Tag Archives: Dmitrij Jaskin

2018 Offseason Preview: St. Louis Blues

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the St. Louis Blues and their outlook for the summer.

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One game. One game made all the difference for the St. Louis Blues in making or missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and you’ll never guess what happened.

They lost.

Yes, after compiling a 44-31-6 record, the Blues were ahead of the Colorado Avalanche by one point in the wild card race to secure the last spot in the postseason.

Despite a season-long lackluster performance in goal from Jake Allen (a career worst 2.75 goals against average and second worst .906 save percentage in 59 games played), St. Louis needed a win in any fashion in the final game of the regular season against the Avs to go up against the Nashville Predators in the First Round.

Instead, the club finished 44-32-6 on the season with 94 points– one point out of the wild card spot– and 5th in the Central Division.

Mike Yeo missed the playoffs in his first year as head coach of the Blues without any assistance from Ken Hitchcock and General Manager Doug Armstrong was left scratching his head.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Fans were left scratching their heads after Armstrong traded hometown hero Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets in a surprise move at the trade deadline in exchange for a 2018 first round pick (29th overall) and prospect Erik Foley.

Stastny’s dad, Peter– the famous Québec Nordique– was left stunned.

Armstrong replaced the first round pick that he swapped with the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2017 Draft as part of the Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick and a conditional 2018 first round pick for Brayden Schenn transaction, but at the cost of one of the better faceoff-winning centers in the league.

With the 29th overall selection in this year’s draft, Armstrong will be left picking the best available or surprising everyone– yet again– and going off the board.

Hopefully for the better, considering the organization is teetering on the edge of a retooling/rebuild.

Pending free agents

What else is there to expect from a front office that’s had to move Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie, while letting David Backes walk in free agency in years past, thanks to a tight salary cap situation?

Armstrong can make some sweeping changes by figuring out the future of St. Louis’s crease protection plan (more on that later), but he can also restructure the team’s offensive outlook by ridding themselves of some underperforming second through fourth liners.

Thankfully, the Blues have about $12.900 million to spend with the cap expected to rise this summer.

That’s not a lot to work with, but it can bring in a difference maker, while still providing enough room to work a deal that might send Vladimir Sobotka and his $3.500 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season (or an equivalent) packing via a trade.

Both pending unrestricted free agent forwards, Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak are 34-years-old with one trending in opposite directions of the other.

Upshall has loved St. Louis and its fans have responded in kind, but the time is now for the Blues to make a clean break in this relationship. He’s averaged 17 points over the last three seasons. That’s not great with an aging roster.

Brodziak, on the other hand, has bounced back from shortened seasons due to injury and doubled his point total from 15 points (69 games played) in 2016-17 to 33 points (81 GP) this season.

At first look, keeping a 34-year-old that was trending in the wrong direction when he came to St. Louis in 2015-16 isn’t great, but Brodziak is proving people wrong as part of a comeback tour with the Blues (albeit lasting three seasons). If you don’t re-sign Upshall, you can at least afford to bring back Brodziak.

But we’ll see what kind of logic Armstrong is working with this offseason.

Then there’s pending restricted free agent forwards, Robby Fabbri, Dmitrij Jaskin, Oskar Sundqvist and Nikita Soshnikov.

Fabbri, 22, had 11-18–29 totals in 51 GP, down from his 18-19–37 totals in 72 games in 2016-17. That’s still respectable as a bottom-six forward, however.

Jaskin, 25, had six more points this season in 25 more games played than in 2016-17. That means he had 17 points in 76 GP this season and 11 points in 51 GP last season. The Blues can move on if they’d like.

Sundqvist, 24, was acquired last June along with a first round pick as part of the Ryan Reaves trade and had one goal and four assists (five points) in 42 games for St. Louis this season. That’s not great, but he finally played the most games he’s ever seen in one season, since breaking into the NHL in 2015-16 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Soshnikov, 24, had one goal and one assist (two points) in 12 games with the Blues after being acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also had no points in three games with Toronto this season and has 8-8–16 totals in 82 career NHL games since 2015-16.

Unless Yeo can perform a miracle as a head coach, there’s no point in seeing if anything’s left in the potential tank.

The Blues have two pending-RFA defenders in Jordan Schmaltz and Joel Edmundson. Both are 24-years-old.

Schmaltz had one assist in 13 games this season. He clearly isn’t part of St. Louis’s current plan, leaving one of two options– stick around as a depth blueliner or not return.

Edmundson set a career-high in goals (7) and points (17) in 69 games played this season. Nice. He’s a top-six defender and should see another year or two in a sweater with a giant blue music note on it.

If anyone’s willing to take on all or some of Jay Bouwmeester‘s $5.400 million cap hit with one year remaining– provided the 34-year-old defenseman waives his no-trade-clause– then St. Louis should pursue that avenue.

Okay, now for the future of St. Louis’s goaltending.

Jordan Binnington, 24, is a pending-RFA and should get a chance at the NHL level.

Then again, Carter Hutton, 32, is a pending-UFA and outplayed the 27-year-old starter, Jake Allen at times this season.

If St. Louis is fine staying the course as a middle of the road team that’ll come up short for a year or two, then there’s no need to worry and Hutton should be re-signed and see more time in net to offset Allen’s workload.

But if any of that clashes with what Armstrong and the rest of his front office envisions for the club, well… that’s the million dollar question.

A rebuild is not out of the question, but certainly frowned upon, given how star-forward, Vladimir Tarasenko is in his prime now.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Justin Selman (RFA), Beau Bennett (RFA), Mackenzie MacEachern (RFA), Thomas Vannelli (RFA), Jordan Binnington (RFA), Petteri Lindbohm (RFA), Wade Megan (UFA)

April 7 – Day 178 – Win and you’re in

Get ready hockey fans. Today has the chance to get wild.

With the exception of Pittsburgh, each and every team will be in action today, and most of those clubs (all but Boston and Florida) are playing their final game of the regular season.

The action starts with a 3 p.m. matinee featuring the New York Rangers at Philadelphia (NBC), a fun warm-up setting up the seven games (Chicago at Winnipeg [SN], Ottawa at Boston [CITY/TVAS], Montréal at Toronto [CBC/TVAS], the New York Islanders at Detroit, Buffalo at Florida, New Jersey at Washington [NHLN] and Tampa Bay at Carolina) at 7 p.m. Columbus at Nashville is the only puck drop scheduled for 8 p.m., with two tilts (Anaheim at Arizona and St. Louis at Colorado [NHLN]) waiting an hour before getting underway. Another couple fixtures (Vegas at Calgary and Vancouver at Edmonton [CBC]) find their start at 10 p.m., while the final pair (Dallas at Los Angeles [NHLN] and Minnesota at San Jose) wait half an hour before closing out this busy Saturday. All times Eastern.

With all those points on the line, any playoff spot not locked down has the chance to change hands. Today’s most important matchups include:

  • New York at Philadelphia: As long as the Flyers do anything better than lose in regulation, they eliminate Florida and clinch a spot in the postseason for the second time in three seasons. What spot that’d be is anyone’s guess, as Philly could do as well as third in the Metropolitan Division or remain the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.
  • Ottawa at Boston: Even with a game in hand, the Bruins are not in control of their own seeding. They need a win today and tomorrow – neither of which may come in a shootout – before they can even think about challenging for first place in the East.
  • Buffalo at Florida: This game hinges on the Flyers’ result. A Philly regulation loss keeps the Panthers’ playoff hopes alive, but they still have to win today and tomorrow’s games – with at least one of those not requiring the shootout.
  • New Jersey at Washington: A win ensures the Devils a minimum of the East’s top wild card, but they can climb into third place in the Metro if Columbus doesn’t earn two points or requires a shootout to beat Nashville.
  • Tampa Bay at Carolina: As long as they avoid a shootout, two points for the Bolts clinches them the top seed in the East.
  • Columbus at Nashville: Having already won their season series against the Devils, all the Blue Jackets need to clinch third place in the Metropolitan Division is a victory that doesn’t necessitate a shootout.
  • Anaheim at Arizona: A win of any variety ensures the Ducks no worse than third place in the Pacific Division, but two points paired with a Sharks regulation loss propels Anaheim into second.
  • St. Louis at Colorado: The second wild card is the only spot left in the Western Conference playoffs, and both the Avalanche and Blues are eligible.
  • Dallas at Los Angeles: The Kings can do no worse than their current position as the West’s first wild card, but it’s still possible for them to jump all the way into second place in the Pacific.
  • Minnesota at San Jose: With as little as a point, the Sharks will clinch second place in the Pacific – good enough for home ice in the first round.

No arena is going to be buzzing quite like Pepsi Center tonight, so it looks like we’re headed to Denver for an extremely important Central showdown!

The nice thing about this game is it’s totally independent of the rest of today’s action. Simply put, the winner of this contest is all but ensured a season that extends beyond 82 games.

However, on the last day of the year in the Western Conference, “all but ensured” just isn’t precise enough, is it?

Currently sitting in the second wildcard spot with a one-point advantage, 44-31-6 St. Louis has the inside track towards qualifying for its seventh-consecutive postseason. A win of any variety – or even a loss in extra time (more on that in a moment) – for the Blues this evening earns them a date with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators.

The reason the Blues are in that second wildcard spot is due to beating Chicago 4-1 last night to snap their four-game losing skid. Having posted a 1-3-1 record since March 30, St. Louis is very fortunate to still be in playoff consideration.

As would be expected from a five-game run like that, issues abound with this Blues squad. For starters, the offense is struggling, managing only 2.4 goals per game since March 30 to rank eighth-worst in the NHL in that time.

The biggest reason for St. Louis’ sputtering attack is that both D Colton Parayko (6-29-35 totals) and F Vladimir Sobotka (11-20-31) are in significant scoring ruts right now. Even though both players have provided at least 31 points so far this season, neither have found the scorecard during this five-game run. Additionally, D Alex Pietrangelo (15-38-53) and F Alex Steen (15-31-46) have also had their scoring issues, as neither have played anywhere near their season .6 points-per-game form during this skid, having posted only a point apiece.

However, those skaters’ struggles pale in comparison to the horrid effort 27-24-3 G Jake Allen has put forth lately, and really for his entire season as a whole. Allen has posted an abysmal .869 save percentage and 3.85 GAA in his last four starts – well off the pace of his lackluster .905 save percentage and 2.74 GAA for the season.

For those wondering if the Blues’ defense is to blame, you’d be surprised to learn that St. Louis has allowed only 27.8 shots against per game in its last four showings – the third-best average in the NHL in that time. Even with the incredible play of F Kyle Brodziak (seven takeaways in his past five games), D Joel Edmundson (2.6 blocks per game since March 30) and W Dmitrij Jaskin (3.4 hits per game over this skid) in front of him, Allen continues to let pucks by at an alarming rate that would earn most goalies a demotion to backup.

The beauty of a hockey club always keeping two goaltenders on the active roster is the ability to turn to one when the other is struggling. Why Head Coach Mike Yeo hasn’t given starts to 17-7-3 G Carter Hutton more often is truly baffling. After all, Hutton’s .931 season save percentage and 2.09 GAA are both best in the league among qualified goaltenders, not to mention the fact that he earned the only win in St. Louis’ last five outings – last night’s 4-1 victory against Chiacgo.

I must admit, as a sided supporter of this club, I would have much preferred to see Allen play last night’s game against the Blackhawks – a game that ultimately didn’t matter considering the Blues could still qualify for the playoffs with a win tonight – and have Hutton ready to go today.

Unfortunately for Yeo and the Blues, they’ve made their bed and now they must lay in it – no matter the result.

As for the 42-30-9 Avalanche, they need something a little bit more than just any old victory tonight to qualify for the playoffs: they have to win this game in regulation. Neither overtime nor a shootout is acceptable for Colorado as, even though it’d be tied with the Blues at 95 points if it won, it would lose either the regulation+overtime wins tiebreaker (in the case of a shootout victory) or the season series tiebreaker (St. Louis has earned six points at the hand of the Avalanche, yielding only two).

As luck would have it, Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a similar 1-2-1 record since March 30. However, the similarities end there, as the Avs have been recording losses for far different reasons.

While the defensive skaters have not played exactly well lately – allowing an average of 34 shots against per game since March 30 to rank (t)sixth-worst in the league in that time – they’ve been more than bailed out by the excellent play of 18-13-3 G Jonathan Bernier. Having assumed starting duties since 24-16-6 G Semyon Varlamov went down with a knee injury, Bernier has managed a .905 save percentage and 3.26 GAA in his last four appearances – marks roughly in line with his .912 save percentage and 2.87 GAA for the entire season, especially when we factor in that the Avs have allowed only 2.75 goals per game since March 30 ([t]10th-best in the NHL in that time).

Instead, the biggest problem for Colorado lately has been its sputtering offense, which has scored only 2.75 goals per game in its past four outings to rank (t)12th-worst in the NHL since March 30.

It’s never a good sign when a potential Hart Trophy candidate gets held goalless for multiple games in a row, so one can only imagine the frustration F Nathan MacKinnon (38-57-95 totals) is experiencing right now during his nine-game goalless skid – his longest rut of the season. Further accenting MacKinnon’s scoring troubles, linemate LW Gabriel Landeskog (24-35-59) has also been held to only two assists during this four-game run.

A few more players that have had their issues lately include F Carl Soderberg (16-19-35 totals) and F J.T. Compher (13-10-23), not to mention a fractured patella that will keep D Erik Johnson (9-16-25) off the ice for the next six weeks. Compher and Soderberg are both riding six-game scoreless skids in their bottom-six roles, putting even more pressure on MacKinnon’s line to come alive and carry the team.

As mentioned before, Colorado has certainly had its struggles this season against St. Louis, as the Blues have posted a 3-1-0 record in their first four meetings.

The first matchup occurred way back on October 19, a little over two weeks before the F Matt Duchene trade that allowed the Avalanche to assume their winning form. With that in mind, it only makes sense that the Blues won that game at Pepsi Center 4-3 (D Robert Bortuzzo‘s first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner).

The last three games have occurred a bit more recently. Game 2 was scheduled for January 25 at Scottrade Center, where St. Louis earned a 3-1 victory (Steen earned First Star honors with his one-goal, two-point night). The Avs were back in Missouri exactly two weeks later, suffering an embarrassing 6-1 loss at the hands of the Notes (D Vince Dunn led the way with a three-assist effort).

That loss in particular surely stung, as Colorado made sure its last visit of the season to St. Louis didn’t end in a similar fashion. As such, the Avs won March 15’s showdown by a decisive 4-1 score (Varlamov earned First Star honors with his 44-save performance).

With this game boiling down to whether St. Louis’ goaltending or Colorado’s offense can return to form fastest, I’m going to bet on the home team with a day’s rest every time. Mix in the fact that I’ve trusted MacKinnon to bounce back far more than Allen all season, and the Avalanche look like as good a lock as any for the postseason.


With a 5-3 victory over the Dallas Stars at Honda Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Anaheim Ducks have jumped back into third place in the Pacific Division with only only one day of play remaining in the Western Conference.

If it weren’t for a disastrous first period for the Stars defensively, the score would have better reflected just how competitive this game was. Even though both teams managed only a goal apiece in both the second and third frames, Anaheim earned its victory by notching three markers in the opening 20 minutes.

Second Star of the Game W Jakob Silfverberg (First Star D Josh Manson and F Andrew Cogliano) got the scoring started early, burying a tip-in only 2:28 into the game to give Anaheim an early lead, and that advantage doubled to two only 4:05 later when F Rickard Rakell (C Ryan Getzlaf and C Adam Henrique) scored a power play tip-in with RW Alexander Radulov in the penalty box for slashing Getzlaf. Though D Marc Methot (Radulov and LW Jamie Benn) was able to score his first goal of the season to pull Dallas back within a goal with 8:47 remaining in the period, C Derek Grant (Silfverberg and D Hampus Lindholm) sneaked a tip-in past G Mike McKenna with only 20 ticks remaining on the opening frame’s clock to set the score at 3-1 going into the first intermission.

Scoring started to slow down in the second period, but that’s not to say there weren’t any important goals scored. In fact, the most important tally – the game-winner – was struck 4:36 into the frame courtesy of Manson (Getzlaf and W Corey Perry).

Perry deserves a lot of the credit for this goal, as it was him that intercepted Radulov’s pass along the blue line to spring a breakaway opportunity for Anaheim. Once Perry reached the right face-off dot in his attacking zone, he dropped a pass to Getzlaf who one-timed a wrist shot toward McKenna’s far post. The netminder completed the save with his right shoulder, but he left a juicy rebound that Manson converted into an easy backhanded goal considering McKenna had drifted beyond his crease.

Facing a three-goal deficit, the Stars got to work on the offensive end with C Radek Faksa (D Greg Pateryn and F Tyler Pitlick) potting a wrister at the 7:49 mark, setting the 4-2 score that held into the second intermission.

Whatever Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said in the dressing room, it obviously inspired Benn (D John Klingberg), who buried a wrister 2:52 into the third period to pull Dallas back within a goal of tying the game. However, the Stars’ inability to find that leveling goal paired with Cogliano’s (Silfverberg and F Ryan Kesler) wrister with 5:25 remaining in regulation ensured Anaheim two more points in the standings.

G Ryan Miller earned the victory after saving 23-of-26 shots faced (.885 save percentage), leaving the loss to McKenna, who saved 28-of-33 (.848).

The 102-54-22 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are now riding a five-game point streak – a run that has expanded their advantage over the roadies in the series to 51 points.

March 27 – Day 167 – A win streak must end!

Tuesdays are usually one of the busier days in the NHL’s weekly schedule, and this one is no different as nine matchups are on tap this evening.

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. when Carolina at New Jersey drops the puck, followed half an hour later by two more (the New York Islanders at Ottawa [RDS] and Pittsburgh at Detroit [NHLN/TVAS]). 8 p.m. marks the start of a trio of tilts (San Jose at St. Louis, Minnesota at Nashville and Boston at Winnipeg), while Philadelphia at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Columbus at Edmonton is next up at 9 p.m., while Anaheim at Vancouver closes out the night with a 10 p.m. showdown. All times Eastern.

Surprisingly, there’s only two games being televised nationally this evening even though there’s some interesting narratives associated with at least three…

  • Pittsburgh at Detroit: After meeting in back-to-back Stanley Cups, the relationship between these teams and fanbases is – at least in my experience – one of mutual respect.
  • Boston at Winnipeg: D Paul Postma is currently with the Boston Bruins instead of the Providence variety and, should he be active tonight, he’ll make his first return to Winnipeg since departing as a free agent.
  • Columbus at Edmonton: After four seasons with the Blue Jackets, F Mark Letestu signed with the Oil in 2015-16. However, he’s since been traded back to Columbus, and this will be his first return to Rogers Place as a former Oiler.

As tempting as the Bruins-Jets matchup is – believe me, that’s going to be a stellar game – the fact that both teams have already clinched a postseason spot makes it a little less exciting. However, the Kings’ win last night booted St. Louis out of playoff picture, and it’ll have to beat a red-hot Sharks team to resolve that issue.

 

Due in large part to Columbus’ recent 10-game winning streak that just ended (at the hand of the Blues, mind you), 44-23-9 San Jose’s eight-game winning streak has not gotten the publicity it deserves.

Perhaps part of the reason for that is the Sharks’ schedule. No victory in the NHL is easy, but the fact that six of San Jose’s last eight opponents currently sit outside the playoff picture shows that the Sharks’ competition of late has been significantly less talented.

On the other hand, the Sharks would argue that they can only play the teams on their schedule in the order they come and that they are taking care of business during the home stretch of the regular season.

Either way, the Sharks have left little to doubt if they’re prepared for the playoffs. Earlier in the season, I had my concerns about San Jose’s playoff chances due to its less than exemplary offense.

The Sharks have put those doubts to bed over this winning streak, as their unbelievable 4.63 goals per game since March 12 has been the best mark in the NHL in that time, not to mention 1.2 goals better than the second-best Western playoff team (Anaheim) over that same stretch.

It’s hard to say which skater has been the most dominant during this eight-game run, as F Tomas Hertl has posted the most points with his 5-4-9 totals (21-23-44 for the season), but LW Evander Kane‘s gaudy 7-1-8 marks (28-25-53 for the season) have more than proven why his services were so desired at the trade deadline.

Whichever mark you think is most impressive, the best thing for San Jose is that neither player has participated on the same scoring play in Kane’s short tenure in Northern California. That means that each and every one of their points represents its own goal, so those two players have contributed to 17 of the Sharks’ most recent 37 scores. That’s over 45.9 percent of the offense from only two players, an impressive stat to say the least.

Of course, the story of San Jose’s attack doesn’t stop there, as second-liner F Logan Couture (4-4-8 totals since March 12, 31-26-57 overall) and third-pair defenseman Brenden Dillon (3-5-8 since March 12, 4-16-20 overall) are also averaging a point per game over this run.

That impressive offense has also yielded results on the defensive end, as the Sharks are possessing the puck so well they’re limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities. Pair that with Dillon (two hits per game since March 12) and D Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s (2.3 blocks per game over this run) defensive efforts, and you get a team that has allowed only 30.13 shots against per game over its past eight games, the 11th-best mark in the NHL since March 12.

No one has enjoyed that performance more than 29-18-6 G Martin Jones, who’s all but likely to be in net this evening. Jones has posted an impressive .919 save percentage and 2.38 GAA over his past seven starts, improving his season marks to a .918 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.

Between Jones and his skaters, the Sharks have allowed only 2.5 goals per game since March 12, the (t)ninth-lowest average in the league in that time.

However, it’s not just the Sharks that come into this game defending a winning streak. The 42-28-5 Blues have also gone five-straight games without suffering a loss, and they have all intentions of keeping their winning ways going at Scottrade Center this evening.

You’re hard pressed to find a defense playing better right now than St. Louis’. Led by the impressive efforts of W Dmitrij Jaskin (3.2 hits per game since March 17), D Colton Parayko (four takeaways in his last five games) and D Alex Pietrangelo (2.6 blocks per game over this run), the Notes have allowed only 25.2 shots per game since March 17, the best mark in the NHL in that time.

Similar to Jones with the Sharks, the biggest beneficiary of this performance has been none other than 26-21-2 G Jake Allen, who will be earning his 10th-consecutive start this evening. With help from the lightened workload, Allen has managed an impressive .921 save percentage and 1.97 GAA in his last five starts, well superior to his season statistics of a .908 save percentage and 2.68 GAA.

Between Allen and his skaters, the Blues have allowed an average of two goals per game since March 17, the (t)second-best mark in the Western Conference and league in that time.

While the Blues’ offense hasn’t achieved rankings quite as high as the defense of late, St. Louis still sports an impressive attack that cannot be taken lightly, as five players have averaged at least a point per game over their last five showings.

There’s been no better Blues skater lately than Pietrangelo. A captain that prefers to lead by example, Pietro has posted 3-5-8 totals since March 17 to improve his season marks to 15-36-51, the (t)second-most goals and 12th-highest point total among all NHL defensemen.

Joining Pietrangelo in averaging a point per game over this five-game winning streak includes F Jaden Schwartz (2-4-6 totals since March 17, 22-33-55 overall), F Alex Steen (2-3-5 since March 17, 15-30-45 overall), F Brayden Schenn (1-4-5 since March 17, 25-38-63 overall) and D Vince Dunn (1-4-5 since March 17, 5-17-22 overall). Altogether, the Blue Notes have averaged 3.4 goals per game over their last five games, the (t)10th-best mark in the NHL since March 17.

Of these teams, the Blues definitely need to keep their winning streak alive the most considering their precarious playoff chances (more on that in a moment). Unfortunately for them, they have not performed well against the Sharks this season, as San Jose has taken both previous meetings. San Jose won the first game at Scottrade Center on February 20 with a 3-2 scored (W Mikkel Boedker provided the game-winning goal), followed by a defensive 2-0 victory at SAP Center on March 8 (Boedker again provided the game-winning goal to earn First Star honors).

Should the Notes be able to keep Boedker off the board and buck that trend, they’ll catapult themselves into sixth place in the Western Conference, good enough for the first wild card (Los Angeles would fall to the second and Colorado would end up on the wrong side of the bubble).

As for San Jose, it currently sits six points behind Vegas for the Pacific Division lead and six points ahead of third-place Anaheim. With all three teams having six games remaining to play, anything is still technically possible, but it seems likely that the Golden Knights and Sharks are locked in as the top two seeds in the division.

I know who I’m pulling for in this game, but that’s not what you came here for. The Blues are awfully confident right now having beaten both Boston and Columbus in the past week, but the Sharks are definitely playing much better right now. This game might require more than 60 minutes, but I have a feeling San Jose walks away with two points tonight.


With a three-point effort, First Star of the Game F Jon Marchessault led the Vegas Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

After both squads played to a scoreless first period, Colorado let Vegas get on the board by committing a silly too many men on the ice penalty at the 4:06 mark of the second period. It took only eight seconds with the man-advantage for Third Star W Alex Tuch (C William Karlsson and Marchessault) to bury a snap shot to give the Knights the first goal. Though the Avalanche would eventually level the game 9:27 later courtesy of an D Erik Johnson (W Blake Comeau and W Matt Nieto) snapper, Marchessault (Second Star D Shea Theodore and Karlsson) would eventually find the game-winning goal with 5:44 remaining in the frame.

Barring a usually stellar offense struggling to find much success, the main reason the Avs lost is because of some boneheaded plays. This time, it was F Tyson Jost sent to the penalty box after earning a double minor penalty for hi-sticking F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare with 6:17 remaining in the period. 33 seconds later, Tuch was screaming into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick before slinging a pass towards the left boards for Karlsson. Karlsson reset the play to Theodore at the point, who tapped a pass along the blue line to Marchessault at the right point.

While all this was happening, Tuch was still at work setting up shop right in front of G Semyon Varlamov‘s crease to act as a great screen. After Marchessault advanced to the right face-off dot, Tuch leaned into the slot just enough to expose the near post, allowing the former Panther to tuck his wrist shot over the netminder’s left shoulder.

The Golden Knights cemented their victory with two insurance tallies in the final frame. Theodore (F Erik Haula and W James Neal) registered the first only 1:31 into the period, and Karlsson (Marchessault) completed the scoring on an empty net with 16 seconds remaining in regulation, setting the 4-1 final score.

G Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (.966 save percentage), leaving the loss to Varlamov, who saved 26-of-29 (.897).

Vegas’ home victory marks five-straight games in the DtFR Game of the Day series where the hosts earned at least one point, as well as a third-consecutive win. As such, the 93-53-21 hosts now have a 38-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

December 27 – Day 81 – Back in business

Is that what summer was like? No hockey for three days was terrible!

Let’s get back into the swing of things tonight with 11 games to watch. As it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five games (Ottawa at Boston [TVAS], Detroit at New Jersey, Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Columbus at Pittsburgh, Carolina at Montréal [RDS/TSN2]), followed by four more (Nashville at St. Louis, Dallas at Minnesota, Edmonton at Winnipeg [SN] and Washington at the New York Rangers [NBCSN]) an hour later. Arizona at Colorado drops the puck at 9 p.m., and tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Anaheim – gets underway an hour after to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

As usual, I have a headline for more than a few of the games being played tonight.

  • Ottawa at Boston: Few things are more fun than a playoff rematch. The Sens won the first round matchup in six games.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: A rivalry and a first round rematch? Sign us up!
  • Nashville at St. Louis: Another playoff rematch, but this one took place in the Western Semifinals. The Predators won 4-2.
  • Edmonton at Winnipeg: An old-timey rivalry is renewed with the coming of age of RW Patrik Laine and C Connor McDavid.
  • Washington at New York: Rivalries are all the rage tonight, because yet another one is taking place in the Big Apple.

Of all of these excellent matchups, only one can be our Game of the Day. Considering the Blues and Predators are playing for the Central Division lead, there’s no place I’d rather be than the Gateway City!

 

Let me know if we’ve come back from a holiday break with this matchup before…

Oh wait, this is exactly the game we came back to after the one-day break for American Thanksgiving. The Blues and Predators opened their four-game season series at Scottrade Center last month, but it was the visiting Preds that took two points after posting a two-goal shutout victory (way to go, G Pekka Rinne).

Since these teams are separated by only a point in the standings, I’d expect a similar contest today.

The biggest story line surrounding the 23-13-2 Blues is still F Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle injury, and that won’t change until he returns in mid- or late-January. With 14-21-35 totals before he went down with a right ankle injury, he still leads the team with a +23 that is second-best in the NHL.

Fortunately for St. Louis, it knows how to play on both ends of the ice. Allowing only 2.47 goals against-per-game, the Notes play the fourth-best defense in the league. Led by the efforts of D Joel Edmundson (87 blocks, [t]fourth-most in the league), W Dmitrij Jaskin (89 hits), D Colton Parayko and F Brayden Schenn (27 takeaways apiece), St. Louis allows an average of only 30.24 shots to reach 18-10-2 G Jake Allen, the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Schenn in particular has been absolutely stellar, as he’s been able to turn his 27 takeaways into 17 goals ([t]seventh-most in the league) and 40 points([t]10th-most in the NHL) for a +21 rating (third-best in the league). It’s amazing that a player that joined the team only half a year ago has been such a dominant force, and I think it’s safe to say he’s been the Blues’ most valuable player so far.

Of course, it’s hard to look too bad with RW Vladimir Tarasenko as a linemate. The Russian has posted 15-21-36 totals this season alongside his new best friend to earn a +16 rating that is eighth-best in the NHL. Tarasenko immediately moved to the top line following Schwartz’ injury, but struggled to find much rhythm with C Paul Stastny (whose 32nd birthday is today). Perhaps it’s no surprise St. Louis beat Vancouver 3-1 before the holiday break by promoting Schenn to the top line to play with Tarasenko!

Anyways, back to the defensive zone. Anyone that is lucky enough to get by Schenn and the Blues’ defense still has to deal with Allen, whose 18 wins are the (t)fourth-most in the league. He’s posted a .913 save percentage and 2.55 GAA in 31 appearances, which are the (t)19th- and and 10th-best efforts, respectively, among the 32 goalies with at least 14 starts.

Of course, if we’re comparing goaltenders, 21-9-5 Nashville takes the cake with 18-6-3 Rinne. Though he’s one of the three other netminders tied with Allen at 18 wins, Rinne has earned his success in large part by his own accord. He’s posted a .923 save percentage and 2.49 GAA that are both among the top nine efforts in the NHL, and his three shutouts are (t)second-most as well.

Rinne’s excellent play is a major reason Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s game plan works. Knowing their goaltender can stop basically everything that comes his way, Nashville’s defensive corps – led by Mattias Ekholm (6-15-21 totals), Roman Josi (7-14-21) and P.K. Subban (7-18-25) – is able to contribute extensively on the offensive end of the rink. In fact, the Predators’ defensive corps has combined for 87 points, which is only three points short of Tampa’s league-leading blue line.

They bolster an already impressive group of forwards – headlined by F Filip Forsberg (15-18-33 totals) and second-liner W Kevin Fiala (10-16-26) – that averages 3.23 goals-per-game, the sixth-most in the league.

Fiala in particular was on fire leading up to the holiday break. Before being held off the scorecard against Dallas on December 23, he had been riding a nine-game point streak that included eight goals. He has an unfortunate connection to tonight’s arena after breaking his femur and rupturing an artery in his left thigh during the playoffs last year, and after being held pointless in his first return to St. Louis last month, I’m sure he’d like to finally put the injury behind him by earning a point tonight.

As pointed out by Jim Thomas, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s new Blues reporter, the Notes are one of two teams to have already played their 38th game this season – two more than the median (thank your third grade teacher for knowing what that means!) 36 played by nine clubs. This three-day break was especially important for them, and we’ll probably see a well rested and much improved St. Louis team because of it. As such, I think the Blues can find a way to beat the Predators this evening.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #85- Schenn Zen

Nick and Connor breakdown the St. Louis Blues (#SchennZen), Brian Boyle’s success, the Disney deal with 21st Century Fox and preview the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.

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

December 16 – Day 73 – Central showdown

With 11 games on today’s schedule, odds are good that your favorite club is in action today. Make sure to head to the rink!

The day’s action finds an early 2 p.m. start when Edmonton visits Minnesota, and the New York Rangers at Boston cleans up the matinee slate at 5 p.m. Five contests (Winnipeg at St. Louis [CITY], Montréal at Ottawa [CBC/NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Los Angeles at the New York Islanders, Dallas at Philadelphia and Columbus at Carolina) drop the puck at the usual 7 p.m. starting time, followed by two more (Pittsburgh at Arizona and Anaheim at Washington) an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of Tampa Bay at Colorado, while tonight’s nightcap – Nashville at Calgary (CBC/SN) – waits until 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

Two games stuck out to me at the beginning of the season…

  • New York at Boston: There’s nothing more fun than an Original Six matchup between two playoff hopefuls, right?
  • Montréal at Ottawa: Not only will this have the usual energy of a Habs-Sens rivalry game, but it’s also the NHL 100 Classic, which is being played at TD Place Stadium Lansdowne Park, home of the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks.

However, it’s just too hard to ignore today’s action in Missouri, where the second and third-place teams in the Central Division are beginning a home-and-home series.

 

Considering the Jets’ seventh-ranked offense last season, I don’t know if Winnipeg earning a 18-9-5 record qualifies as a surprise or not, but they’re certainly not complaining about third place in the Central Division.

That offense has only improved this campaign, as the Jets have managed an intimidating 3.34 goals to rank fourth-best in the NHL behind the Bolts, Isles and Knights.

That solid effort has been headlined by Winnipeg’s first line, specifically C Mark Scheifele (14-21-35 totals) and RW Blake Wheeler (8-30-38). They’ve formed a fantastic partnership this season, as they’ve both earned a point on 24 of the Jets’ 107 goals on the year (22.4 percent).

If the Jets’ offense is scary, their dominant power play is straight up deadly. Led by Wheeler’s team-leading 16 points on the man-advantage, the Manitobans have converted 26.31 percent of their opponent’s penalties into goals, a rate that trails only Tampa and Nashville.

Wheeler might be the primary play maker on special teams, but its his partner RW Patrik Laine that has been the most frightening in that situation to opposing goaltenders (4-2-0 G Carter Hutton, in today’s case). He’s buried nine power play goals already this season, which is tied with F Filip Forsberg for most in the NHL.

Given the unenviable task of trying to slow the Jets down is 21-10-2 St. Louis, a team currently in second place in the division even though it is riding a two-game losing skid.

After being the class of the Western Conference for the first two months of the season, the Blues have caught the dreaded injury bug this week. Though the previously mentioned Hutton is back after his short stint on injured reserve, D Jay Bouwmeester, D Alex Pietrangelo and F Jaden Schwartz have replaced him.

Bouwmeester missing is certainly an issue in the defensive end, but Head Coach Mike Yeo seems to be struggling to find a solution for Pietrangelo and Schwartz missing on the offensive end. They’ve combined for 58 points – including 21 goals – to help the Blues manage 3.12 goals-per-game (the [t]eighth-best effort in the NHL) on the season.

However, during this two-game skid while these players are on the mend, the Notes have scored only one goal from third liner F Patrik Berglund. With neither likely to return until January, this offense will need to adjust to RW Vladimir Tarasenko on the top line and W Dmitrij Jaskin in a top-six position. If they cannot, I wouldn’t be surprised to see F Brayden Schenn elevated to the top-line center position to reunite with the Russian sniper.

With these teams tangling once again tomorrow, let’s treat this preview as one for this weekend’s series. As such, I expect these teams to both earn victories at their home arenas.


Behind a three-point night from First Star of the Game F Brian Boyle, the New Jersey Devils beat the Dallas Stars 5-2 at the Prudential Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Jersey didn’t waste much time in finding its first goal, as D Steven Santini (F Brian Gibbons) tucked a slap shot into the net only 4:28 into the game. That early lead didn’t last long though, because C Martin Hanzal (F Tyler Seguin and D Esa Lindell) leveled the game only 2:14 later with a power play wrist shot. The Devils would regain the lead with 54 seconds remaining before intermission on a tip-in from F Blake Coleman (D Andy Greene and Gibbons), setting the score at 2-1.

The exchange of goals carried into the second period, as RW Alexander Radulov (F Mattias Janmark and Lindell) leveled the game for the Stars at the 8:09 mark, but Boyle (D Will Butcher and C Pavel Zacha) was able to bury what proved to be a game-winning power play wrister with 3:21 remaining in the frame to return a 3-2 lead to the Devils.

The penalty that set up Boyle’s opportunity was a D Stephen Johns hi stick against LW Miles Wood that was so egregious, it earned him a double minor and four minutes in the penalty box. With only nine seconds remaining on the infraction, Butcher ripped a clapper from the blue line at G Kari Lehtonen. The netminder was able to deflect the puck, but Boyle – who was camping out in front of the crease – collected the rebound and elevate a wrister into the back of the net, the 100th goal of his career.

Third Star RW Nick Lappin (W Jimmy Hayes and Boyle) and Boyle tacked on insurance goals in the second half of the third period to ensure a Devils victory.

Second Star G Cory Schneider earned the victory after saving 28-of-30 shots faced (.933 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lehtonen, who saved 21-of-25 (.84).

New Jersey’s home victory snapped a three-game winning streak by road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. As such, hosts in the series have now earned a 40-24-9 record that is 14 points superior to that of the roadies.

December 12 – Day 69 – For the Presidents’ Trophy

Given what day this is of the season and the number of games on today’s schedule, there’s only one thing that can be said:

You know what, I’ll let you figure it out.

Anyways, there’s nine contests on the slate for today, beginning with five (Ottawa at Buffalo [RDS], Los Angeles at New Jersey, Toronto at Philadelphia [TVAS], Colorado at Washington and Edmonton at Columbus) at the usual 7 p.m. start time. Next up are the two 8 p.m. games (Tampa Bay at St. Louis [NBCSN] and Calgary at Minnesota), followed by Florida at Chicago (SN) half an hour later. Finally, Carolina makes its first annual trip to Vegas at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

There were two games I had circled at the beginning of the season…

  • Ottawa at Buffalo: It’s rivalry night in the Queen City between the Eastern Conference’s two worst teams! Get excited Upstate!
  • Carolina at Vegas: For a combined three days, C Marcus Kruger and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were Golden Knights. Does this count as a homecoming?

… but they pale in comparison to tonight’s action in the Gateway to the West.

 

What a gauntlet the league-leading 21-6-2 Lightning have faced of late. It was only Saturday that they escaped with an overtime victory against an impressive Jets squad that plays a similar style to them.

There’s no denying how dominant the Bolts have been through their first 29 games, and that’s especially apparent when they have the puck on their own sticks. Tampa averages 3.75 goals-per-game to lead the league, thanks in large part to the incredible efforts of its top line. RW Nikita Kucherov (20-21-41 totals), F Vladislav Namestnikov (12-15-27) and C Steven Stamkos (12-30-42) have been nothing short of incredible, and it doesn’t hurt that they have F Brayden Point (12-14-26) and company backing them on the second line.

As I pointed out this weekend, this offense is also acting as the Lightning’s best defense, because it’s keeping pucks off 19-4-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy – not that he needs much help, as his .93 season save percentage and 2.24 GAA are both among the top four performances of any goaltender in the league with at least nine starts.

But we discussed all this this weekend. Let’s talk about Tampa’s special teams, which – as you would probably guess – are among the best in the NHL.

The Lightning are the league’s deadliest when they have the man-advantage, as they convert a 28.44 percent of opposing penalties into goals, a mark that is over two percent better than Nashville’s second-best effort.

Just as they do at even strength, Kucherov, Namestnikov and Stamkos have led the charge on the power play with their combined 46 extra-man points. Makhail Sergachev has also made his presence known on the Bolts’ second unit, as he’s managed 2-8-10 totals – the fourth-best effort on the team.

Perhaps one of Tampa’s biggest weaknesses is when it is on the penalty kill. If that is the case the rest of the league should be alarmed, because the Lightning successfully defend 82.6 percent of their infractions to rank eighth-best in the NHL. Vasilevskiy in particular has performed spectacularly when his club is shorthanded, managing a .924 save percentage against the power play to rank (t)fourth-best among the 32 goaltenders with at least 14 starts.

Before we jump into talking about the 21-8-2 Blues, it needs to be noted that they’ll be without three players this evening. In addition to D Jay Bouwmeester missing tonight’s game to rest an injury, F Jaden Schwartz and D Alex Pietrangelo are both on injured reserve with respective ankle and lower body injuries suffered blocking shots.

It certainly wouldn’t be without reason if the Notes’ offense struggles with these injuries, as they average a 3.29 goals-per-game average that ranks sixth-best in the league.

On that end, the biggest injury is certainly to Schwartz, who is posting career-best 12-21-35 totals. In his place, RW Vladimir Tarasenko moves up onto the top line with F Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir C Paul Stastny. While Schwartz is a tough act to follow, there’s little reason to believe Tarasenko won’t thrive in that role, as his 14-19-33 performance from playing on the second line is already the third-best on the team. Instead, I’ll be interested to see if F Brayden Schenn, St. Louis’ leading scorer with a 16-37-37 effort, can turn W Dmitrij Jaskin (4-7-11) into a real scoring threat while filling in for Tarasenko.

Of course, this offense is not simply reliant on spectacular play from its forwards. Pietrangelo is also very active in the attacking zone, as his 7-16-23 totals are not only the most among St. Louis blueliners, but also the fourth-best marks on the entire team. In fact, Pietrangelo ranks fifth in defensive scoring across the league, behind only the likes of Drew Doughty, John Klingberg, Kris Letang and Nick Leddy (for what its worth, the Blue Notes’ captain has scored more goals than any of those players).

Fortunately for St. Louis, it has just the player to slide into his role as the top two-way defenseman on the team: D Colton Parayko. Currently owning 3-14-17 marks, the third-year player has put his arguable sophomore slump behind him and is well on his way to surpassing his solid 9-24-33 rookie performance. Should he continue on his current pace, Parayko is on track to post 8-37-45 totals that would exceed Pietrangelo’s effort in his third year in the league (yes, that was the lockout season – we’re going off points-per-game in this instance).

As far as defense, not much should change for the team that features the reigning Second Star of the Week in 17-6-2 G Jake Allen. Allen is riding a four-game winning streak and has not lost in regulation since December 1 against the Kings, posting a .939 save percentage over the five games since then. As long as the Blues don’t see a significant drop in its defense that has allowed an average of only 29.45 shots against-per-game (the third-fewest in the NHL), Allen should be able to keep his end of the ice under control.

Now, what makes this contest extremely exciting is that the winner will take the lead in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. Both are tied at 44 points currently, but the Bolts do own a “games played” tiebreaker, having laced up their skates two fewer times than St. Louis. Considering the Lightning already beat the Blues 2-1 on October 14, St. Louis will no doubt want to exact revenge on home ice.

As for if that actually happens, I’m having a tough time making that prediction. With their injuries, I’m concerned the Blues’ lackluster special teams will take too much of a hit this evening, so I think Tampa Bay will come away with the road victory.


The New York Islanders exploded out of the gates to beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 at the Barclays Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It took New York only 2:36 of action before it had the lead. That’s when Third Star of the Game F Brock Nelson (RW Cal Clutterbuck and W Jason Chimera) buried a wrist shot to set the score at 1-0.

That advantage doubled to two goals 36 seconds into the second period when Second Star LW Andrew Ladd (D Calvin de Haan and RW Jordan Eberle) scored what proved to be a game-winning wrister.

When facing a goaltender of the likes of G Braden Holtby, quick passes become a necessity. That’s exactly what provided Ladd the opportunity for his eighth goal of the season. de Haan collected a drop pass from Eberle at the blue line and began crashing towards the goal line. But, instead of throwing a wrist shot on Holtby from an angle with low odds of success, he instead slid a centering pass across the crease to Ladd, who was camping out near the left goal post. Before the netminder could slide across his crease, Ladd had already buried his wrister.

Only 58 seconds after the Isles’ goal horn had been quieted, C John Tavares (F Josh Bailey and F Anders Lee) brought it back to life with a wrister to chase Holtby and set the score at 3-0.

The Capitals finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:23 mark of the third period courtesy of D Dmitry Orlov (F Chandler Stephenson and F Jay Beagle), but they couldn’t claw any further back into the game before the end of regulation.

First Star G Jaroslav Halak earned the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (.969 save percentage), leaving the loss to Holtby, who saved nine-of-12 (.75) before being pulled following Tavares’ tally. G Philipp Grubauer saved all 17 shots he faced for no decision.

New York’s regulation win is the first in six games in the DtFR Game of the Day series, snapping a five-game run of contests requiring more than 60 minutes. Hosts in the series now own a 39-22-8 record that is 17 points better than the roadies’ efforts.

December 1 – Day 58 – Stingy division leaders

It’s the first Friday of December, so you know what that means!

Actually, if you know anything about the first of December, please let me know. Because I’ve got nothin’.

Anyways, the NHL has hidden eight games behind the first door of your Advent calendar, and four of them (Pittsburgh at Buffalo [SN/TVAS], Ottawa at the New York Islanders [RDS], Carolina at the New York Rangers and Anaheim at Columbus) will drop the puck at 7 p.m. San Jose at Florida will follow suit half an hour later, followed by two tilts (Los Angeles at St. Louis and Vegas at Winnipeg) at 8 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – New Jersey at Colorado – is slated to start at 9 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s three good games on the schedule today, but only one can earn the right of being today’s featured matchup. That honor belongs to the tilt in Mound City between the Western Conference’s current division leaders.

 

 

 

 

 

If you were so lucky to predict either of these teams to be in the position they’re currently in during your preseason podcast, you deserve a cookie.

 

 

 

Excuse me, I was just finishing my cookie.

Things are going even better than anyone within the 17-7-1 Blues organization could have expected coming into this year. St. Louis had been on a steady decline since it’s division-winning 2014-’15 season, falling to second in ’15-’16 and third last year. However, the combination of Head Coach Mike Yeo in his first full campaign at the helm and new Blue F Brayden Schenn has elevated the club to the top of the Western Conference and second in the entire NHL.

But we talked about the Blues’ fifth-ranked offense last week when they were featured against the Predators (St. Louis averages 3.36 goals-per-game). It’s time to show some love to the players at the other end of the ice, who have combined to allow only 2.64 goals against-per-game, the fifth-best effort in the league.

No discussion about defensive zone play can begin without acknowledging the goaltender, but 13-6-1 G Jake Allen might actually be the Notes’ defensive low-point. Though he’s had better years (he posted a career-high .92 save percentage in 2015-’16) based on what he’s shown so far to earn his starting role, his .907 season save percentage and 2.77 GAA are nothing to write home to New Brunswick about. Among the 26 goaltenders with at least 14 starts, Allen ranks ninth- and 11th-worst, respectively.

Instead, St. Louis’ claim to fame in its own zone is its defense, headlined by none other than D Alex Pietrangelo, a candidate for the Norris Trophy (according to our very own Jordan Dettrow) who leads the team in takeaways. In fact, the captain’s 23 takeaways are the second-most by any defenseman in the league, trailing only D Brent Burns – a player I’m sure Pietro has no complaints being compared to.

I know we weren’t going to talk offense, but Pietrangelo has made a good habit of turning his takeaways into goals. His 7-13-20 totals are fourth on the team and second-most by any defenseman in the NHL.

But it’s not just him. D Joel Edmundson, who’s blossomed into a solid offensive threat himself since the Blues traded D Kevin Shattenkirk in February (his six goals are [t]third-most in the league by a blueliner this season), is also among the best shot-blockers in the NHL, averaging 2.6 blocks-per-game. Add in W Dmitrij Jaskin‘s team-leading 2.8 hits-per-game, and you have an entire club fully committed to shutting down the opposition.

Generally speaking, teams fire more shots on goal when they’re losing (you know, they’re trying to do that scoring thing). Considering the Blues’ record, it’s a safe assumption that the teams they’re playing are spending more time trailing in a game than leading. That’s no more apparent than looking at the league’s worst offenders in the shots against-per-game statistic, as six of the worst 10 teams in the stat are currently in playoff position, including the league-leading Lightning.

But that’s what makes this St. Louis defense so spectacular. Even though opposing offenses are throwing everything they have the Blues’ way, St. Louis allows only 30.1 shots against-per-game, the (t)fifth-best effort in the NHL.

Before we talk about the 15-8-3 Kings, there’s one more note to be made about the Notes. Since they play tomorrow afternoon in St. Paul, it would seem likely that 4-1-0 G Carter Hutton will draw either tonight or tomorrow’s start. Los Angeles is probably hoping the Wild have to deal with him, because Hutton’s .946 season save percentage and 1.59 GAA make Allen’s efforts look like child’s play.

Even though we’ve spent all this time talking about the Blues’ defensive effort, don’t think for a minute that their defensive zone is the stronger of the two in tonight’s game. With the exception of the Sharks, Los Angeles has sported the stingiest of defenses this year, as they’ve allowed only 2.27 goals against-per-game.

While Allen isn’t necessarily the headliner in Missouri, there’s no doubting who people pay to see when they go to the Staples Center.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Wait, Kobe Bryant?

Maybe in days gone by, but now it’s 12-8-1 G Jonathan Quick‘s house (shots fired, Ball family). Though he entered a bit of a rough patch in November when he lost six-straight games, Quick’s .929 season save percentage and 2.27 GAA are still fifth- and fourth-best, respectively, among the 34 goaltenders with at least 10 starts to their credit.

Of course, just like the Blues may not trot their starter out tonight, Quick may only be seen on the bench tonight. Los Angeles is on the second-half of back-to-back games tonight, as they beat the Capitals in Washington 5-2 yesterday with Quick in net. It would seem likely that Head Coach John Stevens will give the nod to 3-0-2 G Darcy Kuemper. Similar to Hutton, Kuemper’s .937 save percentage and 1.84 GAA are both superior to Quick’s season effort, but with a much smaller sample size.

With two teams going at it that don’t like to give up goals, I’m led to believe the superior of the two offenses will be what determines the outcome. Since St. Louis’ 3.36 goals-per-game is superior to LA’s 2.92, I’m leaning toward the Blues.


Three unanswered third period goals is all the Minnesota Wild needed to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 at Xcel Energy Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

With the exception of F Mikael Granlund‘s (D Mike Reilly and W Jason Zucker) wrist shot for the Wild with 2:59 remaining in the second period, every goal in this contest was struck in the third period.

The ice seemed to be tilted Vegas’ way at the start of the final frame, as D Brayden McNabb (W Stefan Matteau) and F Jon Marchessault (C William Karlsson) both scored in the opening 4:39 to give the Golden Knights a 2-1 advantage.

That advantage didn’t last long though. Only 48 seconds after Marchessault’s tally, D Jonas Brodin (F Daniel Winnik and F Charlie Coyle) scored his second goal of the season at the 5:27 mark with a deflection to level the score at two-all.

After that, this game was almost all Minnesota. Vegas managed only nine shots on net in the third period while Second Star of the Game C Eric Staal was busy scoring the final two goals of the contest. His first, assisted by Third Star D Matt Dumba with 7:55 remaining in regulation, proved to be the game-winner.

Take notes young blueliners: solid stick work at the point can turn into fast points. Trying to simply clear the puck out of his defensive zone, F Tomas Nosek gave the puck away to Dumba waiting at the right point. The defenseman worked his way along the wall back towards the goal until he reached the top of the face-off circle, where he ripped a wrist shot at G Malcolm Subban. The puck never reached Subban due to a D Deryk Engelland block, but the deflection dropped right in front of the crease near the waiting Staal, who slid his wrister into a gaping net before Subban could get back in position.

Trailing by only a goal late in regulation, Head Coach Gerard Gallant pulled Subban with 1:27 remaining on the clock. It took Staal 1:21 to achieve his goal, but his unassisted backhanded shot found the back of the net with six ticks remaining on the clock to set the 4-2 final score.

First Star G Devan Dubnyk earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the loss to Subban, who stopped 28-of-31 (.903).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series simply cannot be stopped. Since American Thanksgiving, homers have won six-straight to elevate their record to 33-19-6, which is 17 points better than the roadies’ record.

October 4 – Opening Day – Let’s get this show on the road

You know when you go to a Mexican restaurant and they bring you chips and salsa? That’s great, but what you’re really looking forward to is what you ordered: those sizzling fajitas or a burrito stuffed to the max.

That’s exactly what the first day of the regular season is like. Preseason was fun, but now it’s time to feast.

As has been NHL custom since the 2014-’15 season, the league will open play with four contests this evening. The festivities officially begins at 7 p.m. when Toronto visits Winnipeg (SN and TVAS) in a matchup of the top two picks from the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, followed an hour later by St. Louis at Pittsburgh (NBCSN) for the Penguins’ banner raising ceremony. Round two finds its start at 10 p.m. with Calgary at Edmonton (SN and TVAS), trailed half an hour later by Philadelphia at San Jose (NBCSN). All times eastern.

In Season One of the “Game of the Day” series, we featured only one game. Last year, that number exploded to include all four opening day contests.

This season, let’s rein things in a bit and focus on one game per nation. Canada, you’re up first!

 

Given the Battle of Alberta happening later tonight, picking Canada’s featured game was a tough decision. There is no shame in wanting to watch a hard-fought rivalry C Connor McDavid and the Oilers dominate their first game of the season.

Unfortunately, that pales in comparison to the opportunity to take in the first of only two meetings of the season between RW Patrik Laine and C Auston Matthews.

There’s no doubt these offenses are capable of scoring. The Leafs registered 251 goals last season to rank fifth-best in the league, and Winnipeg trailed them by only two tallies to tie Columbus for sixth-most markers.

Of course, a lot of that offense came from each club’s respective first-round pick last year. Reigning Calder-winner Matthews buried all four goals in his NHL debut against the Senators en route to a 40-29-69 season. Not to be outdone too much, Laine – who finished in second in Calder voting last year – got his 36-28-64 rookie campaign kick-started with a power play goal and an assist on C Mathieu Perreault‘s game-tying goal in his first NHL game.

For those keeping score, Laine was the only one to win his first game in the big leagues. Then again, Matthews beat Laine to the playoffs… Suffice to say, these guys are good at their jobs.

With all that in mind, I’m most focused on Winnipeg’s net this evening for G Steve Mason‘s debut. While I am of the opinion that Mason is a minor improvement over last year’s starter G Connor Hellebuyck (seriously, emphasis on “minor” – to the point of being negligible), tonight may not be the best to prove that claim. In his only game against the Leafs last year, Mason – then a member of the Flyers – allowed six goals, including four in the third period. Of particular note was D Martin Marincin‘s tally to tie the game at three-all, his lone goal of the season and only the third of his career.

Yeah, that probably left a bad taste in Mason’s mouth when he heard that.

While making improvements in net is probably a good idea in the next couple years for General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff (all three current goalie contracts will be off the books by the 2019 offseason), he would also be wise to work on his defense that allowed an 11th-worst 31 shots against-per-game last year.

Then again, maybe all the Jets needed was a year of experience and an offseason of training. We’ll know if that’s the case based on the performance of another player entering his second season: D Josh Morrissey. At the ripe age of 21, he registered a +6 rating and a team-leading 139 blocks last season. If he can continue to grow into the shutdown blueliner he hinted at last year – and, if we get really greedy, improve on his 20 points (there’s few better to learn from than D Dustin Byfuglien) – maybe Winnipeg isn’t as far off the mark as we think.

Until then, Mason will have to be on top of his game to keep the Jets alive in this game – and ultimately the season.

 

As if the action in Manitoba wasn’t fun enough, there’s also the Penguins’ banner raising ceremony to take in. For Pittsburgh supporters, this is a joyous night; for most other hockey fans, it’ll be a night they’re glad to put behind them.

And even after the festivities are complete, fans are going to be treated to quite a hockey game featuring two of the most consistent teams of the past dozen years. The Penguins have qualified for the postseason for the last 11 years – three of which ended with them hoisting the Stanley Cup – for the longest active streak in the league, trailed by the Blues’ fourth-best six-straight playoff appearances.

If there’s one Blue Note ready to play this game, I’d peg newcomer F Brayden Schenn. He’s making his first club-debut since 2011-’12, and the team he was traded from has nurtured a special hatred in him for the black-and-gold.

The former Flyer has been brought into the St. Louis fold to generate more points for an offense that featured only three 50+ point scorers a season ago (RW Vladimir Tarasenko, F Jaden Schwartz and F Alex Steen). Schenn is a talented former first-rounder capable of playing either center or left wing that is coming off a 25-30-55 season, and it looks like he’ll center the second line for Schwartz and W Dmitrij Jaskin to start the season.

Beyond the usual culprits of C Sidney Crosby, RW Phil Kessel and C Evgeni Malkin, one Penguin to keep an eye on this evening is RW Ryan Reaves.  No, he probably won’t score a goal tonight – or maybe even a point at all – but I’m more interested in seeing if he has it in him to bring the muscle against former teammates of seven seasons. And if he does, who does he hit? Who hits back?

Seeing LW Cody McLeod‘s response to playing the Avalanche last season after being traded to Nashville, I have my suspicions on the topic: let’s just say I expect St. Louis’ new enforcer, RW Chris Thorburn, to be dressed this evening.


At least eight points are to be had this evening for these eight teams in action, and I expect Toronto, Pittsburgh, Edmonton and San Jose to be at the top of their respective divisions after all the action is complete.

Revised Mock 2017 NHL Expansion Draft

If you’re a regular here at Down the Frozen River then you know Colby Kephart, Connor Keith and I discussed our ideal Vegas Golden Knights rosters on last week’s episode of the DTFR Podcast.

Well, after careful (re)consideration, thanks to Sunday’s release of the protected and available lists for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, Connor and I have decided to reselect our Golden Knights rosters. Special thanks to CapFriendly for having such an amazing “mock expansion draft” tool available to everyone all season long leading up to this moment.

Without further ado, here they are…

vegas_golden_knights_logo

Nick Lanciani’s mock 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster:

ANAHEIM DUCKS– D Sami Vatanen (26 years old, 3 years left, $4.875 million cap hit):

The logic behind this one is fairly simple– Vegas picks the best player available from Anaheim’s pool of available players and either 1) utilizes his services or 2) flips him for even more assets (current or future, the choice is yours, Golden Knights GM George McPhee). Vatanen had 3-21-24 totals in 71 games with Anaheim in 2016-2017.

ARIZONA COYOTES– LW/RW Jamie McGinn (28, 2 years left, $3.333 million cap hit):

Choosing McGinn (9-8-17 totals in 72 games played last season) provides the Golden Knights with the safest pick from the Coyotes organization. He’s not expected to be the best player, but his contract is the perfect fit for a team that’s just starting out. It he does well, he’ll stick around, but if he doesn’t perform, then Vegas didn’t waste too much on being able to have a NHL caliber forward right out of the gate.

BOSTON BRUINS– D Colin Miller (24, 1 year left, $1.000 million cap hit):

While Boston does not want to have to see Colin Miller heading to Vegas, there wasn’t much the Bruins could do to protect the young blue liner, considering their vast expanse of core forwards to protect and defensive prospects lining up to take Miller’s current job in Boston. The Golden Knights luck out on this one, if Miller’s brilliance returns.

Despite playing in 19 more games this season than in 2015-2016, Miller had 6 goals and 7 assists (13 points) for Boston (whereas he had 3-13-16 totals in 42 games in 2015-2016).

BUFFALO SABRES– LW Matt Moulson (33, 2 years left, $5.000 million cap hit):

Moulson’s time with the Buffalo Sabres was up and down, but he gets a fresh start in Sin City. There shouldn’t be any hard feelings between the Sabres and Moulson on what otherwise seems like a natural, mutual, separation.

He had 14-18-32 totals in 81 games played in 2016-2017, which was better than his eight goals, 13 assists (21 points) in 81 games in 2015-2016 (after amassing three consecutive 40-plus point seasons).

CALGARY FLAMES– C/LW/RW Lance Bouma (27, 1 year remaining, $2.200 million cap hit):

Three goals and four assists (7 points) in 61 games played this year with Calgary doesn’t scream “exceptional forward”, however, it’s his intangibles that make him a quality asset for a franchise that has to build its identity from the ground up. Also, his durability as a forward (he can play either wing or center) makes him an attractive option for a franchise that won’t nearly have as much minor league depth to call up in the event of injuries throughout the season.

CAROLINA HURRICANES– LW Joakim Nordstrom (25, 1 year remaining, $1.275 million cap hit):

His production was cut in half (7-5-12 totals) this season despite taking part in 81 games with Carolina, however, Joakim Nordstrom is just one season removed from an impressive stint in his first full year with the Hurricanes (10-14-24 totals in 71 games played in 2015-2016) since being traded by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 offseason. At 25 years old, he should be entering his prime.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS– D Trevor van Riemsdyk (25, 1 year remaining, $825,000 cap hit):

The Golden Knights hit the lottery with their selection from the Blackhawks in the sense that Trevor van Riemsdyk is an exceptional, young, defenseman, who should otherwise be stepping into a more prominent role as the future of Chicago’s blue line, but instead will become a household name in Vegas. Limited to only 58 games this season, van Riemsdyk notched 5-11-16 totals in his sophomore year after amassing three goals and 11 assists (14 points) in a full 82-game season his rookie year.

COLORADO AVALANCHE– C Carl Soderberg (31, 3 years left, $4.750 million cap hit):

Carl Soderberg went from a 51 point season in his first year with the Avalanche to just 6-8-14 totals in 80 games played this season, but the former Boston Bruin and three-time 40-plus point scorer can rejuvenate his career with the right combination of forwards around him in Vegas. Plus he’s not too shabby on the faceoff dot (Soderberg won 52% of his faceoffs this season alone).

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS– D Jack Johnson (30, 1 year remaining, $4.357 million cap hit):

Simply put, Jack Johnson would be the oldest defenseman on my version of the Vegas Golden Knights and that’s exactly where you’d want them to be, just starting out. He contributed 18 assists to go along with his 23 points for the Blue Jackets in 82 games this season, after being hampered by injury to just 6-8-14 totals in 60 games last season.

DALLAS STARS– D Greg Pateryn (26, 1 year remaining, $800,000 cap hit):

Pateryn has yet to play a full season, but perhaps the Golden Knights can give him more of a taste of being a regular in the NHL than the Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens did. He has 16 career points to his name and at best, is a depth guy that becomes a top-6 blue liner. At worst, he sees no time in the lineup and watches a season from the comfortable press box seats at T-Mobile Arena.

DETROIT RED WINGS– G Petr Mrazek (25, 1 year remaining, $4.000 million cap hit):

Once again, we have another offseason rendition of Character Issues (season two, 2017, starring Petr Mrazek, guest starring references made to season one (2016) star, P.K. Subban).

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

EDMONTON OILERS– D Eric Gryba (29, pending UFA on July 1st):

Since Gryba tallied 12 assists in 75 games played in the 2014-2015 season with the Ottawa Senators (one more point than the previous season in 18 more games), he hasn’t produced and has become a depth defenseman at best. A second, second chance with the Vegas Golden Knights might finally prove that Gryba is worth more to a franchise than just as a go-to healthy scratch. Or then again, he might just be a roster placeholder until free agency begins on July 1st.

FLORIDA PANTHERS– LW/RW Reilly Smith (26, 5 years left, $5.000 million cap hit):

Who didn’t have a down year with the Florida Panthers this season? Reilly Smith failed to reach the 40-point plateau for the first time since his 37 games played as a newcomer with the Dallas Stars in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season. Instead, he had 15-22-37 totals in 80 games with the Panthers, following his trend of “on again, off again” performance. By Smith’s standards, he’s due for a spectacular season in 2017-2018 and he’s not the only surprise Florida left unprotected *cough cough Jonathan Marchessault cough*.

LOS ANGELES KINGS– D Brayden McNabb (26, 1 year remaining, $1.700 million cap hit):

Two goals and two assists (4 points) were all that McNabb put on the scoresheet for the Kings this season in 49 games. In 2014-2015 with Los Angeles, he had 22 assists in 71 games played (his first full season in the NHL and first appearance in the league since his acquisition by the Kings from the Buffalo Sabres). But nobody’s paying him to score goals and rack up points when they consider his heavy hitting approach to protecting his own zone.

MINNESOTA WILD– C Eric Staal (32, 2 years left, $3.500 million cap hit):

Why not? Make things interesting, George McPhee, and take Eric Staal over the plethora of defensemen that seem to be rumored in and out of Minnesota every other day. True to form, he had 65 points (28 goals, 37 assists) in 82 games with the Wild last season after a dismal 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 83 games with the Hurricanes and the Rangers in 2015-2016. He makes everyone around him better, so he’s worth it.

MONTRÉAL CANADIENS– C Tomas Plekanec (34, 1 year remaining, $6.000 million):

I said it on last week’s episode of the podcast, but this is the easiest way for the Canadiens to avoid the awkward breakup with Plekanec reminiscent of their uncoupling with Saku Koivu almost a decade ago.

He had 10-18-28 totals in 78 games with Montreal this season a year after notching 54 points in 82 games and two years after reaching 60 points in 82 games played. He’s not the 70-point scorer like he was in 2009-2010, but he’s still a gifted center that brings a veteran presence to the new franchise.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS– C Colton Sissons (23, 2 years left, $625,000 cap hit):

Colton Sissons only had two goals and eight assists (10 points) in 58 games played this season for Nashville, but he came up clutch in their Stanley Cup Final run (and eventual defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins). Someone good and young on the Predators is bound to be lost to the Golden Knights, unless they’ve already worked out a trade to avoid the inevitable scenario. Take a hard pass on James Neal, if you can.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS– RW Stefan Noesen (24, pending RFA on July 1st):

There’s really no stellar selection to make from the Devils, so why not go with a young, pending RFA forward? Besides, he had eight goals in 44 games with Anaheim and New Jersey this season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS– LW Shane Prince (24, 1 year remaining, $850,000 cap hit):

Shane Prince had 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists) in 50 games with the Islanders this season, which bested his scoring output from last year in a dozen fewer games, so just imagine what a full season could do for him in the right situation.

NEW YORK RANGERS– G Antti Raanta (28, 1 year remaining, $1.000 million cap hit):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

OTTAWA SENATORS– D Fredrik Claesson (24, 1 year remaining, $650,000 cap hit):

Claesson amassed 3-8-11 totals in 33 games with the Senators this season, one year after recording 2 assists in 16 games played. So there’s room for improvement if he’s only just entering his prime. Otherwise he’s a tactically smart depth defenseman addition to Vegas’s roster.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS– C/LW Michael Raffl (28, 2 years left, $2.350 million cap hit):

Michael Raffl’s 2016-2017 campaign was shortened due to injury and was largely one to forget (8-3-11 totals in 52 games played, down from 13-18-31 totals in a healthy 82-game 2015-2016 season). However, Raffl is durable and should be back to being a dependable depth scoring glue guy in a top-9 forward spot with Vegas.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS– G Marc-Andre Fleury (32, 2 years left, $5.750 million cap hit):

Should I even have to explain this one? I’m going to go with “no”.

SAN JOSE SHARKS– D Brenden Dillon (26, 3 years left, $3.270 million cap hit):

Brenden Dillon is a solid top-4 defenseman that has some time left on his contract that’ll see him into his prime with the Vegas Golden Knights. Did I mention he’s a good defenseman? He likes to hit people and stuff.

ST. LOUIS BLUES– RW/LW Dmitrij Jaskin (24, 1 year remaining, $1.000 million cap hit):

In 2014-2015, Jaskin had 13-5-18 totals in 54 games. Since then, he had 4-9-13 totals in 65 games (2015-2016) and just one goal and ten assists (11 points) in 51 games this season. He seems to be the odd man out for the St. Louis Blues and may be sparked by a change of scenery to shape up or lose a full-time NHL job– destined for the life of an AHL Lifer™.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING– RW J.T. Brown (26, 1 year remaining, $1.250 million cap hit):

Okay, so 3-3-6 totals in 64 games played was a step backwards from a career year, 8-14-22 totals in 78 games in 2015-2016 for J.T. Brown, but he’s a gritty fourth liner. It’s well worth the risk/reward factor of taking him on for a season, trying him out and either 1) keeping him around because he’s won the hearts of the fans in Vegas, 2) let him go or 3) begin stockpiling veteran AHL Lifers™.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS– D Martin Marincin (25, 1 year remaining, $1.250 million cap hit):

Toronto doesn’t seem to be entirely sold on Martin Marincin and that’s understandable given his 1-6-7 totals in the last two seasons (but over 25 games played this season and 65 games played in 2015-2016). He’s not an offensive minded defenseman, that’s fine, just hit somebody or block a shot. Auston Matthews and the rest of the teens on the Maple Leafs aren’t available, so let’s go with Marincin.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS– G Richard Bachman (29, 1 year remaining, $650,000):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*. **Actually, Bachman’s probably going to be their AHL starter with the Chicago Wolves, so we’ll leave it at that.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS– G Philipp Grubauer (25, pending RFA on July 1st):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

WINNIPEG JETS– G Michael Hutchinson (27, 1 year remaining, $1.150 million cap hit):

Whoever the Golden Knights choose to actually be their backup goaltender will be their backup goaltender, otherwise this guy is getting flipped *copies and pastes to every possible backup goaltender scenario*.

Total Cap Hit (excluding players already on VGK roster): $68.410 million

Average age: 27 years old

At the end of the day, my thought process was to build around a few guys, bring in a lot of short-term contracts, flip a lot of goalies and attain a ton of draft picks (just like Danny Ainge, but in hockey). Don’t try to build your team via free agency in your first year. Do that next year and win the Cup in 2019, obviously.


By: Connor Keith

Connor Keith’s mock 2017-2018 Vegas Golden Knights roster:

After making my initial selections (effectively my preferred player off each roster), I found myself lacking forwards, a few 2018-’19 (or beyond) contracts and almost $10 million under the salary floor. This led to three or four modifications to my original selections.

ANAHEIM – G Dustin Tokarski

Patrick Eaves, Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen were all available, but I decided to go with the 27-year-old netminder. Spending much of the 2016-’17 season in San Diego with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, he posted a .898 save percentage for a 2.93 GAA, 17-win season. Yes, that’s not all that impressive, but he did post a 10-minute shutout (that’s a thing, right?) in his only NHL action this year. Tokarski’s true upside is that he has only one year remaining on his $650,000 two-way contract, meaning Vegas can send him to Chicago to prove himself or provide competition for their other goaltending prospects and not be committed to him long-term.

ARIZONA – RW Radim Vrbata

Is there any question of the best available Coyote? He notched 55 points (fourth-most among all Expansion Draft-eligible forwards) with a lackluster Arizona club that managed only a measly 191 goals all season, including 35 assists (fifth-best among forwards in the draft). Vrbata is not currently under contract, so George McPhee might need an impressive offer sheet to ensure 36-year-old veteran doesn’t run off in pursuit of a Stanley Cup in the twilight of his career.

BOSTON – D Adam McQuaid

There are few things I love more than a physical, stay-at-home defenseman – and McQuaid is just that. He blocked an impressive 144 shots this last season (eighth-best among defensemen in the draft) while also throwing 157 hits (10th-most among draft-eligible blue-liners). Not much gets past this 30-year-old (be it the puck or a skater), and he’ll be able to impart some wisdom among the youngsters while also making a few defensive contributions of his own.

BUFFALO – G Linus Ullmark

There’s not many skaters of value to Vegas in Upstate New York, but both available netminders could be solid picks. In particular, 23-year-old Ullmark is four years younger than Anders Nilsson and is under contract for two more seasons at the low price of $750,000, but the cherry on top is that he’s still waivers-exempt, meaning he can still be sent to Chicago if needed without other teams having the opportunity to sign him.

CALGARY – C Freddie Hamilton

Hamilton isn’t the sexy pick, but I’m not willing to pick free agent Michael Stone and have to fight to keep him, as he’s coming off a $4 million deal. Instead, we’ll take the 25-year-old youngster that was sneaky-good at the face-off dot in his 26 games played this season. He won almost 60 percent of his 126 play-resuming scrums to rank third-best among the centers available for the Golden Knights to select. If he can be convinced to put on a little more weight, he could be an effective fourth-liner.

CAROLINA – RW Lee Stempniak

Other than a 33-year-old long-time starting goaltender, the Hurricanes’ offerings are sparse. That leaves Stempniak as the obvious choice for McPhee and the Knights. He provided 40 points for a Carolina club that narrowly missed the postseason, but his biggest strength is his ability to steal the puck away from the opposition. He committed 57 takeaways during last season, the third-most among draft-eligible forwards.

CHICAGO – D Trevor van Riemsdyk

There are a few star-studded rosters that couldn’t protect everyone, and the Blackhawks are one of those. That leaves this stud of a young defenseman out to dry, and Vegas would be wise to bring him to the desert. At only 25 years of age, he notched 16 points during ’16-’17 and a +17 rating. The future is bright for this youngster, and he’s a perfect piece to build the first 10 years of Vegas’ defense around.

COLORADO – C Samuel Henley

If Chicago is on one end of the spectrum in terms of roster quality, Colorado is on the other – made apparent by its terrible 22-win season. Because of that, I decided to take a chance on one of the Avalanche’s prospects, a 23-year-old center. He only played in one NHL game this season, but it was a head-turner: he tied the December 1 game against the Blue Jackets at two-all in the second period (Columbus went on to win 3-2). He’s currently a restricted free-agent, but it shouldn’t be too hard to sign him to a low-cost contract.

COLUMBUS – D Jack Johnson

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they have a resurgent defenseman available to be selected. Johnson joined the Jackets during the 2011-‘12 season, and it’s been an up-and-down affair. This last campaign was certainly an “up,” as he registered a +23 rating and scored five goals (tied for ninth-most among draft-eligible defensemen). Though he comes in at a price tag exceeding $4 million, the offensive threat from the blue-line is worth the money.

DALLAS – F Mark McNeill

If there’s anything Jim Nill and the Stars know how to do, it’s how to identify offensive talent (Exhibit A: the 2015-’16 season). Unfortunately, there are only four forwards (including Adam Cracknell) available for the Expansion Draft with more than 41 NHL games played this season, meaning McPhee might be led to snag a prospect. If for no other reason than his versatility (he can play both center and right wing), I’m drawn to McNeill. He registered only 39 points between Rockford and Texas in the AHL this season, but he proved his willingness to get his nose dirty by blocking a shot in his only game with Dallas on April 28. He’s currently a restricted free agent, so it shouldn’t be difficult to sign him to another minor league contract.

DETROIT – F Luke Glendening

For whatever reason (*ahem* tank *ahem*), the Wings decided to leave this versatile forward exposed for the draft. Vegas would be crazy to leave Glendening off its club. Locked into his contract until 2021 at the relatively low price of $1.8 million, he accounted for 14 points in 74 games played this season. Of course, Glendening isn’t known so much for his offensive contributions as much as his defensive presence. With 62 blocks to his credit last year, he registered the seventh-most among draft-eligible forwards.

EDMONTON – RW Iiro Pakarinen

Colby made fun of me for picking Pakarinen in our podcast last week, but I’m holding my ground with the right wing. The Oilers are a hard team to select from with a lot of their talented youth being ineligible for the expansion draft. I thought about selecting Kris Russell, but ended up needing a player signed through next year. Pakarinen has only one year remaining on his contract, but maybe he’ll be able to impress and earn a new contract.

FLORIDA – C Jonathan Marchessault

Since I had this center on my fantasy team this year, it must have been destiny that I’d choose him for the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft. Marchessault is an excellent pick having scored a whopping 51 points – including 30 goals (third-most among draft-eligible forwards) – for the Panthers in 2016-’17. Making him even more attractive, he also leads draft-eligible forwards in takeaways with 64. In short, Marchessault is a must for Vegas.

LOS ANGELES – G Jack Campbell

Though he only has two NHL appearances for his entire career, Campbell is an attractive goaltending prospect. In 52 games with Ontario in the AHL, he posted a .914 save percentage for a 2.52 GAA, 31-win season – not to mention his perfect 20-minute shutout in his single appearance for the Kings.

MINNESOTA – D Matt Dumba

It is my opinion that the basis for a successful club is a solid defense, and this 22-year-old blue-liner is exactly the guy for the job. Pairing with fellow youngster van Riemsdyk, these two have the potential to grow into one of the best defenses in the league.

MONTRÉAL – LW Charles Hudon

To put it simply, I needed players under contract for next season. That being said, this left wing has also shown promise as a physical player. Throwing 11 hits in his three NHL games this season, he actually led all draft-eligible forwards in hits-per-game.

So there’s that.

NASHVILLE – RW Miikka Salomaki

There are quite a few solid players available from Nashville’s roster, including Mike Fisher, Matt Irwin, James Neal, Colton Sissons and Austin Watson just to name a few. Unfortunatley, at least a few of those are not under contract for next season, so I was led to draft Salomaki. The young right wing doesn’t seem attractive on the surface, but he actually averaged the third-most blocks-per-game at 1.8.

NEW JERSEY – D Ben Lovejoy

Not much is going right in New Jersey these days, but since Cory Schneider wasn’t available I had to make another pick. Though he comes with a considerable price tag of $2.7 million for the next two years, I think Lovejoy should be high on the Golden Knights’ list. If there’s one thing the defenseman does well, it’s block shots. He rejected 149 over the course of last season to rank sixth-best among draft-eligible blue-liners.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS – D Calvin de Haan

While we’re near the Big Apple, let’s grab another defenseman from the Isles. Similar to Lovejoy, de Haan has been a shot-blocking stud for a while now, as his 190 is the third-best total available among the expansion draft class’ defensemen. But he’s so much more than a simple blue-liner, as he also managed an impressive 25 points, including 20 assists.

NEW YORK RANGERS – RW Michael Grabner

Need a goal scorer that’s definitely under contract for next season? Since T.J. Oshie is a free agent, look no further than the Rangers’ incredible right wing. Not only did Grabner bury the fifth-most goals at 27, but he also didn’t yield many, as his +22 rating is the second-best among all draft-eligible forwards.

OTTAWA – RW Mike Blunden

I have no good reason for Vegas to draft Blunden other than he’s a decent pest at three hits-per-game this NHL season and that he’s under contract next year. If it weren’t for the contract rule, I was looking at Tom Pyatt.

PHILADELPHIA – D Michael del Zotto

This blue-liner is a free agent this summer, but I don’t expect him to garner a contract similar to the nearly $4 million deal he’s coming off of with the Flyers seeing as they were trying to trade him at the deadline and no other club took him. He’s a physical, two-way player that scored the fourth-most goals by a defenseman eligible for Vegas’ roster.

PITTSBURGH – D Ian Cole

Everybody that’s anybody is choosing Marc-Andre Fleury to go to Vegas, but I’ve come to the conclusion that (1) the Penguins are holding him out as bait to keep the Knights away from the true treasure that is Cole and (2) I want to be different. Overshadowed by Kris Letang and his known offensive talents, Cole is an excellent, physical two-way defenseman that not only notched 26 points in 2016-’17 (tied for sixth-most among draft-eligible blue-liners), but also an impressive +26 rating – the second-best among his peers eligible for Vegas – and 194 blocks – another stat he ranks second-best in among exposed blue-liners. At the age of 28, he still has a few more good seasons in him to make a real contribution to a club.

SAN JOSE – D Paul Martin

If Vegas doesn’t select Cole, they have another opportunity to pick a similar player in Martin. Though not as physical, Martin can still earn his wages with the puck on his stick by registering 26 points. What sets Martin apart is not only his ability to contribute offensively, but also his skill at stealing the puck. With 36 takeaways, he leads all Vegas-eligible defensemen in steals.

ST. LOUIS – W David Perron

Able to play either wing, Perron is a no-brainer for the Golden Knights given the rest of the Blues’ offerings. Under contract through next season, Perron registered the ninth-most assists among forwards with 28, but of even more significance is his ability to maintain possession. During the entire 2016-‘17 season, he gave the puck away only 21 times. Pair that with his 48 takeaways and he has a +27 turnover differential that ties for third-best among all available forwards.

TAMPA BAY – G Peter Budaj

Forwards, forwards, forwards – yet few of them have any real quality, and the ones that do aren’t under contract for long. Instead, let’s snag a goaltender that spent most of last season in the Pacific Division before being traded to the Bolts at the deadline. Especially without Fleury being selected in my draft, Budaj provides a quality immediate starter in net while the Knights establish their franchise goaltender.

TORONTO – G Antoine Bibeau

Speaking of, Bibeau could be just that guy should Ullmark not work out. He didn’t have an excellent showing with the Marlies this year, posting a .894 save percentage for a 13-win, 3.08 GAA campaign, but his two games in the NHL were relatively decent. Over 121 minutes, he posted a .927 save percentage and 1.98 GAA. It remains to be seen if that was a sampling of the future or just a solid two weeks.

VANCOUVER – RW Derek Dorsett

I had originally selected Alex Biega, but was forced to choose Dorsett to meet the proper number of contracts. If that doesn’t explain the Canucks’ situation, nothing will.

WASHINGTON – D Brooks Orpik

I wanted so badly to select Karl Alzner from Washington, but – similar to Vancouver – was forced to change my pick to meet contract rules. Orpik was easily the second-best selection even with his $5.5 million price tag for no reason other than his +32 rating, the best of any expansion draft-eligible defenseman. Pair that with his physicality, and Vegas should have a solid defense.

WINNIPEG – D Brian Strait

In only five NHL games played this season, Strait notched two points. Though it doesn’t sound like much, his points-per-game is actually sixth-best among all draft-eligible defensemen. Here’s hoping that effort continues if he can make it back to the league.

 

At the end of the draft, my Vegas Golden Knights cost a measly $45.1 million (only $1.3 million over the salary floor) with an average age of 28-years-old. Built into the roster are four two-way contracts eligible to be moved between Chicago (AHL) and Vegas as Gerard Gallant and McPhee see fit with another two being waivers-exempt (meaning they can be sent to the Wolves without going through the waiver process).

Though this draft may not maximize all the players under contract, it does provide the Knights almost $28 million to sign free agents and a draft pick or two. With that room, they might be able to attract names as elusive as Eaves, Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk or Thomas Vanek.