The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.
*cue Andy Williams*
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have returned and all is right with the world (unless your team missed the postseason).
In the past, we here at Down the Frozen River have covered every game of every series.
This year, we’re mixing it up a bit– starting with this preview of every First Round series in the Eastern Conference, continuing with a followup preview of every First Round series in the Western Conference and as much analysis as possible on the DTFR Podcast in addition to the blog.
Ch-ch-ch-changes are inevitable and yours truly cannot cover all 16 teams in the postseason alone.
A1 Tampa Bay Lightning (62-14-6, 128 points) vs EWC2 Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4, 98 points)
The Tampa Bay Lightning clinched the President’s Trophy (for the first time in franchise history) by mid-March and finished with the 4th most points in a season in NHL history, while star forward, Nikita Kucherov, amassed 128 points (the most by a Russian born player in a season) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (39-10-4 record, 2.40 goals against average, .925 save percentage in 53 games played) turned in a Vezina Trophy worthy performance in the crease.
Oh yeah and Steven Stamkos had 45 goals.
The Bolts also tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season (62).
Backup goaltender, Louis Domingue (21-5-0, 2.88 GAA, .908 SV% in 26 GP) posted respectable numbers as well in the Lightning’s thunderous run through the season.
Tampa has home ice throughout the playoffs and kicks things off with a First Round matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who punched their ticket to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a, 3-2, shootout victory over the New York Rangers last Friday– eliminating the Montreal Canadiens from postseason contention in the process.
Duchene and Dzingel quickly fit in to their respective top-nine roles, while McQuaid struggled to find a suitor on the blue line at first in his return to the organization that originally drafted him 55th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft before he was traded to the Boston Bruins and broke into the league with the B’s in 2009-10.
Kinkaid was added solely for goaltending depth as pending-unrestricted free agent, Sergei Bobrovsky (37-24-1, 2.58 GAA, .913 SV% in 62 GP) led the league with nine shutouts on the season.
Blue Jackets backup goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo (10-7-3, 2.95 GAA, .897 SV% in 27 GP) hit some rough patches at times, but found a way to dig his team out from the backend when necessary.
In the grand scheme of things, the Bolts won the season series, 3-0-0, and outscored Columbus, 17-3, in that span.
While many consider Columbus as a Stanley Cup Playoffs pushover– given the franchise has never won a series– Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella always poses a tough challenge that can wear down his opponent.
Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, earns his own merit in his ability to keep his players cool, calm, collected and always in comeback mode, but it’s not unfathomable to see the Blue Jackets pestering Tampa about as much– if not more than– Columbus did to Washington in last season’s First Round matchup.
After all, the Blue Jackets did lead that series, 2-0.
That said, this is Tampa’s year for a Cup run or bust. The Lightning should win the series in six games.
Regular season outcomes:
5-1 TBL at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 18th, 4-0 TBL at Amalie Arena on Jan. 8th, 8-2 TBL at Amalie Arena on Oct. 13th
4/10- Game 1 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on USA , SN360, TVAS
4/12- Game 2 CBJ @ TBL 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS
4/14- Game 3 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 TBL @ CBJ 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN360, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 CBJ @ TBL*
4/21- Game 6 TBL @ CBJ*
4/23- Game 7 CBJ @ TBL*
A2 Boston Bruins (49-24-9, 107 points) vs A3 Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8, 100 points)
For the second season in a row, the Boston Bruins are hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite being without Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara at one point this season, the Bruins rallied from their 12th defenseman on up through the rest of the lineup to finish one win shy of consecutive 50-win seasons in Bruce Cassidy‘s third season (second full season) as head coach.
Speaking of Bergeron, however, the perfect two-way center finished the season with a career-high in points (79) and matched his career-high in goals (32) while battling injury early in the season. Bergeron’s 32-47–79 totals came in just 65 games. That’s only one more game played than last season for No. 37 in black-and-gold.
Meanwhile, his linemates, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak each reached milestones of their own. Marchand reached the 100-point plateau this season and became the first Bruin to do so since Joe Thornton recorded 101 points in 2002-03.
The “Little Ball of Hate” also set a career-high in assists (64) and was not suspended in 79 games played this season (he was rested for the final two games in the regular season and missed one game due to injury).
Pastrnak set a career-high in goals (38) and points (81) despite missing time due to a left thumb injury and being limited to 66 games played.
The B’s were led in net this season by Tuukka Rask (27-13-5, 2.48 GAA, .912 SV% in 46 GP) and Jaroslav Halak (22-11-4, 2.34 GAA, .922 SV% in 40 GP) in a 1A/1B scenario. For the first time since the 1989-90 season, Boston had two goaltenders with 20-plus wins.
Back north in Toronto, the Maple Leafs added a formidable center in John Tavares in free agency and his presence was immediate, notching career-highs in goals (47 ) and points (88) in 82 games.
Auston Matthews (37-36–73 totals in 68 games) and Mitch Marner (26-68–94 totals in 82 games) continued to their thing as the $11.634 million man (starting next season) and the soon to be at least $10.000 million
boy wonder man.
Maple Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas, added Jake Muzzin in January in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in effort to shore up his blue line, however, questions remain as to how head coach, Mike Babcock will limit time on ice for veterans, like Ron Hainsey, and mix in more opportunities for Morgan Rielly (20-52–72 totals in 82 games) in his breakout season.
Boston won the season series, 3-1-0, outscoring Toronto, 16-10, in that span.
Some experts are picking the Bruins in five games. They also said similar things in 2013 and 2018. This series is going six games (at least), with Boston overcoming the Maple Leafs defense in Game 7, once again.
To their credit, Toronto always makes things interesting in what’s likely to be the most unpredictable First Round matchup.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 BOS at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 12th, 6-3 BOS at TD Garden on Dec. 8th, 4-2 TOR at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 26th, 5-1 BOS at TD Garden on Nov. 10th
4/11- Game 1 TOR @ BOS 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/13- Game 2 TOR @ BOS 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/17- Game 4 BOS @ TOR 7 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS
4/19- Game 5 TOR @ BOS*
4/21- Game 6 BOS @ TOR*
4/23- Game 7 TOR @ BOS*
M1 Washington Capitals (48-26-8, 104 points) vs EWC1 Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7, 99 points)
Just as everyone expected, the Washington Capitals led the Metropolitan Division with 104 points after Barry Trotz left for the head coaching job on Long Island. Did I mention the Capitals are the defending Stanley Cup champions?
Anyway, Alex Ovechkin scored 51 goals and collected his 8th career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as a result– though Edmonton Oilers forward, Leon Draisaitl, was hot on his tail with 50 goals this season.
After the New York Islanders led the Metropolitan Division for what seemed like forever, it’s important to note the Metro was actually anybody’s game from puck drop in October. Here’s the thing, the Carolina Hurricanes were near the top of the division– they’ve been surging all season.
Speaking of surging, Carolina introduced their “Storm Surge” post-win celebration and the Caniacs loved it.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the club in Raleigh, Brett Pesce is good. Also, Sebastian Aho (30-53–83 totals in 82 GP), Andrei Svechnikov (20-17–37 totals in 82 GP) and Teuvo Teravainen (21-55–76 totals in 82 games)– they’re pretty good too.
Washington was led by Braden Holtby (32-19-5, 2.82 GAA, .911 SV% in 59 GP) between the pipes this season and is comforted to know Pheonix Copley (16-7-3, 2.90 GAA, .905 SV% in 27 GP) is quite capable of playing this season’s role of Philipp Grubauer (since traded to the Colorado Avalanche after last season’s Cup celebrations).
The Canes were led by a duo of goaltenders who were once thought of as an after thought in Curtis McElhinney (20-11-2, 2.58 GAA, .912 SV% in 33 GP) and Petr Mrazek (23-14-3, 2.39 GAA, .914 SV% in 40 GP).
Though his record might not show it, Mrazek has been hitting his stride for the last month and is locked in. Ride that wave until it crests.
The Hurricanes had a league-leading ten skaters play in all 82 games. There’s no such thing as playing too much hockey– especially when it’s the first postseason appearance since 2009.
Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave the Caps some interruptions coming out of the gate.
Despite Washington having swept the season series, 4-0-0, the Hurricanes kept things close in their most recent matchup with a, 3-2, loss at PNC Arena on March 28th.
Carolina almost pulled off the victory in a shootout on Dec. 14th, but lost, 6-5, on home ice to the Capitals.
Washington is beatable. Hurricanes head coach, Rod Brind’Amour knows that, his team just hasn’t done it yet. Caps head coach, Todd Reirden, is also making his postseason debut at the reigns behind the bench for his respective team.
Though they won the Cup last season– that was then. This is now.
This series is going seven games and the Hurricanes will make sure there’s no repeat Cup winner this year.
Regular season outcomes:
3-2 WSH at PNC Arena on March 28th, 4-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on March 26th, 3-1 WSH at Capital One Arena on Dec. 27th, 6-5 F/SO WSH at PNC Arena on Dec. 14th
4/11- Game 1 CAR @ WSH 7:30 PM ET on USA, SN360, TVAS2
4/13- Game 2 CAR @ WSH 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS
4/15- Game 3 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on CNBC, SN, TVAS2
4/18- Game 4 WSH @ CAR 7 PM ET on TBD, SN360, TVAS
4/20- Game 5 CAR @ WSH*
4/22- Game 6 WSH @ CAR*
4/24- Game 7 CAR @ WSH*
M2 New York Islanders (48-27-7, 103 points) vs M3 Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12, 100 points)
Barry Trotz figured out how to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins last season with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Trotz is the key. Trotz knows the secret stuff to beat Mike Sullivan and his Penguins.
That’s why the William M. Jennings Trophy winning duo of Robin Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930 SV% in 46 GP) and Thomas Greiss (23-14-2, 2.28 GAA, .927 SV% in 43 GP) will backstop the New York Islanders past Pittsburgh in their First Round matchup in six games.
Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably.
New York split the season series with the Pens, 2-1-1, with their most recent result against Pittsburgh coming in a, 2-1, shootout loss on Dec. 10th at NYCB Live (that’s the Nassau Coliseum, if you haven’t already heard. The Isles will host their First Round games there).
Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello put together a team without John Tavares. Trotz figured out how to get the most out of his players– guys like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov, Casey Cizikas and even Andrew Ladd (until Ladd got injured)– while playing the trap.
That same trap won the Cup last season.
Long Island residents have long memories– the Penguins are one of their greatest rivals– and the added energy of Tavares’ departure has only fueled more passion all season long.
Can New York flip the switch from their late season bumps in the road?
Obviously, Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby. They also have Evgeni Malkin. Crosby and Malkin are ready to go for another deep postseason run after watching their biggest rival not only beat them in the Second Round last year, but go on to take the Cup out of the hands of the Penguins’ recent streak of dominance in 2016 and 2017.
The Penguins were led in the crease by Matt Murray (29-14-6, 2.69 GAA, .919 SV% in 50 GP) this season with some helpful bailout backup goaltending from Casey DeSmith (15-11-5, 2.75 GAA, .916 SV% in 36 GP). If Murray shows any signs of wavering, Sullivan shouldn’t have a hard time going to DeSmith to push his team over the edge.
How will Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann play into the fold as Jim Rutherford‘s biggest prize acquisitions this season? Who might be the breakout star for Pittsburgh that outshines Crosby in the Conn Smythe Trophy vote?
Aren’t these questions supposed to be answered in an editorial preview? Sure.
Regular season outcomes:
2-1 F/SO PIT at NYCB Live on Dec. 10th, 6-2 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 6th, 3-2 F/SO NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 1st, 6-3 NYI at PPG Paints Arena on Oct. 30th
4/10- Game 1 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/12- Game 2 PIT @ NYI 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/14- Game 3 NYI @ PIT 12 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS
4/16- Game 4 NYI @ PIT 7:30 PM ET on NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2
4/18- Game 5 PIT @ NYI*
4/20- Game 6 NYI @ PIT*
4/22- Game 7 PIT @ NYI*
The DTFR Duo talk a little college hockey, other stats from the week, the CWHL folding and NWHL expansion opportunities, as well as hand out more awards and a look at how things should sort out in the Atlantic Division for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nick and Connor talk the latest trades, Torts drama (and latest record), Casey DeSmith’s extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as a tribute to the careers of Rick Nash and Josh Gorges who both announced their retirement this week.
Additionally, what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues this season and why can’t they just pick a side? Plus, it’s time to hand out awards for being slightly more than halfway through the 2018-19 regular season. #FlamingNotToFlamingHot
Nick and Connor review the Vegas Golden Knights draft history, praise Carter Hart’s NHL debut, talk about Scott Gordon’s introduction as interim head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, as well as the Patrik Berglund situation, Whalers Night and a teaser 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship preview.
*Editor’s note: Paris is hosting the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles is hosting the 2028 Summer Games. The 2026 and 2030 Winter Games host cities have yet to be selected.
The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.
Tonight’s a great night for hockey fans who don’t mind a little B-list actor entertainment and dramatically overdone displays of #PleaseLikeMySport.
It’s also the same night the National Hockey League formally presents and hands out its 2017-18 season awards to its members.
If you can’t tune in to the action, luckily we’re here for you as we’ll be updating the award winners as the night goes on. But if you can be in front of a TV, then tune to NBCSN (U.S. viewers) or Sportsnet (Canadian viewers) at 8 p.m. ET and follow along with the fun.
Ted Lindsay Award– Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Other Finalists: Taylor Hall (NJ) and Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
(basically the “M.V.P.” as voted on by the NHLPA, a.k.a. the players)
James Norris Memorial Trophy– Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Other Finalists: Drew Doughty (LA) and P.K. Subban (NSH)
King Clancy Memorial Trophy– Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Other Finalists: P.K. Subban (NSH) and Jason Zucker (MIN)
Calder Memorial Trophy– Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Other Finalists: Brock Boeser (VAN) and Clayton Keller (ARI)
(best rookie/rookie of the year)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy– William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Aleksander Barkov (FLA) and Ryan O’Reilly (BUF)
(sportsmanship and ability, a.k.a. this player didn’t take a lot of penalties)
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy– Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils
Other Finalists: Roberto Luongo (FLA) and Jordan Staal (CAR)
(perseverance and dedication to the sport)
EA SPORTS NHL 19® Cover Athlete– P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
Other Finalists: None
(not actually a curse)
Frank J. Selke Trophy– Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Other Finalists: Patrice Bergeron (BOS) and Sean Couturier (PHI)
(best defensive forward)
Jack Adams Award– Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Jared Bednar (COL) and Bruce Cassidy (BOS)
(best head coach)
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award– Deryk Engelland, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Wayne Simmonds (PHI) and Blake Wheeler (WPG)
(something Mark Messier picks)
Vezina Trophy– Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Other Finalists: Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB)
NHL General Manager of the Year Award– George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Kevin Cheveldayoff (WPG) and Steve Yzerman (TB)
Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award– Darcy Haugan, Humboldt Broncos (SJHL)
Finalists: Debbie Bland (Etobicoke, Ontario, co-founder/builder of the Etobicoke Dolphins Girls Hockey League), Neal Henderson (Washington, founder of the Fort Dupont Hockey Club), Darcy Haugan (the late head coach of the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League)
(newest award, first time being handed out this year– presented to an “individual who– through the game of hockey– has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society[,]” as described by the NHL)
Hart Memorial Trophy– Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
Other Finalists: Anze Kopitar (LA) and Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
2017-18 Individual Regular Season Awards
Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy– Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
(presented to the goal scorer who scored the most goals in the season, so this one was already technically awarded before Wednesday night)
William M. Jennings Trophy– Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
(presented to the goaltender(s) who allowed the fewest total goals against in the season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)
Art Ross Trophy– Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
(presented to the player that led the league in scoring at the end of the regular season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)
2017-18 Team and 2018 Postseason Awards
President’s Trophy– Nashville Predators
(best record in the regular season, 2017-18)
Prince of Wales Trophy– Washington Capitals
(2018 Eastern Conference Champions)
Clarence S. Campbell Bowl– Vegas Golden Knights
(2018 Western Conference Champions)
Conn Smythe Trophy– Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
(Stanley Cup Playoffs M.V.P. as determined by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association)
Stanley Cup– Washington Capitals
(league champion, winner of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final)
As the calendar flips from 2017 to 2018 the NHL’s regular season keeps rolling along. Having played 40 games so far this season, the Boston Bruins are now in the midst of their bye week 2nd in the Atlantic Division (53 points)– ten points behind the Eastern Conference leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
Plenty of teams have been pleasant surprises, namely, the Vegas Golden Knights and the New Jersey Devils through the first half of the season. To say the Golden Knights are merely on a hot start is a major understatement– there’s a legitimate chance Vegas will not only make the playoffs, but compete with the Lightning and Winnipeg Jets in what’s shaping up to be a competitive three-way battle for the 2017-18 President’s Trophy.
Regardless, Boston has not been a pleasant surprise. No.
If you’ve been tracking Don Sweeney‘s every move since becoming general manager in 2015, then you aren’t surprised at all to see that this year’s Bruins squad is playing on another level and turning heads around the hockey world.
It’s a very methodic approach– one that takes its time while patience wears thin among fans that demand excellence every shift in the Hub– but the Boston Bruins are ready for a breakout performance in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs (barring a second half of the season collapse).
While many are busy trying to come up with a nickname for Boston’s fourth line of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari— I recommend either “The 50s Line” (since Schaller, Kuraly and Acciari wear No.’s 59, 52 and 55 respectively) or “The B52 Line” (an ode to the music group, sure, but also a nod to Kuraly’s stellar anchor as the center)– it’s a shame no one’s come up with anything for the legend that is the Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak line.
Usually it’s just “the Bergeron line”, but if you’ve seen the production from this line, you might just think back to the days of “The Uke Line”, “The Kraut Line” or “The Dynamite Line”– all of which were historic lines in Bruins franchise history.
Anyway, on with the show…
Through 40 games played this season, here’s a look at how every player on Boston’s roster should pan out for the remaining 42 games. Please remember my degree is in communication– not math– so any miscalculations are Microsoft Excel’s fault.
Boston Bruins Projections Through 40 Games (42 Games Remaining)
At this point in the season everything begins to look more realistic. Unless you’re still looking at Tommy Cross‘s projected stats. Again, that’s a product of forecasting a season for a player based on every career NHL game that player has played. Cross has yet to appear in an NHL game since the 2015-16 season; because of this, his numbers look more promising based on the formula alone than they actually probably would be, unless he knows something about his game we don’t.
Until a player like Cross (or other players with few career NHL games played) suits up in the 2017-18 season, that players numbers are reflective of a more “idealistic” season. In other words, it’s a pipe dream (until it actually happens).
The Bruins finally have a healthy lineup. Well, kind of.
Matt Grzelcyk‘s emerged from the shadows of the last couple of seasons– in which he made his professional debut and NHL debut. He’s solidified himself as a top-6 defenseman, capable of earning his ice time and/or McQuaid’s job at less than half the price (at least until this offseason, when Grzelyck’s entry-level contract is set to expire).
Grzelyck, 24, is seven-years younger than McQuaid and could provide the same amount of offensive production or more down the road. By default, Grzelcyk’s offensive game is better than McQuaid’s this season.
Of course, there’s some things working in McQuaid’s favor in his ability to block shots, use his body and throw punches when “the code of hockey” needs to be enforced.
Though, again, there is a younger blue liner– albeit by a year and at $250,000 less– that could carry the weight of the tough guy on Boston’s defense. That guy is Kevan Miller, 30, who’s having what’s poised to equal or surpass his career year of 2015-16 in points (18), while teaching Grzelyck the ways of a bottom-pair defenseman.
Brandon Carlo has yet to score this season and is– by all considerations– in a sophomore slump. But he is only 21-years-old and destined to solidify as a top-4 defenseman in his career. He’s no Charlie McAvoy, but it wouldn’t make sense to punish a young player for showing his youth in his errors that he’s made at times through the year.
Before you know it, McQuaid could be the next Paul Postma on the Bruins as another healthy scratch on a night-to-night basis– though providing much needed depth when one of the regular guys goes down with an injury.
The Bruins have a plus-29 goal differential after 40 games this season, which is seven more than they had at the end of last season.
It seems promising that Boston will continue to only get better offensively down the stretch with David Pastrnak seeking to best his career high in assists while amassing almost 70 points on the season. That’s just 1/3 of the Bergeron line.
Brad Marchand should easily reach the 70-point plateau for not only the second time in his career– but the second year in a row– as Patrice Bergeron continues to swing the momentum around in his scoring projections (expected to surpass at least 60 points this season).
Rookies Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen will each have respectable numbers that should flirt with the 50-point plateau. DeBrusk may only end up with 20-26-46 totals, but Heinen should continue to charge down the stretch reaching 22-43–65 totals in his own spectacular rookie season.
It’s not Earth-shattering by any means, but it is highly underrated. Especially with a guy like David Backes on the same line.
Backes, in his own right, is bringing some extra bang for his buck this season. Having missed almost half of the season with diverticulitis and recovering from the surgical removal of part of his colon, Backes is lighter and better than ever.
And one more thing for the haters…
Tuukka Rask is back. This could be a Vezina Trophy winning season, if not more, for the Finnish goaltender.
Well NHL fans, we are roughly at the quarter-mark of the season (slightly past that actually… my bad). It has been very interesting to say the least. There have been quite a few surprises, but there is plenty of hockey left to be played. I wanted to take a moment to give you my humble opinions on some of the (potential) regular-season award winners at this point.
Tampa Bay Lightning
I’m going to overrule the St. Louis Blues and go with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although currently just one point ahead in the number-one spot in the league, they have been playing lights-out (pun intended) hockey. The revival of post-injury Steven Stamkos has rocked this team. The goal support coming from Nikita Kucherov has also been a pleasant surprise. These players lead the league in points and both have top spots in assists and goals respectively. If their goaltending remains strong and their offense can continue producing, there is no reason to doubt that they are capable of winning this award.
Hart Memorial Trophy
I was very close to arguing Sergei Bobrovsky, but most people would quit reading the article at that point. In all seriousness, if Stamkos continues his dominant play and the Lightning continue being one of the best teams in the league, he is destined to win this award for a pretty simple reason. This honor is intended to go to the most valuable player, meaning that without this player, the team would be completely different. With the absence of Stamkos for most of last season, the Lightning earned just 94 points and missed the playoffs entirely. In his return, they are on pace for 100+ points and a top finish in the league. Sure there were other changes to this team, but having Stamkos is one of the biggest.
Calder Memorial Trophy
This may be been the toughest choice so far. Do I think Boeser is the best first-year player this year? Honestly, I’m still not sure. The difference between Boeser and other rookies is that he is playing on a team with limited talent, so he gets the opportunity to shine. This is the same reason why I consider Clayton Keller and Alexander Kerfoot top candidates. At the end of the day, this specific award doesn’t go to the best first-year player, it goes to the one who displayed their talents in terms of statistics. When you’re buried on a 3rd or 4th line playing limited minutes, it is difficult to make a huge impact right away. While some rookies are still developing on their respective clubs, Vancouver has thrown Boeser into the fire and he has responded well. The Canucks are playing pretty good hockey right now and Boeser (11-11-22) has a big role in that success.
Alright, now it’s time to talk about Bobrovsky. The Columbus Blue Jackets are currently first in the powerhouse Metropolitan Division and the goaltending department is a key reason why. The offense is still working out the kinks and the special teams units have been struggling (most notably the power-play). Bobrovsky has the capability to win a game by himself and he has done so several times this season. He leads the NHL with a 1.92 GAA and a 0.935 SV%. Pair that with his league leading four shutouts and second-place 14 wins overall and you can see my case. He arguably owns both the save of the year and the runner-up to the save of the year as well. If Bobrovsky can continue his great play, he should repeat as the Vezina Trophy winner.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
So who should I pick here? Brent Burns? No. Erik Karlsson? No. Alex Pietrangelo? Sure, why not? This is an interesting year in terms of defensive play. Many of the typical candidates for this award have struggled and may be on the outside looking in at the end of the season. Pietrangelo has taken the league by storm (although many people still don’t know who I’m talking about). In my opinion, this award winner must play both ends of the ice, meaning they have strong offensive and defensive play. Pietrangelo is leading defenseman in goals (7), tied for second in points (20), and also tied for second in the +/- category (11). While his isn’t the best pure defensemen, he has the best overall game, which should give him this award if he can continue his strong play.
Jack Adams Award
Last, but not least, this is the part where I get to to discuss the unexplainable wonder that is the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Gallant was actually a finalist for this award with the Florida Panthers. Now in his first season behind the bench in Las Vegas, he has turned what should have been a train wreck into an incredible story. The question of if this story will continue will likely dictate if he is considered for this award once again. The Golden Knights are now 15-7-1 and still hold first place in the Pacific Division. Even if they falter and simply squeak into a playoff spot, one would imagine Gallant gets the nod here. Honestly, this will probably be a tossup along with New Jersey’s John Hynes and Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, but anything can happen between now and the post-season.
Jaromir Jagr signed with the Calgary Flames this week, the regular season started (though the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have been told yet that the games matter now) and former players tend to be GMs in the NHL, the Original Trio confirms. Also, we gave participation trophies without even watching the rest of the season for the second year in a row.