Tag Archives: Dan Girardi

2019-20 Metropolitan Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 107 points
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points
  4. wc1-New York Islanders, 91 points
  5. wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  6. New York Rangers, 89 points
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points
  8. New Jersey Devils, 84 points

Washington Capitals: Pros and Cons

Year after year, Washington finds themselves at the top of the Metropolitan Division with or without any sort of logical explanation.

The last time the Capitals didn’t finish 1st in the division? It was the 2014-15 season when the New York Rangers followed up a 2014 Stanley Cup Final appearance with 113 points and the President’s Trophy.

Once again, the Caps will find a way to turn things on late into the season and manage the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, but they’ll be doing so without a long list of members from their 2018 Stanley Cup championship roster.

After matching his regular season goal scoring total in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Devante Smith-Pelly wasn’t able to get back to form and subsequently reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears during the 2018-19 season.

Now, he’s an unrestricted free agent.

Also departing Washington this summer were the likes of Brett Connolly (signed with Florida), Andre Burakovsky (traded to Colorado for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2nd round pick in 2020 and a 3rd round pick in 2020), Nathan Walker (signed with St. Louis), Matt Niskanen (traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Radko Gudas) and Brooks Orpik (retired)

Madison Bowey was traded to Detroit in February. Jakub Jerabek left via free agency last season and is now playing in the KHL. Philipp Grubauer was traded to the Avalanche last June. Jay Beagle signed with the Vancouver Canucks last July. Alex Chiasson joined the Edmonton Oilers last October.

With such a quick turnover in the makeup of their lineup, the Capitals’ championship window may already be closing– and fast.

At least Garnet Hathaway, Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin all signed four-year contracts with cap hits under $3.000 million.

How would the Capitals fail?

Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson end up suspended for the entire season somehow and get the rest of the Capitals in trouble for something.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pros and Cons

Phil Kessel is signed through 2021-22 at $6.800 million per season. Alex Galchenyuk is signed through 2019-20 with a cap hit of $4.900 million.

Using the money saved from trading Kessel to Arizona and hoping Galchenyuk will suddenly become a 30 or 40 goal scorer simply because he’s now on the same roster as Sidney Crosby, Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford, figured it’d be a smart move to lock up Brandon Tanev in free agency with a six-year contract at $3.500 million per season and a modified no-trade clause one offseason removed from signing Jack Johnson.

If there’s any positives for Pittsburgh, it’s that Crosby still exists and Mike Sullivan remains the head coach. Oh and Evgeni Malkin exists too, though some would find it hard to believe, since he wasn’t included in the top-100 players of the last century list.

As long as Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith can weather the storm of an insufficient defense, injuries and inadequacy from last season, then there’s a good chance the current longest active playoff appearance streak remains alive.

If not, well, just look for Rutherford to continue to move chairs around on the Titanic.

This team is starting to spring a leak. If they’re not careful, they’ll sink in the standings.

But since the season really doesn’t start until January anyway for the Pens, they’ll work their way into a playoff berth as they’ve done for the last dozen years or so.

How would the Penguins fail?

Rutherford trades another goal scorer for a “glue guy” and clones Tanev and/or Johnson. Realistically, Murray continues to cool down from his meteoric rise a couple of seasons ago and won’t cost too much as a pending-RFA.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Pros and Cons

All my ex’s live in… everywhere but Columbus.

The Blue Jackets lost Artemi Panarin to the New York Rangers, Sergei Bobrovsky to the Florida Panthers, Matt Duchene to the Nashville Predators and Ryan Dzingel to the Carolina Hurricanes, but they brought in Gustav Nyquist and brought back Marko Dano via free agency.

Yeah, ok, so it wasn’t a great summer for Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen and Blue Jackets fans– even if they knew at least one of their big names (Bobrovsky) was never going to re-sign.

But while a lot of armchair GMs think the Blue Jackets are destined for a rebuild, there’s a glimmer of optimism if Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins can carry the weight of the crease, while younger players like Alexandre Texier, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson continue to emerge.

Making it as far as they did into the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was vital to the experience gained by Columbus’ core.

Though they’re likely not going to a be a dominant force in 2019-20, they should be in contention for what would be a fifth playoff berth in seven years under Kekalainen’s reign.

And if they turn heads again like they did when they swept the President’s Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the First Round, then there’s sure to be some interest in lacing up the skates for the Blue Jackets in the future.

Then again, it could be tank city until Korpisalo or Merzlikins becomes a legitimate starter and somebody becomes an 80-point scorer again.

It just takes some time… Oh and someone should probably re-sign Zach Werenski while you’re at it.

How would the Blue Jackets fail?

The Union doesn’t lose. Ok, if everybody leaves, then it might.

New York Islanders: Pros and Cons

Having Lou Lamoriello as your General Manager means some players are going to love him (if they’ve already been with him for many years before) and some players are going to be chased out of the city when they are told they are going in a different direction, but then don’t quite land who they think they’re getting, only to leave you once again for… well, Semyon Varlamov isn’t really an upgrade at this point.

But Robin Lehner’s gone after winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy with the Rangers Islanders last season after having a remarkable career-year in the face of addiction and other struggles.

New York’s only getting older and Anders Lee took a “hometown discount” to stay on Long Island.

Speaking of Long Island, is it too early to start construction on the Belmont Park arena yet?

Something has to distract everyone from the undercutting of several prospect’s development– whether they’ve rightfully had a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level or not.

Barry Trotz is a great head coach, but how much more can he do with a middle of the road team that gives up on prospects too early?

Get them back to the Second Round only to be crushed by a team that’s mixing youth, speed, skill, grit and actually playing 21st century hockey?

It’s almost as though the Islanders learned nothing from 1995-2006.

How would the Islanders fail?

It’s [the] trap!

Philadelphia Flyers: Pros and Cons

Flyers General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, actually hasn’t had that bad of an offseason– at least when it comes to tweaking his roster.

Sure Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun are both 32-years-old, but they’re decent top-4 defenders that should be able to lead from the back end with Shayne Gostisbehere as Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov come into their own.

Speaking of Provorov, he’s still an unsigned-RFA and Philadelphia has more than enough money (about $13.400 million in cap space) to get some sort of a deal done right now. Why wait until the last minute? What’s that? Travis Konecny needs a contract right now too? Oh never mind. Let’s make things complicated!

Besides giving Kevin Hayes a seven-year contract worth $7.143 million per season with a no-movement clause, the Flyers should have– a lot of explaining to do when their experiment doesn’t work out.

The Hayes contract is bad, but just how bad can things get with Hayes back on a team that’s coached by… Alain Vigneault!?!

Vigneault’s the real wild card here as the jury is still out on whether or not his style still fits the game or if the Rangers were just that bad in his final year with New York.

All things considered, Philadelphia should be back into playoff contention. Just not Cup contention in 2019-20.

How much more of this can Claude Giroux take?

How would the Flyers fail?

Alain Vigneault, Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien can’t figure out who is actually the head coach on a night-to-night basis even though Vigneault technically owns the job (Yeo and Therrien are assistant coaches for the Flyers, if you haven’t heard). Oh and goaltending if Carter Hart gets injured.

New York Rangers: Pros and Cons

The Rangers landed the biggest prize in free agency, signing Artemi Panarin to a seven-year contract worth $11.643 million per season.

Though they are still in a rebuild, Panarin’s addition to the roster helps make New York more of an attractive destination and speeds things up in the overall plan.

It doesn’t hurt that GM Jeff Gorton had the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft too. Kaapo Kakko is ready for the limelight in Manhattan as Henrik Lundqvist’s reign is in its twilight days.

Lundqvist is under contract through the 2020-21 season and at 37-years-old– it’d take a miracle for the Rangers to win him a Cup at this point.

The Rangers only have one forward over the age of 30 (Matt Beleskey’s 31) and two defenders 30 or older as well (Brendan Smith, 30, and Marc Staal, 32).

Beleskey is likely to bounce around the organization between New York and Hartford (AHL), while there’s a good chance Smith could be buried as well.

But their “veteran presence” is valuable to time on ice management among the younger skaters that might not be quite as NHL ready as Kakko and friends.

Jacob Trouba is new to the Rangers and destined to anchor their new-age defense from the top pairing, while Kevin Shattenkirk joins the long list of buyouts in recent years by New York.

The Rangers are short almost $5.400 million in dead cap space thanks to Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner’s buyouts around the league (Shattenkirk and Girardi were Rangers buyouts, but Spooner had retained salary and was bought out by the Vancouver Canucks this offseason).

Next year, New York faces almost $7.500 million in cap penalties from the trio of buyouts before Spooner comes off the books entirely and the number dips down to about $2.544 million from 2021-22 to 2022-23.

Also another Harvard product– Adam Fox– is the new Jimmy Vesey experiment, but on the blue line. And Vesey? He was traded to Buffalo.

Panarin and Kakko are worth watching this season, while the rest of the team remains to be seen.

How would the Rangers fail?

Henrik Lundqvist stops looking so good all of a sudden. That man is stunning.

Carolina Hurricanes: Pros and Cons

Though the forecast says otherwise, Carolina should actually be closer to playoff contention than you may think coming off their 2019 Eastern Conference Final appearance.

Hurricanes General Manager, Don Waddell, has weathered the storm this offseason. Actually, his job was made pretty easy when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet worth $8.454 million per season.

Considering the value Aho brings and the potential that’s still there– that’s a steal.

Though a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses through the first two years is considered a “hefty” price for an owner to pay, let’s remember that we’re talking about professional sports.

If Montreal really wanted to make things difficult for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, then they should’ve offered something with a larger cap hit, but that would’ve meant a steeper price to pay in compensation had Carolina not matched the deal. #AdvantageCarolina

Aho will be 27 by the time his new contract runs out, which means he’ll be a pending-UFA in 2024, but there’s plenty of time to worry about the next contract when the time comes.

Right now, the Hurricanes have added some much needed top-six/top-nine forward depth in Erik Haula (acquired from Vegas) and Ryan Dzingel (signed via free agency), while adding a 1st round pick in 2020 (or 2021 if Toronto’s 2020 1st rounder is a top-10 overall selection) and swapping Calvin de Haan with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling (there were other pieces involved, like Anton Forsberg going to Carolina too).

The average age of Carolina’s skaters? 25.

Considering how far the core went in 2018-19, that’s beyond impressive and it’s a testament to head coach, Rod Brind’Amour.

In July, Petr Mrazek re-signed with the Hurricanes on a two-year deal and James Reimer was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers as Curtis McElhinney signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Though Alex Nedeljkovic might be another year out from competing for the starting job, the crease is Mrazek’s to lose once again with Reimer looking to rebound from a dismal time in Florida.

Carolina is poised for another deep run, but how soon will it be given the fact that their emergence as a contender means that every other team wants to beat them that much more from night-to-night?

How would the Hurricanes fail?

The Canes have a strong analytics department, so the only thing that could naturally disrupt their plans? Regression (and no WiFi).

New Jersey Devils: Pros and Cons

The Devils won the draft lottery and procured Jack Hughes with the 1st overall pick in June.

New Jersey was third-to-last in overall standings last season.

Though they added P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators in June, drafted Hughes and have Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Will Butcher on their roster, the Devils still need a lot of pieces to improve.

Hall’s a pending-UFA at season’s end. His next deal– whether it’s with New Jersey or not– determines the fate of this team.

Cory Schneider’s still under contract through 2021-22 and Mackenzie Blackwood is only 22-years-old.

Goaltenders are rarely superstars when they’re that young, so while Blackwood may be the starter heading into the season and goalie of the future for the organization– it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some ups and downs before the dust settles.

Now for the good news.

Nikita Gusev was acquired in a trade with the Golden Knights and Ray Shero doesn’t have a lot of no-trade clauses to deal with if the Devils look to sell at the trade deadline.

How would the Devils fail?

If they somehow lose the Taylor Hall trade a few years after winning it.

2019-20 Atlantic Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 109 points
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 105 points
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points
  4. Florida Panthers, 89 points
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 89 points
  6. Detroit Red Wings, 84 points
  7. Ottawa Senators, 78 points
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 71 points

Tampa Bay Lightning: Pros and Cons

The Lightning are annual favorites among the experts to win the Stanley Cup, so it’s no surprise, really, that they haven’t yet. There’s either too many expectations to live up to or there’s too much of a casual atmosphere from season-to-season.

You know what they say when you assume.

Just like the Washington Capitals and their 2018 Stanley Cup championship, it’s better for the Bolts if nobody is talking about them. Prior to the Caps winning in 2018, there was a “Cup or bust” mantra that just didn’t work.

Nothing is willed without hard work and humility.

That’s not to say Tampa doesn’t work hard or isn’t humble, but rather, they must lose on the big stage repetitively until everyone expects them to fail. That’s when they’ll go on a run.

They’ve managed to keep their roster together (granted, RFA center, Brayden Point, is still unsigned) while trimming the fat (gone are the days of Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi on the blue line) and are still Stanley Cup front-runners, but they likely won’t get back to the 60-win plateau in back-to-back seasons.

The Lightning will still get to 50 wins for the third season in-a-row, have Nikita Kucherov set the league on fire in scoring and yield out-of-this-world goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy before the real season starts– the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How would the Lightning fail?

Everyone keeps talking about the Lightning as if they’re some godsend (too much hype, remember?). That, or General Manager Julien BriseBois blows up the roster and/or Jon Cooper is fired as head coach.

Boston Bruins: Pros and Cons

The Bruins core remains strong among their forwards and as long as they’re able to negotiate an extension with RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo without any bumps in the road, then their defense is pretty sound too.

Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year deal last summer, so the 1A/1B tandem of Tuukka Rask and Halak in the crease seems fine for another run in 2019-20.

Boston exceeded expectations in 2017-18 and went under the radar in 2018-19– though they managed to amass only 10 losses in regulation since Jan. 1st, which means they were actually pretty loud in the points percentage column.

Injuries come and go.

If the Bruins are able to stay healthy instead of dropping like flies to their 12th defenseman on the depth chart, they might actually pick up a few more points than they did last season.

With Bruce Cassidy as head coach, things should remain status quo in the regular season, but Boston still needs to address their top-six forward problem.

David Pastrnak can play on the first or second line, but on any given night that leaves one of their top two lines in need of a scoring winger.

General Manager Don Sweeney managed to patch a hole at the third line center– acquiring Charlie Coyle as last season’s trade deadline loomed– and Coyle was one of their better players in their 2019 Stanley Cup Final postseason run.

But with a couple of depth signings for bottom six roles in the offseason (Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie), everyone getting another year older and David Backes’ $6.000 million cap hit through 2020-21 still on the books, Boston’s hands are tied.

How would the Bruins fail?

There’s enough bark in the regular season, but not enough bite for a deep postseason run. It’s harder than ever before to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons– and that’s before you consider age, injuries and regression.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Pros and Cons

Toronto has Auston Matthews as their second best center. Yes. Second best. Why? Because John Tavares enters the second year of his long-term seven-year deal that he signed last July.

That alone will continue to keep the Leafs afloat with a strong 1-2 duo down the middle.

Regardless of the Mitch Marner contract negotiations (or lack thereof), the Maple Leafs are just fine with their forwards– having traded Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche and acquiring Alex Kerfoot in the process (Calle Rosen and Tyson Barrie were also swapped in the deal).

Patrick Marleau is gone and it only cost Toronto a conditional 2020 1st round pick (top-10 lottery protected) and a 2020 7th round pick in the process, but an affordable Jason Spezza at league minimum salary ($700,000) on a one-year deal for fourth line minutes will do just fine.

By puck drop for the 2019-20 season, the Leafs will save $10.550 million in cap space thanks to David Clarkson (yes, his contract’s back after a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights that sent Garret Sparks the other way) and Nathan Horton’s placement on the long-term injured reserve.

The stars are aligning for Toronto to still need to get past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.

With Kadri gone, however, perhaps they will be able to do so with or without Boston in the equation.

How would the Leafs fail?

They don’t sign Marner and they lose in another Game 7 because of it. There’s a lot of turbulence ahead for Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas considering the Leafs have one defender under contract after 2019-20. If the team doesn’t breakout in the postseason, it’s really just status quo until proven otherwise.

Florida Panthers: Pros and Cons

The Panthers are beginning to ripen with a mix of youth and experience among their forwards, plus a defense that quietly does their job.

They also added Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman and (most importantly) Sergei Bobrovsky to the mix.

While Acciari’s $1.667 million cap hit through 2021-22 is a slight overpay for a fourth line center, at least it could be worse. Connolly’s making $3.500 million for the next four years and even Stralman has a cap hit of $5.500 million through 2021-22 when he’ll be turning 36 on August 1, 2022.

Ok, so it was an expensive offseason for Florida– and that’s before you add the $10.000 million price tag for the next seven years of Bobrovsky in the crease.

Yes, despite landing one of the better goaltenders in the league in free agency, General Manager Dale Tallon managed to make matters complicated after, say, the fourth year of Bobrovsky’s contract.

Bobrovsky will be roughly 37-years-old by the time his contract with the Panthers expires and not everyone can be like Dwayne Roloson in the net forever.

At least they drafted Spencer Knight (in the first round– a goaltending prospect curse).

Though they missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by 12 points for an Eastern Conference wild card spot, the Panthers are in a position to gain more than a few wins with new head coach (and three-time Stanley Cup champion) Joel Quenneville behind the bench.

How would the Panthers fail?

Florida’s already landed the biggest prize in head coaching free agency with Quenneville reuniting with Tallon in Sunrise. What could possibly go wrong (besides Tallon being replaced by a clone of Stan Bowman and then the Panthers go on to win three Cups without Tallon in command)?

Montreal Canadiens: Pros and Cons

Montreal didn’t get Matt Duchene or Sebastian Aho in free agency, so they got the next best thing– not overspending on July 1st.

That’s not to say Duchene and Aho aren’t quality players, but rather just an observation of cap concerns for the Habs with Max Domi as a pending-RFA in July 2020 and the rest of Montreal’s future core (Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Victor Mete, Cayden Primeau and Jesperi Kotkaniemi) to consider going down the road.

Granted, Aho could’ve sped the process up a bit if it weren’t for those pesky RFA rights and compensation in the CBA, right Montreal?

The Canadiens need a legitimate number one center, but General Manager Marc Bergevin has been preoccupied restructuring the defense in the meantime.

That’s not a bad thing.

Shea Weber is 34 and under contract through the 2025-26 season, though after 2021-22, his base salary drops to $3.000 million in 2022-23 and $1.000 million from 2023-26 (meaning he could be traded with ease in a few years, despite his $7.857 million cap hit).

But Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry are both over 30 and have no-trade and/or no-movement clauses in their contracts.

At least free agent addition, Ben Chiarot, is 28-years-old, but he also carries a no-trade clause as part of his three-year deal.

How would the Canadiens fail?

Claude Julien inexplicably reverts back to his old ways and doesn’t play the kids, Carey Price is injured for most of the season and/or Bergevin overcompensates in a trade because of his failure to secure a free agent center.

Detroit Red Wings: Pros and Cons

Steve Yzerman has come home and is rightfully the General Manager for the Red Wings, but as we’ve seen in Tampa, his masterplan takes a little time.

Detroit is four or five years out from being an annual Cup contender, but that doesn’t mean the Red Wings haven’t already sped things up in their rebuild.

Trading for Adam Erne isn’t a grand-slam, but it does make the average age of the roster a tad younger.

It also means that the Red Wings now have seven pending-RFAs on their NHL roster and roughly $37.000 million to work with in July 2020.

How would the Red Wings fail?

Having Yzerman in the front office at Little Caesars Arena is like adding all of the best toppings to a pizza. The only downside is that leftover pineapple is still on the pizza from all of the no-trade clauses delivered by the last guy.

Ottawa Senators: Pros and Cons

The Senators are looking to spend ba-by.

Just kidding, they don’t plan on being good until 2021, so does that mean starting with the 2020-21 season or the following year in 2021-22?

But they do have a ton of draft picks stockpiled including two in the 1st round in 2020, three in the 2nd round, one in the 3rd, 4th and 5th, a pair in the 6th and one in the 7th.

Plus they have roughly $15.600 million in cap space currently and eight players under contract for next season that aren’t on the injured reserve.

For some reason (Eugene Melnyk) current-RFA Colin White is still unsigned and 38-year-old, Ron Hainsey, was signed in free agency, but at least Cody Ceci is a Maple Leaf now.

Oh and former Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith is Ottawa’s head coach now. That’ll show them!

How would the Senators fail?

More importantly, how would Ottawa succeed?

Buffalo Sabres: Pros and Cons

Pro: The Sabres will probably be better than last season.

Con: Ralph Krueger is Buffalo’s new head coach and nobody knows what to expect (he went 19-22-7 in the lockout shortened 48-game season with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13).

Pro: Only eight skaters are under contract next season.

Con: Only eight skaters are under contract next season, including Rasmus Ristolainen and nobody is sure whether or not the club is trying to trade him.

Pro: Marcus Johansson!

Con: Jimmy Vesey! (Only cost Buffalo two third round picks over three years to get him.)

Pro: The average age of the roster is about 26.

Con: Matt Hunwick is the oldest player at 34-years-old, followed by Carter Hutton at 33 and Vladimir Sobotka at 32.

Pro: Royal blue in 2020!

Con: It’s not until 2020.

How would the Sabres fail?

If Buffalo actually finishes last in the division, instead of any improvement whatsoever.

DTFR Podcast #156- Second Round Surge

Nick and Pete discuss whether or not it’s worth pursuing Pavel Datsyuk this summer, the Adam Fox trade and what it means for the New York Rangers, as well as more Second Round musings in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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

Bruins at Lightning Preview: 3/25/2019

The Boston Bruins (46-20-9, 101 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division) visit the Tampa Bay Lightning (58-14-4, 120 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division) in their final visit to Amalie Arena in the 2018-19 regular season.

Boston is 1-1-0 against Tampa this season with their most recent matchup being a, 4-1, victory on home ice on Feb. 28th and their loss to the Lightning coming at the hands of a, 3-2, defeat in Tampa on Dec. 6th.

The two teams battled in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Bolts advancing in five games.

Both clubs have already clinched a spot in the 2019 postseason with the Lightning holding home ice advantage throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by virtue of having won the President’s Trophy.

The highest the Bruins can finish at the end of this current regular season is 2nd in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.

The B’s enter Tampa on a four-game win streak (including a 3-0-0 record on their current four-game road trip) and might be getting back another player from injury Monday night.

Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) joined the club in Florida last Friday and is a game-time decision according to Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy.

Kevan Miller (upper body), Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) and Torey Krug (concussion) remain traveling with the team, but will not be back in the lineup.

Additionally, Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand) remains out for approximately four weeks.

Chris Wagner had a maintenance day at practice on Sunday, but should be good to go on the third line with Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle against the Lightning.

If Johansson does return to the lineup against Tampa, he’ll play on the right side of Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci.

Karson Kuhlman will likely be the odd forward out of the lineup as a healthy scratch on Monday.

Cassidy is expected to start Tuukka Rask (26-10-5 record, 2.35 goals against average, .918 save percentage in 42 games played) in net against the Lightning.

Tampa head coach, Jon Cooper, is expected to rely on his usual starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy (36-9-4, 2.33 GAA, .928 SV% in 49 GP)– in the midst of a career-year and what should be a Vezina Trophy winning performance this season– against Boston.

Yanni Gourde is serving the second game of his two-game suspension and will not be in the lineup for the Lightning. As such, Ryan Callahan will participate in his third consecutive game.

Dan Girardi will also miss Monday night’s matchup and may miss the remainder of the regular season for Tampa.

The Bruins are 8-3-0 in the month of March, while the Bolts are 9-2-0 so far this month with a, 3-0, loss against the Minnesota Wild on March 7th and a, 4-3, loss in St. Louis against the Blues on March 23rd.

Both teams face each other one more time at TD Garden on April 6th, which is the final day of the 2018-19 NHL regular season.


Boston defeated the Florida Panthers on Saturday night at BB&T Center in a blowout victory, 7-3, as the Bruins clinched a playoff berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as a result of the win.

Jaroslav Halak (20-10-4, 2.31 GAA, .924 SV% in 37 GP) made 31 saves on 34 shots against for a .912 SV% in the effort for the B’s, while Florida goaltender, Sam Montembeault (4-3-1, 3.02 GAA, .893 SV% in eight GP) stopped 32 out of 38 shots faced in the loss for the Panthers.

Halak joins Tuukka Rask with 20 or more wins this season for Boston. It marks the first time since the 1989-90 season that the Bruins have two goaltenders with at least 20 wins on the season (Andy Moog, 24 wins in 1989-90, and Reggie Lemelin, 22).

Noel Acciari, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Karson Kuhlman, Steven Kampfer, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron had the goals for the Bruins, while Jayce Hawryluk, Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trocheck scored for Florida.

Chara’s goal was the 200th goal of his NHL career. He is just the 22nd defender in league history to amass 200 or more goals in his career.

Boston surpassed the 100-point total on the season for a league-leading 23rd time in franchise history and clinched a playoff berth for the third season in a row under Bruce Cassidy’s reign behind the bench.

It is the 10th playoff appearance in the last 12 seasons for the Bruins.

Game of the week: December 10-16

With the holiday season and the league’s December 19 roster freeze on the horizon, the NHL schedule rages on with 51 fixtures scheduled for this week.

NHL SCHEDULE: December 10-16
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 10
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Penguins New York Islanders 2-1 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Detroit 1-3
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Tampa Bay Lightning 3-6
10:30 p.m. New Jersey San Jose 2-5
Tuesday, December 11
7 p.m. Arizona Boston 3-4
7 p.m. Los Angeles Buffalo 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Toronto Carolina 4-1
7 p.m. Vancouver Columbus 3-2
7:30 p.m. Detroit Washington 2-6
8 p.m. Florida St. Louis 3-4
8 p.m. Ottawa Nashville 1-3
8 p.m. Montréal Minnesota 1-7
8 p.m. Chicago Winnipeg 3-6
9 p.m. Edmonton Colorado 6-4
Wednesday, December 12
7 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights New York Islanders 3-2
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Chicago 3-6
8:30 p.m. Philadelphia Calgary 5-6 (OT)
10 p.m. Dallas Anaheim 3-6
Thursday, December 13
7 p.m. Arizona Buffalo  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Columbus  
7:30 p.m. Carolina Montréal RDS, TSN2
7:30 p.m. Toronto Tampa Bay TVAS
8 p.m. Vancouver Nashville  
8 p.m. Florida Minnesota  
8 p.m. Edmonton Winnipeg  
10:30 p.m. Dallas San Jose SN1
Friday, December 14
7 p.m. Vegas New Jersey  
7 p.m. Arizona Coyotes New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Boston Pittsburgh TVAS
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Detroit RDS
7:30 p.m. Washington Carolina  
8 p.m. Colorado St. Louis  
8:30 p.m. Winnipeg Chicago  
9 p.m. Philadelphia Edmonton  
Saturday, December 15
1:30 p.m. Calgary Minnesota  
7 p.m. Ottawa Montréal SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Toronto Florida CBC, CITY, SN1
7 p.m. Detroit Red Wings New York Islanders  
7 p.m. Los Angeles Pittsburgh NHLN
7 p.m. Buffalo Washington  
7 p.m. Anaheim Columbus  
8 p.m. New Jersey Nashville  
9 p.m. Dallas Colorado  
10 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers Vancouver Canucks CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 16
12:30 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights New York Rangers NHLN, SN
1 p.m. Arizona Carolina  
3 p.m. Calgary St. Louis  
5 p.m. Buffalo Boston NHLN
7 p.m. San Jose Chicago  
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Winnipeg SN, TVAS
10 p.m. Edmonton Vancouver  

In terms of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns, this is a quiet week in the NHL. Only four rivalries will be contested – highlighted by the Penguins visiting the Islanders on Monday and Edmonton at Winnipeg tonight.

Speaking of the Islanders, they’re heading back to Nassau Coliseum for two of their three games this week. The previously mentioned tilt against fellow Metropolitan Division side Pittsburgh will take place in the old barn, as will Saturday’s matchup against Detroit.

Finally, the weekly homecoming list is headlined by D Mike Reilly making his first trip back to St. Paul on Tuesday since being traded to Montréal on February 26.

Considering Reilly is a third-pair defenseman, that might be a liberal use of the word “headlined.”

Instead, I’m immensely more interested in tonight’s game from Florida that features the top two teams from the Atlantic Division.

Ontario’s (wait, you’re telling me there’s another team in the same province?) beloved Maple Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 21-9-1 record good enough for second place in the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and the entire NHL.

News flash for those that have been living under a rock for the last six months: yeah, the Leafs are legit.

The Maple Leafs boast a solid 6-1-1 record in their past eight showings, including impressive victories over the Bruins and Sharks – not to mention a thrilling overtime win in Buffalo on December 4.

With the defense blatantly struggling during this run (Toronto has allowed 36.38 shots against per game since November 24, the second-worst mark in the NHL behind Ottawa’s 37.22 in that time), the offense has taken full command of Head Coach Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs’ game plan.

On the season, Toronto averages 3.65 goals per game – the third-highest mark in the league. Most teams would be happy maintaining that success, but the Leafs have found an even higher gear of late, averaging 4.38 goals per game in their last eight showings.

Leading that charge has been exactly who you’d expect: C Auston Matthews. While his 6-5-11 totals since November 24 technically trail F Mitch Marner’s 13 assists (Marner, of course, ranks second in the league with 35 assists and is tied with Tampa’s F Brayden Point for sixth in points with 41 apiece), it must be remembered that Matthews has only played six games in that time as compared to his teammate’s eight.

Joining Marner and Matthews in averaging a point per game or better during this eight-game run are W Andreas Johnsson (5-5-10 totals) and D Jake Gardiner (1-7-8). And, don’t forget about C John Tavares, whose 19 goals are tied for ninth-most in the NHL with Colorado’s LW Gabriel Landeskog.

A final note in regards to Toronto’s attack is in regards to its deadly power play. For the season, the Leafs rank seventh best in the league with a 25.9 percent success rate. However, goals have been coming far more often since November 24, as they have lit the lamp on six of their last 18 man-advantage situations for a 33.3 percent power play that ties Tampa Bay for second-best in the NHL in that time.

Tonight’s game against Toronto is the finale of a four-game home stand for the 24-7-1 Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL’s top team. Not only are the Bolts attempting to win all four of those games at their barn, but they’re also trying to continue their current seven-game winning streak that started on November 29 against the Sabres.

Notable victories during this winning streak came against the aforementioned Sabres, Bruins and Avalanche.

Just like the Leafs, the key to Tampa Bay’s domination is its overpowering offense. During this winning streak, the Bolts have scored an average of 5.14(!) goals per game, far and away the best in the league in that time and a massive improvement on the league-leading four goals per game they’ve averaged for the entire season.

Every skater that has taken to the ice during this winning streak has at least two points to his credit, but only four have averaged at least a point per game. C Steven Stamkos (8-4-12 totals since November 29) leads that group, joined by RW Nikita Kucherov (3-9-12), Point (3-6-9) and D Victor Hedman (0-7-7).

Of course, it’s not as if its any surprise which players are leading the charge for the Lightning. Point’s 21 goals on the season are tied for second-most in the league, while Kucherov’s 33 assists and 45 points are both third-most in the NHL.

An added benefit of the Bolts’ commanding offense is its impact on the defensive end of the ice. While D Dan Girardi (1.7 blocks per game since November 29), Kucherov (six takeaways in his last seven showings) and F Cedric Paquette (3.9 hits per game during this winning streak) should certainly be commended for their defensive efforts – especially in light of 9-3-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy’s foot injury that had kept him out of the crease since November 10 – the fact that they are leading the team in their statistics with average numbers shows just how much the Lightning are dominating possession. During this winning run, Tampa Bay has allowed only 27.29 shots against per game, the sixth-lowest mark in the league in that time.

With Vasilevskiy returning to the ice tonight, it goes without saying that he’d likely appreciate that trend continuing while he gets back into the swing of play.

So who wins this clash of offensive titans?

For me, this game boils down to the goaltenders. How well Vasilevskiy performs in his first action in a month will be a major factor. Before going down with injury, he was managing a solid .927 save percentage and 2.29 GAA. While he does have the benefit of playing behind a solid team, the Leafs are good enough on the attack that they will still be able to test him significantly throughout this game.

Meanwhile, 17-8-0 G Frederik Andersen will not have the benefit of any solid defense playing in front of him this evening, but that has not been a problem yet this year. Despite facing an average of 33.12 shots against per appearance (compared to Vasilevskiy’s 31.69), Andersen has still posted a .928 save percentage and 2.44 GAA to earn the second-most wins in the NHL.

With that in mind, I’m leaning towards the Leafs taking this one in a wildly back-and-forth barn-burner of a game. I think Vasilevskiy will show just enough rust that Toronto can escape Tampa Bay with a 4-3 victory.

Lightning strike B’s, 3-2, in Tampa

Anthony Cirelli’s shorthanded goal in the third period was enough to hold off a potential comeback from the Boston Bruins Thursday night as the Tampa Bay Lightning went on to win, 3-2, at Amalie Arena.

Louis Domingue (12-4-0, 3.07 goals against average, .903 save percentage in 14 games played) made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 SV% in the win for the Bolts, while Tuukka Rask (6-6-2, 2.62 GAA, .914 SV% in 14 GP) stopped 27 out of 30 shots faced for a .900 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins have now lost four out of their last five games and have fallen to 14-10-4 (32 points) on the season– sliding to 5th place in the Atlantic Division and the 2nd wild card in the Eastern Conference as a result of the Montreal Canadiens’ win over the Ottawa Senators Thursday night.

Tampa improved to 22-7-1 (45 points) on the season and remained 1st in the Atlantic with the win.

Earlier in the day on Thursday, Charlie McAvoy was activated from the injured reserve and set to partake in pregame warmups. Kevan Miller was placed on the injured reserve having sustained a throat injury on Nov. 26th in Toronto.

The Bruins claimed Gemel Smith off waivers from the Dallas Stars on Thursday. Smith, 24, had two goals and one assist (three points) in 14 games for Dallas this season.

As a result of their roster moves, Connor Clifton was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) after appearing in nine games for Boston– including his NHL debut– this season.

Boston also announced five of their prospects that will be attending preliminary World Junior camps for their respective countries next week, including D Daniel Bukac and F Jakob Lauko for Czech Republic, G Kyle Keyser for Team USA, F Pavel Shen for Russia and F Jack Studnicka for Team Canada.

The 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship is being held in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia and begins later this month with round robin group play.

Bruce Cassidy shook up the lines with McAvoy returning from an upper body injury (concussion) after missing the last 20 games. The 20-year-old defender was paired with John Moore on the bottom defensive pair with Matt Grzelcyk playing alongside Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug partnered with Steven Kampfer (back in the lineup since being a healthy scratch for the last two games).

Jeremy Lauzon joined Smith and Chris Wagner as Boston’s healthy scratches, while Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) and Miller (throat) remain out of the lineup.

Among the forwards, Cassidy left the first line of Brad Marchand, Colby Cave and David Pastrnak intact, while placing Joakim Nordstrom to the left of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson was back in the lineup– centering the third line with Ryan Donato to his left and Noel Acciari to his right– and Danton Heinen was demoted to the fourth line with Sean Kuraly and David Backes with Wagner scratched.

Pastrnak (20) recorded the game’s first goal at 2:04 of the first period on a rebound given up by Domingue after Cave initially recorded a shot on goal. Pastrnak collected the puck with Domingue out of position and buried the loose puck in the twine to reach the 20-goal plateau for the third consecutive season.

Cave (2) had the only assist on the goal and the Bruins led, 1-0.

Only Jaromir Jagr needed fewer than 28 games to reach 20 goals in a season among all Czech born NHLers in history.

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After surviving an early onslaught from the B’s, the Lightning tied the game late in the opening frame with Brayden Point (21) firing a wicked wrist shot past Rask on a backhand pass from Nikita Kucherov.

McAvoy mishandled the puck, leaving Tyler Johnson in position to swipe at the rubber biscuit a couple of times before flinging a pass to Kucherov for the backhand drop pass to Point for the tying goal, 1-1.

Kucherov (31) and Johnson (9) had the assists on Point’s goal at 14:59.

Point now has 12 goals and seven assists (19 points) in his last 12 games.

Moments later, McAvoy was charged with the first penalty of the game for hooking Point at 18:50 while the Lightning forward was in the attacking zone. Tampa did not convert on the ensuing power play that would carry over into the second period.

Entering the first intermission, the game was tied, 1-1, and the Bolts were outshooting the Bruins, 15-11. Tampa also led in takeaways (5-3), while Boston led in blocked shots (10-4) and face-off win percentage (56-44). Both teams had two giveaways each and 12 hits aside.

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play after one period.

Victor Hedman tripped up Donato almost midway through the second period and sent the Bruins on their first power play of the night– 7:04 into the middle frame.

Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Neither team was able to break the tie as things went on in the second period and by the second intermission, the Bruins were outshooting the Lightning, 23-21. Boston led Tampa in shots, 12-6, in the second period alone.

The Bolts led in giveaways (9-4) and in hits (25-18) after two periods and the B’s maintained an advantage in blocked shots (11-10), takeaways (10-8) and face-off win% (52-48).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play entering the third period.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Mathieu Joseph (9) picked up the puck on an unforced turnover, waltzed past Carlo and tucked the puck underneath Rask to give the Lightning their first lead of the night, 2-1.

Alex Killorn (10) and Dan Girardi (6) had the primary and secondary assists on Joseph’s goal at 2:40 of the third period.

About a minute later, Domingue sent the puck over the glass and was charged with a delay of game minor at 3:49.

While on the penalty kill, Steven Stamkos broke up a play by Backes as the grizzled Bruins veteran tried to work the puck back to Marchand, which led to Anthony Cirelli (5) scooping up the loose puck and skating right by Pastrnak and Marchand as the Boston forwards helplessly trailed behind.

Cirelli avoided a poke check from Rask with just enough of a deke to slip the biscuit past the Bruins netminder and into the goal at 4:03 of the third period. Cirelli’s short handed tally was unassisted and gave Tampa a two-goal lead, 3-1.

With a little under two minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker.

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Krejci (3) fired a slap shot from the point at 18:15 (assisted by Pastrnak (12) and Backes (3)– the three David’s united!) and scored his first goal in 19 games to pull the Bruins within one, but it wasn’t enough.

As the final horn sounded, the Bruins suffered their third straight loss as the Lightning won their fifth game in-a-row. Tampa struck down Boston, 3-2, on the scoreboard, despite being outshot, 35-30.

The Bolts finished the game with the advantage in giveaways (10-6) and hits (33-22), while the Bruins led in face-off win% (56-44). Both teams had 16 blocked shots each and the Lightning were 0/1 on the power play, while the B’s were 0/2.

Tampa improved to 6-2-0 when tied after one period and Boston fell to 3-3-3 when tied after 20 minutes.

Boston travels home to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday before traveling to Ottawa to face the Senators on Sunday. The Bruins then host the Arizona Coyotes next Tuesday before a two-day break and a one-game road trip to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins next Friday.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #121- Four-Year Vets

Nick and Connor celebrate the conclusion of the fourth season of the podcast, talk jerseys and logos from the week, the Edmonton Oilers defense and rank the best division by goaltenders.

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

2018 Offseason Preview: New York Rangers

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

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

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

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

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

2018 NHL Entry Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pending free agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

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

Burakovsky and Holtby lead Caps to Cup Finals

 

With his second-straight shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning, First Star of the Game G Braden Holtby lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-0 Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Capitals entered this game with a 7-2 record away from Capital One Arena this postseason, but a 4-11 all-time record in Game 7s for their franchise history.

One of these records had to give.

Doing his best to turn the tables in Washington’s favor, Third Star W Alex Ovechkin (F Evgeny Kuznetsov and RW Tom Wilson) provided one of his patented slap shots from above the left face-off circle only 62 seconds into the contest to give the Capitals an early 1-0 advantage.

That goal proved to be the game-winner, due in large part to the excellent performance of Holtby. He saved all 29 shots he faced during regulation, with 22 of those being struck in the first two periods.

While Holtby is certainly deserving of credit, it is not without some fortuitous bounces that he held on to his clean sheet. There were more than a few occasions in this tilt that a puck initially beat him between his legs or rang off the post, but he was fortunate that his defense was there to keep the Lightning from scoring off the rebound.

D John Carlson‘s unbelievable five shot blocks (a game-high) played a major role defensively for Washington, as did Ovechkin’s five hits (tied with D Victor Hedman and LW Chris Kunitz for a game-high) and C Lars Eller‘s two takeaways (you guessed it, another game-high).

Additionally, all this talk about Holtby is not to discredit the work done by G Andrei Vasilevskiy. Playing in the second Eastern Finals Game 7 of his young career, the Russian’s 19-for-22 stat line (.864 save percentage) is not reflective of his performance, as he made more than his fair share of awe-inspiring saves.

In fact, the two insurance goals scored in the second period by Second Star W Andre Burakovsky could largely be pinned on Vasilevskiy’s defense, as both were buried as a result of one-on-one matchups.

At the 8:59 mark of the second period, Burakovsky took advantage of D Dan Girardi mishandling the puck in his own zone to register his first playoff tally since May 8, 2017 – another two-goal performance. After wrapping his way around the defenseman, the Austrian slid towards Vasilevskiy’s crease before sneaking a wrist shot under the netminder’s right arm to the far post.

7:32 later, Burakovsky was on the receiving end of another play by a defenseman, but this blueliner was one of his own. Carlson intercepted a Lightning pass off the boards in his own defensive zone and quickly sprang his waiting teammate at the red line, setting Burakovsky up for his second breakaway opportunity of the frame. Just before D Ryan McDonagh caught up to him, the winger slid his wrister past Vasilevsky five-hole, setting the score at 3-0 with 23:29 remaining in regulation.

The final goal of the game belonged to C Nicklas Backstrom, who scored an empty netter with 3:43 remaining in the Lightning’s season.

No Game 7 is complete without tempers flaring, and that box was checked early. With 7:01 remaining in the first period, a seemingly innocent meeting of the minds in Vasilevskiy’s crease – following an incredible save, no less – proved to be nothing of the sort, as the ensuing shoving match between D Braydon Coburn and Kuznetsov resulted in the former possessing two sweaters: the one he was wearing and his opponent’s.

That ignited the fury of Wilson, who tried his hardest to rush Coburn but was intercepted by an official. Both Coburn and Wilson were charged with matching unsportsmanlike penalties, setting play at even-strength four-on-four for two minutes.

However, this was not a simple cool-down period in the penalty box. Immediately upon their release, Coburn and Wilson elected to engage in an exciting bout of fisticuffs. Coburn won by virtue of Wilson falling first, but both earned “five for fighting” major penalties and were sent to their respective dressing rooms for the remainder of the frame.

If Coburn elected to fight Wilson to inspire his club, it did little to do that. After his bout, the Bolts managed only one more shot on goal in the frame, and only 20 for the remainder of the game. Throw in the excellent form that Holtby was sporting, and there was little Tampa – the preseason favorite in many’s eyes – could do to stave off elimination.

With the Prince of Wales Trophy in hand, Washington will wage war against the Vegas Golden Knights in a Stanley Cup Final that features two teams searching for their first title. Game 1 is scheduled for Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern from the theatrical confines of T-Mobile Arena and will be broadcast on CBC, NBCSN, SN1 and TVAS.

An early note regarding these Finals in relation to these playoffs: In the First Round, the Boston Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games, but were eliminated in the Second Round. Similarly, the Second Round featured the Winnipeg Jets besting the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7, but falling in the Western Conference Finals.

After the Caps required seven contests to eliminate Tampa Bay, will they suffer a similar fate against Vegas? Or will they buck yet another trend?

Only time – and at least four hockey games – will tell.

Bolts advance to Eastern Conference Final with 3-1 win in Game 5

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The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Boston Bruins, 3-1, on Sunday, eliminating Boston in five games en route to the third round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Call it an Eastern Conference Finals Appearance Dynasty if you want, but Tampa has one thing in their sight if they can get four more wins this postseason— winning their 2nd Cup in franchise history. This year’s appearance in the Eastern Conference Final marks just the third time in the last four years that the Lightning are a participant (2015 vs NYR, 2016 vs PIT & 2018).

For the first time in the series, the team that scored first in the game lost the game.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves on 28 shots against for a .964 save percentage in the win for the Lightning, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask turned aside 19 out of 21 shots faced for a .905 SV% in the loss.

Tampa got out to a quick start in the overall flow of the game, controlling its pace and puck possession as the Bruins got out to another slow start.

Charlie McAvoy gave a quick cross check to Brayden Point about seven minutes into the first period and gave the Lightning their first power play of the afternoon. The Bolts did not convert on the skater advantage.

Boston outlasted the ten-minute mark in the opening frame, unlike the previous two games in the series where the Lightning held a 2-0 lead halfway through the first period.

David Backes bumped Anthony Cirelli into Boston’s net and was handed a minor penalty for interference at 11:52. Tampa’s 5-on-4 power play was short-lived as defender, Victor Hedman, held Bruins forward, Brad Marchand, and received a minor infraction for holding.

Marchand was also penalized for embellishment on the call, so the Lightning would still be on the power play at 12:04 of the first period.

Late in the first, Dan Girardi, checked Sean Kuraly without the puck and the Bruins went on the power play. About a minute later, Cedric Paquette, tripped David Pastrnak at 18:06 of the first period and Boston’s 5-on-4 advantage became a 5-on-3 advantage for 56 seconds.

Shortly after Girardi’s penalty expired, David Krejci (3) received a pass from McAvoy and fired a one-timer past Vasilevskiy as the Lightning goaltender was moving side-to-side in the crease.

McAvoy (4) and Patrice Bergeron (10) had the assists on Krejci’s power play goal at 19:12 of the first period and Boston jumped out to the lead, 1-0.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were ahead on the scoreboard, 1-0, and in shots on goal, 9-7. Boston also held on to an advantage in blocked shots (6-5), while Tampa was leading in hits (13-9) and giveaways (3-2) after one period. The B’s were 1/2 on the power play and the Bolts were 0/2 on the man advantage through 20 minutes of play.

Much like the start of the game, the Lightning came out of the gates in the second period at full throttle as Boston was making turnover after turnover.

Those turnovers proved to be costly past the halfway mark in the second period, as Krejci gave up the puck to Point (4) who promptly buried a shot in the twine with Rask out of position due to Krejci’s complete redirection of the play.

Point’s goal was unassisted and tied the game, 1-1, at 10:43.

Shortly thereafter, Rick Nash, took a shot from a teammate off the right knee and needed some assistance down the tunnel. The elder Nash on Boston’s roster would return to the action.

J.T. Miller followed through on a hit delivered to Bruins veteran, David Backes, wherein both players collided helmets and Backes fell to the ice, motionless, save for reaching for his head. He did not return to the game.

No penalty was assessed on the play.

Bergeron was sent to the box for tripping Ondrej Palat at 13:31 of the second period and the Lightning capitalized on the ensuing man advantage just 29 seconds later.

Miller (2) fired a shot home at 14:00 of the second period to give Tampa a one-goal lead, 2-1, on what would become the game-winning, series-clinching, goal. Nikita Kucherov (6) and Steven Stamkos (7) notched the assists on the goal.

With the Bolts ahead by one on the scoreboard after two periods, shots on goal were even, 14-14. Both teams had a power play goal and the Bruins had a slight advantage in blocked shots (10-8).

Boston went stride for stride with Tampa in the third period, as Rask kept his team in the game, but the Bruins could not muster a shot on goal that would go past Vasilevskiy and even the score.

Late in the third, Ryan McDonagh tripped up Pastrnak and was sent to the sin bin for two-minutes. Boston could not capitalize on the power play as time ticked down from under five minutes to go to under two minutes left in regulation.

Bruce Cassidy used his timeout with 3:16 remaining in the game and pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with a little over 90 seconds left in the season.

A faceoff in the attacking zone resulted in a defensive zone win for the Lightning, where Anton Stralman had a clear lane to flip the puck the length of the ice into the empty four-by-six frame in Boston’s end.

Stalman (1) scored his first goal of the 2018 postseason and made it, 3-1, Tampa at 18:31 of the third period. Hedman (6) had the only assist on the goal.

Rask vacated the goal again with less than a minute left, but it was all for naught as the Lightning finished the Bruins’s playoff hopes.

After a 60-minute effort, the Bolts had a 3-1 victory, clinching the series, 4-1. Boston finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal, 28-22, while the Lightning led in blocked shots (17-12), hits (37-29), giveaways (9-8) and faceoff win percentage (55-45). Both teams went 1/3 on the power play on the afternoon.

Tampa head coach, Jon Cooper, heads to his third career Eastern Conference Final behind the bench with the Lightning, while the Bruins fall to 0-24 all-time when trailing, 3-1, in a best-of-seven game series.

Boston was without defenseman, Torey Krug, on Sunday as a result of his lower body injury sustained in Game 4. Nick Holden made his Bruins playoffs debut  in Krug’s place.

The Lightning await the winner of the Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins series to find out who they’ll battle in the last playoff round before the Stanley Cup Final. Washington currently leads their series with Pittsburgh, 3-2.