The Stanley Cup Final is nearly here. As we all expected, it will be the Florida Panthers who snuck into the playoffs in the last week of the regular season taking on the Pacific Division’s top seed the Vegas Golden Knights. I’ll have a preview and predictions on that later in the week. But outside the Cup Final, there’s a lot going on around the NHL.
Two of the NHL’s most intriguing jobs are on the verge of being filled. The Conn Smythe trophy is still completely up for grabs. The NHL Draft is just around the corner (if you didn’t know, the Blackhawks will be taking Connor Bedard). Let’s catch up with everything going on around the NHL.
Brad Treliving Named New Leafs GM
After the rumor swirling for a few days, the Maple Leafs officially have their new General Manager. Toronto named former Flames GM Brad Treliving as their new General Manager this morning. Treliving and the Flames mutually parted ways in April after Calgary missed the postseason. He had been in charge there since 2014 with mixed results.
In 2022, Calgary won the Pacific Division but lost to Edmonton in the 2nd Round of the playoffs. That offseason, Treliving lost Johnny Gaudreau to free agency and traded Matthew Tkachuk to Florida after Tkachuk indicated he wouldn’t sign a long-term extension with the Flames. Treliving got a decent return back for Tkachuk in Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. But the extension of Darryl Sutter to lead the group proved to be the wrong call. The new core butted heads with Sutter and the match clearly didn’t work. The Flames fired Sutter after parting ways with Treliving.
Treliving inherits a fascinating situation in Toronto. On paper, it’s one of the most talented rosters in hockey. It just can’t get over the hump in the playoffs. The Leafs currently have three players making $10+ million – Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner. Matthews is a free agent at the end of this season, as is William Nylander who tied for the team lead with 40 goals. Nylander will be due for a massive raise next off-season.
Should he shake things up and move a piece of the core? In my opinion, you have to explore moving one of Matthews or Nylander. There’s next to no chance you can bring them both back next year, and you can’t lose one (or both) for nothing. This core hasn’t gotten the job done, or even come close in the postseason. Dropping one of the bigger cap hits and spreading that money across the rest of the roster could help create a more playoff-ready squad.
No matter what route Treliving takes this offseason, 2023-24 will be a massive year in Toronto.
Conn Smythe Watch
As mentioned, it’s the Panthers and Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams have some worthy Conn Smythe Trophy candidates. According to Caesars Sportsbook, here are your current favorites to be the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
If the Panthers win, it’s pretty clearly narrowed down to the two favorites. Sergei Bobrovsky and Matthew Tkachuk have separated themselves from the pack. Florida has played great team hockey and has been very tough to play against. That said, Bobrovsky’s stellar play in net and Tkachuk’s timely goals have made massive impacts. After a tough regular season, Bobrovsky is 11-2 with a 2.21 GAA and a .935 save percentage in the postseason. Tkachuk has 21 points including nine goals in 16 playoff games. Four of his goals have been game-winners.
If Vegas ends up winning the Cup, the answer is a little less clear. Several Golden Knights have had strong postseasons as you can see from the relatively close odds. However, if Jack Eichel doesn’t go silent in this series, I think the award is his to lose. Vegas has been close to a Cup a few times before, they’ve fallen short every time. Largely that has been due to the lack of a true superstar.
As great of a two-way player as Mark Stone is, Jack Eichel has emerged as the offensive star Vegas has been missing. In his first-career postseason, the former Sabre has 18 points in 17 games. He’s chipped in with five points on the power play including three power play goals. If Vegas is able to lift the Cup in a few weeks, it’s because Eichel has been the missing piece this very talented roster had been in search of for years.
Is Kyle Dubas Heading To Pittsburgh?
That seems to be the million-dollar question. We know after being let go by the Maple Leafs that Kyle Dubas has had meetings and interviews with Pittsburgh regarding their GM vacancy. What we don’t know is whether or not Dubas wants the job. Leading up to his dismissal from Toronto, Dubas was adamant that he wouldn’t work anywhere other than Toronto next season. He contradicted those words though at least a little bit by meeting with the Penguins about their opening.
A decision was expected by the end of Memorial Day weekend. That deadline came and went with nothing being announced. It would seem that the ball is firmly in Kyle Dubas’ court, but the Penguins are running out of time in terms of off-season decisions to be made.
With an aging core and the NHL Draft fast approaching, Pittsburgh needs to make a decision soon. Should Kyle Dubas want the Pittsburgh job? The Penguins roster is getting old, and as good as Sidney Crosby still is the cracks began to show with the rest of the flawed group this season as they missed the playoffs. Should he take the Pittsburgh job or take some time off and likely have his pick of jobs next offseason? It’s an interesting situation to watch that should come to a conclusion soon.