It’s the DTFR Podcast’s official season preview for all things Central Division in 2018-19 as Nick and Connor embark on season five of the show…
Detroit Red Wings
30-39-13, 73 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division
Subtractions: D Adam Almquist (signed, SHL), F Colin Campbell (signed with Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL), G Jared Coreau (signed with ANA), F Turner Elson (signed with Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL), F Matt Lorito (signed with NYI), G Matej Machovsky (signed, ELH), G Tom McCollum (signed with Milwaukee Admirals, AHL), F Zach Nastasiuk (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), D Xavier Ouellet (buyout, signed with MTL), D Dan Renouf (signed with CAR), F Ben Street (signed with ANA), F Eric Tangradi (signed with NJ)
Offseason Analysis: Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland is standing put this offseason. Tell me if you’ve already heard this story before.
Despite finishing 5th in the Atlantic Division (only two spots out of a playoff spot), Detroit was not at all a playoff contender by any means last season. The same remains true for 2018-19, unfortunately for Red Wings fans.
However, unlike most rebuilding teams this offseason, Detroit had a tremendous draft– landing Filip Zadina at 6th overall. Both Zadina and the Red Wings are ready to prove at least two or three other teams that passed over him wrong.
Holland didn’t just land one great pick that slipped down the order, but two with his second pick of the first round at 30th overall in Joe Veleno.
Re-signing Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha protected the Red Wings core, while bringing in Jonathan Bernier as a backup provides stability in the crease behind Jimmy Howard.
Rebuilding is a long, slow process, but Detroit is ready to speed things up a bit as they look to get younger in the right places. One thing that’s holding them back, however, is their commitment to lateral moves during this time period.
Thomas Vanek is back (for now– just wait until the trade deadline, though he really wants to stay in a winged-wheel sweater) and so is Mike Green. Frans Nielsen is still on the books with his NMC/NTC strapped contract and the blueline at Little Caesars Arena continues to age– without Xavier Ouellet in the picture after Holland used a buyout on the 25-year-old defender reaching his prime.
Holland’s plans for next offseason have to include some kind of restructuring on the back end with four defenders aged 32-plus.
Regardless, 2018-19 is poised to be an average disappointment as a placeholder season while Zadina and Co. gain experience. Detroit is at least competitive enough to lose games by one, two or three goals instead of 5-0 blowouts every other night.
Any experience is good experience, but playoff hopes should be on hold for at least one more season Red Wings fans (because otherwise, they’d be making an early exit for sure).
Offseason Grade: C
Ken Holland didn’t do much, but rather just enough to potentially set the Red Wings up for landing a goldmine in the 2019 offseason. With that in mind, Detroit should line themselves up for another high-end draft pick next June and trying to land a top UFA in 2019.
This season, however, the focus remains on finding a focus. Fix an aging defense, find the next Jimmy Howard and set sights on having younger guys inserted into the lineup.
Could Jeff Blashill be on the hotseat this season? Sure. For better or worse. It’s really not the coaching in Detroit that’s the problem. It’s an average to below average roster that’s continuing to age in a tight salary cap (but again, there’s hope for some serious restructuring next offseason).
29-40-13, 71 points, 6th in the Atlantic Division
Additions: F Kenny Agostino, F Joel Armia (acquired from WPG), F Michael Chaput, F Max Domi (acquired from ARI), D Xavier Ouellet, F Matthew Peca, F Tomas Plekanec, F Hunter Shinkaruk (acquired from CGY)
Subtractions: D Simon Bourque (traded to WPG), F Daniel Carr (signed with VGK), F Adam Cracknell (signed with TOR), F Markus Eisenschmid (signed, DEL), G Zach Fucale (signed with VGK), F Alex Galchenyuk (traded to ARI), F Jeremy Gregoire (signed with Milwaukee Admirals, AHL), G Steve Mason (acquired from WPG, buyout), F Joonas Nattinen (signed, KHL), D Tom Parisi (signed, Great Britain), F Kerby Rychel (traded to CGY), F Chris Terry (signed with DET)
Re-signed: F Phillip Danault, F Jacob de la Rose
Offseason Analysis: They didn’t get Jeff Skinner, so now what?
The Montreal Canadiens 2018-19 regular season campaign can’t be much worse than 2017-18. While the Buffalo Sabres are sure to climb out of eighth in the Atlantic Division, at least the Ottawa Senators will more than likely be the foundation of the division standings come April.
Claude Julien‘s Canadiens had the third worst goal differential (a minus-55) in the league last season and with uncertainty surrounding Max Pacioretty‘s future in Montreal, well, that’s about to get worse. No amount of a healthy Carey Price can save the Canadiens porous defense, especially with star defender Shea Weber sidelined due to injury for at least a couple months.
General Manager Marc Bergevin made a little splash in the trade market this offseason, sending Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Max Domi. While Domi brings grit to the Canadiens lineup, so does Andrew Shaw— just without the scoring power.
Wait, Galchenyuk had six more points (19-32–51 totals in 82 GP for MTL) than Domi (9-36–45 in 82 GP for ARI) last season? And that was a “bad” year?
Domi emerged onto the NHL spotlight with an 18-goal season in 2015-16 (81 GP). Injuries limited the young forward to just 59 games in 2016-17, a season in which he amassed 9-29–38 totals. In 23 more games from 2016-17 to 2017-18, Domi had seven more points.
Meanwhile, Galchenyuk has reached the 40-point plateau for the last four seasons– including two 50-plus point seasons.
Bergevin is gambling on Domi to return to form– and then some– but the question remains ever present– how long can these Bergevin gambles go on in Canada’s most prestigious club de hockey?
Joel Armia, Matthew Peca and Xavier Ouellet are sneaky pickups by the Habs that may lead to improved depth, depth and a make-or-break season (for whatever reason), respectively.
The ceremonious return of Tomas Plekanec to the franchise may at least bring back something right to the universe– a Plekanec goatee and turtleneck combo, unlike his short tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs in which Lou Lamoriello’s oppressive regime on facial hair wrought havoc on the hockey universe.
In all seriousness, though, Julien’s time in Montreal may be limited if the front office is looking for someone else to blame other than themselves for their colossal collapse the last few seasons. No amount of Jesperi Kotkaniemi (another gamble at 3rd overall in this year’s Draft) can make up for the inevitable– another long season for Habs fans.
Offseason Grade: D
Like the Ottawa Senators and Erik Karlsson, Montreal really should be receiving an “incomplete” grade until the Max Pacioretty situation is resolved. However, unlike the Sens, the Habs at least added some marginal talent in Max Domi this offseason (albeit at the expense of Alex Galchenyuk) compared to Ottawa’s… well, let’s not compare those two clubs by themselves, shall we?
The Canadiens are like that guy in your class that has a 65 and is technically still passing the class. You know the school year won’t be great for that guy and you also know things could be worse, but they just can’t no matter how hard he tries (or doesn’t try?) because someone is always doing a little bit worse.
Claude Julien is still a good coach, sure, but his system is becoming outdated for the contemporary game. Also, his last Cup win came outside of my “great coach” status (basically, you’re only a “great coach” if you’ve won a Cup within the last five seasons– you’re at the top of the game among the rest– until you retire, then you can lean back on your trophy case all you want to stack up), but that’s a hill worth dying on another day.
28-43-11, 67 points, 7th in Atlantic Division
Additions: F Chase Balisy, D Julius Bergman (acquired from SJ), F Mikkel Boedker (acquired from SJ), F Paul Carey, G Mike McKenna, F Adam Tambellini
Subtractions: F Mike Blunden (signed, Austria), D Fredrik Claesson (signed with NYR), D Cody Donaghey (traded to SJ), G Chris Driedger (signed with Springfield Thunderbirds, AHL), F Mike Hoffman (traded to SJ, flipped to FLA), D Ville Pokka (signed, KHL), F Tyler Randell (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), G Daniel Taylor (signed, KHL)
Still Unsigned: F Nick Moutrey, F Max Reinhart
Re-signed: D Cody Ceci, F Nick Paul, F Mark Stone
Offseason Analysis: The bottom fell out for the Ottawa Senators in 2017-18– not just on the ice, but off it too. It’s hard to ignore the dumpster fire near the Rideau Canal, but tires burn hot and bright. Everything, yes, everything is horrible in Ottawa– excuse me, Kanata, Ontario (since Senators owner Eugene Melnyk cannot get a downtown arena deal done).
There is no plan for a future (they protected their 2018 1st round pick from the Colorado Avalanche in the Matt Duchene three-way trade, leaving their 2019 1st round pick– and best chance at Jack Hughes– exposed) and the organization is rushing Brady Tkachuk into the big time when he could get just as much, if not more, for his development from another season at Boston University– where at least there’ll be a structured game-flow and not just a 1-3-1.
General Manager Pierre Dorion was faced with the tough task of having to trade one of his best forwards for almost nothing due to an off-ice controversy. In the meantime, superstar defender Erik Karlsson is still a pending-UFA in July 2019 on the roster.
Contrary to expert analysts’ opinions (and regular fans’ opinions) around the sport, Ottawa does not have to trade Karlsson. There is no timetable other than the chance that Karlsson walks away for nothing next summer.
The Duchene trade didn’t happen until last November. A Karlsson deal can happen anytime.
It’s understandable that a fanbase would want to get something rather than nothing– even more so when the fate of Karlsson in a Senators uniform is all but sealed. Melnyk doesn’t spend money on good, franchise, players. Just ask Jason Spezza five years ago.
He does, however, still want to move Bobby Ryan’s massive $7.250 million per season contract through the end of the 2021-22 season.
Rebuilds don’t happen in one offseason.
Unfortunately for Sens fans, this might not be rock bottom yet. It might take another frustrating year (or several), especially the longer the franchise waits to shake things up in the front office.
Dorion and Head Coach Guy Boucher can– without a doubt– expect not to see the results on the other side of these trying times.
Nine current NHL roster players are pending-UFAs in 2019, including Duchene, Mark Stone and Karlsson.
Yes, that’s right, Ottawa may lose their three biggest remaining pieces from 2017-18’s dumpster fire during or after the 2018-19 campaign.
Stone agreed to a one-year extension in August. The 26-year-old forward will be making $7.350 million this season with no years of UFA protection from an organizational standpoint.
There’s really nothing else to say about the Senators situation. Dorion waited too long to move assets that could’ve been dealt leading up to or at the trade deadline, controversies came out publicly and now the ship is already primed for the bottom of the Atlantic (Division, if you will accept the metaphor) without any guarantee of landing a top prospect in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
This colossal mismanagement starts at the very top.
Despite all considerations of defining an offseason timeline as truly just the offseason, unless Ottawa trades someone tomorrow, they have failed in every sense to get better.
Offseason Grade: F
Buying out Alexandre Burrows after acquiring him and signing him immediately to a two-year extension in a league that is only getting younger and faster, while also handing Cody Ceci a one-year, $4.300 million extension this offseason (because you lack defensive depth past Erik Karlsson) doesn’t look great, especially when your biggest addition was Mikkel Boedker (at the expense of trading Mike Hoffman to the San Jose Sharks because you didn’t want him to go to a division rival– oops, would you look at that, San Jose flipped him to the Florida Panthers).
Sure, Brady Tkachuk exists, but if there’s nobody left to match his playing style, well, it’s going to be a long season.
If you wait long enough into the summer things start to look more concrete– until you really look at the nitty gritty.
The 2017-18 Boston Bruins were ahead of schedule. They exceeded expectations. They weren’t even supposed to have the kind of season they had until at least this season or next season (if that makes sense), depending on how you broke down General Manager Don Sweeney‘s master three-year plan.
Like everything, however, this offseason has had some ups and downs.
Without getting too much into the nonsensically named (okay, it was named after some videogame, read Bob McKenzie’s book Hockey Confidential— shameless plug) advanced stat “PDO”, let’s just say that whenever a team does really well for a season, they usually come back to reality the following season.
Hockey logic has indicated this in the past, what with the Chicago Blackhawks almost evenly spaced out Stanley Cup championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015 (notice, 2011, 2012 and 2014 did not result in Cups– kind of makes you think)– let alone all of hockey history.
A long season, while rewarding with a championship run (sometimes), is a grind.
Not trying to be Debbie Downer here, but let’s just try to look at things with a slice of realism for this season especially.
Last season they were “too young, too, too young”, but they amassed 50 wins and made it to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This season they’re more experienced, but with an unknown and untapped source of depth in both their free agent signings and expected rookie debuts and sophomores.
Gone are Tim Schaller and Riley Nash— two quality bottom-six forwards who left for Vancouver and Columbus respectively in July. In their place we find Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom. Lateral– but necessary– moves.
The expectations coming into Schaller and Nash’s two-year deals in the 2016 offseason were that they’d contribute in some way, but nobody could predict Schaller becoming a legitimate fourth liner and Nash amassing 41 points (a career best) in a contract year.
While Wagner and Nordstrom aren’t your bottom-six fan favorites yet, they share similar parallels of the unknown and are expected to rise to the occasion– whatever that may be as Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will see fit.
Wagner’s your tough guy and Nordstrom’s a solid penalty killer. The latter will likely see some time with Sean Kuraly on a PK-unit a la Nash and Kuraly from this past season.
Moore’s five-year deal may seem like a bit much, but at $2.750 million per season, he’s making as much as Adam McQuaid for likely a bottom-pair role that’ll transform into McQuaid’s replacement, should Sweeney look to move the career-long Boston defender or not re-sign him in July 2019.
Despite being one-year older than Khudobin, Halak is an upgrade as a stable backup goaltender who’s numbers should improve in a more limited role with a better group of skaters in front of him than his now former New York Islanders teammates were the last few seasons.
Pointless arguments can be made all day (Halak is better than Khudobin), but let’s move on with the actual lineup projection, shall we?
Actually, let’s digress for another moment. Rick Nash remains undecided about whether or not he’d like to return to the game, so that could always mess everything up.
Anyway, here’s a look at how the Boston Bruins 2018-19 lineup should shape up:
Forward Line 1
Isn’t it obvious? The best line in the NHL from 2017-18 rolls right into 2018-19 intact with the same level of chemistry as before. Sure, you could spread out the points a bit by putting Pastrnak on the second line with David Krejci, but you really don’t have to unless you’re looking to shake things up a bit from time to time.
Boston’s first line is set for at least the remainder of Patrice Bergeron’s existence– ignoring contracts altogether. Brad Marchand is inseparable from Bergeron and Pastrnak has joined that royalty in his own right, as he continues to emerge as a star.
Forward Line 2
Jake DeBrusk and Krejci go together like Milan Lucic once did on the Czech center’s left side. Except there’s a bit of a difference in DeBrusk’s game– it’s more offensive. The bigger question on Boston’s second line shouldn’t be “what top-six forward will they try to acquire to fill a ‘hole'”, but rather “who will win the job between Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato?”
For the sake of testing things out in the wake of Bjork’s return from a season-ending injury in 2017-18, Cassidy could insert No. 10 on the second line. Then again, if the Bruins are set on giving Donato a big-time role for a full season, well, then it’ll be Bjork sliding down to line three or line four.
Donato could be like Pastrnak once was early in his development and be sent to Providence for some seasoning in his game and offensive capabilities at the professional level. However, one difference between Donato’s development and Pastrnak’s development is that Donato stood out on an Olympic level, not just in an international World Junior Championship competition.
But if you’re looking to give props to Pastrnak, it’s worth mentioning (albeit due to international/minor league transfer rules) that No. 88 in black and gold went pro before Donato while No. 17 in the spoked-B finished his bona fide duties at Harvard University.
Or just to mess everything else up, perhaps Bjork starts 2018-19 with a stint in Providence.
Forward Line 3
Whoever doesn’t win the second line right wing job (Bjork or Donato) should likely end up on the third line in Boston alongside Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly. Kuraly, you say?
Yes, Kuraly will be tested out as a third line center as had been planned since he was part of the Martin Jones trade with the San Jose Sharks. Just how far will his bottom-six forward potential go? Time well tell and the time is now.
Otherwise Joakim Nordstrom slides right into Riley Nash’s old job much like how he’s already slid into the No. 20 sweater in the Hub.
Forward Line 4
14 Chris Wagner — 20 Joakim Nordstrom — 55 Noel Acciari
Then again, if Bjork or Donato slide just enough, they might end up taking a job from Noel Acciari on the fourth line. Or just maybe Sweeney can console armchair GMs enough with some level justification for having Backes on the fourth line at $6.000 million per season through the 2020-21 season.
For fans and armchair GMs alike that like a lot of hitting, Chris Wagner is your man. He’s basically the new Matt Beleskey, but without the expectations that ran rampant after Beleskey’s incredible 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff run with the Anaheim Ducks.
Otherwise, it’s pretty much status quo on the fourth line, despite some new faces in Wagner and Nordstrom– provide a spark. Whatever that is.
Defensive Pair 1
Zdeno Chara wants to play forever (basically) and Charlie McAvoy is the closest thing Bruins fans have seen to a modern-day Ray Bourque in his development and potential.
On a serious note, Chara intends to play for at least another four years (by then he’ll be 45) and signed a one-year extension (at a $5.000 million cap hit) this spring for the 2018-19 season. McAvoy, on the other hand, seeks to continue his rise to stardom on the blue line moving on to his sophomore season.
Defensive Pair 2
There’s an impetus among armchair GMs to trade Torey Krug for a second line wing and/or other assets, but the fact of the matter is Sweeney and Co. have no legitimate rush to move on from Krug. He might be their biggest piece of trade bait for speculative purposes this season, yet he’s also still part of the top-four defensive core in Boston.
Meanwhile, Brandon Carlo looks to rebound from a bit of a sophomore slump in which he failed to score a goal. Carlo and Krug had a chemistry that– at best of times– worked well in 2017-18. Like any defender, though, mistakes are usually noticeable, because there’s a puck in the net behind them.
Defensive Pair 3
27 John Moore — 86 Kevan Miller
You’re not going to pay John Moore $2.750 million for the next five seasons to not play him, whereas a guy like Matt Grzelcyk or Brandon Carlo could be at risk of becoming a healthy scratch– and that’s assuming Adam McQuaid who also has a $2.750 million cap hit this season already will be a healthy scratch most nights.
In the meantime, Kevan Miller has solidified himself as the 5th or 6th defenseman in Boston– for his physicality and impressive play alone– and could further take on McQuaid’s fighter role this season as a deterrence from the waning role of the enforcer around the rest of the league.
48 Matt Grzelcyk, 54 Adam McQuaid
Following suit with last season, Grzelcyk will have to win his full-time role out of the gate once again, while McQuaid’s future status with the organization remains cloudy past 2019. So cloudy, in fact, that he’ll be a pending-UFA as of July 2019.
In the system
Zach Senyshyn (potential second line RW/bottom six contender), Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (bottom six contender), Jesse Gabrielle (fourth line option at camp), Trent Frederic (bottom six contender), Jack Studnicka (bottom six contender at camp), Jakub Zboril (bottom pair defensive contender), Jeremy Lauzon (bottom pair defensive contender), Zane McIntyre (backup goalie contender at camp), Dan Vladar (backup goalie contender at camp)
40 Tuukka Rask
Tuukka Rask is your starting goaltender as he has been since Tim Thomas decided to take a gap year (and was subsequently traded to the Islanders). There is no goaltending controversy, though Jaroslav Halak should provide more consistency in net on the night’s Rask gets to rest.
In addition to finding the right mix of rest and play, fewer shots against for the third consecutive year since facing a career high 2,011 shots in 70 games in 2014-15 has helped Rask’s focus throughout the season as the Bruins look to go further as a team.
You win and lose as a team– not solely as a goaltender.
41 Jaroslav Halak
Yes, Anton Khudobin bounced back from a disappointing 2016-17 season to an exuberant 2017-18 season, but let’s get this clear– he’s a backup. Khudobin bounced around a bit from the NHL to the AHL and back again in 2016-17, posting a 2.64 goals against average and .904 save percentage in 16 games played.
He then had a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 31 games as Boston’s backup in 2017-18, which was good enough for his third best season in GAA and SV%, dating back to his first real taste of being a backup NHL goaltender in 2012-13 with Boston (Khudobin appeared in seven NHL games from 2009-12 with Minnesota and the Bruins in dire situations).
The thing here is a 2.56 GAA is not starting netminder material, no matter how you break down Khudobin’s overall improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18.
In the meantime, Jaroslav Halak is poised for career-reset. He’s got a change of scenery from Brooklyn to Boston and with that he won’t be playing in nearly as many games.
Halak had a 3.19 GAA and .908 SV% in 54 games as New York’s starting goalie, keeping in mind the Islanders suffered a lot of injuries on the blue line last season. He also nearly doubled his workload from a dismal 2016-17 (28 games played) to 2017-18 (54 GP).
In 2015-16, Halak had a 2.30 GAA and .919 SV% as the Islanders backup netminder in 36 games played. Khudobin, on the other hand, appeared in nine games for the Anaheim Ducks that season, amassing a 2.69 GAA and .909 SV% before being sent down to San Diego (AHL).
The moral of the story here is that the Bruins have been about giving backups second chances in recent history, whether that’s Chad Johnson, Jonas Gustavsson, Khudobin and now Halak– they’re willing to take that gamble.
Okay, end Halak vs. Khudobin rant.
Nick and Connor present yet another offseason episode while just about every other hockey podcast has gone off to their cottage on the lake. This week: Tom Wilson’s extension, Mario Lemieux’s summer home, Tyler Seguin, third jerseys so far and should teams wear white at home?