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Neutral Zone Wrap: Get ready for the finals

by | Rotowire.com
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Assuming no one saw this coming. A six seed taking on an eight seed, but it's not as if either finalist finished way behind heading in to the postseason. Let's just call this the usual wackiness that happens this time of the year. For those who don't normally follow hockey, these playoffs have been as easy to predict as guaranteeing which team Rick Nash will end up with this summer. (Spoiler alert: It won't be Columbus).

Congrats to both the Devils and the Kings for reaching hockey's pinnacle. And to that one guy's dog who filled out the only correct playoff bracket on the planet. But enough about fictitious Fantasy glory. Let's see what these two have to do to get a clue. Or win it all. Whatever comes first.

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

New Jersey (No. 6 seed in the East) vs. Los Angeles (No. 8 seed in theWest)

Season series: New Jersey 2-0

Guess Ilya Kovalchuk (now on top in postseason scoring with 18 points) is really worth all that $100 million ... After heating up the first two series, Travis Zajac (10 in 11) fell back to Earth (two in seven)... Paging Patrik Elias (only six, with a lone goal in the Rangers series). Would someone please find out to where he has disappeared? ... Not bad when your fourth line (Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Steve Bernier combining for 19 points) becomes a regular contributor ... Marek Zidlicky (eight, including four on the power-play) may be the blueliner everyone expects to produce but Bryce Salvador not only leads Jersey defensemen in points (11) but can claim the best plus-minus (plus-10) of any Devil...Is there anything Dustin Brown (leads or is tied for first with plus-13, 24 penalty minutes, 49 shots on goal, 67 hits, two short-handed goals) can't do? ... After their adventures in Philly, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (totaling 20, including four power-play goals) have been able to chip in very nicely ... Never really heard much from Trevor Lewis (13 in 72) during the regular season, but way to step it up lately -- especially against Phoenix (four in five) ... Another surprise up front has been rookie Dwight King (four in five), who posted solid numbers in two different leagues (14 in 27 in the NHL and 29 in 50 in the AHL) ... There is life beyond Drew Doughty (10) on defense, although neither Slava Voynov (three) nor Willie Mitchell (two) has regularly found the scoresheet.

Prediction: Both head-to-head meetings (2-1 and 3-0) were way back in October, so you can't really take much from them...The Devils' roster may contain more playoff experience, but there's no discounting how well the Kings have worked as a unit. The two sides have increased momentum as the rounds have progressed, so no advantage there. The city of Los Angeles has been waiting for a local winner since the franchise began 45 years ago (sorry, Anaheim doesn't count), although many residents still think the Kings play out of Sacramento. So, yeah, I'll stick to the boring pick of ... Kings in six.

The Conn Smythe candidates become increasingly obvious at this stage. You could almost swap any of these players at any spot in the following Top 5: 1. Dustin Brown; 2. Jonathan Quick; 3. Martin Brodeur; 4. Ilya Kovalchuk; 5. Adam Henrique. (Henrique may not possess the eye-popping stats (11), but you can't argue with two overtime game-series winning goals.)

Well, it's been an exciting season. But, as you well know, hockey never sleeps. There's the draft next month, but the real excitement begins July 1 when free agent season opens for business. So after the on-ice activity has concluded, sit tight and dream about the players your team will acquire (or jettison). I will return soon. Promise.

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Player News
Zac Dalpe
Sabres Sign Dalpe
Zac Dalpe, C, VAN
12:50 AM
News: The Sabres signed Zac Dalpe to a one-year contract Sunday.
Analysis: Zac Dalpe suited up for 55 games with the Canucks last year, recording four goals, three assists, and a minus-7 rating over that span. He'll mostly provide depth down the middle for the Sabres next season as the franchise looks to rebuild after a dismal 2013-14 campaign.

Patrick Holland
Habs' Holland Working On Strength, Foot Speed
Patrick Holland, RW, MON
7/13/2014
News: Patrick Holland, who took part in Montreal's recently completed development camp, has been working to add strength and foot speed, the Montreal Gazette reports.
Analysis: Patrick Holland scored a couple of goals in the development camp's scrimmage as he looks to alter perceptions following a disappointing season with Hamilton of the American Hockey League. The Canadiens are thin at the right wing position, so Holland, who played five games with the Canadiens early last season, could get a close look in training camp.

Ryan O'Reilly
Avs, O'Reilly: No Contract In Sight
Ryan O'Reilly, C, COL
7/12/2014
News: Ryan O'Reilly and the Avalanche appear destined for arbitration, reports the Denver Post.
Analysis: The two sides haven't had a substantive discussion on a new deal since the Avs filed for arbitration last month. The team made the move to try to save itself some cash, but Ryan O'Reilly and his agent aren't happy. Then again, this same scenario happened the last time they tried to ink a deal. This probably means a short-term deal for the center and then he'll walk away in two years when he is eligible to be a UFA. This could be ugly ... again.

Chad LaRose
LaRose Wants To Return To NHL: Carolina Possible?
Chad LaRose, RW, CAR
7/12/2014
News: Chad LaRose is interested in returning to the NHL after sitting out last season, reports the Raleigh News Observer, and may be signed to a professional tryout by Carolina.
Analysis: "I'd like to talk to him," said general manager Ron Francis. "He took a year off and obviously he'd need to earn his way back. There are some options. We could get him to camp on a tryout. He could start the season in Charlotte (AHL), show that he could still do it." Chad LaRose is a high-energy player whose petulant end to the 2012-13 saw him fail to get a contract from any team for last season. But he seems to have perhaps figured out what he needs to do to continue his career. Unfortunately, his fantasy value will be limited.

Alexander Semin
Canes' Semin (Wrist) "Progressing As Expected"
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
7/12/2014
News: Alexander Semin is "progressing as expected" following wrist surgery, according to Hurricanes' general manager Ron Francis, and is on schedule for the start of training camp.
Analysis: He had 20 goals and 42 points in 65 games last season, but that was a far cry from his best production. And he has never played more than 77 games in any regular season. He'll need better luck to return to the point-per-game plateau, but a healthy wrist to start the season is better than we expected.

Cameron Gaunce
Stars Re-Sign Gaunce
Cameron Gaunce, D, DAL
7/12/2014
News: The Stars signed Cameron Gaunce to a one-year, two-way contract on Friday.
Analysis: The 24-year-old defenseman appeared in nine NHL games last season, totaling nine shots, seven penalty minutes, and a plus-1 rating. He spent most of the season with the AHL Stars where he led the team with a plus-15 rating to go along with three goals and 15 assists through 65 games.

Richard Panik
Lightning Sign Panik To One-Year, Two-Way Contract
Richard Panik, RW, TB
7/12/2014
News: Richard Panik inked a one-year, two-way deal with the Lightning on Friday, Erik Erlendsson of The Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: Richard Panik will rejoin the team that he tallied three goals and 10 assists for last season over 50 games. His level of production dipped from the previous season where he tallied nine points in half the games, but the Lightning likely believe they can get more out of the 23-year-old winger.

David Moss
Coyotes Sign Moss To One-Year Deal
David Moss, RW, PHO
7/12/2014
News: David Moss signed a one-year deal with the Coyotes on Friday, Sarah McLellan of The Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: David Moss had a week to sign with a NHL team after signing with a Swiss team on July 10, and it didn't take long to find one. The 32-year-old winger re-signed with the team he tallied 22 points (eight goals and 14 assists) over 79 games last season.

Jamie Devane
Leafs Ink Devane To Two-Year Contract
Jamie Devane, LW, TOR
7/12/2014
News: Jamie Devane signed a two-year contract with the Maple Leafs on Friday.
Analysis: Jamie Devane played in two games for the Maple Leafs, failing to record a point in either game. The 23-year-old spent a majority of the season with AHL Toronto and tallied four goals and four assists over 55 games while racking up a team-high 146 penalty minutes.

Brian Boyle
Bolts' Boyle Admits Leafs Offered More Money
Brian Boyle, C, TB
7/11/2014
News: Brian Boyle acknowledged he passed up more money from the Maple Leafs to sign his three-year, $6 million deal with the Lightning, reports the Tampa Bay Times.
Analysis: Part of the decision was the raving former -- and now current -- teammate Ryan Callahan had done about the Bolts, and part was the fact that his brand-new wife is from Orlando. But clearly, the Leafs have had yet another snub from an NHLer -- money isn't enough to draw them to the so-called center of the hockey universe. Wow.

 
 
 
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