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.
44-29-9, 97 points, fifth in the Metropolitan Division
Subtractions: G Ken Appleby (signed by Manitoba, AHL), C Christoph Bertschy (signed with Lausanne, NL), D Yaroslav Dyblenko (released; signed by SKA Saint Petersburg, KHL; traded to Spartak Moscow, KHL), F Brian Gibbons (signed by ANA), W Michael Grabner (signed by ARI), RW Jimmy Hayes (signed by PIT), C Bracken Kearns (signed by Black Wings Linz, EBEL), C Michael Latta (signed by Kunlun Red Star, KHL), LW Mario Lucia (signed by Stavanger Oilers, GET-ligaen), LW Patrick Maroon (signed by STL), D John Moore (signed by BOS), F Ben Thomson (signed by San Diego, AHL)
Offseason Analysis: As tempting as it is for me to use this preview to just write about how much I enjoy watching D Will Butcher play, I must resist.
Oops… Not a good start.
It may not look like it from the length of the lists above, but the Devils were actually pretty quiet this summer. Of all the players departing the organization, only Gibbons and Moore logged more than 50 games played with the senior club last season (59 and 81, respectively), meaning General Manager Ray Shero needed to find only one forward and one defenseman – whether from outside the system or within – to complete his 2018-19 roster.
With Gibbons’ hole residing on Jersey’s fourth line, there’s no doubt that just about any forward in the system is going to have the opportunity to audition for the role. However, leading favorites to claim the job as their own include RW Joseph Anderson and C Michael McLeod.
Selected with the 12th-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, McLeod was the Devils’ first round selection from the Mississauga Steelheads. The hometown hero played four seasons with the Steelheads (including being named captain for two campaigns) to amass solid 76-131-207 totals in 215 regular season OHL games, highlighted by a 27-46-73 effort in 2016-17.
Speaking of that 2016-17 season, McLeod took the Steelheads all the way to the OHL Finals that season with an impressive 11-16-27 performance in 20 playoff games played. Mississauga cruised through the first three rounds of the tournament, dropping only three tilts before running into an Erie side that eliminated them in five games to claim the J. Ross Robertson Cup.
Devils fans should already be familiar with McLeod’s name, as there was an outside shot that he could have turned pro last season instead of returning home for a final season in juniors. However, he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee during a preseason game with New Jersey last year that required surgery, so the logical course of action for the youngster’s rehabilitation was to keep him away from the bigger bodies in the professional ranks.
Also selected in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Anderson was picked in the third round from the United States National Team Development Program. At 20-years-old, Anderson has spent the last two seasons playing for the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. In 75 games played with the Bulldogs, Anderson posted 23-41-64 totals, including solid 12-25-37 marks during his freshman year.
Of note, both of Anderson’s seasons in Duluth ended with the Bulldogs playing for the NCAA Championship. In 2017, the Bulldogs fell to the Denver Pioneers 3-2, but not until he posted solid 2-5-7 totals in the four-game tournament – including the primary assist on F Alex Iafallo‘s power play goal in the second period that set the score at 2-1 in Denver’s favor.
2018 was a much more memorable experience for Anderson’s squad, as the Bulldogs beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2-1 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Anderson failed to register a single point in the tournament last year after a season that saw him experience a bit of a sophomore slump, so I’ll be interested to see if his declining numbers are a sign of what is to come for his career or if he can use it as motivation to rejuvenate his play now that he is a pro.
As for the Devils’ hole on the blue line, it is likely that last year’s seventh defenseman, Steven Santini, will earn the promotion into consistent minutes. Over the past two seasons, Santini has made 74 appearances, averaging 18:07 per game. In those outings, he’s managed 4-13-17 totals, including last season’s 2-8-10 marks in 36 showings.
If Santini can’t prove his worth, I’d peg D Mirco Mueller – who’s likely going to be staying with the senior club as either the sixth or seventh defenseman – to steal the show. He played in 28 games with the Devils last season, averaging 16:41 per game and tacking on four assists.
One problem with being so quiet this summer is that RFA LW Miles Wood, New Jersey’s fourth-best goalscorer from a year ago with his 19-13-32 totals, has not been resigned yet. As such, he has not yet reported to training camp (I mean, who can blame him? I wouldn’t show up to work either if I didn’t have a job.), but I have a hard time believing an agreement won’t be reached sooner or later. Shero has over $18 million in cap space to play with for this season, and he’ll want to lock Wood up in anticipation of the 10 players reaching the end of their contracts following this campaign.
Offseason Grade: B
With such a young team that looks like it still has much room to grow, there wasn’t much reason to make too many moves this offseason considering the Devils made the playoffs ahead of schedule (at least in the opinion of some). New Jersey will earn a promotion to at least a B+ the minute it gets Wood under contract.
29-41-12, 70 Points, Last in the Western Conference
Subtractions: D Andrew Campbell (traded to Chicago), F Max Domi (traded to Montréal), C MacKenzie Entwistle (traded to Chicago), D Joel Hanley (signed by Dallas), D Brandon Hickey (traded to Buffalo), C Marcus Kruger (traded to Chicago), C Ryan MacInnis (traded to Columbus), C Jordan Maletta (traded to Chicago), F Zac Rinaldo (signed by Nashville), D Luke Schenn (signed by Anaheim), RW Mike Sislo (rights traded to Buffalo, signed by NYI), D Kyle Wood (traded to San Jose)
Offseason Analysis: Whether or not last season was a success for the Coyotes is an answer that is dependent upon who you ask.
For those that didn’t pay any attention to the club, they’ll probably point to Arizona’s fourth-straight losing season and sixth-straight missing the playoffs and say this organization is a total disaster. However, those willing to look a bit deeper are seeing feint glimpses of the light at the end of what has been a fairly long and dark tunnel for the Desert Dogs.
Yes, it is true Arizona started the season with an 0-10-1 record, but it is also true that the baby-faced Coyotes posted a decent 17-9-3 effort in their final 29 games played, a mark that placed 12th in the NHL from February 8 to the regular season finale.
The main reason for that surge was none other than first-year starter G Antti Raanta, who salvaged what was a middle-of-the-road .916 save percentage through his first 29 showings (officially the 18th-best among the 37 netminders with at least 22 appearances by February 7) and turned it into a solid .93 season mark with a commanding .95 save percentage – including three shutouts – over his final 18 showings. Though Arizona does boast a quietly improving defense (headlined, of course, by Oliver Ekman-Larsson), Raanta continuing his success and joining the ranks of the Pacific Division’s goaltending elites (it’s a pretty stacked list) will be integral to the Coyotes’ chances of advancing beyond their already ensured seventh place (nobody’s finishing behind Vancouver, after all).
Speaking of defense, one desert-dwelling blue liner I will have my eye on this season is 20-year-old Jakob Chychrun. Entering his third season in the league, I’m waiting for 2016’s 16th-overall pick from Boca Raton, Fla. to fully validate his high selection, as well as his position on the Coyotes’ second pair and special team units. Chychrun posted a +2 rating with 4-10-14 totals on a club that yielded 251 goals against last season (the 11th-most in the NHL in 2017-18), but I’m holding onto faith that he can maintain his defensive prowess while also getting his offensive numbers closer to those he posted in juniors (during the 2016 OHL playoffs, Chychrun managed 2-6-8 totals in seven games played, not to mention the 27 goals and 82 points he registered in 104 regular season games in that league).
Of course, no discussion about the Yotes’ attack is complete without at least acknowledging 20-year-old phenom F Clayton Keller, the young man who finished third in last season’s Calder Trophy voting behind winner C Mathew Barzal (NYI) and runner-up RW Brock Boeser (VAN). With 23 goals and 65 points in his first full NHL season, Keller has already proven to be an important offensive building block the Coyotes can work with as they construct their future. Like many sophomores – especially on young teams like Arizona – Keller will likely regress this campaign, but I’m most focused on seeing if he can score at least 15 goals again this year, as well as improve on his 42 assists.
The main reason for focusing so much on last season’s results is largely due to the Coyotes’ quiet offseason this summer. With the biggest name departing Arizona being Domi (he was traded to Montréal) and his nine goals, Galchenyuk (the Yotes’ return for Domi) and Grabner represent the Coyotes’ largest splashes – and are likely improvements on the former first-rounder.
Both have registered 30+ goals in a season before, but expectations are certainly going to be higher for the former Canadien considering he’s all but ensured a spot in Arizona’s top-six. That being said, the Rangers weren’t expecting 52 goals in 135 games played (.53 points per game during his NYR career) from Grabner when they signed him to a two-year deal in 2016, so perhaps the soon-to-be 31-year-old still has enough pep in his step to cause some real offensive damage from his likely spot in the bottom-six to compete for top-six minutes.
Of course, that’s the gamble the Devils made when they traded a defensive prospect and a second round draft pick to their bitter rivals (the first-ever trade between NJD and NYR), but perchance General Manager John Chayka’s luck will be better than counterpart Ray Shero’s and Grabner will provide more than the two goals in 21 games played with Jersey.
Offseason Grade: C+
Chayka surely knows his team is likely at least a season away from making a real playoff push, so I’m okay with Arizona’s limited activity this summer that focused on bringing in players with a bit of term on their contracts. The main goal for the Coyotes this campaign is to build on their late season success from last year and to gain more NHL experience for the youngsters – hopefully leading to further growth. If they can do just that, Phoenix could become quite the destination for next summer’s unrestricted free agents.
This post will be updated throughout the day as signings are officially announced. Be sure to check our Twitter account (@DtFrozenRiver) for all of the latest signings, news, and analysis throughout the day.
Free agency begins at noon (technically 12:01 PM ET) on July 1st. All that is known is shown and will be updated throughout the day. More analysis will come later as the day wraps up.
Reported free agent signings
These are reported agreements in place leftover from the interview period/yet to be confirmed and/or announced by a playing club.
F Zac Rinaldo and the Nashville Predators have come to terms on a two-way contract. Confirmed– announced by club on July 2nd.
Free agent signings
These are confirmed/announced signings.
F Ilya Kovalchuk officially signed his three-year, $6.250 million AAV, deal with the Los Angeles Kings.
D Mike Green signed a two-year contract extension with the Detroit Red Wings worth $5.375 million per season.
D Martin Fehervary signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals.
F Paul Stastny agreed to a three-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights worth $6.500 million per season.
The Philadelphia Flyers and F James van Riemsdyk agreed top a five-year contract worth $7.000 million per season.
D Thomas Hickey and the New York Islanders have agreed on a four-year, $2.500 million per season, contract extension.
F Ryan Reaves signed a two-year, $2.775 million per season, contract extension with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Minnesota Wild re-signed D Nick Seeler to a three-year contract worth $2.175 million ($725,000 cap hit).
The Boston Bruins signed G Jaroslav Halak to a two-year contract worth $2.750 million per season.
F Chris Kunitz signed a one-year, $1.000 million, contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago also signed G Cam Ward to a one-year deal and D Brandon Manning to a two-year contract.
G Jonathan Bernier signed a three-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit also signed F Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract worth $3.000 million.
D Roman Polak agreed to terms with the Dallas Stars on a one-year, $1.300 million contract.
The Montreal Canadiens signed F Tomas Plekanec to a one-year deal worth $2.250 million.
D Eric Gryba signed a one-year contract with the New Jersey Devils worth $700,000 at the NHL level.
D Xavier Ouellet signed a one-year, two-way, $700,000 contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
F Brian Flynn signed a one-year, two-way, deal with the St. Louis Blues worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
F Joakim Nordstrom agreed to a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.000 million per season.
F Valeri Nichushkin signed a two-year contract ($2.950 million cap hit) with the Dallas Stars.
The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed D Ryan McDonagh to a seven-year contract extension worth $47.250 million ($6.750 million AAV).
F Matthew Peca signed a two-year, $1.300 million per season, contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
F Jared McCann signed a two-year extension with the Florida Panthers.
D Oliver Ekman-Larsson signed an eight-year extension with the Arizona Coyotes.
F Josh Jooris signed a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
F Adam Cracknell (one-year, $650,000) and D Jordan Subban (one-year, two-way, $650,000 at the NHL level) signed deals with Toronto as well. The Leafs also re-signed D Martin Marincin (one-year, $800,000).
D Nick Holden signed a two-year contract worth $2.200 million per season with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Arizona Coyotes signed F Michael Grabner to a three-year deal worth $3.350 million per season.
G Petr Mrazek signed a one-year, $1.500 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
G Harri Sateri signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
Dallas signed G Colton Point to a three-year, entry-level contract.
F Tyler Bozak agreed to terms on a three-year contract worth $5.000 million per season with the St. Louis Blues.
The Chicago Blackhawks signed 2018 first round pick, D Adam Boqvist, to a three-year entry-level contract.
F Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Montreal Canadiens.
G Chad Johnson signed a one-year, $1.750 million contract with the St. Louis Blues.
F J.T. Brown signed a two-year, $1.375 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.
F David Perron agreed to a four-year, $16.000 million ($4.000 million AAV) deal with the St. Louis Blues.
D Matt Bartkowski signed a one-year, two-way, contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with Minnesota.
The Washington Capitals signed F Nic Dowd to a one-year contract worth $650,000.
D Tommy Cross signed a two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
G Carter Hutton signed a three-year contract ($2.750 million cap hit) with the Buffalo Sabres.
The Capitals re-signed F Travis Boyd to a two-year contract with an $8000,0000 cap hit.
Montreal signed F Kenny Agostino to a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 at the NHL level.
The Canadiens also agreed to terms on a two-year, two-way deal with F Michael Chaput.
F John Tavares signed a seven-year, $77 million ($11.000 million AAV) contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Minnesota Wild signed F Mike Liambas to a two-year, two-way contract.
G Andrew Hammond signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Minnesota Wild.
G Michael Hutchinson signed a one-year, $1.300 million deal with the Florida Panthers.
D John Moore signed a five-year contract with the Boston Bruins.
D Ian Cole agreed to terms on a three-year, $4.250 million per season, contract with the Colorado Avalanche.
D Jack Johnson signed a five-year contract worth $3.25 million per season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh also signed F Matt Cullen to a one-year contract worth $650,000.
Buffalo signed D Brandon Hickey to a two-year entry-level deal.
Detroit signed F Wade Megan and D Jake Chelios to one-year contracts and F Chris Terry to a two-year contract.
The Vancouver Canucks agreed to terms with F Jay Beagle on a four-year contract worth $3.000 million per season.
G Anton Khudobin and the Dallas Stars agreed on a two-year deal worth $2.500 AAV.
The Stars also signed F Michael Mersch to a two-year, two-way deal and D Joel Hanley to a one-year, two-way contract.
G Scott Wedgewood signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Buffalo Sabres.
F Antoine Roussel and the Vancouver Canucks agreed on a four-year deal worth $3.000 million per season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning signed D Cameron Gaunce to a one-year, two-way contract.
The Columbus Blue Jackets signed D Adam Clendening to a one-year, two-way contract.
F Logan Couture signed an eight-year extension with the San Jose Sharks.
F Eric Fehr signed a one-year, $1.000 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.
F Matt Calvert signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche with a $2.800 million cap hit.
G Maxime Lagace re-signed with the Vegas Golden Knights to a one-year, two-way contract. Vegas also signed G Zachary Fucale to a one-year deal.
F Tobias Rieder signed a deal with the Edmonton Oilers.
D Dillon Simpson signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
F Daniel Carr signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.
F Derek Ryan signed a three-year deal with the Calgary Flames worth $3.125 million per season.
Calgary also signed F Austin Czarnik to a two-year contract worth $1.250 million per season.
The Flames re-signed D Dalton Prout to a one-year, $800,000 deal.
The Winnipeg Jets signed G Laurent Brossoit to a one-year, $650,000 contract.
F Matt Hendricks signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Minnesota Wild.
D Tyler Wotherspoon signed a one-year, two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues worth $700,000 at the NHL level.
Edmonton signed D Kevin Gravel to a one-year contract.
D Stefan Elliott signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
The Dallas Stars agreed to terms with F Blake Comeau on a three-year, $2.400 million AAV, deal.
F Tim Schaller signed a two-year, $1.900 million cap hit, deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
D Fredrik Claesson signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the New York Rangers.
The Rangers also re-signed F Vladislav Namestnikov to a two-year deal worth $4.000 AAV.
F Erik Condra signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Dallas Stars.
Pittsburgh signed F Jimmy Hayes, D Zach Trotman and G John Muse to one-year contracts. All three deals are worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
The Ottawa Senators signed G Mike McKenna to a one-year, two-way contract.
F Riley Nash signed a three-year, $2.750 million AAV contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
F Kyle Brodziak agreed to a two-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers.
F Paul Carey signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.
Boston signed D Cody Goloubef and F Mark McNeill to one-year, two-way contracts worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
The Bruins also announced the signing of their 2018 second round pick, D Axel Andersson to a three-year entry-level contract with an annual cap hit of $825,833.
F Chris Wagner signed a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.250 million per season.
F Leo Komarov signed a four-year, $12 million ($3.000 million per season) deal with the New York Islanders.
F Sven Baertschi re-signed with the Vancouver Canucks on a three-year deal ($3.367 AAV).
Vegas signed F Brandon Pirri, F Alex Gallant, F Curtis McKenzie, and D Jimmy Oligny.
The Winnipeg Jets signed F Dennis Everberg, F Seth Griffith and re-signed D Cameron Schilling to one-year, two-way, $650,000 contracts.
In their first official signing of the day, the Nashville Predators and F Connor Brickley came to an agreement on a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
F Rocco Grimaldi signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Nashville Predators.
The Calgary Flames signed F Tyler Graovac and F Alan Quine to one-year, two-way contracts. Graovac’s cap hit is $650,000 and Quine’s is $700,000 at the NHL level.
Nashville signed D Jarred Tinordi to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
New Jersey signed D John Ramage to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
F Joel L’Esperance signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars.
G Jared Coreau signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Anaheim Ducks worth $650,000 at the NHL level.
F Valtteri Filppula signed a deal with the New York Islanders.
*Technically speaking, these players cannot sign until noon on Sunday, but thanks to a week long interview period with all the other teams, they might already have agreements in place.
With that in mind, let’s try to weigh the options in front of the best options in the market this summer, keeping in mind these rankings are completely arbitrary and ultimately meaningless– like everything in the postmodern world (that was for you, Islanders fans, in case You-Know-Who doesn’t re-sign).
First, let’s get this out of the way– signing Ryan Reaves for two-years at $2.775 million per season is… bad. Yeah, not great. That’s over half of what James Neal was making (at least according to his $5.000 million cap hit in Vegas) in 2017-18 and, well, Reaves is a fourth liner.
Neal can still reach the 30-goal plateau.
Granted, his stock will undoubtedly rise too, given a remarkable Golden Knights inaugural season run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Anyway, on with the show, eh (Happy Canada Day, Canadian readers).
Five of the best UFA forwards:
1) John Tavares, 27, 36-47–83 totals in 82 games played, $5.500 million cap hit (2017-18)
Tavares may leave the New York Islanders, then again he may stick around. Also at play (at the time of this writing around 1:30 a.m. ET and in no particular order), the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars.
He can only sign for a maximum of seven years and will likely cost around $10 million per season. For contending teams, his decision means everything for the rest of the dominoes to fall in place.
For those outside the playoff picture looking to get back into the swing of things, well, expect those small deals to be announced right away at noon.
2) James van Riemsdyk, 29, 36-18–54 totals in 81 games played, $4.250 million cap hit (2017-18)
van Riemsdyk shouldn’t be in the $9.000 million range, but stranger things always happen on July 1st every offseason. All indications thus far point to a reunion with the team that drafted him 2nd overall in 2007– the Philadelphia Flyers.
Will it be a smart deal? Yes and no.
Assuming Philadelphia rids themselves of Jori Lehtera‘s $4.700 million per season on the books next summer and finds a way to keep Wayne Simmonds around, this is a lateral move that fills what could become a hole in their top-six forwards. Then again, perhaps the Flyers are already thinking of moving on from Simmonds via a trade? Time will tell.
Meanwhile van Riemsdyk is a two-time 30-goal scorer, so that should offset Philadelphia’s lackluster goaltending, right?
3) James Neal, 30, 25-19–44 totals in 71 games played, $5.000 million cap hit (2017-18)
Neal is two years younger than the next guy on this list, but he’s been more consistent as a glue-guy that can slide up on your second line when necessary. Will he be overpaid? For sure. Will he score more than 30 goals in 2018-19? It’s possible. Neal tends to have two or three seasons under 30 goals before a “breakout” year like in 2011-12 (40 goals) and 2015-16 (31 goals).
Anything longer than five years is a bad deal in the long run (not for Neal though). Even five years is pushing it as he’ll be well past his prime by then.
4) Paul Stastny, 32, 16-37–53 totals in 82 games played, $7.000 million cap hit (2017-18)
Stastny is one of the best playmakers in the league that doesn’t always get enough recognition. Unfortunately for one general manager, that’ll mean a lot of money packed into too long of a deal this summer.
Oft injured and not quite the dominant force he was when he broke into the league in 2006-07, Stastny doesn’t come with any receipts or refunds, but rather a “buyer beware” tag. In the right role, he’ll elevate your team to the Western Conference Final, a la his run down the stretch with the Winnipeg Jets.
Otherwise, paying him more than $7.000 million and expecting different results as a first or second line center without support is insane.
5) Tyler Bozak, 32, 11-32–43 totals in 81 games played, $4.200 million cap hit (2017-18)
Bozak had one season past the 50-point plateau (he had 55 points in 2016-17), but he consistently manages upper-40s from season to season. That’s points, not goals alone, mind you.
Something in the $6.000 million range sounds perfect. Especially if you’re putting Bozak on the second line on your roster. Similar to Stastny, though, the right support around him can elevate his production. Unlike Stastny, however, Bozak is less injury prone.
Five of the best UFA defenders:
1) Thomas Hickey, 29, 5-19–24 totals in 69 games played, $2.200 million cap hit (2017-18)
Hickey didn’t play a full season in any of the three seasons of his most recent contract with the Islanders. Baring any setbacks, he should be due for a raise and an increased role as a top-4 defender looking for a fresh start (assuming he leaves New York).
Look, there are no surefire 30 or 40-point scorer defenders available on the market this summer unless you take a gander at some RFA blueliners like Matt Dumba (49 points), Colin Miller (41), Brandon Montour (32), Noah Hanifin (31) and Ryan Pulock (30).
If you’re simply trying to fill a need and have done enough scouting, Hickey could be your guy. Just saying.
2) Ian Cole, 29, 5-15–20 totals in 67 games played, $2.100 million cap hit (2017-18)
Buy low, sell (potentially) high is what one can expect from Cole.
Considering how the Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to the Ottawa Senators as part of the Derick Brassard trade, then was flipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nick Moutrey and a 2020 third round pick, Cole at least brings interested eyes from playoff hopeful general managers looking to add to the blueline.
He could be a big steal or expendable. The choice is yours.
3) Dylan DeMelo, 25, 0-20–20 totals in 62 games played, $650,000 cap hit (2017-18)
DeMelo is a top-6 blueliner that for some reason, wasn’t in the plans for the San Jose Sharks and their latest attempt at the “Cup or bust” mantra (hey, it worked for Washington finally– despite abandoning the “Cup or bust” mentality thanks, in part, to the salary cap).
Yes, he didn’t score a goal in 2017-18, but 20 assists is still something as a defenseman. Also, not every defenseman is counted on to score. That’s offense and they’re defensemen after all.
4) Calvin de Haan, 27, 1-11–12 totals in 33 games played, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)
Injuries and surgery kept de Haan from playing a full season. Otherwise, yes, the production of optimal defenders to attract this offseason really does fall off in the UFA category.
de Haan is only 27, so he’s still in his playing prime and ripe as a defender (blueliners really tapper off around 33-years-old if you use the eye test– there are always exceptions, however). If the Islanders can’t keep him around, there’s a good chance he’ll do better elsewhere in a legitimate role.
5) Andrej Sustr, 27, 2-5–7 totals in 44 games played, $1.950 million cap hit (2017-18)
Being 6-foot-7 and 220-pounds should be good enough to prevent other players that are (on average) half-a-foot shorter from breaking into the offensive zone.
Sustr was the odd man out in Tampa as the Lightning exploded with youth on the blueline this season. He could lock up a $3.000-$4.000 million AAV deal easily this summer and do well in a top-4 role for a team needing a right shot defender to make the difference.
If you can’t sign one of these five defensemen, perhaps take a chance on John Moore (18 points), Nick Holden (17), Luca Sbisa (14), Roman Polak (12) or yes, Brooks Orpik (10) for his rough-and-tough qualities.
Five of the best UFA goaltenders:
1) Carter Hutton, 32, .931 save percentage and 2.09 goals against average in 32 GP, $1.125 million cap hit (2017-18)
Hutton realistically has three solid years left as a goaltender and will likely end up with the Buffalo Sabres as they plan to transition the rights to tending the net from Hutton to Linus Ullmark, theoretically, right?
At least Hutton’s been above average as a backup for the last three seasons with a 2.33 GAA and .918 SV% in 17 games for the Nashville Predators in 2015-16, 2.39 GAA and .913 SV% in 30 games for St. Louis in 2016-17 and his 2.09 and .931 this season for the Blues.
If he’s signed for more than three years that’s not great. Considering he’s about to cash in on $4.000 million per season, probably.
2) Kari Lehtonen, 34, .912 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 37 GP, $5.900 million cap hit (2017-18)
Any team looking to add a backup on a one or two-year deal while they’re waiting for a prospect to make the full-time backup role would be smart to land Lehtonen in net for that transition period.
Especially if that team has a solid defense in front of him and an offense to steal a game or two. While Lehtonen was 15-14-3 this season in 37 games for the Dallas Stars, that’s still only three games below .500.
Think about that. He played more games than usual for a backup– appearing in almost half of the season for Dallas– and the net result was only a few points out of the postseason. A nice two-year deal gives Lehtonen some job security as he joins the 35-year-old club in November.
Another plus, for those interested, he won’t be at a $5.900 million cap hit on his next deal.
3) Anton Khudobin, 32, .913 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 31 GP, $1.200 million cap hit (2017-18)
In his two-year reunion with the Boston Bruins, Khudobin went from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 2016-17 (16 games played) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 2017-18 (31 games played).
The last time he played over 30 games was for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013-14, when he went on to suit up for 34 appearances and yielded a 2.72 GAA and .900 SV%. Ouch.
Sample size is everything. Was 2017-18 a lucky fluke or a product of having a good team in front of him? His next team in 2018-19 will be more telling (and it just might be the Dallas Stars). Approach with caution.
4) Cam Ward, 34, .906 SV% and 2.73 GAA in 43 GP, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)
Ward is no longer a starting goaltender and was over-relied on in Carolina this season thanks to Scott Darling‘s vanishing act as a starter (albeit in his first season as a starting goaltender).
5) Jonathan Bernier, 29, .913 SV% and 2.85 GAA in 37 GP, $2.750 million cap hit (2017-18)
Bernier literally saved Colorado’s season when Semyon Varlamov went down with yet another injury. Now Philipp Grubauer is manning the pipes for the Avalanche with Varlamov moving into a refined role unless General Manager Joe Sakic can find a trading partner and keep Bernier from going where he is expected to go on Sunday.
The Detroit Red Wings are calling Bernier’s number as the next backup to Jimmy Howard and it’s a lateral move from Petr Mrazek‘s 2.89 GAA and .910 SV% in 22 games in 2017-18 with Detroit before he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Seriously, Bernier’s only saving grace was that the 2017-18 Avalanche were a lot better than the 2016-17 Avalanche had they been in front of the netminder (Bernier was with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-17).
Regardless, the Red Wings are rebuilding, so it makes sense (somehow).
If you can’t sign one of these UFA goalies, hopefully you’re not looking to sign a starter from the market this offseason, much less a backup. Start working those phonelines for a trade, because Halak, Robin Lehner and others are your UFA options. *shudders*
The 2018 offseason is sure to bring lots of spending with several high-caliber talents testing the waters of unrestricted free agency. Here’s a look at the top-10 available players with the highest cap hits from 2017-18 courtesy of CapFriendly.com.
The free agent market opens Sunday at noon ET.
1) C Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks), $8.000 million
Thornton has yet to win a Cup and re-signed with the Sharks last July for a little more than what Patrick Marleau got in his average annual value on his way out of San Jose with his three-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. At 38-years-old, Thornton’s entering– if not well beyond– the twilight of his career and may retire.
Or he’ll come back for one last ride with San Jose as General Manager Doug Wilson looks to stockpile another Cup-or-bust roster with Evander Kane having re-signed for another seven years and the Sharks as a legitimate contender for John Tavares and others. Much like last season, Thornton could be playing the waiting game to a) not tie up any spending money San Jose has yet and b) to see what Wilson brings in.
He had 13-23–36 totals in 47 games played with the Sharks last season and battled injuries that kept him out of postseason action.
2) LW/RW Rick Nash (New York Rangers –> Boston Bruins), $7.800 million
Nash will gauge the open market and wait to sign a deal after July 1st as he is contemplating retirement altogether.
Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney has indicated he’s open to bringing the 34-year-old winger back for another season in black-and-gold after Boston failed to snag 35-year-old KHLer returning to the NHL, Ilya Kovalchuk, last week.
In 71 games with the Bruins and Rangers, Nash had 21-13–34 totals. He also scored three goals and had two assists (five points) in 12 postseason games with Boston after suffering a concussion in March.
3) C Paul Stastny (St. Louis Blues –> Winnipeg Jets), $7.000 million
Winnipeg and Stastny, 32, have had a mutual interest in each other since the Jets acquired the veteran center at the trade deadline, however, Stastny could cash in as one of the better centers left in the market. The Montreal Canadiens have been rumored to be in touch with Stastny’s camp and may take a stab at the son of former intra-province rival Québec Nordiques legend, Peter Stastny.
Paul Stastny had 16-37–53 totals in 81 games with the Jets and Blues this season.
4) D Mike Green (Detroit Red Wings), $6.000 million
After spending his first 10 NHL seasons with the Washington Capitals, Green spent the last three seasons with the Red Wings. The 32-year-old blueliner cashed in on a three-year, $6.000 million AAV deal in the midst of his prime and is beginning to reach the tail-end of optimal athletic ability in the modern game.
Despite having a no-movement clause, Green was open to whatever Detroit General Manager Ken Holland had in mind around the deadline as the defender is still in search of his first Cup. Green was not traded and had 8-25–33 totals in 66 games this season with the Red Wings as a top-6 defender.
5) C Tomas Plekanec (Montreal Canadiens –> Toronto Maple Leafs), $6.000 million
Plekanec broke into the NHL as a member of the Canadiens in 2003-04 and spent his entire career in Montreal before being traded to Toronto around the deadline this season in search of a Cup.
The 35-year-old shaved his trademark goatee at Lou Lamoriello’s discretion and even bought a new turtleneck, but amassed two assists in 17 games for the Maple Leafs down the stretch. Plekanec did, however, yield 6-20–26 totals in 77 games for Toronto and Montreal this season and added four points (two goals, two assists) in the Leafs seven-game series loss to the Boston Bruins in the First Round this postseason.
All signs point point Plekanec rejoining the Habs this summer.
6) G Kari Lehtonen (Dallas Stars), $5.900 million
Lehtonen, 34, shifted to a full-time backup role in Dallas this season as a result of Ben Bishop joining the Stars last summer and– despite a 14-14-1 record in 36 games (slightly below .500)– it paid off. His 2.58 goals against average and .911 save percentage is exactly what you ask from an average-to-slightly-above-average backup goaltender.
Stars General Manager Jim Nill doesn’t have a plan laid out for the eventual backup behind Bishop for the remainder of Bishop’s contract, but Nill’s in luck as this year’s backup goalie market is full of quality candidates for at least a year or two.
7) D Toby Enstrom (Winnipeg Jets), $5.750 million
The Winnipeg Jets youth movement ultimately forced 33-year-old Toby Enstrom into the land of the obsolete. He had one goal and five assists (six points) in 43 games played.
He won’t be making anywhere near his $5.750 million cap hit from this season, but he still can provide an organization with some much needed defensive depth as a bottom-pair blueliner or seventh defender.
Meanwhile, Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff can utilize the newfound salary on other important pieces, like Patrik Laine‘s next contract after the 2018-19 season, for example.
T-8) D Brooks Orpik (Washington Capitals/Colorado Avalanche/UFA), $5.500 million
Orpik won his second Cup this season (first with the Capitals) and was subsequently traded with Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche as part of Washington’s salary dump venture to re-sign John Carlson (spoiler alert: it worked) at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic bought-out the remaining year on Orpik’s contract, making the 37-year-old defender a free agent a year ahead of schedule. Before he makes a comeback, he’ll have to sign elsewhere for much less than his $5.500 million cap hit.
T-8) C John Tavares (New York Islanders), $5.500 million
If Tavares doesn’t re-sign with the Islanders this offseason, he’ll become the biggest prize on the free agent market. Thanks to the interview period, we already know he’s met with representatives from six organizations (in no particular order)– the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Islanders have a new General Manager (Lou Lamoriello) and new head coach (Barry Trotz), but will front office moves that are sure to shake up components of the roster ultimately sway Tavares to stay or is the 27-year-old star-center going to pursue a chance to win the Cup elsewhere a lot sooner rather than later? We’ll know as soon as Tavares’s agent or a team announces a deal.
T-10) C/LW Valtteri Filppula (Philadelphia Flyers), $5.000 million
At 34-years-old, 11-22–33 totals in 80 games played isn’t terrible for someone that’d make a great third liner on any organization. Unfortunately for Filppula, a $5.000 million cap hit will.
The Flyers will undoubtedly move on and replace the veteran forward with someone younger from Lehigh Valley or elsewhere in the system, while Filppula should be able to secure a two or three year deal elsewhere at less value as a key “glue guy”.
T-10) LW/RW James Neal (Vegas Golden Knights), $5.000 million
Instead of trading Neal by the trade deadline, Vegas General Manager George McPhee held onto the veteran winger for the ride and the Golden Knights came three wins away from winning the Stanley Cup in their inaugural season.
All season long, the 30-year-old NHL veteran came in clutch with dazzling highlight reel goals and 44 points (25 goals, 19 assists) on the season in 71 games for the Knights. With a $5.000 million cap hit, Neal’s value could skyrocket– thanks to supply and demand– or stay around the same and provide a Cup contending team with the necessary offense and depth to get them over the hump.
T-10) C/RW Mikhail Grabovski (Vegas Golden Knights), $5.000 million
Career-ending concussion related issues prevented Grabovski, 34, from suiting up with the Golden Knights in their inaugural season as Vegas utilized his $5.000 million cap hit to surpass the salary cap floor.
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.
Now that the current Colorado franchise is out of the way, next up in DtFR’s offseason previews are the former Colorado Rockies: the New Jersey Devils!
Such is the situation facing this young Devils squad headlined by Hart-finalist F Taylor Hall. New Jersey finished the season with a 44-29-9 record that was good enough for fifth place in the Metropolitan Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, staving off the Florida Panthers by only a lone point for the second wild card.
One of Jersey’s best strengths was its special teams, both of which were ranked among the top-nine in the NHL. However, the next step for this club is to improve its average play at even-strength, the status at which most action takes place.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
To help the Devils in that effort, they have the opportunity to take advantage of this deep draft class with the 17th-overall selection. Especially given their cap flexibility (New Jersey has almost $20 million in space available for this season, and that only grows even higher until no current players are under contract for the 2023-24 season), there’s certainly potential the Devils could flip this pick for a major return in NHL-ready talent.
However, lets assume that General Manager Ray Shero wants to keep this pick, shall we?
Should he do just that, I think Shero will select D Adam Ginning (Linköping HC), D Ty Smith (Spokane Chiefs), C Akil Thomas (Niagara IceDogs) or D Bode Wilde (USNTDP).
Smith and Wilde represent yet another two-way defenseman option for a team that already employs the services of D Will Butcher and D Sami Vatanen, while Ginning is definitely of the traditional, stay-at-home variety.
Should Thomas end up being the most attractive option to Shero, he certainly won’t be disappointed. In his first two seasons in the OHL, Thomas has proven to be a 20+ goal scorer, and he’s also vastly improved at his puck distribution in this most recent season with 59 assists to his credit (32 more than his rookie campaign).
Chances are slim Thomas would be ready for the NHL this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ripens a bit quicker than his peers. After all, his 81 points this season exceed that of presumed No. 2 overall pick RW Andrei Svechnikov (72 points) and barely trail Czech LW Filip Zadina (82 points).
Pending free agents
Like Uncle Ben said in Spider-Man: “With great cap flexibility comes many new contracts.”
Something along those lines.
Looking just at the Devils forwards, eight players are pending free agents that need to be addressed before July 1. F Brian Gibbons, W Michael Grabner, RW Jimmy Hayes, W Patrick Maroon and W Drew Stafford are all currently slated to test unrestricted free agency, while F Blake Coleman, RW Stefan Noesen and LW Miles Wood are of the restricted variety.
Without a doubt, signing Maroon needs to be among Shero’s biggest priorities, as the former Oiler (how many of those currently play for the Devils?) provided .58 points per game last season – a mark that is made even better when only considering his production with New Jersey (.76 points per game in 17 contests). While Maroon’s 27-goal total from the 2016-17 season did drop off by 10 tallies last year, his usual production in even-strength play is just the help the Devils could use to improve.
10 players provided .58 points per game last season, amassing an average salary of over $3.25 million (three players earned $6 million). With 30-year-old Maroon coming off a three-year, $2 million deal, any contract under $4 million should be a win in Shero’s book.
27 goals in each of the last two seasons have seen Grabner revitalize his career just in time to test free agency and improve on the two-year, $1.65 million contract he signed with the Rangers a couple summers ago.
A pure goalscorer is a weapon Jersey could certainly use for a full season (unless you consider fellow pending free agent Gibbons’ 12 goals on 72 shots [.167 shooting percentage] to qualify him for sniper status), but there has to be fear that the Devils could end up with the same Grabner Toronto did three years ago: one making $3 million, but providing only nine markers and 18 points.
An interesting note in Grabner’s contract negotiation – whether it’s with New Jersey or any of the other 30 teams – will be the status of Stanley Cup champions W Andre Burakovsky and RW Tom Wilson. Both also finished their seasons with .45 points per game and will undoubtedly be receiving raises on their respective $3 million and $2 million contracts given their new hardware. If either are signed before Grabner, he’ll surely try to use their contracts as a benchmark in his own negotiations.
On the surface, a final 30-year-old worth a look is Gibbons, the player who brilliantly returned to the NHL last season after a 2.6-year stint in the AHL. Gibbons posted a breakout campaign with 12-14-26 totals in 59 games played. However, after suffering a broken right thumb in late January that required over a month to heal, he returned to provide only three assists in his last 16 showings (that includes the two playoff games against Tampa he participated in).
If it seems like he’s fully healed from that injury and ready to be a potent scoring threat from a bottom-six position, then perhaps Gibbons is worth another contract similar to the one-year, $650 thousand deal he played on last season. If not, Shero would be wise to let another team make the mistake of signing him based on his overall season statistics.
Simply put, neither Hayes and Stafford are worth big money. Shero can certainly afford to sign them to low-cost contracts, but he could also find players of a same or higher quality on the free agent market.
Wood represents the Devils’ best RFA, and at 23-years-old (as of September 13), he’ll likely get another contract. He’s coming off a three-year, $925 thousand contract and will likely receive a $1-1.5 million bridge contract.
John Moore and Steven Santini represent Jersey’s two defensive free agents, with the former being a pending UFA and the latter being a pending RFA. Both played top-four minutes per game last season, as well as averaging at least .22 points per game. They’re both worth new contracts.
Funny thing, hockey.
In one corner we have the Atlantic Division champion Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that for long stretches of the year looked nigh-on immortal, and made ritual of beating basically everyone who dared stand in their path.
In the other corner stands a New Jersey squad that just squeaked into the playoffs in a wild card spot, have a roster with almost as many ‘misfit toys’ as the upstart Golden Knights, and… went undefeated against the Lightning in the regular season?
Well. Color me interested.
The Devils made a season of being the eternal underdogs. Apart from Hart Trophy favorite Taylor Hall, they really don’t possess much in the way of name value. Goaltender Cory Schneider spent much of the year hurt, and struggled upon his return. But career-backup Keith Kinkaid won 26 games this year (he’d won just 23 in four previous seasons combined) and stole the starting job heading into the playoffs.
New Jersey headed into Amalie Arena as perhaps the biggest underdogs in all the playoffs, and for good reason. Tampa Bay is as deadly a hockey team as you’ll find in the NHL today, boasting four stellar lines, six quality defensemen, and a Vezina candidate goaltender. For the first half of this game, the script went just as the numbers suggested it should.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper elected to start the game with his fourth line, and John Hynes elected to follow suit. It gave the start of the game some energy, and showed that neither coach is afraid to try something a bit off-the-beaten-path.
Apart from a follow-through on an attempted shot by Miles Wood treating Bolts defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to a bloody nose, the first few minutes passed without many notable incidents or quality chances, but saw Tampa controlling a good portion of the play. As the clock neared halfway point of the period, Tampa began to settle in and the chances started coming.
First it was Yanni Gourde chipping a loose puck past a pinching defender to create a two-on-one. The winger streaked into the zone and put Kinkaid out into about the fourth row of seats with a beautiful move, but just couldn’t quite direct the puck into the yawning cage as it rolled off the end of his stick. He wouldn’t need to wait long for another chance, as on his line’s next shift he corralled a loose puck out of a netfront scramble, but Kinkaid was able to track it through the mess of sticks and skates to shut the door on #37.
The very next faceoff saw a bouncing puck lure Kinkaid out of the blue paint while attempting to cover up, and the puck ended up coming right to – you guessed it – Gourde who wasn’t quite able to control it and get a shot away.
Finally at the 15:00 mark it would be Tampa’s second line going to work down low in the zone and Tyler Johnson would feed Ondrej Palat from below the goal line, and after a quick set of dekes the 2016 playoffs standout lifted a backhand shot over the pad of Kinkaid to put the Lightning up 1-0.
Still, the Bolts kept coming. Anthony Cirelli nearly scored on a wraparound with 2:30 to play, but the toe of Kinkaid was equal to the task.
Finally New Jersey got a quality chance, as Vasilevskiy turned the puck over attempting to play it behind his net, but was able to recover in time to cover up as everyone crashed the net and a scrum ensued.
With 28 seconds left to play, it would be Tampa’s second line again making plays deep in the offensive zone, this time with Palat and Brayden Point forcing a turnover, and Palat sending a perfect pass to the tape of a driving Johnson who made no mistakes and buried it over the glove of Kinkaid.
Shot clock only read a two-shot advantage (13-11) to Tampa at the end of one, but the quality chances were all on one end of the ice.
The momentum would continue in Tampa’s favor at the beginning of the second period, as an early power play opportunity presented itself and they made sure to cash in. Gourde, on what by my count was about his 42nd quality scoring chance of the game, hammered home a slam-dunk after a ridiculous kick-pass across the netmouth by Palat to put the home team up by three.
The very next shift is when things began to change, as Michael Grabner and Pat Maroon would combine for about three legitimate bids in quick succession, but Vasilevskiy was able to turn them all aside. Later in the frame it would be New Jersey with a power play opportunity, where they’d get three or four high-quality chances that Vasilevskiy had the answers to.
Finally with just over six minutes to play in the second, Hall (because who else?) would crack the goose egg and get his team on the board, pouncing on an egregious defensive zone turnover by Palat and burying the opportunity before Vasilevskiy could get set.
The Devils didn’t let up, nearly scoring again with just over a minute remaining on a big-time deflection (chest height to the ice in the blink of an eye) on a Mirco Mueller point shot that Vasilevskiy somehow managed to track and react to, kicking out the right pad in a flash and gobbling up the rebound to prevent further chaos.
Capitalizing on the big momentum shift, New Jersey heavily outshot the boys in blue to lead on the shot clock 26-20 after 40 minutes, hoping to carry it into the third and try to close down the two-goal margin.
Carry it into the third they did not. The Bolts would tally the first seven shots of the period, and at one point briefly thought they had scored when Alex Killorn tipped a shot at the side of the net that Kinkaid just barely managed to keep out (Killorn even momentarily raised his arms in celebration). The third line kept the Devils hemmed in their own zone after the near-miss, and finally a dominating shift came to an end when Gourde (obviously) took a cross-ice pass from Cirelli off of a turnover and ripped a one-time blast just over the crossbar and out of play. New Jersey would not register a single shot until nearly 9:30 into the third period.
But, at 9:35 of the third, Jersey’s second shot of the period was a power play goal by Travis Zajac (one of only two players on either roster to have played the last time these two teams met in the playoffs 11 years ago*) who deflected a beautifully-sold shot-pass by Hall just over the glove of Vasilevskiy to drag the visitors to within one.
*The other was Andy Greene
Now Tampa is on the back foot. New Jersey is charging. Can they complete the comeback? How will the Lightning survive the onslaught?
Oh hey look, it’s that Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde line again.
Yes, the unstoppable force known as Tampa’s third line did it again, this time with Gourde forcing a turnover by Maroon at the blueline, then leading his linemates on a three-on-two rush up the ice, eventually feeding it to the trailer Killorn in the high slot. Cirelli drove the net to create the diversion, but Kinkaid was never catching up to this one anyhow. PING goes the crossbar, an absolute laser by the Harvard grad restores the two-goal lead just under two minutes after it had been erased.
Tampa followed their goal with a solid fourth-line shift, capped off by a thundering check on Hall by the playoffs’ only four-time Cup winner Chris Kunitz, and the Devils star would be slow to his feet, though he would finish the game.
Kinkaid retreated to the bench with 2:30 to play, but it would be all-for-not, as with 1:12 left Nikita Kucherov (who had been mostly silent until that point) dangled a Devils defender and waltzed in to bury the dagger.
At the final horn, a good deal of pushing and shoving came about, with the Devils hoping to set a tone heading into Game 2 (which I’ll just so happen to be covering, as well) on Saturday afternoon.
The story of this game was really a tale of two major plots.
First was simply the unbridled speed of Tampa Bay. New Jersey is arguably one of maybe two teams in the league that have a legitimate shot at keeping up with Tampa’s pace, and in this one they were totally outclassed. If they can’t find a way to clog things up and slow the Bolts down, they are going to be in trouble.
Second, and probably the even more daunting challenge, is the sheer depth of the Lightning lineup. The Devils did a spectacular job of silencing Tampa’s lethal #1 line of J.T. Miller – Steven Stamkos – Kucherov, but the Devils simply don’t have the same top-to-bottom quality that the Bolts depth chart possesses.
Palat-Point-Johnson is a top line on probably a third of other NHL squads.
Killorn-Cirelli-Gourde is an impossible speed/skill matchup for nearly any other third line.
Kunitz-Paquette-Callahan will forecheck whatever is left of you into the ground.
Tack on one of the best one-through-six defense corps in the league, and it’s borderline impossible for any club to gain a matchup advantage, especially on the road where the home team gets last change.
Nothing is impossible in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but New Jersey is going to need some help from the hockey gods from the looks of things.
We see it every year. There is always one fan-base screaming TANK… TANK…TANK…
All NHL programs have had their weak moments. Times when fans question management and coaches; times when players request trades or refuse to renew contracts; times when teams literally couldn’t buy a win if they wanted to. So what is the response to these moments? General managers have one of two decisions to make: Get to work and fix the problem now, or sit back and warm your hands over the dumpster fire that will continue.
Serious problems within organizations don’t simply go way. Sure every team faces a slump every now and again, but I’m talking about real, legitimate issues. Maybe it’s a coach that doesn’t fit, a lack of roster depth, or internal conflicts among players. These are the types of concerns that management must deal with if they expect to be contenders, or just have a winning season for that matter.
So what is the solution? In order to answer that, take a look at how the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers attempted to right their ship. Both methods can be classified as tanking, but there is definitely a right way to do it.
So tanking… It should never be the goal to lose a hockey game, plain and simple. Even if a team is in the toilet, they should respect the sport of hockey enough to go out and give their best effort. Even from a management perspective, don’t think that they are trying to lose games intentionally. It is more so the fact that by making the decision to do nothing, they are prolonging their problems, which leads to tank mode. The best example of this is the historically bad run of the Edmonton Oilers.
Most people may not realize this, but from 2009-’10 to ’15-’16, this organization did not have a winning season. Yes, their drought really was that long. Seven season’s worth of pain and agony for their fan-base, which unfortunately has picked right back up this year. First-overall pick after first-overall pick and they could not do anything right.
Their “saviors” include Taylor Hall (gone, New Jersey Devils), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov (gone, Colorado Avalanche), and Connor McDavid. Two of those four were completely useless for them and really only McDavid plays like a true first-overall draft pick. Their method of tanking was so extreme because they solely depended on lottery draft picks to revive their club. In the 2012-’13 season, they didn’t make a single trade to receive additional draft picks in return. The last time they traded for a first-rounder? The ’14-’15 season when they shipped David Perron to the Penguins. During the 15-16 season, the Oilers made two terrible deals for poor the situation that they were in. They sent three draft picks (2nd, 3rd, and 5th) to the Rangers for Cam Talbot. Granted, he’s had a couple good seasons for them, but he’s now 30 years old and his GAA has crept over 3.00 this season. The worst deal though? They sent a first-round and second-round pick to the Islanders for… *Drum Roll*… Griffin Reinhart. That 16th-overall pick turned into rookie sensation Mathew Barzal, who is currently leading the Calder Trophy race. If I haven’t caused Edmonton fans enough pain, Reinhart isn’t even on their roster anymore.
Big deals involving big names need to happen. Key players need to go when the time is right and when their stock is at its highest. You obviously want to keep the guys with franchise tags, but others need to be put on the trading block. It may hurt in the short-run, but you can quickly build a pile of prospects and picks to assure that the future is bright. Growing pains are something that all organizations will inevitably go through, but sitting around and waiting for your first-overall pick to come should never be the answer.
The New York Rangers are not the type of organization to watch problems and twiddle their thumbs. Although typically a playoff team, this season they found themselves in an interesting situation. They have had a roller coaster of a year, with moments of promise, but during the second half of the season, they have been in a state of decline. An aging goaltender and a lack of scoring has them searching for answers. Their management decided it was time for a rebuild and I believe they are in the process of doing it the right way.
They could have chosen to simply tank and pick up a lottery draft pick, but instead, management went into fire sale mode. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that a team currently sitting seventh from the bottom of the NHL couldn’t creep down into a lottery pick, but why wait to make necessary changes? Over the course of the year, the Rangers have completed nine trades. They have racked up a total of seven draft picks, including three first-round selections (Arizona – 2017, Boston – 2018, and Tampa Bay – 2018). Their recent transactions show they may be pulling out of the playoff race for this season, but plan to reload for the immediate future.
Some people are scratching their heads as to why Jeff Gorton decided to give up both Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline. Mixing in Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller, those are some heavy names to throw around in trade deals, especially considering McDonagh was taking care of captain duties for the Rangers. The casual fan must realize that these types of deals are necessary and, honestly, if it all pans out for them, the Rangers will have won their deadline deals. The goal for the Bruins and the Lightning is to win a Stanley Cup. Anything short of this, they just gave up coveted draft picks for players that may or may not help them in the future. Particularly, if Nash, a soon-to-be free agent, leaves Boston, the Rangers will have received three players and two draft picks for a guy that was likely to walk on them.
The New York Rangers took a chance, a shot in the dark you may call it. They did give away quality players, but their “tank” will be nothing close to the miserable years the Edmonton Oilers experienced. If their scouting and recruiting staff can pick the right guys, they could be a contender once again in two or three years. With some space in their salary cap, they could pick up another player or two in free agency that will help turn things around. Even just next season, with the additions of prospects like Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, and Yegor Rykov, they could see big improvements.
This is the moral of the story and the lesson that fans must learn. If rosters get blown up the right way, things do work themselves out in the end. By keeping players around to “stay competitive,” you’re left with a mediocre team that has no shot at winning the Stanley Cup. When it comes to this business, that should be the only goal. Playing for a playoff spot or to finish above 0.500 isn’t going to help an organization in the long run. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but with that in mind, management must do whatever it takes to have a chance at a championship, even if that opportunity is down the road.