Tag Archives: Western Conference

Bruins beat Avs for the first time at home in 21 years, 2-1 in OT

Brad Marchand‘s 14th career game-winning overtime goal clinched a, 2-1, victory for the Boston Bruins over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.

Following the game, the Bruins partied like it was *1998 (it was Boston’s first win on home ice against the Avalanche since March 30, 1998– a, 4-1, victory for the B’s).

Jaroslav Halak (14-9-4 record, 2.44 goals against average, .921 save percentage in 29 games played) made 35 saves on 36 shots against for a .921 SV% in the overtime win for the Bruins.

Semyon Varlamov (13-13-8, 2.91 GAA, .906 SV% in 35 GP) stopped 33 out of 35 shots faced for a .906 SV% in the overtime loss for Colorado.

The Bruins improve to 31-17-8 (70 points) on the season and move ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Avalanche fell to 22-22-11 (55 points) and remain 6th in the Central Division (tied in points with the Chicago Blackhawks, but ahead in the standings thanks to having a game in-hand on Chicago).

Boston leads Montreal by one point in the standings for the final divisional spot in the Atlantic. Colorado is four points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference.


Prior to Sunday’s matinee, the Bruins hosted the Los Angeles Kings for a Saturday afternoon matchup. Boston defeated the Kings, 5-4, in overtime thanks to an overtime game-winning power play goal from Patrice Bergeron (20) at 2:34 of the overtime period.

Bergeron was honored prior to the game with gifts– including the traditional “Silver Stick”– and a ceremony for having played in his 1,000th career regular season game on Tuesday against the New York Islanders.

Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, David Krejci and Marchand also had goals for the Bruins in the win, while Alex Iafallo, Anze Kopitar, Nate Thompson and Oscar Fantanberg notched goals for Los Angeles.

Tuukka Rask (17-8-4 , 2.36 GAA, .922 SV% in 30 GP) made 25 saves on 29 shots against in the win for Boston.


Entering Sunday, Bruce Cassidy made minor adjustments to his lineup, inserting Trent Frederic on the fourth line, centering Jake DeBrusk and Joakim Nordstrom, while scratching David Backes.

Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner were reunited on the third line.

Marchand, Bergeron and Heinen were kept together on the first line with Peter Cehlarik lining up alongside Krejci and David Pastrnak.

Steven Kampfer (healthy scratch, on conditioning loan to the Providence Bruins, AHL) and Matt Grzelcyk (lower body) joined Backes out of the lineup on Sunday.

Almost midway through the opening frame, Heinen got a stick up high on Erik Johnson and received a two-minute minor penalty at 9:54. The Avalanche didn’t convert on the ensuing power play.

Almost five minutes later, Gabriel Landeskog tripped Heinen and presented Boston with their first power play opportunity of the afternoon at 16:19 of the first period.

While on the power play, Torey Krug hooked Matt Calvert in effort to disrupt a shorthanded chance by Colorado. Krug was assessed an infraction and went to the box at 17:27, leaving both teams even strength at 4-on-4 for about 52 seconds before the Avs had an abbreviated power play.

Late in the first period, Nathan MacKinnon (29) roofed a shot over Halak’s glove from close range to give Colorado the first lead of the night, 1-0, at 19:27.

Landeskog (28) and J.T. Compher (11) collected the assist’s on MacKinnon’s goal as the Avalanche took the, 1-0, lead into the first intermission.

After one period, Colorado led in shots on goal (12-7), takeaways (5-3), giveaways (6-4) and hits (10-9), while Boston led in blocked shots (5-4). Both teams were 50-50 in face-off win percentage, while the Avs were 0/2 on the power play and the B’s were 0/1.

John Moore (3) tied the game, 1-1, as Bergeron acted as a screen in front of Varlamov at 3:40 of the second period. Moore fired a shot off the far post and in as McAvoy (13) and Marchand (44) picked up the assists and the Bruins tied the game.

MacKinnon was penalized for holding at 6:18 of the second period and was followed to the penalty box almost 30 seconds later by Carl Soderberg after Soderberg interfered with McAvoy at 7:45.

Boston had 34 seconds of a two-skater power play advantage before, but couldn’t convert on either opportunity.

Moore sent an odd puck bounce off the curved glass next to the Bruins bench and into the net behind Varlamov, but it was immediately waved off as “no goal” with 24.1 seconds remaining in the second period.

Through 40 minutes of action, the game was tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard, but the Avalanche maintained the advantage in shots on goal, 24-22– despite being outshot by Boston, 15-12, in the second period alone.

Entering the third period, Colorado led in takeaways (10-6), giveaways (7-5) and hits (19-16), while the B’s led in face-off win% (56-44). Both teams had 10 blocked shots aside as the Avs were 0/2 and the Bruins were 0/3 on the power play.

A string of hooking penalties kicked things off in the third period with Kuraly hooking Samuel Girard at 7:16, followed by Krug hooking Matt Nieto at 9:53. Finally, Colorado’s Tyson Barrie hooked Bergeron at 10:08 of the third period.

Neither team capitalized on the special teams play.

Late in the final frame of regulation, Sheldon Dries was penalized for holding Krug at 17:45 and the Bruins went on the power play. Despite forging a couple shots at the net, Boston couldn’t buy a power play goal.

As time expired on regulation, the Avalanche led in shots on goal, 34-31, and the score remained tied, 1-1.

Boston led in blocked shots (18-12), hits (28-21) and face-off win% (53-47) after 60 minutes of play, while Colorado led in takeaways (13-8) and giveaways (11-10).

No penalties were called in the overtime period, meaning the Avs finished 0/4 and the B’s finished 0/5 on the skater advantage Sunday afternoon.

For the 5th time in the last seven games, Boston was heading for extra hockey.

Cassidy started Kuraly, Moore and McAvoy in overtime. Marchand, Bergeron and Krug ended overtime.

Just past the four-minute mark of the five-minute 3-on-3 overtime period, Marchand (21) unleashed a wrist shot from about the face-off circle to Varlamov’s left side and sent the puck off an Avalanche defender and into the twine.

Bergeron (31) and Krug (34) notched the assists on Marchand’s game-winning goal at 4:03 of overtime.

Marchand’s goal sealed the deal on a, 2-1, win for Boston, leaving the Bruins with a 6-6 record in overtime this season. Colorado fell to 1-10 in overtime.

The Avalanche finished the day leading in shots on goal (36-35) and giveaways (11-10), while the B’s led in blocked shots (18-12), hits (29-21) and face-off win% (53-47).

With the win, the Bruins are now 4-0-1 in the month of February and 7-0-0 in matinee games this season.

Boston takes on the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday at TD Garden before heading out for a western road trip, starting next Friday (Feb. 15th) in Anaheim, swinging through Los Angeles on Feb. 16th, San Jose on Feb. 18th, Vegas on Feb. 20th and finally St. Louis on Feb. 23rd.

The Bruins improved to 11-3-4 in their last 18 games. Cassidy is now one win shy of his 100th behind the bench for Boston.

Numbers Game: 2018-19 League Forecast Entering January

Happy New Year!

It’s time to figure out whether or not your team has a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup, making the playoffs, being a seller at the trade deadline or a basement dwelling rebuilder in desperate need of anything but what is happening right now.

Teams have begun to reach the official halfway point in the regular season (41 games played out of an 82-game schedule) as the calendar flips from 2018 to 2019.

Here’s a glance at the latest forecast based on how the league standings were through December 31, 2018.

Keeping in mind, there’s no guarantees with any forecast, but rather general trends and “educated” guesses. It’s not always about the exact number of points expected on the season. Sometimes the focus is on the spread or each team’s positioning in the standings.

There’s always context. Plus, nothing’s impossible until it’s mathematically impossible.

So let’s take a look around the league and figure out the future– well, rest of this season, at least.

Projected Standings After Two Months

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. p-Tampa Bay Lightning, 125 points (40 GP entering Jan. 1st)
  2. x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 111 points (39 GP)
  3. x-Boston Bruins, 98 points (39 GP)
  4. wc2-Montreal Canadiens, 97 points (40 GP)
  5. Buffalo Sabres, 96 points (40 GP)
  6. Florida Panthers, 84 points (38 GP)
  7. Detroit Red Wings, 75 points (41 GP)
  8. Ottawa Senators, 72 points (40 GP)

The Tampa Bay Lightning are the dominant team in the NHL right now. There’s no other comparison. They’re in a league of their own.

Though the Toronto Maple Leafs have surged into one of the league’s most prominent teams this season, they’re no match for the Lightning in the regular season standings Atlantic Division race.

The postseason might be another story– too bad we won’t get to see these teams meet up in the Eastern Conference Final with the current playoff format.

For the Boston Bruins, a lackluster 7-7-0 month of December has taken a toll on their outlook. Sure, winning five out of their last seven games is a good sign and all, but missed opportunities and blown chances regardless of the injury status of many of their players this season has brought them back to Earth this season.

Regression in hockey, however, is to be expected– even for teams that outperformed expectations. Last season was just that– exceeded expectations in the regular season for Boston.

How will Bruce Cassidy jumpstart scoring depth throughout his lineup if General Manager Don Sweeney doesn’t do anything to add? Time will tell.

But they’re running out of time as long as Claude Julien and Phil Housley are in consideration for some Jack Adams Award nominations.

Though the Buffalo Sabres have slumped a bit in the last month, the Montreal Canadiens have solidified themselves as a potential spoiler in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If it’s not them, it’s definitely Buffalo for sure.

The race for the Eastern Conference wild card spots should come down to three teams– Buffalo, Montreal and the New York Islanders (unless the Islanders snag a divisional spot in the Metropolitan Divsion– more on that later).

Look, as good as some players on the Florida Panthers are, it’s not happening this year.

And for all the hype regarding the Detroit Red Wings early in the season? Yeah, it’s the same as last year. They’re not doing so hot either.

There’s some good news if you’re an Ottawa Senators fan– wait, they traded their 2019 1st round pick in the draft to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the three-team Matt Duchene trade and didn’t protect it (because they chose to protect 2018’s 1st round pick and offer up 2019’s instead)? Oh. Never mind.

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 109 points (38 GP)
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 103 points (39 GP)
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 102 points (39 GP)
  4. wc1-New York Islanders, 98 points (38 GP)
  5. New York Rangers, 90 points (38 GP)
  6. Carolina Hurricanes, 80 points (38 GP)
  7. New Jersey Devils, 80 points (38 GP)
  8. Philadelphia Flyers, 78 points (38 GP)

As we get closer to “the stretch” things are heating up in the Metropolitan Division, which might not be as full of garbage as once thought earlier in the year.

For now, the Washington Capitals appear to be in a serious “defend the castle” mood. They’re the defending champions and they’re pretty hard to beat.

But the Pittsburgh Penguins are surging. The Pens are on a seven-game winning streak and they’re outscoring their opponents, 28-9, during that span.

What’s necessary to take into account in the divisional spots in the Metropolitan Division is not that the Capitals should lead the way, but rather, that Washington only has a six-point lead in the current forecast over the Penguins– and seven points over the Columbus Blue Jackets (who somehow find themselves in the “top dog” conversation?)– therefore, anything is up for grabs.

If the Islanders don’t scratch and claw their way into a divisional spot, they’ll be a wild card team.

It’s not a completely lost season for the New York Rangers, but it’s not one that’ll end with a playoff berth either.

The same could almost be said for the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils, except one’s a little more inconsistent (and worse off), while the other’s just worse.

Sure, the Devils are nowhere to be found this season, but Mackenzie Blackwood could change that outlook next year.

And if Carter Hart‘s ready to take on the full-time role of starting netminder for the Philadelphia Flyers that probably wouldn’t do much for them this season, but it’s promising moving forward.

This year’s Flyers team just goes to show that the problem’s beyond a GM and coaching change, so don’t be surprised to see some roster turnover.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. z-Winnipeg Jets, 107 points (39 GP)
  2. x-Nashville Predators, 96 points (40 GP)
  3. x-Colorado Avalanche, 91 points (40 GP)
  4. wc2-Dallas Stars, 89 points (40 GP)
  5. Minnesota Wild, 87 points (38 GP)
  6. St. Louis Blues, 81 points (37 GP)
  7. Chicago Blackhawks, 77 points (41 GP)

The Winnipeg Jets are one of two teams in serious contention for the Western Conference regular season title– and the Nashville Predators won’t even get to raise a banner next season for it.

Nashville’s been on shaky ground for the last month and, as a result, it shows in the latest forecast. Inadequacy ruptures standards or expectations.

Anyway, between Winnipeg and the Calgary Flames one of those teams will be the best in the West at the end of the regular season.

It says something as a whole about the Central Division when the Colorado Avalanche are currently forecasted to slip into a divisional spot in the postseason with 91 points in the standings.

Usually about 95 points puts you within the wild card range and anything 98 or above brings you into serious contention for a divisional berth.

What all of this means is there’s a lot of uncertainty from the Avs, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild in terms of where they end up, ultimately.

All three teams have been all over the place– at times– this season.

Fear not, though, they’re nothing like the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Nothing makes sense in St. Louis, short of obvious locker room problems and a lack of leadership.

Whereas, in Chicago, the game plan was already reset to “longterm” last season by default (having finished last in the division). Jeremy Colliton‘s job security is safe for now.

There weren’t high expectations coming into the season for the Blackhawks and there weren’t immediate expectations for Colliton in their transition from Joel Quenneville to their 33-year-old head coach.

Essentially, firing Quenneville when they did was an easy way out of having to make things more awkward(?) with a rebuild, but it kind of was anyway given when they did it.

At least they’re not their rivals in St. Louis– let alone the Los Angeles Kings– where expectations were high after reaping some rewards in the offseason.

Pacific Division

  1. y-Calgary Flames, 103 points (40 GP)
  2. x-Vegas Golden Knights, 100 points (42 GP)
  3. x-San Jose Sharks, 98 points (41 GP)
  4. wc1-Anaheim Ducks, 92 points (41 GP)
  5. Vancouver Canucks, 83 points (42 GP)
  6. Edmonton Oilers, 82 points (39 GP)
  7. Arizona Coyotes, 76 points (39 GP)
  8. Los Angeles Kings, 75 points (40 GP)

The Flames are red hot. Can they make 2019 more like 1989 and less like 2004? Does having a goaltender even matter any more?

Luck’s starting to turn in Vegas as the Golden Knights have come alive and look to make a serious claim at potentially knocking Calgary off from the Pacific Division lead– if they can catch them first.

Despite their ups and downs, the San Jose Sharks are still a divisional playoff berth kind of team. Expect them to be out of the playoffs before the Western Conference Final though. Surely Martin Jones‘ below average season has to catch up to him at some point, regardless of scoring power.

With no real competition below them, the Anaheim Ducks are a wild card team that will likely continue to live in the First Round elimination hell until John Gibson single handedly plays every position for the club.

The Vancouver Canucks have Elias Pettersson and look ready to bring up Thatcher Demko for a full-time role in net, so it’s kind of on, but a little late. Next season!

Everyone said Ken Hitchcock would turn around the Edmonton Oilers and was dancing in the streets when his first half-dozen games brought the Oilers back into being relevant.

Well, everyone, except me. Hitchcock’s shtick isn’t fit for the contemporary NHL anymore and his last (and only) Cup win came 20 years ago.

Sure he might impart some lessons on leadership, but as long as Peter Chiarelli is trading away Drake Caggiula for Brandon Manning and ensuring guys like Milan Lucic are part of the longterm vision…

The Arizona Coyotes haven’t panned out and it’s not the numbers that have been lying to them. Dylan Strome, their 3rd overall pick in 2015, didn’t develop as planned– whether through the fault of the Coyotes or not– and they traded him.

That draft was four years ago and Mitch Marner was selected after Strome by the Maple Leafs. Hindsight is 20/20, but still.

If it’s any consolation, Mikko Rantanen was selected by Colorado, 10th overall, so Carolina, New Jersey, Philly, Columbus and San Jose all missed out on one of the current leaders in scoring.

Scouting’s not Arizona’s strong-suit from year-to-year, or rather, asset management as a whole it’s just… …not there.

Finally, Los Angeles, the Grim Reaper’s at the door. Bring out your dead (Cup hopes and dreams for 2019). It’s time to rebuild.

B’s beat Ducks, 3-1, on milestone night for Krejci, Krug

David Krejci became the 10th player to reach 600 points with the Boston Bruins on Thursday as a result of his insurance goal in Boston’s, 3-1, victory over the Anaheim Ducks at TD Garden.

Krejci reached the 600-point plateau in his 804th career NHL game.

Fellow Czech forward, David Pastrnak had a three-point night (1-2–3 totals) and Torey Krug became the all-time leader in assists by a US-born defender in Bruins franchise history, notching his 200th career assist with Boston in the win.

Jaroslav Halak (11-5-2 record, 2.20 goals against average, .930 save percentage in 20 games played) made 24 saves on 25 shots against for a .930 SV% in the win for the Bruins, while Anaheim’s John Gibson (15-10-4, 2.54 GAA, .926 SV% in 30 GP) turned aside 28 out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in the loss.

The B’s improved to 19-12-4 (42 points) on the season and remained in 4th place in the Atlantic Division, while the Ducks fell to 19-13-5 (43 points) and remained in 3rd place in the Pacific Division, tied in points with the San Jose Sharks, though the Sharks have two games in-hand.

Boston currently holds the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and trail the Buffalo Sabres by three points for the final Atlantic divisional spot in the postseason.

On Tuesday, Boston placed recent waiver acquisition, Gemel Smith, on waivers for the purpose of assignment to Providence. The Bruins also assigned defender, Jeremy Lauzon, to the P-Bruins on the same day.

Smith, 24, (2-1–3 totals in 17 games with the Bruins and Dallas Stars this season) cleared waivers Wednesday and subsequently joined Providence’s roster.

Lauzon, 21, made his NHL debut on Oct. 25th against the Philadelphia Flyers and recorded his first career NHL goal on Nov. 11th against the Vegas Golden Knights.

He had 1-3–4 totals in 15 games with Boston prior to being assigned and had 1-6–7 totals in 52 games with Providence last season (his first professional season).

Bruce Cassidy made no changes to his lineup from Monday night’s, 4-0, victory in Montreal to Thursday night’s battle with Anaheim and indicated a minor injury for Tuukka Rask, as well as Boston’s recent record against the Ducks influenced his decision in starting Halak on Thursday.

Prior to Thursday’s final outcome, the Bruins had lost nine-straight games against the Ducks in the regular season.

As a result of Tuesday’s transactions, the only players listed out of the lineup against Anaheim for Boston were all injury related, as Zdeno Chara (knee, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (rib/sternoclavicular), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion), Jake DeBrusk (concussion) and Kevan Miller (larynx) remain out of action.

Bergeron addressed the media after Thursday’s morning skate and indicated the team doctors and trainers will have the final say in his return to the lineup– though he is pushing for Saturday or Sunday.

John Moore tripped Jakob Silfverberg at 3:00 of the first period and gave the Ducks an early power play as the action got going Thursday night.

Anaheim did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage and moments later was charged with a tripping infraction of their own as Andrew Cogliano got his stick tangled in Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson‘s legs at 6:44.

While in the waning seconds of their first power play of the night, Bruins forward, Danton Heinen, interfered with Anaheim’s Nick Ritchie at 8:41 and ended the Bruins power play prematurely.

After one period of play, both teams remained tied, 0-0, with the B’s leading in shots on goal, 8-7, despite the Ducks leading in just about every other statistical category.

Anaheim led in blocked shots (7-2), takeaways (6-3), giveaways (12-4) and face-off win percentage (65-35), while both teams recorded seven hits aside entering the first intermission.

The Ducks were 0/2 on the power play, while Boston went 0/1 after 20 minutes.

Hampus Lindholm kicked off a string of action in the second period as Pastrnak drew an interference penalty, yielding another Bruins power play at 7:44 of the second period.

On the ensuing skater advantage the Bruins almost flubbed the puck out of the zone, had the puck taken an awkward bounce off of David Backes‘ stick.

Instead, the rubber biscuit landed on the stick blade of Krug’s, which the defender quickly flung it to Pastrnak (22) for the surefire power play goal at 8:19.

Krug (17) and Backes (6) had the assists on the goal and the Bruins led, 1-0.

Brad Marchand found himself all over the scoresheet for various reasons Thursday night, starting with a slashing minor against Ryan Getzlaf at 12:20, but shortly followed up by drawing a penalty as Cogliano slashed Marchand about five minutes later.

Boston went on the power play at 17:58 when Cogliano went back to the box for a second time, but it wasn’t long before the B’s power play came to an end.

The Bruins won a face-off in the offensive zone and worked the puck to Pastrnak, then Marchand and finally to Krug (4) at the point, whereby No. 47 in black-and-gold blasted a shot past Gibson to make it, 2-0, at 18:05 of the second period.

Marchand (24) and Pastrnak (21) had the assists on the power play goal and the Ducks didn’t even possess the puck on the short-lived, unsuccessful, penalty kill.

Entering the second intermission, Boston was ahead, 2-0, on the scoreboard and, 18-15, in shots on goal. Anaheim led in blocked shots (9-6), giveaways (15-7), hits (19-17) and face-off win% (54-46), while both teams had eight takeaways each.

The Ducks were 0/3 on the power play and the B’s were 2/3.

Though the score wouldn’t remain the same, Boston would go on to improve to 14-1-0 when leading after two periods and Anaheim fell to 6-9-2 when trailing after 40 minutes.

The Bruins also improved to 12-2-2 when scoring first in a game this season.

Brandon Carlo hooked Brian Gibbons at 3:03 of the third period, but Anaheim’s power play unit went silent on all four extra skater opportunities.

Shortly after killing off Carlo’s minor infraction, Krejci (7) rocketed a shot past Gibson at 5:21 to give the B’s a three-goal lead.

Pastrnak (22) and Marchand (25) were credited with the assists as Pastrnak completed a three-point night and Krejci extended his point-streak to eight games (and 5-6–11 totals in those eight games).

Getzlaf hooked Marchand at 10:14 in the game’s final penalty, but the Bruins were unsuccessful on the resulting power play.

Late in the final frame of regulation, Josh Mahura (1) received a pass back to the point off of a face-off in Anaheim’s attacking zone and sent a slap shot past Halak for his first career NHL goal.

Carter Rowney (5) had the only assist on the goal at 15:44 and the Ducks got on the board, 3-1.

With about a minute remaining in regulation, Randy Carlyle pulled Gibson for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as the Bruins secured the, 3-1, victory upon the final horn.

Boston finished the night leading in shots on goal, 31-25, while the Ducks led in giveaways (20-8), hits (25-22) and face-off win% (55-45).

Both teams had ten blocked shots aside as the Ducks went 0/4 on the power play and the B’s went 2/4.

With the mandatory, league-wide, three-day Christmas break fast approaching, the Bruins finish up their pre-Christmas action with another weekend of back-to-back action at home and on the road.

Boston faces the Nashville Predators Saturday afternoon on home ice before traveling to Raleigh, North Carolina to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Whalers Night at PNC Arena this Sunday.

Game of the week: December 17-23

The holiday break is so close we can almost taste it, but there’s still a little more work to be done before the NHL begins its three-day break on Monday. Without further ado, this week’s offerings include:

NHL SCHEDULE: December 17-23
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, December 17
7 p.m. Anaheim Pittsburgh 4-2
7 p.m. Vegas Columbus 0-1
7:30 p.m. Boston Montréal 4-0
7:30 p.m. Nashville Ottawa 3-4 (OT)
9 p.m. New York Islanders Colorado Avalanche 4-1
Tuesday, December 18
7 p.m. Florida Buffalo 5-2
7 p.m. Toronto New Jersey 7-2
7 p.m. Anaheim Ducks New York Rangers 1-3
7 p.m. Detroit Philadelphia 2-3
8 p.m. San Jose Minnesota 4-0
8:30 p.m. Nashville Chicago 1-2
8:30 p.m. Calgary Dallas 0-2
9 p.m. St. Louis Edmonton 4-1
9 p.m. New York Islanders Arizona Coyotes 3-1
10 p.m. Tampa Bay Vancouver 5-2
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg Los Angeles 1-4
Wednesday, December 19
8 p.m. Pittsburgh Washington 2-1
8:30 p.m. Montréal Colorado 1-2
Thursday, December 20
7 p.m. Anaheim Boston SN360
7 p.m. Florida Toronto TVAS
7 p.m. Nashville Philadelphia ESPN+
7 p.m. Minnesota Pittsburgh
7 p.m. Detroit Carolina
7 p.m. New Jersey Columbus
8:30 p.m. Chicago Dallas
9 p.m. Tampa Bay Calgary
9 p.m. Montréal Arizona RDS, TSN2
10 p.m. St. Louis Vancouver ESPN+
10 p.m. New York Islanders Vegas Golden Knights SN360
10:30 p.m. Winnipeg San Jose
Friday, December 21
7 p.m. Ottawa New Jersey RDS
7 p.m. Buffalo Washington NBCSN, SN, TVAS
9 p.m. Chicago Colorado ESPN+, SN360
Saturday, December 22
1 p.m. Nashville Boston NHLN, SN, SN1
1 p.m. Columbus Philadelphia ESPN+
2 p.m. Florida Detroit
4 p.m. Montréal Vegas RDS, TSN2
4 p.m. Los Angeles San Jose NBCSN, SN1
4 p.m. St. Louis Calgary
7 p.m. Colorado Arizona
7 p.m. Anaheim Buffalo
7 p.m. New York Rangers Toronto Maple Leafs CBC, NHLN, SN, SN1
7 p.m. Washington Ottawa CITY, SN360, TVAS
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Carolina
8 p.m. Dallas Minnesota
10 p.m. Winnipeg Vancouver CBC, SN360
10 p.m. Tampa Bay Edmonton CITY, ESPN+, SN1
Sunday, December 23
12:30 p.m. Columbus New Jersey SN
5 p.m. Boston Carolina SN1
7 p.m. Florida Chicago ESPN+
7 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Rangers NHLN
7:30 p.m. Detroit Toronto SN, SN360, TVAS
8 p.m. Los Angeles Vegas
8 p.m. Arizona San Jose
8 p.m. New York Islanders Dallas Stars

For those that didn’t keep count, that’s a healthy 55 tilts to keep us entertained while family members you simply adore ask a multitude of questions you’d rather they not.

In the rivalries department, the NHL loaded us up with six showdowns this week, including Boston at Montréal, Pittsburgh at Washington, Los Angeles at San Jose, the Rangers at Toronto, Philadelphia at the Rangers and Detroit at Toronto.

Two rematches from this spring’s edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will also take place: the previously mentioned Pens-Caps game and Los Angeles’ trip to Sin City Sunday night.

Finally, the biggest player return of the week will take place tonight when F Max Domi makes his first trip back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the club that drafted him 12th overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

However, of all those games highlighted, there’s still another tonight that will have my full attention. Both the Jets and Sharks entered this season with high expectations, but only one has truly flexed its muscles thus far this season. Perhaps that will be just the motivation San Jose needs to find its next gear.

Currently in a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference, the 22-10-2 Winnipeg Jets are technically the top team by playing one fewer game than both the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators.

Winnipeg’s last outing wasn’t exactly one to be proud of (the Jets fell 4-1 in Los Angeles to the lowly Kings on Tuesday), but it had been riding a five-game winning streak coming into that game. In fact, in their past 11 games, the Jets boast a 9-2-0 record that includes five overtime or shootout victories.

To the surprise of none, Winnipeg’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its offense. Having averaged 3.56 goals per game for the entire season (the fourth-best mark in the NHL), Head Coach Peter DeBoer will certainly have a plan for how he wants his team to slow down the impressive talents of C Mark Scheifele (21-25-46 points) and RW Blake Wheeler (5-39-44) on Winnipeg’s top line.

However, that will be a difficult task to pull off because the Jets’ attack has been even more potent than usual during this 11-game run. Since November 29, the Jets have averaged an outstanding four goals per game, which is tied with, coincidentally, San Jose for third best in the league in that time.

The previously mentioned Scheifele and Wheeler have certainly had their fingerprints all over that dynamic attack, as they’ve posted respective 8-12-20 and 1-14-15 totals in their last 11 outings. However, they’ve also been joined by LW Nikolaj Ehlers (7-5-12), D Josh Morrissey (3-8-11 in nine games) and D Dustin Byfuglien (1-8-9 in seven games) in averaging at least a point per game during this run, creating a defensive nightmare for most teams not as talented as the Sharks on the blue line.

The San Jose Sharks were supposed to already be atop the Western Conference – if not the entire NHL – according to many preseason reports, yet they find themselves stuck with a 19-11-5 record good enough for only second place in the Pacific Division.

But don’t read that as the Sharks being a bad team. They’re riding a five-game winning streak and have posted a 7-1-0 record in their past eight outings, so it seems like the team is finally starting to realize its potential. The next question, of course, is just how good can this team be, but that’s an answer the Jets would rather not answer tonight.

During this eight-game run, San Jose has been clicking on all cylinders; literally everything is gelling, and the numbers are showing just that.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Sharks’ game right now is their attack. Currently in a tie with Ottawa for eighth-best offense on the season by averaging 3.31 goals per game, the Sharks’ effort since December 2 has made all but Tampa Bay jealous. Led by F Logan Couture‘s impressive 5-6-11 totals in the last eight games, San Jose has managed a dominant 4.25 goals per game during this run.

Joining Couture in averaging at least a point per game since the beginning of the month are RW Timo Meier (5-5-10 in seven games played), F Tomas Hertl (4-5-9) and D Erik Karlsson (0-8-8).

That’s right, the same Karlsson that looked like he wasn’t panning out in Silicon Valley is on a bit of a hot streak of late. His goal scoring may be down from his Ottawa days (last season’s nine goals in 71 appearances was a poor season for him, and this year’s pace has him set to register only five markers), but the 10-year NHL veteran is still making his presence known on the scorecard.

In addition to scoring, this dynamic offense has also had some incredible influence on the defensive zone by maintaining elongated possessions. During this eight-game run, San Jose has allowed only 27.88 shots against per game, the fifth-best mark in the NHL since December 2 and only two shots worse than the Islanders’ league-leading pace set in that same time span.

Of course, D Justin Braun (2.3 blocks per game since December 2), D Brenden Dillon (2.8 hits per game during this run) and Karlsson (11 takeaways in his past eight outings) have certainly done their fair share on the defensive end as well.

If anyone is appreciative of that effort, it’s surely 14-7-3 G Martin Jones, tonight’s starter. Though he’s struggled for much of the season (made evident by his unusually low .901 save percentage and 2.81 GAA for the campaign), he’s shown signs of improvement lately. He’s earned five of the Sharks’ last seven wins, posting a much more familiar .936 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in his last seven starts.

If Jones has finally rounded into form for the year, this Sharks blue line will truly begin to influence play in the offensive zone, which should be a very scary proposition for the entire Western Conference.

When two high powered offenses are going at it, I usually side with the better of the two goaltenders to determine the game’s winner. In his past eight starts, 15-9-1 G Connor Hellebuyck has earned six wins on the back of a .91 save percentage and 2.72 GAA (both nominal improvements on his .908 season save percentage and associated 2.9 GAA).

Compare that to Jones’ numbers, and the answer is obvious: the Sharks should come away winners tonight and send the home fans happy.

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.

jetslogo

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)