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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 1 of the 2020 Eastern Conference Final

It seems everybody’s scoring points these days as the Tampa Bay Lightning won, 8-2, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Final matchup with the New York Islanders on Monday.

Seriously, 11 different Lightning players had at least a point in Monday night’s series opener, while Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each had five points in the victorious effort.

Tampa carries a, 1-0, series lead heading into Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS). Here’s five takeaways for the next game, as well as the series as a whole.

1. Can the Islanders actually contain Tampa’s offense?

Thomas Greiss allowed three goals on nine shots against in the first 10:46 of the game before being replaced by Semyon Varlamov, but that wasn’t the only reason why New York is behind, 1-0, in the series.

Neither the Columbus Blue Jackets, nor the Boston Bruins were able to limit the Lightning’s attacking zone time and possession, which was not only evident by the fact that each of their series matchups with Tampa only lasted five games– the scoreboard reflected it too.

At any point in time, the Bolts can strike fast and amass goals in bunches (as exhibited by their three goals in the first 10:46 of Monday’s game, plus the other five goals they scored afterward).

It’s that momentum swing that the Islanders (or any team that may face the Lightning if Tampa advances to the Stanley Cup Final) will have to be wary about and eliminate at all costs.

Simply put, the Lightning play with a surge in electricity.

2. Inconsistent shots for the Isles

Tampa outshot New York, 10-6, in the first period and finished the second period with an, 18-17, advantage before going on to finish the game with a, 34-24, total shots on goal advantage.

The Lightning went 58:53 without missing the net in Game 1. The only shot attempt that did not go on net for the Bolts came with 67 seconds left in the game off of Cedric Paquette’s stick blade.

Meanwhile, the Islanders– a team primarily built on a defense-first game plan– failed to record at least 30 shots on goal for the second-straight game after amassing 26 shots on net against the Philadelphia Flyers in their, 4-0, win in Game 7 of their Second Round matchup.

New York only allowed 16 shots against that night too.

In their, 5-4, double overtime loss to the Flyers in Game 6, the Islanders recorded 53 shots on goal and allowed 31 shots against.

Game 5 against Philadelphia resulted in a, 4-3, loss in overtime, while shots on goal were even at 32 aside.

The Islanders were outshot, 38-33, in Game 4, but won, 3-2. New York had a, 29-27, advantage in their, 3-1, win in Game 3, as well as a, 34-31, advantage in their, 4-3, overtime loss in Game 2.

Both teams had 29 shots on goal in New York’s, 4-0, win in Game 1 of their Second Round series with Philadelphia.

Without breaking down the quality of their shots for and shots against, a generalized remedy for the Islanders would be to get more pucks on net (duh) and prevent the Lightning from hitting the twine or whichever goaltender Barry Trotz starts in Game 2 against the Bolts.

3. Followup question, who should start in net for New York?

It’s not like Greiss had really made consecutive starts in the postseason before doing just that from Game 7 against Philadelphia on Saturday to Game 1 against Tampa Bay on Monday.

His 2-2 record in four games doesn’t really speak for his 2.02 goals against average and .929 save percentage in the 2020 postseason.

Plus he got most of the night off, so he should still be fresh enough, in theory.

Meanwhile, Varlamov’s decent 9-4 record in 15 games this postseason stands out on its own, but his goals against average is on the rise as of his last two outings to a 2.22, while his save percentage has dropped to a .913.

Still, the Islanders goaltenders have combined for three shutouts this postseason (Varlamov has two, Greiss has one), which are three more shutouts than what Andrei Vasilevskiy has so far (zero, in case that wasn’t clear).

As bad as Greiss’ .667 SV% in Game 1 sounds, Varlamov still allowed five goals against after Greiss gave up the first three in the, 8-2, loss, so Varlamov’s .800 SV% in Game 1 isn’t ideal either.

If anything, Trotz will have to adjust his matchups to curb the speed of Tampa’s rush and instruct his players on getting in passing and shooting lanes to ease the high danger workload of whichever goaltender he opts for in Game 2.

4. Just how many franchise records will Tampa…

In case you haven’t heard by now, the Lightning are good.

So good, in fact, they tied, broke and set some franchise records in Game 1, including:

— The most assists in a playoff year by a Lightning player (Kucherov had four assists in Game 1 to break Martin St. Louis’ previous mark of 15 helpers in 2004, and set the new franchise record with 16 in 2020).

— The first players in franchise history to record five points in a playoff game (Point had two goals and three assists, while Kucherov had one goal and four assists).

— Tampa’s eight goals matched their franchise record for the most goals in a playoff game (the Lightning had eight in what was also an, 8-2, win in Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Penguins).

Oh and the Bolts improved to 5-0 in their last five playoff games going back to Game 2 against Boston in the Second Round, while outscoring their opponents by a combined, 25-9, margin in the process.

Plus, Point and Kucherov are the second pair of teammates to each record five or more points in a Conference Finals game (since 1982).

Paul Coffey had one goal and five assists (six points), while Jari Kurri had three goals and two assists (five points) in Game 5 of the 1985 Clarence Campbell Conference Final with the Oilers.

5. Will the Lightning buck the trend?

In the last decade or so, the team that plays a longer Conference Final than their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final usually wins the Cup.

It happened just as recent as last year, when the Bruins swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final and had 10 days off before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final began.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Blues beat the San Jose Sharks in six games in the 2019 Western Conference Final and only had five days between the third and fourth round of the postseason.

The Blues, of course, won the Cup in seven games.

In terms of significant time off between one series to the next, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after beating the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in five games in the 2006 Western Conference Final, then lost in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final in seven games to the Hurricanes who had just come off of a seven-game series win against the Buffalo Sabres in the 2006 Eastern Conference Final.

The aforementioned Mighty Ducks had 10 days off after sweeping the Minnesota Wild in the 2003 Western Conference Final, then lost to the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final in seven games after New Jersey had just three days off between their seven-game series win over the Ottawa Senators in the 2003 Eastern Conference Final and the Cup Final.

Obviously those few examples don’t cover the last decade, but fear not, let’s get that out of the way now…

The 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks swept the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final, while the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the Eastern Conference Final before losing in six games to Chicago in the Final.

O.K. that one didn’t fit the trend, but in 2011, the Vancouver Canucks ousted the Sharks in five games, while the Bruins beat the Lightning in seven games, then went on to beat Vancouver in seven games in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Phoenix Coyotes in five games in the Western Conference Final, while the Devils overcame the New York Rangers in six games. Los Angeles beat New Jersey in six games to capture their first Cup in franchise history.

Wait, it happened again, didn’t it?

Well, in 2013, the Bruins swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East, while the Blackhawks took five games to knockout the Kings in the West, then beat Boston in six games in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. A-ha! There’s one!

In 2014, the Rangers beat Montreal in six games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Kings defeated the Blackhawks in seven games before Los Angeles won their second Cup in three years by defeating New York in five games.

In 2015, both Tampa and Chicago went all seven games in their respective Conference Finals matchups with the Rangers and Anaheim Ducks, respectively.

Chicago won their third Cup in five years in six games over the Bolts in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, though.

In 2016, the Penguins beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Sharks beat the Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final.

Pittsburgh defeated San Jose in six games in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

In 2017, the Penguins edged out the Senators in seven games in the East, while the Nashville Predators beat the Ducks in six games in the West.

Pittsburgh went back-to-back as two-time defending Cup champions with their fifth title in franchise history after defeating the Predators in six games in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

And, of course, back in 2018, the Washington Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final, while the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets in five games in the Western Conference Final.

Washington won the Cup in five games over Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Back in 1993, of course, the Canadiens beat the Islanders in five games in the Prince of Wales Conference Final, while Los Angeles took seven games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Clarence Campbell Conference Final.

The Habs defeated the Kings in five games to capture the Cup in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final– what’s perhaps the most recent instance of a team amassing a week off between the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final and still winning the Cup despite all that time off.

Either that or it’s one more chance to point out that this year’s Cup will be awarded on Canadian sole, but for the 27th year in-a-row, it won’t be going to a Canadian based NHL club.

Assuming (since they won Game 1) that the Lightning go on to punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in as little as four or five games and the 2020 Western Conference Final matchup between the Dallas Stars and Golden Knights goes six or seven games, then Tampa could be in trouble.

Then again, with the bubble in place and resulting lack of travel— as well as a condensed schedule due to the hopes of still having an 82-game regular season in 2020-21— the earliest the 2020 Stanley Cup Final could begin would be around Sept. 21st or 22nd, since the league already determined the Final must end by or on Oct. 4th— which would leave the Bolts with about a week off to scout their next potential opponent in person for as long as the West takes to decide their series.

For any Islanders fans that thought I forgot about them, the Edmonton Oilers had eight days off after sweeping the Minnesota North Stars in the 1984 Semifinals (the precursor to the modern Conference Finals round), while New York took down Montreal in six games and had four days off between the Semifinals and the 1984 Stanley Cup Final.

Edmonton won the series in five games in what is the Islanders’ most-recent Stanley Cup Final appearance.

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NHL Nick's Net

2nd Annual Long Overdue New Sweater Rankings

Admit it, you’ve been wondering when this was going to come out and you’re dying to reflect on whether any of your old hot takes still hold up compared to how some of these beauties actually look on the ice.

Once again it’s time for one DTFR writer’s thoughts and ranking of all the newest threads introduced in the National Hockey League for the 2019-20 season and beyond.

NHL teams often try to create a buzz and stick to the brand, but occasionally there’s a few outliers that do the opposite of what the introduction of Gritty as the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers has done that organization, for example.

In other words, remember that Dallas Stars third jersey from 2003-06? Yeah, that one. Beloved by some, but hated by many– nevertheless, everyone wonders the same thing “who gave the final approval for that?”

Please enjoy this year’s light-hearted ranking of the newest threads and fashion sense.

13. Anaheim Ducks (unveiled, Sept. 30, 2019)

In their 26th NHL season, the Anaheim Ducks brought back their Orange County Orange(™) alternate sweaters that were previously worn from 2015-17.

After the mandatory one-year hiatus from the NHL’s third jersey program while the league made the switch from the Reebok Edge to adidas ADIZERO design in 2017-18– as well as Anaheim’s one-year specialty jersey to commemorate their 25th anniversary last season– the current alternate threads have made their official comeback.

While most like the homage of the crest to the original name of the franchise as the “Mighty Ducks of Anaheim”, this sweater just doesn’t really do it for me. Yes, more orange isn’t a bad thing in the NHL, but overall the design is pretty formulaic when it comes to featuring secondary logos, tertiary colors, etc.

It’s nice to see it make its return, but dare I say it, the 25th anniversary alternate sweater was actually… kind of great. Perhaps it should come back.

12. Los Angeles Kings (unveiled, Aug. 31, 2019)

The Los Angeles Kings are living in the past these days– what with Rob Blake as their General Manager and all, plus the reintroduction of their iconic 1988-96 look.

Los Angeles brought out these Heritage sweaters from the closet to appease jersey collectors looking for a little something from the past, but in the modern ADIZERO fit and with names like “Brown”, “Doughty”, “Kopitar” and “Quick” on the back instead of those other guys who never won a Cup in a Kings sweater like “Gretzky” and “Robitaille”.

We live in strange times, indeed.

That said, Los Angeles’ 2020 Stadium Series sweater (leaked in Nov.) leaves something to be desired.

It’s as if someone took one of those pieces from an Othello board, added some streaks from Vancouver’s “Flying Skate” spaghetti stripes and worked in the coolest feature (the checkerboard pattern behind the neck) in the smallest place they could’ve possibly done so just to smite us.

The “Burger King” is dead. May he continue to rest in peace.

But if the Kings ever wanted to go all out on a zany Stadium Series design, think black and white checkerboard with the “Burger King” crest. Now that’s how you get a European feel in an outdoor NHL game.

Anze Kopitar would be proud. Do it for your captain, Kings.

11. St. Louis Blues (unveiled, Sept. 14, 2019)

The St. Louis Blues decided that Los Angeles couldn’t be the only team digging up what they wore when Wayne Gretzky was on their roster, so they dusted off their own 1990s look and put it back on the shelves at Enterprise Center.

There’s nothing original about it, since it’s just their 1995-98 dark sweater, but ADIZERO-fied. Does this mean Gretzky’s going to come back for another 16 regular season games?

10. Colorado Avalanche (leaked, Nov. 12, 2019)

The Colorado Avalanche had a rather conservative 2016 Stadium Series sweater at Coors Field and the Avs paid for it dearly by losing, 5-3, to the Detroit Red Wings.

This time around, Colorado’s looking to take flight at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs with what’s already a winning design.

Embrace the chaos.

Traditionally, the Stadium Series is always about taking hockey where it’s never been– whether it’s an outdoor game in Los Angeles or simply in the sweater design. This year’s Stadium Series matchup is certainly living up to the outlandish theme– dare we say futuristic? If only that future involves minimalism combined with the absurd.

9. Vancouver Canucks (unveiled, Sept. 12, 2019)

The Vancouver Canucks refreshed their look for the 2019-20 season and beyond by dropping the “Vancouver” wordmark from above the orca and making their crest logo larger than ever before.

Not to be outdone, the Canucks modernized the stick in the rink logo on the shoulders, cast it in white instead of blue and only committed one jersey foul by not keeping the shoulder patches clad in blue on the white road sweaters for contrast.

A little subtle change in detail from home to road sweaters isn’t a bad thing like how the Boston Bruins home shoulder patch reads as “Bruins” above the bear and “Boston” above the bear on the road sweaters. Again, it’s the little things that really make something feel complete and the Canucks could very well rectify this “existential crisis” in time for the 2020-21 season, but it’s nothing major.

The Canucks really did a great job of reducing their colors to blue and green on their alternate “Heritage” sweaters. Is it perfect? No, but it is something different from what they’ve had and different from their usual look, so that’s better than nothing.

The stick in the rink logo really pops on the alternates and it’s a shame they’re likely only going to be worn for this season unless I can convince them otherwise (do the right thing, Vancouver).

Maybe take a little inspiration from the Vancouver Millionaires sleeve striping pattern and figure out a way to correlate that with the alternate logo and you just might make a certified gold mashup of Vancouver hockey sweaters from over the years.

In addition to celebrating their 50th anniversary in style, Vancouver brought back their “Flying Skate” jerseys as throwbacks this year and, well, they’re decent in the ADIZERO design, but unless the Canucks are going to forfeit pacific green and blue to Seattle in 2021, Vancouver shouldn’t switch their colors back to red, yellow and black.

Pavel Bure could pull off the look, but don’t make Elias Pettersson wear those things more than he has to.

8. Calgary Flames (unveiled, Sept. 13, 2019)

Simply put, these 2019 Heritage Classic sweaters should be the Calgary Flames’ road sweaters.

Calgary dug out their 1989 look last season for their current alternate sweater and unless the Flames are planning on bringing back the flaming horse head sweater from 1998-06, it’s probably time to go back to the past for a little while and wallow in the nostalgia of when the franchise didn’t let Jarome Iginla down every year and actually won a Stanley Cup.

7. Winnipeg Jets (unveiled, Sept. 13, 2019)

Not many things from the 1970s have as much staying power as these Winnipeg Jets 2019 Heritage Classic sweaters. Everything about this jersey is sharp and it’s a shame the Jets can’t use them more often.

Winnipeg is cursed with superior design in both their past life as well as in their current iteration. It’s hard to tell the Jets to use these more when their current complete jersey set is as dynamic as it is and underrated.

6. Edmonton Oilers (unveiled, Sept. 12, 2019)

When the Edmonton Oilers changed over to their modern orange and navy blue color scheme, I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan at first.

Now, after remembering the days of my youth enjoying the hell out of watching Edmonton’s last great team– the 2005-06 Oilers roster– I want everything to be steeped in the navy blue of Ryan Smyth’s prime.

At first glance, these sweaters look like something you’d find in an intramural floor hockey league, but hey, even if you don’t win the championship, you’d still look better than all the other teams.

They’re bold and daring, but don’t scream “out of this world” in concept. They’re just fun and after all, isn’t that the point of the game? To just “have fun”?

Years from now we’re going to remember Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s prime as such a conflicting era of Oilers hockey.

The Second Coming of Sidney Crosby (McDavid) was forced to abandon the Wayne Gretzky colors for his own identity– this team’s current identity– led by two-time All-Star goaltender, Mike Smith (who’s corresponding pads with the new alternates are phenomenal, by the way), of course.

Ok, really, I got nothing else about this design. It’s plain, but electric. It has just the right amount of marketability to kids who will have their hearts broken by this team.

5. Nashville Predators (unveiled, Nov. 2, 2019)

The Nashville Predators’ 2020 Winter Classic sweater is a timeless look– most notably because it is actually a thing from the past based on the Dixie Flyers’ sweaters from 1962-71, but also because anytime there’s a script involved on the front of an NHL jersey instead of a logo, there’s a 99% chance Hockey Twitter is going to compare it to the old Minnesota Wild alternate sweater from 2009-17 and wish for more teams to try their hand at cursive writing.

In other words, the Preds actually made something good and that’ll sell well, even if fans are going to have to acknowledge that Nashville’s Stanley Cup contender status window may be closing– and fast.

This strikes me as a very good pond hockey jersey to wear for some reason and that shoulder patch should see added mileage on a future alternate sweater, in case the Predators are looking for a starting point (and to avoid whatever mustard yellow sweater Peter Forsberg had to wear in his short Nashville tenure).

4. Boston Bruins (unveiled, Nov. 24, 2019)

The Boston Bruins played it conservatively for the second alternate jersey in a row, simply pulling an old sweater out of the closet, bringing it to a tailor and tweaking a few minor things.

That said, Bruins President, Cam Neely, has a knack for marketing his organization.

Boston’s new alternate is just a throwback from their first full-time road sweater in 1948-49, but with a modernized “B” font from the 2019 Winter Classic sweater and small changes to the stripes.

It’s elegant, but just how daring is it? 

“Original Six” franchises are proud to display their history and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s not a one-off sort of thing that pits the organization’s current stars in a weird alternate timeline where things just don’t look right (looking at you, Montreal Canadiens 100th anniversary trio).

Sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs occasionally bring out something from their Arenas days or St. Pats days for a game or two each year, but they’re not as hideous as whatever the Habs went through before settling on their tricolor motif a few years prior to the NHL’s creation.

Anyway, you have to give credit to the Bruins for actually taking some things from the past and updating them to modern building codes such that players like Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara can get a feel for what franchise legends like Eddie Shore, Lionel Hitchman, “Dit” Clapper and Milt Schmidt wore back in the day without cheapening the spectacle in a one-time only scenario.

Neely has a history in his tenure for overseeing every aspect in the design of a legacy product– the 2010 Winter Classic sweater featured an updated 25th anniversary spoked-B crest from the 1948-49 season white jersey clad on a 1958-59 gold jersey with brown instead of black accents.

The 2016 Winter Classic sweater was an updated version of their original 1924-25 sweater– exchanging brown for black. And of course, Boston’s 2019 Winter Classic sweater was based on their look from the early 1930s with a modernized “B” and more stripes on the sleeves.

Timeless doesn’t have to mean drab if the players are flying up and down the ice adding their own creativity to the sweater.

3. Dallas Stars (unveiled, Nov. 6, 2019)

Hockey sweaters can never have too many stripes, nor can they ever have too much green– and I’m not just saying that as someone who’s favorite color is green.

The Dallas Stars are paying homage to the 1940s professional hockey team before them– the Dallas Texans– with a “fauxback” of sorts.

Though they’re claiming the identity of a long-gone team in the basic design elements, the Stars brought forth something fresh and clean to the drawing board instead of all the possibilities the former Minnesota North Stars could have ran with for one game.

Dallas wearing a North Stars emblem in an outdoor game in Dallas wouldn’t be very Dallas.

But this sweater is. Plus the old-school colored pants and white gloves really complete the aesthetic. Who could be mad at that?

Bonus points for the State of Texas patch on the sleeve with an ode to “The Big D” inside it.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (unveiled, Aug. 20, 2019)

You may call them “Candy Canes”, but the Carolina Hurricanes are the owners of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and we’re all just trying to be one of the lucky five people with golden tickets.

Perhaps that’s the strangest way of saying this year’s new road sweater is everything that most jerseys aren’t– actually creative. There’s no “copy, paste and invert the colors” involved.

The hurricane warning motif was brought back as a bottom stripe (major style points) and they introduced red gloves to match the red pants, as well as a red-based 3-D Hurricanes logo on the sides of the helmet.

Carolina got rid of the added weight on the shoulders by removing the red yoke and righted a wrong on the previous version of their road white sweaters– the names and numbers are back in red.

Though three distinct jerseys for each sweater style (home, away and alternate) is usually not my thing from a brand consistency standpoint, the Hurricanes made significant improvements to playing within their stormy elements and not trying to blend in with anyone else.

They are their own thing– diagonal “CANES” moniker across the front of the road sweater be damned.

If you don’t like it, then you’re clearly not a Caniac.

(And if– for some reason– you are a Caniac and you don’t like these sweaters, well they’re still doing Whalers Night this year, so please enjoy your “traditional” fix on Jan. 11th.)

1. Buffalo Sabres (unveiled, Aug. 16, 2019)

You can never have too many stripes in soccer, rugby or hockey. Take notes kids.

Also, the Buffalo Sabres really hit it out of the park with the same shiny gold thread that’s prominent in the Vegas Golden Knights’ overall identity.

Much like how the Ducks– in retrospect– nailed their 25th anniversary aesthetic with an element from every jersey in one, the Sabres nailed their 50th anniversary– their golden anniversary– with almost literal gold.

It’s gold in color, but not in carats.

Buffalo’s switching back to royal blue in their home and road sweaters for the 2020-21 season and beyond, so it’s really only fitting that white is the basis for this ode to the team’s inception, growth and existence over half a century.

The Sabres made sure to include all four renditions of their primary logo over the years inside the collar, which is a unique thing about NHL sweaters compared to other leagues– the incredible level of personalization to an organization– no detail is overlooked.

It’s a shame these will only be worn for this season, but it’s a sacrifice many are willing to make for the return to royal blue, I’m sure.


One of these days the Ottawa Senators are due for a rebrand (and with it, new third jerseys), but until then, the Vegas Golden Knights, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Nashville Predators may all introduce third jerseys at some point.

Probably not this year at this rate, but maybe next year.

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Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #172- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part IV)

The 2019-20 season has begun, so naturally we handed out awards in our 4th Annual Participation Trophies After One Game ceremony.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Winnipeg Jets 2019-20 Season Preview

Winnipeg Jets

47-30-5, 99 points, 2nd in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by St. Louis

Additions: F Mark Letestu, D Anthony Bitetto, D Neal Pionk (acquired from NYR)

Subtractions: F Alex Broadhurst (signed with San Diego, AHL), F Marko Dano (signed with CBJ), F Kevin Hayes (traded to PHI), F Matt Hendricks (retired), F Nicolas Kerdiles (signed with Manitoba, AHL), F Par Lindholm (signed with BOS), F Brandon Tanev (signed with PIT), D Ben Chiarot (signed with MTL), D Bogdan Kiselevich (KHL), D Joe Morrow (signed to a PTO with NYR), D Tyler Myers (signed with VAN), D Jimmy Oligny (signed with Manitoba, AHL), D Jacob Trouba (traded to NYR), G Ken Appleby (signed with Milwaukee, AHL)

Still Unsigned: F Kyle Connor, F Patrik Laine

Re-signed: F Andrew Copp, D Nathan Beaulieu, D Nelson Nogier, D Cameron Schilling, G Eric Comrie

Offseason Analysis: The Winnipeg Jets have $15,450,836 million in cap space currently and two prominent restricted free agents still unsigned.

Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine present a challenge for the Jets. Even worse, General Manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, and head coach, Paul Maurice, aren’t exactly seeing eye-to-eye with their biggest star in Laine.

Regardless of whatever’s going on, the bottom line is we’ve seen this before and it led to one of Cheveldayoff’s trades this offseason.

No, not the Kevin Hayes trade with the Philadelphia Flyers that earned the Jets a 5th round pick in 2019, but rather the Jacob Trouba deal with the New York Rangers.

After back-to-back offseasons of uncertainty surrounding their RFA defender, Winnipeg dealt Trouba to the Rangers for Neal Pionk and a 2019 1st round pick– their own, that they originally sent to New York for Hayes at the trade deadline.

Trouba wanted a long-term deal with a significant pay raise in addition to a little job security.

The Rangers happily handed the 25-year-old a seven-year contract worth $8.000 million per season with a no-movement clause that goes into effect next season and becomes a modified no-trade clause in the final two years of the contract.

But it took a little drama in Winnipeg– without all the hype that surrounded William Nylander and Mitch Marner in Toronto over the last couple of summers– to get to the end result.

Laine has never scored fewer than 30 goals in a season and is sure to rebound from his 30-20–50 totals last season after reaching a career-high 44-26–70 totals in his sophomore season (2017-18).

He’s a goal-scorer, no doubt, and he might just be one of those players that exceeds expectations one year, then meets expectations the following year.

But since he’s of a higher caliber than others in the league, a “down” year might look like a tremendous drop-off.

It’s like saying Patrick Kane is a shell of his former self after posting a 76-point season in the midst of the last four seasons in which Kane has had 106 points in 2015-16, 89 points in 2016-17, 76 points in 2017-18 and 110 points last season.

Sure, Laine hasn’t reached the 60 or 70-point plateau as many times as Kane has in his career yet, but then again, Laine has only been around for three seasons to Kane’s 12 seasons entering 2019-20.

There’s a lot of potential left in the Finnish forward– just like there is or there was still a lot of potential in the Jets organization until the team that was three wins away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2018 had the wheels fall off.

Dustin Byfuglien– a huge part of their defense– was granted a personal leave of absence and is contemplating stepping away from the game with two-years left on his contract (worth $7.600 million per season).

If there’s no lingering injury that would enable Winnipeg to place Byfuglien on the long-term injured reserve, well, that leaves Cheveldayoff with an even tougher proposition.

If Byfuglien’s done there’s a chance his contract could be traded, freeing up enough cap space to fit both Laine and Connor comfortability under the ceiling.

Connor’s had back-to-back seasons of more than 30 goals. He’s been a pleasant surprise for the Jets in his consistent play, but it’d be premature to throw him a larger contract like what should be expected with Laine.

Though both were first round picks, only one of them (Laine) came immediately after Auston Matthews in their respective draft.

Contract negotiations, especially for quality RFAs, are infused with untapped potential and future performance expectations– both in signing bonuses and performance bonuses, as well as the cap hit itself.

Laine has every right to feel that he should be paid what he thinks he is worth based on his career projection. Connor might have to settle for a bridge deal to further supplement his own belief in himself if he is to aim for the kind of money Laine might be looking at.

The hardest part of this saga for Jets fans?

Nobody really knows where anyone stands. Laine could be asking for $8.000 million or he could be asking for $11.000 million.

If it’s only $8.000 million, why wouldn’t a deal be done already?

If it’s closer to $11.000 million, why haven’t we heard near constant updates for one of the game’s biggest young stars, a la Marner?

The fact of the matter is that it feels like something is brewing that could send yet another Finnish superstar out of Winnipeg reminiscent of when Teemu Selanne was traded to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1996.

Otherwise, the Jets have already had a lot of departures from their depth that might just start to interfere with their forward progress in the standings as of the last few seasons.

Offseason Grade: F

If two of your RFAs still don’t have a contract by this point of the offseason, it can only be the result of improper management and poor planning– especially as the rest of the league’s RFAs are putting pens to paper.

Besides that, Winnipeg did some major subtraction without addition and is on the brink of returning to pedestrian performance in the regular season and playoffs (if they even make the postseason). If Laine and/or Connor isn’t on the roster by Dec. 1st, then the Jets are a lost cause for 2019-20.

Categories
Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #165- Where’s My Cottage Invite?

Nick takes a little time out of the summer to go over third line signings, jersey number controversy and Ron Francis’ hiring as General Manager of the Seattle expansion franchise.

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

Categories
Daily Matchup

Game of the week: February 11-17

Did you think I’d forgotten? We still need a Game of the Week! Let’s take a look at this edition’s options:

NHL SCHEDULE: February 11-17
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, February 11
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Philadelphia 4-1
7 p.m. Los Angeles Washington 4-6
10 p.m. San Jose Vancouver 7-2
Tuesday, February 12
7 p.m. Chicago Boston 3-6
7 p.m. New York Islanders Buffalo Sabres 1-3
7 p.m. Dallas Florida 3-0
7 p.m. Washington Columbus 0-3
7:30 p.m. Carolina Ottawa 4-1
7:30 p.m. Calgary Tampa Bay 3-6
8 p.m. New Jersey St. Louis 3-8
8 p.m. Detroit Nashville 3-2
8 p.m. Philadelphia Minnesota 5-4
8 p.m. New York Rangers Winnipeg Jets 3-4
9 p.m. Toronto Colorado 5-2
10 p.m. Arizona Vegas 5-2
Wednesday, February 13
8 p.m. Edmonton Pittsburgh 1-3
10:30 p.m. Vancouver Anaheim 0-1
Thursday, February 14
7 p.m. Calgary Florida 2-3 (SO)
7 p.m. New York Islanders Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0
7:30 p.m. Ottawa Detroit 2-3
7:30 p.m. Dallas Tampa Bay 0-6
8 p.m. Montréal Nashville 1-3
8 p.m. Colorado Winnipeg 4-1
8:30 p.m. New Jersey Chicago 2-5
9 p.m. St. Louis Arizona 4-0
10 p.m. Toronto Vegas 6-3
10:30 p.m. Vancouver Los Angeles 4-3 (SO)
10:30 p.m. Washington San Jose 5-1
Friday, February 15
7 p.m. New York Rangers Buffalo Sabres 6-2
7:30 p.m. Edmonton Carolina 1-3
8:30 p.m. New Jersey Minnesota 5-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Boston Anaheim 3-0
Saturday, February 16
1 p.m. Detroit Philadelphia 5-6 (OT)
1 p.m. Calgary Pittsburgh 5-4
3 p.m. St. Louis Colorado 3-0
7 p.m. Toronto Arizona 0-2
7 p.m. Ottawa Winnipeg 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Montréal Tampa Bay 0-3
7 p.m. Edmonton Oilers New York Islanders 2-5
8 p.m. Dallas Carolina 0-3
8:30 p.m. Columbus Chicago 5-2
10 p.m. Nashville Vegas 1-5
10 p.m. Vancouver San Jose 2-3
10:30 p.m. Boston Los Angeles 4-2
Sunday, February 17
12:30 p.m. New York Rangers Pittsburgh Penguins NBC, SN, TVAS
3 p.m. St. Louis Minnesota NBC, SN
6 p.m. Buffalo New Jersey  
6 p.m. Philadelphia Detroit NBCSN
7 p.m. Montréal Florida RDS, SN
9 p.m. Washington Anaheim ESPN+

With the trade deadline looming just around the corner, it’s been another exciting week in the NHL. After all, another edition of the Battle of the Keystone State was waged on Monday, followed the next day by two more rivalries featuring Arizona, Boston, Chicago and Vegas.

Tuesday also saw the Blue Jackets and Capitals reignite last season’s First Round playoff bout, with Columbus winning 3-0 in what just might be a preview of another playoff series to come this April.

As for the biggest player homecoming on this week’s calendar, that title belongs to F Chris Wagner of the Boston Bruins. Wagner spent four seasons with the Ducks (2014-18), appearing in 133 games and registering 12-12-24 totals. He was shipped to the Islanders at last season’s trade deadline before signing with the Atlantic Division’s current second-best team – not to mention his hometown club – this offseason. His Bruins beat Anaheim 3-0 on Friday.

Today is Hockey Day in America, but DtFR is holding off on the celebration until this evening before the Capitals-Ducks game to take in D Scott Niedermayer‘s jersey retirement ceremony.

Niedermayer may have only spent five seasons in Anaheim, but there’s no doubt he plays an integral role in the Ducks’ history. He joined the then Mighty Ducks in 2005-06 after 13 seasons and three Stanley Cups in New Jersey, signing as an unrestricted free agent to a four-year, $27 million contract to join forces with RW Teemu Selanne, F Andy McDonald and brother F Rob Niedermayer and serve as their captain.

Named a First Team All-Star for the second consecutive season and finishing second in Norris Trophy voting behind D Nicklas Lidstrom, Niedermayer and his 13-50-63 totals was just the addition the Mighty Ducks needed on their blue line to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2003’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final – you know, the one where Niedermayer’s Devils beat Anaheim in Game 7. Despite qualifying as the six seed, the Mighty Ducks took advantage of a wildly unpredictable Western Conference playoff to advance all the way to the Conference Finals before falling in five games to Edmonton.

For a champion like Niedermayer, falling short in the Conference Finals was unacceptable, as he elevated his game to even better 15-54-69 totals during the 2006-07 season to notch career-highs in all three statistics as well as propel the Ducks (the new and less-mighty edition) all the way to the West’s second seed.

Though that impressive effort was good enough to earn Niedermayer his third-consecutive First Team All-Star selection, he still had his eye on a fourth Stanley Cup. Despite registering only 3-8-11 marks in the Ducks’ 21 postseason games (second-best among Ducks defensemen despite playing two more games than D Chris Pronger), Niedermayer’s two game-winners (one was the series-clincher against Vancouver in double-overtime, the other the overtime winner in Game 1 of the Western Finals) and his power play goal to force overtime against the Red Wings in Game 5 of the Conference Finals was enough to win him the Conn Smythe Trophy and Anaheim’s first title in any sport since the Angels’ 2002 World Series win. The Ducks’ lone Stanley Cup is still the city’s most recent title.

The remaining three years of Niedermayer’s tenure in Anaheim paled in comparison to his first two. The Ducks didn’t make it past the Conference Semifinals in 2008 or 2009 (in fact, they lost in the first round the season after winning the Stanley Cup) and failed to qualify for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs; Niedermayer didn’t win anymore hardware, nor did he reach the 60-point plateau again.

However, Niedermayer’s mission when he signed with Anaheim had been accomplished. He’d won his fourth title without the help of his dominant Devils teammates, and he’d helped his brother earn his first ring. He’d helped the Ducks to a then franchise-record 48 wins

And it is for that championship and his career-defining seasons that the Hall of Famer is being honored tonight. Having already seen his No. 27 hoisted to the Prudential Center rafters, he’ll receive that same recognition tonight at Honda Center.

Unfortunately for the Ducks faithful, The Pond’s good vibes might find a quick end after Niedermayer’s ceremony. After all, the 22-27-9 Anaheim Ducks are riding an infamous 3-16-4 skid that dates all the way back to December 18. This torrid run has seen the Ducks drop all the way from a playoff position to fourth-to-last in the NHL, earning Randy Carlyle an early offseason.

It comes as no surprise that a squad that has struggled as much as the Ducks is finding almost no success in any phase of the game. Anaheim’s offense has ranked dead last in the NHL since December 18, accounting for only 1.52 goals per game in that time – a full six-tenths of a goal worse than Dallas.

Of course, even when the Ducks were having success earlier in the season, offense was in no way their game. They were averaging only 2.57 goals per game through their first 35 outings – a mark that would rank 29th among teams’ current season averages.

Instead, the biggest reason for this decline is the breakdown on the defensive end. In their past 23 games, the Ducks have allowed an average of 3.7 goals per game, the second-worst mark in the NHL in that time (fellow Pacific Division member Edmonton’s 3.92 goals against per game takes credit for worst in the league since December 18). However, only one facet of the defense is truly at fault.

Whether it is 1-1-0 G Kevin Boyle or 4-2-1 G Ryan Miller that receives the nod tonight (17-19-8 G John Gibson and 0-5-0 G Chad Johnson are both on injured reserve with respective back and head injuries) is still unknown.

Despite his rookie status behind a porous defense (more on that in a moment), Boyle has been far from the problem for the Ducks lately, as he boasts a .955 save percentage and 1.51 GAA for his short, three-game NHL career. Meanwhile, Miller has only recently been cleared to resume action. If he were to take to the crease tonight, it would be his first appearance since December 9 – a 6-5 shootout home victory over the New Jersey Devils that he did not finish.

For what it’s worth, Miller is riding a personal two-game win streak and three-game point streak.

As mentioned before, what makes the youngster’s solid stats even more impressive is he’s getting absolutely no help from his skaters. Since December 18, Anaheim has allowed a whopping 32.91 shots against per game – the seventh-worst mark in the league in that time.

Making the trip to Orange County are the 32-19-7 Washington Capitals, the Metropolitan Division’s second-best team.

In their last six games, the Caps have managed a solid record of 4-1-1 – more than good enough to hold on to their current position in the standings against the middling Metro teams. In particular, this surge has been spearheaded by Washington’s dominant offense, which has been rattling off 3.67 goals per game since February 5 – the (t)seventh-best mark in the league in that time.

Leading this attack has been none other than Evgeny Kuznetsov, the Capitals’ top-line center. In his past six outings, Kuznetsov has registered dominant 5-6-11 totals, including an amazing 2-2-4 performance against the Ducks’ arch-rivals in D.C. on Monday. On the season, Kuznetsov now has 15-39-54 marks in 52 appearances.

Joining Kuznetsov in averaging a point per game over this run are fellow first-liner W Alex Ovechkin (2-7-9 totals) and second-liners F T.J. Oshie (3-4-7) and LW Jakub Vrana (3-3-6).

Washington has also boasted a decent effort on the defensive end, allowing only three goals per game during this six-game run – the (t)12th-best mark in the NHL in that time. Despite managing only a .908 save percentage and 2.99 GAA for the season, 20-14-4 G Braden Holtby has been on a tear lately, boasting a .917 save percentage and 2.51 GAA for his last four starts.

It’s hard to see a way the Ducks escape with a win tonight. Washington has been rolling lately, and the Ducks offense in particular simply do not have an answer for the Caps’ attack. Unless C Ryan Getzlaf can add at least four points to his total tonight, Washington should pull back within three points of New York for the Metro lead.

Categories
Daily Matchup

Game of the week: October 15-21

It’s time for another DtFR Game of the Week!

First and foremost, let’s take a look at all the games I neglected earlier this week:

NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 15-21
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, October 15
7:30 p.m. Los Angeles Toronto 1-4
7:30 p.m. Detroit Montréal 3-7
7:30 p.m. Dallas Ottawa 1-4
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 2-4
Tuesday, October 16
7 p.m. Dallas New Jersey 0-3
7 p.m. Colorado New York Rangers 2-3 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Philadelphia 5-6 (SO)
7 p.m. Vancouver Pittsburgh 3-2 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Carolina Tampa Bay 2-4
8 p.m. Arizona Minnesota 1-2
8 p.m. Edmonton Winnipeg 5-4 (OT)
10 p.m. Buffalo Vegas 1-4
Wednesday, October 17
7 p.m. St. Louis Montréal 2-3
7 p.m. New York Rangers Washington 3-4 (OT)
9:30 p.m. Boston Calgary 2-5
10 p.m. New York Islanders Anaheim 1-4
Thursday, October 18
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Toronto 3-0
7 p.m. Colorado New Jersey 5-3
7 p.m. Philadelphia Columbus 3-6
7:30 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay 1-3
8 p.m. Vancouver Winnipeg 1-4
8:30 p.m. Arizona Chicago 4-1
9 p.m. Boston Edmonton 2-3 (OT)
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders Los Angeles 7-2
10:30 p.m. Buffalo San Jose 1-5
Friday, October 19
7 p.m. Florida Washington 6-5 (SO)
8 p.m. Minnesota Dallas 3-1
9 p.m. Nashville Calgary 5-3
saturday, October 20
1 p.m. New Jersey Philadelphia 2-5
1 p.m. Colorado Carolina 3-1
3:30 p.m. Buffalo Los Angeles 5-1
4 p.m. Arizona Winnipeg 3-5
7 p.m. St. Louis Toronto 4-1
7 p.m. Montréal Ottawa 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Detroit Florida 4-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Chicago Columbus 4-1
8 p.m. Tampa Bay Minnesota 4-5 (OT)
10 p.m. Boston Vancouver 1-2 (OT)
10 p.m. Anaheim Vegas 1-3
10 p.m. Nashville Edmonton 3-0
10:30 p.m. New York Islanders San Jose 1-4
SunDay, October 21
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Chicago NHLN, TVAS
7 p.m. Calgary New York Rangers SN1
8 p.m. Buffalo Anaheim

This schedule was a little bit fuller than last week’s offerings, as there’s a solid 44 games I had to choose from as compared to last week’s 42.

While there were certainly some worthy candidates in terms of rivalries (Detroit at Montréal, Edmonton at Winnipeg, New York at Washington, New Jersey at Philadelphia and Montréal at Ottawa all took place this week) and player returns (D Marc Methot made his first trip back to Ottawa since being selected during the Vegas expansion draft and later traded to the Stars, four former Blackhawks – five if you include RW Marian Hossa – returned to the Madhouse on Madison as members of the Coyotes and C Tyler Bozak wore white in Toronto for the first time in his career playing for St. Louis), one game sticks out above all the rest even though I’m more concerned about what will be hanging above the ice than what will be taking place on it.

 

Without a doubt, the Ducks are having one of the better and more unexpected starts to the season. Meanwhile, the Sabres are trying their hardest to keep pace with the rest of the white-hot Atlantic Division that enters the day with five teams in playoff position (an extremely important accolade in October, to be sure).

But what really drew me to tonight’s tilt is the pregame festivities involving LW Paul Kariya, as his No. 9 is going to be retired and sent where it belongs – hanging above the Honda Center ice opposite RW Teemu Selanne‘s No. 8.

The fourth-overall pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Kariya joined the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim just in time for the 1994-95 season (well, if it had started on time, that is), signing a three-year deal on August 31, 1994.

Though the Mighty Ducks struggled before Selanne was brought on board via trade during the 1995-96 season, that’s not to say Kariya – who just celebrated his 44th birthday on Tuesday – was playing poorly. He posted 18-21-39 totals his 47-game debut season, earning a spot on the All-Rookie Team and finishing third in Calder voting behind Quebec’s C Peter Forsberg and Washington’s G Jim Carey.

Oh yeah, speaking of that 1995-96 campaign, Kariya’s second season ended with him boasting career-best numbers in goals (50, three of which were overtime game-winners – an Anaheim single-season record) and points (108) after a full 82-game schedule. That dominant performance earned him his first of three First All-Star Team accolades, his first of back-to-back Lady Byng Trophies and his first of seven appearances at the All-Star Game.

I guess he never heard of the sophomore slump.

Named the Mighty Ducks’ third captain in franchise history during the offseason (a title he held for a franchise-record eight years), Kariya barely missed a second-straight season hitting the 100-point plateau in 1996-97 as a result of missing 13 games with an upper-body injury and unrelated concussion, but a 44-55-99 performance in 69 games played qualifies as the best season of his career on a points-per-game standpoint. The 1.43 points per game he managed narrowly beats out his 1.41 in 1997-98 – another season hampered by concussion, as well as a contract dispute that lasted into December, limiting him to only 22 games played. Additionally, his +36 for the 1996-97 campaign is still an Anaheim single-season record.

Of course, the most important mark about the 1996-97 season for Kariya is not only his dazzling performance, but also the fact that Anaheim qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Mighty Ducks fought past the Phoenix Coyotes in seven games before getting swept by the eventual champion Red Wings in the second round of their postseason debut. Kariya posted 7-6-13 marks in those 11 games, including the overtime game-winning goal in Game 6 against Phoenix that forced Game 7.

To be certain, the most productive years of Kariya’s career were his first seven campaigns. In all, he played 442 regular season games for the Mighty Ducks from 1995-2001, managing 243-288-531 totals to average 1.2 points per game – not to mention his 8-9-17 marks in 14 career playoff games to that point.

However, that’s not to say the captain still wasn’t a guiding hand on his team. Kariya managed 57-81-138 totals in his final two seasons with the Mighty Ducks, and he led Anaheim all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002-03 where his squad lost a hard-fought, seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils.

That Game 7 proved to be Kariya’s last with Anaheim, as he and Selanne both headed for the supposedly greener pastures of Denver (the Avs, of course, fell in the second round in Kariya and Selanne’s only season with the club) for the 2003-04 season. Kariya played five more seasons after that – two with Nashville and three with St. Louis – before retiring during the 2011 offseason as a result of the six concussions he sustained over the course of his 16-year, 15-season professional career.

Having been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last summer, there are few awards left to be bestowed upon Karyia (provided he doesn’t get involved in coaching or management). However, this one will surely elicit quite the response from one of the greatest to have ever worn the eggplant and jade.

Of course, once the ceremony is complete, there’s still a hockey game to be played. Both of tonight’s squads were in action last night, with Buffalo besting Los Angeles 5-1 at Staples Center and Anaheim falling in Vegas 3-1.

The 4-4-0 Sabres entered today’s action in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but only one point behind Ottawa for fifth place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card.

Gotta love early season standings.

Perhaps the brightest spot for Buffalo so far this season has been the outstanding play of 2-0-0 G Linus Ullmark, who has allowed only one goal in his two starts and boasts a .982 save percentage and .5 GAA that is best in the league among netminders with at least 33 minutes played.

While his emergence as a potential star is an encouraging sign for a franchise that has missed the playoffs for seven-straight seasons, the fact that he was the goalie in net for Buffalo yesterday up the road in Tinseltown has all signs pointing towards 2-4-0 G Carter Hutton manning the posts this evening.

Whether he’s being compared to Ullmark or his performance last season, Hutton is already drawing the ire of Upstate New Yorkers. Having signed a three-year, $2.75 million AAV contract this summer after posting a dominating .931 save percentage and 2.09 GAA with the St. Louis Blues last season, Hutton has managed only a .906 save percentage and 3.27 GAA so far this year.

Considering his offense has averaged only 2.25 goals per game thus far into the season (the fifth-worst mark in the NHL despite F Jeff Skinner‘s hat trick yesterday), Hutton is going to need to improve in a hurry if the Sabres want to stay in playoff contention much longer.

That being said, it should be acknowledged that Buffalo hasn’t exactly played incredible defense in front of Hutton. The Sabres’ 32.63 shots against-per-game is 12th-worst in the league, and that number climbs to 33.67 when Hutton is in net.

Considering former defenseman Phil Housley is the team’s head coach and the fact that the organization took D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, surely that number has to improve sooner or later? Right?

Consider me a doubter of Housley’s until it does.

One final note I have about the Sabres is in regard to their special teams. It was only a few seasons ago that Buffalo’s power play – led by C Jack Eichel – was among the most dangerous in the league. However, that has not been the case this season, as the Sabres’ 13.3 percent success rate with the man-advantage has been eighth-worst in the league through the first few weeks of the season. The penalty kill has also struggled, as Buffalo’s 69.2 kill percentage is third-worst in the NHL.

The Sabres have a lot of problems to figure out, but the best way to fix the special teams while they’re still on the road just might be to avoid the penalty box all together.

Did you hear that, RW Kyle Okposo? Stay out of trouble!

As for tonight’s hosts, the 5-2-1 Ducks have yet to see too many troubles so far this season, as they’re leading the division despite many fans and pundits pegging San Jose and Vegas as the Pacific’s powerhouses.

But how are they doing it?

Just like Buffalo, Anaheim’s best player to start the season has been none other than its goaltender, 4-2-1 G John Gibson. The 2016 Jennings Trophy winner (o.k., he shared it with G Frederik Andersen, now of the Toronto Maple Leafs) has been dynamite right out of the gates this season, as he has a solid .949 save percentage and 1.91 GAA to show for his first seven starts of the season.

However, to continue the comparisons to Buffalo, Gibson was also in net last night against the Golden Knights, so it looks like it could be none other than 1-0-0 G Ryan Miller, the winner of the 2010 Vezina Trophy, manning the crease this evening against his former club.

Though he is clearly the backup in Anaheim, Miller is in no way any easier to score upon than Gibson. With two appearances so far this year, Miller has a .946 save percentage and 1.51 GAA – all this despite a Ducks defense that allows an average of 37 shots against per game, the worst in the NHL.

Despite the backups being the logical starters tonight, this game has all the makings of a goaltending duel considering the struggles of both offenses and defenses. If that is the case, I’ll certainly take the Ducks to successfully honor Kariya and earn two points tonight. Miller is undoubtedly better than Hutton this year, and he has the benefit of special teams that will easily dominate the Sabres.

Categories
Podcasts

Down the Frozen River Podcast #115- Welcome to Arby’s

Nick, Connor and Pete decide Connor should name his first kid “Tkachuk” while revealing their top-10 left wingers of their lifetimes. Also, Ray Emery, Arby’s and Marian Hossa.

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

Categories
DTFR Overtime Nick's Net

Another Golden Era of Expansion?

It’s a great time for the National Hockey League (ignoring the ongoing concussion lawsuit, poor officiating and [insert your favorite scandal from this season here]), but for league revenues there’s never been a greater time than now.

The Vegas Golden Knights slashed all preconceptions regarding expansion teams and how they are expected to perform and have shown the strength of professional sports in North America– any city*, including Sin City, can support a professional franchise.

*except for Québec City, apparently

Though it’s not the 1990s, where expansion in the NHL saw seven teams (the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers) enter the league from 1991 to 1999– and two more teams in 2000 (Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild)– the league is prime for another era of expansion.

The Golden Knights (2017) are just the first of who knows how many more teams to join the league in the 2010s and 2020s.

Seattle is on the verge of landing a franchise ready to hit the ice in 2020 (with an expansion vote expected to take place this fall) and Houston looks viable, given Houston Rockets (NBA) owner, Tilman Fertitta’s, expressed desire to ascertain a franchise both publicly and in meeting with NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Fun fact, Houston is the largest North American market without an NHL team and looked like they would be part of a looming WHA-NHL merger in the 1970s, but the merger wasn’t finalized until 1979 and– after learning they would not be included in any form of a merger in 1978– the Houston Aeros folded at the conclusion of the WHA’s 1977-78 season.

For some reason there’s a notion in North American sports that 30 is a nice, even, wholesome number for the total number of clubs in a league. Take a look at how big the big leagues were 20-30 years ago and you’ll soon realize that 30 is just a number.

Only two of the four major professional sports leagues in North America have gone beyond 30 teams. The NHL is one of them.


So you want to buy an expansion team…

Well, for starters, you better have at least $650 million (U.S.) lying around, as Oak View Group is all but assured of bringing the league’s 32nd team to Seattle for that price tag. In sports, as in real estate, prices expansion fees only go up over time (so definitely have more than $650 million lying around after Seattle joins the league– assuming Seattle joins the league).

Want to bring back the Québec Nordiques? Good luck.

Québec City would be the league’s second smallest market and selling out 16,000 tickets doesn’t mean as much as it used to with media deals, corporate sponsorships, new markets and division balance (let alone conference balance) all at stake.

Butts in seats only matter for momentum– not ad dollars on TV.

Granted, people in seats laying eyes upon LED signage around the arena, now that’s still an investment and matters to an extent on the local level and/or organization itself for day-to-day operations.

But this league sees the big picture– national level attention, reaching a broader scope, true globalization of their league as the best league– let alone growth of the game.

Boston Bruins owner, Jeremy Jacobs, is also the chairman of the league’s board of governors. He’s also head of the league’s executive committee. Old guard owner jokes aside, Jacobs has the final say on most (if not all) league management decisions, despite the existence of league commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Commissioners in all major North American professional sports work for the owners. Not the other way around.

The commissioner is the collective voice of the board of governors– the face of the league– but ultimately is not the singular directive power.

So at the Bruins season ending press conference, Jacobs was asked about the future of the league regarding the Golden Knights and potential expansion.

Québec just isn’t happening right now.

It’s been said time and time before and it’ll be said time and time again. And it was the main takeaway from Jacobs’s comments regarding further expansion on the near horizon.

Houston was name-dropped. Whether it’s relocation or expansion (and it’s likely another expansion at this point), the league will find its way to Seattle and Houston.

It’s hard to remember the journalistic duty of including the words “proposed”, “expected” or “just about soon to be announced at some point in the near or not so distant future” before mentioning Seattle, let alone Houston, given the known interest.

Maybe the Arizona Coyotes will relocate, you ask?

No. That’s not happening.

If the Coyotes were going to move, they would have moved already. Arizona is committed to Arizona. While the City of Glendale might not see the Coyotes as suitable partners, the Coyotes see Arizona as their true love.

Maybe the Florida Panthers are Québec’s last hope (or Houston’s best opportunity, if expansion fees are an issue) for relocation?

Sure, but as an “in case of an emergency” plan. Remember how the Atlanta Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg played out? If not, keep reading, but also, Florida has an owner that’s committed to Florida.

At least Patrick Roy will be back behind the bench for the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) next season.

Does market size matter if 16,000 season tickets are sold in a 700,000 population or 2,000,000-plus population?

No, but the media deal that accompanies the market and how many televisions it reaches, that’s where it matters.

Right about here is where things don’t stack up as well for Québec with other prospective expansion candidates, given the surrounding population outside Québec City and the conglomerate of Montreal Canadiens fans that dominate the province.

At one point in time two teams made sense for the province, let alone two teams in one city (Montreal). Nowadays, the Habs have too much of a stronghold– too big of a monopoly of fans. Yes, even among old Nordiques fans and their families who swore they’d never root for their intra-province rivals.

Bettman runs the league like the National Basketball Association, which, considering his background, sounds about right. The NHL’s profits have never been higher and Bettman deserves credit for the business side of the sport.

And the NBA is eyeing expansion of their own, following renovations to KeyArena/Seattle Center, where Oak View Group looks to land an expansion NHL team for the 2020-21 season. In addition to Seattle, the NBA’s apparently eyeing Kansas City, lending some to believe we might be in another golden era of expansion across all major North American professional sports leagues as Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, has indicated a desire for MLB to expand to 32 teams (with Montreal and Mexico as possibilities).

As an aside, the author would like to let it be known of his desire for an MLB team in Charlotte, N.C.

31 is the new 30 and 32, 33 and/or 34 is perhaps the near future for at least three out of four of the Big Four leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL).


So about Seattle… (and other sports economics)

It’s totally happening, it’s just a matter of time. Get ready to cut the check for $650 million, Oak View Group.

And Houston?

Once Seattle goes for $650 million, there’s no reason not to expect the expansion fee to go up once again for a 33rd NHL team. Seattle’s not expected to begin play until the 2020-21 season and even without any of the major renovation work that’s going on in the Emerald City, Houston isn’t fully move-in ready for an NHL franchise.

That’s not to say Toyota Center isn’t a great fit, but rather that both Fertitta and the league aren’t presently talking and expansion to Houston would logically have to follow Seattle working with the current timeline of events (and ignoring what it would all mean for division realignment).

So four or five years from now a $650 million expansion fee could quickly become upwards of $800 million for a brand new team. Perhaps it’d be $1 billion by then.

And if Québec can afford a billion dollar (U.S.) pricetag by that point, then sure, they’ll be a shoo-in for the league’s 34th team. By then we might as well be talking 35th and/or 36th even.

Four divisions of nine teams doesn’t sound terrible if you can find suitable locations (Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Québec City and Atlanta, for example) to level off the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Divisions.

This is the economy of sports in the 21st century and Bettman’s dream– so long as the value of the majority of NHL franchises continue to climb and start to rival those of midpack/bottom NFL teams (the New York Rangers are valued at $1.5 billion according to Forbes– barely above the Toronto Maple Leafs $1.4 billion valuation)– and that’s ignoring how weak/strong the Canadian dollar is.

Granted, the average NHL franchise is worth around $594 million.

But as the NFL’s Carolina Panthers (a mid-pack team in terms of franchise value again according to Forbes) just sold for $2.2 billion to David Tepper, one would expect NHL franchise values to climb as the future of American football as we know it remains uncertain and the success of the Golden Knights impacts NHL revenues in the coming seasons.

Again, sports franchises and real estate prices always climb. It’s only a matter of time.


Okay, so just tell me where does that leave Québec exactly?

Recall for a moment, if you will, May 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment and the downfall of Atlanta Spirit, LLC. began (or more accurately, continued).

Yes, Winnipeg got an NHL team back, but they had to essentially go through relegation to get back to the top.

The Winnipeg model of “being sent down to the minors”  for almost 20 years witnessed near sellout crowds in the smallest NHL arena currently (15,321 seats) for AHL games.

That’s great, but the Jets weren’t going to be the Jets again if there was a prospective local buyer in Atlanta interested in busting up Atlanta Spirit, LLC. seven years ago.

There wasn’t, so True North Sports and Entertainment’s rainy day fund came in handy when the league needed a venue for a team immediately– regardless of the support and regardless of Québec, Hamilton or Kansas City’s moaning and groaning (from prospective owners and/or fans).

Canadian fans and some American hockey traditionalists like to bring up “the success of the Québec Remparts” in their new arena (Vidéotron Centre, opened in 2015).

Oh you mean the QMJHL team that plays in a 18,259 seat arena and has been having declining attendance since maxing out around 14,000 their first year there (2015-16) and now sits around 9,400 or less (like all other Junior teams). Please go on and tell everyone how QMJHL support alone will persuade NHL eyeballs.

It would certainly help Québec’s cause for bringing back the Nordiques by landing an AHL team on top of their QMJHL club and continuously supporting the organization(s) a la Winnipeg circa 1997-2011.

None of this rules out relocation, but it does make expansion look slightly more attractive, provided someone (Quebecor or another prospective owner) can fork up over half-a-billion U.S. dollars.


Professional sports are a business of entertainment.

Again, professional sports are a business.

Hockey traditionalism would not profit as well as the league has been profitting today.

Plain and simple as that.

This is a league that does not have to contract– thanks to the salary cap, revenue sharing and constant work stoppages to renegotiate the number of dollars the league eats before dividing up for the players.

This is a league that has shown the sport can be played in any environment.

The State of Arizona produced Auston Matthews. The Arizona Coyotes have been in Arizona for a generation AND THEY ARE NOT MOVING. They’re committed to their fans and their hockey community, but they’re up against a local government that’s unwilling to work with them on even the most basic levels– private vs. public funding for a new arena aside.

Tampa Bay, Nashville, Vegas, San Jose, Anaheim and yes, even Florida and Carolina have all been competitive and have diehard fans.

Sure the Panthers and the Hurricanes haven’t gathered casual eyes since 1996 and 2006 respectively, but you can’t blame the Panthers for being the Cleveland Browns of the NHL in a way (in addition to their poor location in Sunrise, Florida– outside of Miami) and Tom Dundon for any Hurricanes wrongdoings yet (though this summer is all about Carolina and how they just might reinvent themselves– and of course, everyone likes to jump to conclusions after a new owner’s first offseason, right?).

Plus, at least the Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006. Your move Panthers.

But this league, like any major professional sports league, sees a game, entertainment and money to be made.

Tradition is just a sweater, a pregame ritual or a superstition. It’s not a revenue stream for reinvention over time.

Take it from NASCAR, where, coupled with changes back-and-forth in the rulebook every other week on top of overprotection of its traditional image (along with dried up ratings) have removed the basement from the very foundation of the sport– and possibly the sanctioning body as the France family mulls a sale of the entity itself.

Like it or not, we are in an era of expansion– not just for the NHL, but potentially for all four major North American professional sports (and MLS, if you really want to extend the product here, as expansion is wicked hot in soccer currently).

Should I mention we’re getting four more ads on the ice next season or have I already given everyone enough heart palpitations?

Categories
Playoff Recaps

DeBrusk and the Bruins eliminate Toronto in seven games

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First Star of the game, Jake DeBrusk (2-0—2 totals), and the Boston Bruins are moving on to the Second Round after a thrilling 7-4 victory in Game 7 on Wednesday night. The TD Garden crowd was roaring throughout the game as Boston eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tuukka Rask made 20 saves on 24 shots against for an .833 save percentage in the win, while Toronto’s Frederik Andersen stopped 29 out of 35 shots faced for an .829 SV% in the loss. Rask improved to 2-2 all-time in a Game 7, as Andersen remains winless (0-3) in his career Game 7 action.

Bruce Cassidy started his Worker Bs line consisting of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari against Maple Leafs superstar, Auston Matthews, and the energy level cranked past 11 at puck drop.

Perhaps a bit too much for the Bruins, however, as Kuraly was penalized on a controversial tripping minor against Toronto defender, Jake Gardiner, 30 seconds into the action.

While Boston was struggling to settle their jitters, the Leafs pounced.

Patrick Marleau (3) opened the game’s scoring 2:05 into the first period with a tip-in from point blank and gave Toronto a 1-0 lead. Gardiner (2) and William Nylander (2) had the assists on the goal.

Gardiner fired a shot from the point into heavy traffic where Marleau used his stealthy hand-eye coordination to redirect the puck past Rask.

Entering Wednesday night, the team that scored first won five out of the six prior games in the series. In games where Toronto has led this series, they’ve won. All of that would mean nothing by the end of the night.

Morgan Rielly followed up with a minor penalty of his own, giving the Bruins their first power play, as the Maple Leafs blueliner was sent to the penalty box for delay of game (puck over glass) three minutes into the period.

As was tradition in the regular season, Boston’s power play had several chances, but could not capitalize on the man advantage until late in the power play.

After David Krejci kept the puck in the zone on a Toronto clearing attempt, the veteran Czech forward sent it to his fellow countryman, David Pastrnak, who quickly fired a purposeful shot looking for DeBrusk in front of the goal to redirect it. And that’s exactly what happened.

DeBrusk (4) redirected the shot into the net and the Bruins tied the game, 1-1, on a power play goal at 4:47 of the first period. Pastrnak (8) and Krejci (4) notched the assists on the goal.

The game wouldn’t be tied for long, however, as Marleau (4) scored his second goal of the night on a wicked wrist shot that beat Rask blocker side. Mitch Marner (7) had the only assist on the goal, having been responsible for the reverse pivot— fake shot on goal, turned pass— that was enough to sell Rask just out of position to stop Marleau’s shot.

Just over six minutes into the first period, the Maple Leafs had a 2-1 lead. It was the third time in three games that Boston allowed a goal about a minute after scoring.

Almost three minutes later, Danton Heinen (1), who had returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for part of the series, rocketed a shot past Andersen to knot things up, 2-2. Krejci (5) and Rick Nash (1) assisted on the goal at 9:10 of the first period.

Halfway through the opening frame of Game 7, there were 11 combined shots on goal. Four of them were goals.

Past the halfway mark, Leafs defender, Morgan Rielly took a shot up high— just above his upper lip— that caused a stoppage in play while the blueliner was attended to by Toronto’s athletic trainer.

The Bull Gang scrapped off the blood on the ice and play continued. Rielly would return for the second period after getting stitched up.

Rick Nash caught Zach Hyman with a high-stick at 11:30 of the first period and sent Boston on a penalty kill. The ensuing effort by both Toronto’s special teams and the Bruins penalty killers did not result in any goals allowed and Boston once again swung momentum in their direction, feeding off of the home crowd.

With less than a minute remaining in the opening period, the Bruins worked the puck into the offensive zone, whereby David Backes worked the puck back to Kevan Miller and the Bruins defender took full advantage of everything he had.

Miller shot the puck intentionally wide to attain a carom off the boards on the far side. The plan worked flawlessly as Patrice Bergeron (1) was crashing the net and put home the rebound off the boards to give Boston their first lead of the night, 3-2.

The assists went to Miller (2) and Backes (1) at 19:23 of the first period.

Through 20 minutes of Game 7, the Bruins led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and 12-10 in shots on goal. Boston also led in blocked shots (6-5) and faceoff win percentage (52-48), while Toronto led in takeaways (6-3) and giveaways (4-3). Both teams had 12 hits aside and one power play goal, as the Maple Leafs were 1/2 on the man advantage and Boston was 1/1 heading into the first intermission.

The Maple Leafs became the first team in NHL history to blow two separate first period leads in a Game 7, but fear not, that provided just enough motivation to take back the game’s momentum in the second frame.

Toronto stormed out of the gates to start the second period as Travis Dermott (1) converted on a Bruins turnover to tie the game, 3-3, just 2:07 into the period.

Roman Polak (1) and Nylander (3) picked up the assists on the goal as the B’s started a tumultuous period of sloppy play all over the ice.

Tomas Plekanec knocked down Brad Marchand away from the play at 4:56 of the second period and was assessed a minor penalty for interference. Boston’s power play proved to be powerless, especially after Torey Krug failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone.

With Marchand chasing after the puck, Kasperi Kapanen (1) stripped the Bruins winger of the rubber biscuit and dangled one past Rask on a beautiful individual effort for a short-handed goal to give Toronto the 4-3 lead just over six minutes into the period.

Boston allowed two goals on two shots on net to start the second period and were snake bitten leading up to the second intermission.

After 40 minutes of play, Toronto held a one goal lead— leading, 4-3 heading into the third period. Boston led in shots on goal (25-16), giveaways (6-5) and faceoff win percentage (58-42) after two periods and the Maple Leafs led in blocked shots (10-9), hits (26-22) and takeaways (14-4). Both teams were 1/2 on the power play.

Krejci and Hyman took matching roughing penalties about a minute into the third period, resulting in 4-on-4 action, early in the final frame of regulation.

Four seconds later, Krug (2) redeemed his poor second period play with a one-timer goal that beat Andersen after the Bruins won an offensive zone faceoff. Miller (3) and Bergeron (6) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on the goal that tied the game, 4-4, just 1:10 into the third period.

Moments later, Tyler Bozak and Rick Nash couldn’t keep their hands off of each other as Bozak interfered with the Bruins winder and Nash retaliated.

Boston was pressing harder than they had in the end-to-end action that concluded the first period. The Bruins were looking to be the ones to score the next goal and they did just that, thanks to one of their rookies.

After working the puck up the boards, Krejci sent a quick, short, pass to DeBrusk (5) who bolted into the offensive zone, slide the puck under Gardiner’s stick, while taking a hit and went five-hole on Andersen to give Boston their second lead of the night, 5-4, at 5:25 of the third period.

Krejci (6) had the only assist on the goal.

Six minutes later, after surviving counter attacks from the Maple Leafs, the Bruins were on the prowl again, working the puck deep into the offensive zone, where Marchand slid the puck to Bergeron.

Boston’s alternate captain tossed the puck to Pastrnak (5) in the low slot and the 21-year-old star held onto the puck just long enough to let Andersen overcommit and leave a gapping net open.

Pastrnak hit the twine and the Bruins had the first two-goal lead of the night, 6-4, at 11:39 of the third period.

With about three minutes remaining in regulation, Babcock pulled his goaltender for an extra skater and the Leafs went on the assault for a solid minute and a half until Riley Nash skated the puck out of the defensive zone and up to Marchand.

Marchand (3) brought it in just far enough to seal the deal with an empty net goal and gave Boston a three-goal lead with 51 seconds remaining in the game. Riley Nash (1) notched his first point of the series and the Bruins led, 7-4.

At the final horn, Boston had finished the Toronto in seven games— leading, 7-4, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal (36-24), hits (33-31) and faceoff win percentage (57-43). Despite the loss, the Maple Leafs led in blocked shots (10-9). Both teams scored one goal each on the power play, as Toronto finished the night 1/2 and the Bruins finished 1/3 on the man advantage.

Bruce Cassidy completed his first series win as a head coach and is now 1-0 in Game 7s for Boston, while Mike Babcock fell to 3-6 all time in Game 7s, split between Anaheim, Detroit and Toronto.

The Bruins are now 3-1 all-time in Game 7s against Toronto, having last beaten them, 5-4 in overtime, in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Boston improved to 14-12 in Game 7s all-time, tying an NHL record for most Game 7 wins (14) with the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings. Wednesday night’s game was also the 26th Game 7 appearance in franchise history for the Bruins, surpassing Detroit’s 25 appearances for the league lead.

As a result of the win, the Bruins are moving on to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since the Bolts won the Atlantic Division and secured the best record in the Eastern Conference, Tampa will have home ice in the series and Game 1 is set for Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBC. Canadian viewers can follow the action on Sportsnet or TVA Sports.