The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2019 was announced, a major shakeup in the Board of Governors may be ahead, extensions were signed, Jake Gardiner joined the Carolina Hurricanes and it’s time for our DTFR Podcast season previews (starting with the Pacific Division).
As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)
The projected standings below are only a forecast.
They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).
There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.
As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.
Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.
A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.
Projected Standings After ZERO Months
- z-Nashville Predators, 103 points
- x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points
- wc2-Minnesota Wild, 93 points
- Chicago Blackhawks, 92 points
- Dallas Stars, 92 points
- Colorado Avalanche, 86 points
Nashville Predators: Pros and Cons
Before you continue reading, it’s important to remember that this is the most unpredictable division in the league currently. Seriously.
Nashville is more than likely going to take the division in the regular season thanks to their minor moves in the offseason and major gains in the long haul, but everything else?
That’s to be determined.
Matt Duchene’s cap hit ($8,000,000) costs the Preds a million dollars less than P.K. Subban ($9,000,000), but there’s 10 pending UFAs on the roster after this season. If a legitimate one-two duo down the middle can’t get the Predators a Cup, then this window may be closing– and fast.
Pekka Rinne isn’t getting any young and the crease will soon be Juuse Saros’ before you know it.
The good news?
The Preds are still one of the most impressive teams on the blue line with Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Dante Fabbro.
How would the Predators fail?
Somehow 30 points in a season gets you a seven-year contract (*ahem* Colton Sissons), but kudos to General Manager David Poile on doing so at a $2.857 cap hit though. That being said, this is dangerous logic that’s tempting fate at the hands of the Hockey Gods, which might only further weaken Nashville’s goaltending when it counts in the postseason.
St. Louis Blues: Pros and Cons
Glue guys score important goals in the playoffs and glue guys come in all shapes and sizes– including dadbod, a la Pat Maroon.
But there’s just one problem, the hometown hero that lifted St. Louis over Dallas into the Western Conference Final has left the Blues for the Tampa Bay Lightning– a product of the salary cap era, a big postseason performance and a… wait, he’s not making a huge salary?
Why did Maroon leave? Because Ivan Barbashev– the younger, better, faster, stronger more long-term approach player– is still an unsigned RFA and the Blues have less than $2.000 million in cap space currently.
St. Louis still has its core, however, and will now find out if Jordan Binnington is truly “The One” or a one hit wonder over the course of a full season of having Binnington as their starter.
When all is said and done, the defending champs have a great chance to continue to make noise in the regular season and, well, we’ve never experienced the Blues winning the Cup before, so… can it happen again? Is that a thing?
How would the Blues fail?
The cliché Stanley Cup hangover. It’s a long, grueling, season that takes its toll– even with all sorts of proper training and nutrition.
Winnipeg Jets: Pros and Cons
The Jets are in trouble. Sure, they might have a decent season and finish in a divisional spot heading into the playoffs, but they’ve got about $16.150 million in cap space and currently unsigned RFAs in Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Eric Comrie right now.
Not to mention the fact that they traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in the offseason for Neal Pionk, but at least Winnipeg got back their 2019 1st round pick in the transaction (previously dealt to New York in the Kevin Hayes trade).
Yes, a team that should see a bounce-back season in the crease from Connor Hellebuyck leading the way to a potential deep postseason run, might not even make it past the First Round if two of their prominent players (Laine and Connor) are still unsigned by the start of the regular season.
Other than that, Dustin Byfuglien is aiming for a strong run without any more injuries and the rest of Winnipeg is looking to quietly do their thing under the tremendous leadership of their captain, Blake Wheeler.
How would the Jets fail?
If Laine and/or Connor miss any part of the regular season, the Jets aren’t going to be soaring all that far without the fuel to get them to the Stanley Cup Final.
Minnesota Wild: Pros and Cons
What an offseason for the Wild and their fans, right? I mean, things are really wild in Minnesota.
First, Mats Zuccarello lands a five-year, $30.000 million contract in the State of Hockey, then (now former) General Manager Paul Fenton is fired and now Bill Guerin has his first job as an NHL GM.
Welcome to the club, Mr. Guerin, now undo all of this mess that was done by the last guy and the guy before him dating back to July 4, 2012.
At least a full season of Ryan Donato in a Wild sweater should be exciting.
Joel Eriksson Ek signed a two-year extension and Ryan Suter’s play wasn’t too terrible last season, but the wheels fell off in the crease because of how bad puck possession was in front of Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock.
Though they’re forecasted as a wild card berth (the forecast formula accounts for more than just last season), Minnesota’s not looking like they’re really going to be much better than they were last season– if at all.
Unless Guerin has any big plans up his sleeve and can get to work patching the holes left and right.
How would the Wild fail?
If they add another player over the age of 30 to their roster, then you know it’s a full-on rebuild (which might actually be for the better at this point).
Chicago Blackhawks: Pros and Cons
Patrick Kane had a tremendous season in 2018-19, amassing 44-66–110 totals in 81 games while the Blackhawks failed to make the postseason for the second straight year.
In the meantime, those that remain from Chicago’s three Cups in five years core are another year older. Jonathan Toews is 31, Kane is 30, Brent Seabrook is 34, Duncan Keith is 36 and starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, is 34.
While incredibly talented, time is not on the Hawks’ side.
That’s why General Manager Stan Bowman has been working to make the team younger with Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat and newcomer Olli Maatta (acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer) taking on larger roles on the Original Six squad.
Even better, 28-year-old defender in his prime, Calvin de Haan, bolsters Chicago’s blue line and provides some much needed time on ice relief for Seabrook and/or Keith as second-year head coach, Jeremy Colliton, sees fit.
Winning the 3rd overall pick in the draft in June, brought Kirby Dach into the equation– whether he’ll be ready for NHL stardom behind Toews and Strome immediately or not.
Though the Blackhawks are forecasted to narrowly miss the postseason for the third straight season, they aren’t going to miss out on the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs by much and will be the team to knock out one of the teams higher up in this outlook (*ahem* Minnesota).
How would the Blackhawks fail?
Age continues to chip away at the memories of yesteryear. That, or injuries, probably.
Dallas Stars: Pros and Cons
The Stars weren’t happy with the production from their best players despite the fact that they were– in fact– their best players. Who would’ve thought?
But now Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are joined by veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry among Dallas’ forwards, while Andrej Sekera has taken a supporting role on the defense in place of the current unrestricted free agent Marc Methot (who may retire altogether).
On the bright side, Dallas’ defense contains Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, John Klingberg and one of the most underrated aspects in the league– itself.
The Stars defense– combined with the superb duo of Ben Bishop as the starting goaltender and Anton Khudobin as their backup– is really solid.
Unfortunately, the team with the most goals at the end of the game always wins and sometimes Dallas just couldn’t score.
That’s where General Manager Jim Nill has looked to Pavelski’s prowess and Perry’s ability– should he rebound– to try to fill the cracks in their offensive game and start winning games even if they only give up a goal or two when it matters most (the playoffs).
Should the Stars beat the aging curve, they’ll make it back to the playoffs. But don’t think it’s easy– they coasted into the postseason last season and shouldn’t make a habit out of that if they’re looking to play their best hockey deep into June.
How would the Stars fail?
Somehow bringing in Pavelski (35-years-old), Perry (34), Sekera (33)– thereby increasing your overall average age– and expanding your list of no-trade and/or no-movement clauses to seven players on your roster just doesn’t always seem to payout. But at least Perry and Sekera are on one-year, $1.500 million contracts.
Colorado Avalanche: Pros and Cons
Pro: This forecast doesn’t take into account how much of an outlier the 2016-17 season was for the Avs.
Con: Unfortunately, the 2016-17 season has to be included in the dataset to “accurately” predict the upcoming season’s outcome until the 2026-27 season or so.
Pro: Colorado has one of the best first lines in the NHL.
Con: Mikko Rantanen is still an unsigned RFA (and he’s a vital part of the first line).
Pro: Joonas Donskoi, Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and Andre Burakovsky are all newcomers to the Avalanche with something to prove. GM Joe Sakic was busy on the phone(s)!
Con: If the team doesn’t gel by January, it’s going to be a long season.
Pro: Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar.
Con: The number of games Gabriel Landeskog will be suspended for at some point in the season.
Pro: This is a very exciting team to watch and a surefire dark-horse to make the Stanley Cup Final.
Con: Now I’ve jinxed them.
How would the Avalanche fail?
By proving this forecast right and inexplicably regressing to their 2016-17 season ways. Otherwise, they’re definitely not actually finishing last in the Central Division… right?
In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.
In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.
P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”
Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.
Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.
Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.
Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.
For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.
Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.
Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.
Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.
In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.
Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.
Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?
Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th
4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2
4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*
4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*
4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)
The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.
Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.
There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.
Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.
Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.
Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.
In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.
The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.
But this time around feels different.
San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th
4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*
4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*
4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*
C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.
It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.
For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).
Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.
Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
Oh. Again. Never mind.
While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.
In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.
Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.
This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?
Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.
On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.
Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.
But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.
Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.
As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.
Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.
Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.
It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th
4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2
4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*
4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*
4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*
C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.
This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.
Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.
Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.
In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).
Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.
Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.
Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.
However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.
This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.
Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.
Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).
Don’t try to mess with what’s working.
Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.
Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.
For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.
Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th
4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3
4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2
4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*
4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*
4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*
The DTFR Duo breaks down Jimmy Howard’s one-year extension with the Detroit Red Wings, Gritty’s allegiance in the 2019 NHL Global Series, the New York Islanders’ bottom-six dilemma, Ilya Kovalchuk’s relationship with the Los Angeles Kings, more awards and a look at how things should stack up in the Metropolitan Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.
Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot
Pekka Rinne signed a two-year extension, John Stevens and Joel Quenneville were fired, Willie Desjardin’s back and there’s a new guy in Chicago (Jeremy Colliton), Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is in the news again, people in Ottawa are fired up about Uber, Lou Lamoriello reached 2,400 games as a GM as the New York Islanders lead the Metropolitan Division and is Halloween the new Thanksgiving? Nick and Connor discuss.
As the calendar flips from October to November, the NHL’s powers are beginning to flex their muscles while the league’s less-talented members are already counting the days until April 6.
Some of that can be seen in the games already played this week (take a look at what a good Devils team suffered in its trip to Tampa), while there’s more than a few games coming up in the remaining four days that will help us better predict some teams’ playoff potentials.
|NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 29-November 4|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, October 29|
|Tuesday, October 30|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||Buffalo||2-1 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||Pittsburgh Penguins||6-3|
|7:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Tampa Bay||3-8|
|10:30 p.m.||New York Rangers||San Jose Sharks||4-3 (SO)|
|Wednesday, October 31|
|Thursday, November 1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh Penguins||New York Islanders||SN360|
|7:30 p.m.||Washington||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||New Jersey||Detroit|
|7:30 p.m.||Nashville||Tampa Bay|
|8 p.m.||Vegas||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||New York Rangers||Anaheim Ducks|
|10:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Los Angeles|
|10:30 p.m.||Columbus||San Jose|
|Friday, November 2|
|saturday, November 3|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Montréal||CITY, SN360, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey Devils||New York Islanders|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Pittsburgh||CBC, NHLN, SN1|
|8 p.m.||Minnesota||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||Chicago Blackhawks||Calgary Flames||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|10:30 p.m.||Columbus||Los Angeles|
|10:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||San Jose|
|SunDay, November 4|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Ottawa||NHLN, SN, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo Sabres||New York Rangers|
As usual, there’s more than a few tilts that caught my attention on this week’s slate. I’m always a big fan of rivalries (New York at Pittsburgh, Chicago at Vancouver, Pittsburgh at New York, Buffalo at Ottawa and Ottawa at Buffalo) and players returning to their former home arenas (W Tom Kuhnhackl and F Joakim Nordstrom made their first trips back to Pittsburgh and Carolina, respectively, on Tuesday, while D Roman Polak is heading back to Toronto tonight), but we also get the added benefits of this year’s NHL Global Series between Florida and Winnipeg in Finland as well as an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal rematch between New Jersey and Tampa Bay.
However, with all of that being said, there’s another huge matchup happening this Thursday that rivals last week’s Toronto-Winnipeg showdown.
Wait, what? This showdown isn’t on national T.V. in either Canada or the States, but a game between two one-win NFL teams is?
This is lunacy.
I’m not saying to stream this tilt by any means necessary, but I’m not saying not to stream this tilt by any means necessary.
Regardless of the legality of your decision, it’s a choice you certainly won’t regret as both the Preds and Bolts are off to hot starts this season, surely inspired at least somewhat by dreams left unfulfilled during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both were their respective conferences’ No. 1 seeds this spring, but they both got knocked off on home ice in a winner-take-all Game 7 (the Predators fell to Winnipeg in the Second Round, while Tampa lost to Washington in the Eastern Conference Final).
At least Smashville got the Presidents’ Trophy, right? Not to mention its prestigious “Regular Season Western Conference Champions” banner.
Sorry, that’s the last time I’ll point out the Predators’ unprecedented award that should probably be penalized for excessive celebration.
Just as they did last season, the 9-3-0 Predators currently sit atop the Central Division, the Western Conference and the NHL with the best record of all 31 teams.
The major reason for the Preds’ success is undoubtedly their goaltending tandem of 3-1-0 Pekka Rinne and 6-2-0 Juuse Saros. Even though they do have the luxury of playing behind the league’s 11th-best defense in terms of shots against per game (W Viktor Arvidsson‘s 12 takeaways, D Ryan Ellis‘ two blocks per game and F Zac Rinaldo‘s 2.3 hits per game have been major factors in Nashville’s 29.92 shots against per game), both have been integral in keeping the Predators’ goals allowed per game at 2.42 – the (t)third-best mark in the league. Both boast save percentages better than .915 and GAAs at or below 2.5, not to mention a shutout apiece.
After being activated from Injured Reserve yesterday (G Troy Grosenick made room on the roster by heading back to Milwaukee), it seems likely that Rinne will be the starter this evening. In his first five starts this season before going down with an undisclosed ailment, the Finn posted a .929 save percentage and 2.1 GAA – both of which are top-six among the 36 netminders with at least five starts to their credit.
Regardless of who’s in net, don’t focus too much on that or you’ll miss Nashville’s outstanding offense that ranks second-best in the conference and (t)sixth-best in the league by averaging 3.5 goals per game. In particular, no Predator has been as dominant as F Filip Forsberg, who’s 10-4-14 totals leave no doubt as to who’s the best scorer in Tennessee.
Forsberg’s 10 goals are (t)third-most in the NHL, trailing league-leaders F Patrick Kane (CHI) and RW David Pastrnak (BOS) by only one marker. After scoring a hat trick against Edmonton on Saturday (he scored all of Nashville’s goals in a 5-3 loss), the Swede was totally kept off the scoreboard Tuesday against Vegas, so he’ll be extra motivated to notch another tally tonight.
The team the Predators are leading for the Presidents’ Trophy are none other than the 8-2-1 Lightning, last season’s preseason darlings that have been ignored – rather unwisely, I might add – by the media in favor of division-rival Toronto so far this year.
The Leafs might be getting all the attention, but it’s business as usual in central Florida as the Bolts are leading the Eastern Conference just like last campaign. Tampa still boasts a dominant offense, not to mention a stellar goaltender and overpowering special teams.
Led from the second line by F Brayden Point and his 7-7-14 totals – not to mention RW Nikita Kucherov and F Yanni Gourde‘s respective 5-7-12 and 4-8-12 efforts – Tampa’s attack is among the most feared in the league, scoring 3.64 goals per game to rank third-best.
Only two days ago against New Jersey in an 8-3 victory, Point notched an outstanding five-point game, but if recent performances are any indication, he likely won’t find the scorecard tonight: his last five games saw him score 5, 0, 1, 0 and 3 points respectively.
Defensively, there’s not much to talk about with the Lightning since D Victor Hedman is still on Injured Reserve. The Bolts’ blue line has suffered during his absence, allowing a 12th-worst 32.36 shots against per game for the season.
However, who needs a defense when you have 6-1-1 G Andrei Vasilevskiy playing for your team? Vasilevskiy has already been confirmed to be starting this game and will look to improve upon his .935 save percentage and 1.98 GAA that both already rank top-five among the 36 goalies with at least five starts to their names.
If this game boils down to special teams, there’s no way the Lightning aren’t coming away with two points. Tampa Bay leads Nashville in both statistics, including owning the league’s top-rated penalty kill (93.2 percent) that will be more than enough to counteract anything the Preds’ fourth-worst power play (13.3 percent) can muster.
Similarly, Tampa Bay’s power play will be a Halloween hangover to the Predators tonight, as a 29.3 success rate is good enough to rank sixth-best in the NHL – especially when it gets to go to work against the 10th-worst penalty kill (75 percent).
If Nashville’s penalty kill is going to have any success, it should probably try to keep F J.T. Miller under wraps as much as possible. Of his 3-7-10 totals on the year, 3-2-5 have occurred with the man-advantage. If those numbers don’t communicate just how potent he’s been, Miller’s .571 power play face-off winning percentage and .429 power play shooting percentage should do the trick.
An interesting note surrounding this game is its location. While it would be assumed that the Lightning would have the advantage considering they are at home, their 5-1-0 record at Amalie Arena is challenged by the Predators’ outstanding 5-0-0 road mark. With that in mind, there is no doubt Smashville is going to throw everything it has at tonight’s host.
There’s no doubt that this is going to be a showdown of the ages, just as should be expected from the top two teams in the league. But which one wins?
That’s the tough question.
I’m going to go out on a limb and take the Predators tonight. I think their offense is more than good enough to take advantage of the Lightning’s weakened defense corps. That being said, Vasilevskiy is going to be a difficult wall to break (as should Rinne be for the Bolts), so I’m predicting only a 2-1 victory for the visitors.
Nick and Connor talk Alex Tuch’s extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, superstars Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as well as Charlie McAvoy extension options, the New York Rangers, Boston’s first line vs. Colorado’s top line and the week’s biggest matchup.
The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.
53-18-11, 117 points, Presidents’ Trophy winners
Lost in the Second Round to Winnipeg (4-3)
Subtractions: C Cody Bass, LW Brandon Bollig, D Stefan Elliott, D Alexei Emelin, C Mike Fisher, D Petter Granberg, LW Scott Hartnell, G Anders Lindback, C Mark McNeil, G Matt O’Connor, D Rick Pinkston, D John Ramage, C Trevor Smith, D Scott Valentine, LW Harry Zolnierczyk
Offseason Analysis: The Predators had all the ingredients of a Stanley Cup winner last year. The offense was solid, the defense was stifling, and the goaltending was world-class. They boasted largely the same group that had made it all the way to the Final in 16-17, so now they had the experience and know-how that allows teams to get to the promised land. They dominated the regular season and walked into the playoffs with a Vince McMahon-like strut. Mike Fisher was so confident in their abilities to win a Cup that he quite literally decided he’d rather get back into hockey shape and unretire to join them for the playoffs rather than stay home and be Carrie Underwood’s husband (she never did return my letters about being her fill-in husband while he was away).
After dispatching of the Avs in the First Round, though, the Preds encountered a problem. They encountered (arguably) the one team that was capable of beating them: the Winnipeg Jets. The knock-down, drag-out playoff matchup hockey fans and media were begging for was to be the downfall of the Preds. Winnipeg’s unrelenting physicality, superior offensive firepower and the shattering of Pekka Rinne‘s confidence were too much for the Preds to overcome, and they’d fall unceremoniously in a 5-1 home loss after managing to force a Game 7.
Luckily for the Nashville brass, the offseason they faced wasn’t supremely daunting. Apart from a few young RFA’s and some aging role players (plus the re-retirement of Fisher), they had no real NHL-level contract concerns. The core of the team was secure heading into the 18-19 campaign. But still the sting of defeat in back-to-back potential Cup-winning years hurt, and efforts to counter a potential third year of the same had to be made.
With no draft picks until the fourth round, GM David Poile instead focused on free agency to bring immediate help to his team. When things opened up on July 1, he first tasked himself with helping them from within, re-signing wingers Miikka Salomaki (two years, $750 thousand per) and Ryan Hartman (one year, $875 thousand) and young stud No. 2 goaltender Juuse Saros (three years, $1.5 million per) to very reasonable deals. He then snagged one of his former draft picks in Dan Hamhuis, inking the 35-year-old to a two-year, $2.5 million contract to replace the departed Alexei Emelin and solidify the defense. Poile then knocked a big task off of next year’s to-do list when he signed defenseman Ryan Ellis to an eight-year, $50 million contract extension ($6.25 million cap hit) that takes hold next summer. Ellis has grown into one of the Preds’ most versatile and reliable defenders, and Poile saw no reason to wait on locking him up for the foreseeable future.
Few other signings were notable names, mostly organizational depth, although newcomers Rocco Grimaldi, Zac Rinaldo, Colin Blackwell, and AHL-contracted Brian Cooper have made noise to this point in training camp and are all still on the preseason roster heading into the final days/cuts.
Up front, the lineup will look largely unchanged from last year’s group, with really only depth positions likely up for grabs. Winger Scott Hartnell was the only full-timer from last year to depart, and 2017 first round pick Eeli Tolvanen looks poised to inherit his place in the lineup. While lacking Hartnell’s snarl, Tolvanen is a deadly shooter and spent last year lighting up the Finnish Elite League as a rookie fresh out of the USHL. With success in a men’s league and experience on North American ice, Tolvanen should be ready for an NHL roster spot. The only other notable absence, at least to start the season, will be the lack of power forward winger Austin Watson. The 26-year-old was suspended for the first 27 games of the season after pleading no contest to charges of domestic battery over the summer. It comes after Watson finally solidified his place in the Predators lineup last season, and they’ll have to make due without his size and physicality for at least the first few months of the year.
In Watson’s absense, I have the opening night forward group looking like:
Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson
Fiala – Turris – Smith
Tolvanen – Bonino – Sissons
Salomaki – Jarnkrok – Hartman
Extra forwards Grimaldi and Frederick Gaudreau
The defense also only lost one regular from last year, and Hamhuis should step right into that slot. Really only the No. 6 slot to his right remains a question, and while Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto are more than capable, they both have an uphill battle to unseat Yannick Weber based solely upon the fact that he’s the only right handed shot among them. The only problem facing the Preds here is that none of the three are on two-way contracts, so basically they get to decide who they’re most comfortable putting on waivers. In the end I think Irwin’s NHL experience could give him the edge in that decision.
Defensive lineup should look like:
Josi – Ellis
Ekholm – Subban
Hamhuis – Weber
Extra defender Irwin
In goal, it’s Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros. Sorry I couldn’t make that any more entertaining.
Er, well, it is a contract year for Rinne. So… umm… that’ll be interesting, I guess.
Offseason Grade: B
Less really was more, here.
Poile played it smart, as he often does. He kept his spending to a minimum (the Preds should enter the season with a smidge north of $8 million to play with) and used the depth he’s accumulated to still ice one of the better lineups in the league.
The defense is arguably the best (or at least top three) in the league, and none of the top seven are in contract years. (In fact, only four forwards likely to make the NHL club are to see free agency next year, and every one of them is still RFA eligible)
Rinne is likely looking at his last shot at a Cup as a No. 1 guy (he’ll turn 36 this year), so he’ll be leaving nothing on the table.
The forward group is solid, if not spectacular. But with all that aforementioned cap space available, scoring punch can certainly be brought in sometime before the deadline if it proves to be a concern heading towards the playoffs.
We haven’t seen the last of Smashville playoff runs.