The 2021-22 season is well underway, so let’s bring back our 6th Annual Participation Trophies After One Game awards ceremony!
Brad Marchand kicked things off with a rare feat in the National Hockey League– opening a season with a penalty shot goal– before adding a late empty net goal for insurance in the Boston Bruins’, 3-1, win against the Dallas Stars at TD Garden on Saturday.
For the first time in nine years, a goaltender other than Tuukka Rask served as the starter for Boston on Opening Night, while Jeremy Swayman also became the first Bruins rookie to earn the start since Blaine Lacher did just that on Jan. 22, 1995, in the lockout shortened 48-game 1994-95 season.
Swayman (1-0-0, 1.00 goals-against average, .964 save percentage in one game played) turned aside 27 out of 28 shots faced in the win for Boston.
Meanwhile, Stars netminder, Braden Holtby (0-1-0, 2.26 goals-against average, .939 save percentage in two games played), made 37 saves on 39 shots against for a .949 save percentage in the loss.
With the win, the Bruins kicked off their season 1-0-0 (2 points) and moved into a tie for sixth place in the Atlantic Division with the Ottawa Senators, while Dallas fell to 1-1-0 (4 points) and tied for third in the Central Division with the Colorado Avalanche.
Curtis Lazar (upper body) missed the Opening Night action as he remains week-to-week since sustaining an injury during the preseason.
Boston captain, Patrice Bergeron, centered the first line in his usual role between Marchand and David Pastrnak on his wings, while Taylor Hall and Craig Smith surrounded Charlie Coyle on the second line.
Bruins newcomers, Erik Haula and Nick Foligno were slotted on the third line at center and right wing, respectively, while Jake DeBrusk suited up at left wing.
Tomas Nosek centered the fourth line in his Boston debut with Trent Frederic on his left and Karson Kuhlman on his right side.
Derek Forbort made his Bruins debut on the first defensive pairing alongside the newly extended, $76 million richer, Charlie McAvoy, while Mike Reilly was paired with Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk suited up alongside Connor Clifton.
In the crease, Linus Ullmark served as Swayman’s backup.
John Moore, Jakub Zboril and Anton Blidh joined Lazar on the short list of healthy scratches and injured players for Boston.
Not much was happening until about midway through the opening frame as the Bruins dominated in shots on goal, while end-to-end play ensued.
Then, at 9:35 of the first period, former Minnesota Wild turned Stars defender, Ryan Suter, hooked DeBrusk and was assessed a minor infraction.
Boston’s ensuing power play was cut short, however, as Smith tripped up Andrej Sekera along the endboards at 10:58.
The two teams skated at 4-on-4 for about 37 seconds before Dallas earned an abbreviated power play that went by the wayside.
Late in the period, Marchand skated towards Holtby on a breakaway with Suter hot on his tail, whereby Suter promptly held Marchand’s stick denying No. 63 in black and gold of a scoring opportunity while on the breakaway– yielding a penalty shot for Boston at 17:38.
Marchand (1) skated towards the crease with speed and beat Holtby with a clean shot above the pad, but under the blocker to give the Bruins the, 1-0, lead on a penalty shot goal.
It was the first penalty shot goal in a season opener for Boston since now current assistant coach, Chris Kelly, scored on a penalty shot goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 3, 2013.
Marchand’s penalty shot goal in a season opener was also just the third instance of such an Opening Night goal in league history as Mats Sundin had done so first with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 4, 2006, prior to Kelly’s penalty shot goal in 2013, and Marchand’s on Saturday night.
About a minute later, Roope Hintz caught a skate to the face and bled profusely as he skated off the ice and went down the tunnel. Hintz later returned to the game after the first intermission.
The Bruins presented the Stars with another power play opportunity to close out the opening frame as McAvoy smothered the puck with his hand, yielding a delay of game infraction at 19:08.
Once more, however, Dallas’ power play unit couldn’t get anything going as the horn sounded to signal the end of the first period with Boston ahead on the scoreboard, 1-0, and in shots on goal, 17-4.
The Bruins also held the advantage in hits (15-14), while the Stars led in blocked shots (3-2), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (5-2) and faceoff win percentage (54-46).
Dallas was 0/2 on the power play while the B’s were 0/1 heading into the middle frame.
Jacob Peterson caught Pastrnak away from the puck and was sent to the penalty box with an interference minor to kick things off at 4:51 of the second period, but Boston’s power play– like Dallas’ special teams– couldn’t get anything past Holtby on the skater advantage.
Shortly thereafter, Luke Glendening (1) capitalized on some open space in the slot where he received a pass from Tanner Kero before wiring a shot past Swayman to tie the game, 1-1, after the Bruins botched a clearing attempt in their own zone.
Kero (1) had the only assist on Glendening’s first goal in a Stars uniform at 9:15 of the second period.
Almost two minutes later, Jamie Benn cross checked Smith and cut a rut to the sin bin at 11:29, but Boston’s resulting power play was cut short by a hook when McAvoy tugged his stick around Glendening at 12:40.
Once more, the two teams skated at 4-on-4 before a brief power play for the Stars– which later turned into a short 5-on-3 advantage for Dallas as Marchand tripped Esa Lindell behind the Stars’ own net at 14:30.
Dallas couldn’t send another puck behind Swayman, however.
Through 40 minutes of action at TD Garden on Saturday night, the Bruins and Stars were tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard despite Boston leading in shots on goal, 28-14, including an, 11-9, advantage in the second period alone.
Dallas led in blocked shots (9-7), takeaways (4-3), hits (25-19) and faceoff win% (51-49), while Boston led in giveaways (7-6) after two periods.
The Stars were 0/4 and the Bruins were 0/3 on the power play heading into the second intermission.
Early in the final frame, Haula rushed into the attacking zone before dropping a pass for Foligno, whereby the Bruins winger flung the rubber biscuit towards the net as DeBrusk cycled down low.
Foligno’s initial attempt couldn’t get through, but DeBrusk (1) collected the loose puck and slipped it through Holtby to give Boston a, 2-1, lead at 4:43 of the third period, as well as Foligno (1) and Haula (1) their first points in a Bruins uniform with the primary and secondary assists, respectively.
Midway through the period, Foligno interfered with Alexander Radulov, but the Stars couldn’t muster anything on the ensuing power play opportunity at 11:12.
Hintz hooked Forbort at 14:25, but Boston’s bench miscalculated the number of skaters on the ice and was assessed a bench minor for too many men at the whistle, resulting in two minutes of 4-on-4 action.
With 2:05 remaining in the game, Stars head coach, Rick Bowness, pulled Holtby for an extra attacker, but it wasn’t enough to keep the puck in Dallas’ possession for a late comeback as Marchand (2) emerged from the neutral zone with plenty of space and time to assure the Bruins of the victory with an empty net goal at 18:23 of the third period.
Pastrnak (1) had the only assist on the goal as Marchand made it, 3-1, Boston.
Holtby vacated his crease for an extra skater with about 1:14 remaining and then again with about 38.3 seconds left in the game as Reilly sent the puck out of play for an automatic delay of game penalty at 19:21.
At the final horn, the Bruins had won, 3-1, and finished the night leading in shots on goal, 40-28, despite Dallas leading a valiant effort in the third period with a, 14-12, advantage in shots on goal in the final frame alone.
The Stars left Boston leading in blocked shots (11-8), giveaways (11-7), hits (33-25) and faceoff win% (53-47).
Dallas went 0/6, while the Bruins went 0/3 on the power play in their season opener.
The B’s improved to 1-0-0 (1-0-0 at home) when scoring the game’s first goal, 1-0-0 (1-0-0 at home) when leading after the first period and 1-0-0 (1-0-0 at home) when tied after two periods in 2021-22.
The Stars, meanwhile, fell to 0-1-0 (0-1-0 on the road) when allowing the game’s first goal, 0-1-0 (0-1-0 on the road) when trailing after one period and 1-1-0 (1-1-0 on the road) when tied after two periods this season.
The Bruins hit the road for their first road trip of the 2021-22 season with a pair of games next week.
Boston heads to Wells Fargo Center next Wednesday to take on the Philadelphia Flyers before venturing up to KeyBank Center to square off with the Buffalo Sabres next Friday.
The B’s return home to TD Garden on Oct. 24th against the San Jose Sharks.
It is time. The 2021-22 season is upon us.
Technically it already started, but we’ll ignore the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins spoiled the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup champion banner night with a, 6-2, victory on the road before the Vegas Golden Knights held off a Seattle Kraken comeback in a, 4-3, win at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night.
And then Wednesday’s games happened too.
Let’s hit the “reset” button for a second and pretend the 2021-22 is about to get underway. All 32 National Hockey League teams have a chance at clinching 16 available playoff berths.
Any of the 16 teams that make the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs could etch 52 names from their roster, front office and organization on the Stanley Cup next June.
The usual divisions– Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan and Pacific– have returned as have the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. The regular playoff format is back (three teams per division, two wild cards per conference qualify, plus the Conference Finals round returns in place of the Stanley Cup Semfinals in 2021).
A full 82-game regular season schedule is slated from October through the end of April with a three-week break in February for the 2022 All Star Game in Las Vegas and the 2022 Winter Games taking precedence before a return to NHL action down the stretch with the postseason kicking off in May like last year and the 2022-23 season likely returning to the pre-pandemic timeline (2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs starting in April).
The 2022 NHL Entry Draft will be in Montréal on July 7th and 8th, while free agency begins on July 13th, but between now and then, we’ve got the 2021-22 regular season to enjoy.
Using last season’s team goals for and team goals against, plus some other “magic numbers” as part of an expected points model, we’re able to project what 2021-22 could be for all 32 teams (yes, even the Seattle Kraken, despite this year being their first season)– though you’ll have to pretend there were no transactions made in the offseason.
In other words, don’t think that any of what you’re about to see is set in stone– view it more as a suggestion for a possible outcome.
Also, please remember my degree is in communication, so any math beyond figuring out “goals + assists = season point totals” doesn’t exist.
In a normal year (like from 2017-18 to 2018-19, for example), you just take all the data from the 82-game schedule for each team plug it into a formula in a spreadsheet, then line things up accordingly in each division.
However, just like how the shortened 2019-20 season disrupted the regular process for projecting a 2020-21 standings outlook, going from last season’s stats in a 56-game schedule to projecting a regular 82-game season in 2021-22 necessitated the use of forecasting point pace as part of the formula.
As for Seattle, a simple means of taking the NHL stats from last season for every player on their roster and plugging it in for a 2021-22 result is exactly what I did.
We’re all just making it up as we go along, folks. These are projections. They are not absolutes.
For the sake of keeping it simple, here’s a look at how things could go (but probably not) in each division for the upcoming 2021-22 season.
The overall vibe of the Central Division for 2021-22 is that it’s just more of exactly what you’d expect. The Colorado Avalanche are lightyears ahead of everyone else, while Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild continue to be on the rise and everyone else fights for what they can earn.
Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether or not the Winnipeg Jets can breakthrough as Canada’s team and break the Canadian curse (become the first Canadian club to win the Cup since 1993).
Will Colorado finally break through the Second Round and win the Cup?
Are the Avalanche just the Toronto Maple Leafs but with a little more success? My column:
No, but really, it’s worth asking if the Avs making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2002, is more like Toronto’s struggle to make it out of the First Round for the first time since 2004, or is Colorado’s struggle more like the Washington Capitals pre-2018?
The Caps won three Presidents’ Trophies in 2009-10, 2015-16 and 2016-17, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round– let alone the Pittsburgh Penguins– until they finally did and ended up surging in momentum all the way to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Colorado, on the other hand, has already won the Cup twice (1996 and 2001) and also has three Presidents’ Trophies to their name in 1996-97, 2000-01 and 2020-21, so if recent history has anything to tell us it’s that yet another team with high expectations for at least a few seasons now only to come up short could very well go on to win it all after winning the Presidents’ Trophy the previous year.
Either that or they’ll have to win it in back-to-back seasons like Washington did before they won the Cup in 2018.
Then again, the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the Detroit Red Wings’ record for most wins in the regular season (62), securing the Presidents’ Trophy in the process in 2018-19, then got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 First Round.
The very next year, however, Tampa kicked off back-to-back Cup rings in 2020 and 2021, to be where they are now as the two-time defending champions likely standing in the path as the only other favorites outside of the Avalanche this season.
Anyway, the Avs mostly kept things the same from last season to this season, losing Joonas Donskoi to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Brandon Saad to the St. Louis Blues in free agency and making minor swaps among replacement level bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defenders.
Oh, then there’s this whole thing about how Philipp Grubauer left for Seattle in free agency too, so Colorado acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes.
Between Dallas, Nashville and St. Louis, who will realistically make the playoffs?
The Stars are projected to finish with about 94 points, the Predators sit at 92 points and the Blues are around 91 points in this one projection, but don’t let the points alone be your deciding factor.
Given the strength of the Central Division compared to the Pacific Division, you can bet on five teams making out of the Central among Western Conference playoff berths.
As such, the spread is the difference maker between these three teams expected to be in the wild card hunt– it’s going to come down to the wire one way or another.
Dallas bolstered their goaltending depth by signing Braden Holtby, Nashville traded Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis is… …better than last season on paper?
I mean, the Blues signed Saad, acquired Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in exchange for Sammy Blais, let Seattle claim Vince Dunn at the expansion draft and let Mike Hoffman walk to the Montréal Canadiens in July.
You could say they took a hit here or there, but those aren’t “nobody names” by any means, however.
If Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso can stabilize things in the crease, then St. Louis has a better situation than the Predators.
The Stars, meanwhile, should benefit from a longer season where more of their core guys– like Tyler Seguin, for example– are healthy. Last season’s COVID-19 outbreak to kick things off in January really killed Dallas’ momentum as a team on the verge of being in the 2021 postseason.
Dallas should get back into the swing of things and St. Louis should be able to stay relevant for at least another year, but how hard the Preds rely on Juuse Saros as their starting goaltender will dictate whether or not they’re able to play spoiler with David Rittich as their backup since Pekka Rinne retired.
Can Arizona avoid the basement?
Anything is possible at this point. Loui Eriksson and Andrew Ladd were scoring goals in the postseason, so a fresh start could be just what both players needed for the last few years at least.
That said, Coyotes General Manager, Bill Armstrong, gave a Masterclass™️ in how to go about rebuilding by selling everything over the summer and taking on “bad” contracts with only one or two years remaining in hopes of playing just well enough to be bad enough without making it look obvious that you’re aiming to win the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery.
The Pacific Division is the new Scotia NHL North Division from last season. In other words, it’s the worst– which is great news for the Seattle Kraken as the league’s schedule allots more division play than any other opponents (though the Kraken will play every other team in the league at least twice).
Seattle’s riding the waves of new-age expansion, while the Vegas Golden Knights lead the charge for the Presidents’ Trophy campaign in 2021-22.
Wait, Seattle in 2nd in the Pacific, really?
The Kraken have a great front office that goes beyond just Ron Francis as General Manager and have done their due diligence in scouting the best talent available to try to replicate the success of the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season in 2017-18, as well as grow beyond just 2021-22.
That said, Seattle probably isn’t going to make it out of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if they have to face the Edmonton Oilers according to this projection.
It’s a best case scenario for the NHL’s newest expansion team to be in the weakest division, but aside from having recent Stanley Cup champions Yanni Gourde, Philipp Grubauer, Jaden Schwartz and Dunn on their roster, the Kraken have a plethora of players that are relatively inexperienced with deep postseason runs.
Head coach, Dave Hakstol, also hasn’t had the consistency of making the playoffs and making it out of the First Round in his NHL coaching days, but as a team that, again, is looking to develop long-term success, these are mere growing pains Francis and Co. are willing to accept as the fan base grows.
Why aren’t the Kings making the cut this year when everyone else says they’ll be the most improved?
The simple answer is that everyone’s overrating Los Angeles when it comes to the “ready now” factor.
Sure, Kings General Manager, Rob Blake, did a good thing by getting Viktor Arvidsson in a trade with Nashville this summer to solidify his top-six forward group and signed Alex Edler to fortify his defense, but Los Angeles’ goaltending leaves something to be desired.
Here’s hoping Jonathan Quick can find a little resurgence at this point in his career, while Cal Petersen continues to come into his own.
If Los Angeles has any injuries– and they already have with Arvidsson likely missing some time due to an injury in the last preseason game– they’re already close enough to the bubble that they’ll only fall further behind.
That said, if the Kings don’t make it back to the postseason hunt in 2022, there’s a good chance they make it in 2023.
Los Angeles is improving, but by how much remains to be seen.
Will winning the Presidents’ Trophy hurt Vegas?
Eh, it’s hard to say.
The Golden Knights have packed in just about every type of heartbreak since their inception in 2017, that fans of other franchises have only experienced over the course of at least 50 years, so if Vegas pulls out the Presidents’ Trophy win in 2021-22, don’t be surprised when the inevitable happens and they win the Cup instead of doing what most other Presidents’ Trophy winners in the salary cap era have done.
Only the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings and Chicago in 2012-13, have been able to win the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup since the salary cap was introduced ahead of the 2005-06 season.
Vegas would probably join Detroit and Chicago in doing so just so the Hockey Gods can spite us again.
It’s not easy to be in the Metropolitan Division these days because, well, let’s save that for the three questions below.
Is this the toughest division to project?
The Carolina Hurricanes decided to just get rid of a few parts and pieces that helped make them good for the last few seasons, so they’re bound to regress even with Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teräväinen and Martin Necas still existing.
The Pittsburgh Penguins since 2009, have always found a way to be near the top of the division standings by the end of the regular season no matter whether or not you believe they’ll inevitably miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006, so anything could happen there.
The New York Islanders have made back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Final, so I’d expect them to be good.
The Washington Capitals are better than the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, at least, but are probably the only team on the bubble if the New Jersey Devils can come out of nowhere and be competitive this season after signing Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Bernier in the offseason.
Meanwhile, it’s time for a short rebuild in Columbus as the Blue Jackets would be quite pleased with a top draft pick in 2022.
What if Chris Drury never was promoted as General Manager of the Rangers?
They’d still fire David Quinn and hire Gerard Gallant. I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but they’d definitely reconsider about 90% of the roster decisions made this summer.
There’s no reason why the Rangers have to go down this path and yet, here they are, fumbling at the one-yard line and possibly plunging their franchise back into the Dark Ages of another rebuild. Or is it the same ongoing rebuild?
What about a team to watch like New Jersey, for example?
I’m big on the Devils this season for some strange reason.
Maybe it’s because a part of me deep down misses the trap game of the 1990s and 2000s that led to Stanley Cups for New Jersey in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
Maybe it’s because they signed Hamilton, Tatar, Bernier and acquired Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche as a supporting cast for Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich, Ty Smith and friends.
Seriously, the Devils should be good in the next few seasons, but this year could be the biggest stride forward in terms of their improvement from the basement to their development as a playoff contender.
First, pour one out for Jack Eichel. Now, let’s move on and talk about everyone else.
What does this mean for the Leafs?
Just like how the Stars, Preds and Blues are all right on top of one another in the Central Division standings, the Atlantic Division is stacked from 1st through 4th, so though Toronto leads the way in this projection, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable as a Leafs fan.
The Maple Leafs played in the worst of the four divisions last year in the temporarily realigned divisions in wake of the ongoing pandemic.
No, it’s not just because they played all the other Canadian teams across 56 games, but rather it’s due to the fact that they haven’t been able to matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and even the Boston Bruins since the 2019-20 season.
A lot and not a lot has changed since then.
Tampa is still dominant as ever, Florida has emerged as a team that’s on the rise and Boston is unpredictable in that– much like the Penguins– it could really go either way with the Bruins this season.
So now Toronto has to take on better competition within their own division and square off with teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and others that emerge towards the top of the standings outside of the Canadian teams that the Leafs are all too familiar with at this point.
That said, Toronto still has a great chance at winning the Atlantic Division regular season title or finishing 2nd and having home ice advantage in the First Round for the second-straight postseason.
Can anyone other than Toronto, Florida, Tampa or Boston make it out of the Atlantic this year?
No. Let’s be realistic here.
The Montréal Canadiens made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final despite being below .500 in the standings because every division produced four playoff berths and intra-divisional play through two rounds.
In 2020, they upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Qualifier despite finishing right at .500.
In any other non-pandemic timeline, the Canadiens would still be looking for their first playoff appearance since they lost to the New York Rangers in six games in the 2017 First Round.
That’s not to say that Nick Suzuki can’t lead the Habs back to glory, but rather that they need to improve all-around in the regular season and peaking in performance in the playoffs.
Though the Ottawa Senators promised unprecedented success from 2021-25, it’s looking like it’ll realistically be anytime between 2024-25 as in the 2024-25 season itself at this point.
Ottawa’s goaltending needs to improve, their defense could use some tweaks and the Sens are banking on their offense getting their feet underneath them and bursting in production in the coming years.
A little more patience won’t hurt them.
The same can be said for the Detroit Red Wings in that Red Wings fans already know– trust in General Manager, Steve Yzerman, is paramount. He’ll work his magic.
It just takes a little time to build a solid foundation and the first floor is almost ready to start going up.
As for the Buffalo Sabres, well…
At least they’ll hopefully give Rick Jeanneret a proper send-off before he retires as their play-by-play announcer for the last 51 years on television.
Will Tampa win three consecutive Stanley Cup championships?
I’m not ruling it out entirely, but the Lightning have a better chance of winning three Cups in four years than they do three Cups in as many years as things stand currently.
The loss of their entire third line (Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow) from last season to this season is sure to leave a mark on the development and restructuring of their bottom-six forwards.
That said, Tampa’s top-six forwards still exist and, if you haven’t already noticed, they’re very good on their own, but the best teams in the playoffs have four lines that can roll without a doubt and the Bolts might just be off the ball for a year in terms of depth.
Alright, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for your patience. By now the season’s already going on a few days into the 2021-22 calendar, so the two of us (or more if you’re reading this to a group) should probably get back to watching games.
Stay tuned for more forecasts for both standings and assorted teams throughout the season.
2020-21 record 24-21-11, 59 points
4th in the Scotia NHL North Division
Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by Tampa
Additions: F Jean-Sébastien Dea, F Christian Dvorak (acquired from ARI), F Mike Hoffman, F Cedric Paquette, F Mathieu Perreault, D Louis Belpedio, D Sami Niku, D David Savard, D Chris Wideman, G Sam Montembeault (claimed off waivers from FLA)
Subtractions: F Phillip Danault (signed with LAK), F Charles Hudon (signed with TBL), F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (offer sheet signed with CAR, not matched), F Jake Lucchini (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), F Corey Perry (signed with TBL), F Tomas Tatar (signed with NJD), F Jordan Weal (KHL), D Cale Fleury (expansion, SEA), D Erik Gustafsson (signed with CHI), D Otto Leskinen (Liiga), D Jon Merrill (signed with MIN), D Gustav Olofsson (signed with SEA), G Vasili Demchenko (KHL), G Charlie Lindgren (signed with STL)
Still Unsigned: F Joseph Blandisi, F Michael Frolik, F Eric Staal
Re-signed: F Joel Armia, F Brandon Baddock, F Alex Belzile, F Laurent Dauphin, F Artturi Lehkonen, F Michael Pezzetta, F Ryan Poehling, F Lukas Vejdemo, G Michael McNiven
Offseason Analysis: After back-to-back miracle runs to the postseason aided by the circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Montréal Canadiens are expected to fall back to Earth in 2021-22.
The Canadiens were a .500 team that upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, then Montréal was a below .500 team that benefitted from the four teams per division playoff format in 2021.
Any of the 16 teams that make the playoffs can win the Cup and the Canadiens almost bested the 2012 Los Angeles Kings in terms of being a long shot to do so, but the Tampa Bay Lightning had other plans in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.
Instead, the Bolts repeated as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions while Montréal was eliminated in five games in a Game 5 that was decided by one goal– the only goal, scored by Ross Colton a little past the midpoint of the second period, as the Lightning emerged victorious with a, 1-0, win on home ice to secure their third Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.
Corey Perry lost to Tampa in back-to-back years and, as such, as taken the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra to heart in the offseason, signing a two-year contract worth $1.000 million per season with the Lightning.
Fear not, Habs fans, unlike when Marian Hossa bounced from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Detroit Red Wings before landing in Chicago ahead of the 2009-10 season, Perry’s already won a Cup ring. He’s just in search of his second before the twilight of his career reaches sunset.
Montréal’s cast of characters in Perry, Eric Staal and others that joined the leadership of captain, Shea Weber– whether via free agency ahead of the 2020-21 season or prior to the 2021 trade deadline– has mostly disbanded.
Whether or not Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, planned on making an appearance in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final or not as the 56-game regular season approached last season, it’s hard to say that he didn’t give the Habs their best roster in recent years.
They replaced Claude Julien with Dominique Ducharme behind the bench after a shaky start and rode the waves of change into a fourth-place finish in the one-off Scotia NHL North Division to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2021 First Round.
They didn’t surrender when they trailed in the series 3-1, as Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi followed the examples of Perry, Staal, Joel Armia, Tyler Toffoli and other veterans that led the charge.
Montréal beat Toronto in seven games. They swept the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round and upset the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.
Then David faced Goliath, but Goliath won.
Because of the nature of the salary cap era, Bergevin couldn’t hold onto all of his puzzle pieces.
Perry, Staal, Jordan Weal, Phillip Danault, Charlie Lindgren, Jon Merrill, Tomas Tatar, Kotkaniemi and Erik Gustafsson are all gone for one reason or another, while Mike Hoffman, Cedric Paquette, David Savard, Chris Wideman, Mathieu Perreault, Sami Niku and Sam Montembeault have all been signed to take their place on the depth chart.
The heart of the Canadiens– however recently formed– is changing. The identity of the team last season– forged with the additions of Perry and Staal to the already existent tenures of Danault, Weber, Price and Co. is in transition.
Whereas Suzuki was already leading the charge in Montréal’s new core, this offseason has solidified the inevitable. It may not be a rebuild, but it may be a few more stagnant years in-between before long term success and growth.
It’s crazy to write about how the Habs– a team that made the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– are not going to be as “good” as they were good enough to reach the Final, but it also makes the most sense.
Again, in a normal 82-game season without the pandemic, the Canadiens likely wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in the last two years.
The fact that they have has provided valuable experience for Suzuki, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and more, but the veteran turnover from last season to this season is palpable.
The additions of Hoffman, Paquette, Savard, Wideman and Perreault signal a distinct shift in character.
Heart and grit be damned– Montréal is wholly embracing the speed and skill era. Sort of.
Hoffman joined the St. Louis Blues on a one-year deal last season after amassing five consecutive seasons with at least 55 points or more dating back to the 2015-16 season. His play in an Ottawa Senators uniform was consistent, but his dressing room presence earned him a ticket to the San Jose Sharks in a trade before being flipped to the Florida Panthers ahead of the 2018-19 season.
After amassing 70 points in 82 games with the Panthers in his first season in Florida, Hoffman had 59 points in 69 games in the 2019-20 regular season that was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.
Then he had 17-19–36 totals in 52 games with the Blues last season after a slow start.
As a top-nine forward, Hoffman’s one-dimensional game as a sniper isn’t that bad as long as he scores.
Since being traded by the Lightning, Paquette had a little bit of a journey on his way to Montréal. First, in nine games with the Senators last season he had one goal. Then in 38 games with the Carolina Hurricanes, he amassed seven points (three goals, four assists) for a grand total of 4-4–8 totals in 47 games combined between his Sens and Canes tenure.
As a fourth liner, it’s a low-risk, high-reward move for the Habs, but that’s assuming he’ll be in the lineup from night-to-night as the Canadiens have a backlog of bottom-six talent looking to earn a regular role.
Savard might just be the best value signing this summer by Bergevin. The 30-year-old defender was signed to a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and had six points (one goal, five assists) from the blue line in 54 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Lightning last season en route to winning his first Stanley Cup ring.
Don’t let his offensive shortfalls fool you, Savard is a quality shutdown defender of the top-four variety.
Seriously, it’s a good signing by the Canadiens.
Wideman hasn’t made an appearance in the NHL since the 2018-19 season, when he played for the Senators until the infamous Uber ride, then was traded to the Edmonton Oilers and finally traded again to the Panthers.
In 181 career NHL games, he’s had 16-29–45 totals from the point and spent 2019-20 in the American Hockey League with the San Diego Gulls after signing with the Anaheim Ducks and missing out on the roster after training camp and spending last season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia.
While in the KHL, Wideman reinvented his game– compiling 9-32–41 totals in 59 games with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.
With Niku on the injured reserve to start the season and Weber’s career in doubt, Wideman is a welcome addition to the bottom pairing as Montréal looks to hold things together in their own end with Carey Price out indefinitely (Price entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program last Thursday) and Jake Allen as their last resort as the de facto starting goaltender.
Meanwhile, Perreault’s arrival shores up the fourth line and Montembeault should provide an added cushion as a backup option to Allen in the crease.
By now, you’ve read almost 1,300 words on Montréal’s summer and we haven’t even gotten around to talking about the ongoing feud with the Hurricanes as a result of the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, as well as the Christian Dvorak acquisition.
Let’s try to keep this brief, O.K.?
Carolina signing Kotkaniemi wasn’t revenge (allegedly) for Montréal signing Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet, but it was an offer that was too good to refuse (for Kotkaniemi, anyway).
A one-year deal worth about $6.100 million with a $20 signing bonus (symbolism!) means that Kotkaniemi will be due for a decent payday if he’s tendered a qualifying offer next summer.
The Canadiens didn’t have the cap space and even the Hurricanes had to make a move to finagle his salary on the books. The Habs will gladly take Carolina’s 2022 1st round and 2022 3rd round draft picks, despite losing one of their better centers for the future.
It was hard enough to let Danault walk to the Los Angeles Kings in free agency, surely things only got harder for Montréal to find a replacement after Kotkaniemi left too– oh.
After swapping draft picks on the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in three separate trades, Bergevin made his only trade that resulted in a change to Montréal’s roster this offseason on Sept. 4th.
The Canadiens dealt a conditional 2022 1st round pick and a 2024 2nd round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Dvorak and with that brought in his 17-14–31 totals in 56 games from last season to their top-six forward group.
Since making his league debut in 2016-17, Dvorak has never reached the 40-point plateau, but with teammates like Toffoli, Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Caufield and anyone else that might bounced around inside the top two lines on any given night– Dvorak is sure to have a more consistent supporting cast around him than in his Coyotes days.
Offseason Grade: C
It’s not a great look to have mismanaged Kotkaniemi over the years– culminating in the loss of his talent via an offer sheet, but what’s more concerning for the Canadiens is just how much of what made them pernicious in their Cinderella run to the Final last year that they lost.
It wasn’t just one or two minor moves that were made to improve from last season to this season– Bergevin made some sweeping changes, by necessity or otherwise.
The top-six forward group should be fine, but do the Habs have the same level of depth that they had last season? That’s another question entirely.
At the very least, they’re not getting caught up having an overstayed welcome with replacement level talent, yet their window in the Price era may be coming to a close.
Hopefully Price gets the help that he needs most as there’s a lot more to life than just hockey. In the meantime, time marches on as the 34-year-old goaltender is susceptible to the inevitable fallout from a goaltender’s prime.
Montréal may very well win another Cup someday soon, but Price might be in a more limited role as the club’s backup by then, if all things go according to plan with this ideally seamless transition from a team that lucked into postseason runs.
The Habs need to improve in the regular season in a division that’s already tough enough to compete in with Tampa, Toronto, Florida and Boston expected to be in the playoff hunt in the Atlantic Division.
We preview the Central Division for the 2021-22 season and draw comparisons between recent teams that we’ve said “they should win this year” for quite some time until they finally won after we stopped talking about them.
2020-21 record 32-17-7, 71 points
4th in the MassMutual NHL East Division
Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Semifinal by Tampa
Additions: F Andy Andreoff, F Richard Panik (acquired from DET), F Zach Parise, D Paul LaDue, D Zdeno Chara
Subtractions: F Robert Carpenter (signed with Milwaukee Admirals, AHL), F Jordan Eberle (expansion, SEA), F Tanner Fritz (signed with Hartford Wolf Pack, AHL), F Joshua Ho-Sang (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Andrew Ladd (traded to ARI), F Travis Zajac (signed to one-day contract with NJD, retired), D Nick Leddy (traded to DET)
Still Unsigned: F Kieffer Bellows (RFA), F Michael Dal Colle (RFA), D Braydon Coburn, G Cory Schneider
Re-signed: F Cole Bardreau, F Anthony Beauvillier, F Casey Cizikas, F Otto Koivula, F Kyle Palmieri, F Dmytro Timashov, D Andy Greene, D Adam Pelech, G Ilya Sorokin
Offseason Analysis: It’s October and we still don’t really know who is and who isn’t under contract with the New York Islanders because Isles General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, plays by his own rules.
Well, not exactly like that, but he at least doesn’t like facial hair and won’t allow his players to sport a scruffy look. Not even a goatee (which bothers me as someone that looks much too young without sporting even a small patch of stubble on my chin to prove, in fact, that I am old enough to order a beer– let alone see an “R”-rated movie).
Anyway, Lamoriello has slowly been announcing– though never disclosing the financial terms– deals that have been signed by players like Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara, as well as extensions for Kyle Palmieri, Adam Pelech, Andy Greene and Ilya Sorokin.
Parise, 37, joins New York after amassing 393-417–810 totals in 1,060 career National Hockey League games for the New Jersey Devils and– most recently– the Minnesota Wild.
Last season with the Wild, he had 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 45 games, which was a bit of a steep decline in his production from 2019-20, albeit in much more limited time as Minnesota head coach, Dean Evason, felt his team was better with Parise scratched from time to time.
New York head coach, Barry Trotz, on the other hand, thinks he can utilize Parise in the right amounts to maximize his value as a veteran of the league in search of his first Cup ring– let alone his first trip back to the Stanley Cup Final since 2012.
Chara, 44, reunites with the Islanders– the team that drafted him in the 3rd round (56th overall) in the 1996 NHL Draft prior to breaking into the league with the Isles in the 1997-98 season and spending parts of four seasons on Long Island before then-General Manager Mike Milbury traded him to the Ottawa Senators ahead of the 2001-02 season.
The long time veteran defender is entering his 24th season after amassing 207-459–666 totals in 1,608 games thus far with the Islanders, Senators, Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Chara was a member of the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Bruins roster and should pay dividends on the third pairing, as well as on the penalty kill, while Pelech and Ryan Pulock rest up for another long shift.
After being acquired ahead of last season’s deadline, Palmieri put up four points (two goals, two assists) in 17 games down the stretch with New York after amassing 8-9–17 totals with the Devils in 34 games prior in 2020-21.
In the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, Palmieri found his scoring touch– notching seven goals and two assists (nine points) in 19 games en route to being eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal.
Lamoriello added more veterans to an already veteran infused lineup while presumably remaining tight against the salary cap.
Though New York had a bit of a bumpy ending to the regular season last year, they peaked at the right time to be one goal away from the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1984.
As an organization that’s been on the rise with Trotz behind the bench, the Islanders are sure to be out with something to prove in the league’s return to a normal 82-game schedule format and everything.
Pelech’s eight-year extension worth $5.750 million per season at 27-years-old is Lamoriello’s greatest gift thus far to New York’s core as a good team friendly contract as Pulock enters a contract year in 2021-22 and Mathew Barzal carries two remaining years on his current deal.
Love him or hate him, Lamoriello also did a decent job keeping Casey Cizikas in line with more conventional thinking for a top-nine forward on a new six-year deal worth $2.500 million per season compared to his last contract, which was a five-year deal with a $3.350 million cap hit.
Generally speaking, first line forwards should be paid around $9.000 million, second liners between $4.000 to $6.000 million with third liners earning roughly $1.000 to $4.000 million and fourth liners taking home a cap hit between league minimum and $2.000 million per year at most.
Follow that logic and you’ll be able to spread some wealth around on short-term contracts among your replacement level players or sign long term deals at a decent cap hit that’s expendable if you run into performance issues or cap related casualties down the road.
Meanwhile, because of Lamoriello’s masterclass in contract negotiations this summer, Anthony Beauvillier got a three-year bridge deal at $4.150 million per season and Ilya Sorokin earned a three-year extension worth $4.000 million per season– keeping the Islanders competitive as Cup contenders for at least the next few years while balancing the growth and development of their core as they age into their prime.
Of course, everything comes with a price as Lamoriello shipped out Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings in a trade on July 16th for Richard Panik and a 2021 2nd round pick (originally from Edmonton, via Detroit- 52nd overall, Aatu Raty).
Chara is 14 years Leddy’s senior, but Leddy’s $5.500 million cap hit was a roadblock in keeping the bulk of New York’s core together.
To save some additional funds for redistribution this summer, the Islanders dealt Andrew Ladd, a 2021 2nd round pick (originally from Colorado via the Islanders, 60th overall- Janis Jerome Moser), as well as a conditional 2022 2nd round pick and a conditional 2023 3rd round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for future considerations.
Arizona took on Ladd’s entire $5.500 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season.
Offseason Grade: B
For what needed to be done to protect the integrity of the Islanders as a Cup contender in the next few seasons (at least), Lamoriello made proper efforts to add without subtracting, while balancing the books in an efficient manner.
There’s a lot to like about the respectable bridge contracts, but Pelech’s eight-year extension is a home run for what is otherwise New York’s cornerstone on defense with Pulock due for a bit of a pay raise next summer.
That said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Isles off their game by just a little as the long runs into the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2020 and 2021 take a toll on a team in every sense of the imagination.
New York won’t need to hit “reset”, but rather “refresh” as they should comfortably reach the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but as for how far they go depends on if they can stay healthy and focused– especially with UBS Arena set to open in November, thereby giving the Islanders a long 13-game road streak to start the 2021-22 regular season.
If they don’t win it all in 2022, they should be primed for a bounce-back in 2023, with their best chance at a Cup since their dynasty in the 1980s.
2020-21 record 39-13-4, 82 points
1st in the Honda NHL West Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Vegas
Additions: F Darren Helm, F Mikhail Maltsev (acquired from NJD), F Dylan Sikura, D Jordan Gross, D Jack Johnson (signed to a PTO), D Kurtis MacDermid (acquired from SEA), D Stefan Matteau, D Roland McKeown, D Ryan Murray, G Darcy Kuemper (acquired from ARI)
Subtractions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (signed with TBL), F Matt Calvert (retired), F Joonas Donskoi (expansion, SEA), F Sheldon Dries (signed with VAN), F Ty Lewis (retired), F Liam O’Brien (signed with Tucson Roadrunners, AHL), F Brandon Saad (signed with STL), F Miikka Salomäki (SHL), F Carl Söderberg (SHL), F Mike Vecchione (signed with WSH), D Kyle Burroughs (signed with VAN), D Ryan Graves (traded to NJD), D Patrik Nemeth (signed with NYR), D Dan Renouf (signed with DET), D Conor Timmins (traded to ARI), G Philipp Grubauer (signed with SEA), G Peyton Jones (signed with Colorado Eagles, AHL), G Adam Werner (signed with CGY)
Still Unsigned: F Travis Barron, G Devan Dubnyk
Re-signed: F Tyson Jost, F Gabriel Landeskog, F Jayson Megna, F Kiefer Sherwood, D Dennis Gilbert, D Cale Makar, G Jonas Johansson
Offseason Analysis: If next spring doesn’t bring the desired results to Colorado, it’ll be 20 years since the Avalanche last made an appearance in the Western Conference Final.
Back in 2002, the Detroit Red Wings were in the prime of their dominance and the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry was red hot as the two teams went at it for not only regular season titles, but Stanley Cup rings as well.
Colorado had won in 1996 and 2001, Detroit won in 1997, 1998 and would do so again in 2002, as well as 2008– five years after Patrick Roy played his last National Hockey League game.
In the 2002 Western Conference Final, the defending Stanley Cup champion Avs were once again the team to beat, but the Red Wings took the series in seven games and went on to win the Cup.
Since then, both teams have had a bit of a falling out.
When Joe Sakic took over as General Manager of the Avalanche, the goal was simple– return the franchise to its glory days.
The bump in the road that was the 2016-17 season brought the team the 4th overall pick after losing in the draft lottery, yet at 4th overall in 2017, Colorado selected their biggest game-changing defender since the acquisition of Ray Bourque in Cale Makar.
Sakic turned his attention to a Makar extension when it seemed like things had gone south with keeping captain, Gabriel Landeskog, in town.
The 22-year-old defender signed a six-year extension worth $9.000 million per season after finishing second in Norris Trophy voting to New York Rangers defender, Adam Fox, for the 2020-21 season.
Makar had 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists) in 44 games– exactly a point-a-game in his sophomore campaign, limited again due to injury after amassing 12-38–50 totals in 57 games in his first NHL season in 2019-20.
Sakic signed Makar to an extension on July 24th and then in the 11th hour as free agency drew near, signed Landeskog to an eight-year extension worth $7.000 million per season.
The 28-year-old captain was Colorado’s 2011 1st round pick (2nd overall) and has 218-294–512 totals in 687 games since making his league debut in the 2011-12 season with the Avs.
Landeskog had a promising 52-point season (22 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games in his first year in the league, then the 2012-13 48-game lockout shortened season kept him to 9-8–17 totals in 36 games.
The Avalanche missed out on the playoffs from 2011-13, but in 2014, Colorado squared off against the Minnesota Wild in the First Round– only to lose in seven games.
That playoff series, however, was the first taste of playoff hockey for Nathan MacKinnon and went decently for Landeskog as well.
After amassing 65 points (26 goals, 39 assists) in 81 games in the regular season, Landeskog had 3-1–4 totals in the seven-game series against the Wild.
Then his production dropped to 59 points in 82 games in 2014-15, and 53 points in 75 games in 2015-16– coinciding with Colorado’s fall from grace.
In the dismal 2016-17 campaign for the Avalanche, in which the team amassed 48 points on the season with a 22-56-4 record, Landeskog had just 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) and had a minus-25 rating.
But the Avs have made the playoffs every season since then– succumbing to the Nashville Predators in six games in the 2018 First Round, bowing out to the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the 2019 Second Round, losing to the Dallas Stars in seven games in the 2020 Second Round and dropping out in six games against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 Second Round.
In that span, Landeskog’s had a career resurgence. He had 62 points in 78 games in 2017-18, 75 points in 73 games in 2018-19, 44 points in 54 games while battling injury and the COVID-19 pandemic shortened regular season in 2019-20, as well as 52 points in 54 games in last season’s 56-game regular season schedule.
Some say his resurgence can be accredited to the emergence of Colorado’s dominant first line with MacKinnon at center, Landeskog at left wing and Mikko Rantanen at right wing, but then how can that attribute to his own individual playoff success?
Landeskog had seven points (four goals, three assists) in six postseason games in 2018, 3-5–8 totals in Colorado’s 12-game 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff experience, 2-11–13 totals in 14 games during their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff bubble run and 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in ten games in the Avalanche’s 2021 postseason run.
It’s plain to see that whereas MacKinnon is the superstar forward, Landeskog is the lifeblood of the organization– both as the captain and as a clutch performer when it matters most.
Landeskog’s reasonable cap hit should take some pressure off of Sakic as he negotiates extensions with MacKinnon after the 2022-23 season and Rantanen after the 2024-25 season, when the salary cap ceiling is expected to have risen due to the increased revenue from the current U.S. broadcasting rights packages.
Two big pieces were taken care of, so naturally Sakic set his sights on Philipp Grubauer… …who chose to leave for the Seattle Kraken in free agency.
Grubauer signed a six-year contract worth $5.900 million per season with the Kraken on July 28th– the day that free agency began and a week after Seattle claimed Joonas Donskoi from the Avs in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
Last season, Grubauer went 30-9-1 in 40 games played, had seven shutouts (tied for the most with New York Islanders goaltender, Semyon Varlamov) and amassed a 1.95 goals-against average, as well as a .922 save percentage in that span.
It was a breakout year for the 29-year-old goaltender, so why not cash in while you can?
The downside for Colorado, however, is that it left them briefly with uncertainty in the crease until they acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes later that same day.
Sakic worked the phones quite a bit this summer between agents and fellow general managers.
On July 15th, Colorado swapped defender, Ryan Graves, with the New Jersey Devils for forward, Mikhail Maltsev, and a 2021 2nd round pick (from NYI via NJD- 61st overall, Sean Behrens).
On July 27th, Sakic sent a 2023 4th round pick to the Kraken for defender, Kurtis MacDermid, whose father, Paul, played for the Québec Nordiques from 1993-95.f
After losing Grubauer to Seattle in free agency, Sakic dealt defender, Conor Timmins, a 2022 1st round pick and a conditional 2024 3rd round pick to the Coyotes for Kuemper.
Much like Linus Ullmark going from the Buffalo Sabres to the Boston Bruins via free agency this summer, it’s hard to tell what to expect out of Kuemper in an Avalanche uniform.
He should be better considering the overall quality and depth of defenders on Colorado’s blue line a la Ullmark’s upgrade from Buffalo’s defense to Boston’s defense in front of him.
That said, Kuemper hasn’t really been a starting goaltender for long. It’s a risk, like when Colorado sought after Grubauer in the first place from the Washington Capitals a few summers ago.
In his first season as a starter, Kuemper went 27-20-8 in 55 games with Arizona– notching five shutouts and recording a 2.33 goals-against average, as well as a .925 save percentage. Good stuff.
In 2019-20, he went 16-11-2 in 29 games, had two shutouts and yielded a 2.22 goals-against average, as well as a .928 save percentage.
Last season, he went 10-11-3 in 27 games, dropping to a 2.56 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage and once again recording two shutouts.
Kuemper is 31-years-old and made his league debut with the Minnesota Wild back in the 2012-13 season– the same season that Grubauer broke into the league with the Capitals, albeit two years younger in age.
How will a full 82-game schedule as the starting netminder with Pavel Francouz returning from an injury that prevented him from being the backup in Colorado last season impact Kuemper’s performance in the crease?
There’s kind of a lot at stake here. No pressure or anything, but the Avalanche are trying to win the Cup now rather than later.
Speaking of “win-now” mode, the loss of Donskoi, Brandon Saad and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare puts Colorado in a difficult spot.
They don’t have the dominant bottom-six players on paper that they had last season that made them as much of a threat as the Golden Knights or Tampa Bay Lightning.
Instead, they’ll be relying on the emergence of youth in Alex Newhook, Logan O’Connor and Maltsev mixed with a combination of young players getting better in Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher, as well as a veteran in Darren Helm.
Much like how Saad brought in Cup winning experience to the dressing room last season, however, Helm is doing so for the Avs this season as he happened to be on the 2008 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings– appearing in seven games in the 2007-08 regular season, then 18 postseason games for Detroit in their 2008 Cup run.
It was Helm’s first taste of NHL action and he already was on top of the mountain. Now 34, he’s looking for more.
Offseason Grade: B-
Sakic has a way of taking reclamation projects and maximizing their production in Colorado, though we’ll see if the same effect can be applied to Stefan Matteau and Ryan Murray on the blue line, as well as other moves already mentioned.
The Avalanche have depth, but do they have enough depth?
Despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season, Colorado finished the 2020-21 regular season with 39 wins– one shy of Vegas (40 wins) for the most in the league– and eliminated in the Second Round by that same Golden Knights team (the Avs won the tiebreaker with 35 regulation wins to Vegas’ 30).
That said most of the Avalanche roster remains the same and there’s the feeling that one of these year’s they’ll get over the hump and back into the later end of the postseason.
Super teams don’t always win, but having a (super) consistent performance down the stretch and in the playoffs does and that’s what the Lightning have done best for the last two years– turning it on when it counts and sustaining the pressure.
2020-21 record 37-16-3, 77 points
1st in the MassMutual NHL East Division
Eliminated in the First Round by N.Y. Islanders
Additions: F Brian Boyle (signed to a PTO), F Michael Chaput, F Filip Hållander (acquired from TOR), F Danton Heinen, F Brock McGinn, F Dominik Simon, D Matt Barkowski (signed to a PTO), D Taylor Fedun, G Louis Domingue
Subtractions: F Pontus Åberg (signed with Belleville Senators, AHL), F Josh Currie (KHL), F Frederick Gaudreau (signed with MIN), F Mark Jankowski (signed to a PTO with NJD), F Jared McCann (traded to TOR), F Sam Miletic (signed with Chicago Wolves, AHL), F Colton Sceviour (signed to a PTO with EDM), F Brandon Tanev (expansion, SEA), D Lukas Bengtsson (KHL), D Cody Ceci (signed with EDM), D Kevin Czuczman (signed with MIN), D Jesper Lindgren (HockeyAllsvenskan), D Andrey Pedan (KHL), D Zach Trotman (retired), D Yannick Weber (NL), G Maxime Lagacé (signed with TBL), G Emil Larmi (Liiga)
Still Unsigned: None
Re-signed: F Zach Aston-Reese, F Kasper Björkqvist, F Teddy Blueger, F Evan Rodrigues, F Radim Zohorna
Offseason Analysis: Penguins General Manager, Ron Hextall, had a realtively quiet offseason outside of the announcements that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would miss some action to start the 2021-22 season.
After making some depth signings, Pittsburgh is left with about $121,800 in cap space. In other words, it might be a little bumpy out of the gate without Crosby and Malkin– especially since the Pens dealt Jared McCann to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Filip Hallander and a 2023 7th round pick ahead of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
In retrospect, perhaps it would’ve been worth keeping McCann and convincing the Seattle Kraken to take almost anyone else– there’s still a chance they would’ve taken Brandon Tanev anyway, especially if Pittsburgh had crafted a deal with the Kraken to agree to not select McCann in exchange for some draft picks or something.
Nevertheless, Hextall made a conscious decision to move on from McCann’s 14-18–32 totals in 43 games last season and Tanev’s 7-9–16 totals in 32 games with the Penguins in 2020-21 and live with the consequences of his own actions. At least there’s Jeff Carter.
At some point, the magic will wear out in Pittsburgh.
Though the Penguins may have calmed the waters of the Malkin trade rumors under the previous regime ruled by Jim Rutherford, there’s the reality of a post-Crosby and Malkin era soon to sink in.
Malkin is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and Crosby is under contract through the 2024-25 season.
If the Penguins aren’t able to escape the First Round in 2022, and Malkin determines there’s no future in sight for success in a Pittsburgh jersey, there’s a good chance he could leave– not in search of a big cheque, but rather another chance at one more Cup ring on a contender’s roster.
But let’s not get too bogged down by the grips of reality.
Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, has some juggling to do with the lineup– like always– and with a new cast of characters that includes Hållander, Danton Heinen, Brock McGinn and the return of Dominik Simon– there’s a lot of depth to go around.
At 21-years-old, Hållander might be ready for some NHL action, whether out of necessity or to simply prove his skill level.
Heinen, meanwhile, is looking for a fresh start after the Anaheim Ducks chose not to tender him a qualifying offer, leading him to sign a one-year deal with the Penguins worth $1.100 million.
In 43 games with the Ducks last season, Heinen had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists), scoring fewer points than he had in the previous season for third-straight season since he broke out with 16-31–47 totals in 77 games for the Boston Bruins in 2017-18.
McGinn was due for a payday and cashed in on a longer contract than he could’ve expected from the Carolina Hurricanes, signing a four-year deal worth $2.750 million per season with Pittsburgh this summer.
In 345 career NHL games, McGinn’s had 51-55–106 totals, including 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 37 games while battling injury last season.
He remains to be an effective penalty killing fourth liner and should fit Sullivan’s mold well as a means of ensuring his top-six forwards are rested and ready to go between shifts.
Simon begins his second stint with the Penguins after taking part in 11 games with the Calgary Flames last season and yielding four shots on goal, as well as no points in that span.
As for the biggest question mark entering the 2021-22 season for Pittsburgh, can Tristan Jarry come into his own as a starting goaltender?
Last season, Jarry went 25-9-3 in 39 games, which at first glance is great! He had 25 wins in almost 40 games played in the midst of a 56-game regular season schedule– backstopping Pittsburgh to a postseason appearance before losing in six games to the New York Islanders.
But in 39 games last season, Jarry had a 2.75 goals-against average, a .909 save percentage and two shutouts in that span, whereas he went 20-12-1 in 33 games with a 2.43 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts in 2019-20.
In his most recent season as Pittsburgh’s backup, Jarry has a goals-against average below 2.50 and a stellar save percentage over .920, but in all his other cumulative appearances each season since breaking into the league with a game in 2016-17, he’s been all over the place statistically speaking.
Casey DeSmith, meanwhile, broke into the league in 2017-18, and went 6-4-1 in 14 games with a 2.40 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and one shutout– following things up with a 15-11-5 record in 36 games played in 2018-19, when he had a 2.75 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and three shutouts.
Last season, DeSmith was back as the backup goaltender to Jarry and posted an 11-7-0 record in 20 games with a 2.54 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts.
At 30-years-old, it’s likely that DeSmith won’t have as high of a ceiling as Jarry, who’s only 26, but then again goaltenders vary in the crux of their prime.
For Jarry, he may soon start to peak, while DeSmith may simply be an outlier as one of those goaltenders that comes into fruition later than even the most “average” of delayed primes for goalies.
In either case, it’s certainly not an enviable position to be in for Sullivan to have to figure out.
Offseason Grade: C
Let’s be real here, the Penguins didn’t go out and attract any stars and they didn’t lose that much (though McCann was a great piece of depth and Tanev probably exceeded his expectations due to the “Crosby factor”, both should make fine additions to the Kraken).
Pittsburgh had an average offseason for an average team that made the playoffs and had an average early ending.
They’re not a dominant force, though they finished atop the MassMutual NHL East Division last season. Sullivan has his ways of commanding his team in the regular season, but the roster lacks something to drag them across the line in the postseason these days– to take their play up a notch and crank it at 11.
The Pens aren’t as much of a concern for missing out on the playoffs in the Metropolitan Division race this season, but it should be harder to compete for dominance with the sustained improvement from the Islanders and the emergence of another team like the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils that could breakout and play spoiler among the division leaders.
2020-21 record 35-16-5, 75 points
3rd in the Honda NHL West Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Vegas
Additions: F Frédérick Gaudreau, F Dominic Turgeon, D Jordie Benn, D Kevin Czuczman, D Alex Goligoski, D Joe Hicketts, D Dmitry Kulikov, D Jon Lizotte, D Jon Merrill
Subtractions: F Nick Bonino (signed with SJS), F Gabriel Dumont (signed with TBL), F Marcus Johansson (signed with SEA), F Luke Johnson (signed with WPG), F Gerald Mayhew (signed with PHI), F Zach Parise (buyout, signed with NYI), F Dmitry Sokolov (NMHL), D Matt Bartkowski (signed to a PTO with PIT), D Louie Belpedio (signed with MTL), D Ian Cole (signed with CAR), D Brad Hunt (signed with VAN), D Brennan Menell (traded to TOR), D Carson Soucy (expansion, SEA), D Ryan Suter (buyout, signed with DAL)
Still Unsigned: D Ian McCoshen
Re-signed: F Will Bitten, F Nick Bjugstad, F Joseph Cramarossa, F Brandon Duhaime, F Joel Eriksson Ek, F Kevin Fiala, F Kirill Kaprizov, F Kyle Rau, F Mason Shaw, D Dakota Mermis, G Andrew Hammond
Offseason Analysis: It took all summer, but it didn’t linger into the fall as Wild General Manager, Bill Guerin, and forward, Kirill Kaprizov, were able to hammer out a five-year extension worth $9.000 million per season– forcing this entire offseason recap/season preview to be re-written.
Going into Tuesday, Minnesota was bound to receive a letter grade in the “D” range for failing to secure Kaprizov before training camp, despite a few other moves that have actually been pretty good for them– salary cap penalties via buyouts aside.
Late Tuesday, Kaprizov re-signed and all is just about forgiven for the Wild.
Since joining the league as an expansion team in 2000, Minnesota has rarely had a competitive team that can make a deep run into the postseason. They’ve consistently been good, but never good enough.
Marian Gaborik came and went, Mikko Koivu stayed loyal until he joined the Columbus Blue Jackets for a brief stint last season prior to retiring less than a month into the 2020-21 schedule and then the dawn of the Kaprizov Era began.
After spending time in the Kontinental Hockey League for his early development, Kaprizov amassed 27-24–51 totals in 55 games in his debut season with Minnesota as a 24-year-old left wing.
He’s the real deal and the Wild are leaning into it.
Though Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson and others weren’t re-signed as part of Minnesota’s depth that got them all the way to a Game 7 at T-Mobile Arena against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 First Round, Guerin held things down where it counts– the core.
Joel Eriksson Ek signed an eight-year extension worth $5.250 million per season after a breakout season with 30 points (19 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games last season after amassing 8-21–29 totals in 62 games in 2019-20.
If the last two seasons are an indication of what’s to come, then the Wild have a steal of a deal in Eriksson Ek’s cap hit as the 24-year-old emerges in his prime.
Guerin brought back Kevin Fiala on a one-year extension worth $5.100 million– retaining restricted-free agency status over the 25-year-old forward heading into next offseason– after putting up 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists) in 133 games with the Wild in parts of three seasons since he was acquired on Feb. 25, 2019.
In parts of five seasons with the Nashville Predators from 2014-15 through 2018-19, Fiala had 45-52–97 totals in 204 games.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken, because clearly something is clicking in Minnesota and the Wild are reaping the benefits.
Alex Goligoski and Jon Merrill are fine additions to the defense, though as for how efficient they’ll be compared to the loss of Ryan Suter remains to be seen.
Guerin bought out the remainder of Zach Parise and Suter’s matching contracts on July 13, 2021, and in doing so saved Minnesota some valuable cap space to sign Kaprizov and build off of the new core.
That said, Parise and Suter will cost the Wild about $4.744 million in dead cap space for 2021-22, then $12.744 million in dead cap space in 2022-23, before the buyout penalties reach a crescendo with a combined $14.744 million in dead cap money from 2023-24 through 2024-25 before Parise and Suter’s penalties taper off with a combined cost of $1.667 million in 2025-26, as well as 2026-27.
This offseason might have been a breeze, but next offseason is a different story– especially as building and maintaining contender status gets difficult in the next few seasons too.
Ultimately, the cost of buying out Parise and Suter may or may not even be a headache for Guerin to deal with. It all depends on how the team performs between now and a couple of seasons from now.
For now, Guerin has about $3.215 million in cap space to play with for the 2021-22 season.
Over the summer, the Seattle Kraken formed their first roster and did Minnesota a favor without asking.
Seattle could’ve selected Kaapo Kähkönen, since the Wild protected Cam Talbot, but the Kraken went in a different direction and snagged Carson Soucy from Minnesota’s depth on the blue line.
Offseason Grade: B+
Though it took a little longer than both sides had probably hoped– and with more frustration than expected– Guerin re-signed his No. 1 priority in Kaprizov before the start of training camp.
The biggest challenge for Minnesota– other than improving on last season’s success before a First Round exit– is finding a way to keep the band together next offseason, when Fiala, Jordan Greenway and Kähkönen are on the short list of important pending-restricted free agents.
Meanwhile, guys like Victor Rask, Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau, Nico Sturm, Goligoski, Jordie Benn and Merrill have a little more flexibility to come and go as they please– assuming there’s enough cap space in face of the Parise and Suter buyout penalty crunch on top of what might still be a flat cap for the 2022-23 season due to the ongoing pandemic.
At the very least, 2023-24 should be a bit more optimistic with the latest U.S. broadcasting rights deals for ESPN and Turner Sports inflating league revenue all-around and likely bumping up the salary cap as a result.
For now, Minnesota’s transition continues, but for once there’s a sense of stability given their best players are 25 and under and enjoy being in a Wild uniform.
Though they didn’t bring the alleged “State of Hockey” a Stanley Cup championship in their tenure, Parise and Suter made playing for Minnesota cool as the franchise found its footing now entering its second generation.
2020-21 record 35-19-2, 72 points
2nd in the Scotia NHL North Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Winnipeg
Additions: F Warren Foegele (acquired from CAR), F Zach Hyman, F Brendan Perlini, F Derek Ryan, F Colton Sceviour (signed to a PTO), F Tim Soderlund (acquired from CHI), D Cody Ceci, D Duncan Keith (acquired from CHI)
Subtractions: F Adam Cracknell (signed with Bakersfield Condors, AHL), F Tyler Ennis (signed to a PTO with OTT), F Joseph Gambardella (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Gaëtan Haas (NL), F Dominik Kahun (NL), F Jujhar Khaira (signed with CHI), F James Neal (buyout), F Joakim Nygård (SHL), F Alan Quine (signed with Henderson Silver Knights, AHL), F Patrick Russell (SHL), F Anton Slepyshev (KHL), D Ethan Bear (traded to CAR), D Caleb Jones (traded to CHI), D Dmitry Kulikov (signed with MIN), D Adam Larsson (expansion, SEA), D Theodor Lennström (KHL), G Dylan Wells (traded to CAR)
Still Unsigned: F Alex Chiasson
Re-signed: F Tyler Benson, F Cooper Marody, F Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, F Devin Shore, F Kailer Yamamoto, D Tyson Barrie, D Slater Koekkoek, G Stuart Skinner, G Mike Smith
Offseason Analysis: The second-best team in the Scotia NHL North Division would’ve been the fourth-best team in the other three divisions last season.
No matter what, the Oilers would’ve been a playoff team in 2020-21, but it’s the embarrassment that came with being swept in the 2021 First Round by the Winnipeg Jets and subsequent offseason moves that have left many scratching their heads.
Instead of overreacting and making big, sweeping, changes, Edmonton went for a big piece and a few smaller moves that still ate up their valuable cap space in the midst of a flat salary cap due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
So really it’s just more of the same from the Oilers.
Let’s start with the good news…
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto and Tyson Barrie are back and solidify some semblance of depth for Edmonton with Nugent-Hopkins on an affordable eight-year extension worth $5.125 million per season– the Oilers will have a surefire center on the second or third line for years to come.
The 28-year-old was Edmonton’s 1st overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft and had 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 52 games last season after reaching the 60-point plateau in back-to-back seasons from 2018-19 through 2019-20.
Had there been an 82-game schedule in 2020-21, Nugent-Hopkins likely would’ve at least eclipsed the 50-point mark.
At 5-foot-8, 135-pounds, Yamamoto has a lot in common with guys like Martin St. Louis in his stature and– like St. Louis– is better off developing on his own as he had 8-13–21 totals in 52 games in his first full season run with the Oilers last season.
Though he made his league debut in 2017-18, Yamamoto has only been utilized by Edmonton sparingly in parts of three seasons leading up to his full-time status in 2020-21.
His game should be fine in due time, though offering him a supporting cast (a theme for the Oilers in general) would be fine.
After he had 59 points in 78 games with the Colorado Avalanche in 2018-19, Barrie was shipped as part of a package to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade that, well, didn’t exactly live up to the high expectations in Toronto.
Barrie’s production from the point plummeted to 39 points (five goals, 34 assists) in 70 games with the Maple Leafs in 2019-20.
He joined the Oilers on a one-year deal last October and bounced back with an admirable 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 56 games.
He had 25 points on the power play in his last season in Colorado, then just 12 points as a quarterback on Toronto’s power play unit before rebounding with 23 points from the blue line while on the skater advantage last season for Edmonton.
For his efforts, Barrie was rewarded with a sweet three-year deal worth $4.500 million per season and at 29-years-old that’s about right for a defender on the cusp of beginning the eventual decline from a defensive prime.
Zach Hyman joins the Oilers on a seven-year contract worth $5.500 million per season, which isn’t completely terrible for a 29-year-old forward in his prime that had 15-18–33 totals in 43 games with the Maple Leafs last season and has reached the 40-point plateau twice before.
As a top-six forward, Hyman is a welcome addition to Edmonton’s Art Ross Trophy-winning powerhouse offense (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl).
An additional positive from this offseason?
Edmonton’s rid themselves of James Neal via a buyout. Granted, he’ll still be on the books through the 2024-25 season at about a $1.917 million cap penalty, but after parts of two seasons with the Oilers since being acquired for Milan Lucic, at least that branch of franchise history has come to a close.
Neal had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 29 games last season after bouncing back from 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 63 games with the Calgary Flames in 2018-19 to 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 55 games for Edmonton in 2019-20.
He’s a shell of his former self, but on a low-risk contract, he could fit in fine just about anywhere else that needs a touch of veteran experience.
Now for the bad stuff that… …isn’t necessarily that bad, it’s just disappointing from the Oilers (who seemingly have chosen to make the Buffalo Sabres look good for at least being salary cap smart this offseason and that’s about it).
At 39-years-old, Mike Smith could’ve called it a career, but when Jimmy Howard turned down Oilers General Manager, Ken Holland, Smith was rewarded with two-year (not just one-year!) extension worth $2.200 million per season.
The cap hit is fine, considering he recored a goals-against average under 2.50 for the first time since the 2011-12 season with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Back then, in 67 games with Phoenix, Smith had a 38-18-10 record, a 2.21 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and eight shutouts en route to backstopping the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final, where the Los Angeles Kings eliminated Phoenix in five games.
Last season with the Oilers, Smith went 21-6-2 in 32 games, had three shutouts and amassed a 2.31 goals-against average as well as a .923 save percentage.
In 2019-20, he had a 19-12-6 record in 39 games, one shutout, a .902 save percentage and a whopping 2.95 goals-against average.
Whether it’s the introduction of Barrie to Edmonton’s defense that helped singlehandedly reduce the workload Smith faced or not– Smith had a fantastic season in 2020-21.
However, time stops for nobody and with an average age of 35.3 between Smith, Mikko Koskinen and Alex Stalock as reliable options in the crease under contract at the NHL level, well, it’s easy to feel uneasy about Edmonton’s chances at stopping the puck from night-to-night as their bodies collectively wear down through an 82-game schedule.
Then again, they are athletes and you and I are not.
Yet, it’s worth noting since unlike Smith, Koskinen went from an 18-13-3 record in 38 games with a 2.75 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and one shutout in 2019-20 with the Oilers to a dismal 13-13-0 record in 26 games with a 3.17 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage in 2020-21.
For all the good that Barrie and Co. on Edmonton’s blue line have done, there’s two new additions that, uh, might undo some of the forward progress.
Connor McDavid (ever heard of him?) vouched for Holland to acquire Duncan Keith from Chicago and then Holland went along and signed Cody Ceci in free agency.
Though Keith recorded 6-34–40 totals in 82 games in 2018-19 with Chicago, he’s been in decline, notching 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 61 games in 2019-20 and just 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in 54 games last season.
The 38-year-old defender would’ve accepted any trade to a team close to the pacific northwest as he expressed a desire to be closer to family, having been isolated playing hockey for a living for most of the time during the ongoing pandemic and spending roughly five months combined with his son prior to being traded to Edmonton.
In 1,192 career NHL games, he’s won three Stanley Cup rings, was named playoff MVP in 2015, and has 105-520–625 totals in the regular season.
With two years left on his contract, Keith’s $5.538 million cap hit is a bit steep for what could be a defensive liability as the aging process continues and– turns out– Holland could’ve done better by waiting another day and signing Keith Yandle for much less after the Florida Panthers bought him out. Who knew?!
Though the Internet likes to make fun of Ceci, the 27-year-old defender really hasn’t been all that bad.
Sure 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in 53 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season isn’t great, but he’s not expected to be a top-four defender– or at least he shouldn’t be.
Mistakes and weird things will happen. Sometimes you’re just unlucky like that.
Wait, Holland gave him four-years at $3.250 million per season? Yikes.
And to put the icing on the cake, Holland traded Ethan Bear to the Carolina Hurricanes for Warren Foegele. Not that Foegele’s bad, but for a team that could use a better defense, Bear fit in pretty well.
Has this McDavid guy ever tried watching the Oilers?
Offseason Grade: C+
For the Nugent-Hopkins extension, sensible new deal for Barrie and Yamamoto bridge contract, Holland deserves some praise for keeping the right pieces happy and on the roster heading into 2021-22.
That said, he also made some errors in judgment acquiring Keith at the price he paid, as well as handing out Ceci a contract with a steep cap hit and term for a guy that’s probably not that good.
In other words, it was just another normal offseason for the Oilers.
Edmonton made some smart moves, but then overreacted in other areas, while still searching for the second coming of Andy Moog in net or whatever.