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2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

DTFR Podcast #202- What Are Your Qualifications?/Let’s Get Kraken

Using Qualifiers to enhance this postseason (it’s a breakdown of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round Robin action). Plus the Seattle Kraken!

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify.

DTFR Podcast #199- Cheese!

Colby’s back, Jack.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify.

Boston Bruins 2019-20 Season Preview

Boston Bruins

49-24-9, 107 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by St. Louis

Additions: F Brendan Gaunce, F Pär Lindholm, F Brett Ritchie, G Maxime Lagacé

Subtractions: F Noel Acciari (signed with FLA), F Marcus Johansson (signed with BUF), F Mark McNeill (EBEL), F Gemel Smith (signed with TBL), F Jordan Szwarz (signed with OTT), G Zane McIntyre (signed with VAN)

Still Unsigned: F Lee Stempniak

Re-signed: F Peter Cehlarik, F Ryan Fitzgerald, F Danton Heinen, D Brandon Carlo, D Charlie McAvoy

Offseason Analysis: After losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on home ice, the Boston Bruins quickly turned the page to the 2019-20 season. Rookie camp was less than a month away and with it meant free agency for the veteran players of the game.

General Manager, Don Sweeney, followed suit with his business as usual masterplan– stay the course. Don’t overspend on any bottom-six talent and don’t rock the boat.

Boston’s impeccable leadership group of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and David Backes has everyone in the dressing room in a collective mindset.

The Bruins remain focused on an unaccomplished goal from last season– winning the Cup.

The tight-knit roster witnessed the departure of fourth liner, Noel Acciari, and third-line trade deadline acquisition, Marcus Johansson.

Acciari, 27, brought his talents to the Florida Panthers on a three-year contract worth $1.667 million per season, while Johansson, 28, signed a two-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres worth $4.500 million per season.

Since Sweeney was named GM in May 2015, he’s adopted a new policy for the organization whereby bottom-six forwards– especially on the fourth line– are usually expendable.

Though Acciari’s physical game will be missed by the Bruins, it’s a next-player up mentality combined with the signing of Brett Ritchie to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, that will hold the B’s over for the 2019-20 season.

Excess spending in a salary cap world can get teams into cap hell and more often than not, getting too attached to players that are outside of your top line, top defensive pairing or top goaltender is more costly in the long run.

A little more here and there will hurt a team when the time comes to sign a younger, better, player to a new– more expensive– contract.

In other words, saving $667,000 on Ritchie’s services for the same role as Acciari, should yield the same result on the fourth line (in theory) and save just enough money to utilize elsewhere– like on Par Lindholm’s two-year deal worth $850,000 per season.

Lindholm and Ritchie provide more depth to Boston’s roster than Acciari alone in the simple sense that two players are more than one (especially if one gets hurt).

The Bruins weren’t going to be able to retain Johansson at a $4.500 million cap hit while having to re-sign Danton Heinen, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

Though Johansson was a good fit for the B’s with Charlie Coyle and Heinen on the third line, signing Heinen to a two-year, $5.600 million ($2.800 million cap hit) deal and negotiating a bridge deal that was fair for both sides in McAvoy and Carlo’s case was more important for the future of the franchise.

Sweeney might be playing with fire as McAvoy’s three-year deal bears a $4.900 million cap hit and a surefire significant raise for the 21-year-old defender in three years from now when he’s even further into his prime, but for now, the contract is just another example of Sweeney’s mastery at keeping his team under the cap ceiling.

Carlo’s two-year extension is worth $2.850 million per season and is less likely to cause a ruckus when the defender is in the $4.000 million range depending on how Sweeney’s newest challenge plays out.

With McAvoy and Carlo under contract, Sweeney’s attention can shift to figuring out Torey Krug’s future with the franchise.

While Chara and Kevan Miller are pending-unrestricted free agents at season’s end on the blue line, Matt Grzelcyk will be a restricted free agent and a shoe-in for an extension.

Chara, 42, may retire at season’s end and Miller, 31, might be in his final days as a Bruin this season.

The oft-injured defender (Miller) won’t start the season with Boston as he’s out with a knee injury and has been replaced in his bottom-pairing role by younger and cheaper options in Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton– who signed a three-year extension carrying a $1.000 million cap hit that will kick in starting next season.

With an additional $4.500 million to work with, Sweeney could pay Krug upwards of $9.000 million per season– except Jake DeBrusk will also be Boston’s biggest pending-RFA next July and he’ll need some of that money.

So Krug could sign an extension and have to deal with Sweeney’s money saving ways, be traded while he carries enough trade value before the trade deadline or walk away in free agency, leaving the Bruins with nothing.

At any rate, Boston locked down their biggest component in keeping everything together on the ice this offseason as head coach, Bruce Cassidy, signed a multi-year extension that will begin next season after his current deal expires at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Offseason Grade: B

The reigning GM of the Year had his work cutout for him this offseason in keeping all of his RFAs on the same team without overpaying. Sweeney also managed to avoid handing out any large contracts to free agents and continued to opt for cheap, expendable, replacements to fill lower-ranked roles on the roster.

They didn’t hit it out of the park with a big name star, but they quietly went about their business signing better than average deals (for the advantage of the franchise) and still have enough of their core (despite the age factor) to remain competitive on the ice this season.

Florida Panthers 2019-20 Season Preview

Florida Panthers

36-32-14, 86 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the postseason for the third straight year

Additions: F Noel Acciari, F Brett Connolly, F Joel Lowry, F Kevin Roy, F Dominic Toninato (acquired from COL), D Gustav Bouramman (acquired from MIN), D Tommy Cross, D Ethan Prow, D Anton Stralman, G Sergei Bobrovsky, G Philippe Desrosiers

Subtractions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea (signed with BUF), F Henrik Haapala (KHL), F Juho Lammikko (Liiga), F Derek MacKenzie (retired), F Maxim Mamin (KHL), F Vincent Praplan (NLA), F Riley Sheahan (signed with EDM), D Ludwig Bystrom (Liiga), D Michael Downing (signed with Florida, ECHL), D Jacob MacDonald (traded to COL), D Julian Melchiori (signed with Binghamton, AHL), G Scott Darling (acquired from CAR, then bought out), G Roberto Luongo (retired), G James Reimer (traded to CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Jamie McGinn

Re-signed: F Troy Brouwer (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Greco, F Jayce Hawryluk, F Dryden Hunt, F Denis Malgin, D Ian McCoshen, D Thomas Schemitsch, D MacKenzie Weegar, G Sam Montembeault

Offseason Analysis: The rules of the offseason are pretty simple. Don’t be that person that overpays.

But for Florida Panthers General Manager, Dale Tallon, apparently the rules don’t apply.

Yes, fixing the hole in the net left behind by Roberto Luongo’s decision to retire was a good idea. No, signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract isn’t a steal.

A $10.000 million cap hit for a goaltender that’s 30-years-old and only getting older won’t exactly look too great by the fourth year of the deal, but by then it might not even be Tallon’s problem.

Tallon is in “win now” mode.

The Panthers haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Final since their lone appearance in 1996, in which they were swept in four games– the final two on home ice– by the Colorado Avalanche.

As it is, Florida hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2016’s First Round loss to the New York Islanders in six games.

So they’ve bolstered their roster with Bobrovsky in the crease and three other players that were signed on July 1st– Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman.

Acciari’s a bottom-six forward who likes to hit and can hit clean, but at three-years and $1.667 million per season, might be a bit much to pay for someone who only had 14 points last season. Sure it was career-year, but his goal scoring production was down from 10 goals in 2017-18 to six goals in 2018-19.

Connolly signed a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and with a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the Washington Capitals in 2018, he brings more than just winning pedigree– he had career-highs in goals (22), assists (24) and points (46) in 81 games for the Caps last season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft is finally coming around to his potential at age 27. Better late than never and that’s why the Panthers are taking this gamble.

An improved offense in the top-nine forwards to go with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano, as well as an addition to the blue line in Anton Stralman’s three-year contract worth $5.500 million per season has the Panthers with high hopes for the 2019-20 season.

Especially when you consider the fact that their new head coach behind the bench is three-time Stanley Cup champion, Joel Quenneville.

Tallon, Quenneville and Florida’s roster don’t just have their sights set on a First Round appearance.

What if they don’t pull things off right away and age catches up to their free agent signings from this offseason? Is it right back to square one as an older, slower, knock-off version of their intra-state rival up in Tampa?

Ten players on the current NHL roster are pending free agents of the unrestricted and restricted variety after this season.

Florida currently has about $781,330 in cap space with Hoffman and Dadonov as their biggest pending-UFAs next July.

Thanks to Luongo’s early retirement, the Panthers will be stifled with a cap recapture penalty that’s not as significant as the one the Vancouver Canucks will face, but nonetheless costing Florida $1,094,128 per season through 2021-22.

But Tallon is used to maxing out the books to put his team in a position to win sooner rather than later– just ask the Chicago Blackhawks how their Cup winning core worked out for them.

Offseason Grade: B

Florida going “all-in” in free agency is out of character for their franchise history, it would seem. While nabbing top-end talent at a premium price lands the Panthers as a winner of the bidding war for free agents, there’s a lot of risk involved.

Long-term growth may have been stalled by short-term planning for gains that may or may not pan out as the season has yet to begin. As such, Tallon’s offseason was “above average”, but now comes the time to prove whether it was all worth it or else risk becoming the more expensive version of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2019 trade deadline.

2019-20 Atlantic Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 109 points
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 105 points
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points
  4. Florida Panthers, 89 points
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 89 points
  6. Detroit Red Wings, 84 points
  7. Ottawa Senators, 78 points
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 71 points

Tampa Bay Lightning: Pros and Cons

The Lightning are annual favorites among the experts to win the Stanley Cup, so it’s no surprise, really, that they haven’t yet. There’s either too many expectations to live up to or there’s too much of a casual atmosphere from season-to-season.

You know what they say when you assume.

Just like the Washington Capitals and their 2018 Stanley Cup championship, it’s better for the Bolts if nobody is talking about them. Prior to the Caps winning in 2018, there was a “Cup or bust” mantra that just didn’t work.

Nothing is willed without hard work and humility.

That’s not to say Tampa doesn’t work hard or isn’t humble, but rather, they must lose on the big stage repetitively until everyone expects them to fail. That’s when they’ll go on a run.

They’ve managed to keep their roster together (granted, RFA center, Brayden Point, is still unsigned) while trimming the fat (gone are the days of Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi on the blue line) and are still Stanley Cup front-runners, but they likely won’t get back to the 60-win plateau in back-to-back seasons.

The Lightning will still get to 50 wins for the third season in-a-row, have Nikita Kucherov set the league on fire in scoring and yield out-of-this-world goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy before the real season starts– the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How would the Lightning fail?

Everyone keeps talking about the Lightning as if they’re some godsend (too much hype, remember?). That, or General Manager Julien BriseBois blows up the roster and/or Jon Cooper is fired as head coach.

Boston Bruins: Pros and Cons

The Bruins core remains strong among their forwards and as long as they’re able to negotiate an extension with RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo without any bumps in the road, then their defense is pretty sound too.

Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year deal last summer, so the 1A/1B tandem of Tuukka Rask and Halak in the crease seems fine for another run in 2019-20.

Boston exceeded expectations in 2017-18 and went under the radar in 2018-19– though they managed to amass only 10 losses in regulation since Jan. 1st, which means they were actually pretty loud in the points percentage column.

Injuries come and go.

If the Bruins are able to stay healthy instead of dropping like flies to their 12th defenseman on the depth chart, they might actually pick up a few more points than they did last season.

With Bruce Cassidy as head coach, things should remain status quo in the regular season, but Boston still needs to address their top-six forward problem.

David Pastrnak can play on the first or second line, but on any given night that leaves one of their top two lines in need of a scoring winger.

General Manager Don Sweeney managed to patch a hole at the third line center– acquiring Charlie Coyle as last season’s trade deadline loomed– and Coyle was one of their better players in their 2019 Stanley Cup Final postseason run.

But with a couple of depth signings for bottom six roles in the offseason (Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie), everyone getting another year older and David Backes’ $6.000 million cap hit through 2020-21 still on the books, Boston’s hands are tied.

How would the Bruins fail?

There’s enough bark in the regular season, but not enough bite for a deep postseason run. It’s harder than ever before to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons– and that’s before you consider age, injuries and regression.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Pros and Cons

Toronto has Auston Matthews as their second best center. Yes. Second best. Why? Because John Tavares enters the second year of his long-term seven-year deal that he signed last July.

That alone will continue to keep the Leafs afloat with a strong 1-2 duo down the middle.

Regardless of the Mitch Marner contract negotiations (or lack thereof), the Maple Leafs are just fine with their forwards– having traded Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche and acquiring Alex Kerfoot in the process (Calle Rosen and Tyson Barrie were also swapped in the deal).

Patrick Marleau is gone and it only cost Toronto a conditional 2020 1st round pick (top-10 lottery protected) and a 2020 7th round pick in the process, but an affordable Jason Spezza at league minimum salary ($700,000) on a one-year deal for fourth line minutes will do just fine.

By puck drop for the 2019-20 season, the Leafs will save $10.550 million in cap space thanks to David Clarkson (yes, his contract’s back after a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights that sent Garret Sparks the other way) and Nathan Horton’s placement on the long-term injured reserve.

The stars are aligning for Toronto to still need to get past the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.

With Kadri gone, however, perhaps they will be able to do so with or without Boston in the equation.

How would the Leafs fail?

They don’t sign Marner and they lose in another Game 7 because of it. There’s a lot of turbulence ahead for Toronto General Manager Kyle Dubas considering the Leafs have one defender under contract after 2019-20. If the team doesn’t breakout in the postseason, it’s really just status quo until proven otherwise.

Florida Panthers: Pros and Cons

The Panthers are beginning to ripen with a mix of youth and experience among their forwards, plus a defense that quietly does their job.

They also added Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly, Anton Stralman and (most importantly) Sergei Bobrovsky to the mix.

While Acciari’s $1.667 million cap hit through 2021-22 is a slight overpay for a fourth line center, at least it could be worse. Connolly’s making $3.500 million for the next four years and even Stralman has a cap hit of $5.500 million through 2021-22 when he’ll be turning 36 on August 1, 2022.

Ok, so it was an expensive offseason for Florida– and that’s before you add the $10.000 million price tag for the next seven years of Bobrovsky in the crease.

Yes, despite landing one of the better goaltenders in the league in free agency, General Manager Dale Tallon managed to make matters complicated after, say, the fourth year of Bobrovsky’s contract.

Bobrovsky will be roughly 37-years-old by the time his contract with the Panthers expires and not everyone can be like Dwayne Roloson in the net forever.

At least they drafted Spencer Knight (in the first round– a goaltending prospect curse).

Though they missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by 12 points for an Eastern Conference wild card spot, the Panthers are in a position to gain more than a few wins with new head coach (and three-time Stanley Cup champion) Joel Quenneville behind the bench.

How would the Panthers fail?

Florida’s already landed the biggest prize in head coaching free agency with Quenneville reuniting with Tallon in Sunrise. What could possibly go wrong (besides Tallon being replaced by a clone of Stan Bowman and then the Panthers go on to win three Cups without Tallon in command)?

Montreal Canadiens: Pros and Cons

Montreal didn’t get Matt Duchene or Sebastian Aho in free agency, so they got the next best thing– not overspending on July 1st.

That’s not to say Duchene and Aho aren’t quality players, but rather just an observation of cap concerns for the Habs with Max Domi as a pending-RFA in July 2020 and the rest of Montreal’s future core (Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Victor Mete, Cayden Primeau and Jesperi Kotkaniemi) to consider going down the road.

Granted, Aho could’ve sped the process up a bit if it weren’t for those pesky RFA rights and compensation in the CBA, right Montreal?

The Canadiens need a legitimate number one center, but General Manager Marc Bergevin has been preoccupied restructuring the defense in the meantime.

That’s not a bad thing.

Shea Weber is 34 and under contract through the 2025-26 season, though after 2021-22, his base salary drops to $3.000 million in 2022-23 and $1.000 million from 2023-26 (meaning he could be traded with ease in a few years, despite his $7.857 million cap hit).

But Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry are both over 30 and have no-trade and/or no-movement clauses in their contracts.

At least free agent addition, Ben Chiarot, is 28-years-old, but he also carries a no-trade clause as part of his three-year deal.

How would the Canadiens fail?

Claude Julien inexplicably reverts back to his old ways and doesn’t play the kids, Carey Price is injured for most of the season and/or Bergevin overcompensates in a trade because of his failure to secure a free agent center.

Detroit Red Wings: Pros and Cons

Steve Yzerman has come home and is rightfully the General Manager for the Red Wings, but as we’ve seen in Tampa, his masterplan takes a little time.

Detroit is four or five years out from being an annual Cup contender, but that doesn’t mean the Red Wings haven’t already sped things up in their rebuild.

Trading for Adam Erne isn’t a grand-slam, but it does make the average age of the roster a tad younger.

It also means that the Red Wings now have seven pending-RFAs on their NHL roster and roughly $37.000 million to work with in July 2020.

How would the Red Wings fail?

Having Yzerman in the front office at Little Caesars Arena is like adding all of the best toppings to a pizza. The only downside is that leftover pineapple is still on the pizza from all of the no-trade clauses delivered by the last guy.

Ottawa Senators: Pros and Cons

The Senators are looking to spend ba-by.

Just kidding, they don’t plan on being good until 2021, so does that mean starting with the 2020-21 season or the following year in 2021-22?

But they do have a ton of draft picks stockpiled including two in the 1st round in 2020, three in the 2nd round, one in the 3rd, 4th and 5th, a pair in the 6th and one in the 7th.

Plus they have roughly $15.600 million in cap space currently and eight players under contract for next season that aren’t on the injured reserve.

For some reason (Eugene Melnyk) current-RFA Colin White is still unsigned and 38-year-old, Ron Hainsey, was signed in free agency, but at least Cody Ceci is a Maple Leaf now.

Oh and former Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith is Ottawa’s head coach now. That’ll show them!

How would the Senators fail?

More importantly, how would Ottawa succeed?

Buffalo Sabres: Pros and Cons

Pro: The Sabres will probably be better than last season.

Con: Ralph Krueger is Buffalo’s new head coach and nobody knows what to expect (he went 19-22-7 in the lockout shortened 48-game season with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-13).

Pro: Only eight skaters are under contract next season.

Con: Only eight skaters are under contract next season, including Rasmus Ristolainen and nobody is sure whether or not the club is trying to trade him.

Pro: Marcus Johansson!

Con: Jimmy Vesey! (Only cost Buffalo two third round picks over three years to get him.)

Pro: The average age of the roster is about 26.

Con: Matt Hunwick is the oldest player at 34-years-old, followed by Carter Hutton at 33 and Vladimir Sobotka at 32.

Pro: Royal blue in 2020!

Con: It’s not until 2020.

How would the Sabres fail?

If Buffalo actually finishes last in the division, instead of any improvement whatsoever.

DTFR Podcast #165- Where’s My Cottage Invite?

Nick takes a little time out of the summer to go over third line signings, jersey number controversy and Ron Francis’ hiring as General Manager of the Seattle expansion franchise.

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

DTFR Podcast #164- The Free Agency Mega-Hour

Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.

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

Bruins force Game 7 after, 5-1, win in St. Louis

For the first time since 2011, there will be a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final as a result of the Boston Bruins’, 5-1, victory over the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Sunday.

Boston has never hosted a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final since the adoption of the best-of-seven format in the Final in 1939.

The Bruins last defeated the Vancouver Canucks on the road in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and have not won the Cup at home since beating the Blues in 1970.

Tuukka Rask (15-8 record, 1.93 goals against average, .938 save percentage in 23 games played this postseason) made 28 saves on 29 shots against (.966 SV%) in the win for the B’s.

Rask entered Game 6 with a 5-5 record in 10 career games when facing elimination (2.64 GAA, .899 SV%)– including a 2-0 mark during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs (1.50 GAA, .947 SV%).

He’s made 145 saves on 149 shots faced in five elimination games this postseason for a .973 SV% and improved to 3-0 with a 1.33 GAA and .953 SV% when facing elimination this spring.

The Boston goaltender also became the 19th NHL goaltender to record 50 career playoff wins.

Blues goaltender, Jordan Binnington (15-10, 2.52 GAA, .911 SV% in 25 GP this postseason) stopped 27 out of 31 shots faced (.871 SV%) in the loss.

He is 13-2 in games after a loss in the regular season and postseaosn this year.

St. Louis finished 6-7 at home this postseason, while Boston finished 8-3 on the road. The Blues are a league-best 9-3 on the road this postseason as the series heads back to TD Garden.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, inserted rookie winger, Karson Kulhman, on the second line with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, while reverting back to 12 forwards and six defenders in the lineup.

Boston’s long list of healthy scratches included Chris Wagner, Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, David Backes, Steven Kampfer, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh and Trent Frederic.

Wagner returned to practice on Saturday for the B’s, but was ruled “doubtful” to return to game action for the first time since blocking a shot in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Matt Grzelcyk was not medically cleared and remains in concussion protocol, while Kevan Miller (lower body) is still out.

Blues head coach, Craig Berube added Robert Thomas back into his lineup for the first time since Game 1 in the series, while Ivan Barbashev served his one-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Bruins forward, Marcus Johansson, in Game 5.

Sean Kuraly sent the puck over the glass and out of the playing surface 2:42 into the first period and was charged with an automatic delay of game minor penalty.

St. Louis did not convert on their first power play of the night and followed up with a penalty of their own– Brayden Schenn for boarding Joakim Nordstrom at 7:17 of the first period.

The Blues held a, 4-1, advantage in shots on goal at the time of their first penalty and killed off five-straight penalties through the last two games in the series.

A little over a minute later, Ryan O’Reilly sent the puck out of play and received an automatic infraction, yielding a two-skater advantage to the Bruins at 8:19.

It was Boston’s first 5-on-3 advantage this postseason and the B’s weren’t going to go quietly on the power play for long.

Almost 20 seconds after the 5-on-3 began, Torey Krug worked the puck over to David Pastrnak at the point, whereby No. 88 in black-and-gold sent a pass across the ice to Brad Marchand (9) for the one-timer over Binnington’s glove– giving Boston the first lead of the night, 1-0.

Pastrnak (10) and Krug (16) notched the assists on Marchand’s power play goal at 8:40 of the first period.

The goal was Boston’s 24th power play goal this postseason– tying their franchise record set in 1991. It was also Marchand’s 7th career goal in the Stanley Cup Final (19 games)– tying for 2nd with Wayne Cashman (7 Stanley Cup Final goals in 26 games).

Only Bobby Orr (16 games) and Johnny Bucyk (24 games) had more goals in the Stanley Cup Final for the Bruins with eight.

Late in the opening frame, Zdeno Chara was tied up with David Perron in front of the goal and received the only minor penalty from their net front fracas– a two-minute minor for interference at 18:21.

St. Louis’ ensuing power play would extend into the second period after the Blues failed to capitalize on the skater advantage by the first intermission.

After one period of play, the Bruins led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 12-9, in shots on goal. Boston also held the advantage in blocked shots (8-4) and hits (10-9), while St. Louis led in takeaways (6-1), giveaways (4-1) and face-off win percentage (59-41).

The Notes were 0/2 on the power play entering the second period and the B’s were 1/2.

With 21 seconds left to kill on Chara’s minor, Boston began the second period shorthanded. The Bruins successfully killed off the remainder of Chara’s penalty.

Midway through the middle frame, Marchand tripped Alex Pietrangelo and sent the Blues on the power play at 9:11 of the second period.

Though St. Louis didn’t capitalize on the ensuing power play, they did send five shots on goal, including one that rang the post and off of Rask’s back as the Bruins goaltender reached around his back to guide the puck with his glove hand while twirling out of the crease.

Moments later, Charlie McAvoy tripped up Vladimir Tarasenko and was sent to the penalty box with a minor infraction at 13:43 of the second period.

Once again, Boston killed off the penalty.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 20-19, in shots on goal– despite St. Louis’, 10-8, advantage in shots on goal in the second period alone.

Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (12-7) heading into the second intermission, while the Blues led in takeaways (9-4), giveaways (9-3), hits (23-19) and face-off win% (56-44).

Heading into the third period, the Notes were 0/4 on the skater advantage, while the Bruins were still 1/2 on the power play.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Brandon Carlo (2) let go of a floater from the point that Vesa Toskala’ed Binnington on an odd bounce (the puck bounced off his blocker and into the twine) to make it, 2-0, Bruins.

DeBrusk (7) had the only assist on Carlo’s goal at 2:31 of the third period.

The goal would become the eventual game-winner and Carlo’s first career game-winning postseason goal.

Midway through the third, Kuhlman (1) unloaded a wrist shot from the face-off dot to the left of the Blues goaltender and sent the puck over Binnington’s blocker to give Boston a three-goal lead.

Krejci (11) had the only assist on Kuhlman’s first career Stanley Cup Playoff and Stanley Cup Final goal at 10:15 of the third period and the Bruins led, 3-0.

As a result of his goal, Kuhlman became the 21st Bruin to score a goal in the postseason– tying the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers for the most goal scorers by a team in one postseason.

Less than a couple minutes later, O’Reilly (7) squeaked a one-timer just past the goal line after the puck bounced off of Rask’s leg pad and out.

Video review determined O’Reilly had indeed scored at 12:01 of the third period and cut Boston’s lead to two-goals with Pietrangelo (15) and Perron (8) tallying the assists on O’Reilly’s goal.

Rather than backing down, the Bruins pressed forward as Kuraly used the body to free the puck along the end boards and work a short pass to Marchand in the low slot.

No. 63 in black-and-gold pushed the puck to Pastrnak (9) for the drag and top-shelf goal while Binnington dove to poke-check the puck off of Pastrnak’s stick in desperation.

Marchand (14) and Kuraly (6) were credited with the assists on Pastrnak’s goal at 14:06 and Boston led, 4-1, after amassing three goals on their last nine shots including Pastrnak’s goal.

With about 4:12 remaining in the action, Berube pulled his goaltender for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail.

Shortly thereafter, Chara (2) flipped the puck from his own face-off circle to the left of Rask into the empty twine at 17:41.

The 42-year-old captain became the 2nd oldest goal scorer in the Stanley Cup Final in Bruins franchise history since Mark Recchi (43 in 2011).

In the closing seconds of the game, Sammy Blais slashing Connor Clifton and the two engaged in a shoving match resulting in two minor penalties for Blais (slashing and roughing) and a minor penalty for Clifton (roughing) at 19:38.

Five seconds later, after a face-off in Boston’s attacking zone, Robert Bortuzzo cross checked Noel Acciari and picked up a minor infraction as well as a ten-minute misconduct at 19:43.

The Bruins finished the action with a 5-on-3 advantage as the final horn sounded on Boston’s, 5-1, victory in Game 6.

Boston finished the night with the series tied 3-3 and leading in shots on goal (32-29), as well as blocked shots (16-9).

St. Louis led in giveaways (12-4), hits (29-27) and face-off win% (59-41) in their final home game of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blues went 0/4 on the power play, while the B’s went 1/2 on the skater advantage Sunday night.

Boston improved to 25-1 all-time in the postseason when Marchand has a goal and 8-0 this postseason when Marchand scores.

The team that scored first in this series has won Games 3, 4, 5 and 6.

The Bruins forced a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final for the 17th time in league history and first since their Cup-clinching victory in 2011.

The Bruins have also faced a 3-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series 25 times in franchise history– winning four of their 24 prior instances, including the 1941 Semifinal, 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2019 First Round.

Puck drop for Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final is slated for a little after 8 p.m. ET at TD Garden in Boston on Wednesday. Viewers in the United States can tune in on NBC, while those in Canada can choose from CBC, SN or TVAS.

It’ll be the 2nd Game 7 of the postseason for both clubs and 6th Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs– tied for the 2nd most Game 7s in one postseason in league history.

What a trip, Blues win, 2-1, can win Cup in Game 6

The St. Louis Blues are one win away from lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup after a controversial non-call tipped the scales in their, 2-1, victory over the Boston Bruins at TD Garden Thursday night.

Jordan Binnington (15-9 record, 2.46 goals against average, .913 save percentage in 22 games played this postseason) stopped 38 out of 39 shots faced in the win for St. Louis.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (14-8, 1.97 GAA, .937 SV% in 22 GP this postseason), made 19 saves on 21 shots against in the loss.

Binnington has now tied the NHL rookie record for most wins in a playoff year with his 15th victory this postseason, joining Cam Ward, Ron Hextall, Patrick Roy and Matt Murray as the only rookie goaltenders to amass 15 wins in a playoff year.

St. Louis is one road win away from tying the NHL record for most road wins in a single postseason (10, set by the 1995 New Jersey Devils, 2000 Devils, 2004 Calgary Flames, 2012 Los Angeles Kings and 2018 Washington Capitals– all but the Flames won the Cup that year).

The Blues, of course, lead the series 3-2 and will have a chance to win the Cup for the first time in franchise history on home ice at Enterprise Center in Game 6.

The winner of Game 5 has won the Cup about 72% of the time with an 18-7 series record overall since the introduction of the best-of-seven game series format in 1939.

Bruce Cassidy scratched David Backes and went with seven defenders in Game 5, inserting Steven Kampfer on the blue line with Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, John Moore and Connor Clifton.

Chara was on the bench for the entire third period of Game 4 after reportedly sustaining a broken jaw due to an errant puck that deflected off his own stick. He was a game-time decision, but took part in warmups and started Game 5 without any interruption.

With Backes out of the lineup, Boston’s second line right wing was rotated among the remainder of forwards in the action.

As with the last few games, Chris Wagner (upper body), Matt Grzelcyk (undisclosed) and Kevan Miller (lower body) were out due to injury.

Grzelcyk was not cleared from concussion protocol for Game 5, but may be a factor on Boston’s defense in Game 6.

Cassidy’s long list of healthy scratches included Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Backes, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.

Robert Bortuzzo was inserted into Craig Berube’s lineup for St. Louis, while Joel Edmundson was scratched on the blue line.

Derek Sanderson and Bobby Orr were Boston’s “Fan Banner Captains” prior to Game 5.

A rowdy crowd at TD Garden erupted in cheers for their Bruins captain as Chara was announced as a starter in Game 5, then the fans kept the noise going as the action progressed.

Blues defender, Vince Dunn, sent the puck out of the playing surface while trying to make a clearing attempt and was instead charged with a minor penalty for delay of game at 6:27 of the first period.

Boston did not convert on the first power play of the game.

Late in the opening frame, Brad Marchand went for a loose puck and got a stick on Binnington while the ref blew a quick whistle. Marchand was also penalized for slashing at 17:22 of the first period and St. Louis went on the power play for the first time of the night.

The Blues did not capitalize on their initial skater advantage on Thursday.

For the first time in the series, the two teams remained tied, 0-0, heading into the first intermission.

The B’s outshot the Blues, 17-8, after one period of play and led in takeaways (5-1) and hits (23-18). Meanwhile, St. Louis held the advantage in blocked shots (8-6), giveaways (3-0) and face-off win percentage (75-25) through 20 minutes played.

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play as the second period got underway.

In the opening minute of the middle frame, St. Louis does what St. Louis has done best in the series– force the Bruins out of position and behind the play.

While both defenders were pressing along the wall, Jake DeBrusk was the closest forward to the low slot and perhaps should’ve been in front of Ryan O’Reilly (6) as O’Reilly received a pass from Zach Sanford and fired a backhand shot over Rask’s glove from point blank.

Sanford (3) and Alex Pietrangelo (14) notched the assists on O’Reilly’s third goal in the last two games and the Blues led, 1-0, 55 seconds into the second period on road ice.

Blues pinch, B’s can’t clear. Rinse, repeat.

Midway through the second period, David Perron was assessed a minor infraction for interference against David Pastrnak at 9:25.

Boston didn’t convert on their second power play of the night.

Through 40 minutes of play, after David Krejci made a save in the final seconds while the Bruins scrambled in their own zone, St. Louis held the, 1-0, lead entering the second intermission.

Boston was still outshooting the Blues, 25-14, and had an, 8-6, advantage in shots on goal in the second period alone. The B’s also led in blocked shots (14-9), takeaways (7-6) and hits (35-29) after two periods, while the Notes led in giveaways (6-3) and face-off win% (62-39).

The Blues were 0/1 on the skater advantage and the Bruins were 0/2 on the power play entering the third period.

Alexander Steen kicked things off in the final frame of regulation with an interference penalty at 3:09 of the third period.

For the third time of the night, Boston failed to convert on the power play.

Cassidy started to experiment with his lines, placing Charlie Coyle on the first line with Marchand and Patrice Bergeron and downgrading Pastrnak full-time to the second line right wing with Krejci and Marcus Johansson (in place of DeBrusk).

With 13 minutes left on the clock, after Binnington froze the puck, the officials gathered and summoned an official review to confirm that the puck had, in fact, not crossed the goal line completely on a last ditch effort by Krejci.

Midway through the third period, Tyler Bozak tripped Noel Acciari, but neither ref on the ice made a call– even as the ref behind the net was looking right at the play– leaving many scratching their heads as the Blues kept possession and managed to slip a puck through Rask’s five-hole as the Bruins goaltender was left playing defense for his defenders that had blown coverage.

The non-call left Cassidy irate in his postgame press conference and Berube had the gall to say he’s “not here to judge the officials” in his podium address following Game 5– after complaining about calls made earlier in the series.

But enough about everything you already know if you’ve been watching the entire 2019 postseason.

Perron (7) was credited with the goal that made it, 2-0, St. Louis at 10:36 of the third period, while O’Reilly (14) and Bozak (8) picked up the assists.

Moments later, DeBrusk (4) blasted a shot over Binnington’s blocker side on a delayed call against the Blues for high-sticking and Boston cut St. Louis’ lead in half, 2-1.

Krug (15) had the only assist on DeBrusk’s first goal of the series at 13:32 of the third period.

Despite the being caught in the face with a high-stick, Krug was not bleeding and thus both teams remained even-strength as deemed by the rulebook when a team scores on a delayed call against the other team.

Since there was no double-minor and DeBrusk scored, there was no need to send a St. Louis skater to the penalty box. The action, therefore, resumed.

With about a minute remaining in the game, Rask vacated the crease for an extra attacker as Boston looked to tie the game and force overtime, but it was too little, too late as the seconds ticked off the clock.

At the final horn, the Blues took home the, 2-1, win on the road and took charge of the 3-2 series lead with a chance to win their first Cup in franchise history in front of their home crowd on Sunday.

St. Louis finished the night leading on the scoreboard despite trailing the B’s in shots on goal, 39-21, after 60 minutes of play in Game 5.

Boston finished the night leading in hits (43-34), while the Notes held the advantage in giveaways (7-4) and face-off win% (59-41). Both teams had 15 blocked shots aside.

The Blues went 0/1 on the skater advantage and the Bruins went 0/3 on the power play in Game 5.

With the 3-2 series lead, St. Louis heads home with the chance to officially eliminate Boston from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and win the Cup in front of a packed crowd donning the Blue Note crest on Sunday.

St. Louis improved to 9-3 on the road this postseason, while Boston fell to 5-2 in games after a loss this postseason. The Bruins are now 7-5 at home and are facing elimination for the first time since Game 6 in the First Round in Toronto.

The winner of the last three games in the series also scored the game’s first goal.

Game 6 is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET Sunday night at Enterprise Center and fans in the United States can tune in on NBC. Viewers in Canada have a plethora of options to choose from to watch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.

If Boston is able to hold off elimination and force a Game 7, the finale of the Final would be next Wednesday night back at TD Garden.

The Blues have never won the Cup on home ice, while the Bruins have not won the Cup on home ice since beating St. Louis at the old Boston Garden in 1970.