Tag Archives: Eastern Conference

2018 Offseason Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.

The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.

After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.

I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?

Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.

How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.

It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.

As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.

Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.

Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.

My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.

Pending Free Agents

The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).

Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.

Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.

Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.

Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.

The RFA list is smaller, but contains three major names in Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray.

Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.

Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.

Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.

At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.

I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.

Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…

2018 Offseason Preview: Florida Panthers

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

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Despite coming and going all season long, the Florida Panthers quietly made a run from February down the stretch that came up a little bit short and turned some heads that were otherwise focused all season long on the money-puck driven Carolina Hurricanes.

Florida almost pulled it off– well, almost made the postseason, that is– but with a record of 44-30-8 and 96 points on the season, the 4th place team in the Atlantic Division was no match for the stacked Metropolitan Division and finished one-point shy of a wild card spot (both the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils finished with 97 points on the year and both Eastern Conference wild cards).

One thing that was apparent from the 2017 Expansion Draft where the Vegas Golden Knights claimed last season’s leading scorer for Florida, Jonathan Marchessault, and acquired Reilly Smith in a deal to protect some other Panthers roster player not named Marchessault, well…

Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith don’t grow on trees (but having at least one of them would have helped Florida’s 2017-18 cause).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

General Manager Dale Tallon has the 15th overall pick in the 2018 Draft to select one of the best available players in his selection standing in either Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley.

Or Tallon could trade the pick for an asset that’d help his roster in the here and now as part of what would likely be a larger deal.

Pending free agents

Tallon has about $9.000 million as things stand right now to spread over his pending free agents and/or talent acquisitions outside of the organization’s current depth chart.

The good news is the cap ceiling is expected to rise, so the Panthers should have at least $2.000 million more to utilize.

Pending-UFA Connor Brickley, 26, resurrected his professional career with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) in 2016-17 to go on and produce 4-8–12 totals in 44 games with the Florida Panthers after being claimed by Vegas, not re-signed and subsequently reuniting with the Panthers last summer.

He’s a low-cost, potentially high-reward player, if you value some production on your fourth line.

In his first nearly full season in the NHL, Jared McCann, 22, posted nine goals and 19 assists (28 points) as a playmaker in 68 games with Florida. There’s no easy one offseason fix for the Panthers– being so tight against the cap and all– that they have to hope McCann can keep improving with more minutes.

Frank Vatrano, 24, had two goals with the Boston Bruins in 25 games prior to being traded for a 2018 third round pick this season. Since the deal was made, Vatrano notched five goals and three assists (eight points) with Florida in 16 games played.

For a small sample size in a larger role, that’s promising, given he wasn’t going to get a chance on Boston’s second line (too much depth down the left for the Bruins, a la Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk) and should be a left wing lock on the second line heading into 2018-19 for Florida.

He won’t see a raise immediately, but likely should sign on to a bridge deal before cashing in on a larger piece of the pie.

Both McCann and Vatrano are pending-RFA forwards for Florida.

Alex Petrovic, 26, is in his final year of pending-RFA eligibility and has a role as a bottom-pair defender.

For around $1.000 million, Tallon should keep him around another year, realizing his defense won’t improve on its own without A) more offensive support, B) better goaltending or C) some different coaching strategies.

MacKenzie Weegar, 24, is also a pending-RFA blueliner in the Sunshine State with 2-6–8 totals in his first almost full NHL season (60 games played). Despite first impressions, that’s respectable for a top-six defender coming into his own in the early onset/middle of his prime.

He’ll also be inexpensive to keep around if Tallon can move some bigger pieces around after realizing he gave Michael Matheson such a generous pay raise over eight-years ($4.875 million AAV) for a *checks notes* 27-point season after Matheson put up 17 points in his rookie year.

There’s a reason why prolific scorers like Marchessault and Smith were squeezed out, left exposed and traded to Vegas, respectively.

Finally, in goal for the Panthers, 39-year-old Roberto Luongo is signed through the 2021-22 season with a cap hit of $4.533 million on the books. Likewise, 30-year-old backup goaltender, James Reimer, is on the books through 2020-21 at $3.400 million AAV.

Wait, but Luongo only played 35 games, you say?

Yes, it’s true, Luongo took a backseat to Reimer this season and posted a 2.47 goals against average with a .929 save percentage compared to Reimer’s 2.99 GAA and .913 SV% in 44 games played. Oof.

The saying “what did you do for me yesterday” doesn’t make Reimer look good in the long run.

Surely you can just call someone up– oh.

Florida should at least roadmap a blueprint of what the future in goal looks like, because Luongo’s not getting any younger– despite the future Hall of Famer that he is– and Reimer is well, at it again with the whole “not a legitimate starting goaltender” thing.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Edward Wittchow (RFA), Curtis Valk (RFA), Harri Sateri (UFA), Linus Hultstrom (RFA), Alexandre Grenier (UFA), Chase Balisy (UFA), Gregory Chase (RFA)

Dead cap space: Jussi Jokinen ($1.333 million through 2018-19– buyout), Jason Demers ($562,500 through 2020-21, retained salary)

2018 Offseason Preview: New York Rangers

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

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

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

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

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

2018 NHL Entry Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pending free agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

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

2018 Offseason Preview: Detroit Red Wings

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Detroit Red Wings and their outlook for the summer.

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After missing the playoffs for the first time in over a quarter of a century, the Detroit Red Wings have only begun phase one of what looks to be a longer rebuild than some of the other recent rebuilds in the league– but one offseason, this offseason, can change the pace.

Detroit finished 5th in the Atlantic Division with a 30-39-13 record and 73 points on the season in 2017-18. While that’s two places removed from a divisional spot in the current Stanley Cup Playoff format, keep in mind that 73 points would put them just ahead of the Arizona Coyotes and tied with the Vancouver Canucks in the overall league standings.

So things, while they may seem otherwise, are pretty dire in the Red Wings organization.

Short of trading Petr Mrazek to the Philadelphia Flyers for Philadelphia’s stretch run to the postseason, the Red Wings didn’t make much news in the headlines or noise around the league.

General Manager Ken Holland signed a two-year extension in April to remain as Detroit’s general manager through the 2019-20 season and looks to see this rebuild through in his tenure with the franchise.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Red Wings currently have two first round picks in the Draft as part of seven total picks in the first three rounds (two firsts, two second round picks and three third round picks).

Pending any transactions, Detroit is expected to select 6th and 30th overall (via the Vegas Golden Knights, thanks to the Tomas Tatar deadline deal).

They’ll likely search for help on the blueline in Quintin Hughes, Evan Bouchard or Adam Boqvist with the higher of the two picks and could very well utilize any of the five other picks in the first three rounds on either prospects or additions to the current roster via a trade.

Author’s note (for those interested): Detroit has their own first round pick, Vegas’s first round pick, their own second round pick, Ottawa’s second round pick, their own third round pick, Philadelphia’s third round pick and Pittsburgh’s third round pick in the first three rounds of the 2018 Draft.

Pending free agents

Despite a lot of no-trade-clauses and no-movement-clauses to work around, the Red Wings have almost $17.4 million in cap space this summer and five pending-restricted free agents to re-sign, including Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha.

It’s imperative that Holland finds a trading partner or two to ship out one or more of the players with NTCs or NMCs willing to waive their clause(s), because Larkin’s next deal alone (both in cap and clauses) could very well strap the team in a wedge of roster components that they cannot otherwise move around.

Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Gustav Nyqvist present themselves as viable options to move with Helm, 31, and Abdelkader, 31, having to waive their NTCs before agreeing to any deal and Nyqvist as a 28-year-old rental player with one-year remaining on his current contract.

Anthanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Martin Frk and Mantha are several key components to the club moving forward and should all be re-signed, while pending-unrestricted free agent forward, David Booth, likely could hit the open market.

On defense, the Red Wings currently have three blueliners age 34 and older in the likes of Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley and Niklas Kronwall.

Ericsson and Kronwall are two cornerstones of Detroit’s defense in both their tenure with the team in addition to their veteran presence, while Daley was signed last July after winning a couple of Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. All three have some form of an NTC and are signed at a combined cap hit of $12.167 million next season, with Kronwall only signed through the end of 2018-19 at $4.750 million.

Holland will have to make some dance moves to address the overabundance of NTCs and NMCs sooner rather than later, but can probably put the defense on the back burner for another year as part of the long haul plan.

Mike Green is the only pending-UFA defender and since he wasn’t dealt at the deadline as a 32-year-old veteran seeking his first chance at a Cup, should not return to the organization.

Jimmy Howard is the number one goaltender in Detroit for the foreseeable future with one-year remaining on his contract.

As such, finding a competitive backup that could overtake Howard for the number one role remains a priority this offseason, given Jared Coreau‘s less than impressive bid for starting goaltender status.

Speaking of Coreau, the 26-year-old goaltender is a pending-UFA.

If Holland is willing to risk a season worse than this one in an already weak Atlantic Division, then the time is now to make some moves and truly bottom out before rising quickly back to Cup contender status like the great Red Wings teams of the 1990s and 2000s.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Daniel Renouf (RFA), Matt Puempel (RFA), Ben Street (UFA), Eric Tangradi (UFA), Turner Elson (UFA), Tom McCollum (UFA), Zach Nastasiuk (RFA), Matt Lorito (UFA), Matej Machovsky (RFA)

Rangers, Vigneault will bounce back

Shortly after their last game of the season on Saturday, the New York Rangers relieved Alain Vigneault of his head coaching duties. In his fifth year with the organization, the Rangers went 34-39-9 (77 points) and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

It was Vigneault’s worst year in the Big Apple. It was a transition year for a team retooling on the fly– trading away Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and others for centerpieces in Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov (among other assets).

Now it’s time for someone else to take the reins behind the bench of King Henrik’s team.

The clock is ticking in goaltender Henrik Lundqvist‘s quest for his first Stanley Cup. Vigneault was almost the man to do it having brought the Rangers all the way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in his first season with New York.

That was the closest Lundqvist has ever been– just three wins away– but the Los Angeles Kings had other plans, given it only took them five games to beat New York for the Los Angeles’s second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

It was the closest the Rangers had come to winning its first Cup since defeating the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.

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The 2014-15 season witnessed a franchise record 113 points in the regular season– good enough to notch the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best record that year. Vigneault’s team knocked out Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games in the First Round in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then New York got behind in the Second Round series with the Washington Capitals, 3-1. Chris Kreider tied Game 5, McDonagh scored the game winner in overtime and the Rangers rallied back in the series to force the first Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since Game 7 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final against the Canucks.

For the first time in Stanley Cup Playoff history, the Rangers were to battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Despite a decisive 7-3 victory in Game 6 on the road at Amalie Arena, New York was shutout, 2-0, in Game 7 on home ice.

They wouldn’t get another chance to come that close to the Stanley Cup Final with Vigneault behind the bench.

The 2015-16 Rangers finished third in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and battled Mike Sullivan‘s Penguins in the First Round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It only took five games for the Rangers to be eliminated in Pittsburgh’s tear through the playoffs to their first Cup since 2009.

In 2016-17, New York regrouped with a 102-point season, but was cursed by the NHL’s current playoff format.

The Rangers were relegated to the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference since three teams finished ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division with at least 108 points or more.

New York had four more points in the regular season than the Ottawa Senators (98 points)– who finished second in the Atlantic Division– and seven more points than the Boston Bruins (95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic) and Toronto Maple Leafs (95 points, second wild card in the Eastern Conference by virtue of having three fewer regulation-plus-overtime wins than Boston).

Vigneault’s team got by Michel Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens in six games of the First Round in what was touted as a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

Then they ran into the streaking Senators who had beaten the Bruins in their own six game series.

Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with home ice advantage– despite having the worse of the two teams’s regular season records, but the Rangers seemed unfazed having won Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden 4-1 and 4-1, respectively.

Kyle Turris ended Game 5 almost six-and-a-half minutes into overtime at Canadian Tire Centre and the Rangers found themselves in a 3-2 series hole heading home for Game 6.

Senators captain, Erik Karlsson, had a goal and an assist in Ottawa’s decisive 4-2 victory on road ice and New York hit the golf course after just two rounds of the 2017 postseason.

Time kept ticking. Lundqvist got older.

Management grew more frustrated with the lack of a direction.

Dead last in the Metropolitan Division after all 82 games this season and under .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, Vigneault’s dismissal comes as no surprise.

It’s what is expected of any organization that expects to finish first, but fails in a rather large fashion.

Even more so with the league getting younger, skaters getting faster and teams placing more of an emphasis on a constant attack, a constant barrage of offense.

Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich, Spooner, Namestnikov and crew have already showcased a new face of the game in “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, while Vigneault’s systems might have been the only thing slowing them down in the waning days of the season.

It was time to shake things up and head in that new face of the game’s direction.

For the first time since the 1967-68 season only one coach was fired in-season (thanks to Mother Nature having played a part in extending the season by a day due to Boston’s rescheduled matchup from January with the Florida Panthers).

Unfortunately for Vigneault, he was that coach.

New York will be just fine.

They’re stockpiled with prospects and have already integrated youth, skill and speed into their lineup.

Now general manager Jeff Gorton will look to patch the blue line and give Lundqvist a high-caliber backup goaltender to ease the workload of the grueling regular season schedule.

It might not be the quickest turnaround, but it shouldn’t turn out to become an annual groan-fest watching the Blueshirts next season.

For Vigneault, there will be other opportunities.

He led Vancouver to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in the midst of President’s Trophy seasons. He led New York back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a generation. He’ll be studying hard, but he’s still in demand.

Somewhere there’s a team looking for his veteran coaching presence– like Buffalo– or a team that just missed the cut this season, but is on the brinks of a breakout year that very well might end up with their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1970– like St. Louis.

But alas, this is all merely speculation.

More coaches will be fired for their team’s shortcomings (of their own fault or otherwise) this offseason upon diligent review in front office’s league-wide.

Rangers fans may be glad and it should be a mutual feeling of respect and good luck. They had a good run that lasted a while, but ultimately came up empty handed. Times have changed, players moved on and the game evolved.

Somewhere, Vigneault is that missing piece a franchise is looking for and it won’t just be a team finally getting over that mountain, but a head coach too.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #100– DTFR100 Celebration

In a first, everyone (except for Jordan) appears on the Down the Frozen River Podcast to predict how the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will go before the 2017-18 NHL regular season even ends, technically speaking. The 100th episode anniversary is informally observed.

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

Numbers Game: Last Week To Make It Count

Ladies and gentlemen, the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this month. It’s officially April. Start saving your money for either 1) playoff tickets or 2) tee times– there is no in-between.

Each month has brought a new twist to the latest forecasted standings here on Down the Frozen River and in the spirit of finishing off the season, here’s one final look at how things should pan out with one week remaining in the 2017-18 regular season.

It’s okay to tell Microsoft Excel you disagree, so by all means, take these numbers for what you want. A holistic viewpoint goes a lot further in the world of analytics and a salary cap. At this point, it’s almost worth more to focus on where your team is expected to fall in the standings than how many points they should amass on the season.

And if you’re embracing the tank, you might as well forget about it. The NHL draft lottery usually shakes things up pretty well anyway.

Anyway, here’s how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL franchises based on their performances through March 31, 2018. Keep in mind my degree is in communication– not math. These are merely educated “I know how to use Excel to make things happen” guesses.

2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Boston Bruins, 117 points (77 GP so far)
  2. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 111 points (78 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 104 points (78 GP so far)
  4. Florida Panthers, 89 points (77 GP so far)
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (79 GP so far)
  6. Ottawa Senators, 73 points (78 GP so far)
  7. Montreal Canadiens, 70 points (78 GP so far)
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 64 points (78 GP so far)

Surging through March despite numerous injuries, the Boston Bruins claw their way not only into first place in the Atlantic Division standings (and Eastern Conference standings as a whole), but they land themselves just their third President’s Trophy in franchise history as the league leaders at the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season.

Despite their late season hiccups, the Tampa Bay Lightning settle for 2nd in the Atlantic Division and gear up for what should be a deeper than the First Round playoff appearance.

The Toronto Maple Leafs make some noise with their second consecutive postseason appearance, but are no match for the long journey to the Cup this season (give it one more postseason, Leafs fans. Next year, it’s totally your year).

Somehow the Ottawa Senators string together a few wins to surpass the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile the Florida Panthers stumble just as quietly out of playoff contention as they began the season.

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 104 points (78 GP so far)
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points (79 GP so far)
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 98 points (79 GP so far)
  4. wc1-New Jersey Devils, 98 points (78 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 97 points (78 GP so far)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (79 GP so far)
  7. New York Rangers, 80 points (79 GP so far)
  8. New York Islanders, 78 points (79 GP so far)

The Washington Capitals always seem to find a way to win their division. Especially in what has been Braden Holtby‘s season from hell (have you checked his goals against average and save percentage this season yet? Because if you’re a Caps fan and you haven’t, maybe you shouldn’t for your own good heading into the playoffs).

In what has equally been as difficult a season for Matt Murray in goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions should have home ice for a First Round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets that shouldn’t go less than seven games. Best friends in real life, Mike Sullivan and John Tortorella, just might put their friendship to the test for a couple of weeks.

Both of the Eastern Conference wild cards are going to Metropolitan Division teams this season as the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers are welcomed back to the postseason with open arms.

If you’re a Carolina Hurricanes fan, next year seems enticing to break the playoff drought– and it’s only fitting, since 2019 will mark 10 years since Carolina last made the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And if you’re John Tavares, maybe you’re looking elsewhere from the abysmal New York Islanders this offseason. Say for instance, the quickly rebuilding New York Rangers?

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 114 points (78 GP so far)
  2. x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points (78 GP so far)
  3. x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points (78 GP so far)
  4. wc1-St. Louis Blues, 98 points (78 GP so far)
  5. Colorado Avalanche, 94 points (78 GP so far)
  6. Dallas Stars, 89 points (79 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 78 points (79 GP so far)

The Nashville Predators edge out the Winnipeg Jets in regulation-plus-overtime wins to lay claim to the Western Conference’s best regular season record and home ice through the Western Conference Final. Both teams are set for what should at least be postseason appearances extending into the Second Round.

Since Winnipeg is likely to knock out the Minnesota Wild in a quick series, let’s skip right over them to talk about the St. Louis Blues for a minute.

They thought it was a great idea to get rid of Paul Stastny at the trade deadline– giving up his dominance on the faceoff dot– and yet, here they are with a final week of the season push for the playoffs.

Of course, it helps that the Colorado Avalanche lost Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson to injuries (with the Johnson injury being the bigger blow to Nathan MacKinnon‘s Hart Trophy worthy season and the rest of the Avs).

At least Tyler Seguin reached the 40-goal mark for the Dallas Stars and the Chicago Blackhawks still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (79 GP so far)
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (79 GP so far)
  3. x-Los Angeles Kings, 95 points (79 GP so far)
  4. wc2-Anaheim Ducks, 95 points (78 GP so far)
  5. Calgary Flames, 85 points (79 GP so far)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 79 points (79 GP so far)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 75 points (79 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 72 points (79 GP so far)

An expansion franchise almost clinched the Western Conference regular season title. The Vegas Golden Knights are that good and should make an impressive effort into at least the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s pure insanity, but it’s fun to watch.

If you’re a California resident, there’s good news, all three of your teams will be in the postseason (again). Just switch your hats and/or jerseys to whoever’s playing that night and hope for the best (pick San Jose, they seem like a good dark horse).

The Calgary Flames get the honor of “best of the worst teams in the west”, which I’m sure will tie into the Stampede Festival somehow– if not solely because their owner is looking to stampede out of the city and into a new arena elsewhere.

Poor Connor McDavid, it must be demoralizing to have back-to-back 100-point seasons on a team that has only made the playoffs once in his young career.

And you probably shouldn’t write off the Arizona Coyotes entirely, because they very well could make the Vancouver Canucks look worse and jump from 8th to 7th in the division by season’s end.

If you’re so inclined to see how things were expected to pan out this season back in October, you can do so here.

Numbers Game: March to the Playoffs

First of all, it’s March, which means it’s officially the best month of the year, but not for any of the reasons you’re thinking. College basketball can stay on the back burner– especially when there’s playoff hockey to look forward to next month when, oh yeah, that NCAA championship game actually occurs.

Save your “March is the worst month of the year” takes for the next person in line, thanks.

Anyway, at this point in the season it’s worth noting that the trade deadline has come and passed. While acquisitions like Rick Nash for the Boston Bruins, Derick Brassard for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tomas Tatar for the Vegas Golden Knights and Paul Stastny for the Winnipeg Jets will certainly impact their teams, the following projected standings are merely an educated guess at how things should pan out.

There are simply too many variables that Microsoft Excel cannot account for, namely injuries, roster changes and well, whether or not a player woke up on the right side of the bed that day.

To that end, some projected points totals had a little Gut Feeling 2.0 added to them. In other words, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to end up with 130 or 131 points like a couple of models showed– there’s simply not enough games remaining for them to almost match an NHL record.

Therefore, more realistic measures have been added for some teams to account for “reality”.

Some teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, for instance, had a little win-percentage on the season taken into account for their 19 remaining games on the season– and then reflected in the total number of points they should earn.

As with all stats and analytics, try not to get too bogged down on one or another. A holistic viewpoint goes much further than trying to survive on heart and grit alone.

Especially in today’s NHL, where speed and skill are more present than ever before.

With that, here’s a glance at how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL clubs based on their performances through February 28, 2018.

As always, my degree is in communication, not math. In other words, throw everything mentioned above out the window, strap yourself in and good luck surviving the adrenaline rush that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Oh, your team’s not going to make it, you say?

My condolences, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes fans. Next year is totally your year.

Maybe.

2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 106 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 105 points (61 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points (66 GP so far)
  4. Montreal Canadiens, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Florida Panthers, 75 points (60 GP so far)
  7. Buffalo Sabres, 68 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 65 points (62 GP so far)

The Atlantic Division was already determined in December. Nothing should surprise anyone, except for how close it should be coming down the wire for first place in the division.

It might seem crazy considering the Tampa Bay Lightning really bolstered their defense with Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline, but Boston and Toronto have as much speed and offense to remain in the hunt for that little “Y” next to their names down the stretch. Plus it helps that the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs aren’t playing each other every night, so that has to factor in their somehow.

Between 4th and 6th in the division it’s anyone’s game. The Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers are all teetering on the edge of either a rebuild or just a few steps away from a re-tool-on-the-fly.

Neither of them are inherently “ideal”, but they can’t do anything else to compete with Tampa, Boston and Toronto.

It’s worth noting that the Buffalo Sabres will barely climb out of the basement of the division this year. And that’s without Jack Eichel (fractured ankle).

Simply put, the Ottawa Senators are beyond bad.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 108 points (64 GP so far)
  2. x-Philadelphia Flyers, 99 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points (63 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (63 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Washington Capitals, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  6. New York Islanders, 87 points (64 GP so far)
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 75 points (63 GP so far)
  8. New York Rangers, 72 points (64 GP so far)

After much turbulence leading up to this month in the Metropolitan Division, it seems by the end of the month, we’ll have a clear picture of who’s really a contender, who’s making a Second Round exit and who’s just pretending to be on the ice when they’re actually sending out some pretty high-tech holograms on the ice.

In other words, the Pittsburgh Penguins are suited for a three-peat as long as Matt Murray can stay healthy. Even still, they’re beginning to peak at the right time as they have done every year with Mike Sullivan behind the bench.

But who’s that neighbor of theirs in Pennsylvania? They might have to re-grease some poles in Philadelphia, because the Flyers are surging right now and it should carry them into decent playoff position.

The New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals all remain competitive, but sadly fall victim to First or Second Round exits simply because have you seen the rest of the Eastern Conference? Yeah, I thought so too.

One of these years if the Carolina Hurricanes look to actually spend a little more money they’ll be able to take their money-puck approach back to the postseason for the first time since 2009, but this year is not that year. They didn’t do anything at the deadline and it shows.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. p-Winnipeg Jets, 116 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 104 points (63 GP so far)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (62 GP so far)
  4. wc2-St. Louis Blues, 92 points (65 GP so far)
  5. Dallas Stars, 92 points (63 GP so far)
  6. Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 70 points (63 GP so far)

Your President’s Trophy winners, ladies and gentlemen, entering March 2018 should be the Winnipeg Jets.

That’s right, the team in Winnipeg, Manitoba with a seating capacity of a little more than 15,000 fans at Bell MTS Place. That one. Winnipeg. The Western Conference’s Carolina Hurricanes. They aren’t big spenders, yet they bought exactly what they needed at the trade deadline in Paul Stastny.

Meanwhile, apparently Eric Staal‘s first hat trick in a little over five years is enough to catapult the Minnesota Wild on a surprising run down the stretch. Though they are currently 3rd in the Central Division, Minnesota is coming alive.

It’s hard to knock the Nashville Predators off of their game– especially while they’re in command of the division– but something just doesn’t go exactly as planned this month for the Preds.

They’ll still beat Minnesota in the First Round and set themselves up for quite a matchup with Winnipeg in the Second Round though. Obviously the winner of that is going to battle the Vegas Golden Knights for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

A warning to the St. Louis Blues– keep up this downward trend and the Dallas Stars will replace you in the wild card.

Whatever upper body injury is plaguing Corey Crawford is only making things worse for the Chicago Blackhawks.

In some models, they should be a lot better than they are right now, but that’s due to their impressive streak of success from 2010-17. Now, in 2018, the wheels fell off and the floor fell out from under them– on top of the Crawford injury.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (63 GP so far)
  2. x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points (64 GP so far)
  3. x-Anaheim Ducks, 100 points (64 GP so far)
  4. wc1-San Jose Sharks, 94 points (64 GP so far)
  5. Calgary Flames, 78 points (65 GP so far)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (63 GP so far)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 77 points (64 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 63 points (62 GP so far)

The Vegas Golden Knights, in their inaugural season, come up three points shy of winning the 2017-18 President’s Trophy as the team with the best regular season record. The Vegas Golden Knights.

Despite the push from all of the California clubs, this is Vegas’s division title to lose. Not just in the regular season, but in the playoffs too.

No amount of onslaught from the Los Angeles Kings or Anaheim Ducks should be able to stand a seven-game series with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the Golden Knights. Having said that though, it’s a shame the San Jose Sharks will likely pair-up with the Jets, because we’ll never get to know if Vegas could single handedly defeat all three California teams en route to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

That’s assuming a lot, but let’s roll with it.

All season long the Calgary Flames have been a lovable underdog. Unfortunately, their time is cut short. All good things must come to an end and again, if you’re going to do nothing at the deadline as a fringe competitor, you can’t expect to improve.

At least you shouldn’t, otherwise well, you know the definition of insanity (doing the same thing and expecting a different result).

Better luck next year, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Atlantic Division

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1. Tampa Bay Lightning– 40-17-3 (83 points, 60 GP)

Though the Tampa Bay Lightning have been on top of the Eastern Conference all season, the Boston Bruins are catching them and sure to give the Bolts a run for their money in the Eastern Conference Finals.

What do you mean that will never happen because of the current playoff format? Way to be a buzzkill, NHL.

Tampa general manager, Steve Yzerman, worked his magic on the ice for years in Detroit and his magic has gotten even better as a GM. The Lightning don’t need older guys like Dan Girardi or Chris Kunitz on the team and yet– here they are– sitting in 1st in the Atlantic Division with those guys on the roster.

The Lightning have about $2.000 million in cap space right now with some pretty important pending-RFAs to re-sign this offseason. Then again, when isn’t that the case for them?

Just try not to make a bad move at the deadline (or any moves, really) and Yzerman will find a way to keep Vladislav Namestnikov and Slater Koekkoek around for a few more years.

Potential assets to trade: F Ryan Callahan (if he’ll waive his NMC), D Braydon Coburn, F Erik Condra, F Adam Erne, D Dan Girardi, F Chris Kunitz

Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), D Johnny Oduya (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Boston Bruins– 37-13-8 (82 points, 58 GP)

At the time of this writing, I had the Boston Bruins pinpointed on Nick Holden as an option in case they aren’t able to pull off a Ryan McDonagh trade with the New York Rangers. Holden’s cheaper, a year removed from his best season in his career and a clear top-six defenseman that’ll boost not only Boston’s depth, but solidify their blue line as contenders.

Look, it didn’t cost the Bruins much, considering Rob O’Gara was stuck in the midst of an overcrowded pool of defensive prospects and not every third round pick is making the NHL for more than half a season. Holden has the chance of becoming the next Tomas Kaberle for Boston (and let’s check where Joe Colborne is these days, oh right San Antonio).

Or Holden could stick around for a little longer if things work out just right.

If general manager, Don Sweeney, is confident in his roster, he’s set. If he’s looking to add without subtracting that “necessary” one or two more pieces to put the Bruins over the edge and into Stanley Cup favorites, then sure, he’ll find it.

Sweeney is all about holding onto his cards and being tactically smart. He’s improved in each of his three years as general manager around this time of year.

They really shouldn’t part with Jakub Zboril so early, considering he must be next in line behind Jeremy Lauzon. Yet if there’s an offer that’s too good to refuse and all indications point towards finding your next veteran defenseman for the post-Tom Brady 2.0 (at least in terms of age and playing ability) Zdeno Chara days, then sure, go for it.

Potential assets to trade: F Frank Vatrano, D Jakub Zboril

Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Derek Ryan (CAR), F Tommy Wingels (CHI), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR)– acquired on Tuesday, D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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3. Toronto Maple Leafs– 37-20-5 (79 points, 62 GP)

Despite having immense youth and talent, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves at a crossroads. Do they go for it this season (without any cap room)?

Or should they move some pieces to make the future work to their advantage (at a time when Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and crew are ready for their Stanley Cup Final debut)?

With these questions in mind, it seems a guy like James van Riemsdyk‘s time might be running short. Alas, van Riemsdyk has a modified-no trade clause and carries a $4.250 million cap hit– all while being a pending-UFA this July– but that’s nothing that can’t be overcome.

There’s still 21 teams he can be traded to and up to 50 percent of his salary can be retained if that’s a concern for anyone.

Joffrey Lupul‘s contract expires at the end of this season, so the Maple Leafs won’t have to go back and put him on the long-term injured reserve every September. It might be a smart idea to move Nathan Horton‘s contract elsewhere *ahem, Arizona* to try to get something out of it and not have to go through the LTIR motions. Neither of those situations is pressing, just food for thought.

This isn’t the year to cash in if you’re Toronto.

That might be painful for a guy like Patrick Marleau to hear, then again, he did sign a three-year contract last summer. He’s in it for the long haul and so is the Maple Leafs front office as they navigate what Matthews, Marner and Nylander’s second contracts will be.

Nylander, by the way, is a pending-RFA this summer.

Potential assets to trade: F Tyler Bozak, F Nathan Horton, F Josh Leivo, F James van Riemsdyk

Potential assets to acquire: F Antoine Vermette (ANA), F Frank Vatrano (BOS), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Tommy Wingels (CHI), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Matt Cullen (MIN), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL)

Florida_Panthers_logo_2016

4. Florida Panthers– 26-25-6 (58 points, 57 GP)

The Florida Panthers have about $7.100 million in cap space currently and the opportunity to be the best of the worst teams in the Atlantic Division.

They can’t buy in bulk, but they can buy the right pieces to make themselves playoff contenders again since they blew whatever plans they had in the dismissal of Gerard Gallant as head coach and losses of Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights last June.

Another top-four defenseman and one or two of the right top-nine forwards should really make an impact on the Panthers. This is where Florida has a decent chance at being a sleeper pick for Evander Kane.

They’ve got the cap space and the right amount of talent waiting for a complementary player.

Or Florida could become sellers and move on from everything they had built to bring themselves to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs and, well, nothing since.

Potential assets to trade: F Nick Bjugstad, F Derek MacKenzie, D Mark Pysyk, G James Reimer, F Radim Vrbata

Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), F Evander Kane (BUF), G Jon Gillies (CGY), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ)

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5. Detroit Red Wings– 24-26-9 (57 points, 59 GP)

The Detroit Red Wings have a plethora of no-movement-clauses, expensive cap hits and everything else to sort through as they enter full-on rebuild mode.

As an Atlantic Division team outside of the playoff picture, they’re not going anywhere.

It’d make sense to go for a dive in the standings, but at what cost, since the draft lottery exists? A defenseman from Sweden leading the Red Wings to glory? Stop me if you’ve heard that one before, Nicklas Lidstrom.

Yes, it might sense to embrace the tank and give yourself a shot at Rasmus Dahlin, Detroit. This is your year– until the Edmonton Oilers win another lottery and then have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Dahlin on a team that’s still scraping out of the basement next season.

Everyone’s at play at this year’s deadline– except for Henrik Zetterberg (because he still believes for some reason, a.k.a. he’s the new Shane Doan).

Potential assets to trade: F Luke Glendening, D Mike Green, F Darren Helm, D Niklas Kronwall, F Gustav Nyqvist, D Xavier Ouellet, F Tomas Tatar

Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects, F Max Domi (ARI), F Frank Vatrano (BOS), F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Derek Ryan (CAR), D Tyson Barrie (COL), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)

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6. Montreal Canadiens– 22-29-8 (52 points, 59 GP)

The Montreal Canadiens aren’t good.

Claude Julien‘s behind the bench, their scoring is down, Carey Price is fatigued (at times), Max Pacioretty’s probably going to be traded and Andrew Shaw might become the new poster boy in bleu, blanc et rouge as a result.

Nothing makes sense anymore. The Canadiens are rebuilding, about to rebuild or should rebuild.

There’s nothing else to it really. This is more than just a bad year for them, save for Buffalo and Ottawa sitting beneath them in the division. Wait, the Senators are how close?

With almost $7.200 million in cap space, the Habs can make something happen and retool on-the-fly. Though if they’re smart, they’ll try to maximize their return on any trades without jeopardizing their pending-RFAs from re-signing.

Potential assets to trade: F Alex Galchenyuk, F Max Pacioretty, D Jeff Petry, F Tomas Plekanec, F Andrew Shaw

Potential assets to acquire: F Max Domi (ARI), G Jon Gillies (CGY), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Michael Grabner (NYR), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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7. Ottawa Senators– 21-28-10 (52 ponts, 59 GP)

If you thought things were bad in Québec, just wait until you see how the Ottawa Senators have been this year.

After nearly reaching last year’s Stanley Cup Final, the Sens thought they had a chance of making “boring” hockey exciting again. There’s just one problem– none of their players are any good, save for Erik Karlsson (who’s slumping this season), Mike Hoffman (who’s definitely going to be traded, even though GM Pierre Dorion keeps indicating he will/won’t), Mark Stone and that’s about it.

Karlsson’s a free agent after the 2018-19 season and surely won’t stick around if Ottawa doesn’t turn things around. Or worse, the Senators just might go ahead and trade their franchise defenseman.

If you thought Montreal was a dumpster fire, you’re right, but Ottawa is a thousand dumpster fires.

With about $1.315 million in cap space approaching the deadline the Senators shouldn’t have to worry. If they’re smart, that is. They’re sellers and they have to admit that they keep messing up.

In a league that’s getting younger and faster, the Sens are doing just the opposite.

Potential assets to trade: G Craig Anderson, F Derick Brassard, G Mike Condon, F Mike Hoffman, D Erik Karlsson (I don’t understand how I should even have to put him here, but I do, because it’s Ottawa we’re talking about), D Johnny Oduya, F Jean-Gabriel Pageau, F Bobby Ryan, F Zack Smith

Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, F Benoit Pouliot (BUF), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Tommy Wingels (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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8. Buffalo Sabres– 17-32-11 (45 points, 60 GP)

Figure it out, Buffalo. One of these years.

The Buffalo Sabres have about $5.600 million in cap space approaching Monday’s trade deadline. They’ll likely have more room to work with heading into the offseason, given Evander Kane and his $5.250 million cap hit is all but assured of being on its way out of upstate New York.

The pending-UFA is the biggest prize the Sabres have to offer to a playoff contender or any team with enough cap room looking to reignite their offense.

Other than that, the goalie market looks slim at the deadline– especially after the Philadelphia Flyers already went out and got Petr Mrazek from Detroit– so Robin Lehner probably isn’t going anywhere. Yet.

Lehner is a 26-year-old pending-RFA this July and could certainly prove worthy to a team looking to overhaul its goaltending. If Sabres general manager, Jason Botterill, can’t find the right trading partner now, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so at the NHL Entry Draft in June.

As for the rest of the roster, Buffalo might take a page from Ottawa and the New York Rangers in that everyone– save for Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly— just might be available.

Don’t count the Sabres out (of the trade market, that is). They just might go all in on landing a big name or two looking for a reset.

Potential assets to trade: D Nathan Beaulieu, F Evander Kane, F Zemgus Girgensons, D Josh Gorges, G Robin Lehner, F Matt Moulson, F Benoit Pouliot, F Sam Reinhart, F Scott Wilson

Potential assets to acquire: F Antoine Vermette (ANA), F Frank Vatrano (BOS), F Jeff Skinner (CAR), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Xavier Ouellet (DET), F Tomas Tatar (DET), G James Reimer (FLA), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), D Erik Karlsson (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ)

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals Logo

1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)

After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).

It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.

Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?

Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.

If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.

Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)

After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.

Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).

Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.

Only Justin Schultz (plus-5, 38 GP) and Jamie Oleksiak (plus-6, 20 GP– split between Dallas and Pittsburgh) are positive plus/minus blue liners.

Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.

Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.

Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.

But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.

Potential assets to trade: D Ian Cole, D Brian Dumoulin, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carl Hagelin, D Matt Hunwick, F Riley Sheahan

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)

New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.

The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.

First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.

And that’s not even mentioning Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.

There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).

New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.

The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.

It’s a buyers market.

Potential assets to trade: F Ben Coleman, F Jimmy Hayes, D Ben Lovejoy, F Drew Stafford

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)

Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.

Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.

Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.

The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.

Potential assets to trade: D Radko Gudas, F Jori Lehtera, F Matt Read, F Dale Weise

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)

After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.

Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.

As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.

That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.

The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.

But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.

For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.

Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)

The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…

The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.

Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.

The  Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.

Or they could be active in trying to scrap together a good team centered around their current stars (Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang and others).

Potential assets to trade: F Josh Bailey, F Jason Chimera, F Casey Cizikas, D Thomas Hickey, D Dennis Seidenberg

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)

New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.

The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?

Jeff Skinner is someone to build around. So are Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.

Regardless, though they’re not out of contention, the Hurricanes could really use a goaltender to pull them through the stretch. This whole Cam Ward/Scott Darling thing isn’t working out.

Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ),  D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

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8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)

Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.

The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.

They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).

Not every player is washed up.

Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.

Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.

Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.

And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).

Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.

Potential assets to trade: F David Desharnais, F Michael Grabner, D Nick Holden, D Ryan McDonagh, F Rick Nash, G Ondrej Pavelec, D Marc Staal, F Jimmy Vesey, F Mats Zuccarello

Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)