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NHL Nick's Net

Marchand nets hat trick in, 5-1, victory over Montréal

Brad Marchand scored a hat trick, while Curtis Lazar had three points (two goals, one assist) and Linus Ullmark made 24 saves in a, 5-1, win for the Boston Bruins over the Montréal Canadiens Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Ullmark (12-5-0, 2.48 goals-against average, .918 save percentage in 17 games played) turned aside 24 out of 25 shots faced in the win for Boston.

Montréal starter, Jake Allen (5-16-2, 3.15 goals-against average, .901 save percentage in 24 games played), made five saves on seven shots against before an injury forced him out of the game in the loss.

Canadiens head coach, Dominique Ducharme, replaced Allen with Sam Montembeault (1-6-2, 3.99 goals-against average, .895 save percentage in 12 games played) 17:11 into the action.

Montembeault made 31 saves on 34 shots for no decision.

The Bruins improved to 20-11-2 (42 points) overall and remain in command of 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Habs fell to 7-24-4 (18 points) on the season and stuck in 8th place (last) in the Atlantic.

The B’s are now 2-0-0 against the Canadiens this season in their regular season series with a pair of games left to play in Montréal.

Tuukka Rask served as the backup goaltender for Boston on Wednesday after recovering from offseason hip surgery and signing a one-year contract with a cap hit of $1.000 million ($545,000 in actual salary given the time of the signing) on Tuesday.

Rask went 15-5-2 in 24 games last season with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in that span, as well as two shutouts.

In 560 career National Hockey League games since making his NHL debut in the 2007-08 season, Rask has 306 wins, a career 2.27 goals-against average, a career .921 save percentage and 52 shutouts.

He holds Bruins franchise records in games played by a goalie (560), wins (306), shots against (15,485), saves (14,269), save percentage (.922) and minutes (32,206) and ranks second in goals-against average (2.27, trailing Tiny Thompson’s 1.99 career GAA in a B’s sweater), as well as shutouts (52, trailing Thompson’s 74).

As a result of Rask’s signing, Jeremy Swayman was assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL) as Swayman is not eligible for the NHL’s taxi squad designation.

Boston Sports Journal‘s Conor Ryan noted in a tweet on Tuesday that Rask “was assigned to Providence 10 times between Sept. 2007 and Feb. 2009 before finally carving out an NHL spot. One of those assignments was two days after a 21-year-old Rask had a 35-save shutout against NYR. It’s part of the process,” in an effort to quell feelings of uneasiness watching Swaymen get sent down among Bruins fans.

B’s General Manager, Don Sweeney, informed reporters on Tuesday that Swayman, while disappointed, understands the organization’s decision and shows the drive to get back to the NHL level if an injury or otherwise should occur and necessitate another call-up.

The Bruins were without the services of Jakub Zboril (right ACL), Nick Foligno (lower body), Connor Clifton (COVID-19 protocol), Derek Forbort (COVID-19 protocol) and Trent Frederic (upper body) on Wednesday night.

Boston head coach, Bruce Cassidy, told reporters ahead of the game against Montréal that Frederic would miss the next two games– at least– while Foligno could return to action next week.

Meanwhile, Jake DeBrusk and Tomáš Nosek returned from the league’s COVID-19 protocol and were re-inserted in the lineup against the Canadiens.

DeBrusk suited up on the third line in his usual spot at left wing with Charlie Coyle at center and Oskar Steen at right wing, while Nosek resumed his regular role as the fourth line center– flanked by Anton Blidh and Lazar on the wings.

On defense, Cassidy left his pairings alone from Monday night’s, 7-3, win in Washington, D.C. despite Boston having called up Tyler Lewington on an emergency basis.

Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore, Troy Grosenick and Steven Fogarty were reassigned to Providence on Tuesday in what was simply a paper transaction for Vaakanainen and Moore (the pair were recalled prior to facing the Canadiens), while Grosenick and Fogarty remained with the P-Bruins on Wednesday.

Boston’s long list of players out of the lineup against Montréal included Frederic (upper body), Foligno (lower body), Forbort (COVID-19 protocol), Lewington (taxi squad), Zboril (right ACL), Clifton (COVID-19 protocol) and Karson Kuhlman (healthy scratch).

Prior to the singing of the anthems, the Bruins held a moment of silence to honor the life of Teddy Balkind, a 16-year-old hockey player from Connecticut that was killed as a result of an injury that he sustained in a game last week.

Midway through the opening frame, Jeff Petry had his helmet knocked off by Blidh and kept on playing as if nothing had happened. Except that’s a penalty these days.

Petry cut a rut to the box for playing without a helmet and presented the Bruins with the night’s first power play at 9:22 of the first period, but Boston couldn’t muster anything on the skater advantage.

Late in the period, Marchand snuck onto the ice in the midst of a line change and stood open on the left side of the net on the doorstep as Nosek sent a shot-pass to Marchand (17) for the redirection behind Allen.

The Bruins led, 1-0, as Nosek (5) and Lazar (6) notched the assists on Marchand’s first goal of the night at 14:43 of the first period.

A mere 15 seconds later, Marchand (18) one-timed the puck out of mid-air through Allen’s five-hole after the rubber biscuit was initially shot by Craig Smith off of a Montréal defender— high and wide before bouncing off the glass over the net to Marchand.

Smith (8) and Patrice Bergeron (16) tallied the assists on Marchand’s second goal of the game and Boston led, 2-0, at 14:58.

Marchand, as a result, became the first Bruin to score a pair of goals in 15 seconds since Milan Lucic notched a pair en route to scoring a hat trick against the Florida Panthers in a, 4-0, win on Nov. 18, 2010, at TD Garden.

Coincidentally, Marchand would later complete a hat trick of his own in Wednesday night’s victory.

After giving up two goals that were 15 seconds apart, Allen spoke with a Canadiens athletic trainer and was taken out of the game.

Late in the period, DeBrusk sent a shot towards the net looking for an intentional deflection off of Lazar’s (4) foot and into the twine.

DeBrusk (5) and Matt Grzelcyk (12) earned the assists as the Bruins took a, 3-0, lead at 19:10 of the first period.

Heading into the first intermission, Boston led, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 13-6, in shots on goal.

The B’s also led in faceoff win percentage (59-41), while the Canadiens dominated in blocked shots (7-1), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (2-0) and hits (14-12).

Montréal had yet to see any action on the skater advantage, while Boston was 0/1 on the power play heading into the middle frame.

Bergeron slashed Jonathan Drouin to avoid giving up a quick goal in the second period, but was sent to the box at 3:19 anyway– yielding a power play to the Canadiens as a result.

Montréal couldn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage, but got another chance at 6:41 of the second period when Erik Haula was assessed a hooking minor for yanking on Mike Hoffman with his stick.

The Canadiens were subsequently embarrassed on the ensuing special teams play, however, as Marchand (19) scored a shorthanded goal to complete his hat trick and give Boston a, 4-0, lead at 7:10.

Moore (1) and Bergeron (17) had the assists as Marchand picked out a hat from the ice to give to an equipment manager on the Bruins’ bench for safekeeping until after the game.

For the fifth time in his career, Marchand had scored a hat trick and became just the second Bruin to amass three goals in a game this season as Bergeron had previously done so in a, 5-1, win against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 4, 2021.

Less than a minute later, Ben Chiarot was sent to the box for roughing at 7:50, but Boston couldn’t capitalize on the resulting power play.

Moments later, Michael Pezzetta (2) received a pass from Brett Kulak and spun around before flinging the puck on Ullmark’s short side– scoring a goal as the Bruins failed to clear the zone and broke down in their own end.

Kulak (7) had the only assist as the Canadiens trailed, 4-1, at 10:46 of the second period.

A minute later, Bergeron went back to the box for roughing at 11:49 as he retaliated for a hit behind his own net that he didn’t like when a Montréal player took down Grzelcyk below the goal line.

Montréal’s power play was cut short as Nick Suzuki was penalized for holding at 13:41, resulting in a little 4-on-4 action for nine seconds before an abbreviated power play for Boston began.

Finally, at 19:10 of the second period, Kulak cut a rut to the sin bin for slashing, but the Bruins wouldn’t convert on the skater advantage even as it bled into the final frame of regulation.

Through 40 minutes of play, the B’s led, 4-1, on the scoreboard and dominated in shots on goal, 28-15, including a, 15-9, advantage in the middle frame alone.

The Habs, meanwhile, led in blocked shots (10-3), takeaways (6-2), giveaways (5-4) and hits (22-17), as Boston controlled faceoff win%, 53-47.

Montréal was 0/3 and the Bruins were 0/4 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Prior to the start of the third period, the Bruins tweeted that Moore would not return to the night’s action with an upper body injury.

Smith tripped Joel Armia 47 seconds into the third period and yielded 26 seconds of 4-on-4 action before an abbreviated power play for Montréal as a result.

The Canadiens didn’t score on the ensuing skater advantage.

Moments later, Marchand took down Suzuki as the Canadiens forward almost had his stick on the puck resulting in an interference minor for Marchand at 5:48 of the third period.

It wasn’t that much longer before things started to get chippy on the ice between the two rival clubs.

A scrum after a whistle at 6:57 of the third period quickly descended into an exchange of forceful shoves and move as Pezzetta and Carlo received roughing minors while Chris Wideman head-butted Haula– further escalating the situation.

Haula received a minor for roughing, while Wideman was assessed two minutes for roughing as well as an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction.

Both teams skated at 4-on-4 for a little longer before resuming full even strength, resulting in a dominant possession for the Bruins at the other end.

Vaakanainen blasted a shot from the point that deflected off of Lazar’s (5) blade and flew under Montembeault’s blocker to give Boston another four-goal lead at 10:19 of the third period.

Vaakanainen (3) and Blidh (6) tallied the assists on Lazar’s second goal of the game and the Bruins led, 5-1.

Minutes later, Ullmark and Laurent Dauphin exchanged pleasantries leading a quick chop that went uncalled as Ullmark instead received an interference minor and Dauphin was handed an embellishment infraction.

Taylor Hall served Ullmark’s penalty while Dauphin had to answer Haula in an exchange of fisticuffs as the boiling point had been reached at 15:o5 of the third period in just the ninth fighting major this season for the Bruins.

The action simmered down afterwards and remained relatively calm as the final minutes winded down and the final horn sounded.

Boston had won, 5-1, and finished the night leading in shots on goal, 41-25.

Montréal left TD Garden with the advantage in blocked shots (10-4), giveaways (10-5) and hits (29-21), while the Bruins exited their own ice leading in faceoff win% (54-46).

Both teams went 0/5 on the power play on Wednesday as the B’s earned their third three-game win streak of the season.

Boston improved to 13-5-0 (6-3-0 at home) when scoring first, 14-0-0 (6-0-0 at home) when leading after one period and 15-1-0 (5-1-0 at home) when leading after two periods this season.

The Canadiens, meanwhile, fell to 2-20-1 (0-11-1 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 1-13-2 (0-9-2 on the road) when trailing after the first period and 1-20-2 (0-11-2 on the road) when trailing after the second period in 2021-22.

The Bruins (1-0-0) continue their seven-game homestand on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET on ESPN) before hosting the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

The Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks will also visit Boston before the B’s hit the road on Jan. 26th in Colorado.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Montréal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 24-21-11, 59 points

4th in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by Tampa

Additions: F Jean-Sébastien Dea, F Christian Dvorak (acquired from ARI), F Mike Hoffman, F Cedric Paquette, F Mathieu Perreault, D Louis Belpedio, D Sami Niku, D David Savard, D Chris Wideman, G Sam Montembeault (claimed off waivers from FLA)

Subtractions: F Phillip Danault (signed with LAK), F Charles Hudon (signed with TBL), F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (offer sheet signed with CAR, not matched), F Jake Lucchini (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), F Corey Perry (signed with TBL), F Tomas Tatar (signed with NJD), F Jordan Weal (KHL), D Cale Fleury (expansion, SEA), D Erik Gustafsson (signed with CHI), D Otto Leskinen (Liiga), D Jon Merrill (signed with MIN), D Gustav Olofsson (signed with SEA), G Vasili Demchenko (KHL), G Charlie Lindgren (signed with STL)

Still Unsigned: F Joseph Blandisi, F Michael Frolik, F Eric Staal

Re-signed: F Joel Armia, F Brandon Baddock, F Alex Belzile, F Laurent Dauphin, F Artturi Lehkonen, F Michael Pezzetta, F Ryan Poehling, F Lukas Vejdemo, G Michael McNiven

Offseason Analysis: After back-to-back miracle runs to the postseason aided by the circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Montréal Canadiens are expected to fall back to Earth in 2021-22.

The Canadiens were a .500 team that upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, then Montréal was a below .500 team that benefitted from the four teams per division playoff format in 2021.

Any of the 16 teams that make the playoffs can win the Cup and the Canadiens almost bested the 2012 Los Angeles Kings in terms of being a long shot to do so, but the Tampa Bay Lightning had other plans in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Instead, the Bolts repeated as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions while Montréal was eliminated in five games in a Game 5 that was decided by one goal– the only goal, scored by Ross Colton a little past the midpoint of the second period, as the Lightning emerged victorious with a, 1-0, win on home ice to secure their third Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

Corey Perry lost to Tampa in back-to-back years and, as such, as taken the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra to heart in the offseason, signing a two-year contract worth $1.000 million per season with the Lightning.

Fear not, Habs fans, unlike when Marian Hossa bounced from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Detroit Red Wings before landing in Chicago ahead of the 2009-10 season, Perry’s already won a Cup ring. He’s just in search of his second before the twilight of his career reaches sunset.

Montréal’s cast of characters in Perry, Eric Staal and others that joined the leadership of captain, Shea Weber– whether via free agency ahead of the 2020-21 season or prior to the 2021 trade deadline– has mostly disbanded.

Whether or not Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, planned on making an appearance in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final or not as the 56-game regular season approached last season, it’s hard to say that he didn’t give the Habs their best roster in recent years.

They replaced Claude Julien with Dominique Ducharme behind the bench after a shaky start and rode the waves of change into a fourth-place finish in the one-off Scotia NHL North Division to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2021 First Round.

They didn’t surrender when they trailed in the series 3-1, as Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi followed the examples of Perry, Staal, Joel Armia, Tyler Toffoli and other veterans that led the charge.

Montréal beat Toronto in seven games. They swept the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round and upset the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Then David faced Goliath, but Goliath won.

Because of the nature of the salary cap era, Bergevin couldn’t hold onto all of his puzzle pieces.

Perry, Staal, Jordan Weal, Phillip Danault, Charlie Lindgren, Jon Merrill, Tomas Tatar, Kotkaniemi and Erik Gustafsson are all gone for one reason or another, while Mike Hoffman, Cedric Paquette, David Savard, Chris Wideman, Mathieu Perreault, Sami Niku and Sam Montembeault have all been signed to take their place on the depth chart.

The heart of the Canadiens– however recently formed– is changing. The identity of the team last season– forged with the additions of Perry and Staal to the already existent tenures of Danault, Weber, Price and Co. is in transition.

Whereas Suzuki was already leading the charge in Montréal’s new core, this offseason has solidified the inevitable. It may not be a rebuild, but it may be a few more stagnant years in-between before long term success and growth.

It’s crazy to write about how the Habs– a team that made the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– are not going to be as “good” as they were good enough to reach the Final, but it also makes the most sense.

Again, in a normal 82-game season without the pandemic, the Canadiens likely wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in the last two years.

The fact that they have has provided valuable experience for Suzuki, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and more, but the veteran turnover from last season to this season is palpable.

The additions of Hoffman, Paquette, Savard, Wideman and Perreault signal a distinct shift in character.

Heart and grit be damned– Montréal is wholly embracing the speed and skill era. Sort of.

Hoffman joined the St. Louis Blues on a one-year deal last season after amassing five consecutive seasons with at least 55 points or more dating back to the 2015-16 season. His play in an Ottawa Senators uniform was consistent, but his dressing room presence earned him a ticket to the San Jose Sharks in a trade before being flipped to the Florida Panthers ahead of the 2018-19 season.

After amassing 70 points in 82 games with the Panthers in his first season in Florida, Hoffman had 59 points in 69 games in the 2019-20 regular season that was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Then he had 17-19–36 totals in 52 games with the Blues last season after a slow start.

As a top-nine forward, Hoffman’s one-dimensional game as a sniper isn’t that bad as long as he scores.

Since being traded by the Lightning, Paquette had a little bit of a journey on his way to Montréal. First, in nine games with the Senators last season he had one goal. Then in 38 games with the Carolina Hurricanes, he amassed seven points (three goals, four assists) for a grand total of 4-4–8 totals in 47 games combined between his Sens and Canes tenure.

As a fourth liner, it’s a low-risk, high-reward move for the Habs, but that’s assuming he’ll be in the lineup from night-to-night as the Canadiens have a backlog of bottom-six talent looking to earn a regular role.

Savard might just be the best value signing this summer by Bergevin. The 30-year-old defender was signed to a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and had six points (one goal, five assists) from the blue line in 54 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Lightning last season en route to winning his first Stanley Cup ring.

Don’t let his offensive shortfalls fool you, Savard is a quality shutdown defender of the top-four variety.

Seriously, it’s a good signing by the Canadiens.

Wideman hasn’t made an appearance in the NHL since the 2018-19 season, when he played for the Senators until the infamous Uber ride, then was traded to the Edmonton Oilers and finally traded again to the Panthers.

In 181 career NHL games, he’s had 16-29–45 totals from the point and spent 2019-20 in the American Hockey League with the San Diego Gulls after signing with the Anaheim Ducks and missing out on the roster after training camp and spending last season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia.

While in the KHL, Wideman reinvented his game– compiling 9-32–41 totals in 59 games with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.

With Niku on the injured reserve to start the season and Weber’s career in doubt, Wideman is a welcome addition to the bottom pairing as Montréal looks to hold things together in their own end with Carey Price out indefinitely (Price entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program last Thursday) and Jake Allen as their last resort as the de facto starting goaltender.

Meanwhile, Perreault’s arrival shores up the fourth line and Montembeault should provide an added cushion as a backup option to Allen in the crease.

By now, you’ve read almost 1,300 words on Montréal’s summer and we haven’t even gotten around to talking about the ongoing feud with the Hurricanes as a result of the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, as well as the Christian Dvorak acquisition.

Let’s try to keep this brief, O.K.?

Carolina signing Kotkaniemi wasn’t revenge (allegedly) for Montréal signing Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet, but it was an offer that was too good to refuse (for Kotkaniemi, anyway).

A one-year deal worth about $6.100 million with a $20 signing bonus (symbolism!) means that Kotkaniemi will be due for a decent payday if he’s tendered a qualifying offer next summer.

The Canadiens didn’t have the cap space and even the Hurricanes had to make a move to finagle his salary on the books. The Habs will gladly take Carolina’s 2022 1st round and 2022 3rd round draft picks, despite losing one of their better centers for the future.

It was hard enough to let Danault walk to the Los Angeles Kings in free agency, surely things only got harder for Montréal to find a replacement after Kotkaniemi left too– oh.

After swapping draft picks on the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in three separate trades, Bergevin made his only trade that resulted in a change to Montréal’s roster this offseason on Sept. 4th.

The Canadiens dealt a conditional 2022 1st round pick and a 2024 2nd round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Dvorak and with that brought in his 17-14–31 totals in 56 games from last season to their top-six forward group.

Since making his league debut in 2016-17, Dvorak has never reached the 40-point plateau, but with teammates like Toffoli, Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Caufield and anyone else that might bounced around inside the top two lines on any given night– Dvorak is sure to have a more consistent supporting cast around him than in his Coyotes days.

Offseason Grade: C

It’s not a great look to have mismanaged Kotkaniemi over the years– culminating in the loss of his talent via an offer sheet, but what’s more concerning for the Canadiens is just how much of what made them pernicious in their Cinderella run to the Final last year that they lost.

It wasn’t just one or two minor moves that were made to improve from last season to this season– Bergevin made some sweeping changes, by necessity or otherwise.

The top-six forward group should be fine, but do the Habs have the same level of depth that they had last season? That’s another question entirely.

At the very least, they’re not getting caught up having an overstayed welcome with replacement level talent, yet their window in the Price era may be coming to a close.

Hopefully Price gets the help that he needs most as there’s a lot more to life than just hockey. In the meantime, time marches on as the 34-year-old goaltender is susceptible to the inevitable fallout from a goaltender’s prime.

Montréal may very well win another Cup someday soon, but Price might be in a more limited role as the club’s backup by then, if all things go according to plan with this ideally seamless transition from a team that lucked into postseason runs.

The Habs need to improve in the regular season in a division that’s already tough enough to compete in with Tampa, Toronto, Florida and Boston expected to be in the playoff hunt in the Atlantic Division.

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Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #145- We Plan To Be Good In 2021-25

Evgeni Malkin did a bad thing, the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game broke attendance records and more trades happened in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron reached 1,000 games and David Pastrnak is injured for the Boston Bruins leaving Nick in a glass case of emotion.

Plus, Eugene Melnyk plans to spend money, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a new alternate sweater, Randy Carlyle was fired and Scott Niedermayer will have his number retired (again) this week. Finally, Connor has a new segment.

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

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Previews

2018 Offseason Preview: Arizona Coyotes

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

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The Coyotes added some major pieces in Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta last June in a trade with the New York Rangers and were expected to be more competitive than they actually turned out to be in 2017-18. Things did not go as planned as the the team finished in 8th place in the Pacific Division and dead-last in the Western Conference with a 29-41-12 record (70 points).

Arizona went almost a dozen games without winning for the first month and a half of the season, continued to struggle, then turned on the jets (no relation to their franchise history having moved from Winnipeg to the desert in 1996) in February as a team with a lot of potential.

Clayton Keller emerged as a bright spot all season long, staking a legitimate claim at this season’s Calder Memorial Trophy honors as rookie of the year, while Dylan Strome was finally given a fair shake at the NHL level.

In short, the Coyotes have a lot of promise heading into 2018-19– perhaps as a playoff bubble team. It’s too early to tell if they’ll maintain their near 120-point projection (over the course of a season) performance as a team from February to the end of the regular season in April, but one thing’s for sure– they won’t be in the basement come April 2019.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

General Manager John Chayka has an analytics mindset in a smaller market (monetarily speaking). Chayka has to do a lot with a little in terms of salary cap spending allowance.

Drafting the right players is always essential to overall franchise success, long-term, but as the league continues to shift to a younger, fast and more skilled game, the Coyotes have a chance to stockpile on talent.

Brady Tkachuk or Oliver Wahlstrom could deliver on offsense for Arizona. Then again, the team could be thinking of adding a young defender in Noah Dobson, Quintin Hughes or Evan Bouchard. In any case the Coyotes have some big decisions to make among their pending free agents and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Pending free agents

Arizona has a mix of important roster members and depth guys to figure out just who exactly should earn another contract and who should be free to find a different city to play in.

Though Ekman-Larsson has one-year remaining on his current contract, there are signs of a looming extension being signed unless there is a trade offer out there that is too good to pass up.

This is where a guy like pending-restricted free agent Max Domi plays a vital role in Chayka’s overall offseason plans.

It’s unimaginable to think that Arizona would want to part with the 23-year-old son of legendary NHLer Tie Domi, but the fact of the matter is that it remains unclear how satisfied Domi is with the organization.

There’s a chance the Coyotes could be a lot better than they were this season, but the same thing was said last season and so on.

How Domi perceives the future of the organization will yield a decision in whether or not there’s a chance he gets traded. Otherwise, he’s Arizona’s biggest priority to re-sign.

Sure, they could look at what a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins would entertain and the Coyotes have about $23 million in cap space to work with– so a deal involving Phil Kessel would be attractive, but at what cost to the future of the team?

There’s a plethora of youth, prospects and promise in Arizona. How much is Chayka willing to risk to make the Coyotes go from rebuilding to playoff contender, keeping in mind that any team that makes the playoffs has a chance to win the Cup.

In addition to Domi, forwards Brad Richardson (UFA), Freddie Hamilton (RFA), Zac Rinaldo (UFA) and Laurent Dauphin (RFA) are current NHL-roster pending free agents this July. Arizona could move on from all of them if they wish to hit the reset button on their bottom six-forwards, though re-signing Dauphin wouldn’t hurt the club.

28-year-old defensemen, Luke Schenn and Kevin Connauton are pending-UFAs and could be kept around if Chayka’s not looking at adjusting his defense.

In goal, Raanta has three-years remaining on his deal and backup Darcy Kuemper has two more years left on his contract. As long as the Coyotes are content with their strategy in net, there’s no need to ship either goaltender elsewhere.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Sean Maguire (RFA), Dakota Mermis (RFA), Trevor Murphy (RFA), Joel Hanley (UFA), Pierre-Cédric Labrie (UFA), Mike Sislo (UFA), Tye McGinn (UFA), Mark Langhamer (RFA) and Michael Bunting (RFA)

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NHL Podcasts

Down the Frozen River Podcast #88- The Undesirables

The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

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Nick's Net Previews

Chicago Blackhawks 2017-2018 Season Preview

imgresChicago Blackhawks

50-23-9, 109 points, 1st in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Nashville

Additions: G Jean-Francois Berube, F Lance Bouma, F Laurent Dauphin, G Anton Forsberg, D Connor Murphy, D Jordan Oesterle, F Brandon Saad, F Patrick Sharp, F Tommy Wingels

Subtractions: D Brian Campbell (retired), G Scott Darling (traded to CAR), F Andrew Desjardins (signed a PTO with NYR), D Dillon Fournier (retired), D Niklas Hjalmarsson (traded to ARI), G Lars Johansson (signed with CSKA Moscow, KHL), F Marcus Kruger (traded to VGK), F Pierre-Cedric Labrie (signed with NSH), D Shawn Lalonde (signed with Kölner Haie, DEL), F Michael Latta (signed with ARI), F Martin Lundberg (signed with Växjö Lakers HC, SHL), F Brandon Mashinter (signed with SJ), F Tyler Motte (traded to CBJ), D Johnny Oduya (signed with OTT), F Artemi Panarin (traded to CBJ), F Dennis Rasmussen (signed with ANA), D Trevor van Riemsdyk (claimed by VGK at the 2017 Expansion Draft)

Still Unsigned: G Mac Carruth, F Kenton Helgesen, D Nolan Valleau

Offseason Analysis: After being swept in the First Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Nashville Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks are turning the page by burning the playbook from the last few seasons. It’s not as much of an overreaction as the Florida Panthers this offseason, but it’s quite a change in the direction of the organization as a whole.

If something feels much different this offseason than in 2010, 2013 and 2015 it’s because the Blackhawks didn’t win the Cup and made moves this offseason similar to when they did.

They traded one of their star forwards. They traded a top-4 defenseman. They traded their backup goaltender. They navigated a tight cap situation. They still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but they won’t have Marian Hossa this season (Hossa is out for the season due to a skin condition caused by his equipment, if you recall).

Brandon Saad returns to the Blackhawks in the biggest trade this offseason, in which two-time 70-plus point scorer, Artemi Panarin, was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets. While Saad is a year younger than Panarin, he is no Bread Man– but at least he is under contract through the 2020-2021 season (whereas Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2018-2019 season).

Chicago didn’t do themselves any major favors in terms of saving some salary in the immediate future concerning the Saad acquisition, but they did buy themselves at least a few million dollars to spend elsewhere between now and when Panarin’s contract would’ve run out with the Blackhawks in 2019.

Then again, they cost themselves some scoring production between now and then, as Saad only put up 24-29-53 totals in 82 games last season compared to Panarin’s 31-43-74 totals in 82 games played.

Fear not, if you’re a Columbus fan, because hopefully in two years you’ll still be able to afford your number one scorer and highest paid player (although Josh Anderson is still unsigned as of the writing of this post and the Blue Jackets only have about $8 million in cap space– on second thought, yeah, you’ll be fine).

In addition to the expected drop in offensive production from Panarin to Saad, the Blackhawks will miss Hossa’s scoring ability this season (yes, even as a 38-year-old).

Chicago will turn to 21-year-old, Nick Schmaltz, and 23-year-old, Ryan Hartman, to pickup where others have left off on offense and especially because the rest of the roster isn’t getting any younger (ten of their forwards on the roster currently are 25 or older).

On defense, the Blackhawks are in search of a sixth defenseman and their next Trevor van Riemsdyk, given Brian Campbell’s retirement and the fact that van Riemsdyk was a victim of the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft (and subsequent trade to the Carolina Hurricanes).

Newcomer Connor Murphy is their youngest product on the blue line at 24-years-old. Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival seek to anchor the defense while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook remain the star attractions of Chicago’s shut-down pairings. Between Kempny, Murphy, Rozsival and the unknown, somebody’s going to have to emerge as the replacement for Niklas Hjalmarsson (traded to Arizona, in exchange for Murphy and forward, Laurent Dauphin) and van Riemsdyk.

In goal, Corey Crawford returns as the starter, while Anton Forsberg and Jean-Francois Berube compete for the backup role. To the untrained scouting expert’s eye, both goalies can be dependable NHL backups, but Forsberg stands out more as a durable solution to the long term backup status goalie if Chicago is looking for one (hint: they are).

Don’t let Forsberg’s 4.10 goals against average and .852 save percentage last season dissuade you. He only made one appearance in net for Columbus and still managed a career best 2.28 GAA and .926 SV% in 51 games played with the Cleveland Monsters (AHL) last season. It doesn’t hurt to give him more playing time in relief of Crawford and especially with Berube as a third option, as Forsberg can really begin to develop in an organization’s system that isn’t clogged with a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (Sergei Bobrovsky) and Joonas Korpisalo.

Should he be called upon, Berube’s 3.42 GAA and .889 SV% in 14 games last season with the New York Islanders aren’t terrible, they’re just not great either. But again, there’s a reason why starting goalies play in more games than backup goalies.

Offseason Grade: C-

The Blackhawks made quite a splash this offseason by trading away Panarin, which isn’t the best look for a team that’s trying to remain a contender for a long time. Then again the salary cap exists and the return of Brandon Saad means Chicago will be able to get by in case the cap remains flat or in the event of a lockout for the duration of Saad’s contract.

One thing’s for sure, the Blackhawks will need some retooling during the Kane and Toews era because all good things must come to an end– and that time looks like it might be now as they navigate the uncertainty of Hossa’s career, a new look on the blue line and a bunch of expendable forwards for the time being while they wait for prospects to develop.

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Nick's Net Previews

Arizona Coyotes 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-3Arizona Coyotes

30-42-10, 70 points, 6th in the Pacific Division (’16-’17)

Additions: D Andrew Campbell, D Adam Clendening, F Nick Cousins, F Emerson Etem, D Joel Hanley, D Brandon Hickey, D Niklas Hjalmarsson, F Mario Kempe, F Michael Latta, G Merrick Madsen, G Antti Raanta, F Zac Rinaldo, F Mike Sislo, F Derek Stepan

Subtractions: F Alexander Burmistrov (signed with VAN), F Craig Cunningham (retired), F Laurent Dauphin (traded to CHI), D Anthony DeAngelo (traded to NYR), F Shane Doan (retired), F Grayson Downing (signed with EDM), F Peter Holland (signed with MTL), G Chad Johnson (acquired from CGY as a pending-UFA, then signed with BUF), F Josh Jooris (signed with CAR), D Jamie McBain (signed with TB), F Jeremy Morin (signed with Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk, KHL), F Mitchell Moroz (signed with Idaho Steelheads, ECHL), F Chris Mueller (signed with TOR), D Connor Murphy (traded to CHI), D Chris Pronger (retired), G Mike Smith (traded to CGY), D Jarred Tinordi (signed with PIT), F Brendan Warren (traded to PHI), F Radim Vrbata (signed with FLA)

Still Unsigned: F Anthony Duclair, D Zbynek Michalek, F Garret Ross, F Branden Troock, F Joe Whitney

Offseason Analysis: In short, the puns continue as Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka continues to “Chayk-a” things up. As is deemed by John-Chayka’s-magical-technicolor-masterplan, the Coyotes have turned the tables upside-down (again), but this time for the better (on paper).

Chayka’s influence of analytics in the front office of the original hockey club in the Southwest desert region (ignoring the State of California’s teams) led to a -63 goal differential in 2016-2017, which happened to be the worst goal differential in the Pacific Division, despite finishing second-to-last in final standings.

Sometimes the numbers don’t add up, but the Coyotes aren’t pulling a page from the Florida Panthers, where it seems every calculator has been thrown out of the building after one bad year. Instead, they’re going forward with their renovations and transforming this fixer upper of an organization.

Don’t let that distract you from the fact that Chayka’s 2017 offseason plans went out and nabbed F Derek Stepan and G Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers for a reasonable price of D Anthony DeAngelo and a 2017 1st round pick (7th overall, F Lias Andersson).

Stepan has amassed four seasons in a row of 50-plus points in scoring and has only recorded point totals less than 50 in two out of his seven career NHL seasons (21-24-45 totals in his rookie, 2010-2011 campaign and 18-26-44 totals in the 48-game lockout shortened season of 2012-2013). In short, Stepan is a quality top-6 forward that provides some much needed punch for Arizona’s offense.

A much improved defense in the form of Niklas Hjalmarsson alone provides stability in front of the goal with powerful shutdown combinations on the blue line that the Coyotes likely haven’t seen in at least a few years. Hjalmarsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jakob Chychrun and Alex Goligoski are a solid core group of defensemen to cycle through night-in-and-night-out.

And the addition of Raanta ensures the careful transition of power from the days of Mike Smith in goal to the days of Raanta as the expected starter and Louis Domingue ready to balance the workload if required.

Domingue’s 2016-2017 campaign was largely uneventful with a 3.08 goals against average and a .908 save percentage in 31 games played. Both stats were worse than the year prior, though Domingue played in eight more games in 2015-2016.

Raanta’s increased workload comes on the heels of a 2.26 GAA and .922 SV% in 30 games played last season. While Raanta settles in as a starting goaltender at the ripe age of 28-years-old, Domingue can take his time further establishing his game as potentially one of the league’s best backups, given that he’s only 25 and entering his goaltending prime.

In the long run, Chayka added some much needed faces to the franchise. He’s built his core (Dylan Strome, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Ekman-Larsson), now he’s added Stepan, Hjalmarsson, Raanta and friends to the mix. Arizona won’t be a playoff team for another season, but things are looking up if they could only figure out where they’ll be playing, considering the lingering overcast skies of Glendale’s acceptance of the franchise.

Is it worth noting that Chayka committed larceny by trading Smith for what he got in return (a conditional 3rd round pick, the rights to Chad Johnson and Brandon Hickey)? Granted, Johnson jettisoned for Buffalo, but the point is this– Arizona wiped off Smith’s contract as clean as they took on Pavel Datsyuk and Chris Pronger’s final year(s) on the books.

It’s incredible when you think about it. GMs are weird.

Offseason Grade: B-

Chayka filled the need of retooling the core this offseason, but more work needs to be done to improve the depth (whether that’s let time dictate the future or add one more piece to the puzzle, we’ll see).