The Toronto Maple Leafs finally did the thing! Congrats to the 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame Class and taking a look at who might join them in 2020.
50-25-7, 107 points, 1st in the Pacific Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Colorado
Additions: F Byron Froese, F Justin Kirkland, F Milan Lucic (acquired from EDM), D Brandon Davidson, G Cam Talbot
Subtractions: F Tyler Graovac (signed with VAN), F Garnet Hathaway (signed with WSH), F Curtis Lazar (signed with BUF), F James Neal (traded to EDM), F Anthony Peluso (signed with Bakersfield, AHL), F Brett Pollock (signed with Iowa, AHL), F Kerby Rychel (KHL), F Linden Vey (KHL), D Oscar Fantenberg (signed with VAN), D Josh Healey (signed with Milwaukee, AHL), D Marcus Hogstrom (SHL), D Dalton Prout (signed with SJS), G Mason McDonald (signed with Colorado, AHL), G Mike Smith (signed with EDM)
Still Unsigned: F Spencer Foo (KHL, CGY reserve list), D Matt Taormina
Re-signed: F Sam Bennett, F Ryan Lomberg, F Andrew Mangiapane, F Matthew Tkachuk, D Rinat Valiev, G David Rittich
Offseason Analysis: After taking home the first overall seed in the Western Conference in the regular season, the Calgary Flames proceeded to burnout in five games against the Colorado Avalanche in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What are they doing to prevent another embarrassment?
They traded James Neal.
Flames GM, Brad Treliving, traded Neal to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Milan Lucic and a conditional 2020 3rd round pick. Calgary receives the 3rd round pick if Neal scores 21 goals and Lucic scores 10 or fewer goals than Neal this season. Very specific!
Aside from losing other depth pieces (Garnet Hathaway) in free agency, Treliving is fully prepared to send out his core on the ice for head coach, Bill Peters, to play as he sees fit.
The Flames weren’t bad all season until March last year, then they started losing games they shouldn’t have and went on to back themselves into the postseason without any moxie.
As such, the Avs rolled right over them.
For now, Treliving has put off the inevitable pay raise for Matthew Tkachuk.
Tkachuk signed a three-year extension worth $7.000 million per season earlier this week, which may seem like a steal for Calgary, until one considers Tkachuk’s third year salary ($9.000 million).
His next qualifying offer will at least be $9.000 million and he’s bound for a significant raise by that point if his production continues to grow, so even though he said he’s signing for less right now so his teammates don’t have to worry about not being re-signed by the Flames due to cap constraints, things may still get hairy by 2022.
For now, the Flames are the closest to returning to the Stanley Cup Final than they have ever been since losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in 2004.
They just have to get out of the First Round to make critics start to believe that their regular season success was not a fluke.
Offseason Grade: C-
Trading Neal for Lucic isn’t a spectacular deal, but the Flames somehow convinced the Oilers to retain some of Lucic’s salary, meaning Edmonton didn’t do themselves any favors as they had hoped to in getting rid of the veteran winger.
Fans in Calgary have come to expect uneventful offseasons, but at least the city and the franchise agreed to a new arena to get everyone even more excited about the future.
48-26-8, 104 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Carolina
Additions: F Garnet Hathaway, F Brendan Leipsic, F Philippe Maillet, F Richard Panik, D Radko Gudas (acquired from PHI)
Subtractions: F Riley Barber (signed with MTL), F Mathias Bau (EBEL), F Andre Burakovsky (traded to COL), F Brett Connolly (signed with FLA), F Hampus Gustafsson (SHL), F Dmitrij Jaskin (KHL), F Jayson Megna (signed with COL), F Mason Mitchell (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Devante Smith-Pelly (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Nathan Walker (signed with STL), D Aaron Ness (signed with ARI), D Matt Niskanen (traded to PHI), D Brooks Orpik (retired), G Parker Milner (signed with Hershey, AHL)
Still Unsigned: F Scott Kosmachuk (rights acquired from COL)
Re-signed: F Chandler Stephenson, F Jakub Vrana, D Christian Djoos, D Colby Williams, G Vitek Vanecek
Offseason Analysis: The Washington Capitals have earned themselves a little grace period after winning the Cup in 2018, but don’t let that fool you from some of the poor choices they made this offseason.
Whether or not they would’ve had the money to keep Brett Connolly from joining the Florida Panthers in free agency after posting a career year with 22-24–46 totals in 81 games is besides the point.
The Caps made a lot of odd decisions.
For starters, they signed Garnet Hathaway (19 points in 76 games for Calgary last season), Brendan Leipsic (23 points in 62 games with Vancouver and Los Angeles) and Richard Panik (33 points in 75 gamed for Arizona).
Sure, Hathaway and Panik are durable top-nine forwards that are likely to see an increase in their offensive numbers by virtue of being on the same team as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but to have them for four years as your mid-range forwards with Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller might just catch up to you at some point.
At least Leipsic has always been in demand on waivers and is a good option to plug somewhere in the lineup or send down to the Hershey Bears (AHL).
Meanwhile, Capitals General Manager, Brian MacLellan, worked the phones this summer to trade Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas in a one-for-one swap and dealt Andre Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche for Scott Kosmachuk (unsigned), a 2020 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.
It might seem like an overpay for Avalanche GM, Joe Sakic, but Burakovsky’s looking to prove himself in the biggest role he’s ever had and it wouldn’t hurt Washington to restock their prospect pool as a result.
In the meantime, Gudas is almost assured of doing something to yield a suspension, which may or may not hurt the Capitals more than Evgeny Kuznetsov’s three-game suspension to start the regular season may already do.
Kuznetsov was suspended by the league for “inappropriate conduct”, in which he failed a drug test and was banned from international competition by the International Ice Hockey Federation for four years.
The NHL, on the other hand, doesn’t have a policy for testing positive for cocaine.
Washington’s head coach, Todd Reirden, is entering his second season at the reigns behind the bench and has plenty of fresh faces to utilize in effort to avoid another seven-game First Round elimination at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Don’t get too comfortable in Washington as Braden Holtby is due for an extension by season’s end or else he may walk in free agency.
Offseason Grade: D+
The Capitals could contend for another Cup in the next few years or they could continue to slide towards irrelevancy faster than the current trend the Pittsburgh Penguins are on.
Neither fan base wants to hear that, let alone be compared to one another in such a similar manner, but it’s true. None of their free agent additions even remotely scream “decent depth signing” or anything.
Mitch Marner finally re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins announced a couple key extensions, more RFA deals were signed and the NHLPA decided not to re-open the current collective bargaining agreement as DTFR’s season previews continued with the Metropolitan Division.
As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)
The projected standings below are only a forecast.
They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).
There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.
As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.
Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.
A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.
Projected Standings After ZERO Months
- y-Washington Capitals, 107 points
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points
- wc1-New York Islanders, 91 points
- wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
- New York Rangers, 89 points
- Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points
- New Jersey Devils, 84 points
Washington Capitals: Pros and Cons
Year after year, Washington finds themselves at the top of the Metropolitan Division with or without any sort of logical explanation.
The last time the Capitals didn’t finish 1st in the division? It was the 2014-15 season when the New York Rangers followed up a 2014 Stanley Cup Final appearance with 113 points and the President’s Trophy.
Once again, the Caps will find a way to turn things on late into the season and manage the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, but they’ll be doing so without a long list of members from their 2018 Stanley Cup championship roster.
After matching his regular season goal scoring total in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Devante Smith-Pelly wasn’t able to get back to form and subsequently reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears during the 2018-19 season.
Now, he’s an unrestricted free agent.
Also departing Washington this summer were the likes of Brett Connolly (signed with Florida), Andre Burakovsky (traded to Colorado for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2nd round pick in 2020 and a 3rd round pick in 2020), Nathan Walker (signed with St. Louis), Matt Niskanen (traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Radko Gudas) and Brooks Orpik (retired)
Madison Bowey was traded to Detroit in February. Jakub Jerabek left via free agency last season and is now playing in the KHL. Philipp Grubauer was traded to the Avalanche last June. Jay Beagle signed with the Vancouver Canucks last July. Alex Chiasson joined the Edmonton Oilers last October.
With such a quick turnover in the makeup of their lineup, the Capitals’ championship window may already be closing– and fast.
At least Garnet Hathaway, Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin all signed four-year contracts with cap hits under $3.000 million.
How would the Capitals fail?
Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson end up suspended for the entire season somehow and get the rest of the Capitals in trouble for something.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Pros and Cons
Phil Kessel is signed through 2021-22 at $6.800 million per season. Alex Galchenyuk is signed through 2019-20 with a cap hit of $4.900 million.
Using the money saved from trading Kessel to Arizona and hoping Galchenyuk will suddenly become a 30 or 40 goal scorer simply because he’s now on the same roster as Sidney Crosby, Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford, figured it’d be a smart move to lock up Brandon Tanev in free agency with a six-year contract at $3.500 million per season and a modified no-trade clause one offseason removed from signing Jack Johnson.
If there’s any positives for Pittsburgh, it’s that Crosby still exists and Mike Sullivan remains the head coach. Oh and Evgeni Malkin exists too, though some would find it hard to believe, since he wasn’t included in the top-100 players of the last century list.
As long as Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith can weather the storm of an insufficient defense, injuries and inadequacy from last season, then there’s a good chance the current longest active playoff appearance streak remains alive.
If not, well, just look for Rutherford to continue to move chairs around on the Titanic.
This team is starting to spring a leak. If they’re not careful, they’ll sink in the standings.
But since the season really doesn’t start until January anyway for the Pens, they’ll work their way into a playoff berth as they’ve done for the last dozen years or so.
How would the Penguins fail?
Rutherford trades another goal scorer for a “glue guy” and clones Tanev and/or Johnson. Realistically, Murray continues to cool down from his meteoric rise a couple of seasons ago and won’t cost too much as a pending-RFA.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Pros and Cons
All my ex’s live in… everywhere but Columbus.
The Blue Jackets lost Artemi Panarin to the New York Rangers, Sergei Bobrovsky to the Florida Panthers, Matt Duchene to the Nashville Predators and Ryan Dzingel to the Carolina Hurricanes, but they brought in Gustav Nyquist and brought back Marko Dano via free agency.
Yeah, ok, so it wasn’t a great summer for Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen and Blue Jackets fans– even if they knew at least one of their big names (Bobrovsky) was never going to re-sign.
But while a lot of armchair GMs think the Blue Jackets are destined for a rebuild, there’s a glimmer of optimism if Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins can carry the weight of the crease, while younger players like Alexandre Texier, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson continue to emerge.
Making it as far as they did into the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was vital to the experience gained by Columbus’ core.
Though they’re likely not going to a be a dominant force in 2019-20, they should be in contention for what would be a fifth playoff berth in seven years under Kekalainen’s reign.
And if they turn heads again like they did when they swept the President’s Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the First Round, then there’s sure to be some interest in lacing up the skates for the Blue Jackets in the future.
Then again, it could be tank city until Korpisalo or Merzlikins becomes a legitimate starter and somebody becomes an 80-point scorer again.
It just takes some time… Oh and someone should probably re-sign Zach Werenski while you’re at it.
How would the Blue Jackets fail?
The Union doesn’t lose. Ok, if everybody leaves, then it might.
New York Islanders: Pros and Cons
Having Lou Lamoriello as your General Manager means some players are going to love him (if they’ve already been with him for many years before) and some players are going to be chased out of the city when they are told they are going in a different direction, but then don’t quite land who they think they’re getting, only to leave you once again for… well, Semyon Varlamov isn’t really an upgrade at this point.
But Robin Lehner’s gone after winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy with the
Rangers Islanders last season after having a remarkable career-year in the face of addiction and other struggles.
New York’s only getting older and Anders Lee took a “hometown discount” to stay on Long Island.
Speaking of Long Island, is it too early to start construction on the Belmont Park arena yet?
Something has to distract everyone from the undercutting of several prospect’s development– whether they’ve rightfully had a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level or not.
Barry Trotz is a great head coach, but how much more can he do with a middle of the road team that gives up on prospects too early?
Get them back to the Second Round only to be crushed by a team that’s mixing youth, speed, skill, grit and actually playing 21st century hockey?
It’s almost as though the Islanders learned nothing from 1995-2006.
How would the Islanders fail?
It’s [the] trap!
Philadelphia Flyers: Pros and Cons
Flyers General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, actually hasn’t had that bad of an offseason– at least when it comes to tweaking his roster.
Sure Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun are both 32-years-old, but they’re decent top-4 defenders that should be able to lead from the back end with Shayne Gostisbehere as Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov come into their own.
Speaking of Provorov, he’s still an unsigned-RFA and Philadelphia has more than enough money (about $13.400 million in cap space) to get some sort of a deal done right now. Why wait until the last minute? What’s that? Travis Konecny needs a contract right now too? Oh never mind. Let’s make things complicated!
Besides giving Kevin Hayes a seven-year contract worth $7.143 million per season with a no-movement clause, the Flyers should have– a lot of explaining to do when their experiment doesn’t work out.
The Hayes contract is bad, but just how bad can things get with Hayes back on a team that’s coached by… Alain Vigneault!?!
Vigneault’s the real wild card here as the jury is still out on whether or not his style still fits the game or if the Rangers were just that bad in his final year with New York.
All things considered, Philadelphia should be back into playoff contention. Just not Cup contention in 2019-20.
How much more of this can Claude Giroux take?
How would the Flyers fail?
Alain Vigneault, Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien can’t figure out who is actually the head coach on a night-to-night basis even though Vigneault technically owns the job (Yeo and Therrien are assistant coaches for the Flyers, if you haven’t heard). Oh and goaltending if Carter Hart gets injured.
New York Rangers: Pros and Cons
The Rangers landed the biggest prize in free agency, signing Artemi Panarin to a seven-year contract worth $11.643 million per season.
Though they are still in a rebuild, Panarin’s addition to the roster helps make New York more of an attractive destination and speeds things up in the overall plan.
It doesn’t hurt that GM Jeff Gorton had the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft too. Kaapo Kakko is ready for the limelight in Manhattan as Henrik Lundqvist’s reign is in its twilight days.
Lundqvist is under contract through the 2020-21 season and at 37-years-old– it’d take a miracle for the Rangers to win him a Cup at this point.
The Rangers only have one forward over the age of 30 (Matt Beleskey’s 31) and two defenders 30 or older as well (Brendan Smith, 30, and Marc Staal, 32).
Beleskey is likely to bounce around the organization between New York and Hartford (AHL), while there’s a good chance Smith could be buried as well.
But their “veteran presence” is valuable to time on ice management among the younger skaters that might not be quite as NHL ready as Kakko and friends.
Jacob Trouba is new to the Rangers and destined to anchor their new-age defense from the top pairing, while Kevin Shattenkirk joins the long list of buyouts in recent years by New York.
The Rangers are short almost $5.400 million in dead cap space thanks to Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner’s buyouts around the league (Shattenkirk and Girardi were Rangers buyouts, but Spooner had retained salary and was bought out by the Vancouver Canucks this offseason).
Next year, New York faces almost $7.500 million in cap penalties from the trio of buyouts before Spooner comes off the books entirely and the number dips down to about $2.544 million from 2021-22 to 2022-23.
Also another Harvard product– Adam Fox– is the new Jimmy Vesey experiment, but on the blue line. And Vesey? He was traded to Buffalo.
Panarin and Kakko are worth watching this season, while the rest of the team remains to be seen.
How would the Rangers fail?
Henrik Lundqvist stops looking so good all of a sudden. That man is stunning.
Carolina Hurricanes: Pros and Cons
Though the forecast says otherwise, Carolina should actually be closer to playoff contention than you may think coming off their 2019 Eastern Conference Final appearance.
Hurricanes General Manager, Don Waddell, has weathered the storm this offseason. Actually, his job was made pretty easy when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet worth $8.454 million per season.
Considering the value Aho brings and the potential that’s still there– that’s a steal.
Though a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses through the first two years is considered a “hefty” price for an owner to pay, let’s remember that we’re talking about professional sports.
If Montreal really wanted to make things difficult for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, then they should’ve offered something with a larger cap hit, but that would’ve meant a steeper price to pay in compensation had Carolina not matched the deal. #AdvantageCarolina
Aho will be 27 by the time his new contract runs out, which means he’ll be a pending-UFA in 2024, but there’s plenty of time to worry about the next contract when the time comes.
Right now, the Hurricanes have added some much needed top-six/top-nine forward depth in Erik Haula (acquired from Vegas) and Ryan Dzingel (signed via free agency), while adding a 1st round pick in 2020 (or 2021 if Toronto’s 2020 1st rounder is a top-10 overall selection) and swapping Calvin de Haan with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling (there were other pieces involved, like Anton Forsberg going to Carolina too).
The average age of Carolina’s skaters? 25.
Considering how far the core went in 2018-19, that’s beyond impressive and it’s a testament to head coach, Rod Brind’Amour.
In July, Petr Mrazek re-signed with the Hurricanes on a two-year deal and James Reimer was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers as Curtis McElhinney signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Though Alex Nedeljkovic might be another year out from competing for the starting job, the crease is Mrazek’s to lose once again with Reimer looking to rebound from a dismal time in Florida.
Carolina is poised for another deep run, but how soon will it be given the fact that their emergence as a contender means that every other team wants to beat them that much more from night-to-night?
How would the Hurricanes fail?
The Canes have a strong analytics department, so the only thing that could naturally disrupt their plans? Regression (and no WiFi).
New Jersey Devils: Pros and Cons
The Devils won the draft lottery and procured Jack Hughes with the 1st overall pick in June.
New Jersey was third-to-last in overall standings last season.
Though they added P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators in June, drafted Hughes and have Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Will Butcher on their roster, the Devils still need a lot of pieces to improve.
Hall’s a pending-UFA at season’s end. His next deal– whether it’s with New Jersey or not– determines the fate of this team.
Cory Schneider’s still under contract through 2021-22 and Mackenzie Blackwood is only 22-years-old.
Goaltenders are rarely superstars when they’re that young, so while Blackwood may be the starter heading into the season and goalie of the future for the organization– it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some ups and downs before the dust settles.
Now for the good news.
Nikita Gusev was acquired in a trade with the Golden Knights and Ray Shero doesn’t have a lot of no-trade clauses to deal with if the Devils look to sell at the trade deadline.
How would the Devils fail?
If they somehow lose the Taylor Hall trade a few years after winning it.
With the trade deadline passing by on Monday, there’s only one important date remaining this regular season: April 6, the season’s finale.
However, we’re not quite focused on that date yet. Instead, let’s see what games this week had to offer:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 25-March 3|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/|
|Monday, February 25|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||New Jersey||1-2|
|7:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Tampa Bay||3-4 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||Nashville||2-3 (SO)|
|9 p.m.||Florida||Colorado||4-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, February 26|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Boston||1-4|
|7 p.m.||Calgary Flames||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Carolina||1-6|
|8 p.m.||Nashville||St. Louis||0-2|
|9 p.m.||Florida||Arizona||3-4 (SO)|
|Wednesday, February 27|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||New Jersey||2-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay Lightning||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|9:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Colorado||2-3 (SO)|
|Thursday, February 28|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Islanders||1-6|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||Columbus||3-4 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Boston||1-4|
|10 p.m.||Florida||Vegas||5-6 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Dallas||Los Angeles||4-3 (OT)|
|Friday, March 1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Buffalo||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||New Jersey||6-3|
|7 p.m.||Washington Capitals||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Rangers||4-2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Carolina||2-5|
|10:30 p.m.||Colorado||San Jose||3-4|
|Saturday, March 2|
|4 p.m.||Chicago||Los Angeles||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Boston|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo||Toronto||CBC, NHLN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Montréal||SN360, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Tampa Bay||CITY, TVAS2|
|8 p.m.||Dallas||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||Minnesota Wild||Calgary Flames||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, March 3|
|12:30 p.m.||Washington Capitals||New York Rangers||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Islanders||SN1, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Chicago||San Jose|
There were rivalries galore to choose from this week – nine, if you want to be precise. Buffalo and Toronto waged two editions of the Battle of the QEW, with the Leafs hosting on Monday and the Sabres returning the favor tonight.
In between those meetings, the Penguins made their first visit of the season to Columbus and the Habs squared off against the Wings (both on Tuesday) and Friday featured Montréal visiting the Rangers, the Caps visiting the Islanders and the Battle of the Turnpikes. Joining Toronto and Buffalo in rivalry action today are the Blackhawks and Kings, while the Caps and Blueshirts are waiting until tomorrow to stage their derby.
In a similar strain as rivalries, we were also privy to three rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Minnesota and Winnipeg rekindled their First Round animosity on Tuesday, ending with the Wild exacting revenge for their early playoff exit. The Bolts and Bruins were at it Thursday (with Boston pulling off the 4-1 victory), while Nashville and Winnipeg scrapped for first place in the Central Division last night (the Jets recaptured the division lead with a 5-3 win).
Finally, I always try to point out the biggest homecomings, and there were three this week. Of course, none was more anticipated than C John Tavares making his first trip to Nassau Coliseum as a member of the Maple Leafs on Thursday. Tavares enjoyed nine seasons with the Islanders, including five as the club’s 14th captain. His 621 points scored while wearing blue and orange ranks fifth in franchise history, but don’t let that fool you – Islanders fans did not treat him to a warm welcome.
Also making notable homecomings were current Penguin D Jack Johnson returning to Columbus on Tuesday and current Predator F Mikael Granlund returning to St. Paul tomorrow (considering he just experienced the birth of his child, there’s actually a chance he never left Minnesota in the first place). Both spent seven seasons with their respective former clubs before joining their current organizations (Johnson via free agency this summer and Granlund via deadline trade).
However, all of those things having been listed, there’s still one more event that demands our attention. For the third week in a row, a former great of the game is seeing his number raised to the rafters. Tonight, the Calgary Flames honor RW Jarome Iginla.
It can be easily forgotten that Iginla was not drafted by the Flames, but instead by the Dallas Stars. Only two seasons removed from their departure from the State of Hockey, the Stars selected the Kamloops Blazer 11th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.
Knowing what we know now, how Iginla fell all the way to 11th is hard to fathom. Only 10 total players from this 234-player draft class were ever named to even one NHL All-Star Game, of which only Iginla and nine-year teammate G Miikka Kiprusoff ever received end-of-season All-Star Team nods.
Regardless, Iginla likely never even thought about shopping for a Dallas apartment, as he was traded alongside C Corey Millen to Calgary (coincidentally in the same province as the city that hosted that edition of the draft: Edmonton, Iginla’s hometown) five months later for the rights to C Joe Nieuwendyk.
Nieuwendyk would go on to win the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 – scoring two game-winning overtime goals on the way, including one in triple-overtime against former rival Edmonton – so perhaps this was a fair trade all-in-all.
Iginla made his NHL debut during the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs (he registered 1-1-2 totals in two games played) after the Blazers lost to Spokane in the WHL’s West Division Finals 4-2. As the reigning WHL Player of the Year, Iginla registered 1-1-2 totals in his first two postseason appearances before the Flames were swept by Chicago in the Western Quarterfinals.
Iginla played all 82 games of his rookie campaign in 1996-97, registering impressive 21-29-50 totals (including three game-winning goals) to finish second in Calder voting behind fellow traded 1995 pick D Bryan Berard of the New York Islanders (he was originally drafted first-overall by Ottawa).
Like many outstanding youths, Iginla faced a rather severe sophomore slump. The winger posted only 13-19-32 marks in 70 games played, but he hopped right back on his horse for Season 3 to reemerge as a 50-point player and start a run of scoring at least 50 points in 15 of 16 seasons (interrupted only by the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign) from 1998-2015, a run that extended beyond his time in Calgary.
Of course, implying that the Flames could only count on 50 points from Iginla is undoubtedly doing his reputation a major disservice. The 51 points he scored in the 1998-99 season was only the beginning of his meteoric rise. He notched 63 points at the turn of the millennium, followed by 71 in 2000-01.
Iggy’s sixth season (2001-02) saw him set his career-high in goals with 52-44-96 totals, and everyone in the league took notice. Not only did Iginla earn his first of three First All-Star Team honors, but he also brought home more than his fair share of hardware from the NHL Awards, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award).
Of course, all that hardware didn’t make up for one major hole in Iginla’s resume. Not only had he not yet won a playoff game, he hadn’t even made a playoff appearance since his NHL debut.
That changed in a massive way in 2004, Iginla’s first season as the Flames’ 18th captain in franchise history. With a 41-32-73 season that earned Iginla his first King Clancy Award and second Richard Trophy, he led the Flames to a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference and their first playoff appearance in eight seasons.
The success didn’t end there though: the Flames defeated all three of the West’s division champions, including the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings in the conference semifinals, to advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the East’s top seed.
As for Iginla, he hadn’t yet scored all the goals for his campaign, as he added 13 goals and 22 points in his 26 playoff games – including outstanding 5-3-8 totals in the quarterfinals against Vancouver. His 13 markers were the most by any player in the 2004 playoffs, but his side fell to the Bolts in seven games.
Iginla’s Flames would qualify for the next four playoffs after their Stanley Cup Final appearance (skipping, of course, the 2004-05 lockout-cancelled season), but each time they failed to advance beyond the First Round. During that run, the captain earned his last two nominations to the NHL’s First All-Star team, doing it consecutively in 2008 and 2009 with respective 50-48-98 and 35-54-89 seasons.
Iginla’s Flames career would end on March 28, 2013 when he was traded as a rental to Pittsburgh for LW Kenny Agostino, RW Ben Hanowski and a 2013 first-round pick that would eventually become LW Morgan Klimchuk. He would go on to play for the Bruins, Avs and Kings before being forced to hang up his skates after the 2016-17 season.
With 525-570-1095 totals in 1219 career games played for Calgary, Iginla holds franchise records for appearances, goals, points, power play goals (161) and game-winning goals (83). In terms of league records, Iginla is one of only seven players to score 30 or more goals in 11-straight seasons (all of which were with Calgary, and a streak that could have been longer if not for the 2012-13 lockout), one of 20 to reach the 600-goal plateau and one of 34 to manage at least 1300 points.
For these reasons, as well as every other detail and fact listed above, Iginla is bypassing Calgary’s “Forever a Flame” program (in which a player is honored, but his number not retired) and seeing his No. 12 rightfully join RW Lanny McDonald‘s No. 9 and G Mike Vernon‘s No. 30 as the team’s third (fourth if that Oiler’s No. 99 is included) sweater retired from circulation.
What a time to be a member of the C of Red, no? Not only is the organization honoring one of, if not the greatest to ever don the Flaming C (no disrespect intended to D Al MacInnis, McDonald and his mustache or Vernon), but this year’s team is also pretty darn exciting. They boast a 41-16-7 record that that leads San Jose for the Western Conference lead, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down with their seven-game win streak and eight-game point streak – both the best currently active in the NHL.
Dating back to Valentine’s Day, the Flames have played to a 7-0-1 record (they dropped a point to the Panthers in a shootout), largely as a result of their incredible defensive play. Entering play Friday (all stats will not take into account March 1’s eight games due to my work schedule), no team has allowed fewer shots than Calgary in the past 14 days. The Flames have allowed only 214 shots against in their past eight outings, which averages out to 26.75 shots against per game.
Leading that defensive charge has been none other than Calgary’s resident 3-H Club: D Noah Hanifin, who’s 10 takeaways since February 14 lead the team; D Travis Hamonic, who tops the squad by averaging two blocks per game during this run; and W Garnet Hathaway, the Flames’ leading body checker in the past 14 days by averaging three hits per game.
As would be expected, the most prominent place this solid defensive work is showing up is on the scoreboard, as the Flames have allowed a (t)fourth-best 1.75 goals against per game since February 14. As a result, 19-11-2 G Mike Smith has been having an easy go of it lately, made evident by his combined .93 save percentage and 1.98 GAA for his past six starts.
On the season, Smith boasts an .897 save percentage and 2.89 GAA, but his recent run of success means he’ll likely be in the crease this evening. Smith has a not-so-great 6-11-2 all-time record against the Wild, but he stopped all 31 shots faced the last time he saw them on December 6 to improve his career statistics against Minnesota to a .921 save percentage and 2.18 GAA.
Speaking of the Wild, they’re currently on a bit of a run themselves.
On the back of a four-game win streak (including wins against the Blues and Jets), Minnesota has amassed a 31-27-6 record that is currently (well, as of Friday morning) good enough for the Western Conference’s second wild card.
The main player in this recent success has undoubtedly been 25-21-5 G Devan Dubnyk, Smith’s former battery-mate with the Coyotes. Though he’s certainly received help from his defense (the Wild have allowed an average of 30.5 shots against per game in their last four outings, the 12th-best mark in the NHL in that time), he’s played lights out to allow only 1.5 goals against per tilt in his last four starts – the fourth-best mark in the league since February 21.
What makes this streak so impressive is that Dubnyk has been only a little better than average this season with his .912 save percentage and 2.59 GAA on the campaign. However, he’s elevated his game to his 2014-15 level in his last four outings to post a combined .951 save percentage and 1.49 GAA.
Over his 10-year career, Dubnyk has squared off against Calgary 26 times and can boast a solid 11-8-4 record against the Flames. Combined, he’s managed a .923 save percentage and 2.7 GAA against Alberta’s southern franchise.
So if we’re in line for a goaltending duel, which will emerge with two points?
Personally, I like the Flames this evening. They have the advantage of playing at home with an excited C of Red behind them, as well as a better defense and more talented offense. Dubnyk might continue to stand on his head, but I think the Flames can find a way to sneak one more goal past him.
I’ll take Calgary 2-1.
It’s time once again for DtFR’s weekly featured matchup! Let’s take a gander at the NHL’s offerings for this edition, shall we?
|NHL SCHEDULE: December 3-9|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, December 3|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||New Jersey||5-1|
|Tuesday, December 4|
|7 p.m.||Winnipeg Jets||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Toronto||Buffalo||4-3 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Detroit||6-5 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Arizona||Los Angeles||2-1|
|Wednesday, December 5|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||St. Louis||3-2 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Carolina||San Jose||1-5|
|Thursday, December 6|
|7 p.m.||Detroit||Toronto||5-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||Philadelphia||4-3 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Pittsburgh Penguins||2-6|
|7:30 p.m.||Boston||Tampa Bay||2-3|
|10:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Los Angeles||6-3|
|Friday, December 7|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Dallas||2-3|
|8 p.m.||St. Louis||Winnipeg||1-0|
|Saturday, December 8|
|4 p.m.||Vegas||Los Angeles||1-5|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Ottawa||1-2 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Detroit Red Wings||3-2|
|7 p.m.||Colorado||Tampa Bay||1-7|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||Florida Panthers||5-4 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||San Jose||Arizona||5-3|
|Sunday, December 9|
|3 p.m.||Vancouver||St. Louis|
|6 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||Chicago Blackhawks||NHLN, RDS, SN, SN1|
|8 p.m.||New Jersey||Anaheim|
|9 p.m.||Calgary||Edmonton||SN, SN1|
This week’s rivalries included the Battle of the QEW (Toronto at Buffalo), Ottawa at Montréal, Detroit at Toronto, the Islanders at Pittsburgh, Montréal at Ottawa, Toronto at Boston, Montréal at Chicago and the Battle of Alberta (Calgary at Edmonton).
In a similar strain, there were also more than a few rematches of playoff fixtures from last spring. Tampa Bay continued its beat down of New Jersey on Monday, while Vegas exacted some revenge against Washington on Tuesday. The Bolts then headed home to host Boston on Wednesday, winning 3-2. Vegas is heading to Los Angeles this afternoon looking for its fifth-straight victory against the Kings, followed by tonight’s tilt between the Capitals and Blue Jackets.
Finally, in the “player returns” department, only two really stuck out among this week’s tilts. Now a member of the Avalanche, D Ian Cole made his first trip back to Pittsburgh Tuesday to take on the club he was a member of for the past four seasons. Then, Wednesday night, C Kyle Brodziak made his first return to St. Louis as a member of a visiting team, having spent three seasons with the Blues.
Of all those, the one I’m most interested in is the Battle of Alberta, so pack your coat and start heading to the City of Champions!
Don’t everyone look all at once (it’ll make the team self-conscious), but with last night’s 5-2 win over Nashville, the 19-9-2 Calgary Flames have claimed a one-point lead for first place in the Western Conference.
Not the Pacific Division, mind you. The Flames have been running that show for about a month now. We’re talking about the entire conference.
I guess Head Coach Bill Peters knows a bit more than we give him credit for around here.
A major reason Calgary is in the position it’s in right now is due to the impressive 9-1-1 record it’s riding right now – a stretch that started with a 4-2 victory over the Oilers on November 17.
A solid argument could be made that no team in the NHL has been better than the Flames in the past three weeks, as they are among the top-three in the league in goals per game, goals against per game and shots against per game.
Starting with the offense (a stat in which Calgary ranks sixth on the entire season, averaging 3.47 goals per game), the Flames have been the class of the conference since November 17, as their 4.45 goals per game in their past 11 outings tops the West and ranks second in the NHL, trailing only Tampa Bay’s 4.58 goals per game.
Leading the charge with 6-14-20 totals in those 11 games is exactly who you expected: LW Johnny Gaudreau. Only RW Nikita Kucherov (5-18-23) has registered more points in the past 22 days than Johnny HockeyTM , but he’s also had the benefit of one extra game played.
But don’t think Gaudreau has been doing it all on his own. C Sean Monahan (9-7-16), F Elias Lindholm (7-8-15), LW Matthew Tkachuk (4-8-12), suspended D Mark Giordano (1-10-11 in 10 games played) and even fourth-liner C Alan Quine (he scored a goal in his season debut last night) are all averaging a point per game or better over this run.
Defense has been a major strength of Calgary’s all season long (the Flames’ 28 shots against per game for the entire campaign ranks third-best in the NHL), and the same can be said for the Flames’ last 11 games. Led by D Rasmus Andersson and D Travis Hamonic (both averaging 1.5 blocks per game since November 17), RW Garnet Hathaway (2.6 hits per game in the past 22 days) and Monahan (his 16 takeaways in the past 11 games lead the club), the Flames have allowed only 27.18 shots against per game since November 17- the third-lowest mark in both the Western Conference and NHL in that time.
While Peters might say he appreciates that solid defensive play, no one is happier for the Flames’ success than 11-7-1 G Mike Smith. And even though the blue line is making his job easy, Smith is putting together one of the best runs of his season so far – especially in light of his season stats.
On the campaign as a whole, Smith boasts a lowly .894 save percentage and 2.88 GAA – both stats considerably worse than backup 8-2-1 G David Rittich’s .919 and 2.39, to the point that there were more than a few calling for the Czech to assume starting duties.
However, Smith’s past six appearances have been reminiscent of his incredible 2011-12 season with the Coyotes (he posted a .93 save percentage and 2.21 GAA and led the team to the Western Final), as he’s won six-straight games with a dominant .936 save percentage and 1.59 GAA in those showings.
Having been in net for last night’s home win over Nashville, Smith will likely ride the pine this evening with Rittich getting the start.
Though the 15-12-2 Edmonton Oilers currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, they only trail the second wild card Vegas Golden Knights by a point (with two games in hand, no less), so it is possible for tonight’s hosts to force themselves into the playoff picture with as little as an overtime or shootout loss.
Wait, I thought the Oilers were back to being bad again. I’m so confused.
Sometimes a change of voice from behind the bench is exactly what a team needs to get in shape, because the Oilers have been playing some solid hockey since hiring Head Coach Ken Hitchcock on November 20. Before Hitchcock arrived in Northern Alberta, the Oil boasted a record of 9-10-1, but they’ve gone on a solid 6-2-1 record since then to position themselves right on the playoffs’ doorstep.
Considering Hitchcock’s history, it wasn’t unexpected that his first goal upon taking over Edmonton was teaching his club how to play defense. Instead, the bigger surprise is that the team – one rarely known for its defensive play for its entire history – actually responded and is finding success.
Under Hitchcock, the Oilers have allowed only 29.11 shots against per game, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since November 20. Injured F Drake Caggiula (averaging 4.3 hits per game during this run), D Oscar Klefbom (averaging 2.6 blocks per game in the last 20 days) and C Connor McDavid (his 12 takeaways in his last eight appearances pace the team) have all been integral in leading this strategic shift, and the results are clearly showing in the standings.
Both G Mikko Koskinen and G Cam Talbot have shown considerable improvement playing behind this revamped defense, but Koskinen seems to have gained Hitchcock’s favor as the Oilers’ starting goaltender – at least for the time being. Though he has managed a decent .925 save percentage and 2.23 GAA for the entire season, Koskinen has posted a solid .934 save percentage and 1.82 GAA in his last six starts and will get the nod tonight.
For those wondering, Talbot’s .895 save percentage and 3.12 GAA for the season have been steadily improving under Hitch as well, as he’s managed a .925 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in his last three starts.
So, it’s time for that priceless question: who wins tonight?
With both defenses playing as well as they are right now, my immediate reaction is to pick the team with the superior offense. As that is not the style Hitchcock is having the Oilers play, that leads me to lean towards Calgary earning two points despite playing yesterday and having to travel last night/this morning.
However, with so much for Edmonton to play for and the fact that this is one of the better rivalries in the league, the only thing we can truly predict is unpredictability!
The Calgary Flames erupted for five goals (including one empty net goal) against the Boston Bruins on home ice Wednesday night at Scotiabank Saddledome to improve to 4-2-0 (8 points) on the season. Calgary remains 2nd in the Pacific Division standings, while the Bruins fell to 3rd in the Atlantic with a 4-2-0 (8 points) record of their own.
Mike Smith stopped 24 shots out of the 26 shots he faced for a .923 save percentage in the win, while Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask turned aside 24 shots on 28 shots against for an .857 SV% in the loss.
Boston travels to Rogers Place Thursday night to take on the Edmonton Oilers before Saturday’s matchup at Rogers Arena against the Vancouver Canucks to round out the Western Canada portion of their four-game road trip.
Bruce Cassidy made no changes to his Bruins lineup from Saturday’s 8-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings as Boston was unable to put together their fifth consecutive win Wednesday night. The Bruins are now 1-2-0 on the road this season, suffering a 7-0 loss in Washington, D.C. at the hands of the Capitals on Opening Night (Oct. 3rd) in addition to Wednesday’s loss to the Flames.
The B’s shutout the Buffalo Sabres, 4-0, in Buffalo on Oct. 4th.
Tkachuk’s spin and pass to Backlund freed up enough space for Frolik to sneak in down the right side and catch Rask lagging in time behind the play as his defenders in front of him were catching up themselves.
Backlund (2) and Tkachuk (7) had the primary and secondary assists on Frolik’s goal, respectively, and the Flames led, 1-0.
Midway through the opening frame, Tkachuk again had a great break-in, dropped a pass for the one-timer, but Rask made the sprawling save from one end to the other side of the crease with about 8:24 remaining in the period.
Moments later, Johnny Gaudreau (3) recorded the 100th goal of his NHL career on a rebound off Rask that bounced wide left to Gaudreau as the Bruins netminder was attempting to cover the loose puck up.
Less than a minute later, Juuso Valimaki (1) threw a shot on net that got a chunk of Rask, deflected high, then landed just behind the Boston goalie with enough force to trickle in behind the goal line for his first career NHL goal and a 3-0 lead for the Flames.
Mark Jankowski (1) had the only assist on Valimaki’s goal at 16:08 of the first period.
The Bruins lacked effort in their own end throughout the first period and thought they had a quick response to going down by three goals, but David Pastrnak‘s would-be goal was overturned by Calgary’s head coach, Bill Peters’ intelligent use of the coach’s challenge for offside as Patrice Bergeron had just barely entered the zone ahead of John Moore‘s initial dump-in.
Moore later received a minor penalty for holding Calgary’s Rasmus Andersson at 19:39 of the first period.
The Flames power play would carry over into the middle frame.
After one period of play, Calgary had a 3-0 lead over the Bruins and led in shots on goal, 14-10. Blocked shots were even, 7-7, but the Flames also led in takeaways (3-2), giveaways (9-7), hits (8-6) and face-off win percentage (63-38). Boston had yet to see any time on the skater advantage, while Calgary was technically 0/1 after 20 minutes.
Bergeron caught Flames blue liner Mark Giordano with a high-stick 24 seconds into the second period and gave Calgary a 5-on-3 advantage for about 1:16.
The B’s successfully managed to go unscathed and killed off the minor penalties, yielding a scoring chance as David Krejci worked the puck to Bergeron fresh on a rush out of the box in the low slot.
No. 37 in black-and-gold spin and batted the puck out of the air past Smith to put Boston on the board, making it 3-1, in favor of the Flames. The goal was Bergeron’s 6th of the season and assisted by Krejci (5) at 2:40 of the second period.
Not to be outdone, Calgary responded less than a minute later, as Frolik (3) added his second of the night on a forced turnover by Backlund that led to the one-timer opportunity with Frolik in the low slot charging in to the right of Rask.
Backlund (3) had his second assist of the night as the Flames lead– once-again– grew to three goals.
Despite the initial turnover from the Bruins’ first line in their own end, Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy looked dumbfounded as Calgary worked the puck past the Boston defenders for the 4-1 lead at 3:32 of the second period.
The ensuing power play for Boston was largely powerless as Calgary forced two incredible shorthanded breakaway opportunities of their own– including one in which Frolik was on the hunt for the hat trick completing goal, but sent the vulcanized rubber biscuit high and wide of the 4-by-6 net.
Bruins rookie, Ryan Donato, tripped up Gaudreau while trying to avoid knee-on-knee contact– inadvertently going knee-on-knee but not as bad as it would’ve been. Regardless, Donato went to the box on a tripping minor after a small scrum ensued post-whistle, at 7:00 of the second period.
Calgary did not convert on the ensuing power play.
Brad Marchand (2) brought the B’s to a two-goal deficit at 13:45, after Pastrnak entered the zone and left the puck for Bergeron to dish to his longtime left wing wearing No. 63.
Bergeron (7) and Pastrnak (3) notched the assists on Marchand’s 8th goal against the Flames in his last 12 games versus Calgary.
Garnet Hathaway tripped up Joakim Nordstrom at 14:04, but the Bruins didn’t score on the power play and Nordstrom would draw another penalty about four minutes later– this time, T.J. Brodie for holding.
Once again, however, Boston didn’t score on the power play, but Backlund took a hooking minor against David Backes at time expired on the second period, resulting in 58 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage for the Bruins to start the 3rd period.
The Bruins trailed the Flames, 4-2, after 40 minutes of action and did not convert on the two-skater advantage in the third period.
Instead, nearly midway into the final period of regulation, Gaudreau found a crazy carom off the boards that ended up on his stick, leading to a fast breakout with McAvoy trailing– ultimately diving to poke check the puck away from the Flames forward.
Rask stoned Gaudreau with the right pad and the young Bruins defender demolished the smaller Flames skater after he got the shot away.
McAvoy was given a minor for interference after a scrum at 8:29 of the third.
Keeping with the theme of the night, Calgary did not convert on the power play.
Cassidy pulled his goaltender with about 2:12 remaining in the game, opting for the an extra attacker to try to knot things up, but Tkachuk (2) would find the open twine at 19:09 to put the game away, 5-2.
Stone (3) recorded the only assist on Tkachuk’s empty net goal.
After 60 minutes, the Flames defeated the Bruins, 5-2, and led in shots on goal, 29-26. Boston held onto an advantage in blocked shots (19-15) and face-off win% (54-46), but trailed Calgary in giveaways (22-17). Hits were even 16-16 and both teams went 0/4 on the power play Wednesday night.
Among other stats from the action…
No Bruins skater recorded more than two hits, while Noel Acciari, Jake DeBrusk (who turned 22-years-old on Wednesday) and Grzelcyk were all a minus-two for Boston.
Bergeron led the way for the Bruins in shots on goal with seven, while Pastrnak was the next closest player for Boston with three shots on net. Moore blocked four shots, while McAvoy blocked three.
Hathaway took credit for the most hits in the game for Calgary with six, while no other member of the Flames had more than two. Frolik led the way for the flaming-C’s as a plus-three in plus/minus and Backlund, Gaudreau, Frolik and Valimaki all had three shots on goal.
Derek Ryan led the Flames in blocked shots with three.
37-35-10, 84 points, 5th in the Pacific Division
Offseason Analysis: Armed with one of the most potent top line/top defense pairing combos in the league, and with newly-acquired Mike Smith in net, hopes were high for the Flames to make some noise coming into the ’17-’18 campaign. Unfortunately, the noises they made were somewhat akin to a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat.
In a season that the term ‘streaky’ could possibly be defined by, Calgary often swung from appearing unbeatable to looking as if they had no idea what they were doing (and anywhere in between) on a game-by-game, week-by-week, and month-by-month basis. Managing to hang around in the wild card conversation through February, they’d finish the year with a dismal 6-13-1 record in their last 20 games, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.
Head coach Glen Gulutzan (along with assistants Dave Cameron and Paul Gerrard) was promptly sacked at season’s end and replaced with the newly-resigned Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. It wouldn’t be the only Carolina-linked theme of the offseason, either.
Faced with a draft stock that featured no picks until the 4th round, GM Brad Treliving had to use the phone at his table rather than his scouting staff to try and make an immediate impact on his team on draft weekend in Dallas. In one of the bigger trades in recent memory, Calgary dealt blue-chip defender Dougie Hamilton, hard-nosed winger Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for young d-man Noah Hanifin and versatile scoring forward Elias Lindholm.
Now, I was one of few to take a stand in defending this trade as equal (most found it to be heavily in Carolina’s favor on face value). While I admittedly know little about Fox (I’m told he projects as possibly a decent complimentary player at the NHL level), everyone else in this trade is a fairly proven commodity. Hamilton is admittedly probably the better all-around defenseman, but Hanifin might be a better fit for Calgary, as his game is traditionally a bit more reliable. With Ferland’s departure, they do lose some grit and complimentary goal scoring, but they still have no shortage of snarl, and it’s doubtful his 21-goal, 41-point campaign last year will ever be bettered. Lindholm, while not a natural goal scorer, is a skilled playmaker and has already twice surpassed Ferland’s career-best numbers, while being three years his junior. His ability to play the right side if needed also bolsters a thin depth chart at the position.
Treliving would make another splash soon after the draft, snagging sniper James Neal on the opening day of free agency, and signing him to a five-year, $5.75 million contract. The contract is probably a bit long for a 31-year-old already showing signs of losing foot speed, and Neal’s production has dipped a bit in recent years, but he’s still a near-lock for 25 goals and 45-50 points. Plus, playing alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau never hurt anybody.
The Flames would nab a few other pieces in free agency, in particular bolstering their center depth with adds like Tyler Graovac, Alan Quine, and Austin Czarnik. Perhaps their biggest under-the-radar move was acquiring another former Hurricane in Derek Ryan. The 31-year-old journeyman center finally found an NHL home in Carolina the past few years, blossoming into a solid 3C capable of consistent ~35 point production in addition to reliable PK work and a sublime faceoff record. With the departure of Matt Stajan, the Flames took advantage of Peters’ prior experience with Ryan to fill the hole. They also added some depth on the wings in Kerby Rychel (via trade) and Anthony Peluso, along with notable re-signings Garnet Hathaway, Morgan Klimchuk, and Mark Jankowski.
The prospect pool is a bit thin, but Morgan Klimchuk stands out as a threat to potentially grab himself a roster spot with a strong camp.
I have the forward corps looking something similar to this:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Neal
Tkachuk – Backlund – Lindholm
Bennett – Ryan – Frolik
Jankowski – Quine – Hathaway
Extra forwards Curtis Lazar and Austin Czarnik
On defense, things have shaken up a bit with the breakup of one of the league’s best pairings. Fleet-footed T.J. Brodie looks poised to grab the No. 2 defense slot next to captain Mark Giordano, though his sometimes-risky style of play could be of concern for top pair minutes.
Outside of the Hanifin/Hamilton deal, the Flames changed little about their defense corps in the offseason. Brett Kulak being awarded a one-year deal in arbitration was probably the biggest news. Longtime SHL stalwart Marcus Hogstrom was signed to a one-year, two-way deal to add some depth, and towering Viktor Svedberg, who saw some time with the Blackhawks last year, is heading to training camp on a PTO.
The defensive prospect pool is much deeper and more intriguing than the forwards. Juuso Valimaki is a highly touted prospect and Calgary’s ’17 1st round pick, but has yet to play North American pro hockey, so it’s likely he’ll spend the year in Stockton getting adjusted. Josh Healey brings a solid defensive game, but struggled to find the offensive touch he had at Ohio State in his first pro season last year. Oliver Kylington is a smart, if slightly undersized two-way defender that has shown well so far in the AHL. My personal pick to sneak his way onto the opening night roster, though, is Rasmus Andersson. He’s had no trouble adapting his offensive game to the pro level (nine goals and 39 points in Stockton last year) and his 215-pound frame bodes well for holding up to the rigors of the NHL. His right handed shot and offensive abilities bode well as a potential Hamilton replacement should the Flames find themselves in need of some extra defensive scoring.
The defense looks a little something like this:
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone
Extra defender either Dalton Prout or the aforementioned Andersson
In net the depth chart looks to remain the same as last year after the re-signing of backup David Rittich to a one-year deal. Calgary will likely just hope for steadier play from Mike Smith (really from the entire team in general) to improve their fortunes as they continue to groom all-world prospect Jon Gillies for the eventual No. 1 job. Smith will turn 37 this year and is in the last year of his contract, so expect another year in the AHL for Gillies before taking the reigns in ’19-’20.
Offseason Grade: C-
They made a coaching change. They fired the coach of their 21st-place team and hired the coach of the 20th place team. C-
They got Noah Hanifin. They probably gave up a bit too much to get him. C-
They signed James Neal. They signed him for too long. C-
They didn’t lose most of their expiring contracts. They were all pretty average players. C-