In the end, they made it look pretty easy. The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks conquered their opponents, including fatigue, to win the East and West over the weekend. The Calder Cup Western Conference finals, off to a seesawing start, return to Utica for Game 6, in which the Comets have the chance to end the chase with a home win over the Grand Rapids Griffins on Tuesday night.
The Oshawa Generals beat the Kelowna Rockets to the Memorial Cup on Sunday night, and the Allen Americans are down by one to the South Carolina Stingrays but keep the home-ice advantage in Game 2 of their Kelly Cup pursuit.
But that's not what I'm here to talk about.
I'm here to talk about the draft.
The 2015 NHL Combine opens today in Buffalo, which has seen plenty of excitement already in the past few days. A new format and new technologies will share the spotlight with the top prospects, says the league:
Dan Marr, the Director of NHL Central Scouting, said he anticipates having 120 players, 99 North American prospects and 21 from Europe, at the Combine, which will be held at HarborCenter and First Niagara Center.
"The Combine not only is moving to the new HarborCenter but it is also implementing a new format and testing as a result of a Combine review that was conducted with the 30 NHL clubs," Marr said. "The fitness testing will be moved into an arena offering an increased viewing area, better sight lines and live result monitors, allowing for the testing to be captured on video."
"What the players have to keep in mind is that this will be their initial contact with many NHL teams so they have the chance to make that good initial impression," Marr said. "Some kids aren't that comfortable when they're in an interview environment so it's important they be prepared to talk about themselves, which is something they might not be used to doing. The Combine gives the NHL teams a chance to get to know the player away from the rink."
Among the top prospects that will be at the Combine are Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel, the two top North American skaters in Central Scouting's ranking. Additional first-round candidates invited to the Combine are Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin, Erie center Dylan Strome and Kingston Frontenacs left wing Lawson Crouse, who are Nos. 3-5 on Central Scouting's North American skater ranking. Also coming is Finnish right wing Mikko Rantanen of TPS, Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked European skater. There were nine goalies invited to the Combine, topped by the Barrie Colts' Mackenzie Blackwood, No. 1 on Central Scouting's North American goaltender list, and Ilya Samsonov of Magnitogorsk in Russia, No. 1 on the European goaltenders ranking.
It's going to be all Stanley Cup finals all the time for the next few days, so let's talk about a few other things until the deluge begins. But you should know that Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood have had to cancel their concert in Tampa Bay's Amalie Arena because hockey. [SportsNet]
How important are prospects to building a Stanley Cup-winning team? Matt Larkin takes a look at Chicago's success and then wonders why Edmonton is still Edmonton. [THN]
The NHL Competition Committee meets on Thursday, and 3-on-3 overtime is at the top of the agenda:
Mike Heika is ready for the action leading up to free agency: He's doing a series on the Stars' pending UFAs. Shawn Horcoff, Jhonas Enroth and Patrick Eaves are up now, and more are sure to come. [SportsDay DFW]
GQ has done an "NHL Player's Guide to Grooming":
So you have three guesses which Dallas Star appears in it and the first two don't count. For the record, Tyler Seguin says "blah" to face wash and "ahhh" to postseason scruff. (Pro tip: The "Aveda smell" could be a mixture of rosemary and peppermint, or could be something else entirely.) [GQ]
They like Mikes! Or at least two out of three of them. Nashville Predators GM David Poile announced during the Music City Sports Festival that the team has made re-signing Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher an offseason priority. Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson, not so much. [Nashville Predators]
Also at the Festival, the Preds unveiled the 2016 All-Star logo. It's shaped like a guitar pick, which mercifully is the only Music City riff it shoves down our throats:
Icethetics unpacks the symbolism, including the complete and apparently unprecedented absence of the word "Game." [Icethetics]
Connor McDavid has been named the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year. (Bad news travels far and fast, but no news travels at the speed of the internet.) He won two other awards besides, but did leave a few for the likes of Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat (and some guy named Desrosiers). [CHL]
Finally: One last look back at the Ducks-Hawks Series for the Ages. This hero has preserved Andrew Shaw's headbutt no-goal in Vine format, so you can watch it on a glorious 6-seconds-or-less loop from now until the end of time. Chris Sprow, please accept the thanks of a grateful world.