Stanley Cup champion Mike Rupp thinks to have a successful season, you have to “almost be miserable” beforehand.
The veteran of 610 games and current NHL Network analyst said he thinks teams need something that motivates them during the offseason to make a deep run. So it’s no surprise his on-air Stanley Cup Final prediction was the Tampa Bay Lightning versus the Golden Knights. He picked the Lightning to win.
“You have to be unsettled in the summer,” Rupp said. “You can’t go into a summer as an NHL player thinking you’ve accomplished anything. Even if you won the Cup, you still have to find a way to manufacture something that you’re not happy about.”
The Lightning and Knights have plenty to be unhappy about. Tampa Bay finished 62-16-4 last season, tying a record for most wins, and did well at the NHL Awards. Right wing Nikita Kucherov won the Hart Trophy (MVP), and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy (best goalie).
But that success didn’t translate to the postseason. The Lightning were swept in four games by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round.
“That’s one of the best teams we’ve seen in modern hockey,” Rupp said. “That team is ticked off.”
The Knights also have reason to be angry after a controversial major penalty on center Cody Eakin in Game 7 of their first-round series led to a San Jose Sharks comeback. Rupp’s words seem to apply perfectly to how the team attacked the offseason.
“We definitely have a chip on our shoulder from the way things ended last year,” left wing Max Pacioretty said at the beginning of training camp. “Everyone showed up in much better shape than even last year.”
Of course, the Lightning and Knights aren’t the only teams with motivation. The Toronto Maple Leafs have a core of highly paid youngsters, but their season ended in the first round for the third straight year. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals lost in the first round for the first time since 2015 and 2013, respectively.
The Boston Bruins lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Everyone except the defending champion St. Louis Blues should enter the season hungry, but Rupp thinks the Knights and Lightning also have the talent to turn that desire into success.
“Motivation is huge,” Rupp said. “I think it’s going to happen here in Vegas. I think it’s going to happen in Tampa.”
Player, puck tracking update
The NHL’s player and puck tracking technology — expected to be used for broadcasts, virtual/augmented reality experiences and, of course, sports betting — should be in place at all 31 arenas by the start of the 2020 playoffs, a league spokesperson said.
The tech, which involves sensors being placed in shoulder pads and pucks, was tested at Knights’ games Jan. 8 and 10.
Knights TV analyst Mike McKenna had an interesting Twitter thread Friday explaining why early NHL scores are often high. Teams were averaging three goals per game in the first two days, the second most since 2005-06.
McKenna said with how fast and focused on puck possession the league is now, more teams are playing man-to-man defense. That can lead to breakdowns and miscommunication.
“It takes a few weeks for the training camp dust to settle and chemistry to kick in,” McKenna tweeted. “Also the lack of video pre-scout backlog can make for chaotic games. If your team allowed 5 last night, don’t freak out.”
RJ’s best and worst
Review-Journal hockey writer Ben Gotz gives his best and worst NHL teams each week.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
They might not reach 62 wins again, but they’re loaded.
2. Boston Bruins
This team still has the best line in hockey (Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak) and essentially no weakness.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
They could score 300 goals this season. But how many will they give up?
4. Nashville Predators
Center Matt Duchene and right wing Mikael Granlund look poised to give this team secondary scoring.
5. Golden Knights
NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp believes the depth of two-way forwards they have makes them extremely difficult to play against.
27. Buffalo Sabres
There’s some young pieces in place. But it’s hard to get excited about goaltender Carter Hutton.
28. Edmonton Oilers
This team has a great center trio in Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The wingers? Yikes.
29. Detroit Red Wings
New general manager Steve Yzerman should get a long leash to build them back into a Stanley Cup contender.
30. Los Angeles Kings
This team has a nice prospect pool. It just has to wait for the youngsters to arrive.
31. Ottawa Senators
They will get to keep their first-round pick this summer after owing last year’s to Colorado. They need it.