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DTFR Podcast #232- Participation Trophies After One Game/One Week (Part VI) (feat. Chris Gere)

The 2021-22 season is well underway, so let’s bring back our 6th Annual Participation Trophies After One Game awards ceremony!

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyAmazon Music and/or Audible.

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NHL Nick's Net Numbers Game

Your Team Will Rise/Fail: 2021-22 Standings Projections

It is time. The 2021-22 season is upon us.

Technically it already started, but we’ll ignore the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins spoiled the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup champion banner night with a, 6-2, victory on the road before the Vegas Golden Knights held off a Seattle Kraken comeback in a, 4-3, win at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night.

And then Wednesday’s games happened too.

Let’s hit the “reset” button for a second and pretend the 2021-22 is about to get underway. All 32 National Hockey League teams have a chance at clinching 16 available playoff berths.

Any of the 16 teams that make the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs could etch 52 names from their roster, front office and organization on the Stanley Cup next June.

The usual divisions– Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan and Pacific– have returned as have the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. The regular playoff format is back (three teams per division, two wild cards per conference qualify, plus the Conference Finals round returns in place of the Stanley Cup Semfinals in 2021).

A full 82-game regular season schedule is slated from October through the end of April with a three-week break in February for the 2022 All Star Game in Las Vegas and the 2022 Winter Games taking precedence before a return to NHL action down the stretch with the postseason kicking off in May like last year and the 2022-23 season likely returning to the pre-pandemic timeline (2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs starting in April).

The 2022 NHL Entry Draft will be in Montréal on July 7th and 8th, while free agency begins on July 13th, but between now and then, we’ve got the 2021-22 regular season to enjoy.

Using last season’s team goals for and team goals against, plus some other “magic numbers” as part of an expected points model, we’re able to project what 2021-22 could be for all 32 teams (yes, even the Seattle Kraken, despite this year being their first season)– though you’ll have to pretend there were no transactions made in the offseason.

In other words, don’t think that any of what you’re about to see is set in stone– view it more as a suggestion for a possible outcome.

Also, please remember my degree is in communication, so any math beyond figuring out “goals + assists = season point totals” doesn’t exist.

In a normal year (like from 2017-18 to 2018-19, for example), you just take all the data from the 82-game schedule for each team plug it into a formula in a spreadsheet, then line things up accordingly in each division.

However, just like how the shortened 2019-20 season disrupted the regular process for projecting a 2020-21 standings outlook, going from last season’s stats in a 56-game schedule to projecting a regular 82-game season in 2021-22 necessitated the use of forecasting point pace as part of the formula.

As for Seattle, a simple means of taking the NHL stats from last season for every player on their roster and plugging it in for a 2021-22 result is exactly what I did.

We’re all just making it up as we go along, folks. These are projections. They are not absolutes.

For the sake of keeping it simple, here’s a look at how things could go (but probably not) in each division for the upcoming 2021-22 season.

The overall vibe of the Central Division for 2021-22 is that it’s just more of exactly what you’d expect. The Colorado Avalanche are lightyears ahead of everyone else, while Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild continue to be on the rise and everyone else fights for what they can earn.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether or not the Winnipeg Jets can breakthrough as Canada’s team and break the Canadian curse (become the first Canadian club to win the Cup since 1993).

Will Colorado finally break through the Second Round and win the Cup?

Are the Avalanche just the Toronto Maple Leafs but with a little more success? My column:

No, but really, it’s worth asking if the Avs making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2002, is more like Toronto’s struggle to make it out of the First Round for the first time since 2004, or is Colorado’s struggle more like the Washington Capitals pre-2018?

The Caps won three Presidents’ Trophies in 2009-10, 2015-16 and 2016-17, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round– let alone the Pittsburgh Penguins– until they finally did and ended up surging in momentum all the way to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Colorado, on the other hand, has already won the Cup twice (1996 and 2001) and also has three Presidents’ Trophies to their name in 1996-97, 2000-01 and 2020-21, so if recent history has anything to tell us it’s that yet another team with high expectations for at least a few seasons now only to come up short could very well go on to win it all after winning the Presidents’ Trophy the previous year.

Either that or they’ll have to win it in back-to-back seasons like Washington did before they won the Cup in 2018.

Then again, the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the Detroit Red Wings’ record for most wins in the regular season (62), securing the Presidents’ Trophy in the process in 2018-19, then got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 First Round.

The very next year, however, Tampa kicked off back-to-back Cup rings in 2020 and 2021, to be where they are now as the two-time defending champions likely standing in the path as the only other favorites outside of the Avalanche this season.

Anyway, the Avs mostly kept things the same from last season to this season, losing Joonas Donskoi to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Brandon Saad to the St. Louis Blues in free agency and making minor swaps among replacement level bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defenders.

Oh, then there’s this whole thing about how Philipp Grubauer left for Seattle in free agency too, so Colorado acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes.

Between Dallas, Nashville and St. Louis, who will realistically make the playoffs?

The Stars are projected to finish with about 94 points, the Predators sit at 92 points and the Blues are around 91 points in this one projection, but don’t let the points alone be your deciding factor.

Given the strength of the Central Division compared to the Pacific Division, you can bet on five teams making out of the Central among Western Conference playoff berths.

As such, the spread is the difference maker between these three teams expected to be in the wild card hunt– it’s going to come down to the wire one way or another.

Dallas bolstered their goaltending depth by signing Braden Holtby, Nashville traded Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis is… …better than last season on paper?

I mean, the Blues signed Saad, acquired Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in exchange for Sammy Blais, let Seattle claim Vince Dunn at the expansion draft and let Mike Hoffman walk to the Montréal Canadiens in July.

You could say they took a hit here or there, but those aren’t “nobody names” by any means, however.

If Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso can stabilize things in the crease, then St. Louis has a better situation than the Predators.

The Stars, meanwhile, should benefit from a longer season where more of their core guys– like Tyler Seguin, for example– are healthy. Last season’s COVID-19 outbreak to kick things off in January really killed Dallas’ momentum as a team on the verge of being in the 2021 postseason.

Dallas should get back into the swing of things and St. Louis should be able to stay relevant for at least another year, but how hard the Preds rely on Juuse Saros as their starting goaltender will dictate whether or not they’re able to play spoiler with David Rittich as their backup since Pekka Rinne retired.

Can Arizona avoid the basement?

Anything is possible at this point. Loui Eriksson and Andrew Ladd were scoring goals in the postseason, so a fresh start could be just what both players needed for the last few years at least.

That said, Coyotes General Manager, Bill Armstrong, gave a Masterclass™️ in how to go about rebuilding by selling everything over the summer and taking on “bad” contracts with only one or two years remaining in hopes of playing just well enough to be bad enough without making it look obvious that you’re aiming to win the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery.

The Pacific Division is the new Scotia NHL North Division from last season. In other words, it’s the worst– which is great news for the Seattle Kraken as the league’s schedule allots more division play than any other opponents (though the Kraken will play every other team in the league at least twice).

Seattle’s riding the waves of new-age expansion, while the Vegas Golden Knights lead the charge for the Presidents’ Trophy campaign in 2021-22.

Wait, Seattle in 2nd in the Pacific, really?

Yes, really.

The Kraken have a great front office that goes beyond just Ron Francis as General Manager and have done their due diligence in scouting the best talent available to try to replicate the success of the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season in 2017-18, as well as grow beyond just 2021-22.

That said, Seattle probably isn’t going to make it out of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if they have to face the Edmonton Oilers according to this projection.

It’s a best case scenario for the NHL’s newest expansion team to be in the weakest division, but aside from having recent Stanley Cup champions Yanni Gourde, Philipp Grubauer, Jaden Schwartz and Dunn on their roster, the Kraken have a plethora of players that are relatively inexperienced with deep postseason runs.

Head coach, Dave Hakstol, also hasn’t had the consistency of making the playoffs and making it out of the First Round in his NHL coaching days, but as a team that, again, is looking to develop long-term success, these are mere growing pains Francis and Co. are willing to accept as the fan base grows.

Why aren’t the Kings making the cut this year when everyone else says they’ll be the most improved?

The simple answer is that everyone’s overrating Los Angeles when it comes to the “ready now” factor.

Sure, Kings General Manager, Rob Blake, did a good thing by getting Viktor Arvidsson in a trade with Nashville this summer to solidify his top-six forward group and signed Alex Edler to fortify his defense, but Los Angeles’ goaltending leaves something to be desired.

Here’s hoping Jonathan Quick can find a little resurgence at this point in his career, while Cal Petersen continues to come into his own.

If Los Angeles has any injuries– and they already have with Arvidsson likely missing some time due to an injury in the last preseason game– they’re already close enough to the bubble that they’ll only fall further behind.

That said, if the Kings don’t make it back to the postseason hunt in 2022, there’s a good chance they make it in 2023.

Los Angeles is improving, but by how much remains to be seen.

Will winning the Presidents’ Trophy hurt Vegas?

Eh, it’s hard to say.

The Golden Knights have packed in just about every type of heartbreak since their inception in 2017, that fans of other franchises have only experienced over the course of at least 50 years, so if Vegas pulls out the Presidents’ Trophy win in 2021-22, don’t be surprised when the inevitable happens and they win the Cup instead of doing what most other Presidents’ Trophy winners in the salary cap era have done.

Only the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings and Chicago in 2012-13, have been able to win the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup since the salary cap was introduced ahead of the 2005-06 season.

Vegas would probably join Detroit and Chicago in doing so just so the Hockey Gods can spite us again.

It’s not easy to be in the Metropolitan Division these days because, well, let’s save that for the three questions below.

Is this the toughest division to project?

Absolutely.

The Carolina Hurricanes decided to just get rid of a few parts and pieces that helped make them good for the last few seasons, so they’re bound to regress even with Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teräväinen and Martin Necas still existing.

The Pittsburgh Penguins since 2009, have always found a way to be near the top of the division standings by the end of the regular season no matter whether or not you believe they’ll inevitably miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006, so anything could happen there.

The New York Islanders have made back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Final, so I’d expect them to be good.

The Washington Capitals are better than the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, at least, but are probably the only team on the bubble if the New Jersey Devils can come out of nowhere and be competitive this season after signing Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Bernier in the offseason.

Meanwhile, it’s time for a short rebuild in Columbus as the Blue Jackets would be quite pleased with a top draft pick in 2022.

What if Chris Drury never was promoted as General Manager of the Rangers?

They’d still fire David Quinn and hire Gerard Gallant. I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but they’d definitely reconsider about 90% of the roster decisions made this summer.

There’s no reason why the Rangers have to go down this path and yet, here they are, fumbling at the one-yard line and possibly plunging their franchise back into the Dark Ages of another rebuild. Or is it the same ongoing rebuild?

What about a team to watch like New Jersey, for example?

I’m big on the Devils this season for some strange reason.

Maybe it’s because a part of me deep down misses the trap game of the 1990s and 2000s that led to Stanley Cups for New Jersey in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

Maybe it’s because they signed Hamilton, Tatar, Bernier and acquired Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche as a supporting cast for Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich, Ty Smith and friends.

Seriously, the Devils should be good in the next few seasons, but this year could be the biggest stride forward in terms of their improvement from the basement to their development as a playoff contender.

First, pour one out for Jack Eichel. Now, let’s move on and talk about everyone else.

What does this mean for the Leafs?

Just like how the Stars, Preds and Blues are all right on top of one another in the Central Division standings, the Atlantic Division is stacked from 1st through 4th, so though Toronto leads the way in this projection, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable as a Leafs fan.

The Maple Leafs played in the worst of the four divisions last year in the temporarily realigned divisions in wake of the ongoing pandemic.

No, it’s not just because they played all the other Canadian teams across 56 games, but rather it’s due to the fact that they haven’t been able to matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and even the Boston Bruins since the 2019-20 season.

A lot and not a lot has changed since then.

Tampa is still dominant as ever, Florida has emerged as a team that’s on the rise and Boston is unpredictable in that– much like the Penguins– it could really go either way with the Bruins this season.

So now Toronto has to take on better competition within their own division and square off with teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and others that emerge towards the top of the standings outside of the Canadian teams that the Leafs are all too familiar with at this point.

That said, Toronto still has a great chance at winning the Atlantic Division regular season title or finishing 2nd and having home ice advantage in the First Round for the second-straight postseason.

Can anyone other than Toronto, Florida, Tampa or Boston make it out of the Atlantic this year?

No. Let’s be realistic here.

The Montréal Canadiens made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final despite being below .500 in the standings because every division produced four playoff berths and intra-divisional play through two rounds.

In 2020, they upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Qualifier despite finishing right at .500.

In any other non-pandemic timeline, the Canadiens would still be looking for their first playoff appearance since they lost to the New York Rangers in six games in the 2017 First Round.

That’s not to say that Nick Suzuki can’t lead the Habs back to glory, but rather that they need to improve all-around in the regular season and peaking in performance in the playoffs.

Though the Ottawa Senators promised unprecedented success from 2021-25, it’s looking like it’ll realistically be anytime between 2024-25 as in the 2024-25 season itself at this point.

Ottawa’s goaltending needs to improve, their defense could use some tweaks and the Sens are banking on their offense getting their feet underneath them and bursting in production in the coming years.

A little more patience won’t hurt them.

The same can be said for the Detroit Red Wings in that Red Wings fans already know– trust in General Manager, Steve Yzerman, is paramount. He’ll work his magic.

It just takes a little time to build a solid foundation and the first floor is almost ready to start going up.

As for the Buffalo Sabres, well…

At least they’ll hopefully give Rick Jeanneret a proper send-off before he retires as their play-by-play announcer for the last 51 years on television.

Hopefully.

Will Tampa win three consecutive Stanley Cup championships?

Probably not.

I’m not ruling it out entirely, but the Lightning have a better chance of winning three Cups in four years than they do three Cups in as many years as things stand currently.

The loss of their entire third line (Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow) from last season to this season is sure to leave a mark on the development and restructuring of their bottom-six forwards.

That said, Tampa’s top-six forwards still exist and, if you haven’t already noticed, they’re very good on their own, but the best teams in the playoffs have four lines that can roll without a doubt and the Bolts might just be off the ball for a year in terms of depth.


Alright, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for your patience. By now the season’s already going on a few days into the 2021-22 calendar, so the two of us (or more if you’re reading this to a group) should probably get back to watching games.

Stay tuned for more forecasts for both standings and assorted teams throughout the season.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 36-17-3, 75 points

3rd in the Discover NHL Central Division

Defeated Montréal in the Stanley Cup Final

Additions: F Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, F Gabriel Dumont, F Remi Elie, F Charles Hudon, F Corey Perry, D Zach Bogosian, D Brent Seabrook (acquired from CHI), D Andrej Sustr, G Brian Elliott, G Maxime Lagacé

Subtractions: F Alex Barré-Boulet (re-signed, then claimed off waivers by SEA), F Blake Coleman (signed with CGY), F Marian Gaborik (contract expired, informally retired), F Barclay Goodrow (traded to NYR), F Yanni Gourde (expansion, SEA), F Tyler Johnson (traded to CHI), F Ryan Lohin (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Mitchell Stephens (traded to DET), F/D Luke Witkowski (signed with DET), D Andreas Borgman (signed with DAL), D Brian Lashoff (signed with DET), D David Savard (signed with MTL), D Luke Schenn (signed with VAN), D Ben Thomas (SHL), G Christopher Gibson (signed with FLA), G Spencer Martin (traded to VAN), G Curtis McElhinney (retired), G Anders Nilsson (retired)

Still Unsigned: F Boo Nieves

Re-signed: F Ross Colton, F Boris Katchouk, F Taylor Raddysh, F Gemel Smith, F Otto Somppi, D Fredrik Claesson, D Sean Day, D Cal Foote

Offseason Analysis: One of the good things about winning the Cup is that the following season’s expectations are wiped clean. Sure, fans and analysts may want to see you win it again in back-to-back seasons, but that’s just icing on the cake and any run that comes up short in the year following a Cup ring can be forgiven.

Luckily for Tampa, they won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2020 and 2021, so if they don’t happen to become the first team to win three consecutive titles since the New York Islanders won four Stanley Cup rings in a row from 1980-83, that’s fine.

The Lightning don’t get two straight years of postseason forgiveness, however.

Rather, the Bolts are on the quest for the first dynasty in the National Hockey League since the Edmonton Oilers won three Cups in four years from 1987-90.

That’s right, folks, Chicago didn’t have a dynasty when they won in 2010, 2013 and 2015. There’s a few too many years in-between.

Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy and the rest of the Lightning, however, have a chance of doing something not even Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury with the Pittsburgh Penguins, nor Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and the rest in Chicago were able to do– win three-straight Stanley Cup Finals.

Oh and the dynasty thing too, which is a given.

But success comes with a price in the loss of depth over time– whether it’s because of lower draft picks over time or simply due to salary cap constraints that pressure Cup winners into shipping out some of the glue guys from the team that just won it all in the middle of a summer-long party.

It is, after all, a business.

Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Yanni Gourde– Tampa’s third line that could be a second line on any other roster– was broken up over the summer.

Coleman joined the Calgary Flames in free agency, Goodrow was traded to the New York Rangers and Gourde was a victim of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft– in other words, the first certified star forward in the making for the Seattle Kraken.

Though the Lightning will miss out on the speed and production of that line in their bottom-six, Tampa is more than ready to promote some bottom-six breakout stars from last season into genuine full-time roles, while also accommodating for general turnover after winning back-to-back Cups.

Tampa General Manager, Julien BriseBois, signed Corey Perry to a two-year deal worth $1.000 million per season as a low-risk, high-reward veteran that can manage bottom-six minutes with efficiency at this point in his career– yielding 21 points in each of the last two seasons (5-16–21 totals in 57 games with the Dallas Stars in 2019-20, 9-12–21 totals in 49 games with the Montréal Canadiens in 2020-21), while finishing as the first runner up to the Lightning in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances.

BriseBois also added Pierre-Édouard Bellemare to the Bolts’ fourth line after Bellemare spent the last two seasons in a Colorado Avalanche uniform, recording 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 53 games for the Avs last season, as well as a career-high 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 69 gamed with Colorado in 2019-20.

Among internal options to move up into the top-nine or make the fourth line after spending last year on the taxi squad or bouncing around in recent years between stints in the NHL, AHL, Major Junior or college, Ross Colton, Boris Katchouk, Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith and Taylor Raddysh all present themselves as options to compete for– if not rotate in and out of– a spot on the fourth line.

Colton scored the Cup clinching goal in the second period of Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– the only goal of the, 1-0, victory over the Canadiens that secured Tampa’s second Cup ring in as many years.

In 30 games last season, he had 9-3–12 totals. Not bad for a 25-year-old on the rise after spending parts of the last three seasons with the Syracuse Crunch (AHL).

Joseph managed 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 70 games with the Bolts in 2018-19, before being limited to 4-3–7 totals in just 37 games in 2019-20.

Last season, he bounced back with 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) in 56 games and is sure to continue to mesh well with Tampa’s influx of youth in the bottom-six as a 24-year-old forward.

Entering 2021-22, Katchouk and Raddysh are still looking to make their NHL debuts, though Raddysh is slated to be in the lineup against Pittsburgh on Opening Night.

While Tampa sorts out their supporting cast, one thing that’s remained consistent is the Lightning’s top-six as Kucherov returns to regular season action for a full 82-game slate alongside Point and Ondrej Palat on the first line.

Meanwhile, Anthony Cirelli leads Alex Killorn and Stamkos on the second line as Hedman, Jan Rutta, Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak lead the defenders with Mikhail Sergachev paired alongside Zach Bogosian (he’s back!).

Curtis McElhinney retired over the summer, though not before BriseBois upgraded his backup goaltender role with Brian Elliott first.

Elliott’s looking to rebound from a rough stint with the Philadelphia Flyers over the last four seasons, in which he most recently went 15-9-2 with a 3.06 goals-against average, an .889 save percentage and two shutouts in 30 games played.

He’s sure to benefit from 1) Tampa’s defense and 2) Vasilevskiy yielding an overwhelming majority of games in the regular season.

Vasilevskiy produced a 31-10-1 record in 42 games last season with a 2.21 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in that span.

As for what else is missing from this summer’s tactical overhaul with the salary cap in mind after winning back-to-back Cups?

Let’s review all of Tampa’s trades from after the Final through now real quick, shall we?

Goodrow was dealt to the New York Rangers for a 2022 7th round pick on July 17th, then BriseBois swapped a 2022 4th round pick for a 2021 4th round pick with Montréal at the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft on July 24th.

A few days later, he cleared out some salary by shipping Tyler Johnson to Chicago with a 2023 2nd round pick for Seabrook’s contract that is currently on the long-term injured reserve thanks to a career-ending injury that renders Seabrook as a forgiven cap hit on the books.

Mitchell Stephens packed his bags out of Tampa for the Detriot Red Wings in exchange for a 2022 6th round pick on July 30th, then the Lightning sent Spencer Martin to the Vancouver Canucks for future considerations on July 31st.

Offseason Grade: C

Down the road, Point’s eight-year extension at $9.500 million per season is an excellent move made by BriseBois, but since that contract goes into effect starting next season (2022-23), it doesn’t sway the offseason grade for 2021.

If it were just a postseason grade, the Bolts would get an “A”, but since this is a measure of everything that happened after the 2021 Stanley Cup Final and before the 2021-22 season gets underway, well, Tampa had an average summer.

They filled some holes, shed some salary and were forced to make difficult decisions in other areas thanks to the existence of the salary cap and some key players being healthy for a change as the Lightning embark on their two-time defending Stanley Cup champion season.

All in all, it’s not too bad to be a fan of the Lightning these days or a member of the organization– as long as you got here before the 2021 Stanley Cup Final wrapped up.

This isn’t to say that Tampa will be bad by any means, but rather that they’re content with contending for the next few years to come– at least– so if they don’t win three Cup rings in as many years, that’s fine. They’ll be quite alright.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Montréal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 24-21-11, 59 points

4th in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by Tampa

Additions: F Jean-Sébastien Dea, F Christian Dvorak (acquired from ARI), F Mike Hoffman, F Cedric Paquette, F Mathieu Perreault, D Louis Belpedio, D Sami Niku, D David Savard, D Chris Wideman, G Sam Montembeault (claimed off waivers from FLA)

Subtractions: F Phillip Danault (signed with LAK), F Charles Hudon (signed with TBL), F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (offer sheet signed with CAR, not matched), F Jake Lucchini (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), F Corey Perry (signed with TBL), F Tomas Tatar (signed with NJD), F Jordan Weal (KHL), D Cale Fleury (expansion, SEA), D Erik Gustafsson (signed with CHI), D Otto Leskinen (Liiga), D Jon Merrill (signed with MIN), D Gustav Olofsson (signed with SEA), G Vasili Demchenko (KHL), G Charlie Lindgren (signed with STL)

Still Unsigned: F Joseph Blandisi, F Michael Frolik, F Eric Staal

Re-signed: F Joel Armia, F Brandon Baddock, F Alex Belzile, F Laurent Dauphin, F Artturi Lehkonen, F Michael Pezzetta, F Ryan Poehling, F Lukas Vejdemo, G Michael McNiven

Offseason Analysis: After back-to-back miracle runs to the postseason aided by the circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Montréal Canadiens are expected to fall back to Earth in 2021-22.

The Canadiens were a .500 team that upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, then Montréal was a below .500 team that benefitted from the four teams per division playoff format in 2021.

Any of the 16 teams that make the playoffs can win the Cup and the Canadiens almost bested the 2012 Los Angeles Kings in terms of being a long shot to do so, but the Tampa Bay Lightning had other plans in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Instead, the Bolts repeated as back-to-back Stanley Cup champions while Montréal was eliminated in five games in a Game 5 that was decided by one goal– the only goal, scored by Ross Colton a little past the midpoint of the second period, as the Lightning emerged victorious with a, 1-0, win on home ice to secure their third Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

Corey Perry lost to Tampa in back-to-back years and, as such, as taken the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mantra to heart in the offseason, signing a two-year contract worth $1.000 million per season with the Lightning.

Fear not, Habs fans, unlike when Marian Hossa bounced from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Detroit Red Wings before landing in Chicago ahead of the 2009-10 season, Perry’s already won a Cup ring. He’s just in search of his second before the twilight of his career reaches sunset.

Montréal’s cast of characters in Perry, Eric Staal and others that joined the leadership of captain, Shea Weber– whether via free agency ahead of the 2020-21 season or prior to the 2021 trade deadline– has mostly disbanded.

Whether or not Canadiens General Manager, Marc Bergevin, planned on making an appearance in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final or not as the 56-game regular season approached last season, it’s hard to say that he didn’t give the Habs their best roster in recent years.

They replaced Claude Julien with Dominique Ducharme behind the bench after a shaky start and rode the waves of change into a fourth-place finish in the one-off Scotia NHL North Division to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2021 First Round.

They didn’t surrender when they trailed in the series 3-1, as Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi followed the examples of Perry, Staal, Joel Armia, Tyler Toffoli and other veterans that led the charge.

Montréal beat Toronto in seven games. They swept the Winnipeg Jets in the Second Round and upset the Vegas Golden Knights in six games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Then David faced Goliath, but Goliath won.

Because of the nature of the salary cap era, Bergevin couldn’t hold onto all of his puzzle pieces.

Perry, Staal, Jordan Weal, Phillip Danault, Charlie Lindgren, Jon Merrill, Tomas Tatar, Kotkaniemi and Erik Gustafsson are all gone for one reason or another, while Mike Hoffman, Cedric Paquette, David Savard, Chris Wideman, Mathieu Perreault, Sami Niku and Sam Montembeault have all been signed to take their place on the depth chart.

The heart of the Canadiens– however recently formed– is changing. The identity of the team last season– forged with the additions of Perry and Staal to the already existent tenures of Danault, Weber, Price and Co. is in transition.

Whereas Suzuki was already leading the charge in Montréal’s new core, this offseason has solidified the inevitable. It may not be a rebuild, but it may be a few more stagnant years in-between before long term success and growth.

It’s crazy to write about how the Habs– a team that made the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– are not going to be as “good” as they were good enough to reach the Final, but it also makes the most sense.

Again, in a normal 82-game season without the pandemic, the Canadiens likely wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in the last two years.

The fact that they have has provided valuable experience for Suzuki, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and more, but the veteran turnover from last season to this season is palpable.

The additions of Hoffman, Paquette, Savard, Wideman and Perreault signal a distinct shift in character.

Heart and grit be damned– Montréal is wholly embracing the speed and skill era. Sort of.

Hoffman joined the St. Louis Blues on a one-year deal last season after amassing five consecutive seasons with at least 55 points or more dating back to the 2015-16 season. His play in an Ottawa Senators uniform was consistent, but his dressing room presence earned him a ticket to the San Jose Sharks in a trade before being flipped to the Florida Panthers ahead of the 2018-19 season.

After amassing 70 points in 82 games with the Panthers in his first season in Florida, Hoffman had 59 points in 69 games in the 2019-20 regular season that was cut short by the ongoing pandemic.

Then he had 17-19–36 totals in 52 games with the Blues last season after a slow start.

As a top-nine forward, Hoffman’s one-dimensional game as a sniper isn’t that bad as long as he scores.

Since being traded by the Lightning, Paquette had a little bit of a journey on his way to Montréal. First, in nine games with the Senators last season he had one goal. Then in 38 games with the Carolina Hurricanes, he amassed seven points (three goals, four assists) for a grand total of 4-4–8 totals in 47 games combined between his Sens and Canes tenure.

As a fourth liner, it’s a low-risk, high-reward move for the Habs, but that’s assuming he’ll be in the lineup from night-to-night as the Canadiens have a backlog of bottom-six talent looking to earn a regular role.

Savard might just be the best value signing this summer by Bergevin. The 30-year-old defender was signed to a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and had six points (one goal, five assists) from the blue line in 54 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Lightning last season en route to winning his first Stanley Cup ring.

Don’t let his offensive shortfalls fool you, Savard is a quality shutdown defender of the top-four variety.

Seriously, it’s a good signing by the Canadiens.

Wideman hasn’t made an appearance in the NHL since the 2018-19 season, when he played for the Senators until the infamous Uber ride, then was traded to the Edmonton Oilers and finally traded again to the Panthers.

In 181 career NHL games, he’s had 16-29–45 totals from the point and spent 2019-20 in the American Hockey League with the San Diego Gulls after signing with the Anaheim Ducks and missing out on the roster after training camp and spending last season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia.

While in the KHL, Wideman reinvented his game– compiling 9-32–41 totals in 59 games with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.

With Niku on the injured reserve to start the season and Weber’s career in doubt, Wideman is a welcome addition to the bottom pairing as Montréal looks to hold things together in their own end with Carey Price out indefinitely (Price entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program last Thursday) and Jake Allen as their last resort as the de facto starting goaltender.

Meanwhile, Perreault’s arrival shores up the fourth line and Montembeault should provide an added cushion as a backup option to Allen in the crease.

By now, you’ve read almost 1,300 words on Montréal’s summer and we haven’t even gotten around to talking about the ongoing feud with the Hurricanes as a result of the Kotkaniemi offer sheet, as well as the Christian Dvorak acquisition.

Let’s try to keep this brief, O.K.?

Carolina signing Kotkaniemi wasn’t revenge (allegedly) for Montréal signing Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet, but it was an offer that was too good to refuse (for Kotkaniemi, anyway).

A one-year deal worth about $6.100 million with a $20 signing bonus (symbolism!) means that Kotkaniemi will be due for a decent payday if he’s tendered a qualifying offer next summer.

The Canadiens didn’t have the cap space and even the Hurricanes had to make a move to finagle his salary on the books. The Habs will gladly take Carolina’s 2022 1st round and 2022 3rd round draft picks, despite losing one of their better centers for the future.

It was hard enough to let Danault walk to the Los Angeles Kings in free agency, surely things only got harder for Montréal to find a replacement after Kotkaniemi left too– oh.

After swapping draft picks on the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft in three separate trades, Bergevin made his only trade that resulted in a change to Montréal’s roster this offseason on Sept. 4th.

The Canadiens dealt a conditional 2022 1st round pick and a 2024 2nd round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Dvorak and with that brought in his 17-14–31 totals in 56 games from last season to their top-six forward group.

Since making his league debut in 2016-17, Dvorak has never reached the 40-point plateau, but with teammates like Toffoli, Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, Josh Anderson, Caufield and anyone else that might bounced around inside the top two lines on any given night– Dvorak is sure to have a more consistent supporting cast around him than in his Coyotes days.

Offseason Grade: C

It’s not a great look to have mismanaged Kotkaniemi over the years– culminating in the loss of his talent via an offer sheet, but what’s more concerning for the Canadiens is just how much of what made them pernicious in their Cinderella run to the Final last year that they lost.

It wasn’t just one or two minor moves that were made to improve from last season to this season– Bergevin made some sweeping changes, by necessity or otherwise.

The top-six forward group should be fine, but do the Habs have the same level of depth that they had last season? That’s another question entirely.

At the very least, they’re not getting caught up having an overstayed welcome with replacement level talent, yet their window in the Price era may be coming to a close.

Hopefully Price gets the help that he needs most as there’s a lot more to life than just hockey. In the meantime, time marches on as the 34-year-old goaltender is susceptible to the inevitable fallout from a goaltender’s prime.

Montréal may very well win another Cup someday soon, but Price might be in a more limited role as the club’s backup by then, if all things go according to plan with this ideally seamless transition from a team that lucked into postseason runs.

The Habs need to improve in the regular season in a division that’s already tough enough to compete in with Tampa, Toronto, Florida and Boston expected to be in the playoff hunt in the Atlantic Division.

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Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #229- Metro Madness (2021-22 Edition)

We preview the Metropolitan Division for the 2021-22 season. “Off the Cuff” makes its long-awaited return as your favorite game show segment.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyAmazon Music and/or Audible.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Carolina Hurricanes 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 36-12-8, 80 points

1st in the Discover NHL Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Tampa

Additions: F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (signed to an offersheet, not matched by MTL), F Josh Leivo, F Maxim Letunov, F Sam Miletic, F Stefan Noesen, F Andrew Poturalski, F C.J. Smith, F Derek Stepan, D Ethan Bear (acquired from EDM), D Ian Cole, D Jalen Chatfield, D Tony DeAngelo, D Eric Gelinas, D Josh Jacobs, D Brendan Smith, G Frederik Andersen, G Alex Lyon, G Antti Raanta

Subtractions: F Warren Foegele (traded to EDM), F Morgan Geekie (expansion, SEA), F Dave Gust (signed with Chicago Wolves, AHL), F Egor Korshkov (KHL), F Saku Maenalanen (Liiga), F Brock McGinn (signed with PIT), F Cedric Paquette (signed with MTL), F Sheldon Rempal (signed with VAN), D Jake Bean (traded to CBJ), D Jani Hakanpää (signed with DAL), D Dougie Hamilton (signed with NJD), D Rolan McKeown (signed with COL), D Joakim Ryan (SHL), D David Warsofsky (DEL), G Jonathan Bernier (rights acquired from DET, signed with NJD), G Petr Mrázek (signed with TOR), G Alex Nedeljkovic (traded to DET), G James Reimer (signed with SJS)

Still Unsigned: F Max McCormick, F Drew Shore, G Jeremy Helvig, G Dylan Wells (acquired from EDM, CAR reserve list, AHL- Chicago Wolves)

Re-signed: F Jordan Martinook, F Spencer Smallman, F Andrei Svechnikov, D Maxime Lajoie

Offseason Analysis: Whoa boy, what didn’t the Canes do this offseason?

Carolina was all over the place– both in transactions and scrambling to assemble some semblance of a message in press conferences afterward while trying to convince everyone (perhaps more so themselves, at times) that they’re still a competitive team heading in the right direction and that they totally didn’t overreact.

Unlike how the New York Rangers reacted to one player on another team apparently dismantling their franchise, the Hurricanes reacted to– egad! The salary cap! The horror, the horror!

Canes General Manager, Don Waddell, didn’t like the optics of a team that’s been improving in each of the last three seasons despite First Round exits in back-to-back years after making the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

Though owner, Tom Dundon, denies having any say in the approach to the offseason short of just signing the cheques, Carolina didn’t want to spend more than they absolutely had to on fielding a roster that can probably make the playoffs, generate some additional revenue and peter out before anyone catches Stanley Cup fever.

At the very least, the team is spending more than when Peter Karmanos, Jr. spent from season-to-season on a team that made the postseason in 2009, then again in 2019, with nothing happening in-between, for example.

The team didn’t have to lose both Dougie Hamilton and Alex Nedeljkovic while re-signing Andrei Svechnikov this offseason, but they did.

Hamilton received a low-ball offer and got what he felt he deserved on a seven-year deal with the New Jersey Devils worth $9.000 million per season. Compared to the rest of the defenders on the market and other extensions that begin in 2022-23 for Seth Jones with Chicago and Zach Werenski in Columbus, Hamilton’s deal with the Devils is a steal.

He could’ve made $10.000 or $11.000 million per season and you might say “what’s the difference of a couple million dollars” and well, everything in the sense that he’s saved New Jersey a couple million to spend on glue guys on the roster, like Tomas Tatar.

Carolina could’ve done that, but with a few more additional steps required to make space.

Fine, move on from Hamilton, then re-sign Nedeljkovic– oh.

The Hurricanes were not willing to spend $3.500 million per season on a two-year deal for the goaltender they drafted and brought up the ranks as their “goaltender of the future”.

Instead, Waddell traded him to the Detroit Red Wings for the rights to unrestricted free agent, Jonathan Bernier, who also joined Hamilton in New Jersey.

Petr Mrázek and James Reimer were both turned loose as the former went to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the latter joined the San Jose Sharks.

Waddell then signed Frederik Andersen– who’s had about as much playoff success as Nedeljkovic, regardless of the number of games played– to a two-year deal worth $4.500 million per season and Antti Raanta to a two-year contract worth $2.000 million per season.

Make it make sense.

Add to that, Carolina lost depth in the departure of Brock McGinn to the Pittsburgh Penguins via free agency and traded Jake Bean to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the draft.

In their place, enter a mixture of bottom-six talent in Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo and others, as well as bottom-six defenders in Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith.

At the very least, Carolina’s not spending much to “replace” what they’ve lost in an asset for asset sense.

They spent their money on goaltenders, an eight-year extension worth $7.750 million per season for Svechnikov and signed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet from the Montréal Canadiens for one-year at $6.100 million.

That makes up for signing DeAngelo to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, right?

Not even close.

Last year’s roster carried the threat of Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei, Bean and Haydn Fleury until he was traded for Jani Hakanpää at the 2021 deadline.

Only three defenders are returning to Carolina’s core on the blue line as Ian Cole, DeAngelo and Smith were brought in via free agency and Warren Foegele was dealt for Ethan Bear.

Oh and the same three defenders returning from last season are the only defenders under contract through next season.

There’s just no logic for whatever reaction– overreaction or, perhaps, under-reaction is going on here.

It begs the question that Canes fans have heard for far too long, “what, exactly, is the plan?”

Offseason Grade: D

The Hurricanes had a challenging, yet simple premise heading into the offseason– add without subtracting and limit the inevitable damage in the loss of a key player.

Instead, they chose violence (that’s a phrase kids say on Twitter these days, I’m told).

Keeping Svechnikov, Hamilton and Nedeljkovic satisfied was going to be a challenge and it was going to be the most strenuous negotiations that Waddell would have to go through in recent summers as Carolina continues building towards Stanley Cup contenders.

It’s likely that the Canes could’ve kept Svechnikov, Nedeljkovic and still added to the roster this offseason– whether they’d land Andersen, Raanta or someone else as a solid counterpart in the crease.

In any case, Hamilton was likely going to walk due to the constraints of the salary cap era and possible looming extensions for Martin Necas, Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teräväinen and Sebastian Aho in one-to-three summers from now.

After the marketing and promotions team led the way in showing the rest of the league how Pride Night could feel more like a celebration for the local fan base and not just a corporate shill– an organization that took the pledge to Get Uncomfortable by teaming up with Black Girl Hockey Club– the values of a kinder society were tossed aside in the interest of signing noted actual jerks.

This team did not get better. No matter the rehabilitation that may or may not occur with Rod Brind’Amour as head coach.

One step forward, two steps back.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Pittsburgh Penguins 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 37-16-3, 77 points

1st in the MassMutual NHL East Division

Eliminated in the First Round by N.Y. Islanders

Additions: F Brian Boyle (signed to a PTO), F Michael Chaput, F Filip Hållander (acquired from TOR), F Danton Heinen, F Brock McGinn, F Dominik Simon, D Matt Barkowski (signed to a PTO), D Taylor Fedun, G Louis Domingue

Subtractions: F Pontus Åberg (signed with Belleville Senators, AHL), F Josh Currie (KHL), F Frederick Gaudreau (signed with MIN), F Mark Jankowski (signed to a PTO with NJD), F Jared McCann (traded to TOR), F Sam Miletic (signed with Chicago Wolves, AHL), F Colton Sceviour (signed to a PTO with EDM), F Brandon Tanev (expansion, SEA), D Lukas Bengtsson (KHL), D Cody Ceci (signed with EDM), D Kevin Czuczman (signed with MIN), D Jesper Lindgren (HockeyAllsvenskan), D Andrey Pedan (KHL), D Zach Trotman (retired), D Yannick Weber (NL), G Maxime Lagacé (signed with TBL), G Emil Larmi (Liiga)

Still Unsigned: None

Re-signed: F Zach Aston-Reese, F Kasper Björkqvist, F Teddy Blueger, F Evan Rodrigues, F Radim Zohorna

Offseason Analysis: Penguins General Manager, Ron Hextall, had a realtively quiet offseason outside of the announcements that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would miss some action to start the 2021-22 season.

After making some depth signings, Pittsburgh is left with about $121,800 in cap space. In other words, it might be a little bumpy out of the gate without Crosby and Malkin– especially since the Pens dealt Jared McCann to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Filip Hallander and a 2023 7th round pick ahead of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.

In retrospect, perhaps it would’ve been worth keeping McCann and convincing the Seattle Kraken to take almost anyone else– there’s still a chance they would’ve taken Brandon Tanev anyway, especially if Pittsburgh had crafted a deal with the Kraken to agree to not select McCann in exchange for some draft picks or something.

Nevertheless, Hextall made a conscious decision to move on from McCann’s 14-18–32 totals in 43 games last season and Tanev’s 7-9–16 totals in 32 games with the Penguins in 2020-21 and live with the consequences of his own actions. At least there’s Jeff Carter.

At some point, the magic will wear out in Pittsburgh.

Though the Penguins may have calmed the waters of the Malkin trade rumors under the previous regime ruled by Jim Rutherford, there’s the reality of a post-Crosby and Malkin era soon to sink in.

Malkin is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and Crosby is under contract through the 2024-25 season.

If the Penguins aren’t able to escape the First Round in 2022, and Malkin determines there’s no future in sight for success in a Pittsburgh jersey, there’s a good chance he could leave– not in search of a big cheque, but rather another chance at one more Cup ring on a contender’s roster.

But let’s not get too bogged down by the grips of reality.

Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, has some juggling to do with the lineup– like always– and with a new cast of characters that includes Hållander, Danton Heinen, Brock McGinn and the return of Dominik Simon– there’s a lot of depth to go around.

At 21-years-old, Hållander might be ready for some NHL action, whether out of necessity or to simply prove his skill level.

Heinen, meanwhile, is looking for a fresh start after the Anaheim Ducks chose not to tender him a qualifying offer, leading him to sign a one-year deal with the Penguins worth $1.100 million.

In 43 games with the Ducks last season, Heinen had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists), scoring fewer points than he had in the previous season for third-straight season since he broke out with 16-31–47 totals in 77 games for the Boston Bruins in 2017-18.

McGinn was due for a payday and cashed in on a longer contract than he could’ve expected from the Carolina Hurricanes, signing a four-year deal worth $2.750 million per season with Pittsburgh this summer.

In 345 career NHL games, McGinn’s had 51-55–106 totals, including 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 37 games while battling injury last season.

He remains to be an effective penalty killing fourth liner and should fit Sullivan’s mold well as a means of ensuring his top-six forwards are rested and ready to go between shifts.

Simon begins his second stint with the Penguins after taking part in 11 games with the Calgary Flames last season and yielding four shots on goal, as well as no points in that span.

As for the biggest question mark entering the 2021-22 season for Pittsburgh, can Tristan Jarry come into his own as a starting goaltender?

Last season, Jarry went 25-9-3 in 39 games, which at first glance is great! He had 25 wins in almost 40 games played in the midst of a 56-game regular season schedule– backstopping Pittsburgh to a postseason appearance before losing in six games to the New York Islanders.

But in 39 games last season, Jarry had a 2.75 goals-against average, a .909 save percentage and two shutouts in that span, whereas he went 20-12-1 in 33 games with a 2.43 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts in 2019-20.

In his most recent season as Pittsburgh’s backup, Jarry has a goals-against average below 2.50 and a stellar save percentage over .920, but in all his other cumulative appearances each season since breaking into the league with a game in 2016-17, he’s been all over the place statistically speaking.

Casey DeSmith, meanwhile, broke into the league in 2017-18, and went 6-4-1 in 14 games with a 2.40 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and one shutout– following things up with a 15-11-5 record in 36 games played in 2018-19, when he had a 2.75 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and three shutouts.

Last season, DeSmith was back as the backup goaltender to Jarry and posted an 11-7-0 record in 20 games with a 2.54 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts.

At 30-years-old, it’s likely that DeSmith won’t have as high of a ceiling as Jarry, who’s only 26, but then again goaltenders vary in the crux of their prime.

For Jarry, he may soon start to peak, while DeSmith may simply be an outlier as one of those goaltenders that comes into fruition later than even the most “average” of delayed primes for goalies.

In either case, it’s certainly not an enviable position to be in for Sullivan to have to figure out.

Offseason Grade: C

Let’s be real here, the Penguins didn’t go out and attract any stars and they didn’t lose that much (though McCann was a great piece of depth and Tanev probably exceeded his expectations due to the “Crosby factor”, both should make fine additions to the Kraken).

Pittsburgh had an average offseason for an average team that made the playoffs and had an average early ending.

They’re not a dominant force, though they finished atop the MassMutual NHL East Division last season. Sullivan has his ways of commanding his team in the regular season, but the roster lacks something to drag them across the line in the postseason these days– to take their play up a notch and crank it at 11.

The Pens aren’t as much of a concern for missing out on the playoffs in the Metropolitan Division race this season, but it should be harder to compete for dominance with the sustained improvement from the Islanders and the emergence of another team like the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils that could breakout and play spoiler among the division leaders.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Toronto Maple Leafs 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 35-14-7, 77 points

1st in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Montréal

Additions: F Michael Amadio, F Michael Bunting, F Kurtis Gabriel, F Joshua Ho-Sang (signed to a PTO), F David Kämpf, F Ondrej Kaše, F Nikita Gusev (signed to a PTO), F Nick Ritchie, F Brett Seney, D Alex Biega, D Carl Dahlström, D Brennan Menell, G Petr Mrázek

Subtractions: F Kenny Agostino (KHL), F Nick Foligno (signed with BOS), F Alex Galchenyuk (signed to a PTO with ARI), F Zach Hyman (signed with EDM), F Denis Malgin (NL), F Jared McCann (acquired from PIT, expansion, SEA), F Riley Nash (signed with WPG), F Joe Thornton (signed with FLA), D Zach Bogosian (signed with TBL), G Frederik Andersen (signed with CAR)

Still Unsigned: D Ben Hutton

Re-signed: F Wayne Simmonds, F Jason Spezza, D Travis Dermott, D Joseph Duszak, G Joseph Woll

Offseason Analysis: Whereas the Maple Leafs loaded up on veterans you may have heard of before last offseason in Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and others, then acquired Nick Foligno and Riley Nash at the trade deadline, this year’s approach for Toronto has gone in a different direction.

This year, Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, is signing guys you might not even know exist, plus a few underdogs.

Michael Bunting and David Kämpf might not be the first players you think of when you think about quality depth down the lineup, but Toronto is out to prove the naysayers wrong this season and show forward progress in the postseason– at the very least, if not win it all.

Though it’s a small sample size, Bunting had 10-3–13 totals in 21 games with the Arizona Coyotes last season. In 26 career NHL games, he has 11-3–14 totals, but again, that was with players not of the same caliber as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares or William Nylander.

Now he finds himself in competition for a top-six role– if he can beat his competition in Nick Ritchie and Ilya Mikheyev among top-nine forwards on the left wing.

Kämpf, meanwhile, can switch out with Jason Spezza at center on the fourth line and amassed 1-11-12 totals with Chicago in 56 games last season.

In 2019-20, Kämpf had 8-8–16 totals in 70 games– three points shy of his career-high 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 63 games in 2018-19 with Chicago.

Playing alongside Simmonds and Spezza should make Toronto’s fourth line more competitive with Kurtis Gabriel rotated in for some added oomph.

Speaking of Ritchie, however, Leafs-centric media might have you thinking he’s the next Matthews, but buyer beware– his 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games with the Boston Bruins last season wasn’t so much of a breakout or a fluke as it was a return to his expectations.

Ritchie played up in Boston’s lineup due to injury and became a unique piece of their power play at one point in that (strangely enough) it worked.

He spent pretty much the first half of last season playing with David Krejci at center and that’s not to say Matthews isn’t as skilled or better than Krejci, but rather a testament to Krejci’s status as a playmaker that elevates all around him.

Luckily for Toronto, Krejci’s gone back to Czechia to play in front of family and friends in his home country, so the Maple Leafs are better matched down the middle against the Bruins.

Yet, Ritchie’s impressive first half of the season regressed to the norm by the second half and down the stretch. He’s no Zach Hyman, but anything over 30 points in the upcoming season is a success for a player that had 9-22-31 totals with the Anaheim Ducks in 60 games in the 2018-19 season.

At the very least, Ritchie’s two-year deal worth $2.500 million per season is manageable. In fact, it’s the most Dubas spent on a skater this offseason.

If you can’t beat them– steal them.

Former Bruin, Ondrej Kaše, also joins Ritchie as a new Leaf and Kaše’s really looking to turn over a new leaf, since he’s coming off of a season in which he played three games and was sidelined by a concussion between Game 2 and Game 55 of a 56-game regular season.

In nine games as a Bruin, Kaše amassed one point, an assist, after he was acquired by Boston for David Backes, Axel Andersson and a 2020 1st round pick on Feb. 21, 2020.

Whether or not Kaše can get back up to speed– let alone continue his career– remains to be seen, but for now he’s signed to a one-year deal worth $1.250 million per season.

The defense is the same, Alexander Kerfoot did not get selected by the Seattle Kraken at the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and Toronto essentially traded goaltenders with the Carolina Hurricanes without actually making a trade.

No, David Ayres isn’t taking his talents to Scotiabank Arena in a Leafs uniform, but Petr Mrázek is on a three-year deal worth $3.800 million per season.

At 29-years-old, he’s the same age as Jack Campbell and signed through 2023-24, whereas Campbell is a pending-unrestricted free agent as of July 2022.

Mrázek was limited to 12 games due to injury last season and went 6-2-3 with three shutouts, a 2.06 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in that span.

It was his best performance in three seasons with the Canes, though in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, he played in 40 games, so was last season just a testament to Carolina’s defense or….

Nevertheless, when the Hurricanes faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Second Round, Mrázek was called upon to replace Alex Nedeljkovic for a pair of starts.

Though he extended Carolina’s postseason to a Game 5 against Tampa in the Second Round, Mrázek went 1-1 with a 3.90 goals-against average and an .873 save percentage.

So it appears as though there’ll be healthy competition for the starting job– at least come time for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs as it wasn’t entirely Campbell’s fault the Leafs blew a 3-1 series lead against a low-scoring Montréal Canadiens offense.

Anyway, Frederik Andersen left for the Hurricanes– the team that originally drafted him in the 7th round (187th overall) in 2010, before he re-entered the draft and was selected in the 3rd round (87th overall) by Anaheim in 2012.

Before we grade the Toronto’s offseason, let’s review a pair of trades that Dubas made this summer.

First, on July 17th, he dealt Filip Hallander and a 2023 7th round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jared McCann, who was then left exposed for the Kraken to take over Kerfoot. Whoops.

Then on July 26th, James (J.D.) Greenway was traded to Boston for future considerations.

Maybe that’s all it takes to get out of the First Round for the first time since 2004.

Offseason Grade: B-

With about $80,200 in cap space, the Maple Leafs aren’t doing themselves any favors if they’re looking to add without subtracting around the 2022 trade deadline.

That said, Dubas would likely have to get creative if things are dire anyway, since the runway is getting shorter and shorter year-by-year.

Nylander is not the problem when a trio of players are getting paid more than him against the cap and producing… …not as much.

Sometimes points per dollar in the playoffs should be accounted for more than points per game in the regular season or something like that– not looking to stir up any more arguments than there already are on Leafs Twitter.

Though it may not look it on paper like last season, Toronto has made improvements where it counts and trimmed the excess where it dragged them down in crucial moments, but if all else fails yet again this season– they still need to resolve a true “goaltender of the future” problem, tweak the defense and make some big, bold, moves.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Florida Panthers 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 37-14-5, 79 points

2nd in the Discover NHL Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Tampa

Additions: F Zac Dalpe, F Maxim Mamin, F Sam Reinhart (acquired from BUF), F Joe Thornton, G Christopher Gibson

Subtractions: F Alexander Wennberg (signed with SEA), D Vladislav Kolyachonok (traded to ARI), D Anton Strålman (traded to ARI), D Keith Yandle (buyout), G Chris Driedger (expansion, SEA), G Devon Levi (traded to BUF)

Still Unsigned: None

Re-signed: F Sam Bennett, F Anthony Duclair, F Juho Lammikko, F Carter Verhaeghe, D Lucas Carlsson, D Kevin Connauton, D Gustav Forsling, D Noah Juulsen, D Brandon Montour, D Chase Priskie, G Sam Montembeault

Offseason Analysis: The Panthers made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, then spent quite a few years in-between without playing a postseason game in back-to-back years before making the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier (losing in four games in a best-of-five series to the New York Islanders) and taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2021 First Round.

Florida hasn’t won a playoff series since they eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Final.

Unlike the time between then and now, the Panthers are legitimately on the rise.

Head coach, Joel Quenneville, has a tendency to keep a team’s composure together and make them competitive from year-to-year on the ice, but General Manager, Bill Zito, has the tough job of ensuring the chemistry works off the ice and under the salary cap too.

Luckily for him, all he had to do this summer was stay the course.

Though they lost in six games to the Lightning in the first ever “Battle of Florida”, the Panthers got a taste of what makes champions, champions, and gained valuable experience in the postseason department.

Zito bought out Keith Yandle, brought in Joe Thornton for the bottom-six via free agency, acquired Sam Reinhart (and signed him to an extension) and traded Anton Strålman to the Arizona Coyotes in his biggest moves of the summer.

The emergence of Mackenzie Weegar and the return of Aaron Ekblad pre-empted a spot in the top-six for Yandle with Brandon Montour, Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas garnering more time under Quenneville’s masterplan.

Meanwhile, Strålman’s departure opened up $5.500 million in cap space for Zito to spend elsewhere– like on Reinhart’s three-year extension worth $6.500 million per season, for example.

Reinhart was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2022 1st round pick and goalie, Devon Levi, on July 24th– two days before Zito flipped Strålman with Vladislav Kolyachonok to the Coyotes for a 2023 7th round pick.

Despite a horrible 2020-21 season for the Sabres as a whole, Reinhart chipped in 40 points (25 goals, 15 assists) in 54 games as one of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary year.

One season in Toronto was enough for Thornton as his Maple Leafs tenure produced 5-15–20 totals in 44 games. At least now that he’s in Florida it’ll be 1) warmer for surfing year-round and 2) better overall.

With about $1.330 million in cap space, Zito has room to keep adding the missing link (if there even is one) by the time the trade deadline rolls around.

Offseason Grade: A-

Hockey is weird in that once a team starts showing signs of forward progress sometimes they go off the deep end and make tons of moves that make no sense from season-to-season.

Zito is sharp enough to stay the course and add– bolstering his top-six forward group with Reinhart and providing Florida with the best chance to succeed for the first time this millennium.

That said, there’s always the Sergei Bobrovsky factor, but Spencer Knight should help ease Bobrovsky’s workload if he isn’t already the starting goaltender to begin with for the Panthers in 2021-22.

Chris Driedger leaving for the Seattle Kraken was inevitable, but Florida was wise enough to stockpile goaltending depth in Sam Montembeault and Knight over the last couple of seasons.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Minnesota Wild 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 35-16-5, 75 points

3rd in the Honda NHL West Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Vegas

Additions: F Frédérick Gaudreau, F Dominic Turgeon, D Jordie Benn, D Kevin Czuczman, D Alex Goligoski, D Joe Hicketts, D Dmitry Kulikov, D Jon Lizotte, D Jon Merrill

Subtractions: F Nick Bonino (signed with SJS), F Gabriel Dumont (signed with TBL), F Marcus Johansson (signed with SEA), F Luke Johnson (signed with WPG), F Gerald Mayhew (signed with PHI), F Zach Parise (buyout, signed with NYI), F Dmitry Sokolov (NMHL), D Matt Bartkowski (signed to a PTO with PIT), D Louie Belpedio (signed with MTL), D Ian Cole (signed with CAR), D Brad Hunt (signed with VAN), D Brennan Menell (traded to TOR), D Carson Soucy (expansion, SEA), D Ryan Suter (buyout, signed with DAL)

Still Unsigned: D Ian McCoshen

Re-signed: F Will Bitten, F Nick Bjugstad, F Joseph Cramarossa, F Brandon Duhaime, F Joel Eriksson Ek, F Kevin Fiala, F Kirill Kaprizov, F Kyle Rau, F Mason Shaw, D Dakota Mermis, G Andrew Hammond

Offseason Analysis: It took all summer, but it didn’t linger into the fall as Wild General Manager, Bill Guerin, and forward, Kirill Kaprizov, were able to hammer out a five-year extension worth $9.000 million per season– forcing this entire offseason recap/season preview to be re-written.

Going into Tuesday, Minnesota was bound to receive a letter grade in the “D” range for failing to secure Kaprizov before training camp, despite a few other moves that have actually been pretty good for them– salary cap penalties via buyouts aside.

Late Tuesday, Kaprizov re-signed and all is just about forgiven for the Wild.

Since joining the league as an expansion team in 2000, Minnesota has rarely had a competitive team that can make a deep run into the postseason. They’ve consistently been good, but never good enough.

Marian Gaborik came and went, Mikko Koivu stayed loyal until he joined the Columbus Blue Jackets for a brief stint last season prior to retiring less than a month into the 2020-21 schedule and then the dawn of the Kaprizov Era began.

After spending time in the Kontinental Hockey League for his early development, Kaprizov amassed 27-24–51 totals in 55 games in his debut season with Minnesota as a 24-year-old left wing.

He’s the real deal and the Wild are leaning into it.

Though Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson and others weren’t re-signed as part of Minnesota’s depth that got them all the way to a Game 7 at T-Mobile Arena against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 First Round, Guerin held things down where it counts– the core.

Joel Eriksson Ek signed an eight-year extension worth $5.250 million per season after a breakout season with 30 points (19 goals, 11 assists) in 56 games last season after amassing 8-21–29 totals in 62 games in 2019-20.

If the last two seasons are an indication of what’s to come, then the Wild have a steal of a deal in Eriksson Ek’s cap hit as the 24-year-old emerges in his prime.

Guerin brought back Kevin Fiala on a one-year extension worth $5.100 million– retaining restricted-free agency status over the 25-year-old forward heading into next offseason– after putting up 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists) in 133 games with the Wild in parts of three seasons since he was acquired on Feb. 25, 2019.

In parts of five seasons with the Nashville Predators from 2014-15 through 2018-19, Fiala had 45-52–97 totals in 204 games.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken, because clearly something is clicking in Minnesota and the Wild are reaping the benefits.

Alex Goligoski and Jon Merrill are fine additions to the defense, though as for how efficient they’ll be compared to the loss of Ryan Suter remains to be seen.

Guerin bought out the remainder of Zach Parise and Suter’s matching contracts on July 13, 2021, and in doing so saved Minnesota some valuable cap space to sign Kaprizov and build off of the new core.

That said, Parise and Suter will cost the Wild about $4.744 million in dead cap space for 2021-22, then $12.744 million in dead cap space in 2022-23, before the buyout penalties reach a crescendo with a combined $14.744 million in dead cap money from 2023-24 through 2024-25 before Parise and Suter’s penalties taper off with a combined cost of $1.667 million in 2025-26, as well as 2026-27.

This offseason might have been a breeze, but next offseason is a different story– especially as building and maintaining contender status gets difficult in the next few seasons too.

Ultimately, the cost of buying out Parise and Suter may or may not even be a headache for Guerin to deal with. It all depends on how the team performs between now and a couple of seasons from now.

For now, Guerin has about $3.215 million in cap space to play with for the 2021-22 season.

Over the summer, the Seattle Kraken formed their first roster and did Minnesota a favor without asking.

Seattle could’ve selected Kaapo Kähkönen, since the Wild protected Cam Talbot, but the Kraken went in a different direction and snagged Carson Soucy from Minnesota’s depth on the blue line.

Offseason Grade: B+

Though it took a little longer than both sides had probably hoped– and with more frustration than expected– Guerin re-signed his No. 1 priority in Kaprizov before the start of training camp.

The biggest challenge for Minnesota– other than improving on last season’s success before a First Round exit– is finding a way to keep the band together next offseason, when Fiala, Jordan Greenway and Kähkönen are on the short list of important pending-restricted free agents.

Meanwhile, guys like Victor Rask, Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Rau, Nico Sturm, Goligoski, Jordie Benn and Merrill have a little more flexibility to come and go as they please– assuming there’s enough cap space in face of the Parise and Suter buyout penalty crunch on top of what might still be a flat cap for the 2022-23 season due to the ongoing pandemic.

At the very least, 2023-24 should be a bit more optimistic with the latest U.S. broadcasting rights deals for ESPN and Turner Sports inflating league revenue all-around and likely bumping up the salary cap as a result.

For now, Minnesota’s transition continues, but for once there’s a sense of stability given their best players are 25 and under and enjoy being in a Wild uniform.

Though they didn’t bring the alleged “State of Hockey” a Stanley Cup championship in their tenure, Parise and Suter made playing for Minnesota cool as the franchise found its footing now entering its second generation.