Some intriguing developments from around the NHL, so as the puck gets ready to drop for the Final, let's take a spin around the league:
Thunder & Lightning
Although a Tampa Bay - Chicago final does not have the media zip that a Rangers - Blackhawks series would have had, I personally think this is going to be one of the more entertaining series in recent memory. Chicago has thrived on the resurgence of Patrick Kane, the talent of Jonathan Toews, and the experience of guys like Marion Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Tampa's Steven Stamkos found his game just in time. Tyler Johnson is merely leading the playoffs in scoring, and the ongoing contributions of Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Victor Hedman have enabled the Lightning to play a variety of styles on the way to the Finals.
This series could be a track meet, but if Tampa brings out its swarming defensive presence, we could be in store for another series of 2 - 1 games. Anaheim showed that aggressive defense can give Toews some difficulty, and Tampa's defense is much quicker than Anaheim's. Despite lofty predictions to the contrary, the Ducks' physical play did not wear down the Blackhawks' blue line, and it was Anaheim that looked slow and beaten in Game 7 of that series. However, if Tampa plays the speed game and makes this series a skating contest, it might be a different story.
In the final analysis, this one is probably decided by which goalie does the better job. Both Corey Crawford and Ben Bishop have had moments of brilliance . . . and moments of questionable play. Bishop has the statistical edge, with a 2.15 GAA vs. 2.56 for Crawford, but the game is played on ice, not paper, and this is the biggest stage of all in the NHL. Experience matters, and the Blackhawks have a huge advantage there.
This one is too close to call, but my pre-playoffs picks were Chicago and Washington in the Final, with the Capitals winning the Cup. Since they choked it away, I'm going to stick with the East and pick the Lightning in 7. I think their distributed offense, tenacious defense and home ice advantage will overcome any jitters.
Dispatching the Newspaper
Word came today that after 110 years, the Wolfe family has entered into an agreement to sell its print publication interests to New York based New Media Investment Group. The family will retain its broadcast holdings, including ownership of AM 1460/FM 97.1 The Fan, so no changes are expected with respect to the flagship stations. It is unclear if or how the Wolfes' interest in the Blue Jackets would be impacted. Given their continued presence in the community, it seems more than likely that the minority iinterest in the COLHOC Limited Partnership was preserved.
Not a huge deal, but for the first time the primary print coverage of the Blue Jackets will not be under the Wolfe umbrella. It will be intriguing to see what changes, if any, emerge in terms of the scope, quality and tone of the paper's hockey material.
Cashing the Golden Penguin
TSN's Bob MacKenzie (who else?) broke the story that PIttsburgh Penguins' legend/savior Mario Lemieux and investor/partner Ron Burkle have retained Morgan Stanley to assist them in exploring a sale of the franchise, which the pair famously rescued from bankruptcy in 1999. Several fortuitous draft picks, a shiny new arena and a Stanley Cup later, it's time to cash out. Lemieux's investment consisted primarily of salary due that was converted to equity, while Burkle reportedly added a $20 million investment, though specific numbers are not known. Regardless, with an estimated sales price near $600 million, neither guy will be in any financial distress. Lemieux was quoted as saying he expects to have "some role" with the club going forward, but only time will tell.
The Coaching Carousel
While prevailing wisdom seems to have Claude Julien returning as head coach in Boston, his assistants might not be so fortunate. If true, this is is amost worse than just getting rid of Julien outright. Instead, Julien would be forced into an awkward lame duck posture with a brand new staff -- not a recipe for success. However, the notoriously stingy Bruins ownership, who have been accused of "tossing nickels around like they were manhole covers", are loathe to pay for coaching services they do not receive. It's getting a bit late in the game, so it may be status quo in Boston, but rumors abound.
In the even that Julien is given his walking papers, the rumor mill finds a potential landing spot in Anaheim, where coach Bruce Boudreau is allegedly on the hot seat. It seems unthinkable, given that the Ducks made it to the Western Conference Finals, but Boudreau has a contentious relationship with Ducks' GM Bob Murray, and close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Keep an eye on this one.
Meanwhile, On the Home Front . . .
In a move that is disappointing, if not surprising, prospect Mike Reilly has been released to negotiated with any team he wants to talk to, per Blue Jackets' GM Jarmo Kekäläinen. The issue is not money, as Reilly would be limited to an ELC anywhere he plays. Instead, he is apparently looking for a "better fit" -- translated as immediate playing time on an NHL roster. I wonder if Reilly has such modern conveniences as the internet, television or radio at his disposal. If he did, he would have known that Columbus is a great situation for youngsters, especially on the blue line. Frankly, I don't think the club needs or wants that kind of attitude. He didn't exactly blow the fenders off the competition at the World Championships, so he may be a legend in his own mind.
Finally, in case you missed it, The Cannon has commissioned some limited edition T-shirts, commemorating Nick Foligno's captaincy. Proceeds from the sale of these shirts will be donated to the Janis Foligno Foundation. Details and pictures can be found in Matt Wagner's piece from this morning.
Enjoy the greatest championship series in sports. Stay tuned.