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Backes’ return sparks B’s in, 3-1, win over Habs

David Backes scored the game-winning goal in his first game back from injury since Nov. 2nd as the Boston Bruins rallied in the third period to a, 3-1, comeback win over the Montreal Canadiens Sunday night at TD Garden.

Tuukka Rask (13-2-2 record, 2.04 goals against average, .933 save percentage in 17 games played) made 28 saves on 29 shots against for a .966 SV% in the win for Boston.

Montreal netminder, Carey Price (10-9-3, 3.18 GAA, .898 SV% in 22 GP) stopped 31 out of 34 shots faced for a .912 SV% in the loss.

The B’s improved to 19-3-5 (43 points) on the season and maintained their lead on the Atlantic Division, as well as the entire league– having played one fewer game than the Washington Capitals.

The Habs fell to 11-10-6 (28 points) and remained in command of 5th place in the Atlantic Division while also falling to 0-5-3 in their last eight games.

Prior to Sunday night, Montreal hadn’t lost eight-straight games since the 1939-40 season (in which the Canadiens lost nine-straight games at one point).

Meanwhile, Boston is on an 11-game point streak, including their current seven-game winning streak and improved to 11-0-4 on home ice this season.

Kevan Miller (knee), John Moore (shoulder), Karson Kuhlman (fractured tibia), Zach Senyshyn (lower body), Patrice Bergeron (lower body) and Brett Ritchie (upper body) were all out of commission for the Bruins on Sunday against Montreal.

Moore, however, was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) ahead of Providence’s matinee matchup with the Charlotte Checkers at Bojangles’ Coliseum as part of a long-term injured conditioning stint (meaning he’s likely to be back up in Boston and rejoining the B’s lineup in the near future).

Jack Studnicka was also reassigned to Providence after playing in two NHL games with Boston while multiple forwards were injured.

Studnicka recorded one assist in that span.

Backes returned to full practice on Saturday and returned to the lineup Sunday night against the Canadiens after missing the last 13 games since being hurt on Nov. 2nd against the Ottawa Senators.

With Backes available, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, switched up his lines from Friday afternoon’s, 3-2, overtime victory over the New York Rangers.

Cassidy kept his first line the same with Brad Marchand at left wing, David Krejci at center and David Pastrnak on the right wing.

On the second line, Cassidy moved Charlie Coyle back to his usual spot at center with Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen on his left and right sides, respectively.

Sean Kuraly centered the third line with Anders Bjork at left wing and Chris Wagner at right wing.

Finally, Par Lindholm centered Joakim Nordstrom in his usual role as the fourth line left wing and Backes on the right wing.

Connor Clifton went back in the lineup on the third defensive pairing alongside Matt Grzelcyk, while Steven Kampfer joined Brendan Gaunce in the press box as Boston’s only healthy scratches.

The Bruins wore their new alternate sweater for the second-straight game since debuting them on the ice against the Rangers in the 2019 NHL Thanksgiving Showdown.

Joel Armia (10) stole the puck right in front of the Boston goal and sent a backhand shot off the crossbar and in over Rask’s glove side on fluke soft goal to kick things off at 1:58 of the first period.

Armia’s goal was unassisted and gave Montreal a, 1-0, lead in what was just the 9th instance of the Bruins giving up the game’s first goal on home ice this season– and the 4th consecutive home game in doing so.

Late in the period, Charlie McAvoy caught Charles Hudon with a high stick and was assessed a minor infraction at 14:38.

The Canadiens did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the night.

Entering the first intermission, the Habs led the B’s, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 11-10, in shots on goal.

Montreal also held the advantage in takeaways (11-1) and faceoff win percentage (59-41), while Boston led in blocked shots (4-1).

Both teams had three giveaways aside and 12 hits each, meanwhile the Canadiens were 0/1 on the power play heading into the second period.

The Bruins had yet to see any time on the skater advantage after the first 20 minutes of action Sunday night.

Boston turned their burners on as the second period was nearing a close, but not before the two teams got into a bit of a scrum at center ice that resulted in the first power play opportunity of the night for the Bruins.

Shea Weber was called for interference against Pastrnak at 17:13 of the second period, but was joined in the penalty box by his teammate, Brendan Gallagher, after Gallagher got into a wrestling match with DeBrusk– who also cut a rut to the sin bin, but for the B’s.

As a result, the Bruins went on a 5-on-4 skater advantage and couldn’t muster a power play goal in the vulnerable minutes before the middle frame came to a close.

The score remained unchanged after 40 minutes of action with the Canadiens leading the Bruins, 1-0, but Boston jumped ahead of Montreal in the shot department– leading, 20-19, in shots on goal after two periods thanks to their, 10-8, advantage in shots on net in the second period alone.

The B’s led in blocked shots (10-6) and hits (25-20) entering the second intermission, while the Habs led in takeaways (12-6), giveaways (4-3) and faceoff win% (52-48).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the final frame of regulation.

Early in the final frame, Bjork worked an indirect pass up the boards to Pastrnak that led Pastrnak into the attacking zone.

The league’s leading goal scorer, Pastrnak (25), blasted a rocket from the hashmarks off the far post and in on Price’s blocker side– tying the game, 1-1, in the process at 6:16 of the third period.

Bjork (3) and Brandon Carlo (8) tallied the assists on Pastrnak’s goal as No. 88 in black-and-gold became the 11th player in league history to score 25 or more goals in a season through games played on Dec. 1st, as well as the first player to do so since Mario Lemieux scored 29 goals through Dec. 1st in the 1992-93 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

About a couple minutes later, Nick Cousins received a holding infraction for tying up Torey Krug in Montreal’s offensive zone.

Boston went on the power play for the second time of the night at 8:38 of the third and made sure to capitalize on the skater advantage in the dying seconds of the power play opportunity.

Grzelcyk worked the puck from the point to Krejci as the Bruins center brought the puck down low.

Krejci then sent a pass to Backes (1) in the slot where the veteran NHLer was acting as a bumper and one-timed a shot into the twine to give Boston their first lead of the night, 2-1.

The Bruins didn’t score in the first 40 minutes of the game Sunday night, but they fired off two goals in a span of 4:13 in the third period to turn the game on its head.

Krejci (15) and Grzelcyk (6) had the assists on Backes’ goal at 10:29 and the B’s had momentum on their side.

In a similar manner, but from the reverse angle, Heinen broke into the zone with possession and briefly lost the puck before DeBrusk scooped it up and gave it to Coyle.

The Weymouth, Massachusetts native brought the rubber biscuit behind the net, then tossed a pass to DeBrusk (6) that the Bruins winger one-timed over Price’s glove from point blank while being knocked to the ice– giving Boston a two-goal lead, 3-1.

Coyle (10) had the only assist on DeBrusk’s goal at 13:27 and the Bruins completed their three unanswered goal comeback over Montreal in a 7:11 span in the third period.

The goal was DeBrusk’s 6th point in his last five games.

With 2:33 remaining in regulation, Canadiens head coach, Claude Julien, pulled Price for an extra attacker.

After icing the puck and mishandling a breakout, the Habs ended up with too many skaters on the ice at 18:09 and sent Cousins to the box to serve their bench minor.

Though Boston did not score on their third power play of the game, they did walk away with the most important thing– the win– at the final horn.

The Bruins finished off the Canadiens, 3-1, and ended the night with the advantage in shots on goal (34-29), blocked shots (16-12) and hits (32-28).

Montreal, meanwhile, left TD Garden with the advantage in giveaways (7-4) and faceoff win% (59-41) on Sunday.

The Habs finished the night 0/1 on the power play, while the B’s went 1/3 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins are now 7-1-2 when allowing the game’s first goal at home this season and 4-2-2 when trailing after two periods.

Boston continues their current five-game home stand (2-0-0) on Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes before hosting the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday and finishing up their homestand on Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche. The B’s then begin a four-game road trip thereafter.

Mike Babcock Fired: What Does This Mean for The– Bruins?

Wednesday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs fired their now former head coach, Mike Babcock, and promoted Sheldon Keefe as the new head coach of the Leafs from his previous head coaching duties with the Toronto Marlies (AHL).

It’s a move that everyone likely saw coming, but this soon? That’s impressive.

Babcock was adamant in his coaching abilities and in his belief in himself as “the greatest coach who ever lived” (paraphrasing, obviously), but could not salvage his hubris when it mattered most– right now.

Toronto is currently 9-10-4 (22 points) on the season, 5th place in the Atlantic Division and outside of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Luckily for the Leafs, the Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, 25 points), Philadelphia Flyers (10-7-4, 24 points) and Buffalo Sabres (10-8-3, 23 points) aren’t that far ahead of them in the standings for now.

It’s the perfect time to be bold and make a move if you’re looking to provide a short-term spark that will hopefully re-ignite some cooling embers and launch the Maple Leafs back into playoff contention at the very least– if not Stanley Cup contention, as many have expected for a few years now before Toronto’s General Manager, Kyle Dubas, was forced to spend about $40.489 million on William Nylander, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner while somehow forgetting the importance of a defense and a backup goaltender in the process.

For a team that used to employ a coach that notoriously bet on himself and his process for better or worse, well, they’re betting heavily on the salary cap ceiling to make a significant jump by the time a new national TV rights distribution package in the United States is negotiated in 2022.

But that’s a separate discussion entirely.

For now, we’re left in the wake of a post-Babcock Leafs Era and what it means for the Boston Bruins– Toronto’s biggest rival most recently.

The 56-year-old former head coach in Toronto was in his 5th year of an eight-year, $50.000 million contract with the Maple Leafs.

Toronto went 29-42-11 in the 2015-16 season, which led them to drafting Matthews with the 1st overall pick in the 2016 Draft.

The following year, Babcock and the Maple Leafs improved to 40-27-15, qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013, before losing in six games to the Washington Capitals in the 2017 First Round.

Then history repeated itself as the Leafs went 49-26-7 in the 2017-18 regular season before losing in seven games to Boston in the 2018 First Round.

From there it was a broken record for Toronto– a 46-28-9 effort in 2018-19 led to another First Round matchup with Boston and another Game 7 loss on the road to the Bruins in the 2019 First Round.

This season, through 23 games, the Leafs have six wins in regulation. They have nine total.

Babcock hasn’t won a playoff series since he was still with the Detroit Red Wings in 2013. He hasn’t led a team back to the Stanley Cup Final since losing in 2009 with Detroit in the Red Wings-Penguins rematch from 2008.

He may be “Canada’s Coach”, but he isn’t “Canada’s favorite team’s head coach” anymore.

Enter Keefe, a 39-year-old, from Brampton, Ontario– a short drive from Toronto– emerging as “The Chosen One”.

Hired by Toronto to lead the Marlies on June 8, 2015, Keefe had a respectable first season with Toronto’s AHL affiliate in 2015-16, notching a 54-16-5-1 record (wins-losses-overtime losses-shootout losses, for those of you who aren’t AHL savvy).

Keefe pushed his team all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs (his rookie season as an AHL coach, mind you) before the Marlies succumbed to the Hershey Bears in five games.

In 2016-17, Keefe coached his team to a 42-29-4-1 record and a North Division Final appearance in the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs that resulted in a Game 7 loss to the Syracuse Crunch.

That loss didn’t set the Marlies back, but instead motivated Keefe and his team as they marched to a 54-18-2-2 record in 2017-18 and a 2018 Calder Cup Final appearance.

They defeated the Texas Stars in seven games and captured Toronto’s first championship in ice hockey since the NHL’s Maple Leafs raised the Stanley Cup in 1967.

Though it was only the AHL, it proved that something was in the works.

Dubas’ masterplan was coming to fruition as the analytics guru rose to power– taking over as GM of the Maple Leafs with Lou Lamoriello’s departure in the 2018 offseason.

Keefe had followed Dubas from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) to the Maple Leafs organization in 2015, but Babcock stood in the way of his destiny, it seemed.

Babcock was Lamoriello’s choice and fit with Brendan Shanahan’s “Shanaplan”.

Keefe fit with Dubas in the contemporary game, “Shanaplan” be damned.

In 2018-19, Keefe led the Marlies to a 39-24-9-4 record and an Eastern Conference Final appearance for the 2nd year in a row in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Though the Marlies lost to the Charlotte Checkers in six games, one thing was for certain– Keefe had it going in the minor league.

It’s not every day that a coach is able to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final in his rookie season, let alone in three of his first four full seasons as an AHL bench boss.

Up until his promotion to the NHL, Keefe amassed a 10-2-2-1 record with the Marlies this season.

They were 1st in the North Division at the time of his departure for the big league.

In 320 career AHL games with the Marlies, Keefe collected a 199-89-22-9 record and a .622 winning percentage in the process– plus one Calder Cup championship in 2018.

So, what does this mean for the Bruins?

A lot when you factor in advantages and disadvantages for each team in the promotion of Keefe from the Marlies to the Leafs.

First, for Toronto, the advantages of having Keefe for a potential playoff matchup with Boston.

The core of Toronto’s current roster (Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Zach Hyman, Morgan Rielly and even Frederik Andersen) has lost in the First Round in at least one of the last three postseasons (Tavares is the only member who hasn’t had to endure three-straight soul crushing First Round departures under Babcock’s reign).

Yes, this may seem bad, but it actually speaks volumes for their playoff experience.

This team is hungry– right from its core– and its fanbase, its front office and its backyard media wants to win sooner rather than later.

Plus, Nylander’s 2nd season in the AHL (although it was only a partial season) overlapped with Keefe’s time behind the bench of the Marlies, so there’s some familiarity between one of the four highest paid players on the Leafs and their head coach.

Additionally, Kapanen, Hyman and others have experience with Keefe and the Marlies’ system.

There’s enough familiarity there for something– potentially something dangerous.

Now for the advantages for Boston.

History is on their side. Boston’s core (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask) has shown its capable of making another Cup run (even with an aging captain and 1-2 centers).

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, remains a constant and in control.

Boston missed the playoffs in 2015 and 2016, but Claude Julien was still their head coach then, so the combination of Cassidy, plus Chara, Bergeron and Krejci’s leadership made for an easier transition into getting the team back into a “top of their game” playoff performer (and eventual Cup contender in 2019).

This isn’t a luxury the Leafs have, where the team’s looking to get back into postseason contention, period, let alone win a series.

Toronto missed the playoffs in their first year with Babcock, but made it for the last three years and lost each year in the First Round.

This leads to Toronto’s disadvantages for another potential postseason meeting with the Bruins.

History is not on Toronto’s side and neither are the statistics.

Yes, Dubas’ 2nd favorite thing in the world– analytics– could get in the way of his 1st favorite thing in the world– bringing the Cup back to the Maple Leafs organization.

As things stand, the Leafs have a greater chance of missing the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs than making them currently.

Toronto– the city, the fans, the players, the front office and the media– wants to win right now. There’s no room for excuses (even if they’re legitimate, like taking one’s time to formulate a defense via prospects or trades and supplementing Andersen in the crease with a legitimate backup goaltender).

But, whereas Cassidy inherited broken pieces in Boston that were addressed and revamped as the team went from outside the playoffs two years in a row to making three consecutive postseason appearances under Cassidy in his head coaching tenure with the B’s– addressing the need for depth down the lineup in the process without the likes of a highly touted free agent acquisition– Keefe and the Leafs have the majority of this season to work on that necessary synergy with a better offense (on paper).

Cassidy was named interim head coach of the Bruins in Feb. 2017. Boston was ousted by the Ottawa Senators in six games in the 2017 First Round and lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the 2018 Second Round prior to their 2019 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Keefe has Tavares, Matthews and Marner (when healthy) to unleash on any given night and could very well pull a turnaround in one season a la the St. Louis Blues last season (who beat the Bruins in the Final in Game 7 at TD Garden) or the Penguins in 2009 (when Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien midseason and won the Cup) and 2016 (when Mike Sullivan replaced Bylsma midseason and won the Cup).

In that sense, recent history is actually on Toronto’s side.

Boston had some growing pains to go with their dramatic improvement, but the Leafs are built to counteract that pain if Keefe can find a better way to manage it than Babcock did.

As it is, Cassidy is 130-55-27 in 212 games with Boston from 2017-present (good enough for a .613 winning percentage), but 207-128-21-24 in 380 games with the Providence Bruins (AHL) from 2011-16 (.545 winning%).

Babcock was 173-133-45 in 351 games with the Maple Leafs from 2015-19 (.493 winning%).

Keefe gets the final say and has his .622 winning% in 320 games with the Marlies going for him as he steps into the biggest role behind any bench in the National Hockey League.

Playoffs or not, the rest of this season is about to be a wild ride for the Maple Leafs and their fans.

Bruins fans be worried or not.

San Jose Sharks 2019-20 Season Preview

San Jose Sharks

46-27-9, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the Western Conference Final by St. Louis

Additions: F Jonny Brodzinski, D Trevor Carrick (acquired from CAR), D Nicolas Meloche (acquired from COL), D Dalton Prout

Subtractions: F Joonas Donskoi (signed with COL), F Micheal Haley (signed to a PTO with NYR), F Jonathon Martin (signed with Tucson, AHL), F Gustav Nyquist (signed with CBJ), F Joe Pavelski (signed with DAL), F Francis Perron (traded to VAN), F Tom Pyatt (SHL), F Alex Schoenborn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Justin Braun (traded to PHI), D Michael Brodzinski (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Cody Donaghey (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Cavan Fitzgerald (signed with Charlotte, AHL), D Joakim Ryan (signed with LAK), D Kyle Wood (re-signed, then traded to CAR), G Antoine Bibeau (traded to COL)

Still Unsigned: F Rourke Chartier, F Tim Clifton

Re-signed: F Kevin Labanc, F Maxim Letunov, F Timo Meier, F Antti Suomela, F Joe Thornton, D Nick DeSimone, D Tim Heed

Offseason Analysis: After making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016, the San Jose Sharks were looking to capitalize on their momentum from their miraculous comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of their First Round matchup.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, sometimes injuries pile up and get in the way of forward progress.

Though they lost to the St. Louis Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final, the mere fact San Jose made it that far after nearly blowing it against Vegas is impressive– especially considering how close of a series their Second Round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche was, which also went seven games.

Whether they were exhausted from multiple overtimes, one long series after another, the Sharks found themselves with a longer than anticipated offseason to rest and recover.

In the meantime, General Manager, Doug Wilson, had his work cut out for him.

Wilson signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million extension worth $11.500 million per season, making Karlsson the highest paid defender in the league.

The Sharks GM also managed to re-sign 22-year-old star in the making, Timo Meier, to a four-year contract worth $6.000 million per season. By the end of the deal, Meier will still have one year of restricted free agency left, which really speaks to the fact that it’s a great– team friendly– extension at an affordable price with the future in mind.

Last season, Meier had 30-36–66 totals in 78 games. He had 21 goals and 15 assists (36 points) in his first full season (81 games played) in 2017-18.

But the cost of re-signing key pieces of San Jose’s core comes with a price– losing depth.

First, Joe Pavelski priced himself out of the Sharks, in part, thanks to his consistent scoring and 38 goals last season at 35-years-old, as well as San Jose’s cap crunch thanks to Karlsson’s pay raise.

Pavelski signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Stars worth $7.000 million per season, but it’s not about the money for San Jose (even though it was)– it’s about having to make up for a 38-goal deficit heading into this season.

Second, to get themselves squared away with the salary cap, Wilson had to move one of his durable top-four defenders via a trade, sending Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 18th for a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.

Trading Braun left Wilson with no choice but to sign Dalton Prout as a cheap replacement and to perform this season’s Micheal Haley duties. Haley, himself, signed a PTO with the New York Rangers in hopes of filling New York’s Cody McLeod/Tanner Glass role opening.

On the plus side, the Sharks will be able to replenish their pool of prospects with the transaction. On the other hand, Braun was a versatile component when others (like Karlsson) were injured.

Even with the additional $3.800 million addition in cap space, San Jose was not able to convince Joonas Donskoi to stay in town, regardless of whether or not Wilson had any plans for the top-nine forward.

Instead, Donskoi joined the Colorado Avalanche on a four-year deal worth $3.900 million per season– providing both job security and a chance to win the Cup, since the Avs are on the rise.

Sharks fans were hoping to see a reunion of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton back on the same team, but Wilson guaranteed Marleau wouldn’t be signed as long as Thornton was back for his 22nd season in the National Hockey League.

The good news? “Jumbo Joe” isn’t going anywhere– take that Father Time!

The bad news? Marleau isn’t going anywhere in free agency (yet) either.

It’s a good move for the Sharks though, as their younger players did exactly what Wilson explained– they played better and worked their way up the lineup to where Marleau had been prior to his departure to join the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 2, 2017.

San Jose has something special in Meier, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow and even Dylan Gambrell, meanwhile Logan Couture was named captain in wake of Pavelski’s departure– fully cementing the Logan Couture Era legacy in Sharks history.

Head coach, Peter DeBoer, will have a lot of leadership in the dressing room to rely on with Couture as captain and Karlsson, Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns serving as alternate captains throughout the season.

Offseason Grade: C-

Considering Karlsson’s cap hit, it would’ve been a “D+” if it weren’t for the redeeming qualities of Meier’s contract. Other than that, the Sharks are destined to be a divisional berth in the Pacific Division as recent history has dictated, but they don’t seem to have what it takes on paper to be leapfrogging over the competition.

Oh, and there’s the near 3.00 goals against average of both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell to consider from last season. That’s terrible for a team with or without Karlsson and Burns on the defense.

Carolina Hurricanes 2019-20 Season Preview

Carolina Hurricanes

46-29-7, 99 points, 4th in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final by Boston

Additions: F Dominik Bokk (acquired from STL), F Ryan Dzingel, F Brian Gibbons, F Erik Haula (acquired from VGK), F Alex Lintuniemi, D Fredrik Claesson, D Joel Edmundson (acquired from STL), D Gustav Forsling (acquired from CHI), D Jake Gardiner, D Chase Priskie, D Kyle Wood (acquired from SJS), G Anton Forsberg (acquired from CHI), G James Reimer (acquired from FLA)

Subtractions: F Patrick Brown (signed with VGK), F Micheal Ferland (signed with VAN), F Patrick Marleau (bought out), F Greg McKegg (signed with NYR), F Andrew Poturalski (signed with ANA), F Nicolas Roy (traded to VGK), F Aleksi Saarela (traded to CHI), D Trevor Carrick (traded to SJS), D Calvin de Haan (traded to CHI), D Justin Faulk (traded to STL), D Adam Fox (traded to NYR), D Dan Renouf (signed with COL), D Josh Wesley (signed with San Antonio, AHL), G Scott Darling (traded to FLA), G Curtis McElhinney (signed with TBL)

Still Unsigned: F Saku Maenalanen (KHL, CAR reserve list), F Justin Williams

Re-signed: F Sebastian Aho, F Clark Bishop, F Brock McGinn, D Hadyn Fleury, D Roland McKeown, G Petr Mrazek

Offseason Analysis: While some teams have signed the biggest names in free agency and improved in one particular aspect, one team has made all the right moves in multiple areas.

Already stocked with plenty of strength, depth and youth, the Carolina Hurricanes added in every category.

Canes GM, Don Waddell, was busy this summer making nine trades since the end of the regular season– seven of which involved players– and signing key pieces of the 2019-20 roster to new deals.

First and foremost, Carolina’s priority this offseason resided in Sebastian Aho’s next contract.

Aho originally signed an offer sheet with the Montreal Canadiens at the dawn of free agency on July 1st, but the Hurricanes matched the deal about a week later and retained his services.

Montreal thought a five-year, $8.454 million per season, offer with a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses owed in the first year of the contract would unnerve Carolina.

It’s just a drop in the bucket for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, who is investing more than just a better on-ice product around the organization.

Though the Hurricanes couldn’t convince Adam Fox to sign with the team after acquiring the defender from the Calgary Flames as part of the Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm for Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland trade, Carolina sent Fox to the New York Rangers for a 2019 2nd round pick and a conditional 2020 3rd round pick.

If Fox plays at least 30 games this season for the Rangers, then the 2020 3rd round pick is upgraded to a 2020 2nd round pick.

At the Draft in June, Waddell worked a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs acquiring Patrick Marleau, a conditional 2020 1st round pick and a 2020 7th round pick in exchange for a 2020 6th round pick.

If the 2020 1st round pick from Toronto is a top-10 pick, then Carolina will receive a 2021 1st round pick instead.

Marleau was bought out by the Hurricanes and will cost Carolina $6.250 million against the cap this season.

The Canes have $8.583 million tied up in buyout penalties as Alexander Semin’s $2.333 million penalty expires at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, which means Waddell has plenty of salary to work with in the coming years.

Two days after the Draft, Carolina sent Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela to the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg on June 24th.

Forsling, 23, is a suitable option for a top-six defender role with room for growth– given he’s on the upswing in his prime (defenders generally aren’t considered “peak” until their early 30s).

Forsberg, 26, has some experience as an NHL backup, but will supplement Alex Nedeljokvic’s workload with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) for the foreseeable future.

After winning their first Calder Cup championship in franchise history, a significant portion of the Checkers’ core was utilized as trade bait or pushed out of the Hurricanes organization by incoming youth are ready for their AHL debuts.

There are seven newcomers to the Checkers roster from within the Hurricanes system from last season to this season, including three players under the age of 22.

Out of the 33 players listed on their 2019 Calder Cup Playoff roster, 15 of them have moved on from Charlotte to another team in professional hockey (NHL, AHL, ECHL, Europe, Russia, etc.) and even Mike Vellucci left the Checkers to join the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as their new head coach.

In his place, former assistant coach turned current Checkers head coach, Ryan Warsofsky, will take the task of running things from behind the bench as the AHL’s youngest head coach at 31-years-old.

Nicolas Roy and a conditional 2021 5th round pick were flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for Erik Haula on June 27th.

Haula, 28, only managed to play 15 games last season for the Golden Knights before suffering a knee injury, but the veteran forward had a career-high 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) in 76 games with Vegas in 2017-18.

He should fit in well within a top-nine forward role, either as a second line or third line center/left wing and is a cheaper replacement for Ferland’s breakout year that led to a new four-year deal worth $3.500 million per season with the Vancouver Canucks in free agency.

If Haula is still on Carolina’s roster after this season or if the Canes trade Haula for a player, multiple draft picks or a draft pick in rounds 1-5, then Vegas receives the conditional 2021 5th round pick. If no condition is met, then the Hurricanes will not have to forfeit their draft pick to the Golden Knights.

Three days after adding Haula, Waddell found a new backup goaltender in a trade with the Florida Panthers.

Carolina traded Scott Darling and a 2020 6th round pick (originally belonging to the Buffalo Sabres) to Florida in exchange for James Reimer on June 30th.

Reimer, 31, had a disappointing 3.09 goals against average and a dismal .900 save percentage in 36 games with the Panthers and is looking to rebound with the Hurricanes in a backup role after seeing his GAA climb for the last three seasons with Florida while trying to take on more games in light of Roberto Luongo’s waning years.

Luongo is now retired (as of this offseason) and didn’t win a Stanley Cup championship in his 19 NHL seasons, unlike Justin Williams, who won the Cup three times in 20 seasons.

Williams, 37, hasn’t officially retired, but is “stepping away” from the game for the time being.

The 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy winner won two Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014 and played a role in Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup championship.

His presence in the Hurricanes dressing room over the last two seasons was pivotal in the transition among ownership, the front office and with the players on the ice.

Finally, after a minor swap with the San Jose Sharks, which saw Trevor Carrick depart the organization for Kyle Wood on August 6th, Waddell finished (for now) his busy offseason trades with one more major move.

Longtime anchor on Carolina’s power play and top-four defender, Justin Faulk, was packaged with a 2020 5th round pick and traded to the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in exchange for Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk and a 2021 7th round pick on Sept. 24th.

The Canes retained 14% of Faulk’s salary ($676,667) in the transaction, while adding a solid top-six defender (Edmundson) and a top German prospect (Bokk) to the fold.

And that’s not even covering Waddell’s brilliance in free agency.

Carolina signed Ryan Dzingel to a two-year contract worth $3.375 million per season on July 12th– adding to the Hurricanes’ plethora of forwards with 20 or more goals last season.

Dzingel recorded 22-22–44 totals in 57 games with the Ottawa Senators last season before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline.

Though he only managed 4-8–12 totals in 21 games with Columbus, Dzingel fell victim to Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella’s, coaching style– whereby nothing is changed until it has to change.

Columbus didn’t find the right fit for the 27-year-old forward in their lineup and Dzingel didn’t take to Tortorella’s scheme and thus, signed with the Hurricanes, where Rod Brind’Amour is saving the team once more.

Seriously, Brind’Amour is the perfect person behind the bench for the organization, if last season didn’t already prove that enough.

Not only did the Hurricanes make the Eastern Conference Final, but Brind’Amour brought back the glow of Carolina’s glory days.

He was the face of the franchise at the dawn of the millennium and he is the face of efficient coaching– with a high compete level– in the contemporary NHL.

And one more thing…

If you’re worried about what Faulk’s departure means for Carolina’s power play, don’t be.

That’s why Jake Gardiner signed a four-year contract worth $4.050 million per season on Sept. 6th.

The durable 29-year-old defender is in his prime, effective on special teams and looking to turn over a new leaf after breaking into the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2011-12 season.

Offseason Grade: A

In short, this team is legit. Waddell added to the roster without subtracting anything major that he hadn’t already planned to replace and Martin Necas could land a job on the team this season.

Of the 22 skaters on the team currently, the average age is 25.3, which makes last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Final even more impressive– even with the ever increasing presence of younger and younger players league-wide.

Carolina is the last team to receive an “A” grade for their offseason work and is looking to make a jump in the Metropolitan Division standings in the regular season from wild card team to division title contender.

Montreal Canadiens 2019-20 Season Preview

Montreal Canadiens

44-30-8, 96 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the postseason for the second straight year

Additions: F Riley Barber, F Nick Cousins, F Phil Varone, D Ben Chiarot, G Keith Kinkaid

Subtractions: F Daniel Audette (signed with Springfield, AHL), F Nicolas Deslauriers (traded to ANA), F Andrew Shaw (traded to CHI), F Hunter Shinkaruk (signed with Charlotte, AHL), D Jordie Benn (signed with VAN), D Brett Lernout (signed with VGK), G Antti Niemi (KHL)

Still Unsigned: None

Re-signed: F Joel Armia, F Charles Hudon, F Artturi Lehkonen, F Michael McCarron

Offseason Analysis: The Montreal Canadiens didn’t even get a meeting with John Tavares last offseason and they tried to ask out a couple of potential suitors to the prom this offseason, but were ultimately rejected.

Before Habs fans try to claim that technically Sebastian Aho accepted their offer, but was then taken back by his… still current romantic partner (Carolina), let’s remember that this is only a terrible attempt at a metaphor or whatever.

The bottom line is Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, wanted to get Matt Duchene in free agency this offseason, but lost out to the Nashville Predators– which was inevitable given Duchene was building a house in Nashville anyway.

Then Bergevin turned to his next option– becoming the “villain” among his peers by submitting an offer sheet to another team’s restricted free agent.

That RFA happened to be Aho, the Carolina Hurricanes forward who remains a Carolina Hurricanes forward after signing a five-year, $8.454 million per season offer sheet from the Habs that was officially matched by the Canes about a week later.

If Bergevin was really comfortable with paying a steep compensation price, he likely offered more in cap hit, length of the deal and, well, just about everything else.

Instead, Carolina wasn’t fazed by the $8.454 million annual cap hit, despite a little more than $21 million front loaded in the deal in signing bonuses and Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, simply wrote a cheque for Aho to cash in and avoid a long offseason of “uncertainty” as many other RFAs faced around the league.

While Bergevin may have done the Hurricanes a favor, Tampa Bay Lightning center, Brayden Point is still unsigned, so…

Actually, on second thought, Montreal only has about $4.045 million in cap space now since missing out on Aho and signing defender, Ben Chiarot, to a consolation prize, three-year, $3.500 million per season contract.

It’s not that Chiarot isn’t a durable defender, but rather, that the Canadiens really could use a young, promising forward to shore up a legitimate top-six– especially with pending-RFA Max Domi in a contract year.

Montreal wants to get back into the postseason, but they don’t just want to make it– they want to make a splash and go on a deep run. Especially since they’re the most recent Canadian team to win the Cup, having done so in 1993, which seems like ages ago, right?

Seven teams have joined the league since a Canadian market last hoisted the Cup high above their heads in a celebratory skate.

Head coach, Claude Julien, transitioned his style from a more veteran dependent coaching style to a more contemporary “play the kids” approach last season and it got Montreal to finish two points outside of the playoffs thanks to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ defeat of the New York Rangers in the last weekend of the regular season.

The good news for Julien? His roster is about the same, so there’s a lot of familiarity in the room in their quest for progress.

Keith Kinkaid signed a one-year, $1.750 million deal to backup Carey Price this season and can be useful in offsetting Price’s workload, though Kinkaid’s looking to bounce back from a dismal year with the New Jersey Devils last season.

Kinkaid amassed a 3.36 goals against average and an .891 save percentage in 41 games played while New Jersey transitioned from Cory Schneider to Mackenzie Blackwood (when healthy) in the crease as their starter.

One thing’s for sure for the Habs this season– if they don’t make it back to the playoffs in 2020, there’s going to be some change coming.

There just has to be.

Offseason Grade: C

Nothing spectacular walked into Bell Centre in the offseason and nothing spectacular walked out. That’s not terrible, but might not be up to the expectations of a fanbase and front office that expects to win every season.

That said, Montreal is due for a resurgence in the standings sooner, rather than later. It’s just going to take a little more work than… whatever was done this offseason.

Chicago Blackhawks 2019-20 Season Preview

Chicago Blackhawks

36-34-12, 84 points, 6th in the Central Division

Missed the postseason for the second straight year

Additions: F Ryan Carpenter, F Alexander Nylander (acquired from BUF), F John Quenneville (acquired from NJD), F Aleksi Saarela (acquired from CAR), F Andrew Shaw (acquired from MTL), F Zack Smith (acquired from OTT), D Calvin de Haan (acquired from CAR), D Philip Holm, D Olli Maatta (acquired from PIT), G Robin Lehner

Subtractions: F Artem Anisimov (traded to OTT), F Victor Ejdsell (SHL), F John Hayden (traded to NJD), F Peter Holland (KHL), F Dominik Kahun (traded to PIT), F Marcus Kruger (NLA), F Chris Kunitz (retired), F Luke Johnson (signed with MIN), F Anthony Louis (signed with Charlotte, AHL), F Andreas Martinsen (signed with ANA), F Jordan Schroeder (KHL), F Tyler Sikura (signed with Rockford, AHL), F Spencer Watson (signed with Indy, ECHL), D Brandon Davidson (signed with CGY), D Gustav Forsling (traded to CAR), D Blake Hillman (signed with Toledo, ECHL), D Henri Jokiharju (traded to BUF), G Anton Forsberg (traded to CAR), G Cam Ward (retired)

Still Unsigned: F Andrew Campbell

Re-signed: F David Kampf, F Brendan Perlini

Offseason Analysis: Chicago Blackhawks General Manager, Stan Bowman, had a busy offseason making six trades that involved players and navigating a transition period for the franchise that has won three Stanley Cup championships in the last decade, but found themselves outside of the playoffs for the last two seasons.

First, Bowman dealt forward, Dominik Kahun, and a 2019 5th round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defender, Olli Maatta, on June 15th, then the Blackhawks GM followed things up with a minor swap with the New Jersey Devils a week later.

Acquiring Maatta wasn’t the only adjustment made to Chicago’s blue line as Bowman traded Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg to the Carolina Hurricanes for Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela on June 24th.

By the end of the month, Bowman was reunited with former Blackhawk turned current Blackhawk once more– Andrew Shaw– in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens involving draft picks and Shaw.

Maatta brings a $4.083 million cap hit, de Haan carries a $4.550 million cap hit and Shaw costs $3.900 million per season. All three players are under contract through the 2021-22 season.

On July 1st, the Blackhawks strengthened their crease by signing Robin Lehner to a one-year, $5.000 million contract. The 28-year-old Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner is slated to backup 34-year-old, Corey Crawford, but could easily split time with the two-time Stanley Cup champion.

Lehner could also become a valuable option if Crawford misses any time due to injury.

Both goaltenders are in contract years.

One (Crawford) is getting older and may not be able to keep playing indefinitely and the other (Lehner) just signed his one-year deal with the possibility of cashing in if Crawford cannot continue to be the goaltender for Chicago, let alone an NHL starter.

Crawford managed a 14-18-5 record in 39 games played last season– while battling injuries– with a 2.93 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. In 2011-12, Crawford had a 2.72 GAA and a .903 SV% in 57 games as a starter.

Lehner amassed a 25-13-5 record in 46 games last season with a 2.13 GAA and a .930 SV% en route to splitting the William M. Jennings Trophy honors for 2018-19 with his backup on the New York Islanders, Thomas Greiss.

It’s no easy task to replace Crawford with the next goaltender in the post-Cup dynasty era, but Bowman’s already strategizing for the inevitable as time doesn’t wait for anyone.

On July 9th, Bowman continued his offseason moves and dealt Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres for Alexander Nylander– a player who’s yet to make an impact at the NHL level and looking for a change in scenery (you know, like how Dylan Strome turned things around after the Arizona Coyotes sent him to Chicago).

Finally, Bowman completed his offseason trading with another one-for-one swap, sending Artem Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators for Zack Smith, saving the Blackhawks $1.300 million in the process for a durable third line center.

Head coach, Jeremy Colliton, has a lot of new puzzle pieces to play with and figure out what’s the best fit.

With an aging core, new acquisitions and plenty of fresh, young, faces emerging, Chicago is under no pressure to win it all in 2020, but they are hoping to make a serious dent in the regular season and make it back into the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Offseason Grade: A-

The Blackhawks didn’t overpay anyone in free agency, but they did trade a 2020 2nd round pick, a 2020 7th round pick and a 2021 3rd round pick to the Canadiens for Shaw and a 2021 7th round pick. That’s… not ideal.

Drafting Kirby Dach 3rd overall in June is sure to help speed up Chicago’s transition and avoid a rebuild, plus Bowman is remaining active in his roster construction with the future in mind instead of getting too attached to components from their Cup winning days.

Anaheim Ducks 2019-20 Season Preview

Anaheim Ducks

35-37-10, 80 points, 6th in the Pacific Division

Missed the postseason for the first time in seven years

Additions: F Andreas Martinsen, F Blake Pietila, F Andrew Poturalski, D Michael Del Zotto, D Jani Hakanpaa, D Chris Wideman, G Anthony Stolarz

Subtractions: F Adam Cracknell (KHL), F Kalle Kossila (signed with TOR), F Corey Perry (bought out, signed with DAL), F Kevin Roy (signed with FLA), F Ben Street (signed with NJD), D Jake Dotchin (signed with STL), D Jaycob Megna (signed with VGK), D Trevor Murphy (KHL), D Andrej Sustr (KHL), D Andy Welinski (signed with PHI)

Still Unsigned: D Keaton Thompson, G Chad Johnson

Re-signed: F Chase De Leo, F Justin Kloos

Offseason Analysis: The Anaheim Ducks have about $8.500 million in cap space currently with no restricted free agents unsigned and not a worry in the world.

Well, except for the fact that their core is aging, Ryan Kesler may be shelved on the long-term injured reserve for the season and there’s a new head coach in town to try to spur a bounce back after the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

After Corey Perry’s offense dried up, injuries piled up and a dismal season carried on, General Manager Bob Murray made the difficult decision to return to his front office post only and leave the double duties as GM and head coach in the past.

Dallas Eakins returns to the NHL head coaching scene after posting a 29-44-9 record in 2013-14 with the Edmonton Oilers, prior to a 7-19-5 start in 31 games the following season before being fired.

The Oilers were 6th in the Pacific Standings at the time of Eakins’ dismissal in the 2014-15 season, which was technically better than their 7th place finish in the Pacific a season prior.

Eakins turned his career around enough to earn this second chance behind the bench of an NHL team after coaching the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim’s AHL affiliate) since the 2015-16 season– leading them to a 36-24-5-3 record last season and an appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs’ Western Conference Final against the Chicago Wolves.

Though the Gulls lost in six games to the eventual runners up to the Calder Cup champion, Charlotte Checkers, Eakins carries the deep postseason run coaching experience and much of the same young players with him to the big show on the Ducks roster.

Anaheim is at a crossroads.

John Gibson is too good of a goaltender to go through a rebuild, while the rest of the roster screams “wild card at best”.

Cam Fowler, Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm are all that remains from the days of one of the most underrated defenses from year-to-year, while Anaheim’s offense is going through growing pains.

This team will either exist in mediocrity as they did last season or be worse until it gets better. There doesn’t see to be much indication otherwise, based on the lack of moves made in just one offseason.

The Ducks acquired Nicolas Deslauriers– a bottom-six forward that’s probably better suited in the top-six in San Diego– in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens that saw Anaheim sending a 2020 4th round pick to the Habs in return.

Perry’s buyout costs Anaheim $2.625 million against the salary cap this season, $6.625 million next season and $2.000 million from 2021-22 through 2022-23.

At least if things get tight and Kesler isn’t good to go the LTIR will eat up Kesler’s $6.875 million cap hit through 2021-22 (if his career is in jeopardy as it very well might be).

For now, the Ducks are hoping for Troy Terry to have the breakout season everyone’s waiting for, as well as the emergence of Max Jones, Sam Steel and Maxime Comtois as NHL regulars (hopefully) sooner rather than later.

Anaheim needs more speed, skill and most importantly more goals for and fewer goals against.

Offseason Grade: D+

There’s really no pressure heading into this season for the Ducks. They won the Cup in 2007, became dominant in the regular season from 2012-15 (and, as a result, a Cup contender) and have been cooling ever since (with the exception of their 2017 Western Conference Final run– losing in six games to the Nashville Predators).

Since then, Murray hasn’t done anything to stop nature in its course as age has caught up to the big and burly roster Anaheim crafted to (almost) perfection. That said, there were no major additions or subtractions this offseason– even with the loss of Perry (who’s cap hit left him un-tradable).

DTFR Podcast #167- And Now We Wait

Nick talks a little about the state of the league, plus retirements and other news around the league.

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

DTFR Podcast #165- Where’s My Cottage Invite?

Nick takes a little time out of the summer to go over third line signings, jersey number controversy and Ron Francis’ hiring as General Manager of the Seattle expansion franchise.

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DTFR Podcast #164- The Free Agency Mega-Hour

Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.

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