Tag Archives: Jori Lehtera

Philadelphia Flyers 2018-19 Season Preview

Philadelphia Flyers

42-26-14, 98 points, 3rd in the Metropolitan Division

Lost in the First Round to Pittsburgh (4-2)

Additions: D Christian Folin, LW James van Riemsdyk

Subtractions: C Valtteri Filppula, G Leland Irving, D Brandon Manning, RW Colin McDonald, G Petr Mrazek, G John Muse, D Johnny Oduya, RW Matt Read, G Dustin Tokarski

Re-signed: D Robert Hagg, G Alex Lyon, C Danick Martel, D Samuel Morin, G Anthony Stolarz

Offseason Analysis: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Flyers could be seriously dangerous if they get some solid goaltending.

After a rough 2016-17 campaign, the Flyers struck gold in the draft lottery, snagging the No. 2 overall pick and using it to draft top-ranked prospect Nolan Patrick. This added yet another weapon to one of the more potent offenses in the league, but questions remained about the defense and, particularly, in net.

It took a rotation of four different goaltenders (Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Petr Mrazek and Alex Lyon) to get it done, but Philly managed to punch their ticket back to the playoffs mostly on the strength of unbelievable seasons from captain Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, a breakout year from Sean Couturier, a rebound year from Shayne Gostisbehere and a ridiculous 10-1-2 month of February that took them from treading water in the Wild Card picture to solidly in third place in the Metro. A big push from Columbus nearly knocked the Flyers back into the Wild Card spot at the end of the year, but they managed to hang onto the Divisional spot by a single point.

Unfortunately, this only meant that they’d play in-state rival Pittsburgh, and while Philly would manage to take the Pens to six games, it was often a very one-sided series. Only a heroic nine-point-in-six-game effort from Sean Couturier even kept the series as competitive as it was.

With a few notable underperformers coming to the end of their contract and a fairly well-stocked prospect pool, GM Ron Hextall and crew decided to let a host of players walk into free agency, including longtime Flyer Matt Read, along with Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning, Johnny Oduya and Petr Mrazek, among others. Using the newly freed up cap space, they brought back former Flyer and perennial 30-goal man James van Riemsdyk, and brought in a solid defenseman in Christian Folin. JVR is certainly a known commodity, while Folin is a quiet, confident defender that has impressed under the radar over the past few years in Minnesota and LA.

Armed with yet another potent offensive weapon, and with improved depth on defense, the Flyers (yet again) look to the net in hopes of improvement. Though they boast on of the best pools of goaltending prospects in the league, they don’t want to rush the development of any of the youngsters, and will likely again turn to the tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. While neither is a world-beating goaltender, they’re both more than capable of quality play.

Well…at least they would be outside of the goalie-hell of Philadelphia. Not sure what it is about that city, but it seems capable of ruining the reputation of basically any goaltender that dons the orange and black. So, maybe hope to win every game 5-4, Philly fans?

Speaking of 5-4 victories, let’s take a look at that dangerous forward corps.

While the top-six are pretty well all shoe-ins, the bottom-six does have a few positions that are definitely up in the air. Down the middle there’s likely to be strong competition for the No. 3 and 4 center spots, as Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton, Jori Lehtera and former Union College standout Mike Vecchione will battle it out with youngsters German Rubtsov and Morgan Frost (Flyers’ first round picks in 2016 and 2017, respectively). Rubtsov and Frost have yet to play North American pro hockey, so they’ll have the steepest hill to climb to try and nab a spot, and will likely head back to Juniors or to Lehigh Valley for the year. While Vecchione has only two NHL games to his credit, and isn’t nearly as well-known to Flyers fans as the remaining three, he’s a very interesting option. Boasting a strong two-way game, as well as the ability to play center or right wing, he put up terrific rookie numbers in the AHL last year and could be a strong camp away from grabbing himself an NHL roster spot.

On the wings you’ll have veterans Michael Raffl and Dale Weise competing with some young talent in guys like Oskar Lindblom, Taylor Leier, Danick Martel, and Isaac Ratcliffe. Lindblom scored some time with the Flyers last year after impressing in the AHL. Martel is undersized but not afraid to play with an edge, and does bring some decent offensive skill with him. Ratcliffe is possibly the most intriguing option. At just 19-years-old, he can still continue to hone his game in Juniors, where he’s found his offensive stride over the past two seasons. But a 6-foot-6, sub-200 pound winger with some scoring touch and a mean streak might be hard to overlook for the big club.

My projected depth chart shakes out like this:
Giroux – Couturier – Konecny
JVR – Patrick – Voracek
Lindblom – Lehtera – Simmonds
Raffl – Laughton – Vecchione
Extra forwards Weise and Weal

On defense, the biggest problem facing the Flyers to start the season is injuries to veteran Andrew MacDonald (should only miss a few weeks of the season) and promising youngster Samuel Morin (likely out until February). Until MacDonald returns they’ll lack a true top pair reliable defender to partner Gostisbehere, so that could be of concern at least in the opening weeks. While the defense corps looks to be fairly set (particularly after MacDonald returns), there are a handful of names who could challenge for a depth spot. Philippe Myers was an undrafted signing out of Juniors, who blossomed late to catch the eyes of Flyers brass. At 6-foot-5 and approximately 210 pounds, he’s got no shortage of size, but also put up respectable offensive numbers as a rookie in the AHL last season. He’s also a right handed shot, something the Flyers are a tad short on. Veteran T.J. Brennan is definitely a reliable option to fill some minutes in MacDonald’s absence, as well.

Once MacDonald makes his return, I have the Flyers defense corps shaping up as:
MacDonald – Gostisbehere
Provorov – Gudas
Sanheim – Folin
Extra defender Hagg

In net, as previously mentioned, it’s likely the Flyers will head into the season with the Elliott/Neuvirth tandem. With both vets in contract years, Philly will likely give the trio of Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Anthony Stolarz another full year of development if possible before potentially calling upon two of them to take the reigns as a tandem in the near future. Felix Sandstrom is a sleeper pick to find his way into the picture next year as well, after what will be his fourth season of SHL action in Sweden.

Offseason Grade: B-

On paper, it looks like the Flyers lost much more than they gained this year. But although there were some household names that departed, most had underperformed greatly in recent years. Hextall cleared cap space, grabbed a big fish in van Riemsdyk, and used the depth of his organization to fill the remaining holes.

The offense is deadly. The defense is young, but quite promising (particularly once it gets back to full strength). The goaltending is…well, Philadelphia goaltending. But the future in net looks incredibly bright, and Philly would be wise to not rush that future unless absolutely necessary.

A likely fringe playoff team this year, but in the next two or three years, we could see the orange and black making serious noise once again. Because the depth doesn’t stop in net, and I only mentioned about half of the recent first round picks still waiting in the wings.

It’s July 1st… Here’s some UFAs*

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

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

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

Neal can still reach the 30-goal plateau.

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

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

Five of the best UFA forwards:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will it be a smart deal? Yes and no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five of the best UFA defenders:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five of the best UFA goaltenders:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Offseason Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

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

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The 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers pulled themselves into 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division with a late season surge ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils by one point.

Philadelphia’s 42-46-14 record lauded them 98 points on the season under the guidance of head coach, Dave Hakstol, and in a First Round matchup with their intrastate rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite a breakout performance in the postseason by Sean Couturier and back-and-forth offense all series long (in games that weren’t lopsided), the Flyers succumbed to Pittsburgh in six games on home ice in their first playoff appearance since 2016 and first postseason meeting with the Penguins since the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

As usual, goaltending was an issue with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sustaining injuries late in the season, leading General Manager Ron Hextall to acquire Petr Mrazek as an insurance policy down the stretch from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a conditional 2018 third round pick and a conditional 2019 fourth round pick.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Hextall has two first round picks at his disposal with the 14th overall selection via the St. Louis Blues (thanks to last June’s Brayden Schenn deal for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick (Morgan Frost) and a conditional 2018 first round pick) and their own 19th overall selection in the 2018 Draft.

With two mid-round picks in the first round, Hextall can lay claim to two of the best available picks or go off the board in accordance with however his scouting department values talent– I’m not the expert here. Then again, he could flip one or both first round picks for assets.

But if you’re a Flyers fan, you likely could see Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley walking up the draft stage in Dallas in less than a week grabbing a hold of Philadelphia’s classic orange-and-black sweater.

Pending free agents

Philly has about $17.200 million to spend on free agents this summer and only a handful of pending UFAs and RFAs.

Matt Read, 32, and Valtteri Filppula, 34, are the club’s only current NHL roster pending-UFAs.

Read only appeared in 19 games for the Flyers this season, scoring one goal and recording 16 shots on net. After reaching the 40-point plateau twice in his career with Philadelphia in 2011-12 and 2013-14, his offensive production has only declined since 2014, yielding 30 points in 2014-15, 26 points in 2015-16 and 19 in 2016-17.

Filppula was traded to the Flyers by the Tampa Bay Lightning at last year’s trade deadline, served as an alternate captain this season and had 11-22–33 totals in 81 games. His numbers are respectable, though he hasn’t replicated his 58-point season with the Lightning in 2013-14.

A third round pick (95th overall) of the Red Wings in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Filppula should see more time in the City of Brotherly Love if there’s a mutual attraction. Just maybe not at the $5.000 million cap hit he had on his five-year contract he signed with Tampa in July 2013.

24-year-old Taylor Leier makes up the only pending-RFA forward on Philadelphia’s roster and played in 39 games with the Flyers this season (the most he’s been a part of since breaking into the league in 2015-16). Leier had one goal and four assists (five points) and is not an offensive threat by any means.

Hextall could let Leier walk without tendering a qualifying offer and that’d be fine.

It’s not so much about what the Flyers do this summer, but rather what Hextall and his front office is proactively planning to do next summer that makes a world of a difference (glancing at the current NHL roster alone and ignoring any potential additions via trade or free agency).

There’s six players currently on Philadelphia’s NHL club that could test the open market in July 2019, including Lehtera, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Jordan Weal, Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny.

The obvious standouts of those names are Simmonds (who’ll be in the midst of his prime and entering his 30s) and Konecny (who will be coming off of his entry-level contract). Both are sure to expect a raise and long term deals if they see themselves attached to the city for a while.

And with only two roster players signed past the 2021-22 season in Jakub Voracek (2023-24) and Shayne Gostisbehere (2022-23), Hextall will soon have to start navigating the future of the new core in Konecny, Nolan Patrick and crew.

Perhaps Hextall would float the idea of moving 29-year-old forward, Dale Weise, and his $2.350 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season with the future in mind.

On defense, the Flyers have two pending-UFAs in Brandon Manning and Johnny Oduya and one pending-RFA in Robert Hagg.

Manning, 28, had his best season with 7-12–19 totals in 65 games played, while Oduya, 36, signed with the Ottawa Senators last July as a free agent and was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia on February 26th. The Swedish defender recorded four goals and four assists with Ottawa this season and played in one game for the Flyers.

Hagg, 23, played his first full-season with Philadelphia in 2017-18, amassing 3-6–9 totals in 70 games played in his rookie season.

Both Manning and Hagg are part of the solution on Philly’s blueline, while Oduya will more than likely test the waters of free agency once more in the NHL.

In goal, Elliott, 33, Neuvirth, 30, and Mrazek, 26, are currently listed on the NHL roster.

Elliott had one-year left on his two-year deal with a $2.750 million cap hit, while Neuvirth also has one-year remaining on his current contract at $2.500 million.

For the second year in a row, Elliott’s goals against average increased and his save percentage worsened as a starting goalie. In 43 games this season, he had a 2.66 GAA and .909 SV%.

Neuvirth improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in six fewer games as Philadelphia’s backup, finishing the year with a 2.60 GAA and .915 SV%.

Mrazek is a pending-RFA coming off his worst season. In 22 games with Detroit this season, the Czech goaltender had a 2.89 GAA and .910 SV%. That’s less than ideal, but considering the Red Wings ongoing rebuild… Mrazek didn’t do himself any favors with a playoff bound team in the Flyers, amassing a 3.22 GAA and .891 SV% in 17 games.

On the surface it may appear as though the annual revolving door of goaltenders in Philadelphia may continue, but there’s some promise in their goaltending prospects.

Philly could have a situation very much like their rival in Pittsburgh currently has where Matt Murray is the starter and Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith constantly battle for the backup role while all being close in age.

The Flyers should make Neuvirth their starter– in the meantime, as the search continues for a legitimate starter– with Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz (both pending-RFAs this July) competing for the backup role.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Reece Wilcox (RFA), Colin McDonald (UFA), Samuel Morin (RFA), Tyrell Goulbourne (RFA), Alex Lyon (RFA), John Muse (UFA), Dustin Tokarski (UFA), Danick Martel (RFA), Anthony Stolarz (RFA), Will O’Neill (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: St. Louis Blues

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the St. Louis Blues and their outlook for the summer.

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One game. One game made all the difference for the St. Louis Blues in making or missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and you’ll never guess what happened.

They lost.

Yes, after compiling a 44-31-6 record, the Blues were ahead of the Colorado Avalanche by one point in the wild card race to secure the last spot in the postseason.

Despite a season-long lackluster performance in goal from Jake Allen (a career worst 2.75 goals against average and second worst .906 save percentage in 59 games played), St. Louis needed a win in any fashion in the final game of the regular season against the Avs to go up against the Nashville Predators in the First Round.

Instead, the club finished 44-32-6 on the season with 94 points– one point out of the wild card spot– and 5th in the Central Division.

Mike Yeo missed the playoffs in his first year as head coach of the Blues without any assistance from Ken Hitchcock and General Manager Doug Armstrong was left scratching his head.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Fans were left scratching their heads after Armstrong traded hometown hero Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets in a surprise move at the trade deadline in exchange for a 2018 first round pick (29th overall) and prospect Erik Foley.

Stastny’s dad, Peter– the famous Québec Nordique– was left stunned.

Armstrong replaced the first round pick that he swapped with the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2017 Draft as part of the Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick and a conditional 2018 first round pick for Brayden Schenn transaction, but at the cost of one of the better faceoff-winning centers in the league.

With the 29th overall selection in this year’s draft, Armstrong will be left picking the best available or surprising everyone– yet again– and going off the board.

Hopefully for the better, considering the organization is teetering on the edge of a retooling/rebuild.

Pending free agents

What else is there to expect from a front office that’s had to move Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie, while letting David Backes walk in free agency in years past, thanks to a tight salary cap situation?

Armstrong can make some sweeping changes by figuring out the future of St. Louis’s crease protection plan (more on that later), but he can also restructure the team’s offensive outlook by ridding themselves of some underperforming second through fourth liners.

Thankfully, the Blues have about $12.900 million to spend with the cap expected to rise this summer.

That’s not a lot to work with, but it can bring in a difference maker, while still providing enough room to work a deal that might send Vladimir Sobotka and his $3.500 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season (or an equivalent) packing via a trade.

Both pending unrestricted free agent forwards, Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak are 34-years-old with one trending in opposite directions of the other.

Upshall has loved St. Louis and its fans have responded in kind, but the time is now for the Blues to make a clean break in this relationship. He’s averaged 17 points over the last three seasons. That’s not great with an aging roster.

Brodziak, on the other hand, has bounced back from shortened seasons due to injury and doubled his point total from 15 points (69 games played) in 2016-17 to 33 points (81 GP) this season.

At first look, keeping a 34-year-old that was trending in the wrong direction when he came to St. Louis in 2015-16 isn’t great, but Brodziak is proving people wrong as part of a comeback tour with the Blues (albeit lasting three seasons). If you don’t re-sign Upshall, you can at least afford to bring back Brodziak.

But we’ll see what kind of logic Armstrong is working with this offseason.

Then there’s pending restricted free agent forwards, Robby Fabbri, Dmitrij Jaskin, Oskar Sundqvist and Nikita Soshnikov.

Fabbri, 22, had 11-18–29 totals in 51 GP, down from his 18-19–37 totals in 72 games in 2016-17. That’s still respectable as a bottom-six forward, however.

Jaskin, 25, had six more points this season in 25 more games played than in 2016-17. That means he had 17 points in 76 GP this season and 11 points in 51 GP last season. The Blues can move on if they’d like.

Sundqvist, 24, was acquired last June along with a first round pick as part of the Ryan Reaves trade and had one goal and four assists (five points) in 42 games for St. Louis this season. That’s not great, but he finally played the most games he’s ever seen in one season, since breaking into the NHL in 2015-16 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Soshnikov, 24, had one goal and one assist (two points) in 12 games with the Blues after being acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also had no points in three games with Toronto this season and has 8-8–16 totals in 82 career NHL games since 2015-16.

Unless Yeo can perform a miracle as a head coach, there’s no point in seeing if anything’s left in the potential tank.

The Blues have two pending-RFA defenders in Jordan Schmaltz and Joel Edmundson. Both are 24-years-old.

Schmaltz had one assist in 13 games this season. He clearly isn’t part of St. Louis’s current plan, leaving one of two options– stick around as a depth blueliner or not return.

Edmundson set a career-high in goals (7) and points (17) in 69 games played this season. Nice. He’s a top-six defender and should see another year or two in a sweater with a giant blue music note on it.

If anyone’s willing to take on all or some of Jay Bouwmeester‘s $5.400 million cap hit with one year remaining– provided the 34-year-old defenseman waives his no-trade-clause– then St. Louis should pursue that avenue.

Okay, now for the future of St. Louis’s goaltending.

Jordan Binnington, 24, is a pending-RFA and should get a chance at the NHL level.

Then again, Carter Hutton, 32, is a pending-UFA and outplayed the 27-year-old starter, Jake Allen at times this season.

If St. Louis is fine staying the course as a middle of the road team that’ll come up short for a year or two, then there’s no need to worry and Hutton should be re-signed and see more time in net to offset Allen’s workload.

But if any of that clashes with what Armstrong and the rest of his front office envisions for the club, well… that’s the million dollar question.

A rebuild is not out of the question, but certainly frowned upon, given how star-forward, Vladimir Tarasenko is in his prime now.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Justin Selman (RFA), Beau Bennett (RFA), Mackenzie MacEachern (RFA), Thomas Vannelli (RFA), Jordan Binnington (RFA), Petteri Lindbohm (RFA), Wade Megan (UFA)

Flyers stave off elimination with gutsy performance

 

Even though the Philadelphia Flyers were out-shot 32-25, they held on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 at PPG Paints Arena in Game 5 of their first round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to force Game 6 back at Wells Fargo Center.

After 7-0, 5-1, 5-1 and 5-0 final scores in the first four contests, this rivalry series was more than due for a competitive, back-and-forth game.

Though Philly takes credit for one of those lopsided victories, Game 5 was easily the Metropolitan’s third-place team’s best effort of the postseason so far, and that might be due in large part to the stellar play of G Michal Neuvirth. Earning his first start of the series, he stopped 30-of-32 shots faced (.938 save percentage), including a dazzling glove save against C Sidney Crosby with 51 seconds remaining in regulation to preserve the Flyers’ then 3-2 lead.

Another Flyer that put it all on the line was First Star of the Game C Sean Couturier. After sitting out Game 4 with an injury suffered in practice at the hands of D Radko Gudas, Couturier (W Wayne Simmonds) scored the game-winning goal with 75 seconds remaining in regulation.

In G Matt Murray‘s defense, Couturier’s goal was a bit of a fluke. However, luck counts just as much as snipes do when they reach the back of the net, so Couturier’s wrister bouncing off D Brian Dumoulin‘s left skate and past the netminder’s glove was what proved to be the deciding tally.

Murray departed the ice for the extra attacker with one minute remaining on the clock (nine seconds before Neuvirth robbed Crosby), and W Matt Read (Second Star F Valtteri Filppula) took advantage with 18 ticks left in the game to score an empty-netter for his first playoff goal since April 25, 2014.

However, all this talk about the Flyers implies they dominated this contest. That is as far from the truth as it gets, as Pittsburgh certainly had its fair share of scoring opportunities. That was no more true than the first period, but the solid play by Neuvirth meant Philly was the only side to register a marker in the frame.

F Claude Giroux (RW Jakub Voracek and Filppula) took credit for the tally with a slap shot from between the face-off circles with 2:31 remaining in the period. It was an opportunistic goal for the Flyers, as the stoppage of play before Giroux’ tally was to allow F Evgeni Malkin to get off the ice after C Jori Lehtera landed awkwardly on his left leg.

Malkin would return to action following the first intermission, but was not able to score even one point to help Pittsburgh’s predicament.

Instead, it was Third Star W Bryan Rust (W Conor Sheary and C Derick Brassard) that snapped Neuvirth’s 13-save shutout with eight minutes remaining in the second period to tie the game at 1-1.

Though PPG Paints Arena never fell fully silent, Rust’s goal brought the crowd roaring back to life, and that positive energy translated to the ice 4:45 later when F Jake Guentzel (Crosby and F Dominik Simon) buried a wrister on Neuvirth to give Pittsburgh a one-goal advantage.

However, that excitement was sucked out of the building just as fast, as Guentzel’s tally was not the final one of the frame. Even though Gudas’ holding penalty against F Zach Aston-Reese with 2:58 remaining in the period had given the Penguins the man-advantage, a sloppy giveaway by RW Phil Kessel ended with Filppula flying towards Murray’s crease. The 2008 Stanley Cup Champion dropped a pass to Lehtera, but he ended up being the one scoring the shorthanded goal by scrapping out a wrister from within the crease.

Still facing elimination, the Flyers will host Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday, April 22. Puck drop is scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern, and fans not in attendance can catch the action on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

Having spoiled the opportunity to clinch a spot in the Eastern Semifinals on home, the Penguins will surely be a bit angry when they travel east this weekend. However, they have the luxury of knowing they’ve won four-straight games at Wells Fargo Center and will continue to play with the confidence expected from a reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champion.

Flyers even series with dominant effort by Elliott

 

No matter how many shots the Pittsburgh Penguins fired at Second Star of the Game G Brian Elliott, he would not yield as he led the Philadelphia Flyers to a 5-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena in Game 2.

When Head Coach Dave Hakstol elected to start his second line at the opening puck drop, C Sidney Crosby and the Penguins took advantage to fire two quick shots on goal. It seemed like the Pens were in line to dominate this game in a similar fashion as Game 1.

However, Elliott was there to make both saves, as well as 32 others. In all, the man known as Moose saved 34-of-35 shots faced, earning an impressive .971 save percentage.

The lone goal Elliott allowed belonged to RW Patric Hornqvist (D Justin Schultz and D Brian Dumoulin) at the 5:27 mark of the third period, then setting the score at 4-1 and not putting the final result of this tilt into question.

At the other end of the rink, this game was all about the numerous goals G Matt Murray and his defense allowed – especially when First Star C Sean Couturier, who scored three points, was on the ice.

There were major concerns coming into these playoffs that either Pittsburgh’s defense or goaltending  – and perhaps a combination of both – could be its ultimate demise. Even though Murray quelled some of those worries with his shutout in Game 1, those doubts were fully realized when Philadelphia converted 25 percent of its 20 shots on goal into tallies on the scoreboard.

The first of those belonged to D Shayne Gostisbehere (F Claude Giroux and Couturier), who took advantage of F Zach Aston-Reese sitting in the sin bin for boarding Third Star D Ivan Provorov to redirect a power play shot past Murray with 37 seconds remaining in the first period.

Couturier (Provorov and W Michael Raffl) bounced a shot off D Kris Letang to set the Flyers’ advantage at 2-0 47 seconds into the second period, but Philadelphia did most of its offensive damage in the third frame.

F Travis Konecny (RW Wayne Simmonds and Provorov) needed only 89 seconds of third period play to find the Flyers’ third goal of the game. 2:21 after Konecny’s tally, Hornqvist found a seat in the penalty box for roughing C Nolan Patrick to set up Philly’s final goal against Murray. As luck have it, Patrick (Couturier and RW Jakub Voracek) cashed in on the power play, scoring a wrist shot to set the score at 4-0.

The Flyers’ final goal of the contest belonged to D Andrew MacDonald (C Jori Lehtera), who scored a long-range wrister on an empty net to set the 5-1 final score.

Murray saved only 15-of-19 shots faced (.789 save percentage) in the loss. He’ll obviously need to improve on that mark if Pittsburgh wants any chance of advancing beyond the first round.

After making the quick trip across the commonwealth, Game 3 will take place at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, April 15 at 3 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast on CBC, NBC and TVAS.

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

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1. Washington Capitals– 31-17-5 (67 points, 53 GP)

After spending a couple of months figuring themselves out and weathering the storm that’s been Braden Holtby‘s second-to-last career worst season (his 2.76 goals against average and .915 save percentage in 39 games played are better and the same as his 2013-14 2.85 GAA and .915 SV% in 48 games played respectively).

It’s a bit of an off year for Washington, but even an off year for the Capitals is still a pretty good season, considering they’re currently first in a division that is more active than a lava lamp in terms of rising and falling.

Washington has a plus-11 goal differential through 53 games played despite the loss of Marcus Johansson in a trade with the New Jersey Devils this offseason and an injured Andre Burakovsky seeing limited time so far. That doesn’t even mention the loss of depth for the Capitals last July either– remember Justin Williams (signed with Carolina) and Karl Alzner (signed with Montreal)?

Luckily for the Capitals they only have about $412,000 in cap space as I write, so their trade deadline plans are pretty much already determined for them.

If they’re able to dump a guy like Brooks Orpik— and his $5.500 million cap hit that runs through next season– that would provide the organization with some much needed relief.

Potential assets to trade: F Jay Beagle, D Brooks Orpik

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), D Ian Cole (PIT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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2. Pittsburgh Penguins– 30-22-3 (63 points, 55 GP)

After bouncing around the Metropolitan Division standings, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are currently four points behind first place in the division.

Much like his rival in Washington, Matthew Murray is having a season to forget. Injuries and the death of his father have taken a toll on the two-time Cup winning goaltender, limiting Murray to just 34 games thus far with a 2.97 GAA and .903 SV% (again, both career worsts– though he is in just his second full season since his 13 GP in 2015-16).

Despite their plus-three goal differential and gifted scorer (turned 2018 All-Star snub), Phil Kessel (24-41–65 totals in 55 games), the Penguins have been porous on defense. Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, is a minus-15 through 52 games played.

Only Justin Schultz (plus-5, 38 GP) and Jamie Oleksiak (plus-6, 20 GP– split between Dallas and Pittsburgh) are positive plus/minus blue liners.

Since November, Pittsburgh has been trying to move defenseman, Ian Cole– though head coach, Mike Sullivan, has been forced to play him (thereby keeping him on the Penguins roster) due to injuries affecting Schultz and friends.

Antti Niemi didn’t pan out and bring stable backup goaltending to the Steel City (he’s since departed via waivers to Florida, then Montreal). Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been left to pick up the tab with some impressive performances at times.

Midseason acquisitions F Riley Sheahan, as well as Oleksiak, have not been enough to fill holes left by Nick Bonino (the forward signed with Nashville in July) and Trevor Daley (left via free agency, landed in Detroit) respectively.

But with roughly $425,000 in cap space to work with currently, the Penguins can’t afford to make much noise on February 26th– but they should definitely snag a defenseman and rental backup goaltender.

Potential assets to trade: D Ian Cole, D Brian Dumoulin, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carl Hagelin, D Matt Hunwick, F Riley Sheahan

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Derick Brassard (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Jason Garrison (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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3. New Jersey Devils– 27-17-8 (62 points, 52 GP)

New Jersey has almost $8.000 million to work with currently as things approach the trade deadline at the end of the month.

The Devils are one of the biggest surprises this season east of the Mississippi River.

First overall pick in the 2017 draft, Nico Hischier, has been quietly setting the tone with forwards, Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha in the resurgence of youth. Travis Zajac is back in his dominant, physical, ways and the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade has worked out quite well for both teams.

And that’s not even mentioning Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri.

Will Butcher is quite the offensive threat on the blue line and John Moore is firing on all cylinders. Despite Marcus Johansson’s concussion, New Jersey hasn’t faced much adversity in overcoming injuries this year.

There’s a lot of cap room to work with, but not a whole lot that this team can really give up to bring in the best guys on the trade market, like Evander Kane, unless the Devils are comfortable parting ways with prospects and draft picks (spoiler alert, they might be).

New Jersey really should be in the hunt for Kane, Rick Nash, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and other great offensive assets– either as the front-runner or the stealthy dark-horse that’ll make one or two big moves to carry them to glory.

The Devils have the time and space to add a veteran forward or defenseman that might eat some salary, but put them lightyears beyond their Metropolitan counterparts.

It’s a buyers market.

Potential assets to trade: F Ben Coleman, F Jimmy Hayes, D Ben Lovejoy, F Drew Stafford

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), G Michael Hutchinson (WPG)

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4. Philadelphia Flyers– 25-19-9 (59 points, 53 GP)

Aside from the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Vegas Golden Knights, the Philadelphia Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now.

Goaltender, Brian Elliott, has found his top-notch form once again while Travis Konecny and Claude Giroux are rolling along. With almost $3.000 million to spend at the deadline, the Flyers could make some improvements to their team.

Trading away Brayden Schenn was costly for Philadelphia this offseason, but thankfully Jakub Voracek and the rest of the roster decided to pick up some of the points left behind by Schenn’s departure.

Adding Jori Lehtera, on the other hand, was a big mistake– both in production value and in cap management.

The Flyers could really solidify their offense with one or two moves and probably should anchor their defense with at least a depth blue liner or two coming down the stretch. Someone like David Perron, Patrick Maroon or Nic Petan could flourish in the Philly system. Meanwhile, a defenseman like Cody Franson would help put them over the edge if someone’s injured.

Potential assets to trade: D Radko Gudas, F Jori Lehtera, F Matt Read, F Dale Weise

Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), D Nick Holden (NYR), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)

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5. Columbus Blue Jackets– 27-22-4 (58 points, 53 GP)

After getting a fast start out of the gate the Columbus Blue Jackets have really cooled off. It’s not that they’re a bad team, but rather, they’re just average.

Sergei Bobrovsky can’t stop the puck and play every other position too. Otherwise, the Blue Jackets would probably be first in the division. But good news, Columbus, you’ve got some cap space to work with at the end of the month.

As I write, the Blue Jackets have about $5.000 million to work with in cap room.

That’s good enough to bring in just about any player without considering what the future impact on the team his cap hit might have (unless Jarmo Kekalainen brings in a clear-cut rental player that won’t be re-signed in July). The point is this, Columbus has enough room to mess around with something valuable at the deadline, but they’re going to have to re-sign a plethora of core/future core pieces of the franchise this offseason.

The Blue Jackets aren’t doomed– they know their future plans more than anyone else.

But what could they bring in to make this team better? Someone. Is there anyone they could snag now and really shake things up as a contender moving forward? Short answer, yes.

For all of the return of Rick Nash to Columbus talk, well, that’s not ideal. Kekalainen should consider someone like Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers before taking back a guy like Nash– who will only break the franchise’s heart again in July when he goes back to the Rangers *bold prediction alert*.

Potential assets to trade: D Andre Benoit, D Jack Johnson

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), F Sam Reinhart (BUF)F Blake Comeau (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Thomas Vanek (VAN)

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6. New York Islanders– 26-22-6 (58 points, 54 GP)

The biggest question heading into the 2018 trade deadline for the New York Islanders is the same one that’s been asked since Steven Stamkos signed his extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning– will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

New York has expressed that they are not looking to trade Tavares should things go detrimentally south between now and February 26th, but if things do…

The Islanders have almost $1.500 million in cap space to play around with before the deadline. They also have 13 pending free agents at season’s end, meaning there’s plenty of options the franchise could pursue.

Should Tavares get a raise and a long-term deal? Absolutely.

The  Islanders could pack it up and go home on this season given their injuries, lack of defense and well, let’s just say, things aren’t going so great for the team that ranks 31st (out of 31 NHL teams) in average attendance this season.

Or they could be active in trying to scrap together a good team centered around their current stars (Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang and others).

Potential assets to trade: F Josh Bailey, F Jason Chimera, F Casey Cizikas, D Thomas Hickey, D Dennis Seidenberg

Potential assets to acquire: F Sam Reinhart (BUF), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Mike Green (DET), F Mark Letestu (EDM), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), F Tyler Bozak (TOR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), D Erik Gudbranson (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)

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7. Carolina Hurricanes– 24-21-9 (57 points, 54 GP)

New Carolina Hurricanes owner, Tom Dundon, might call an audible heading into this year’s trade deadline and decide to spend money on the roster. With almost $15.500 million in cap space, the Hurricanes are in the best possible position to land not just one or two of the big names floating around the rumor mill, but rather three or four quality pieces.

The trouble is, who would they get rid of, since their prospects and youth are worth keeping for further development and overall organizational growth?

Jeff Skinner is someone to build around. So are Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

Lee Stempniak might make his annual trip around the league, but other than that, who are the Hurricanes actually going to offer up from their forwards? If anything, Carolina would move a guy like Noah Hanifin given the contract extensions (and pay raises) that kick in next season for Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin.

Regardless, though they’re not out of contention, the Hurricanes could really use a goaltender to pull them through the stretch. This whole Cam Ward/Scott Darling thing isn’t working out.

Potential assets to trade: G Scott Darling, D Noah Hanifin, F Lee Stempniak, F Derek Ryan, draft picks

Potential assets to acquire: F Evander Kane (BUF), G Robin Lehner (BUF), D Cody Franson (CHI), D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ),  D Mike Green (DET), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Max Pacioretty (MTL), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), F David Desharnais (NYR), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

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8. New York Rangers– 25-24-5 (55 points, 54 GP)

Look, the New York Rangers are still (technically speaking) in contention– but they absolutely shouldn’t waste another year of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career in the National Hockey League without a Stanley Cup.

The team they have right now? Yeah, they aren’t winning.

They’ve aged out. The core’s been decimated by the Vegas expansion draft and some offseason moves (namely trading Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona after losing Oscar Lindberg to Vegas in June).

Not every player is washed up.

Some will find better homes and rejuvenate their careers before potentially signing with the Rangers in free agency and going back “home” *ahem, Rick Nash*.

Others will simply be a superb rental/long term participant in a franchise, like Michael Grabner.

Basically I’m saying that all the guys New York’s been rumored to trade should get traded and the team can pull off a quick turnaround with their up-and-coming youth, plus whatever they get in return for Nash, Grabner and Co.

And with only about $1.400 million in cap space, the Rangers could have some fun blowing things up (partially).

Build around Mika Zibanejad and friends. Do it, New York. Do it now.

Potential assets to trade: F David Desharnais, F Michael Grabner, D Nick Holden, D Ryan McDonagh, F Rick Nash, G Ondrej Pavelec, D Marc Staal, F Jimmy Vesey, F Mats Zuccarello

Potential assets to acquire: D Tyson Barrie (COL), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Zack Smith (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK)

January 6 – Day 91 – Hej baby

With the NHL’s bye weeks starting up tomorrow, there’s lots of action for us to take in today!

Making today even more amazing, the league has scheduled two matinee games for our enjoyment. The first involves St. Louis at Philadelphia (SN) at 1 p.m., followed two hours later by Edmonton at Dallas. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. has three contests for us (Carolina at Boston, Vancouver at Toronto [CBC/NHLN/SN] and Tampa Bay at Ottawa [CITY/SN1/TVAS]), while the New York Rangers at Arizona waits until 8 p.m. to drop the puck. Minnesota visits Colorado at 9 p.m., with Anaheim at Calgary (CBC/SN) trailing an hour later and Nashville at Los Angeles closing the evening off at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

Though there’s more than a few stellar matchups on tap today, three caught my eye before even the first puck was dropped on the season.

  • St. Louis at Philadelphia: The Blues and Flyers swapped C Jori Lehtera and F Brayden Schenn this summer. Considering Schenn has posted 17-25-42 totals this season compared to Lehtera’s 0-2-2, I’d say the winner of the trade is self-evident.
  • Minnesota at Colorado: Tonight at the Pepsi Center, RW Milan Hejduk‘s 23 is being lifted to the rafters to reside with five other Avalanche greats.
  • Anaheim at Calgary: There’s no love lost here: this is a rematch from the Western Conference’s first round that the Flames would rather forget.

It might surprise you, but one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now is actually the Colorado Avalanche. Let’s see if they can keep this positive energy rolling for Hejduk’s special night.

 

What an exciting day for the Avalanche franchise. There are few former members of the Avs more deserving of this honor, to the point that your favorite humble hockey blog predicted tonight’s festivities over two years ago.

Selected by Québec in the fourth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft from the Czech Republic, Hejduk made his NHL debut on opening day of the 1998-’99 season. It wasn’t an overly impressive rookie season for Hejduk (though he was named to the All-Rookie Team), posting only 14-34-48 totals and finishing a distant third behind teammate C Chris Drury in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy, but Hejduk would have the last laugh of a far superior career.

Some players experience a sophomore slump, but Hejduk was quite the opposite. He started the 1999-’00 season with a bang by scoring the first goal in the history of the Pepsi Center, and that campaign ended up being the fourth-best of his career, as he posted 36-36-72 totals that became his baseline for almost every season until 2007-’08.

Hejduk’s third season is probably the one he remembers the fondest, as that’s the year Colorado hoisted the Stanley Cup. The Czech continued his growth at the professional level to reach the 40-goal plateau for the first time en route to his second-consecutive appearance at the All-Star Game (which the Avalanche hosted), and he earned 79 points to help the Avs to a 52-16-10-4 record good enough for the Presidents’ Trophy. He followed that effort up with a 7-16-23 performance in the postseason – second-best behind C Joe Sakic – that included the game-winning goal in Game 2 of the Western Quarterfinals in a 2-1 victory over the Canucks.

Short of the Stanley Cup, the biggest achievement of Hejduk’s career was winning the 2003 Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy after scoring a career-high 50 goals. He had a two-goal advantage on runner-up LW Markus Naslund, and a whopping 21 more that the Avs’ second-best goalscorer that season, C Peter Forsberg, with whom he shared the now discontinued NHL Plus-Minus Award that season after they both posted a franchise-best +52.

Hejduk is far and away the longest tenured player in the history of the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise, as he played 1020 regular season games over 14 seasons with the burgundy and blue, not to mention another 112 playoff contests. Over those 1020 games, he registered 375 goals and 805 points – both the fourth-most in in team history – and a fifth-most 430 assists.

Hejduk’s 23 will be Colorado’s first retired number since D Adam Foote‘s 52 was raised to the rafters on November 2, 2013. Hejduk joins D Ray Bourque, Foote, Forsberg, G Patrick Roy and Sakic – and I guess technically C Wayne Gretzky too, though the closest he came to playing in Denver was his 18 games with St. Louis in 1996.

For those that believe these types of trends can predict the future, Colorado has a 4-1-0 record and a +7 total goal differential in games when it retires a number, so Minnesota should be worried about its chances tonight.

Of course, this Avs team – which has a 21-16-3 record that is good enough for 10th in the Western Conference, two points behind Minnesota in the second wildcard spot – is nowhere near the caliber of those Hejduk played for in years past. However, that’s not to say this squad can’t find success. In fact, Colorado enters tonight’s game riding a four-game winning streak and having earned a 6-1-1 record over its past eight games, which is the third-best mark in the NHL since December 18.

How have the Avs been finding this success? Where to start?

Let’s start with the offense, which has scored 27 goals since December 18 to rank (t)fifth-best in the NHL in that time. The first line has been nigh unstoppable during this run, as both F Nathan MacKinnon (2-9-11 totals) and RW Mikko Rantanen (5-6-11) are headlining the teams scoring, and LW Gabriel Landeskog is only a step behind with his 3-4-7 effort.

But Colorado hasn’t only successful on the offensive end; the defense – even with G Semyon Varlamov nursing a lower-body injury – has played exceptionally, allowing only 15 goals against, the (t)fifth-fewest since December 18.

Varlamov was playing well before he went down on January 2, as he’d posted a .931 save percentage and 2.14 GAA in his six last starts. But G Jonathan Bernier has been even better, earning an incredible .965 save percentage and 1.2 GAA since starting New Year’s Eve’s game against the Islanders. Bernier is coming off a 34-save shutout against the Blue Jackets Thursday.

As for Minnesota, it is quietly in the second wildcard position with a 22-16-3 record. The Wild have also been playing well lately, as they’ve won four of their past five contests.

The Wild’s offense has come alive during this run, as they’ve scored 19 goals since December 27 to rank (t)second-best in the league since then. F Mikael Granlund is finally starting to look like he did last year when he posted career-high 26-43-69 totals. He started slow in 2017 to post only 11-16-27 totals, but he’s managed a 4-4-8 effort from the second line over his last five games to lead his team’s surge. D Jared Spurgeon has also performed well, posting 1-5-6 totals over this run.

Tonight’s meeting marks the second in the four-game series between the Avalanche and Wild. Game 1 took place in St. Paul on November 24, with Minnesota winning 3-2 on a shootout.

Considering the festivities of the evening and the fact that the Avs could surge into playoff position with a victory tonight (Anaheim would need to lose in regulation to Calgary for that to happen), this should should be an excellent game. Considering how well Colorado has played of late, I think it is capable of beating the Wild.


Only a day after being shutout 4-0, the Pittsburgh Penguins used their good luck in the DtFR Game of the Day series to beat the New York Islanders 4-0 at Barclays Center yesterday.

While it was an evenly contested first period between the Pens and Isles (they combined for 21 total shots on goal), Pittsburgh absolutely dominated the Brooklynites in the second by scoring three goals.

The first belonged to Third Star of the Game RW Daniel Sprong (First Star C Sidney Crosby and F Dominik Simon), scoring his first NHL goal since November 6, 2015 with a wrist shot 41 seconds into the frame for what proved to be the game-winner.

Crosby did most of the leg work on the goal, stealing the puck off LW Andrew Ladd‘s stick along the boards in the Islanders’ offensive zone. The Captain then screamed up the ice towards G Jaroslav Halak‘s crease with Sprong to his right, setting up a two-on-one play against D Nick Leddy. Once Halak committed to saving a shot from Crosby, he crossed a pass to Sprong, allowing him to easily bury his wrister into a gaping cage.

F Evgeni Malkin (Crosby and RW Phil Kessel) doubled Pittsburgh’s advantage with a power play snap shot 2:49 later, followed by Crosby (Sprong and Simon) setting the score at 3-0 with 4:10 remaining in the frame.

Sprong’s night wasn’t through with his game-winner. He tacked on his own insurance goal (D Justin Schultz and Crosby) with 6:32 remaining in regulation to set the 4-0 final score.

Second Star G Tristan Jarry saved all 31 shots he faced to earn the second shutout victory of his young NHL career, while Halak – who saved 34-of-38 (.895 save percentage) – was forced to take the loss.

Road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are starting to find some mojo. They’ve earned points in three-consecutive games to pull within 22 points of the 51-29-11 hosts.

November 2 – Day 30 – How fun can the DMV can be?

Most Thursdays are busy, and this one is no different. A perfect dozen games are on the schedule, so we should be in for an exciting night of hockey action.

Like most nights do, this evening’s festivities find their beginning at 7 p.m. when two games (Vegas at Boston [SN/SN360/TVAS] and the New York Islanders at Washington) drop the puck, followed by three more (Detroit at Ottawa [RDS2], the New York Rangers at Tampa Bay and Columbus at Florida) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a second trio of contests (Philadelphia at St. Louis, Montréal at Minnesota [RDS/TSN2] and Dallas at Winnipeg), with a pair of matchups (Carolina at Colorado and Pittsburgh at Calgary) holding an hour before getting underway. Buffalo at Arizona finds its start at 10 p.m., half an hour before tonight’s nightcap: Toronto at Los Angeles. All times Eastern.

There’s reasons aplenty to choose any one game this evening. Here’s just a few I can think of:

  • Vegas at Boston: After being selected in the expansion draft, D Colin Miller makes his first trip back to the TD Garden.
  • New York at Washington: It’s rivalry night in the US Capital!
  • Philadelphia at St. Louis: C Jori Lehtera played for the Blues for three seasons, but he was traded to the Flyers this offseason.

Of those three games, the one that gets me the most excited is taking place at Capital One Arena. Off to the DMV!

 

For those wondering, no: you can’t register for your new license plates at Capital One Arena. This is a different DMV.

I’ve made it a habit of late to feature stellar offenses, and the  7-4-1 Islanders have been nothing short of that so far. Through a month of action, New York has done nothing but average 3.67 goals-per-game, the fourth-highest scoring rate in the entire NHL.

Even among all the talk about his future, all C John Tavares does is score. He’s been an absolute monster to start this season, as his 11-4-15 totals through 12 games played are undoubtedly the best on the team. In fact, his 11 goals are the second-most by any player in the NHL and only two short of RW Nikita Kucherov‘s baker’s dozen.

Tavares’ primary partner in crime is none other than F Josh Bailey, who has managed a 3-11-14 effort so far this year. Tack on F Anders Lee‘s 6-6-12 totals, and you have a first line that has accounted for 20 of the Isles’ 44 goals (45 percent). If the Capitals can’t find a way to squelch what I affectionately refer to as New York’s Sandwich Line (named such because of Bailey, Lee and Tavares’ initials), G Braden Holtby could be in for a long day.

Speaking of 5-3-0 Holtby, it’s been the activity in his end of the rink that has been the biggest struggle for the 5-6-1 Capitals. Of course, even though his .919 season save percentage and 2.75 GAA may not be necessarily indicative of the fact, it hasn’t really been his fault Washington has seen a spike in goals against this season. Holtby has faced 258 shots already this campaign (32.3 per start), which is the second-highest work load among goaltenders with eight or fewer starts this season.

Instead, it’s largely his defense’s fault that the Caps have allowed a seventh-worst 3.42 goals-per-game. That being said, there is one defenseman that has been laying it all on the line for his club: Brooks Orpik.

The former first-rounder has been all over the ice doing the nitty-gritty things to help his team win: he’s throwing hits (three per game); he’s blocking shots (2.6 per game); heck, he’s even providing sparks by earning seats in the penalty box (his eight penalty minutes are [t]second-most among Washington defensemen). If Head Coach Barry Trotz knows nothing else about his team, he knows Orpik will do everything short of scoring to help the team in red (he hasn’t registered a marker since his three-goal explosion in 2015-’16).

Fortunately for Holtby, the Islanders’ 30.4 shots-per-game is the 10th-lowest in the NHL, so his defense should be able to manage this evening’s onslaught for the most part. If they can’t, I think this could be the Isles’ third-straight victory.


Bolstered by First Star of the Game G Cory Schneider‘s first shutout of the season, the New Jersey Devils beat the Vancouver Canucks 2-0 at Rogers Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

I predicted a competitive contest, and that’s exactly what we got. Only one goal was registered in the opening 59:44 of play (read: basically the entire game), and the only reason W Drew Stafford (Third Star F Taylor Hall) was able to score the Devils’ insurance marker was due to Second Star G Jacob Markstrom abandoning his post for the Canucks’ extra attacker.

Otherwise, this was a game dominated by the goaltenders. Schneider certainly earned his shutout, as Vancouver threw everything it had at him. He saved all 37 shots he faced to earn his first clean sheet since on the road since January 16, 2016.

Markstrom was also exemplary, as he saved all but one of his 25 shots faced (.96 save percentage) in his third loss of the season.

Unfortunately, it was that lone blemish, scored courtesy of RW Jimmy Hayes (Hall) with 9:51 remaining in the second period, that proved to be the deciding goal – and Markstrom had actually already performed brilliantly on the play.

Hall entered the offensive zone screaming up the far boards to set himself up for a quick wrist shot against Markstrom. The netminder did exactly what he needed to, using his left pad to direct the shot towards to his right. Unfortunately for him, Hayes was the first to reach the loose puck, and he banged a slap shot from above the right face-off circle off the far post.

Jersey’s victory is the second-straight by a road team in the DtFR Game of the Day series. That being said, the 16-10-4 home teams still own a six-point advantage in the series.

St. Louis Blues 2017-’18 Season Preview

St. Louis Blues

46-29-7, 99 points, third in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Nashville

Additions: W Beau Bennett, D Nate Prosser, F Brayden Schenn, C Oskar Sundqvist, W Chris Thorburn

Subtractions: LW Kenny Agostino (signed with BOS), C Jori Lehtera (traded to PHI), W David Perron (drafted by VGK), RW Ty Rattie (signed with EDM), RW Ryan Reaves (traded to PIT), W Nail Yakupov (signed with COL)

Offseason Analysis: The Blues’ biggest struggle last season was finding offensive production from someone not named Vladimir Tarasenko, the right wing that led his team with 75 points – 20 more than second-best F Jaden Schwartz.

Enter Flyer-turned-Note Schenn.

The fifth-overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft has improved almost every season of his career. Starting with his rookie campaign in 2011-’12, Schenn has averaged .58 points-per-game, including .72 points-per-game for the past two seasons even though he played for the ninth-worst offense in the NHL during that time.

For those wanting more moves, you’ll have your wish next offseason when eight NHL contracts will expire. Until then, St. Louis is putting almost the exact same product on the ice as it did at last season’s end. Since that’s the case, the Blues’ goal of a seventh-straight playoff appearance will require a return to form from a few offensive pieces that had down years last season – particularly C Paul Stastny (18-22-40 totals), who has yet to match his career .8 points-per-game in a Blues sweater.

Of course, the main reason Stastny struggled to post numbers similar to his 10-39-49 totals from 2015-’16 was a lower-body injury suffered in March that forced him out of action for the last 10 games of the regular season and most of the Minnesota series. And he wasn’t the only one to face extended time off the ice, as a February ACL injury landed F Robby Fabbri on injured reserve. It was a disappointing halt to an excellent season for Fabbri, who had posted 11-18-29 totals in 51 games before going down.

Of course, it is these injuries that provided 21-year-old Ivan Barbashev his opportunity to explode onto the scene. In only 30 games, Barbashev was able to notch 12 points and helped the Blues close the season on a 12-2-2 run. It seems a safe assumption that he’s earned his way onto the Blues’ starting roster – at least until December when Patrik Berglund should return from his shoulder surgery.

Another task facing the Blues is identifying their new two-way defenseman, a role Kevin Shattenkirk filled for the past seven seasons. In the 20 regular season games following Shattenkirk’s trade to Washington, Captain Alex Pietrangelo more than stepped into that role by notching 5-13-18 totals for .9 points-per-game, far superior to the .5 points-per-game rate he managed in his opening 60 games.

With four assists in 11 playoff contests, Pietrangelo didn’t necessarily disappear from the scoresheet during the postseason, but his offensive contributions from the blue line were dwarfed by those of Joel Edmundson (3-3-6 totals) and Colton Parayko (2-3-5 totals). Drafted in 2012, 24-year-old Parayko has long been tapped as Shattenkirk’s replacement – especially given that he’s posted two consecutive 33+ point NHL seasons – but the Blues are cautiously hoping last April was Edmundson’s (another 24-year-old) coming-out party.

Will that dream pan out? Probably not. Edmundson has only managed 31 total points in two years of regular and postseason NHL play. But, if it somehow proves to be true, it will be hard to argue that St. Louis’ Edmundson (who’s playing for a contract this year, by the way), Parayko and Pietrangelo form one of the most dynamic defensive corps in the league.

Another interesting transition for this club is employing Thorburn as their new enforcer. For seven seasons, Reaves was charged with protecting the likes of Pietrangelo, Alex Steen and Tarasenko, but he’s looking after Pittsburgh’s stars now. With the likes of Duncan Keith still roaming the division, Thorburn – himself a four-year Central veteran – will need to assert himself early to protect St. Louis’ elite players.

Offseason Grade: B-

For the room it had on its roster (read: not much), St. Louis made a great addition in Schenn that should make a noticeable improvement on the offensive end.

But are the Blues a playoff team? I feel pretty confident saying they are. Do they make it to the Western Finals for the second time in three years or – God save me – qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals? Many of the pieces are still there, but there are more than a few talented teams in the mix. Then again, this team has proven in the past that when it’s hot, it’s en fuego. If the Notes are riding one of those highs in April, there’s no telling how far they could go.