Tag Archives: AHL

Down the Frozen River Podcast #75- Captain’s Practice (with Cap’n Cornelius)

Nick and Colby are joined by the Cap’n this week as the trio discuss the Vegas Golden Knights home opener, bad starts for the Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks, as well as other thoughts around the league. The New York Islanders really need an arena and the Carolina Hurricanes really need some fans.

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Down the Frozen River Podcast #74- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part II)

Jaromir Jagr signed with the Calgary Flames this week, the regular season started (though the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have been told yet that the games matter now) and former players tend to be GMs in the NHL, the Original Trio confirms. Also, we gave participation trophies without even watching the rest of the season for the second year in a row.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Season Preview

Washington Capitals LogoWashington Capitals

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

Eliminated in the Second Round by Pittsburgh

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

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

Still Unsigned: F Daniel Winnik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not ideal.

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: D+

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

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

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

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

San Jose Sharks 2017-2018 Season Preview

UnknownSan Jose Sharks

46-29-7, 99 points, 3rd in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Edmonton

Additions: G Antoine Bibeau, F Brandon Bollig, F Brandon Mashinter

Subtractions: F Michael Haley (signed with FLA), F Nikita Jevpalovs (signed with Dinamo Riga, KHL), F Patrick Marleau (signed with TOR), D Mirco Mueller (traded to NJ), G Harri Sateri (signed with FLA), D David Schlemko (claimed by VGK in the 2017 Expansion Draft), F Zack Stortini (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Buddy Robinson (signed with WPG)

Still Unsigned: G Mantas Armalis, D Dan Kelly, D Patrick McNally

Offseason Analysis: Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks had quite the quiet offseason. Kidding aside, they really didn’t do much. Yes, face of the franchise, Patrick Marleau moved on to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but other face of the franchise Joe Thornton stuck around.

Did Marleau’s departure send shockwaves throughout the organization? Probably not.

It was only a matter of time in today’s NHL– where most players aren’t like Shane Doan and will seek a roster that’s ready to win and win now before they retire. That’s not to say the Sharks cannot win the Cup in 2018, but it does speak volumes for the Maple Leafs’ chances of making the 2018 Stanley Cup Final compared to San Jose’s.

Marleau’s 508 goals are the most in franchise history and his 27 goals last season will be difficult to replace without adding a guaranteed goal scorer to the roster this offseason, but the Sharks are banking on their prospects.

In a sense, it’s fitting that they begin the transition of power now, with Marleau leaving on his own terms, Thornton getting up there in age (he turned 38 this summer) and seven other players who are at least 30 years old on the roster.

The league, let alone the Pacific Division around them, has only gotten younger, better, faster, stronger and more Daft Punk infused and more competitive than ever.

Wilson locked up his starting goaltender, Martin Jones, to a six-year, $34.5 million extension that begins next season and assures the organization of having a borderline elite goaltender through his prime. Jones will undoubtedly stand on his head again for the Sharks all season long.

But in case you were worried about the depth of the crease at SAP Center, well fear not, because Aaron Dell is the real deal as a backup. His 2.00 goals against average and .931 save percentage in 20 games played were a promising sign of things to come in his rookie season as San Jose’s backup last season. Dell shouldn’t have much to fear in Antoine Bibeau’s signing this offseason, given Bibeau’s 1.99 GAA and .927 SV% in two career NHL games with Toronto last season.

Dell has sample size working to his advantage and a need for goaltending down on the AHL roster– thanks to Harri Sateri’s departure to Florida this summer– that should keep Bibeau preoccupied as he comes into his goaltending prime.

On defense, David Schlemko was lost to the Vegas Golden Knights at the Expansion Draft (before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens, shortly thereafter) and Mirco Mueller was dealt to the New Jersey Devils. Luckily for the Sharks, Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s newest extension should spread out the minutes and carry the weight of the team as Paul Martin, 36, nears the twilight of his career and Brent Burns, 32, begins the descent (not any time soon, per se, but in time).

In just 25 games last season, Dylan DeMelo, 24, was a bright spot on the blue line. Now, he’ll step into a more pronounced role as a top-6 defenseman.

With the exception of Marleau, the rest of the forwards remain the same. Thornton is worth $8 million for his one-year extension that he signed early in July, considering his loyalty and what will likely be yet another 50-plus point season.

Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson and the rest of the gang look to improve on the last couple seasons of regular season dominance and Peter DeBoer seeks to push his skaters farther than ever before– with hopes set on another Stanley Cup Final run for the second time in three years (and maybe a different outcome this time).

Offseason Grade: C-

San Jose didn’t make any bad signings, but they also didn’t really do anything. Their defensive depth needs to be rebuilt sooner rather than later to avoid falling behind, which is something that happened a lot during the First Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Edmonton Oilers forwards flew by the Sharks blueliners and went for the net.

The Sharks might still be the same team that can hold their ground in the Pacific Division, but the teams around them got better. It’s possible that the Sharks will be surpassed by the Los Angeles Kings in the division standings– and that’s assuming that Anaheim and Edmonton are already ahead of them.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-3Tampa Bay Lightning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A healthy Steven Stamkos is a major bonus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: C+

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

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

Philadelphia Flyers 2017-2018 Season Preview

Philadelphia Flyers LogoPhiladelphia Flyers

39-33-10, 88 points, 6th in the Metropolitan Division (’16-’17)

Additions: G Brian Elliott, F Corban Knight, F Jori Lehtera, F Phil Varone, F Brendan Warren

Subtractions: F Chris Conner (signed with Lehigh Valley Phantoms, AHL), F Nick Cousins (traded to ARI), D Michael Del Zotto (signed with VAN), F Roman Lyubimov (signed with HC CSKA Moscow, KHL), G Merrick Madsen (traded to ARI), G Steve Mason (signed with WPG), F Andy Miele (signed with Malmö Redhawks, SHL), D Jesper Pettersson (signed with Djurgårdens IF, SHL), F Brayden Schenn (traded to STL), F Eric Wellwood (retired)

Still Unsigned: F Boyd Gordon, D Nick Schultz, F Chris VandeVelde

Offseason Analysis: Philadelphia Flyers general manager, Ron Hextall, didn’t play the Powerball, but may have won the lottery after all– considering the fact that the Flyers moved from 14th to 2nd overall at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft via the draft lottery and were then able to select Nolan Patrick from the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Landing Patrick over New Jersey’s 1st overall pick, Nico Hischier, might resemble the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in initial success. Edmonton Oilers 2010 1st overall pick, Taylor Hall didn’t have much of a team around him in Edmonton in his rookie season of 2010-2011, while Boston’s Tyler Seguin had the eventual 2011 Stanley Cup champions as his linemates.

Hischier joins the rebuilding Devils, while Patrick landed on the middle-of-the-road Flyers and if you’re a fan of either of those teams, you’re probably hoping that the first two picks of the 2017 draft aren’t a full repeat of the 2010 draft, where Hall was traded to New Jersey just last year and Seguin was dealt to Dallas in 2013.

Hextall didn’t have to patch much on Philadelphia’s front lines. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier still exist, while Valtteri Filppula continues to be an underrated force of nature that he is as a top-9 forward.

Patrick joins the influx of youth in the City of Brotherly Love, where Travis Konecny dangles and scores goals and Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere shut down opposing teams on the blue line.

The Flyers currently have five defensemen on their NHL roster and shouldn’t be too worried about how the sixth spot and depth spot will fill out– alas, this is the reason why training camp and the preseason exist.

But while Hextall had an easy offseason of minor tweaks to the roster, a couple of key components from last season’s team are no longer members of the franchise.

Brayden Schenn was dealt to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 1st round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 1st round pick. Nick Cousins was sent to Arizona in a trade that involved other, less important, components. More importantly, Steve Mason was not offered a contract and jettisoned for the Winnipeg Jets via free agency as Brian Elliott agreed to terms with Philadelphia on a 2-year, $2.750 million per year contract.

Entering his fourth NHL season, Lehtera is coming off of a career worst seven goals, 15 assists (22 points) performance in 64 games played last season (due to injuries and otherwise). Healthy and in need of a change of scenery, Lehtera appears to be reinvigorated and ready to slide in alongside the likes of Giroux, Voracek, Konecny, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl and Jordan Weal.

Since the late 1990s, the Flyers have had about 3,000,000 million different starting goaltenders. Okay, the real number is somewhere around 30, but the point is this– Philly may have found a number one starter in Brian Elliott.

After being traded to the Calgary Flames from the St. Louis Blues, Elliott went on to appear in 49 games– the most he’s played since the 2009-2010 season (55 games with the Ottawa Senators). Last season, Elliott’s numbers (a 2.55 goals against average and a .910 save percentage) nearly reflected that of his 2009-2010 season (2.57 GAA with a .909 SV% in 6 more games than his 2016-2017 campaign).

Yes, Elliott was considerably worse in Calgary than in St. Louis. He never had a GAA above 2.28 with the Blues (and his 2.28 GAA came in 24 games during the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season). His final year with St. Louis (2015-2016) amassed a 2.07 GAA and a .930 SV% in 42 games played en route to a Western Conference Finals appearance (and loss to the San Jose Sharks).

Granted, St. Louis had a defense in front of him– and an offense, for that matter– all of his years in a blue note, while Elliott’s short stint with the Flames was largely unprotected. There was no 1A/1B scenario, unlike when Elliott played with Jake Allen in St. Louis and Calgary’s defense was not of the caliber of Colton Parayko and all who came before him on the Blues.

But Elliott is determined to find his game again on a stable roster, where Gostisbehere, Provorov, Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning look to hold down the fort in the defensive zone.

And if Elliott has a bad night or an off-week, then Michal Neuvirth is more than ready to step in and tame the crease, like how the Blues juggled Elliott and Allen for a few seasons.

Coming off a season with a -17 goal differential, the Flyers will need to replace a two-time 50-point scorer (Schenn) with more than what they brought in during the offseason. Hextall is opting for the build from within strategy, having witnessed an impressive rookie campaign from Konecny and since landing Patrick 2nd overall in June.

Inaction can work, as the old saying “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” goes, but will it be enough to put Philadelphia back into Stanley Cup contention for the first time since 2010, let alone back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Offseason Grade: C

Simply put, the Flyers could’ve gotten more up front in the Brayden Schenn deal, it seems, from either the Blues or literally any other team and that hampers their offseason success in finding a suitable replacement for Steve Mason as one of their goalies by signing Brian Elliott.

Vancouver Canucks 2017-2018 Season Preview

imgres-2Vancouver Canucks

30-43-9, 69 points, 7th in the Pacific Division (’16-’17)

Additions: F Alex Burmistrov, D Michael Del Zotto, F Sam Gagner, G Anders Nilsson, D Patrick Wiercioch

Subtractions: D Chad Billins (signed with Linköping HC, SHL), G Michael Garteig (signed to an AHL deal with the Utica Comets), F Alexandre Grenier (signed with FLA), D Philip Larsen (signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL), G Ryan Miller (signed with ANA), D Tom Nilsson (signed with Djurgårdens IF, SHL), F Borna Rendulic (signed with Pelicans, Liiga),  F Drew Shore (signed with ZSC, NLA), D Nikita Tryamkin (signed with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, KHL), F Michael Zalewski (signed with Straubing Tigers, DEL)

Still Unsigned: F Joseph Cramarossa, F Bo Horvat, F Jack Skille

Offseason Analysis: Despite finishing 29th in a league of 30 teams last year, the Vancouver Canucks have much to be looking forward to this season. Sam Gagner joins the club after one successful season with the Columbus Blue Jackets that has reinvigorated his career and looks to add much needed depth to compliment the likes of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Loui Eriksson, Derek Dorsett and Bo Horvat (though Horvat is still an unsigned RFA).

Yes, production was down all-around for the Canucks last season, but one thing was always missing and that was a durable group of bottom-six/top-nine forwards. Gagner’s 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists) are sure to improve the -61 goal differential for Vancouver’s 2016-2017 campaign as Eriksson seeks to rebound from a dismal 24-point season (11 goals, 13 assists in 63 games) in his first year of a 6-year, $36 million contract.

The Sedin twins aren’t getting any younger (they’re 36-years-old entering the 2017-2018 season) and finding the right winger to join their tandem is imperative to scoring success. Luckily for the Canucks, they’ve got options, but only if the price is right.

Horvat still needs a contract as we embark on the month of September, where training camp lurks around the corner and preseason action kicks off. General manager Jim Benning knows just how important it is for the 22-year-old to not miss a step in his development.

Ideally, a fair contract for both sides should’ve been worked out by now, but with Leon Draisaitl‘s pay raise in Edmonton setting an example for fellow young, talented players, like Horvat and Boston’s David Pastrnak, it’s no surprise that neither side has budged to an agreement.

Whereas Draisaitl improved from a 51-point season in 2015-2016 to a 77-point year last season as a 21-year-old, Horvat is only riding back-to-back 40-plus points a year since the 2015-2016 campaign (18-24-40 totals in ’15-’16– 81 games played, 20-32-52 totals in ’16-’17– 82 games played). Likewise, Horvat doesn’t have the whole “Connor McDavid is literally my linemate so pay me like the demigod that I am” argument going for him.

Nonetheless, Horvat is a player to build around, with the Sedins nearing retirement and Markus Granlund coming into his own as a 24-year-old forward who had a career year last season (19-13-32 totals in 69 games played).

Gaining experience pays off and it is destined to help Vancouver ascend the rungs of the Pacific Division standings.

While the future of the Canucks’s offense seems intent on rolling with their young guys, one thing that needs attention is the other end of the ice. Vancouver’s defense is nothing to write home about, but luckily Chris Tanev is the only blue liner with three years remaining on their current deal.

This will provide incentive for each defenseman to get better as they age into their prime. Olli Juolevi might be penciled in on the NHL roster sooner rather than later and has an opportunity to compete for a top-6 role.

Finally, goaltender, Ryan Miller, has moved on to role of the Anaheim Ducks backup, leaving Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom as the presumed starter heading into the preseason. Markstrom has yet to appear in more than 33 games in a single NHL season, but has proven to be durable as he enters “goaltender prime” (if you’re new to the sport, goalies typically develop a little later than skating prospects– this is, of course, not always true when Braden Holtby or Matt Murray exist).

His 2.63 GAA and .910 SV% in 26 games last season is nothing to go crazy over, until you consider what a more experienced and retooled roster in front of him can do to limit shot attempts against of all kinds (on net, wide of the net and blocked). Keep in mind, a goalie has to react to every puck that’s even remotely coming at his/her direction, which can be a lot of work depending on your defense.

Anders Nilsson was signed via free agency, coming off of an impressive role as the backup for the Buffalo Sabres, where he posted a 2.67 GAA and .923 SV%. Nilsson will make a run for the starting role, without a doubt. There’s going to be some healthy competition in front of Vancouver’s twine. All things considered, that’s pretty remarkable for an organization that traded away two, All-Star quality, franchise goaltenders (Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider) in less than a decade.

Now, Markstrom and Nilsson are no Luongo and Schneider, but they both are only 27-years-old and have shown signs of brilliance.

The untrained eye-test says that this could be a breakout season for Nilsson and a respectable year for Markstrom, showing improvement as his minutes are increased from past years.

Combined, the Canucks are only spending about $6.167 million on a pair of goalies that aren’t going to slow down, like how Miller’s play deteriorated over his years in Vancouver (okay, really since his days in anything but a Sabres uniform).

The Canucks have a shot at moving up from 7th in the Pacific last season to at least 6th in 2017-2018– though they could always surprise everyone and go further.

Offseason Grade: B

As deserving of criticism as Beinning’s moves as general manager have been, this offseason had a different flavor for the Canucks– one in which an emphasis on letting talent develop and bringing the right guys in to help others flourish is apparent, reminiscent of when Vancouver dominated the Western Conference in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

Colorado Avalanche 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-1Colorado Avalanche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: D

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

*Coming soon, stay tuned. *eyes emoji*

Down the Frozen River Podcast #68- The Jagr Episode

After taking a forced hiatus because SoundCloud is falling from the sky and we moved our podcast to Libsyn, Nick and Connor discuss what was going on in the hockey world around July 21st. At the time of this recording, Jaromir Jagr was still unsigned, arbitration was going on, the Carolina Hurricanes found a potential buyer and Colton Parayko signed a 5-year extension with the St. Louis Blues.

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Revised Mock 2017 NHL Expansion Draft

If you’re a regular here at Down the Frozen River then you know Colby Kephart, Connor Keith and I discussed our ideal Vegas Golden Knights rosters on last week’s episode of the DTFR Podcast.

Well, after careful (re)consideration, thanks to Sunday’s release of the protected and available lists for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Connor and I have decided to reselect our Golden Knights rosters. Special thanks to CapFriendly for having such an amazing “mock expansion draft” tool available to everyone all season long leading up to this moment.

Without further ado, here they are…

vegas_golden_knights_logo

Nick Lanciani’s mock 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster:

ANAHEIM DUCKS– D Sami Vatanen (26 years old, 3 years left, $4.875 million cap hit):

The logic behind this one is fairly simple– Vegas picks the best player available from Anaheim’s pool of available players and either 1) utilizes his services or 2) flips him for even more assets (current or future, the choice is yours, Golden Knights GM George McPhee). Vatanen had 3-21-24 totals in 71 games with Anaheim in 2016-2017.

ARIZONA COYOTES– LW/RW Jamie McGinn (28, 2 years left, $3.333 million cap hit):

Choosing McGinn (9-8-17 totals in 72 games played last season) provides the Golden Knights with the safest pick from the Coyotes organization. He’s not expected to be the best player, but his contract is the perfect fit for a team that’s just starting out. It he does well, he’ll stick around, but if he doesn’t perform, then Vegas didn’t waste too much on being able to have a NHL caliber forward right out of the gate.

BOSTON BRUINS– D Colin Miller (24, 1 year left, $1.000 million cap hit):

While Boston does not want to have to see Colin Miller heading to Vegas, there wasn’t much the Bruins could do to protect the young blue liner, considering their vast expanse of core forwards to protect and defensive prospects lining up to take Miller’s current job in Boston. The Golden Knights luck out on this one, if Miller’s brilliance returns.

Despite playing in 19 more games this season than in 2015-2016, Miller had 6 goals and 7 assists (13 points) for Boston (whereas he had 3-13-16 totals in 42 games in 2015-2016).

BUFFALO SABRES– LW Matt Moulson (33, 2 years left, $5.000 million cap hit):

Moulson’s time with the Buffalo Sabres was up and down, but he gets a fresh start in Sin City. There shouldn’t be any hard feelings between the Sabres and Moulson on what otherwise seems like a natural, mutual, separation.

He had 14-18-32 totals in 81 games played in 2016-2017, which was better than his eight goals, 13 assists (21 points) in 81 games in 2015-2016 (after amassing three consecutive 40-plus point seasons).

CALGARY FLAMES– C/LW/RW Lance Bouma (27, 1 year remaining, $2.200 million cap hit):

Three goals and four assists (7 points) in 61 games played this year with Calgary doesn’t scream “exceptional forward”, however, it’s his intangibles that make him a quality asset for a franchise that has to build its identity from the ground up. Also, his durability as a forward (he can play either wing or center) makes him an attractive option for a franchise that won’t nearly have as much minor league depth to call up in the event of injuries throughout the season.

CAROLINA HURRICANES– LW Joakim Nordstrom (25, 1 year remaining, $1.275 million cap hit):

His production was cut in half (7-5-12 totals) this season despite taking part in 81 games with Carolina, however, Joakim Nordstrom is just one season removed from an impressive stint in his first full year with the Hurricanes (10-14-24 totals in 71 games played in 2015-2016) since being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 offseason. At 25 years old, he should be entering his prime.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS– D Trevor van Riemsdyk (25, 1 year remaining, $825,000 cap hit):

The Golden Knights hit the lottery with their selection from the Blackhawks in the sense that Trevor van Riemsdyk is an exceptional, young, defenseman, who should otherwise be stepping into a more prominent role as the future of Chicago’s blue line, but instead will become a household name in Vegas. Limited to only 58 games this season, van Riemsdyk notched 5-11-16 totals in his sophomore year after amassing three goals and 11 assists (14 points) in a full 82-game season his rookie year.

COLORADO AVALANCHE– C Carl Soderberg (31, 3 years left, $4.750 million cap hit):

Carl Soderberg went from a 51 point season in his first year with the Avalanche to just 6-8-14 totals in 80 games played this season, but the former Boston Bruin and three-time 40-plus point scorer can rejuvenate his career with the right combination of forwards around him in Vegas. Plus he’s not too shabby on the faceoff dot (Soderberg won 52% of his faceoffs this season alone).

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS– D Jack Johnson (30, 1 year remaining, $4.357 million cap hit):

Simply put, Jack Johnson would be the oldest defenseman on my version of the Vegas Golden Knights and that’s exactly where you’d want them to be, just starting out. He contributed 18 assists to go along with his 23 points for the Blue Jackets in 82 games this season, after being hampered by injury to just 6-8-14 totals in 60 games last season.

DALLAS STARS– D Greg Pateryn (26, 1 year remaining, $800,000 cap hit):

Pateryn has yet to play a full season, but perhaps the Golden Knights can give him more of a taste of being a regular in the NHL than the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens did. He has 16 career points to his name and at best, is a depth guy that becomes a top-6 blue liner. At worst, he sees no time in the lineup and watches a season from the comfortable press box seats at T-Mobile Arena.

DETROIT RED WINGS– G Petr Mrazek (25, 1 year remaining, $4.000 million cap hit):

Once again, we have another offseason rendition of Character Issues (season two, 2017, starring Petr Mrazek, guest starring references made to season one (2016) star, P.K. Subban).

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

EDMONTON OILERS– D Eric Gryba (29, pending UFA on July 1st):

Since Gryba tallied 12 assists in 75 games played in the 2014-2015 season with the Ottawa Senators (one more point than the previous season in 18 more games), he hasn’t produced and has become a depth defenseman at best. A second, second chance with the Vegas Golden Knights might finally prove that Gryba is worth more to a franchise than just as a go-to healthy scratch. Or then again, he might just be a roster placeholder until free agency begins on July 1st.

FLORIDA PANTHERS– LW/RW Reilly Smith (26, 5 years left, $5.000 million cap hit):

Who didn’t have a down year with the Florida Panthers this season? Reilly Smith failed to reach the 40-point plateau for the first time since his 37 games played as a newcomer with the Dallas Stars in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season. Instead, he had 15-22-37 totals in 80 games with the Panthers, following his trend of “on again, off again” performance. By Smith’s standards, he’s due for a spectacular season in 2017-2018 and he’s not the only surprise Florida left unprotected *cough cough Jonathan Marchessault cough*.

LOS ANGELES KINGS– D Brayden McNabb (26, 1 year remaining, $1.700 million cap hit):

Two goals and two assists (4 points) were all that McNabb put on the scoresheet for the Kings this season in 49 games. In 2014-2015 with Los Angeles, he had 22 assists in 71 games played (his first full season in the NHL and first appearance in the league since his acquisition by the Kings from the Buffalo Sabres). But nobody’s paying him to score goals and rack up points when they consider his heavy hitting approach to protecting his own zone.

MINNESOTA WILD– C Eric Staal (32, 2 years left, $3.500 million cap hit):

Why not? Make things interesting, George McPhee, and take Eric Staal over the plethora of defensemen that seem to be rumored in and out of Minnesota every other day. True to form, he had 65 points (28 goals, 37 assists) in 82 games with the Wild last season after a dismal 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 83 games with the Hurricanes and the Rangers in 2015-2016. He makes everyone around him better, so he’s worth it.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS– C Tomas Plekanec (34, 1 year remaining, $6.000 million):

I said it on last week’s episode of the podcast, but this is the easiest way for the Canadiens to avoid the awkward breakup with Plekanec reminiscent of their uncoupling with Saku Koivu almost a decade ago.

He had 10-18-28 totals in 78 games with Montreal this season a year after notching 54 points in 82 games and two years after reaching 60 points in 82 games played. He’s not the 70-point scorer like he was in 2009-2010, but he’s still a gifted center that brings a veteran presence to the new franchise.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS– C Colton Sissons (23, 2 years left, $625,000 cap hit):

Colton Sissons only had two goals and eight assists (10 points) in 58 games played this season for Nashville, but he came up clutch in their Stanley Cup Final run (and eventual defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins). Someone good and young on the Predators is bound to be lost to the Golden Knights, unless they’ve already worked out a trade to avoid the inevitable scenario. Take a hard pass on James Neal, if you can.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS– RW Stefan Noesen (24, pending RFA on July 1st):

There’s really no stellar selection to make from the Devils, so why not go with a young, pending RFA forward? Besides, he had eight goals in 44 games with Anaheim and New Jersey this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS– LW Shane Prince (24, 1 year remaining, $850,000 cap hit):

Shane Prince had 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists) in 50 games with the Islanders this season, which bested his scoring output from last year in a dozen fewer games, so just imagine what a full season could do for him in the right situation.

NEW YORK RANGERS– G Antti Raanta (28, 1 year remaining, $1.000 million cap hit):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

OTTAWA SENATORS– D Fredrik Claesson (24, 1 year remaining, $650,000 cap hit):

Claesson amassed 3-8-11 totals in 33 games with the Senators this season, one year after recording 2 assists in 16 games played. So there’s room for improvement if he’s only just entering his prime. Otherwise he’s a tactically smart depth defenseman addition to Vegas’s roster.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS– C/LW Michael Raffl (28, 2 years left, $2.350 million cap hit):

Michael Raffl’s 2016-2017 campaign was shortened due to injury and was largely one to forget (8-3-11 totals in 52 games played, down from 13-18-31 totals in a healthy 82-game 2015-2016 season). However, Raffl is durable and should be back to being a dependable depth scoring glue guy in a top-9 forward spot with Vegas.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS– G Marc-Andre Fleury (32, 2 years left, $5.750 million cap hit):

Should I even have to explain this one? I’m going to go with “no”.

SAN JOSE SHARKS– D Brenden Dillon (26, 3 years left, $3.270 million cap hit):

Brenden Dillon is a solid top-4 defenseman that has some time left on his contract that’ll see him into his prime with the Vegas Golden Knights. Did I mention he’s a good defenseman? He likes to hit people and stuff.

ST. LOUIS BLUES– RW/LW Dmitrij Jaskin (24, 1 year remaining, $1.000 million cap hit):

In 2014-2015, Jaskin had 13-5-18 totals in 54 games. Since then, he had 4-9-13 totals in 65 games (2015-2016) and just one goal and ten assists (11 points) in 51 games this season. He seems to be the odd man out for the St. Louis Blues and may be sparked by a change of scenery to shape up or lose a full-time NHL job– destined for the life of an AHL Lifer™.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING– RW J.T. Brown (26, 1 year remaining, $1.250 million cap hit):

Okay, so 3-3-6 totals in 64 games played was a step backwards from a career year, 8-14-22 totals in 78 games in 2015-2016 for J.T. Brown, but he’s a gritty fourth liner. It’s well worth the risk/reward factor of taking him on for a season, trying him out and either 1) keeping him around because he’s won the hearts of the fans in Vegas, 2) let him go or 3) begin stockpiling veteran AHL Lifers™.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS– D Martin Marincin (25, 1 year remaining, $1.250 million cap hit):

Toronto doesn’t seem to be entirely sold on Martin Marincin and that’s understandable given his 1-6-7 totals in the last two seasons (but over 25 games played this season and 65 games played in 2015-2016). He’s not an offensive minded defenseman, that’s fine, just hit somebody or block a shot. Auston Matthews and the rest of the teens on the Maple Leafs aren’t available, so let’s go with Marincin.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS– G Richard Bachman (29, 1 year remaining, $650,000):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*. **Actually, Bachman’s probably going to be their AHL starter with the Chicago Wolves, so we’ll leave it at that.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS– G Philipp Grubauer (25, pending RFA on July 1st):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

WINNIPEG JETS– G Michael Hutchinson (27, 1 year remaining, $1.150 million cap hit):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

Total Cap Hit (excluding players already on VGK roster): $68.410 million

Average age: 27 years old

At the end of the day, my thought process was to build around a few guys, bring in a lot of short-term contracts, flip a lot of goalies and attain a ton of draft picks (just like Danny Ainge, but in hockey). Don’t try to build your team via free agency in your first year. Do that next year and win the Cup in 2019, obviously.


By: Connor Keith

Connor Keith’s mock 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster:

After making my initial selections (effectively my preferred player off each roster), I found myself lacking forwards, a few 2018-’19 (or beyond) contracts and almost $10 million under the salary floor. This led to three or four modifications to my original selections.

ANAHEIM – G Dustin Tokarski

Patrick Eaves, Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen were all available, but I decided to go with the 27-year-old netminder. Spending much of the 2016-’17 season in San Diego with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, he posted a .898 save percentage for a 2.93 GAA, 17-win season. Yes, that’s not all that impressive, but he did post a 10-minute shutout (that’s a thing, right?) in his only NHL action this year. Tokarski’s true upside is that he has only one year remaining on his $650,000 two-way contract, meaning Vegas can send him to Chicago to prove himself or provide competition for their other goaltending prospects and not be committed to him long-term.

ARIZONA – RW Radim Vrbata

Is there any question of the best available Coyote? He notched 55 points (fourth-most among all Expansion Draft-eligible forwards) with a lackluster Arizona club that managed only a measly 191 goals all season, including 35 assists (fifth-best among forwards in the draft). Vrbata is not currently under contract, so George McPhee might need an impressive offer sheet to ensure 36-year-old veteran doesn’t run off in pursuit of a Stanley Cup in the twilight of his career.

BOSTON – D Adam McQuaid

There are few things I love more than a physical, stay-at-home defenseman – and McQuaid is just that. He blocked an impressive 144 shots this last season (eighth-best among defensemen in the draft) while also throwing 157 hits (10th-most among draft-eligible blue-liners). Not much gets past this 30-year-old (be it the puck or a skater), and he’ll be able to impart some wisdom among the youngsters while also making a few defensive contributions of his own.

BUFFALO – G Linus Ullmark

There’s not many skaters of value to Vegas in Upstate New York, but both available netminders could be solid picks. In particular, 23-year-old Ullmark is four years younger than Anders Nilsson and is under contract for two more seasons at the low price of $750,000, but the cherry on top is that he’s still waivers-exempt, meaning he can still be sent to Chicago if needed without other teams having the opportunity to sign him.

CALGARY – C Freddie Hamilton

Hamilton isn’t the sexy pick, but I’m not willing to pick free agent Michael Stone and have to fight to keep him, as he’s coming off a $4 million deal. Instead, we’ll take the 25-year-old youngster that was sneaky-good at the face-off dot in his 26 games played this season. He won almost 60 percent of his 126 play-resuming scrums to rank third-best among the centers available for the Golden Knights to select. If he can be convinced to put on a little more weight, he could be an effective fourth-liner.

CAROLINA – RW Lee Stempniak

Other than a 33-year-old long-time starting goaltender, the Hurricanes’ offerings are sparse. That leaves Stempniak as the obvious choice for McPhee and the Knights. He provided 40 points for a Carolina club that narrowly missed the postseason, but his biggest strength is his ability to steal the puck away from the opposition. He committed 57 takeaways during last season, the third-most among draft-eligible forwards.

CHICAGO – D Trevor van Riemsdyk

There are a few star-studded rosters that couldn’t protect everyone, and the Blackhawks are one of those. That leaves this stud of a young defenseman out to dry, and Vegas would be wise to bring him to the desert. At only 25 years of age, he notched 16 points during ’16-’17 and a +17 rating. The future is bright for this youngster, and he’s a perfect piece to build the first 10 years of Vegas’ defense around.

COLORADO – C Samuel Henley

If Chicago is on one end of the spectrum in terms of roster quality, Colorado is on the other – made apparent by its terrible 22-win season. Because of that, I decided to take a chance on one of the Avalanche’s prospects, a 23-year-old center. He only played in one NHL game this season, but it was a head-turner: he tied the December 1 game against the Blue Jackets at two-all in the second period (Columbus went on to win 3-2). He’s currently a restricted free-agent, but it shouldn’t be too hard to sign him to a low-cost contract.

COLUMBUS – D Jack Johnson

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they have a resurgent defenseman available to be selected. Johnson joined the Jackets during the 2011-‘12 season, and it’s been an up-and-down affair. This last campaign was certainly an “up,” as he registered a +23 rating and scored five goals (tied for ninth-most among draft-eligible defensemen). Though he comes in at a price tag exceeding $4 million, the offensive threat from the blue-line is worth the money.

DALLAS – F Mark McNeill

If there’s anything Jim Nill and the Stars know how to do, it’s how to identify offensive talent (Exhibit A: the 2015-’16 season). Unfortunately, there are only four forwards (including Adam Cracknell) available for the Expansion Draft with more than 41 NHL games played this season, meaning McPhee might be led to snag a prospect. If for no other reason than his versatility (he can play both center and right wing), I’m drawn to McNeill. He registered only 39 points between Rockford and Texas in the AHL this season, but he proved his willingness to get his nose dirty by blocking a shot in his only game with Dallas on April 28. He’s currently a restricted free agent, so it shouldn’t be difficult to sign him to another minor league contract.

DETROIT – F Luke Glendening

For whatever reason (*ahem* tank *ahem*), the Wings decided to leave this versatile forward exposed for the draft. Vegas would be crazy to leave Glendening off its club. Locked into his contract until 2021 at the relatively low price of $1.8 million, he accounted for 14 points in 74 games played this season. Of course, Glendening isn’t known so much for his offensive contributions as much as his defensive presence. With 62 blocks to his credit last year, he registered the seventh-most among draft-eligible forwards.

EDMONTON – RW Iiro Pakarinen

Colby made fun of me for picking Pakarinen in our podcast last week, but I’m holding my ground with the right wing. The Oilers are a hard team to select from with a lot of their talented youth being ineligible for the expansion draft. I thought about selecting Kris Russell, but ended up needing a player signed through next year. Pakarinen has only one year remaining on his contract, but maybe he’ll be able to impress and earn a new contract.

FLORIDA – C Jonathan Marchessault

Since I had this center on my fantasy team this year, it must have been destiny that I’d choose him for the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft. Marchessault is an excellent pick having scored a whopping 51 points – including 30 goals (third-most among draft-eligible forwards) – for the Panthers in 2016-’17. Making him even more attractive, he also leads draft-eligible forwards in takeaways with 64. In short, Marchessault is a must for Vegas.

LOS ANGELES – G Jack Campbell

Though he only has two NHL appearances for his entire career, Campbell is an attractive goaltending prospect. In 52 games with Ontario in the AHL, he posted a .914 save percentage for a 2.52 GAA, 31-win season – not to mention his perfect 20-minute shutout in his single appearance for the Kings.

MINNESOTA – D Matt Dumba

It is my opinion that the basis for a successful club is a solid defense, and this 22-year-old blue-liner is exactly the guy for the job. Pairing with fellow youngster van Riemsdyk, these two have the potential to grow into one of the best defenses in the league.

MONTRÉAL – LW Charles Hudon

To put it simply, I needed players under contract for next season. That being said, this left wing has also shown promise as a physical player. Throwing 11 hits in his three NHL games this season, he actually led all draft-eligible forwards in hits-per-game.

So there’s that.

NASHVILLE – RW Miikka Salomaki

There are quite a few solid players available from Nashville’s roster, including Mike Fisher, Matt Irwin, James Neal, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson just to name a few. Unfortunatley, at least a few of those are not under contract for next season, so I was led to draft Salomaki. The young right wing doesn’t seem attractive on the surface, but he actually averaged the third-most blocks-per-game at 1.8.

NEW JERSEY – D Ben Lovejoy

Not much is going right in New Jersey these days, but since Cory Schneider wasn’t available I had to make another pick. Though he comes with a considerable price tag of $2.7 million for the next two years, I think Lovejoy should be high on the Golden Knights’ list. If there’s one thing the defenseman does well, it’s block shots. He rejected 149 over the course of last season to rank sixth-best among draft-eligible blue-liners.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS – D Calvin de Haan

While we’re near the Big Apple, let’s grab another defenseman from the Isles. Similar to Lovejoy, de Haan has been a shot-blocking stud for a while now, as his 190 is the third-best total available among the expansion draft class’ defensemen. But he’s so much more than a simple blue-liner, as he also managed an impressive 25 points, including 20 assists.

NEW YORK RANGERS – RW Michael Grabner

Need a goal scorer that’s definitely under contract for next season? Since T.J. Oshie is a free agent, look no further than the Rangers’ incredible right wing. Not only did Grabner bury the fifth-most goals at 27, but he also didn’t yield many, as his +22 rating is the second-best among all draft-eligible forwards.

OTTAWA – RW Mike Blunden

I have no good reason for Vegas to draft Blunden other than he’s a decent pest at three hits-per-game this NHL season and that he’s under contract next year. If it weren’t for the contract rule, I was looking at Tom Pyatt.

PHILADELPHIA – D Michael del Zotto

This blue-liner is a free agent this summer, but I don’t expect him to garner a contract similar to the nearly $4 million deal he’s coming off of with the Flyers seeing as they were trying to trade him at the deadline and no other club took him. He’s a physical, two-way player that scored the fourth-most goals by a defenseman eligible for Vegas’ roster.

PITTSBURGH – D Ian Cole

Everybody that’s anybody is choosing Marc-Andre Fleury to go to Vegas, but I’ve come to the conclusion that (1) the Penguins are holding him out as bait to keep the Knights away from the true treasure that is Cole and (2) I want to be different. Overshadowed by Kris Letang and his known offensive talents, Cole is an excellent, physical two-way defenseman that not only notched 26 points in 2016-’17 (tied for sixth-most among draft-eligible blue-liners), but also an impressive +26 rating – the second-best among his peers eligible for Vegas – and 194 blocks – another stat he ranks second-best in among exposed blue-liners. At the age of 28, he still has a few more good seasons in him to make a real contribution to a club.

SAN JOSE – D Paul Martin

If Vegas doesn’t select Cole, they have another opportunity to pick a similar player in Martin. Though not as physical, Martin can still earn his wages with the puck on his stick by registering 26 points. What sets Martin apart is not only his ability to contribute offensively, but also his skill at stealing the puck. With 36 takeaways, he leads all Vegas-eligible defensemen in steals.

ST. LOUIS – W David Perron

Able to play either wing, Perron is a no-brainer for the Golden Knights given the rest of the Blues’ offerings. Under contract through next season, Perron registered the ninth-most assists among forwards with 28, but of even more significance is his ability to maintain possession. During the entire 2016-‘17 season, he gave the puck away only 21 times. Pair that with his 48 takeaways and he has a +27 turnover differential that ties for third-best among all available forwards.

TAMPA BAY – G Peter Budaj

Forwards, forwards, forwards – yet few of them have any real quality, and the ones that do aren’t under contract for long. Instead, let’s snag a goaltender that spent most of last season in the Pacific Division before being traded to the Bolts at the deadline. Especially without Fleury being selected in my draft, Budaj provides a quality immediate starter in net while the Knights establish their franchise goaltender.

TORONTO – G Antoine Bibeau

Speaking of, Bibeau could be just that guy should Ullmark not work out. He didn’t have an excellent showing with the Marlies this year, posting a .894 save percentage for a 13-win, 3.08 GAA campaign, but his two games in the NHL were relatively decent. Over 121 minutes, he posted a .927 save percentage and 1.98 GAA. It remains to be seen if that was a sampling of the future or just a solid two weeks.

VANCOUVER – RW Derek Dorsett

I had originally selected Alex Biega, but was forced to choose Dorsett to meet the proper number of contracts. If that doesn’t explain the Canucks’ situation, nothing will.

WASHINGTON – D Brooks Orpik

I wanted so badly to select Karl Alzner from Washington, but – similar to Vancouver – was forced to change my pick to meet contract rules. Orpik was easily the second-best selection even with his $5.5 million price tag for no reason other than his +32 rating, the best of any expansion draft-eligible defenseman. Pair that with his physicality, and Vegas should have a solid defense.

WINNIPEG – D Brian Strait

In only five NHL games played this season, Strait notched two points. Though it doesn’t sound like much, his points-per-game is actually sixth-best among all draft-eligible defensemen. Here’s hoping that effort continues if he can make it back to the league.

 

At the end of the draft, my Vegas Golden Knights cost a measly $45.1 million (only $1.3 million over the salary floor) with an average age of 28-years-old. Built into the roster are four two-way contracts eligible to be moved between Chicago (AHL) and Vegas as Gerard Gallant and McPhee see fit with another two being waivers-exempt (meaning they can be sent to the Wolves without going through the waiver process).

Though this draft may not maximize all the players under contract, it does provide the Knights almost $28 million to sign free agents and a draft pick or two. With that room, they might be able to attract names as elusive as Eaves, Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk or Thomas Vanek.