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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

Dallas Stars 2021-22 Season Preview

2020-21 record 23-19-14, 60 points

5th in the Discover NHL Central Division

Missed the postseason for the first time since 2020

Additions: F Luke Glendening, F Michael Raffl, D Jani Hakanpää, D Alexander Petrovic, D Ryan Suter, G Braden Holtby

Subtractions: F Andrew Cogliano (signed with SJS), F Jason Dickinson (traded to VAN), F Matej Stansky (NL), D Taylor Fedun (signed with PIT), D Julius Honka (SHL), D Stephen Johns (retired), D Jamie Oleksiak (expansion, SEA), D Mark Pysyk (signed with BUF), G Landon Bow (ELH)

Still Unsigned: F Adam Mascherin (SHL, DAL reserve list), D Sami Vatanen

Re-signed: F Nick Caamano, F Blake Comeau, F Rhett Gardner, F Tanner Kero, F Joel Kiviranta, D Joseph Cecconi, D Ben Gleason, D Miro Heiskanen, D Jerad Rosburg, G Colton Point

Offseason Analysis: When the Minnesota Wild decided to buyout Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Stars saw a chance to make one of the best low-risk, high-reward moves of the offseason in signing Suter to a four-year contract worth $3.650 million per season.

Though there is a slight concern the 36-year-old defender will not be able to maintain his pace of play as the years go by in the deal, signing Suter to a cap hit under $4 million makes him easy to move in the later years and gives you the flexibility to keep guys like Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg on your roster at the same time.

At least for the 2021-22 season before Dallas General Manager, Jim Nill, gets to deal with the headache that is possibly signing the 29-year-old pending-unrestricted free agent, Klingberg, to an extension.

With Heiskanen earning an eight-year extension with an $8.450 million cap hit, it’s hard to imagine that Klingberg’s asking price won’t be at least $9.000 million per season.

At least the Stars are projected to have about $23.300 million in cap space next offseason, whereas there’s no wiggle room now that the 2021-22 roster is full with not even a penny to spend towards the ceiling.

Anyway, since the 2011-12 season, Suter has only missed the 40-point plateau from the blue line three times.

In 2012-13, Suter had 32 points in a 48-game lockout shortened season. In 2014-15, he had 38 points in 77 games.

But when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cut short the 2019-20 regular season, Suter had already amassed 48 points in 69 games for Minnesota.

He had 19 points in 56 games with the Wild last season, however.

Nevertheless, the Stars overhauled their defense in the offseason, so Suter should slide in as a top-four shutdown guy with years of experience having amassed 93-514–607 totals in 1,198 career games with the Nashville Predators and Wild since breaking into the league in the 2005-06 season after Nashville drafted him in the 1st round (7th overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Veteran depth and replacement-level players were Nill’s primary focus this offseason as he extended younger guys like Heiskanen, Tanner Kero, Rhett Gardner, Nick Caamano and Joel Kiviranta.

Kiviranta had 6-5–11 totals in 26 games while battling a lower body injury in what otherwise would’ve likely been his first full season glance in a Stars uniform.

As a result, he’s on a two-year bridge deal worth $1.050 million per season having been a pleasant surprise for Dallas as a clutch-role player in the top-nine.

With Heiskanen’s cap hit set at $8.450 million per season on his eight-year extension and the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft in mind as the Seattle Kraken were four days away from taking a player from the Stars for nothing after Heiskanen signed his new deal on July 17th, Nill knew there’d be little he could do to keep Jamie Oleksiak around.

Dallas could’ve tried to convince Seattle to not select Oleksiak in an expansion draft day trade, but the Stars ultimately chose not to as Oleksiak was claimed and signed a steep five-year extension worth $4.600 million per season– a little out of Dallas’ price range for what they deemed a replaceable asset.

With Stephen Johns having retired, Oleksiak gone to Seattle and Julius Honka off to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Nills brought in Suter and Jani Hakanpää as a pair of durable defenders.

At 6-foot-5, 218-pounds, Hakanpää can pack a punch with his noted physical play– he finished third in the league in hits last season with 215, for the record.

In 57 games with the Anaheim Ducks and Carolina Hurricanes last season, Hakanpää might not be a name-brand player given his age (29) or totals (2-2–4), but he is sure to be a fan favorite among those that love quality, hard-hitting, third pairing defenders.

Luke Glendening and Michael Raffl are new to Dallas this season– replacing the likes of Andrew Cogliano and Jason Dickinson as Nill chose not to re-sign the former and traded the latter.

Cogliano joined the San Jose Sharks, while Dickinson was shipped to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2021 3rd round pick (Ayrton Martino).

It’s important to keep your bottom-six forwards fresh, inexpensive and producing and Nill felt it was about time for a little shakeup down in the depth of the roster.

Nill also made a move at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, trading his 2021 1st round pick (15th overall, Sebastian Cossa) down with the Detroit Red Wings for a 2021 1st round pick (originally belonging to the Washington Capitals– 23rd overall, Wyatt Johnston), a 2021 2nd round pick (originally belonging to the New York Rangers– 48th overall, Artyom Grushnikov) and a 2021 5th round pick (originally belonging to the Ottawa Senators via Montréal and Detroit– 138th overall, Jack Bar).

Outside of the crease, the plans for the 2021-22 season have come into existence.

But in the net, the Stars face the difficult task of juggling three goaltenders of varying quality.

Jake Oettinger is the future full-time starter if the future isn’t already now. Anton Khudobin played well enough to earn an extended stay as a result of his fill-in heroics leading to Dallas’ 2020 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Meanwhile, Braden Holtby was bought out by Vancouver and joined the Stars for a career-resurgence.

Oh and Ben Bishop is still out due to injury, though sources close to the Stars seem to indicate his playing days may be over (as if signing Holtby wasn’t enough of a giveaway).

Oettinger went 11-8-7 in 29 games played last season with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage, as well as one shutout in that span as he made his regular season debut.

Khudobin regressed a little bit back to his norm after a rejuvenating 2019-20 season– posting a 12-11-7 record in 32 games with a 2.54 goals-against average, a .903 save percentage and three shutouts in 2020-21 after going 16-8-4 in 30 games with a 2.22 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage the season prior.

Both Stars goaltenders were fine as they were, then Holtby became part of the equation on a one-year, $2.000 million contract.

In his one season with Vancouver, the floor fell out. Holtby went 7-11-3 in 21 games with a 3.67 goals-against average and an .889 save percentage.

The good news, however, is that Dallas has a better defense on paper than the Canucks and the results should translate as such– no matter who’s in the crease.

Offseason Grade: A

Last season was a fluke. For starters, the Stars were rocked by COVID-19 early in the 2020-21 calendar, which delayed their start to the regular season.

Tyler Seguin missed a significant portion of the season (all but three games) after having surgery after the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and a long rehab for a torn labrum in his hip.

With only the top-four teams in each temporarily realigned division making the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, nobody is blaming Dallas for coming up short and missing out on what likely would’ve been a quick First Round exit.

This offseason, Nill’s made significant improvements in depth and signed affordable deals to continue to build around his core for the immediate future while the team is still competitive.

The Stars are on track to get back into the playoff picture in 2021-22 and maybe– just maybe– turn some heads again and make it back to the Stanley Cup Final if everything falls into place.

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Deadline Deals NHL

Analysis: Almost 11 years later, Taylor Hall is finally a Bruin

The Boston Bruins traded forward, Anders Bjork, and a 2021 2nd round pick to the Buffalo Sabres for forwards, Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar, late Sunday night/early Monday morning.

By the time TSN fired up their “TradeCentre” coverage, the Bruins and Sabres officially announced the deal.

Boston General Manager, Don Sweeney, emphasized the need to “add some juice” to the B’s lineup across both of his moves before Monday’s deadline.

Buffalo General Manger, Kevyn Adams, noted that he’s long-liked Bjork’s game and was tied up by Hall’s no-movement clause, which limited possible trade destinations.

Both Hall and Bjork were on pace for about three goals each this season at the time of the trade. Both players are looking to recapture former glories (Hall and his 2017-18 Hart Memorial Trophy winning regular season MVP performance, Bjork and his prolific scoring prowess in his junior year at Notre Dame in 2016-17).

In the end, however, the Bruins may have finally landed their missing piece to play alongside David Krejci on their second line, while the Sabres are prime for a resurgence by actually giving their youth (and Bjork) more playing time to develop.

And then there’s Lazar, who is the icing on the cake for Boston’s re-energized fourth line and not just at risk of being a rental, though Hall has indicated an interest in signing an extension with the Bruins if he can prove himself worthy.

All three players may suit up in their first game with their new teams against one another.

That’s right, the Bruins host the Sabres on Tuesday night– pitting Hall against Bjork in a head-to-head matchup, while Lazar (lower body) is a game-time decision.

Hall, 29, had 2-17–19 totals in 37 games with Buffalo at the time of the trade and has 220-362–582 totals in 664 career NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils, Arizona Coyotes and Sabres.

He had career-highs in goals (39), assists (54) and points (93) in 76 games en route to winning the Hart Trophy with the Devils in 2017-18, and was originally drafted 1st overall by Edmonton in 2010.

Hall is the first player since Jaromir Jagr in 2013, to suit up for the Bruins as a 1st overall draft pick and almost became a Bruin back in that 2010 Draft, as Boston had the 2nd overall pick that year (drafting Tyler Seguin after the Oilers in the process).

The 6-foot-1, 206-pound native of Calgary, Alberta has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 14 career Stanley Cup Playoff games, including 2-4–6 totals in nine games with Arizona most recently in the 2020 postseason.

Buffalo retained 50% of Hall’s salary in the transaction, which means his cap hit with the Bruins is set at $4.000 million and he is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

Lazar, 26, had 5-4–9 totals and zero penalty minutes in 33 games with the Sabres at the time of the trade and has 25-45–70 totals in 317 career NHL games with the Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames and Sabres since making his league debut in 2014-15, with Ottawa.

The 6-foot, 193-pound center was originally drafted by the Senators in the 1st round (17th overall) in 2013, and set career-highs in goals (6), assists (14) and points (20) in 76 games with the Sens in 2015-16.

Lazar brings stability to Boston’s fourth line with Sean Kuraly able to play center or wing and Chris Wagner likely fighting for a spot down the stretch with Anton Blidh, who’s been a welcome surprise in finding a consistent game since being drafted by the Bruins in the 6th round (180th overall) in 2013.

Though a lower body had him listed as “week-to-week” according to the Sabres at the time of the trade, Lazar may be ready to go with Boston on Tuesday night and make an immediate impact on a young lineup that’s faced numerous injuries of their own this season.

Lazar has no points in seven career Stanley Cup Playoff games, including one game most recently with Calgary in the 2017 postseason and is a native of Salmon Arm, British Columbia.

He’s signed through the 2021-22 season at an $800,000 cap hit.

Bjork, 24, had 2-3–5 totals in 30 games with Boston at the time of the trade and has 16-23–39 totals in 138 career games (all with the Bruins) since making his NHL debut in the 2017-18 season.

The 6-foot, 197-pound native of Mequon, Wisconsin set career-highs in goals (9), assists (10) and points (19) in 58 games with the B’s last season and can provide a much-needed spark in more playing time with the Sabres.

He was originally drafted by Boston in the 5th round (146th overall) in 2014.

His puck possession skills are unmatched among his peers, though his puck luck has been a bit of a detractor at times, especially more so this season than when shoulder injuries kept him out of the lineup in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Bjork has one assist in 10 career Stanley Cup Playoff games (all in 2020) and was a minus-three in that span.

Adams, in the meantime, can utilize the 2021 2nd round pick on a prospect or flip it for something better as he continues to make adjustments to his roster in the offseason with the Seattle Kraken expansion draft in mind.

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Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #209- Mic Check/Always Improving

Nick and Colby review some of the biggest signings in free agency, as well as other happenings this offseason in the National Hockey League, including teams that have improved, a 2020-21 season outlook and more in the season seven debut of the podcast.

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

Categories
Podcasts

DTFR Podcast #208- Lightning Strikes Twice/Offseason Part II

Nick and Colby are annoyed by technological difficulties both on and off the podcast, so this is the best of their talk about the 2020 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, potential rebuild in Arizona, Patric Hornqvist trade and more. Seriously, the audio is that bad.

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

Categories
NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Lightning shutout Stars in Game 6, win 2nd Cup in franchise history

For the first time since 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup champions.

Gone are the days of choking in the 2015 Final, the 2016 and 2018 Eastern Conference Final or being swept in the 2019 First Round.

Open a window– make it a championship window– and see just how long the good times will last (there’s going to be some salary cap stuff to figure out for 2020-21 and beyond, but worry about that later).

For now, raise a socially distant glass on Zoom or whatever and celebrate responsibly as the Bolts downed the Dallas Stars, 2-0, in Game 6 at Rogers Place in Edmonton to win the series 4-2 and bring the Cup back to Tampa for the second time in franchise history.

Brayden Point’s power-play goal in the first period held up to be the game-winning, Stanley Cup clinching goal as Blake Coleman added an insurance marker in the middle frame.

Victor Hedman became the second player in Lightning franchise history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2020 postseason’s most valuable player.

Hedman’s also the third player from Sweden to win the Conn Smythe and the 10th different defender to win it in league history, joining Duncan Keith (2015), Scott Niedermayer (2007), Nicklas Lidstrom (2002), Scott Stevens (2000), Brian Leetch (1994), Al MacInnis (1989), Larry Robinson (1978), Bobby Orr (1970 and 1972) and Serge Savard (1969) in the process.

He also had 10 goals in the 2020 postseason, which were the most by a defender since Leetch had 11 in 23 games with the 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers.

Lightning goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy (18-7, 1.90 goals against average, .927 save percentage in 25 games this postseason) earned his first career Stanley Cup Playoff shutout in his 58th career postseason appearance– stopping all 22 shots faced en route to winning the Cup Monday night.

Dallas netminder, Anton Khudobin (14-10, 2.69 GAA, .917 SV% in 25 games this postseason) had 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in the loss.

Dallas interim head coach, Rick Bowness, didn’t change a thing from his lineup after winning in double overtime, 3-2, in Game 5 on Saturday to Monday night’s action in Game 6.

As a result, Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea remained out of the lineup due to injury or otherwise.

Prior to Game 6 on Monday, Steven Stamkos was ruled out of the rest of the Final by the Lightning on Sunday.

Tampa’s head coach, Jon Cooper, inserted Alexander Volkov on Stamkos’ slot on the fourth line right wing (where Carter Verhaeghe played in Game 5 after Stamkos returned for Game 4 before re-aggravating an injury forced him out of the lineup).

On defense, Kevin Shattenkirk was bumped up to the first pairing with Hedman, while Jan Rutta joined the list of scratches as Zach Bogosian took over Shattenkirk’s role on the third pairing with Ryan McDonagh.

Everything else was the same for the Bolts.

Tampa’s list of scratches on Monday included Luke Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Verhaeghe, Scott Wedgewood, Rutta, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens and Stamkos.

Early in the opening frame, Andrew Cogliano tripped up Point and was assessed a minor infraction at 6:32 of the first period.

Tampa wasn’t able to convert on their first power play opportunity of the night, but soon found themselves back on the skater advantage at 11:58, after John Klingberg tripped Volkov.

Less than a minute into the ensuing power play, Point (14) gathered his own rebound and scored on the far side while Khudobin was caught thinking the puck was trapped between his arm and his body.

Nikita Kucherov (27) and Hedman (12) tallied the assists on Point’s power-play goal at 12:23 of the first period and the Lightning led, 1-0.

The goal was Point’s fifth of the series and set a franchise record for the most goals in one postseason by a Tampa player as Point surpassed Tyler Johnson’s previous mark of 13 goals in Tampa’s 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, which ended in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Stanley Cup Final that year– the most recent time the Bolts made the Final before beating Dallas in six games on Monday night.

Kucherov’s primary assist on the goal also assured him of the fifth most assists (27) in a playoff year in NHL history, trailing Wayne Gretzky (31 assists in 1988), Gretzky again (30 assists in 1985), Gretzky for a third time (29 in 1987) and Mario Lemieux (28 in 1991).

Late in the first period, Hedman interfered with Stars forward, Corey Perry, and received a minor penalty at 18:36, but Dallas’ first power play opportunity did not go well.

Through one period of action in Edmonton on Monday night, the Lightning led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 11-4, in shots on goal.

The Bolts also held the advantage in takeaways (1-0), hits (18-12) and faceoff win percentage (60-40).

The Stars, meanwhile, led in blocked shots (8-5) and giveaways (7-5).

Tampa was 1/2 on the power play, while Dallas was 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the first intermission.

Almost midway through the middle frame, Coleman (5) received a pass through the high slot from Cedric Paquette and fired a one-timer past Khudobin to extend Tampa’s lead to two-goals.

Paquette (3) and Pat Maroon (5) notched the assists on the goal and the Lightning led, 2-0, at 7:01 of the second period.

About a minute later, Tampa defender, Ryan McDonagh was penalized for interference after colliding with Dallas forward, Tyler Seguin at 8:02.

Once more, however, Dallas’ power play was powerless and, in fact, cut shot when Perry bumped into Vasilevskiy yielding a penalty for goaltender interference at 9:22.

Tampa’s ensuing abbreviated power play after a little 4-on-4 action did not result in a difference on the scoreboard as both teams eventually entered their respective dressing rooms for the second intermission with the Bolts still in command, 2-0.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Lightning led in shots on goal, 21-8– including a, 10-4, advantage in the second period alone.

The Bolts also held the advantage in takeaways (3-2), hits (31-20) and faceoff win% (56-44), while the Stars led in giveaways (9-8).

Both teams had 13 blocked shots aside after two periods.

Tampa was 1/3 on the power play, while Dallas was 0/2 heading into the final frame of regulation.

Not much happened in the final period as the Stars rallied to a, 14-8, shots on net in the third period alone advantage– despite ultimately failing to score and finishing the night trailing, 29-22, in total shots on goal.

Dallas played desperate and had one final chance to cut the lead in half on the power play at 15:27 of the third period when McDonagh tripped Joel Kiviranta, but the Stars just couldn’t get any offense on the board.

With 1:44 remaining in the season, Bowness pulled Khudobin for an extra attacker in an attempt to muster just about anything by that point to spur his team for one last chance at forcing a Game 7.

This time, their heroic comeback moment did not come as the Lightning bolted down their defense and struck the Stars with a, 2-0, shutout at the final horn.

Tampa emerged with the 4-2 series win and their first Stanley Cup championship since 2004– their second Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

Dallas fell to 1-2 in three Stanley Cup Final appearances overall, having won in six games in 1999, against the Buffalo Sabres, and losing in six games in 2000, against the New Jersey Devils.

Six games is all it takes, apparently, for better or worse for the Stars in the Final.

Meanwhile, it’s all the Lightning needed to complete a redemption arc from losing in six games to Chicago in 2015, and the ensuing bouts of embarrassment since then until the stars aligned for Tampa on Monday.

Tampa finished Game 6 leading in blocked shots (22-16), hits (40-37) and faceoff win% (53-47), while Dallas exited the bubble with the advantage in giveaways (11-9) in their final game.

The Lightning finished 1/3 on the power play as the Stars finished 0/3 on the skater advantage.

As the Bolts skated around with Lord Stanley’s mug, Cooper had completed the achievement of winning a championship at every level of hockey that he has coached– a feat that is by no means easy to accomplish, even though he did so while only 53-years-old (which is relatively young for a head coach).

Tampa became the first team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and be swept in the First Round the year before winning the Cup in the following season as the Columbus Blue Jackets ousted the Lightning in four games in the 2019 First Round.

The Lightning, fun fact, overcame Columbus in five games in the 2020 First Round before defeating the Boston Bruins in five games in the Second Round and the New York Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference Final to advance to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Maroon became the eighth player in history– and first since former Lightning player, Cory Stillman– to win back-to-back Cups with different teams in consecutive seasons.

Stillman won the Cup with the Lightning in 2004, before winning it again in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes (the NHL had a lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season in between), while Maroon won the Cup last year with the St. Louis Blues– his hometown team– before raising the Cup again in 2020 with Tampa.

Vasilevskiy set an NHL record for minutes played by a goaltender in a postseason with 1,708:12 time on ice.

He also became the 10th different netminder since the league expanded prior to the 1967-68 season to appear in every game en route to the Cup, joining Corey Crawford (with Chicago in 2013), Jonathan Quick (with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012), Tim Thomas (with Boston in 2011), Martin Brodeur (with New Jersey in 2000), Ed Belfour (with Dallas in 1999), Grant Fuhr (with the Edmonton Oilers in 1988), Patrick Roy (with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986), Ken Dryden (five times with Montreal from 1971-78) and Bernie Parent (with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974) in the process.

Bowness fell to 15-13 with Dallas in the postseason (all-time) as the Stars fell to 15-13 in the 2020 postseason as a whole, while Cooper improved to 54-29 behind the bench in the postseason with Tampa.

The Lightning finished 18-7 in the bubble in postseason action– capitalizing their longest postseason (25 games) with a Cup win.

Meanwhile, the NHL as a whole was able to award the Stanley Cup for the 2019-20 season amidst the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic with zero positive tests in Phase 4 of their Return to Play plan– which deserves a banner in its own right– having “administered 33,174 tests to club Personnel, including Players” from the beginning of Phase 4 through September 26th, according to a statement released by the league prior to the game on Monday.

Kudos to the NHL, NHLPA, Gary Bettman and all of the public health and local Canadian government officials that were able to make this happen.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Perry, Stars force Game 6 with, 3-2, 2OT win in Game 5 against Lightning

The last time someone scored in double overtime in a Stanley Cup Final, Alec Martinez won the Cup for the Los Angeles Kings in five games against the New York Rangers in 2014.

This time, the Dallas Stars didn’t want to be on the losing end– at least not yet, anyway– as Corey Perry scored a pair of goals– including the game-winning goal in double overtime– to force a Game 6 with a, 3-2, win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta on Saturday.

Anton Khudobin (14-9, 2.72 goals against average, .917 save percentage in 24 games this postseason) made 39 saves on 41 shots against for a .951 SV% in the win for Dallas.

Bolts goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy (17-7, 1.97 GAA, .925 SV% in 24 games this postseason) stopped 30 out of 33 shots faced (.909 SV%) in the loss.

Despite the loss, Tampa leads the series 3-2 with a chance to win the Cup on Monday night (Sept. 28th).

With Roope Hintz, Radek Faksa and Blake Comeau out of Dallas’ lineup due to injury, Stars head coach, Rick Bowness, toyed with his forward lines starting Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov on the first line with Joel Kiviranta, Tyler Seguin and Perry rounding out Dallas’ top-six forwards.

Bowness opted to insert Justin Dowling in Hintz’s place on the third line with Mattias Janmark on the left side and Denis Gurianov at right wing.

Dallas’ fourth line trio of Andrew Cogliano, Jason Dickinson and Nick Caamano remained untouched since Caamano went into the lineup in place of the injured Comeau.

On defense, Bowness kept the same pairings.

Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, kept his lineup for Game 5 the same as it was in Game 4.

Meanwhile, Dallas’ list of scratches included Faksa, Comeau, Jason Robertson, Hintz, Stephen Johns, Ben Bishop, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea.

Tampa’s list of scratches for Saturday night included Luke Schenn, Mathieu Joseph, Zach Bogosian, Scott Wedgewood, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens, Steven Stamkos and Alexander Volkov.

For the first time since the 2009 Stanley Cup Final– and just the second time since 1955 overall– a pair of Stanley Cup Final games were played on consecutive days.

Additionally, Saturday’s Game 5 marked the first time in Stanley Cup Final history that games on consecutive days required overtime.

Early in the opening frame, Seguin tripped Brayden Point yielding the first power play of the night to the Lightning at 4:19 of the first period.

Tampa’s skater advantage wasn’t as functional as it was in Game 4’s win on Friday, however, as the Bolts weren’t able to muster a power play goal.

Late in the period, Perry jumped on a loose puck that had deflected off of Seguin’s stick while No. 91 in green and white struggled to settle the rubber biscuit.

Perry (4) wired a shot through Vasilevskiy’s arm to give the Stars a, 1-0, lead at 17:52 of the first period.

Seguin (9) and Jamie Oleksiak (4) had the assists as Dallas scored first for the second consecutive game in as many nights.

Entering the first intermission, the Stars led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, while the Lightning led in shots on goal, 10-8.

Dallas held the advantage in blocked shots (5-3) and takeaways (5-3), while Tampa led in giveaways (4-3), hits (22-17) and faceoff win percentage (55-46).

The Lightning were 0/1 on the power play, while Dallas had yet to see any time on the skater advantage heading into the middle frame.

Ondrej Palat (11) tied the game, 1-1, as the Lightning forward received a pass from Nikita Kucherov on a rush into the attacking zone, brought the puck in deep towards the goal line, then cut towards the slot with a deke as Khudobin dove paddle-first in desperation while Palat slide the puck into the twine.

Kucherov (26) and Point (18) tallied the assists on Palat’s goal at 4:37 of the second period.

Midway through the middle period, Carter Verhaeghe slashed Miro Heiskanen and received a minor infraction at 12:33.

Dallas did not convert on the ensuing power play, however.

Through 40 minutes of action on Saturday, the score was tied, 1-1, while the Bolts led in shots on goal, 23-14– including a, 13-6, advantage in the second period alone.

Tampa held the advantage in hits (37-31) and faceoff win% (52-48), while the Stars led in blocked shots (13-11) and takeaways (7-6).

Each club had nine giveaways and was 0/1 on the power play heading into the second intermission.

Khudobin’s 22 saves through the first two periods in Game 5 boosted his 2020 postseason totals to 700 saves in 24 games– becoming the fifth goaltender since 1955-56 (when shots on goal and saves began to be tracked) to record at least 700 saves in a single playoff year.

The other goaltenders to do so? Tim Thomas (798 saves) with the Boston Bruins en route to winning the Cup in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kirk McLean (761) with the Vancouver Canucks in the 1994 postseason, Tuukka Rask (715) with the Bruins in the 2013 postseason and Jonathan Quick (705) with the Kings en route to the Cup in 2014.

Upon the conclusion of Saturday night’s, 3-2, win in double overtime for Dallas, Khudobin has amassed 717 saves this postseason– good enough for the third-most in a postseason since 1955-56.

Mikhail Sergachev (3) put the Lightning ahead of the Stars on a one-timer from the point while Kucherov and Palat screened Khudobin at 3:38 of the third period.

Point (19) had the only assist on the goal as the Bolts pulled ahead, 2-1.

Midway through the period, Erik Cernak caught Pavelski with a high stick and was assessed a minor penalty at 11:06 of the third period– presenting Dallas with their second power play opportunity of the night.

The Stars failed to convert on the skater advantage, but caught Tampa in the vulnerable minute after special teams action as Pavelski (13) collected the garbage on a rebound and tied the game, 2-2, at 13:15.

Benn broke up a clearing attempt from Kevin Shattenkirk, then Heiskanen fired a shot from the point that Pavelski ultimately snagged on a rebound and pocketed the loose change for his 61st career postseason goal– the most by any United States born player in NHL history.

Heiskanen (20) and Seguin (10) were credited with the assists on the goal as Heiskanen became the fourth defender in NHL history to record 20 assists in a single postseason.

Perry and Pavelski, in the meantime, became the eighth and ninth players in league history to score on consecutive days in the Stanley Cup Final– joining Justin Abdelkader (in 2009 with the Detroit Red Wings), Jean Beliveau (in 1955 with the Montreal Canadiens), Ted Lindsay (in 1952 with the Red Wings), Sid Abel (in 1950 with the Red Wings), Tony Leswick (in 1950 with the New York Rangers), Allan Stanley (in 1950 with the Rangers) and Harry Watson (in 1948 with the Toronto Maple Leafs) in doing so.

Additionally, both Perry and Pavelski became the first players aged 35 or older to score in consecutive games in the Stanley Cup Final (in general, not necessarily on consecutive days) since Mark Recchi did so in Games 2 and 3 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final with Boston.

At the end of regulation, the score remained tied, 2-2, despite the Lightning leading in shots on goal, 30-27.

Dallas had a, 13-7, advantage in shots on net in the third period alone and maintained a lead in blocked shots (19-13) and takeaways (10-7) heading into overtime.

Meanwhile, Tampa led in giveaways (21-16), hits (53-42) and faceoff win% (54-46).

The Bolts were 0/1 and the Stars were 0/2 on the power play entering the extra frame(s).

About nine minutes into the first overtime period, Tampa surpassed the 200-minute mark of overtime hockey in this postseason alone (extending their ongoing record).

Dallas had their first shot on goal in the overtime period at 17:53, while the Lightning looked like (and were) the more dominant team in the first overtime period.

Alas, without a game-winning goal, 80 minutes of hockey was not enough as the Bolts and Stars remained tied, 2-2, on the scoreboard, despite Tampa leading in shots on net, 37-29– including a, 7-2, advantage in the first overtime period alone.

Dallas maintained an advantage in blocked shots (30-14) and takeaways (14-10), while the Lightning led in giveaways (23-21), hits (62-53) and faceoff win% (51-49).

As there were no penalties called in either overtime period, the Lightning finished the night 0/1 on the power play, while the Stars went 0/2.

Midway through the second overtime period, John Klingberg let go of a shot that Perry (5) found on the rebound and scored the game-winning goal while Vasilevskiy dove glove-first in desperate attempt to prolong the Game 5 action.

Klingberg (17) and Seguin (11) notched the assists on Perry’s game-winning goal at 9:23 of double overtime.

Dallas finished the effort with a, 3-2, win and forced a Game 6 while trailing in the series 3-2.

Tampa finished the night leading in shots on goal, 41-33, as well as in giveaways (24-23), hits (64-57) and faceoff win% (51-49).

The Stars finished Saturday night leading in blocked shots (33-18), while both teams managed four shots on goal apiece in the second overtime period.

Despite not scoring a goal in 13 games, Seguin managed to amass three assists as the Stars improved to 5-1 in overtime this postseason.

The Lightning fell to 6-2 in overtime in the 2020 postseason as a result of the Game 5 loss.

Meanwhile, Dallas became the fifth team in NHL history to win a multi-overtime game in which their opponent could have clinched the Stanley Cup.

It was also the second time that the Stars achieved the feat– having previously beaten the New Jersey Devils in Game 5 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final (before losing the series in six games).

Dallas did, however, beat the Buffalo Sabres in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final– winning the Cup in triple overtime that year– as a bonus fun fact.

Tampa has another chance to finish the Stars and win their second Stanley Cup championship in franchise history Monday night in Game 6 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final from the Edmonton bubble at Rogers Place.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune to NBC to catch the action, while those in Canada can tune to CBC, SN or TVAS.

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Khudobin, Stars steal Game 1, lead Bolts 1-0 in series

Four different goal scorers and goaltender, Anton Khudobin, helped the Dallas Stars take Game 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, 4-1, over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night inside the National Hockey League’s Edmonton bubble at Rogers Place.

For the first time since the 1919 Stanley Cup Final, the NHL is playing for the Cup in the middle of a global pandemic that rivals the scale and impact of the 1918 influenza pandemic.

This time, the league is determined on deciding a champion, unlike how the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Seattle Metropolitans and NHL’s Montreal Canadiens were forced to cancel their series– tied 2-2-1 through five games– due to an influenza outbreak among several players from both clubs that resulted in the death of Habs star, Joe Hall, from pneumonia brought on by the flu.

In the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL rolls on with the fourth, final and most important round of the playoffs after a five month stoppage that cut the 2019-20 regular season short prompted the expanded 24-team postseason format for 2020.

It all comes down to this– the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Jamie Oleksiak scored the eventual game-winning goal midway through the second period, while Khudobin (13-6, 2.54 goals against average, .923 save percentage in 20 games this postseason) turned aside 35 out of 36 shots faced for a .972 SV% in the win for Dallas.

Andrei Vasilevksiy (14-6, 1.88 GAA, .929 SV% in 20 games this postseason) made 16 saves on 19 shots against for an .842 SV% in the loss for the Lightning.

For the first time in league history, two of the three southernmost based franchises are playing for the Cup in the northernmost city in the league.

The Stars last won a Cup in 1999, while the Lightning last won a Cup in 2004, as both teams entered Game 1 with the hopes of setting the tone in their favor.

Dallas’ interim head coach, Rick Bowness, opted to roll four complete forward lines instead of mimicking Tampa Bay’s head coach, Jon Cooper’s plans with 11 forwards and seven defenders.

Bowness kept Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov together on his first line with Mattias Janmark, Joe Pavelski and Denis Gurianov rounding out his top-six forwards.

Joel Kiviranta, Roope Hintz and Corey Perry lined up on the third line with Andrew Cogliano, Jason Dickinson and Blake Comeau comprising of Dallas’ fourth line trio.

On defense, Esa Lindell and John Klingberg remained Dallas’ top pairing with Oleksiak and Miro Heiskanen completing the top-four blue liners, as well as Joel Hanley and Andrej Sekera rounding out the bottom defensive pairing.

Once again, Jake Oettinger served as Khudobin’s backup on the bench as Ben Bishop remained “unfit to play” joining a long list of scratches for the Stars, including Radek Faksa, Nick Caamano, Jason Robertson, Stephen Johns, Bishop, Justin Dowling, Landon Bow, Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther, Thomas Harley and Ty Dellandrea.

Cooper’s Lightning lineup was comprised of Ondrej Palat at the left side of Brayden Point on the first line with Nikita Kucherov in his usual role on right wing, while Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Tyler Johnson completed the top-six forwards for the Bolts.

Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman were on the third line as usual, while Pat Maroon and Cedric Paquette were the only fourth line forwards suited up to complete the 11 forwards and seven defenders dressed by Cooper.

On defense, Victor Hedman and Kevin Shatternkirk remained paired, while Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, Ryan McDonagh, Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn all took turns rotating shifts.

Curtis McElhinney served as Vasilevskiy’s backup netminder, while Tampa’s list of scratches in Game 1 included Mathieu Jospeh, Carter Verhaeghe, Scott Wedgewood, Jan Rutta, Braydon Coburn, Mitchell Stephens, Steven Stamkos and Alexander Volkov.

That’s right, Stamkos is still out of the lineup since having core muscle surgery in mid-March, skating in June, then missing training camp in July prior to the 2020 postseason.

Hanley (1) opened the series’ scoring with a snipe shot over Vasilevskiy’s blocker side into the top corner of the twine to give the Stars a, 1-0, lead at 5:40 of the first period, while Hintz (10) recorded the only assisted on the goal after Kiviranta pressured the Lightning well enough to keep the puck in Dallas’ offensive zone.

Moments later, Maroon and Oleksiak were engaged in a scrum that yielded roughing minors to both players at 8:08 of the opening frame and presented both teams with 4-on-4 action for a pair of minutes.

Midway through the first period, Gourde (6) lucked out in front of Khudobin with a right place, right time shot that he banked off a Dallas defender and between the Stars netminder and the goalpost to tie the game, 1-1, at 12:32.

Coleman (7) and Goodrow (5) recorded the assists on Tampa’s only goal of the game Saturday night.

After one period of play, the score remained tied, 1-1, while Dallas held the advantage in shots on goal, 5-4, as well as in takeaways (3-1), hits (25-23) and faceoff win percentage (58-42).

The Bolts led in blocked shots (9-3) and giveaways (2-0) entering the first intermission while neither team had seen any action on the skater advantage.

Early in the middle frame, Coleman was sent to the penalty box for slashing Dickinson at 1:09 of the second period.

Dallas wasn’t able to convert on their first power play of the night, however.

The Stars also didn’t capitalize on the skater advantage again moments later when Coleman hooked Dickinson and cut a rut to the sin bin at 6:54.

Oleksiak (5) scooped up his own rebound and roofed the puck from point blank over Vasilevskiy’s blocker side to give Dallas the lead for the second time of the night, as well as the eventual game-winning goal, 2-1, at 12:30 of the second period.

Radulov (7) and Heiskanen (18) tallied the assists as Heiskanen tied the second-most assists in a postseason in Stars franchise history with the secondary helper on the goal.

Oleksiak, in the meantime, has five goals in his last 22 games, while he had just four goals in his last 124 games (regular season and postseason combined).

Late in the period, Kiviranta (5) scored on another rebound that the Tampa netminder failed to contain to give Dallas an insurance goal, as well as a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 19:32 of the middle frame.

Lindell (6) and Klingberg (14) had the assists on the first year Stars forward’s goal.

At the sound of the horn to conclude 40 minutes of play, Maroon shot the puck into Dallas’ bench and received a 10-minute misconduct as a result– officially at 20 minutes of the second period.

The Stars carried a, 3-1, lead into the second intermission, while they also led the Lightning in shots on goal, 18-14– including a, 13-10, advantage in the second period alone.

Dallas also led in takeaways (4-2) and faceoff win% (52-48), while Tampa held the advantage in blocked shots (18-10), giveaways (8-4) and hits (44-39).

The Stars were 0/2 on the power play, while the Bolts still had yet to see time on the skater advantage entering the third period.

Meanwhile, Hanley and Oleksiak were the first pair of Dallas defenders to score a goal in a Stanley Cup Final game since Derian Hatcher and Craig Ludwig did so for the Stars in Game 2 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final.

Oleksiak’s goal also marked the 15th goal from the blue line for Dallas, which leads all teams in the 2020 postseason.

Early in the final frame, the Lightning received their first power play of the night when Klingberg hooked Killorn and was sent to the box at 4:52 of the third period.

The Bolts were not successful on the ensuing power play, however.

Nor did they score while Comeau was in the box for an automatic delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass at 9:08.

The Lightning also didn’t capitalize on their third power play in a row after Seguin tripped Kucherov at 12:56.

With 4:01 remaining in the game, Cooper pulled Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker, but the Bolts soon had a faceoff in their own zone and had to replace the vacant crease with Vasilevskiy’s talents.

As the time ticked down to about 2:31 to go, Vasilevskiy jettisoned the blue paint for the bench to give Tampa a 6-on-5 advantage once more, but Dickinson (1) hit the empty net soon thereafter to secure the, 4-1, victory for the Stars.

Comeau (5) and Janmark (6) tallied the assists on Dickinson’s empty net goal at 18:42 of the third period.

Dallas wrapped up the action with the, 4-1, win and a 1-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final, as well as the advantage in blocked shots (26-18) and faceoff win% (51-49).

Meanwhile, Tampa finished Saturday night leading in shots on goal, 36-20– including a, 22-2, advantage in the third period alone.

The Lightning also finished the night leading in giveaways (10-9) and hits (56-50), while both teams failed to record a power play goal.

Tampa went 0/3 and Dallas went 0/2 on the skater advantage.

Bowness improved to 14-9 behind the bench in the postseason for the Stars, while Cooper fell to 50-38 all time with Tampa in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the team that wins Game 1 in a best-of-seven game series usually wins the series about 69% of the time– that wasn’t the case for the Boston Bruins last year, however, who won Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues, then went on to lose the series in seven games on home ice.

The Stars, however, are 22-9 all time when leading a best-of-seven series 1-0.

The Stars take their 1-0 series lead into Game 2 on Monday night. Puck drop in Edmonton is scheduled for a little after 8 p.m. ET and fans in the United States can tune to NBCSN to catch the action, while those in Canada have their choice of CBC, SN or TVAS.

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NHL Nick's Net Previews

2020 Stanley Cup Final Preview

It’s not June, but it is the Stanley Cup Final. This year’s matchup will be between the Western Conference champion, Dallas Stars, and the Eastern Conference champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.

For the first time in recorded history, the Stanley Cup will be awarded in the month of September.

If you’re still in the bubble, congrats on making it this far!

If you were in the bubble, but were eliminated, you still went through a lot of things most of us will never get to know or experience.

If you have yet to be in the bubble– stay tuned for 2020-21 season announcements, because National Hockey League commissioner, Gary Bettman, indicated on Saturday that the 2020-21 regular season could start in mid-December or sometime in January with the expectation still set on a full-82 game schedule and a return to the usual 16-team playoff format.

The entire hockey world (well, those that care about the NHL anyway) shifts its focus to that of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

It’s time for one team to win four games before the other team and raise the Cup high over their heads– even though nobody quite knows what a postgame celebration might look like, let alone what travel plans might be in store for Lord Stanley’s mug as it usually ventures across borders for a day with each member of the winning team.

For the first time since 2000, the Stars are in the Final.

They last lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games in their most recent Final appearance and Dallas has witnessed a generation pass, as well as players come and go between now and then.

For the first time since 2015, the Lightning are in the Final.

They lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in that Final– which was just their second appearance in franchise history– and Tampa hasn’t seen much change, save for the acquisition of youth and glue guys to go along with their “stick to the plan” regimen since then.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (43-21-6, 92 points) vs (3) Dallas Stars (37-24-8, 82 points)

Tampa: 70 games played, .657 points percentage, 35 regulation wins.

Dallas: 69 games played, .594 points percentage, 26 regulation wins.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were led by Nikita Kucherov in regular season scoring with 33-52–85 totals in 68 games played prior to the shortened conclusion of the regular season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Steven Stamkos had the second-most points on the roster with 29 goals and 37 assists (66 points) in 57 games before missing all action since the league’s return due to injury. He had core muscle surgery in mid-March, skated in June, but was not cleared to play in Tampa’s exhibition, Round Robin or playoff matchups since then.

There is currently no known timetable for his return.

Meanwhile, Brayden Point (25-39–64 totals in 66 games) continue to emerge as a high-caliber center with the third-most points on the Lightning roster in the 2019-20 regular season.

Tampa rolled through the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games in the First Round– avenging Columbus’ sweep of the Bolts in the 2019 First Round in the process.

Then the Lightning made a repeated effort of their 2018 Second Round matchup with the Boston Bruins, eliminating the B’s in five games once again.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Bolts were met with their toughest opponent yet as the New York Islanders took Tampa to six games before succumbing to the almighty powers that exist for the Lightning.

Tampa advanced to their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in the process.

They have been almost untouchable past regulation, but they are beatable as the Islanders pointed out in double overtime in Game 5 of their series.

Kucherov (6-20–26 totals in 19 games played) leads the Lightning in playoff scoring, while Point (9-16–25 totals in 17 GP) is hot on his tail– as long as he is healthy and in the lineup.

Victor Hedman leads all defenders with the most goals this postseason with nine and has six assists to go along with 15 points in 19 games for the third-most points on Tampa’s playoff roster.

Ondrej Palat (13 points in 19 games) and Yanni Gourde (12 points in 19 games) round out the top-five in playoff scoring for the Bolts.

Meanwhile, after finishing as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy for the 2019-20 regular season, Andrei Vasilevskiy (35-14-3 in 52 games played, 52 starts, 2.56 goals against average, .917 save percentage and three shutouts in the regular season) has posted a 14-5 record in all 19 games for Tampa in the 2020 postseason.

Through he has yet to record a shutout in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs– let along in his entire postseason career- Vasilevskiy has accrued a 1.82 GAA and a .931 SV% without yielding time in the crease to his backup, Curtis McElhinney (8-7-3 in 18 games, 18 starts, 2.89 GAA, .906 SV% and one shutout in the 2019-20 regular season).

Head coach, Jon Cooper, leads the Lightning behind the bench, while General Manager, Julien BriseBois hasn’t had all that much to do during the season, save for the important acquisitions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow to add speed and grit to their bottom-six forwards.

The Dallas Stars were led by Tyler Seguin in regular season scoring with 17-33–50 totals in 69 games played before the 2019-20 regular season was cut short by the pandemic.

Jamie Benn had 19 goals and 20 assists (39 points) for the second-most points for the Stars in 69 games, while Miro Heiskanen had the third-most points for Dallas with 8-27–35 totals in 69 games in his sophomore campaign.

Dallas trailed, 3-0, within the first seven minutes of Game 6 of their First Round matchup with the Calgary Flames as a Game 7 was all but likely to be forced and some left scratching their heads regarding the Stars.

The Stars came back to win, 7-3, and eliminated Calgary in six games in the 2020 First Round thanks to a five-point night (including four goals) from Denis Gurianov.

After the Colorado Avalanche forced a Game 7 in their Second Round matchup with Dallas, Joel Kiviranta became the first rookie to complete a hat trick with a game-winning overtime goal in a Game 7 to send the Stars to the Western Conference Final.

From there, Dallas beat the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to advance to their fifth Stanley Cup Final appearance in history.

Sometimes it pays to be good. Sometimes it pays to be lucky.

Other times it pays to be good and lucky– and that’s how the 2020 postseason has gone for the Stars.

In the postseason, Heiskanen has emerged as Dallas’ best player with five goals and 17 assists (22 points) in 21 games played. Heiskanen is on track to setting some franchise records as long as nothing cuts his postseason run short.

Benn has the second-most points on the playoff roster with 8-10–18 totals in 21 games, followed by Gurianov (9-8–17 totals in 21 games) for the third-most, John Klingberg (3-13–16 totals in 20 games) for the fourth-most and Joe Pavelski (9-5–14 totals in 21 games), as well as Alexander Radulov (8-6–14 totals in 21 games) tied for the fifth-most points on the Stars this postseason.

Anton Khudobin (16-8-4 in 30 games, 26 starts, 2.22 GAA, .930 SV% in the regular season) is the de facto starting goaltender with Ben Bishop (21-16-4 in 44 games, 43 starts, 2.50 GAA, .920 SV% and two shutouts in 2019-20) out due to injury for most of the postseason.

Khudobin’s spectacular run to the Final at 34-years-old has come on the backs of a 12-6 record in 19 games (18 starts), as well as a 2.62 GAA, a .920 SV% and one shutout in that span.

Bishop made three appearances in the 2020 postseason, posting a 1-2-0 record with a 5.43 GAA and an .844 SV% in the process.

Meanwhile, Jake Oettinger made his NHL debut– the second goaltender to make his NHL debut this postseason, joining Dan Vladar of the Boston Bruins in doing so– to the tune of a 0-0-0 record in one relief appearance with a 0.00 GAA and a 1.000 SV%.

He had five saves on five shots against in 18 minutes of gameplay.

Rick Bowness took over as the interim head coach for the Stars on Dec. 10th after Jim Montgomery was fired due to unprofessional conduct (Montgomery entered rehab for alcohol abuse and has since rejoined the league as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues).

Dallas General Manager, Jim Nill, hasn’t rocked the boat with any major player acquisitions during the season, but certainly added to the depth of veteran experience with the additions of Pavelski and Corey Perry in free agency.

The Stars went 2-0-0 against the Lightning in the regular season– having won both games in overtime.

Khudobin made 45 saves on 48 shots faced in his, 4-3, win at Amalie Arena on Dec. 19th, while Bishop earned the overtime win with 23 saves on 25 shots faced in a, 3-2, Stars victory on Jan. 27th at American Airlines Center.

Home ice means next to nothing in the bubble.

The Stars are this year’s dark horse team that went on a run that doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping anytime soon.

That said, the Lightning are supposed to be the team to beat this year.

If it goes short, expect Tampa to be the team leaving Edmonton with the Cup, but otherwise the writing is on the wall for this year’s Final to go all seven games with the Dallas Stars emerging victorious with their second Stanley Cup ring in franchise history.

There’s just too much that they’ve already overcome to not be in their favor ultimately.

Regular season outcomes:

4-3 F/OT DAL at Amalie Arena on Dec. 19th, 3-2 F/OT DAL at American Airlines Center on Jan. 27th

Schedule:

9/19- Game 1 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 7:30 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/21- Game 2 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/23- Game 3 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/25- Game 4 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

9/26- Game 5 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/28- Game 6 TBL @ DAL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

9/30- Game 7 DAL @ TBL in Edmonton 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS*

*If necessary

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NHL Nick's Net Playoff Recaps

Take Five: Five takeaways from Game 5 of the 2020 Western Conference Final

For the first time since 2000, and fifth time in franchise history– dating back to two previous appearances in the Stanley Cup Final as the Minnesota North Stars and and two more since relocating– the Dallas Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final after eliminating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games with a, 3-2, overtime victory in Game 5 of the 2020 Western Conference Final.

The Stars overcame a two-goal deficit to comeback and win it in overtime on Monday night after Denis Gurianov scored the game-winning goal while on the power play after Zach Whitecloud received an automatic delay of game infraction for sending the puck over the glass.

Whitecloud’s penalty, however, was not the reason why the Golden Knights lost the game and bowed out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs earlier than hoped.

Anyway, it’s probably time we address five takeaways from Game 5 before we get to preview the 2020 Stanley Cup Final sometime.

1. Vegas strikes first (a franchise trend).

The Golden Knights won 10 times when they scored first in the 2020 postseason, but it didn’t help them in their last two games of the 2020 Western Conference Final.

Yes, even after taking a, 2-0, lead in Game 5, Vegas blew their two-goal advantage and lost in overtime.

They scored before the midpoint of the opening frame thank to Shea Theodore and Reilly Smith added an insurance goal before Dallas came back in the third period and overtime.

More on Smith, et al in a minute.

2. It was a goalie battle.

Most of Game 5 was a great display of goaltending as Vegas peppered Anton Khudobin with 36 shots (34 saves), while Dallas fired 26 shots (23 saves) on Robin Lehner.

In the entire series, the Stars and Golden Knights combined for 17 goals. Dallas ultimately held the series advantage with nine goals for and eight goals against.

Each and every game was close– even as Vegas won Game 2 with a, 3-0, shutout.

Both teams had a shutout (Game 1 itself was a, 1-0, shutout for Dallas) and only one of the five games was won by more than one goal (the aforementioned Game 2).

3. Reilly Smith had his first goal in *checks notes* 11 games!?!

Smith last scored on Aug. 23rd in Game 1 of Vegas’ Second Round matchup with the Vancouver Canucks before he made it, 2-0, Golden Knights in Game 5 against Dallas.

Unfortunately for Vegas, that wasn’t enough as the Stars came back to win, 3-2, in overtime, but it was a poignant fact worth noting– Vegas struggled to score as a whole this postseason.

Smith went 11 games between his fourth and fifth goals of the 2020 postseason.

He might not be the world’s greatest player, but he’s usually one to perform one way or another for the Golden Knights from night-to-night.

The problem was that if he’s not scoring and not getting assists, then that speaks volumes for guys like Mark Stone (one goal in his last nine games of the playoffs on Sept. 10th in Game 3 against Dallas), William Karlsson (one goal since Sept. 1st– Game 2 vs. Dallas), Jonathan Marchessault (last scored on Aug. 23rd– Game 1 vs. Vancouver– had two assists since), Alex Tuch (no goals against Dallas, last scored on Sept. 4th) and Max Pacioretty (one point in his last eight games in the 2020 playoffs, last goal Aug. 30th) who are all large components of Vegas’ core that are expected to generate offense on any given night.

Each player struggled.

Sometimes a team goes on a cold streak at the most inopportune time, which is awful to experience, but it doesn’t mean everyone should be traded.

That said, if it happens two years in-a-row, well, then heads might roll.

4. More of the same for the Golden Knights (but also Anton Khudobin).

Once again, Vegas dominated in shots on goal, 36-26, but Khudobin turned aside 34 out of 36 shots faced for a .944 save percentage in the game, while improving to a 12-6 record in 19 games with a 2.62 goals against average and a .920 SV% in that span, as well as one shutout.

That’s basically it.

Oh and Khudobin made 153 saves on 161 shots faced across the entire series against Vegas.

5. Once in a generation.

For the first time since 2000, the Dallas Stars are in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Stars won the Cup in 1999, after defeating the Buffalo Sabres in six games and have made the Final now five times in franchise history (losing in 1981 to the New York Islanders and 1991 to the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Minnesota North Stars, winning in 1999 over Buffalo and losing in 2000 to the New Jersey Devils).

Among Dallas players with previous Stanley Cup Final appearances, only one player has appeared in two or more Finals– Tyler Seguin (2011 and 2013 with the Boston Bruins).

Seguin won the Cup with Boston in 2011.

Corey Perry is the only other Stars player with a Stanley Cup ring already– having won in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.

Meanwhile, Joe Pavelski made the 2016 Stanley Cup Final with the San Jose Sharks and Khudobin was the backup to Tuukka Rask on the Bruins’ 2013 Stanley Cup Final roster.

Oh and if you remember him, Ben Bishop was with the Lightning in their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s been 20 years since the Stars last made the Final and 21 years since their only Cup ring in franchise history, but with the plethora of youth and potentially franchise record breaking postseason that Miro Heiskanen is having– combined with the veteran experience– Dallas shouldn’t be taken lightly in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.