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.
28-40-14, 70 points, last in the Eastern Conference
Subtractions: W Beau Bennett (signed with STL), F Mike Cammalleri (signed with LAK), W Patrik Elias (retired), F Jacob Josefson (signed with BUF), D Jonathon Merrill (drafted by VGK), W Devante Smith-Pelly (signed with WSH)
Offseason Analysis: Ignoring the lockout-shortened seasons of 1994-’95 and 2012-‘13, last year’s 70-point effort was the Devils’ worst campaign since 1988-’89. That ensuing draft, New Jersey selected future four-time All-Star RW Bill Guerin, who eventually contributed 11 points in the Devils’ 1995 run to the Stanley Cup – including an assist on C Neal Broten’s Cup-clinching goal.
Especially in light of recent draft standouts at the center position (think Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, etc.), General Manager Ray Shero is hoping last year’s struggles that allowed him to draft Hischier with the first overall pick will yield similar results in the near future as he works to rebuild the club back to the level of success it’s experienced for most of the past three decades.
The speedy Swiss 18-year-old brings 38-48-86 totals from his time with QMJHL side Halifax last year, but he alone won’t be enough to significantly improve the third-worst offense in the league. That’s where former first-rounder Johansson and his career-high 24-34-58 totals from a season ago with the Capitals comes into play. Since both C Jesper Boqvist and W Fabian Zetterlund – the Devils’ second and third selections in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft – are expected to spend at least one more season in their native Sweden, it’ll be up to them to spearhead any attacking improvements for Head Coach John Hynes’ club alongside Taylor Hall (20-33-53) and Kyle Palmieri (26-27-53), last season’s co-leaders in points for the team.
Since the addition of 2017 Hobey Baker Award winner D Will Butcher on August 27, the situation along Jersey’s blue line could be evolving even though the Devils did little more than draft D Reilly Walsh with their second third-round pick, but it remains to be seen if Butcher will join Captain Andy Greene and co. on the senior team or if he’ll be assigned to Binghamton on AHL assignment.
Of note in this situation are the contracts, or lack thereof, of two Devils defensemen of the same mold: 26-year-old John Moore (12-10-22) and 23-year-old Damon Severson (3-28-31). Moore will be an unrestricted free agent following this season, while Severson is currently a restricted free agent. Should the Devils be unable to agree to terms with Severson – which would seem unlikely, given their almost $18 million in cap space – Butcher would be a lock to make Jersey’s 23-man roster, if not earn regular playing time. And in the predictable case Severson remains with the Devils, Butcher would almost certainly be an improvement over D Dalton Prout, who is eligible to be demoted to the AHL without hitting the waiver wire.
The same two goaltenders return from last year, and Cory Schneider – co-winner of the 2011 William M. Jennings Trophy – will be expected to return to his previous form. For his entire NHL career, Schneider has managed a .922 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, but those numbers fell to .908 and 2.82 last season. In large part, that may have been due to his defense allowing 31.4 shots to reach his crease per game (tied for ninth-worst in the NHL), but he cannot expect that to change given the Devils’ inactivity in changing personnel along the blue line. If New Jersey plans to end its rebuild now (*hint* it shouldn’t), it will have to fall on Schneider to shore up the defensive end.
Unfortunately, I don’t expect Devils fans to witness immediate progress noticeable in a final score. Instead, they should be looking for improved fundamentals from all skaters, a rebound season for Schneider and another solid entry draft to shore up the defensive corps. Rasmus Dahlin or Jared McIsaac, anyone?
Offseason Grade: B
Make no doubt about it: the Devils are in full rebuild mode and would be unwise to believe they are retooled enough to emerge from the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season. But, they have made many of the right steps in improving their forward corps with talented youths and could begin making their resurgence in a few years if they stick with #TheProcess.
Let’s watch ourselves some hockey tonight. While the selection is small at only three games, there’s some quality matchups being contested, starting with Anaheim at Columbus at 7 p.m. Half an hour later, Ottawa visits Buffalo (SN/TVAS), followed by Chicago at St. Louis (NBCSN), this evening’s nightcap.
- Anaheim at Columbus: Jared Boll was a Blue Jacket for the last nine seasons, but he now finds himself sitting on the opposite bench.
- Ottawa at Buffalo: It seems like every game for Buffalo has been a rivalry, of late. Tonight’s contest against Ottawa is another one.
- Chicago at St. Louis: Another rivalry only magnified by last season’s playoff meeting.
Oh… That’s all the games going on this evening. Like I said, you can’t go wrong with whichever game you choose to watch tonight.
As far as the game DtFR will focus on, I’m leaning towards the Anaheim–Columbus game since Boll will only play in Nationwide Arena once this year, and we’re a little partial to him for sharing Charlotte, N.C. as our hometown.
Columbus selected the right wing 101st in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He notched 40+ points in three of his four junior seasons, but Boll turned out to not be quite the striker in the pros. Like many before him who have suffered the same fate, he turned to his physical play to continue to earn a spot on the Jackets‘ roster and a paycheck.
Over his nine seasons in Columbus, Boll threw 967 hits – 107.4 per season and 1.9 per game. That translated into 1195 minutes in the penalty box – 132.8 minutes per season and 2.31 minutes per game. For those of you that don’t like stats and numbers, this set – especially the penalty minutes – screams an enforcer position.
This offseason, Boll signed with Anaheim, who currently sits at 6-5-2. What has been most-impressive about the Ducks this season has been their defense, which has allowed only 30 goals against.
John Gibson has started in net for all but three of the Ducks‘ games, and has earned a 5-4-0 record on a .914 save percentage and 2.43 GAA.
Not very good numbers.
It has been the blue line that has stood strong. Anaheim has allowed only 378 shots to reach Gibson and co. in 13 games. Limiting opposing offenses to only 29.1 shots per game is an impressive move, given that the average team in the league allow 30.2 per game. Sami Vatanen has led the charge with 29 blocks to his credit, but he is the only Duck with more than 20. I’ve said it every time I’ve featured Anaheim, but the remainder of the blue line needs to protect their young goaltender if they want to find success.
What has kept Anaheim alive offensively has been their strong power play. Successful on 27.9% of attempts, the Ducks have the third-best man-advantage in the league and should be feared. Ryan Kesler has led the special teams with four power play goals to his credit.
Columbus enters the night with a 5-3-2 record. Just like Anaheim, the Blue Jackets have been finding success on the defensive end by allowing only 21 goals.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been playing out of his mind so far this season, earning a 5-3-1 record in his nine starts. His three losses haven’t entirely been his fault though, as he owns a season .947 save percentage and 1.79 GAA – both ranking top-six in the league among goaltenders that have played three or more games. Even more impressive is the fact that he faces an average of 33.3 shots per game, well above the league average.
It will be interesting to see if Bobrovsky can continue his stellar play as the season progresses and if the Jackets could by buyers at the deadline – but hey, that’s still four months away!
One place the Jackets don’t need to improve at right now is their power play. The Ducks‘ is good, but Columbus‘ 39.3% success rate is way better. In fact, it’s best in the league, beating second-best Philly by 11%. Cam Atkinson has lead the charge for the Blue Jackets on the power play, notching four extra-man goals.
The penalty kill has also been extremely good for the Jackets. Columbus has found themselves in the penalty box 32 times this season, but they’ve refused to yield a goal on 90.6% of those attempts for the second-best rate in the league.
Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Anaheim‘s Jonathan Bernier (.939 save percentage [sixth-best in the NHL] for a 2.03 GAA [ninth-best in the league]) and Ryan Getzlaf (11 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]) & Columbus‘ Bobrovsky (three shutouts [tied for most in the league] on a .947 save percentage [fourth-best in the NHL] for a 1.79 GAA [fifth-best in the league]) and Alexander Wennberg (11 assists [tied for second-most in the NHL]).
Vegas has marked Columbus as a -119 favorite coming into tonight’s game. Going back to last season, I don’t know if I’ve ever favored the Jackets before in this series, but I agree with the odds-makers. Columbus is a hot team right now, being opportunistic and refusing to yield opposing tallies. It will be interesting to see if this is just a hot streak or a real threat in the Eastern Conference.
- Bill Guerin (1970-) – Over 18 seasons, Guerin played 1263 games at right wing, most of which – 30.1%, in fact – were with the Devils, the team that drafted him fifth overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. He’s hoisted the Stanley Cup three times, most recent of which was last season as Assistant General Manager for Pittsburgh.
- Carl Gunnarsson (1986) – The Swedish defender of the St. Louis Blues, the team he’s playing his third season with. Tonight will be his 447th career game, and he’ll be looking for his second point of the season this evening against Chicago.
A late Canadiens goal was the difference in yesterday’s Game of the Day, leading them to a 3-2 victory over the arch-rival Bruins.
After no goals were struck in the first frame, the Habs broke the draw with a power play slap shot from Shea Weber (Andrei Markov and Tomas Plekanec) 3:58 after resuming play. That lead lasted only 50 seconds before Colin Miller scored an unassisted wrister to level the score for Boston. The third-and-final goal of the second frame was struck at the 5:08 mark, 20 seconds after Miller’s, when Alex Galchenyuk‘s (Alexander Radulov and Second Star of the Game Paul Byron) backhand found the back of the net to give the Canadiens a 2-1 lead they would take into the second intermission.
The score was tied once again 6:38 into the final frame when Third Star David Pastrnak (John-Michael Liles and Brad Marchand) scored a power play slap shot. The Bruins nearly forced overtime, but Byron’s (Galchenyuk and Radulov) backhander with 62 seconds remaining earned Montréal two more points in the standings to further cement their spot at the top of the league.
Montréal‘s Game of the Day victory is their fourth out of four appearances and the second-straight for the home team in the series. It improves the home squads’ record to 17-10-3 and expands their lead over the roadies to eight points.