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2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Western Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Western Conference Qualifiers, while the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars sort themselves out.

All Western Conference games will be at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, including the Western Conference Final and all of the Stanley Cup Final.

(5) Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9, 83 points) vs (12) Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8, 72 points)

Edmonton: 71 games played, .585 points percentage, 31 regulation wins.

Chicago: 70 games played, .514 points percentage, 23 regulation wins.

The Edmonton Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division with 83 points– three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the division lead. That’s how good the Oilers were at times and/or how far behind the Pacific Division was at times leading up to the premature end of the regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

One thing is for sure about the always home-ice even without fans in the bubble Oilers team, their top players were much better than they were last season.

2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner and Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Leon Draisaitl had 110 points this season in 71 games played. He was on pace for 126 points had the regular season reached its original conclusion.

That would’ve been 21 points better than his previous high of 105 points in 82 games last season. Luckily for Draisaitl, he still set a new career-high in a pandemic– two new career-highs, actually.

Though 43 goals this season did not top the 50 goals he scored in 2018-19, Draisaitl set career-highs in assists (67) and points (110)– and yet, somehow he still was a minus-seven on the season.

Is it worth exploring moving Draisaitl out of Edmonton? MY COLUMN:

(If you’re wondering, that’s four consecutive seasons of at least 70 points and back-to-back 100-plus point seasons for Draisaitl, so no, he’s not going anywhere.)

Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, had 34 goals and 63 assists (97 points) in 64 games this season, which was 19 points shy of his career-high 116-points last season in 78 games in 2018-19. McDavid was on pace for 124 points this season at the time of the stoppage.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was third in scoring for Edmonton with 22-39–61 totals in 65 games this season, then the next highest skater had 34 points in 59 games (Zack Kassian). This season marked back-to-back 60-point seasons for Nugent-Hopkins for the first time in his career.

In goal, Mike Smith (19-12-6 in 39 games played, 37 starts, 2.95 goals against average, .905 save percentage and one shutout) split time with Mikko Koskinen (18-13-3 in 38 GP, 34 starts, 2.75 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout in that span) this season.

The 38-year-old veteran goaltender, Smith, has a 2.17 GAA, a .938 SV% and four shutouts over 24 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Meanwhile, 32-year-old Koskinen has yet to appear in a postseason NHL game.

Smith’s .938 SV% in the playoffs, however, is league-leading among active NHL goaltenders with a minimum of 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games played.

Oilers head coach, Dave Tippett, might be smart to start Smith over Koskinen in Game 1, considering Smith’s career playoff numbers, but he did post a 3.20 GAA and a .917 SV% in five games with the Calgary Flames in the 2019 First Round en route to Calgary’s defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.

Smith did record one shutout in last year’s playoffs, however, and faced 205 shots against in those five games against the Avs.

That was about 34% of the number of shots he faced (602) in 16 games with the then known as Phoenix Coyotes en route to their 2012 Western Conference Final appearance against the eventual 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

At the other end of the rink, Patrick Kane led the way for the Chicago Blackhawks this season with 33-51–84 totals in 70 games, which was 24 points more than Jonathan Toews’ 60-point effort in 70 games for Chicago this season.

2019-20 Calder Memorial Trophy finalist, Dominik Kubalik, was third in Blackhawks scoring with 30 goals and 16 assists (46 points) in 68 games played.

For Kane, the pandemic shortened 2019-20 regular season marked five consecutive seasons with at least 70 points, while he was on pace for about 98 points had the regular season witnessed a full 82-game conclusion.

For Toews, he has never had a season with 82 games schedule below 50 points (though he had 48 points in 47 games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season), but he did see a decrease in production from 81 points in 82 games last season to 60 points in 70 games this season. He was on pace for 70 points over an 82-game schedule in 2019-20.

In goal, Corey Crawford led the Blackhawks with a 16-20-3 record in 40 games played (39 starts), a 2.77 GAA, .917 SV% and one shutout this season.

Prior to being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline via the Toronto Maple Leafs in a three-team trade– in which Chicago acquired, in part, Malcolm Subban– Robin Lehner served as Crawford’s tandem goaltender with a 16-10-5 record in 33 games played (31 starts), a 3.01 GAA, .918 SV% and no shutouts in that span with the Blackhawks.

Subban, on the other hand, made one appearance with Chicago after the trade and played in one minute as a Blackhawk. He had a 3.18 GAA and an .890 SV% in 20 games (19 starts) with the Golden Knights this season, however.

Should Blackhawks head coach, Jeremy Colliton, be given any reason not to opt for Crawford as his Qualifier starter, then there’s cause for concern as to whether or not Chicago can upset the Oilers if Subban can’t right the ship from his worst season as an NHL backup goaltender.

Four months off with plenty of rest to get in the right mindset might have been a good thing for his rhythm, however, as Crawford and Subban made a combined shutout effort in Chicago’s, 4-0, win over the St. Louis Blues in their exhibition matchup.

What’s more, the Blackhawks went 2-1-0 in three games against the Oilers this season, but before you start thinking there’s a chance Chicago upsets Edmonton with a sweep or anything, take caution as the Hawks had ten goals for and nine goals against in their season series.

This will be Colliton’s first appearance behind the bench as head coach in a postseason (but also not technically postseason) appearance for the Blackhawks– and Chicago’s first postseason action without Joel Quenneville at the reigns since before Quenneville was hired four games into the 2008-09 season.

It truly is a new era for Chicago, despite much of the core remaining from their three Cup championships in a five-year span.

Look for the Oilers to get the job done in four games with Tippett looking to punch his ticket back to the postseason since leading the Coyotes to the 2012 Western Conference Final, while The Hockey Gods favor Edmonton since the tragic loss of their teammate, Colby Cave, in April after the 25-year-old forward suffered a brain bleed and died days later after being placed in a medically induced coma.

Regular season outcomes:

3-1 CHI at United Center on Oct. 14th, 5-3 EDM at Rogers Place on Feb. 11th, 4-3 CHI at United Center on March 5th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 CHI @ EDM 3 PM ET on NBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 CHI @ EDM 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/5- Game 3 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/7- Game 4 EDM @ CHI in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 CHI @ EDM*

*If necessary

(6) Nashville Predators (35-26-8, 78 points) vs (11) Arizona Coyotes (33-29-8, 74 points)

Nashville: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 28 regulation wins.

Arizona: 70 games played, .529 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

There’s something in the water in Nashville– and it’s not just catfish. Predators defender– and 2019-20 James Norris Trophy finalist– Roman Josi led the Preds in scoring this season with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in 69 games.

He was on pace for 77 points at the time of the stoppage and trailed Washington Capitals defender– and fellow Norris finalist– John Carlson by ten points for the most points by a defender this season.

It was a career-season for Josi in goals, assists and points, by the way.

Nashville’s top-three in scoring, in fact, nearly contained two defenders as Josi led the way and Ryan Ellis notched 38 points in an injury-riddled 49-game season (a 64-point pace had the full 82-game schedule been completed if the pandemic never happened).

Ellis trailed Filip Forsberg (21-27–48 totals in 63 games) and Matt Duchene (13-29–42 totals in 66 games) in scoring on the Predators roster.

Juuse Saros finally emerged as a de facto starting goaltender for Nashville after amassing a 17-12-4 record in 40 games played (34 starts), as well as a 2.70 GAA, .914 SV% and four shutouts on the season.

Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, had an 18-14-4 record in 36 games (35 starts), which wasn’t bad, but his numbers past his overall record were actually a career-worst with a 3.17 GAA and an .895 SV% in 2019-20.

Rinne previously had a 3.80 GAA in a season, but that was only when he played in two games in 2005-06.

This was a season to forget for Rinne, but perhaps a larger indicator of more worries to come for Nashville in the net– especially more so after Saros didn’t exactly light it up as a starter with a goals against average that would even make a backup goaltender look, well, average.

The Arizona Coyotes enter the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier with a new owner, as well as a new Interim General Manager in Steve Sullivan, as well as Nick Schmaltz leading the way in scoring with 11 goals and 34 assists for 45 points in 70 games played.

Not ideal, ideally speaking.

Clayton Keller had 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games and was on pace for 52 points had the pandemic not cut the regular season short.

Meanwhile, Conor Garland was third on the team in scoring with 39 points in 68 games, while establishing career-highs in goals (22), assists (17) and points (39) in the process.

Christian Dvorak and Phil Kessel each had 38 points in 70 games. Over an 82-game schedule, that’s about a 45-point pace, which would’ve still been a career-season for Dvorak and a disappointment for Kessel in his first season in the desert.

Granted, Kessel’s not playing with guys like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in his new home in Arizona.

He failed to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time since the 2007-08 season, in which Kessel scored 19 goals in 82 games for the Boston Bruins in his sophomore season.

Kessel also failed to reach 30-assists for the first time since his first season as a Toronto Maple Leaf in 2009-10, in which he had 25 helpers in 70 games.

Finally, No. 81 on Arizona’s roster failed to amass at least 40 points in a season for just the third time in his career (29 points in 70 games while missing time battling testicular cancer with the Bruins in his rookie season in 2006-07, and 37 points in 82 games the following season in 2007-08 with Boston).

Granted, Kessel likely could have passed the 40-point plateau had the COVID-19 pandemic not interrupted plans for him and his Coyotes teammates.

In goal, Antti Raanta appeared in 33 games (32 starts) and had a 15-14-3 record, as well as a 2.63 GAA, a .921 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Darcy Kuemper went 16-11-2 in 29 games played (all starts) and amassed a 2.22 GAA, while putting up a .928 SV% and two shutouts this season for the Coyotes.

If there’s any doubt Rick Tocchet has over deciding which goaltender to start in Game 1 against Nashville, there shouldn’t be any question– it has to be Kuemper.

Simply put, it’s Kuemper’s net to lose right now in Arizona and a little healthy competition isn’t a bad idea to try to spur Raanta in the right direction if he wants to be a starter in this league.

Boy, home ice advantage really would be something in this series by default, right? After all, each team won their only home game in their regular season matchups prior to the premature conclusion to the 2019-20 regular season due to the pandemic.

Since home ice is without fans in Edmonton for all Western Conference teams in the 2020 postseason, there’s not much to go off of in terms of these two clubs’ head-to-head meetings.

But the Predators have more than a few things going in their favor among their forwards and defenders who could also play forward, arguably.

The one thing Arizona has that Nashville hasn’t seen much of this season is a consistent starter in the crease.

If the Coyotes win the series, it’ll likely have something with Kuemper stealing a few games.

If the Preds sweep Arizona, it might have something to do with the sheer fire power in a last-ditch effort at what’s otherwise a closing window for a potential Cup contending roster.

At the very least John Hynes probably doesn’t have to worry about getting the same treatment as Peter Laviolette– who Hynes replaced in January– if the Predators dropped the ball in this series.

Let’s say Nashville in three, but give props to Kuemper for honing in his talents to tend the crease this well in his career. It hasn’t been easy, but he’s arrived and here to stay, unlike former Coyotes GM John Chayka.

Regular season outcomes:

5-2 ARI at Gila River Arena on Oct. 17th, 3-2 NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 23rd

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN360

8/4- Game 2 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1, SN360

8/5- Game 3 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN360

8/7- Game 4 NSH @ ARI in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 ARI @ NSH in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(7) Vancouver Canucks (36-27-6, 78 points) vs (10) Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, 77 points)

Vancouver: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 27 regulation wins.

Minnesota: 69 games played, .558 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Entering the 2019-20 season, Vancouver Canucks General Manager, Jim Benning, added J.T. Miller to the fold in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Benning then went out and got Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings leading up to the 2020 trade deadline.

As a result, the Canucks are much improved from last season to this season.

Miller led the team in scoring with 27-45–72 totals in 69 games played and was on pace for about 86 points at the time of the stoppage due to the pandemic.

Elias Pettersson (66 points in 69 games), Bo Horvat (53 points in 69 games) and Quinn Hughes (53 points in 69 games) rounded out the top-three in scoring for Vancouver.

Horvat and Hughes were tied for the third most points on the team as Hughes left his mark on the 2019-20 season by earning Calder Memorial Trophy finalist honors.

Meanwhile, Jacob Markstrom led the Canucks in the crease with a 23-16-4 record in 43 games played (all starts), as well as a 2.75 GAA, a .918 SV% and two shutouts in that span.

Thatcher Demko made 27 appearances (25 starts) as the backup goaltender and went 13-10-2 on the season with a 3.06 GAA and a .905 SV% in that span.

Louis Domingue also appeared in one game (one start) in the regular season for the Canucks and had a 4.08 GAA and an .882 SV%.

Markstrom will be the starter for Vancouver’s postseason run, but he’ll have to be a tad better in cutting down his goals against average for a deep run.

For Canucks head coach, Travis Green, it’s more of the same game plan to try to spur the Canucks back into the playoffs for the first time since their 2015 First Round appearance and elimination at the hands of the Calgary Flames in six games.

The Minnesota Wild removed the “interim” tag from their head coach, Dean Evason’s title since the pause in play and are looking to upset the Canucks and get back into the playoffs since missing the postseason last season.

Kevin Fiala led the way for the Wild in scoring with 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 64 games played. He was on pace for 69 points had the season gone all 82 games, but still established career-highs in goals, assists and points in the shortened season regardless.

Ryan Suter led defenders and was second in scoring on the roster with 48 points (eight goals, 40 assists) in 69 games, while Eric Staal was ahead of Zach Parise by one point for third in scoring with 47 points in 66 games.

In goal, Alex Stalock (20-11-4 in 38 games played, 36 starts, 2.67 goals against average, .985 save percentage, four shutouts) outplayed Minnesota’s usual starter Devan Dubnyk (12-15-2 in 30 GP, 28 starts, 3.35 GAA, .890 SV%, one shutout) and will likely backstop the team in Game 1 against Vancouver.

Kaapo Kahkonen also made his NHL debut this season in the crease for the Wild in five games– amassing a 3-1-1 record, as well as a 2.96 GAA and a .913 SV%.

Both teams had nine goals for and nine goals against one another in their season series. They also each had 89 total shots on goal against one another in the 2019-20 regular season.

Though the Wild made strides this season at potentially avoiding a rebuild, it’s still an uphill climb for Minnesota against the Canucks on paper– regardless of their head-to-head matchups from the season.

Vancouver has the right combination of speed, skill and youth to limit Minnesota’s chances and, at times, lackluster offense.

The Canucks core is more defined than Minnesota’s fluid situation as Wild GM Bill Guerin evolves the roster over the next season or two.

It’s a transition period, nonetheless.

Benning and the Canucks are emerging from their transition and look to be ready to get back into the playoff hunt with what should be a four-game series win against the Wild.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 VAN at Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 12th, 4-2 MIN at Xcel Energy Center on Feb. 6th, 4-3 F/SO MIN at Rogers Arena on Feb. 19th

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 2 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton 10:45 PM ET on USA, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 3 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton TBD

8/7- Game 4 VAN @ MIN in Edmonton*

8/9- Game 5 MIN @ VAN in Edmonton*

*If necessary

(8) Calgary Flames (36-27-7, 79 points) vs (9) Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6, 80 points)

Calgary: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 25 regulation wins.

Winnipeg: 71 games played, .563 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

The Calgary Flames were led in scoring this season by their hottest controversial player, Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk ruffled some feathers en route to re-igniting the “Battle of Alberta” and managed to amass 23-38–61 totals in 69 games played in 2019-20.

He was on pace for 72 points this season at the time of the stoppage, but still had back-to-back seasons with at least 60 points nonetheless.

Johnny Gaudreau was second on the roster in points with 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists) in 70 games played, which was down from his 99 points in 82 games last season. That said, Gaudreau was still on pace for about 68 points when the regular season was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Instead, his streak of consecutive 60-plus point seasons was over at five seasons thanks to the pandemic.

Finally, Elias Lindholm managed to set a new career-high in goals (29), while scoring 54 points in 70 games this season– ranking third on the team in scoring.

In the crease, Calgary was saved by David “Big Save Dave” Rittich, who went 24-17-6 in 48 games played (all starts), had a 2.97 goals against average, a .907 save percentage and two shutouts this season.

Actually, on second thought, maybe that’s not very good numbers to have for a *checks notes* starting goaltender.

Alright, let’s check the backup…

Cam Talbot went 12-10-1 in 26 games played (22 starts), had a 2.63 GAA, a .919 SV% and two shutouts this season. Hmm, not much better.

Oh and did you remember that interim head coach, Geoff Ward, replaced Bill Peters after everyone found out Peters is racist?

The Winnipeg Jets landed in fifth place in the Central Division with 80 points this season– two points behind the Dallas Stars, who were the fourth best team in the Western Conference by points percentage and have earned themselves home ice in at least the First Round, which only matters so much in a bubble, but still, this was meant to show how close the Jets came to being a Round Robin team instead of playing in a Qualifier series.

Anyway, Kyle Connor soared as a Jet this season– establishing new career-highs in goals (38), assists (35) and points (73) in the process while playing in 71 games until the pandemic cut the regular season short.

Connor was on pace for 84 points this season if the full 82-game schedule could’ve occurred uninterrupted.

Meanwhile, Mark Scheifele actually tied Connor for the most points on the roster with 73, as Scheifele tallied 29 goals and had 44 helpers in 71 games. Not quite a career-season, but still respectable after setting career-high totals (38-46–84) last season in all 82 games.

Winnipeg’s captain, Blake Wheeler, contributed more than just actions and words in defense of the Constitution and human rights this season, scoring 22 goals and amassing 43 assists for third place on the roster in points (65) in 71 games played.

Patrik Laine, for those wondering, was fourth on the team with 63 points, which was back to his usual self, albeit with more assists (35) than goals (28) in 68 games.

Laine hasn’t been a bust for the Jets– he’s never had a season with fewer than 50 points (last season, 82 games) and was on pace for about 76 points had the season been played in full.

This was, however, the first season he failed to reach the 30-goal plateau, but he only missed it by two goals and, hello, the pandemic? Remember it? Yeah, that’s why he missed the mark, otherwise he would’ve (probably) scored a pair of goals in the remaining 11 games for Winnipeg on the 2019-20 regular season schedule at the time of the pause.

In goal, Paul Maurice relied on old reliable to bail him out even more so in the wake of Dustin Byfuglien’s decision to sit out the 2019-20 season and eventual mutual termination of his contract with the club.

2019-20 Vezina Trophy finalist, Connor Hellebuyck, held the fort down with a 31-21-5 record in 58 games played (56 starts), amassed a 2.57 goals against average and had a .922 save percenrage– as well as a league-leading six shutouts this season.

Yeah, it was kind of a big season for Hellebucyk and if he’s not the favorite among the NHL GMs that vote for the Vezina, well, who knows what games they were watching (presumably their own).

Laurent Brossoit went 6-7-1 in 19 games (15 starts) this season and had a dismal 3.28 GAA and an .895 SV% in that span. Yikes.

The defense looks different without Byfuglien, but Hellebuyck remained stable as their primary alternative to keeping the puck away from their own net.

That might not pay off against some of the powerhouses in the league, but luckily the Jets have enough time to let Maurice come up with a plan and enact it to cut down on Hellebuyck’s workload in the Qualifier if they want a chance to advance.

Oh, speaking of the Winnipeg and Calgary series– nobody knows what to expect!

The Jets and Flames met once this season– back in the 2019 Heritage Classic outdoors at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Winnipeg won in overtime in comeback fashion that night, 2-1.

They peppered Rittich with 45 shots (43 saves) and kept Hellebuyck to an ideal workload of 30 shots faced (29 saves).

If the Jets don’t win this series, it’ll be a huge disappointment– perhaps even bigger than making the First Round and getting stomped out by their next opponent after the phenomenal performance by Hellebucyk in the crease all season.

Then again, momentum no longer exists since everyone had about five months off.

Let’s say this one goes all five games for one reason or another and that Winnipeg can pull it off and advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

2-1 F/OT WPG at Mosaic Stadium, Regina, Saskatchewan on Oct. 26th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, CBC, SN

8/3- Game 2 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton 2:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/4- Game 3 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton 4:45 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN

8/6- Game 4 CGY @ WPG in Edmonton*

8/8- Game 5 WPG @ CGY in Edmonton*

*If necessary


2020 Western Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Western Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Western Conference are in Edmonton this year and all times Eastern.

St. Louis Blues

42-19-10, 94 points, 71 GP, .662 PTS%, 33 RW

Aug. 2nd @ COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 6th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. DAL in Edmonton, TBD

Colorado Avalanche

42-20-8, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 37 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. STL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360

Aug. 5th @ DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 8th vs. VGK in Edmonton, TBD

Vegas Golden Knights

39-24-8, 86 points, 71 GP, .606 PTS%, 30 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. DAL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 6th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

Aug. 8th @ COL in Edmonton, TBD

Dallas Stars

37-24-8, 82 points, 69 GP, .594 PTS%, 26 RW

Aug. 3rd @ VGK in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV, SN1

Aug. 5th vs. COL in Edmonton 6:30 PM ET on NHLN, NHL.TV

Aug. 9th @ STL in Edmonton, TBD

DTFR Podcast #202- What Are Your Qualifications?/Let’s Get Kraken

Using Qualifiers to enhance this postseason (it’s a breakdown of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round Robin action). Plus the Seattle Kraken!

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

DTFR Podcast #201- Summer School (Since Summer Camp Is A Sponsored MLB Thing Now)

Dates, awards finalists, opting out, new faces, exhibition schedule and the Ottawa Senators rebrand.

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

Look To The Rafters: Dallas Stars (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Dallas Stars might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of American Airlines Center someday.

Dallas Stars Current Retired Numbers

7 Neal Broten

8 Bill Goldsworthy

9 Mike Modano

19 Bill Masterton

26 Jere Lehtinen

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

Yes! Jere Lehtinen’s No. 26 was retired by the Stars on Nov. 24, 2017, and Dallas has plans to retire Hockey Hall of Famer, Sergei Zubov’s No. 56 next season (2020-21). Both are equally deserving of the highest honor bestowed upon them by the team.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

3 John Klingberg

If there’s one under the radar defender in the National Hockey League more than anyone else these days, it’s John Klingberg.

To the casual fan, the Stars might be easy to overlook and, as a result, Klingberg’s name often goes unnoticed with it, but in 425 career NHL games so far (all with Dallas), he’s amassed 58-233–291 totals.

Until the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2019-20 regular season, he never had fewer than 40 points in a season, which is a tremendous rate of production from a defender in today’s NHL.

Though he had six goals and 26 assists (32 points) in 58 games this season, Klingberg was on pace for about 45 points.

In 2016-17, he established a career-high in goals with 13 tallies in 80 games, then followed up wiht a career-year (so far) in 2017-18, setting career-highs in assists (59) and points (67) in a full, 82-game, season.

As one of the cornerstone defenders for the franchise (Miro Heiskanen being the other), there’s a chance Klingberg will endure lengthy success and translate that into more points on the scoresheet over the years. All of that is to say that the Gothenburg, Sweden native that was drafted in the fifth round (131st overall) by Dallas in 2010, is on the right track for a promising legacy in a Stars sweater that just might lead to No. 3 being raised to the rafters at American Airlines Center.

10 Brenden Morrow

Morrow spent parts of 13 seasons in Dallas, notching 243 goals and 285 assists (528 points) in 835 career games for the Stars from 1999-2013. 

On March 24, 2013, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins with the Minnesota Wild’s 2013 3rd round pick (previously acquired, Pittsburgh selected Jake Guentzel) for Joe Morrow (no relation) and Pittsburgh’s 2013 5th round pick (Matej Paulovic).

After finishing the 2012-13 season with the Penguins, Morrow made stops with the St. Louis Blues in 2013-14 and Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014-15, before retiring from the NHL with 265-310–575 totals in 991 career NHL games.

Shawn Horcoff, Patrick Sharp, Martin Hanzal and Corey Perry have all worn No. 10 in Dallas since Morrow’s departure, so it would seem as though the Stars have already made up their mind about the winger’s career, but never say never.

There’s a chance that it just might take a little time before the former Stars captain is formally recognized for his contributions to the organization over the years since being drafted by Dallas in the first round (25th overall) in 1997, having the 5th most games played in franchise history, being tied for 8th in all-time franchise goals scored, as well as sitting 9th in all-time franchise points records.

14 Jamie Benn

The current longest-tenured player in Dallas, Benn has been around with the Stars since breaking into the league in the 2009-10 season after being drafted by Dallas in the fifth round (129th overall) in 2007. 

That draft pick, by the way, originally belonged to the Boston Bruins, who traded it to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Adam McQuaid, then the Blue Jackets flipped the pick, as well as two more 2007 5th rounders for Los Angeles’ 2007 4th round pick (previously acquired by Dallas, Columbus selected Maksim Mayorov).

Anyway, Benn made an impact with the Stars in his rookie season, scoring 22 goals and collecting 19 assists (41 points) in 82 games.

He has only had two seasons with less than 40 points so far– once in the lockout shortened, 48-game 2012-13 season, in which Benn amassed 12-21–33 totals in 41 games, and again in the premature end to the 2019-20 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in which Benn scored 19 goals and had 20 assists (39 points) in 69 games.

If you’re wondering, he was on a 66-point pace in 2012-13, had the season not been shortened due to a lockout and a 46-point pace this season prior to the pandemic cutting the 2019-20 regular season short.

In 2014-15, Benn took home the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading point scorer with 35-52–87 totals in 82 games, but he then went on to set career-highs in goals (41), assists (48) and points (89) the following season in 82 games in 2015-16.

The 31-year-old Victoria, British Columbia native has 300 goals and 388 assists (688 points) in 814 career games thus far for the Stars.

As one of their most consistent performers, it’s reasonable to think that No. 14 will be set aside forever and live in the rafters in Dallas after Benn hangs up his skates.

91 Tyler Seguin

There were a lot of fireworks on the U.S. Independence Day (July 4th) in 2013, as the Boston Bruins traded Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button to the Stars for Loui Eriksson, Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith and Joe Morrow.

Seguin already had 56 goals and 65 assists (121 points) in 203 games with Boston, as well as one Stanley Cup ring from his rookie season (2010-11), then things really took off with Dallas.

He had set a season-high 29 goals, 38 assists and 67 points in 81 games with Boston in his sophomore campaign of 2011-12, but in his first season with the Stars in 2013-14, Seguin scored 37 goals and 47 assists for a career-high 84 points in 80 games.

Eriksson, the biggest piece in return for Seguin, had a measly 37 points in 61 games with the Bruins in 2013-14. He didn’t find his stride in the Eastern Conference until he had 30 goals and 33 assists (63 points) in 82 games in 2015-16, but then the Bruins chose to let him walk in free agency and sign a massive six-year, $36 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1, 2016.

Nevertheless, the Stars won the Seguin trade– if not, for nothing else, because they got the bigger name in the deal (Seguin– you know, the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 Draft).

In seven seasons with Dallas, Seguin’s only had one year where he failed to reach 70 points. 

This season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic cutting the regular season short, Seguin only had  50 points (17 goals and 33 assists) in 69 games. He was on a 59-point pace at the time of the pause– two seasons removed from reaching the 40-goal plateau in 2017-18.

In 538 games with the Stars so far, Seguin has 223 goals and 291 assists (514 points) as one of the greatest transactions in franchise history. That’s pretty good– so good, he’s 10th so far among Stars leaders all-time in assists and tied for 10th with Jere Lehtinen in franchise points.

The story writes itself, No. 91 will be in the rafters in Dallas someday.

Final Thoughts

Dallas has a few candidates in the immediate and/or near future to consider for jersey retirement nights. Yet, there’s perhaps a plethora of players that are really just starting out that cannot be ignored, but shouldn’t be held to higher than realistic expectations and standards.

Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov are four quality players to build a team around– combined with the veteran presences of Klingberg, Benn, Seguin, Joe Pavelski and Ben Bishop, well, the Stars should be a strong candidate for a deep playoff run, if not Cup contenders.

Heiskanen’s put up 20-48–68 totals in 150 games so far, but it’s not always about the points with defenders. Meanwhile, Lindell is quietly doing his own thing with 27-73–100 totals in 308 games with the Stars since breaking into the league with a four-game stint in 2015-16.

Hintz avoided a sophomore slump this season after scoring nine goals and 22 points in 58 games last season, he improved to 19 goals and 14 assists (33 points) in 60 games prior to the regular season being cut short in 2019-20. That’s 28-27–55 totals in 118 games so far while he continues to develop as a young NHL player.

Meanwhile, Gurianov just wrapped up a shortened rookie season, in which he had 20 goals and 29 points in 64 games. He was on pace for a respectable 26-goal rookie season after scoring one goal in 21 games in 2018-19, and first appearing in the league in one game in 2016-17.

Odds are at least one of these guys could end up in the next edition of this five years from now.

Look To The Rafters: Columbus Blue Jackets (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Columbus Blue Jackets might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of Nationwide Arena someday.

Columbus Blue Jackets Current Retired Numbers

None

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

No! The Blue Jackets have yet to retire any number still, but that should change as soon as possible.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

18 Pierre-Luc Dubois

Columbus has long needed a certified homegrown number one center on their roster, then along came Dubois 3rd overall in the 2016 NHL Draft. In his rookie season (2017-18), Dubois had 20 goals and 28 assists (48 points) in 82 games. Last season, he managed career-highs in goals (27), assists (34) and points (61) in 82 games.

Up until the abrupt end to the regular season due to the ongoing pandemic, Dubois had 18 goals and 31 assists (49 points) in 70 games and was on pace for about 57 points this season if the remainder of the regular season hadn’t been canceled.

Through 234 career games, Dubois has amassed 65-93–158 totals and brought a much more physical presence to the lineup that Blue Jackets fans likely haven’t seen since the days of Rick Nash.

With a little more time and development, perhaps Dubois can fine tune his scoring touch to emulate Nash. If not, he’s still shaping up to be in fine company and might see his No. 18 raised to the rafters of Nationwide Arena regardless.

61 Rick Nash

Nash formally retired in January 2019. Somehow Columbus doesn’t think there’s any reason to rush to put No. 61 in the rafters, but they should.

The franchise is approaching its 20th season and Nash was their first superstar while the rest of the team looked… well….

Sure you could argue that since his Blue Jackets relationship ended with him desperate to get out of Columbus and being traded to the New York Rangers on July 23, 2012, might take away some of that immediate response to honoring his legacy, but there have been other players in league history that have done less in greater lengths of time with one team then asked to be put out of their misery.

Nash had 289 goals and 258 assists (547 points) in 674 games with the Blue Jackets. He leads Columbus’ all-time stats in all four of those categories (goals, assists, points and games played).

Cam Atkinson is sitting at 571 games (2nd to Nash in franchise history) with Columbus, but with 198 goals (2nd to Nash), 170 assists (4th most all-time for Columbus) and 368 points (again, 2nd to Nash in franchise history) in his career.

Sure, Nash is destined to slide further down the top-10 list all-time one day, but he still drew eyes to the team in its infancy, put up all the points he pocketed without much of a supporting cast and, oh yeah, shared the 2003-04 Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy honors with Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk as the league’s leading goal scorers that season with 41 goals.

Besides, as the 1st overall pick by Columbus in 2002, at least Nash had more of a successful career than Patrik Stefan did with the Atlanta Thrashers and he lasted nine seasons with the Blue Jackets whereas Kovalchuk was only a Thrasher for parts of eight seasons.

No team has ever gone without growing pains. No team has ever made their first faces of the franchise that rightfully deserve to be honored with a jersey retirement ceremony, wait it out, and see if they stack up with other franchise greats 50 years later– that’s just not how a team goes about making history and setting their standards.

Nash’s No. 61 isn’t going to be put into circulation anytime soon, why not make it formal?

71 Nick Foligno

Foligno has now almost been in Columbus as long as Nash was. Next season, Foligno will tie Nash in longevity as a Blue Jacket. The current captain of the Blue Jackets has done a lot for the team and in the community. 

It only seems fitting that, while Nash carries the flash and scoring prowess, as well as the Columbus “pioneer” image for the team years from now in its history (assuming No. 61 gets proper retirement treatment), then Foligno’s No. 71 will be a testament to character, leadership and everything in-between.

Acquired by the Blue Jackets from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Marc Methot on July 1, 2012, Foligno has amassed 135-183–318 totals in 557 games with Columbus.

Drafted by the Senators in the first round (28th overall) in 2006, Foligno managed 148 points in his Sens tenure in 351 games from 2007-12.

He broke out with a career-year in 2014-15, scoring career-highs in goals (31), assists (42) and points (73) in 79 games with the Blue Jackets that season. Since then, he’s fallen more into a consistent role as a bottom-six forward, but still managed at least 30-points in the last three seasons.

In 67 games until the ongoing pandemic cut the regular season short, Foligno had ten goals and 21 assists for 31 points. He was on pace for about 38 points this season.

Oh and he won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy and the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award in 2016-17.

If longevity, consistency and charity alone can earn the ultimate sign of respect from a franchise and yield a jersey retirement, then Foligno has crossed off every checkmark on the list for his time in Columbus.

Final Thoughts

In 2000, the NHL expanded to Columbus and brought back a team in Minnesota with the introduction of the Blue Jackets and the Wild. 

Minnesota shocked the hockey world and upset the Colorado Avalanche in the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, eventually going on a run all the way to the Western Conference Final before being swept by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Columbus didn’t win a playoff series until they also shocked the hockey world and swept the 2018-19 Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning.

Minnesota retired No. 1 for their fans before they even had their first puck drop.

Columbus didn’t resort to that, but probably should do something for their fans to make up for the many years of suffering on the outside looking in and/or playoff losses before making it out of the First Round.

Minnesota hasn’t made it back to the Second Round since 2015.

Columbus has at least made it to the Second Round since the Wild last made it.

The Vegas Golden Knights came into existence in 2017. They made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018, which was their inaugural season (2017-18).

Retire Nash’s number in 2020-21.

Look To The Rafters: Colorado Avalanche (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Colorado Avalanche might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of Pepsi Center someday.

Colorado Avalanche Current Retired Numbers

19 Joe Sakic

21 Peter Forsberg

23 Milan Hejduk

33 Patrick Roy

52 Adam Foote

77 Ray Bourque

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

Yes! Milan Hejduk’s No. 23 was rightfully retired on Jan. 6, 2018. He had 375 goals and 430 assists (805 points) in 1,020 career NHL games (all with the Avalanche), won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 2002-03 with 50 goals and won a Cup with Colorado in 2001. Much like Colorado’s first line these days, you can’t forget the forward trio that preceded them in an Avalanche sweater of Sakic, Forsberg and Hejduk. 

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

6 Erik Johnson

Johnson’s been around in Denver for parts of ten seasons and counting these days after being traded to the Avalanche from the St. Louis Blues during the 2010-11 season. He was drafted by St. Louis 1st overall in the 2006 NHL Draft, but made his league debut with the Blues in the 2007-08 season to the tune of five goals and 28 assists (33 points) in 69 games. 

In his 2009-10 sophomore campaign, Johnson’s totals increased to 10-29–39 in 79 games before splitting the 2010-11 season with St. Louis and Colorado and amassing eight goals and 21 assists (29 points) in 77 games with the two teams.

He didn’t shake the Earth when he broke into the league, but he’s managed to have the staying power and a dressing room presence for the Avs over the years.

Johnson has put up 60 goals and 152 assists (212 points) in 573 games for Colorado– or roughingly .370 points per game as an Av.

Meanwhile, former captain and current retired jersey number recipient in Avalanche franchise history, Adam Foote, had 259 points in 967 games for the Québec Nordiques/Avalanche franchise. That’s .268 points per game in Foote’s time with Québec/Colorado.

If Foote can have his number retired for almost reaching 1,000 games with the team, then Johnson can surely have the same honor for producing more in almost half the time– except by the time he hangs up the skates, he’ll likely play in almost 1,000 games for Colorado and have even more points by then, so yeah, the logic is still sound here.

You don’t always have to be a superstar in the league to be honored by a team for putting in the work and dedication to an organization.

29 Nathan MacKinnon

The 1st overall pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, MacKinnon won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year in 2013-14, with 24 goals and 39 assists (63 points) in 82 games with the Avalanche.

The following season, MacKinnon’s production dropped to 14 goals and 24 assists (38 points) in 64 games in 2014-15. He then had back-to-back seasons of at least 50 points in 2015-16 and 2016-17 as the Avs floundered through the beginning of the second half of the 2010s.

Just as most experts began to rule out MacKinnon’s ability to be a franchise changing impact player, Colorado General Manager, Joe Sakic, helped create the foundation for a better roster for years to come and MacKinnon broke out of his shell with 39 goals and 58 assists (97 points) in 74 games in 2017-18.

Last season, MacKinnon almost reached the century mark with 99 points in 82 games, while setting a career-high in goals (41) and tying his career-high in assists (58).

This season, he had 35 goals and 58 assists (93 points) in 69 games and was on pace for about 111 points had the regular season not come to an abrupt end due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With 495 points in 525 career games so far, MacKinnon is destined to be an Avalanche player for life and rise in all-time franchise glory. As it is, he currently sits 7th in the most points in Nordiques/Avalanche franchise history, with Anton Stastny sitting ahead of him in 6th by 141 points.

92 Gabriel Landeskog

Landeskog was drafted by Colorado 2nd overall in 2011, and had 22 goals and 30 assists (52 points) in 82 games in his rookie season (2011-12). Despite 9-8–17 totals in 36 games in his sophomore season– don’t let the numbers fool you, that was only a result of the lockout shortened 2012-13 season– the 2011-12 Calder Memorial Trophy winner has long been an underrated mark of consistency even as players like MacKinnon came to the team and emerged as one of the game’s superstars.

The following year, Landeskog scored 26 goals and notched 39 assists for 65 points in 81 games under head coach, Patrick Roy, en route to Colorado’s 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance that collapsed in seven games to the Minnesota Wild in the 2014 First Round.

He followed suit with back-to-back 50-point seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16, then dropped to 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) in 72 games in 2016-17– a season that, until the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings happened, was the worst performance by a team in the salary cap era.

In 2017-18, Landeskog had 62 points. Last season he set career-highs in goals (34), assists (41) and points (75) in 73 games played.

This season, he had 21 goals and 23 assists (44 points) through 54 games until the ongoing pandemic put an early end to the regular season. He was on pace for about 67 points despite being injured for part of the 2019-20 season.

The current captain of the Avalanche, Landeskog fits Colorado’s image well as the quintessential power forward in franchise history. He has 198 goals and 262 assists (460 points) in 633 career NHL games thus far and, like MacKinnon, will probably never play anywhere else in the league before he retires.

It’s safe to assume both Nos. 29 and 92 are not only the inverse of each other, but will be going to the rafters of Pepsi Center together.

96 Mikko Rantanen

Rantanen was drafted by the Avs 10th overall in 2015, then made a brief NHL debut in nine games in the ensuing 2015-16 season. He was a minus-seven and recorded no points in that span.

Then came the 2016-17 season, in which Rantanen was the only bright spot for an otherwise horrendous season for the club. In his rookie season (first full season, anyway), Rantanen had 20 goals and 18 assists (38 points) in 75 games, despite having a career-low, minus-25 rating.

His sophomore campaign only got better with 29 goals and 55 assists (84 points) in 81 games in 2017-18, followed by career-highs in goals (31), assists (56) and points (87) in 74 games last season while battling injury.

This year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic cutting the regular season short, Rantanen’s regular season action was almost completely derailed by long term injuries. Nevertheless, he managed to put up 19-22–41 totals in 42 games and was on pace for 80 points had he managed to avoid injury.

Regardless, Rantanen’s quickly amassed 250 points (99 goals, 151 assists) in 281 career NHL games thus far and is sure to be a member of the Avalanche for a long time– if not his entire career– as he gets healthy and things continue to be on the up and up for one of the most dominant teams in the Western Conference these days.

Final Thoughts

It might just be that since the Avalanche have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for three consecutive seasons after only making the postseason twice in a span of nine seasons from 2008-09 through 2016-17, but it feels like Colorado’s in a renaissance these days and that’s bad news for the rest of the league.

Yes, especially more so when you consider the team friendly contracts that Sakic has been able to convince his players to sign. Even in the salary cap age, the Avs have found a way to compile a roster full of talent and depth. Now if only they could convince Roy to come out of retirement and play goaltender (I’m sure he’d still be fine and settle, once and for all, the Patrick Roy vs. Martin Brodeur “Best Goaltender of All Time” argument).

Anyway, there’s at least two or three players that’ll see their legacy take permanent residency in the rafters of Pepsi Center some day, but that’s not even counting what Cale Makar could be capable of in his career.

Makar is one of this year’s finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year and could make a claim to having his No. 8 retired one day by the Avs.

Likewise, since the Avs retired Foote’s No. 52 and acknowledged Hejduk’s contributions to the team by retiring his No. 23 in 2018, there’s a chance someone with 167 goals and 321 assists (488 points) in 598 games with Colorado could also see his number rise to the rafters– but which one would Alex Tanguay rather see hanging from the ceiling, No. 18 or No. 40?

Look To The Rafters: Carolina Hurricanes (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Carolina Hurricanes might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of PNC Arena someday.

Carolina Hurricanes Current Retired Numbers

2 Glen Wesley

10 Ron Francis

17 Rod Brind’Amour

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

No! But that could change as soon as current Minnesota Wild forward, Eric Staal, eventually decides he’s had enough and calls it a career. Not just could, it should and (probably) will.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

9 Gordie Howe

Let’s keep this one short and sweet– it’s “Mr. Hockey”. Howe spent his final year in the NHL (1979-80) with the Hartford Whalers and subsequently had his number retired by both the Detroit Red Wings and the Whalers, but when Hartford relocated to North Carolina, the Hurricanes chose not to honor any of the retired numbers from their Whalers days.

As such, Howe’s No. 9 is technically available, but it has never been worn in Carolina. Why not go all out sometime on Whalers Night and re-retire Howe’s No. 9 out of a formality?

12 Eric Staal

From the 2003-04 season through part of the 2015-16 season, Staal was a fixture on the Hurricanes roster. In 909 games with Carolina, he scored 322 goals and had 453 assists (775 points), which ranks 2nd on the all-time scorers list in franchise history (behind only Ron Francis, of course, who had 1,175 points as a Hartford Whaler/Carolina Hurricane).

Staal had a massive 100-point season in his sophomore campaign in 2005-06, en route to Carolina’s Stanley Cup championship over the Edmonton Oilers in seven games. He notched career-highs in goals (45), assists (55) and points (100) that season in all 82 games played and only had one season below 70 points– his rookie season, in which Staal had 11-20–31 totals in 81 games in 2003-04– until an injury in 2013 disrupted his prolific playing ability.

As time moved on, it became more clear that Staal would need a change of scenery and the Hurricanes would be wise to cash in on what they could still get for him at a high rather than let him walk away for nothing. 

After three consecutive seasons of at least 50 points from 2012-13 through 2014-15, Staal entered the 2015-16 season with Carolina, but finished the season with the New York Rangers.

On Feb. 28, 2016, the Hurricanes dealt Staal to the Rangers for Aleksi Saarela, New York’s 2016 2nd round pick and New York’s 2017 2nd round pick.

Staal had ten goals and 23 assists (33 points) in 63 games for Carolina at the time of the trade that season. He had three goals and three assists in 20 games for the Rangers down the stretch.

The Hurricanes won the trade, which had seen the departure of their first true “homegrown” star, having drafted Staal 2nd overall in 2003.

And there’s still connections to the Staal trade with the Rangers on the roster to this day.

Saarela was later packaged with Calvin de Haan on June 24, 2019, in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg. You might recognize Forsberg as one of Carolina’s many goaltenders this year after David Ayres made his NHL debut back in February.

The 2016 2nd round pick (50th overall) was packaged with a 2017 3rd round pick (originally belonging to Chicago) in a trade with the Blackhawks before the de Haan deal on June 15, 2016, in which the Hurricanes received Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell.

Finally, the 2017 2nd round pick (52nd overall) was used by Carolina to draft a right-shot defender from the University of Michigan named Luke Martin.

Staal played more than one vital role in the ever changing landscape of the Hurricanes from Cup winner to modern day playoff contender on the upswing after making an appearance in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final (albeit losing in four games to the Boston Bruins).

20 Sebastian Aho

Entering the 2015-16 season, Carolina kicked things off by drafting Aho in the second round (35th overall) in 2015. Little did anyone know, but it was poetic selection as Staal later was traded that season and Aho made his NHL debut the following season– proving to perhaps be the heir to Staal’s legacy as the current face of the franchise.

In his rookie season of 2016-17, Aho had 24 goals and 25 assists (49 points) in all 82 games. He followed that up with a sophomore campaign of 29-36–65 totals in 78 games in 2017-18, then set a career-high in assists (53) and points (83) in 82 games last season.

Up until the shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic this season, Aho had a new career-high in goals (38) and 66 points in 68 games played. He was on pace for another 80-point season.

It’s truly a shame we didn’t get to see what might have panned out– and that’s ignoring the cutthroat Eastern Conference playoff berth race.

At the very least, Aho is no flash in the pan. He’s the real deal in terms of skill, consistency and the true direction of where the franchise is going.

Only four seasons into his NHL career, it looks like he’s destined to be honored for eternity in Hurricanes lore one day with a jersey retirement night.

37 Andrei Svechnikov

Svechnikov just wrapped up a sophomore season that was cut short due to the pandemic, but improved on his 20-17–37 totals in all 82 games in his rookie season last season.

This year, Svechnikov had 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) as well as two lacrosse wraparound goals henceforth referred to as “The Svech”.

Gifted, young, crafty Russian wingers are sometimes hard to predict, but Svechnikov appears to be the real deal– especially since he was the 2nd overall pick in 2018.

Sure, the Hurricanes have had a young Russian first round product before in Alexander Semin, but whereas Semin was drafted by the Washington Capitals 13th overall in 2002, Svechnikov was drafted at the same overall position as Pittsburgh Penguins center, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was a 2004 Draft product and look how he turned out for Carolina’s division rival.

It might be early to say that Svechnikov’s No. 37 will be hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena one day, but it’s not too late to admit that you really liked “The Svech” and you won’t moan about “the disrespect for goaltenders and the game that it has caused”.

What’s not to love?

Final Thoughts

Carolina has their best chance in franchise history at winning a Cup and remaining an annual Cup contender in the process. The first (and only) time they won in 2006, the Hurricanes utilized assets picked up via trades and otherwise to push them over the edge and into eternal glory as names like “Staal”, “Williams”, “Cole”, “Brind’Amour” and others were etched onto Lord Stanley’s chalice.

But this time around, something’s different.

This time, the Canes have been built primarily from within and over the years via the draft. While Aho has a great chance at being a cornerstone for the franchise, players like Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Teravainen have been around for at least a few years and could cement their names in franchise lore by winning a Cup in Raleigh.

If they’re able to win multiple Cups in Raleigh, then they just might move themselves up into consideration for having their numbers hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena. 

The hard part is, however, that the accolades of Slavin and Pesce, for example, may otherwise go unnoticed by the rest of the league. Real Caniacs will know the impact they’ve had on the blue line for the franchise, but how much of the impact will be measured in twine on a pulley that brings their last name and number to the ceiling forever?

Finally, guys like Martin Necas, well, he just had his rookie season, so it seems a bit premature to run around just yet and declare him a player destined to have his No. 88 retired by the Hurricanes (but he just might someday, so you heard it here first if it happens and don’t quote me unless I’m right).

Look To The Rafters: Buffalo Sabres (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Buffalo Sabres might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of KeyBank Center someday.

Buffalo Sabres Current Retired Numbers

2 Tim Horton

7 Rick Martin

11 Gilbert Perreault

14 Rene Robert

16 Pat Lafontaine

18 Danny Gare

39 Dominik Hasek

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

No! Not a thing and that’s a crime according to this post. Luckily for the Sabres, we have a few suggestions to get them out of retired jersey number jail.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

9 Jack Eichel

Eichel had yet to lace up his skates and take to the ice in a Sabres sweater when the first “Look to the Rafters” for Buffalo was written in Aug. 2015. Since then, he wore No. 15 when he made his NHL debut, then changed his number to the more familiar No. 9 ahead of last season (2018-19).

In 354 career games (all with the Sabres), Eichel has 337 points (137 goals, 200 assists). He had back-to-back seasons of at least 55 points in his rookie and sophomore campaigns, then improved to 60 or more points in the last three seasons (64 points in 67 games in 2017-18, 82 points in 77 games in 2018-19 and 78 points in 68 games this season).

He’s the face of the franchise with the most talent since (dare I say it?) Alexander Mogilny. Not goaltending talent related, of course.

Anyway, Eichel is the real deal and just needs, well, a lot more support to get the Sabres back to the top of the regular season standings, let alone tip-top playoff performance– something Eichel has yet to see, by the way, in his NHL career.

He’s five seasons into playing hockey in the best league in the world and he has not even had a shift on the ice in the postseason because his team has missed the playoffs since before he was drafted 2nd overall in 2015.

That said, he’s a certified star and he’s signed long-term because he’s loyal to the fan base in the place where winter never stops. No. 9 is sure to be hanging in the rafters in Buffalo some number of years from now and it just might reverse the Modano Curse (well, technically, the “Brett Hull’s Foot Was In The Crease” Curse).

26 Thomas Vanek

Are we sure Vanek didn’t actually play somewhere this season? Buffalo’s first round selection (5th overall) in 2003, the Vienna, Austria native formally announced his retirement from professional hockey on Feb. 25th this year.

Vanek amassed 373-416–789 totals in 1,029 career NHL games for the Sabres, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Red Wings in one final stint from 2005-19 across 14 NHL seasons.

He spent parts of nine seasons with Buffalo and had 254 goals and 243 assists (497 points) in 598 games as a Sabre in that span.

After being dealt to the Islanders early in the 2013-14 season, Vanek became a Swiss Army knife of sorts and an NHL journeyman that went on to collect a lot of different jerseys in his career.

Anyway, whereas Danny Briere and Chris Drury didn’t last long in Buffalo and Ryan Miller had the crease, as well as the love and affection of being a goaltender for many years as a Sabre, Vanek was the one constant in a time of bliss and turmoil for the franchise.

The success of the 2000s that brought them oh so close, but not close enough as the Sabres couldn’t get past the Eastern Conference Final in 2006 or 2007, ultimately led to their last playoff appearance in 2011.

Since then, the team has gone through coaches, general managers and even a change in ownership. As the Vanek Era came to a close in Buffalo, the precursor to the Eichel Era was ushered in.

For now, Vanek’s legacy remains large and in focus until Eichel and whoever else can lead the Sabres to rise above and land the franchise its first Stanley Cup championship. As such, perhaps it’s time to consider setting aside number– oops, just kidding, you let Rasmus Dahlin wear it now.

No, Dahlin wasn’t included in this list as he only just got done with his sophomore season and was hampered by injuries that limited him to 59 games out of the team’s 69-game shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dahlin had 9-35–44 totals in 82 games in his rookie year (2018-19), which is respectable for a durable NHL defender in this day and age. He had 4-36–40 totals in 59 games this season and was on pace for about 56 points had the regular season seen its conclusion.

Though, admittedly, 16 points in 13 games for a defender seems unlikely– especially considering the number of losses that piled up for Buffalo from February to the end of the season in March.

We’ll see how Dahlin bounces back (and the rest of the Sabres for that matter), then consider changing No. 26’s honor from Vanek to Dahlin if/when it seems appropriate.

30 Ryan Miller

Miller won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in the 2009-10 season while with the Sabres– that same year he and the rest of Team USA came a goal shy of upsetting the hockey world and winning gold at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be because Sidney Crosby exists and all that, but hey, if that one moment of defeat is the only thing that defines Miller’s greatest upset while associated with Buffalo, then I think that’s something he can…

Well, as a goalie, one never really “gets over” the “one that got away” goal.

Nevertheless, Miller spent parts of 11 seasons with the Sabres and amassed a 284-186-57 record in 540 games played wearing a Buffalo sweater from the 2002-03 season through part of the 2013-14 season. He had a 2.58 goals against average and a .916 save percentage, as well as 28 shutouts in that span in 31,659 minutes as a Sabre.

He went on to have a short tenure with the St. Louis Blues after the Sabres packaged him to St. Louis, before signing with the Vancouver Canucks and later Anaheim Ducks in free agency. After six seasons in Vancouver and Anaheim (split evenly in half between the two cities), Miller appears at ease and ready to retire from the NHL this offseason.

He’s the winningest American goaltender in NHL history with 387 wins in 780 career NHL games from the 2002-03 season through 2019-20, so that, on top of his longevity as a Sabre should be enough reason to hang his number alongside Dominik Hasek’s in the rafters of KeyBank Center.

81 Miroslav Satan

Satan spent parts eight seasons with the Sabres despite what most fans might think is an eternal hell in Buffalo these days.

From part of the 1996-97 season through the 2003-04 season, Satan scored 224 goals and had 232 assists for 456 points in 578 games as a Sabre. That’s pretty, pretty good.

There’s something to say for consistency over a long period of time, say, almost a decade with one organization before the former Edmonton Oiler in his days before Buffalo departed for the New York Islanders from 2005-06 through 2007-08 before making his way around with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-09 and Boston Bruins for part of the 2009-10 season and 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs run that intertwined with the Sabres in Boston and Buffalo’s 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup.

Anyway, Satan was a consistent player in his tenure with the Sabres and an icon– not just because of the 1990s rebrand, but later on because of his leadership as the General Manager of Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

It’s a shame Satan and Mogilny never overlapped in Buffalo, because, boy, what magic that could’ve been.

89 Alexander Mogilny

If the Hockey Hall of Fame is going to keep snubbing Mogilny, then the least the Pegulas can do to help his case for Hall of Fame recognition would be to formally retire his No. 89.

Though he only spent six seasons in Buffalo from 1989-95, Mogilny scored 444 points (211 goals, 233 assists) in 381 games. He had more points per game with the Sabres (1.17 points per game) than with any other team he played for in their respective tenure (.987 points per game with the Vancouver Canucks, .942 points per game with the New Jersey Devils and .943 points per game with the Toronto Maple Leafs).

He’s a legend in his own right and it’s only right that the Sabres do him right.

Don’t just put the number aside and never use it– retire it. Give the 2002-03 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner and 2000 Stanley Cup champion that scored 1,032 points in 990 career NHL games in 16 seasons with Buffalo, Vancouver, New Jersey and Toronto the respect he deserves.

Sabres fans still– and always will– love him.

Final Thoughts

Despite not having many players emerge from the last time we did this five years ago as potential “jersey retirement ceremony worthy” quality, the Sabres have quite a few candidates from their recent or later past to consider honoring before more time is wasted.

There’s no shame in admitting that it might be time to play a little catchup as now is the perfect time to mix in a little nostalgia with the 50th anniversary season having passed, Miller riding off into the sunset with an insurmountable love for Buffalo still and everything else that could be written as a storybook ending despite the team on the ice needing some work to get back into the playoff hunt.

Plus it’d be great PR in the face of whatever’s up with the power struggle that may or may not be in the front office.

DTFR Podcast #199- Cheese!

Colby’s back, Jack.

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Analysis: Ennis’ Homecoming in Edmonton Stokes Playoff Hopes

One of the moves Edmonton Oilers General Manager, Ken Holland, made on Monday’s trade deadline was a small deal with the Ottawa Senators that saw the Oilers acquire Tyler Ennis from the Senators in exchange for a 2021 5th round pick.

Edmonton loaded up for the stretch run in a tightly compact Pacific Division, where the Vegas Golden Knights led the division standings with 76 points– a mere six-point advantage over the two wild card teams in the Western Conference– and the Oilers sit 2nd in the Pacific with 73 points on the season entering Monday.

Ennis, 30, had 14 goals and 19 assists (33 points) in 61 games with Ottawa prior to the trade and is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

The 5-foot-9, 161-pound, Edmonton, Alberta native was originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round (26th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft and has 131-178–309 totals in 604 career NHL games with the Sabres, Minnesota Wild, Toronto Maple Leafs and Senators.

He also has three goals and seven assists in 19 career Stanley Cup Playoff games.

As a result of the trade, the Senators now have 22 selections in the next two NHL Entry Drafts, including seven picks in the first two rounds of the 2020 NHL Draft and three second round picks in the 2021 NHL Draft.