Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Penguins

DTFR Podcast #203- Hockey Christmas In August

The 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round Robin tournament are almost underway, but this episode has almost nothing to do with that!

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2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

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

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

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

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

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

It’s all just part of the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

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

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

Boston Bruins

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

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

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

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

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

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

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

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

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

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

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

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

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

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

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

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

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

DTFR Podcast #201- Summer School (Since Summer Camp Is A Sponsored MLB Thing Now)

Dates, awards finalists, opting out, new faces, exhibition schedule and the Ottawa Senators rebrand.

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

Look To The Rafters: Dallas Stars (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Dallas Stars might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of American Airlines Center someday.

Dallas Stars Current Retired Numbers

7 Neal Broten

8 Bill Goldsworthy

9 Mike Modano

19 Bill Masterton

26 Jere Lehtinen

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

Yes! Jere Lehtinen’s No. 26 was retired by the Stars on Nov. 24, 2017, and Dallas has plans to retire Hockey Hall of Famer, Sergei Zubov’s No. 56 next season (2020-21). Both are equally deserving of the highest honor bestowed upon them by the team.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

3 John Klingberg

If there’s one under the radar defender in the National Hockey League more than anyone else these days, it’s John Klingberg.

To the casual fan, the Stars might be easy to overlook and, as a result, Klingberg’s name often goes unnoticed with it, but in 425 career NHL games so far (all with Dallas), he’s amassed 58-233–291 totals.

Until the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2019-20 regular season, he never had fewer than 40 points in a season, which is a tremendous rate of production from a defender in today’s NHL.

Though he had six goals and 26 assists (32 points) in 58 games this season, Klingberg was on pace for about 45 points.

In 2016-17, he established a career-high in goals with 13 tallies in 80 games, then followed up wiht a career-year (so far) in 2017-18, setting career-highs in assists (59) and points (67) in a full, 82-game, season.

As one of the cornerstone defenders for the franchise (Miro Heiskanen being the other), there’s a chance Klingberg will endure lengthy success and translate that into more points on the scoresheet over the years. All of that is to say that the Gothenburg, Sweden native that was drafted in the fifth round (131st overall) by Dallas in 2010, is on the right track for a promising legacy in a Stars sweater that just might lead to No. 3 being raised to the rafters at American Airlines Center.

10 Brenden Morrow

Morrow spent parts of 13 seasons in Dallas, notching 243 goals and 285 assists (528 points) in 835 career games for the Stars from 1999-2013. 

On March 24, 2013, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins with the Minnesota Wild’s 2013 3rd round pick (previously acquired, Pittsburgh selected Jake Guentzel) for Joe Morrow (no relation) and Pittsburgh’s 2013 5th round pick (Matej Paulovic).

After finishing the 2012-13 season with the Penguins, Morrow made stops with the St. Louis Blues in 2013-14 and Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014-15, before retiring from the NHL with 265-310–575 totals in 991 career NHL games.

Shawn Horcoff, Patrick Sharp, Martin Hanzal and Corey Perry have all worn No. 10 in Dallas since Morrow’s departure, so it would seem as though the Stars have already made up their mind about the winger’s career, but never say never.

There’s a chance that it just might take a little time before the former Stars captain is formally recognized for his contributions to the organization over the years since being drafted by Dallas in the first round (25th overall) in 1997, having the 5th most games played in franchise history, being tied for 8th in all-time franchise goals scored, as well as sitting 9th in all-time franchise points records.

14 Jamie Benn

The current longest-tenured player in Dallas, Benn has been around with the Stars since breaking into the league in the 2009-10 season after being drafted by Dallas in the fifth round (129th overall) in 2007. 

That draft pick, by the way, originally belonged to the Boston Bruins, who traded it to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Adam McQuaid, then the Blue Jackets flipped the pick, as well as two more 2007 5th rounders for Los Angeles’ 2007 4th round pick (previously acquired by Dallas, Columbus selected Maksim Mayorov).

Anyway, Benn made an impact with the Stars in his rookie season, scoring 22 goals and collecting 19 assists (41 points) in 82 games.

He has only had two seasons with less than 40 points so far– once in the lockout shortened, 48-game 2012-13 season, in which Benn amassed 12-21–33 totals in 41 games, and again in the premature end to the 2019-20 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in which Benn scored 19 goals and had 20 assists (39 points) in 69 games.

If you’re wondering, he was on a 66-point pace in 2012-13, had the season not been shortened due to a lockout and a 46-point pace this season prior to the pandemic cutting the 2019-20 regular season short.

In 2014-15, Benn took home the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading point scorer with 35-52–87 totals in 82 games, but he then went on to set career-highs in goals (41), assists (48) and points (89) the following season in 82 games in 2015-16.

The 31-year-old Victoria, British Columbia native has 300 goals and 388 assists (688 points) in 814 career games thus far for the Stars.

As one of their most consistent performers, it’s reasonable to think that No. 14 will be set aside forever and live in the rafters in Dallas after Benn hangs up his skates.

91 Tyler Seguin

There were a lot of fireworks on the U.S. Independence Day (July 4th) in 2013, as the Boston Bruins traded Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button to the Stars for Loui Eriksson, Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith and Joe Morrow.

Seguin already had 56 goals and 65 assists (121 points) in 203 games with Boston, as well as one Stanley Cup ring from his rookie season (2010-11), then things really took off with Dallas.

He had set a season-high 29 goals, 38 assists and 67 points in 81 games with Boston in his sophomore campaign of 2011-12, but in his first season with the Stars in 2013-14, Seguin scored 37 goals and 47 assists for a career-high 84 points in 80 games.

Eriksson, the biggest piece in return for Seguin, had a measly 37 points in 61 games with the Bruins in 2013-14. He didn’t find his stride in the Eastern Conference until he had 30 goals and 33 assists (63 points) in 82 games in 2015-16, but then the Bruins chose to let him walk in free agency and sign a massive six-year, $36 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1, 2016.

Nevertheless, the Stars won the Seguin trade– if not, for nothing else, because they got the bigger name in the deal (Seguin– you know, the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 Draft).

In seven seasons with Dallas, Seguin’s only had one year where he failed to reach 70 points. 

This season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic cutting the regular season short, Seguin only had  50 points (17 goals and 33 assists) in 69 games. He was on a 59-point pace at the time of the pause– two seasons removed from reaching the 40-goal plateau in 2017-18.

In 538 games with the Stars so far, Seguin has 223 goals and 291 assists (514 points) as one of the greatest transactions in franchise history. That’s pretty good– so good, he’s 10th so far among Stars leaders all-time in assists and tied for 10th with Jere Lehtinen in franchise points.

The story writes itself, No. 91 will be in the rafters in Dallas someday.

Final Thoughts

Dallas has a few candidates in the immediate and/or near future to consider for jersey retirement nights. Yet, there’s perhaps a plethora of players that are really just starting out that cannot be ignored, but shouldn’t be held to higher than realistic expectations and standards.

Miro Heiskanen, Esa Lindell, Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov are four quality players to build a team around– combined with the veteran presences of Klingberg, Benn, Seguin, Joe Pavelski and Ben Bishop, well, the Stars should be a strong candidate for a deep playoff run, if not Cup contenders.

Heiskanen’s put up 20-48–68 totals in 150 games so far, but it’s not always about the points with defenders. Meanwhile, Lindell is quietly doing his own thing with 27-73–100 totals in 308 games with the Stars since breaking into the league with a four-game stint in 2015-16.

Hintz avoided a sophomore slump this season after scoring nine goals and 22 points in 58 games last season, he improved to 19 goals and 14 assists (33 points) in 60 games prior to the regular season being cut short in 2019-20. That’s 28-27–55 totals in 118 games so far while he continues to develop as a young NHL player.

Meanwhile, Gurianov just wrapped up a shortened rookie season, in which he had 20 goals and 29 points in 64 games. He was on pace for a respectable 26-goal rookie season after scoring one goal in 21 games in 2018-19, and first appearing in the league in one game in 2016-17.

Odds are at least one of these guys could end up in the next edition of this five years from now.

Look To The Rafters: Chicago Blackhawks (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Chicago Blackhawks might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters at United Center someday.

Chicago Blackhawks Current Retired Numbers

1 Glenn Hall

3 Keith Magnuson/Pierre Pilote

9 Bobby Hull

18 Denis Savard

21 Stan Mikita

35 Tony Esposito

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

No! As a matter of fact, the Blackhawks haven’t retired any numbers since Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote’s No. 3 on Nov. 12, 2008, but they’ll soon have a plethora of jersey retirement ceremonies because winning three Cups in five seasons will do that.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

2 Duncan Keith

There’s a trend among all the possible numbers to retire in the near future in Chicago– they all won at least two Stanley Cup rings with the Blackhawks. You’re probably quite familiar with them if you’ve been watching the NHL in the last decade.

Keith broke into the league in the 2005-06 season with the Blackhawks (who drafted him in the second round, 54th overall, in 2002) and has spent his entire career with Chicago across 15 seasons so far.

In that span, Keith has won three Cups (2010, 2013 and 2015) and has amassed 101 goals and 509 assists in 1,138 career regular season games played and ranks 10th all-time in points in franchise history with 610.

His team friendly $5.538 million cap hit expires after the 2022-23 season, when the defender will be approaching 40-years-old and may or may not even still be playing by then. Oh and he won the James Norris Trophy as the league’s best defender in 2009-10 and 2013-14. Keith was also named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner after the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

Anyway, for most of these Blackhawks players it should be pretty self-explanatory.

7 Brent Seabrook

Seabrook was originally selected in the first round by Chicago (14th overall) in 2003. He broke into the league with the Blackhawks in the 2005-06 season and has spent all 15 seasons of his NHL career thus far with Chicago.

He’s also a three-time Stanley Cup champion, having been a member of Chicago’s 2010, 2013 and 2015 rosters. In 1,114 career NHL games, Seabrook’s amassed 103-361–464 totals from the blue line. Along with Keith, he’s been a long-standing pillar on Chicago’s defense and deserves acknowledgment in his own right for the longevity of his tenure that somehow made it as far as it did– and as durable– until he had season ending surgery on his right shoulder on Dec. 27, 2019.

There’s no doubt the Blackhawks will honor both workhorses on their defense that single handedly defined Chicago’s championship style from their own zone out.

10 Patrick Sharp

Compared to the rest of this list, it might be a harder time to argue for Chicago to send Sharp’s No. 10 up to the rafters of United Center, but if you want to make the argument, first there’s the number of years and dedication spent with the team and city (11 seasons across two stints) and second, there’s the fact that Sharp had 532 points in 749 games in a Blackhawks sweater (or .710 points per game while with Chicago).

He spent parts of three seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and two seasons with the Dallas Stars, which contributed to his 287-333–620 totals in 939 career NHL games, which– if you can’t do the math– means that Sharp had 88 points outside of Chicago in 129 games (.682 points per game outside Chicago), which means (“eye test” aside) that he spent his prime with the Blackhawks and was able to give his all to the team that he won three Cups with in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

So… yeah… maybe don’t forget about Sharp in the “potential numbers to retire” conversation.

19 Jonathan Toews

A year before the Blackhawks drafted Patrick Kane, they selected their centerpiece for the future in Toews with the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft. He made his league debut with Chicago in the 2007-08 season and produced 54 points in his rookie year. Two seasons later, he raised the Stanley Cup above his head as the first Blackhawks player to do so since 1961, after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

Toews was named the 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy winner and has won an award in each of his Stanley Cup winning seasons– winning the Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015 with the Blackhawks, while taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010, the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2013 and the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2015.

He’s fast approaching 1,000 career NHL games– all with Chicago– as he’s already appeared in 943 contests for the Blackhawks since his rookie season, amassing 345-470–815 totals.

There’s no doubt Toews will see his No. 19 raised to the rafters when he hangs up his skates.

50 Corey Crawford

Crawford is the reason why the qualifier “at least two Cup rings with the Blackhawks” had to be used for this list because– spoiler alert– he was not Chicago’s starting goaltender until the 2010-11 season, and thus, only won the Cup in 2013 and 2015.

Antti Niemi led the Blackhawks to their first Cup in 49 years, but Crawford doubled Niemi’s Cup wins in Chicago and led many to forget about the goaltender that ended the Cup drought for the Blackhawks, then went to arbitration, but couldn’t reach a deal to keep him as the home goaltender at United Center and finally signed a deal with the San Jose Sharks before the start of the 2010-11 season.

Meanwhile, Crawford’s amassed 260 wins in 488 games played for Chicago– yielding a 2.45 career goals against average and a career .918 save percentage, as well as 26 shutouts in that span.

He’s been around for parts of 13 seasons with the Blackhawks and is the modern Tony Esposito for the franchise, so it’s only fitting that Crawford’s No. 50 becomes the next jersey number belonging to a goaltender to be raised to the rafters in Chicago.

81 Marian Hossa

Three Cups with Chicago and he gets in the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility? Might as well complete the journey with retiring No. 81 for the Blackhawks this upcoming season– whenever it happens (if it happens) in 2020-21.

After missing out on the Cup in 2008 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hossa signed a one-year deal with the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings for the 2008-09 season. Detroit met up with the Penguins in a rematch of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, but in the 2009 edition of the Stanley Cup Final. Once again, however, Hossa drew the short end of the stick and was defeated by his former teammates on his quest for his first Cup.

In the summer of 2009, Hossa signed a mega-deal worth $5.275 million per season over the course of 12 seasons through next season. After a debilitating skin allergy to his hockey equipment cut his career short, Hossa’s contract currently sits on the books of the Arizona Coyotes, but that’s besides the point.

In his first season with the Blackhawk’s, Hossa won it all. The long, torturous, journey to three consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances paid off with Chicago’s defeat of the Flyers in 2010.

Then Hossa won two more Cups in 2013 and 2015 with the Blackhawks and amassed 186-229–415 totals in 534 games with Chicago from 2009-17.

Anyway, he scored a bunch of clutch goals for the Blackhawks, so I’m sure that alone will be good enough, right?

Since he’s still under contract with a team for 2020-21, does this mean the Blackhawks will have to wait until the 2021-22 season to retire his number– or are they going to have to wait until then anyway due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

88 Patrick Kane

The 1st overall pick in the 2007 Draft, Kane was selected by the Blackhawks as the planned counterpart for Toews in the overnight redefinition of a basement dwelling franchise to Stanley Cup contending club from season-to-season for a decade.

In 973 regular season games with Chicago, Kane has 389 goals and 633 assists (1,022 points), as well as lots of hardware.

For starters, he’s won three Stanley Cups with the club in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Oddly enough, his best season didn’t even come until after he won three Cups in five seasons with the Blackhawks. In 2015-16, Kane took home the Art Ross Trophy with 106 points, and won the Hart Memorial Trophy, as well as the Ted Lindsay Award that season as the league’s regular season MVP both as determined by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) for the Hart and by the rest of the league’s players for the Lindsay.

Oh and he won the Calder Memorial Trophy in his rookie season (2007-08) and picked up a Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

So there’s that.

Oh plus he scored the goal that ended Chicago’s 49-year Cup drought.

So there’s that too.

Final Thoughts

Now is the perfect time to get rid of the biggest disgrace in franchise history. Unretire No. 9.

Look To The Rafters: Carolina Hurricanes (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Carolina Hurricanes might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of PNC Arena someday.

Carolina Hurricanes Current Retired Numbers

2 Glen Wesley

10 Ron Francis

17 Rod Brind’Amour

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

No! But that could change as soon as current Minnesota Wild forward, Eric Staal, eventually decides he’s had enough and calls it a career. Not just could, it should and (probably) will.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

9 Gordie Howe

Let’s keep this one short and sweet– it’s “Mr. Hockey”. Howe spent his final year in the NHL (1979-80) with the Hartford Whalers and subsequently had his number retired by both the Detroit Red Wings and the Whalers, but when Hartford relocated to North Carolina, the Hurricanes chose not to honor any of the retired numbers from their Whalers days.

As such, Howe’s No. 9 is technically available, but it has never been worn in Carolina. Why not go all out sometime on Whalers Night and re-retire Howe’s No. 9 out of a formality?

12 Eric Staal

From the 2003-04 season through part of the 2015-16 season, Staal was a fixture on the Hurricanes roster. In 909 games with Carolina, he scored 322 goals and had 453 assists (775 points), which ranks 2nd on the all-time scorers list in franchise history (behind only Ron Francis, of course, who had 1,175 points as a Hartford Whaler/Carolina Hurricane).

Staal had a massive 100-point season in his sophomore campaign in 2005-06, en route to Carolina’s Stanley Cup championship over the Edmonton Oilers in seven games. He notched career-highs in goals (45), assists (55) and points (100) that season in all 82 games played and only had one season below 70 points– his rookie season, in which Staal had 11-20–31 totals in 81 games in 2003-04– until an injury in 2013 disrupted his prolific playing ability.

As time moved on, it became more clear that Staal would need a change of scenery and the Hurricanes would be wise to cash in on what they could still get for him at a high rather than let him walk away for nothing. 

After three consecutive seasons of at least 50 points from 2012-13 through 2014-15, Staal entered the 2015-16 season with Carolina, but finished the season with the New York Rangers.

On Feb. 28, 2016, the Hurricanes dealt Staal to the Rangers for Aleksi Saarela, New York’s 2016 2nd round pick and New York’s 2017 2nd round pick.

Staal had ten goals and 23 assists (33 points) in 63 games for Carolina at the time of the trade that season. He had three goals and three assists in 20 games for the Rangers down the stretch.

The Hurricanes won the trade, which had seen the departure of their first true “homegrown” star, having drafted Staal 2nd overall in 2003.

And there’s still connections to the Staal trade with the Rangers on the roster to this day.

Saarela was later packaged with Calvin de Haan on June 24, 2019, in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg. You might recognize Forsberg as one of Carolina’s many goaltenders this year after David Ayres made his NHL debut back in February.

The 2016 2nd round pick (50th overall) was packaged with a 2017 3rd round pick (originally belonging to Chicago) in a trade with the Blackhawks before the de Haan deal on June 15, 2016, in which the Hurricanes received Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell.

Finally, the 2017 2nd round pick (52nd overall) was used by Carolina to draft a right-shot defender from the University of Michigan named Luke Martin.

Staal played more than one vital role in the ever changing landscape of the Hurricanes from Cup winner to modern day playoff contender on the upswing after making an appearance in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final (albeit losing in four games to the Boston Bruins).

20 Sebastian Aho

Entering the 2015-16 season, Carolina kicked things off by drafting Aho in the second round (35th overall) in 2015. Little did anyone know, but it was poetic selection as Staal later was traded that season and Aho made his NHL debut the following season– proving to perhaps be the heir to Staal’s legacy as the current face of the franchise.

In his rookie season of 2016-17, Aho had 24 goals and 25 assists (49 points) in all 82 games. He followed that up with a sophomore campaign of 29-36–65 totals in 78 games in 2017-18, then set a career-high in assists (53) and points (83) in 82 games last season.

Up until the shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic this season, Aho had a new career-high in goals (38) and 66 points in 68 games played. He was on pace for another 80-point season.

It’s truly a shame we didn’t get to see what might have panned out– and that’s ignoring the cutthroat Eastern Conference playoff berth race.

At the very least, Aho is no flash in the pan. He’s the real deal in terms of skill, consistency and the true direction of where the franchise is going.

Only four seasons into his NHL career, it looks like he’s destined to be honored for eternity in Hurricanes lore one day with a jersey retirement night.

37 Andrei Svechnikov

Svechnikov just wrapped up a sophomore season that was cut short due to the pandemic, but improved on his 20-17–37 totals in all 82 games in his rookie season last season.

This year, Svechnikov had 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) as well as two lacrosse wraparound goals henceforth referred to as “The Svech”.

Gifted, young, crafty Russian wingers are sometimes hard to predict, but Svechnikov appears to be the real deal– especially since he was the 2nd overall pick in 2018.

Sure, the Hurricanes have had a young Russian first round product before in Alexander Semin, but whereas Semin was drafted by the Washington Capitals 13th overall in 2002, Svechnikov was drafted at the same overall position as Pittsburgh Penguins center, Evgeni Malkin. Malkin was a 2004 Draft product and look how he turned out for Carolina’s division rival.

It might be early to say that Svechnikov’s No. 37 will be hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena one day, but it’s not too late to admit that you really liked “The Svech” and you won’t moan about “the disrespect for goaltenders and the game that it has caused”.

What’s not to love?

Final Thoughts

Carolina has their best chance in franchise history at winning a Cup and remaining an annual Cup contender in the process. The first (and only) time they won in 2006, the Hurricanes utilized assets picked up via trades and otherwise to push them over the edge and into eternal glory as names like “Staal”, “Williams”, “Cole”, “Brind’Amour” and others were etched onto Lord Stanley’s chalice.

But this time around, something’s different.

This time, the Canes have been built primarily from within and over the years via the draft. While Aho has a great chance at being a cornerstone for the franchise, players like Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Teravainen have been around for at least a few years and could cement their names in franchise lore by winning a Cup in Raleigh.

If they’re able to win multiple Cups in Raleigh, then they just might move themselves up into consideration for having their numbers hanging from the rafters of PNC Arena. 

The hard part is, however, that the accolades of Slavin and Pesce, for example, may otherwise go unnoticed by the rest of the league. Real Caniacs will know the impact they’ve had on the blue line for the franchise, but how much of the impact will be measured in twine on a pulley that brings their last name and number to the ceiling forever?

Finally, guys like Martin Necas, well, he just had his rookie season, so it seems a bit premature to run around just yet and declare him a player destined to have his No. 88 retired by the Hurricanes (but he just might someday, so you heard it here first if it happens and don’t quote me unless I’m right).

Look To The Rafters: Calgary Flames (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Calgary Flames might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of Scotiabank Saddledome (but in actuality the new Calgary arena that’s being built) someday.

Calgary Flames Current Retired Numbers

9 Lanny McDonald

12 Jarome Iginla

30 Mike Vernon

“Forever a Flame”

2 Al MacInnis

25 Joe Nieuwendyk

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

Yes! Jarome Iginla had his No. 12 retired on March 2, 2019, becoming just the third retired jersey number in Flames franchise history. Those “Forever a Flame” members are just honored players for their contributions to Calgary while playing for the Flames, but their jersey numbers remain in circulation.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

13 Johnny Gaudreau

Gaudreau put up 99 points in 82 games in a breakout season last season after reaching at least 60 points in his first four full NHL seasons from 2014-15 through 2017-18. Technically that means he’s had at least 60 points in his first five full seasons and, despite finishing the pandemic shortened 2019-20 regular season with 58 points in 70 games played, Gaudreau was on pace for about 68 points this season.

While he officially missed out on yet another 60-point season, Gaudreau is a consistent player for the Flames. Sure, 58 points is a bit of a steep drop off from 99 points, but Calgary went through a coaching change this season and unrelated turmoil in trying to find what worked so well last season, but just wasn’t apparent in their game under Geoff Ward in 2019-20.

What’s perhaps more telling about the Flames from last season to this season is that Gaudreau went from a healthy plus-18 rating in 2018-19, to a minus-10 rating in 2019-20. That’s… not ideal.

As long as he bounces back to his consistent form or even if all he does is put up 50-points per season in Calgary, then Gaudreau has a good chance of seeing his number in the rafters of the Flames’ new arena that’s currently on track to replace Scotiabank Saddledome.

The question is, will he be around long enough to qualify for it though?

Gaudreau has already played in parts of seven NHL seasons so far and, while that’s certainly enough for some teams, it seems the Flames are set on limiting retired jersey numbers for players that average about 12 seasons in a Calgary sweater.

In five years, who knows what could happen, but hopefully for fans of Gaudreau in Calgary, it’ll mean that he’s getting through his 12th season and then some as a Flame.

With 151 goals and 294 assists (445 points) in 464 career games (all with the Flames) so far, Gaudreau’s quickly approaching that “at least 600” benchmark for a player to not just have their number honored in Calgary, but rather set aside as a whole and raised to the rafters– never to be worn again.

14 Theoren Fleury

In order to be considered “royalty” in Calgary franchise history, it seems that a player must have had at least 600 points in a Flames sweater. Both Al MacInnis and Joe Nieuwendyk had over 600 points in their time with the Flames (MacInnis had 822 points in 13 seasons with Calgary, while Nieuwendyk had 616 points with the Flames in nine seasons).

Luckily for Fleury, he’s above the “Forever a Flame” club with 830 career points in Calgary from the 1988-89 season through part of the 1998-99 season.

Retiring Fleury’s No. 14 would rightfully honor a story of redemption and continued success on the path of forgiveness for all involved similar to how one could argue for the Boston Bruins to honor Derek Sanderson in some manner.

Fleury won the Cup with the Flames in 1989, and had two seasons with at least 100 points in Calgary– including one season with a career-high 51 goals in 1990-91.

A consistent scorer in his time as a Flame, one word best describes Fleury’s stats in Calgary– dominant.

After 15 NHL seasons from 1988-89 through 2002-03, Fleury amassed 455-633–1,088 totals in 1,084 games, then stepped away from the NHL to deal with substance abuse and released an autobiography, titled Playing With Fire, in 2009.

23 Sean Monahan

Like Gaudreau, Monahan defines an era for Calgary hockey– the current era of the Flames franchise. He had a respectable 34 points in 75 games in his rookie season in 2013-14, then had 60 or more points in three out of four seasons from 2014-15 through 2017-18.

Since then, Monahan had career-highs in goals with 34 and assists with 48 last season for a career-high 82 points in 78 games.

This season, he had 22 goals and 26 assists (48 points) in 70 games and was on pace for 56 points. Not bad, but definitely back to his usual production rates.

That said, like Gaudreau, Monahan has been a part of the Flames in six full seasons and has amassed 194 goals and 217 assists (411 points) in that span. With 541 NHL games under his belt– all with Calgary, Monahan could leverage more points and another half-dozen seasons as a Flame as more than enough to earn a banner alongside Lanny McDonald, Jarome Iginla and Mike Vernon.

34 Miikka Kiprusoff 

Calgary retired Vernon’s No. 30 despite Vernon playing in the tumultuous 1980s NHL. Seriously.

Vernon had 262 wins in a Flames sweater in 527 games played over 13 seasons in Calgary from the 1982-83 season through 1993-94. He had a 3.27 goals against average and an .883 save percentage in that span, as well as 13 shutouts, but he went on to win the Cup in 1989, which has been Calgary’s only Stanley Cup ring so far, so there’s that.

Unlike Kiprusoff, Vernon did not win the Vezina Trophy, nor did he win the William M. Jennings Trophy (well, not with the Flames, at least– Vernon won it in 1995-96 as a member of the Detroit Red Wings).

Kiprusoff, on the other hand, spent nine seasons with the Flames from 2003-04 through 2012-13 and amassed 305 wins in 576 games played (386 starts). In his Calgary playing days, Kiprusoff had a 2.46 GAA, a .913 SV% and 41 shutouts. He also took home the Vezina Trophy and William M. Jennings Trophy in the 2005-06 season.

Sure, Vernon won a Cup and made two appearances in the Final with the Flames in 1986 and 1989, but even though Kiprusoff didn’t win a Cup, he at least reached the Final with Calgary in 2004– losing in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Anyway, the point is simple, if Vernon is your standard for retiring a goalie’s jersey number in Calgary, then at least 300 wins and any hardware becomes the benchmark for future considerations, hence Kirpusoff’s appearance on this list.

Final Thoughts

The Flames don’t seem to have any striking “once in a generation” talent since Iginla was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013, but they do have the kind of committed and consistent players in Gaudreau and Monahan to consider honoring down the line as long as their careers live to see it.

If Calgary makes any bold decisions to trade one or both of them, then it’s not likely that either will see anything more than some “Forever a Flame” recognition.

As a whole, the Flames don’t have many strong candidates in their history that scream “retire this number or else”. 

Iginla is the only player in franchise history with more than 1,000 points with the team and the next closest guy is the most deserving of having his number retired, but carried off ice repercussions that might be holding Calgary back from sending Fleury’s No. 14 to the rafters without proper discussion surrounding hockey culture as a whole and how it failed a player and led to long-lasting effects on his life and those around him.

Look To The Rafters: Buffalo Sabres (Part II)

In the early days of DTFR, we made an educated guess as to who each team might honor in the future regarding retired jersey numbers. Since then, the Vegas Golden Knights came into existence and more than a few jersey numbers went out of circulation across the league. 

It’s time for an update and a look at who the Buffalo Sabres might honor by hanging their name and number from the rafters of KeyBank Center someday.

Buffalo Sabres Current Retired Numbers

2 Tim Horton

7 Rick Martin

11 Gilbert Perreault

14 Rene Robert

16 Pat Lafontaine

18 Danny Gare

39 Dominik Hasek

Did Anything Change In The Last Five Years?

No! Not a thing and that’s a crime according to this post. Luckily for the Sabres, we have a few suggestions to get them out of retired jersey number jail.

Possible Numbers to Retire Someday

9 Jack Eichel

Eichel had yet to lace up his skates and take to the ice in a Sabres sweater when the first “Look to the Rafters” for Buffalo was written in Aug. 2015. Since then, he wore No. 15 when he made his NHL debut, then changed his number to the more familiar No. 9 ahead of last season (2018-19).

In 354 career games (all with the Sabres), Eichel has 337 points (137 goals, 200 assists). He had back-to-back seasons of at least 55 points in his rookie and sophomore campaigns, then improved to 60 or more points in the last three seasons (64 points in 67 games in 2017-18, 82 points in 77 games in 2018-19 and 78 points in 68 games this season).

He’s the face of the franchise with the most talent since (dare I say it?) Alexander Mogilny. Not goaltending talent related, of course.

Anyway, Eichel is the real deal and just needs, well, a lot more support to get the Sabres back to the top of the regular season standings, let alone tip-top playoff performance– something Eichel has yet to see, by the way, in his NHL career.

He’s five seasons into playing hockey in the best league in the world and he has not even had a shift on the ice in the postseason because his team has missed the playoffs since before he was drafted 2nd overall in 2015.

That said, he’s a certified star and he’s signed long-term because he’s loyal to the fan base in the place where winter never stops. No. 9 is sure to be hanging in the rafters in Buffalo some number of years from now and it just might reverse the Modano Curse (well, technically, the “Brett Hull’s Foot Was In The Crease” Curse).

26 Thomas Vanek

Are we sure Vanek didn’t actually play somewhere this season? Buffalo’s first round selection (5th overall) in 2003, the Vienna, Austria native formally announced his retirement from professional hockey on Feb. 25th this year.

Vanek amassed 373-416–789 totals in 1,029 career NHL games for the Sabres, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Red Wings in one final stint from 2005-19 across 14 NHL seasons.

He spent parts of nine seasons with Buffalo and had 254 goals and 243 assists (497 points) in 598 games as a Sabre in that span.

After being dealt to the Islanders early in the 2013-14 season, Vanek became a Swiss Army knife of sorts and an NHL journeyman that went on to collect a lot of different jerseys in his career.

Anyway, whereas Danny Briere and Chris Drury didn’t last long in Buffalo and Ryan Miller had the crease, as well as the love and affection of being a goaltender for many years as a Sabre, Vanek was the one constant in a time of bliss and turmoil for the franchise.

The success of the 2000s that brought them oh so close, but not close enough as the Sabres couldn’t get past the Eastern Conference Final in 2006 or 2007, ultimately led to their last playoff appearance in 2011.

Since then, the team has gone through coaches, general managers and even a change in ownership. As the Vanek Era came to a close in Buffalo, the precursor to the Eichel Era was ushered in.

For now, Vanek’s legacy remains large and in focus until Eichel and whoever else can lead the Sabres to rise above and land the franchise its first Stanley Cup championship. As such, perhaps it’s time to consider setting aside number– oops, just kidding, you let Rasmus Dahlin wear it now.

No, Dahlin wasn’t included in this list as he only just got done with his sophomore season and was hampered by injuries that limited him to 59 games out of the team’s 69-game shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dahlin had 9-35–44 totals in 82 games in his rookie year (2018-19), which is respectable for a durable NHL defender in this day and age. He had 4-36–40 totals in 59 games this season and was on pace for about 56 points had the regular season seen its conclusion.

Though, admittedly, 16 points in 13 games for a defender seems unlikely– especially considering the number of losses that piled up for Buffalo from February to the end of the season in March.

We’ll see how Dahlin bounces back (and the rest of the Sabres for that matter), then consider changing No. 26’s honor from Vanek to Dahlin if/when it seems appropriate.

30 Ryan Miller

Miller won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in the 2009-10 season while with the Sabres– that same year he and the rest of Team USA came a goal shy of upsetting the hockey world and winning gold at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be because Sidney Crosby exists and all that, but hey, if that one moment of defeat is the only thing that defines Miller’s greatest upset while associated with Buffalo, then I think that’s something he can…

Well, as a goalie, one never really “gets over” the “one that got away” goal.

Nevertheless, Miller spent parts of 11 seasons with the Sabres and amassed a 284-186-57 record in 540 games played wearing a Buffalo sweater from the 2002-03 season through part of the 2013-14 season. He had a 2.58 goals against average and a .916 save percentage, as well as 28 shutouts in that span in 31,659 minutes as a Sabre.

He went on to have a short tenure with the St. Louis Blues after the Sabres packaged him to St. Louis, before signing with the Vancouver Canucks and later Anaheim Ducks in free agency. After six seasons in Vancouver and Anaheim (split evenly in half between the two cities), Miller appears at ease and ready to retire from the NHL this offseason.

He’s the winningest American goaltender in NHL history with 387 wins in 780 career NHL games from the 2002-03 season through 2019-20, so that, on top of his longevity as a Sabre should be enough reason to hang his number alongside Dominik Hasek’s in the rafters of KeyBank Center.

81 Miroslav Satan

Satan spent parts eight seasons with the Sabres despite what most fans might think is an eternal hell in Buffalo these days.

From part of the 1996-97 season through the 2003-04 season, Satan scored 224 goals and had 232 assists for 456 points in 578 games as a Sabre. That’s pretty, pretty good.

There’s something to say for consistency over a long period of time, say, almost a decade with one organization before the former Edmonton Oiler in his days before Buffalo departed for the New York Islanders from 2005-06 through 2007-08 before making his way around with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-09 and Boston Bruins for part of the 2009-10 season and 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs run that intertwined with the Sabres in Boston and Buffalo’s 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup.

Anyway, Satan was a consistent player in his tenure with the Sabres and an icon– not just because of the 1990s rebrand, but later on because of his leadership as the General Manager of Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

It’s a shame Satan and Mogilny never overlapped in Buffalo, because, boy, what magic that could’ve been.

89 Alexander Mogilny

If the Hockey Hall of Fame is going to keep snubbing Mogilny, then the least the Pegulas can do to help his case for Hall of Fame recognition would be to formally retire his No. 89.

Though he only spent six seasons in Buffalo from 1989-95, Mogilny scored 444 points (211 goals, 233 assists) in 381 games. He had more points per game with the Sabres (1.17 points per game) than with any other team he played for in their respective tenure (.987 points per game with the Vancouver Canucks, .942 points per game with the New Jersey Devils and .943 points per game with the Toronto Maple Leafs).

He’s a legend in his own right and it’s only right that the Sabres do him right.

Don’t just put the number aside and never use it– retire it. Give the 2002-03 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner and 2000 Stanley Cup champion that scored 1,032 points in 990 career NHL games in 16 seasons with Buffalo, Vancouver, New Jersey and Toronto the respect he deserves.

Sabres fans still– and always will– love him.

Final Thoughts

Despite not having many players emerge from the last time we did this five years ago as potential “jersey retirement ceremony worthy” quality, the Sabres have quite a few candidates from their recent or later past to consider honoring before more time is wasted.

There’s no shame in admitting that it might be time to play a little catchup as now is the perfect time to mix in a little nostalgia with the 50th anniversary season having passed, Miller riding off into the sunset with an insurmountable love for Buffalo still and everything else that could be written as a storybook ending despite the team on the ice needing some work to get back into the playoff hunt.

Plus it’d be great PR in the face of whatever’s up with the power struggle that may or may not be in the front office.

DTFR Podcast #200- 200th Episode Celebration

To mark 200 episodes of the DTFR Podcast, Nick and Colby talk about the origin story of DTFR, give podcast advice and share some of their favorite memories from the show or otherwise from the last six years of Down the Frozen River. Also, Lindy Ruff is the new head coach of the New Jersey Devils, more Florida Panthers talk and extended CBA musings.

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