Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.
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.
The 2018-19 Columbus Blue Jackets are a riddle. Wrapped in an enigma. On paper, this is the best team the organization has ever put on the ice. Its top line features two wings capable of putting in over 30 goals and perhaps the first true top-line center the Blue Jackets have ever had in their history. On defense they feature a top defensive pairing that, arguably, has two Norris Trophy candidates (albeit one will start the season on the IR). In goal, they have a two-time Vezina winning goaltender. Is there another team in the league that can say this? No.
Yet, if you have read the season previews of the experts, you would come away thinking that this Jackets team was appreciably worse than the one that made the playoffs the last two seasons. The Jackets continue to be the Rodney Dangerfield of hockey, grabbing at their red tie, searching for some respect. Certainly, their playoff performances have not helped. All-world goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, has yet to put in a performance equal to his Vezina-winning status in the playoffs. The Jackets offense went missing after going up 2-0 on the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Washington Capitals.
So, it isn’t surprising that few of the experts were willing to go out on the limb and predict great things for the Blue Jackets in the 2018-19 season. Further complicating matters are the contract situations of the aforementioned Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. The situations, particularly Panarin’s, received more off-season attention from the hockey media than the additions of Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair to a forward group that was already quite deep. There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth over the Jackets not moving Panarin in the off-season. However, any trade of Panarin will be a trade the Jackets lose in the short term. Therein lies the problem.
If you are Jarmo Kekalainen and you look at this team and you know it is better than last year’s and you know that last year’s team had the misfortune to play the team that won it all in the first round, do you make a knee jerk move that makes the team appreciably worse in the short term? What if you think the team, as built, is capable of winning a Cup this year?
We know the answer, as we prepare for Panarin to take the ice on opening night for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets stuck to their guns, didn’t accept offers for Panarin that they viewed as too low to allow them to compete for a Cup in favor of staying the course and making a run for a title. Most of the experts expect Panarin to be dealt at the deadline, but many of the same people assumed he’d be moved draft weekend. There is always the possibility that Panarin is moved at the deadline, but this only happens if the Jackets are out of playoff contention, which seems unlikely given what we know about the team. Bobrovsky is even less likely to be moved given the limited value of goalies, even great ones, in trade. So, enjoy watching them play what may be their final seasons with the Blue Jackets.
The assumption seems to be that somehow the Panarin and Bobrovsky situations will be such a distraction that Columbus won’t be able to overcome this and will miss the playoffs after a trade deadline fire sale. This seems to ignore the fact that both Panarin and Bobrovsky will want to have great seasons to justify long-term contracts netting them $10 million per year or more. This is especially true for Bobrovsky who just turned 30. A bad season for Bobrovsky could damage his market value, regardless of the Vezinas on his resume as teams might question “is he starting to slow down.” Likewise, it would be in Bobrovsky’s best interest to play well in the playoffs for once.
Another factor lost in the supposed turmoil is the Jackets depth. The top line is a bona-fide top line when a year ago it was a serious question mark. Meanwhile, the depth the team lacked in 2017-18 has returned through a combination of underrated off-season moves and development of players in the Jackets’ organization. Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had a solid first, full NHL season last year is poised to put up better numbers this season and has landed on the second line where he should receive more ice time and be freed up to play a more offense-first role. Sonny Milano will start the season on the fourth line…but it is a fourth line featuring free agent additions Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair, which could quickly see its ice time increased if the third line struggles to find the net. Every line has two wings capable of putting in 20 plus goals. Every line has a bona fide NHL center, which has not always been the case for the Blue Jackets. The biggest question will be whether coach John Tortorella, fresh off a contract extension, will learn from ice time mistakes he made in the playoffs and truly adopt his own “safe is death” motto to allow players like Milano to learn from their mistakes without being stapled to the bench.
The next question is whether Alex Wennberg will actually earn the second line center position he has been gifted the last two seasons. There is no denying that he regressed last season–look at his game score numbers, look at his power play performance, which was a large part of the team’s struggles on power play. His pre-season performance was lackluster, at best. He’s already been demoted to the second power play unit. The Jackets making a run for the Cup will hinge, to some extent, on Wennberg performing to the level of play some would like to attribute to him or the Jackets finding a replacement at the deadline (hey there, Matt Duchene).
There is some question about the performance of what I will term the “Underperformer Line” featuring Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Josh Anderson. It is probably unfair to Anderson to lump him in as an underperformer last season as he had to deal with injuries and bounced up and down the lineup without consistent line mates. Jenner and Dubinsky, on the other hand, struggled mightily. Particularly Dubinsky, who had to deal with scurilous rumors from the team’s road trip to Vegas. All accounts are that Jenner and Dubinsky were leaner at camp, but neither left an indelable impression in the pre-season games in which they appeared. If they struggle, it is probably less of an issue as the “fourth line” can easily replace them, but it would be best for the careers of all three players if they bounced back, if not to prior form, to something better than a typical third line.
With all of the above taken into account, despite the angst of the experts, the Jackets will likely make the playoffs. I also think that Bobrovsky will play the best we’ve ever seen in the playoffs to get them out of the first round–his next contract may depend on it. From there, it is up to Tortorella, Wennberg, Jenner and Dubinsky, in particular, to address the issues that held the team back last season or for the coaching staff and management to overcome those issues prior to the trade deadline.
There are plenty of reasons for anxiety if you are a Blue Jackets fan. But, like Slim Pickens at the end of Dr. Strangelove, you’re already riding the bomb down, might as well enjoy the ride.
Erik Karlsson finally got traded, NHL 19 came out and our official 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview just so happened to be this week too. Nick and Connor place their bets on the San Jose Sharks and more.
43-30-9, 95 points, 4th in the Central Division
2nd Wild Card in the West, lost in First Round to NSH 4-2
Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (signed with DET), F Blake Comeau (signed with DAL), F Felix Girard (signed with the Manitoba Moose, AHL), D Jesse Graham (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Rocco Grimaldi (signed with NSH), G Andrew Hammond (signed with MIN), D Brooks Orpik (acquired from WSH, bought out, then signed with WSH), F Nail Yakupov (signed, KHL)
Offseason Analysis: Now that Erik Karlsson has been traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has had one of the best offseasons. Kidding aside, the Senators lottery protected their 2018 1st round pick in the three-team Matt Duchene trade, meaning the Avalanche have Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick in addition to their own.
The #LoseForHughes watch has begun.
But as for Colorado’s offseason, things have gone swimmingly as Sakic’s roster made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Blake Comeau’s 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games in 2017-18 have departed for Dallas. In his top-nine forward role, Sakic replaced the 32-year-old Comeau with 28-year-old, Matt Calvert.
Calvert had 9-15–24 totals in 69 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and is looking to turn things around in health and in offensive production as a top-nine forward.
While Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen look to continue leading the team in production, Alexander Kerfoot seeks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on the second line.
On defense, Sakic knows time is on his side.
Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have made an effective pairing with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson contesting for more ice time. Girard had an impressive rookie debut with three goals and 17 assists (20 points) in 68 games played, while Barrie and Johnson played veteran roles– anchoring the blue line for the Avs.
Patrik Nemeth proved to be a smart pickup off waivers from the Stars last season as a bottom-pair defender, so it was an easy decision to re-sign with the NHL’s hottest up-and-coming team from a 48-point season in 2016-17 to a 95-point effort (and playoff berth) in 2017-18.
To complete his top-six defensemen on the depth chart, Sakic signed 29-year-old durable defender, Ian Cole, to a three-year contract worth a friendly $4.250 million per season.
Cole had 20 points in 67 games with the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins last season and is looking to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan at this point in his career.
A two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, Cole is in the midst of his prime and brings a competitive edge to the Avs in his quiet stability.
In goal, Semyon Varlamov has some competition for the starting job– if he can stay healthy– as Philipp Grubauer was acquired at the draft in June and signed to a three-year extension at a cap friendly $3.333 million per season.
Grubauer, 26, dropped the first two games of the Washington Capitals postseason run in April while Braden Holtby was figuring himself out, but managed a 15-10-3 record in 35 games played in the 2017-18 regular season as Washington’s backup. He also had a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in his most games played in a season since reaching the NHL during the 2012-13 season.
Varlamov, 30, managed to play in 51 games last season, despite injuries, and amassed a 24-16-6 record to go along with a 2.68 GAA and .916 SV%. Last season was much better than his 6-17-0 record in 24 games played in 2016-17, in which Varlamov had a career-worst 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%.
With one-year remaining on his contract at $5.900 million a season, Varlamov’s reached a make-or-break point in his career, let alone his time in the Mile High City. Grubauer is the way of the foreseeable future and a little healthy competition never hurt anyone for the starting job.
Sure Jonathan Bernier’s moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, but Colorado has one of the most sought after goalies that was on the slim trade market among options in the crease.
Offseason Grade: B-
The Avalanche had some needs and they filled them. In accordance with hockey logic, Colorado shouldn’t be as good as they were last season this season, but for the first time in at least a few years it appears they’ve found a reliable goaltender.
As MacKinnon continues to emerge and the kids grow into their own, Sakic’s roster looks set to make some waves in the coming years– at least as a spoiler (they took Nashville to six games before being eliminated after all), if not something more.
Despite acquiring Brooks Orpik only to buy him out as some sort of larger scheme the Capitals secretly wanted all along to sign him to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, Colorado didn’t make a bad choice this offseason. It’s just the beginning of making themselves an attractive free agent destination once again.
Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.
28-43-11, 67 points, 7th in Atlantic Division
Additions: F Chase Balisy, D Julius Bergman (acquired from SJ), F Mikkel Boedker (acquired from SJ), F Paul Carey, G Mike McKenna, F Adam Tambellini
Subtractions: F Mike Blunden (signed, Austria), D Fredrik Claesson (signed with NYR), D Cody Donaghey (traded to SJ), G Chris Driedger (signed with Springfield Thunderbirds, AHL), F Mike Hoffman (traded to SJ, flipped to FLA), D Ville Pokka (signed, KHL), F Tyler Randell (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), G Daniel Taylor (signed, KHL)
Still Unsigned: F Nick Moutrey, F Max Reinhart
Re-signed: D Cody Ceci, F Nick Paul, F Mark Stone
Offseason Analysis: The bottom fell out for the Ottawa Senators in 2017-18– not just on the ice, but off it too. It’s hard to ignore the dumpster fire near the Rideau Canal, but tires burn hot and bright. Everything, yes, everything is horrible in Ottawa– excuse me, Kanata, Ontario (since Senators owner Eugene Melnyk cannot get a downtown arena deal done).
There is no plan for a future (they protected their 2018 1st round pick from the Colorado Avalanche in the Matt Duchene three-way trade, leaving their 2019 1st round pick– and best chance at Jack Hughes– exposed) and the organization is rushing Brady Tkachuk into the big time when he could get just as much, if not more, for his development from another season at Boston University– where at least there’ll be a structured game-flow and not just a 1-3-1.
General Manager Pierre Dorion was faced with the tough task of having to trade one of his best forwards for almost nothing due to an off-ice controversy. In the meantime, superstar defender Erik Karlsson is still a pending-UFA in July 2019 on the roster.
Contrary to expert analysts’ opinions (and regular fans’ opinions) around the sport, Ottawa does not have to trade Karlsson. There is no timetable other than the chance that Karlsson walks away for nothing next summer.
The Duchene trade didn’t happen until last November. A Karlsson deal can happen anytime.
It’s understandable that a fanbase would want to get something rather than nothing– even more so when the fate of Karlsson in a Senators uniform is all but sealed. Melnyk doesn’t spend money on good, franchise, players. Just ask Jason Spezza five years ago.
He does, however, still want to move Bobby Ryan’s massive $7.250 million per season contract through the end of the 2021-22 season.
Rebuilds don’t happen in one offseason.
Unfortunately for Sens fans, this might not be rock bottom yet. It might take another frustrating year (or several), especially the longer the franchise waits to shake things up in the front office.
Dorion and Head Coach Guy Boucher can– without a doubt– expect not to see the results on the other side of these trying times.
Nine current NHL roster players are pending-UFAs in 2019, including Duchene, Mark Stone and Karlsson.
Yes, that’s right, Ottawa may lose their three biggest remaining pieces from 2017-18’s dumpster fire during or after the 2018-19 campaign.
Stone agreed to a one-year extension in August. The 26-year-old forward will be making $7.350 million this season with no years of UFA protection from an organizational standpoint.
There’s really nothing else to say about the Senators situation. Dorion waited too long to move assets that could’ve been dealt leading up to or at the trade deadline, controversies came out publicly and now the ship is already primed for the bottom of the Atlantic (Division, if you will accept the metaphor) without any guarantee of landing a top prospect in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
This colossal mismanagement starts at the very top.
Despite all considerations of defining an offseason timeline as truly just the offseason, unless Ottawa trades someone tomorrow, they have failed in every sense to get better.
Offseason Grade: F
Buying out Alexandre Burrows after acquiring him and signing him immediately to a two-year extension in a league that is only getting younger and faster, while also handing Cody Ceci a one-year, $4.300 million extension this offseason (because you lack defensive depth past Erik Karlsson) doesn’t look great, especially when your biggest addition was Mikkel Boedker (at the expense of trading Mike Hoffman to the San Jose Sharks because you didn’t want him to go to a division rival– oops, would you look at that, San Jose flipped him to the Florida Panthers).
Sure, Brady Tkachuk exists, but if there’s nobody left to match his playing style, well, it’s going to be a long season.