Tag Archives: Neal Pionk

DTFR Podcast #171- 2019-20 Season Preview: Central Division

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.

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Winnipeg Jets 2019-20 Season Preview

Winnipeg Jets

47-30-5, 99 points, 2nd in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by St. Louis

Additions: F Mark Letestu, D Anthony Bitetto, D Neal Pionk (acquired from NYR)

Subtractions: F Alex Broadhurst (signed with San Diego, AHL), F Marko Dano (signed with CBJ), F Kevin Hayes (traded to PHI), F Matt Hendricks (retired), F Nicolas Kerdiles (signed with Manitoba, AHL), F Par Lindholm (signed with BOS), F Brandon Tanev (signed with PIT), D Ben Chiarot (signed with MTL), D Bogdan Kiselevich (KHL), D Joe Morrow (signed to a PTO with NYR), D Tyler Myers (signed with VAN), D Jimmy Oligny (signed with Manitoba, AHL), D Jacob Trouba (traded to NYR), G Ken Appleby (signed with Milwaukee, AHL)

Still Unsigned: F Kyle Connor, F Patrik Laine

Re-signed: F Andrew Copp, D Nathan Beaulieu, D Nelson Nogier, D Cameron Schilling, G Eric Comrie

Offseason Analysis: The Winnipeg Jets have $15,450,836 million in cap space currently and two prominent restricted free agents still unsigned.

Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine present a challenge for the Jets. Even worse, General Manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, and head coach, Paul Maurice, aren’t exactly seeing eye-to-eye with their biggest star in Laine.

Regardless of whatever’s going on, the bottom line is we’ve seen this before and it led to one of Cheveldayoff’s trades this offseason.

No, not the Kevin Hayes trade with the Philadelphia Flyers that earned the Jets a 5th round pick in 2019, but rather the Jacob Trouba deal with the New York Rangers.

After back-to-back offseasons of uncertainty surrounding their RFA defender, Winnipeg dealt Trouba to the Rangers for Neal Pionk and a 2019 1st round pick– their own, that they originally sent to New York for Hayes at the trade deadline.

Trouba wanted a long-term deal with a significant pay raise in addition to a little job security.

The Rangers happily handed the 25-year-old a seven-year contract worth $8.000 million per season with a no-movement clause that goes into effect next season and becomes a modified no-trade clause in the final two years of the contract.

But it took a little drama in Winnipeg– without all the hype that surrounded William Nylander and Mitch Marner in Toronto over the last couple of summers– to get to the end result.

Laine has never scored fewer than 30 goals in a season and is sure to rebound from his 30-20–50 totals last season after reaching a career-high 44-26–70 totals in his sophomore season (2017-18).

He’s a goal-scorer, no doubt, and he might just be one of those players that exceeds expectations one year, then meets expectations the following year.

But since he’s of a higher caliber than others in the league, a “down” year might look like a tremendous drop-off.

It’s like saying Patrick Kane is a shell of his former self after posting a 76-point season in the midst of the last four seasons in which Kane has had 106 points in 2015-16, 89 points in 2016-17, 76 points in 2017-18 and 110 points last season.

Sure, Laine hasn’t reached the 60 or 70-point plateau as many times as Kane has in his career yet, but then again, Laine has only been around for three seasons to Kane’s 12 seasons entering 2019-20.

There’s a lot of potential left in the Finnish forward– just like there is or there was still a lot of potential in the Jets organization until the team that was three wins away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2018 had the wheels fall off.

Dustin Byfuglien– a huge part of their defense– was granted a personal leave of absence and is contemplating stepping away from the game with two-years left on his contract (worth $7.600 million per season).

If there’s no lingering injury that would enable Winnipeg to place Byfuglien on the long-term injured reserve, well, that leaves Cheveldayoff with an even tougher proposition.

If Byfuglien’s done there’s a chance his contract could be traded, freeing up enough cap space to fit both Laine and Connor comfortability under the ceiling.

Connor’s had back-to-back seasons of more than 30 goals. He’s been a pleasant surprise for the Jets in his consistent play, but it’d be premature to throw him a larger contract like what should be expected with Laine.

Though both were first round picks, only one of them (Laine) came immediately after Auston Matthews in their respective draft.

Contract negotiations, especially for quality RFAs, are infused with untapped potential and future performance expectations– both in signing bonuses and performance bonuses, as well as the cap hit itself.

Laine has every right to feel that he should be paid what he thinks he is worth based on his career projection. Connor might have to settle for a bridge deal to further supplement his own belief in himself if he is to aim for the kind of money Laine might be looking at.

The hardest part of this saga for Jets fans?

Nobody really knows where anyone stands. Laine could be asking for $8.000 million or he could be asking for $11.000 million.

If it’s only $8.000 million, why wouldn’t a deal be done already?

If it’s closer to $11.000 million, why haven’t we heard near constant updates for one of the game’s biggest young stars, a la Marner?

The fact of the matter is that it feels like something is brewing that could send yet another Finnish superstar out of Winnipeg reminiscent of when Teemu Selanne was traded to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1996.

Otherwise, the Jets have already had a lot of departures from their depth that might just start to interfere with their forward progress in the standings as of the last few seasons.

Offseason Grade: F

If two of your RFAs still don’t have a contract by this point of the offseason, it can only be the result of improper management and poor planning– especially as the rest of the league’s RFAs are putting pens to paper.

Besides that, Winnipeg did some major subtraction without addition and is on the brink of returning to pedestrian performance in the regular season and playoffs (if they even make the postseason). If Laine and/or Connor isn’t on the roster by Dec. 1st, then the Jets are a lost cause for 2019-20.

New York Rangers 2019-20 Season Preview

New York Rangers

32-36-14, 78 points, 7th in the Metropolitan Division

Missed the postseason for the second straight year

Additions: F Phil Di Giuseppe, F Michael Haley (signed to a PTO), F Greg McKegg, F Danny O’Regan, F Artemi Panarin, D Adam Fox (acquired from CAR), D Jacob Trouba (acquired from WPG, then re-signed)

Subtractions: D Julius Bergman (SHL), D Chris Bigras (signed with PHI), D John Gilmour (signed with BUF), D Neal Pionk (traded to WPG), D Rob O’Gara (signed with San Antonio, AHL), G Dustin Tokarski (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, AHL)

Still Unsigned: F Connor Brickley, F Brendan Lemieux, D Fredrik Claesson, D Tony DeAngelo, G Brandon Halverson, G Chris Nell

Re-signed: F Pavel Buchnevich, F Vinni Lettieri

Offseason Analysis: New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton thought he won the lottery when he landed the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and selected Kaapo Kakko, but he actually won the lottery twice this offseason.

Gorton signed the biggest prize in free agency to the biggest contract among unrestricted free agents and nabbed Artemi Panarin for the next seven years at $11.643 million per season.

Panarin and Kakko are lightly to be centered on the same first line by the legendary DJ, Mika Zibanejad.

Head coach, David Quinn, has no shortage of options when it comes to testing out the new faces in The Big Apple, as Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox were box acquired by the club in addition to Panarin’s signing.

Trouba’s restricted free agency rights were acquired from the Winnipeg Jets and shortly thereafter re-signed in exchange for Neal Pionk and a 2019 1st round pick that originally belonged to Winnipeg and was previously acquired by New York in the Kevin Hayes transaction at the trade deadline.

The 25-year-old defender brings his skillset in its prime to stabilize the blue line for a team that is retooling on the fly and looking to shortened the lifespan on its rebuild. Trouba now carries an $8.000 million cap hit through 2025-26 with a no-movement clause set to kick in after this season and a modified no-trade clause for the final two years of the deal.

Fox, the 21-year-old protege from Harvard University, was originally sent to the Carolina Hurricanes by the Calgary Flames in the Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin trade.

After declining to sign with the Canes, Carolina sent Fox to the Rangers for a 2019 2nd round pick and a conditional 2020 3rd round pick that may become a 2020 2nd round pick if he plays in 30 or more games this season.

What’s more, Gorton was still active in the trade market, making a minor move with the Buffalo Sabres, shipping Jimmy Vesey off to Buffalo for a 2021 3rd round pick.

Only Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo are still unsigned-RFAs with about $1.000 million in cap space available before New York makes any other transactions– with or without another team involved– to save a little more money.

The Rangers have eight contracts expiring at the end of this season, including backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev’s current deal which runs a $792,500 cap hit.

With 37-year-old Henrik Lundqvist expected to retire in two-years time when his seven-year extension carrying an $8.500 million cap hit that he signed in December 2013 expires, Gorton may have to get creative to assure Georgiev of the starting role– and a starter’s salary– in the meantime for one more season of overlap with Lundqvist.

It’s not feasible for New York to keep Lundqvist past due as Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin could almost run the crease by themselves as things are today.

By season’s end, if the Rangers aren’t in a wild card spot, they will have at least significantly improved from their standing in 2018-19 and reduced their minus-45 goal differential from last season with a new-found defense.

At the very least, New York is improving and adapting to the game, while their counterpart on Long Island may be getting worse.

Offseason Grade: A

Things are tight with the salary cap for Gorton and Co., but the good news is Chris Kreider and Vladislav Namestnikov are both pending-UFAs at the end of the season. If the Rangers keep one (Kreider) over the other or let both of them go– via a trade or free agency– some much needed cap room will open up for the younger players that are projected to be or currently part of New York’s core.

Also, signing the biggest name in free agency, while fleecing another team in need of cap relief from one of their top-two defenders for next to nothing generally gets a GM high marks for an offseason’s worth of moves. The rebuild is right on track and on schedule.

2019-20 Central Division Outlook

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

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 103 points
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 100 points
  3. x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points
  4. wc2-Minnesota Wild, 93 points
  5. Chicago Blackhawks, 92 points
  6. Dallas Stars, 92 points
  7. 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?

DTFR Podcast #163- Cap’n Crunch

The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.

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DTFR Podcast #156- Second Round Surge

Nick and Pete discuss whether or not it’s worth pursuing Pavel Datsyuk this summer, the Adam Fox trade and what it means for the New York Rangers, as well as more Second Round musings in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

NCAA Weekly Match-Up, 10/6/17

Welcome back for another rendition of the NCAA Weekly Match-Up!

This is the first full week of college hockey action, as there are many great games to choose from. As I am scrolling through all the options, I realized I couldn’t possibly pass up on a battle between two Minnesota squads. The State of Hockey will be divided this weekend as Minnesota University takes on Minnesota-Duluth in the Ice Breaker Tournament. It is the only time these two teams will face off this season (unless we have the fortunate opportunity to see them meet up in the NCAA Tournament), so how will these two powerhouse programs fare against one another?

Minnesota Golden Gophers v. Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

Game Details:

Friday, October 6th

7:37 PM ET

AMSOIL Arena

Preview:

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are hoping to make some noise right out of the gate in the 2017-2018 NCAA season, and winning an Ice Breaker Tournament Trophy wouldn’t be a bad way to start things out. For those uncommon with college hockey, several schools host invitational tournaments such as this. Although they do not have a significant impact on a team’s overall season, it is a privilege to play in these tournaments, as well as a boost in confidence for the few that get to take home some hardware.

MinnesotaMinnesota was tabbed as the pre-season favorites of the Big Ten Hockey Conference. There is a lot of pressure on this team, but they have been known to handle high expectations. A season opening bout with in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth will surely be an early measuring stick. Not to say their whole season will ride on this game, but it’s an opportunity for them to test their team early.

Minnesota will need to replace a top scorer, as Justin Kloos has graduated and moved on to the AHL. He had a stat line of 18-25-43, which will need to be made up by younger forwards. Fortunately, they do return starting goaltender Eric Schierhorn, who appeared in 38 games for a 2.61 goals against average and 0.908 save percentage. If he performs strongly and gets some support from the defensive corps, Minnesota’s end of the ice will be well-cared for tonight and for the rest of the season.

Minnesota-Duluth might well be the most anxious team to take the ice this season. They were left with a bad taste in their mouth when they made a great run in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, only to lose by one goal to Denver, a fellow conference opponent. They hoisted the championship trophy back in 2011, but these are new, fresh players that wanted to bring one home for their team. For the Bulldogs, this season will be all about putting in the hard work and hopefully making it back to take another shot at a title.

Here is the thing about NCAA Hockey; teams at this level face arguably the most adversity, even when compared to professional teams. Imagine your team coming up just short of a championship and then turning the page to the next season and seeing them try it again, but without ten players that helped them get there. Suren there is UMDChamp1turnover in all leagues, but replacing ten players is nearly impossible. This is the reality for Minnesota-Duluth as they head into this season. Seven seniors, including their Captain and team MVP, graduated from the program. These players combined for 60 goals and over 150 points overall. This is critical offense, as well as important leadership, that they will need to replace within. Three players, Neal Pionk, Adam Johnson, and Hunter Miska, departed from the program early as they signed with professional clubs. This is simply an unfortunate reality for NCAA teams. Overall, they lost their leading scorer, four core defensemen, and their starting goaltender in one clean sweep. I’m not counting out Minnesota-Duluth, but that is one massive hill to climb.

It will be interesting to watch both teams tonight, as they face their first serious competition of the season (with no disrespect intended towards Alberta… Wait a minute… did I forget to mention something kind of important… That reminds me – Alberta!) Although it was exhibition play, Minnesota-Duluth lost their game against Alberta by a score of 4-3. If you are someone who likes to compare games against common opponents, Minnesota skated by the same team with a 6-2 result. Again, you have to take exhibition games with a grain of salt, but this could also be an indicator of how this game will go. Who will win this one and advance to the tournament finals? Well, we will find out tonight. Best of luck to all teams involved in the Ice Breaker Tournament!

Players to Watch:

Minnesota – Senior Forward, Leon Bristedt; Freshman Forward, Casey Mittelstadt (Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres); Junior Goalie, Eric Schierhorn

Minnesota-Duluth – Sophomore Forward, Riley Tufte (Drafted by the Dallas Stars); Sophomore Defense, Jarod Hilderman; Sophomore Goalie, Hunter Shepard