All posts by Peter Merkle

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 6

Player of the Week: Nathan MacKinnon

Remember that kid from the same town as Sidney Crosby that got drafted #1 overall by the Avs a few years ago? Yeah, I’m betting more of you than would care to admit didn’t.

MacKinnon has sort of fallen off the radar in recent years, though playing for a perennial also-ran in a smaller market can certainly take some blame. A promising rookie campaign was followed up by 3 less-than-stellar seasons, and MacKinnon sort of disappeared from the spotlight. Always producing enough to stay out of the doghouse, but never matching the lofty expectations, he seemed doomed to float around on a mediocre team and risk hearing the ‘bust’ associated with his name.

But this year MacKinnon has come out firing, and has helped the Avs to be…well, at least less bad than predicted. With 22 points in 19 games (in addition to eight on the power play, one shorthanded, and a rare +1 rating on a team that isn’t exactly the first word in positive goal differentials), he has shown flashes of the firepower that landed him that #1 draft spot.

In 3 games this week, MacKinnon tallied 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points, including a 5 point night during the Avs’ 6-2 shalacking of Washington, and the game-winning OT goal against Detroit Sunday night. Take out a scoreless effort against Nashville, and it becomes an even more impressive week for the 22 year old.

With Matt Duchene gone, the Avs will look to MacKinnon to continue to carry the offensive load, so let’s see if he can pull that spotlight back his way and remind a few people of his existence.

Team of the Week: Winnipeg Jets

*insert horrible cliche’ something akin to ‘flying high’ here*

What has gotten into these guys, eh?

Winnipeg soared (oh no) through their three-game week with a perfect 3-0-0 record on the back of a ridiculous string of “Iceman” (stop) Connor Hellebuyck performances. Stopping 97 of 102 shots faced, and never allowing more than two goals in any game, the young netminder backstopped his team right to fourth place in the league. Patrik Laine (1G, 2A) and Joel Armia (1G, 3A) carried point streaks through the week (resisting “Maverick” and “Goose” reference), but perhaps more impressive was the balance of scoring throughout the team, as only three players that played in all three contests were held scoreless over the week.

The Jets are in the discussion for Canada’s best team. I’m not actually sure why that’s significant, but I’ll (barrel) roll with it. Hard to say whether or not the success will continue, I mean, at some point they have to use Steve Mason in net again, but Winnipeg has the afterburners lit (please help) for now.

Fans are just hoping that things don’t end up going inverted.

Game of the Week: Buffalo Sabres 4 @ Pittsburgh Penguins 5 (OT), Tuesday November 14th, 2017

In a game that saw nine goals, 77 shots, 63 hits, eight power plays (with three resulting goals), and the winning team never officially having the lead for an actual amount of time, the Sabres gave the defending Cup champs all they could handle.

Only 3:45 into the first period it would be Evander Kane converting on a 2-on-1 with Jack Eichel that would set the tone of Pittsburgh chasing the game. Sam Reinhart would add to the Penguins’ deficit later in the period when, while on the power play, he would jump on a rebound created by Marco Scandella‘s shot hitting the end boards at approximately 17,000 mph. But with just 19 seconds remaining in the first Patric Hornqvist would capitalize on a weird bounce of his own, collecting a misplayed puck from Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner and firing it off the Ryan O’Reilly‘s leg and into the net to halve the Buffalo lead.

But just 16 seconds into the second Sidney Crosby would make a drop pass to no one behind his own net, allowing Jack Eichel to pick up the puck and deposit it into the Pittsburgh net before Matthew Murray had any inkling of impending doom. Conor Sheary would draw the Pens back to within one just over four minutes later, before Crosby would atone for his earlier sin to even the score with a PPG at the 17:15 mark of the middle frame. In the dying minutes of the second, however, Ryan Reaves would take an elbowing penalty, and Benoit Pouliot would capitalize on the power play with just seven seconds remaining in the period to regain the Buffalo lead.

Lehner and the Sabres spent most of the third period trying to hold onto their lead, getting outshot 13-6 in the final frame, but with just over six minutes to play Evgeni Malkin would send the most picture-perfect saucer pass you could ever hope to witness across the ice to Phil Kessel who would make no mistakes and draw the game even. Conor Sheary would then win the game just 16 seconds into overtime, after Crosby dominated board play behind the Buffalo goal and sent a feed directly to his tape, sending the Pittsburgh fans into a frenzy and this Jackets fan who remembers last year’s first round series-clinching goal far too clearly into the fetal position.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got a 10-game suspension for being Radko Gudas, Luke Witkowski got a 10-game suspension for being Luke Witkowski, and Matthew Tkachuk got a two-game suspension for being Matthew Tkachuk.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will feature the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. This, partnered with the Flyers hosting the Penguins in the first announced Stadium Series game, goes to further prove that Gary Bettman acknowledges the existence of approximately 7-8 of the 31 teams in the league.

Speaking of underperforming teams that Gary Bettman loves, holy smokes are the Canadiens a dumpster fire. Complete disarray from the product on the ice all the way up to upper management, it’s almost like having possibly the worst defense corps in the league suddenly becomes extremely worrisome when you can no longer rely on the best goalie in the world to win every game for you because his limbs are falling off.

Some guy that apparently makes rap music (to steal a line from Dave Mustaine: “Two words combined that can’t make sense”) did a hockey-themed thing on SNL. I didn’t know who he was so I didn’t care.

Editor’s note: Poor Chance the Rapper.

Jason Zucker still hasn’t stopped scoring goals, but rest assured now that I’ve realized that he had been on the bench of my fantasy team throughout this entire hot streak, he’s 110% guaranteed to go colder than Red Deer in January.

Edmonton and LA made waves by trading Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri straight up for one another, in an absolute blockbuster of a deal circa 2009.

The Blue Jackets signed winger Cam Atkinson to a seven-year deal, mere hours after Aaron Portzline reported the two sides were apparently nowhere even remotely close to a deal. (This is newsworthy/funny to me, Cap’n, and pretty much no one else)

The Golden Knights used their 5th goalie of the season on Tuesday night, as Maxime Lagace seemed to be dealing with an injury during a blowout loss to the Oilers. WHL emergency call-up Dylan Ferguson played the final 9:14 of the 3rd period, allowing one goal, but living a dream in the process. Ferguson was all of us, citing that he was starstruck when Connor McDavid went out of his way to give the 19 year old netminder a tap on the pads and a “Good job, kid” at the end of the game. Lagace has played since, and Malcolm Subban is back off of IR, so it’s likely…okay, fairly likely…that Ferguson has seen the last of his NHL experience, at least for the time being.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 5

Player of the Week: Nikita Kucherov

Tampa is kind of making these choices too easy every week.

The hottest team in the league continued to roll, and the hottest line in the league followed suit. Linemates Vladislav Namestnikov (4 goals, 1 assist) and Steven Stamkos (1 goal, 5 assists) were certainly no slouches, but Kucherov’s 2 goals and 7 points in 3 games were easily the most impressive output of the week, especially considering both goals and 6 of those points were in the first 2 games of the week.

Kucherov is even being talked about as having a shot at 50 goals in 50 games. While it’s certainly still quite a ways away, it will definitely be interesting to see if he can reach the fabled mark.

Team of the Week: Toronto Maple Leafs

Fans of Steve Dangle’s LFR series will know that this was a week chock full of victory puppies.

After a very shaky stretch that saw the Leafs nearly fall all the way back to a .500 record after a scorching start, things looked increasingly bleak as they learned they’d be without superstar Auston Matthews heading into this week’s 4-game schedule. But the loss of #34 seemed to light a spark under his teammates’ collective tails.

Toronto opened the week hosting the Golden Knights and whoever they could find willing to throw on some goalie pads (we love ya, Max) and the two squads treated us to an extremely fun night that ended in a 4-3 Leafs victory on the strength of a silky shootout goal from Mitch Marner. They would follow that effort up with a 4-2 victory over Minnesota, heading into a back-to-back home-and-home with arch rival Boston.

Now, the Bruins are more Providence than Boston right now as they deal with a slew of injuries, particularly in the forward group, but credit them for putting up one heck of a fight at the ACC on Friday night as they came just 60 seconds from victory before James van Hockey (who notably had 4 points in the 2 games against the Bruins) tied the game and sent it to overtime. In overtime, Patrick Marleau touched the ice, so the team he played for won the game. (If you’re not familiar with Marleau’s ridiculous GWG stats, go have a look. Legitimately about 1/5th of his career goals have won a game.)

Saturday night the Leafs would wrap up a Matthews-less week 4-0 after a 4-1 victory over the Bruins in Boston, with backup goalie Curtis McElhinney shining in net. The Leafs now get 4 days of rest, riding a boatload of momentum, and likely will see the return of Matthews the next time they hit the ice. Maybe hope your team doesn’t play them anytime soon.

Game of the Week: Los Angeles Kings 4 @ Anaheim Ducks 3 (OT), Tuesday November 7th

The NHL likes to think of Wednesday as rivalry night, but boy were they a day late this week.

What was easily the most entertaining game of the year to this point (in this humble writer’s opinion) saw some fantastic stat lines. 7 goals, 79 shots, 54 hits, 51 penalty minutes, and 12 power plays should tell you what sort of game you missed if you didn’t happen to catch this barn-burner.

To put the insanity of this game into simple terms, Jared Boll opened the scoring. Yeah, that Jared Boll! Isn’t that spectacular?! Like, okay, Brandon Montour did 99% of the work and just had his wrap-around attempt bounce onto Boll’s stick so he could hack it into an open net, but who really cares? Somebody get that man a cookie.

Sami Vatanen would send the Ducks up 2-0 later in the 1st just as their power play opportunity expired, and for most of the 1st period the Ducks looked like they had the game by the throat. If not for some simply spectacular goaltending (see also: strategical flailing) by Jonathan Quick, this game could have gotten out of hand early. But after watching their goaltender perform miracles for most of the opening frame, the Kings decided maybe they should help him or something, so Anze Kopitar figured he’d go ahead and score a goal with just over 3 minutes remaining to send the teams to the locker rooms with Anaheim leading 2-1.

The second period saw less offense and more punches in the face. Jonathan Quick attempted to help Derek Forbort ruin Corey Perry‘s day, but the referees felt that someone with a full cage getting into fisticuffs with someone who isn’t wearing a full cage isn’t decidedly fair, so Andy Andreoff (great name, btw) had to go to the penalty box and feel Quick’s shame for him. Jared Boll would later fight Andreoff, I would assume feeling that Andy should earn his own time in the penalty box and not just bum it off of others. Oh, also Rickard Rakell and Adrian Kempe scored goals, so that was kinda neat.

The Kings absolutely mugged the Ducks in the 3rd, racking up 17 shots on John Gibson to just 6 mustered against them, but only Dustin Brown managed to get one past the Anaheim netminder, so off to bonus hockey we would go, knotted at 3. It would take nearly 4 minutes of 4-on-4 madness to decide the game, but finally Nick Shore would complete the Kings’ comeback and end a terrific night of hockey and shenanigans.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Jarome Iginla is still unsigned (podcast listeners will appreciate that), but he says he’s not ready to retire. I think he should play on a line with Jagr in Calgary, and we can nickname the line the Geri-hat-tricks or something like that.

Roberto Luongo picked up career win number 455 this week, passing Curtis Joseph for 4th all-time in that category. I’m pretty sure nobody above him is better at self-deprecating Twitter humor, though, so really he’s probably the greatest of all time.

Brian Boyle scored his first goal since returning to the Devils lineup, and his celebration was pretty much the most sincere display of happiness that doesn’t include a dog that you’ll ever see.

The Hockey Hall of Fame inductee class of Danielle Goyette, Clare Drake, Jeremy Jacobs, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, Teemu Selanne, and Paul Kariya was one for the ages, and if you need a solid laugh, check out the back-and-forth between longtime friends Selanne and Kariya, some of the finest chirping you will ever find.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 4

Player of the Week: Josh Bailey

This award almost went to Bailey’s captain John Tavares, who himself had a 3-goal 5-point week, but his output couldn’t quite match that of Bailey, who tallied 7 points (all of them assists) during the Islanders’ 3-game stretch. The versatile Islanders forward started off the week with a trio of apples against Vegas on Monday night, before adding 2 apiece Thursday in Washington and Sunday against the Avs.

But, quite more impressively, Bailey’s scoring stretch goes beyond this week’s 3 games. In fact, it triples that.

Yes, to find the last time Josh Bailey was held off of a scoresheet, you have to travel all the way back to October 14th against the Sharks. 10 games ago. Registering 2 goals and 14 assists in the 9 games since, once could argue that Bailey is possibly the hottest player in the league that doesn’t play for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Team of the Week: New York Rangers

This was another tight vote, as the San Jose Sharks almost got the nod here. But I’m going to give it to the Rangers based on the fact that they needed this hot streak more than fish need water. After a mostly-miserable October where nothing seemed to go right, the Rangers rolled into MSG to face Vegas on All-Hallows Eve, looking to banish the ghouls that were haunting them. (It physically pained me to write that.)

Fresh off a loss in the ‘Battle to Decide Who is the Least Worst’ in Montreal, the Blueshirts battled their way to a 6-4 victory over the Golden Knights and get their feet back under them, at least for the time being. Faced with the daunting task of taking on the scorching hot Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night (in Tampa’s barn), the Rangers pulled off the upset, allowing just 1 goal against the hottest offense in the league, and vanquished the home team on the strength of a J.T. Miller goal just 1:19 into overtime. Two nights later it would be Kevin Shattenkirk spoiling another Florida foe’s party, as his OT goal would lift the Rangers to their 3rd consecutive win, and directly into this prestigious award.

Now, doubling your season victory total in one week isn’t necessarily something to brag about, but the Rangers desperately needed a week like this to at least drag them back into something resembling contention. We’ve still got a lot of season to go, but digging yourself too big a hole early on can prove fatal when the season reaches crunch time.

Game of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 8 @ Florida Panthers 5, Monday October 30th

How could it not be? Seriously. Look at the score. That’s silly. Plus the intrastate rivalry, there was a fight, Andrei Vasilevskiy tied a league record for wins in October, it was just dumb and that’s what made it great.

“Oh, but what about…”

No! You’re wrong! My article, my rules, silliness wins.

News, Notes, and Nonsense:

I’m officially done making jokes about the Vegas goaltending situation, because at this point I might actually be like 3rd or 4th on their depth chart.

Habs goaltender Charlie Lindgren has been a rare bright spot for the team this year, as he has now gone 4-0 as an NHL starter and racked up his 1st career shutout with a 38-save effort to blank the Blackhawks in the United Center. Not bad, kid. Not bad.

Brian Boyle returned to game action this week, promptly telling cancer where it can shove it.

A bunch of guys squirted each other with water bottles and the league fined them for it, which can be filed under both the news and nonsense parts of this section.

Alright, let me just check and see if I missed anything as I was putting this together on Sunday evening and *opens Twitter* OH DEAR LORD WHAT HAPPENED?!?

So…apparently Matt Duchene is a Senator…and, Kyle Turris is a Pred…and both of those teams’ futures now belong to Joe Sakic. Huh…

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 3

Player of the Week: Jakub Voracek

Stealthy good. Not only an apt description of the big Flyers winger’s week (and season), but really of his entire career. Voracek has been one of the best ‘under-the-radar’ players in the league for some time, and this week he was really flying (pun somewhat intended). On a team that finished the week 1-2-0, Voracek was a major bright spot, tallying 2 points in every game. The Kladno, CZE native notched an assist on both Flyers goals in a 6-2 thumping against Anaheim, then tallied 1 & 1 in each of their next two contests (a 5-4 loss to Ottawa and 4-2 victory over Toronto). Oddly, not a single one of his 6 points in those 3 games came on the power play, an area where Voracek usually excels.

Side note: Though Voracek is currently 3rd in points in the entire league (trailing only Tampa’s dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov), those goals in back to back games were just his 1st and 2nd tallies of the year. He’s 2nd in the league in assists with 14.

Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings

One of the league’s resident surprises, LA has surged to the top of the standings with a 9-1-1 record, and though they suffered their first regulation loss this week, it wasn’t enough to prevent them earning this recognition.

With 8 players having recorded at least 5 points so far in the young season, and a goaltending duo both boasting sub-2.00 GAAs and >.930 save percentages, the resurgent Kings are getting contributions from seemingly everyone. Dustin Brown has burst back to life after multiple subpar seasons, seemingly flourishing in the system of new coach John Stevens. Anze Kopitar continues to make an argument for being possibly the most undervalued center in the league, and youngster Adrian Kempe has been sublime.

Only a 3-2 loss to Toronto managed to blemish an otherwise-flawless week, as the Kings toppled Ottawa 3-2, Montreal 4-0, and Boston 2-1. A long summer and a fresh face behind the bench may have been just what the doctor ordered for the battle-weary club, and other clubs may need to start worrying about how to deal with a Cup-hungry LA franchise once again.

Game of the Week: Dallas Stars 4 @ Edmonton Oilers 5, Thursday October 26th

I admittedly have an affinity to games decided in extra frames when it comes to this award, but the Stars and Oilers simply put on a barn-burner too good to ignore.

One of those matchups that just looks like it’s going to be fun on paper (two high-octane offenses backed up by less-than-stellar defenses), this tilt certainly delivered. 9 goals (3 on the power play), 67 shots, 56 hits, and even a fight (okay, more of a facial reconstruction on Antoine Roussel by Eric Gryba), this one had plenty of everything.

The opening period started with a bit of a goaltending duel, with Ben Bishop and Cam Talbot both making a handful of quality stops in the opening half of the frame. But as a penalty to Ryan Strome was expiring just past the 11 minute mark, Leon Draisaitl collected a loose puck and fought through a check along the boards to push the puck ahead to the newly-freed Strome, who flicked a no-look backhand from the boards into the middle of the ice, feeding a streaking Connor McDavid in full stride, who proceeded to shelf the puck over the blocker side of Bishop to give the hometown Oilers the 1-0 lead. A see-saw contest would develop from there, as just over 1 minute later opposing captain Jamie Benn would bury a sweet feed from Alex Radulov to knot things up. Patrick Maroon would see a centering attempt turn into a goal after bouncing off the skate of Dallas defender Marc Methot and into the net with just 25 seconds to play in the opening frame, sending the Oil to the locker room with a 2-1 lead.

Radulov and Benn would both tally power-play goals in the 2nd, with a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins goal splitting the two and sending the game into the 3rd period tied at 3. To break the streak of trading goals, Esa Lindell would bury Dallas’ 3rd PP tally after receiving a sweet cross-ice slap-pass from Jason Spezza just over halfway through the 3rd, giving the Stars their first lead of the night. Unfortunately for the Dallas faithful it would last just shy of 2 minutes, as RNH would net his second of the night to draw even at 4. Then with less than 3 to play, defenseman Matt Benning would give Draisaitl his 3rd assist of the night by burying a one-timer from the point (with a bit of help from the skate of Alexander Radulov) and giving the Oilers the final lead of the game.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Seriously, Golden Knights, about this Twitter campaign to be the next winning goaltender for your franchise? Oscar Dansk is 3-0-0 after being handed the starting job when both Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban went down with injuries, and boasts a ridiculous 1.34 GAA and .959 save percentage, along with a shutout.

I’m starting to actually believe anyone wearing goalie equipment could win the Vezina with this team.

 

Speaking of roster vacancies in Vegas, Vadim Shipachyov earned himself a suspension by going all ‘Russian’ on the franchise after being sent down to the AHL. He has supposedly gone AWOL from the Chicago Wolves, and his future with the Golden Knights (and potentially the NHL altogether) is looking pretty well decided.

Alex Ovechkin made headlines off the ice, as the Capitals superstar went out of his way to buy a sweater, coat, and hat for a shirtless homeless man he spotted while walking in Edmonton. Ovie downplayed his actions and attempted to avoid questions about it in interviews, stating that “It was nothing,” following up with “I think if you saw a guy almost naked out there with a cold temperature, I think every human can do something, a coat, a shirt, or whatever.” Autograph hounds throughout the league were seen disrobing and untidying their hair soon after word of Ovie’s actions reached the airwaves*.

*- I assume

Kevin Bieksa successfully utilized a ‘Superman Punch’ in a fight for the 2nd time in his career, with both instances occurring against the Philadelphia Flyers. Radko Gudas was on the receiving end of this most recent entry, while years ago it was Mike Richards. This does beg the question of why you would choose to fight Kevin Bieksa.

The Habs and Rangers had a contest to see who was the least worst, and in fitting fashion, it was an ugly thing. 9 total goals on Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, the former getting the…better?…of the latter, with both teams looking sloppy and discombobulated. I suppose either team can take solace in knowing they are better than Arizona, but I don’t know exactly how much solace can actually be taken from that knowledge.

Can Arizona go an entire season without a victory? I think we should all get behind them in their efforts to set the least enviable record in hockey history. 10 down, 72 to go.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 2

Player of the Week: Jaden Schwartz

Calm down, Lightning fans, you’ll get your turn.

I could have easily chosen either of the dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa, who have been going Harlem Globetrotters on every team they’ve come into contact with, but I think Schwartz deserves some props. The diminutive Blues winger has always been a very good under-the-radar guy, usually playing 2nd fiddle to his linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. But Schwartz made the headlines this week, with a hat trick against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, followed up the next night with another goal against Colorado, and finished off with an assist against Vegas Saturday night (more on that game later). All in all, a 4-goal, 5-point week in 3 games is more than enough to earn Schwartz this completely meaningless nomination.

Team of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning

Alright, we good, Bolts fans? We square? Cool.

The Lightning have looked borderline immortal so far this season, with a 7-1-1 record bolstered by this week’s 3-0-1 stretch. But it’s not just that near-flawless week putting them here, it’s how they did it. Tampa’s 3 victories came by a combined score of 12-3 (granted, a big part of that percentage was the 7-1 sha-lacking they put on Pittsburgh), and if not for a sweet little backhand move by Kyle Palmieri in the 3rd round of the shootout in New Jersey (oh, more on that game later, too), the Bolts could have walked away with a perfect week.

Game(s) of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 4 @ New Jersey Devils 5 (SO), Tuesday October 17th & St. Louis Blues 2 @ Vegas Golden Knights 3 (OT), Saturday October 21st

It simply wasn’t possible to leave either of these games out.

First up, we had the current Team of the Week squaring off with the former Team of the Week, in a battle of two of the league’s hottest clubs. What we got was 72 total shots on goal, 35 hits, 9 power plays (resulting in 3 goals), and a whole mess of fun. The game started with Cory Schneider making a terrific paddle-down save on Brayden Point just moments into the action, and just a few minutes later Drew Stafford let a seemingly harmless wrister go from the right wing boards that eluded a rusty Peter Budaj (his first game action since the preseason) and gave the Devils the 1-0 lead. Budaj would settle down a bit in the next few minutes making a few quality stops, eventually leading to his team tying the game, and taking the lead just minutes later, on the strength of goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat. It would be short-lived, though, as just 4 minutes later a top shelf power play rocket from Palmieri would even the score, and Brian Gibbons would follow suit in the final minute of the period to send New Jersey to the room with the lead.

Things settled down on the scoreboard for most of the 2nd period, although both goaltenders were still busy. Finally with just under 6 minutes to play Kucherov would fire a rocket directly from Russia with love and even the score, before linemate Stamkos would give the Lightning the 4-3 lead in the closing minutes of the 2nd. Tampa did their best to lock the game down the rest of the way, but finally with just over 4 minutes remaining Stafford would bury his own rebound to cap off a gorgeous passing play, score his 2nd of the night, and send it to overtime. A relatively tame 3-on-3 period would send it to the shootout, where Palmieri’s nifty mitts would deposit the only biscuit of the frame and send the Jersey faithful home happy.

Now onto a Saturday night in Vegas, where the upstart Golden Knights would look to make history by being the first franchise to ever start its inaugural season with 6 wins in 7 games.

Things weren’t looking great for the Golden Knights early on, as the Blues peppered young Malcolm Subban mercilessly in the opening frame, St. Louis eventually holding an 18-4 shot advantage when the period came to a close. But Subban managed to limit the damage to only a lone Magnus Paajarvi tally and get his team into the dressing room only down 1-0. Vegas would feed off of the strong play of their goaltender, and reward him in the 2nd period with power play tallies from both Reilly Smith and Colin Miller, and they’d take a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period.

Unfortunately for Vegas, just past the midway point of the 3rd period Subban would appear to strain his groin kicking out his right pad for a save, and would have to be helped from the ice, leaving the task of surviving the continued St. Louis onslaught to another youngster, former Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk. Unfortunately for the young Swede, the first shot he faced would be an Alex Pietrangelo one-time bomb from the high slot with just over 5 minutes to play, drawing the game even once again on a shot that no goaltender could be expected to do anything about. The Blues would do everything in their power to get the winning goal past Dansk in the closing minutes, including a Schwartz tip that got behind the Vegas netminder but went wide of the net with just 8 seconds on the clock, but the youngster held the fort and took the game to extra time.

Overtime brought another golden opportunity for Schwartz, who found himself with all alone in the slot with a clear lane to shoot, only to be bested by the right leg of Dansk. Then Brendan Leipsic would jump on a turnover to break in all alone, but Jake Allen met his backhand with a flash of the leather to keep the game going. But just over a minute later, and with less than 30 seconds left, Smith would jump on a loose puck, glide into the St. Louis zone, and float a beautiful pass to a streaking William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson who ripped a one-timer over the two-pad stack of Allen to send the building into bedlam and the Golden Knights into the history books.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Despite their apparent ability to win with anyone wearing goalie pads in net (I could see a Twitter campaign for this being a hit), Vegas’ injury situation is no laughing matter. Marc-Andre Fleury is still dealing with the effects of a concussion (which as we know really doesn’t have a set recovery time), and Subban is out for at least a month. The goaltending duties now fall on Dansk and Maxime Lagace for the foreseeable future. If there’s any consolation to be found in this for the Golden Knights, it’s that they’ve had tremendous success with injury replacements so far. Subban played very well in Fleury’s absence, and Alex Tuch (who was called up to replace the injured Jon Marchessault) has 2 goals and 3 points in his first 3 games with the club.

Roman Polak has signed a 1 year deal with the Maple Leafs, in what was almost certainly just a plot to further shorten the useful lifespan of Steve Dangle’s heart.

Potential big-money bet: Does Montreal fire Claude Julien and replace him with Michel Therrien?

Side bet: Does Therrien walk into that press conference to Eric Bischoff’s “I’m Back” entrance music?

Side-side bet: Over/under on amount of sticks Carey Price destroys before Montreal’s next victory.

If you haven’t seen/heard/read any of Ed Olczyk‘s comments from his return to broadcasting (both on Wednesday in St. Louis for the NBCSN broadcast or Thursday in Chicago to call the Hawks/Oilers game) while in between chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, please do yourself a favor and go find them. Truly inspiring stuff from one of the best in the business, and the standing ovations he received at both games are enough to give anyone chills.

On a somewhat related topic, Brian Boyle also made his return to action, this time on ice in a full-contact practice on Sunday. Boyle has been battling a form of cancer that attacks bone marrow, but cleared the final ‘hurdle’ in his treatment regimen to be able to get back on the ice with his teammates. Once he and his coaches feel he is fully into game shape, we should see the big man out of Boston College going back to work.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 1…and a half

As the season’s first full week has come to a close, it’s time for the first installment of my incessant weekly ramblings. Yes I know we’re basically 2 weeks into the schedule, but lumping that first half-week in with this seriously helps my desire to be only as productive as absolutely necessary. So, without further adieu, let’s get caught up on all those things you already saw and/or knew about, and find out the selections of your humble, know-nothing Midwesterner of an author for the best player/team/game of the week.

Player of the Week: Alex Ovechkin

It just is. Did you see the things he did? Go watch the things he did. They were silly. He has 9 goals in 6 games. At one point he had 7 goals in 2 games. Those…those aren’t real stats, those are video game stats. Stop arguing with me, and somebody give that man a cookie.

Team of the Week: New Jersey Devils

Alright, who had Jersey atop the ridiculous Metropolitan Division on their predictions lists? Nobody, that’s who. Although technically in a tie with Columbus atop the division, and with Toronto (who the Devils lambasted 6-3) atop the conference, those teams were supposed to be good. Same goes for the only team in the entire league the Devils currently trail in the standings, Chicago. The New Jersey roster basically reads “Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Cory Schneider, and some other hockey players” yet here they are handing out Stone Cold Steve Austin-sized cans of whoop-@$ nightly. Hischier mesmerizes nightly, the makeshift forward group is scoring like it’s going out of style, 22-year-old former 5th-round pick defenseman Will Butcher has put up 8 points in 5 games (with 5 of them on the PP), and Schneider and Keith Kinkaid have both played very well in net. Nobody saw this coming, and anyone who says they did is a liar.

Game of the Week: Capitals 3 @ Lightning 4 (OT), Monday October 9th

When two of the league’s most dangerous offenses come together, you generally expect a good show, and this one didn’t disappoint. A comeback OT win, some sweet saves, 30+ hits, a goal of the year candidate… This game wasn’t lacking much. Even with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Philipp Grubauer trading highlight reel stops, a penalty-filled contest led to 3 total PP goals, including the Nikita Kucherov GWG in OT, and no shortage of even-strength offense to boot. Tampa spent most of the game chasing the Caps on the scoreboard, but with just over 9 minutes remaining in regulation Kucherov received a beautiful tic-tac-toe outlet courtesy of Anton Stralman and Alex Killorn, danced his way across the Washington blueline, and with the puck on his backhand (and Taylor Chorney on his back) roofed a bottle-popper over the glove side shoulder of the Washington netminder to tie it up at 3-3. If you don’t feel like watching the full game highlights, at least go dig up this goal, just have an extra pair of shorts on hand to change into afterwards.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

More than a few teams are currently not where they were expected to be in the standings, and that goes for both ends of the spectrum. The aforementioned upstart Devils are accompanied at 4-1-0 by the Red Wings, and followed closely by the Avs (4-2-0) and the “Nobody told us expansion teams are bad” Golden Knights at 3-1-0. Things get even crazier down at the more lackluster end of the standings, with the Rangers (1-5-0), Sharks/Oilers/Habs (1-3-0), and Wild (1-1-2) all notably underperforming. The Rangers and Habs are both particularly surprising, in that the bulk of their respective troubles can be attributed to their usually-stalwart goaltenders being…well, less than stalwart.

Opening night in Vegas was quite a thing to behold, with a beautiful pre-game ceremony honoring the victims and heroes of the Las Vegas terror attack just a few weeks ago. The Knights fed off the raucous crowd and cruised to a 5-2 victory over their desert-dwelling counterparts from Arizona.

Unfortunately for Vegas, their hot start could be quickly simmered by injuries to Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) and Jon Marchessault (lower body). Both players were placed on IR and are expected to miss “at least a week” so Vegas now has to rely on its slim organizational depth to step in for the time being. Marchessault is certainly an important piece of the team (he’s coming off of a 30-goal campaign with Florida), but it’s the Fleury injury that could really hurt them, as they really don’t have any proven goaltenders beyond ‘Flower’. But, given I watched young Malcolm Subban earn a 3-1 victory for the Knights as I typed this article, perhaps they have less to worry about than originally feared.

Oh and Jaromir Jagr is back, so the mullet wig I bought a few years ago is still relevant.

Montreal Canadiens 2017-’18 Season Preview

Unknown-1

Montreal Canadiens

47-26-9, 103 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the 1st round by the New York Rangers

Additions: D Karl Alzner, C Jonathan Drouin, C Byron Froese, RW Ales Hemsky, C Peter Holland, D Joe Morrow, D David Schlemko, D Mark Streit, D Matt Taormina

Subtractions: D Nathan Beaulieu, C Connor Crisp, RW Bobby Farnham, C Brian Flynn, LW Dwight King, D Andrei Markov, D Nikita Nesterov, RW Alexander Radulov, D Mikhail Sergachev, D Dalton Thrower

Offseason Analysis: I wonder if Marc Bergevin‘s phone has stopped smoking yet…

After a roller coaster 2016-’17 campaign, which saw a scorching 13-1-1 start simmered by an 18-18-7 stretch and then doused by a 1-5-1 run that ended Michel Therrien’s coaching tenure (again) and saw Claude Julien replace him (again), they finished the season with a 16-7-1 hot streak to win the Atlantic Division and carry solid momentum into the playoffs.

And then the Rangers beat them in 6.

Sports. They’re weird.

After looking like potential Cup contenders, the Habs now found themselves facing a very ominous offseason with little to show for it. GM Marc Bergevin had loaded up at the deadline in an effort to take a shot at a deep playoff run, and now many of his assets were pending UFAs. There was also the endless stream of Carey Price rumors to add to the pressure. But Bergevin didn’t wait long to start silencing his critics.

With Tomas Plekanec‘s production declining rapidly (the former 70-point producer managed just 10 goals and 28 points in 78 games) and questions over young Alex Galchenyuk‘s ability to shoulder the load of #1 center duties, Bergevin stunned the hockey world when he shipped promising defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev and a 2nd round pick to Tampa Bay for human highlight reel Jonathan Drouin and a 6th round pick.

Though he’s had his struggles in Tampa (including a controversial holdout after an AHL demotion), a breakout performance in the 2016 playoffs followed by dominant stretches of the ’16-’17 campaign showed that the former Halifax Mooseheads superstar is coming into his own in the pro game, and is likely to soon be making fools of NHL defenders just as he did to QMJHL d-men a few years ago. As long as his play at center continues to improve, Montreal will have a devastating 1-2 punch up the middle for many years to come.

Next up was possibly the biggest fish Montreal needed to fry: Locking up arguable best-goalie-in-the-world Carey Price. With Price’s deal entering its final year, dark clouds seemed to be looming in the distance. What were the Habs going to do? Would they re-sign him? COULD they re-sign him? Was there any foreseeable way to replace him?

Well, as often happens in situations such as these…homeboy got paid. In fact, this particular homeboy got paid more than any goaltender in history, to the tune of about $10.5M per year from the time it takes effect in 2018 until it expires in 2026. Habs fans, go ahead and buy that #31 jersey.

Now we get to the meat and potatoes of Montreal’s offseason. On July 1st, the Habs lost roster regulars Dwight King, Brian Flynn, and Nathan Beaulieu on top of key components Andrei Markov and Alex Radulov. The former has been the guiding force of the entire defensive corps for the better part of a decade, and the latter was a free agency homerun from last season, contributing 18 goals and 54 points. But with Shea Weber now firmly at home in red and blue, and Drouin arriving to bolster the offense, Bergevin could afford to let them go in the interest of cap space.

Speaking of cap space gained on July 1st, Bergevin wasted little time utilizing it. On the opening day of free agency alone, he brought in useful depth in the form of Byron Froese and Joe Morrow, and solidified his blueline with former Washington Capitals stalwart Karl Alzner. Though certainly not an offensive dynamo, Alzner’s career +61 rating and ice time average north of 20 minutes per game show his value as a reliable blueline anchor. Alzner is also one of the league’s resident ironmen, having not missed a single game of action since the 2009-10 season. Couple that with being on the right side of 30 years old, and his 5-year, $4.625M contract carries very little apparent risk.

Two days later the Habs brought in speedy winger Ales Hemsky on a 1-year, $1M contract. Though his production has dipped in recent years, he can still be relied upon for around 15 goals and 40-45 points in a full season, and with a low-risk deal, he could be another free agent success story similar to Radulov.

Hemsky also potentially fills a hole in the Habs lineup, as they really don’t possess a bonafide top line RW. But if he would happen to find chemistry with Drouin and captain Max Pacioretty, that line would feature a generous mix of speed, elusiveness, skill, and power. Add in a 2nd line of last year’s big surprise in Phillip Danault, who put up 40 points in 82 games after netting just 10 in 53 prior NHL appearances, Galchenyuk, and pesky Brendan Gallagher, and opposing teams have more than just one line to pay attention to.

The bottom six is going to be a brawl. I have Charles Hudon, Tomas Plekanec, and Artturi Lehkonen making up the 3rd line with Paul Byron, Torrey Mitchell, and Andrew Shaw completing the lineup. But Montreal has a spoil of riches at forward on the depth chart, with the option of adding size (6’3″ 214lb Jacob de La Rose, 6’3″ 220lb Andreas Martinsen, or 6’6″ 237lb Michael McCarron), skill (former 1st round picks Peter Holland and Nikita Scherbak), or versatility (veterans Chris Terry and Byron Froese) all at their disposal.

Scherbak is a particularly interesting option, as the 21 year-old 26th overall pick from 2014 is possibly more highly skilled than anyone not named Drouin or Galchenyuk on the entire roster. A WHL standout, his production has been solid (if not spectacular) in the AHL. Depending on his preseason/training camp showing, Scherbak could land himself anywhere from a continued AHL role all the way up to knocking Hemsky off of the top line.

On the blueline, I expect to see Shea Weber sharing top pairing minutes with Jordie Benn, with new arrival Karl Alzner partnering with Jeff Petry on the 2nd pair (though Alzner could certainly swap with Benn should the latter faulter under heavy minutes). I’d expect the 5-6 defensemen to be Brandon Davidson and David Schlemko, with veteran free agent signing Mark Streit likely to draw in should they need a little extra firepower. There isn’t nearly as much competition here as in the forward group, but Joe Morrow and Zach Redmond could throw a wrench in the top 6 with strong preseason showings, as could PTO invite Eric Gelinas.

The goalies are Carey Price and Al Montoya, with little likelihood of that changing, as youngsters Charlie Lindgren and Zach Fucale continue getting their feet wet in the AHL.

Offseason Grade: B+

With so much on his plate, it would have been easy for Bergevin to falter over the summer. But he managed to replace (and arguably upgrade) multiple lost pieces, all on reasonable terms, and lock up the cornerstone of his franchise well into the next decade. They’ll need to rely on the improvement of some young talent, but should they get that, the Habs look poised for another division title and maybe even a solid playoff run.

New York Islanders 2017-’18 Season Preview

download

New York Islanders

41-29-12, 94 points, 5th in the Metropolitan Division

Additions: RW Jordan Eberle, G Kristers Gudlevskis, D Seth Helgeson

Subtractions: LW Eric Boulton, LW Justin Florek, C Ben Holmstrom, C Ryan Strome, C Carter Verhaeghe

Offseason Analysis: Just as I was starting to think that Jordan Eberle trade rumors, much like the Loch Ness Monster and the state of North Dakota, were nothing but myths and stories, Garth Snow just waltzes right in and ruins all the fun.

The ever-entertaining (probably more-so for those of us without vested interest in the team) Isles GM can usually be counted on to make headlines somehow, so when he pulled the trigger on one of the offseason’s bigger moves just over a week before free agency, it raised quite a few hands in the peanut gallery. On top of the sheer rarity of a true 1-for-1 straight-up trade, a few questioned the move based on the Isles’ lack of quality depth at the center position and Strome’s potentially yet-untouched ceiling. But Snow seemed confident enough in young Brock Nelson‘s ability to anchor his second line to go ahead and finally try to acquire the extra firepower of Eberle to accompany world-class John Tavares on the top line.

Captain ‘Johnny T’ has been one of the best centers in the league for quite some time, and at just shy of 27 years of age, he certainly shouldn’t be slowing down any time soon. But year after year seemingly everyone around the league asks “When will they find him a legitimate top-flight winger?”. Well, I think it’s safe to say they’re as close now as they’ve ever been. Eberle brings serious skill and consistent 25-30 goal, 60-70 point production from a situation where he didn’t often play on a quality hockey team. Should the two find solid chemistry, they could easily be plastering opposing defenders on the receiving end of highlight-reel plays on a nightly basis.

The rest of the Isles forward corps is solid, if not spectacular.

A solid ’16-’17 season showed they should now be able to comfortably rely upon man-child Anders Lee to complete the top line and chip in ballpark 30 goals and 50 points. The 6’3″ 228lb Notre Dame grad adds a helpful heaping of size and physicality to the group, and should create plenty of time, space, and netfront havoc to give his ultra-talented linemates ample opportunity to set things up.

Things get a bit convoluted from there.

Brock Nelson will almost certainly center the second line, and while veteran Andrew Ladd would be a logical choice to fill the left wing position, young Anthony Beauvillier will be given every chance to supplement Ladd after a quiet but solid debut season in ’16-’17. The former Shawinigan Cataractes superstar chipped in 9 goals and 24 points in 66 games last year playing limited minutes and getting adjusted to the pro game. Now with a firm idea of the competition he’ll face, and a summer of NHL-caliber weightroom training, Beauvillier should make a strong case for an expanded role in ’17-’18.

The right side could very well go the way of another youngster in Joshua Ho-Sang. After impressing with 10 points in his first 21 NHL games last season, some immature behavior landed the former OHL standout in Bridgeport for the remainder of the year. As long as he can keep his head on straight, Ho-Sang could fill out a sneaky-dangerous second unit for the Islanders.

If we go ahead and slot Beauvillier into the 2nd line LW position (and we are, because this is my article and I get to do what I want) then that leaves a likely 3rd line of Ladd, Casey Cizikas, and Josh Bailey, all of whom can play in just about any situation, while the latter two are both natural centers, giving the line extra flexibility in the faceoff department.

The fourth line also seems a fairly sure thing, with fleet-footed Jason Chimera accompanying the versatile Alan Quine and human battering ram Cal Clutterbuck. I have Nikolai Kulemin and Stephen Gionta as the extra forwards, giving the Isles a bit of extra veteran versatility to inject when needed. The forward prospect pool isn’t terrifically deep, but does feature the likes of respective 2014 & 2015 1st round picks Michael Dal Colle and Mathew Barzal. I expect Barzal to be left in Bridgeport to get a year of pro hockey under his belt, but a strong camp from 6’3″ 200lb Dal Colle could potentially earn him a spot in the opening night lineup.

Moving back to the blueline, the unit looks to be completely unchanged from the ’16-’17 campaign. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk are set to anchor the top pairing once again, while Adam Pelech and Calvin de Haan, both fresh off of shiny new contracts, will likely fill the 3-4 slots. After impressing the Islanders’ brass enough in the World Cup to be offered a contract last year, German defender Dennis Seidenberg did not let them down and was given an extension through the upcoming season, once again looking to accompany Thomas Hickey on the 3rd pairing.

Ryan Pulock should nab the 7th defenseman slot, with the potential to supplement one of the top 6 should he have a solid camp (his right-handed shot benefits him on a New York depth chart littered with lefties) but will face plenty of competition from guys like bruising Scott Mayfield and former OHL offensive dynamo and Memorial Cup Champion Mitchell Vande Sompel (who I promise is not on this list simply because his name is fun to say).

In goal, we reach the bulk of the questions surrounding the Islanders chances this year. After a quite literally up-and-down season that saw him placed on waivers and eventually sent to AHL Bridgeport, Halak returned to the Isles after going 17-7-3 and rode that confidence to a solid 12-9-5 record in the NHL. Now, at age 32 and in the final year of his contract, the Slovakian goaltender must reclaim his previous form to both help his team and, likely, extend his career as a starter. The Islanders do have the luxury of career-backup turned solid performer Thomas Greiss, who stepped in and filled Halak’s duties admirably with a 26-18-5 record accompanying a 2.69 GAA and .913 SV% last year. Behind Greiss are solid AHLers Kristers Gudlevskis and Christopher Gibson, though neither currently projects as an NHL regular.

Basically, the short version of the goaltending situation (and potentially the Islanders season as a whole) reads as ‘Halak or bust’.

Offseason Grade: C

Snow accomplished what he’s been trying to accomplish for quite a few years in giving Tavares a legitimate top-tier linemate, but Eberle’s pricey contract may have limited his ability to go out and solidify the rest of his lineup (*cough* Matt Duchene *cough*). The top line will likely rely upon the young second unit to take some defensive pressure away, and should the youngsters faulter, it could cause serious offensive problems for the top-loaded Isles. Throw in a good-not-great D corps, and a shaky goaltending situation, and the Islanders could struggle mightily to make the postseason in a deadly-good Metropolitan Division.

Winnipeg Jets 2017-’18 Season Preview

Winnipeg Jets

40-35-7, 87 points, 5th in the Central Division

Additions: C Matt Hendricks, D Dmitry Kulikov, G Steve Mason, C Michael Sgarbossa,

Subtractions: C Quinton Howden, G Ondrej Pavelec, RW Anthony Peluso, D Paul Postma, D Brian Strait

Offseason Analysis: Wait…Kevin Cheveldayoff did something in free agency?

I hadn’t planned on actually having to cover any transactions in this article…

For those who may be unaware, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is perhaps best-known for his complete disregard for those of us who cover offseason (and trade deadline, for that matter) roster moves and the like. So when he came out firing on July 1st picking up notable free agents like Kulikov and Mason, it came as quite a surprise.

The Jets have have generally always been one of those bubble teams that are hard to predict, but are usually a fun group to watch. Ironically, those two qualities are basically tied together around one central theme: They often struggle to keep pucks out of their own net. Winnipeg has no shortage of offensive punch, but it’s hard to win games 5-4 every night.

With all that in mind, and having done a very solid job of building within the organization for the past few years, Cheveldayoff apparently decided the time was finally right to bring in some outside help to try and push his team over the proverbial hump. We’ll start in net, where former Calder winner Steve Mason was brought in on a 2-year, $4.1M (I scoffed, but the Jets had the cap space) deal to supplement young stud Connor Hellebuyck. Obviously Mason hasn’t turned out to be the world-beater he appeared to be during his unbelievable rookie campaign with Columbus all those years ago, but with his 26-21-8 record, 2.66 GAA and .908 SV% last year with Philadelphia all nearly mirroring his career averages, he’s proven himself to be a more-than-useful backstop, particularly when used in a ‘1a-1b’ goaltending duo role, which could very well be what we see utilized in Winnipeg. Should he or Hellebuyck falter, the Jets have the luxury of having proven backup Michael Hutchinson and 2013 2nd round pick Eric Comrie waiting in the wings with AHL-affiliate Manitoba.

Moving away from the blue paint, the Jets also bolstered an already solid, if not always consistent blueline with the addition of 6’1″ 204lb Russian defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The jury is still deliberating on Kulikov’s true value (even after over 500 games of NHL experience), but he has certainly shown flashes of high-quality play over the years. His offensive production hasn’t often been what he was once thought capable of, but with all of the talent on Winnipeg’s blueline, that’s not a high priority for him to fill, anyhow. A physical force capable of some absolute filling-loosening hits, the Jets simply need Kulikov to limit his mistakes and help stabilize their D corps. At just 26 years of age, he’s still more than capable of learning and adapting his game, but brings with him the benefit of being an NHL regular since his draft year, giving him experience beyond his years. Slot Kulikov next to big Dustin Byfuglien dishing out plenty of physicality with a steady amount of added offense on Winnipeg’s 2nd pairing, with 2012 and 2013 1st round picks Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey munching up the minutes on the top pairing and smooth-skating vets Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers (picturing 5’10” Enstrom and 6’8″ Myers standing next to each other on the blueline makes my heart happy) rounding out the rotation. Throw in the versatile Ben Chiarot as the 7th man, and Winnipeg’s blueline looks more than capable of stepping up their performance from seasons past.

Up front, the Jets went into this offseason with little to worry about, but adding the versatility of guys like Matt Hendricks and Michael Sgarbossa on low-risk deals obviously didn’t hurt them. Hendricks can replace some of Anthony Peluso’s grit while also being a much more serviceable player, while Sgarbossa, though likely to spend much of the season in Manitoba, can bring a bit of extra offensive prowess into the lineup as opposed to Quinton Howden, whom he essentially replaced.

The rest of the forward group carries over, and there’s not a slouch among them. Of the 12 forwards I have on Winnipeg’s projected opening night roster, only one has reached the age of 30 as of this writing, and that’s 31 year old captain Blake Wheeler, who is coming off of a 26 goal, 74 point season. Eight of those forwards are former 1st round picks; five of whom were Winnipeg’s own choices. There’s also in-house 2nd round pick Nic Petan (who I have as the 13th forward) accompanying 3rd round pick Adam Lowry and 4th rounder Andrew Copp. Strong camps from youngsters like 2015 Jets 1st rounder Jack Roslovic or Sabres 2014 2nd round pick Brendan Lemieux could easily get them out of Manitoba for the start of the year, as well.

Remember what I said about Cheveldayoff building from within?

Offseason Grade: B

The Jets weren’t that far off from contending, even in the hyper-competitive Central. Cheveldayoff has done an excellent job of building his team the way he wants it, with his own core group of young talent. He knew he didn’t need to throw that big of a wrench at it, and he didn’t. With a few small tweaks, on generally reasonable deals, the Jets look to have covered the few leaks they had. If this young team can continue to gel, and play with the consistency they’ve lacked in key moments over the past few years, they have the tools to put a serious hurting on some unsuspecting opponents.

Oh, and say a prayer for all of the crossbars Laine will be punishing in the coming months.