Wednesday night marks the beginning of the Stanley Cup Final in the National Hockey League, and once again the Michigan State Spartans will be represented. In fact, Duncan Keith will be the only player on either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Chicago Blackhawks with B1G ties. The Spartans also have been making news in contract talks, and played a role in the East Coast Hockey League playoffs.
Duncan Keith is having one hell of a postseason with the Chicago Blackhawks. Keith has 18 points in 17 games to lead all NHL defensemen in the post-season. He also has been garnering a lot of talk as a possible Conn Smythe Trophy candidate, the award given out to the NHL's MVP of the playoffs. The departure of defensemen Josh Jacobsthis week to the OHL has had me pondering how we as Michigan State fans should view players like Keith and Jacobs?
Jacobs left in the summer between his freshman and sophomore season to sign with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. Keith had a similar time with the Spartans, but actually left during his sophomore campaign before the Great Lakes Invitational, to sign with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. Only time will tell how this works out for Jacobs, a 2nd round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2014, but things have obviously gone great for Keith. He left Michigan State with 24 points in 56 games played, and then registered 58 points in 56 games with Kelowna between the regular and post-season. He got to play on a roster that featured future stud defensemen Shea Weber, and Keith made the jump to the AHL the next season with Norfolk out of training camp.
My conundrum is this, how do we as fans treat players who leave the program early? Now I know with basketball, and football there is no real issue with professional success instantly looking good for the Spartans. In hockey when a player makes a direct jump to the pros (a la Torey Krug) it also can look great. However, when a player leaves for Canadian Major Junior hockey does that same credit get back to Michigan State? Pierre McGuire may instead reference Keith as a Kelowna Rockets' product on the NBC broadcast rather than focusing on his time at Michigan State. Since there is not much in the way of news regarding Spartans still playing hockey I thought I would include a poll asking how you guys feel about including players such as Jacobs, and Keith as MSU players in the NHL, and be sure to share your thoughts in the comments.
Also, in NHL news former Spartan Jeff Petry enjoyed his time in Montreal after being acquired from Edmonton at the trade deadline, he enjoyed it so much that on Tuesday he agreed to a contract extension for 6 years, and $33 million. Petry found a home on the Montreal blue line and worked well as a second pairing defensemen. The 27 year old registered 7 points in 19 regular season contests with the Habs, and registered his first 3 playoff points in 12 games.
Chris Mueller was the only Spartan still playing the AHL Conference Finals. His Hartford Wolfpack were dispatched in four games by the Manchester Monarchs ending their season. Mueller was 4th on the team in points during the playoffs, registering nine points in 15 games. Mueller signed a one-year two-way deal with the New York Rangers last summer, so he is now an unrestricted free agent. Mueller's wife is pregnant with their first child which means he may look to stay in North America rather than head to Europe for a bigger payday.
If Mueller stays in North America he will likely try to go to a team with a less stocked roster to give himself a shot at the NHL level perhaps. Mueller has played 53 NHL games between stints with Nashville, New York, and Dallas.
Andrew Rowe and the South Carolina Stingrays defeated Jeff Lerg and the Toledo Walleye in an epic 7 game series to decide the Eastern Conference Finals of the ECHL. The series clinching win for South Carolina came in a 1-0 game that was decided in TRIPLE overtime. Lerg ended up with 41 saves to finish off an amazing reclamation season for the diminutive goaltender. The seven game series featured four overtime games, including the triple OT game seven. It will be interesting to see where Lerg goes from here, as he may have played well enough to earn a shot in the AHL somewhere.
Rowe and the Stingrays will now take on the Allen Americans in the Kelly Cup Final. Rowe has had a great playoffs with 29 points in 22 games. Rowe has split time between the ECHL, and the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. He scored his 12 goal of the playoffs in game one of the final series this past week, and the series is currently tied at 1 with game 3 happening tonight in Allen, Texas. Like Lerg Rowe has possibly earned a shot at an AHL contract next season, but he did play 28 games in the league this season garnering just 5 points on a poor Charlotte team.