Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.
This post will be updated throughout the day as signings are officially announced. Be sure to check our Twitter account (@DtFrozenRiver) for all of the latest signings, news, and analysis throughout the day.
Free agency begins at noon (technically 12:01 PM ET) on July 1st. All that is known is shown and will be updated throughout the day. More analysis will come later as the day wraps up.
Reported free agent signings
These are reported agreements in place leftover from the interview period/yet to be confirmed and/or announced by a playing club.
F Zac Rinaldo and the Nashville Predators have come to terms on a two-way contract. Confirmed– announced by club on July 2nd.
Free agent signings
These are confirmed/announced signings.
F Ilya Kovalchuk officially signed his three-year, $6.250 million AAV, deal with the Los Angeles Kings.
D Mike Green signed a two-year contract extension with the Detroit Red Wings worth $5.375 million per season.
D Martin Fehervary signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals.
F Paul Stastny agreed to a three-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights worth $6.500 million per season.
The Philadelphia Flyers and F James van Riemsdyk agreed top a five-year contract worth $7.000 million per season.
D Thomas Hickey and the New York Islanders have agreed on a four-year, $2.500 million per season, contract extension.
F Ryan Reaves signed a two-year, $2.775 million per season, contract extension with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Minnesota Wild re-signed D Nick Seeler to a three-year contract worth $2.175 million ($725,000 cap hit).
The Boston Bruins signed G Jaroslav Halak to a two-year contract worth $2.750 million per season.
F Chris Kunitz signed a one-year, $1.000 million, contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago also signed G Cam Ward to a one-year deal and D Brandon Manning to a two-year contract.
G Jonathan Bernier signed a three-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit also signed F Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract worth $3.000 million.
D Roman Polak agreed to terms with the Dallas Stars on a one-year, $1.300 million contract.
The Montreal Canadiens signed F Tomas Plekanec to a one-year deal worth $2.250 million.
D Eric Gryba signed a one-year contract with the New Jersey Devils worth $700,000 at the NHL level.
D Xavier Ouellet signed a one-year, two-way, $700,000 contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
F Brian Flynn signed a one-year, two-way, deal with the St. Louis Blues worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
F Joakim Nordstrom agreed to a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.000 million per season.
F Valeri Nichushkin signed a two-year contract ($2.950 million cap hit) with the Dallas Stars.
The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed D Ryan McDonagh to a seven-year contract extension worth $47.250 million ($6.750 million AAV).
F Matthew Peca signed a two-year, $1.300 million per season, contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
F Jared McCann signed a two-year extension with the Florida Panthers.
D Oliver Ekman-Larsson signed an eight-year extension with the Arizona Coyotes.
F Josh Jooris signed a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
F Adam Cracknell (one-year, $650,000) and D Jordan Subban (one-year, two-way, $650,000 at the NHL level) signed deals with Toronto as well. The Leafs also re-signed D Martin Marincin (one-year, $800,000).
D Nick Holden signed a two-year contract worth $2.200 million per season with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Arizona Coyotes signed F Michael Grabner to a three-year deal worth $3.350 million per season.
G Petr Mrazek signed a one-year, $1.500 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
G Harri Sateri signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
Dallas signed G Colton Point to a three-year, entry-level contract.
F Tyler Bozak agreed to terms on a three-year contract worth $5.000 million per season with the St. Louis Blues.
The Chicago Blackhawks signed 2018 first round pick, D Adam Boqvist, to a three-year entry-level contract.
F Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Montreal Canadiens.
G Chad Johnson signed a one-year, $1.750 million contract with the St. Louis Blues.
F J.T. Brown signed a two-year, $1.375 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.
F David Perron agreed to a four-year, $16.000 million ($4.000 million AAV) deal with the St. Louis Blues.
D Matt Bartkowski signed a one-year, two-way, contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with Minnesota.
The Washington Capitals signed F Nic Dowd to a one-year contract worth $650,000.
D Tommy Cross signed a two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
G Carter Hutton signed a three-year contract ($2.750 million cap hit) with the Buffalo Sabres.
The Capitals re-signed F Travis Boyd to a two-year contract with an $8000,0000 cap hit.
Montreal signed F Kenny Agostino to a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 at the NHL level.
The Canadiens also agreed to terms on a two-year, two-way deal with F Michael Chaput.
F John Tavares signed a seven-year, $77 million ($11.000 million AAV) contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Minnesota Wild signed F Mike Liambas to a two-year, two-way contract.
G Andrew Hammond signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Minnesota Wild.
G Michael Hutchinson signed a one-year, $1.300 million deal with the Florida Panthers.
D John Moore signed a five-year contract with the Boston Bruins.
D Ian Cole agreed to terms on a three-year, $4.250 million per season, contract with the Colorado Avalanche.
D Jack Johnson signed a five-year contract worth $3.25 million per season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh also signed F Matt Cullen to a one-year contract worth $650,000.
Buffalo signed D Brandon Hickey to a two-year entry-level deal.
Detroit signed F Wade Megan and D Jake Chelios to one-year contracts and F Chris Terry to a two-year contract.
The Vancouver Canucks agreed to terms with F Jay Beagle on a four-year contract worth $3.000 million per season.
G Anton Khudobin and the Dallas Stars agreed on a two-year deal worth $2.500 AAV.
The Stars also signed F Michael Mersch to a two-year, two-way deal and D Joel Hanley to a one-year, two-way contract.
G Scott Wedgewood signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Buffalo Sabres.
F Antoine Roussel and the Vancouver Canucks agreed on a four-year deal worth $3.000 million per season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning signed D Cameron Gaunce to a one-year, two-way contract.
The Columbus Blue Jackets signed D Adam Clendening to a one-year, two-way contract.
F Logan Couture signed an eight-year extension with the San Jose Sharks.
F Eric Fehr signed a one-year, $1.000 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.
F Matt Calvert signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche with a $2.800 million cap hit.
G Maxime Lagace re-signed with the Vegas Golden Knights to a one-year, two-way contract. Vegas also signed G Zachary Fucale to a one-year deal.
F Tobias Rieder signed a deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
D Dillon Simpson signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
F Daniel Carr signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.
F Derek Ryan signed a three-year deal with the Calgary Flames worth $3.125 million per season.
Calgary also signed F Austin Czarnik to a two-year contract worth $1.250 million per season.
The Flames re-signed D Dalton Prout to a one-year, $800,000 deal.
The Winnipeg Jets signed G Laurent Brossoit to a one-year, $650,000 contract.
F Matt Hendricks signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Minnesota Wild.
D Tyler Wotherspoon signed a one-year, two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues worth $700,000 at the NHL level.
Edmonton signed D Kevin Gravel to a one-year contract.
D Stefan Elliott signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
The Dallas Stars agreed to terms with F Blake Comeau on a three-year, $2.400 million AAV, deal.
F Tim Schaller signed a two-year, $1.900 million cap hit, deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
D Fredrik Claesson signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the New York Rangers.
The Rangers also re-signed F Vladislav Namestnikov to a two-year deal worth $4.000 AAV.
F Erik Condra signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Dallas Stars.
Pittsburgh signed F Jimmy Hayes, D Zach Trotman and G John Muse to one-year contracts. All three deals are worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
The Ottawa Senators signed G Mike McKenna to a one-year, two-way contract.
F Riley Nash signed a three-year, $2.750 million AAV contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
F Kyle Brodziak agreed to a two-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers.
F Paul Carey signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.
Boston signed D Cody Goloubef and F Mark McNeill to one-year, two-way contracts worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
The Bruins also announced the signing of their 2018 second round pick, D Axel Andersson to a three-year entry-level contract with an annual cap hit of $825,833.
F Chris Wagner signed a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.250 million per season.
F Leo Komarov signed a four-year, $12 million ($3.000 million per season) deal with the New York Islanders.
F Sven Baertschi re-signed with the Vancouver Canucks on a three-year deal ($3.367 AAV).
Vegas signed F Brandon Pirri, F Alex Gallant, F Curtis McKenzie, and D Jimmy Oligny.
The Winnipeg Jets signed F Dennis Everberg, F Seth Griffith and re-signed D Cameron Schilling to one-year, two-way, $650,000 contracts.
In their first official signing of the day, the Nashville Predators and F Connor Brickley came to an agreement on a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
F Rocco Grimaldi signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Nashville Predators.
The Calgary Flames signed F Tyler Graovac and F Alan Quine to one-year, two-way contracts. Graovac’s cap hit is $650,000 and Quine’s is $700,000 at the NHL level.
Nashville signed D Jarred Tinordi to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
New Jersey signed D John Ramage to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
F Joel L’Esperance signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars.
G Jared Coreau signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Anaheim Ducks worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
F Valtteri Filppula signed a deal with the New York Islanders.
With the most coveted trophy in sports being handed out Thursday night in Sin City, the 2017-18 season came to a bittersweet end. However, before the Washington Capitals had even finished taking their victory laps around T-Mobile Arena, Down the Frozen River was already taking a look ahead at all the exciting possibilities this summer.
Welcome to the 2018 NHL offseason.
Stay tuned to DtFR for the next 10 days, as we’ll be breaking down each and every team’s needs, wants, holes and excesses and how they might address them before training camps commence in September.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Forgive me for making too many assumptions, but I think this might be the most clear-cut decision of the offseason for any of the 31 clubs in the NHL. The first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for June 22, and it might as well start with D Rasmus Dahlin standing next to Commissioner Gary Bettman already wearing blue and gold.
Whether or not the 18-year-old Swede will be able to play the high-level defense demanded of this league right out of the gate is irrelevant, as Dahlin is clearly the most talented option available in this year’s crop of prospects.
Assuming they select him like everyone believes they will, the Sabres are hoping Dahlin develops into the two-way defenseman of any coach’s dreams: one cut from the same mold as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, but potentially even better.
If the 2017-18 season in his domestic league is any indicator, Dahlin will only continue to impress. His 19:02 time on ice per game was third on his team (Frölunda HC in the SHL) behind two players at least nine years his senior, and his .49 points per game was 13th-best in the league among all defensemen that played at least 35 games (another group in which every other player was at least four years older than him).
Of course, what truly sets Dahlin apart is his scoring touch. In only 41 games played this season, the young blueliner buried seven goals for .17 goals per game. Among defensemen that played at least eight games, that was second-best in the SHL.
Seven goals may not sound like a lot, but the number grows much more impressive when we acknowledge that he managed one more marker than the Sabres’ current No. 1 defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, who had the benefit of 32 more games played this season.
In other words, Dahlin should slot in nicely as a bottom-four defenseman for Buffalo in his debut season.
Pending free agents
With a touch over $19 million in projected cap space, the Sabres – who finished the season with a league-worst 25-45-12 record – have only nine NHL contracts that expired when the campaign came to a close, split as evenly as possible among the three positions and between the restricted and unrestricted varieties.
F Jordan Nolan and LW Benoit Pouliot are Buffalo’s only forwards that could become UFAs come July 1, and it has rights to F Sam Reinhart and F Scott Wilson due to them being RFAs since they are under 27-years-old.
Of those, 22-year-old Reinhart is clearly the most valuable, as his (t)team-leading 25 goals and .61 points per game from the 2017-18 season easily dwarf the efforts of Wilson (six goals, .29 point per game), Pouliot (13 goals, .26 points per game) and Nolan (four goals, .12 points per game).
It would certainly not be unexpected for General Manager Jason Botterill and Reinhart to hammer out a four-year deal that saw the forward receive an increase in pay from the $3.5 million per year he’s been receiving from his entry-level contract, as a signing of that length would allow the player to test free agency at its completion. I’d estimate a pay increase to at least $4 million per year, likely more.
There is always the possibility that Buffalo could trade the natural center, who spent a lot of the season on the wing due to the Sabres’ plethora of talent at that position, but I’m led to believe the rumors that F Ryan O’Reilly could be on the move sooner than Reinhart, who has yet post a season worse than the one before it. That would free up $7.5 million and a center position for Reinhart, which would allow W Alexander Nylander to compete for a full-time roster spot of his own.
Defensively, D Victor Antipin is Buffalo’s only RFA, while both D Justin Falk and D Josh Gorges are slated to test free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Falk in new colors come September, but the Sabres would be silly not to keep Antipin – who averaged .21 points per game in 47 showings this season, the fourth-best of any Buffalo defenseman with at least 38 appearances – in the organization.
Oh, he said he’s going to head back to the KHL next season? Dang… Well, the league’s (t)ninth-worst defense in terms of shots against just took another step back. All eyes are truly on you Dahlin, though D Brendan Guhle – Buffalo’s second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft – will likely have intentions of earning a full-time role with the Sabres instead of the Rochester Americans.
Where things are undoubtedly going to look different in the 2018-19 season for Buffalo is its goaltending depth chart, as G Jonas Johansson and G Linus Ullmark are the only two netminders with contracts in the Sabres’ system. Botterill has indicated that Ullmark will be one of Buffalo’s two goalies, which doesn’t look good for 31-year-old UFA G Chad Johnson‘s chances of returning to Upstate New York.
Sporting a .908 save percentage in 50 starts this season, RFA G Robin Lehner is also unlikely to get much attention from the Sabres this offseason. Since he made $4 million this season, Buffalo would have to offer him another one-year contract at the same price unless it took him to arbitration, which would only bring the deal down to $3.4 million. Instead of the club going through all that, I think Botterill will try to attract the services of a free agent from outside the organization or package Lehner’s rights in a deal for a more established netminder.
If free agency is the route the Sabres elect to take, one of the most attractive free agent goaltenders this summer is going to be G Carter Hutton. Though he is 32-years-old, it’s hard to knock Hutton’s .931 save percentage and 17-7-3 record in a season that saw him take home only $1 million. Hutton will likely earn himself a pay raise on what should be his last major contract, but he will likely still fall within Botterill’s budget.
Nick and Connor rambled about the remaining weeks of the regular season, who will finish last in the NHL, if Boston can catch Tampa, Columbus’s hot streak and more. They also previewed and predicted eight of the NHL’s annual awards. Anze Kopitar has 86 points on the season– get it right, Nick.
It’s a Wednesday, so the NHL doesn’t have too many games on today’s schedule.
Like most nights, this evening’s action finds its start at 7 p.m. with two tilts (Arizona at Buffalo and Montréal at Pittsburgh [RDS/SN]), followed an hour later by Boston at St. Louis (NBCSN/TVAS). Finally, Anaheim at Calgary (SN360) closes the night out with their fixture at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.
Throughout the season, I’ve jotted down some notes about a couple of tonight’s games.
- Montréal at Pittsburgh: It’s rare that a player can be so remembered in only three games with a club, but every Pens fan can tell you about G Antti Niemi‘s short three-game tenure with the squad to start the season.
- Anaheim at Calgary: Playoff rematches from a year ago aren’t so important at this point in the season, but this is the Flames’ last chance to exact any revenge against the Ducks this campaign.
Now, there’s certainly important games in terms of playoff implications being played tonight (looking at you St. Louis and, to a lesser extent, Calgary). However, for the last few days, my eyes have been drawn to the bottom of the league standings to what should be a better game between the Coyotes and Sabres than meets the eye, even if both clubs have a good chance at snagging the first-overall draft pick.
While the 24-37-11 Coyotes are still a ways off of challenging Vegas for the top of the Pacific Division, they have not been playing as poorly as their position as second-to-last in the Western Conference would indicate. In fact, Arizona has posted a 6-3-1 record in its 10 games this March.
The biggest reason for the Yotes’ most recent success goes by the name 16-16-6 G Antti Raanta. Even in the face of a defense that has allowed 31.3 shots against per game this calendar month (the 14th-fewest in the league in that time), Raanta has posted an impressive .941 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. This solid run has improved his season marks to a .925 save percentage and 2.41 GAA.
Even with the Coyotes traveling to Raleigh after tonight’s game for a tilt against the Hurricanes tomorrow, it appears Raanta will man the pipes tonight as Joe Yerdon reported he was in the starter’s crease at this morning’s skate.
Similar to Arizona, 23-37-12 Buffalo also hasn’t been as bad as last in the league would indicate lately. Not only have the Sabres posted a 3-4-1 record since March 2, but they’ve done it in light of facing a tough schedule (at Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Calgary, vs. Vegas, vs. Toronto and vs. Nashville) that even the best of teams would struggle with.
That being said, the biggest reason Buffalo still has a losing record over this eight-game run has to be its struggling defense. Even with F Ryan O’Reilly (10 takeaways in his last eight games) and D Rasmus Ristolainen (three hits per game and 1.8 blocks per game since March 2) pouring their hearts out on the defensive end, the Sabres are still allowing 36.75 shots against per game since March 2, the third-worst mark in the NHL in that time.
As would be expected when faced with that kind of assault, the Sabres’ goaltenders have struggled to keep up. In his last three starts, 8-11-3 G Chad Johnson – tonight’s starter – has managed only a .9 save percentage and 4.11 GAA. While that save percentage is slightly better than the .897 he’s managed for the entire season, the sheer quantity of shots faced means his recent GAA is well over his 3.27 season mark.
It’s at this point where we turn this preview on its head. I’m almost always of the opinion that players have little to no interest in tanking or improving draft odds, hence my struggle with the idea of tanking. Unless they’ve given up on their teammates, players and coaches are always going to put 100 percent effort into their play.
However, I’m very certain General Managers Jason Botterill and John Chayka are keeping a close eye on this game and hoping that things go their clubs’ way… by things not going their clubs’ way. With that in mind, let’s discuss how much winning this game can do to impair either team’s chance at drafting first overall.
As things currently stand, the Sabres are 31st in the league and have the best shot at the first overall pick (in other words, they have an 18 percent chance of drafting
Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov or Brady Tkachuk whomever they think is the best fit for their organization). However, it’s still a tight race at the bottom of the NHL, as the last three teams are separated by only one point. Should Buffalo win this game, it will vault Arizona and Vancouver into 29th in the league. Third-to-last has a 10.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.
Speaking of 29th-place, that is exactly where the Coyotes currently reside since they’re winning (or losing, depending on how you look at it) a games-played tiebreaker with Vancouver. Should Arizona win tonight’s tilt, it will pull within two points of 28th-place Ottawa, the team that has a 9.5 percent chance of drafting first overall.
The last time these teams squared off was November 2 at Gila River Arena, and it was an incredibly entertaining affair. Even though First Star LW Benoit Pouliot had scored two goals and tacked on another assist to give Buffalo a comfortable 5-1 lead, the Sabres allowed Arizona to score three third period goals. Buffalo was saved by the final horn and escaped the Grand Canyon State with a 5-4 victory.
Based simply on defense, it looks like the Coyotes have the upper hand in this game. Mix in the fact that their offense has averaged 2.6 goals per game in March to Buffalo’s 2.25, and it becomes a no-brainer.
In desperate need of two points, the Dallas Stars still sit on the outside of the playoff picture after losing yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day against the Washington Capitals 4-3 at Capital One Arena.
The game started exactly how the Stars would have liked, as they entered the first intermission with a 1-0 advantage. With 3:56 remaining in the first frame, F Tyler Seguin (RW Alexander Radulov and Third Star of the Game D John Klingberg) took advantage of C Nicklas Backstrom getting thrown into the penalty box for tripping Klingberg to score a power play snap shot.
However, it didn’t take long after the start of the second period for the Capitals to take a lead of their own. F T.J. Oshie (C Lars Eller and Second Star W Alex Ovechkin) got Washington on the scoreboard at the 4:07 mark of the frame with a wrist shot, and D Matt Niskanen followed him with an unassisted wrister only 1:25 later to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.
Scoring subsided until 8:12 remained in the period when Radulov (Klingberg and LW Jamie Benn) leveled the game with a snapper, but Ovechkin (First Star D John Carlson and Oshie) regained a one-goal advantage for the Caps on a power play slap shot only 1:53 later. Benn completed the period’s scoring with a wrister, tying the score at 3-3 1:45 before the second intermission.
As would be expected from a a tie entering the final 20 minutes of regulation, there was tons of action at both ends of the ice. In total, 21 shots on goal were registered between the two teams in the third frame – split as evenly as possible. Unfortunately for Dallas, the Capitals take credit for the remaining shot on goal, and it proved to be the game-winner.
With 4:59 remaining in regulation and the teams playing under four-on-four conditions (C Radek Faksa and D Brooks Orpik were in the penalty box for respective slashing and roughing infractions against one another), Ovechkin collected a centering pass to nobody by Eller in the left corner. After advancing towards the trapezoid, the captain returned the puck to Eller waiting in the opposite corner, who saw Carlson wide open above the right face-off circle and delivered him a perfect setup pass. The defenseman one-timed a nasty clapper over G Kari Lehtonen‘s glove shoulder to set the 4-3 final score.
G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 24-of-27 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).
Home teams are trying to reclaim their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’ve now earned points in three-consecutive games. As such, the 89-52-20 hosts now have a 35-point advantage over the roadies.
With the All-Star Break on the horizon, the NHL is loading up on games all week. This Monday, we have a half-dozen contests to choose from.
As it usually does, the action starts at 7 p.m. with two tilts (Colorado at Toronto [TVAS] and Detroit at New Jersey [SN]), followed an hour later by Ottawa at Minnesota (RDS). Tampa Bay at Chicago (NBCSN) gets underway at 8:30 p.m., while tonight’s co-nightcaps – Buffalo at Calgary and the New York Islanders at Arizona – wait until 9 p.m. before closing out the evening. All times Eastern.
I’d highlighted two of tonight’s games before the season started…
- Colorado at Toronto: With 13-9-2 G Semyon Varlamov still on injured reserve, 13-7-1 G Jonathan Bernier is lined up for his first start in Toronto since April 4, 2016 when he was a member of the Maple Leafs.
- Buffalo at Calgary: 1-8-3 G Chad Johnson is also returning to his former home stadium, but he’s more likely to draw the start tomorrow in Edmonton.
Adding in Bernier’s return to The Queen City, there’s no doubt that the Avs’ lone visit of the season to Air Canada Centre (barring a Stanley Cup Finals meeting) will be the best matchup of the day!
Amateur drafting is hard, and that’s made especially known when netminders are taken as early as Bernier. Since 2000, only 10 goalies have gone in the top 11 picks, and only two of those (Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price) are regular starters.
Enter Bernier, the 11th-overall pick by Los Angeles in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and current starter – by default – for the Avs.
To say Bernier was a bust for the Kings is slightly unfair. After all, he didn’t start his first NHL game until the 2007-’08 season, the same year G Jonathan Quick made his NHL debut. A year later, Quick had already assumed starting duties for the Kings while Bernier was still spending his time as Manchester’s starter in the AHL.
Benier would eventually ascend to the role of Quick’s backup, but the American would further cement his position as Los Angeles’ starter with his Stanley Cup victory in 2012. Though Bernier’s name is also inscribed alongside the rest of those Kings, he must have known his time with the club was running out.
Following the 2012-’13 season, Bernier was traded to Toronto in exchange for RW Matt Frattin, G Ben Scrivens and a second-round pick in the 2015 draft that eventually ended up back in the hands of the Leafs after being involved in another trade between the Kings and Blue Jackets.
Draft season is fun that way.
Bernier brought with him a .912 save percentage and 2.36 GAA in 62 career NHL games and was thrown into a competition with G James Reimer for Toronto’s starting job for the 2013-’14 season. Bernier certainly won the gig, as he earned 49 starts (17 more than Reimer) and posted a superior .922 save percentage and 2.7 GAA. He ended up starting 55 games during the the following campaign, but watched his numbers drop to .912 and 2.87.
Of course, the 2013-’14, 2014-’15 and 2015-’16 Maple Leafs are never going to go down in history as the best teams Toronto has put on the ice (I mean, they got C Auston Matthews for a reason). Bernier was effectively the Leafs’ lone line of defense, and I would argue that he performed fairly well given the circumstances. In all, he posted a .915 save percentage and 2.81 GAA during his three seasons in Toronto even though he faced an average of 33.12 shots per start.
However, Bernier once again became expendable when the Leafs traded for G Frederik Andersen‘s rights. Andersen had enjoyed a .914 save percentage and 2.38 GAA in his lone season as the Ducks’ starter, but he was relegated to the backup role when G John Gibson assumed the starting position in 2015-’16.
In an odd twist of fate, Bernier was traded to Anaheim to fill Andersen’s vacated backup spot 18 days after the Maple Leafs traded for the former Duck. He started 33 games on the final year of his two-year, $8.3 million contract, earning a 21-7-4 record on a .915 save percentage and 2.5 GAA.
After not being offered another contract by Anaheim this offseason – not to mention G Ryan Miller signing with the squad – Bernier signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal with the Avalanche to backup Varlamov.
To put things bluntly, Bernier had been performing terribly in his limited time this season. Before the calendar turned to 2018, Bernier had posted a miserable .898 save percentage and 3.12 GAA in 14 starts for a 6-7-1 record.
But then Varlamov got injured in Colorado’s first game of the new year – a scary matchup against the mighty Winnipeg Jets. He strained his groin to land himself on injured reserve, where he’s likely to remain until February.
Considering how Bernier had performed all season, it seemed Colorado’s then-flailing season was likely headed even further down the tubes. Instead, the backup led the Avs to a victory over those Jets. And then shutout the Blue Jackets. And then he beat the Wild, Stars, Ducks, Sharks and Rangers too.
Instead of leading Colorado towards a top-five draft pick, he’s actually sparked a nine-game winning streak to propel the 26-16-3 Avs into the second wild card. During the eight games he’s responsible for, he’s managed an incredible .958 save percentage and 1.47 GAA.
Huh. Maybe he was worth the 11th-overall pick after all.
And just in case anyone would like to argue that F Nathan MacKinnon, who’s posted 8-11-19 totals during this run, has been the biggest reason for the Avs’ nine-game winning streak, I’d like to direct them to Colorado’s defense.
To call the Avalanche’s defensive corps Swiss cheese would be an insult to Roger Federer’s (who’s killing it at the Australian Open right now, by the way) home land. The Avs’ blue line has allowed a whopping 34.89 shots against-per-game during this run, the fifth-worst average in the NHL since December 29.
It’s that statistic that makes Bernier’s performance even more special. Nothing has been easy for him during this month-long hot streak, but he’s risen to the challenge exactly 300 times, allowing only 14 goals on 314 shots against.
Short of the Jets, Bernier may face his toughest task yet of his newfound starting role, as the 26-17-5 Maple Leafs – who sit in third place in the Atlantic Division – definitely know how to score the puck.
Or, at least they usually do. On the season, the Leafs have averaged a seventh-best 3.1 goals per game. That effort has been led by Matthews, who tops the Toronto charts in goals (20) and points (35).
However, that offense has dried up since January 4. Even though Toronto has posted a 3-1-3 record over its last seven tilts, it has averaged only 2.29 goals per game – the (t)fifth-worst mark in the league since then. Matthews is still posting goals (he’s scored three in his last seven games), but the rest of the squad simply cannot find the back of the net.
The Leafs have already made their annual trip to Pepsi Center, and they almost came away with two points. However, F J.T. Compher‘s overtime winner gave Colorado the 4-3 victory on December 29, the first in the Avs’ run of nine-straight.
Unless the Leafs can rediscover their offense, it’s hard to believe they have a shot at beating Colorado tonight.
The San Jose Sharks absolutely steamrolled the Anaheim Ducks in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, winning 6-2 at Honda Center.
A good strategy on the offensive end is to score as many goals as the period’s number. That’s exactly what the Sharks did, scoring one goal in the first period, two in the second and three in the finale.
The attack continued in the second, as San Jose found its eventual game-winning marker before the Ducks were even on the scoreboard. Kevin Labanc (Joe Thornton and Timo Meier) set the score at 2-0 on a snap shot 3:38 into the period, followed 10:18 later by Third Star of the Game Mikkel Boedker‘s (Vlasic and Chris Tierney) deciding power play snapper.
Brandon Montour was only four seconds away from completing his sentence for slashing Labanc, but Boedker decided to post his bail early. Taking advantage of Meier’s screening G John Gibson, Boedker scored his 100th NHL goal by sending his snapper from the right face-off circle past the netminder’s blocker to the far post.
Rickard Rakell (Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique) provided Anaheim a spark of life with 27 seconds remaining in the second period. With both Joel Ward (for tripping Montour) and Joe Pavelski (for slashing Cam Fowler) in the penalty box, he scored a wrister to pull the Ducks back within a 3-1 deficit.
The comeback gained real life 1:47 into the third period when Getzlaf (Second Star Ondrej Kase and Rakell) buried a wrister to pull Anaheim back within a tally, but that hope was dashed only 60 seconds later when Thornton (Brent Burns and Logan Couture) scored a slap shot to return a two-goal advantage to San Jose. Boedker (Melker Karlsson) and Karlsson (Boedker and Tierney) both tacked on insurance goals in the remaining time to set the 6-2 final score.
First Star G Aaron Dell earned his second victory in as many days by saving 33-of-35 shots faced (.943 save percentage), leaving the loss to Gibson, who saved 17-of-22 (.773). With 7:52 remaining in the game, Gibson was lifted in favor of G Ryan Miller, who saved three-of-four (.75) for no-decision.
Road teams have earned points in four-consecutive contests in the DtFR Game of the Day series. However, the 59-35-13 hosts still have a dominating 21-point lead in our featured games.
It’s been a slow hockey week in terms of games played, hasn’t it? There was only one game Sunday, two Monday and now only two today. Thank goodness for yesterday’s 11-game slate.
Both of tonight’s contests are scheduled for 8 p.m. Eastern time, but only one game will be broadcast in either Canada or the USA. Via SN360, Canadians will have the opportunity to watch Calgary at St. Louis, while NBCSN will televise Buffalo at Columbus to those of us in the 50 States.
Unfortunately, there’s no major draw to either of these games (dang that soft tissue for landing RW Jaromir Jagr on injured reserve), so we’re just going to go with the matchup that features the teams separated by fewer points in the standings.
According to my highly scientific decision-making process, Central Ohio is the spot to be tonight.
But before we go any further, I need to clear the air about this tilt. Though NBCSN is advertising this game as a part of its “Wednesday Night Rivalry” series, Buffalo General Manager Jason Botterill ruined any sense of a rivalry this offseason.
I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “How does a GM ruin a rivalry? Surely the teams would continue disliking each other even after an individual player is gone.”
In truth, ‘rivalry’ might be a strong word for the relationship between these clubs. But, if one existed, it started in the 2013′-14 season, a year after the lockout-shortened 2012-’13 season. It was in that lockout campaign that F Nick Foligno, now captain of the Blue Jackets, began his tenure in Columbus and younger brother LW Marcus Foligno earned a permanent spot on the Sabres’ roster.
Since the lockout forced the schedule to be restricted to only intra-conference play and the Blue Jackets were then a member of the Western Conference, the brothers did not compete against each other for the first time as members of their respective clubs until October 10, 2013.
While we’re on subject, the Foligno Brothers are, of course, the sons of former Sabre RW Mike Foligno. The senior Foligno, undoubtedly the best of the trio, enjoyed 10 seasons in Buffalo, scoring 247 of his 355 career goals in a blue-and-gold sweater to help the franchise to seven playoff appearances in his tenure (eight if you count the 1990-’91 season when he was traded to Toronto in December).
But all that history doesn’t matter anymore thanks to the move Botterill made on June 30. In a trade with the Minnesota Wild, Marcus and teammate F Tyler Ennis were exchanged for D Marco Scandella and former Sabre RW Jason Pominville.
None of this is a knock on Botterill’s decision making. GMs can’t concern themselves with things as petty as media storylines, and he certainly hasn’t. In fact, his offseason efforts are finally starting to show results, as his Sabres team that started the season 1-5-2 has now won it’s last two games.
During this little run, it’s been the offense that has stood out most to me. Though far from pretty (Buffalo has fired 74 shots in its past two games, the second-most by any team since Saturday), it’s been effective as the Sabres have averaged three goals-per-game during this run, well above their 2.6 goals-per-game average for the season.
What all these shots have created is a wildly unpredictable attack, and there’s nothing a defense and goaltender (G Sergei Bobrovsky in this case) like less than unpredictability. In fact, all eight players on the Sabres’ roster to have fired the puck at least four times in the past two games has registered a minimum of one point.
Among that group of eight, none have been more accurate than F Benoit Pouliot. Though only a lowly fourth-liner, Pouliot has found the back of the net on a quarter of his shots during this run to take credit for his first two goals of the season, including last night’s game-winner against the Red Wings.
Of course, no matter how accurate Pouliot has been, there’s no replacing Buffalo’s top-line as the primary source of offense. Both C Jack Eichel (four goals) and LW Evander Kane (six goals) have registered 11 points in 10 games played this season, managing four and six goals, respectively, apiece.
Before discussing what the Blue Jackets bring to the table, a major hat tip is due to G Robin Lehner, who has allowed only four goals in the past two games even though he’s faced a total of 63 shots (.936 save percentage). Since he shutout the Red Wings last night, I expect 1-2-1 G Chad Johnson, who’s sporting a .881 save percentage and 3.84 GAA, to be in net this evening.
While the Sabres enter tonight’s game on a two-game winning streak, Columbus’ two-game losing skid is the negative inverse of that.
Of course, you can’t blame them after going through the gauntlet of hosting Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, the top-two teams in the league right now, in the span of three days.
When things are going the Jackets’ way, they have the incredible talent of absolutely shutting down opposing offenses. Whether it’s by a defense headlined by Jack Johnson, Seth Jones and David Savard‘s combined 6.5 blocks-per-game or Bobrovsky and his 2.16 GAA that’s fourth-best in the NHL, only three offenses have come away from games against Columbus with three or more goals.
In particular, the Jackets have been pretty darn good on the penalty kill this season. Stopping 83.3 percent of opposing extra-man opportunities, the Jackets are among the 10 best teams in the league when shorthanded. Considering the Sabres bring a measly 13.9 power play success rate into tonight’s game, the Blue Jackets should have no problem snuffing out any attacks on that front.
You know what they say: defense wins championships. That’s not a Stanley Cup pick from me, but it is a pick for this game – especially since Johnson will be in net for the Sabres. Columbus should have two more points by the end of the night.
Earning the second win of his career in his first-ever NHL start, First Star of the Game G Oscar Dansk led the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Though his night ended the way he wanted it to, the beginning of the game was not necessarily kind to Dansk. Even though D Duncan Keith was in the penalty box for tripping W James Neal, F John Hayden was able to score an unassisted shorthanded wrist shot only 3:33 into the contest to give the visiting Hawks an early lead. That lead lasted only 26 seconds though, as C William Karlsson (D Colin Miller and D Brad Hunt) took advantage of that very power play opportunity to level the game with a deflected goal. F Tomas Nosek (D Deryk Engelland and D Brayden McNabb) completed the scoring blitz at the 5:46 mark of the period with a wrister to give the Knights a lead they would not yield for the remainder of the game.
This play started as a botched dump-and-chase by the Golden Knights, as Chicago’s D Jordan Oesterle was the first to reach the puck in the corner to G Corey Crawford‘s left. Unfortunately for him, he absolutely fanned on his clearing attempt, leaving the loose puck to be collected by Carrier and dumped into the trapezoid to Nosek. The forward carried the puck behind the goal line to Crawford’s right before seeing a waiting Bellemare and centering him a pass. Firing a one-timer from the slot, Bellemare directed his snap shot past Crawford’s glove.
With 9:40 remaining in regulation, F Jon Marchessault (D Nate Schmidt and D Luca Sbisa) provided an insurance tally with a power play wrister to set the score at 4-1 in favor of the Golden Knights. Though F Patrick Kane (W Brandon Saad and Oesterle) tried valiantly to pull Chicago back into the game with 65 seconds remaining, the Hawks could not alter the 4-2 score in the remaining time.
Dansk earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the loss to Crawford, who saved 29-of-33 (.879).
That’s two-straight victories by home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. After a solid run by the road teams over the weekend, the 12-6-4 hosts have now reclaimed a six-point advantage over the roadies in the series.
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.
45-33-4, 94 points, fourth in the Pacific Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Anaheim
Subtractions: LW Brandon Bollig (signed with SJS), F Lance Bouma (signed with CHI), G Brian Elliott (signed with PHI), D Deryk Engelland (drafted by VGK), G Chad Johnson (signed with BUF), F Linden Vey (signed with Barys, KHL)
Offseason Analysis: In 2015, the Flames made it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after five years of ending their season at only 82 games played (well, 48 in 2012-’13). In 2016, Calgary failed to make the postseason. This most recent summer was a quick return to the postseason before the Flames were swiftly eliminated by the Ducks in four games.
If this pattern continues, Southern Albertans – and maybe a few old-timey Atlantans – could be in for a rough hockey season.
Though a postseason appearance usually rewards a strong regular season showing, the Flames did almost all their work in the two months after the All-Star Break. Starting with their dominant 5-1 victory over Minnesota on February 1, Calgary went an incredible 19-6-1 in February and March, a performance overshadowed only by Chicago’s 42 points and Pittsburgh’s 40 in that stretch. Elliott and his defensive corps are responsible for much of that effort, as they allowed the third fewest goals against at 61 (2.35 per game) to power the Flames from eighth place to sixth in the Western Conference.
In most cases, that would usually be reason enough to retain a goaltender after his contract year – even keeping in mind his 3-9-1 start. Instead, General Manager Brad Treliving elected to let 32-year-old Elliott and backup Johnson walk and replace them with 29-year-old Lack (8-7-3, .902 save percentage and 2.64 GAA in 2016-‘17) and 35-year-old Smith (19-26-9, .914 save percentage and 2.92 GAA), signing them to one- and two-year contracts respectively.
For a team that swapped out both its top netminders, the Flames managed to move as laterally as possible. They arguably made a minor improvement by hiring Smith (emphasis on minor) over Elliott, but the now-Flyer is three years younger. More than likely, Lack – the youngest of the four goaltenders in this conversation – will presumably start as Smith’s backup, but he’ll be able to use this season as an audition to be the Flames’ goaltender of the future. He’s performed best with regular action in the past, so he’ll need to perform the way he did the last time he was in the Pacific Division (.917 save percentage and 2.43 GAA in two seasons with Vancouver) instead of continuing his Carolinian ways (.902 save percentage and 2.75 GAA with the Canes) to earn starts and stake his claim for the Flames’ crease past this season.
Looking beyond the crease, the biggest change Calgary made was trading at least two draft picks to the Islanders for Hamonic. Though the defenseman scored a career-high 33 points in 2014-’15, the last two seasons at .29 points-per-game (he was limited to 49 games last season with a knee injury) have been a bit closer to what Calgary should expect from him.
Having been rumored to want to move closer to his native Manitoba in the past, the stay-at-home blue liner will be expected to continue averaging 2.2 blocks-per-game as he did a season ago in more familiar surroundings. If he can do that, then the Flames should be able to further improve on a defense that allowed only 28.7 shots to reach their net a season ago – the eighth-best mark in the NHL.
Offseason Grade: C+
Though their acquisitions were few, Calgary did relatively well to fill the holes on its roster. That being said, the Flames are still far from the top of the Pacific Division and will struggle to make the postseason. Their most important goal this year is to give Lack a good long look at being the goaltender of the future, or else they risk turning into West Philadelphia (born and raised?) with a turnstile in the crease. But if that happens, the most important question is this: which Calgary goaltender does the best Carlton?
33-37-12, 78 points, 8th in Atlantic (‘16-‘17)
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.