Nick, Cap’n and Pete announce their top-10 right wingers of their lifetimes while Connor mails it in and Nick reads his list (somebody has to do work around here). Keeping with tradition, all of Thursday’s big news was announced during or shortly after recording.
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.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Chicago Blackhawks and their outlook for the summer.
It was their worst season since before the days of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. With a 33-39-10 record and 76 points on the season in 2017-18, the Chicago Blackhawks finished last in the Central Divison and missed the playoffs for the first time in Kane and Toews’s careers with the organization.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks and their fans, things are only going to get worse or stay the same before they get better. There is no one offseason fix-all cure for Chicago given their salary cap structure and overall prospect development.
While Kane and Toews are on the books at $10.500 million each through the 2022-23 season, Brent Seabrook is actually on the books for a season longer– albeit at a $6.875 million cap hit instead of $21.000 million combined in Kane and Toews.
The only point to make here is there’s no need to overreact and dump Kane and/or Toews– yet– but rather, Seabrook is currently 33-years-old. Duncan Keith is 34-years-old. Both have no-movement clauses in their contracts in the midst of a redeveloping defense for the Blackhawks.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
The long days of the offseason were made even longer for Chicago fans used to their team going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final– a la 2010, 2013 and 2015 when the Blackhawks won three Cups in five years– after the team was eliminated from even participating in the postseason as the days of the 2017-18 season wound down.
With the 8th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman should put his focus on drafting a defenseman.
Why? Because one of their top-2 defenders (Keith or Seabrook) will have to be moved to attain pieces for the future as part of this rebuild at some point in time and since Trevor van Riemsdyk left via the Vegas Golden Knights 2017 Expansion Draft, Chicago hasn’t had a legitimate defensive prospect.
Someone like Evan Bouchard, Adam Boqvist, Ty Smith or Bode Wilde should be available at 8th overall and the Blackhawks should take a stab at one of them.
As for the 27th overall pick (from the Nashville Predators acquired in the Ryan Hartman trade)? Bowman can pursue what he sees fit for the organization’s prospect pool.
Pending free agents
There aren’t that many pending free agents on Chicago’s current NHL roster and with about $6.200 million to spend this offseason, that’s just all right.
Vinnie Hinostroza, Tomas Jurco and Anthony Duclair are the only pending free agent forwards from the end of the regular season roster. Both Hinostroza, 24, and Duclair, 22, should be re-signed with Duclair likely eyeing more dollar value or shorter term to cash in later as the two forwards are pending-restricted free agents.
Jurco was given a second chance at his NHL career in the Blackhawks’s acquisition of his skillset in the 2016-17 season from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a third round pick in the 2017 Draft (Keith Petruzzelli), but only played in 29 games in 2017-18, spending most of his time as a healthy scratch under Joel Quenneville‘s watchful eye.
The 25-year-old forward amassed 6-4–10 totals, yielding his best point-per-game production (.344 pts/game) since his rookie appearance with the Red Wings in 2013-14 (.394 pts/game, 8-7–15 totals in 36 games). In other words, he’s not good and should not be re-signed.
Chicago only has one pending free agent defenseman– 39-year-old, Michal Rozsival— and will walk away from him this offseason, undoubtedly.
Corey Crawford, 33, has two-years remaining on his contract with a $6.000 million cap hit. The starting goaltender isn’t getting any younger and is overcoming an injury plagued season that played a large part in the Blackhawks sudden demise.
Crawford likely won’t go anywhere any time soon, but the planning for the next number one in Chicago has to start sooner or later.
Meanwhile, backup Anton Forsberg has one-year left at $750,000 as a 25-year-old. He’ll be a pending-RFA in 2019 and likely won’t see a dramatic raise unless he usurps Crawford in the depth chart.
Overall, the Blackhawks cannot afford to go after any big names this summer, regardless of the Marian Hossa outcome. Hossa’s on the books through the 2020-21 season at $5.275 million AAV even though his playing days are over.
The winger isn’t going to retire before his contract expires so he can collect his salary– which is actually only $1.000 million for the next three years– and Chicago doesn’t have to trade him if they’re fine with placing him on the injured reserve from season-to-season as they did heading into 2017-18.
It’s not that the organization needs to reach the cap floor or that they really need to rid themselves of the dead cap space to attract any talent this summer, but Hossa’s contract will be on their radar as something to move by July 2019 once the Blackhawks set a course of action for what likely has become a rebuild.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Nearing the end of the month of May there’s only two teams remaining in contention for the Stanley Cup– the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals. As a result, we now have a better picture of how the first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft should go based on the lottery and where all the other teams fell out of the postseason.
Without having the advantage of a) being a professional scout for a living or b) having whatever kind of TV package/time-space continuum that would allow me to see every prospect play, this is the next best thing we’ve got– completely rudimentary “expert” opinion on mostly teenagers and what just might become reality from the dream of one day becoming an NHL player.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
While the Golden Knights and Capitals decide who’ll be eating cereal, drinking their favorite beverage or literally doing whatever they want with the Cup all summer, 29 other franchises are preparing for the Entry Draft right now.
“29”, you say, “but there’s not even that many teams that still have picks in the first round!”
That’s correct, but there’s seven rounds of
hell to sit through while 30 other GMs make their picks before yours and every now and then Gary Bettman interrupts with a trade to announce, getting everyone excited only to reveal that a team has swapped one draft pick for two or three or a bag of pucks drafting players that all GMs have to sit through, so while not everyone may have a first round pick (because they traded it away or whatever) all 31 clubs have to prepare for the Draft anyway because depth can come from anywhere.
And yes, we went from “29 other teams are preparing” to “all 31”, but come on, you know Vegas and Washington have done their homework too, right?
Everyone– even Hockey Men who only need their own eyes once– has at least glanced over the list of prospects to choose from this June.
Anyway, this is just the second of three editions of my mock draft from earlier this month until draft day (June 22nd), so as not to confuse you, bore you or– by some miracle– humor you some more, here we go.
This year’s NHL Entry Draft is being held at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas from June 22nd-23rd.
1. Buffalo Sabres –> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)
Jack Eichel hedged his compliments surrounding Dahlin as the Draft technically hasn’t occurred yet and the Sabres could shock the world and choose anyone they want not named “Rasmus Dahlin.” However, Buffalo, New York is shaping up to be the capital of the world for people with the first name “Rasmus” as of the last week or so.
It only makes sense that they land the best player in this year’s draft and, oh yeah, he’s a two-way defenseman that can get Buffalo back on track. The 6-foot-2, 181-pound blueliner is the perfect fit in blue and gold as someone who can shutdown and get the puck out of the zone in what’ll be another fast paced, rough and tumble Atlantic Division in 2018-19.
2. Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)
Second-best isn’t an indication of being “first worst” by any means when it comes to Andrei Svechnikov in his draft class. The Hurricanes already have a plethora of youth and skill on the back end, so while they won’t be adding the talent of the 1st overall defender, it’s not really like they need it.
They need a pure goal scorer, a gifted top-six winger who just might land Carolina inside the postseason picture in 2019 for the first time since 2009. What a difference ten years [could] make. Svechnikov had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts this season– just his first season of Junior hockey.
3. Montreal Canadiens–> RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)
Montreal’s spent a lot of time focusing on bigger and burlier players the last few years, but after finding themselves in an unusual position (a rebuild!) the Habs are ready to reload. A dynamic goal scorer and underrated as a forward, Filip Zadina fits right in with the Canadiens.
His 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season should translate well into a lineup looking to improve their minus-55 goal differential in 2017-18. The 6-foot, 195-pound winger can change the course of a game with his sharp shot.
4. Ottawa Senators–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
Noah Dobson can get pucks up the ice with ease while maintaining stellar two-way play. He’d be a great fit alongside Thomas Chabot, especially in what could become a post-Erik Karlsson era in Ottawa either this offseason via a trade or next offseason via free agency.
Dobson is a safe, smart, best available pick at 6-foot-3, 180-pounds. The right-shot defender had 17-52–69 totals with Acadie-Bathurst Titan this season in the QMJHL.
5. Arizona Coyotes–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
Since going viral as a 9-year-old in one of the TD Bank Mini-1-on-1s years ago, Oliver Wahlstrom has had high expectations to live up to– and he’s met them. His wrist shot is among the best and he 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.
He’s a complete package of speed and skill– something the Coyotes have been stockpiling as they center their offense around Clayton Keller. At 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, Wahlstrom’s size is already that of an NHLer, but he’ll likely go ahead and play a season with the Boston College Eagles as he intends to before going pro.
6. Detroit Red Wings–> D Quintin Hughes, Michigan (BIG10)
The Red Wings have a need for young, quality, defenders (aside from Xavier Ouellet). Luckily for them, Quintin Hughes is available as a decent skater with excellent puck skills (hands and a heavy shot). Like Torey Krug, Hughes can control the game by moving the puck and firing off an accurate shot.
7. Vancouver Canucks–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)
Losing the Sedins to retirement doesn’t hurt as much when you add the brother of one of your biggest rivals. Brady Tkachuk is equally as intense and gritty as his brother Matthew is with the Calgary Flames, but the younger Tkachuk has more of an offensive upside to his game– pure scoring ability. At 6-foot-3, 196-pounds, he’ll fit in well with the Canucks core players, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.
8. Chicago Blackhawks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)
The Blackhawks have quite a few cracks in their roster since they lost Trevor van Riemsdyk in the Vegas expansion draft, Marian Hossa to a skin condition and Patrick Sharp to retirement. They traded Ryan Hartman, Michal Kempny and Tommy Wingels at the deadline and desperately need to replenish their defensive depth. They’ve also got an aging problem, with Duncan Keith (34) and Brent Seabrook (33) signed for a long time.
Luckily for Chicago, Evan Bouchard is one of the best new-age defenders that had 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season. Bouchard is a 6-foot-2, 193-pound, right-shot defenseman that can be a leader from the back end. His transition game is phenomenal and should help get the puck up the ice to core guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
9. New York Rangers–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)
New York state’s “Rasmus” population increases yet again– though this time in New York City, not upstate in Buffalo– as the Rangers welcome new head coach, David Quinn, with Rasmus Kupari’s skill set to add to the fold. Kupari is the best Finnish forward in the draft and with Ryan Spooner as a pending-RFA and more to sort out this offseason, New York’s looking to make smart picks in both the now and down the road.
10. Edmonton Oilers–>D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)
Edmonton Oilers general manager, Peter Chiarelli, would like to find a stable, young defenseman this offseason without overpaying. If Chiarelli is fine giving Adam Boqvist a little time to come into his own, then Chiarelli shouldn’t have to look any further than the 10th overall pick that he’s got.
The 5-foot-11, 168-pound, Swedish born defender could use another year in the SHL before becoming a two-way power on the Oilers defense.
11. New York Islanders–> C/LW Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (Sweden)
In the first of back-to-back picks, the Islanders look to round-out a group of young forwards that can develop and work together. A 5-foot-11, 178-pound forward, Isac Lundestrom should play a role in the Islanders top-six forwards after another year or two of SHL play.
12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
Lou Lamoriello’s welcome to New York comes in the form of two solid back-to-back draft picks with Joel Farabee being the more NHL-ready of the two at the moment thanks to his knowledge of the North American game compared to Lundestrom. The 5-foot-11, 164-pound left winger has a lot of speed and tremendous hockey IQ that he’ll be bringing to Boston University this fall.
Meanwhile the Islanders are busy trying to re-sign John Tavares right now, probably.
13. Dallas Stars–> D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)
The Stars need to rework their defense a bit while new head coach, Jim Montgomery figures out how to fire up Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. Ty Smith adds to the transition game that’s already pretty strong (and reliant) on John Klingberg, while the return of Marc Methot from injury should really anchor the blueline in Dallas.
Smith’s effective on the power play and has some room to grow as a 5-foot-10, 175-pound defender.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)–> D Bode Wilde, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
Bode Wilde’s a 6-foot-2, 197-pound behemoth on the blue line. An underrated defender, he should develop nicely into a top-four role– and that’s even among an already stacked group of defensive prospects in Philadelphia.
15. Florida Panthers–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Florida turned a lot of heads almost making the playoffs despite trading Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights and leaving Jonathan Marchessault exposed at the Expansion Draft last June. Despite their obvious setbacks, the Panthers picked up Frank Vatrano in a deal with the Bruins back in February, so they’ve kind of rounded out their top-six forwards.
Barrett Hayton’s a smart pickup with 21-39–60 totals in 63 games this season for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He might need a year or two more in Juniors to develop, but for a “best available” grab, he’s the real deal.
16. Colorado Avalanche–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)
The Avalanche had quite a run in 2017-18 and so did Jesperi Kotkaniemi with Assat this season in Liiga. The young center had 10 goals and 19 assists (29 points) in 57 games in the Finnish league. Despite a postseason collapse in production, Kotkaniemi’s talent development projection looks fine with another year in Europe while Colorado looks to make more noise in the Central Division in 2018-19.
17. New Jersey Devils–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)
6-foot-1, 193-pounds, an incredible work ethic and a decent hockey IQ, Joseph Veleno is hard to overlook, but somehow he lands in the lap of the Devil(s). He had 22 goals and 57 assists (79 points) in 64 games with Drummondville this season.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets–> 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 Artemi Panarin and the rest of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had 5-19–24 totals in 39 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens this season and will be attending Boston College this fall.
19. Philadelphia Flyers–> LW Grigori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)
Philadelphia snags a sneaky good forward in Grigori Denisenko as the winger is crafty and should come into his own in two-to-three years as he works his way up in MHL/KHL prominence.
20. Los Angeles Kings–> RW Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL)
Los Angeles is getting younger, faster and more skilled than ever before in franchise history– adapting as the game has evolved to its current form– and Serron Noel brings all facets of the current game into the Kings organization. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-winger could likely go well ahead of 20th overall as he’s been compared to the likes of Blake Wheeler.
21. San Jose Sharks–> 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 California between San Jose and their rivals in SoCal.
22. Ottawa Senators (via Pittsburgh Penguins)–> 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.
23. Anaheim Ducks–> C Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)
Anaheim likes big and brash forwards. Benoit-Olivier Groulx’s 6-foot, 192-pound frame fits the bill (get it, because they’re the Ducks) quite well, but Groulx brings more than just a big body– he had 55 points in 68 games with the Mooseheads this season, proving he’s more than just a power forward down the middle.
24. Minnesota Wild–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
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 Rasmus Sandin just might be the Wild’s top-4 defensive core in the near future.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs–> RW Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)
Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas makes his big-time debut by snagging Akil Thomas with his first pick in the draft. Thomas’s impressive 81-point performance this season with the Niagara IceDogs shows promise as he’s got some time to focus on growing more into the NHL game. His offensive potential is just waiting to be tapped into in its full form.
26. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> LW Albin Eriksson, Skelleftå (SWE J20)
With their second pick of the first round, the Rangers pick up a player with 22-18–40 totals in 38 games for his Junior team in Sweden this season. That player is Albin Eriksson and fans in New York better get used to hearing his name in a couple of years. He’s a work in progress in terms of making the jump to the SHL, but with a plethora of youth and a solid core built at Madison Square Garden, there’s no need to rush perfection.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)
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, otherwise the Blackhawks can expect more of the same if he rounds out his Junior career in 2018-19. Unless he pencils his name on Chicago’s roster this fall.
28. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)
The Rangers have some decent depth along the blueline with Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek looking to emerge as NHLers this upcoming season, but they’re about to see some serious competition for one of the top-6 jobs, if not now, then definitely in another year. Adam Ginning is capable of growing into a more prominent shutdown role.
29. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C/LW Fillip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)
St. Louis could use some tweaks and a plan down the middle this offseason. Thankfully, Fillip Hallander might be able to ease the worries of some Blues fans if they can be patient with Hallander spending another year in the SHL. He had nine goals and 11 assists (20 points) in 40 games with Timra this season, which shows he’s young and has time to develop.
30. Washington Capitals–> D Mattias Samuelsson, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
With ample certainty, Samuelsson will be the 30th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, however, whether he’ll be going to Washington or Detroit (or elsewhere) is dependent upon the outcome of the Stanley Cup Final (and/or any potential trades).
31. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)
Ladies and gentlemen, the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin this month. It’s officially April. Start saving your money for either 1) playoff tickets or 2) tee times– there is no in-between.
Each month has brought a new twist to the latest forecasted standings here on Down the Frozen River and in the spirit of finishing off the season, here’s one final look at how things should pan out with one week remaining in the 2017-18 regular season.
It’s okay to tell Microsoft Excel you disagree, so by all means, take these numbers for what you want. A holistic viewpoint goes a lot further in the world of analytics and a salary cap. At this point, it’s almost worth more to focus on where your team is expected to fall in the standings than how many points they should amass on the season.
And if you’re embracing the tank, you might as well forget about it. The NHL draft lottery usually shakes things up pretty well anyway.
Anyway, here’s how the standings should shake out for all 31 NHL franchises based on their performances through March 31, 2018. Keep in mind my degree is in communication– not math. These are merely educated “I know how to use Excel to make things happen” guesses.
2017-2018 Projected Standings after Five Months
- p-Boston Bruins, 117 points (77 GP so far)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 111 points (78 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 104 points (78 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 89 points (77 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (79 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 73 points (78 GP so far)
- Montreal Canadiens, 70 points (78 GP so far)
- Buffalo Sabres, 64 points (78 GP so far)
Surging through March despite numerous injuries, the Boston Bruins claw their way not only into first place in the Atlantic Division standings (and Eastern Conference standings as a whole), but they land themselves just their third President’s Trophy in franchise history as the league leaders at the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season.
Despite their late season hiccups, the Tampa Bay Lightning settle for 2nd in the Atlantic Division and gear up for what should be a deeper than the First Round playoff appearance.
The Toronto Maple Leafs make some noise with their second consecutive postseason appearance, but are no match for the long journey to the Cup this season (give it one more postseason, Leafs fans. Next year, it’s totally your year).
Somehow the Ottawa Senators string together a few wins to surpass the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile the Florida Panthers stumble just as quietly out of playoff contention as they began the season.
- y-Washington Capitals, 104 points (78 GP so far)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 99 points (79 GP so far)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 98 points (79 GP so far)
- wc1-New Jersey Devils, 98 points (78 GP so far)
- wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 97 points (78 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (79 GP so far)
- New York Rangers, 80 points (79 GP so far)
- New York Islanders, 78 points (79 GP so far)
The Washington Capitals always seem to find a way to win their division. Especially in what has been Braden Holtby‘s season from hell (have you checked his goals against average and save percentage this season yet? Because if you’re a Caps fan and you haven’t, maybe you shouldn’t for your own good heading into the playoffs).
In what has equally been as difficult a season for Matt Murray in goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions should have home ice for a First Round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets that shouldn’t go less than seven games. Best friends in real life, Mike Sullivan and John Tortorella, just might put their friendship to the test for a couple of weeks.
Both of the Eastern Conference wild cards are going to Metropolitan Division teams this season as the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers are welcomed back to the postseason with open arms.
If you’re a Carolina Hurricanes fan, next year seems enticing to break the playoff drought– and it’s only fitting, since 2019 will mark 10 years since Carolina last made the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And if you’re John Tavares, maybe you’re looking elsewhere from the abysmal New York Islanders this offseason. Say for instance, the quickly rebuilding New York Rangers?
- z-Nashville Predators, 114 points (78 GP so far)
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points (78 GP so far)
- x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points (78 GP so far)
- wc1-St. Louis Blues, 98 points (78 GP so far)
- Colorado Avalanche, 94 points (78 GP so far)
- Dallas Stars, 89 points (79 GP so far)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 78 points (79 GP so far)
The Nashville Predators edge out the Winnipeg Jets in regulation-plus-overtime wins to lay claim to the Western Conference’s best regular season record and home ice through the Western Conference Final. Both teams are set for what should at least be postseason appearances extending into the Second Round.
Since Winnipeg is likely to knock out the Minnesota Wild in a quick series, let’s skip right over them to talk about the St. Louis Blues for a minute.
They thought it was a great idea to get rid of Paul Stastny at the trade deadline– giving up his dominance on the faceoff dot– and yet, here they are with a final week of the season push for the playoffs.
Of course, it helps that the Colorado Avalanche lost Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson to injuries (with the Johnson injury being the bigger blow to Nathan MacKinnon‘s Hart Trophy worthy season and the rest of the Avs).
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 113 points (79 GP so far)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (79 GP so far)
- x-Los Angeles Kings, 95 points (79 GP so far)
- wc2-Anaheim Ducks, 95 points (78 GP so far)
- Calgary Flames, 85 points (79 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 79 points (79 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 75 points (79 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 72 points (79 GP so far)
An expansion franchise almost clinched the Western Conference regular season title. The Vegas Golden Knights are that good and should make an impressive effort into at least the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s pure insanity, but it’s fun to watch.
If you’re a California resident, there’s good news, all three of your teams will be in the postseason (again). Just switch your hats and/or jerseys to whoever’s playing that night and hope for the best (pick San Jose, they seem like a good dark horse).
The Calgary Flames get the honor of “best of the worst teams in the west”, which I’m sure will tie into the Stampede Festival somehow– if not solely because their owner is looking to stampede out of the city and into a new arena elsewhere.
Poor Connor McDavid, it must be demoralizing to have back-to-back 100-point seasons on a team that has only made the playoffs once in his young career.
And you probably shouldn’t write off the Arizona Coyotes entirely, because they very well could make the Vancouver Canucks look worse and jump from 8th to 7th in the division by season’s end.
If you’re so inclined to see how things were expected to pan out this season back in October, you can do so here.
Nick and Connor rambled about the remaining weeks of the regular season, who will finish last in the NHL, if Boston can catch Tampa, Columbus’s hot streak and more. They also previewed and predicted eight of the NHL’s annual awards. Anze Kopitar has 86 points on the season– get it right, Nick.
Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.
1. Nashville Predators– 34-12-9 (77 points, 55 GP)
The Nashville Predators are amazing. They’re pulling off their spectacular season on the heels of last year’s Stanley Cup Final run with almost $3.000 million in salary tied up in buyouts.
They don’t need to add, but general manager David Poile still might work a little magic by adding without subtracting if he can. Mike Fisher, 37, is trying to come back from retirement because he believes Nashville’s time is now. Only time will tell if he can go from his current PTO to a one-year deal that just might get him his first taste from the Stanley Cup.
If Poile wants to add anything, he’s going to have to do so with about $3.200 million in cap space currently.
Potential assets to trade: Honestly, don’t.
2. Winnipeg Jets– 33-15-9 (75 points, 57 GP)
Injuries are beginning to mount for the Winnipeg Jets and it’ll be interesting to see what the GM Kevin Cheveldayoff does by February 26th considering his team’s current backup goaltender is 22-year-old, Eric Comrie. Their starter is 24-year-old, Connor Hellebuyck, who’s emerged as clear-cut starting goaltender this season (aside from his All-Star appearance back in January).
Winnipeg has about $5.400 million in cap space to play with as of this writing.
They are what should be a destination for rental players looking to take a team that’s on the verge of breaking out in the postseason deeper than they could ever imagine.
And the Jets have just enough to offer other teams to bring in the right pieces to the puzzle.
Potential assets to acquire: F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)
3. St. Louis Blues– 34-21-4 (72 points, 59 GP)
There’s almost $125,000 in cap space for the St. Louis Blues right now. While it’d be great for the Blues to add one or two of their missing pieces that’d send them right over the edge of victory (once-and-for-all), the better time to readjust appears to be this summer.
Besides, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri and Carter Hutton will all need new contracts. Not that they’re going to cost St. Louis tens of millions of dollars, but it’ll likely mean that someone will have to get traded either at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft or later this summer.
Jay Bouwmeester is 34-years-old and has a $5.400 million cap hit through next season. He also has a no-trade-clause that could make things difficult for the foreseeable future, given that when the Blues are on their “A” game they can really make a claim for Cup contender status this season.
It’d be unwise to part with Bouwmeester now, but it only makes sense to do it later.
Just don’t get behind the eight ball is the best advice for St. Louis looking past the end of this month. Otherwise, salary cap hell isn’t all that fun.
Potential assets to trade: D Jay Bouwmeester
4. Dallas Stars– 33-20-4 (70 points, 57 GP)
The Dallas Stars currently cling to the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, though they trail the St. Louis Blues by two points for 3rd in the Central Division in what’s shaping up to be the tighter points battle in the West compared to the lackluster Pacific Division.
Yes, I’m fully aware Los Angeles did something to their defense Tuesday night, why do you ask?
The Central is all about racking up points while the Pacific bangs bodies off of each other in hopes of amounting to something more than your standard pylon.
So where do the Stars fit into the playoff picture? They should be in the running for at least a wild card spot coming down the stretch– and with almost $889,000 in cap space right now it’s going to be hard to add what they really need to push them over the hill.
While other teams in the league are searching for the right rental forward, the Stars should be looking for the right rental defenseman. Whether that’s a Mike Green or a Cody Franson, well, only Stars GM Jim Nill will know, based on what he must give up.
5. Minnesota Wild– 31-19-6 (68 points, 56 GP)
There’s good news and bad news for the Minnesota Wild as the trade deadline nears. The good news is that the Chicago Blackhawks are more than likely taking a pass on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bad news is the Wild might do that too (oh, and Minnesota only has about $129,000 in cap room– with Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba as pending-RFAs this July).
For all of the talk regarding trading Jonas Brodin, there sure hasn’t been any radio chatter this time around as the deadline nears this month.
Though the Wild hold on to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, there’s at least two California based teams (Los Angeles and Anaheim) that should be in the playoff picture coming down the wire.
If it’s make or break, then Minnesota has all the time in the world to wait and see what’s to come this summer.
But if they’re on the fence about determining whether to buy or sell, well, they could do a bit of both. If they’re looking for a quick retool, it’s within their means, but if they’re content with sinking before they swim, there’s always the reset (rebuild) button.
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)
6. Colorado Avalanche– 31-21-4 (66 points, 56 GP)
In theory, the Colorado Avalanche could be buyers at this year’s trade deadline.
They’re in great shape cap-wise, with about $8.400 million to spend currently, but Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, knows it by now– the best thing to do for Colorado is let their youth gain experience, make minor moves until the offseason, then address specific needs.
Colorado has expendable components, but cannot touch its core.
With Matt Duchene out of the picture, the focus has turned to making the Avs– in every way– Nathan MacKinnon‘s team. Gabriel Landeskog‘s just along for the ride at this point. If he’s patient, many rewards may find their way to the Mile-High City. If he’s sick of waiting, Sakic might be forced to reap another surplus of players, picks and prospects like he did in the three-way Duchene deal.
After Francois Beauchemin‘s $4.500 million buyout penalty comes off the books at season’s end, the Avalanche will have at least $13 million to spend on giving backup-turned-potential-starting goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, a fair raise while also making decisions on several pending-RFAs.
Potential assets to acquire: Literally anyone, F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)
7. Chicago Blackhawks– 24-25-8 (56 points, 57 GP)
Reward contracts have killed the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty. This is what drives parity in a salary cap league (see “Detroit Red Wings downfall since 1998, thanks to 2004-05”), so once again, welcome to the Salary Cap Era.
Depending on your methods of calculation, the Blackhawks will either have $0 to spend at the deadline or maybe up to about $3.100 million in wiggle room.
Regardless, they’re not buying this year. They’re buying for the future– so draft picks and prospects. One thing that might get in their way (other than the salary cap) is what they have to offer.
Large reward contracts were handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews while Duncan Keith took a discount. Marian Hossa is on the books at a cap hit of $5.275 million through the end of the 2020-21 season, whether he plays or not.
If Hossa never plays again, Chicago can always place him on the long-term injured reserve (eh, just paperwork), buyout his contract (yikes) or trade him to a team like the Arizona Coyotes (preferable) who took on the large salary of Pavel Datsyuk in his final NHL-contract year just to meet the cap floor, knowing he had jettisoned for the KHL.
The bottom line is Chicago’s cash-strapped. Someone important is going to have to be dealt in order to protect the organization’s future endeavors.
With Toews and Kane at a combined $21.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season, unless the cap rises significantly, this just might keep the Blackhawks down in the dumps for a while.
Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects and cap room