Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 36-17-3, 75 points

3rd in the Discover NHL Central Division

Defeated Montréal in the Stanley Cup Final

Additions: F Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, F Gabriel Dumont, F Remi Elie, F Charles Hudon, F Corey Perry, D Zach Bogosian, D Brent Seabrook (acquired from CHI), D Andrej Sustr, G Brian Elliott, G Maxime Lagacé

Subtractions: F Alex Barré-Boulet (re-signed, then claimed off waivers by SEA), F Blake Coleman (signed with CGY), F Marian Gaborik (contract expired, informally retired), F Barclay Goodrow (traded to NYR), F Yanni Gourde (expansion, SEA), F Tyler Johnson (traded to CHI), F Ryan Lohin (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Mitchell Stephens (traded to DET), F/D Luke Witkowski (signed with DET), D Andreas Borgman (signed with DAL), D Brian Lashoff (signed with DET), D David Savard (signed with MTL), D Luke Schenn (signed with VAN), D Ben Thomas (SHL), G Christopher Gibson (signed with FLA), G Spencer Martin (traded to VAN), G Curtis McElhinney (retired), G Anders Nilsson (retired)

Still Unsigned: F Boo Nieves

Re-signed: F Ross Colton, F Boris Katchouk, F Taylor Raddysh, F Gemel Smith, F Otto Somppi, D Fredrik Claesson, D Sean Day, D Cal Foote

Offseason Analysis: One of the good things about winning the Cup is that the following season’s expectations are wiped clean. Sure, fans and analysts may want to see you win it again in back-to-back seasons, but that’s just icing on the cake and any run that comes up short in the year following a Cup ring can be forgiven.

Luckily for Tampa, they won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2020 and 2021, so if they don’t happen to become the first team to win three consecutive titles since the New York Islanders won four Stanley Cup rings in a row from 1980-83, that’s fine.

The Lightning don’t get two straight years of postseason forgiveness, however.

Rather, the Bolts are on the quest for the first dynasty in the National Hockey League since the Edmonton Oilers won three Cups in four years from 1987-90.

That’s right, folks, Chicago didn’t have a dynasty when they won in 2010, 2013 and 2015. There’s a few too many years in-between.

Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy and the rest of the Lightning, however, have a chance of doing something not even Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury with the Pittsburgh Penguins, nor Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and the rest in Chicago were able to do– win three-straight Stanley Cup Finals.

Oh and the dynasty thing too, which is a given.

But success comes with a price in the loss of depth over time– whether it’s because of lower draft picks over time or simply due to salary cap constraints that pressure Cup winners into shipping out some of the glue guys from the team that just won it all in the middle of a summer-long party.

It is, after all, a business.

Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Yanni Gourde– Tampa’s third line that could be a second line on any other roster– was broken up over the summer.

Coleman joined the Calgary Flames in free agency, Goodrow was traded to the New York Rangers and Gourde was a victim of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft– in other words, the first certified star forward in the making for the Seattle Kraken.

Though the Lightning will miss out on the speed and production of that line in their bottom-six, Tampa is more than ready to promote some bottom-six breakout stars from last season into genuine full-time roles, while also accommodating for general turnover after winning back-to-back Cups.

Tampa General Manager, Julien BriseBois, signed Corey Perry to a two-year deal worth $1.000 million per season as a low-risk, high-reward veteran that can manage bottom-six minutes with efficiency at this point in his career– yielding 21 points in each of the last two seasons (5-16–21 totals in 57 games with the Dallas Stars in 2019-20, 9-12–21 totals in 49 games with the Montréal Canadiens in 2020-21), while finishing as the first runner up to the Lightning in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances.

BriseBois also added Pierre-Édouard Bellemare to the Bolts’ fourth line after Bellemare spent the last two seasons in a Colorado Avalanche uniform, recording 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 53 games for the Avs last season, as well as a career-high 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 69 gamed with Colorado in 2019-20.

Among internal options to move up into the top-nine or make the fourth line after spending last year on the taxi squad or bouncing around in recent years between stints in the NHL, AHL, Major Junior or college, Ross Colton, Boris Katchouk, Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith and Taylor Raddysh all present themselves as options to compete for– if not rotate in and out of– a spot on the fourth line.

Colton scored the Cup clinching goal in the second period of Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– the only goal of the, 1-0, victory over the Canadiens that secured Tampa’s second Cup ring in as many years.

In 30 games last season, he had 9-3–12 totals. Not bad for a 25-year-old on the rise after spending parts of the last three seasons with the Syracuse Crunch (AHL).

Joseph managed 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 70 games with the Bolts in 2018-19, before being limited to 4-3–7 totals in just 37 games in 2019-20.

Last season, he bounced back with 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) in 56 games and is sure to continue to mesh well with Tampa’s influx of youth in the bottom-six as a 24-year-old forward.

Entering 2021-22, Katchouk and Raddysh are still looking to make their NHL debuts, though Raddysh is slated to be in the lineup against Pittsburgh on Opening Night.

While Tampa sorts out their supporting cast, one thing that’s remained consistent is the Lightning’s top-six as Kucherov returns to regular season action for a full 82-game slate alongside Point and Ondrej Palat on the first line.

Meanwhile, Anthony Cirelli leads Alex Killorn and Stamkos on the second line as Hedman, Jan Rutta, Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak lead the defenders with Mikhail Sergachev paired alongside Zach Bogosian (he’s back!).

Curtis McElhinney retired over the summer, though not before BriseBois upgraded his backup goaltender role with Brian Elliott first.

Elliott’s looking to rebound from a rough stint with the Philadelphia Flyers over the last four seasons, in which he most recently went 15-9-2 with a 3.06 goals-against average, an .889 save percentage and two shutouts in 30 games played.

He’s sure to benefit from 1) Tampa’s defense and 2) Vasilevskiy yielding an overwhelming majority of games in the regular season.

Vasilevskiy produced a 31-10-1 record in 42 games last season with a 2.21 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in that span.

As for what else is missing from this summer’s tactical overhaul with the salary cap in mind after winning back-to-back Cups?

Let’s review all of Tampa’s trades from after the Final through now real quick, shall we?

Goodrow was dealt to the New York Rangers for a 2022 7th round pick on July 17th, then BriseBois swapped a 2022 4th round pick for a 2021 4th round pick with Montréal at the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft on July 24th.

A few days later, he cleared out some salary by shipping Tyler Johnson to Chicago with a 2023 2nd round pick for Seabrook’s contract that is currently on the long-term injured reserve thanks to a career-ending injury that renders Seabrook as a forgiven cap hit on the books.

Mitchell Stephens packed his bags out of Tampa for the Detriot Red Wings in exchange for a 2022 6th round pick on July 30th, then the Lightning sent Spencer Martin to the Vancouver Canucks for future considerations on July 31st.

Offseason Grade: C

Down the road, Point’s eight-year extension at $9.500 million per season is an excellent move made by BriseBois, but since that contract goes into effect starting next season (2022-23), it doesn’t sway the offseason grade for 2021.

If it were just a postseason grade, the Bolts would get an “A”, but since this is a measure of everything that happened after the 2021 Stanley Cup Final and before the 2021-22 season gets underway, well, Tampa had an average summer.

They filled some holes, shed some salary and were forced to make difficult decisions in other areas thanks to the existence of the salary cap and some key players being healthy for a change as the Lightning embark on their two-time defending Stanley Cup champion season.

All in all, it’s not too bad to be a fan of the Lightning these days or a member of the organization– as long as you got here before the 2021 Stanley Cup Final wrapped up.

This isn’t to say that Tampa will be bad by any means, but rather that they’re content with contending for the next few years to come– at least– so if they don’t win three Cup rings in as many years, that’s fine. They’ll be quite alright.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Montréal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 24-21-11, 59 points

4th in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by Tampa

Additions: F Jean-Sébastien Dea, F Christian Dvorak (acquired from ARI), F Mike Hoffman, F Cedric Paquette, F Mathieu Perreault, D Louis Belpedio, D Sami Niku, D David Savard, D Chris Wideman, G Sam Montembeault (claimed off waivers from FLA)

Subtractions: F Phillip Danault (signed with LAK), F Charles Hudon (signed with TBL), F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (offer sheet signed with CAR, not matched), F Jake Lucchini (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), F Corey Perry (signed with TBL), F Tomas Tatar (signed with NJD), F Jordan Weal (KHL), D Cale Fleury (expansion, SEA), D Erik Gustafsson (signed with CHI), D Otto Leskinen (Liiga), D Jon Merrill (signed with MIN), D Gustav Olofsson (signed with SEA), G Vasili Demchenko (KHL), G Charlie Lindgren (signed with STL)

Still Unsigned: F Joseph Blandisi, F Michael Frolik, F Eric Staal

Re-signed: F Joel Armia, F Brandon Baddock, F Alex Belzile, F Laurent Dauphin, F Artturi Lehkonen, F Michael Pezzetta, F Ryan Poehling, F Lukas Vejdemo, G Michael McNiven

Offseason Analysis: After back-to-back miracle runs to the postseason aided by the circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Montréal Canadiens are expected to fall back to Earth in 2021-22.

The Canadiens were a .500 team that upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, then Montréal was a below .500 team that benefitted from the four teams per division playoff format in 2021.

Any of the 16 teams that make the playoffs can win the Cup and the Canadiens almost bested the 2012 Los Angeles Kings in terms of being a long shot to do so, but the Tampa Bay Lightning had other plans in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Instead, the Bolts repeated as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions while Montréal was eliminated in five games in a Game 5 that was decided by one goal– the only goal, scored by Ross Colton a little past the midpoint of the second period, as the Lightning emerged victorious with a, 1-0, win on home ice to secure their third Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

Corey Perry lost to Tampa in back-to-back years and, as such, as taken the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra to heart in the offseason, signing a two-year contract worth $1.000 million per season with the Lightning.

Fear not, Habs fans, unlike when Marian Hossa bounced from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Detroit Red Wings before landing in Chicago ahead of the 2009-10 season, Perry’s already won a Cup ring. He’s just in search of his second before the twilight of his career reaches sunset.

Montréal’s cast of characters in Perry, Eric Staal and others that joined the leadership of captain, Shea Weber– whether via free agency ahead of the 2020-21 season or prior to the 2021 trade deadline– has mostly disbanded.

Whether or not Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, planned on making an appearance in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final or not as the 56-game regular season approached last season, it’s hard to say that he didn’t give the Habs their best roster in recent years.

They replaced Claude Julien with Dominique Ducharme behind the bench after a shaky start and rode the waves of change into a fourth-place finish in the one-off Scotia NHL North Division to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2021 First Round.

They didn’t surrender when they trailed in the series 3-1, as Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi followed the examples of Perry, Staal, Joel Armia, Tyler Toffoli and other veterans that led the charge.

Montréal beat Toronto in seven games. They swept the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round and upset the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Then David faced Goliath, but Goliath won.

Because of the nature of the salary cap era, Bergevin couldn’t hold onto all of his puzzle pieces.

Perry, Staal, Jordan Weal, Phillip Danault, Charlie Lindgren, Jon Merrill, Tomas Tatar, Kotkaniemi and Erik Gustafsson are all gone for one reason or another, while Mike Hoffman, Cedric Paquette, David Savard, Chris Wideman, Mathieu Perreault, Sami Niku and Sam Montembeault have all been signed to take their place on the depth chart.

The heart of the Canadiens– however recently formed– is changing. The identity of the team last season– forged with the additions of Perry and Staal to the already existent tenures of Danault, Weber, Price and Co. is in transition.

Whereas Suzuki was already leading the charge in Montréal’s new core, this offseason has solidified the inevitable. It may not be a rebuild, but it may be a few more stagnant years in-between before long term success and growth.

It’s crazy to write about how the Habs– a team that made the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– are not going to be as “good” as they were good enough to reach the Final, but it also makes the most sense.

Again, in a normal 82-game season without the pandemic, the Canadiens likely wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in the last two years.

The fact that they have has provided valuable experience for Suzuki, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and more, but the veteran turnover from last season to this season is palpable.

The additions of Hoffman, Paquette, Savard, Wideman and Perreault signal a distinct shift in character.

Heart and grit be damned– Montréal is wholly embracing the speed and skill era. Sort of.

Hoffman joined the St. Louis Blues on a one-year deal last season after amassing five consecutive seasons with at least 55 points or more dating back to the 2015-16 season. His play in an Ottawa Senators uniform was consistent, but his dressing room presence earned him a ticket to the San Jose Sharks in a trade before being flipped to the Florida Panthers ahead of the 2018-19 season.

After amassing 70 points in 82 games with the Panthers in his first season in Florida, Hoffman had 59 points in 69 games in the 2019-20 regular season that was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Then he had 17-19–36 totals in 52 games with the Blues last season after a slow start.

As a top-nine forward, Hoffman’s one-dimensional game as a sniper isn’t that bad as long as he scores.

Since being traded by the Lightning, Paquette had a little bit of a journey on his way to Montréal. First, in nine games with the Senators last season he had one goal. Then in 38 games with the Carolina Hurricanes, he amassed seven points (three goals, four assists) for a grand total of 4-4–8 totals in 47 games combined between his Sens and Canes tenure.

As a fourth liner, it’s a low-risk, high-reward move for the Habs, but that’s assuming he’ll be in the lineup from night-to-night as the Canadiens have a backlog of bottom-six talent looking to earn a regular role.

Savard might just be the best value signing this summer by Bergevin. The 30-year-old defender was signed to a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and had six points (one goal, five assists) from the blue line in 54 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Lightning last season en route to winning his first Stanley Cup ring.

Don’t let his offensive shortfalls fool you, Savard is a quality shutdown defender of the top-four variety.

Seriously, it’s a good signing by the Canadiens.

Wideman hasn’t made an appearance in the NHL since the 2018-19 season, when he played for the Senators until the infamous Uber ride, then was traded to the Edmonton Oilers and finally traded again to the Panthers.

In 181 career NHL games, he’s had 16-29–45 totals from the point and spent 2019-20 in the American Hockey League with the San Diego Gulls after signing with the Anaheim Ducks and missing out on the roster after training camp and spending last season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia.

While in the KHL, Wideman reinvented his game– compiling 9-32–41 totals in 59 games with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.

With Niku on the injured reserve to start the season and Weber’s career in doubt, Wideman is a welcome addition to the bottom pairing as Montréal looks to hold things together in their own end with Carey Price out indefinitely (Price entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program last Thursday) and Jake Allen as their last resort as the de facto starting goaltender.

Meanwhile, Perreault’s arrival shores up the fourth line and Montembeault should provide an added cushion as a backup option to Allen in the crease.

By now, you’ve read almost 1,300 words on Montréal’s summer and we haven’t even gotten around to talking about the ongoing feud with the Hurricanes as a result of the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, as well as the Christian Dvorak acquisition.

Let’s try to keep this brief, O.K.?

Carolina signing Kotkaniemi wasn’t revenge (allegedly) for Montréal signing Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet, but it was an offer that was too good to refuse (for Kotkaniemi, anyway).

A one-year deal worth about $6.100 million with a $20 signing bonus (symbolism!) means that Kotkaniemi will be due for a decent payday if he’s tendered a qualifying offer next summer.

The Canadiens didn’t have the cap space and even the Hurricanes had to make a move to finagle his salary on the books. The Habs will gladly take Carolina’s 2022 1st round and 2022 3rd round draft picks, despite losing one of their better centers for the future.

It was hard enough to let Danault walk to the Los Angeles Kings in free agency, surely things only got harder for Montréal to find a replacement after Kotkaniemi left too– oh.

After swapping draft picks on the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in three separate trades, Bergevin made his only trade that resulted in a change to Montréal’s roster this offseason on Sept. 4th.

The Canadiens dealt a conditional 2022 1st round pick and a 2024 2nd round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Dvorak and with that brought in his 17-14–31 totals in 56 games from last season to their top-six forward group.

Since making his league debut in 2016-17, Dvorak has never reached the 40-point plateau, but with teammates like Toffoli, Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Caufield and anyone else that might bounced around inside the top two lines on any given night– Dvorak is sure to have a more consistent supporting cast around him than in his Coyotes days.

Offseason Grade: C

It’s not a great look to have mismanaged Kotkaniemi over the years– culminating in the loss of his talent via an offer sheet, but what’s more concerning for the Canadiens is just how much of what made them pernicious in their Cinderella run to the Final last year that they lost.

It wasn’t just one or two minor moves that were made to improve from last season to this season– Bergevin made some sweeping changes, by necessity or otherwise.

The top-six forward group should be fine, but do the Habs have the same level of depth that they had last season? That’s another question entirely.

At the very least, they’re not getting caught up having an overstayed welcome with replacement level talent, yet their window in the Price era may be coming to a close.

Hopefully Price gets the help that he needs most as there’s a lot more to life than just hockey. In the meantime, time marches on as the 34-year-old goaltender is susceptible to the inevitable fallout from a goaltender’s prime.

Montréal may very well win another Cup someday soon, but Price might be in a more limited role as the club’s backup by then, if all things go according to plan with this ideally seamless transition from a team that lucked into postseason runs.

The Habs need to improve in the regular season in a division that’s already tough enough to compete in with Tampa, Toronto, Florida and Boston expected to be in the playoff hunt in the Atlantic Division.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Vegas Golden Knights 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 40-14-2, 82 points

2nd in the Honda NHL West Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Semifinal by Montréal

Additions: F Sven Baertschi, F Evgenii Dadonov (acquired from OTT), F Brett Howden (acquired from NYR), F Nolan Patrick (acquired from NSH, re-signed), G Laurent Brossoit

Subtractions: F Reid Duke (signed with Henderson Silver Knights, AHL), F Cody Glass (traded to NSH), F Tyrell Goulbourne (signed with Belleville Senators, AHL), F Mikael Hakkarainen (acquired from VGK, signed with TPS, Liiga),F Tomas Nosek (signed with BOS), F Danny O’Regan (signed with ANA), F Ryan Reaves (traded to NYR), F Dylan Sikura (signed with COL), D Carl Dahlström (signed with TOR), D Nick DeSimone (traded to NYR), D Nick Holden (traded to OTT), D Jimmy Schuldt (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), G Oscar Dansk (KHL), G Marc-Andre Fleury (traded to CHI)

Still Unsigned: F Tomas Jurco

Re-signed: F Patrick Brown, F Mattias Janmark, F Gage Quinney, D Dylan Coghlan, D Alec Martinez

Offseason Analysis: Well, at least Vegas didn’t try to sign the market’s best free agent to a long-term deal this summer and instead chose to do some introspection.

Looks like that didn’t last too long (on a technicality, of course).

Sure, the Golden Knights didn’t sign anyone to a massive contract this summer, but they did dump quite a hefty salary in an otherwise inexplicable trade this offseason.

Rather than lose out on recent acquisitions and stay the course with Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner as a goaltending tandem, Golden Knights General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon, did the one thing Vegas’ majority owner, Bill Foley, promised would never be done– McCrimmon traded Fleury.

The move stunned the goaltender and nearly made the Sorel, Québec native retire, but after a quick tour of Chicago, Fleury decided to play out the remainder of his contract as a pending-unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season.

With an additional $7.000 million to spend towards the cap ceiling, McCrimmon was able to keep Mattias Janmark and Alec Martinez in Vegas– despite likely angering some locals with the loss of Fleury.

Before we discuss the extensions for Janmark and Martinez, let’s talk goaltending.

Whereas Fleury had a 26-10-0 record in 36 games last season with six shutouts, as well as a 1.98 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage en route to his first Vezina Trophy in his 17-year NHL career, Lehner had a 13-4-2 record with one shutout, a 2.29 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in 19 games last season.

If you want a starting goaltender to be around 2.00 in goals-against average and about .920 in save percentage, while your backup is pegged around a 2.50 in goals-against average and .910 or so in save percentage, then the dynamic duo did just that last season for the Golden Knights.

For the first time since his time with the New York Islanders in the 2018-19 season, Lehner is back to being a starting netminder. Back then, he went 25-13-5 in 46 games with six shutouts, a 2.13 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.

Now, he’ll be tasked with handling anywhere from four additional games to about a dozen more (give or take a few), since McCrimmon signed Laurent Brossoit on a two-year deal worth $2.325 million per season as Vegas’ backup.

Last season, the Golden Knights spent about $12 million on goaltenders. This season, they’re spending a little more than Fleury’s cap hit alone– $7.325 million for Lehner and Brossoit, compared to Fleury’s $7.000 million price tag against the cap.

Brossoit hasn’t been able to maintain consistency from year-to-year, but he’s a durable backup coming off of a solid performance with the Winnipeg Jets in 2020-21, amassing a 6-6-0 record in 14 games with a 2.42 goals-against average, one shutout and a .918 save percentage.

Vegas was always going to transition from Fleury to Lehner once Lehner became a part of the equation for the future. Doing so now may look bad in the manner that they did it, but it was always going to be inevitable as long as the Golden Knights were spending close to the salary cap.

Anyway, Janmark and Martinez are staying in town– Janmark on a one-year extension worth $2.000 million and Martinez on a three-year deal with a $5.250 million cap hit.

In 56 games last season, Janmark had 11-13–24 totals between Chicago and Vegas, where he went on to contribute eight points (four goals, four assists) in 16 playoff games as the Golden Knights advanced to the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal before being eliminated by the Montréal Canadiens in six games.

Martinez, meanwhile, amassed 9-23–32 totals in 53 games in his first full season with the Golden Knights since Vegas acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings ahead of the 2020 trade deadline.

He had twice the points in 2020-21 than he had in 2019-20 in roughly the same number of games and chipped in six points (four goals, two assists) from the blue line in 19 playoff games in 2021 for Vegas.

At 34-years-old, signing Martinez until he’s nearly 37 is both a risk and an assurance that he pretty much won’t be playing anywhere else for the rest of his career (unless Vegas flips him later on or he decides to sign elsewhere in the summer of 2024.

For now, the extensions bolster Vegas’ vital depth for both regular season play and postseason clutch performances when you need it most from players you might otherwise least expect down the lineup.

Among other choices made this offseason, McCrimmon was busy working the phones for trade calls and landed a pair of reclamation projects for the 2021-22 season and beyond in Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov, but first a quick recap of all the trades Vegas made this summer.

On July 17th, the Golden Knights dealt defender, Nick DeSimone, and a 2022 4th round pick to the New York Rangers for forward, Brett Howden.

That same day, Vegas completed a transaction with the Nashville Predators, acquiring Patrick in exchange for Cody Glass and sealed the door on trading all three of their 2017 1st round picks (Glass, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brännström) for other assets.

At the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, McCrimmon got in touch with Detroit Red Wings General Manager, Steve Yzerman, and swapped draft picks all day– sending 2021 2nd round pick (36th overall) to Detroit for a 2021 2nd round pick (38th overall) and a 2021 4th round pick (128th overall) in one trade, as well as dealing a 2021 4th round pick (114th overall) and a 2021 5th round pick (155th overall) to the Red Wings for a 2021 4th round pick (102nd overall).

A few days later on July 27th, the Golden Knights traded Fleury to Chicago for forward, Mikael Hakkarainen, who went unsigned and joined a team in Finland instead.

The next day, Vegas traded defender, Nick Holden, and a 2022 3rd round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Dadonov.

Then on July 29th, McCrimmon shipped fourth line forward, Ryan Reaves, to the Rangers for a 2022 3rd round pick.

Alright, back to Patrick and Dadonov for a second.

Last season, Patrick amassed 4-5–9 totals in 52 games with the Philadelphia Flyers in his first season back since missing all of 2019-20 due to migraines stemming from post concussion syndrome. The 23-year-old is feeling refreshed and looking for a career rejuvenation in the desert with the Golden Knights.

Meanwhile, Dadonov is coming off a down year in which he recorded 20 points (13 goals, seven assists) in 55 games with the Ottawa Senators after amassing 25-22–47 totals in 69 games with the Florida Panthers in 2019-20 after back-to-back seasons with at least 65 points.

The 32-year-old forward is looking to avoid further decline as he is soon to enter the twilight of his prime– approaching his mid-30s having yet to reach the 30-goal plateau or live up to his $5.000 million cap hit through 2022-23.

Time will tell if Vegas can help right the ship.

Offseason Grade: C-

Trading Fleury in the way that they did is hard to swallow– especially since it broke up one of the better goaltending tandems in the league from last season to this season.

At the very least, moving on from Fleury allowed Vegas to hold onto Janmark and Martinez in the manner that they did rather than court this summer’s top free agent, thereby forcing their own hand by trading another “core” player due to salary cap restraints and possibly disrupting the chemistry in the dressing room.

Overall, McCrimmon’s moves this summer seem like lateral transactions for a team that has $0 in salary cap space and should be contending for a Cup ring, but always seems to fall short for one reason or another.

Entering their fifth season of existence, the Golden Knights have this two more years to beat or match the Flyers’ record for the fastest expansion team to win their first Stanley Cup championship in league history.

Though their offseason may be unconvincing on paper, let’s hope they’ll prove us wrong and surprise the hockey world like they did when they made the 2018 Stanley Cup Final in their first season, but with a different outcome.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

New York Islanders 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 32-17-7, 71 points

4th in the MassMutual NHL East Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Semifinal by Tampa

Additions: F Andy Andreoff, F Richard Panik (acquired from DET), F Zach Parise, D Paul LaDue, D Zdeno Chara

Subtractions: F Robert Carpenter (signed with Milwaukee Admirals, AHL), F Jordan Eberle (expansion, SEA), F Tanner Fritz (signed with Hartford Wolf Pack, AHL), F Joshua Ho-Sang (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Andrew Ladd (traded to ARI), F Travis Zajac (signed to one-day contract with NJD, retired), D Nick Leddy (traded to DET)

Still Unsigned: F Kieffer Bellows (RFA), F Michael Dal Colle (RFA), D Braydon Coburn, G Cory Schneider

Re-signed: F Cole Bardreau, F Anthony Beauvillier, F Casey Cizikas, F Otto Koivula, F Kyle Palmieri, F Dmytro Timashov, D Andy Greene, D Adam Pelech, G Ilya Sorokin

Offseason Analysis: It’s October and we still don’t really know who is and who isn’t under contract with the New York Islanders because Isles General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, plays by his own rules.

Well, not exactly like that, but he at least doesn’t like facial hair and won’t allow his players to sport a scruffy look. Not even a goatee (which bothers me as someone that looks much too young without sporting even a small patch of stubble on my chin to prove, in fact, that I am old enough to order a beer– let alone see an “R”-rated movie).

Anyway, Lamoriello has slowly been announcing– though never disclosing the financial terms– deals that have been signed by players like Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara, as well as extensions for Kyle Palmieri, Adam Pelech, Andy Greene and Ilya Sorokin.

Parise, 37, joins New York after amassing 393-417–810 totals in 1,060 career National Hockey League games for the New Jersey Devils and– most recently– the Minnesota Wild.

Last season with the Wild, he had 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 45 games, which was a bit of a steep decline in his production from 2019-20, albeit in much more limited time as Minnesota head coach, Dean Evason, felt his team was better with Parise scratched from time to time.

New York head coach, Barry Trotz, on the other hand, thinks he can utilize Parise in the right amounts to maximize his value as a veteran of the league in search of his first Cup ring– let alone his first trip back to the Stanley Cup Final since 2012.

Chara, 44, reunites with the Islanders– the team that drafted him in the 3rd round (56th overall) in the 1996 NHL Draft prior to breaking into the league with the Isles in the 1997-98 season and spending parts of four seasons on Long Island before then-General Manager Mike Milbury traded him to the Ottawa Senators ahead of the 2001-02 season.

The long time veteran defender is entering his 24th season after amassing 207-459–666 totals in 1,608 games thus far with the Islanders, Senators, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Chara was a member of the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Bruins roster and should pay dividends on the third pairing, as well as on the penalty kill, while Pelech and Ryan Pulock rest up for another long shift.

After being acquired ahead of last season’s deadline, Palmieri put up four points (two goals, two assists) in 17 games down the stretch with New York after amassing 8-9–17 totals with the Devils in 34 games prior in 2020-21.

In the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, Palmieri found his scoring touch– notching seven goals and two assists (nine points) in 19 games en route to being eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal.

Lamoriello added more veterans to an already veteran infused lineup while presumably remaining tight against the salary cap.

Though New York had a bit of a bumpy ending to the regular season last year, they peaked at the right time to be one goal away from the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1984.

As an organization that’s been on the rise with Trotz behind the bench, the Islanders are sure to be out with something to prove in the league’s return to a normal 82-game schedule format and everything.

Pelech’s eight-year extension worth $5.750 million per season at 27-years-old is Lamoriello’s greatest gift thus far to New York’s core as a good team friendly contract as Pulock enters a contract year in 2021-22 and Mathew Barzal carries two remaining years on his current deal.

Love him or hate him, Lamoriello also did a decent job keeping Casey Cizikas in line with more conventional thinking for a top-nine forward on a new six-year deal worth $2.500 million per season compared to his last contract, which was a five-year deal with a $3.350 million cap hit.

Generally speaking, first line forwards should be paid around $9.000 million, second liners between $4.000 to $6.000 million with third liners earning roughly $1.000 to $4.000 million and fourth liners taking home a cap hit between league minimum and $2.000 million per year at most.

Follow that logic and you’ll be able to spread some wealth around on short-term contracts among your replacement level players or sign long term deals at a decent cap hit that’s expendable if you run into performance issues or cap related casualties down the road.

Meanwhile, because of Lamoriello’s masterclass in contract negotiations this summer, Anthony Beauvillier got a three-year bridge deal at $4.150 million per season and Ilya Sorokin earned a three-year extension worth $4.000 million per season– keeping the Islanders competitive as Cup contenders for at least the next few years while balancing the growth and development of their core as they age into their prime.

Of course, everything comes with a price as Lamoriello shipped out Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings in a trade on July 16th for Richard Panik and a 2021 2nd round pick (originally from Edmonton, via Detroit- 52nd overall, Aatu Raty).

Chara is 14 years Leddy’s senior, but Leddy’s $5.500 million cap hit was a roadblock in keeping the bulk of New York’s core together.

To save some additional funds for redistribution this summer, the Islanders dealt Andrew Ladd, a 2021 2nd round pick (originally from Colorado via the Islanders, 60th overall- Janis Jerome Moser), as well as a conditional 2022 2nd round pick and a conditional 2023 3rd round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for future considerations.

Arizona took on Ladd’s entire $5.500 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season.

Offseason Grade: B

For what needed to be done to protect the integrity of the Islanders as a Cup contender in the next few seasons (at least), Lamoriello made proper efforts to add without subtracting, while balancing the books in an efficient manner.

There’s a lot to like about the respectable bridge contracts, but Pelech’s eight-year extension is a home run for what is otherwise New York’s cornerstone on defense with Pulock due for a bit of a pay raise next summer.

That said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Isles off their game by just a little as the long runs into the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2020 and 2021 take a toll on a team in every sense of the imagination.

New York won’t need to hit “reset”, but rather “refresh” as they should comfortably reach the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but as for how far they go depends on if they can stay healthy and focused– especially with UBS Arena set to open in November, thereby giving the Islanders a long 13-game road streak to start the 2021-22 regular season.

If they don’t win it all in 2022, they should be primed for a bounce-back in 2023, with their best chance at a Cup since their dynasty in the 1980s.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Colorado Avalanche 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 39-13-4, 82 points

1st in the Honda NHL West Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Vegas

Additions: F Darren Helm, F Mikhail Maltsev (acquired from NJD), F Dylan Sikura, D Jordan Gross, D Jack Johnson (signed to a PTO), D Kurtis MacDermid (acquired from SEA), D Stefan Matteau, D Roland McKeown, D Ryan Murray, G Darcy Kuemper (acquired from ARI)

Subtractions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (signed with TBL), F Matt Calvert (retired), F Joonas Donskoi (expansion, SEA), F Sheldon Dries (signed with VAN), F Ty Lewis (retired), F Liam O’Brien (signed with Tucson Roadrunners, AHL), F Brandon Saad (signed with STL), F Miikka Salomäki (SHL), F Carl Söderberg (SHL), F Mike Vecchione (signed with WSH), D Kyle Burroughs (signed with VAN), D Ryan Graves (traded to NJD), D Patrik Nemeth (signed with NYR), D Dan Renouf (signed with DET), D Conor Timmins (traded to ARI), G Philipp Grubauer (signed with SEA), G Peyton Jones (signed with Colorado Eagles, AHL), G Adam Werner (signed with CGY)

Still Unsigned: F Travis Barron, G Devan Dubnyk

Re-signed: F Tyson Jost, F Gabriel Landeskog, F Jayson Megna, F Kiefer Sherwood, D Dennis Gilbert, D Cale Makar, G Jonas Johansson

Offseason Analysis: If next spring doesn’t bring the desired results to Colorado, it’ll be 20 years since the Avalanche last made an appearance in the Western Conference Final.

Back in 2002, the Detroit Red Wings were in the prime of their dominance and the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry was red hot as the two teams went at it for not only regular season titles, but Stanley Cup rings as well.

Colorado had won in 1996 and 2001, Detroit won in 1997, 1998 and would do so again in 2002, as well as 2008– five years after Patrick Roy played his last National Hockey League game.

In the 2002 Western Conference Final, the defending Stanley Cup champion Avs were once again the team to beat, but the Red Wings took the series in seven games and went on to win the Cup.

Since then, both teams have had a bit of a falling out.

When Joe Sakic took over as General Manager of the Avalanche, the goal was simple– return the franchise to its glory days.

The bump in the road that was the 2016-17 season brought the team the 4th overall pick after losing in the draft lottery, yet at 4th overall in 2017, Colorado selected their biggest game-changing defender since the acquisition of Ray Bourque in Cale Makar.

Sakic turned his attention to a Makar extension when it seemed like things had gone south with keeping captain, Gabriel Landeskog, in town.

The 22-year-old defender signed a six-year extension worth $9.000 million per season after finishing second in Norris Trophy voting to New York Rangers defender, Adam Fox, for the 2020-21 season.

Makar had 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists) in 44 games– exactly a point-a-game in his sophomore campaign, limited again due to injury after amassing 12-38–50 totals in 57 games in his first NHL season in 2019-20.

Sakic signed Makar to an extension on July 24th and then in the 11th hour as free agency drew near, signed Landeskog to an eight-year extension worth $7.000 million per season.

The 28-year-old captain was Colorado’s 2011 1st round pick (2nd overall) and has 218-294–512 totals in 687 games since making his league debut in the 2011-12 season with the Avs.

Landeskog had a promising 52-point season (22 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games in his first year in the league, then the 2012-13 48-game lockout shortened season kept him to 9-8–17 totals in 36 games.

The Avalanche missed out on the playoffs from 2011-13, but in 2014, Colorado squared off against the Minnesota Wild in the First Round– only to lose in seven games.

That playoff series, however, was the first taste of playoff hockey for Nathan MacKinnon and went decently for Landeskog as well.

After amassing 65 points (26 goals, 39 assists) in 81 games in the regular season, Landeskog had 3-1–4 totals in the seven-game series against the Wild.

Then his production dropped to 59 points in 82 games in 2014-15, and 53 points in 75 games in 2015-16– coinciding with Colorado’s fall from grace.

In the dismal 2016-17 campaign for the Avalanche, in which the team amassed 48 points on the season with a 22-56-4 record, Landeskog had just 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) and had a minus-25 rating.

But the Avs have made the playoffs every season since then– succumbing to the Nashville Predators in six games in the 2018 First Round, bowing out to the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the 2019 Second Round, losing to the Dallas Stars in seven games in the 2020 Second Round and dropping out in six games against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 Second Round.

In that span, Landeskog’s had a career resurgence. He had 62 points in 78 games in 2017-18, 75 points in 73 games in 2018-19, 44 points in 54 games while battling injury and the COVID-19 pandemic shortened regular season in 2019-20, as well as 52 points in 54 games in last season’s 56-game regular season schedule.

Some say his resurgence can be accredited to the emergence of Colorado’s dominant first line with MacKinnon at center, Landeskog at left wing and Mikko Rantanen at right wing, but then how can that attribute to his own individual playoff success?

Landeskog had seven points (four goals, three assists) in six postseason games in 2018, 3-5–8 totals in Colorado’s 12-game 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff experience, 2-11–13 totals in 14 games during their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff bubble run and 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in ten games in the Avalanche’s 2021 postseason run.

It’s plain to see that whereas MacKinnon is the superstar forward, Landeskog is the lifeblood of the organization– both as the captain and as a clutch performer when it matters most.

Landeskog’s reasonable cap hit should take some pressure off of Sakic as he negotiates extensions with MacKinnon after the 2022-23 season and Rantanen after the 2024-25 season, when the salary cap ceiling is expected to have risen due to the increased revenue from the current U.S. broadcasting rights packages.

Two big pieces were taken care of, so naturally Sakic set his sights on Philipp Grubauer… …who chose to leave for the Seattle Kraken in free agency.

Grubauer signed a six-year contract worth $5.900 million per season with the Kraken on July 28th– the day that free agency began and a week after Seattle claimed Joonas Donskoi from the Avs in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

Last season, Grubauer went 30-9-1 in 40 games played, had seven shutouts (tied for the most with New York Islanders goaltender, Semyon Varlamov) and amassed a 1.95 goals-against average, as well as a .922 save percentage in that span.

It was a breakout year for the 29-year-old goaltender, so why not cash in while you can?

The downside for Colorado, however, is that it left them briefly with uncertainty in the crease until they acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes later that same day.

Sakic worked the phones quite a bit this summer between agents and fellow general managers.

On July 15th, Colorado swapped defender, Ryan Graves, with the New Jersey Devils for forward, Mikhail Maltsev, and a 2021 2nd round pick (from NYI via NJD- 61st overall, Sean Behrens).

On July 27th, Sakic sent a 2023 4th round pick to the Kraken for defender, Kurtis MacDermid, whose father, Paul, played for the Québec Nordiques from 1993-95.f

After losing Grubauer to Seattle in free agency, Sakic dealt defender, Conor Timmins, a 2022 1st round pick and a conditional 2024 3rd round pick to the Coyotes for Kuemper.

Much like Linus Ullmark going from the Buffalo Sabres to the Boston Bruins via free agency this summer, it’s hard to tell what to expect out of Kuemper in an Avalanche uniform.

He should be better considering the overall quality and depth of defenders on Colorado’s blue line a la Ullmark’s upgrade from Buffalo’s defense to Boston’s defense in front of him.

That said, Kuemper hasn’t really been a starting goaltender for long. It’s a risk, like when Colorado sought after Grubauer in the first place from the Washington Capitals a few summers ago.

In his first season as a starter, Kuemper went 27-20-8 in 55 games with Arizona– notching five shutouts and recording a 2.33 goals-against average, as well as a .925 save percentage. Good stuff.

In 2019-20, he went 16-11-2 in 29 games, had two shutouts and yielded a 2.22 goals-against average, as well as a .928 save percentage.

Last season, he went 10-11-3 in 27 games, dropping to a 2.56 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage and once again recording two shutouts.

Kuemper is 31-years-old and made his league debut with the Minnesota Wild back in the 2012-13 season– the same season that Grubauer broke into the league with the Capitals, albeit two years younger in age.

How will a full 82-game schedule as the starting netminder with Pavel Francouz returning from an injury that prevented him from being the backup in Colorado last season impact Kuemper’s performance in the crease?

There’s kind of a lot at stake here. No pressure or anything, but the Avalanche are trying to win the Cup now rather than later.

Speaking of “win-now” mode, the loss of Donskoi, Brandon Saad and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare puts Colorado in a difficult spot.

They don’t have the dominant bottom-six players on paper that they had last season that made them as much of a threat as the Golden Knights or Tampa Bay Lightning.

Instead, they’ll be relying on the emergence of youth in Alex Newhook, Logan O’Connor and Maltsev mixed with a combination of young players getting better in Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher, as well as a veteran in Darren Helm.

Much like how Saad brought in Cup winning experience to the dressing room last season, however, Helm is doing so for the Avs this season as he happened to be on the 2008 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings– appearing in seven games in the 2007-08 regular season, then 18 postseason games for Detroit in their 2008 Cup run.

It was Helm’s first taste of NHL action and he already was on top of the mountain. Now 34, he’s looking for more.

Offseason Grade: B-

Sakic has a way of taking reclamation projects and maximizing their production in Colorado, though we’ll see if the same effect can be applied to Stefan Matteau and Ryan Murray on the blue line, as well as other moves already mentioned.

The Avalanche have depth, but do they have enough depth?

Despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season, Colorado finished the 2020-21 regular season with 39 wins– one shy of Vegas (40 wins) for the most in the league– and eliminated in the Second Round by that same Golden Knights team (the Avs won the tiebreaker with 35 regulation wins to Vegas’ 30).

That said most of the Avalanche roster remains the same and there’s the feeling that one of these year’s they’ll get over the hump and back into the later end of the postseason.

Super teams don’t always win, but having a (super) consistent performance down the stretch and in the playoffs does and that’s what the Lightning have done best for the last two years– turning it on when it counts and sustaining the pressure.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Carolina Hurricanes 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 36-12-8, 80 points

1st in the Discover NHL Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Tampa

Additions: F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (signed to an offersheet, not matched by MTL), F Josh Leivo, F Maxim Letunov, F Sam Miletic, F Stefan Noesen, F Andrew Poturalski, F C.J. Smith, F Derek Stepan, D Ethan Bear (acquired from EDM), D Ian Cole, D Jalen Chatfield, D Tony DeAngelo, D Eric Gelinas, D Josh Jacobs, D Brendan Smith, G Frederik Andersen, G Alex Lyon, G Antti Raanta

Subtractions: F Warren Foegele (traded to EDM), F Morgan Geekie (expansion, SEA), F Dave Gust (signed with Chicago Wolves, AHL), F Egor Korshkov (KHL), F Saku Maenalanen (Liiga), F Brock McGinn (signed with PIT), F Cedric Paquette (signed with MTL), F Sheldon Rempal (signed with VAN), D Jake Bean (traded to CBJ), D Jani Hakanpää (signed with DAL), D Dougie Hamilton (signed with NJD), D Rolan McKeown (signed with COL), D Joakim Ryan (SHL), D David Warsofsky (DEL), G Jonathan Bernier (rights acquired from DET, signed with NJD), G Petr Mrázek (signed with TOR), G Alex Nedeljkovic (traded to DET), G James Reimer (signed with SJS)

Still Unsigned: F Max McCormick, F Drew Shore, G Jeremy Helvig, G Dylan Wells (acquired from EDM, CAR reserve list, AHL- Chicago Wolves)

Re-signed: F Jordan Martinook, F Spencer Smallman, F Andrei Svechnikov, D Maxime Lajoie

Offseason Analysis: Whoa boy, what didn’t the Canes do this offseason?

Carolina was all over the place– both in transactions and scrambling to assemble some semblance of a message in press conferences afterward while trying to convince everyone (perhaps more so themselves, at times) that they’re still a competitive team heading in the right direction and that they totally didn’t overreact.

Unlike how the New York Rangers reacted to one player on another team apparently dismantling their franchise, the Hurricanes reacted to– egad! The salary cap! The horror, the horror!

Canes General Manager, Don Waddell, didn’t like the optics of a team that’s been improving in each of the last three seasons despite First Round exits in back-to-back years after making the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

Though owner, Tom Dundon, denies having any say in the approach to the offseason short of just signing the cheques, Carolina didn’t want to spend more than they absolutely had to on fielding a roster that can probably make the playoffs, generate some additional revenue and peter out before anyone catches Stanley Cup fever.

At the very least, the team is spending more than when Peter Karmanos, Jr. spent from season-to-season on a team that made the postseason in 2009, then again in 2019, with nothing happening in-between, for example.

The team didn’t have to lose both Dougie Hamilton and Alex Nedeljkovic while re-signing Andrei Svechnikov this offseason, but they did.

Hamilton received a low-ball offer and got what he felt he deserved on a seven-year deal with the New Jersey Devils worth $9.000 million per season. Compared to the rest of the defenders on the market and other extensions that begin in 2022-23 for Seth Jones with Chicago and Zach Werenski in Columbus, Hamilton’s deal with the Devils is a steal.

He could’ve made $10.000 or $11.000 million per season and you might say “what’s the difference of a couple million dollars” and well, everything in the sense that he’s saved New Jersey a couple million to spend on glue guys on the roster, like Tomas Tatar.

Carolina could’ve done that, but with a few more additional steps required to make space.

Fine, move on from Hamilton, then re-sign Nedeljkovic– oh.

The Hurricanes were not willing to spend $3.500 million per season on a two-year deal for the goaltender they drafted and brought up the ranks as their “goaltender of the future”.

Instead, Waddell traded him to the Detroit Red Wings for the rights to unrestricted free agent, Jonathan Bernier, who also joined Hamilton in New Jersey.

Petr Mrázek and James Reimer were both turned loose as the former went to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the latter joined the San Jose Sharks.

Waddell then signed Frederik Andersen– who’s had about as much playoff success as Nedeljkovic, regardless of the number of games played– to a two-year deal worth $4.500 million per season and Antti Raanta to a two-year contract worth $2.000 million per season.

Make it make sense.

Add to that, Carolina lost depth in the departure of Brock McGinn to the Pittsburgh Penguins via free agency and traded Jake Bean to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the draft.

In their place, enter a mixture of bottom-six talent in Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo and others, as well as bottom-six defenders in Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith.

At the very least, Carolina’s not spending much to “replace” what they’ve lost in an asset for asset sense.

They spent their money on goaltenders, an eight-year extension worth $7.750 million per season for Svechnikov and signed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet from the Montréal Canadiens for one-year at $6.100 million.

That makes up for signing DeAngelo to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, right?

Not even close.

Last year’s roster carried the threat of Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei, Bean and Haydn Fleury until he was traded for Jani Hakanpää at the 2021 deadline.

Only three defenders are returning to Carolina’s core on the blue line as Ian Cole, DeAngelo and Smith were brought in via free agency and Warren Foegele was dealt for Ethan Bear.

Oh and the same three defenders returning from last season are the only defenders under contract through next season.

There’s just no logic for whatever reaction– overreaction or, perhaps, under-reaction is going on here.

It begs the question that Canes fans have heard for far too long, “what, exactly, is the plan?”

Offseason Grade: D

The Hurricanes had a challenging, yet simple premise heading into the offseason– add without subtracting and limit the inevitable damage in the loss of a key player.

Instead, they chose violence (that’s a phrase kids say on Twitter these days, I’m told).

Keeping Svechnikov, Hamilton and Nedeljkovic satisfied was going to be a challenge and it was going to be the most strenuous negotiations that Waddell would have to go through in recent summers as Carolina continues building towards Stanley Cup contenders.

It’s likely that the Canes could’ve kept Svechnikov, Nedeljkovic and still added to the roster this offseason– whether they’d land Andersen, Raanta or someone else as a solid counterpart in the crease.

In any case, Hamilton was likely going to walk due to the constraints of the salary cap era and possible looming extensions for Martin Necas, Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teräväinen and Sebastian Aho in one-to-three summers from now.

After the marketing and promotions team led the way in showing the rest of the league how Pride Night could feel more like a celebration for the local fan base and not just a corporate shill– an organization that took the pledge to Get Uncomfortable by teaming up with Black Girl Hockey Club– the values of a kinder society were tossed aside in the interest of signing noted actual jerks.

This team did not get better. No matter the rehabilitation that may or may not occur with Rod Brind’Amour as head coach.

One step forward, two steps back.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Pittsburgh Penguins 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 37-16-3, 77 points

1st in the MassMutual NHL East Division

Eliminated in the First Round by N.Y. Islanders

Additions: F Brian Boyle (signed to a PTO), F Michael Chaput, F Filip Hållander (acquired from TOR), F Danton Heinen, F Brock McGinn, F Dominik Simon, D Matt Barkowski (signed to a PTO), D Taylor Fedun, G Louis Domingue

Subtractions: F Pontus Åberg (signed with Belleville Senators, AHL), F Josh Currie (KHL), F Frederick Gaudreau (signed with MIN), F Mark Jankowski (signed to a PTO with NJD), F Jared McCann (traded to TOR), F Sam Miletic (signed with Chicago Wolves, AHL), F Colton Sceviour (signed to a PTO with EDM), F Brandon Tanev (expansion, SEA), D Lukas Bengtsson (KHL), D Cody Ceci (signed with EDM), D Kevin Czuczman (signed with MIN), D Jesper Lindgren (HockeyAllsvenskan), D Andrey Pedan (KHL), D Zach Trotman (retired), D Yannick Weber (NL), G Maxime Lagacé (signed with TBL), G Emil Larmi (Liiga)

Still Unsigned: None

Re-signed: F Zach Aston-Reese, F Kasper Björkqvist, F Teddy Blueger, F Evan Rodrigues, F Radim Zohorna

Offseason Analysis: Penguins General Manager, Ron Hextall, had a realtively quiet offseason outside of the announcements that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would miss some action to start the 2021-22 season.

After making some depth signings, Pittsburgh is left with about $121,800 in cap space. In other words, it might be a little bumpy out of the gate without Crosby and Malkin– especially since the Pens dealt Jared McCann to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Filip Hallander and a 2023 7th round pick ahead of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

In retrospect, perhaps it would’ve been worth keeping McCann and convincing the Seattle Kraken to take almost anyone else– there’s still a chance they would’ve taken Brandon Tanev anyway, especially if Pittsburgh had crafted a deal with the Kraken to agree to not select McCann in exchange for some draft picks or something.

Nevertheless, Hextall made a conscious decision to move on from McCann’s 14-18–32 totals in 43 games last season and Tanev’s 7-9–16 totals in 32 games with the Penguins in 2020-21 and live with the consequences of his own actions. At least there’s Jeff Carter.

At some point, the magic will wear out in Pittsburgh.

Though the Penguins may have calmed the waters of the Malkin trade rumors under the previous regime ruled by Jim Rutherford, there’s the reality of a post-Crosby and Malkin era soon to sink in.

Malkin is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and Crosby is under contract through the 2024-25 season.

If the Penguins aren’t able to escape the First Round in 2022, and Malkin determines there’s no future in sight for success in a Pittsburgh jersey, there’s a good chance he could leave– not in search of a big cheque, but rather another chance at one more Cup ring on a contender’s roster.

But let’s not get too bogged down by the grips of reality.

Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, has some juggling to do with the lineup– like always– and with a new cast of characters that includes Hållander, Danton Heinen, Brock McGinn and the return of Dominik Simon– there’s a lot of depth to go around.

At 21-years-old, Hållander might be ready for some NHL action, whether out of necessity or to simply prove his skill level.

Heinen, meanwhile, is looking for a fresh start after the Anaheim Ducks chose not to tender him a qualifying offer, leading him to sign a one-year deal with the Penguins worth $1.100 million.

In 43 games with the Ducks last season, Heinen had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists), scoring fewer points than he had in the previous season for third-straight season since he broke out with 16-31–47 totals in 77 games for the Boston Bruins in 2017-18.

McGinn was due for a payday and cashed in on a longer contract than he could’ve expected from the Carolina Hurricanes, signing a four-year deal worth $2.750 million per season with Pittsburgh this summer.

In 345 career NHL games, McGinn’s had 51-55–106 totals, including 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 37 games while battling injury last season.

He remains to be an effective penalty killing fourth liner and should fit Sullivan’s mold well as a means of ensuring his top-six forwards are rested and ready to go between shifts.

Simon begins his second stint with the Penguins after taking part in 11 games with the Calgary Flames last season and yielding four shots on goal, as well as no points in that span.

As for the biggest question mark entering the 2021-22 season for Pittsburgh, can Tristan Jarry come into his own as a starting goaltender?

Last season, Jarry went 25-9-3 in 39 games, which at first glance is great! He had 25 wins in almost 40 games played in the midst of a 56-game regular season schedule– backstopping Pittsburgh to a postseason appearance before losing in six games to the New York Islanders.

But in 39 games last season, Jarry had a 2.75 goals-against average, a .909 save percentage and two shutouts in that span, whereas he went 20-12-1 in 33 games with a 2.43 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts in 2019-20.

In his most recent season as Pittsburgh’s backup, Jarry has a goals-against average below 2.50 and a stellar save percentage over .920, but in all his other cumulative appearances each season since breaking into the league with a game in 2016-17, he’s been all over the place statistically speaking.

Casey DeSmith, meanwhile, broke into the league in 2017-18, and went 6-4-1 in 14 games with a 2.40 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and one shutout– following things up with a 15-11-5 record in 36 games played in 2018-19, when he had a 2.75 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and three shutouts.

Last season, DeSmith was back as the backup goaltender to Jarry and posted an 11-7-0 record in 20 games with a 2.54 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts.

At 30-years-old, it’s likely that DeSmith won’t have as high of a ceiling as Jarry, who’s only 26, but then again goaltenders vary in the crux of their prime.

For Jarry, he may soon start to peak, while DeSmith may simply be an outlier as one of those goaltenders that comes into fruition later than even the most “average” of delayed primes for goalies.

In either case, it’s certainly not an enviable position to be in for Sullivan to have to figure out.

Offseason Grade: C

Let’s be real here, the Penguins didn’t go out and attract any stars and they didn’t lose that much (though McCann was a great piece of depth and Tanev probably exceeded his expectations due to the “Crosby factor”, both should make fine additions to the Kraken).

Pittsburgh had an average offseason for an average team that made the playoffs and had an average early ending.

They’re not a dominant force, though they finished atop the MassMutual NHL East Division last season. Sullivan has his ways of commanding his team in the regular season, but the roster lacks something to drag them across the line in the postseason these days– to take their play up a notch and crank it at 11.

The Pens aren’t as much of a concern for missing out on the playoffs in the Metropolitan Division race this season, but it should be harder to compete for dominance with the sustained improvement from the Islanders and the emergence of another team like the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils that could breakout and play spoiler among the division leaders.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Boston Bruins 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 33-16-7, 73 points

3rd in the MassMutual NHL East Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by N.Y. Islanders

Additions: F Samuel Asselin, F Steven Fogarty, F Nick Foligno, F Jesper Frödén, F Erik Haula, F Tomas Nosek, D Derek Forbort, D James Greenway (acquired from TOR), D Tyler Lewington, G Troy Grosenick, G Linus Ullmark

Subtractions: F Paul Carey (SHL), F Sean Kuraly (signed with CBJ), F David Krejci (ELH), F Robert Lantosi (SHL), F Greg McKegg (signed with NYR), F Ondrej Kase (signed with TOR), F Nick Ritchie (signed with TOR), D Steven Kampfer (KHL), D Jeremy Lauzon (expansion, SEA), D Kevan Miller (retired), D Jarred Tinordi (signed with NYR), G Jaroslav Halak (signed with VAN), G Dan Vladar (traded to CGY)

Still Unsigned: F Alex Khokhlachev (KHL, BOS reserve list), G Tuukka Rask

Re-signed: F Anton Blidh, F Trent Frederic, F Taylor Hall, F Cameron Hughes, F Joona Koppanen, F Zach Senyshyn, D Brandon Carlo, D Mike Reilly, D Nick Wolff, G Callum Booth

Offseason Analysis: The Bruins are in a period of transition. Stop calling them favorites.

They might still be playoff contenders, but they’ll have to focus on even making the postseason first to begin with shortly– if not already– this upcoming season.

Boston’s General Manager, Don Sweeney, had his work cut out for him this summer and managed it pretty well– all things considered.

Sure, the B’s don’t have David Krejci and we’ll get into that, but instead of signing one or two free agents and calling it a day, then talking about needing to fill a hole that he’s left empty for years or created going into the new season, Sweeney signed five key players and then some for depth.

It’s a transition, not a purposeful tank to rebuild– yet, anyway.

As long as Patrice Bergeron is under contract, Boston has assured him they’ll do whatever he and Brad Marchand say the dressing room needs.

Speaking of Bergeron, though, he’s put off contract extension talks until the 2021-22 season is over, so for any Bruins fans that have gone through the pain of watching Zdeno Chara play in a different uniform last season with the Washington Capitals and again this upcoming season with the New York Islanders, as well as watching Krejci return to Czechia this year, well… …it happens. Time waits for no one.

All good things must come to an end and a new era dawns. Just hope it’s a good one.

Oh, and, Tuukka Rask is currently unsigned after offseason hip surgery, though the 34-year-old goaltender has expressed a desire to only play for the Bruins if he’s healthy enough to go for the 2021-22 season by the time December rolls around.

He’ll even sign for league minimum and “tons of Bud Lights”, which a certain podcast would love, even if it isn’t their preferred light beer (shameless plug for some Twitter pals).

Anyway, Sweeney’s saved about $1.089 million in cap space to sign Rask to a low, one-year, deal if he’s good enough to return to action, which wouldn’t complicate matters in the crease with the arrival of Linus Ullmark via free agency and the development of Jeremy Swayman.

Rask and Swayman were always going to share the spotlight as Swayman comes into his own. Rask’s injury, however, slightly changes matters in the handoff.

Ullmark joins the Bruins on a four-year contract worth $5.000 million per season through 2024-25. He was the winningest goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres last season with a 9-6-3 record in 20 games, a 2.63 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in that span.

Given the workload that he faced in Buffalo compared to Boston’s more structured defense, Ullmark’s numbers should improve as he’s had moments of brilliance in his short spurts thus far– only really coming into the league as a starter or backup goaltender in the last two seasons.

At 28-years-old, he’s right on track for goaltender development and if things head south, the Bruins can use 2021-22 as a write off, plus 2022-23 as a means of giving Swayman full-time starter duties at the earliest.

Swayman, at 22-years-old, has already played 10 National Hockey League games and amassed a 7-3-0 record with a 1.50 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and two shutouts, but that kind of luck is unheard of for a goaltender.

Eventually, given his unconventional style, his stats will come back to Earth and you don’t want to let reality cut down a goaltender’s confidence so soon while they’re young (see, Philadelphia Flyers goaltender, Carter Hart’s 2020-21 season, for example).

It’s nice to have Swayman as a future ace, but that’s just it– the future. Though the future is now in transition, it’s not quite the time to make the jump in the crease– especially while there’s more pressing matters like replacing Krejci.

Charlie Coyle is, ideally, Boston’s second line center entering this season, but if things go south with Coyle centering Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, then that’s where Nick Foligno or Erik Haula come in handy, if Jack Studnicka can’t make the jump from the Providence Bruins (AHL) to Boston.

Krejci finally could’ve had wingers in Hall and Smith for a full season, but the 35-year-old has always wanted to play in front of his parents and brother in the Czech Republic– especially after leaving for North America in his teens to play hockey for a living.

It’ll also help introduce his kids to his Czech native tongue, so they’ll be able to communicate with their grandparents.

Having spent his entire career with Boston through 962 regular season games since breaking into the league in the 2006-07 season, he’s earned every right to do as he pleases.

He might be back for the 2022-23 season, but absolutely do not hold him to it.

Hall, meanwhile, signed a four-year extension worth $6.000 million per season in the offseason, so Boston at least still only has one hole to fill on the second line if Coyle can’t return to form.

Foligno signed a two-year deal with a $3.800 million cap hit and Haula signed a two-year deal worth $2.375 million per season.

In 957 career NHL games, Foligno’s had 203-283–486 totals for the Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs. He had been Columbus’ captain until the deadline when he was dealt to Toronto to add some punch to their lineup, only to blow a 3-1 series lead over the Montréal Canadiens in the 2021 First Round.

Foligno had 7-13–20 totals in 49 games with the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs in 2020-21.

If nothing else, Foligno adds valuable leadership in the absence of Krejci and should hold things over as someone that gives it their all on a night-to-night basis. Bruins fans should warm up to him quickly if they haven’t already.

Haula, on the other hand, spent last season with the Nashville Predators, where he had 9-12–21 totals in 51 games last season, which was about the same production he had with the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers in 2019-20.

He hasn’t been able to find his breakout scoring touch that he had with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18, when he had 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) in 76 games, but he should be fine as a third liner flanked by Jake DeBrusk and Foligno.

Boston needs to get a consistent offense going and they at least seem to have the right level of talent for each line this season.

As long as everyone stays healthy it’s a good thing with an overhauled defense due to the Seattle Kraken taking Jeremy Lauzon in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Kevan Miller retiring and the uneasiness of delegating more time to Jakub Zboril after his– at times– lackluster 2020-21 season.

Speaking of the revamped bottom-six, however, Tomas Nosek is new in town on a two-year deal worth $1.750 million per season, joining Trent Frederic– fresh off of an extension this offseason for two years and a $1.050 million cap hit– and Chris Wagner on the fourth line.

He’s been a fun player to watch come into his own with the Golden Knights since Vegas took him from the Detroit Red Wings in their expansion draft in 2017, and just had a career-year with 8-10–18 totals in 38 games last season.

Anything at or above 15 points from a fourth line center is a job well done for less than a $2.000 million cap hit.

Sean Kuraly’s gone home to Columbus, but after dropping from 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 69 games in 2019-20, to just nine points (four goals, five assists) in 47 games last season, needing a change of scenery was a welcome excuse for Boston to let him go.

Meanwhile, Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie also departed in the offseason for Toronto, though Kase’s future is shrouded by the ever-looming cloud of concussions and Ritchie outperformed expectations last season in the first half of the season before regressing to his ways.

Jaroslav Halak also left for the Vancouver Canucks, though that was inevitable with the long line for Boston’s backup goaltender being cut by Swayman’s emergence.

Even Dan Vladar was traded to the Calgary Flames for a 2022 3rd round pick as a result.

A couple of days prior, on July 26th, Boston acquired the rights to James Greenway from the Maple Leafs for future considerations. He’ll need a little more time in the system, for now.

With Miller retired, Steven Kampfer off to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia and Jarred Tinordi gone to the New York Rangers in free agency, Sweeney signed Derek Forbort to a three-year contract worth $3.000 million per season.

Mike Reilly also played well enough after being acquired at the trade deadline to earn a three-year extension with a $3.000 million cap hit as well.

Additionally, Brandon Carlo signed a six-year extension worth $4.100 million per season, so the Bruins have a defensive core with Carlo, Forbort, Matt Grzelcyk and Reilly under contract after 2021-22.

Charlie McAvoy, meanwhile is a pending-restricted free agent by the time July 1, 2022, rolls around (unless he’s signed to an extension before then).

Forbort, meanwhile, joins Boston after spending last season with the Winnipeg Jets where he had 2-10–12 totals in 56 games from the blue line. At 6-foot-4, 219-pounds, he adds much needed size to Boston’s defense.

In the meantime, John Moore, remains under contract and likely on the long term injured reserve to start the season, leaving his $2.750 million cap hit mostly off the books until the Bruins come to some sort of a resolution on that one.

Time will tell if the B’s will sink or swim, but you can’t say they didn’t try to put something together on paper this offseason.

Offseason Grade: B

In Boston, you either like or hate Sweeney. There’s no such thing as love unless you win championship rings these days.

While Sweeney’s made some blunders along the way, his overall approach as the Bruins’ GM has established a foundation of being in the room– being in consideration and among the conversation from year-to-year for attracting talent and making trades.

Sometimes it’s panned out, like the acquisition of Hall. Sometimes it’s fallen short, like when Sweeney paid a hefty price for Rick Nash (though only Ryan Lindgren remains a threat on the Rangers and Nash’s career-ending concussion couldn’t have been accounted for at the time of the trade).

Boston was stuck in the mud when he replaced Peter Chiarelli and Sweeney’s hands were tied in 2015, but he’s always been an active general manager and is tactical in his approach of replacing expendable assets.

At the same time, that very process irks Bruins fans because it comes across as overthinking or not trying hard enough to sign the player instead of a (better fit be damned) player.

Well, that and every guy these days isn’t Tim Thomas or Bobby Orr.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Edmonton Oilers 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 35-19-2, 72 points

2nd in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Winnipeg

Additions: F Warren Foegele (acquired from CAR), F Zach Hyman, F Brendan Perlini, F Derek Ryan, F Colton Sceviour (signed to a PTO), F Tim Soderlund (acquired from CHI), D Cody Ceci, D Duncan Keith (acquired from CHI)

Subtractions: F Adam Cracknell (signed with Bakersfield Condors, AHL), F Tyler Ennis (signed to a PTO with OTT), F Joseph Gambardella (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Gaëtan Haas (NL), F Dominik Kahun (NL), F Jujhar Khaira (signed with CHI), F James Neal (buyout), F Joakim Nygård (SHL), F Alan Quine (signed with Henderson Silver Knights, AHL), F Patrick Russell (SHL), F Anton Slepyshev (KHL), D Ethan Bear (traded to CAR), D Caleb Jones (traded to CHI), D Dmitry Kulikov (signed with MIN), D Adam Larsson (expansion, SEA), D Theodor Lennström (KHL), G Dylan Wells (traded to CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Alex Chiasson

Re-signed: F Tyler Benson, F Cooper Marody, F Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F Devin Shore, F Kailer Yamamoto, D Tyson Barrie, D Slater Koekkoek, G Stuart Skinner, G Mike Smith

Offseason Analysis: The second-best team in the Scotia NHL North Division would’ve been the fourth-best team in the other three divisions last season.

No matter what, the Oilers would’ve been a playoff team in 2020-21, but it’s the embarrassment that came with being swept in the 2021 First Round by the Winnipeg Jets and subsequent offseason moves that have left many scratching their heads.

Instead of overreacting and making big, sweeping, changes, Edmonton went for a big piece and a few smaller moves that still ate up their valuable cap space in the midst of a flat salary cap due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

So really it’s just more of the same from the Oilers.

Let’s start with the good news…

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto and Tyson Barrie are back and solidify some semblance of depth for Edmonton with Nugent-Hopkins on an affordable eight-year extension worth $5.125 million per season– the Oilers will have a surefire center on the second or third line for years to come.

The 28-year-old was Edmonton’s 1st overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft and had 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 52 games last season after reaching the 60-point plateau in back-to-back seasons from 2018-19 through 2019-20.

Had there been an 82-game schedule in 2020-21, Nugent-Hopkins likely would’ve at least eclipsed the 50-point mark.

At 5-foot-8, 135-pounds, Yamamoto has a lot in common with guys like Martin St. Louis in his stature and– like St. Louis– is better off developing on his own as he had 8-13–21 totals in 52 games in his first full season run with the Oilers last season.

Though he made his league debut in 2017-18, Yamamoto has only been utilized by Edmonton sparingly in parts of three seasons leading up to his full-time status in 2020-21.

His game should be fine in due time, though offering him a supporting cast (a theme for the Oilers in general) would be fine.

After he had 59 points in 78 games with the Colorado Avalanche in 2018-19, Barrie was shipped as part of a package to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade that, well, didn’t exactly live up to the high expectations in Toronto.

Barrie’s production from the point plummeted to 39 points (five goals, 34 assists) in 70 games with the Maple Leafs in 2019-20.

He joined the Oilers on a one-year deal last October and bounced back with an admirable 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 56 games.

He had 25 points on the power play in his last season in Colorado, then just 12 points as a quarterback on Toronto’s power play unit before rebounding with 23 points from the blue line while on the skater advantage last season for Edmonton.

For his efforts, Barrie was rewarded with a sweet three-year deal worth $4.500 million per season and at 29-years-old that’s about right for a defender on the cusp of beginning the eventual decline from a defensive prime.

Zach Hyman joins the Oilers on a seven-year contract worth $5.500 million per season, which isn’t completely terrible for a 29-year-old forward in his prime that had 15-18–33 totals in 43 games with the Maple Leafs last season and has reached the 40-point plateau twice before.

As a top-six forward, Hyman is a welcome addition to Edmonton’s Art Ross Trophy-winning powerhouse offense (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl).

An additional positive from this offseason?

Edmonton’s rid themselves of James Neal via a buyout. Granted, he’ll still be on the books through the 2024-25 season at about a $1.917 million cap penalty, but after parts of two seasons with the Oilers since being acquired for Milan Lucic, at least that branch of franchise history has come to a close.

Neal had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 29 games last season after bouncing back from 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 63 games with the Calgary Flames in 2018-19 to 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 55 games for Edmonton in 2019-20.

He’s a shell of his former self, but on a low-risk contract, he could fit in fine just about anywhere else that needs a touch of veteran experience.

Now for the bad stuff that… …isn’t necessarily that bad, it’s just disappointing from the Oilers (who seemingly have chosen to make the Buffalo Sabres look good for at least being salary cap smart this offseason and that’s about it).

At 39-years-old, Mike Smith could’ve called it a career, but when Jimmy Howard turned down Oilers General Manager, Ken Holland, Smith was rewarded with two-year (not just one-year!) extension worth $2.200 million per season.

The cap hit is fine, considering he recored a goals-against average under 2.50 for the first time since the 2011-12 season with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Back then, in 67 games with Phoenix, Smith had a 38-18-10 record, a 2.21 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and eight shutouts en route to backstopping the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final, where the Los Angeles Kings eliminated Phoenix in five games.

Last season with the Oilers, Smith went 21-6-2 in 32 games, had three shutouts and amassed a 2.31 goals-against average as well as a .923 save percentage.

In 2019-20, he had a 19-12-6 record in 39 games, one shutout, a .902 save percentage and a whopping 2.95 goals-against average.

Whether it’s the introduction of Barrie to Edmonton’s defense that helped singlehandedly reduce the workload Smith faced or not– Smith had a fantastic season in 2020-21.

However, time stops for nobody and with an average age of 35.3 between Smith, Mikko Koskinen and Alex Stalock as reliable options in the crease under contract at the NHL level, well, it’s easy to feel uneasy about Edmonton’s chances at stopping the puck from night-to-night as their bodies collectively wear down through an 82-game schedule.

Then again, they are athletes and you and I are not.

Yet, it’s worth noting since unlike Smith, Koskinen went from an 18-13-3 record in 38 games with a 2.75 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout in 2019-20 with the Oilers to a dismal 13-13-0 record in 26 games with a 3.17 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage in 2020-21.

For all the good that Barrie and Co. on Edmonton’s blue line have done, there’s two new additions that, uh, might undo some of the forward progress.

Connor McDavid (ever heard of him?) vouched for Holland to acquire Duncan Keith from Chicago and then Holland went along and signed Cody Ceci in free agency.

Though Keith recorded 6-34–40 totals in 82 games in 2018-19 with Chicago, he’s been in decline, notching 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 61 games in 2019-20 and just 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 54 games last season.

The 38-year-old defender would’ve accepted any trade to a team close to the pacific northwest as he expressed a desire to be closer to family, having been isolated playing hockey for a living for most of the time during the ongoing pandemic and spending roughly five months combined with his son prior to being traded to Edmonton.

In 1,192 career NHL games, he’s won three Stanley Cup rings, was named playoff MVP in 2015, and has 105-520–625 totals in the regular season.

With two years left on his contract, Keith’s $5.538 million cap hit is a bit steep for what could be a defensive liability as the aging process continues and– turns out– Holland could’ve done better by waiting another day and signing Keith Yandle for much less after the Florida Panthers bought him out. Who knew?!

Though the Internet likes to make fun of Ceci, the 27-year-old defender really hasn’t been all that bad.

Sure 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 53 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season isn’t great, but he’s not expected to be a top-four defender– or at least he shouldn’t be.

Mistakes and weird things will happen. Sometimes you’re just unlucky like that.

Wait, Holland gave him four-years at $3.250 million per season? Yikes.

And to put the icing on the cake, Holland traded Ethan Bear to the Carolina Hurricanes for Warren Foegele. Not that Foegele’s bad, but for a team that could use a better defense, Bear fit in pretty well.

Has this McDavid guy ever tried watching the Oilers?

Offseason Grade: C+

For the Nugent-Hopkins extension, sensible new deal for Barrie and Yamamoto bridge contract, Holland deserves some praise for keeping the right pieces happy and on the roster heading into 2021-22.

That said, he also made some errors in judgment acquiring Keith at the price he paid, as well as handing out Ceci a contract with a steep cap hit and term for a guy that’s probably not that good.

In other words, it was just another normal offseason for the Oilers.

Edmonton made some smart moves, but then overreacted in other areas, while still searching for the second coming of Andy Moog in net or whatever.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Nashville Predators 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 31-23-2, 64 points

4th in the Discover NHL Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Carolina

Additions: F Cody Glass (acquired from VGK), F Matt Luff, D Philippe Myers (acquired from PHI), G David Rittich

Subtractions: F Viktor Arvidsson (traded to LAK), F Michael Carcone (signed with Tucson Roadrunners, AHL), F Lukas Craggs (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), F Erik Haula (signed with BOS), F Calle Järnkrok (expansion, SEA), F Sean Malone (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), F Nolan Patrick (acquired from PHI, traded to VGK), F Brad Richardson (signed with CGY), F Josh Wilkins (HockeyAllsvenskan), D Erik Gudbranson (signed with CGY), D Josh Healey (signed with Milwaukee Admirals, AHL), D Tyler Lewington (signed with BOS), G Pekka Rinne (retired), G Kasimir Kaskisuo (SHL)

Still Unsigned: D Luca Sbisa

Re-signed: F Mikael Granlund, F Tanner Jeannot, F Michael McCarron, F Mathieu Olivier, F Rem Pitlick, F Anthony Richard, F Cole Smith, F Eeli Tolvanen, D Frédéric Allard, D Jeremy Davies, D Dante Fabbro, D Ben Harpur, D Matt Tennyson, G Juuse Saros

Offseason Analysis: The transition in the crease initiated last season as Juuse Saros took on the role of the starter from Pekka Rinne prior to Rinne’s final time around in 2020-21.

Rinne retired this offseason– wrapping up a National Hockey League career that spanned 15 seasons and garnered the Vezina Trophy in 2017-18 and King Clancy Memorial Trophy honors in 2020-21, as well as 60 shutouts to go with his 369-213-75 record in 683 career games.

The 38-year-old amassed a career 2.43 goals-against average and a .917 career save percentage since making his league debut in the 2005-06 season after the Predators drafted him in the 8th round (258th overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft.

Rinne exits his playing days as the leader in games played by a goalie (683), wins (369), losses (213), ties plus overtime/shootout losses (75), goals against (1,598), shots against (19,225), saves (17,627), goals-against average (2.43), shutouts (60) and minutes (39,413) in Preds franchise history.

Only Saros (.920) has a better save percentage in his Nashville tenure than Rinne (.917), while guys like Tomas Vokoun (.913), Dan Ellis (.912) and Chris Mason (.910) round out the top-five.

Rinne took the Predators to their only Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history thus far, where they faltered in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Nashville hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 2013-14 season, but things are going to be different heading into 2021-22.

The Preds are in transition as they are about to embark on the new season after being eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in six games in the 2021 First Round.

Rinne is gone, Ryan Ellis was traded and General Manager, David Poile, didn’t hold onto much depth in the offseason.

Though it may feel like trying to convince Nashville or the Dallas Stars to make the playoffs down the stretch last season felt like pulling teeth, the Preds made it to the postseason and gained some experience for their young players in thrilling overtimes before bowing out.

Don’t expect it to be the same this season, despite a return to normal division alignments and a full 82-game schedule.

Viktor Arvidsson, Erik Haula, Calle Järnkrok and Brad Richardson are gone, love them or hate them.

John Hynes is still head coach. Poile made four trades– two of which involved players.

The depth departures might be a sign of things to come as the Predators look to restock their patented Poile system (draft a ton of defenders and pick from the best while trading the rest).

There is a promising sign in the last couple of entry drafts for Nashville to replenish their prospect pool quickly– not that it’s really dwindled, short of the players that have made and/or are currently making the jump to the NHL-level.

Anyway, on July 17th Poile made a pair of related trades. First, he dealt Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers for Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick.

Patrick was then flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for Cody Glass.

Ellis was limited to 35 games last season and had 5-13–18 totals in that span, while Myers produced 1-10–11 totals in 44 games. At 24-years-old, Myers is still entering his prime as a defender, while Ellis departs Nashville for Philadelphia as a grizzled 30-year-old veteran with a chance to take the Flyers’ defense to the next level.

Glass, meanwhile, had 4-6–10 totals in 27 games for Vegas after making his NHL debut over 39 games with the Golden Knights in 2019-20. As a result of trading Glass to Nashville, the Golden Knights have traded away all three of their first 1st round picks in franchise history from the 2017 NHL Draft.

Vegas is looking for a career revival for Patrick, who missed the entire 2019-20 season due to migraines as a result of post concussion syndrome. He had nine points (four goals, five assists) in 52 games with the Flyers last season and previously had 13-18–31 totals in 72 games with Philadelphia in 2018-19.

David Rittich joins the picture in Nashville as Saros’ backup netminder after spending last season with the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs.

In 134 career NHL games since breaking into the league with the Flames in the 2016-17 season, Rittich has a 64-40-16 record, as well as four shutouts, a 2.82 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in that span.

Last season, he went 5-8-2 in 19 games played with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage. Rittich recorded one shutout in his time with Calgary in 2020-21 prior to being traded to Toronto at the trade deadline.

Don’t expect the 29-year-old goaltender to get too comfortable, however, as he only signed a one-year deal worth $1.250 million.

That said, the Preds have about $11.284 million in cap space to work with, so Poile could get quite creative down the line.

Offseason Grade: C

Nashville didn’t get better and (probably) didn’t get that much worse this offseason as Rinne retired and the team continues to transition from what was once a competitive team built for a deep postseason run to just a playoff contender looking to survive on scraps until they’re ready to strike again.

In short, the Predators could make the playoffs in 2022, but they likely won’t go much further than the Second Round.

Or they could miss the postseason entirely– ending a decent seven-year run of playing extra hockey– and be just fine with a little bit higher of a draft pick and whatever else might come with buying and selling.