*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*
For the first time in show history, Nick and Connor had to re-record an entire episode because GarageBand deleted the original recording seconds after the duo finished recording. In this edition, more movie madness, top-10 goaltenders in our lifetime and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Chicago Blackhawks and their outlook for the summer.
It was their worst season since before the days of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. With a 33-39-10 record and 76 points on the season in 2017-18, the Chicago Blackhawks finished last in the Central Divison and missed the playoffs for the first time in Kane and Toews’s careers with the organization.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks and their fans, things are only going to get worse or stay the same before they get better. There is no one offseason fix-all cure for Chicago given their salary cap structure and overall prospect development.
While Kane and Toews are on the books at $10.500 million each through the 2022-23 season, Brent Seabrook is actually on the books for a season longer– albeit at a $6.875 million cap hit instead of $21.000 million combined in Kane and Toews.
The only point to make here is there’s no need to overreact and dump Kane and/or Toews– yet– but rather, Seabrook is currently 33-years-old. Duncan Keith is 34-years-old. Both have no-movement clauses in their contracts in the midst of a redeveloping defense for the Blackhawks.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
The long days of the offseason were made even longer for Chicago fans used to their team going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final– a la 2010, 2013 and 2015 when the Blackhawks won three Cups in five years– after the team was eliminated from even participating in the postseason as the days of the 2017-18 season wound down.
With the 8th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman should put his focus on drafting a defenseman.
Why? Because one of their top-2 defenders (Keith or Seabrook) will have to be moved to attain pieces for the future as part of this rebuild at some point in time and since Trevor van Riemsdyk left via the Vegas Golden Knights 2017 Expansion Draft, Chicago hasn’t had a legitimate defensive prospect.
Someone like Evan Bouchard, Adam Boqvist, Ty Smith or Bode Wilde should be available at 8th overall and the Blackhawks should take a stab at one of them.
As for the 27th overall pick (from the Nashville Predators acquired in the Ryan Hartman trade)? Bowman can pursue what he sees fit for the organization’s prospect pool.
Pending free agents
There aren’t that many pending free agents on Chicago’s current NHL roster and with about $6.200 million to spend this offseason, that’s just all right.
Vinnie Hinostroza, Tomas Jurco and Anthony Duclair are the only pending free agent forwards from the end of the regular season roster. Both Hinostroza, 24, and Duclair, 22, should be re-signed with Duclair likely eyeing more dollar value or shorter term to cash in later as the two forwards are pending-restricted free agents.
Jurco was given a second chance at his NHL career in the Blackhawks’s acquisition of his skillset in the 2016-17 season from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a third round pick in the 2017 Draft (Keith Petruzzelli), but only played in 29 games in 2017-18, spending most of his time as a healthy scratch under Joel Quenneville‘s watchful eye.
The 25-year-old forward amassed 6-4–10 totals, yielding his best point-per-game production (.344 pts/game) since his rookie appearance with the Red Wings in 2013-14 (.394 pts/game, 8-7–15 totals in 36 games). In other words, he’s not good and should not be re-signed.
Chicago only has one pending free agent defenseman– 39-year-old, Michal Rozsival— and will walk away from him this offseason, undoubtedly.
Corey Crawford, 33, has two-years remaining on his contract with a $6.000 million cap hit. The starting goaltender isn’t getting any younger and is overcoming an injury plagued season that played a large part in the Blackhawks sudden demise.
Crawford likely won’t go anywhere any time soon, but the planning for the next number one in Chicago has to start sooner or later.
Meanwhile, backup Anton Forsberg has one-year left at $750,000 as a 25-year-old. He’ll be a pending-RFA in 2019 and likely won’t see a dramatic raise unless he usurps Crawford in the depth chart.
Overall, the Blackhawks cannot afford to go after any big names this summer, regardless of the Marian Hossa outcome. Hossa’s on the books through the 2020-21 season at $5.275 million AAV even though his playing days are over.
The winger isn’t going to retire before his contract expires so he can collect his salary– which is actually only $1.000 million for the next three years– and Chicago doesn’t have to trade him if they’re fine with placing him on the injured reserve from season-to-season as they did heading into 2017-18.
It’s not that the organization needs to reach the cap floor or that they really need to rid themselves of the dead cap space to attract any talent this summer, but Hossa’s contract will be on their radar as something to move by July 2019 once the Blackhawks set a course of action for what likely has become a rebuild.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
First of all, it’s March, which means it’s officially the best month of the year, but not for any of the reasons you’re thinking. College basketball can stay on the back burner– especially when there’s playoff hockey to look forward to next month when, oh yeah, that NCAA championship game actually occurs.
Save your “March is the worst month of the year” takes for the next person in line, thanks.
Anyway, at this point in the season it’s worth noting that the trade deadline has come and passed. While acquisitions like Rick Nash for the Boston Bruins, Derick Brassard for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tomas Tatar for the Vegas Golden Knights and Paul Stastny for the Winnipeg Jets will certainly impact their teams, the following projected standings are merely an educated guess at how things should pan out.
There are simply too many variables that Microsoft Excel cannot account for, namely injuries, roster changes and well, whether or not a player woke up on the right side of the bed that day.
To that end, some projected points totals had a little Gut Feeling 2.0 added to them. In other words, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to end up with 130 or 131 points like a couple of models showed– there’s simply not enough games remaining for them to almost match an NHL record.
Therefore, more realistic measures have been added for some teams to account for “reality”.
Some teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, for instance, had a little win-percentage on the season taken into account for their 19 remaining games on the season– and then reflected in the total number of points they should earn.
As with all stats and analytics, try not to get too bogged down on one or another. A holistic viewpoint goes much further than trying to survive on heart and grit alone.
Especially in today’s NHL, where speed and skill are more present than ever before.
With that, here’s a glance at how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL clubs based on their performances through February 28, 2018.
As always, my degree is in communication, not math. In other words, throw everything mentioned above out the window, strap yourself in and good luck surviving the adrenaline rush that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Oh, your team’s not going to make it, you say?
My condolences, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes fans. Next year is totally your year.
2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months
- y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 106 points (64 GP so far)
- x-Boston Bruins, 105 points (61 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (66 GP so far)
- Montreal Canadiens, 78 points (63 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (63 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 75 points (60 GP so far)
- Buffalo Sabres, 68 points (64 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 65 points (62 GP so far)
The Atlantic Division was already determined in December. Nothing should surprise anyone, except for how close it should be coming down the wire for first place in the division.
It might seem crazy considering the Tampa Bay Lightning really bolstered their defense with Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline, but Boston and Toronto have as much speed and offense to remain in the hunt for that little “Y” next to their names down the stretch. Plus it helps that the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs aren’t playing each other every night, so that has to factor in their somehow.
Between 4th and 6th in the division it’s anyone’s game. The Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers are all teetering on the edge of either a rebuild or just a few steps away from a re-tool-on-the-fly.
Neither of them are inherently “ideal”, but they can’t do anything else to compete with Tampa, Boston and Toronto.
It’s worth noting that the Buffalo Sabres will barely climb out of the basement of the division this year. And that’s without Jack Eichel (fractured ankle).
Simply put, the Ottawa Senators are beyond bad.
- z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 108 points (64 GP so far)
- x-Philadelphia Flyers, 99 points (63 GP so far)
- x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points (63 GP so far)
- wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (63 GP so far)
- wc2-Washington Capitals, 94 points (64 GP so far)
- New York Islanders, 87 points (64 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 75 points (63 GP so far)
- New York Rangers, 72 points (64 GP so far)
After much turbulence leading up to this month in the Metropolitan Division, it seems by the end of the month, we’ll have a clear picture of who’s really a contender, who’s making a Second Round exit and who’s just pretending to be on the ice when they’re actually sending out some pretty high-tech holograms on the ice.
In other words, the Pittsburgh Penguins are suited for a three-peat as long as Matt Murray can stay healthy. Even still, they’re beginning to peak at the right time as they have done every year with Mike Sullivan behind the bench.
But who’s that neighbor of theirs in Pennsylvania? They might have to re-grease some poles in Philadelphia, because the Flyers are surging right now and it should carry them into decent playoff position.
The New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals all remain competitive, but sadly fall victim to First or Second Round exits simply because have you seen the rest of the Eastern Conference? Yeah, I thought so too.
One of these years if the Carolina Hurricanes look to actually spend a little more money they’ll be able to take their money-puck approach back to the postseason for the first time since 2009, but this year is not that year. They didn’t do anything at the deadline and it shows.
- p-Winnipeg Jets, 116 points (63 GP so far)
- x-Minnesota Wild, 104 points (63 GP so far)
- x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (62 GP so far)
- wc2-St. Louis Blues, 92 points (65 GP so far)
- Dallas Stars, 92 points (63 GP so far)
- Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (63 GP so far)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 70 points (63 GP so far)
Your President’s Trophy winners, ladies and gentlemen, entering March 2018 should be the Winnipeg Jets.
That’s right, the team in Winnipeg, Manitoba with a seating capacity of a little more than 15,000 fans at Bell MTS Place. That one. Winnipeg. The Western Conference’s Carolina Hurricanes. They aren’t big spenders, yet they bought exactly what they needed at the trade deadline in Paul Stastny.
Meanwhile, apparently Eric Staal‘s first hat trick in a little over five years is enough to catapult the Minnesota Wild on a surprising run down the stretch. Though they are currently 3rd in the Central Division, Minnesota is coming alive.
It’s hard to knock the Nashville Predators off of their game– especially while they’re in command of the division– but something just doesn’t go exactly as planned this month for the Preds.
They’ll still beat Minnesota in the First Round and set themselves up for quite a matchup with Winnipeg in the Second Round though. Obviously the winner of that is going to battle the Vegas Golden Knights for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.
A warning to the St. Louis Blues– keep up this downward trend and the Dallas Stars will replace you in the wild card.
Whatever upper body injury is plaguing Corey Crawford is only making things worse for the Chicago Blackhawks.
In some models, they should be a lot better than they are right now, but that’s due to their impressive streak of success from 2010-17. Now, in 2018, the wheels fell off and the floor fell out from under them– on top of the Crawford injury.
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (63 GP so far)
- x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points (64 GP so far)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 100 points (64 GP so far)
- wc1-San Jose Sharks, 94 points (64 GP so far)
- Calgary Flames, 78 points (65 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (63 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 77 points (64 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 63 points (62 GP so far)
The Vegas Golden Knights, in their inaugural season, come up three points shy of winning the 2017-18 President’s Trophy as the team with the best regular season record. The Vegas Golden Knights.
Despite the push from all of the California clubs, this is Vegas’s division title to lose. Not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs too.
No amount of onslaught from the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks should be able to stand a seven-game series with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the Golden Knights. Having said that though, it’s a shame the San Jose Sharks will likely pair-up with the Jets, because we’ll never get to know if Vegas could single handedly defeat all three California teams en route to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
That’s assuming a lot, but let’s roll with it.
All season long the Calgary Flames have been a lovable underdog. Unfortunately, their time is cut short. All good things must come to an end and again, if you’re going to do nothing at the deadline as a fringe competitor, you can’t expect to improve.
At least you shouldn’t, otherwise well, you know the definition of insanity (doing the same thing and expecting a different result).
Better luck next year, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes.
It’s Wednesday in the NHL, and as usual it’s a light schedule.
The action begins at 7:30 p.m. when the Senators pay a visit to Detroit to take on the Red Wings (SN/TVAS), and Chicago at the New York Rangers (NBCSN) drops the puck half an hour later to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
While I run the risk of repeating things I said Monday, the contest that should draw everyone’s attention is taking place at Madison Square Garden.
For those that love Original Six matchups, you’re welcome. It’s been a while since we’ve featured such a game, as the last was Boston at Detroit three weeks ago.
Of course, it hasn’t been anywhere near that long since we last featured the 21-13-5 Rangers, as their 3-2 overtime victory in the Winter Classic at Citi Field – a road game a whopping 10 miles from home – was the NHL’s lone game on New Year’s Day.
The Rangers, who are currently the Eastern Conference’s top wildcard, are rolling right now, as they’ve earned a 5-1-2 record over their past eight showings, and that success has been largely because of the dominance on the defensive end. Of course, what should we expect from a team that has the luxury of having 18-9-4 G Henrik Lundqvist on its roster. Lundqvist has won the (t)eighth-most games this season, and his two shutouts are (t)10th-most in the NHL.
Lundqvist has been in net for all but one of the tilts over this eight-game run, and he’s found a lot of success. He’s posted a .943 save percentage and 2.07 GAA (both top-10 efforts among the 31 goalies with at least four starts since December 15).
If this game comes down to which goaltender is better, I’d put my money on New York because 16-9-2 G Corey Crawford is going to be unavailable to the 18-14-6 Blackhawks for the foreseeable future. He was placed on injured reserve last week with an upper body injury with no timetable of when he could return to the ice.
That wouldn’t be good news if Chicago was atop the Western Conference like it has been for most of the last decade, but it’s even worse since the Hawks are currently four points behind Anaheim for the second wild card.
The Hawks’ struggles aren’t Crawford’s fault – in fact, I’d argue that he’s the main reason they still have a shot at qualifying for the playoff for the 10th-consecutive season. Before going down with an injury, he’d posted a .929 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, the fourth- and seventh-best efforts, respectively, in the NHL.
Filling in for Crawford is already a tall task for 1-0-1 G Jeff Glass, but it doesn’t help that the Hawks are finishing an uncomfortable six-game road trip this evening. This has not been a fun jaunt from the United Center, as they’ve posted a miserable 1-3-1 record on the trip.
Glass will be making his third career start in the NHL tonight behind a defense that has allowed an average of 33.2 shots against over its last five games. He’s been decent so far, as he’s posted a .917 season save percentage and 3.46 GAA, but going up against a Rangers team that is having the success it is right now can’t be a good omen.
These teams have already squared off once before this season, and it was the Blackhawks that came away with the 6-3 victory at home on November 15. Artem Anisimov was incredible in that game, scoring what is still the only hat trick of his 10-year career. I suppose he is still a bit salty about being traded by the Rangers to Columbus for Rick Nash in the 2011 offseason. Go figure, Anisimov is also on injured reserve with an upper body injury, so the Hawks will need to find a different hero if they want to earn two points tonight.
It’s tough to pick the Blackhawks in this one. In addition to the previously mentioned injuries, their offense hasn’t been in sync all season. All signs point towards an easy Rangers win this evening.
Behind the excellent work of First Star of the Game G Marc-Andre Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knights shutout the Nashville Predators to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at T-Mobile Arena 3-0.
Fleury performed incredibly to earn his second clean sheet of the season. Especially tested in the second and third period, he saved all 29 shots he faced to keep the Knights atop the Western Conference and within four points of the league-leading Lightning.
Of course, he couldn’t do everything – a la play offense – and that’s where Second Star W Reilly Smith (D Nate Schmidt and RW Alex Tuch) comes into play. With 7:50 remaining before the second intermission, Smith took advantage of the extra room caused by W Kevin Fiala serving a too many men on the ice penalty to attack G Pekka Rinne‘s crease and bank a wrist shot off his left pad to score what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Third Star D Shea Theodore (D Deryk Engelland and Tuch) tacked on Vegas’ first insurance goal 91 seconds after the goal horn stopped blaring, and F Jon Marchessault (W David Perron and F Erik Haula) cleaned up the evening’s scoring by burying a wrister on an empty net with 2:23 remaining in the game.
Rinne took the loss after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage), his second consecutive loss and fourth in his last five appearances.
Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day are rolling since the holiday break, as they’ve won four of the last five featured games and earned points in five of the last six. As such, their 50-27-11 record in the series is 25 points superior to that of the roadies.
Here at Down the Frozen River, we always try to keep things fresh. For your viewing pleasure, we will begin bringing you a weekly rendition of our staff’s NHL Power Rankings. Hockey is a funny game, in that winning streaks, slumps, and hot players are constantly changing. We will bring you our humble opinions on the top ten best teams in the league, based on the previous week’s performances. Sure the overall record is what matters most at the end of the season, but as sports writers, we like to pick at the details along the way. Without further ado, here is our first edition of Down the Frozen River’s NHL Power Rankings!
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (52)
Current Record – 24-6-2
Last Ten Games – 8-2-0; Streak – W7
Well, it makes a lot of sense for the Lightning to be our top team this week. When you win seven in a row, it isn’t really a question. They could have cooled down after their fantastic start, but they continue to be one of the league’s top teams. They are four points ahead of the three teams tied for second in the NHL, including three games in hand on the Blues and Kings. It will be interesting to see if Steve Yzerman makes a move as the trade deadline draws closer. Either way, consider this team a lock for the playoffs.
2. Washington Capitals (48)
Current Record – 21-12-1
Last Ten Games – 8-2-0; Streak – W3
The only team as hot as Tampa Bay in the last ten games are the upbeat Capitals. For a couple weeks there, Washington seemed to be losing their identity, falling behind in the Metropolitan race. Riding off the backs of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby, this team has won eight of their last ten and are tied with New Jersey for the division lead. It’s never a good idea to bet against the Capitals, at least during the regular season.
3. Philadelphia Flyers (47)
Current Record – 14-12-7
Last Ten Games – 6-3-1; Streak – L1
Keep in mind these rankings are based on the previous week’s play, in which the Flyers were riding a six-game winning streak. They did lose 1-4 to a the Kings last night, but we’ll let that one slide. After going ten games without a victory, the Flyers look like they have put their puzzle back together. They could have been the next team to be unofficially knocked out of the playoffs, but they kept themselves in the picture. Although they are still four points out of contention, there is plenty of hockey left to be played.
4. Nashville Predators (37)
Current Record – 21-7-4
Last Ten Games – 7-1-2; Streak – W3
Earlier in the season, the Predators seemed like an average hockey team. After a momentum swing and a big trade in their favor, they are streaking through the month of December. One guy doesn’t make a team, but he sure can make a big difference. Nashville is 13-2-2 after trading for Kyle Turris, who has 4 goals and 13 assists with his new team. Keep an eye on this team as they continue to perform well every night.
5. Vegas Golden Knights (35)
Current Record – 21-9-2
Last Ten Games – 6-3-1; Streak – W2
Everyone surely thought the Golden Knights would be here at this point in the season, right? Absolutely not. Vegas continues to silence the critics and shock the hockey world as they just keep finding ways to win. Last week, their 2-1 win over Pittsburgh was impressive, but they went on the thump Florida 5-2. With the return of Marc-Andre Fleury in net, the NHL’s newest team is cruising towards 90+ points, which would likely be enough for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division. They have two very tough contests against the Lightning and Capitals, which will really test the strength of this team.
6. Chicago Blackhawks (31)
Current Record – 17-11-5
Last Ten Games – 5-3-2; Streak – W5
The Blackhawks are in a similar situation to Washington. They start losing some games, fans begin to write them off, and then the team shifts into overdrive and rattles off five straight wins. Patrick Kane has played a big role in this resurgence, but he isn’t the only one. Since returning from injury, Corey Crawford is a prefect 5-0. Not to mention, he is 9-0-2 in his last 11 games played. In his recent streak, he hasn’t allowed more than two goals against. What we’re saying is, this dude is doing that hockey and doing it well. With Crawford in net, the Blackhawks are a winning team.
7. New Jersey Devils (25)
Current Record – 19-9-5
Last Ten Games – 5-4-1; Streak W2
The sneaky Devils continue to be a force in the Metropolitan Division. Currently, they are tied with Washington for the top position. They had two big wins over the Kings and Stars last week, as well as a 5-3 victory over the Ducks just last night. The gears in Ray Shero’s head have to be turning as the team pushes towards the post-season. Short of a complete breakdown, the Devils should have no issues heading into the new year. Their next game is an important divisional matchup against New York.
8. Winnipeg Jets (13)
Current Record – 19-10-5
Last Ten Games – 4-4-2; Streak- W1
What should you make of Winnipeg? They are currently sitting in the third and final playoff spot in the Central Division, but are being heavily pursued by the Blackhawks. They have slowed down a bit, only winning four in their last ten, but just had a huge 4-0 win against the Blues, a fellow divisional opponent. After their split of the two-game series, it doesn’t get any easier for the Jets. They head to Nashville to take on the Predators. Expect this team to recover, even if they have been up-and-down as of late.
9. Los Angeles Kings (12)
Current Record – 21-10-4
Last Ten Games – 7-2-1; Streak – W1
The Kings are quietly returning to their dominant form. They have lost three of their last four, but they still remain atop the Pacific Division. The Kings’ success really fall onto the shoulders of Jonathan Quick. If he performs well, they have a chance to win. They recently ended Philadelphia’s six-game winning streak, which also ended their own three-game skid. There should be nothing to worry about in Los Angeles, as the Kings face the Avalanche and Canucks in two of their next four games.
10. Carolina Hurricanes (10)
Current Record – 14-11-7
Last Ten Games – 4-3-3; Streak – W3
The Hurricanes have been all over the board, but have recently picked up the pace. Their three-game steak has them back in the playoff discussion and trending in the right direction. In their last game, they proved that great goaltending and solid defensive play can win hockey games, as they defeated Columbus 2-1. They look to take advantage of the struggling Maple Leafs in their next tilt.
How We Picked ‘Em
Jordan – #1 Tampa Bay Lightning, #2 Washington Capitals, #3 Chicago Blackhawks, #4 Philadelphia Flyers, #5 Nashville Predators, #6 Vegas Golden Knights, #7 Los Angeles Kings, #8 Pittsburgh Penguins, #9 New York Rangers, #10 St. Louis Blues
Cap’n – #1 Tampa Bay Lightning, #2 Washington Capitals, #3 Nashville Predators, #4 Vegas Golden Knights, #5 New Jersey Devils, #6 Chicago Blackhawks, #7 Philadelphia Flyers, #8 Winnipeg Jets, #9 Carolina Hurricanes, #10 San Jose Sharks
Nick – #1 Tampa Bay Lightning, #2 Philadelphia Flyers, #3 Nashville Predators, #4 Washington Capitals, #5 Vegas Golden Knights, #6 Los Angeles Kings, #7 New Jersey Devils, #8 New York Rangers, #9 Winnipeg Jets, #10 Chicago Blackhawks
Peter – #1 Philadelphia Flyers, #2 Tampa Bay Lightning, #3 Vegas Golden Knights, #4 Washington Capitals, #5 New Jersey Devils, #6 Nashville Predators, #7 Winnipeg Jets, #8 Chicago Blackhawks, #9 Anaheim Ducks, #10 Carolina Hurricanes
Colby – #1 Tampa Bay Lightning, #2 Washington Capitals, #3 Nashville Predators, #4 Philadelphia Flyers, #5 Chicago Blackhawks, #6 Vegas Golden Knights, #7 Winnipeg Jets, #8 Los Angeles Kings, #9 Carolina Hurricanes, #10 New York Rangers
Connor – #1 Philadelphia Flyers, #2 New Jersey Devils, #3 Chicago Blackhawks, #4 Washington Capitals, #5 Anaheim Ducks, #6 Carolina Hurricanes, #7 Vegas Golden Knights, #8 Tampa Bay Lightning, #9 Nashville Predators, #10 Dallas Stars
It’s Sunday Funday in the NHL, as there’s four games on today’s schedule.
The action starts at 6 p.m. in Manitoba when St. Louis visits Winnipeg, followed an hour later by Minnesota at Chicago. Tonight’s co-nightcaps (Calgary at Vancouver [SN] and Florida at Vegas) find an early start this evening, as their opening puck drops are slated for 8 p.m. All times Eastern.
Believe it or not, I can come up with a reason to watch each and every one of tonight’s contests:
- St. Louis at Winnipeg: Not only is this an important Central Division showdown, but it’s also Chris Thorburn‘s first return to Winnipeg – his home for the past six years – since joining the Blues.
- Minnesota at Chicago: This rivalry has provided some thrillers in the past, and I expect more of the same tonight between these playoff hopefuls.
- Calgary at Vancouver: With both teams trailing the Sharks in the standings, this rivalry is even bigger than usual.
- Florida at Vegas: Connor Brickley was a Golden Knight for 10 days this offseason, so I suppose this counts as an awkward homecoming, but this game is more about Head Coach Gerard Gallant, Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith showing the Panthers how silly they were for letting them leave.
Since we featured the Blues and Jets yesterday, that matchup that is calling my name today is taking place at the United Center. Off to the Windy City!
As the standings currently stand, the 16-11-5 Blackhawks currently occupy eighth place in the Western Conference and the second wild card position. Though they’ve struggled the last few times we’ve featured them in the DtFR Game of the Day series, it seems they’re finally figuring things out, as they’re currently riding a four-game winning streak.
The biggest reason for this recent success has been the dominating play of 15-7-2 Corey Crawford. Having been in net for all four games, he’s managed an impressive .952 save percentage and 1.45 GAA since December 8, both efforts among the top five of the 27 goaltenders with at least three starts in that time span.
If not for Crawford, the Hawks might not have been on this hot streak considering his defense has allowed him to face 125 shots over the last four games. Averaging out to 31.25 per game, its the fifth-highest total any netminder has faced since December 8.
Crawford’s considerable work load certainly isn’t the fault of John Hayden, Nick Schmaltz or Brent Seabrook. During this streak, they’ve respectively thrown a team-leading 14 hits, managed five takeaways and blocked nine shots. While those efforts have been impressive, it obviously hasn’t inspired their teammates all that much.
For a team to move into playoff position, another has to fall out of the picture. That team was 17-12-3 Minnesota, a team who just had a four-game winning streak of their own snapped yesterday by the Oilers.
Just like Chicago, the Wild have been finding most of their success of late with some incredible goaltending. Unfortunately, 12-8-2 starter Devan Dubnyk suffered a lower body injury on December 12, so it’ll be interesting to see how 9-5-4 Alex Stalock performs in his stead.
If his play since December 12 has been any indicator, it seems the Wild should be just fine. Since replacing Dubnyk in Tuesday’s game against the Flames, he’s posted a .946 save percentage that includes a shutout against the Maple Leafs’ potent offense.
Even with how well he’s played so far, I have concerns that he’ll start regressing to the mean due to the average-at-best defense playing in front of him. The Wild have allowed an average of 31.84 shots against per game this season, and most of that was before Jared Spurgeon and his team-leading 2.21 blocks-per-game went down with a groin injury.
This is the third of five meetings this season between these two clubs. The last time they met was November 4 at the Xcel Energy Center, and they played to a 2-0 Hawks victory. Given Minnesota’s defense, I have to lean towards the Blackhawks duplicating that success and earning two points this evening.
Earning his first shutout of the season, First Star of the Game Carter Hutton led the St. Louis Blues to a 2-0 victory against the Winnipeg Jets at Scottrade Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Meanwhile, Steve Mason also posted a solid effort by saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage) – including all 18 at even strength – but two power play offerings were able to sneak past him.
The first, which proved to be the game-winner, was buried 9:16 into the contest courtesy of Second Star Vladimir Tarasenko (Alex Steen and Colton Parayko). With Andrew Copp in the penalty box for tripping Brayden Schenn, Steen slung a wrist shot at Mason from the right face-off dot that was deflected towards the opposite dot. Unfortunately for the netminder, Tarasenko was waiting to collect the rebound, and he elevated his wrister over the diving Mason to give the Notes a 1-0 lead.
After that, Mason kept the Blues off the board until only 2:26 remained in regulation. Third Star Vince Dunn (Tarasenko and Schenn) took advantage of Patrik Laine‘s double minor penalty for hi sticking Robert Bortuzzo to sneak a wrister past the netminder and set the 2-0 final score.
For the first time since December 6-7, home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have won consecutive games. That elevates their record to 41-24-9, which is 16 points better than the roadies’ record.