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Bruins lose close one to Wild on home ice, 3-2

Two quick power play goals on a 5-on-3 advantage turned Thursday night’s action 180-degrees in favor of the Minnesota Wild in their eventual, 3-2, victory over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.

Wild goaltender, Kaapo Kähkönen (5-2-1, 2.60 goals-against average, .906 save percentage in nine games played) made 36 saves on 38 shots against in the win.

Boston netminder, Jeremy Swayman (8-6-2, 2.26 goals-against average, .918 save percentage in 16 games played) turned aside 27 out of 30 shots faced in the loss.

The Bruins fell to 17-11-2 (36 points) overall, but remain in command of 4th place in the Atlantic Division, as well as the 2nd wild card in Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, Minnesota improved to 20-10-2 (42 points) on the season and in control of the 1st wild card in the Western Conference, while sitting in 4th place in the Central Division (behind the Colorado Avalanche only in tiebreaker, as the Avs have four more regulation wins than the Wild).

The Bruins were without Jakub Zboril (right ACL), Karson Kuhlman (COVID protocol), Jake DeBrusk (COVID protocol), Tomáš Nosek (COVID protocol) and Charlie McAvoy (lower body) on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask signed a PTO (player training operative) with the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Thursday in an attempt to play at least one game before signing an NHL deal with Boston and returning to action after rehabbing offseason hip surgery.

Providence’s weekend matchups against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were postponed, which could put a wrench in Rask’s return to Boston plans if the B’s aren’t quite ready to go with three goaltenders for the time being.

That said, they did recall and assign Urho Vaakanainen, Steven Fogarty and Troy Grosenick from Providence to the taxi squad– the latter being a goaltender ahead of Thursday night’s loss to Minnesota.

With McAvoy and Nosek out of the lineup, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a few minor tweaks to his lines and defensive pairings.

John Moore returned to action alongside Matt Grzelcyk on the first pairing, while Trent Frederic went from playing wing to centering the fourth line in place of Nosek with Anton Blidh in his usual role at left wing.

Vaakanainen, Fogarty and Grosenick served as healthy scratches on the taxi squad against the Wild.

Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi made their National Hockey League debuts for the Wild, while defender, Jonas Brodin returned to Minnesota’s lineup after a stint in the league’s COVID protocol.

Less than half a minute into the action, Mike Reilly tripped up Rossi and cut a rut to the box– presenting the Wild with the first power play of the game 23 seconds into the first period.

Minnesota failed to convert on their first skater advantage of the night, but it wouldn’t be long before Boston’s undisciplined play came back to bite them.

Early in the action, Kevin Fiala slashed Brad Marchand before Matt Dumba hooked David Pastrnak while falling and attempting to clear the crease as the Bruins forward crashed the net.

Boston went on a 5-on-3 advantage at 4:36, but couldn’t muster anything past Kähkönen before Patrice Bergeron tripped Frederick Gaudreau at 6:11– yielding a 4-on-3 power play for the Bruins for about 26 seconds before the Wild earned an abbreviated advantage.

It didn’t take the B’s long to capitalize on all of the open ice as Erik Haula worked the puck back to Reilly in the high slot diamond formation prior to feeding Taylor Hall (7) with a perfect pass for a one-timer power-play goal off of Brodin’s leg and through Kähkönen’s five-hole.

Reilly (4) and Haula (6) tallied the assists as Hall’s goal put Boston on top, 1-0, at 6:35 of the third period.

The Bruins managed to escape Bergeron’s minor unscathed thereafter.

Late in the period, however, the tides began to turn as a surge in momentum featured dominant possession and rising shot totals for Minnesota.

As the Bruins trailed the play, Marchand yielded a holding infraction, while Brandon Carlo interfered with Mats Zuccarello at 14:49.

The Wild went on a two-skater advantage and didn’t waste time on the 5-on-3 power play– capitalizing on both opportunities they were presented with.

First, Zuccarello sent a pass through the slot to Kirill Kaprizov (14) for a one-timer blast on the power play reminiscent of Washington Capitals forward, Alex Ovechkin, or even Pastrnak’s craft.

Zuccarello (18) and Fiala (15) were credited with the assists on Kaprizov’s power-play goal that knotted things up, 1-1, at 15:25 of the first period.

About a minute later, Nico Sturm (6) deflected a shot from the point by Brodin as Connor Dewar and other traffic screened Swayman.

Sturm’s deflection rose over Swayman’s glove side and put the Wild ahead, 2-1, at 16:48 of the first period.

Brodin (12) and Dewar (1) recorded the assists. Dewar’s secondary assist marked his first career NHL point in the process.

Late in the period, after a stoppage in play Kaprizov and Blidh got into a bit of a shoving match– exchanging pleasantries and picking up roughing minors– while Trent Frederic tried to engage Zuccarello before pulling Zuccarello’s helmet off and yielding an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct minor.

Minnesota, as a result, went on the power play at 18:12 of the first period and would start the middle frame on the skater advantage as the special teams action blended through the first intermission.

After one period, the Wild led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and, 14-10, in shots on goal.

Minnesota also held the advantage in hits (13-10), while Boston led in blocked shots (2-0), takeaways (2-1) and faceoff win percentage (59-41).

Both teams managed to have one giveaway each entering the first intermission, while the Wild were 2/5 on the power play and the Bruins were 1/2.

Alex Goligoski picked up an interference infraction at 4:27 of the second period, but Boston’s power play went by the wayside without tying things up.

Midway through the period, Kaprizov tried to free the puck from near the boards out of his own zone before bumping into Grzelcyk, causing Kaprizov to fall into a vulnerable position before Frederic came along and made a check that was a bit too strong to cash.

Kaprizov crashed into the boards awkwardly and skated off with the help of a trainer while his right arm remained pretty limp. He would not return for the night with an upper body injury, as the Wild PR team later tweeted.

Frederic was assessed a boarding minor (that Craig Smith ended up serving) and a five-minute major for fighting as Dmitry Kulikov stood up for his fallen teammate and exchanged fisticuffs in what was Boston’s seventh fighting major of the 2021-22 season.

The Bruins’ penalty kill stood tall until they were caught in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as Marcus Foligno and Boldy played a little catch as Boldy (1) dished the puck to Foligno entering the zone before receiving a pass back and burying a shot on Swayman’s blocker side to extend Minnesota’s lead.

Foligno (8) and Brodin (13) tallied the assists on Boldy’s first career NHL goal with lots of family and former Boston College teammates in attendance at TD Garden.

The Wild led, 3-1, at 12:26 of the second period as a result.

Less than a minute later, Bergeron made his way to the box for the second time in the game– this time for interference at 13:03.

Shortly after Minnesota’s power play came to an end, however, the Wild ended up shorthanded as Dumba caught Reilly without the puck and picked up an interference minor of his own at 15:10.

This time, the Bruins capitalized on the ensuing power play.

Marchand sent a shot attempt towards the net that was blocked before the B’s continued to work the puck around the attacking zone.

Suddenly, Bergeron made a no-look pass from the slot to where he expected Marchand to be and Marchand (12) buried a one-timer from the dot to bring Boston to within one goal.

Bergeron (14) and Grzelcyk (7) nabbed the assists on Marchand’s power-play goal and the Bruins trailed, 3-2, at 15:35 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of action on Thursday, the Wild led on the road, 3-2, and held an advantage in shots on goal, 24-21, despite trailing, 11-10, in the second period alone.

The Bruins, meanwhile, led in blocked shots (6-2), hits (25-16) and faceoff win% (58-42), while both teams had four takeaways and three giveaways each.

Minnesota was 2/7 on the power play and Boston was 2/4 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame.

After injuring Kaprizov and drawing the ire of the Wild, Frederic had to confront Minnesota’s Foligno brother in an exchange of fisticuffs at 1:12 of the third period.

The trouble is that Frederic couldn’t help himself in making his case any easier for him as he also drew a high sticking minor in addition to the five-minute major– totaling minutes in penalties on Thursday.

It was the second fight of the night and decisively shorted than the first with Foligno getting the takedown and five minutes worth of a fighting major of his own.

Minnesota’s ensuing power play was cut short when Rossi tripped Carlo at 1:24, but Boston couldn’t score during the ensuing abbreviated power play.

In fact, neither team could put one up on the scoreboard in the third period as time ticked away, Cassidy pulled his goaltender with about 1:28 to go, used his timeout after a stoppage with 1:23 remaining, then the final horn sounded– signaling a Wild victory.

Minnesota won, 3-2, despite finishing the night trailing in shots on goal, 38-30, as Boston amassed a, 17-6 advantage in shots in the third period alone.

The Wild exited TD Garden leading in blocked shots (10-9), while the B’s left their own building with the advantage in giveaways (7-5), hits (33-23) and faceoff win% (60-40).

Minnesota finished the night 2/8 on the power play, while Boston went 2/5 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins dropped to 11-5-0 (5-3-0 at home) when scoring first, 3-6-1 (3-3-1 at home) when trailing after one period and 3-8-2 (3-4-1 at home) when trailing after two periods this season.

The Wild improved to 7-8-1 (3-5-1 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 13-0-1 (7-0-0 on the road) when leading after the first period and 12-0-1 (8-0-0 on the road) when leading after the second period in 2021-22.

The Bruins hit the road for a quick two-game trip through Tampa, Florida against the Lightning on Saturday and Washington, D.C. against the Capitals next Monday (Jan. 10th). 

Boston will return home to host the Montréal Canadiens in a game that was originally slated to be at Bell Centre prior to the rise of the Omicron variant prompting the NHL to move up Boston and Montréal’s March 21st game scheduled at TD Garden to Jan. 12th– kicking off a seven-game homestand for the B’s as a result.

Tickets for March 21st will be honored on Jan. 12th and the original game that was slated to be in Montréal is postponed to a later date (TBA).

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Minnesota Wild 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 35-16-5, 75 points

3rd in the Honda NHL West Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Vegas

Additions: F Frédérick Gaudreau, F Dominic Turgeon, D Jordie Benn, D Kevin Czuczman, D Alex Goligoski, D Joe Hicketts, D Dmitry Kulikov, D Jon Lizotte, D Jon Merrill

Subtractions: F Nick Bonino (signed with SJS), F Gabriel Dumont (signed with TBL), F Marcus Johansson (signed with SEA), F Luke Johnson (signed with WPG), F Gerald Mayhew (signed with PHI), F Zach Parise (buyout, signed with NYI), F Dmitry Sokolov (NMHL), D Matt Bartkowski (signed to a PTO with PIT), D Louie Belpedio (signed with MTL), D Ian Cole (signed with CAR), D Brad Hunt (signed with VAN), D Brennan Menell (traded to TOR), D Carson Soucy (expansion, SEA), D Ryan Suter (buyout, signed with DAL)

Still Unsigned: D Ian McCoshen

Re-signed: F Will Bitten, F Nick Bjugstad, F Joseph Cramarossa, F Brandon Duhaime, F Joel Eriksson Ek, F Kevin Fiala, F Kirill Kaprizov, F Kyle Rau, F Mason Shaw, D Dakota Mermis, G Andrew Hammond

Offseason Analysis: It took all summer, but it didn’t linger into the fall as Wild General Manager, Bill Guerin, and forward, Kirill Kaprizov, were able to hammer out a five-year extension worth $9.000 million per season– forcing this entire offseason recap/season preview to be re-written.

Going into Tuesday, Minnesota was bound to receive a letter grade in the “D” range for failing to secure Kaprizov before training camp, despite a few other moves that have actually been pretty good for them– salary cap penalties via buyouts aside.

Late Tuesday, Kaprizov re-signed and all is just about forgiven for the Wild.

Since joining the league as an expansion team in 2000, Minnesota has rarely had a competitive team that can make a deep run into the postseason. They’ve consistently been good, but never good enough.

Marian Gaborik came and went, Mikko Koivu stayed loyal until he joined the Columbus Blue Jackets for a brief stint last season prior to retiring less than a month into the 2020-21 schedule and then the dawn of the Kaprizov Era began.

After spending time in the Kontinental Hockey League for his early development, Kaprizov amassed 27-24–51 totals in 55 games in his debut season with Minnesota as a 24-year-old left wing.

He’s the real deal and the Wild are leaning into it.

Though Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson and others weren’t re-signed as part of Minnesota’s depth that got them all the way to a Game 7 at T-Mobile Arena against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 First Round, Guerin held things down where it counts– the core.

Joel Eriksson Ek signed an eight-year extension worth $5.250 million per season after a breakout season with 30 points (19 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games last season after amassing 8-21–29 totals in 62 games in 2019-20.

If the last two seasons are an indication of what’s to come, then the Wild have a steal of a deal in Eriksson Ek’s cap hit as the 24-year-old emerges in his prime.

Guerin brought back Kevin Fiala on a one-year extension worth $5.100 million– retaining restricted-free agency status over the 25-year-old forward heading into next offseason– after putting up 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists) in 133 games with the Wild in parts of three seasons since he was acquired on Feb. 25, 2019.

In parts of five seasons with the Nashville Predators from 2014-15 through 2018-19, Fiala had 45-52–97 totals in 204 games.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken, because clearly something is clicking in Minnesota and the Wild are reaping the benefits.

Alex Goligoski and Jon Merrill are fine additions to the defense, though as for how efficient they’ll be compared to the loss of Ryan Suter remains to be seen.

Guerin bought out the remainder of Zach Parise and Suter’s matching contracts on July 13, 2021, and in doing so saved Minnesota some valuable cap space to sign Kaprizov and build off of the new core.

That said, Parise and Suter will cost the Wild about $4.744 million in dead cap space for 2021-22, then $12.744 million in dead cap space in 2022-23, before the buyout penalties reach a crescendo with a combined $14.744 million in dead cap money from 2023-24 through 2024-25 before Parise and Suter’s penalties taper off with a combined cost of $1.667 million in 2025-26, as well as 2026-27.

This offseason might have been a breeze, but next offseason is a different story– especially as building and maintaining contender status gets difficult in the next few seasons too.

Ultimately, the cost of buying out Parise and Suter may or may not even be a headache for Guerin to deal with. It all depends on how the team performs between now and a couple of seasons from now.

For now, Guerin has about $3.215 million in cap space to play with for the 2021-22 season.

Over the summer, the Seattle Kraken formed their first roster and did Minnesota a favor without asking.

Seattle could’ve selected Kaapo Kähkönen, since the Wild protected Cam Talbot, but the Kraken went in a different direction and snagged Carson Soucy from Minnesota’s depth on the blue line.

Offseason Grade: B+

Though it took a little longer than both sides had probably hoped– and with more frustration than expected– Guerin re-signed his No. 1 priority in Kaprizov before the start of training camp.

The biggest challenge for Minnesota– other than improving on last season’s success before a First Round exit– is finding a way to keep the band together next offseason, when Fiala, Jordan Greenway and Kähkönen are on the short list of important pending-restricted free agents.

Meanwhile, guys like Victor Rask, Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau, Nico Sturm, Goligoski, Jordie Benn and Merrill have a little more flexibility to come and go as they please– assuming there’s enough cap space in face of the Parise and Suter buyout penalty crunch on top of what might still be a flat cap for the 2022-23 season due to the ongoing pandemic.

At the very least, 2023-24 should be a bit more optimistic with the latest U.S. broadcasting rights deals for ESPN and Turner Sports inflating league revenue all-around and likely bumping up the salary cap as a result.

For now, Minnesota’s transition continues, but for once there’s a sense of stability given their best players are 25 and under and enjoy being in a Wild uniform.

Though they didn’t bring the alleged “State of Hockey” a Stanley Cup championship in their tenure, Parise and Suter made playing for Minnesota cool as the franchise found its footing now entering its second generation.

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Edmonton Oilers 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 35-19-2, 72 points

2nd in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Winnipeg

Additions: F Warren Foegele (acquired from CAR), F Zach Hyman, F Brendan Perlini, F Derek Ryan, F Colton Sceviour (signed to a PTO), F Tim Soderlund (acquired from CHI), D Cody Ceci, D Duncan Keith (acquired from CHI)

Subtractions: F Adam Cracknell (signed with Bakersfield Condors, AHL), F Tyler Ennis (signed to a PTO with OTT), F Joseph Gambardella (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Gaëtan Haas (NL), F Dominik Kahun (NL), F Jujhar Khaira (signed with CHI), F James Neal (buyout), F Joakim Nygård (SHL), F Alan Quine (signed with Henderson Silver Knights, AHL), F Patrick Russell (SHL), F Anton Slepyshev (KHL), D Ethan Bear (traded to CAR), D Caleb Jones (traded to CHI), D Dmitry Kulikov (signed with MIN), D Adam Larsson (expansion, SEA), D Theodor Lennström (KHL), G Dylan Wells (traded to CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Alex Chiasson

Re-signed: F Tyler Benson, F Cooper Marody, F Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F Devin Shore, F Kailer Yamamoto, D Tyson Barrie, D Slater Koekkoek, G Stuart Skinner, G Mike Smith

Offseason Analysis: The second-best team in the Scotia NHL North Division would’ve been the fourth-best team in the other three divisions last season.

No matter what, the Oilers would’ve been a playoff team in 2020-21, but it’s the embarrassment that came with being swept in the 2021 First Round by the Winnipeg Jets and subsequent offseason moves that have left many scratching their heads.

Instead of overreacting and making big, sweeping, changes, Edmonton went for a big piece and a few smaller moves that still ate up their valuable cap space in the midst of a flat salary cap due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

So really it’s just more of the same from the Oilers.

Let’s start with the good news…

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto and Tyson Barrie are back and solidify some semblance of depth for Edmonton with Nugent-Hopkins on an affordable eight-year extension worth $5.125 million per season– the Oilers will have a surefire center on the second or third line for years to come.

The 28-year-old was Edmonton’s 1st overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft and had 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 52 games last season after reaching the 60-point plateau in back-to-back seasons from 2018-19 through 2019-20.

Had there been an 82-game schedule in 2020-21, Nugent-Hopkins likely would’ve at least eclipsed the 50-point mark.

At 5-foot-8, 135-pounds, Yamamoto has a lot in common with guys like Martin St. Louis in his stature and– like St. Louis– is better off developing on his own as he had 8-13–21 totals in 52 games in his first full season run with the Oilers last season.

Though he made his league debut in 2017-18, Yamamoto has only been utilized by Edmonton sparingly in parts of three seasons leading up to his full-time status in 2020-21.

His game should be fine in due time, though offering him a supporting cast (a theme for the Oilers in general) would be fine.

After he had 59 points in 78 games with the Colorado Avalanche in 2018-19, Barrie was shipped as part of a package to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade that, well, didn’t exactly live up to the high expectations in Toronto.

Barrie’s production from the point plummeted to 39 points (five goals, 34 assists) in 70 games with the Maple Leafs in 2019-20.

He joined the Oilers on a one-year deal last October and bounced back with an admirable 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 56 games.

He had 25 points on the power play in his last season in Colorado, then just 12 points as a quarterback on Toronto’s power play unit before rebounding with 23 points from the blue line while on the skater advantage last season for Edmonton.

For his efforts, Barrie was rewarded with a sweet three-year deal worth $4.500 million per season and at 29-years-old that’s about right for a defender on the cusp of beginning the eventual decline from a defensive prime.

Zach Hyman joins the Oilers on a seven-year contract worth $5.500 million per season, which isn’t completely terrible for a 29-year-old forward in his prime that had 15-18–33 totals in 43 games with the Maple Leafs last season and has reached the 40-point plateau twice before.

As a top-six forward, Hyman is a welcome addition to Edmonton’s Art Ross Trophy-winning powerhouse offense (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl).

An additional positive from this offseason?

Edmonton’s rid themselves of James Neal via a buyout. Granted, he’ll still be on the books through the 2024-25 season at about a $1.917 million cap penalty, but after parts of two seasons with the Oilers since being acquired for Milan Lucic, at least that branch of franchise history has come to a close.

Neal had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 29 games last season after bouncing back from 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 63 games with the Calgary Flames in 2018-19 to 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 55 games for Edmonton in 2019-20.

He’s a shell of his former self, but on a low-risk contract, he could fit in fine just about anywhere else that needs a touch of veteran experience.

Now for the bad stuff that… …isn’t necessarily that bad, it’s just disappointing from the Oilers (who seemingly have chosen to make the Buffalo Sabres look good for at least being salary cap smart this offseason and that’s about it).

At 39-years-old, Mike Smith could’ve called it a career, but when Jimmy Howard turned down Oilers General Manager, Ken Holland, Smith was rewarded with two-year (not just one-year!) extension worth $2.200 million per season.

The cap hit is fine, considering he recored a goals-against average under 2.50 for the first time since the 2011-12 season with the Phoenix Coyotes.

Back then, in 67 games with Phoenix, Smith had a 38-18-10 record, a 2.21 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and eight shutouts en route to backstopping the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final, where the Los Angeles Kings eliminated Phoenix in five games.

Last season with the Oilers, Smith went 21-6-2 in 32 games, had three shutouts and amassed a 2.31 goals-against average as well as a .923 save percentage.

In 2019-20, he had a 19-12-6 record in 39 games, one shutout, a .902 save percentage and a whopping 2.95 goals-against average.

Whether it’s the introduction of Barrie to Edmonton’s defense that helped singlehandedly reduce the workload Smith faced or not– Smith had a fantastic season in 2020-21.

However, time stops for nobody and with an average age of 35.3 between Smith, Mikko Koskinen and Alex Stalock as reliable options in the crease under contract at the NHL level, well, it’s easy to feel uneasy about Edmonton’s chances at stopping the puck from night-to-night as their bodies collectively wear down through an 82-game schedule.

Then again, they are athletes and you and I are not.

Yet, it’s worth noting since unlike Smith, Koskinen went from an 18-13-3 record in 38 games with a 2.75 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout in 2019-20 with the Oilers to a dismal 13-13-0 record in 26 games with a 3.17 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage in 2020-21.

For all the good that Barrie and Co. on Edmonton’s blue line have done, there’s two new additions that, uh, might undo some of the forward progress.

Connor McDavid (ever heard of him?) vouched for Holland to acquire Duncan Keith from Chicago and then Holland went along and signed Cody Ceci in free agency.

Though Keith recorded 6-34–40 totals in 82 games in 2018-19 with Chicago, he’s been in decline, notching 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 61 games in 2019-20 and just 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 54 games last season.

The 38-year-old defender would’ve accepted any trade to a team close to the pacific northwest as he expressed a desire to be closer to family, having been isolated playing hockey for a living for most of the time during the ongoing pandemic and spending roughly five months combined with his son prior to being traded to Edmonton.

In 1,192 career NHL games, he’s won three Stanley Cup rings, was named playoff MVP in 2015, and has 105-520–625 totals in the regular season.

With two years left on his contract, Keith’s $5.538 million cap hit is a bit steep for what could be a defensive liability as the aging process continues and– turns out– Holland could’ve done better by waiting another day and signing Keith Yandle for much less after the Florida Panthers bought him out. Who knew?!

Though the Internet likes to make fun of Ceci, the 27-year-old defender really hasn’t been all that bad.

Sure 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 53 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season isn’t great, but he’s not expected to be a top-four defender– or at least he shouldn’t be.

Mistakes and weird things will happen. Sometimes you’re just unlucky like that.

Wait, Holland gave him four-years at $3.250 million per season? Yikes.

And to put the icing on the cake, Holland traded Ethan Bear to the Carolina Hurricanes for Warren Foegele. Not that Foegele’s bad, but for a team that could use a better defense, Bear fit in pretty well.

Has this McDavid guy ever tried watching the Oilers?

Offseason Grade: C+

For the Nugent-Hopkins extension, sensible new deal for Barrie and Yamamoto bridge contract, Holland deserves some praise for keeping the right pieces happy and on the roster heading into 2021-22.

That said, he also made some errors in judgment acquiring Keith at the price he paid, as well as handing out Ceci a contract with a steep cap hit and term for a guy that’s probably not that good.

In other words, it was just another normal offseason for the Oilers.

Edmonton made some smart moves, but then overreacted in other areas, while still searching for the second coming of Andy Moog in net or whatever.

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Wedgewood stops 40 for New Jersey in, 1-0, shutout over Bruins

Smithtown, New York native, Kyle Palmieri had the game’s only goal in a, 1-0, shutout win for the New Jersey Devils over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden as USA Hockey and NBC Sports Group celebrated “Hockey Day in America” on Sunday.

Scott Wedgewood (2-3-1, 2.33 goals against average, .923 save percentage in six games played) made 40 saves for his second shutout of the season for the Devils.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (8-4-2, 2.46 GAA, .906 SV% in 14 games played) stopped 24 out of 25 shots faced for a .960 SV% in the loss.

New Jersey improved to 6-2-1 on the road this season with the win, while Boston fell to 6-2-1 at home in 2020-21, as well as 1-2-1 against New Jersey this season.

The Bruins fell to 13-6-3 (29 points) and remained in 3rd place in the MassMutual NHL East Division, while the Devils improved to 8-11-2 (18 points) and stagnant in 7th place in the division.

Brandon Carlo (upper body) joined Ondrej Kase (upper body), Kevan Miller (knee) and Jeremy Lauzon (fractured left hand) on Boston’s list of injured players that were out of the lineup on Sunday.

Carlo was released from the hospital early Saturday morning and is feeling better, but likely going to be out of the lineup for a while.

Washington Capitals forward, Tom Wilson, was suspended seven games late Saturday night as a result of his in-person hearing via Zoom for his high hit on Carlo in Friday night’s game.

The National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety’s key points in their ruling mentioned that Wilson’s hit was an example of boarding, resulted in an injury and by a player with a suspension history (Wilson has now been suspended five times in his NHL career).

There was no penalty called on the play.

On Sunday, Wilson’s agent announced that Wilson and the National Hockey League Players’ Association would not appeal the suspension, citing a review of “all the pros and cons of an appeal and ultimately decid[ing] not to.”

Meanwhile, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy left his foward lines the same as they were on Friday night.

He did, however, jumble his defensive pairings, placing Matt Grzelcyk with Charlie McAvoy on the top pairing, Jakub Zboril with Connor Clifton on the second pairing and Jarred Tinordi with Urho Vaakanainen on his opposite hand.

John Moore, Sean Kuraly, Greg McKegg, Steven Kampfer and Callum Booth served as Boston’s healthy scratches and/or taxi squad members on Sunday.

Almost midway through the opening frame, Vaakanainen caught Janne Kuokkanen with a high stick and was sent to the penalty box at 7:19 of the first period.

New Jersey did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Moments later, Chris Wagner tripped Mikhail Maltsev at 13:34. Once again, the Devils were not successful on the resulting skater advantage.

After one period of play in Boston, the game remained tied, 0-0, with the Bruins leading in shots on goal, 12-10.

New Jersey, meanwhile, held the advantage in blocked shots (4-1), giveaways (4-3) and faceoff win percentage (58-42). Both teams had five takeaways and nine hits aside entering the first intermission.

The Devils were 0/2 on the power play and the B’s had yet to see any time on the skater advantage.

The middle frame brought more of the same.

Jake DeBrusk caught Travis Zajac with a high stick and was assessed a minor infraction at 9:14 of the second period, but New Jersey wasn’t able to score on the resulting power play– their third skater advantage of the night.

Late in the period, Jack Hughes settled the puck and whipped a shot past Rask’s glove side, but the goal was immediately waved off due to a hand pass.

Entering the second intermission, the Bruins and Devils were still tied, 0-0, despite Boston holding a, 22-19, advantage in shots on goal, including a, 10-9, advantage in the second period alone.

The B’s also led in blocked shots (7-6), takeaways (13-7) and giveaways (10-8), while New Jersey led in hits (17-14) and faceoff win% (53-47).

The Devils were 0/3 on the skater advantage, while the Bruins had yet to see any action on the power play through 40 minutes.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Dmitry Kulikov hooked Brad Marchand and was sent to the box.

Boston had their first power play of the evening at 5:26 of the third period, but failed to convert on the advantage.

Midway through the third, the Devils were shorthanded once again when Maltsev hooked Anders Bjork at 11:13. The Bruins did not score on the resulting power play.

Late in the third period, Palmieri (4) pocketed a rebound from point blank to give New Jersey the game’s first goal.

Pavel Zacha (10) and P.K. Subban (8) had the assists on the game’s only goal as the Devils took a, 1-0, lead at 15:23.

Cassidy pulled his goaltender with 1:45 remaining in the action, though Rask was holding his lower back and skating gingerly to the bench in pain.

The Bruins used their timeout after a stoppage in play with 1:17 remaining in the game, but could not muster a successful plan to tie the game and force overtime.

At the final horn, the Devils sealed the deal on a, 1-0, shutout.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 40-25, including an, 18-6, advantage in the third period alone.

The B’s also wrapped up Sunday’s action leading in giveaways (14-9), hits (22-19) and faceoff win% (54-46), while New Jersey finished the night leading in blocked shots (13-12).

The Devils finished Sunday’s action 0/3 on the skater advantage, while the Bruins went 0/2 on the power play.

Boston fell to 4-3-1 (2-2-1 at home) when tied after the first period and 3-4-2 (0-1-1 at home) when tied after the second period this season, while New Jersey improved to 3-4-1 (3-0-1 on the road) when tied after one period and 3-3-1 (2-0-1 on the road) when tied after two periods this season.

The B’s also fell to 4-4-2 (1-2-0 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal this season.

The Devils improved to 7-4-0 (5-1-0 on the road) when scoring the game’s first goal in 2020-21.

The Bruins travel to Long Island for a matchup with the New York Islanders on Tuesday night before returning home for a two-game homestand against the New York Rangers on Thursday and Saturday.

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NHL Nick's Net

Palmieri nets two as Devils defeat Bruins, 3-2

Kyle Palmieri scored a pair of goals as the New Jersey Devils beat the Boston Bruins, 3-2, at TD Garden on Thursday night in Boston.

Mackenzie Blackwood (4-0-1, 1.94 goals against average, .945 save percentage in five games played) made 25 saves on 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the win for New Jersey.

Boston netminder, Jaroslav Halak (4-1-1, 1.66 GAA, .928 SV% in six games played) stopped 23 out of 26 shots against (.885 SV%) in the loss.

The Bruins fell to 10-3-2 (22 points) on the season, but remained in command of the MassMutual NHL East Division lead, while the Devils improved to 6-3-2 (14 points) overall and stagnant in 6th place in the division.

Once more, the Bruins were without the services of Ondrej Kase (upper body) and Matt Grzelcyk (lower body), but Jakub Zboril (upper body) joined the pair of injured teammates in the press box on Thursday night– missing his first game of the season due to an injury sustained on Feb. 13th in the, 4-2, loss at the Islanders.

Kase missed his 13th game due to an injury sustained on Jan. 16th in New Jersey, while Grzelcyk missed his ninth game due to an injury originally sustained on Jan. 21st against Philadelphia, then re-aggravated on Jan. 28th against Pittsburgh and on Feb. 10th in New York (against the Rangers).

As a result of the injuries and more, Boston’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy, jumbled his lines.

Jake DeBrusk replaced David Pastrnak on the first line right wing with Brad Marchand at left wing and captain, Patrice Bergeron, at center.

Pastrnak was “demoted” to the second line with Nick Ritchie and David Krejci, while Trent Frederic, Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith were reunited on the third line.

Anders Bjork, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner made up the fourth line.

On defense, Cassidy left Jeremy Lauzon with Charlie McAvoy on the first defensive pairing, while John Moore filled in Grzelcyk’s usual role on the second pairing with Brandon Carlo and Connor Clifton was slotted into Zboril’s spot alongside Kevan Miller.

Greg McKegg, Steven Kampfer, Urho Vaakanainen, Callum Booth and Karson Kuhlman made up Boston’s taxi squad on Thursday, while Anton Blidh was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Wednesday and Par Lindholm had his contract terminated by the club on Monday after being placed on waivers for the purpose of terminating his deal on Sunday.

Lindholm signed a multiyear contract with Skellefteå AIK in his return to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).

Not much happened in the first period. In fact, so much not much that the only event on the scoresheet was a penalty against Wagner for tripping Devils forward, Miles Wood, at 10:29.

New Jersey did not convert on the ensuing power play.

After one period of action Thursday night at TD Garden, the game was tied, 0-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 7-7.

Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (7-4) and giveaways (5-3), while New Jersey led in hits (9-8).

Both teams managed three takeaways aside and split faceoff win percentage (50-50).

The Devils were 0/1 on the power play, while the Bruins had yet to see time on the skater advantage heading into the first intermission.

Early in the middle period, Jack Hughes pulled both Boston defenders out of position before dropping a pass to Palmieri (1) for the wrist shot goal over Halak’s glove side.

Hughes (6) had the only assist on Palmieri’s first goal of the night as the Devils took the lead, 1-0, at 1:34 of the second period.

Less than a minute later, Palmieri cut a rut to the penalty box with McAvoy after the two players roughed each other up a bit after a stoppage in play, resulting in 4-on-4 action for a pair of minutes at 2:14 of the middle frame.

Moments later, Moore tripped Jesper Bratt and was sent to the sin bin at 8:01, yielding a power play to New Jersey in the process.

Once again the Devils weren’t able to convert on the skater advantage, however, as P.K. Subban caught Bjork with a high stick and drew blood at 9:05 of the second period, resulting in a four-minute double minor penalty on Subban.

The two clubs shared 56 seconds of 4-on-4 action before the Bruins began an extended power play for a span of 3:04.

While shorthanded, the Devils forced a turnover in the neutral zone, presenting Palmieri (2) with a clear lane to the net for his second goal of the night on a similar shot to his first goal of the game.

Damon Severson (5) and Bratt (3) tallied the assists on Palmieri’s shorthanded goal as New Jersey led, 2-0, at 10:39 of the second period.

In the waning minute of their power play, DeBrusk (1) found a loose puck in the slot and buried a shot over Blackwood’s blocker side to cut New Jersey’s lead in half, 2-1, and give Boston their first goal of the night.

DeBrusk’s power-play goal was unassisted at 12:36.

Moments later, the Bruins tweeted that Krejci (lower body) would not return to the night’s action– necessitating some changes to Cassidy’s in-game lineup.

Late in the period, Nathan Bastian and Coyle received matching roughing minors after yet another post-whistle scrum at 15:08.

On the ensuing 4-on-4 action, New Jersey worked the puck in the offensive zone while Moore and Carlo struggled to remain in proper positioning in their own end.

Andreas Johnsson sent a pass to Pavel Zacha (4) for a one-timer goal over Halak’s blocker from the inside circle to the Bruins netminder’s right side.

Johnsson (2) and Will Butcher (1) notched the assists on Zacha’s goal and the Devils led, 3-1, at 15:37 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of play on Thursday, New Jersey led, 3-1, on the scoreboard and, 18-15, in shots on goal, including an, 11-8, advantage in the second period alone while Boston struggled on home ice.

The Bruins led in blocked shots (11-8), giveaways (8-6) and faceoff win% (58-43), while the Devils led in takeaways (5-4) and hits (16-15).

New Jersey was 0/2 on the power play, while Boston was 1/2 on the skater advantage entering the final frame of regulation.

The Bruins found themselves shorthanded when Lauzon tripped Palmieri at 7:01 of the third period, but made matters worse when Marchand caught Hughes with a high stick at 7:36 and presented the Devils with a two-skater advantage for 1:25.

Boston’s penalty kill got the job done, however.

Late in the final frame, Ty Smith sent an errant puck clear over the glass and received a minor infraction for delay of game at 17:49, presenting the B’s with a power play that– if they couldn’t score– would expire with 11 seconds left in the game.

Cassidy pulled Halak for an extra attacker to make it a 6-on-4 advantage for Boston.

About a minute into the ensuing power play, Pastrnak fired a shot from the point that McAvoy (2) deflected while battling Dmitry Kulikov in the slot to pull Boston to within one goal.

Pastrnak (6) and Ritchie (6) were credited with the assists on the power-play goal and the Bruins trailed, 3-2, at 18:54 of the third period.

With 1:06 to go, Cassidy used his timeout to rally Boston for another goal, but it was too little, too late as the final horn sounded 66 seconds later.

New Jersey emerged victorious, 3-2, as time expired.

The Bruins finished with the advantage in shots on goal, 27-26, including a, 12-8, advantage in shots on goal in the third period alone.

Boston also wrapped up Thursday night’s action leading in blocked shots (16-13), giveaways (11-9) and faceoff win% (61-39), while the New Jersey finished the night leading in hits (24-21).

The Devils went 0/4 on the skater advantage while the B’s converted on 2/3 power play opportunities.

The B’s fell to 3-2-0 (1-1-0 at home) when tied after the first period, 2-1-1 (1-1-0 at home) when trailing after two periods and 4-2-2 (1-1-0 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal this season.

New Jersey, meanwhile, improved to 2-1-1 (2-0-1 on the road) when tied after the first period, 4-0-0 (3-0-0 on the road) when leading after two periods and 6-1-0 (4-0-0 on the road) when scoring the game’s first goal this season.

The Bruins hit the road for a home game outdoors at Lake Tahoe against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC) before returning to the road for a three-game road trip against the New York Islanders on Feb. 25th and New York Rangers on Feb. 26th, as well as Feb. 28th.

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NHL Nick's Net

Pastrnak’s hat trick helps B’s soar over Jets, 5-4

David Pastrnak scored his 7th career regular season hat trick as the Boston Bruins mounted a comeback and defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 5-4, at TD Garden on Thursday.

Jaroslav Halak (10-4-5 record, 2.34 goals against average, .923 save percentage in 19 games played) made 17 saves on 21 shots against for an .810 SV% in the win for Boston.

Winnipeg netminder, Laurent Brossoit (4-5-0, 3.65 GAA, .886 SV% in 13 games played) stopped 31 out of 36 shots faced for an .861 SV% in the loss.

The Bruins improved to 26-8-11 (63 points) on the season and remain in command of the Atlantic Division, while the Jets fell to 24-17-4 (52 points) and remain in 4th place in the Central Division.

The B’s improved to 15-2-9 at home this season and 2-0-0 with their moms in attendance.

Boston was without Kevan Miller (knee), Connor Clifton (upper body) and Zdeno Chara (jaw) on Thursday night.

Torey Krug (illness) was a game-time decision, but was good to go, took part in warmups and slotted in his usual role on the second defensive pairing with Brandon Carlo.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a couple minor swaps among his forwards– re-inserting David Backes and Joakim Nordstrom into the lineup after Backes was a healthy scratch and Nordstrom was out with an illness in the last game.

Backes took over the third line right wing spot with Danton Heinen at left wing and Charlie Coyle at center, while Nordstrom was reunited with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner on the fourth line.

On defense, without Chara on the first pairing, Matt Grzelcyk was promoted to the top pairing on the left side of Charlie McAvoy while Krug resumed his duties on the second pairing with Carlo.

John Moore slid over to the left side of the third defensive pairing with Steven Kampfer rejoining the lineup on the right side.

Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm were the only healthy scratches for Boston on Thursday.

Almost midway through the first period, Kyle Connor (22) waltzed around Krug and sent a backhand shot over Halak’s glove to give Winnipeg the, 1-0, lead at 7:35 of the opening frame.

Connor’s goal marked the 12th time this season that the Bruins gave up the game’s first goal on home ice, but almost ten minutes later, the B’s tied things up.

Kuraly worked the puck deep along the endboards whereby Nordstrom sent a pass to Pastrnak as No. 88 in black-and-gold was fresh off the bench subbing on the fourth line for Wagner while Wagner was taken off the ice by a concussion spotter for the remained of the first period.

Pastrnak (33) rocketed a one-timer while crashing the high slot and tied the game, 1-1, at 17:14 of the first period.

Nordstorm (2) and Kuraly (13) had the assists on Pastrnak’s goal as the NHL’s leading goal scorer extended his current point streak to 12 games.

After scoring his first goal of the night, Pastrnak became the third player in Bruins history to have multiple point streaks of at least 12 games in one season– joining Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr (both in the 1973-74 season), according to Conor Ryan of Boston Sports Journal.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins and Jets were tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard, despite Boston holding the advantage in shots on goal, 12-6.

The B’s also led in takeaways (4-2), giveaways (6-3) and faceoff win percentage (67-33), while the Jets led in blocked shots (3-1) and hits (14-8).

There were no penalties called in the first period.

Less than a minute into the middle frame, Luca Sbisa tripped up Brad Marchand and was assessed a minor infraction 29 seconds into the second period– presenting Boston with the game’s first power play of the night.

The Bruins weren’t able to convert on the skater advantage and followed the special teams action up with a penalty of their own for an illegal skater advantage– too many skaters on the ice– at 4:23 of the second period.

Backes served Boston’s bench minor and the B’s had nearly killed it off until Josh Morrissey blasted a shot from the point that Andrew Copp (7) deflected past Halak to put Winnipeg back into the lead, 2-1.

Morrissey (21) and Nikolaj Ehlers (19) notched the assists on Copp’s goal as the Jets pulled ahead of the Bruins with a power play goal at 6:00 of the second period.

Almost a few minutes later, Blake Wheeler tripped David Krejci at 9:23 and Boston went back on the power play as the Jets traded special teams opportunities.

This time around, however, the Bruins were sure to convert on the power play as Pastrnak (34) was left alone from just above the faceoff circle and fired a one-timer over Brossoit’s glove side shoulder– tying the game, 2-2, while on the power play.

Krug (25) and Marchand (42) tallied the assists on Pastrnak’s second goal of the game at 9:41.

Late in the period, Jake DeBrusk (12) broke free from Winnipeg’s defense on an individual effort and sent the puck high, glove side to give Boston their first lead of the night, 3-2, on the breakaway at 18:49.

Less than a minute later, Grzelcyk followed suit with an interference penalty at 19:17 yielded a power play to the Jets.

Neal Pionk (4) whizzed a shot from the point that had eyes and found its way to the twine behind the Bruins goaltender– tying the game, 3-3, while Winnipeg was on the power play.

Wheeler (26) and Patrik Laine (26) had the assists on Pionk’s goal at 19:52 and the Jets responded to DeBrusk’s goal with a goal of their own just 1:03 after Boston took their first lead of the night.

Entering the second intermission, the Bruins and Jets were even, 3-3, on the scoreboard, despite Boston maintaining a, 24-14, advantage in shots on goal– including a, 12-8, advantage in the second period alone.

Winnipeg led in blocked shots (4-3) and hits (26-20), while Boston led in takeaways (11-3), giveaways (11-6) and faceoff win% (70-30).

The Jets were 2/2 on the skater advantage heading into the third period, while the Bruins were 1/2 on the power play through 40 minutes.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Morrissey tripped Coyle and presented the B’s with another power play at 3:09 of the third period.

Boston didn’t capitalize on the ensuing advantage.

Moments later, Mark Scheifele (22) squeaked the puck between Halak’s leg pad and the post as the Bruins goaltender neglected to seal the pad to the post and Scheifele gave the Jets yet another lead, 4-3.

Connor (22) and Dmitry Kulikov (4) tallied the assists on Scheifele’s goal at 7:50.

Less than four minutes later, Pastrnak (35) completed his hat trick after DeBrusk initiated a scoring chance and a rebound whereby Pastrnak was able to bury a loose puck over Brossoit’s blocker for his 7th career regular season hat trick– and his 3rd this season alone (with his most recent hat trick prior to Thursday night having been on Nov. 26th in Boston’s, 8-1, win in Montreal).

Krejci (21) and DeBrusk (11) had the assists on Pastrnak’s hat trick goal at 11:13 and the Bruins tied the game, 4-4.

But the score didn’t remain tied for long as DeBrusk (13) tipped in a shot from McAvoy to put the B’s ahead, 5-4, just 33 seconds after Pastrnak completed his hat trick.

McAvoy (15) and Grzelcyk (12) notched the assists on DeBrusk’s second goal of the game at 11:46 of the third period and the Bruins didn’t look back from that moment onward.

Ehlers hooked Krug at 12:12 and presented Boston with one last chance on the power play, but the Bruins weren’t able to extend their one-goal lead.

With about 1:25 remaining in the game, Jets head coach, Paul Maurice, pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail– even after Winnipeg managed to get the puck deep into their attacking zone and took a timeout after a stoppage with 7.3 seconds remaining.

At the final horn, Boston had landed the Jets with a, 5-4, win on home ice and finished the night leading in shots on goal (36-21), giveaways (13-7) and faceoff win% (62-38).

Winnipeg left TD Garden leading in hits (33-28), while both teams were tied in blocked shots (7-7).

The Jets finished Thursday night’s action 2/2 on the power play and the Bruins went 1/4 on the skater advantage as the B’s matched a franchise record of 12 consecutive games with a power play goal (originally set in the 1987-88 season).

Pastrnak, in the meantime, recorded the 32nd instance in NHL history of a player scoring three or more hat tricks in consecutive seasons (three in 2018-19 and three so far in 2019-20) as the Bruins improved to 6-1-6 when tied after one period and 7-2-3 when tied after two periods this season.

Boston begins a three-game road trip on Saturday in New York against the Islanders before venturing to visit the Philadelphia Flyers next Monday (Jan. 13th) and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday (Jan. 14th).

The Bruins return home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 16th before facing the Penguins in Pittsburgh for the second game their home-and-home matchup and finish up their game action before the All-Star break with a home game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 21st.

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Previews

2018 Offseason Preview: Winnipeg Jets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Winnipeg Jets and their outlook for the summer.

jetslogo

The Winnipeg Jets soared high in 2017-18, amassing 114 points on the season with a–franchise best– 52-20-10 record to finish 2nd in the Central Division and 2nd in the Western Conference (both in the regular season and postseason, by virtue of having been eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final).

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff went all-in on a potential Stanley Cup run at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Winnipeg’s 2018 first round pick and prospect, Erik Foley.

Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien were great at their positions as always, while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the team to glory. Meanwhile, Kyle Connor had one of the quietest sensational rookie seasons in recent memory, scoring 31 goals and 26 assists (57 points) in 76 games played.

Things are only looking up for the Jets despite their Western Conference Final defeat in five games to the expansion Golden Knights.

Both Winnipeg and Vegas were dominant teams in the West and if one of them hadn’t made the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators probably would have, but the Jets defeated the Preds in seven games in the Second Round after easily finishing off the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round.

Paul Maurice got to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2002 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes head coach, while the Jets made the third round for the first time in franchise history dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers (R.I.P.).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Winnipeg doesn’t have a selection in the first round currently, thanks to Cheveldayoff’s deadline acquisition bargain hunting.

It’s not entirely clear if the Jets will take a stab at jumping into the first round, but at least they’ve got some pretty sweet third jerseys finally coming along seven years into their tenure at Bell MTS Place since relocating from Atlanta.

Nic Petan, as always, is on the trade bait list and could yield the club a first round pick as part of a return on a transaction.

Pending free agents

The Jets have almost $20.600 million to spend on free agents this summer with their captain, Blake Wheeler, ($5.600 million cap hit) and young superstar, Patrik Laine, ($925,000 cap hit– final year of his entry-level deal) entering contract years.

In other words, next summer is going to be expensive.

Winnipeg has three pending-UFAs in Shawn Matthias, Matt Hendricks and Paul Stastny.

Matthias, 30, had one goal and two assists (three points) in 27 games, while Hendricks, 37, had 5-8–13 totals in 60 games this season. Neither of them have to be brought back for the Jets to remain a contender in the Central Division, but what Cheveldayoff does with Stastny could mean a world of a difference.

Stastny, 32, had clear chemistry with his teammates in Winnipeg from the moment he was on the ice with them, right through the postseason. He’s such a great playmaker and dependable on the faceoff dot that it only makes sense you’d let him be the one feeding Wheeler and Laine for as long as you can.

In 82 games with the Jets and Blues, Stastny had 16 goals and 37 assists (53 points). He then went on to have 6-9–15 totals in 17 postseason games. Re-sign him.

Winnipeg has a lot of cap space and a plethora of pending-RFAs to re-sign or let go.

Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia, Marko Dano and Adam Lowry all need new deals and contributed in some way to the club’s deep playoff run.

Tanev, 26, is a solid bottom-six forward. Armia, 25, goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the glue guys. Meanwhile, Dano, 23, and Lowry, 25, have made a case for one to be preserved over the other (it’s Lowry, obviously).

On defense, Toby Enstrom, 33, already knows he’ll be hitting the waters of the open market as he has both price himself out of a Jets jersey and been bumped out of contention for ice-time with the likes of Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Dmitry Kulikov and Ben Chiarot holding down the fort.

What’s that? I didn’t even mention Jacob Trouba, Tucker Poolman, Joe Morrow or Josh Morrissey? Well, that’s because they’re all pending-RFAs.

24-year-old Jacob Trouba’s bridge-deal is expiring and he’ll need a raise. Poolman, 25, emerged as a top-6 quality defender. Morrow, 25, was acquired at the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens and should return as a top-6 guy that came in clutch under Maurice’s instructions.

Morrow was never really utilized under Claude Julien in Montreal and Boston. Prior to that he was a journeyman from the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins (where he was originally drafted). Winnipeg seems like it should be home for the 25-year-old blueliner.

Make of Morrissey what you will, but the 23-year-old defender had 26 points this season setting career highs in goals (7), assists (19) and points (26). He’ll be sticking around.

The real problem with Winnipeg is what they’re going to have to do with their goaltenders.

Starter, Connor Hellebuyck, is a pending-RFA. The 25-year-old solidified his status as a clear number one goaltender with a cut above the rest in the league, winning 44 games out of 67 appearances this season. He had a 2.36 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Hellebuyck’s earned a raise, but the only problem is it leaves the Jets paying 30-year-old, Steve Mason, his $4.100 million cap hit in his final year of his two-year deal. In 13 games as a backup, he wasn’t great, amassing a 3.24 GAA and .906 SV%. Good luck trying to convince a team to take on his contract at full value.

Cheveldayoff will likely have to ship Mason out while retaining close to 50% of his remaining salary (the maximum allowed per the collective bargaining agreement).

28-year-old, Michael Hutchinson, in the meantime is a pending-UFA and regressed in 2017-18. Though he only played in three games, Hutchinson had a 3.26 GAA and .907 SV%.

For much less than Mason, Hutchinson could rebound back to a goals against average under 3.00, which is the least you expect from a backup– anything between 2.50 and 3.00 is right on target, anything better than 2.50 is godlike (for a backup) and anything over 3.00 is usually a poor investment in an easily overlooked position.

Sure, Eric Comrie is developing in the system, but wait, he’s a pending-RFA this summer too.

Winnipeg looks like they finally have this goaltending thing figured out, but Cheveldayoff cannot afford to mess any part of it up or else he risks long-term success, a la the Ondrej Pavelec saga from Atlanta to Winnipeg until Hellebuyck and Hutchinson overtook him.

Buyouts on the books: Mark Stuart at $583,333 through the end of 2018-19.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Buddy Robinson (UFA), Michael Sgarbossa (UFA), Chase De Leo (RFA), Jamie Phillips (RFA), Cameron Schilling (UFA), Jan Kostalek (RFA), James Lodge (RFA), Eric Comrie (RFA), Nic Petan (RFA), JC Lipon (RFA), Julian Melchiori (UFA)

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NHL Podcasts

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.

Categories
Previews

Winnipeg Jets 2017-’18 Season Preview

Winnipeg Jets

40-35-7, 87 points, 5th in the Central Division

Additions: C Matt Hendricks, D Dmitry Kulikov, G Steve Mason, C Michael Sgarbossa,

Subtractions: C Quinton Howden, G Ondrej Pavelec, RW Anthony Peluso, D Paul Postma, D Brian Strait

Offseason Analysis: Wait…Kevin Cheveldayoff did something in free agency?

I hadn’t planned on actually having to cover any transactions in this article…

For those who may be unaware, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is perhaps best-known for his complete disregard for those of us who cover offseason (and trade deadline, for that matter) roster moves and the like. So when he came out firing on July 1st picking up notable free agents like Kulikov and Mason, it came as quite a surprise.

The Jets have have generally always been one of those bubble teams that are hard to predict, but are usually a fun group to watch. Ironically, those two qualities are basically tied together around one central theme: They often struggle to keep pucks out of their own net. Winnipeg has no shortage of offensive punch, but it’s hard to win games 5-4 every night.

With all that in mind, and having done a very solid job of building within the organization for the past few years, Cheveldayoff apparently decided the time was finally right to bring in some outside help to try and push his team over the proverbial hump. We’ll start in net, where former Calder winner Steve Mason was brought in on a 2-year, $4.1M (I scoffed, but the Jets had the cap space) deal to supplement young stud Connor Hellebuyck. Obviously Mason hasn’t turned out to be the world-beater he appeared to be during his unbelievable rookie campaign with Columbus all those years ago, but with his 26-21-8 record, 2.66 GAA and .908 SV% last year with Philadelphia all nearly mirroring his career averages, he’s proven himself to be a more-than-useful backstop, particularly when used in a ‘1a-1b’ goaltending duo role, which could very well be what we see utilized in Winnipeg. Should he or Hellebuyck falter, the Jets have the luxury of having proven backup Michael Hutchinson and 2013 2nd round pick Eric Comrie waiting in the wings with AHL-affiliate Manitoba.

Moving away from the blue paint, the Jets also bolstered an already solid, if not always consistent blueline with the addition of 6’1″ 204lb Russian defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The jury is still deliberating on Kulikov’s true value (even after over 500 games of NHL experience), but he has certainly shown flashes of high-quality play over the years. His offensive production hasn’t often been what he was once thought capable of, but with all of the talent on Winnipeg’s blueline, that’s not a high priority for him to fill, anyhow. A physical force capable of some absolute filling-loosening hits, the Jets simply need Kulikov to limit his mistakes and help stabilize their D corps. At just 26 years of age, he’s still more than capable of learning and adapting his game, but brings with him the benefit of being an NHL regular since his draft year, giving him experience beyond his years. Slot Kulikov next to big Dustin Byfuglien dishing out plenty of physicality with a steady amount of added offense on Winnipeg’s 2nd pairing, with 2012 and 2013 1st round picks Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey munching up the minutes on the top pairing and smooth-skating vets Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers (picturing 5’10” Enstrom and 6’8″ Myers standing next to each other on the blueline makes my heart happy) rounding out the rotation. Throw in the versatile Ben Chiarot as the 7th man, and Winnipeg’s blueline looks more than capable of stepping up their performance from seasons past.

Up front, the Jets went into this offseason with little to worry about, but adding the versatility of guys like Matt Hendricks and Michael Sgarbossa on low-risk deals obviously didn’t hurt them. Hendricks can replace some of Anthony Peluso’s grit while also being a much more serviceable player, while Sgarbossa, though likely to spend much of the season in Manitoba, can bring a bit of extra offensive prowess into the lineup as opposed to Quinton Howden, whom he essentially replaced.

The rest of the forward group carries over, and there’s not a slouch among them. Of the 12 forwards I have on Winnipeg’s projected opening night roster, only one has reached the age of 30 as of this writing, and that’s 31 year old captain Blake Wheeler, who is coming off of a 26 goal, 74 point season. Eight of those forwards are former 1st round picks; five of whom were Winnipeg’s own choices. There’s also in-house 2nd round pick Nic Petan (who I have as the 13th forward) accompanying 3rd round pick Adam Lowry and 4th rounder Andrew Copp. Strong camps from youngsters like 2015 Jets 1st rounder Jack Roslovic or Sabres 2014 2nd round pick Brendan Lemieux could easily get them out of Manitoba for the start of the year, as well.

Remember what I said about Cheveldayoff building from within?

Offseason Grade: B

The Jets weren’t that far off from contending, even in the hyper-competitive Central. Cheveldayoff has done an excellent job of building his team the way he wants it, with his own core group of young talent. He knew he didn’t need to throw that big of a wrench at it, and he didn’t. With a few small tweaks, on generally reasonable deals, the Jets look to have covered the few leaks they had. If this young team can continue to gel, and play with the consistency they’ve lacked in key moments over the past few years, they have the tools to put a serious hurting on some unsuspecting opponents.

Oh, and say a prayer for all of the crossbars Laine will be punishing in the coming months.

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Previews

Florida Panthers 2017-’18 Season Preview

Florida Panthers

35-36-11, 81 points, sixth in the Atlantic Division

Additions: W Evgeni Dadonov, C Micheal Haley, RW Radim Vrbata

Subtractions: G Reto Berra (signed with ANA), F Jussi Jokinen (signed with EDM), C Jon Marchessault (drafted by VGK), F Kyle Rau (signed with MIN), D Brent Regner (signed with DAL), C Michael Sgarbossa (signed with WPG), W Reilly Smith (traded to VGK), RW Paul Thompson (signed with VGK), W Thomas Vanek (signed with VAN)

Offseason Analysis: For some, the 2015-‘16 season feels like yesterday. To others, it was ages ago.

Then there’s Florida.

2016 marked the Panthers’ second playoff appearance since 2000’s sweep by Jersey, and Florida earned that berth in the most dominating way: winning the Atlantic by six points over archrival Tampa.

Though Florida was eliminated in the first round, the future looked bright. C Aleksander Barkov, C Nick Bjugstad, D Aaron Ekblad, C Jonathan Huberdeau, Smith and F Vincent Trocheck all had yet to turn 25-years-old, and they were led by ageless wonder RW Jaromir Jagr.

A year later, although that core remained intact, the Panthers found themselves golfing early, missing the playoffs by 14 points.

It’s one thing to narrowly miss the playoffs, but how could something like this happen?

One problem was Florida’s slow start. Former head coach Gerrard Gallant’s (now Vegas’ coach) Panthers started 11-10-1 before being infamously sacked after losing 3-2 at Carolina, but general-manager-turned-head-coach Tom Rowe proved unable to turn the squad around.

Maybe it was the slow start, or maybe it was the rash firing of the best head coach in franchise history, but since I’m a numbers guy (like Panthers management claims), I believe the answer lies in Florida’s goals against. During the 2015-’16 season, the Panthers scored 232 goals and allowed only 200 for a +32 differential. Last year, Florida scored 210 times (22 less than before) and allowed 237 tallies (37 more) for a -27 differential, a net change of -59.

Where did those opposing goals come from?

I believe the answer falls squarely on the front office’s shoulders. During the playoff season, Florida allowed 29.5 shots to reach G Roberto Luongo per game, tying for 13th-best in the NHL. Last season, that number climbed to 31.6 shots-per-game – the eighth-worst mark. To be fair, Luongo didn’t have the best of campaigns with a .915 save percentage and 2.68 GAA, but the fact that defensemen Brian Campbell, 25-year-old Erik Gudbranson and 26-year-old Dmitry Kulikov all departed the team before last season began, for no other apparent reason than supposed analytics, played a major role.

Trying to resolve this situation and get his squad back to where it belongs, re-anointed GM Dale Tallon elected to not resign 45-year-old Jagr (16-30-46), allow 26-year-old Marchessault (30-21-51) to be selected in the expansion draft (but, why?) and trade 26-year-old Smith (15-22-37) to Vegas.

You read that correctly: Florida thinks offense was the problem.

Don’t get me wrong: 28-year-old Dadonov (30-36-66, KHL) and 36-year-old Vrbata (20-35-55, Arizona) will be valuable additions in replacing Jagr and Marchessault, but it’s a question if Florida’s squeaking wheel didn’t receive the grease. Even if the plan was to draft the elite defenseman of the future, Tallon didn’t select one until Max Gildon of the US NTDP in the third round. Instead, he chose RW Owen Tippett with his first pick for a club with a lot of talent on that side already.

This preview isn’t an attack on advanced analytics – I’m a fan in most instances. However, this preview is an attack on GMs changing course while building arguably the most success the franchise has ever seen (yes, I know Florida won the 1996 Eastern Conference). Unloading young offensive talent – and Jagr – a year after keeping only half the defensive corps is a recipe for disaster, both now and for the immediate future of this organization.

Instead of building a team around a desired analytic, maybe management should have learned which stat was already working and build the rest of its team around that core. Now, Florida may be left in shambles for the foreseeable future.

Offseason Grade: F

First and foremost, letting, no, working out a deal with Vegas to ensure Marchessault was selected in the expansion draft was a crazy idea. That being said, even with the departures of him and Jagr, I still feel that the Panthers’ offense is capable of showing signs of growth with Dadonov and Vrbata in comparison to last year. But, until the blue line improves, Florida will not able to climb much further than seventh place in the Atlantic Division.