Nick and Connor rambled about the remaining weeks of the regular season, who will finish last in the NHL, if Boston can catch Tampa, Columbus’s hot streak and more. They also previewed and predicted eight of the NHL’s annual awards. Anze Kopitar has 86 points on the season– get it right, Nick.
Nick and Connor ponder whether or not Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, which Western Conference team (NSH, WPG or VGK) will make the Stanley Cup Final and dive into the odds of the Florida Panthers making the playoffs and/or fielding a competitive team. Also, thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings and goaltender interference.
Nick and Connor recap the 2018 trade deadline, 2018 Winter Games and 2018 overall even though it’s only March. Marco Sturm is worthy of an NHL coaching job, but will anyone take the risk? Hint: They should. Also, more thoughts on the Erik Karlsson saga.
Skater of the Week: Mathew Barzal
Barzal gets the nod for this week’s award having only played one game during that span. But what a game it was.
Helping his Islanders to a 7-2 rout of the rival Rangers, young Barzal tallied his second five-point game of his breakout rookie campaign with two goals and three helpers. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that all five points were scored at even-strength, no power play help needed. This also landed Barzal a perfect +5 rating for the night, to go along with a .5 shooting percentage and even tallying the official game-winning goal (probably not worth much in a rout, but it pads the stats all the same).
With 44 points in 44 games to this point in the season, Barzal continues to make a very strong case for a Calder Trophy nod come season’s end.
Tendy of the Week: Mike Smith
Posting a perfect 3-0-0 record this week on the strength of just four goals allowed in those contests to rack up a .963 save percentage and a GAA just a smidge over 1.30, Smith has his Calgary Flames scorching. (Pun entirely intended)
Smith started the week stopping 33-of-35 shots faced in an overtime victory against the Wild, before nullifying 33-of-34 against the league-leading Lightning and 38-of-39 against Carolina to extend his winning streak to six games.
Calgary went out and got Smith to fill the one glaring weakness they felt they had, and if he can keep this level of play up, they could be deadly.
Game of the Week: Boston Bruins 4 vs Montreal Canadiens 3 (SO), Saturday January 13th, 2018
The 739th all-time meeting between the Original Six arch-rivals had a little something extra to offer, as it was the first meeting of the two squads since Claude Julien‘s firing from Boston and hiring by Montreal late last season. A little bit of extra hype that this tilt ended up living up to.
In total this one saw seven goals, 62 shots, 77 hits, and two power play goals on five opportunities.
Max Pacioretty would get things rolling just 3:22 into the game, collecting the rebound from a deflected Victor Mete point shot and stuffing it just inside the near post behind Tuukka Rask to give the Habs the early advantage. Most of the first period would then pass by with little affair until Brad Marchand would streak in on the back door and receive a gorgeous Patrice Bergeron centering feed from the far board and bury it top shelf to even the score at the 17:40 mark on the power play, and the two teams would carry the 1-1 score into the first intermission.
The second period would see things really open up, starting with a Jake DeBrusk breakaway tally just 2:55 into the frame. Charlie McAvoy caught the Montreal defense standing still and fed a gorgeous tape-to-tape pass to a streaking DeBrusk who made no mistake en route to his 10th goal of the year. Just 2:50 later, though, Nic Deslauriers would pounce on a Zdeno Chara turnover at center ice and streak past the stumbling Boston captain into the high slot, where he would unleash a laser of a wrist shot past the blocker of Tuukka Rask to draw his Habs back even. Then just 3:06 later Montreal would retake the lead on the power play, as Alex Galchenyuk would receive a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Drouin, take a couple strides towards the net, and absolutely smoke a wrist shot over the shoulder of Tuukka Rask into the top of the net to put his team up 3-2. The Bruins controlled a lot of the play throughout the rest of the 2nd, but were met with some solid Carey Price saves at every opportunity until at the 17:42 mark David Krejci was able to corral a bouncing puck in the slot and wire it past a surprised Price and even the game at three heading into the second intermission.
The third period would see both teams register the most shots of any period (12 for Boston, 10 for Montreal), but strong play by both goaltenders (and a few clutch saves by the goalpost to the right of Rask) kept things knotted at three to end regulation and send the proceedings to three-on-three overtime. Montreal looked to have it won in the waning seconds when a Jakub Jerabek shot found it’s way up and over Rask, but a diving Torey Krug managed to bat the puck out of the blue paint before Pacioretty or Plekanec could get a stick on it.
So off to the shootout we went. Both Paul Byron and Jake DeBrusk would score in the first frame, but after that the two goaltenders shut things down for the remaining two shooters a side to force shootout overtime, where Rask would shut the door on Galchenyuk to allow Brad Marchand to streak in and bury the game-winner right through the five hole of Carey Price and directly into the hearts of the Montreal faithful.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
I saved the Phillip Danault story from the Boston/Montreal game for this section, because it definitely deserves to be highlighted. Danault is reported to be doing alright and was released from the hospital Sunday after an overnight evaluation. The Habs forward took a Zdeno Chara slapshot off the side of the head in Saturday night’s contest, and was eventually stretchered off of the ice. A truly sombering scene in a very exciting contest, Chara was one of the first to Danault’s aid and appeared to apologize to him as he was loaded up and carried off the ice. Between this and the Girardi/Frk incident last week, I’m thinking maybe people should stop trying to block the hardest shots in the game with their faces.
Speaking of near-disasters, Milan Lucic came millimeters from life-threatening danger himself when he tangled with Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek and, upon the two falling to the ice, had his neck cut by Nosek’s skate. The picture of the stitch job is pretty unnerving, and according to Lucic the cut was mere millimeters too shallow to open up his jugular vein.
One of the NHL’s most impressive streaks is coming to an end. After 830 consecutive games, Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano will be forced to miss the next two contests after being suspended for a very-not legal hit on Kings forward Adrian Kempe. A very heated contest led to a lot of physicality, and the play was certainly very out of character for Cogliano, who sacrifices a streak that could have broken the NHL record next season had it continued.
The Vegas Golden Knights have formed their first rivalry, but not exactly the sort you’d expect. The United States Army has filed a copyright challenge to the franchise on the grounds that they already possessed the rights to the name ‘Golden Knights’ for its West Point parachute jump team. The franchise’s response? A spectacularly sarcastic tweet, obviously.
Jack Johnson has requested a trade out of Columbus. A pending UFA, it is generally believed that Johnson wants to be traded to a team where he will have a chance at seeing more playing time in an effort to raise his stock on the market, after seeing his minutes plummet in recent weeks. While many CBJ fans (myself included) hold ‘JMFJ’ in high regards as a person, trading the defender had become a very common topic in Columbus long before the player’s request, as his production has dipped significantly, highlighting his defensive shortcomings and bringing about the argument for his replacement by younger options within the CBJ system.
Tampa has lost star defender Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks with a lower body injury. I’m pretty sure if they lost every game in that time they would still be like 4th in the league, but still, it’s a bummer.
Am I the only one who thinks these Olympic Games are actually gonna be pretty fun? As rosters get released, obviously the star power we’re used to isn’t there, but convince me that these lesser-known guys, most of them being players who probably never even dreamed they’d get this chance, aren’t going to play their absolute hearts out every single second of every single game. I think it’s gonna be great.
On a final note, we learned this week via Doc Emrick that Pierre McGuire has undergone successful surgery to remove a cancer-infected prostate. He is recovering and is hopeful to rejoin the broadcast team in time for the Olympics. Now I, like many, can admit to yelling at Pierre to stop yapping on about whatever ridiculous stat or story he knows about some third-line player on a team I don’t like, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that cancer should take a Chara slapshot to the mush and a few skates to its main artery. So get well, Pierre, Eddy-O and everyone else that has to fight this miserable disease.
The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey
At the time of this writing it was January 1st, so first, Happy New Year everyone. Now, onto the more important manners, shall we?
Entering January, all 31 National Hockey League franchises have played at least 36 games. Only the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues have played at least half a season (41 games played) so far, while the San Jose Sharks have played the fewest games (36) through December. Everyone else falls somewhere in between– and that’s not including Monday’s 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which would bring both the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers to 39 games played thus far.
Considering there’s no perfect way to slice it, we’ll consider this the midpoint of the 2017-18 regular season.
In the Western Conference, at least seven teams are destined to reach the 100-point plateau on the season, with the Los Angeles Kings (106 projected points) leading the charge followed by the Winnipeg Jets (102), Vegas Golden Knights (101), St. Louis Blues (101), Chicago Blackhawks (101), Sharks (101) and Nashville Predators (100).
Last season’s dominance of the Metropolitan Division alone– where four teams reached 100-points or more in 2016-17– has migrated west this season.
The Washington Capitals (118), Pittsburgh Penguins (111), Columbus Blue Jackets (108), Montreal Canadiens (103) and New York Rangers (102) tipped the balance of the 100-point plateau to the Eastern Conference last season, with five members of the NHL over 100-points compared to the Western Conference’s four teams over 100 members (Chicago, 109, Minnesota Wild, 106, Anaheim Ducks, 105 and Edmonton Oilers, 103).
This season, the West takes the reigns of the 100-point guild, with seven projected members while the Eastern Conference may only amount to four teams with over 100-points on the league table at the end of the regular season.
Everything seems to be going the Western Conference’s way, except for the fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning exist and they are here to make a claim to this season’s President’s Trophy with a projected 110 points on the regular season.
Meanwhile the Battle for Second in the Atlantic Division is hotly contested between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs with the three divisional spots in the playoffs (TB, BOS and TOR, in no particular order) all but a sure lock at this rate.
Despite everyone’s fears that the Capitals might not be able to pull it together this season, they emerge on top of the Metropolitan Division once again in April with 103 points on the season– and a two-point lead over the biggest surprise of the season (Golden Knights aside), the New Jersey Devils.
Two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, Matthew Murray, and the Pittsburgh Penguins may be outside of the playoff picture right now, but they’ll slide their way into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. An exciting rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals between the Penguins and the Lightning would be exactly what the league needs for a 2018 First Round matchup.
2017-2018 Projected Standings after Three Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 110 points (38 GP so far)
- x-Boston Bruins, 106 points (37 GP so far)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 99 points (40 GP so far)
- Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (38 GP so far)
- Montreal Canadiens, 84 points (39 GP so far)
- Florida Panthers, 79 points (38 GP so far)
- Ottawa Senators, 78 points (37 GP so far)
- Buffalo Sabres, 67 points (38 GP so far)
It’s no surprise for the top-three teams in the Atlantic, then it’s all downhill from there. The Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens find that being average plagues them. Meanwhile the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators exist in mediocrity (‘sup Erik Karlsson free agency watch 2019). There’s not much to say for the Sabres other than, well… how early can you schedule a tee time?
- z-Washington Capitals, 103 points (40 GP so far)
- x-New Jersey Devils, 101 points (38 GP so far)
- x-New York Rangers, 97 points (38 GP so far)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points (40 GP so far)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 94 points (40 GP so far)
- New York Islanders, 93 points (39 GP so far)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (38 GP so far)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (38 GP so far)
The Metropolitan Division is stacked with teams on top of one another. Thankfully, by April, the division sorts itself out just enough with Washington, New Jersey and the Rangers rising as its leaders. Despite their ongoing struggles, there’s nothing to fear if you’re a Blue Jackets or Penguins fan and all you care about is making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first place.
Apologies to the New York Islanders, but it’s not their year in more ways than one *ahem, John Tavares free agency watch*.
Somehow the Carolina Hurricanes are making noise right now, but that should quiet down. And for the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, at least you’re better than five of the Atlantic Division teams in these projections.
- y-Winnipeg Jets, 102 points (40 GP so far)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points (41 GP so far)
- x-Chicago Blackhawks, 101 points (38 GP so far)
- x-Nashville Predators, 100 points (38 GP so far)
- Dallas Stars, 93 points (40 GP so far)
- Minnesota Wild, 91 points (39 GP so far)
- Colorado Avalanche, 83 points (38 GP so far)
If it’s any consolation to the Nashville Predators, being a wild card team isn’t always a bad thing– oh wait, they figured that out last season en route to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final? Okay, they should be fine.
Otherwise, look out for the Winnipeg Jets, ladies and gentlemen. They’ve been skyrocketing all season long and they look ready to control the skies of the league. It’s a shame the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks will have to play each other in the First Round in April– not like that series will have any excitement or anything.
Despite their recent success and uptick in game-play, the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild lost too many times to recover earlier on in the season.
- z-Los Angeles Kings, 106 points (39 GP so far)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points (37 GP so far)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points (36 GP so far)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points (40 GP so far)
- Calgary Flames, 84 points (39 GP so far)
- Vancouver Canucks, 84 points (39 GP so far)
- Edmonton Oilers, 78 points (39 GP so far)
- Arizona Coyotes, 56 points (41 GP so far)
All three California teams in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Consider me hooked.
The Vegas Golden Knights continue to write history as they knock off the San Jose Sharks in the First Round of the playoffs– in their first playoffs appearance which just so happens to come in their inaugural season. It’s pure insanity, but it’s bound to happen.
If you were worried about the Anaheim Ducks, worry not. The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers know not what they are doing. Unfortunately for Calgary and Vancouver, they play in a division with the State of California and Vegas.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are eating $21 million in salary cap space next season. They’re not bad players, but that’s bad asset management when you consider other large contracts on the books (Milan Lucic, in particular).
Arizona, how does Seattle sound if the league is foolish to not take $650 million in expansion fees and run?
While Peter is out enjoying a trip to see some hockey games in person, I’m filling in with a recap of the past week’s NHL action.
Player of the Week: Blake Wheeler
Wheeler has been the definition of streaky, of late, but this week was the good side of the coin. He broke a four-game pointless drought last Monday against Minnesota, getting one goal and two assists.
After being held without a point against Colorado, he put in another three-point performance (all assists) against Vegas.
But he would save his best for Sunday against the Ottawa Senators. In a game that saw the Jets beat the Senators 5-0, Wheeler had a point on all but one of the goals, putting up one goal and three assists. He had a beautiful cross ice pass to set up Mark Scheifele on the first goal of the night and the Jets never looked back tallying three of their goals on the power play.
Wheeler has passed Steven Stamkos to take the league lead in assists with 28 and has helped power the Jets to the top of the Western Conference, something few expected as the season began.
Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings
Just when it looked like the Kings might be fading after a hot start, they went 4-0 this week and moved six points ahead of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division, exactly as the media expected before the season began, right? The Kings won the first three of those games by three goals each.
After one period of play in their Tuesday game in Detroit, the Kings found themselves down 1-0, but Dustin Brown, who has had a heck of a comeback season, evened it up at 1 and Anze Kopitar then put them ahead 2-1 before the second period was over. LA would add two more in the third on goals from Adrian Kempe and Kopitar’s second of the night.
Next up for the Kings was another road game against the Caps. Again, the Kings gave up an early lead on a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marian Gaborik would even it up, only for Kuznetsov to get a second goal. Jonny Brodzinski would tie it again and nine seconds later Jussi Jokinen would put the Kings ahead. After that, it was all Kings.
The Kings continued their road trip Friday with a visit to play the St. Louis Blues, one of the best teams in the league to this point in the season. This time the Kings got the early lead on a Tyler Toffoli tally. Kopitar would then bang home a rebound to make it 2-0. Before it was over, Kempe and Toffoli would add goals and the Kings would win 4-1 despite being outshot 40-28 on a stellar performance by backup goaltender, Darcy Kuemper.
The Kings finished their week and their road trip in Chicago on Sunday. Through two periods the game was scoreless. Christian Folin finally put the Kings up with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Then things got a little weird with just over two minutes left in the game. First, Brown would get an empty net goal. Then the Hawks would answer on a goal from Jonathan Toews with 1:46 left to end Quick’s shutout bid. But Kopitar would put the final nail in the coffin with 51.5 seconds left in the game with a final empty net goal.
As long as the Kings continue to get these types of performances from Brown, Kopitar and solid goaltending, they will have a very good chance to lock down the Pacific Division.
Game of the Week: Edmonton Oilers 7 @ Calgary Flames 5, Saturday, December 2, 2017
One of the first NHL games I can remember watching on TV was Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers against Lanny McDonald’s Flames. This game was a throwback to that era when goalies for some reason spent much of their time standing up and, consequently, watching pucks go past them. This is the type of game you hope to see with all of the offensive talent on these two teams and the reason you stay up to watch the late game on Hockey Night in Canada if you live in the Eastern Time Zone.
Connor McDavid skated around the Flames zone early and his persistence led to Jesse Puljujarvi cashing in on the rebound. The Oilers then had what looked like their second goal of the night from Patrick Maroon taken off the board as the goal was kicked. Eric Gryba then set up Puljujarvi for his second of the night on a redirection of Gryba’s point shot.
Mikael Backlund then forced a turnover on the penalty kill that set up Michael Frolik for a short-handed goal to pull the Flames within one goal. But the Oilers scored again before the first period ended to go up 3-1. In the second period, Mark Letestu scored on a short-handed breakaway to expand Edmonton’s lead. Gryba made another shot from the point which was tipped in, this time by Milan Lucic, to go up 5-1.
As the third period started, Mike Smith was replaced in net by David Rittich. Unfortunately for the Flames, Rittich bungled a handoff behind the net and the Oilers capitalized to go up 6-1. One might assume this is where the Flames might call it a night. But Sam Bennett made a tough angle shot to get the score to 6-2. Next, Micheal Ferland notched a power play goal to bring the Flames within three goals. Bennett added a second goal on a 2-on-1 where he took the puck top shelf. Suddenly the score was 6-4 with a lot of time left in the game. Johnny Gaudreau then made another tough angled shot off a stretch pass, taking advantage of young Oilers netminder, Laurent Brossoit. The impossible seemed possible with the score 6-5. But Brossoit would make a key save on Gaudreau on a two-on-one to prevent the tying goal.
With 1:01 left, the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to center a pass, but it bounced into the net off T.J. Brodie’s stick to salt away the win for Edmonton by a final of 7-5. While the Flames couldn’t quite finish their comeback, it was the sort of game that reminded you why the Battle of Alberta was once such a big deal.
News, Notes, & Nonsense:
Trade Rumors seem to be starting earlier than normal and we have already seen one blockbuster and several smaller trades.
This past week saw Anaheim and New Jersey make a significant hockey trade if not a true blockbuster. The Ducks sent right-handed defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick to the Devils in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. The move was a much-needed improvement on the back end for the Devils, who are one of the surprises of the early season. As for the Ducks, with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler still out, Henrique can help at center and, when they return, he can provide forward depth.
Who is next?
Well, the name that seemed to be coming up repeatedly during the past week was Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole. The left-handed defenseman was a healthy scratch and several sources had stated that his relationship with Mike Sullivan had been rocky, leading the Pens to consider a trade. However, their asking price may be higher than what a willing buyer will give them for Cole—Pittsburgh is still seeking an improvement at center for their third line after Riley Sheahan has failed to impress. Toronto is a destination that has been mentioned with Tyler Bozak falling out of favor and the Leafs wanting to upgrade their defense, but to this point nothing seems imminent.
The Edmonton Oilers have also been frequently mentioned in trade rumors. While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins name has probably been mentioned the most, more recently the Oilers have been mentioned in connection with smaller trades that might see them shipping out the likes of Pat Maroon. It is hard to see how Maroon would produce the sort of return that might get the Oilers back into contention in the Western Conference.
Another name that has been brought up repeatedly is Evander Kane. Buffalo is one of the few teams clearly out of the hunt at this early date, but it seems most likely they will wait until the deadline to move Kane when they might extract the highest possible return for the wing, who will be a free agent this summer.
There have been a lot of rumors swirling in recent weeks about the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Edmonton Oilers. Jackets GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, was recently at the Oilers-Devils game. Oilers GM, Peter Chiarelli, was at the Jackets-Sabres game on Monday. Darren Dreger went on TSN 1050 in Toronto yesterday and had this to say:
“But things have changed a little bit. So let’s go back to the draft in Chicago. I know Columbus was willing to consider a top pick for Ryan Murray. Now they want player-for-player, and they’re in the market for a center. Is it Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Who might it be. Right now Nuge is playing great hockey for the Oilers, so I don’t think they’re interested in parting with him. But my sense is the asking price – if it’s Ryan Murray, or for most defenseman that the Oilers have some interest in – is still too high.”
Last night, the Oilers got absolutely hammered in St. Louis, losing to the Blues by a final score of 8-3. It is the second time in the last week they have lost to St. Louis, having lost 4-1 on November 16. In between, they managed another blowout loss to Dallas, 6-3. While Cam Talbot isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with a 5-on-5 save percentage of 91.2 percent, he’s also faced more shots against 5-on-5 than all but two other goalies—Frederik Andersen and Andrei Vasilevskiy – not to mention facing the fifth-most high-danger chances against in the league.
No doubt, Edmonton is currently having some bad luck. The luck stat, PDO, has them third from the bottom with 96.67 percent combined shooting and save percentage. Their shooting percentage is particularly noteworthy because they are shooting an abysmal 5.8 percent. This is particularly interesting given that their expected goals for is top-five in the league. This means they are not just getting shots, they are getting quality shots and for whatever reason they are not going in to this point.
So, what we know about the Oilers is that they are doing a good job in the offensive zone though they have been unlucky, and they are letting opponents get too many shots on net, which may be asking too much of Cam Talbot. If they were going to try and salvage this season, the fix has to be on defense. Darnell Nurse has finally started to look like the player that people hoped he could be. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have struggled a bit. But the biggest problem is still Kris Russell. It should be no surprise that Russell is their worst defenseman when you look at Corsi For Percentage as that has been a problem for Russell for a long time.
Meanwhile, Columbus’ struggles have been finding a center who can play with Artemi Panarin. An early experiment with Alex Wennberg failed when Wennberg became too passive. There was no chemistry with team captain, Nick Foligno, who only converted to a center out of necessity. While Pierre-Luc Dubois has shown some promise in recent games on a line with Panarin and Josh Anderson, the Jackets may not want to rush Dubois and may want insurance in case he hits the dreaded “wall” later in the season. This is a team that is near the top of its division, a division that includes the Stanley Cup champs, despite not playing its best hockey and it is clear that management feels with an addition that the team can contend for a Cup this season.
Meanwhile, the Jackets top defensive pair of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has been out of this world. With John Tortorella loosening the reigns and allowing Jones and Werenski to “rove” in the offensive zone, the dynamic duo has already accounted for 7 goals. You shouldn’t be shocked to learn that their possession stats are also quite good. What has been a surprise, has been the play of young Markus Nutivaara. In just his second season, the 2015 seventh round pick of the Jackets has suddenly contributed offensively the way that Tortorella had hoped that he would, putting up 7 points and solid possession numbers.
On the other hand, David Savard and Jack Johnson have struggled and it isn’t the much maligned Johnson who has struggled the most, it has been Savard. Tortorella finally had seen enough and scratched Savard last week against the Rangers. Savard was back in against Buffalo on Monday and both he and Johnson were significantly better. If that pair can get back to playing at the level they did last season, the Jackets have a better shot of making it deep into the playoffs. Don’t listen to rumors from out-of-town reporters that throw around Savard’s name. It seems highly unlikely a team weak in depth on the right side is going to give up on Savard just because of some early-season woes.
The one regular defenseman I haven’t yet mentioned is Ryan Murray, who has spent the season paired with Nutivaara. As has been the case for most of Murray’s career, his role on that pair has been to be the “responsible defenseman” freeing up Nutivaara to roam in the offensive zone. He’s quietly excelled in this unheralded role, managing a positive Relative Corsi, but, more interestingly, the highest expected goals for percentage of any Blue Jackets defenseman.
The Jackets are blessed to have a seventh defenseman who is ready to take on a regular role. Gabriel Carlsson played for the Jackets during their playoff series against the Penguins and showed some promise playing a similar role to what Murray is currently playing. And, while he still needs some work, Carlsson’s possession numbers aren’t bad in the limited minutes he’s been given. The problem is that Carlsson won’t crack the lineup as long as the other six defenseman are on the roster and the AHL isn’t going to give Carlsson the development he needs at this stage, though it is a fine temporary solution to get him playing time.
Additionally, both Johnson and Murray will be free agents in the off-season. Murray is still a restricted free agent, but after taking a bridge deal on his last contract, he’ll be looking to get some real money this summer. Meanwhile, the Jackets have another prospect in Vladislav Gavrikov who will be in Russia through the end of his current contract in the summer of 2019, but will then likely be looking to make the jump to the NHL. With the Jackets re-signing Cam Atkinson and looking ahead to extending Werenski and potentially Sergei Bobrovsky in the summer of 2019, they may not be able to commit to Murray long-term.
Enter the Oilers and frequent trade rumor candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins is having a great season from a production standpoint, despite finding his line mates changing with some frequency. He’s on a pace to have his best season to date with 17 points including 8 goals through 21 games. That’s roughly a 30-goal pace and nearly 70 points. On the flip side, his possession stats are not particularly stellar. He has a negative Relative Corsi For Percentage and Relative Expected Goals For Percentage. I do have to wonder how much of that is based on the line mates he is playing with to this point in the season. He’s spent the most time out there with Milan Lucic (who has lost a step) and Ryan Strome. At times they have had him out there with Lucic and Zack Kassian. All of those players are negative possession players. Kassian has only 3 points, all assists, to this point in the season.
With Leon Draisaitl counting $8.5 million against the cap and Connor McDavid’s new deal with a $12.5 million annual cap hit kicking in next year, it has been clear for a while that Nugent-Hopkins was the odd man out. Paying $6 million for your third line center or playing an $8.5 million center as a wing is not exactly the best use of resources when McDavid is already getting $12.5 million against the cap. Using Nugent-Hopkins to land a defenseman to round out the top 4 and send Kris Russell down to anchor the bottom pair would be a wise move for the Oilers, but one they need to pull off sooner than later if they have any hope of making the playoffs this spring. While I think there is a good argument that the deal should be one-for-one given Nugent-Hopkins’ $6 million cap hit, I think it is likely the Oilers want something more and that may be the hardest part for the Jackets. I’d keep Sonny Milano or Boone Jenner in mind as a possible second piece in a deal. Milano might fit the Oilers’ game plan better than he fits with Torts’ system. Jenner is another possible cap casualty for the Jackets who is going to be coming off his bridge deal this summer.
While a deal makes sense for both sides and both sides seem to be investigating the possibility, that doesn’t mean it gets done. The Jackets hold the cards here in the respect that they are near the top of the standings and don’t need to make a move right now, particularly as long as Dubois and Panarin are playing well together. If this deal doesn’t happen, there will be other options for the Jackets. I’ll look at some of those options in my next column, barring a trade in the meantime.
Our hearts go out to everyone in Las Vegas as well as the family of Dave Strader. Jaromir Jagr watch comes to an end (sort of) and Nick and Connor have already moved on to the next guy. It’s Phil Kessel‘s birthday and two members of the Original Trio discuss training camp cut/non-cut surprises.
Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).