If there’s a random joy in hockey that I like it’s seeing players that I grew up watching get coaching jobs. Sure, it’s got that special side effect of saying, “Dude, you’re getting so old now,” but seeing names and faces from your formidable years as a hockey fan is great. Case in point, the Colorado Avalanche have hired one of the big names of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals to be their new goaltending coach.
Theoretically, you could attempt to make the “injuries open up the door for other players to succeed” argument just about all the time, but aside from a Kurt Warner discovery here and there, most of the time a star player being out week-to-week is abysmal for a team.
The Winnipeg Jets can’t be thrilled to learn that Dustin Byfuglien is considered week-to-week thanks to a lower-body injury, with PHT’s Scott Billeck reporting that they hope to get the bulky blueliner back sometime around the Christmas holiday.
The domino effect could be bad overall, yet this actually is one of those cases where an injury could open a door for a player capable of much more, as Jacob Trouba stands to gain some significant offensive opportunities with Byfuglien on the shelf.
That much was already made clear today, as Trouba took Byfuglien’s spot on the top power-play unit. As of this writing, Byfuglien was averaging a team-leading 3:34 PP TOI per contest this season, towering over Trouba’s average of 1:22 per night.
You could make a reasonable argument that finances might have played a role in Byfuglien getting such an opportunity advantage, as Buffy is taking in (an increasingly scary) $7.6 million through 2020-21, while Trouba’s 2017-18 will play a significant role in how much of a raise he receives from his borderline-insulting $2.8M mark.
If all things were equal, would Byfuglien get this much leash, considering somewhat disappointing totals (zero goals, 15 assists)?
Look, it’s likely that Byfuglien was going to get some bounces, much like Brent Burns finally is getting in San Jose. Still, considering the focus Winnipeg’s incredible forwards can draw, you’d ideally want to see Byfuglien fire at least a few pucks in the net.
Last week, The Athletic’s Craig Custance wrote about (sub required) Trouba being willing to sacrifice offensive opportunities this season, even in a contract year. An anonymous NHL executive read many minds in wondering if Trouba was capable of more than he’s shown so far this season.
“I could see a guy like Trouba segueing into a more offensive role. Where he is today, I don’t think is necessarily the ultimate barometer,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “They have a pretty good team. They play a great team game. The forwards are awesome. Sometimes you have to just give it to (Patrik) Laine and watch.”
Perhaps that’s true, but again, players like Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Nikolaj Ehlers create havoc for opposing defenses. Sometimes such threats force teams to cheat a little bit to try to reduce their chances, conceivably opening up potentially precious extra moments for other skilled players to take advantage of unusually large windows of opportunity.
Trouba’s game has clearly gone more conservative at times this season. You can see it even in just shooting; Trouba’s averaging 2.3 shots on goal per contest, down from 2.57 per night last season. That might not seem massive, but wouldn’t you expect a healthy dose of greed to push Trouba closer to three SOG per game, especially since it might actually benefit Winnipeg for a talented player to fire the biscuit that much more?
A cynical observer might wonder if the Jets were trying to have their cake and eat it too here: hold off on Trouba getting a bigger offensive push until after he signs his next contract, while reaping the benefits of having at least one more season of employing a top-pairing defenseman for less than $3M.
Sly observers will see that Trouba is an excellent two-way piece, but when it comes to contract negotiations, sometimes a lack of goals and assists can mysteriously hurt a blueliner’s bottom line.
All of these factors make this tweak awfully interesting for Trouba, not to mention other Jets players, including the wonderfully named Tucker Poolman.
Deep down, Jets management might not want this experiment to be too successful, honestly.
Even if you wanted to douse the fire a bit with talk of lucky bounces, it was impossible to totally dismiss the excitement generated by the Vancouver Canucks’ young, shockingly effective top line of Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, and Brock Boeser.
As it turns out, regression isn’t what spoiled the party. Instead, two-thirds of that tremendous trio have been dealt significant injuries in a short span.
About a week ago, word surfaced that Horvat would miss about six-to-eight weeks with a broken foot. Monday’s update was similarly grim for Baertschi, as a fractured jaw is expected to cost the winger four-to-six weeks.
Here’s the update from Canucks head coach Travis Green:
You really need to crane your neck to find a silver lining in the dark clouds hanging over the Canucks, who’ve lost two straight games and five of eight.
Some will find it intriguing to see how Boeser, the Canucks’ lethal-scoring and well-coiffed winger, fares with both his partners in crime on the shelf for at least a month.
To his credit, Boeser collected a goal in each of the two games with Horvat sidelined; perhaps some of his ability will simply override linemate concerns? His shot continues to befuddle goalies, as you can see from the video above and also read about in detail via this great breakdown by Justin Bourne of The Athletic (sub required).
When you consider the Canucks’ schedule going forward, what seems like a good opportunity instead becomes something of a mixed blessing.
Mon, Dec 11 @ Winnipeg
Wed, Dec 13 vs Nashville
Fri, Dec 15 vs San Jose
Sun, Dec 17 vs Calgary
Tue, Dec 19 vs Montreal
Thu, Dec 21 @ San Jose
Sat, Dec 23 vs St. Louis
Thu, Dec 28 vs Chicago
Sat, Dec 30 vs Los Angeles
Mon, Jan 2 vs Anaheim
Fri, Jan 6 @ Toronto
Sat, Jan 7 @ Montreal
Mon, Jan 9 @ Washington
Thu, Jan 12 @ Columbus
Sat, Jan 14 @ Minnesota
Fri, Jan 20 @ Edmonton
Sat, Jan 21 @ Winnipeg
Mon, Jan 23 vs Los Angeles
Wed, Jan 25 vs Buffalo
Mon, Jan 30 vs Colorado
As you can see, 2017 ends with some significant opportunities for the Canucks, as their road-weary start pays off to a lot of home-cooking in December. The new year gets off to a rocky start with that seven-game road trip from Jan. 6-21, but the overall haul without one or both of Horvat/Baertschi is reasonably friendly.
Such a stretch might end up sending mixed signals to management, however.
If the right path is to continue to rebuild while also enjoying unexpected returns thanks to youngsters like Boeser and clever work by Green, then treading water amid injuries might provide too much false hope. Yes, it must be refreshing to at least get the glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel, but the Canucks still need to look at this situation realistically.
There’s also the possibility that Vancouver will rally, only to really hit a wall during that early-2018 road trip.
Being middle-of-the-road is less depressing in the moment than “tank mode,” yet there’s also the risk of puck purgatory: falling short of the postseason while ruining chances to add more franchise-altering young players like Boeser. He seems like quite the find as the 23rd pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, but recent history shows that you’re most likely to build a winner with lottery-level prospects rather than shrewd, late-first rounders.
Just about any way you slice it, this is a bummer for the Canucks, who lose precious weeks to better gauge a proper value for Baertschi (a pending RFA who should expect a hearty raise from $1.85 million).
Aside from setting up an alternate reality in NHL 18, there aren’t many happy places to look if you’re a fan of the Ottawa Senators.
Take, for instance, their Cap Friendly page.
For a team often hamstrung by budget, they’re still spending a lot of money this season, and they currently lack their top two draft picks.* They have tough hurdles coming up with Erik Karlsson‘s deal expiring after 2018-19, Mark Stone hovering as a pending RFA, and Craig Anderson‘s new contract looking scarier by the day considering the fact that he’s already 36.
Looking at the standings and Matt Duchene‘s 14 games with the Senators vs. 14 with the Avalanche will make some fans weep a bit.
Checking out news coverage will only make you dig a deeper hole as a Sens fan. At the Athletic, James Gordon discusses an on-and-off-the-ice disaster, while former NHL executive Frank Provenzano laid out the case for trading Karlsson.
The source of true heart palpitations should come from increased rumblings of a big trade happening, especially if you glance at the early/mid-term returns in trading for Duchene, Dion Phaneuf, and Derick Brassard. The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch mostly downplays the idea of trading Erik Karlsson, but Garrioch reports that the Sens might be fielding offers on the likes of Mike Hoffman, Brassard, Bobby Ryan, J-G Pageau, and Cody Ceci.
Not every bad/mixed Senators trade is on the head of GM Pierre Dorion. After all, he inherited the Phaneuf and Ryan contracts.
Still, he’s had his missteps, especially if Duchene’s struggles end up being more than a mere hiccup. So this paragraph from Garrioch should send chills up the spines of Senators fans while prompting other teams’ GMs to lick their chops like sharks smelling blood:
If Dorion is going to make a trade, though, it doesn’t make sense to do a small deal. If the point is to send a message to a struggling dressing room, then it’s got to have to a trade that strikes at the core of the team.
Let’s assume that Karlsson won’t be traded, even if Senators owner Eugene Melnyk was steamed about his free agent comments, which might explain why the superstar defenseman almost seemed to do damage control in this interview with Sportsnet.
Senators fans would probably delight with the idea of Dorion getting someone to take Ryan’s bloated contract off their hands, and most would probably agree that Alex Burrows was a mistake worth parting with.
The scariest name is Mike Hoffman, at least assuming that Mark Stone wouldn’t be in the mix.
The next Eberle?
To my eyes, the Senators could put themselves at risk of, essentially, a reversal of the pump-and-dump they suffered in taking Dion Phaneuf off the Leafs’ hands. There’s reason to wonder if Hoffman’s value is currently being hurt in Ottawa, opening the door for the Sens to get fleeced.
Hoffman, 28, really isn’t doing so bad with 21 points in 28 games, yet the 28-year-old is carrying a cap hit of a bit under $5.2 million per season through 2019-20. A clever rival GM could start to build the case that he’s worth parting ways with, what with Hoffman’s -9 rating (hey, it’s worth a shot) and that the Senators have struggled with him on the ice (his PDO this season is 96.5, so maybe management is getting frustrated with The Hoff).
If you look at Hoffman’s linemates for much of this season, you’ll essentially see a blending of the gross, like that opening scene from an episode of “Freaks and Geeks.”
In other words, Hoffman has the makings of another Jordan Eberle-type value, and that parallel might be useful in noting that he’s a good player who, like most, carries a flaw or two. In Hoffman’s case, some hockey people might be put off by his reputation for being something of a “perimeter shooter.”
There’s a significant recent history of teams becoming obsessed with the bad of a strong player – perceived flaws or real – and taking on poor value as a result. It’s basically the story of Peter Chiarelli’s worst mistakes in Edmonton, but there’s some evidence of questionable value judgments in Ottawa, too.
As tempting as it might be for the Senators to try to fix things and “send a message to the locker room,” bold moves have mostly blown up in this team’s face, so Ottawa’s probably better off going the potato route.
If I were an NHL GM, I’d probably call Dorion during breakfast, lunch, and dinner to try to make something happen. Considering recent history and the vulnerable position they’re in, the Senators might be wise just to turn off their phones and ignore all emails.
For the rest of us, it should be a fun, if bumpy, ride.
* – Conditions of the Duchene – Turris deal could cost Ottawa its 2019 first-rounder instead, but that might not be much of a consolation.
The Nashville Predators have not only built a powerhouse team in the Western Conference, they have done it in such a way under the salary cap that they not only have their core locked in for the foreseeable future, they still have enough salary cap space to add players like Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino on long-term deals.
Those additions have helped make an already strong team one of the absolute best in the NHL, and they only seem to be getting better.
They not only enter the week with one of the best records in the league, they are starting to look better than the team that was in the Stanley Cup Final just a few months ago.
Entering play on Monday the Predators 13-2-2 in their past 17 games.
Since acquiring Turris in that blockbuster three-team trade with the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators they are 10-2-2 while Turris himself has already recorded 13 points.
What is perhaps scariest about this team for the rest of the Western Conference is they have not really been fully healthy yet this season. Ryan Ellis, a key part of their defense, which is the backbone of their team, has yet to play this season. Bonino missed a significant chunk of the season and they are currently dealing with injuries to Johansen and Scott Hartnell. When totally healthy this team is going to be an abslute nightmare matchup for just about any team in the NHL with that defense and newfound center depth.
Their current run has them fourth in our power rankings.
Here is a look at where everybody else fits in.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They still have the NHL’s top two scorers, the NHL’s best goal differential, and the NHL’s best points percentage. Kind of hard to put anybody else on top of the league at this point, right?
2. St. Louis Blues — Losing Jaden Schwartz is just another injury added to the list this season for the Blues, but they keep finding ways to power through and keep winning. It helps that Brayden Schenn is on his way to a career year offensively.
3. Los Angeles Kings — They had a rough stretch where they lost seven out of eight games, but then they followed it up by winning eight in a row. They are once again at the top of the NHL’s goals against leaderboard and have started to find some offense. Anze Kopitar is making a very strong early season MVP case for himself. He is third in the league in scoring, playing a ton of minutes, and dominating in all three zones the way he did when he was the focal point of a two-time Stanley Cup winning team.
4. Nashville Predators — The roster is not only better than the one that went to the Stanley Cup Final, they also just simply look like a better team, too.
The Rest Of The Best
5. Vegas Golden Knights — They. Won’t. Stop. Winning. And now they are getting Marc-Andre Fleury back, the player that was supposed to be the cornerstone of their inaugural season. Quite a story that is developing here.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs — It’s not just that the Maple Leafs have a superstar like Auston Matthews at the top of their lineup that makes them so dangerous and exciting offensively. It is the fact their lineup is just incredibly deep overall. Every line is capable of scoring goals on any given shift.
8. Washington Capitals — With wins in eight of their past 10 games, while also averaging 3.6 goals per game during that stretch, they are climbing the standings and starting to look like the Capitals again.
9. New York Rangers — As I said two weeks ago, winning just one of their first eight games put them in a hole that will be tough to climb out of in the standings. They are doing their best to make sure they do, in fact, climb out of it. They are 13-4-0 in their past 17 games.
10. Winnipeg Jets — They have cooled off a bit recently, but let’s not panic just yet. That offense is still great.
Stuck In The Middle
11. New Jersey Devils — A little bit of a fall from where they were two weeks ago, but the young talent on this team is still worth watching and giving Devils fans a lot of reason to believe, both for this season and the future.
12. Boston Bruins — With wins in eight of their past 10 games the Bruins are really starting to put it together. David Pastrnak is becoming a star and looking to improve on his 34-goal, 70-point performance from a season ago.
13. New York Islanders — After scoring 34 goals a season ago Anders Lee is doing everything he can to show it was no fluke. With 17 goals in his first 34 games entering the week he is now on pace for 41 goals this season.
14. San Jose Sharks — If you like goals, their games are not the games to watch. The enter the week 26th in the league in goals scored and second in the league in goals against.
15. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau‘s brilliance has kind of overshadowed the fact that Sean Monahan is having a career year offensively (he has five more goals than Gaudreau) and is also starting to post dominant possession numbers.
The Mystery Teams: Are They Good Or Not?
16. Minnesota Wild — Are they good or not is a question that we seem to be able to ask about the Minnesota Wild every season.
18. Dallas Stars — After what was a mostly up-and-down 2016-17 season John Klingberg looks like he has back to being one of the NHL’s most dynamic and dominant defensemen.
19. Pittsburgh Penguins — On any given night they can look like the team that has won back-to-back Stanley Cups. They can also look like a team that has no idea what it is doing.
20. Vancouver Canucks — Whether the Canucks maintain their early season success and actually make the playoffs is secondary to the fact the two best players on this team are under the age of 23 and look to be like legitimate building blocks.
21. Montreal Canadiens — The ultimate “are they good or not?” team this season. One night they are winning 10-1. Another night they are getting routed by the Oilers. Who knows what team is showing up when the puck drops.
22. Carolina Hurricanes — They are once again breaking hockey math.
23. Philadelphia Flyers — They snapped their 10-game losing streak by rolling through Western Canada, beating the Flames, Oilers and Canucks by a combined score of 13-5. Jakub Voracek is very quietly putting together a dominant season offensively, at least as far as his playmaking is concerned.
24. Anaheim Ducks — Adam Henrique has been pretty outstanding since coming over in the big trade with the New Jersey Devils. Given their injury situation down the middle it has been a much-needed addition.
25. Florida Panthers –– Losing Roberto Luongo could be a devastating blow to a team that really can not afford one. He has been spectacular when in the lineup while his backups have been … well … anything but spectacular.
26. Colorado Avalanche — They overachieved for a while at the start of the year but with losses in 10 of their past 15 games they are starting to become the Avalanche again.
27. Edmonton Oilers — The deeper we get into the season the more likely it seems they are going to miss the playoffs and waste one of Connor McDavid‘s prime years. That remains astonishing.
28. Detroit Red Wings — In the past week they’ve lost games by scores of 10-1 and 6-1. They’ve also lost seven out of eight overall and are quickly falling down the standings. There just is not a lot to be excited about here.
30. Arizona Coyotes — The travel schedule has not been kind to them. The good news? Ten of their next 12 games are at home. The bad news? Three of those first four games are against the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
31. Buffalo Sabres — The Sabres had a stretch where they were shutout three games in a row and were about 10 minutes away from a fourth. Since November 1 they have played 18 games. They have scored more than one goal in only nine of them.