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Road trips and Homestands that will shape the Atlantic Division

On Monday night, we posted some reactions to a piece that claimed the Buffalo Sabres were getting “screwed” by their schedule thanks to a tough road trip. That got us thinking about which groups of home and away games might have the biggest impact on every team in the NHL.

To look at that more deeply, we decided to analyze each squad through the prism of the league’s six divisions over the next few days.

First up – because we’re arbitrarily going in alphabetical order – is the Atlantic Division.

New Jersey

Not that it will matter much, most likely, but let’s look at them anyway.

Best home span: They are involved in their best homestand right now, as they’re playing at home in six of seven from December 23-January 6th.

Worst road trip: No streaks stand out too much, although they do have a couple four-game trips.

NY Islanders

Like the Devils, it might not really matter but let’s go over it anyway.

Two big alternating sets of home and away trips:

Part 1: Five in a row on the road (Dec 31-Jan 9) then five home games in a row and six of seven at home overall (Jan 11-23).

Part 2: Five in a row at home (March 2-11) then five away (March 12-22).

NY Rangers

OK, now we’re getting to the teams that are a little more relevant. The Rangers don’t have any especially big homestands or road trips, though. Their toughest road trip might actually begin on Wednesday, as they play five of their next six away from Madison Square Garden from December 29-January 8th.

Philadelphia

The Flyers are neck-and-neck with Pittsburgh for the division (and therefore league/conference) lead, but their schedule is awfully tough going forward.

Brutal road ahead: Philly faces five road games in a row (Dec 28- Jan 6) then they host the Devils for one game on January 8th followed by four more consecutive away games (Jan 11-16).

Followed by a nice home-heavy run: At least the league will reward them a bit after that, as they play eight of 10 games in Philly from January 18-February 10th.

Pittsburgh

Finally, let’s look at the Penguins’ situation.

For the most part, they don’t have too many huge spans one way or the other, but chunks of streaks at home and on the road. However, their best stretch is probably four of five at home from February 2-10th while the toughest one might be a five game road trip from February 23-March 5th.

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Looking at the Atlantic Division from this perspective, the Flyers’ work on their upcoming stretch of road games and then a big run of home contests through mid-February might be the biggest factor from a schedule perspective. It should be a fun race to watch.

Coyotes place Max Domi on IR, out ‘week to week’

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Max Domi #16 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Gila River Arena on February 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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A tough season for the Arizona Coyotes managed to get even tougher on Saturday when the team announced it has placed forward Max Domi on injured reserve with an upper body injury.

He is expected to be sidelined on a week-to-week basis. The earliest Domi is expected to return is next Saturday’s game against Minnesota.

Domi, 21, is one of the team’s best young players and has been an immediate success since arriving in the NHL a year ago. After finishing second on the team in scoring with 52 points as a rookie, a performance that earned him a sixth place finish in the Calder Trophy voting, he is once again second on the team this season with 16 points through the team’s first 26 games.

Domi played 10 minutes in the Coyotes’ most recent game against the Calgary Flames before exiting the game late in the second period following a fight with Garnet Hathaway.

This is the fight.

Domi is a skilled forward, but he is no stranger to dropping the gloves, with that fight already being his seventh in the NHL since the start of the 2015-16 season. Even if it is something he occasionally does it still has to be tough to lose perhaps your best player to an injury in a fight.

The Coyotes are in Nashville on Saturday night to play the Predators. They enter the day with an 8-13-5 record that has them tied for the worst record in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche.

With Ryan Miller injured, Canucks recall Thatcher Demko

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Ryan Miller #30 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from his crease during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller had to exit the team’s 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night with a suspected lower body injury after stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced.

The team did not seem overly concerned about it at the time, but Miller did not participate in the team’s morning skate on Saturday before their game against the Florida Panthers.

The team also announced that goalie Thatcher Demko has been recalled from the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League.

Demko, the team’s second-round draft pick (No. 36 overall) in 2014 is in his first year of pro hockey after a successful collegiate career at Boston College. In 14 games with Utica this season he has .909 save percentage. While the overall numbers are not anything overly impressive, he has been playing significantly better in recent weeks after a tough stretch to start his pro career.

Miller has a .916 save percentage in 15 games for the Canucks this season. If he can not go on Saturday night look for Jacob Markstrom to get the call with Demko serving as his backup.

There is no word at this point on how long the Canucks expect Miller to be sidelined.

Take a look at the Flyers 2017 Stadium Series jersey

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The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers will be taking their long-time rivalry outside on Feb. 25 when the two teams face off at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the 2017 Stadium Series.

On Saturday morning, the Flyers unveiled their uniforms for the game.

The uniforms are primarily black, accented with orange arm bands and nameplates.

Along with the outdoor game in February, the Flyers will also wear them a week later at home against the Penguins on March 5.

Here is a look at the uniforms, via the Flyers.

The Penguins unveiled their jersey for the game back in November. It is solid yellow.

Why the Clutterbuck signing is a bad gamble for the Islanders

UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 25: Jaroslav Halak #41 and Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders celebrate a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 25, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Capitals 3-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a pretty significant move on Friday when they committed a long-term contract to energy guy Cal Clutterbuck, signing him to a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension.

As far as depth players go, it was an eye-opening contract because it is a big investment in a player that is going to be 30 years old when the contract begins, has topped 30 points in a season only one time (seven years ago), and is similar to the long-term contract the team signed Casey Cizikas — a very similar player — to just a few months earlier.

When the two contracts are added up, that means the Islanders are going to be committing nearly $7 million in cap space through the 2020-21 season to players that — at best — project to be third-liners, and most likely, fourth liners.

That is a big chunk of change going to the bottom of your lineup.

Not every contract is going to be perfectly fair for team and player. Sometimes teams are going to overpay. Sometimes a player is going to outperform his deal. It is a reality of professional sports.

But where this becomes a big gamble for the Islanders is they, like all NHL teams, have a set amount of money they can spend to construct their roster under the league salary cap. Every dollar spent comes with an opportunity cost, because that is a dollar that can’t go to somebody else. In this case, the Islanders seem to be prioritizing their bottom-six over the top of their lineup. This is after all a team that already lost Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen over the summer, both of whom will cost less over the next five years than the Clutterbuck-Cizikas duo. By keeping the latter, you’re essentially choosing quantity over quality.

There is also the fact that the Islanders are one year away from having to deal with the potential unrestricted free agency of John Tavares.

His next contract is not going to be the $5.5 million steal (at least compared to other top players in the NHL) that it is now. When Tavares is eligible for free agency, the Islanders are already going to have more than $32 million committed to only eight players. And again, a significant chunk of that money ($7 million) will be going to two players that are skating in their bottom-six. That could be a problem.

But that’s not even the biggest part of the gamble for the Islanders when it comes to the Clutterbuck deal.

The biggest gamble is the fact that players like him do not tend to age well into their mid-30s (and Clutterbuck will be signed through his age 34 season).

Using the Hockey-Reference database I went back over the past 20 years to find players that resembled Clutterbuck’s career to see how they did after turning 30.

What I was looking for:

  • Players that played in at least 500 games between the ages of 20-29 (Clutterbuck has played 595)
  • Players that averaged less than 0.35 points per game during that stretch (Clutterbuck has averaged 0.31)
  • How many games, and seasons, they played after turning 30 and what their production looked like

This is some of what I found.

  • There were 27 previous players during that time period whose careers compared to Clutterbuck
  • Only 10 of them played in more than 200 games (the equivalent of 2.5 seasons) after their 30th birthday
  • Only six of them played a single game in the NHL after their 33rd birthday
  • 11 of them were out of the NHL entirely before they turned 32
  • There are still five players, other than Clutterbuck, that are still active in the league: Chris Neil at age 37, Jay McClemment at 33, Brad Richardson at 31, Daniel Winnik at 31, and Jared Boll at 30. How far their their careers go remains to be seen.

The defense for signing a player like Clutterbuck to a long-term deal like this is that they bring more to the team than just scoring. And that is fair. Not everybody is going to be a goal scorer or produce points. He seems like a great teammate. People like him. That is all fine.

But forget production here, we are talking about a type of player that generally does not stick long in the NHL after they hit 30. Plus, when it comes to Clutterbuck, this is player that has spent nearly a decade in the NHL playing a grueling style of hockey that is almost certain to wear a player down physically.

Every player in the league, no matter how good they are, starts to slide and lose a step once they get on the other side of 30 because father time is still, and will continue to be, undefeated. The players at the top of the league are still able to remain productive because they had so much skill and so much production at their peak. Even if they start to lose a step, or lose some of their production, they are still able to contribute something. But the guys at the bottom of your lineup that have spent years grinding their way through the league do not really have that step to lose. If they lose a step, they lose everything. If they lose even a little bit of their production, there is not much left.

The reality of a salary cap league is you can not keep everybody you want.

Every team has had to experience this at some point over the past decade. Teams like the Blackhawks and Penguins have decided to keep the players at the top of their lineup no matter the cost and sacrifice around the edges.

The Islanders, by letting players like Okposo and Nielsen leave, and committing to their bottom-six, seem to be trying to build from the bottom up.

It is a gamble. Let’s see how it works.