Tag Archives: Blue Jackets

October 7 – Day Four – Here comes the Bread Man

One of my favorite days of the hockey calendar is finally upon us: Opening Saturday.

What could possibly be so awesome about this day, you ask? Take a look at today’s schedule. With the exception of the Boston Bruins, every single club is in action today.

The festivities start at 2 p.m. when Colorado visits New Jersey (SN), but the real meat of the day starts at 7 p.m. when seven fixtures (the New York Rangers at Toronto [CBC], Detroit at Ottawa [SN1], Tampa Bay at Florida, Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Nashville at Pittsburgh [NHLN], Montréal at Washington [CITY/TVAS] and Minnesota at Carolina) drop the puck. Dallas at St. Louis joins the mix at 8 p.m., trailed 30 minutes later by Columbus at Chicago and Vegas at Arizona at 9 p.m. A trio of games (Edmonton at Vancouver [CBC], Philadelphia at Anaheim and Winnipeg at Calgary [CITY/SN1]) get the West Coast involved at 10 p.m., followed half an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: Los Angeles at San Jose. All times Eastern.

There’s a compelling reason to watch almost every game. Here are just a few I thought of…

  • New York at Toronto: It’s an Original Six matchup. Do I really need to say more?
  • Tampa Bay at Florida: If you like intrastate rivalries, this is the game for you.
  • Nashville at Pittsburgh: Oh, you know, just a Stanley Cup Finals rematch. No biggie.
  • Montréal at Washington: It’s homecoming for D Karl Alzner!
  • Dallas at St. Louis: Head Coach Ken Hitchcock spent the last six seasons with the Blues. Now, he’s back with his ex in Dallas.
  • Columbus at Chicago: After being traded from the Hawks this offseason, LW Artemi Panarin is so amped for this game.
  • Winnipeg at Calgary: It’s old-timey rivalry night in Alberta.
  • Los Angeles at San Jose: If you like intrastate rivalries that actually matter, this is the game for you.

Like I said, there’s a compelling reason to watch almost every game.

However, this is the “Game of the Day” series, not the “Games of the Day.” I already broke that rule on Opening Day, so I can’t do it again today.

With that in mind, I’m leaning towards making our first visit of the year to the Windy City.

 

That Stanley Cup rematch was tempting, but we’ll let both squads find their form before they tangle in The Music City a month from now.

Of course, no matter how much I sell this game on the superior action between the two squads, there’s two players in particular that will garner all the attention: Columbus’ Panarin and Chicago’s W Brandon Saad.

Saad, originally drafted 43rd-overall by the Blackhawks in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, is now in his second stint with the team after being traded from Columbus for Panarin, an undrafted Russian that looks like he can solidify the Jackets’ position near the top of the Eastern Conference for the next 10 years – at least.

Both players played vital roles for their now-former teams last season. The Bread Man registered a lowly 31-43-74 effort in 2016-’17 after posting 30-47-77 numbers during his rookie campaign, while Saad managed 24-29-53 totals last season in Columbus.

Based on those numbers alone and considering Saad has never posted more than 53 points in a season in his five full NHL seasons, it’s safe to say that the Blue Jackets won this trade on ice. But, in a league ruled by a salary cap, one of the most important numbers has a dollar sign associated with it. Both players will earn $6 million for every year they’re under contract, but Saad’s four-year deal is two seasons longer than Panarin’s.

Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks’ general manager, is fully aware that Panarin is the superior left wing of the two, but he also knows that because of that very fact, the Russian’s salary is going to skyrocket the day he has the opportunity to test free agency. That’s why he opted to go the more fiscally-responsible option in Saad, an option with which he’s won two Stanley Cups.

All that being said, I still think Columbus won this trade. We’ll have a final answer when we see how much bread Panarin is bringing home in 2019-’20.

If you can manage to take your eyes off those two players, you should witness quite a game between two solid teams. The Blue Jackets shut out the Islanders 5-0 yesterday at Nationwide Arena with goals from LW Sonny Milano, RW Cam Atkinson, D Ryan Murray, D Zach Werenski and F Pierre-Luc Dubois – not to mention a perfect performance by G Sergei Bobrovsky on 29 shots faced.

Of course, even that incredible effort pales in comparison to the Hawks’ annihilation of the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Penguins Thursday. Led by a hat trick from – who would’ve guessed – Saad in his first game back in a red sweater, Chicago exploded to a statement 10-1 victory.

Both clubs enter this game with high confidence and higher aspirations for their seasons. In fact, if we break out the standings tiebreakers, these are the top teams in their respective conferences. I expect a highly competitive game, but am leaning towards Chicago winning due to the Jackets playing last night and having to travel.


The Vegas Golden Knights saw the numbers about franchises making their regular season debuts and told statisticians to shove ’em, as they beat the Dallas Stars 2-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day series.

Who woulda thunk it?

In fact, it wasn’t simply a win by an expansion team, but a come-from-behind victory. With 2:59 remaining in the second period, F Tyler Seguin (F Devin Shore and D John Klingberg) tipped-in a power play to give the Stars the advantage with only 22:59 of action remaining.

Then Third Star of the Game W James Neal happened. Assisted by D Nate Schmidt and D Luca Sbisa, he scored his first goal with 9:33 remaining in regulation to level the game at one goal apiece.

But he wasn’t done. Neal followed up that marker with what proved to be the game-winning goal with 2:44 remaining in regulation. Assisted by former Star C Cody Eakin and D Jason Garrison, Neal dropped to both knees in the slot to elevate his wrist shot to the far post over G Kari Lehtonen, securing the Knights’ first-ever victory.

First Star G Marc-Andre Fleury earned his first victory in a non-Penguins sweater by saving 45-of-46 shots faced (.978 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen who saved nine-of-11 (.818). Lehtonen replaced starter G Ben Bishop four minutes into the third period after being cut by a shot from W Reilly Smith, forcing him to be pulled and receive medical attention. Bishop had saved all 19 shots he faced before leaving the game.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are off to an impressive start, as they have a three-point advantage on hosts with their 3-1-0 record.

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

How Not to Negotiate–with Darren Ferris

When last we left off, I was discussing the stalemates with Matt Duchene in Colorado and Josh Anderson in Columbus (See here). One thing I failed to mention in that article was the role for Darren Ferris in the situation–don’t do something dumb that makes the possibility of a trade for your client worse.  Now, there are things Ferris could do to try and nudge things along such as following through on the threat that Anderson would spend the season in Switzerland (even though we all know that is a horrible result for his client unless he values chocolate and watches more than actual money).  That wouldn’t have materially altered the playing field, but it would have given an impression that Ferris was serious about his threat.

The absolute dumbest thing Ferris could do is make a public trade demand.  Why is this a really bad idea from a negotiations standpoint?  Let me count the ways.  For one thing, it is a clear dominance move.  Either the other person gives into the trade demand or you end up withdrawing the trade demand.  The public is going to know that one side or the other caved.  You will note that Duchene and his agent, Pat Brisson (also agent for Alexander Wennberg), have never made a public trade demand even though Brisson sure looked excitable at this year’s NHL draft.  It now seems obvious why they didn’t–Duchene wasn’t going to risk the possibility of not playing at all and losing salary in the process to try and force a trade.  As I’ve thought about it more, given that Joe Sakic‘s pride seems to be playing a part in his decisions regarding Duchene, this was probably the right move because I don’t know that Sakic would take kindly to a demand that would make him look weak.

Now, what do we know about Jarmo Kekäläinen and how he deals with negotiations?  We know he didn’t cave to Ryan Johansen and his agent, Kurt Overhardt, when they made lofty contract demands despite the fact that Johansen was probably the most important player on the team at, arguably, the most important position.  We know that he didn’t cave to Wennberg and Brisson even though, again, the player in question was slotted to be his number one center.  This isn’t someone who rolls over simply because of posturing or theatrics.  So, how was he likely to address a public trade demand based on his history?  Does it seem likely Kekäläinen would give into such a demand or stand firm in the face of it?  The latter seems more likely.

So, we have a sense that Kekäläinen’s initial reaction would be to refuse to trade Anderson.  What about Ferris’ own position in this game of chicken?  Again, as I pointed out in the last article, his position is very weak.  This move doesn’t improve his leverage in any way.  In fact, his position is weaker than Brisson’s with Duchene because a trade demand by Duchene could spark a public outcry to trade Duchene and/or for Sakic to be fired by the owners.  We saw this exact scenario play out with Rick Nash and Scott Howson.  To be clear, the Jackets fan protest proceeded Nash’s trade demand becoming public, but Howson’s precarious position and the team’s need to rebuild worked to Nash’s advantage.

Is there going to be an outcry for Kekäläinen to be fired a few months removed from the best season in Jackets history?  Hardly.  Is there going to be a public demand for Anderson to be traded?  Maybe, but fans aren’t going to demand that the player be traded just to be traded; they are going to expect a good return.

Which gets us to the next problem–a public trade demand might make Anderson harder to trade or diminish the return.  The demand may make Anderson harder to trade because a GM is only acquiring Anderson’s rights and would still have to get Ferris to accept a final deal.  Is there a GM that is willing to cave to Ferris’ demands because they want the player badly enough?  Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  We’re talking about a player who really has only one NHL season of experience.  I’m not convinced other GMs are any more willing to give Anderson the two-year deal he seems to be after so that he can get arbitration rights as soon as possible, particularly given the player and agent’s current negotiating tactics.  Additionally, other GMs will now view the Jackets as being in a position where they have to trade the player and they will be looking to get a deal.

Colorado is the team that could be the exception since they have their own situation where they need to trade a player, but, again, the public demand creates the impression that the Jackets are giving into the demands of the player and the agent, complicating an already complicated situation.

Fortunately, if this was meant to be a public demand, Ferris botched it just enough to give the sides some wiggle room.  Indeed, Kekäläinen has already made a statement that he wasn’t aware of such demand and Ferris has seemingly walked away from going public with the demand, instead giving a vague statement about continuing to negotiate.

Ferris is playing with fire.  He has been fortunate to this point in his negotiations with Red Wings GM Ken Holland that Holland hasn’t put him on blast for his tactics in the negotiations for Andreas Athanasiou including-wait for it-threatening to take the player overseas.  Being taken to task by one of the longest-tenured GMs in the league would probably not be a positive for Ferris’ future as an agent.  As it is, being the only agent with two failed restricted free agent negotiations isn’t exactly a feather in his cap.  And, let’s not forget, just last year in the Tobias Rieder negotiations Ferris sent an e-mail that stated “I think it would be best for both parties if they just traded him.” Rieder would later re-sign with the Coyotes, so apparently he changed his mind. This is an agent who largely represents lesser talents who keeps trying to make a name for himself in the worst ways possible.

Keep in mind, Ferris isn’t exactly loved by some of his fellow agents.  When he left Don Meehan’s Newport Sports Management group, a suit followed including allegations that Ferris misrepresented ties with players and slandered his prior employer.  He later left Bobby Orr‘s agency to start ARC Sports Group.  He’s since formed Definitive Hockey Group, apparently as successor to ARC Sports Group.  When you see a guy who so routinely pulls out over-the-top tactics and who seems to constantly be looking for a new job, you have to start to question his skill as a negotiator and, frankly, his ethics.  In any event, his standard operating procedure of threatening a player will leave for Europe/Russia and demanding a trade through the press is getting old with NHL GMs.  But, for the sake of entertainment, I’d love to see him try that with Lou Lamoriello (Ferris’ most high-profile client is Mitch Marner).

Ferris needs to tow the line.  If a trade can’t be made, he needs to stop harming his client and sign the deal that has been offered.  The team can always facilitate a trade later on when the mess Ferris created has died down.  This was another misplayed bluff by an agent with a history of them.

Columbus, Duchene, Anderson and the Delicate Art of Negotiations

The first games of NHL pre-season have come and gone and Matt Duchene still is a member of the Colorado Avalanche, despite Duchene being the most visible asset on the trade market and possibly the best player available dating back to the middle point of the 2016-17 season.  Meanwhile, Josh Anderson, after having one solid campaign in the bottom six for Columbus remains one of two unsigned, restricted free agents. How is this possible?

Both instances show the delicate balance in negotiating a deal. I’m not an NHL GM, but I play one on the Internet.  When I’m not doing that, as a lawyer, I spend my days negotiating deals.  There are many different negotiating styles, but there are certain basic principles of negotiations that are important regardless of style.  Most people are at least familiar with the concept of leverage—the idea that parties in the negotiation have different strengths and weaknesses based on their circumstances.  However, there is a more basic concept that should ultimately guide parties in a negotiation, which I’ll refer to as “BATNA”—the best alternative to a negotiated agreement.  To be clear, this isn’t something I created, it goes back to the Harvard Negotiation Project and the book Getting to Yes.

BATNA is, in short, the best result you can achieve if negotiations fail. A rational negotiator won’t accept an offer that falls short of their BATNA because they are better off not closing the deal.  In the Duchene trade talks we have heard a lot about how Joe Sakic can just keep Matt Duchene.  To this point, that is exactly what he’s done.  The party line is that if Duchene has a good year, Sakic will see offers improve and so he is reasonable to hold out for a deal equivalent to what he thinks he can get if Duchene’s play improve.

However, this isn’t a fair understanding of how BATNA works. Sakic also has to consider other factors.  For example, if Duchene has another poor year, how would that impact his trade value?  If Sakic can’t trade him until next offseason (more on this below), how would that impact his trade value?  What if Duchene gets injured?  What if other comparable or better players come onto the trade market in the interim (ex. John Tavares or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins)?  What if the trade pool shrinks as some teams address their need at center internally or because a team no longer has the asset Sakic wants to complete the deal?

Sakic’s worst case BATNA is pretty bad. If Duchene has a poor season (not improbable on a team as bad as the Avalanche) or gets injured (not uncommon in the NHL), Duchene’s value could go down to close to zero.  If John Tavares and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are suddenly on the market with Duchene, demand for Duchene will decrease even if he otherwise has a good year.  If teams like Columbus find an internal solution for their current needs at center (not unthinkable for Columbus in particular because of the presence of Pierre-Luc Dubois), the market for Duchene could take a further hit. We’ve already seen Nashville’s interest diminish as they lost the depth at defenseman they needed to complete a deal.  Keeping Duchene beyond training camp is risky business.

Now, let’s look at the case of Josh Anderson and his agent, Darren Ferris. Anderson had a nice year, but trailed off as the season moved on.  He has no arbitration rights.  He would seem to justify a deal less than Connor Brown, who just got a deal for $2.1 million/year over three years.  It’s unclear exactly where the parties are at other than a report that suggested the Jackets have given Anderson two options—a one year deal at his qualifying offer and a three year deal of “less than $1.9 million” (which sounds like agent speak for $1.85 million).  That second option sounds pretty close to market.  Yet, Anderson continues to hold out and his agent is now threatening that his player will play in Switzerland and then the Olympics.

When we look at Anderson’s BATNA, it becomes obvious that this is either a bluff, or an incredibly foolish move by Ferris. Anderson’s salary in Switzerland is likely to be a maximum of $500,000.  Even Anderson’s qualifying offer is higher than that.  And what does Anderson gain by spending a season in Switzerland? Nothing.  He still won’t obtain arbitration rights.  What if he has a poor season in Europe, in a subpar league, or gets injured?  What if Milano, or Abramov or some other Jackets prospect simply takes Anderson’s roster spot and makes him expendable?  The bottom line is that the Jackets negotiating position won’t get worse, but Anderson’s certainly could.

Sometimes pride can get in the way of making a deal. This is almost always a bad idea.  As an attorney, I may come to hate the attorney on the other side, but it is my job to do what is best for my client regardless of those feelings.  Sakic and Ferris need to think about the best interest of their “clients”—the Colorado Avalanche and Josh Anderson.  Sakic needs to make a move on Duchene now rather than risk finding his return further diminished.  Ferris needs to get his client a deal that keeps him in the NHL and doesn’t waste hundreds of thousands of dollars for nothing.

Another piece of negotiating advice that a former partner who practiced in the bankruptcy arena once gave was “always give the other side enough money for cab fare home.” What does that mean?  It means that when you are the party with superior leverage, it is important to afford the other side some amount of dignity in “defeat.”

Jarmo Kekäläinen is in a position to potentially resolve both of these issues in one move, but to do it he will have to give the other sides money for cab fare home. For Sakic, that will mean giving him something that he previously asked for in negotiations and was denied—Anderson.  In the most recent 31 Thoughts column by Elliotte Friedman, he stated:  “It is believed, for example, that Colorado asked for [Anderson] in Matt Duchene talks, only to be rejected.” The status of the negotiations between Columbus and Anderson have created an opening for the two parties to re-engage in discussions of a trade that would include Anderson.  Sakic, in turn, will have to accept Ryan Murray instead of Gabriel Carlsson.  I get why Sakic wants the younger player and I don’t think it has as much to do with perceived skill as time horizons for being competitive and control of the player through contract, but he can’t expect to get a Anderson AND a player on an entry-level contract.  It seems likely that a pick would be a part of the deal, with the possibility that a pick might come back to the Jackets to even things out.  I’d also consider the possibility of adding a player like Dean Kukan given the lack of organizational depth on the blueline for the Avs.  Sakic can crow that he got “4 assets” as he initially set out to do (even if he also sends an asset back) and he can proclaim that the moment that the deal came together was when Anderson was added.  People will praise Sakic for holding out to get what a better deal though no one will ever know for sure what other deals were passed up along the way or pulled off the table.  Sakic will get the left defenseman he needs and a player who could put up 20 plus goals if moved into the Avs top 6, essentially replacing Duchene’s production from last season.  He’ll have both on reasonable terms for years to come.

And what of Darren Ferris? He may well end up signing the exact same deal that Jarmo already offered his client in Colorado, but the public will be none the wiser since Jarmo has never gone public to say what that offer was.  He may not like dealing with Jarmo, but he should also respect the fact that Jarmo didn’t make a fool of him in the newspapers, which he certainly could have.

Meanwhile, the Jackets shore up their depth at center, while giving some of their depth on defense. Defensive depth is always something that can be added at the trade deadline (particularly the bottom pair), so it is a reasonable trade-off.  Is it a lot to give up?  Yes.  Is the team closer to being a contender after the trade?  Also, yes.  The longer the Anderson situation plays out, the more this option could and should be considered by the Jackets.  The question then is whether Sakic can see a trade with this sort of framework for what it is—the best offer he is likely to obtain that minimizes the negative effects of his best alternative to a trade.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2017-2018 Season Preview

Columbus Blue Jackets Logo

Columbus Blue Jackets

50–24–8, 108 Points, 3rd in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Pittsburgh

Additions: D Andre Benoit, D Cameron Gaunce, F Tyler Motte, F Artemi Panarin, F Jordan Schroeder, D Doyle Somerby

Subtractions: F David Clarkson (Traded to Vegas), G Oscar Dansk (Signed with Vegas), G Anton Forsberg (Traded to Chicago), F Sam Gagner (Signed with Vancouver), F William Karlsson (Claimed by Vegas in the 2017 Expansion Draft), D Kyle Quincey (Signed with Minnesota), F Brandon Saad (Traded to Chicago), D Ryan Stanton (Signed with Edmonton), F T.J. Tynan (Signed with Vegas)

Offseason Analysis: As the 2017-2018 season approaches, one club that people are keeping their eyes on are the Columbus Blue Jackets. Although that comes as a surprise to many, Blue Jackets faithful know the quality product that their team can put on the ice. If anything, they certainly have created many high expectations for themselves, with a roster that seems poised to repeat regular season success.  *If you didn’t catch the bold font, please re-read the above sentence and note the specific terminology*

The Blue Jackets, entering the league as an expansion team in 2000, have now reached the playoffs three times, including two trips in the last four years. Although they did not achieve playoff success, the 2016-2017 season was still the best in franchise history, as they eclipsed the 100-point marker for the first time. The sixteen-game winning streak the team managed looked pretty and filled the seats at Nationwide Arena, but it left many wanting more. They slowed down (basically like a freight train screeching to a halt) and crawled into the playoffs, where they were beaten by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was seemingly a two-part tale to the season, so which Columbus Blue Jackets team will we see this year?

The front office wanted to make some noise, but at the same time, not create too much change. They achieved their goal when they acquired young star, Artemi Panarin, which forced them to send a talented Brandon Saad back to Chicago after only a couple years with the Blue Jackets. Forwards Tyler Motte and Jordan Schroeder will also be making moves to the Buckeye State, but they may be searching for homes in Cleveland rather than in Columbus. Both players have NHL and AHL experience, but they will need to compete for a full-time roster spot, not to mention ice time. The remaining three additions, all defensemen, could assist the already well-rounded corps, but it will probably be in the form of call-ups. Although doubtful at this point, one looming deal could still take place as the season nears (COME ON SAKIC, MAKE A DEAL… sorry, impulsive reaction). Other than that, the front office will take their current roster and hope to still be playing hockey in June.

So where does this leave the Blue Jackets? They will rely heavily on the talents of three award-winners this past season; Head Coach John Tortorella, Captain Nick Foligno, and especially goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. If Bob can remain healthy and put together another Vezina-quality season, the net will be secured. It will also be interesting to watch the production of the ‘Bread Man’ and see his results with a new team and line-mates. Panarin is motivated by critics who say he was simply riding the coat-tails of Kane back in Chicago.

Lastly, is this defense capable of winning a Presidents’ Trophy or Stanley Cup? They have steadily improved and now have great depth at the position, including talented, puck-moving defensemen like Zach Werenski and Seth Jones.

Offseason Grade: B-

Is this the year Columbus can make a big push? Although it seems doubtful, its honestly the closest they have ever been. After some early struggles, they have built their team the right way and are now solid in net and both ends of the ice. They need to act quickly, as contract renewals and the salary cap could hurt them in the near future. Players surely remember getting taken out by their rivals early in the playoffs, who eventually went on to hoist the cup, and have something to prove this season (boy, their first game with the Pens will be fun to watch). They also understand the high expectations from management, coaches, and the fans. The recipe is there, so let’s see if the Jackets can get something cooking.

NHL Schedule Analysis

Welcome to Down the Frozen River’s first-ever attempt at offering some schedule analysis of the upcoming NHL season.

I know what you’re thinking: these types of columns are usually associated with the NFL and not the NHL – or any other league, for that matter, where all teams play at least once per season. But when and where different clubs appear on the  schedule can still play a big role in a team’s success. An important home stand or an ill-timed extended road trip can determine if a club is a buyer or seller at the trade deadline, make or break a squad’s chances for playoff qualification in March or affect seeding in April.

For starters, I’d like to explain how I approach the season. Maybe it’s my varying degrees of affection for the NFL (the only other Big Four league in the United States that uses bye weeks), but I view a campaign in thirds.

Thirds?

Yes, thirds. They may not be perfect thirds, but each section takes on its own characteristics. Take a look at how the NFL arranges its 16-game, 17-week season. For example, during the 2017 season, the NFL’s byes will begin in Week 5 and extend to Week 11, effectively cutting the season into approximate thirds: (1) Weeks 1-4 featuring no byes, (2) Weeks 5-11 and (3) Weeks 12-17 (Week 12 corresponds with American Thanksgiving and the following Sunday/Monday, just to put things in perspective).

Now lets take that approach to the 2017-’18 NHL season, a campaign featuring 82 games for each of its 31 clubs. With the regular season beginning October 4, most teams will play approximately 21 games before American Thanksgiving, another 41 before the trade deadline and 20 to close out the season.

Pretty close to thirds, right? Well, maybe it’s fourths but the middle two are combined… Whatever. My degree isn’t in math.

But regardless of what they are, what do they mean?

Well, if you buy into the stat that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time, that proves how important a quick start can be. If nothing else, it is certainly an early barometer of which teams are good and which should already be making plans for the 2018-’19 campaign.

Speaking of plans, that leads us to the second part of the season. It involves Christmas Break, the Winter Classic, bye weeks (more on those in a minute) and, of course, the All-Star Weekend in Tampa. Those are all fun and exciting, but most important are the transactions between clubs at this time, as contenders try to shore up chinks in their armor and the lesser clubs (*cough* Colorado *cough*) prepare for the future. This almost ho-hum, business-as-usual state of play is status quo for most of the season, which makes sense why this section is double the games of the other two phases of the year.

Then comes the final push. With the exception of the playoffs, this is some of the most exciting hockey of the season – night in, night out. Almost every game matters not only for playoff qualification and seeding, but also for fully integrating those deadline acquisitions before April 7,  the final day of the regular season, comes to a close.

Having more or less games in comparison to the rest of the league in any of the three sections can have its positives and negatives, but they’re impossible to predict given the unpredictability of hot or cold streaks, injuries and even the weather issues the league has had to deal with the past few years.

Another thing to keep in mind is the still relatively new change to the schedule: the addition of bye weeks. Making their debut only a season ago, the league has done a little tweaking to when each teams’ breaks occur on the calendar.

Last year, the first bye weeks began as early as New Year’s Day when the Islanders and Penguins began their five- and seven-day breaks, respectively, but Anaheim – the last club to take its 2017 hiatus – did not complete its vacation until early March.

What resulted was just over two months of action where fans had to keep track of which clubs had already taken their breaks and which hadn’t and trying to calculate how that affected the standings.

Sound like too much effort? Don’t worry, the league thought so too. This year, all bye weeks will take place in the span of two weeks in January, just before the All-Star Break.

I’m intrigued by this decision. With last year’s setup, the volume of games in a given week did not seem to change enough to be noticeable – which is good. Everybody wants to watch games all the time. But as I mentioned before, 2017’s situation required media, fans and teams to stay on top of which sides had or had not taken their week off.

Although condensing the bye week-schedule resolves that problem, it may also create a lull in the season only two weeks after Christmas Break and a week before the All-Star Break by having only 15 teams active at a time, potentially making January an overall anemic month. We’ll have to wait and see if that is the case, but if my prediction proves correct the NHL might have to find a happy medium between the two formats.

Perhaps the original reason the league condensed the bye week schedule was to account for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, but that is no longer the case as the NHL has elected not to release its players to their national federations for the February 10-25 tournament. Though some players have said they intend to participate in the tournament regardless of the NHL’s decision to abstain (whether they actually do or not remains to be seen), everyone’s favorite international tournament will certainly have a different flair – especially involving the rosters of usual favorites: Canada and the USA.

The last final major date on the calendar is always the previously hinted at trade deadline. This year, the deadline is scheduled for February 26 at the usual 3 p.m. Eastern time. Like most Mondays, the schedule is fairly light that evening with only five contests taking place (Washington at Columbus, Philadelphia at Montréal, Toronto at Tampa Bay, Vancouver at Colorado and  Vegas at Los Angeles).

After last year’s Cody McLeod episode that featured him fighting and scoring against the Avalanche only a day after being being traded from that very team (he didn’t even leave Denver, instead meeting up with the Predators when they arrived in town), I’m looking forward to even more excitement at this deadline.

For those that enjoy the days where every team is in action, I regret to inform you that the addition of Vegas has made that impossible. Instead, you’ll have to settle for dates that feature 15 contests and leave one club inactive.

Five such days exist this season: October 7 (first Saturday of the season), November 22 (day before American Thanksgiving), December 23 (day before Christmas Eve), January 25 (day before the All-Star Break) and April 7. On those dates, don’t expect to catch Boston, St. Louis, Calgary, Los Angeles or Pittsburgh – respectively – as they’ll be just as glued to their televisions as you will be, taking in all the day’s action.

ANAHEIM DUCKS – Campbell Cup runner-up, 105 points

Don’t tell anybody, but the Ducks have won the Pacific Division for five straight seasons. The main reason? An impressive 29-8-4 record at the Pond last season. But don’t let that distract you from a blemish growing in the Ducks’ armor: the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead they’re only 17-15-9 outside Orange County. That road trip to end November just so happens to occur right after Edmonton finishes a five-game home stand, meaning Anaheim may be forced to hold serve within the Pacific Division in an uncomfortable position.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (November 7-19)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 25-December 5)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, at Calgary, at Winnipeg, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Dallas and at Arizona

ARIZONA COYOTES – 28th, 70 points

Remember in high school when the football team’s weakest opponent always aligned with homecoming? Keep that in mind when you realize that the Coyotes get to help the Golden Knights open T-Mobile Arena. Also keep in mind Arizona was 12-24-5 away from home last year.

BYE WEEK: January 7-11 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (February 15-March 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in nine days (March 21-29)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Buffalo, at Carolina, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, at Vegas, at Los Angeles, vs. St. Louis, at Calgary, at Vancouver and vs. Anaheim

BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Usually, rivalry series are supposed to take place over the course of an entire season. Instead, the NHL has elected to schedule all four matchups of one of its premier rivalries in the span of seven weeks, including three meetings in eight days. The Bruins should be relatively happy though, as they’ll get their bye week to prepare for their first visit to the Bell Centre and the Canadiens will have games in Washington and Brooklyn the night before their January 20 and March 3 matchups, respectively, while the Bruins get the nights off.

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 17-25)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 27-March 10)

LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, at Dallas, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay, at Florida and vs. Ottawa

BUFFALO SABRES – 26th, 78 points

Some teams simply struggle on the road. The Sabres were one of those squads last year, amassing only a 13-22-6 record away from Upstate New York. Though a four-game trip in early December doesn’t seem too taxing on the surface, Buffalo will be hard pressed to come back with more than two points as it’ll visit Pittsburgh (December 2), Colorado (December 5), Chicago (December 8) and St. Louis (December 10) before returning home to host Ottawa.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 2-10)

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, vs. Montréal, at NY Rangers, at Toronto, vs. Detroit, at Nashville, at Toronto, vs. Ottawa, at Tampa Bay and at Florida

CALGARY FLAMES – eliminated in first round, 94 points

If only one team from the Western Conference gives up its playoff spot this season, I’d bet the house on it being the Flames. Last year’s side had an unimpressive 24-17-0 home record, including a 4-7-0 start over the first two months at the Saddledome. In a cruel bit of irony, the Flames’ longest home stand begins the last weekend of October, so Glen Gulutzan will need to get his troops in order in a hurry to avoid another backwards-step season similar to 2015-16.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 27-November 13)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 15-25)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, vs. Columbus, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Winnipeg and vs. Vegas

CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 87 points

In terms of off-season moves, last year’s Predators are this year’s Hurricanes. And, just like last year, everyone will be watching the Canes’ first few games to see if their new additions will be an immediate success. Carolina will certainly be put to the test in those contests, as their opening five matchups are against Minnesota (October 7), Columbus (October 10), Winnipeg (October 14), Edmonton (October 17) and Calgary (October 19). As long as Carolina can head to its sixth game in Dallas with at least five points on the table, I have no doubt the squad can come together and be a real threat in the Metropolitan Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (December 5-15)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (January 30-February 13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Ottawa, vs. Ottawa, at New Jersey, at Washington, vs. NY Rangers, at Florida, at Philadelphia and vs. Tampa Bay

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – Central Division Champion, 109 points

The Blackhawks have not missed the playoffs since 2008, and I don’t expect that to change this year. That being said, they’ll be tested early and often this year, starting with their first eight games – all against 2017 postseason clubs. In particular, Chicago will have October 14 circled on its calendar, as it represents an opportunity for the Hawks to avenge getting swept by the Predators in April.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (December 21-January 3)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 10-24)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. St. Louis, vs. Colorado, vs. Vancouver, at NY Islanders, vs. San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, at Colorado, at St. Louis, vs. St. Louis and at Winnipeg

COLORADO AVALANCHE – 30th, 48 points

If only the schedule was the only thing holding the Avalanche back from finding success. Instead, their last five games represent a gimme two points for Chicago (March 30), Anaheim (April 1), Los Angeles (April 2), San Jose (April 5) and St. Louis (April 7) – all teams that will be finalizing either a qualification push or establishing their seeding.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (December 27-January 6)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (January 22-February 3)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Vegas, at Vegas, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Chicago, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles, at San Jose and vs. St. Louis

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 108 points

After last year’s dominant performance at the midway point of the season, Columbus won’t be taking any by surprise this campaign – especially with Artemi Panarin, 2016’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner, on the squad. The Jackets face an interesting schedule that doesn’t feature an extended West Coast trip in exchange for any home stand of much worth – their longest stay in Ohio is a measly nine days early in the season with only four games played. But, should this squad keep last year’s positive energy rolling through the summer and cash in on their frequent flyer miles, they could be the most prepared of any for a lengthy postseason and all the travel associated with it.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in nine days (October 19-27)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 2x (November 2-6; March 27-31)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Florida, vs. St. Louis, at Edmonton, at Calgary, at Vancouver, vs. Detroit, vs. Pittsburgh and at Nashville

DALLAS STARS – 24th, 79 points

A season ago, Dallas was a horrendous 12-24-5 away from the American Airlines Center. That’s what makes a potential late-season playoff push daunting, as the end of March has the Stars departing the Lone Star State for an Eastern road trip that also bizarrely includes a visit to Winnipeg in the middle. As if the travel wasn’t scary enough, all five of the Eastern opponents qualified for the playoffs last year, so Dallas would be very wise to take advantage of a fairly easy October schedule (includes Vegas, Detroit, Colorado twice, Arizona twice and Vancouver) to pad themselves some points in the standings ahead of time.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 16 days (December 29-January 13)

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 11- 20)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Winnipeg, at Washington, vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Minnesota, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, at Anaheim and at Los Angeles

DETROIT RED WINGS – 25th, 79 points

Without even acknowledging the Red Wings’ roster troubles, they’re going to be hard pressed to get back into the playoffs this year given their extended trip away from Little Caesars Arena (that’s still weird to type) at the trade deadline. Between February 25 and March 18, Hockeytown will come to life only once when the Wings host Vegas on March 8. That contest splits what could have been a 10-game, 22-day road trip against steep competition into perfect halves, just for the Wings to get back on a plane to Columbus for another road game the next day.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (November 11-22)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days – 2x (February 25-March 6; March 9-18)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, vs. Washington, at Toronto, at Montréal, vs. Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Ottawa, at Columbus, vs. Montréal and vs. NY Islanders

EDMONTON OILERS – eliminated in second round, 103 points

As if the Oilers weren’t already poised for greatness, their schedule is arranged in a way that they should be competing for the top seed in the Western Conference. Edmonton has three five-game home stands spread throughout its schedule, including one right after the Oil’s six-day bye week that also includes the All-Star Weekend. Add in the fact that their longest road trip is behind them by Thanksgiving and you find a team prepared for anything or anyone that makes the mistake of wandering into Rogers Place.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (November 18-26)

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Carolina, at Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Columbus, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Minnesota, vs. Vegas and vs. Vancouver

FLORIDA PANTHERS – 23rd, 81 points

Florida opens up its season with a home-and-home series against Governor’s Cup rival Tampa Bay before hosting St. Louis and visiting Pittsburgh. It’s a tough start to what many expect to be another disappointing season for the Panthers, especially giving their awful 19-19-3 record in Sunrise a season ago.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days – 2x (December 11-19; February 12-20)

BYE WEEK: January 13-18 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 22-March 4)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Columbus, vs. Arizona, at NY Islanders, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Carolina, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston and vs. Buffalo

LOS ANGELES KINGS – 22nd, 86 points

Especially for a club that missed out on the playoffs last year, there is nothing more exciting than seeing the Avalanche twice in the last 17 days of the season. Add in the fact that the Kings also drew Arizona in that stretch and the Kings could be a well-rested club in the first round of the playoffs – if they qualify.

BYE WEEK: January 7-12 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 12 days (February 9-20)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (March 1-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, at Colorado, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Colorado, vs. Minnesota and vs. Dallas

MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in first round, 106 points

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Scheduler gave to Minny… a tough, nine-game stretch!

Yes, I’m pretty proud of that.

In all seriousness, the Wild are certainly going to be looking forward to the three-day holiday break, as it will signal an end to the nine-game run of playing against eight playoff teams from a season ago. The gauntlet starts on December 8 in Anaheim, followed by a contest in San Jose on December 10 before returning home to host Calgary (December 12), Toronto (December 14) and Edmonton (December 16). The Wild take back to the road to play the Blackhawks (December 17), Senators (December 19), Panthers (Decmber 22) and Lightning (December 23) before hanging up their skates in exhaustion for a few days.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (October 24-November 4)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (December 17-23)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Nashville, vs. Dallas, at Dallas, vs. Edmonton, at Anaheim, at Los Angeles and at San Jose

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – Atlantic Division champion, 103 points

March is looking like its going to be a taxing month on the Canadiens, a club that could lose control of a division its won twice in the past three seasons. After the Habs close out their season two-and-a-half month series with rival Boston on March 3, they’ll have to clean up a six-game road trip that involves visits to Tampa (March 10) and Columbus (March 12), host the Penguins (March 15), travel to Toronto (March 17), Pittsburgh (March 21) and Buffalo (March 23), host the Capitals (March 24) and travel to Pittsburgh again (March 31). That’s quite a gauntlet for an aging defense.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (November 7-18)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 15 days (December 16-December 30)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, at Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, vs. Washington, vs. Detroit, at Pittsburgh, vs. New Jersey, vs. Winnipeg, at Detroit and at Toronto

NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Campbell Cup winner, 94 points

Now that the Predators have cemented themselves as one of the big players in the NHL, they’ll need to back up last year’s postseason performance with a big target on their backs. That’ll be no more apparent than in their last 10 games (see below). With the exception of Florida, all of those clubs could be fighting for a playoff spot, making Nashville’s efforts to improve its seeding a difficult affair.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (November 1-7)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (January 16-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at Winnipeg, vs. Minnesota, vs. San Jose, vs. Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at Washington and vs. Columbus

NEW JERSEY DEVILS – 27th, 70 points

Sometimes the scheduler has a cruel way of making a team a whipping post. That is the Devils’ fate over their last dozen games of the season. It’ll be no surprise that Jersey is solidly out of playoff contention by that time, but they’ll be squaring off with at least 10 teams (they play the Penguins twice) potentially in desperate need of two points to solidify a playoff spot or seed, which will make a tough season even harder for Jersey fans. Keep your heads up though, folks! Hopefully Nico Hischier can lead you back to the Promise Land!

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (December 15-29)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 14 days (March 10-23)

LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, at Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. NY Islanders, at Montréal, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Toronto and at Washington


NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 17th, 94 points

A year ago, the Islanders missed out on a playoff spot by only a point even though they ended their campaign on a six-game winning streak. The main reason? A slow, 8-10-4 start to the season (specifically a 1-6-1 road record through November) that eventually cost Jack Capuano his job. Surely Doug Weight is aware of this, so I expect him to have his club prepared for their California trip a week into the season. If the Isles aren’t up to snuff, Garth Snow may start fielding calls early.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (October 11-19)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days (December 16-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Pittsburgh, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Chicago, vs. Florida, at Ottawa, vs. Toronto, at New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, vs. NY Rangers and at Detroit

NEW YORK RANGERS – eliminated in second round, 102 points

There’s some mean scheduling going on in the Metropolitan Division this season, and that is no more apparent than with the Rangers. The Blueshirts play their last regular season game at Madison Square Garden on March 30, a full eight days before their season finale in Philadelphia. Then again, is any team better prepared to complete its playoff push wearing white than New York? Last season, the Rangers won an impressive 27 games beyond the shores of Manhattan – three more than Chicago, the second-best road team. Making the four-game road trip even less frightening, the Rangers will still be able to sleep in their own beds for at least six of those nights as two of the games are against Jersey and the Islanders.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (October 14-26)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (March 31-April 7)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, at Philadelphia, vs. Buffalo, vs. Washington, at Washington, vs. Tampa Bay, at Carolina, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders and at Philadelphia

OTTAWA SENATORS – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 98 points

And the winner of the second annual bye week lottery is… the Ottawa Senators! For being runner-up for the Prince of Wales Trophy a season ago, the Sens earned the longest bye week of any club in the league by at least a day. The vacation will be especially useful for the Senators, as they’ll be able to effectively prepare for their imposing five games before the All-Star Break: vs. St. Louis, vs. Toronto, at Minnesota, at St. Louis and vs. Boston.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (October 17-26)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 days (November 29-December 12)

BYE WEEK: January 11-17 (seven days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Florida, at Detroit, vs. Winnipeg, at Buffalo, at Pittsburgh and at Boston

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – 19th, 88 points

It seems someone within the Flyers organization offended the schedule maker in the last year, because they have the unfortunate predicament of starting the season on a four-game Western road trip, culminating with a visit to Bridgestone Arena against the current owners of the Campbell Cup, the Nashville Predators. But every cloud has a silver lining, and Philly’s is twofold: not only is that (tied for) the club’s longest road trip, but they also come home to a nice long home stand.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in seven days (October 4-10)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (October 14-24)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Washington, at Detroit, vs. NY Rangers, at Pittsburgh, at Dallas, at Colorado, vs. Boston, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina and vs. NY Rangers

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – Stanley Cup Champion, 111 points

At this point, I think the Penguins are only concerned with what day the Stanley Cup Finals begin. For those wanting to dig a little bit deeper, we need to look no further than Pittsburgh’s first five games of the season against clubs with playoff aspirations, including one that may or may not feel as if it was robbed of a goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals (*hint* they definitely were).

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 28-November 4)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (December 2-11)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, vs. New Jersey, vs. Philadelphia, at Detroit, at New Jersey, vs. Montréal, vs. Washington, at Columbus and vs. Ottawa

SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in first round, 99 points

The Sharks have home stands aplenty throughout their schedule – but the best one may not be the one you’re thinking of. Sure, they get to spend the first half of March in the Bay Area and play six games, but I expect Brent Burns‘ club is licking its chops even more about its opening five games. Over the first two weeks of the season, San Jose hosts Philly, LA, Buffalo, the Islanders and Montréal – four teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs and one that fell in the first round. If the Sharks can find their rhythm early, they can carry that momentum into their Eastern road swing and try to stake their claim in the Pacific Division.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (October 20-28)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (February 27-March 12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. New Jersey, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Nashville, at Vegas, vs. Dallas, vs. Colorado and vs. Minnesota

ST. LOUIS BLUES – eliminated in second round, 99 points

The Blues’ biggest games every year are against Chicago, and 2018 will be no different. This year the matchup earns added importance as the series is backlogged in the season schedule. Game 80 for both teams will take place at Scottrade Center (soon to be the Artist Venue Formerly Known as Scottrade Center), followed only two days later by another contest at the United Center. Given the fact that first and second place in the Central Division has been separated by an average of only 2.75 points over the last four seasons, first round home ice – and maybe even a banner – could be on the line.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 11 days (November 21-December 1)

BYE WEEK: January 10-15 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 10 days (March 3-12)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, vs. Vancouver, at Columbus, vs. San Jose, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Washington, vs. Chicago, at Chicago and at Colorado

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – 18th, 94th

As exciting as hosting the All-Star festivities is, there’s always one negative repercussion that sometimes gets overlooked: the extended time away from home. To allow arena staff and the NHL to prepare a venue for the event – and then return it to its original state – the Lightning will have to make two four-game road trips, before and after the event. That being said, they’ll be handsomely compensated for their time away from Amalie Arena with a long eight-game home stand for almost the entirety of March. But don’t mark those as wins yet, Bolts fans: six of those eight teams qualified for the playoffs last year.

BYE WEEK: January 12-17 (six days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Eight games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 18 days (March 3-20)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, vs. Arizona, at Boston, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, vs. Buffalo and at Carolina

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in first round, 95 points

Remember last season when the Maple Leafs finally clinched their playoff spot in their penultimate game? That may be a bit harder to do this year as Toronto has only 18 contests following the trade deadline, tied with Anaheim for the lowest total over that stretch of time. Instead, Mike Babcock’s club will have to get their work done early this year with 23 games before Thanksgiving. Given Auston Matthews‘ four-goal debut a season ago, something tells me that won’t be too big a task.

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 12 days (December 20-31)

LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 15 days (January 2-16)

BYE WEEK: January 11-15 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Nashville, vs. Detroit, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, at NY Islanders, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, at New Jersey and vs. Montréal

VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 29th, 69 points

Last season, Vancouver went a measly 12-26-3 away from Rogers
Arena, the second-worst road record in the league. That’s what makes January so frightening for the Canucks, even if their bye week occurs in the middle of their seven-game road trip. If Vancouver can survive that and is still in the playoff hunt at the end of March, it has a tough five-game home stand that should either more than properly prepare it for the playoffs or allow the squad to set up their April 8 tee times early.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 12 days – 2x (October 26-November 6; January 23-February 3)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 16 days (January 6-21)

BYE WEEK: January 15-19 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: at Vegas, at Chicago, at St. Louis, at Dallas, vs. Anaheim, vs. Edmonton, vs. Columbus, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona and at Edmonton

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS

What better way to build quick interest in the NHL’s newest market than by having not one seven-game home stand in its debut season, but two? The first should certainly be the more exciting of the two, as four of the Golden Knights’ seven opponents failed to make the playoffs a season ago. The better Vegas capitalizes on this …ahem… golden opportunity, the better its chance of achieving the club’s primary on-the-ice objective: finishing ahead of Colorado.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 10-27)

BYE WEEK: January 8-12 (five days)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 30-February 8)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vancouver, at San Jose, at Colorado, vs. Colorado, vs. Arizona, vs. St. Louis, vs. San Jose, at Vancouver, at Edmonton and at Calgary

WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 118 points

Washington’s roster may have taken a hit, but that doesn’t mean the Capitals’ goal has changed. The first four games on their schedule should give us a good impression of what to expect from them this year, as they’ll visit Ottawa, host Montréal, travel to Tampa Bay and host Pittsburgh – four quality sides in seven days that also have their eyes on the postseason.

LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 30-December 8)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (December 19-27)

BYE WEEK: January 13-17 (five days)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Dallas, at Detroit, at Montréal, at NY Rangers, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Carolina, at Pittsburgh, at St. Louis, vs. Nashville and vs. New Jersey

WINNIPEG JETS – 20th, 87 points

After the All-Star festivities in Tampa have died down, make sure to turn your attention to Manitoba where Patrik Laine and the Jets could dominate the month of February. The club that missed the playoffs by only seven points a season ago will play 12 games before the trade deadline, the first 10 of which will be at The Phone Booth. If Winnipeg can’t improve on last year’s 22-18-1 home record over that stretch, it could signal an early end for the Jets’ quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

BYE WEEK: January 14-19 (six days)

LONGEST HOME STAND: 10 games in 22 days (January 30-February 20)

LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (March 4-13)

LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Los Angeles, vs. Anaheim, vs. Nashville, vs. Boston, at Chicago, at Toronto, at Ottawa, at Montréal, vs. Calgary and vs. Chicago

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 14

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 2

Montréal redeemed itself in in Game 2 by beating the Rangers 4-3 in overtime at the Bell Centre to level their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at a game apiece.

And none of it would have been possible if not for Third Star of the Game Tomas Plekanec‘s (First Star Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk) miracle goal with 18 ticks remaining on the clock in regulation. Carey Price had vacated his crease for the extra attacker, but the real advantage occurred when Shea Weber knocked Michael Grabner down along the blue line. That freed up the Galchenyuk to find Radulov in the far corner, who then set up Plekanec on the far post for a quick tip-in.

In similar fashion as far as the clock was concerned, the Canadiens waited to strike until the end of the overtime period was near. Radulov (Max Pacioretty and Weber) earned the first playoff game-winning goal of his career in the scrappiest of ways. Though the Habs captain had fired the initial shot, Second Star Henrik Lundqvist was able to keep that attempt out of his net. He was unable to contain that shot however, leaving the rebound in front of his crease ready for the taking by Radulov, who buried a wrister five hole for the victory.

Speaking of Lundqvist, he stood tall though he faced adversity all night. He knew he was in for a tough game when his stick snapped early in the first period. He was without that important piece of equipment for almost a minute, and Jeff Petry (Phillip Danault and Radulov) was able to take advantage for the opening goal of the game.

In all, the Rangers netminder saved an incredible 54-of-58 shots faced (93.1%). By comparison, Price saved 35-of-38 (92.1%) in his win.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 2

Thanks in large part to another stellar performance by Second Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins earned a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena to claim a two-game advantage in their Eastern Quarterfinals matchup.

Mike Sullivan is going to have quite the decision on his hands when Matthew Murray is cleared to resume play. Though last year’s Stanley Cup-winning goaltender was expected to command the Pens’ crease throughout the postseason, longtime starter Fleury has saved a combined 70 of 72 shots faced (97.2%) for two-straight victories.

Offensively, no one on the ice was finer than First Star Sidney Crosby. He posted a three-point effort on the night, including the lone tally of the first period.

It was an excellent play that started with Conor Sheary ripping the puck away from Sergei Bobrovsky behind the goaltender’s net. After Bobrovsky had given up on the play to return to his goal line, Sheary passed to Third Star Jake Guentzel (who took credit for the game-winner in the second period), who was waiting on the near side of the crease. Bobrovsky committed to saving a Guentzel shot, so the rookie dished across the crease to Crosby, who powered home an easy wrist shot.

 

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Wild – Game 2

It may not be what many predicted, but the Blues emerged from two games at the Xcel Energy Center with a two-game lead in their Western Conference Quarterfinals matchup against Minnesota thanks to a 2-1 victory.

Both clubs’ defenses were the true stars of this game. Neither Jake Allen (21 saves, 95.5%) nor Devan Dubnyk (22 saves, 91.7%) faced more than 24 shots, and a combined 27 shot blocks were earned between the two teams. The brightest blueliners were Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko, as both rejected three shots apiece from reaching Allen’s crease.

Another blueliner that earned his pay was Joel Edmundson, who seems to be taking over Kevin Shattenkirk‘s former position of two-way defenseman. Assisted by Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi, he fired a slap shot from the blueline to give the Notes an early lead in the second period.

Zach Parise (Eric Staal and Ryan Suter) made sure St. Louis would not escape the frame with the lead, though. Taking advantage of Alex Steen and Scottie Upshall sitting in the penalty box, Staal collected his own rebound and slid a pass between Allen and a sprawled Bouwmeester to Parise waiting at the top of the crease. The wing elevated his wrist shot bar-down over Allen to level the game at one-all.

With 2:27 remaining in regulation, Jaden Schwartz (Alex Pietrangelo and Kyle Brodziak) provided St. Louis its second tally of the night. The Blues’ captain dished to Schwartz from the red line, who entered the offensive zone slow enough to allow David Perron to screen Dubnyk. Schwartz did not simply use that screen, he used Perron. He fired his wrister five hole… on Perron… to find the back of the net before the Minnesota netminder even knew a shot was fired.

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 2

With a 2-0 victory over the Sharks at Rogers Place, Edmonton pulled even at one game apiece in its Western Conference Quarterfinal and earned the celebration it had been waiting 11 years for.

The Oilers scored only four shorthanded goals during the regular season, but both tallies they registered in the victory were on the penalty kill. One of those – the opening goal of the game – belonged to First Star of the Game Zack Kassian. He was the best player on the ice all night, sticking his nose in every play and throwing six hits – including two bone-rattling blows on Logan Couture and Brenden Dillon.

His shorty was a direct result of a Joe Pavelski fumbled puck early in the second period (It was that kind of night for the Sharks. They managed only 16 shots on goal). The wing collected the puck at the Sharks’ blueline, but Pavelski tried to steal it right back.

Unfortunatly for San Jose, his steal landed right on Mark Letestu‘s stick, who returned the puck to the streaking wing for a one-on-one showdown against Martin Jones. Kassian elected to fire a snap shot from between the face-off dots, beating the netminder low for the winner.

The usual star of the Oilers would not be outdone. Just like Kassian, Third Star Connor McDavid registered the first goal of his playoff career in a shorthanded situation. Assisted by Darnell Nurse and Second Star Cam Talbot, he fired a snapper from the far face-off dot after screaming up the boards to beat Jones low.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: First Round – April 12

For at least the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the authors at Down the Frozen River present a rapid recap of all of the night’s action. Tonight’s featured writer – unless noted otherwise –  is Connor Keith.

 

New York Rangers at Montréal Canadiens – Game 1

On nights like these, it doesn’t matter who the goal comes from. All that matters is that it goes in the net. That was the case for the Rangers, who bested the Habs 2-0 at the Bell Centre to take an early lead in their playoff series.

After collecting a face-off Tomas Plekanec had originally won for Montréal, Second Star of the Game Tanner Glass sneaked an unassisted backhanded shot over Third Star Carey Price‘s glove shoulder at the 9:50 mark of the first period for what proved to be the netminder’s only goal allowed on the night. Michael Grabner (Jesper Fast) provided the lone insurance tally on an empty net with 70 seconds remaining in regulation.

We knew coming into this series it was a matchup between two incredible goaltenders in 31-20-4 First Star Henrik Lundqvist and 37-20-5 Price, and they didn’t disappoint, combining for 59 saves. Lundqvist saved all 30 he faced for the 10th postseason shutout of his career.

New York truly took command of this game after the first intermission, limiting the Canadiens to only 15 shots over the remaining 40 minutes. Even when the Habs were able to control the posession, the Blueshirts would not let them get a shot on Lundqvist’s net, managing 24 blocks – led by Dan Girardi‘s four.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Game 1

By: Nick Lanciani

After going 0-3-1 against the Ottawa Senators in the regular season, the Boston Bruins opened up their edition of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 victory on road ice.

Fresh off of his two-game suspension for the last two games of the regular season, Brad Marchand scored the game winning goal with 2:33 to go in the 3rd period– capping an almost two-minute long shift.

Ottawa Senators goaltender, Craig Anderson, played a stellar game despite the loss. Anderson made 23 saves on 25 shots faced for a .920 save percentage.

Both teams swapped tremendous chances in the first 20 minutes, but neither Boston’s David Pastrnak, nor Ottawa’s Derick Brassard could score on back-to-back breakaway chances. After an eventful 1st period which nearly witnessed Bruins forward– and Ottawa native– Ryan Spooner pocket one in the twine with about four seconds to go, the score remained tied at 0-0.

The Sens kicked off the series’s goal scoring in the 2nd period with a goal from Bobby Ryan (1) at 10:28. Ryan crashed the net and followed up on one of his own chances, firing the puck short side by Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask. Erik Karlsson (1) notched the only assist on the goal.

For the first time since May 10, 2014 an NHL team was held without a shot in a single period in a Stanley Cup playoff game, as Boston did not record a shot on goal in the 2nd period. The Anaheim Ducks, by the way, were the last team to do so in their matchup with the Los Angeles Kings. The Ducks wound up winning the game 2-0, however.

After going without a goal in his last 15 games of the regular season, Frank Vatrano (1) found the back of the net with 15:05 to go in the 3rd period in his first career Stanley Cup Playoff game. Riley Nash (1) and Adam McQuaid (1) were credited with the assists on the goal.

Vatrano became the 6th Bruin since 1999 to score in his playoff debut and Boston tied the game, 1-1.

Late in the 3rd period, Marchand (1) put the Bruins ahead for the first time in the game with the game-winning goal off of a blocked shot by Dion Phaneuf. Patrice Bergeron (1) and Pastrnak (1) collected the assists on Marchand’s 17th career NHL playoff goal.

Boston’s Rask made 26 saves on 27 shots against for a .936 save percentage in the win. The Bruins lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 scheduled for Saturday at Canadian Tire Centre and can be viewed on NBC/TVAS/SN at 3 p.m. ET.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 1

When Matthew Murray went down in warmups, things were looking grim for the Penguins, at least for their playoff opener. Instead, First Star of the Game Marc-Andre Fleury saved all but one shot faced to lead Pittsburgh to a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena.

Just like Pierre McGuire said during the broadcast, sometimes the best trade a club can make is the very one they don’t. Trade rumors swirled about the Penguins’ former first-overall pick all season, but he turned in a 31-save performance and a Game 1 victory for First Star honors.

Jeff Zatkoff, anyone? Maybe Fleury has too much playoff experience to be the Pens’ new “Mr. Game 1,” but the story is beginning to sound eerily similar to last year’s Cup run.

Offensively, the Pens showed one period of greatness after a sluggish opening frame. The Jackets held them to only three shots on the opening 20 minutes – including none in the last 14:49 – due in large part to their 23 first period hits .

The Penguins came out on fire after the intermission, notching all three of their tallies. Only 1:15 after returning from the dressing room, Bryan Rust (Second Star Phil Kessel and Third Star Evgeni Malkin) broke the ice with a snap shot. Kessel’s assist was especially impressive, as he used his skate to pass to the right wing.

Rust’s tally was followed only 2:30 later by Kessel’s (Justin Schultz and Malkin) eventual game-winner. Kessel’s tally was a strong power play wrist shot from the near face-off dot over Sergei Bobrovsky‘s glove shoulder.

Nick Bonino (Patric Hornqvist and Olli Maatta) provided Pittsburgh’s final tally with 3:35 remaining in the frame.

Columbus finally got on the board with 7:19 remaining in regulation courtesy of Matt Calvert (Josh Anderson), but the Jackets couldn’t convert any more of their 32 shots on goal into markers.

 

St. Louis Blues at Minnesota Minnesota Wild – Game 1

Overtime game-winners in the playoffs can come from the most unlikely of sources. In Game 1, it was First Star of the Game Joel Edmundson that gave St. Louis the 2-1 overtime victory over the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center.

No matter how hard Minnesota’s offense tried, it could not get past Second Star Jake Allen. The Blues’ goaltender saved 43 straight shots faced for an unblemished effort.

That is, until only 23 seconds remained in regulation. Zach Parise (Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund) scored a wrist shot to match Vladimir Sobotka‘s (Alex Steen) snap shot at the 6:21 mark of the second period to force the first overtime period of the 2017 postseason.

Similar to the Notes’ long playoff run a year ago, the Wild found its success when it made its presence known. Led by Jared Spurgeon and Chris Stewart‘s four checks apiece, Minnesota threw an impressive 28 hits in regulation to St. Louis’ 13, which led to 11 takeaways.

In all, Allen saved 51 shots faced before Edmundson (Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz) scored the game-winning wrister. It wasn’t the prettiest play the Blues have ever run, but they aren’t complaining. Tarasenko was crashing Third Star Devan Dubnyk‘s crease, but lost control of the puck before he could manage a shot. Fortunately for him and his club, the loose puck found the defenseman’s stick and he easily scored on Dubnyk’s stick side.

 

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – Game 1

The Sharks arguably entered the playoffs in their worst slump of the season, but those losing ways just might be behind them. San Jose beat Edmonton 3-2 in overtime at Rogers Place to take an early one-game lead in their first round series.

San Jose’s worst fears were realized in the first period, as Edmonton’s offense made it known that it has no trouble picking Martin Jones apart when he’s off his game. Both Oscar Klefbom (Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic) and Lucic (Mark Letestu and Connor McDavid) scored in the opening frame to give the Oil an early 2-0 lead.

Playoff experience is one of the most valuable things a club can have. Whether it was the Oilers’ offense not having much of it or the Sharks’ defense being able to match the hosts’ efforts (Edmonton managed only nine shots on goal after the first period), San Jose was able to fight its way back into this contest by constricting Edmonton’s attack. As a result, Joel Ward (Joonas Donskoi and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) took advantage of Drake Caggiula‘s hooking penalty late in the opening period to score a power play wrist shot 1:43 into the second.

Paul Martin (Tomas Hertl) completed the comeback 5:22 into the final frame. He buried the rebound off Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s left pad after Hertl’s inial shot to tie the game at two-all and force the second extra-time game of the night.

It only took 3:22 of extra time, but that playoff experience was truly apparent in that time. San Jose fired six shots to the Oilers’ two, and the final one, a snap shot by First Star Melker Karlsson (Joe Pavelski and Valsic), was able to get past Talbot for a Sharks victory.

April 4 – Day 167 – Who gets Game 7?

After a quiet Monday in the NHL last night, the final Tuesday of the regular season should be absolutely stellar.

Barring some freak weather system or facilities complication, 13 contests will take place this evening. All but four teams will be in action tonight, including the entire Western Conference.

The action gets started at 7 p.m. with three games (Tampa Bay at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Philadelphia at New Jersey and Columbus at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by two more (Washington at Toronto and Detroit at Ottawa [RDS]). Another trio (Winnipeg at St. Louis, the New York Islanders at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota) will be contested at 8 p.m., with Arizona at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Chicago at Colorado is the only matchup to start at 9 p.m., which is the same for Calgary at Anaheim (SN1) at 10 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps (Edmonton at Los Angeles [NBCSN] and Vancouver at San Jose) will drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to finish the night.

Short list:

  • Philadelphia at New Jersey: Both teams may be eliminated from the postseason, but that won’t take away from the Battle of the Jersey Turnpike, which was already heated before Dalton Prout‘s hit on Radko Gudas.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: While the rivalry status of this matchup is still in the air, one thing is certain: it will have an immediate impact on the Metropolitan Division with only six days remaining in the season.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: With a little help from the Flames, this old-timey rivalry could provide the Oilers a shot at first place in the Pacific Division.

Riding a two-game winning streak, it seems like the Penguins are getting healthy and returning to form just in time for the playoffs. They’ll need all the help they can get tonight to try to retain home ice in the Eastern Quarterfinals.

 

There’s a lot at stake tonight in this game. 48-19-11 Pittsburgh currently has a one-point advantage on 49-21-8 Columbus for the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Of course, that second seed is ultra-important in the not-so-new-anymore playoff format the NHL is using nowadways.

Instead of a conference tournament where the best team was paired with the worst team in a given conference until the conference championship (effectively the NBA’s playoffs, except the NHL used to reseed after every round), the league now crowns two division champions, determined by three seven-game playoffs, to play for one of the conference titles.

Whether you’re a fan of the format or not (Hint: I’m not. #TeamOldFormat), it’s the world we live in. And that’s what makes this matchup so integral. As all sports fans know, a home ice/court/field advantage can be wildly important in deciding who wins a Game 7 and advances to the next round, or loses and schedules tee times a week later.

All that aside, this also acts as a week-early preview for a highly-probable first round playoff matchup. Considering what is on the table, I doubt either of the coaching staffs are too concerned about putting too much film in their opponent’s hands. Then again, we are talking about John Tortorella, so who knows?

While I’m in no way implying that I think the Jackets have lost their edge, they have hit a slight rough patch in the past week; since March 30, they’ve amassed only a 0-2-1 record. Given, their two regulation losses are in Chicago and against the Capitals, but beating playoff teams is relatively important when the postseason starts next week.

The Blue Jackets have been one of the best defenses in the league all season long, allowing only 2.28 goals-against per game – the second-best mark in the NHL. In the last three games, they’ve allowed eight goals – well above that mark.

Much of that season success has been due to a solid blueline. Unfortunately for 41-15-5 Sergei Bobrovsky (more on him in a minute), a blueline collapse is not the reason for Columbus‘ recent struggles. They’ve allowed only 28.3 shots-against in the past week, which is actually down from the usual 30.4 they’ve averaged all year.

No, the blame rests on Bobrovsky’s shoulders. While he’s been almost as far from horrible as one can get, he’s not been his usual super-reliable self. On the season, he has a .934 save percentage and 1.99 GAA (both are best in the league among goalies with more than eight games played), but he’s let his numbers drop to .906 and 2.56 in the past six days.

As showcased by Chicago and Washington, that extra sliver of space is all elite offenses need to capitalize.

With the postseason on the horizon, the important thing is that the penalty kill has remained healthy. The fact that the Jackets have allowed only one power play goal against since March 30 is proof enough that nothing needs to be retooled in Columbus; Bobrovsky just needs to focus back in and the Jackets should be set for an effective postseason.

The thing that does need to be checked for life is the power play. Usually successful on 19.9% of attempts – an above-average effort – the Jackets haven’t scored on the man-advantage in their past seven attempts. It is moments like these where Captain Nick Foligno and power play-mastermind Alexander Wennberg need to step up and provide the offensive spark for their club, a squad that desperately needs one with the extra-man.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if the Penguins are doing much better of late. Since March 23, they’ve gone 2-2-2, though their last two contests were victories against solid offenses in Carolina and New York.

Though I love statistics, Pittsburgh‘s drop in production can be attributed to one thing and one thing along: injuries. There’s still seven Penguins on the injury report, including the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz, who went down against the Rangers Saturday.

That explains why the best offense in the league has managed only 13 goals in six games, but why has Pittsburgh allowed so many goals of late?

I’m going to give  30-10-4 Matthew Murray a pass here and blame the blueline. Of course, the Penguins‘ defense is hurt too. Trevor Daley, Letang and Olli Maatta have not registered a game since at least February 21, all of whom average more than a shot block per game when healthy.

One of those pieces looks to be coming back soon though. The Penguins‘ official Twitter handle indicated that Daley returned to practice today, so it remains to be seen when he will see game action.

Until then, Pittsburgh needs to find a way to keep shots off Murray. In the past six games, the Pens blueline has allowed 213 shots (35.5) to reach their goaltender, which is worse than their already very bad 32.6 season average.

Both Justin Schultz and Ian Cole have been fantastic in their efforts, as they’ve combined for 26 shot blocks in the past six games. But it’s skaters like Brian Dumoulin and Chad Ruhwedel that need to improve their effort.

It is hard to have such high expectations for Ruhwedel, who has bounced between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but the fact that he has only one block in five games with the Penguins should be alarming to Jim Rutherford and Mike Sullivan, and could impact if he gets a contract of any kind this offseason.

Where Murray doesn’t get a pass is the penalty kill. He’s faced seven power play shots in the past six games, and has saved only four of them. Four. As you’d expect, a .571 power play save percentage has dropped the Penguins‘ penalty kill numbers to the bottom of the league in that stretch of time, as they’ve successfully stopped only 76.9% of opposing attempts in the last 13 days.

The current Penguins‘ brightest spot has to be a a power play that has managed to convert 30.8% of its opportunities since March 23, the seventh-best effort in that time. Though Phil Kessel, who has 29 power play points on the season, still leads the team’s man-advantage, it’s been a full-team attack of late as both lines have found the back of the net. In fact, even though the squad has managed four power play goals in this stretch, no player has more than two points to his credit.

Though the Blue Jackets have gone 2-0-1 against Pittsburgh this year, they still have yet to clinch the season series. The Pens could tie it all up tonight if they can best Columbus in regulation.

If February 17 is any indicator, the Penguins will have to work extremely hard to get that done. Columbus needed overtime to best Pittsburgh 2-1 the last time they met (Brandon Dubinsky scored the game-winner), though they had that pesky home ice we were talking about earlier in their favor.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include ColumbusCam Atkinson (34 goals [tied for seventh-most in the league]), Bobrovsky (1.99 GAA on a .934 save percentage [both best in the NHL] for 41 wins [tied for the most in the league], including seven shutouts [tied for second-most in the NHL]) and David Savard (+30 [sixth-best in the league]) & Pittsburgh‘s Sidney Crosby (43 goals [leads the NHL] for 84 points [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Murray (.923 save percentage [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]).

Though wounded, Vegas has marked Pittsburgh a -130 favorite going into tonight’s game. I expect a tight game, but I’m actually leaning towards the Blue Jackets. I think their special teams are an even match for those of the Penguins and their offense should take advantage of a struggling Pittsburgh defensive corps.

Hockey Birthday

  • Pat Burns (1952-2010) – It may have been the shortest stop in his 14 years of head coaching, but Burns is most remembered for leading the 2003 Devils to the Stanley Cup.
  • Dale Hawerchuk (1963-) – Winnipeg selected this center with the top pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, and it turned out to be a good pick. In addition to winning the 1982 Calder Memorial Trophy, this Hall-of-Famer played in five All-Star Games over his 16 seasons.
  • Yanic Perreault (1971-) – Selected 47th-overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this center played 14 seasons – most of which with Los Angeles. Though he appeared in only one All-Star Game, he scored 247 goals over his career.
  • Kevin Weekes (1975-) – Before working for NHL Network and starting his clothing line No5Hole, this goaltender was selected 41st-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by Florida. He ended up playing 348 games over 11 seasons – most of which with Carolina – for a 105-163-39 record.
  • Roberto Luongo (1979-) – Another goalie, Luongo was picked fourth-overall by the Islanders in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft. Currently in his second stint with the Panthers, he’s played 494 of his 966 games with Florida. He has a career 453-365-117 record.
  • Evgeny Artyukhin (1983-) – Tampa Bay selected this right wing 94th-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his three-year career. He managed only 49 points before returning to Russia.
  • Doug Lynch (1983-) – Another player whose career didn’t last long, this defenseman was selected 43rd-overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Edmonton. He only played two games with the Oilers, and has since played most of his career in the EBEL.
  • Cam Barker (1986-) – This defenseman was the third-overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, and that’s where he spent most of his eight-year NHL career. Most recently, he was playing in the KHL for HC Slovan Bratislava.

Led by Nazem Kadri‘s two-point effort, the Maple Leafs bested Buffalo 4-2 in the Battle of the QEW, yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Toronto took command of this game quickly, as it had a 3-0 lead by the 5:09 mark of the first frame. Third Star of the Game Leo Komarov (Kadri) took credit for the Leafs‘ first tally, tipping-in a shot 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 35 seconds later, First Star Auston Matthews (William Nylander and Jake Gardiner) doubled that lead by potting a wrist shot. That surge culminated with Second Star James van Riemsdyk (Tyler Bozak), who notched the game-winner only eight seconds after Matthews’ 39th tally of the season, the most ever by an American rookie.

Buffalo finally got on the board 1:51 into the second period. Though Marcus Foligno still had nine seconds remaining on his cross-checking penalty against Kadri at the end of the first period, Ryan O’Reilly (Brian Gionta) notched a shorthanded snap shot to pull the Sabres within two goals of their Canadian rivals.

That 3-1 score held until the 5:50 mark of the third period. That’s when Kadri (Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev) buried his power play marker to reclaim a three-goal advantage for Toronto. Jack Eichel (Sam Reinhart) buried a backhanded shot with 56 seconds remaining in the game, but it was too little too late to effect Buffalo‘s fate.

Frederik Andersen earned the win after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (90.9%), leaving the loss to Robin Lehner, who saved two-of-five (40%). He was pulled after van Riemsdyk’s game-winning slap shot in favor of Anders Nilsson, who saved 39-of-40 (97.5%) for no decision.

Toronto‘s victory snaps the four-game winning streak by the 85-59-25 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Though hosts have still had more success when featured, their advantage over the visitors is now only three points.

March 31 – Day 163 – Keeping it in Alberta

Welcome to the penultimate Friday in the NHL’s regular season. Unless you’re a fan of one of the 16 teams heading for the playoffs, there’s not much hockey left to be watched so make sure to catch the rest of this season’s games!

Tonight’s festivities start with Pittsburgh at the New York Rangers (SN) at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by New Jersey at the New York Islanders. 8:30 p.m. marks the puck drop of Columbus at Chicago,  with two more (St. Louis at Colorado and San Jose at Calgary) getting underway at the top of the hour. Two contests – Los Angeles at Vancouver (SN360) and Washington at Arizona – share the role of nightcap and get started at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Pittsburgh at New York: Not only is it a rematch of last year’s Eastern Quarterfinals, but the Blueshirts could pull within four points of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
  • Columbus at Chicago: Two of the three best teams in the league? Yes please.
  • San Jose at Calgary: Thanks to the Sharks‘ loss last night, the Flames are only three points out of third place in the Pacific Division.

I’d love to watch the Hawks and Jackets square off, but it doesn’t have major playoff implications – and that’s what we’re all about this time of year. As much as I dislike repeating teams on back-to-back nights, it looks like we have to catch the Sharks‘ plane to Calgary for another important Pacific tilt.

 

If the Sharks can be happy about anything right now, it’s that today is the final day in what has been a dreadful March for them. Their 6-9-0 mark is tied with Arizona for the sixth-worst record in the month, and being compared to Coyotes in anything is usually a sign of trouble.

What makes the recent struggles an even harder pill to swallow is that it is spoiling an overall solid regular season. When the final game in February was played, San Jose was not only leading the Pacific Division by five points, but also trailed Minnesota by only seven points for the top seed in the Western Conference.

Thirty days later, the 43-27-7 Sharks sit alone in third place in the division, and four teams separate them from home ice throughout the conference playoffs. It leaves a club and fan base that entered the season on a quest to hoist its first Stanley Cup wondering if they can even escape what will be a very trying quarterfinals matchup against the Ducks, Flames, Oilers or possibly even the Blackhawks.

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s been an nearly all-inclusive collapse (defense notwithstanding) by the Sharks that has resulted in their horrendous run over the past 15 games.

Since 33-32-6 Martin Jones was in net last night, I’d assume 10-6-1 Aaron Dell will start in goal tonight (of course, I tabbed Dell to start yesterday and I was wrong, so who knows?). Dell has actually been a solid backup all season, as his .928 save percentage and 2.09 GAA are not only better than Jones’ effort, but also rank (t)third and fourth-best in the league among the 56 netminders with at least 16 appearances.

Whether we get that Dell or the Dell that has seen his save percentage drop to .915 in March remains to be seen, but you can plan on Justin Braun and San Jose‘s defense playing as strong as ever.

All season the goal has been to keep pucks off Dell and Jones’ crease as much as possible, and they’ve done an excellent job in achieving just that. All year, they’ve allowed only 27.5 shots-against per game – the third-best rate in the league – and they’ve actually been slightly better of late, allowing only 27.1 per game in March.

No Shark deserves more credit for that than Braun. He’s been the defensive stalwart of the club all year, and it shows in his team-leading 154 shot blocks. Another that has done well defensively is Joe Thornton, but he does his work before the opposition even thinks about firing at the net. He leads the squad in takeaways with 64 (tied for eighth-most in the league), including 13 this month.

The goaltending issues have proven to be especially detrimental to San Jose‘s penalty kill. Since it has been only an average effort on the season as a whole (80.8% kill rate is 15th-worst in the NHL), taking away the luxury of a usually-reliable backstop has dropped the Sharks to ninth-worst in March, neutralizing only 78% of their infractions. Dell has saved only 85% of the power play shots that have come his way this month, the 14th-worst effort among the 38 goalies with at least six March appearances.

Special teams seem to be a struggle for Peter DeBoer’s squad this year, as his power play has actually been worse than his penalty kill. The Sharks rank seventh-worst on the season with their 17.1% success rate with the man-advantage.

It’s surprising that San Jose has been so poor, mostly because they have one weapon few can match: Brent Burns. The offensive-minded blueliner has notched 24 points on the power play this campaign, which ties for 16th-most in the NHL.

Perhaps the Sharks‘ mojo has relocated itself to Cowtown. Currently in possession of a 43-30-4 record and the West’s first wild card, the Flames have earned a 15-4-1 record since February 15. That ties Columbus for the best mark in that time, though I’d argue the Flames have been better with one fewer game played.

I may actually be on to something regarding San Jose‘s mojo, as Brian Elliott has been fantastic during this run. After a rocky start to the season, he’s reclaimed the starting job in Calgary and made it his own. Since mid-February, he’s earned a .933 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA, the fourth and fifth-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 33 goalies with at least nine appearances in that time.

Tonight is the fourth of five games between these clubs this season, and the Flames have the opportunity to clinch the series victory with a win tonight. They’ve gone 2-1-0 so far against San Jose, including the last time they met on January 11. It was a closely contested affair, but Dougie Hamilton scored with 2:19 remaining in regulation to earn a 3-2 win for the Flames in the Saddledome.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Calgary‘s Johnny Gaudreau (42 assists for 59 points [both lead the team]) and Mark Giordano (176 blocks for a+22 [both lead the team]) & San Jose‘s Burns (73 points [eighth-most in the league]) and Jones (33 wins [seventh-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with recent success. Vegas has marked the Flames a -130 favorite to win tonight. Just like I said yesterday, the Sharks‘ rebound has to start in the crease. While Calgary certainly doesn’t pose the offensive threat the Oilers did a night ago, the Flames‘ confidence should be enough to get past whichever goaltender DeBoer decides to go with.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bud MacPherson (1927-1988) – For seven seasons MacPherson roamed along Montréal‘s blueline, and he was rewarded with one All-Star Game and the 1953 Stanley Cup.
  • Gordie Howe (1928-2016) – There’s no discussion: this right wing is one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 – seven years before his last season in the league – he played in 23 All-Star Games over 26 NHL seasons (all but one with Detroit) and won both the Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophies six times apiece, not to mention his four Stanley Cups.
  • Bob Pulford (1936-) – Another Hall of Famer, this left wing played all but two seasons of his 16-year career in Toronto. He won four Stanley Cups in the process, including three-straight from 1962-’64.
  • Bill Hicke (1938-2005) – Spending most of his time in Montréal, this right wing played 13 seasons in the NHL. The three-time All-Star was good for almost as many penalty minutes as points contributed, but that didn’t stop him from being a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
  • Gilles Gilbert (1949-) – Selected by the North Stars 25th-overall in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft, this goaltender played 416 games over his 14-year career. Spending most of his time in Boston, he earned a 192-143-60 record before hanging up his pads.
  • Tom Barrasso (1965-) – Buffalo selected this goaltender fifth-overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, but he played a majority of his career for the Penguins. He played well for both clubs, as he earned the 1984 Calder Memorial and Vezina Trophies and the 1985 William M. Jennings Trophy with the Sabres and back-to-back Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.
  • Pavel Bure (1971-) – Though only selected in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by Vancouver (his longest-tenured club), this right wing had a highly successful career. In addition to six All-Star Game appearances, he won two Maurice Richard Trophies and the 1992 Calder. All of that added up to a Hall of Fame induction in 2012.
  • Michael Ryder (1980-) – Montréal selected this right wing in the eighth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he played most of his 11 seasons. That being said, he was wearing the crest of the arch-rival Bruins when he hoisted his lone Stanley Cup.
  • David Clarkson (1984-) – A longtime right wing for the Devils, this Toronto-native played 10 seasons in the NHL. He could’ve been playing his 11th this year with Columbus, but he was denied the opportunity to practice with the club due to failing his physical.
  • Steve Bernier (1985-) – The 16th-overall selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose, this right wing has played 633 games over 11 seasons in the league. His longest -tenured club is New Jersey, with whom he scored 28 goals for 65 points.
  • Jakob Chychrun (1998-) – This rookie defenseman was the 16th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by Arizona. He shows promise on the offensive end of the ice, as he’s provided 19 points already this year, the third-most among Coyotes blueliners.

Thanks to Second Star of the Game Cam Talbot‘s 38-save effort, Edmonton was able to best the Sharks 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day to improve into second place in the Pacific Division.

Though Talbot had a strong night, it didn’t start off the best way. He allowed Jannik Hansen (Paul Martin) to score only his eighth goal of the season 1:01 into play to allow the Sharks to take an early lead. Fortunately for him, Third Star Patrick Maroon (First Star Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) provided a game-tying goal 9:21 later. Though Zack Kassian was sent off the ice for hooking birthday boy Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 3:24 remaining in the period, McDavid (Oscar Klefbom and Drake Caggiula) was able to score a shorthanded backhander only 52 seconds later to give the Oil a 2-1 lead it would not yield.

Maroon (Kris Russell) provided what proved to be the game-winning goal 7:51 into the third period with a tip-in. It became the winner with 6:01 remaining in regulation when Joe Pavelski (Vlasic and Hansen) scored a tip-in of his own, but the Sharks were unable to find another tally before the final horn.

Talbot earned the victory after saving 38-of-40 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Jones, who saved 19-of-22 (86.4%).

We’re all squared up once again in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as both home and away teams in the series have an identical 189 points. Road sides still have more wins with their 83-59-23 record.