The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.
49-26-7, 105 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division
2018 Stanley Cup Champions, defeated VGK 4-1
Subtractions: F Jay Beagle (signed with VAN), G Adam Carlsson (signed with Rapid City Rush, ECHL), F Alex Chiasson (signed to a PTO with EDM), F Tyler Graovac (signed with CGY), G Philipp Grubauer (traded to COL), D Jakub Jerabek (signed with EDM), F Tim McGauley (signed with Colorado Eagles, AHL), F Anthony Peluso (signed with CGY), F Zach Sill (signed, ELH), F Wayne Simpson (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL)
Still Unsigned: F Adam Chapie
Offseason Analysis: For the first time since the 2002 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, the defending champion of the National Hockey League has a new coach behind the bench. Scotty Bowman retired from coaching after going out in style with the Cup in hand in Detroit.
The 2002 Red Wings lost their first two postseason games on home ice that year. Coincidentally, the 2018 Washington Capitals also lost their first two playoff games– on home ice too– en route to winning the Cup.
Unlike 2002, Barry Trotz did not retire. He took a higher paying job as head coach the New York Islanders, leaving Todd Reirden to assume the duties as the head coach of the Capitals after spending the last four seasons as an assistant coach.
Trotz left Washington after he would have received an automatic two-year extension and $300,000 raise. Given what top-NHL head coaches can make on the free agent market these days, let alone what some might get in a large market, Trotz resigned as the Caps head coach and more than doubled his salary with the Islanders in one offseason.
Reirden, 47, will be making his debut as an NHL head coach this season and will do so with a Stanley Cup winning roster still largely intact.
Gone are Philipp Grubauer (traded to Colorado), Jay Beagle (signed with Vancouver), Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek. In their place are Pheonix Copley, Nic Dowd and other depth players from within the organization.
General Manager Brian MacLellan made
two three big moves this offseason. First, MacLellan traded Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2018 2nd round pick at this year’s NHL Draft in June. The Avalanche signed Grubauer to a three-year extension and bought-out Orpik’s final year of his contract– keep that in mind in a few minutes.
MacLellan’s next big move this offseason was taking care of RFA Tom Wilson. Wilson signed a six-year extension worth $5.167 million per season that’ll keep him in a Caps sweater through the 2023-24 season, despite producing 35 points in 78 games played on a line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.
In 391 career NHL games since entering the league in 2013-14, he has 104 points (35 goals, 69 assists). That’s .266 points per game, for anyone keeping track at home.
Based on his playing style, Wilson draws comparisons to Boston Bruins winger, Brad Marchand. In Marchand’s first five years in the league (300 games played, 2009-14), he had 186 points (92 goals, 94 assists). That’s .620 points per game, for the record.
If you take into account that Marchand’s first season in the league was only 20 games in 2009-10 and add on the 2014-15 season (77 games played) to his numbers to truly reflect Wilson’s first five full-seasons, you get 228 points in 377 games from 2009-15 for Marchand. That’s only .605 points per game– a difference of .015 points per game in 77 additional games.
Regardless, up through this point in Wilson’s career, his “comparable” has had more points per game. Playoffs be damned.
Marchand had 39 points in his first four years of postseason play (2011-14, 66 games played). Wilson had five career postseason points in 41 career Stanley Cup Playoff games prior to 2018 (Wilson appeared in at least three playoff games in every postseason run except for 2014– zero playoff games played).
Including Washington’s Cup winning run, Wilson has 20 career playoff points in 62 games.
Once again, that’s a .591 points per game measure for Marchand in postseason play from 2011-14 and only .323 points per game for Wilson in his entire career’s worth of postseason action (2012-18).
Marchand broke into the league at 21-years-old. He’s now 30. Wilson entered the NHL as a 19-year-old and is now 24.
The only point to takeaway here is Wilson’s contract extension is a big bet on behalf of MacLellan. Luckily, if things work out, MacLellan will look like a genius for locking up Wilson through the first few years of potential unrestricted free agency.
But if things go south, not only will this contract be ridiculed, but it could prove difficult to move, despite not including a no-trade-clause. At $5.167 million per season, it’s not a terrible cap hit, but it’s certainly one in which Washington would likely have to retain some salary if they were ever to move Wilson.
Oh and about Orpik– he signed a one-year, $1.000 million contract with the Capitals shortly after free agency began and the defender wasn’t receiving many offers. The league reviewed MacLellan’s process of trading the veteran NHLer, Colorado’s buyout and Washington’s new deal and deemed it was not circumventing the collective bargaining agreement.
So Washington remains an unlikely Stanley Cup contender by default, having become titleholder to the term “defending champion” in addition to the retention of (without doing the actual math) 95% of the Cup-winning roster. The question remains, can they repeat?
Or more accurately, can they do what their biggest rival– the Pittsburgh Penguins– most recently did in 2016 and 2017– in 2019?
Offseason Grade: B+
It could’ve been an “A-“, but then the Caps just had to sign Tom Wilson at that length and term without having any proof of being an effective scorer in the regular season and playoffs.
For all intents and purposes, Wilson got lucky in the postseason like how Devante Smith-Pelly got lucky and went on a hot streak matching his goal scoring output (seven goals in 75 games) from the regular season in this year’s playoffs (seven goals in 24 playoff games).
52-20-10, 114 points, 2nd in the Central Division
Lost in Western Conference Final to VGK, 4-1
Subtractions: F Joel Armia (traded to MTL), F Chase De Leo (traded to ANA), D Toby Enstrom (signed, SHL), F Matt Hendricks (signed with MIN), G Michael Hutchinson (signed with FLA), D Jan Kostalek (signed, ELH), G Steve Mason (traded to MTL, subsequently bought-out, current UFA), D Julian Melchiori (signed with FLA), G Jamie Phillips (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Buddy Robinson (signed with CGY), F Michael Sgarbossa (signed with WSH), F Paul Stastny (signed with VGK)
Still Unsigned: F Jimmy Lodge, F Shawn Matthias
Re-signed: G Eric Comrie, F Marko Dano, G Connor Hellebuyck,F Nicolas Kerdiles (acquired from ANA and re-signed), F JC Lipon, F Adam Lowry, D Josh Morrissey, F Nic Petan, D Tucker Poolman, D Cameron Schilling, F Brandon Tanev, D Jacob Trouba
Offseason Analysis: For a city with the word “win” in its name, the Winnipeg Jets sure did a lot of winning last season. Paul Maurice coached his club to a 52-20-10 record– good enough for first place in a normal year, but the Nashville Predators were just three points better in the Central Division. Winnipeg finished second in the Central with 114 points.
They won their first playoff series in franchise history, eliminating the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round, then upset the Predators in a Game 7 on the road in the Second Round.
The Jets didn’t just set franchise records, they established the bar for future benchmarks of success (minus a Cup), but while Winnipeg soared into the Western Conference Final, they were in for a crash landing in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights despite having home-ice advantage.
Three wins. Just three wins shy of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance for both renditions of the Jets.
Connor Hellebuyck emerged as a legitimate starting goaltender and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made sure to lock him up by re-signing the 25-year-old goaltender to a six-year extension worth $6.167 million per season.
Hellebucyk’s deal is a manageable cap hit and carries him through his mid-prime, leaving Cheveldayoff’s options open for more in the future, let alone vitally important cap space in the now as there’s kind of a big deal in Winnipeg this season.
Patrik Laine‘s entering the final year of his entry-level contract. Based on his abilities alone, he’ll see upwards of $9.000 million per season. Based on his comparison in play to Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and more– he could be seeing John Tavares money (in the $11.000 million AAV ballpark).
Oh yeah, Matthews is a pending-RFA in July 2019 too.
Laine’s play was elevated in the postseason by offseason departure, Paul Stastny, after Stastny was acquired by the Jets at the trade deadline. Winnipeg wanted to retain his services, but Stastny chose the Golden Knights over a return to Manitoba.
Despite losing a quintessential playmaker in the short run, the Jets gained an edge on cap space in the long run. Cap space that will come in handy for Laine and other pending-RFAs including Kyle Connor, Marko Dano, Jacob Trouba and trade deadline depth pickup turned playoff scoring bottom-pair defender, Joe Morrow.
Trouba went through arbitration this offseason as the ongoing saga continues with his future in Winnipeg– whereas the last couple of seasons it appeared he was on his way out in a transaction, the Jets and the 24-year-old defender have mulled things over on a mutual relationship.
It’s just taking one little step at a time, as the defender was awarded a one-year, $5.500 million extension this summer.
Backing up Hellebuyck this season is Laurent Brossoit, who’s coming off of a career-worst (min. 10 games played) 3.24 goals against average and .883 save percentage in 14 games with the Edmonton Oilers last season.
While Brossoit was with the Oilers (of all teams), that doesn’t scream breakout season by a backup goaltender. In fact, it’s on par with Michael Hutchinson’s 3.26 GAA and .907 SV% in three games with Winnipeg last season and Steve Mason’s 3.24 GAA and .906 SV% in 13 games with the Jets.
Unless Brossoit taps into the once-touted potential he had in his WHL days of Junior hockey, Cheveldayoff’s made a lateral move behind Hellebuyck on the depth chart and lends Maurice to over-rely on his starter to compensate for goaltending struggles.
That’s where things can get ugly.
Otherwise, the Jets should be just fine in 2018-19.
Offseason Grade: C
The Jets introduced an alternate sweater for the first time in Manitoba since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in May 2011. It’s not the low-point of the offseason, however, it will take off a few grade points for such a bland script font as its crest.
Otherwise, Winnipeg’s offseason was par for the course for a roster that has the potential to go just as far– if not further– this season as they did last season. However, next summer is where things could get muddy.
Tampa Bay Lightning
54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division
Lost in the Eastern Conference Final to WSH, 4-3
Subtractions: F Carter Ashton (signed, KHL), D Mathew Bodie (signed, KHL), G Peter Budaj (traded to LA), F Erik Condra (signed with DAL), F Alex Gallant (signed with VGK), F Chris Kunitz (signed with CHI), F Matthew Peca (signed with MTL), D Andrej Sustr (signed with ANA)
Still Unsigned: D Jamie McBain
Offseason Analysis: The 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning had their best season in franchise history. Well, regular season, that is. Jon Cooper led his team from behind the bench to a 54-23-5 record (113 points) and the first seed in the Eastern Conference all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals– their former division rival in what was once the Southeast Division.
It was their first postseason meeting since 2011 and the Bolts had home ice advantage in a Game 7. What could possibly go wrong? Washington was never supposed to get past the Second Round, let alone beat the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to landing in the Eastern Conference Final– plus Alex Ovechkin was always criticized for his Game 7 play in his career– and the Lightning had all of their offensive weapons, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.
But Stamkos had no points in Game 7 against Washington, similar to the last five Game 7s he’s played. In six career Game 7s, Stamkos is pointless. Both literally and figuratively, if you may.
Tampa was shutout on home ice and their 2018 postseason run came to a crashing halt, one win shy of reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.
For a team that’s made the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four calendar years (2015, 2016 and 2018)– they’ve only gotten better, yet they haven’t had the results they’ve wanted (or expected) by now.
Steve Yzerman walked into the Lightning front office with Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster, he left its day-to-day duties having drafted Kucherov (2011) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), while signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson and acquiring Ryan Callahan, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over the years.
Yzerman’s seamless transition from Tampa’s face of the franchise star in Martin St. Louis to Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. was destined to win a Cup while the former face of the Detroit Red Wings superstar was at the helm of operations.
BriseBois’ transition to power will be peaceful, as Yzerman was sure to lock up core members of the roster in Kucherov and McDonagh to extensions beginning in the 2019-20 season this offseason.
It’d be unfair to grade BriseBois’ offseason maneuvers over the last 16 days at the same weight as the rest of the GMs in the league, but it’s worth noting– neither Yzerman nor BriseBois were able to snag Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.
Instead, the biggest prize on the trading block this offseason went to the San Jose Sharks– a team the Lightning can only face in the postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. If they make it that far.
Yzerman chose not to re-sign Chris Kunitz and Andrej Sustr, seeing the former as too old for Tampa’s core and the latter as an expendable asset that was a healthy scratch most nights. He did, however, re-sign glue guy forwards Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette, as well as defender Slater Koekkoek to one-year bridge deals.
Their successful roster is largely intact, despite trading backup goaltender Peter Budaj to the Los Angeles Kinds for forward Andy Andreoff early this summer, but as Cooper seeks to decrease Vasilevskiy’s workload, Budaj’s 3.77 goals against average and .876 save percentage in eight games last season weren’t going to cut it– even with his injuries.
Meanwhile, Louis Domingue looks to improve on his 2.89 GAA and .914 SV% in 12 appearances with the Lightning last season, after going winless in seven appearances with the Arizona Coyotes (4.33 GAA, .856 SV%) before being acquired by Tampa.
Budaj’s eight appearances and Domingue’s 12 games in a Bolts uniform left Vasilevskiy to suit up for a career-high 65 games last season. He had a 2.62 GAA and a career-high .920 SV% in what was a Vezina Trophy finalist year with a 44-17-3 record.
While Vasilevskiy is one of the top-starting netminders in the league, 65 games played in the regular season, plus a maximum 28 potential games in the postseason is nearly 100 games of hockey. Multiply that by 60 minutes and, well, you get the point (hopefully).
Cooper has to rely on Domingue and his defense to reduce the minutes Vasilevskiy has to stand on his feet (or head) in order to keep his number one goaltender from getting fatigued.
Goaltending is all about finding that sweet spot– both in the rhythm of the game while making saves and in the ebbs and flows of the season-long schedule (including the possibility of a deep postseason run).
Offseason Grade: C+
So that’s it really.
Tampa didn’t create a mega-defense, because they didn’t get Karlsson. San Jose did.
They didn’t cause a disturbance in the Force with two potential No. 91s that would’ve seen John Tavares assume a new identity on the roster, because the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the biggest free agent on the market.
And that’s okay.
For Tampa, an “average” offseason meant sticking with their guys– the ones that reached the Final in 2015, almost reached it in 2016 and were brought in for the Conference Final run in 2018. Other than nailing down a backup goalie, the Bolts are ready to defend their top of the table standing in the Atlantic Division.
50-20-12, 112 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division
Lost in the Second Round to TB, 4-1
Subtractions: F Kenny Agostino (signed with MTL), D Chris Breen (signed with Providence Bruins, AHL), D Tommy Cross (signed with CBJ), F Austin Czarnik (signed with CGY), F Brian Gionta (retired), F Justin Hickman (signed, Norway), D Nick Holden (signed with VGK), G Anton Khudobin (signed with DAL), D Adam McQuaid (traded to NYR), F Riley Nash (signed with CBJ), D Paul Postma (signed, KHL), F Tim Schaller (signed with VAN), F Tommy Wingels (signed, Switzerland)
Still Unsigned: F Rick Nash
Offseason Analysis: My fellow hearty New Englanders, we’ve reached the third year of Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney‘s secret three-year Cup masterplan. This is the year– it’s make or break.
Live free or die Do or die.
Why? Because Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato are all pending-RFAs at season’s end with about $16.500 million to spend next offseason– wait, actually, that’s not that bad. It’s tricky, tedious stuff, but manageable if they do it right (Sweeney’s not the last guy, so…?).
Considering David Krejci ($7.250 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season), David Backes ($6.000 million cap hit through 2020-21) and for some reason Torey Krug ($5.250 million cap hit through 2019-20) have all been the topic of trade rumors this offseason, Sweeney will likely end up with well over $20.000 million to work with for the 2019-20 roster.
Oh and 41-year-old ageless wonder and captain, Zdeno Chara‘s $5.000 million cap hit comes off the books after this season, but as long as he’s still trucking, he’ll be in a spoked-B sweater until he retires. (P.S. That’s right, Jaromir Jagr, I’m going with Chara as the new ageless wonder, at least in the National Hockey League.)
But this? This is 2018-19.
Gone are Tim Schaller and Riley Nash, two bottom-six forwards who– let’s be honest– you didn’t think would have the kinds of seasons they had in 2017-18.
I’ve already gone over this plenty of times this offseason on the podcast and in writing, but Schaller legitimized himself as a third liner at best (and rightfully earned his new contract with the Vancouver Canucks), while Nash had a career-high 41-point season at 29-years-old– can that ever be repeated on his three-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets?
Maybe at least once, but not at the price the Bruins could afford with a plethora of youth needing renewals in the next couple of offseasons (oh and coming for roster spots too).
Gone as well are Anton Khudobin and Nick Holden– last season’s backup goaltender and depth piece acquisition on the blue line in February.
In are Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom and whoever makes the roster from Providence this season. John Moore’s new on defense too– he signed a 5-year, $2.750 million per season, contract on July 1st and as a result, became Adam McQuaid’s de facto replacement turned actual-facto (I’m making that a thing) replacement after McQuaid was shipped off to the New York Rangers on September 11th.
The thought process is simple with Wagner and Nordstrom.
Wagner likes to hit and Nordstrom’s coming in exactly like Riley Nash did two years ago. He’s a durable penalty-killer signed at $1.000 million AAV for the next two seasons. Low risk, high reward (as long as he reaches his goals).
Jarolsav Halak’s in town as the backup goaltender for the next two seasons with a cap hit of $2.750 million. Head coach Bruce Cassidy almost has a 1A, 1B option in goal with Halak’s previous starting goaltender experience, though he’ll likely see about 30 games this season to Tuukka Rask‘s 50-plus starts. Both goaltenders will be right in their sweet-spot.
Remember Steven Kampfer? The 2011 Stanley Cup champion doesn’t have his name on the Cup (he only played 38 games in 2010-11), but he’s back in black-and-gold as part of the return in the McQuaid transaction with New York.
Kampfer’s signed through this season at $650,000 and will likely be utilized as an emergency recall from the Providence Bruins, unless Cassidy doesn’t mind carrying eight defenders (with Matt Grzelcyk already as the seventh defenseman). He’ll wear No. 44 this time around with Boston, as Krug is wearing his old No. 47.
Fun fact, Krug wore No. 44 at Michigan State, but Dennis Seidenberg was already wearing that number when Krug signed as an undrafted free agent with the Bruins in March 2012.
The Rangers also gave up a 4th round pick and a conditional 7th round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, which could come in handy at the trade deadline as extra pieces in any Cup or bust making moves Sweeney might have up his sleeve.
Also departed this offseason are Paul Postma (remember him?), Tommy Wingels (off to go explore the Swiss Alps), Brian Gionta (retired as a Sabre, technically) and Austin Czarnik (actually living up in Calgary with the Flames after the Bruins
ran out of space didn’t tender a qualifying offer to at least feign interest in prolonging their relationship).
Plus, Rick Nash is still undecided about coming back to play. Should he do so, Boston has about $5.060 million in cap space to spend on what would undoubtedly be his last chance at a Cup– if last season’s disappointing, concussion-filled, end to a season wasn’t already his last.
Good on Rick Nash either way– if he decides to hang up the skates, nobody can blame him for taking his health seriously. If he waits it out until February or so and is 100% ready-to-go, then let him have a shot at going out the way he wants to– on his own terms.
The 50-20-12, 112-point season Bruins we saw last year in Boston have a lot of pressure this season. A lot more is expected heading into 2018-19 than was expected heading into 2017-18, but it’s a good place to be in. Not to mention Cassidy is the right man behind the bench to get the job done.
The time is now.
Offseason Grade: C+
Despite groans from the fanbase, right or wrong, the Bruins had a slightly above average offseason. Boston placed an emphasis on their youth when Sweeney came in and retooled the prospect pool, so they’ve stuck with the plan.
They didn’t overspend, given John Moore’s potential as a quality top-four defender at precisely what Adam McQuaid (a bottom-pair blue liner) was making. They didn’t land John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk this offseason, but the fact they were even in the conversation lends them some serious credibility as a contender.
In order to be enlightened and crowned champion, first you must climb a seemingly impossible mountain. This team has those expectations and it all starts from within.
45-26-11, 101 points, 3rd in the Central Division
Lost in First Round to WPG, 4-1
Subtractions: F Patrick Cannone (signed, DEL), F Matt Cullen (signed with PIT), F Kurtis Gabriel (signed with NJ), D Alex Grant (signed, KHL), D Dylan Labbe (signed with Wichita Thunder, ECHL), D Viktor Loov (signed, KHL), G Steve Michalek (signed, Austria), F Zack Mitchell (signed with LA), D Zac Palmquist (signed with Lehigh Valley Phantoms, AHL), G Niklas Svedberg (signed, SHL), F Daniel Winnik (signed to a PTO with BOS), G Adam Vay (signed, Kazakhstan)
Still Unsigned: F Adam Gilmour, D Kyle Quincey
Offseason Analysis: Despite a late-season decline, Devan Dubnyk managed to backstop the Minnesota Wild to a third place finish in the Central Division standings– locking up their sixth consecutive postseason appearance and guaranteeing a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets.
Unfortunately for the Wild, they had a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets. Oh and Minnesota’s head coach is Bruce Boudreau, so everyone knows about the playoff curse surrounding him by now, right?
Kidding aside, Minnesota lasted five games against Winnipeg when they realistically should’ve been swept by the jumpin’ Jets.
After nine seasons of being in charge, Chuck Fletcher was fired and Paul Fenton was hired as Minnesota’s new General Manager.
Fenton, of course, served as the assistant GM for the Nashville Predators (2006-18) and had been familiar with Wild owner, Craig Leipold– given their two seasons of overlap as employee and employer in Nashville from 2006-08 before Leipold sold the Predators and bought Minnesota.
Additionally, Fenton was highly-touted as the best “available” prospective General Manager that was potentially on the market for going big time and moving up in the rankings. Under the guidance of David Poile for over a decade with the Preds, Fenton is more than ready for his new role with the Wild.
Unfortunately, he’s inheriting a mess. Yes, even though the Wild have made the playoffs six seasons in a row now, they haven’t gotten past the Second Round.
Plus Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are under contract for forever (slight exaggeration) and both have an injury history (Parise’s career was nearly over and Suter’s going to miss the start of this season). They’re also on the books at over $7.500 million per season each with no movement clauses.
Parise, 34, and Suter, 33, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, unless someone’s willing to eat some cap hit.
Minnesota has about $1.770 million in cap space with seven pending free agents (including two RFAs) next offseason. Eric Staal is one of them and he’s already indicated he’s willing to be more than patient while the Wild figure themselves out.
Staal’s currently making $3.500 million per season and reached the 40-goal plateau last season in a rejuvenating 76-point year (42 goals, 34 assists). At 33, he’s not going to get any younger, but he’s still a vital component of the roster with at least a couple more decent seasons left in him. Perhaps he’ll be the next ageless wonder, even.
Eric Fehr was given a second chance after the San Jose Sharks acquired his services from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and he impressed the Wild enough to sign him to a one-year deal. Either that or Minnesota found their perfect placeholder while a) youth develops and b) they figure out how to free up cap space next offseason.
While the performance on the ice is to be determined– what with an underrated goaltender in Dubnyk and a solid blue line now that Matt Dumba is locked up through the 2022-23 season– this season will be a season in transition, no doubt, for the front office.
Perhaps Boudreau’s next to go after Fletcher’s roster building couldn’t get the Wild over the Second Round hump, does Leipold start pointing fingers behind the bench? Is it only natural that a new General Manager bring in their own plan for the bench to go along with the personalities on their roster?
It’s a make or break season for Minnesota, whether anyone wants to accept it or not.
Offseason Grade: C-
Hiring the best “GM prospect” as your new General Manager was Minnesota’s biggest move this offseason. Well, that and re-signing Matt Dumba to a friendly long-term deal worth $6.000 million per season through 2022-23.
But Paul Fenton’s got plenty of headaches ahead, regardless of team performance on the ice and that’s where the navigation of this franchise gets tricky. Besides, none of the free agents added to the roster this offseason scream “steal of the century”, though signing Andrew Hammond as a third-string goalie doesn’t hurt– goaltending depth is all too often over-looked.
44-25-13, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division
Swept in the First Round by San Jose, 4-0
Subtractions: D Francois Beauchemin (retired), G Reto Berra (signed, Switzerland), F Jared Boll (retired), F J.T. Brown (signed with MIN), F Derek Grant (signed with PIT), F Chris Kelly (retired), F Nicolas Kerdiles (traded to WPG), F Mike Liambas (signed with MIN), F Andre Petersson (signed, KHL), F Corey Tropp (signed with San Diego Gulls, AHL)
Offseason Analysis: Despite finishing one point ahead of the San Jose Sharks in the final standings at the end of the regular season, the Sharks took a bite out of the Anaheim Ducks in the First Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. So much of a bite, in fact, it swept the Ducks off their feet.
Get it? Because they got swept in the postseason.
Despite winning the Cup with Randy Carlyle behind the bench in 2007, Anaheim needs to recognize just how much has changed in the last 11 years. The Ducks got back with their ex and fell into their old habits in a new-age game.
Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler aren’t the players they used to be. It’s not that Perry can’t score, it’s just that he’s not as effective. As for the Ryans (Getzlaf and Kesler), one’s still existent (Getzlaf) though he’d be much better on the second or third line– or at least flanked by youth on his wings– and the other (Kesler) has become irrelevant.
Brian Gibbons and Carter Rowney are fourth liners, so depth down the bottom-six is covered, at least. Meanwhile Luke Schenn and Andrej Sustr provide excellent coverage as sixth defensemen fighting for the last spot on Anaheim’s blue line, which is one of two bright spots for the Ducks heading into 2018-19.
Anaheim’s defensive core is strong with Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour as their top-four defenders. As one of the most under-the-radar defensive core, they’ve kept John Gibson‘s workload to a manageable– wait, actually, Gibson faced 435 shots more in eight additional games last season than he did in 2016-17.
For the record, Gibson faced 1,437 shots against in 52 games (25-16-9 record) in 2016-17, while he faced 1,872 shots against in 60 games (31-18-7) last season. Though the workload increased, Gibson’s save percentage improved from a .924 to a .926. He also won over half the games he played in last season.
So Anaheim’s main strong point is the best American goaltender in the game, while having one of the better than average defenses in the game. Meanwhile, Nick Ritchie remains an unsigned RFA that Murray has to manage carefully.
Quintessential to the transition from the 2000s/2010s style Ducks to the 2020s era Ducks, the 22-year-old left winger is Anaheim’s biggest blue chip roster player outside of the crease. Ritchie is just waiting to emerge with a breakout year as Troy Terry joins the fold on offense.
The fact of the matter remains– play the kids more.
It can only help manage the workload of the physically worn out Ducks that have been around for the last decade. Perry might still produce, but it’s time to break him free from Getzlaf on the first line.
Ondrej Kase could move up a line, but Jakob Silfverberg isn’t actually the problem on the second line.
Anaheim’s in the middle of something– middle of the road, middle of a transition or middle of mediocrity. Whatever it is, they didn’t do much this offseason to fix it this season, but there’s still time to turn things around in the next few years– wait, Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler all have NMCs in their contracts that have three, three and four-years remaining respectively?
Offseason Grade: D+
No you can’t get an “A” by default after having Francois Beauchemin, Jared Boll and Chris Kelly retire in one offseason from your roster.
John Gibson might be the closest thing to Dominik Hasek that we’ve seen since Dominik Hasek led the nonchalant 1999 Buffalo Sabres (seriously, look up the scoring leaders for that team, it trails off after Miroslav Satan— shouts Puck Soup) in the dead puck/trap era to the Stanley Cup Final– that’s if Gibson single handedly leads the Ducks to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, mind you, and the mountain looks too steep.
Erik Karlsson finally got traded, NHL 19 came out and our official 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview just so happened to be this week too. Nick and Connor place their bets on the San Jose Sharks and more.
44-30-8, 96 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division
Subtractions: F Chase Balisy (signed with OTT), F Connor Brickley (signed with NSH), F Gregory Chase (signed with Wichita Thunder, ECHL), F Alexandre Grenier (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), D Linus Hulstrom (signed, SHL), G Harri Sateri (signed with DET), D Edward Wittchow (signed, Liiga), F Curtis Valk (signed, KHL), F Radim Vrbata (retired)
Still Unsigned: None
Offseason Analysis: Despite losing their leading scorers from 2016-17 after trading Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights and leaving Jonathan Marchessault exposed in the expansion draft, the 2017-18 Florida Panthers almost made the playoffs. Almost.
The 44-30-8 Panthers earned 96 points on the regular season and finished one-point shy of a wild card spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Florida tied the record set by the 2014-15 Boston Bruins for the team with the most regular season points to miss the postseason.
General Manager Dale Tallon replaced Marchessault’s scoring ability this offseason by acquiring Mike Hoffman and a 2018 7th round pick (207th overall, Santtu Kinnunen) from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2018 4th round pick (123rd overall, Jack Gorniak– drafted by MTL), a 2018 5th round pick (139th overall, Mikael Hakkarainen– drafted by CHI) and a 2019 2nd round pick. The Sharks subsequently flipped the fourth and fifth round picks at the draft.
Hoffman had 22-34–56 totals in 82 games for the Ottawa Senators last season– his third straight season of 50 or more points– before it was revealed that his fiancée allegedly harassed Erik and Melinda Karlsson on social media.
Ottawa General Manager Pierre Dorion specifically did not want to trade within the division, so he sent Hoffman to San Jose, where Sharks GM Doug Wilson was more than happy to flip the offensively gifted forward to the Panthers right back in– you guessed it– the Atlantic Division.
Tallon’s not concerned about any potential locker room quarrels and Hoffman’s already texted all of his new teammates asking if they’d be okay with him wearing No. 68– last worn by Jaromir Jagr in a Panthers uniform.
While Hoffman remains Tallon’s biggest prize and boost to Florida’s offense, Michael Hutchinson, 28, was brought in as a candidate for the backup goaltending job that is all but assured to be James Reimer‘s, unless Hutchinson can do anything about that.
Yes, it was Reimer’s inability to remain a stable starting goaltender (2.99 goals against average and a .913 save percentage in 44 games played last season, 22-14-6 record) that pushed 39-year-old Roberto Luongo (2.47 GAA, .929 SV% in 35 GP, 18-11-2 record) into not only saving the season, but nearly bringing the Panthers into the playoffs on his back.
The future of goaltending in Florida remains shrouded as Luongo is under contract at $4.533 million per season through 2021-22 (by then Luongo will be 43 at season’s end), Reimer, 30, is signed through 2020-21 at $3.400 million and Hutchinson (the youngest goaltender of the three) is on a one-year deal.
But Florida’s top-six forward core is stacked with Evgenii Dadonov, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad on the prospective first line and Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Hoffman filling out line two. That leaves February acquisition from the Bruins who’s looking to prove himself in a full-time role with the Panthers, Frank Vatrano on the third line.
Right about where he was on Boston’s depth chart before their youth movement– yes a youth movement, despite Vatrano only being 24– forced him out of the lineup.
Despite the existence of Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle on the blue line, Tallon still has work to do in finding another legitimate top-four defender, let alone fixing the drastic drop-off in talent from Ekblad and Yandle to MacKenzie Weegar and Ian McCoshen likely on the third pair.
Then again, it’s really head coach Bob Boughner‘s job to figure out the right matchups to maximize potential and win games, so perhaps Michael Matheson or Mark Pysyk will be paired with better suitors as the season progresses.
Overall, between the defense and goaltending, the Panthers have to improve their plus-two goal differential from 2017-18 to be a lot more in the black.
Florida’s on the cusp of making the playoffs and turning a few heads, but they really aren’t built for a Cup run. They might be ahead of last season’s Eastern Conference wild card teams (the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils) in both development and talent, but they don’t have all the pieces as thing stand to go against the powerhouses in the league– including their intrastate rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Offseason Grade: B-
The Panthers didn’t yield a huge harvest in the offseason, but they certainly got the most out of filling their need for a top-six forward in Mike Hoffman on the second line.
While Tallon was rumored to have had conversations with Montreal regarding Max Pacioretty (now traded to the Golden Knights) prior to acquiring Hoffman, Florida made the better move for their organization in that they didn’t have to give up any current or future roster pieces for the services of a goal-scorer.
External factors might have driven Hoffman’s price down, but a prospective deal with the Canadiens for Pacioretty would have meant parting with a guy like Huberdeau and that cannot happen if the Panthers are serious about making a playoff run.