Puck Daddy Bag of Playoff Mail: The Cup Final is here!

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The Stanley Cup Final we all predicted: Capitals vs. <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nhl/teams/vgk" data-ylk="slk:Golden Knights">Golden Knights</a>. (Getty)
The Stanley Cup Final we all predicted: Capitals vs. Golden Knights. (Getty)

The Cup Final is here.

I kind of can’t believe it. Seems like the season, and especially these playoffs, absolutely flew by. But here we are, with only about two weeks of the season, max, still remaining. Game 1 is on Monday! It’s very strange that there are so many days off in the middle, but I guess you gotta do press for big events like this now.

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So with that in mind, here are a bunch of questions about that pending Cup Final.

Let’s go forward together:

Ned asks: “Which would be funnier: Vegas sweeping or Vegas getting swept?”

Absolutely it’s Vegas getting swept. The cottage industry that has cropped up around their ability to win and how they do it and all that stuff has gotten nauseating in its insistency.

So if they sweep, well that’s just in furtherance of all the soothsaying done in recent weeks and months. Not a big deal. They’ve only lost three games in as many rounds. Whatever.

But if they get swept? Just imagine. See them lose Game 1? “Ah, well it happens. They lost Game 1 to Winnipeg too!”

Then Game 2? “It’s not like they haven’t faced adversity before, and this is a team we know can bounce back!”

Then Game 3: “Has the clock finally struck midnight?”

Then Game 4: “It’s very weird that this happened, but I guess we should have all expected them to hit a wall sometime!”

Patrick asks: “What are the odds the extended layoff undoes Fleury’s voodoo mojo and he goes back to his normal ‘just kind of alright’ self?”

I mean, if it happens that he is merely average in this series that will certainly be a good explanation after the fact, but the gap between the Western Conference Final and the Cup Final will actually have been shorter than the one between the first and second rounds.

The Knights closed out the Kings on April 17 and waited until the 26th to smoke San Jose 7-0. They beat Winnipeg on the May 20 and the Cup Final starts the 28th, so what are ya gonna do, right?

The more likely reason Fleury will have returned to the mid-.910s — if he does — is that he’s a goalie of about that quality.

Kyle asks: “David Perron has slowed some in the playoffs. Is this version of him closer to reality or is he really a 60 point player now?”

David Perron’s career high before this season was 57 points in 78 games. This year he scored 66 in 70, with 21 of his 50 (FIFTY!) assists being secondary.

I think you can very easily make the argument that Perron has always been a little undervalued — he’ll routinely produce half a point a game in fairly limited minutes — but his on-ice shooting percentage was 12.9 percent this year, which is a terribly high number and the highest of his career by a good margin.

The fact that he’s not scoring in the playoffs (no goals, but also seven assists in 11 games) tells you he’s been a bit unlucky but also these are his on-ice numbers getting back to normal. Worth noting, though, that a guy with seven points in 11 appearances while only getting 15 minutes a night is: Pretty good!

Sam asks: “Assuming health, which team in the East would have been the least favorable matchup against Vegas this year?”

I’m assuming you meant overall, but the answer is the same as if you’d said, “Eastern Conference Final” only.

You’d have to give it to Tampa, right? Pretty clearly the most talented group in the bunch, pretty deep, elite blue line, not overly reliant on goaltending to get them where they got. They were the best team in the East all season so for them to have gotten as far as they did is by no means a fluke.

Of course, any reasonable person would have said the Jets posed a serious matchup problem for Vegas and they lost in five games, and the worst Caps team in years beat Tampa anyway, so maybe none of this matters.

Tomas asks: “This has been debated ad nauseam in Pittsburgh, but do you think the Pens did the right thing by keeping Murray over Fleury?”

Yeah of course they did. They kept the younger, cheaper goalie who had been, despite injuries, better over the previous two seasons. Should they have let a 23-year-old goalie who won two straight Stanley Cups go for nothing? C’mon.

Now, you can argue whether they needed to sweeten the pot with the Fleury move (they gave Vegas a second-round pick in 2020 to take him and alleviate their cap concerns) but it was the only move they could have reasonably made at the time without having to take a bad contract back, buy him out, or otherwise just carry two starters all year.

Fleury backers in the greater Pittsburgh area won’t agree, but they all have brain worms. Not a big deal to ignore them.

Brad asks: “If/when Seattle gets an expansion team, what level of success can we expect to see after what the VGK have done?”

If you think the NHL is gonna let anything close to this happen again you’re out of your entire mind.

The league, to be fair, is already committed to keeping the same expansion draft rules Vegas got, but teams will almost certainly be a lot smarter about who they expose, who they give no-movement clauses to, and so on. The panic over NMCs started like two years ago when everyone realized what they meant for the expansion draft (Fleury, you’ll recall, had to waive his to even get selected). Another two years of those will only mean more guys will be exposable.

But even still, NHL front offices are getting smarter and that whole thing of “Teams will have to give up No. 6 forwards and No. 4 defenseman” is far more likely to actually happen. You’ll get a couple salary dumps or whatever in there — your James Neals, I guess — but otherwise, yeah there’s no way.

Segs asks: “Could you see the league ever assigning different cap limits to each team in response to players being able to take smaller contracts and walk away with greater net pay in some place?”

Absolutely not.

Quebec famously has very high provincial income taxes. Nevada, Texas, Florida, Tennessee (and soon, Washington) don’t have any state income tax. So say the Habs sign someone for whatever the number is — I don’t know, let’s say it’s a No. 1 defenseman — that they’re allowed to exceed the standard cap, then trade that guy to Nashville.

Does that player’s salary change? Is it adjusted after the fact, reducing Nashville’s incentive to make the trade in the first place?

You just couldn’t do this. It would be logistically impossible.

DMachetto asks: “Unless he absolutely tanks in the final, the Conn Smythe is going to Fleury, right?”

Depending upon how bad that “absolutely tanking” looks — giving up four goals a game or something? — I would probably still give it to him. He’s basically reason Nos. 1-12 Vegas is in the Cup Final and they’re an expansion team and no one thought they’d be here, etc. etc. etc.

Like, this is honestly the best postseason goaltending performance we have seen in the cap era and no one on either team besides him really stands out as having been like The Reason their teams made it.

Let’s put it this way: If I had a vote, Fleury would have to do multiple Matt O’Connor Goals, and really make a meal of it, to not win in a walk.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.

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