We’ve reached the dog days of the NHL offseason, which is a perfect time to start a new trend. I’ll try my best to post these Sunday blogs, just to talk, every week along with the regular content spread out accordingly. Enjoy.
Cody Franson’s name is still out there, which is odd on its own, but the saga may be coming to a close. He has reportedly been offered a two year deal by Buffalo, who’s still looking for that extra defenseman.
Franson and Buffalo are an interesting combo, but I wonder if this addition, if it happens, could put Buffalo in a spot to contend. They added a lot of nice pieces this offseason and if Robin Lehner can play well enough, I wouldn’t rule them out of competing for a wild card spot. If they squeak in over the likes of the Islanders, Jackets, or Bruins is the bigger question.
After Franson, the long list of free agents drags on. Many veteran players are still waiting, and one unnamed NHL general manager reportedly thinks it’s because of team’s willingness to play their younger players for this upcoming season.
As August comes to a close and in early September, I’m sure there will be a lot of training camp invites. A few have been dished out already, including Sergei Gonchar with Pittsburgh, and no NHL GM is going to let cheap talent waste away. Christian Ehrhoff got 1.5 million with Los Angeles, and he was one of the best on the market. Prices will be low.
Lastly, it’s sad news that hit the heart of the NHL once again this past week. One of the most decorated men in hockey, Al Arbour, passed away this past week. Now, I could write a whole post about this, but I’ll leave his legacy to do the talking. He was a main instrument into making the Islanders into the dynasty they were and his dynamic coaching ideas helped shape the game into what it is today. RIP, coach.
The Hart Trophy is handed out annually to the league’s most valuable player, and each year the decision seemingly gets harder and harder. The names like Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf, and Sidney Crosby have started to consistently find their way onto ballots, but this year, like last year with Carey Price, there could be some new names surfacing for nomination.
One of those new names is Tyler Seguin. Seguin is starting his third year in Dallas, and he’s loaded with more firepower on his side than ever before. He has had 161 points in 151 games over his tenure in Dallas, good enough for 1.11 points-per-game. Seguin and his partner in crime, Jamie Benn, have become one of the league’s best duos, even while missing their linemate Valeri Nichushkin for a majority of last season.
With all the skill up front, it’s not a bad guess if you penciled in Tyler Seguin to win the Art Ross as well. There is some competition, but with the likes of Benn, Sharp, Nichushkin, Klingberg, and others supporting him, it won’t be too far off. Seguin’s Hart campaign would take a significant boost if he were to lead the league in points and lead Dallas to the playoffs, which is looking more and more likely by the day. Seguin turns 24 this upcoming January and still has his best years ahead of him.
Along with Seguin, Sidney Crosby will be up in the rankings for both points and for the Hart Trophy. Crosby won it in 2007 and 2014, and has been nominated multiple times in between.
The big factor this season for Crosby is that he will have an already elite winger playing with him — Phil Kessel. Kessel was acquired this offseason from Toronto, and despite his defensive flaws, has been a consistent 30 goal scorer on a not-so-consistent Maple Leafs team. Crosby has made a living off making wingers better, such as Chris Kunitz, and the thought of him with Kessel, even if only on the powerplay, is something to shudder at. Nobody hit 100 points last season, but Crosby could easily do it this year.
Although both Seguin and Crosby will have some competition, they should be in the running for the Art Ross and Hart all year. Seguin was on pace to have a tremendous, maybe even Art Ross winning, season before his injury last year, and Crosby didn’t have much help overall. Both players will look to lead their teams back to the top of their divisions, something neither the Penguins nor the Stars achieved last year.
The Western Conference proved it was the dominant conference in the NHL last season. Will it be able to continue that trend this year?
1. St. Louis Blues (X)
Analysis: The Blues have always been a premier regular season club, and that will not change this year. They have exceptional depth at forward, and Jake Allen has another year under his belt. Whether or not that success will translate into the playoffs is the big question.
2. Nashville Predators (X)
Analysis: The Predators sat atop the league for a majority of last season but fell off at the end of the year. They were kicked out in six games by Scott Darling and the Chicago Blackhawks, but still have a lot to learn. Pekka Rinne will lead them to a good finish again this season.
3. Minnesota Wild (X)
Analysis: The Wild started a storybook run under Devan Dubnyk last season, and will look to build on that for this year. They have enough talent in their offense and defense to get the job done, but Dubnyk needs to establish himself as a true number one netminder.
4. Chicago Blackhawks (X)
Analysis: The Blackhawks had their seemingly annual salary cap purge again this offseason, but this one may have hurt the most since they lost Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp. They may not be a dominant regular season team this year, but the playoffs are a different story. A looming investigation of Patrick Kane will also be a huge factor for the upcoming year.
5. Dallas Stars (X)
Analysis: After a disappointing 2014-2015 campaign, the Stars will look to rebound. They have to starting goalies in Lehtonen and Niemi, and they will battle it out to see who reigns supreme. Their defense still needs work, but they should be able to score enough goals to counteract that.
6. Colorado Avalanche
Analysis: The Avalanche had the regression that many people saw coming, and things aren’t looking to bright again in terms of playoffs. They’re an above average team stuck in a very good conference. Semyon Varlamov will have to stand on his head again if they want to sneak into a playoff spot.
7. Winnipeg Jets
Analysis: Despite being last in the division, the Jets will be a good team next year. Like the Avalanche, they’re a good team in a great conference. Lucky for them, they have many solid trading assets if things go sour, like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd.
1. Anaheim Ducks (X)
Analysis: The Ducks are another team stuck in the limbo of outstanding regular season team and playoff disappointments. They added Carl Hagelin, which will help their penalty kill. Chris Stewart is also on a friendly contract which could pay off quite well. They still have to sort out their goaltending issue, as John Gibson, Freddie Andersen, and Anton Khudobin are all NHL caliber.
2. Calgary Flames (X)
Analysis: The Flames built on their playoff success with a tremendous offseason by acquiring Dougie Hamilton and signing Michael Frolik. Kari Ramo has put himself in the position to be a number one, and the fate of Jonas Hiller still has to be decided with Joni Ortio knocking on the door. Sam Bennett is also expected to make his regular season debut. The Flames are going to be a fun team to watch again this year.
3. Los Angeles Kings (X)
Analysis: Los Angeles is angered at missing the playoffs, and they’ll look to rebound this year. They acquired Milan Lucic and replaced Martin Jones with Jonas Enroth. The next big item on the agenda after the playoffs is re-signing Anze Kopitar.
4. San Jose Sharks
Analysis: The Sharks will yet again miss the playoffs after having a quiet offseason outside of signing Paul Martin. Martin Jones is looking like an upgrade over Antti Niemi, but it still shouldn’t be enough to escape the West.
5. Edmonton Oilers
Analysis: Connor McDavid will have to wait for his playoff debut. The Oilers will be a good team this year and nowhere close to the bottom, but like the Sharks and the Jets, I don’t think they’ll have enough to get out of the West. Cam Talbot’s game in front of Edmonton’s shaky yet improved defense is still to be determined. Even if they don’t make it this year, the future if bright for Edmonton.
6. Vancouver Canucks
Analysis: The Canucks made some questionable moves this offseason and may not make it back to the playoffs. Ryan Miller, Henrik Sedin, and Daniel Sedin are all getting older, and Jim Benning already said Dan Hamhuis isn’t coming back. If Jake Markstrom doesn’t turn out to be a number one goalie of the future, what’s Vancouver’s plan?
7. Arizona Coyotes
Analysis: I think we all can agree on this one. The Coyotes will be at the cellar of the league all year, and will be praying to the hockey gods for Auston Matthews. The big concern moving forward is their future in the desert.
With these predictions, the playoffs would shake out like this:
(P1) Anaheim VS (WC2) Dallas
(C1) St. Louis VS (WC2) Chicago
(P2) Calgary VS (P3) Los Angeles
(C2) Nashville VS (C3) Minnesota
This was Part II. You can find Part 1 on the website.
Training camp for the NHL is just around the corner which means the season is not too far off, either. The East has significantly improved this year, and it’ll be a horserace up until the end just like last season. 2015-2016 predictions:
1. New York Rangers (X)
Analysis: Although the Rangers lost significant pieces to their core this offseason, including Martin St. Louis, they are still one of the beasts of the East. Henrik Lundqvist will look ahead to playing a full season, which he was unable to do last year after suffering a neck injury.
2. Washington Capitals (X)
Analysis: The Capitals made some big splashes this offseason, such as acquiring TJ Oshie and signing Justin Williams. The Capitals will look to make a big jump this year behind Braden Holtby and look to make it into the third round.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (X)
Analysis: The Penguins have one of the most talented offenses in the league, headlined by Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The turning point for them will be their inexperienced defense, especially with health concerns from Kris Letang and Olli Maatta. Marc Andre Fleury will have to be on his A game again this year, because there will be a lot of high scoring affairs in Pittsburgh.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets (X)
The Blue Jackets showed the league what they are capable of at the end of last season with a fully healthy roster and should continue on that pace, barring any setbacks, this season. They lost the most man games in the NHL last year, and although their defense core isn’t the strongest, they’ll have Ryan Murray returning healthy which is a huge addition.
5. New York Islanders (X)
Analysis: The Islanders stayed quiet this offseason but will rely on progression from Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee to help them take the next step. Thomas Greiss will have to play a big role because as evident last year, Jaroslav Halak plays miles better when rested.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
Analysis: The Flyers will be a cusp team this year, but have a good set up moving forward. Both Voracek and Giroux are locked up long term, and they have one of the best defensive prospect pools in the league.
7. New Jersey Devils
Analysis: The Devils really have nothing going for them this year, beside Cory Schneider which is why they’re not listed as last in the division. It’ll be a long road of rebuilding for them but it’ll be worth it.
8. Carolina Hurricanes
Analysis: The Hurricanes made some solid moves this offseason, such as acquiring Eddie Lack for peanuts from Vancouver. Ron Francis’ biggest concern moving into this season will have to be on what to do with Eric Staal and Cam Ward.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (X)
Analysis: The Lighting made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year and they’ll look it build on that success and win it all this year. The ‘Triplets Line’ of Kucherov, Johnson, and Palat will make another appearance and add onto their chemistry, all while being situated behind Steven Stamkos.
2. Montreal Canadiens (X)
Analysis: The Canadiens aren’t the most dominant team, but they have Carey Price. Price took a good chunk of the NHL’s awards this past season, and he’ll look to truly establish himself as the best goalie in the league this season.
3. Detroit Red Wings (X)
Analysis: Although they lost Mike Babcock to Toronto, the Red Wings are still in great shape. The health of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen will be a major factor into how this season plays out for Detroit. They also have the advantage of having a goalie battle between Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.
4. Boston Bruins
Analysis: The Bruins made a few questionable moves this offseason but will still be a good team this upcoming season. Tuukka Rask should have a bounce back year, and some of their health concerns should be gone. They could possibly slip into a wild card spot above the Islanders or Blue Jackets, or even beat out Detroit for the final division spot.
5. Florida Panthers
Analysis: Much like the Flyers, the Panthers will be a cusp team. They had a relatively quiet summer, but they will have Jaromir Jagr for a full season (or until the trade deadline at least) which is a large boost. Young talent up front in Huberdeau, Barkov, Pirri and others will set the Panthers on a good track for the future.
6. Buffalo Sabres
Analysis: The Sabres added Robin Lehner in net this offseason, which will assist them in jumping up from the basement of the league. Jack Eichel is also on board, and Sam Reinhart will likely play the full year in the NHL. They also added Evander Kane last season, but he hasn’t played a game yet for them. The Sabres will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future, but not quite yet.
7. Ottawa Senators
Analysis: The Senators didn’t make a big splash this offseason either, although they did acquire another first round pick for goaltender Robin Lehner. If Craig Anderson considers to have injury issues, the Senators better hope Andrew Hammond will be able to continue his remarkable play, which is unlikely. It’ll be an interesting season in Ottawa.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
Analysis: The Leafs are commencing their rebuild, evident in their trade of Phil Kessel. Toronto is in a good position to flip players on one year deals like PA Parenteau and Shawn Matthias at the deadline for prospects or picks. Toronto is expected to be at the bottom of the league for the whole year.
With these predictions, the playoffs would shake out like this:
(M1) Rangers VS (WC2) Islanders
(A1) Tampa Bay VS (WC1) Columbus
(A2) Montreal VS (A3) Detroit
(M2) Washington VS (M3) Pittsburgh
This is Part I. Stay tuned for the Western Conference predictions in the near future
Last year, I wrote an article on how well things were looking in Vancouver under Jim Benning and Willie Desjardins. They acquired a good haul for Ryan Kesler, who likely wasn’t returning once he was a free agent. They picked up Linden Vey for nothing, along with shedding salary with trading Jason Garrison to Tampa Bay. Radim Vrbata was signed to a cheap deal and turned into an all-star. They made the playoffs but got knocked out in the first round, but now it’s turning into a big mess again.
The Canucks kicked off the offseason during the draft by trading Eddie Lack to Carolina for a third round pick and a seventh round pick. Lack is 27 and played in 41(!) games last year for Vancouver, posting a .921 SV% and 2.45 GAA. Along with that, he played in four of Vancouver’s six games during the playoffs. Lack was also a fan favorite, and the trade was criticized by many. This leaves Ryan Miller, who has faltered more and more as he’s gotten older, at age 35, and Jacob Markstrom to guard the net this upcoming season. Markstrom has had success in the AHL, but hasn’t been able to translate it over to the NHL just yet, but time will tell.
This all leads up to the most mind-boggling move of all.
The Canucks traded Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a second to Pittsburgh for Brandon Sutter and a third round pick.
Yes, the Canucks somehow managed to give up a defensive prospect and an upgraded pick, just to move DOWN in quality from Nick Bonino to Brandon Sutter.
Bonino was a Canuck for just one year, being the main piece in the Ryan Kesler trade. Bonino had six more points in five less games than Sutter had last year, and Bonino’s advanced stats blow Sutter’s out of the water. Clendening also adds to a depleted prospect pool in Pittsburgh, but they’re set up to win now so it doesn’t matter. That second round pick could also wind up being in the 31-40 range at the rate Jim Benning is going.
When the dust all settles, it doesn’t appear that the Canucks have a “win now” mentality. Even before the season even started, Benning emphasized that by labeling Hamhuis and Vrbata as trade deadline bait. The Sedin twins turn 35 in September. The goal of this offseason — or any offseason for that matter — shouldn’t have been to downgrade, but rather upgrade and deal away some prospects to help the Henrik and Daniel get a Cup.
Things are looking bleak in Vancouver, but we’ll have to wait until October to see how it all shakes down.
When Adam Larsson was drafted fourth overall in 2011, there was a lot of hype surrounding him, and rightfully so. It was the second time in three years that a Swedish defenseman went in the top-five, with Victor Hedman preceding him in 2009. Larsson, however, hasn’t translated all of his success into the NHL, but that could change very soon.
Like Hedman, Adam Larsson jumped straight into the NHL the year after he was drafted. He played in 65 games, registering 18 points. The Devils went 48-28-6 that year, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, but fell to the Los Angeles Kings. Since then, Larsson has spent time in both the AHL with Albany and the NHL with the Devils, and now has 51 points in 192 career games. He was a healthy scratch a few times this past season, but that could be attributed to the poor management by coach Peter DeBoer, who is no longer with the organization. In between all the cracks, Larsson still earned a six year, 4.16 million per contract, which is very similar to what Victor Hedman got in 2011 (4 million per).
Let’s focus in on the first three years of Hedman’s career in comparison to Larsson’s first three years. Hedman played in 214 games over that three year span, and had 69 points. This pace is ahead of Larsson, who had 27 points in 128 games, but the track record could indicate that he’s in store for a big breakout season. Hedman’s fourth year (2012-2013) was a big turning point, when he was almost on a .50 point-per-game pace in a full season. Larsson’s fourth year, this past season, was at just about .40 points-per-game, and he was severely underused at times.
Adam Larsson is still miles behind Victor Hedman, but he has the possibility to become the top-four defenseman the Devils envisioned him to be still. He turns 23 years old in November, and he still has the best years ahead. Defensemen generally take longer to develop than forwards, and it sometimes doesn’t happen until a new system or coach comes into play, which is exactly what is happening in New Jersey. The old Lamoriello and DeBoer regime is coming down, and Ray Shero and John Hynes are there now. Hynes took Wilkes-Barre to the AHL playoffs all five years of his tenure, and his style is perfect for the Devils. He still preaches defensively minded hockey, but he doesn’t limit his forwards or defenseman from pitching in on the offense. That mix might be all it takes to ignite a spark in some of New Jersey’s struggling players, including Larsson.
If he continues on his pace in development, the Devils could have themselves a steal on their hands in a few years, even if they have to go to the bank after its all said and done.
Only two cities applied for expansion into the NHL by the league’s deadline, leaving Gary Bettman and the NHL brass with a divisional alignment obstacle.
Las Vegas would be in the West, possibly accompanying Dallas in the Central Division. Quebec City, however, is located in the Eastern portion of Canada and is due to be in the same division as Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto in the Atlantic. This leaves the West with 15 teams and the East with 17. One idea to fix this issue would be relocation to Seattle (so they can be in the Pacific) in a few years, coming from either Carolina or Florida.
The first scenario is if Carolina relocates, but that faces its own issues. The Hurricanes were second to last in NHL attendance last year, averaging 12,594 or 67.4% (numbers via ESPN). This is a drop from 17,558 or 94.0% in the lockout shortened 2013 season. It is also known that a potential buyer was in Carolina this past month, although nothing is imminent. The issue with this idea is that Quebec City would be in the Metropolitan Division, which would take away from the potential Canadian divisional rivalries. This would leave the divisions as (a) NYI, NYR, WSH, PIT, CBJ, PHI, NJD, QBC (b) MTL, DET, TBL, FLA, BOS, OTT, BUF, TOR (c) STL, NSH, CHI, DAL, MIN, WPG, COL, LVG and (d) ANA, CGY, LAK, SJS, VAN, EDM, ARZ, SEA (assuming CAR/FLA hypothetically moves to SEA in a few years).
The second scenario is moving Florida. Florida ranked last in NHL attendance last season at 11,265 or 66.1%. This move would get Quebec City to be in the Atlantic, which is should be, but is more unlikely due to Gary Bettman’s praise for Panthers owner Vinny Viola. The Panthers are also a team on the upswing, being a cusp playoff team last year. The likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Nick Bjugstad are all getting better, and they should make the playoffs in a few years at the most, if all goes well and that’ll help ticket prices.
The fact of the matter is, the NHL will have to play with the cards it’s dealt because it’s still unlikely that any relocations will happen soon unless something drastic changes in the near future. The Seattle ownership group, like many others, may have been scared away by the two million non-refundable fee for expansion, especially running the risk of not getting a team. This gives them a few years to get everything, including an arena, in order. The NHL has also said it will continue to have open dialogue with the Seattle ownership groups, which is a good sign for the city.
Unfortunately, this is how it’s played out, and the NHL will either have to deal with uneven conferences for an extended period of time, or deal with Quebec being in the West, in a situation like Winnipeg when they first got a team back.
Only time will tell how this plays out.
Note: Any relocation ideas in this article are purely hypothetical. Carolina and Florida are in no risk of it as of now, and Seattle is not close to getting a team just yet. This is just a discussion of possible fixes to the conference balancing issues for the future.
The 2014-2015 Islanders season was a successful one that ultimately ended in a Game 7 heartbreaking loss to Washington in Round 1. The young team came together with the likes of John Tavares, Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Nick Leddy leading the bunch. Now, as free agency is entering its stagnant period, it’s more evident than ever that the Islanders are sticking to their belief of internal growth and will go into next season with what they have already. However, their Metropolitan counterparts haven’t done the same.
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In the recent history of the NHL, there have been a lot of bad contracts, mainly in free agency. Dave Bolland makes 5.5 million per year and David Clarkson got a contract that had him at a 5.25 million cap hit for seven years. But, amidst all that, there have been some great contracts, but they mostly come from re-signings. It seems like the general managers have learned from their mistakes this summer however, because all contracts given out have been very modest. Either way, these five players should probably find new agents.
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How each NHL team did on day one of free agency.
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There’s been a lot of debate over the trade that the Islanders and Oilers made on Friday night. The deal sent former Oil Kings captain Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton in exchange for the 16th and 33rd overall picks. The trade is in question mainly because of Griffin’s draft pedigree, as he was taken 4th overall in 2012.
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Among forwards, Michael Frolik from the Winnipeg Jets has been garnering some of the most interest heading into the free agency period.
The 27 year old forward is about to enter his 8th NHL season after being drafted 10th overall by Florida in 2006. It is believed that Frolik and his agent met with over 10 teams down in Florida over draft day weekend. He is seeking a deal up to five seasons long and will likely get in the 5 to 6 million range.
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