Tag Archives: Colby Kephart

Down the Frozen River Podcast #76- A Coach’s Stance (feat. Craig Custance)

NHL Insider for The Athletic and Editor-In-Chief for The Athletic Detroit, Craig Custance joined the show this week to discuss his new book Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches available on Amazon or wherever books are still sold. Custance and the Original Trio discussed his book, the Detroit Red Wings and who they’d pick as head coach of Team USA.

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Down the Frozen River Podcast #75- Captain’s Practice (with Cap’n Cornelius)

Nick and Colby are joined by the Cap’n this week as the trio discuss the Vegas Golden Knights home opener, bad starts for the Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks, as well as other thoughts around the league. The New York Islanders really need an arena and the Carolina Hurricanes really need some fans.

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Sabres’ Early Struggles Lead to Questions

Bad habits die hard, as the Buffalo Sabres have had another bad start to the season. And because of those slow starts, the team gets in a hole at the beginning of the season so deep that they can never battle back and salvage the campaign.

The Sabres are 0-2-1 through the first three games, and the past two games against the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils have seen them give up a total of 12 goals. One of the biggest problems is that Buffalo is giving up a great deal of odd-man rushes. In the New Jersey game, odd-man rushes cost the Sabres four goals against.

But it is not just odd-man rushes. A lot of the goals against are because of the sloppy play in the Sabres’ own end and turnovers in key areas. Phil Housley, the Sabres’ new head coach, says the team needs to work harder and the results will come.

As if the defense is the only group struggling, Buffalo’s offense has also had its short comings. The Sabres have only had one line producing goals this season. Evander Kane has four goals, Jason Pominville has two goals and Jack Eichel has one goal. Big name players like Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo have been snack bitten thus far. O’Reilly has been basically invisible through three games and Sam Reinhart has looked lost playing his original center position.

Last year, the Sabres finished with the best power play in the league. Well, that was last year folks, as this year the Sabres are currently 16th with a lousy 15 percent success-rate early in the season. That’s not the worst part though, as the Sabres have given up four shorthanded goals already this season. That is the same amount the club gave up all of last season.

The team doesn’t have many excuses for the bad play. They don’t have many injuries, with just Zach Bogosian being the only serious loss to the team. So why is this team struggling so badly already? Sabres fans are looking for answers and if the squad continues to play the way it is, the loyal fan base will look for change.

Most of the Sabres’ struggles are because this team is weak-minded. They don’t handle adversity well at all. For example, when the Sabres were down 2-0 against the Devils, Kane found a goal to cut the lead to one. But, that positive momentum didn’t last a two full minutes as the Devils responded with goal of their own, and then found a fourth minutes later. Housley put it best when he stated the team doesn’t have push back when the game needs it or they face adversity. With a young team, learning to win is a hard thing to teach, but they need to show more fight if they want to be in more games.

The next issue has a lot to do with the goaltending, but Robin Lehner is not entirely to blame for this struggle. The fan base is used to having star and franchise goals, as the Sabres were lucky to have two elite goalies play for their organization in Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. Lehner is not one of those goalies: he is a tweener until the next franchise goalie comes along.

Lehner has been left out to dry for the two games he’s played this season. This is a goalie who posted a .920 save percentage last year and bailed the team out of a lot of games. His main weakness is the shootout, as he has yet to find a win in the shootout in his three seasons as a Sabre. He struggles to even make one save, but – again -it’s not just his fault as his team also forgets to score in shootout.

It’s easy to blame the coach and his system. Housley wants to play a five-man attack and wants the team to play with speed. This is part of the issue as the team doesn’t have a lot of speed with the exceptions of Eichel and Kane. Learning the new five-man attack is taking some time and, without the correct cycle, is leading to those odd-man rushes going the other way.

It looks bad right now, but I would like to remind people that last year the Nashville Predators struggled to start the season. They started their first 10 games 3-5-2 under Housley’s defensive system. That being said, things need to change for the Sabres because Jason Botterill has a plan and I’m sure could find a way to make moves to better this team.

The league is getting younger and the youth movement is on. It’s only a matter of time before the youngsters of Alex Nylander, Brendan Ghule and Linus Ullmark get a spot in the NHL. Players like Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges are going to move on and the youth will get a chance to wake this team up.

The Sabres are heading west as they have San Jose tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT. They have had luck against this team over past few years, and they need to get on the right path on this trip with other games against LA, Anaheim and Vegas. If they could take 2 or 3 out of 4 games, the fans will calm down and they could start getting out of the big hole.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #74- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part II)

Jaromir Jagr signed with the Calgary Flames this week, the regular season started (though the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have been told yet that the games matter now) and former players tend to be GMs in the NHL, the Original Trio confirms. Also, we gave participation trophies without even watching the rest of the season for the second year in a row.

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Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Anaheim Ducks 2017-2018 Season Preview

Anaheim Ducks

46-23-13, 105 points (’16-’17), 1st in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the Western Finals by Nashville

Key additions: Francois Beauchemin, Ryan Miller

Key subtractions: Jonathan Bernier, Emerson Etem, Shea Theodore

Offseason Analysis: The Anaheim Ducks made the 2017 Western Conference Finals before falling to the Nashville Predators in seven games. The Ducks were the bullies of these playoffs, as they put “beating” a team to multiple meanings. They threw a lot of hits (31 per-game, to be exact – the third-most in the Western Conference playoffs) and actually injured a lot of players during the postseason. Now, no one likes to see injuries, especially as a result of dirty hockey, but that wasn’t the case for Anaheim as their hits were clean, impactful on the game and enjoyable to watch.

For me, the Western Conference has always played a finesse game compared to the East’s physical, rough-and-tough action, so it was nice to see Anaheim step up and bring the opportune physicality to the West. And the best part? It worked in their favor and almost earned them a berth into the Stanley Cup Finals.

Heading into the offseason, the expansion loomed over a Ducks roster loaded with young NHL defensemen. If you were to ask any analyst, they would’ve told you they were looking for a trade. But, they never found that trade partner and ended up losing young defenseman Shea Theodore to Vegas. This is not the worst case scenario as Theodore was kind of a depth player, but not a regular in the lineup. I feel they got lucky as they could’ve lost Brandon Montour, a great puck moving defenseman who anyone in the league would be lucky to have on their team.

The Ducks’ big offseason moves were adding Francois Beachemin and veteran goalie Ryan Miller. I like both of these moves. I have already brought up the young defense core in Anaheim, so adding a veteran defenseman in Beachemin, who managed nearly two blocks-per-game last season, will add experience and even more grit to this defensive core.

The Ducks upgraded their backup goalie by adding Ryan Miller. Miller, who posted a .914 save percentage for a 2.8 GAA last season as Vancouver’s starter, can help as the Ducks continue to develop John Gibson as their number one goalie. Given he’s playing behind a superior defense now, Miller can also add a few more wins where last year’s backup Jonathan Bernier (.915 save percentage and 2.5 GAA) did not.

Offseason Grade: C

This offseason was pretty quiet: Anaheim didn’t make a big splash, instead electing to keep its core players and snag some small upgrades. The Ducks will be a postseason team again this year, to no one’s surprise. They will have more competition at the top of the division, but they should have home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. Will they have the same luck this year in the playoffs? I don’t think so; I think they will struggle to get out of first round. The team could’ve made bigger moves to add more offensively, but as a whole they will still be a force in the Western Conference.

Ottawa Senators 2017-2018 Season Preview

Ottawa Senators

44-28-10, 98 points (’16-’17), 2nd in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the Eastern Finals by Pittsburgh 

Key additions: Alexandre Burrows, Johnny Oduya, Nate Thompson

Key subtractions: Chris Kelly, Marc Methot (Taken by Vegas), Chris Neil, Tommy Wingels (signed with Chicago)

Offseason Analysis: The Ottawa Senators made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the eventual Stanley Cup winners, in seven games. Heading into their offseason, this is an organization that feels like they are on the brink of something major. The Senators want to balance the line of becoming better without losing too much talent.

Obviously, with the expansion draft they needed to identify someone they could easily replace via free agency or by promoting a prospect. They ended up losing Marc Methot, a big defensive piece that could be hard to replace, but they tried to find a solution by signing veteran defenseman Johnny Oduya to a one-year deal.

Soon to be 36-years-old, Oduya is past his prime but could still be useful on limited minutes. Interestingly, his contract includes performance bonuses for achieving certain TOI ratings, games played and a Senators playoff appearance, so Oduya will be doing all he can to earn more playing time from head coach Guy Boucher.

My favorite move by the Senators was resigning Alex Burrows, a wing they acquired at the trade deadline last year that provided five assists in Ottawa’s deep postseason run. Burrows can provide some added depth scoring and could be a nice fit with this “defense first”-minded team.  Ottawa also signed Nate Thompson to replace Chris Kelly as the 4th line center. Thompson is used to this role from his time in Anaheim and could add a nice, rough-and-tough body to this team.

Ottawa will face a challenge to start the season as they could be without their best player in Erik Karlsson. He played the playoffs with an injured foot tendon that eventually forced him to require offseason surgery. Should he be unable to play by the season opener against Washington on October 5, Ottawa will look for someone to fill that void until he returns. A prime candidate for that position could be rookie defenseman Thomas Chabot. Chabot’s smooth skating with some offensive flair can help provide the Senators with some needed offense. I think he will be the most important player until Karlsson can return.

If the Senators want continued success, they need to have a good start to their season because of a competitive Atlantic Division. Fortunately for them, they have exactly the schedule to do that. After opening against the Capitals at home, the Senators play Detroit, Vancouver twice, Calgary, Edmonton and New Jersey. Though three of those games are on the road, Ottawa could be poised to do just that.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Senators will be another playoff team this year, and I think they could win the division after the Montreal Canadians took a step backwards. If Chabot can fill Karlsson’s shoes until he gets back, the two of them together could become a dynamic duo. The 1-3-1 system is a hard system to figure out, so it may cause a few division teams problems and give Ottawa a step up on the competition – and ultimately more success in the playoffs.

Minnesota Wild 2017-2018 Season Preview

Minnesota Wild

49-25-8, 106 points (16’-17’), 2nd in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by St. Louis

Key additions: Matt CullenTyler EnnisMarcus Foligno, Kyle Quincey

Key subtractions: Martin Hanzal (signed with Dallas), Darcy Kuemper (signed with LA), Jason Pominville (Traded to Buffalo), Nate Prosser (signed with St. Louis), Marco Scandella (Traded to Buffalo), Alex Tuch (Taken by Vegas)

Offseason Analysis:

The Minnesota Wild had a very tough offseason on paper when it all began. With the expansion draft looming, the Wild knew they were going to lose a big name player if they couldn’t find a deal to send out one of their big name defenseman. They found that deal on June 30th, swapping Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville for then-Sabres Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis’ rights. The Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher had reportedly been chasing Foligno for a while, but former Buffalo General Manger Tim Murray always said Foligno wasn’t up for trade. With the new GM in Buffalo, Fletcher got his target and a nice perk in Ennis.

The offseason wasn’t going to get easier, however, as RFA’s Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter all needed new contracts – and that was before they added RFA Foligno into the mix.

Fletcher still had work to do.

Fletcher began with Niederreiter, signing him to a five-year, $5.25 AAV contract on July 31st. A day later he got his second guy on the books, as Granlund agreed to a 3-year, $5.75 AAV on August 1st, three days before his arbitration hearing.

Fletcher’s next two moves took some time and consideration, giving Fletcher and his staff time to talk veteran center Matt Cullen into signing a one-year deal. This may been one of the most underrated signings of the offseason but could do wonders in this lineup.

Fletcher was able to get his new RFA Foligno signed on September 14th. Foligno signed a four year long deal worth $2.875 AAV. This was a good deal for both parties, as Marcus brings the tough guy role and can also pick up some decent points. This left the Wild with just their captain needing a contract and, just a few days ago on September 18th, Koivu signed a two-year deal worth $5.5 AAV.

This is my least favorite contract they signed, mostly because Koivu, their captain and leader, deserves more job security than just two years. The cap situation is different because there are a lot players making really decent money in Minnesota instead of stays with monster contracts.

Other names that got contracts worth mentioning include Cal O’Reilly, who got a two-year deal, and Kyle Quincey and Niklas Svedberg, who both received one-year deals. All three could be great depth guys if injuries occur.

Offseason Grade: B

Overall, the Wild did a great job of keeping their key players. They didn’t go out and overspend and they made smart moves considering their situation. The only big losses came in Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella and Martin Hanzal. Hanzal was acquired at the deadline and chose free agency, so no major loss. The big question will come if they can fill the void of Scandella in a top-4 role. The Wild will more than likely still be a playoff team and will look to make a bigger impact in the playoffs.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #70- 2017-2018 Atlantic Division Preview

The Original Trio gets carried away talking about the Vegas Golden Knights masterplan for ruining everything. Additionally, Nick, Colby and Connor discuss the recent signings and NHL headlines, as well as what to do with remaining unsigned RFAs and a 2017-2018 Atlantic Division preview that’s full of the hottest takes in the land.

As is now tradition, find the latest episode here on our Libsyn page.

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Dallas Stars 2017-2018 Season Preview

Dallas Stars

34-37-11, 79 points, 6th in the Central Division  

Key additions: Ben Bishop, Brian FlynnMartin Hanzal, Marc Methot, Tyler PitlickAlexander Radulov

Key subtractions: Cody Eakin (Taken by Vegas), Patrick Eaves (Signed with Anaheim), Antti Niemi (Signed with Pittsburgh), Patrick Sharp (Signed with Chicago)

Offseason Analysis: Last season was a huge disappointment for the Dallas Stars, but they may have had the best offseason by any team in the NHL. From goaltending to the forwards, everything needed to be improved to compete in a strong Central Division.

Dallas started the improvement as they got their goalie on May 9th. They acquired Ben Bishop from Los Angeles for a 4th round pick. This was a great move and clearly gave them a true number one goalie. This is the move that ultimately led to Antti Niemi leaving and signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Stars’ offseason continued as they got free agent center Martin Hanzal for a 3 year, $4.75 million AAV deal. This move probably made the least sense as the team has two strong centers in Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza, however this can strengthen them on the penalty kill and add strength on the 3rd line.

The blue line was the next thing to strengthen as the Stars acquired Marc Methot from the Vegas Golden Nights for a goalie prospect and a 2020 second round pick. Methot was taken in the expansion draft by Vegas but the Golden Knights had too many defenseman. The Stars landing Methot provides them a physical stay at home defenseman that will help that blue line tremendously.

The biggest move was signing Alexander Radulov for 5 years at $6.25 million AAV. This gives the Dallas Stars the possibility of having a “super line” if they pair Jamie Benn and Seguin with Radulov. The league finds it hard enough to stop Seguin and Benn together; adding Radulov could add even more goals and points. Radulov provides slick passing and shows a finishing touch around the net.

The Dallas Stars general manager should get a pat on the back for these moves. He added on all levels and made the Stars a better team even though the Stars lost some big name players in free agency with the likes of Patrick Sharp signing with Chicago and Patrick Eaves deciding to resign with Anaheim after a trade deadline deal last season.

Offseason Grade: A-

In my opinion the Dallas Stars should be back in the playoffs for the upcoming season. This is all because of the GM and his ability to get the big name targets. A few teams took a step back while The Dallas Stars took a big step forward and they have my vote for best offseason. Stars fans will be watching playoff hockey this year!