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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
Alex Biega
Biega Signs With Canucks
Alex Biega, D, VAN
7/1/2015
News: The Canucks re-signed Alex Biega on Tuesday, the Province reports.
Analysis: Alex Biega, who notched a goal in seven games with the big club in 2014-15, spent most of the season with AHL Utica, where he recorded 19 points in 62 games. The 27-year-old is thus slated to reprise his role as a depth blueliner for the Canucks' organization.

Drew Stafford
Jets Retain Stafford
Drew Stafford, RW, WPG
7/1/2015
News: Drew Stafford signed a two-year, $8.7 million deal to remain with the Jets on Tuesday, Sportsnet.ca's Elliotte Friedman reports.
Analysis: The 29-year-old Drew Stafford, who was acquired from Buffalo in February, finished up the 2014-15 season with 18 goals and 43 points in 76 games overall, but his production picked up with the Jets (19 points in 26 games), earning him a nice two-year payday with the team in advance of free agency. He'll likely be ticketed for a second- or third-line role this coming season.

Dougie Hamilton
Flames' Hamilton Signs Six-Year Deal
Dougie Hamilton, D, CGY
7/1/2015
News: Dougie Hamilton signed a six-year, $34.5 million deal with the Flames on Tuesday, Yahoo! Sports reports.
Analysis: Dougie Hamilton came over from Boston in a trade last week, and it appears he's viewed as a key part of the Flames' future. The 22-year-old, who showed flashes of promise as a member of the Bruins, notched 42 points in an average of 21:20 of ice time per game last season.

Alex Broadhurst
Blue Jackets Pick Up Broadhurst In Saad Trade
Alex Broadhurst, C, CHI
2:35 PM
News: Alex Broadhurst was acquired Tuesday by the Blue Jackets in the deal that also sent forward Brandon Saad and defenseman Michael Paliotta to Columbus. In return, the Blackhawks will receive forwards Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, and Corey Tropp, along with a 2016 fourth-round draft choice.
Analysis: Saad is the headliner of the deal, but the additions of Alex Broadhurst and Paliotta should help bolster the depth of the Blue Jackets' prospect pool. The 22-year-old Broadhurst tallied six goals and 14 points in 29 games for AHL Rockford last season, and will presumably open the 2015-16 campaign at the Jackets' minor-league affiliate in Columbus. The 5-foot-10 winger is probably still a year or two away from potentially making an impact with the parent club.

Michael Paliotta
Paliotta Traded To Columbus In Massive Deal
Michael Paliotta, D, CHI
2:28 PM
News: Michael Paliotta was acquired by the Blue Jackets on Tuesday along with forwards Brandon Saad and Alex Broadhurst. In return, the Blackhawks received forwards Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, and Corey Tropp, along with a 2016 fourth-round draft choice.
Analysis: Saad, a restricted free agent, was the key to the deal, but Michael Paliotta makes for an attractive throw-in to the deal. The 22-year-old wrapped up his four-year career at the University of Vermont and made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks late in the regular season, recording an assist in his lone game. He'll likely open 2015-16 at AHL Springfield, but he could find himself on the Jackets' second or third defensive pairing before long.

Jeremy Morin
Morin Returns To The Hawks From Jackets
Jeremy Morin, LW, CLB
2:28 PM
News: Jeremy Morin was traded from the Blue Jackets to the Blackhawks along with three players for Brandon Saad, WGN Radio in Chicago reports.
Analysis: Jeremy Morin, 24, collected six points (two goals, four assists) in 43 games between Columbus and Chicago last season. He was acquired by the Blue Jackets from the Hawks via a trade on Dec. 14 in exchange for defenseman Tim Erixon. Morin has 22 points (10 goals and 12 assists) in 82 career NHL games.

Brandon Saad
Blackhawks Trade Saad To Jackets
Brandon Saad, LW, CHI
2:15 PM
News: Brandon Saad was traded to the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, TSN's Bob McKenzie reports. The Blackhawks will receive forwards Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, and Corey Tropp along with a 2016 fourth-round draft choice in the deal, while the Blue Jackets will pick up forward Alex Broadhurst and defenseman Michael Paliotta in addition to Saad.
Analysis: The Blackhawks experienced some traction in their initial extension talks with Brandon Saad, but the two sides were eventually expected to reach an agreement on a new deal. However, with the prospect of another team submitting a huge offer sheet to Saad -- a restricted free agent -- becoming a looming issue, the Blackhawks decided to try to get something back in return for the forward rather than lose him outright. After scoring 23 goals and 52 points in the regular season and submitting a strong playoff performance as the Blackhawks claimed the Stanley Cup, Saad was expected to assume an even greater role in 2015-16, but his circumstances shouldn't change too dramatically with his new team. Though he won't have the luxury of potentially playing alongside Jonathan Toews, Ryan Johansen is one of the league's top up-and-coming centers, and could help Saad elevate his game to new heights.

Shea Weber
Preds' Weber Progressing Well
Shea Weber, D, NSH
2:05 PM
News: Predators GM David Poile said Shea Weber is progressing well in his recovery from a dislocated kneecap.
Analysis: Poile suggested that Shea Weber is about "90 percent" healthy, putting the defenseman on track to be back at full strength by the start of training camp. The knee injury limited Weber's prevented him from suiting up during much of the Preds' opening-round playoff series against the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Blackhawks, putting a damper on another strong season for the blueliner. He finished the campaign with 15 goals, 45 points, and a plus-15 rating over 78 games.

Austin Watson
Preds' Watson A Candidate To Make Squad
Austin Watson, LW, NSH
2:01 PM
News: GM David Poile said Tuesday that he's "very confident" that Austin Watson will make the Predators out of training camp.
Analysis: Austin Watson hasn't appeared in a game for the Predators since the lockout year of 2012-13, but after back-to-back 40-plus point campaigns at AHL Milwaukee, it appears the team is preparing to clear a spot for him. The 23-year-old should benefit from the expected departures of forwards Matt Cullen and Mike Santorelli in free agency, as it's unclear if the Predators will look to replace them with veteran players. Even if Watson cracks the squad, he seems unlikely to win a top-six role off the bat, which might make it difficult him to attain much fantasy relevance.

Magnus Hellberg
Preds Looking To Trade Hellberg
Magnus Hellberg, G, NSH
1:39 PM
News: Predators GM David Poile admitted Tuesday that the team is looking to trade Magnus Hellberg this summer, Adam Vingan of The Tennessean reports.
Analysis: With Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton under contract for 2015-16 and the Predators comfortable with the duo of Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros at the AHL level, the organization has no incentive to keep carrying Magnus Hellberg. At 24 years old and coming off a season in which he posted a respectable 2.33 GAA and .913 save percentage in 38 appearances with AHL Milwaukee, Hellberg could warrant interest from another team looking for goalie depth in the minor-league ranks.

 
 
 
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