Tag Archives: Central Division

DTFR Podcast #127- Tip Of The Hat(s)

John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Winnipeg Jets 2018-19 Season Preview

jetslogo

Winnipeg Jets

52-20-10, 114 points, 2nd in the Central Division

Lost in Western Conference Final to VGK, 4-1

Additions: D Simon Bourque (acquired from MTL), G Laurent Brossoit, F Dennis Everberg, F Seth Griffith

Subtractions: F Joel Armia (traded to MTL), F Chase De Leo (traded to ANA), D Toby Enstrom (signed, SHL), F Matt Hendricks (signed with MIN), G Michael Hutchinson (signed with FLA), D Jan Kostalek (signed, ELH), G Steve Mason (traded to MTL, subsequently bought-out, current UFA), D Julian Melchiori (signed with FLA), G Jamie Phillips (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Buddy Robinson (signed with CGY), F Michael Sgarbossa (signed with WSH), F Paul Stastny (signed with VGK)

Still Unsigned: F Jimmy Lodge, F Shawn Matthias

Re-signed: G Eric Comrie, F Marko Dano, G Connor Hellebuyck,F Nicolas Kerdiles (acquired from ANA and re-signed), F JC Lipon, F Adam Lowry, D Josh Morrissey, F Nic Petan, D Tucker Poolman, D Cameron Schilling, F Brandon Tanev, D Jacob Trouba

Offseason Analysis: For a city with the word “win” in its name, the Winnipeg Jets sure did a lot of winning last season. Paul Maurice coached his club to a 52-20-10 record– good enough for first place in a normal year, but the Nashville Predators were just three points better in the Central Division. Winnipeg finished second in the Central with 114 points.

They won their first playoff series in franchise history, eliminating the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round, then upset the Predators in a Game 7 on the road in the Second Round.

The Jets didn’t just set franchise records, they established the bar for future benchmarks of success (minus a Cup), but while Winnipeg soared into the Western Conference Final, they were in for a crash landing in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights despite having home-ice advantage.

Three wins. Just three wins shy of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance for both renditions of the Jets.

Connor Hellebuyck emerged as a legitimate starting goaltender and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made sure to lock him up by re-signing the 25-year-old goaltender to a six-year extension worth $6.167 million per season.

Hellebucyk’s deal is a manageable cap hit and carries him through his mid-prime, leaving Cheveldayoff’s options open for more in the future, let alone vitally important cap space in the now as there’s kind of a big deal in Winnipeg this season.

Patrik Laine‘s entering the final year of his entry-level contract. Based on his abilities alone, he’ll see upwards of $9.000 million per season. Based on his comparison in play to Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and more– he could be seeing John Tavares money (in the $11.000 million AAV ballpark).

Oh yeah, Matthews is a pending-RFA in July 2019 too.

Laine’s play was elevated in the postseason by offseason departure, Paul Stastny, after Stastny was acquired by the Jets at the trade deadline. Winnipeg wanted to retain his services, but Stastny chose the Golden Knights over a return to Manitoba.

Despite losing a quintessential playmaker in the short run, the Jets gained an edge on cap space in the long run. Cap space that will come in handy for Laine and other pending-RFAs including Kyle Connor, Marko Dano, Jacob Trouba and trade deadline depth pickup turned playoff scoring bottom-pair defender, Joe Morrow.

Trouba went through arbitration this offseason as the ongoing saga continues with his future in Winnipeg– whereas the last couple of seasons it appeared he was on his way out in a transaction, the Jets and the 24-year-old defender have mulled things over on a mutual relationship.

It’s just taking one little step at a time, as the defender was awarded a one-year, $5.500 million extension this summer.

There’s hope for reconciliation in a post-Toby Enstrom era, where Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers are two of the three most important blue liners in Winnipeg– with Trouba as the third.

Backing up Hellebuyck this season is Laurent Brossoit, who’s coming off of a career-worst (min. 10 games played) 3.24 goals against average and .883 save percentage in 14 games with the Edmonton Oilers last season.

While Brossoit was with the Oilers (of all teams), that doesn’t scream breakout season by a backup goaltender. In fact, it’s on par with Michael Hutchinson’s 3.26 GAA and .907 SV% in three games with Winnipeg last season and Steve Mason’s 3.24 GAA and .906 SV% in 13 games with the Jets.

Unless Brossoit taps into the once-touted potential he had in his WHL days of Junior hockey, Cheveldayoff’s made a lateral move behind Hellebuyck on the depth chart and lends Maurice to over-rely on his starter to compensate for goaltending struggles.

That’s where things can get ugly.

Otherwise, the Jets should be just fine in 2018-19.

Offseason Grade: C

The Jets introduced an alternate sweater for the first time in Manitoba since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in May 2011. It’s not the low-point of the offseason, however, it will take off a few grade points for such a bland script font as its crest.

Otherwise, Winnipeg’s offseason was par for the course for a roster that has the potential to go just as far– if not further– this season as they did last season. However, next summer is where things could get muddy.

Minnesota Wild 2018-19 Season Preview

Unknown-2

Minnesota Wild

45-26-11, 101 points, 3rd in the Central Division

Lost in First Round to WPG, 4-1

Additions: D Matt Bartkowski, F J.T. Brown, F Eric Fehr, G Andrew Hammond, F Matt Hendricks, F Mike Liambas, D Greg Pateryn, F Matt Read

Subtractions: F Patrick Cannone (signed, DEL), F Matt Cullen (signed with PIT), F Kurtis Gabriel (signed with NJ), D Alex Grant (signed, KHL), D Dylan Labbe (signed with Wichita Thunder, ECHL), D Viktor Loov (signed, KHL), G Steve Michalek (signed, Austria), F Zack Mitchell (signed with LA), D Zac Palmquist (signed with Lehigh Valley Phantoms, AHL), G Niklas Svedberg (signed, SHL), F Daniel Winnik (signed to a PTO with BOS), G Adam Vay (signed, Kazakhstan)

Still Unsigned: F Adam Gilmour, D Kyle Quincey

Re-signed: D Matt Dumba, D Nick Seeler, F Jason Zucker

Offseason Analysis: Despite a late-season decline, Devan Dubnyk managed to backstop the Minnesota Wild to a third place finish in the Central Division standings– locking up their sixth consecutive postseason appearance and guaranteeing a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets.

Unfortunately for the Wild, they had a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets. Oh and Minnesota’s head coach is Bruce Boudreau, so everyone knows about the playoff curse surrounding him by now, right?

Kidding aside, Minnesota lasted five games against Winnipeg when they realistically should’ve been swept by the jumpin’ Jets.

After nine seasons of being in charge, Chuck Fletcher was fired and Paul Fenton was hired as Minnesota’s new General Manager.

Fenton, of course, served as the assistant GM for the Nashville Predators (2006-18) and had been familiar with Wild owner, Craig Leipold– given their two seasons of overlap as employee and employer in Nashville from 2006-08 before Leipold sold the Predators and bought Minnesota.

Additionally, Fenton was highly-touted as the best “available” prospective General Manager that was potentially on the market for going big time and moving up in the rankings. Under the guidance of David Poile for over a decade with the Preds, Fenton is more than ready for his new role with the Wild.

Unfortunately, he’s inheriting a mess. Yes, even though the Wild have made the playoffs six seasons in a row now, they haven’t gotten past the Second Round.

Plus Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are under contract for forever (slight exaggeration) and both have an injury history (Parise’s career was nearly over and Suter’s going to miss the start of this season). They’re also on the books at over $7.500 million per season each with no movement clauses.

Parise, 34, and Suter, 33, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, unless someone’s willing to eat some cap hit.

Minnesota has about $1.770 million in cap space with seven pending free agents (including two RFAs) next offseason. Eric Staal is one of them and he’s already indicated he’s willing to be more than patient while the Wild figure themselves out.

Staal’s currently making $3.500 million per season and reached the 40-goal plateau last season in a rejuvenating 76-point year (42 goals, 34 assists). At 33, he’s not going to get any younger, but he’s still a vital component of the roster with at least a couple more decent seasons left in him. Perhaps he’ll be the next ageless wonder, even.

Eric Fehr was given a second chance after the San Jose Sharks acquired his services from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and he impressed the Wild enough to sign him to a one-year deal. Either that or Minnesota found their perfect placeholder while a) youth develops and b) they figure out how to free up cap space next offseason.

While the performance on the ice is to be determined– what with an underrated goaltender in Dubnyk and a solid blue line now that Matt Dumba is locked up through the 2022-23 season– this season will be a season in transition, no doubt, for the front office.

Perhaps Boudreau’s next to go after Fletcher’s roster building couldn’t get the Wild over the Second Round hump, does Leipold start pointing fingers behind the bench? Is it only natural that a new General Manager bring in their own plan for the bench to go along with the personalities on their roster?

It’s a make or break season for Minnesota, whether anyone wants to accept it or not.

Offseason Grade: C-

Hiring the best “GM prospect” as your new General Manager was Minnesota’s biggest move this offseason. Well, that and re-signing Matt Dumba to a friendly long-term deal worth $6.000 million per season through 2022-23.

But Paul Fenton’s got plenty of headaches ahead, regardless of team performance on the ice and that’s where the navigation of this franchise gets tricky. Besides, none of the free agents added to the roster this offseason scream “steal of the century”, though signing Andrew Hammond as a third-string goalie doesn’t hurt– goaltending depth is all too often over-looked.

2018-19 Projected Standings

It’s still way too early to make these bold claims, but let’s do it anyway.

Using marginal goals for and marginal goals against from the 2017-18 regular season– let’s assume there were no roster, coaching or front office changes this summer that would otherwise flip everything upside-down– here are expected points totals for all 31 National Hockey League teams for the 2018-19 season.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 114 points
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 113 points
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 108 points
  4. Florida Panthers, 92 points
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 77 points
  6. Montreal Canadiens, 71 points
  7. Ottawa Senators, 65 points
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 61 points

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points
  2. x-Washington Capitals, 99 points
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points
  4. x-Philadelphia Flyers, 95 points
  5. x-New Jersey Devils, 93 points
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 81 points
  7. New York Islanders, 79 points
  8. New York Rangers, 78 points

2018-19 Eastern Conference Outlook

Not much is different in the Atlantic Division heading into 2018-19.

The top teams are the top teams, regardless of their additions (John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs) or subtractions (uhh, James van Riemsdyk from the Maple Leafs?) and there’s going to be a little movement in the Metropolitan Division (most notably, a new division leader from 2017-18 to 2018-19).

Carolina’s revamped defense and the Rangers post-trade deadline to present overhaul are wild cards to watch for any surprises in the standings.

2017-18 Eastern Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Montreal Canadiens, 102 points (z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 113 points)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 101 points (x-Boston Bruins, 112 points)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points (x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points)
  4. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 95 points (Florida Panthers, 96 points)
  5. Ottawa Senators, 91 points (Detroit Red Wings, 73 points)
  6. Florida Panthers, 81 points (Montreal Canadiens, 71 points)
  7. Detroit Red Wings, 77 points (Ottawa Senators, 67 points)
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 77 points (Buffalo Sabres, 62 points)

What happened in the Atlantic? Injuries and age slowed the Canadiens way, way down, while Tampa reemerged as one of the top teams in the NHL, appearing in their third Eastern Conference Final in four years (despite losing to the Washington Capitals in seven games).

Boston proved to be ahead of schedule in their plan, while the Leafs were right on track. Meanwhile, the floor fell out from underneath the Senators and a new head coach didn’t bring the expected progress in development for the Sabres.

Florida turned a few heads, though ultimately proved to be a non-contender, missing the playoffs by a point (Columbus and New Jersey locked up the Eastern Conference wild cards with 97 points on the season), while Detroit fell within the expected margin of error (anywhere from 72-82 points on the season).

Metropolitan Division

  1. p-Washington Capitals, 125 points (y-Washington Capitals, 105 points)
  2. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 114 points (x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points)
  3. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 111 points (x-Philadelphia Flyers, 98 points)
  4. x-New York Rangers, 106 points (x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 97 points)
  5. New York Islanders, 91 points (x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points)
  6. Philadelphia Flyers, 85 points (Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points)
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (New York Islanders, 80 points)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 67 points (New York Rangers, 77 points)

What happened in the Metropolitan? Sometimes it’s not about the number of points, but rather, the divisional standing that matters.

Washington may have surprised some experts by finishing 1st in their division in 2017-18 (then going on to win the Cup), but to us it wasn’t (the division win, not the Cup). The rest was a crapshoot. Three teams (Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh) made the playoffs from our predictions heading into last season, while one (N.Y. Rangers) fell flat and hit the reset button.

New Jersey had one of the biggest improvements from 2016-17 to 2017-18, while the Carolina Hurricanes hit the nail on the head (albeit one position higher than our prediction) with 83 points in 2017-18.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points
  2. x-Nashville Predators, 113 points
  3. x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points
  4. x-Colorado Avalanche, 99 points
  5. Dallas Stars, 95 points
  6. St. Louis Blues, 93 points
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 108 points
  2. x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points
  4. x-Anaheim Ducks, 99 points
  5. Edmonton Oilers, 81 points
  6. Calgary Flames, 80 points
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 74 points
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 73 points

2018-19 Western Conference Outlook

Before the additions of Ryan O’Reilly (via trade), Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon (via free agency), the St. Louis Blues were destined to slide through another season of mediocrity. Now, they’re the most unpredictable team of the Central Division– and, yes, that’s even acknowledging what kind of season Jake Allen has in net.

Allen could make or break St. Louis’s season, though Mike Yeo will have to balance Allen’s starting time with Chad Johnson‘s play as a solid backup, but enough about the Blues (for now).

Everything else looks just the same in the Central with Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas as the teams that are most likely to change places and hit or miss one of the last playoff spots in the West.

In the Pacific, the arms race for the top of the division rages on with the Golden Knights, Kings and Sharks auditioning for the role of top-dog and the Ducks bumbling their way into a wild card spot.

It’s status quo in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, with the Arizona Coyotes entering the 2018-19 season as the biggest underdogs (hint, if they had played the way they did from February through April 2018 all season last season, they would be a lot higher up in these expected totals).

2017-18 Western Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)

Central Division

  1. z-Minnesota Wild, 115 points (p-Nashville Predators, 117 points)
  2. x-Chicago Blackhawks, 104 points (x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points)
  3. x-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (x-Minnesota Wild, 101 points)
  4. x-Nashville Predators, 98 points (x-Colorado Avalanche, 95 points)
  5. Winnipeg Jets, 89 points (St. Louis Blues, 94 points)
  6. Dallas Stars, 76 points (Dallas Stars, 92 points)
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 47 points (Chicago Blackhawks, 76 points)

What happened in the Central? Simply put, the stars aligned.

The Blackhawks were kept far away from the 90-point plateau (and a playoff spot) by virtue of injuries to their starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, while the anemic offense of the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche was no more in 2017-18.

Both are surprises– by definition, given expected points totals are driven by an equation that takes last season’s offense into account for the following season– but any inherent intuition would show that Colorado was destined to improve (by that much, perhaps not).

St. Louis fell out of the race while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the Winnipeg Jets to a 50-plus win season and the Wild surged quietly. The Stars were thought to be further off the path back to the playoffs than they turned out, but alas, Dallas was still 6th in the division at season’s end.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 106 points (y-Vegas Golden Knights, 109 points)
  2. x-Edmonton Oilers, 106 points (x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points)
  3. x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points (x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points)
  4. x- San Jose Sharks, 100 points (x-Los Angeles Kings, 98 points)
  5. Calgary Flames, 94 points (Calgary Flames, 84 points)
  6. Los Angeles Kings, 90 points (Edmonton Oilers, 78 points)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 67 points (Vancouver Canucks, 73 points)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 66 points (Arizona Coyotes, 70 points)

What happened in the Pacific? One of the best things about making predictions using a set of data is the outliers that cause some people to doubt all of math in its entirety. Nothing is concrete in the world of projections and expectations. The 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers are a great example of that.

Based on a spectacular breakout 2016-17 season, the Oilers should’ve done a lot more than *checks notes* leave Cam Talbot in the net for too many games, facing too many shots, while Milan Lucic exerts some type of energy in the midst of another 100-point season by Connor McDavid only to miss the playoffs (by a lot) and still receive enough pity votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy to finish 5th in the voting. Hmm.

One player does not make a team. One expected points total before a single puck drops on the regular season does not guarantee anything.

Meanwhile, Vegas surprised everyone, Anaheim and San Jose hit their expected points totals, Los Angeles was ahead of schedule (though the core is still aging), Calgary regressed and the rest was as expected (again, given the margin of error– about +/- 5 points).

Colorado Avalanche 2018-19 Season Preview

Unknown-1

Colorado Avalanche

43-30-9, 95 points, 4th in the Central Division

2nd Wild Card in the West, lost in First Round to NSH 4-2

Additions: F Cody Bass (signed to a PTO), F Matt Calvert, D Ian Cole, G Philipp Grubauer (acquired from WSH), F Scott Kosmachuk, F Logan O’Connor

Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (signed with DET), F Blake Comeau (signed with DAL), F Felix Girard (signed with the Manitoba Moose, AHL), D Jesse Graham (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Rocco Grimaldi (signed with NSH), G Andrew Hammond (signed with MIN), D Brooks Orpik (acquired from WSH, bought out, then signed with WSH), F Nail Yakupov (signed, KHL)

Still Unsigned: F Joe Colborne, F Reid Petryk, D Duncan Siemens, F Trent Vogelhuber

Re-signed: G Joe Cannata, D Ryan Graves, D Mason Geertsen, G Spencer Martin, D Patrik Nemeth, D Matt Nieto

Offseason Analysis: Now that Erik Karlsson has been traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has had one of the best offseasons. Kidding aside, the Senators lottery protected their 2018 1st round pick in the three-team Matt Duchene trade, meaning the Avalanche have Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick in addition to their own.

The #LoseForHughes watch has begun.

But as for Colorado’s offseason, things have gone swimmingly as Sakic’s roster made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Blake Comeau’s 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games in 2017-18 have departed for Dallas. In his top-nine forward role, Sakic replaced the 32-year-old Comeau with 28-year-old, Matt Calvert.

Calvert had 9-15–24 totals in 69 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and is looking to turn things around in health and in offensive production as a top-nine forward.

While Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen look to continue leading the team in production, Alexander Kerfoot seeks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on the second line.

On defense, Sakic knows time is on his side.

Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have made an effective pairing with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson contesting for more ice time. Girard had an impressive rookie debut with three goals and 17 assists (20 points) in 68 games played, while Barrie and Johnson played veteran roles– anchoring the blue line for the Avs.

Patrik Nemeth proved to be a smart pickup off waivers from the Stars last season as a bottom-pair defender, so it was an easy decision to re-sign with the NHL’s hottest up-and-coming team from a 48-point season in 2016-17 to a 95-point effort (and playoff berth) in 2017-18.

To complete his top-six defensemen on the depth chart, Sakic signed 29-year-old durable defender, Ian Cole, to a three-year contract worth a friendly $4.250 million per season.

Cole had 20 points in 67 games with the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins last season and is looking to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan at this point in his career.

A two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, Cole is in the midst of his prime and brings a competitive edge to the Avs in his quiet stability.

In goal, Semyon Varlamov has some competition for the starting job– if he can stay healthy– as Philipp Grubauer was acquired at the draft in June and signed to a three-year extension at a cap friendly $3.333 million per season.

Grubauer, 26, dropped the first two games of the Washington Capitals postseason run in April while Braden Holtby was figuring himself out, but managed a 15-10-3 record in 35 games played in the 2017-18 regular season as Washington’s backup. He also had a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in his most games played in a season since reaching the NHL during the 2012-13 season.

Varlamov, 30, managed to play in 51 games last season, despite injuries, and amassed a 24-16-6 record to go along with a 2.68 GAA and .916 SV%. Last season was much better than his 6-17-0 record in 24 games played in 2016-17, in which Varlamov had a career-worst 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%.

With one-year remaining on his contract at $5.900 million a season, Varlamov’s reached a make-or-break point in his career, let alone his time in the Mile High City. Grubauer is the way of the foreseeable future and a little healthy competition never hurt anyone for the starting job.

Sure Jonathan Bernier’s moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, but Colorado has one of the most sought after goalies that was on the slim trade market among options in the crease.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Avalanche had some needs and they filled them. In accordance with hockey logic, Colorado shouldn’t be as good as they were last season this season, but for the first time in at least a few years it appears they’ve found a reliable goaltender.

As MacKinnon continues to emerge and the kids grow into their own, Sakic’s roster looks set to make some waves in the coming years– at least as a spoiler (they took Nashville to six games before being eliminated after all), if not something more.

Despite acquiring Brooks Orpik only to buy him out as some sort of larger scheme the Capitals secretly wanted all along to sign him to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, Colorado didn’t make a bad choice this offseason. It’s just the beginning of making themselves an attractive free agent destination once again.

Dallas Stars 2018-19 Season Preview

Unknown-2

Dallas Stars

42-32-8, 92 points, 6th in the Central Division

Additions: Head Coach Jim Montgomery, F Blake Comeau, F Erik Condra, D Joel Hanley, G Anton Khudobin, F Michael Mersch, D Roman Polak

Subtractions: Head Coach Ken Hitchcock (retired), D Andrew Bodnarchuk (signed, DEL), F Brian Flynn (signed with STL), D Dan Hamhuis (signed with NSH), G Mike McKenna (signed with OTT), F Curtis McKenzie (signed with VGK), D Greg Pateryn (signed with MIN), D Brent Regner (signed, Austria), F Antoine Roussel (signed with VAN)

Still Unsigned: G Kari Lehtonen, D Andrew O’Brien, F Cole Ully

Re-signed: G Philippe Desrosiers, F Jason Dickinson, F Remi Elie, D Dillon Heatherington, F Mattias Janmark, F Devin Shore, F Gemel Smith

Offseason Analysis: After missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by a few points, Ken Hitchcock finally hung up the pen and paper(?) behind the bench. Hitchcock’s one-year reunion with the Dallas Stars proved two things– that the Stars weren’t a playoff caliber roster in the long run and that Hitchcock’s coaching style had run its course in the contemporary NHL.

Outside of John Klingberg and Marc Methot, Dallas’s defense didn’t scream high-caliber. Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin alone couldn’t generate enough offense to ease the barrage of pucks Ben Bishop faced in net.

Whatever the reasoning, the fact of the matter is the Stars didn’t have a complete team in 2017-18, so General Manager Jim Nill had some cracks to fix.

First, Dallas brought in 49-year-old head coach, Jim Montgomery, out of the University of Denver and into the National Hockey League. Montgomery expects to bring a new-age pace to the Stars, but there’s always a catch– rookie NHL coaches rarely exceed expectations in their first season, especially if they’re coming from college hockey straight to the NHL level of the professional game.

Second, Nill didn’t make any trades. Instead he opted to let Antoine Roussel and his 17 points in 73 games last season walk in free agency, along with Curtis McKenzie and other bottom-six role forwards. Also gone are Dan Hamhuis– once thought to be a steal from free agency not so long ago– and Greg Pateryn, who, after all things considered, played a durable bottom-pair worthy role on the Dallas blueline.

Nill signed 32-year-old Roman Polak to a one-year, $1.300 million contract to appease veteran presence on the backend with a friendly short-term deal while the Stars look to implement Miro Heiskanen in the North American game.

Blake Comeau, Erik Condra and Michael Mersch will all file down the line of bottom-six “glue guy” roles on the depth chart all the way to being a healthy scratch most nights– let alone emergency call-up go-tos.

The fact of the matter is the Stars need to get younger and it could start with Heiskanen, but it should also include Jason Robertson among the forwards. Past that, there’s not much going on in the Big D.

After Kari Lehtonen, 35, couldn’t hold his weight as a starter, Dallas brought in Ben Bishop– a surefire number one goalie– to lead them back to glory. Bishop’s year didn’t fully go as planned, but Lehtonen actually improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in his more limited role.

Lehtonen’s 2.85 goals against average and .902 save percentage in 59 games played in 2016-17 dropped to a 2.56 GAA and rose to a .912 SV% in 37 appearances last season. The Atlanta Thrashers 2nd overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft rebounded quite nicely and is still unsigned.

Meanwhile, Nill brought in Anton Khudobin, 32, most recently from the Boston Bruins on a two-year contract to become become Bishop’s backup. Khudobin’s can be streaky at times, but when he’s good, he’s great good. Just good.

Case in point, Khudobin bounced back from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 16 appearances with the Bruins in 2016-17 while bouncing back-and-forth between Boston and Providence (AHL) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 31 games last season with the Bruins.

Khudobin’s GAA last season was the same as Lehtonen’s in six fewer games. He faced almost 100 fewer shots than Lehtonen and allowed seven fewer goals. His save percentage was .001% better than Lehtonen.

If Nill’s getting really technical, he “improved” Dallas’s backup option. Sure he’s not paying a guy $5.900 million to play fewer than 40 games, but Khudobin’s making $2.500 million for… pretty much the same results if he’s playing well.

If Lehtonen was going to re-sign, he surely was going to have to sign for much less than what he was making ($5.900 million) and wouldn’t have been able to capitalize as much as Khudobin did on his comeback (Khudobin more than doubled his salary from his last contract with Boston to his current one with Dallas).

I mean, Lehtonen improved much like his former teammate with the Stars, Antti Niemi did, but without the immense failures in Pittsburgh and Florida before being picked up off waivers by the Montreal Canadiens.

But enough about subprime goaltending, lack of offense and not enough drive from a mediocre defense outside of John Klingberg.

The Stars aren’t on the rise and that should concern fans deeply.

You see, there’s another guy wearing No. 91 in the NHL that’s a pending-UFA in July 2019 and nearly every armchair GM has already set their sights on him. His name is Tyler Seguin and he’s Dallas’s biggest star.

After talking about an extension before the 2018 NHL Draft– conveniently held in Dallas– Seguin’s heard nothing from the Stars front office. Another season without a postseason might just be enough to push the 26-year-old center over the edge and into the waters of free agency next summer.

Offseason Grade: D+

There’s areas of concern that go further than just shaking things up behind the bench in Dallas. It’s not that Montgomery won’t be a great coach, but rather that Nill hasn’t pulled off the necessary moves with the roster to really set them over the bar and into the playoffs.

Betting on other teams regressing to the mean, while counting on your stars to perform better than they did last season isn’t safe if you’re not actually improving. Plus there’s the whole “they might lose Tyler Seguin for nothing next offseason a la the New York Islanders and John Tavares“. First impressions for the future are everything, and Nill and the Stars aren’t sending the right one(s).

DTFR Podcast #122- 2018-19 Central Division Season Preview

It’s the DTFR Podcast’s official season preview for all things Central Division in 2018-19 as Nick and Connor embark on season five of the show…

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

Down the Frozen River Podcast #121- Four-Year Vets

Nick and Connor celebrate the conclusion of the fourth season of the podcast, talk jerseys and logos from the week, the Edmonton Oilers defense and rank the best division by goaltenders.

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

2018 Mock Draft: The Complete First Round, Final Edition

It’s time for the last minute changes and mad scramble that is a General Manager and his/her scouting team’s draft selections as one player after another slowly gets taken off the board.

2018_NHL_Entry_Draft_logo

Friday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas is home to the 1st round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (Saturday plays host to rounds 2-7).

All the mock drafts in the world have been released– until now. Here’s one more before you sit in front of your TV and maybe get, what, like one of your own mock draft picks right?

It’s time, once again, for completely arbitrary nonsense predicting and projecting the rest of the professional careers and lives from a group of teens.

Unknown-21. Buffalo Sabres –> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)

Both Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin have spoken without presuming the Sabres will select the Swedish defender 1st overall, but there is no other choice in this Draft– as deep as it is. Dahlin is a game-changer for a franchise that so desperately needs his new-age defense and Nicklas Lidstrom qualities.

The 6-foot-2, 181-pound two-way defender is the perfect fit in blue and gold. He’ll shutdown opponents and transition the puck up the ice, greatly increasing the speed of Buffalo’s top lines in the midst of a fast paced, rough and tough Atlantic Division.

download

2. Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)

Just like there’s no substitution for the 1st overall pick, the same goes for the 2nd overall pick. Andrei Svechnikov will be a member of the Hurricanes Friday night and fans attending Carolina’s draft party will have more than one reason to celebrate in addition to the unveiling of their new third jerseys.

Svechnikov’s a pure goal scorer and just might help the Canes leap back into the postseason picture in 2019 for the first time since 2009. He had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts this season in his first season of Junior hockey. It’s been a decade in the making, but new General Manager Don Waddell and new owner Tom Dundon are ready to make a big impression.

Unknown-1

3. Montreal Canadiens–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)

General Manager Marc Bergevin didn’t trade away Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Max Domi for nothing. He did it with Jesperi Kotkaniemi in mind.

It’s a fresh slate for Claude Julien‘s lineup, with the projected top-6 forward centering in on the second line. Kotkaniemi had 10 goals and 19 assists (29 points) in 57 games this season with Assat and he’ll grow into stardom in Montreal.

Unknown-6

4. Ottawa Senators–> RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)

A dynamic scorer and underrated forward, Filip Zadina is a light at the end of one tunnel leading to the next as the Senators look to close the chapter on one book and open the next in the midst of their dumpster fire of an organization.

Zadina had 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season and should translate well into a lineup looking for a goal scorer in the wake of dumping Mike Hoffman outside the division (oops, he’s back). The 6-foot, 195-pound winger has a sharp shot that should ease Ottawa’s minus-70 goal differential in 2017-18.

Unknown-35. Arizona Coyotes–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)

Brady Tkachuk packs intensity and grit in his game along with some offense. The Boston University Terrier had 31 points in 40 games this season and is the younger brother of Calgary Flames forward, Matthew Tkachuk. Both are sons of Keith Tkachuk and played pond hockey in the same neighborhood as– sorry, don’t know how Pierre McGuire got in here for a moment.

Anyway, the younger Tkachuk is 6-foot-3, 196-pounds and will fit in alongside Galchenyk, Clayton Keller and the youth movement in Arizona that could result in a 2019 postseason appearance by the Coyotes.Unknown6. Detroit Red Wings–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

Noah Dobson was the best defender and a huge part in the reason why the Acadie-Bathurst Titan are your 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup champions– and that’s already on top of his breakout season with the Titan that saw 17 goals and 52 assists (69 points) this season.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound, right-shot two-way blueliner fits the bill as a new-age solution to an aging problem in Detroit.

imgres-27. Vancouver Canucks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)

One of the best things about drafting in the NHL is simply taking the next best available player on some scouting list, whether it’s from Central Scouting itself or your own department. In this case, Evan Bouchard is the next best available defenders on a list– my list.

The Canucks can use his 6-foot-2, 193-pound frame and right-shot to boost their transition game as Vancouver deals with the loss of Daniel and Henrik Sedin due to retirement and puts an emphasis on getting the puck up the ice to Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Bouchard had 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season.

imgres8. Chicago Blackhawks–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

All-in-all everything’s working out pretty well for the Chicago Blackhawks in their rebuild. Yes, it’s a rebuild. Landing the once viral, 9-year-old, sensation as part of TD Bank’s Mini-1-on-1s years ago, Oliver Wahlstrom is ready to graduate to the big leagues and fill in for Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp along the wing in Chicago.

He’s used to high expectations and has a wrist shot like no other, having amassed 47 goals in 60 games this season with the U.S. National U-18 Team, as well as seven goals in seven games at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound, right wing will likely go ahead and play a season with the Boston College Eagles before going pro in a Blackhawks uniform.

download9. New York Rangers–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)

Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton welcomes new head coach, David Quinn, to the Big Apple with a star in the making in Rasmus Kupari. He’s the best Finnish forward in the draft and could land a spot on the roster as New York retools on-the-fly and must re-sign or trade pending-RFAs Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov and Kevin Hayes this summer.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pound center has a lot of skills to work with and brings a bright future down the middle with Rangers 2017 first round selection, Lias Andersson, already in the fold.

220px-Logo_Edmonton_Oilers.svg

10. Edmonton Oilers–> D Quintin Hughes, Michigan (BIG10)

The Edmonton Oilers have $21 million combined locked up in cap space to star forwards, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, starting in 2018-19. General Manager Peter Chiarelli has already experienced what salary cap hell is like firsthand from his time with the Boston Bruins and is bound to move some pieces in addition to Thursday’s buyout of Eric Gryba.

Whether the Oilers use the 10th overall pick or trade it, Quintin Hughes is the perfect fit on the blueline for a team that has said they’d like to add a young defener. Hughes is drawing comparisons in his game to Torey Krug, someone Chiarelli should be familiar with, since he brought Krug to Boston in his tenure as Bruins GM.download

11. New York Islanders–> D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)

After relieving Garth Snow and Dough Weight of their duties and replacing them with new General Manager Lou Lamoriello and new head coach, Barry Trotz, respectively, the Islanders are ready to cash in on back-to-back picks in the first round.

First up, 5-foot-11, 168-pound, Swedish born defender, Adam Boqvist, who’ll need another year in the SHL to come into his own before launching his two-way blueliner career in Brooklyn.download

12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

With their second consecutive pick in the first round (as long as they don’t trade one of them or both), New York would be wise to select the center from the Sault Ste. Greyhounds, Barrett Hayton.

Hayton had 21-39–60 totals in 63 games this season and might need a year or two more in Juniors before becoming a centerpiece in Trotz’s lineup on Long Island (or Brooklyn or wherever the Islanders are planning on playing home games– they’re splitting them next season).Unknown-2

13. Dallas Stars–> D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)

General Manager Jim Nill can do new head coach in The Big-D, Jim Montgomery, a bit of a favor by tweaking the defense this offseason and there’s no better way to tweak the blueline than by planning for the future of the blueline.

Ty Smith brings depth to the transition game in Dallas, as John Klingberg and Marc Methot are already relied upon to do with the Stars, but he also brings a higher level of effectiveness on the power play. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound defender likely won’t see any time with the NHL club this season, but should make some leaps in the depth chart heading into 2019-20.

download-1

14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Joel Farabee is one of those rare NHL-ready first round prospects that gets taken in the mid-to-late part of the opening round of the draft. He has a tremendous hockey IQ as a 5-foot-11, 164-pound left winger with a lot of speed, but he’ll be using all of that to attend classes at Boston University this fall.

It’s possible, though, that he’ll go pro after one year with the Terriers.

Florida_Panthers_logo_2016

15. Florida Panthers–> RW Vitali Kravtsov, Chelyabinsk (Russia)

6-foot-3, 184-pound Russian right wing, Vitali Kravtsov carries the puck well and creates chances in the slot with a good shot and silky smooth passes. General Manager Dale Tallon can take a year or two to let Kravtsov develop as the Panthers sort themselves out with about $8.000 million to spend on free agents this summer– including their own pending-RFAs in Jared McCann and Frank Vatrano.

Kravtsov had 6-5–11 totals in 16 games in the Kontinental Hockey League this season playing against men and former NHLers like Pavel Datsyuk.Unknown-1

16. Colorado Avalanche–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has his work cut out for him in drafting 6-foot-1, 193-pound center Joseph Veleno. He had 22 goals and 57 assists (79 points) in 64 games as a playmaker with Drummondville this season and should work his way into the revamped Colorado lineup in the next year or two.

Past Nathan MacKinnon, Sakic has to work on finding the next best forward down the middle in the lineup of the top-6 caliber. Veleno fits that role in time.

New Jersey Devils Logo

17. New Jersey Devils–> LW Grigori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)

Devils General Manager Ray Shero lands a sneaky good winger with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, but there’s a catch. Grigori Denisenko’s going to need two-to-three years to work his way up in the MHL/KHL rankings to elevate his game to NHL status.

The 5-foot-11, 172-pound forward had nine goals and 22 points in 31 games for Yaroslavl this season.download

18. Columbus Blue Jackets–> RW Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL)

Serron Noel is a 6-foot-5, 205-pound behemoth of a right wing with comparisons to Blake Wheeler. Despite all the rage over Artemi Panarin‘s long-term plans with the Blue Jackets organization 1) his contract expires in 2019– that’s still a year away and 2) Noel is just the guy to compete for a top-6 spot in that time span.

He had 28-25–53 totals in 62 games for the Oshawa Generals this season and should develop into a prolific forward with another year in the OHL.

download-1

19. Philadelphia Flyers–> C/LW Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (Sweden)

With their second pick in the first round, the Flyers lock up 6-foot, 183-pount forward, Isac Lundestrom. In a year or two– after more seasoning in the SHL– he’ll start to make a name for himself wearing Philadelphia orange.

Lundestrom had 15 points in 41 games in Sweden’s top professional league this season.

Unknown-3

20. Los Angeles Kings–> RW Dominik Bokk, Vaxjo (SWE J20)

Los Angeles General Manager Rob Blake has a plan in place to stick to the plan. Unfortunately, the core of his roster is aging and, despite an almost $5 million increase in the salary cap ceiling, the Kings are in a bit of a bind knowing they’ll have to re-sign 2019 pending-UFA Drew Doughty in the time between now and next year.

German-born, 6-foot-1, 176-pound right wind, Dominik Bokk had 14 goals and 27 assists (41 points) in 35 games for Vaxjo in his rookie season in Sweden’s Junior league. He went on to have 5-6–11 totals in eight playoff games along the way to winning the league championship and has all the finesse that makes him comparable to that of current Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar.Unknown

21. San Jose Sharks–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

Ryan McLeod notched 26 goals and 44 assists (70 points) with the Steelheads in 68 games this season, slightly more than doubling his offensive production in 2016-17– his sophomore year in Junior. He might be one of the more NHL ready prospects, in terms of playing experience, but the Sharks don’t have to rush him unless he makes a lasting impression at training camp.

The 6-foot-2, 206-pound forward has just the right frame for San Jose’s liking.

Unknown-6

22. Ottawa Senators (via Pittsburgh Penguins)–> D Bode Wilde, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Ottawa’s second pick in the first round should help restock the lackluster defensive depth if General Manager Pierre Dorion doesn’t make any moves to shake things up.

Bode Wilde’s 6-foot-2, 197-pound frame stands tall on the blueline as a potential shutdown top-4 role given time– and the Senators could use that to balance Thomas Chabot once the Erik Karlsson saga figures itself out (the extending/re-signing or trading him part, not anything else related to the dumpster fire going on in the Sens front office).Unknown-123. Anaheim Ducks–> RW Martin Kaut, Pardubice (Czech Republic)

The possibilities are endless this offseason for the Ducks. No really, there isn’t a true gut feeling on which way Anaheim will go– up or down in the standings, older or younger, more skilled and less focused on taking penalties or, well, you get the point.

Meanwhile, Czech forward, Martin Kaut is a solid selection with 2-5–7 totals in seven games for Czech Republic at the 2018 World Junior Championship. The 6-foot-1, 176-pound right wing had a much better second half of the season in the top professional Czech league after his confidence boosting WJC performance.Unknown-2

24. Minnesota Wild–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Rasmus Sandin’s offensive style fits right in the new-age Minnesota Wild now that new General Manager, Paul Fenton, is in charge. Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and some combination of Ryan Suter or Jared Spurgeon and Sandin just might be the Wild’s top-4 defensive core in the near future.

The 5-foot-11, 186-pound defender had 45 points in 51 games for the Greyhounds this season.Unknown25. Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Ty Dellandrea, Flint (OHL)

At 6-feet, 184-pounds, Ty Dellandrea’s frame is perfect to make some great first impressions at training camp this fall. General Manager Kyle Dubas continues to showcase his skill in his promotion as one of the best evaluators of talent in an analytically driven mind.

Flint finished second-to-last (19th out of 20 teams) in the OHL this season, but Dellandrea was a bright spot and Dubas has a knack for finding those and making something out of it.

download

26. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> D Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)

Jared McIsaac is a burly, 6-foot-1, 195-pound, defender that amassed 47 points in 65 games with Halifax this season. His size and skill alone should be enough to compensate for the beating and battering in the battle for the Metropolitan Division lead over the next few seasons.

McIsaac isn’t ready now, but he should flourish under Quinn and the Rangers– if Gorton doesn’t trade the pick.

imgres

27. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> D Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL)

An offensive defenseman, Ryan Merkley had 13 goals in 63 games for Guelph this season. At 5-foot-11, 170-pounds, he’ll need some time to develop his physical presence to an NHL grade, but he’s shown some feisty two-way play in his time in Junior.

Regardless, Chicago needs to start planning for the post-Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith days.

download

28. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> RW Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)

As long as the Rangers hold on to all three of their first round picks, Akil Thomas is a steal at 28th overall. Thomas had 81-points with the Niagara IceDogs this season. He’ll need another year or two to develop into the forward New York will want him to be in the NHL, though.imgres-1

29. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C Jay O’Brien, Thayer Academy (USHS)

Jay O’Brien has the chance to turn a fantastic year in high school into a professional career, having amassed 43-37–80 totals in 30 games for Thayer Academy in Massachusetts.

Doug Armstrong and the Blues would be smart to find a versatile scorer to match Vladimir Tarasenko‘s style of play, even if it takes another year or two for O’Brien to develop, since St. Louis has some spots on the roster to overhaul this summer and next.

Unknown

30. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C Jack McBain, Toronto (OJHL)

Jack McBain’s a gifted playmaker that should pan out in a couple of years really well alongside the likes of Anthony Mantha and the rest of the Red Wings. He had 5-19–24 totals in 39 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens this season and will be attending Boston College this fall.Washington Capitals Logo

31. Washington Capitals–> D Mattias Samuelsson, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Winning the Stanley Cup means the Capitals will pick last in the first round, but General Manager Brian MacLellan is fine with it– it means you had a successful season, after all. While Washington’s front office finds their next head coach, MacLellan snags 6-foot-4, 218-pound defenseman, Mattias Samuelsson, from the U.S. U-18 National Development Program and lets him grow into a top-4 role with the Caps.

Samuelsson had 11-20–31 totals in 58 games this season. Not only can he shutdown opponents, but his two-way game’s pretty good too.

Other Players To Watch For in the Top 62 

In no particular order:

C Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)

LW Albin Eriksson, Skelleftå (SWE J20)

D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)

C/LW Fillip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)

C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)

D Alexander Alexeyev, Red Deer (WHL)

C Liam Foudy, London (OHL)

D K’Andre Miller, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

D Jett Woo, Moose Jaw (WHL)

C Jacob Olofsson, Timra (Sweden)

Top Goalies

Olivier Rodrigue, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Olof Lindbolm, Djurgarden (SWE J20)

Jakub Skarek, Jihlava (Czech Republic)

Lukáš Dostal, Brno (Czech Jr.)

Justus Annunen, Karpat (Fin-Jr.)

2018 Offseason Preview: Winnipeg Jets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Winnipeg Jets and their outlook for the summer.

jetslogo

The Winnipeg Jets soared high in 2017-18, amassing 114 points on the season with a–franchise best– 52-20-10 record to finish 2nd in the Central Division and 2nd in the Western Conference (both in the regular season and postseason, by virtue of having been eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final).

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff went all-in on a potential Stanley Cup run at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Winnipeg’s 2018 first round pick and prospect, Erik Foley.

Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien were great at their positions as always, while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the team to glory. Meanwhile, Kyle Connor had one of the quietest sensational rookie seasons in recent memory, scoring 31 goals and 26 assists (57 points) in 76 games played.

Things are only looking up for the Jets despite their Western Conference Final defeat in five games to the expansion Golden Knights.

Both Winnipeg and Vegas were dominant teams in the West and if one of them hadn’t made the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators probably would have, but the Jets defeated the Preds in seven games in the Second Round after easily finishing off the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round.

Paul Maurice got to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2002 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes head coach, while the Jets made the third round for the first time in franchise history dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers (R.I.P.).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Winnipeg doesn’t have a selection in the first round currently, thanks to Cheveldayoff’s deadline acquisition bargain hunting.

It’s not entirely clear if the Jets will take a stab at jumping into the first round, but at least they’ve got some pretty sweet third jerseys finally coming along seven years into their tenure at Bell MTS Place since relocating from Atlanta.

Nic Petan, as always, is on the trade bait list and could yield the club a first round pick as part of a return on a transaction.

Pending free agents

The Jets have almost $20.600 million to spend on free agents this summer with their captain, Blake Wheeler, ($5.600 million cap hit) and young superstar, Patrik Laine, ($925,000 cap hit– final year of his entry-level deal) entering contract years.

In other words, next summer is going to be expensive.

Winnipeg has three pending-UFAs in Shawn Matthias, Matt Hendricks and Paul Stastny.

Matthias, 30, had one goal and two assists (three points) in 27 games, while Hendricks, 37, had 5-8–13 totals in 60 games this season. Neither of them have to be brought back for the Jets to remain a contender in the Central Division, but what Cheveldayoff does with Stastny could mean a world of a difference.

Stastny, 32, had clear chemistry with his teammates in Winnipeg from the moment he was on the ice with them, right through the postseason. He’s such a great playmaker and dependable on the faceoff dot that it only makes sense you’d let him be the one feeding Wheeler and Laine for as long as you can.

In 82 games with the Jets and Blues, Stastny had 16 goals and 37 assists (53 points). He then went on to have 6-9–15 totals in 17 postseason games. Re-sign him.

Winnipeg has a lot of cap space and a plethora of pending-RFAs to re-sign or let go.

Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia, Marko Dano and Adam Lowry all need new deals and contributed in some way to the club’s deep playoff run.

Tanev, 26, is a solid bottom-six forward. Armia, 25, goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the glue guys. Meanwhile, Dano, 23, and Lowry, 25, have made a case for one to be preserved over the other (it’s Lowry, obviously).

On defense, Toby Enstrom, 33, already knows he’ll be hitting the waters of the open market as he has both price himself out of a Jets jersey and been bumped out of contention for ice-time with the likes of Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Dmitry Kulikov and Ben Chiarot holding down the fort.

What’s that? I didn’t even mention Jacob Trouba, Tucker Poolman, Joe Morrow or Josh Morrissey? Well, that’s because they’re all pending-RFAs.

24-year-old Jacob Trouba’s bridge-deal is expiring and he’ll need a raise. Poolman, 25, emerged as a top-6 quality defender. Morrow, 25, was acquired at the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens and should return as a top-6 guy that came in clutch under Maurice’s instructions.

Morrow was never really utilized under Claude Julien in Montreal and Boston. Prior to that he was a journeyman from the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins (where he was originally drafted). Winnipeg seems like it should be home for the 25-year-old blueliner.

Make of Morrissey what you will, but the 23-year-old defender had 26 points this season setting career highs in goals (7), assists (19) and points (26). He’ll be sticking around.

The real problem with Winnipeg is what they’re going to have to do with their goaltenders.

Starter, Connor Hellebuyck, is a pending-RFA. The 25-year-old solidified his status as a clear number one goaltender with a cut above the rest in the league, winning 44 games out of 67 appearances this season. He had a 2.36 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Hellebuyck’s earned a raise, but the only problem is it leaves the Jets paying 30-year-old, Steve Mason, his $4.100 million cap hit in his final year of his two-year deal. In 13 games as a backup, he wasn’t great, amassing a 3.24 GAA and .906 SV%. Good luck trying to convince a team to take on his contract at full value.

Cheveldayoff will likely have to ship Mason out while retaining close to 50% of his remaining salary (the maximum allowed per the collective bargaining agreement).

28-year-old, Michael Hutchinson, in the meantime is a pending-UFA and regressed in 2017-18. Though he only played in three games, Hutchinson had a 3.26 GAA and .907 SV%.

For much less than Mason, Hutchinson could rebound back to a goals against average under 3.00, which is the least you expect from a backup– anything between 2.50 and 3.00 is right on target, anything better than 2.50 is godlike (for a backup) and anything over 3.00 is usually a poor investment in an easily overlooked position.

Sure, Eric Comrie is developing in the system, but wait, he’s a pending-RFA this summer too.

Winnipeg looks like they finally have this goaltending thing figured out, but Cheveldayoff cannot afford to mess any part of it up or else he risks long-term success, a la the Ondrej Pavelec saga from Atlanta to Winnipeg until Hellebuyck and Hutchinson overtook him.

Buyouts on the books: Mark Stuart at $583,333 through the end of 2018-19.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Buddy Robinson (UFA), Michael Sgarbossa (UFA), Chase De Leo (RFA), Jamie Phillips (RFA), Cameron Schilling (UFA), Jan Kostalek (RFA), James Lodge (RFA), Eric Comrie (RFA), Nic Petan (RFA), JC Lipon (RFA), Julian Melchiori (UFA)