Tag Archives: Pacific Division

Down the Frozen River Podcast #84- What’s the Problem, Senator?

Nick and Connor discuss the hullabaloo regarding the fallout of the Ottawa Senators and whether or not they should trade Erik Karlsson (thereby tanking and rebuilding). A quick look around California reveals contenders and pretenders, while All-Star talent and rookies are also reviewed.

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

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

DTFR Overtime: Seattle Shockwave

Connor and I went long about why Seattle would be an exciting venture for the NHL on the most recent Down the Frozen River Podcast. I was going to write something like this before recording, until the league went ahead and spilled the beans a little earlier than expected (keep reading, you’ll see what I mean) and well… This is DTFR Overtime– go ahead and pour yourself a fresh cup before we dig in.


Something’s brewing in Seattle and it ain’t just another cup of Starbucks.

Last Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a deal for a $600 million renovation of KeyArena that just might put Seattle on the map of NHL cities– let alone mean that there’s hope for everyone wishing the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics were a thing again.

Los Angeles-based Oak View Group (OVG) expects to complete the renovations by October 2020, which would be just in time for a possible NHL team to take the ice for the 2020-21 season.

Before anyone gets their hopes up, as per the proposal, OVG does not need a team in place to go through with KeyArena’s renovations and has pledged $40 million in a transportation fund for the city to address traffic and parking problems around the arena. An additional $20 million will go from OVG to local charities.

Here’s the kicker out of The Seattle Times report: the NHL is expected to make an announcement by July (2018, for those of you who haven’t realized next year is almost here) regarding a franchise in Seattle via expansion or relocation.

And by last Thursday, the league made an announcement. Seattle can begin the expansion process after formally receiving authorization to file for an application for an NHL expansion team.

This time around, the expansion fee would be $650 million (up $150 million from when the Vegas Golden Knights went through the expansion process two years ago).

Though every sign points to Seattle becoming part of the NHL’s brand, there’s no guarantee the league will expand to the Emerald City. Relocation could be an option (though league commissioner, Gary Bettman, denies that any current team will be moving) and the NHL still has a lot of homework left (feasibility studies and a season ticket drive– run by OVG– to gauge interest) before the final exam (expansion to Seattle).


The NHL sees green (as in the other 31 teams see about $21 million in expansion fee payouts, not just the Emerald City):

If you’re thinking, “would an NHL team in Seattle be a good idea?” the answer is yes. Don’t be stupid.

Seattle is known for their boisterous Seahawks and Sounders fans (where you at in decibels Mariners fans), as well as their SuperSonics fan base that never died– despite the NBA franchise relocating to Oklahoma City in 2008– but the city’s played a larger part in hockey history than most people might know.

The Seattle Metropolitans– not the New York Rangers– were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. The Rangers, of course, can lay claim to the fact that they were the first American NHL club to win the Cup in 1928, but the Metropolitans were technically the first American hockey team to win it back in 1917. The Metropolitans were members of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and appeared in three Stanley Cup finals (1917, 1919 and 1920).

Seattle defeated the Montreal Canadiens, then members of the National Hockey Association, three-games-to-one in 1917. The 1919 Stanley Cup Final featured a rematch of the Metropolitans and the Canadiens– now members of the National Hockey League since its inaugural season of 1917-18– was cancelled after five games due to the outbreak of the Spanish Flu with the series tied, 2-2-1. In 1920, the Metropolitans were defeated in the Final in five games by the original Ottawa Senators.

The feasibility of an NHL franchise sustaining itself in Seattle is very high, given the diehard fan base that already exists in all of the other major league sports in the city, let alone the historical significance of hockey in the region. Plus, who wouldn’t love a Pacific Northwest rivalry between neighbors, the Vancouver Canucks and whatever Seattle would be known as (it has to be the Metropolitans or else).

Instead of “can a team last?” the better question would be “can a team move in while renovations are ongoing, a la how the Rangers dealt with Madison Square Garden’s improvements a few years ago?”

The timeline (now through 2020) within the overarching timeline (2020 and beyond), if it even exists, might be crucial to navigating what the looming NHL announcement might be (relocation or expansion). Though given last Thursday’s league statement, it’s (probably) going to be expansion and the Seattle [TEAM TO BE NAMED] will begin play for the 2020-21 season.


And now for something totally inspired by the works of Dave Lozo:

How relocation would work for Seattle if a Western Conference team were on the move:

There are two primary candidates for relocation to Seattle from the NHL’s Western Conference and both of them are already in the Pacific Division, which would negate the need for yet another division realignment this decade. And the candidates are… the Arizona Coyotes and the Calgary Flames.

First up, the Coyotes.

They’re an annual source of relocation rumors, their ownership group has met with people in Seattle before and they don’t have a lease deal in place (technically speaking) with Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes aren’t wanted by the local government in Glendale and their ex (Phoenix) isn’t looking to get back together anytime soon; given the lack of a joint proposal for a new stadium downtown to be shared by the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the NHL’s Coyotes.

Would it be easiest to move Arizona to Seattle? Certainly, if you’re a hockey traditionalist who doesn’t think that the mere existence of the Coyotes in Arizona had anything to do with the fact that Auston Matthews is wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater right now (and totally beating Connor McDavid in the McDavid vs. Matthews argument).

Does it make sense to move the Coyotes? Yes. Out of Glendale at least. The league has been committed to the desert since the franchise jettisoned from Winnipeg in 1996. Even more so now with the existence of “local” rivals, the Vegas Golden Knights, also sharing that desert theme.

So if you’re thinking the Arizona Coyotes could relocate, it’s not going to be to Seattle. Can Vegas be home to two teams? Just wondering.

But what about the Calgary Flames?

The City of Calgary and Calgary Sports and Entertainment are in a standoff over the use of public funds for a new arena to replace Scotiabank Saddledome. The city has made it clear that they won’t spend one penny on even a pile of dirt for a new home for the Flames, while the Flames have threatened to leave if they don’t get what they want.

We’ve heard this before (hello, NFL’s Los Angeles Rams vs. their former home in St. Louis) and professional sports franchises have moved before because their owners don’t want to finance things privately.

So it’s more than likely that if a team is coming from the Western Conference to Seattle that it’ll be the Flames, which, come to think of it, could make for a killer flaming “S” logo. Why waste the moniker that stuck with the team from Atlanta to Calgary in 1980? Just copy the “C” and paste it upside down and there you have it. I’ve already taken the liberty of creating the logo for you, Flames fans in Seattle.

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 2.20.59 AM.png
“To begin, draw an ‘S’ for ‘snake’ [or Seattle]” – Strong Bad
Should Calgary lose their NHL team over a temper tantrum? No, but crazier things have happened. I mean, we’re talking about the city that hosts Calgary Stampede every year.

How relocation would work for Seattle if an Eastern Conference team were on the move:

Hear me out on this one. *It would have worked until the purchase agreement announced last Thursday included a seven-year stipulation that Carolina will not be relocated.*

Peter Karmanos screws Hartford over one more time by giving them the finger while seated in a private jet as the Hurricanes fly over Connecticut’s capital en route to Québec’s capital city. *But we now know this part, at least, won’t be happening, since the purchase agreement calls for Dallas billionaire, Tom Dundon,– who’s buying a majority stake of the Hurricanes– to not relocate the team for seven years (conveniently the length of time remaining on Carolina’s PNC Arena lease. #Québec2024).*

Thanks to the Houston Astros for finally putting the United States’s fourth most populated metropolitan area on the map with their World Series title this year, the Florida Panthers begin to wonder if they could actually win a Cup by moving to a real sports city– that sports city being the WHA hockey hotbed of Houston, of course.

The Panthers relocate and replicate Major League Baseball’s outlook on the State of Texas, whereby Houston is part of the American League and would be part of the NHL’s Eastern Conference for no other reason than not to disturb the finally balanced conferences after Seattle joins as the 32nd team in the league (because that makes sense).

Finally, the New York Islanders abandon all hope in the Big Apple when it becomes apparent that nobody’s loved them since the 1980s and John Tavares will lea[f]e them for the 6ix in the offseason.

Because of their great relationship with Bridgeport, CT (home of the Islanders’s AHL affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers) and now Worcester, MA (home of the Islanders’s ECHL affiliate, Worcester Railers HC), the Islanders choose to put themselves “between” their farm clubs and successfully bring back the Hartford Whalers (while also continuing to struggle for a new arena, but in Hartford now– shouts XL Center).

Or consider this curveball *which, again, cannot happen as a result of the purchase agreement, pending Board of Governors approval of the final sale of the Carolina Hurricanes*:

The Carolina Hurricanes relocate to Seattle and the NHL finally accepts the deferred expansion bid Quebecor submitted back in 2015 and welcomes Québec City as the 32nd team in the league (welcome back, Québec Nordiques). The conferences are kept in-tact this way and everybody’s happy because the Hurricanes really need to leave Raleigh for an ownership group that will actually love them (along with some fans).

As for Florida and the Islanders, well, they’re on their own in this hypothetical curve.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #83- What’s Brewing In Seattle?

Nick and Connor address the latest potential-expansion news regarding Seattle, recap the process thus far and speculate about many hypothetical relocation possibilities. Charlotte is better than Raleigh, another Subban was traded and— oh yeah— there’s games on the schedule this weekend.

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

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

DtFR Overtime: Where’s the Star Power?

Welcome to DtFR Overtime, where somebody on the most recent podcast offers some deeper thoughts on one of the points of discussion.

Today’s subject: Star power and the absence of it.

We all know the list of current NHL stars: LW Jamie Benn, D Brent Burns, C Sidney Crosby, G Braden Holtby, F Patrick Kane, D Erik Karlsson, G Henrik Lundqvist, C Auston Matthews, C Connor McDavid, W Alex Ovechkin, G Carey Price, G Jonathan Quick, C Steven Stamkos, D P.K. Subban, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, C John Tavares

OK, I think you get the idea.

But how important are these stars really? I mean, of the skaters listed above, they play an average of only 21 minutes – or barely over a third of a game.

While the top NHL teams put a strong value on depth scoring, I would argue that, over the course of a season, it is necessary for Team X’s star to be the best player on the ice for that team to have success.

It sounds basic, right?

It is, but even the clubs that seem to be built to withstand the unfortunately inevitable scoring droughts from its top players are struggling this season.

My first example is the 12-11-5 Chicago Blackhawks, a club that currently sits in 12th place in the Western Conference and is at risk of missing the postsesaon for the first time since the 2007-’08 campaign.

I brought up Kane in the list of stars earlier, but his team-leading 10-17-27 totals are not the reason Chicago finds itself on the outside looking in. Instead, this star-laden team is struggling to find leadership from its captain.

Getting outplayed by rookie F Alex DeBrincat‘s 11-9-20 effort, C Jonathan Toews has only 8-11-19 totals to his credit and is on track for the worst offensive production of his professional career. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Blackhawks have an 11-2-2 record when Toews finds his way onto the scorecard, but a 1-9-3 record when he doesn’t.

That was fun, especially for a fan of a Central Division team that hasn’t worn a lick of red since the 1997-’98 season. Let’s head east and examine another city where it looks like the local club is in an even more dire situation

Welcome to Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.  Expectations were high after forcing a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series with Pittsburgh back in May, but all the 9-11-6 Sens, who currently sit third-to-last in the conference, have done this season is disappoint.

To be fair, Karlsson at least has the excuse of an injury to partially explain his slump. The hard part in figuring out Karlsson’s 1-16-17 effort is that he’s mostly on track from a points-per-game standpoint. Given he missed the Sens’ first five games, his .81 points-per-game is, while not exemplary by his standards, still a solid output.

Unfortunately, this is where points can distract from goals. You probably noticed he only had one tally to his credit, which is where I think his team needs him most.

The 14-10-2 Sharks are facing a similar situation with their star defenseman Burns, who has managed only 1-11-12 totals in 26 games a year after posting 29-47-76 numbers to win the Norris Trophy. As such, San Jose does not have the solid footing in the standings it would like, as the Sharks are holding onto their second wild card position by winning only a games-played tiebreaker.

Now, I’m not going to sit here on my couch and pontificate about how to score a goal in the NHL against the 30-something best goaltenders in the world. I mean, I live in the South and can barely keep my skates underneath me the entire time I’m at the rink. But, I am going to say that Karlsson’s .05 goals-per-game for the season and Burns’ .04 is – you guessed it – the worst performances of their careers.

Last year, Karlsson scored 17 of the Sens’ 212 regular season goals. That may only be eight percent of the total, but Ottawa earned a 12-3-3 record when he personally put a goal on the scoreboard, including a perfect 2-0-0 record in the postseason. Similarly, Burns’ career-high 29 goals earned the Sharks an 18-7-1 record last season, though it might be of bigger note that Edmonton did not allow him to find the back of the net in their six-game first round matchup, the Sharks’ only playoff series of the 2017 postseason.

Now, don’t read this as all doom-and-gloom for these respective squads. All of these teams can get right back into the playoff discussion (yes, even Ottawa thanks to a weak Atlantic Division) or better cement their position in the tournament if their biggest players can simply rediscover their mojo.

Take for example Montréal, where as recently as two weeks ago it looked like the 13-13-3 Canadiens had never seen, much less used hockey sticks before. Then Price came back from his lower-body injury, and the Habs look better than ever.

Of course, things weren’t exactly peachy in Québec before Price took time off. In his 11 appearances before retreating to the press box, Price had managed only an .877 season save percentage and 3.77 GAA to earn a 3-7-1 record, forcing Habs fans and bloggers alike to wonder when exactly this injury occurred.

But since Price’s return on November 25, Price and the Habs have been almost unbeatable, as they’ve won five of their last six games with him in net. The goaltender himself has been extremely successful as well, as he’s posted a .94 save percentage and 1.67 GAA in that time.

But the turnaround hasn’t been simply in the defensive end. Even the offense is gelling now that its true leader is back (Sorry LW Max Pacioretty, but this is Price’s team. You’re captain by technicality), as success breeds success and positive energy. Since Price’s return, Montréal’s offense has managed a whopping 4.5 goals-per-game, highlighted by Saturday’s 10-1 shellacking of the Red Wings. Even taking out that major outlier, the Habs’ 3.4 goals-per-game is much better than the 2.32 goals-per-game they’d managed before Price’s return. This surge has propelled the Canadiens from sixth place in the Atlantic Division into third – a playoff spot.

Since we’re on the topic of Montréal and its stars and I already brought up Pacioretty, we might as well discuss my concerns over this team. Pacioretty is struggling something fierce right now. He’s only managed 8-8-16 totals so far this season, and is on pace for his worst professional season since his first two years with the Habs.

Unfortunately for Canadiens fans, this scoring skid is not limited to just this season. I don’t need to remind them of the magic disappearing act he performed in the playoffs against the Rangers, managing only a lone assist. In fact, since March 14 of last campaign, he’s managed only 10-14-24 totals in games that count (aka everything but the preseason).

While I belittled the letter Pacioretty wears on his sweater, he is still one of the leaders on this team. For the Habs to sustain this recent success, Pacioretty is going to need to snap out of his slump – even if it means he has to become a play-maker before resuming a goalscorer role.

Another team that has had more struggles than it would like is the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions. While they’ve had trouble finding depth scoring and are now facing even bigger goaltending issues than they had before, the 15-11-3 Penguins have held onto a playoff position for most of the year.

Now, the operative word here is ‘most.’ There was a point in late November when the Penguins had fallen outside the playoff picture, and – as you might guess from the other examples – I would pin a lot of the club’s struggles on Crosby.

It is very hard to point at a player that is contributing a point-per-game on the season and say he is not doing enough for his team. After all, isn’t this the same team that supposedly embodies the speed-based future of the sport while also trotting out RW Ryan Reaves onto the ice every game? Why can’t his lousy 1-2-3 totals be the problem?

And yet, it’s hard to ignore that Pittsburgh’s slump aligned almost perfectly with Crosby’s goal-scoring slump. Between October 21 and November 22, Crosby managed only 1-6-7 totals in 15 games, which led the Penguins to earning only a 6-7-2 record in that time.

You might say that 6-7-2 isn’t a terrible run while one of the league’s top players is on the schneid, and I’d agree if that team wasn’t in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. The Penguins also have the luxury of employing RW Phil Kessel and F Evgeni Malkin, who were able to keep the team mostly afloat with their combined 10-18-28 effort.

If that stat does nothing other than stress the importance of Crosby to his team, I don’t know what does. The fact that the Penguins were losing, or at least treading water, while two players created nearly 30 goals in 15 games is unbelievable.

Anyways, Crosby has rediscovered his scoring ways since then, and the Pens are all the better for it. Starting with November 24, the captain has earned 6-6-12 totals that are closer to what fans expect from him. As such, the Penguins have found their way back into the win column, earning a 4-2-0 record in spite of G Matthew Murray missing Pittsburgh’s last three games with a lower-body injury.

Of course, the Penguins are doing a great job of poking a hole in my argument by falling from third in the division back into the second wild card spot while Murray is healing, but I’m still going to hold firm that G Tristan Jarry has earned a 3-1-0 record filling in not because of his solid .926 season save percentage (though that doesn’t hurt), but because Crosby has scored a goal in every game but – you guessed it – Jarry’s one regulation loss.

Confidence – which I am led to believe is the word people are actually looking for when they discuss momentum in sports (I mean, “momentum” is technically mass x velocity, so the momentum of a sports team cannot change without either a plane or a player transaction) – is like hitting in baseball: it’s a contagious thing.

Star players are not star players simply because they can score or stop goals no one else can. Stars are stars because they can make those plays and make the athletes associated with them feel like they too can contribute to the ultimate goal and find wins and success.

Stars are leaders.

And that’s why stars have to perform their best. That’s why they have to have the best numbers on their team. It’s not to belittle the third and fourth liners, but it’s their success that should drive a team to achieve more.

Success breeds success.

In that same train of thought, leaders can’t create success from the rest of their team while they themselves are struggling to find their groove. Stars are stars because they find that motivation to excel within themselves, and then use that flame to light the others’ torches.

You might have noticed the thread that connects all of the players called out in this column: Toews, Karlsson, Burns, Pacioretty and Crosby are all captains. These players have been selected by their coaches and peers based not only on their undoubted skills, but also on their work-ethic and leadership abilities. They were honored with that distinction, so it is time for them to step up and serve the letter and crest on the front of their sweaters and get/keep their squads on track.

These teams are capable of winning; it just takes a little input from a star.

Weekly Bumblings for Week 8 with Special Guest Host, Cap’n Cornelius

While Peter is out enjoying a trip to see some hockey games in person, I’m filling in with a recap of the past week’s NHL action.

Player of the Week:  Blake Wheeler

Wheeler has been the definition of streaky, of late, but this week was the good side of the coin.  He broke a four-game pointless drought last Monday against Minnesota, getting one goal and two assists.

After being held without a point against Colorado, he put in another three-point performance (all assists) against Vegas.

But he would save his best for Sunday against the Ottawa Senators.  In a game that saw the Jets beat the Senators 5-0, Wheeler had a point on all but one of the goals, putting up one goal and three assists.  He had a beautiful cross ice pass to set up Mark Scheifele on the first goal of the night and the Jets never looked back tallying three of their goals on the power play.

Wheeler has passed Steven Stamkos to take the league lead in assists with 28 and has helped power the Jets to the top of the Western Conference, something few expected as the season began.

 Team of the Week: Los Angeles Kings

Just when it looked like the Kings might be fading after a hot start, they went 4-0 this week and moved six points ahead of the second-place Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division, exactly as the media expected before the season began, right?  The Kings won the first three of those games by three goals each.

After one period of play in their Tuesday game in Detroit, the Kings found themselves down 1-0, but Dustin Brown, who has had a heck of a comeback season, evened it up at 1 and Anze Kopitar then put them ahead 2-1 before the second period was over.  LA would add two more in the third on goals from Adrian Kempe and Kopitar’s second of the night.

Next up for the Kings was another road game against the Caps.  Again, the Kings gave up an early lead on a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Marian Gaborik would even it up, only for Kuznetsov to get a second goal.  Jonny Brodzinski would tie it again and nine seconds later Jussi Jokinen would put the Kings ahead.  After that, it was all Kings.

The Kings continued their road trip Friday with a visit to play the St. Louis Blues, one of the best teams in the league to this point in the season.  This time the Kings got the early lead on a Tyler Toffoli tally. Kopitar would then bang home a rebound to make it 2-0.  Before it was over, Kempe and Toffoli would add goals and the Kings would win 4-1 despite being outshot 40-28 on a stellar performance by backup goaltender, Darcy Kuemper.

The Kings finished their week and their road trip in Chicago on Sunday.  Through two periods the game was scoreless.  Christian Folin finally put the Kings up with just over 10 minutes left in the game.  Then things got a little weird with just over two minutes left in the game.  First, Brown would get an empty net goal.  Then the Hawks would answer on a goal from Jonathan Toews with 1:46 left to end Quick’s shutout bid.  But Kopitar would put the final nail in the coffin with 51.5 seconds left in the game with a final empty net goal.

As long as the Kings continue to get these types of performances from Brown, Kopitar and solid goaltending, they will have a very good chance to lock down the Pacific Division.

Game of the Week: Edmonton Oilers 7 @ Calgary Flames 5, Saturday, December 2, 2017

One of the first NHL games I can remember watching on TV was Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers against Lanny McDonald’s Flames.  This game was a throwback to that era when goalies for some reason spent much of their time standing up and, consequently, watching pucks go past them.  This is the type of game you hope to see with all of the offensive talent on these two teams and the reason you stay up to watch the late game on Hockey Night in Canada if you live in the Eastern Time Zone.

Connor McDavid skated around the Flames zone early and his persistence led to Jesse Puljujarvi cashing in on the rebound. The Oilers then had what looked like their second goal of the night from Patrick Maroon taken off the board as the goal was kicked.  Eric Gryba then set up Puljujarvi for his second of the night on a redirection of Gryba’s point shot.

Mikael Backlund then forced a turnover on the penalty kill that set up Michael Frolik for a short-handed goal to pull the Flames within one goal.  But the Oilers scored again before the first period ended to go up 3-1.  In the second period, Mark Letestu scored on a short-handed breakaway to expand Edmonton’s lead.  Gryba made another shot from the point which was tipped in, this time by Milan Lucic, to go up 5-1.

As the third period started, Mike Smith was replaced in net by David Rittich.  Unfortunately for the Flames, Rittich bungled a handoff behind the net and the Oilers capitalized to go up 6-1.  One might assume this is where the Flames might call it a night.  But Sam Bennett made a tough angle shot to get the score to 6-2.  Next, Micheal Ferland notched a power play goal to bring the Flames within three goals.  Bennett added a second goal on a 2-on-1 where he took the puck top shelf.  Suddenly the score was 6-4 with a lot of time left in the game.  Johnny Gaudreau then made another tough angled shot off a stretch pass, taking advantage of young Oilers netminder, Laurent Brossoit.  The impossible seemed possible with the score 6-5.  But Brossoit would make a key save on Gaudreau on a two-on-one to prevent the tying goal.

With 1:01 left, the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tried to center a pass, but it bounced into the net off T.J. Brodie’s stick to salt away the win for Edmonton by a final of 7-5.  While the Flames couldn’t quite finish their comeback, it was the sort of game that reminded you why the Battle of Alberta was once such a big deal.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Trade Rumors seem to be starting earlier than normal and we have already seen one blockbuster and several smaller trades.

This past week saw Anaheim and New Jersey make a significant hockey trade if not a true blockbuster.  The Ducks sent right-handed defenseman Sami Vatanen and a conditional pick to the Devils in exchange for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.  The move was a much-needed improvement on the back end for the Devils, who are one of the surprises of the early season.  As for the Ducks, with Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler still out, Henrique can help at center and, when they return, he can provide forward depth.

Who is next?

Well, the name that seemed to be coming up repeatedly during the past week was Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole.  The left-handed defenseman was a healthy scratch and several sources had stated that his relationship with Mike Sullivan had been rocky, leading the Pens to consider a trade.  However, their asking price may be higher than what a willing buyer will give them for Cole—Pittsburgh is still seeking an improvement at center for their third line after Riley Sheahan has failed to impress.  Toronto is a destination that has been mentioned with Tyler Bozak falling out of favor and the Leafs wanting to upgrade their defense, but to this point nothing seems imminent.

The Edmonton Oilers have also been frequently mentioned in trade rumors.  While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins name has probably been mentioned the most, more recently the Oilers have been mentioned in connection with smaller trades that might see them shipping out the likes of Pat Maroon.  It is hard to see how Maroon would produce the sort of return that might get the Oilers back into contention in the Western Conference.

Another name that has been brought up repeatedly is Evander Kane.  Buffalo is one of the few teams clearly out of the hunt at this early date, but it seems most likely they will wait until the deadline to move Kane when they might extract the highest possible return for the wing, who will be a free agent this summer.

Numbers Game: Count Your Quarters

It’s December 1st which means all 31 NHL teams have passed the quarter mark of the regular season. Some teams have played almost 30 games while others have barely passed the 20.5 games required for the “quarter of the way through the season” moniker.

In the Western Conference, the Edmonton Oilers are bad, the Colorado Avalanche are okay, the Vegas Golden Knights are good and there’s a very real chance that the Arizona Coyotes barely surpass Colorado’s 22-win 2016-2017 season benchmark of “worst team in the Salary Cap Era”.

Meanwhile in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning are thundering their way back into dominance over the rest of the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the real deal, the Montreal Canadiens are turning a corner after stumbling out the gate and the New Jersey Devils are good– too good.

Oh and then there’s the fact that the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are quietly in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

So with everything in mind, let’s use Microsoft Excel to help us predict the rest of the season, shall we?

Unlike my standings projections before the first puck dropped on the season, I haven’t added any Gut Feeling 2.0 to these predictions. There’s going to be some surprises and there’s going to be some things that are way off, considering the fact that an equation cannot predict injuries, streaks or things of that nature. What might look insane now, will look different (hopefully) in another 20 games or so.

Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to do another round of this around the All-Star Game.

The moral of the story here is that if you’re off to a bad start, like Edmonton, and you’re running up against a tight salary cap moving forward, it’s never too early to start counting your quarters and figuring out what assets you’ll be able to lose by the trade deadline.

If you’re a good team, like New Jersey, then it’s the perfect time to assess how far you think you’ll go and determine who might be right the addition at or before the deadline that’ll push you further than expected and maybe all the way to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

2017-2018 Projected Standings after Two Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 101 points (25 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 98 points (23 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 94 points (27 GP so far)
  4. Montreal Canadiens, 92 points (27 GP so far)
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 89 points (26 GP so far)
  6. Ottawa Senators, 88 points (23 GP so far)
  7. Florida Panthers, 78 points (24 GP so far)
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 67 points (25 GP so far)

To keep things short, the Lightning and the Maple Leafs are still the best picks coming out of the Atlantic Division if you have your eyes set on trying to predict which teams might have a deep playoff run in 2018.

The Boston Bruins have been battling injuries all season long and while they’ve kept the pace with their youth-infused lineup, they still have a lot of development to go before they can reach a conference finals run, let alone Stanley Cup Final run. Ottawa’s decline continues to be one of the biggest surprises in the weakest division in the Eastern Conference. Other than that, nothing else is really groundbreaking here.

Metropolitan Division

  1. z-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-New York Islanders, 98 points (24 GP so far)
  3. x-Washington Capitals, 98 points (26 GP so far)
  4. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 97 points (25 GP so far)
  5. x-New York Rangers, 97 points (25 GP so far)
  6. New Jersey Devils, 94 points (24 GP so far)
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 90 points (25 GP so far)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes, 84 points (23 GP so far)

In the Metropolitan Division the Pittsburgh Penguins look to regain their top-notch form as they’ve had a difficult time adjusting to life after Marc-Andre Fleury (and have especially struggled with a decimated defense from the offseason).

The Columbus Blue Jackets are likely to climb in later projections, based on their current performance, but again, since this is only based off of a formula in Microsoft Excel… Columbus will be just fine. They should be an underdog or a dark horse for Stanley Cup contention this season. This division will continue to be the tightest battle all season long, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see New Jersey inside or outside of the picture come April.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. p-St. Louis Blues, 107 points (25 GP so far)
  2. x-Chicago Blackhawks, 100 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Nashville Predators, 98 points (25 GP so far)
  4. x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points (25 GP so far)
  5. Dallas Stars, 93 points (25 GP so far)
  6. Minnesota Wild, 93 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (23 GP so far)

As exciting as the battle for the Metropolitan Division should continue to be this season, the Western Conference’s Central Division has plenty of counterpoints to offer for top-notch divisional battles and Stanley Cup contenders. This is the season for the St. Louis Blues (to at least make a run for the President’s Trophy).

Whether or not St. Louis can go further than their 2016 Western Conference Finals trip went and make it back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970, only time can tell. Between the Blues, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets, it’s safe to say one of your Stanley Cup finalists will be from the Central Division.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 106 points (24 GP so far)
  2. x-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (23 GP so far)
  3. x-Los Angeles Kings, 99 points (26 GP so far)
  4. x-Anaheim Ducks, 98 points (25 GP so far)
  5. Vancouver Canucks, 90 points (26 GP so far)
  6. Calgary Flames, 89 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Edmonton Oilers, 73 points (26 GP so far)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 65 points (28 GP so far)

In the biggest surprise this season, the Vegas Golden Knights are not only tracking for a postseason appearance– they’re on the rails to a Pacific Division winning season. Yes, the Los Angeles Kings are the only other hottest team in the Pacific, but there’s something to be said for the San Jose Sharks experience the last few seasons.

Just like the Central Division, Vegas, Los Angeles or San Jose would be safe bets for a deep playoff run. The Anaheim Ducks could make things interesting as they have always done, but there’s really nothing else that looks promising to make a surge in the standings and/or postseason. Sorry Oilers fans.


Need a reminder of what things looked like early in November? Here it is:

Down the Frozen River Podcast #82- Baby It’s Cole Outside

Nick and Connor analyze the Sami VatanenAdam Henrique trade between the Anaheim Ducks and New Jersey Devils, recap the standings at the end of November and talk what’s next for the Pittsburgh Penguins with Matt Murray out week-to-week. Connor also breaks down the potential scenarios for Ian Cole and the Penguins.

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

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

NHL Awards Projections (Part 1)

Well NHL fans, we are roughly at the quarter-mark of the season (slightly past that actually… my bad). It has been very interesting to say the least. There have been quite a few surprises, but there is plenty of hockey left to be played. I wanted to take a moment to give you my humble opinions on some of the (potential) regular-season award winners at this point.

President’s Trophy

Tampa Bay Lightning

I’m going to overrule the St. Louis Blues and go with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although currently just one point ahead in the number-one spot in the league, they have been playing lights-out (pun intended) hockey. The revival of post-injury Steven Stamkos has rocked this team. The goal support coming from Nikita Kucherov has also been a pleasant surprise. These players lead the league in points and both have top spots in assists and goals respectively. If their goaltending remains strong and their offense can continue producing, there is no reason to doubt that they are capable of winning this award.

Hart Memorial Trophy

Steven Stamkos

I was very close to arguing Sergei Bobrovsky, but most people would quit reading the article at that point. In all seriousness, if Stamkos continues his dominant play and the Lightning continue being one of the best teams in the league, he is destined to win this award for a pretty simple reason. This honor is intended to go to the most valuable player, meaning that without this player, the team would be completely different. With the absence of Stamkos for most of last season, the Lightning earned just 94 points and missed the playoffs entirely. In his return, they are on pace for 100+ points and a top finish in the league. Sure there were other changes to this team, but having Stamkos is one of the biggest.

Calder Memorial Trophy

Brock Boeser

This may be been the toughest choice so far. Do I think Boeser is the best first-year player this year? Honestly, I’m still not sure. The difference between Boeser and other rookies is that he is playing on a team with limited talent, so he gets the opportunity to shine. This is the same reason why I consider Clayton Keller and Alexander Kerfoot top candidates. At the end of the day, this specific award doesn’t go to the best first-year player, it goes to the one who displayed their talents in terms of statistics. When you’re buried on a 3rd or 4th line playing limited minutes, it is difficult to make a huge impact right away. While some rookies are still developing on their respective clubs, Vancouver has thrown Boeser into the fire and he has responded well. The Canucks are playing pretty good hockey right now and Boeser (11-11-22) has a big role in that success.

Vezina Trophy

Sergei Bobrovsky

Alright, now it’s time to talk about Bobrovsky. The Columbus Blue Jackets are currently first in the powerhouse Metropolitan Division and the goaltending department is a key reason why. The offense is still working out the kinks and the special teams units have been struggling (most notably the power-play). Bobrovsky has the capability to win a game by himself and he has done so several times this season. He leads the NHL with a 1.92 GAA and a 0.935 SV%. Pair that with his league leading four shutouts and second-place 14 wins overall and you can see my case. He arguably owns both the save of the year and the runner-up to the save of the year as well. If Bobrovsky can continue his great play, he should repeat as the Vezina Trophy winner.

James Norris Memorial Trophy

Alex Pietrangelo

So who should I pick here? Brent Burns? No. Erik Karlsson? No. Alex Pietrangelo? Sure, why not? This is an interesting year in terms of defensive play. Many of the typical candidates for this award have struggled and may be on the outside looking in at the end of the season. Pietrangelo has taken the league by storm (although many people still don’t know who I’m talking about). In my opinion, this award winner must play both ends of the ice, meaning they have strong offensive and defensive play. Pietrangelo is leading defenseman in goals (7), tied for second in points (20), and also tied for second in the +/- category (11). While his isn’t the best pure defensemen, he has the best overall game, which should give him this award if he can continue his strong play.

Jack Adams Award

Gerard Gallant

Last, but not least, this is the part where I get to to discuss the unexplainable wonder that is the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Gallant was actually a finalist for this award with the Florida Panthers. Now in his first season behind the bench in Las Vegas, he has turned what should have been a train wreck into an incredible story. The question of if this story will continue will likely dictate if he is considered for this award once again. The Golden Knights are now 15-7-1 and still hold first place in the Pacific Division. Even if they falter and simply squeak into a playoff spot, one would imagine Gallant gets the nod here. Honestly, this will probably be a tossup along with New Jersey’s John Hynes and Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, but anything can happen between now and the post-season.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 7

Player of the Week: William Karlsson

The kid the Jackets bribed Vegas to take in the expansion draft is making Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson sweat, and CBJ fans like myself weep.

Karlsson’s 13 goals in 22 games this season already far surpass his previous best effort of 9 in 81 games with Columbus 2 years ago, and he is only 3 points off of a career high of 25 last year with the Jackets. Those eye-catching stats are due in large part to his current scorching stretch of 5 consecutive multi-point games (and 6 multi-point games in his last 7 contests), as the young Swede has really found his offensive game in an increased role with the expansion Golden Knights.

This week’s 3-game stretch saw ‘Wild Bill’ tally 4 goals and 6 points, including just his 2nd power play goal of the year (Karlsson has as many shorthanded tallies as he does PP markers), and he’s a major reason that Vegas is riding a 5-game winning streak and have found themselves suddenly propelled to 4th place in the entire league.

Team of the Week: New York Islanders

…what? Oh, right, sorry, I was still watching that John Tavares setup on Josh Bailey‘s OT goal.

A pair of exciting games capped with OT wins against the Flyers and a 2-1 victory over the Senators took the suddenly-streaking Islanders to a 3-0-0 week and 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. The Isles are starting to show signs of the balanced attack I hinted at in the season preview I wrote a few months ago, with 14 different players tallying at least 1 point this week, led by Josh Bailey’s 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists). Bailey’s lone goal was an overtime game-winner, which was made possible by John Tavares absolutely ruining Sean Couturier‘s reputation as a defensive stud with the prettiest bit of 1-on-1 puck protection you’re likely to see by anyone not named Pavel Datsyuk.

Questions loom over the legitimacy of the Isles as contenders, but for now they’re as hot as their arena is terrible.

Game of the Week: Nashville Predators 3 @ Carolina Hurricanes 4 (SO), Sunday November 26, 2017

This week had a helluva lot of potential choices for this award, but I’m giving the nod to Preds/Canes on the basis that it’s not a traditional matchup that you’d expect to see produce a fantastic game, but that’s exactly what it did.

Two teams that don’t see much of each other certainly didn’t play like strange bedfellows, with a combined 71 hits. Tack on 71 shots for good measure, and you’ve got all the makings of a spectacular Sunday matinee.

Josh Jooris would kick things off just 3:37 into the 1st period, receiving a stretch pass from Marcus Kruger and using his speed to create just enough separation from Mattias Ekholm (boo for my fantasy team) to sneak a backhander through the legs of Juuse Saros that would just squeak across the goal line to give the Canes the early lead. Both netminders were extremely solid for the bulk of the first (and the entire game for that matter), but with just over 4 minutes remaining Ekholm (yay for my fantasy team) would find Viktor Arvidsson with a stretch pass of his own, and Arvy would go to work from there. Gliding across the blueline on the left wing side, Arvidsson gave Noah Hanifin the old howdoyado with a gorgeous toe-drag, before collecting the puck on his forehand and burying a quick wrister bar-down over the glove of Scott Darling to knot the game at 1.

The first half of the 2nd period saw a goaltending duel, before finally just past the 10 minute mark Ekholm (yay for my fantasy team) would blast home a power play goal to give the Preds their first lead of the game. But just 1:04 later Victor Rask would collect a bouncing puck at the side of the Nashville net and bury the equalizer.

The two netminders again duked it out until Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams would collect the rebound of Mr. Jersey Number 7 Derek Ryan and give the Canes the lead once again at 5:49 of the 3rd period on a power play goal. Then just over 5 minutes later it would be Craig Smith once again tying the game, capitalizing on a netmouth scramble after a hectic odd-man rush and tallying the goal that would eventually send the game to extra time.

A relatively tame 3-on-3 period was highlighted by a heroic penalty kill shot block by Joakim Nordstrom on P.K. Subban, but the game was eventually settled in the shootout by a pair of Finns, as Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen would both score on countryman Saros to send the Raleigh crowd home happy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Hockey Fights Cancer month continues to destroy everyone’s ability to be negative, as this week we saw Brian Boyle score the night the Devils had their HFC promotional game, as well as Alex Ovechkin tripling the wish of cancer survivor and new best friend Alex Luey, who asked for a goal from his buddy and was rewarded with 3.

Carey Price returned to the Montreal lineup, and promptly reminded the Sabres that they’re still worse than the Habs, with a 36-save blanking in a 3-0 win. Oh, and in case you thought you were done reading this article through tear-blurried eyes, he did so on a night where he was joined for the anthems by 11-year-old Charlotte Richard, a cancer patient who was attending her first ever Canadiens game and meeting her hero in the process. Break the tissues back out, no shame in it.

In a complete 180 from heartwarming stories like those, the Anaheim Ducks posted (then promptly deleted and apologized for) a video of a naked Ryan Kesler strolling through their offices, apparently celebrating the NHL’s 100th birthday in his birthday suit. I’m not sure who’s idea this one was, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find out they were no longer gainfully employed.

Apparently Andy Andreoff has never been on the internet, because he seemed to think challenging Kevin Bieksa to a fight was a solid strategy. Much like Radko Gudas, Andreoff waded in to the deep end without his water wings, and found himself on the receiving end of Bieksa’s 2nd superman punch KO of the season. Andy tried to pop right back to his feet and look tough, but we all saw those Bambi legs, bud. You’re not fooling us.

Numbers Game: Vegas Through 20 (2017-18)

By now I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing and reading what I have said and written about the Boston Bruins, so let’s check out how some former Bruins– Colin Miller, Reilly Smith and Malcolm Subban— are doing.

The Vegas Golden Knights have redefined what it means to be an expansion team in the modern NHL. They’re leading the Pacific Division at the American Thanksgiving mark, you guys. Clearly this means they’ll be the 2018 Stanley Cup champions and all of my work will be for nothing.

But seriously though, part of me thinks the Golden Knights will for sure make the playoffs. As for how far they’ll go, well, let’s just save us all the surprise of the potential postseason for when it gets here. How’s that sound?

Now without saying too much more, keep in mind my degree is in communication– not math– so blame anything that looks strange on Microsoft Excel instead of me, thanks.

Remember that sometimes what you see below is pure speculation, pure “potential” (*ahem* Alex Tuch) and a bunch of nonsense that all relates to how much a player has played thus far in their career combined with how they’re tracking through the first 20 games the team in Sin City has played.

Here’s a look at how every player in Vegas should pan out over the next 62 games remaining in the 2017-2018 regular season.

vegas_golden_knights_logo

Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 20 Games (62 Games Remaining)

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Without any real surprises from Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, David Perron and Reilly Smith, the Golden Knights biggest surprise at forward has been William Karlsson. Karlsson’s hot scoring hands look to continue throughout the season, setting what should be career highs in goals, assists and points (of course).

Tomas Nosek should be fun to watch if you’re into depth scoring.

It’s safe to say that we all expected Colin Miller and Nate Schmidt to emerge as high caliber defensemen, but what’s even more incredible is that they’re doing so while the rest of their teammates on the blue line are also contributing immensely to the assist column.

Sure, it’ll be great to see Deryk Engelland put away a few more pucks in the back of the net than he did last season, but consider the scoring potential of Shea Theodore now that Golden Knights general manager, George McPhee, has done the right thing in regards to calling him up and giving him a go. Clearly Gerard Gallant knows what he’s doing with this one.

Though it wouldn’t hurt to recall Jason Garrison and send Griffin Reinhart to the Chicago Wolves (AHL). Especially since Garrison could actually contribute to the team, while Reinhart sits in the press box as a healthy scratch from night-to-night.

In addition to the pleasant surprises we’ve seen from all of the skaters, consider the impressive depth in the crease the Golden Knights have stockpiled behind the eventual return of Marc-Andre Fleury to fortress in front of the twine.

Malcolm Subban’s settling into a NHL career, while Maxime Lagace— albeit a non-competitor for the backup job currently– should pan out just fine in future years. What a find, Vegas.

If Oscar Dansk can ever make it back to dancing with the NHL level of the game, don’t be surprised to see a few heads turning around the rest of the league and some trade offers being made. Vegas is in good shape to have a plethora of established youth in goal, considering the injuries the Montreal Canadiens are currently facing and/or the potential future goaltender injuries for other teams.

Vegas just might make the playoffs as they continue to stake their claim as “the greatest expansion franchise in league history (if not all major North American professional sports)”.

Oh, and their Corsi is pretty good too, but I digress.


If you’re interested in seeing what was expected before a puck dropped this season, check out my initial projections for the inaugural Vegas Golden Knights season.