The Western Conference leading Vegas Golden Knights entered their bye week at exactly 41 games played.
Due to an unintentional– completely accidental– oversight on my behalf, I didn’t remember to look at their stats after 40 games played (like I normally would every 20 games throughout the season). But for the perfectionists in the world out there– it’s better to split things right down the middle.
Vegas is back in action for the second half of their inaugural season on Saturday after going 29-10-2 (60 points) in their first 41 games in franchise history.
Earlier in the week, I pointed out that the New Jersey Devils have been quite a pleasant surprise this season. Of course, I made sure to mention the Golden Knights as one of the other pleasant surprises.
It’s not that nobody expected this team to fail as much as all the other expansion teams in the 100-year history of the league.
Given the talent pool to choose from and the overall development of professional hockey players/the league itself since the 1990s (it’s a younger, faster, game where great players last well into their 30s and good players are buried in the AHL or playing overseas by the time they’re 30-35 years old), it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Golden Knights are at the very least, a competitive– young– team.
Even still, it’s been quite the euphoric ride.
A team that poached the Florida Panthers– and many others– at the 2017 Expansion Draft, laid the foundation in 50-plus point scorer, Jon Marchessault, let alone with three-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury. Surely they would have some highlights in their first season.
Nobody could’ve imagined that same team would be seriously considering keeping Fleury or a guy like James Neal at the trade deadline in the midst of what could shape up to be a long playoff run in their first season, but alas, here we are.
It’s more than just “Real Deal” James Neal in Sin City. The Golden Knights are the real deal.
And their forecasted stats for the remaining half of the regular season show it. Though now is about the time where I make sure to mention one little standard disclaimer– my degree is in communication– not math– so any miscalculations or accolades that seem nearly impossible to ascertain are Microsoft Excel’s fault.
Vegas Golden Knights Projections Through 41 Games (41 Games Remaining)
Simply put, Erik Haula (26-24–50 expected totals), William Karlsson (32-23–55 expected totals) and Marchessault (30-38–68 expected totals) are blazing through the rest of the league and showing no signs of flaming out any time soon.
It certainly helps that Neal and David Perron are both expected to reach the 60-point plateau, with Reilly Smith not so far behind amassing 19-38–57 expected totals.
On defense, Deryk Engelland, Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore have been leading the charge from the blue line all season long. For Engelland, the adopted son of Las Vegas, a revitalized season defending the league’s newest team might just keep him playing in his backyard for longer than just this season.
Miller and Schmidt were expected to take on more pronounced top-4 roles with the expectation that at least one of them would develop into a surefire top-2 shutdown defenseman. Miller should max out around 40 points, while Schmidt should put up a cool 30-point season in his first year outside of the United States capital.
After being sent to the AHL early on in the season, Shea Theodore was only motivated to work harder.
It wasn’t that he was not desired by an NHL team as clearly Vegas saw value in his game at the Expansion Draft, claiming Theodore from the Anaheim Ducks. Now that the Golden Knights front office and coaches have righted their wrong, Theodore could very well put up 24 points on the season in what is– by all means– a breakout season for the defenseman entering his prime.
In the net, the Golden Knights have been spectacular. Not only has general manager, George McPhee, come away looking even more like the genius that he already is, but Vegas is stacked at depth in the crease.
Malcolm Subban‘s playing like a backup that’s capable of taking on a starting role. That’ll be something to keep an eye on, given Fleury’s aging out of his prime– though he has yet to show it. It’s not often that a team has the right pieces to play two goalies almost equally in minutes and be successful.
Thomas played his last game as a Bruin in 2012. Luongo was traded by the Canucks in 2014– a year after Vancouver dumped Schneider in New Jersey.
Two tremendous goalies are better than one from a team record standpoint, but at some point general managers are either forced with a difficult decision due to the salary cap or fall into the fallacy that is the “there can only be one” mantra.
And Gerard Gallant might end up with some tough decisions down the stretch regarding who to start each night, reminiscent of Mike Sullivan‘s Fleury-Matt Murray swapping during en route to Pittsburgh’s 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup championships.
Nonetheless, Oscar Dansk filled in flawlessly when Fleury and Subban were out of the lineup with injuries. Meanwhile, Maxime Lagace performed on another level shortly after Dansk’s introduction to the game when Dansk went down himself due to injury.
With enough depth in goal to try to get something good in return, the ball is in Vegas’s court as the trade deadline approaches. Though the Golden Knights don’t have to rush things. A little competition for every goaltending job isn’t always a bad thing.
Being in first place in the Western Conference isn’t good enough for the Golden Knights. They’ve got their sights set even higher, like on a 2018 Stanley Cup Final run, for instance.
Sin City is looking to shine like gold. Vegas wants the Cup.
The Original Trio reunite for a very fun-filled podcast. The Carolina Hurricanes were sold, Jaromir Jagr is soon to be unsigned, All-Star Rosters were scrutinized, US and Canada men’s national teams were analyzed and more in this action packed episode. #HealthBeforeHockey
On the most recent episode of the Down the Frozen River Podcast, @connorzkeith expressed the sentiment that the Boston Bruins have been wasting the prime of their core group of players– not including David Pastrnak, or really anyone since the 2014 NHL Entry Draft currently on the roster.
Rather, Connor suggested that the Bruins were once a dominant team of the early 2010s with a core group of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask that’s still very much left intact from their 2011 Stanley Cup championship, but that they’ve been wasting the arc of the aforementioned players’s prime.
Luckily, Down the Frozen River has an in-house Boston historian and I am here to set the record straight. This is DTFR Overtime and what I’ve thought about after recording the last podcast.
Hockey is a game of inches and odd puck bounces. It’s a collective game of skill with an over-reliance on luck. Whatever you believe, you better believe in the Hockey Gods. It’s only fate, destiny and just a game at the end of the day, right?
The business of hockey has played a huge part in impacting the game of hockey as we know it– impacting teams and how rosters are constructed, directly through the introduction of a salary cap as of the last full-season lockout in 2004-2005 and indirectly, through many other external factors (family, injuries, et cetera).
It was because of league expansion in the 1970s and because of the rival World Hockey Association (WHA) that Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Derek Sanderson and the Bruins didn’t nail down a dynasty. Of course, the Montreal Canadiens also played a part in it in 1971, 1977 and 1978, but the B’s lost star goaltender, Gerry Cheevers, to the Cleveland Crusaders of WHA from 1972 through 1976– right after winning the Cup in 1972 and during Boston’s appearance and subsequent loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1974 Stanley Cup Final.
Cheevers alone wasn’t the only difference maker in a Bruins uniform that left the black and gold for the higher paying WHA.
Sanderson jettisoned Boston for the Philadelphia Blazers in the summer of ’72 for a $2.600 million contract that made him the highest paid athlete in the world at the time, though he went on to only play in eight games with the Blazers due to injury and returned to Boston after the WHA’s 1972-1973 season on a $1 million deal. From 1972 through 1974 with the Bruins, Sanderson only played 54 out of 156 games and was sent down to the Boston Braves of the American Hockey League before being traded to the New York Rangers in June 1974.
John “Pie” McKenzie, a gifted point scorer known by his unconventional nickname left the Bruins for the WHA’s Blazers as a player-coach after the 1972 Stanley Cup Final and never returned to the NHL. McKenzie finished his playing days with the New England Whalers in 1979.
In the 1980s and early 90s, injuries and the emergence of the Edmonton Oilers as a top team in the National Hockey League plagued the primes of Ray Bourque, Brad Park, Cam Neely and the Big Bad Bruins.
Boston lost the 1988 and 1990 Stanley Cup Finals to the Oilers. Boston lost the 1991 and 1992 Eastern Conference Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Boston Garden itself was closed in 1995– and then Boston missed the playoffs in 1997 for the first time in 30 years.
Good teams aren’t meant to remain on top forever.
There’s a reason why the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports.
Claude Julien, the winningest coach (419 wins) in Bruins franchise history– having surpassed Art Ross‘s 387 wins mark with the team during his tenure in Boston– led the black and gold to two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final and one President’s Trophy (just the second in franchise history during the 2013-2014 campaign).
In 2011, the Bruins rode the backs of Nathan Horton, Marchand and Tim Thomas‘s insanity in goal. In 2013, a more experienced Boston team rallied from a 4-1 deficit in a Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round and charged all the way to a six game series battle with the Chicago Blackhawks that ultimately ended in defeat.
Thomas was no longer part of the story after 2012. Rask took over the reigns and never looked back. Jaromir Jagr came and went in a largely forgettable time in the spoked-B.
But the Bruins could skate with the best. Until they missed the playoffs in 2015 and 2016.
In the Salary Cap Era, teams are built up and ripped to shreds by massive longterm contracts and dollars being improperly allocated throughout the roster.
Peter Chiarelli got the Bruins in a salary cap hell, what with their fourth line center, Chris Kelly, making $3.000 million in his final years as a Bruin. In the broad scope of things, that was the least of Chiarelli’s mismanagement that ultimately ended his time in Boston. Neither the Tyler Seguin trade nor the Johnny Boychuk trade alone could be what led to the Bruins going from a top team deep in every roster spot to a team outside the playoff picture looking in with some mediocre placeholders.
Just one year removed from a President’s Trophy season that ended with an early First Round exit to Montreal, the Bruins found themselves on the verge of an uncomfortable position that they hadn’t been in since missing the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. They went on to miss the playoffs in 2015 and 2016.
So the Bruins did the only thing they’ve ever known. They reset themselves while still carrying a core group of players.
In the 70s, Boston rebuilt themselves around Orr, Esposito and friends when Sanderson left (then returned and left again via trade), Cheevers departed and McKenzie stormed off to the WHA. They drafted Terry O’Reilly in 1971, Stan Johnathan in 1975 and acquired Peter McNab from the Buffalo Sabres after the 1975 Stanley Cup Final.
The new identity Bruins flipped Esposito along with Carol Vadnais during the 1975-76 season to the New York Rangers for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi and still had Orr until his departure via free agency in 1976.
They could have dismantled a team that won two Stanley Cups (and should have won more, if it weren’t for the WHA) after the franchise’s slow start in 1975. They didn’t.
Hockey has never been kind to good teams with the right players at what seems like it’s the right time (just ask last year’s Washington Capitals). But that’s the nature of the sport. No matter how much of a powerhouse you build– with or without a salary cap, with or without expansion or injuries– you can’t control the way the puck bounces.
Some players stick around in the league for long enough to become seasoned veterans of the NHL and never sniff a Stanley Cup Final appearance, let alone the postseason. It took Ron Hainsey until just last year with the Penguins to make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut and it took Bourque and Dave Andreychuk at least a couple of decades each to win it all.
Just because Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Chara and Rask only have a 2011 Stanley Cup championship together doesn’t mean they’ve been wasting their time, killing the prime of their careers.
For Boston, they ended a 39-year Stanley Cup-less drought.
They’ve already won once more than thousands of others who were lucky enough to make it to the NHL.
And they’ve forever cemented themselves in the history of the franchise, as well as the City of Boston as adopted sons and representatives of the Hub everywhere they go and in everything they do related to the sport or not.
Fans want rings and that’s one thing, but to say they’ve wasted their primes is another. They’ve contributed so much on and off the ice for the youth movement once again creeping up on the Bruins. Pastrnak is destined for stardom. Charlie McAvoy is an apprentice to Chara as Bourque was to Park in 1979.
Even Kevan Miller‘s found a bit of a resurgence in his offensive game, going end-to-end to throw the puck in front of the net to find Danton Heinen like Orr did with anyone.
The torch gets passed on. We’re all in for the ride.
And you pray to the Hockey Gods that they’ll let you win at least once.
The Down the Frozen River crew takes a look at the impact of the 2016 All Star Game, John Scott, Connor McDavid, and NHL.com’s rebrand. Oh, and, Nick totally meant John Tavares when he said Jonathan Toews early in the podcast. Stay tuned for more next week, but until then, hear what they have to say about the latest news and notes from around the NHL in this week’s #DTFRPodcast.
I continue to explore an important element of the game and what retired numbers around the league may look like in the future. While there’s only a finite set of numbers to utilize on the back of a jersey, many teams choose to retire (or honor) some numbers based on extraordinary circumstances, dedication to the organization, or legendary status.
Many thoughts went through my head in each and every consideration. Feel free to agree or disagree- I want to know what you, the fans, consider worthy when evaluating a player, their career, and whether or not their number should be retired by a franchise. I am interested in seeing what you have to say, assuming you are actually a fan of the team and/or player that you argue for or against. Drop us a line in the comments or tweet to @DtFrozenRiver using #DTFRNumbersGame.
For each team, I thought of former and current players that should have their numbers retired now or once they hang up the skates.
Current Retired Numbers- 2 Eddie Shore, 3 Lionel Hitchman, 4 Bobby Orr, 5 Dit Clapper, 7 Phil Esposito, 8 Cam Neely, 9 John Bucyk, 15 Milt Schmidt, 24 Terry O’Reilly, 77 Ray Bourque
Recommended Numbers to Retire-
16 Derek Sanderson
Honestly, there’s got to be somebody out there wondering why the Bruins haven’t retired Sanderson’s number 16 yet, despite his short tenure with the Bruins (and overall short NHL career). If anything, his off the ice story is the ultimate combination of tragic and inspirational- and the work he does now is remarkable. Wouldn’t it be great to say one day to your kids at the TD Garden “and there’s number 16, which was worn by Derek Sanderson, a man who overcame many things, just like how you can overcome anything and make your dreams come true if you work hard enough and never give up hope.”
Sanderson was sensational on the ice, having won two Stanley Cups with the Bruins in 1970 and 1972. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 1968 and had a career high 146 penalty minutes in his 2nd season with Boston in the 1968-1969 season as the ultimate definition of tough in the spoked-B.
His fast track to success was marred by his equally fast track to nearly destroying his life. If it weren’t for his new found faith and good friend Bobby Orr, Sanderson would be a distant memory in a tragic loss of superstar talent.
Since he turned his life around, Sanderson has become a financial advisor and a mentor to many young athletes in the sport as well as an immortal legend in Boston for his time spent with NESN alongside Fred Cusick in the mid ’80s to the mid ’90s.
It’s time the Bruins truly honored Sanderson for the remarkable man that he’s become off the ice. Sanderson and Orr defined not only a decade in hockey, but an entire era and playing style. It’s only fitting that they are equally honored by Boston.
37 Patrice Bergeron
Bergeron just turned 30- hard to believe- and has already spent a little over a decade in the league. It’s looking like Bergeron will be another legendary player in the category of “spent all of his time with one organization,” so it will be deserving of the current definition of what it means to be a Bruin.
While he’s not Milt Schmidt, Bergeron could share the “Mr. Bruin” nickname with Schmidt by the end of his career.
Bergeron became the 25th member of the Triple Gold Club, having completed the trifecta in 2011 after having won the Stanley Cup with the Bruins. He’s won three Selke Trophies, a King Clancy Memorial Trophy, and the NHL Foundation Player Award in his career thus far.
The two-time member of Team Canada in the Winter Olympics has also won two gold medals in 2010 and 2014. The only question for Bergeron someday will be, what hasn’t he done or been a part of?
Bergeron is adored by Boston fans for every little thing he does in what could otherwise be best summed up as perfection.
The perfect leader, the perfect teammate, the perfect two-way center, and even the perfect well respected rival- when it comes to facing the Montreal Canadiens. His impact on the franchise is insurmountable, considering he was barely penciled in on the roster, at 18 years old, for the 2003-2004 season.
33 Zdeno Chara
Chara often gets a bad rap for no reason from some Boston fans. The fact of the matter is that Chara is one of the best defensemen in the league. He’s a six-time Norris Trophy Finalist (2004, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014) having won in 2009.
If it weren’t for Niklas Lidstrom’s swan song season, Chara would have at least another Norris Trophy. Do I need to mention he’s the current record holder of the Hardest Shot competition with a blistering 108.8 mph slap shot?
Aside from being able to speak seven languages and sell real estate in the State of Massachusetts, Chara was the first player born inside the Iron Curtain to captain his team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011.
Without a doubt, there is no question surrounding his leadership off the ice and in the locker room. On the ice he’s well respected by league officials, perhaps supplemented by his 6’9” (7’0” on skates), 255-pound, stature.
He’s aging, yes, but what player doesn’t age after every season? He’s still insanely fit and athletic and capable of holding his own as a top-2 defenseman for the Boston Bruins. While it might take some convincing of Boston fans currently, Zdeno Chara absolutely deserves to have his number retired by the Bruins someday. He remains an influential piece to their turnaround and run to the Cup from 2006 to 2011 and leadership in their current roster and front office transition.
30 Gerry Cheevers/Tim Thomas
By this point, it’s probably a long shot for the Bruins to retire number 30 out of respect for Gerry Cheevers. He played remarkably well for a dominate Boston team in the 1970s and if it weren’t for the World Hockey Association having diluted the NHL’s talent pool, probably would’ve led the Bruins to some more greatness.
Likewise, Tim Thomas overcame a lot of doubt to be at the top of the NHL mountain as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner and 2011 Stanley Cup champion. It would certainly be a classy move by the organization, but one that likely will never happen for either (or both) former sensational Boston goaltenders.
Personally, I wouldn’t be opposed to setting aside Mark Recchi’s number 28. Not necessarily retiring it, but only using it for special players, which I guess is kind of the reason why nobody has been assigned number 28 on the Bruins since Recchi retired. Same goes with Marc Savard’s number 91.
It’s a shame that good players don’t always get to have extravagant careers. Players like Savard or Norm Léveillé will always be remembered for how they played on the ice by diehard Boston fans.
It’s been a busy offseason around the NHL- and by that I mean it’s been a rather unusual offseason around the NHL.
The Ryan O’Reilly saga finally ended in Colorado and began in Buffalo, but took a side trip into the side of a Tim Horton’s somewhere in Ontario. While the Sabres could use his offense, they could do without his legal offenses (moral of the story, everyone, don’t drink and drive- have a designated driver, be responsible- use common sense).
Mikhail Grigorenko’s been reunited with Patrick Roy in Colorado, although sadly the rest of the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 Quebec Remparts will not be joining the party in Denver.
T.J. Oshie, Brandon Saad, Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton, Patrick Sharp, Cam Talbot, Phil Kessel, and others have all been on the move as the result of blockbuster trades.
Don Sweeney’s been on a rampage (more on that later), Peter Chiarelli’s turned around the Edmonton Oilers in one offseason (at least on paper), and the Toronto Maple Leafs front office might be the smartest guys in the game for the first time in a longtime. Wait, what did I just say?
That’s right, on Thursday, 72-year-old hockey front office legend, Lou Lamoriello, resigned as president of the New Jersey Devils only to join the Toronto Maple Leafs (announced on Twitter a mere two minutes apart) as their 16th general manager in franchise history.
Fun fact: Back in 1987, Lamoriello drafted now fellow colleague, Brendan Shanahan, 2nd overall in his first season as the president and general manager of the Devils.
Now, Lamoriello joins Shanahan in Toronto’s front office. Things certainly are weird right now in New Jersey, in the meantime, by the way- where Ray Shero is currently their GM and Marty Brodeur is, well, among the front office of the St. Louis Blues. Yep, it’s safe to say nobody would have predicted that both Brodeur and Lamoriello would move on from the Devils.
In 2009, Lamoriello praised Shanahan after Shanahan attempted one final go in the NHL, with the Devils, only to decide he would not continue his career and thus stepped aside from playing, retiring before the 2009-2010 season. Lamoriello expressed so much praise, in fact, that he blatantly stated that should Shanahan want a job in the Devils front office, Lamoriello would go out of his way to make it happen.
But here we are in 2015, where Shanahan recently transitioned to the helm of the Maple Leafs front office and instead of going to his former boss for a position, he brought in his former boss.
Lamoriello spent 28 years with the New Jersey Devils organization, but now he’s about to embark on his first season with a different organization- just his second as a general manager- the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs, if you recall, hired Mike Babcock this offseason as their latest head coach, by the way. Babcock too, left an organization he spent a lot of time with for the Maple Leafs this summer. Babcock spent the last 10 years with the Detroit Red Wings before joining Toronto.
Both Lamoriello and Babcock have something in common, they both left teams that used red as a primary color for a team that wears a blue maple leaf proudly displayed prominently on their jersey (it’s a bit slow right now in the offseason, cut me some slack).
In other news, the National Hockey League began the formal expansion process this summer, having accepted expansion applications up until Monday.
Two cities formally submitted a bid before the deadline- Las Vegas, Nevada and Quebec City, Quebec.
Las Vegas billionaire, Bill Foley, continues to headman the construction of an arena in Las Vegas as well as a drive for season tickets while aiming to land an expansion team. Meanwhile, Montreal-based media conglomerate, Quebecor, aims to bring the NHL back to Quebec City.
One of Canada’s hockey gods, Don Cherry, has already provided his blessing for a return to Quebec City.
This is the first time the league has formally gone through the expansion process since the late 1990s when the league quickly grew in size adding the Nashville Predators, the Atlanta Thrashers, the Minnesota Wild, and the Columbus Blue Jackets between 1998 and 2000 to become the 30 team league that we all know and love today (with the minor relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg having occurred prior to the 2011-2012 season, of course).
Since the Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg, the NHL has continued to take a firm stance against having to move another team for a while. Prior to the formal announcement of the expansion process being officially explored, the Arizona Coyotes and the City of Glendale, Arizona were at odds with one another.
Despite IceArizona’s firm commitment to the State of Arizona, many thought the Coyotes would be on their way out of Glendale this offseason. Given how a short move back to Phoenix in such a short period of time would not be feasible, speculation led to the Coyotes packing their bags and moving to an NHL ready arena.
Downtown Phoenix does not have an appropriate sporting arena for hockey currently, thereby handing the Coyotes a double whammy when their Gila River Arena lease agreement with Glendale was pulled out from under them by the city.
After threatening substantial legal action, IceArizona and the City of Glendale came to terms on amending their agreement- eliminating an outclause from its initial version and adjusting some revenue sharing between the hockey club and the city (the team will now get a larger share, with the city footing less of the bill).
Again, the Coyotes are staying put. No escape route to Seattle, no move from one desert to another desert (Las Vegas), and no move to Quebec City that would further imbalance the conferences in the league.
But then again, the amended lease agreement is only for two years, so the Coyotes aren’t fully out of the woods yet.
There remains so much yet to be seen concerning the Arizona Coyotes and their strained relations with the City of Glendale. While a short-term deal is necessary for their immediate survival in the market, their ultimate situation is not comforting. Things still could get quite ugly in a couple of years, yet the two sides have something to work with right now and can always chip away at improving viability of the franchise in Glendale.
If not, perhaps the next two years is all the time the Coyotes need to convince Phoenix, Arizona and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns to construct a new- joint- arena that would be suitable for hockey in the desert and a return to downtown Phoenix for the Coyotes franchise. Otherwise, it could be enough for Seattle to scrap together some plans for a NHL-ready arena and sway the Coyotes into relocation.
Or there’s always Quebec City or Las Vegas, that, should either location not see the expansion process include them in the more immediate future of the league, could always have a stronger say in relocation. Both cities have strong interest from potential ownership groups and physical arena’s that are state of the art and nearing completion.
Speaking of Quebec City and Las Vegas, now is the perfect time to reach into these markets. A return of the Nordiques to the hockey crazed Ville de Québec would be a golden opportunity for the league to return the game to where it belongs and can further drive marketability.
For those that are opposed to adding another team in the Eastern Conference, kindly show yourself to the door. Realignment is never a fun topic, but I think we can all agree that sending the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets back to the Western Conference would be a good thing. As fans, we’d see a return of more Detroit and Chicago matchups, providing more fuel to the fire- built into the regular season schedule- when it comes to that longstanding rivalry.
And with the addition of a team in Las Vegas, well, it’s the same old, same old. It’s a never before seen market in all of professional sports and it would balance the conferences under the aforementioned scenario.
So at the end of the day, why disappoint the good people of Quebec City once again, NHL?
Then again, balanced conferences are overrated, aren’t they?
Come to think of it, the European model for professional sports isn’t too bad when it comes to league structure. Yet, the North American model of conferences, divisions, and such makes for a much more exciting game. We’ll never see the NHL switch to a relegation model based upon Premier League association football, but maybe we’ll see the NHL become more at ease with unbalanced conferences.
Hey if the game works in a market, why ruin it by taking it away from that market just to satisfy conference structure? If the owners are going to squabble over that then they really aren’t looking out for the best interest of the league are they? Management’s number one goal is to profit from growing the game.
Without an interest, there aren’t any fans. Without any fans, there aren’t any marketing opportunities from potential sponsors looking to reach fans. Without any cash flow, there is no game. If there’s an economically viable market or situation, go for it.
Last, but not least, the Boston Bruins have been a busy team this offseason. One can only think that the B’s will make another move or two before training camp in September. Don Sweeney and the Big Bad Bruins front office are in on trying to sign defensemen, Cody Franson, or Christian Ehrhoff.
The Boston fanbase continues to grumble and gripe about the presence of Chris Kelly and Dennis Seidenberg on the Bruins roster. One of the two could be moved before the puck drops in October.
And while we’re still at it, the Bruins still need a backup goaltender. While Peter Budaj or Jonas Gustavsson may not be the first names that come to mind when it comes to free agent backup goalies that are still available and could be dispensable for the Bruins, well, one of them might be all that the Bruins need.
Of course, Ray Emery and Ron Zepp are always still out there, granted Emery is a proven goaltender in the league (well mostly- he could be a backup for Tuukka Rask, but he’s past his number of chances of ever being a number one goalie in the NHL) and Zepp parallels Tim Thomas thus far in his career (minus the two Vezina Trophies, a Conn Smythe, and a Stanley Cup championship).
I’ll go more into detail about the Boston Bruins offseason conundrum in another post prior to the season. Quite frankly, I’m still trying to piece together what their plan might be. For now it looks as though Patrice Bergeron could be set with (a recently spotted dancing in Montreal) Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, with Matt Beleskey-David Krejci-Jimmy Hayes, Loui Eriksson-Ryan Spooner-Brett Connolly, Zac Rinaldo-Chris Kelly-Max Talbot filling out the forward lines.
Their blue line still needs work, but can be corrected within a few seasons. What’s more important right now is that the Bruins sign a top four defenseman and obtain a backup goaltender (or at least, implement a plan for a successful backup goaltender). While not necessarily a problem with an elite starting goaltender of Rask’s quality, the revolving door of backup goalies the Bruins have had the last few seasons is something they must work on for the remainder of Rask’s dominance in net.
Anyway, this ends my stream of consciousness. I’ll go back to waiting for Cody Franson to make up his mind and sign somewhere now.
A Game 7 with emotions running high resulted with the Tampa Bay Lightning beating the New York Rangers 2-0. Alex Killorn scored the first of Tampa’s two 3rd period goals (his 7th of the playoffs), while the second came late in the period from Ondrej Palat.
Ben Bishop recorded his second shutout at Madison Square Garden in this series, stopping all 22 shots faced on Friday night. He also became the third goalie in NHL history to post two Game 7 shutouts in the same postseason, joining Patrick Roy (2002) and Tim Thomas (2011).
A high tempo, high energy, first period saw end-to-end action that ended scoreless. Both teams had their adrenaline pumping as the game experienced craziness with the fans screaming their heads off- right in tune with the game. The New York Rangers took a page out of Tampa’s book as they dressed 11 forwards and 7 defenseman (or so everyone thought).
Rangers captain, Ryan McDonagh, was experiencing some issues and had actually gone back to the locker room before the game began. McDonagh returned shortly into the 1st period. It was later revealed that he was playing with a broken foot for the last few games. The captain was usually carrying a heavy load on the blueline for the Rangers, but finished with a measly 3 shifts and 1:47 of ice time in Game 7.
Bishop and Henrik Lundqvist looked prepared for this big game, as they kept shot after shot out of their net. New York had a few quality scoring chances, despite having 5 shots on goal. The Lightning had more chances with 9 shots on goal. One opportunity forced a big save by Lundqvist as the shot deflected off of a New York stick, off Lundqvist’s glove, and over the net.
The goaltender battle continued during the second period as Tampa started with quick chances. Ryan Callahan gathered the puck on a rebound and threw it towards the net, but Lundqvist got his pad on it. The Lightning became undisciplined and unwound for a short period of time when Brenden Morrow took a questionable call for hooking at 3:41 of the 2nd period.
Ryan McDonagh got some time on the power play and generated a chance for his team off his hard shot, but Bishop was there to make the save and Tampa quickly cleared it towards the corner.
Tampa found themselves shorthanded again about four minutes later with a bench minor for too many men on the ice at 7:46 of the 2nd period. The Lightning’s penalty kill unit proved their worth and only allowed a few chances, including one from Keith Yandle as he skated down from the point and received a backdoor pass, but shot the puck wide of the net.
The last 5 minutes of the period saw both teams generating multiple chances as the action went all over the rink. The Lightning established the zone, giving Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov chances that Lundqvist could only shoulder away. Jason Garrison also had a great chance at 16:04, when he received a backdoor pass, only to be denied, once more, by Lundqvist.
McDonagh continued to get more minutes as he battled through playing with a broken foot. He had a little over ten minutes of ice time by the end of forty minutes of play, adding almost 9 full minutes in the period. At the end of two, the Lightning outshot the Rangers 19-11. Both teams were throwing their weight around pretty equally with New York slightly outhitting Tampa 22-21. Faceoff wins were one sided in favor of the Rangers 26-14.
The third period saw a fast start for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who scored 1:54 into the 3rd period. Alex Killorn snuck his backhand, five hole, between the pads of Lundqvist as the puck trickled across the line. The Rangers tried to answer by throwing pucks towards the net and hoping for rebounds, yet Ben Bishop remained strong with great rebound control and denied second and third chances. He finally gave up a few chances at the halfway point when a mad scramble ensued, but managed to freeze the puck.
Tampa managed to double their lead at 11:17 of the period when a wrist shot from Ondrej Palat beat Lundqvist top shelf. Palat’s goal was assisted by Tyler Johnson and Ben Bishop. Momentum began swinging out of New York’s favor as the reality of being down 2-0 in Game 7 with not much time remaining- potentially in their season- set in.
Ben Bishop made numerous saves, stopping everything thrown at him. New York was forced to pull Lundqvist with 3:44 remaining in the game for an extra attacker. Bishop, once again, remained strong and withheld the Rangers from a goal on the scoreboard.
Henrik Lundqvist in what became his final game of the season, brushed aside 23 of the 25 total shots on goal by the Lightning. Both teams shook hands with ease and tradition, as is long established in sportsmanship, after the long seven game battle for the Eastern Conference championship. Former Rangers captain, Ryan Callahan, shook hands with the man who he was traded for, Martin St. Louis, with Callahan moving on and St. Louis, for the second year in a row with the Rangers, failing to capture one more Cup.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals for their second time in franchise history. The last time Tampa made the Stanley Cup Finals, in 2004, they won the Cup. The Stanley Cup Finals start June 3rd at 8 PM with national broadcast information to be released soon. The Lightning will face the winner of Saturday night’s Western Conference Finals Game 7 between the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks.
NYR- Round 1- defeated PIT in 5 games. Round 2- defeated WSH in 7 games. 3rd ECF finals appearance in 4 years (2012, 2014, and 2015).
TB- Round 1- defeated DET in 7 games. Round 2- defeated MTL in 6 games. 3rd ECF finals appearance in franchise history (2004, 2011, and 2015)- first time since 2011.
New York Rangers have home ice advantage.
Henrik Lundqvist is still searching for his first Stanley Cup. Yes, that’s hard to believe for a goalie of his caliber, but it’s true. He’s run into other teams on great runs, most notably the team the New York Rangers just beat on Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals. Some hockey writers argue that Braden Holtby has shown that he can be considered an elite goaltender.
He needs another year of performing just like he did this year to cement his status as a potential elite goaltender (fear not, Washington fans- before you bust out the fisticuffs- I think he is capable of doing it, he just needs one more year of stellar play to be considered elite).
But anyway, back to Lundqvist. He’s backstopped the New York Rangers and kept them in many games throughout the first couple of rounds of the playoffs and it seems as though they are beginning to understand now that you need to score in order to win. And scoring more than one goal is a good thing. Lundqvist has a .944 SV% and a 1.60 GAA in 12 games played so far, whereas Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, Ben Bishop, has a .931 SV% and a 1.81 GAA in 13 GP.
Both goaltenders have been superb. Bishop’s current run reminds me of Tim Thomas’s 2011 Stanley Cup run with the Boston Bruins in that he has been a large factor in Tampa’s game. The Lightning have had sparks of brilliance when all four lines and all three defensive pairs are rolling right along and things are absolutely fantastic to watch. The Triplet Line aside, the Lightning still have an incredible roster of youth, sprinkled in with some veteran talent and experience.
Also of note in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals, there are numerous former Lightning players, now Rangers, and former Rangers, now Lightning, going head to head in this series. If that’s not enough alone to hype up, not only who won the trade (remember the Martin St. Louis fiasco?), but the sheer fact that those players were smart enough and lucky enough to leave one good team for another.
Despite the hype of the pure talent in the West, there is pure grit and heart in the East with amazing storylines of how careers came to be, were shaped, and how they currently are. St. Louis, Dan Boyle, and Dominic Moore all once spent time in Tampa. Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, and Anton Stralman have all spent time with the Rangers (please tell me you recall the St. Louis for Callahan trade now).
The Rangers are the current President’s Trophy champions are should show why they are, however have struggled to get the offensive power on full blast from a night to night basis. Their defense is solid and obviously their goaltending is the cream of the crop. Tampa, on the other hand, has leading goal scorer in the playoffs, Tyler Johnson, alongside the gifted goal scorer Steven Stamkos, and the rest of their powerful roster that can also score on any given night.
Tampa’s defense is similar to the Rangers, however Bishop certainly is no Lundqvist when it comes to the strength of their net. Should Bishop need to be pulled, Andrei Vasilevsky- A 20 YEAR OLD BACKUP GOALIE- certainly can play well, but is no match for New York’s backup, Cam Talbot (should Lundqvist have a rare off night when things count the most).
Forget Corsi in this series. Only three players (two from Tampa, one from New York) rank in the top 20 in the playoffs with at least 8 games played. But do remember goaltending, as New York ranks first in fewest goals against per game with 1.67 (Tampa ranks 5th with 2.15). Again, both goalies have left everyone in awe of their athleticism, but how will they respond facing even quicker teams than the ones they faced in the last round?
The Lightning have scored 2.62 goals for per game so far, meanwhile the Rangers only score about 2.00 goals for per game (15th out of the 16 teams in the playoffs, although technically they are tied for 13th, if that makes you feel better). Both penalty kills are evenly matched (NYR ranks 4th, TB ranks 6th) and as a matter of fact, so are their power play units (TB ranks 9th, NYR rank 11th).
No matter what, if the Rangers are going to win, they’re going to need their best players to start stepping up and holding their weight- Rick Nash. If the Lightning are going to win, they’re going to need to keep their momentum going and not get discouraged if Lundqvist robs them of a great scoring chance every now and then.
Connor Keith returns to the Down the Frozen River scene with this season preview of the Florida Panthers. This was written before final roster cuts were made, but the season came along quickly and I kind of failed as an editor when it came to posting things in a timely manner. But that shouldn’t make any of Connor’s analysis any less valuable! Enjoy.
Florida Panthers (29-45-8, seventh in division & second to last in conference)
After the second straight year of missing the postseason since winning the division in 2011-‘12, Dale Tallon pulled the plug on almost the entire coaching staff. Since then, the Panthers have hired Gerard Gallant to replace Peter Horachek (who was on interim basis after the firing of Kevin Dineen). Mike Kelly, John Madden, & Mark Morris will serve as assistant coaches in addition to Robb Tallas as the Goaltending Coach & Paul Vincent coaching skating & skills.
Gerard Gallant’s only NHL head coaching experience came with Columbus from 2004-‘06. He was promoted from his position as assistant coach following Doug MacLean stepping down due to a miserable record of 9-21-4-3. Under Gallant’s leadership, the Jackets finished 25-45-8-4 (Gallant responsible for the Jackets going 16-24-4-1), failing to make the playoffs. The following seasons offered no new results, as Columbus went 35-43-4 in 2005-’06, again missing the playoffs. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a terrible opening 15 games for Gallant & the Jackets. They went 5-9-1 before MacLean pulled the plug on Gallant.
In the 2007-’08 season, Gallant joined the Islanders in an assistant coaching position before becoming the head coach of Saint John. In every season of his three year tenure at Saint John, the Sea Dogs made the playoffs, winning the President’s Cup twice & the Memorial Cup once. Following the 2011-’12 season, he was hired by Montreal as an assistant coach, a position he held until this summer.
The Panthers’ goaltending situation looks to be already in place. Although the goalie with the most games played & wins from last season, Tim Thomas (16-20-3), was traded to Dallas on March 5th, the Panthers had received Roberto Luongo in a trade with Vancouver the day before. Moving forward with Luongo (6-7-2), the Panthers found their goalie with the best save percentage (92.4%) & fewest goals against average (2.46) over the course of 14 games. I would be very surprised to see Luongo lose his starting position.
In addition to retaining Dan Ellis (0-5-0), who played six games with the Panthers last season, Florida also has Sam Brittain, Michael Houser, & Al Montoya within their organization. Brittain was drafted by Florida in 2010 & last played at the University of Denver, where he posted a 19-14-6 record in 39 games. A particularly striking stat he has to his name coming into this season is posting five shutouts & only allowing 2.22 goals per game last season in the NCHC. Al Montoya posted a 13-8-3 record last season in Winnipeg, saving 92% of all shots on his goal (leads new acquisitions) & only allowing an average of 2.3 goals per game. I expect him to take the backup role from Ellis with Sam Brittain getting the opportunity to develop in the AHL this season.
The Panthers come into the season having lost some important players, most notably Tom Gilbert (signed with Montreal) & Marcel Goc (traded to Pittsburgh).
They lost one of the top seven players with most regular season games with the Panthers last season in Tom Gilbert, who played 73 games last year. The Panthers are adding players that can play most of a regular season, though, in Jussi Jokinen (81, signed from Pittsburgh), Willie Mitchell (76, signed from Los Angeles), & Brett Olson (75, signed from Abbotsford).
Florida is not bringing back two of their top 10 shot takers this year as Marcel Goc (105) & Jesse Winchester (100, signed with Colorado) are not returning. These two players accounted for over eight percent of the Panthers’ shots last regular season. They’ve added Mackenzie Weegar (173, 2013 draft pick), Jussi Jokinen (172), & Brett Olson (150) to the present roster, who should produce more offensive opportunities.
Almost six percent of last season’s goals will not show up to training camp this season as Marcel Goc (11) is with the Penguins. The Panthers have added Aaron Ekblad (23, 2014 draft pick), Jussi Jokinen (21), Steven Hodges (21, 2012 draft pick), Brett Olson (17), Rocco Grimaldi (17, 2011 draft pick), & Mackenzie Weegar (12) to more than make up for the missing goals, provided they can acclimate to the NHL when they join the team.
One of the leading two assisters will not be with the Panthers this season as Tom Gilbert (25) is not returning. Florida has more than made up for this, as they have signed Mackenzie Weegar (47), Jussi Jokinen (36), Aaron Ekblad (30), Brett Olson (27), & Steven Hodges (26). These new additions will hopefully provide for more options on offense when the players get acclimated to the NHL.
One of the three positive +/- guys for the Panthers has been lost in Bobby Butler (one). Florida has made many excellent additions to build on a miserable season in this regard by adding Mackenzie Weegar (56), Steven Hodges (20), Willie Mitchell (14), Jussi Jokinen (12), Aaron Ekblad (nine), Brett Olson (eight), John McFarland (three, 2010 draft pick), Shawn Thornton (three, signed from Boston), & Connor Brickley (one, 2010 draft pick). The Panthers hope that these players can continue to be as efficient as they progress through the organization.
The Panthers lost one of their top two penalty minute earners in Krys Barch (99). Sadly, Florida picked up Mackenzie Weegar (97), Aaron Ekblad (97), Shawn Thornton (74), Steven Hodges (65), Willie Mitchell (58), Rocco Grimaldi (48), & Derek Mackenzie (47, signed from Columbus). New hire Jussi Jokinen only served 18 minutes in the sin bin last season, which averaged out to 13 1/3 seconds per game. This will be a huge asset to keep the Panthers from defending the power play.
Present roster consists of 26 forwards, 13 defensemen, & five goalies (44 men).