The St. Louis Blues just keep on winning (11 straight, to be exact). Can they win it all? The Tampa Bay Lightning are not Stanley Cup favorites according to Nick– nobody is! Did the Edmonton Oilers win a trade? Cory Schneider won a game! and other milestones from the last week, as well as whatever happened in the Boston Bruins vs San Jose Sharks game on Monday.
The Edmonton Oilers fired their president of hockey operations and General Manager, Peter Chiarelli (April 2015-January 2019). The club officially made the announcement after the DTFR Duo finished recording this week’s episode.
There won’t be a 2020 World Cup of Hockey and there were a few milestones to go along with a bunch of minor trades made this week.
Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.
Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot
Thoughts on the conclusion and controversies of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, as well as a look at the schedule around the league as we near the All-Star Weekend festivities and bye week(s). Nick puts Connor on the spot and asks him some trivia questions that only went so well.
A bunch of minor trades were made in the last week, the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Game rosters were released, as well as the 2019-20 outdoor game schedule. Nick and Connor also discuss the legacy that was the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic and the 2019 IIHF World Junior Quarterfinal upsets.
*Editor’s Note: Of course, after recording this week’s episode, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed G Mike McKenna off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks.
Happy New Year!
It’s time to figure out whether or not your team has a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup, making the playoffs, being a seller at the trade deadline or a basement dwelling rebuilder in desperate need of anything but what is happening right now.
Teams have begun to reach the official halfway point in the regular season (41 games played out of an 82-game schedule) as the calendar flips from 2018 to 2019.
Here’s a glance at the latest forecast based on how the league standings were through December 31, 2018.
Keeping in mind, there’s no guarantees with any forecast, but rather general trends and “educated” guesses. It’s not always about the exact number of points expected on the season. Sometimes the focus is on the spread or each team’s positioning in the standings.
There’s always context. Plus, nothing’s impossible until it’s mathematically impossible.
So let’s take a look around the league and figure out the future– well, rest of this season, at least.
Projected Standings After Three Months
- p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 125 points (40 GP entering Jan. 1st)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 111 points (39 GP)
- x-Boston Bruins, 98 points (39 GP)
- wc2-Montreal Canadiens, 97 points (40 GP)
- Buffalo Sabres, 96 points (40 GP)
- Florida Panthers, 84 points (38 GP)
- Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (41 GP)
- Ottawa Senators, 72 points (40 GP)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the dominant team in the NHL right now. There’s no other comparison. They’re in a league of their own.
Though the Toronto Maple Leafs have surged into one of the league’s most prominent teams this season, they’re no match for the Lightning in the regular season standings Atlantic Division race.
The postseason might be another story– too bad we won’t get to see these teams meet up in the Eastern Conference Final with the current playoff format.
For the Boston Bruins, a lackluster 7-7-0 month of December has taken a toll on their outlook. Sure, winning five out of their last seven games is a good sign and all, but missed opportunities and blown chances regardless of the injury status of many of their players this season has brought them back to Earth this season.
Regression in hockey, however, is to be expected– even for teams that outperformed expectations. Last season was just that– exceeded expectations in the regular season for Boston.
Though the Buffalo Sabres have slumped a bit in the last month, the Montreal Canadiens have solidified themselves as a potential spoiler in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If it’s not them, it’s definitely Buffalo for sure.
The race for the Eastern Conference wild card spots should come down to three teams– Buffalo, Montreal and the New York Islanders (unless the Islanders snag a divisional spot in the Metropolitan Divsion– more on that later).
Look, as good as some players on the Florida Panthers are, it’s not happening this year.
And for all the hype regarding the Detroit Red Wings early in the season? Yeah, it’s the same as last year. They’re not doing so hot either.
There’s some good news if you’re an Ottawa Senators fan– wait, they traded their 2019 1st round pick in the draft to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the three-team Matt Duchene trade and didn’t protect it (because they chose to protect 2018’s 1st round pick and offer up 2019’s instead)? Oh. Never mind.
- y-Washington Capitals, 109 points (38 GP)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 103 points (39 GP)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 102 points (39 GP)
- wc1-New York Islanders, 98 points (38 GP)
- New York Rangers, 90 points (38 GP)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 80 points (38 GP)
- New Jersey Devils, 80 points (38 GP)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 78 points (38 GP)
As we get closer to “the stretch” things are heating up in the Metropolitan Division, which might not be as full of garbage as once thought earlier in the year.
For now, the Washington Capitals appear to be in a serious “defend the castle” mood. They’re the defending champions and they’re pretty hard to beat.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins are surging. The Pens are on a seven-game winning streak and they’re outscoring their opponents, 28-9, during that span.
What’s necessary to take into account in the divisional spots in the Metropolitan Division is not that the Capitals should lead the way, but rather, that Washington only has a six-point lead in the current forecast over the Penguins– and seven points over the Columbus Blue Jackets (who somehow find themselves in the “top dog” conversation?)– therefore, anything is up for grabs.
If the Islanders don’t scratch and claw their way into a divisional spot, they’ll be a wild card team.
It’s not a completely lost season for the New York Rangers, but it’s not one that’ll end with a playoff berth either.
The same could almost be said for the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils, except one’s a little more inconsistent (and worse off), while the other’s just worse.
Sure, the Devils are nowhere to be found this season, but Mackenzie Blackwood could change that outlook next year.
And if Carter Hart‘s ready to take on the full-time role of starting netminder for the Philadelphia Flyers that probably wouldn’t do much for them this season, but it’s promising moving forward.
This year’s Flyers team just goes to show that the problem’s beyond a GM and coaching change, so don’t be surprised to see some roster turnover.
- z-Winnipeg Jets, 107 points (39 GP)
- x-Nashville Predators, 96 points (40 GP)
- x-Colorado Avalanche, 91 points (40 GP)
- wc2-Dallas Stars, 89 points (40 GP)
- Minnesota Wild, 87 points (38 GP)
- St. Louis Blues, 81 points (37 GP)
- Chicago Blackhawks, 77 points (41 GP)
The Winnipeg Jets are one of two teams in serious contention for the Western Conference regular season title– and the Nashville Predators won’t even get to raise a banner next season for it.
Nashville’s been on shaky ground for the last month and, as a result, it shows in the latest forecast. Inadequacy ruptures standards or expectations.
Anyway, between Winnipeg and the Calgary Flames one of those teams will be the best in the West at the end of the regular season.
It says something as a whole about the Central Division when the Colorado Avalanche are currently forecasted to slip into a divisional spot in the postseason with 91 points in the standings.
Usually about 95 points puts you within the wild card range and anything 98 or above brings you into serious contention for a divisional berth.
What all of this means is there’s a lot of uncertainty from the Avs, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild in terms of where they end up, ultimately.
All three teams have been all over the place– at times– this season.
Fear not, though, they’re nothing like the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Nothing makes sense in St. Louis, short of obvious locker room problems and a lack of leadership.
Whereas, in Chicago, the game plan was already reset to “longterm” last season by default (having finished last in the division). Jeremy Colliton‘s job security is safe for now.
There weren’t high expectations coming into the season for the Blackhawks and there weren’t immediate expectations for Colliton in their transition from Joel Quenneville to their 33-year-old head coach.
Essentially, firing Quenneville when they did was an easy way out of having to make things more awkward(?) with a rebuild, but it kind of was anyway given when they did it.
At least they’re not their rivals in St. Louis– let alone the Los Angeles Kings– where expectations were high after reaping some rewards in the offseason.
- y-Calgary Flames, 103 points (40 GP)
- x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (42 GP)
- x-San Jose Sharks, 98 points (41 GP)
- wc1-Anaheim Ducks, 92 points (41 GP)
- Vancouver Canucks, 83 points (42 GP)
- Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (39 GP)
- Arizona Coyotes, 76 points (39 GP)
- Los Angeles Kings, 75 points (40 GP)
The Flames are red hot. Can they make 2019 more like 1989 and less like 2004? Does having a goaltender even matter any more?
Luck’s starting to turn in Vegas as the Golden Knights have come alive and look to make a serious claim at potentially knocking Calgary off from the Pacific Division lead– if they can catch them first.
Despite their ups and downs, the San Jose Sharks are still a divisional playoff berth kind of team. Expect them to be out of the playoffs before the Western Conference Final though. Surely Martin Jones‘ below average season has to catch up to him at some point, regardless of scoring power.
With no real competition below them, the Anaheim Ducks are a wild card team that will likely continue to live in the First Round elimination hell until John Gibson single handedly plays every position for the club.
Everyone said Ken Hitchcock would turn around the Edmonton Oilers and was dancing in the streets when his first half-dozen games brought the Oilers back into being relevant.
Well, everyone, except me. Hitchcock’s shtick isn’t fit for the contemporary NHL anymore and his last (and only) Cup win came 20 years ago.
The Arizona Coyotes haven’t panned out and it’s not the numbers that have been lying to them. Dylan Strome, their 3rd overall pick in 2015, didn’t develop as planned– whether through the fault of the Coyotes or not– and they traded him.
That draft was four years ago and Mitch Marner was selected after Strome by the Maple Leafs. Hindsight is 20/20, but still.
If it’s any consolation, Mikko Rantanen was selected by Colorado, 10th overall, so Carolina, New Jersey, Philly, Columbus and San Jose all missed out on one of the current leaders in scoring.
Scouting’s not Arizona’s strong-suit from year-to-year, or rather, asset management as a whole it’s just… …not there.
Finally, Los Angeles, the Grim Reaper’s at the door. Bring out your dead (Cup hopes and dreams for 2019). It’s time to rebuild.
Don Sweeney is having his Peter Chiarelli moment.
The current Boston Bruins General Manager is at a crossroads similar in nature to that of his predecessor in Chiarelli– except this time it’s forward thinking.
No, not that forward thinking.
Sweeney’s masterplan has made up for Chiarelli’s deficits in both defense and cap management. Yet, for a team that’s tied with the Nashville Predators for allowing the fewest goals against (88), its offense is nothing spectacular– ranking 25th in goals for so far this season (94).
Through 34 games, the Bruins are 4th in the Atlantic Division with a 18-12-4 record and 40 points on the season despite numerous injuries.
At one point in time this season, five of Boston’s regular six defenders were injured.
In Chiarelli’s final years with the Bruins, defense became a problem.
The 2013-14 President’s Trophy winning Bruins team amassed 117 points on the season with a plus-84 goal differential. The 2014-15 Bruins missed the postseason and had 93 points on the season and a plus-10 goal differential.
The franchise’s second ever President’s Trophy winning roster had Johnny Boychuk in his prime to rely on. The 2014-15 team did not, thanks to a trade made by Chiarelli prior to the start of the season.
Boychuk was traded out of salary cap constraints that could have been avoided had Chiarelli a) moved other assets or b) not signed those other assets to such inflated extensions in the first place.
Chiarelli promised he’d find a fix for the opening he created, but that never came to fruition as he was later fired in the 2015 offseason.
Upon Sweeney’s hiring, it was clear the Bruins needed a revival on the blue line.
In addition to that, Sweeney was walking into an organization that was needing to negotiate with then pending-RFA Dougie Hamilton.
Hamilton was coming off his entry-level contract and emerging as a prominent two-way defender with the offensive likes of Torey Krug, in addition to that of a more traditionally framed defender.
When Hamilton wanted out of Boston, Sweeney was looked at poorly for trading the RFA defender to the Calgary Flames in the midst of a foundation collapse in defense.
The problem was that the problem didn’t start then.
It worsened as a result of Chiarelli’s dealing of Boychuk, while Dennis Seidenberg got older and more susceptible to injury without anything in the pipeline to act as an adhesive bandage in a worst case scenario (Sweeney would later use a buyout on Seidenberg’s contract on June 30, 2016).
Sweeney’s Hamilton trade was meant to address the long-term scope, as Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon were all selected with the 1st and 2nd round picks in the 2015 Draft the Flames gave the Bruins in return for adding Hamilton.
Though Forsbacka Karlsson has only emerged as far as the third line center in Boston for now, his chemistry alongside Ryan Donato and Danton Heinen is to be lauded with pleasure as those three forwards remain central to the core in a not-so-distant post-Patrice Bergeron era (Forsbacka Karlsson may end up centering the first or second line someday).
Senyshyn’s been seasoning in Providence as Sweeney brought in the Washington Capitals’ approach to “over-cooking” their prospects in the AHL before calling them up for a seamless transition to the NHL (though, in fairness, it remains to be seen where Senyshyn fits into the long-term plan, if he even makes it).
And Lauzon is near the top of the depth chart in defensive prospects within the organization alongside Urho Vaakanainen and Connor Clifton– if not number one.
Though the blue line is not of concern for Boston, when healthy, the depth of the team in the top-six forwards, as well as run-of-the-mill finds to play on the fourth line has come into question.
Sweeney must take an action to address the need for a winger to play alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line– something Sweeney aimed to bring in since he began his tenure with the Bruins as General Manager.
Again, scoring fell from the 2013-14 dominant team to Chiarelli’s missteps in 2014-15, so Sweeney dealt a struggling Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings at the 2015 Draft for a 1st round pick (Jakub Zboril), Colin Miller and Martin Jones.
Jones was flipped later that summer to the San Jose Sharks for a 2016 1st round pick (Trent Frederic) and Sean Kuraly. More recently, Miller was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 Expansion Draft.
In the aftermath of the Lucic trade– and with a spot on the second line to fill– Sweeney signed 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs star, Matt Beleskey to a five-year deal worth $3.800 million per season.
Beleskey set career-highs in assists (22) and points (37) in 80 games played in his first season in Boston (2015-16), then injuries cut his sophomore season with the Bruins to just eight points in 49 games.
In 2016-17, Beleskey had yet to score a point in 14 games with the B’s prior to being assigned to the Providence Bruins (AHL). He was added as an afterthought turned salary cap balancing equation in the Rick Nash trade last season with the New York Rangers.
When Beleskey’s first season with Boston didn’t yield as much of a breakout as Sweeney expected, he signed David Backes to a five-year, $6.000 million AAV contract on July 1, 2016, expecting the forward to shift from center to right wing alongside Krejci.
In his first season with Boston, Backes had 17 goals and 21 assists (38 points) in 74 games played. He followed that up with 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) last season in 57 games while battling injury.
Though he has been plagued by injury the last two seasons, Backes (3-5–8 totals in 29 games) has been relegated to the fourth line when DeBrusk is in the lineup.
Sweeney’s plan to let the kids takeover led to exceeded expectations last season, but with that comes an even higher benchmark for success set for this season. Anything less is a disappointment.
Add to that the expectation for a Cup in three years time from when Sweeney was hired. At least, that’s what Boston’s internal operations was calculating when the front office sat down with Sweeney to interview for his current job.
For a GM that was active in his first month on the job and laid out a plan to take the organization up to where it is now– what’s next?
Sweeney’s not in the hot seat from the standpoint about imminent job security, but rather, he’s being put to the test.
This season, of all seasons, matters that much more.
His track record at the trade deadline hasn’t had any staying power, save for an extra year of John-Michael Liles as a depth defender for 2016-17.
He doesn’t have to hit it out of the park with a trade if he truly believes in the youth movement, which is why the Bruins probably aren’t going to be in the market for acquiring the services of Artemi Panarin.
Then again, if DeBrusk is going to be out long term and head coach Bruce Cassidy can’t split up Donato, Forsbacka Karlsson and Heinen, then it’s going to be worth acquiring a top-six forward that’s a legitimate top-six forward.
Adding Jeff Carter from the Los Angeles Kings would be like adding Rick Nash last season, except for the fact that the 33-year-old Carter is signed through the 2021-22 season at about $5.273 million per season.
If you even want to have a chance to potentially sit down with a guy like Panarin or pending-UFA Jeff Skinner in July, you can’t afford to chip away at your available spending money.
Unless Krejci or Backes is involved, that is.
Even still, Carter’s not set on playing anywhere outside of Los Angeles and might retire if he’s shipped elsewhere. Besides that, he only has six goals and nine assists (15 points) in 35 games this season.
The only other recent rumors swirling around have been tied to Minnesota Wild forward– and Weymouth, Massachusetts native– Charlie Coyle and New York Rangers forward– and Boston native– Kevin Hayes.
Both Coyle and Hayes are 26-years-old with Coyle having a cap hit of $3.200 million through 2019-20 and Hayes as a pending-UFA this offseason at $5.175 million.
Minnesota’s in the hunt for a wild card spot currently in the Western Conference and sits 17th in the league table. The Rangers are fifth in the Metropolitan Division, 21st in the league standings and falling.
Coyle has five goals and 10 assists (15 points) in 33 games. Though he has the same offensive production as Carter has with the Kings, Coyle is younger and in the midst of his prime, leaving room for potential– especially should he be placed on a line with Krejci and DeBrusk.
But Coyle (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) has only surpassed the 20-goal plateau once in his career (21 goals in 82 games, 2015-16).
Hayes has 9-18–27 totals in 33 games with New York so far this season. At 6-foot-5, 216 pounds, he’s had the hotter hands of the three potential trade targets.
He’s also only reached the 20-goal plateau once in his career (25 goals in 76 games last season), but never had a season below 36 points.
Both the Wild and the Rangers will have enough cap room at the deadline should Boston look to flip a player like Backes to fit either player comfortably on their payroll and still have something to give pending-RFAs Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Forsbacka Karlsson, Donato and Heinen in the offseason.
(Regardless, if there’s a team willing to take on Backes’ $6.000 million cap hit now as opposed to flipping him to the Arizona Coyotes later…)
Plus there’s the odd hold-out that the Bruins find themselves in conversation with one of the offseason’s biggest prizes like how they were finalists in the John Tavares arms race last summer.
Sweeney has a plethora of prospects to wager if– and only if– he can lop off one of the larger contracts on his books and land a legitimate top-six forward.
Can he do what Chiarelli failed to do in his final year with Boston and deliver on an as of yet unfulfilled promise?
Come to think of it, if he does acquire a top-six forward that can play with Krejci and leads to a Cup, then he does have a lot more in common with Chiarelli.
It’d just be more like when Chiarelli traded Dennis Wideman to the Florida Panthers in June 2010 for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell.
The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.
Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.
Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?
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.
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.