All of the (good) RFAs have been re-signed, the Carolina Hurricanes keep making moves, 2020 Winter Classic logos have been revealed and DTFR’s season previews conclude with the Central Division.
As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)
The projected standings below are only a forecast.
They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).
There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.
As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.
Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.
A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.
Projected Standings After ZERO Months
- z-Nashville Predators, 103 points
- x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points
- x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points
- wc2-Minnesota Wild, 93 points
- Chicago Blackhawks, 92 points
- Dallas Stars, 92 points
- Colorado Avalanche, 86 points
Nashville Predators: Pros and Cons
Before you continue reading, it’s important to remember that this is the most unpredictable division in the league currently. Seriously.
Nashville is more than likely going to take the division in the regular season thanks to their minor moves in the offseason and major gains in the long haul, but everything else?
That’s to be determined.
Matt Duchene’s cap hit ($8,000,000) costs the Preds a million dollars less than P.K. Subban ($9,000,000), but there’s 10 pending UFAs on the roster after this season. If a legitimate one-two duo down the middle can’t get the Predators a Cup, then this window may be closing– and fast.
Pekka Rinne isn’t getting any young and the crease will soon be Juuse Saros’ before you know it.
The good news?
The Preds are still one of the most impressive teams on the blue line with Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Dante Fabbro.
How would the Predators fail?
Somehow 30 points in a season gets you a seven-year contract (*ahem* Colton Sissons), but kudos to General Manager David Poile on doing so at a $2.857 cap hit though. That being said, this is dangerous logic that’s tempting fate at the hands of the Hockey Gods, which might only further weaken Nashville’s goaltending when it counts in the postseason.
St. Louis Blues: Pros and Cons
Glue guys score important goals in the playoffs and glue guys come in all shapes and sizes– including dadbod, a la Pat Maroon.
But there’s just one problem, the hometown hero that lifted St. Louis over Dallas into the Western Conference Final has left the Blues for the Tampa Bay Lightning– a product of the salary cap era, a big postseason performance and a… wait, he’s not making a huge salary?
Why did Maroon leave? Because Ivan Barbashev– the younger, better, faster, stronger more long-term approach player– is still an unsigned RFA and the Blues have less than $2.000 million in cap space currently.
St. Louis still has its core, however, and will now find out if Jordan Binnington is truly “The One” or a one hit wonder over the course of a full season of having Binnington as their starter.
When all is said and done, the defending champs have a great chance to continue to make noise in the regular season and, well, we’ve never experienced the Blues winning the Cup before, so… can it happen again? Is that a thing?
How would the Blues fail?
The cliché Stanley Cup hangover. It’s a long, grueling, season that takes its toll– even with all sorts of proper training and nutrition.
Winnipeg Jets: Pros and Cons
The Jets are in trouble. Sure, they might have a decent season and finish in a divisional spot heading into the playoffs, but they’ve got about $16.150 million in cap space and currently unsigned RFAs in Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Eric Comrie right now.
Not to mention the fact that they traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in the offseason for Neal Pionk, but at least Winnipeg got back their 2019 1st round pick in the transaction (previously dealt to New York in the Kevin Hayes trade).
Yes, a team that should see a bounce-back season in the crease from Connor Hellebuyck leading the way to a potential deep postseason run, might not even make it past the First Round if two of their prominent players (Laine and Connor) are still unsigned by the start of the regular season.
Other than that, Dustin Byfuglien is aiming for a strong run without any more injuries and the rest of Winnipeg is looking to quietly do their thing under the tremendous leadership of their captain, Blake Wheeler.
How would the Jets fail?
If Laine and/or Connor miss any part of the regular season, the Jets aren’t going to be soaring all that far without the fuel to get them to the Stanley Cup Final.
Minnesota Wild: Pros and Cons
What an offseason for the Wild and their fans, right? I mean, things are really wild in Minnesota.
First, Mats Zuccarello lands a five-year, $30.000 million contract in the State of Hockey, then (now former) General Manager Paul Fenton is fired and now Bill Guerin has his first job as an NHL GM.
Welcome to the club, Mr. Guerin, now undo all of this mess that was done by the last guy and the guy before him dating back to July 4, 2012.
At least a full season of Ryan Donato in a Wild sweater should be exciting.
Joel Eriksson Ek signed a two-year extension and Ryan Suter’s play wasn’t too terrible last season, but the wheels fell off in the crease because of how bad puck possession was in front of Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock.
Though they’re forecasted as a wild card berth (the forecast formula accounts for more than just last season), Minnesota’s not looking like they’re really going to be much better than they were last season– if at all.
Unless Guerin has any big plans up his sleeve and can get to work patching the holes left and right.
How would the Wild fail?
If they add another player over the age of 30 to their roster, then you know it’s a full-on rebuild (which might actually be for the better at this point).
Chicago Blackhawks: Pros and Cons
Patrick Kane had a tremendous season in 2018-19, amassing 44-66–110 totals in 81 games while the Blackhawks failed to make the postseason for the second straight year.
In the meantime, those that remain from Chicago’s three Cups in five years core are another year older. Jonathan Toews is 31, Kane is 30, Brent Seabrook is 34, Duncan Keith is 36 and starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, is 34.
While incredibly talented, time is not on the Hawks’ side.
That’s why General Manager Stan Bowman has been working to make the team younger with Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat and newcomer Olli Maatta (acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins this summer) taking on larger roles on the Original Six squad.
Even better, 28-year-old defender in his prime, Calvin de Haan, bolsters Chicago’s blue line and provides some much needed time on ice relief for Seabrook and/or Keith as second-year head coach, Jeremy Colliton, sees fit.
Winning the 3rd overall pick in the draft in June, brought Kirby Dach into the equation– whether he’ll be ready for NHL stardom behind Toews and Strome immediately or not.
Though the Blackhawks are forecasted to narrowly miss the postseason for the third straight season, they aren’t going to miss out on the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs by much and will be the team to knock out one of the teams higher up in this outlook (*ahem* Minnesota).
How would the Blackhawks fail?
Age continues to chip away at the memories of yesteryear. That, or injuries, probably.
Dallas Stars: Pros and Cons
The Stars weren’t happy with the production from their best players despite the fact that they were– in fact– their best players. Who would’ve thought?
But now Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are joined by veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry among Dallas’ forwards, while Andrej Sekera has taken a supporting role on the defense in place of the current unrestricted free agent Marc Methot (who may retire altogether).
On the bright side, Dallas’ defense contains Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, John Klingberg and one of the most underrated aspects in the league– itself.
The Stars defense– combined with the superb duo of Ben Bishop as the starting goaltender and Anton Khudobin as their backup– is really solid.
Unfortunately, the team with the most goals at the end of the game always wins and sometimes Dallas just couldn’t score.
That’s where General Manager Jim Nill has looked to Pavelski’s prowess and Perry’s ability– should he rebound– to try to fill the cracks in their offensive game and start winning games even if they only give up a goal or two when it matters most (the playoffs).
Should the Stars beat the aging curve, they’ll make it back to the playoffs. But don’t think it’s easy– they coasted into the postseason last season and shouldn’t make a habit out of that if they’re looking to play their best hockey deep into June.
How would the Stars fail?
Somehow bringing in Pavelski (35-years-old), Perry (34), Sekera (33)– thereby increasing your overall average age– and expanding your list of no-trade and/or no-movement clauses to seven players on your roster just doesn’t always seem to payout. But at least Perry and Sekera are on one-year, $1.500 million contracts.
Colorado Avalanche: Pros and Cons
Pro: This forecast doesn’t take into account how much of an outlier the 2016-17 season was for the Avs.
Con: Unfortunately, the 2016-17 season has to be included in the dataset to “accurately” predict the upcoming season’s outcome until the 2026-27 season or so.
Pro: Colorado has one of the best first lines in the NHL.
Con: Mikko Rantanen is still an unsigned RFA (and he’s a vital part of the first line).
Pro: Joonas Donskoi, Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and Andre Burakovsky are all newcomers to the Avalanche with something to prove. GM Joe Sakic was busy on the phone(s)!
Con: If the team doesn’t gel by January, it’s going to be a long season.
Pro: Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar.
Con: The number of games Gabriel Landeskog will be suspended for at some point in the season.
Pro: This is a very exciting team to watch and a surefire dark-horse to make the Stanley Cup Final.
Con: Now I’ve jinxed them.
How would the Avalanche fail?
By proving this forecast right and inexplicably regressing to their 2016-17 season ways. Otherwise, they’re definitely not actually finishing last in the Central Division… right?
Nick, Cap’n and Pete assess the Detroit Red Wings hiring of Steve Yzerman as General Manager and Executive Vice President, as well as recap the trio of Game 7s in the First Round and preview the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In continuation with Monday’s Eastern Conference preview, here’s the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round preview many of you have been waiting for.
In the past, Down the Frozen River has covered every game of every series. This year, DtFR is changing things up a bit with a preview of every round and continued excellence in analysis on the DTFR Podcast as well as some Instagram Live sporadic thoughts throughout the playoffs.
P1 Calgary Flames (50-25-7, 107 points) vs WWC2 Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14, 90 points)
The Calgary Flames reached the 50-win plateau for the first time since the 1988-89 season (and just the second time in franchise history). For those of you who might be younger than 30-years-old, that’s also the last time the Flames won the Stanley Cup.
Yes, the Flames won a Cup. Also, it’s been 15 years since Calgary’s appearance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final or as it’s known to Johnny Gaudreau, “ten years before [his] birth.”
Scotiabank Saddledome is ready to rock again as the Flames are fiery hot this season. So hot, they’re going to wear their throwback sweaters at home to rekindle the 1989 Cup run flame that burns deep inside the heart and soul of the C of Red.
Anyway, puns aside, Calgary is good. Very good.
Head coach, Bill Peters, has gotten the most out of his goaltenders, Mike Smith (23-16-2 record, 2.73 goals against average, .898 save percentage in 42 games played) and David Rittich (27-9-5, 2.61 GAA, .911 SV% in 45 GP), as they’ve racked up the wins.
Led by Gaudreau (36-63–99 totals in 82 games played), Sean Monahan (34-48–82 totals in 78 GP), Elias Lindholm (78 points), Matt Tkachuk (77 points) and potential 2018-19 Norris Trophy finalist, Mark Giordano (74 points), the Flames rose to the top and stayed there, laying claim to home ice all the way through the Western Conference Final– if not Stanley Cup Final, should the Tampa Bay Lightning be eliminated prior to then.
For Jared Bednar and the Colorado Avalanche, the Avs head coach rode the rollercoaster of injuries, out-of-this-world performances and pedestrian play as Colorado reached the top of the Central Division, fell to 6th place and resurfaced to playoff contention, snagging the 2nd wild card spot in the Western Conference.
Nathan MacKinnon finished one-point shy of the 100-point plateau with 41 goals and 58 assists (99 points) in 82 games this season, centering captain, Gabriel Landeskog (34-41–75 totals in 73 GP), and Mikko Rantanen (31-56–78 totals in 74 GP) on one of the best lines in hockey throughout the year.
Rantanen, of course, has been out of commission since March 22nd with an upper body injury, and remains a question mark for Game 1 against Calgary.
Back to MacKinnon for a moment, the 23-year-old sensation became the third 40-goal scorer since the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Colorado, joining current General Manager, Joe Sakic, and Milan Hejduk as the only players to do so.
Tyson Barrie led the Avs defenders with 59 points from the blue line.
In net, Semyon Varlamov (20-19-9, 2.87 GAA, .909 SV% in 49 GP) stole most of the games this season from Philipp Grubauer (18-9-5, 2.64 GAA, .917 SV% in 37 GP), who– despite getting off to a slow start– has really turned his play around as of late, notching three wins in his last five appearances.
Calgary swept the season series, 3-0-0, but the Avalanche kept every game close.
Both teams have hot hands and solid defenses, but there’s one common theme for each club– goaltending. Who’s going to get the starts? Who will rise above? And who’s going to flounder in the First Round?
Because of this, Calgary will likely get stretched to taking the series in six games, with or without a return of Rantanen to Colorado’s lineup.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Jan. 9th, 6-5 CGY at Scotiabank Saddledome on Nov. 1st, 3-2 F/OT CGY at Pepsi Center on Oct. 13th
4/11- Game 1 COL @ CGY 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 COL @ CGY 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, TVAS2
4/17- Game 4 CGY @ COL 10 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 COL @ CGY*
4/21- Game 6 CGY @ COL*
4/23- Game 7 COL @ CGY*
P2 San Jose Sharks (46-27-9, 101 points) vs P3 Vegas Golden Knights (43-32-7, 93 points)
The San Jose Sharks quietly lurked the waters working their way diligently to 2nd place in the Pacific Division this season after acquiring Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators and not destroying teams out of the gate as everyone expected.
Still, San Jose was led by Brent Burns (83 points) in what was yet another Norris Trophy worthy performance this season. The Sharks leading scorer among forwards was 25-year-old Tomas Hertl (35-39–74 totals in 77 GP), while Logan Couture (27-43–70 totals in 81 GP) continued to be a presence in the lineup.
There’s no question surrounding San Jose’s explosive offense and their world class defense. Rather, the Sharks goaltending seems to be the club’s only weakness.
Martin Jones (36-19-5, 2.94 GAA, .896 SV% in 62 GP) posted career-worsts in goals against average and save percentage, while backup goaltender, Aaron Dell (10-8-4, 3.17 GAA, .886 SV% in 25 GP) didn’t look so hot either.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, a slow start and a lot of injuries almost decimated their inaugural season success, but in true Golden Knights fashion, the comeback got rolling and Vegas stormed into a divisional spot for the postseason.
Granted, it doesn’t come with home ice, but still.
Vegas didn’t have a 40-goal scorer like last season, but Jonathan Marchessault still led the way with 59 points (25 goals, 34 assists), while his teammate, William Karlsson amassed 24-32–56 totals in 82 GP.
In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury (35-21-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 SV% in 61 GP) remained in control of the Golden Knights starting job, but fell victim to the increased scoring around the league– notching his worst GAA and SV% in a season where he was the starting goaltender since his 2.65 GAA and .905 SV% in 67 games played with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10.
For Malcolm Subban (8-10-2, 2.93 GAA, .902 SV% in 21 GP) it was a season to forget for the backup goalie. The sophomore slump is real.
The Sharks lost to the Golden Knights in the Second Round last year and it’s not hard to imagine Vegas pulling out another improbable postseason run.
But this time around feels different.
San Jose split the season series, 2-2-0, but was outscored by Vegas, 18-10, in that span. Though the Sharks should be able to batten down the hatches and outlast the Golden Knights in what’s sure to be quite the entertaining matchup in the First Round, there’s no way it won’t go seven games.
Regular season outcomes:
4-3 F/OT SJS at SAP Center on March 30th, 7-3 VGK at SAP Center on March 18th, 3-2 SJS at T-Mobile Arena on Jan. 10th, 6-0 VGK at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 24th
4/10- Game 1 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 VGK @ SJS 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 SJS @ VGK 10 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 SJS @ VGK 10:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 VGK @ SJS*
4/21- Game 6 SJS @ VGK*
4/23- Game 7 VGK @ SJS*
C1 Nashville Predators (47-29-6, 100 points) vs WWC1 Dallas Stars (43-32-7, 93 points)
A year removed from winning the President’s Trophy, the Nashville Predators entered the final day of the regular season with the chance to grab the 1st seed in the Central Division. The Preds did just that, of course, and will promptly hold a banner ceremony worthy of AFC Finalists.
It’s fine for the local fan base to take pride in their team. It’s also fine for others in the league to poke a little fun at other organization’s unique quirks.
For Nashville, it’s catfish (see, this classic moment from Puck Soup animated— fair warning, language) and banners (see, “Regular Season Western Conference Champions 2017-18”).
Anyway, real talk, the Preds are a legitimate team.
Their defense is still a colossal stronghold with Roman Josi (2nd in points on the roster, 15-41–56 totals in 82 GP), Mattias Ekholm (44 points and a team leading, plus-27 rating), Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban.
Oh. Again. Never mind.
While Rinne has had the better year, statistically speaking, his goals against average and save percentage rank 10th and 13th, respectively, among goaltenders who played at least 20 games this season.
In the same respect, there were only eight goaltenders with a goals against average below 2.40.
Saros ranked 21st in GAA (among goalies with 20 GP) and 20th in SV%.
This is only relevant in the head-to-head aspect with the Dallas Stars, which, let’s take a look at their organizational depth this season, shall we?
Dallas’s forwards went from being “f—ing horse—-” to… well, at least Tyler Seguin reached the 80-point plateau this season with 33 goals and 47 assists. Alexander Radulov still had 72 points and Jamie Benn ranked third on the team with 27-26–53 totals.
On the blue line, John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen made a case for Sergei Zubov to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and reached 10-35–45 and 12-21–33 totals, respectively as Klingberg continued to emerge as a veteran and Heiskanen made quite an impression in his rookie season.
Not to be outdone, Esa Lindell notched 32 points from the backend this season.
But in the crease, the Stars had two quality stars.
Starting goaltender, Ben Bishop (27-15-2, 1.98 GAA, .934 SV% in 46 GP) put up a career-best season while fighting a lower body injury at times and backup goaltender, Anton Khudobin (16-17-5, 2.57 GAA, .923 SV% in 41 GP) split time with Bishop– taking on more time while the starter was injured– and had almost a mirror image in wins (16) and goals against average from last season.
As long as Bishop (1st in the league in SV% and 2nd in GAA among goaltenders who played at least 20 games) is healthy, yeah, the Stars take home that advantage. Big time.
Nashville has never won the Cup. Dallas won it 20 years ago.
Both franchises have a thirst to quench for their respective markets. Both clubs split the series with two wins and two losses– never winning or losing by more than two goals.
It’s anybody’s guess, but the Stars should upset the Predators in a seven-game stunner.
Regular season outcomes:
5-3 NSH at American Airlines Center on Feb. 19th, 3-2 F/OT NSH at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 7th, 3-1 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 2nd, 2-0 DAL at Bridgestone Arena on Dec. 27th
4/10- Game 1 DAL @ NSH 9:30 PM ET on USA, SN1, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 DAL @ NSH 6 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/15- Game 3 NSH @ DAL 9:30 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 NSH @ DAL 8 PM ET on USA, SN, TVAS2
4/20- Game 5 DAL @ NSH*
4/22- Game 6 NSH @ DAL*
4/24- Game 7 DAL @ NSH*
C2 Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5, 99 points) vs C3 St. Louis Blues (45-28-9, 99 points)
After a surprising run to the Western Conference Final last season, the Winnipeg Jets struggled at times to find scoring from their top-six forwards, as well as the mythical runway that let their goaltending soar beyond expectations.
This season, the Jets had their ups and downs, while coming back to Earth in other areas.
Blake Wheeler (20-71–91 totals) led Winnipeg in scoring and established a franchise record– dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers– for most assists in a season, while Mark Scheifele (84 points) and Kyle Connor (66 points) rounded out the top-three scorers.
Despite a stretch of games without a goal, Patrik Laine still reached the 30-goal plateau and had 50 points on the season in 82 games played.
In goal, Connor Hellebuyck (34-23-3, 2.90 GAA, .913 SV% in 63 GP) posted a career-worst goals against average (2.90) topping his previous worst 2.89 GAA in 2016-17 (56 GP).
Hellebuyck had his 2nd worst save percentage since his .907 SV% in 2016-17 as well.
Laurent Brossoit (13-6-2, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV% in 21 GP) posted decent numbers as a backup goaltender in his first season with the Jets, since joining the organization in free agency last July.
Winnipeg missed a major part of their defense for most of the season in Byfuglien and to some respects, that’s hampered their goaltending as a result. Tending the net is never solely about one person tending the crease, but rather a team keeping the puck out of their own zone.
However, Hellebuyck has shown signs of a “good year, bad year, good year, bad year” pattern in the past and might have just been victim to a bad year– statistically speaking.
The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs last year, losing the final game of the regular season to the Colorado Avalanche and the last wild card spot in the process.
This year, the Blues redeemed themselves after almost completely embarrassing themselves. St. Louis was last in the Central Division, then they fired Mike Yeo and hired Craig Berube as interim head coach.
Berube began to right the ship, then Jordan Binnington (24-5-1, 1.89 GAA, .927 SV% in 32 GP) came along.
Binnington lifted the Blues to a franchise record 12-game winning streak and established the franchise record for most wins by a rookie goaltender (24)– surpassing the previous mark (22 wins) set by teammate and presumably the backup goaltender in the postseason, Jake Allen (19-17-8, 2.83 GAA, .905 SV% in 46 GP).
Don’t try to mess with what’s working.
Ryan O’Reilly led St. Louis in scoring with 28-49–77 totals in 82 games played. Meanwhile, Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) compiled respectable totals in 76 and 72 games played, respectively.
Captain, Alex Pietrangelo, provided more than just leadership from the defensive zone. He added 13 goals and 28 assists (41 points) from the point to help guide St. Louis to a divisional playoff berth.
For the first time in franchise history, Winnipeg is making consecutive playoff appearances. Though they tied in points (99) in the standings, the Jets had the advantage in the regulation-plus-overtime wins tiebreaker, leading the Blues, 45-42, in that department.
Winnipeg won the season series 3-1-0, but is facing a Blues team that has completely shifted gears in the second half of the season. For that reason alone, it’s not impossible to predict St. Louis will be the series winner in five games as Binnington cements his status as a goaltender in the NHL– if not a Calder Memorial Trophy candidate at least.
Regular season outcomes:
1-0 STL at Bell MTS Place on Dec. 7th, 8-4 WPG at Enterprise Center on Nov. 24th, 5-4 F/OT WPG at Bell MTS Place on Oct. 22nd, 5-1 WPG at Enterprise Center on Oct. 4th
4/10- Game 1 STL @ WPG 8 PM ET on NHL Network, SN, TVAS3
4/12- Game 2 STL @ WPG 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 WPG @ STL 7:30 PM ET on CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS2
4/16- Game 4 WPG @ STL 9:30 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS
4/18- Game 5 STL @ WPG*
4/20- Game 6 WPG @ STL*
4/22- Game 7 STL @ WPG*
We’re less than a month away from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so let’s take a gander at how things should shape up for the Central Division.
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the first postseason berth this season, Quinn Hughes signed his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, Shane Wright was granted exceptional status and the DTFR Duo presented the first few individual season awards.
*Zach Boychuk wasn’t actually on… …this time around, anyway.*
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.
Nick and Connor recap and react to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship so far, review the latest suspensions and injuries, look to the future of the NHL in 2019 and beyond, discuss 2019 All-Star Game captains, Jake Guentzel’s new extension and Jim Lites’ quotes on Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.
Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.
Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?
42-32-8, 92 points, 6th in the Central Division
Subtractions: Head Coach Ken Hitchcock (retired), D Andrew Bodnarchuk (signed, DEL), F Brian Flynn (signed with STL), D Dan Hamhuis (signed with NSH), G Mike McKenna (signed with OTT), F Curtis McKenzie (signed with VGK), D Greg Pateryn (signed with MIN), D Brent Regner (signed, Austria), F Antoine Roussel (signed with VAN)
Still Unsigned: G Kari Lehtonen, D Andrew O’Brien, F Cole Ully
Offseason Analysis: After missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by a few points, Ken Hitchcock finally hung up the pen and paper(?) behind the bench. Hitchcock’s one-year reunion with the Dallas Stars proved two things– that the Stars weren’t a playoff caliber roster in the long run and that Hitchcock’s coaching style had run its course in the contemporary NHL.
Outside of John Klingberg and Marc Methot, Dallas’s defense didn’t scream high-caliber. Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin alone couldn’t generate enough offense to ease the barrage of pucks Ben Bishop faced in net.
Whatever the reasoning, the fact of the matter is the Stars didn’t have a complete team in 2017-18, so General Manager Jim Nill had some cracks to fix.
First, Dallas brought in 49-year-old head coach, Jim Montgomery, out of the University of Denver and into the National Hockey League. Montgomery expects to bring a new-age pace to the Stars, but there’s always a catch– rookie NHL coaches rarely exceed expectations in their first season, especially if they’re coming from college hockey straight to the NHL level of the professional game.
Second, Nill didn’t make any trades. Instead he opted to let Antoine Roussel and his 17 points in 73 games last season walk in free agency, along with Curtis McKenzie and other bottom-six role forwards. Also gone are Dan Hamhuis– once thought to be a steal from free agency not so long ago– and Greg Pateryn, who, after all things considered, played a durable bottom-pair worthy role on the Dallas blueline.
Nill signed 32-year-old Roman Polak to a one-year, $1.300 million contract to appease veteran presence on the backend with a friendly short-term deal while the Stars look to implement Miro Heiskanen in the North American game.
Blake Comeau, Erik Condra and Michael Mersch will all file down the line of bottom-six “glue guy” roles on the depth chart all the way to being a healthy scratch most nights– let alone emergency call-up go-tos.
The fact of the matter is the Stars need to get younger and it could start with Heiskanen, but it should also include Jason Robertson among the forwards. Past that, there’s not much going on in the Big D.
After Kari Lehtonen, 35, couldn’t hold his weight as a starter, Dallas brought in Ben Bishop– a surefire number one goalie– to lead them back to glory. Bishop’s year didn’t fully go as planned, but Lehtonen actually improved from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in his more limited role.
Lehtonen’s 2.85 goals against average and .902 save percentage in 59 games played in 2016-17 dropped to a 2.56 GAA and rose to a .912 SV% in 37 appearances last season. The Atlanta Thrashers 2nd overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft rebounded quite nicely and is still unsigned.
Meanwhile, Nill brought in Anton Khudobin, 32, most recently from the Boston Bruins on a two-year contract to become become Bishop’s backup. Khudobin’s can be streaky at times, but when he’s good, he’s
great good. Just good.
Case in point, Khudobin bounced back from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 16 appearances with the Bruins in 2016-17 while bouncing back-and-forth between Boston and Providence (AHL) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 31 games last season with the Bruins.
Khudobin’s GAA last season was the same as Lehtonen’s in six fewer games. He faced almost 100 fewer shots than Lehtonen and allowed seven fewer goals. His save percentage was .001% better than Lehtonen.
If Nill’s getting really technical, he “improved” Dallas’s backup option. Sure he’s not paying a guy $5.900 million to play fewer than 40 games, but Khudobin’s making $2.500 million for… pretty much the same results if he’s playing well.
If Lehtonen was going to re-sign, he surely was going to have to sign for much less than what he was making ($5.900 million) and wouldn’t have been able to capitalize as much as Khudobin did on his comeback (Khudobin more than doubled his salary from his last contract with Boston to his current one with Dallas).
I mean, Lehtonen improved much like his former teammate with the Stars, Antti Niemi did, but without the immense failures in Pittsburgh and Florida before being picked up off waivers by the Montreal Canadiens.
But enough about subprime goaltending, lack of offense and not enough drive from a mediocre defense outside of John Klingberg.
The Stars aren’t on the rise and that should concern fans deeply.
You see, there’s another guy wearing No. 91 in the NHL that’s a pending-UFA in July 2019 and nearly every armchair GM has already set their sights on him. His name is Tyler Seguin and he’s Dallas’s biggest star.
After talking about an extension before the 2018 NHL Draft– conveniently held in Dallas– Seguin’s heard nothing from the Stars front office. Another season without a postseason might just be enough to push the 26-year-old center over the edge and into the waters of free agency next summer.
Offseason Grade: D+
There’s areas of concern that go further than just shaking things up behind the bench in Dallas. It’s not that Montgomery won’t be a great coach, but rather that Nill hasn’t pulled off the necessary moves with the roster to really set them over the bar and into the playoffs.
Betting on other teams regressing to the mean, while counting on your stars to perform better than they did last season isn’t safe if you’re not actually improving. Plus there’s the whole “they might lose Tyler Seguin for nothing next offseason a la the New York Islanders and John Tavares“. First impressions for the future are everything, and Nill and the Stars aren’t sending the right one(s).