Nick, Connor, Cap’n and Pete reveal the conclusion of their top-10 series, capping things off with the top-10 defenders in their lifetimes, as well as more arbitration and Columbus Blue Jackets talk.
Nick, Cap’n and Pete announce their top-10 right wingers of their lifetimes while Connor mails it in and Nick reads his list (somebody has to do work around here). Keeping with tradition, all of Thursday’s big news was announced during or shortly after recording.
We’re just a few hours away from the NHL Draft, so I thought I would put together a few quick hits to tide you over before Gary Bettman gets up to say “we have a trade to announce” for the first time and every NHL GM talks about how wonderful Dallas is as a city.
At the beginning of the junior hockey season, I highlighted four draft-eligible players from the WHL–Ty Smith, Jett Woo, Riley Sutter and Alexander Alexeyev. So, how did there season go and where might you see them go tonight? Smith, the left-handed defenseman from Spokane, finished the year with 73 points in 69 games and another 7 points in 7 playoff games. Central Scouting had him ranked 14th among North American Skaters and that is also where he finished the season. ISS had him ranked at 19th at the end of the season. Some rankings have him as high as #8 and others in the mid-late 20’s. That is the nature of this year’s draft though–there is some depth in the draft and a wide variance in rankings outside of the top 2-3 picks.
Jett Woo really fell off the radar as the year went on. Missing 28 games with an upper-body injury in your draft year will do that. Some early rankings had him as a mid-late first round pick, but Central Scouting had him as the 28th best North American skater and ISS didn’t have him ranked in the first round. His 25 points in 44 games wasn’t particularly remarkable and his playoff performance–3 points in 14 games–certainly didn’t help things. Based on how the season went, I’d say Woo projects more as a dependable, second pairing defenseman who is good all around, but not stellar in the offensive zone. There are enough positives that he will probably go in the first half of the second round.
Riley Sutter finished the season with a solid, but not spectacular, 53 points in 68 games. He had a very good stint in the playoffs with 19 points in 21 games. Sutter will probably still be on the board after the second round. A solid two-way player, who plays the center position, has size, pedigree and plays his best hockey in the playoffs…some GM could get bold and take him in the second round. In all likelihood, he projects as a very good third line center that can occasionally slot in on the second line.
Alexander Alexeyev put up 37 points in 45 games this season and followed it up with 5 points in 3 playoff games. Like Woo, he’s had injury issues, but, when healthy, he’s been looked to contribute more than Woo, routinely logging 20 plus minutes a night. Like Woo, he’s a solid, two-way defenseman, but, to this point, he’s had more offensive upside. So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Alexeyev has been ranked higher than Woo, showing up at 24th on the final ISS rankings and 22nd on Central Scouting’s North American skater list. There is a lot of risk in picking Alexeyev in the first round, but given the importance of defense, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a team take him with one of the last ten picks in the first round.
If somehow Ty Smith was still on the board at 18, I’d be stoked to see the Jackets get him, though they are more likely to prioritize a forward and the odds of Smith slipping that far seem low given the number of teams in need of a defenseman picking ahead of Columbus.
- It wouldn’t be the offseason without some sort of contract drama for the Jackets. Last year we saw Josh Anderson‘s contract negotiations draft out until the fall. This year, drama regarding the extension of Artemi Panarin has come a year early after the 2019 UFA-to-be stated he was not yet ready to sign an extension come July 1. Jarmo Kekalainen was, predictably, calm about the situation, but he’s also going to spend the weekend seeing what the market is for the dynamic wing, which is the smart thing to do. Despite the gloom and doom from certain local beat writers, Panarin isn’t going anywhere unless someone wants to overpay the Jackets.
- Interestingly, Kekaleinen made a comment that what went for Panarin, also went for Sergei Bobrovsky, which was largely ignored as people focused on the Panarin rumors. The Jackets didn’t have an easy go the last time they had to negotiate an extension with Bobrovsky, but their internal options to replace Bobrovsky next year are uncertain at best given the season Joonas Korpisalo had and the fact that Elvis Merzlikins has yet to play in North America. The fact that Bobrovsky will likely be looking for a raise and a long-term deal when he is already making over $7 million/season is a concern for the Jackets going forward. Something to watch.
- As always, there are a lot of rumors out there about potential trade bait. Ryan O’Reilly is a player Buffalo would like to move before his bonus payment on July 1, but doing so may require them accepting a lesser haul than they would get after July 1. After the second pick in the draft, it wouldn’t be a shock to see any team move down. Carolina is looking to move Jeff Skinner and, potentially, Elias Lindholm. Craig Anderson and, perhaps, Erik Karlsson could be on the move for Ottawa, which begs the question whether Matt Duchene might also be on the move again with only 1 year left on his deal on yet another team that doesn’t seem to be a contender. The Habs are looking to move Max Pacioretty, and also to finally get a second line center. So, could be a lot of busy real estate agents this weekend.
- Get ready for the annual Ilya Kovalchuk tease. Los Angeles and Vegas seem to be the leaders, but you should probably expect him to sign with a Russian team when it is all said and done because that’s how he rolls.
The San Jose Sharks got quality goaltending from Martin Jones and buried the Vegas Golden Knights 4-0 to send the series back to Las Vegas tied at two. Jones had 34 saves on the night and bested Knights goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, who seemingly had Sharks circling him all night long. The loss was the first shutout loss in the playoffs for the Knights.
The Sharks’ first goal came off of an impressive skating exhibition by Marcus Sorensen who outmaneuvered four of the Sharks skaters and Fleury to put the puck top shelf with under five minutes left in the first period. The Knights felt there was interference (effectively a pick on one of their defending players), but the referees apparently felt otherwise.
The Sharks may not have got back Joe Thornton, but they did get back Joonas Donskoi and he didn’t waste time getting back on the scoresheet. In the dying minutes of the first period, Donskoi skated down the ice with two Knights back to defend, but managed to shoot the puck through Brayden McNabb‘s legs and Fleury had no hope to stop it. Fleury managed 30 saves and was better than his save percentage might suggest on the night.
In the second period, Tomas Hertl cashed in on chaos in front of Fleury after a shot by Mikkel Boedker. At that point, it was all over but the shouting. “Little” Joe Pavelski would add a power play goal in the third and that was the final nail in the coffin.
This was the first game of the series where the Sharks had a better Corsi-For percentage than the Knights. The Sharks looked faster than Vegas and the Knights seemed unable to establish the forecheck. The Vegas power play went 0-for-5 and they have to be a little concerned by the lack of offense. James Neal still only has one goal for the series. The Sharks have evened the series without much from Evander Kane to this point.
With that said, Vegas regained home ice advantage in Game 3 and now they head home for a critical Game 5. They have to generate more offense and part of that has to come on the power play. If they can do that and/or have Fleury play out of his mind, they have a good change. But if they continue being out skated by San Jose and allowing the Sharks to take shots from high danger areas, the clock will strike midnight for Cinderella.
Most of the focus in analyzing the playoff performance seems to focus on Sergei Bobrovsky. This is understandable given Bobrovsky’s history of giving up three or more goals in playoff games, but it ignores another reason that the Jackets may be struggling against the Capitals as their series has progressed and that is player usage.
The Jackets played 82 games prior to the playoffs and that data tells us a lot about which players were making positive contributions to the team and which players weren’t. Yet, John Tortorella’s player usage in this series suggests that some old school thoughts about playoff hockey may be leading to the Jackets deploying players in a sub-optimal manner. In a series defined by close games and, more importantly, overtime games, choices in player deployment can be the difference between being up 3-2 and being down 3-2.
Let’s take the case of Oliver Bjorkstrand. Bjorkstrand finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% of 51.64 percent and was fifth on the team with 40 points. Furthermore, Bjorkstrand had become a very solid player at both ends at the ice, something that Tortorella had him focused on at the start of the season. Yet, through five games of this series, the only players with less time-on-ice than Bjorkstrand were Alexander Wennberg (who has only played in two games due to injury), Mark Letestu, and Sonny Milano (a healthy scratch for Game 5). After scoring a goal in Game 5, Torts finally started playing Bjorkstrand more in the rest of the game and the result was a number of solid shifts where the puck was held in the Caps zone–something the Jackets have struggled with in this series. Bjorkstrand’s line had two of the best opportunities in the overtime period of Game 5.
One of the players getting less ice time than Bjorkstrand is Milano, who was a healthy scratch for Game 5, but played little to no minutes in the prior four games. Like Bjorkstrand, Milano had a positive 5-on-5 CF% of 50.91 percent. He put up 14 goals in only 55 games and his return to the lineup was one of the things that helped the Jackets down the stretch. In fact, Milano was paired with Bjorkstrand on a line centered by Nick Foligno that provided a scoring threat when the top line wasn’t on the ice during a part of March. That line was scuttled by Foligno’s injury.
So, who has been getting ice time over Milano and Bjorkstrand? Thomas Vanek, for one. While Vanek had positive possession numbers in 19 games for the Jackets, his possession numbers in Vancouver were less than stellar with a 45.01 percent 5-on-5 CF%. Seven goals and eight assists in 19 games was also probably not a sustainable pace for the 34 year-old Vanek.
You have to wonder how much of the decision to play Vanek more than Bjorkstrand and Milano comes down to an antiquated view of “playoff hockey.” Neither Milano nor Bjorkstrand are known for a gritty or grinding style. They aren’t veterans. And, while Bjorkstrand is solid in his own end, Milano is still a work-in-progress in this respect. However, none of this changes the fact that the team is better off with them in the lineup and playing. The fact is that Milano is a dangerous player in both good ways and bad and the good still outweighs the bad based on what the advanced stats tell us. Given Vanek’s own unforced-errors in Game 4, it hardly seems like playing him more has solved anything and it has, arguably, taken a more skilled player off the ice and certainly taken a quicker skater off the ice.
With Wennberg back in the lineup, one of Brandon Dubinsky or Letestu should be out of the lineup to make room for Milano. The sole reason this apparently hasn’t happened would seem to be face-offs. Wennberg is clearly being sheltered from this part of his duties, while Boone Jenner is actually being put in for spot face-off duty.
I’m not sure this is good enough justification to keep them both in. Jenner has been strong enough in the face-off dot, as has Foligno. Letestu been so-so this series and Dubinsky has been strong, though Dubinsky has taken three penalties while Letestu has taken none. Flip a coin, but one of these two should sit instead of dividing minutes and taking a roster spot that could be held by a better player. If you want to see how smart coaches can make dumb decisions about players based on overemphasizing face-offs, take a look at Jay Beagle‘s possession stats sometime. Woof.
That’s another thing, here. The Caps have dog crap for depth. They had six forwards who played regularly who finished the season with a 5-on-5 CF% above 50 percent. One of them–Burakovsky–is out for the series. How many regular forwards did Columbus have above that mark? Eight, all of whom who are available to play in this series. That means the Jackets are one line deeper than Washington. Josh Anderson is playing bottom-six minutes for the Jackets. I’ve got no problem with that as long as (1) the right people are getting more minutes than him and (2) the Jackets more evenly divide the minutes.
Why should the minutes be divided more evenly? Because the Caps have dog crap for depth AND these games are going into overtime. The Jackets should be taking more advantage of their depth by spreading minutes more evenly. Keep the legs fresh. This isn’t the old days. Penalties are called regularly in the playoffs now and the old grind and hold game doesn’t work. The team with fresh legs is best prepared to capitalize on mistakes in overtime. You look at the last shift yesterday and the Jackets’ top line was gassed and the Caps took advantage on the cycle. Divide minutes more evenly and the story might end differently. The Jackets can afford to do it because the skill difference between their third and second lines isn’t as pronounced as it is for Washington.
If the Jackets want to take it to Washington tomorrow, John Tortorella needs to face his fears and embrace the fact that speed and skill is what wins games in hockey in 2018, even in the playoffs. Yes, Milano will make mistakes, but so have the guys who have played in place of him. Show faith in your young players. They are the future of this team and they didn’t let you down for the 82 games that preceded this series. Don’t abandon them now because of fear, embrace them as your hope. Depth is your advantage, press your advantage. Divide playing time more equally not just because you expect these games to go to overtime, but because it is to your advantage even over 60 minutes of hockey. Torts needs to think about his own motto in a new way. When it comes to coaching playoff games in 2018, Safe Is Death.
With an overtime-winning goal from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps became the first team to win a game on home ice in this series as they moved within a win of the second round. The Jackets have now lost three straight after starting the series with a 2-0 advantage.
The Jackets had played a solid first period, but the Caps got a power play that felt like it could shift momentum. Instead, Matt Calvert scored a short-handed goal to give the Jackets their first 1-0 lead of the series off of some nice board work by Seth Jones. The lead wouldn’t last long as Backstrom got a lucky break on a shot that went off of David Savard‘s skate, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s mask and into the goal.
As the second period started, it felt like the Caps were the hungrier team. Dmitry Orlov sent a long stretch pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov that he buried to give the Caps their first lead of the game at 2-1. It was one of several poor line changes by Columbus and Washington took advantage. Despite continued pressure from the Caps, the Jackets would even it up when Calvert got his second of the game on a breakaway after initially whiffing on a shot and then making a spin move to put it in the net. With 3:18 left in the 2nd period T.J. Oshie redirected a point shot from John Carlson to put the Caps ahead 3-2. Once again, it felt like maybe the Caps were going to take control of the game.
However, Oliver Bjorkstrand had other thoughts. Ian Cole took a shot from the point that Bjorkstrand tipped to knot the game at three early in the third period. Bjorkstrand had seen little time throughout the game (and the series), but he seemed to gain confidence in this game and John Tortorella rewarded him with additional time in the third period and overtime. All of the momentum was with Columbus in the third period, but they couldn’t solve Braden Holtby. The Caps were outshot 16-1 in the final frame of regulation.
Once again, the long change seemed to cause problems for the Jackets as momentum again shifted to the Caps in overtime. The Jackets have struggled with the long change throughout the season and this trend seems to have carried into the playoffs. The Jackets best chance in overtime was with Bjorkstrand and Jenner on the ice together. It is a pairing that work at times in the early part of the season and which made some sense here given the game Bjorkstrand had played to that point and the series that Jenner has had. But it wasn’t to be and the game-winning goal came on a shift in which the Caps managed to sustain pressure and, again, re-direct a point shot past Bobrovsky.
There were some encouraging signs for the Blue Jackets and John Tortorella was emphatic in the press conference that his team would be ready for Game 6 and that they would force a Game 7, but they are running out of chances and now they have their backs against the wall. Getting Bjorkstrand involved in the game is definitely a positive as the Jackets have been over-relying on their top line. Cam Atkinson finished the game with 28:25 time on ice and Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois weren’t far behind.
There are also some things to be concerned about. Bobrovsky’s subpar save percentage in this game is probably not as big of a concern given that more than one of those goals was off a redirection. What is more of a concern is that Panarin seemed less dynamic than usual after a slash to his knee. While his 80 percent is still better than most players at 100 percent, his line has also been a big driver in this series and, as noted above, spends a lot of time on the ice. The Jackets also need to make a decision about Brandon Dubinsky with Alexander Wennberg back on the ice. Dubinsky’s struggles have been a story line this season, sometimes to the point of being tabloid material. His struggles as this series have progressed are real and time on ice of just 7:28 (despite getting time on penalty kill) suggests the coaching staff is well aware of the issue. Mark Letestu looked to be the better option as this game progressed.
The Caps will have the chance to finish the series off in Columbus on Monday and will have confidence having beaten the Jackets twice on the road. Should they lose, however, the old doubts might start to creep back in, so the series still isn’t over yet and could have some surprises in store.
Game 3 was a must-win for the Anaheim Ducks after losing two games at home to the San Jose Sharks. The embarrassing 8-1 lost showed a tale of two California teams–one finally moving beyond the team helmed by Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton for the past decade and the other desperate to relive their past glory from 2007. The team that has moved on from its past appears to be the team that will move on to Round 2, while the team trying to relive its past is learning a hard lesson–the NHL is not the same as it was in 2007.
When the Ducks brought back Randy Carlyle, the thought was that his discipline was what was needed to get the team to the next level. If this is what discipline looks like, I’d hate to see what anarchy would look like for this team. 10 penalties, including four from Captain Ryan Getzlaf (including a misconduct), who should know better.
The Sharks breakaway speed has been a problem for the Ducks the entire series, and it was again in Game 3. The Sharks started to break it open in the second period when two quick goals gave them a 3-1 lead. The first of those two goals was scored by Joonas Donskoi on a nice feed from, who else, Evander Kane and the second saw Donskoi setting up Marcus Sorensen on another breakaway. It went downhill from there as John Gibson couldn’t bail out the Ducks and the score was 5-1 by the time the third period began, leading to the Ducks going to Ryan Miller in desperation. It didn’t matter, despite a solid season, Miller would give up 3 goals in the third period.
I don’t know if the Sharks are good enough for Buffalo to get that first round pick from the Kane deal, but it is clear that Kane fits right in on the team. The Sharks don’t appear to be missing either Marleau or Thornton. Without Jumbo out there, they are able to take advantage of their speed against a team like the Ducks. This is the way hockey is played in 2018.
The Ducks, on the other hand, are playing with a team built literally and figuratively for 2007. Francois Beauchemin. Jason Chimera. Ryan Kesler. Miller. This doesn’t even include some of the guys not currently playing for the Ducks such as Kevin Bieksa, Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll and Chris Kelly. Beauchemin played nearly 20 minutes, so its not as if he was a rarely-used third pairing defenseman.
Some of that was certainly the result of injuries. But the Ducks, in general, need to do what San Jose has done this year and start moving on from the past. This isn’t Getzlaf and Corey Perry‘s team any more than the 2007 Ducks were Teemu Selanne‘s team–its Rickard Rakell‘s team. Its Jakob Silfverberg‘s team. Its Ondrej Kase‘s team. Yes, Perry and Getzlaf will continue to be important, but their role should be a supporting role the way Selanne’s role was when he returned to Anaheim. This is a young man’s league and you can’t build a team in this league around a core of 30-somethings.
You also can’t build the team the Ducks need to build with Carlyle at the helm. Bob Murray needs to learn from the mistakes of his mentor, Brian Burke. When Burke got nostalgic and brought in Todd Bertuzzi, he messed with the chemistry he had created in Anaheim. Murray needs to abandon nostalgia and build around youth and speed with Perry and Getzlaf there to provide just enough grit and physicality to balance things.
The Ducks will have at least one more game in 2017-18. Hopefully it is the end of an era and the beginning of a bright future. They have the young players and prospects to do it, but they need to have faith to hand the team over to them.
As for the Sharks, it is going to be fun to see what this team can do in the rest of the post-season, particularly as the next round is shaping up to be against the team with the Midas Touch, the Vegas Golden Knights.
I’ve seen many Ducks-Sharks playoff matchups through the years, but this one might prove to be different. This year the Sharks are without Patrick Marleau, now in Toronto. Joe Thornton is out with an injury. Their big trade deadline acquisition was a guy portrayed (rightly or wrongly) as a locker room cancer.
The Ducks came into the playoffs a hot team after struggling with injuries early in the season. Ryan Getzlaf put up over a point a game on the season, albeit after missing substantial time to injury. Both John Gibson and Ryan Miller put up solid numbers on the season with save percentages over .920. Despite trading Sami Vatanen, the Ducks still boast a solid defense.
Despite all of that, the Ducks managed to give up home ice and look pretty lackluster doing it. In the first period, the Ducks seemed to have problems with the Sharks speed. Neither team’s power play could come up big despite opportunities. The Ducks only managed 4 shots prior to the first intermission.
Things would get decidedly worse for Anaheim in the second frame. With nearly 7 minutes gone in the period and the Sharks already outshooting the Ducks 15 to 7, the Ducks took two ill-advised penalties to give San Jose a 5-on-3. Before the PA announcer could finish telling the crowd about the second penalty, Evander Kane had put the Sharks up 1-0 on a beautiful feed by Pavelski.
Pavelski would make another solid pass to Kane that led to the second goal for the Sharks. Less than a minute later, Brent Burns would put the game away with a snap shot through traffic to put the Sharks up 3-0. The score would hold through the third period, despite the Ducks out-shooting the Sharks 12-9.
Evander Kane looks like a guy trying to prove something. This is a point made by several of us on the DTFR playoff podcast. Randy Carlyle did nothing to contradict my hypothesis that the game has passed him by and the Ducks now find themselves down 1-0 and needing to win at least one game in the Shark Tank to win this series. One bright spot for the Ducks was Gibson, who had a solid performance despite the loss.
If the Ducks are going to even up the series, they really need to stay out of the penalty box. What is a bigger concern is how much the Ducks seemed to struggle with the Sharks’ speed. Relying on Francois Beauchemin to play 20 plus minutes is probably not helping in this respect, something necessitated as a result of injuries and the trade of Vatanen earlier this season. It is possible the Ducks get Kevin Bieksa back, but it is also hard to see how a lumbering 38-year old is going to do any better against the Sharks’ quick forwards. Somehow the Ducks are going to have to find an answer before Saturday or they’ll find themselves headed to San Jose down 2-0.
In a first, everyone (except for Jordan) appears on the Down the Frozen River Podcast to predict how the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will go before the 2017-18 NHL regular season even ends, technically speaking. The 100th episode anniversary is informally observed.