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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Final Preview

It’s not June, but it is the Stanley Cup Final. This year’s matchup will be between the Western Conference champion, Dallas Stars, and the Eastern Conference champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.

For the first time in recorded history, the Stanley Cup will be awarded in the month of September.

If you’re still in the bubble, congrats on making it this far!

If you were in the bubble, but were eliminated, you still went through a lot of things most of us will never get to know or experience.

If you have yet to be in the bubble– stay tuned for 2020-21 season announcements, because National Hockey League commissioner, Gary Bettman, indicated on Saturday that the 2020-21 regular season could start in mid-December or sometime in January with the expectation still set on a full-82 game schedule and a return to the usual 16-team playoff format.

The entire hockey world (well, those that care about the NHL anyway) shifts its focus to that of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

It’s time for one team to win four games before the other team and raise the Cup high over their heads– even though nobody quite knows what a postgame celebration might look like, let alone what travel plans might be in store for Lord Stanley’s mug as it usually ventures across borders for a day with each member of the winning team.

For the first time since 2000, the Stars are in the Final.

They last lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games in their most recent Final appearance and Dallas has witnessed a generation pass, as well as players come and go between now and then.

For the first time since 2015, the Lightning are in the Final.

They lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in that Final– which was just their second appearance in franchise history– and Tampa hasn’t seen much change, save for the acquisition of youth and glue guys to go along with their “stick to the plan” regimen since then.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Tampa: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 35 regulation wins.

Dallas: 69 games played, .594 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were led by Nikita Kucherov in regular season scoring with 33-52–85 totals in 68 games played prior to the shortened conclusion of the regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Steven Stamkos had the second-most points on the roster with 29 goals and 37 assists (66 points) in 57 games before missing all action since the league’s return due to injury. He had core muscle surgery in mid-March, skated in June, but was not cleared to play in Tampa’s exhibition, Round Robin or playoff matchups since then.

There is currently no known timetable for his return.

Meanwhile, Brayden Point (25-39–64 totals in 66 games) continue to emerge as a high-caliber center with the third-most points on the Lightning roster in the 2019-20 regular season.

Tampa rolled through the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the First Round– avenging Columbus’ sweep of the Bolts in the 2019 First Round in the process.

Then the Lightning made a repeated effort of their 2018 Second Round matchup with the Boston Bruins, eliminating the B’s in five games once again.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Bolts were met with their toughest opponent yet as the New York Islanders took Tampa to six games before succumbing to the almighty powers that exist for the Lightning.

Tampa advanced to their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in the process.

They have been almost untouchable past regulation, but they are beatable as the Islanders pointed out in double overtime in Game 5 of their series.

Kucherov (6-20–26 totals in 19 games played) leads the Lightning in playoff scoring, while Point (9-16–25 totals in 17 GP) is hot on his tail– as long as he is healthy and in the lineup.

Victor Hedman leads all defenders with the most goals this postseason with nine and has six assists to go along with 15 points in 19 games for the third-most points on Tampa’s playoff roster.

Ondrej Palat (13 points in 19 games) and Yanni Gourde (12 points in 19 games) round out the top-five in playoff scoring for the Bolts.

Meanwhile, after finishing as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the 2019-20 regular season, Andrei Vasilevskiy (35-14-3 in 52 games played, 52 starts, 2.56 goals against average, .917 save percentage and three shutouts in the regular season) has posted a 14-5 record in all 19 games for Tampa in the 2020 postseason.

Through he has yet to record a shutout in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs– let along in his entire postseason career- Vasilevskiy has accrued a 1.82 GAA and a .931 SV% without yielding time in the crease to his backup, Curtis McElhinney (8-7-3 in 18 games, 18 starts, 2.89 GAA, .906 SV% and one shutout in the 2019-20 regular season).

Head coach, Jon Cooper, leads the Lightning behind the bench, while General Manager, Julien BriseBois hasn’t had all that much to do during the season, save for the important acquisitions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow to add speed and grit to their bottom-six forwards.

The Dallas Stars were led by Tyler Seguin in regular season scoring with 17-33–50 totals in 69 games played before the 2019-20 regular season was cut short by the pandemic.

Jamie Benn had 19 goals and 20 assists (39 points) for the second-most points for the Stars in 69 games, while Miro Heiskanen had the third-most points for Dallas with 8-27–35 totals in 69 games in his sophomore campaign.

Dallas trailed, 3-0, within the first seven minutes of Game 6 of their First Round matchup with the Calgary Flames as a Game 7 was all but likely to be forced and some left scratching their heads regarding the Stars.

The Stars came back to win, 7-3, and eliminated Calgary in six games in the 2020 First Round thanks to a five-point night (including four goals) from Denis Gurianov.

After the Colorado Avalanche forced a Game 7 in their Second Round matchup with Dallas, Joel Kiviranta became the first rookie to complete a hat trick with a game-winning overtime goal in a Game 7 to send the Stars to the Western Conference Final.

From there, Dallas beat the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to advance to their fifth Stanley Cup Final appearance in history.

Sometimes it pays to be good. Sometimes it pays to be lucky.

Other times it pays to be good and lucky– and that’s how the 2020 postseason has gone for the Stars.

In the postseason, Heiskanen has emerged as Dallas’ best player with five goals and 17 assists (22 points) in 21 games played. Heiskanen is on track to setting some franchise records as long as nothing cuts his postseason run short.

Benn has the second-most points on the playoff roster with 8-10–18 totals in 21 games, followed by Gurianov (9-8–17 totals in 21 games) for the third-most, John Klingberg (3-13–16 totals in 20 games) for the fourth-most and Joe Pavelski (9-5–14 totals in 21 games), as well as Alexander Radulov (8-6–14 totals in 21 games) tied for the fifth-most points on the Stars this postseason.

Anton Khudobin (16-8-4 in 30 games, 26 starts, 2.22 GAA, .930 SV% in the regular season) is the de facto starting goaltender with Ben Bishop (21-16-4 in 44 games, 43 starts, 2.50 GAA, .920 SV% and two shutouts in 2019-20) out due to injury for most of the postseason.

Khudobin’s spectacular run to the Final at 34-years-old has come on the backs of a 12-6 record in 19 games (18 starts), as well as a 2.62 GAA, a .920 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Bishop made three appearances in the 2020 postseason, posting a 1-2-0 record with a 5.43 GAA and an .844 SV% in the process.

Meanwhile, Jake Oettinger made his NHL debut– the second goaltender to make his NHL debut this postseason, joining Dan Vladar of the Boston Bruins in doing so– to the tune of a 0-0-0 record in one relief appearance with a 0.00 GAA and a 1.000 SV%.

He had five saves on five shots against in 18 minutes of gameplay.

Rick Bowness took over as the interim head coach for the Stars on Dec. 10th after Jim Montgomery was fired due to unprofessional conduct (Montgomery entered rehab for alcohol abuse and has since rejoined the league as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues).

Dallas General Manager, Jim Nill, hasn’t rocked the boat with any major player acquisitions during the season, but certainly added to the depth of veteran experience with the additions of Pavelski and Corey Perry in free agency.

The Stars went 2-0-0 against the Lightning in the regular season– having won both games in overtime.

Khudobin made 45 saves on 48 shots faced in his, 4-3, win at Amalie Arena on Dec. 19th, while Bishop earned the overtime win with 23 saves on 25 shots faced in a, 3-2, Stars victory on Jan. 27th at American Airlines Center.

Home ice means next to nothing in the bubble.

The Stars are this year’s dark horse team that went on a run that doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping anytime soon.

That said, the Lightning are supposed to be the team to beat this year.

If it goes short, expect Tampa to be the team leaving Edmonton with the Cup, but otherwise the writing is on the wall for this year’s Final to go all seven games with the Dallas Stars emerging victorious with their second Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

There’s just too much that they’ve already overcome to not be in their favor ultimately.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT DAL at Amalie Arena on Dec. 19th, 3-2 F/OT DAL at American Airlines Center on Jan. 27th

Schedule:

9/19- Game 1 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 7:30 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/21- Game 2 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/23- Game 3 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/25- Game 4 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/26- Game 5 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/28- Game 6 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/30- Game 7 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Final Preview

The calendar flipped to September and it’s time to gear up for preseason hockey— I mean the Conference Finals!

Yes, for the first time in recorded history, the National Hockey League is hosting both the Western Conference Final and the Eastern Conference Final in one hub city as Edmonton, Alberta plays host to the third round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but we’ll get there in a moment.

First, there’s a little leftover business to take care of and that’s figuring out which of the two Eastern Conference finalists will emerge victorious at Rogers Place and remain in the bubble to contend for what every NHL player dreams of– raising Lord Stanley’s mug high over their shoulders and going for a skate.

Though they were at first excluded from the bubble, some family members will be allowed to partake in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final festivities as long as they are Canadian citizens that are currently in Canada, but they have to self-isolate at home for seven days and produce three negative COVID-19 tests before traveling.

Then, of course, they’ll have to remain in quarantine in a separate hotel room in the bubble and produce four more negative tests before they can interact with the players.

The NHL is still waiting for clearance from the Canadian government, as well as the provincial government in Alberta, with regards to allowing citizens from outside of Canada into the Edmonton bubble and remains in ongoing discussions with the NHLPA, as well as the respective governments to work on a plan.

ESPN‘s, Emily Kaplan, goes into great detail to explain the precautions, plans and policies the entities are creating, working through and dealing with in the face of the pandemic with regards to allowing families into the bubble.

And no, none of the family members and/or romantic partners of any the players are a distraction.

If anything, they are a welcome sense of normalcy while the four remaining teams, staff and workers in the bubble have been isolated from the outside world for the last six weeks.

For now, let’s get back to breaking down the 2020 Eastern Conference Final and trying to predict a winner in some number of games.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) vs (6) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points)

Tampa: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 35 regulation wins.

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been Stanley Cup contenders for the last six or seven seasons, but have yet to capture their first Cup since 2004.

This year, as the Lightning make their sixth appearance in the Eastern Conference Final in franchise history, Tampa is poised for their best chance at winning the Cup despite not having the services of their captain, Steven Stamkos, since mid-March.

After avenging their 2019 First Round exit at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in four games, the Bolts beat the Blue Jackets in five games in 2020. Then they had a repeat of their 2018 Second Round matchup with the Boston Bruins and ousted the 2019-20 Presidents’ Trophy winning team in five games– just like they did two years ago.

Now the Lightning are set to face the New York Islanders and their head coach, Barry Trotz, the one man with a masterplan that beat the Bolts in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final while he was then the head coach of the Washington Capitals.

Nikita Kucherov led Tampa in regular season scoring with 33-52–85 totals in 68 games played, while Stamkos amassed 66 points in 57 games and Brayden Point had 64 points in 66 games.

Kucherov and Point continue to lead the way for the Lightning, while trade deadline acquisitions, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow have brought Tampa’s game to another dimension.

Point leads the Lightning in postseason scoring with 6-12–18 totals in 13 games, while Kucherov is second on the roster with 16 points in 13 games.

On the blue line, Victor Hedman is tied with glue-guy, Ondrej Palat, for the third most points on the team in the 2020 postseason as each player has five goals and four assists (nine points) in 13 games.

Palat tied a franchise record with Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis for the most consecutive postseason games with at least one goal (four games), while Hedman had the game-winning, series-clinching goal in double overtime against Boston in Game 5 of their Second Round series.

In the crease, Andrei Vasilevksiy earned Vezina Trophy finalist honors for the 2019-20 season after amassing a 35-14-3 record in 52 games (52 starts) with a 2.56 goals against average, a .917 save percentage and three shutouts in that span.

Tampa’s backup, Curtis McElhinney, produced an 8-7-3 record in 18 appearances with a 2.89 GAA, a .906 SV% and one shutout this season.

In the playoffs, Vasilevskiy has been the only goaltender to appear in game action for the Lightning, yielding a 10-3 record in 13 games with a 1.91 GAA and a .931 SV% in that span.

For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders are in the Eastern Conference Final. 27 years ago the Isles lost to the eventual 1993 Stanley Cup champion, Montreal Canadiens in five games, and no Canadian team has won the Cup since.

That trend will continue– even though the Cup will be awarded in Canada this year for the first time since 2011– as all four teams remaining in the Edmonton bubble are based in the United States.

New York finished off the Florida Panthers in four games in their best-of-five game Qualifier, then took care of the Washington Capitals in five games in the First Round before overcoming the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in the Second Round to make this year’s Eastern Conference Final.

Mathew Barzal led the Islanders in the regular season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) had the second-most for New York in 2019-20.

Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) and Josh Bailey (14-29–43 totals in 68 games) were tied for the third most points on the roster prior to the pandemic shortening the regular season.

Entering the Eastern Conference Final, Bailey leads the Islanders with 2-15–17 totals in 16 games, while Nelson has 15 points in 16 postseason games and Barzal has 13 points in 16 playoff games for the Islanders this postseason.

Anthony Beauvillier leads in goal-scoring for New York in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with eight goals in 16 games as the Islanders play a more “defense first” mindset– shutting down and trapping star players from opposing teams to will the game the way of the Trotz’s plan.

Semyon Varlamov went 19-14-6 in 45 games (39 starts) in the regular season, amassing a 2.62 GAA, a .914 SV% and two shutouts in the process in the regular season, while Thomas Greiss went 16-9-4 in 31 games (29 starts) and had a 2.74 GAA, as well as a .913 SV% prior to the stoppage.

In the postseason, Varlamov has gotten more starts with a 9-4 record in 14 games and has a 2.00 GAA, a .921 SV% and two shutouts in the process, but Greiss earned the Game 7 win against Philadelphia and is 2-1 in three games (two starts) with a 1.08 GAA, a .960 SV% and one shutout in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Should Greiss get more action in the Eastern Conference Final?

It remains a possibility as Trotz hasn’t given any indication as to who he’s starting in Game 1.

New York went 2-1-0 against the Lightning this season, while Tampa was 1-2-0 against the Islanders in the regular season.

The Isles had 11 goals for in the season series and six goals against, despite the Bolts holding the combined shots on goal advantage, 97-68.

Greiss and Varlamov each had a win against the Lightning, while the Bolts opted to start McElhinney in their second matchup of the season, which resulted in a, 5-1, win for the Islanders on Dec. 9th at Amalie Arena.

It’s a good thing for the Lightning that Vasilevskiy likely won’t be getting chased anytime soon– unless the Islanders somehow muster enough courage to score more than enough goals to not have to fallback on “prevent defense”.

Nonetheless, Tampa is hot and when you’re hot, you’re… hot. Duh.

But if there’s one thing we learned about these playoffs, it’s that being hot doesn’t mean anything to the Islanders– they beat the Flyers after all, and Philly had the best stretch from February until the pause, then won the first seed in the East honors via the Round Robin tournament.

The Lightning are beatable, but they’re not easy.

It’ll be a long and grueling battle– a series that likely plays one way in one game and completely the opposite in the next.

Tampa is well rested, while New York just eliminated Philadelphia on Saturday.

The Bolts are also 2-0 all time against the Isles in postseason series matchups– winning in five games in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, as well as in five games in the 2016 Second Round.

The third time’s a charm, though, and the Islanders should pull off yet another upset in seven games and advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1984.

Regular season outcomes:

5-2 NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Nov. 1st, 5-1 NYI at Amalie Arena on Dec. 9th, 3-1 TBL at Amalie Arena on Feb. 8th

Schedule:

9/7- Game 1 NYI @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/9- Game 2 NYI @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

9/11- Game 3 TBL @ NYI in Edmonton 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/13- Game 4 TBL @ NYI in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/15- Game 5 NYI @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/17- Game 6 TBL @ NYI in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/19- Game 7 NYI @ TBL in Edmonton 7:30 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Final Preview

The calendar flipped to September and it’s time to gear up for preseason hockey— I mean the Conference Finals!

Yes, for the first time in recorded history, the National Hockey League is hosting both the Western Conference Final and the Eastern Conference Final in one hub city as Edmonton, Alberta plays host to the third round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, but we’ll get there in a moment.

First, there’s a little leftover business to take care of and that’s figuring out which of the two Western Conference finalists will emerge victorious at Rogers Place and remain in the bubble to contend for what every NHL player dreams of– raising Lord Stanley’s mug high over their shoulders and going for a skate.

Though they were at first excluded from the bubble, some family members will be allowed to partake in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final festivities as long as they are Canadian citizens that are currently in Canada, but they have to self-isolate at home for seven days and produce three negative COVID-19 tests before traveling.

Then, of course, they’ll have to remain in quarantine in a separate hotel room in the bubble and produce four more negative tests before they can interact with the players.

The NHL is still waiting for clearance from the Canadian government, as well as the provincial government in Alberta, with regards to allowing citizens from outside of Canada into the Edmonton bubble and remains in ongoing discussions with the NHLPA, as well as the respective governments to work on a plan.

ESPN‘s, Emily Kaplan, goes into great detail to explain the precautions, plans and policies the entities are creating, working through and dealing with in the face of the pandemic with regards to allowing families into the bubble.

And no, none of the family members and/or romantic partners of any the players are a distraction.

If anything, they are a welcome sense of normalcy while the four remaining teams, staff and workers in the bubble have been isolated from the outside world for the last six weeks.

For now, let’s get back to breaking down the 2020 Western Conference Final and trying to predict a winner in some number of games.

(1) Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8, 86 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Vegas: 71 games played, .606 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Dallas: 69 games played, .594 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

The Vegas Golden Knights are fresh off of a, 3-0, shutout of the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of their 2020 Second Round matchup and previously eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks in five games in their First Round battle.

Max Pacioretty led the Golden Knights in the regular season with 32-34–66 totals in 71 games in the regular season, while Mark Stone (63 points in 65 games) and Reilly Smith (54 points in 71 games) were second and third on the roster, respectively, in scoring.

In the 2020 postseason, Shea Theodore has emerged as the leader scorer all the way from the blue line with six goals and 10 assists (16 points) in 15 games after being treated for testicular cancer prior to the 2019-20 regular season.

Theodore set career-highs in goals (13), assists (33) and points (46) in 71 games in the regular season and was a plus-12 for Vegas.

Hot on his tail, Stone has 6-9–15 totals through 15 playoff games entering the Western Conference Final, while Smith has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 15 games for Vegas.

Alex Tuch, who’s goal scoring ability lead the Golden Knights with eight goals this postseason, is fourth on the roster in playoff points with 8-2–10 totals in 15 games.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury led the way in the regular season as Vegas’ starter with a 27-16-5 record in 49 games played (48 starts) with a 2.77 goals against average, a .905 save percentage and a five shutouts in that span.

Malcolm Subban posted a 9-7-3 record in 20 games (19 starts) with a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of a three-team trade at the deadline with the Toronto Maple Leafs mitigating the acquisition of Robin Lehner from Chicago to Vegas.

Lehner finished the regular season with a 3-0-0 record in three games played (all starts) for the Golden Knights, while amassing a 1.67 GAA, a .940 SV% and one shutout.

Oscar Dansk made an appearance in one game (one start) and had a 6.00 GAA, as well as an .838 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record this season.

Controversy swirls Golden Knights head coach, Peter DeBoer, entering the Western Conference Final for going with Lehner as his playoff starter over Fleury, but the results speak for themselves.

Lehner is 8-4 in 12 games with a 1.99 GAA, a .918 SV% and three shutouts this postseason, while Fleury has a 3-0 record in three games with a 2.67 GAA, an .893 SV% and no shutouts in that span.

At the other end of the rink, the Dallas Stars beat the Calgary Flames in six games in the First Round and held off the Colorado Avalanche in a, 5-4, overtime win in Game 7 of their Second Round matchup– preventing a, 3-1, series lead collapse in the process.

Tyler Seguin led the way for Dallas in the regular season with 17-33–50 totals in 69 games, while Jamie Benn (39 points in 69 games) and Miro Heiskanen (35 points in 69 games) were second and third in scoring on the roster, respectively.

Second-year defender, Heiskanen has broken out into a two-way prowess leading the Stars with 5-16–21 totals in 16 playoff games entering the Western Conference Final.

First year-forward, Denis Gurianov, is second in points this postseason for Dallas with eight goals and seven assists (15 points) in 16 postseason games, while Benn rounds out the top-three in scoring for Dallas in the 2020 playoffs with 5-8–13 totals in 16 games.

Joe Pavelski– seeking revenge (despite his team winning the game) on the Golden Knights for his injury in Game 7 of the 2019 First Round series while a member of the San Jose Sharks– and John Klingberg each have 12 points in 16 and 15 games respectively heading into Sunday night’s Game 1 meeting with Vegas.

In net, Ben Bishop had a 21-16-4 record in 44 games (43 starts) with a 2.50 GAA, a .920 SV% and two shutouts as Dallas’ starting goaltender, while Anton Khudobin went 16-8-4 in 30 games (26 starts) and had a 2.22 GAA, as well as a .930 SV% in that span.

Bishop has been limited due to injury to a 1-2 record in three games this postseason– amassing a 5.43 GAA and an .844 SV% in the process.

Enter, Khudobin, the fringe starter turned de facto starter for the Stars that’s put up an 8-5 record in 14 games played (13 starts) with a 2.94 GAA and a .909 SV% in that span.

Vegas and Dallas went head-to-head in two games this season before the pandemic truncated the 2019-20 regular season– with the Golden Knights amassing a 1-1-0 record and the Stars going 1-0-1 in the season series.

As this is only the third season in Golden Knights franchise history, these two franchises have never met in the postseason until now.

Dallas is riding the hot hands of consistent scoring, while Vegas has the advantage in the crease if they play their cards right (it has to be Lehner).

The Stars are trying to make their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 2000, while Vegas is hoping to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final after losing to the Washington Capitals in five games in 2018.

If Vegas can’t translate their numerous shots on goal into concrete goals like how they struggled to score against the Canucks, then Dallas has a great chance of dragging the series in favor of the Stars.

Regardless, this one feels like it’ll go all seven games in favor of the Golden Knights.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 DAL at American Airlines Center on Nov. 25th, 3-2 F/OT VGK at American Airlines Center on Dec. 13th

Schedule:

9/6- Game 1 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/8- Game 2 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/10- Game 3 VGK @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/12- Game 4 VGK @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/14- Game 5 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/16- Game 6 VGK @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/18- Game 7 DAL @ VGK in Edmonton 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Preview: Eastern Conference

The turnaround from the Qualifier to the First Round was too quick to get this out of the way (other than on the podcast), but at least the league and broadcasting partners gave us all a day or two between the First and Second Round– oh.

By the time that you’ll be reading this, all four Second Round series’ will have played at least one game, while some might have already played through two games.

Fear not, though, the series winner and other basic notes entering the Second Round were written down before puck drop and before the rest of the words in this post were filled around them.

Once again, this postseason is unpredictable– and that’s besides whatever happens on the ice.

At any point in time things could be shutdown again, because– you know– of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The players, coaches, team and league staff, as well as broadcasting crews and essential arena/hotel employees have all been in the bubble for almost a month now.

There aren’t enough words to express how taxing on the mind the isolation really is, despite teammates being in the bubble together, etc.

None on the league staff or team staff will see their families, romantic partners, roommates back home, etc. until they’re either eliminated or heading home with the Stanley Cup in their arms *fingers crossed*.

Luckily, the league’s made it this far into Phase 4 with no positive tests for COVID-19 out of the thousands of tests they’ve conducted.

For one reason or another (TV broadcast deals, probably), they’ve decided to make the Second Round feature a multitude of “back-to-backs”– that’s two games in two nights, whereas normally by this point in the playoffs there’s always (except for extenuating arena availability circumstances) a day off between each game in a series.

Alas, being in two bubble cities (Edmonton and Toronto), the league can do whatever it wants.

For now, let’s focus on the Eastern Conference teams in the Second Round.

As a reminder, the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be held at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, if everything goes according to plan. All Eastern Conference games before then, however, will take place at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario.

Sadly, families won’t allowed to join the players in the Conference Finals and beyond as was first anticipated at the beginning of the bubble.

(1) Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7, 89 points) vs (6) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points)

Philadelphia: 69 games played, .645 points percentage, 31 regulation wins.

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins.

In his first season as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, Alain Vigneault led the team from finishing in fourth place in the Eastern Conference by points percentage at the stoppage to securing the top seed in the East as a result of an undefeated Round Robin performance in what can only be described as wild a ride as the year 2020 has been.

No, the Flyers haven’t had as many lows as what 2020 has brought to the world, but they’ve been on fire as of late– since February, really– so maybe the universe is collapsing only because Philadelphia has what might be their greatest chance at winning the Cup for the first time since 1975.

Oh and they have a legitimate goaltender, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the First Round to advance to their Second Round matchup with the New York Islanders and– as has been the trend with 2020– nobody quite knows what to expect going into this series.

Travis Konecny led Philly in scoring in the regular season with 24-37–61 totals in 66 games before the ongoing pandemic shortened the season. Sean Couturier had the second-most points with 59 in 69 games and Jakub Voracek was third on the roster in scoring with 56 points in 69 games.

Thus far in the postseason, Voracek leads the team entering the Second Round with eight points (four goals, four assists) in eight games. Kevin Hayes has 1-6–7 totals in nine games, while Scott Laughton and Couturier each have five points entering Philly’s matchup with the Islanders.

In the regular season, Carter Hart led the way in the crease with a 24-13-3 record in 43 games (40 starts), one shutout, as well as a 2.42 goals against average and a .914 save percentage in that span.

Brian Elliott forged a 16-7-4 record in 31 games (27 starts), with a 2.87 GAA, an .899 SV% and two shutouts as Philadelphia’s backup, while Alex Lyon made three appearances (two starts) and had a 3.55 GAA, as well as an .890 SV% in the process.

Entering the Second Round, Hart has a 6-2-0 record in eight games with a 1.71 GAA, a .943 SV% and two shutouts in the process, while Elliott made one start and one relief appearance (two games) for a 1-0-0 record with a 1.47 GAA and a .913 SV%.

At the other end of the ice, the New York Islanders overcame the Florida Panthers in four games (3-1) in their best of five Qualifier series, then defeated the Washington Capitals in five games (4-1) in the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs to line themselves up with the Flyers in the Second Round.

Mathew Barzal led the charge for the Isles with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games this season with Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games), Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) and Josh Bailey (43 points in 68 games) at the forefront of New York’s offense in 2019-20.

Thus far in the postseason, Bailey’s emerged as the Islanders’ points leader with 2-8–10 totals in nine games, while Anthony Beauvillier entered Game 1 against Philadelphia hot on his tail with 6-3–9 totals in nine games.

Meanwhile, Nelson and Barzal each had seven points in nine games for the third most points on the team in the 2020 postseason.

In the crease, Semyon Varlamov went 19-14-6 in 45 games (39 starts) in the regular season with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts in that span, while Thomas Greiss backed Varlamov up with a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts), a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV%.

Varlamov has a 7-2 record in nine games entering the Second Round with one shutout, as well as a 1.67 GAA and a .934 SV% in that span.

The Flyers went 0-2-1 in the regular season against the Islanders and– despite being the hottest team since February– now have to face one of the best teams at shutting things down on a night-to-night basis.

Barry Trotz’ defensive scheme is a game plan for success with the Isles’ makeup, so the Flyers are going to have to pull them away from their go-to lanes.

Plus there’s the lack of offense to worry about for Philadelphia from their First Round matchup with the Canadiens that, if any of it is leftover for the Second Round, could spell trouble for Philly’s Cup hopes.

Meanwhile, despite Varlamov’s consistency this postseason, the Flyers have the upper hand in the crease with Hart getting into a rhythm and hitting his stride when it counts.

This is the fifth time these two clubs have met in the postseason and the Flyers hold the, 3-1, advantage in all time series meetings prior, but there’s a chance New York gets revenge on Philadelphia for the first time since 1980.

As much as New York could pull off the upset (based on seeding only and disregarding regular season head-to-head performance), the Flyers should be able to put it together and advance to their first Eastern Conference Final since 2010, by wrapping things up in six games.

Regular season outcomes:

5-3 NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 27th, 4-3 F/SO NYI at Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 16th, 5-3 NYI at Barclays Center on Feb. 11th

Schedule:

8/24- Game 1 NYI @ PHI in Toronto 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/26- Game 2 NYI @ PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBCN, SN, TVAS

8/27- Game 3 PHI @ NYI in Toronto 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/29- Game 4 PHI @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

8/31- Game 5 NYI @ PHI in Toronto*

9/2- Game 6 PHI @ NYI in Toronto*

9/3- Game 7 NYI @ PHI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) vs (4) Boston Bruins (44-14-12, 100 points)

Tampa: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 35 regulation wins.

Boston: 70 games played, .714 points percentage, 38 regulation wins.

Despite the Boston Bruins clinching the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record in the 2019-20 shortened regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have the higher seed thanks to a better performance in the 2020 Round Robin.

Tampa avenged their elimination from last year’s First Round in four games by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets in the five games (4-1) in the 2020 First Round, which included a 5OT victory in Game 1 and a commanding overtime win in Game 5 (that ultimately ended the series, because that’s how a best-of-seven works).

Nikita Kucherov led the Lightning in the regular season with 33-52–85 totals in 68 games played, while Steven Stamkos had the second-most points on the team (66) despite being limited to 57 games due to injury.

Brayden Point, meanwhile, had the third most points on the team in the regular season with 25-39–56 totals in 66 games.

Entering the Second Round, however, Point was in command of Tampa’s scoring leaders with 5-5–10 totals in eight games, while Kucherov had nine points in eight games and a three-way tie for the third most between Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde had yet to be resolved as each had four points prior to Tampa’s series matchup with Boston.

Oh and nobody knows how long Stamkos will be out since having core muscle surgery in March, then leaving practice in July after supposedly recovering in the allotted six to eight weeks post operation.

In the crease, Andrei Vasilevskiy led the charge with a 35-14-3 record in 52 games played (all starts), as well as three shutouts, a 2.56 GAA and a .917 SV% in that span.

His backup, Curtis McElhinney, posted an 8-7-3 record in 18 games with a 2.89 GAA, a .906 SV% and one shutout this season.

Entering the Second Round, Vasilevskiy was 6-2 in eight games with a 1.98 GAA and a .927 SV%.

The Lightning have a lot of fire power and a defense that’s good enough to help inflate their goaltender’s win column, regardless of his status as a Vezina Trophy finalist this season– it certainly helps win some games every now and then when the rest of your teammates are limiting your workload for you.

At the other end of the ice, the Boston Bruins went winless in the Round Robin and failed to record a point in the tournament while Chris Wagner led the team in scoring with a pair of goals over the three Round Robin games.

Then they flipped the switch and beat the Carolina Hurricanes in five games (4-1) to advance to the Second Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, well, here they are.

David Pastrnak shared the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy honors with Alex Ovechkin in 2019-20, as both players scored 48 goals before the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cut the regular season short.

Pastrnak also led the Bruins in scoring with 48-47–95 totals in 70 games.

Brad Marchand was second on the roster with 28-59–87 totals and Patrice Bergeron completed the first line, as well as the top-three trio in scoring with 31-25–56 totals in 61 games in the regular season.

In the postseason so far, the re-emergence of David “Playoff Krech” Krejci has come to fruition as No. 46 in black-and-gold leads his teammates in playoff scoring with 3-6–9 totals in eight games entering the Second Round.

Marchand (3-4–7 totals in eight games) and Bergeron (2-4–6 totals in eight games) are second and third on the roster, respectively, in scoring prior to their series matchup with Tampa.

Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak combined efforts to take home the William M. Jennings Trophy having allowed the fewest combined goals against (174) among goaltender(s) with a minimum of 25 games played in 2019-20.

Rask finished the regular season with a Vezina Trophy finalist nomination, as well as a 26-8-6 record in 41 games (41 starts), a 2.12 GAA, a .929 SV% and five shutouts in that span.

Halak went 18-6-6 in 31 games (29 starts) and had a 2.39 GAA, a .919 SV% and three shutouts prior to the pandemic cutting the regular season short.

Prior to opting out of the rest of the 2020 postseason due to a family medical emergency involving one of his daughters, Rask had a 1-3-0 record in four games (four starts) in the bubble with a 2.57 GAA and a .904 SV% in that span.

There is no blame for being a good parent and knowing that the right thing to always do is take care of your family first– even if your team is in the middle of what could be their last chance to win a Cup with their current core group of players.

The last time the league participated in a postseason in a pandemic, several players contracted the flu and one (Montreal Canadiens star, Joe Hall) died a few days after the 1919 Stanley Cup Final was called off from pneumonia as a complication from influenza.

Have some compassion, for once.

Halak, in the meantime, enters the Second Round as Boston’s starting goaltender with a 3-1-0 record in four games (four starts), as well as a 2.29 GAA and a .912 SV% in that span.

In the regular season, the Bruins went 1-2-1 against the Lightning, while the Bolts held a 3-1-0 record against Boston in the season series (their first game back on Oct. 17th being a, 4-3, shootout victory for Tampa).

Scoring was pretty even at a, 13-10, advantage for the Lightning across all four meetings, despite the Bruins outshooting the Bolts, 139-113, in the four games combined.

The two clubs are 1-1 all time in two previous postseason meetings, where Boston eliminated Tampa in seven games in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final and the Bolts returned the favor to the Bruins in five games in the 2018 Second Round.

Two years removed from Boston’s collapsed hopes of a deep run at the hands of the Lightning, the B’s made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, thanks to the Blue Jackets sweeping the Lightning in the 2019 First Round, then bowing out to Boston in six games in the 2019 Second Round.

These two Atlantic Division teams are more intertwined than average fan might think and a rivalry has sprung as of, well, really since that 2011 series.

The Bruins have struggled to handle the Lightning– especially within the last few seasons, at least.

With everything in mind, it’s also important to remember just how hard it is to go all the way back to the Stanley Cup Final after making it in the previous year– let alone make it out of the First Round after having five months off due to a pandemic.

If anything, it’s not that Bruins are an “aging team”– so are the Lightning at their core with each and every passing year that Stamkos and Co. have not won a Cup ring.

If anything, it’s that the Lightning simply are Boston’s Kryptonite like how the Montreal Canadiens once were before the 21st century.

Boston might be able to win a game or two, but Tampa should really have this series taken care of in six games.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/SO TBL at TD Garden on Oct. 17th, 3-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Dec. 12th, 2-1 BOS at Amalie Arena on March 3rd, 5-3 TBL at TD Garden on March 7th

Schedule:

8/23- Game 1 BOS @ TBL in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/25- Game 2 BOS @ TBL in Toronto 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/26- Game 3 TBL @ BOS in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/28- Game 4 TBL @ BOS in Toronto 7:30 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/30- Game 5 BOS @ TBL in Toronto*

9/1- Game 6 TBL @ BOS in Toronto*

9/2- Game 7 BOS @ TBL in Toronto*

*If necessary

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round Preview: Western Conference

The turnaround from the Qualifier to the First Round was too quick to get this out of the way (other than on the podcast), but at least the league and broadcasting partners gave us all a day or two between the First and Second Round– oh.

By the time that you’ll be reading this, the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars will likely already be well into the first period (at least) of Game 1 in their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round matchup.

Once again, this postseason is unpredictable– and that’s besides whatever happens on the ice.

At any point in time things could be shutdown again, because– you know– of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The players, coaches, team and league staff, as well as broadcasting crews and essential arena/hotel employees have all been in the bubble for almost a month now.

There aren’t enough words to express how taxing on the mind the isolation really is, despite teammates being in the bubble together, etc.

None on the league staff or team staff will see their families, romantic partners, roommates back home, etc. until they’re either eliminated or heading home with the Stanley Cup in their arms *fingers crossed*.

Luckily, the league’s made it this far into Phase 4 with no positive tests for COVID-19 out of the thousands of tests they’ve conducted.

For one reason or another (TV broadcast deals, probably), they’ve decided to make the Second Round feature a multitude of “back-to-backs”– that’s two games in two nights, whereas normally by this point in the playoffs there’s always (except for extenuating arena availability circumstances) a day off between each game in a series.

Alas, being in two bubble cities (Edmonton and Toronto), the league can do whatever it wants.

For now, let’s focus on the Western Conference teams in the Second Round. We’ll get to the Eastern Conference later.

As a reminder, the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be held at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, if everything goes according to plan.

Sadly, families won’t allowed to join the players in the Conference Finals and beyond as was first anticipated at the beginning of the bubble.

(1) Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8, 86 points) vs (5) Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points)

Vegas: 71 games played, .606 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Vancouver: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 27 regulation wins.

The Vegas Golden Knights took care of the Chicago Blackhawks in five games (4-1) in the First Round and (if you remember, they didn’t have to play in any Qualifier by virtue of being one of the best four Western Conference teams– seeding determined by a Round Robin tournament) are set to experience what it’s like to face the Vancouver Canucks in the Second Round.

Vancouver hasn’t been back to the Second Round since their 2011 Stanley Cup Final appearance, so good news for them– they won a series for the first time in nine years.

The Golden Knights were led by Max Pacioretty (32-34–66 totals in 71 games played) in the regular season, with Mark Stone (63 points in 65 games) and Reilly Smith (54 points in 71 games) rounding out the top-three scorers on the team.

Through eight games this postseason, Vegas has looked like their usual selves.

Sure, the goaltending is a hot topic these days, but the team can jump out to a quick, 1-0, lead or play a long-range game where the club takes absolute control of the third period and beats their opponent into submission– both on the ice and on the scoreboard.

Stone (four goals, four assists) and Smith (three goals, five assists) lead the Golden Knights with eight points each in eight games thus far in the 2020 postseason.

Shea Theodore (four goals, three assists) and Jonathan Marchessault (two goals, five assists) have the second most points thus far for Vegas– each of them have seven points in eight games.

Oh and William Karlsson– the other usual suspect for Golden Knights offense– has 2-4–6 totals in eight games.

In the regular season, Marc-Andre Fleury amassed a 27-16-5 record in 49 games (48 starts) for the Golden Knights with a 2.77 goals against average and a .905 save percentage in the process, as well as five shutouts.

Malcolm Subban played the role of the backup with a 9-7-3 record in 20 games (19 starts), a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% until he was traded at the deadline to the Blackhawks in a three-team trade that witnessed Robin Lehner exchange hands from Chicago to the Toronto Maple Leafs to Vegas.

Lehner, in the meantime, went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA, a .940 SV% and one shutout for Vegas until the stoppage due to the pandemic.

Oscar Dansk also made one appearance in 2019-20 for the Golden Knights, amassing a 6.00 GAA and an .838 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record.

In the playoffs, there’s a growing goalie controversy– no, not mentioning Fleury’s agent posting… …whatever that was— but Fleury’s posted a 2-0 record in two games (two starts) with a 2.50 GAA and an .886 SV.

Meanwhile, Lehner has amassed a 5-1 record in six games with a 2.44 GAA and a .904 SV% in the process.

Lehner’s had his moments, but he’s looked more confident and able to carry himself so far since returning after, what, five months off from the regular season to Phase 4?

Fleury, on the other hand, has let in some goals that are reminiscent of his pre-three Stanley Cup rings with the Pittsburgh Penguins days.

Is it his age or simply a byproduct of not being able to get quite restarted after a pandemic stoppage? Well, we may never know, because despite the “controversy” he still managed to win both games he was in and now– after more of a workload than Fleury– Lehner is regressing to some sort of standard trend for Vegas goaltenders this season.

At the other end of the rink, the Canucks broke through with their first series win since 2011, by beating the Minnesota Wild in four games (3-1) to make the playoffs, then defeated the St. Louis Blues in six games (4-2) to meetup with the Golden Knights in the Second Round.

J.T. Miller (27-45–72 totals in 69 games) led Vancouver in scoring, while Elias Pettersson (66 points in 69 games) had the second most points and Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) was third.

Pettersson leads his team through 10 games with 4-9–13 totals this postseason as Miller (5-5–10 totals) and Quinn Hughes (1-9–10 totals) each battle it out for second in Canucks playoff scoring.

Horvat (six goals, two assists) and Brock Boeser (three goals, five assists) each had eight points for the third most in offensive production for Vancouver thus far.

In the crease, Jacob Markstrom led the way in the regular season with a 23-16-4 record in 43 games (43 starts), as well as a 2.75 GAA, a .918 SV% and two shutouts in 2019-20.

Thatcher Demko put up a 13-10-2 record in 27 games (25 starts) and had a 3.06 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% as Vancouver’s backup, while Louis Domingue made an appearance this season while the Canucks were depleted due to injury and amassed a 4.08 GAA and an .882 SV% to go with his 0-1-0 record in one game.

In the playoffs, it’s been all Markstrom, who is 7-3 in ten games with a 2.44 GAA, a .929 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Golden Knights head coach, Peter DeBoer, usually makes it to at least the Conference Finals– if not Stanley Cup Final– in his first season/partial season with a new team after being fired by his old team.

Good news for Vegas fans, DeBoer is behind the bench.

Canucks head coach, Travis Green, has been a long-time coming coaching prospect turned annual “is he in the hot seat?”– but not really– extraordinaire that, with the help of youth, time and forward progress, has been presented a roster that can and will turn heads both in the now and near future.

Basically, these two teams met on Dec. 15th and Dec. 19th and each won a game.

Vegas beat Vancouver, 6-3, at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 15th, while the Canucks took home a, 5-4, overtime win on Dec. 19th at Rogers Arena.

The Golden Knights had a combined 89 shots against the Canucks, who had a combined 63 shots against Vegas this season.

Neither team’s goaltending looked solid in their head-to-head matchups, but entering the Second Round, Markstrom clearly has the upper hand.

That said, Vegas has the powerful offense– with recent playoff experience to boot– and their tried and true defense that saw the addition of clutch playoff performer and underrated leader when it really counts, Alec Martinez, at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s their first time ever meeting and it’s likely one that will last longer than most fans might think– because, again, Markstrom is a huge factor. Whether or not he’s actually this good all the time doesn’t matter.

He’s a hot goaltender this year and he’s been consistent thus far since returning from the stoppage.

It won’t be easy, but the Golden Knights should advance, however, to the 2020 Western Conference Final in six games when all is said and done.

Regular season outcomes:

6-3 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 15th, 5-4 F/OT VAN at Rogers Arena on Dec. 19th

Schedule:

8/23- Game 1 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/25- Game 2 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton 9:45 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/27- Game 3 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton, 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/29- Game 4 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton, 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/31- Game 5 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton*

9/1- Game 6 VGK @ VAN in Edmonton*

9/3- Game 7 VAN @ VGK in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(2) Colorado Avalanche (42-20-8, 92 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Colorado: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 37 regulation wins.

Dallas: 69 games played, .594 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

Both the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars were good enough in the Western Conference to participate in the Round Robin tournament while the Stanley Cup Qualifier was going on, after which, the Avs beat the Arizona Coyotes in five games in the First Round, while the Stars eliminated the Calgary Flames in six games.

Nathan MacKinnon led the way for Colorado in the regular season with 35 goals and 58 assists for 93 points in 69 games played. Rookie defender, Cale Makar, was second in team scoring with 50 points in an injury shortened 57-game season, while offseason acquisition, Andre Burakovsky amassed 20-25–45 totals in 58 games for the third most points on the team.

In the postseason, MacKinnon is still leading the way for the Avalanche with 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in eight games entering the Second Round. Nazem Kadri is a close-second with 11 points (six goals, five assists) through eight games, while Mikko Rantanen is third with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in eight games.

In the net, Philipp Grubauer split time with Pavel Francouz.

Grubauer amassed an 18-12-4 record in 36 games played (36 starts), while putting up a 2.63 GAA, a .916 SV% and two shutouts.

Francouz had a 21-7-4 record in 34 games (31 starts) and yielded a 2.41 GAA, a .923 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Meanwhile, Michael Hutchinson made one appearance and recorded a 1.00 GAA, as well as a .944 SV% in that game for Colorado after being acquired at the deadline.

In the playoffs, Grubauer’s carried the weight with a 5-0-1 record in six games, a 1.49 GAA, a .937 SV% and one shutout in that span, while Francouz has made two appearances with a 1-1-0 record, a 1.02 GAA, a .958 SV% and one shutout in that stretch.

Entering Game 1, Grubauer was likely to see more time in the crease (but that’s changed now with his lower body injury that he sustained).

Across the ice, the Dallas Stars advanced to the Second Round after ousting the Flames and were led by Tyler Seguin’s 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists) in 69 games in the regular season, while Jamie Benn (19-20–39 totals in 69 games) and Miro Heiskanen (8-27–35 totals in 69 games) also played major roles leading up to the pause.

Entering the Second Round, Heiskanen has emerged as a generational talent for Dallas’ blue line with three goals and nine assists (12 points) in nine games thus far. Free agent signing, Joe Pavelski, has paid off with his usual clutch playoff performance– eight points (six goals, two assists) in nine games so far.

Meanwhile, rookie, Denis Gurianov (6-1–7 totals in nine games) and John Klingberg (1-6–7 totals in eight games) are battling it out for the third most points on the roster thus far in the 2020 postseason.

Gurianov had four goals and an assist against Calgary in Game 6– tying Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik for the most points in a playoff game by a rookie this postseason with five– one shy of the NHL record (Mikko Leinonen had six points– all assists– for the New York Rangers in Game 2 of their Patrick Division Semifinal against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 8, 1982).

In net, Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin made a solid goaltending tandem for the Stars with Bishop amassing a 21-16-4 record in 44 games (43 starts), a 2.50 GAA, a .920 SV% and two shutouts while battling injury at times.

Khudobin, meanwhile, held things down with a 16-8-4 record in 30 games (26 starts), a 2.22 GAA and a .930 SV%.

In the postseason, Bishop has been “unfit to play” for the majority of Stars games, while managing to put up a 1-1 record in two games, with a 4.04 GAA and an .862 SV%.

As a result, Dallas interim head coach, Rick Bowness, has had to rely on Khudobin, who’s amassed a 4-3 record in seven games, with a 2.49 GAA and a .919 SV% entering the Second Round.

Now is where the fun begins.

Despite all of their dominance in the regular season, Jared Bednar’s Avalanche have yet to crack the code on the Stars.

Dallas won all four matchups with Colorado, with the Avs dropping a game in overtime and in a shootout to the Stars this season.

Colorado outshot Dallas, 162-137, in combined shots on goal in their head-to-head meetings in 2019-20, but they managed exactly zero wins with Grubauer in net for all four matchups.

Now, of course, with Grubauer hurt in Game 1, they’ll have to be bailed out by Francouz if all else fails.

But coming into the series, for all the mighty strength the Avalanche have in scoring depth, a youthful defense that moves the puck with speed and skill– there’s a very real possibility the Stars overtake them.

For the most part, Colorado has a mix of playoff experience, but Dallas experienced the heartbreak of losing in a Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues that went to double overtime.

That alone is motivation enough for the Stars to make quick work of the Avs and get back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2008, when they lost to the eventual 2008 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in six games.

For Colorado, however, it’s been an even longer wait since their last appearance in the Western Conference Final. The Avalanche last made it in 2002, when they lost in seven games to the eventual 2002 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.

But then there’s Colorado’s recent strides to improve from a First Round exit in 2018 to a Second Round exit last year to consider. There’s a chance they just keep marching forward and at least make it to the Western Conference Final in 2020.

Entering the series, the Avalanche would be a lock for eliminating the Stars in seven games.

But with the result of Game 1’s injury to Grubauer, it’s possible the Avalanche can’t get over the mountain and collapse.

Regardless, the Stars are riding the momentum of an emotional comeback from a three-goal deficit in Game 6 against the Flames in the First Round that it shouldn’t be/wasn’t a surprise that Dallas wins/won Game 1.

The regular season record means nothing– especially more so when the playoffs are five months after a shortened regular season due to a pandemic and completely isolated to two buildings (one per conference).

Colorado can get over the Stars if they first shoot for the moon and a seven-game series victory. It’ll be a good test for how they’ll measure up with the Golden Knights in the predicted 2020 Western Conference Final in this post.

And, boy, what a series that would be.

But first, it’s two teams that haven’t met since the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinal, when the Avalanche won in five games– like they did in the 2004 Western Conference Quarterfinal.

The all-time playoff series between Colorado and Dallas is even at, 2-2, since the Stars initially beat the Avs in the 1999 and 2000 Western Conference Final– both years went all seven games.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 DAL at Pepsi Center on Nov. 1st, 4-1 DAL at American Airlines Center on Nov. 5th, 3-2 F/SO DAL at American Airlines Center on Dec. 28th, 3-2 F/OT DAL at Pepsi Center on Jan. 14th

Schedule:

8/22- Game 1 DAL @ COL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/24- Game 2 DAL @ COL in Edmonton 9:45 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/26- Game 3 COL @ DAL in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/28- Game 4 COL @ DAL in Edmonton 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/30- Game 5 DAL @ COL in Edmonton*

8/31- Game 6 COL @ DAL in Edmonton*

9/2- Game 7 DAL @ COL in Edmonton*

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Western Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Western Conference Qualifiers, while the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars sort themselves out.

All Western Conference games will be at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, including the Western Conference Final and all of the Stanley Cup Final.

(5) Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9, 83 points) vs (12) Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8, 72 points)

Edmonton: 71 games played, .585 points percentage, 31 regulation wins.

Chicago: 70 games played, .514 points percentage, 23 regulation wins.

The Edmonton Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division with 83 points– three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the division lead. That’s how good the Oilers were at times and/or how far behind the Pacific Division was at times leading up to the premature end of the regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

One thing is for sure about the always home-ice even without fans in the bubble Oilers team, their top players were much better than they were last season.

2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner and Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Leon Draisaitl had 110 points this season in 71 games played. He was on pace for 126 points had the regular season reached its original conclusion.

That would’ve been 21 points better than his previous high of 105 points in 82 games last season. Luckily for Draisaitl, he still set a new career-high in a pandemic– two new career-highs, actually.

Though 43 goals this season did not top the 50 goals he scored in 2018-19, Draisaitl set career-highs in assists (67) and points (110)– and yet, somehow he still was a minus-seven on the season.

Is it worth exploring moving Draisaitl out of Edmonton? MY COLUMN:

(If you’re wondering, that’s four consecutive seasons of at least 70 points and back-to-back 100-plus point seasons for Draisaitl, so no, he’s not going anywhere.)

Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, had 34 goals and 63 assists (97 points) in 64 games this season, which was 19 points shy of his career-high 116-points last season in 78 games in 2018-19. McDavid was on pace for 124 points this season at the time of the stoppage.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was third in scoring for Edmonton with 22-39–61 totals in 65 games this season, then the next highest skater had 34 points in 59 games (Zack Kassian). This season marked back-to-back 60-point seasons for Nugent-Hopkins for the first time in his career.

In goal, Mike Smith (19-12-6 in 39 games played, 37 starts, 2.95 goals against average, .905 save percentage and one shutout) split time with Mikko Koskinen (18-13-3 in 38 GP, 34 starts, 2.75 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout in that span) this season.

The 38-year-old veteran goaltender, Smith, has a 2.17 GAA, a .938 SV% and four shutouts over 24 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Meanwhile, 32-year-old Koskinen has yet to appear in a postseason NHL game.

Smith’s .938 SV% in the playoffs, however, is league-leading among active NHL goaltenders with a minimum of 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games played.

Oilers head coach, Dave Tippett, might be smart to start Smith over Koskinen in Game 1, considering Smith’s career playoff numbers, but he did post a 3.20 GAA and a .917 SV% in five games with the Calgary Flames in the 2019 First Round en route to Calgary’s defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.

Smith did record one shutout in last year’s playoffs, however, and faced 205 shots against in those five games against the Avs.

That was about 34% of the number of shots he faced (602) in 16 games with the then known as Phoenix Coyotes en route to their 2012 Western Conference Final appearance against the eventual 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

At the other end of the rink, Patrick Kane led the way for the Chicago Blackhawks this season with 33-51–84 totals in 70 games, which was 24 points more than Jonathan Toews’ 60-point effort in 70 games for Chicago this season.

2019-20 Calder Memorial Trophy finalist, Dominik Kubalik, was third in Blackhawks scoring with 30 goals and 16 assists (46 points) in 68 games played.

For Kane, the pandemic shortened 2019-20 regular season marked five consecutive seasons with at least 70 points, while he was on pace for about 98 points had the regular season witnessed a full 82-game conclusion.

For Toews, he has never had a season with 82 games schedule below 50 points (though he had 48 points in 47 games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season), but he did see a decrease in production from 81 points in 82 games last season to 60 points in 70 games this season. He was on pace for 70 points over an 82-game schedule in 2019-20.

In goal, Corey Crawford led the Blackhawks with a 16-20-3 record in 40 games played (39 starts), a 2.77 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout this season.

Prior to being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline via the Toronto Maple Leafs in a three-team trade– in which Chicago acquired, in part, Malcolm Subban– Robin Lehner served as Crawford’s tandem goaltender with a 16-10-5 record in 33 games played (31 starts), a 3.01 GAA, .918 SV% and no shutouts in that span with the Blackhawks.

Subban, on the other hand, made one appearance with Chicago after the trade and played in one minute as a Blackhawk. He had a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% in 20 games (19 starts) with the Golden Knights this season, however.

Should Blackhawks head coach, Jeremy Colliton, be given any reason not to opt for Crawford as his Qualifier starter, then there’s cause for concern as to whether or not Chicago can upset the Oilers if Subban can’t right the ship from his worst season as an NHL backup goaltender.

Four months off with plenty of rest to get in the right mindset might have been a good thing for his rhythm, however, as Crawford and Subban made a combined shutout effort in Chicago’s, 4-0, win over the St. Louis Blues in their exhibition matchup.

What’s more, the Blackhawks went 2-1-0 in three games against the Oilers this season, but before you start thinking there’s a chance Chicago upsets Edmonton with a sweep or anything, take caution as the Hawks had ten goals for and nine goals against in their season series.

This will be Colliton’s first appearance behind the bench as head coach in a postseason (but also not technically postseason) appearance for the Blackhawks– and Chicago’s first postseason action without Joel Quenneville at the reigns since before Quenneville was hired four games into the 2008-09 season.

It truly is a new era for Chicago, despite much of the core remaining from their three Cup championships in a five-year span.

Look for the Oilers to get the job done in four games with Tippett looking to punch his ticket back to the postseason since leading the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final, while The Hockey Gods favor Edmonton since the tragic loss of their teammate, Colby Cave, in April after the 25-year-old forward suffered a brain bleed and died days later after being placed in a medically induced coma.

Regular season outcomes:

3-1 CHI at United Center on Oct. 14th, 5-3 EDM at Rogers Place on Feb. 11th, 4-3 CHI at United Center on March 5th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 CHI @ EDM 3 PM ET on NBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 CHI @ EDM 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/5- Game 3 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/7- Game 4 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 CHI @ EDM*

*If necessary

(6) Nashville Predators (35-26-8, 78 points) vs (11) Arizona Coyotes (33-29-8, 74 points)

Nashville: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 28 regulation wins.

Arizona: 70 games played, .529 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

There’s something in the water in Nashville– and it’s not just catfish. Predators defender– and 2019-20 James Norris Trophy finalist– Roman Josi led the Preds in scoring this season with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in 69 games.

He was on pace for 77 points at the time of the stoppage and trailed Washington Capitals defender– and fellow Norris finalist– John Carlson by ten points for the most points by a defender this season.

It was a career-season for Josi in goals, assists and points, by the way.

Nashville’s top-three in scoring, in fact, nearly contained two defenders as Josi led the way and Ryan Ellis notched 38 points in an injury-riddled 49-game season (a 64-point pace had the full 82-game schedule been completed if the pandemic never happened).

Ellis trailed Filip Forsberg (21-27–48 totals in 63 games) and Matt Duchene (13-29–42 totals in 66 games) in scoring on the Predators roster.

Juuse Saros finally emerged as a de facto starting goaltender for Nashville after amassing a 17-12-4 record in 40 games played (34 starts), as well as a 2.70 GAA, .914 SV% and four shutouts on the season.

Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, had an 18-14-4 record in 36 games (35 starts), which wasn’t bad, but his numbers past his overall record were actually a career-worst with a 3.17 GAA and an .895 SV% in 2019-20.

Rinne previously had a 3.80 GAA in a season, but that was only when he played in two games in 2005-06.

This was a season to forget for Rinne, but perhaps a larger indicator of more worries to come for Nashville in the net– especially more so after Saros didn’t exactly light it up as a starter with a goals against average that would even make a backup goaltender look, well, average.

The Arizona Coyotes enter the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier with a new owner, as well as a new Interim General Manager in Steve Sullivan, as well as Nick Schmaltz leading the way in scoring with 11 goals and 34 assists for 45 points in 70 games played.

Not ideal, ideally speaking.

Clayton Keller had 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games and was on pace for 52 points had the pandemic not cut the regular season short.

Meanwhile, Conor Garland was third on the team in scoring with 39 points in 68 games, while establishing career-highs in goals (22), assists (17) and points (39) in the process.

Christian Dvorak and Phil Kessel each had 38 points in 70 games. Over an 82-game schedule, that’s about a 45-point pace, which would’ve still been a career-season for Dvorak and a disappointment for Kessel in his first season in the desert.

Granted, Kessel’s not playing with guys like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in his new home in Arizona.

He failed to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time since the 2007-08 season, in which Kessel scored 19 goals in 82 games for the Boston Bruins in his sophomore season.

Kessel also failed to reach 30-assists for the first time since his first season as a Toronto Maple Leaf in 2009-10, in which he had 25 helpers in 70 games.

Finally, No. 81 on Arizona’s roster failed to amass at least 40 points in a season for just the third time in his career (29 points in 70 games while missing time battling testicular cancer with the Bruins in his rookie season in 2006-07, and 37 points in 82 games the following season in 2007-08 with Boston).

Granted, Kessel likely could have passed the 40-point plateau had the COVID-19 pandemic not interrupted plans for him and his Coyotes teammates.

In goal, Antti Raanta appeared in 33 games (32 starts) and had a 15-14-3 record, as well as a 2.63 GAA, a .921 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Darcy Kuemper went 16-11-2 in 29 games played (all starts) and amassed a 2.22 GAA, while putting up a .928 SV% and two shutouts this season for the Coyotes.

If there’s any doubt Rick Tocchet has over deciding which goaltender to start in Game 1 against Nashville, there shouldn’t be any question– it has to be Kuemper.

Simply put, it’s Kuemper’s net to lose right now in Arizona and a little healthy competition isn’t a bad idea to try to spur Raanta in the right direction if he wants to be a starter in this league.

Boy, home ice advantage really would be something in this series by default, right? After all, each team won their only home game in their regular season matchups prior to the premature conclusion to the 2019-20 regular season due to the pandemic.

Since home ice is without fans in Edmonton for all Western Conference teams in the 2020 postseason, there’s not much to go off of in terms of these two clubs’ head-to-head meetings.

But the Predators have more than a few things going in their favor among their forwards and defenders who could also play forward, arguably.

The one thing Arizona has that Nashville hasn’t seen much of this season is a consistent starter in the crease.

If the Coyotes win the series, it’ll likely have something with Kuemper stealing a few games.

If the Preds sweep Arizona, it might have something to do with the sheer fire power in a last-ditch effort at what’s otherwise a closing window for a potential Cup contending roster.

At the very least John Hynes probably doesn’t have to worry about getting the same treatment as Peter Laviolette– who Hynes replaced in January– if the Predators dropped the ball in this series.

Let’s say Nashville in three, but give props to Kuemper for honing in his talents to tend the crease this well in his career. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s arrived and here to stay, unlike former Coyotes GM John Chayka.

Regular season outcomes:

5-2 ARI at Gila River Arena on Oct. 17th, 3-2 NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 23rd

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN360

8/4- Game 2 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1, SN360

8/5- Game 3 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN360

8/7- Game 4 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(7) Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points) vs (10) Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, 77 points)

Vancouver: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 27 regulation wins.

Minnesota: 69 games played, .558 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Entering the 2019-20 season, Vancouver Canucks General Manager, Jim Benning, added J.T. Miller to the fold in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Benning then went out and got Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings leading up to the 2020 trade deadline.

As a result, the Canucks are much improved from last season to this season.

Miller led the team in scoring with 27-45–72 totals in 69 games played and was on pace for about 86 points at the time of the stoppage due to the pandemic.

Elias Pettersson (66 points in 69 games), Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) and Quinn Hughes (53 points in 69 games) rounded out the top-three in scoring for Vancouver.

Horvat and Hughes were tied for the third most points on the team as Hughes left his mark on the 2019-20 season by earning Calder Memorial Trophy finalist honors.

Meanwhile, Jacob Markstrom led the Canucks in the crease with a 23-16-4 record in 43 games played (all starts), as well as a 2.75 GAA, a .918 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Thatcher Demko made 27 appearances (25 starts) as the backup goaltender and went 13-10-2 on the season with a 3.06 GAA and a .905 SV% in that span.

Louis Domingue also appeared in one game (one start) in the regular season for the Canucks and had a 4.08 GAA and an .882 SV%.

Markstrom will be the starter for Vancouver’s postseason run, but he’ll have to be a tad better in cutting down his goals against average for a deep run.

For Canucks head coach, Travis Green, it’s more of the same game plan to try to spur the Canucks back into the playoffs for the first time since their 2015 First Round appearance and elimination at the hands of the Calgary Flames in six games.

The Minnesota Wild removed the “interim” tag from their head coach, Dean Evason’s title since the pause in play and are looking to upset the Canucks and get back into the playoffs since missing the postseason last season.

Kevin Fiala led the way for the Wild in scoring with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 64 games played. He was on pace for 69 points had the season gone all 82 games, but still established career-highs in goals, assists and points in the shortened season regardless.

Ryan Suter led defenders and was second in scoring on the roster with 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 69 games, while Eric Staal was ahead of Zach Parise by one point for third in scoring with 47 points in 66 games.

In goal, Alex Stalock (20-11-4 in 38 games played, 36 starts, 2.67 goals against average, .985 save percentage, four shutouts) outplayed Minnesota’s usual starter Devan Dubnyk (12-15-2 in 30 GP, 28 starts, 3.35 GAA, .890 SV%, one shutout) and will likely backstop the team in Game 1 against Vancouver.

Kaapo Kahkonen also made his NHL debut this season in the crease for the Wild in five games– amassing a 3-1-1 record, as well as a 2.96 GAA and a .913 SV%.

Both teams had nine goals for and nine goals against one another in their season series. They also each had 89 total shots on goal against one another in the 2019-20 regular season.

Though the Wild made strides this season at potentially avoiding a rebuild, it’s still an uphill climb for Minnesota against the Canucks on paper– regardless of their head-to-head matchups from the season.

Vancouver has the right combination of speed, skill and youth to limit Minnesota’s chances and, at times, lackluster offense.

The Canucks core is more defined than Minnesota’s fluid situation as Wild GM Bill Guerin evolves the roster over the next season or two.

It’s a transition period, nonetheless.

Benning and the Canucks are emerging from their transition and look to be ready to get back into the playoff hunt with what should be a four-game series win against the Wild.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 VAN at Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 12th, 4-2 MIN at Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 6th, 4-3 F/SO MIN at Rogers Arena on Feb. 19th

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 2 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:45 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 3 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton TBD

8/7- Game 4 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(8) Calgary Flames (36-27-7, 79 points) vs (9) Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6, 80 points)

Calgary: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 25 regulation wins.

Winnipeg: 71 games played, .563 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

The Calgary Flames were led in scoring this season by their hottest controversial player, Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk ruffled some feathers en route to re-igniting the “Battle of Alberta” and managed to amass 23-38–61 totals in 69 games played in 2019-20.

He was on pace for 72 points this season at the time of the stoppage, but still had back-to-back seasons with at least 60 points nonetheless.

Johnny Gaudreau was second on the roster in points with 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 70 games played, which was down from his 99 points in 82 games last season. That said, Gaudreau was still on pace for about 68 points when the regular season was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Instead, his streak of consecutive 60-plus point seasons was over at five seasons thanks to the pandemic.

Finally, Elias Lindholm managed to set a new career-high in goals (29), while scoring 54 points in 70 games this season– ranking third on the team in scoring.

In the crease, Calgary was saved by David “Big Save Dave” Rittich, who went 24-17-6 in 48 games played (all starts), had a 2.97 goals against average, a .907 save percentage and two shutouts this season.

Actually, on second thought, maybe that’s not very good numbers to have for a *checks notes* starting goaltender.

Alright, let’s check the backup…

Cam Talbot went 12-10-1 in 26 games played (22 starts), had a 2.63 GAA, a .919 SV% and two shutouts this season. Hmm, not much better.

Oh and did you remember that interim head coach, Geoff Ward, replaced Bill Peters after everyone found out Peters is racist?

The Winnipeg Jets landed in fifth place in the Central Division with 80 points this season– two points behind the Dallas Stars, who were the fourth best team in the Western Conference by points percentage and have earned themselves home ice in at least the First Round, which only matters so much in a bubble, but still, this was meant to show how close the Jets came to being a Round Robin team instead of playing in a Qualifier series.

Anyway, Kyle Connor soared as a Jet this season– establishing new career-highs in goals (38), assists (35) and points (73) in the process while playing in 71 games until the pandemic cut the regular season short.

Connor was on pace for 84 points this season if the full 82-game schedule could’ve occurred uninterrupted.

Meanwhile, Mark Scheifele actually tied Connor for the most points on the roster with 73, as Scheifele tallied 29 goals and had 44 helpers in 71 games. Not quite a career-season, but still respectable after setting career-high totals (38-46–84) last season in all 82 games.

Winnipeg’s captain, Blake Wheeler, contributed more than just actions and words in defense of the Constitution and human rights this season, scoring 22 goals and amassing 43 assists for third place on the roster in points (65) in 71 games played.

Patrik Laine, for those wondering, was fourth on the team with 63 points, which was back to his usual self, albeit with more assists (35) than goals (28) in 68 games.

Laine hasn’t been a bust for the Jets– he’s never had a season with fewer than 50 points (last season, 82 games) and was on pace for about 76 points had the season been played in full.

This was, however, the first season he failed to reach the 30-goal plateau, but he only missed it by two goals and, hello, the pandemic? Remember it? Yeah, that’s why he missed the mark, otherwise he would’ve (probably) scored a pair of goals in the remaining 11 games for Winnipeg on the 2019-20 regular season schedule at the time of the pause.

In goal, Paul Maurice relied on old reliable to bail him out even more so in the wake of Dustin Byfuglien’s decision to sit out the 2019-20 season and eventual mutual termination of his contract with the club.

2019-20 Vezina Trophy finalist, Connor Hellebuyck, held the fort down with a 31-21-5 record in 58 games played (56 starts), amassed a 2.57 goals against average and had a .922 save percenrage– as well as a league-leading six shutouts this season.

Yeah, it was kind of a big season for Hellebucyk and if he’s not the favorite among the NHL GMs that vote for the Vezina, well, who knows what games they were watching (presumably their own).

Laurent Brossoit went 6-7-1 in 19 games (15 starts) this season and had a dismal 3.28 GAA and an .895 SV% in that span. Yikes.

The defense looks different without Byfuglien, but Hellebuyck remained stable as their primary alternative to keeping the puck away from their own net.

That might not pay off against some of the powerhouses in the league, but luckily the Jets have enough time to let Maurice come up with a plan and enact it to cut down on Hellebuyck’s workload in the Qualifier if they want a chance to advance.

Oh, speaking of the Winnipeg and Calgary series– nobody knows what to expect!

The Jets and Flames met once this season– back in the 2019 Heritage Classic outdoors at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Winnipeg won in overtime in comeback fashion that night, 2-1.

They peppered Rittich with 45 shots (43 saves) and kept Hellebuyck to an ideal workload of 30 shots faced (29 saves).

If the Jets don’t win this series, it’ll be a huge disappointment– perhaps even bigger than making the First Round and getting stomped out by their next opponent after the phenomenal performance by Hellebucyk in the crease all season.

Then again, momentum no longer exists since everyone had about five months off.

Let’s say this one goes all five games for one reason or another and that Winnipeg can pull it off and advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 F/OT WPG at Mosaic Stadium, Regina, Saskatchewan on Oct. 26th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, CBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 3 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton 4:45 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 4 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton*

*If necessary


2020 Western Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Western Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Western Conference are in Edmonton this year and all times Eastern.

St. Louis Blues

42-19-10, 94 points, 71 GP, .662 PTS%, 33 RW

Aug. 2nd @ COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 6th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. DAL in Edmonton, TBD

Colorado Avalanche

42-20-8, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 37 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. STL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 5th @ DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 8th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Vegas Golden Knights

39-24-8, 86 points, 71 GP, .606 PTS%, 30 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 6th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 8th @ COL in Edmonton, TBD

Dallas Stars

37-24-8, 82 points, 69 GP, .594 PTS%, 26 RW

Aug. 3rd @ VGK in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 5th vs. COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 9th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

St. Louis Blues 2019-20 Season Preview

St. Louis Blues

45-28-9, 99 points, 3rd in the Central Division

Defeated Boston in the Stanley Cup Final

Additions: F Dakota Joshua (acquired from TOR), F Nick Lappin, F Evan Polei, F Michael Vecchione, F Nathan Walker, D Andreas Borgman (acquired from TOR), D Jake Dotchin, D Justin Faulk (acquired from CAR), D Derrick Pouliot

Subtractions: F Conner Bleackley (signed with Idaho, ECHL), F Dominik Bokk (traded to CAR), F Pat Maroon (signed with TBL), F Nikita Soshnikov (KHL), D Chris Butler (retired), D Michael Del Zotto (signed with ANA), D Joel Edmundson (re-signed, then traded to CAR), D Jani Hakanpaa (signed with ANA), D Jakub Jerabek (KHL), D Jordan Schmaltz (traded to TOR), D Tyler Wotherspoon (signed with PHI), G Jared Coreau (signed with NYI)

Still Unsigned: F Chris Thorburn

Re-signed: F Ivan Barbashev, F Sammy Blais, F Robby Fabbri, F Zach Sanford, F Oskar Sundqvist, D Carl Gunnarsson, G Jordan Binnington, G Ville Husso

Offseason Analysis: Winning the Stanley Cup cures everything. Nobody’s asking when and if the St. Louis Blues will ever a) make another appearance in the Stanley Cup Final or b) winning the Cup.

The Blues crossed off the top item from their bucket list and hoisted the Stanley Cup over their heads in Boston after winning Game 7 against the Bruins in June.

General Manager, Doug Armstrong, has been building and retooling the organization since assuming his current role in 2010. A finalist for the NHL General Manager of the Year Award last season, Armstrong landed a key piece of St. Louis’ Cup-winning roster (and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP) in Ryan O’Reilly last offseason in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

St. Louis won the Cup, so now Armstrong’s task of winning one is taken care of. He– along with the rest of the Blues– will have a bit of a grace period until fans are fed up again with whatever behooves them next.

Of course, the goal of winning the Cup for any GM ultimately isn’t to just win it once, but rather to win it as many times as possible in your career.

Armstrong took care of a delicate balance in re-signed a plethora of restricted free agent members of the Blues.

Rather than making Jordan Binnington the surefire franchise goaltender, Armstrong was able to negotiate a solid two-year bridge deal worth $4.400 million per season.

The 26-year-old goaltender took over St. Louis’ starting role at the dawn of the new year in January and– even though he set a National Hockey League rookie record for most wins in the postseason with 16– has yet to solidify his legitimacy as a starting goaltender in the NHL.

Binnington and 29-year-old, Jake Allen, each have two years on their respective contracts. This season, one will rise above the other as the starter (likely Binnington), but for the next couple of seasons each are competing for a long-term role with the organization.

Glue guys, Ivan Barbashev, Sammy Blais, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford, Oskar Sundqvist and Carl Gunnarsson are all sticking around in St. Louis for the near future, with Sundqvist extended for the longest tenure on a new four-year deal worth $2.750 million per season.

The Blues can sit back for a season or two and see if Craig Berube and Co. can recreate the magic of their 52nd season in franchise history.

Whether or not this team has what it takes to formulate a dynasty remains to be seen, but Armstrong bolstered their chances after trading Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk and a 2021 7th round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for veteran defender, Justin Faulk, and a 2020 5th round pick on Sept. 24th.

Carolina retained 14% of Faulk’s salary ($676,667), which means he will carry a $4.157 million cap hit for the Blues this season.

Upon his acquisition, Armstrong locked up the defender to a seven-year extension with St. Louis worth $45.500 million ($6.500 million per season). Faulk’s extension goes into effect next season and carries a no-trade clause for the first five years, then a modified no-trade clause for the remainder.

A full no-trade clause was added by the Blues to the final year of his current deal.

If nothing else, this trade covers Armstrong’s back in case he is unable to sign Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo, to an extension.

The 29-year-old defender is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and likely to see a pay raise from his current $6.500 million cap hit (especially considering, 1) his role in St. Louis’ turnaround, 2) his Stanley Cup ring and 3) the fact that Faulk’s extension carries Pietrangelo’s current cap hit).

In short, Pietrangelo is better than Faulk and best while the two of them are on the same blue line.

Armstrong will also have to balance the books next season by deciding whether or not to re-sign Brayden Schenn, Fabbri, Blais, Dunn, Jay Bouwmeester and Mackenzie MacEachern.

For now, bars across St. Louis will keep playing “Gloria” even as the team on the ice must turn the page on last season and focus on what looms this season and beyond.

Offseason Grade: B-

Considering the number of RFAs Armstrong had to re-sign, the Blues GM managed to do a decent job tidying things up for the time being, but most of the extensions were short term, one or two year deals.

St. Louis has about $138,740 in cap space available, leaving them with little to no room for any major extensions for next season without having to unload some larger contracts from the books.

At the very least, the only major loss from last season’s Cup winning roster to this season was Pat Maroon, who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning due to St. Louis’ cap constraints.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Boston Bruins 2019-20 Season Preview

Boston Bruins

49-24-9, 107 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by St. Louis

Additions: F Brendan Gaunce, F Pär Lindholm, F Brett Ritchie, G Maxime Lagacé

Subtractions: F Noel Acciari (signed with FLA), F Marcus Johansson (signed with BUF), F Mark McNeill (EBEL), F Gemel Smith (signed with TBL), F Jordan Szwarz (signed with OTT), G Zane McIntyre (signed with VAN)

Still Unsigned: F Lee Stempniak

Re-signed: F Peter Cehlarik, F Ryan Fitzgerald, F Danton Heinen, D Brandon Carlo, D Charlie McAvoy

Offseason Analysis: After losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on home ice, the Boston Bruins quickly turned the page to the 2019-20 season. Rookie camp was less than a month away and with it meant free agency for the veteran players of the game.

General Manager, Don Sweeney, followed suit with his business as usual masterplan– stay the course. Don’t overspend on any bottom-six talent and don’t rock the boat.

Boston’s impeccable leadership group of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and David Backes has everyone in the dressing room in a collective mindset.

The Bruins remain focused on an unaccomplished goal from last season– winning the Cup.

The tight-knit roster witnessed the departure of fourth liner, Noel Acciari, and third-line trade deadline acquisition, Marcus Johansson.

Acciari, 27, brought his talents to the Florida Panthers on a three-year contract worth $1.667 million per season, while Johansson, 28, signed a two-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres worth $4.500 million per season.

Since Sweeney was named GM in May 2015, he’s adopted a new policy for the organization whereby bottom-six forwards– especially on the fourth line– are usually expendable.

Though Acciari’s physical game will be missed by the Bruins, it’s a next-player up mentality combined with the signing of Brett Ritchie to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, that will hold the B’s over for the 2019-20 season.

Excess spending in a salary cap world can get teams into cap hell and more often than not, getting too attached to players that are outside of your top line, top defensive pairing or top goaltender is more costly in the long run.

A little more here and there will hurt a team when the time comes to sign a younger, better, player to a new– more expensive– contract.

In other words, saving $667,000 on Ritchie’s services for the same role as Acciari, should yield the same result on the fourth line (in theory) and save just enough money to utilize elsewhere– like on Par Lindholm’s two-year deal worth $850,000 per season.

Lindholm and Ritchie provide more depth to Boston’s roster than Acciari alone in the simple sense that two players are more than one (especially if one gets hurt).

The Bruins weren’t going to be able to retain Johansson at a $4.500 million cap hit while having to re-sign Danton Heinen, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

Though Johansson was a good fit for the B’s with Charlie Coyle and Heinen on the third line, signing Heinen to a two-year, $5.600 million ($2.800 million cap hit) deal and negotiating a bridge deal that was fair for both sides in McAvoy and Carlo’s case was more important for the future of the franchise.

Sweeney might be playing with fire as McAvoy’s three-year deal bears a $4.900 million cap hit and a surefire significant raise for the 21-year-old defender in three years from now when he’s even further into his prime, but for now, the contract is just another example of Sweeney’s mastery at keeping his team under the cap ceiling.

Carlo’s two-year extension is worth $2.850 million per season and is less likely to cause a ruckus when the defender is in the $4.000 million range depending on how Sweeney’s newest challenge plays out.

With McAvoy and Carlo under contract, Sweeney’s attention can shift to figuring out Torey Krug’s future with the franchise.

While Chara and Kevan Miller are pending-unrestricted free agents at season’s end on the blue line, Matt Grzelcyk will be a restricted free agent and a shoe-in for an extension.

Chara, 42, may retire at season’s end and Miller, 31, might be in his final days as a Bruin this season.

The oft-injured defender (Miller) won’t start the season with Boston as he’s out with a knee injury and has been replaced in his bottom-pairing role by younger and cheaper options in Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton– who signed a three-year extension carrying a $1.000 million cap hit that will kick in starting next season.

With an additional $4.500 million to work with, Sweeney could pay Krug upwards of $9.000 million per season– except Jake DeBrusk will also be Boston’s biggest pending-RFA next July and he’ll need some of that money.

So Krug could sign an extension and have to deal with Sweeney’s money saving ways, be traded while he carries enough trade value before the trade deadline or walk away in free agency, leaving the Bruins with nothing.

At any rate, Boston locked down their biggest component in keeping everything together on the ice this offseason as head coach, Bruce Cassidy, signed a multi-year extension that will begin next season after his current deal expires at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Offseason Grade: B

The reigning GM of the Year had his work cutout for him this offseason in keeping all of his RFAs on the same team without overpaying. Sweeney also managed to avoid handing out any large contracts to free agents and continued to opt for cheap, expendable, replacements to fill lower-ranked roles on the roster.

They didn’t hit it out of the park with a big name star, but they quietly went about their business signing better than average deals (for the advantage of the franchise) and still have enough of their core (despite the age factor) to remain competitive on the ice this season.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

San Jose Sharks 2019-20 Season Preview

San Jose Sharks

46-27-9, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the Western Conference Final by St. Louis

Additions: F Jonny Brodzinski, D Trevor Carrick (acquired from CAR), D Nicolas Meloche (acquired from COL), D Dalton Prout

Subtractions: F Joonas Donskoi (signed with COL), F Micheal Haley (signed to a PTO with NYR), F Jonathon Martin (signed with Tucson, AHL), F Gustav Nyquist (signed with CBJ), F Joe Pavelski (signed with DAL), F Francis Perron (traded to VAN), F Tom Pyatt (SHL), F Alex Schoenborn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Justin Braun (traded to PHI), D Michael Brodzinski (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Cody Donaghey (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Cavan Fitzgerald (signed with Charlotte, AHL), D Joakim Ryan (signed with LAK), D Kyle Wood (re-signed, then traded to CAR), G Antoine Bibeau (traded to COL)

Still Unsigned: F Rourke Chartier, F Tim Clifton

Re-signed: F Kevin Labanc, F Maxim Letunov, F Timo Meier, F Antti Suomela, F Joe Thornton, D Nick DeSimone, D Tim Heed

Offseason Analysis: After making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016, the San Jose Sharks were looking to capitalize on their momentum from their miraculous comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of their First Round matchup.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, sometimes injuries pile up and get in the way of forward progress.

Though they lost to the St. Louis Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final, the mere fact San Jose made it that far after nearly blowing it against Vegas is impressive– especially considering how close of a series their Second Round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche was, which also went seven games.

Whether they were exhausted from multiple overtimes, one long series after another, the Sharks found themselves with a longer than anticipated offseason to rest and recover.

In the meantime, General Manager, Doug Wilson, had his work cut out for him.

Wilson signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million extension worth $11.500 million per season, making Karlsson the highest paid defender in the league.

The Sharks GM also managed to re-sign 22-year-old star in the making, Timo Meier, to a four-year contract worth $6.000 million per season. By the end of the deal, Meier will still have one year of restricted free agency left, which really speaks to the fact that it’s a great– team friendly– extension at an affordable price with the future in mind.

Last season, Meier had 30-36–66 totals in 78 games. He had 21 goals and 15 assists (36 points) in his first full season (81 games played) in 2017-18.

But the cost of re-signing key pieces of San Jose’s core comes with a price– losing depth.

First, Joe Pavelski priced himself out of the Sharks, in part, thanks to his consistent scoring and 38 goals last season at 35-years-old, as well as San Jose’s cap crunch thanks to Karlsson’s pay raise.

Pavelski signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Stars worth $7.000 million per season, but it’s not about the money for San Jose (even though it was)– it’s about having to make up for a 38-goal deficit heading into this season.

Second, to get themselves squared away with the salary cap, Wilson had to move one of his durable top-four defenders via a trade, sending Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 18th for a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.

Trading Braun left Wilson with no choice but to sign Dalton Prout as a cheap replacement and to perform this season’s Micheal Haley duties. Haley, himself, signed a PTO with the New York Rangers in hopes of filling New York’s Cody McLeod/Tanner Glass role opening.

On the plus side, the Sharks will be able to replenish their pool of prospects with the transaction. On the other hand, Braun was a versatile component when others (like Karlsson) were injured.

Even with the additional $3.800 million addition in cap space, San Jose was not able to convince Joonas Donskoi to stay in town, regardless of whether or not Wilson had any plans for the top-nine forward.

Instead, Donskoi joined the Colorado Avalanche on a four-year deal worth $3.900 million per season– providing both job security and a chance to win the Cup, since the Avs are on the rise.

Sharks fans were hoping to see a reunion of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton back on the same team, but Wilson guaranteed Marleau wouldn’t be signed as long as Thornton was back for his 22nd season in the National Hockey League.

The good news? “Jumbo Joe” isn’t going anywhere– take that Father Time!

The bad news? Marleau isn’t going anywhere in free agency (yet) either.

It’s a good move for the Sharks though, as their younger players did exactly what Wilson explained– they played better and worked their way up the lineup to where Marleau had been prior to his departure to join the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 2, 2017.

San Jose has something special in Meier, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow and even Dylan Gambrell, meanwhile Logan Couture was named captain in wake of Pavelski’s departure– fully cementing the Logan Couture Era legacy in Sharks history.

Head coach, Peter DeBoer, will have a lot of leadership in the dressing room to rely on with Couture as captain and Karlsson, Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns serving as alternate captains throughout the season.

Offseason Grade: C-

Considering Karlsson’s cap hit, it would’ve been a “D+” if it weren’t for the redeeming qualities of Meier’s contract. Other than that, the Sharks are destined to be a divisional berth in the Pacific Division as recent history has dictated, but they don’t seem to have what it takes on paper to be leapfrogging over the competition.

Oh, and there’s the near 3.00 goals against average of both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell to consider from last season. That’s terrible for a team with or without Karlsson and Burns on the defense.