The 2021-22 season is well underway, so let’s bring back our 6th Annual Participation Trophies After One Game awards ceremony!
Despite outshooting the Philadelphia Flyers, 40-25, the Boston Bruins lost, 6-3, on the road at Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night in front of a national TV audience in their first regular season matchup on TNT.
Martin Jones (1-0-0, 3.00 goals-against average, .925 save percentage in one game played) made 37 saves on 40 shots against en route to the win in his Flyers debut.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Swayman (1-1-0, 3.03 goals-against average, .885 save percentage in two games played) stopped 19 out of 24 shots faced for Boston in the loss.
Cam Atkinson had a pair of goals, while Sean Couturier, Joel Farabee, Derick Brassard and Keith Yandle each had a pair of points in Philadelphia’s victory.
The Bruins fell to 1-1-0 (two points) on the season and remain 7th in the Atlantic Division standings, while Philly improved to 2-0-1 (five points) and jumped into a three-way tie for 2nd in the Metropolitan Division.
Once again, Curtis Lazar (upper body) was out of the lineup for Boston as head coach, Bruce Cassidy, declined to make any adjustments to his group of forwards and defenders after opening the season with a, 3-1, win against the Dallas Stars last Saturday.
As such, John Moore, Jakub Zboril and Anton Blidh joined Lazar in the press box as healthy scratches.
As a result of the loss, the Bruins are 0-1-0 against the Flyers so far this season. Boston went 6-1-1 against Philadelphia in 2020-21, and 1-0-2 against Philly in 2019-20.
Atkinson (2) kicked things off on a 2-on-1, where instead of passing the puck, he faked a pass and fired a shot off of Swayman’s glove side and into the twine to give the Flyers a, 1-0, lead.
Brassard (3) and Justin Braun (2) tallied the assists on Atkinson’s first goal of the game at 8:08 of the first period.
Moments later, Rasmus Ristolainen cut a rut to the penalty box for interference away from the rubber biscuit as he tied up and took down Bruins captain, Patrice Bergeron, at 13:52.
Boston’s ensuing power play couldn’t get anything going on the skater advantage, but took advantage of the vulnerable minute after special teams play as Trent Frederic sent a shot inadvertently off of a Philadelphia defender before Karson Kuhlman (1) sent the rolling puck under Jones’ blocker side– tying the game, 1-1, in the process.
Frederic (1) and Tomas Nosek (1) notched the assists on Kuhlman’s goal at 16:48.
Less than a couple of minutes later, however, Charlie Coyle tripped up Travis Sanheim and was sent to the sin bin with a minor infraction at 18:25.
Philadelphia didn’t waste too much time on the ensuing skater advantage as Ryan Ellis sent a shot from the point off of Brassard before Farabee (3) banked it in off of Swayman’s paddle while the B’s netminder reached in desperation for the puck.
Farabee’s power-play goal put the Flyers back on top, 2-1, at 19:51 of the first period.
Entering the first intermission, the Bruins trailed, 2-1, on the scoreboard despite leading in shots on goal, 10-7.
Philadelphia held the advantage in blocked shots (10-6), takeaways (3-1), giveaways (6-1), hits (13-9) and faceoff win percentage (60-40) after 20 minutes.
Philly was 1/1 on the power play, while Boston was 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.
Yandle sent a dump pass off the endboards indirectly to James van Riemsdyk whereby No. 25 on the Flyers flung a shot on goal that rebounded to Scott Laughton in the slot.
Laughton (1) capitalized on the errant puck and hit the twine to give Philadelphia a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 1:58 of the second period.
van Riemsdyk (2) and Yandle (5) were credited with the assists.
Almost midway through the middle period, Charlie McAvoy sent Taylor Hall up through the neutral zone into the attacking zone on a breakaway whereby Hall (1) beat Jones with an elevated shot under the bar on Jones’ glove side.
McAvoy (1) had the only assist on Hall’s first goal of the season as Boston pulled to within one– trailing, 3-2, at 8:38 of the second period.
With about a minute left on the clock until the second intermission, McAvoy worked the puck low into the attacking zone to David Pastrnak behind the net.
Pastrnak wrapped the rubber biscuit around the goal frame before slipping the puck through the crease to Brad Marchand (3) for a bit of slight redirection goal, tying the game, 3-3, in the process.
Pastrnak (2) and McAvoy (2) notched the assists at 19:00.
With a pair of assists on the night, McAvoy reached a career milestone of 100 assists in 237 career NHL games since making his league debut with the Bruins in the 2017-18 season.
Doesn’t sound too bad for a defender that just signed an eight-year extension worth $9.500 million per season that starts next season.
Through 40 minutes of action, the game was tied, 3-3, despite Boston outshooting the Flyers, 28-17, including an, 18-10, advantage in the second period alone.
Philadelphia, however, still dominated in just about everything else, including blocked shots (17-15), takeaways (6-4), giveaways (9-4) and hits (24-19), while both teams split faceoff win%, 50-50.
As there were no penalties called in the middle frame, the Flyers remained 1/1 on the power play, while the Bruins were still 0/1.
Less than a minute into the final frame, Farabee set up Atkinson (3) for a one-timed redirection goal past Swayman’s pad to give the Flyers the advantage on the scoreboard once more.
Farabee (3) had the only assists on what turned out to be the game-winning goal 58 seconds into the third period as Philadelphia emerged with a, 4-3, lead.
Midway through the final period, Couturier dropped a pass back to Travis Konecny (3) for an easy shot over Swayman’s glove and under the bar from about mid-range.
Couturier (3) and Claude Giroux (1) had the assists as the Flyers pulled ahead, 5-3, at 11:17 of the third.
Shortly thereafter, the Bruins tweeted that forward, Nick Foligno, would not return to Wednesday night’s action with an upper-body injury.
Late in the period, Brandon Carlo took a roughing minor and was sent to the box at 17:43.
With 1:18 remaining in the action, Swayman vacated his crease for an extra attacker while shorthanded.
Yandle worked the puck to Couturier (1) who flung a clearing attempt towards the empty net for the empty net power-play goal– sealing the deal on Philadelphia’s, 6-3, victory at 19:01 of the third period.
Yandle (5) had the only assist on Couturier’s goal from way downtown where Ben Simmons normally misses three pointers– further than that really.
At the final horn, the Flyers had won, 6-3, despite finishing the night trailing in shots on goal, 40-25.
Boston held the advantage in shots on net in the third period alone (12-8), while Philadelphia left their own building leading in blocked shots (23-18), giveaways (12-6), hits (35-32) and faceoff win% (52-48).
The Flyers went 2/2 on the power play on Wednesday, while the Bruins went 0/1.
The B’s fell to 0-1-0 (0-1-0 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 0-1-0 (0-1-0 on the road) when trailing after the first period and 1-1-0 (0-1-0 on the road) when tied after two periods this season.
Philly, meanwhile, improved to 2-0-1 (2-0-1 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal, 2-0-1 (2-0-1 at home) when leading after the first period and 1-0-0 (1-0-0 at home) when tied after the second period in 2021-22.
The Bruins wrap up their two-game road trip on Friday at KeyBank Center against the Buffalo Sabres before returning home on Sunday to host the San Jose Sharks.
The B’s travel again for another two-game road trip next week on Wednesday at FLA Live Arena against the Florida Panthers and Thursday at PNC Arena against the Carolina Hurricanes before closing out the month of October at home against the Panthers on next Saturday (Oct. 30th).
Brad Marchand kicked things off with a rare feat in the National Hockey League– opening a season with a penalty shot goal– before adding a late empty net goal for insurance in the Boston Bruins’, 3-1, win against the Dallas Stars at TD Garden on Saturday.
For the first time in nine years, a goaltender other than Tuukka Rask served as the starter for Boston on Opening Night, while Jeremy Swayman also became the first Bruins rookie to earn the start since Blaine Lacher did just that on Jan. 22, 1995, in the lockout shortened 48-game 1994-95 season.
Swayman (1-0-0, 1.00 goals-against average, .964 save percentage in one game played) turned aside 27 out of 28 shots faced in the win for Boston.
Meanwhile, Stars netminder, Braden Holtby (0-1-0, 2.26 goals-against average, .939 save percentage in two games played), made 37 saves on 39 shots against for a .949 save percentage in the loss.
With the win, the Bruins kicked off their season 1-0-0 (2 points) and moved into a tie for sixth place in the Atlantic Division with the Ottawa Senators, while Dallas fell to 1-1-0 (4 points) and tied for third in the Central Division with the Colorado Avalanche.
Curtis Lazar (upper body) missed the Opening Night action as he remains week-to-week since sustaining an injury during the preseason.
Boston captain, Patrice Bergeron, centered the first line in his usual role between Marchand and David Pastrnak on his wings, while Taylor Hall and Craig Smith surrounded Charlie Coyle on the second line.
Bruins newcomers, Erik Haula and Nick Foligno were slotted on the third line at center and right wing, respectively, while Jake DeBrusk suited up at left wing.
Tomas Nosek centered the fourth line in his Boston debut with Trent Frederic on his left and Karson Kuhlman on his right side.
Derek Forbort made his Bruins debut on the first defensive pairing alongside the newly extended, $76 million richer, Charlie McAvoy, while Mike Reilly was paired with Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk suited up alongside Connor Clifton.
In the crease, Linus Ullmark served as Swayman’s backup.
John Moore, Jakub Zboril and Anton Blidh joined Lazar on the short list of healthy scratches and injured players for Boston.
Not much was happening until about midway through the opening frame as the Bruins dominated in shots on goal, while end-to-end play ensued.
Then, at 9:35 of the first period, former Minnesota Wild turned Stars defender, Ryan Suter, hooked DeBrusk and was assessed a minor infraction.
Boston’s ensuing power play was cut short, however, as Smith tripped up Andrej Sekera along the endboards at 10:58.
The two teams skated at 4-on-4 for about 37 seconds before Dallas earned an abbreviated power play that went by the wayside.
Late in the period, Marchand skated towards Holtby on a breakaway with Suter hot on his tail, whereby Suter promptly held Marchand’s stick denying No. 63 in black and gold of a scoring opportunity while on the breakaway– yielding a penalty shot for Boston at 17:38.
Marchand (1) skated towards the crease with speed and beat Holtby with a clean shot above the pad, but under the blocker to give the Bruins the, 1-0, lead on a penalty shot goal.
It was the first penalty shot goal in a season opener for Boston since now current assistant coach, Chris Kelly, scored on a penalty shot goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 3, 2013.
Marchand’s penalty shot goal in a season opener was also just the third instance of such an Opening Night goal in league history as Mats Sundin had done so first with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 4, 2006, prior to Kelly’s penalty shot goal in 2013, and Marchand’s on Saturday night.
About a minute later, Roope Hintz caught a skate to the face and bled profusely as he skated off the ice and went down the tunnel. Hintz later returned to the game after the first intermission.
The Bruins presented the Stars with another power play opportunity to close out the opening frame as McAvoy smothered the puck with his hand, yielding a delay of game infraction at 19:08.
Once more, however, Dallas’ power play unit couldn’t get anything going as the horn sounded to signal the end of the first period with Boston ahead on the scoreboard, 1-0, and in shots on goal, 17-4.
The Bruins also held the advantage in hits (15-14), while the Stars led in blocked shots (3-2), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (5-2) and faceoff win percentage (54-46).
Dallas was 0/2 on the power play while the B’s were 0/1 heading into the middle frame.
Jacob Peterson caught Pastrnak away from the puck and was sent to the penalty box with an interference minor to kick things off at 4:51 of the second period, but Boston’s power play– like Dallas’ special teams– couldn’t get anything past Holtby on the skater advantage.
Shortly thereafter, Luke Glendening (1) capitalized on some open space in the slot where he received a pass from Tanner Kero before wiring a shot past Swayman to tie the game, 1-1, after the Bruins botched a clearing attempt in their own zone.
Kero (1) had the only assist on Glendening’s first goal in a Stars uniform at 9:15 of the second period.
Almost two minutes later, Jamie Benn cross checked Smith and cut a rut to the sin bin at 11:29, but Boston’s resulting power play was cut short by a hook when McAvoy tugged his stick around Glendening at 12:40.
Once more, the two teams skated at 4-on-4 before a brief power play for the Stars– which later turned into a short 5-on-3 advantage for Dallas as Marchand tripped Esa Lindell behind the Stars’ own net at 14:30.
Dallas couldn’t send another puck behind Swayman, however.
Through 40 minutes of action at TD Garden on Saturday night, the Bruins and Stars were tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard despite Boston leading in shots on goal, 28-14, including an, 11-9, advantage in the second period alone.
Dallas led in blocked shots (9-7), takeaways (4-3), hits (25-19) and faceoff win% (51-49), while Boston led in giveaways (7-6) after two periods.
The Stars were 0/4 and the Bruins were 0/3 on the power play heading into the second intermission.
Early in the final frame, Haula rushed into the attacking zone before dropping a pass for Foligno, whereby the Bruins winger flung the rubber biscuit towards the net as DeBrusk cycled down low.
Foligno’s initial attempt couldn’t get through, but DeBrusk (1) collected the loose puck and slipped it through Holtby to give Boston a, 2-1, lead at 4:43 of the third period, as well as Foligno (1) and Haula (1) their first points in a Bruins uniform with the primary and secondary assists, respectively.
Midway through the period, Foligno interfered with Alexander Radulov, but the Stars couldn’t muster anything on the ensuing power play opportunity at 11:12.
Hintz hooked Forbort at 14:25, but Boston’s bench miscalculated the number of skaters on the ice and was assessed a bench minor for too many men at the whistle, resulting in two minutes of 4-on-4 action.
With 2:05 remaining in the game, Stars head coach, Rick Bowness, pulled Holtby for an extra attacker, but it wasn’t enough to keep the puck in Dallas’ possession for a late comeback as Marchand (2) emerged from the neutral zone with plenty of space and time to assure the Bruins of the victory with an empty net goal at 18:23 of the third period.
Pastrnak (1) had the only assist on the goal as Marchand made it, 3-1, Boston.
Holtby vacated his crease for an extra skater with about 1:14 remaining and then again with about 38.3 seconds left in the game as Reilly sent the puck out of play for an automatic delay of game penalty at 19:21.
At the final horn, the Bruins had won, 3-1, and finished the night leading in shots on goal, 40-28, despite Dallas leading a valiant effort in the third period with a, 14-12, advantage in shots on goal in the final frame alone.
The Stars left Boston leading in blocked shots (11-8), giveaways (11-7), hits (33-25) and faceoff win% (53-47).
Dallas went 0/6, while the Bruins went 0/3 on the power play in their season opener.
The B’s improved to 1-0-0 (1-0-0 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal, 1-0-0 (1-0-0 at home) when leading after the first period and 1-0-0 (1-0-0 at home) when tied after two periods in 2021-22.
The Stars, meanwhile, fell to 0-1-0 (0-1-0 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 0-1-0 (0-1-0 on the road) when trailing after one period and 1-1-0 (1-1-0 on the road) when tied after two periods this season.
The Bruins hit the road for their first road trip of the 2021-22 season with a pair of games next week.
Boston heads to Wells Fargo Center next Wednesday to take on the Philadelphia Flyers before venturing up to KeyBank Center to square off with the Buffalo Sabres next Friday.
The B’s return home to TD Garden on Oct. 24th against the San Jose Sharks.
It is time. The 2021-22 season is upon us.
Technically it already started, but we’ll ignore the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins spoiled the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup champion banner night with a, 6-2, victory on the road before the Vegas Golden Knights held off a Seattle Kraken comeback in a, 4-3, win at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night.
And then Wednesday’s games happened too.
Let’s hit the “reset” button for a second and pretend the 2021-22 is about to get underway. All 32 National Hockey League teams have a chance at clinching 16 available playoff berths.
Any of the 16 teams that make the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs could etch 52 names from their roster, front office and organization on the Stanley Cup next June.
The usual divisions– Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan and Pacific– have returned as have the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. The regular playoff format is back (three teams per division, two wild cards per conference qualify, plus the Conference Finals round returns in place of the Stanley Cup Semfinals in 2021).
A full 82-game regular season schedule is slated from October through the end of April with a three-week break in February for the 2022 All Star Game in Las Vegas and the 2022 Winter Games taking precedence before a return to NHL action down the stretch with the postseason kicking off in May like last year and the 2022-23 season likely returning to the pre-pandemic timeline (2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs starting in April).
The 2022 NHL Entry Draft will be in Montréal on July 7th and 8th, while free agency begins on July 13th, but between now and then, we’ve got the 2021-22 regular season to enjoy.
Using last season’s team goals for and team goals against, plus some other “magic numbers” as part of an expected points model, we’re able to project what 2021-22 could be for all 32 teams (yes, even the Seattle Kraken, despite this year being their first season)– though you’ll have to pretend there were no transactions made in the offseason.
In other words, don’t think that any of what you’re about to see is set in stone– view it more as a suggestion for a possible outcome.
Also, please remember my degree is in communication, so any math beyond figuring out “goals + assists = season point totals” doesn’t exist.
In a normal year (like from 2017-18 to 2018-19, for example), you just take all the data from the 82-game schedule for each team plug it into a formula in a spreadsheet, then line things up accordingly in each division.
However, just like how the shortened 2019-20 season disrupted the regular process for projecting a 2020-21 standings outlook, going from last season’s stats in a 56-game schedule to projecting a regular 82-game season in 2021-22 necessitated the use of forecasting point pace as part of the formula.
As for Seattle, a simple means of taking the NHL stats from last season for every player on their roster and plugging it in for a 2021-22 result is exactly what I did.
We’re all just making it up as we go along, folks. These are projections. They are not absolutes.
For the sake of keeping it simple, here’s a look at how things could go (but probably not) in each division for the upcoming 2021-22 season.
The overall vibe of the Central Division for 2021-22 is that it’s just more of exactly what you’d expect. The Colorado Avalanche are lightyears ahead of everyone else, while Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild continue to be on the rise and everyone else fights for what they can earn.
Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether or not the Winnipeg Jets can breakthrough as Canada’s team and break the Canadian curse (become the first Canadian club to win the Cup since 1993).
Will Colorado finally break through the Second Round and win the Cup?
Are the Avalanche just the Toronto Maple Leafs but with a little more success? My column:
No, but really, it’s worth asking if the Avs making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2002, is more like Toronto’s struggle to make it out of the First Round for the first time since 2004, or is Colorado’s struggle more like the Washington Capitals pre-2018?
The Caps won three Presidents’ Trophies in 2009-10, 2015-16 and 2016-17, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round– let alone the Pittsburgh Penguins– until they finally did and ended up surging in momentum all the way to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Colorado, on the other hand, has already won the Cup twice (1996 and 2001) and also has three Presidents’ Trophies to their name in 1996-97, 2000-01 and 2020-21, so if recent history has anything to tell us it’s that yet another team with high expectations for at least a few seasons now only to come up short could very well go on to win it all after winning the Presidents’ Trophy the previous year.
Either that or they’ll have to win it in back-to-back seasons like Washington did before they won the Cup in 2018.
Then again, the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the Detroit Red Wings’ record for most wins in the regular season (62), securing the Presidents’ Trophy in the process in 2018-19, then got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 First Round.
The very next year, however, Tampa kicked off back-to-back Cup rings in 2020 and 2021, to be where they are now as the two-time defending champions likely standing in the path as the only other favorites outside of the Avalanche this season.
Anyway, the Avs mostly kept things the same from last season to this season, losing Joonas Donskoi to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Brandon Saad to the St. Louis Blues in free agency and making minor swaps among replacement level bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defenders.
Oh, then there’s this whole thing about how Philipp Grubauer left for Seattle in free agency too, so Colorado acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes.
Between Dallas, Nashville and St. Louis, who will realistically make the playoffs?
The Stars are projected to finish with about 94 points, the Predators sit at 92 points and the Blues are around 91 points in this one projection, but don’t let the points alone be your deciding factor.
Given the strength of the Central Division compared to the Pacific Division, you can bet on five teams making out of the Central among Western Conference playoff berths.
As such, the spread is the difference maker between these three teams expected to be in the wild card hunt– it’s going to come down to the wire one way or another.
Dallas bolstered their goaltending depth by signing Braden Holtby, Nashville traded Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis is… …better than last season on paper?
I mean, the Blues signed Saad, acquired Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in exchange for Sammy Blais, let Seattle claim Vince Dunn at the expansion draft and let Mike Hoffman walk to the Montréal Canadiens in July.
You could say they took a hit here or there, but those aren’t “nobody names” by any means, however.
If Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso can stabilize things in the crease, then St. Louis has a better situation than the Predators.
The Stars, meanwhile, should benefit from a longer season where more of their core guys– like Tyler Seguin, for example– are healthy. Last season’s COVID-19 outbreak to kick things off in January really killed Dallas’ momentum as a team on the verge of being in the 2021 postseason.
Dallas should get back into the swing of things and St. Louis should be able to stay relevant for at least another year, but how hard the Preds rely on Juuse Saros as their starting goaltender will dictate whether or not they’re able to play spoiler with David Rittich as their backup since Pekka Rinne retired.
Can Arizona avoid the basement?
Anything is possible at this point. Loui Eriksson and Andrew Ladd were scoring goals in the postseason, so a fresh start could be just what both players needed for the last few years at least.
That said, Coyotes General Manager, Bill Armstrong, gave a Masterclass™️ in how to go about rebuilding by selling everything over the summer and taking on “bad” contracts with only one or two years remaining in hopes of playing just well enough to be bad enough without making it look obvious that you’re aiming to win the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery.
The Pacific Division is the new Scotia NHL North Division from last season. In other words, it’s the worst– which is great news for the Seattle Kraken as the league’s schedule allots more division play than any other opponents (though the Kraken will play every other team in the league at least twice).
Seattle’s riding the waves of new-age expansion, while the Vegas Golden Knights lead the charge for the Presidents’ Trophy campaign in 2021-22.
Wait, Seattle in 2nd in the Pacific, really?
The Kraken have a great front office that goes beyond just Ron Francis as General Manager and have done their due diligence in scouting the best talent available to try to replicate the success of the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season in 2017-18, as well as grow beyond just 2021-22.
That said, Seattle probably isn’t going to make it out of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if they have to face the Edmonton Oilers according to this projection.
It’s a best case scenario for the NHL’s newest expansion team to be in the weakest division, but aside from having recent Stanley Cup champions Yanni Gourde, Philipp Grubauer, Jaden Schwartz and Dunn on their roster, the Kraken have a plethora of players that are relatively inexperienced with deep postseason runs.
Head coach, Dave Hakstol, also hasn’t had the consistency of making the playoffs and making it out of the First Round in his NHL coaching days, but as a team that, again, is looking to develop long-term success, these are mere growing pains Francis and Co. are willing to accept as the fan base grows.
Why aren’t the Kings making the cut this year when everyone else says they’ll be the most improved?
The simple answer is that everyone’s overrating Los Angeles when it comes to the “ready now” factor.
Sure, Kings General Manager, Rob Blake, did a good thing by getting Viktor Arvidsson in a trade with Nashville this summer to solidify his top-six forward group and signed Alex Edler to fortify his defense, but Los Angeles’ goaltending leaves something to be desired.
Here’s hoping Jonathan Quick can find a little resurgence at this point in his career, while Cal Petersen continues to come into his own.
If Los Angeles has any injuries– and they already have with Arvidsson likely missing some time due to an injury in the last preseason game– they’re already close enough to the bubble that they’ll only fall further behind.
That said, if the Kings don’t make it back to the postseason hunt in 2022, there’s a good chance they make it in 2023.
Los Angeles is improving, but by how much remains to be seen.
Will winning the Presidents’ Trophy hurt Vegas?
Eh, it’s hard to say.
The Golden Knights have packed in just about every type of heartbreak since their inception in 2017, that fans of other franchises have only experienced over the course of at least 50 years, so if Vegas pulls out the Presidents’ Trophy win in 2021-22, don’t be surprised when the inevitable happens and they win the Cup instead of doing what most other Presidents’ Trophy winners in the salary cap era have done.
Only the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings and Chicago in 2012-13, have been able to win the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup since the salary cap was introduced ahead of the 2005-06 season.
Vegas would probably join Detroit and Chicago in doing so just so the Hockey Gods can spite us again.
It’s not easy to be in the Metropolitan Division these days because, well, let’s save that for the three questions below.
Is this the toughest division to project?
The Carolina Hurricanes decided to just get rid of a few parts and pieces that helped make them good for the last few seasons, so they’re bound to regress even with Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teräväinen and Martin Necas still existing.
The Pittsburgh Penguins since 2009, have always found a way to be near the top of the division standings by the end of the regular season no matter whether or not you believe they’ll inevitably miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006, so anything could happen there.
The New York Islanders have made back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Final, so I’d expect them to be good.
The Washington Capitals are better than the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, at least, but are probably the only team on the bubble if the New Jersey Devils can come out of nowhere and be competitive this season after signing Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Bernier in the offseason.
Meanwhile, it’s time for a short rebuild in Columbus as the Blue Jackets would be quite pleased with a top draft pick in 2022.
What if Chris Drury never was promoted as General Manager of the Rangers?
They’d still fire David Quinn and hire Gerard Gallant. I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but they’d definitely reconsider about 90% of the roster decisions made this summer.
There’s no reason why the Rangers have to go down this path and yet, here they are, fumbling at the one-yard line and possibly plunging their franchise back into the Dark Ages of another rebuild. Or is it the same ongoing rebuild?
What about a team to watch like New Jersey, for example?
I’m big on the Devils this season for some strange reason.
Maybe it’s because a part of me deep down misses the trap game of the 1990s and 2000s that led to Stanley Cups for New Jersey in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
Maybe it’s because they signed Hamilton, Tatar, Bernier and acquired Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche as a supporting cast for Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich, Ty Smith and friends.
Seriously, the Devils should be good in the next few seasons, but this year could be the biggest stride forward in terms of their improvement from the basement to their development as a playoff contender.
First, pour one out for Jack Eichel. Now, let’s move on and talk about everyone else.
What does this mean for the Leafs?
Just like how the Stars, Preds and Blues are all right on top of one another in the Central Division standings, the Atlantic Division is stacked from 1st through 4th, so though Toronto leads the way in this projection, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable as a Leafs fan.
The Maple Leafs played in the worst of the four divisions last year in the temporarily realigned divisions in wake of the ongoing pandemic.
No, it’s not just because they played all the other Canadian teams across 56 games, but rather it’s due to the fact that they haven’t been able to matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and even the Boston Bruins since the 2019-20 season.
A lot and not a lot has changed since then.
Tampa is still dominant as ever, Florida has emerged as a team that’s on the rise and Boston is unpredictable in that– much like the Penguins– it could really go either way with the Bruins this season.
So now Toronto has to take on better competition within their own division and square off with teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and others that emerge towards the top of the standings outside of the Canadian teams that the Leafs are all too familiar with at this point.
That said, Toronto still has a great chance at winning the Atlantic Division regular season title or finishing 2nd and having home ice advantage in the First Round for the second-straight postseason.
Can anyone other than Toronto, Florida, Tampa or Boston make it out of the Atlantic this year?
No. Let’s be realistic here.
The Montréal Canadiens made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final despite being below .500 in the standings because every division produced four playoff berths and intra-divisional play through two rounds.
In 2020, they upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Qualifier despite finishing right at .500.
In any other non-pandemic timeline, the Canadiens would still be looking for their first playoff appearance since they lost to the New York Rangers in six games in the 2017 First Round.
That’s not to say that Nick Suzuki can’t lead the Habs back to glory, but rather that they need to improve all-around in the regular season and peaking in performance in the playoffs.
Though the Ottawa Senators promised unprecedented success from 2021-25, it’s looking like it’ll realistically be anytime between 2024-25 as in the 2024-25 season itself at this point.
Ottawa’s goaltending needs to improve, their defense could use some tweaks and the Sens are banking on their offense getting their feet underneath them and bursting in production in the coming years.
A little more patience won’t hurt them.
The same can be said for the Detroit Red Wings in that Red Wings fans already know– trust in General Manager, Steve Yzerman, is paramount. He’ll work his magic.
It just takes a little time to build a solid foundation and the first floor is almost ready to start going up.
As for the Buffalo Sabres, well…
At least they’ll hopefully give Rick Jeanneret a proper send-off before he retires as their play-by-play announcer for the last 51 years on television.
Will Tampa win three consecutive Stanley Cup championships?
I’m not ruling it out entirely, but the Lightning have a better chance of winning three Cups in four years than they do three Cups in as many years as things stand currently.
The loss of their entire third line (Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow) from last season to this season is sure to leave a mark on the development and restructuring of their bottom-six forwards.
That said, Tampa’s top-six forwards still exist and, if you haven’t already noticed, they’re very good on their own, but the best teams in the playoffs have four lines that can roll without a doubt and the Bolts might just be off the ball for a year in terms of depth.
Alright, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for your patience. By now the season’s already going on a few days into the 2021-22 calendar, so the two of us (or more if you’re reading this to a group) should probably get back to watching games.
Stay tuned for more forecasts for both standings and assorted teams throughout the season.
2020-21 record 36-17-3, 75 points
3rd in the Discover NHL Central Division
Defeated Montréal in the Stanley Cup Final
Additions: F Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, F Gabriel Dumont, F Remi Elie, F Charles Hudon, F Corey Perry, D Zach Bogosian, D Brent Seabrook (acquired from CHI), D Andrej Sustr, G Brian Elliott, G Maxime Lagacé
Subtractions: F Alex Barré-Boulet (re-signed, then claimed off waivers by SEA), F Blake Coleman (signed with CGY), F Marian Gaborik (contract expired, informally retired), F Barclay Goodrow (traded to NYR), F Yanni Gourde (expansion, SEA), F Tyler Johnson (traded to CHI), F Ryan Lohin (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Mitchell Stephens (traded to DET), F/D Luke Witkowski (signed with DET), D Andreas Borgman (signed with DAL), D Brian Lashoff (signed with DET), D David Savard (signed with MTL), D Luke Schenn (signed with VAN), D Ben Thomas (SHL), G Christopher Gibson (signed with FLA), G Spencer Martin (traded to VAN), G Curtis McElhinney (retired), G Anders Nilsson (retired)
Still Unsigned: F Boo Nieves
Re-signed: F Ross Colton, F Boris Katchouk, F Taylor Raddysh, F Gemel Smith, F Otto Somppi, D Fredrik Claesson, D Sean Day, D Cal Foote
Offseason Analysis: One of the good things about winning the Cup is that the following season’s expectations are wiped clean. Sure, fans and analysts may want to see you win it again in back-to-back seasons, but that’s just icing on the cake and any run that comes up short in the year following a Cup ring can be forgiven.
Luckily for Tampa, they won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2020 and 2021, so if they don’t happen to become the first team to win three consecutive titles since the New York Islanders won four Stanley Cup rings in a row from 1980-83, that’s fine.
The Lightning don’t get two straight years of postseason forgiveness, however.
Rather, the Bolts are on the quest for the first dynasty in the National Hockey League since the Edmonton Oilers won three Cups in four years from 1987-90.
That’s right, folks, Chicago didn’t have a dynasty when they won in 2010, 2013 and 2015. There’s a few too many years in-between.
Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy and the rest of the Lightning, however, have a chance of doing something not even Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury with the Pittsburgh Penguins, nor Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and the rest in Chicago were able to do– win three-straight Stanley Cup Finals.
Oh and the dynasty thing too, which is a given.
But success comes with a price in the loss of depth over time– whether it’s because of lower draft picks over time or simply due to salary cap constraints that pressure Cup winners into shipping out some of the glue guys from the team that just won it all in the middle of a summer-long party.
It is, after all, a business.
Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Yanni Gourde– Tampa’s third line that could be a second line on any other roster– was broken up over the summer.
Coleman joined the Calgary Flames in free agency, Goodrow was traded to the New York Rangers and Gourde was a victim of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft– in other words, the first certified star forward in the making for the Seattle Kraken.
Though the Lightning will miss out on the speed and production of that line in their bottom-six, Tampa is more than ready to promote some bottom-six breakout stars from last season into genuine full-time roles, while also accommodating for general turnover after winning back-to-back Cups.
Tampa General Manager, Julien BriseBois, signed Corey Perry to a two-year deal worth $1.000 million per season as a low-risk, high-reward veteran that can manage bottom-six minutes with efficiency at this point in his career– yielding 21 points in each of the last two seasons (5-16–21 totals in 57 games with the Dallas Stars in 2019-20, 9-12–21 totals in 49 games with the Montréal Canadiens in 2020-21), while finishing as the first runner up to the Lightning in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances.
BriseBois also added Pierre-Édouard Bellemare to the Bolts’ fourth line after Bellemare spent the last two seasons in a Colorado Avalanche uniform, recording 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 53 games for the Avs last season, as well as a career-high 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 69 gamed with Colorado in 2019-20.
Among internal options to move up into the top-nine or make the fourth line after spending last year on the taxi squad or bouncing around in recent years between stints in the NHL, AHL, Major Junior or college, Ross Colton, Boris Katchouk, Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith and Taylor Raddysh all present themselves as options to compete for– if not rotate in and out of– a spot on the fourth line.
Colton scored the Cup clinching goal in the second period of Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– the only goal of the, 1-0, victory over the Canadiens that secured Tampa’s second Cup ring in as many years.
In 30 games last season, he had 9-3–12 totals. Not bad for a 25-year-old on the rise after spending parts of the last three seasons with the Syracuse Crunch (AHL).
Joseph managed 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 70 games with the Bolts in 2018-19, before being limited to 4-3–7 totals in just 37 games in 2019-20.
Last season, he bounced back with 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) in 56 games and is sure to continue to mesh well with Tampa’s influx of youth in the bottom-six as a 24-year-old forward.
Entering 2021-22, Katchouk and Raddysh are still looking to make their NHL debuts, though Raddysh is slated to be in the lineup against Pittsburgh on Opening Night.
While Tampa sorts out their supporting cast, one thing that’s remained consistent is the Lightning’s top-six as Kucherov returns to regular season action for a full 82-game slate alongside Point and Ondrej Palat on the first line.
Meanwhile, Anthony Cirelli leads Alex Killorn and Stamkos on the second line as Hedman, Jan Rutta, Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak lead the defenders with Mikhail Sergachev paired alongside Zach Bogosian (he’s back!).
Curtis McElhinney retired over the summer, though not before BriseBois upgraded his backup goaltender role with Brian Elliott first.
Elliott’s looking to rebound from a rough stint with the Philadelphia Flyers over the last four seasons, in which he most recently went 15-9-2 with a 3.06 goals-against average, an .889 save percentage and two shutouts in 30 games played.
He’s sure to benefit from 1) Tampa’s defense and 2) Vasilevskiy yielding an overwhelming majority of games in the regular season.
Vasilevskiy produced a 31-10-1 record in 42 games last season with a 2.21 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in that span.
As for what else is missing from this summer’s tactical overhaul with the salary cap in mind after winning back-to-back Cups?
Let’s review all of Tampa’s trades from after the Final through now real quick, shall we?
Goodrow was dealt to the New York Rangers for a 2022 7th round pick on July 17th, then BriseBois swapped a 2022 4th round pick for a 2021 4th round pick with Montréal at the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft on July 24th.
A few days later, he cleared out some salary by shipping Tyler Johnson to Chicago with a 2023 2nd round pick for Seabrook’s contract that is currently on the long-term injured reserve thanks to a career-ending injury that renders Seabrook as a forgiven cap hit on the books.
Mitchell Stephens packed his bags out of Tampa for the Detriot Red Wings in exchange for a 2022 6th round pick on July 30th, then the Lightning sent Spencer Martin to the Vancouver Canucks for future considerations on July 31st.
Offseason Grade: C
Down the road, Point’s eight-year extension at $9.500 million per season is an excellent move made by BriseBois, but since that contract goes into effect starting next season (2022-23), it doesn’t sway the offseason grade for 2021.
If it were just a postseason grade, the Bolts would get an “A”, but since this is a measure of everything that happened after the 2021 Stanley Cup Final and before the 2021-22 season gets underway, well, Tampa had an average summer.
They filled some holes, shed some salary and were forced to make difficult decisions in other areas thanks to the existence of the salary cap and some key players being healthy for a change as the Lightning embark on their two-time defending Stanley Cup champion season.
All in all, it’s not too bad to be a fan of the Lightning these days or a member of the organization– as long as you got here before the 2021 Stanley Cup Final wrapped up.
This isn’t to say that Tampa will be bad by any means, but rather that they’re content with contending for the next few years to come– at least– so if they don’t win three Cup rings in as many years, that’s fine. They’ll be quite alright.
We preview the Central Division for the 2021-22 season and draw comparisons between recent teams that we’ve said “they should win this year” for quite some time until they finally won after we stopped talking about them.
2020-21 record 39-13-4, 82 points
1st in the Honda NHL West Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Vegas
Additions: F Darren Helm, F Mikhail Maltsev (acquired from NJD), F Dylan Sikura, D Jordan Gross, D Jack Johnson (signed to a PTO), D Kurtis MacDermid (acquired from SEA), D Stefan Matteau, D Roland McKeown, D Ryan Murray, G Darcy Kuemper (acquired from ARI)
Subtractions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (signed with TBL), F Matt Calvert (retired), F Joonas Donskoi (expansion, SEA), F Sheldon Dries (signed with VAN), F Ty Lewis (retired), F Liam O’Brien (signed with Tucson Roadrunners, AHL), F Brandon Saad (signed with STL), F Miikka Salomäki (SHL), F Carl Söderberg (SHL), F Mike Vecchione (signed with WSH), D Kyle Burroughs (signed with VAN), D Ryan Graves (traded to NJD), D Patrik Nemeth (signed with NYR), D Dan Renouf (signed with DET), D Conor Timmins (traded to ARI), G Philipp Grubauer (signed with SEA), G Peyton Jones (signed with Colorado Eagles, AHL), G Adam Werner (signed with CGY)
Still Unsigned: F Travis Barron, G Devan Dubnyk
Re-signed: F Tyson Jost, F Gabriel Landeskog, F Jayson Megna, F Kiefer Sherwood, D Dennis Gilbert, D Cale Makar, G Jonas Johansson
Offseason Analysis: If next spring doesn’t bring the desired results to Colorado, it’ll be 20 years since the Avalanche last made an appearance in the Western Conference Final.
Back in 2002, the Detroit Red Wings were in the prime of their dominance and the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry was red hot as the two teams went at it for not only regular season titles, but Stanley Cup rings as well.
Colorado had won in 1996 and 2001, Detroit won in 1997, 1998 and would do so again in 2002, as well as 2008– five years after Patrick Roy played his last National Hockey League game.
In the 2002 Western Conference Final, the defending Stanley Cup champion Avs were once again the team to beat, but the Red Wings took the series in seven games and went on to win the Cup.
Since then, both teams have had a bit of a falling out.
When Joe Sakic took over as General Manager of the Avalanche, the goal was simple– return the franchise to its glory days.
The bump in the road that was the 2016-17 season brought the team the 4th overall pick after losing in the draft lottery, yet at 4th overall in 2017, Colorado selected their biggest game-changing defender since the acquisition of Ray Bourque in Cale Makar.
Sakic turned his attention to a Makar extension when it seemed like things had gone south with keeping captain, Gabriel Landeskog, in town.
The 22-year-old defender signed a six-year extension worth $9.000 million per season after finishing second in Norris Trophy voting to New York Rangers defender, Adam Fox, for the 2020-21 season.
Makar had 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists) in 44 games– exactly a point-a-game in his sophomore campaign, limited again due to injury after amassing 12-38–50 totals in 57 games in his first NHL season in 2019-20.
Sakic signed Makar to an extension on July 24th and then in the 11th hour as free agency drew near, signed Landeskog to an eight-year extension worth $7.000 million per season.
The 28-year-old captain was Colorado’s 2011 1st round pick (2nd overall) and has 218-294–512 totals in 687 games since making his league debut in the 2011-12 season with the Avs.
Landeskog had a promising 52-point season (22 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games in his first year in the league, then the 2012-13 48-game lockout shortened season kept him to 9-8–17 totals in 36 games.
The Avalanche missed out on the playoffs from 2011-13, but in 2014, Colorado squared off against the Minnesota Wild in the First Round– only to lose in seven games.
That playoff series, however, was the first taste of playoff hockey for Nathan MacKinnon and went decently for Landeskog as well.
After amassing 65 points (26 goals, 39 assists) in 81 games in the regular season, Landeskog had 3-1–4 totals in the seven-game series against the Wild.
Then his production dropped to 59 points in 82 games in 2014-15, and 53 points in 75 games in 2015-16– coinciding with Colorado’s fall from grace.
In the dismal 2016-17 campaign for the Avalanche, in which the team amassed 48 points on the season with a 22-56-4 record, Landeskog had just 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) and had a minus-25 rating.
But the Avs have made the playoffs every season since then– succumbing to the Nashville Predators in six games in the 2018 First Round, bowing out to the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the 2019 Second Round, losing to the Dallas Stars in seven games in the 2020 Second Round and dropping out in six games against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 Second Round.
In that span, Landeskog’s had a career resurgence. He had 62 points in 78 games in 2017-18, 75 points in 73 games in 2018-19, 44 points in 54 games while battling injury and the COVID-19 pandemic shortened regular season in 2019-20, as well as 52 points in 54 games in last season’s 56-game regular season schedule.
Some say his resurgence can be accredited to the emergence of Colorado’s dominant first line with MacKinnon at center, Landeskog at left wing and Mikko Rantanen at right wing, but then how can that attribute to his own individual playoff success?
Landeskog had seven points (four goals, three assists) in six postseason games in 2018, 3-5–8 totals in Colorado’s 12-game 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff experience, 2-11–13 totals in 14 games during their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff bubble run and 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in ten games in the Avalanche’s 2021 postseason run.
It’s plain to see that whereas MacKinnon is the superstar forward, Landeskog is the lifeblood of the organization– both as the captain and as a clutch performer when it matters most.
Landeskog’s reasonable cap hit should take some pressure off of Sakic as he negotiates extensions with MacKinnon after the 2022-23 season and Rantanen after the 2024-25 season, when the salary cap ceiling is expected to have risen due to the increased revenue from the current U.S. broadcasting rights packages.
Two big pieces were taken care of, so naturally Sakic set his sights on Philipp Grubauer… …who chose to leave for the Seattle Kraken in free agency.
Grubauer signed a six-year contract worth $5.900 million per season with the Kraken on July 28th– the day that free agency began and a week after Seattle claimed Joonas Donskoi from the Avs in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
Last season, Grubauer went 30-9-1 in 40 games played, had seven shutouts (tied for the most with New York Islanders goaltender, Semyon Varlamov) and amassed a 1.95 goals-against average, as well as a .922 save percentage in that span.
It was a breakout year for the 29-year-old goaltender, so why not cash in while you can?
The downside for Colorado, however, is that it left them briefly with uncertainty in the crease until they acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes later that same day.
Sakic worked the phones quite a bit this summer between agents and fellow general managers.
On July 15th, Colorado swapped defender, Ryan Graves, with the New Jersey Devils for forward, Mikhail Maltsev, and a 2021 2nd round pick (from NYI via NJD- 61st overall, Sean Behrens).
On July 27th, Sakic sent a 2023 4th round pick to the Kraken for defender, Kurtis MacDermid, whose father, Paul, played for the Québec Nordiques from 1993-95.f
After losing Grubauer to Seattle in free agency, Sakic dealt defender, Conor Timmins, a 2022 1st round pick and a conditional 2024 3rd round pick to the Coyotes for Kuemper.
Much like Linus Ullmark going from the Buffalo Sabres to the Boston Bruins via free agency this summer, it’s hard to tell what to expect out of Kuemper in an Avalanche uniform.
He should be better considering the overall quality and depth of defenders on Colorado’s blue line a la Ullmark’s upgrade from Buffalo’s defense to Boston’s defense in front of him.
That said, Kuemper hasn’t really been a starting goaltender for long. It’s a risk, like when Colorado sought after Grubauer in the first place from the Washington Capitals a few summers ago.
In his first season as a starter, Kuemper went 27-20-8 in 55 games with Arizona– notching five shutouts and recording a 2.33 goals-against average, as well as a .925 save percentage. Good stuff.
In 2019-20, he went 16-11-2 in 29 games, had two shutouts and yielded a 2.22 goals-against average, as well as a .928 save percentage.
Last season, he went 10-11-3 in 27 games, dropping to a 2.56 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage and once again recording two shutouts.
Kuemper is 31-years-old and made his league debut with the Minnesota Wild back in the 2012-13 season– the same season that Grubauer broke into the league with the Capitals, albeit two years younger in age.
How will a full 82-game schedule as the starting netminder with Pavel Francouz returning from an injury that prevented him from being the backup in Colorado last season impact Kuemper’s performance in the crease?
There’s kind of a lot at stake here. No pressure or anything, but the Avalanche are trying to win the Cup now rather than later.
Speaking of “win-now” mode, the loss of Donskoi, Brandon Saad and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare puts Colorado in a difficult spot.
They don’t have the dominant bottom-six players on paper that they had last season that made them as much of a threat as the Golden Knights or Tampa Bay Lightning.
Instead, they’ll be relying on the emergence of youth in Alex Newhook, Logan O’Connor and Maltsev mixed with a combination of young players getting better in Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher, as well as a veteran in Darren Helm.
Much like how Saad brought in Cup winning experience to the dressing room last season, however, Helm is doing so for the Avs this season as he happened to be on the 2008 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings– appearing in seven games in the 2007-08 regular season, then 18 postseason games for Detroit in their 2008 Cup run.
It was Helm’s first taste of NHL action and he already was on top of the mountain. Now 34, he’s looking for more.
Offseason Grade: B-
Sakic has a way of taking reclamation projects and maximizing their production in Colorado, though we’ll see if the same effect can be applied to Stefan Matteau and Ryan Murray on the blue line, as well as other moves already mentioned.
The Avalanche have depth, but do they have enough depth?
Despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season, Colorado finished the 2020-21 regular season with 39 wins– one shy of Vegas (40 wins) for the most in the league– and eliminated in the Second Round by that same Golden Knights team (the Avs won the tiebreaker with 35 regulation wins to Vegas’ 30).
That said most of the Avalanche roster remains the same and there’s the feeling that one of these year’s they’ll get over the hump and back into the later end of the postseason.
Super teams don’t always win, but having a (super) consistent performance down the stretch and in the playoffs does and that’s what the Lightning have done best for the last two years– turning it on when it counts and sustaining the pressure.
2020-21 record 36-12-8, 80 points
1st in the Discover NHL Central Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Tampa
Additions: F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (signed to an offersheet, not matched by MTL), F Josh Leivo, F Maxim Letunov, F Sam Miletic, F Stefan Noesen, F Andrew Poturalski, F C.J. Smith, F Derek Stepan, D Ethan Bear (acquired from EDM), D Ian Cole, D Jalen Chatfield, D Tony DeAngelo, D Eric Gelinas, D Josh Jacobs, D Brendan Smith, G Frederik Andersen, G Alex Lyon, G Antti Raanta
Subtractions: F Warren Foegele (traded to EDM), F Morgan Geekie (expansion, SEA), F Dave Gust (signed with Chicago Wolves, AHL), F Egor Korshkov (KHL), F Saku Maenalanen (Liiga), F Brock McGinn (signed with PIT), F Cedric Paquette (signed with MTL), F Sheldon Rempal (signed with VAN), D Jake Bean (traded to CBJ), D Jani Hakanpää (signed with DAL), D Dougie Hamilton (signed with NJD), D Rolan McKeown (signed with COL), D Joakim Ryan (SHL), D David Warsofsky (DEL), G Jonathan Bernier (rights acquired from DET, signed with NJD), G Petr Mrázek (signed with TOR), G Alex Nedeljkovic (traded to DET), G James Reimer (signed with SJS)
Still Unsigned: F Max McCormick, F Drew Shore, G Jeremy Helvig, G Dylan Wells (acquired from EDM, CAR reserve list, AHL- Chicago Wolves)
Re-signed: F Jordan Martinook, F Spencer Smallman, F Andrei Svechnikov, D Maxime Lajoie
Offseason Analysis: Whoa boy, what didn’t the Canes do this offseason?
Carolina was all over the place– both in transactions and scrambling to assemble some semblance of a message in press conferences afterward while trying to convince everyone (perhaps more so themselves, at times) that they’re still a competitive team heading in the right direction and that they totally didn’t overreact.
Unlike how the New York Rangers reacted to one player on another team apparently dismantling their franchise, the Hurricanes reacted to– egad! The salary cap! The horror, the horror!
Canes General Manager, Don Waddell, didn’t like the optics of a team that’s been improving in each of the last three seasons despite First Round exits in back-to-back years after making the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
Though owner, Tom Dundon, denies having any say in the approach to the offseason short of just signing the cheques, Carolina didn’t want to spend more than they absolutely had to on fielding a roster that can probably make the playoffs, generate some additional revenue and peter out before anyone catches Stanley Cup fever.
At the very least, the team is spending more than when Peter Karmanos, Jr. spent from season-to-season on a team that made the postseason in 2009, then again in 2019, with nothing happening in-between, for example.
The team didn’t have to lose both Dougie Hamilton and Alex Nedeljkovic while re-signing Andrei Svechnikov this offseason, but they did.
Hamilton received a low-ball offer and got what he felt he deserved on a seven-year deal with the New Jersey Devils worth $9.000 million per season. Compared to the rest of the defenders on the market and other extensions that begin in 2022-23 for Seth Jones with Chicago and Zach Werenski in Columbus, Hamilton’s deal with the Devils is a steal.
He could’ve made $10.000 or $11.000 million per season and you might say “what’s the difference of a couple million dollars” and well, everything in the sense that he’s saved New Jersey a couple million to spend on glue guys on the roster, like Tomas Tatar.
Carolina could’ve done that, but with a few more additional steps required to make space.
Fine, move on from Hamilton, then re-sign Nedeljkovic– oh.
The Hurricanes were not willing to spend $3.500 million per season on a two-year deal for the goaltender they drafted and brought up the ranks as their “goaltender of the future”.
Instead, Waddell traded him to the Detroit Red Wings for the rights to unrestricted free agent, Jonathan Bernier, who also joined Hamilton in New Jersey.
Petr Mrázek and James Reimer were both turned loose as the former went to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the latter joined the San Jose Sharks.
Waddell then signed Frederik Andersen– who’s had about as much playoff success as Nedeljkovic, regardless of the number of games played– to a two-year deal worth $4.500 million per season and Antti Raanta to a two-year contract worth $2.000 million per season.
Make it make sense.
Add to that, Carolina lost depth in the departure of Brock McGinn to the Pittsburgh Penguins via free agency and traded Jake Bean to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the draft.
In their place, enter a mixture of bottom-six talent in Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo and others, as well as bottom-six defenders in Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith.
At the very least, Carolina’s not spending much to “replace” what they’ve lost in an asset for asset sense.
They spent their money on goaltenders, an eight-year extension worth $7.750 million per season for Svechnikov and signed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet from the Montréal Canadiens for one-year at $6.100 million.
That makes up for signing DeAngelo to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, right?
Not even close.
Last year’s roster carried the threat of Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei, Bean and Haydn Fleury until he was traded for Jani Hakanpää at the 2021 deadline.
Only three defenders are returning to Carolina’s core on the blue line as Ian Cole, DeAngelo and Smith were brought in via free agency and Warren Foegele was dealt for Ethan Bear.
Oh and the same three defenders returning from last season are the only defenders under contract through next season.
There’s just no logic for whatever reaction– overreaction or, perhaps, under-reaction is going on here.
It begs the question that Canes fans have heard for far too long, “what, exactly, is the plan?”
Offseason Grade: D
The Hurricanes had a challenging, yet simple premise heading into the offseason– add without subtracting and limit the inevitable damage in the loss of a key player.
Instead, they chose violence (that’s a phrase kids say on Twitter these days, I’m told).
Keeping Svechnikov, Hamilton and Nedeljkovic satisfied was going to be a challenge and it was going to be the most strenuous negotiations that Waddell would have to go through in recent summers as Carolina continues building towards Stanley Cup contenders.
It’s likely that the Canes could’ve kept Svechnikov, Nedeljkovic and still added to the roster this offseason– whether they’d land Andersen, Raanta or someone else as a solid counterpart in the crease.
In any case, Hamilton was likely going to walk due to the constraints of the salary cap era and possible looming extensions for Martin Necas, Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teräväinen and Sebastian Aho in one-to-three summers from now.
After the marketing and promotions team led the way in showing the rest of the league how Pride Night could feel more like a celebration for the local fan base and not just a corporate shill– an organization that took the pledge to Get Uncomfortable by teaming up with Black Girl Hockey Club– the values of a kinder society were tossed aside in the interest of signing noted actual jerks.
This team did not get better. No matter the rehabilitation that may or may not occur with Rod Brind’Amour as head coach.
One step forward, two steps back.
2020-21 record 36-15-5, 77 points
2nd in the MassMutual NHL East Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Boston
Additions: F Michael Vecchione, D Matt Irwin, D Dylan McIlrath, G Hunter Shepard
Subtractions: F Daniel Carr (NL), F Phillippe Maillet (KHL), F Michael Raffl (signed with DAL), D Zdeno Chara (signed with NYI), D Brenden Dillon (traded to WPG), D Paul LaDue (signed with NYI), G Craig Anderson (signed with BUF), G Henrik Lundqvist (retired)
Still Unsigned: D Cameron Schilling
Re-signed: F Axel Jonsson-Fjällby, F Shane Gersich, F Beck Malenstyn, F Alex Ovechkin, F Garrett Pilon, F Michael Sgarbossa, F Joe Snively, D Lucas Johansen, D Bobby Nardella, G Ilya Samsonov
Where do I put him? G Vitek Vanecek (expansion, SEA, acquired from SEA, then re-signed)
Offseason Analysis: The Capitals keep telling themselves they can win another Stanley Cup title in the Alex Ovechkin Era, but after three-straight years of First Round exits– most recently in five games to the Boston Bruins– despite being the higher seed in each case might tell you something.
This team is getting old.
The core isn’t as young as they used to be and now Washington is scrambling to piece together some semblance of a run, which will undoubtedly cost them valuable pieces of their youth if they let it go to their heads– as already seen by trading Jakub Vrana for Anthony Mantha at the deadline.
Though it may be unpopular with fans, it would’ve made more sense to try to get T.J. Oshie to submit a list of teams he wouldn’t agree to be traded to and try to save yourself $5.750 million per season through 2024-25 that you could spend elsewhere.
Caps General Manager, Brian MacLellan, didn’t have much to do this summer, because Washington is sticking with their guns whether it works or not.
They’ve tried it before– though with minor recurring character changes– and somehow it worked in 2018, surely it can happen all over again!
MacLellan was more focused on signing Ovechkin to an extension.
Despite the superstar forward’s scoring prowess, he is 36-years-old. That’s not to say that he won’t be able to usurp Wayne Gretzky for the most goals in National Hockey League history– especially if he plays for another 10 years– but it is worth noting that it’s generally not a good idea to hand out a five-year extension worth $9.500 million per season.
That’s sealing your fate right there.
Washington could win another Cup and everything is forgiven or Ovechkin’s cap hit comes back to bite the Capitals in the long run, regardless of increases in the cap ceiling down the road.
Ovechkin could get hurt. Then what?
Sure, there’s the long term injured reserve, but what if he can never play again? Now you’re out of your best talent and the rest of the supporting cast isn’t good enough to carry the show on their own, like The Office after Steve Carell left.
Think about it.
A 40-year-old player with a $9.500 million cap hit is unheard of– especially in the salary cap era. Luckily for the Caps, Ovechkin is only 36-years-old for now.
If Ovechkin would’ve been fine with a two or three-year extension worth even just a $500,000 less per season than his current cap hit– you offer that extension.
Once it starts reaching long-term status, that’s when negotiations should’ve gone from “whatever you want” to “whatever you want, within reason”.
Whether Ovechkin stays or leaves is ultimately “whatever he wants” and, ultimately, the same is true with his new extension.
Who knows, maybe in three years, Ovechkin will request a trade or something. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Anyway, the Seattle Kraken took Vitek Vanecek in the expansion draft only to turn around and trade him back to Washington for a 2023 2nd round pick a week later.
At least the social media teams had fun with it.
Seattle got what they wanted from elsewhere and yielded a 2023 2nd round pick in the process, while Washington just… …opened the door and let him back inside from the rain.
Vanecek went 21-10-4 in 37 games with a 2.69 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and two shutouts in that span last season while emerging as the de facto starting goaltender for the Capitals after Ilya Samsonov had bouts on the COVID-19 protocol list interspersed with some inconsistent play.
Samsonov went 13-4-1 in 19 games with a 2.69 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage and two shutouts in that span. In 2019-20, he went 16-6-2 in 26 games, amassing a 2.55 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage as well as one shutout.
While both goaltenders are considered viable at the NHL level in Washington, there’s going to be a larger sample size to analyze which one is really better in the long run.
There’s also no safety net if the healthy competition goes awry and with roughly $668,740 in cap space, things could get ugly– and fast.
It’s not like the Capitals are teetering on the edge of a rebuild, but one more year of a First Round exit might thrust them into reactionary maneuvers instead of carefully crafting an exit strategy into a seamless transition from the old core to a new core– whatever that may be.
Craig Anderson, Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillon are gone.
Anderson was going to retire until the Buffalo Sabres remembered they needed to sign a couple of goaltenders to play in the upcoming season like. Chara went back to the New York Islanders.
Dillon, meanwhile, was traded to the Winnipeg Jets on July 26th for a 2022 2nd round pick and a 2023 2nd round pick, so that seems like a pretty good selling point for a defender that fell victim to the Caps’ cap crunch.
The offense remains the same, the defense is intact and the goaltending leaves a little something to be desired.
Washington proved the hockey world wrong when many said they should dismantle the team heading into the 2017-18 season. Can they recreate that magic again?
Offseason Grade: C-
Ovechkin might have signed a lucrative deal for a player over 35, but Washington’s tight squeeze against the salary cap isn’t the biggest question right now.
Whereas when Braden Holtby began his regression to his present-day form with the Dallas Stars, Samsonov was just a young backup getting a pass for a respectable 2.55 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in roughly 1/4 of the season.
That was in 2019-20, when Holtby had a 25-14-6 record in 48 games with a 3.11 goals-against average, an .897 save percentage and no shutouts in that span.
When one goalie faltered, the other goalie could step in and fill a hole.
Entering 2021-22, Samsonov and Vanecek have both shown the same results. The former, however, may play a bit too aggressive, while the latter is more tactical in style– as long as he’s healthy, but nevertheless each had a 2.69 goals-against average in their respective stints last season.
There’s no clear-cut winner for the starting job from day one. At the very least, that’ll be good motivation for whoever wants it more.
Other than that, Washington shouldn’t be too worried about regular season results. It’s when it really counts that matters (so… …making it out of the First Round).
2020-21 record 35-16-5, 75 points
3rd in the Honda NHL West Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Vegas
Additions: F Frédérick Gaudreau, F Dominic Turgeon, D Jordie Benn, D Kevin Czuczman, D Alex Goligoski, D Joe Hicketts, D Dmitry Kulikov, D Jon Lizotte, D Jon Merrill
Subtractions: F Nick Bonino (signed with SJS), F Gabriel Dumont (signed with TBL), F Marcus Johansson (signed with SEA), F Luke Johnson (signed with WPG), F Gerald Mayhew (signed with PHI), F Zach Parise (buyout, signed with NYI), F Dmitry Sokolov (NMHL), D Matt Bartkowski (signed to a PTO with PIT), D Louie Belpedio (signed with MTL), D Ian Cole (signed with CAR), D Brad Hunt (signed with VAN), D Brennan Menell (traded to TOR), D Carson Soucy (expansion, SEA), D Ryan Suter (buyout, signed with DAL)
Still Unsigned: D Ian McCoshen
Re-signed: F Will Bitten, F Nick Bjugstad, F Joseph Cramarossa, F Brandon Duhaime, F Joel Eriksson Ek, F Kevin Fiala, F Kirill Kaprizov, F Kyle Rau, F Mason Shaw, D Dakota Mermis, G Andrew Hammond
Offseason Analysis: It took all summer, but it didn’t linger into the fall as Wild General Manager, Bill Guerin, and forward, Kirill Kaprizov, were able to hammer out a five-year extension worth $9.000 million per season– forcing this entire offseason recap/season preview to be re-written.
Going into Tuesday, Minnesota was bound to receive a letter grade in the “D” range for failing to secure Kaprizov before training camp, despite a few other moves that have actually been pretty good for them– salary cap penalties via buyouts aside.
Late Tuesday, Kaprizov re-signed and all is just about forgiven for the Wild.
Since joining the league as an expansion team in 2000, Minnesota has rarely had a competitive team that can make a deep run into the postseason. They’ve consistently been good, but never good enough.
Marian Gaborik came and went, Mikko Koivu stayed loyal until he joined the Columbus Blue Jackets for a brief stint last season prior to retiring less than a month into the 2020-21 schedule and then the dawn of the Kaprizov Era began.
After spending time in the Kontinental Hockey League for his early development, Kaprizov amassed 27-24–51 totals in 55 games in his debut season with Minnesota as a 24-year-old left wing.
He’s the real deal and the Wild are leaning into it.
Though Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson and others weren’t re-signed as part of Minnesota’s depth that got them all the way to a Game 7 at T-Mobile Arena against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 First Round, Guerin held things down where it counts– the core.
Joel Eriksson Ek signed an eight-year extension worth $5.250 million per season after a breakout season with 30 points (19 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games last season after amassing 8-21–29 totals in 62 games in 2019-20.
If the last two seasons are an indication of what’s to come, then the Wild have a steal of a deal in Eriksson Ek’s cap hit as the 24-year-old emerges in his prime.
Guerin brought back Kevin Fiala on a one-year extension worth $5.100 million– retaining restricted-free agency status over the 25-year-old forward heading into next offseason– after putting up 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists) in 133 games with the Wild in parts of three seasons since he was acquired on Feb. 25, 2019.
In parts of five seasons with the Nashville Predators from 2014-15 through 2018-19, Fiala had 45-52–97 totals in 204 games.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken, because clearly something is clicking in Minnesota and the Wild are reaping the benefits.
Alex Goligoski and Jon Merrill are fine additions to the defense, though as for how efficient they’ll be compared to the loss of Ryan Suter remains to be seen.
Guerin bought out the remainder of Zach Parise and Suter’s matching contracts on July 13, 2021, and in doing so saved Minnesota some valuable cap space to sign Kaprizov and build off of the new core.
That said, Parise and Suter will cost the Wild about $4.744 million in dead cap space for 2021-22, then $12.744 million in dead cap space in 2022-23, before the buyout penalties reach a crescendo with a combined $14.744 million in dead cap money from 2023-24 through 2024-25 before Parise and Suter’s penalties taper off with a combined cost of $1.667 million in 2025-26, as well as 2026-27.
This offseason might have been a breeze, but next offseason is a different story– especially as building and maintaining contender status gets difficult in the next few seasons too.
Ultimately, the cost of buying out Parise and Suter may or may not even be a headache for Guerin to deal with. It all depends on how the team performs between now and a couple of seasons from now.
For now, Guerin has about $3.215 million in cap space to play with for the 2021-22 season.
Over the summer, the Seattle Kraken formed their first roster and did Minnesota a favor without asking.
Seattle could’ve selected Kaapo Kähkönen, since the Wild protected Cam Talbot, but the Kraken went in a different direction and snagged Carson Soucy from Minnesota’s depth on the blue line.
Offseason Grade: B+
Though it took a little longer than both sides had probably hoped– and with more frustration than expected– Guerin re-signed his No. 1 priority in Kaprizov before the start of training camp.
The biggest challenge for Minnesota– other than improving on last season’s success before a First Round exit– is finding a way to keep the band together next offseason, when Fiala, Jordan Greenway and Kähkönen are on the short list of important pending-restricted free agents.
Meanwhile, guys like Victor Rask, Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau, Nico Sturm, Goligoski, Jordie Benn and Merrill have a little more flexibility to come and go as they please– assuming there’s enough cap space in face of the Parise and Suter buyout penalty crunch on top of what might still be a flat cap for the 2022-23 season due to the ongoing pandemic.
At the very least, 2023-24 should be a bit more optimistic with the latest U.S. broadcasting rights deals for ESPN and Turner Sports inflating league revenue all-around and likely bumping up the salary cap as a result.
For now, Minnesota’s transition continues, but for once there’s a sense of stability given their best players are 25 and under and enjoy being in a Wild uniform.
Though they didn’t bring the alleged “State of Hockey” a Stanley Cup championship in their tenure, Parise and Suter made playing for Minnesota cool as the franchise found its footing now entering its second generation.