 3-0 at the 33-second mark of the second period.

Granted, other Capitals players made mistakes on those goals, and Niskanen kept them in the game with a shot that was deflected in by Evgeny Kuznetsov about four minutes later.

Despite his early miscues, Niskanen actually drove possession at 5-on-5 with a 51.61 Corsi For percentage, but he posted a Scoring Chances For rate of only 28.57 percent in those situations, according to Natural Stat Trick.

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Jets sign goalie who went viral for celebration after scoring in USHL

Remember that Sioux Falls Stampede goaltender who celebrated in hilarious fashion after scoring from behind his own net back in November?

Well, the Winnipeg Jets gave him a three-year, entry-level contract Saturday.

Mikhail Berdin is the netminder who, as you may recall, did this:

Berdin went 24-13-3 with a .921 save percentage in 45 regular-season games for the Stampede in 2017-18. He allowed 14 goals in three playoff contests.

The 20-year-old Russian was a sixth-round pick of the Jets in 2016.

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Report: Penguins agree to terms with Finnish D-man Riikola

The Pittsburgh Penguins already boast one Finnish blue-liner, and now it appears they're adding another.

Juuso Riikola has agreed to terms with the club, sources told TSN's Darren Dreger on Thursday.

The 24-year-old posted 24 points in 59 games with KalPa in the Finland-based Liga this season, his sixth with the team.

Riikola also represented his homeland at the ongoing World Championship, chipping in a pair of assists in eight contests before Finland was eliminated in a surprising quarterfinal loss to Switzerland on Thursday.

If he cracks the NHL club, he'll join Olli Maatta, the 23-year-old Finn who's been a fixture on the Penguins' back end - despite several health setbacks - for about the last five years.

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