With round one just two victors shy from being complete, some interesting developments are starting to unfold. Here’s a look at some topics of discussion that are bound to heat up as the first round nears completion, starting in the West.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Nashville Predators
There is no way anybody had the Wings pegged as the first team to pack up their bags this post season. Granted the Predators have arguably the best goaltender, Pekka Rinne, as well as the league’s top defensive pairing in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Even still, Detroit has been the most consistently competitive team over the past 15 years winning four Stanley Cups in that span. Over the same period they have finished the season with 100+ points 13 times, earning four Presidents’ Trophies and entering the playoffs as Western Conference champions five times.
All that being said, has the time come for the Wings to pass the torch. With Nicklas Lidstrom – the best defenseman since Bobby Orr – facing possible retirement along with fellow countryman Tomas Holmstrom, there will be holes to fill.
Sure, they still have the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and company but without many prospects ready to make the jump to the NHL and an almost irreplaceable d-man leaving a gap on the blue line it may be open season for Western teams to take control of a conference that has belonged to Detroit for so long.
Of course if Detroit somehow manages to sign Suter or Weber this off season then they may just hold on a bit longer.
San Jose vs. St. Louis
After yet another early exit from the playoffs, is it time for the Shark to finally just blow things up and start from scratch?
San Jose managed only eight goals in the five games it took the Blues to knock them off. Joe Thornton and Martin Havlat had two goals apiece to lead the team. Despite having a stacked offense including Thornton, Havlat, Ryan Clowe, Logan Couture as well as Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau (who both failed to register any points against the Blues) the Sharks were unable to put up much of a postseason fight against St. Louis.
One could argue that St. Louis’ impressive defensive play in front of stellar goaltender Brian Elliot is responsible for San Jose’s early ousting. Sure, St. Louis deserves credit but San Jose has been too good for too long not to have had more postseason success.
Clearly the current core of players are not getting the results the fans and management have been so patiently waited for, and it would be surprising if the Sharks’ brass doesn’t decide during the off season to just clean house and start over.
Vancouver Canucks vs. Los Angeles Kings
Has Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault’s leash run out of rope?
Since replacing Marc Crawford behind the bench in Vancouver at the beginning of the 2006-07 season, Vigneault has won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach, led the Canucks to two Presidents’ Trophies and came within one win of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Despite the impressive resumé, Vigneault has not yet brought the most coveted hardware in sports to Vancouver and although he has received votes of confidence from his players and GM Mike Gillis, there are many who believe he may be on his way out.
If that’s the case, what are the chances he returns to Montreal, the city who not only launched Vigneault’s NHL coaching career, but is currently in search of an experienced, bilingual coach?
Another question coming out of the six game defeat at the hands of the Kings concerns goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Luongo has been under the spotlight in Vancouver for years now and although he is hardly to blame for this year’s early exit, the emergence of Cory Schneider as a competent number one goalie has all but guaranteed Luongo’s departure.
Look to the Tampa Bay Lightning to show high interest in Bobby Lu.
Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks
This series didn’t really provide any big questions other than one that may be going through the minds of the Blackhawks; Is Mike Smith for real?
Smith posted a 1.81 sv% and a .950 GAA in the six games against Chicago including a shutout in the series clinching win where the Hawks outshot the Coyotes 33-11.
There is no denying that Smith is the reason the Coyotes have moved on to the second round for the first time in 16 years.