Tag Archives: Ian Cole

Game of the week: December 3-9

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)/
Result
Monday, December 3
7 p.m. Tampa Bay New Jersey 5-1
8 p.m. Buffalo Nashville 1-2
8:30 p.m. Edmonton Dallas 1-4
Tuesday, December 4
7 p.m. Boston Florida 0-5
7 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Islanders 3-1
7 p.m. Colorado Pittsburgh 3-6
7 p.m. Calgary Columbus 9-6
7:30 p.m. Toronto Buffalo 4-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Montréal 2-5
7:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Detroit 6-5 (SO)
10 p.m. Minnesota Vancouver 3-2
10 p.m. Washington Vegas 3-5
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. Chicago Anaheim 2-4
10:30 p.m. Carolina San Jose 1-5
Thursday, December 6
7 p.m. Detroit Toronto 5-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Colorado Florida 5-2
7 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Pittsburgh Penguins 2-6
7:30 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 5-2
7:30 p.m. Boston Tampa Bay 2-3
9 p.m. Minnesota Calgary 0-2
9 p.m. Washington Arizona 4-2
10 p.m. Nashville Vancouver 3-5
10 p.m. Chicago Vegas 3-4
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
9 p.m. Minnesota Edmonton 2-7
10 p.m. Carolina Anaheim 4-1
Saturday, December 8
1 p.m. Philadelphia Buffalo 6-2
4 p.m. Vegas Los Angeles 1-5
7 p.m. Toronto Boston 3-6
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)
7 p.m. Washington Columbus 4-0
8 p.m. San Jose Arizona 5-3
10 p.m. Nashville Calgary 2-5
Sunday, December 9
3 p.m. Vancouver St. Louis
3 p.m. Philadelphia Winnipeg TVAS
5 p.m. Boston Ottawa RDS2
6 p.m. Montréal Canadiens Chicago Blackhawks NHLN, RDS, SN, SN1
8 p.m. New Jersey Anaheim
9 p.m. Dallas Vegas
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!

Avalanche mount third period comeback, beat B’s, 6-3

The Colorado Avalanche’s first line was more prominent than the Boston Bruins’ first line in Wednesday night’s, 6-3, loss for Boston as the two top-line superpowers collided at Pepsi Center in Denver.

Mikko Rantanen (1-2–3 totals), Nathan MacKinnon (1-1–2) and Gabriel Landeskog (1-0–1) combined for six points on the night for Colorado, while Boston’s David Pastrnak (1-1–2), Patrice Bergeron (0-1–1) and Brad Marchand (0-0–0, minus-1) combined for three points.

Semyon Varlamov (6-5-2 with a .926 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average in 13 games played) made 20 saves on 23 shots against for an .870 SV% in the win for the Avs, while Jaroslav Halak (6-2-2, .932 SV%, 2.16 GAA in 12 GP) made 19 saves on 25 shots faced for a .760 SV% in the loss for the B’s.

Boston maintained 3rd place in the Atlantic Division with a 10-6-2 record (22 points) on the season, while Colorado improved to 4th place in the Central Division with a 9-6-3 (21 points) record.

The Bruins had been on a two-game winning streak coming off of a 5-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and a 4-1 win on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Head coach, Bruce Cassidy, kept the same lineup from the weekend for Boston, but with the added advantage of Tuukka Rask back with the team as a backup goaltender Wednesday night in his return from a personal leave of absence.

Rask will get the start against the Dallas Stars on Friday or Arizona Coyotes on Saturday.

Defenseman, Jakub Zboril, was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) the other day as Dan Vladar was sent back down to Providence.

Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and Urho Vaakanainen may join the team at some point on the road trip, but did not make the initial journey to Colorado on Tuesday. Fellow injured blue liner, Kevan Miller traveled with the team to Denver, but is aiming to return on the road in Detroit against the Red Wings on Nov. 21st.

Cassidy indicated that Jeremy Lauzon and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson would remain on the roster as regular recalls on Tuesday.

Wednesday night’s scratches for Boston were as follows: Carlo (upper body), Noel Acciari (healthy scratch), Vaakanainen (concussion), Zboril (healthy scratch), McAvoy (concussion) and Miller (hand).

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The Battle of the Best First Lines began with Gabriel Landeskog (12) striking first at 10:16 of the first period as the Bruins couldn’t clear the puck out of their zone.

Zdeno Chara‘s turnover led to Mikko Rantanen finding Joakim Nordstrom out of position and sending Landeskog a pass without pressure for the snipe and a 1-0 lead for Colorado. Rantanen (12) had the only assist on Landeskog’s goal.

Avalanche defender, Mark Barberio, was guilty of cross checking Bruins forward, David Backes, at 14:50 of the first period and received a minor penalty– sending Boston on their first power play of the night.

Late in the ensuing power play, David Krejci worked a slap pass from the face-off circle on Varlamov’s right side along the dasher to David Pastrnak (17) in the low slot for the redirection and power play goal that tied the game, 1-1.

Backes (1) tipped the puck in the midst of Krejci’s (14) pass to Pastrnak, thereby lending the Three Davids to collect all of the possible points on the goal (Backes and Krejci the assists and Pastrnak the goal) at 16:43.

Moments later, on a turnover, turned breakaway opportunity, Jake DeBrusk (6) capitalized on an unassisted effort by getting Varlamov to commit and roof the puck into the the twine at 19:20 of the first period– giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead.

As both teams entered the dressing room for the first intermission, the B’s led in shots on goal (10-7) and on the scoreboard, 2-1. Boston also led in shot attempts that hit the post, 4-0, as well as hits, 8-4. Colorado had the advantage in takeaways (2-1), giveaways (3-1) and face-off win percentage (92-8) after the first period.

Both teams had three blocked shots each and the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play after one period. The Avs had yet to see time on the skater advantage.

Colin Wilson hooked Matt Grzelcyk 77 seconds into the second period and put Boston on the power play for the second time Wednesday night in Colorado.

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DeBrusk (7) scored his second goal of the night (and first on the power play) after Grzelcyk kept the play alive in the offensive zone, completing a pass to Bergeron for the bumper back to Pastrnak who then one-timed a shot from the point that redirected off DeBrusk in front of Varlamov to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead.

Pastrnak (8) and Bergeron (17) were credited with the primary and secondary assists at 3:05 of the second period.

Pastrnak later hooked Barberio at 7:52 of the middle frame and the Bruins were shorthanded as a result for the first time in the action Wednesday night.

The Avalanche matched Boston’s puck moving efforts on their first power play of the evening with Tyson Barrie working the puck to MacKinnon for a cross-ice pass to Rantanen.

The young Colorado forward then snapped a shot past Halak’s blocker side to make it a one-goal game on the power play.

Ranatnen’s (7) goal at 8:47 of the second period was assisted by MacKinnon (14) and Barrie (14) and gave the Avs a distinct swing in momentum for the rest of the period.

With Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, unable to return to the game having sustained a lower body injury in the first period, Colorado pounced on the already weakened Boston blue line.

This, even after Nikita Zadorov had a brief visit to the penalty box for interfering with Bruins forward, Chris Wagner at 9:14. Colorado killed off Zadorov’s minor infraction with ease and kept the momentum going, leading in just about every statistical category by the end of the period.

Late in the second period, Bergeron hooked Rantanen who then embellished the infraction and received an unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty himself and the teams would see 4-on-4 action at 19:11 of the second period.

Both teams would start the third a skater short for a little over a minute into the final frame.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Colorado Avalanche looked more and more like the complete 60-minute game playing style team that they have been so far this season and the Boston Bruins were looking like they were on the brink of collapse.

Boston still led the game, 3-2, entering the second intermission, but shots on goal were even, 14-14, with the Avs leading, 7-4, in the second period alone. The Bruins led in blocked shots (10-6), but the Avalanche led in everything else including, takeaways (6-5), giveaways (5-1), hits (13-10) and face-off win% (69-31).

Colorado was 1/1 on the power play, while Boston was 2/3 with the extra skater.

Early in the third period, Matt Calvert (2) converted on his second goal of the season after following up with the original play and crashing the net for a haphazardly taken backhand spin-o-rama that eyes set for the twine after a wacky bounce resulted off of Halak.

Calvert’s goal was unassisted at 2:11 of the third period and tied the game, 3-3.

From there, it was all Avalanche as the Bruins tumbled down the mountain that is the immense comeback capability of Colorado.

MacKinnon (12) added a goal of his own with a wrist shot that beat Halak cleanly from about the blue line on a rush into the attacking zone, giving the Avs their 2nd lead of the night, 4-3, at 9:02.

Rantanen (22) and Ian Cole (5) had the assists on what would become MacKinnon’s game-winning goal.

Krejci was guilty of holing Tyson Jost at 13:40 of the third period and with one second remaining on the ensuing power play, Jost (3) made the Bruins pay as former Bruin, Carl Soderberg, initially swiped at the puck through the legs of the Boston netminder, leaving the puck sitting at the goal line behind Halak, whereby Jost tapped it into the empty net.

Samuel Girard (7) and Alexander Kerfoot (10) had the assists on Jost’s power play goal at 15:39 and Colorado led by two-goals, 5-3.

With about three minutes remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled his netminder for an extra attacker. Jared Bednar’s Avalanche were too much for the Bruins to handle, narrowly missing the empty net goal if it weren’t for Krejci’s heroics by the time the loose puck reached the crease on one empty net attempt.

However, while in the offensive zone on a last-ditch effort, Bergeron hooked his stick around MacKinnon and was penalized with a two-minute minor infraction at 18:57.

The Avalanche completed the hat trick on the power play with their third power play goal of the night on the ensuing skater advantage when Kerfoot (8) tipped a blast from Soderberg past Halak at 19:45 of the third period.

Soderberg (6) and Girard (8) had the assists on the goal and Colorado secured the 6-3 win as time expired.

At the final horn, the Avs led in shots on goal (25-23), giveaways (6-2), hits (22-15) and face-off win% (59-41), while the B’s led in blocked shots (20-18). Colorado was 3/3 on the power play and the Bruins were 2/3 on the skater advantage.

The Avalanche outscored Boston, 10-3, in their two meetings last season.

Boston is now 0-1-0 to begin a four-game road trip that swings through Dallas (Nov. 16th), Arizona (Nov. 17th) and Detroit (Nov. 21st)– after Wednesday night’s loss in Denver– before heading back home for a Black Friday (Nov. 23rd) matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2018-19 Season Projections

Hello Columbus Blue Jackets fans, I’m not Cap’n Cornelius, but since we know each other and I visited your wonderful city in August, I was determined to deliver some Blue Jackets forecasted stats throughout the season.

Alas, the regular season started almost a month ago, but I promised I’d have some forecasted stats for Columbus’ entire roster for the entire season by the end of the month and I have finally gotten around to it.

These things take time when you’re transferring data into a new system and trying to watch every game on TV, as well as exist on Earth among its people.

For now, let’s pretend the season hasn’t started or that we’ve all jumped into a time machine and gone back to October 1st. How would things play out for the Blue Jackets this season?

Based on last season’s results– a 45-30-7 record, good enough for 97 points on the season and 4th place in the Metropolitan Division as the first wild card team in the Eastern Conference– Columbus is poised for a bit of a bounce-back in the division standings.

Why? Because the other teams ahead of them got worse– namely the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.

The Flyers are off to their usual slow start (wait, I forgot, we’ve time travelled back to the beginning of October) just overall worse and the Capitals look to be dethroned by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Metropolitan crown at the end of the regular season.

Last season’s Blue Jackets won two playoff games on the road against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, then lost the next four games to extend Columbus’ misery as the only NHL franchise without a playoff series win.

Ian Cole and Matt Calvert left for the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason and defender, Jack Johnson, signed a long-term five-year contract with the Penguins.

Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky survived an offseason of trade speculation, but they’ve both still pending-unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2018-19 season.

That’s the major storyline to the Blue Jackets this year– will it be one last hurrah or will Panarin and/or Bobrovsky leave the city in the dust among the cornfields on its outskirts in what might become the franchise’s greatest departure(s) since trading Rick Nash to the New York Rangers in 2012?

If this season is a failure, is it head coach, John Tortorella’s fault, a roster problem or General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen‘s inability to construct the necessary components of a successful organization?

Critics will be sure to point out all the flaws that mar the franchise, but one thing’s for certain– there’s a lot of expectations.

One way to generate an unnecessary buzz about expectations is to believe your educated guesses about how players should perform this season makes any difference to what actually goes on the ice.

Fear not, for I am about to do just that.

Before I do, however, I’d like to remind those of you in the audience that are familiar with my roster forecasts before and inform those of you that are new here for the first time of my actual area of expertise.

It’s words. My degree is in communication.

There’s nothing that I will present here that you cannot do yourself, better and/or read anywhere else. All of this is an educated guess– an educated expectation– thanks to one of my sport management classes from college.

A player who performs better than their expected outcomes here is merely exceeding these presented expectations. A player who doesn’t meet the expectations could’ve been injured, a healthy scratch or on a chronic cold streak that’s technically unpredictable.

Anything else is just an error outside my expertise and/or Microsoft Excel’s fault.

That, or there’s a little gut-feeling added for players with substantially fewer career NHL games played than the rest of the data shows (basically, if someone’s projected to score 100 goals and has only played in nine games, I might tweak the result until they’ve played a quarter of the season and have either proven themselves as Wayne Gretzky 2.0 or nothing like “the Great One”).

Take a look at the charts below as though everything were to fall in line and nothing bad could ever happen– an utopian view, if you will. Some things may pan out, some things may not– it’s just a suggested (expected) outcome in a sport that’s highly unpredictable thanks to its collective nature and sheer puck luck.

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Columbus Blue Jackets Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)

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As has been the custom since his arrival via trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is expected to lead the Blue Jackets in points with 30-49–79 expected totals. The next best player on the team? Cam Atkinson.

Atkinson’s bound for 27 goals and 24 assists (51 points) this season, while the third best forward on the team, Pierre-Luc Dubois, is expected to match his rookie season totals with another 48-point season, at least.

Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand are both landing somewhere in the mid-40s in total points as complementary complete players for the Blue Jackets this season.

In the meantime several other forwards fall within the 40-point range, while free agent signing, Riley Nash isn’t expected to break into the 30-point plateau after amassing a career-high 41-point season with the Boston Bruins in 2017-18.

On defense, by default (thanks to Seth Jones‘ delayed start due to injury) or by talent, Zach Werenski emerges as the best two-way defender in Columbus with 14 goals and 30 assists (44 points).

Werenski’s expected totals tops Jones (9-28–37 expected totals) by seven points and is in a league of his own compared to his teammates on the blue line.

Ryan Murray (4-19–23 expected totals) and David Savard (7-19–26 expected totals) land in a respectable range for top-4/top-6 defensemen.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky is looking for redemption with an expected goals against average of 2.37 and an expected save percentage of .923 over the course of 2018-19. Backup netminder, Joonas Korpisalo seeks to provide healthy competition with an expected 2.68 GAA and .917 SV% prior to puck drop on the season.

Of course, now that we’re a month into the regular season, it’ll be time to update this entire forecast once Columbus is about a quarter of the way through their 82-game schedule.


Feel free to check out this season’s forecasts for Boston, Carolina or Vegas.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2018-19 Season Preview

Columbus Blue Jackets

45-30-7, 97 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division

First Wild Card in the East, lost in First Round to Washington (4-2)

Additions: G Jean-Francois Berube, D Adam Clendening, D Tommy Cross, LW Anthony Duclair, C Liam Foudy (’18 1st round pick, signed ELC), C Ryan MacInnis, C Riley Nash, D Dillon Simpson

Subtractions: LW Matt Calvert (signed with COL), D Taylor Chorney (signed with HC Lugano), D Ian Cole (signed with COL), D Cameron Gaunce (signed with TB), D Jack Johnson (signed with PIT), C Mark Letestu (unsigned UFA), RW Thomas Vanek (signed with DET)

Re-signed: RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (3-year, $2.5M), LW Boone Jenner (4-year, $3.75M), D Ryan Murray (1 year, $2.825M)

Offseason Analysis: The Jackets enjoyed a successful, if not slightly underwhelming ’17-’18 campaign, where all-time high hopes were somewhat cooled by some notable underachieving seasons from players like Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and even captain Nick Foligno. Fortunately these were offset somewhat by terrific years from players like rookie standout Pierre-Luc Dubois, emerging Norris Trophy candidate Seth Jones, and superstar Artemi Panarin. They’d close out the regular season on a 15-4-2 run over their final 21 games to lose out to Philadelphia for the final Metropolitan Division spot by a single point, instead drawing the first Wild Card spot and a date with the Washington Capitals.

The Jackets shocked everyone by taking Games 1 and 2 of the series in Washington, both in thrilling overtime fashion, to head back home with a 2-0 hold on the series. Then came “The Promise”. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin told the media they’d be back in Washington for Game 5 with the series tied. They did just that, and rode the momentum on through the Blue Jackets, and everyone else in their way as they went on to grab the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. This was no consolation prize in the minds of Jackets fans, though, as losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions is sort of a calling card in Columbus’ recent history. *throws another dart at a poster of Sidney Crosby*

Now, with another disappointing playoff performance on their record, a list of notable pending free agents on their plate, and the ever-looming Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin contract situations on their hands, the Columbus brass faced a rather trying offseason. But, as has been his MO over the years, GM Jarmo Kekalainen wasn’t about to panic. Or really show any sort of human emotion of any kind. I think that’s just a Finnish thing.

First came the NHL draft, where once again ‘J.K.’ and his staff went a bit off the board for their first round pick, drafting speedster Liam Foudy 18th overall. Generally projected as a very-late first or early second round pick, Foudy caught the eye of the CBJ scouting staff for his ability to inject speed into their lineup, something it could definitely use. While likely to spend at least another year in Juniors, Foudy did ink his entry level contract over the summer.

When free agency opened, the Jackets very quickly lost longtime roster stalwarts Jack Johnson (fans weren’t that upset) and Matt Calvert (fans held memorial services), along with rentals Thomas Vanek, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu. Kekalainen quickly nabbed penalty-killing specialist Riley Nash to replace Letestu’s bottom-six depth. Initially his $2.75 million cap hit over the next three years seemed slightly steep for a guy who projects as a third-line center at best, but with the raised cap and resulting numbers we saw on some other signings/re-signings over the summer, the deal has aged fairly well. A few days later the Jackets would pick up troubled youngster Anthony Duclair on a league-minimum $650 thousand, one-year deal. Likened to the ‘show me’ contract given to Sam Gagner by the Jackets a few years ago that paid dividends, Columbus is hedging bets on Duclair’s willingness to shed some of the baggage he’s accumulated over the past few seasons and work hard to get back to being the player that scored 20 goals and 44 points as a 20-year-old. If he can, he’s an absolute steal. If he can’t, he’s barely even a blip on the salary cap radar, and could be placed on waivers without much concern.

Kekalainen decided to let his organizational depth fill the rest of the vacancies in the roster (which has definitely created one of the more intriguing training camps to watch). Instead, he invested a good portion of his time and effort over the summer into attempting to secure the future services of Artemi Panarin and, to a lesser extent, Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky only recently broke his silence about his situation, revealing that management knows his plans after his contract expires next summer, but declined to make public that information.

Cryptic.

The Panarin situation was much more public, and highlighted by Kekalainen flying to France to visit with Panarin and his agent while the dynamic winger was on vacation. No real progress was made on a contract extension, as Panarin seems likely to either test the waters of free agency or possibly even return to Russia after this season. Some reports indicated he’d prefer to play in a larger market than Columbus, or perhaps at least a market with a beach (he did spend the last month or so of the offseason training with friends Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa), but no solid proof of any of this ever emerged.

The prospects of a future in Columbus that include neither their most potent offensive weapon nor their multi-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender are not fun to consider for the fanbase, but they do appear to be looming. In net, the Jackets do at least boast one of the strongest goaltending prospect pools in the league, but that’s far from a sure thing. Apart from possibly young Vitaly Abramov, they certainly don’t have anyone currently in the pipeline that could replace Panarin’s offensive production.

Getting away from the doom and gloom, let’s circle back to the earlier claim of a very interesting training camp.

The Jackets’ camp roster includes over 60 players, and there are some very tight battles for more than a few roster spots. The race for bottom-six wing minutes is hotly contested. Players with Blue Jackets tenure like Sonny Milano, Markus Hannikainen, and Lukas Sedlak now find themselves being challenged by newcomer Duclair, along with a serious pool of prospects like Sam Vigneault, Kevin Stenlund, Eric Robinson, Jonathan Davidsson, Paul Bittner and even 2018 draft picks Foudy and Traverse City tournament standout Trey Fix-Wolansky.

While I don’t see the 2018 picks making the roster (more time in Juniors would serve their development better than limited fourth-line NHL minutes), the rest are interesting. Duclair obviously adds an element of offense and speed, but has also shown he’s not afraid to play with an edge as well. Vigneault and Stenlund are both every bit of 6-foot-5 and well over 200 pounds, but lack some speed and are both natural centers, a position that should be filled on the roster. Bittner is a superior skater to either of the ‘Twin Towers’, still comes in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, and is a natural wing, but has struggled to adapt his offensive game to the pro level to this point. Robinson played one game with the Jackets last year coming in as a free agent after captaining the Princeton Tigers in his senior year where he put up 31 points in 36 games. His pro game has yet to really be seen, so training camp and preseason will be important for him. To me, the most interesting name at forward is the Swedish RW Davidsson. An effortless skater, he brings plenty of speed and agility to the lineup, and has shown to be an extremely intelligent playmaker, but he’s definitely not a physical presence nor a defensive stalwart, so not who you’d normally have in a bottom-six role. He could probably use another year in either the SHL or AHL to continue his physical and defensive development, but if he impresses in camp he could at least get a look.

My projected forward lines are:
Panarin – Dubois – Atkinson
Jenner – Wennberg – Bjorkstrand
Milano – Dubinsky – Foligno
Sedlak – Nash – Anderson
Extra forwards Hannikainen and Duclair

On defense, Columbus has the luxury of one of the best top pairs in the league, with Seth Jones alongside blueline sniper Zach Werenski. Werenski set the franchise record for goals as a defenseman last year while playing basically the entire year with a destroyed shoulder. Offseason surgery will keep him slightly limited in camp and likely out of all preseason games, but he’s projected to be 100 percent ready to go for the beginning of the season. After the top pair, though, things are pretty fluid, with approximately seven players vying for the four remaining spots. Three of the four (David Savard, Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara) are pretty well locked into the lineup, just more a question of where exactly they’ll sit on the depth chart. But the competition for the No. 6 spot and final roster spot as the seventh man is tight. Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington both saw limited NHL action with the Jackets last year, with Kukan putting up a respectable 4 points in 11 games and Harrington proving to be a reliable No. 6 down the stretch run. Adam Clendening only saw five games with Arizona last year, and has bounced between the leagues a lot in the past few seasons, but his last full season in the AHL saw him put up 59 points in 74 games. He’s not always the most defensively reliable guy, but he’s the best puck mover of the contenders. My personal pick for not only the Jackets roster but also for the No. 6 slot is 6-foot-5 Gabriel Carlsson. While still working to put some bulk on his lanky frame, Carlsson has already adapted well to the North American game, being a steady presence on the Cleveland blueline last year in the AHL. While certainly not an offensive producer, he’s very poised with the puck and is a confident passer. He skates well and uses his lengthy reach to make sure he’s always in good position. He’s also capable of playing either side of the ice.

I have the defense shaping up like this:
Werenski – Jones
Murray – Savard
Carlsson – Nuutivaara
Extra defenseman Harrington

In net, things are unlikely to look any different than last year. While J.F. Berube was brought in to challenge for the backup position after Joonas Korpisalo had a bit of regression last year, he’ll likely head to Cleveland as Korpi’s deal is one-way. Elvis Merzilikins and Daniil Tarasov are both top goaltending prospects, but they’ll continue their development overseas for the time being.

Offseason Grade: C+

Though there seems to be a general sense that more should have been done to improve the team over the summer, the handful of moves made were smart. The big thing here is that there is a lot of potential turmoil brewing heading towards next year. Kekalainen was likely smart not to hedge any knee-jerk bets on this season and instead rely upon his strong organizational depth to improve the team.

If the youngsters make an impact, and you get a rebound season from a vet or two, suddenly even the prospect of losing your two Russian dynamos seems less daunting. Panarin is definitely trade bait for a big return before the deadline if you need to go that route, and if the team gets better from within, that leaves big chunks of cap space to bring in other pieces if necessary.

While they’ll obviously look to improve their fortunes (particularly in the playoffs) this year, it will really be next offseason where the brass will have to earn those shiny new contracts they received this month.

Colorado Avalanche 2018-19 Season Preview

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Colorado Avalanche

43-30-9, 95 points, 4th in the Central Division

2nd Wild Card in the West, lost in First Round to NSH 4-2

Additions: F Cody Bass (signed to a PTO), F Matt Calvert, D Ian Cole, G Philipp Grubauer (acquired from WSH), F Scott Kosmachuk, F Logan O’Connor

Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (signed with DET), F Blake Comeau (signed with DAL), F Felix Girard (signed with the Manitoba Moose, AHL), D Jesse Graham (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Rocco Grimaldi (signed with NSH), G Andrew Hammond (signed with MIN), D Brooks Orpik (acquired from WSH, bought out, then signed with WSH), F Nail Yakupov (signed, KHL)

Still Unsigned: F Joe Colborne, F Reid Petryk, D Duncan Siemens, F Trent Vogelhuber

Re-signed: G Joe Cannata, D Ryan Graves, D Mason Geertsen, G Spencer Martin, D Patrik Nemeth, D Matt Nieto

Offseason Analysis: Now that Erik Karlsson has been traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has had one of the best offseasons. Kidding aside, the Senators lottery protected their 2018 1st round pick in the three-team Matt Duchene trade, meaning the Avalanche have Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick in addition to their own.

The #LoseForHughes watch has begun.

But as for Colorado’s offseason, things have gone swimmingly as Sakic’s roster made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Blake Comeau’s 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games in 2017-18 have departed for Dallas. In his top-nine forward role, Sakic replaced the 32-year-old Comeau with 28-year-old, Matt Calvert.

Calvert had 9-15–24 totals in 69 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and is looking to turn things around in health and in offensive production as a top-nine forward.

While Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen look to continue leading the team in production, Alexander Kerfoot seeks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on the second line.

On defense, Sakic knows time is on his side.

Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have made an effective pairing with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson contesting for more ice time. Girard had an impressive rookie debut with three goals and 17 assists (20 points) in 68 games played, while Barrie and Johnson played veteran roles– anchoring the blue line for the Avs.

Patrik Nemeth proved to be a smart pickup off waivers from the Stars last season as a bottom-pair defender, so it was an easy decision to re-sign with the NHL’s hottest up-and-coming team from a 48-point season in 2016-17 to a 95-point effort (and playoff berth) in 2017-18.

To complete his top-six defensemen on the depth chart, Sakic signed 29-year-old durable defender, Ian Cole, to a three-year contract worth a friendly $4.250 million per season.

Cole had 20 points in 67 games with the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins last season and is looking to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan at this point in his career.

A two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, Cole is in the midst of his prime and brings a competitive edge to the Avs in his quiet stability.

In goal, Semyon Varlamov has some competition for the starting job– if he can stay healthy– as Philipp Grubauer was acquired at the draft in June and signed to a three-year extension at a cap friendly $3.333 million per season.

Grubauer, 26, dropped the first two games of the Washington Capitals postseason run in April while Braden Holtby was figuring himself out, but managed a 15-10-3 record in 35 games played in the 2017-18 regular season as Washington’s backup. He also had a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in his most games played in a season since reaching the NHL during the 2012-13 season.

Varlamov, 30, managed to play in 51 games last season, despite injuries, and amassed a 24-16-6 record to go along with a 2.68 GAA and .916 SV%. Last season was much better than his 6-17-0 record in 24 games played in 2016-17, in which Varlamov had a career-worst 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%.

With one-year remaining on his contract at $5.900 million a season, Varlamov’s reached a make-or-break point in his career, let alone his time in the Mile High City. Grubauer is the way of the foreseeable future and a little healthy competition never hurt anyone for the starting job.

Sure Jonathan Bernier’s moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, but Colorado has one of the most sought after goalies that was on the slim trade market among options in the crease.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Avalanche had some needs and they filled them. In accordance with hockey logic, Colorado shouldn’t be as good as they were last season this season, but for the first time in at least a few years it appears they’ve found a reliable goaltender.

As MacKinnon continues to emerge and the kids grow into their own, Sakic’s roster looks set to make some waves in the coming years– at least as a spoiler (they took Nashville to six games before being eliminated after all), if not something more.

Despite acquiring Brooks Orpik only to buy him out as some sort of larger scheme the Capitals secretly wanted all along to sign him to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, Colorado didn’t make a bad choice this offseason. It’s just the beginning of making themselves an attractive free agent destination once again.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #113- We’re Still UFAs for the Record

Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.

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

2018 NHL Free Agency– July 1 Signings Recap

This post will be updated throughout the day as signings are officially announced. Be sure to check our Twitter account (@DtFrozenRiver) for all of the latest signings, news, and analysis throughout the day.

Free agency begins at noon (technically 12:01 PM ET) on July 1st. All that is known is shown and will be updated throughout the day. More analysis will come later as the day wraps up.

Reported free agent signings

These are reported agreements in place leftover from the interview period/yet to be confirmed and/or announced by a playing club.

F Zac Rinaldo and the Nashville Predators have come to terms on a two-way contract. Confirmed– announced by club on July 2nd.

Free agent signings

These are confirmed/announced signings.

F Ilya Kovalchuk officially signed his three-year, $6.250 million AAV, deal with the Los Angeles Kings.

D Mike Green signed a two-year contract extension with the Detroit Red Wings worth $5.375 million per season.

D Martin Fehervary signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals.

F Paul Stastny agreed to a three-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights worth $6.500 million per season.

The Philadelphia Flyers and F James van Riemsdyk agreed top a five-year contract worth $7.000 million per season.

D Thomas Hickey and the New York Islanders have agreed on a four-year, $2.500 million per season, contract extension.

F Ryan Reaves signed a two-year, $2.775 million per season, contract extension with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Minnesota Wild re-signed D Nick Seeler to a three-year contract worth $2.175 million ($725,000 cap hit).

The Boston Bruins signed G Jaroslav Halak to a two-year contract worth $2.750 million per season.

F Chris Kunitz signed a one-year, $1.000 million, contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago also signed G Cam Ward to a one-year deal and D Brandon Manning to a two-year contract.

G Jonathan Bernier signed a three-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

Detroit also signed F Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract worth $3.000 million.

D Roman Polak agreed to terms with the Dallas Stars on a one-year, $1.300 million contract.

The Montreal Canadiens signed F Tomas Plekanec to a one-year deal worth $2.250 million.

D Eric Gryba signed a one-year contract with the New Jersey Devils worth $700,000 at the NHL level.

D Xavier Ouellet signed a one-year, two-way, $700,000 contract with the Montreal Canadiens.

F Brian Flynn signed a one-year, two-way, deal with the St. Louis Blues worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Joakim Nordstrom agreed to a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.000 million per season.

F Valeri Nichushkin signed a two-year contract ($2.950 million cap hit) with the Dallas Stars.

The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed D Ryan McDonagh to a seven-year contract extension worth $47.250 million ($6.750 million AAV).

F Matthew Peca signed a two-year, $1.300 million per season, contract with the Montreal Canadiens.

F Jared McCann signed a two-year extension with the Florida Panthers.

D Oliver Ekman-Larsson signed an eight-year extension with the Arizona Coyotes.

F Josh Jooris signed a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

F Adam Cracknell (one-year, $650,000) and D Jordan Subban (one-year, two-way, $650,000 at the NHL level) signed deals with Toronto as well. The Leafs also re-signed D Martin Marincin (one-year, $800,000).

D Nick Holden signed a two-year contract worth $2.200 million per season with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Arizona Coyotes signed F Michael Grabner to a three-year deal worth $3.350 million per season.

G Petr Mrazek signed a one-year, $1.500 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.

G Harri Sateri signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

Dallas signed G Colton Point to a three-year, entry-level contract.

F Tyler Bozak agreed to terms on a three-year contract worth $5.000 million per season with the St. Louis Blues.

The Chicago Blackhawks signed 2018 first round pick, D Adam Boqvist, to a three-year entry-level contract.

F Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Montreal Canadiens.

G Chad Johnson signed a one-year, $1.750 million contract with the St. Louis Blues.

F J.T. Brown signed a two-year, $1.375 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.

F David Perron agreed to a four-year, $16.000 million ($4.000 million AAV) deal with the St. Louis Blues.

D Matt Bartkowski signed a one-year, two-way, contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with Minnesota.

The Washington Capitals signed F Nic Dowd to a one-year contract worth $650,000.

D Tommy Cross signed a two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

G Carter Hutton signed a three-year contract ($2.750 million cap hit) with the Buffalo Sabres.

The Capitals re-signed F Travis Boyd to a two-year contract with an $8000,0000 cap hit.

Montreal signed F Kenny Agostino to a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 at the NHL level.

The Canadiens also agreed to terms on a two-year, two-way deal with F Michael Chaput.

F John Tavares signed a seven-year, $77 million ($11.000 million AAV) contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Minnesota Wild signed F Mike Liambas to a two-year, two-way contract.

G Andrew Hammond signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Minnesota Wild.

G Michael Hutchinson signed a one-year, $1.300 million deal with the Florida Panthers.

D John Moore signed a five-year contract with the Boston Bruins.

D Ian Cole agreed to terms on a three-year, $4.250 million per season, contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

D Jack Johnson signed a five-year contract worth $3.25 million per season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pittsburgh also signed F Matt Cullen to a one-year contract worth $650,000.

Buffalo signed D Brandon Hickey to a two-year entry-level deal.

Detroit signed F Wade Megan and D Jake Chelios to one-year contracts and F Chris Terry to a two-year contract.

The Vancouver Canucks agreed to terms with F Jay Beagle on a four-year contract worth $3.000 million per season.

G Anton Khudobin and the Dallas Stars agreed on a two-year deal worth $2.500 AAV.

The Stars also signed F Michael Mersch to a two-year, two-way deal and D Joel Hanley to a one-year, two-way contract.

G Scott Wedgewood signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Buffalo Sabres.

F Antoine Roussel and the Vancouver Canucks agreed on a four-year deal worth $3.000 million per season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed D Cameron Gaunce to a one-year, two-way contract.

The Columbus Blue Jackets signed D Adam Clendening to a one-year, two-way contract.

F Logan Couture signed an eight-year extension with the San Jose Sharks.

F Eric Fehr signed a one-year, $1.000 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.

F Matt Calvert signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche with a $2.800 million cap hit.

G Maxime Lagace re-signed with the Vegas Golden Knights to a one-year, two-way contract. Vegas also signed G Zachary Fucale to a one-year deal.

F Tobias Rieder signed a deal with the Edmonton Oilers.

D Dillon Simpson signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

F Daniel Carr signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.

F Derek Ryan signed a three-year deal with the Calgary Flames worth $3.125 million per season.

Calgary also signed F Austin Czarnik to a two-year contract worth $1.250 million per season.

The Flames re-signed D Dalton Prout to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

The Winnipeg Jets signed G Laurent Brossoit to a one-year, $650,000 contract.

F Matt Hendricks signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Minnesota Wild.

D Tyler Wotherspoon signed a one-year, two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues worth $700,000 at the NHL level.

Edmonton signed D Kevin Gravel to a one-year contract.

D Stefan Elliott signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

The Dallas Stars agreed to terms with F Blake Comeau on a three-year, $2.400 million AAV, deal.

F Tim Schaller signed a two-year, $1.900 million cap hit, deal with the Vancouver Canucks.

D Fredrik Claesson signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the New York Rangers.

The Rangers also re-signed F Vladislav Namestnikov to a two-year deal worth $4.000 AAV.

F Erik Condra signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Dallas Stars.

Pittsburgh signed F Jimmy HayesD Zach Trotman and G John Muse to one-year contracts. All three deals are worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

The Ottawa Senators signed G Mike McKenna to a one-year, two-way contract.

F Riley Nash signed a three-year, $2.750 million AAV contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

F Kyle Brodziak agreed to a two-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

F Paul Carey signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.

Boston signed D Cody Goloubef and F Mark McNeill to one-year, two-way contracts worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

The Bruins also announced the signing of their 2018 second round pick, D Axel Andersson to a three-year entry-level contract with an annual cap hit of $825,833.

F Chris Wagner signed a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.250 million per season.

F Leo Komarov signed a four-year, $12 million ($3.000 million per season) deal with the New York Islanders.

F Sven Baertschi re-signed with the Vancouver Canucks on a three-year deal ($3.367 AAV).

Vegas signed F Brandon PirriF Alex GallantF Curtis McKenzie, and D Jimmy Oligny.

The Winnipeg Jets signed F Dennis EverbergF Seth Griffith and re-signed D Cameron Schilling to one-year, two-way, $650,000 contracts.

In their first official signing of the day, the Nashville Predators and F Connor Brickley came to an agreement on a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Rocco Grimaldi signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Nashville Predators.

The Calgary Flames signed F Tyler Graovac and F Alan Quine to one-year, two-way contracts. Graovac’s cap hit is $650,000 and Quine’s is $700,000 at the NHL level.

Nashville signed D Jarred Tinordi to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

New Jersey signed D John Ramage to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Joel L’Esperance signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars.

G Jared Coreau signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Anaheim Ducks worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Valtteri Filppula signed a deal with the New York Islanders.

It’s July 1st… Here’s some UFAs*

*Technically speaking, these players cannot sign until noon on Sunday, but thanks to a week long interview period with all the other teams, they might already have agreements in place.

With that in mind, let’s try to weigh the options in front of the best options in the market this summer, keeping in mind these rankings are completely arbitrary and ultimately meaningless– like everything in the postmodern world (that was for you, Islanders fans, in case You-Know-Who doesn’t re-sign).

First, let’s get this out of the way– signing Ryan Reaves for two-years at $2.775 million per season is… bad. Yeah, not great. That’s over half of what James Neal was making (at least according to his $5.000 million cap hit in Vegas) in 2017-18 and, well, Reaves is a fourth liner.

Neal can still reach the 30-goal plateau.

Granted, his stock will undoubtedly rise too, given a remarkable Golden Knights inaugural season run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Anyway, on with the show, eh (Happy Canada Day, Canadian readers).

Five of the best UFA forwards:

1) John Tavares, 27, 36-47–83 totals in 82 games played, $5.500 million cap hit (2017-18)

Tavares may leave the New York Islanders, then again he may stick around. Also at play (at the time of this writing around 1:30 a.m. ET and in no particular order), the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars.

He can only sign for a maximum of seven years and will likely cost around $10 million per season. For contending teams, his decision means everything for the rest of the dominoes to fall in place.

For those outside the playoff picture looking to get back into the swing of things, well, expect those small deals to be announced right away at noon.

2) James van Riemsdyk, 29, 36-18–54 totals in 81 games played, $4.250 million cap hit (2017-18)

van Riemsdyk shouldn’t be in the $9.000 million range, but stranger things always happen on July 1st every offseason. All indications thus far point to a reunion with the team that drafted him 2nd overall in 2007– the Philadelphia Flyers.

Will it be a smart deal? Yes and no.

Assuming Philadelphia rids themselves of Jori Lehtera‘s $4.700 million per season on the books next summer and finds a way to keep Wayne Simmonds around, this is a lateral move that fills what could become a hole in their top-six forwards. Then again, perhaps the Flyers are already thinking of moving on from Simmonds via a trade? Time will tell.

Meanwhile van Riemsdyk is a two-time 30-goal scorer, so that should offset Philadelphia’s lackluster goaltending, right?

3) James Neal, 30, 25-19–44 totals in 71 games played, $5.000 million cap hit (2017-18)

Neal is two years younger than the next guy on this list, but he’s been more consistent as a glue-guy that can slide up on your second line when necessary. Will he be overpaid? For sure. Will he score more than 30 goals in 2018-19? It’s possible. Neal tends to have two or three seasons under 30 goals before a “breakout” year like in 2011-12 (40 goals) and 2015-16 (31 goals).

Anything longer than five years is a bad deal in the long run (not for Neal though). Even five years is pushing it as he’ll be well past his prime by then.

4) Paul Stastny, 32, 16-37–53 totals in 82 games played, $7.000 million cap hit (2017-18)

Stastny is one of the best playmakers in the league that doesn’t always get enough recognition. Unfortunately for one general manager, that’ll mean a lot of money packed into too long of a deal this summer.

Oft injured and not quite the dominant force he was when he broke into the league in 2006-07, Stastny doesn’t come with any receipts or refunds, but rather a “buyer beware” tag. In the right role, he’ll elevate your team to the Western Conference Final, a la his run down the stretch with the Winnipeg Jets.

Otherwise, paying him more than $7.000 million and expecting different results as a first or second line center without support is insane.

5) Tyler Bozak, 32, 11-32–43 totals in 81 games played, $4.200 million cap hit (2017-18)

Bozak had one season past the 50-point plateau (he had 55 points in 2016-17), but he consistently manages upper-40s from season to season. That’s points, not goals alone, mind you.

Something in the $6.000 million range sounds perfect. Especially if you’re putting Bozak on the second line on your roster. Similar to Stastny, though, the right support around him can elevate his production. Unlike Stastny, however, Bozak is less injury prone.

If you can’t sign one of these five forwards, take a pamphlet on David Perron (66 points), Thomas Vanek (56 points), Riley Nash (41 points), Patrick Maroon (40 points) or Michael Grabner (36 points).

Five of the best UFA defenders:

1) Thomas Hickey, 29, 5-19–24 totals in 69 games played, $2.200 million cap hit (2017-18)

Hickey didn’t play a full season in any of the three seasons of his most recent contract with the Islanders. Baring any setbacks, he should be due for a raise and an increased role as a top-4 defender looking for a fresh start (assuming he leaves New York).

Look, there are no surefire 30 or 40-point scorer defenders available on the market this summer unless you take a gander at some RFA blueliners like Matt Dumba (49 points), Colin Miller (41), Brandon Montour (32), Noah Hanifin (31) and Ryan Pulock (30).

If you’re simply trying to fill a need and have done enough scouting, Hickey could be your guy. Just saying.

2) Ian Cole, 29, 5-15–20 totals in 67 games played, $2.100 million cap hit (2017-18)

Buy low, sell (potentially) high is what one can expect from Cole.

Considering how the Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to the Ottawa Senators as part of the Derick Brassard trade, then was flipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nick Moutrey and a 2020 third round pick, Cole at least brings interested eyes from playoff hopeful general managers looking to add to the blueline.

He could be a big steal or expendable. The choice is yours.

3) Dylan DeMelo, 25, 0-20–20 totals in 62 games played, $650,000 cap hit (2017-18)

DeMelo is a top-6 blueliner that for some reason, wasn’t in the plans for the San Jose Sharks and their latest attempt at the “Cup or bust” mantra (hey, it worked for Washington finally– despite abandoning the “Cup or bust” mentality thanks, in part, to the salary cap).

Yes, he didn’t score a goal in 2017-18, but 20 assists is still something as a defenseman. Also, not every defenseman is counted on to score. That’s offense and they’re defensemen after all.

4) Calvin de Haan, 27, 1-11–12 totals in 33 games played, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)

Injuries and surgery kept de Haan from playing a full season. Otherwise, yes, the production of optimal defenders to attract this offseason really does fall off in the UFA category.

de Haan is only 27, so he’s still in his playing prime and ripe as a defender (blueliners really tapper off around 33-years-old if you use the eye test– there are always exceptions, however). If the Islanders can’t keep him around, there’s a good chance he’ll do better elsewhere in a legitimate role.

5) Andrej Sustr, 27, 2-5–7 totals in 44 games played, $1.950 million cap hit (2017-18)

Being 6-foot-7 and 220-pounds should be good enough to prevent other players that are (on average) half-a-foot shorter from breaking into the offensive zone.

Sustr was the odd man out in Tampa as the Lightning exploded with youth on the blueline this season. He could lock up a $3.000-$4.000 million AAV deal easily this summer and do well in a top-4 role for a team needing a right shot defender to make the difference.

If you can’t sign one of these five defensemen, perhaps take a chance on John Moore (18 points), Nick Holden (17), Luca Sbisa (14), Roman Polak (12) or yes, Brooks Orpik (10) for his rough-and-tough qualities.

Five of the best UFA goaltenders:

1) Carter Hutton, 32, .931 save percentage and 2.09 goals against average in 32 GP, $1.125 million cap hit (2017-18)

Hutton realistically has three solid years left as a goaltender and will likely end up with the Buffalo Sabres as they plan to transition the rights to tending the net from Hutton to Linus Ullmark, theoretically, right?

At least Hutton’s been above average as a backup for the last three seasons with a 2.33 GAA and .918 SV% in 17 games for the Nashville Predators in 2015-16, 2.39 GAA and .913 SV% in 30 games for St. Louis in 2016-17 and his 2.09 and .931 this season for the Blues.

If he’s signed for more than three years that’s not great. Considering he’s about to cash in on $4.000 million per season, probably.

2) Kari Lehtonen, 34, .912 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 37 GP, $5.900 million cap hit (2017-18)

Any team looking to add a backup on a one or two-year deal while they’re waiting for a prospect to make the full-time backup role would be smart to land Lehtonen in net for that transition period.

Especially if that team has a solid defense in front of him and an offense to steal a game or two. While Lehtonen was 15-14-3 this season in 37 games for the Dallas Stars, that’s still only three games below .500.

Think about that. He played more games than usual for a backup– appearing in almost half of the season for Dallas– and the net result was only a few points out of the postseason. A nice two-year deal gives Lehtonen some job security as he joins the 35-year-old club in November.

Another plus, for those interested, he won’t be at a $5.900 million cap hit on his next deal.

3) Anton Khudobin, 32, .913 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 31 GP, $1.200 million cap hit (2017-18)

In his two-year reunion with the Boston Bruins, Khudobin went from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 2016-17 (16 games played) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 2017-18 (31 games played).

The last time he played over 30 games was for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013-14, when he went on to suit up for 34 appearances and yielded a 2.72 GAA and .900 SV%. Ouch.

Khudobin will be overpaid simply because he’s a “durable” backup, but mostly because he’s younger than Lehtonen (34), Cam Ward (34) and Jaroslav Halak (33).

Sample size is everything. Was 2017-18 a lucky fluke or a product of having a good team in front of him? His next team in 2018-19 will be more telling (and it just might be the Dallas Stars). Approach with caution.

4) Cam Ward, 34, .906 SV% and 2.73 GAA in 43 GP, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)

Ward is no longer a starting goaltender and was over-relied on in Carolina this season thanks to Scott Darling‘s vanishing act as a starter (albeit in his first season as a starting goaltender).

At 34, Ward isn’t getting any younger, but signs are pointing to the Chicago Blackhawks, where, at least they have Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith on the blueline to limit shots against.

Oh and a healthy Corey Crawford, hopefully, to really limit Ward’s workload. This is going to be like that time Marty Turco was Chicago’s backup, isn’t it?

5) Jonathan Bernier, 29, .913 SV% and 2.85 GAA in 37 GP, $2.750 million cap hit (2017-18)

Bernier literally saved Colorado’s season when Semyon Varlamov went down with yet another injury. Now Philipp Grubauer is manning the pipes for the Avalanche with Varlamov moving into a refined role unless General Manager Joe Sakic can find a trading partner and keep Bernier from going where he is expected to go on Sunday.

The Detroit Red Wings are calling Bernier’s number as the next backup to Jimmy Howard and it’s a lateral move from Petr Mrazek‘s 2.89 GAA and .910 SV% in 22 games in 2017-18 with Detroit before he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Seriously, Bernier’s only saving grace was that the 2017-18 Avalanche were a lot better than the 2016-17 Avalanche had they been in front of the netminder (Bernier was with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-17).

Regardless, the Red Wings are rebuilding, so it makes sense (somehow).

If you can’t sign one of these UFA goalies, hopefully you’re not looking to sign a starter from the market this offseason, much less a backup. Start working those phonelines for a trade, because Halak, Robin Lehner and others are your UFA options. *shudders*

2018 Offseason Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 NHL Entry Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pending Free Agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Washington Capitals break Tortorella’s promise

Led by Captain Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal game, the Washington Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6 by the score of 6-3. The Capitals closed out the first round series 4-2, winning four-straight games after losing the first two at home.

The first period was pretty even. The Blue Jackets saw a lot of the puck and seemed to get into the Caps’ zone, but couldn’t get many clear-cut chances. It was a full-team effort for Columbus, as even the Jackets’ defensemen were getting deep into the zone, looking to get the attack going. However, Braden Holtby was having none of that early.

As a result, the Caps were forced counter Columbus’ lengthy possessions with fast outbreaks until they grew into the match and got their own cycle game up and running. Unfair to the game, Washington got the contest’s opening goal with Dmitry Orlov getting to the slot and beating Sergei Bobrovsky with 7:48 remaining in the frame.

The second period saw Columbus find an answer as they tied the game at one just before the halfway point of the period. Nick Foligno beat Holtby with a nice wrister to the far post, with Ryan Murray and Ian Cole picking up the assists on the fast rush.

The tie didn’t last long though, as four minutes later Ovechkin took over.

His first goal came in the slot off a rebound. He collected the puck and scored backhanded to restore the Capitals’ one-goal lead.

He wasn’t done there though. After a bad holding penalty on Seth Jones (against Ovechkin, no less), Ovi doubled the lead and his goal total in the game with a power play goal from his usual spot in the left face-off circle. This time, it was John Carlson who set him up for his patented one-timer bomb past Bob.

After the second intermission, the 3-1 score lasted only 2:25 into the third period as Columbus came out on a mission to live up to John Tortorella’s promise of a Game 7. Pierre-Luc Dubois takes credit for the goal that cut the Caps’ lead to 3-2.

Washington had an answer though, as Devante Smith-Pelly sniped one past Bob for his second marker in the playoffs. The Capitals continued to bury the Blue Jackets as Chandler Stephenson scored a shorthanded breakaway just a minute and a half later, giving Washington a 5-2 advantage.

The Jackets didn’t give up though, most notably at the 8:22 mark when Foligno was in the right place at the right time to deflect a pass from Boone Jenner into the net for his second on the night.

And Foligno’s goal wasn’t the last offering Columbus tried either. The Jackets kept right on firing, but Holtby stayed strong. The Capitals also had some vital penalty kills during the third period that saw players blocking big shots at the right time.

Finally, with only 14 seconds left in the game, Lars Eller put the final nail in Columbus’ coffin by sealing the game at 6-3 with a long-range empty-netter.

For the third-consecutive year, the Capitals will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dates, times and broadcast information have yet to be determined for any of those contests, but Washington’s third-straight Metropolitan Division title has earned it home ice for the series.