Tag Archives: Vic Hadfield

Why the Boston Bruins Might Never Retire No. 30

For a lot of Boston Bruins fans, the term “goalie controversy” often draws up images of people shouting at each other on Twitter about Tim Thomas vs. Tuukka Rask– yes, even to this day, despite the fact that 1) Thomas was traded to the New York Islanders in 2013 and 2) that he effectively retired after the 2013-14 season split between the Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars (he never announced his retirement officially, anyway). 

Both have a Stanley Cup ring to their names as they were members of the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Bruins roster, with Thomas leading the way to Boston’s first championship since 1972, while Rask was biding his time as the team’s backup before taking over as the full-time B’s starter since the 2012-13 season– racking up multiple franchise records in the process and two more Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2013 and 2019.

But this “goalie controversy” has nothing to do with the galaxy brain Thomas vs. Rask arguments on Twitter.

This is about the “controversial” debate that rages surrounding retiring No. 30 in Boston and the controversies that surround two of its most prominent Bruins to wear it.

When considering whether or not to retire a number in Bruins lore, first consider what other Original Six teams have done, since they’re the only comparable franchises with almost as many– if not more– years of history than Boston.

Then consider the fact that Boston has never retired a number for a goalie. For quick reference, retired numbers of goalies are in bold.

Boston Bruins retired numbers

  • 2 Eddie Shore
  • 3 Lionel Hitchman
  • 4 Bobby Orr
  • 5 “Dit” Clapper
  • 7 Phil Esposito
  • 8 Cam Neely
  • 9 Johnny Bucyk
  • 15 Milt Schmidt
  • 16 Rick Middleton
  • 24 Terry O’Reilly
  • 77 Ray Bourque

Chicago Blackhawks retired numbers

  • 1 Glenn Hall
  • 3 Keith Magnuson/Pierre Pilote
  • 9 Bobby Hull
  • 18 Denis Savard
  • 21 Stan Mikita
  • 35 Tony Esposito

Detroit Red Wings retired numbers

  • 1 Terry Sawchuk
  • 4 Red Kelly
  • 5 Nicklas Lidstrom
  • 7 Ted Lindsay
  • 9 Gordie Howe
  • 10 Alex Delvecchio
  • 12 Sid Abel
  • 19 Steve Yzerman

Montreal Canadiens retired numbers

  • 1 Jacques Plante
  • 2 Doug Harvey
  • 3 Emile Bouchard
  • 4 Jean Beliveau
  • 5 Bernie Geoffrion/Guy Lapointe
  • 7 Howie Morenz
  • 9 Maurice Richard
  • 10 Guy Lafleur
  • 12 Yvan Cournoyer/Dickie Moore
  • 16 Henri Richard/Elmer Lach
  • 18 Serge Savard
  • 19 Larry Robinson
  • 23 Bob Gainey
  • 29 Ken Dryden
  • 33 Patrick Roy

New York Rangers retired numbers

  • 1 Eddie Giacomin
  • 2 Brian Leetch
  • 3 Harry Howell
  • 7 Rod Gilbert
  • 9 Andy Bathgate/Adam Graves
  • 11 Vic Hadfield/Mark Messier
  • 19 Jean Ratelle
  • 35 Mike Ritcher

Toronto Maple Leafs retired numbers

  • 1 Turk Broda/Johnny Bower
  • 4 Hap Day/Red Kelly
  • 5 Bill Barilko
  • 6 Irvine “Ace” Bailey
  • 7 King Clancy/Tim Horton
  • 9 Ted Kennedy/Charlie Conacher
  • 10 Syl Apps/George Armstrong
  • 13 Mats Sundin
  • 14 Dave Keon
  • 17 Wendell Clark
  • 21 Borje Salming
  • 27 Frank Mahovlich/Darryl Sittler
  • 93 Doug Gilmour

There’s not many retired goalie numbers among Original Six teams, let alone the rest of the NHL. Plus Boston hasn’t even retired No. 1 for Cecil “Tiny” Thompson and/or Frank Brimsek.

Next, think about Hockey Hall of Fame status, as well as career longevity (in Boston and outside of Boston).

Especially since there is no “Boston Bruins Hall of Fame” (which is a shame, really– they built The Hub on Causeway and they couldn’t dedicate more to team history/histories (if you include the NBA’s Boston Celtics) than just the entrance to the old Boston Garden standing inside of Banners Kitchen & Tap?).

Sure there’s The Sports Museum inside TD Garden, but the Montreal Canadiens have a Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame underneath Bell Centre. Your move, Mr. Jacobs.

Cam Neely– He didn’t play nearly enough games for his era due to Ulf Samuelsson, but Neely is a Hockey Hall of Fame member.

Rick Middleton– He played a lot, scored a ton, but Middleton isn’t a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Terry O’Reilly– He was like Milt Schmidt in that he did a lot for the Bruins organization (player and later coach), but O’Reilly isn’t a Hockey Hall of Fame member.

As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule and O’Reilly and Middleton are deservingly so in their own right.

Gerry Cheevers is a Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender. Tim Thomas is a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender. He’s still eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he hasn’t gotten in and there’s no guarantees that he’ll make it.

Interestingly enough, however, while Thomas might never be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Cheevers made it in 1985, but never won a Vezina (Thomas has two, 2008-09 and 2010-11) and was never named to an All-Star Team at season’s end (Thomas was named to two, 2008-09 and 2010-11).

Then think about how they left Boston.

In 1972, the World Hockey Association (WHA) came into fruition as a direct rival of the National Hockey League (NHL). The WHA promised better pay for players and the same– if not better– experience for fans.

It was created by a pair of American promoters who also made the American Basketball Association (ABA), which, if you’re a fan of basketball, you already know the ABA merger story with the National Basketball Association (NBA) to form the National Basketball Association (NBA, 1976-present).

From the onset, the ABA was poised to one day merge with the NBA in its efforts for success a la the American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL) merger prior to the 1970 NFL season.

The WHA was all about what the NHL wasn’t about.

They wanted to capitalize on markets where hockey could flourish, but were otherwise overlooked by the NHL, as well as attract the best players in the game by paying more than what NHL teams would– especially attracting European talent whereas the NHL was stuck as a “North American” game at the time. 

Free agency was a new concept for professional sports in the 1970s and it reigned supreme in the emerging shift towards player’s rights and the evolution of players’ associations.

The NHL’s reserve clause at the time meant players couldn’t become the equivalent of today’s unrestricted free agent until they were 31-years-old. These days, there’s restricted free agency, unrestricted free agency, as well as one-way and two-way contracts to worry about, but that’s another topic for another day.

Cheevers left the Bruins for the WHA, which was deplorable in the eyes of the NHL back then as much as it is now. 

Though fans might have loved seeing the Cleveland Crusaders jerseys, NHL owners hated them. 

Though players loved making more money at a time when all the other major professional sports were seeing significant raises, NHL owners hated them. 

Though WHA franchises thought they’d be on the fast track to continuing operations in the NHL after the WHA ceased to exist, the NHL went all out to slash and burn the remnants of the WHA. 

Seriously though, when the WHA initiated discussions for a merger in 1977, NHL owners voted down a plan to merge six WHA teams into the NHL.

The Edmonton Oilers, New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Cincinnati Stingers, Houston Aeros and Winnipeg Jets wanted out of a league that was hemorrhaging money and into the safe arms of the NHL and its tradition. 

By 1976, there were 32 major professional hockey teams between the NHL and WHA, which diluted the talent pool of a sport that was nowhere near the numbers of popularity and youth through junior league development as it is today.

When it came time to re-negotiate a merger in 1978, Houston was no longer in the plan, since the Aeros ended up having to fold.

The Indianapolis Racers folded in the middle of December 1978, which set the final nail in the merger. Cincinnati and the Birmingham Bulls would each be compensated to disband elsewhere, while Edmonton, New England, Quebec and Winnipeg would join the NHL at the WHA’s insistence.

Except it wasn’t that easy for the Oilers, Whalers, Nordiques and Jets. 

Each team would be stripped of its history– rendering them as NHL expansion teams for the start of the 1979-80 season, subject to expansion fees, an expansion draft and penalizing them by allowing NHL teams to reclaim players that jumped ship to the WHA.

Additionally, the Bruins petitioned the “New England Whalers” moniker, resulting in the Whalers having to drop “New England” in favor of “Hartford” since Boston didn’t want any confusion that the Whalers were playing on their turf (despite Massachusetts and Connecticut both being part of New England). 

The Bruins owned New England. 

That only strengthened the underdog status of the Whalers and the hatred between the two clubs in their Adams Division rivalry after realignment for the 1981-82 season (Hartford kicked things off in their NHL tenure in the Norris Division from 1979-81).

Anyway, back to Cheevers and his departure from the Hub.

After winning his second Cup with Boston in 1972, Cheevers jumped at the opportunity Cleveland created to make a lot more money than what the Bruins were offering their two-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender. 

Cheevers lasted parts of three seasons as a Crusader from 1972-73 to 1975-76, when a financial dispute with Cleveland’s management resulted in Cheevers jumping back into the NHL fold with Boston in the middle of the 1975-76 season.

Since becoming a starting goaltender in the 1967-68 season through Boston’s 1971-72 Cup winning season, Cheevers amassed a 126-52-40 record in 221 games with a 2.72 goals against average and a .915 save percentage in that span, as well as 15 shutouts.

Prior to his departure from the Bruins for Cleveland, he had a career best 2.50 GAA and .920 SV% in 41 games in the 1971-72 season alone as a 31-year-old goaltender (he wouldn’t turn 32 until Dec. 7, 1972).

Though Cheevers returned in 1975-76, things never were really the same.

His WHA tenure racked up a 99-78-9 record in 191 career games for the Crusaders from 1972 through part of the 1975-76 season– with a 3.12 GAA and 14 shutouts in that span.

On Jan. 27, 1976, he returned to Boston as a free agent after being released by Cleveland– two days after the Crusaders suspended him for not showing up and refusing to play.

By that point, Cheevers was 35-years-old and finished off the 1975-76 NHL season with an 8-2-5 record, as well as a 2.74 GAA and a .900 SV% in 15 games played for the Bruins.

In his full seasons for Boston that followed from 1976-77 to his retirement after the 1979-80 season, Cheevers went 87-35-24 in 151 games, with a 2.96 GAA, an .878 SV% and nine shutouts in that span.

Though the emergence of Wayne Gretzky to the NHL scene may have shifted the offensive output across the league since 1979, Cheevers’ NHL playing days only coincided with Gretzky in Gretzky’s rookie season (1979-80).

Though Cheevers had a .524 winning percentage in his first NHL stint with Toronto (two games)  and Boston (250 games) from 1961-72 and a .572 winning percentage after his WHA days in 166 games with Boston from 1976-80, his goals against average and save percentage suffered dramatically from a 2.85 GAA and a .911 SV% in 1961-72 to a 2.94 GAA and an .880 SV% from 1976-80.

Of course, age and the inevitable “wall” that players hit at the twilight of their prime is likely a factor here.

Still, the fact remains the same.

Despite leading the Bruins as a head coach after his retirement as a player from 1980-85, his defection from the NHL to the WHA crushed his immediate chances at being honored for his work on the ice in a sweater with the spoked-B on the front and the No. 30 on the back.

And all these years later, he might still be paying for it.

Thomas, on the other hand, chose to sit out the 2012-13 season, citing a need for more connection to his faith, family and friends.

Though it’s certainly understandable these days, given the presumptive hell he must have gone through with all of his concussions and finding the love for the game again– albeit watching as a fan these days– since his retirement from the NHL after the 2013-14 season, Thomas’ 2012-13 plans weren’t the first time he angered the Bruins fanbase, let alone, Boston’s front office.

After winning the Cup in 2011, he skipped out on the team’s White House invitation— citing (to paraphrase) that both major political parties are at fault for the federal government’s overbearance on its citizens.

Other than that, there’s his staunch– if not, outlandish at times– political views that cannot be overlooked (his support for Chick-fil-A amidst the company’s anti-equal marriage stance) in a day and age where Hockey Is (supposed to be) For Everyone.

Like the rest of us, however, Thomas is human– complex, contradicting, well-defined and unique as an individual. We all struggle through our own cognitive dissonance through life. 

For some, his on-ice performance can be separated from what his private off-ice personal life ensues. 

For others, he might not be as high on the pedestal of Boston sports lore due to his complicated nature– one that contradicts research and the science behind traumatic brain injuries, therapy and experimental treatments with conspiracy theories related to climate change, among other things.

All of this begs the question “should there be a character component to retiring numbers,” which could lead to further discussion surrounding whether or not teams should permanently unretire numbers when legendary players don’t live up to being role models off the ice (see, Bobby Hull and the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes). 

Likewise, the same argument could be applied to hall of fame inductions, but both are discussions for another time.

But Thomas’ decision to sit out the 2012-13 season with one-year remaining on his contract and a $5.000 million cap hit in a time when Boston was built for contending for another Cup run while spending $8.500 million combined between Thomas and Tuukka Rask in the crease as the team sat uncomfortably below the salary cap at about $68.868 million out of the $70.200 million ceiling, struck a nerve with then General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, and Co.

Oh and to further add to the uncertainty, the league hit a lockout prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, which saw the usual 82-game schedule reduced to 48 games that season once play resumed in January.

On Feb. 7, 2013, the Bruins traded Thomas to the New York Islanders to free up much needed cap space in an attempt to re-sign Rask, Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference, Anton Khudobin, Jaromir Jagr and others in the 2013 offseason after losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.

Only Rask remained as Ference’s free agent status priced himself out of Boston, Jagr was deemed “too old” (joke’s on them!) and Horton left for the Columbus Blue Jackets in a shroud of “word on the street” rumors. Khudobin, meanwhile, went to the Carolina Hurricanes on a one-year, $800,000 deal after Boston signed Chad Johnson for $200,000 less to be Rask’s backup for the 2013-14 season.

Thomas returned to the NHL for the 2013-14 season with the Florida Panthers after signing a one-year deal on Sept. 26, 2013, before later being traded to the Dallas Stars on March 5, 2014– one day after Florida re-acquired Roberto Luongo from the Vancouver Canucks.

His comeback season didn’t go well (posting a 16-20-3 record, a 2.87 goals against average and a .909 save percentage in 40 games with the Panthers, as well as a 2-4-1 record, a 2.97 GAA and a .902 SV% in eight games with the Stars) and Thomas rode off into the sunset after Dallas was eliminated in six games in the 2014 First Round by the Anaheim Ducks.

The Bruins may let bygones be bygones and welcome Thomas with open arms for a “Tim Thomas Night” or special ceremony one day in the future, but it likely won’t be before Rask retires.

As it is, Thomas isn’t planning on traveling much outside of his Washington, D.C. appearance for his induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Dec. 2019.

So, what goaltender could have their number retired by Boston?

If there’s one Bruins goaltender that will have his number retired sooner rather than later, it’s Rask.

His current contract expires at the end of next season and Rask has expressed he might retire, but he also might not.

There’s three probable options for Rask when all is said and done in 2021;

1) to sign a short term deal and remain with Boston for his entire NHL career,

2) to sign a contract elsewhere or

3) to retire– finishing his career as one of the greatest goaltenders in Bruins history as he currently ranks 1st in wins (291– Tiny Thompson is 2nd with 252), 1st in games played (536– Thompson is 2nd with 468), 1st in saves (13,711– Eddie Johnston is 2nd with 12,375), 1st in save percentage among goalies with a minimum of 100 games played as a Bruin (.922– Thomas is 2nd with a .921), 1st in goals against average among goalies with a minimum of 100 games played for Boston (2.26– Byron Dafoe is 2nd with a 2.30), 2nd in shutouts among goalies with a minimum 100 games played for Boston (50– Thompson leads with 74) and– as a bonus– Rask leads with the most points by a goaltender with the Bruins (15, all assists– Cheevers is 2nd with 11, also all assists).

That’s no slouch and not just a result of suiting up in a bunch of games for one team without any real success whatsoever.

That same 2011 Stanley Cup championship year for the Bruins?

Rask was part of that.

Doesn’t matter if you’re the starter or the backup when your name goes on the Cup for a job well done as one of the best goaltending tandems that season. Besides, in today’s NHL, there’s an ever increasing importance for a 1A/1B solution in the crease.

Rask also backstopped the team to two more Stanley Cup Final appearances since then in 2013 and 2019.

He also won the Vezina Trophy in 2014 and was likely on track to pick up his second Vezina this season– number of games played compared to his peers, like Andrei Vasilevskiy, be damned– at its pause due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with a 2.12 GAA and a .929 SV%, as well as a 26-8-6 record in 41 games played.

No. 40 in black and gold led the NHL in goals against average this season and was second in save percentage, while sharing second place in shutouts with five.

Whether he wins this season’s Vezina Trophy or not, he’ll still have a consolation prize shared with his backup, Jaroslav Halak, as the duo won the William M. Jennings Trophy for the 2019-20 season as the goaltender(s) that have played a minimum of 25 games in a season for the team(s) with the fewest goals scored against it.

Rask and Halak allowed 174 goals this season in 70 games played, whereas Ben Bishop and Khudobin allowed 177 goals against for the Stars in 69 games.

This season’s hardware is Rask’s first Jennings Trophy win and Halak’s second career Jennings honors after previously sharing the title with Brian Elliott in the 2011-12 season with the Blues.

As for Rask’s jersey retirement case, it helps that he is tied for the best save percentage in league history (.922) with Dominik Hasek and 11th overall in the NHL’s all-time goals against averages with a 2.26 in his career.

Oh and the B’s have won the Presidents’ Trophy twice with Rask in the crease (2013-14 and 2019-20), something Thomas never did in his tenure with Boston and Cheevers could never do, since the award wasn’t presented for the first time until the 1985-86 season.

It’s possible the Bruins retire No. 40 before they make up for lost time and retire No. 30 for two players, like how the Toronto Maple Leafs retired No. 1 twice (Turk Broda and Johnny Bower).

After all, if you’re worried about running out of numbers that are typically used by a goaltender, Nos. 1, 29, 31, 35, 45 and any other number that isn’t already or won’t be retired by the time Boston gets around to retiring a goaltender’s jersey number (assuming the B’s retire No. 33 for Zdeno Chara, No. 37 for Patrice Bergeron, No. 46 for David Krejci and perhaps No. 63 and No. 88 by that time) will still be available.

Game of the week: November 26-December 2

If you’re the proud owner of an NHL-themed Advent calendar, hopefully you’ve got it ready to go for the official first day of the Christmas season this Sunday. As for the rest of us that don’t have such a beautiful possession, we’ll just have to use the NHL’s schedule.

Speaking of, here’s this week’s offerings:

NHL SCHEDULE: November 26-December 2
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, November 26
7 p.m. Boston Toronto 2-4
7 p.m. New Jersey Florida 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Washington Capitals New York Islanders 4-1
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Rangers 2-4
7:30 p.m. Columbus Detroit 7-5
Tuesday, November 27
7 p.m. San Jose Buffalo 2-3 (OT)
7 p.m. Ottawa Philadelphia 4-3
7:30 p.m. Carolina Montréal 2-1
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Tampa Bay 3-1
8 p.m. Colorado Nashville 3-2
8 p.m. Arizona Minnesota 4-3
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Winnipeg 4-3
8 p.m. Vegas Chicago 8-3
9 p.m. Dallas Edmonton 0-1 (OT)
10 p.m. Los Angeles Vancouver 2-1 (OT)
Wednesday, November 28
7 p.m. St. Louis Detroit 3-4
7 p.m. Anaheim Florida 3-2
7:30 p.m. San Jose Toronto 3-5
9 p.m. Dallas Calgary 4-3 (OT)
9:30 p.m. Pittsburgh Colorado 3-6
Thursday, November 29
7 p.m. New York Islanders Boston Bruins 1-2 (SO)
7 p.m. Minnesota Columbus 2-4
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Ottawa Senators 0-3
7:30 p.m. Buffalo Tampa Bay 4-5
8 p.m. Arizona Nashville 3-0
8 p.m. Chicago Winnipeg 5-6
9 p.m. Los Angeles Edmonton 2-3
10 p.m. Vegas Vancouver 4-3
Friday, November 30
7 p.m. Buffalo Florida 2-3 (OT)
7 p.m. New Jersey Washington 3-6
7:30 p.m. Anaheim Carolina 2-1 (OT)
9 p.m. St. Louis Colorado 3-2 (OT)
9 p.m. Los Angeles Calgary 1-4
Saturday, December 1
1 p.m. San Jose Ottawa TVAS
4 p.m. Dallas Vancouver
7 p.m. Toronto Minnesota CBC, SN1
7 p.m. Detroit Boston
7 p.m. New York Rangers Montréal Canadiens SN, TVAS
7 p.m. Tampa Bay Florida
7 p.m. Winnipeg New Jersey CITY, SN360
7 p.m. Columbus Blue Jackets New York Islanders
7 p.m. Philadelphia Pittsburgh NHLN
8 p.m. St. Louis Arizona
8 p.m. Chicago Nashville
10 p.m. Vegas Golden Knights Edmonton Oilers CBC, CITY, SN, SN1, SN360
Sunday, December 2
3 p.m. Anaheim Washington SN
6 p.m. Winnipeg Jets New York Rangers
7 p.m. Calgary Chicago NHLN
7 p.m. San Jose Montréal RDS, SN, SN1
7 p.m. Colorado Detroit
10:30 p.m. Carolina Los Angeles

Nothing rings in the holiday season quite like a good rivalry, and there was more than a few of those to choose from this week. A total of three Original Six matchups were contested (Boston at Toronto, Detroit at Boston and the Rangers at Montréal), not to mention six more feuds with slightly little less history (Washington at the Islanders, St. Louis at Detroit, Los Angeles at Edmonton, Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay at Florida and Colorado at Detroit).

In a similar strain, there were also three rematches from last season’s playoffs. Beyond the already mentioned rivalries that were contested last postseason, Colorado made the trip to Nashville in a rematch of the Western Quarterfinals on Tuesday, avenging their series loss with a 3-2 victory.

For those that get excited about player returns, no game is bigger than the Sharks’ trip to Ottawa this afternoon, as D Erik Karlsson will be making his premier visit back the arena he called home for the first nine seasons of his career.

Finally, two numbers are being retired this week, both by teams in the Eastern Conference. On Thursday, the Boston Bruins hoisted RW Rick Middleton‘s No. 16 to the TD Garden rafters before their game against the Islanders, while the New York Rangers are extending the same honor to LW Vic Hadfield‘s No. 11 before tomorrow’s tilt against Winnipeg.

As usual, there’s more than a few excellent options for this week’s featured contest. As to not slight either Hadfield or Middleton, we’ll intentionally show no preference to one or the other. Instead, I think we’ll make a trip to the Big Apple for a homecoming of a different variety to Karlsson’s.

 

 

 

 

Before you start scouring the Blue Jackets’ roster for players that have donned blue and orange in the past (spoiler alert: no active Jackets have played for the Isles), I should probably let you know that this matchup is not being featured for any sort of player return.

Instead, we’re more worried about the Islanders returning to Nassau Coliseum (officially NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but that’s an obnoxious mouthful that I’m not willing to type again), their original home arena from 1972-2015.

The list of Islanders events the Coliseum has witnessed is surely a long list, but nothing shines quite as bright as New York’s four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83. In fact, the Isles boast an unbelievable 11-1 record at the Coliseum in Stanley Cup Finals games, surely among the league’s best of any team at any particular arena.

The Coliseum has seen some real greats of the game take to its ice. RW Mike Bossy, LW Clark Gillies, RW Bob Nystrom, D Denis Potvin, G Billy Smith and C Bryan Trottier were all members of the Isles’ Stanley Cup-winning rosters, not to mention fellow Hall of Famer C Pat LaFontaine, who donned the blue-and-orange from 1983-91.

The club has run into more than its fair share of troubles – including attendance, a stat in which the Islanders rank dead-last in the NHL by almost 2000 patrons  – during its tenure at Barclays Center, but I’m optimistic that the team’s most devoted fans will have no trouble filling the almost 14,000-seat barn they used to call home.

However, one aspect where New York was expected to struggle this season was in its play on the ice. Without C John Tavares, the Islanders were expected to set up camp at the bottom of the NHL standings in a season focused on “Losing for Hughes.” Instead, new Head Coach Barry Trotz has led his team to a surprising 12-9-3 record that trails the rival Rangers by only one point (the Isles have two games in hand) for the East’s second wild card.

Looking more closely at their play over the last week (New York has posted a 2-1-1 record in its last four outings), the Islanders’ best player has been none other than 8-4-1 G Thomas Greiss. While his record may pale in comparison to 14-7-0 G Frederik Andersen‘s, Greiss boasts a .925 save percentage and 2.45 GAA for the entire season as a whole, not to mention managing a .924 save percentage and 2.31 GAA in his last three starts despite playing behind a defense that has yielded a (t)15th-worst 32.25 shots against per game since November 23.

Greiss owns a career 5-6-3 record against the Blue Jackets, due in large part to the current 0-3-1 skid he’s riding against tonight’s opposition dating back to February 25, 2017.

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they enter tonight’s game with a solid 15-8-2 record that’s good enough for second place in the Metropolitan Division. Columbus has been riding high for the past month, as it has managed an impressive 8-2-2 record since November 4.

The main reason for that outstanding play has been the Jackets’ great defensive work. Led by RW Josh Anderson (2.9 blocks per game since November 4) and D Seth Jones (2.1 blocks per game during this run) – both of whom are tied at 10 takeaways apiece since November 4 – Columbus’ blue line has allowed only 30.42 shots against per game in its last 12 games, the 10th-best mark in the NHL in the past 27 days.

As might be expected, none are happier about that defensive play than 10-7-0 G Sergei Bobrovsky (yes, the goaltender is more appreciative than Head Coach John Tortorella – believe me). Behind this solid defense, Bobrovsky has posted a 7-1-0 record with an impressive .932 save percentage and 2.01 GAA – both numbers far better than his season marks of a .912 save percentage and 2.7 GAA.

This is the part where I usually pick my winner, but it should probably be stated that the real winners tonight are the Islanders fans getting to see a game in a historic venue designed to host an ice hockey game.

As for who will walk away with two points tonight, I’m strongly leaning towards Columbus. Both have netminders playing in peak form right now, but the Jackets boasting a defense keeping all but the best offerings away from Bobrovsky will likely be a major benefit to them this evening. Pair in the Jackets averaging 3.52 goals per game this season (compared to New York’s three goals per game), and any traveling fans from Ohio should leave happy.

DTFR Podcast #134- Slinging First Round Picks

The Board of Governors meeting gets underway next week involving the Seattle expansion vote, Bill Peters took a puck to the jaw and Rick Middleton and Vic Hadfield are having their numbers retired this week.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes made another trade with each other, Karl Alzner is being Wade Redden’ed, Ron Hextall got ousted as the Philadelphia Flyers GM, the Buffalo Sabres win streak reached double digits and the Winnipeg Jets brought back their Heritage Jerseys.

Nick and Connor also encourage all of Long Island to go to the New York Islanders game at NYCB Live (it’s the Nassau Coliseum) this week and quickly plan a hopeful trip to see Sporting KC play in Atlanta.

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

Down the Frozen River Podcast #118- Bad Puns

The Original Trio analyze the Jeff Skinner trade, recent one year extensions, upcoming jersey retirement nights, 2018-19 Calder Memorial Trophy predictions and more.

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