Tag Archives: Jared McCann

DTFR Podcast #161- Battle For Gloria (Part Three- The Games Are Happening Part)

The Battle For Gloria rages on with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues tied 2-2 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Nick and Pete also discuss the latest coaching moves (Dave Tippett, Bob Boughner, Marc Crawford), trades (Kevin Hayes) and rumors (Patrick Marleau, Nikita Zaitsev, Phil Kessel), while Nick introduces a new game segment that has Pete stumped.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Eastern Conference

*cue Andy Williams*

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

The Stanley Cup Playoffs have returned and all is right with the world (unless your team missed the postseason).

In the past, we here at Down the Frozen River have covered every game of every series.

This year, we’re mixing it up a bit– starting with this preview of every First Round series in the Eastern Conference, continuing with a followup preview of every First Round series in the Western Conference and as much analysis as possible on the DTFR Podcast in addition to the blog.

Ch-ch-ch-changes are inevitable and yours truly cannot cover all 16 teams in the postseason alone.

A1 Tampa Bay Lightning (62-14-6, 128 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)

The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the President’s Trophy (for the first time in franchise history) by mid-March and finished with the 4th most points in a season in NHL history, while star forward, Nikita Kucherov, amassed 128 points (the most by a Russian born player in a season) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (39-10-4 record, 2.40 goals against average, .925 save percentage in 53 games played) turned in a Vezina Trophy worthy performance in the crease.

Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.

The Bolts also tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season (62).

Backup goaltender, Louis Domingue (21-5-0, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV% in 26 GP) posted respectable numbers as well in the Lightning’s thunderous run through the season.

Tampa has home ice throughout the playoffs and kicks things off with a First Round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a, 3-2, shootout victory over the New York Rangers last Friday– eliminating the Montreal Canadiens from postseason contention in the process.

Columbus was all over the Metropolitan Division this season, but went all-in at the trade deadline, adding Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid for the stretch run.

Duchene and Dzingel quickly fit in to their respective top-nine roles, while McQuaid struggled to find a suitor on the blue line at first in his return to the organization that originally drafted him 55th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft before he was traded to the Boston Bruins and broke into the league with the B’s in 2009-10.

Kinkaid was added solely for goaltending depth as pending-unrestricted free agent, Sergei Bobrovsky (37-24-1, 2.58 GAA, .913 SV% in 62 GP) led the league with nine shutouts on the season.

Blue Jackets backup goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo (10-7-3, 2.95 GAA, .897 SV% in 27 GP) hit some rough patches at times, but found a way to dig his team out from the backend when necessary.

In the grand scheme of things, the Bolts won the season series, 3-0-0, and outscored Columbus, 17-3, in that span.

While many consider Columbus as a Stanley Cup Playoffs pushover– given the franchise has never won a series– Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella always poses a tough challenge that can wear down his opponent.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, earns his own merit in his ability to keep his players cool, calm, collected and always in comeback mode, but it’s not unfathomable to see the Blue Jackets pestering Tampa about as much– if not more than– Columbus did to Washington in last season’s First Round matchup.

After all, the Blue Jackets did lead that series, 2-0.

That said, this is Tampa’s year for a Cup run or bust. The Lightning should win the series in six games.

Regular season outcomes:

5-1 TBL at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 18th, 4-0 TBL at Amalie Arena on Jan. 8th, 8-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Oct. 13th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on USA , SN360, TVAS

4/12- Game 2 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS

4/14- Game 3 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*

4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*

4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*

*If necessary

A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, 100 points)

For the second season in a row, the Boston Bruins are hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Despite being without Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara at one point this season, the Bruins rallied from their 12th defenseman on up through the rest of the lineup to finish one win shy of consecutive 50-win seasons in Bruce Cassidy‘s third season (second full season) as head coach.

Speaking of Bergeron, however, the perfect two-way center finished the season with a career-high in points (79) and matched his career-high in goals (32) while battling injury early in the season. Bergeron’s 32-47–79 totals came in just 65 games. That’s only one more game played than last season for No. 37 in black-and-gold.

Meanwhile, his linemates, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each reached milestones of their own. Marchand reached the 100-point plateau this season and became the first Bruin to do so since Joe Thornton recorded 101 points in 2002-03.

The “Little Ball of Hate” also set a career-high in assists (64) and was not suspended in 79 games played this season (he was rested for the final two games in the regular season and missed one game due to injury).

Pastrnak set a career-high in goals (38) and points (81) despite missing time due to a left thumb injury and being limited to 66 games played.

The B’s were led in net this season by Tuukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 SV% in 46 GP) and Jaroslav Halak (22-11-4, 2.34 GAA, .922 SV% in 40 GP) in a 1A/1B scenario. For the first time since the 1989-90 season, Boston had two goaltenders with 20-plus wins.

Back north in Toronto, the Maple Leafs added a formidable center in John Tavares in free agency and his presence was immediate, notching career-highs in goals (47 ) and points (88) in 82 games.

Auston Matthews (37-36–73 totals in 68 games) and Mitch Marner (26-68–94 totals in 82 games) continued to their thing as the $11.634 million man (starting next season) and the soon to be at least $10.000 million boy wonder man.

Maple Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, added Jake Muzzin in January in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in effort to shore up his blue line, however, questions remain as to how head coach, Mike Babcock will limit time on ice for veterans, like Ron Hainsey, and mix in more opportunities for Morgan Rielly (20-52–72 totals in 82 games) in his breakout season.

Boston won the season series, 3-1-0, outscoring Toronto, 16-10, in that span.

Some experts are picking the Bruins in five games. They also said similar things in 2013 and 2018. This series is going six games (at least), with Boston overcoming the Maple Leafs defense in Game 7, once again.

To their credit, Toronto always makes things interesting in what’s likely to be the most unpredictable First Round matchup.

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 BOS at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 12th, 6-3 BOS at TD Garden on Dec. 8th, 4-2 TOR at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 26th, 5-1 BOS at TD Garden on Nov. 10th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 TOR @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/13- Game 2 TOR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/17- Game 4 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS

4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*

4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*

4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*

*If necessary

M1 Washington Capitals (48-26-8, 104 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)

Just as everyone expected, the Washington Capitals led the Metropolitan Division with 104 points after Barry Trotz left for the head coaching job on Long Island. Did I mention the Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions?

Anyway, Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals and collected his 8th career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as a result– though Edmonton Oilers forward, Leon Draisaitl, was hot on his tail with 50 goals this season.

After the New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for what seemed like forever, it’s important to note the Metro was actually anybody’s game from puck drop in October. Here’s the thing, the Carolina Hurricanes were near the top of the division– they’ve been surging all season.

Speaking of surging, Carolina introduced their “Storm Surge” post-win celebration and the Caniacs loved it.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the club in Raleigh, Brett Pesce is good. Also, Sebastian Aho (30-53–83 totals in 82 GP), Andrei Svechnikov (20-17–37 totals in 82 GP) and Teuvo Teravainen (21-55–76 totals in 82 games)– they’re pretty good too.

Washington was led by Braden Holtby (32-19-5, 2.82 GAA, .911 SV% in 59 GP) between the pipes this season and is comforted to know Pheonix Copley (16-7-3, 2.90 GAA, .905 SV% in 27 GP) is quite capable of playing this season’s role of Philipp Grubauer (since traded to the Colorado Avalanche after last season’s Cup celebrations).

The Canes were led by a duo of goaltenders who were once thought of as an after thought in Curtis McElhinney (20-11-2, 2.58 GAA, .912 SV% in 33 GP) and Petr Mrazek (23-14-3, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV% in 40 GP).

Though his record might not show it, Mrazek has been hitting his stride for the last month and is locked in. Ride that wave until it crests.

The Hurricanes had a league-leading ten skaters play in all 82 games. There’s no such thing as playing too much hockey– especially when it’s the first postseason appearance since 2009.

Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave the Caps some interruptions coming out of the gate.

Despite Washington having swept the season series, 4-0-0, the Hurricanes kept things close in their most recent matchup with a, 3-2, loss at PNC Arena on March 28th.

Carolina almost pulled off the victory in a shootout on Dec. 14th, but lost, 6-5, on home ice to the Capitals.

Washington is beatable. Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour knows that, his team just hasn’t done it yet. Caps head coach, Todd Reirden, is also making his postseason debut at the reigns behind the bench for his respective team.

Though they won the Cup last season– that was then. This is now.

This series is going seven games and the Hurricanes will make sure there’s no repeat Cup winner this year.

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 WSH at PNC Arena on March 28th, 4-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on March 26th, 3-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on Dec. 27th, 6-5 F/SO WSH at PNC Arena on Dec. 14th

Schedule:

4/11- Game 1 CAR @ WSH 7:30 PM ET on USA, SN360, TVAS2

4/13- Game 2 CAR @ WSH 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

4/15- Game 3 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2

4/18- Game 4 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on TBD, SN360, TVAS

4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*

4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*

4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*

*If necessary

M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs M3 Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, 100 points)

Barry Trotz figured out how to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last season with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Trotz is the key. Trotz knows the secret stuff to beat Mike Sullivan and his Penguins.

That’s why the William M. Jennings Trophy winning duo of Robin Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% in 46 GP) and Thomas Greiss (23-14-2, 2.28 GAA, .927 SV% in 43 GP) will backstop the New York Islanders past Pittsburgh in their First Round matchup in six games.

Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.

New York split the season series with the Pens, 2-1-1, with their most recent result against Pittsburgh coming in a, 2-1, shootout loss on Dec. 10th at NYCB Live (that’s the Nassau Coliseum, if you haven’t already heard. The Isles will host their First Round games there).

Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello put together a team without John Tavares. Trotz figured out how to get the most out of his players– guys like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Casey Cizikas and even Andrew Ladd (until Ladd got injured)– while playing the trap.

That same trap won the Cup last season.

This season, Trotz has Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee as his main attractions instead of names like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Long Island residents have long memories– the Penguins are one of their greatest rivals– and the added energy of Tavares’ departure has only fueled more passion all season long.

Can New York flip the switch from their late season bumps in the road?

Obviously, Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby. They also have Evgeni Malkin. Crosby and Malkin are ready to go for another deep postseason run after watching their biggest rival not only beat them in the Second Round last year, but go on to take the Cup out of the hands of the Penguins’ recent streak of dominance in 2016 and 2017.

Patric Hornqvist is also another silent killer option for Sullivan when his team needs a clutch goal– and that’s on top of Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel throughout the rest of the lineup.

The Penguins were led in the crease by Matt Murray (29-14-6, 2.69 GAA, .919 SV% in 50 GP) this season with some helpful bailout backup goaltending from Casey DeSmith (15-11-5, 2.75 GAA, .916 SV% in 36 GP). If Murray shows any signs of wavering, Sullivan shouldn’t have a hard time going to DeSmith to push his team over the edge.

How will Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann play into the fold as Jim Rutherford‘s biggest prize acquisitions this season? Who might be the breakout star for Pittsburgh that outshines Crosby in the Conn Smythe Trophy vote?

Aren’t these questions supposed to be answered in an editorial preview? Sure.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 F/SO PIT at NYCB Live on Dec. 10th, 6-2 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 6th, 3-2 F/SO NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 1st, 6-3 NYI at PPG Paints Arena on Oct. 30th

Schedule:

4/10- Game 1 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/12- Game 2 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/14- Game 3 NYI @ PIT 12 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

4/16- Game 4 NYI @ PIT 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2

4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*

4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*

4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*

Penguins end Bruins’ point streak with 4-2 win

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ special teams got the job done in their, 4-2, win over the Boston Bruins on Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena as the Pens scored a shorthanded goal and a power play goal en route to end Boston’s point-streak at 19 games.

Jared McCann had two goals in the effort, while Nick Bjugstad and Jake Guentzel also scored for Pittsburgh. David Krejci and John Moore had the only goals for Boston.

The Bruins suffered their first loss in regulation since Jan. 19th and are now 15-1-4 in their last 20 games.

Matt Murray (23-11-3 record, 2.77 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 38 games played) made 39 saves on 41 shots against for a .951 SV% in the win for the Penguins.

B’s goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (18-10-4, 2.34 GAA, .924 SV% in 34 GP) stopped 33 out of 36 shots faced for a .917 SV% in the loss.

Boston fell to 42-18-9 (93 points) on the season, but remained in control of 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while Pittsburgh improved to 37-23-9 (83 points) on the season and surged into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division.

Pittsburgh won the season series against the B’s, 2-0-1. The Penguins have also won in their last five home games against Boston as the Bruins fell to 15-11-6 on the road this season and 4-1-0 in the month of March.

Bruce Cassidy indicated that Jake DeBrusk (lower body) and Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) may be nearing returns to the lineup, while it is not likely Kevan Miller (upper body) and David Pastrnak (left thumb) will join the Bruins on their ongoing three-game road trip.

Cassidy adjusted his forward lines, placing Peter Cehlarik at left wing on the second line with Krejci and Lee Stempniak, while bumping up Sean Kuraly to the third line with Charlie Coyle and David Backes.

Joakim Nordstrom was demoted to the fourth line with Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner.

Steven Kampfer remains the only healthy scratch in the Bruins lineup from night-to-night currently.

Bjugstad (10) kicked things off early in the action after the Bruins turned the puck over in their own zone. Patric Hornqvist generated a rebound off Halak and Bjugstad pounced on the loose puck to give the Penguins the lead, 1-0, at 1:33 of the first period.

Hornqvist (16) and Dominik Simon (18) tallied the assists on the goal as the Pittsburgh crowd came to life.

Boston was penalized for too many men on the ice, leaving Cehlarik to serve the bench minor at 3:41.

The Pens did not convert on their first power play chance of the night, nor did they score on their second skater advantage opportunity when Matt Grzelcyk hooked Bjugstad at 9:01 of the opening frame.

Justin Schultz sent the puck over the glass and out of play for an automatic delay of game infraction at 13:07, resulting in Boston’s first power play of the evening. It did not go well.

McCann (15) received a breakout pass and quickly worked his way behind the Bruins defenders and scored on Halak on a breakaway.

Teddy Blueger (2) had the only assist on McCann’s shorthanded goal and the Penguins led, 2-0, at 13:54 of the first period.

Moments later, Wagner went to the penalty box for tripping Marcus Pettersson at 15:19, but was quickly followed by Evgeni Malkin for tripping Charlie McAvoy at 16:12, resulting in 4-on-4 action for about 1:07.

McCann appeared on the event sheet one last time before the first intermission for an inference penalty at 19:26, as the Penguins finished the first 20 minutes of play leading on the scoreboard, 2-0, and in shots on goal, 15-8.

Pittsburgh also led in takeaways (1-0) and hits (12-7), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (7-4) and face-off win percentage (58-42). Both teams had five giveaways aside and were 0/3 on the power play prior to the start of the second period.

Early in the second period, Hornqvist checked Grzelcyk along the boards, leaving the Bruins defender favoring his right arm as it awkwardly collided with the Penguins forward and the glass.

Grzelcyk would not return to the action with an upper body injury.

Former Bruin, Zach Trotman, slashed Acciari at 3:31 of the second period and presented Boston with a power play opportunity.

Similar to how the Pens scored their first goal, the B’s got on the scoreboard and cut the lead in half after Heinen flung a puck off Murray over to Krejci (19) for the rebound and easy tally.

Heinen (18) and Brad Marchand (54) picked up the assists on Krejci’s power play goal at 4:32 of the second period and Boston trailed, 2-1.

Almost two minutes later, Patrice Bergeron sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game minor penalty at 6:43.

Pittsburgh did not score on the ensuing power play, but it was only a matter of time as Boston would find out when Brandon Carlo tripped up Blueger at 16:10.

Just 22 seconds into the resulting power play for the Penguins, Sidney Crosby caught the B’s on a shorthanded turnover and sent the puck to Guentzel (34) for a two-on-one power play goal at 16:32.

Pittsburgh led, 3-1, as Crosby (57) and Pettersson (19) picked up assists on the goal.

After 40 minutes of play, the Penguins led in shots on goal (23-22), takeaways (5-3), giveaways (8-4), hits (19-15) and face-off win% (51-49), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (13-12).

The Pens were 1/5 on the power play after two periods and the B’s were 1/4 heading into the third period.

Trotman trotted to the sin bin for the second time of the night at 4:33 of the third period for interference, but the Bruins couldn’t muster anything on the resulting skater advantage.

Cassidy pulled his netminder with over 2:30 remaining in regulation to try to pull within one-goal, let alone score two quick goals to tie the game.

Pittsburgh struggled to find the open net at first, yielding a slap shot from Moore (4) to find its way past Murray, bringing the game to within one at 18:59.

Coyle (19) and Heinen (19) tabbed the assists on Moore’s goal as the Bruins trailed, 3-2. Coyle’s assist was his first point as a Bruin, but the celebration didn’t last long.

Halak vacated the crease again for an extra attacker, but the Penguins were successful in finding the empty twine at 19:39, as McCann (16) pocketed his second goal of the night to make it 4-2, Pittsburgh.

Guentzel (31) had the only assist on McCann’s empty netter.

Despite losing, 4-2, Boston finished the night with more shots on goal, 41-37, and leading in face-off win% (53-47). Pittsburgh finished the night with the advantage in giveaways (15-10) and hits (28-20).

Both teams had 16 blocked shots each and went 1/5 on the power play.

The Bruins swing through Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets on Tuesday before finishing up their three-game road trip against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. Boston returns home to square off with the Blue Jackets again on March 16th.

Game of the week: March 4-10

It’s hard to believe, but there’s less than one month remaining in the regular season. 16 clubs are none too concerned about that, but with the exception of Tampa Bay, we don’t officially know yet which teams those are.

Take a look at this week’s schedule that got us a little closer to figuring out the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NHL SCHEDULE: March 4-10
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 4
7 p.m. Edmonton Buffalo 4-3
9 p.m. Toronto Calgary 6-2
Tuesday, March 5
7 p.m. Carolina Boston 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Columbus New Jersey 2-1 (SO)
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Islanders 4-5 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Pittsburgh 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Tampa Bay 2-5
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. New York Rangers Dallas Stars 0-1
9 p.m. Detroit Colorado 3-4 (OT)
9 p.m. Anaheim Arizona 3-1
10:30 p.m. Montréal Los Angeles 3-1
Wednesday, March 6
7:30 p.m. Washington Philadelphia 5-3
9 p.m. Toronto Vancouver 2-3 (OT)
10 p.m. St. Louis Anaheim 5-4
10:30 p.m. Calgary Vegas 1-2
Thursday, March 7
7 p.m. Florida Boston 3-4
7 p.m. Columbus Pittsburgh 0-3
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Ottawa Senators 4-2
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Detroit Red Wings 2-3 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Tampa Bay 3-0
8:30 p.m. Buffalo Chicago 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. Colorado Dallas 0-4
9 p.m. Vancouver Edmonton 2-3
9 p.m. Calgary Arizona 0-2
10:30 p.m. St. Louis Los Angeles 4-0
10:30 p.m. Montréal San Jose 2-5
Friday, March 8
7 p.m. Minnesota Florida 2-6
7 p.m. New Jersey Washington 0-3
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Carolina 8-1
10 p.m. Montréal Anaheim 2-8
Saturday, March 9
3 p.m. Buffalo Colorado  
4 p.m. St. Louis San Jose NHLN
7 p.m. Toronto Edmonton CBC, NHLN, SN
7 p.m. Ottawa Boston CITY, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay  
7 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Islanders  
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Columbus  
8 p.m. Los Angeles Arizona  
8 p.m. Carolina Nashville  
8 p.m. Chicago Dallas  
10 p.m. Vegas Vancouver CBC, CITY, SN, SN1
Sunday, March 10
5 p.m. Detroit Florida  
7 p.m. Winnipeg Washington SN
7:30 p.m. Boston Pittsburgh NBCSN, TVAS
9:30 p.m. Vegas Calgary SN1
10 p.m. Los Angeles Anaheim NBCSN

As always, this week’s NHL schedule did not disappoint. We were given our regular serving of rivalries, starting with a throwback in Denver when Detroit visited Colorado on Tuesday. Wednesday also featured a derby, this one involving the Capitals heading to the City of Brotherly Love.

Columbus and Pittsburgh will square off twice this week, with the Pens taking Game 1 on Thursday before heading to Ohio for Game 2 this evening. Speaking of Thursday, the Rangers and Red Wings also matched up and honored Ted Lindsay with an extremely competitive game.

Finally, this weekend also features the previously-mentioned Penguins-Blue Jackets tilt and the Battle of the Hudson River today followed by the Freeway Face-Off tomorrow night.

In regards to momentous homecomings this week, there weren’t any. By my estimation, the most important was Kevin Fiala‘s return to Nashville. Fiala played 204 games with the Predators since being drafted by the organization in 2014 before being traded to Minnesota at this year’s deadline.

As to which game takes our attention this week, I’ve been drawn to the Columbus-Pittsburgh series. With six teams (Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders and Penguins) fighting for five spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one good side is going to see its season end at 82 games.

While not a season-ender, this series is a major step for both Columbus and Pittsburgh in determining their postseason fates. With two points already in the Pens’ pockets, how will tonight’s tilt go down?

Coming into tonight’s game with a 36-22-9 record, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently holding down third place in the Metropolitan Division.

While that is certainly an improvement from where this team was just a few weeks ago, the Pens’ job is still not finished as they only have a four-point cushion separating them from ending their season at 82 games.

Pittsburgh isn’t looking back these days, though. It’s riding a solid six-game point streak (4-0-2) that includes two wins against tonight’s opponent (more on that later) and a 5-1 victory in Québec.

Pittsburgh fans will know that this string of games started with the Stadium Series overtime loss in Philadelphia. That was a game that cost the Penguins two defensemen (D Brian Dumoulin has since returned to action on Tuesday) and has forced them to reexamine their defensive game, involving each and every skater on the ice.

While this new strategy has certainly paid major dividends for Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s side, there is one player who has still shined brighter than the rest: 22-10-3 G Matt Murray.

Despite the new defensive strategies, Pittsburgh is still yielding an average of 31 shots per game during this run – the NHL’s middle-of-the-road since February 23. Despite that, the Penguins are also yielding an average of only 2.17 goals against per game, the fifth-best mark in that time.

Murray has been in net for all of the Penguins’ last six games and claims a commanding .93 save percentage and associated 2.12 GAA for those outings (both eighth-best in the league among the 28 netminders with at least four starts since February 23). Those outstanding numbers boost his season statistics to a .916 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, the 10th and 19th-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 24 starts to their credit.

With a home game against the Bruins tomorrow night, it remains to be seen which goaltender Sullivan starts this evening. If I had my druthers, Murray would be in action this evening considering the importance of beating a division rival in a tightly contested playoff race. With 12 points (and two games-in-hand against the Habs) separating Boston from the a wildcard spot, Pittsburgh cannot worry about the Bruins until it runs into them in a potential playoff matchup (whether that would be the Conference Semifinals or Final remains to be seen).

Of course, it would be highly irresponsible to talk about the Penguins and not mention their potent offense. Averaging 3.45 goals per game for the season, Pittsburgh has been operating at a slightly higher level lately, as it has averaged 3.67 goals per game during this six-game run (again, I emphasize slightly) – the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since February 23.

Pittsburgh’s top line has carried most of that charge, which of course means C Sidney Crosby has been the star of the show. In his past six games, the captain has managed an outstanding 6-8-14 effort to lead the league in scoring in that time (well, he’s technically tied with Florida’s F Jonathan Huberdeau on points, but Crosby has played fewer games and scored more goals to take the title in my book).

Joining Crosby in averaging a point per game for the Pens during this run are linemates F Jake Guentzel (5-3-8 totals) and F Jared McCann (3-3-6).

Since all of 37-27-3 Columbus’ moves at the trade deadline, everything it has done from then until the end of the season has taken on a new life.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, that new light isn’t all that positive, as they’ve gone on a 2-4-0 run since then to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Montréal by two points for the East’s second wild card.

Though Columbus has struggled to keep opponents off the board during this six-game run (the Jackets have allowed 3.5 goals against per game since February 26, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL in that time), an even bigger problem has been its offense.

With the exception of fellow Metropolitan member New Jersey, no team has struggled more on the attack since the trade deadline than Columbus. The Blue Jackets are averaging only 1.5 goals per game in their last six outings, compared to the 11th-best 3.04 they’ve averaged for the season.

Surely, much of this can be attributed to all of the Jackets’ deadline additions. In fact, the second line has been entirely revamped and now features Oliver Bjorkstrand and former-Senators Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (who’s celebrating his 27th birthday today). Fortunately for Columbus, Duchene and Dzingel regularly played together in Ottawa, so it is just a matter of Head Coach John Tortorella finding the right person to complete their line.

However, a lack of familiarity cannot be the excuse for Columbus’ top line, as Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin have spent the entire season together. Instead, all three combine for only 3-6-9 totals in the past six games.

Dubois in particular is struggling the most. He’s only registered one assist since the trade deadline, well off the .81 points per game average he’s managed for the entire season. As his club’s top center, Dubois’ performance can often dictate his team’s success. The sooner he breaks out of his funk, the sooner, Columbus will begin finding success once again.

In addition to cleaning up Columbus and Pittsburgh’s home-and-home, tonight’s game also concludes the four-game regular season series between the two clubs. The Penguins have won the first three meetings 4-2 on November 24, 5-2 on February 26 and 3-0 on Thursday.

Unfortunately for Columbus, I don’t see that script changing tonight. The Penguins have been playing incredibly well lately now that they’ve bought into their new strategy, and that doesn’t pair well with the Blue Jackets’ offensive struggles.

I don’t think the Jackets will be shutout for the second game in a row, but I do think the Pens will win 3-1.

Analysis: Time is the biggest gamble in Brassard, Bjugstad swap

Midday Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers completed a trade that left many scratching their heads.

Pittsburgh sent Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, a 2019 2nd round pick and two 2019 4th round picks (Pittsburgh’s own and Minnesota’s previously acquired in a deal earlier this week with the Dallas Stars) to the Panthers in exchange for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.

Brassard, 31, was in his first full season with the Penguins and amassed 9-6–15 totals in 40 games played this season prior to the trade.

He was acquired by Pittsburgh last February from the Vegas Golden Knights after the Golden Knights added Brassard in a separate deal with the Ottawa Senators first– prior to retaining salary on Brassard’s contract and flipping him along with Tobias Lindberg to the Penguins for Ryan Reaves and a 4th round pick originally belonging to the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

In 14 games with the Penguins in 2017-18, Brassard added three goals and five assists (eight points) on top of his 18-20–38 totals in 58 games with the Senators prior to being trade deadline bait last season.

He registered one goal and three assist (four points) in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games with Pittsburgh in the 2018 postseason before the Penguins were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Never mind what he’s done for you yesterday, Brassard carries a cap hit of $3.000 million per season and is a pending unrestricted free agent this July 1st.

Not only that, but his salary can be retained one more time on his current contract if Florida desires to flip him by February 25th’s trade deadline.

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 6th overall pick of the 2006 NHL Draft, Brassard has 443 points (171 goals, 272 assists) in 756 career NHL games with the Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, Senators and Penguins.

Sheahan, 27, had seven goals and two assists (nine points) in 49 games with Pittsburgh prior to the trade and was previously acquired by the Penguins in a transaction involving the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 21, 2017 in exchange for Scott Wilson.

He is a pending-UFA this July and carries a cap hit of $2.100 million.

Despite failing to record a point with the Red Wings in eight games in the 2017-18 season, leading to his trade to the Penguins, Sheahan amassed his second-best season of 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 81 games with Pittsburgh and Detroit last season.

He established career-highs in assists (23) and points (36) in 79 games with the Red Wings in 2014-15 and had a career-high 14 goals in 81 games in 2015-16 with Detroit.

In 414 career NHL games, the 21st overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft has 139 career points (56 goals, 83 assists).

In summary, the Panthers added to a list of growing draft picks in 2019 (presently with nine selections, including three picks in the 4th round), while potentially clearing out enough cap space to pursue some of the big names (*ahem* Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky) that might hit the free agency market on July 1st.

While the move looks like a haphazard approach to writing off this season, Panthers fans will have to be patient and wait for the other shoe to drop in General Manager Dale Tallon‘s masterplan.

Even if that’s been said before.

Bjugstad, 26, had five goals and seven assists (12 points) in 32 games with the Panthers at the time of the trade and was the last connection Florida had to the 2010 NHL Draft as their 19th overall selection.

He posted a career-best 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games last season for the Panthers, establishing career-highs in assists and points.

The most goals he’s ever scored in one season was 24 in 72 games in the 2014-15 season as a 22-year-old. In five career Stanley Cup Playoff games, Bjugstad has two goals and two assists (four points) with one game-winning goal and a plus-six rating.

Bjugstad has two years left on his current contract with a $4.100 million cap hit and has 87-104–191 totals in 394 career games (all with the Panthers).

McCann, 22, had eight goals and 10 assists (18 points) in 46 games for Florida prior to the trade and was originally selected 24th overall by the Canucks in the 2014 NHL Draft.

He posted his career-best numbers last season for the Panthers with nine goals and 19 assists (28 points) in 68 games while earning a plus-11 rating (his first positive plus/minus outcome in four NHL seasons including the current 2018-19 season).

McCann has two years left on his current contract at $1.250 million per season and can become a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season. He has 27-44–71 totals in 212 games with Vancouver and Florida in his young career and was previously acquired by the Panthers in exchange for Erik Gudbranson on May 25, 2016.

Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford has a knack for finding overlooked talent in an otherwise not as lively market and making them better in his current tenure with Pittsburgh, however, his latest move in snagging Bjugstad and McCann leaves more to be desired.

While Rutherford brought in younger players with an additional year remaining on their contract, the gamble remains as to whether or not McCann will fully pan out– or if he does, whether or not he’ll price himself out of Pittsburgh with a tight cap situation and no trade or no movement clauses on some of their larger contracts that extend past 2019-20 currently on the books.

Rutherford coveted McCann and now the next step will be figuring out how he can become part of the long-term solution.

In addition to his oft-injured history, Bjugstad is a younger replacement for Brassard– one year after Rutherford made the move to get Brassard.

Winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 should be enough to overlook an otherwise mismanaged acquisition, however, Bjugstad costs more and now carries the added weight of living up to expectations or else further looking like the beginning of Rutherford’s mistakes on the way down from a Cup window.

One positive takeaway for Penguins fans– who perhaps know this best– is that Rutherford is active. No one can take that away from him in his search for finding the right pieces to build a dynasty.

As always, though, it is rare for any general manager in any sport to willingly depart an organization on their terms. Usually it’s the buildup of poor roster moves or repeated postseason failures that leads to “being relieved of duties” and kindly shown the door.

In short, the biggest takeaway for this deal is… …time will tell.

Panthers pounce on Bruins, 5-0

Aleksander Barkov had three assists and Mike Hoffman had two goals in the Florida Panthers sunset cruise over the Boston Bruins in Sunrise, Florida on Tuesday night. The Panthers won, 5-0, thanks to Roberto Luongo‘s 33 save shutout– good enough for his 77th career shutout in 1,011 NHL games played.

Luongo (5-3-0, 2.71 goals against average, .914 save percentage in ten games played), stopped 33 shots against for a 1.000 SV% in the win, while Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (8-4-2, 2.55 GAA, .932 SV% in 16 GP) made 39 saves on 44 shots against (.886 SV%) in the loss.

Boston fell to 14-9-4 (32 points) on the season, but remained in 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Panthers jumped up to 7th place with a 11-10-5 record and 27 points on the season. Florida has a game in-hand on the Ottawa Senators and trails the Detroit Red Wings for 6th place by one point.

The B’s are one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and may soon be in danger of falling further in the standings with Montreal having the chance to surpass Boston on Thursday night with a Bruins loss in regulation in Tampa and a Canadiens win any fashion in Ottawa.

Torey Krug was in the lineup for Boston, despite taking a maintenance day on Monday, though his minus-three rating in Tuesday night’s action may say otherwise.

Bruce Cassidy provided an update on Charlie McAvoy, indicating the young defender will be back in the lineup soon, but not expected to play on this two-game road trip in the Sunshine State. McAvoy returned to full-contact practice this week.

Cassidy made no lineup changes, despite the poor efforts in three out of the last four games now.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Steven Kampfer were the healthy scratches for the Bruins on Tuesday, while Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion), McAvoy (concussion) and Kevan Miller (throat) remain injured.

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Joakim Nordstrom hooked Dryden Hunt late in the first period at 15:34 and gave the Panthers their first power play of the night, but the Bruins were able to kill off Nordstrom’s minor and save themselves from one of the many chances Florida’s deadly power play would have on the night.

Mark Pysyk interfered with David Krejci at 17:41 of the first period and put Boston on the power play for the first time in the game, but the Bruins were unable to convert on any of their skater advantages on the night. Boston failed to record a shot on goal on the power play while Pysyk was in the box.

After one period, the score was still tied, 0-0, with Florida outshooting Boston, 13-7. The Panthers also led in giveaways, 8-6, after 20 minutes of play, while the Bruins led in blocked shots (4-3), takeaways (1-0) and face-off win percentage (52-48). Hits were even, 10-10, and both teams were 0/1 on the power play.

With both teams coming out of the dressing room after playing on sloppy ice and lacking effort at establishing some sort of pace, the Bruins continued to struggle to establish a zone time presence and got outrun numerous times in the second period as the Panthers came back ready to play.

Seriously.

First Colton Sceviour banked a shot off of the back of Halak’s leg, leading to a loose puck in the crease for Mike Hoffman (13) to just tap it in and give the Panthers the 1-0 lead. Scevious (4) and Jonathan Huberdeau (23) had the assists on Hoffman’s goal at 4:21 of the second period.

Jared McCann took a trip to the penalty box shortly after his teammate gave Florida the lead. McCann’s infraction was for hooking Bruins blue liner, John Moore, at 5:30.

Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Almost midway in the second period, Michael Matheson (2) went 200-feet down the frozen river from one end of the ice to the other and scored an unassisted goal past Halak’s blocker side at 7:13 of the middle frame. Florida led, 2-0.

The Bruins were 0-7 when trailing by two goals entering Tuesday and they left BB&T Center 0-8 at the final horn.

Michael Haley caught Halak with a high-stick at 14:04, but the B’s power play was short-lived– 16 seconds, in fact– as David Pastrnak was penalized for holding at 14:20.

While in the midst of the 4-on-4 action, Huberdeau (7) fired one of his accurate wrist shots into the back of the twine at 15:14 of the second period. Keith Yandle (20) and Aleksander Barkov (14) were tabbed with the assists and the Panthers led, 3-0.

Hunt was charged with interference at 17:51, but Pastrnak received a matching minor penalty for embellishment, yielding no skater advantage for the Bruins.

Jake DeBrusk cut a rut to the sin bin at 19:00 of the second period for slashing Sceviour and the Panthers went on a rare 4-on-3 power play.

With seconds remaining on the clock before the second intermission, Hoffman (14) emulated Matheson’s goal, but with the help of Barkov (15) and Yandle (21) to give Florida a four-goal lead at 19:56.

As a result of Hoffman’s second goal of the game, the Panthers have now scored at least one power play goal in 16 out of the last 17 games.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Panthers led the Bruins, 4-0, on the scoreboard and, 33-23, in shots on goal. Florida also dominated in blocked shots (8-4) and takeaways (6-4), while Boston led in giveaways (15-10) and face-off win% (60-40). Hits were even, 18-18.

Florida was 1/3 on the power play and the B’s were 0/3 after two periods.

Nick Bjugstad was called for holding Sean Kuraly at 5:20 of the third period and the Bruins went to the power play for the fourth and final time of the night. They did not score on the ensuing advantage.

Moore went to the penalty box for hooking former Bruin, Frank Vatrano, at 9:10 of the third period and Chris Wagner shortly followed to the sin bin at 10:49 for tripping Bjugstad.

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Connor Clifton launched himself into a high hit on Bjugstad with about eight minutes remaining in regulation. Bjugstad took his time getting up and had to go through concussion protocol, but Clifton was not penalized on the play.

The rookie Bruins defender filling in while blue line regulars like Chara, McAvoy and Miller are out of the lineup received an earful for the remainder of the game from unhappy Panthers players, but wasn’t challenged to fight.

Instead, while on the power play as a result of Brandon Carlo cross-checking Vatrano at 13:02 of the third period, the Panthers collected another power play goal thanks to the relentless effort of Evgenii Dadonov (13) collecting the garbage in the low slot.

Barkov (16) had the only assist on Dadonov’s goal at 14:26 and the Panthers sealed their Tuesday night victory with a 5-0 lead.

At the final horn, Florida finished the night outshooting Boston, 44-33, and leading in blocked shots (16-8). The Bruins led in giveaways (19-15), hits (26-22) and face-off win% (56-44)– two of the three don’t equal scoring prowess.

Giving the puck away is problematic and usually teams that lead in hits lacked puck control to begin with, which was evident in the lack of sustained attacking zone time from Cassidy’s crew.

Florida finished the night 2/6 on the power play and Boston went 0/4.

The Bruins head to Amalie Arena for a Thursday night matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning before returning home Saturday to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Boston has a quick turnaround back to the road on Sunday with a game in Ottawa against the Senators, before coming back home for next Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes.

In fact, including Thursday night’s game in Tampa, Boston alternates between road and home games for the next seven games until their short two-game home-stand from December 20-22.

The Bruins face five opponents in the next seven games from the Atlantic Division in addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins (Eastern Conference rival) and Coyotes (inter-conference action).

Florida Panthers 2018-19 Season Preview

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Florida Panthers

44-30-8, 96 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division

Additions: F Mike Hoffman (acquired from SJ), G Michael Hutchinson, D Jacob MacDonald, F Paul Thompson

Subtractions: F Chase Balisy (signed with OTT), F Connor Brickley (signed with NSH), F Gregory Chase (signed with Wichita Thunder, ECHL), F Alexandre Grenier (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), D Linus Hulstrom (signed, SHL), G Harri Sateri (signed with DET), D Edward Wittchow (signed, Liiga), F Curtis Valk (signed, KHL), F Radim Vrbata (retired)

Still Unsigned: None

Re-signed: F Jared McCann, D Alexander Petrovic, F Frank Vatrano, D MacKenzie Weegar

Offseason Analysis: Despite losing their leading scorers from 2016-17 after trading Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights and leaving Jonathan Marchessault exposed in the expansion draft, the 2017-18 Florida Panthers almost made the playoffs. Almost.

The 44-30-8 Panthers earned 96 points on the regular season and finished one-point shy of a wild card spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Florida tied the record set by the 2014-15 Boston Bruins for the team with the most regular season points to miss the postseason.

General Manager Dale Tallon replaced Marchessault’s scoring ability this offseason by acquiring Mike Hoffman and a 2018 7th round pick (207th overall, Santtu Kinnunen) from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2018 4th round pick (123rd overall, Jack Gorniak– drafted by MTL), a 2018 5th round pick (139th overall, Mikael Hakkarainen– drafted by CHI) and a 2019 2nd round pick. The Sharks subsequently flipped the fourth and fifth round picks at the draft.

Hoffman had 22-34–56 totals in 82 games for the Ottawa Senators last season– his third straight season of 50 or more points– before it was revealed that his fiancée allegedly harassed Erik and Melinda Karlsson on social media.

Ottawa General Manager Pierre Dorion specifically did not want to trade within the division, so he sent Hoffman to San Jose, where Sharks GM Doug Wilson was more than happy to flip the offensively gifted forward to the Panthers right back in– you guessed it– the Atlantic Division.

Tallon’s not concerned about any potential locker room quarrels and Hoffman’s already texted all of his new teammates asking if they’d be okay with him wearing No. 68– last worn by Jaromir Jagr in a Panthers uniform.

While Hoffman remains Tallon’s biggest prize and boost to Florida’s offense, Michael Hutchinson, 28, was brought in as a candidate for the backup goaltending job that is all but assured to be James Reimer‘s, unless Hutchinson can do anything about that.

Yes, it was Reimer’s inability to remain a stable starting goaltender (2.99 goals against average and a .913 save percentage in 44 games played last season, 22-14-6 record) that pushed 39-year-old Roberto Luongo (2.47 GAA, .929 SV% in 35 GP, 18-11-2 record) into not only saving the season, but nearly bringing the Panthers into the playoffs on his back.

The future of goaltending in Florida remains shrouded as Luongo is under contract at $4.533 million per season through 2021-22 (by then Luongo will be 43 at season’s end), Reimer, 30, is signed through 2020-21 at $3.400 million and Hutchinson (the youngest goaltender of the three) is on a one-year deal.

But Florida’s top-six forward core is stacked with Evgenii Dadonov, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad on the prospective first line and Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Hoffman filling out line two. That leaves February acquisition from the Bruins who’s looking to prove himself in a full-time role with the Panthers, Frank Vatrano on the third line.

Right about where he was on Boston’s depth chart before their youth movement– yes a youth movement, despite Vatrano only being 24– forced him out of the lineup.

Despite the existence of Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle on the blue line, Tallon still has work to do in finding another legitimate top-four defender, let alone fixing the drastic drop-off in talent from Ekblad and Yandle to MacKenzie Weegar and Ian McCoshen likely on the third pair.

Then again, it’s really head coach Bob Boughner‘s job to figure out the right matchups to maximize potential and win games, so perhaps Michael Matheson or Mark Pysyk will be paired with better suitors as the season progresses.

Overall, between the defense and goaltending, the Panthers have to improve their plus-two goal differential from 2017-18 to be a lot more in the black.

Florida’s on the cusp of making the playoffs and turning a few heads, but they really aren’t built for a Cup run. They might be ahead of last season’s Eastern Conference wild card teams (the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils) in both development and talent, but they don’t have all the pieces as thing stand to go against the powerhouses in the league– including their intrastate rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Panthers didn’t yield a huge harvest in the offseason, but they certainly got the most out of filling their need for a top-six forward in Mike Hoffman on the second line.

While Tallon was rumored to have had conversations with Montreal regarding Max Pacioretty (now traded to the Golden Knights) prior to acquiring Hoffman, Florida made the better move for their organization in that they didn’t have to give up any current or future roster pieces for the services of a goal-scorer.

External factors might have driven Hoffman’s price down, but a prospective deal with the Canadiens for Pacioretty would have meant parting with a guy like Huberdeau and that cannot happen if the Panthers are serious about making a playoff run.

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.

2018 Mock Draft: The Complete First Round, Final Edition

It’s time for the last minute changes and mad scramble that is a General Manager and his/her scouting team’s draft selections as one player after another slowly gets taken off the board.

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Friday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas is home to the 1st round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (Saturday plays host to rounds 2-7).

All the mock drafts in the world have been released– until now. Here’s one more before you sit in front of your TV and maybe get, what, like one of your own mock draft picks right?

It’s time, once again, for completely arbitrary nonsense predicting and projecting the rest of the professional careers and lives from a group of teens.

Unknown-21. Buffalo Sabres –> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)

Both Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin have spoken without presuming the Sabres will select the Swedish defender 1st overall, but there is no other choice in this Draft– as deep as it is. Dahlin is a game-changer for a franchise that so desperately needs his new-age defense and Nicklas Lidstrom qualities.

The 6-foot-2, 181-pound two-way defender is the perfect fit in blue and gold. He’ll shutdown opponents and transition the puck up the ice, greatly increasing the speed of Buffalo’s top lines in the midst of a fast paced, rough and tough Atlantic Division.

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2. Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)

Just like there’s no substitution for the 1st overall pick, the same goes for the 2nd overall pick. Andrei Svechnikov will be a member of the Hurricanes Friday night and fans attending Carolina’s draft party will have more than one reason to celebrate in addition to the unveiling of their new third jerseys.

Svechnikov’s a pure goal scorer and just might help the Canes leap back into the postseason picture in 2019 for the first time since 2009. He had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts this season in his first season of Junior hockey. It’s been a decade in the making, but new General Manager Don Waddell and new owner Tom Dundon are ready to make a big impression.

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3. Montreal Canadiens–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)

General Manager Marc Bergevin didn’t trade away Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Max Domi for nothing. He did it with Jesperi Kotkaniemi in mind.

It’s a fresh slate for Claude Julien‘s lineup, with the projected top-6 forward centering in on the second line. Kotkaniemi had 10 goals and 19 assists (29 points) in 57 games this season with Assat and he’ll grow into stardom in Montreal.

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4. Ottawa Senators–> RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)

A dynamic scorer and underrated forward, Filip Zadina is a light at the end of one tunnel leading to the next as the Senators look to close the chapter on one book and open the next in the midst of their dumpster fire of an organization.

Zadina had 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season and should translate well into a lineup looking for a goal scorer in the wake of dumping Mike Hoffman outside the division (oops, he’s back). The 6-foot, 195-pound winger has a sharp shot that should ease Ottawa’s minus-70 goal differential in 2017-18.

Unknown-35. Arizona Coyotes–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)

Brady Tkachuk packs intensity and grit in his game along with some offense. The Boston University Terrier had 31 points in 40 games this season and is the younger brother of Calgary Flames forward, Matthew Tkachuk. Both are sons of Keith Tkachuk and played pond hockey in the same neighborhood as– sorry, don’t know how Pierre McGuire got in here for a moment.

Anyway, the younger Tkachuk is 6-foot-3, 196-pounds and will fit in alongside Galchenyk, Clayton Keller and the youth movement in Arizona that could result in a 2019 postseason appearance by the Coyotes.Unknown6. Detroit Red Wings–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

Noah Dobson was the best defender and a huge part in the reason why the Acadie-Bathurst Titan are your 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup champions– and that’s already on top of his breakout season with the Titan that saw 17 goals and 52 assists (69 points) this season.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound, right-shot two-way blueliner fits the bill as a new-age solution to an aging problem in Detroit.

imgres-27. Vancouver Canucks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)

One of the best things about drafting in the NHL is simply taking the next best available player on some scouting list, whether it’s from Central Scouting itself or your own department. In this case, Evan Bouchard is the next best available defenders on a list– my list.

The Canucks can use his 6-foot-2, 193-pound frame and right-shot to boost their transition game as Vancouver deals with the loss of Daniel and Henrik Sedin due to retirement and puts an emphasis on getting the puck up the ice to Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Bouchard had 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season.

imgres8. Chicago Blackhawks–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

All-in-all everything’s working out pretty well for the Chicago Blackhawks in their rebuild. Yes, it’s a rebuild. Landing the once viral, 9-year-old, sensation as part of TD Bank’s Mini-1-on-1s years ago, Oliver Wahlstrom is ready to graduate to the big leagues and fill in for Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp along the wing in Chicago.

He’s used to high expectations and has a wrist shot like no other, having amassed 47 goals in 60 games this season with the U.S. National U-18 Team, as well as seven goals in seven games at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound, right wing will likely go ahead and play a season with the Boston College Eagles before going pro in a Blackhawks uniform.

download9. New York Rangers–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)

Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton welcomes new head coach, David Quinn, to the Big Apple with a star in the making in Rasmus Kupari. He’s the best Finnish forward in the draft and could land a spot on the roster as New York retools on-the-fly and must re-sign or trade pending-RFAs Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov and Kevin Hayes this summer.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pound center has a lot of skills to work with and brings a bright future down the middle with Rangers 2017 first round selection, Lias Andersson, already in the fold.

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10. Edmonton Oilers–> D Quintin Hughes, Michigan (BIG10)

The Edmonton Oilers have $21 million combined locked up in cap space to star forwards, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, starting in 2018-19. General Manager Peter Chiarelli has already experienced what salary cap hell is like firsthand from his time with the Boston Bruins and is bound to move some pieces in addition to Thursday’s buyout of Eric Gryba.

Whether the Oilers use the 10th overall pick or trade it, Quintin Hughes is the perfect fit on the blueline for a team that has said they’d like to add a young defener. Hughes is drawing comparisons in his game to Torey Krug, someone Chiarelli should be familiar with, since he brought Krug to Boston in his tenure as Bruins GM.download

11. New York Islanders–> D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)

After relieving Garth Snow and Dough Weight of their duties and replacing them with new General Manager Lou Lamoriello and new head coach, Barry Trotz, respectively, the Islanders are ready to cash in on back-to-back picks in the first round.

First up, 5-foot-11, 168-pound, Swedish born defender, Adam Boqvist, who’ll need another year in the SHL to come into his own before launching his two-way blueliner career in Brooklyn.download

12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

With their second consecutive pick in the first round (as long as they don’t trade one of them or both), New York would be wise to select the center from the Sault Ste. Greyhounds, Barrett Hayton.

Hayton had 21-39–60 totals in 63 games this season and might need a year or two more in Juniors before becoming a centerpiece in Trotz’s lineup on Long Island (or Brooklyn or wherever the Islanders are planning on playing home games– they’re splitting them next season).Unknown-2

13. Dallas Stars–> D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)

General Manager Jim Nill can do new head coach in The Big-D, Jim Montgomery, a bit of a favor by tweaking the defense this offseason and there’s no better way to tweak the blueline than by planning for the future of the blueline.

Ty Smith brings depth to the transition game in Dallas, as John Klingberg and Marc Methot are already relied upon to do with the Stars, but he also brings a higher level of effectiveness on the power play. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound defender likely won’t see any time with the NHL club this season, but should make some leaps in the depth chart heading into 2019-20.

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14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Joel Farabee is one of those rare NHL-ready first round prospects that gets taken in the mid-to-late part of the opening round of the draft. He has a tremendous hockey IQ as a 5-foot-11, 164-pound left winger with a lot of speed, but he’ll be using all of that to attend classes at Boston University this fall.

It’s possible, though, that he’ll go pro after one year with the Terriers.

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15. Florida Panthers–> RW Vitali Kravtsov, Chelyabinsk (Russia)

6-foot-3, 184-pound Russian right wing, Vitali Kravtsov carries the puck well and creates chances in the slot with a good shot and silky smooth passes. General Manager Dale Tallon can take a year or two to let Kravtsov develop as the Panthers sort themselves out with about $8.000 million to spend on free agents this summer– including their own pending-RFAs in Jared McCann and Frank Vatrano.

Kravtsov had 6-5–11 totals in 16 games in the Kontinental Hockey League this season playing against men and former NHLers like Pavel Datsyuk.Unknown-1

16. Colorado Avalanche–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has his work cut out for him in drafting 6-foot-1, 193-pound center Joseph Veleno. He had 22 goals and 57 assists (79 points) in 64 games as a playmaker with Drummondville this season and should work his way into the revamped Colorado lineup in the next year or two.

Past Nathan MacKinnon, Sakic has to work on finding the next best forward down the middle in the lineup of the top-6 caliber. Veleno fits that role in time.

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17. New Jersey Devils–> LW Grigori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)

Devils General Manager Ray Shero lands a sneaky good winger with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, but there’s a catch. Grigori Denisenko’s going to need two-to-three years to work his way up in the MHL/KHL rankings to elevate his game to NHL status.

The 5-foot-11, 172-pound forward had nine goals and 22 points in 31 games for Yaroslavl this season.download

18. Columbus Blue Jackets–> RW Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL)

Serron Noel is a 6-foot-5, 205-pound behemoth of a right wing with comparisons to Blake Wheeler. Despite all the rage over Artemi Panarin‘s long-term plans with the Blue Jackets organization 1) his contract expires in 2019– that’s still a year away and 2) Noel is just the guy to compete for a top-6 spot in that time span.

He had 28-25–53 totals in 62 games for the Oshawa Generals this season and should develop into a prolific forward with another year in the OHL.

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19. Philadelphia Flyers–> C/LW Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (Sweden)

With their second pick in the first round, the Flyers lock up 6-foot, 183-pount forward, Isac Lundestrom. In a year or two– after more seasoning in the SHL– he’ll start to make a name for himself wearing Philadelphia orange.

Lundestrom had 15 points in 41 games in Sweden’s top professional league this season.

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20. Los Angeles Kings–> RW Dominik Bokk, Vaxjo (SWE J20)

Los Angeles General Manager Rob Blake has a plan in place to stick to the plan. Unfortunately, the core of his roster is aging and, despite an almost $5 million increase in the salary cap ceiling, the Kings are in a bit of a bind knowing they’ll have to re-sign 2019 pending-UFA Drew Doughty in the time between now and next year.

German-born, 6-foot-1, 176-pound right wind, Dominik Bokk had 14 goals and 27 assists (41 points) in 35 games for Vaxjo in his rookie season in Sweden’s Junior league. He went on to have 5-6–11 totals in eight playoff games along the way to winning the league championship and has all the finesse that makes him comparable to that of current Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar.Unknown

21. San Jose Sharks–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

Ryan McLeod notched 26 goals and 44 assists (70 points) with the Steelheads in 68 games this season, slightly more than doubling his offensive production in 2016-17– his sophomore year in Junior. He might be one of the more NHL ready prospects, in terms of playing experience, but the Sharks don’t have to rush him unless he makes a lasting impression at training camp.

The 6-foot-2, 206-pound forward has just the right frame for San Jose’s liking.

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22. Ottawa Senators (via Pittsburgh Penguins)–> D Bode Wilde, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Ottawa’s second pick in the first round should help restock the lackluster defensive depth if General Manager Pierre Dorion doesn’t make any moves to shake things up.

Bode Wilde’s 6-foot-2, 197-pound frame stands tall on the blueline as a potential shutdown top-4 role given time– and the Senators could use that to balance Thomas Chabot once the Erik Karlsson saga figures itself out (the extending/re-signing or trading him part, not anything else related to the dumpster fire going on in the Sens front office).Unknown-123. Anaheim Ducks–> RW Martin Kaut, Pardubice (Czech Republic)

The possibilities are endless this offseason for the Ducks. No really, there isn’t a true gut feeling on which way Anaheim will go– up or down in the standings, older or younger, more skilled and less focused on taking penalties or, well, you get the point.

Meanwhile, Czech forward, Martin Kaut is a solid selection with 2-5–7 totals in seven games for Czech Republic at the 2018 World Junior Championship. The 6-foot-1, 176-pound right wing had a much better second half of the season in the top professional Czech league after his confidence boosting WJC performance.Unknown-2

24. Minnesota Wild–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Rasmus Sandin’s offensive style fits right in the new-age Minnesota Wild now that new General Manager, Paul Fenton, is in charge. Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and some combination of Ryan Suter or Jared Spurgeon and Sandin just might be the Wild’s top-4 defensive core in the near future.

The 5-foot-11, 186-pound defender had 45 points in 51 games for the Greyhounds this season.Unknown25. Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Ty Dellandrea, Flint (OHL)

At 6-feet, 184-pounds, Ty Dellandrea’s frame is perfect to make some great first impressions at training camp this fall. General Manager Kyle Dubas continues to showcase his skill in his promotion as one of the best evaluators of talent in an analytically driven mind.

Flint finished second-to-last (19th out of 20 teams) in the OHL this season, but Dellandrea was a bright spot and Dubas has a knack for finding those and making something out of it.

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26. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> D Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)

Jared McIsaac is a burly, 6-foot-1, 195-pound, defender that amassed 47 points in 65 games with Halifax this season. His size and skill alone should be enough to compensate for the beating and battering in the battle for the Metropolitan Division lead over the next few seasons.

McIsaac isn’t ready now, but he should flourish under Quinn and the Rangers– if Gorton doesn’t trade the pick.

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27. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> D Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL)

An offensive defenseman, Ryan Merkley had 13 goals in 63 games for Guelph this season. At 5-foot-11, 170-pounds, he’ll need some time to develop his physical presence to an NHL grade, but he’s shown some feisty two-way play in his time in Junior.

Regardless, Chicago needs to start planning for the post-Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith days.

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28. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> RW Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)

As long as the Rangers hold on to all three of their first round picks, Akil Thomas is a steal at 28th overall. Thomas had 81-points with the Niagara IceDogs this season. He’ll need another year or two to develop into the forward New York will want him to be in the NHL, though.imgres-1

29. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C Jay O’Brien, Thayer Academy (USHS)

Jay O’Brien has the chance to turn a fantastic year in high school into a professional career, having amassed 43-37–80 totals in 30 games for Thayer Academy in Massachusetts.

Doug Armstrong and the Blues would be smart to find a versatile scorer to match Vladimir Tarasenko‘s style of play, even if it takes another year or two for O’Brien to develop, since St. Louis has some spots on the roster to overhaul this summer and next.

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30. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C Jack McBain, Toronto (OJHL)

Jack McBain’s a gifted playmaker that should pan out in a couple of years really well alongside the likes of Anthony Mantha and the rest of the Red Wings. He had 5-19–24 totals in 39 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens this season and will be attending Boston College this fall.Washington Capitals Logo

31. Washington Capitals–> D Mattias Samuelsson, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Winning the Stanley Cup means the Capitals will pick last in the first round, but General Manager Brian MacLellan is fine with it– it means you had a successful season, after all. While Washington’s front office finds their next head coach, MacLellan snags 6-foot-4, 218-pound defenseman, Mattias Samuelsson, from the U.S. U-18 National Development Program and lets him grow into a top-4 role with the Caps.

Samuelsson had 11-20–31 totals in 58 games this season. Not only can he shutdown opponents, but his two-way game’s pretty good too.

Other Players To Watch For in the Top 62 

In no particular order:

C Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)

LW Albin Eriksson, Skelleftå (SWE J20)

D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)

C/LW Fillip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)

C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)

D Alexander Alexeyev, Red Deer (WHL)

C Liam Foudy, London (OHL)

D K’Andre Miller, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

D Jett Woo, Moose Jaw (WHL)

C Jacob Olofsson, Timra (Sweden)

Top Goalies

Olivier Rodrigue, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Olof Lindbolm, Djurgarden (SWE J20)

Jakub Skarek, Jihlava (Czech Republic)

Lukáš Dostal, Brno (Czech Jr.)

Justus Annunen, Karpat (Fin-Jr.)

2018 Offseason Preview: Florida Panthers

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Florida Panthers and their outlook for the summer.

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Despite coming and going all season long, the Florida Panthers quietly made a run from February down the stretch that came up a little bit short and turned some heads that were otherwise focused all season long on the money-puck driven Carolina Hurricanes.

Florida almost pulled it off– well, almost made the postseason, that is– but with a record of 44-30-8 and 96 points on the season, the 4th place team in the Atlantic Division was no match for the stacked Metropolitan Division and finished one-point shy of a wild card spot (both the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils finished with 97 points on the year and both Eastern Conference wild cards).

One thing that was apparent from the 2017 Expansion Draft where the Vegas Golden Knights claimed last season’s leading scorer for Florida, Jonathan Marchessault, and acquired Reilly Smith in a deal to protect some other Panthers roster player not named Marchessault, well…

Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith don’t grow on trees (but having at least one of them would have helped Florida’s 2017-18 cause).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

General Manager Dale Tallon has the 15th overall pick in the 2018 Draft to select one of the best available players in his selection standing in either Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley.

Or Tallon could trade the pick for an asset that’d help his roster in the here and now as part of what would likely be a larger deal.

Pending free agents

Tallon has about $9.000 million as things stand right now to spread over his pending free agents and/or talent acquisitions outside of the organization’s current depth chart.

The good news is the cap ceiling is expected to rise, so the Panthers should have at least $2.000 million more to utilize.

Pending-UFA Connor Brickley, 26, resurrected his professional career with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) in 2016-17 to go on and produce 4-8–12 totals in 44 games with the Florida Panthers after being claimed by Vegas, not re-signed and subsequently reuniting with the Panthers last summer.

He’s a low-cost, potentially high-reward player, if you value some production on your fourth line.

In his first nearly full season in the NHL, Jared McCann, 22, posted nine goals and 19 assists (28 points) as a playmaker in 68 games with Florida. There’s no easy one offseason fix for the Panthers– being so tight against the cap and all– that they have to hope McCann can keep improving with more minutes.

Frank Vatrano, 24, had two goals with the Boston Bruins in 25 games prior to being traded for a 2018 third round pick this season. Since the deal was made, Vatrano notched five goals and three assists (eight points) with Florida in 16 games played.

For a small sample size in a larger role, that’s promising, given he wasn’t going to get a chance on Boston’s second line (too much depth down the left for the Bruins, a la Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk) and should be a left wing lock on the second line heading into 2018-19 for Florida.

He won’t see a raise immediately, but likely should sign on to a bridge deal before cashing in on a larger piece of the pie.

Both McCann and Vatrano are pending-RFA forwards for Florida.

Alex Petrovic, 26, is in his final year of pending-RFA eligibility and has a role as a bottom-pair defender.

For around $1.000 million, Tallon should keep him around another year, realizing his defense won’t improve on its own without A) more offensive support, B) better goaltending or C) some different coaching strategies.

MacKenzie Weegar, 24, is also a pending-RFA blueliner in the Sunshine State with 2-6–8 totals in his first almost full NHL season (60 games played). Despite first impressions, that’s respectable for a top-six defender coming into his own in the early onset/middle of his prime.

He’ll also be inexpensive to keep around if Tallon can move some bigger pieces around after realizing he gave Michael Matheson such a generous pay raise over eight-years ($4.875 million AAV) for a *checks notes* 27-point season after Matheson put up 17 points in his rookie year.

There’s a reason why prolific scorers like Marchessault and Smith were squeezed out, left exposed and traded to Vegas, respectively.

Finally, in goal for the Panthers, 39-year-old Roberto Luongo is signed through the 2021-22 season with a cap hit of $4.533 million on the books. Likewise, 30-year-old backup goaltender, James Reimer, is on the books through 2020-21 at $3.400 million AAV.

Wait, but Luongo only played 35 games, you say?

Yes, it’s true, Luongo took a backseat to Reimer this season and posted a 2.47 goals against average with a .929 save percentage compared to Reimer’s 2.99 GAA and .913 SV% in 44 games played. Oof.

The saying “what did you do for me yesterday” doesn’t make Reimer look good in the long run.

Surely you can just call someone up– oh.

Florida should at least roadmap a blueprint of what the future in goal looks like, because Luongo’s not getting any younger– despite the future Hall of Famer that he is– and Reimer is well, at it again with the whole “not a legitimate starting goaltender” thing.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Edward Wittchow (RFA), Curtis Valk (RFA), Harri Sateri (UFA), Linus Hultstrom (RFA), Alexandre Grenier (UFA), Chase Balisy (UFA), Gregory Chase (RFA)

Dead cap space: Jussi Jokinen ($1.333 million through 2018-19– buyout), Jason Demers ($562,500 through 2020-21, retained salary)