By Lori Bennett
The Stanley Cup Final got underway on Wednesday night, June 15, between the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche, and it was well worth the wait. The top two teams in the league put on a show that extended to overtime, and in the extra frame it was Andre Burakovsky who scored the game winner to draw first blood for the Avalanche. The teams were scheduled to get back at it on Saturday night.
The Lightning eliminated the New York Rangers to claim their spot in the Final. After winning the first two games in their Eastern Conference Final series, the Rangers lost four straight games to Tampa. With their elimination in the third round, we can consider what can be learned from the Rangers and their playoff campaign.
At the end of the 2018 season, the Rangers management duo at that time – Jeff Gorton and Glen Sather – informed their fans that they were about to get worse so they could get better. Veterans like Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller were traded for picks and prospects. The face of the franchise, Henrik Lundqvist, was eventually bought out as part of the tear down. Jacob Trouba was acquired by trade, and they added key free agents in Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin. Those picks they had acquired eventually became young and exciting roster players like Alexis Lafreniere and Kappo Kakko.
Four years later, the revamped team came within two wins of a Stanley Cup Final appearance, and the Rangers future is looking very bright. The lesson is clear – good can be the enemy of great.
The Rangers brass knew they were good, but not good enough to truly contend. They chose to tear down so they could build up a better team, and so far, they’re looking like geniuses. Ironically, neither of those executives are still in New York and another management group is enjoying the outcome.
On the flip side, one of the great mysteries of NHL coaching is the tendency to play injured players who can deliver only a shadow of themselves.
In Game 7, Coach Gerard Gallant scratched Kakko, one-third of the Kid Line, and played Ryan Strome returning from injury. Strome played just under nine minutes and wasn’t really a factor in the game while obviously languishing. There is a lesson here about making sure whatever percentage your injured guy can bring is better than the 100 per cent healthy guy you’re scratching.
It’s a question the Lightning should be asking now about Brayden Point, and one the Avalanche might get around to asking about Nazem Kadri.
Some NHL coaching positions got sorted this week.
On Tuesday, June 14, hockey analyst Kevin Weekes broke the news that the Vegas Golden Knights hired Bruce Cassidy, who had been fired by the Boston Bruins just eight days previous. In Philadelphia, the Flyers settled on John Tortorella to be their next head coach. Tortorella last coached the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he and the team mutually agreed to part ways when his contract expired at the end of the 2021 season.
Remember that guy Jeff Gorton? He’s currently part of a management duo in Montreal with GM Kent Hughes, and they are also engaged in renovating the Canadiens.
On Thursday the Habs traded Shea Weber to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for forward Evgenii Dadanov. Weber spent last season on Long-Term Injured Reserve, and his career is believed to be over. Vegas, with giant cap issues to resolve this off-season, were able to send back a contract in Dadanov and will use the LTIR relief to help their cap situation.
Hughes met with the media following the trade and said the plan is for Dadanov to play in Montreal this coming season. Dadanov is entering the last year of his contract and is a useful player who scored 20 goals and 43 points in 78 games last season. He may become a trade chip when the trade deadline rolls around.
Blue Jays Babble
Last weekend the Toronto Blue Jays got some solid pitching from their starters. Jose Berrios pitched eight innings in a 10-1 win on Friday. On Saturday, Kevin Gausman pitched a solid six innings, but the bats couldn’t get going in a 3-1 loss. Then in Sunday’s rubber match. Ross Stripling sent a message that he prefers the starting role, throwing six one-hit innings in a 6-0 win.
On Monday the Jays greeted the Baltimore Orioles for a four-game series. Pitching dominance continued as Alek Manoah pitched six scoreless innings and the Jays bats played some small ball in an 11-1 win. The pitching streak ended on Tuesday when Yusei Kikuchi allowed four runs in four innings in a 6-5 loss. Five pitchers contributed to a 7-6 win on Wednesday, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the hero going four for five, hitting his 16th homerun of the season, and a walk-off single to score the winning run in the 10th inning. On Thursday, Kevin Gausman got rocked in the third inning and the Jays could not recover in a 10-2 loss.
In other news, the Jays announced this week that Hyun Jin Ryu will miss the rest of the regular season to have surgery on his elbow. GM Ross Atkins may be forced to take to the trade market to acquire pitching help sooner than planned.
The Jays were due to begin a three-game measuring stick home series against the New York Yankees on Friday. Heading into the series, the Yankees were holding first place in the American League East, with the Jays chasing them from second place.