Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.
Folks, it’s no longer October.
You can once again begin asking the question “is it October yet?” without facing any legal ramifications, despite the fact that the 2018-19 regular season is very much alive and in effect.
Canadian Thanksgiving has come and gone, but for all of you urban legend believers in postseason fate, American Thanksgiving has yet to pass– meaning every team’s playoff hopes is still technically alive. The majority of teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving– in this case, Nov. 22nd– make the playoffs.
If you’re new to hockey, this is a thing, but it’s not set in stone. There’s always that one or two teams that sneak their way in from outside the picture frame. Likewise, there’s always that team that blows it down the stretch.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a hot start, working their way to 1st place in the Atlantic Division by the end of October, with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins hot on their tail just as we all expected.
Though the Maple Leafs have a fiery offense and solid goaltending, defense has been the most apparent area for improvement. In Boston, depth scoring, injuries and a slow start in net for Tuukka Rask have held the Bruins back from realizing their full potential, but the depth of their defenders and backup netminder Jaroslav Halak have kept them in good-standing.
In the surprise of the month for the Atlantic Division, the Montreal Canadiens sit 4th and the Buffalo Sabres sit 5th– both with 14 points on the season so far. Meanwhile, to no surprise the Ottawa Senators are 6th, the Detroit Red Wings are in a rebuild and the Florida Panthers simply haven’t played as many games as their opponents.
Taking a look at the Metropolitan Division and you won’t be surprised to see the Pittsburgh Penguins back in control with Sidney Crosby at the steering wheel, but you might be surprised by the other current divisional playoff spot holders.
The New York Islanders are 2nd and the Carolina Hurricanes are 3rd after the Hurricanes led the division for most of the month, only to begin a recent skid.
Just on the outskirts of a wild card spot are the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils.
Washington’s off to a slower start than expected, but overall not feeling as bad as a Stanley Cup hangover as it could’ve been– given how many fountains around D.C. they dove in and the number of beers consumed.
Columbus is just over .500 and the Devils have also played fewer games than anyone in their division, much like the Panthers.
The Philadelphia Flyers sit 7th in the Metropolitan Division in a tight race, but have shown weaknesses on the blue line and in the blue paint (goaltending, again) and the New York Rangers are in a full-scale rebuild to start things off this season.
In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators are staking a case for defending their President’s Trophy season last year currently sitting atop the Central Division, as well as the league.
Filling out the remaining Central Divisions spots, last season’s biggest improvers, the Colorado Avalanche sit 2nd with the Minnesota Wild in 3rd. There’s two wild card berth in the Central Division, currently held by the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks(!?!)– that’s right, last season’s division bottom feeders are able to keep their heads barely above the surface with Corey Crawford back in the net.
The Dallas Stars sit 6th and the St. Louis Blues have had the wheels fall off in just a month’s time.
In the Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks lead the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights and the 31st place team in the league– the Los Angeles Kings.
Yes, the Pacific Division is that wide-open so far with legitimate playoff contenders from last season (San Jose, Anaheim, Vegas and Los Angeles) all over the place. The Sharks haven’t hit their stride, the Ducks are suffering from injuries and defensive breakdowns, while the Golden Knights are looking for last season’s inaugural season magic.
Oh and the Kings? Yeah, everything’s pretty bad right now and Jonathan Quick‘s out indefinitely.
Meanwhile, pleasant surprises in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Arizona are being led by… youth?
Nothing makes sense anymore.
Luckily, that’s just a quick recap of the first month in about as bland an outlook as you can get when the meat of this post is really about what’s to come. That’s right, everything above? Forget most of it. Let’s use a little foresight and figure out how November through April should go.
2018-19 Projected Standings after One Month
- y-Boston Bruins, 104 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 103 points (11 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 94 points (12 GP so far)
- wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 93 points (11 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 84 points (9 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 84 points (11 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 81 points (12 GP so far)
- Buffalo Sabres, 76 points (12 GP so far)
What’s bound to happen in the Atlantic?
The forecast is so close between the top-three teams in the division that none of their positions in the standings are truly set in stone, unlike how the Red Wings will undoubtedly land somewhere in the bottom-three spots in the Atlantic.
There’s a chance the Panthers never get off the ground and there’s a chance the Sabres are able to continue turning heads around the league by not currently being in the basement of the division. However, since this forecast takes into consideration recent seasons in addition to current gameplay…
Check back in another month.
(Is it too early to do one of these? Yeah, probably.)
- z-Washington Capitals, 107 points (10 GP so far)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 106 points (10 GP so far)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points (11 GP so far)
- wc2- New York Islanders, 89 points (11 GP so far)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
- New York Rangers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
- New Jersey Devils, 87 points (9 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 85 points (12 GP so far)
The biggest takeaway from the Metropolitan forecast is after the top-two teams, anything goes.
Washington will be able to right the ship and land in a divisional spot– whether that’s top-dog or behind the Penguins remains to be seen. Columbus should even out as they’ve been doing as of late and settle in for another First Round exit (probably).
But between the Islanders, Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Hurricanes? Yeah, anything goes.
The Islanders are better than the Rangers, but the Rangers might somehow be better than the Flyers. Meanwhile, if New Jersey can get things going like they did last season, they’ve got a chance to box out the competition. Plus, Carolina remains unpredictable and foreseeably within striking range of a wild card spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Again, it’s only been one month. There’s still a little more than five months left in the regular season.
- z-Nashville Predators, 105 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Minnesota Wild, 100 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Chicago Blackhawks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
- wc1-St. Louis Blues, 96 points (10 GP so far)
- wc2-Winnipeg Jets, 94 points (12 GP so far)
- Dallas Stars, 90 points (11 GP so far)
- Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (12 GP so far)
In the Central Division, the Nashville Predators continue to reign supreme. Cool.
Minnesota, Chicago and St. Louis are all somehow destined for the postseason. This, after the Wild make it every year, Crawford’s return lifts the Blackhawks over the competition and supposedly the Blues will figure things out.
Wait, the Avalanche can’t be that bad.
Once again, it’s an extremely early forecast that takes into account recency bias from the last few seasons. Colorado won’t be last. Winnipeg shouldn’t be a wild card team.
But Dallas? Yeah, they’re definitely not making the playoffs if they keep playing like they have been.
- y-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (12 GP so far)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
- x-Calgary Flames, 89 points (13 GP so far)
- Los Angeles Kings, 87 points (11 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 84 points (14 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (11 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 77 points (11 GP so far)
- Vegas Golden Knights, 75 points (12 GP so far)
By now everything you’ve read should indicate what’s going to be written below.
San Jose? Good team. No surprise, given Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are on the blue line with Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Evander Kane at forward. Oh and Martin Jones in net.
Anaheim? If they can whether the storm, they can make it in one of the most unpredictable divisions based on how bad the other teams are or should be.
Calgary? Bill Peters finally coaches a team to a playoff berth? Yeah. That should happen.
The Kings can recover from this slow start– if they don’t mess things up in November.
As for the Canucks, Oilers, Coyotes and Golden Knights, well, Vancouver might make some noise. Edmonton could be a pretender as long as Connor McDavid is a contender. Arizona remains to be seen and the situation looks like it’s only going to get worse for Vegas before anything gets better– if it even does.
Injuries are scaring the masses across the league, while old ghosts haunt Colorado (then lose), the Los Angeles Kings’ reign of terror is spooked, Mark Borowiecki is back again, Nick and Connor do their best to talk about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the thing that goes bump in the night? That’s the Tampa Bay Lightning thundering their way to the top. We also reviewed Bohemian Rhapsody before it comes out.
Nick and Connor talk Alex Tuch’s extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, superstars Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as well as Charlie McAvoy extension options, the New York Rangers, Boston’s first line vs. Colorado’s top line and the week’s biggest matchup.
Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
The Detroit Red Wings have not won in Boston in five years. Even worse, the Red Wings are 0-9-0 at TD Garden in their last nine visits as a result of Saturday afternoon’s 8-2 loss to the Bruins.
Detroit’s last win in the Hub came on October 14, 2013.
David Pastrnak (3-0–3 totals) recorded his second career hat trick (third if you include his postseason hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs last April) as Boston won their fourth game in-a-row since losing 7-0 to the Washington Capitals on the road to start the season.
The Bruins improved to 4-1-0 (8 points) on the season, while the Red Wings fell to 0-3-2 (2 points) in their first five games.
Boston has a plus-13 goal differential through the first five games of the regular season and has outscored their opponents 22-6 in the last four games since being shutout by Washington on the road to start the 2018-19 regular season.
The Bruins are tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 1st place in the Atlantic Division, at least until the Leafs take on the Capitals Saturday night.
Detroit has a minus-12 goal differential through their first five games this season and is one point ahead of the Florida Panthers (0-0-1, 1 point) from the basement of the Atlantic Division. Florida is in action Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks.
Rask got the start Saturday afternoon for Boston after Jaroslav Halak backstopped the B’s to a 4-1 victory Thursday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
Bruce Cassidy inserted Ryan Donato back into his lineup in place of Danton Heinen (scratched Saturday after no points in four games) on the third line and kept Joakim Nordstrom on the second line with Krejci and DeBrusk.
Late in the first period, Pastrnak (5) went end-to-end with the puck on his stick and fired a snap shot, high-glove side, past Bernier to open Saturday’s scoring for the Bruins, 1-0. Brandon Carlo (1) and Chris Wagner (1) picked up their first assists of the season on Pastrnak’s goal at 19:09.
After attempting to check Noel Acciari and instead reverberating off of Acciari’s solid frame, Dylan Larkin kept pressuring Acciari to crack. Instead, after the third attempt at a hit that included a quick left handed shove, Acciari dropped the gloves expecting Larkin to do the same.
He did not.
So both Larkin and Acciari received roughing minor penalties, with Larkin earning an extra one for good measure, giving Boston their first power play of the night at 19:44 of the first period.
The skater advantage would carry over into the second period, but the Bruins failed to convert on the advantage.
Through 20 minutes of play, Boston held onto a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard, despite the Red Wings leading in shots on goal, 12-8.
Detroit also led in blocked shots (5-2), hits (13-8) and face-off win percentage (64-36) after one period, while the Bruins led in takeaways (7-5) and giveaways (4-3). The Red Wings had yet to see time on the skater advantage, while Boston was 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.
Early in the second period on a face-off in the offensive zone, Bergeron won the draw back to McAvoy (1) who fired a shot from the face-off circle that deflected off an opponent in front of the goal past Bernier to make it 2-0 Bruins.
Bergeron (4) had the only assist on McAvoy’s first goal of the season at 4:44 of the second period. Boston did not let off the gas pedal the rest of the way.
DeBrusk (1) was sent into the attacking zone on a breakaway and slid the puck underneath Bernier’s pad– just squeaking the rubber biscuit past the goal line, but enough for the nearest ref to see the whole thing– to make it 3-0 Bruins.
Krejci (3) had the only assist on the DeBrusk’s first of the year at 11:26.
Moments later, Christoffer Ehn caught McAvoy with a high-stick and gave the Bruins their second power play of the afternoon 16 minutes into the second period.
Boston’s first power play unit only needed 20 seconds to convert on the ensuing skater advantage as Pastrnak (6) scored his second goal of the game on a one-timed slap shot. Bergeron (5) and Marchand (8) had the assists on Pastrnak’s goal– the 100th of his career– at 16:20 and the B’s led, 4-0.
Late in the second frame, the Bruins were guilty of minor penalties less than a minute apart. First, DeBrusk was sent to the box for tripping Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou at 18:17. Then Marchand took a trip to the sin bin for sending the puck over the glass on a delay of game minor at 19:00.
The Red Wings would have 1:17 on the 5-on-3 advantage that would spillover into the third period.
After 40 minutes of play, No. 40 in the home goal (Rask) and the Bruins led 4-0. Boston recovered from trailing in shots on goal in the first period, 12-8, to leading in shots on goal, 23-20 after two periods. The Bruins outshot the Red Wings, 15-8, in the second frame.
Detroit led in blocked shots (10-4) and hits (18-14), while Boston held an advantage in takeaways (13-12), giveaways (7-6) and face-off win% (60-40) entering the second intermission. The Red Wings were 0/2 on the power play (but not for long) and the Bruins were 1/2 entering the final frame.
Filip Hronek (1) fired a clapper from the point 21 seconds into the third period as the first penalty expired for Boston, yielding a 5-on-4 power play goal and his first career NHL goal to put Detroit on the scoreboard, 4-1.
Just 1:44 after the Red Wings scored, David Pastrnak (7) completed his hat trick on a 2-on-1 with Brad Marchand in the offensive zone.
Pastrnak rushed in on a pass from Patrice Bergeron, giving the puck to Marchand, before No. 63 returned the vulcanized rubber to its sender for the snipe past Bernier. Marchand (9) and Bergeron (6) had the assists on Pastrnak’s third goal of the game and the Bruins led, 5-1.
It was Pastrnak’s first regular season hat trick since recording his first career hat trick in Raleigh, North Carolina against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 13, 2018 (he had 3-1–4 totals that night) and it was his first hat trick since his 6-point effort against Toronto in Game 2 of the First Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Dylan Larkin (3) fired a wrist shot past Rask for his third goal of the season at 8:23 and brough the Red Wings to within three, making it a 5-2 game with plenty of time left in the final period of regulation.
Less than a couple minutes later, the Bruins responded.
Anders Bjork (1) scored his first goal of the season– and the first of his sophomore campaign since his rookie season ended prematurely due to left-shoulder injury.
Bjork’s goal was unassisted at 10:12 of the third period after No. 10 in black-and-gold was credited with a takeaway in the neutral zone and burst into the attacking zone with Donato on a 2-on-1. Instead of passing, Bjork sniped a wrist shot past Bernier to make it, 6-2, Boston.
Mantha and McAvoy received roughing minors for some extracurricular activity after the whistle at 13:57 of the third period and two minutes of 4-on-4 action resulted.
That’s about the time when DeBrusk sent a pass to Krejci on the left side, before the Czech center lobbed a pass to Brandon Carlo pinching in from the point, whereby Carlo found DeBrusk (2) in the low slot for the redirection past Bernier to make it 7-2 Boston at 15:15.
In the final minute of regulation, Detroit defender, Nick Jensen caught Ryan Donato with a shoulder to the head and Bruins fourth liner, Chris Wagner, immediately responded.
Though Wagner and Jensen had the gloves off and exchanged fisticuffs, both received unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalties, with Wagner serving two and Jensen picking up one unsportsmanlike conduct call and an illegal check to the head minor penalty at 19:35 of the third period.
In the closing seconds of the game, Sean Kuraly (1) added his first goal of the season and the Bruins sealed an 8-2 victory with 1.3 seconds remaining on the game clock. Kevan Miller (1) and Bjork (1) were tabbed with the assists on Kuraly’s goal at 19:58 (officially) of the third period.
The Bruins finished the night with the 8-2 win and leading in shots on goal (39-34), as well as, face-off win% (52-49), while going 1/3 on the power play. Detroit ended the game leading in blocked shots (12-9) and was 1/3 on the skater advantage, as well. Both teams finished Saturday’s matinee matchup with 21 hits.
Among other stats…
Miller was a plus-four for the Bruins, as only Wagner (even) and Acciari (minus-one) finished the game without a positive plus/minus for Boston.
Moore led the B’s in shots on goal with five, while Chara, DeBrusk, Nordstrom and Pastrnak all recorded four shots on net.
Acciari led the Bruins in hits with four. Carlo, Miller and Nordstrom each had three.
David Pastrnak is the third fastest to reach 100 career goals in franchise history for Boston, doing so in his 259th career game– trailing only Barry Pederson (100 goals in 187 games) and Dit Clapper (100 goals in 247 games). He also became the third fastest Czech-born player to score 100 goals, behind Petr Klima (231) and Jaromir Jagr (245).
Meanwhile, Gustav Nyquist and Frans Nielsen were minus-three on Saturday for Detroit. Filip Hronek not only scored his first career goal, but led the Red Wings in shots on goal with six from the blue line (Nyquist was second on the team with five). Joe Hicketts led the Red Wings in hits with five and Nick Jensen led Detroit in blocked shots with four.
The Bruins take on the Calgary Flames on the road on Wednesday, before facing the Oilers on Thursday and rounding out their Western Canada portion of the upcoming four-game road trip on October 20th against the Vancouver Canucks.
Boston travels to Ottawa for a matchup with the Senators on the 23rd before returning home to face the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden on the 25th.
John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.
The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.
Noted playmaking forward Brad Marchand had four assists en route to the Boston Bruins 4-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on the road at KeyBank Center. 2018 1st overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin, finished the night as a minus-1 and recorded two hits in his NHL debut.
Jaroslav Halak picked up his first shutout of the season in his first start and his first win as a Bruin, amassing 32 saves on 32 shots against in the victory.
Boston improved to 1-1-0 (two points) on the season and currently sits in 2nd in the Atlantic Division to the Toronto Maple Leafs with all but the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning having formally kicked off their 2018-19 regular season action.
Thursday night’s start was much better for the Bruins than Wednesday night’s 7-0 loss to the Washington Capitals.
Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara (1) kicked off 2018-19 regular season scoring for the B’s at 6:33 of the first period on a rush into the offensive zone, whereby the 41-year-old defender snuck in from the point and received a pass from Brad Marchand in the high slot that Chara wired past Hutton with a snap shot.
Marchand (1) and Charlie McAvoy (1) notched the assists on Chara’s goal. The 6-foot-9 defender has scored at least once in 20 of his 21 NHL seasons, joining seven other defensemen in NHL history to do so– Ray Bourque (22), Scott Stevens (22), Al MacInnis (21), Chris Chelios (21), Harry Howell (21), Larry Murphy (21) and current Sabres head coach, Phil Housley (21).
Chara (41-years, 200 days) also passed Jaromir Jagr as the third-oldest player in franchise history to score a regular season goal for Boston. Mark Recchi (13 goals) and Johnny Bucyk (one goal) are the only other Bruins to have scored at an older age.
Both Bucyk and Recchi played until they were 43-years-old, with Bucyk retiring in 1978 and Recchi doing so after winning the Cup with Chara and Boston in 2011.
Former Bruin (2007-10), Vladimir Sobotka slashed David Pastrnak at 13:58 of the first period and sent Boston on the power play for the first time of the night. The Bruins were 0/2 on the skater advantage Wednesday night in Washington, but they wouldn’t remain scoreless on the power play for long.
At 15:34 of the first period, Ryan Donato (1) one-timed a shot past Hutton to score Boston’s first power play goal of the year and make it a 2-0 game for the Bruins. Donato originally sent the puck to Patrice Bergeron, who in turn sent it along to Brad Marchand in transition, then Marchand dished it back to Donato to complete the scoring opportunity.
Marchand (2) and Bergeron (1) picked up their first power play points of the season in the form of assists on the first power play unit.
Unlike Wednesday night, Boston had offensive zone time and more control of the game in its overall flow– at both ends of the ice, as the fourth line of Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly and Anders Bjork worked effectively at clearing the puck from their own zone and transitioning it up the ice.
Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy juggled the lines a bit from Wednesday to Thursday, inserting Bjork in the lineup in place of Chris Wagner alongside Kuraly and Heinen, while placing Donato on the second line and Noel Acciari centering the third line surrounded by David Backes and Joakim Nordstrom at the wings.
After 20 minutes, Boston led, 2-0 on the scoreboard and in shots on goal (11-6). Buffalo had an advantage in blocked shots (2-1), giveaways (6-4) and face-off win% (57-44). The Bruins were 1/1 on the power play and the Sabres had yet to see time on the skater advantage.
Heinen slashed Casey Nelson and was sent to the penalty box at 2:47 of the second period, but Buffalo was not able to convert on the ensuing skater advantage.
Despite a heavy offensive effort by Boston, the Sabres were able to remain in a tight, 2-0 battle until late in the middle frame.
Marchand worked to keep the puck in the zone for the Bruins, while Krejci forced a pass through the low slot for an easy one-timed redirection from Pastrnak (1) into the twine as Hutton was diving across the crease to catch up with the quick puck movement. Pastrnak’s goal gave Boston a commanding, 3-0, lead at 16:16 of the second period and was assisted by Krejci (1) and Marchand (3).
With less than two minutes left in the period, McAvoy took a shot off the inside of the leg and required assistance skating off the ice and heading to the dressing room, but he would return to action in time for the third period.
After two periods of play, Boston led by three (3-0) and outshot the Sabres (21-17), while Buffalo led in blocked shots (6-5), giveaways (9-6) and was 0/1 on the power play.
The third period saw a heavy presence in Boston’s defensive zone, but Halak stood tall as did his defenders, who did a much better job of pressuring their opponent and taking away the puck Thursday night than they did on Wednesday.
Housley pulled his goaltender with 4:30 remaining in regulation for an extra skater, but the Sabres couldn’t muster a goal, while the Bruins kept icing the puck.
After taking a hit from Sobotka behind the net in the final minute of regulation, McAvoy was looking to stand up for himself and eventually dropped the gloves with the Sabres forward in the corner to the right side of Halak.
This, of course, all after Chara tried getting to Sobotka first and received a roughing minor as play was stopped for the fisticuffs that ensued.
Buffalo would finish the game on a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Bruins scored an empty net, shorthanded goal, thanks to Patrice Bergeron (1) with the sole assist on the goal from Marchand (4), completing No. 63’s four-point night.
The Sabres finished the night outshooting Boston (32-26) and outhitting the Bruins (25-13), but Boston led the scoreboard, 4-0, after 60 minutes. The B’s also finished with more blocked shots than Buffalo (13-8) and trailed in the face-off dot (57%-43%).
After opening the season on the road for two games at .500, Boston heads home for an Opening Day matinee matchup against the Ottawa Senators on Monday from TD Garden.
Vegas Golden Knights
51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in the Pacific Division
Lost in Stanley Cup Final to WSH, 4-1
Subtractions: D Philip Holm (signed, KHL), F James Neal (signed with CGY), F David Perron (signed with STL), F Teemu Pulkkinen (signed, KHL), D Luca Sbisa (signed with NYI), F Nick Suzuki (traded to MTL), F Tomas Tatar (traded to MTL), F Paul Thompson (signed with FLA)
Offseason Analysis: Only one team in the NHL’s more than a century of existence has ever won the Cup in their inaugural season. The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights almost joined the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas as the only teams to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Toronto beat the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s (PCHA) Vancouver Millionaires 3-2 in a best of five-game series.
Vegas came up three wins short of winning it all in the modern-day best-of-seven game series against the Washington Capitals that the Stanley Cup Final has become.
The Golden Knights didn’t have an unfair advantage in the 2017 Expansion Draft. General Manager George McPhee worked the trade market to his advantage, primarily building the inaugural season’s core group of players through acquisitions.
Owner Bill Foley has touted the “Cup-in-three” mantra, meaning it’s his goal as an organization to win the Cup in their first three years of existence. Upon league expansion in 1967, it took the Philadelphia Flyers seven years to win their first Cup.
Foley wants to do it in half the time.
McPhee’s already gone to work on improving his roster from year one to year two. He’s added Paul Stastny via free agency and Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens.
Stastny, 32, joins the Golden Knights after spending last season with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. In 82 games split between the Blues and Jets, Stastny had 16-37–53 totals.
A deadline acquisition by Winnipeg, he had 13 points down the stretch in the remaining 19 games of the regular season, then had his best career performance in the postseason (15 points in 17 games) en route to the Western Conference Final against (his now current team) Vegas.
Despite Stastny’s playmaking style and ability to elevate the players around him in Patrik Laine and friends in Winnipeg, the Jets were no match for the hard-charging Golden Knights.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
The old saying rings true for Stastny, despite Winnipeg’s intentions on re-signing the veteran NHL center entering his 13th season in the league. He’ll slide in on Vegas’ second line behind William Karlsson and play alongside one of his best friends since they played together at the 2010 Winter Games, Max Pacioretty.
Yes, that’s right, Pacioretty is a Golden Knight– in case you’ve been under a rock since training camp.
At its surface, the price of the Pacioretty trade is one well spent for both teams. Vegas acquired Pacioretty in exchange for Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick. That’s right about what you’d expect as a going rate for a top-six scorer– one current roster player, a prospect and a draft pick.
But for all that McPhee dealt to the Detroit Red Wings to add Tatar at the trade deadline last season, this Pacioretty deal carries a hefty trade-tree baggage, whereby a lot of assets were ultimately tossed in the pot for Pacioretty’s services.
At the very least, McPhee not only added a five-time 30-goal scorer, but he signed him to a four-year extension right away too. So if things don’t work out this season, the Golden Knights will remain in the hunt for the next few years.
On top of their solid core group of forwards, Vegas has a crafty defense that’s capable of doing more than turning heads like they did last season. There’s just one catch though– they’ll have to do it without Nate Schmidt for the first quarter of the regular season.
Schmidt will be serving a 20-game suspension for a performance enhancing drug, leaving Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to do the bulk of the work with Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland rounding out the rest of the top-four defenders.
Brad Hunt and Nick Holden, in the meantime, seek to use the first 20 games as an audition for the sixth defenseman role upon Schmidt’s return to the lineup.
Miller signed a four-year extension this summer and Theodore signed a seven-year deal worth $5.200 million per season. While seven years might be a bit more than the Golden Knights can chew if Theodore’s play heads south, at least he’s signed to a manageable $5.200 million cap hit– up to 50% of which can be retained in a trade.
With an immense top-nine group of forwards and questions surrounding who will step up on defense in Schmidt’s absence, head coach Gerard Gallant must adjust accordingly as he’s always done– on-the-fly and with the complete buy-in of the dressing room.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury— now signed through the 2021-22 season, thanks to a three-year extension this summer on top of the remaining year on his current contract– must find a way to continue his rejuvenated play in net. Last season’s 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage are more than likely unattainable in back-to-back seasons.
One thing working in Fleury’s favor is his reduced workload. In his second-straight season under 50 games played, Fleury appeared in 46 games last season after battling a concussion.
Malcolm Subban (2.68 GAA, .910 SV% in 22 games played last season) is still in line to become the next Golden Knights starting netminder in the post-Fleury era, but he undoubtedly must see an increase in playing time this season.
It’s not quite a 1A, 1B option for Vegas, but rather a precaution for Fleury and a means of keeping their starter fresh for what could be another long postseason run.
Unless any of the other Pacific Division teams have anything to say about it.
Offseason Grade: B+
McPhee bolstered his top-six forward group this offseason with two simple moves, while preserving the large-scale depth of the Golden Knights prospect pool. They didn’t land Erik Karlsson, John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk, but they did get Max Pacioretty.
And they still have quite an impressive amount of cap space to work with next offseason as the franchise continues to settle into existence.