Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.
If you wait long enough into the summer things start to look more concrete– until you really look at the nitty gritty.
The 2017-18 Boston Bruins were ahead of schedule. They exceeded expectations. They weren’t even supposed to have the kind of season they had until at least this season or next season (if that makes sense), depending on how you broke down General Manager Don Sweeney‘s master three-year plan.
Like everything, however, this offseason has had some ups and downs.
Without getting too much into the nonsensically named (okay, it was named after some videogame, read Bob McKenzie’s book Hockey Confidential— shameless plug) advanced stat “PDO”, let’s just say that whenever a team does really well for a season, they usually come back to reality the following season.
Hockey logic has indicated this in the past, what with the Chicago Blackhawks almost evenly spaced out Stanley Cup championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015 (notice, 2011, 2012 and 2014 did not result in Cups– kind of makes you think)– let alone all of hockey history.
A long season, while rewarding with a championship run (sometimes), is a grind.
Not trying to be Debbie Downer here, but let’s just try to look at things with a slice of realism for this season especially.
Last season they were “too young, too, too young”, but they amassed 50 wins and made it to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This season they’re more experienced, but with an unknown and untapped source of depth in both their free agent signings and expected rookie debuts and sophomores.
Gone are Tim Schaller and Riley Nash— two quality bottom-six forwards who left for Vancouver and Columbus respectively in July. In their place we find Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom. Lateral– but necessary– moves.
The expectations coming into Schaller and Nash’s two-year deals in the 2016 offseason were that they’d contribute in some way, but nobody could predict Schaller becoming a legitimate fourth liner and Nash amassing 41 points (a career best) in a contract year.
While Wagner and Nordstrom aren’t your bottom-six fan favorites yet, they share similar parallels of the unknown and are expected to rise to the occasion– whatever that may be as Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will see fit.
Wagner’s your tough guy and Nordstrom’s a solid penalty killer. The latter will likely see some time with Sean Kuraly on a PK-unit a la Nash and Kuraly from this past season.
Moore’s five-year deal may seem like a bit much, but at $2.750 million per season, he’s making as much as Adam McQuaid for likely a bottom-pair role that’ll transform into McQuaid’s replacement, should Sweeney look to move the career-long Boston defender or not re-sign him in July 2019.
Despite being one-year older than Khudobin, Halak is an upgrade as a stable backup goaltender who’s numbers should improve in a more limited role with a better group of skaters in front of him than his now former New York Islanders teammates were the last few seasons.
Pointless arguments can be made all day (Halak is better than Khudobin), but let’s move on with the actual lineup projection, shall we?
Actually, let’s digress for another moment. Rick Nash remains undecided about whether or not he’d like to return to the game, so that could always mess everything up.
Anyway, here’s a look at how the Boston Bruins 2018-19 lineup should shape up:
Forward Line 1
Isn’t it obvious? The best line in the NHL from 2017-18 rolls right into 2018-19 intact with the same level of chemistry as before. Sure, you could spread out the points a bit by putting Pastrnak on the second line with David Krejci, but you really don’t have to unless you’re looking to shake things up a bit from time to time.
Boston’s first line is set for at least the remainder of Patrice Bergeron’s existence– ignoring contracts altogether. Brad Marchand is inseparable from Bergeron and Pastrnak has joined that royalty in his own right, as he continues to emerge as a star.
Forward Line 2
Jake DeBrusk and Krejci go together like Milan Lucic once did on the Czech center’s left side. Except there’s a bit of a difference in DeBrusk’s game– it’s more offensive. The bigger question on Boston’s second line shouldn’t be “what top-six forward will they try to acquire to fill a ‘hole'”, but rather “who will win the job between Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato?”
For the sake of testing things out in the wake of Bjork’s return from a season-ending injury in 2017-18, Cassidy could insert No. 10 on the second line. Then again, if the Bruins are set on giving Donato a big-time role for a full season, well, then it’ll be Bjork sliding down to line three or line four.
Donato could be like Pastrnak once was early in his development and be sent to Providence for some seasoning in his game and offensive capabilities at the professional level. However, one difference between Donato’s development and Pastrnak’s development is that Donato stood out on an Olympic level, not just in an international World Junior Championship competition.
But if you’re looking to give props to Pastrnak, it’s worth mentioning (albeit due to international/minor league transfer rules) that No. 88 in black and gold went pro before Donato while No. 17 in the spoked-B finished his bona fide duties at Harvard University.
Or just to mess everything else up, perhaps Bjork starts 2018-19 with a stint in Providence.
Forward Line 3
Whoever doesn’t win the second line right wing job (Bjork or Donato) should likely end up on the third line in Boston alongside Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly. Kuraly, you say?
Yes, Kuraly will be tested out as a third line center as had been planned since he was part of the Martin Jones trade with the San Jose Sharks. Just how far will his bottom-six forward potential go? Time well tell and the time is now.
Otherwise Joakim Nordstrom slides right into Riley Nash’s old job much like how he’s already slid into the No. 20 sweater in the Hub.
Forward Line 4
14 Chris Wagner — 20 Joakim Nordstrom — 55 Noel Acciari
Then again, if Bjork or Donato slide just enough, they might end up taking a job from Noel Acciari on the fourth line. Or just maybe Sweeney can console armchair GMs enough with some level justification for having Backes on the fourth line at $6.000 million per season through the 2020-21 season.
For fans and armchair GMs alike that like a lot of hitting, Chris Wagner is your man. He’s basically the new Matt Beleskey, but without the expectations that ran rampant after Beleskey’s incredible 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff run with the Anaheim Ducks.
Otherwise, it’s pretty much status quo on the fourth line, despite some new faces in Wagner and Nordstrom– provide a spark. Whatever that is.
Defensive Pair 1
Zdeno Chara wants to play forever (basically) and Charlie McAvoy is the closest thing Bruins fans have seen to a modern-day Ray Bourque in his development and potential.
On a serious note, Chara intends to play for at least another four years (by then he’ll be 45) and signed a one-year extension (at a $5.000 million cap hit) this spring for the 2018-19 season. McAvoy, on the other hand, seeks to continue his rise to stardom on the blue line moving on to his sophomore season.
Defensive Pair 2
There’s an impetus among armchair GMs to trade Torey Krug for a second line wing and/or other assets, but the fact of the matter is Sweeney and Co. have no legitimate rush to move on from Krug. He might be their biggest piece of trade bait for speculative purposes this season, yet he’s also still part of the top-four defensive core in Boston.
Meanwhile, Brandon Carlo looks to rebound from a bit of a sophomore slump in which he failed to score a goal. Carlo and Krug had a chemistry that– at best of times– worked well in 2017-18. Like any defender, though, mistakes are usually noticeable, because there’s a puck in the net behind them.
Defensive Pair 3
27 John Moore — 86 Kevan Miller
You’re not going to pay John Moore $2.750 million for the next five seasons to not play him, whereas a guy like Matt Grzelcyk or Brandon Carlo could be at risk of becoming a healthy scratch– and that’s assuming Adam McQuaid who also has a $2.750 million cap hit this season already will be a healthy scratch most nights.
In the meantime, Kevan Miller has solidified himself as the 5th or 6th defenseman in Boston– for his physicality and impressive play alone– and could further take on McQuaid’s fighter role this season as a deterrence from the waning role of the enforcer around the rest of the league.
48 Matt Grzelcyk, 54 Adam McQuaid
Following suit with last season, Grzelcyk will have to win his full-time role out of the gate once again, while McQuaid’s future status with the organization remains cloudy past 2019. So cloudy, in fact, that he’ll be a pending-UFA as of July 2019.
In the system
Zach Senyshyn (potential second line RW/bottom six contender), Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (bottom six contender), Jesse Gabrielle (fourth line option at camp), Trent Frederic (bottom six contender), Jack Studnicka (bottom six contender at camp), Jakub Zboril (bottom pair defensive contender), Jeremy Lauzon (bottom pair defensive contender), Zane McIntyre (backup goalie contender at camp), Dan Vladar (backup goalie contender at camp)
40 Tuukka Rask
Tuukka Rask is your starting goaltender as he has been since Tim Thomas decided to take a gap year (and was subsequently traded to the Islanders). There is no goaltending controversy, though Jaroslav Halak should provide more consistency in net on the night’s Rask gets to rest.
In addition to finding the right mix of rest and play, fewer shots against for the third consecutive year since facing a career high 2,011 shots in 70 games in 2014-15 has helped Rask’s focus throughout the season as the Bruins look to go further as a team.
You win and lose as a team– not solely as a goaltender.
41 Jaroslav Halak
Yes, Anton Khudobin bounced back from a disappointing 2016-17 season to an exuberant 2017-18 season, but let’s get this clear– he’s a backup. Khudobin bounced around a bit from the NHL to the AHL and back again in 2016-17, posting a 2.64 goals against average and .904 save percentage in 16 games played.
He then had a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 31 games as Boston’s backup in 2017-18, which was good enough for his third best season in GAA and SV%, dating back to his first real taste of being a backup NHL goaltender in 2012-13 with Boston (Khudobin appeared in seven NHL games from 2009-12 with Minnesota and the Bruins in dire situations).
The thing here is a 2.56 GAA is not starting netminder material, no matter how you break down Khudobin’s overall improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18.
In the meantime, Jaroslav Halak is poised for career-reset. He’s got a change of scenery from Brooklyn to Boston and with that he won’t be playing in nearly as many games.
Halak had a 3.19 GAA and .908 SV% in 54 games as New York’s starting goalie, keeping in mind the Islanders suffered a lot of injuries on the blue line last season. He also nearly doubled his workload from a dismal 2016-17 (28 games played) to 2017-18 (54 GP).
In 2015-16, Halak had a 2.30 GAA and .919 SV% as the Islanders backup netminder in 36 games played. Khudobin, on the other hand, appeared in nine games for the Anaheim Ducks that season, amassing a 2.69 GAA and .909 SV% before being sent down to San Diego (AHL).
The moral of the story here is that the Bruins have been about giving backups second chances in recent history, whether that’s Chad Johnson, Jonas Gustavsson, Khudobin and now Halak– they’re willing to take that gamble.
Okay, end Halak vs. Khudobin rant.
Nick and Connor present yet another offseason episode while just about every other hockey podcast has gone off to their cottage on the lake. This week: Tom Wilson’s extension, Mario Lemieux’s summer home, Tyler Seguin, third jerseys so far and should teams wear white at home?
Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Boston Bruins and their outlook for the summer.
The Boston Bruins are ahead of schedule. They weren’t supposed to finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division this season according to most experts. They weren’t supposed to get 50 wins or 112 points, but the 50-20-12 record 2017-18 Bruins made it all the way to the Second Round against the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games.
Boston won Game 1.
Then it all came to a screeching halt, the Bruins lost four straight and were eliminated.
But fear not, for Bruce Cassidy‘s system is working and General Manager Don Sweeney has a plan. They weren’t supposed to be this good, this soon, but it all fits the bill of winning the Cup within Cassidy’s first three years at a time when Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen and Co. emerge as the future core behind Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara.
For the entire roster, it was just one more lesson in experience. The postseason is an entirely different animal from regular season action.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Since then, the Bruins GM has indicated he’d like to get in on the deep first round action if he can, amid speculation that Boston is in the running for Ilya Kovalchuk, David Backes could be traded and more.
Pending free agents
Boston has almost $7.500 million in cap space available currently with the cap ceiling expected to rise perhaps by as much as $4.000 or $5.000 million, Sweeney still cannot afford to hand out long term contracts with a lot of value willy-nilly.
He did, however, just re-sign defender Matt Grzelcyk to a cap friendly two-year, $2.800 million ($1.400 million AAV) extension late last week and no it does not mean that Torey Krug is going to be traded. Signing 2017 first round pick, Urho Vaakanainen to his maximum term, maximum value entry-level contract doesn’t mean Krug is gone either– let alone that Vaakanainen will be on the NHL roster this October.
The Finnish blueliner has to really earn a spot on the Bruins defense this fall. Otherwise things are just going as planned with Vaakanainen’s development and he’ll be fine in Providence (AHL) for a season (at most).
Pending-UFAs Brian Gionta, 39, Kenny Agostino, 26, and Paul Postma, 29, already know they won’t be back in black-and-gold next season, leaving Riley Nash, 29, Tommy Wingels, 30, Rick Nash, 34, and Tim Schaller, 27 as the only pending UFA skaters on the NHL roster (ignoring Austin Czarnik, 25, and the fact that Agostino and Postma were with the Providence Bruins before season’s end, though all three– Czarnik, Agostino and Postma– played with Boston in relief appearances).
Sweeney is in the hunt for Kovalchuk and if it comes down to it, he’ll either sign the 35-year-old scorer looking to rejoin the NHL after a five-year journey to the KHL or re-sign 34-year-old Rick Nash– provided the 34-year-old Nash is still on the market.
It’s a bit of a standoff for the services of a sniper. One that’s almost guaranteed (Kovalchuk) and the other that had a small, injured, sample size already in a Bruins uniform (Nash).
The other Nash, Riley Nash, could get a pay raise elsewhere if the numbers don’t work out in Boston and I’ve already hinted at why *shameless self plug*.
Boston needs a second line winger. Whether it’s Rick Nash or Ilya Kovalchuk doesn’t matter. There’s already a youth movement going on and Mark Recchi played until he was 43 on the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup champion roster.
Don’t worry about one player– who’s still contributing– getting old. Worry about entire rosters.
Outside of Boston’s core (Bergeron’s turning 33 this July), Sweeney’s roster is filled to the brim with youth.
Wingels could see another go-around on the Bruins fourth line if Sweeney deals Backes’s $6.000 million cap hit elsewhere and brings back Schaller. The latter forward (Schaller) had his best career season with 12 goals and 10 assists (22 points) in 82 games played, while Wingels contributed with grit and the occasional surprise goal on the fourth line.
What’s more important for Boston’s fourth line skaters is the return of pending-RFA, Sean Kuraly.
The 25-year-old center could play on the third line at times, despite only notching 6-8–14 totals in his first full season of NHL action (75 games). Despite his offensive shortcomings, the Bruins shouldn’t give up on Kuraly with guys like Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Trent Frederic breathing down his neck for a bottom-6 forward role on the 2018-19 squad.
Kuraly had two clutch goals in the short-lived 12-game 2018 postseason run.
Pending UFA-defender, Nick Holden, 31, is as good as gone as the rental blueliner was acquired as an insurance policy for a deep run that didn’t come to fruition.
Sweeney won’t have to do much this offseason. Find a second line winger, work on bringing some key glue guys back (if possible) and re-sign or sign a new backup goaltender.
You’ll notice “find another top-4 defender” isn’t included in this list. A healthy Brandon Carlo shakes things up in the 2018 postseason. More experience under McAvoy’s reign or the insertion of Jeremy Lauzon or Jakub Zboril on the blueline can make a difference too.
Boston doesn’t have to rush and overpay for the services of a top-4 blueliner– unless they have John Carlson or the like in mind.
That’s right, Anton Khudobin, 32, is a pending-UFA.
While Khudobin held down the fort in October and early November, the backup goalie is not a starter. He loves Boston and the city, rightfully, loves him back for his best performance in goals against average (2.56) and save percentage (.913) in 31 games played since his 2013-14 campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes (a 2.30 GAA and .926 SV% in 36 games played).
There isn’t a huge goalie market, which could do favors for Khudobin if he’s looking for a healthy pay raise, but for Sweeney and the Bruins means he might have to fork something up to retain the services of his backup or acquire a new one.
Then again, Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar have a healthy competition in the system for the backup role to starting goaltender, Tuukka Rask, 31, and his $7.000 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season.
Rask posted a 2.36 GAA and .917 SV% in 54 games played this season with a 34-14-5 record. He had his third-straight 30-plus win season and was right in the sweet spot for number of games played as a starter (he was four appearances shy of matching his 58-game appearance in 2013-14 with the Bruins– the same season Boston won its 2nd President’s Trophy in franchise history).
Now, as for why the Bruins would look to move Backes (I’m sure you’ve been wondering), it’s a simple game of math. Freeing up $6.000 million in cap space makes signing Kovalchuk or John Tavares more attractive, while also leaving an open door for maybe re-signing glue guys like Riley Nash and Tim Schaller.
And no, Boston won’t bring Milan Lucic back for a second stint with the organization like they did with Glen Murray years ago. Sweeney’s looking to rid the organization of a bad $6.000 million contract, not trying to add one in the form of an Edmonton Oiler’s forward who had his worst season since the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and his injury shortened 50 game season in 2009-10.
Plus, Boston still has Matt Beleskey ($1.900 million, retained salary) on the books through the end of 2018-19, Dennis Seidenberg‘s $1.167 million cap hit through 2019-20 (thanks to a buyout) and Jimmy Hayes‘s $866,667 cap hit through the end of 2018-19 (another buyout) on the books.
Waiting a year to then buyout Backes’s remaining contract isn’t an option either, for the record.
It’s either find a trading partner or live with the consequences.
And no, just trading David Krejci without taking care of Backes at some point doesn’t fix things either. That’d actually hurt the team in its roster depth. Krejci is your surefire second line center (unless Tavares comes into the equation), which is not something Backes could handle at this point in his career.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Toronto Maple Leafs and their outlook for the summer.
There was no competition for the remaining playoff spots in the Atlantic Division this season as only three teams were truly in contention for the top spot through divisional seedings.
While the Tampa Bay Lightning sat atop the Atlantic Division standings for about 95-percent of the season, the Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins swapped 2nd and 3rd all season long until Boston started peaking in March.
Toronto finished the regular season 3rd in the Atlantic with a 49-26-7 record and 105 points on the season, lining up on the road for Games 1 and 2 of their First Round matchup with the Bruins.
It was the first postseason meeting between the two clubs since their 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup and epic collapse in Game 7 by Toronto. Like 2013, however, the Maple Leafs won Games 5 and 6 in the series, forcing a decisive Game 7 back at TD Garden.
This time, though, the Bruins cruised in the third period to a 7-4 victory and won the series, 4-3.
Head coach, Mike Babcock, faced criticism from Toronto media and fans alike for back-to-back years of First Round exits, while Lou Lamoriello fulfilled his three years as General Manager.
Lamoriello’s seven-year contract with the club intended on keeping him in the role of GM for three years, then as a senior advisor for the final four years. Instead, Lamoriello resigned from Toronto and joined his son with the New York Islanders (and was subsequently promoted as General Manager).
Since Brendan Shanahan took a front office job with the Maple Leafs, there’s been another name prime for the GM job. Kyle Dubas.
Hired as an assistant GM as a 28-year-old, the prolific analytics-driven evaluator became General Manager of the Leafs at 32 as his Toronto Marlies (AHL) won this year’s Calder Cup championship.
The old regime is almost completely new-school in the 6ix.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Dubas and his Maple Leafs scouting crew hold onto the 25th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft and it’s not entirely clear cut on who they’ll likely target. There’s no immediate need to fill with a teenager, the 2018 Draft is deeper than usual and Toronto could always trade the pick.
There’s no ties to a player like Erik Karlsson, but the Leafs seem prime to make some type of acquisition this summer via a trade in addition to sticking with the plan.
Pending free agents
Toronto has about $22.340 million in cap space heading into July with some big names to consider re-signing.
Tomas Plekanec, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore and James van Riemsdyk are all pending-UFAs as of July 1st– with van Riemsdyk as one of the hottest players not named “John Tavares” potentially hitting the open market.
Acquired around the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens, 35-year-old Tomas Plekanec is two games away from the 1,000th in his NHL career. He recorded two assists in 17 games down the stretch with the Leafs and had six goals and 20 assists (26 points) in 77 games with Toronto and Montreal this season.
Since he amassed 54 points in 2015-16, Plekanec has averaged 27 points over the last two seasons. That kind of production drop-off is to be expected at some point in the waning days of his NHL career, but still important to the depth scoring of any organization.
He brings intangibles to the locker room, like leadership and good chemistry with Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau that boosted Toronto’s playoff performance and helped extend the series with Boston to seven games.
The question is, can Dubas keep two 35-plus members on the roster, let along on the same line for another year or two (though nightly lineups are at Babcock’s discretion) and will Plekanec be allowed to regrow his goatee if he re-signs now that Lamoriello is gone?
Regardless, it’s been noted that Plekanec and his turtleneck have a desire to go back to Montreal, but if he truly wants to win a Cup before the end of his playing days…
Bozak, 32, is six games shy of his 600th career NHL game and had 11-32–43 totals in 81 games this season. One of Toronto’s more consistent point-producers, Bozak has only surpassed 20 goals once in his career (he scored 23 goals in 2014-15).
The veteran center has long been a playmaker, reaching 30-plus assists three times in his career– including the last two seasons.
He should get another look, but at what cost given some of the other big names potentially heading for the open waters of free agency from Toronto.
Komarov, 31, had 19 points this season. He’s never reached the 20 goal plateau in his career and– despite being a fan favorite
and Brad Marchand‘s man-crush— he shouldn’t expect a big contract from Dubas if he wishes to extend his stay in Ontario’s capital city.
Moore, 37, resurrected his career last season with Boston, notching 11-14–25 totals in all 82 games, but the fourth line center scored just six goals in 50 games with the Maple Leafs this season.
Three games shy of 900 in his career, his 12 points on the year this season doesn’t scream “extension” in a Leafs sweater, but might find work elsewhere as a bottom-6 forward in what could be his last chance at a Cup.
van Riemsdyk, 29, reached the 30-goal plateau for the second time in his career since being drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers 2nd overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He first scored 30 goals and 31 assists (61 points) with Toronto in 2013-14.
He had 33 assists last season and 36-18–54 totals this season.
Under Dubas, the Leafs are on their way to becoming the next Washington Capitals in prospect development. The Marlies just won the Calder Cup with a mixture of grizzled former NHLers in Colin Greening and young, developing, players that are intentionally overcooked at the AHL level for an easier transition to the NHL game.
Moving on from older pending-UFAs is bound to happen and it just might be this offseason’s plan.
In his second full season at the NHL level, pending-RFA William Nylander, 22, matched his rookie season point total (61) on the heels of 20 goals and 41 assists in 82 games this season. Sophomore year went swimmingly for the top-6 forward.
Now he’s a pending-RFA and will need a pay raise with Auston Matthews entering the final year of his entry-level deal.
It might seem easy for Toronto to crunch some numbers, keep van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Nylander and the rest of the gang together, but without a little proper planning for the future, the club could easily get themselves in some deep trouble.
32-year-old pending-UFA defender Roman Polak over came a leg injury, signed a PTO and landed a one-year renewal for his fourth season as a Maple Leaf in October. He had 4-7–11 totals in 75 games last season and improved to 2-10–12 totals in 54 games this season with Toronto. He even recorded his third career point in the playoffs (an assist).
But for the St. Louis Blues’s 160th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, it doesn’t seem like another year in a Leafs uniform is in the cards. Not when Travis Dermott was making waves as a potential top-6 defender next season in the playoffs and Polak was being blown past by Bruins forwards.
Connor Carrick— a 24-year-old, pending-RFA defenseman– had a career-year in goals (4), assists (8) and points (12) in 47 games this season. Why he’s not utilized more is perplexing. He was a healthy scratch for 32 games, injured for two more and did not play in the postseason.
Both Dermott and Carrick should see precedence over Polak next season– especially in today’s game and with Ron Hainsey already as an anchor veteran on the blueline at 37-years-old– but that all depends on whether Dubas makes an effort to bring Carrick back and mend whatever’s between Babcock’s viewpoint and Carrick’s play on the ice.
If the Leafs get older and more reliant on guys like Hainsey, Polak and Marleau, like they did this postseason, Babcock risks being viewed similar to Ken Hitchcock in his loss of being adaptable in an increasingly younger, faster and more skilled than ever league.
That’s not to discredit Babcock as one of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time, but rather to point out he’s got a challenge ahead of him and his staff– and Babcock likes challenges, because he usually excels at them.
There’s no need to disrupt something that’s working in net in the dynamic duo that is Andersen and McElhinney, but you can expect to see 24-year-old Garret Sparks get a few extra looks having led his team to the Calder Cup championship.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Of note, Toronto has $1.200 million in retained salary on the books (Phil Kessel) through the 2021-22 season.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Florida Panthers and their outlook for the summer.
Despite coming and going all season long, the Florida Panthers quietly made a run from February down the stretch that came up a little bit short and turned some heads that were otherwise focused all season long on the money-puck driven Carolina Hurricanes.
Florida almost pulled it off– well, almost made the postseason, that is– but with a record of 44-30-8 and 96 points on the season, the 4th place team in the Atlantic Division was no match for the stacked Metropolitan Division and finished one-point shy of a wild card spot (both the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils finished with 97 points on the year and both Eastern Conference wild cards).
One thing that was apparent from the 2017 Expansion Draft where the Vegas Golden Knights claimed last season’s leading scorer for Florida, Jonathan Marchessault, and acquired Reilly Smith in a deal to protect some other Panthers roster player not named Marchessault, well…
Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith don’t grow on trees (but having at least one of them would have helped Florida’s 2017-18 cause).
2018 NHL Entry Draft
General Manager Dale Tallon has the 15th overall pick in the 2018 Draft to select one of the best available players in his selection standing in either Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley.
Or Tallon could trade the pick for an asset that’d help his roster in the here and now as part of what would likely be a larger deal.
Pending free agents
Tallon has about $9.000 million as things stand right now to spread over his pending free agents and/or talent acquisitions outside of the organization’s current depth chart.
The good news is the cap ceiling is expected to rise, so the Panthers should have at least $2.000 million more to utilize.
Pending-UFA Connor Brickley, 26, resurrected his professional career with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) in 2016-17 to go on and produce 4-8–12 totals in 44 games with the Florida Panthers after being claimed by Vegas, not re-signed and subsequently reuniting with the Panthers last summer.
He’s a low-cost, potentially high-reward player, if you value some production on your fourth line.
In his first nearly full season in the NHL, Jared McCann, 22, posted nine goals and 19 assists (28 points) as a playmaker in 68 games with Florida. There’s no easy one offseason fix for the Panthers– being so tight against the cap and all– that they have to hope McCann can keep improving with more minutes.
Frank Vatrano, 24, had two goals with the Boston Bruins in 25 games prior to being traded for a 2018 third round pick this season. Since the deal was made, Vatrano notched five goals and three assists (eight points) with Florida in 16 games played.
For a small sample size in a larger role, that’s promising, given he wasn’t going to get a chance on Boston’s second line (too much depth down the left for the Bruins, a la Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk) and should be a left wing lock on the second line heading into 2018-19 for Florida.
He won’t see a raise immediately, but likely should sign on to a bridge deal before cashing in on a larger piece of the pie.
Both McCann and Vatrano are pending-RFA forwards for Florida.
Alex Petrovic, 26, is in his final year of pending-RFA eligibility and has a role as a bottom-pair defender.
For around $1.000 million, Tallon should keep him around another year, realizing his defense won’t improve on its own without A) more offensive support, B) better goaltending or C) some different coaching strategies.
MacKenzie Weegar, 24, is also a pending-RFA blueliner in the Sunshine State with 2-6–8 totals in his first almost full NHL season (60 games played). Despite first impressions, that’s respectable for a top-six defender coming into his own in the early onset/middle of his prime.
He’ll also be inexpensive to keep around if Tallon can move some bigger pieces around after realizing he gave Michael Matheson such a generous pay raise over eight-years ($4.875 million AAV) for a *checks notes* 27-point season after Matheson put up 17 points in his rookie year.
There’s a reason why prolific scorers like Marchessault and Smith were squeezed out, left exposed and traded to Vegas, respectively.
Finally, in goal for the Panthers, 39-year-old Roberto Luongo is signed through the 2021-22 season with a cap hit of $4.533 million on the books. Likewise, 30-year-old backup goaltender, James Reimer, is on the books through 2020-21 at $3.400 million AAV.
Wait, but Luongo only played 35 games, you say?
Yes, it’s true, Luongo took a backseat to Reimer this season and posted a 2.47 goals against average with a .929 save percentage compared to Reimer’s 2.99 GAA and .913 SV% in 44 games played. Oof.
The saying “what did you do for me yesterday” doesn’t make Reimer look good in the long run.
Surely you can just call someone up– oh.
Florida should at least roadmap a blueprint of what the future in goal looks like, because Luongo’s not getting any younger– despite the future Hall of Famer that he is– and Reimer is well, at it again with the whole “not a legitimate starting goaltender” thing.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
There’s no imminent announcement regarding Seattle, but something’s coming (a vote) this fall or winter. Max Domi and Phil Kessel are back in the rumor mill. The Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals are tied, 1-1, heading to D.C. for Games 3 and 4 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Oh, and Nick and Connor enjoyed Solo and talk Star Wars.
He exceeded expectations, he outperformed everything beyond imagination– in his contract year, after a 17-point (7 goals, 10 assists) season in 2016-17.
His 15-26–41 totals included two power play goals and three power play points, but no shorthanded goals and no shorthanded points while being one of Boston’s biggest penalty killers.
His CorsiFor% has remained stagnant around 52.00% for the last three seasons.
Consistent? Yes. Bound to be the next mistake by a GM that’s willing to throw money around carelessly? Also yes.
How much of Riley Nash is the real Riley Nash? How much of his play this season was impacted by playing alongside impressive rookie Danton Heinen and David Backes– let alone his appearances on Boston’s first line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak when the Bruins were hampered by injuries down the middle?
Riley Nash isn’t a passenger, but rather this offseason’s biggest miss for a team looking to buy low and potentially sell high when they realize that one free agent signing alone won’t make all the difference in terms of depth and contending for a playoff spot– depth that you can’t otherwise have if you sign too many top-nine forwards to too big of a contract.
At 29-years-old, Nash cannot get any better from a physical potential standpoint. In a game that’s getting younger and placing more emphasis on speed and skill than ever before, he may be out of an NHL job by the time he’s 35.
In his best seasons as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, Nash had 24, 25 and 22 point seasons from 2013-16. Through 59 games into this season, he bested his career-high 25 points in 2014-15 with 10-18–28 totals.
He added five goals and eight more assists in 17 games over the course of the remainder of the season, before being shutdown thanks to a shot to the side of the head as a result of friendly fire from defender Torey Krug.
For someone who hadn’t reached the 40-point plateau before, 41 points sounded impressive. Yet his faceoff win percentage has remained stagnant in his full-time NHL days around 48 percent. He’s never scored 20 goals and just broke the 20-assist plateau this season– his seventh year in the NHL.
Happy accidents are great.
They’re fun to watch as players soar and teams roll along, but from a management standpoint there’s only so much cap room to work with.
When Beleskey had his 22-10–32 totals in 65 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2014-15, the Boston Bruins had a need for someone that could become their immediate fill-in on the second line to replace Milan Lucic (who had been traded that June to the Los Angeles Kings).
Beleskey signed a long-term, five-year contract worth $3.800 million AAV with Boston that July and followed up a successful season in Anaheim with a career high 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 80 games in his first year as a member of the Bruins in 2015-16.
Despite attaining career highs in assists and points in a season, Beleskey’s point-per-game production decreased. It fell off the face of the Earth when injuries and a lack of offense led to just three goals and five assists (eight points) in 49 games the following season (2016-17).
Then through 14 games played in 2017-18 with the Bruins, Beleskey had nothing to show on the scoresheet.
As part of taking on Rick Nash’s contract, both teams had to eat some salary and the Bruins ended up retaining $1.900 million of Beleskey’s cap hit through the end of his contract (July 1, 2020).
While Riley Nash turned heads around the league, becoming a more prominent bottom-six forward, that’s just it– he’s a bottom-six forward, who– like Beleskey did in July 2015, is about to get paid.
Even though Nash brings more offensive upside to his game than Beleskey does, they could be making the same salary because of one outlier season.
One good season is not an indication of consistency.
But NHL GMs have a tendency to eat it up and see a (possibly) short-term fix for an otherwise thought to be long-term hole on their roster.
The ebbs and flows of the market will always lead to poor financial planning in the long run for some teams. Riley Nash does deserve a raise for his efforts with Boston while on a $900,000 cap hit the last two seasons, but buyer beware– maybe not at the price you think.
If you’re willing to take a risk and have the right combination of youth that can help boost his numbers, then Nash is the guy for your team– provided you already have that youth locked up and you aren’t projecting someone else coming up through your system to battle for a roster spot any time soon.
There hasn’t been much of an indication as to how much a guy like Riley Nash might ask for in terms of money this offseason, nor has there been any public indication of how long of a deal he’d like to sign.
That can be a blessing in disguise, if you consider the fact that Rick Nash will likely be available this July too, but at substantially more dollars for about the same impact on a roster (Rick Nash had 20-13–33 totals this season in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Bruins).
Both Nashs are third liners at best that can play on a second or first line if your team is struggling (looking for a creative spark) or going through a lot of injuries.
For comparisons sake, if you’re an NHL GM looking to avoid signing “the worst contract of the summer”, then signing Riley Nash (or literally anyone) at less money than Rick Nash will make you look pretty good.
Rick Nash has sheer name-brand power. Riley Nash, on the other hand, has being one of the funniest, nicest, underrated guys in the locker room going for him.
But Rick Nash has already indicated he’d be willing to re-sign with Boston “if the dollars work out”. Given Boston’s salary cap navigation with Charlie McAvoy entering a contract year in 2018-19 (his final year on his current entry-level deal), the chances of Rick Nash being back in a Bruins uniform at $5.000 million-plus are slim.
Especially when there’s pending-RFA Austin Czarnik to re-sign and others. For Boston, Czarnik may be the key to moving on from Riley Nash if the younger Nash has truly priced himself out.
Sean Kuraly and Czarnik can compete for the third line center job, while the loser reigns as the fourth line center– and that’s ignoring Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Colby Cave and others in the system that’ll also be fighting for roster spots at training camp.