Tag Archives: Season Previews

Vegas Golden Knights 2018-19 Season Preview

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Vegas Golden Knights

51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in the Pacific Division

Lost in Stanley Cup Final to WSH, 4-1

Additions: F Daniel Carr, G Zach Fucale, F Alex Gallant, D Nick Holden, F Curtis McKenzie, D Jimmy Oligny, F Max Pacioretty (acquired from MTL), F Paul Stastny

Subtractions: D Philip Holm (signed, KHL), F James Neal (signed with CGY), F David Perron (signed with STL), F Teemu Pulkkinen (signed, KHL), D Luca Sbisa (signed with NYI), F Nick Suzuki (traded to MTL), F Tomas Tatar (traded to MTL), F Paul Thompson (signed with FLA)

Still Unsigned: D Chris Casto, D Jason Garrison, F Mikhail Grabovski, D Clayton Stoner

Re-signed: F William Carrier, G Oscar Dansk, F William Karlsson, D Colin Miller, F Tomas Nosek, F Brandon Pirri, F Ryan Reaves, D Shea Theodore

Offseason Analysis: Only one team in the NHL’s more than a century of existence has ever won the Cup in their inaugural season. The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights almost joined the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas as the only teams to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Toronto beat the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s (PCHA) Vancouver Millionaires 3-2 in a best of five-game series.

Vegas came up three wins short of winning it all in the modern-day best-of-seven game series against the Washington Capitals that the Stanley Cup Final has become.

The Golden Knights didn’t have an unfair advantage in the 2017 Expansion Draft. General Manager George McPhee worked the trade market to his advantage, primarily building the inaugural season’s core group of players through acquisitions.

Owner Bill Foley has touted the “Cup-in-three” mantra, meaning it’s his goal as an organization to win the Cup in their first three years of existence. Upon league expansion in 1967, it took the Philadelphia Flyers seven years to win their first Cup.

Foley wants to do it in half the time.

McPhee’s already gone to work on improving his roster from year one to year two. He’s added Paul Stastny via free agency and Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens.

Stastny, 32, joins the Golden Knights after spending last season with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. In 82 games split between the Blues and Jets, Stastny had 16-37–53 totals.

A deadline acquisition by Winnipeg, he had 13 points down the stretch in the remaining 19 games of the regular season, then had his best career performance in the postseason (15 points in 17 games) en route to the Western Conference Final against (his now current team) Vegas.

Despite Stastny’s playmaking style and ability to elevate the players around him in Patrik Laine and friends in Winnipeg, the Jets were no match for the hard-charging Golden Knights.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

The old saying rings true for Stastny, despite Winnipeg’s intentions on re-signing the veteran NHL center entering his 13th season in the league. He’ll slide in on Vegas’ second line behind William Karlsson and play alongside one of his best friends since they played together at the 2010 Winter Games, Max Pacioretty.

Yes, that’s right, Pacioretty is a Golden Knight– in case you’ve been under a rock since training camp.

At its surface, the price of the Pacioretty trade is one well spent for both teams. Vegas acquired Pacioretty in exchange for Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick. That’s right about what you’d expect as a going rate for a top-six scorer– one current roster player, a prospect and a draft pick.

But for all that McPhee dealt to the Detroit Red Wings to add Tatar at the trade deadline last season, this Pacioretty deal carries a hefty trade-tree baggage, whereby a lot of assets were ultimately tossed in the pot for Pacioretty’s services.

At the very least, McPhee not only added a five-time 30-goal scorer, but he signed him to a four-year extension right away too. So if things don’t work out this season, the Golden Knights will remain in the hunt for the next few years.

Why’s that?

On top of their solid core group of forwards, Vegas has a crafty defense that’s capable of doing more than turning heads like they did last season. There’s just one catch though– they’ll have to do it without Nate Schmidt for the first quarter of the regular season.

Schmidt will be serving a 20-game suspension for a performance enhancing drug, leaving Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to do the bulk of the work with Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland rounding out the rest of the top-four defenders.

Brad Hunt and Nick Holden, in the meantime, seek to use the first 20 games as an audition for the sixth defenseman role upon Schmidt’s return to the lineup.

Miller signed a four-year extension this summer and Theodore signed a seven-year deal worth $5.200 million per season. While seven years might be a bit more than the Golden Knights can chew if Theodore’s play heads south, at least he’s signed to a manageable $5.200 million cap hit– up to 50% of which can be retained in a trade.

With an immense top-nine group of forwards and questions surrounding who will step up on defense in Schmidt’s absence, head coach Gerard Gallant must adjust accordingly as he’s always done– on-the-fly and with the complete buy-in of the dressing room.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury— now signed through the 2021-22 season, thanks to a three-year extension this summer on top of the remaining year on his current contract– must find a way to continue his rejuvenated play in net. Last season’s 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage are more than likely unattainable in back-to-back seasons.

One thing working in Fleury’s favor is his reduced workload. In his second-straight season under 50 games played, Fleury appeared in 46 games last season after battling a concussion.

Malcolm Subban (2.68 GAA, .910 SV% in 22 games played last season) is still in line to become the next Golden Knights starting netminder in the post-Fleury era, but he undoubtedly must see an increase in playing time this season.

It’s not quite a 1A, 1B option for Vegas, but rather a precaution for Fleury and a means of keeping their starter fresh for what could be another long postseason run.

Unless any of the other Pacific Division teams have anything to say about it.

Offseason Grade: B+

McPhee bolstered his top-six forward group this offseason with two simple moves, while preserving the large-scale depth of the Golden Knights prospect pool. They didn’t land Erik Karlsson, John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk, but they did get Max Pacioretty.

And they still have quite an impressive amount of cap space to work with next offseason as the franchise continues to settle into existence.

Winnipeg Jets 2018-19 Season Preview

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Winnipeg Jets

52-20-10, 114 points, 2nd in the Central Division

Lost in Western Conference Final to VGK, 4-1

Additions: D Simon Bourque (acquired from MTL), G Laurent Brossoit, F Dennis Everberg, F Seth Griffith

Subtractions: F Joel Armia (traded to MTL), F Chase De Leo (traded to ANA), D Toby Enstrom (signed, SHL), F Matt Hendricks (signed with MIN), G Michael Hutchinson (signed with FLA), D Jan Kostalek (signed, ELH), G Steve Mason (traded to MTL, subsequently bought-out, current UFA), D Julian Melchiori (signed with FLA), G Jamie Phillips (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Buddy Robinson (signed with CGY), F Michael Sgarbossa (signed with WSH), F Paul Stastny (signed with VGK)

Still Unsigned: F Jimmy Lodge, F Shawn Matthias

Re-signed: G Eric Comrie, F Marko Dano, G Connor Hellebuyck,F Nicolas Kerdiles (acquired from ANA and re-signed), F JC Lipon, F Adam Lowry, D Josh Morrissey, F Nic Petan, D Tucker Poolman, D Cameron Schilling, F Brandon Tanev, D Jacob Trouba

Offseason Analysis: For a city with the word “win” in its name, the Winnipeg Jets sure did a lot of winning last season. Paul Maurice coached his club to a 52-20-10 record– good enough for first place in a normal year, but the Nashville Predators were just three points better in the Central Division. Winnipeg finished second in the Central with 114 points.

They won their first playoff series in franchise history, eliminating the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round, then upset the Predators in a Game 7 on the road in the Second Round.

The Jets didn’t just set franchise records, they established the bar for future benchmarks of success (minus a Cup), but while Winnipeg soared into the Western Conference Final, they were in for a crash landing in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights despite having home-ice advantage.

Three wins. Just three wins shy of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance for both renditions of the Jets.

Connor Hellebuyck emerged as a legitimate starting goaltender and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made sure to lock him up by re-signing the 25-year-old goaltender to a six-year extension worth $6.167 million per season.

Hellebucyk’s deal is a manageable cap hit and carries him through his mid-prime, leaving Cheveldayoff’s options open for more in the future, let alone vitally important cap space in the now as there’s kind of a big deal in Winnipeg this season.

Patrik Laine‘s entering the final year of his entry-level contract. Based on his abilities alone, he’ll see upwards of $9.000 million per season. Based on his comparison in play to Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and more– he could be seeing John Tavares money (in the $11.000 million AAV ballpark).

Oh yeah, Matthews is a pending-RFA in July 2019 too.

Laine’s play was elevated in the postseason by offseason departure, Paul Stastny, after Stastny was acquired by the Jets at the trade deadline. Winnipeg wanted to retain his services, but Stastny chose the Golden Knights over a return to Manitoba.

Despite losing a quintessential playmaker in the short run, the Jets gained an edge on cap space in the long run. Cap space that will come in handy for Laine and other pending-RFAs including Kyle Connor, Marko Dano, Jacob Trouba and trade deadline depth pickup turned playoff scoring bottom-pair defender, Joe Morrow.

Trouba went through arbitration this offseason as the ongoing saga continues with his future in Winnipeg– whereas the last couple of seasons it appeared he was on his way out in a transaction, the Jets and the 24-year-old defender have mulled things over on a mutual relationship.

It’s just taking one little step at a time, as the defender was awarded a one-year, $5.500 million extension this summer.

There’s hope for reconciliation in a post-Toby Enstrom era, where Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers are two of the three most important blue liners in Winnipeg– with Trouba as the third.

Backing up Hellebuyck this season is Laurent Brossoit, who’s coming off of a career-worst (min. 10 games played) 3.24 goals against average and .883 save percentage in 14 games with the Edmonton Oilers last season.

While Brossoit was with the Oilers (of all teams), that doesn’t scream breakout season by a backup goaltender. In fact, it’s on par with Michael Hutchinson’s 3.26 GAA and .907 SV% in three games with Winnipeg last season and Steve Mason’s 3.24 GAA and .906 SV% in 13 games with the Jets.

Unless Brossoit taps into the once-touted potential he had in his WHL days of Junior hockey, Cheveldayoff’s made a lateral move behind Hellebuyck on the depth chart and lends Maurice to over-rely on his starter to compensate for goaltending struggles.

That’s where things can get ugly.

Otherwise, the Jets should be just fine in 2018-19.

Offseason Grade: C

The Jets introduced an alternate sweater for the first time in Manitoba since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in May 2011. It’s not the low-point of the offseason, however, it will take off a few grade points for such a bland script font as its crest.

Otherwise, Winnipeg’s offseason was par for the course for a roster that has the potential to go just as far– if not further– this season as they did last season. However, next summer is where things could get muddy.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 Season Preview

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Tampa Bay Lightning

54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Lost in the Eastern Conference Final to WSH, 4-3

Additions: F Andy Andreoff (acquired from LA), D Cameron Gaunce

Subtractions: F Carter Ashton (signed, KHL), D Mathew Bodie (signed, KHL), G Peter Budaj (traded to LA), F Erik Condra (signed with DAL), F Alex Gallant (signed with VGK), F Chris Kunitz (signed with CHI), F Matthew Peca (signed with MTL), D Andrej Sustr (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: D Jamie McBain

Re-signed: F Adam Erne, D Slater Koekkoek, F Kevin Lynch, F Cedric Paquette

Offseason Analysis: The 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning had their best season in franchise history. Well, regular season, that is. Jon Cooper led his team from behind the bench to a 54-23-5 record (113 points) and the first seed in the Eastern Conference all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals– their former division rival in what was once the Southeast Division.

It was their first postseason meeting since 2011 and the Bolts had home ice advantage in a Game 7. What could possibly go wrong? Washington was never supposed to get past the Second Round, let alone beat the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to landing in the Eastern Conference Final– plus Alex Ovechkin was always criticized for his Game 7 play in his career– and the Lightning had all of their offensive weapons, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

But Stamkos had no points in Game 7 against Washington, similar to the last five Game 7s he’s played. In six career Game 7s, Stamkos is pointless. Both literally and figuratively, if you may.

Tampa was shutout on home ice and their 2018 postseason run came to a crashing halt, one win shy of reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.

For a team that’s made the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four calendar years (2015, 2016 and 2018)– they’ve only gotten better, yet they haven’t had the results they’ve wanted (or expected) by now.

Steve Yzerman walked into the Lightning front office with Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster, he left its day-to-day duties having drafted Kucherov (2011) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), while signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson and acquiring Ryan Callahan, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over the years.

Yzerman’s seamless transition from Tampa’s face of the franchise star in Martin St. Louis to Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. was destined to win a Cup while the former face of the Detroit Red Wings superstar was at the helm of operations.

But Yzerman stepped down as General Manager, leaving the duties of cap management and roster creation to now former assistant GM Julien BriseBois earlier this month.

BriseBois’ transition to power will be peaceful, as Yzerman was sure to lock up core members of the roster in Kucherov and McDonagh to extensions beginning in the 2019-20 season this offseason.

It’d be unfair to grade BriseBois’ offseason maneuvers over the last 16 days at the same weight as the rest of the GMs in the league, but it’s worth noting– neither Yzerman nor BriseBois were able to snag Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.

Instead, the biggest prize on the trading block this offseason went to the San Jose Sharks– a team the Lightning can only face in the postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. If they make it that far.

Yzerman chose not to re-sign Chris Kunitz and Andrej Sustr, seeing the former as too old for Tampa’s core and the latter as an expendable asset that was a healthy scratch most nights. He did, however, re-sign glue guy forwards Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette, as well as defender Slater Koekkoek to one-year bridge deals.

Their successful roster is largely intact, despite trading backup goaltender Peter Budaj to the Los Angeles Kinds for forward Andy Andreoff early this summer, but as Cooper seeks to decrease Vasilevskiy’s workload, Budaj’s 3.77 goals against average and .876 save percentage in eight games last season weren’t going to cut it– even with his injuries.

Budaj’s back with the Ontario Reign (AHL) after Jack Campbell beat him out for the backup job behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Louis Domingue looks to improve on his 2.89 GAA and .914 SV% in 12 appearances with the Lightning last season, after going winless in seven appearances with the Arizona Coyotes (4.33 GAA, .856 SV%) before being acquired by Tampa.

Budaj’s eight appearances and Domingue’s 12 games in a Bolts uniform left Vasilevskiy to suit up for a career-high 65 games last season. He had a 2.62 GAA and a career-high .920 SV% in what was a Vezina Trophy finalist year with a 44-17-3 record.

While Vasilevskiy is one of the top-starting netminders in the league, 65 games played in the regular season, plus a maximum 28 potential games in the postseason is nearly 100 games of hockey. Multiply that by 60 minutes and, well, you get the point (hopefully).

Cooper has to rely on Domingue and his defense to reduce the minutes Vasilevskiy has to stand on his feet (or head) in order to keep his number one goaltender from getting fatigued.

Goaltending is all about finding that sweet spot– both in the rhythm of the game while making saves and in the ebbs and flows of the season-long schedule (including the possibility of a deep postseason run).

Offseason Grade: C+

So that’s it really.

Tampa didn’t create a mega-defense, because they didn’t get Karlsson. San Jose did.

They didn’t cause a disturbance in the Force with two potential No. 91s that would’ve seen John Tavares assume a new identity on the roster, because the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the biggest free agent on the market.

And that’s okay.

For Tampa, an “average” offseason meant sticking with their guys– the ones that reached the Final in 2015, almost reached it in 2016 and were brought in for the Conference Final run in 2018. Other than nailing down a backup goalie, the Bolts are ready to defend their top of the table standing in the Atlantic Division.

Boston Bruins 2018-19 Season Preview

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Boston Bruins

50-20-12, 112 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division

Lost in the Second Round to TB, 4-1

Additions: D Cody Goloubef, G Jaroslav Halak, D Steven Kampfer (acquired from NYR), F Mark McNeill, D John Moore, F Joakim Nordstrom, F Chris Wagner

Subtractions: F Kenny Agostino (signed with MTL), D Chris Breen (signed with Providence Bruins, AHL), D Tommy Cross (signed with CBJ), F Austin Czarnik (signed with CGY), F Brian Gionta (retired), F Justin Hickman (signed, Norway), D Nick Holden (signed with VGK), G Anton Khudobin (signed with DAL), D Adam McQuaid (traded to NYR), F Riley Nash (signed with CBJ), D Paul Postma (signed, KHL), F Tim Schaller (signed with VAN), F Tommy Wingels (signed, Switzerland)

Still Unsigned: F Rick Nash

Re-signed: F Anton Blidh, F Colby Cave, F Sean Kuraly

Offseason Analysis: My fellow hearty New Englanders, we’ve reached the third year of Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney‘s secret three-year Cup masterplan. This is the year– it’s make or break. Live free or die Do or die.

Why? Because Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato are all pending-RFAs at season’s end with about $16.500 million to spend next offseason– wait, actually, that’s not that bad. It’s tricky, tedious stuff, but manageable if they do it right (Sweeney’s not the last guy, so…?).

Considering David Krejci ($7.250 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season), David Backes ($6.000 million cap hit through 2020-21) and for some reason Torey Krug ($5.250 million cap hit through 2019-20) have all been the topic of trade rumors this offseason, Sweeney will likely end up with well over $20.000 million to work with for the 2019-20 roster.

Oh and 41-year-old ageless wonder and captain, Zdeno Chara‘s $5.000 million cap hit comes off the books after this season, but as long as he’s still trucking, he’ll be in a spoked-B sweater until he retires. (P.S. That’s right, Jaromir Jagr, I’m going with Chara as the new ageless wonder, at least in the National Hockey League.)

But this? This is 2018-19.

Gone are Tim Schaller and Riley Nash, two bottom-six forwards who– let’s be honest– you didn’t think would have the kinds of seasons they had in 2017-18.

I’ve already gone over this plenty of times this offseason on the podcast and in writing, but Schaller legitimized himself as a third liner at best (and rightfully earned his new contract with the Vancouver Canucks), while Nash had a career-high 41-point season at 29-years-old– can that ever be repeated on his three-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

Maybe at least once, but not at the price the Bruins could afford with a plethora of youth needing renewals in the next couple of offseasons (oh and coming for roster spots too).

Gone as well are Anton Khudobin and Nick Holden– last season’s backup goaltender and depth piece acquisition on the blue line in February.

In are Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom and whoever makes the roster from Providence this season. John Moore’s new on defense too– he signed a 5-year, $2.750 million per season, contract on July 1st and as a result, became Adam McQuaid’s de facto replacement turned actual-facto (I’m making that a thing) replacement after McQuaid was shipped off to the New York Rangers on September 11th.

The thought process is simple with Wagner and Nordstrom.

Wagner likes to hit and Nordstrom’s coming in exactly like Riley Nash did two years ago. He’s a durable penalty-killer signed at $1.000 million AAV for the next two seasons. Low risk, high reward (as long as he reaches his goals).

Jarolsav Halak’s in town as the backup goaltender for the next two seasons with a cap hit of $2.750 million. Head coach Bruce Cassidy almost has a 1A, 1B option in goal with Halak’s previous starting goaltender experience, though he’ll likely see about 30 games this season to Tuukka Rask‘s 50-plus starts. Both goaltenders will be right in their sweet-spot.

Remember Steven Kampfer? The 2011 Stanley Cup champion doesn’t have his name on the Cup (he only played 38 games in 2010-11), but he’s back in black-and-gold as part of the return in the McQuaid transaction with New York.

Kampfer’s signed through this season at $650,000 and will likely be utilized as an emergency recall from the Providence Bruins, unless Cassidy doesn’t mind carrying eight defenders (with Matt Grzelcyk already as the seventh defenseman). He’ll wear No. 44 this time around with Boston, as Krug is wearing his old No. 47.

Fun fact, Krug wore No. 44 at Michigan State, but Dennis Seidenberg was already wearing that number when Krug signed as an undrafted free agent with the Bruins in March 2012.

The Rangers also gave up a 4th round pick and a conditional 7th round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, which could come in handy at the trade deadline as extra pieces in any Cup or bust making moves Sweeney might have up his sleeve.

Also departed this offseason are Paul Postma (remember him?), Tommy Wingels (off to go explore the Swiss Alps), Brian Gionta (retired as a Sabre, technically) and Austin Czarnik (actually living up in Calgary with the Flames after the Bruins ran out of space didn’t tender a qualifying offer to at least feign interest in prolonging their relationship).

Plus, Rick Nash is still undecided about coming back to play. Should he do so, Boston has about $5.060 million in cap space to spend on what would undoubtedly be his last chance at a Cup– if last season’s disappointing, concussion-filled, end to a season wasn’t already his last.

Good on Rick Nash either way– if he decides to hang up the skates, nobody can blame him for taking his health seriously. If he waits it out until February or so and is 100% ready-to-go, then let him have a shot at going out the way he wants to– on his own terms.

The 50-20-12, 112-point season Bruins we saw last year in Boston have a lot of pressure this season. A lot more is expected heading into 2018-19 than was expected heading into 2017-18, but it’s a good place to be in. Not to mention Cassidy is the right man behind the bench to get the job done.

The time is now.

Offseason Grade: C+

Despite groans from the fanbase, right or wrong, the Bruins had a slightly above average offseason. Boston placed an emphasis on their youth when Sweeney came in and retooled the prospect pool, so they’ve stuck with the plan.

They didn’t overspend, given John Moore’s potential as a quality top-four defender at precisely what Adam McQuaid (a bottom-pair blue liner) was making. They didn’t land John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk this offseason, but the fact they were even in the conversation lends them some serious credibility as a contender.

In order to be enlightened and crowned champion, first you must climb a seemingly impossible mountain. This team has those expectations and it all starts from within.

Anaheim Ducks 2018-19 Season Preview

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Anaheim Ducks

44-25-13, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division

Swept in the First Round by San Jose, 4-0

Additions: G Jared Coreau, F Chase De Leo (acquired from WPG), F Brian Gibbons, F Anton Rodin, F Carter Rowney, D Luke Schenn, F Ben Street, D Andrej Sustr

Subtractions: D Francois Beauchemin (retired), G Reto Berra (signed, Switzerland), F Jared Boll (retired), F J.T. Brown (signed with MIN), F Derek Grant (signed with PIT), F Chris Kelly (retired), F Nicolas Kerdiles (traded to WPG), F Mike Liambas (signed with MIN), F Andre Petersson (signed, KHL), F Corey Tropp (signed with San Diego Gulls, AHL)

Still Unsigned: D Kevin Bieksa, F Jason Chimera, F Nick Ritchie, F Scott Sabourin, F Antoine Vermette

Re-signed: F Ondrej Kase, F Kalle Kossila, D Brandon Montour, F Kevin Roy, D Andy Welinski

Offseason Analysis: Despite finishing one point ahead of the San Jose Sharks in the final standings at the end of the regular season, the Sharks took a bite out of the Anaheim Ducks in the First Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. So much of a bite, in fact, it swept the Ducks off their feet.

Get it? Because they got swept in the postseason.

Despite winning the Cup with Randy Carlyle behind the bench in 2007, Anaheim needs to recognize just how much has changed in the last 11 years. The Ducks got back with their ex and fell into their old habits in a new-age game.

Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler aren’t the players they used to be. It’s not that Perry can’t score, it’s just that he’s not as effective. As for the Ryans (Getzlaf and Kesler), one’s still existent (Getzlaf) though he’d be much better on the second or third line– or at least flanked by youth on his wings– and the other (Kesler) has become irrelevant.

Rickard Rakell would be better at center and well… the key is Carlyle has to revamp the lines, given what General Manager Bob Murray‘s handed to him this offseason (not much).

Brian Gibbons and Carter Rowney are fourth liners, so depth down the bottom-six is covered, at least. Meanwhile Luke Schenn and Andrej Sustr provide excellent coverage as sixth defensemen fighting for the last spot on Anaheim’s blue line, which is one of two bright spots for the Ducks heading into 2018-19.

Anaheim’s defensive core is strong with Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour as their top-four defenders. As one of the most under-the-radar defensive core, they’ve kept John Gibson‘s workload to a manageable– wait, actually, Gibson faced 435 shots more in eight additional games last season than he did in 2016-17.

For the record, Gibson faced 1,437 shots against in 52 games (25-16-9 record) in 2016-17, while he faced 1,872 shots against in 60 games (31-18-7) last season. Though the workload increased, Gibson’s save percentage improved from a .924 to a .926. He also won over half the games he played in last season.

So Anaheim’s main strong point is the best American goaltender in the game, while having one of the better than average defenses in the game. Meanwhile, Nick Ritchie remains an unsigned RFA that Murray has to manage carefully.

Quintessential to the transition from the 2000s/2010s style Ducks to the 2020s era Ducks, the 22-year-old left winger is Anaheim’s biggest blue chip roster player outside of the crease. Ritchie is just waiting to emerge with a breakout year as Troy Terry joins the fold on offense.

The fact of the matter remains– play the kids more.

It can only help manage the workload of the physically worn out Ducks that have been around for the last decade. Perry might still produce, but it’s time to break him free from Getzlaf on the first line.

Ondrej Kase could move up a line, but Jakob Silfverberg isn’t actually the problem on the second line.

Anaheim’s in the middle of something– middle of the road, middle of a transition or middle of mediocrity. Whatever it is, they didn’t do much this offseason to fix it this season, but there’s still time to turn things around in the next few years– wait, Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler all have NMCs in their contracts that have three, three and four-years remaining respectively?

Oh boy.

Offseason Grade: D+

No you can’t get an “A” by default after having Francois Beauchemin, Jared Boll and Chris Kelly retire in one offseason from your roster.

John Gibson might be the closest thing to Dominik Hasek that we’ve seen since Dominik Hasek led the nonchalant 1999 Buffalo Sabres (seriously, look up the scoring leaders for that team, it trails off after Miroslav Satan— shouts Puck Soup) in the dead puck/trap era to the Stanley Cup Final– that’s if Gibson single handedly leads the Ducks to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, mind you, and the mountain looks too steep.

Los Angeles Kings 2018-19 Season Preview

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Los Angeles Kings

45-29-8, 98 points, 4th in the Pacific Division

1st Wild Card in the West, swept in the First Round by VGK 4-0

Additions: G Peter Budaj (acquired from TB), F Ilya Kovalchuk, F Zach Mitchell

Subtractions: F Andy Andreoff (traded to TB), F Andrew Crescenzi (signed, Austria), D Christian Folin (signed with PHI), D Kevin Gravel (signed with EDM), F Michael Mersch (signed with DAL), F Torrey Mitchell (signed, Switzerland), F Tobias Rieder (signed with EDM), D Jordan Subban (signed with TOR), G Scott Wedgewood (signed with BUF)

Still Unsigned: F Justin Auger

Re-signed: D Paul LaDue, D Alex Lintuniemi, D Kurtis MacDermid

Offseason Analysis: Cash-strapped in the era of the salary cap and nearing the end of their Stanley Cup contention window, the Los Angeles Kings went out and signed 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal worth $6.250 million per season.

Normally, $6.250 million per season isn’t a terrible deal, especially on a three-year contract for a player that’s over 30. One of the problems with this deal, however, is that Kovalchuk is 35.

By the end of his current contract he’ll be 38.

With just over $2.100 million in cap space right now, the Kings have all but sealed their fate to a rebuild after Kovalchuk’s playing days are done– assuming he’s going to retire for the second time after the 2020-21 season.

Anze Kopitar (31) isn’t getting any younger, despite being under contract at $10.000 million through 2023-24. Dustin Brown (33) is signed for the next four-years and the same goes for Jeff Carter (33). Los Angeles’s core group of forwards is aging– and aging fast without anything screaming up the depth charts.

Half of their forwards are 31 or older.

On defense, Jake Muzzin‘s turning 30 in February, Dion Phaneuf (33) and Alec Martinez (31) lead the way among older blue liners. Oh yeah and Drew Doughty (28) is in the final year of his $7.000 million AAV contract.

Don’t worry, Kings fans, General Manager Rob Blake took care of any doubts about Doughty’s future by signing the star defender to an eight-year extension beginning in 2019-20 at $11.000 million per season.

That raise of $4.000 million? Yeah, that doesn’t help the cap situation. No amount of Norris Trophy’s or Selke Trophy’s can counteract rising salaries– in fact, they don’t help negotiations from a general manager’s perspective.

But why worry about the future when Los Angeles is trying to win one more Cup now?

After all, starting goaltender Jonathan Quick is 32-years-old and on a friendly $5.800 million per season through 2022-23. When things start to tumble, the Kings can flip Quick and retain some salary to… well, let’s not think about that– let’s assume Quick will be a King for life.

There’s no bright scenario on the horizon for Los Angeles. Time is ticking away.

While head coach John Stevens looks to improve from last season’s 45-29-8 record (98 points) on the season, he’s looking at doing so with an aging core and on the backs of a 32-year-old starting goalie and 36-year-old backup (Peter Budaj). Unless Jack Campbell, 26, is finally ready to emerge as an NHL backup.

Oh and Stevens is at the helm of a team in California (did anybody see the Erik Karlsson trade the other day? The San Jose Sharks got a lot better, like, as good as– if not better than– the Nashville Predators defense)– let alone the rest of the Pacific Division (hello Vegas Golden Knights).

But less about the worries for the Kings and more about just what will Kovalchuk do in his NHL return?

He last had a 31-point season (11 goals, 20 assists) for the New Jersey Devils in 37 games during the lockout shortened 48-game 2012-13 season. Prior to that Kovalchuk had 37-46–83 totals in 77 games with the Devils in 2011-12, which was, oh yeah that season New Jersey went on to face the Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final (he had one point in that series).

Then came the summer of 2012 when “Kovy” retired. This, of course, came two-years into his 17-year (whoops, cap circumvention) 15-year, $100 million contract that he signed with New Jersey in 2010.

Devils fans felt cheated, not that Atlanta Thrashers fans had already felt betrayed by Kovalchuk leaving their team for New Jersey in the first place.

Kovalchuk returned to Russia, signing a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg (KHL), where he went on to have 16-24–40 totals in 45 games in 2013-14, then 55 points (54 games played) in 2014-15 , 49 points (50 GP) in 2015-16, 78 points (60 GP) in 2016-17 and 31-32–63 totals (53 GP) in 2017-18 with the club.

So he hasn’t lost his scoring touch.

At least, that’s what Stevens and Blake are hoping. A lot has changed in the NHL since his departure, namely speed and skill. It’s not a question of whether Kovalchuk can put pucks in the net, but rather, can he skate with the rest of the league’s teams zooming around on the ice?

Especially as the Kings continue to rely on a burly version of the game– one that still emphasized more physicality than other teams, despite Stevens’s refined approach last season.

Keeping a watchful eye on the stars in Los Angeles isn’t an uncommon thing. For Kovalchuk, it’s about to be part of his life again, but on a bigger scale than Atlanta or New Jersey.

Offseason Grade: B-

By default, landing one of 2018’s top unrestricted free agents not named John Tavares means the Los Angeles Kings improved and deserve an “above-average” rating for their offseason marks. But the Kings didn’t get any younger and let some expendable assets (Tobias Rieder, Kevin Gravel and Christian Folin) walk that helped spread a little depth down the lineup when necessary.

This season and next offseason are crucial to the future direction of the organization, what with Adrian Kempe, 22, entering the final year of his entry-level contract this season and that salary cap thing again. Things cannot remain stagnant for too long.

Or else the Kings might be the next Chicago Blackhawks.

Florida Panthers 2018-19 Season Preview

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Florida Panthers

44-30-8, 96 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division

Additions: F Mike Hoffman (acquired from SJ), G Michael Hutchinson, D Jacob MacDonald, F Paul Thompson

Subtractions: F Chase Balisy (signed with OTT), F Connor Brickley (signed with NSH), F Gregory Chase (signed with Wichita Thunder, ECHL), F Alexandre Grenier (signed with Laval Rocket, AHL), D Linus Hulstrom (signed, SHL), G Harri Sateri (signed with DET), D Edward Wittchow (signed, Liiga), F Curtis Valk (signed, KHL), F Radim Vrbata (retired)

Still Unsigned: None

Re-signed: F Jared McCann, D Alexander Petrovic, F Frank Vatrano, D MacKenzie Weegar

Offseason Analysis: Despite losing their leading scorers from 2016-17 after trading Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights and leaving Jonathan Marchessault exposed in the expansion draft, the 2017-18 Florida Panthers almost made the playoffs. Almost.

The 44-30-8 Panthers earned 96 points on the regular season and finished one-point shy of a wild card spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Florida tied the record set by the 2014-15 Boston Bruins for the team with the most regular season points to miss the postseason.

General Manager Dale Tallon replaced Marchessault’s scoring ability this offseason by acquiring Mike Hoffman and a 2018 7th round pick (207th overall, Santtu Kinnunen) from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2018 4th round pick (123rd overall, Jack Gorniak– drafted by MTL), a 2018 5th round pick (139th overall, Mikael Hakkarainen– drafted by CHI) and a 2019 2nd round pick. The Sharks subsequently flipped the fourth and fifth round picks at the draft.

Hoffman had 22-34–56 totals in 82 games for the Ottawa Senators last season– his third straight season of 50 or more points– before it was revealed that his fiancée allegedly harassed Erik and Melinda Karlsson on social media.

Ottawa General Manager Pierre Dorion specifically did not want to trade within the division, so he sent Hoffman to San Jose, where Sharks GM Doug Wilson was more than happy to flip the offensively gifted forward to the Panthers right back in– you guessed it– the Atlantic Division.

Tallon’s not concerned about any potential locker room quarrels and Hoffman’s already texted all of his new teammates asking if they’d be okay with him wearing No. 68– last worn by Jaromir Jagr in a Panthers uniform.

While Hoffman remains Tallon’s biggest prize and boost to Florida’s offense, Michael Hutchinson, 28, was brought in as a candidate for the backup goaltending job that is all but assured to be James Reimer‘s, unless Hutchinson can do anything about that.

Yes, it was Reimer’s inability to remain a stable starting goaltender (2.99 goals against average and a .913 save percentage in 44 games played last season, 22-14-6 record) that pushed 39-year-old Roberto Luongo (2.47 GAA, .929 SV% in 35 GP, 18-11-2 record) into not only saving the season, but nearly bringing the Panthers into the playoffs on his back.

The future of goaltending in Florida remains shrouded as Luongo is under contract at $4.533 million per season through 2021-22 (by then Luongo will be 43 at season’s end), Reimer, 30, is signed through 2020-21 at $3.400 million and Hutchinson (the youngest goaltender of the three) is on a one-year deal.

But Florida’s top-six forward core is stacked with Evgenii Dadonov, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad on the prospective first line and Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck and Hoffman filling out line two. That leaves February acquisition from the Bruins who’s looking to prove himself in a full-time role with the Panthers, Frank Vatrano on the third line.

Right about where he was on Boston’s depth chart before their youth movement– yes a youth movement, despite Vatrano only being 24– forced him out of the lineup.

Despite the existence of Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle on the blue line, Tallon still has work to do in finding another legitimate top-four defender, let alone fixing the drastic drop-off in talent from Ekblad and Yandle to MacKenzie Weegar and Ian McCoshen likely on the third pair.

Then again, it’s really head coach Bob Boughner‘s job to figure out the right matchups to maximize potential and win games, so perhaps Michael Matheson or Mark Pysyk will be paired with better suitors as the season progresses.

Overall, between the defense and goaltending, the Panthers have to improve their plus-two goal differential from 2017-18 to be a lot more in the black.

Florida’s on the cusp of making the playoffs and turning a few heads, but they really aren’t built for a Cup run. They might be ahead of last season’s Eastern Conference wild card teams (the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils) in both development and talent, but they don’t have all the pieces as thing stand to go against the powerhouses in the league– including their intrastate rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Panthers didn’t yield a huge harvest in the offseason, but they certainly got the most out of filling their need for a top-six forward in Mike Hoffman on the second line.

While Tallon was rumored to have had conversations with Montreal regarding Max Pacioretty (now traded to the Golden Knights) prior to acquiring Hoffman, Florida made the better move for their organization in that they didn’t have to give up any current or future roster pieces for the services of a goal-scorer.

External factors might have driven Hoffman’s price down, but a prospective deal with the Canadiens for Pacioretty would have meant parting with a guy like Huberdeau and that cannot happen if the Panthers are serious about making a playoff run.

Colorado Avalanche 2018-19 Season Preview

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Colorado Avalanche

43-30-9, 95 points, 4th in the Central Division

2nd Wild Card in the West, lost in First Round to NSH 4-2

Additions: F Cody Bass (signed to a PTO), F Matt Calvert, D Ian Cole, G Philipp Grubauer (acquired from WSH), F Scott Kosmachuk, F Logan O’Connor

Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (signed with DET), F Blake Comeau (signed with DAL), F Felix Girard (signed with the Manitoba Moose, AHL), D Jesse Graham (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Rocco Grimaldi (signed with NSH), G Andrew Hammond (signed with MIN), D Brooks Orpik (acquired from WSH, bought out, then signed with WSH), F Nail Yakupov (signed, KHL)

Still Unsigned: F Joe Colborne, F Reid Petryk, D Duncan Siemens, F Trent Vogelhuber

Re-signed: G Joe Cannata, D Ryan Graves, D Mason Geertsen, G Spencer Martin, D Patrik Nemeth, D Matt Nieto

Offseason Analysis: Now that Erik Karlsson has been traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has had one of the best offseasons. Kidding aside, the Senators lottery protected their 2018 1st round pick in the three-team Matt Duchene trade, meaning the Avalanche have Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick in addition to their own.

The #LoseForHughes watch has begun.

But as for Colorado’s offseason, things have gone swimmingly as Sakic’s roster made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Blake Comeau’s 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games in 2017-18 have departed for Dallas. In his top-nine forward role, Sakic replaced the 32-year-old Comeau with 28-year-old, Matt Calvert.

Calvert had 9-15–24 totals in 69 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and is looking to turn things around in health and in offensive production as a top-nine forward.

While Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen look to continue leading the team in production, Alexander Kerfoot seeks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on the second line.

On defense, Sakic knows time is on his side.

Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have made an effective pairing with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson contesting for more ice time. Girard had an impressive rookie debut with three goals and 17 assists (20 points) in 68 games played, while Barrie and Johnson played veteran roles– anchoring the blue line for the Avs.

Patrik Nemeth proved to be a smart pickup off waivers from the Stars last season as a bottom-pair defender, so it was an easy decision to re-sign with the NHL’s hottest up-and-coming team from a 48-point season in 2016-17 to a 95-point effort (and playoff berth) in 2017-18.

To complete his top-six defensemen on the depth chart, Sakic signed 29-year-old durable defender, Ian Cole, to a three-year contract worth a friendly $4.250 million per season.

Cole had 20 points in 67 games with the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins last season and is looking to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan at this point in his career.

A two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, Cole is in the midst of his prime and brings a competitive edge to the Avs in his quiet stability.

In goal, Semyon Varlamov has some competition for the starting job– if he can stay healthy– as Philipp Grubauer was acquired at the draft in June and signed to a three-year extension at a cap friendly $3.333 million per season.

Grubauer, 26, dropped the first two games of the Washington Capitals postseason run in April while Braden Holtby was figuring himself out, but managed a 15-10-3 record in 35 games played in the 2017-18 regular season as Washington’s backup. He also had a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in his most games played in a season since reaching the NHL during the 2012-13 season.

Varlamov, 30, managed to play in 51 games last season, despite injuries, and amassed a 24-16-6 record to go along with a 2.68 GAA and .916 SV%. Last season was much better than his 6-17-0 record in 24 games played in 2016-17, in which Varlamov had a career-worst 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%.

With one-year remaining on his contract at $5.900 million a season, Varlamov’s reached a make-or-break point in his career, let alone his time in the Mile High City. Grubauer is the way of the foreseeable future and a little healthy competition never hurt anyone for the starting job.

Sure Jonathan Bernier’s moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, but Colorado has one of the most sought after goalies that was on the slim trade market among options in the crease.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Avalanche had some needs and they filled them. In accordance with hockey logic, Colorado shouldn’t be as good as they were last season this season, but for the first time in at least a few years it appears they’ve found a reliable goaltender.

As MacKinnon continues to emerge and the kids grow into their own, Sakic’s roster looks set to make some waves in the coming years– at least as a spoiler (they took Nashville to six games before being eliminated after all), if not something more.

Despite acquiring Brooks Orpik only to buy him out as some sort of larger scheme the Capitals secretly wanted all along to sign him to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, Colorado didn’t make a bad choice this offseason. It’s just the beginning of making themselves an attractive free agent destination once again.

DTFR Podcast #123- 2018-19 Atlantic Division Season Preview

Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify.

Edmonton Oilers 2018-19 Season Preview

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Edmonton Oilers

36-40-6, 78 points, 6th in the Pacific Division

Additions: F Kyle Brodziak, F Josh Currie, D Jason Garrison (signed to a PTO), D Kevin Gravel, G Hayden Hawkey (acquired from MTL), D Jakub Jerabek, F Tobias Rieder, F Scottie Upshall (signed to a PTO)

Subtractions: D Yohann Auvitu (signed, KHL), G Laurent Brossoit (signed with WPG), F Braden Christoffer (signed with Bakersfield Condors, AHL), F Grayson Downing (signed with Colorado Eagles, AHL), G Nick Ellis (retired), D Mark Fayne (signed to a PTO with BOS), F Brian Ferlin (retired), F Roman Horak (signed, KHL), F/D Joey LaLeggia (signed with STL), F Iiro Pakarinen (signed, KHL), F Kyle Platzer (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), D Dillon Simpson (signed with CBJ), F Anton Slepyshev (signed, KHL), F Nolan Vesey (traded to TOR),

Still Unsigned: D Ben Betker, F Michael Cammalleri, D Darnell Nurse

Re-signed: F Ryan Strome

Offseason Analysis: The Edmonton Oilers put up 103 points on the board in 2016-17, General Manager Peter Chiarelli locked up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for $21 million a season combined.

Then they fell. Hard.

After making a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2017 for the first time since losing in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Oilers missed the postseason in 2017-18.

Seventy-eight points. That’s not the worst, but it’s not great either. They weren’t even a bubble team. Edmonton finished 6th in the Pacific Division and they’re looking to climb before other teams climb over them– namely the Arizona Coyotes and their resurgence of youth.

Milan Lucic‘s second season as an Oiler wasn’t as productive as his first. Down from 50 points (82 GP) in his first year in Edmonton, Lucic amassed 10-24–34 totals in 82 games last season. His size might read “protection for McDavid”, but his game was off– pretty far off with his worst plus/minus (minus-12) since entering the league in 2007-08.

By default, thanks to snuggling up close to the salary cap, Chiarelli let many free agents walk. Anton Slepyshev was tendered a qualifying offer before the forward decided to return home to the KHL.

Ryan Strome was re-signed on a friendly two-year, $6.200 million contract ($3.100 million per season), meanwhile Darnell Nurse remains unsigned.

That’s right, 23-year-old restricted free agent defender, Darnell Nurse still doesn’t have a contract.

It’s fair to assume that most top-4 defenders reaching their prime would earn somewhere around $4.000 million a season on their next contract– and that’s probably what’s holding things up in Edmonton. The Oilers don’t have that kind of money– at least, they don’t have anything more than that to offer.

Nurse won’t attend training camp without a new deal signed, but it’s not Chiarelli’s first rodeo with an RFA holdout. There was Phil Kessel in Chiarelli’s early days as the Boston Bruins GM, then Torey Krug and Reilly Smith took until the eleventh hour to re-sign in Chiarelli’s final season with Boston.

Of course, of those three aforementioned players, Kessel was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rumors have swirled about Edmonton’s desire to move a defender, whether it’s Nurse, Oscar Klefbom or someone else. Given their cap situation, it’d make sense– especially as they added Kevin Gravel and 2018 Stanley Cup winner with the Washington Capitals Jakub Jerabek for depth and signed Jason Garrison to a PTO.

Perhaps the Oilers’ emergency plan is staring us in the face? Then again, perhaps not. It’s hard to tell what the overall plan actually is in Edmonton, let alone what they’re going to do today or tomorrow.

In 2016-17, the Oilers had a plus-35 goal differential. It was their first positive goal differential since their Cup run in 2006. Last season, they were a minus-29.

A porous defense, lack of offensive depth past their first line and an over-reliance on starting netminder, Cam Talbot, added up to mediocrity.

Whereas last season’s expectations were set higher given 2017’s playoff run, this season’s forecast for Edmonton is served with a slice of reality. It’s going to be another long season. There’s no other way around it until Chiarelli digs himself out of cap hell again.

Offseason Grade: D+

The Nurse situation remains unresolved as training camp is soon to get underway, but at least Edmonton gets the benefit of the doubt on letting poor performers walk this offseason.

There’s only one problem– they didn’t do anything to bring better players in, nor does it look like head coach Todd McLellan‘s going to have any holes to fill with youth.