Tag Archives: Western Conference

Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering December

We’re just over a week into December, I know, but let’s all hop in the time machine and take a retroactive look at how the rest of the season should pan out based on how the league standings were through November 30, 2018.

Things have started to cool in places around the league (like Carolina), while other clubs (like Buffalo) have heated up to become serious playoff contenders– so let’s take a look at how everything should shake out between now and the first couple of weeks of April.

There’s no guarantees with any forecast, but general indications start to get a little clearer once the season’s hit the quarter-mark and American Thanksgiving has come and gone.

Realistically, if your team is anywhere between 1st and 5th in your division, you’re in for the ride of your life still from now through the end of the regular season. If you’re 6th, 7th or 8th, well, it’s never too early to start thinking about the Draft lottery (plus the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship’s coming up at the end of the month, so that’s exciting too) or about how many games it would take to go on an incredibly hot streak and jump back into the playoff picture.

Nothing’s impossible.

Without further ado, it’s time to glance around the league and breakdown some of the unforeseen circumstances that are yet to come.

Projected Standings After Two Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Tampa Bay Lightning, 108 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 104 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 101 points (26 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Buffalo Sabres, 91 points (27 GP so far)
  5. Montreal Canadiens, 91 points (25 GP so far)
  6. Detroit Red Wings, 85 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Florida Panthers, 84 points (24 GP so far)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 83 points (26 GP so far)

The Tampa Bay Lightning rightfully lay claim to the crown as the leader of the Atlantic Division at regular season’s end. It doesn’t matter that Steven Stamkos has yet to record a point in six career Game 7s. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point on a line of their own. They don’t even need Stamkos.

Just kidding, they still do, because that other No. 91 signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason and just think how explosive a playoff matchup of Tampa and Toronto could be in the Battle of John Tavares Signed Where Leafs Fans Wanted Steven Stamkos To Sign Just A Couple Of Offseasons Ago, But Didn’t Because He Stayed With The Lightning.

You know it’s going to happen.

Actually, in the latest forecast entering December, the Boston Bruins slide out of the top spot, because injuries continue to plague their season. However, if they can recover to full health, there’s a good chance they might usurp the Maple Leafs and finish 2nd in the division, unlike what current standings dictate.

But regaining full health is a major stipulation and part of the reason why– while Toronto is 3rd in this forecast– there’s a good chance the Bruins might (probably will) slip further as January’s forecast nears.

This is about the time where it’s important to note the overarching focus on this forecast should be on where each team is positioned and how close in points they are to those above and below before placing any concrete emphasis on how things play out from now through the first week of April 2019.

The Buffalo Sabres make the biggest gain in the Atlantic Division, jumping up four spots in the division standings from the basement to 4th place and a playoff berth (albeit a wild card spot).

The Sabres 10-game winning streak– combined with the additions of Rasmus Dahlin and Jeff Skinner in the offseason– proved to be a season-defining stretch of games as Buffalo returns to Stanley Cup Playoff action for the first time since 2011 (despite the current 0-3-2 run in their last five games).

On the outside looking in, the Montreal Canadiens slipped a spot and might be a pretender– especially if Carey Price (11-8-4 record, 2.92 goals against average, .902 save percentage in 23 games played) continues to struggle. To his credit, his GAA is under three now, so there’s that.

The Detroit Red Wings gained some traction with the ongoing lack of focus in Ottawa Senators video reviews and the Florida Panthers injuries.

Metropolitan Division

  1. p-Washington Capitals, 108 points (25 GP so far)
  2. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 99 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 98 points (24 GP so far)
  4. wc2-New York Rangers, 92 points (26 GP so far)
  5. New York Islanders, 90 points (24 GP so far)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points (25 GP so far)
  7. Philadelphia Flyers, 86 points (24 GP so far)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 81 points (24 GP so far)

The Washington Capitals remain in control of the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in tow.

Of course, Columbus and Pittsburgh are worth keeping a close eye on as the Blue Jackets have been all over the place near the top and the Penguins have yet to be in playoff position since– actually, pretty much never so far this season.

Plus there’s the whole “second-half of the season surge” we’re still waiting to see from Mike Sullivan’s bunch. That’ll almost assure Pittsburgh of a playoff berth, if not in a divisional spot, at least.

The New York Rangers gained two spots since entering November, which means the rebuild’s over!

Just kidding.

Look how close the Rangers, New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes are forecasted to be in points. Even the Philadelphia Flyers have a chance– mathematically speaking, of course.

The battle for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference is going to come down to one of the teams in the Big Apple and Carolina, especially since the rest of the division lacks clarity.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils are in the dumps. Taylor Hall isn’t a flash in the pan, but the rest of the Devils are, it appears.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 104 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 98 points (25 GP so far)
  3. x-Winnipeg Jets, 97 points (24 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Colorado Avalanche, 93 points (26 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Dallas Stars, 90 points (26 GP so far)
  6. St. Louis Blues, 88 points (24 GP so far)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 87 points (26 GP so far)

Both the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild remain in the 1-2 spots in the latest forecast. Despite the current hot streak from the Calgary Flames, the Predators are going to be the best team in the conference by the end of the regular season.

The Winnipeg Jets are starting to become like the Penguins under Sullivan’s reign in that Paul Maurice is bound to lead his team to a second-half of the season surge into a divisional spot (or higher).

Of course, there’s always a wild card– both in the literal wild card berth and dark horse standpoint– and that’s the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avs have a great chance at jumping up into a divisional spot, since they’ve gained three positions from the previous forecast entering November to the current forecast entering December. The fact of the matter is the Avalanche are a playoff contender– like last season– but with the added improvement of having built on last season’s experience.

Then there’s the Dallas Stars, who might find themselves landing in a wild card position by circumstance (have you even seen the Pacific Division?) and by luck in Jim Montgomery’s first season behind the bench.

Towards the cellar of the Central Division, the St. Louis Blues are bad, but not as bad as they are currently, which isn’t great news if you’re trying to lose for Jack Hughes.

But if you’re a Blues fan who hates rivals more than losing, there’s a positive takeaway– the Chicago Blackhawks are destined to finished last in the Central. They’re bad. Very bad.

Pacific Division

  1. y-San Jose Sharks, 97 points (26 GP so far)
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 97 points (28 GP so far)
  3. x-Calgary Flames, 93 points (26 GP so far)
  4. Vegas Golden Knights, 85 points (27 GP so far)
  5. Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (25 GP so far)
  6. Los Angeles Kings, 79 points (26 GP so far)
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 78 points (24 GP so far)
  8. Vancouver Canucks, 78 points (28 GP so far)

The San Jose Sharks’ grasp on the Pacific Division is loosening as the Anaheim Ducks are heating up as one of the hottest teams out west– and that’s not including the one with fire in their name.

San Jose should– should— hit their stride at some point and have everything click into place, but if they don’t the Ducks are hot on their tail. How close? Close enough to show there’s no difference in their forecast total points in the standings by the end of the regular season.

The Sharks could be first or they could be second. Perhaps the Calgary Flames have something to say about that.

It’s anybody’s game in the Pacific Division playoff berths, but one thing’s for sure, there’s not going to be a wild card team coming out of the Pacific.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, that means they’re really going to have to soar and never let their foot off the gas. Vegas only survived so much without Nate Schmidt in the lineup on their blue line– they can’t afford any more major bumps in the road.

The Edmonton Oilers have Ken Hitchcock behind the bench and while they might appear to be gaining ground, they’re sure to be just outside of the playoff window looking in like how Hitchcock’s Stars were last season. Just wait for the implosion.

In the bottom three, the Los Angeles Kings might not be as terrible as they have been if 1) Marco Sturm gets named head coach and Willie Desjardins’ interim basis comes to a close and 2) the Kings light a fire under their grizzled veterans and revive whatever’s left of them this season.

The Arizona Coyotes are on par with how Arizona’s been the last few seasons. Not great, but not terrible and sometimes downtrodden due to injury.

The hype surrounding the Vancouver Canucks in October and early November was just that– hype. No amount of Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser can compensate for the holes on the blue line and lack of goaltending. It’s almost as if Canucks General Manager Jim Benning has been living a Groundhog Day career from year-to-year with Vancouver.

Their offense is good, their defense is suspect and their goaltending isn’t starter quality.

Rinne and the Preds shutout Bruins, 1-0

Pekka Rinne celebrated his 36th birthday with a 1-0 shutout Saturday night against the Boston Bruins as the B’s were paying their annual visit to Bridgestone Arena. Roman Josi had the game’s only goal for the Nashville Predators and the Bruins wrapped up their quick two-game road trip, 1-1-0.

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Rinne (5-1-0 in 7 games played with a 1.63 goals against average and a .948 save percentage) stopped all 26 shots he faced for the win– his 2nd shutout of the season– and became the first goaltender in National Hockey League history to record multiple regular-season shutouts on his birthday (he previously shutout the Phoenix Coyotes on November 3, 2011).

The Preds netminder also signed a two-year extension with Nashville earlier in the day on Saturday, keeping him in Smashville through the 2020-21 season.

Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (4-1-2, 1.45 GAA, .952 SV% in 8 GP), made 39 saves on 40 shots against for a .975 save percentage in the loss.

Boston defender Torey Krug celebrated 400 career NHL games played with a minus-one rating, two hits and two blocked shots in 23:03 time on ice.

As a result of the loss, Boston fell to 7-4-2 (16 points) on the season, which was good enough to remain 3rd in the Atlantic– but tied in points with the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres. Nashville improved to 11-3-2 (22 points) so far this season– maintaining their 1st overall standing in the Central Division, as well as the Western Conference and entire league.

Bruce Cassidy made one change in the lineup after Ryan Donato was assigned to the  Providence Bruins (AHL) on Thursday, re-inserting David Backes on the third line as No. 42 in black-and-gold returned to action for the first time since sustaining a concussion in Edmonton last month.

Matt Grzelcyk (lower body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion), Charlie McAvoy (upper body) and Kevan Miller (hand) remained out of the lineup Saturday as McAvoy was retroactively placed on the injured reserve earlier in the week.

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The game began with some quick end-to-end action that slowly became heavily dominated by the Predators with quality chances and zone entries.

Brandon Carlo took the game’s first penalty– a minor infraction for hooking– at 12:02 of the first period after getting his stick tangled up with Nashville forward, Ryan Johansen.

The Preds did not convert on the ensuing power play, but maintained just momentum in the vulnerable minute after the skater advantage expired for Josi (4) to waltz around Bruins forward, Danton Heinen, cut to the goal and fire a shot past Halak from point blank.

Ryan Ellis (8) and Nick Bonino (3) had the assist’s on Josi’s goal at 14:49 of the first period and Nashville led, 1-0. The goal was Josi’s 300th career NHL point.

Yannick Weber was guilty of hooking Joakim Nordstrom less than ten seconds later, but the Bruins didn’t convert on the ensuing power play.

Noel Acciari hooked Mattias Ekholm at 17:10 and Nashville didn’t score on that power play either, because– you guess it– there were no more goals scored in the Predators, 1-0, win.

Brad Marchand stirred the pot with a phantom high-sticking minor infraction at 19:58 of the first period.

It’s one thing if there’s a blown call. It’s another thing for a player to continue arguing and receive an extra unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty– resulting in a 4:00 power play that could’ve drastically changed the game for Nashville– and a ten-minute misconduct without any conceivable warning.

Not to put too much thought into it, but just to sidestep onto a soapbox (since nothing else really happened other than a great goaltender battle all night long) regardless of making a call, professional sports usually work on a one-warning system.

It was not made clear by the broadcast whether or not Marchand faced a warning from the referee or whether that was implied by the penalties handed out, however NHL refs are noted for expressing verbal warnings to players early in a game before handing out unsportsmanlike minors or misconducts after repeated bad behavior (verbally or physically) later in the action.

Like how an umpire in baseball delivers a warning to both dugouts sometimes after a pitcher hits a batter. Whether the next hit batter is intentional or not, the umpire has already made it clear that discipline will be handed out and the subsequent pitcher beaning a batter is ejected from the game.

Anyway, that’ll probably save a few minutes on next week’s podcast.

There’s nothing wrong with the penalties handed out after the blown call, but rather the formality in which they occurred, without a given warning that would otherwise deem them flat-out the right call.

Then again, other league’s issue formal apologies after the game, in which nothing can be changed because it’s after the game and, well, the fact of the matter is– refs are human.

This is sports. Mistakes are made. Play better. Rise above. Insert whatever you want here.

Anyway, Marchand’s 14 minutes in penalties came with two seconds remaining in the first period, so Nashville’s power play would extend into the middle frame.

After one period, the Predators led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 15-10. Nashville also had an advantage in takeaways (3-1), giveaways (5-2) and face-off win percentage (55-46). The Bruins had an advantage in blocked shots (7-2) through 20 minutes.

The Preds entered the first intermission 0/3 on the power play, while Boston was 0/1 heading into the dressing room.

Ryan Hartman hooked Heinen early in the second period and gave the B’s a power play at 4:18. Boston didn’t convert on the skater advantage and had one more chance on the power play at 8:51 of the second period after Kevin Fiala got a stick hooked on David Pastrnak.

The Bruins power play was unsuccessful on that chance too.

Despite controlling the flow of the game more in the second period, the Bruins lacked quality in both shots and zone entries. Everything was moving too quick– too many passes, too much setup– and too many saves piling up in Rinne’s save percentage for the night.

Miikka Salomaki interfered with Acciari at 17:47, giving the Bruins one last chance on the power play, but it was unsuccessful.

Shortly thereafter, Steven Kampfer tripped up Johansen on a scoring opportunity after Johansen appeared to not actually get tripped up at all upon replay. Something about not anticipating the play, thereby calling misled reaction penalties and instead enforcing the rules…

Anyway, Nashville didn’t score on their final power play of the game at 19:56 of the second period. Again, the Bruins would start the subsequent period shorthanded, however, if you reread the previous sentence… they made out just fine.

After 40 minutes Nashville was still leading in shots on goal (23-20), despite being outshot by Boston (10-8) in the 2nd period. The Bruins led in blocked shots (10-9), hits (8-6) and face-off win% (54-46) through two periods, while the Predators held an advantage in takeaways (7-3) and giveaways (8-4).

Both teams failed to convert on the power play, as Nashville finished the night 0/5 on the skater advantage and the B’s went 0/4.

Though some things may have been mismanaged in the first 40 minutes, the on-ice officials put away their whistles in the final 20 minutes, yielding no stoppages for major or minor infractions.

Cassidy pulled his netminder with 2:02 remaining in the third period and called a timeout after a stoppage in the action with 12.0 seconds remaining in the game. Neither strategy worked as time ran out on the Bruins’s hopes for scoring a game-tying goal and the Predators walked away with the 1-0 victory.

Nashville finished the night with a 40-26 advantage in shots on goal (17-6 in the third period), as well as an advantage in giveaways (12-10) and face-off win% (53-47). Boston finished the 60-minute effort leading in hits (17-8) and both teams recorded 14 blocked shots.

Boston travels back home to begin a four-game home-stand with a matchup against former Bruin, Tyler Seguin, and the Dallas Stars Monday at TD Garden. The B’s will face the Stars (Nov. 5th), Vancouver Canucks (Nov. 8th), Toronto Maple Leafs (Nov. 10th) and Vegas Golden Knights (Nov. 11th) over the next four-games.

Numbers Game 2018-19: One Month Down

Folks, it’s no longer October.

You can once again begin asking the question “is it October yet?” without facing any legal ramifications, despite the fact that the 2018-19 regular season is very much alive and in effect.

Canadian Thanksgiving has come and gone, but for all of you urban legend believers in postseason fate, American Thanksgiving has yet to pass– meaning every team’s playoff hopes is still technically alive. The majority of teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving– in this case, Nov. 22nd– make the playoffs.

If you’re new to hockey, this is a thing, but it’s not set in stone. There’s always that one or two teams that sneak their way in from outside the picture frame. Likewise, there’s always that team that blows it down the stretch.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a hot start, working their way to 1st place in the Atlantic Division by the end of October, with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins hot on their tail just as we all expected.

Though the Maple Leafs have a fiery offense and solid goaltending, defense has been the most apparent area for improvement. In Boston, depth scoring, injuries and a slow start in net for Tuukka Rask have held the Bruins back from realizing their full potential, but the depth of their defenders and backup netminder Jaroslav Halak have kept them in good-standing.

In the surprise of the month for the Atlantic Division, the Montreal Canadiens sit 4th and the Buffalo Sabres sit 5th– both with 14 points on the season so far. Meanwhile, to no surprise the Ottawa Senators are 6th, the Detroit Red Wings are in a rebuild and the Florida Panthers simply haven’t played as many games as their opponents.

Taking a look at the Metropolitan Division and you won’t be surprised to see the Pittsburgh Penguins back in control with Sidney Crosby at the steering wheel, but you might be surprised by the other current divisional playoff spot holders.

The New York Islanders are 2nd and the Carolina Hurricanes are 3rd after the Hurricanes led the division for most of the month, only to begin a recent skid.

Just on the outskirts of a wild card spot are the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils.

Washington’s off to a slower start than expected, but overall not feeling as bad as a Stanley Cup hangover as it could’ve been– given how many fountains around D.C. they dove in and the number of beers consumed.

Columbus is just over .500 and the Devils have also played fewer games than anyone in their division, much like the Panthers.

The Philadelphia Flyers sit 7th in the Metropolitan Division in a tight race, but have shown weaknesses on the blue line and in the blue paint (goaltending, again) and the New York Rangers are in a full-scale rebuild to start things off this season.

In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators are staking a case for defending their President’s Trophy season last year currently sitting atop the Central Division, as well as the league.

Filling out the remaining Central Divisions spots, last season’s biggest improvers, the Colorado Avalanche sit 2nd with the Minnesota Wild in 3rd. There’s two wild card berth in the Central Division, currently held by the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks(!?!)– that’s right, last season’s division bottom feeders are able to keep their heads barely above the surface with Corey Crawford back in the net.

The Dallas Stars sit 6th and the St. Louis Blues have had the wheels fall off in just a month’s time.

In the Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks lead the San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights and the 31st place team in the league– the Los Angeles Kings.

Yes, the Pacific Division is that wide-open so far with legitimate playoff contenders from last season (San Jose, Anaheim, Vegas and Los Angeles) all over the place. The Sharks haven’t hit their stride, the Ducks are suffering from injuries and defensive breakdowns, while the Golden Knights are looking for last season’s inaugural season magic.

Oh and the Kings? Yeah, everything’s pretty bad right now and Jonathan Quick‘s out indefinitely.

Meanwhile, pleasant surprises in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Arizona are being led by… youth?

Nothing makes sense anymore.

Luckily, that’s just a quick recap of the first month in about as bland an outlook as you can get when the meat of this post is really about what’s to come. That’s right, everything above? Forget most of it. Let’s use a little foresight and figure out how November through April should go.

2018-19 Projected Standings after One Month

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Boston Bruins, 104 points (12 GP so far)
  2. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 103 points (11 GP so far)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 94 points (12 GP so far)
  4. wc1-Montreal Canadiens, 93 points (11 GP so far)
  5. Florida Panthers, 84 points (9 GP so far)
  6. Ottawa Senators, 84 points (11 GP so far)
  7. Detroit Red Wings, 81 points (12 GP so far)
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 76 points (12 GP so far)

What’s bound to happen in the Atlantic?

The forecast is so close between the top-three teams in the division that none of their positions in the standings are truly set in stone, unlike how the Red Wings will undoubtedly land somewhere in the bottom-three spots in the Atlantic.

There’s a chance the Panthers never get off the ground and there’s a chance the Sabres are able to continue turning heads around the league by not currently being in the basement of the division. However, since this forecast takes into consideration recent seasons in addition to current gameplay…

Check back in another month.

(Is it too early to do one of these? Yeah, probably.)

Metropolitan Division

  1. p-Washington Capitals, 107 points (10 GP so far)
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 106 points (10 GP so far)
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points (11 GP so far)
  4. wc2- New York Islanders, 89 points (11 GP so far)
  5. Philadelphia Flyers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
  6. New York Rangers, 89 points (12 GP so far)
  7. New Jersey Devils, 87 points (9 GP so far)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes, 85 points (12 GP so far)

The biggest takeaway from the Metropolitan forecast is after the top-two teams, anything goes.

Washington will be able to right the ship and land in a divisional spot– whether that’s top-dog or behind the Penguins remains to be seen. Columbus should even out as they’ve been doing as of late and settle in for another First Round exit (probably).

But between the Islanders, Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Hurricanes? Yeah, anything goes.

The Islanders are better than the Rangers, but the Rangers might somehow be better than the Flyers. Meanwhile, if New Jersey can get things going like they did last season, they’ve got a chance to box out the competition. Plus, Carolina remains unpredictable and foreseeably within striking range of a wild card spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Again, it’s only been one month. There’s still a little more than five months left in the regular season.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Nashville Predators, 105 points (12 GP so far)
  2. x-Minnesota Wild, 100 points (12 GP so far)
  3. x-Chicago Blackhawks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
  4. wc1-St. Louis Blues, 96 points (10 GP so far)
  5. wc2-Winnipeg Jets, 94 points (12 GP so far)
  6. Dallas Stars, 90 points (11 GP so far)
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 85 points (12 GP so far)

In the Central Division, the Nashville Predators continue to reign supreme. Cool.

Minnesota, Chicago and St. Louis are all somehow destined for the postseason. This, after the Wild make it every year, Crawford’s return lifts the Blackhawks over the competition and supposedly the Blues will figure things out.

Wait, the Avalanche can’t be that bad.

Once again, it’s an extremely early forecast that takes into account recency bias from the last few seasons. Colorado won’t be last. Winnipeg shouldn’t be a wild card team.

But Dallas? Yeah, they’re definitely not making the playoffs if they keep playing like they have been.

Pacific Division

  1. y-San Jose Sharks, 101 points (12 GP so far)
  2. x-Anaheim Ducks, 98 points (13 GP so far)
  3. x-Calgary Flames, 89 points (13 GP so far)
  4. Los Angeles Kings, 87 points (11 GP so far)
  5. Vancouver Canucks, 84 points (14 GP so far)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 83 points (11 GP so far)
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 77 points (11 GP so far)
  8. Vegas Golden Knights, 75 points (12 GP so far)

By now everything you’ve read should indicate what’s going to be written below.

San Jose? Good team. No surprise, given Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are on the blue line with Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier and Evander Kane at forward. Oh and Martin Jones in net.

Anaheim? If they can whether the storm, they can make it in one of the most unpredictable divisions based on how bad the other teams are or should be.

Calgary? Bill Peters finally coaches a team to a playoff berth? Yeah. That should happen.

The Kings can recover from this slow start– if they don’t mess things up in November.

As for the Canucks, Oilers, Coyotes and Golden Knights, well, Vancouver might make some noise. Edmonton could be a pretender as long as Connor McDavid is a contender. Arizona remains to be seen and the situation looks like it’s only going to get worse for Vegas before anything gets better– if it even does.

2018-19 Projected Standings

It’s still way too early to make these bold claims, but let’s do it anyway.

Using marginal goals for and marginal goals against from the 2017-18 regular season– let’s assume there were no roster, coaching or front office changes this summer that would otherwise flip everything upside-down– here are expected points totals for all 31 National Hockey League teams for the 2018-19 season.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 114 points
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 113 points
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 108 points
  4. Florida Panthers, 92 points
  5. Detroit Red Wings, 77 points
  6. Montreal Canadiens, 71 points
  7. Ottawa Senators, 65 points
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 61 points

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points
  2. x-Washington Capitals, 99 points
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points
  4. x-Philadelphia Flyers, 95 points
  5. x-New Jersey Devils, 93 points
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 81 points
  7. New York Islanders, 79 points
  8. New York Rangers, 78 points

2018-19 Eastern Conference Outlook

Not much is different in the Atlantic Division heading into 2018-19.

The top teams are the top teams, regardless of their additions (John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs) or subtractions (uhh, James van Riemsdyk from the Maple Leafs?) and there’s going to be a little movement in the Metropolitan Division (most notably, a new division leader from 2017-18 to 2018-19).

Carolina’s revamped defense and the Rangers post-trade deadline to present overhaul are wild cards to watch for any surprises in the standings.

2017-18 Eastern Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)

Atlantic Division

  1. y-Montreal Canadiens, 102 points (z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 113 points)
  2. x-Boston Bruins, 101 points (x-Boston Bruins, 112 points)
  3. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points (x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points)
  4. x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 95 points (Florida Panthers, 96 points)
  5. Ottawa Senators, 91 points (Detroit Red Wings, 73 points)
  6. Florida Panthers, 81 points (Montreal Canadiens, 71 points)
  7. Detroit Red Wings, 77 points (Ottawa Senators, 67 points)
  8. Buffalo Sabres, 77 points (Buffalo Sabres, 62 points)

What happened in the Atlantic? Injuries and age slowed the Canadiens way, way down, while Tampa reemerged as one of the top teams in the NHL, appearing in their third Eastern Conference Final in four years (despite losing to the Washington Capitals in seven games).

Boston proved to be ahead of schedule in their plan, while the Leafs were right on track. Meanwhile, the floor fell out from underneath the Senators and a new head coach didn’t bring the expected progress in development for the Sabres.

Florida turned a few heads, though ultimately proved to be a non-contender, missing the playoffs by a point (Columbus and New Jersey locked up the Eastern Conference wild cards with 97 points on the season), while Detroit fell within the expected margin of error (anywhere from 72-82 points on the season).

Metropolitan Division

  1. p-Washington Capitals, 125 points (y-Washington Capitals, 105 points)
  2. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 114 points (x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points)
  3. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 111 points (x-Philadelphia Flyers, 98 points)
  4. x-New York Rangers, 106 points (x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 97 points)
  5. New York Islanders, 91 points (x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points)
  6. Philadelphia Flyers, 85 points (Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points)
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (New York Islanders, 80 points)
  8. New Jersey Devils, 67 points (New York Rangers, 77 points)

What happened in the Metropolitan? Sometimes it’s not about the number of points, but rather, the divisional standing that matters.

Washington may have surprised some experts by finishing 1st in their division in 2017-18 (then going on to win the Cup), but to us it wasn’t (the division win, not the Cup). The rest was a crapshoot. Three teams (Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh) made the playoffs from our predictions heading into last season, while one (N.Y. Rangers) fell flat and hit the reset button.

New Jersey had one of the biggest improvements from 2016-17 to 2017-18, while the Carolina Hurricanes hit the nail on the head (albeit one position higher than our prediction) with 83 points in 2017-18.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points
  2. x-Nashville Predators, 113 points
  3. x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points
  4. x-Colorado Avalanche, 99 points
  5. Dallas Stars, 95 points
  6. St. Louis Blues, 93 points
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 108 points
  2. x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points
  4. x-Anaheim Ducks, 99 points
  5. Edmonton Oilers, 81 points
  6. Calgary Flames, 80 points
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 74 points
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 73 points

2018-19 Western Conference Outlook

Before the additions of Ryan O’Reilly (via trade), Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon (via free agency), the St. Louis Blues were destined to slide through another season of mediocrity. Now, they’re the most unpredictable team of the Central Division– and, yes, that’s even acknowledging what kind of season Jake Allen has in net.

Allen could make or break St. Louis’s season, though Mike Yeo will have to balance Allen’s starting time with Chad Johnson‘s play as a solid backup, but enough about the Blues (for now).

Everything else looks just the same in the Central with Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas as the teams that are most likely to change places and hit or miss one of the last playoff spots in the West.

In the Pacific, the arms race for the top of the division rages on with the Golden Knights, Kings and Sharks auditioning for the role of top-dog and the Ducks bumbling their way into a wild card spot.

It’s status quo in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, with the Arizona Coyotes entering the 2018-19 season as the biggest underdogs (hint, if they had played the way they did from February through April 2018 all season last season, they would be a lot higher up in these expected totals).

2017-18 Western Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)

Central Division

  1. z-Minnesota Wild, 115 points (p-Nashville Predators, 117 points)
  2. x-Chicago Blackhawks, 104 points (x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points)
  3. x-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (x-Minnesota Wild, 101 points)
  4. x-Nashville Predators, 98 points (x-Colorado Avalanche, 95 points)
  5. Winnipeg Jets, 89 points (St. Louis Blues, 94 points)
  6. Dallas Stars, 76 points (Dallas Stars, 92 points)
  7. Colorado Avalanche, 47 points (Chicago Blackhawks, 76 points)

What happened in the Central? Simply put, the stars aligned.

The Blackhawks were kept far away from the 90-point plateau (and a playoff spot) by virtue of injuries to their starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, while the anemic offense of the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche was no more in 2017-18.

Both are surprises– by definition, given expected points totals are driven by an equation that takes last season’s offense into account for the following season– but any inherent intuition would show that Colorado was destined to improve (by that much, perhaps not).

St. Louis fell out of the race while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the Winnipeg Jets to a 50-plus win season and the Wild surged quietly. The Stars were thought to be further off the path back to the playoffs than they turned out, but alas, Dallas was still 6th in the division at season’s end.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Vegas Golden Knights, 106 points (y-Vegas Golden Knights, 109 points)
  2. x-Edmonton Oilers, 106 points (x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points)
  3. x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points (x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points)
  4. x- San Jose Sharks, 100 points (x-Los Angeles Kings, 98 points)
  5. Calgary Flames, 94 points (Calgary Flames, 84 points)
  6. Los Angeles Kings, 90 points (Edmonton Oilers, 78 points)
  7. Vancouver Canucks, 67 points (Vancouver Canucks, 73 points)
  8. Arizona Coyotes, 66 points (Arizona Coyotes, 70 points)

What happened in the Pacific? One of the best things about making predictions using a set of data is the outliers that cause some people to doubt all of math in its entirety. Nothing is concrete in the world of projections and expectations. The 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers are a great example of that.

Based on a spectacular breakout 2016-17 season, the Oilers should’ve done a lot more than *checks notes* leave Cam Talbot in the net for too many games, facing too many shots, while Milan Lucic exerts some type of energy in the midst of another 100-point season by Connor McDavid only to miss the playoffs (by a lot) and still receive enough pity votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy to finish 5th in the voting. Hmm.

One player does not make a team. One expected points total before a single puck drops on the regular season does not guarantee anything.

Meanwhile, Vegas surprised everyone, Anaheim and San Jose hit their expected points totals, Los Angeles was ahead of schedule (though the core is still aging), Calgary regressed and the rest was as expected (again, given the margin of error– about +/- 5 points).

2018 Offseason Preview: Vegas Golden Knights

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Vegas Golden Knights and their outlook for the summer.

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After shattering record after record set by previous expansion teams in their inaugural seasons, the Vegas Golden Knights compiled a 51-24-7 record and 109 points on the season in 2017-18. It was not only good enough for a playoff berth, but good enough for 1st place in the Pacific Division.

Head coach Gerard Gallant got the most out of General Manager George McPhee‘s roster, which was mostly built on trades and a mix of 2017 Expansion Draft claims, bringing the Golden Knights all the way to the Stanley Cup Final– in their first season. First postseason. First Western Conference championship. First everything.

Well, almost everything (except the Cup, which I hear Alex Ovechkin is, yep, still attached to it).

Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith dominated the first line, while William Karlsson emerged from the shadows of the Columbus Blue Jackets into the limelight as one of the league’s top goal scorers.

He’s also a pending-RFA this summer.

But Vegas doesn’t have to worry about whatever anyone else thinks of them. They’ve already smashed through all the walls that others thought would surely contain them back Earth, yet here they are– with almost $26.500 million to spend this summer.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

McPhee’s Golden Knights do not have a first round pick in the 2018 Draft currently as Vegas packaged a 2018 first round pick, 2019 second round pick and 2021 third round pick at the trade deadline in exchange for Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings.

Tatar signed a four-year extension with Detroit last offseason and is on Vegas’s books through 2020-21 at a whopping $5.300 million cap hit. I say whopping, because that’s the most expensive cap hit on the roster currently.

Pending free agents

With almost $26.500 million to work with this offseason and some big-time renewals to hand out, McPhee’s work isn’t cut out for him, but the Golden Knights look good heading into 2018-19.

Sure, maybe they won’t get back to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, but…

Who am I kidding? They’ve defied all logic and we’ll never see an expansion team as good as this one in their inaugural season again. No, not because of any pending changes to future expansion drafts (I’m talking post-Seattle here).

James Neal, Mikhail Grabovski, David Perron and Ryan Reaves are all pending-UFAs for Vegas.

Neal, 30, was an alternate captain this season and 25-19–44 totals in 71 games as a clutch goal-scorer and early face of the franchise. He’ll get top-dollar on the market if he doesn’t re-sign and is the only priority pending-UFA for McPhee to consider bringing back.

Grabovski, 34, is likely to never play in the NHL again, since missing the entire 2016-17 season with ongoing concussion issues.

Perron, 30, was another alternate captain on Vegas’s squad and had 16-50–66 totals in 70 games. His point production was up 20 from last season to this season and he could have some staying power as a playmaker or he could test the waters.

McPhee isn’t rushing to re-sign Neal or Perron because the future’s looking pretty bright with the Golden Knights core, plus the tremendous cap space available that could make Vegas a dark horse for John Tavares, Ilya Kovalchuk or a landing spot for an Erik Karlsson trade.

Reaves, 31, was acquired in a three-team trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, fitting in on Vegas’s fourth line as a tough guy that scored two important goals in the postseason. He’s a cheap bottom-six forward if McPhee likes grit, otherwise there’ll be other opportunities for Reaves to seek.

Pending-RFAs, William Karlsson, Tomas Nosek and William Carrier are more important to McPhee’s immediate plan.

Karlsson, 25, is likely to receive the biggest salary on the roster, thanks, in part to his forthcoming raise, but mostly due to his scoring ability. He had 43-35–78 totals in 82 games with the Golden Knights this season and 7-8–15 totals in 20 postseason games.

Pay up.

Nosek, 25, eased into a comfortable seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 67 games this season, then added another four goals and two assists (six points) in 17 playoff games. By comparison, he’s no William Karlsson, but he is a dependable top-9 forward in his prime.

Likewise, Carrier, 23, is still young and coming into his own as a bottom-six forward that could see more time or about the same number of games this season (37) as next season. For depth purposes alone, Carrier matters a lot to the team.

28-year-old pending-UFA, Luca Sbisa, played a part in 30 regular season games and could remain as a depth defender if he stays, while 33-year-old pending-UFA, Clayton Stoner, is without a doubt searching for a new place to play.

If re-signing Karlsson and his other pending-RFAs is a pretty big deal for McPhee this summer, then so is locking up Colin Miller, 25, and Shea Theodore, 22, to viable contracts that won’t cost an arm and a leg, assuming the top-6 defenders continue to develop and capitalize on career seasons.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury, 33, has one-year left on his current deal at $5.750 million and will be looking to sign what might be his last NHL contract next summer, while backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban, 24, is also entering the final year of his $650,000 per year deal.

Subban isn’t likely to overtake Fleury in the next year or two, so both goalies should be back, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, okay? It’s only 2018, not 2019.

Retained salary: Derick Brassard ($2.000 million) through 2018-19.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Brandon Pirri (UFA), Chris Casto (UFA), Paul Thompson (UFA), Maxime Lagace (UFA), Jason Garrison (UFA), Teemu Pulkkinen (RFA), Oscar Dansk (RFA), and Philip Holm (RFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Winnipeg Jets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Winnipeg Jets and their outlook for the summer.

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The Winnipeg Jets soared high in 2017-18, amassing 114 points on the season with a–franchise best– 52-20-10 record to finish 2nd in the Central Division and 2nd in the Western Conference (both in the regular season and postseason, by virtue of having been eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final).

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff went all-in on a potential Stanley Cup run at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Winnipeg’s 2018 first round pick and prospect, Erik Foley.

Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien were great at their positions as always, while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the team to glory. Meanwhile, Kyle Connor had one of the quietest sensational rookie seasons in recent memory, scoring 31 goals and 26 assists (57 points) in 76 games played.

Things are only looking up for the Jets despite their Western Conference Final defeat in five games to the expansion Golden Knights.

Both Winnipeg and Vegas were dominant teams in the West and if one of them hadn’t made the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators probably would have, but the Jets defeated the Preds in seven games in the Second Round after easily finishing off the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round.

Paul Maurice got to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2002 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes head coach, while the Jets made the third round for the first time in franchise history dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers (R.I.P.).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Winnipeg doesn’t have a selection in the first round currently, thanks to Cheveldayoff’s deadline acquisition bargain hunting.

It’s not entirely clear if the Jets will take a stab at jumping into the first round, but at least they’ve got some pretty sweet third jerseys finally coming along seven years into their tenure at Bell MTS Place since relocating from Atlanta.

Nic Petan, as always, is on the trade bait list and could yield the club a first round pick as part of a return on a transaction.

Pending free agents

The Jets have almost $20.600 million to spend on free agents this summer with their captain, Blake Wheeler, ($5.600 million cap hit) and young superstar, Patrik Laine, ($925,000 cap hit– final year of his entry-level deal) entering contract years.

In other words, next summer is going to be expensive.

Winnipeg has three pending-UFAs in Shawn Matthias, Matt Hendricks and Paul Stastny.

Matthias, 30, had one goal and two assists (three points) in 27 games, while Hendricks, 37, had 5-8–13 totals in 60 games this season. Neither of them have to be brought back for the Jets to remain a contender in the Central Division, but what Cheveldayoff does with Stastny could mean a world of a difference.

Stastny, 32, had clear chemistry with his teammates in Winnipeg from the moment he was on the ice with them, right through the postseason. He’s such a great playmaker and dependable on the faceoff dot that it only makes sense you’d let him be the one feeding Wheeler and Laine for as long as you can.

In 82 games with the Jets and Blues, Stastny had 16 goals and 37 assists (53 points). He then went on to have 6-9–15 totals in 17 postseason games. Re-sign him.

Winnipeg has a lot of cap space and a plethora of pending-RFAs to re-sign or let go.

Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia, Marko Dano and Adam Lowry all need new deals and contributed in some way to the club’s deep playoff run.

Tanev, 26, is a solid bottom-six forward. Armia, 25, goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the glue guys. Meanwhile, Dano, 23, and Lowry, 25, have made a case for one to be preserved over the other (it’s Lowry, obviously).

On defense, Toby Enstrom, 33, already knows he’ll be hitting the waters of the open market as he has both price himself out of a Jets jersey and been bumped out of contention for ice-time with the likes of Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Dmitry Kulikov and Ben Chiarot holding down the fort.

What’s that? I didn’t even mention Jacob Trouba, Tucker Poolman, Joe Morrow or Josh Morrissey? Well, that’s because they’re all pending-RFAs.

24-year-old Jacob Trouba’s bridge-deal is expiring and he’ll need a raise. Poolman, 25, emerged as a top-6 quality defender. Morrow, 25, was acquired at the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens and should return as a top-6 guy that came in clutch under Maurice’s instructions.

Morrow was never really utilized under Claude Julien in Montreal and Boston. Prior to that he was a journeyman from the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins (where he was originally drafted). Winnipeg seems like it should be home for the 25-year-old blueliner.

Make of Morrissey what you will, but the 23-year-old defender had 26 points this season setting career highs in goals (7), assists (19) and points (26). He’ll be sticking around.

The real problem with Winnipeg is what they’re going to have to do with their goaltenders.

Starter, Connor Hellebuyck, is a pending-RFA. The 25-year-old solidified his status as a clear number one goaltender with a cut above the rest in the league, winning 44 games out of 67 appearances this season. He had a 2.36 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Hellebuyck’s earned a raise, but the only problem is it leaves the Jets paying 30-year-old, Steve Mason, his $4.100 million cap hit in his final year of his two-year deal. In 13 games as a backup, he wasn’t great, amassing a 3.24 GAA and .906 SV%. Good luck trying to convince a team to take on his contract at full value.

Cheveldayoff will likely have to ship Mason out while retaining close to 50% of his remaining salary (the maximum allowed per the collective bargaining agreement).

28-year-old, Michael Hutchinson, in the meantime is a pending-UFA and regressed in 2017-18. Though he only played in three games, Hutchinson had a 3.26 GAA and .907 SV%.

For much less than Mason, Hutchinson could rebound back to a goals against average under 3.00, which is the least you expect from a backup– anything between 2.50 and 3.00 is right on target, anything better than 2.50 is godlike (for a backup) and anything over 3.00 is usually a poor investment in an easily overlooked position.

Sure, Eric Comrie is developing in the system, but wait, he’s a pending-RFA this summer too.

Winnipeg looks like they finally have this goaltending thing figured out, but Cheveldayoff cannot afford to mess any part of it up or else he risks long-term success, a la the Ondrej Pavelec saga from Atlanta to Winnipeg until Hellebuyck and Hutchinson overtook him.

Buyouts on the books: Mark Stuart at $583,333 through the end of 2018-19.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Buddy Robinson (UFA), Michael Sgarbossa (UFA), Chase De Leo (RFA), Jamie Phillips (RFA), Cameron Schilling (UFA), Jan Kostalek (RFA), James Lodge (RFA), Eric Comrie (RFA), Nic Petan (RFA), JC Lipon (RFA), Julian Melchiori (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Nashville Predators

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Nashville Predators and their outlook for the summer.

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The 2017-18 Nashville Predators finished atop the league. At the end of the regular season, that is.

For the first time in franchise history, the Preds clinched the President’s Trophy as the NHL club with the best regular season record (53-18-11) at season’s end. Nashville’s 117 points led the Central Division and Western Conference, but ultimately were no match for the Winnipeg Jets in seven games in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

General Manager David Poile and head coach Peter Laviolette look to regroup and go at it again in 2018-19, but without assistant GM Paul Fenton, who took a job as Minnesota Wild’s General Manager.

Mike Fisher retired (again), Pekka Rinne was chased in multiple postseason appearances and Nashville was left without any hydration from Lord Stanley’s Cup.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Poile and the Predators do not have a first round pick in Friday’s draft as a result of the Ryan Hartman trade deadline acquisition made with the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s a deep draft, so Poile will have to use his magic anyway and select the next elite player in the later rounds or pull off a classic one-for-one hockey trade that rivals the Shea Weber for P.K. Subban trade or Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen trade. Did I mention the Filip Forsberg deal yet? The point is, Poile’s a magician, but he still hasn’t won a Cup.

Speaking of drafting in the late rounds, though, Nashville doesn’t have a second round pick this year or a sixth round pick (which the latter is more concerning given the aforementioned take above).

Pending free agents

The Predators have about $7.500 million in spending allowance this summer.

Scott Hartnell is their only pending-UFA forward and at 36-years-old, he amassed 13-11–24 totals in 62 games with the club that drafted him 6th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The year-long reunion with his first NHL club produced totals that, sure, mean something from a bottom-6 forward, but he could be replaced as he only played four postseason games (scoring precisely, zero points).

As long as Hartnell isn’t getting a raise, Poile could keep him as a depth forward or a fourth liner, but if either party doesn’t see something mutual, then for sure Hartnell will be moving on.

Poile has two pending-RFA forwards to ponder this summer in Miikka Salomaki and Hartman.

Salomaki, 25, had two goals and six assists (eight points) in 58 games this season and went on to play in eight postseason games with Nashville. Since breaking into the NHL in 2014-15, Salomaki has had 8-11–19 totals in 125 career games. Not great for a mid-twenty-something year-old winger, but he’s more in his prime than, say, Hartnell is and for cheaper too.

Hartman, 23, in his second NHL season was traded by the Blackhawks to the Predators in a bit of a surprise move at the deadline, but went on to amass 11-20–31 totals in 78 games with Nashville and Chicago.

Despite taking some foolish retaliation penalties in the postseason, Hartman’s worth having somewhere in the Preds lineup for a bridge-deal to short-term contract as long as the dollars work out.

The biggest wrench in Poile’s plans might come in the form of Alexei Emelin‘s next contract if the pending-UFA defender is to re-sign with Nashville this offseason.

The 32-year-old blueliner had one goal and eight assists (nine points) in 76 games in his first season wearing a uniform other than the Montreal Canadiens sweater. Emelin was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 Expansion Draft, then flipped to Nashville as part of a deal that solidified the Predators with the best top-6 defensive corps on paper in the NHL.

Shutdown, offensive, two-way, defensive– you name it, Nashville had it this season.

Emelin’s most recent contract carried a $4.100 million cap hit and if it’s going to be the same or even higher moving forward, Poile might be forced to let him walk with some key RFAs to re-sign for the longevity of the franchise.

One of those keys, of course, happens to be the Predators backup goaltender, Juuse Saros.

The 23-year-old is prime for taking over Pekka Rinne’s net one of these years– if the Preds can keep him around.

While others are after the Washington Capitals trying to work a deal on acquiring the rights to pending-RFA, Philipp Grubauer, Saros is comfortably sitting around with his 2.44 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 26 games played and 1.05 GAA and .952 SV% in 4 postseason appearances in this year’s playoffs.

Rinne is 35-years-old.

Shocking, I know, but even more shocking? He only has one-year left on his current deal with a $7.000 million cap hit.

Rinne posted a 2.31 GAA and .927 SV% in 59 games this season as Nashville’s starter, but faltered to a 3.07 GAA and .904 SV% in 13 games in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If the torch is almost to be passed from one elite goaltender to perhaps the next best goalie in the NHL, signing Saros to a sensible bridge-deal before both parties cash in is imperative this summer.

Perhaps, even, before making any major adjustments to the team.

Buyouts on the books: Viktor Stalberg through 2018-19 at $1.167 million

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Harry Zolnierczyk (UFA), Matt O’Connor (UFA), Cody Bass (UFA), Mark McNeill (UFA), Trevor Smith (UFA), Brandon Bollig (UFA), John Ramage (UFA), Anders Lindback (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: San Jose Sharks

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the San Jose Sharks and their outlook for the summer.

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The San Jose Sharks quietly strolled along in the Pacific Division for much of the season, spending time in 2nd place behind the Vegas Golden Knights. If it wasn’t for slipping considerably down the stretch in a critical time where every point matters, the Sharks would’ve had home ice for their First Round matchup against the Anaheim Ducks.

Instead, head coach Peter DeBoer and his players finished the season 3rd in the Pacific, with 100 points on the season– one point behind Anaheim– and a 45-27-10 record.

For not having the spotlight on the team most of the year and the pressure that had built up in 2016 and 2017 thanks to the club’s Stanley Cup Final run in 2016, General Manager Doug Wilson made a splash acquiring Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline.

The Sharks were all in.

They swept the Ducks in the First Round, proving home ice advantage didn’t matter to them and even beat the Golden Knights on the road in the Second Round in double-overtime.

But San Jose fell to the Vegas offense and stellar goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and the 2018 postseason run was cut short in six games without an appearance by Joe Thornton— in the literal sense, because he was oft-injured this season.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Wilson and the Sharks have the 21st overall pick in the 2018 Draft and could target a defender or fall in line with the “pick the best available” mantra of the first round past the top-10 picks in the draft.

In any case, San Jose realistically has a chance of landing either Jack McBain, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac, Ryan Merkley, Olivier-Benoit Groulx, Rasmus Sandin, Albin Eriksson, Adam Ginning, Fillip Hallander or Ryan McLeod.

The club does not have any picks in the second or third round as things currently stand at the time of this writing.

Pending free agents

The Sharks have a little more than $7.500 million to work with this summer after delivering a significant pay raise to Evander Kane, keeping him around for the long-term in Northern California, alongside Joe Pavelski.

Speaking of Pavelski, he’ll need a new contract next summer.

Back to the present, for now, though.

Jannik Hansen, Thornton, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward are all pending-unrestricted free agents.

Hansen, 32, might have some staying power in that he’s one of the younger pending-UFAs currently on the NHL roster in San Jose, however, he only amassed 2-12–14 totals in 46 games this season. That’s not good and the Sharks can move on, given the emergence of Marcus Sorensen and, well, the overall outlook of the organization.

It could come down to re-signing one or two of these pending-UFAs if they’re willing to take a tremendous discount and limited role.

While a guy like Thornton wouldn’t have as limited of a role as Hansen, Fehr or Ward, he is coming off of a season plagued by injuries.

If he has anything left in the tank, he’ll be back, but at a discount for sure. Not an $8.000 million, one-year deal, but something like a $1.000 million one-year deal with performance bonuses and the like.

Despite being limited to 47 games this season, the Boston Bruins 1st overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft still had 13 goals and 23 assists (36 points).

At 38, Thornton could be the next ageless wonder, a la Jaromir Jagr— minus all the traveling around the league, because Thornton is that dedicated to the organization he’s been with since the 2005-06 season.

Without a doubt the plan in Silicon Valley is Cup or bust in 2019 and Joe Thornton still haven’t won his Cup.

But he’ll surely take his time to mull over a decision on whether to return or not, let alone return to the game.

Fehr, 32, was a low-cost, potentially high-reward on the fourth line acquisition the Sharks made in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Fehr didn’t have all that far to go to meet up with his new team. He was already on loan to the San Jose Barracuda (AHL).

Unless he can rebound, he might be getting an AHL deal this summer.

Drafted by the Washington Capitals 18th overall in the deep 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Fehr had three goals and one assist (four points) in 18 games with the Sharks and Maple Leafs this season.

He won’t be back.

Like Thornton, Joel Ward is getting up there in age. He’s 37 and really slowing down in offense. Ward had 5-7–12 totals in 52 games this season and did not play in the postseason. He may still find an NHL team or two interested in his services this summer, but it’ll be outside of San Jose.

Doug Wilson’s biggest priorities this offseason is keeping things intact while envisioning a younger defense somewhere down the not-so-distant line.

But first, he’ll have to re-sign pending-RFAs Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney.

Hertl, 24, had 22 goals and 24 assists (46 points) in 79 games this season. He’ll be looking for dollars or term and the Sharks will have to work around some things to give it to him, but they absolutely should.

Tierney, 23, has proven to be an effective second or third line center with 17-23–40 totals in 82 games this season. It’s the first time in his young NHL career (4th season) that he’s played in all 82 games in the regular season and he’ll continue to play in many more as long as he’s got a spot on San Jose’s special teams– most notably, at times, killing penalties.

Then there’s pending-RFA blueliner Dylan DeMelo.

The 25-year-old’s role on the Sharks defense increased this season as Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin— though better than average combined– continued to age.

DeMelo had 20 assists in 63 games played this season. He can move the puck and shutdown the opponent on any given night. He’s also in the sweet-spot for a defenseman in their prime.

Finally, the Sharks are set in net with Martin Jones, 28, under contract through the 2023-24 season at a $5.750 million cap hit as their starter and Aaron Dell, 29, on a fresh two-year extension at $1.900 million per year as the backup.

Seriously though, Jones is perhaps the best goaltender– if not one of the best– in franchise history and he’s signed at an affordable cap hit for a starting goaltender of his caliber.

Look, we love Evgeni Nabokov as much as the next guy, but Jones carries the promise of potentially bringing the franchise its first Cup on his current contract and he’s not even being paid $6.000 million or more like other elite goaltenders in this league.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Brandon Mashinter (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Kings

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Los Angeles Kings and their outlook for the summer.

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The Los Angeles Kings got off to a bit of a hot start battling for 1st place in the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights in the first month or two of the 2017-18 season before cooling off a bit.

Still, first year head coach John Stevens commanded his team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, with a 45-29-8 record and 98 points on the season– good enough for 4th in the Pacific and the first wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Despite reaching the postseason, the Kings faced the Golden Knights in the First Round and were swept in a low scoring series.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

General Manager Rob Blake embarks upon his second entry draft with Los Angeles and the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft Friday night in Dallas.

Blake will likely yield one of the following players in Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac, Ryan Merkley, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Rasmus Sandin, Akil Thomas or Albin Eriksson.

Pending free agents

This offseason is a big deal for Los Angeles. The Kings have about $3.900 million in cap space currently and a headache looming on the horizon next summer, but we’ll get into that in a minute or two.

Pending unrestricted free agent forward, Torrey Mitchell, 33, was acquired by the Kings in a trade early in the season with the Montreal Canadiens, whereby Mitchell went on to produce 6-5–11 totals in 60 games with Los Angeles and Montreal.

A durable bottom-six forward, the Kings are cash-strapped and probably cannot re-sign him in their current state.

More importantly, Los Angeles is tied to discussions with Ilya Kovalchuk, meaning someone on the roster currently would have to be moved to free up enough cap space to sign the 35-year-old prolific scorer looking to return to NHL action.

Blake has two options for the Kings heading into 2018-19.

Stay the course and grow as a team that’s been implementing a younger, faster game to stay competitive while hitting everything in sight (as has always been the Kings way) or move too quickly to attract too much talent in the short term without planning for a future like how Los Angeles got into their rash of inconsistent postseason appearances– whereby the team is up against the ceiling as the cap stands, regardless of its projected increase.

Tobias Rieder, 25, was traded by the Arizona Coyotes to the Kings along with Scott Wedgewood in exchange for Darcy Kuemper in February and went on to produce 12-13–25 totals in 78 games with Los Angeles and Arizona this season.

Whether he was a rental or not, we’ll find out if he gets re-signed.

Los Angeles only has two pending free agent defenders in 26-year-old Kevin Gravel and 27-year-old Chrisitan Folin.

Gravel appeared in 16 games for the Kings this season and had three assists. He played in 49 games with Los Angeles in 2016-17, recorded his first career NHL goal and likely won’t be back with the Kings on their NHL roster next season.

Folin, on the other hand, participated in 65 games this season with the Kings, which was the most he’s ever played since joining Los Angeles after spending 2013-17 with the Minnesota Wild. Folin recorded 3-10–13 totals with the Kings and was a plus-1.

Between Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin, both top-4 defenders have a $4.000 million cap hit. One of them could be traded this offseason to give Folin an increased role and/or sign Kovalchuk.

Of course, the real wild card here for Los Angeles is the status of their anchor on the blueline– Drew Doughty.

Doughty’s current contract expires at the end of the 2018-19 season and has a $7.000 million cap hit. That’s about to go way up.

Again, thankfully, Blake and his front office have a season to try to figure out where the money is going to come from. Nevertheless, it makes longterm planning difficult. Especially given how Doughty has indicated he will want to get paid. Big time.

One more thing of note, Oscar Fantenberg is currently in the minors and could play a role in either a trade package or a top-6 spot on the blueline next season.

In goal, 32-year-old, Jonathan Quick is under contract through the 2022-23 season with a $5.800 million cap hit. The elite goaltender still has a few more good years left in him and could backstop the franchise to its third Cup with him at the reins in net.

Peter Budaj, 35, was acquired last week in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forward Andy Andreoff. Budaj rejoins the Kings organization for his second stint and could end up being Quick’s backup or back in the American Hockey League with the Ontario Reign next season. He has one-year remaining on his current deal and a $1.025 million cap hit.

In the pipeline between the pipes, 26-year-old Jack Campbell resurrected his professional career with Los Angeles, finishing the 2018 postseason as Quick’s backup and is under contract through the 2019-20 season at $675,000 per. Meanwhile, 23-year-old, Cal Petersen has one-year remaining on his entry-level contract and is looking to break through the ice at the NHL level.

Competition for the backup job in Los Angeles isn’t a bad thing.

It’s how Jonathan Bernier and Martin Jones came out of the system and landed full-time roles with the Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks, respectively (though Bernier’s bounced around from being a starter in Toronto, back to a backup role with the Leafs, Anaheim Ducks and most recently, Colorado Avalanche).

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Justin Auger (RFA), Andrew Crescenzi (UFA), Michael Mersch (UFA), Jordan Subban (RFA), Paul LaDue (RFA), Scott Wedgewood (UFA), Alex Lintuniemi (RFA), Kurtis MacDermid (RFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Calgary Flames

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Calgary Flames and their outlook for the summer.

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The 2017-18 Calgary Flames finished 37-35-10 on the season after heating up at points throughout the year and cooling off when things mattered down the stretch to wind up 5th in the Pacific Division with 84 points.

Naturally, the Flames made sensible decisions to readjust for the 2018-19 season and kept things mostly intact after missing the playoffs for the third year in a row.

I’m just kidding.

Look, Calgary fired Bob Hartley after missing the playoffs in 2016, then they hired Glen Gulutzan and missed the playoffs in 2017 and 2018. Now they’ve hired Bill Peters as their head coach and you’ll never guess, but he’s missed the playoffs all four years as a coach in the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes (2014-18).

The Flames last made the playoffs in 2015. Don’t expect them to make it in 2019 either.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

To make matters worse, General Manager Brad Treliving doesn’t have a pick in the first round of this year’s deep draft. Actually, Treliving doesn’t have a selection in the first three rounds currently.

Calgary owns two fourth round picks– their own and one via the Florida Panthers– and one pick in both the sixth and seventh rounds.

If there’s a draft you want to get in on, it’s this one.

Luckily, the Flames are in need of an overhaul and Dougie Hamilton may be a central component to trade as has been rumored– and with Oliver Ekman-Larsson nearing an extension with the Arizona Coyotes, Hamilton moves up in the prospective pool of defenders to acquire around the league.

Thankfully he’s relatively affordable too with a cap hit of $5.750 million through the 2020-21 season and could yield at least a first and second round pick (similar to what Calgary dealt to the Boston Bruins for his services in 2015, when the Flames sent a 2015 first round pick (Zach Senyshyn) and two 2015 second round picks (Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon) to Boston for the then pending-RFA Hamilton).

What’s more, Hamilton wrapped up his fourth straight season of 40-plus points with 17-27–44 totals in 82 games played in 2017-18. He set a career-high in goals, for the record, and was only six points shy of his career-high 50-point 2016-17 season.

Pending free agents

Calgary’s got an older roster with a little bit of youth and greatness in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk. With almost $12.500 million to spend this summer and Tkachuk entering the final year of his entry level contract, it’d be wise for Treliving to be smart with his monetary handouts.

The good news? The Flames don’t have any major pending-free agent standouts.

Tanner Glass is a 34-year-old pending-UFA who recorded zero points with the Flames in 16 games this season. In fact, he’s had one goal and one assist (two points) over the course of 27 games with the New York Rangers and Calgary from 2016-18.

Calling up a player from the Stockton Heat (AHL) or signing a bottom-six forward would be better. Let Glass test the market, if there’s even one for his services at this point (no offense, which serves two meanings in this case).

Chris Stewart was claimed off waivers by the Flames on February 26, 2018, yielding ten goals and six assists (16 points) in 54 games with the Minnesota Wild and Calgary this season. He’s a 30-year-old pending-UFA that can still play a role on a third line and that’s badly needed for a team that’s looking to change things up.

Kris Versteeg, 32, revitalized his career in Calgary, notching 37 points (15 goals and 22 assists) in 69 games with the Flames in 2016-17. He then sustained a hip injury and missed most of this season, amassing three goals and five assists (eight points) in 24 games.

Versteeg can stick around for another year or two if Calgary thinks his injury won’t get in the way. Otherwise he’ll be looking for a new place to land.

Longtime Flame, Matt Stajan has been in the league full-time since the 2003-04 season, spending his first six full seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to being traded to Calgary.

At 34, the pending-UFA winger isn’t getting any younger and has shown signs of slowing down, especially with a down year this season.

He put up four goals and eight assists (12 points) in 68 games, which is respectable if you’re looking for a fourth liner. Otherwise, he cannot possibly make as much as he did on his most recent contract ($3.125 million AAV).

As for the last pending-UFA forward, Marek Hrivik? Calgary should let the 26-year-old hit the open market. He had no points in three games with the Flames and only three assists in 24 games in his NHL career with the Rangers and Calgary.

Treliving has a few pending-RFA forwards to take a gander at too on the NHL roster in Nick Shore, Garnet Hathaway and Mark Jankowski.

Shore, 25, had 5-14–19 totals in 64 games with Calgary, the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings this season. That’s not great, but exactly what you need from a bottom-six forward, especially where the Flames might have a role to fill on the third or fourth line.

Hathaway, 26, has 21 points in 99 career NHL games, including four goals and nine assists (13 points) in 59 games played this season. Again, if Treliving needs another bottom-six player, he’s got one to re-sign.

Among Calgary’s more promising forwards not named Gaudreau, Monahan or Tkachuk, the “off-the-board” 21st overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Jankowski, had 17 goals and eight assists (25 points) in 72 GP in his first full season.

Though his play might otherwise be seen as a tiny bright spot, it’s a bright spot nonetheless for a player that’s young enough to still have potential while also being in his prime. Jankowski will undoubtedly see a reasonable pay raise on what should likely be a bridge deal.

Oh yeah, that’s another thing, Calgary. Most of these guys shouldn’t be signing their name on anything longer than three years.

The Flames have one pending-UFA defender (Matt Bartkowski) and one pending-RFA blueliner (Brett Kulak).

If the 30-year-old Bartkowski is comfortable in his depth defenseman role, then the Flames should get another year out of him, especially if they’re looking to trade some blueliners.

Kulak, 24, had 2-6–8 totals in 71 games, which is better than nothing, but doesn’t scream “prodigy”. It does, however, show that he’s capable of being a top-6 defender on Calgary’s roster and they’re going to need him moving forward– at least in 2018-19.

Finally, similar to the New York Islanders, the Flames need a goaltender.

Sure, 36-year-old, Mike Smith is still on the roster with an affordable $4.250 million cap hit, but Calgary isn’t going anywhere with his 2.65 goals against average and .916 save percentage in a light 55-game schedule (25-22-6 record) in 2017-18.

At least that was better than his 2.92 and .914 in 55 games with the Arizona Coyotes in 2016-17.

Smith’s best season came in 2011-12 with the then Phoenix Coyotes when he posted a 38-18-10 record in 67 GP with a 2.21 GAA and .930 SV%. That same Coyotes team went all the way to the 2012 Western Conference Final, for the record.

Jon Gillies and David Rittich both spent time as backup/third-string goalies in the organization and well… everyone makes a big deal about the Philadelphia Flyers revolving door of goaltenders since the 1990s, but the Calgary Flames are the Flyers are the Western Conference.

And Calgary had Miikka Kiprusoff in the middle of Philadelphia’s annual search for a starting goaltender.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

David Rittich (RFA), Hunter Shinkaruk (RFA), Luke Gazdic (UFA), Jon Gillies (RFA), Austin Carroll (RFA), Morgan Klimchuk (RFA), Hunter Smith (RFA), Emile Poirier (RFA), Tyler Wotherspoon (UFA), Cody Goloubef (UFA), Dalton Prout (UFA)