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.
46-29-7, 99 points, 4th in the Metropolitan Division
Eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final by Boston
Additions: F Dominik Bokk (acquired from STL), F Ryan Dzingel, F Brian Gibbons, F Erik Haula (acquired from VGK), F Alex Lintuniemi, D Fredrik Claesson, D Joel Edmundson (acquired from STL), D Gustav Forsling (acquired from CHI), D Jake Gardiner, D Chase Priskie, D Kyle Wood (acquired from SJS), G Anton Forsberg (acquired from CHI), G James Reimer (acquired from FLA)
Subtractions: F Patrick Brown (signed with VGK), F Micheal Ferland (signed with VAN), F Patrick Marleau (bought out), F Greg McKegg (signed with NYR), F Andrew Poturalski (signed with ANA), F Nicolas Roy (traded to VGK), F Aleksi Saarela (traded to CHI), D Trevor Carrick (traded to SJS), D Calvin de Haan (traded to CHI), D Justin Faulk (traded to STL), D Adam Fox (traded to NYR), D Dan Renouf (signed with COL), D Josh Wesley (signed with San Antonio, AHL), G Scott Darling (traded to FLA), G Curtis McElhinney (signed with TBL)
Still Unsigned: F Saku Maenalanen (KHL, CAR reserve list), F Justin Williams
Re-signed: F Sebastian Aho, F Clark Bishop, F Brock McGinn, D Hadyn Fleury, D Roland McKeown, G Petr Mrazek
Offseason Analysis: While some teams have signed the biggest names in free agency and improved in one particular aspect, one team has made all the right moves in multiple areas.
Already stocked with plenty of strength, depth and youth, the Carolina Hurricanes added in every category.
Canes GM, Don Waddell, was busy this summer making nine trades since the end of the regular season– seven of which involved players– and signing key pieces of the 2019-20 roster to new deals.
First and foremost, Carolina’s priority this offseason resided in Sebastian Aho’s next contract.
Aho originally signed an offer sheet with the Montreal Canadiens at the dawn of free agency on July 1st, but the Hurricanes matched the deal about a week later and retained his services.
Montreal thought a five-year, $8.454 million per season, offer with a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses owed in the first year of the contract would unnerve Carolina.
It’s just a drop in the bucket for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, who is investing more than just a better on-ice product around the organization.
Though the Hurricanes couldn’t convince Adam Fox to sign with the team after acquiring the defender from the Calgary Flames as part of the Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm for Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland trade, Carolina sent Fox to the New York Rangers for a 2019 2nd round pick and a conditional 2020 3rd round pick.
If Fox plays at least 30 games this season for the Rangers, then the 2020 3rd round pick is upgraded to a 2020 2nd round pick.
At the Draft in June, Waddell worked a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs acquiring Patrick Marleau, a conditional 2020 1st round pick and a 2020 7th round pick in exchange for a 2020 6th round pick.
If the 2020 1st round pick from Toronto is a top-10 pick, then Carolina will receive a 2021 1st round pick instead.
Marleau was bought out by the Hurricanes and will cost Carolina $6.250 million against the cap this season.
The Canes have $8.583 million tied up in buyout penalties as Alexander Semin’s $2.333 million penalty expires at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, which means Waddell has plenty of salary to work with in the coming years.
Two days after the Draft, Carolina sent Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela to the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg on June 24th.
Forsling, 23, is a suitable option for a top-six defender role with room for growth– given he’s on the upswing in his prime (defenders generally aren’t considered “peak” until their early 30s).
Forsberg, 26, has some experience as an NHL backup, but will supplement Alex Nedeljokvic’s workload with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) for the foreseeable future.
After winning their first Calder Cup championship in franchise history, a significant portion of the Checkers’ core was utilized as trade bait or pushed out of the Hurricanes organization by incoming youth are ready for their AHL debuts.
There are seven newcomers to the Checkers roster from within the Hurricanes system from last season to this season, including three players under the age of 22.
Out of the 33 players listed on their 2019 Calder Cup Playoff roster, 15 of them have moved on from Charlotte to another team in professional hockey (NHL, AHL, ECHL, Europe, Russia, etc.) and even Mike Vellucci left the Checkers to join the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as their new head coach.
In his place, former assistant coach turned current Checkers head coach, Ryan Warsofsky, will take the task of running things from behind the bench as the AHL’s youngest head coach at 31-years-old.
Nicolas Roy and a conditional 2021 5th round pick were flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for Erik Haula on June 27th.
Haula, 28, only managed to play 15 games last season for the Golden Knights before suffering a knee injury, but the veteran forward had a career-high 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) in 76 games with Vegas in 2017-18.
He should fit in well within a top-nine forward role, either as a second line or third line center/left wing and is a cheaper replacement for Ferland’s breakout year that led to a new four-year deal worth $3.500 million per season with the Vancouver Canucks in free agency.
If Haula is still on Carolina’s roster after this season or if the Canes trade Haula for a player, multiple draft picks or a draft pick in rounds 1-5, then Vegas receives the conditional 2021 5th round pick. If no condition is met, then the Hurricanes will not have to forfeit their draft pick to the Golden Knights.
Three days after adding Haula, Waddell found a new backup goaltender in a trade with the Florida Panthers.
Carolina traded Scott Darling and a 2020 6th round pick (originally belonging to the Buffalo Sabres) to Florida in exchange for James Reimer on June 30th.
Reimer, 31, had a disappointing 3.09 goals against average and a dismal .900 save percentage in 36 games with the Panthers and is looking to rebound with the Hurricanes in a backup role after seeing his GAA climb for the last three seasons with Florida while trying to take on more games in light of Roberto Luongo’s waning years.
Luongo is now retired (as of this offseason) and didn’t win a Stanley Cup championship in his 19 NHL seasons, unlike Justin Williams, who won the Cup three times in 20 seasons.
Williams, 37, hasn’t officially retired, but is “stepping away” from the game for the time being.
The 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy winner won two Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014 and played a role in Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup championship.
His presence in the Hurricanes dressing room over the last two seasons was pivotal in the transition among ownership, the front office and with the players on the ice.
Finally, after a minor swap with the San Jose Sharks, which saw Trevor Carrick depart the organization for Kyle Wood on August 6th, Waddell finished (for now) his busy offseason trades with one more major move.
Longtime anchor on Carolina’s power play and top-four defender, Justin Faulk, was packaged with a 2020 5th round pick and traded to the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in exchange for Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk and a 2021 7th round pick on Sept. 24th.
The Canes retained 14% of Faulk’s salary ($676,667) in the transaction, while adding a solid top-six defender (Edmundson) and a top German prospect (Bokk) to the fold.
And that’s not even covering Waddell’s brilliance in free agency.
Carolina signed Ryan Dzingel to a two-year contract worth $3.375 million per season on July 12th– adding to the Hurricanes’ plethora of forwards with 20 or more goals last season.
Dzingel recorded 22-22–44 totals in 57 games with the Ottawa Senators last season before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline.
Though he only managed 4-8–12 totals in 21 games with Columbus, Dzingel fell victim to Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella’s, coaching style– whereby nothing is changed until it has to change.
Columbus didn’t find the right fit for the 27-year-old forward in their lineup and Dzingel didn’t take to Tortorella’s scheme and thus, signed with the Hurricanes, where Rod Brind’Amour is saving the team once more.
Seriously, Brind’Amour is the perfect person behind the bench for the organization, if last season didn’t already prove that enough.
Not only did the Hurricanes make the Eastern Conference Final, but Brind’Amour brought back the glow of Carolina’s glory days.
He was the face of the franchise at the dawn of the millennium and he is the face of efficient coaching– with a high compete level– in the contemporary NHL.
And one more thing…
If you’re worried about what Faulk’s departure means for Carolina’s power play, don’t be.
That’s why Jake Gardiner signed a four-year contract worth $4.050 million per season on Sept. 6th.
The durable 29-year-old defender is in his prime, effective on special teams and looking to turn over a new leaf after breaking into the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2011-12 season.
Offseason Grade: A
In short, this team is legit. Waddell added to the roster without subtracting anything major that he hadn’t already planned to replace and Martin Necas could land a job on the team this season.
Of the 22 skaters on the team currently, the average age is 25.3, which makes last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Final even more impressive– even with the ever increasing presence of younger and younger players league-wide.
Carolina is the last team to receive an “A” grade for their offseason work and is looking to make a jump in the Metropolitan Division standings in the regular season from wild card team to division title contender.
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 need 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.
Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.
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.
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.
We’re less than a month away from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so let’s take a gander at how things should shape up for the Central Division.
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the first postseason berth this season, Quinn Hughes signed his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, Shane Wright was granted exceptional status and the DTFR Duo presented the first few individual season awards.
*Zach Boychuk wasn’t actually on… …this time around, anyway.*
With the trade deadline passing by on Monday, there’s only one important date remaining this regular season: April 6, the season’s finale.
However, we’re not quite focused on that date yet. Instead, let’s see what games this week had to offer:
|NHL SCHEDULE: February 25-March 3|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/|
|Monday, February 25|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||New Jersey||1-2|
|7:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Tampa Bay||3-4 (SO)|
|8 p.m.||Edmonton||Nashville||2-3 (SO)|
|9 p.m.||Florida||Colorado||4-3 (OT)|
|Tuesday, February 26|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Boston||1-4|
|7 p.m.||Calgary Flames||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles||Carolina||1-6|
|8 p.m.||Nashville||St. Louis||0-2|
|9 p.m.||Florida||Arizona||3-4 (SO)|
|Wednesday, February 27|
|7 p.m.||Calgary||New Jersey||2-1|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay Lightning||New York Rangers||4-3 (OT)|
|9:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Colorado||2-3 (SO)|
|Thursday, February 28|
|7 p.m.||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Islanders||1-6|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||Columbus||3-4 (OT)|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Boston||1-4|
|10 p.m.||Florida||Vegas||5-6 (SO)|
|10:30 p.m.||Dallas||Los Angeles||4-3 (OT)|
|Friday, March 1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Buffalo||3-4 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||New Jersey||6-3|
|7 p.m.||Washington Capitals||New York Islanders||3-1|
|7 p.m.||Montréal Canadiens||New York Rangers||4-2|
|7:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Carolina||2-5|
|10:30 p.m.||Colorado||San Jose||3-4|
|Saturday, March 2|
|4 p.m.||Chicago||Los Angeles||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Boston|
|7 p.m.||Buffalo||Toronto||CBC, NHLN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Montréal||SN360, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Ottawa||Tampa Bay||CITY, TVAS2|
|8 p.m.||Dallas||St. Louis|
|10 p.m.||Minnesota Wild||Calgary Flames||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|Sunday, March 3|
|12:30 p.m.||Washington Capitals||New York Rangers||NBC, TVAS|
|3 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Islanders||SN1, TVAS|
|10 p.m.||Chicago||San Jose|
There were rivalries galore to choose from this week – nine, if you want to be precise. Buffalo and Toronto waged two editions of the Battle of the QEW, with the Leafs hosting on Monday and the Sabres returning the favor tonight.
In between those meetings, the Penguins made their first visit of the season to Columbus and the Habs squared off against the Wings (both on Tuesday) and Friday featured Montréal visiting the Rangers, the Caps visiting the Islanders and the Battle of the Turnpikes. Joining Toronto and Buffalo in rivalry action today are the Blackhawks and Kings, while the Caps and Blueshirts are waiting until tomorrow to stage their derby.
In a similar strain as rivalries, we were also privy to three rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Minnesota and Winnipeg rekindled their First Round animosity on Tuesday, ending with the Wild exacting revenge for their early playoff exit. The Bolts and Bruins were at it Thursday (with Boston pulling off the 4-1 victory), while Nashville and Winnipeg scrapped for first place in the Central Division last night (the Jets recaptured the division lead with a 5-3 win).
Finally, I always try to point out the biggest homecomings, and there were three this week. Of course, none was more anticipated than C John Tavares making his first trip to Nassau Coliseum as a member of the Maple Leafs on Thursday. Tavares enjoyed nine seasons with the Islanders, including five as the club’s 14th captain. His 621 points scored while wearing blue and orange ranks fifth in franchise history, but don’t let that fool you – Islanders fans did not treat him to a warm welcome.
Also making notable homecomings were current Penguin D Jack Johnson returning to Columbus on Tuesday and current Predator F Mikael Granlund returning to St. Paul tomorrow (considering he just experienced the birth of his child, there’s actually a chance he never left Minnesota in the first place). Both spent seven seasons with their respective former clubs before joining their current organizations (Johnson via free agency this summer and Granlund via deadline trade).
However, all of those things having been listed, there’s still one more event that demands our attention. For the third week in a row, a former great of the game is seeing his number raised to the rafters. Tonight, the Calgary Flames honor RW Jarome Iginla.
It can be easily forgotten that Iginla was not drafted by the Flames, but instead by the Dallas Stars. Only two seasons removed from their departure from the State of Hockey, the Stars selected the Kamloops Blazer 11th-overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.
Knowing what we know now, how Iginla fell all the way to 11th is hard to fathom. Only 10 total players from this 234-player draft class were ever named to even one NHL All-Star Game, of which only Iginla and nine-year teammate G Miikka Kiprusoff ever received end-of-season All-Star Team nods.
Regardless, Iginla likely never even thought about shopping for a Dallas apartment, as he was traded alongside C Corey Millen to Calgary (coincidentally in the same province as the city that hosted that edition of the draft: Edmonton, Iginla’s hometown) five months later for the rights to C Joe Nieuwendyk.
Nieuwendyk would go on to win the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999 – scoring two game-winning overtime goals on the way, including one in triple-overtime against former rival Edmonton – so perhaps this was a fair trade all-in-all.
Iginla made his NHL debut during the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs (he registered 1-1-2 totals in two games played) after the Blazers lost to Spokane in the WHL’s West Division Finals 4-2. As the reigning WHL Player of the Year, Iginla registered 1-1-2 totals in his first two postseason appearances before the Flames were swept by Chicago in the Western Quarterfinals.
Iginla played all 82 games of his rookie campaign in 1996-97, registering impressive 21-29-50 totals (including three game-winning goals) to finish second in Calder voting behind fellow traded 1995 pick D Bryan Berard of the New York Islanders (he was originally drafted first-overall by Ottawa).
Like many outstanding youths, Iginla faced a rather severe sophomore slump. The winger posted only 13-19-32 marks in 70 games played, but he hopped right back on his horse for Season 3 to reemerge as a 50-point player and start a run of scoring at least 50 points in 15 of 16 seasons (interrupted only by the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign) from 1998-2015, a run that extended beyond his time in Calgary.
Of course, implying that the Flames could only count on 50 points from Iginla is undoubtedly doing his reputation a major disservice. The 51 points he scored in the 1998-99 season was only the beginning of his meteoric rise. He notched 63 points at the turn of the millennium, followed by 71 in 2000-01.
Iggy’s sixth season (2001-02) saw him set his career-high in goals with 52-44-96 totals, and everyone in the league took notice. Not only did Iginla earn his first of three First All-Star Team honors, but he also brought home more than his fair share of hardware from the NHL Awards, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award).
Of course, all that hardware didn’t make up for one major hole in Iginla’s resume. Not only had he not yet won a playoff game, he hadn’t even made a playoff appearance since his NHL debut.
That changed in a massive way in 2004, Iginla’s first season as the Flames’ 18th captain in franchise history. With a 41-32-73 season that earned Iginla his first King Clancy Award and second Richard Trophy, he led the Flames to a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference and their first playoff appearance in eight seasons.
The success didn’t end there though: the Flames defeated all three of the West’s division champions, including the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Red Wings in the conference semifinals, to advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the East’s top seed.
As for Iginla, he hadn’t yet scored all the goals for his campaign, as he added 13 goals and 22 points in his 26 playoff games – including outstanding 5-3-8 totals in the quarterfinals against Vancouver. His 13 markers were the most by any player in the 2004 playoffs, but his side fell to the Bolts in seven games.
Iginla’s Flames would qualify for the next four playoffs after their Stanley Cup Final appearance (skipping, of course, the 2004-05 lockout-cancelled season), but each time they failed to advance beyond the First Round. During that run, the captain earned his last two nominations to the NHL’s First All-Star team, doing it consecutively in 2008 and 2009 with respective 50-48-98 and 35-54-89 seasons.
Iginla’s Flames career would end on March 28, 2013 when he was traded as a rental to Pittsburgh for LW Kenny Agostino, RW Ben Hanowski and a 2013 first-round pick that would eventually become LW Morgan Klimchuk. He would go on to play for the Bruins, Avs and Kings before being forced to hang up his skates after the 2016-17 season.
With 525-570-1095 totals in 1219 career games played for Calgary, Iginla holds franchise records for appearances, goals, points, power play goals (161) and game-winning goals (83). In terms of league records, Iginla is one of only seven players to score 30 or more goals in 11-straight seasons (all of which were with Calgary, and a streak that could have been longer if not for the 2012-13 lockout), one of 20 to reach the 600-goal plateau and one of 34 to manage at least 1300 points.
For these reasons, as well as every other detail and fact listed above, Iginla is bypassing Calgary’s “Forever a Flame” program (in which a player is honored, but his number not retired) and seeing his No. 12 rightfully join RW Lanny McDonald‘s No. 9 and G Mike Vernon‘s No. 30 as the team’s third (fourth if that Oiler’s No. 99 is included) sweater retired from circulation.
What a time to be a member of the C of Red, no? Not only is the organization honoring one of, if not the greatest to ever don the Flaming C (no disrespect intended to D Al MacInnis, McDonald and his mustache or Vernon), but this year’s team is also pretty darn exciting. They boast a 41-16-7 record that that leads San Jose for the Western Conference lead, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down with their seven-game win streak and eight-game point streak – both the best currently active in the NHL.
Dating back to Valentine’s Day, the Flames have played to a 7-0-1 record (they dropped a point to the Panthers in a shootout), largely as a result of their incredible defensive play. Entering play Friday (all stats will not take into account March 1’s eight games due to my work schedule), no team has allowed fewer shots than Calgary in the past 14 days. The Flames have allowed only 214 shots against in their past eight outings, which averages out to 26.75 shots against per game.
Leading that defensive charge has been none other than Calgary’s resident 3-H Club: D Noah Hanifin, who’s 10 takeaways since February 14 lead the team; D Travis Hamonic, who tops the squad by averaging two blocks per game during this run; and W Garnet Hathaway, the Flames’ leading body checker in the past 14 days by averaging three hits per game.
As would be expected, the most prominent place this solid defensive work is showing up is on the scoreboard, as the Flames have allowed a (t)fourth-best 1.75 goals against per game since February 14. As a result, 19-11-2 G Mike Smith has been having an easy go of it lately, made evident by his combined .93 save percentage and 1.98 GAA for his past six starts.
On the season, Smith boasts an .897 save percentage and 2.89 GAA, but his recent run of success means he’ll likely be in the crease this evening. Smith has a not-so-great 6-11-2 all-time record against the Wild, but he stopped all 31 shots faced the last time he saw them on December 6 to improve his career statistics against Minnesota to a .921 save percentage and 2.18 GAA.
Speaking of the Wild, they’re currently on a bit of a run themselves.
On the back of a four-game win streak (including wins against the Blues and Jets), Minnesota has amassed a 31-27-6 record that is currently (well, as of Friday morning) good enough for the Western Conference’s second wild card.
The main player in this recent success has undoubtedly been 25-21-5 G Devan Dubnyk, Smith’s former battery-mate with the Coyotes. Though he’s certainly received help from his defense (the Wild have allowed an average of 30.5 shots against per game in their last four outings, the 12th-best mark in the NHL in that time), he’s played lights out to allow only 1.5 goals against per tilt in his last four starts – the fourth-best mark in the league since February 21.
What makes this streak so impressive is that Dubnyk has been only a little better than average this season with his .912 save percentage and 2.59 GAA on the campaign. However, he’s elevated his game to his 2014-15 level in his last four outings to post a combined .951 save percentage and 1.49 GAA.
Over his 10-year career, Dubnyk has squared off against Calgary 26 times and can boast a solid 11-8-4 record against the Flames. Combined, he’s managed a .923 save percentage and 2.7 GAA against Alberta’s southern franchise.
So if we’re in line for a goaltending duel, which will emerge with two points?
Personally, I like the Flames this evening. They have the advantage of playing at home with an excited C of Red behind them, as well as a better defense and more talented offense. Dubnyk might continue to stand on his head, but I think the Flames can find a way to sneak one more goal past him.
I’ll take Calgary 2-1.
With 21 clubs enjoying their byes as a continuation of the All-Star Break, this week’s schedule was fairly light until tonight when the entire league got back into action. However, that’s not to say there wasn’t any big matchups – take a look for yourself:
|NHL SCHEDULE: January 28-February 3|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, January 28|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Pittsburgh||6-3|
|Tuesday, January 29|
|7 p.m.||Winnipeg||Boston||4-3 (SO)|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia Flyers||New York Rangers||1-0|
|Wednesday, January 30|
|8 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Pittsburgh||2-4|
|Thursday, January 31|
|7 p.m.||Philadelphia||Boston||3-2 (OT)|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||New Jersey Devils||4-3|
|Friday, February 1|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay Lightning||New York Islanders|
|Saturday, February 2|
|1 p.m.||Edmonton||Philadelphia||NHLN, SN|
|2 p.m.||New Jersey||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Toronto||CBC, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Detroit||Ottawa||CITY, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Los Angeles Kings||New York Islanders|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Columbus|
|8 p.m.||Tampa Bay||New York Rangers||NBC|
|10 p.m.||Vancouver Canucks||Colorado Avalanche||CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360|
|10:30 p.m.||Arizona||San Jose|
|Sunday, February 3|
|2 p.m.||Edmonton||Montréal||RDS, SN|
With many of the week’s early games involving a majority of Eastern Conference teams, rivalries abound in this week’s schedule – starting with the Flyers’ tilt against the Rangers on Tuesday. After squaring off at Madison Square Garden, both clubs departed for another derby matchup, with New York taking on New Jersey and Philadelphia heading to Boston on Thursday. Tonight’s rivalry features Toronto in Detroit (more on that game in a moment), with Chicago taking on Minnesota tomorrow.
If player returns are your jam, there’s no bigger tilt this weekend than the Flames’ trip to Raleigh. Taking advantage of the systemic overhaul of the Hurricanes’ system, Calgary traded for F Elias Lindholm and D Noah Hanifin, who spent five and three seasons, respectively, with Carolina. The Flames also signed former three-year Cane C Derek Ryan out of free agency on July 1.
Of course, all of these moves were likely suggested by the Flames’ new Head Coach, Bill Peters. He spent four seasons in Carolina before getting the ax following the 2017-18 campaign.
Finally, we return to tonight’s previously mentioned Original Six showdown between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. This is usually an exciting game to see on its own, but this game is even more special than usual since Red Kelly is getting his No. 4 retired beforehand.
Heck, you know what? Kelly was pretty cool (after all, he did win four Stanley Cups while also serving as a Canadian Member of Parliament), so let’s head to Motown.
Though they’ve managed to hold on to their second-place position in the Atlantic Division while sitting dormant for eight total days, the Leafs were surely disappointed to end the first half of their season on a 2-4-0 skid – even if those two wins did come against the division-leading Lightning and the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
To the surprise of none, Toronto’s biggest struggle during that skid was surely its defense. While the 32.6 shots against per game the Maple Leafs have allowed all season is far from impressive (in fact, it’s tied with Buffalo for eighth-worst in the league), they slacked-off even more in their last six games leading up to the All-Star Break to yield 34.83 shots against per game.
That’s the sixth-worst mark in the NHL since January 12, but General Manager Kyle Dubas is working to fix that issue.
Enter D Jake Muzzin: a player with a +10 rating through 50 games with the Los Angeles Kings, the second-worst team in the NHL with a league-worst -36 goal differential on the season.
While plus/minus is far from the best statistic in sports, the fact that we can pair it with his pedestrian offensive production (he’s managed only 4-17-21 totals so far this season) shows he’s doing at least something right on the defensive end (in other words, the stat is an effect, not a cause). In fact, if defensive point shares are your cup of tea, his defense provided four of the Kings’ 44 points in the standings.
Muzzin gets his work done by making his presence known. He’s just eight blocks short of averaging two per game on the season, and he’s made up for that along the boards by throwing 111 hits so far this campaign.
To put that in relation to his new teammates, Muzzin’s 1.84 blocks per game and 2.22 hits per game rank second and first, respectively, among the 18 Leafs that have at least 28 games played.
Talk about bulking up the defense.
One person hoping Muzzin’s defensive success makes the 4.5 hour trip from Tinseltown to T-dot is 6-3-1 G Garret Sparks, tonight’s presumed starter with the Penguins rolling into Toronto tomorrow. Sparks boasts a .907 save percentage and 2.91 GAA on the season, but has lost his last two appearances.
Should Sparks get the start tonight, it will be his fourth career outing against the Red Wings. He’s managed a 1-1-1 record against Detroit in his first three tries, winning his most recent matchup on December 23 despite allowing four goals. He brings a career .864 save percentage and corresponding 4.01 GAA against the Wings into tonight’s tilt.
Of course, the Maple Leafs’ defensive concerns are nothing when compared to the 19-25-7 Detroit Red Wings, as they’ve struggled in effectively every facet of the game this season – made evident by their position in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference.
Looking specifically at the Wings’ last eight games that saw them post a 3-5-0 record, the biggest struggle of late has been their offense – just like Toronto, no surprises here. Similar to its 2.8 goals per game for the entire season, Detroit’s 2.88 goals per game since January 6 ranks seventh-worst in the NHL.
Beyond the top-line pairing of F Dylan Larkin (3-5-8 totals in his last eight outings) and W Gustav Nyquist (1-7-8 since January 6), the Red Wings struggle to find much offensive. Those players’ respective season points totals of 48 and 43 headline the team, but third-best F Andreas Athanasiou has registered only 30. Despite the goal-scoring potential Athanasiou still shows at 24-years-old, the fact that 30 points in 45 games played is third-best on a team perfectly showcases just how little Detroit has at its disposal.
How much longer until W Filip Zadina is ready, again? Oh, he only has 22 points in 37 AHL games played… great. The odds of any sort of call up for the young Czech is sliding in LW Matt Puempel’s favor more and more – an experiment I’m surprised the Wings haven’t tried yet this season considering they have nothing to lose. After all Puempel’s 36 points in 44 AHL games played is second-best in Grand Rapids.
As for who’s going to win this game, I think the answer is obvious: after a well-deserved rest, the Maple Leafs’ offense should be ready to get back into form. And even if Toronto doesn’t hit the 3.55 goals per game it’s grown grown accustomed to this season, Detroit’s anemic offense shouldn’t pose much of a threat, even against the likes of Sparks. Toronto should take care of business easily tonight.
It’s the first full week of 2019! What better way to celebrate than with some hockey?
Here’s this week’s slate of games:
|NHL SCHEDULE: January 7-13|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, January 7|
|7 p.m.||St. Louis||Philadelphia||3-0|
|10:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||San Jose||1-3|
|Tuesday, January 8|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Buffalo||1-5|
|7 p.m.||Carolina Hurricanes||New York Islanders||4-3|
|7:30 p.m.||Columbus||Tampa Bay||0-4|
|8 p.m.||Dallas||St. Louis||3-1|
|10 p.m.||New York Rangers||Vegas Golden Knights||2-4|
|10:30 p.m.||Edmonton||San Jose||2-7|
|Wednesday, January 9|
|8 p.m.||Nashville Predators||Chicago Blackhawks||NBCSN, SN360, TVAS|
|Thursday, January 10|
|7 p.m.||Washington||Boston||ESPN+, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||New Jersey|
|7 p.m.||New York Islanders||New York Rangers|
|7:30 p.m.||Carolina||Tampa Bay|
|8 p.m.||Montréal||St. Louis||RDS, TSN2|
|10 p.m.||San Jose||Vegas||ESPN+|
|10:30 p.m.||Ottawa||Los Angeles||RDS|
|Friday, January 11|
|10 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Anaheim||ESPN+, SN360|
|Saturday, January 12|
|1 p.m.||Philadelphia||New Jersey||NHLN, SN|
|1 p.m.||New York Rangers||New York Islanders||ESPN+|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Buffalo|
|7 p.m.||Boston Bruins||Toronto Maple Leafs||CBC, CITY, NHLN, SN1|
|7 p.m.||Colorado||Montréal||SN, TVAS|
|9 p.m.||St. Louis||Dallas|
|10 p.m.||Ottawa||San Jose||CBC, SN1, TVAS|
|10:30 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Los Angeles|
|Sunday, January 13|
|6 p.m.||New York Rangers||Columbus Blue Jackets||NHLN|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay Lightning||New York Islanders||ESPN+|
Among the week’s biggest games are the usual suspects of rivalries, playoff rematches and player returns.
In the rivalry department, the Battle of California reignited Monday when the Kings visited San Jose, followed a day later by Philadelphia at Washington and an Original Six showdown between the Canadiens and Red Wings. The Battle of New York will be waged twice this week, starting in Manhattan tomorrow night and heading to Brooklyn Saturday afternoon. Also taking place Saturday is the Battle of the Turnpikes between Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as another Original Six fixture featuring Boston and Toronto.
As for rematches from last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, Thursday will see Winnipeg make a return to Minnesota in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals, and a Western Semifinals rematch between San Jose and Vegas. The previously mentioned Bruins-Maple Leafs tilt on Saturday is a rematch of the Eastern Quarterfinals, as is Columbus at Washington on the same day.
Making his first trip back to Raleigh since being traded to Buffalo this summer, no player’s homecoming is bigger than Jeff Skinner‘s this week. Drafted seventh overall in 2010, Skinner was a member of the Hurricanes for eight seasons before joining Jack Eichel‘s Sabres. While a Cane, Skinner won the organization’s first Calder Trophy and was named the youngest All-Star in North American professional sports history – both in 2011.
Also making a major homecoming trip is Tanner Pearson, now a member of the Penguins after a mid-season trade ended his six-season tenure in Los Angeles.
However, the game that excites me the most is going down tonight when the Colorado Avalanche make the trip north into Alberta to take on the Calgary Flames.
For much of the season so far, 20-15-8 Colorado – the West’s top wild card – was one of the scariest opponents in the league for any team. They boast a dominant top line and a top-five power play (the Avs’ 26.5 percent conversion rate is second-best in the conference).
However, that has not been the case for the past three weeks, as Colorado has racked up only a lowly 1-5-2 record in its last eight appearances (including regulation losses to Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles – all also-rans in the Western Conference), causing them to give up third place in the Central Division to Dallas.
Averaging three goals per game during this run, the offense is still clicking at a good enough pace that the Avalanche should not be struggling – at least not to this extent. Instead, it has been Colorado’s goaltending that has really dropped the ball.
With 9-5-3 G Philipp Grubauer earning the start last night in Winnipeg (Colorado lost 7-4, for those keeping track at home), it seems likely that 11-8-5 G Semyon Varlamov will get the nod this evening. If that’s the case, he’ll surely have full intention of playing closer to the .912 save percentage and 2.8 GAA he’s managed for the season and not the .891 and 2.97 marks he’s posted in his last two starts.
Of course, even those numbers are improvements over Grubauer’s. In the former Capital’s last six starts, he’s managed only an .87 save percentage and 3.94 GAA – only slightly worse than the .895 and 3.29 he’s shown for the entire season. With numbers like those and the fact that 0-2-0 G Pavel Francouz looked fairly solid in his NHL debut this season (he managed a .943 save percentage and 1.96 GAA in 61 minutes), it’s a wonder the Czech hasn’t had the opportunity to join the Avs full-time if it would mean Varlamov could take more games off.
What makes these recent goaltending numbers so frustrating is the fact that Colorado has been playing some solid defense during this stretch of games. In the Avs’ last eight games, they’ve allowed only 29.75 shots against per game – the ninth-lowest mark in the NHL since December 21. W Gabriel Bourque and C Sheldon Dries (both with 2.3 hits per game since December 21), W Matt Calvert (seven takeaways during this stretch) and D Erik Johnson (2.4 blocks per game in his past eight outings) have all played major roles in that success, but they’ll be pushed to the limit tonight when facing the Flames’ imposing attack.
Speaking of those high-flying Flames, they currently boast the Western Conference’s top record with a 27-13-4 mark – a performance that’s even more intimidating when we keep in mind they have at least one game in hand on the Pacific Division’s two other best teams.
Tonight’s tilt will be the Flames’ first back in Calgary after a four-game Eastern road trip that saw them earn six of eight possible points. In fact, Calgary enters tonight’s game on an impressive 5-1-1 run in its past seven showings, including wins over solid Western foes in San Jose and Winnipeg.
Leading that charge is the Flames’ previously mentioned offense, which has few rivals in the NHL lately. Averaging 4.29 goals per game since December 27, Calgary’s attack is ranked fourth in the league and second in the conference in that time.
An outstanding five skaters are averaging at least a point per game during this run, but none are as intimidating as LW Johnny Gaudreau. With 10-6-16 totals in his past seven games (that’s 1.43 goals and 2.29 points per game), he’s elevated his season marks to 26-38-64, good enough for fourth, (t)fifth and (t)eighth in the NHL in points, goals and assists respectively.
Joining Gaudreau in averaging at least a point per game during this seven game stretch are C Sean Monahan (2-12-14 totals), F Elias Lindholm (3-8-11), LW Matthew Tkachuk (3-5-8) and D Noah Hanifin (0-7-7).
Perhaps the most impressive facet of Calgary’s attack is that the Flames are scoring almost all of their goals at even strength, having converted only four of their last 28 power play opportunities (14.3 percent, 12th-worst in the NHL since December 27. While Head Coach Bill Peters would surely like to see his special teams perform better, the fact that the Flames have scored 21 of their last 30 goals (70 percent) at even strength surely makes that an easier pill to swallow.
A potent attack taking on a slumping goaltending corps is usually a recipe for disaster, but the fact that Colorado boasts a solid offense of its own is what makes this tilt interesting. If the Avalanche want any chance of pulling off the upset, F Nathan MacKinnon, RW Mikko Rantanen and co. will need to do their best to beat 15-4-3 G David Rittich to keep up with the Flames. If they can’t, this could get ugly early.