NHL Playoff Update: The mighty fall

sabres.jpgLast night was … interesting, to say the least. Plenty of teams previously on Vulture Circle Watch are now showing some surprising signs of life while once-hot teams are crashing down to Earth.

Both the Sharks and the Coyotes dropped games to Western foes while the Blackhawks defeated the hapless Wild convincingly with a 4-0 win. In the East, the Penguins couldn’t improve their slim Atlantic division lead while the Sabres jumped to second place in the conference.

After the jump, I’ll share updated standings for playoff relevant teams, including a few sneaky teams who might be in for a miracle run to the playoffs.


First, the Western Conference (click to enlarge, teams who clinched a playoff berth are highlighted.)

westap1.PNG

Flames 2, Coyotes 1

All of a sudden, things are looking quite a bit more optimistic for the fledgling Flames. While the Colorado Avalanche are in sinking ship mode, the Flames are only two points back (although the Avs have a game in hand). You think Friday’s game in Colorado might mean a little bit?

Ducks 5, Avalanche 2

I doubt that the Ducks should cancel their country club memberships just yet, but they are on a three game winning streak right now and aren’t mathematically eliminated yet. The team sure seems to excel at being fashionably late.

Stars 5, Sharks 1

Something tells me that the Sharks are glad that the Stars are more or less hopeless when it comes to a playoff run. Their longtime divisional foes are a constant headache for San Jose.

Blackhawks 4, Wild 0

Beating up on the lowly Wild doesn’t wash all the stink off Chicago, but it never hurts to win big every now and then.

Now, the Eastern Conference picture.

eastap1.PNG

Sabres 6, Panthers 2

Buffalo is quietly rounding into a serious contender in the East.

Lightning 2, Penguins 0

This is one of those games the Penguins will rue if they fail to win the Atlantic division.

Hurricanes 2, Canadiens 1

It would almost certainly require Carolina to win all five of their remaining games (not to mention for other teams to fail quite a bit) for this to be anything more than a nice run that hurts their draft status. Still, the Canes are the ultimate spoiler right now. For Montreal, it could be time to worry.

Scroll Down For:

    Stars give Lindell two-year extension

    Getty
    Leave a comment

    More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

    From the release:

    Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

    The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

    Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

    Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

    Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

    Getty
    Leave a comment

    Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

    Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

    Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

    He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

    “It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

    Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

    Getty
    Leave a comment

    In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

    GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

    But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

    “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

    Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

    “I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

    As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

    The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

    And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

    Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

    Getty
    1 Comment

    The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

    Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

    Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

    But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

    GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

    Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.