Category Archives: Previews

Pittsburgh Penguins 2017-’18 Season Preview

Pittsburgh Penguins

50-21-11, 111 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Beat Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals

Additions: D Matt Hunwick, G Antti Niemi, RW Ryan Reaves

Subtractions: C Nick Bonino (signed with NSH), F Matt Cullen (signed with MIN), D Trevor Daley (signed with DET), G Marc-Andre Fleury (drafted by VGK), D Cameron Gaunce (signed with CBJ), D Ron Hainsey (signed with TOR), LW Chris Kunitz (signed with TBL), C Kevin Porter (signed with BUF), D Mark Streit (signed with MTL), C Oskar Sundqvist (traded to STL), D David Warsofsky (signed with COL)

Offseason Analysis: After hoisting the Stanley Cup the past two seasons, is it ok to just write the Penguins into their third-straight Finals appearance?

To the joy of 30 other fan-bases, I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

Don’t get me wrong, Pittsburgh is still the class of the Eastern Conference and has its eyes set on a three-peat. Though they had their fair share of departures this offseason, the Penguins return the “Sid and the Kids” line (Jake Guentzel, Captain Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary) as well as the dominant second line of Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, so last year’s best offense will expect to continue its scoring ways.

However, the potential chinks in the armor start appearing in the bottom-six as GM Jim Rutherford had to replace Bonino, Cullen and Kunitz – all of whom appeared in 91 or more regular and postseason games last season. In particular, I’m most concerned about the Pens’ third line center.

What needs to be remembered about recent Penguins third lines is that they don’t fit the typical mold. Few third lines are counted on to provide many goals, instead preferring to slow down the opposing offense. But in Pittsburgh, scoring depth extends beyond the top two lines. Bonino and Kunitz provided a combined 66 points last season from the third line, including 27 markers.

Something tells me Head Coach Mike Sullivan will expect their replacements to perform similarly, but who will they be?

As expected, Sullivan has played around with his bottom two lines throughout camp. In Pittsburgh’s most recent preseason contest, Tom Kuhnhackl, Greg McKegg and Bryan Rust made up the third line with the fourth including Scott Wilson, Carter Rowney and Reaves.

Rust can certainly continue the tradition of this new-age third line, but I have my doubts about Kuhnhackl’s career .37 points-per-game and McKegg’s nine points in 65 NHL games. Unless Sullivan gets pleasantly surprised by their performances or accepts a more typical third line, Rutherford might be testing the trade market early.

Considering Hainsey and Streit were trade deadline rentals, Pittsburgh’s main defensive loss was soon-to-be 34-year-old Daley, who managed 5-14-19 totals last season, but 32-year-old Hunwick should be a serviceable replacement having earned 19 points of his own in Toronto last year.

The Penguins also have the luxury of D Kris Letang returning to play. Letang managed only 41 games last year before his campaign was cut short by a mid-season neck injury. Though his 11-year career has been dotted with injuries, Letang has been a potent force when on the ice. He manages .83 points-per-game, including .259 power play points-per-game, for his career and will be a welcome reintroduction to a defensive corps that scored 177 points last season – the most of any Eastern Conference blue line.

Pens fans, you know what we have to discuss next. Ready tissues.

We turn our attention to Pittsburgh’s crease, a spot the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft will no longer occupy. Instead, it is his protégé Matthew Murray that will assume the true starting role with Niemi as his backup as compared to last year’s “1A-1B” tactic.

Though it’s a bizarre idea to question a goalie that won two Stanley Cups before playing his second NHL season, I’m intrigued to see how Murray responds to undoubtedly being “the guy” for Pittsburgh. Gone are the days of a more-than-competent backup (sorry Niemi, but you’re not impressing anybody with your 2016-’17 .892 save percentage) to fall back on, so all the responsibility rests firmly on Murray’s shoulders. Judging from his 32-10-4 record last season, he’ll react just fine.

Offseason Grade: D

If a “C” is average, the Penguins have to score below it for simply not doing enough to solidify their third line. Maybe McKegg can surprise, but a team trying to win its third-straight Stanley Cup should not be taking such a risk on one of the main things that separates it from the competition. If Rutherford misses on his roll of the dice, the selling price for a viable piece could have dire consequences for the future.

Nashville Predators 2017-’18 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

41-29-12, 94 points, fourth in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Finals by Pittsburgh

Additions: C Nick Bonino, D Alexei Emelin, LW Scott Hartnell

Subtractions: D Matt Carle (retired), F Vernon Fiddler (retired), C Mike Fisher (retired), D Brad Hunt (signed with VGK), LW Mike Liambas (signed with ANH), G Marek Mazanec (signed with Slovan), W James Neal (drafted by VGK), F Colin Wilson (traded to COL)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s get this out of the way: yes, the Predators can make a second-straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

Oh, you’re expecting something more in-depth?

Usually this is where we talk signings and other roster moves, but I think the biggest focal point for Nashville has been a constant member of its squad since 2008, a player that’s been among the top-nine at his position (measured by save percentage and GAA) since starting regularly.

In 2012-’13, G Pekka Rinne posted a solid .91 save percentage for a 2.43 GAA, but followed up that performance a season later with .902 and 2.77 numbers. 2014-’15 was a return to form for the Finn, earning himself .923 and 2.18 marks, but ’15-’16 was another lapse in play (.908, 2.48).

That brings us to last year’s performance to earn Nashville’s first-ever Campbell Cup. 31-19-9 Rinne posted impressive .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA efforts, the (t)seventh- and (t)ninth-best performances, respectively, among netminders with 50+ starts.

What’s alarming about this not-very-well-hidden pattern is we’re coming upon an even-numbered playoff year. Last season was undoubtedly a good performance, so is this recurrence a forecast for this campaign or can Rinne buck the trend?

The answer to that question lies in Nashville’s defense, and what a corps it has in Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and co. Not only is this defense more than capable of providing an offensive presence (Nashville tied San Jose with 181 points from defensemen last season, tops in the league), but they were also adept at limiting Rinne’s workload. He faced an average of 30.1 shots-per-game, tying for 13th-fewest in the NHL.

No discussion about Nashville’s defense is complete without acknowledging Ryan Ellis’ offseason knee surgery that has him sidelined until January. He plays a vital role on this defense, having posted 16-22-38 totals and a +17 rating last season to go with his team-leading 137 blocks and 37 takeaways (second-most among Predators defensemen).

Providing only .19 points-per-game during his six seasons in Montréal, Emelin is no replacement for Ellis’ scoring contributions, but he’ll hold his own blocking shots having rejected 127 last season. Besides, Emelin likes to make his presence known in other ways than scoring – specifically by providing a nasty physical defensive force.

Considering he’s in a place nicknamed “Smashville,” he’ll fit in beautifully.

Offensively, Nashville signed two-time Stanley Cup champion Bonino from Pittsburgh (Like I always say: “If you can’t beat ‘em, sign their players.”) and Hartnell to replace Fisher and Neal, respectively.

This is Hartnell’s second stint in Nashville after being its first-round pick in the 2000 draft and wearing gold through the 2006-’07 season. Posting only .47 points-per-game last season, 2016-’17 was a down year for the 16-year veteran, so his one-year deal is relatively low-risk, high-reward for a club with over $6 million in cap space – especially considering youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala exist.

Instead, I’m intrigued by Bonino’s four-year deal to be Nashville’s second line center. It seems to make sense statistically to play Bones (.46 points-per-game for his career) at the position instead of Calle Jarnkrok (.35 points-per-game), but Bonino found his success on the Pens’ third line.

The difference between playing on the second and third lines is far superior to that between the first and second. So really, the question is if Bones is top-six material.

Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in his way, Bonino never had consistent opportunities to play on a second line and showcase his ability. I think he’s best suited for the third line, but maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Offseason Grade: C+

Like students allowed to retake a test, this grade has the potential to improve after seeing the Preds’ final product. I will be the first to admit I’m wrong about Bonino’s second line abilities, but I want to see evidence that he is capable of playing the position. Beyond that, Nashville had very little it needed to improve. As long as they can successfully adjust to playing without Ellis – and then readjust when he returns – the sky should be the limit for this Predators squad.

Anaheim Ducks 2017-2018 Season Preview

Anaheim Ducks

46-23-13, 105 points (’16-’17), 1st in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the Western Finals by Nashville

Key additions: Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Miller

Key subtractions: Jonathan Bernier, Emerson Etem, Shea Theodore

Offseason Analysis: The Anaheim Ducks made the 2017 Western Conference Finals before falling to the Nashville Predators in seven games. The Ducks were the bullies of these playoffs, as they put “beating” a team to multiple meanings. They threw a lot of hits (31 per-game, to be exact – the third-most in the Western Conference playoffs) and actually injured a lot of players during the postseason. Now, no one likes to see injuries, especially as a result of dirty hockey, but that wasn’t the case for Anaheim as their hits were clean, impactful on the game and enjoyable to watch.

For me, the Western Conference has always played a finesse game compared to the East’s physical, rough-and-tough action, so it was nice to see Anaheim step up and bring the opportune physicality to the West. And the best part? It worked in their favor and almost earned them a berth into the Stanley Cup Finals.

Heading into the offseason, the expansion loomed over a Ducks roster loaded with young NHL defensemen. If you were to ask any analyst, they would’ve told you they were looking for a trade. But, they never found that trade partner and ended up losing young defenseman Shea Theodore to Vegas. This is not the worst case scenario as Theodore was kind of a depth player, but not a regular in the lineup. I feel they got lucky as they could’ve lost Brandon Montour, a great puck moving defenseman who anyone in the league would be lucky to have on their team.

The Ducks’ big offseason moves were adding Francois Beachemin and veteran goalie Ryan Miller. I like both of these moves. I have already brought up the young defense core in Anaheim, so adding a veteran defenseman in Beachemin, who managed nearly two blocks-per-game last season, will add experience and even more grit to this defensive core.

The Ducks upgraded their backup goalie by adding Ryan Miller. Miller, who posted a .914 save percentage for a 2.8 GAA last season as Vancouver’s starter, can help as the Ducks continue to develop John Gibson as their number one goalie. Given he’s playing behind a superior defense now, Miller can also add a few more wins where last year’s backup Jonathan Bernier (.915 save percentage and 2.5 GAA) did not.

Offseason Grade: C

This offseason was pretty quiet: Anaheim didn’t make a big splash, instead electing to keep its core players and snag some small upgrades. The Ducks will be a postseason team again this year, to no one’s surprise. They will have more competition at the top of the division, but they should have home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. Will they have the same luck this year in the playoffs? I don’t think so; I think they will struggle to get out of first round. The team could’ve made bigger moves to add more offensively, but as a whole they will still be a force in the Western Conference.

Ottawa Senators 2017-2018 Season Preview

Ottawa Senators

44-28-10, 98 points (’16-’17), 2nd in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the Eastern Finals by Pittsburgh 

Key additions: Alexandre Burrows, Johnny Oduya, Nate Thompson

Key subtractions: Chris Kelly, Marc Methot (Taken by Vegas), Chris Neil, Tommy Wingels (signed with Chicago)

Offseason Analysis: The Ottawa Senators made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the eventual Stanley Cup winners, in seven games. Heading into their offseason, this is an organization that feels like they are on the brink of something major. The Senators want to balance the line of becoming better without losing too much talent.

Obviously, with the expansion draft they needed to identify someone they could easily replace via free agency or by promoting a prospect. They ended up losing Marc Methot, a big defensive piece that could be hard to replace, but they tried to find a solution by signing veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya to a one-year deal.

Soon to be 36-years-old, Oduya is past his prime but could still be useful on limited minutes. Interestingly, his contract includes performance bonuses for achieving certain TOI ratings, games played and a Senators playoff appearance, so Oduya will be doing all he can to earn more playing time from head coach Guy Boucher.

My favorite move by the Senators was resigning Alex Burrows, a wing they acquired at the trade deadline last year that provided five assists in Ottawa’s deep postseason run. Burrows can provide some added depth scoring and could be a nice fit with this “defense first”-minded team.  Ottawa also signed Nate Thompson to replace Chris Kelly as the 4th line center. Thompson is used to this role from his time in Anaheim and could add a nice, rough-and-tough body to this team.

Ottawa will face a challenge to start the season as they could be without their best player in Erik Karlsson. He played the playoffs with an injured foot tendon that eventually forced him to require offseason surgery. Should he be unable to play by the season opener against Washington on October 5, Ottawa will look for someone to fill that void until he returns. A prime candidate for that position could be rookie defenseman Thomas Chabot. Chabot’s smooth skating with some offensive flair can help provide the Senators with some needed offense. I think he will be the most important player until Karlsson can return.

If the Senators want continued success, they need to have a good start to their season because of a competitive Atlantic Division. Fortunately for them, they have exactly the schedule to do that. After opening against the Capitals at home, the Senators play Detroit, Vancouver twice, Calgary, Edmonton and New Jersey. Though three of those games are on the road, Ottawa could be poised to do just that.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Senators will be another playoff team this year, and I think they could win the division after the Montreal Canadians took a step backwards. If Chabot can fill Karlsson’s shoes until he gets back, the two of them together could become a dynamic duo. The 1-3-1 system is a hard system to figure out, so it may cause a few division teams problems and give Ottawa a step up on the competition – and ultimately more success in the playoffs.

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Season Preview

Washington Capitals LogoWashington Capitals

55-19-8, 118 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Pittsburgh

Additions: F John Albert, F Alex Chiasson (signed to a PTO), F Tyler Graovac, D Jyrki Jokipakka (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Peluso, F Wayne Simpson, F Devante Smith-Pelly

Subtractions: D Karl Alzner (signed with MTL), F Chris Bourque (signed with Hershey Bears, AHL), F Paul Carey (signed with NYR), D Cody Corbett (signed with Idaho Steelheads, ECHL), D Darren Dietz (signed with Barys Astana, KHL), F Stanislav Galiev (signed with Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), D Tom Gilbert (signed with Nürnberg Ice Tigers, DEL), F Marcus Johansson (traded to NJ), F Garrett Mitchell (signed with Hershey Bears, AHL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (signed with NYR), D Nate Schmidt (claimed by VGK in the 2017 Expansion Draft), F Christian Thomas (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, AHL), F Justin Williams (signed with CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Daniel Winnik

Offseason Analysis: The Washington Capitals won the President’s Trophy for the second year in a row last season, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs thanks to now two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh. History repeats itself sometimes, but for Caps fans the first part of this sentence already ended after the third word.

Now they look to regroup, revitalized and down a few key components from their President’s Trophy winning days– the Capitals aren’t aiming to win the regular season title; they want the Cup.

As all good teams must endure during the Salary Cap Era, the Capitals had plenty of departures from their organization and were forced to trade one of their gifted forwards in order to sign one of their other, younger gifted forwards.

Washington sent their 24th-overall pick in 2009, Marcus Johansson, to the Devils back in July in exchange for two 2018 draft picks, then used the newly found cap space to re-sign Evgeny Kuznetsov to an eight-year, $62.4 million ($7.800 million cap hit) contract extension.

Kuznetsov’s 59 point season (19 goals, 40 assists) was only one point better than Johansson’s 58 point season (24 goals, 34 assists) last year, but with Johansson’s $4.583 million cap hit through the 2018-2019 season, Washington simply couldn’t afford both almost 60-point scorers.

Andre Burakovsky was quickly signed to a two-year, $6 million ($3.000 million cap hit) bridge deal, ensuring Washington still had someone on their roster that could boost production with Johansson out of the picture. For Burakovsky, the extension comes as a way to prove to himself, Washington and the rest of the league that he’s worth it, worth more and might just yield a significant pay raise in the 2019 offseason if it all pans out.

Justin Williams left the organization for a second go-around in Carolina. “Mr. Game 7” amassed 24-24-48 totals last season, but fell victim to Washington’s tight cap space navigation this summer. With T.J. Oshie to re-sign and at 35-years-old, Williams was the odd forward out as Oshie’s stock rose to $5.750 million-a-season.

One cannot blame the Capitals for going all in, missing the mark, then having to restructure their offense in such a fashion as they did this offseason. However, one can find failure in Washington’s blue line master-plan.

Monstrous contracts for Matt Niskanen ($5.750 million through 2020-2021) and Brooks Orpik ($5.500 million through 2018-2019) remain on the books for the Capitals and they’re not getting any younger. Niskanen, 30, and Orpik, 36, are half of Washington’s top-4 defensemen now that Karl Alzner is with Montreal (again, cap space).

Dmitry Orlov, 26, remains the youngest blue liner in the US capital and has six-years remaining on his new extension this offseason. John Carlson, 27, is a pending UFA after this season and is reaching the plateau of his prime. Other than that, Taylor Chorney, 30, rounds out the rest of Washington’s defensive depth.

That’s not ideal.

Yes, Nate Schmidt was a victim of the Vegas expansion, and Kevin Shattenkirk was only a rental that signed with the Rangers, but Washington had to have been preparing for any scenario all season long, right? There’s got to be a defenseman in Hershey that’s ready to make the jump to the NHL– or at the very least, begin to transition to the senior team as a third-pair defenseman.

If the Capitals want to remain competitive, they’d better avoid aging out in their own zone, especially in the Metropolitan Division where the Penguins skate faster than Apolo Ohno.

Luckily for Washington, their goaltending duo of elite starter, Braden Holtby, and top-notch backup, Philipp Grubauer will bail them out. Except for the fact that that’s the last thing they should have to rely on.

Holtby can handle 70+ games a season, but it’s not recommended when you’re trying to play at least 16 playoff games on top of an 82 game regular season.

Offseason Grade: D+

The Capitals, to their credit, did not hand out a bad contract this offseason like they did in 2015 (when they signed Orpik and Niskanen at insane amounts, given their ages now/at the end of their current contracts).

But they didn’t exactly help their situation either, with roughly $2.6 million in cap space to finagle next offseason’s negotiations with Grubauer, at least two more RFAs and oh yeah, the rest of their pending UFAs.

For that reason alone, this season might be a last chance effort at winning the Cup now before they will have to blast parts of the roster to smithereens.

While trading Johansson and losing Williams in one offseason hampers their offensive production, Washington seems reliant on the fact that they know how to develop prospects seemingly out of nowhere. It wasn’t a good summer and growing pains will always be felt with a salary cap, but it wasn’t as bad as some fans feared (with Oshie, Orlov and others jumping ship in popular conspiracy theories).

Chicago Blackhawks 2017-2018 Season Preview

imgresChicago Blackhawks

50-23-9, 109 points, 1st in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Nashville

Additions: G Jean-Francois Berube, F Lance Bouma, F Laurent Dauphin, G Anton Forsberg, D Connor Murphy, D Jordan Oesterle, F Brandon Saad, F Patrick Sharp, F Tommy Wingels

Subtractions: D Brian Campbell (retired), G Scott Darling (traded to CAR), F Andrew Desjardins (signed a PTO with NYR), D Dillon Fournier (retired), D Niklas Hjalmarsson (traded to ARI), G Lars Johansson (signed with CSKA Moscow, KHL), F Marcus Kruger (traded to VGK), F Pierre-Cedric Labrie (signed with NSH), D Shawn Lalonde (signed with Kölner Haie, DEL), F Michael Latta (signed with ARI), F Martin Lundberg (signed with Växjö Lakers HC, SHL), F Brandon Mashinter (signed with SJ), F Tyler Motte (traded to CBJ), D Johnny Oduya (signed with OTT), F Artemi Panarin (traded to CBJ), F Dennis Rasmussen (signed with ANA), D Trevor van Riemsdyk (claimed by VGK at the 2017 Expansion Draft)

Still Unsigned: G Mac Carruth, F Kenton Helgesen, D Nolan Valleau

Offseason Analysis: After being swept in the First Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Nashville Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks are turning the page by burning the playbook from the last few seasons. It’s not as much of an overreaction as the Florida Panthers this offseason, but it’s quite a change in the direction of the organization as a whole.

If something feels much different this offseason than in 2010, 2013 and 2015 it’s because the Blackhawks didn’t win the Cup and made moves this offseason similar to when they did.

They traded one of their star forwards. They traded a top-4 defenseman. They traded their backup goaltender. They navigated a tight cap situation. They still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but they won’t have Marian Hossa this season (Hossa is out for the season due to a skin condition caused by his equipment, if you recall).

Brandon Saad returns to the Blackhawks in the biggest trade this offseason, in which two-time 70-plus point scorer, Artemi Panarin, was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets. While Saad is a year younger than Panarin, he is no Bread Man– but at least he is under contract through the 2020-2021 season (whereas Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2018-2019 season).

Chicago didn’t do themselves any major favors in terms of saving some salary in the immediate future concerning the Saad acquisition, but they did buy themselves at least a few million dollars to spend elsewhere between now and when Panarin’s contract would’ve run out with the Blackhawks in 2019.

Then again, they cost themselves some scoring production between now and then, as Saad only put up 24-29-53 totals in 82 games last season compared to Panarin’s 31-43-74 totals in 82 games played.

Fear not, if you’re a Columbus fan, because hopefully in two years you’ll still be able to afford your number one scorer and highest paid player (although Josh Anderson is still unsigned as of the writing of this post and the Blue Jackets only have about $8 million in cap space– on second thought, yeah, you’ll be fine).

In addition to the expected drop in offensive production from Panarin to Saad, the Blackhawks will miss Hossa’s scoring ability this season (yes, even as a 38-year-old).

Chicago will turn to 21-year-old, Nick Schmaltz, and 23-year-old, Ryan Hartman, to pickup where others have left off on offense and especially because the rest of the roster isn’t getting any younger (ten of their forwards on the roster currently are 25 or older).

On defense, the Blackhawks are in search of a sixth defenseman and their next Trevor van Riemsdyk, given Brian Campbell’s retirement and the fact that van Riemsdyk was a victim of the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft (and subsequent trade to the Carolina Hurricanes).

Newcomer Connor Murphy is their youngest product on the blue line at 24-years-old. Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival seek to anchor the defense while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook remain the star attractions of Chicago’s shut-down pairings. Between Kempny, Murphy, Rozsival and the unknown, somebody’s going to have to emerge as the replacement for Niklas Hjalmarsson (traded to Arizona, in exchange for Murphy and forward, Laurent Dauphin) and van Riemsdyk.

In goal, Corey Crawford returns as the starter, while Anton Forsberg and Jean-Francois Berube compete for the backup role. To the untrained scouting expert’s eye, both goalies can be dependable NHL backups, but Forsberg stands out more as a durable solution to the long term backup status goalie if Chicago is looking for one (hint: they are).

Don’t let Forsberg’s 4.10 goals against average and .852 save percentage last season dissuade you. He only made one appearance in net for Columbus and still managed a career best 2.28 GAA and .926 SV% in 51 games played with the Cleveland Monsters (AHL) last season. It doesn’t hurt to give him more playing time in relief of Crawford and especially with Berube as a third option, as Forsberg can really begin to develop in an organization’s system that isn’t clogged with a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (Sergei Bobrovsky) and Joonas Korpisalo.

Should he be called upon, Berube’s 3.42 GAA and .889 SV% in 14 games last season with the New York Islanders aren’t terrible, they’re just not great either. But again, there’s a reason why starting goalies play in more games than backup goalies.

Offseason Grade: C-

The Blackhawks made quite a splash this offseason by trading away Panarin, which isn’t the best look for a team that’s trying to remain a contender for a long time. Then again the salary cap exists and the return of Brandon Saad means Chicago will be able to get by in case the cap remains flat or in the event of a lockout for the duration of Saad’s contract.

One thing’s for sure, the Blackhawks will need some retooling during the Kane and Toews era because all good things must come to an end– and that time looks like it might be now as they navigate the uncertainty of Hossa’s career, a new look on the blue line and a bunch of expendable forwards for the time being while they wait for prospects to develop.

Montreal Canadiens 2017-’18 Season Preview

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Montreal Canadiens

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

Eliminated in the 1st round by the New York Rangers

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

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

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

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

And then the Rangers beat them in 6.

Sports. They’re weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: B+

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

Columbus Blue Jackets 2017-2018 Season Preview

Columbus Blue Jackets Logo

Columbus Blue Jackets

50–24–8, 108 Points, 3rd in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Pittsburgh

Additions: D Andre Benoit, D Cameron Gaunce, F Tyler Motte, F Artemi Panarin, F Jordan Schroeder, D Doyle Somerby

Subtractions: F David Clarkson (Traded to Vegas), G Oscar Dansk (Signed with Vegas), G Anton Forsberg (Traded to Chicago), F Sam Gagner (Signed with Vancouver), F William Karlsson (Claimed by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft), D Kyle Quincey (Signed with Minnesota), F Brandon Saad (Traded to Chicago), D Ryan Stanton (Signed with Edmonton), F T.J. Tynan (Signed with Vegas)

Offseason Analysis: As the 2017-2018 season approaches, one club that people are keeping their eyes on are the Columbus Blue Jackets. Although that comes as a surprise to many, Blue Jackets faithful know the quality product that their team can put on the ice. If anything, they certainly have created many high expectations for themselves, with a roster that seems poised to repeat regular season success.  *If you didn’t catch the bold font, please re-read the above sentence and note the specific terminology*

The Blue Jackets, entering the league as an expansion team in 2000, have now reached the playoffs three times, including two trips in the last four years. Although they did not achieve playoff success, the 2016-2017 season was still the best in franchise history, as they eclipsed the 100-point marker for the first time. The sixteen-game winning streak the team managed looked pretty and filled the seats at Nationwide Arena, but it left many wanting more. They slowed down (basically like a freight train screeching to a halt) and crawled into the playoffs, where they were beaten by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was seemingly a two-part tale to the season, so which Columbus Blue Jackets team will we see this year?

The front office wanted to make some noise, but at the same time, not create too much change. They achieved their goal when they acquired young star, Artemi Panarin, which forced them to send a talented Brandon Saad back to Chicago after only a couple years with the Blue Jackets. Forwards Tyler Motte and Jordan Schroeder will also be making moves to the Buckeye State, but they may be searching for homes in Cleveland rather than in Columbus. Both players have NHL and AHL experience, but they will need to compete for a full-time roster spot, not to mention ice time. The remaining three additions, all defensemen, could assist the already well-rounded corps, but it will probably be in the form of call-ups. Although doubtful at this point, one looming deal could still take place as the season nears (COME ON SAKIC, MAKE A DEAL… sorry, impulsive reaction). Other than that, the front office will take their current roster and hope to still be playing hockey in June.

So where does this leave the Blue Jackets? They will rely heavily on the talents of three award-winners this past season; Head Coach John Tortorella, Captain Nick Foligno, and especially goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. If Bob can remain healthy and put together another Vezina-quality season, the net will be secured. It will also be interesting to watch the production of the ‘Bread Man’ and see his results with a new team and line-mates. Panarin is motivated by critics who say he was simply riding the coat-tails of Kane back in Chicago.

Lastly, is this defense capable of winning a Presidents’ Trophy or Stanley Cup? They have steadily improved and now have great depth at the position, including talented, puck-moving defensemen like Zach Werenski and Seth Jones.

Offseason Grade: B-

Is this the year Columbus can make a big push? Although it seems doubtful, its honestly the closest they have ever been. After some early struggles, they have built their team the right way and are now solid in net and both ends of the ice. They need to act quickly, as contract renewals and the salary cap could hurt them in the near future. Players surely remember getting taken out by their rivals early in the playoffs, who eventually went on to hoist the cup, and have something to prove this season (boy, their first game with the Pens will be fun to watch). They also understand the high expectations from management, coaches, and the fans. The recipe is there, so let’s see if the Jackets can get something cooking.

Minnesota Wild 2017-2018 Season Preview

Minnesota Wild

49-25-8, 106 points (16’-17’), 2nd in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by St. Louis

Key additions: Matt CullenTyler EnnisMarcus Foligno, Kyle Quincey

Key subtractions: Martin Hanzal (signed with Dallas), Darcy Kuemper (signed with LA), Jason Pominville (Traded to Buffalo), Nate Prosser (signed with St. Louis), Marco Scandella (Traded to Buffalo), Alex Tuch (Taken by Vegas)

Offseason Analysis:

The Minnesota Wild had a very tough offseason on paper when it all began. With the expansion draft looming, the Wild knew they were going to lose a big name player if they couldn’t find a deal to send out one of their big name defenseman. They found that deal on June 30th, swapping Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville for then-Sabres Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis’ rights. The Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher had reportedly been chasing Foligno for a while, but former Buffalo General Manger Tim Murray always said Foligno wasn’t up for trade. With the new GM in Buffalo, Fletcher got his target and a nice perk in Ennis.

The offseason wasn’t going to get easier, however, as RFA’s Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter all needed new contracts – and that was before they added RFA Foligno into the mix.

Fletcher still had work to do.

Fletcher began with Niederreiter, signing him to a five-year, $5.25 AAV contract on July 31st. A day later he got his second guy on the books, as Granlund agreed to a 3-year, $5.75 AAV on August 1st, three days before his arbitration hearing.

Fletcher’s next two moves took some time and consideration, giving Fletcher and his staff time to talk veteran center Matt Cullen into signing a one-year deal. This may been one of the most underrated signings of the offseason but could do wonders in this lineup.

Fletcher was able to get his new RFA Foligno signed on September 14th. Foligno signed a four year long deal worth $2.875 AAV. This was a good deal for both parties, as Marcus brings the tough guy role and can also pick up some decent points. This left the Wild with just their captain needing a contract and, just a few days ago on September 18th, Koivu signed a two-year deal worth $5.5 AAV.

This is my least favorite contract they signed, mostly because Koivu, their captain and leader, deserves more job security than just two years. The cap situation is different because there are a lot players making really decent money in Minnesota instead of stays with monster contracts.

Other names that got contracts worth mentioning include Cal O’Reilly, who got a two-year deal, and Kyle Quincey and Niklas Svedberg, who both received one-year deals. All three could be great depth guys if injuries occur.

Offseason Grade: B

Overall, the Wild did a great job of keeping their key players. They didn’t go out and overspend and they made smart moves considering their situation. The only big losses came in Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella and Martin Hanzal. Hanzal was acquired at the deadline and chose free agency, so no major loss. The big question will come if they can fill the void of Scandella in a top-4 role. The Wild will more than likely still be a playoff team and will look to make a bigger impact in the playoffs.

Edmonton Oilers 2017-’18 Season Preview

Edmonton Oilers

47-26-9, 103 points, second in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Anaheim

Additions: F Jussi Jokinen, F Ryan Strome

Subtractions: C David Desharnais (signed with NYR), RW Jordan Eberle (traded to NYI), G Jonas Gustavsson (signed with Linköping), F Matt Hendricks (signed with WPG), F Anton Lander (signed with Kazan), D Jordan Oesterle (signed with CHI), F Tyler Pitlick (signed with DAL), LW Benoit Pouliot (signed with BUF)

Offseason Analysis: Going off the additions list, it seems General Manager Peter Chiarelli prescribes to an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

Considering Anaheim needed all seven games to knock off his Oilers in the second round last season in Edmonton’s first postseason appearance since 2006, it’s hard to argue with him.

Of course, that also ignores the elephants in the room: centers Leon Draisaitl and Captain Connor McDavid – two players slated to cost $21 million when the 2018-‘19 season begins (McDavid’s $12.5 million AAV extension begins next year). Assuming next season’s salary cap stays at this year’s $75 million, 28 percent of Edmonton’s payroll belongs to those two players in a sport that features 19 players hitting the ice per game (to compare, one-nineteenth of $75 million is $3,947,368.42 – approximately D Kris Russell’s yearly salary).

Thus, the Oilers were prevented from making many moves. Oh, the joy of having this generation’s Wayne Gretzky and his beloved sidekick-that-could-also-be-a-first-line-center-for-almost-every-other-club on the same team.

The only free agent signing the Oilers made this offseason of much value was their one-year deal with 34-year-old Jokinen. Don’t be distracted by the seemingly pedestrian .57 points-per-game he posted in his three seasons with Florida, as you need to take into account the Panthers’ below-average offense last season. When Florida dominated its division in 2015-’16, he posted impressive 18-42-60 totals before following it up with an 11-17-28 performance last year. Additionally, in his lone full season in Pittsburgh with centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (a situation similar to Edmonton’s), he posted 21-36-57 marks – the second, third and third-best efforts, respectively, of his career.

Though it can be said for every player in the league, it’s much easier to do one’s job when surrounded by talented teammates and success. That’s no less true with Jokinen, and he should be able to provide even more versatility to last season’s eighth-best offense.

Instead, Chiarelli was forced to make trades if he wanted to make long-term plans – hence the deal with the Islanders that exchanged Eberle for Strome. Slated to make $6 million this season and next, Eberle had to make way for Draisaitl and McDavid’s contracts. Meanwhile, Strome is slated to be a restricted free agent after costing $2.5 million this season.

The deal makes perfect sense for Chiarelli and owner Daryl Katz’ pocketbooks, but will it pan out for Coach Todd McLellan?

With 20-31-51 totals, 27-year-old Eberle had his best campaign since his 2014-’15 63-point last season, but still significantly under the .33-.43-.75-per-game totals he’s posted over his seven-year NHL career. To compare, 24-year-old Strome posted 13-17-30 totals in only 69 games played last season – a decent effort that shows growth, but still a far cry from his impressive 17-33-50 sophomore season in 2014-’15. Strome played on the top line with Patrick Maroon and McDavid in Monday’s split-squad preseason game against archrival Calgary, scoring two power play points late in the contest, including a five-on-three goal.

Strome should know that this is a true audition season for him, both with the Oilers and elsewhere. If he helps Maroon and McDavid make even more fireworks than they did last year, he might become a staple for the future. But if that pesky budget gets in the way, he could be well on his way to a major payday with another squad if he takes advantage of this prime opportunity.

Oh yeah, there’s also the Stanley Cup to play for. He should probably help Edmonton win that too, because it could very well be in reach. Anything short of an Oilers Conference Finals appearance this season is a failure.

Offseason Grade: B+

Even though we knew it was coming eventually, Chiarelli doesn’t get a glowing review for signing Draisaitl and McDavid to exorbitant contracts. But beyond that, the Oilers’ offseason went splendidly, as they did exactly what they needed to: make a dangerous team lethal.

I’ve said it on a podcast this season, but it bears writing: we’ve seen highly paid super teams before, as recently as last year (read: Chicago and Washington). One came away from their dynasty with three Stanley Cups; the other with three Presidents’ Trophies. Hardware is nice, but Draisaitl and McDavid must ensure their story ends like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’.