Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.
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.
The St. Louis Blues just keep on winning (11 straight, to be exact). Can they win it all? The Tampa Bay Lightning are not Stanley Cup favorites according to Nick– nobody is! Did the Edmonton Oilers win a trade? Cory Schneider won a game! and other milestones from the last week, as well as whatever happened in the Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks game on Monday.
We’re just over a week into December, I know, but let’s all hop in the time machine and take a retroactive look at how the rest of the season should pan out based on how the league standings were through November 30, 2018.
Things have started to cool in places around the league (like Carolina), while other clubs (like Buffalo) have heated up to become serious playoff contenders– so let’s take a look at how everything should shake out between now and the first couple of weeks of April.
There’s no guarantees with any forecast, but general indications start to get a little clearer once the season’s hit the quarter-mark and American Thanksgiving has come and gone.
Realistically, if your team is anywhere between 1st and 5th in your division, you’re in for the ride of your life still from now through the end of the regular season. If you’re 6th, 7th or 8th, well, it’s never too early to start thinking about the Draft lottery (plus the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship’s coming up at the end of the month, so that’s exciting too) or about how many games it would take to go on an incredibly hot streak and jump back into the playoff picture.
Without further ado, it’s time to glance around the league and breakdown some of the unforeseen circumstances that are yet to come.
Projected Standings After Two Months
- y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 108 points (26 GP so far)
- x-Boston Bruins, 104 points (25 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 101 points (26 GP so far)
- wc1-Buffalo Sabres, 91 points (27 GP so far)
- Montreal Canadiens, 91 points (25 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (25 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 84 points (24 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 83 points (26 GP so far)
The Tampa Bay Lightning rightfully lay claim to the crown as the leader of the Atlantic Division at regular season’s end. It doesn’t matter that Steven Stamkos has yet to record a point in six career Game 7s. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point on a line of their own. They don’t even need Stamkos.
Just kidding, they still do, because that other No. 91 signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason and just think how explosive a playoff matchup of Tampa and Toronto could be in the Battle of John Tavares Signed Where Leafs Fans Wanted Steven Stamkos To Sign Just A Couple Of Offseasons Ago, But Didn’t Because He Stayed With The Lightning.
You know it’s going to happen.
Actually, in the latest forecast entering December, the Boston Bruins slide out of the top spot, because injuries continue to plague their season. However, if they can recover to full health, there’s a good chance they might usurp the Maple Leafs and finish 2nd in the division, unlike what current standings dictate.
But regaining full health is a major stipulation and part of the reason why– while Toronto is 3rd in this forecast– there’s a good chance the Bruins might (probably will) slip further as January’s forecast nears.
This is about the time where it’s important to note the overarching focus on this forecast should be on where each team is positioned and how close in points they are to those above and below before placing any concrete emphasis on how things play out from now through the first week of April 2019.
The Buffalo Sabres make the biggest gain in the Atlantic Division, jumping up four spots in the division standings from the basement to 4th place and a playoff berth (albeit a wild card spot).
The Sabres 10-game winning streak– combined with the additions of Rasmus Dahlin and Jeff Skinner in the offseason– proved to be a season-defining stretch of games as Buffalo returns to Stanley Cup Playoff action for the first time since 2011 (despite the current 0-3-2 run in their last five games).
On the outside looking in, the Montreal Canadiens slipped a spot and might be a pretender– especially if Carey Price (11-8-4 record, 2.92 goals against average, .902 save percentage in 23 games played) continues to struggle. To his credit, his GAA is under three now, so there’s that.
The Detroit Red Wings gained some traction with the ongoing lack of focus in Ottawa Senators video reviews and the Florida Panthers injuries.
- p-Washington Capitals, 108 points (25 GP so far)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 99 points (25 GP so far)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 98 points (24 GP so far)
- wc2-New York Rangers, 92 points (26 GP so far)
- New York Islanders, 90 points (24 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (25 GP so far)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (24 GP so far)
- New Jersey Devils, 81 points (24 GP so far)
The Washington Capitals remain in control of the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in tow.
Of course, Columbus and Pittsburgh are worth keeping a close eye on as the Blue Jackets have been all over the place near the top and the Penguins have yet to be in playoff position since– actually, pretty much never so far this season.
Plus there’s the whole “second-half of the season surge” we’re still waiting to see from Mike Sullivan’s bunch. That’ll almost assure Pittsburgh of a playoff berth, if not in a divisional spot, at least.
The New York Rangers gained two spots since entering November, which means the rebuild’s over!
Look how close the Rangers, New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes are forecasted to be in points. Even the Philadelphia Flyers have a chance– mathematically speaking, of course.
The battle for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference is going to come down to one of the teams in the Big Apple and Carolina, especially since the rest of the division lacks clarity.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils are in the dumps. Taylor Hall isn’t a flash in the pan, but the rest of the Devils are, it appears.
- z-Nashville Predators, 104 points (26 GP so far)
- x-Minnesota Wild, 98 points (25 GP so far)
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points (24 GP so far)
- wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 93 points (26 GP so far)
- wc2-Dallas Stars, 90 points (26 GP so far)
- St. Louis Blues, 88 points (24 GP so far)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 87 points (26 GP so far)
Both the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild remain in the 1-2 spots in the latest forecast. Despite the current hot streak from the Calgary Flames, the Predators are going to be the best team in the conference by the end of the regular season.
The Winnipeg Jets are starting to become like the Penguins under Sullivan’s reign in that Paul Maurice is bound to lead his team to a second-half of the season surge into a divisional spot (or higher).
Of course, there’s always a wild card– both in the literal wild card berth and dark horse standpoint– and that’s the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs have a great chance at jumping up into a divisional spot, since they’ve gained three positions from the previous forecast entering November to the current forecast entering December. The fact of the matter is the Avalanche are a playoff contender– like last season– but with the added improvement of having built on last season’s experience.
Then there’s the Dallas Stars, who might find themselves landing in a wild card position by circumstance (have you even seen the Pacific Division?) and by luck in Jim Montgomery’s first season behind the bench.
Towards the cellar of the Central Division, the St. Louis Blues are bad, but not as bad as they are currently, which isn’t great news if you’re trying to lose for Jack Hughes.
But if you’re a Blues fan who hates rivals more than losing, there’s a positive takeaway– the Chicago Blackhawks are destined to finished last in the Central. They’re bad. Very bad.
- y-San Jose Sharks, 97 points (26 GP so far)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 97 points (28 GP so far)
- x-Calgary Flames, 93 points (26 GP so far)
- Vegas Golden Knights, 85 points (27 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (25 GP so far)
- Los Angeles Kings, 79 points (26 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 78 points (24 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 78 points (28 GP so far)
The San Jose Sharks’ grasp on the Pacific Division is loosening as the Anaheim Ducks are heating up as one of the hottest teams out west– and that’s not including the one with fire in their name.
San Jose should– should— hit their stride at some point and have everything click into place, but if they don’t the Ducks are hot on their tail. How close? Close enough to show there’s no difference in their forecast total points in the standings by the end of the regular season.
The Sharks could be first or they could be second. Perhaps the Calgary Flames have something to say about that.
It’s anybody’s game in the Pacific Division playoff berths, but one thing’s for sure, there’s not going to be a wild card team coming out of the Pacific.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, that means they’re really going to have to soar and never let their foot off the gas. Vegas only survived so much without Nate Schmidt in the lineup on their blue line– they can’t afford any more major bumps in the road.
The Edmonton Oilers have Ken Hitchcock behind the bench and while they might appear to be gaining ground, they’re sure to be just outside of the playoff window looking in like how Hitchcock’s Stars were last season. Just wait for the implosion.
In the bottom three, the Los Angeles Kings might not be as terrible as they have been if 1) Marco Sturm gets named head coach and Willie Desjardins’ interim basis comes to a close and 2) the Kings light a fire under their grizzled veterans and revive whatever’s left of them this season.
The Arizona Coyotes are on par with how Arizona’s been the last few seasons. Not great, but not terrible and sometimes downtrodden due to injury.
The hype surrounding the Vancouver Canucks in October and early November was just that– hype. No amount of Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser can compensate for the holes on the blue line and lack of goaltending. It’s almost as if Canucks General Manager Jim Benning has been living a Groundhog Day career from year-to-year with Vancouver.
Their offense is good, their defense is suspect and their goaltending isn’t starter quality.
The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.
Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.
Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?
Erik Karlsson finally got traded, NHL 19 came out and our official 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview just so happened to be this week too. Nick and Connor place their bets on the San Jose Sharks and more.
31-40-11, 73 points, 7th in the Pacific Division
Subtractions: F Cole Cassels (signed, DEL), F Michael Chaput (traded to CHI, signed with MTL), F Nic Dowd (signed with WSH), F Joseph LaBate (signed with Belleville Senators, AHL), F Jayson Megna (signed with WSH), F Griffen Molino (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Daniel Sedin (retired), F Henrik Sedin (retired), D Patrick Wiercioch (signed, KHL)
Still Unsigned: D Anton Cederholm, F Jussi Jokinen, D MacKenze Stewart
Offseason Analysis: We all knew this day would come, but didn’t want the telepathy to end. Yes, both Daniel and Henrik Sedin retired at the end of the 2017-18 regular season, leaving the Vancouver Canucks with an identity crisis– well, almost.
Does Jim Benning know the definition of a rebuild?
The Canucks General Manager signed veteran forwards Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel to matching four-year, $12 million contracts (worth $3.000 million per season). Beagle, 32, and Roussel, 28, are not top-six forwards. One’s past his prime, despite winning the Cup with the Washington Capitals last season and the other, well, $3.000 million a year for not just one fourth liner but two is the definition of insanity.
Doing the same thing and expecting different results, Benning keeps patching a non-playoff contender with grizzled veterans on long-term contracts.
It’s one thing to fill some roster holes with veteran players while you rebuild in the short term, but four-year deals? Four-years!?! Especially when this seems to be a trend up and down the lineup since losing to the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
That should be enough to convince Vancouver’s ownership group (Canucks Sports & Entertainment) that they should hit the reset button on their current front office.
One good signing– and the only good signing– made by Benning at improving the Canucks bottom-six depth was the addition of former Buffalo Sabre and Boston Bruin, Tim Schaller.
Schaller’s respectable two-year deal at $1.900 million per season is right about what you would expect to pay a top-notch fourth liner that can play third line minutes when called upon.
His 22 points in 82 games with Boston last season matched Beagle’s output in 79 games with the Capitals and was five-points better than Roussel’s 5-12–17 totals in 73 games for the Dallas Stars in 2017-18.
Schaller’s cap hit is a little more than half of Beagle and Roussel’s.
Thatcher Demko isn’t ready for a full-time NHL role yet– either in the starting capacity or as a backup netminder. Anders Nilsson had his worst season as a backup in his first year as a Canuck, amassing a 3.44 goals against average and .901 save percentage in 27 games played.
Meanwhile, subpar starting goalie, Jacob Markstrom worsened from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in GAA (going from a 2.63 to a 2.71), but improved in SV% (.910 in 2016-17 to a .912 in 2017-18)– all while making the jump from being a backup himself in 2016-17 (playing in 26 games) to being Vancouver’s starter in 2017-18 (and playing in 60 games).
There’s hope to be had in 2018-19, however, in standout prospects Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen. Both should make the Canucks NHL roster and be implemented in the lineup for added flair, coupled with the Horvat, Boeser and Virtanen regime that’s now in full swing.
Despite the rumblings of a young core, Vancouver’s still in a tough spot given the strength of the Pacific Division.
The San Jose Sharks look to be a Cup contender on paper, Los Angeles is seeking one last chance at completing a trifecta this decade and Anaheim rounds out the annual California hockey powerhouse.
Meanwhile the Vegas Golden Knights certainly aren’t slowing down.
Between the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Vancouver– anything can happen. Edmonton should be better than they were last season, but should and in reality are separate things. Calgary, despite their revamped roster, has Bill Peters behind the bench (enough said).
So if the Canucks are looking to make any ground from 2018-19 to 2019-20, it very well might be on their Pacific Division Canadian counterparts.
What about the Arizona Coyotes, you ask?
They won’t be in last place in the division this season, so Vancouver better watch out. Unless, of course, Benning and Co. are starting to come around to the idea of tanking for a high-end 2019 1st round pick. That’d probably do them a lot of favors.
Offseason Grade: D
It’s hard to track progress when you let yourself get in the way of whatever you’ve got going. I don’t know what that means other than trying to say that the Canucks should continue to pursue a youth movement, decent depth signings (like Schaller) and abandon all hope on– oh wait, they signed Beagle and Roussel to matching four-year contracts.
If The Hockey Guy sees this by any chance– ‘sup. Let’s be friends, friend.
Nick and Connor present yet another offseason episode while just about every other hockey podcast has gone off to their cottage on the lake. This week: Tom Wilson’s extension, Mario Lemieux’s summer home, Tyler Seguin, third jerseys so far and should teams wear white at home?
Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.
It’s the third day of our 2018 offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams and today kicks off with the Vancouver Canucks.
Nobody expected the Vancouver Canucks to be a mid-pack team in 2017-18 and well, what do you know, they weren’t. The Canucks finished 7th in the Pacific Division this season with a 31-40-11 record and 73 points on the season.
Vancouver was second-to-last in Western Conference standings, behind the Chicago Blackhawks by three points in the standings and just ahead of the Arizona Coyotes.
Chicago was the only team in the Central Division to not reach the 90-point plateau, while Vancouver was one of three teams in the Pacific Division to amass less than 80 points on the season.
Other than that, Vancouver still has two fringe starter/backup goaltenders, 32-year-old Loui Eriksson under contract with a cap hit of $6.000 million through the 2021-22 season and a lack of apparent depth throughout the lineup.
At least Bo Horvat is part of the core and the team has gotten younger (due, in part, to the Sedin’s retiring).
2018 NHL Entry Draft
There’s no reason to sound all doom-and-gloom regarding the Canucks, because they’ve managed to establish a small pool of productive prospects in Thatcher Demko, Michael DiPietro, Olli Juolevi, Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlén.
Another down year can be expected, but there’s plenty of room to grow and turn a lot of heads in 2018-19.
Thankfully, in the deep draft that is the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Vancouver won’t miss out on a decent top-10 prospect with the 7th overall pick as long as General Manager Jim Benning doesn’t mess things up.
It only makes sense that Benning goes with the best available player by the time the Canucks are on the clock– whether it’s (not listed in any particular order) Brady Tkachuk, Oliver Wahlstrom, Evan Bouchard, Quintin Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Rasmus Kupari or Joel Farabee– since there’s no immediate need on the NHL roster that can be filled by a player in this year’s draft.
Pending free agents
What it all comes down to for Vancouver is sticking to the plan. Now is the time to implement more youth with the likes of Demko, Juolevi, Pettersson and Dahlén in expanded or new roles altogether on the NHL club.
However, Demko’s path to stealing a job in net for the Canucks is currently crowded by Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson as 1A and 1B solutions to the fact that Vancouver does not have a true number one, starting goaltender.
Markstrom, 28, has two-years remaining on his current contract with a $3.667 million cap hit. That’s a friendly value for any team that’s looking for a temporary placeholder in net as a low-cost, potentially high-reward, starting goaltender– as long as that team has a defense to limit shots against.
Nilsson, 28, has one-year left on his contract and a $2.500 million cap hit. Again, also a bargain in the grand scheme of things, where top-notch goaltenders run organizations around $7.000 million in cap space.
Both are in their goaltending prime, which is different from a skater’s prime in that it’s usually delayed in comparison by a few years, but neither Markstrom nor Nilsson have shown they are going to get better than their 2.71 and 3.44 goals against averages in 60 and 27 games played, respectively.
That’s not just a case of a bad defense.
Average is still average and below average is still below average. For the Canucks to get better, they almost have to get worse, which sounds horrible to diehard fans, but might not actually be that bad.
Sure, Demko doesn’t have the level of experience that Markstrom and Nilsson have, but for a team that’s truly committed to a rebuild, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let him get more playing time to help bring his NHL game up to speed.
Aside from goaltending, Vancouver has six pending free agent forwards to assess. Three of them (Jussi Jokinen, Nic Dowd and Darren Archibald) are pending-unrestricted free agents and three of them are pending-restricted free agents (Jake Virtanen, Markus Granlund and Sven Baertschi).
Of their pending-UFA forwards, Dowd should get a callback, while the priority remains on re-signing the 21-year-old Virtanent and 25-year-old Granlund this summer.
Baertschi has only passed the 30-point plateau once in his career, but fills a role as a third line forward that the Canucks desperately need. Anything more than a bridge deal for the 25-year-old forward could come back to bite the organization if his offense doesn’t improve.
Once expected to change the course of Pittsburgh’s blueline, Pouliot was the 8th overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and only just played his first full NHL season with Vancouver in 2017-18. Plus/minus aside (he was a minus-22 in 71 games played), Pouliot is worthy of keeping around, so long as Erik Gudbranson is considered expendable.
Stecher, on the other hand, has shown signs of being a puck-moving defender with flashes of a decent transition game, but had 1-10–11 totals in 68 games played as part of a sophomore slump.
While the Canucks may have higher expectations for Stecher, given his homegrown development, Pouliot outplayed his teammate with double the production (22 points).
If Vancouver is serious about moving Gudbranson and convinces Alexander Edler to waive his no-trade-clause for a transaction, then both Pouliot and Stecher have bigger roles and a proving ground to make the most of what should be bridge contract extensions.
The Canucks have a little more than $22 million to work with in cap space this summer.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Joseph Labate (UFA), Anton Cederholm (RFA), Cole Cassels (RFA), Griffen Molino (RFA), MacKenze Stewart (RFA), Patrick Wiercioch (UFA), Jayson Megna (UFA), Richard Bachman (UFA), Reid Boucher (RFA), Michael Chaput (RFA)