Tag Archives: 2016-2017 Season

Numbers Game: 2017-18 Standings Projections

Yes, it’s October.

Yes, it’s too early to make a final standings projection, but I’m going to do it anyway using a pseudo-algorithm called Heart and Grit Gut Feeling 2.0 (combined with the standard Microsoft Excel forecasting formula).

Gut Feeling 2.0 is better than just using the eye test because it combines actual numbers plugged into Microsoft Excel with the complete partial bias of whatever I feel like is the right record, number of points and/or anything shown below for all 31 teams in the NHL.

But seriously, to keep this loosely based in mathematics, I’ve included a range of points that three separate models are indicating (scroll to the bottom), as well as what Gut Feeling 2.0 is telling us.

2017-2018 Projected Final Standings

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Boston Bruins, 101 points
  2. x-Montreal Canadiens, 99 points
  3. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 98 points
  4. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points
  5. Ottawa Senators, 93 points
  6. Buffalo Sabres, 90 points
  7. Florida Panthers, 82 points
  8. Detroit Red Wings, 80 points

Predicting the final outcome across the Eastern Conference this year is a lot like playing the lottery– whether you pick your numbers or just do quick picks, your odds of winning are still far, far less than getting struck by lightning twice.

In the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins barely beat out the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning for the regular season division title with 101 points over Montreal’s 99 points and Tampa’s 98 points based on the Gut Feeling 2.0 model. Of course, seeding in the Stanley Cup Playoffs more often than not means nothing. Just like winning the President’s Trophy doesn’t mean much unless you win the Cup.

Given the parity of the Atlantic Division teams, it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the top-four teams in this model switch places or grab the division crown. Based on expected final standings point-ranges alone, Tampa looks to rebound with ease, while Montreal maintains status quo.

It’s a bit of a surprise, but the Ottawa Senators sit just on the outside looking in, though logic says otherwise. For one team to improve in the division (say, Tampa for example, or the Buffalo Sabres with a healthy, full-season of Jack Eichel), another team must lose. Five points in the final standings is the only difference between 2017-2018 and 2016-2017 for the Sens and ultimately it costs them a postseason appearance.

But if any major injuries occur to teams ahead of the Senators or Sabres, then expect either Ottawa or Buffalo to be ready to take their place.

When it comes to 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff success, you might want to consider cashing in on the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs to at least make it to the Second Round.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 107 points
  2. x-Washington Capitals, 106 points
  3. x-New York Rangers, 103 points
  4. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 102 points
  5. New York Islanders, 92 points
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 92 points
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  8. New Jersey Devils, 84 points

The 2017-2018 final standings in the Metropolitan Division look similar to the 2016-2017 final standings in the Metropolitan Division. This is no accident. The top teams, Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Rangers, remain dominant in their regular season play. Even the Columbus Blue Jackets, despite a six-point setback from their franchise best 50-win, 108-point season last year, remain a competitive team that should cross the 100-point plateau for two-seasons in a row under John Tortorella’s guise.

Whereas the Washington Capitals do not clinch the President’s Trophy in the 2017-2018 season and instead falter by 12 points compared to last season, the Carolina Hurricanes show improvement in their money-puck roster mentality, but ultimately the giants of the Metropolitan Divsion (the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, to be specific) prove too much for them to handle this season, though a 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs run seems imminent.

Somehow the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers remain stagnant this season, but the New Jersey Devils make the largest leap in points (from 70 points in ’16-’17 to 84 points in ’17-’18) as the rest of the division evens out.

Look for Pittsburgh to advance to the Second Round and yet another entertaining Rangers-Capitals matchup in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-Chicago Blackhawks, 102 points
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 97 points
  4. x-Dallas Stars, 96 points
  5. x-Minnesota Wild, 95 points
  6. Winnipeg Jets, 87 points
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 82 points

Look, the Dallas Stars have tremendous talent on their expected first line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, but even with Ben Bishop as their starting goaltender the Stars aren’t the best team in the Central Division.

Instead, the annual “how do they keep doing this all the time? oh, right, they have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford still” Chicago Blackhawks will just come out on top of the St. Louis Blues who look to improve from last season with a reinforced offense (hello, Brayden Schenn) and more experience on the blue line.

The Nashville Predators, in all their glory with four incredibly deep forward lines, the best defense (on paper) and an elite starting goalie in Pekka Rinne, surprisingly fall short of winning the division coming off of their 2017 Stanley Cup Final run. Nashville will be in better playoff position heading into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, given they won’t be the last team to clinch in the Western Conference, and they should be destined for another Western Conference Finals run, at least.

The Minnesota Wild are the winners of the consolation “hey the other division didn’t have four-quality playoff teams” prize and will clinch the second Western Conference wild card spot with 95 points in 2017-18– one season removed from a 49-25-8 record and 106 point, 2nd place finish in the Central Division.

Finally, the Colorado Avalanche couldn’t possibly have a season worse than they did last season, though they’re still poised to finish behind the Winnipeg Jets for last place in the division.

Pacific Division

  1. p-Edmonton Oilers, 112 points
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 109 points
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 99 points
  4. Los Angeles Kings, 92 points
  5. Calgary Flames, 85 points
  6. Vancouver Canucks, 83 points
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points
  8. Vegas Golden Knights, 72 points

Gut Feeling 2.0 never lies and the numbers don’t lie either. The Edmonton Oilers will be the top team in the Pacific Division when all is said and done this season. Better yet, the Oilers will be this season’s President’s Trophy winners– something that hasn’t happened since the days of some guy wearing a jersey with the number “99” on the back of it skated around the ice.

Other than Edmonton overtaking the Anaheim Ducks for first overall, there are virtually no changes in the Pacific Division standings. San Jose will knock at the door of a 100-point season for the third season in a row, only to fall a point short (for the second season in a row).

While Los Angeles Kings fans may be disappointed this season, if anything, missing the playoffs for one more season should give them enough time to develop and recover from their offseason roster moves while GM Rob Blake figures out the reins and plans the path back to Stanley Cup glory.

Things are coming together for the Arizona Coyotes. They won’t be a bad team; they’re just a victim of circumstance. Unfortunately, that circumstance dictates that it’s going to take one more season for the chemistry to work out as general manager, John Chayka, addresses the growing depth on offense (both in prospect development and with the addition of Derek Stepan this offseason), while building a stable core of defensemen and capable young goalies in Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue.

Meanwhile the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames go through their own growing pains for another season.

Luckily for the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s no pressure to play better than last season, mostly because this is their inaugural season, so it can’t be worse than before!

Look for Edmonton to make noise in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, going as deep as the Western Conference Finals– at least. Likewise, the Sharks seem ready for a better fight in the postseason than last season.

Plausible ranges in points based on three separate models (math done in Microsoft Excel alone– no Gut Feeling 2.0 added) for the 2017-2018 season:

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins (94-101), Buffalo Sabres (67-84), Detroit Red Wings (86-101), Florida Panthers (84-92), Montreal Canadiens (93-99), Ottawa Senators (91-92), Tampa Bay Lightning (89-98), Toronto Maple Leafs (80-90)

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes (81-87), Columbus Blue Jackets (84-92), New Jersey Devils (77-92), New York Islanders (84-97), New York Rangers (98-103), Philadelphia Flyers (90-92), Pittsburgh Penguins (105-108), Washington Capitals (102-119)

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks (100-107), Colorado Avalanche (65-84), Dallas Stars (92-94), Minnesota Wild (93-97), Nashville Predators (94-97), St. Louis Blues (97-106), Winnipeg Jets (83-87)

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks (101-109), Arizona Coyotes (74-83), Calgary Flames (85-90), Edmonton Oilers (74-87), Los Angeles Kings (90-96), San Jose Sharks (99-104), Vancouver Canucks (72-95), Vegas Golden Knights (69-75)

Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-3Tampa Bay Lightning

42-30-10, 94 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division (’16-’17)

Additions: D Mat Bodie, F Michael Bournival, F Alex Gallant, D Dan Girardi, F Chris Kunitz, G Michael Leighton, D Jamie McBain, D Mikhail Sergachev, F Carter Verhaeghe

Subtractions: F Jonathan Drouin (traded to MTL), F Byron Froese (signed with MTL), G Kristers Gudlevskis (traded to NYI), F Nikita Gusev (traded to VGK), F Henri Ikonen (signed with Jokerit, KHL), G Jaroslav Janus (signed with HC Slovan Bratislava, KHL), F Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (retired), F Greg McKegg (signed with PIT), G Mike McKenna (signed with DAL), F Tanner Richard (signed with Genève-Servette, NLA), D Matt Taormina (signed with MTL), F Joel Vermin (signed with Lausanne, NLA), D Luke Witkowski (signed with DET)

Still Unsigned: D Dylan Blujus, F Stefan Fournier, F Mike Halmo, D Jonathan Racine

Offseason Analysis: Steve Yzerman is a man with a plan for the Tampa Bay Lightning– not just because he’s the general manager, but because he literally has to have a plan somewhere with how he’s been able to carefully navigate avoiding salary cap hell while managing to keep a solid, young, core group of players in town.

Nic Cage is already writing the script for the Disney movie.

The Lightning just missed out on a 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance as the Toronto Maple Leafs secured the final spot on the second-to-last day of the regular season in a comeback win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. While frustrating for some, skipping a year of the postseason might have been a blessing in disguise from the hockey gods.

A healthy Steven Stamkos is a major bonus.

Tampa’s plus-7 goal differential was the 2nd worst goal differential in the Atlantic Division. Not that goal differential means everything in terms of league standings, but Stamkos’s absence was felt in the drop in offensive production compared to the season prior (plus-26 goal differential in 2015-2016).

Chris Kunitz brings his four Stanley Cups (the most of any current active player) and his 29 points in 71 games last season with Pittsburgh to the Lightning after signing a 1-year, $2.000 million deal. The 37-year-old forward has been in decline since the 2013-2014 season, but provides stability as a top-9 forward on the left side for the Bolts.

Even for his expertise, Kunitz’s numbers won’t be enough to replace the biggest loss from this offseason *ahem, a certain trade involving the Monreal Canadiens*.

On the blue line Tampa added Dan Girardi, which gives the Bolts three defensemen who are at least 31-years-old, but thankfully all of them have two-years and modest salary remaining on their deals, while rookies and 2017 1st rounder, Callan Foote, look to crack the roster.

And to give credit where credit is due, Yzerman’s biggest loss this offseason might just be one of his biggest gains in the seasons to come.

Yes, the Lightning sent forward, Jonathan Drouin, and a conditional 2018 6th round pick to the Canadiens in exchange for 19-year-old– high caliber– defensive prospect, Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional 2018 2nd round pick.

Drouin witnessed a 21-point improvement from his rookie year (32 points in 2014-2015) to last season, notching 21 goals and 32 assists for 53 points in 73 games played. In just 21 games played the year prior, after a minor-league holdout and team suspension, Drouin had 4-6-10 totals.

While Kunitz enters on the downhill of his NHL-career and Drouin was traded, one cannot forget that 40-goal scorer Nikita Kucherov exists. Kucherov’s 85 points led the Lightning in scoring last season and look to be matched, if not improved, this year.

For the Canadiens, acquiring Drouin was necessary to replace the departed Alexander Radulov, however trading Sergachev– especially after trading Nathan Beaulieu to Buffalo– weakened their blue line depth and increased their average age.

Drouin wasn’t the only forward traded away from Tampa, as Nikita Gusev found himself victim of the 2017 Expansion Draft, whereby the Lightning sent Gusev, a 2017 2nd round pick and a 2018 4th round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for future considerations (a.k.a. not selecting a certain player). Vegas claimed defenseman, Jason Garrison, as one of their own instead and the Bolts went on their way.

Finally, the post-Ben Bishop era Lightning that we got a glimpse of last season are exactly who we expect this season. Andrei Vasilevskiy returns as the starting goaltender with Peter Budaj as his backup according to Yzerman and Jon Cooper’s master plan for getting Tampa back into the playoffs and maybe– just maybe– back into the Stanley Cup Final.

Of course, this meant that NHL-ready backup, Kristers Gudlevskis fell victim to being too good to sit lower in the depth chart, stopping pucks for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. The Lightning traded Gudlevskis to the New York Islanders this offseason and received forward, Carter Verhaeghe, in return.

Offseason Grade: C+

For what they had to address (re-sign everyone that you can and do nothing), Tampa had an average offseason. They added guys who replaced expendable parts (like most teams these days, shelling out one or two-year contracts) and they might have shot themselves in the foot in the immediate fallout of the Drouin trade. But like anything, only time will tell.

A “C+” here doesn’t reflect that they’ll be a bad team– they’ll be a playoff team in 2018– it merely reflects that they were smart this offseason and didn’t overspend, overcompensate in trading or have a lack of transactions.

Colorado Avalanche 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-1Colorado Avalanche

22-56-4, 48 points, 7th in the Central Division (’16-’17)

Additions: F Andrew Agozzino, G Jonathan Bernier, G Joe Cannata, D Jared Cowen (PTO), D Jesse Graham, D David Warsofsky, F Colin Wilson, F Nail Yakupov

Subtractions: D Mat Clark (signed with HC Bolzano, EBEL), F Turner Elson (signed with DET), D Eric Gelinas (PTO with MTL), F Mikhail Grigorenko (signed with HC CSKA Moscow, KHL), F Brendan Ranford (signed with San Antonio, AHL), F Mike Sislo (signed with ARI), G Jeremy Smith (signed with CAR), D Patrick Wiercioch (signed with VAN)

Still Unsigned: F Troy Bourke, F Rene Bourque, D Cody Goloubef, F Samuel Henley, F John Mitchell, F Jim O’Brien, D Fedor Tyutin, D Nikita Zadorov

Offseason Analysis: Colorado Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, had one thing– and one thing only— to do this offseason– improve the team by any means necessary. The 2016-2017 Avs were the worst team in the lockout era (since the 2004-2005 season long lockout).

The 2006-2007 Philadelphia Flyers went 22-48-12, amassing 56 points along the way to collecting a -89 goal differential. The 2016-2017 Colorado Avalanche were eight points worse and had a -112 goal differential. So yeah, things were that bad.

Sakic could’ve traded forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog at any point this offseason, but he hasn’t.

While relationships between the front office and Landeskog may be mended the longer this drama goes on, the same cannot be said for Duchene. Colorado has promoted the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Landeskog and others on their social media platforms all summer, but fans haven’t seen much of Duchene, save for photos from his wedding.

The rumor mill has gone quiet– we did just wrap up August after all, and that’s when all of the GMs go into hibernation, unlike Boston Celtics general manager, Danny Ainge, and Cleveland Cavaliers general manager, Koby Altman, but basketball has long been different from NHL offseason traditions.

Not to get all sports talk radio host on the Avalanche, but what are they thinking?

Duchene, whether he regains top-notch form or not, is a sought after, star-quality center that is only one season removed from a nearly 60-point year. Yes, 18-23-41 totals in 77 games played in 2016-2017 won’t cut it for most teams paying an expected first or second line center $6.000 million a year, but here’s the thing– Colorado was the exception to the rule in just about everything last year.

Carl Soderberg ($4.750 million cap hit) only had 14 points last season after amassing a career year in scoring (51 points in 2015-2016). Everyone’s production was off a cliff– or down a mountain, if you’d like– in Avalanche territory.

So Sakic had a chance to hit the reset button and completely shut things off-and-on-again (with the hopes that last season was the “off-year”) and brought in some help in the crease. Granted, that doesn’t fix their porous blue line and lack off offensive production, but Jonathan Bernier provides more of a cushion in case Semyon Varlamov goes down with another season ending injury.

Bernier’s 2.50 GAA in 39 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season was his best goals against average since his days in a Los Angeles Kings uniform (2007-2013). As one of the best underrated backup goaltenders, Bernier could soar with the right combinations on the ice in front of him.

Speaking of combinations, head coach Jared Bednar has got quite the conundrum on the blue line to figure out defensive pairings. Colorado’s oldest defenseman is 29-year-old Erik Johnson. That would be a good thing under normal circumstances, however, Tyson Barrie, 26, and Mark Barberio, 27, are the only other defensemen under contract with Nikita Zadorov, 22, in a holding pattern as an unsigned RFA according to CapFriendly.

That’s a lot of minutes split between three defensemen (obviously Jared Cowen is signed to a PTO and could receive an offer/any AHL defenseman in their system– ‘sup David Warsofsky– could fill out the remaining spots/trades could be made).

While Varlamov looks to bounce back to full health and the Mile-High City collectively prays for a mile-high miracle turnaround in offense, not much has changed. Sure Colin Wilson was acquired from Nashville and Nail Yakupov was signed, but one is a clutch depth scorer and the other is a former 1st overall pick on his third team in three years.

Down the Frozen River statistical models* show the Colorado Avalanche as a team that can put up around 80 points on the season, which is certainly feasible if everything falls into line, but it seems to make more sense to go with gut instinct on this one and predict the Avalanche will finish 31st in the league with a slightly less dismal (depending on how you look at it) season than last year.

Offseason Grade: D

“D” as in trade Duchene, add a Defenseman (or two).

*Coming soon, stay tuned. *eyes emoji*

Worst 1st Overall Pick of All-Time?

While scrolling through Instagram on Sunday, I came across some random post someone had made claiming a certain 1st overall pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft as being “the biggest bust in NHL Entry Draft history”. Of course, that got me thinking.

Who was/is the bigger bust, Patrik Stefan or Nail Yakupov?

In seven seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers and Dallas Stars, Stefan amassed 188 points in his career, while Yakupov has had just 120 points in five seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues.

This offseason, the Colorado Avalanche are taking a shot on Yakupov, who might have reached his last chance to make an impact at the NHL level– if not make something of his career (which might be in jeopardy, as well).

While Stefan had 26.9 points per season compared to Yakupov’s average of 24 points a season, Yakupov’s first NHL season was shortened to just 48 games thanks to the 2012-2013 lockout and has yet to see a full 82-game season without injury or being scratched from the lineup.

Stefan, of course, did have the 2004-2005 season long lockout to overcome, but played in 72 games in his rookie season of 1999-2000 with Atlanta.

For more comparison, Stefan’s rookie campaign witnessed five goals and 20 assists for 25 points and a minus-20 rating in 72 games played. Yakupov, in 48 games, produced 17-14-31 totals with a minus-4 rating.

Of course, there’s always sample size to consider.

Stefan played in 455 career NHL games, while Yakupov has only played in 292 career games thus far.

In points per game, the matchup’s pretty even. Yakupov has 2.43 points per game which is only .01 better than Stefan’s 2.42 points per game.

Then again, Yakupov does have an edge in a little over half the time than Stefan’s points per game ratio.

The fact of the matter is that Stefan cracked an NHL roster on a consistent basis, regardless of the lack of quality star-power in the Thrashers lineup over the years.

Yakupov, while plagued by injury, was often a healthy scratch for the Blues last season and signed with a team that’s coming off the worst season anyone’s seen in the last 20 years.

And that doesn’t even get at the fact that Edmonton had three consecutive years (2010, 2011, 2012) of the 1st overall pick in what should have been prime rebuilding time– fully incorporating Yakupov as part of the solution– before drafting their savior in Connor McDavid in 2015.

Sportsnet/YouTube

The 2016-2017 Avalanche were the worst team in the salary cap era and while they’ve made some improvements to their roster, there’s still nothing to show for the Ryan O’Reilly trade– which is another argument for another time.

Nail Yakupov alone does not make the 2017-2018 Colorado Avalanche that much better.

Most fans will always remember Patrik Stefan for his empty net gaffe that almost cost the Stars a win against the Oilers about a decade ago (Dallas went on to win in a shootout), but at least fans remember something about Stefan, whereas with his career teetering on the edge, Yakupov runs the risk of not being remembered for anything on his way out.

Robert Soderlind/YouTube

Both players have had minimal impact in their careers. Stefan came into the league riding on the waves of an expansion team that wasn’t expected to be great even a year or two out from his draft day. Yakupov joined the Oilers in the midst of high expectations for a perpetual rebuild.

Both were offset due to injuries.

So yes, for now, Yakupov might be the biggest 1st overall bust in the history of the NHL Entry Draft (which dates back to 1963), because of a little thing called perspective. He was supposed to be part of a trifecta of 1st overall picks that would kickstart the Oilers.

But he still has another chance to prove everyone wrong and prolong his career– thanks, in part, to Colorado’s 1-year, $875,000 contract.

Chayka-ing things up

By: Nick Lanciani

Unknown-3Since the Arizona Coyotes follow us on Twitter (shouts to you, Coyotes social media department), I’m going to do my best to keep track of some projections for how their players will perform next season.

And since the season’s not even here yet and I’m not quite as organized as I would like to be to formally present these numbers to you, the reader, I’m just going to leave you with a look at how things might go next season for Arizona.

But that’s not all, I’m not just leaving you with one chart for now, but two charts! One is before John Chayka was hired as the Coyotes general manager and the other incorporates all of the moves Chayka’s made since becoming Arizona’s GM.

Just by giving Chayka’s roster a quick glance it is evident that the Coyotes will be much better this season. Continuous improvement among their youth will be evident as they develop in time, but a huge thing for Arizona next season will be the addition of Alex Goligoski on the blue line.

In fact, nearly all of the defensemen that Chayka picked up for the club will have a solid impact on keeping the score close and limiting the amount of work Mike Smith and Louis Domingue have to put in on a nightly basis.  Closing the gap on the scoring differential is essential to give your offense room to grow, if you’re building from the back-out.

Analytics aside, Chayka has made very tactical moves.

The Coyotes model is clear on building up their defense where necessary, while allowing their young forwards to develop. They aren’t rushing to add any young blue liners, but they did draft Jakob Chychrun, so it’s not like it’ll be too long before Arizona inserts a highly coveted, tactical, young defenseman. Besides, Anthony DeAngelo should be good enough for now, in terms of rotating some youth on the back end this year.

Needless to say, the Coyotes won’t be a number one team, but they’ll certainly be a competitive team that’ll be exciting to watch come February and March (and maybe deep into April too). And there’s a good chance a rookie or two could still surprise us all and crack the roster.

A note about my projections: For each stat, I amass the totals of every season in a player’s NHL career onto a spreadsheet in Excel and simply use the Forecast function, so some stats might not line up with one another in the projected outcome (i.e. shots and shooting percentage). Likewise, if I find something cooler than just using Excel, I’ll figure that out and make changes accordingly. For a better look at the charts, I advise that you zoom-in or click on each chart, thanks.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 6.16.13 PM.png
Expected performances for the 2016-2017 season of every player on the Arizona Coyotes 2015-2016 roster (regardless of where they are now).

If last year’s team came back to play this year (above), it doesn’t appear they’d be much different than the current roster (below) heading into the 2016-2017 season, except for the fact that Chayka’s a genius on paper so far (contract wise, in relation to performance, that is).

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 1.54.55 AM.png
Expected performances for the 2016-2017 season of every player currently on the Arizona Coyotes roster (including Radim Vrbata, who signed with the team on Tuesday and made me have to adjust more than I had to at first).

HOT TAKES: Is It Time To Trade Marc-Andre Fleury?

By: Nick Lanciani

With Matt Murray’s impressive 2016 Stanley Cup Playoff run for the Pittsburgh Penguins, is it time for them to think about their future in goal and realize the future is now? Let’s decide whether or not it’s time for the Penguins to trade Marc-Andre Fleury.

Pittsburgh Penguins Logo

Trade Him, Trade Him Now

Everyone’s making a big fuss over goaltenders these days, yet it seems like the smart thing to do would be to stick with your number one goalie all along. The St. Louis Blues fallout in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the now-headed to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, San Jose Sharks, had nothing to do with shaky goaltending, despite being outscored by a large margin.

Brian Elliott was the Blues clear starting goalie in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs as Jake Allen lost his way in the final month and a half of the regular season and was relegated to the backup role in the playoffs. Allen’s Game 5 loss to the Sharks comes as no surprise, given well, let’s just say Elliott is the clear number one goaltender as of right now for St. Louis’s 2016-2017 season opener (and I’m not just saying that because of a bet I made with Connor).

The Penguins rode the momentum of their tremendous run on the backs of Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray and Jeff Zatkoff this season, but one thing has emerged as a clear choice to make. Is it time to replace Fleury?

Look, that might sound surprising— okay, I’m even surprising myself— but let’s face it, Fleury is coming off his greatest season ever and there’s no greater time to amass a significant return than right now. Especially when Matt Murray put up similar numbers in the regular season to the currently elite Washington Capitals goaltender, Braden Holtby’s rookie year.

Fleury went 35-17-6 is 58 games played this season with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 SV%. He recorded five shutouts this year, which put him at 20 shutouts over the last three seasons. Last year, Fleury went 34-20-9 in 64 appearances, with a league leading and career high 10 shutouts and a 2.32 GAA and .920 SV%. For the lack of a better summarization, Fleury’s been on fire in recent years.

His success seems to be unusual, considering how Fleury often flutters out of peak performance in the playoffs— oh wait.

Having been out of the lineup since March 31st with a concussion, Fleury returned to his first game action in relief of Murray in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning on May 20th. Fleury made his first start in nearly two months on May 22nd in Game 5.

In two playoff appearances, Fleury is 0-1-1 with a 3.03 GAA and an .875 SV%. In other words, not good for his first couple of games back on the wings of a spectacular Vezina Trophy worthy season (it beats me why Jonathan Quick is a finalist this year and Fleury is not). A good playoff goalie is expected to make an impact on the series, bar none.

I get it, he’s coming back from being mostly inactive for the last couple of months, but he is considered a regular at what he does for a living and should not have even started Game 5, based on Murray’s performance in the playoffs as a whole. You don’t change your goalie in a series unless it’s goalie change in a relief appearance or heading into an elimination game— otherwise you’re only tinkering with momentum and robbing a goalie’s confidence (and perhaps the rest of the team’s confidence).

But Matt Murray is ten years younger and making an impact as good, if not better than Fleury, when it comes to crunch time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In Murray’s 13 regular season games this season, he went 9-2-1 with a 2.00 GAA and a .930 SV%. His rookie season save percentage almost mirror’s Holtby’s .934 SV% as a rookie 21-year-old back in the 2010-2011 season. Holtby also went 12-10-2 in 14 games with a 1.79 GAA, for the record, that year.

While Holtby set himself apart from the rest in 12 playoff appearances this year with a 1.72 GAA and .942 SV% at 26-years old, Murray’s been Holtby-esque spectacular, all while defeating the Capitals and taking his team further than Holtby’s ever been in the playoffs.

In 14 playoff appearances, Murray is 10-4-1 with a 2.30 GAA and a .924 SV% in his first run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs heading into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. Holtby went 7-7-4 in 14 games played with a .935 SV% and a 1.95 GAA in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs (his first taste of playoff hockey). While the numbers might seem misleading, Holtby allowed 30 goals on 459 shots against that year and Murray’s allowed 32 goals on 420 shots against thus far in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For a 21— 22-year-old goaltender, this kind of a run is insanity, no matter how you look at it.

For a general manager, living in the Braden Holtby-as-top-dog-in-net era, it’s certainly worth considering moving Murray up not only from the third-string position, but to your number one spot for good.

I have nothing against Marc-Andre Fleury as he is now.

I’ll repeat that. I have nothing against Marc-Andre Fleury.

However, at $5.75 million with 4 years left on his contract and Murray only costing $620K with two years left and a plethora of other talented pending RFA’s in the next couple of seasons for the Penguins, it’s worth the time to see what other teams would give up for a surefire number one goalie for at least the next five years (if not longer- Fleury isn’t showing signs of turning into the next Ryan Miller anytime soon).

And given the relationship between the Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs after the Phil Kessel deal in the offseason, it might be worth investigating just how badly Toronto needs a goaltender. Let alone other teams scampering around the Maple Leafs in the standings.

One more tidbit of information; Fleury’s rookie campaign of the 2003-2004 season only saw a 4-win, 14 losses and 2 ties performances in 21 games played with a 3.64 GAA and a .896 SV% at the age of 18 going on 19.

The fact of the matter is that the Penguins could lengthen the life of their success with a young goalie like Murray putting on a performance similar to their rival in Washington’s goalie (Holtby) and still be built on the currently successful Chicago model of running a team.

A team built on interchangeable scoring, a shutdown defense and a goalie that is clutch when you need him to be, but can be bailed out as he grows with the team in front of him.

Trade Fleury while you can. Make a pure hockey move, reminiscent of the days when the Boston Bruins acquired prolific goal scorer Phil Esposito in a deal that worked out for everyone involved— Blackhawks included— or like when the Colorado Avalanche landed Patrick Roy from the Montréal Canadiens— except the Canadiens didn’t really get much out of that deal and it was kind of forced on them (or by themselves, depending of who you ask).

Bottom line, hockey is a business and in a business you’re always looking for the here and now and where you’re headed in the future. Otherwise you’re only doomed to mismanagement at its finest. Pittsburgh has a chance to avoid poor management by trading Fleury while the price is still high and avoid falling in the standings by the grace of the rest of their organization and Matt Murray in goal.