Tag Archives: New Jersey Devils

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 2

Player of the Week: Jaden Schwartz

Calm down, Lightning fans, you’ll get your turn.

I could have easily chosen either of the dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa, who have been going Harlem Globetrotters on every team they’ve come into contact with, but I think Schwartz deserves some props. The diminutive Blues winger has always been a very good under-the-radar guy, usually playing 2nd fiddle to his linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. But Schwartz made the headlines this week, with a hat trick against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, followed up the next night with another goal against Colorado, and finished off with an assist against Vegas Saturday night (more on that game later). All in all, a 4-goal, 5-point week in 3 games is more than enough to earn Schwartz this completely meaningless nomination.

Team of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning

Alright, we good, Bolts fans? We square? Cool.

The Lightning have looked borderline immortal so far this season, with a 7-1-1 record bolstered by this week’s 3-0-1 stretch. But it’s not just that near-flawless week putting them here, it’s how they did it. Tampa’s 3 victories came by a combined score of 12-3 (granted, a big part of that percentage was the 7-1 sha-lacking they put on Pittsburgh), and if not for a sweet little backhand move by Kyle Palmieri in the 3rd round of the shootout in New Jersey (oh, more on that game later, too), the Bolts could have walked away with a perfect week.

Game(s) of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 4 @ New Jersey Devils 5 (SO), Tuesday October 17th & St. Louis Blues 2 @ Vegas Golden Knights 3 (OT), Saturday October 21st

It simply wasn’t possible to leave either of these games out.

First up, we had the current Team of the Week squaring off with the former Team of the Week, in a battle of two of the league’s hottest clubs. What we got was 72 total shots on goal, 35 hits, 9 power plays (resulting in 3 goals), and a whole mess of fun. The game started with Cory Schneider making a terrific paddle-down save on Brayden Point just moments into the action, and just a few minutes later Drew Stafford let a seemingly harmless wrister go from the right wing boards that eluded a rusty Peter Budaj (his first game action since the preseason) and gave the Devils the 1-0 lead. Budaj would settle down a bit in the next few minutes making a few quality stops, eventually leading to his team tying the game, and taking the lead just minutes later, on the strength of goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat. It would be short-lived, though, as just 4 minutes later a top shelf power play rocket from Palmieri would even the score, and Brian Gibbons would follow suit in the final minute of the period to send New Jersey to the room with the lead.

Things settled down on the scoreboard for most of the 2nd period, although both goaltenders were still busy. Finally with just under 6 minutes to play Kucherov would fire a rocket directly from Russia with love and even the score, before linemate Stamkos would give the Lightning the 4-3 lead in the closing minutes of the 2nd. Tampa did their best to lock the game down the rest of the way, but finally with just over 4 minutes remaining Stafford would bury his own rebound to cap off a gorgeous passing play, score his 2nd of the night, and send it to overtime. A relatively tame 3-on-3 period would send it to the shootout, where Palmieri’s nifty mitts would deposit the only biscuit of the frame and send the Jersey faithful home happy.

Now onto a Saturday night in Vegas, where the upstart Golden Knights would look to make history by being the first franchise to ever start its inaugural season with 6 wins in 7 games.

Things weren’t looking great for the Golden Knights early on, as the Blues peppered young Malcolm Subban mercilessly in the opening frame, St. Louis eventually holding an 18-4 shot advantage when the period came to a close. But Subban managed to limit the damage to only a lone Magnus Paajarvi tally and get his team into the dressing room only down 1-0. Vegas would feed off of the strong play of their goaltender, and reward him in the 2nd period with power play tallies from both Reilly Smith and Colin Miller, and they’d take a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period.

Unfortunately for Vegas, just past the midway point of the 3rd period Subban would appear to strain his groin kicking out his right pad for a save, and would have to be helped from the ice, leaving the task of surviving the continued St. Louis onslaught to another youngster, former Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk. Unfortunately for the young Swede, the first shot he faced would be an Alex Pietrangelo one-time bomb from the high slot with just over 5 minutes to play, drawing the game even once again on a shot that no goaltender could be expected to do anything about. The Blues would do everything in their power to get the winning goal past Dansk in the closing minutes, including a Schwartz tip that got behind the Vegas netminder but went wide of the net with just 8 seconds on the clock, but the youngster held the fort and took the game to extra time.

Overtime brought another golden opportunity for Schwartz, who found himself with all alone in the slot with a clear lane to shoot, only to be bested by the right leg of Dansk. Then Brendan Leipsic would jump on a turnover to break in all alone, but Jake Allen met his backhand with a flash of the leather to keep the game going. But just over a minute later, and with less than 30 seconds left, Smith would jump on a loose puck, glide into the St. Louis zone, and float a beautiful pass to a streaking William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson who ripped a one-timer over the two-pad stack of Allen to send the building into bedlam and the Golden Knights into the history books.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Despite their apparent ability to win with anyone wearing goalie pads in net (I could see a Twitter campaign for this being a hit), Vegas’ injury situation is no laughing matter. Marc-Andre Fleury is still dealing with the effects of a concussion (which as we know really doesn’t have a set recovery time), and Subban is out for at least a month. The goaltending duties now fall on Dansk and Maxime Lagace for the foreseeable future. If there’s any consolation to be found in this for the Golden Knights, it’s that they’ve had tremendous success with injury replacements so far. Subban played very well in Fleury’s absence, and Alex Tuch (who was called up to replace the injured Jon Marchessault) has 2 goals and 3 points in his first 3 games with the club.

Roman Polak has signed a 1 year deal with the Maple Leafs, in what was almost certainly just a plot to further shorten the useful lifespan of Steve Dangle’s heart.

Potential big-money bet: Does Montreal fire Claude Julien and replace him with Michel Therrien?

Side bet: Does Therrien walk into that press conference to Eric Bischoff’s “I’m Back” entrance music?

Side-side bet: Over/under on amount of sticks Carey Price destroys before Montreal’s next victory.

If you haven’t seen/heard/read any of Ed Olczyk‘s comments from his return to broadcasting (both on Wednesday in St. Louis for the NBCSN broadcast or Thursday in Chicago to call the Hawks/Oilers game) while in between chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, please do yourself a favor and go find them. Truly inspiring stuff from one of the best in the business, and the standing ovations he received at both games are enough to give anyone chills.

On a somewhat related topic, Brian Boyle also made his return to action, this time on ice in a full-contact practice on Sunday. Boyle has been battling a form of cancer that attacks bone marrow, but cleared the final ‘hurdle’ in his treatment regimen to be able to get back on the ice with his teammates. Once he and his coaches feel he is fully into game shape, we should see the big man out of Boston College going back to work.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 1…and a half

As the season’s first full week has come to a close, it’s time for the first installment of my incessant weekly ramblings. Yes I know we’re basically 2 weeks into the schedule, but lumping that first half-week in with this seriously helps my desire to be only as productive as absolutely necessary. So, without further adieu, let’s get caught up on all those things you already saw and/or knew about, and find out the selections of your humble, know-nothing Midwesterner of an author for the best player/team/game of the week.

Player of the Week: Alex Ovechkin

It just is. Did you see the things he did? Go watch the things he did. They were silly. He has 9 goals in 6 games. At one point he had 7 goals in 2 games. Those…those aren’t real stats, those are video game stats. Stop arguing with me, and somebody give that man a cookie.

Team of the Week: New Jersey Devils

Alright, who had Jersey atop the ridiculous Metropolitan Division on their predictions lists? Nobody, that’s who. Although technically in a tie with Columbus atop the division, and with Toronto (who the Devils lambasted 6-3) atop the conference, those teams were supposed to be good. Same goes for the only team in the entire league the Devils currently trail in the standings, Chicago. The New Jersey roster basically reads “Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Cory Schneider, and some other hockey players” yet here they are handing out Stone Cold Steve Austin-sized cans of whoop-@$ nightly. Hischier mesmerizes nightly, the makeshift forward group is scoring like it’s going out of style, 22-year-old former 5th-round pick defenseman Will Butcher has put up 8 points in 5 games (with 5 of them on the PP), and Schneider and Keith Kinkaid have both played very well in net. Nobody saw this coming, and anyone who says they did is a liar.

Game of the Week: Capitals 3 @ Lightning 4 (OT), Monday October 9th

When two of the league’s most dangerous offenses come together, you generally expect a good show, and this one didn’t disappoint. A comeback OT win, some sweet saves, 30+ hits, a goal of the year candidate… This game wasn’t lacking much. Even with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Philipp Grubauer trading highlight reel stops, a penalty-filled contest led to 3 total PP goals, including the Nikita Kucherov GWG in OT, and no shortage of even-strength offense to boot. Tampa spent most of the game chasing the Caps on the scoreboard, but with just over 9 minutes remaining in regulation Kucherov received a beautiful tic-tac-toe outlet courtesy of Anton Stralman and Alex Killorn, danced his way across the Washington blueline, and with the puck on his backhand (and Taylor Chorney on his back) roofed a bottle-popper over the glove side shoulder of the Washington netminder to tie it up at 3-3. If you don’t feel like watching the full game highlights, at least go dig up this goal, just have an extra pair of shorts on hand to change into afterwards.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

More than a few teams are currently not where they were expected to be in the standings, and that goes for both ends of the spectrum. The aforementioned upstart Devils are accompanied at 4-1-0 by the Red Wings, and followed closely by the Avs (4-2-0) and the “Nobody told us expansion teams are bad” Golden Knights at 3-1-0. Things get even crazier down at the more lackluster end of the standings, with the Rangers (1-5-0), Sharks/Oilers/Habs (1-3-0), and Wild (1-1-2) all notably underperforming. The Rangers and Habs are both particularly surprising, in that the bulk of their respective troubles can be attributed to their usually-stalwart goaltenders being…well, less than stalwart.

Opening night in Vegas was quite a thing to behold, with a beautiful pre-game ceremony honoring the victims and heroes of the Las Vegas terror attack just a few weeks ago. The Knights fed off the raucous crowd and cruised to a 5-2 victory over their desert-dwelling counterparts from Arizona.

Unfortunately for Vegas, their hot start could be quickly simmered by injuries to Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) and Jon Marchessault (lower body). Both players were placed on IR and are expected to miss “at least a week” so Vegas now has to rely on its slim organizational depth to step in for the time being. Marchessault is certainly an important piece of the team (he’s coming off of a 30-goal campaign with Florida), but it’s the Fleury injury that could really hurt them, as they really don’t have any proven goaltenders beyond ‘Flower’. But, given I watched young Malcolm Subban earn a 3-1 victory for the Knights as I typed this article, perhaps they have less to worry about than originally feared.

Oh and Jaromir Jagr is back, so the mullet wig I bought a few years ago is still relevant.

October 13 – Day 10 – Sold their souls to the Jersey Devil

Sorry, no obscure celebrity references in the title today. Hopefully you came for the references and stayed for the hockey previews.

Friday has a few fun games on the roster, starting with two (Washington at New Jersey and the New York Rangers at Columbus [NHLN/SN1/TVAS]) at 7 p.m. Another pair of contests (Anaheim at Colorado and Ottawa at Calgary) drop the puck at 9 p.m., followed by tonight’s nightcap, Detroit at Vegas, 90 minutes later. All times Eastern.

It’s unfortunate that New Jersey and Vegas weren’t squaring off tonight, as two undefeated clubs tangling would have been a fun sight. Instead, we have to choose between one or the other, and since we’ve already featured the Golden Knights twice this season, it looks like it’s off to Newark with us!

 

Anyone who pegged the New Jersey Devils to start the season a perfect 3-0-0, please stand up.

OK, now all of you sit down, because I think most of you are liars.

A season removed from the third-worst offense in the league, the Devils have absolutely exploded to start this campaign, as they average 5.33 goals-per-game to rank second-best in the NHL.

While it’d be fun to assume that the reason for Jersey’s improvement is the addition of C Nico Hischier (0-1-1 totals), the top-overall pick in this season’s NHL Entry Draft, much of the offense has actually come from W Jesper Bratt, a Swedish 19-year-old that was a sixth-rounder from the Class of 2016.

Bratt (3-3-6) has been absolutely outstanding to begin his rookie career, as he currently averages a goal and an assist per game. It’s an elite group to be a member of, as only Washington’s D Christian Djoos can make a similar claim – though he’s played in only one game.

Additionally, a total of only six players currently average two points-per-game, and it is quite a group. Bratt and Djoos are currently sharing company with the likes of Detroit’s D Mike Green, Buffalo’s LW Evander Kane and Washington’s C Evgeny Kuznetsov and W Alex Ovechkin.

Not too shabby, as all are established names in his league.

Another integral part to the Devils’ early success has been free agent signing D Will Butcher. Another rookie, he’s managed to provide five assists – three of which were on the power play – to fully integrate himself into New Jersey’s attack from the blue line.

Why the Avalanche didn’t want Butcher in their system is beyond me. Maybe General Manager Joe Sakic thought he accidentally happened into his Hobey Baker Award.

Turns out he was wrong in that assessment.

As a result of Butcher’s play on the man-advantage, Jersey has seen a massive improvement on its power play. Last season, the Devils converted 17.5 percent of opponents’ penalties into goals, but this year is a totally different ball game (err… puck game). New Jersey has found success in four-of-13 opportunities for a 30.8 percent conversion rate, the fifth-best in the NHL.

Unfortunately, numbers like Bratt’s and Butcher’s are tough to maintain even for RW Jaromir Jagr, much less two rookies. Both skaters will return to Earth eventually, so G Cory Schneider will need to continue his bounce-back season. Having played all three of the Devils’ games so far, he’s managed a .948 save percentage and a 2.00 GAA to rank among the top-10 goalies in the league.

In the red corner, the Capitals enter this game on a two-game losing skid (most recent of which was Wednesday’s 3-2 home defeat at the hands of the Penguins).

As I stated in Wednesday’s preview, Washington is playing far better than its offseason would have indicated. In particular, the Caps’ power play has been very good, as they’ve already registered three goals in 13 extra-man opportunities.

One of Washington’s best play makers, C Nicklas Backstrom has been at the front of the man-advantage surge. He’s already registered three power play assists in four games. One of his favorite goal scorers to set up has been F T.J. Oshie, who has scored two man-advantage goals of his own. Considering New Jersey is playing the eighth-worst penalty kill to start the season, they’d be wise to keep RW Stefan Noesen under control.

Additionally, RW Tom Wilson will make his season debut this evening. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for boarding St. Louis’ LW Samuel Blais in their preseason game on October 1. Wilson has already served two suspensions this season after serving a first during the preseason, so he’ll be walking on eggshells with Head Coach Barry Trotz and the Department of Player Safety. If the former first-rounder cannot clean up his game in his contract year, he may struggle to find a job that pays the way he wants it

If Wilson shows any signs of timidity, I’d guess the Devils won’t hesitate to jump on him.

Considering all the momentum is on New Jersey’s side right now, I’m leaning towards the Devils taking this game. That being said, Vegas is leaning towards the Capitals taking this one, favoring them in the -140 range.


After allowing the Dallas Stars to score the first goal, the Nashville Predators buried four unanswered tallies to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Bridgestone Arena.

Dallas’ lone goal of the night was struck 8:04 into the contest courtesy of LW Jamie Benn (C Jason Spezza and D John Klingberg), who used a power play wrist shot to pot his first marker of the season. The Stars held onto that lead throughout the opening period and into the first intermission.

It took only 3:27 of action after returning to the ice for First Star rookie D Samuel Girard (D P.K. Subban and W Cody McLeod) to find his first goal of his NHL career. That slap shot leveled the game at one-all, allowing Second Star F Filip Forsberg‘s (Girard and F Ryan Johansen) power play wrister 2:54 later to be what proved to be the game-winner.

There’s nothing like a revenge goal with the cherry on top being that it ended up the winner. 5:12 into the second period, Spezza was sent to the penalty box for tripping Forsberg, the eventual goalscorer.  The play started when Forsberg entered the offensive zone along the near boards. Under pressure from two Stars penalty killers, he was forced to retreat back towards the point before passing to Girard on the opposite side of the zone. The youngster advanced towards G Ben Bishop‘s crease before firing a slap shot from the face-off circle to the netminder’s stick side. Bishop was forced to make a diving save but was unable to contain the rebound, leaving him vulnerable to Forsberg’s elevated wrister.

W Viktor Arvidsson (Forsberg) and Subban tacked on braces in the third period to cement the Preds’ second-straight victory.

Third Star G Pekka Rinne earned the victory after saving 30-of-31 shots faced (.968), leaving the loss to Bishop, who saved 27-of-30 (.9).

The DtFR Game of the Day series has certainly favored the 6-3-1 home teams so far, as they now have a four-point advantage over the visitors following tonight’s win.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #74- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part II)

Jaromir Jagr signed with the Calgary Flames this week, the regular season started (though the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have been told yet that the games matter now) and former players tend to be GMs in the NHL, the Original Trio confirms. Also, we gave participation trophies without even watching the rest of the season for the second year in a row.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Numbers Game: 2017-18 Standings Projections

Yes, it’s October.

Yes, it’s too early to make a final standings projection, but I’m going to do it anyway using a pseudo-algorithm called Heart and Grit Gut Feeling 2.0 (combined with the standard Microsoft Excel forecasting formula).

Gut Feeling 2.0 is better than just using the eye test because it combines actual numbers plugged into Microsoft Excel with the complete partial bias of whatever I feel like is the right record, number of points and/or anything shown below for all 31 teams in the NHL.

But seriously, to keep this loosely based in mathematics, I’ve included a range of points that three separate models are indicating (scroll to the bottom), as well as what Gut Feeling 2.0 is telling us.

2017-2018 Projected Final Standings

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Boston Bruins, 101 points
  2. x-Montreal Canadiens, 99 points
  3. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 98 points
  4. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points
  5. Ottawa Senators, 93 points
  6. Buffalo Sabres, 90 points
  7. Florida Panthers, 82 points
  8. Detroit Red Wings, 80 points

Predicting the final outcome across the Eastern Conference this year is a lot like playing the lottery– whether you pick your numbers or just do quick picks, your odds of winning are still far, far less than getting struck by lightning twice.

In the Atlantic Division, the Boston Bruins barely beat out the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning for the regular season division title with 101 points over Montreal’s 99 points and Tampa’s 98 points based on the Gut Feeling 2.0 model. Of course, seeding in the Stanley Cup Playoffs more often than not means nothing. Just like winning the President’s Trophy doesn’t mean much unless you win the Cup.

Given the parity of the Atlantic Division teams, it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the top-four teams in this model switch places or grab the division crown. Based on expected final standings point-ranges alone, Tampa looks to rebound with ease, while Montreal maintains status quo.

It’s a bit of a surprise, but the Ottawa Senators sit just on the outside looking in, though logic says otherwise. For one team to improve in the division (say, Tampa for example, or the Buffalo Sabres with a healthy, full-season of Jack Eichel), another team must lose. Five points in the final standings is the only difference between 2017-2018 and 2016-2017 for the Sens and ultimately it costs them a postseason appearance.

But if any major injuries occur to teams ahead of the Senators or Sabres, then expect either Ottawa or Buffalo to be ready to take their place.

When it comes to 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff success, you might want to consider cashing in on the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs to at least make it to the Second Round.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 107 points
  2. x-Washington Capitals, 106 points
  3. x-New York Rangers, 103 points
  4. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 102 points
  5. New York Islanders, 92 points
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 92 points
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  8. New Jersey Devils, 84 points

The 2017-2018 final standings in the Metropolitan Division look similar to the 2016-2017 final standings in the Metropolitan Division. This is no accident. The top teams, Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Rangers, remain dominant in their regular season play. Even the Columbus Blue Jackets, despite a six-point setback from their franchise best 50-win, 108-point season last year, remain a competitive team that should cross the 100-point plateau for two-seasons in a row under John Tortorella’s guise.

Whereas the Washington Capitals do not clinch the President’s Trophy in the 2017-2018 season and instead falter by 12 points compared to last season, the Carolina Hurricanes show improvement in their money-puck roster mentality, but ultimately the giants of the Metropolitan Divsion (the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, to be specific) prove too much for them to handle this season, though a 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs run seems imminent.

Somehow the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers remain stagnant this season, but the New Jersey Devils make the largest leap in points (from 70 points in ’16-’17 to 84 points in ’17-’18) as the rest of the division evens out.

Look for Pittsburgh to advance to the Second Round and yet another entertaining Rangers-Capitals matchup in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. y-Chicago Blackhawks, 102 points
  2. x-St. Louis Blues, 101 points
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 97 points
  4. x-Dallas Stars, 96 points
  5. x-Minnesota Wild, 95 points
  6. Winnipeg Jets, 87 points
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 82 points

Look, the Dallas Stars have tremendous talent on their expected first line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, but even with Ben Bishop as their starting goaltender the Stars aren’t the best team in the Central Division.

Instead, the annual “how do they keep doing this all the time? oh, right, they have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford still” Chicago Blackhawks will just come out on top of the St. Louis Blues who look to improve from last season with a reinforced offense (hello, Brayden Schenn) and more experience on the blue line.

The Nashville Predators, in all their glory with four incredibly deep forward lines, the best defense (on paper) and an elite starting goalie in Pekka Rinne, surprisingly fall short of winning the division coming off of their 2017 Stanley Cup Final run. Nashville will be in better playoff position heading into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, given they won’t be the last team to clinch in the Western Conference, and they should be destined for another Western Conference Finals run, at least.

The Minnesota Wild are the winners of the consolation “hey the other division didn’t have four-quality playoff teams” prize and will clinch the second Western Conference wild card spot with 95 points in 2017-18– one season removed from a 49-25-8 record and 106 point, 2nd place finish in the Central Division.

Finally, the Colorado Avalanche couldn’t possibly have a season worse than they did last season, though they’re still poised to finish behind the Winnipeg Jets for last place in the division.

Pacific Division

  1. p-Edmonton Oilers, 112 points
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 109 points
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 99 points
  4. Los Angeles Kings, 92 points
  5. Calgary Flames, 85 points
  6. Vancouver Canucks, 83 points
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points
  8. Vegas Golden Knights, 72 points

Gut Feeling 2.0 never lies and the numbers don’t lie either. The Edmonton Oilers will be the top team in the Pacific Division when all is said and done this season. Better yet, the Oilers will be this season’s President’s Trophy winners– something that hasn’t happened since the days of some guy wearing a jersey with the number “99” on the back of it skated around the ice.

Other than Edmonton overtaking the Anaheim Ducks for first overall, there are virtually no changes in the Pacific Division standings. San Jose will knock at the door of a 100-point season for the third season in a row, only to fall a point short (for the second season in a row).

While Los Angeles Kings fans may be disappointed this season, if anything, missing the playoffs for one more season should give them enough time to develop and recover from their offseason roster moves while GM Rob Blake figures out the reins and plans the path back to Stanley Cup glory.

Things are coming together for the Arizona Coyotes. They won’t be a bad team; they’re just a victim of circumstance. Unfortunately, that circumstance dictates that it’s going to take one more season for the chemistry to work out as general manager, John Chayka, addresses the growing depth on offense (both in prospect development and with the addition of Derek Stepan this offseason), while building a stable core of defensemen and capable young goalies in Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue.

Meanwhile the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames go through their own growing pains for another season.

Luckily for the Vegas Golden Knights, there’s no pressure to play better than last season, mostly because this is their inaugural season, so it can’t be worse than before!

Look for Edmonton to make noise in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, going as deep as the Western Conference Finals– at least. Likewise, the Sharks seem ready for a better fight in the postseason than last season.

Plausible ranges in points based on three separate models (math done in Microsoft Excel alone– no Gut Feeling 2.0 added) for the 2017-2018 season:

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins (94-101), Buffalo Sabres (67-84), Detroit Red Wings (86-101), Florida Panthers (84-92), Montreal Canadiens (93-99), Ottawa Senators (91-92), Tampa Bay Lightning (89-98), Toronto Maple Leafs (80-90)

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes (81-87), Columbus Blue Jackets (84-92), New Jersey Devils (77-92), New York Islanders (84-97), New York Rangers (98-103), Philadelphia Flyers (90-92), Pittsburgh Penguins (105-108), Washington Capitals (102-119)

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks (100-107), Colorado Avalanche (65-84), Dallas Stars (92-94), Minnesota Wild (93-97), Nashville Predators (94-97), St. Louis Blues (97-106), Winnipeg Jets (83-87)

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks (101-109), Arizona Coyotes (74-83), Calgary Flames (85-90), Edmonton Oilers (74-87), Los Angeles Kings (90-96), San Jose Sharks (99-104), Vancouver Canucks (72-95), Vegas Golden Knights (69-75)

Washington Capitals 2017-2018 Season Preview

Washington Capitals LogoWashington Capitals

55-19-8, 118 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Pittsburgh

Additions: F John Albert, F Alex Chiasson (signed to a PTO), F Tyler Graovac, D Jyrki Jokipakka (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Peluso, F Wayne Simpson, F Devante Smith-Pelly

Subtractions: D Karl Alzner (signed with MTL), F Chris Bourque (signed with Hershey Bears, AHL), F Paul Carey (signed with NYR), D Cody Corbett (signed with Idaho Steelheads, ECHL), D Darren Dietz (signed with Barys Astana, KHL), F Stanislav Galiev (signed with Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), D Tom Gilbert (signed with Nürnberg Ice Tigers, DEL), F Marcus Johansson (traded to NJ), F Garrett Mitchell (signed with Hershey Bears, AHL), D Kevin Shattenkirk (signed with NYR), D Nate Schmidt (claimed by VGK in the 2017 Expansion Draft), F Christian Thomas (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, AHL), F Justin Williams (signed with CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Daniel Winnik

Offseason Analysis: The Washington Capitals won the President’s Trophy for the second year in a row last season, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs thanks to now two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh. History repeats itself sometimes, but for Caps fans the first part of this sentence already ended after the third word.

Now they look to regroup, revitalized and down a few key components from their President’s Trophy winning days– the Capitals aren’t aiming to win the regular season title; they want the Cup.

As all good teams must endure during the Salary Cap Era, the Capitals had plenty of departures from their organization and were forced to trade one of their gifted forwards in order to sign one of their other, younger gifted forwards.

Washington sent their 24th-overall pick in 2009, Marcus Johansson, to the Devils back in July in exchange for two 2018 draft picks, then used the newly found cap space to re-sign Evgeny Kuznetsov to an eight-year, $62.4 million ($7.800 million cap hit) contract extension.

Kuznetsov’s 59 point season (19 goals, 40 assists) was only one point better than Johansson’s 58 point season (24 goals, 34 assists) last year, but with Johansson’s $4.583 million cap hit through the 2018-2019 season, Washington simply couldn’t afford both almost 60-point scorers.

Andre Burakovsky was quickly signed to a two-year, $6 million ($3.000 million cap hit) bridge deal, ensuring Washington still had someone on their roster that could boost production with Johansson out of the picture. For Burakovsky, the extension comes as a way to prove to himself, Washington and the rest of the league that he’s worth it, worth more and might just yield a significant pay raise in the 2019 offseason if it all pans out.

Justin Williams left the organization for a second go-around in Carolina. “Mr. Game 7” amassed 24-24-48 totals last season, but fell victim to Washington’s tight cap space navigation this summer. With T.J. Oshie to re-sign and at 35-years-old, Williams was the odd forward out as Oshie’s stock rose to $5.750 million-a-season.

One cannot blame the Capitals for going all in, missing the mark, then having to restructure their offense in such a fashion as they did this offseason. However, one can find failure in Washington’s blue line master-plan.

Monstrous contracts for Matt Niskanen ($5.750 million through 2020-2021) and Brooks Orpik ($5.500 million through 2018-2019) remain on the books for the Capitals and they’re not getting any younger. Niskanen, 30, and Orpik, 36, are half of Washington’s top-4 defensemen now that Karl Alzner is with Montreal (again, cap space).

Dmitry Orlov, 26, remains the youngest blue liner in the US capital and has six-years remaining on his new extension this offseason. John Carlson, 27, is a pending UFA after this season and is reaching the plateau of his prime. Other than that, Taylor Chorney, 30, rounds out the rest of Washington’s defensive depth.

That’s not ideal.

Yes, Nate Schmidt was a victim of the Vegas expansion, and Kevin Shattenkirk was only a rental that signed with the Rangers, but Washington had to have been preparing for any scenario all season long, right? There’s got to be a defenseman in Hershey that’s ready to make the jump to the NHL– or at the very least, begin to transition to the senior team as a third-pair defenseman.

If the Capitals want to remain competitive, they’d better avoid aging out in their own zone, especially in the Metropolitan Division where the Penguins skate faster than Apolo Ohno.

Luckily for Washington, their goaltending duo of elite starter, Braden Holtby, and top-notch backup, Philipp Grubauer will bail them out. Except for the fact that that’s the last thing they should have to rely on.

Holtby can handle 70+ games a season, but it’s not recommended when you’re trying to play at least 16 playoff games on top of an 82 game regular season.

Offseason Grade: D+

The Capitals, to their credit, did not hand out a bad contract this offseason like they did in 2015 (when they signed Orpik and Niskanen at insane amounts, given their ages now/at the end of their current contracts).

But they didn’t exactly help their situation either, with roughly $2.6 million in cap space to finagle next offseason’s negotiations with Grubauer, at least two more RFAs and oh yeah, the rest of their pending UFAs.

For that reason alone, this season might be a last chance effort at winning the Cup now before they will have to blast parts of the roster to smithereens.

While trading Johansson and losing Williams in one offseason hampers their offensive production, Washington seems reliant on the fact that they know how to develop prospects seemingly out of nowhere. It wasn’t a good summer and growing pains will always be felt with a salary cap, but it wasn’t as bad as some fans feared (with Oshie, Orlov and others jumping ship in popular conspiracy theories).

Down the Frozen River Podcast #72- 2017-2018 Metropolitan Division Preview

Nick and Connor provide an update on Jaromir Jagr, recap the latest news around the NHL in the last week and preview the 2017-2018 season for the Metropolitan Division. Connor introduces a good rule change to the rule change (you know the one about face-offs). ‘Sup Board of Governors? Also discussed, the Vegas Golden Knights Twitter game and Monopoly strategy.

Listen to this week’s podcast on our Libsyn page (and/or on your favorite podcast listening app that snags our RSS Feed).

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

San Jose Sharks 2017-2018 Season Preview

UnknownSan Jose Sharks

46-29-7, 99 points, 3rd in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Edmonton

Additions: G Antoine Bibeau, F Brandon Bollig, F Brandon Mashinter

Subtractions: F Michael Haley (signed with FLA), F Nikita Jevpalovs (signed with Dinamo Riga, KHL), F Patrick Marleau (signed with TOR), D Mirco Mueller (traded to NJ), G Harri Sateri (signed with FLA), D David Schlemko (claimed by VGK in the 2017 Expansion Draft), F Zack Stortini (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Buddy Robinson (signed with WPG)

Still Unsigned: G Mantas Armalis, D Dan Kelly, D Patrick McNally

Offseason Analysis: Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks had quite the quiet offseason. Kidding aside, they really didn’t do much. Yes, face of the franchise, Patrick Marleau moved on to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but other face of the franchise Joe Thornton stuck around.

Did Marleau’s departure send shockwaves throughout the organization? Probably not.

It was only a matter of time in today’s NHL– where most players aren’t like Shane Doan and will seek a roster that’s ready to win and win now before they retire. That’s not to say the Sharks cannot win the Cup in 2018, but it does speak volumes for the Maple Leafs’ chances of making the 2018 Stanley Cup Final compared to San Jose’s.

Marleau’s 508 goals are the most in franchise history and his 27 goals last season will be difficult to replace without adding a guaranteed goal scorer to the roster this offseason, but the Sharks are banking on their prospects.

In a sense, it’s fitting that they begin the transition of power now, with Marleau leaving on his own terms, Thornton getting up there in age (he turned 38 this summer) and seven other players who are at least 30 years old on the roster.

The league, let alone the Pacific Division around them, has only gotten younger, better, faster, stronger and more Daft Punk infused and more competitive than ever.

Wilson locked up his starting goaltender, Martin Jones, to a six-year, $34.5 million extension that begins next season and assures the organization of having a borderline elite goaltender through his prime. Jones will undoubtedly stand on his head again for the Sharks all season long.

But in case you were worried about the depth of the crease at SAP Center, well fear not, because Aaron Dell is the real deal as a backup. His 2.00 goals against average and .931 save percentage in 20 games played were a promising sign of things to come in his rookie season as San Jose’s backup last season. Dell shouldn’t have much to fear in Antoine Bibeau’s signing this offseason, given Bibeau’s 1.99 GAA and .927 SV% in two career NHL games with Toronto last season.

Dell has sample size working to his advantage and a need for goaltending down on the AHL roster– thanks to Harri Sateri’s departure to Florida this summer– that should keep Bibeau preoccupied as he comes into his goaltending prime.

On defense, David Schlemko was lost to the Vegas Golden Knights at the Expansion Draft (before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens, shortly thereafter) and Mirco Mueller was dealt to the New Jersey Devils. Luckily for the Sharks, Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s newest extension should spread out the minutes and carry the weight of the team as Paul Martin, 36, nears the twilight of his career and Brent Burns, 32, begins the descent (not any time soon, per se, but in time).

In just 25 games last season, Dylan DeMelo, 24, was a bright spot on the blue line. Now, he’ll step into a more pronounced role as a top-6 defenseman.

With the exception of Marleau, the rest of the forwards remain the same. Thornton is worth $8 million for his one-year extension that he signed early in July, considering his loyalty and what will likely be yet another 50-plus point season.

Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson and the rest of the gang look to improve on the last couple seasons of regular season dominance and Peter DeBoer seeks to push his skaters farther than ever before– with hopes set on another Stanley Cup Final run for the second time in three years (and maybe a different outcome this time).

Offseason Grade: C-

San Jose didn’t make any bad signings, but they also didn’t really do anything. Their defensive depth needs to be rebuilt sooner rather than later to avoid falling behind, which is something that happened a lot during the First Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Edmonton Oilers forwards flew by the Sharks blueliners and went for the net.

The Sharks might still be the same team that can hold their ground in the Pacific Division, but the teams around them got better. It’s possible that the Sharks will be surpassed by the Los Angeles Kings in the division standings– and that’s assuming that Anaheim and Edmonton are already ahead of them.

Boston Bruins 2017-2018 Season Preview

Unknown-7Boston Bruins

44-31-7, 95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Ottawa

Additions: F Kenny Agostino, D Paul Postma, F Teddy Purcell (PTO), F Jordan Szwarz

Subtractions: D Linus Arnesson (signed with Örebro HK, SHL),  D Chris Casto (signed with VGK), F Colton Hargrove (signed with Providence Bruins, AHL), F Jimmy Hayes (signed a PTO with NJ after being bought out by BOS), F Brian Ferlin (signed with EDM), D Alex Grant (signed with MIN), D Colin Miller (claimed by VGK at the Expansion Draft), F Dominic Moore (signed with TOR), D Joe Morrow (signed with MTL), F Tyler Randell (signed with OTT), F Zac Rinaldo (signed with ARI), F Drew Stafford (signed with NJ)

Still Unsigned: D John-Michael Liles

Offseason Analysis: The last branches of the Tyler Seguin trade wilted this offseason for the Boston Bruins after defenseman, Joe Morrow, was not tendered a qualifying offer, therefore making him an unrestricted free agent (who ended up signing with the enemy, the Montreal Canadiens– reuniting with head coach, Claude Julien), and forward, Jimmy Hayes, was the victim of a buyout entering the final year of his contract (and now has a PTO with the New Jersey Devils).

Morrow, of course, was part of the original acquisition for Seguin, while Hayes came along after the Bruins flipped Reilly Smith (along with the contract of Marc Savard) to the Florida Panthers in the 2015 offseason.

But none of that matters now. The Seguin deal was done and over with the moment it happened.

Regardless of the debate surrounding whether it was the worst move or not by the organization, one thing is clear– the current rendition of the Boston Bruins are Don Sweeney‘s Boston Bruins. Let’s move on from the Peter Chiarelli Era highs and lows.

These Bruins have something to prove and are ready to show it.

Whether things go their way all comes down to the way the puck bounces.

Forwards Austin Czarnik and Tim Schaller were re-signed this offseason. Czarnik’s transition to the NHL proved helpful to the organization in times of automatic depth necessity (injury) and Schaller surpassed all previous expectations in a breakout season (seven goals, seven assists in 59 games played).

Alas, the words “breakout season” are intrinsically connected to the words “sample size”, as Schaller had only played 35 career games in two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres (amassing 2-3-5 totals from 2014-2016) as a bottom-six forward.

With Sean Kuraly‘s postseason emergence as the double overtime hero in Game 5 of the Bruins First Round Atlantic Division matchup with the Ottawa Senators in Boston’s short-lived 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, Czarnik’s got some competition for a spot on the fourth line.

But enough about the “glue guys” for a moment. Let’s turn our attention to David Pastrnak, shall we?

The 70-point scorer last season reached the end of his entry-level contract on July 1st and became a restricted free agent without arbitration rights.

After watching fellow young and talented scorers, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl receive massive pay raises, the 21-year-old winger from the Czech Republic was left wondering just how high his stock could go.

Agent, J.P. Barry, kept the hockey world on edge, as Pastrnak was reported to have considered a venture to the KHL if no common ground with the Bruins could be found, after NHL Network analyst, Brian Lawton, had already scared diehard Boston fans by surmising that Pastrnak would likely be traded.

Fans around the league thought they’d seen this before with Boston (remember Phil Kessel or Dougie Hamilton? Yeah, those guys were also represented by Barry during their tumultuous fallouts with the Bruins).

But analysts and fans league-wide were wrong. Kind of.

They had seen something just like this before– except it was with Torey Krug and Reilly Smith.

Krug and Smith had held out all summer long in 2014, coming off of their then-best career seasons, on the heels of a President’s Trophy winning 2013-2014 Bruins squad. They were RFAs, they were young and they were looking to get paid.

Deals sometimes take time and their extension negotiations caused them to miss the first day of training camp in September 2014.

Enter David Pastrnak and the 2017 offseason.

Boston’s best scorer on the same line as Boston’s other best scorer (Brad Marchand), together encompassing Boston’s best two-way forward (Patrice Bergeron) was due his lion’s share.

Tweets came from all sources and reporters drew the lines. Pastrnak and Sweeney were engaged in a standoff.

Except it was all just a numbers game.

McDavid’s 8-year, $100 million contract extension ($12.500 million cap hit) and Draisaitl’s  8-year, $68 million extension ($8.500 million cap hit) with Edmonton were worth aiming for, but when Bo Horvat struck a 6-year, $33 million deal ($5.500 million cap hit), Pastrnak’s amazing technicolor dreamcoat salary demands faltered a bit.

There was never any question as to whether Pastrnak was worth upwards of $7.000 almost $8.000 million a season, but trends in the market ultimately dictate one way or another how internal negotiations go.

So Sweeney pulled off an extremely club friendly $6.667 million cap hit on a 6-year, $40 million contract extension for Pastrnak. This, one season after extending Marchand for another eight years at only $6.125 million AAV, is some serious cap management at its best, almost impossible dream.

Especially when one considers that McDavid and Draisaitl are a costly $21 million-a-season for the next eight seasons in Edmonton (which is about 28% of the Oilers total player’s payroll).

Marchand and Pastrnak will cost the Bruins a combined $12.792 million-a-season for the next six years. Add Bergeron’s $6.875 million cap hit to that total and they’re still $1.333 million under 2/3’s of Edmonton’s best line ($19.667 million a year for Boston’s first line for the next six seasons, compared to the $21 million for McDavid and Draisaitl alone– Milan Lucic’s current cap hit is $6.000 million, if you were wondering).

Sweeney’s commitment to the core in Boston and letting his prospects develop may pan out this season with a longer run than last season’s First Round exit.

Adding Anders Bjork to the mix and a full season of Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, as well as Charlie McAvoy, is sure to make this year’s Bruins team a fun one to watch.

It’s not about the main additions of Kenny Agostino and Paul Postma to the black and gold, but rather how far will the kids go?

They’re not the young, talented, and once-in-a-generation skillful Toronto Maple Leafs, per se, but Bruce Cassidy’s Bruins might be able to skate with them this season.

Offseason Grade: B

Grading the 2017 offseason for the Bruins wasn’t contingent upon re-signing David Pastrnak or adding a top-notch *cough cough overpaid because of a lack of available good free agents* free agent– it involved a thoughtfully calculated formula of “did they do anything stupid?” and “did they continue to make a commitment to their youth infused core, moving forward?” (the answers, of course, are “no” and “yes”– don’t be a dummy, trust Don Sweeney on this one, for once).

Extra credit for not shelling out $6 million on an over 30-year-old forward for the next five or six years (maybe David Backes will rebound this season– hopefully). Don’t stray from the formula (they didn’t).

Toronto Maple Leafs 2017-2018 Season Preview

UnknownToronto Maple Leafs

40-27-15, 95 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Washington

Additions: D Ron Hainsey, D Vincent LoVerde, F Patrick Marleau, F Dominic Moore, F Chris Mueller

Subtractions: G Antoine Bibeau (signed with SJ), F Brian Boyle (signed with NJ), D Andrew Campbell (signed with ARI), F Seth Griffith (signed with BUF), F Teemu Hartikainen (signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL), D Matt Hunwick (signed with PIT), F Sergey Kalinin (signed with SKA St. Petersburg, KHL), F Brooks Laich (signed a PTO with LA), D Steve Oleksy (signed with ANA), D Stephane Robidas (retired)

Still Unsigned: F Milan Michalek, D Roman Polak

Offseason Analysis: The Kids Revival Era in Toronto led to a Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance for the first time since 2013 and sooner than anyone could have ever expected last October. Unfortunately, all good runs must come to an end and the youthful Leafs were unable to defeat the Second Round pros (the Washington Capitals) in a back-and-forth six-game battle in the First Round.

Fear not, Toronto, your team will be just fine.

Maple Leafs general manager, Lou Lamoriello, hasn’t had much to do this offseason. Lamoriello’s additions of Ron Hainsey, Patrick Marleau and Dominic Moore bring veteran leadership of the highest quality to the locker room full of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander‘s scoring capabilities (and that’s ignoring the fact that James van Riemsdyk exists altogether).

Hainsey, 36, is in search of his second Stanley Cup after finally appearing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the 2017 champion Pittsburgh Penguins. As Connor Carrick, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev delve into the prime of their careers, Hainsey’s guidance on the blue line will balance the workload and make it easier for Toronto’s head coach, Mike Babcock, to make crucial decisions regarding defensive pairings and special teams.

While Lamoriello landed star playmaker, Patrick Marleau, to transform the rest of the top-9 forwards into a shot attempts for, offense generating machine, the skilled forward comes in past the plateau of his prime at 37-years-old and down significantly from his consistent 70-plus point seasons in scoring.

Although his 27-19-46 totals in all 82 games last season with the San Jose Sharks were impressive for his age, he’s likely to see less goal scoring and more emphasis than ever before on passing the puck to linemates far faster than him on the ice.

If Toronto wins the Cup in the next year or two, there’s a good chance his 3-year, $18.750 million contract ($6.250 million cap hit) will be forgiven given his age and the cap overage that the Maple Leafs are currently facing (they’re about $4.600 million over the $75 million salary cap ceiling).

In perhaps the best signing of adding a more veteran punch to the roster, Dominic Moore’s 1-year, $1.000 million contract should pay off in spades for the Maple Leafs.

Moore bounced back from a 15-point season (six goals, nine assists) in 80 games with the New York Rangers in 2015-2016 with a 25-point year (11 goals, 14 assists) in all 82 games with the Boston Bruins last season. His power play specialty alone bolster’s Toronto’s firing power on the man advantage, let alone the fact that he’s a top-notch bottom-six center as a 37-year-old in search for his first Stanley Cup.

A Cup win would cap off a happy homecoming for the native of Thornhill, Ontario.

Any other team that adds three players over the age of 35 in one offseason would be considered insane, yet here we are praising Toronto for finding the right guys, making the right deals (well, two out of three ain’t bad) and improving their team while only losing NHL caliber talents such in Seth Griffith (okay, maybe a fourth liner/top-6 AHLer), Matt Hunwick (signed with Pittsburgh, which, good for him) and Brooks Laich (had been buried in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies and currently looking for a revival on a PTO with Los Angeles).

Okay, fine, not to overlook the loss of Brian Boyle to New Jersey via free agency, but Boyle’s 25 points in scoring last season, split between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto in 76 games combined was the same offensive output as Moore, minus the face-off winning abilities and special teams impact.

In fact, Boyle notched 22 of his 25 points on the season with Tampa in 48 games prior to being traded to Toronto two days before the trade deadline. Chemistry and sample size aside, Moore is a better replacement for Boyle’s inept scoring prowess (three points in 21 games with Toronto).

To summarize, Lamoriello didn’t have to do anything to an already stacked team, but he added without subtracting anyway. Oh yeah, and the Leafs will totally finish 2nd or 3rd in the Atlantic this season. Maybe 1st.

Offseason Grade: B+

Patrick Marleau shouldn’t be getting more than a two-year contract at this point, but the Maple Leafs will own up to paying more than they’d probably like to because of the over-35-years-old compliance with the CBA. Speaking of the CBA, the league still needs to figure out that whole “over the salary cap limit, while also probably going to utilize the LTIR on at least one player (namely Joffrey Lupul and Nathan Horton) a la the Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks situation with Marian Hossa before the season begins” thing.