Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.
Folks, it’s no longer October.
You can once again begin asking the question “is it October yet?” without facing any legal ramifications, despite the fact that the 2018-19 regular season is very much alive and in effect.
Canadian Thanksgiving has come and gone, but for all of you urban legend believers in postseason fate, American Thanksgiving has yet to pass– meaning every team’s playoff hopes is still technically alive. The majority of teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving– in this case, Nov. 22nd– make the playoffs.
If you’re new to hockey, this is a thing, but it’s not set in stone. There’s always that one or two teams that sneak their way in from outside the picture frame. Likewise, there’s always that team that blows it down the stretch.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a hot start, working their way to 1st place in the Atlantic Division by the end of October, with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins hot on their tail just as we all expected.
Though the Maple Leafs have a fiery offense and solid goaltending, defense has been the most apparent area for improvement. In Boston, depth scoring, injuries and a slow start in net for Tuukka Rask have held the Bruins back from realizing their full potential, but the depth of their defenders and backup netminder Jaroslav Halak have kept them in good-standing.
In the surprise of the month for the Atlantic Division, the Montreal Canadiens sit 4th and the Buffalo Sabres sit 5th– both with 14 points on the season so far. Meanwhile, to no surprise the Ottawa Senators are 6th, the Detroit Red Wings are in a rebuild and the Florida Panthers simply haven’t played as many games as their opponents.
Taking a look at the Metropolitan Division and you won’t be surprised to see the Pittsburgh Penguins back in control with Sidney Crosby at the steering wheel, but you might be surprised by the other current divisional playoff spot holders.
The New York Islanders are 2nd and the Carolina Hurricanes are 3rd after the Hurricanes led the division for most of the month, only to begin a recent skid.
Just on the outskirts of a wild card spot are the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils.
Washington’s off to a slower start than expected, but overall not feeling as bad as a Stanley Cup hangover as it could’ve been– given how many fountains around D.C. they dove in and the number of beers consumed.
Columbus is just over .500 and the Devils have also played fewer games than anyone in their division, much like the Panthers.
The Philadelphia Flyers sit 7th in the Metropolitan Division in a tight race, but have shown weaknesses on the blue line and in the blue paint (goaltending, again) and the New York Rangers are in a full-scale rebuild to start things off this season.
In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators are staking a case for defending their President’s Trophy season last year currently sitting atop the Central Division, as well as the league.
Filling out the remaining Central Divisions spots, last season’s biggest improvers, the Colorado Avalanche sit 2nd with the Minnesota Wild in 3rd. There’s two wild card berth in the Central Division, currently held by the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks(!?!)– that’s right, last season’s division bottom feeders are able to keep their heads barely above the surface with Corey Crawford back in the net.
The Dallas Stars sit 6th and the St. Louis Blues have had the wheels fall off in just a month’s time.
In the Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks lead the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights and the 31st place team in the league– the Los Angeles Kings.
Yes, the Pacific Division is that wide-open so far with legitimate playoff contenders from last season (San Jose, Anaheim, Vegas and Los Angeles) all over the place. The Sharks haven’t hit their stride, the Ducks are suffering from injuries and defensive breakdowns, while the Golden Knights are looking for last season’s inaugural season magic.
Oh and the Kings? Yeah, everything’s pretty bad right now and Jonathan Quick‘s out indefinitely.
Meanwhile, pleasant surprises in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Arizona are being led by… youth?
Nothing makes sense anymore.
Luckily, that’s just a quick recap of the first month in about as bland an outlook as you can get when the meat of this post is really about what’s to come. That’s right, everything above? Forget most of it. Let’s use a little foresight and figure out how November through April should go.
2018-19 Projected Standings after One Month
- y-Boston Bruins, 104 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 103 points (11 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 94 points (12 GP so far)
- wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 93 points (11 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 84 points (9 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 84 points (11 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 81 points (12 GP so far)
- Buffalo Sabres, 76 points (12 GP so far)
What’s bound to happen in the Atlantic?
The forecast is so close between the top-three teams in the division that none of their positions in the standings are truly set in stone, unlike how the Red Wings will undoubtedly land somewhere in the bottom-three spots in the Atlantic.
There’s a chance the Panthers never get off the ground and there’s a chance the Sabres are able to continue turning heads around the league by not currently being in the basement of the division. However, since this forecast takes into consideration recent seasons in addition to current gameplay…
Check back in another month.
(Is it too early to do one of these? Yeah, probably.)
- z-Washington Capitals, 107 points (10 GP so far)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 106 points (10 GP so far)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points (11 GP so far)
- wc2- New York Islanders, 89 points (11 GP so far)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
- New York Rangers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
- New Jersey Devils, 87 points (9 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 85 points (12 GP so far)
The biggest takeaway from the Metropolitan forecast is after the top-two teams, anything goes.
Washington will be able to right the ship and land in a divisional spot– whether that’s top-dog or behind the Penguins remains to be seen. Columbus should even out as they’ve been doing as of late and settle in for another First Round exit (probably).
But between the Islanders, Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Hurricanes? Yeah, anything goes.
The Islanders are better than the Rangers, but the Rangers might somehow be better than the Flyers. Meanwhile, if New Jersey can get things going like they did last season, they’ve got a chance to box out the competition. Plus, Carolina remains unpredictable and foreseeably within striking range of a wild card spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Again, it’s only been one month. There’s still a little more than five months left in the regular season.
- z-Nashville Predators, 105 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Minnesota Wild, 100 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Chicago Blackhawks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
- wc1-St. Louis Blues, 96 points (10 GP so far)
- wc2-Winnipeg Jets, 94 points (12 GP so far)
- Dallas Stars, 90 points (11 GP so far)
- Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (12 GP so far)
In the Central Division, the Nashville Predators continue to reign supreme. Cool.
Minnesota, Chicago and St. Louis are all somehow destined for the postseason. This, after the Wild make it every year, Crawford’s return lifts the Blackhawks over the competition and supposedly the Blues will figure things out.
Wait, the Avalanche can’t be that bad.
Once again, it’s an extremely early forecast that takes into account recency bias from the last few seasons. Colorado won’t be last. Winnipeg shouldn’t be a wild card team.
But Dallas? Yeah, they’re definitely not making the playoffs if they keep playing like they have been.
- y-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
- x-Calgary Flames, 89 points (13 GP so far)
- Los Angeles Kings, 87 points (11 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 84 points (14 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (11 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 77 points (11 GP so far)
- Vegas Golden Knights, 75 points (12 GP so far)
By now everything you’ve read should indicate what’s going to be written below.
San Jose? Good team. No surprise, given Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are on the blue line with Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Evander Kane at forward. Oh and Martin Jones in net.
Anaheim? If they can whether the storm, they can make it in one of the most unpredictable divisions based on how bad the other teams are or should be.
Calgary? Bill Peters finally coaches a team to a playoff berth? Yeah. That should happen.
The Kings can recover from this slow start– if they don’t mess things up in November.
As for the Canucks, Oilers, Coyotes and Golden Knights, well, Vancouver might make some noise. Edmonton could be a pretender as long as Connor McDavid is a contender. Arizona remains to be seen and the situation looks like it’s only going to get worse for Vegas before anything gets better– if it even does.
Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.
It’s still way too early to make these bold claims, but let’s do it anyway.
Using marginal goals for and marginal goals against from the 2017-18 regular season– let’s assume there were no roster, coaching or front office changes this summer that would otherwise flip everything upside-down– here are expected points totals for all 31 National Hockey League teams for the 2018-19 season.
- z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 114 points
- x-Boston Bruins, 113 points
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 108 points
- Florida Panthers, 92 points
- Detroit Red Wings, 77 points
- Montreal Canadiens, 71 points
- Ottawa Senators, 65 points
- Buffalo Sabres, 61 points
- y-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points
- x-Washington Capitals, 99 points
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points
- x-Philadelphia Flyers, 95 points
- x-New Jersey Devils, 93 points
- Carolina Hurricanes, 81 points
- New York Islanders, 79 points
- New York Rangers, 78 points
2018-19 Eastern Conference Outlook
Not much is different in the Atlantic Division heading into 2018-19.
The top teams are the top teams, regardless of their additions (John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs) or subtractions (uhh, James van Riemsdyk from the Maple Leafs?) and there’s going to be a little movement in the Metropolitan Division (most notably, a new division leader from 2017-18 to 2018-19).
Carolina’s revamped defense and the Rangers post-trade deadline to present overhaul are wild cards to watch for any surprises in the standings.
2017-18 Eastern Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)
- y-Montreal Canadiens, 102 points (z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 113 points)
- x-Boston Bruins, 101 points (x-Boston Bruins, 112 points)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points (x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 95 points (Florida Panthers, 96 points)
- Ottawa Senators, 91 points (Detroit Red Wings, 73 points)
- Florida Panthers, 81 points (Montreal Canadiens, 71 points)
- Detroit Red Wings, 77 points (Ottawa Senators, 67 points)
- Buffalo Sabres, 77 points (Buffalo Sabres, 62 points)
What happened in the Atlantic? Injuries and age slowed the Canadiens way, way down, while Tampa reemerged as one of the top teams in the NHL, appearing in their third Eastern Conference Final in four years (despite losing to the Washington Capitals in seven games).
Boston proved to be ahead of schedule in their plan, while the Leafs were right on track. Meanwhile, the floor fell out from underneath the Senators and a new head coach didn’t bring the expected progress in development for the Sabres.
Florida turned a few heads, though ultimately proved to be a non-contender, missing the playoffs by a point (Columbus and New Jersey locked up the Eastern Conference wild cards with 97 points on the season), while Detroit fell within the expected margin of error (anywhere from 72-82 points on the season).
- p-Washington Capitals, 125 points (y-Washington Capitals, 105 points)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 114 points (x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 111 points (x-Philadelphia Flyers, 98 points)
- x-New York Rangers, 106 points (x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 97 points)
- New York Islanders, 91 points (x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 85 points (Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (New York Islanders, 80 points)
- New Jersey Devils, 67 points (New York Rangers, 77 points)
What happened in the Metropolitan? Sometimes it’s not about the number of points, but rather, the divisional standing that matters.
Washington may have surprised some experts by finishing 1st in their division in 2017-18 (then going on to win the Cup), but to us it wasn’t (the division win, not the Cup). The rest was a crapshoot. Three teams (Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh) made the playoffs from our predictions heading into last season, while one (N.Y. Rangers) fell flat and hit the reset button.
New Jersey had one of the biggest improvements from 2016-17 to 2017-18, while the Carolina Hurricanes hit the nail on the head (albeit one position higher than our prediction) with 83 points in 2017-18.
- z-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points
- x-Nashville Predators, 113 points
- x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points
- x-Colorado Avalanche, 99 points
- Dallas Stars, 95 points
- St. Louis Blues, 93 points
- Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 108 points
- x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points
- x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 99 points
- Edmonton Oilers, 81 points
- Calgary Flames, 80 points
- Vancouver Canucks, 74 points
- Arizona Coyotes, 73 points
2018-19 Western Conference Outlook
Before the additions of Ryan O’Reilly (via trade), Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon (via free agency), the St. Louis Blues were destined to slide through another season of mediocrity. Now, they’re the most unpredictable team of the Central Division– and, yes, that’s even acknowledging what kind of season Jake Allen has in net.
Allen could make or break St. Louis’s season, though Mike Yeo will have to balance Allen’s starting time with Chad Johnson‘s play as a solid backup, but enough about the Blues (for now).
Everything else looks just the same in the Central with Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas as the teams that are most likely to change places and hit or miss one of the last playoff spots in the West.
In the Pacific, the arms race for the top of the division rages on with the Golden Knights, Kings and Sharks auditioning for the role of top-dog and the Ducks bumbling their way into a wild card spot.
It’s status quo in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, with the Arizona Coyotes entering the 2018-19 season as the biggest underdogs (hint, if they had played the way they did from February through April 2018 all season last season, they would be a lot higher up in these expected totals).
2017-18 Western Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)
- z-Minnesota Wild, 115 points (p-Nashville Predators, 117 points)
- x-Chicago Blackhawks, 104 points (x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (x-Minnesota Wild, 101 points)
- x-Nashville Predators, 98 points (x-Colorado Avalanche, 95 points)
- Winnipeg Jets, 89 points (St. Louis Blues, 94 points)
- Dallas Stars, 76 points (Dallas Stars, 92 points)
- Colorado Avalanche, 47 points (Chicago Blackhawks, 76 points)
What happened in the Central? Simply put, the stars aligned.
The Blackhawks were kept far away from the 90-point plateau (and a playoff spot) by virtue of injuries to their starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, while the anemic offense of the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche was no more in 2017-18.
Both are surprises– by definition, given expected points totals are driven by an equation that takes last season’s offense into account for the following season– but any inherent intuition would show that Colorado was destined to improve (by that much, perhaps not).
St. Louis fell out of the race while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the Winnipeg Jets to a 50-plus win season and the Wild surged quietly. The Stars were thought to be further off the path back to the playoffs than they turned out, but alas, Dallas was still 6th in the division at season’s end.
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 106 points (y-Vegas Golden Knights, 109 points)
- x-Edmonton Oilers, 106 points (x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points (x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points)
- x- San Jose Sharks, 100 points (x-Los Angeles Kings, 98 points)
- Calgary Flames, 94 points (Calgary Flames, 84 points)
- Los Angeles Kings, 90 points (Edmonton Oilers, 78 points)
- Vancouver Canucks, 67 points (Vancouver Canucks, 73 points)
- Arizona Coyotes, 66 points (Arizona Coyotes, 70 points)
What happened in the Pacific? One of the best things about making predictions using a set of data is the outliers that cause some people to doubt all of math in its entirety. Nothing is concrete in the world of projections and expectations. The 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers are a great example of that.
Based on a spectacular breakout 2016-17 season, the Oilers should’ve done a lot more than *checks notes* leave Cam Talbot in the net for too many games, facing too many shots, while Milan Lucic exerts some type of energy in the midst of another 100-point season by Connor McDavid only to miss the playoffs (by a lot) and still receive enough pity votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy to finish 5th in the voting. Hmm.
One player does not make a team. One expected points total before a single puck drops on the regular season does not guarantee anything.
Meanwhile, Vegas surprised everyone, Anaheim and San Jose hit their expected points totals, Los Angeles was ahead of schedule (though the core is still aging), Calgary regressed and the rest was as expected (again, given the margin of error– about +/- 5 points).
33-39-10, 76 points, 7th (last) in the Central Division
Additions: D Andrew Campbell (acquired from ARI), F MacKenzie Entwistle (acquired from ARI), F Chris Kunitz, F Marcus Kruger (acquired from ARI), F Jordan Maletta (acquired from ARI), D Brandon Manning, G Cam Ward
Subtractions: F Lance Bouma (signed, Switzerland), F Michael Chaput (acquired from VAN, not tendered a qualifying offer and signed with MTL), D Adam Clendening (signed with CBJ), F Christopher DiDomenico (signed, Switzerland), F Anthony Duclair (signed with CBJ), G Jeff Glass (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Vinnie Hinostroza (traded to ARI), F Marian Hossa (contract traded to ARI), F Tanner Kero (traded to VAN), D Jordan Oesterle (traded to ARI), F Patrick Sharp (retired)
Offseason Analysis: It was bound to happen. The shine was going to wear off. All good things must come to an end. All things must pass.
Throw whatever cliché you want at it, but the Chicago Blackhawks tumbled in 2017-18. The 2010, 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup champions missed the playoffs for the first time in the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane era– and they missed it by a lot.
Granted, injuries ravaged the lineup from the crease to one of the game’s most prolific Slovakian scorers.
Marian Hossa’s contract was traded this offseason as part of a seven-player deal with the Arizona Coyotes. His last NHL game came in 2016-17 and he’ll be sidelined for the remainder of his contract due to a skin disease.
Corey Crawford, Chicago’s starting netminder for the 2013 and 2015 Cup runs, sustained multiple injuries during the 2017-18 regular season, leaving him on injured reserve since about a year ago now.
His upper body injury– while not officially disclosed– has kept him sidelined with General Manager Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks hoping he’ll be ready to go for training camp. Crawford doesn’t sound as optimistic.
The fact that Cam Ward is likely going to be Chicago’s starting goaltender for however long it takes for Crawford to return is cause for concern.
Tight against the cap through their Cup runs, the Blackhawks decimated their roster in the “non-essential” roles to keep their Cup winning core together.
There’s just one problem. Those “non-essential” roles have become exposed holes.
Duncan Keith, 33, and Brent Seabrook, 35, aren’t getting any younger with no clear-cut future top-pair defender to be found on the depth chart. Toews (a minus-1 in 74 games last season) all but disappeared from his prominent star-status as the ‘Hawks went from scoring more goals than they allowed to a minus-27 goal differential in 2017-18– their worst goal differential in the Kane and Toews era.
And Crawford is hurt.
No amount of Scott Foster can salvage the wreckage of time that takes a toll on Cup contending competitors.
Alex DeBrincat remains a bright spot, while Kane remains a face of the organization– but all expectations should be set on resetting. Expendable assets should be moved before the true foundation of a rebuild sets in.
One chapter closes, but the next one begins.
In the meantime, Marcus Kruger is back (does playing for the Blackhawks count as starring in a soap opera where the characters never die and come back from time to time?), Chris Kunitz was brought in as the new Patrick Sharp (Sharp retired, Kunitz fills a roster spot for the time being) and MacKenzie Entwistle is totally a real person that was involved in the Hossa trade and not a made-up player from a video game.
Offseason Grade: C-
There’s not much to sell, but pieces will once again be worth selling at the trade deadline. Unlike the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks are just starting to enter a rebuild, so there’s a little leniency towards filling roster holes with grizzled veterans (even if they do have four Cup rings to back them up). Also because Chicago did the smart thing and only signed Kunitz to a one-year deal– no more, no less.
*Technically speaking, these players cannot sign until noon on Sunday, but thanks to a week long interview period with all the other teams, they might already have agreements in place.
With that in mind, let’s try to weigh the options in front of the best options in the market this summer, keeping in mind these rankings are completely arbitrary and ultimately meaningless– like everything in the postmodern world (that was for you, Islanders fans, in case You-Know-Who doesn’t re-sign).
First, let’s get this out of the way– signing Ryan Reaves for two-years at $2.775 million per season is… bad. Yeah, not great. That’s over half of what James Neal was making (at least according to his $5.000 million cap hit in Vegas) in 2017-18 and, well, Reaves is a fourth liner.
Neal can still reach the 30-goal plateau.
Granted, his stock will undoubtedly rise too, given a remarkable Golden Knights inaugural season run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Anyway, on with the show, eh (Happy Canada Day, Canadian readers).
Five of the best UFA forwards:
1) John Tavares, 27, 36-47–83 totals in 82 games played, $5.500 million cap hit (2017-18)
Tavares may leave the New York Islanders, then again he may stick around. Also at play (at the time of this writing around 1:30 a.m. ET and in no particular order), the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars.
He can only sign for a maximum of seven years and will likely cost around $10 million per season. For contending teams, his decision means everything for the rest of the dominoes to fall in place.
For those outside the playoff picture looking to get back into the swing of things, well, expect those small deals to be announced right away at noon.
2) James van Riemsdyk, 29, 36-18–54 totals in 81 games played, $4.250 million cap hit (2017-18)
van Riemsdyk shouldn’t be in the $9.000 million range, but stranger things always happen on July 1st every offseason. All indications thus far point to a reunion with the team that drafted him 2nd overall in 2007– the Philadelphia Flyers.
Will it be a smart deal? Yes and no.
Assuming Philadelphia rids themselves of Jori Lehtera‘s $4.700 million per season on the books next summer and finds a way to keep Wayne Simmonds around, this is a lateral move that fills what could become a hole in their top-six forwards. Then again, perhaps the Flyers are already thinking of moving on from Simmonds via a trade? Time will tell.
Meanwhile van Riemsdyk is a two-time 30-goal scorer, so that should offset Philadelphia’s lackluster goaltending, right?
3) James Neal, 30, 25-19–44 totals in 71 games played, $5.000 million cap hit (2017-18)
Neal is two years younger than the next guy on this list, but he’s been more consistent as a glue-guy that can slide up on your second line when necessary. Will he be overpaid? For sure. Will he score more than 30 goals in 2018-19? It’s possible. Neal tends to have two or three seasons under 30 goals before a “breakout” year like in 2011-12 (40 goals) and 2015-16 (31 goals).
Anything longer than five years is a bad deal in the long run (not for Neal though). Even five years is pushing it as he’ll be well past his prime by then.
4) Paul Stastny, 32, 16-37–53 totals in 82 games played, $7.000 million cap hit (2017-18)
Stastny is one of the best playmakers in the league that doesn’t always get enough recognition. Unfortunately for one general manager, that’ll mean a lot of money packed into too long of a deal this summer.
Oft injured and not quite the dominant force he was when he broke into the league in 2006-07, Stastny doesn’t come with any receipts or refunds, but rather a “buyer beware” tag. In the right role, he’ll elevate your team to the Western Conference Final, a la his run down the stretch with the Winnipeg Jets.
Otherwise, paying him more than $7.000 million and expecting different results as a first or second line center without support is insane.
5) Tyler Bozak, 32, 11-32–43 totals in 81 games played, $4.200 million cap hit (2017-18)
Bozak had one season past the 50-point plateau (he had 55 points in 2016-17), but he consistently manages upper-40s from season to season. That’s points, not goals alone, mind you.
Something in the $6.000 million range sounds perfect. Especially if you’re putting Bozak on the second line on your roster. Similar to Stastny, though, the right support around him can elevate his production. Unlike Stastny, however, Bozak is less injury prone.
Five of the best UFA defenders:
1) Thomas Hickey, 29, 5-19–24 totals in 69 games played, $2.200 million cap hit (2017-18)
Hickey didn’t play a full season in any of the three seasons of his most recent contract with the Islanders. Baring any setbacks, he should be due for a raise and an increased role as a top-4 defender looking for a fresh start (assuming he leaves New York).
Look, there are no surefire 30 or 40-point scorer defenders available on the market this summer unless you take a gander at some RFA blueliners like Matt Dumba (49 points), Colin Miller (41), Brandon Montour (32), Noah Hanifin (31) and Ryan Pulock (30).
If you’re simply trying to fill a need and have done enough scouting, Hickey could be your guy. Just saying.
2) Ian Cole, 29, 5-15–20 totals in 67 games played, $2.100 million cap hit (2017-18)
Buy low, sell (potentially) high is what one can expect from Cole.
Considering how the Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to the Ottawa Senators as part of the Derick Brassard trade, then was flipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nick Moutrey and a 2020 third round pick, Cole at least brings interested eyes from playoff hopeful general managers looking to add to the blueline.
He could be a big steal or expendable. The choice is yours.
3) Dylan DeMelo, 25, 0-20–20 totals in 62 games played, $650,000 cap hit (2017-18)
DeMelo is a top-6 blueliner that for some reason, wasn’t in the plans for the San Jose Sharks and their latest attempt at the “Cup or bust” mantra (hey, it worked for Washington finally– despite abandoning the “Cup or bust” mentality thanks, in part, to the salary cap).
Yes, he didn’t score a goal in 2017-18, but 20 assists is still something as a defenseman. Also, not every defenseman is counted on to score. That’s offense and they’re defensemen after all.
4) Calvin de Haan, 27, 1-11–12 totals in 33 games played, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)
Injuries and surgery kept de Haan from playing a full season. Otherwise, yes, the production of optimal defenders to attract this offseason really does fall off in the UFA category.
de Haan is only 27, so he’s still in his playing prime and ripe as a defender (blueliners really tapper off around 33-years-old if you use the eye test– there are always exceptions, however). If the Islanders can’t keep him around, there’s a good chance he’ll do better elsewhere in a legitimate role.
5) Andrej Sustr, 27, 2-5–7 totals in 44 games played, $1.950 million cap hit (2017-18)
Being 6-foot-7 and 220-pounds should be good enough to prevent other players that are (on average) half-a-foot shorter from breaking into the offensive zone.
Sustr was the odd man out in Tampa as the Lightning exploded with youth on the blueline this season. He could lock up a $3.000-$4.000 million AAV deal easily this summer and do well in a top-4 role for a team needing a right shot defender to make the difference.
If you can’t sign one of these five defensemen, perhaps take a chance on John Moore (18 points), Nick Holden (17), Luca Sbisa (14), Roman Polak (12) or yes, Brooks Orpik (10) for his rough-and-tough qualities.
Five of the best UFA goaltenders:
1) Carter Hutton, 32, .931 save percentage and 2.09 goals against average in 32 GP, $1.125 million cap hit (2017-18)
Hutton realistically has three solid years left as a goaltender and will likely end up with the Buffalo Sabres as they plan to transition the rights to tending the net from Hutton to Linus Ullmark, theoretically, right?
At least Hutton’s been above average as a backup for the last three seasons with a 2.33 GAA and .918 SV% in 17 games for the Nashville Predators in 2015-16, 2.39 GAA and .913 SV% in 30 games for St. Louis in 2016-17 and his 2.09 and .931 this season for the Blues.
If he’s signed for more than three years that’s not great. Considering he’s about to cash in on $4.000 million per season, probably.
2) Kari Lehtonen, 34, .912 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 37 GP, $5.900 million cap hit (2017-18)
Any team looking to add a backup on a one or two-year deal while they’re waiting for a prospect to make the full-time backup role would be smart to land Lehtonen in net for that transition period.
Especially if that team has a solid defense in front of him and an offense to steal a game or two. While Lehtonen was 15-14-3 this season in 37 games for the Dallas Stars, that’s still only three games below .500.
Think about that. He played more games than usual for a backup– appearing in almost half of the season for Dallas– and the net result was only a few points out of the postseason. A nice two-year deal gives Lehtonen some job security as he joins the 35-year-old club in November.
Another plus, for those interested, he won’t be at a $5.900 million cap hit on his next deal.
3) Anton Khudobin, 32, .913 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 31 GP, $1.200 million cap hit (2017-18)
In his two-year reunion with the Boston Bruins, Khudobin went from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 2016-17 (16 games played) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 2017-18 (31 games played).
The last time he played over 30 games was for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013-14, when he went on to suit up for 34 appearances and yielded a 2.72 GAA and .900 SV%. Ouch.
Sample size is everything. Was 2017-18 a lucky fluke or a product of having a good team in front of him? His next team in 2018-19 will be more telling (and it just might be the Dallas Stars). Approach with caution.
4) Cam Ward, 34, .906 SV% and 2.73 GAA in 43 GP, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)
Ward is no longer a starting goaltender and was over-relied on in Carolina this season thanks to Scott Darling‘s vanishing act as a starter (albeit in his first season as a starting goaltender).
5) Jonathan Bernier, 29, .913 SV% and 2.85 GAA in 37 GP, $2.750 million cap hit (2017-18)
Bernier literally saved Colorado’s season when Semyon Varlamov went down with yet another injury. Now Philipp Grubauer is manning the pipes for the Avalanche with Varlamov moving into a refined role unless General Manager Joe Sakic can find a trading partner and keep Bernier from going where he is expected to go on Sunday.
The Detroit Red Wings are calling Bernier’s number as the next backup to Jimmy Howard and it’s a lateral move from Petr Mrazek‘s 2.89 GAA and .910 SV% in 22 games in 2017-18 with Detroit before he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Seriously, Bernier’s only saving grace was that the 2017-18 Avalanche were a lot better than the 2016-17 Avalanche had they been in front of the netminder (Bernier was with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-17).
Regardless, the Red Wings are rebuilding, so it makes sense (somehow).
If you can’t sign one of these UFA goalies, hopefully you’re not looking to sign a starter from the market this offseason, much less a backup. Start working those phonelines for a trade, because Halak, Robin Lehner and others are your UFA options. *shudders*