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NHL Nick's Net

Bruins dance with Devils in, 5-2, matinée victory

Brad Marchand had a pair of goals as the Boston Bruins beat the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, at Prudential Center on Saturday afternoon.

Bruins netminder, Jeremy Swayman (4-2-0, 2.18 goals-against average, .911 save percentage in six games played) made 27 saves on 29 shots against in the win.

Jonathan Bernier (4-2-0, 2.80 goals-against average, .906 save percentage in six games played) turned aside 31 out of 35 shots faced in the loss.

Boston improved to 7-5-0 (14 points) on the season and moved ahead of the Buffalo Sabres for 5th place in the Atlantic Division standings by virtue of games-in-hand (the Bruins have played 12 games, while Buffalo has played 13 games thus far).

New Jersey fell to 7-4-2 (16 points) overall and remained in 5th place in the Metropolitan Division standings.

The B’s also improved to 2-4-0 on the road this season, as well as 16-6-5 in 27 games at Prudential Center.

Trent Frederic (upper body) was the only Bruin out of the lineup due to injury, but head coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a couple adjustments to his lines from Thursday night’s, 5-3, loss to the Edmonton Oilers entering Saturday.

Karson Kuhlman re-entered the lineup in place of Craig Smith on the third line, while Mike Reilly was scratched in place of Jakub Zboril on the third defensive pairing.

Smith and Reilly were joined by Oskar Steen on the short list of healthy scratches for Boston on Saturday. Steen was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Friday and will likely be on the third line in place of Kuhlman on Sunday against Montréal.

Early in the first period, Jesper Boqvist caught David Pastrnak with a high stick and was assessed a minor penalty, yielding the afternoon’s first power play opportunity to the Bruins at 6:37 of the first period.

Boston’s skater advantage was short lived, however, as Swayman played the puck outside of the trapezoid for a delay of game penalty at 7:27.

Kuhlman served Swayman’s minor, while the two teams skated at 4-on-4 for about 1:10 prior to an abbreviated power play for the Devils.

New Jersey couldn’t capitalize on the shift in skater strength, though.

Minutes later, Connor Clifton checked Tomáš Tatar away from the puck and received an inference infraction at 10:08. Once again, however, the Devils couldn’t convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Late in the period, after switching up his bottom-six forwards– demoting Jake DeBrusk to the fourth line after a slow start and promoting Anton Blidh to the third line alongside Erik Haula and Kuhlman– Boston’s third line broke through for the afternoon’s first goal of the game.

Haula (1) sent a rebound off an initial shot by Blidh through Bernier’s five-hole to give the B’s a, 1-0, lead at 17:37 of the first period.

Blidh (1) and Kuhlman (1) tallied the assists on Haula’s first goal of the season (and first goal in a Bruins uniform, as well).

Entering the first intermission, Boston held a, 1-0, lead on the scoreboard and led in shots on goal, 14-9.

The Bruins also held the advantage in blocked shots (5-2) and hits (6-5), while New Jersey led in takeaways (9-6). Both teams had one giveaway each and split faceoff win percentage, 50-50, in the first period.

The Devils were 0/2 and Boston was 0/1 on the power play after one period.

Dawson Mercer tripped up Clifton to kick things off in the middle frame with a Bruins power play at 2:58 of the second period.

Late in the special teams action, Marchand (7) wired a shot from the point with eyes through traffic past Bernier to give the B’s a two-goal lead.

Charlie McAvoy (7) and Patrice Bergeron (7) tallied the assists on Marchand’s power-play goal and the Bruins led, 2-0, at 4:10 of the second period.

Jesper Bratt sent a pass to Andreas Johnsson before Johnsson setup Mercer (5) in the slot on a tic-tac-goal to cut Boston’s lead in half as the Devils got on the scoreboard and trailed, 2-1, 28 seconds after Marchand scored his first goal of the afternoon.

Johnsson (5) and Bratt (6) notched the assists on Mercer’s goal at 4:38 of the second period.

For the third time in their last five periods, Boston allowed a goal less than one minute after scoring a goal.

About two minutes later, however, the B’s extended their lead back to two-goals as Marchand worked a pass to Pastrnak for a blast that rebounded off of Bernier’s glove before Marchand (8) collected the garbage and snuck the puck past Bernier’s left pad.

Pastrnak (7) and McAvoy (8) had the assists on Marchand’s second goal of the game– his 50th career two-goal game– and the Bruins led, 3-1, at 6:52.

Less than a minute later, Taylor Hall hooked Alexander Holtz and presented the Devils with a power play at 7:14, but New Jersey wasn’t able to beat Boston’s penalty kill.

Midway through the middle frame, Brandon Carlo cross checked Nico Hischier away from the play and both players cut a rut to their respective penalty boxes– Carlo for cross checking, Hischier for embellishment– at 13:50.

After two minutes of 4-on-4 action, the two teams returned to 5-on-5 action without any issue.

In the waning minute of the middle frame, Charlie Coyle banked the puck off of a referee inadvertently, which led to a fortunate bounce for the Devils as Mercer faked a shot and passed the puck off to Bratt (3) for a one-timer goal to pull New Jersey back to within one at 19:24 of the second period.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Bruins led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and, 26-18, in shots on goal– including a, 12-9, advantage in the second period alone.

Boston held the advantage in blocked shots (9-5), hits (14-8) and faceoff win% (59-41) after two periods, while New Jersey led in takeaways (17-9).

Both teams had three giveaways each through two periods.

The Devils were 0/3 and the Bruins were 1/2 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Midway through the final frame, Pastrnak got a shot off that ended up loose in the crease after Bernier made the initial save, but in the ensuing scrum Bergeron (6) tapped the rubber biscuit over the goal line to give Boston another two-goal lead, 4-2, at 10:49 of the third period.

Pastrnak (8) and McAvoy (9) snagged the assists on Bergeron’s goal– completing a three-assist afternoon for McAvoy (his first since Jan. 26, 2021, in a, 3-2, overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins).

Seconds prior to the goal, Hall had made incidental contact in Boston’s own zone with Devils defender, Ryan Graves, who was slow to get up and off the ice under his own power.

Berner vacated the crease with 2:33 remaining in the game for an extra attacker, but briefly returned to the net before leaving once more around 1:33 left in regulation after New Jersey iced the puck.

Devils head coach, Lindy Ruff, used his timeout after a stoppage in play with 1:21 remaining in the action so that assistant coach, Mark Recchi, could drum up a plan to rally his team and tie the game.

Bruins assistant coach, Chris Kelly, had other ideas, however.

In the last minute of regulation, Bratt turned the puck over on a giveaway to DeBrusk’s skates, leading DeBrusk (3) to gain control of the puck, skate forward and hit the empty twine from the center ice logo on an unassisted effort.

DeBrusk’s empty net goal cemented a, 5-2, victory for Boston at 19:06 of the third period.

At the final horn, the Bruins had won and finished the afternoon leading in shots on goal, 36-29, despite trailing the Devils in shots on goal in the third period alone, 11-10.

The B’s exited the building with the lead in blocked shots (25-8), hits (16-11) and faceoff win% (54-46), while New Jersey left their home ice with the advantage in giveaways (8-4).

As there were no penalties called in the third period, the Devils finished Saturday afternoon’s effort 0/3 on the power play, while the Bruins went 1/2 on the skater advantage.

Boston improved to 6-3-0 (2-2-0 on the road) when scoring the game’s first goal, 6-0-0 (2-0-0 on the road) when leading after one period and 5-1-0 (2-0-0 on the road) when leading after two periods this season.

New Jersey, meanwhile, fell to 4-4-1 (2-3-0 at home) when allowing the game’s first goal, 1-4-1 (1-3-1 at home) when trailing after the first period and 1-4-1 (1-3-0 at home) when trailing after the second period in 2021-22.

The Bruins return home Sunday to host the Montréal Canadiens at TD Garden for the first time since the 2019-20 season before having five days off prior to their next road game in Philadelphia next Saturday (Nov. 20th).

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NHL Nick's Net Numbers Game

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

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

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

And then Wednesday’s games happened too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Arizona avoid the basement?

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will winning the Presidents’ Trophy hurt Vegas?

Eh, it’s hard to say.

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

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

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

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

Is this the toughest division to project?

Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean for the Leafs?

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

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

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

A lot and not a lot has changed since then.

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

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

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

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

No. Let’s be realistic here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little more patience won’t hurt them.

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

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

As for the Buffalo Sabres, well…

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

Hopefully.

Will Tampa win three consecutive Stanley Cup championships?

Probably not.

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

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

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


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

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

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Montréal Canadiens 2021-22 Season Preview

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

4th in the Scotia NHL North Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final by Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then David faced Goliath, but Goliath won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s try to keep this brief, O.K.?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carolina Hurricanes 2021-22 Season Preview

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

1st in the Discover NHL Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make it make sense.

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

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

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

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

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

Not even close.

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

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

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

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

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

Offseason Grade: D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One step forward, two steps back.

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New Jersey Devils 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 19-30-7, 45 points

7th in the MassMutual NHL East Division

Missed the postseason for the third-straight year

Additions: F Tomas Tatar, D Ryan Graves (acquired from COL), D Dougie Hamilton, D Christian Jaros (acquired from SJS), G Jonathan Bernier

Subtractions: F Nathan Bastian (expansion, SEA), F Christoph Bertschy (NL), F Brandon Gignac (signed with Laval, AHL), F Mason Jobst (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Mikhail Maltsev (traded to COL), F Nicholas Merkley (traded to SJS), F Brett Seney (signed with TOR), F Ben Street (DEL), D Will Butcher (traded to BUF), D Connor Carrick (signed with SEA), D Josh Jacobs (signed with CAR), D Ryan Murray (signed with COL), D David Quenneville (SHL), D Colby Sissons (HockeyAllsvenskan), D Matt Tennyson (signed with NSH), G Corey Crawford (retired), G Aaron Dell (signed with BUF)

Still Unsigned: G Gilles Senn (NL, NJD reserve list), G Evan Cormier

Re-signed: F A.J. Greer, F Janne Kuokkanen, F Yegor Sharangovich, F Marian Studenic

Offseason Analysis: The Devils, like Chicago, turned some heads in the first half of the 2020-21 season. Unlike Chicago, New Jersey wasn’t really anywhere near the top of the standings in their division, but at least Yegor Sharangovich’s emergence and Ty Smith’s performance was a welcome reception for a team that’s yearning for more.

Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha and Miles Wood are all growing in their roles and looking for supporting cast members that haven’t been traded in recent years (think Blake Coleman, Kyle Palmieri and others) as the winds of change sweep through the Devils organization.

Now, it appears, is the time for New Jersey to blossom into something. What that something might be remains to be seen, however.

Sharangovich signed a two-year extension worth $2.000 million per season as a solid bridge contract after putting up 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) in 54 games in his first NHL season after starting the 2020-21 calendar in the Kontinental Hockey League with Dinamo Minsk, where he had 17-8–25 totals in 34 games.

His speed is impressive, but his hands and quick shot might be even more so.

Zacha may have led the team in scoring with 35 points last season, while Hughes trailed with 31 points, but Sharangovich was tied with Jesper Bratt for the third-most points on the roster. Few people outside of New Jersey could’ve seen that coming.

On defense, Smith was a welcome addition to re-igniting some semblance of an offense from the backend.

That said, P.K. Subban managed to score 19 points in 44 games and was on pace for about 27 points in a regular 82-game schedule.

After bottoming out with 18 points in 68 games in 2019-20, Subban’s rise back to relevance times out pretty well entering a contract year for 2021-22– and with Dougie Hamilton locked up via free agency to a seven-year deal at Subban’s $9.000 million cap hit, a little healthy competition might just be the thing that he needs.

Hamilton had 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 55 games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season, which was down from his .852 points-per-game production in 2019-20, when he had 14-26–40 totals in 47 games prior to injury.

At .764 points-per-game in 2020-21, though, and being only 28-years-old, Hamilton is in the peak of his defensive prime and should be a power play specialist– quarterbacking New Jersey’s defense for a long time in the new-age era of two-way defenders.

Plus Hamilton is four years younger than Subban, so there’s less risk of things backfiring up front in Hamilton’s tenure with the Devils than Subban’s tumultuous drop in production from Nashville to New Jersey.

It’s a risk worth taking for a team that’s looking to get back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2018, when Taylor Hall went on his Hart Memorial Trophy winning MVP of the regular season run prior to being eliminated in five games in the 2018 First Round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Hall is a member of the Boston Bruins these days– a team the Devils went 5-1-2 against last season.

The additions of Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Bernier via free agency should shore up depth in the middle-six and in the crease where Mackenzie Blackwood and Scott Wedgewood looked fine, but in desperate need of veteran leadership– especially as Blackwood continues to emerge in the league.

New Jersey General Manager, Tom Fitzgerald, shouldn’t have to worry about any unexpected retirements like how Corey Crawford signed with the Devils before retiring prior to the 2020-21 season getting underway.

Offseason Grade: A-

Fitzgerald added one of the better free agents in the market to his roster and still has about $12.100 million in cap space to work with, which is the only reason why the Devils didn’t get an “A” since it seems like they could’ve done a little more.

Nobody’s really expecting New Jersey to make a deep run, but they should align themselves with better chances at playoff contention given the moves made this offseason.

For a team that’s been out of a serious run since making the Stanley Cup Final in 2012, it’s about time that the Devils get back into the playoff picture and adding Hamilton to New Jersey’s core certainly speeds things up by making the Devils a desirable destination at least.

Whereas other teams in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division are expected to falter, New Jersey’s stock is starting to rise so right about now would be the perfect time to buy in.

Ideally, they should be in wild card contention.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

Pacioretty or Suzuki, hope you made the right choice in 2018

There are four teams remaining in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and for the first time since 1981, there are no Conference Finals going on.

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, the National Hockey League was forced to temporarily realign the divisions and get rid of conferences for a season as the league and it’s players’ union did what they could to get an abbreviated 56-game regular season schedule and a full Stanley Cup Playoffs experience in the history books.

In May, ESPN‘s Greg Wyshynski reported that the league would not award the Prince of Wales Trophy and the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl to the victors of the equivalent third round, but after the Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Colorado Avalanche in six games to conclude the Second Round of this year’s postseason last Thursday, the league apparently changed its mind.

With a regular all-Eastern Conference matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, as well as 50% of the teams representing the Western Conference in the other Semifinal series, both trophies will be awarded to the third round series winners after all.

The winner of the Lightning and Islanders series will take home the Prince of Wales Trophy, while either the Golden Knights or the Montréal Canadiens will win the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl.

Montréal can join a short list of teams to have won both trophies in franchise history, as only the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and Islanders have won each before.

How is this possible, you ask?

Well, for starters, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl was introduced in the 1967-68 season and awarded to the team that finished with the best regular season record in the West Division (the precursor to the Western Conference in the modern era), while the Prince of Wales Trophy dates back to the 1925-26 season and, you guessed it, eventually became the East Division (pre-Eastern Conference days) equivalent.

Ahead of the 1981-82 season, however, the league changed its postseason to include a Conference Finals round, thus involving these trophies in the playoffs and eventually leading to the creation of the Presidents’ Trophy for the team with the best regular season record since the 1985-86 season.

So anyway, the teams mentioned above that won both have changed conferences and divisions over time.

Now let’s talk about the other half of the Semifinal matchups– the Golden Knights and the Canadiens.

(1) Vegas Golden Knights (40-14-2, 82 points) vs (4) Montréal Canadiens (24-21-11, 59 points)

Vegas: 56 games played, .732 points percentage, 30 regulation wins.

Montréal: 56 games played, .527 points percentage, 20 regulation wins.

The Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Minnesota Wild in seven games (4-3) in the First Round before ousting the 2020-21 Presidents’ Trophy winning, Colorado Avalanche, in six games (4-2) in the Second Round to advance to the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals as the representative club from the Honda NHL West Division.

Vegas is making their second appearance in the third round of the playoffs– their first since 2018– and is in search of the franchise’s first Stanley Cup ring in just their fourth season of existence.

Mark Stone (21-40–61 totals in 55 games) lead the Golden Knights in team scoring in the regular season and was named a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, while Max Pacioretty (24-27–51 totals in 48 games) and Jonathan Marchessault (18-26–44 totals in 55 games) rounded out the top-three in scoring on the roster.

Through 13 postseason games thus far, William Karlsson leads the Golden Knights in playoff scoring with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in that span.

Marchessault, Stone, Pacioretty and Alex Pietrangelo are tied for the second-most points in the playoffs for Vegas so far with eight points each in 13 games (except for Pacioretty, who has eight points in seven games).

Alex Tuch, Mattias Janmark and Reilly Smith are tied for the sixth-most points on the roster in postseason scoring with seven points each.

In the crease, Marc-Andre Fleury led the way with a 26-10-0 record in 36 games played (36 starts) in the regular season, as well as a 1.98 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and six shutouts in that span.

Meanwhile, Robin Lehner amassed a 13-4-2 record in 19 games (19 starts) to go with a 2.29 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and one shutout.

Oscar Dansk even made an appearance with a 1-0-0 record in one game (one start), as well as a 3.93 goals-against average and an .862 save percentage, while Logan Thompson made a relief appearance in one game, earned no decision and had a 1.000 save percentage as a result.

Fleury’s gone on to have an 8-4 record in 12 games (12 stars) this postseason, as well as a 1.91 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and one shutout entering the Semifinals.

Meanwhile, Lehner made one appearance (one start) thus far in the playoffs and went 0-1 with a 7.03 goals-against average and an .811 save percentage.

At the other end of the rink, the Montréal Canadiens were the winners of the Scotia NHL North Division, having overcome a 3-1 series deficit in seven games (4-3) against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round prior to sweeping the Winnipeg Jets (4-0) in the Second Round to advance to the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinals.

Poised as Canada’s team, the Habs have not won the Cup since 1993, and were last in the third round in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final– losing to the New York Rangers in six games (4-2) in the process.

The Canadiens haven’t even been back to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993, when they defeated Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings in five games (4-1).

Tyler Toffoli (28-16–44 totals in 52 games) led the way for Montréal in team scoring this season in a prolific display of offensive prowess over a shorter than normal regular season schedule.

Jeff Petry chipped in 42 points (12 goals, 30 assists) from the defense in 55 games and Nick Suzuki (15-26–41 totals in 56 games) rounded out the top-three in Canadiens scoring in 2020-21.

Thus far in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Toffoli’s continued to lead his teammates with 4-6–10 totals in 11 games, while Suzuki has eight points (four goals, four assists) in that span.

Joel Armia and Eric Staal are each tied for the third-most points on the Habs’ postseason roster, notching seven points through 11 games for Armia and 10 games for Staal.

In the crease, Jake Allen actually played in more games than Carey Price as Price dealt with injuries throughout the season.

Allen amassed an 11-12-5 record in 29 games (27 starts) and had a 2.68 goals-against average, as well as a .907 save percentage in the process, while Price managed to put up a 12-7-5 record in 25 games (25 starts) and had a 2.64 goals-against average, a .901 save percentage and one shutout in that span.

Cayden Primeau also had some action in the crease for Montréal this season, recording a 1-2-1 record in four games (four starts), as well as a 4.16 goals-against average and an .849 save percentage.

Thus far in the playoffs, it’s been all Price for Montréal as the Canadiens longtime starter has an 8-3 record in 11 games (11 starts), a 1.97 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and one shutout in that span.


These two teams– the oldest in the league that predates the NHL (Montréal) and the new kids on the block (Vegas) at least until the Seattle Kraken pick players for their team next month in the 2021 Expansion Draft– are meeting for the first time in a playoff series in what is sure to be more than just an incredible experience.

They also didn’t get to play each other in the regular season because of the league’s temporary realignment, let alone the fact that the United States and Canadian border was closed.

It’ll be the first international matchup in the league this season with the Canadian government providing an exemption for games at Bell Centre.

Now, for starters, there’s the obvious “this would never happen regularly at least until the Stanley Cup Final” factor, but there’s also a shared history that has these clubs intertwined– the Max Pacioretty trade.

On Sept. 10, 2018, the Golden Knights made a splash by trading their second-highest drafted player in franchise history– Nick Suzuki at 13th overall in 2017– along with Tomas Tatar and a 2019 2nd round pick originally belonging to the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Canadiens for Pacioretty.

Vegas may have stumbled into “win now” mode to the average eye, but Golden Knights owner, Bill Foley, has long intended to replicate– if not beat– the Philadelphia Flyers’ emergence on the Stanley Cup scene.

Foley cried out for his team’s first Cup ring within three years of existence and something had to be done to spruce up their top-six forward group.

Enter Pacioretty, the longtime Canadien and former captain in Montréal in a bit of a disagreement regarding whether or not he and Habs General Manager, Marc Bergevin, could ever reach terms of a deal on an extension.

So Bergevin got bold.

He dealt Montréal’s most recognizable skater (not goaltender named “Price”, mind you) to Vegas for a high-caliber prospect, Tatar and a second round pick that he later flipped.

At the time, the Golden Knights claimed victory in the trade– acquiring the biggest star in the here and now, though they’re still searching for that elusive first Cup– while Canadiens fans lamented the loss of their prolific scorer in Pacioretty, but remained hopeful for the future with Suzuki coming into the fold as the team had just drafted Jesperi Kotkaniemi 3rd overall in the 2018 Draft in June.

Three years later, the Habs are a Cinderella team, while Vegas is right where they expected to be– except neither expected to play each other before the Stanley Cup Final, which only amplifies the magnitude of the Pacioretty trade even more.

Oh, then there’s the battle of Fleury and Price in net too, which by now, is worth pointing out that we haven’t even gotten into how each team could win the series.

For the Golden Knights, it’s their potent offense that’s generated throughout the lineup.

Vegas head coach, Peter DeBoer, rolls four lines and three defensive pairings and any and all players on the ice can find a way to wire a puck into the twine one way or another.

For the Canadiens, it all comes down to Price as the team’s offense has mostly relied upon a top-heavy approach.

That’s not to say that Corey Perry or Staal can’t be a determining factor in the clutch, but rather that in a standard “which team has the better offense, better defense and/or better goaltending” checklist, well, Vegas has scored 40 goals this postseason to Montréal’s 28 goals for.

Price should help the Canadiens steal a game or two in the series, but unless their miracle run finds a way to continue, the Golden Knights should wrap things up in six games.

Schedule:

6/14- Game 1 MTL @ VGK 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/16- Game 2 MTL @ VGK 9 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/18- Game 3 VGK @ MTL 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/20- Game 4 VGK @ MTL 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

6/22- Game 5 MTL @ VGK 9 PM ET on NBCSN, SN, TVAS*

6/24- Game 6 VGK @ MTL 8 PM ET on USA, CBC, SN, TVAS*

6/26- Game 7 MTL @ VGK 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Habs force first Game 7 with Toronto in 57 years

For the first time since 1964, there will be a Game 7 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montréal Canadiens as the Habs defeated the Leafs, 3-2, in overtime thanks to a game-winning goal from Jesperi Kotkaniemi late in the extra frame.

After taking a, 2-0, lead in the third period, Montréal gave up a pair of unanswered goals before Travis Dermott turned the puck over in the Canadiens’ attacking zone and Paul Byron worked the puck to Kotkaniemi for the goal.

Montréal’s Game 6 win tied the series 3-3 in front of about 2,500 fans at Bell Centre on Saturday night.

It was the first National Hockey League game in Canada to feature fans in attendance since March 10, 2020– one day prior to when the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 was a global pandemic over a year ago.

Monday night will be just the second time in league history (104 years) that the Maple Leafs and Canadiens are set to square off in a Game 7.

Toronto defeated Montréal in seven games in the 1964 Semifinal, while the Habs swept the Leafs in four games in their most recent postseason series matchup in the 1979 Quarterfinal.

Carey Price (3-3, 2.45 goals-against average, .926 save percentage in six games) stopped 41 out of 43 shots faced in the win for the Canadiens.

Jack Campbell (3-3, 1.77 goals-against average, .937 save percentage in six games played) made 28 saves on 31 shots against in the Maple Leafs’ loss.

Entering Game 7, Toronto has not won a playoff series since 2004, while Montréal has yet to win a round since 2015.

Nick Foligno returned to the lineup for the Leafs in Game 6, while Jon Merrill and Tomas Tatar were out of the lineup for the Habs. Jake Evans, however, was reinserted among the forwards for the Canadiens.

Josh Anderson tripped William Nylander and presented the Leafs with the first power play of the night at 1:57 of the first period. Toronto did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage, however.

Moments later, Alexander Kerfoot caught Jeff Petry with a high stick and presented the Canadiens with their first chance on the power play at 7:24, but Montréal was not able to capitalize on their resulting advantage.

Through one period of play, the game was still tied, 0-0, as the Habs outshot the Maple Leafs, 15-9.

Montréal also held the advantage in blocked shots (6-5), giveaways (9-3) and faceoff win percentage (67-33), while Toronto held the lead in takeaways (3-2) and hits (14-13).

Both teams were 0/1 on the power play heading into the first intermission.

There were no goals and only one penalty in the second period as Shea Weber sent the puck over the glass and out of play for an automatic delay of game minor at 3:53.

The Maple Leafs did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Through 40 minutes of play, the game remained tied, 0-0, as the Canadiens outshot the Leafs, 21-15, despite both teams managing to amass six shots on net each in the second period alone.

The Habs led in giveaways (20-9), hits (29-18) and faceoff win% (55-45), while Toronto held the advantage in blocked shots (13-10) after two periods. Both teams had three takeaways each entering the second intermission.

The Leafs were 0/2 and the Canadiens were 0/1 on the power play heading into the final frame of regulation.

Phillip Danault was caught holding Auston Matthews’ stick and assessed a minor infraction as a result at 2:18 of the third period, but the Maple Leafs couldn’t convert on the ensuing advantage.

A few minutes later, Nylander collided with Price and yielded a goaltender interference penalty, presenting Montréal with a power play at 5:16 of the third period.

It didn’t take the Habs long to convert on the resulting 5-on-4 action as Corey Perry (1) buried a loose puck from the doorstep while everyone scrambled as Campbell was out of the crease.

Perry’s individual effort made it, 1-0, for the Canadiens as the Habs struck first on the power play at 5:26 of the third period.

Maple Leafs head coach, Sheldon Keefe, used a coach’s challenge on the argument that Campbell had been interfered with, but a quick review determined that the call on the ice was confirmed– no Montréal skater had impeded in Campbell’s ability to bring himself back into the crease.

He was out of position of his own volition.

As a result of the failed challenge, Toronto was assessed a bench minor for delay of game– served by Nylander– at 5:26.

Seconds later, Mitchell Marner sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game minor at 5:45, presenting the Canadiens with a decent sized 5-on-3 opportunity.

About a minute later, Tyler Toffoli (1) buried one from the doorstep to give Montréal a two-goal lead with another power-play goal at 6:43.

Nick Suzuki (1) and Petry (1) had the assists on Toffoli’s goal as the Canadiens took a, 2-0, lead early in the third period.

Ben Chiarot slashed Marner moments later, yielding a power play to Toronto at 8:25.

Though the Maple Leafs didn’t manage to convert on the ensuing power play, Toronto caught Montréal in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as Jason Spezza (3) cut the Canadiens’ lead in half, 2-1, at 11:35.

Kerfoot (5) had the only assist on Spezza’s goal as the Leafs grabbed momentum midway through the third.

Late in the period, as the minutes started to wind down, the Habs turned the puck over in their own zone, leaving Pierre Engvall with a chance to slide a pass back to T.J. Brodie (1) for a catch and release slap shot off of Petry and underneath Price’s blocker through the seven-hole to tie the game, 2-2, at 16:49.

Engvall (1) tallied the only assist on Brodie’s goal as the Leafs forced overtime.

After regulation, the score was tied, 2-2, though Toronto led in shots on goal, 30-29, including a, 15-8, advantage in the third period alone.

As there were no penalties called in the extra frame, the Maple Leafs finished Saturday night 0/4 on the power play, while Montréal went 2/4 on the skater advantage.

Toronto dominated the overtime period, so naturally, on their second shot of the extra frame, Kotkaniemi (3) gave the Canadiens the victory with the game-winning goal– glove side on Campbell.

Byron (1) had the only assist after Dermott turned the puck over to the Montréal forward.

Kotkaniemi’s goal ended it for Montréal, 3-2, at 15:15 of the overtime period, while Toronto finished the night leading in shots on goal, 43-31, including a, 13-2, advantage in the extra frame alone.

The Maple Leafs finished Saturday night’s action leading in blocked shots (22-21) and faceoff win% (52-48), while the Canadiens wrapped up the night leading in giveaways (38-16) and hits (44-27).

Montréal became the first team in NHL history to surrender multi-goal leads in the third period in consecutive games and win each of them when facing elimination.

As a result of the Habs’ victory in Game 6 and the series tied 3-3 as a result, the Canadiens have forced a Game 7 back in Toronto on Monday night. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on CNBC, while those in Canada can tune to CBC, SN or TVAS for coverage.

The winner will advance to the Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and face the Winnipeg Jets in the next series.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Habs steal Game 1 on the road, 2-1, Leafs lose Tavares to injury

Paul Byron scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period as the Montréal Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1, on the road at Scotiabank Arena in Game 1 of their 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round matchup on Thursday.

Maple Leafs captain, John Tavares, suffered an upper body injury and was hospitalized as a result of a freak accident about midway into the first period.

Ben Chiarot hit Tavares in the open ice as Tavares was entering the neutral zone, before Corey Perry inadvertently clipped Tavares in the head as the Leafs forward’s body bounced along the ice like a rag-doll from Chiarot’s initial check.

Perry had leapt to avoid making a major collision with Tavares, but everything had happened so quickly that Perry might have made things worse– if not just as bad as they would’ve been had he not attempted to bail out with nowhere else to go at the last second.

Toronto’s medical staff assisted Tavares– being deliberate and careful with every move due to the immediate uncertainty of the severity of Tavares’ injury.

The Leafs captain tried to get up and nearly fell backwards head first onto the ice if it weren’t for Toronto’s trainers grabbing hold of their injured player.

As Tavares was being placed on the stretcher, visibly shaken shots of Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, Joe Thornton, other teammates and the Canadiens bench were interspersed on the national broadcast with too many cuts of the hit and subsequent second impact on replay.

Tavares gave his teammates a thumbs up as he was stretchered off the ice and was “communicating well,” at a local hospital according to Maple Leafs head coach, Sheldon Keefe, after the game. His initial tests were clear.

Perry and Tavares are good friends and were teammates on Canada’s national team several times over their careers and the Habs forward wished Tavares well with a pat as Tavares was stretchered off the ice and thoughtful remarks after the game for the best possible outcome.

Though Nick Foligno and Perry fought after the ensuing faceoff, it cannot be stressed enough that Perry had no malicious intent in the unfortunate circumstance that led to Tavares’ injury.

Known as a power forward for much of his career, Perry’s offensive talent has waned over the years as last season’s Dallas Stars and this year’s Canadiens have relied on his presence more so for his big frame and grit.

He was most recently suspended five games for elbowing Nashville Predators defender, Ryan Ellis, in the 2020 Winter Classic as a member of the Stars and received a major, as well as a match penalty as a result of the injury to Ellis.

Unlike the supplemental discipline that awaits Colorado Avalanche forward, Nazem Kadri, for his blindside hit on St. Louis Blues defender, Justin Faulk, on Wednesday night, Perry’s knee to Tavares’ head on Thursday was not a deliberate act to injure.

Canadiens goaltender, Carey Price (1-0, 1.00 goals-against average, .972 save percentage in one game played), made 35 saves on 36 shots against in the win for Montréal.

Jack Campbell (0-1, 2.07 goals-against average, .933 save percentage in one game played) stopped 28 out of 30 shots faced in the loss for Toronto.

For the first time since 1979, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens are facing each other in a postseason series. Montréal swept Toronto in four games in the 1979 Quarterfinals, while the last time the Leafs beat the Habs in a playoff series was back in the 1967 Stanley Cup Final (Toronto won in six games).

Riley Nash made his Leafs debut on Thursday after being acquired ahead of the trade deadline and immediately being placed on the long term injured reserve.

After Tavares’ injury, Foligno and Perry dropped the gloves at 10:30 of the first period and received five-minute major penalties for fighting.

Almost two minutes later, Josh Anderson (1) had a breakaway and fired a wrist shot over Campbell’s glove to give the Canadiens a, 1-0, lead at 12:08 of the first period.

Eric Staal (1) and Tyler Toffoli (1) tallied the assists on Anderson’s goal.

Late in the opening frame, Toffoli hooked Zach Hyman and presented the Maple Leafs with the night’s first power play at 18:43.

Toronto did not capitalize on the ensuing skater advantage.

Entering the first intermission, Montréal led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, despite trialing the Maple Leafs, 14-13, in shots on goal.

The Canadiens held the advantage in blocked shots (5-3), hits (28-13) and faceoff win percentage (72-28), while Toronto led in takeaways (3-1).

Both teams had four giveaways each, while only the Leafs had encountered a skater advantage and were 0/1 heading into the middle frame.

Montréal got a taste of a power play at 1:25 of the second period when Justin Holl sent the puck over the glass and out of play, yielding an automatic delay of game minor penalty as a result.

The Habs weren’t able to convert on the resulting skater advantage, however.

Morgan Rielly sent a shot on Price that generated a rebound whereby William Nylander (1) collected the garbage from aside the crease– tying the game, 1-1, in the process.

Rielly (1) and Holl (1) had the assists on Nylander’s goal at 4:28 of the second period.

A couple minutes later, Chiarot was assessed a roughing minor at 6:43, but the Canadiens managed to kill off the penalty without issue.

Late in the period, Montréal got another chance on the power play at 14:35, after Jason Spezza hooked Nick Suzuki, but the Habs couldn’t muster anything on the skater advantage.

Through 40 minutes of action, the score was tied, 1-1, despite Toronto leading in shots on goal, 22-20, including an, 8-7, advantage in the second period alone.

Montréal led in blocked shots (9-5), hits (44-19) and faceoff win% (59-42), while Toronto held the advantage in takeaways (9-5) and giveaways (11-8) entering the second intermission.

Both teams were 0/2 on the power play heading into the final frame.

Marner sent an errant puck over the glass at 2:48 and presented Montréal with another power play at 2:48 of the third period.

Nylander did the same at 7:15.

Both times the Canadiens failed to score on the skater advantage.

Moments later, Tomas Tatar caught Jake Muzzin with a high stick at 11:29 of the third period, leading to a power play for the Leafs.

About a minute later, however, the Habs capitalized on the penalty kill as Joel Armia poked the puck off of Thornton’s blade, leading to a quick breakout for Byron that turned into a short breakaway for the Habs forward.

Byron (1) was tripped before chipping the puck over Campbell’s glove side– negating a delayed penalty– and giving the Canadiens a, 2-1, lead at 12:44 of the third period.

Armia (1) had the only assist on the goal that would go on to be the game-winner as the clock eventually ticked down to zero.

Spezza tripped Shea Weber at 13:54, but the Habs failed to convert on the ensuing power play.

Phillip Danault tripped Hyman at 16:42, but the Leafs couldn’t muster anything on the resulting power play.

Keefe pulled Campbell for an extra attacker with about 2:15 remaining in the game, but it was to no avail– even after Toronto drew up plans to tie the game after a stoppage in play led to Keefe using his timeout with 1:51 remaining in regulation.

At the final horn, the Canadiens had won, 2-1, and taken a 1-0 series lead.

The Maple Leafs finished the night leading in shots on goal, 36-30, including a, 14-10, advantage in the third period alone.

The Habs wrapped up Thursday night’s action leading in blocked shots (13-10), hits (55-27) and faceoff win% (56-44), while both teams had 16 giveaways each.

Montréal finished the night 0/5 on the power play and Toronto went 0/4 on the skater advantage in Game 1.

Montréal has a chance to take a 2-0 series lead on the road Saturday night in Toronto.

Puck drop at Scotiabank Arena is expected to be a little after 7 p.m. ET and fans in the United States can tune to CNBC, while those in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.

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NHL Nick's Net

Assessing the Vegas market for Krejci’s wing

While the season’s upon us, there are still a few decisions to made regarding current unsigned free agents and more. Several teams are over the National Hockey League’s $81.5 million salary cap and will need to be compliant before the season begins on Jan. 13th.

One of those teams is the Vegas Golden Knights, who currently sit over the cap at $82,474,104.

Max Pacioretty’s name has come up in the latest round of trade rumors, but he’ll be the first to admit that’s nothing new, since he was subject to many rumors in his time with the Montreal Canadiens for about a decade before the Habs shipped him to Vegas on Sept. 10, 2018, for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick (that originally belonged to the Columbus Blue Jackets and was later flipped to the Los Angeles Kings).

Pacioretty carries a $7.000 million cap hit through the 2022-23 season and has a modified no-trade clause.

Considering his longstanding disdain for the Boston Bruins as an opponent, as well as the fact that Boston doesn’t really have the workable cap space (about $3.000 million) to take on Pacioretty without giving up part of the core, the B’s aren’t likely to take a flyer unless they’re bold enough to go all-in on “win now” mode.

There’s actually something most of the Golden Knights core has in common, however– they all have modified no-trade clauses except for defender, Shea Theodore, who just had a bit of a breakout year (13-33–46 totals in 71 games last season).

It’s not likely that Vegas will shift from scooping up William Karlsson, making him into a 40-goal scorer in their inaugural season, then sending him packing in only their fourth season of existence, but they could try to move someone that’s a little more cap friendly by about $900,000 in annual cap hit.

Jonathan Marchessault has come up in the rumor mill and would be a quality second line asset for the Bruins to inquire about.

He reached the 30-goal plateau in 75 games with the Florida Panthers in 2016-17– his first full season– and has put up three consecutive seasons of 20 goals or more since with the Golden Knights, recording career-highs in assists (48) and points (75) in 77 games with Vegas in 2017-18.

At 29-years-old, Marchessault is in the midst of his prime, can play left or right wing and carries a $5.000 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season.

Though David Krejci is in the final year of his current contract, the Bruins wouldn’t just be looking to land someone that’s compatible with No. 46 on their roster, but rather someone that’s reliable for if and when Krejci moves on and someone like Charlie Coyle or Jack Studnicka slots into the second line center role.

There’s one more familiar face Boston could consider asking Vegas about, though he might have to fight Greg McKegg to get his old number back.

It’s Reilly Smith.

At 29, Smith is also in the midst of his prime and carries a cap hit worth $5.000 million per season through 2021-22, with a modified no-trade clause to boot.

Since departing the Bruins in a trade with the Panthers on July 1, 2015, Smith has become a consistent playoff performer, recording eight points in six games with Florida in 2016, 22 points with Vegas in 20 games en route to losing in five games to the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, six points in Vegas’ seven-game run in 2019 and 14 points in 20 games with the Golden Knights in the 2020 postseason.

Smith’s numbers in the regular season have also been pretty good– reaching at least 40 points in six out of his seven full seasons, including five seasons of 50 or more points and setting a career-high in goals last season with 27 in 71 games.

Since their inaugural season in 2017-18, Smith has worn an “A” on his Golden Knights jersey.

Vegas also presented Pacioretty with an “A” last season, but has never given Marchessault the designation as an alternate captain.

Not that that’s really too much to look into or anything, but all signs seem to indicate it’d be harder to pry one someone from the Golden Knights’ leadership group, let alone their core rather than Marchessault and his versatile style.

Of course, Vegas would also have to be convinced to take something on from Boston and the Bruins wouldn’t exactly be giving Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon and their head coach, Peter DeBoer, much to work with other than cap space.

Anders Bjork signed a three-year extension on July 29th with the Bruins that carries a cap hit of $1.600 million through 2022-23.

He’ll be a pending-restricted free agent by the end of his current deal, which might be incentive for Vegas to latch onto him in any potential trade, but Bjork has struggled to stay healthy and hasn’t exactly dazzled pro scouts with 9-10–19 totals in 58 games last season for the B’s.

Again, though, if Vegas is trying to save money, they might be convinced to take on a reclamation project with a prospect or two and/or a draft pick invovled.

At 24-years-old, Bjork might just need a change of scenery if he can’t tap into his scoring ways with Boston.

Of course, most Bruins fans would like to see Boston’s General Manager, Don Sweeney, try to sell high on Nick Ritchie while he still can– to put it lightly.

Ritchie had 21 points last season in 48 games split between the Anaheim Ducks and Bruins, is 25-years-old and has a $1,498,925 cap hit, which is somehow better than Bjork’s production and value.

He only has one-year left on his current contract, so he’ll be a pending-restricted free agent at season’s end.

But then, of course, there’s a few problems for Boston with trying to move Bjork or Ritchie.

Players are expendable components of the business side of hockey, but they’re human and humans like a little loyalty in their relationships– business or otherwise.

To be signed to an extension over the summer, then dealt to another team before the new season begins or to be acquired at last season’s deadline and moved so early on in your tenure in a new market might put a damper on Boston’s reputation as a free agent destination.

It could also backfire among players with modified no-trade clauses or that are willing to nullify their NTC or no-movement clause, but might reconsider if the Bruins come up in the conversation if that player’s looking for their next stop to have a little more longevity to it.

Oh and there’s the general fact that a team isn’t likely to just hand you a good player for bits and pieces, so Boston could still be working from behind on any potential trades with Vegas.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

*If necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

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

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

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

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

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

It’s all just part of the plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular season outcomes:

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

Schedule:

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

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

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

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

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

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

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

Boston Bruins

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

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

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

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

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

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

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

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

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

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

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

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

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

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD