Nick and Connor talk Alex Tuch’s extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, superstars Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as well as Charlie McAvoy extension options, the New York Rangers, Boston’s first line vs. Colorado’s top line and the week’s biggest matchup.
Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron both had hat tricks in the last week, so Nick and Connor discuss hat trick ethics and more, since celebrations are hot topics these days. Also, everything else that happened in the first week of regular season action.
It’s forecasting season, well, actually it’s the regular season and I’m just a little behind, but until I pointed that out, you didn’t know I was behind on my little passion project here, did you?
I know I wrote “[i]n the coming days I’ll reveal what teams I’ll be forecasting/tracking all season long, so stay tuned because it’s about to get messier than ever before and I’m up for the challenge,” in my Boston Bruins 2018-19 forecast, but life and the fact that I’m moving all my data into a new format has slowed my turnaround for the time being.
Nevertheless, my Vegas Golden Knights forecast for 2018-19 is here and let’s pretend the first week of the regular season hasn’t already happened or something.
Additionally, if you’re wondering what other teams I’m preparing to post (before we get too far into the first quarter of the season) they are the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets.
I always keep tabs on the Bruins every year because I grew up a Boston fan and I decided to track Vegas last season because there hadn’t been nearly as much hype surrounding an expansion team since Columbus and the Minnesota Wild in 2000. Additionally, I’ve previously tracked the Arizona Coyotes simply because they follow us on Twitter (and I’ll get back around to them hopefully before season’s end, if you’re interested).
But I’m adding Carolina and Columbus to my forecast portfolio this season because 1) the Hurricanes are supposed to be better than last season, plus they have some exciting youth in the lineup and 2) a lot of Blue Jackets fans are also fans of our brand around here, so shouts 5th Liners.
Please be patient on the timeline for when I’ll get my Hurricanes and Blue Jackets forecasts posted– it’ll be by the end of the month for sure.
Anyway, on with the Golden Knights, shall we?
Vegas is coming off of their inaugural season having finished 1st in the Pacific Division with 109 points and a 51-24-7 record under head coach Gerard Gallant. Not only did they finish at the top of their division in their first season, but they did so with over 100 points and a 50-plus win season.
Oh yeah and they played the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
Despite the loss in five games to Washington, the Golden Knights were and still are well ahead of owner Bill Foley’s “Cup in three [seasons]” masterplan– what with General Manager George McPhee‘s offseason additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty and everything.
This year, of course, the competition has gotten a lot tougher. There are expectations now when opponents play the Golden Knights.
Gallant and his Vegas lineup are going to have to get more creative than ever before in franchise history to avoid the hangover of a Stanley Cup Final appearance run and to avoid getting too predictable.
Things are different now. They’re no longer the new kids on the block. They’re the 2018 Western Conference champions and a team to beat.
As always, I’d like to remind you my degree is in communication– not math– therefore anything that looks wrong is either adjusted with a little gut-feeling and/or Microsoft Excel’s fault. My expertise resides in the written, spoken and nonverbal language of communicating– not numbers on a spreadsheet.
These forecasted stats are to be seen as an utopian perspective, as though nothing bad could happen this season at any point to any player– where every player at least lives up to their forecast and then some.
Some will pan out and some will fall flat. It’s a suggested outcome for a sport that’s played on ice in a highly unpredictable collective environment of action and sheer puck luck.
Vegas Golden Knights Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)
After a breakout 78-point season (43 goals, 35 assists) for William Karlsson, the Golden Knights number-one center is prime for a respectable 41-point season as part of the natural regression of the game– unless Karlsson is truly an outlier, like he was coming from Columbus to Vegas last season.
Meanwhile, Reilly Smith (19-27–46 expected totals) and Jonathan Marchessault (28-35–63 expected totals) bolster the Golden Knights first line with respectable performances of their own, while the point spread has really been shared with the second line.
Newcomers Paul Stastny (22-43–65 expected totals) and Max Pacioretty (33-30–63 expected totals) are set to become the key contributors to the fiery Vegas offense in their first season with the club.
The Golden Knights top-six core of forwards is deeper than last season, whereas the majority of their offense was reliant upon Marchessault, Karlsson and Smith. This year there’s more emphasis on Alex Tuch and Erik Haula inside the top-nine.
On defense, Gallant’s crew will have to do without Nate Schmidt for the first 20 games of the season while Schmidt serves a suspension for a performance enhancing drug.
Luckily, Brad Hunt, Colin Miller and Shea Theodore are prime for an uptick in time-on-ice and production, with Hunt and Miller expected to reach the 30-point plateau, while offseason addition, Nick Holden should see a pleasant rebound from his 17 points split between the Bruins and New York Rangers last season to a 25-point effort in 2018-19 with Vegas, provided he can remain in the top-six on the depth chart.
Upon Schmidt’s return, he should still have 4-23–27 totals from the blue line, which is not great like last season’s 5-31–36 totals, but not terrible for a top-four defender.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to return to Earth from his superhuman season last year (a 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage in 46 games) to a 2.49 GAA and .913 SV% in 2018-19. As the Golden Knights starter continues to get older, limiting his workload to keep him fresher for the postseason is the way to go.
Granted, Fleury’s playing time was limited last season due to a concussion, he still went on to have solid regular season numbers and an impeccable 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff run up until the Stanley Cup Final.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Subban‘s 2.68 GAA and .910 SV% in 22 games played look to be improved upon to a 2.65 GAA and .911 SV% in somewhere around 30 appearances as the backup netminder for Vegas.
As always, we’ll get more into the goalies once the team has played through a quarter of the season.
Observant, loyal fans of Down the Frozen River have probably noticed the absence of the Game of the Day series to start this season.
For that, as well as the fact that this trend will likely continue throughout the month of October, I apologize.
However, I can offer the next best thing as a replacement until my schedule frees up: instead of a Game of the Day, how about a Game of the Week?
In that case, let’s take a look at all the contests we have/had to choose from this week!
|NHL SCHEDULE: OCTOBER 8-14|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, October 8|
|1 p.m.||San Jose||New York Islanders||0-4|
|10 p.m.||Detroit||Anaheim||2-3 (SO)|
|Tuesday, October 9|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||Philadelphia||8-2|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Winnipeg||1-2|
|Wednesday, October 10|
|7:30 p.m.||Philadelphia||Ottawa||SN, TVAS|
|Thursday, October 11|
|7 p.m.||Washington||New Jersey|
|7 p.m.||San Jose||New York Rangers|
|7:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Montréal||RDS, TSN2|
|7:30 p.m.||Vancouver||Tampa Bay|
|8 p.m.||Calgary||St. Louis|
|Friday, October 12|
|No games scheduled|
|Saturday, October 13|
|1 p.m.||Edmonton||New York Rangers|
|2 p.m.||Los Angeles||Ottawa||RDS|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Montréal||CITY, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Columbus||Tampa Bay|
|7 p.m.||Toronto||Washington||CBC, NHLN|
|8 p.m.||New York Islanders||Nashville|
|8:30 p.m.||St. Louis||Chicago|
|10 p.m.||Calgary||Colorado||CBC, CITY, SN1|
|SUNday, October 14|
|1 p.m.||San Jose||New Jersey||SN|
|7 p.m.||Anaheim||St. Louis|
|7 p.m.||Carolina||Winnipeg||NHLN, SN1, SN360|
Out of a list of 42 matchups, surely we can find at least one tilt to take in.
There’s a collection of some great rivalry games (Toronto at Detroit, Chicago at Minnesota, Detroit at Boston and St. Louis at Chicago) and some players returning to their former home arenas (W Matt Calvert and D Dion Phaneuf heading back to the respective capitals of Ohio and Canada stick out in particular), but I’m most drawn to playoff rematches during these opening months of the season.
Yes, the Jets are traveling to Tennessee tomorrow to take on the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators, but that rematch is going to take place three more times this season.
Instead, I’m much more excited to see how the Golden Knights’ pent up frustrations from falling in the Stanley Cup Final come into play tonight. Let’s make the trip to the American Capital and dive into that exciting early-season matchup.
There’s nothing quite like a Stanley Cup Finals rematch, especially when it takes place within the first week or two of the season.
For those that were in a coma for all of last hockey season – or those that simply live under a rock – the Vegas Golden Knights were one of the greatest stories in North American Big Four sports history last season.
After not existing during the 2016-17 season, the expansion Knights rallied around their hurting city and the idea of being a disorganized band of misfits that their former clubs no longer wanted to soar to an unlikely Pacific Division title and unprecedented Western Conference Championship.
A team consisting of the complete package, Vegas regularly scored with ease while G Marc-Andre Fleury was on the shelf with an upper-body injury. Upon his return, the Golden Knights continued winning even when the offense slowed down, as Fleury posted an incredible .927 save percentage in 46 starts – aided in large part by playing behind a defense that yielded only 30.7 shots against per game for the entire 2017-18 season, a mark that ranked seventh-best in the NHL.
Meanwhile, 2017-18 was the first season in a while that the Capitals entered their campaign with outsiders not pegging them to succeed. Too many players were lost as a result of management having to make moves to stay under the cap, and W Alex Ovechkin just didn’t seem to have the ability to get his team past the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Second Round of the playoffs.
Or so we thought. The Caps told the pundits where to shove it as they raced to their third-consecutive Metropolitan Division title behind their scoring prowess (Washington averaged 3.12 goals per game last season, good enough for ninth-best in the league), followed by getting past the dreaded Penguins and preseason darling Lighting to secure their second-ever Prince of Wales Trophy.
The Final itself was a quick, but exciting affair. With only a +6 goal differential in the final round, Washington defeated Vegas in five games to get a 44-year-old monkey off its back and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.
But all the banners have been raised and all the champagne has been popped. That was last season, and tonight is all about working towards the 2019 championship.
Making the trip to D.C. are the 1-2-0 Golden Knights, the reigning winners of the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl even though they currently reside in 11th place in the Western Conference.
If any one part of Head Coach Gerard Gallant‘s team is responsible for it’s lone win (notched in Minnesota on Saturday courtesy of the shootout), it’s surely Vegas’ squelching defense. Even with D Nate Schmidt – the club’s best blueliner, if I do say so myself – twiddling his thumbs while serving a 20-game suspension for PEDs, the Golden Knights have continued last season’s stellar play in their own end, allowing only 24 shots per game to reach Fleury.
That effort, which is good enough to tie Montréal for third-best in the league, has been headlined not by defensemen, but by fourth-liners LW William Carrier‘s conference-leading 18 hits and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s team-leading four takeaways.
There’s no denying that Carrier’s efforts have been felt by opposing teams, but Bellemare’s lack of scoring touch (as well as that of linemates Carrier and RW Ryan Reaves) has made his puck-snatching abilities a little less exciting. Though he scored a goal on a takeaway against the Flyers last Thursday, that marker is still the only point in his account for this season.
Of course, Bellemare is not the only one not finding the scorecard. Vegas has registered only five goals in three showings so far this season, pinning it as the fifth-worst attack in the entire league.
With 2-2-4 totals in 19:51 average time on ice, F Jon Marchessault is doing all he can to keep the Knights competitive, but he’s going to need far more assistance from the rest of the top-six forwards if Vegas wants to climb back to the heights it achieved last season. In particular, I’m waiting for some breakout games from Vegas’ second line, consisting of LW Max Pacioretty (227-222-449 career totals in 629 games), C Paul Stastny (220-426-646 in 827 career games) and F Erik Haula (posted a career-best 29-26-55 line in 76 games last season).
The Golden Knights will have exactly the attack to emulate in tonight’s opponent, as offense has been king for the 1-0-1 Capitals through their first two games. Averaging a whopping 6.5 goals per game, Washington is topping the NHL’s scoring charts so far this season and currently resides in seventh place in the Eastern Conference because of it.
A total of six players on Washington’s roster are currently averaging at least a point per game, but none have been quite as spectacular as F T.J. Oshie. In only two games, he’s posted dominant 3-2-5 totals, not to mention a .429 shooting percentage that will surely have Fleury quivering in his skates. The Caps’ top line has been just as lethal too, as C Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ovechkin have posted matching 2-1-3 totals to start the season and look to already be in mid-season form.
To top things off, Washington’s attack isn’t limited just to forwards. Just like the fourth line is getting involved defensively for Vegas, Capitals defensemen John Carlson (2-2-4 totals) and Brooks Orpik (1-1-2) have also been deadly, as both are averaging at least a point per game in their first two showings.
In strength against strength, I’m leaning towards the hosts’ offense being able to earn its fifth-straight win against Fleury and Vegas’ defense.
However, if the Golden Knights’ attack can show some life, G Braden Holtby has not looked very solid with his .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA. If Pacioretty and Stastny can find some rhythm tonight – not to mention C William Karlsson rediscovering last year’s breakout form – Washington could be in line for another high-scoring affair like its last outing against the Penguins.
The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.
Vegas Golden Knights
51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in the Pacific Division
Lost in Stanley Cup Final to WSH, 4-1
Subtractions: D Philip Holm (signed, KHL), F James Neal (signed with CGY), F David Perron (signed with STL), F Teemu Pulkkinen (signed, KHL), D Luca Sbisa (signed with NYI), F Nick Suzuki (traded to MTL), F Tomas Tatar (traded to MTL), F Paul Thompson (signed with FLA)
Offseason Analysis: Only one team in the NHL’s more than a century of existence has ever won the Cup in their inaugural season. The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights almost joined the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas as the only teams to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Toronto beat the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s (PCHA) Vancouver Millionaires 3-2 in a best of five-game series.
Vegas came up three wins short of winning it all in the modern-day best-of-seven game series against the Washington Capitals that the Stanley Cup Final has become.
The Golden Knights didn’t have an unfair advantage in the 2017 Expansion Draft. General Manager George McPhee worked the trade market to his advantage, primarily building the inaugural season’s core group of players through acquisitions.
Owner Bill Foley has touted the “Cup-in-three” mantra, meaning it’s his goal as an organization to win the Cup in their first three years of existence. Upon league expansion in 1967, it took the Philadelphia Flyers seven years to win their first Cup.
Foley wants to do it in half the time.
McPhee’s already gone to work on improving his roster from year one to year two. He’s added Paul Stastny via free agency and Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens.
Stastny, 32, joins the Golden Knights after spending last season with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. In 82 games split between the Blues and Jets, Stastny had 16-37–53 totals.
A deadline acquisition by Winnipeg, he had 13 points down the stretch in the remaining 19 games of the regular season, then had his best career performance in the postseason (15 points in 17 games) en route to the Western Conference Final against (his now current team) Vegas.
Despite Stastny’s playmaking style and ability to elevate the players around him in Patrik Laine and friends in Winnipeg, the Jets were no match for the hard-charging Golden Knights.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
The old saying rings true for Stastny, despite Winnipeg’s intentions on re-signing the veteran NHL center entering his 13th season in the league. He’ll slide in on Vegas’ second line behind William Karlsson and play alongside one of his best friends since they played together at the 2010 Winter Games, Max Pacioretty.
Yes, that’s right, Pacioretty is a Golden Knight– in case you’ve been under a rock since training camp.
At its surface, the price of the Pacioretty trade is one well spent for both teams. Vegas acquired Pacioretty in exchange for Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick. That’s right about what you’d expect as a going rate for a top-six scorer– one current roster player, a prospect and a draft pick.
But for all that McPhee dealt to the Detroit Red Wings to add Tatar at the trade deadline last season, this Pacioretty deal carries a hefty trade-tree baggage, whereby a lot of assets were ultimately tossed in the pot for Pacioretty’s services.
At the very least, McPhee not only added a five-time 30-goal scorer, but he signed him to a four-year extension right away too. So if things don’t work out this season, the Golden Knights will remain in the hunt for the next few years.
On top of their solid core group of forwards, Vegas has a crafty defense that’s capable of doing more than turning heads like they did last season. There’s just one catch though– they’ll have to do it without Nate Schmidt for the first quarter of the regular season.
Schmidt will be serving a 20-game suspension for a performance enhancing drug, leaving Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to do the bulk of the work with Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland rounding out the rest of the top-four defenders.
Brad Hunt and Nick Holden, in the meantime, seek to use the first 20 games as an audition for the sixth defenseman role upon Schmidt’s return to the lineup.
Miller signed a four-year extension this summer and Theodore signed a seven-year deal worth $5.200 million per season. While seven years might be a bit more than the Golden Knights can chew if Theodore’s play heads south, at least he’s signed to a manageable $5.200 million cap hit– up to 50% of which can be retained in a trade.
With an immense top-nine group of forwards and questions surrounding who will step up on defense in Schmidt’s absence, head coach Gerard Gallant must adjust accordingly as he’s always done– on-the-fly and with the complete buy-in of the dressing room.
In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury— now signed through the 2021-22 season, thanks to a three-year extension this summer on top of the remaining year on his current contract– must find a way to continue his rejuvenated play in net. Last season’s 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage are more than likely unattainable in back-to-back seasons.
One thing working in Fleury’s favor is his reduced workload. In his second-straight season under 50 games played, Fleury appeared in 46 games last season after battling a concussion.
Malcolm Subban (2.68 GAA, .910 SV% in 22 games played last season) is still in line to become the next Golden Knights starting netminder in the post-Fleury era, but he undoubtedly must see an increase in playing time this season.
It’s not quite a 1A, 1B option for Vegas, but rather a precaution for Fleury and a means of keeping their starter fresh for what could be another long postseason run.
Unless any of the other Pacific Division teams have anything to say about it.
Offseason Grade: B+
McPhee bolstered his top-six forward group this offseason with two simple moves, while preserving the large-scale depth of the Golden Knights prospect pool. They didn’t land Erik Karlsson, John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk, but they did get Max Pacioretty.
And they still have quite an impressive amount of cap space to work with next offseason as the franchise continues to settle into existence.
52-20-10, 114 points, 2nd in the Central Division
Lost in Western Conference Final to VGK, 4-1
Subtractions: F Joel Armia (traded to MTL), F Chase De Leo (traded to ANA), D Toby Enstrom (signed, SHL), F Matt Hendricks (signed with MIN), G Michael Hutchinson (signed with FLA), D Jan Kostalek (signed, ELH), G Steve Mason (traded to MTL, subsequently bought-out, current UFA), D Julian Melchiori (signed with FLA), G Jamie Phillips (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Buddy Robinson (signed with CGY), F Michael Sgarbossa (signed with WSH), F Paul Stastny (signed with VGK)
Still Unsigned: F Jimmy Lodge, F Shawn Matthias
Re-signed: G Eric Comrie, F Marko Dano, G Connor Hellebuyck,F Nicolas Kerdiles (acquired from ANA and re-signed), F JC Lipon, F Adam Lowry, D Josh Morrissey, F Nic Petan, D Tucker Poolman, D Cameron Schilling, F Brandon Tanev, D Jacob Trouba
Offseason Analysis: For a city with the word “win” in its name, the Winnipeg Jets sure did a lot of winning last season. Paul Maurice coached his club to a 52-20-10 record– good enough for first place in a normal year, but the Nashville Predators were just three points better in the Central Division. Winnipeg finished second in the Central with 114 points.
They won their first playoff series in franchise history, eliminating the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round, then upset the Predators in a Game 7 on the road in the Second Round.
The Jets didn’t just set franchise records, they established the bar for future benchmarks of success (minus a Cup), but while Winnipeg soared into the Western Conference Final, they were in for a crash landing in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights despite having home-ice advantage.
Three wins. Just three wins shy of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance for both renditions of the Jets.
Connor Hellebuyck emerged as a legitimate starting goaltender and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made sure to lock him up by re-signing the 25-year-old goaltender to a six-year extension worth $6.167 million per season.
Hellebucyk’s deal is a manageable cap hit and carries him through his mid-prime, leaving Cheveldayoff’s options open for more in the future, let alone vitally important cap space in the now as there’s kind of a big deal in Winnipeg this season.
Patrik Laine‘s entering the final year of his entry-level contract. Based on his abilities alone, he’ll see upwards of $9.000 million per season. Based on his comparison in play to Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and more– he could be seeing John Tavares money (in the $11.000 million AAV ballpark).
Oh yeah, Matthews is a pending-RFA in July 2019 too.
Laine’s play was elevated in the postseason by offseason departure, Paul Stastny, after Stastny was acquired by the Jets at the trade deadline. Winnipeg wanted to retain his services, but Stastny chose the Golden Knights over a return to Manitoba.
Despite losing a quintessential playmaker in the short run, the Jets gained an edge on cap space in the long run. Cap space that will come in handy for Laine and other pending-RFAs including Kyle Connor, Marko Dano, Jacob Trouba and trade deadline depth pickup turned playoff scoring bottom-pair defender, Joe Morrow.
Trouba went through arbitration this offseason as the ongoing saga continues with his future in Winnipeg– whereas the last couple of seasons it appeared he was on his way out in a transaction, the Jets and the 24-year-old defender have mulled things over on a mutual relationship.
It’s just taking one little step at a time, as the defender was awarded a one-year, $5.500 million extension this summer.
Backing up Hellebuyck this season is Laurent Brossoit, who’s coming off of a career-worst (min. 10 games played) 3.24 goals against average and .883 save percentage in 14 games with the Edmonton Oilers last season.
While Brossoit was with the Oilers (of all teams), that doesn’t scream breakout season by a backup goaltender. In fact, it’s on par with Michael Hutchinson’s 3.26 GAA and .907 SV% in three games with Winnipeg last season and Steve Mason’s 3.24 GAA and .906 SV% in 13 games with the Jets.
Unless Brossoit taps into the once-touted potential he had in his WHL days of Junior hockey, Cheveldayoff’s made a lateral move behind Hellebuyck on the depth chart and lends Maurice to over-rely on his starter to compensate for goaltending struggles.
That’s where things can get ugly.
Otherwise, the Jets should be just fine in 2018-19.
Offseason Grade: C
The Jets introduced an alternate sweater for the first time in Manitoba since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in May 2011. It’s not the low-point of the offseason, however, it will take off a few grade points for such a bland script font as its crest.
Otherwise, Winnipeg’s offseason was par for the course for a roster that has the potential to go just as far– if not further– this season as they did last season. However, next summer is where things could get muddy.
Erik Karlsson finally got traded, NHL 19 came out and our official 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview just so happened to be this week too. Nick and Connor place their bets on the San Jose Sharks and more.