Tag Archives: Buffalo Sabres

October 21 – Day 18 – Time to right the ship

In the words of Sir Elton John, “Saturday night’s alright for fighting.” If there’s a lyric that better describes hockey, I have yet to hear it.

To take it a step further, Saturday afternoon must not be too bad either, as Nashville visits the New York Rangers (SN) at 12:30 p.m. and Philadelphia hosts Edmonton half an hour later. After the matinees are complete, five contests (Buffalo at Boston, Toronto at Ottawa [CBC/CITY/TVAS], Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, San Jose at the New York Islanders and Los Angeles at Columbus) find their start at the usual time of 7 p.m., followed by Florida at Washington (NBCSN) 30 minutes after. Carolina makes its yearly visit to Dallas at 8 p.m., with Chicago at Arizona waiting an hour before dropping the puck. The stroke of 10 p.m. brings with it the start of Minnesota at Calgary (CBC), half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: St. Louis at Vegas. All times Eastern.

It’s nights like these that are hard to pick just one game to focus on, as there’s a good reason to watch at least half of them. Here’s a few that stick out to me…

  • Buffalo at Boston: Rivalry night in Beantown is always a worthwhile experience.
  • Toronto at Ottawa: Speaking of rivalries, the Battle of Ontario is another good one.
  • Chicago at Arizona: Don’t tell anybody, but D Connor Murphy played his first four NHL seasons with the Coyotes.
  • St. Louis at Vegas: W Chris Thorburn was one of Vegas’ expansion draft selections, but he ended up signing with the Blues instead.

Since we haven’t had the opportunity to feature the Bruins or the Sabres yet this season, what better way to make up for our transgression than by focusing on their rivalry tonight?

 

Let’s just put things simply: both these clubs have much higher aspirations for their seasons than the first two-and-a-half weeks have indicated.

The 1-5-2 Sabres have especially had a tough run of things, as they’re currently riding a two game losing skid after falling in overtime to Vegas on Tuesday and losing outright to Vancouver last night.

Since the Bruins don’t play for a city that starts with a ‘V’, maybe Buffalo has a chance this evening.

Averaging .8 points-per-game after his first two seasons in the NHL, C Jack Eichel was expected to lead the Sabres to one of the best offensive efforts in the league. Instead, Buffalo’s attack has averaged a (t)fourth-worst 2.5 goals-per-game effort, forcing the Sabres to be discussed in the same breath as the likes of Arizona.

Unless we’re talking about logo and sweater designs at a franchise’s debut, it’s rarely good to be compared to the Coyotes.

Though I threw Eichel under the bus, the Sabres’ struggles are certainly no fault of their first line. In fact, if not for the production of Eichel, LW Evander Kane and RW Jason Pominville, Buffalo might as well not have an offense at all. All three are averaging at least 1.13 points-per-game this season and they combine for 12 of the Sabres’ 20 goals. While it is nice to know that one line is capable of producing 60 percent of a team’s offense, I’ll bet the house that Head Coach Phil Housley would love for F Ryan O’Reilly‘s line to find their form sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, little has gone well on the Sabres’ defensive end either. Due at least in part to Buffalo’s 49.9 face-off winning percentage (11th-worst in the league), neither G Chad Johnson nor G Robin Lehner can claim a GAA under three. Lehner has certainly been the superior of the two netminders so far with his .9 save percentage and 3.14 GAA, and he’s likely to be tonight’s starter since Johnson was responsible for last night’s 4-2 loss to the Canucks.

If anything has gone well so far for the Sabres, it’s certainly been their penalty kill. Successfully rejecting 83.3 percent of opposing power plays, Buffalo ties for eighth-best in the NHL. Defensemen Josh Gorges and Jake McCabe have played exceptionally when shorthanded, as both have five shot blocks to their credit in that situation. But there’s an asterisk next to Gorges’ name: he’s hit that total in only four games played as compared to McCabe’s eight.

Alright, that’s enough laying into one team. Time to take on the 3-3-0 Bruins.

There’s little to complain about on the Bruins’ offensive end. Averaging 3.33 goals-per-game, Boston is tied for the ninth-best offense in the NHL. It’s been the LW Brad Marchand show so far this season, as his 4-5-9 totals are easily among the top-25 performances in the league so far.

Then again, that was before C Patrice Bergeron returned to action from his lower body injury. In only one game played against Vancouver on Thursday, the 32-year-old managed one goal and three assists for a four-point night, tying him for sixth-most points on the team with players that have five more games played.

Regarding Bergeron, I have two guesses: (1) he’s one of those guys that’s good at his job, and (2) last season’s not-so-great 53 points could be eclipsed rather easily.

Whether it’s Bergeron or Marchand leading the charge, the Bruins’ power play is one of the most intimidating in the league. Boston has found success on eight-of-27 extra-man opportunities for a fourth-best 29.6 percent success rate, including C David Krejci‘s team-leading four power play points.

Of course, for an offense to be clicking along as well as the Bruins’ has been and the club only have a .500 record, there might be a problem on the other end of the ice.

That problem’s name is G Tuukka Rask. Though he’s certainly been one of, if not the league’s best netminder since his debut in the 2007-’08 season (his .922 career save percentage is tied for best in the NHL since then among goalies with at least 50 starts, and his 2.25 career GAA is second-best in that group), he’s struggled mightily in his four starts to open this campaign, managing an ugly .882 save percentage and 3.3 GAA.

Could it simply be that he’s getting sprayed with pucks every time he takes to the crease? Unfortunately, not really. He’s seen an average of only 25.5 shots-per-game so far this season, which is right in line with the (t)fourth-best 29.2 shots allowed by the Bruins’ defense per game.

It’s a fact Bruins fans may not want to admit, but Rask has only seen his save percentage drop since his .93 performance in the 2013-’14 season, with the lone exception of last year when he matched his .915 effort from the 2015-’16 campaign.

This drop in play began at the same time Rask started seeing 50-60 starts per season, which hearkens back to a statement I’ve made countless times about the Bruins’ goaltender: you can only work a mule so much. He’s been overworked for the past four seasons to the point that his play is suffering. Hopefully with G Anton Khudobin in the picture, Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will be able to relieve some of the pressure off his starter so he can rediscover his true form before his best playing days are behind him. If not, the Bruins are in a deeper hole than even the most dire of pessimists could have predicted.

Of course, all that writing may have been for naught with Rask currently listed as day-to-day with a concussion after a collision with rookie F Anders Bjork Wednesday. Expect Khudobin and his .927 save percentage to start this evening.

The Sabres are just waiting for a breakout game, but they have yet to earn it. I truly do believe in their offense, but I have concerns about the defense going up against an elite scoring club in Boston. Though the TD Garden hasn’t exactly been friendly to its residents for the past few years, I expect the Bruins to win this game by dominating the scoreboard.


For the second-straight night, the DtFR Game of the Day required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. This time, it was First Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin scoring the overtime winner for the Washington Capitals to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3.

Featuring four total goals, the third period was absolutely wild. It was set up by a two-goal second period, as both F Darren Helm and W Andre Burakovsky (D Dmitry Orlov and W Tom Wilson) found goals to set the score at one-all. Helm’s wrist shot at the 4:31 mark of the frame was particularly noteworthy, as it was his first shorthanded goal since April 9, 2015.

Eighty-five seconds after the second intermission ended, the flurry of third period goals began when F Jay Beagle (RW Alex Chiasson) scored a shorthanded wrister to give the Capitals the lead. It was a lead that lasted only 3:59 though, as Second Star F Tomas Tatar (F Dylan Larkin and D Mike Green) leveled the contest with a tip-in. Scoring subsided until Tatar (F Henrik Zetterberg and D Niklas Kronwall) buried his second of the game, a power play snap shot, with 7:15 remaining in regulation to take a 3-2 lead for the Red Wings.

Detroit almost managed to earn the victory, but Larkin’s delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass set up a power play opportunity for the Capitals. Held off the scorecard in his last game played, F T.J. Oshie (Burakovsky and C Evgeny Kuznetsov) was sure to take advantage, scoring his wrister with 61 seconds remaining in regulation to level the game at three-all.

The Red Wings apparently didn’t learn their lesson when Oshie forced overtime. 68 seconds into three-on-three play, D Trevor Daley earned himself a seat in the penalty box for tripping Ovechkin. Ovi didn’t seem to like that very much, as he ended the game only 48 later with a game-winning slap shot from his usual spot in the face-off circle to Third Star G Petr Mrazek‘s right, assisted by C Nicklas Backstrom and D John Carlson.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 34-of-37 shots faced (.919 save percentage), forcing Mrazek to take the overtime loss, saving 37-of-41 (.902).

Not only was this the second-straight overtime game, but it was also a second-straight victory for road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors now trail the 10-5-3 home teams by only five points.

Sabres’ Early Struggles Lead to Questions

Bad habits die hard, as the Buffalo Sabres have had another bad start to the season. And because of those slow starts, the team gets in a hole at the beginning of the season so deep that they can never battle back and salvage the campaign.

The Sabres are 0-2-1 through the first three games, and the past two games against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have seen them give up a total of 12 goals. One of the biggest problems is that Buffalo is giving up a great deal of odd-man rushes. In the New Jersey game, odd-man rushes cost the Sabres four goals against.

But it is not just odd-man rushes. A lot of the goals against are because of the sloppy play in the Sabres’ own end and turnovers in key areas. Phil Housley, the Sabres’ new head coach, says the team needs to work harder and the results will come.

As if the defense is the only group struggling, Buffalo’s offense has also had its short comings. The Sabres have only had one line producing goals this season. Evander Kane has four goals, Jason Pominville has two goals and Jack Eichel has one goal. Big name players like Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo have been snack bitten thus far. O’Reilly has been basically invisible through three games and Sam Reinhart has looked lost playing his original center position.

Last year, the Sabres finished with the best power play in the league. Well, that was last year folks, as this year the Sabres are currently 16th with a lousy 15 percent success-rate early in the season. That’s not the worst part though, as the Sabres have given up four shorthanded goals already this season. That is the same amount the club gave up all of last season.

The team doesn’t have many excuses for the bad play. They don’t have many injuries, with just Zach Bogosian being the only serious loss to the team. So why is this team struggling so badly already? Sabres fans are looking for answers and if the squad continues to play the way it is, the loyal fan base will look for change.

Most of the Sabres’ struggles are because this team is weak-minded. They don’t handle adversity well at all. For example, when the Sabres were down 2-0 against the Devils, Kane found a goal to cut the lead to one. But, that positive momentum didn’t last a two full minutes as the Devils responded with goal of their own, and then found a fourth minutes later. Housley put it best when he stated the team doesn’t have push back when the game needs it or they face adversity. With a young team, learning to win is a hard thing to teach, but they need to show more fight if they want to be in more games.

The next issue has a lot to do with the goaltending, but Robin Lehner is not entirely to blame for this struggle. The fan base is used to having star and franchise goals, as the Sabres were lucky to have two elite goalies play for their organization in Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. Lehner is not one of those goalies: he is a tweener until the next franchise goalie comes along.

Lehner has been left out to dry for the two games he’s played this season. This is a goalie who posted a .920 save percentage last year and bailed the team out of a lot of games. His main weakness is the shootout, as he has yet to find a win in the shootout in his three seasons as a Sabre. He struggles to even make one save, but – again -it’s not just his fault as his team also forgets to score in shootout.

It’s easy to blame the coach and his system. Housley wants to play a five-man attack and wants the team to play with speed. This is part of the issue as the team doesn’t have a lot of speed with the exceptions of Eichel and Kane. Learning the new five-man attack is taking some time and, without the correct cycle, is leading to those odd-man rushes going the other way.

It looks bad right now, but I would like to remind people that last year the Nashville Predators struggled to start the season. They started their first 10 games 3-5-2 under Housley’s defensive system. That being said, things need to change for the Sabres because Jason Botterill has a plan and I’m sure could find a way to make moves to better this team.

The league is getting younger and the youth movement is on. It’s only a matter of time before the youngsters of Alex Nylander, Brendan Ghule and Linus Ullmark get a spot in the NHL. Players like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges are going to move on and the youth will get a chance to wake this team up.

The Sabres are heading west as they have San Jose tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT. They have had luck against this team over past few years, and they need to get on the right path on this trip with other games against LA, Anaheim and Vegas. If they could take 2 or 3 out of 4 games, the fans will calm down and they could start getting out of the big hole.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #74- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part II)

Jaromir Jagr signed with the Calgary Flames this week, the regular season started (though the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have been told yet that the games matter now) and former players tend to be GMs in the NHL, the Original Trio confirms. Also, we gave participation trophies without even watching the rest of the season for the second year in a row.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

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

Numbers Game: 2017-18 Standings Projections

Yes, it’s October.

Yes, it’s too early to make a final standings projection, but I’m going to do it anyway using a pseudo-algorithm called Heart and Grit Gut Feeling 2.0 (combined with the standard Microsoft Excel forecasting formula).

Gut Feeling 2.0 is better than just using the eye test because it combines actual numbers plugged into Microsoft Excel with the complete partial bias of whatever I feel like is the right record, number of points and/or anything shown below for all 31 teams in the NHL.

But seriously, to keep this loosely based in mathematics, I’ve included a range of points that three separate models are indicating (scroll to the bottom), as well as what Gut Feeling 2.0 is telling us.

2017-2018 Projected Final Standings

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Boston Bruins, 101 points
  2. x-Montreal Canadiens, 99 points
  3. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 98 points
  4. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points
  5. Ottawa Senators, 93 points
  6. Buffalo Sabres, 90 points
  7. Florida Panthers, 82 points
  8. Detroit Red Wings, 80 points

Predicting the final outcome across the Eastern Conference this year is a lot like playing the lottery– whether you pick your numbers or just do quick picks, your odds of winning are still far, far less than getting struck by lightning twice.

In the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins barely beat out the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning for the regular season division title with 101 points over Montreal’s 99 points and Tampa’s 98 points based on the Gut Feeling 2.0 model. Of course, seeding in the Stanley Cup Playoffs more often than not means nothing. Just like winning the President’s Trophy doesn’t mean much unless you win the Cup.

Given the parity of the Atlantic Division teams, it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the top-four teams in this model switch places or grab the division crown. Based on expected final standings point-ranges alone, Tampa looks to rebound with ease, while Montreal maintains status quo.

It’s a bit of a surprise, but the Ottawa Senators sit just on the outside looking in, though logic says otherwise. For one team to improve in the division (say, Tampa for example, or the Buffalo Sabres with a healthy, full-season of Jack Eichel), another team must lose. Five points in the final standings is the only difference between 2017-2018 and 2016-2017 for the Sens and ultimately it costs them a postseason appearance.

But if any major injuries occur to teams ahead of the Senators or Sabres, then expect either Ottawa or Buffalo to be ready to take their place.

When it comes to 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff success, you might want to consider cashing in on the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs to at least make it to the Second Round.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 107 points
  2. x-Washington Capitals, 106 points
  3. x-New York Rangers, 103 points
  4. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 102 points
  5. New York Islanders, 92 points
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 92 points
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  8. New Jersey Devils, 84 points

The 2017-2018 final standings in the Metropolitan Division look similar to the 2016-2017 final standings in the Metropolitan Division. This is no accident. The top teams, Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Rangers, remain dominant in their regular season play. Even the Columbus Blue Jackets, despite a six-point setback from their franchise best 50-win, 108-point season last year, remain a competitive team that should cross the 100-point plateau for two-seasons in a row under John Tortorella’s guise.

Whereas the Washington Capitals do not clinch the President’s Trophy in the 2017-2018 season and instead falter by 12 points compared to last season, the Carolina Hurricanes show improvement in their money-puck roster mentality, but ultimately the giants of the Metropolitan Divsion (the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, to be specific) prove too much for them to handle this season, though a 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs run seems imminent.

Somehow the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers remain stagnant this season, but the New Jersey Devils make the largest leap in points (from 70 points in ’16-’17 to 84 points in ’17-’18) as the rest of the division evens out.

Look for Pittsburgh to advance to the Second Round and yet another entertaining Rangers-Capitals matchup in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-Chicago Blackhawks, 102 points
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 97 points
  4. x-Dallas Stars, 96 points
  5. x-Minnesota Wild, 95 points
  6. Winnipeg Jets, 87 points
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 82 points

Look, the Dallas Stars have tremendous talent on their expected first line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, but even with Ben Bishop as their starting goaltender the Stars aren’t the best team in the Central Division.

Instead, the annual “how do they keep doing this all the time? oh, right, they have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford still” Chicago Blackhawks will just come out on top of the St. Louis Blues who look to improve from last season with a reinforced offense (hello, Brayden Schenn) and more experience on the blue line.

The Nashville Predators, in all their glory with four incredibly deep forward lines, the best defense (on paper) and an elite starting goalie in Pekka Rinne, surprisingly fall short of winning the division coming off of their 2017 Stanley Cup Final run. Nashville will be in better playoff position heading into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, given they won’t be the last team to clinch in the Western Conference, and they should be destined for another Western Conference Finals run, at least.

The Minnesota Wild are the winners of the consolation “hey the other division didn’t have four-quality playoff teams” prize and will clinch the second Western Conference wild card spot with 95 points in 2017-18– one season removed from a 49-25-8 record and 106 point, 2nd place finish in the Central Division.

Finally, the Colorado Avalanche couldn’t possibly have a season worse than they did last season, though they’re still poised to finish behind the Winnipeg Jets for last place in the division.

Pacific Division

  1. p-Edmonton Oilers, 112 points
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 109 points
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 99 points
  4. Los Angeles Kings, 92 points
  5. Calgary Flames, 85 points
  6. Vancouver Canucks, 83 points
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points
  8. Vegas Golden Knights, 72 points

Gut Feeling 2.0 never lies and the numbers don’t lie either. The Edmonton Oilers will be the top team in the Pacific Division when all is said and done this season. Better yet, the Oilers will be this season’s President’s Trophy winners– something that hasn’t happened since the days of some guy wearing a jersey with the number “99” on the back of it skated around the ice.

Other than Edmonton overtaking the Anaheim Ducks for first overall, there are virtually no changes in the Pacific Division standings. San Jose will knock at the door of a 100-point season for the third season in a row, only to fall a point short (for the second season in a row).

While Los Angeles Kings fans may be disappointed this season, if anything, missing the playoffs for one more season should give them enough time to develop and recover from their offseason roster moves while GM Rob Blake figures out the reins and plans the path back to Stanley Cup glory.

Things are coming together for the Arizona Coyotes. They won’t be a bad team; they’re just a victim of circumstance. Unfortunately, that circumstance dictates that it’s going to take one more season for the chemistry to work out as general manager, John Chayka, addresses the growing depth on offense (both in prospect development and with the addition of Derek Stepan this offseason), while building a stable core of defensemen and capable young goalies in Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue.

Meanwhile the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames go through their own growing pains for another season.

Luckily for the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s no pressure to play better than last season, mostly because this is their inaugural season, so it can’t be worse than before!

Look for Edmonton to make noise in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, going as deep as the Western Conference Finals– at least. Likewise, the Sharks seem ready for a better fight in the postseason than last season.

Plausible ranges in points based on three separate models (math done in Microsoft Excel alone– no Gut Feeling 2.0 added) for the 2017-2018 season:

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins (94-101), Buffalo Sabres (67-84), Detroit Red Wings (86-101), Florida Panthers (84-92), Montreal Canadiens (93-99), Ottawa Senators (91-92), Tampa Bay Lightning (89-98), Toronto Maple Leafs (80-90)

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes (81-87), Columbus Blue Jackets (84-92), New Jersey Devils (77-92), New York Islanders (84-97), New York Rangers (98-103), Philadelphia Flyers (90-92), Pittsburgh Penguins (105-108), Washington Capitals (102-119)

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks (100-107), Colorado Avalanche (65-84), Dallas Stars (92-94), Minnesota Wild (93-97), Nashville Predators (94-97), St. Louis Blues (97-106), Winnipeg Jets (83-87)

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks (101-109), Arizona Coyotes (74-83), Calgary Flames (85-90), Edmonton Oilers (74-87), Los Angeles Kings (90-96), San Jose Sharks (99-104), Vancouver Canucks (72-95), Vegas Golden Knights (69-75)

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.

Boston Bruins 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-7Boston Bruins

44-31-7, 95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Ottawa

Additions: F Kenny Agostino, D Paul Postma, F Teddy Purcell (PTO), F Jordan Szwarz

Subtractions: D Linus Arnesson (signed with Örebro HK, SHL),  D Chris Casto (signed with VGK), F Colton Hargrove (signed with Providence Bruins, AHL), F Jimmy Hayes (signed a PTO with NJ after being bought out by BOS), F Brian Ferlin (signed with EDM), D Alex Grant (signed with MIN), D Colin Miller (claimed by VGK at the Expansion Draft), F Dominic Moore (signed with TOR), D Joe Morrow (signed with MTL), F Tyler Randell (signed with OTT), F Zac Rinaldo (signed with ARI), F Drew Stafford (signed with NJ)

Still Unsigned: D John-Michael Liles

Offseason Analysis: The last branches of the Tyler Seguin trade wilted this offseason for the Boston Bruins after defenseman, Joe Morrow, was not tendered a qualifying offer, therefore making him an unrestricted free agent (who ended up signing with the enemy, the Montreal Canadiens– reuniting with head coach, Claude Julien), and forward, Jimmy Hayes, was the victim of a buyout entering the final year of his contract (and now has a PTO with the New Jersey Devils).

Morrow, of course, was part of the original acquisition for Seguin, while Hayes came along after the Bruins flipped Reilly Smith (along with the contract of Marc Savard) to the Florida Panthers in the 2015 offseason.

But none of that matters now. The Seguin deal was done and over with the moment it happened.

Regardless of the debate surrounding whether it was the worst move or not by the organization, one thing is clear– the current rendition of the Boston Bruins are Don Sweeney‘s Boston Bruins. Let’s move on from the Peter Chiarelli Era highs and lows.

These Bruins have something to prove and are ready to show it.

Whether things go their way all comes down to the way the puck bounces.

Forwards Austin Czarnik and Tim Schaller were re-signed this offseason. Czarnik’s transition to the NHL proved helpful to the organization in times of automatic depth necessity (injury) and Schaller surpassed all previous expectations in a breakout season (seven goals, seven assists in 59 games played).

Alas, the words “breakout season” are intrinsically connected to the words “sample size”, as Schaller had only played 35 career games in two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres (amassing 2-3-5 totals from 2014-2016) as a bottom-six forward.

With Sean Kuraly‘s postseason emergence as the double overtime hero in Game 5 of the Bruins First Round Atlantic Division matchup with the Ottawa Senators in Boston’s short-lived 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, Czarnik’s got some competition for a spot on the fourth line.

But enough about the “glue guys” for a moment. Let’s turn our attention to David Pastrnak, shall we?

The 70-point scorer last season reached the end of his entry-level contract on July 1st and became a restricted free agent without arbitration rights.

After watching fellow young and talented scorers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl receive massive pay raises, the 21-year-old winger from the Czech Republic was left wondering just how high his stock could go.

Agent, J.P. Barry, kept the hockey world on edge, as Pastrnak was reported to have considered a venture to the KHL if no common ground with the Bruins could be found, after NHL Network analyst, Brian Lawton, had already scared diehard Boston fans by surmising that Pastrnak would likely be traded.

Fans around the league thought they’d seen this before with Boston (remember Phil Kessel or Dougie Hamilton? Yeah, those guys were also represented by Barry during their tumultuous fallouts with the Bruins).

But analysts and fans league-wide were wrong. Kind of.

They had seen something just like this before– except it was with Torey Krug and Reilly Smith.

Krug and Smith had held out all summer long in 2014, coming off of their then-best career seasons, on the heels of a President’s Trophy winning 2013-2014 Bruins squad. They were RFAs, they were young and they were looking to get paid.

Deals sometimes take time and their extension negotiations caused them to miss the first day of training camp in September 2014.

Enter David Pastrnak and the 2017 offseason.

Boston’s best scorer on the same line as Boston’s other best scorer (Brad Marchand), together encompassing Boston’s best two-way forward (Patrice Bergeron) was due his lion’s share.

Tweets came from all sources and reporters drew the lines. Pastrnak and Sweeney were engaged in a standoff.

Except it was all just a numbers game.

McDavid’s 8-year, $100 million contract extension ($12.500 million cap hit) and Draisaitl’s  8-year, $68 million extension ($8.500 million cap hit) with Edmonton were worth aiming for, but when Bo Horvat struck a 6-year, $33 million deal ($5.500 million cap hit), Pastrnak’s amazing technicolor dreamcoat salary demands faltered a bit.

There was never any question as to whether Pastrnak was worth upwards of $7.000 almost $8.000 million a season, but trends in the market ultimately dictate one way or another how internal negotiations go.

So Sweeney pulled off an extremely club friendly $6.667 million cap hit on a 6-year, $40 million contract extension for Pastrnak. This, one season after extending Marchand for another eight years at only $6.125 million AAV, is some serious cap management at its best, almost impossible dream.

Especially when one considers that McDavid and Draisaitl are a costly $21 million-a-season for the next eight seasons in Edmonton (which is about 28% of the Oilers total player’s payroll).

Marchand and Pastrnak will cost the Bruins a combined $12.792 million-a-season for the next six years. Add Bergeron’s $6.875 million cap hit to that total and they’re still $1.333 million under 2/3’s of Edmonton’s best line ($19.667 million a year for Boston’s first line for the next six seasons, compared to the $21 million for McDavid and Draisaitl alone– Milan Lucic’s current cap hit is $6.000 million, if you were wondering).

Sweeney’s commitment to the core in Boston and letting his prospects develop may pan out this season with a longer run than last season’s First Round exit.

Adding Anders Bjork to the mix and a full season of Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, as well as Charlie McAvoy, is sure to make this year’s Bruins team a fun one to watch.

It’s not about the main additions of Kenny Agostino and Paul Postma to the black and gold, but rather how far will the kids go?

They’re not the young, talented, and once-in-a-generation skillful Toronto Maple Leafs, per se, but Bruce Cassidy’s Bruins might be able to skate with them this season.

Offseason Grade: B

Grading the 2017 offseason for the Bruins wasn’t contingent upon re-signing David Pastrnak or adding a top-notch *cough cough overpaid because of a lack of available good free agents* free agent– it involved a thoughtfully calculated formula of “did they do anything stupid?” and “did they continue to make a commitment to their youth infused core, moving forward?” (the answers, of course, are “no” and “yes”– don’t be a dummy, trust Don Sweeney on this one, for once).

Extra credit for not shelling out $6 million on an over 30-year-old forward for the next five or six years (maybe David Backes will rebound this season– hopefully). Don’t stray from the formula (they didn’t).

Toronto Maple Leafs 2017-2018 Season Preview

UnknownToronto Maple Leafs

40-27-15, 95 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Washington

Additions: D Ron Hainsey, D Vincent LoVerde, F Patrick Marleau, F Dominic Moore, F Chris Mueller

Subtractions: G Antoine Bibeau (signed with SJ), F Brian Boyle (signed with NJ), D Andrew Campbell (signed with ARI), F Seth Griffith (signed with BUF), F Teemu Hartikainen (signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL), D Matt Hunwick (signed with PIT), F Sergey Kalinin (signed with SKA St. Petersburg, KHL), F Brooks Laich (signed a PTO with LA), D Steve Oleksy (signed with ANA), D Stephane Robidas (retired)

Still Unsigned: F Milan Michalek, D Roman Polak

Offseason Analysis: The Kids Revival Era in Toronto led to a Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance for the first time since 2013 and sooner than anyone could have ever expected last October. Unfortunately, all good runs must come to an end and the youthful Leafs were unable to defeat the Second Round pros (the Washington Capitals) in a back-and-forth six-game battle in the First Round.

Fear not, Toronto, your team will be just fine.

Maple Leafs general manager, Lou Lamoriello, hasn’t had much to do this offseason. Lamoriello’s additions of Ron Hainsey, Patrick Marleau and Dominic Moore bring veteran leadership of the highest quality to the locker room full of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander‘s scoring capabilities (and that’s ignoring the fact that James van Riemsdyk exists altogether).

Hainsey, 36, is in search of his second Stanley Cup after finally appearing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the 2017 champion Pittsburgh Penguins. As Connor Carrick, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev delve into the prime of their careers, Hainsey’s guidance on the blue line will balance the workload and make it easier for Toronto’s head coach, Mike Babcock, to make crucial decisions regarding defensive pairings and special teams.

While Lamoriello landed star playmaker, Patrick Marleau, to transform the rest of the top-9 forwards into a shot attempts for, offense generating machine, the skilled forward comes in past the plateau of his prime at 37-years-old and down significantly from his consistent 70-plus point seasons in scoring.

Although his 27-19-46 totals in all 82 games last season with the San Jose Sharks were impressive for his age, he’s likely to see less goal scoring and more emphasis than ever before on passing the puck to linemates far faster than him on the ice.

If Toronto wins the Cup in the next year or two, there’s a good chance his 3-year, $18.750 million contract ($6.250 million cap hit) will be forgiven given his age and the cap overage that the Maple Leafs are currently facing (they’re about $4.600 million over the $75 million salary cap ceiling).

In perhaps the best signing of adding a more veteran punch to the roster, Dominic Moore’s 1-year, $1.000 million contract should pay off in spades for the Maple Leafs.

Moore bounced back from a 15-point season (six goals, nine assists) in 80 games with the New York Rangers in 2015-2016 with a 25-point year (11 goals, 14 assists) in all 82 games with the Boston Bruins last season. His power play specialty alone bolster’s Toronto’s firing power on the man advantage, let alone the fact that he’s a top-notch bottom-six center as a 37-year-old in search for his first Stanley Cup.

A Cup win would cap off a happy homecoming for the native of Thornhill, Ontario.

Any other team that adds three players over the age of 35 in one offseason would be considered insane, yet here we are praising Toronto for finding the right guys, making the right deals (well, two out of three ain’t bad) and improving their team while only losing NHL caliber talents such in Seth Griffith (okay, maybe a fourth liner/top-6 AHLer), Matt Hunwick (signed with Pittsburgh, which, good for him) and Brooks Laich (had been buried in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies and currently looking for a revival on a PTO with Los Angeles).

Okay, fine, not to overlook the loss of Brian Boyle to New Jersey via free agency, but Boyle’s 25 points in scoring last season, split between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto in 76 games combined was the same offensive output as Moore, minus the face-off winning abilities and special teams impact.

In fact, Boyle notched 22 of his 25 points on the season with Tampa in 48 games prior to being traded to Toronto two days before the trade deadline. Chemistry and sample size aside, Moore is a better replacement for Boyle’s inept scoring prowess (three points in 21 games with Toronto).

To summarize, Lamoriello didn’t have to do anything to an already stacked team, but he added without subtracting anyway. Oh yeah, and the Leafs will totally finish 2nd or 3rd in the Atlantic this season. Maybe 1st.

Offseason Grade: B+

Patrick Marleau shouldn’t be getting more than a two-year contract at this point, but the Maple Leafs will own up to paying more than they’d probably like to because of the over-35-years-old compliance with the CBA. Speaking of the CBA, the league still needs to figure out that whole “over the salary cap limit, while also probably going to utilize the LTIR on at least one player (namely Joffrey Lupul and Nathan Horton) a la the Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks situation with Marian Hossa before the season begins” thing.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-3Tampa Bay Lightning

42-30-10, 94 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division (’16-’17)

Additions: D Mat Bodie, F Michael Bournival, F Alex Gallant, D Dan Girardi, F Chris Kunitz, G Michael Leighton, D Jamie McBain, D Mikhail Sergachev, F Carter Verhaeghe

Subtractions: F Jonathan Drouin (traded to MTL), F Byron Froese (signed with MTL), G Kristers Gudlevskis (traded to NYI), F Nikita Gusev (traded to VGK), F Henri Ikonen (signed with Jokerit, KHL), G Jaroslav Janus (signed with HC Slovan Bratislava, KHL), F Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (retired), F Greg McKegg (signed with PIT), G Mike McKenna (signed with DAL), F Tanner Richard (signed with Genève-Servette, NLA), D Matt Taormina (signed with MTL), F Joel Vermin (signed with Lausanne, NLA), D Luke Witkowski (signed with DET)

Still Unsigned: D Dylan Blujus, F Stefan Fournier, F Mike Halmo, D Jonathan Racine

Offseason Analysis: Steve Yzerman is a man with a plan for the Tampa Bay Lightning– not just because he’s the general manager, but because he literally has to have a plan somewhere with how he’s been able to carefully navigate avoiding salary cap hell while managing to keep a solid, young, core group of players in town.

Nic Cage is already writing the script for the Disney movie.

The Lightning just missed out on a 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance as the Toronto Maple Leafs secured the final spot on the second-to-last day of the regular season in a comeback win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. While frustrating for some, skipping a year of the postseason might have been a blessing in disguise from the hockey gods.

A healthy Steven Stamkos is a major bonus.

Tampa’s plus-7 goal differential was the 2nd worst goal differential in the Atlantic Division. Not that goal differential means everything in terms of league standings, but Stamkos’s absence was felt in the drop in offensive production compared to the season prior (plus-26 goal differential in 2015-2016).

Chris Kunitz brings his four Stanley Cups (the most of any current active player) and his 29 points in 71 games last season with Pittsburgh to the Lightning after signing a 1-year, $2.000 million deal. The 37-year-old forward has been in decline since the 2013-2014 season, but provides stability as a top-9 forward on the left side for the Bolts.

Even for his expertise, Kunitz’s numbers won’t be enough to replace the biggest loss from this offseason *ahem, a certain trade involving the Monreal Canadiens*.

On the blue line Tampa added Dan Girardi, which gives the Bolts three defensemen who are at least 31-years-old, but thankfully all of them have two-years and modest salary remaining on their deals, while rookies and 2017 1st rounder, Callan Foote, look to crack the roster.

And to give credit where credit is due, Yzerman’s biggest loss this offseason might just be one of his biggest gains in the seasons to come.

Yes, the Lightning sent forward, Jonathan Drouin, and a conditional 2018 6th round pick to the Canadiens in exchange for 19-year-old– high caliber– defensive prospect, Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional 2018 2nd round pick.

Drouin witnessed a 21-point improvement from his rookie year (32 points in 2014-2015) to last season, notching 21 goals and 32 assists for 53 points in 73 games played. In just 21 games played the year prior, after a minor-league holdout and team suspension, Drouin had 4-6-10 totals.

While Kunitz enters on the downhill of his NHL-career and Drouin was traded, one cannot forget that 40-goal scorer Nikita Kucherov exists. Kucherov’s 85 points led the Lightning in scoring last season and look to be matched, if not improved, this year.

For the Canadiens, acquiring Drouin was necessary to replace the departed Alexander Radulov, however trading Sergachev– especially after trading Nathan Beaulieu to Buffalo– weakened their blue line depth and increased their average age.

Drouin wasn’t the only forward traded away from Tampa, as Nikita Gusev found himself victim of the 2017 Expansion Draft, whereby the Lightning sent Gusev, a 2017 2nd round pick and a 2018 4th round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for future considerations (a.k.a. not selecting a certain player). Vegas claimed defenseman, Jason Garrison, as one of their own instead and the Bolts went on their way.

Finally, the post-Ben Bishop era Lightning that we got a glimpse of last season are exactly who we expect this season. Andrei Vasilevskiy returns as the starting goaltender with Peter Budaj as his backup according to Yzerman and Jon Cooper’s master plan for getting Tampa back into the playoffs and maybe– just maybe– back into the Stanley Cup Final.

Of course, this meant that NHL-ready backup, Kristers Gudlevskis fell victim to being too good to sit lower in the depth chart, stopping pucks for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. The Lightning traded Gudlevskis to the New York Islanders this offseason and received forward, Carter Verhaeghe, in return.

Offseason Grade: C+

For what they had to address (re-sign everyone that you can and do nothing), Tampa had an average offseason. They added guys who replaced expendable parts (like most teams these days, shelling out one or two-year contracts) and they might have shot themselves in the foot in the immediate fallout of the Drouin trade. But like anything, only time will tell.

A “C+” here doesn’t reflect that they’ll be a bad team– they’ll be a playoff team in 2018– it merely reflects that they were smart this offseason and didn’t overspend, overcompensate in trading or have a lack of transactions.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #70- 2017-2018 Atlantic Division Preview

The Original Trio gets carried away talking about the Vegas Golden Knights masterplan for ruining everything. Additionally, Nick, Colby and Connor discuss the recent signings and NHL headlines, as well as what to do with remaining unsigned RFAs and a 2017-2018 Atlantic Division preview that’s full of the hottest takes in the land.

As is now tradition, find the latest episode here on our Libsyn page.

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

Buffalo Sabres 2017-2018 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)

Key Additions: Viktor Antipin, Nathan BeaulieuSeth GriffithChad JohnsonJacob JosefsonJason PominvilleBenoit PouliotMarco Scandella, Phil Housley (Coach), Jason Botterill (GM)

Key Subtractions: Tyler Ennis (Traded to Minnesota), Marcus Foligno (Traded to Minnesota), Dmitry Kulikov (Signed with Winnipeg), Dan Bylsma (Fired), Tim Murray (Fired)

Unsigned: Cody Franson

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres had a busy offseason to say the least, as both General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Byslma were fired following the club’s sixth-straight season missing the playoffs. The search for a new GM led Owner Terry Pegula to former player Jason Botterill, who continued the trend of hiring former players by offering former Sabres great Phil Housley his first NHL head coaching job. Housley was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators for the past four seasons, helping to lead the club to its first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. This was a smart move to hire a former blue liner to lead the team, as he should bring Buffalo a smooth-skating team that allows the defensemen, Rasmus Ristolainen in particular, to carry the puck up ice similar to Nashville’s style.

The Sabres have struggled defensively for years now, so it was no surprise that Botterill’s first goal was to fix that issue. He started by signing KHL free agent defenseman Viktor Antipin, but didn’t stop there: he also acquired Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal for a 3rd round pick. Botterill still saw the need for a top pair defenseman, so he traded Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and a 3rd round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Marco Scandella, fan-favorite Jason Pominville and a 4th round pick.

Although Botterill addressed the Sabres’ defensive issues early in summer, he didn’t neglect his other positions. Among his most important additions are Benoit Pouliot, Chad Johnson and Jacob Josefson.

All in all, the Sabres’ offseason look pretty solid. They didn’t go out and overspend on any major free agents.

That being said, they still have a big hole among their top 6 forwards. Specifically, the need for a left wing is paramount, and it has top prospects Justin Bailey, Nicholas Baptiste and Alexander Nylander all itching for the chance to play with the big boys. I personally believe Nylander stands the best chance. He is a natural left wing and has added some needed muscle this offseason. A solid camp from him could see him playing on the left with Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly.

Offseason Grade: B+

Overall, the Sabres had a tremendous offseason and I think the fans will see a better product on the ice this season. With a healthy Eichel and strong defense, I think the Sabres should be a playoff team.