There are 24 teams with a chance to win the Stanley Cup in a tournament that begins Saturday. That means there are, at minimum, 24 players with a chance to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is given to player voted most valuable for his team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here is one contender from each team:
Boston Bruins: Tuukka Rask, goalie
The Bruins were the best team in the NHL this season (44-14-12, 100 points) largely because of Rask, who was first in save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (2.12) among goalies who appeared in at least 35 games. He was 26-8-6 in 41 appearances, all starts. He is 50-39 with seven shutouts, a .927 save percentage and 2.19 GAA in 89 playoff games.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy, goalie
The Lightning will run into opponents that will be able to limit their high-powered offense. That’s what makes Vasilevskiy so important to their success. He led the League this season with 35 wins and finished with a .917 save percentage and 2.56 GAA. When the Lightning reached the Eastern Conference Final in 2018, losing in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals, Vasilevskiy started every game and had a 2.58 GAA and .918 save percentage.
Washington Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom, center
Backstrom is as important to the Capitals as left wing Alex Ovechkin because he’s often the one setting Ovechkin up for his shot. Backstrom has been one of the League’s dominant two-way centers for years. He had 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) this season and has 106 points (36 goals, 70 assists) in 123 career playoff games.
Philadelphia Flyers: Sean Couturier, center
Couturier is arguably the Flyers’ most important skater because of his two-way game. He’s a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward. He scored 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists) in 69 games. He led the NHL in face-off winning percentage (59.6 percent) among players who took at least 500 face-offs. He won 59.5 percent of his draws in the defensive zone. He also had a 56.1 shot-attempts percentage and plus-21 rating. He had nine points (five goals, four assists) in five playoff games in 2018.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin, center
Malkin, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2009, had what by all accounts was an excellent training camp in advance of Phase 4. He’ll try to build on a strong regular season, when he had 74 points (25 goals, 49 assists) in 55 games, two more points than he had last season in 13 fewer games.
Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho, center
The Hurricanes’ strength is in their defensive game, but Aho is a huge part of making that work because he’s one of their most effective two-way centers and penalty killers. He’s also their leading scorer after finishing this season with 66 points, including a career-high 38 goals.
New York Islanders: Mathew Barzal, center
Similar to the Hurricanes, the Islanders’ strength is in keeping the puck out of their net. But to advance deep in the postseason, they’re going to need production from their best offensive player. Barzal led the Islanders with 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Frederik Andersen, goalie
The Maple Leafs are much like the Lightning in that their high-powered offense might be able to carry them at times, but they won’t go anywhere without elite goaltending. Andersen was 29-13-7 with a 2.85 GAA and .909 save percentage in 52 appearances, all starts, this season. Toronto was 7-12-2 and allowed 3.89 goals per game when Andersen didn’t play.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Seth Jones, defenseman
Jones has to play 25-plus minutes and be a force on both ends of the ice for the Blue Jackets to have a chance against Toronto in the Qualifying Round. If Columbus goes on a run this postseason, it will be on the backs of players like Jones, who had 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 56 games this season before breaking his ankle on Feb. 8.
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov, center
Barkov is in the same mold as Couturier, Backstrom and Aho in that he’s the most important two-way player on his team. He had 62 points (20 goals, 42 assists) in 66 games this season, playing 20:01 per game and winning 54.3 percent of his face-offs.
New York Rangers: Mika Zibanejad, center
Zibanejad was the hottest player in the League when the season was paused on March 12, leading the League with 23 goals and 36 points in 22 games from Jan. 31-March 11. He plays in all situations and will have to pick up where he left off for the Rangers to have a chance at going on a playoff run.
Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price, goalie
The Canadiens will go as Price goes and hope that it’s enough. If he plays well, they’ll have a chance to defeat the Penguins in the qualifying round and go on a run after that. Price was 27-25-6 with a .909 save percentage and 2.79 GAA this season.
St. Louis Blues: Jordan Binnington, goalie
Binnington was among the top candidates to win the Conn Smythe Trophy last season, when the Blues won the Stanley Cup; he had a 2.46 GAA and .914 save percentage in 26 starts (16-10). Blues center Ryan O’Reilly won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Binnington followed his playoff heroics this season by going 30-13-7 with a 2.56 GAA and .912 save percentage.
Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon, center
If MacKinnon is scoring, the Avalanche are typically winning. He’s a finalist for the Hart Trophy after finishing the regular season with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games. He scored at least one point in 53 games. The Avalanche went 34-12-7 when he had at least one point, but were 7-8-1 when he didn’t.
Vegas Golden Knights: Mark Stone, right wing
Stone is arguably the NHL’s best and most versatile two-way wing. He scores because he’s a part of the offense and he creates his own with his defense. Stone had 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists) in 65 games. He was also tied for second in the League in takeaways (78) and alone in second in takeaways per 60 minutes (3.70) among players who appeared in at least 15 games.
Dallas Stars: Ben Bishop, goalie
The Stars are a defensive-oriented team that relies on Bishop to keep the scores low. That makes him a prime Conn Smythe Trophy candidate if Dallas is able to go on a run. Bishop was 21-16-4 with a .920 save percentage and 2.50 GAA this season. The Stars led the Western Conference and were second in the League in goals-against per game (2.52).
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid, center
McDavid had 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games. His teammate, center Leon Draisaitl, led the League with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games and could easily be Edmonton’s Conn Smythe Trophy favorite too. But McDavid is still the most feared player in the game and the one who leads the Oilers.
Nashville Predators: Roman Josi, defenseman
Josi has to play a shutdown role and an offensive role for the Predators to have success; he did each so well this season that he’s a Norris Trophy finalist. He led Nashville and was second among all defenseman with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in 69 games. He averaged 25:47 of ice time per game, the most of any skater on the 24 teams competing for the Cup.
Vancouver Canucks: Jacob Markstrom, goalie
The Canucks can score and play with pace, but they won’t go anywhere if Markstrom is just ordinary. He was 23-16-4 with a .918 save percentage and 2.75 GAA. The Canucks allowed 33.3 shots on goal per game, fourth most in the League.
Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau, left wing
Gaudreau’s production was down this season from last season. He averaged 0.83 points per game (58 points; 18 goals, 40 assists in 70 games) after averaging 1.21 points per game last season (99 points; 36 goals, 63 assists in 82 games). Of all the Flames players, though, Gaudreau is the one most likely to get hot enough to carry the team.
Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck, goalie
Hellebuyck was arguably the best goalie in the League this season, and even with the Jets’ ability to score in bunches, he’ll have to be their difference maker in the playoffs. Hellebuyck had a .922 save percentage, fifth among goalies who appeared in at least 30 games, despite facing the most shots in the League (1,796). The four goalies ahead of him in save percentage averaged 938 shots against.
Minnesota Wild: Ryan Suter, defenseman
Suter is the definition of minute-muncher (24:38 per game this season) whose overall play makes a difference. He won’t wow anyone with offensive numbers, though he was ninth among all defenseman with 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) this season. It’s his overall game — playing in a shutdown role against top lines and playing in all situations, including power play and penalty kill — that make him the Wild’s most impactful player.
Arizona Coyotes: Darcy Kuemper, goalie
Of the 14 teams this season that averaged fewer than 3.00 goals per game, the Coyotes and Stars were the only two that scored more than they gave up (2.71-2.61). The big reason was goaltending, especially when Kuemper was playing. He was limited to 29 starts because of injury, but he had a .928 save percentage and 2.22 GAA. The Coyotes were 16-11-2 in his starts.
Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane, right wing
Kane, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2013, had 84 points (33 goals, 51 assists) in 70 games this season. If the Blackhawks are going to go on a run, Kane will likely be their leading scorer, with several multipoint games.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)