Tag Archives: Atlanta Thrashers

Down the Frozen River Podcast #115- Welcome to Arby’s

Nick, Connor and Pete decide Connor should name his first kid “Tkachuk” while revealing their top-10 left wingers of their lifetimes. Also, Ray Emery, Arby’s and Marian Hossa.

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

Down the Frozen River Podcast #114- Mark Speed: The Mark Recchi Episode

Nick, Cap’n and Pete announce their top-10 right wingers of their lifetimes while Connor mails it in and Nick reads his list (somebody has to do work around here). Keeping with tradition, all of Thursday’s big news was announced during or shortly after recording.

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

2018 Offseason Preview: Winnipeg Jets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Winnipeg Jets and their outlook for the summer.

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The Winnipeg Jets soared high in 2017-18, amassing 114 points on the season with a–franchise best– 52-20-10 record to finish 2nd in the Central Division and 2nd in the Western Conference (both in the regular season and postseason, by virtue of having been eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final).

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff went all-in on a potential Stanley Cup run at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Winnipeg’s 2018 first round pick and prospect, Erik Foley.

Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien were great at their positions as always, while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the team to glory. Meanwhile, Kyle Connor had one of the quietest sensational rookie seasons in recent memory, scoring 31 goals and 26 assists (57 points) in 76 games played.

Things are only looking up for the Jets despite their Western Conference Final defeat in five games to the expansion Golden Knights.

Both Winnipeg and Vegas were dominant teams in the West and if one of them hadn’t made the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators probably would have, but the Jets defeated the Preds in seven games in the Second Round after easily finishing off the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round.

Paul Maurice got to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2002 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes head coach, while the Jets made the third round for the first time in franchise history dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers (R.I.P.).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Winnipeg doesn’t have a selection in the first round currently, thanks to Cheveldayoff’s deadline acquisition bargain hunting.

It’s not entirely clear if the Jets will take a stab at jumping into the first round, but at least they’ve got some pretty sweet third jerseys finally coming along seven years into their tenure at Bell MTS Place since relocating from Atlanta.

Nic Petan, as always, is on the trade bait list and could yield the club a first round pick as part of a return on a transaction.

Pending free agents

The Jets have almost $20.600 million to spend on free agents this summer with their captain, Blake Wheeler, ($5.600 million cap hit) and young superstar, Patrik Laine, ($925,000 cap hit– final year of his entry-level deal) entering contract years.

In other words, next summer is going to be expensive.

Winnipeg has three pending-UFAs in Shawn Matthias, Matt Hendricks and Paul Stastny.

Matthias, 30, had one goal and two assists (three points) in 27 games, while Hendricks, 37, had 5-8–13 totals in 60 games this season. Neither of them have to be brought back for the Jets to remain a contender in the Central Division, but what Cheveldayoff does with Stastny could mean a world of a difference.

Stastny, 32, had clear chemistry with his teammates in Winnipeg from the moment he was on the ice with them, right through the postseason. He’s such a great playmaker and dependable on the faceoff dot that it only makes sense you’d let him be the one feeding Wheeler and Laine for as long as you can.

In 82 games with the Jets and Blues, Stastny had 16 goals and 37 assists (53 points). He then went on to have 6-9–15 totals in 17 postseason games. Re-sign him.

Winnipeg has a lot of cap space and a plethora of pending-RFAs to re-sign or let go.

Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia, Marko Dano and Adam Lowry all need new deals and contributed in some way to the club’s deep playoff run.

Tanev, 26, is a solid bottom-six forward. Armia, 25, goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the glue guys. Meanwhile, Dano, 23, and Lowry, 25, have made a case for one to be preserved over the other (it’s Lowry, obviously).

On defense, Toby Enstrom, 33, already knows he’ll be hitting the waters of the open market as he has both price himself out of a Jets jersey and been bumped out of contention for ice-time with the likes of Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Dmitry Kulikov and Ben Chiarot holding down the fort.

What’s that? I didn’t even mention Jacob Trouba, Tucker Poolman, Joe Morrow or Josh Morrissey? Well, that’s because they’re all pending-RFAs.

24-year-old Jacob Trouba’s bridge-deal is expiring and he’ll need a raise. Poolman, 25, emerged as a top-6 quality defender. Morrow, 25, was acquired at the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens and should return as a top-6 guy that came in clutch under Maurice’s instructions.

Morrow was never really utilized under Claude Julien in Montreal and Boston. Prior to that he was a journeyman from the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins (where he was originally drafted). Winnipeg seems like it should be home for the 25-year-old blueliner.

Make of Morrissey what you will, but the 23-year-old defender had 26 points this season setting career highs in goals (7), assists (19) and points (26). He’ll be sticking around.

The real problem with Winnipeg is what they’re going to have to do with their goaltenders.

Starter, Connor Hellebuyck, is a pending-RFA. The 25-year-old solidified his status as a clear number one goaltender with a cut above the rest in the league, winning 44 games out of 67 appearances this season. He had a 2.36 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Hellebuyck’s earned a raise, but the only problem is it leaves the Jets paying 30-year-old, Steve Mason, his $4.100 million cap hit in his final year of his two-year deal. In 13 games as a backup, he wasn’t great, amassing a 3.24 GAA and .906 SV%. Good luck trying to convince a team to take on his contract at full value.

Cheveldayoff will likely have to ship Mason out while retaining close to 50% of his remaining salary (the maximum allowed per the collective bargaining agreement).

28-year-old, Michael Hutchinson, in the meantime is a pending-UFA and regressed in 2017-18. Though he only played in three games, Hutchinson had a 3.26 GAA and .907 SV%.

For much less than Mason, Hutchinson could rebound back to a goals against average under 3.00, which is the least you expect from a backup– anything between 2.50 and 3.00 is right on target, anything better than 2.50 is godlike (for a backup) and anything over 3.00 is usually a poor investment in an easily overlooked position.

Sure, Eric Comrie is developing in the system, but wait, he’s a pending-RFA this summer too.

Winnipeg looks like they finally have this goaltending thing figured out, but Cheveldayoff cannot afford to mess any part of it up or else he risks long-term success, a la the Ondrej Pavelec saga from Atlanta to Winnipeg until Hellebuyck and Hutchinson overtook him.

Buyouts on the books: Mark Stuart at $583,333 through the end of 2018-19.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Buddy Robinson (UFA), Michael Sgarbossa (UFA), Chase De Leo (RFA), Jamie Phillips (RFA), Cameron Schilling (UFA), Jan Kostalek (RFA), James Lodge (RFA), Eric Comrie (RFA), Nic Petan (RFA), JC Lipon (RFA), Julian Melchiori (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: New York Rangers

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the New York Rangers and their outlook for the summer.

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It was a bit of a transition year rebuild for the New York Rangers in 2017-18 as the team finished 8th (last) in the Metropolitan Division with a 34-39-9 record and 77 points on the season.

Lias Andersson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner are highlights among newfound Rangers forwards, though Andersson has been with New York for his entire career (he was their first round pick in 2017). Of course, Namestnikov and Spooner are both pending-restricted free agents and were acquired in deals leading up to the 2018 trade deadline that sent Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and Rick Nash packing.

Alain Vigneault is no longer the head coach (fired on the last day of the regular season in April) and David Quinn– most recently of Boston University notoriety as the Terriers head coach– was hired last month to take over behind the bench.

The Big Apple’s king, Henrik Lundqvist, is still dashingly good looking and fashionable as ever before, but still has yet to win a Cup and is 36-years-old.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton has the best case scenario heading into this year’s draft. He has three first round picks to utilize (his own, Boston’s and Tampa’s) on top of two second rounders (NYR and NJ) and two picks in the third round (NYR and BOS), with one pick in each of the remaining rounds except for the seventh round.

The 2018 Draft is a deeper draft than usual. Additionally, the Rangers are pretty much set in their mixture of youth, speed and skill in their retooled offense and defense, thanks to large returns on trades with Boston and Tampa (specifically) leading up to the deadline.

They sent Nick Holden to the Bruins for a third round pick and Rob O’Gara, then later dealt Nash to Boston for Spooner, Ryan Lindgren, Matt Beleskey, a 2018 first round pick and a 2019 seventh round pick.

New York traded Miller and McDonagh to the Lightning in exchange for Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, Namestnikov, a 2018 first round pick and a conditional 2019 second round pick.

Gorton can be content to fill his heart’s desires in this year’s first round or he can simply opt for the best available prospect and build a better team that way too. He could also trade a pick or two for some valuable players to add to the roster here and now.

Whatever he chooses, the Rangers have the 9th, 26th and 28th overall picks in the 2018 Draft.

Pending free agents

With almost $25.000 million to spend this offseason, the Rangers are right where they want to be if they’re aiming for a quick rebuild. They might be on the outside of the playoffs again in 2019, but any improvement in the Metropolitan Division standings is an improvement considering they finished last in 2017-18.

Pending unrestricted free agent forwards Paul Carey, 29, and Cody McLeod, 33, might not be brought back on any other team, however, Carey’s seven goals and seven assists (14 points) are good enough as a bottom-six forward to keep him around for another year or two.

McLeod, on the other hand, is getting near the age where players in today’s NHL age themselves out of the game. There’s no offensive spark and New York’s not built around a fight-first mentality– especially as they’re trying to get younger and faster.

Between Carey and McLeod, expect Carey to be brought back somewhere around $1.000 million for another year, at least.

The biggest priority for Gorton to re-sign this offseason resides in Spooner, Namestnikov, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey as all four forwards are pending restricted free agents.

Spooner, 26, rebounded from a 39-point season in 78 games for Boston in 2016-17 to a 41-point effort in 59 games with the Bruins and Rangers this season on a $2.825 million one-year bridge deal signed with Boston late last July. He had 49 points in his rookie season (80 games in 2015-16) and should run New York somewhere around $4.000-6.000 million AAV on his next deal (assuming he’s re-signed) as their top or second line center.

Namestnikov, 25, had a breakout 48-point season with the Lightning and Rangers this season in 81 games played. He’ll likely get a similar deal to Spooner, which Gorton and his front office should see no problem agreeing to as the club moves forward in a new direction.

Hayes, 26, had 25-19–44 totals in 76 games, setting a new career-high in goals in what was otherwise an average season in scoring for the better Hayes brother. Keep him.

Vesey, 25, had every right to spurn the Nashville Predators and Buffalo Sabres by exercising his playing rights as a college prospect, but managed one point better than his rookie season with the Rangers. He had 16-11–27 totals in 80 games played in 2016-17 and 17-11–28 totals in 79 games played in 2017-18. That’s… not great.

New York’s not going to turn on Vesey quite as quickly as some fans might have, but he hasn’t earned a significant pay raise by any means yet.

On defense, the Rangers have one pending-UFA (25-year-old, Ryan Sproul) and three pending-RFAs (O’Gara, 24, John Gilmour, 25, and Brady Skjei, 24).

All of them can be re-signed if the Rangers so desire. Entering 2017-18, New York’s defense was worth tweaking– and they did. Now, perhaps it’s time to assess what they really have for a season.

But if they can dump Brendan Smith anywhere instead of receiving a little over $1.000 million in salary relief by burying him in the AHL, then that’d be pretty great too.

Then again, this is the same franchise that’s paying Dan Girardi $3.611 million through 2020 and $1.111 million through 2023 thanks to their buyout last summer.

Finally, in goal for the Rangers, Lundqvist remains their starter at an $8.500 million cap hit over the remainder of his contract through the 2020-21 season. At 36, Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger and letting him rest has actually been better for his play, which brings up the question of a reliable backup goaltender.

Ondrej Pavelec, 30, is a pending-UFA and posted a 3.05 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 games for New York this season. That’s better than his 3.55 GAA and .888 SV% in 8 games with the Winnipeg Jets in 2016-17, but still not good considering he has a 2.88 career GAA and .907 career SV% in 398 NHL games for Atlanta/Winnipeg and the Rangers.

Gorton should trust a rotation of Brandon Halverson, 22, Alexandar Georgiev, 22, and/or Marek Mazanec, 26, in some sort of backup role or pursue a new short term backup goaltender option to hold the organization over for the time being.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Steven Fogarty (RFA), Boo Nieves (RFA), Chris Bigras (RFA), Adam Tambellini (RFA), Daniel Catenacci (UFA), John Albert (UFA)

Another Golden Era of Expansion?

It’s a great time for the National Hockey League (ignoring the ongoing concussion lawsuit, poor officiating and [insert your favorite scandal from this season here]), but for league revenues there’s never been a greater time than now.

The Vegas Golden Knights slashed all preconceptions regarding expansion teams and how they are expected to perform and have shown the strength of professional sports in North America– any city*, including Sin City, can support a professional franchise.

*except for Québec City, apparently

Though it’s not the 1990s, where expansion in the NHL saw seven teams (the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers) enter the league from 1991 to 1999– and two more teams in 2000 (Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild)– the league is prime for another era of expansion.

The Golden Knights (2017) are just the first of who knows how many more teams to join the league in the 2010s and 2020s.

Seattle is on the verge of landing a franchise ready to hit the ice in 2020 (with an expansion vote expected to take place this fall) and Houston looks viable, given Houston Rockets (NBA) owner, Tilman Fertitta’s, expressed desire to ascertain a franchise both publicly and in meeting with NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Fun fact, Houston is the largest North American market without an NHL team and looked like they would be part of a looming WHA-NHL merger in the 1970s, but the merger wasn’t finalized until 1979 and– after learning they would not be included in any form of a merger in 1978– the Houston Aeros folded at the conclusion of the WHA’s 1977-78 season.

For some reason there’s a notion in North American sports that 30 is a nice, even, wholesome number for the total number of clubs in a league. Take a look at how big the big leagues were 20-30 years ago and you’ll soon realize that 30 is just a number.

Only two of the four major professional sports leagues in North America have gone beyond 30 teams. The NHL is one of them.


So you want to buy an expansion team…

Well, for starters, you better have at least $650 million (U.S.) lying around, as Oak View Group is all but assured of bringing the league’s 32nd team to Seattle for that price tag. In sports, as in real estate, prices expansion fees only go up over time (so definitely have more than $650 million lying around after Seattle joins the league– assuming Seattle joins the league).

Want to bring back the Québec Nordiques? Good luck.

Québec City would be the league’s second smallest market and selling out 16,000 tickets doesn’t mean as much as it used to with media deals, corporate sponsorships, new markets and division balance (let alone conference balance) all at stake.

Butts in seats only matter for momentum– not ad dollars on TV.

Granted, people in seats laying eyes upon LED signage around the arena, now that’s still an investment and matters to an extent on the local level and/or organization itself for day-to-day operations.

But this league sees the big picture– national level attention, reaching a broader scope, true globalization of their league as the best league– let alone growth of the game.

Boston Bruins owner, Jeremy Jacobs, is also the chairman of the league’s board of governors. He’s also head of the league’s executive committee. Old guard owner jokes aside, Jacobs has the final say on most (if not all) league management decisions, despite the existence of league commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Commissioners in all major North American professional sports work for the owners. Not the other way around.

The commissioner is the collective voice of the board of governors– the face of the league– but ultimately is not the singular directive power.

So at the Bruins season ending press conference, Jacobs was asked about the future of the league regarding the Golden Knights and potential expansion.

Québec just isn’t happening right now.

It’s been said time and time before and it’ll be said time and time again. And it was the main takeaway from Jacobs’s comments regarding further expansion on the near horizon.

Houston was name-dropped. Whether it’s relocation or expansion (and it’s likely another expansion at this point), the league will find its way to Seattle and Houston.

It’s hard to remember the journalistic duty of including the words “proposed”, “expected” or “just about soon to be announced at some point in the near or not so distant future” before mentioning Seattle, let alone Houston, given the known interest.

Maybe the Arizona Coyotes will relocate, you ask?

No. That’s not happening.

If the Coyotes were going to move, they would have moved already. Arizona is committed to Arizona. While the City of Glendale might not see the Coyotes as suitable partners, the Coyotes see Arizona as their true love.

Maybe the Florida Panthers are Québec’s last hope (or Houston’s best opportunity, if expansion fees are an issue) for relocation?

Sure, but as an “in case of an emergency” plan. Remember how the Atlanta Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg played out? If not, keep reading, but also, Florida has an owner that’s committed to Florida.

At least Patrick Roy will be back behind the bench for the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) next season.

Does market size matter if 16,000 season tickets are sold in a 700,000 population or 2,000,000-plus population?

No, but the media deal that accompanies the market and how many televisions it reaches, that’s where it matters.

Right about here is where things don’t stack up as well for Québec with other prospective expansion candidates, given the surrounding population outside Québec City and the conglomerate of Montreal Canadiens fans that dominate the province.

At one point in time two teams made sense for the province, let alone two teams in one city (Montreal). Nowadays, the Habs have too much of a stronghold– too big of a monopoly of fans. Yes, even among old Nordiques fans and their families who swore they’d never root for their intra-province rivals.

Bettman runs the league like the National Basketball Association, which, considering his background, sounds about right. The NHL’s profits have never been higher and Bettman deserves credit for the business side of the sport.

And the NBA is eyeing expansion of their own, following renovations to KeyArena/Seattle Center, where Oak View Group looks to land an expansion NHL team for the 2020-21 season. In addition to Seattle, the NBA’s apparently eyeing Kansas City, lending some to believe we might be in another golden era of expansion across all major North American professional sports leagues as Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, has indicated a desire for MLB to expand to 32 teams (with Montreal and Mexico as possibilities).

As an aside, the author would like to let it be known of his desire for an MLB team in Charlotte, N.C.

31 is the new 30 and 32, 33 and/or 34 is perhaps the near future for at least three out of four of the Big Four leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL).


So about Seattle… (and other sports economics)

It’s totally happening, it’s just a matter of time. Get ready to cut the check for $650 million, Oak View Group.

And Houston?

Once Seattle goes for $650 million, there’s no reason not to expect the expansion fee to go up once again for a 33rd NHL team. Seattle’s not expected to begin play until the 2020-21 season and even without any of the major renovation work that’s going on in the Emerald City, Houston isn’t fully move-in ready for an NHL franchise.

That’s not to say Toyota Center isn’t a great fit, but rather that both Fertitta and the league aren’t presently talking and expansion to Houston would logically have to follow Seattle working with the current timeline of events (and ignoring what it would all mean for division realignment).

So four or five years from now a $650 million expansion fee could quickly become upwards of $800 million for a brand new team. Perhaps it’d be $1 billion by then.

And if Québec can afford a billion dollar (U.S.) pricetag by that point, then sure, they’ll be a shoo-in for the league’s 34th team. By then we might as well be talking 35th and/or 36th even.

Four divisions of nine teams doesn’t sound terrible if you can find suitable locations (Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Québec City and Atlanta, for example) to level off the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Divisions.

This is the economy of sports in the 21st century and Bettman’s dream– so long as the value of the majority of NHL franchises continue to climb and start to rival those of midpack/bottom NFL teams (the New York Rangers are valued at $1.5 billion according to Forbes– barely above the Toronto Maple Leafs $1.4 billion valuation)– and that’s ignoring how weak/strong the Canadian dollar is.

Granted, the average NHL franchise is worth around $594 million.

But as the NFL’s Carolina Panthers (a mid-pack team in terms of franchise value again according to Forbes) just sold for $2.2 billion to David Tepper, one would expect NHL franchise values to climb as the future of American football as we know it remains uncertain and the success of the Golden Knights impacts NHL revenues in the coming seasons.

Again, sports franchises and real estate prices always climb. It’s only a matter of time.


Okay, so just tell me where does that leave Québec exactly?

Recall for a moment, if you will, May 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment and the downfall of Atlanta Spirit, LLC. began (or more accurately, continued).

Yes, Winnipeg got an NHL team back, but they had to essentially go through relegation to get back to the top.

The Winnipeg model of “being sent down to the minors”  for almost 20 years witnessed near sellout crowds in the smallest NHL arena currently (15,321 seats) for AHL games.

That’s great, but the Jets weren’t going to be the Jets again if there was a prospective local buyer in Atlanta interested in busting up Atlanta Spirit, LLC. seven years ago.

There wasn’t, so True North Sports and Entertainment’s rainy day fund came in handy when the league needed a venue for a team immediately– regardless of the support and regardless of Québec, Hamilton or Kansas City’s moaning and groaning (from prospective owners and/or fans).

Canadian fans and some American hockey traditionalists like to bring up “the success of the Québec Remparts” in their new arena (Vidéotron Centre, opened in 2015).

Oh you mean the QMJHL team that plays in a 18,259 seat arena and has been having declining attendance since maxing out around 14,000 their first year there (2015-16) and now sits around 9,400 or less (like all other Junior teams). Please go on and tell everyone how QMJHL support alone will persuade NHL eyeballs.

It would certainly help Québec’s cause for bringing back the Nordiques by landing an AHL team on top of their QMJHL club and continuously supporting the organization(s) a la Winnipeg circa 1997-2011.

None of this rules out relocation, but it does make expansion look slightly more attractive, provided someone (Quebecor or another prospective owner) can fork up over half-a-billion U.S. dollars.


Professional sports are a business of entertainment.

Again, professional sports are a business.

Hockey traditionalism would not profit as well as the league has been profitting today.

Plain and simple as that.

This is a league that does not have to contract– thanks to the salary cap, revenue sharing and constant work stoppages to renegotiate the number of dollars the league eats before dividing up for the players.

This is a league that has shown the sport can be played in any environment.

The State of Arizona produced Auston Matthews. The Arizona Coyotes have been in Arizona for a generation AND THEY ARE NOT MOVING. They’re committed to their fans and their hockey community, but they’re up against a local government that’s unwilling to work with them on even the most basic levels– private vs. public funding for a new arena aside.

Tampa Bay, Nashville, Vegas, San Jose, Anaheim and yes, even Florida and Carolina have all been competitive and have diehard fans.

Sure the Panthers and the Hurricanes haven’t gathered casual eyes since 1996 and 2006 respectively, but you can’t blame the Panthers for being the Cleveland Browns of the NHL in a way (in addition to their poor location in Sunrise, Florida– outside of Miami) and Tom Dundon for any Hurricanes wrongdoings yet (though this summer is all about Carolina and how they just might reinvent themselves– and of course, everyone likes to jump to conclusions after a new owner’s first offseason, right?).

Plus, at least the Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006. Your move Panthers.

But this league, like any major professional sports league, sees a game, entertainment and money to be made.

Tradition is just a sweater, a pregame ritual or a superstition. It’s not a revenue stream for reinvention over time.

Take it from NASCAR, where, coupled with changes back-and-forth in the rulebook every other week on top of overprotection of its traditional image (along with dried up ratings) have removed the basement from the very foundation of the sport– and possibly the sanctioning body as the France family mulls a sale of the entity itself.

Like it or not, we are in an era of expansion– not just for the NHL, but potentially for all four major North American professional sports (and MLS, if you really want to extend the product here, as expansion is wicked hot in soccer currently).

Should I mention we’re getting four more ads on the ice next season or have I already given everyone enough heart palpitations?

How the Vegas Golden Knights got here

The Vegas Golden Knights had 500-1 odds of winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season back in October. Now, they’re just four wins away.

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Let’s clarify a few things here:

1. The team has a lot of leadership.

Whether it’s Jon Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron, Deryk Engelland or Marc-Andre Fleury, the Golden Knights have a deep locker room of leaders.

And that’s not doing enough justice to give their head coach, Gerard Gallant, some credit for the way the team’s carried themselves.

2. The team has a lot of playoff experience.

Vegas general manager George McPhee didn’t look for just a bunch of nobody’s. This is Fleury’s fifth appearance in the Stanley Cup Final– and third straight.

Entering this postseason, only the following Golden Knights regulars had zero games of playoff experience– Ryan Carpenter, William Carrier, Tomas Nosek, Malcolm Subban (their backup goaltender, not likely to see any playing time with Fleury existing) and Alex Tuch.

Fleury (115 games), Neal (80), Perron (42), Ryan Reaves (36), Engelland (28), Erik Haula (24), Nate Schmidt (21), Luca Sbisa (20) and Shea Thoedore (20) all had at least 20 games of playoff experience coming into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Reaves, of course, was acquired prior to the trade deadline. Primarily for his scoring prowess in an elimination game, obviously. Wait.

3. The 2017 Expansion Draft was not rigged.

Nobody told Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon he had to a) leave Marchessault exposed and b) trade Reilly Smith to Vegas to ensure they wouldn’t select someone other than Marchessault at the Expansion Draft.

Let’s reword that a bit.

Marchessault was left exposed and the Panthers did not specify that he was untouchable as part of the Smith deal. Florida encouraged Vegas to take on Smith’s $5.000 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season after one down year with the Panthers.

The Golden Knights were the scapegoat for salary cap mismanagement by other NHL teams and everyone thought Vegas wouldn’t turn out to be this way.

Fleury was assured of being selected by McPhee and Co. thanks to Pittsburgh’s tight cap after winning back-to-back Cups along with their goaltending situation in which Matt Murray had rightfully taken the starting goaltender role. The Penguins even sent a 2018 second round pick in the trade to persuade Vegas to select Fleury in the Expansion Draft instead of a guy like Brian Dumoulin.

William Karlsson had underperformed with the Columbus Blue Jackets and was left exposed to Vegas as part of a deal that saw the Golden Knights take on David Clarkson‘s deadweight contract.

A happy accident– or more accurately, superb scouting and foresight. That same scouting led to nailing more than one needle in a haystack.

Alex Tuch? Traded by the Minnesota Wild to Vegas as part of an agreement that McPhee would select Erik Haula.

The Anaheim Ducks traded Theodore to Vegas so the Golden Knights would take Clayton Stoner and not one of Anaheim’s young core players of the future.

Finally, the talent pool is better than ever before. The Golden Knights were bound to stockpile a few good players as a result of stacked rosters (in theory) across the 30 other NHL clubs.

McPhee also worked the phones and made more than a few trades and depth signings in free agency.

Maxime Lagace and Oscar Dansk were both free agent signings that held things over for Vegas in the net while Fleury and Subban were injured for almost the first quarter of the regular season. Dansk went down with an injury himself four games into the Golden Knights third-string goaltending emergency relief plan.

When the Golden Knights turned to Dylan Ferguson in goal it was only possible because of McPhee’s deal with the Dallas Stars in which defender Marc Methot, who was claimed at the Expansion Draft by Vegas, was flipped to Dallas for Ferguson and a 2020 second round pick.

Not every selection made by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft suited up for the Golden Knights.

Trevor van Riemsdyk was packaged with a 2018 seventh round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for Pittsburgh’s 2017 second round pick (Jake Leschyshyn).

David Schlemko was flipped to the Montreal Canadiens for a 2019 fifth round pick.

Alexei Emelin was sent to the Nashville Predators for a 2018 third round pick.

Despite appearing in preseason action for Vegas, last season’s backup goaltender with the Colorado Avalanche– turned AHL backup goaltender with the Toronto Marlies this season– Calvin Pickard was dealt to the Maple Leafs for a 2018 sixth round pick and Tobias Lindberg.

Pickard’s trade was spurned by McPhee finding a better backup goaltender at no cost to the organization– Malcolm Subban.

Subban was claimed off waivers from Boston after the Bruins waited a few days after waivers went into effect to decide on sending him to Providence.

Ryan Carpenter? Another claim off waivers– midseason— from the San Jose Sharks.

It’s a professional league. It’s a free market. Something, something, stop complaining because your team has a history of letting you down. The Golden Knights will let their fans down in time, just like every other professional sports franchise in the history of all major professional North American sports.

But for now, why not enjoy the ride?

They swept a 1967 expansion team in the First Round, they defeated a 1990s expansion team in the Second Round and now they’ve beaten a late-1990s expansion franchise that relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 for the Western Conference championship.

There’s never going to be another run quite like this and if it ends in a Stanley Cup championship maybe we should all meet in Vegas for the afterparty. Celebrate the sport.

Jets fly away with 6-2 win in Nashville, can clinch spot in WCF at home

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Snubbed for Calder Memorial Trophy consideration, rookie, Kyle Connor had his first career three-point Stanley Cup Playoff game en route to a 6-2 victory for the Winnipeg Jets on the road in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators.

The Jets silenced the Bridgestone Arena crowd and can clinch a spot in the 2018 Western Conference Finals with a win on home ice in Game 6.

Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck stopped 38 out of 40 shots on goal for a .950 save percentage in the win, while Pekka Rinne made 20 saves on 26 shots against for a .769 SV% in 46:23 time on ice before being replaced by Juuse Saros.

Saros made six saves on all six shots against in 13:37 TOI in his relief appearance.

There were no goals and no penalties in the first period, so the only thing you’ll need to know after 20 minutes of action in Game 5 is that the Predators outshot the Jets, 11-7.

Almost midway through the second period, Patrik Laine ripped a wrist shot towards the goal and the puck deflected off of Paul Stastny’s hand past Rinne to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead. Stastny (4) was rightfully credited with the goal upon validation that he did not intentionally swat the puck in with his hand or anything.

Laine (6) and Nikolaj Ehlers (4) notched the assists on the goal at 7:44 of the second period.

Less than four minutes later, Nashville defender, Yannick Weber (1) crept in from the point, straight to the goal and elevated a shot past Hellebuyck to tie the game, 1-1.

About a minute and a half later, Kyle Connor (1) notched his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Blake Wheeler (8) and Mark Scheifele (5) amassed the assists on Connor’s goal at 12:30 and the Jets had a one-goal lead, 2-1.

Dustin Byfuglien (4) extended Winnipeg’s lead to two-goals as the Jets blueliner continues to make his offensive prowess known a la his 2010 Stanley Cup run with the Chicago Blackhawks. Brandon Tanev (1) and Adam Lowry (2) had the assists on Byfuglien’s goal at 14:35 of the second period.

Just as quick as the Predators reemerged as a team that’s capable of going stride for stride with Winnipeg’s youth, the Jets surged in momentum and Connor (2) netted his second goal of the night— assisted by Wheeler (9) and Byfuglien (8)— to make it a 4-1 game late in the second frame at 17:01.

It only took 22 seconds later for the first penalty to be called— Viktor Arvidsson for slashing Jacob Trouba— and the Jets went on their first power play of the night.

Things didn’t go according to plan as Ryan Johansen (5) broke free on a shorthanded bid and buried one behind Hellebuyck to bring the Preds back to within two, 4-2, at 17:59 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Jets were in command of the scoreboard and leading in shots on goal, 22-20.

Mark Scheifele (9) all but put things away 28 seconds into the third period with his goal that made it, 5-2, Winnipeg. Connor (4) and Wheeler (10) notched the assists and the Predators had their backs against the wall.

Josh Morrissey handed Nashville their first power play of the night at 2:52 of the third period for holding the stick of Filip Forsberg, but the Predators would not score on the skater advantage.

Instead, frustrated by their own lack of offense and ability to control the pace of the game in possession and the like, Ryan Hartman took a careless interference minor after the young Predators forward delivered a check to Scheifele, far away from the puck.

Mathieu Perreault (1) collected his first goal of the postseason on the ensuing power play at 6:23 of the third period, burying the carom off the boards and putting the game out of reach with a four-goal lead for the Jets, 6-2.

Ehlers (5) had the only assist on the goal.

To put a stop to the bleeding, Peter Laviolette replaced his starter with backup, Juuse Saros.

Mattias Ekholm cross checked Joel Armia almost halfway through the third period and the Jets did not score on the power play.

At the final horn, Winnipeg had secured a 6-2 victory and 3-2 series lead heading back home for Game 6 at Bell MTS Place. The Predators led Game 5 in shots on goal (40-32), blocked shots (20-16), giveaways (21-10) and faceoff win percentage (59-41), while the Jets had an advantage in hits (27-23).

Winnipeg finished the night 1/3 on the power play and the Preds went 0/1.

With his three-point night (2-1–3 totals), Kyle Connor set a franchise record for the first three-point effort in a postseason game by a rookie in Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers history.

Puck drop for Game 6 in Winnipeg is scheduled for Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET and game coverage will be on NBCSN in the United States, as well as CBC and TVAS across Canada. The Jets can advance to the Western Conference Final with a win.

Fiala, Preds, even series with Jets in 2OT win

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Kevin Fiala scored the game-winning overtime goal at 5:37 of the second overtime period Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena and the Nashville Predators topped the Winnipeg Jets, 5-4, in Game 2. The Second Round series is now tied, 1-1, heading into Game 3 on Tuesday.

Predators netminder, Pekka Rinne had 46 saves on 50 shots against for a .920 save percentage in 85:37 time on ice in the win, while Jets goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck, made 36 saves on 41 shots against for an .878 SV% in 84:50 TOI in the loss.

Getting the first goal in a Stanley Cup Playoff game means (almost) everything. Ryan Johansen (3) scored the game’s first goal just 27 seconds into the action and the Predators had a 1-0 lead. Filip Forsberg (3) and P.K. Subban (4) had the assists.

Matt Hendricks bumped into Rinne past the seven minute mark in the first period and received the game’s first penalty as Nashville went on the power play. The Preds did not convert on the man advantage.

Moments later, Ryan Hartman tripped Paul Stastny and the Jets went on their first power play of the night. Winnipeg’s power play was short lived, though, as Blake Wheeler promptly tripped Colton Sissons 52 seconds into Winnipeg’s man advantage opportunity.

As Nashville’s abbreviated power play was wrapping up, Viktor Arvidsson, was guilty of a minor penalty for interference.

Seconds later, after winning a faceoff in the offensive zone, the Jets worked the puck along the wall, around the boards and back to the point, where Dustin Byfuglien was sneaking his way in towards the goal.

Byfuglien (1) fired a shot from close range and snuck the puck through Rinne’s five-hole for his first goal of the postseason and tied the game, 1-1. Mark Scheifele (2) had the only assist on the goal at 12:47 of the first period.

Just 29 seconds after Byfuglien scored, Winnipeg converted on their abbreviated power play with Arvidsson in the box for Nashville.

Scheifele (7) was in the right place at the right time as Stastny collected a rebound that caromed off the glass behind the net and dished a pass to the young Jets forward standing point blank in the slot. Stastny (4) and Patrik Laine (4) notched the assists on the goal that made it, 2-1, Winnipeg at 13:16.

As momentum shifted in Winnipeg’s favor, Laine rang the post about a minute later and almost had what would’ve been three unanswered goals for the Jets.

Instead, after 20 minutes of play, Winnipeg had a one-goal lead as shots on goal were even, 9-9. The Jets led in blocked shots (9-7) and takeaways (4-2), while the Preds led in hits (9-7) and giveaways (3-2). Winnipeg was 1/2 on the power play and Nashville was 0/2 after one period.

Bryan Little tripped up Sissons 4:01 into the second period and the Predators went on the power play for the third time Sunday night.

Subban (1) fired a clapper past Hellebuyck while Arvidsson provided the perfect jump screen in front of the goal to tie the game, 2-2, at 5:04 of the second period. Forsberg (4) and Arvidsson (2) amassed the assists on Subban’s goal.

Mattias Ekholm slashed Wheeler almost midway into the second period, but the Jets were not able to score on the ensuing power play. Neither did the Predators on their own power play six minutes later when Hendricks took another trip to the sin bin for interference.

On a burst of speed into the offensive zone Arvidsson (3) let go of a cannon of a shot that beat Hellebuyck to give Nashville a, 3-2, lead at 18:41 of the second period. Forsberg (5) and Ryan Ellis (5) had the assists on the goal.

At the end of the period, Ellis delivered a cross check to Scheifele in the midst of a scrum and Nick Bonino mixed things up a bit with Scheifele himself. Three penalties were assessed at 20:00 minutes of the second period; Ellis (a minor for cross checking), Bonino (roughing, minor) and Scheifele (roughing, minor).

Through 40 minutes of play, the Preds led the Jets, 3-2, on the scoreboard and were outshot, 22-18, by Winnipeg. Nashville led in hits (18-10) and giveaways (13-7), while Winnipeg led in blocked shots (18-11) and takeaways (8-7). The Jets were 1/3 on the power play and the Predators were 1/4 on the man advantage after two periods.

Brandon Tanev (3) forced his way through the neutral zone on a chip pass from Little and beat Rinne on a breakaway, tying the game, 3-3 at 5:11 of the third period. Little (3) had the only assist on Tanev’s goal.

Johansen (4) scored on a breakaway of his own— destroying Toby Enstrom with one move and beating Hellebuyck bar-down— 34 seconds later, giving the Predators the one-goal lead, once again. Arvidsson (3) had the only assist on Johansen’s second goal of the game and Nashville led, 4-3, at 5:45.

For the longest time, the Predators were leading, 4-3, in the third period, but Paul Maurice’s Winnipeg Jets had more fight in them as time ticked down. Maurice pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with under two minutes remaining in regulation and it quickly paid off as Scheifele (8) nabbed his second goal of the night.

Wheeler (6) and Byfuglien (6) notched the primary and secondary assists on the game-tying goal at 18:55 of the third period.

With the score tied, 4-4, after 60 minutes of regulation, Game 2 went into overtime.

Entering overtime, Winnipeg was leading in shots on goal (36-25), while Nashville led in hits (21-19), takeaways (11-9) and giveaways (15-11). Both teams were 1/4 on the power play.

The Predators peppered the Hellebuyck with a ton of shots in the first half of the first overtime period and were in complete control of the chaotic flow of the game. Then Winnipeg caught the Jetstream and hightailed the rest of the period, generating numerous scoring chances that were tossed aside by Rinne.

After 20 minutes of overtime and 80 minutes of play, the score remained, 4-4, but the Jets led in shots on goal (48-38) and blocked shots (28-26). Nashville kept up with their physical play, leading in hits (26-23) and controlled the faceoff dot— winning 61 percent of all faceoffs taken after the first overtime.

Winnipeg had surpassed their previous longest postseason game in franchise history (dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers) and would quickly pass the record for longest postseason game by any Winnipeg NHL franchise (new or old— a.k.a. the current day Arizona Coyotes) in the second overtime period.

Another milestone passed by the Jets that’s not to be overlooked (given the emergence/existence of the Vegas Golden Knights in Vegas’s inaugural season/postseason) is the fact that entering Sunday night, Winnipeg/Atlanta was the only active NHL franchise that had yet to play a game that required multiple overtimes.

Anyway, Kevin Fiala (3) converted in a two-on-one whereby Craig Smith tossed the puck across the ice, Fiala received it, stickhandled, made Hellebuyck commit, then pulled the puck to his backhand and scored on a largely left open 4×6 frame.

Smith (1) and Kyle Turris (3) had the assists on Fiala’s second career postseason overtime goal and the Predators had won, 5-4, at 5:37 of the second overtime.

Winnipeg finished the night leading in shots on goal (50-41) and blocked shots (30-26). Nashville led in the final scoreboard, 5-4, and in hits (26-23) after 85:37 elapsed time.

With the win, Rinne is now 7-6 all-time in postseason overtime games and Hellebuyck is 0-1 in his first career overtime Stanley Cup Playoff game.

The series is tied, 1-1, heading into Game 3 on Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Viewers in the United States can tune to CNBC at 8 p.m. ET, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC or TVAS.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #96- Hart to Hart Talk

Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.

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

TRADE: San Jose lands Evander Kane from Buffalo

A highly touted winger was swapped with a couple of picks and a prospect that now reunites a Boston University line in Buffalo. Should BU open up a remote campus in upstate New York?

The Buffalo Sabres traded F Evander Kane to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for F Danny O’Regan, a conditional 1st round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and a conditional 4th round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft prior to Monday’s trade deadline.

If Kane doesn’t re-sign with the Sharks, then the 2019 1st round pick becomes a 2019 2nd round pick. The 2019 1st round pick is also lottery protected and will remain a 1st round pick if San Jose wins the Cup.

The conditional 4th round pick in 2019 can become a 2020 3rd round pick if the Sharks so choose.

UnknownKane, 26, has 20-20–40 totals in 61 games for the Sabres this season. A five-time 40-point scorer, Kane has 177 goals and 163 assists (340 points) in 557 career NHL games with the Sabres and Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers.

A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, the 6’2″, 212-pound power forward combines scoring prowess with quite a punch. He is a pending-UFA this July and was originally drafted by the Thrashers in the 1st round (4th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Unknown-2O’Regan, 24, has four assists in 19 games with San Jose this season.

The 5’10”, 185-pound center has 7-18–25 totals in 31 games with the San Jose Barracuda (AHL) in 2017-18 and had 23-35–58 totals in 63 games last season with the Barracuda after completing four years at Boston University alongside now-current Buffalo teammates, Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues.

A native of Berlin, Germany, O’Regan was originally drafted by the Sharks in the 5th round (138th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He’ll likely report to the Rochester Americans.