Stanley Cup Final presents an unlikely matchup

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Stanley Cup Final presents an unlikely matchup

From Comcast SportsNet
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Roughly two years ago, the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils were the finalists in the free-agent market battle for Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils won the right to keep the high-scoring Russian with a bid of 102 million. Wednesday night, the teams will start fighting for a much bigger prize, the Stanley Cup. In this contest, skill, heart and desire will decide the outcome. Nothing else. And it doesn't matter that the Devils and Kings aren't the two teams most experts expected to be left standing after three rounds of the playoffs. "You hear it every year, but it doesn't get old: Once you make it in, you have a chance to get here," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "I think that's one thing that the prognosticators don't consider. I always put it this way, when the playoffs start, the clocks should be reset. Because everyone's starting over, and all 16 teams have a shot to win it all. "I think both teams would agree with that this year." Led by Kovalchuk and a 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, the Devils are just the second No. 6 seed to reach the finals. The 2004 Calgary Flames, coached by Sutter, were the other. Riding the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, the Kings overcame even bigger obstacles. They are only the second No. 8 seed to make it since the conference-based NHL playoff format was introduced in 1993-94. The Edmonton Oilers were the first in 2006. "It's all about winning here, and eliminating distractions and doing what it takes to be successful," said Brodeur, who led the Devils to Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003. "That's worked for us this year, and really my entire career. For me, to be a part of that is great. To come to the rink every day during my career, knowing we had a chance to win every night is something special. "I've had that my whole career here, and that's been a great ride." While this isn't a glamour series that boasts the likes of a Sidney Crosby, a Steven Stamkos or even a Henrik Lundqvist, it has elements that should help the NHL, and prove entertaining on the ice. To start, this is an East-West series featuring two of the nation's biggest media markets: Los Angeles and the New York metropolitan area. The Kings and Devils also present great story lines. Los Angeles, which heavily courted Kovalchuk in free agency, is making only its second appearance in the Cup finals, having lost in 1993 to Montreal. The Kings are back after a midseason shake-up that saw Sutter replace Terry Murray just before Christmas and a late trade that added skilled scorer Jeff Carter to the lineup. Still, they didn't clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the season. The Kings have been virtually unstoppable since then. They have posted a 12-2 record in the playoffs and knocked off the three top seeds in the Western Conference -- Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix. They have never trailed in a series, winning the first three games in each round. "Everybody's just clicking," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "People are used to playing with their linemates now. The lines have been the same from the last part of the season. D pairings are the same. It's just getting used to them. Everyone is playing with confidence. Once you start clicking like that, pucks start going in the net for you." The Devils' story is just as good. They missed the playoffs last season despite retaining Kovalchuk with a 102 million contract that the league said violated its letter of the law. Few expected them to recover this quickly, especially with Brodeur seemingly on his last legs after a sub-par season, and captain Zach Parise returning from a major knee injury. When top center Travis Zajac blew out an Achilles tendon before training camp, the chances of Devils making the finals seemed slim. Guess again. New Jersey won its final six games in the regular season, rallied from 3-2 deficit in the opening round of the playoffs with two overtime wins against Florida, and then eliminated the Flyers and Rangers, their two biggest rivals, in five and six games, respectively. "Last year was tough," said Kovalchuk, who said there was never a doubt in his mind that he would stay in New Jersey. "But we made sure it paid off. We have a great coaching staff, great players here, great group of guys, very close to each other. I think that makes a big difference." The other thing that should be great is the goaltending. The 26-year-old Quick leads playoff netminders in goals-against average (1.54) and save percentage (.946). He has eight road wins in as many starts, posting a 1.55 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in those games. Brodeur is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner. He has played in 24 career Stanley Cup finals games, posting a 15-9 record with a 1.91 goals-against, losing only a series to Colorado in seven games in 2001. The Montreal native is set to become the fifth goaltender in NHL history and first since Jacques Plante in 1970 to appear in the Stanley Cup finals after his 40th birthday: "Well, everyone knows what he's meant to the league and this team, and where he stands in history," Quick said of the NHL's winningest goaltender. "For me, it's not about me against him. It's about the Kings and the Devils." The Devils and Kings are very similar in their approaches. Both want to establish the forecheck, create pressure and have it lead to offense. The Kings, who posted a 25-13-11 regular-season record after Sutter took over, are definitely a little bigger than the Rangers, and they certainly have more depth. Devils defenseman Peter Harrold played five seasons with the Kings before signing with New Jersey this year. He spent the majority of this season at Albany of the AHL, before being inserted into the Devils' postseason rotation. He said both organizations stress team first. "Everything is about the collective, not the individuals," said Harrold, who says this series will be good for hockey. "It's two really big stages. "That's what you want to grow the game."

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Wizards may not have wiggled way back into NBA draft via trade or buying a pick but had a plan

Wizards may not have wiggled way back into NBA draft via trade or buying a pick but had a plan

The NBA draft came and went without president Ernie Grunfeld taking a player because the Wizards didn't trade in or purchase a pick.

But they were able to sign two undrafted free agents in Devin Robinson and Michael Young who have a legitimate chance to play their way onto the roster when the regular season tips in four months.

Robinson is an athletic, 6-8 forward with a 7-5 wingspan. He can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim with authority though he's thin at 200 pounds. He's not just athletic but NBA athletic and shot 39% from the college three-point range.

Young, a senior, is a 6-9 power foward who averaged 19.6 points at Pittsburgh. Robinson was a junior. 

Why didn't Wizards buy a pick?

Golden State did it for the second year in a row by purchasing No. 38 from the Chicago Bulls. After paying $2.4 million for that spot last year to get Patrick McCaw, it cost them $3.5 million for Jordan Bell. If a team really likes a player but think he's going to be gone and don't have the pick to get him, this is the easiest move to make if you find another team that wants to unload its selection.

They do so for reasons that go beyond cash such as lack of roster spots available because of guaranteed contracts or because they're just not feeling the players who are left to choose from and would rather just take the money than go through a wasted exercise. After trading the No. 52 pick on Wednesday to get backup guard Tim Frazier, the Wizards felt that Robinson and Young were going to go undrafted and could get them without paying for the pick so they stood pat. 

It was a similar tact taken a year ago with Sheldon Mac and Daniel Ochefu who were signed immediately after they went undrafted and stuck in Washington all seaosn.

What if both players pan out and make the roster?

That's not a problem. That's a good thing. Of course, that won't be known for a long time but that would add some intrigue to the bigger picture cause the Wizards are loaded with fowards: Kelly Oubre, Otto Porter, Jason Smith, Markieff Morris, Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough.

And given his size at 6-7, point guard Tomas Satoransky can be (and has) used as one, too, by coach Scott Brooks. It would be a good problem to have because the Wizards would have extra chips to do something in the trade market during an offseason in which they have almost no cap room. Trades would be the most likely route to do anything significant to upgrade. But that's a long ways away as both have to show well at Las Vegas summer league next month and go from there.

What about a shooter behind Bradley Beal?

There currrently isn't one. Mac has a lot to prove but he's more of a scorer than a shooter at this point. The Wizards like to deploy three forwards which is a way to get around it but there's not a true shooting guard in sight. The league is going to a position-less game where teams are tied into playing two guards, two forwards and a center. But there can never been too many shooters regardless of position. 

But if Robinson and Young perform to expectations -- and that's a big if -- they'll be able to address that area. But what was anticipated to be a ho-hum summer league experience just got a lot more interesting. 

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Revisiting the 2012 draft: Caps find value in volume of picks

Revisiting the 2012 draft: Caps find value in volume of picks

Every year as soon as the NHL draft is finished, everyone rushes to give their grades and their thoughts on what happened even though it is impossible to evaluate. Nobody knows how a team really did in a draft until time has passed. Players people project to be stars turn out to be busts while late-round picks end up surprising everybody.

As the Capitals prepare for the 2017 draft which will begin on Friday, let's take a look back five years to see how the 2012 draft panned out for Washington.

Filip Forsberg, forward, selected in the first round, 11th overall

Every Caps fan is of course well aware of the exploits of Forsberg whom the Caps traded for Martin Erat and Michael Latta, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he was a great draft pick. He has developed into one of Nashville's top offensive threats and certainly would be a top-six, probably top line player in Washington.

RELATED: Schmidt in Toronto? New report says Leafs interested

Tom Wilson, forward, selected in the first round, 16th overall

Wilson has not lived up to being the 16th overall pick offensively, but has proven himself to be an NHL player with his strong physical play. He also showed flashes of the potential the team saw in him in the 2017 postseason, especially in the first round against Toronto in which he was phenomenal. What makes him hard to evaluate as a draft pick is how his development was mishandled early in his career. Would he be a better player today if he had been sent back to his junior team in 2013-14 rather than stay in the NHL to play fewer than eight minutes a night? 

Chandler Stephenson, forward, selected in the third round, 77th overall

Stephenson has played in 13 NHL games and is still looking for his first point. This year could be a big year for him, however, as the Caps will be in need of depth forwards and I project he will spend the majority of the hockey season in Washington.

Thomas DiPauli, forward, selected in the fourth round, 100th overall

DiPauli was not signed by the Caps after the four-year deadline and became a free agent. He signed an entry-level deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the summer of 2016, but his first professional season was limited to just 21 games in the AHL due to injury. He has some offensive upside and was a very good college player in Notre Dame. Could he be the next rookie forward to shine with the Penguins?

Austin Wuthrich, forward, selected in the fourth round, 107th overall

After four years at Notre Dame, Wuthrich has spent the past two seasons in the ECHL.

Connor Carrick, defenseman, selected in the fifth round, 137th overall

Carrick was a surprise in training camp in 2013 and started the season with the Caps, playing in three games before being sent down to the AHL. He would be called up in January and stick with the team for the rest of the season. After that season, he struggled to stay in the Caps' lineup and did not play a single NHL game in 2014-15. He was traded to Toronto in 2016 as part of the package that sent Brooks Laich to the Leafs. Since then, he has been a regular in Toronto's lineup, but I have to wonder how much of that is due to a rebuilding defensive core. How big of a role Carrick will continue to have with the Leafs remains to be seen.

Riley Barber, forward, selected in the sixth round, 167th overall

Barber has played in three NHL games, but looks poised to compete for a spot with the Caps this year. His grinding style of play seems best suited for a fourth-line spot which is exactly where the Caps will need him.

Christian Djoos, defenseman, selected in the seventh round, 195th overall

Despite his small size, Djoos has shown he has NHL talent with a breakout year in Hershey last season. His size is the only thing really standing in his way and his chances of making his NHL debut this season got a heck of a lot better with Nate Schmidt leaving for Vegas in the expansion draft. General manager Brian MacLellan's comments seem to indicate both Djoos and Madison Bowey will be relied upon to have big roles next season. If he proves to be a reliable NHL defenseman, Djoos will be considered a late-round steal.

Jaynen Rissling, defenseman, selected in the seventh round, 197th overall

Rissling has spent the majority of his professional career in the ECHL. He played in five games in the AHL in 2014-15, but has not returned to that level since and seems unlikely to do so anytime soon.

Sergei Kostenko, goalie, selected in the seventh round, 203rd overall

Kostenko has played in nine ECHL games. He did not play at all in the 2013-14 season and has been playing in the VHL, Russia's minor league, ever since.

Other takeaways:

This draft reflects the enormity of the task the Caps face this season. Washington's first five picks in 2012 came before their first pick in 2017 (120). You can also see just how difficult it is to find value in the later rounds. All three of the Caps' first three picks have played in the NHL. Of the remaining seven players, only two have any NHL experience. The good news for Washington is that Stepehenson, Barber and Djoos are all likely to take on bigger roles this year.

Draft grade: B-

Amazingly, it still may be too early to fully grade this draft, but that's just the nature of hockey where it takes a great deal of time for most players to develop. What if Djoos turns into a top-four defenseman and Barber and Stephenson both thrive as bottom-six grinders? That would mean the Caps drafted six dependable NHL players. That is an impressive number of finds. One could also reasonably argue that Forsberg is the second best player in the entire draft. Snagging him 11th was a steal, even if he ended up thriving in Nashville rather than Washington. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Caps were no doubt hoping for more offensive production from Wilson when they took him 16th overall. While he may be an important piece in Washington, he has not delivered offensively.

What grade do you give the 2012 draft?

MORE CAPITALS: Mahoney suggests Djoos could compete for roster spot

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