Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Goalie Announcements (May 23)

Braden Holtby versus Andrei Vasilevskiy
Are you ready for another Game 7?  I sure hope the Capitals and Lightning are ready, because no one wants a dud of a series climax, am I right?

The goaltending match-up is all set and of course, there are no changes... it's Holtby versus Vasilevskiy and both of these keepers are going to be under the microscope.

You can really flip a coin on this one, especially since home-ice hasn't meant much in this series, both goalies have lost twice at home, but Vasilevskiy did win Game 5 at home, so he does have one in the bag.

It's a 6pm MT start tonight, lots of time to get to go on a beer run and tune in... unless you're playing softball tonight (d'oh!)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Morning Playoff Notes (May 22)

No boots necessary on Tuesday morning... we're going to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals!

The Washington Capitals didn't want to let their season end prematurely and who can blame them?  They have already overcome the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round, so why stop there?  The Caps put on a punishing performance, physical from the drop of the puck, out-hitting the Lightning 39-19 on the night, which helped them gain the edge in the more important aspects of the game.

T.J. Oshie scored on the power play in the 2nd period to open up the scoring in the game and the crunch was definitely on, as the Lightning did press, but the Capitals stifled them mightily.  A goal midway through the 3rd period from the Devante Smith-Pelly began to put the game out of reach for the Lightning and then Oshie salted it away with an empty-netter to finish it all off.

Braden Holtby did what he had to do, he needed to stand tall in this one and he did, making 24 saves for his first shutout of the playoffs and a 4-point night in the pool, good for only one team in the pool.  Oshie scored a pair, including the winner for a 3-point night, just fine for his seven selections, while Nicklas Backstrom also chimed in with a couple of assists, which was good for a few teams there too.

Game 7 will go on Wednesday night, a 6pm MT start.

Buddy's team is having the best Conference Finals of the bunch in the pool this year, picking up 46 points through the two series, thus far. Thor isn't too far behind with 44 points from his team and Kristy's team is at 43 points.  Buddy can thank all three notable Capitals from last night's game for his jump up in the standings, having Backstrom, Oshie and Holtby finally paid off in the same game.

Still, Tony's team is surviving just fine.  His team had Oshie's 3 points as well, but he's really hoping for a Lightning win, so he can have both goalies in the Stanley Cup Finals.  His team would be the only one to have both goalies   Tony's lead is now up to 22 points, as his team now sits at 275 with one more game left in the east.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Goalie Announcements (May 21)

Andrei Vasilevskiy versus Braden Holtby
We've had one 8-ball game go the way of the boot this weekend, can the Tampa Bay Lightning make it two tonight?

That will be the task for Andrei Vasilevskiy, as he has been very good in these playoffs, going 11-4 so far.  His numbers haven't been overly stellar, but the biggest difference between Vasilevskiy and some of the goalies that have already been eliminated is that he has been able to make some of the key saves at key times.  This is what has propelled him and his team to where they are right now.

On the other side, Braden Holtby got a late start to these playoffs, up until Game 3, which started a 3-game losing streak and now his team is on the verge of dropping a series, after being up 2-0 early on.  Holtby has been shelled for 10 goals in the last three games and he really needs to step up and stand on his head tonight or else it's curtains for him and the Caps. 

The Lightning were the favourites in the Eastern Conference this year and so far, they have been worthy of the title.  A finish to the series tonight would ensure a good break to heal up those battle wounds from the first three series, but you know, a Game 7 would keep everyone sharp too.

It's a 6pm MT start tonight, should be a gooder!

Pool Outlook for Los Angeles

Proving to everyone that despite your team trending downwards, you and your teammates have to show a lot of grit and ability to win games at the top level, which is no easy task, to say the least.  The Los Angeles Kings, who had an awful 2017 season, did just that and they did so on the shoulders of their core players.

The Kings returned to the playoff picture in the Western Conference, thanks to the return of Jonathan Quick from injury, a Hart & Selke Trophy finalist season from Anze Kopitar and a Norris Trophy finalist season from Drew Doughty.  After a season like that, you have the argument that the trend line for the Kings may have certainly improved, but the realists may ask... "but for how long?"

Most of those naysayers will arm their argument with the opening round playoffs series loss to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, where they were absolutely dominated through four games and swept right out of the playoff picture by a team that was built from the ground up and had a ridiculous amount of depth in their lineup, something that the top heavy Kings didn't have heading into these playoffs.

Still though, there's a lot of hope for this team still, but they're going to need all the help they can get in this off-season, if they are going to keep themselves competitive.

It was a career year for the 30-year old, Anze Kopitar, as he finished with 35 goals and 92 points in all 82 games for the Kings, which was good enough for 10th overall in hockey pool scoring, 7th among all forwards.  He quietly managed to put his name on the scoresheet more often than not and he put himself among the elite players that earned well over a point-per-game in the regular season.

The Kings depth was a sore spot, as they are now the first playoff team in these outlook posts to only have 10 players that were pool worthy, where the first few teams were starting with 12 players.  Dustin Brown, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and rookie Adrian Kempe were the only other forwards to get the nod this year, while Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Dion Phaneuf and Alec Martinez were good enough from the back end.  Goaltender Jonathan Quick appeared in 64 games, which limited any backups to their playing time, which meant that he was the only pool worthy goalie on the team in the year.

A lack of forward scoring certainly crept its way into the playoffs, where they couldn't find much for goals against Vegas and eventually saw them fizzle out.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

How far could Kopitar, Doughty and Quick carry this team, you ask? Probably a little bit further than you would expect three players to carry one team, but they are certainly good enough. Where the Kings will desperately fall short is in the depth department and with the way the summer is projecting so poorly for them, this would likely mean that there is going to be somewhat of a rebuild, more than a retool. The Kings have no assets to really build with, unlike the Avalanche, Coyotes or Canucks in the Western Conference, so they could find themselves around the bottom before too long.

If you asked me whether or not the top three would be able to carry the Kings into the playoffs, I would have probably said that all three had to have award worthy seasons in order to do that.  That they did.  Quick won the Jennings Award for the lowest goals against record, while the other two are awaiting the results of the voting, which will come at the end of the playoffs.  Their depth is still an issue, which doesn't offer a lot of hope, but they still have a year or two to tinker... maybe.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Are you tired of Jonathan Quick in this post yet?  Whether or not he could bounce back from such a horrible injury-plagued season in 2017 made him the most intriguing player and he bounced back just fine in 2018.  He was 7th among goalies in points this year, finishing with 80 points in 64 appearances and the 32-year old should still have more than enough in the tank for another big season.  Will his team have the same drive though?

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Anze Kopitar 10.000 Drew Doughty 7.000 Jonathan Quick 5.800
Dustin Brown 5.875 Dion Phaneuf 5.250 Jack Campbell 0.675
Jeff Carter 5.273 Alec Martinez 4.000
Tyler Toffoli 4.600 Jake Muzzin 4.000
Tanner Pearson 3.750 Derek Forbort 2.525
Trevor Lewis 2.000 Daniel Brickley 0.925
Nate Thompson 1.650 Oscar Fantenberg 0.650
Kyle Clifford 1.600
Alex Iafallo 0.925
Gabriel Vilardi 0.925
Adrian Kempe 0.894
Michael Amadio 0.718
Jonny Brodzinski 0.650

On the plus side, the Los Angeles Kings have all 10 of their pool worthy players signed on and ready to go for next season.  That's a solid core group of 10, we could all be fairly confident that with all things being equal, that they could be back in the conversation, at varying capacities, and we'd all get some points from them.  The trick for the hockey pool next season will be sifting through the rest of this 22-man roster and whatever changes may happen, leaving no stone unturned for a sleeper, if possible.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Kings now rank the lowest among all the teams covered in these posts for remaining cap space and they still have an open spot on their 23-man roster today.  I am currently showing them with about $2.9 million in cap space against last season's ceiling, which will go up, but it will be limited in how much tinkering this team can really do.

Free agency won't give them a lot of flexibility, as non-pool forward Torrey Mitchell heads to unrestricted free agency with the biggest 2018 cap hit at only $1.2 million.  The Kings will need to put a lot of faith in what they have in their own system for a year or two, one would have to think.

Last year, Adrian Kempe was one of my ones to watch and his ice-time increased, as his game got better and better.  This year, I am looking towards NCAA free agent signing Daniel Brickley to be the guy that offers the Kings a few more solid minutes on the blueline.  Brickley played three seasons at Minnesota State and he was being touted as the top unsigned prospect out of this year's class, having 35 points in 40 games in his final NCAA season.  If anything, he'll have the right mentor program in Los Angeles, especially when you look at who is above him on the depth chart.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
What the Kings need dearly is scoring right now, but with the 20th overall selection, it does seem like a bit of a long shot for this side to get someone who is NHL ready.  Skill and playmaking ability may be what the Kings should be looking for, not to mention a kid that can play down the middle eventually.  Akil Thomas of the Niagara Ice Dogs fits the bill, as the scouting reports say he has all kinds of upside offensively, but in one report I've read, he may lack a little bit of that killer instinct.  Nevertheless, that's the sort of thing that could be worked on, so skill and scoring, that's what makes Thomas my pick for the Kings.

Where does this all lead us?  On the one hand, the Kings have shown us that they are a vulnerable team, back in the 2017 season.  The 2018 season, with all that talent in their core, they are a team that can get the job done in the regular season.  So much is truly dependent on the core group of players and one of the biggest concerns heading into the 2019 season is the contract status of Drew Doughty.  Will the Kings be able to extend him in July and if not, how much of a distraction will that be.  Spoiler alert... it will be huge!  There's a lot riding on this season for the Kings, management has to find depth to move forward again, their stars have to play that way and they have pin some hopes on their youth.  All things being equal, the Kings can make the playoffs again, success there will be hard to come by and any injuries or distractions could derail this team in a hurry.  Buyer beware.

Morning Playoff Notes (May 21)

In spectacular fashion and record time, the Vegas Golden Knights dispatched of the Winnipeg Jets in Game 5 of their Western Conference Finals series on Sunday afternoon, winning 2-1 in Winnipeg, breaking the hearts of many.

Ryan Reaves, a non-pool forward, ended up scoring the winning goal in the 2nd period of the game, tipping a point shot from Luca Sbisa and breaking a 1-1 deadlock at the time, and then the Golden Knights locked down the game, limiting the Jets in their chances to tie it up.  Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves for the victory and he'll lead the way into the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 5 was not a good one for the hockey pool, because besides Fleury's 2 points for the win, the only other point that was picked up was the Josh Morrissey goal that tied the game in the 1st period, his was the only other point on the day.

So, now starts the long wait for next season for the Jets.  The most popular team in the hockey pool has now been ousted, dropping 67 picks in total from competition and leaving only 38 Vegas picks for the Cup Finals.  Blake Wheeler and Connor Hellebuyck each finished their playoff runs with 22 points each in the pool, while Mark Scheifele wasn't too far behind at 21 points.

Well, the road to the money is now paved in cake for Tony's team.  It's a 19-point lead, Tony's team is one of five teams to have all nine possible players left on his roster and the next closest team to his in that regard is all the way down in 7th place, Thor's team, which is 30 points back.  Now, it might be just a matter of what kind of cake Tony would like to walk on to get to his $230 prize.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pool Outlook for Philadelphia

With the Philadelphia Flyers, you really don't know what you're going to end up getting from one season to the next, it seems.  The Flyers were not a great team last season, but with only a few minor changes, they improved dramatically, heading back to the playoffs and losing out to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.

The Flyers, for the most part, kept the same core group of players up front and on defense, took the 2nd overall selection at the entry draft, added a new number one goalie and were also buyers at the NHL trade deadline.  Okay, you're right... those are more significant changes than just minor.  It wasn't a complete overhaul, but the team's management did really well to make things happen.

All in all, the Flyers finished 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, which is arguably the toughest division to play in, they had a pretty decent road record and they were a huge boost to the hockey pool in a year where everyone was scoring like mad.  It was a good year and I think the fans of the team are excited once again and so they should be.

It was a top notch year for Flyers captain Claude Giroux, as he finished 3rd overall in hockey pool scoring, 2nd among all forwards, with 34 goals and 102 points in all 82 games this season.  After two mediocre seasons in 2016 and 2017, Giroux bounced back and showed everyone that he isn't quite finished with this game just yet and proved to everyone that he's still an elite point producer.

In total, the Flyers had 12 players that were considered pool worthy in the 2018 season, including Giroux, and the best of the rest included Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Wayne Simmonds and Valtteri Filppula up front and Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning on the back end.  Their number one goalie for the better part of the year, Brian Elliott, had his ups and downs in the season, but still finished 25th among goalies and Petr Mrazek, their trade deadline acquisition, while their other keepers were hurt, also finished among the pool's best, 36th.  If you invested well in the Flyers, you probably finished pretty well in the standings this past season.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The Flyers should have been better than what they have been over the last couple of seasons and I think you can make an argument that they have overpaid for a few of their mistakes. It does look like they'll continue to struggle with their cap issues, unless they can somehow offload a big contract through trade or via the expansion draft. I am looking for the Flyers to try and swing a shrewd move somewhere along the line and that would be what I'd pin their 2018 successes and/or failures on. Right now, the way it stands, even the number two pick in the draft isn't going to help this team into the playoffs, but a combination of moves will get this to work. As long as they're not overpaying again this Summer, they at least have the chance to make the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Flyers were able to shift around a little bit of their cap woes in the off-season, off-loading Brayden Schenn to the Blues and losing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the expansion draft and some of that cap shifting did pay off for the Flyers, as they played a little leaner and their best players were certainly that again in 2018.  They had some very good stretches in the year and those are what ended up getting them into a good playoff position this past season.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Nolan Patrick was my pick last year for the 1st overall selection, but he dropped into the Flyers lap in the 2nd overall position and it took him quite a while to get his legs going at the NHL level, but he did finish strong, ending up with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 games.  He didn't really break out this season, but he did feature prominently down the stretch, finding 5 points in his last four games of the regular season.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Claude Giroux 8.275 Andrew MacDonald 5.000 Brian Elliott 2.750
Jakub Voracek 8.250 Shayne Gostisbehere 4.500 Michal Neuvirth 2.500
Jori Lehtera 4.700 Radko Gudas 3.350
Sean Couturier 4.450 Ivan Provorov 0.894
Wayne Simmonds 3.975 Travis Sanheim 0.863
Michael Raffl 2.350 TJ Brennan 0.675
Dale Weise 2.350
Jordan Weal 1.750
Scott Laughton 0.963
Nolan Patrick 0.925
Oskar Lindblom 0.925
Mike Vecchione 0.900
Travis Konecny 0.894
Corban Knight 0.650
Phil Varone 0.650

As you can see, the Flyers do have a good portion of their core already locked up for the 2019 season and their pool worthy players in green do feature quite prominently on my list of players to watch out for next season, especially on the blueline.  The combination of Gostisbehere and Provorov have many years of potential to fulfill and I think they will do so with flying colours.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Against the salary cap, the Flyers have seemed to have righted the ship in the last 12 months, as their flexibility has increased and they'll remain both competitive in the off-season, trying to sign key free agents, and on the ice as well, with a good core group signed up above at $62.5 million, so far. 

Valtteri Filppula and Brandon Manning are the only two pool worthy unrestricted free agents, possibly heading to market for the Flyers, while the team has to make a decision on Petr Mrazek, as he becomes a restricted free agent this summer as well.  Mrazek could be a good player to dangle at the draft, if they are looking to acquire some more assets, since he proved that he still has some game, upon his arrival in Philadelphia.

One guy that could possibly crack this roster next season is Oskar Lindblom, who had a very productive year in the AHL, including a stop at the All-Star Game in Utica, as a player replacement.  He still got to go and that still means something.  The 21-year old Swede did have a cup of coffee with the Flyers, playing in 23 games and picking up 6 points, so if he can add a little bit more strength to his game, he could be a full-time player and likely be a productive one at that.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
I kind of overlooked the fact that the Flyers actual pick, the 19th overall selection, is going to be their second pick in the draft.  They will likely be getting St. Louis' pick, where I had the Blues taking Jared McIssac, but for the time being, I will leave it as is and circle back to it before the full mock draft gets published.  So, the Flyers, at the 19th selection, I think they try to amp up their forwards a bit, taking Mississauga Steelheads centre Ryan McLeod, who will bring a lot of speed to the game and some good scoring numbers to go along with them.  Some of the reports suggest he tries to do a little too much at times, but at his age, those are the things that come along through development.

Flip a coin to decide which Flyers team we'll see in the 2019 season.  Can we trust a guy like Claude Giroux to have a big season again?  Has Shayne Gostisbehere really arrived now as a top level defenseman at the NHL level?  Maybe these two are tied together at the hip and each of their seasons will rely on one another.  That's a certain possibility too.  I like where the Flyers are headed next season, they do appear to have a fairly strong core, especially at the back, goaltending may still be a little bit of a question mark, but it's quite serviceable at the moment.  If this side can stay competitive, there's no reason why they couldn't go back to the playoffs, but much like Columbus, their path to the holy grail is paved with incredibly tough divisional opponents.

Goalie Announcements (May 20)

Marc-Andre Fleury versus Connor Hellebuyck
The clock hasn't struck midnight yet on this Cinderella story, as the Vegas Golden Knights have the Winnipeg Jets right where they want them, heading into Game 5 tonight... right behind the 8-ball.

The Western Conference Finals shifts back to Winnipeg for Game 5, which is an afternoon start today, 1pm MT on CBC, and the Jets are in a win or go home state, so desperation has to be high.  The Jets have leaned on Connor Hellebuyck all playoffs and he has come up big, with a couple of notable exceptions, but if there is ever a time to make up for some of those poor outings, it would be now.

At the other side, the calm and cool Marc-Andre Fleury has been absolutely dynamite for the Golden Knights, unflappable and amazing at times.  The experience factor has to be playing a huge part in the success, both individually and among his teammates and if they can close out this series on the road, they will get an extra few days to rest up for the Stanley Cup Finals.

It's no easy task for either side today, with so much on the line, so we'll see who gets out of the gates first and who, eventually, has the will to push their way through.

Hossa Calling It Quits

On Saturday, reports were starting to surface that Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa was leaning towards retirement and in the evening, those reports were confirmed by the player himself, that his 19-year NHL career will indeed be coming to an end.

Hossa missed the entire 2018 season after a skin condition, due to an allergic reaction to his hockey equipment, was diagnosed and he was unable to just suit up for the club, more than anything else.  The team's management didn't have any better news at the end of the season, saying his condition was unchanged, but now the 39-year old has resigned himself to the fact that he won't be playing anymore.

The Slovak forward finishes with 525 goals and 1,134 points in 1,309 career regular season games and 52 goals and 149 points in 205 career playoff games.  He was a very productive player in the NHL, playing with the Senators, Thrashers, Penguins, Red Wings and finally, the Blackhawks.  He has three Stanley Cups on his resume and most importantly, he was a part of Allan's 2011 hockey pool winning team.

Hossa's retirement won't officially take place until after the 2021 season, as his contract doesn't expire until then, so his $5.275 million cap hit will be on the LTIR for the next three seasons, as he still gets paid out until it's all said and done.

Morning Playoff Notes (May 20)

Well, if there was a script for this Eastern Conference Finals, through four games, the Tampa Bay Lightning certainly didn't like what they were seeing, so they crumpled up the script and threw it out the window.  The home teams hadn't won a game in this series through the first four and it was acting more like a disadvantage... until Game 5, that is.

The Lightning struck 19 seconds into the game, likely before some people even made it to their seats in the building, and whatever game plan that the Capitals may have had for that game, was also scratched and they had to go back to the drawing board.  Still, the Lightning continued to pour it on, adding one more in the 1st, scoring again 33 seconds into the 2nd period, taking any regrouping away from the Capitals, that they may have gained at the break.  Once up 3-0, it was time for the Lightning to shut it down.

It was a tall task to try and shut down this Capitals offense and frankly, the Lightning were doing so well holding onto the puck, that giving the Caps their chances were only going to result in some offense, Washington is too good of a team not to.  As expected, the Capitals got one before the 2nd intermission, making it a 2-goal game into the 3rd.  Credit to the Lightning though, they did manage to hold on and withstand a full-on barrage, but Alex Ovechkin made it a 3-2 game with 1:36 to go, but it wasn't quite enough.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves and the Lightning took Game 5, 3-2, and the series is now in their favour, 3-2 as well.

It wasn't a great game for the hockey pool, the Bolts keeper was the only notable player in the game, as non-pool forward Ryan Callahan scored the winner and added an assist for a 3-point game (if he was in the pool) and that was it.

Caps forward Andre Burakovsky was pulled out of the lineup as a healthy scratch in this one, his ice-time hasn't been all that great in this series and Washington was hoping that Alex Chiasson would provide more of a spark.

Game 6 goes on Monday night, a 6pm MT start.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Afternoon Playoff Notes (May 19)

Uh-oh, Jets fans! There's trouble brewing in the Western Conference Finals!

Reilly Smith scored with less than seven minutes to go in the 3rd period to snap a 2-2 tie, capitalizing on a turnover at the Vegas blueline, skating back the other way and snapping a high wrister over Connor Hellebuyck and it broke the hearts of the Winnipeg players, as they couldn't quite make that last goal up to tie it.  The Golden Knights took Game 4, 3-2, and now have a 3-1 series lead, as the two teams head back to Winnipeg for Game 5 on Sunday.

Smith added an assist to his game-winner for a 3-point night in the pool, great news for the six teams that picked him up in the hockey pool.  Marc-Andre Fleury stood tall once again, making 35 saves, including 11 big stops in the 3rd period for the win and they were the only two players to be notable in the pool.

As for game notes, Nikolaj Ehlers returned to the Jets lineup after missing Game 3 and David Perron also returned to the lineup for Vegas after missing a couple of games, both were down with an illness.  It's unclear what the Jets will do to combat this Vegas team at home, but they're now behind the 8-ball in a must-win situation.

Game 5 goes Sunday afternoon at 1pm MT.

Pool Outlook for Columbus

The Columbus Blue Jackets had some real potential for the 2018 season and playoffs, but their run was ended prematurely by the surging Washington Capitals, losing out in the opening round.  With how well the Washington Capitals have progressed in these playoffs, it can't be too much of a disappointment, but I'm sure the Jackets were looking for a whole lot more this year.

The off-season saw them add a lethal offensive force in Artemi Panarin and kids like Pierre-Luc Dubois and Seth Jones really came into their own and everything really rounded out for the team on the ice.  You add those kind of talents to a mix that already has an elite goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky some good blue collar players and you had a recipe for some success, but it just couldn't rise altogether.

The future is looking awfully bright for the Blue Jackets, since they have a good young core group of players in their stable, their GM has been showing his stripes at the entry draft, choosing fairly well, not to mention being a savvy deal-maker in the off-season.  The only real hurdle that this team now has to clear is the exceptionally difficult division that they play in, because the playoff format will certainly see them playing someone difficult in the first couple rounds, at the very least.

Sergei Bobrovsky becomes only the second goalie in these Pool Outlook posts to lead his team in hockey pool points, finishing with 37 wins and 87 points in 65 appearances for Columbus in 2018 and when you're playing that many games for a very good team, you're likely going to lead your team in points.  That was exactly the case for Bobrovsky and this mention is definitely warranted.  The 29-year old keeper ranked 5th among all goalies in points, 16th overall, which is a 1st round pick in a draft redo.

With that many appearances though, the Columbus backups didn't even make a blip on the scoring radar for picks this year.  Up front, their biggest acquisition, Artemi Panarin, had a pretty good season, finishing 26th overall in pool scoring to lead all forwards on the team, and then was followed by Thomas Vanek, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Wennberg, Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner.  On the blueline, it was Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Markus Nutivaara and Ian Cole on the board as pool worthy, Jones ranking 10th among all defensemen, making for a great breakout season.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The Jackets are still a pretty young team, which has me on the fence about what they could do come playoff time still. Losing out in the opening round with this talented group wasn't enough for me to think that they are going to improve by leaps and bounds. one of the team's best players, Zach Werenski, will also have the potential of the sophomore jinx, which shouldn't do too much to the team making the playoffs, but some struggles might make it into a wild card spot, instead of a divisional spot... you know, if it happens. Everyone is different. The Jackets are prepped and ready to be good in the 2018 season, certainly a team to be excited about for the hockey pool, but they could just use more, be it experience or veteran savvy.

Werenski wasn't quite the dominant force that he was in 2017, but the rest of the team's young players really stepped up, even though Werenski had himself a pretty good season anyways.  They did add some experience and veteran savvy at the trade deadline, but it still wasn't quite enough.  They were a good regular season team, thanks to those young players and a few key moves between last year and the playoffs.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Artemi Panarin was the clear choice for the intriguing player, trying to think about how he would fit in with the Blue Jackets and whether or not he would be able to keep up his scoring numbers, moving away from some talented players in Chicago.  He was very successful in the 2018 season and I think there is a lot more belief that he could be more of the individual star, than being the support player that can cash in a whole lot of points.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Artemi Panarin 6.000 Seth Jones 5.400 Sergei Bobrovsky 7.425
Brandon Dubinsky 5.850 David Savard 4.250 Joonas Korpisalo 0.900
Cam Atkinson 5.750 Markus Nutivaara 2.700
Nick Foligno 5.500 Zach Werenski 0.925
Alexander Wennberg 4.900 Gabriel Carlsson 0.894
Josh Anderson 1.800 Dean Kukan 0.725
Pierre-Luc Dubois 0.894 Scott Harrington 0.675
Sonny Milano 0.863
Lukas Sedlak 0.825
Zac Dalpe 0.725
Nathan Gerbe 0.675
Markus Hannikainen 0.675
Jordan Schroeder 0.650

The guys in dark green represent the pool worthy guys still on the roster and there are a few guys in black, who have some lump contracts, that the Jackets need to get better efforts from, first and foremost.  The guys in green represent a good portion of this team's future and their future looks bright, they'll certainly be a popular team at the draft, before next season, so I would say their pool outlook looks good, but could be much better too.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a couple of rental players this year, adding Thomas Vanek and Ian Cole at the deadline, both were fairly effective down the stretch, but couldn't lift the team up another echelon.  They'll both be headed for unrestricted free agency this summer, barring a new deal before July.  The Jackets will also have to contend with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Boone Jenner, both restricted free agents and both were pool worthy, likely looking for decent raises in their pay grade.

But what do the Jackets have to work with?  Currently, with a couple of buyouts on the books, the Jackets still have $11.5 million to work with against last year's cap ceiling, so they'll have some more pocket change to deal, when the NHL announces the raise in salary cap numbers.  For the most part, they've got most of their team already looking fairly sharp ahead of next season, which is a big positive.

The Hockey News seems to think that the Blue Jackets have a good stable of prospects, but a lot of what the team's management has been able to do is propel some of their better prospects into bonafide roles, almost out of the gate... if you forget about how long Dubois took.  It looks like the one to watch is defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, a big defender, who may not use his size all that well, but that could turn around with enough practice.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
The Columbus Blue Jackets are indeed pretty rich at the defense position and I think that means that they are still going to be picking up some good young forward talent to try and bolster their future.  Lots of outlets are pretty high on Soo Greyhounds forward Barrett Hayton and if he falls down this low, like my list of picks has suggested to this point, it sounds like the Jackets would be getting a pretty good player.  Hayton would definitely fill a need down the middle for the Jackets and with such a good season with the Greyhounds, he may just bring a good pedigree of winning from his days in junior along with him.

One of the glaring concerns for the Blue Jackets is their large cap hits that are not doing a whole heck of a lot and that could very well be dragging the organization down a little bit, as they could be using their cap space a little wiser.  Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and all of that, but as it stands right now, it isn't as great as it could be.  I do like the core group of players that plays in blue, they are a good bunch and will be for quite some time.  I'm just not sure that this team is quite ready to turn the corner yet, no matter close they are.  Yes, one clutch move by this team's management and we could start this discussion again, but as of this particular moment... they're not there yet.  Playoffs, yes... the next level, not quite.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Morning Playoff Notes (May 18)

Nicklas Backstrom returned from his hand injury, dressing for the Capitals for the first time in four games, as they tried to put the Lightning behind the 8-ball with the first home win of this series.  The resiliency of the Lightning, however, was the determining factor of this game, as the Capitals had their chances to put Game 4 away in their favour, but came up a little bit short.

The Capitals got off to a quick start with a Dmitry Orlov goal, less than five minutes in, but the Lightning were having nothing with that, as Brayden Point scored 1:10 afterwards and Steven Stamkos scored three minutes later and the away team had a 2-1 lead heading into the first break.  Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to tie the game in the 2nd period and it was a brand new game heading into the 3rd.

The 3rd period was a great battle, no one really wanting to give up space and it was a very good back-and-forth, where the goalies were standing tall.  But just when the Capitals thought they had killed a 3rd period penalty, Alex Killorn shoveled in a loose puck at the side of the net, six seconds after the penalty expired and the Lightning broke through, not long after the midway point of the final frame and then it was lock down time.  The Bolts added an empty-netter just before the buzzer and that was your final, 4-2, another away team win.

There's no home-ice advantage, thus far, in the Eastern Conference Finals and this series heads back to Tampa Bay for Game 5, which will be played on Saturday night and the series now becomes a best-of-three.

Killorn with the bonus point, Point also tallied an assist and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves for the win, all picking up a pair of points each.  If those were your three Lightning players, you were certainly in luck.

Heading into the weekend, Tony's team holds a more comfortable 14-point lead on Neil's team, which had some gains with Vegas' recent success in the last couple of games, but Neil's team can't seem to gain any ground, despite having some good match-ups in both the Conference Finals.  I think Neil's best shot at the money will be if Winnipeg can come back on Vegas and Tampa sneaking through past Washington.  Otherwise, it could truly be curtains.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Pool Outlook for New Jersey

I'm not afraid to say it... my expectations of the New Jersey Devils at the start of the year were still pretty low.  It's a true credit to this team's management and coaching staff, that the pieces were put together and it all seemed to really click, making the Devils a very good team in the 2018 season.  Sure, they had some stumbles, but earning the last wild card in the Eastern Conference is a true testament to the improvements made after finishing 27th in the league a season ago.

Sure, an NHL draft lottery win helped a fair bit, but the Devils were still going to end up with a very good player at the 4th overall pick, if they didn't get the 1st overall pick.  The Devils swung some deals both in the off-season and early in the season, which helped their cause, goaltending was a bit of an issue, until Keith Kinkaid stepped up and earned the number one job in net.

The Devils were also brazen enough to be buyers at the trade deadline, trying really milk their regular season success, which actually looked pretty good on them, adding a couple of unrestricted free agents-to-be to their roster, trying to get past the number one seed in the east and keep that Cinderella story going.

I think there are still some question marks to this Devils team, heading into this off-season, but there's nothing that can't be handled by a good management group.  There's reason for optimism in the swamp and us poolies are set to reap the benefits, I'm sure.

How good was Taylor Hall's 2018 season?  Well, how about jumping into the top 10 of overall pool scoring?  Is that good?  No, it's great.  Hall was a dynamo for the Devils this past season, potting 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games, ranking him 9th overall in pool scoring, 6th among forwards and it has earned him Hart Trophy finalist honours as well.  Yes, he was certainly a very important piece to this hockey team and one of the key reasons why they made the playoffs.

The Devils did see some depth in their side as well, 12 players in total, worthy of the hockey pool.  12 players does seem to be the minimum, as I'm going along, to make the playoffs.  Joining Hall up front were rookie Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri, Patrick Maroon, Michael Grabner, rookie Jesper Bratt and Miles Wood.  Sure, Maroon and Grabner were late season adds, but they did contribute down the stretch and they had good seasons.  On defense, rookie Will Butcher led the way, followed by Sami Vatanen and Damon Severson.  Both goalies qualified for worthiness honours, Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider each finished in the top 50 of goalies this season, although Kinkaid really had the breakout year.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The Devils are still retooling and there isn't a lot to hang their hats on in their organization, past the 1st overall pick this summer. Hall, Palmieri, Severson and Schneider do give the team a reasonable core group of players to start from, but some inconsistencies in their other pool worthy players continues to hurt this team. Even if the Devils can insert their top pick into the lineup next season, there isn't enough evidence to suggest that this team will improve by leaps and bounds and will likely continue to suffer for lottery picks. The blueline should be their biggest focus in the off-season and it will likely be the balance point between improvement and still being last in the Eastern Conference.

You know what?  As dominant as Hall was and as helpful as Hischier was out of the gate, there was a real turning point when the Devils were able to add Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen at the start of the season and their blueline became so much stronger, helping the guys up front and the goaltending situation in the back, that making the playoffs was greatly helped by those two adds.  Hall having an MVP-type season did help too.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

The 1st overall pick in the entry draft last summer, Nico Hischier, was indeed the better of the two top prospects before the draft and I had chosen poorly in last year's outlook, opting for Nolan Patrick instead.  Hischier really turned it on in the 2018 season, showing that his size and skill were indeed worthy of his draft selection, finishing with 20 goals and 52 points in all 82 games.  This kid is a gamer and will be a good pick for years to come.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Taylor Hall 6.000 Andy Greene 5.000 Cory Schneider 6.000
Travis Zajac 5.750 Sami Vatanen 4.875 Keith Kinkaid 1.250
Kyle Palmieri 4.650 Damon Severson 4.167
Marcus Johansson 4.583 Ben Lovejoy 2.667
Brian Boyle 2.750 Will Butcher 0.925
Nico Hischier 0.925 Mirco Mueller 0.850
Michael McLeod 0.894 Brian Strait 0.675
Pavel Zacha 0.894
John Quenneville 0.812
Jesper Bratt 0.749
Blake Speers 0.728
Blake Pietila 0.668

All in all, there are a few names on the list, that should have been better in 2018 than they were, Marcus Johansson and Pavel Zacha should have been there, if it weren't for injury, Travis Zajac and Andy Greene could have contributed more for their dollar value, Ben Lovejoy was also down, so the Devils have some added potential in their roster, that we didn't really get to see last year.  There will probably be a little bit of added excitement around this team at the draft, but it could be buyer beware here too.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Rental players Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner are headed to unrestricted free agency, the Devils could take or leave them for next year and they are the only pool worthy free agents heading to market for the Devils.  They do have some prospects coming to restricted free agency, including Stefan Noesen, who was a bubble player among the pool worthy candidates.

The Devils are just brimming with cap space, as they're currently looking at $17 million in cap space, even before the cap ceiling goes up this season.  That's a lot of tinkering money and they will have to spend some, because they're more than likely going to fall below the floor, when it goes up to, at this rate.

Those reports of Michael McLeod being closer to a 2019 roster player from this time last year, seem to be coming to fruition.  McLeod had a strong, yet short, season in the OHL, 44 points in 38 regular season games and even got a cup of coffee with the Devils' AHL club, before the season was out too.  His skating has been one of the focal points of his game and there is plenty of expectation around what he can bring offensively to the Devils, as soon as next year.  There might just be some room for him, so stay tuned!

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
I think the Devils just go into this draft looking for the best player available for their pick, maybe trying to find a fit somewhere on their roster down the road.  Play-making Czech forward Martin Kaut sounds like a great prospect, already appearing in the top league over there and playing in numerous tournaments for his country in the 2018 season.  It sounds like this kid is a power play specialist, both passing and shooting, and could be a hard player to pass up, come time.

With so many emerging rookies on the Devils roster in the 2018 season, it does make me weary about getting too high on them in the 2019 season.  Sure, Taylor Hall and Keith Kinkaid did a lot of the heavy lifting in New Jersey this past season, but you can't turn away from the freshman contributions that they had as well.  The sophomore curse can be a real thing and if any combination of their top rookies fall into that trap next season, they could be treading in some troubled waters next year.  This Devils team could vie for a wild card spot next year, all things being equal, but I can also see them have a season of regression, only to rev the engines for 2020.

Morning Playoff Notes (May 17)

The Western Conference Finals shifted to Vegas on Wednesday night and both the Jets and the Golden Knights had some lineup news ahead of Game 3. The Jets were without Nikolaj Ehlers, their Box 4 forward, as he was sitting out with an undisclosed injury, missing the morning skate ahead of the game as well. David Perron's healthy scratch in Game 2 was actually an undisclosed injury of his own and it kept him out of Game 3, but no real update to speak of.

The Golden Knights made good use of their momentum from Game 2 in Winnipeg to score 35 seconds into Game 3, thanks to Jonathan Marchessault and it got the Jets on their heels right away.  The Jets were not able to respond on the scoresheet until the 2nd period, but the Knights were again, quick to respond, 12 seconds later, on a James Neal goal.  Vegas added another goal before the period was out, leading 3-1 after two, but Mark Scheifele scored his second goal of the game, 18 seconds into the period, but the Golden Knights were able to hang on, adding a Marchessault empty-netter to seal it, 4-2.

Alex Tuch stole the game-winning bonus point from the pool, but Marc-Andre Fleury added an assist to his 33-save win for a 3-point night and Neal also added an assist for a 2-point night.  Blake Wheeler added a pair of assists in the loss, gaining notable status.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Morning Playoff Notes (May 16)

With the 8-ball looming quite large, the Tampa Bay Lightning either needed to fix what went wrong in their first two home games or start camping out in behind the black ball.  A limp power play was certainly one of those things that wasn't going right for the Lightning and they were able to open the scoring on the man-advantage with a Steven Stamkos marker and then they added another one in the 2nd to go up 2-0, thanks to Nikita Kucherov.  The Lightning struck quickly after the Kucherov marker, as Victor Hedman finally scored his first goal of the playoffs and the Bolts did well to hold on from there, earning a 4-2 win and climbing back into the series.

Hedman had himself a game, adding a couple of assists to his goal, which turned out to be the winner, giving him and his eight selections a 4-point night.  Kucherov and Stamkos each added assists to their goals to be notable, while Brayden Point was also up with a goal and an assist in the win.  Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves for the win, making his 12 selections very happy as well.

Washington now leads the series 2-1 and will try and put Tampa behind the 8-ball on Thursday night.