Categories
Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #232- Participation Trophies After One Game/One Week (Part VI) (feat. Chris Gere)

The 2021-22 season is well underway, so let’s bring back our 6th Annual Participation Trophies After One Game awards ceremony!

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyAmazon Music and/or Audible.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Numbers Game

Your Team Will Rise/Fail: 2021-22 Standings Projections

It is time. The 2021-22 season is upon us.

Technically it already started, but we’ll ignore the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins spoiled the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup champion banner night with a, 6-2, victory on the road before the Vegas Golden Knights held off a Seattle Kraken comeback in a, 4-3, win at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night.

And then Wednesday’s games happened too.

Let’s hit the “reset” button for a second and pretend the 2021-22 is about to get underway. All 32 National Hockey League teams have a chance at clinching 16 available playoff berths.

Any of the 16 teams that make the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs could etch 52 names from their roster, front office and organization on the Stanley Cup next June.

The usual divisions– Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan and Pacific– have returned as have the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. The regular playoff format is back (three teams per division, two wild cards per conference qualify, plus the Conference Finals round returns in place of the Stanley Cup Semfinals in 2021).

A full 82-game regular season schedule is slated from October through the end of April with a three-week break in February for the 2022 All Star Game in Las Vegas and the 2022 Winter Games taking precedence before a return to NHL action down the stretch with the postseason kicking off in May like last year and the 2022-23 season likely returning to the pre-pandemic timeline (2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs starting in April).

The 2022 NHL Entry Draft will be in Montréal on July 7th and 8th, while free agency begins on July 13th, but between now and then, we’ve got the 2021-22 regular season to enjoy.

Using last season’s team goals for and team goals against, plus some other “magic numbers” as part of an expected points model, we’re able to project what 2021-22 could be for all 32 teams (yes, even the Seattle Kraken, despite this year being their first season)– though you’ll have to pretend there were no transactions made in the offseason.

In other words, don’t think that any of what you’re about to see is set in stone– view it more as a suggestion for a possible outcome.

Also, please remember my degree is in communication, so any math beyond figuring out “goals + assists = season point totals” doesn’t exist.

In a normal year (like from 2017-18 to 2018-19, for example), you just take all the data from the 82-game schedule for each team plug it into a formula in a spreadsheet, then line things up accordingly in each division.

However, just like how the shortened 2019-20 season disrupted the regular process for projecting a 2020-21 standings outlook, going from last season’s stats in a 56-game schedule to projecting a regular 82-game season in 2021-22 necessitated the use of forecasting point pace as part of the formula.

As for Seattle, a simple means of taking the NHL stats from last season for every player on their roster and plugging it in for a 2021-22 result is exactly what I did.

We’re all just making it up as we go along, folks. These are projections. They are not absolutes.

For the sake of keeping it simple, here’s a look at how things could go (but probably not) in each division for the upcoming 2021-22 season.

The overall vibe of the Central Division for 2021-22 is that it’s just more of exactly what you’d expect. The Colorado Avalanche are lightyears ahead of everyone else, while Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild continue to be on the rise and everyone else fights for what they can earn.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether or not the Winnipeg Jets can breakthrough as Canada’s team and break the Canadian curse (become the first Canadian club to win the Cup since 1993).

Will Colorado finally break through the Second Round and win the Cup?

Are the Avalanche just the Toronto Maple Leafs but with a little more success? My column:

No, but really, it’s worth asking if the Avs making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2002, is more like Toronto’s struggle to make it out of the First Round for the first time since 2004, or is Colorado’s struggle more like the Washington Capitals pre-2018?

The Caps won three Presidents’ Trophies in 2009-10, 2015-16 and 2016-17, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round– let alone the Pittsburgh Penguins– until they finally did and ended up surging in momentum all the way to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Colorado, on the other hand, has already won the Cup twice (1996 and 2001) and also has three Presidents’ Trophies to their name in 1996-97, 2000-01 and 2020-21, so if recent history has anything to tell us it’s that yet another team with high expectations for at least a few seasons now only to come up short could very well go on to win it all after winning the Presidents’ Trophy the previous year.

Either that or they’ll have to win it in back-to-back seasons like Washington did before they won the Cup in 2018.

Then again, the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the Detroit Red Wings’ record for most wins in the regular season (62), securing the Presidents’ Trophy in the process in 2018-19, then got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 First Round.

The very next year, however, Tampa kicked off back-to-back Cup rings in 2020 and 2021, to be where they are now as the two-time defending champions likely standing in the path as the only other favorites outside of the Avalanche this season.

Anyway, the Avs mostly kept things the same from last season to this season, losing Joonas Donskoi to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Brandon Saad to the St. Louis Blues in free agency and making minor swaps among replacement level bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defenders.

Oh, then there’s this whole thing about how Philipp Grubauer left for Seattle in free agency too, so Colorado acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes.

Between Dallas, Nashville and St. Louis, who will realistically make the playoffs?

The Stars are projected to finish with about 94 points, the Predators sit at 92 points and the Blues are around 91 points in this one projection, but don’t let the points alone be your deciding factor.

Given the strength of the Central Division compared to the Pacific Division, you can bet on five teams making out of the Central among Western Conference playoff berths.

As such, the spread is the difference maker between these three teams expected to be in the wild card hunt– it’s going to come down to the wire one way or another.

Dallas bolstered their goaltending depth by signing Braden Holtby, Nashville traded Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis is… …better than last season on paper?

I mean, the Blues signed Saad, acquired Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in exchange for Sammy Blais, let Seattle claim Vince Dunn at the expansion draft and let Mike Hoffman walk to the Montréal Canadiens in July.

You could say they took a hit here or there, but those aren’t “nobody names” by any means, however.

If Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso can stabilize things in the crease, then St. Louis has a better situation than the Predators.

The Stars, meanwhile, should benefit from a longer season where more of their core guys– like Tyler Seguin, for example– are healthy. Last season’s COVID-19 outbreak to kick things off in January really killed Dallas’ momentum as a team on the verge of being in the 2021 postseason.

Dallas should get back into the swing of things and St. Louis should be able to stay relevant for at least another year, but how hard the Preds rely on Juuse Saros as their starting goaltender will dictate whether or not they’re able to play spoiler with David Rittich as their backup since Pekka Rinne retired.

Can Arizona avoid the basement?

Anything is possible at this point. Loui Eriksson and Andrew Ladd were scoring goals in the postseason, so a fresh start could be just what both players needed for the last few years at least.

That said, Coyotes General Manager, Bill Armstrong, gave a Masterclass™️ in how to go about rebuilding by selling everything over the summer and taking on “bad” contracts with only one or two years remaining in hopes of playing just well enough to be bad enough without making it look obvious that you’re aiming to win the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery.

The Pacific Division is the new Scotia NHL North Division from last season. In other words, it’s the worst– which is great news for the Seattle Kraken as the league’s schedule allots more division play than any other opponents (though the Kraken will play every other team in the league at least twice).

Seattle’s riding the waves of new-age expansion, while the Vegas Golden Knights lead the charge for the Presidents’ Trophy campaign in 2021-22.

Wait, Seattle in 2nd in the Pacific, really?

Yes, really.

The Kraken have a great front office that goes beyond just Ron Francis as General Manager and have done their due diligence in scouting the best talent available to try to replicate the success of the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season in 2017-18, as well as grow beyond just 2021-22.

That said, Seattle probably isn’t going to make it out of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if they have to face the Edmonton Oilers according to this projection.

It’s a best case scenario for the NHL’s newest expansion team to be in the weakest division, but aside from having recent Stanley Cup champions Yanni Gourde, Philipp Grubauer, Jaden Schwartz and Dunn on their roster, the Kraken have a plethora of players that are relatively inexperienced with deep postseason runs.

Head coach, Dave Hakstol, also hasn’t had the consistency of making the playoffs and making it out of the First Round in his NHL coaching days, but as a team that, again, is looking to develop long-term success, these are mere growing pains Francis and Co. are willing to accept as the fan base grows.

Why aren’t the Kings making the cut this year when everyone else says they’ll be the most improved?

The simple answer is that everyone’s overrating Los Angeles when it comes to the “ready now” factor.

Sure, Kings General Manager, Rob Blake, did a good thing by getting Viktor Arvidsson in a trade with Nashville this summer to solidify his top-six forward group and signed Alex Edler to fortify his defense, but Los Angeles’ goaltending leaves something to be desired.

Here’s hoping Jonathan Quick can find a little resurgence at this point in his career, while Cal Petersen continues to come into his own.

If Los Angeles has any injuries– and they already have with Arvidsson likely missing some time due to an injury in the last preseason game– they’re already close enough to the bubble that they’ll only fall further behind.

That said, if the Kings don’t make it back to the postseason hunt in 2022, there’s a good chance they make it in 2023.

Los Angeles is improving, but by how much remains to be seen.

Will winning the Presidents’ Trophy hurt Vegas?

Eh, it’s hard to say.

The Golden Knights have packed in just about every type of heartbreak since their inception in 2017, that fans of other franchises have only experienced over the course of at least 50 years, so if Vegas pulls out the Presidents’ Trophy win in 2021-22, don’t be surprised when the inevitable happens and they win the Cup instead of doing what most other Presidents’ Trophy winners in the salary cap era have done.

Only the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings and Chicago in 2012-13, have been able to win the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup since the salary cap was introduced ahead of the 2005-06 season.

Vegas would probably join Detroit and Chicago in doing so just so the Hockey Gods can spite us again.

It’s not easy to be in the Metropolitan Division these days because, well, let’s save that for the three questions below.

Is this the toughest division to project?

Absolutely.

The Carolina Hurricanes decided to just get rid of a few parts and pieces that helped make them good for the last few seasons, so they’re bound to regress even with Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teräväinen and Martin Necas still existing.

The Pittsburgh Penguins since 2009, have always found a way to be near the top of the division standings by the end of the regular season no matter whether or not you believe they’ll inevitably miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006, so anything could happen there.

The New York Islanders have made back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Final, so I’d expect them to be good.

The Washington Capitals are better than the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, at least, but are probably the only team on the bubble if the New Jersey Devils can come out of nowhere and be competitive this season after signing Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Bernier in the offseason.

Meanwhile, it’s time for a short rebuild in Columbus as the Blue Jackets would be quite pleased with a top draft pick in 2022.

What if Chris Drury never was promoted as General Manager of the Rangers?

They’d still fire David Quinn and hire Gerard Gallant. I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but they’d definitely reconsider about 90% of the roster decisions made this summer.

There’s no reason why the Rangers have to go down this path and yet, here they are, fumbling at the one-yard line and possibly plunging their franchise back into the Dark Ages of another rebuild. Or is it the same ongoing rebuild?

What about a team to watch like New Jersey, for example?

I’m big on the Devils this season for some strange reason.

Maybe it’s because a part of me deep down misses the trap game of the 1990s and 2000s that led to Stanley Cups for New Jersey in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

Maybe it’s because they signed Hamilton, Tatar, Bernier and acquired Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche as a supporting cast for Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich, Ty Smith and friends.

Seriously, the Devils should be good in the next few seasons, but this year could be the biggest stride forward in terms of their improvement from the basement to their development as a playoff contender.

First, pour one out for Jack Eichel. Now, let’s move on and talk about everyone else.

What does this mean for the Leafs?

Just like how the Stars, Preds and Blues are all right on top of one another in the Central Division standings, the Atlantic Division is stacked from 1st through 4th, so though Toronto leads the way in this projection, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable as a Leafs fan.

The Maple Leafs played in the worst of the four divisions last year in the temporarily realigned divisions in wake of the ongoing pandemic.

No, it’s not just because they played all the other Canadian teams across 56 games, but rather it’s due to the fact that they haven’t been able to matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and even the Boston Bruins since the 2019-20 season.

A lot and not a lot has changed since then.

Tampa is still dominant as ever, Florida has emerged as a team that’s on the rise and Boston is unpredictable in that– much like the Penguins– it could really go either way with the Bruins this season.

So now Toronto has to take on better competition within their own division and square off with teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and others that emerge towards the top of the standings outside of the Canadian teams that the Leafs are all too familiar with at this point.

That said, Toronto still has a great chance at winning the Atlantic Division regular season title or finishing 2nd and having home ice advantage in the First Round for the second-straight postseason.

Can anyone other than Toronto, Florida, Tampa or Boston make it out of the Atlantic this year?

No. Let’s be realistic here.

The Montréal Canadiens made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final despite being below .500 in the standings because every division produced four playoff berths and intra-divisional play through two rounds.

In 2020, they upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Qualifier despite finishing right at .500.

In any other non-pandemic timeline, the Canadiens would still be looking for their first playoff appearance since they lost to the New York Rangers in six games in the 2017 First Round.

That’s not to say that Nick Suzuki can’t lead the Habs back to glory, but rather that they need to improve all-around in the regular season and peaking in performance in the playoffs.

Though the Ottawa Senators promised unprecedented success from 2021-25, it’s looking like it’ll realistically be anytime between 2024-25 as in the 2024-25 season itself at this point.

Ottawa’s goaltending needs to improve, their defense could use some tweaks and the Sens are banking on their offense getting their feet underneath them and bursting in production in the coming years.

A little more patience won’t hurt them.

The same can be said for the Detroit Red Wings in that Red Wings fans already know– trust in General Manager, Steve Yzerman, is paramount. He’ll work his magic.

It just takes a little time to build a solid foundation and the first floor is almost ready to start going up.

As for the Buffalo Sabres, well…

At least they’ll hopefully give Rick Jeanneret a proper send-off before he retires as their play-by-play announcer for the last 51 years on television.

Hopefully.

Will Tampa win three consecutive Stanley Cup championships?

Probably not.

I’m not ruling it out entirely, but the Lightning have a better chance of winning three Cups in four years than they do three Cups in as many years as things stand currently.

The loss of their entire third line (Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow) from last season to this season is sure to leave a mark on the development and restructuring of their bottom-six forwards.

That said, Tampa’s top-six forwards still exist and, if you haven’t already noticed, they’re very good on their own, but the best teams in the playoffs have four lines that can roll without a doubt and the Bolts might just be off the ball for a year in terms of depth.


Alright, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for your patience. By now the season’s already going on a few days into the 2021-22 calendar, so the two of us (or more if you’re reading this to a group) should probably get back to watching games.

Stay tuned for more forecasts for both standings and assorted teams throughout the season.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Montréal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

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

4th in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then David faced Goliath, but Goliath won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s try to keep this brief, O.K.?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #230- Are The Avs The New Caps?

We preview the Central Division for the 2021-22 season and draw comparisons between recent teams that we’ve said “they should win this year” for quite some time until they finally won after we stopped talking about them.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyAmazon Music and/or Audible.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

New York Islanders 2021-22 Season Preview

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

4th in the MassMutual NHL East Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Semifinal by Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: B

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Colorado Avalanche 2021-22 Season Preview

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

1st in the Honda NHL West Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Vegas

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

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

Still Unsigned: F Travis Barron, G Devan Dubnyk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: B-

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Toronto Maple Leafs 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 35-14-7, 77 points

1st in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Montréal

Additions: F Michael Amadio, F Michael Bunting, F Kurtis Gabriel, F Joshua Ho-Sang (signed to a PTO), F David Kämpf, F Ondrej Kaše, F Nikita Gusev (signed to a PTO), F Nick Ritchie, F Brett Seney, D Alex Biega, D Carl Dahlström, D Brennan Menell, G Petr Mrázek

Subtractions: F Kenny Agostino (KHL), F Nick Foligno (signed with BOS), F Alex Galchenyuk (signed to a PTO with ARI), F Zach Hyman (signed with EDM), F Denis Malgin (NL), F Jared McCann (acquired from PIT, expansion, SEA), F Riley Nash (signed with WPG), F Joe Thornton (signed with FLA), D Zach Bogosian (signed with TBL), G Frederik Andersen (signed with CAR)

Still Unsigned: D Ben Hutton

Re-signed: F Wayne Simmonds, F Jason Spezza, D Travis Dermott, D Joseph Duszak, G Joseph Woll

Offseason Analysis: Whereas the Maple Leafs loaded up on veterans you may have heard of before last offseason in Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and others, then acquired Nick Foligno and Riley Nash at the trade deadline, this year’s approach for Toronto has gone in a different direction.

This year, Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, is signing guys you might not even know exist, plus a few underdogs.

Michael Bunting and David Kämpf might not be the first players you think of when you think about quality depth down the lineup, but Toronto is out to prove the naysayers wrong this season and show forward progress in the postseason– at the very least, if not win it all.

Though it’s a small sample size, Bunting had 10-3–13 totals in 21 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season. In 26 career NHL games, he has 11-3–14 totals, but again, that was with players not of the same caliber as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares or William Nylander.

Now he finds himself in competition for a top-six role– if he can beat his competition in Nick Ritchie and Ilya Mikheyev among top-nine forwards on the left wing.

Kämpf, meanwhile, can switch out with Jason Spezza at center on the fourth line and amassed 1-11-12 totals with Chicago in 56 games last season.

In 2019-20, Kämpf had 8-8–16 totals in 70 games– three points shy of his career-high 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 63 games in 2018-19 with Chicago.

Playing alongside Simmonds and Spezza should make Toronto’s fourth line more competitive with Kurtis Gabriel rotated in for some added oomph.

Speaking of Ritchie, however, Leafs-centric media might have you thinking he’s the next Matthews, but buyer beware– his 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games with the Boston Bruins last season wasn’t so much of a breakout or a fluke as it was a return to his expectations.

Ritchie played up in Boston’s lineup due to injury and became a unique piece of their power play at one point in that (strangely enough) it worked.

He spent pretty much the first half of last season playing with David Krejci at center and that’s not to say Matthews isn’t as skilled or better than Krejci, but rather a testament to Krejci’s status as a playmaker that elevates all around him.

Luckily for Toronto, Krejci’s gone back to Czechia to play in front of family and friends in his home country, so the Maple Leafs are better matched down the middle against the Bruins.

Yet, Ritchie’s impressive first half of the season regressed to the norm by the second half and down the stretch. He’s no Zach Hyman, but anything over 30 points in the upcoming season is a success for a player that had 9-22-31 totals with the Anaheim Ducks in 60 games in the 2018-19 season.

At the very least, Ritchie’s two-year deal worth $2.500 million per season is manageable. In fact, it’s the most Dubas spent on a skater this offseason.

If you can’t beat them– steal them.

Former Bruin, Ondrej Kaše, also joins Ritchie as a new Leaf and Kaše’s really looking to turn over a new leaf, since he’s coming off of a season in which he played three games and was sidelined by a concussion between Game 2 and Game 55 of a 56-game regular season.

In nine games as a Bruin, Kaše amassed one point, an assist, after he was acquired by Boston for David Backes, Axel Andersson and a 2020 1st round pick on Feb. 21, 2020.

Whether or not Kaše can get back up to speed– let alone continue his career– remains to be seen, but for now he’s signed to a one-year deal worth $1.250 million per season.

The defense is the same, Alexander Kerfoot did not get selected by the Seattle Kraken at the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and Toronto essentially traded goaltenders with the Carolina Hurricanes without actually making a trade.

No, David Ayres isn’t taking his talents to Scotiabank Arena in a Leafs uniform, but Petr Mrázek is on a three-year deal worth $3.800 million per season.

At 29-years-old, he’s the same age as Jack Campbell and signed through 2023-24, whereas Campbell is a pending-unrestricted free agent as of July 2022.

Mrázek was limited to 12 games due to injury last season and went 6-2-3 with three shutouts, a 2.06 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in that span.

It was his best performance in three seasons with the Canes, though in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, he played in 40 games, so was last season just a testament to Carolina’s defense or….

Nevertheless, when the Hurricanes faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Second Round, Mrázek was called upon to replace Alex Nedeljkovic for a pair of starts.

Though he extended Carolina’s postseason to a Game 5 against Tampa in the Second Round, Mrázek went 1-1 with a 3.90 goals-against average and an .873 save percentage.

So it appears as though there’ll be healthy competition for the starting job– at least come time for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs as it wasn’t entirely Campbell’s fault the Leafs blew a 3-1 series lead against a low-scoring Montréal Canadiens offense.

Anyway, Frederik Andersen left for the Hurricanes– the team that originally drafted him in the 7th round (187th overall) in 2010, before he re-entered the draft and was selected in the 3rd round (87th overall) by Anaheim in 2012.

Before we grade the Toronto’s offseason, let’s review a pair of trades that Dubas made this summer.

First, on July 17th, he dealt Filip Hallander and a 2023 7th round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jared McCann, who was then left exposed for the Kraken to take over Kerfoot. Whoops.

Then on July 26th, James (J.D.) Greenway was traded to Boston for future considerations.

Maybe that’s all it takes to get out of the First Round for the first time since 2004.

Offseason Grade: B-

With about $80,200 in cap space, the Maple Leafs aren’t doing themselves any favors if they’re looking to add without subtracting around the 2022 trade deadline.

That said, Dubas would likely have to get creative if things are dire anyway, since the runway is getting shorter and shorter year-by-year.

Nylander is not the problem when a trio of players are getting paid more than him against the cap and producing… …not as much.

Sometimes points per dollar in the playoffs should be accounted for more than points per game in the regular season or something like that– not looking to stir up any more arguments than there already are on Leafs Twitter.

Though it may not look it on paper like last season, Toronto has made improvements where it counts and trimmed the excess where it dragged them down in crucial moments, but if all else fails yet again this season– they still need to resolve a true “goaltender of the future” problem, tweak the defense and make some big, bold, moves.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Florida Panthers 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 37-14-5, 79 points

2nd in the Discover NHL Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Tampa

Additions: F Zac Dalpe, F Maxim Mamin, F Sam Reinhart (acquired from BUF), F Joe Thornton, G Christopher Gibson

Subtractions: F Alexander Wennberg (signed with SEA), D Vladislav Kolyachonok (traded to ARI), D Anton Strålman (traded to ARI), D Keith Yandle (buyout), G Chris Driedger (expansion, SEA), G Devon Levi (traded to BUF)

Still Unsigned: None

Re-signed: F Sam Bennett, F Anthony Duclair, F Juho Lammikko, F Carter Verhaeghe, D Lucas Carlsson, D Kevin Connauton, D Gustav Forsling, D Noah Juulsen, D Brandon Montour, D Chase Priskie, G Sam Montembeault

Offseason Analysis: The Panthers made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, then spent quite a few years in-between without playing a postseason game in back-to-back years before making the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier (losing in four games in a best-of-five series to the New York Islanders) and taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2021 First Round.

Florida hasn’t won a playoff series since they eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Final.

Unlike the time between then and now, the Panthers are legitimately on the rise.

Head coach, Joel Quenneville, has a tendency to keep a team’s composure together and make them competitive from year-to-year on the ice, but General Manager, Bill Zito, has the tough job of ensuring the chemistry works off the ice and under the salary cap too.

Luckily for him, all he had to do this summer was stay the course.

Though they lost in six games to the Lightning in the first ever “Battle of Florida”, the Panthers got a taste of what makes champions, champions, and gained valuable experience in the postseason department.

Zito bought out Keith Yandle, brought in Joe Thornton for the bottom-six via free agency, acquired Sam Reinhart (and signed him to an extension) and traded Anton Strålman to the Arizona Coyotes in his biggest moves of the summer.

The emergence of Mackenzie Weegar and the return of Aaron Ekblad pre-empted a spot in the top-six for Yandle with Brandon Montour, Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas garnering more time under Quenneville’s masterplan.

Meanwhile, Strålman’s departure opened up $5.500 million in cap space for Zito to spend elsewhere– like on Reinhart’s three-year extension worth $6.500 million per season, for example.

Reinhart was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2022 1st round pick and goalie, Devon Levi, on July 24th– two days before Zito flipped Strålman with Vladislav Kolyachonok to the Coyotes for a 2023 7th round pick.

Despite a horrible 2020-21 season for the Sabres as a whole, Reinhart chipped in 40 points (25 goals, 15 assists) in 54 games as one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary year.

One season in Toronto was enough for Thornton as his Maple Leafs tenure produced 5-15–20 totals in 44 games. At least now that he’s in Florida it’ll be 1) warmer for surfing year-round and 2) better overall.

With about $1.330 million in cap space, Zito has room to keep adding the missing link (if there even is one) by the time the trade deadline rolls around.

Offseason Grade: A-

Hockey is weird in that once a team starts showing signs of forward progress sometimes they go off the deep end and make tons of moves that make no sense from season-to-season.

Zito is sharp enough to stay the course and add– bolstering his top-six forward group with Reinhart and providing Florida with the best chance to succeed for the first time this millennium.

That said, there’s always the Sergei Bobrovsky factor, but Spencer Knight should help ease Bobrovsky’s workload if he isn’t already the starting goaltender to begin with for the Panthers in 2021-22.

Chris Driedger leaving for the Seattle Kraken was inevitable, but Florida was wise enough to stockpile goaltending depth in Sam Montembeault and Knight over the last couple of seasons.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Philadelphia Flyers 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 25-23-8, 55 points

6th in the MassMutual NHL East Division

Missed the postseason for the first time since 2020

Additions: F Cam Atkinson (acquired from CBJ), F Derick Brassard, F Ryan Fitzgerald, F Gerry Mayhew, F Nate Thompson, D Adam Clendening, D Ryan Ellis (acquired from NSH), D Rasmus Ristolainen (acquired from BUF), D Nick Seeler, D Keith Yandle, D Cooper Zech, G Martin Jones

Subtractions: F David Kase (ELH), F Pascal Laberge (signed with Maine Mariners, ECHL), F Nolan Patrick (traded to NSH, flipped to VGK), F Carsen Twarynski (expansion, SEA), F Jakub Voracek (traded to CBJ), D Chris Bigras (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, AHL), D Shayne Gostisbehere (traded to ARI), D Robert Hagg (traded to BUF), D Philippe Myers (traded to NSH), D Matt Niskanen (retired prior to 2020-21, contract officially expired), D Derrick Pouliot (signed with Henderson Silver Knights, AHL), G Brian Elliott (signed with TBL), G Alex Lyon (signed with CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Andy Andreoff, D Nate Prosser, D Tyler Wotherspoon

Re-signed: F Connor Bunnaman, F German Rubstov, F Linus Sandin, D Samuel Morin, D Travis Sanheim, G Carter Hart, G Felix Sandström

Offseason Analysis: Not satisfied with their disappointing 2020-21 performance, Flyers General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, knew something would have to change.

Jakub Voracek broke into the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2008-09 season after the Blue Jackets drafted him in the 1st round (7th overall) of the 2007 NHL Draft and spent three seasons in Columbus before being packaged with a 2011 1st round pick and a 2011 3rd round pick in a trade with Philadelphia for Jeff Carter on June 23, 2011.

In 968 career NHL games, Voracek has 214-520–734 totals, including 601 points (176 goals and 425 assists) in 727 games with the Flyers from 2011-21.

That 2011 1st round pick became Sean Couturier and the 3rd round pick was used to select Nick Cousins as Philadelphia was one-year removed from making the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

Adding Voracek was to provide a spark for a player in need of a change of scenery and provide Philly’s top-six forward group with a better fit.

After serving primarily as a playmaker for a decade of waffling in and out of the playoffs, the Flyers dealt Voracek back to Columbus for Cam Atkinson, who proudly wore his wife’s Gritty t-shirt in his introductory Zoom with media members after the trade on July 24th.

Atkinson joins Philadelphia after amassing 213-189–402 totals in 627 games with the Blue Jackets since the 2011-12 season after Columbus drafted him in the 6th round (157th overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft.

But that’s not the only trade that Fletcher made to supplment his new-age core as Couturier, Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux, Joel Farabee, Kevin Hayes, Ivan Provorov and their teammates seek the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship since 1975.

Fletcher kicked the summer off by trading Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick to the Nashville Predators for defender, Ryan Ellis, on July 17th.

Nashville flipped Patrick after the deal in a separate trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, while Philadelphia added Ellis to bolster their top-four defenders.

For the first time in his career this October, Ellis will don a uniform that isn’t Predators marigold, but rather Flyers orange.

After being drafted in the 1st round (11th overall) in 2009, by Nashville, Ellis emerged in the 2011-12 season, putting up 3-8–11 totals in 32 games as he broke into the league. Since then, he’s produced 270 points (75 goals, 195 assists) in 562 games from parts of the 2011-12 season through 2020-21.

Due to an upper body injury, Ellis was limited to 35 games last season and only had 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) from the blue line, but his ability to move the puck out of his own zone and start a rush is important as the Flyers try to balance out Provorov’s prowess with someone that can keep up on his pairing.

Five days after acquiring Ellis, Fletcher dumped Shayne Gostisbehere’s $4.500 million cap hit in the Arizona desert with a 2022 2nd round pick and a 2022 7th round pick also going to the Coyotes for future considerations to make room for Ellis’ $6.250 million cap hit through the 2026-27 season.

Then Fletcher did something unprompted and– depending if you’re a Flyers fan or not– unhinged as he made a deal with the Buffalo Sabres, though not for Jack Eichel as Philly fans can only dream of to compete with Couturier for the first line center job, while Hayes would likely be demoted to the third line.

Rather, the Flyers traded Robert Hagg’s $1.600 million cap hit, a 2021 1st round pick (14th overall, Isak Rosén) and a 2023 2nd round pick to the Sabres for Rasmus Ristolainen and his $5.400 million cap hit on July 23rd.

Hagg managed 2-3–5 totals and was a minus-3 in 34 games last season with Philadelphia, while Ristolainen had 4-14–18 totals in 49 games and, uh, was a minus-18 to match Buffalo’s 18-game losing streak at one point last season.

Some would argue the points are an upgrade, but at what cost when it seems to be live by the sword, die by the sword.

Then Fletcher acquired Atkinson and free agency began on July 28th.

Seeking veteran experience to aid the younger players in making a long run, Fletcher signed Keith Yandle, Derick Brassard and took a chance on Martin Jones, while also brining back Nate Thompson for another stint with the Flyers in the bottom-six.

Yandle was bought out by the Florida Panthers and can command a power-play unit while not having missed a game since the 2008-09 season.

He had 3-24–27 totals with the Panthers after Joel Quenneville utilized him as an afterthought and nearly scratched the 35-year-old defender.

Brassard earned a one-year, $825,000 contract late in the summer on Aug. 25th as a low-risk, high-reward move as a recent league-journeyman that had 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 53 games with Arizona last season after a career-resurgence with the New York Islanders (32 points in 66 games) in 2019-20.

At the very least, he’ll give Philadelphia depth down the middle in the top-nine.

Jones, meanwhile, was bought out by the San Jose Sharks and is looking to salvage whatever’s left of his career as the presumptive backup to Carter Hart on a one-year, $2.000 million contract.

The 31-year-old Canadian goaltender went 15-13-4 in 34 games last season and had a 3.28 goals-against average, as well as an .896 save percentage and one shutout in that span.

Meanwhile, Brian Elliott departed for the Tampa Bay Lightning– replacing Curtis McElhinney as the Bolts’ backup.

McElhinney went 4-6-2 in 12 games last season for Tampa and had a 3.09 goals-against average as well as an .875 save percentage and one shutout.

Elliott had a 15-9-2 record in 30 games last season and sustained a 3.06 goals-against average, an .889 save percentage and two shutouts in that span with the Flyers.

Hart, meanwhile, had a disastrous run.

In 27 games played, the 23-year-old netminder went 9-11-5, had one shutout and amassed a 3.67 goals-against average, as well as an .877 save percentage– one season removed from going 24-13-3 in 43 games with a 2.42 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and one shutout in 2019-20.

He earned a three-year extension worth $3.979 per season as a bridge contract with a lot to prove to get back to his once promising form.

Finally, Fletcher locked down Couturier and Farabee with long-term extensions that won’t begin until the 2022-23 season.

Couturier’s earned an eight-year deal worth $7.750 million per season, while Farabee’s nailed a six-year contract with a $5.000 million cap hit– presenting the Flyers with their greatest challenge yet– being tight against the cap and having high expectations.

Offseason Grade: B

It kind of feels like a “make or break” year for Philadelphia, even though there’s no way of really knowing what’s in store for the Flyers.

Fletcher made some admirable moves signing veterans that Philly could use in top-nine or specialty roles, but it’s also a risk to take on Jones while Hart is already on shaky ground heading into the 2021-22 season.

If the ghost of the revolving door of goaltenders in a Flyers uniform is to be kept out of Wells Fargo Center, then Philadelphia’s going to need to hope their goaltending coach is ready with a plan that’s different from whatever happened last season.

Flyers head coach, Alain Vigneault, can bring immediate success to an organization and make them hard to play against, but he tends to carry a time limit in the modern NHL as the game continues to evolve.

With about $381,500 left in cap space entering this season, Philadelphia had to move out at least one big contract in favor of something smaller– though they’ve taken on Ellis with term and Giroux is due for an extension unless he decides to walk in unrestricted free agency next summer.

The Flyers may have almost $15.6 million to spend next offseason, but they need to show forward progress, if not win now.

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Previews

Calgary Flames 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 26-27-3, 55 points

5th in the Scotia NHL North Division

Missed the postseason for the first time since 2020

Additions: F Blake Coleman, F Alex Gallant (signed to a PTO), F Trevor Lewis, F Tyler Pitlick (acquired from SEA), F Brad Richardson, D Nick DeSimone, D Erik Gudbranson, D Kevin Gravel, D Andy Welinski, D Nikita Zadorov (acquired from CHI), G Adam Werner, G Dan Vladar (acquired from BOS)

Subtractions: F Spencer Foo (KHL), F Josh Leivo (signed with CAR), F Joakim Nordström (KHL), F Zac Rinaldo (signed with CBJ), F Buddy Robinson (signed with ANA), F Derek Ryan (signed with EDM), F Dominik Simon (signed with PIT), D Mark Giordano (expansion, SEA), D Carl-Johan Lerby (SHL), D Nikita Nesterov (KHL), D Alexander Petrovic (signed with DAL), D Alexander Yelesin (KHL), G Louis Domingue (signed with PIT)

Still Unsigned: G Artyom Zagidulin

Re-signed: F Dillon Dubé, F Glenn Gawdin, F Justin Kirkland, F Matthew Phillips, F Luke Philp, F Brett Ritchie, D Oliver Kylington, D Connor Mackey, D Colton Poolman, D Michael Stone, D Juuso Välimäki, G Tyler Parsons

Offseason Analysis: Calgary is facing an existential crisis.

They can either trust in their core players that they just might get it done if they’ve become frustrated by years of falling short (or not even making the playoffs at all, as they missed the postseason in 2021) or they can begin to move forward by hitting the “reset” button.

This offseason, Flames General Manager, Brad Treliving, chose to add without subtracting– to overhaul, rather than to rebuild (at least for now).

Joakim Nordström, Derek Ryan, Zac Rinaldo and more are gone. They’ve left for other professional leagues around the world, Edmonton and Columbus, respectively.

Mark Giordano was claimed by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft after breaking into the league with the Flames in the 2005-06 season. He spent 15 years in Calgary and amassed 143-366–509 totals in 949 games in a Flames uniform and had been captain in the “C of Red” since the 2013-14 season.

Though many fans in Calgary would like to belive the 37-year-old will spend one season in Seattle and return to the Flames, there are no guarantees.

Calgary’s already worked on developing a good-standing relationship with their new Pacific Division rivals as they got traded a 2022 4th round pick to the Kraken for forward, Tyler Pitlick, on July 22nd– a day after the expansion draft.

Pitlick slides in as a quality top-nine forward for the Flames and had 6-5–11 totals in 38 games for the Arizona Coyotes last season while battling injury.

He’s reached the 20-point plateau twice in his career in 2017-18 with Dallas (27 points in 80 games) and 2019-20 with Philadelphia (20 points in 63 games) and should be a low-risk high-reward depth move.

Treliving made a splash when free agency opened on July 28th, signing two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, Blake Coleman, to a six-year contract worth $4.900 million per season.

Coleman’s speed and skill solidifies Calgary’s middle-six as he should be on the second or third line at all times.

He’s had three consecutive seasons with at least 30 points since the 2018-19 season and notched 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 55 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020-21.

Coleman on a line with Andrew Mangiapane is a game-changer for Calgary’s offense– especially as they’ve re-signed Dillon Dubé and still have Sean Monahan down the middle to fill out the top-nine with Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk on the roster.

The same day that free agency began, Treliving also made a pair of trades–first acquiring defender, Nikita Zadorov, from Chicago for a 2022 3rd round pick (originally belonging to the Toronto Maple Leafs) and later acquiring goaltender, Dan Vladar, from the Boston Bruins for Calgary’s own 2022 3rd round pick.

Zadorov, 26, signed a one-year deal worth $3.750 million with the Flames and had 1-7–8 totals in 55 games with Chicago last season, as well as 23-60–83 totals in 411 career NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche and Chicago.

The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Russian native isn’t an offensive powerhouse from the blue line, but rather a top-four shutdown defensive defender. At his best, Zadorov can make hit after hit and pummel an opposing team’s offense into submission in his own zone, though the occasional bad penalty may result.

Vladar, 24, made his regular season debut last season for the Bruins and went 2-2-1 in five games played with a 3.40 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage in that span.

Don’t let the stats fool you, though, as Boston allowed eight goals against in Vladar’s last start against the Washington Capitals on April 11th before the emergence of Jeremy Swayman and return from injury for Tuukka Rask forced B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy’s, hand down the stretch and through the postseason.

Vladar is capable of holding his own in the NHL and should be a decent backup behind Jacob Markström in net for Calgary.

In 2019-20, Vladar had a 1.79 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in 25 games with the Providence Bruins (AHL). He followed that effort up with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in 10 games with Providence last season.

Treliving signed unrestricted free agents, Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis and Erik Gudbranson, to one-year contracts over the summer– adding Richardson on an $800,000 cap hit for depth, Lewis as a fourth liner with an $800,000 cap hit and Gudbranson ($1.950 million cap hit) as a defender that just might push Oliver Kylington or Juuso Välimäki out of regular ice time.

Richardson, 36, was limited to 17 games with the Nashville Predators last season and had 1-3–4 totals after spending 16 prior seasons with the Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Coyotes and Predators.

He won a Stanley Cup ring with then Los Angeles head coach, Darryl Sutter, in 2012, while Lewis won two Cups in his Kings tenure in 2012 and 2014.

Lewis joins the Flames after spending last season with the Winnipeg Jets– notching 5-5–10 totals in 56 games after spending 674 games in a Los Angeles uniform from parts of the 2008-09 season through 2019-20.

Gudbranson bounced from the Ottawa Senators to the Predators at the 2021 deadline after amassing 1-2–3 totals in 36 games with the Sens before contributing one assist in nine games with Nashville afterward.

With only four points in 45 games, Gudbranson isn’t much competition for Välimäki, who had 2-9–11 totals in 49 games for Calgary last season, but the clock is ticking on Kylington’s tenure in the “C of Red”.

Ranked 24th by TSN in the final draft rankings ahead of the 2015 NHL Draft, Kylington fell to the Flames in the 2nd round at 60th overall and has only appeared in 95 career games approaching seven years out of his draft year.

He had one assist in eight games last season and re-signed with Calgary on a one-year, two-way contract and has 16 points in his career, while Välimäki already has 14 points in 73 games in parts of two seasons since breaking into the NHL with the Flames in 2018-19.

Just like with Calgary’s core, time might be running out for a serious chance.

Offseason Grade: A-

If you were hoping for the Flames to tear things down this offseason, then they failed this summer.

If you’re looking at things from the perspective that adding without subtracting while still having enough of a core to make something happen, well, then signing Coleman alone is enough to laud Treliving praise for making a move instead of sticking to the script.

Of course, now the pressure is on for Calgary to succeed or risk fraying their relationship with Gaudreau and other Flames veterans, which would mean that Treliving would be forced to make some big trades by the deadline or next summer.

That said, the biggest detractor from the Flames this offseason might just be the Flames themselves as Sutter’s coaching style hasn’t adapted to the NHL in 2021.

If you don’t let your best players play their games and try to box them into a mold they don’t fit, then you’re only bringing yourself down in the league currently.