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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
Brett Bellemore
Hurricanes Sign Bellemore To One-Year Deal
Brett Bellemore, D, CAR
7/25/2014
News: Brett Bellemore agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes on Friday, the Hurricanes' Official Site reports.
Analysis: Brett Bellemore played in 64 games for the Hurricanes last season as it was the first time that he spent the entire year in the NHL. He has been able to contribute two goals and eight assists over the stretch of his two-year tenure with Carolina. The defenseman stands to improve on those numbers since he's slowly but surely gaining professional experience.

James Reimer
Leafs Agree To Two-Year Deal With Reimer
James Reimer, G, TOR
7/25/2014
News: James Reimer agreed to a two-year, $4.6 million deal with Toronto on Friday, Toronto Sun writer Rob Longley reports.
Analysis: After posting a 19-8-5 record in 2012 to go along with a GAA of 2.46, James Reimer struggled last year, finishing with a GAA of 3.29 and a record of 12-16-1. The Leafs are banking on him returning to the form he showed in the three years before last, in which case he would be a useful backup to Jonathan Bernier.

Landon Ferraro
Red Wings Ink Ferraro To One-Year Deal
Landon Ferraro, C, DET
7/25/2014
News: Landon Ferraro signed a one-year deal with the Red Wings on Friday.
Analysis: Landon Ferraro inked a two-way contract, meaning he can be assigned to AHL Grand Rapids at will by the Red Wings. He played just four games for Detroit in 2013-14, with the majority of his time coming with Grand Rapids. In the minors, Ferraro was responsible for 31 points (15 goals) over 70 games.

Lars Eller
Eller Signs Four-Year Deal With Habs
Lars Eller, C, MON
7/25/2014
News: Lars Eller signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the Canadiens on Thursday, the Canadian Press reports.
Analysis: The deal will pay Lars Eller $3.5 million each of the next four seasons. Coming off of a relatively average 2013-14 season in which he scored 26 points (12 goals) and recorded a career-worst minus-15 rating, Eller will look to prove he's worthy of the new deal.

Cory Sarich
Sarich Injured In Cycling Accident
Cory Sarich, D, COL
7/24/2014
News: Cory Sarich, who was injured in a cycling accident on Monday, is recovering in a Calgary hospital, TSN.ca reports.
Analysis: The report adds that Cory Sarich, who was hit by a car while training in B.C., was airlifted to a hospital in Calgary and is in stable condition, with non-life-threatening injuries. "It's been a rough couple of days and I'm grateful for the support I've been receiving from the medical team here and from family and friends" said Sarich, via a news release. At this stage, the timetable for the free agent blueliner's recovery is unclear. Sarich spent the 2013-14 season with the Avs, notching 10 points in 54 games.

David Warsofsky
Bruins Ink Warsofsky To One-Year, Two-Way Deal
David Warsofsky, D, BOS
7/24/2014
News: David Warsofsky agreed to a one-year, two-way contract with the Bruins on Thursday.
Analysis: The diminutive blueliner is coming off a productive season at AHL Providence, where he supplied six goals and 26 assists over 56 games, ranking fourth on the team in points. He parlayed that minor league success into his first NHL call-up in December, ultimately finishing with two points in six games. With no present openings on the Bruins' top three pairings, David Warsofsky is likely bound for Providence to start the upcoming season, but should be one of the team's top replacement options should the parent club suffer an injury on defense.

Taylor Pyatt
Ex-Penguin Pyatt Signs With Swiss Club
Taylor Pyatt, LW, PIT
7/24/2014
News: Taylor Pyatt signed a one-year contract with Geneve-Servette of Switzerland on Wednesday, Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Analysis: Taylor Pyatt was only a bit contributor for the Rangers and Penugins last season, totaling five points over 56 NHL games. The former No. 8 overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft will attempt to restore some value overseas before returning stateside, perhaps next season.

Kevin Poulin
Isles, Poulin Reach New Deal
Kevin Poulin, G, NYI
7/24/2014
News: Kevin Poulin and the Islanders came to terms Thursday on a one-year, two-way contract, avoiding arbitration, Sportsnet reports.
Analysis: The offseason additions of Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson probably relegates Kevin Poulin to AHL Bridgeport to open the 2014-15 campaign, but the Islanders still seem bullish on Poulin's long-term potential. Only 23 years old, Poulin could end up pushing Halak for the starting job as soon as next season if he shows some growth in the minors.

Rasmus Rissanen
Rissanen Signs With Hurricanes
Rasmus Rissanen, D, CAR
7/23/2014
News: Rasmus Rissanen has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes, NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The 23-year-old Rasmus Rissanen, who notched 10 points and 91 penalty minutes in 62 games with AHL Charlotte in 2013-14, is in line to reprise his role as an organizational depth blueliner for the Hurricanes.

Andre Benoit
Sabres, Benoit Agree To One-Year Deal
Andre Benoit, D, BUF
7/23/2014
News: Andre Benoit signed a one-year, $800,000 contract with the Sabres on Wednesday, TSN's Aaron Ward reports.
Analysis: Andre Benoit, 30, logged 79 games with the Avalanche last season, accumulating 28 points and 26 PIM. The blue line was a major area of weakness in the Sabres' dismal 2013-14 campaign, and the additions of Benoit, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros over the summer should only improve the team on that side of the ice during the upcoming season. Also expect the 30-year-old to mentor some of Buffalo's top young defensemen, including Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk.

 
 
 
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