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.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Morning Playoff Notes (May 15)

If this playoff season has taught us anything, it's that this year's Washington Capitals are not the same team we have come to know and trust.  This Capitals team has been hard-nosed and battle ready and these Tampa Bay Lightning were clearly not prepared for what they were going to bring to the table.  Game 2 in Tampa Bay on Sunday night was quite the display from the visitors, as they got on the board early and despite being down one heading into the 2nd, the Capitals showed no fear and rather, they dominated the last 40 minutes of the game, dropping five unanswered goals in the final two frames.  A 6-2 final for the Capitals gives them a 2-0 series lead, as they head back home with a distinct advantage.

Lars Eller finally got another winning goal back into the hockey pool, as it has been a couple games since we've seen a bonus point, and he added a couple of assists as well, making it a 4-point night, great for the five teams that picked him up in the pool.  Also having notable nights for Washington were Evgeny Kuznetsov with 3 points and then Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, John Carlson and Braden Holtby with 2 points a piece.  Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point each had a goal and an assist in the loss.

From what I got to see in Winnipeg on Monday night, there were two different teams on the ice, than what had suited up a couple of nights before.  The Golden Knights had shaken off the rust from their long layoff completely and the Jets appeared to be resting on their 1-0 series lead throughout the game and that little let down was enough to make Game 2 really favour the visitors.  The Golden Knights popped in two in the 1st, the Jets didn't respond until the 3rd, but even still, Vegas responded within a minute and a bit, restoring that 2-goal lead and that was really all there was.  A 3-1 victory for Vegas and a tied series, 1-1, heading back to Sin City.

Jonathan Marchessault scored a pair of goals, including the winner, for a 3-point night, Reilly Smith had a pair of assists and Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves for the win.

Tomas Tatar was reinserted back into the Vegas lineup on Tuesday night and scored a goal, but coming out of the lineup, as a healthy scratch, was Box 4 forward David Perron.  The move seemed to work wonders for the Golden Knights, so one might have to assume that this version of the lineup might remain for Game 3.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Pool Outlook for Colorado

What a spectacular turnaround for the Colorado Avalanche and it was nothing short of being "about time!"

The top end players that have been playing on this team for a little while, either stepped up to their potential or came fairly close and you could see what kind of difference it made.  Going from last place in the standings, by a country mile, to making the playoffs, if only just barely, was a great turnaround for this franchise and things are again, starting to look up.

The Avalanche were able to bring in some fresh legs to their roster, they added a number two goalie that came up huge when their number one went down for an extended stretch during the year and they found some production out of their depth, which certainly helped.

The Avalanche did have some minor injury issues through the year, Semyon Varlamov was out for a stretch, as was Tyson Barrie, so you could put the argument out there that their season could have been better than the second wild card in the Western Conference, but I'm sure they can hang their hats on it this summer and start looking forward to building on their successes.

If the Colorado Avalanche were going to get anywhere, they needed Nathan MacKinnon to really hit his stride and he did exactly that in the 2018 season.  MacKinnon got the votes to become a Hart Trophy finalist after leading the Avalanche to the playoffs, thanks to 39 goals and 97 points in only 74 games played, scoring at 1.3 points per game.  His point total was 8th best in the hockey pool, 5th among all forwards and now his stock is quite high, the Avalanche can really trust him to carry this team forward.

MacKinnon did get quite a bit of help, as there were 11 more players who were deemed pool worthy through their numbers, including his right-hand man, Mikko Rantanen, who finished 22nd overall in pool scoring, sneaking into 1st round consideration in a draft redo.  That's incredible!  Also worthy up front were Gabriel Landeskog, rookie Alexander Kerfoot, Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau, while on defense, it was Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, rookie Samuel Girard and Nikita Zadorov.  The goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier split the duties and both posted good numbers, both in the top 30, which kept a consistent presence in the crease and helped snag a lot of those wins.

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

I don't think it's unfair to say that the Avalanche are only a piece or two away from finally taking all that talent and breaking out. There's also a certain possibility that they already have that piece in Tyson Barrie, as they have been waiting for him to realize his potential. Whether or not he still needs a touch more help somewhere and somehow, that's up for debate as well. Between MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog and even looking at what Jost can be, they should have the tools to work this out and/or trade one of them away to get that extra piece that they need. The Avalanche are going to be an interesting team to watch in the off-season and it will be those potential pieces that determines where they end up at this time next year.

The acquisitions that the Avalanche made, Bernier and Kerfoot, both UFA signings, came up huge in the regular season and then a trade that saw Matt Duchene leave town to Ottawa was also quite profitable, receiving Girard in that deal and watching him flourish at the back end.  The Avs were busy and it certainly helped, as they reached some of their potential and still have more to live up to.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

2016 1st round pick Tyson Jost didn't quite feature into the team, like I thought he might in the 2018 season.  A knee/lower-body injury got him off to a slow start, a stint in the AHL for rehab only got his skating legs back, but he couldn't quite find the sharp offensive play in his game through the year, which was kind of disappointing.  Jost played in 65 games, scored 12 goals and 22 points, showing that he's coming along, but thankfully, it's a matter of when and not if.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Nathan MacKinnon 6.300 Erik Johnson 6.000 Semyon Varlamov 5.900
Gabriel Landeskog 5.500 Tyson Barrie 5.500 Pavel Francouz 0.690
Carl Soderberg 4.750 Nikita Zadorov 2.100
Colin Wilson 3.938 Samuel Girard 0.728
Sven Andrighetto 1.400 Mark Alt 0.725
J.T. Compher 0.925 Anton Lindholm 0.718
Alexander Kerfoot 0.925 David Warsofsky 0.650
Dominic Toninato 0.925
Josh Dickinson 0.925
Mikko Rantanen 0.894
Tyson Jost 0.886
Vladislav Kamenev 0.833
A.J. Greer 0.742
Andrew Agozzino 0.650

An exceptional portion of the pool worthy players are already signed on and ready to go for the 2019 season, which has to be very promising for this Avalanche team.  Rantanen has one more year on his entry-level deal, which will keep costs down and there are only a few holes to fill, which should make this summer fairly straight-forward for Joe Sakic and company.  I've got to think that this will be a team to pick from at the draft, unless they come crashing back down again... but we won't know that until this time next year.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The 23-man roster that you see above is currently under the salary cap floor, so if anything, there will be some signings to make up for that.  And that's last year's floor, by the way, a target that will be moving up.  I am showing them $2.8 million from the floor right now, which should increase by $3 to $5 million in a few weeks, so a couple of key signings should get them safe.  It's not a real worry.

Only two players from their pool worthy roster is heading to free agency, goalie Jonathan Bernier and forward Blake Comeau, both probably looking for decent raises in this off-season, but Bernier may jump ship for more minutes, although Varlamov's wonky health situation, on a day-to-day basis, could be enough to convince him to stay.

Matt Nieto, Nail Yakupov and Patrik Nemeth all found decent homes in Denver and could be considerations for small raises in restricted free agency as well.

There is quite a bit of optimism with forward Vladislav Kamenev, also acquired in the Duchene deal between Ottawa and Nashville, as he is a decent offensive production guy with decent size.  It doesn't sound like he brings a ton to the game, but he does get the job done at the AHL level.  With a couple of their other key young players still maturing at various different levels, Kamenev would be my pick as the guy to look out for in Colorado.  He was a 2nd round pick in 2014, so that has to say something, right?

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
The Avalanche have been stocking their coffers quite well in recent years, they have a couple of great defensemen on the rise, so it could be a good time to go out and snag a top forward with the 16th pick. The Avalanche have a good stable of forwards that have both size and skill and I would go in the direction of Serron Noel, the Oshawa Generals forward, who brings exactly that to the table.  The 6'5" 17-year old already has the height to put a big body together and his numbers in the OHL were very good as well, 53 points in 62 regular season games.

For me, the Colorado Avalanche could go in either direction, both up or down.  The Western Conference has been so finnicky in the last few years, that teams that hover on the bubble can either see that bubble burst or see a team buckle down and move up and off that bubble.  The Avalanche are a bit of a bubble team still, but if players like MacKinnon, Rantanen and Barrie can get the rest of their teammates to pick up their socks, this team could move up among the elite.  Solidifying that number two goalie behind the injury-prone Varlamov will also be key, as that number two guy normally sees a lot of starts.  If MacKinnon is locked in at 95-to-100 points, the Avalanche goalies are good, this Avalanche team can come back and challenge for a better playoff spot in 2019.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Pool Outlook for Florida

The last of the non-playoff teams on the list is the Florida Panthers and they only missed out on the tie-breaking procedure, because the New Jersey Devils had one more overtime win than they did.  That's just how close everything was in the Eastern Conference... that damned extra point in the standings!

After a fairly significant flop in the 2017 season, the Florida Panthers' expectation levels fell back to Earth a little bit more heading into the 2018 season, which probably did them some good.  They weren't quite under the same microscope, especially at the hockey pool level, but we all had a feeling that they were going to compete.

The Panthers were one of several teams that were probably fairly disappointed that their plan at the expansion draft backfired on them, since Jonathan Marchessault was such a stud for the Golden Knights in the 2018 season and the Panthers probably thought that he was a flash in the pan kind of player.  The Panthers with another 27-goal scorer in their lineup, could have got them into the playoffs.

Are the Panthers really coming around the bend to being a competitive force in the Eastern Conference?  Slowly, perhaps.  Being on the cusp of making the playoffs will certainly raise the expectation level for them in the 2019 season, assuming management makes all the right moves in this coming summer.

The Panthers are finally getting to see Aleksander Barkov really blossom in these last couple of seasons and his game was as colourful, as it was productive.  The 2nd overall pick in 2013 broke out to score 27 goals and 78 points in 79 games this season, nearly a point-per-game pace, ranking him 32nd overall in pool scoring, 25th among all forwards, which would make him a solid 2nd round pick in a draft redo.  The Panthers were able to find him some quality linemates, lining up with Evgenii Dadonov for the better part of the season, a very pool worthy addition, despite his injury.  This pairing has some real potential to it, which is good news for Panthers fans.

Besides Barkov and Dadonov, the Panthers had eight more pool worthy players on their list, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad up front, Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad and Michael Matheson on the blueline and their goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Roberto Luongo were both worthy as well.  One thing that has been fairly noticeable through these outlook posts, the non-playoff teams have had a lot of depth issues up front and it appears that the Panthers were no different.

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

There was a lot more working against the Panthers in the 2017 season, making the argument that they were not necessarily a bad team, they were just forced through some unfortunate circumstances in the year and it cost them their playoff spot. Even if Jagr was to depart to a better chance at winning a Cup in this off-season, he may have had more than enough time to impart some of his leadership and experience to the key guys in Florida, which makes me believe that they'll be back in the playoff fight at this time next year. The cornerstones are there, but goaltending could still be a question mark. As long as the team plays well in front of the keeper, they should be in more games in 2018 and they will find their way back to the playoffs, barring a disaster.

This was pretty close.  The Panthers do have a lot of good pieces in play and they were damn close to the playoffs and they may have only seen some minor disasters that you could argue a good point that they cost them the playoffs.  The addition of Dadonov was clutch in the summer, although he was injured for eight games, during a hot streak, and Reimer played exceptionally well, when Luongo was down for an extended period of time.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

The 2018 season was actually quite good for Jonathan Huberdeau, who ranked 3rd on the team in pool scoring with 69 points in 82 games and there's certainly some wiggle room for a little bit more production in the 2019 season as well.  He outpaced my projection of 65 points, if only marginally, and certainly impressed.  I think he could be a sneaky pick in next year's draft, if you can get him low enough.  He ranked 47th overall in pool scoring, a late 2nd round pick, but being in Florida, you might be able to get him late in the 3rd or early in the 4th.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Aleksander Barkov 5.900 Aaron Ekblad 7.500 Roberto Luongo 4.533
Jonathan Huberdeau 5.900 Keith Yandle 6.350 James Reimer 3.400
Vincent Trocheck 4.750 Mike Matheson 4.875
Nick Bjugstad 4.100 Mark Pysyk 2.733
Evgenii Dadonov 4.000 Ian McCoshen 0.925
Jamie McGinn 3.333 Michael Downing 0.820
Derek MacKenzie 1.375
Colton Sceviour 1.200
Micheal Haley 0.825
Henrik Borgstrom 0.925
Henrik Haapala 0.925
Denis Malgin 0.690
Maxim Mamin 0.758

All 10 players that were on the pool worthy list are confirmed and ready to go for the 2019 season, which makes things really easy for us poolies to visualize.  Luongo has confirmed that he will return for another year, but we will question his capacity for winning, as he is 39 years old and will be at the start of the season.  The Panthers appear to be paying the right guys, so there is some real promise in there somewhere.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Forward Jared McCann and defenseman Alex Petrovic are the two most notable free agents, heading into the off-season and both are of the restricted variety.  Otherwise, the Panthers don't have a lot of concerns under their own roof, in the free agent department.

Cap-wise, I have their current cap commitments, including the 21-man roster above, plus retained salary and a buyout, coming in at $67.7 million, leaving them $7.3 million in cap space, before the lift of the ceiling.  This could be good tinkering money for management this summer, it won't buy them a huge piece, but they could possibly find one or two pieces to compliment what they have.

Last year's ones to watch were a couple of duds, I should say.  The Panthers did finally bring up 2016 1st round pick Henrik Borgstrom after his NCAA season was finished, signed him to his entry-level deal and played four games, scoring a goal.  The kid has a good frame, all kinds of offensive upside, but needs to just put on the strength.  This shouldn't be a problem for a 20-year old and I think this kid is probably going to have his name thrown in the ring for the rookie race, before it's all said and done.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
Last year, the Panthers had the 10th pick overall and they opted for Owen Tippett, getting some decent size out of that pick.  This year, I can see them move towards the best player available, or that sort of idea, at least.  The hockey IQ, size and work ethic were some of the things that set Jesperi Kotkaniemi apart from some of the other prospects, according to one scouting outlet and I know Panthers management is all about that sort of stuff.  With the 15th pick, the Panthers could make a good add here, adding a kid like that to their lineup, one or two years down the road.

The combination of Barkov, Trocheck, Huberdeau and Ekblad gives the Panthers a really solid core, especially with them all being under the age of 25 right now.  This team has made some good additions in recent years and they could do with one or two more in this off-season, maybe the emergence of Borgstrom will be one of those, maybe a free agent on the back end as well.  This team is going places and that may get lost on some people, given that they are a way down in the sun belt, where hockey coverage does get a little lost.  Just paying attention to this team on paper may need an extra keen eye, but I think this team could make its way into the playoffs, with one or two decent pieces.  They'll certainly be a good team to pick from at the hockey pool draft in the coming year(s).