Getty

Despite impressive young core, Predators need Rinne to step up again next season

2 Comments

This post is part of Predators Day on PHT…

Pekka Rinne wasn’t unbeatable in the first round of the 2017 playoffs. But by the time Nashville completed its sweep of the Blackhawks, his opponents from Chicago may have felt that way.

He gave up only three goals in four games versus Chicago, and while he didn’t maintain that torrid puckstopping pace throughout the playoffs, he was an integral member of the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.

It was great for Rinne, who has been with Nashville since his selection in the 2004 NHL Draft.

It was in the final series where he struggled with consistency.

He was excellent in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville, as the Predators evened the series. He was good again in Game 6 but was unlucky on what would be the Stanley Cup winning goal to Pittsburgh. It was in Games 1, 2 and 5 that Rinne struggled, allowing a combined 11 goals against on 45 shots faced and getting the hook early in the fifth game. It was a strange, up-and-down way to end the playoffs during a two-month stretch when Rinne was otherwise excellent.

The Predators certainly have the makings of a team that can compete for the Western Conference title again next season, with an impressive young core group of forwards and a dangerous blue line, particularly with their top four.

Where things could get interesting is in goal.

Rinne turns 35 years old in November and has two more years remaining on his contract, with an annual $7 million cap hit.

He’s been the workhorse in Nashville for years. Since the 2010-11 season, Rinne has on five occasions played 60 or more games in a single season, reaching 73 games played in 2011-12. He’s averaged almost 64 games played over the last three years, and even during the lockout shortened year, he played in almost 90 per cent of the Predators’ regular season games.

It’s been well documented in the analytics community (check out some pieces here and here) that goalies start to decline through their 30s.

Goalies like Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller — all in their mid to late 30s — have all been relied on heavily earlier in their careers and their respective teams certainly benefited. Luongo had four consecutive seasons with 70-plus starts, as did Lundqvist. That’s a lot of mileage. The days of such usage appear to be in the rear view mirror, according to Habs goalie coach Stephane Waite last month when he discussed the need for a capable back-up in order to give the starter some rest, to keep them refreshed.

These playoffs put the Predators right in the spot light, revealing to a greater audience just how good this team was and could still be over the next few years. It revealed that, when at the top of his game, Rinne could be spectacular. Nashville is still going to need him to help the franchise in achieving its goals next season.

But he also isn’t getting any younger.

Last season, 22-year-old Juuse Saros played in 21 games, posting a .923 save percentage in that time.

It may benefit the Predators in the long run to give their back-up an increase in playing time to keep Rinne refreshed throughout the season.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

Getty
Leave a comment

National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

Getty
Leave a comment

This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.

Looking to make the leap: Pierre-Luc Dubois

Getty Images
1 Comment

This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Columbus surprised people when they took Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Now Dubois is tasked with showing that they made the right call.

While Puljujarvi did get his first taste of the NHL last season with Edmonton, Dubois spent the full campaign in the QMJHL. However, Dubois is entering training camp with a real shot of landing a job with Columbus.

His versatility should work in his favor throughout his battle for a roster spot. Dubois is capable of serving as a winger or center and while he’s offensively gifted, he’s also a physical force.

It doesn’t hurt that he took his additional season at the junior level as a learning experience. He was able to play a full campaign at center and work on his positioning. He was also dealt from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the season, which gave him the benefit of experiencing a different system.

“It was a little more of a defensive (style),” Dubois said of Blainville-Boisbriand’s system, per NHL.com. “That’s how we won our games, by scores of 2-1. It was a more pro-style game. I learned a lot from that.”

All that being said, he still has an uphill battle ahead of him. There’s a potential opening for him, but it’s not a given that he’ll secure that job and even if he does get a chance with Columbus, he’ll have to work hard to make his stint with them be more than just a nine-game trial.

The 19-year-old can’t play in the AHL yet either, so if he doesn’t find a role with the Blue Jackets then he’ll have to play in the QMJHL again. By contrast, Puljujarvi was able to be sent to the AHL last season and if he doesn’t play for Edmonton in 207-18 then he’ll at least be able to get ice time against men in the minors.

When PHT asked the question last year if the Blue Jackets were right in selecting Dubois over Puljujarvi roughly two-thirds of voters said no. Perhaps Dubois will be able to change some minds this season.

Related: Getting sent to junior made Blue Jackets prospect Dubois a ‘more mature’ player