After seeing a handful of rematch series in the first round, it’s only fair we get one in the Western Conference semifinals. This time around when San Jose faces Detroit, we’re expecting things to be a bit more even between these teams this year. Last season, the Sharks took out the Red Wings in five games as the Sharks soared through the round after getting past Colorado while the Red Wings had to fight tooth and nail to get past Phoenix in the opening round.
This year, the path to their match-up is similar in that the Sharks had to fight with the Kings to get out of the first round. This year, Detroit was able to cruise past the Coyotes with little trouble at all. One thing Detroit didn’t have in that opening series with Phoenix was Henrik Zetterberg and it’s shaping up that he’ll be ready to go against the Sharks. With Zetterberg joining Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom once again, it’s scary to think of what the Wings might be able to put together with a healthy compliment of players. While Johan Franzen is still dealing with his facial and head injuries after going face first into the boards, the Wings’ first round performance was enough to leave us intimidated.
The Sharks, meanwhile, looked strong at most positions on the ice with one glaring exception in goal. Antti Niemi had a bit of a rough go of things against the once offensively challenged Kings. How he handles himself against the Red Wings is more than worth watching because it could boil down to how both he and Jimmy Howard can handle their opponents potent attacks. The Sharks got clutch work out of Joe Thornton in the first round while the real hero was Ryane Clowe leading the Sharks in scoring. Those guys along with Logan Couture, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau will need to be huge. Red Wings thorn in the side Devin Setoguchi sets up to be a major factor as well. Go ahead and just ask Wings fans for their opinion of him.
How does the series shake out? We’re expecting it to be a memorable one destined to go six or seven games. Do you feel the same way? Let us know in our poll and in the comments.
Big centers back: Getzlaf in for Ducks, Panthers regain Barkov
The Anaheim Ducks would probably qualify as unlucky so far in 2017-18 even beyond an extremely unfortunate bounce of a puck fracturing Ryan Getzlaf‘s cheekbone.
That loss was especially severe with Ryan Kesler already recovering, as Getzlaf missed 19 games, last appearing in a contest on that painful night of Oct. 29. The Ducks get quite the treat, then, as both Getzlaf and Jakob Silfverberg are slated to return as they host the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Ducks are still without Kesler, and Patrick Eaves is fighting a serious physical battle that puts hockey on the backburner, so there’s still some mystery to how the Ducks might look if they can get anywhere near full-strength this season.
As is, they look a whole lot better going into Monday’s game, something the Florida Panthers could relate to.
While Anaheim’s dealt with bad luck, you could chalk up Florida’s troubles to a mix of unforced errors (jettisoning depth, particularly to Vegas) and tough breaks of their own (Roberto Luongo‘s injury issues). Either way, management will look infinitely smarter when Aleksander Barkov is in the lineup than when he’s not, so the Panthers must be happy to welcome him back tonight.
That would be quite the top-heavy approach for Florida, even if Malgin can mesh well with Vincent Trocheck.
While the Panthers have floundered at times, the Ducks seemed like they were finally starting to crater under the pressure of all those injury losses, as Anaheim only boasts two wins (2-4-4) in its last 10 games.
It’s true that the return of Barkov and Getzlaf would be important in just about any context for their teams, but each team likely feels especially relieved on Monday, as they can use all the help they can get.
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.
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.
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:
Coach Green updates the status of Baertschi, Sutter and Gudbranson while previewing tonight's battle with the Jets. pic.twitter.com/NdSphcNxxT
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.