Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-12-2017
With the Stanley Cup finished and Buffalo GM Jason Botterill back from Pittsburgh after celebrating with the Penguins team he helped build, time is short. Botterill has a lot on major issues on his docket that will need to be addressed including:
**Hiring a head coach for the Sabres--Buffalo was waiting for the end of the Cup to be able to interview Pittsburgh assistants Rick Tocchet and Jacques Martin as well as Nashville assistant coach Phil Housley who's considered the front-runner to be the Sabres next head coach. That decision should be in by the end of the week.
**Expansion Draft--Teams must submit their protected list for the expansion draft by Saturday at 5 p.m.
Buffalo isn't in a pressing situation like Minnesota where they're bound to lose a key player, but Botterill can use it to rid himself of an undesirable contract. Word on the street is that deals are in place already with the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights and their GM George McPhee has stated that he already had a conversation with Buffalo and that there would be another on. Most feel that McPhee, and the rest of the NHL was waiting for the end of the Cup Finals before getting the ball rolling.
**NHL Entry Draft--The Golden Knights roster will be announced on Wednesday June 21 at the NHL awards ceremony and two days later the show heads to Chicago, IL for the draft June 23, 24. Botterill spent much of his first week in Buffalo getting to know his scouting staff and going over notes in preparation for the NHL Draft.
**July 1 NHL Free Agency begins--It's hard to believe it's less than three weeks away. Although the NHL's salary cap has taken away much of the luster, it's still an opportunity to land a piece to the puzzle without giving up anything to get it. Botterill has stated that revamping the Sabres defense is a top priority and there are names on the UFA list that might be of interest. How much room Botterill has to work with will probably depend upon what happens with the expansion draft.
Those are just the biggies for Botterill and Co. The buyout period begins this week and runs until June 30. The Sabres may be interested in that with names like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges being mentioned. The period for team-elected salary arbitration begins this week with the Sabres having seven arbitration-eligible players. Botterill also needs to find a GM and coach for the Rochester Americans.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Stanley Cup for the fifth time in franchise history and is the first back-to-back Cup champion since the Detroit Red Wings did so in 1997-98. The Pens are also one of only three non-Original Six teams to win back-to-back Cups joining the 1974-75 Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers of the 80's.
Pens captain Sidney Crosby solidified himself as one of the greatest players to play the game as he lead Pittsburgh to their third Stanley Cup with him on board. Crosby received his second Conn Smythe Trophy in a row as playoff MVP joining the Flyers Bernie Parent ('74-75) and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux ('91-92) as the only players to do so since they began awarding the Trophy in 1965.
Crosby's stat-line of accomplishments is pretty damn impressive:
2-Conn Smythe Trophies
2-Hart Trophies (League MVP)
2-Olympic Gold medals
1-World Cup MVP
There's a general consensus that the four greatest NHL players of all time are Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Lemieux and Crosby is approaching that status. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford put him in the top two or three while riding the adrenaline rush of winning the Cup but putting him alongside Maurice "Rocket" Richard in that No. 5-6 conversation is certainly worthy.
And to think, the Penguins tanked for a top-four all-time great in Lemieux and another just outside in Crosby. It brought the city five Stanley Cups, but no one seems to care.
Analytics geeks have to be puzzled as to how a team like the Pens who had middle of the road advanced stats and were outshot an NHL playoff record 17 times in 25 games, won the Cup. Pittsburgh was also without their top defenseman, Kris Letang as well. The Nashville Predators dominated most of the Finals but couldn't come out on top.
A couple of reasons. First off the Penguins have two of the top 101 players in the NHL in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby showed his dominance by taking over the game when necessary scoring eight goals and adding 19 assists while Malkin lead playoff scoring with 10 goals and 18 assists. Both those players make those around them better and were the driving force behind their third Stanley Cup together (Malkin won the Conn Smythe in 2009.)
The Penguins also got some stout goaltending, first by former first-overall pick and Cup Champion Marc-Andre Fleury with closing duties done by rookie goalie Matt Murray. Sure they had some dud games which lead to a fifth-best goals-against average of 2.28 but when it mattered most. MAF blanked the Washington Capitals in Game-7 in the second round while Murray pitched a shutout in the final two Stanley Cup games not allowing Nashville to score a goal over the final 126:52.
Not surprisingly, through all the static of stats permeating the entire season, what it came down to is the best player in the game and great, timely goaltending lead Pittsburgh to another Cup win.
Pierre LeBrun had a good tweet last night noting that the Penguins are the first team with back-to-back wins in the salary cap era, which began with the '05-06 season. "Unreal accomplishment in the parity filled NHL of today."
Unreal accomplishment, no doubt in any league, but parity doesn't seem to include teams built with high draft picks.
The Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks have won six of the last nine Stanley Cups and both teams had multiple top picks during bottoming-out periods. As mentioned, Pittsburgh tanked for Crosby selected first -overall and boasts Fleury (1st-overall) Malkin (2nd.) The Hawks have Patrick Kane (1st) and Jonathan Toews (3rd) with the qualifier that Kane was selected after Chicago jumped from fifth-overall to the top pick via the lottery.
The Los Angeles Kings won two Cups during that same period and with a lineup that had second-overall pick Drew Doughty anchoring their blueline.
Only the 2011 Boston Bruins were able to win the Cup in the past nine years without a home-grown top-overall pick playing a major role for their run.
The moral of the story?
Building through the draft is a good thing but having top picks seems like the best way to rise above parity.