The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.
The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
We’re less than a month away from the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so let’s take a gander at how things should shape up for the Central Division.
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the first postseason berth this season, Quinn Hughes signed his entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks, Shane Wright was granted exceptional status and the DTFR Duo presented the first few individual season awards.
*Zach Boychuk wasn’t actually on… …this time around, anyway.*
For the first time since Oct. 4-14th (2018), the Boston Bruins are on a four-game winning streak thanks to their, 2-1, victory over the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Saturday night.
Chris Wagner opened the game’s scoring for Boston in the first period before David Backes‘ eventual defactogame winning goal in the second frame, while Tuukka Rask (11-8-2 record, 2.55 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 21 games played) made 31 saves on 32 shots against (.969 SV%) in the win.
Rasmus Ristolainen had Buffalo’s only goal with 2:38 remaining in regulation.
Linus Ullmark (9-2-3, 2.69 GAA, .924 SV% in 15 GP) turned aside 39 out of 41 shots faced for a .951 SV% in the loss for the Sabres.
Boston improved to 24-14-4 (52 points) on the season and remained in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, while Buffalo fell to 22-14-6 (50 points) on the season and remained in 4th place in the Atlantic.
The B’s take on the Wild next Tuesday at home, while the Sabres head back to KeyBank Center to face the New Jersey Devils.
Minnesota comes to Boston on the second night of back-to-back road games with a stop in Montreal to face the Canadiens on Monday.
Saturday night was the final game of the regular season between the Bruins and the Sabres with Boston winning the season series, 2-1-1, and outscoring Buffalo, 11-7.
Jack Eichel (5-6–11 totals in 13 career games against the Bruins) was out of Buffalo’s lineup for the second straight game due to his ongoing injury (upper body).
Sabres head coach, Phil Housley, did not provide an update on when his captain would return, though he was scheduled to miss at least two games (Thursday against the Florida Panthers and Saturday in Boston).
Cassidy inserted Backes on the second line to the right side of Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, while keeping his first and fourth lines the same.
Danton Heinen, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Ryan Donato were reunited on the third line with their stellar, youth-infused, chemistry that yielded a couple quality scoring chances, but nothing on the scoresheet Saturday night.
Boston’s defensive pairings were left untouched with Rask getting the start in net over Jaroslav Halak.
About 20 seconds into the first period, Wagner thought he had scored the game’s first goal after following up on a rebound and burying the puck in the back of the largely open net as Ullmark was pulled out of position.
Wagner’s goal was immediately waved off by the officials and deemed “no goal” on account of Sean Kuraly falling and barreling into Ullmark as Ullmark was pushing away from the center of the crease to deny Kuraly’s initial shot that generated the rebound for Wagner to cash in on in the first place.
Cassidy used his coach’s challenge for further review, but the call on the ice was confirmed and the score remained, 0-0, with the Bruins losing their timeout less than half-a-minute into the game.
Moments later, Remi Elie was penalized for interference at 6:32, sending Boston on their first power play of the night.
The B’s were not able to generate a successful offense on the skater advantage and the Sabres killed off Elie’s minor.
Past the halfway mark of the first period, Wagner (5) scored a goal that actually counted this time after Rasmus Dahlin turned the puck over to Noel Acciari and Acciari slid the puck to Wagner for the twine seeking missile.
Acciari (2) had the only assist on Wagner’s goal at 10:10 of the first period and the Bruins led, 1-0.
The goal was Wagner’s first in his first game since his grandfather’s passing, leaving some comfort for the Boston forward in the face of such a tremendous loss outside of the game.
Through one period of play, the B’s led, 1-0, and held an advantage in shots on goal, 13-10. The Sabres entered the first intermission with the lead in takeaways (7-3) and hits (16-10), while the Bruins led in face-off win percentage (68-32).
Both teams had three blocked shots aside and seven giveaways each after 20 minutes of play and Boston was 0/1 on the power play.
A couple minutes into the second period, Backes (4) tallied a goal to make it, 2-0, Bruins on a rush the other way after Rask stopped a quality chance by Buffalo.
Backes sniped his shot past Ullmark’s glove side and rang the rear crossbar of the net at 2:00 of the second frame. Rask (1) had the only assist on the goal, giving the Bruins goaltending tandem four assists on the season.
After 40 minutes of play, Boston led by two goals and in shots on goal, 28-20, while the Sabres led in blocked shots (9-7), takeaways (18-8) and hits (22-21).
The B’s also led in face-off win% (63-37) heading into the dressing room for the second intermission, while both teams had eight giveaways each.
Buffalo did not convert on the skater advantage.
Moments later, Jake McCabe tripped Donato and Boston went back on the power play for the second time of the night at 12:39 of the third period. The B’s did not capitalize on the 5-on-4 advantage.
Late in the final frame, Rasmus Ristolainen (5) put a shot past Rask, high on the short-side, that was unassisted at 17:22 to make it a one-goal game and put the Sabres on the scoreboard, 2-1.
With about 1:44 remaining in regulation, Housley pulled Ullmark for an extra attacker, but it was too little too late– even after Buffalo used their only timeout after a stoppage with 1:17 left in the game.
The Sabres failed to register a shot on goal after Ristolainen’s goal as time expired and the Bruins won, 2-1.
Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (41-31) and face-off win% (56-44), while Buffalo ended the night leading in giveaways (16-8) and hits (32-26). Both teams had 11 blocked shots.
Buffalo went 0/1 on the skater advantage and Boston finished 0/2 on the power play Saturday night.
The B’s improved to 14-3-2 when scoring first this season and take on the Wild on Tuesday at TD Garden before hosting the Washington Capitals next Thursday, then traveling to Scotiabank Arena for a one-game road trip to visit the Toronto Maple Leafs next Saturday.
The Boston Bruins didn’t lead Saturday night at KeyBank Center until the game was over at 3:44 of the overtime period– after Sean Kuraly pocketed the game-winning goal, 3-2, over the Buffalo Sabres.
Tuukka Rask (9-8-2 record, 2.67 goals against average, .912 save percentage in 19 games played) made 26 saves on 28 shots against for a .929 SV% in the win for Boston, while Carter Hutton (13-11-3, 2.65 GAA, .916 SV% in 27 GP) turned aside 38 out of 42 shots faced for a .929 SV% in the loss for the Sabres.
Rask improved his career record in the month of December to 44-20-9 and tied Tiny Thompson for the most games played by a goaltender in Bruins franchise history, having appeared in his 468th career game.
Hutton entered Saturday night 7-1-1 in his last nine home games and 9-3-1 on home ice this season. As a result of the loss, Hutton has fallen to 9-3-2 at KeyBank Center this season– his first season in Buffalo.
He also went into Saturday night 0-3-1 in his last four games with a 3.22 GAA and .899 SV%. He’s now 0-3-2 in his last five games.
The B’s improved to 21-14-4 (46 points) on the season and jumped ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings.
Buffalo, in the meantime, fell to 21-12-6 (48 points) and remain in 3rd place in the Atlantic.
Prior to Saturday night’s matchup with the Sabres, Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, indicated that Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy would be out of the lineup on Saturday and may be possibilities to play in the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Tuesday at Notre Dame Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks.
McAvoy was placed on the injured reserve Friday (retroactive to about a week ago) and will be eligible to return in time for Tuesday, while Marchand remains day-to-day with an upper body injury.
David Backes was suspended three-games by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday after violating Rule 48.1 in Thursday night’s matchup with the New Jersey Devils.
Backes caught New Jersey forward, Blake Coleman, with an illegal check to the head in the final two minutes of regulation and received a two-minute minor penalty on the play.
He sat out of Saturday night’s action and will miss the Winter Classic, as well as next Thursday night’s game at TD Garden against the Calgary Flames as a result of his suspension.
With no Marchand and no McAvoy, Cassidy juggled the lines a bit by placing Danton Heinen alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, moving Joakim Nordstrom to the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk and shuffling the bottom six forwards with each other.
DeBrusk and Grzelcyk both played in their 100th career NHL game on Saturday, with Steven Kampfer as the only healthy scratch for the Bruins.
Early in the first period, after making the initial diving save on Jeff Skinner, Rask let up a rebound that Marco Scandella (2) quickly scooped up and fired into the open twine with Rask in desperation.
Skinner (13) and Sam Reinhart (30) had the assist’s on Scandella’s goal at 4:40 of the first period and the Sabres jumped out to a quick, 1-0, lead.
About five minutes later, the Bruins responded.
Boston capitalized on a misstep by one of the Sabres skaters behind Buffalo’s own net, whereby the puck trickled freely into the low slot for Acciari (1) to bat it off a defender and past Hutton to tie the game, 1-1, on an unassisted goal at 9:30.
The goal was Acciari’s first in 33 games, dating back to the last weekend of the regular season, last season.
Less than a couple of minutes later, Zach Bogosian hooked DeBrusk and the B’s went on the power play for the first time of the night.
Boston did not convert on their first skater advantage of the evening.
Late in the first period, Cave hooked Skinner and sent the Sabres on the power play for their first time in the game at 16:48. The Bruins made the kill.
Both teams entered the dressing room tied, 1-1, heading into the first intermission. Boston led in shots on goal (14-7), blocked shots (7-4) and face-off win percentage (71-29) after 20 minutes of play, while Buffalo led in takeaways (4-1), giveaways (4-1) and hits (9-7).
Each club was 0/1 on the power play entering the second period.
Krug tripped Johan Larsson at 2:53 of the middle frame, but the resulting Sabres power play wouldn’t last long as Jack Eichel caught Chara with a high-stick and drew some blood, yielding a four-minute double-minor infraction at 3:11 of the second period.
As a result of Eichel’s penalty, both sides skated 4-on-4 for the next 1:52, then Boston had an abbreviated double-minor power play for the remainder.
The Bruins couldn’t generate a zone advantage on the ensuing power play and allowed Larsson (4) to gain entry on a 2-on-1 shorthanded bid for the Sabres and score.
Evan Rodrigues (9) and Scandella (5) notched the assists on Larsson’s goal at 5:43 of the middle frame and Boston allowed their eighth shorthanded goal against of the season as a result (tied for the most allowed this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins).
Larsson’s goal made it, 2-1, Buffalo and was the first shorthanded goal of the season for the team in blue-and-gold.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Sabres led the Bruins, 2-1, and shots on goal were even at, 21-21, with Buffalo having outshot Boston, 14-7, in the second period alone.
Late in the third period, Rasmus Ristolainen was penalized for kneeing Pastrnak at 16:17.
On the ensuing power play, the Bruins brass dominated possession in the attacking zone and worked the puck back to Krug. The Boston defender unloaded a shot from the point that was promptly tipped well by DeBrusk (11) and into the net behind Hutton to tie the game, 2-2, on the power play.
DeBrusk’s power play goal was his first goal since Nov. 24th and was assisted by Krug (19) and Pastrnak (25) at 17:31.
As time expired on regulation action, the B’s and Sabres were still tied, 2-2, and heading for overtime.
Boston led in shots on goal through 60 minutes of play, 39-26, with the Bruins holding a distinct, 18-5, advantage in the third period.
Blocked shots were even (12-12), but the Sabres led in takeaways (11-3), giveaways (13-5) and hits (20-19). The Bruins remained strong on the face-off dot, amassing a, 55-45, advantage in face-off win% through three periods.
Buffalo was 0/2 on the power play and Boston was 1/4 on the skater advantage entering overtime.
Just 46 seconds into the 3-on-3 OT action, Krejci interfered with Skinner and was sent to the penalty box. Buffalo went on the 4-on-3 power play with plenty of time to make something happen in the five-minute overtime period.
In fact, to try to craft the perfect plan for eviscerating Boston’s penalty kill and taking home the bonus point, Sabres head coach, Phil Housley, used his timeout to rally his players.
But the Bruins penalty kill stood tall and Rask made save after crucial save as the Sabres power play battered the B’s.
Late in the overtime, having killed off Krejci’s penalty and resumed 3-on-3 action thanks to the first whistle after Buffalo’s power play expired in overtime, Kuraly, Miller and Grzelcyk were on the ice to take the draw in their own zone.
Kuraly won the face-off back to Miller, who sent the puck along to Grzelcyk.
As Kuraly rushed up the neutral zone, Grzelcyk hit him with a lead pass and brought forward Boston’s attacking zone entry.
Kuraly (3) fired a quick shot on Hutton and generated a rebound, which he chased down and collected to muster an odd, elevated, backhanded tap-in while crashing the slot to beat Hutton and steal the victory on the road.
Grzelcyk (9) and Miller (3) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Kuraly’s game-winning overtime goal at 3:44 and the Bruins defeated the Sabres, 3-2, in sudden death.
Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal (42-28), hits (21-20) and face-off win% (53-47), while Buffalo ended the night ahead in giveaways (13-5). Both teams had 12 blocked shots aside.
The Sabres went 0/3 on the power play and the B’s went 1/4.
The Bruins have now won their last four games that went into overtime this season and finished the month of December with a 7-7-0 record.
Boston improved to 4-4 in overtime this year, while the Sabres dropped to 5-5 in the extra frame.
Buffalo has now lost back-to-back games after the mandatory three-day league-wide Christmas break.
Having reached the end of the 2018 calendar, the Bruins will now gear up for New Year’s Day and the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
After all of the festivities die down, Boston travels back home to host the Flames next Thursday, the Sabres next Saturday, the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 8th and the Washington Capitals on Jan. 10th before hitting the road for a quick trip to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 12th.
The Original Trio reunites to talk recent trades, recent coaching changes, the Buffalo Sabres current winning streak, a haphazard review of the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers, as well as a look at the division standings as of American Thanksgiving.
Craig Berube is now in charge behind the bench of the St. Louis Blues and Ken Hitchcock is back from retirement to coach the Oilers after Mike Yeo and Todd McLellan were both fired respectively from their clubs.
Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a star in Buffalo as the team rises in the standings– can the Sabres keep this up? Will Dahlin get some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year and does Phil Housley deserve credit for the team’s turnaround?
With the most coveted trophy in sports being handed out Thursday night in Sin City, the 2017-18 season came to a bittersweet end. However, before the Washington Capitals had even finished taking their victory laps around T-Mobile Arena, Down the Frozen River was already taking a look ahead at all the exciting possibilities this summer.
Welcome to the 2018 NHL offseason.
Stay tuned to DtFR for the next 10 days, as we’ll be breaking down each and every team’s needs, wants, holes and excesses and how they might address them before training camps commence in September.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Forgive me for making too many assumptions, but I think this might be the most clear-cut decision of the offseason for any of the 31 clubs in the NHL. The first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for June 22, and it might as well start with D Rasmus Dahlin standing next to Commissioner Gary Bettman already wearing blue and gold.
Whether or not the 18-year-old Swede will be able to play the high-level defense demanded of this league right out of the gate is irrelevant, as Dahlin is clearly the most talented option available in this year’s crop of prospects.
Assuming they select him like everyone believes they will, the Sabres are hoping Dahlin develops into the two-way defenseman of any coach’s dreams: one cut from the same mold as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, but potentially even better.
If the 2017-18 season in his domestic league is any indicator, Dahlin will only continue to impress. His 19:02 time on ice per game was third on his team (Frölunda HC in the SHL) behind two players at least nine years his senior, and his .49 points per game was 13th-best in the league among all defensemen that played at least 35 games (another group in which every other player was at least four years older than him).
Of course, what truly sets Dahlin apart is his scoring touch. In only 41 games played this season, the young blueliner buried seven goals for .17 goals per game. Among defensemen that played at least eight games, that was second-best in the SHL.
Seven goals may not sound like a lot, but the number grows much more impressive when we acknowledge that he managed one more marker than the Sabres’ current No. 1 defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, who had the benefit of 32 more games played this season.
In other words, Dahlin should slot in nicely as a bottom-four defenseman for Buffalo in his debut season.
Pending free agents
With a touch over $19 million in projected cap space, the Sabres – who finished the season with a league-worst 25-45-12 record – have only nine NHL contracts that expired when the campaign came to a close, split as evenly as possible among the three positions and between the restricted and unrestricted varieties.
F Jordan Nolan and LW Benoit Pouliot are Buffalo’s only forwards that could become UFAs come July 1, and it has rights to F Sam Reinhart and F Scott Wilson due to them being RFAs since they are under 27-years-old.
Of those, 22-year-old Reinhart is clearly the most valuable, as his (t)team-leading 25 goals and .61 points per game from the 2017-18 season easily dwarf the efforts of Wilson (six goals, .29 point per game), Pouliot (13 goals, .26 points per game) and Nolan (four goals, .12 points per game).
It would certainly not be unexpected for General Manager Jason Botterill and Reinhart to hammer out a four-year deal that saw the forward receive an increase in pay from the $3.5 million per year he’s been receiving from his entry-level contract, as a signing of that length would allow the player to test free agency at its completion. I’d estimate a pay increase to at least $4 million per year, likely more.
There is always the possibility that Buffalo could trade the natural center, who spent a lot of the season on the wing due to the Sabres’ plethora of talent at that position, but I’m led to believe the rumors that F Ryan O’Reilly could be on the move sooner than Reinhart, who has yet post a season worse than the one before it. That would free up $7.5 million and a center position for Reinhart, which would allow W Alexander Nylander to compete for a full-time roster spot of his own.
Defensively, D Victor Antipin is Buffalo’s only RFA, while both D Justin Falk and D Josh Gorges are slated to test free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Falk in new colors come September, but the Sabres would be silly not to keep Antipin – who averaged .21 points per game in 47 showings this season, the fourth-best of any Buffalo defenseman with at least 38 appearances – in the organization.
Oh, he said he’s going to head back to the KHL next season? Dang… Well, the league’s (t)ninth-worst defense in terms of shots against just took another step back. All eyes are truly on you Dahlin, though D Brendan Guhle – Buffalo’s second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft – will likely have intentions of earning a full-time role with the Sabres instead of the Rochester Americans.
Where things are undoubtedly going to look different in the 2018-19 season for Buffalo is its goaltending depth chart, as G Jonas Johansson and G Linus Ullmark are the only two netminders with contracts in the Sabres’ system. Botterill has indicated that Ullmark will be one of Buffalo’s two goalies, which doesn’t look good for 31-year-old UFA G Chad Johnson‘s chances of returning to Upstate New York.
Sporting a .908 save percentage in 50 starts this season, RFA G Robin Lehner is also unlikely to get much attention from the Sabres this offseason. Since he made $4 million this season, Buffalo would have to offer him another one-year contract at the same price unless it took him to arbitration, which would only bring the deal down to $3.4 million. Instead of the club going through all that, I think Botterill will try to attract the services of a free agent from outside the organization or package Lehner’s rights in a deal for a more established netminder.
If free agency is the route the Sabres elect to take, one of the most attractive free agent goaltenders this summer is going to be G Carter Hutton. Though he is 32-years-old, it’s hard to knock Hutton’s .931 save percentage and 17-7-3 record in a season that saw him take home only $1 million. Hutton will likely earn himself a pay raise on what should be his last major contract, but he will likely still fall within Botterill’s budget.