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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
Evgeny Kuznetsov
Caps' Kuznetsov Seeking Short-Term Extension
Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, WAS
12:48 AM
News: Evgeny Kuznetsov's agent said that his client and the Capitals are exploring a two to three year contract extension, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: Evgeny Kuznetsov remains a restricted free agent and his re-signing is a top priority for general manager Brian MacLellan and the Capitals. After a slow start to his sophomore campaign, Kuznetsov was a mainstay as the team's second-line center by season's end, finishing with 37 points in 80 regular season games, as well as five goals and seven points in 14 playoff games. With outstanding offensive skills, Kuznetsov figures to be a fixture on the Capitals for many years to come, but appears willing to accept a bridge deal rather than sign a long-term extension at this time. Keep an eye on the situation as it unfolds, but all signs point to Kuznetsov staying in DC for now.

Marcus Johansson
Caps' RFA Johansson Files For Salary Arbitration
Marcus Johansson, C, WAS
7/5/2015
News: Marcus Johansson filed for salary arbitration on Sunday, and will have his hearing heard during the arbitration period from July 20th to August 4th, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: If the case goes before the arbiter, Marcus Johansson will take a contract extension with a maximum of two years. While the filing is indicative of disagreement between Johansson's camp and the Capitals about a new contract, there is still a very good chance the two sides will get a deal done before the case is heard. A fixture in the Capitals top-six last season, Johansson has a career-high of 20 goals and 47 points in 82 games. The arrival of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams may complicate Johansson's deployment in next season's lineup, but general manager Brian MacLellan has made it clear he wants to keep Johansson with the team beyond next season. Keep an eye on the situation as it unfolds.

Braden Holtby
Caps' RFA Holtby Files For Salary Arbitration
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
7/5/2015
News: Braden Holtby filed for salary arbitration on Sunday, and will have his hearing heard during the arbitration period from July 20th to August 4th, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: If he goes through arbitration, Braden Holtby will receive a contract with a maximum term of two years, the Capitals choice given that Holtby's camp chose to file for arbitration. An arbitration period certainly imposes a specific timeframe for the Capitals to work out a long-term extension for Holtby, who is coming off a career year in which he posted a 2.22 GAA and .923 save percentage en route to a 41-20-10 record over 73 games during the regular season. Rounding out a season worthy of Vezina consideration (although he was not a finalist for the award), Holtby turned in an outstanding post-season effort cut short by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, but not before winning six games with a 1.71 GAA and .944 save percentage. All signs point to a big pay day for Holtby who has emerged as one of the league's top goaltenders, and while the Capitals are unlikely to let him slip away, there does appear to be some roadblocks in getting a deal done at the moment.

Landon Ferraro
Red Wings Ink Ferraro To One-Year Deal
Landon Ferraro, C, DET
7/5/2015
News: Landon Ferraro signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Red Wings on Sunday, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: Landon Ferraro has appeared in seven games over the last two seasons for the Red Wings as an injury replacement, but has otherwise yet to earn a full-time role at the NHL level. Expect him to again see most of his action this season at AHL Grand Rapids, where he compiled 27 goals and 42 points in 70 games in 2014-15.

Nazem Kadri
Leafs Ink Kadri To One-Year Deal
Nazem Kadri, C, TOR
7/5/2015
News: Nazem Kadri signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs Sunday that will net him $4.1 million, James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail reports.
Analysis: Nazem Kadri skated in 73 games with the Maple Leafs last season, posting 39 points (18 goals, 21 assists) over that span. He'll have a good chance to crack the top six again in 2015-16, but that doesn't mean as much coming from a team that was near the bottom in goals per game played last season.

Jeff Tambellini
Lightning Ink Tambellini to One-Year Deal
Jeff Tambellini, LW, VAN
7/5/2015
News: Jeff Tambellini signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Lightning on Sunday.
Analysis: Jeff Tambellini spent the past five seasons playing in Switzerland, but has decided to attempt a comeback at the age of 31. He's played in 242 career NHL games, tallying 63 points and 27 goals. In his 2010-11 season with the Canucks, Tambellini recorded 113 hits, also posting nine goals and eight assists with the club over 62 games. He'll attempt to make the roster out of training camp, but could end up in the minors if he doesn't make the cut.

Dan Ellis
Ellis Inks Deal With Washington
Dan Ellis, G, WAS
7/4/2015
News: Dan Ellis signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Capitals on Saturday, Alex Prewitt of The Washington Post reports.
Analysis: The 35-year-old will provide Washington with additional goaltender depth at the AHL level, but likely won't get asked to make many NHL starts in 2015-16, as he'll probably slot in as the Caps' fourth string goaltender behind Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer, and Justin Peters. However, Dan Ellis was solid when called upon by the Panthers last season, going 4-3-1 with a 2.35 GAA and a .914 save percentage in eight games with Florida.

Jamie McBain
McBain Re-Signs With Kings
Jamie McBain, D, LA
7/4/2015
News: Jamie McBain re-signed Friday with the Kings on a one-year, two-way contract, Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times reports.
Analysis: With Slava Voynov's status uncertain for 2015-16 following his jailing for domestic violence as well as an Achilles injury, Jamie McBain could have a shot at settling into a regular role on defense for the Kings. He provided better-than-expected results as a fill-in last season when injuries compromised the Kings' depth, contributing three goals and nine points in 26 games while seeing limited ice time.

Derek Smith
FA Smith Heads To Arizona On A Two-Way Deal
Derek Smith, D, ARI
7/4/2015
News: Derek Smith signed Friday with the Coyotes on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: Derek Smith played in Switzerland last season for Zurich, recording five points and four PIM over 25 games. The 30-year-old will function as organizational defensive depth at AHL Portland.

Eric Selleck
Coyotes Re-Sign Selleck
Eric Selleck, LW, ARI
7/4/2015
News: Eric Selleck re-signed Friday with the Coyotes on a one-year, two-way contract.
Analysis: Eric Selleck will more than likely return to AHL Portland this season, after accruing eight goals and 23 points with them over 74 games in 2014-15. The 27-year-old isn't likely to be near the top of the list for the Coyotes as a potential forward call-up.

 
 
 
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