The St. Louis Blues just keep on winning (11 straight, to be exact). Can they win it all? The Tampa Bay Lightning are not Stanley Cup favorites according to Nick– nobody is! Did the Edmonton Oilers win a trade? Cory Schneider won a game! and other milestones from the last week, as well as whatever happened in the Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks game on Monday.
Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.
Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot
Thoughts on the conclusion and controversies of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, as well as a look at the schedule around the league as we near the All-Star Weekend festivities and bye week(s). Nick puts Connor on the spot and asks him some trivia questions that only went so well.
Nick and Connor recap and react to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship so far, review the latest suspensions and injuries, look to the future of the NHL in 2019 and beyond, discuss 2019 All-Star Game captains, Jake Guentzel’s new extension and Jim Lites’ quotes on Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.
Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.
Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?
John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.
42-32-8, 92 points, 6th in the Central Division
Subtractions: Head Coach Ken Hitchcock (retired), D Andrew Bodnarchuk (signed, DEL), F Brian Flynn (signed with STL), D Dan Hamhuis (signed with NSH), G Mike McKenna (signed with OTT), F Curtis McKenzie (signed with VGK), D Greg Pateryn (signed with MIN), D Brent Regner (signed, Austria), F Antoine Roussel (signed with VAN)
Still Unsigned: G Kari Lehtonen, D Andrew O’Brien, F Cole Ully
Offseason Analysis: After missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by a few points, Ken Hitchcock finally hung up the pen and paper(?) behind the bench. Hitchcock’s one-year reunion with the Dallas Stars proved two things– that the Stars weren’t a playoff caliber roster in the long run and that Hitchcock’s coaching style had run its course in the contemporary NHL.
Outside of John Klingberg and Marc Methot, Dallas’s defense didn’t scream high-caliber. Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin alone couldn’t generate enough offense to ease the barrage of pucks Ben Bishop faced in net.
Whatever the reasoning, the fact of the matter is the Stars didn’t have a complete team in 2017-18, so General Manager Jim Nill had some cracks to fix.
First, Dallas brought in 49-year-old head coach, Jim Montgomery, out of the University of Denver and into the National Hockey League. Montgomery expects to bring a new-age pace to the Stars, but there’s always a catch– rookie NHL coaches rarely exceed expectations in their first season, especially if they’re coming from college hockey straight to the NHL level of the professional game.
Second, Nill didn’t make any trades. Instead he opted to let Antoine Roussel and his 17 points in 73 games last season walk in free agency, along with Curtis McKenzie and other bottom-six role forwards. Also gone are Dan Hamhuis– once thought to be a steal from free agency not so long ago– and Greg Pateryn, who, after all things considered, played a durable bottom-pair worthy role on the Dallas blueline.
Nill signed 32-year-old Roman Polak to a one-year, $1.300 million contract to appease veteran presence on the backend with a friendly short-term deal while the Stars look to implement Miro Heiskanen in the North American game.
Blake Comeau, Erik Condra and Michael Mersch will all file down the line of bottom-six “glue guy” roles on the depth chart all the way to being a healthy scratch most nights– let alone emergency call-up go-tos.
The fact of the matter is the Stars need to get younger and it could start with Heiskanen, but it should also include Jason Robertson among the forwards. Past that, there’s not much going on in the Big D.
After Kari Lehtonen, 35, couldn’t hold his weight as a starter, Dallas brought in Ben Bishop– a surefire number one goalie– to lead them back to glory. Bishop’s year didn’t fully go as planned, but Lehtonen actually improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in his more limited role.
Lehtonen’s 2.85 goals against average and .902 save percentage in 59 games played in 2016-17 dropped to a 2.56 GAA and rose to a .912 SV% in 37 appearances last season. The Atlanta Thrashers 2nd overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft rebounded quite nicely and is still unsigned.
Meanwhile, Nill brought in Anton Khudobin, 32, most recently from the Boston Bruins on a two-year contract to become become Bishop’s backup. Khudobin’s can be streaky at times, but when he’s good, he’s
great good. Just good.
Case in point, Khudobin bounced back from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 16 appearances with the Bruins in 2016-17 while bouncing back-and-forth between Boston and Providence (AHL) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 31 games last season with the Bruins.
Khudobin’s GAA last season was the same as Lehtonen’s in six fewer games. He faced almost 100 fewer shots than Lehtonen and allowed seven fewer goals. His save percentage was .001% better than Lehtonen.
If Nill’s getting really technical, he “improved” Dallas’s backup option. Sure he’s not paying a guy $5.900 million to play fewer than 40 games, but Khudobin’s making $2.500 million for… pretty much the same results if he’s playing well.
If Lehtonen was going to re-sign, he surely was going to have to sign for much less than what he was making ($5.900 million) and wouldn’t have been able to capitalize as much as Khudobin did on his comeback (Khudobin more than doubled his salary from his last contract with Boston to his current one with Dallas).
I mean, Lehtonen improved much like his former teammate with the Stars, Antti Niemi did, but without the immense failures in Pittsburgh and Florida before being picked up off waivers by the Montreal Canadiens.
But enough about subprime goaltending, lack of offense and not enough drive from a mediocre defense outside of John Klingberg.
The Stars aren’t on the rise and that should concern fans deeply.
You see, there’s another guy wearing No. 91 in the NHL that’s a pending-UFA in July 2019 and nearly every armchair GM has already set their sights on him. His name is Tyler Seguin and he’s Dallas’s biggest star.
After talking about an extension before the 2018 NHL Draft– conveniently held in Dallas– Seguin’s heard nothing from the Stars front office. Another season without a postseason might just be enough to push the 26-year-old center over the edge and into the waters of free agency next summer.
Offseason Grade: D+
There’s areas of concern that go further than just shaking things up behind the bench in Dallas. It’s not that Montgomery won’t be a great coach, but rather that Nill hasn’t pulled off the necessary moves with the roster to really set them over the bar and into the playoffs.
Betting on other teams regressing to the mean, while counting on your stars to perform better than they did last season isn’t safe if you’re not actually improving. Plus there’s the whole “they might lose Tyler Seguin for nothing next offseason a la the New York Islanders and John Tavares“. First impressions for the future are everything, and Nill and the Stars aren’t sending the right one(s).
The 2018 offseason is sure to bring lots of spending with several high-caliber talents testing the waters of unrestricted free agency. Here’s a look at the top-10 available players with the highest cap hits from 2017-18 courtesy of CapFriendly.com.
The free agent market opens Sunday at noon ET.
1) C Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks), $8.000 million
Thornton has yet to win a Cup and re-signed with the Sharks last July for a little more than what Patrick Marleau got in his average annual value on his way out of San Jose with his three-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. At 38-years-old, Thornton’s entering– if not well beyond– the twilight of his career and may retire.
Or he’ll come back for one last ride with San Jose as General Manager Doug Wilson looks to stockpile another Cup-or-bust roster with Evander Kane having re-signed for another seven years and the Sharks as a legitimate contender for John Tavares and others. Much like last season, Thornton could be playing the waiting game to a) not tie up any spending money San Jose has yet and b) to see what Wilson brings in.
He had 13-23–36 totals in 47 games played with the Sharks last season and battled injuries that kept him out of postseason action.
2) LW/RW Rick Nash (New York Rangers –> Boston Bruins), $7.800 million
Nash will gauge the open market and wait to sign a deal after July 1st as he is contemplating retirement altogether.
Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney has indicated he’s open to bringing the 34-year-old winger back for another season in black-and-gold after Boston failed to snag 35-year-old KHLer returning to the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk, last week.
In 71 games with the Bruins and Rangers, Nash had 21-13–34 totals. He also scored three goals and had two assists (five points) in 12 postseason games with Boston after suffering a concussion in March.
3) C Paul Stastny (St. Louis Blues –> Winnipeg Jets), $7.000 million
Winnipeg and Stastny, 32, have had a mutual interest in each other since the Jets acquired the veteran center at the trade deadline, however, Stastny could cash in as one of the better centers left in the market. The Montreal Canadiens have been rumored to be in touch with Stastny’s camp and may take a stab at the son of former intra-province rival Québec Nordiques legend, Peter Stastny.
Paul Stastny had 16-37–53 totals in 81 games with the Jets and Blues this season.
4) D Mike Green (Detroit Red Wings), $6.000 million
After spending his first 10 NHL seasons with the Washington Capitals, Green spent the last three seasons with the Red Wings. The 32-year-old blueliner cashed in on a three-year, $6.000 million AAV deal in the midst of his prime and is beginning to reach the tail-end of optimal athletic ability in the modern game.
Despite having a no-movement clause, Green was open to whatever Detroit General Manager Ken Holland had in mind around the deadline as the defender is still in search of his first Cup. Green was not traded and had 8-25–33 totals in 66 games this season with the Red Wings as a top-6 defender.
5) C Tomas Plekanec (Montreal Canadiens –> Toronto Maple Leafs), $6.000 million
Plekanec broke into the NHL as a member of the Canadiens in 2003-04 and spent his entire career in Montreal before being traded to Toronto around the deadline this season in search of a Cup.
The 35-year-old shaved his trademark goatee at Lou Lamoriello’s discretion and even bought a new turtleneck, but amassed two assists in 17 games for the Maple Leafs down the stretch. Plekanec did, however, yield 6-20–26 totals in 77 games for Toronto and Montreal this season and added four points (two goals, two assists) in the Leafs seven-game series loss to the Boston Bruins in the First Round this postseason.
All signs point point Plekanec rejoining the Habs this summer.
6) G Kari Lehtonen (Dallas Stars), $5.900 million
Lehtonen, 34, shifted to a full-time backup role in Dallas this season as a result of Ben Bishop joining the Stars last summer and– despite a 14-14-1 record in 36 games (slightly below .500)– it paid off. His 2.58 goals against average and .911 save percentage is exactly what you ask from an average-to-slightly-above-average backup goaltender.
Stars General Manager Jim Nill doesn’t have a plan laid out for the eventual backup behind Bishop for the remainder of Bishop’s contract, but Nill’s in luck as this year’s backup goalie market is full of quality candidates for at least a year or two.
7) D Toby Enstrom (Winnipeg Jets), $5.750 million
The Winnipeg Jets youth movement ultimately forced 33-year-old Toby Enstrom into the land of the obsolete. He had one goal and five assists (six points) in 43 games played.
He won’t be making anywhere near his $5.750 million cap hit from this season, but he still can provide an organization with some much needed defensive depth as a bottom-pair blueliner or seventh defender.
Meanwhile, Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff can utilize the newfound salary on other important pieces, like Patrik Laine‘s next contract after the 2018-19 season, for example.
T-8) D Brooks Orpik (Washington Capitals/Colorado Avalanche/UFA), $5.500 million
Orpik won his second Cup this season (first with the Capitals) and was subsequently traded with Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche as part of Washington’s salary dump venture to re-sign John Carlson (spoiler alert: it worked) at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic bought-out the remaining year on Orpik’s contract, making the 37-year-old defender a free agent a year ahead of schedule. Before he makes a comeback, he’ll have to sign elsewhere for much less than his $5.500 million cap hit.
T-8) C John Tavares (New York Islanders), $5.500 million
If Tavares doesn’t re-sign with the Islanders this offseason, he’ll become the biggest prize on the free agent market. Thanks to the interview period, we already know he’s met with representatives from six organizations (in no particular order)– the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Islanders have a new General Manager (Lou Lamoriello) and new head coach (Barry Trotz), but will front office moves that are sure to shake up components of the roster ultimately sway Tavares to stay or is the 27-year-old star-center going to pursue a chance to win the Cup elsewhere a lot sooner rather than later? We’ll know as soon as Tavares’s agent or a team announces a deal.
T-10) C/LW Valtteri Filppula (Philadelphia Flyers), $5.000 million
At 34-years-old, 11-22–33 totals in 80 games played isn’t terrible for someone that’d make a great third liner on any organization. Unfortunately for Filppula, a $5.000 million cap hit will.
The Flyers will undoubtedly move on and replace the veteran forward with someone younger from Lehigh Valley or elsewhere in the system, while Filppula should be able to secure a two or three year deal elsewhere at less value as a key “glue guy”.
T-10) LW/RW James Neal (Vegas Golden Knights), $5.000 million
Instead of trading Neal by the trade deadline, Vegas General Manager George McPhee held onto the veteran winger for the ride and the Golden Knights came three wins away from winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.
All season long, the 30-year-old NHL veteran came in clutch with dazzling highlight reel goals and 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) on the season in 71 games for the Knights. With a $5.000 million cap hit, Neal’s value could skyrocket– thanks to supply and demand– or stay around the same and provide a Cup contending team with the necessary offense and depth to get them over the hump.
T-10) C/RW Mikhail Grabovski (Vegas Golden Knights), $5.000 million
Career-ending concussion related issues prevented Grabovski, 34, from suiting up with the Golden Knights in their inaugural season as Vegas utilized his $5.000 million cap hit to surpass the salary cap floor.