Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
43-30-9, 95 points, 4th in the Central Division
2nd Wild Card in the West, lost in First Round to NSH 4-2
Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (signed with DET), F Blake Comeau (signed with DAL), F Felix Girard (signed with the Manitoba Moose, AHL), D Jesse Graham (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Rocco Grimaldi (signed with NSH), G Andrew Hammond (signed with MIN), D Brooks Orpik (acquired from WSH, bought out, then signed with WSH), F Nail Yakupov (signed, KHL)
Offseason Analysis: Now that Erik Karlsson has been traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has had one of the best offseasons. Kidding aside, the Senators lottery protected their 2018 1st round pick in the three-team Matt Duchene trade, meaning the Avalanche have Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick in addition to their own.
The #LoseForHughes watch has begun.
But as for Colorado’s offseason, things have gone swimmingly as Sakic’s roster made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Blake Comeau’s 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games in 2017-18 have departed for Dallas. In his top-nine forward role, Sakic replaced the 32-year-old Comeau with 28-year-old, Matt Calvert.
Calvert had 9-15–24 totals in 69 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and is looking to turn things around in health and in offensive production as a top-nine forward.
While Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen look to continue leading the team in production, Alexander Kerfoot seeks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on the second line.
On defense, Sakic knows time is on his side.
Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have made an effective pairing with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson contesting for more ice time. Girard had an impressive rookie debut with three goals and 17 assists (20 points) in 68 games played, while Barrie and Johnson played veteran roles– anchoring the blue line for the Avs.
Patrik Nemeth proved to be a smart pickup off waivers from the Stars last season as a bottom-pair defender, so it was an easy decision to re-sign with the NHL’s hottest up-and-coming team from a 48-point season in 2016-17 to a 95-point effort (and playoff berth) in 2017-18.
To complete his top-six defensemen on the depth chart, Sakic signed 29-year-old durable defender, Ian Cole, to a three-year contract worth a friendly $4.250 million per season.
Cole had 20 points in 67 games with the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins last season and is looking to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan at this point in his career.
A two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, Cole is in the midst of his prime and brings a competitive edge to the Avs in his quiet stability.
In goal, Semyon Varlamov has some competition for the starting job– if he can stay healthy– as Philipp Grubauer was acquired at the draft in June and signed to a three-year extension at a cap friendly $3.333 million per season.
Grubauer, 26, dropped the first two games of the Washington Capitals postseason run in April while Braden Holtby was figuring himself out, but managed a 15-10-3 record in 35 games played in the 2017-18 regular season as Washington’s backup. He also had a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in his most games played in a season since reaching the NHL during the 2012-13 season.
Varlamov, 30, managed to play in 51 games last season, despite injuries, and amassed a 24-16-6 record to go along with a 2.68 GAA and .916 SV%. Last season was much better than his 6-17-0 record in 24 games played in 2016-17, in which Varlamov had a career-worst 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%.
With one-year remaining on his contract at $5.900 million a season, Varlamov’s reached a make-or-break point in his career, let alone his time in the Mile High City. Grubauer is the way of the foreseeable future and a little healthy competition never hurt anyone for the starting job.
Sure Jonathan Bernier’s moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, but Colorado has one of the most sought after goalies that was on the slim trade market among options in the crease.
Offseason Grade: B-
The Avalanche had some needs and they filled them. In accordance with hockey logic, Colorado shouldn’t be as good as they were last season this season, but for the first time in at least a few years it appears they’ve found a reliable goaltender.
As MacKinnon continues to emerge and the kids grow into their own, Sakic’s roster looks set to make some waves in the coming years– at least as a spoiler (they took Nashville to six games before being eliminated after all), if not something more.
Despite acquiring Brooks Orpik only to buy him out as some sort of larger scheme the Capitals secretly wanted all along to sign him to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, Colorado didn’t make a bad choice this offseason. It’s just the beginning of making themselves an attractive free agent destination once again.
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Colorado Avalanche and their outlook for the summer.
The 2017-18 Colorado Avalanche came off of the worst season in the salary cap era with a 43-30-9 record and 95-point performance on the year, finishing 4th in the Central Division and clinching the final wild card spot in the 2018 postseason with a win in their final game of the regular season against the St. Louis Blues.
St. Louis entered that game in April, in fact, ahead of the Avs in the standings by a point with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators in the First Round.
Not only did Colorado win, but they completed an unthinkable turnaround.
This, after trading the 3rd overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Matt Duchene, to the Ottawa Senators as part of a three team trade that saw the Avalanche flip Kyle Turris to the Nashville Predators, collecting a large package combined that included rookie defender Samuel Girard.
While one trade alone doesn’t put General Manager Joe Sakic in the hunt for the NHL’s GM of the Year award, the incredible turnaround in on-ice performance led by head coach, Jared Bednar, put Bednar in consideration for the 2017-18 Jack Adams Award.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Sakic currently holds onto the 16th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and two second round picks (Colorado’s own and one from the Predators as part of the Duchene trade).
While the conditional 2018 1st round pick from the Ottawa Senators in the Duchene deal was top-10 protected, the Sens will surrender a 2019 first round pick to the Avalanche instead.
Regardless, Sakic and his scouting crew will have plenty of attractive “best available” talent to choose from in the middle of the first round (namely, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joseph Veleno, Jack McBain, Jared McIsaac and others).
Pending free agents
Colorado has about $22.900 million to spend this summer with Blake Comeau, Matt Nieto and Nail Yakupov as the only current-NHL roster pending free agent forwards.
Comeau, 32, is a pending-UFA that bounced back from 2016-17’s down year (remember when Carl Soderberg had 14 points that season? Carl. Soderberg.), with an average of 30 points in his three seasons in the Mile High city.
He’s been around the league a bit in his career, but he resurfaced as a durable forward on an otherwise young roster, amassing 13-21–34 totals in 79 games played with the Avalanche this season.
Nieto, 25, is a pending-RFA that was claimed off waivers last season by Colorado and had his best season since 2014-15 with the San Jose Sharks, scoring 15 goals and 11 assists (26 points) in 74 games for the Avs in 2017-18.
The biggest difference maker for the Avalanche this offseason is not messing things up. Keeping Nieto isn’t harmful to the team’s future as their younger players come into their own and a small term deal won’t hurt as the younger players gain experience.
In short, there’s nothing for Sakic to lose in building a roster that makes the playoffs for a second consecutive year. Not many expected them to be at the point of playoff contention this season, so any step forward is better than a step backward as Colorado continues to retool for a Cup run (someday).
If there’s one pending-RFA Sakic should have an easy time letting go of, it’s Nail Yakupov.
The 24-year-old 1st overall pick in the 2012 NHL Enty Draft signed a one-year deal with Colorado in attempt to resurrect his career. It did not go as planned, despite scoring often and scoring early in the regular season.
Yakupov produced nine goals and seven assists (16 points) in 58 games with the Avalanche in the regular season and was scratched for their entire 2018 postseason run.
That alone is an indication.
While he almost doubled his offensive production this season compared to his final year with the St. Louis Blues (3-6–9 totals in 40 games in 2016-17), it doesn’t appear he can be part of an NHL lineup with enough consistency.
At best, Yakupov is the one you least expect to score, but then surprises everyone with the occasional goal. At worst, he’s just taking up a roster spot you could be giving to someone else.
Sakic already tried the low-risk, high-reward with Yakupov. It’s best to move on.
On defense, Patrik Nemeth, 26, and Duncan Siemens, 24, are both pending-RFAs.
Nemeth was claimed off waivers early last October from the Dallas Stars and scored his first career NHL goal with Colorado (and then two more) this season. He first broke into the league with Dallas in the 2013-14 season and had 3-12–15 totals in 68 games with the Avs in 2017-18.
He’s a low cost top-6 blueliner on a roster with about 10 NHL caliber defensemen. Whether Nemeth returns or not comes down to how Sakic envisions the roster– with Nikita Zadorov entering a contract year and Tyson Barrie potentially hitting the open market in July 2020– and how Bednar thinks he’s going to play everyone.
The 11th overall pick of the Avalanche in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Siemens scored his first NHL goal and recorded his first career assist in 16 games played. That’s the most he’s played in a season after appearing in his first career game in 2014-15.
There’s nothing holding him back from leaving the organization in search of a place that’ll give him more of a chance, but if he’s comfortable enough in Colorado, that’s fine too. Realistically speaking, he won’t be back with an NHL job in Denver, though.
In goal, the Avalanche have on goaltender under contract for 2018-19 and it’s 30-year-old Semyon Varlamov.
With a $5.900 million cap hit, Varlamov isn’t all that bad– as trade bait. But who would buy an oft-injured goaltender plateauing past his prime?
Injuries once again plagued the veteran starter down the stretch, but his numbers technically improved. Again, it’s an almost automatic technicality coming off of 2016-17, but Varlamov did produce a 2.68 goals against average and .920 save percentage in 51 games this season (which was close to his 2.56 GAA and .921 SV% in 57 games in 2014-15 with Colorado).
His next game will be his 400th career NHL game and if Sakic tosses around the idea of retaining some salary, the Avalanche could possibly find a new home for the goaltender, while seeking a legitimate number one.
Spencer Martin, 23, is a pending-RFA that last played at the NHL level in 2016-17. He is 0-2-1 in his short three game NHL career with a 4.35 GAA and an .865 SV% in the worst season for the franchise since moving to Denver.
Backup goalie, Jonathan Bernier, 29, is a pending-UFA that in 37 games with the Avs this season, amassed a 2.85 GAA and .913 SV% with a 19-13-3 record. That’s down from his 2.50 GAA, .915 SV% and 21-7-4 record in 39 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-17– ignoring the experience along the blueline Anaheim’s defense has over Colorado’s.
The problem with Bernier is that while he’s a backup goaltender, he’s been subpar with average teams. In 2015-16 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bernier was once again relegated to being a backup goalie for the first time since his breakout days behind Jonathan Quick with the Los Angeles Kings.
In 20 fewer games than 2014-15 (his last as a starter, in which he had a 2.87 GAA and .912 SV%), Bernier posted a 12-21-3 record with a 2.88 GAA and .908 SV% in 38 games with Toronto. Yikes.
Could the Avalanche take a stab at trying to acquire pending-RFA Philipp Grubauer from the Washington Capitals?
Sure, but let’s remember, they tried getting a Washington goaltender (in Varlamov) before to be their number one, so there’s no guarantees.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Rocco Grimaldi (UFA), Felix Girard (RFA), Jesse Graham (RFA), Joe Cannata (UFA), Mason Geertsen (RFA), Joe Colborne (UFA), Ryan Graves (RFA), Andrew Hammond (UFA), Reid Petryk (RFA), Trent Vogelhuber (UFA)
We see it every year. There is always one fan-base screaming TANK… TANK…TANK…
All NHL programs have had their weak moments. Times when fans question management and coaches; times when players request trades or refuse to renew contracts; times when teams literally couldn’t buy a win if they wanted to. So what is the response to these moments? General managers have one of two decisions to make: Get to work and fix the problem now, or sit back and warm your hands over the dumpster fire that will continue.
Serious problems within organizations don’t simply go way. Sure every team faces a slump every now and again, but I’m talking about real, legitimate issues. Maybe it’s a coach that doesn’t fit, a lack of roster depth, or internal conflicts among players. These are the types of concerns that management must deal with if they expect to be contenders, or just have a winning season for that matter.
So what is the solution? In order to answer that, take a look at how the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers attempted to right their ship. Both methods can be classified as tanking, but there is definitely a right way to do it.
So tanking… It should never be the goal to lose a hockey game, plain and simple. Even if a team is in the toilet, they should respect the sport of hockey enough to go out and give their best effort. Even from a management perspective, don’t think that they are trying to lose games intentionally. It is more so the fact that by making the decision to do nothing, they are prolonging their problems, which leads to tank mode. The best example of this is the historically bad run of the Edmonton Oilers.
Most people may not realize this, but from 2009-’10 to ’15-’16, this organization did not have a winning season. Yes, their drought really was that long. Seven season’s worth of pain and agony for their fan-base, which unfortunately has picked right back up this year. First-overall pick after first-overall pick and they could not do anything right.
Their “saviors” include Taylor Hall (gone, New Jersey Devils), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov (gone, Colorado Avalanche), and Connor McDavid. Two of those four were completely useless for them and really only McDavid plays like a true first-overall draft pick. Their method of tanking was so extreme because they solely depended on lottery draft picks to revive their club. In the 2012-’13 season, they didn’t make a single trade to receive additional draft picks in return. The last time they traded for a first-rounder? The ’14-’15 season when they shipped David Perron to the Penguins. During the 15-16 season, the Oilers made two terrible deals for poor the situation that they were in. They sent three draft picks (2nd, 3rd, and 5th) to the Rangers for Cam Talbot. Granted, he’s had a couple good seasons for them, but he’s now 30 years old and his GAA has crept over 3.00 this season. The worst deal though? They sent a first-round and second-round pick to the Islanders for… *Drum Roll*… Griffin Reinhart. That 16th-overall pick turned into rookie sensation Mathew Barzal, who is currently leading the Calder Trophy race. If I haven’t caused Edmonton fans enough pain, Reinhart isn’t even on their roster anymore.
Big deals involving big names need to happen. Key players need to go when the time is right and when their stock is at its highest. You obviously want to keep the guys with franchise tags, but others need to be put on the trading block. It may hurt in the short-run, but you can quickly build a pile of prospects and picks to assure that the future is bright. Growing pains are something that all organizations will inevitably go through, but sitting around and waiting for your first-overall pick to come should never be the answer.
The New York Rangers are not the type of organization to watch problems and twiddle their thumbs. Although typically a playoff team, this season they found themselves in an interesting situation. They have had a roller coaster of a year, with moments of promise, but during the second half of the season, they have been in a state of decline. An aging goaltender and a lack of scoring has them searching for answers. Their management decided it was time for a rebuild and I believe they are in the process of doing it the right way.
They could have chosen to simply tank and pick up a lottery draft pick, but instead, management went into fire sale mode. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that a team currently sitting seventh from the bottom of the NHL couldn’t creep down into a lottery pick, but why wait to make necessary changes? Over the course of the year, the Rangers have completed nine trades. They have racked up a total of seven draft picks, including three first-round selections (Arizona – 2017, Boston – 2018, and Tampa Bay – 2018). Their recent transactions show they may be pulling out of the playoff race for this season, but plan to reload for the immediate future.
Some people are scratching their heads as to why Jeff Gorton decided to give up both Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline. Mixing in Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller, those are some heavy names to throw around in trade deals, especially considering McDonagh was taking care of captain duties for the Rangers. The casual fan must realize that these types of deals are necessary and, honestly, if it all pans out for them, the Rangers will have won their deadline deals. The goal for the Bruins and the Lightning is to win a Stanley Cup. Anything short of this, they just gave up coveted draft picks for players that may or may not help them in the future. Particularly, if Nash, a soon-to-be free agent, leaves Boston, the Rangers will have received three players and two draft picks for a guy that was likely to walk on them.
The New York Rangers took a chance, a shot in the dark you may call it. They did give away quality players, but their “tank” will be nothing close to the miserable years the Edmonton Oilers experienced. If their scouting and recruiting staff can pick the right guys, they could be a contender once again in two or three years. With some space in their salary cap, they could pick up another player or two in free agency that will help turn things around. Even just next season, with the additions of prospects like Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, and Yegor Rykov, they could see big improvements.
This is the moral of the story and the lesson that fans must learn. If rosters get blown up the right way, things do work themselves out in the end. By keeping players around to “stay competitive,” you’re left with a mediocre team that has no shot at winning the Stanley Cup. When it comes to this business, that should be the only goal. Playing for a playoff spot or to finish above 0.500 isn’t going to help an organization in the long run. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but with that in mind, management must do whatever it takes to have a chance at a championship, even if that opportunity is down the road.
It’s a deal that will either become a footnote in hockey history or pay off well for the St. Louis Blues– taking a gamble, tight against the salary cap and looking to cash in on a Stanley Cup championship one of these days– but the Toronto Maple Leafs traded 24-year-old forward, Nikita Soshnikov on Thursday.
St. Louis received a 4th round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in return.
Soshnikov played in three games with Toronto this season and was placed on the injured reserve on December 12 with a lower body injury. The Nizhny Tagil, Russia native has 7-7–14 totals in 70 career games with the Maple Leafs since signing as a free agent in 2015.
Undrafted by any NHL team, Soshnikov played two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. In his last season with Moscow (KHL), he had 14-18–52 totals in 57 games played.
He will report to St. Louis after he has obtained a U.S. visa.
In related news, the Blues are taking a stab on another forward with something to prove, but without many results in the NHL thus far (a la Nail Yakupov, 2016-17, and Magnus Paajarvi, 2013-18). Time will tell.
1. Nashville Predators– 34-12-9 (77 points, 55 GP)
The Nashville Predators are amazing. They’re pulling off their spectacular season on the heels of last year’s Stanley Cup Final run with almost $3.000 million in salary tied up in buyouts.
They don’t need to add, but general manager David Poile still might work a little magic by adding without subtracting if he can. Mike Fisher, 37, is trying to come back from retirement because he believes Nashville’s time is now. Only time will tell if he can go from his current PTO to a one-year deal that just might get him his first taste from the Stanley Cup.
If Poile wants to add anything, he’s going to have to do so with about $3.200 million in cap space currently.
Potential assets to trade: Honestly, don’t.
2. Winnipeg Jets– 33-15-9 (75 points, 57 GP)
Injuries are beginning to mount for the Winnipeg Jets and it’ll be interesting to see what the GM Kevin Cheveldayoff does by February 26th considering his team’s current backup goaltender is 22-year-old, Eric Comrie. Their starter is 24-year-old, Connor Hellebuyck, who’s emerged as clear-cut starting goaltender this season (aside from his All-Star appearance back in January).
Winnipeg has about $5.400 million in cap space to play with as of this writing.
They are what should be a destination for rental players looking to take a team that’s on the verge of breaking out in the postseason deeper than they could ever imagine.
And the Jets have just enough to offer other teams to bring in the right pieces to the puzzle.
Potential assets to acquire: F Boone Jenner (CBJ), F Patrick Maroon (EDM), F Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), F Michael Grabner (NYR), D Nick Holden (NYR), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Thomas Vanek (VAN), F David Perron (VGK)
3. St. Louis Blues– 34-21-4 (72 points, 59 GP)
There’s almost $125,000 in cap space for the St. Louis Blues right now. While it’d be great for the Blues to add one or two of their missing pieces that’d send them right over the edge of victory (once-and-for-all), the better time to readjust appears to be this summer.
Besides, Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri and Carter Hutton will all need new contracts. Not that they’re going to cost St. Louis tens of millions of dollars, but it’ll likely mean that someone will have to get traded either at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft or later this summer.
Jay Bouwmeester is 34-years-old and has a $5.400 million cap hit through next season. He also has a no-trade-clause that could make things difficult for the foreseeable future, given that when the Blues are on their “A” game they can really make a claim for Cup contender status this season.
It’d be unwise to part with Bouwmeester now, but it only makes sense to do it later.
Just don’t get behind the eight ball is the best advice for St. Louis looking past the end of this month. Otherwise, salary cap hell isn’t all that fun.
Potential assets to trade: D Jay Bouwmeester
4. Dallas Stars– 33-20-4 (70 points, 57 GP)
The Dallas Stars currently cling to the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, though they trail the St. Louis Blues by two points for 3rd in the Central Division in what’s shaping up to be the tighter points battle in the West compared to the lackluster Pacific Division.
Yes, I’m fully aware Los Angeles did something to their defense Tuesday night, why do you ask?
The Central is all about racking up points while the Pacific bangs bodies off of each other in hopes of amounting to something more than your standard pylon.
So where do the Stars fit into the playoff picture? They should be in the running for at least a wild card spot coming down the stretch– and with almost $889,000 in cap space right now it’s going to be hard to add what they really need to push them over the hill.
While other teams in the league are searching for the right rental forward, the Stars should be looking for the right rental defenseman. Whether that’s a Mike Green or a Cody Franson, well, only Stars GM Jim Nill will know, based on what he must give up.
5. Minnesota Wild– 31-19-6 (68 points, 56 GP)
There’s good news and bad news for the Minnesota Wild as the trade deadline nears. The good news is that the Chicago Blackhawks are more than likely taking a pass on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bad news is the Wild might do that too (oh, and Minnesota only has about $129,000 in cap room– with Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba as pending-RFAs this July).
For all of the talk regarding trading Jonas Brodin, there sure hasn’t been any radio chatter this time around as the deadline nears this month.
Though the Wild hold on to the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, there’s at least two California based teams (Los Angeles and Anaheim) that should be in the playoff picture coming down the wire.
If it’s make or break, then Minnesota has all the time in the world to wait and see what’s to come this summer.
But if they’re on the fence about determining whether to buy or sell, well, they could do a bit of both. If they’re looking for a quick retool, it’s within their means, but if they’re content with sinking before they swim, there’s always the reset (rebuild) button.
Potential assets to acquire: D Cody Franson (CHI), F Jordan Kyrou (STL), D Ben Hutton (VAN)
6. Colorado Avalanche– 31-21-4 (66 points, 56 GP)
In theory, the Colorado Avalanche could be buyers at this year’s trade deadline.
They’re in great shape cap-wise, with about $8.400 million to spend currently, but Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, knows it by now– the best thing to do for Colorado is let their youth gain experience, make minor moves until the offseason, then address specific needs.
Colorado has expendable components, but cannot touch its core.
With Matt Duchene out of the picture, the focus has turned to making the Avs– in every way– Nathan MacKinnon‘s team. Gabriel Landeskog‘s just along for the ride at this point. If he’s patient, many rewards may find their way to the Mile-High City. If he’s sick of waiting, Sakic might be forced to reap another surplus of players, picks and prospects like he did in the three-way Duchene deal.
After Francois Beauchemin‘s $4.500 million buyout penalty comes off the books at season’s end, the Avalanche will have at least $13 million to spend on giving backup-turned-potential-starting goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, a fair raise while also making decisions on several pending-RFAs.
Potential assets to acquire: Literally anyone, F Jeff Skinner (CAR), F Boone Jenner (CBJ), D Jack Johnson (CBJ), G Petr Mrazek (DET), F Gustav Nyqvist (DET), F Tomas Plekanec (MTL), D Ryan McDonagh (NYR), F Rick Nash (NYR), F Mike Hoffman (OTT), F Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), G Aaron Dell (SJ), F Josh Leivo (TOR), F Nikita Soshnikov (TOR), D Ben Hutton (VAN), F James Neal (VGK), F David Perron (VGK), F Nic Petan (WPG)
7. Chicago Blackhawks– 24-25-8 (56 points, 57 GP)
Reward contracts have killed the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty. This is what drives parity in a salary cap league (see “Detroit Red Wings downfall since 1998, thanks to 2004-05”), so once again, welcome to the Salary Cap Era.
Depending on your methods of calculation, the Blackhawks will either have $0 to spend at the deadline or maybe up to about $3.100 million in wiggle room.
Regardless, they’re not buying this year. They’re buying for the future– so draft picks and prospects. One thing that might get in their way (other than the salary cap) is what they have to offer.
Large reward contracts were handed out to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews while Duncan Keith took a discount. Marian Hossa is on the books at a cap hit of $5.275 million through the end of the 2020-21 season, whether he plays or not.
If Hossa never plays again, Chicago can always place him on the long-term injured reserve (eh, just paperwork), buyout his contract (yikes) or trade him to a team like the Arizona Coyotes (preferable) who took on the large salary of Pavel Datsyuk in his final NHL-contract year just to meet the cap floor, knowing he had jettisoned for the KHL.
The bottom line is Chicago’s cash-strapped. Someone important is going to have to be dealt in order to protect the organization’s future endeavors.
With Toews and Kane at a combined $21.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season, unless the cap rises significantly, this just might keep the Blackhawks down in the dumps for a while.
Potential assets to acquire: Draft picks, prospects and cap room
Unless you’re headed to a game, make sure to sit down in front of your TV tonight because there’s much to be watched!
As hinted at yesterday, the NHL is closing out the unofficial first half of the season with a bang today, as all but Los Angeles is in action (and believe me, the Kings are 100 percent happy with this situation). Like it does most weeknights, the action begins at 7 p.m. with three games (Nashville at New Jersey, Tampa Bay at Philadelphia [SN1] and Minnesota at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by four more (Carolina at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Boston at Ottawa [RDS2], Chicago at Detroit [NBCSN] and Washington at Florida). Next up is Colorado at St. Louis in the 8 p.m. time slot, with Toronto at Dallas dropping the puck 30 minutes later. 9 p.m. marks the beginning of a pair of tilts (Calgary at Edmonton and Columbus at Arizona), while three contests (Buffalo at Vancouver, the New York Islanders at Vegas [SN1] and Winnipeg at Anaheim) wait until 10 p.m. to get underway. Finally, the New York Rangers at San Jose close out the evening as the 10:30 p.m. nightcap. All times Eastern.
There’s more than a few of tonight’s games that I’ll have my eye on…
- Minnesota at Pittsburgh: It’s the return of F Matt Cullen to PPG Paints Arena. Time for him to grab his third Stanley Cup ring!
- Boston at Ottawa: No matter how poor the Sens are this year, it doesn’t take away from their playoff run from a season ago – which began with a six-game series with the Bruins.
- Chicago at Detroit: Original Six matchups are always fun, right?
- Colorado at St. Louis: Welcome back to the Gateway City, W Nail Yakupov.
- Calgary at Edmonton: This rivalry always has the chance of getting truly nasty.
It’s been a while since we’ve featured either the Pens or the Wild, so let’s head to the Steel City.
Remember when you were little and you would run to your dad every night when he got home from work?
That’s kind of what happened at the Penguins’ morning skate today when Cullen showed up – and yes, all of them probably did call him “dad.”
Cullen has been a bit of a journeyman over the course of his career. Since being selected 35th-overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft by Anaheim (back when they were the Mighty Ducks), he’s worn eight different sweaters, including two stints with both the Hurricanes (with whom he won the 2006 Stanley Cup) and the Wild.
One of those teams is, of course, Pittsburgh. After not being offered a deal after two years in Nashville, he signed a one-year, $800 thousand contract with the Pens to be their fourth-line center, as well as provide a veteran voice in the dressing room, for the 2015-’16 season.
It goes without saying that it was a marvelous relationship. He posted 16-16-32 totals (all top-eight marks on the team that season) from his bottom-six position during the regular season, followed up by decent 4-2-6 marks in the postseason to help the Pens to their fourth Stanley Cup.
In fact, the pairing was so good that General Manager Jim Rutherford offered Cullen another one-year deal to stay with the club for the 2016-’17 season, this time with a $1 million price tag.
The results came up spades once again for Pittsburgh, as the resident father figure posted even better 13-18-31 totals (all top-11 on the squad) in 10 fewer games played, followed by a 2-7-9 effort in the playoffs as the Penguins beat Cullen’s former team for their second-consecutive and fifth-overall title.
However, this offseason wasn’t as simple as the year before’s. Not only did Rutherford have to figure out how to successfully navigate multiple signings, but Cullen was mulling retiring from the NHL. That forced the Penguins to look elsewhere to fill their holes at center on the third and fourth line (with a roller coaster of results, ranging from the highest heights to the lowest lows), making Cullen’s decision on whether he would return to the club or not for him.
With Cullen on the outside looking in, Minnesota General Manager Chuck Fletcher caught wind that he was interested in at least one last ride and signed him to a one-year, $1 million deal to play the same veteran fourth-line center role he did in Pittsburgh.
I can’t vouch for his presence in the dressing room, but the Virginia, Minn. native’s solid performance on the ice has not followed him back to his hometown team. Missing only one game so far this season, Cullen has posted only 4-7-11 totals for .23 points-per-game, well under the .41 he managed in 154 regular season games in Pittsburgh. If he continues scoring at this pace, Cullen is in line for 19 points in 81 games played. It’d be the worst season of his career.
Fortunately for 26-17-5 Minnesota – the sixth-best team in the Central Division – it has 18-9-3 G Devan Dubnyk at its disposal. When he’s on fire like he is right now, he keeps the Wild in every game they play. As a result, Minnesota has earned a point in six-straight games with a 4-0-2 record.
Dubnyk has started four of the Wild’s last six games, and with much success. He’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.73 GAA to improve his season numbers to .919 and 2.59. As a result of his winning ways and the opportunity to play behind a defense that has allowed only a 12th-fewest 30.5 shots against-per-game since January 9, the Wild have allowed a (t)second-best average of 1.83 goals against per game during this solid run.
As mentioned before, Cullen rejoining the Wild was a result of the Penguins turning to other players to fill the third and fourth-line center positions. Currently, those players are C Riley Sheahan and F Jean-Sebastien Dea, and it seems Pittsburgh is starting to find success with them in those positions.
However, the real reason 26-21-3 Pittsburgh – the Eastern Conference’s second wild card – has been wining lately is because of some stellar play in net. Over their past eight games, the Pens have gone 6-2-0 by allowing only 2.13 goals per game, the fourth-best mark in the league since January 5.
Specifically, much of that defensive success has occurred in the crease since the Pens’ defense has allowed 30.88 shots against during this run. Of the three goaltenders that have played since January 5, 2-2-0 G Casey DeSmith has easily been the most impressive and will be in net this evening for the Pens.
In line for the fourth start of his NHL career tonight, DeSmith has posted an imposing .96 save percentage and 1.35 GAA since January 5 in three starts. In fact, he’s been so solid lately that, to make room for 15-12-1 G Matthew Murray returning to the roster, the Penguins sent 9-4-2 G Tristan Jarry back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL instead of him. After starting the season as Jarry’s backup with the Baby Pens this season, that is certainly a major compliment to DeSmith and the potential Head Coach Mike Sullivan sees in him.
The Penguins have already made their annual trip to St. Paul this season, but it is not a trip they look back upon fondly. Minnesota ended up winning the October 28 game 2-1 thanks to First Star C Mikko Koivu‘s game-winning goal at the 9:03 mark of the third period.
If picking winners of games was as simple as choosing the team with the superior overall record, Minnesota would be in line for two points this evening. However, the Wild have a miserable 9-13-1 record on the road this season, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can perform well away from the State of Hockey.
With an overtime winner from Third Star of the Game LW Tanner Pearson, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
The Flames’ lone goal of the game was struck with 5:57 remaining in first period, courtesy of Second Star C Sean Monahan (LW Johnny Gaudreau and W Micheal Ferland). The wrist shot is Monahan’s 22nd goal on the season, the most on the club.
Including this game, Calgary’s average of 10:52 penalty minutes per game is fifth-most in the league. The Flames certainly lived up to their reputation, as they served a whopping 22 PIM, including a C Mikael Backlund misconduct. Most of those infractions took place in the second period, as both squads committed four infractions each.
However, the penalty that led to the Kings’ game-tying goal didn’t take place until the 3:23 mark of the final frame when C Mark Jankowski was caught tripping C Anze Kopitar. 46 seconds later, D Jake Muzzin (Kopitar and D Drew Doughty) buried a power play slap shot to tie the game at one-all.
With neither squad able to break the draw, the contest advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period. Almost all five of those minutes were necessary, but Pearson (Doughty and W Dustin Brown) was able to avoid the shootout with 27 seconds to spare. The main action on the scoring play occurred when Doughty faked a clapper from above the face-off circles. That fake made G Mike Smith commit just long enough that he wasn’t able to react in time when Doughty set up the Pearson wrister, which beat him five-hole.
First Star G Darcy Kuemper earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Smith, who saved 25-of-27 (.926).
The road teams are coming in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors in the series have won five in a row and earned points in seven-straight, pulling them within 17 points of the 59-36-15 hosts.
St. Louis Blues
46-29-7, 99 points, third in the Central Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Nashville
Subtractions: LW Kenny Agostino (signed with BOS), C Jori Lehtera (traded to PHI), W David Perron (drafted by VGK), RW Ty Rattie (signed with EDM), RW Ryan Reaves (traded to PIT), W Nail Yakupov (signed with COL)
Offseason Analysis: The Blues’ biggest struggle last season was finding offensive production from someone not named Vladimir Tarasenko, the right wing that led his team with 75 points – 20 more than second-best F Jaden Schwartz.
Enter Flyer-turned-Note Schenn.
The fifth-overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft has improved almost every season of his career. Starting with his rookie campaign in 2011-’12, Schenn has averaged .58 points-per-game, including .72 points-per-game for the past two seasons even though he played for the ninth-worst offense in the NHL during that time.
For those wanting more moves, you’ll have your wish next offseason when eight NHL contracts will expire. Until then, St. Louis is putting almost the exact same product on the ice as it did at last season’s end. Since that’s the case, the Blues’ goal of a seventh-straight playoff appearance will require a return to form from a few offensive pieces that had down years last season – particularly C Paul Stastny (18-22-40 totals), who has yet to match his career .8 points-per-game in a Blues sweater.
Of course, the main reason Stastny struggled to post numbers similar to his 10-39-49 totals from 2015-’16 was a lower-body injury suffered in March that forced him out of action for the last 10 games of the regular season and most of the Minnesota series. And he wasn’t the only one to face extended time off the ice, as a February ACL injury landed F Robby Fabbri on injured reserve. It was a disappointing halt to an excellent season for Fabbri, who had posted 11-18-29 totals in 51 games before going down.
Of course, it is these injuries that provided 21-year-old Ivan Barbashev his opportunity to explode onto the scene. In only 30 games, Barbashev was able to notch 12 points and helped the Blues close the season on a 12-2-2 run. It seems a safe assumption that he’s earned his way onto the Blues’ starting roster – at least until December when Patrik Berglund should return from his shoulder surgery.
Another task facing the Blues is identifying their new two-way defenseman, a role Kevin Shattenkirk filled for the past seven seasons. In the 20 regular season games following Shattenkirk’s trade to Washington, Captain Alex Pietrangelo more than stepped into that role by notching 5-13-18 totals for .9 points-per-game, far superior to the .5 points-per-game rate he managed in his opening 60 games.
With four assists in 11 playoff contests, Pietrangelo didn’t necessarily disappear from the scoresheet during the postseason, but his offensive contributions from the blue line were dwarfed by those of Joel Edmundson (3-3-6 totals) and Colton Parayko (2-3-5 totals). Drafted in 2012, 24-year-old Parayko has long been tapped as Shattenkirk’s replacement – especially given that he’s posted two consecutive 33+ point NHL seasons – but the Blues are cautiously hoping last April was Edmundson’s (another 24-year-old) coming-out party.
Will that dream pan out? Probably not. Edmundson has only managed 31 total points in two years of regular and postseason NHL play. But, if it somehow proves to be true, it will be hard to argue that St. Louis’ Edmundson (who’s playing for a contract this year, by the way), Parayko and Pietrangelo form one of the most dynamic defensive corps in the league.
Another interesting transition for this club is employing Thorburn as their new enforcer. For seven seasons, Reaves was charged with protecting the likes of Pietrangelo, Alex Steen and Tarasenko, but he’s looking after Pittsburgh’s stars now. With the likes of Duncan Keith still roaming the division, Thorburn – himself a four-year Central veteran – will need to assert himself early to protect St. Louis’ elite players.
Offseason Grade: B-
For the room it had on its roster (read: not much), St. Louis made a great addition in Schenn that should make a noticeable improvement on the offensive end.
But are the Blues a playoff team? I feel pretty confident saying they are. Do they make it to the Western Finals for the second time in three years or – God save me – qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals? Many of the pieces are still there, but there are more than a few talented teams in the mix. Then again, this team has proven in the past that when it’s hot, it’s en fuego. If the Notes are riding one of those highs in April, there’s no telling how far they could go.
22-56-4, 48 points, 7th in the Central Division (’16-’17)
Subtractions: D Mat Clark (signed with HC Bolzano, EBEL), F Turner Elson (signed with DET), D Eric Gelinas (PTO with MTL), F Mikhail Grigorenko (signed with HC CSKA Moscow, KHL), F Brendan Ranford (signed with San Antonio, AHL), F Mike Sislo (signed with ARI), G Jeremy Smith (signed with CAR), D Patrick Wiercioch (signed with VAN)
Offseason Analysis: Colorado Avalanche general manager, Joe Sakic, had one thing– and one thing only— to do this offseason– improve the team by any means necessary. The 2016-2017 Avs were the worst team in the lockout era (since the 2004-2005 season long lockout).
The 2006-2007 Philadelphia Flyers went 22-48-12, amassing 56 points along the way to collecting a -89 goal differential. The 2016-2017 Colorado Avalanche were eight points worse and had a -112 goal differential. So yeah, things were that bad.
While relationships between the front office and Landeskog may be mended the longer this drama goes on, the same cannot be said for Duchene. Colorado has promoted the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Landeskog and others on their social media platforms all summer, but fans haven’t seen much of Duchene, save for photos from his wedding.
The rumor mill has gone quiet– we did just wrap up August after all, and that’s when all of the GMs go into hibernation, unlike Boston Celtics general manager, Danny Ainge, and Cleveland Cavaliers general manager, Koby Altman, but basketball has long been different from NHL offseason traditions.
Not to get all sports talk radio host on the Avalanche, but what are they thinking?
Duchene, whether he regains top-notch form or not, is a sought after, star-quality center that is only one season removed from a nearly 60-point year. Yes, 18-23-41 totals in 77 games played in 2016-2017 won’t cut it for most teams paying an expected first or second line center $6.000 million a year, but here’s the thing– Colorado was the exception to the rule in just about everything last year.
Carl Soderberg ($4.750 million cap hit) only had 14 points last season after amassing a career year in scoring (51 points in 2015-2016). Everyone’s production was off a cliff– or down a mountain, if you’d like– in Avalanche territory.
So Sakic had a chance to hit the reset button and completely shut things off-and-on-again (with the hopes that last season was the “off-year”) and brought in some help in the crease. Granted, that doesn’t fix their porous blue line and lack off offensive production, but Jonathan Bernier provides more of a cushion in case Semyon Varlamov goes down with another season ending injury.
Bernier’s 2.50 GAA in 39 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season was his best goals against average since his days in a Los Angeles Kings uniform (2007-2013). As one of the best underrated backup goaltenders, Bernier could soar with the right combinations on the ice in front of him.
Speaking of combinations, head coach Jared Bednar has got quite the conundrum on the blue line to figure out defensive pairings. Colorado’s oldest defenseman is 29-year-old Erik Johnson. That would be a good thing under normal circumstances, however, Tyson Barrie, 26, and Mark Barberio, 27, are the only other defensemen under contract with Nikita Zadorov, 22, in a holding pattern as an unsigned RFA according to CapFriendly.
That’s a lot of minutes split between three defensemen (obviously Jared Cowen is signed to a PTO and could receive an offer/any AHL defenseman in their system– ‘sup David Warsofsky– could fill out the remaining spots/trades could be made).
While Varlamov looks to bounce back to full health and the Mile-High City collectively prays for a mile-high miracle turnaround in offense, not much has changed. Sure Colin Wilson was acquired from Nashville and Nail Yakupov was signed, but one is a clutch depth scorer and the other is a former 1st overall pick on his third team in three years.
Down the Frozen River statistical models* show the Colorado Avalanche as a team that can put up around 80 points on the season, which is certainly feasible if everything falls into line, but it seems to make more sense to go with gut instinct on this one and predict the Avalanche will finish 31st in the league with a slightly less dismal (depending on how you look at it) season than last year.
Offseason Grade: D
“D” as in trade Duchene, add a Defenseman (or two).
*Coming soon, stay tuned. *eyes emoji*
While scrolling through Instagram on Sunday, I came across some random post someone had made claiming a certain 1st overall pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft as being “the biggest bust in NHL Entry Draft history”. Of course, that got me thinking.
In seven seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers and Dallas Stars, Stefan amassed 188 points in his career, while Yakupov has had just 120 points in five seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues.
This offseason, the Colorado Avalanche are taking a shot on Yakupov, who might have reached his last chance to make an impact at the NHL level– if not make something of his career (which might be in jeopardy, as well).
While Stefan had 26.9 points per season compared to Yakupov’s average of 24 points a season, Yakupov’s first NHL season was shortened to just 48 games thanks to the 2012-2013 lockout and has yet to see a full 82-game season without injury or being scratched from the lineup.
Stefan, of course, did have the 2004-2005 season long lockout to overcome, but played in 72 games in his rookie season of 1999-2000 with Atlanta.
For more comparison, Stefan’s rookie campaign witnessed five goals and 20 assists for 25 points and a minus-20 rating in 72 games played. Yakupov, in 48 games, produced 17-14-31 totals with a minus-4 rating.
Of course, there’s always sample size to consider.
Stefan played in 455 career NHL games, while Yakupov has only played in 292 career games thus far.
In points per game, the matchup’s pretty even. Yakupov has 2.43 points per game which is only .01 better than Stefan’s 2.42 points per game.
Then again, Yakupov does have an edge in a little over half the time than Stefan’s points per game ratio.
The fact of the matter is that Stefan cracked an NHL roster on a consistent basis, regardless of the lack of quality star-power in the Thrashers lineup over the years.
Yakupov, while plagued by injury, was often a healthy scratch for the Blues last season and signed with a team that’s coming off the worst season anyone’s seen in the last 20 years.
And that doesn’t even get at the fact that Edmonton had three consecutive years (2010, 2011, 2012) of the 1st overall pick in what should have been prime rebuilding time– fully incorporating Yakupov as part of the solution– before drafting their savior in Connor McDavid in 2015.
The 2016-2017 Avalanche were the worst team in the salary cap era and while they’ve made some improvements to their roster, there’s still nothing to show for the Ryan O’Reilly trade– which is another argument for another time.
Nail Yakupov alone does not make the 2017-2018 Colorado Avalanche that much better.
Most fans will always remember Patrik Stefan for his empty net gaffe that almost cost the Stars a win against the Oilers about a decade ago (Dallas went on to win in a shootout), but at least fans remember something about Stefan, whereas with his career teetering on the edge, Yakupov runs the risk of not being remembered for anything on his way out.
Both players have had minimal impact in their careers. Stefan came into the league riding on the waves of an expansion team that wasn’t expected to be great even a year or two out from his draft day. Yakupov joined the Oilers in the midst of high expectations for a perpetual rebuild.
Both were offset due to injuries.
So yes, for now, Yakupov might be the biggest 1st overall bust in the history of the NHL Entry Draft (which dates back to 1963), because of a little thing called perspective. He was supposed to be part of a trifecta of 1st overall picks that would kickstart the Oilers.
But he still has another chance to prove everyone wrong and prolong his career– thanks, in part, to Colorado’s 1-year, $875,000 contract.