Tag Archives: Cody McLeod

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.

Nashville Predators 2019-20 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

47-29-6, 100 points, 1st in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Dallas

Additions: F Daniel Carr, F Matt Duchene, D Jeremy Davies (acquired from NJD), D Steven Santini (acquired from NJD), G Connor Ingram (acquired from TBL)

Subtractions: F Phillip Di Giuseppe (signed with NYR), F Tyler Gaudet (signed with TOR), F Adam Helewka (traded to NJD), F Justin Kirkland (signed with CGY), F Cody McLeod (signed with Iowa, AHL), F Zac Rinaldo (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Cole Schneider (signed with Milwaukee, AHL), F Wayne Simmonds (signed with NJD), D Taylor Aronson (DEL), D P.K. Subban (traded to NJD), G Tom McCollum (signed with Hartford, AHL)

Still Unsigned: F Brian Boyle

Re-signed: F Rocco Grimaldi, F Colton Sissons

Offseason Analysis: The longest currently active general manager in the National Hockey League remained active this offseason as the Nashville Predators’ only GM in franchise history, David Poile, was wheeling and dealing.

At this year’s draft, Poile traded veteran defender, P.K. Subban, to the New Jersey Devils for a small package in Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 2nd round pick.

The trade cleared the Preds of Subban’s $9.000 million cap hit and remained in true Poile transaction fashion, whereby the Nashville GM flipped a defender in his prime for more, younger, assets.

With more cap room to work with heading into free agency, Poile set his sights on securing a second line center to help give the Predators stability down the middle.

Matt Duchene fit the bill perfectly for Nashville– both in his seven-year contract worth $56 million ($8.000 million per season) and due to the fact that he’s a big country music fan and was already building a house in the Music City.

In a way, it was Duchene’s dream to play for the Predators (even if that dream of playing hockey for Nashville is second to living year-round in Nashville– it’s a win-win).

Duchene emerged as a prominent player for the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Preds are hoping he’ll do just the same for them in their quest for another Stanley Cup Final run for the first time since their only appearance in the Final in 2017, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

On top of identifying and filling a need, Poile also acquired goaltending prospect Connor Ingram from the Tampa Bay Lightning in June, giving Nashville a future outlook in the crease that may very well be a dynamic duo of Juuse Saros and Ingram.

For now, Pekka Rinne remains the starter for the foreseeable future as both Rinne and Saros have two years remaining on their current contracts.

Offseason Grade: B+

Adding Duchene boosts Nashville’s presence as a playoff contender that could emerge as a deep postseason run performer. He wasn’t the best player available in the free agent market, but he was the best fit available for Poile’s roster.

It very well might be Nashville’s last chance at a Cup with their current roster as 10 players are pending-unrestricted free agents at season’s end– ranging from core members to key depth contributors. It’s now or never for these Predators.

Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering March

Happy Meteorological Spring (and when the time comes, actual Spring too as the Spring Equinox falls on… well, it’s written on the calendar in your office somewhere).

Of course, the only day that really matters in March is the 18th (you thought I was going to say the 17th, but we can’t all pretend to be Irish now, can we?).

If you’re new to the sport, that’s the day the Lord Stanley of Preston first presented the idea of the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup back in 1892 and thus the Stanley Cup was first played for and awarded in 1893.

The original Cup resides in an old bank vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario and was purchased for ten guineas, which was $48.67 at the time or almost $1,400 in contemporary times.

Anyway, March is a pretty important month.

Teams have added or subtracted to their rosters from the trade deadline and are looking to go down the stretch without any additional injuries or worries heading into the postseason (or for some, the offseason).

Feeling lucky? Is this the year your bracket won’t be busted in the First Round? Let the madness begin with a look at the latest standings forecast* across the league based on all 31 NHL teams’ performances through February 28, 2019.

*Standard disclaimer: This forecast is not an exact science, but rather an educated guess among recent and season long trends, with a foundation steeped in recent records over the last few seasons.

In simple terms, just focus on the standing within the division and less on the point spread. A team isn’t eliminated from postseason contention until they are mathematically eliminated.

Anything can still happen (relatively, of course).

Projected Standings After Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 121 points (65 games played entering March 1st)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 115 points (64 GP)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (64 GP)
  4. wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 103 points (64 GP)
  5. wc2-Buffalo Sabres, 90 points (63 GP)
  6. Florida Panthers, 82 points (63 GP)
  7. Ottawa Senators, 61 points (64 GP)
  8. Detroit Red Wings, 60 points (64 GP)

In the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning are still on pace for what could almost be the best regular season in league history. Their franchise record ten-game winning streak was halted by the re-hot Boston Bruins on Feb. 28th.

Tampa should still lock up the division (if not the President’s Trophy) with ease, though they are beatable– as proven by the Bruins recent win (ignoring the back-to-back games), as well as the St. Louis Blues’ 1-0 overtime victory on Feb. 7th (more on the Blues later).

Boston, meanwhile, is surging at the right time. After going 7-7-0 in December and 6-3-3 in January, the B’s went without a regulation loss in the month of February, finishing with an 11-0-2 record.

It was the 9th time in franchise history and first time since November 2011, that the Bruins went without a regulation loss in an entire calendar month.

Not to be outdone, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still very alive and well in a divisional spot and for the second straight season appear destined to battle the Bruins in a First Round rematch from last season.

At least one of the Eastern Conference wild card spots in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be filled by an Atlantic Division team– the first of which being the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs are in the hunt and could knock the Maple Leafs out of the last divisional spot with a good run down the stretch, while the second wild card spot is a little harder to project.

It could be the Buffalo Sabres or it could very well be a team that’s surging in the Metropolitan Division.

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-New York Islanders, 113 points (63 GP)
  2. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 101 points (63 GP)
  3. x-Washington Capitals, 92 points (64 GP)
  4. Carolina Hurricanes, 89 points (63 GP)
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins, 87 points (63 GP)
  6. New York Rangers, 77 points (63 GP)
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 74 points (64 GP)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 61 points (64 GP)

John Tavares wasn’t well-received in his first trip back to Long Island since leaving the New York Islanders for the Leafs in free agency last July, however, Barry Trotz has been adored by Isles fans as the coach of the Metropolitan Division’s best team.

Despite adding a lot of firepower leading up to the trade deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t quite a surefire powerhouse in the division, but they should be good enough for home ice advantage in the First Round and a rematch with the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals.

It’s a wide-open race for two or three potential playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division, as the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins all have their sights set on one of two remaining divisional spots or at least one wild card spot in the postseason.

Despite the Capitals edging the Hurricanes and Penguins in this forecast, gut feeling indicates there’s sure to be an upset before the brackets are even finalized.

Carolina is playing really well lately and as those bunch of jerks have shown all season long– you can’t count them out. They also reached 70 points in 61 games played for just the second time in franchise history this season.

The last time they did that was in the 2005-06 season– you know, the one they went on to beat the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

As for the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, well, there’s always a chance things go south for some of the teams ahead of them– except the Rangers are rebuilding and the Flyers have gone zero weeks without an injury to one of the eight goaltenders they’ve used this season.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-Winnipeg Jets, 104 points (63 GP)
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points (63 GP)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 93 points (66 GP)
  4. wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 92 points (64 GP)
  5. Minnesota Wild, 85 points (64 GP)
  6. Dallas Stars, 84 points (64 GP)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 75 points (64 GP)

The Western Conference as a whole has been weaker than the Eastern Conference this season, but no division has been quite as lively as the Central Division.

While the Winnipeg Jets soar into the postseason as the top-team in the Central, the St. Louis Blues are attempting to go from last to first– and then some.

St. Louis might not stop at potentially leading the Central Division by the time the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin– they could just very well go on to win the Cup. The Blues are that hot.

Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators added a lot of grit leading up to the trade deadline, acquiring Cody McLeod, Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds to bolster their crunch to go along with new addition, Mikael Granlund‘s scoring ability.

Anyway, they’ve been slipping as of late and appear destined to miss out on home ice advantage in what will likely be a First Round matchup with St. Louis.

Finally, one of the Western wild cards will surely come from the Central Division teams. Whether that’s the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars will depend on how hot Colorado’s first line is and/or how injured the Wild and Stars are.

Kudos to the Chicago Blackhawks for setting the second half of the season ablaze, though not nearly as mightily as the Blues have, but they’ll still end up last in the Central, but about mid-pack league-wide.

Pacific Division

  1. z-Calgary Flames, 111 points (64 GP)
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 107 points (64 GP)
  3. x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (65 GP)
  4. wc2-Arizona Coyotes, 91 points (64 GP)
  5. Vancouver Canucks, 88 points (65 GP)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 84 points (64 GP)
  7. Anaheim Ducks, 75 points (64 GP)
  8. Los Angeles Kings, 68 points (64 GP)

In the most disappointing division of the season, the Calgary Flames have risen a cut above the rest in the West. Not only do they look to lead the conference, but they look to do so in style.

The Flames are a team that’s destined for a deeper run than just a First or Second Round exit in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but how much will recent playoff experience for the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights play into Calgary’s chances of going far?

Vegas hasn’t been as dominant as they were in their inaugural season, however the Sharks have also had a few slip ups in the last month.

Both teams are looking like they’ll meet in the First Round– a round sooner than their Second Round matchup last postseason. It’s a rematch for the ages for the Golden Knights, as the young franchise looks to continue to add to the nearly 30 years of dismal playoff failure for San Jose.

One of the biggest– and most pleasant– surprises in the Western Conference? The Arizona Coyotes.

The team is destined for a wild card spot this season and just might spoil the party for more than just who they cut out of the playoff picture.

For the Vancouver Canucks, it’s a battle until the end. They might make it, they might not, but next season should be better– just stay the course.

And if you’re the Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks and/or the Los Angeles Kings, you’ve got a lot of work to do in the offseason.

DTFR Podcast #145- We Plan To Be Good In 2021-25

Evgeni Malkin did a bad thing, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game broke attendance records and more trades happened in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron reached 1,000 games and David Pastrnak is injured for the Boston Bruins leaving Nick in a glass case of emotion.

Plus, Eugene Melnyk plans to spend money, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a new alternate sweater, Randy Carlyle was fired and Scott Niedermayer will have his number retired (again) this week. Finally, Connor has a new segment.

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

New York Rangers 2018-19 Season Preview

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New York Rangers

34-39-9, 77 points, 8th (last) in the Metropolitan Division

Additions: D Fredrik Claesson, G Dustin Tokarski

Subtractions: F John Albert (signed, DEL), F Paul Carey (signed with OTT), F Daniel Catenacci (signed, Austria), F David Desharnais (signed, KHL), F Carl Klingberg (signed, Switzerland), F Adam Tambellini (signed with OTT)

Still Unsigned: G Ondrej Pavelec, D Ryan Sproul

Re-signed: D Chris Bigras, F Steven Fogarty, D John Gilmour, F Kevin Hayes, F Cody McLeod, F Vladislav Namestnikov,  F Boo Nieves, D Rob O’Gara, D Brady Skjei, F Ryan Spooner, F Jimmy Vesey

Offseason Analysis: New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton had a plethora of restricted free agents to re-sign this offseason and he successfully pulled off every single one.

Both Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov are signed to matching two-year contracts worth $4.000 million per season. Kevin Hayes has a bridge deal that’s not too shabby either.

At 26, Hayes signed a one-year, $5.175 million extension with a lot to prove– to himself and to the watchful eye of diehard Rangers fans. At least he’s ahead of Jimmy Vesey in the depth chart– who only managed one-point better than his rookie campaign in his sophomore season (28 points in 79 games last season versus 27 points in 80 GP in 2016-17).

Gorton has bigger fish to fry this season as the Rangers re-tool on-the-fly.

New York’s defense is young and susceptible to making errors as Brady Skjei, Rob O’Gara and perhaps even Ryan Lindgren in the near future come into their own. Of those three defenders, Skjei’s been in the Rangers system the longest– given both O’Gara and Lindgren were acquired from the Boston Bruins in separate trades last season.

One season removed from the shutdown pairing of Marc Methot and Erik Karlsson in Ottawa, the Senators had another underrated good thing going in the pairing of Karlsson and Fredrik Claesson. But Sens GM Pierre Dorion moved on from the 25-year-old Claesson.

That’s where Gorton and crew swooped in on a make or break one-year, $700,000 offer.

Claesson has the potential to grow as an anchor in the defensive end while his teammates work the puck out of the zone. If nothing else, he has a lot to prove– along with his peers looking to follow the Bruins model of “rebuilding on-the-fly”.

Trade expendable pieces (Nick Holden), part with assets (Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, Ryan McDonagh), insert who you envision as the new prototypical Rangers players (Spooner, Namestnikov, Lias Andersson and other prospects) and maybe– just maybe– New York can turn things around sooner than expected.

How much longer does Henrik Lundqvist have to wait for another chance at his first Cup? Can he win it wearing a Blueshirts sweater? This is just pure speculation, as there’s nothing else to say about the Rangers.

Just kidding.

Dustin Tokarski could make a push for the backup role, but all roster decisions are up to first-year NHL head coach David Quinn.

Quinn’s coming off of a five-season tenure with Boston University as the head coach of its men’s hockey program. During his time, Quinn brought the then Jack Eichel led Terriers all the way to the NCAA championship game– only to be defeated by the Providence College Friars in 2015.

From 2013-18, Quinn amassed a 105-67-21 overall record at Boston University.

Like Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery, one would expect an initial struggle from coaching college hockey straight to the National Hockey League, but luckily for the Rangers the timing is right as they can afford a little learning curve during their restructuring.

Are the Rangers a playoff team in 2018-19? No.

Can they get back into a playoff spot in 2019-20? We’ll see, but it’s certainly plausible. The pieces are there and time will tell. First things first, they have to clean up last season’s minus-37 goal differential. You can’t win games if you allow more goals than you score.

Offseason Grade: C

Perhaps Gorton could’ve pulled off one more signing or one more trade this offseason, but he took care of most of his work by the trade deadline last season with 2018-19 in mind.

Other than that, it’s been an average offseason for New York. Keep the new young core intact, re-sign their RFAs to quality bridge deals that might make for some tough decision making later or wizardry like that of the Tampa Bay Lightning nature in the salary cap era.

2018 Offseason Preview: New York Rangers

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the New York Rangers and their outlook for the summer.

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It was a bit of a transition year rebuild for the New York Rangers in 2017-18 as the team finished 8th (last) in the Metropolitan Division with a 34-39-9 record and 77 points on the season.

Lias Andersson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner are highlights among newfound Rangers forwards, though Andersson has been with New York for his entire career (he was their first round pick in 2017). Of course, Namestnikov and Spooner are both pending-restricted free agents and were acquired in deals leading up to the 2018 trade deadline that sent Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and Rick Nash packing.

Alain Vigneault is no longer the head coach (fired on the last day of the regular season in April) and David Quinn– most recently of Boston University notoriety as the Terriers head coach– was hired last month to take over behind the bench.

The Big Apple’s king, Henrik Lundqvist, is still dashingly good looking and fashionable as ever before, but still has yet to win a Cup and is 36-years-old.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton has the best case scenario heading into this year’s draft. He has three first round picks to utilize (his own, Boston’s and Tampa’s) on top of two second rounders (NYR and NJ) and two picks in the third round (NYR and BOS), with one pick in each of the remaining rounds except for the seventh round.

The 2018 Draft is a deeper draft than usual. Additionally, the Rangers are pretty much set in their mixture of youth, speed and skill in their retooled offense and defense, thanks to large returns on trades with Boston and Tampa (specifically) leading up to the deadline.

They sent Nick Holden to the Bruins for a third round pick and Rob O’Gara, then later dealt Nash to Boston for Spooner, Ryan Lindgren, Matt Beleskey, a 2018 first round pick and a 2019 seventh round pick.

New York traded Miller and McDonagh to the Lightning in exchange for Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, Namestnikov, a 2018 first round pick and a conditional 2019 second round pick.

Gorton can be content to fill his heart’s desires in this year’s first round or he can simply opt for the best available prospect and build a better team that way too. He could also trade a pick or two for some valuable players to add to the roster here and now.

Whatever he chooses, the Rangers have the 9th, 26th and 28th overall picks in the 2018 Draft.

Pending free agents

With almost $25.000 million to spend this offseason, the Rangers are right where they want to be if they’re aiming for a quick rebuild. They might be on the outside of the playoffs again in 2019, but any improvement in the Metropolitan Division standings is an improvement considering they finished last in 2017-18.

Pending unrestricted free agent forwards Paul Carey, 29, and Cody McLeod, 33, might not be brought back on any other team, however, Carey’s seven goals and seven assists (14 points) are good enough as a bottom-six forward to keep him around for another year or two.

McLeod, on the other hand, is getting near the age where players in today’s NHL age themselves out of the game. There’s no offensive spark and New York’s not built around a fight-first mentality– especially as they’re trying to get younger and faster.

Between Carey and McLeod, expect Carey to be brought back somewhere around $1.000 million for another year, at least.

The biggest priority for Gorton to re-sign this offseason resides in Spooner, Namestnikov, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey as all four forwards are pending restricted free agents.

Spooner, 26, rebounded from a 39-point season in 78 games for Boston in 2016-17 to a 41-point effort in 59 games with the Bruins and Rangers this season on a $2.825 million one-year bridge deal signed with Boston late last July. He had 49 points in his rookie season (80 games in 2015-16) and should run New York somewhere around $4.000-6.000 million AAV on his next deal (assuming he’s re-signed) as their top or second line center.

Namestnikov, 25, had a breakout 48-point season with the Lightning and Rangers this season in 81 games played. He’ll likely get a similar deal to Spooner, which Gorton and his front office should see no problem agreeing to as the club moves forward in a new direction.

Hayes, 26, had 25-19–44 totals in 76 games, setting a new career-high in goals in what was otherwise an average season in scoring for the better Hayes brother. Keep him.

Vesey, 25, had every right to spurn the Nashville Predators and Buffalo Sabres by exercising his playing rights as a college prospect, but managed one point better than his rookie season with the Rangers. He had 16-11–27 totals in 80 games played in 2016-17 and 17-11–28 totals in 79 games played in 2017-18. That’s… not great.

New York’s not going to turn on Vesey quite as quickly as some fans might have, but he hasn’t earned a significant pay raise by any means yet.

On defense, the Rangers have one pending-UFA (25-year-old, Ryan Sproul) and three pending-RFAs (O’Gara, 24, John Gilmour, 25, and Brady Skjei, 24).

All of them can be re-signed if the Rangers so desire. Entering 2017-18, New York’s defense was worth tweaking– and they did. Now, perhaps it’s time to assess what they really have for a season.

But if they can dump Brendan Smith anywhere instead of receiving a little over $1.000 million in salary relief by burying him in the AHL, then that’d be pretty great too.

Then again, this is the same franchise that’s paying Dan Girardi $3.611 million through 2020 and $1.111 million through 2023 thanks to their buyout last summer.

Finally, in goal for the Rangers, Lundqvist remains their starter at an $8.500 million cap hit over the remainder of his contract through the 2020-21 season. At 36, Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger and letting him rest has actually been better for his play, which brings up the question of a reliable backup goaltender.

Ondrej Pavelec, 30, is a pending-UFA and posted a 3.05 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 games for New York this season. That’s better than his 3.55 GAA and .888 SV% in 8 games with the Winnipeg Jets in 2016-17, but still not good considering he has a 2.88 career GAA and .907 career SV% in 398 NHL games for Atlanta/Winnipeg and the Rangers.

Gorton should trust a rotation of Brandon Halverson, 22, Alexandar Georgiev, 22, and/or Marek Mazanec, 26, in some sort of backup role or pursue a new short term backup goaltender option to hold the organization over for the time being.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Steven Fogarty (RFA), Boo Nieves (RFA), Chris Bigras (RFA), Adam Tambellini (RFA), Daniel Catenacci (UFA), John Albert (UFA)

February 25 – Day 137 – MSG’s newest addition

Don’t be sad that the Olympic hockey tournaments are gone. Instead, remember the fun we had.

That brings our full attention back to the NHL, and not a moment too soon: today’s half-dozen games are the final fixtures before tomorrow’s trade deadline. Here’s hoping your favorite player is still on your team’s roster by tomorrow’s puck drop!

Today’s schedule gets underway at noon with St. Louis at Nashville (NBC/TVAS), followed by Boston at Buffalo (SN360) five hours later and Detroit at the New York Rangers (NHLN) at 7:30 p.m. Two games drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Edmonton at Anaheim [SN] and San Jose at Minnesota), followed by tonight’s nightcap – Vancouver at Arizona – at 9:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s more than a few interesting narratives associated with today’s games. Here’s just a few:

  • St. Louis at Nashville: It’s a rematch of one of last year’s Western Conference Semifinals! The Predators won that series in six games.
  • Boston at Buffalo: This rivalry has died down with the decline of the Sabres, but perhaps there’s a surprise in store today.
  • Detroit at New York: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but the Rangers are retiring C Jean Ratelle‘s 19.
  • Edmonton at Anaheim: The other 2017 Western Semifinal is also being revisited today. The Ducks needed all seven games to beat the Oil.

There have been few like Ratelle, so let’s make the trip to Manhattan to ensure his sweater ends up where it rightfully belongs: in the Madison Square Garden rafters.

 

Ratelle played his first NHL game during the 1960-’61 season following three successful campaigns with the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters/Guelph Royals, the Rangers’ OHA farm team before the creation of the NHL Entry Draft.

After suffering and recovering from a back injury during the 1963-’64, Ratelle earned a permanent spot on the Blueshirts’ roster a season later – and he never looked back. In 54 games, he scored decent 14-21-35 totals, followed by even better 21-30-51 marks in 1965-’66.

Those are decent numbers, but nothing really worth retiring a sweater over.

That all changed during the 1967-’68 campaign. Entering the season with only 139 points in 259 games played for his career, 27-year-old Ratelle registered a whopping 32-46-78 performance, starting a run of six-consecutive 70+ point seasons and 13-consecutive 67+ point seasons.

During the 1970-’71 season, Ratelle finally had the opportunity to start his trophy case. After posting 26-46-72 marks, he was awarded the Masterton Trophy for his impressive production paired with taking only 14 penalty minutes. That is a theme that followed Ratelle throughout his career, as we’ll discuss in a moment.

That recognition apparently did a lot to motivate Ratelle, because his 1971-’72 season was by far his best season as a Ranger and in the NHL. In only 63 games, he posted a career-high 46 goals and 109 points. For those astute at math, you probably realized that Ratelle averaged 1.73 points per game, or seven points every four games.

By comparison, Tampa Bay Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov is averaging a league-leading 1.32 points per game this season.

Yeah, Ratelle was pretty darn good.

As would be expected, that effort earned a few more accolades, most notably his lone listing as a season-ending All-Star team – he was the second team’s center. Ratelle also brought home the Pearson Award (now known as the Lindsay Award) and his first Lady Byng Trophy.

Ratelle had one last 100-point season up his sleeve, but in a bizarre twist of fate it was in 1975-’76, the year he was traded to Boston with D Brad Park and D Joe Zanussi for C Phil Esposito and D Carol Vadnais. Ratelle departed the Big Apple having registered 5-10-15 totals through 13 games. Upon arriving in Beantown, he exploded for 31-59-90 marks (36-69-105 season totals). His success through the difficult circumstances paired with committing only 18 penalty minutes earned him his second Byng.

Speaking once again of the Byng Trophy, there is one award that alluded Ratelle throughout this 21-year NHL career: the Stanley Cup. Whether with New York or Boston, he qualified for the playoffs 15 consecutive times, advancing to the Finals thrice (1972, ’77-’78). However, all three times ended in disappointment.

But rings aren’t what makes a player great. His achievements on the ice indicated greatness, as did his ability to it while also being one of the game’s true gentlemen.

Tonight, the Rangers will honor Ratelle’s impact on the franchise and the game by officially retiring his 19 alongside their eight other previously retired sweater already hanging in Madison Square Garden.

He joins another another 19 already hanging in The World’s Most Famous Arena: that of Willis Reed Jr. of New York Knickerbocker lore. Reed led the Knicks to both of their two NBA championships (1970, ’73), earning the Finals MVP award both times.

There’s no doubt that the Rangers’ hoisting Ratelle’s sweater is an honor by the entire franchise, but can these 27-30-5 Blueshirts, who occupy last place in the Metropolitan Division, honor him with their play?

It doesn’t seem likely, given the fact that they’re riding a six-game losing skid.

There’s little good that can be said about New York’s effort lately, but the Rangers’ play in their defensive end has left much to be desired. Even with the play of F J.T. Miller and W Mats Zuccarello (both with a team-leading four takeaways since February 13), W Cody McLeod (4.4 hits per game in his last five showings), D Rob O’Gara (averaging two blocks per game since joining the Rangers), New York has allowed 35.33 shots against per game during this losing skid, the sixth-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

That’s put a lot of pressure on 23-21-4 G Henrik Lundqvist, and he just hasn’t been able to steal enough victories behind this team this season. In his last four starts, Lundqvist has managed an uncharacteristic .859 save percentage for a 4.77 GAA, pulling his season marks down to .914 and 2.89.

Put Lundqvist’s struggles with a porous defense, and you get a Rangers team that has allowed 4.33 goals per game since February 13 – far and away the worst mark in the league in that time.

Turning our attention to the 25-26-10 Red Wings, we find a team currently in fifth place in the Atlantic Division coming off a 1-2-1 home stand. Over that run, Detroit actually played some decent defense to earn its three points.

Led by the solid efforts of W Justin Abdelkader (3.8 hits per game since February 18) and D Danny DeKeyser (2.8 blocks per game during the home stand), the Wings have allowed only 30.5 shots to reach 17-19-7 G Jimmy Howard per game, and he’s reacted very well to the limited workload to post a cool .92 save percentage and 2.31 GAA. That strong play has improved Howard’s season marks to a .911 save percentage and 2.8 GAA.

Between the Wings’ defense and Howard’s effort, Detroit has allowed only 2.5 goals per game in its last four showings – the (t)10th-best effort since February 18.

Tonight’s game is the finale of the three-game season series between these clubs, and it’s an important one considering either side has earned three point against the other. New York won the first meeting at Madison Square Garden on Black Friday 2-1 in overtime (Zuccarello provided the game-winning goal only 37 seconds into overtime), but the Wings leveled the series December 29 by defending Little Caesars Arena to a 3-2 shootout victory (F Andreas Athanasiou took First Star honors for his eight-shot, one-goal performance).

If the Rangers need an example of how to play defense, they’ll get a decent one tonight. With that in mind, I think the Wings can pull off the road victory at MSG.


Thanks to Kirill Kaprizov’s game-winning goal to complete his four-point night, the Olympic Athletes from Russia’s men’s hockey team won the Olympic gold medal by beating Germany 4-3 at Gangneung Hockey Centre.

Germany almost escaped from the first period tied at 0-0, but Slava Voynov (Nikita Gusev and Kaprizov) ruined that opportunity with half a second remaining before the intermission. Voynov roofed a wrist shot over G Danny aus den Birken’s right shoulder to give the OAR the lead.

A misplayed puck got Germany right back into the game. Driving towards the goal line, Felix Fchutz (Brooks Macek and Patrick Hager) flipped a puck towards G Vasily Koschechkin with little more than a prayer of if finding the back of the net. However, Koshechkin let the puck bounce off his arm and fall into the crease, where it eventually rolled across the red line to level the game at 1-1 at the 9:32 mark of the frame.

Tied through the second intermission, the OAR reclaimed the lead with 6:39 remaining in regulation courtesy of a goal from Gusev (Kaprizov and Pavel Datsyuk), but that advantage lasted only 10 seconds before Dominik Kahun (Frank Mauer and Yasin Ehliz) tied the game once again at 2-2. Germany claimed its first (and only) lead of the championship game with 3:16 remaining in regulation when Jonas Muller (Ehliz and Frank Hordler) beat Koshechkin, but an uninformed dump by the Germans while they were on the power play led to Gusev (Artyom Zub and Kaprizov) scoring a shorthanded, but even-strength with Koshechkin off the ice for the extra attacker, goal.

Overtime lasted 9:40 before Kaprizov (Gusev and Voynov) took advantage of a Patrick Reimer high sticking penalty to score the medal-winning goal.

Koshechkin saved 22-of-25 shots faced (.88 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the overtime loss to aus den Birken, who saved a solid 26-of-30 (.867).

After that result in the DtFR Game of the Day, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day now have a 21-point advantage over the roadies with their 73-46-18 record.

February 3 – Day 115 – Green with envy

With as many games as are on a Saturday schedule, there’s always a possibility of something special happening. Let’s just see if one of the 13 games on today’s slate can fit the bill.

There’s two matinees on tap today (Anaheim at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Ottawa at Philadelphia [NHLN/RDS2]), both of which drop the puck at 1 p.m. The NHL kicks into high gear at 7 p.m. with a half-dozen tilts (Colorado at Winnipeg [SN], Toronto at Boston [CBC/CITY/NHLN/TVAS], St. Louis at Buffalo, Detroit at Florida, Pittsburgh at New Jersey and Columbus at the New York Islanders), followed by two more (the New York Rangers at Nashville and Minnesota at Dallas) an hour later. Next up is the 10 p.m. time slot, which features another pair of matchups (Tampa Bay at Vancouver [CBC] and Chicago at Calgary [SN]), while Arizona at Los Angeles waits half an hour before closing the evening out. All times Eastern.

What a selection of games! Here’s just a couple that caught my eye for reasons other than the standings:

  • Toronto at Boston: Not only is it an Original Six matchup, but the Leafs are only three points back of the Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division.
  • New York at Nashville: W Cody McLeod was traded to the Predators and they made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Does that mean the Rangers are going to the Finals this year?

Of those listed, the Toronto-Boston game is obviously the most enticing, but we just featured the Bruins two days ago. Instead, I think we turn our attention to an important Central Division battle.

 

In a wild turn of events, 28-18-5 Minnesota started play yesterday on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Beating Vegas 5-2 propelled the Wild past Colorado into the second wild card, but Minnesota can continue its climb tonight with a victory against the 29-19-4 Stars.

Let’s start with the Wild, who have been screaming up the standings lately by going 6-1-2 over their past nine games. As you might be able to tell by that recent run, everything seems to be going right in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as the Wild are (t)fifth in both goals-for (3.11 per game) and goals-against (2.33 per game) since January 9.

With players like F Mikael Granlund and C Eric Staal on the same team, magic can happen any given night. Fortunately for Minnesota, that magic has been in abundance over the last nine games, as they’ve respectively posted 4-6-10 and 3-6-9 totals to average at least a point-per-game over this run to elevate their respective season marks to 15-25-40 and 22-24-46.

If there’s any problem with Granlund and Staal, it’s that there’s not six of them apiece. That’s not a knock on the rest of the Wild as much as it’s a compliment to the superb streak those two players are currently riding.

However that should be taken, it is of note that – even during this run of success – Minnesota gives up more than its fair share of shots against (30.67 per game since January 9, to be exact – the 14th-best in the league in that time). That’s where 20-10-3 G Devan Dubnyk comes into play, who’s posted a .921 save percentage and 2.26 GAA in his last seven starts. Both of those numbers are superior to his .917 and 2.63 marks on the season and are a testament to how well he’s been playing of late, and he’ll need to be on top of his game once again this evening against one of the better attacks in the NHL (more on that in a moment).

Dunyk’s three shutouts are the (t)seventh-most in the NHL this season, but I wouldn’t bet on him adding another this evening. Not only is Dallas’ offense one of the better corps in the league (again, we’ll get there in a second), but he was also in net for yesterday’s 5-2 victory against the Golden Knights. Though I would usually err on the side of caution on back-to-back games when it comes to netminders, I still expect him to start over 8-8-2 G Alex Stalock.

As for Dallas, the current fourth-best team in the Central Division and first wild card, everything has been going right over the past 18 days, as it is ranked third in goals-per-game (3.25), goals against-per-game (1.88) and shots against-per-game (27.88) since January 15. As might be expected with one of the most complete performances in the league in that time frame, the Stars have posted a solid 5-2-1 record in those eight games.

If you prescribe to my opinions on how the game should be played, I think we’ll agree that this almost unbelievable success is a direct result of nearly unbeatable puck possession in the offensive zone, which in and of itself yields goals.

Since I have yet to find a source that consistently tracks zone time, let’s go off the assumption that the team that spends more time in the offensive zone should fire more shots than the defending team. That seems like sound logic, right?

If that’s the case, the Stars have out-shot their last eight opponents 258-223 – a rate that approximately works out to 15 Stars shots for every 13 they’ve allowed during this run. That doesn’t seem like much of an advantage, but it equals 35 more shots for Dallas than it has allowed, which breaks down into a differential of 4.375 per game.

Does your head hurt yet? Then let’s talk about what’s ultimately matters: the scoreboard.

As mentioned before, the Stars are averaging 3.25 goals per game since January 15. That’s a lot of scoring, and RW Alexander Radulov and D John Klingberg have been responsible for much of it. Respectively posting 4-5-9 and 0-9-9 totals over these last eight games, they’ve increased their respective season marks to 20-28-48 and 6-43-49 – the two highest point totals in Big D.

What makes both of them averaging more than a point-per-game over this run most impressive is the fact that they’ve joined together on one scoring play only once since January 15. That means these two players have had a hand in creating or scoring 17 of the Stars’ last 26 individual goals – more than 65 percent.

Talk about presence creating presents.

Of course, talking exclusively about Klingberg (who’s 43 assists lead all defensemen and ranks [t]second among all skaters) and Radulov totally ignores the fact that F Tyler Seguin also wears victory green. Seguin has been nearly unstoppable all season, as his 24 goals are (t)eighth-most in the NHL.

Dominating the offensive zone also has the luxury of creating a safe defensive end. After all, the opposition can’t challenge 8-5-1 G Kari Lehtonen if it doesn’t have the puck!

You’ll notice I brought up Lehtonen and not 21-14-3 G Ben Bishop. That’s because Bishop will be unavailable this evening due to taking a puck to the face Thursday night while sitting on the bench. Considering Lehtonen’s .915 season save percentage is a little bit lower than Bishop’s .917, Dallas’ skaters limiting Minnesota’s opportunities will be of the utmost importance if the Stars want to keep the Wild below them in the table.

Tonight’s game is only the second meeting between these division rivals this season. The first occurred December 27 at Xcel Energy Center, and the Wild came away with a 4-2 victory thanks to D Jared Spurgeon‘s one-goal, four-block game that earned him First Star honors.

Bishop being out this evening is a major blow to the Stars. Even though Lehtonen is riding a three-game winning streak, I just don’t see him being able to slow down a Minnesota offense that has found a nice groove.


The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 7-4 yesterday at PPG Paints Arena in an expected barn burner of a DtFR Game of the Day.

Don’t mistake the final score for Pittsburgh dominating the entire game. While it is true the Pens didn’t trail in this game, it was in fact a very competitive matchup, as the clubs were tied 3-3 entering the third period.

The first period ended in favor of Pittsburgh, as Second Star of the Game RW Phil Kessel (C Riley Sheahan and F Jake Guentzel) buried a wrist shot 2:11 into the frame, followed 13:39 later by an unassisted LW Carl Hagelin wrister. However, it wasn’t just the Penguins that found success in the frame, as Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (D Christian Djoos) sneaked a wrister between the pipes with 1:50 remaining in the period to pull the Caps within a 2-1 deficit.

If my imagination is correct, Kessel stood in the middle of the dressing room during the first intermission and challenged his teammates to score faster than him in the second period. RW Patric Hornqvist (C Sidney Crosby and First Star F Evgeni Malkin) heeded that call, as he scored his power play snap shot only 26 seconds after the initial puck drop. However, that was the only goal the Pens struck in the middle frame, as D Dmitry Orlov (C Lars Eller and D Matt Niskanen) scored a slap shot only 2:42 later to pull Washington back within a goal. F Evgeny Kuznetsov completed the comeback with 8:03 remaining in the second period, setting the score at 3-3 on a wrister.

Two exciting periods set the table for a thrilling third, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Things started quickly, as Malkin (Kessel and D Olli Maatta) returned the lead to the Pens only 1:01 into the frame, but an Ovechkin (Kuznetsov and Orlov) snapper pulled Washington right back into a 4-4 tie only 49 seconds later.

The Capitals’ decline began when C Nicklas Backstrom was sent to the penalty box at the 4:40 mark for hi-sticking W Bryan Rust. As luck would have it, Rust (D Kris Letang and Sheahan) would be the one to take advantage of the man-advantage, cleaning up a saved Letang wrister by tapping the loose puck past G Braden Holtby‘s left skate only 32 seconds before Backstrom was to be released from the sin bin.

At the 7:59 mark, the Penguins added their first insurance goal courtesy of a Kessel (Malkin and Hagelin) snapper. 2:01 later, Malkin (Crosby and Guentzel) made use of the man-advantage caused by D Madison Bowey tripping F Dominik Simon to score the final goal of the game, a power play tip-in, to set the 7-4 final score.

G Matthew Murray earned the victory after saving 29-of-33 shots faced (.879 save percentage), leaving the loss to Holtby, who saved 27-of-33 (.818). After Kessel’s insurance goal, Holtby was lifted in favor of G Philipp Grubauer for the final 12:01 of play. The backup saved five-of-six (.833) for no decision.

Home teams are standing their ground in the DtFR Game of the Day series of late, as they’ve won the last three matchups. As a result, they’ve improved their record in the series to 63-37-15, which is 23 points better than the visitors’.

October 11 – Day Eight – Second round preview

Now that all the fun of the opening week is behind us, it’s time to get focused for the two-month run to American Thanksgiving.

Don’t think the holiday is that important in the NHL? Maybe this will change your mind.

With that in mind, let’s jump into the five games on the schedule this evening. The action starts at 7:30 p.m. with two contests (New Jersey at Toronto [SN] and Pittsburgh at Washington [NBCSN]), followed two hours later by Boston at Colorado. Fixtures continue to fall in line every half hour as the New York Islanders visit Anaheim at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcap, Calgary at Los Angeles, drops the puck 30 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Tonight was supposed to be Brian Boyle‘s return to Toronto, but since his diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia has kept him off the ice to star the season, we’ll delay the celebration of the Leafs’ trip to the second round until his return in mid-November.

Instead, let’s take in one of the NHL’s best rivalries in recent years.

 

If not for the Capitals’ significant roster turnover this offseason, it would have been safe to pencil these two squads into a third-straight meeting in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Then again, given Washington’s 2-0-1 record to lead the Metropolitan Division after a week of play, maybe that assumption isn’t too far off the mark.

What has made Washington so deadly to start the season has been its ultra-efficient offense. Though the Capitals average 4.33 goals-per-game ([t]fourth-best in the NHL), they take the fewest shots-per-game in the league at 25.7.

In effect, the Caps are attacking opposing goalies with scalpels instead of battle axes.

At the head of that attack is head surgeon W Alex Ovechkin (.389 shooting percentage), who’s assisted by American Sniper F T.J. Oshie (.375) – both of whom are in the top-15 of shooting percentage and combine for 10 of Washington’s 13 goals. With two solid centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov feeding them passes, Head Coach Barry Trotz is optimistic his top-two lines won’t miss a beat after the offseason departures of F Marcus Johansson and RW Justin Williams.

Speaking of the title of “American Sniper,” Oshie should look out for Columbus’ LW Sonny Milano and his obnoxious .571 to start his rookie season. The kid’s going places with a shot like that, but we’ll worry about that when the Capitals and Jackets tangle in early December.

Back to our game tonight, Washington has felt its turbulent offseason most within the defensive corps. It’s a good thing G Braden Holtby moonlights as a brick wall, as his career .922 save percentage has been put to the test by facing an average of 37 shots-per-game, the (t)fourth-highest in the league. If the Pens want any chance of beating the reigning Jennings Trophy winner, they’ll need to attack him early and often.

All but two (D Nate Schmidt and D Kevin Shattenkirk) of the goalscorers from the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs have returned to Washington this season. Mentioned above as simply play-makers, Backstrom and Kuznetsov both found much success against Pittsburgh in May, as they both beat former Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury for four goals apiece.

Similarly, only two players (C Nick Bonino and F Matt Cullen) that scored on Holtby last postseason departed Pittsburgh. In particular, Holtby is least looking forward to seeing F Jake Guentzel again, as the 23-year-old scored on him four times five months ago.

The Penguins simply haven’t played the same way twice to start the season (most notably falling flat on their faces in Chicago, losing 10-1), though they’d like to repeat their performance from Saturday when they beat Nashville 4-0.

Beyond simply jumping out to a quick start (F Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winning goal only 66 seconds into the game), Pittsburgh got back to playing a sound defensive game. The Predators managed to fire only 26 shots at G Matthew Murray, far below the Penguins’ average of 34.7 shots-against-per-game.

It was also in that game where the city of Pittsburgh fell in love with RW Ryan Reaves, similar to how St. Louis did seven years ago, as he provided a goal to go with his fights with W Cody McLeod and F Austin Watson. Fans and pundits alike questioned General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s decision to bring in an enforcer, but if he can manage to be a goon with a little bit of touch and put up similar numbers to his 7-6-13 performance last season, he’ll be a welcome addition to this lineup.

This is a tough game to pick, as it seemed the Penguins turned a corner last Saturday and are resuming the form we’ve come to expect from them year in and year out. That being said, I think this Capitals team matches up well against them. No matter how hard Pittsburgh’s defense tries, I believe that either Ovechkin or Oshie will be able to find just the right shot to beat Murray.


In an exciting and emotional night for the city of Las Vegas, the Golden Knights were able to beat the Arizona Coyotes 5-2 to win their first-ever home tilt at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Knights absolutely blitzed the Coyotes out of the gates, as they scored four of their five goals in 10:42 of play. First up was F Tomas Nosek (F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and D Luca Sbisa) burying a wrist shot 2:31 after puck drop, followed by Second Star of the Game D Deryk Engelland (LW Brendan Leipsic) finding the back of G Antti Raanta‘s net only 107 seconds later. Scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal was none other than Third Star W James Neal (D Brayden McNabb and W David Perron), the same man who has now accounted for all three of Vegas’ winners to begin its inaugural season.

Within this sequence, the puck first made its way towards the goal off a shot by McNabb from the top of the offensive zone. It was casually blocked by D Jason Demers at the top of the crease, but Neal was able to collect the rebound and pivot towards the face-off circle to Raanta’s right. Once he finished his spin, he squeezed his wrister between the goaltender’s blocker and the near post.

But Neal wasn’t done. Thanks to F Mario Kempe interfering with Fleury, Vegas earned a power play that Neal (W Reilly Smith and F Erik Haula) was able to convert with a wrister from the crease to beat a fallen G Louis Domingue five-hole. Though F Tobias Rieder (D Niklas Hjalmarsson) was able to get the Coyotes on the board with 7:23 remaining in the first period, it did little to dampen the spirits of the newborn hockey fans.

After a wild opening frame, the second and third periods were much more tame. C Oscar Lindberg (Leipsic) and D Kevin Connauton (C Derek Stepan and F Clayton Keller) were able to score for Vegas and Arizona, respectively, but their tallies had little impact on the outcome.

Overall, the Knights absolutely dominated this game. To start with, they won 68 percent of face-offs, but they were further helped by sloppy play from the Yotes. Though the statistic is recorded as takeaways, most of Vegas’ 12 steals (led by Smith’s three) were a result of aimless passes from Arizona. The Coyotes supposedly improved on paper this offseason, but this showing was not evident of that.

Fleury earned his third victory in as many games played by saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the loss to Raanta, who saved two-of-five (.4) before being pulled. He was replaced by Domingue 6:15 into the game, and saved 21-of-23 (.913) for no decision.

That’s a fourth-straight win by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series, a series that now favors the 5-2-1 hosts by four points.

October 4 – Opening Day – Let’s get this show on the road

You know when you go to a Mexican restaurant and they bring you chips and salsa? That’s great, but what you’re really looking forward to is what you ordered: those sizzling fajitas or a burrito stuffed to the max.

That’s exactly what the first day of the regular season is like. Preseason was fun, but now it’s time to feast.

As has been NHL custom since the 2014-’15 season, the league will open play with four contests this evening. The festivities officially begins at 7 p.m. when Toronto visits Winnipeg (SN and TVAS) in a matchup of the top two picks from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, followed an hour later by St. Louis at Pittsburgh (NBCSN) for the Penguins’ banner raising ceremony. Round two finds its start at 10 p.m. with Calgary at Edmonton (SN and TVAS), trailed half an hour later by Philadelphia at San Jose (NBCSN). All times eastern.

In Season One of the “Game of the Day” series, we featured only one game. Last year, that number exploded to include all four opening day contests.

This season, let’s rein things in a bit and focus on one game per nation. Canada, you’re up first!

 

Given the Battle of Alberta happening later tonight, picking Canada’s featured game was a tough decision. There is no shame in wanting to watch a hard-fought rivalry C Connor McDavid and the Oilers dominate their first game of the season.

Unfortunately, that pales in comparison to the opportunity to take in the first of only two meetings of the season between RW Patrik Laine and C Auston Matthews.

There’s no doubt these offenses are capable of scoring. The Leafs registered 251 goals last season to rank fifth-best in the league, and Winnipeg trailed them by only two tallies to tie Columbus for sixth-most markers.

Of course, a lot of that offense came from each club’s respective first-round pick last year. Reigning Calder-winner Matthews buried all four goals in his NHL debut against the Senators en route to a 40-29-69 season. Not to be outdone too much, Laine – who finished in second in Calder voting last year – got his 36-28-64 rookie campaign kick-started with a power play goal and an assist on C Mathieu Perreault‘s game-tying goal in his first NHL game.

For those keeping score, Laine was the only one to win his first game in the big leagues. Then again, Matthews beat Laine to the playoffs… Suffice to say, these guys are good at their jobs.

With all that in mind, I’m most focused on Winnipeg’s net this evening for G Steve Mason‘s debut. While I am of the opinion that Mason is a minor improvement over last year’s starter G Connor Hellebuyck (seriously, emphasis on “minor” – to the point of being negligible), tonight may not be the best to prove that claim. In his only game against the Leafs last year, Mason – then a member of the Flyers – allowed six goals, including four in the third period. Of particular note was D Martin Marincin‘s tally to tie the game at three-all, his lone goal of the season and only the third of his career.

Yeah, that probably left a bad taste in Mason’s mouth when he heard that.

While making improvements in net is probably a good idea in the next couple years for General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff (all three current goalie contracts will be off the books by the 2019 offseason), he would also be wise to work on his defense that allowed an 11th-worst 31 shots against-per-game last year.

Then again, maybe all the Jets needed was a year of experience and an offseason of training. We’ll know if that’s the case based on the performance of another player entering his second season: D Josh Morrissey. At the ripe age of 21, he registered a +6 rating and a team-leading 139 blocks last season. If he can continue to grow into the shutdown blueliner he hinted at last year – and, if we get really greedy, improve on his 20 points (there’s few better to learn from than D Dustin Byfuglien) – maybe Winnipeg isn’t as far off the mark as we think.

Until then, Mason will have to be on top of his game to keep the Jets alive in this game – and ultimately the season.

 

As if the action in Manitoba wasn’t fun enough, there’s also the Penguins’ banner raising ceremony to take in. For Pittsburgh supporters, this is a joyous night; for most other hockey fans, it’ll be a night they’re glad to put behind them.

And even after the festivities are complete, fans are going to be treated to quite a hockey game featuring two of the most consistent teams of the past dozen years. The Penguins have qualified for the postseason for the last 11 years – three of which ended with them hoisting the Stanley Cup – for the longest active streak in the league, trailed by the Blues’ fourth-best six-straight playoff appearances.

If there’s one Blue Note ready to play this game, I’d peg newcomer F Brayden Schenn. He’s making his first club-debut since 2011-’12, and the team he was traded from has nurtured a special hatred in him for the black-and-gold.

The former Flyer has been brought into the St. Louis fold to generate more points for an offense that featured only three 50+ point scorers a season ago (RW Vladimir Tarasenko, F Jaden Schwartz and F Alex Steen). Schenn is a talented former first-rounder capable of playing either center or left wing that is coming off a 25-30-55 season, and it looks like he’ll center the second line for Schwartz and W Dmitrij Jaskin to start the season.

Beyond the usual culprits of C Sidney Crosby, RW Phil Kessel and C Evgeni Malkin, one Penguin to keep an eye on this evening is RW Ryan Reaves.  No, he probably won’t score a goal tonight – or maybe even a point at all – but I’m more interested in seeing if he has it in him to bring the muscle against former teammates of seven seasons. And if he does, who does he hit? Who hits back?

Seeing LW Cody McLeod‘s response to playing the Avalanche last season after being traded to Nashville, I have my suspicions on the topic: let’s just say I expect St. Louis’ new enforcer, RW Chris Thorburn, to be dressed this evening.


At least eight points are to be had this evening for these eight teams in action, and I expect Toronto, Pittsburgh, Edmonton and San Jose to be at the top of their respective divisions after all the action is complete.