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Buffalo Sabres 2019-20 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-39-10, 76 points, 6th in the Atlantic Division

Longest active playoff drought, last playoff appearance was 2011

Additions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea, F Marcus Johansson, F Curtis Lazar, F Jimmy Vesey (acquired from NYR), D John Gilmour, D Henri Jokiharju (acquired from CHI), D Colin Miller (acquired from VGK), G Andrew Hammond

Subtractions: F Eric Cornel (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Kyle Criscuolo (signed with PHI), F Taylor Leier (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Sean Malone (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Matt Moulson (signed with Hershey, AHL), F Alexander Nylander (traded to CHI), F Danny O’Regan (signed with NYR), F Kevin Porter (signed with Rochester, AHL), D Jack Dougherty (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Brycen Martin (signed with Fort Wayne, ECHL), D Matt Tennyson (signed with NJD), G Scott Wedgewood (signed with TBL), G Adam Wilcox (signed with San Antonio, AHL)

Still Unsigned: F Jason Pominville

Re-signed: F Remi Elie, F Zemgus Girgensons, F Johan Larsson, F Evan Rodrigues, F C.J. Smith, D Jake McCabe, G Linus Ullmark

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres are looking to be last season’s Carolina Hurricanes for the 2019-20 season and, in the process, end the current longest active playoff drought in the NHL.

Buffalo hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since being ousted by the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in their 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup.

The Sabres only have four forwards under contract after this season.

Of the remaining nine forwards currently under contract, three are pending-restricted free agents (Sam Reinhart, Evan Rodrigues and Casey Mittelstadt) and six are pending-unrestricted free agents (Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Jimmy Vesey, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Scott Wilson).

Thankfully, new addition to their top-nine forwards– and likely to start the season on the first or second line– Marcus Johansson (13-17–30 totals in 58 games played) signed a two-year, $9.000 million ($4.500 million cap hit) contract in free agency after spending last season with the New Jersey Devils prior to being traded to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline.

Sabres General Manager, Jason Botterill, reworked the defense through the acquisition of Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2021 2nd round pick (originally belonging to the St. Louis Blues) and a 2022 5th round pick.

Miller has three-years left at $3.875 million per season and is a quality top-six defender addition to the team facing the uncertainty after this season, whereby half of the current defenders on the roster are set to become free agents.

Buffalo has three pending-UFA defenders (Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella and Casey Nelson) and one pending-RFA blue liner (Brandon Montour– acquired around last season’s deadline from the Anaheim Ducks).

With no cap room available currently and a tighter wallet thanks to Jeff Skinner’s eight-year, $72 million extension ($9.000 million cap hit), the Sabres are going to be hard pressed to try to keep the band together.

Thankfully, a little relief will come via the long-term injured reserve at the likely career-ending expense of Matt Hunwick and his ongoing neck condition that Hunwick sustained last season, missed the first two months because of and was limited to 14 games.

The 34-year-old defender’s $2.250 million cap hit will be relieved thanks to the LTIR option, but still Botterill will have to press on to utilize his best penny pinching calculator when it comes time to ice a full-time roster by puck drop next month.

Oh yeah and Linus Ullmark only has a year on his contract, so before anyone can get comfortable with what’s likely the foreseeable future in the crease for the Sabres…

While Botterill also brought in the likes of Vesey (17-18–35 totals in 81 games played) in a trade with the New York Rangers that saw Buffalo give up a 2021 3rd round pick and trading Alexander Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks for Henri Jokiharju, there’s yet another new face behind the bench in upstate New York.

Ralph Krueger, the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach in the 48-game lockout shortened 2012-13 season, is in charge of Jack Eichel and crew.

Nobody fully knows what to expect out of the coach that went 19-22-7 with Edmonton before being replaced by Oilers management after one season.

On paper, this is Buffalo’s best chance in at least the last few seasons– if not more– to contend for a wild card spot or better in the Atlantic Division.

The only problem is that everyone else is getting better just the same, even as Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a puck moving, gifted two-way defender.

Offseason Grade: B+

The wild card factor of Krueger behind the bench takes off a few points until proven otherwise, but the Sabres did a really nice job of cleaning up guys who need a second (or third) chance (Miller) and what was better of the more affordable free agents (Johansson) to help fill out a fuller roster than ever before.

Buffalo took a gamble with Skinner’s extension, but knows they finally have a winger locked up for Eichel. Now they just have to win.

2019-20 Metropolitan Division Outlook

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

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 107 points
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points
  4. wc1-New York Islanders, 91 points
  5. wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  6. New York Rangers, 89 points
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points
  8. 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.

TRADE: Columbus and Arizona complete another minor swap

Some guy named “Future Considerations” is going to be spending time in Ohio for however long his contract is.

The Columbus Blue Jackets sent F Carter Camper to the Arizona Coyotes for future considerations on Monday.

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Camper, 29, has 13-29–42 totals in 53 American Hockey League games this season with the Cleveland Monsters. He has one career NHL goal in three career NHL games with the Boston Bruins in 2011-12.

The 5’9″, 176-pound signed as an undrafted free agent with the Boston Bruins after completing four-years at Miami University in Ohio. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Camper was an AHL All-Star in 2012 and has 84 goals and 227 assists (311 points) in 428 career AHL games with the Monsters, Tucson Roadrunners, Albany Devils, Hershey Bears, Binghamton Senators, Springfield Falcons and Providence Bruins.

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As a result of this trade, Columbus leads in future considerations at the 2018 NHL trade deadline.

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Season Preview

Washington Capitals LogoWashington Capitals

55-19-8, 118 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Pittsburgh

Additions: F John Albert, F Alex Chiasson (signed to a PTO), F Tyler Graovac, D Jyrki Jokipakka (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Peluso, F Wayne Simpson, F Devante Smith-Pelly

Subtractions: D Karl Alzner (signed with MTL), F Chris Bourque (signed with Hershey Bears, AHL), F Paul Carey (signed with NYR), D Cody Corbett (signed with Idaho Steelheads, ECHL), D Darren Dietz (signed with Barys Astana, KHL), F Stanislav Galiev (signed with Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), D Tom Gilbert (signed with Nürnberg Ice Tigers, DEL), F Marcus Johansson (traded to NJ), F Garrett Mitchell (signed with Hershey Bears, AHL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (signed with NYR), D Nate Schmidt (claimed by VGK in the 2017 Expansion Draft), F Christian Thomas (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, AHL), F Justin Williams (signed with CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Daniel Winnik

Offseason Analysis: The Washington Capitals won the President’s Trophy for the second year in a row last season, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs thanks to now two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh. History repeats itself sometimes, but for Caps fans the first part of this sentence already ended after the third word.

Now they look to regroup, revitalized and down a few key components from their President’s Trophy winning days– the Capitals aren’t aiming to win the regular season title; they want the Cup.

As all good teams must endure during the Salary Cap Era, the Capitals had plenty of departures from their organization and were forced to trade one of their gifted forwards in order to sign one of their other, younger gifted forwards.

Washington sent their 24th-overall pick in 2009, Marcus Johansson, to the Devils back in July in exchange for two 2018 draft picks, then used the newly found cap space to re-sign Evgeny Kuznetsov to an eight-year, $62.4 million ($7.800 million cap hit) contract extension.

Kuznetsov’s 59 point season (19 goals, 40 assists) was only one point better than Johansson’s 58 point season (24 goals, 34 assists) last year, but with Johansson’s $4.583 million cap hit through the 2018-2019 season, Washington simply couldn’t afford both almost 60-point scorers.

Andre Burakovsky was quickly signed to a two-year, $6 million ($3.000 million cap hit) bridge deal, ensuring Washington still had someone on their roster that could boost production with Johansson out of the picture. For Burakovsky, the extension comes as a way to prove to himself, Washington and the rest of the league that he’s worth it, worth more and might just yield a significant pay raise in the 2019 offseason if it all pans out.

Justin Williams left the organization for a second go-around in Carolina. “Mr. Game 7” amassed 24-24-48 totals last season, but fell victim to Washington’s tight cap space navigation this summer. With T.J. Oshie to re-sign and at 35-years-old, Williams was the odd forward out as Oshie’s stock rose to $5.750 million-a-season.

One cannot blame the Capitals for going all in, missing the mark, then having to restructure their offense in such a fashion as they did this offseason. However, one can find failure in Washington’s blue line master-plan.

Monstrous contracts for Matt Niskanen ($5.750 million through 2020-2021) and Brooks Orpik ($5.500 million through 2018-2019) remain on the books for the Capitals and they’re not getting any younger. Niskanen, 30, and Orpik, 36, are half of Washington’s top-4 defensemen now that Karl Alzner is with Montreal (again, cap space).

Dmitry Orlov, 26, remains the youngest blue liner in the US capital and has six-years remaining on his new extension this offseason. John Carlson, 27, is a pending UFA after this season and is reaching the plateau of his prime. Other than that, Taylor Chorney, 30, rounds out the rest of Washington’s defensive depth.

That’s not ideal.

Yes, Nate Schmidt was a victim of the Vegas expansion, and Kevin Shattenkirk was only a rental that signed with the Rangers, but Washington had to have been preparing for any scenario all season long, right? There’s got to be a defenseman in Hershey that’s ready to make the jump to the NHL– or at the very least, begin to transition to the senior team as a third-pair defenseman.

If the Capitals want to remain competitive, they’d better avoid aging out in their own zone, especially in the Metropolitan Division where the Penguins skate faster than Apolo Ohno.

Luckily for Washington, their goaltending duo of elite starter, Braden Holtby, and top-notch backup, Philipp Grubauer will bail them out. Except for the fact that that’s the last thing they should have to rely on.

Holtby can handle 70+ games a season, but it’s not recommended when you’re trying to play at least 16 playoff games on top of an 82 game regular season.

Offseason Grade: D+

The Capitals, to their credit, did not hand out a bad contract this offseason like they did in 2015 (when they signed Orpik and Niskanen at insane amounts, given their ages now/at the end of their current contracts).

But they didn’t exactly help their situation either, with roughly $2.6 million in cap space to finagle next offseason’s negotiations with Grubauer, at least two more RFAs and oh yeah, the rest of their pending UFAs.

For that reason alone, this season might be a last chance effort at winning the Cup now before they will have to blast parts of the roster to smithereens.

While trading Johansson and losing Williams in one offseason hampers their offensive production, Washington seems reliant on the fact that they know how to develop prospects seemingly out of nowhere. It wasn’t a good summer and growing pains will always be felt with a salary cap, but it wasn’t as bad as some fans feared (with Oshie, Orlov and others jumping ship in popular conspiracy theories).

Lake Erie sweeps Hershey for 1st Calder Cup championship

By: Nick Lanciani

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The Lake Erie Monsters are your 2016 Calder Cup champions after sweeping the Hershey Bears in four games in the 2016 Calder Cup Finals. Saturday night’s 1-0 overtime victory sealed the deal for the Monsters as they clinched their first Calder Cup in franchise history (and first Calder Cup championship for the Cleveland region since the Cleveland Barons won their ninth Calder Cup in 1964).

lake-erie-monsters-logo-13bd4f971e24a58cOliver Bjorkstrand scored the game winning goal with seconds remaining in the first sudden death overtime period. His 10th goal of the postseason and third overtime game-winner, Bjorkstrand was named the recipient of the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the MVP of this year’s Calder Cup playoffs.

He had 10-6-16 totals in 17 games en route to becoming an AHL champion and is a third round selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets from the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Lukas Sedlak and Zach Werenski had the primary and secondary assists on Bjorkstrand’s game-winning goal.

Anton Forsberg had a 23 save shutout in front of a sold out home crowd at the Quicken Loans Arena, while Justin Peters stopped 32 out of 33 shots faced for the Bears in the loss.

297_hershey-bears-primary-2013With the conclusion of the Calder Cup Finals, thus concludes the AHL’s 80th season as a league in operation since 1936. Fun fact for you hockey history buffs, the American Hockey League originally served as a rival professional league of the NHL in its first season of existence, until the NHL made the AHL sign an affiliation agreement becoming the official minor league of the NHL the following season.

The Monsters are the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets and show promising depth throughout the organization heading into next season. Hershey had a good season showing as an annual powerhouse of the AHL as the affiliate of the Washington Capitals.

Lake Erie is 1 win away from breaking Cleveland’s curse

By: Nick Lanciani

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Do you believe in Cleveland?

While Steph Curry might be crushing your dreams in the 2016 NBA Finals (and as a blog founded in Charlotte, NC we’re okay with that— we can be impartial when it comes to sports outside of hockey, right?), the Lake Erie Monsters are one win away from breaking Cleveland’s long awaited championship curse in professional sports.

They might be a minor league team, but they’re a major league team in your hearts, Ohio. Especially when you guys have to watch Columbus Blue Jackets games every now and then (okay, that was a low blow- I apologize).

lake-erie-monsters-logo-13bd4f971e24a58cBut on Monday night, the Monsters defeated the Hershey Bears 3-2 in overtime in Game 3 of the 2016 Calder Cup Finals and took a 3-0 series lead.

Anton Forsberg made 17 saves on 19 shots against in goal for Lake Erie en route to the win, while Justin Peters stopped 25 of 28 shots on goal for Hershey in the loss.

Ryan Stanton kicked off the game’s scoring at 2:07 of the 1st period with his 3rd goal of the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs. Carter Camper and Riley Barber picked up the assists on the goal that made it a 1-0 game for Hershey early in the first period. Stanton’s goal marked just the second time in the series that the Bears had a 1-0 lead.

But Oliver Bjorkstrand continued his fantastic play in the series and fired a one-timer past Peters to tie the game at 1-1, over four minutes after Hershey opened the scoring. Bjorkstrand’s 8th of the postseason was assisted by Lukas Sedlak and Brett Gallant at 6:44 of the first period and was the first of two goals on the night for Bjorkstrand.

After twenty minutes of play, the game was tied 1-1. Lake Erie led in shots on goal 11-6 after the first period and looked to capitalize on their home ice advantage coming out of the first intermission.

Daniel Zaar scored the go ahead go for the Monsters on the power play at 18:13 of the 2nd period. Dean Kukan and Alex Broadhurst recorded the primary and secondary assists on Zaar’s 7th goal of the playoffs.

But Lake Erie could not maintain a 2-1 lead for long, as the Bears found a way to tie the game almost 50 seconds later.

297_hershey-bears-primary-2013Dustin Gazley fired a shot past Forsberg’s glove and made it a 2-2 game with one minute remaining in the second period. The goal was Gazley’s 4th of the playoffs and was assisted by Zach Sill and Ryan Bourque at 19:00 of the 2nd.

Lake Erie continued to lead in the shots on goal department 20-13 at the end of forty minutes of play.

A scoreless third period resulted in a necessary sudden death overtime that would only last 1:20 when Bjorkstrand secured the win with a game winning goal. His 9th goal of the postseason, Bjorkstrand’s goal was assisted by Zach Werenski and Steve Eminger.

With the win, the Lake Erie Monsters have a 3-0 series lead heading into Game 4 on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.

While their arena roommates, the Cleveland Cavaliers, are at home battling the Golden State Warriors for the 2016 NBA Championship, the Monsters will be getting ready for Saturday’s chance at Cleveland’s first AHL championship since the 1964 Cleveland Barons won the Calder Cup.

A win on Saturday would also be Cleveland’s first professional sports league championship since the 1964 Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship Game (pre-Super Bowl era).

Lake Erie has now taken a 3-0 series lead in all four rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs and is looking to sweep the Hershey Bears, which would provide the franchise with their first Calder Cup Championship in history.

Lake Erie leads Calder Cup Finals 2-0 heading home for Games 3 & 4

By: Nick Lanciani

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The Lake Erie Monsters defeated the Hershey Bears 5-3 on Friday night in Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals on road ice at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Monsters goalie, Anton Forsberg made 27 saves on 30 shots against in the win, while Justin Peters managed just 24 saves on 28 shots faced for the loss. Lake Erie now leads the series 2-0.

lake-erie-monsters-logo-13bd4f971e24a58cZach Werenski kicked off scoring just 3:05 into the first period with a power play goal that gave Lake Erie a 1-0 lead on an impressive snipe from the 18-year-old defenseman.

The goal was Werenski’s 5th of the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs and was assisted by Ryan Craig and T.J. Tynan.

After one period the Bears lead in shots on goal 10-9, despite trailing to the Monsters 1-0 on the scoreboard.

Oliver Bjorkstrand made it a 2-0 game for the Monsters almost four and a half minutes into the second period with his 6th goal of the playoffs. Markus Hannikainen had the only assist on Bjorkstrand’s goal at 4:29 of the period.

Hershey cut Lake Erie’s lead in half on a power play goal from Zach Sill at 8:48 of the second period. Sill found his own rebound and powered it behind Forsberg for the goal. Carter Camper and Aaron Ness were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Sill’s 6th goal of the postseason. The Bears had now made it a one goal game, albeit trailing 2-1.

But it seemed as though just as quickly the Bears got back into the game the Monsters pulled away once again shortly thereafter. Actually, it didn’t seem that way– it was that way.

Lukas Sedlak added his 9th of the playoffs at 13:51 of the period and put Lake Erie back up by two. Kerby Rychel and Hannikainen picked up the assists on Sedlak’s goal, which made it 3-1 Monsters heading into the second intermission.

Hershey, again, outshot Lake Erie 13-7 in the second period, despite trailing 3-1 on the scoreboard after forty minutes of play.

Bjorkstrand picked up his 2nd goal of the night with a power play goal at 2:04 of the third period. Michael Chaput and Daniel Zaar assisted on Bjorkstrand’s 7th goal of the playoffs. With the goal, the Monsters were ahead by the same margin of victory in Game 1 (4-1).

297_hershey-bears-primary-2013But Tyler Lewington had other plans for the Monsters as he worked his way past Lake Erie’s defense and snapped one past Forsberg for his 4th of postseason. Chris Bourque and Ness assisted on the goal that made it a 4-2 game at 9:57 with plenty of time left in the third period for Hershey to make things interesting.

Lexington’s goal provided just enough momentum for the Bears to start to swing things their way as Liam O’Brien picked up his 4th playoff goal on a no look pass from Aaron Ness. Travis Boyd was also credited with an assist on O’Brien’s goal at 11:51 of the third.

In a close 4-3 battle the Monsters held the Bears off long enough for Hershey to make the tough decision of pulling Justin Peters with 1:01 to go in regulation for an extra attacker.

Despite their man advantage, the Bears were unable to tie the game and force overtime as Zaar crushed Hershey’s remaining hopes and dreams in Game 2 with an empty net goal at 18:59 of the period. Craig and Chaput added assists on Zaar’s 6th goal of the postseason.

At the final horn, Lake Erie had won 5-3 and outshot Hershey 13-7 in the third period. With a 2-0 series lead as a result of Friday’s win, the Monsters are hungry for more on home ice in Games 3 and 4. If necessary, Game 5 is also in Lake Erie, so momentum could be vastly on their side should they slip up in one of the next two games.

For Hershey, the loss was bittersweet– unlike their chocolate in town– but they have history on their side, as the last team to win the Calder Cup after trailing 2-0 in the series in 2010 against the Texas Stars. That Bears team was also the only team in Calder Cup history to win it all after dropping their first two games on home ice.

Friday’s loss was also the first back-to-back loss for Hershey since March 19-20th (and first consecutive losses at home since January 17th and 25th).

Game 3 is scheduled for Monday night at 7:00 PM ET in Lake Erie, where the Monsters stand a chance to go up 3-0 in the series.

Zaar and Lake Erie Come From Behind and Easily Defeat Hershey to Take Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals.

 

cc16_primaryDown the Frozen River is now covering the AHL! If you don’t know what the AHL is I will let you know! The AHL (American Hockey League) is called the minor league. The reason why it is called this is because it is a level below the NHL (National Hockey League). Each team in the NHL and the AHL are affiliated with each other. This means that every single NHL team signs a contract with an AHL team. A player can either be called up by the NHL team or sent down to the AHL team during the season as well.

Both the Hershey Bears and the Lake Erie Monsters will begin their quest for the 2016 AHL Calder Cup. It features the Bears (who’s NHL affiliate is the Washington Capitals) out of the East Coast and the Monsters (who are affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets) out of the West Coast. This is the Bears first appearance in the finals since the 2009-2010 season when they won it all beating the Texas Stars 4 games to 2. While this is Lake Erie’s first Calder Cup Final appearance in franchise history.

The game started out with both teams gaining equal chances but no one could get the momentum they needed to score. This would change with just 4:28 into the opening frame. Lake Erie would gain the puck at their own blue line, center T.J. Tynan would receive a beautiful stretch pass. Tynan would go in all alone on a breakaway from the attacking blue line in. Tynan would skate right into the slot fake a slap shot and opened up to his forehand trying to go upstairs for the goal. Well, Bears goalie Justin Peters was having none of this and stretched out with his left pad to rob Tynan with the tip of his pad. This save kept the game scoreless.

Lake Erie was all over Hershey front to back controlling most of the first period. This relentless pressure resulted in the Monsters second prime scoring chance of the first period.

with 7:28 into the period Monsters winger Sonny Milano would make a great defensive play Bears defender Ryan Stanton at the right dot just outside Hershey’s zone. Milano picked pocketed the puck right off Stanton’s stick and went in all alone for their second breakaway of the period. Milano would fancy his luck opting to go to his right just like Tynan did before. The result was the same for Milano and Peters stood tall and stopped his shot with his left pad/blocker to keep the game scoreless.

This provided a HUGE boost for the Bears as 3:10 later Hershey would grab the game’s first goal.

Bears winger Chris Bourque would burst into the offensive zone on the right side, stop on a T at the tops of the circle, and skate back up to the tops of the blue line. Bourque would find a cutting Jakub Vrana with a rifle of a pass while Vrana was barreling into the zone. Vrana would receive the pass at the top of the high slot and roof a laser of a wrist shot beating Monsters goalie Anton Forsberg high over his blocker for the 1-0 lead. This was Vrana’s 8th goal of the playoffs tying him for the league lead.

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Lake Erie would end the period down a goal which they were not happy about. The Monsters were controlling a majority of the first with a lot of pressure in the o-zone. They also did a solid job limiting the Bears shots to the outside despite giving up the opening goal.

The start of the second period was no different than the start of the first. What I mean by this was that both teams, again, had a couple chances but none of them were big. Both goalies came up big, especially Anton Forsberg of the Monsters.

Finally, after all, the pressure to start the period Lake Erie was able to get past Hershey’s defenders and tie this game up. With just about eight minutes gone in the middle frame, Monsters’ Daniel Zaar would get a pass from fellow linemate Alex Broadhurst in the neutral zone. Zaar would take the tape to tape pass at center ice and speed past Bears defender Tyler Lewington and in on another breakaway. Zaar would speed into the slot and rip a wrister under the glove hand of Justin Peters and just inside the right post for his 4th goal of the playoffs and leveling the score at one goal apiece.

Surprisingly, after Zaar’s goal to tie the game, neither Hershey or Lake Erie were able to gain any momentum back to their side. Both goalies again acted like brick walls and did not let another goal get by them and the middle period ended 1-1.

The start of the third period was much different. The Bears were in on the attack looking for the goal to break the tie. Their pressure paid off as we would get the first penalty of the game just 58 seconds into the third. Monsters center Alex Broadhurst would get called for two minutes after he hooked a Bears player. This sent Hershey to their first PP of the game but was unable to break the deadlock after some solid saves from Forsberg.

Then just about four minutes and change later Lake Erie would grab the go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal thanks to winger Trent Vogelhuber. Captain Ryan Craig would feed Vogelhuber behind Hershey’s net. Vogelhuber would corral the pass, skate behind the net, and come out from behind the right side of the net. He would skate right to the right dot, turn around, and whip (what looked like to be a harmless shot) on net. The puck took a deflection off Bears defender Aaron Ness’ stick and through the 5 hole of Justin Peters for the 2-1 lead.

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The play would then settle down for the next five minutes of play as both teams settle down into their roles. Lake Erie defending and Hershey pressing for that tying goal.

Hershey would go back to their second and last man advantage of the game as winger Josh Anderson got the gate for roughing. Hershey would once again, gain a little momentum with a flurry of shots but the Monsters were able to kill off the pressure.

Then with 6:27 remaining in the last period the Monsters were back on the offensive prowl and tallied a very important insurance goal. Bears defender Ryan Stanton looked to keep the puck, step around the forecheck and start a rush from his own zone. This was a bad idea as Lake Erie’s first goal scorer Daniel Zaar would make another beautiful defensive pick and steal the puck right from Stanton’s stick at the left-hand dot. Zaar would then be all alone for a small breakaway where he took full advantage. Bears goalie Justin Peters looked to poke check the puck away but failed. In doing this, he opened up his 5 hole and Zaar finessed the puck right through his legs for the two-goal lead at 3-1. This was Zaar’s second goal of the game.

Just 1:36 later the Monsters would strike again! Lake Erie’s winger Oliver Bjorkstrand would feed the puck over to D-man Dean Kukan at the right side blue line. Kukan would put a helpless wrister towards the net that was deflected by winger Markus Hannikainen in the slot and sneaked past Justin Peters for the 4-1 lead with just four minutes. The Bears were unable to muster any offensive after this deflecting goal and the score ended with the Monsters’ easily taking the game 4-1.

Lake Erie’s goalie Anton Forsberg stopped 26 out of 27 shots for a stunning .963 SV% while Hershey’s goalie Justin Peters turned away 22 out of 26 shots for a terrible .846 SV%. The Bears led in shots (27-26). There were only 2 penalties in the game with both of them going to Lake Erie. The Bears were 0/2 on the man advantage while the Monsters did not get a chance.

Lake Erie now leads the series 1-0. These two teams will suit up again Friday night for Game 2 in Hershey with puck drop at 7 pm.

 

TRADE: Capitals send Brooks Laich to Toronto

By: Nick Lanciani

Shortly before midnight on Sunday night/ what would have been early Monday morning, the Washington Capitals traded forward Brooks Laich, defenseman Connor Carrick and a second round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forward Daniel Winnik and Anaheim’s fifth round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (previously acquired by the Maple Leafs).

Washington Capitals LogoWinnik is a 30-year-old forward who has 62-136-198 totals in 625 career NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs.

He currently has four goals and 10 assists in 56 games this season. The 6’2″, 207-pound Toronto native scored the game winning goal in his NHL debut on October 4, 2007 vs. St. Louis. Winnik was drafted by the Coyotes in the ninth round (265th overall) of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and has three assists in 33 career Stanley Cup Playoffs games.

Unknown-3Laich is a 32-year-old forward who has 133-191-324 totals in 743 career NHL games with the Ottawa Senators and Washington. He ranks eighth all-time in Capitals franchise history for games played (742).

The 6’2″, 195-pound veteran of the game has seven points (one goal, six assists) in 60 games played with Washington this season. Laich was drafted by the Senators in the sixth round (193rd overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

Carrick is a 5’11”, 194-pound, 21-year-old defenseman who has six points (one goal, five assists) in 37 career NHL games with the Capitals. In 47 games with the Hershey Bears (AHL) this season, Carrick has 10-16-26 totals. He was drafted by Washington in the fifth round (137th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and has 72 points (18 goals, 54 assists) in 133 career AHL games with the Bears.

No salary was retained in the deal.

The Washington Capitals are set to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at home from the Verizon Center on Tuesday night, while the Maple Leafs play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Air Canada Centre on Monday.

TRADE: Ryan Bourque dealt to Capitals, joins brother in Hershey

By: Nick Lanciani

Ray Bourque’s son, Ryan, was traded by the New York Rangers to the Washington Capitals on Sunday night.

The Capitals sent forward Chris Brown to the Rangers in return.

Washington Capitals LogoBourque, 25, is the son of legendary Hall-Of-Fame (and Alumni Game scoring machine) Boston Bruins defenseman, Ray Bourque, and is a native of Boxford, Massachusetts.

He made his NHL debut with the Rangers on April 9, 2015 against the Ottawa Senators and tallied 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 55 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL) this season.

He established a career high in assists (20) in the 2014-2015 season and a career high in games played (74), goals (21), points (37) and plus/minus (+16) in the 2013-2014 season with the Wolf Pack. The 5’9″, 185-pound forward has 57-65-122 totals in 325 career AHL games with Hartford.

The gold medal member of Team USA at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship (and bronze medalist with the United States at the 2011 IIHF WJC) will join his brother, Chris, and the Hershey Bears when they are next in action. Bourque was a third round pick (80th overall) of the New York Rangers in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

New York Rangers LogoBrown is a 25-year-old forward who has two goals and one assist in 23 career NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes and Washington Capitals.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) in 20 games with Hershey (AHL) this season and has 65-59-124 totals in 215 career AHL games with the Bears and the Portland Pirates.