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St. Louis Blues 2019-20 Season Preview

St. Louis Blues

45-28-9, 99 points, 3rd in the Central Division

Defeated Boston in the Stanley Cup Final

Additions: F Dakota Joshua (acquired from TOR), F Nick Lappin, F Evan Polei, F Michael Vecchione, F Nathan Walker, D Andreas Borgman (acquired from TOR), D Jake Dotchin, D Justin Faulk (acquired from CAR), D Derrick Pouliot

Subtractions: F Conner Bleackley (signed with Idaho, ECHL), F Dominik Bokk (traded to CAR), F Pat Maroon (signed with TBL), F Nikita Soshnikov (KHL), D Chris Butler (retired), D Michael Del Zotto (signed with ANA), D Joel Edmundson (re-signed, then traded to CAR), D Jani Hakanpaa (signed with ANA), D Jakub Jerabek (KHL), D Jordan Schmaltz (traded to TOR), D Tyler Wotherspoon (signed with PHI), G Jared Coreau (signed with NYI)

Still Unsigned: F Chris Thorburn

Re-signed: F Ivan Barbashev, F Sammy Blais, F Robby Fabbri, F Zach Sanford, F Oskar Sundqvist, D Carl Gunnarsson, G Jordan Binnington, G Ville Husso

Offseason Analysis: Winning the Stanley Cup cures everything. Nobody’s asking when and if the St. Louis Blues will ever a) make another appearance in the Stanley Cup Final or b) winning the Cup.

The Blues crossed off the top item from their bucket list and hoisted the Stanley Cup over their heads in Boston after winning Game 7 against the Bruins in June.

General Manager, Doug Armstrong, has been building and retooling the organization since assuming his current role in 2010. A finalist for the NHL General Manager of the Year Award last season, Armstrong landed a key piece of St. Louis’ Cup-winning roster (and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP) in Ryan O’Reilly last offseason in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

St. Louis won the Cup, so now Armstrong’s task of winning one is taken care of. He– along with the rest of the Blues– will have a bit of a grace period until fans are fed up again with whatever behooves them next.

Of course, the goal of winning the Cup for any GM ultimately isn’t to just win it once, but rather to win it as many times as possible in your career.

Armstrong took care of a delicate balance in re-signed a plethora of restricted free agent members of the Blues.

Rather than making Jordan Binnington the surefire franchise goaltender, Armstrong was able to negotiate a solid two-year bridge deal worth $4.400 million per season.

The 26-year-old goaltender took over St. Louis’ starting role at the dawn of the new year in January and– even though he set a National Hockey League rookie record for most wins in the postseason with 16– has yet to solidify his legitimacy as a starting goaltender in the NHL.

Binnington and 29-year-old, Jake Allen, each have two years on their respective contracts. This season, one will rise above the other as the starter (likely Binnington), but for the next couple of seasons each are competing for a long-term role with the organization.

Glue guys, Ivan Barbashev, Sammy Blais, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford, Oskar Sundqvist and Carl Gunnarsson are all sticking around in St. Louis for the near future, with Sundqvist extended for the longest tenure on a new four-year deal worth $2.750 million per season.

The Blues can sit back for a season or two and see if Craig Berube and Co. can recreate the magic of their 52nd season in franchise history.

Whether or not this team has what it takes to formulate a dynasty remains to be seen, but Armstrong bolstered their chances after trading Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk and a 2021 7th round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for veteran defender, Justin Faulk, and a 2020 5th round pick on Sept. 24th.

Carolina retained 14% of Faulk’s salary ($676,667), which means he will carry a $4.157 million cap hit for the Blues this season.

Upon his acquisition, Armstrong locked up the defender to a seven-year extension with St. Louis worth $45.500 million ($6.500 million per season). Faulk’s extension goes into effect next season and carries a no-trade clause for the first five years, then a modified no-trade clause for the remainder.

A full no-trade clause was added by the Blues to the final year of his current deal.

If nothing else, this trade covers Armstrong’s back in case he is unable to sign Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo, to an extension.

The 29-year-old defender is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and likely to see a pay raise from his current $6.500 million cap hit (especially considering, 1) his role in St. Louis’ turnaround, 2) his Stanley Cup ring and 3) the fact that Faulk’s extension carries Pietrangelo’s current cap hit).

In short, Pietrangelo is better than Faulk and best while the two of them are on the same blue line.

Armstrong will also have to balance the books next season by deciding whether or not to re-sign Brayden Schenn, Fabbri, Blais, Dunn, Jay Bouwmeester and Mackenzie MacEachern.

For now, bars across St. Louis will keep playing “Gloria” even as the team on the ice must turn the page on last season and focus on what looms this season and beyond.

Offseason Grade: B-

Considering the number of RFAs Armstrong had to re-sign, the Blues GM managed to do a decent job tidying things up for the time being, but most of the extensions were short term, one or two year deals.

St. Louis has about $138,740 in cap space available, leaving them with little to no room for any major extensions for next season without having to unload some larger contracts from the books.

At the very least, the only major loss from last season’s Cup winning roster to this season was Pat Maroon, who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning due to St. Louis’ cap constraints.

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).

Arizona Coyotes 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-3Arizona Coyotes

30-42-10, 70 points, 6th in the Pacific Division (’16-’17)

Additions: D Andrew Campbell, D Adam Clendening, F Nick Cousins, F Emerson Etem, D Joel Hanley, D Brandon Hickey, D Niklas Hjalmarsson, F Mario Kempe, F Michael Latta, G Merrick Madsen, G Antti Raanta, F Zac Rinaldo, F Mike Sislo, F Derek Stepan

Subtractions: F Alexander Burmistrov (signed with VAN), F Craig Cunningham (retired), F Laurent Dauphin (traded to CHI), D Anthony DeAngelo (traded to NYR), F Shane Doan (retired), F Grayson Downing (signed with EDM), F Peter Holland (signed with MTL), G Chad Johnson (acquired from CGY as a pending-UFA, then signed with BUF), F Josh Jooris (signed with CAR), D Jamie McBain (signed with TB), F Jeremy Morin (signed with Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk, KHL), F Mitchell Moroz (signed with Idaho Steelheads, ECHL), F Chris Mueller (signed with TOR), D Connor Murphy (traded to CHI), D Chris Pronger (retired), G Mike Smith (traded to CGY), D Jarred Tinordi (signed with PIT), F Brendan Warren (traded to PHI), F Radim Vrbata (signed with FLA)

Still Unsigned: F Anthony Duclair, D Zbynek Michalek, F Garret Ross, F Branden Troock, F Joe Whitney

Offseason Analysis: In short, the puns continue as Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka continues to “Chayk-a” things up. As is deemed by John-Chayka’s-magical-technicolor-masterplan, the Coyotes have turned the tables upside-down (again), but this time for the better (on paper).

Chayka’s influence of analytics in the front office of the original hockey club in the Southwest desert region (ignoring the State of California’s teams) led to a -63 goal differential in 2016-2017, which happened to be the worst goal differential in the Pacific Division, despite finishing second-to-last in final standings.

Sometimes the numbers don’t add up, but the Coyotes aren’t pulling a page from the Florida Panthers, where it seems every calculator has been thrown out of the building after one bad year. Instead, they’re going forward with their renovations and transforming this fixer upper of an organization.

Don’t let that distract you from the fact that Chayka’s 2017 offseason plans went out and nabbed F Derek Stepan and G Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers for a reasonable price of D Anthony DeAngelo and a 2017 1st round pick (7th overall, F Lias Andersson).

Stepan has amassed four seasons in a row of 50-plus points in scoring and has only recorded point totals less than 50 in two out of his seven career NHL seasons (21-24-45 totals in his rookie, 2010-2011 campaign and 18-26-44 totals in the 48-game lockout shortened season of 2012-2013). In short, Stepan is a quality top-6 forward that provides some much needed punch for Arizona’s offense.

A much improved defense in the form of Niklas Hjalmarsson alone provides stability in front of the goal with powerful shutdown combinations on the blue line that the Coyotes likely haven’t seen in at least a few years. Hjalmarsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jakob Chychrun and Alex Goligoski are a solid core group of defensemen to cycle through night-in-and-night-out.

And the addition of Raanta ensures the careful transition of power from the days of Mike Smith in goal to the days of Raanta as the expected starter and Louis Domingue ready to balance the workload if required.

Domingue’s 2016-2017 campaign was largely uneventful with a 3.08 goals against average and a .908 save percentage in 31 games played. Both stats were worse than the year prior, though Domingue played in eight more games in 2015-2016.

Raanta’s increased workload comes on the heels of a 2.26 GAA and .922 SV% in 30 games played last season. While Raanta settles in as a starting goaltender at the ripe age of 28-years-old, Domingue can take his time further establishing his game as potentially one of the league’s best backups, given that he’s only 25 and entering his goaltending prime.

In the long run, Chayka added some much needed faces to the franchise. He’s built his core (Dylan Strome, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Ekman-Larsson), now he’s added Stepan, Hjalmarsson, Raanta and friends to the mix. Arizona won’t be a playoff team for another season, but things are looking up if they could only figure out where they’ll be playing, considering the lingering overcast skies of Glendale’s acceptance of the franchise.

Is it worth noting that Chayka committed larceny by trading Smith for what he got in return (a conditional 3rd round pick, the rights to Chad Johnson and Brandon Hickey)? Granted, Johnson jettisoned for Buffalo, but the point is this– Arizona wiped off Smith’s contract as clean as they took on Pavel Datsyuk and Chris Pronger’s final year(s) on the books.

It’s incredible when you think about it. GMs are weird.

Offseason Grade: B-

Chayka filled the need of retooling the core this offseason, but more work needs to be done to improve the depth (whether that’s let time dictate the future or add one more piece to the puzzle, we’ll see).