Tag Archives: Matt Hunwick

Buffalo Sabres 2019-20 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-39-10, 76 points, 6th in the Atlantic Division

Longest active playoff drought, last playoff appearance was 2011

Additions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea, F Marcus Johansson, F Curtis Lazar, F Jimmy Vesey (acquired from NYR), D John Gilmour, D Henri Jokiharju (acquired from CHI), D Colin Miller (acquired from VGK), G Andrew Hammond

Subtractions: F Eric Cornel (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Kyle Criscuolo (signed with PHI), F Taylor Leier (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Sean Malone (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Matt Moulson (signed with Hershey, AHL), F Alexander Nylander (traded to CHI), F Danny O’Regan (signed with NYR), F Kevin Porter (signed with Rochester, AHL), D Jack Dougherty (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Brycen Martin (signed with Fort Wayne, ECHL), D Matt Tennyson (signed with NJD), G Scott Wedgewood (signed with TBL), G Adam Wilcox (signed with San Antonio, AHL)

Still Unsigned: F Jason Pominville

Re-signed: F Remi Elie, F Zemgus Girgensons, F Johan Larsson, F Evan Rodrigues, F C.J. Smith, D Jake McCabe, G Linus Ullmark

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres are looking to be last season’s Carolina Hurricanes for the 2019-20 season and, in the process, end the current longest active playoff drought in the NHL.

Buffalo hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since being ousted by the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in their 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup.

The Sabres only have four forwards under contract after this season.

Of the remaining nine forwards currently under contract, three are pending-restricted free agents (Sam Reinhart, Evan Rodrigues and Casey Mittelstadt) and six are pending-unrestricted free agents (Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Jimmy Vesey, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Scott Wilson).

Thankfully, new addition to their top-nine forwards– and likely to start the season on the first or second line– Marcus Johansson (13-17–30 totals in 58 games played) signed a two-year, $9.000 million ($4.500 million cap hit) contract in free agency after spending last season with the New Jersey Devils prior to being traded to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline.

Sabres General Manager, Jason Botterill, reworked the defense through the acquisition of Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2021 2nd round pick (originally belonging to the St. Louis Blues) and a 2022 5th round pick.

Miller has three-years left at $3.875 million per season and is a quality top-six defender addition to the team facing the uncertainty after this season, whereby half of the current defenders on the roster are set to become free agents.

Buffalo has three pending-UFA defenders (Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella and Casey Nelson) and one pending-RFA blue liner (Brandon Montour– acquired around last season’s deadline from the Anaheim Ducks).

With no cap room available currently and a tighter wallet thanks to Jeff Skinner’s eight-year, $72 million extension ($9.000 million cap hit), the Sabres are going to be hard pressed to try to keep the band together.

Thankfully, a little relief will come via the long-term injured reserve at the likely career-ending expense of Matt Hunwick and his ongoing neck condition that Hunwick sustained last season, missed the first two months because of and was limited to 14 games.

The 34-year-old defender’s $2.250 million cap hit will be relieved thanks to the LTIR option, but still Botterill will have to press on to utilize his best penny pinching calculator when it comes time to ice a full-time roster by puck drop next month.

Oh yeah and Linus Ullmark only has a year on his contract, so before anyone can get comfortable with what’s likely the foreseeable future in the crease for the Sabres…

While Botterill also brought in the likes of Vesey (17-18–35 totals in 81 games played) in a trade with the New York Rangers that saw Buffalo give up a 2021 3rd round pick and trading Alexander Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks for Henri Jokiharju, there’s yet another new face behind the bench in upstate New York.

Ralph Krueger, the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach in the 48-game lockout shortened 2012-13 season, is in charge of Jack Eichel and crew.

Nobody fully knows what to expect out of the coach that went 19-22-7 with Edmonton before being replaced by Oilers management after one season.

On paper, this is Buffalo’s best chance in at least the last few seasons– if not more– to contend for a wild card spot or better in the Atlantic Division.

The only problem is that everyone else is getting better just the same, even as Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a puck moving, gifted two-way defender.

Offseason Grade: B+

The wild card factor of Krueger behind the bench takes off a few points until proven otherwise, but the Sabres did a really nice job of cleaning up guys who need a second (or third) chance (Miller) and what was better of the more affordable free agents (Johansson) to help fill out a fuller roster than ever before.

Buffalo took a gamble with Skinner’s extension, but knows they finally have a winger locked up for Eichel. Now they just have to win.

2019-20 Atlantic Division Outlook

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

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 109 points
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 105 points
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points
  4. Florida Panthers, 89 points
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 89 points
  6. Detroit Red Wings, 84 points
  7. Ottawa Senators, 78 points
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 71 points

Tampa Bay Lightning: Pros and Cons

The Lightning are annual favorites among the experts to win the Stanley Cup, so it’s no surprise, really, that they haven’t yet. There’s either too many expectations to live up to or there’s too much of a casual atmosphere from season-to-season.

You know what they say when you assume.

Just like the Washington Capitals and their 2018 Stanley Cup championship, it’s better for the Bolts if nobody is talking about them. Prior to the Caps winning in 2018, there was a “Cup or bust” mantra that just didn’t work.

Nothing is willed without hard work and humility.

That’s not to say Tampa doesn’t work hard or isn’t humble, but rather, they must lose on the big stage repetitively until everyone expects them to fail. That’s when they’ll go on a run.

They’ve managed to keep their roster together (granted, RFA center, Brayden Point, is still unsigned) while trimming the fat (gone are the days of Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi on the blue line) and are still Stanley Cup front-runners, but they likely won’t get back to the 60-win plateau in back-to-back seasons.

The Lightning will still get to 50 wins for the third season in-a-row, have Nikita Kucherov set the league on fire in scoring and yield out-of-this-world goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy before the real season starts– the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How would the Lightning fail?

Everyone keeps talking about the Lightning as if they’re some godsend (too much hype, remember?). That, or General Manager Julien BriseBois blows up the roster and/or Jon Cooper is fired as head coach.

Boston Bruins: Pros and Cons

The Bruins core remains strong among their forwards and as long as they’re able to negotiate an extension with RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo without any bumps in the road, then their defense is pretty sound too.

Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year deal last summer, so the 1A/1B tandem of Tuukka Rask and Halak in the crease seems fine for another run in 2019-20.

Boston exceeded expectations in 2017-18 and went under the radar in 2018-19– though they managed to amass only 10 losses in regulation since Jan. 1st, which means they were actually pretty loud in the points percentage column.

Injuries come and go.

If the Bruins are able to stay healthy instead of dropping like flies to their 12th defenseman on the depth chart, they might actually pick up a few more points than they did last season.

With Bruce Cassidy as head coach, things should remain status quo in the regular season, but Boston still needs to address their top-six forward problem.

David Pastrnak can play on the first or second line, but on any given night that leaves one of their top two lines in need of a scoring winger.

General Manager Don Sweeney managed to patch a hole at the third line center– acquiring Charlie Coyle as last season’s trade deadline loomed– and Coyle was one of their better players in their 2019 Stanley Cup Final postseason run.

But with a couple of depth signings for bottom six roles in the offseason (Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie), everyone getting another year older and David Backes’ $6.000 million cap hit through 2020-21 still on the books, Boston’s hands are tied.

How would the Bruins fail?

There’s enough bark in the regular season, but not enough bite for a deep postseason run. It’s harder than ever before to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons– and that’s before you consider age, injuries and regression.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Pros and Cons

Toronto has Auston Matthews as their second best center. Yes. Second best. Why? Because John Tavares enters the second year of his long-term seven-year deal that he signed last July.

That alone will continue to keep the Leafs afloat with a strong 1-2 duo down the middle.

Regardless of the Mitch Marner contract negotiations (or lack thereof), the Maple Leafs are just fine with their forwards– having traded Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche and acquiring Alex Kerfoot in the process (Calle Rosen and Tyson Barrie were also swapped in the deal).

Patrick Marleau is gone and it only cost Toronto a conditional 2020 1st round pick (top-10 lottery protected) and a 2020 7th round pick in the process, but an affordable Jason Spezza at league minimum salary ($700,000) on a one-year deal for fourth line minutes will do just fine.

By puck drop for the 2019-20 season, the Leafs will save $10.550 million in cap space thanks to David Clarkson (yes, his contract’s back after a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights that sent Garret Sparks the other way) and Nathan Horton’s placement on the long-term injured reserve.

The stars are aligning for Toronto to still need to get past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.

With Kadri gone, however, perhaps they will be able to do so with or without Boston in the equation.

How would the Leafs fail?

They don’t sign Marner and they lose in another Game 7 because of it. There’s a lot of turbulence ahead for Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas considering the Leafs have one defender under contract after 2019-20. If the team doesn’t breakout in the postseason, it’s really just status quo until proven otherwise.

Florida Panthers: Pros and Cons

The Panthers are beginning to ripen with a mix of youth and experience among their forwards, plus a defense that quietly does their job.

They also added Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman and (most importantly) Sergei Bobrovsky to the mix.

While Acciari’s $1.667 million cap hit through 2021-22 is a slight overpay for a fourth line center, at least it could be worse. Connolly’s making $3.500 million for the next four years and even Stralman has a cap hit of $5.500 million through 2021-22 when he’ll be turning 36 on August 1, 2022.

Ok, so it was an expensive offseason for Florida– and that’s before you add the $10.000 million price tag for the next seven years of Bobrovsky in the crease.

Yes, despite landing one of the better goaltenders in the league in free agency, General Manager Dale Tallon managed to make matters complicated after, say, the fourth year of Bobrovsky’s contract.

Bobrovsky will be roughly 37-years-old by the time his contract with the Panthers expires and not everyone can be like Dwayne Roloson in the net forever.

At least they drafted Spencer Knight (in the first round– a goaltending prospect curse).

Though they missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by 12 points for an Eastern Conference wild card spot, the Panthers are in a position to gain more than a few wins with new head coach (and three-time Stanley Cup champion) Joel Quenneville behind the bench.

How would the Panthers fail?

Florida’s already landed the biggest prize in head coaching free agency with Quenneville reuniting with Tallon in Sunrise. What could possibly go wrong (besides Tallon being replaced by a clone of Stan Bowman and then the Panthers go on to win three Cups without Tallon in command)?

Montreal Canadiens: Pros and Cons

Montreal didn’t get Matt Duchene or Sebastian Aho in free agency, so they got the next best thing– not overspending on July 1st.

That’s not to say Duchene and Aho aren’t quality players, but rather just an observation of cap concerns for the Habs with Max Domi as a pending-RFA in July 2020 and the rest of Montreal’s future core (Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Victor Mete, Cayden Primeau and Jesperi Kotkaniemi) to consider going down the road.

Granted, Aho could’ve sped the process up a bit if it weren’t for those pesky RFA rights and compensation in the CBA, right Montreal?

The Canadiens need a legitimate number one center, but General Manager Marc Bergevin has been preoccupied restructuring the defense in the meantime.

That’s not a bad thing.

Shea Weber is 34 and under contract through the 2025-26 season, though after 2021-22, his base salary drops to $3.000 million in 2022-23 and $1.000 million from 2023-26 (meaning he could be traded with ease in a few years, despite his $7.857 million cap hit).

But Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry are both over 30 and have no-trade and/or no-movement clauses in their contracts.

At least free agent addition, Ben Chiarot, is 28-years-old, but he also carries a no-trade clause as part of his three-year deal.

How would the Canadiens fail?

Claude Julien inexplicably reverts back to his old ways and doesn’t play the kids, Carey Price is injured for most of the season and/or Bergevin overcompensates in a trade because of his failure to secure a free agent center.

Detroit Red Wings: Pros and Cons

Steve Yzerman has come home and is rightfully the General Manager for the Red Wings, but as we’ve seen in Tampa, his masterplan takes a little time.

Detroit is four or five years out from being an annual Cup contender, but that doesn’t mean the Red Wings haven’t already sped things up in their rebuild.

Trading for Adam Erne isn’t a grand-slam, but it does make the average age of the roster a tad younger.

It also means that the Red Wings now have seven pending-RFAs on their NHL roster and roughly $37.000 million to work with in July 2020.

How would the Red Wings fail?

Having Yzerman in the front office at Little Caesars Arena is like adding all of the best toppings to a pizza. The only downside is that leftover pineapple is still on the pizza from all of the no-trade clauses delivered by the last guy.

Ottawa Senators: Pros and Cons

The Senators are looking to spend ba-by.

Just kidding, they don’t plan on being good until 2021, so does that mean starting with the 2020-21 season or the following year in 2021-22?

But they do have a ton of draft picks stockpiled including two in the 1st round in 2020, three in the 2nd round, one in the 3rd, 4th and 5th, a pair in the 6th and one in the 7th.

Plus they have roughly $15.600 million in cap space currently and eight players under contract for next season that aren’t on the injured reserve.

For some reason (Eugene Melnyk) current-RFA Colin White is still unsigned and 38-year-old, Ron Hainsey, was signed in free agency, but at least Cody Ceci is a Maple Leaf now.

Oh and former Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith is Ottawa’s head coach now. That’ll show them!

How would the Senators fail?

More importantly, how would Ottawa succeed?

Buffalo Sabres: Pros and Cons

Pro: The Sabres will probably be better than last season.

Con: Ralph Krueger is Buffalo’s new head coach and nobody knows what to expect (he went 19-22-7 in the lockout shortened 48-game season with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13).

Pro: Only eight skaters are under contract next season.

Con: Only eight skaters are under contract next season, including Rasmus Ristolainen and nobody is sure whether or not the club is trying to trade him.

Pro: Marcus Johansson!

Con: Jimmy Vesey! (Only cost Buffalo two third round picks over three years to get him.)

Pro: The average age of the roster is about 26.

Con: Matt Hunwick is the oldest player at 34-years-old, followed by Carter Hutton at 33 and Vladimir Sobotka at 32.

Pro: Royal blue in 2020!

Con: It’s not until 2020.

How would the Sabres fail?

If Buffalo actually finishes last in the division, instead of any improvement whatsoever.

Eichel’s 4-point night lifts Sabres past B’s, 4-2

Jack Eichel (2-2–4 totals) and Jeff Skinner (2-0–2) led the Buffalo Sabres past the Boston Bruins, 4-2, at TD Garden Sunday evening.

Linus Ullmark (7-1-3 record, 2.94 goals against average, .915 save percentage in 12 games played) made 35 saves on 37 shots against for a .946 SV% in the win, wile Boston netminder, Tuukka Rask (8-7-2, 2.57 GAA, .915 SV% in 17 GP) turned aside 23 out of 26 shots faced for an .885 SV% in the loss.

Boston fell to 17-12-4 (38 points) on the season and remained 5th place in the Atlantic Division as a result, while the Sabres jumped past the Toronto Maple Leafs for 2nd place in the Atlantic with a 20-9-5 (25 points) record.

Prior to Sunday evening’s matchup, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy provided updates on Jake DeBrusk, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Urho Vaakanainen.

DeBrusk (concussion) remains out of the lineup and out of practice, while Bergeron (rib/sternoclavicular), Chara (knee, left MCL), Miller (larynx) and Vaakanainen (concussion) all skated Sunday morning.

Bergeron could join the full group for practice on Wednesday and may return sometime thereafter, while Chara is still a bit further off in his return to the lineup.

Cassidy kept the same lineup as the other night, meaning all of the injured B’s, plus Gemel Smith (healthy scratch) and Jeremy Lauzon (healthy scratch) would be watching the game from the press box.

Jaroslav Halak is likely to get the start in Montreal on Monday night with Rask having played Sunday against the Sabres.

Johan Larsson hooked David Pastrnak early in the first period, sending the Bruins on the power play at 3:47. Boston was not able to convert on the ensuing skater advantage and returned the favor for the Sabres about ten minutes later.

Joakim Nordstrom tripped up Conor Sheary at 13:33 of the first period and Buffalo went on the power play, but was not able to score as the B’s killed off Nordstrom’s infraction.

Moments later, Matt Hunwick tripped up Ryan Donato on a scoring opportunity, yielding the rare penalty shot for Donato.

Ullmark was unfazed by Donato’s deke and made the pad save as the Bruins forward approached the crease and lost an edge on the penalty shot.

After one period, the score remained tied, 0-0, and the Bruins held onto the advantage in shots on goal, 12-10.

Boston also led in blocked shots (3-2), while the Sabres led in takeaways (8-6), giveaways (4-2), hits (11-7) and face-off win percentage (56-44).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.

Early in the second period, Buffalo’s first line went right to work on jumping ahead with the game’s first goal.

Jack Eichel worked the puck behind the net and sent a drop pass back to Jeff Skinner (23) for the top-shelf snipe as Rask went from one side of the net to the other.

Eichel (30) and Rasmus Dahlin (15) earned the assists on Skinner’s goal at 3:18 of the second period and the Sabres led, 1-0.

A couple minutes later, Steven Kampfer (1) responded for Boston, accepting a pass from Nordstrom and sending a wrist shot through the roof behind Ullmark to tie the game, 1-1, at 5:18.

Nordstrom (2) and David Backes (4) had the primary and secondary assists on Kampfer’s first goal in 48 games (and first with the Bruins since March 3, 2011).

After being burned by another early whistle for the second game in a row, the Bruins went into the dressing room for the second intermission tied with the Sabres, 1-1, and leading in shots on goal, 24-19.

Both teams had five blocked shots each and were 0/1 on the power play, while Buffalo led in takeaways (16-13) and face-off win% (53-47). The B’s led in giveaways (8-7) and hits (19-17) after 40 minutes of play.

For the second period in a row, the Sabres got off to a hot start with their first line generating a rush that sent Eichel into the attacking zone without any pressure from Boston’s blue liners.

Eichel (13) subsequently sent a wrist shot, high, glove-side past the Bruins netminder to give Buffalo their second lead of the night, 2-1, at 5:43 of the third period.

Sam Reinhart (22) and Dahlin (16) had the assists on the goal.

Past the midway point in the third period, Brendan Guhle was penalized for holding Pastrnak, resulting in Boston’s second power play of the night at 11:08.

With 39 seconds remaining on the power play and due to a stoppage in play, Cassidy used his only timeout to try to organize a plan on an otherwise powerless power play.

Though the timeout did not yield a goal on the skater advantage, shortly after it ended, Torey Krug (3) pinched in from the point on a play set up by David Krejci and blasted a shot past Ullmark to tie the game, 2-2, at 13:21 of the third period.

Krejci (23) and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (2) had the assists on Krug’s goal.

A few minutes later, Skinner (24) scored his second goal of the night thanks, in part, to another ridiculous move Eichel made entering the zone to throw-off Charlie McAvoy, while catching Matt Grzelcyk and Colby Cave out of position for Skinner to scoop up the loose puck and score.

Eichel (31) and Reinhart (23) had the assists at 16:29.

With 2:02 remaining in regulation, Cassidy pulled Rask for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as the Bruins couldn’t will a puck past Ullmark as time ticked down.

Krug rocketed a slap shot that was blocked by Zemgus Girgensons and the puck bounced out of the B’s offensive zone.

While in the neutral zone, Reinhart took a stab at the empty net, but was unsuccessful. Finally, Eichel (14) floated one into the vacant four-by-six frame for his second goal of the game and made it, 4-2, Sabres.

Reinhart (24) and Girgensons (5) had the assists at 19:35.

At the final horn, Buffalo completed the, 4-2, victory on the road and handed Boston its second loss in-a-row. The Sabres improved to 14-1-4 when scoring first this season.

The Bruins finished the night leading in shots on goal (37-27), hits (27-23) and face-off win% (54-46), while Buffalo capped off the evening with the lead in blocked shots (14-8) and giveaways (11-10).

Boston finished the night 0/2 on the power play and last scored a power play goal in Ottawa on Dec. 9th, while Buffalo went 0/1 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins travel to Bell Centre for a Monday night matchup against the Montreal Canadiens before heading back home for a two-game homestand starting Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks and concluding Saturday against the Nashville Predators.

Boston wraps up their action before the Christmas break with a road game in Raleigh, North Carolina against the Carolina Hurricanes next Sunday.

Carolina will be wearing their Hartford Whalers throwback jerseys as part of Whalers Night at PNC Arena.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2018-2019 Season Preview

 Pittsburgh Penguins

47-29-6, 100 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Lost in Second Round to Washington, 4-2

Additions: F Matt Cullen, D Stefan Elliott, C Derek Grant, RW Jimmy Hayes, D Jack Johnson, G John Muse, D Juuso Riikola

Subtractions: D Lukas Bengtsson (signed with Linköpings, SHL), C Vincent Dunn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Matt Hunwick (traded to BUF), C Josh Jooris (signed with TOR), W Tom Kuhnhackl (signed with NYI), D Andrey Pedan (signed with Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), F Carter Rowney (signed with ANA), LW Tom Sestito (retired), W Conor Sheary (traded to BUF), D Jarred Tinordi (signed with NSH)

Offseason Analysis: Almost every season during C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin‘s tenure has started with the goal of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

However, this campaign is a little bit different than any before it.

Pittsburgh entered last season as the reigning back-to-back champion. The Pens had their ups and downs during the regular season, but after a six-game victory over intrastate rival Philadelphia in the First Round set up yet another conference semifinals meeting with Washington, fate seemed to be in the black-and-gold’s corner once again.

After all, the Penguins almost always beat the Capitals in the playoffs.

That modifier proved to be important, as the Caps defeated the battle-worn Penguins 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 to eliminate them for only the second time in 11 postseason meetings.

With Washington going on to win its first championship in franchise history, it put the onus on Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s squad to win this year – not only to reclaim one of the most coveted trophies in the world from a division rival, but also to stake claim to the title of the NHL’s 10th dynasty and first since the 1983-1990 Oilers.

The league officially declares a club a dynasty if it claims at least three championships in the span of four years. With two titles in the past three seasons, this is a make-or-break season for Pittsburgh if Crosby and co. want to add that impressive listing to their resumes.

Offensively, Pittsburgh’s biggest addition for the 2018-2019 season actually occurred at the 2018 trade deadline when it completed a three-way trade for C Derick Brassard. It didn’t help that Brassard suffered a lower-body injury so close the regular season, but Pittsburgh is hoping it will see an improvement from the 4-8-12 totals the former Senator posted in 26 regular season and playoff games after he had a full summer to rest, recuperate and learn Sullivan’s system.

Brassard is just about as close to a lock for the third line’s center position as possible.

After a year of service to the Wild, soon-to-be 42-year-old Cullen was also added back into the mix and will surely assume fourth-line center duties, forcing F Riley Sheahan to the wing. With his immense experience at center, Sheahan will be a valuable commodity capable of playing on either the third or fourth line to serve as the backup face-off man should Brassard or Cullen get kicked out of the dot.

Any other changes to the Pens’ attack will come from within the organization. The clamor around the Steel City for RW Daniel Sprong is deafening (he posted 32-33-65 totals in 65 games played last year in the AHL), but his 2-1-3 effort in eight NHL games last season was not enough to convince Sullivan that he should stay with the senior team full time. He still has one more year left on his contract after this season, but the limited minutes awarded a former second-rounder gives many – including myself – the indication that Penguins coaches and management are running out of patience with the youngster’s growth.

In the same turn, F Dominik Simon and F Zach Aston-Reese earned their first Stanley Cup Playoff minutes last season, but only registered respective three and one assists in their eight or nine postseason outings (Simon managed 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL regular season games last season, while Aston-Reese posted 4-2-6 marks in his 16 regular season showings).

None are locks for the roster, especially with the signings of Grant (12-12-24 totals in 66 games played with Buffalo last season) – another center that could transition to the wing – and Hayes (3-6-9 in 33 appearances with the Devils). General Manager Jim Rutherford is going to have to be very decisive with who makes the squad and who doesn’t, as he will not want to risk losing any of his talented youths to the waiver wire if he’s forced to make a move during the regular season.

The Penguins were even more quiet on the defensive front this summer, but there is two signings along the blue line worth talking about. While a defensive corps that includes Brian Dumoulin, new hire Johnson, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Jamie Oleksiak and Justin Schultz looks like it’d be more than solid enough to keep life easy for G Matt Murray, Pittsburgh could be in line for an upgrade if Riikola continues to impress even more than he already has.

The 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 on November 9) from Joensuu, Finland has played a majority of the last six seasons playing in SM-Liiga  (Finland’s top professional league) with KalPa – including playing exclusively with the senior team since 2015-2016 – and he’s been reported to be adjusting to the North American game very quickly and is garnering a lot of attention early in the Pens’ training camp.

Now, that’s not to say Riikola (yes, pronounced like the cough drop company) will avoid Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and automatically make the team. With Pittsburgh’s top six defensemen locked into contracts through next season (seventh-man Chad Ruhwedel will be a UFA next summer), it’s hard to find him a spot on the roster as things stand currently.

However, should the organization decide he’s the real deal (for what it’s worth, he’s been practicing with both Dumoulin, a left-handed shot, and Letang, a right-handed shot), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rutherford begin fielding trade offers for one of his defensemen in efforts to create a spot for Riikola and improve his bottom-six offensive depth.

Offseason Grade: B

It’s hard to say the Penguins had an A-class offseason considering their overall inactivity, but I’d also argue that there was less to fix than a second round elimination at the hands of the eventual champs would indicate. The real work for this roster will be done when deciding to go with youth or experience, as the core of this group is still certainly capable of winning the Stanley Cup once again.

Buffalo Sabres Season preview

Buffalo Sabres

24-45-12, 60 points, Last in the NHL

Additions: Patrik Berglund, Rasmus Dahlin, Matt Hunwick, Carter Hutton, Conor Sheary, Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson

Subtractions: Victor Antipin, Josh Gorges, Robin Lehner, Jordan Nolan, Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres have had a busy summer, but that’s what you expect from a team that significantly under-produced and finished last in the league. The only positive takeaway from last season was winning the lottery and drafting Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall.

General Manager Jason Botterill was looking to shake things up more with his roster, making three separate trades to land Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick and Jeff Skinner. Botterill only gave up Ryan O’Reilly, Cliff Pu and a handful of draft picks. The biggest parts of all three trades for Buffalo was keeping their three first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. Botterill did a great job injecting speed and proven NHL players into a roster that lacked both last season.

With the No. 1 farm system (as voted by The Athletic), there are a few players from the minor leagues who, with a good camp, could crack the NHL roster.

In particular, C.J. Smith had a strong first pro season in the AHL that became derailed with an injury. Things never seemed to click after he returned to the ice, but the promise he showed while healthy will certainly warrant a look from Head Coach Phil Housley.

Victor Olofsson has a chance at making it to the big time as well. The former seventh-round pick led the SHL last season in goals and is proclaimed to have one of the best shots in the game.

Finally, Rasmus Asplund would also be coming from the SHL and could aim for the fourth-line center position, taking the spot from Johan Larsson.

Buffalo should have a much better season this year, so it’s time for Housley, entering his second season, to show he can coach in the NHL. This is a “prove it” season for a lot of people in the Sabres organization and they shouldn’t be in 31st again this season.

The biggest question mark this year will be in goal with the Sabres signing Carter Hutton to be the new No. 1 goalie ahead of Linus Ullmark. Hutton is coming off a career year with the St. Louis Blues. He has to show it wasn’t a fluke or Ullmark will take the starting job faster than expected. If Hutton and Ullmark don’t work out, the Sabres could be in big trouble without a solution in sight.

Offseason Grade: B

Overall, the Sabres had a good offseason overhaul, but there are still questions about top-six defenseman and lineup notes. But, Botterill did his job and it now comes down to Housley to get the most out of his players and have some success. I don’t think they will be anywhere near 31st with Ottawa and Montreal existing, but I think playoff hopes are too far away for the Sabres this season. I think they’ll finish fifth in the division.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #112- Draft, Tavares and Museums

The Original Trio splices together some thoughts on the 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees, Dan Bylsma, the 2018 Draft, recent trades and John Tavares. Go check out your local museums while you’re at it. It’s the offseason, surely you have nothing going on.

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

2018 Trade Deadline Preview: Metropolitan Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a buyers market.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not every player is washed up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 5 – Day 90 – Break out the Beastie Boys

It’s the first Friday of 2018! Whether you worked all week or haven’t started back yet, you deserve to watch some hockey tonight!

The festivities begin at 7 p.m. when Pittsburgh visits the New York Islanders (SN/TVAS), followed half an hour later by a pair of contests (San Jose at Ottawa [RDS2] and Florida at Detroit). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Buffalo at Winnipeg, while tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Chicago (SN1) – waits 30 minutes before getting underway. All times Eastern.

There’s only one rivalry game on the schedule today, and with both participants having fallen outside the playoff picture, it should be an exceptionally competitive and important matchup. We’re off to Brooklyn!

 

Oh boy, where to start with this game? Both clubs have had reason for optimism at different points this season, yet – if things stay the way they currently stand – they could be scheduling tee times on April 8.

Of course, after winning two consecutive titles, 20-19-3 Pittsburgh figured to be in far better position than 10th in the Eastern Conference. Playoff qualification was supposed to be a given! Adding insult to injury, if they had simply beat Carolina at home last night instead of lose 4-0, the Pens would at least be in the postseason picture as the second wild card.

There’s reasons galore for why the reigning champs find themselves in the position they do, ranging from front office decisions to injuries and performance to plain bad luck, but we don’t have time to tackle all those things.

The biggest thing that is missing from this Penguins team is the very thing that has made the club so dominant for the last decade: offense. Pittsburgh averages only 2.71 goals per game through 42 games, the 10th-worst in the NHL.

However, the issue isn’t that simple. This offense has proved it is still capable of figuring things out, because the Penguins’ power play is actually the best in the league. Similar to the Sabres of the last two years, Pittsburgh can convert when the game is supposedly at its easiest – converting 25.7 percent of its man-advantage opportunities – but has only a league-worst 56 five-on-five goals to its credit.

That’s right, the Penguins were just compared to the Sabres. That hasn’t happened since the ’90s, and it was a compliment then.

So where did the offense go?

The easiest person to point at is C Sidney Crosby and his 14-22-36 totals. Managing only .857 points per game (regardless of the number of players on the ice), he’s on pace for the worst season of his career. Even his 36-49-85 effort in 2015-’16 season is superior, as he managed 1.06 points per game that year.

Oh yeah, and the Pens did more than simply qualify for the playoffs that year.

So far this season, Crosby has posted 17 points at even-strength and another 19 on the power play. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too far off the pace of RW Phil Kessel, who’s managed 17-27-44 totals to lead the team. 19 of Kessel’s points have come at even-strength (only two more than Crosby’s) and 25 on the power play, a total that actually leads the league.

But points are very different than goals, and that’s where Crosby has slipped. He’s scored only eight goals at even-strength (compared to Kessel’s 11), a total that is tied with F Jake Guentzel for third-most on the team (13-10-23 totals) and one fewer than W Conor Sheary‘s – who’s having an absolutely miserable 11-5-16 third year while occupying a spot on the top line – nine.

Before we pick on the Islanders, don’t think F Evgeni Malkin escapes judgement. He’s posted 14-24-38 totals through 38 games played this season, which in and of itself is stellar. Averaging at least a point-per-game is the goal of all elite players in this league.

However, when we start breaking his stats down, he follows the same trend as Crosby. Eight of Malkin’s 14 tallies have been struck on the power play, meaning he’s scored only six times at even-strength. Centering Kessel’s second line has elevated his even-strength point total (20 of his points have come in five-on-five situations), but the fact that both of Pittsburgh’s franchise players aren’t finding the back of the net in the very situation most of the game is played is having ripple effects throughout the roster.

Road trips are hard, and the 20-17-4 Islanders – who currently sit in ninth place and two points outside playoff position – just got back from a tough one. New York has played three of its last four games away from the comforts of Barclays Center, and it returns home riding a four-game losing skid.

For most of the season, the Isles’ top line of F Josh Bailey (12-38-50 totals), F Anders Lee (24-15-39) and C John Tavares (22-28-50) has worked miracles to cover for the sins of their teammates, but it seems even they have run out of whatever secret sauce was keeping them on the scorecard.

Now that they aren’t bearing the load as well, New York’s atrocious defense is getting lit up. Since December 29, the Islanders have allowed a league-high 155 shots against, and that’s resulted in a whopping 21 goals against in four games played (5.25 per game), far and away the worst effort over that stretch.

It’s hard to blame 11-11-2 G Jaroslav Halak for his poor performance of late considering his insane workload, but he hasn’t been able to keep the Isles competitive during this run, managing only a .881 save percentage and 4.94 GAA in his last three starts.

What’s truly alarming about New York’s defense is that four defensemen – Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech – are managing at least two blocks-per-game over this losing skid. If I were Halak, I’d be truly frightened imagining my workload without their efforts.

Tonight’s tilt is the second in a four-game season series. Game 1 on December 7 went the way of the Penguins, who needed an overtime goal from D Matt Hunwick to beat New York 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena. Meetings 3 and 4 won’t take place until March, so both clubs will want to leave a positive impression on the other before diverging paths for two months.

Who wins a game between a sputtering offense and an anemic defense? Probably the team that can find success on the other end of the ice. Given the Isles’ home ice and their usually dynamic offense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see New York earn two points in the standings tonight.


Though they needed the shootout to get it done, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 at Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though two goals were struck in the first period, they were both scored in the last two minutes before intermission. The first tally belonged to First Star of the Game C Auston Matthews (D Connor Carrick and F William Nylander) with 1:23 remaining on the clock, followed only 31 seconds later by D Brenden Dillon (D Brent Burns and W Timo Meier) leveling the game with a snap shot, his first goal of the season.

Two more tallies were struck in the second period, but C Nazem Kadri (F Mitch Marner and D Morgan Rielly) didn’t wait until until the end of the frame to make his mark. He buried a power play tip-in with 7:20 remaining before intermission to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. However, San Jose would once again manage to find a leveling goal, this one courtesy of C Chris Tierney taking advantage of Second Star G Frederik Andersen misplaying the puck in front of his crease 5:38 later.

As no goals were struck in the third period or three-on-three overtime, the game was thrust into the shootout. As hosts, the Maple Leafs elected to go first.

  1. Who else is Head Coach Mike Babcock to send out than Matthews? The second-year stud converted the fourth shootout opportunity of his career, setting his mark as a pro at 4-for-12.
  2. Facing an early hole, F Logan Couture was the first Shark to participate. However, his backhanded shot was saved by Andersen, giving Toronto a 1-0 advantage through the first round.
  3. With the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for San Jose, Marner’s wrist shot was saved by Third Star G Martin Jones.
  4. Unfortunately for the Sharks, F Joe Pavelski‘s wrister met the same fate: saved by Andersen. Toronto led 1-0 through two rounds.
  5. What a weird situation for F Patrick Marleau to be in: if he scored a goal, he’d defeat the very club he played with for 19 years. Whether he wanted that honor or not, he found iron, giving San Jose the opportunity to continue the shootout.
  6. And that’s exactly what RW Kevin Labanc did. He beat Andersen to tie the shootout 1-1 through three rounds, forcing extra frames.
  7. You probably noticed that the goaltenders played pretty well tonight. That trend continued when Jones saved Nylander’s wrister.
  8. With his back against a wall, Andersen duplicated Jones’ performance by saving RW Joonas Donskoi‘s wrister to maintain the 1-1 tie.
  9. Consider this a ditto for Jones, but this time against a LW James van Riemsdyk wrister.
  10. Make it a double for Andersen as well, as he saved Burns’ wrister to extend the shootout to six rounds.
  11. Finally someone found the back of the net! C Tyler Bozak sneaked his shot past Jones to force a sudden death situation for San Jose.
  12. Tierney came as close as he could to continuing the shootout, but his attempt found iron to give the bonus point to Toronto.

Both goaltenders performed marvelously, but only one could come away with the victory. That proved to be Andersen, as he saved 33-of-35 (.943 save percentage) through 65 minutes of play. That left Jones with the shootout loss after he stopped 26-of-28 (.929).

Home ice has been a big deal in the DtFR Game of the Day series this year, as the 51-28-11 hosts, who have earned points in seven of the last eight games, have a 24-point advantage on the visitors in the series.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2017-’18 Season Preview

Pittsburgh Penguins

50-21-11, 111 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Beat Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals

Additions: D Matt Hunwick, G Antti Niemi, RW Ryan Reaves

Subtractions: C Nick Bonino (signed with NSH), F Matt Cullen (signed with MIN), D Trevor Daley (signed with DET), G Marc-Andre Fleury (drafted by VGK), D Cameron Gaunce (signed with CBJ), D Ron Hainsey (signed with TOR), LW Chris Kunitz (signed with TBL), C Kevin Porter (signed with BUF), D Mark Streit (signed with MTL), C Oskar Sundqvist (traded to STL), D David Warsofsky (signed with COL)

Offseason Analysis: After hoisting the Stanley Cup the past two seasons, is it ok to just write the Penguins into their third-straight Finals appearance?

To the joy of 30 other fan-bases, I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

Don’t get me wrong, Pittsburgh is still the class of the Eastern Conference and has its eyes set on a three-peat. Though they had their fair share of departures this offseason, the Penguins return the “Sid and the Kids” line (Jake Guentzel, Captain Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary) as well as the dominant second line of Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, so last year’s best offense will expect to continue its scoring ways.

However, the potential chinks in the armor start appearing in the bottom-six as GM Jim Rutherford had to replace Bonino, Cullen and Kunitz – all of whom appeared in 91 or more regular and postseason games last season. In particular, I’m most concerned about the Pens’ third line center.

What needs to be remembered about recent Penguins third lines is that they don’t fit the typical mold. Few third lines are counted on to provide many goals, instead preferring to slow down the opposing offense. But in Pittsburgh, scoring depth extends beyond the top two lines. Bonino and Kunitz provided a combined 66 points last season from the third line, including 27 markers.

Something tells me Head Coach Mike Sullivan will expect their replacements to perform similarly, but who will they be?

As expected, Sullivan has played around with his bottom two lines throughout camp. In Pittsburgh’s most recent preseason contest, Tom Kuhnhackl, Greg McKegg and Bryan Rust made up the third line with the fourth including Scott Wilson, Carter Rowney and Reaves.

Rust can certainly continue the tradition of this new-age third line, but I have my doubts about Kuhnhackl’s career .37 points-per-game and McKegg’s nine points in 65 NHL games. Unless Sullivan gets pleasantly surprised by their performances or accepts a more typical third line, Rutherford might be testing the trade market early.

Considering Hainsey and Streit were trade deadline rentals, Pittsburgh’s main defensive loss was soon-to-be 34-year-old Daley, who managed 5-14-19 totals last season, but 32-year-old Hunwick should be a serviceable replacement having earned 19 points of his own in Toronto last year.

The Penguins also have the luxury of D Kris Letang returning to play. Letang managed only 41 games last year before his campaign was cut short by a mid-season neck injury. Though his 11-year career has been dotted with injuries, Letang has been a potent force when on the ice. He manages .83 points-per-game, including .259 power play points-per-game, for his career and will be a welcome reintroduction to a defensive corps that scored 177 points last season – the most of any Eastern Conference blue line.

Pens fans, you know what we have to discuss next. Ready tissues.

We turn our attention to Pittsburgh’s crease, a spot the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft will no longer occupy. Instead, it is his protégé Matthew Murray that will assume the true starting role with Niemi as his backup as compared to last year’s “1A-1B” tactic.

Though it’s a bizarre idea to question a goalie that won two Stanley Cups before playing his second NHL season, I’m intrigued to see how Murray responds to undoubtedly being “the guy” for Pittsburgh. Gone are the days of a more-than-competent backup (sorry Niemi, but you’re not impressing anybody with your 2016-’17 .892 save percentage) to fall back on, so all the responsibility rests firmly on Murray’s shoulders. Judging from his 32-10-4 record last season, he’ll react just fine.

Offseason Grade: D

If a “C” is average, the Penguins have to score below it for simply not doing enough to solidify their third line. Maybe McKegg can surprise, but a team trying to win its third-straight Stanley Cup should not be taking such a risk on one of the main things that separates it from the competition. If Rutherford misses on his roll of the dice, the selling price for a viable piece could have dire consequences for the future.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2017-2018 Season Preview

UnknownToronto Maple Leafs

40-27-15, 95 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Washington

Additions: D Ron Hainsey, D Vincent LoVerde, F Patrick Marleau, F Dominic Moore, F Chris Mueller

Subtractions: G Antoine Bibeau (signed with SJ), F Brian Boyle (signed with NJ), D Andrew Campbell (signed with ARI), F Seth Griffith (signed with BUF), F Teemu Hartikainen (signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL), D Matt Hunwick (signed with PIT), F Sergey Kalinin (signed with SKA St. Petersburg, KHL), F Brooks Laich (signed a PTO with LA), D Steve Oleksy (signed with ANA), D Stephane Robidas (retired)

Still Unsigned: F Milan Michalek, D Roman Polak

Offseason Analysis: The Kids Revival Era in Toronto led to a Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance for the first time since 2013 and sooner than anyone could have ever expected last October. Unfortunately, all good runs must come to an end and the youthful Leafs were unable to defeat the Second Round pros (the Washington Capitals) in a back-and-forth six-game battle in the First Round.

Fear not, Toronto, your team will be just fine.

Maple Leafs general manager, Lou Lamoriello, hasn’t had much to do this offseason. Lamoriello’s additions of Ron Hainsey, Patrick Marleau and Dominic Moore bring veteran leadership of the highest quality to the locker room full of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander‘s scoring capabilities (and that’s ignoring the fact that James van Riemsdyk exists altogether).

Hainsey, 36, is in search of his second Stanley Cup after finally appearing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the 2017 champion Pittsburgh Penguins. As Connor Carrick, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev delve into the prime of their careers, Hainsey’s guidance on the blue line will balance the workload and make it easier for Toronto’s head coach, Mike Babcock, to make crucial decisions regarding defensive pairings and special teams.

While Lamoriello landed star playmaker, Patrick Marleau, to transform the rest of the top-9 forwards into a shot attempts for, offense generating machine, the skilled forward comes in past the plateau of his prime at 37-years-old and down significantly from his consistent 70-plus point seasons in scoring.

Although his 27-19-46 totals in all 82 games last season with the San Jose Sharks were impressive for his age, he’s likely to see less goal scoring and more emphasis than ever before on passing the puck to linemates far faster than him on the ice.

If Toronto wins the Cup in the next year or two, there’s a good chance his 3-year, $18.750 million contract ($6.250 million cap hit) will be forgiven given his age and the cap overage that the Maple Leafs are currently facing (they’re about $4.600 million over the $75 million salary cap ceiling).

In perhaps the best signing of adding a more veteran punch to the roster, Dominic Moore’s 1-year, $1.000 million contract should pay off in spades for the Maple Leafs.

Moore bounced back from a 15-point season (six goals, nine assists) in 80 games with the New York Rangers in 2015-2016 with a 25-point year (11 goals, 14 assists) in all 82 games with the Boston Bruins last season. His power play specialty alone bolster’s Toronto’s firing power on the man advantage, let alone the fact that he’s a top-notch bottom-six center as a 37-year-old in search for his first Stanley Cup.

A Cup win would cap off a happy homecoming for the native of Thornhill, Ontario.

Any other team that adds three players over the age of 35 in one offseason would be considered insane, yet here we are praising Toronto for finding the right guys, making the right deals (well, two out of three ain’t bad) and improving their team while only losing NHL caliber talents such in Seth Griffith (okay, maybe a fourth liner/top-6 AHLer), Matt Hunwick (signed with Pittsburgh, which, good for him) and Brooks Laich (had been buried in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies and currently looking for a revival on a PTO with Los Angeles).

Okay, fine, not to overlook the loss of Brian Boyle to New Jersey via free agency, but Boyle’s 25 points in scoring last season, split between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto in 76 games combined was the same offensive output as Moore, minus the face-off winning abilities and special teams impact.

In fact, Boyle notched 22 of his 25 points on the season with Tampa in 48 games prior to being traded to Toronto two days before the trade deadline. Chemistry and sample size aside, Moore is a better replacement for Boyle’s inept scoring prowess (three points in 21 games with Toronto).

To summarize, Lamoriello didn’t have to do anything to an already stacked team, but he added without subtracting anyway. Oh yeah, and the Leafs will totally finish 2nd or 3rd in the Atlantic this season. Maybe 1st.

Offseason Grade: B+

Patrick Marleau shouldn’t be getting more than a two-year contract at this point, but the Maple Leafs will own up to paying more than they’d probably like to because of the over-35-years-old compliance with the CBA. Speaking of the CBA, the league still needs to figure out that whole “over the salary cap limit, while also probably going to utilize the LTIR on at least one player (namely Joffrey Lupul and Nathan Horton) a la the Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks situation with Marian Hossa before the season begins” thing.