The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.
There have been a lot of rumors swirling in recent weeks about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers. Jackets GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, was recently at the Oilers-Devils game. Oilers GM, Peter Chiarelli, was at the Jackets-Sabres game on Monday. Darren Dreger went on TSN 1050 in Toronto yesterday and had this to say:
“But things have changed a little bit. So let’s go back to the draft in Chicago. I know Columbus was willing to consider a top pick for Ryan Murray. Now they want player-for-player, and they’re in the market for a center. Is it Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Who might it be. Right now Nuge is playing great hockey for the Oilers, so I don’t think they’re interested in parting with him. But my sense is the asking price – if it’s Ryan Murray, or for most defenseman that the Oilers have some interest in – is still too high.”
Last night, the Oilers got absolutely hammered in St. Louis, losing to the Blues by a final score of 8-3. It is the second time in the last week they have lost to St. Louis, having lost 4-1 on November 16. In between, they managed another blowout loss to Dallas, 6-3. While Cam Talbot isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with a 5-on-5 save percentage of 91.2 percent, he’s also faced more shots against 5-on-5 than all but two other goalies—Frederik Andersen and Andrei Vasilevskiy – not to mention facing the fifth-most high-danger chances against in the league.
No doubt, Edmonton is currently having some bad luck. The luck stat, PDO, has them third from the bottom with 96.67 percent combined shooting and save percentage. Their shooting percentage is particularly noteworthy because they are shooting an abysmal 5.8 percent. This is particularly interesting given that their expected goals for is top-five in the league. This means they are not just getting shots, they are getting quality shots and for whatever reason they are not going in to this point.
So, what we know about the Oilers is that they are doing a good job in the offensive zone though they have been unlucky, and they are letting opponents get too many shots on net, which may be asking too much of Cam Talbot. If they were going to try and salvage this season, the fix has to be on defense. Darnell Nurse has finally started to look like the player that people hoped he could be. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have struggled a bit. But the biggest problem is still Kris Russell. It should be no surprise that Russell is their worst defenseman when you look at Corsi For Percentage as that has been a problem for Russell for a long time.
Meanwhile, Columbus’ struggles have been finding a center who can play with Artemi Panarin. An early experiment with Alex Wennberg failed when Wennberg became too passive. There was no chemistry with team captain, Nick Foligno, who only converted to a center out of necessity. While Pierre-Luc Dubois has shown some promise in recent games on a line with Panarin and Josh Anderson, the Jackets may not want to rush Dubois and may want insurance in case he hits the dreaded “wall” later in the season. This is a team that is near the top of its division, a division that includes the Stanley Cup champs, despite not playing its best hockey and it is clear that management feels with an addition that the team can contend for a Cup this season.
Meanwhile, the Jackets top defensive pair of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has been out of this world. With John Tortorella loosening the reigns and allowing Jones and Werenski to “rove” in the offensive zone, the dynamic duo has already accounted for 7 goals. You shouldn’t be shocked to learn that their possession stats are also quite good. What has been a surprise, has been the play of young Markus Nutivaara. In just his second season, the 2015 seventh round pick of the Jackets has suddenly contributed offensively the way that Tortorella had hoped that he would, putting up 7 points and solid possession numbers.
On the other hand, David Savard and Jack Johnson have struggled and it isn’t the much maligned Johnson who has struggled the most, it has been Savard. Tortorella finally had seen enough and scratched Savard last week against the Rangers. Savard was back in against Buffalo on Monday and both he and Johnson were significantly better. If that pair can get back to playing at the level they did last season, the Jackets have a better shot of making it deep into the playoffs. Don’t listen to rumors from out-of-town reporters that throw around Savard’s name. It seems highly unlikely a team weak in depth on the right side is going to give up on Savard just because of some early-season woes.
The one regular defenseman I haven’t yet mentioned is Ryan Murray, who has spent the season paired with Nutivaara. As has been the case for most of Murray’s career, his role on that pair has been to be the “responsible defenseman” freeing up Nutivaara to roam in the offensive zone. He’s quietly excelled in this unheralded role, managing a positive Relative Corsi, but, more interestingly, the highest expected goals for percentage of any Blue Jackets defenseman.
The Jackets are blessed to have a seventh defenseman who is ready to take on a regular role. Gabriel Carlsson played for the Jackets during their playoff series against the Penguins and showed some promise playing a similar role to what Murray is currently playing. And, while he still needs some work, Carlsson’s possession numbers aren’t bad in the limited minutes he’s been given. The problem is that Carlsson won’t crack the lineup as long as the other six defenseman are on the roster and the AHL isn’t going to give Carlsson the development he needs at this stage, though it is a fine temporary solution to get him playing time.
Additionally, both Johnson and Murray will be free agents in the off-season. Murray is still a restricted free agent, but after taking a bridge deal on his last contract, he’ll be looking to get some real money this summer. Meanwhile, the Jackets have another prospect in Vladislav Gavrikov who will be in Russia through the end of his current contract in the summer of 2019, but will then likely be looking to make the jump to the NHL. With the Jackets re-signing Cam Atkinson and looking ahead to extending Werenski and potentially Sergei Bobrovsky in the summer of 2019, they may not be able to commit to Murray long-term.
Enter the Oilers and frequent trade rumor candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is having a great season from a production standpoint, despite finding his line mates changing with some frequency. He’s on a pace to have his best season to date with 17 points including 8 goals through 21 games. That’s roughly a 30-goal pace and nearly 70 points. On the flip side, his possession stats are not particularly stellar. He has a negative Relative Corsi For Percentage and Relative Expected Goals For Percentage. I do have to wonder how much of that is based on the line mates he is playing with to this point in the season. He’s spent the most time out there with Milan Lucic (who has lost a step) and Ryan Strome. At times they have had him out there with Lucic and Zack Kassian. All of those players are negative possession players. Kassian has only 3 points, all assists, to this point in the season.
With Leon Draisaitl counting $8.5 million against the cap and Connor McDavid’s new deal with a $12.5 million annual cap hit kicking in next year, it has been clear for a while that Nugent-Hopkins was the odd man out. Paying $6 million for your third line center or playing an $8.5 million center as a wing is not exactly the best use of resources when McDavid is already getting $12.5 million against the cap. Using Nugent-Hopkins to land a defenseman to round out the top 4 and send Kris Russell down to anchor the bottom pair would be a wise move for the Oilers, but one they need to pull off sooner than later if they have any hope of making the playoffs this spring. While I think there is a good argument that the deal should be one-for-one given Nugent-Hopkins’ $6 million cap hit, I think it is likely the Oilers want something more and that may be the hardest part for the Jackets. I’d keep Sonny Milano or Boone Jenner in mind as a possible second piece in a deal. Milano might fit the Oilers’ game plan better than he fits with Torts’ system. Jenner is another possible cap casualty for the Jackets who is going to be coming off his bridge deal this summer.
While a deal makes sense for both sides and both sides seem to be investigating the possibility, that doesn’t mean it gets done. The Jackets hold the cards here in the respect that they are near the top of the standings and don’t need to make a move right now, particularly as long as Dubois and Panarin are playing well together. If this deal doesn’t happen, there will be other options for the Jackets. I’ll look at some of those options in my next column, barring a trade in the meantime.
For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer – unless noted otherwise – is Nick Lanciani.
Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers— Game 4
For the first time in the last seven home playoff games, the New York Rangers won at Madison Square Garden. Tuesday night’s victory was a 2-1 triumphant win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens and tied the series with the Habs, 2-2. Rick Nash recorded just his second career game winning goal in his 69th Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance.
After struggling to score until it was too late in Game 3, New York struck first in Game 4 on home ice. Jesper Fast (1) notched his first of the 2017 postseason on an unassisted goal at 11:39 of the 1st period to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
Almost seven minutes later, Canadiens forward, Torrey Mitchell (1) fired one past a sprawling Henrik Lundqvist as Montreal caught New York on a poorly executed line change. Shea Weber (2) and Alexander Radulov (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on the goal that tied the game, 1-1 at 18:37 of the 1st period.
Nash (2) continued to show his impressive hands in the series with his backhand-through-the-five-hole goal that would become the eventual game winning goal at 4:28 of the 2nd period. Ryan McDonagh (2) recorded the sole assist on Nash’s goal.
With the win, the series now effectively becomes a best-of-three games scenario. Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday night at Bell Centre in Montreal. Puck drop will be a little after 7 p.m. ET and the game can be viewed on USA in the United States, as well as CBC and TVA Sports in Canada.
Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets— Game 4
By: Connor Keith
With a 5-4 victory over the Penguins, Columbus avoided elimination from its Eastern Conference Quarterfinal and pulled the series to a two-game, 3-1 deficit.
Many coaches – regardless of sport – prescribe to some variation of the theory that winning the game is all about winning a majority of the smaller time increments. Be it three quarters in football or two periods in hockey, the mentality seems to make sense (of course, don’t tell that to Monday’s four blown two-goal leads).
With that strategy in mind, it would seem that Columbus earned its first victory of the postseason in the first period, as the Blue Jackets owned a 2-0 lead over the visiting Penguins going into the first intermission. With 8:14 remaining in the frame, it was Jack Johnson (David Savard) drawing first blood by burying a snap shot from the top of the near face-off circle by way of bouncing the puck off Sidney Crosby’s right skate. That right skate would prove to be important in quite a few plays in this game, but more on that later.
Josh Anderson (First Star of the Game William Karlsson and Kyle Quincey) took credit for the other goal, a snapper buried with 64 seconds remaining before the first scheduled game break. He raced up the near side of the offensive zone right to Marc-Andre Fleury’s doorstop to squeeze the puck five-hole.
Though Pittsburgh won the second period, it was not before Second Star Markus Nutivaara (Third Star Boone Jenner and Brandon Saad) was able to give the Jackets a three-goal shutout lead. 4:45 into the contet, Fleury blocked the rookie’s first shot of the game, followed two seconds later by Jenner collecting the rebound and firing a shot of his own from the top of the far face-off circle. That too was saved by the experienced netminder, but Fleury couldn’t stop the next one: a Nutivaara snapper shot from far corner of the crease.
Only 1:55 later, the postseason’s best offense finally got on the board thanks to a Patric Hornqvist power play snapper. Officially, the assists belong to Justin Schultz and Phil Kessel, though I think the scorebook should be altered to read Crosby and Schultz. The Penguins went to work quickly after Quincey was sent to the sin bin for interfering with Evgeni Malkin at the 5:29 mark. Schultz fired a slap shot from the blue line towards the far post, but his attempt found a different metal object. That’s right, Crosby’s right skate once again came into play, as the shot banked off his foot and towards Bobrovsky’s crease. The puck lost a lot of speed off the deflection, which gave Hornqvist the opportunity reach out and bang it home.
Over his 14 years in the NHL, there have been a few things missing from Ron Hainsey’s career. One of those was accomplished in Game 1, as he made his first appearance in the postseason. Another box was checked with 3:36 remaining in the second period when he registered his first goal (Kessel and Malkin) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After receiving a Kessel pass in the near corner, he pulled Pittsburgh within a one-goal deficit by burying a snapper five-hole from the near face-off circle.
It seems Karlsson took offense to the Pens winning the second period because he came out of the dressing room after the intermission at the top of his game. First, he won the opening face-off of the third period, followed 11 seconds later by a wicked snap shot Fleury barely managed to save. Karlsson tried to put another shot on net 25 seconds into the game, but that one was blocked by Ian Cole into the glass.
The third time was the charm, though his stick wasn’t the last thing to touch the scoring shot. Karlsson collected the puck sent behind Fleury’s crease from Cole’s block and began a wrap-around fade-away goal towards the far post. In the extremely short time between the center’s backhanded shot leaving his stick and entering the crease, it looks like Crosby’s right skate barely touches the puck to alter its course enough beat Fleury’s right pad.
The Jackets had one more goal in them too, courtesy of a Jenner (Saad and Nutivaara) tip-in that proved to be the game-winner. Saad did much of the work, firing an initial snap shot from the near slot right at Fleury’s chest that the goalie was not able to catch. The rebound came right back to his stick, which the left wing tried to poke towards the far post. He succeeded in doing just that, but three Penguins skaters were in the crease to try to help their off-balance netminder. That’s why Jenner completed the play. His stick was the first to touch the puck, and he made sure it was also the last.
Pittsburgh was able to hold serve throughout the third frame, but I watch enough tennis to know that holding serve is not enough to win when trailing. 103 seconds after Karlsson scored his backhander, Tom Kuhnhackl (Matt Cullen and Cole) scored a snap shot and Jake Guentzel (Kessel and Malkin) was able to convert a shorthanded snapper of his own with the extra attacker with 28 seconds remaining in regulation, but it was too little too late to prevent a Game 5.
In essence, the Jackets did everything right to continue their season, due in part to playing with house money. Alexander Wennberg dominated at the dot by winning two-thirds of his face-offs. Nick Foligno led the team to 27 hits with his five blows. Quincey registered four of Columbus’ 19 shot blocks. But maybe the most impressive stat is the fact that the Jackets only gave the puck away twice to a team trailing for almost the entire game.
The Jackets had little to lose Tuesday night, but they’ll face a far tougher test in Game 5 when the series transitions back to PPG Paints Arena where the Penguins will have all intentions of advancing to the Eastern Semifinals. That contest will drop the puck at 7 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday and may be viewed on NHL Network stateside or SN and TVAS2 if in Canada.
Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks— Game 4
If you’re an Oilers fan, avert your eyes from looking at the score for a moment and I’ll give you a quick recap. Edmonton lost.
If you’re a Sharks fan, well then the rest of this is for you…
Six San Jose Sharks players recorded multiple points in Tuesday night’s 7-0 shutout victory over the visiting Edmonton Oilers at SAP Center. Joe Pavelski (2-1=3 totals), Patrick Marleau (1-1=2), Logan Couture (0-2=2), Joel Ward (0-2=2), Brent Burns (0-3=3) and David Schlemko (1-1=2) all had two or more points en route to the win in Game 4.
Martin Jones amassed 23 saves in the shutout win, which— coincidentally— was the same number of saves Edmonton goaltender, Cam Talbot, had in his shutout victory in Game 3. In fact, Game 4 marked the third shutout in a row in the series.
Talbot made 19 saves on 24 shots against for a .792 save percentage in 32:52 time on ice before being replaced by Laurent Brossoit. Brossoit went on to stop six out of the eight shots on net he faced in the remaining 27:08 of regulation.
Pavelski (1) kicked off scoring 15 seconds into the game with his first of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs on a redirected shot from Justin Braun. Braun (1) and Marleau (1) were credited with the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Sharks.
Couture (1) added his first of the postseason at 11:02 of the 1st period with the first of four power play goals on the night for San Jose. Pavelski (2) and Burns (1) had the assists on Couture’s goal.
Marleau (1) opened up 2nd period scoring with a wrist shot that beat Talbot’s glove side 2:02 into the period on another power play for the Sharks. Burns (2) had the only assist on the goal and his second of three assists on the night.
Marcus Sorensen (1) found the twine and made it 4-0 in favor of San Jose almost halfway into the 2nd frame of the game. The goal was Sorensen’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and the helpers went to Schlemko (1) and Ward (1) at 9:46 of the 2nd period.
Oilers head coach, Todd McLellan, did not pull Talbot in favor of Brossoit until he absolutely had to, which was apparent after Couture (2) scored his second goal of the night 12:52 into the 2nd. Jannik Hansen (1) and Ward (2) collected the assists on the goal that had made it a 5-0 game. Edmonton had let their starting netminder down.
With Brossoit in goal it only took a little less than four minutes before Pavelski (2) hit the back of the net on a rush to the goal for the third power play goal of the night. Burns (3) and Joe Thornton (1) were given the assists on Pavelski’s second goal of the night.
After a four goal outburst in the 2nd period, the Sharks took a 6-0 lead into the 2nd intermission.
But they wouldn’t let off the gas pedal in the 3rd period.
Almost seven minutes into the final frame of regulation, Schlemko (1) registered his first goal of the postseason on another San Jose power play. Tomas Hertl (2) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (3) assisted on the Sharks’s fourth power play goal of the night at 6:45 of the 3rd period.
The final horn sounded after 60 minutes of play and the Sharks had beaten the Oilers 7-0 and the series was tied 2-2.
In a now best-of-three battle, Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday night in Edmonton and can be viewed across the United States on NBCSN and on Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada. Puck drop is set for a little after 10:30 p.m. ET.
Of note, San Jose set or tied four postseason franchise records in Game 4’s victory.
The San Jose Sharks won by a touchdown (plus a PAT) and Jerry Rice was in the building. Coincidence? I think not.