Colin Wilson

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Poll: Will Blues compete for Central Division title next season?

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This post is part of Blues Day on PHT…

The St. Louis Blues went through a number of changes last offseason. They key veterans David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott in free agency, and no one really knew how it would affect them on the ice.

After struggling pretty badly in January, they fired head coach Ken Hitchcock and they ended up replacing him with coach-in-waiting Mike Yeo.

At the time of the firing, the Blues were clinging to the final Wild Card spot in the West. In the end, they were able to move up to third place in the Central Division.

Thanks to some masterful goaltending by Jake Allen, they were able to knock off the Wild in five games in the opening round, but they fell to Nashville in round two.

The Blues didn’t make a ton of changes to their roster this summer. They acquired Brayden Schenn from Philadelphia at the draft and they added winger Beau Bennett in free agency.

Is it enough to come away with the Central Division crown?

Both the Blackhawks and Wild finished ahead of them in the standings last season. The ‘Hawks made some major changes to their roster, as they dealt Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Scott Darling and Marcus Kruger away. They’ve also already lost Marian Hossa for the season, too.

The Wild got off to a fantastic start last season, but they crumbled down the stretch and were no match for the Blues in the postseason.

As of right now, the biggest threat for the division crown is probably Nashville.  The Predators didn’t have a great regular season, but they managed to find a way to come together during a run to the Stanley Cup Final. They also added Nick Bonino, Scott Hartnell and Alexei Emelin this offseason. Notable losses include: James Neal, Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson.  How will a long playoff run affect the Preds going into next season?

The most intriguing team in the division might just be Hitchcock’s new team, the Dallas Stars. They spent some money upgrading their roster, as they landed goalie Ben Bishop, winger Alex Radulov, center Martin Hanzal, defenseman Marc Methot. The Stars have had a tough time keeping the puck out of their own, so if Hitchcock and his new acquisitions can help them in that area, they’ll be tough to stop.

The Winnipeg Jets have an up-and-coming roster with plenty of skilled players. They signed Steve Mason to help young goalie Connor Hellebuyck out, but will that be enough? The Jets will likely be a dangerous squad in the near future, it just might not be this season.

And as for the Colorado Avalanche, well, let’s just say they still have a ton of work to do before we can put them in the conversation for the division title.

The Blues aren’t going to be the favorites to land the Central Division crown. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a shot. The key to this whole thing might just be Allen, who has always struggled with consistency at the NHL level.

If Allen can play anywhere close to the way he did during the playoffs (1.96 goals-against-average, .935 save percentage), they’ll have a chance to do some damage.

The biggest question is, did he just catch lightning in a bottle, or is he finally starting to take his game to the next level?

Alright, it’s your turn to have your say. Vote in the poll below and leave your opinion in the comments section below.

Avalanche have a ton of flexibility – and questions to answer

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This post is a part of Avalanche day at PHT…

When you take a gander at the Colorado Avalanche’s Cap Friendly page, you may first notice a few things:

  • The terrifying lack of quality defensemen beyond Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, and Mark Barberio.
  • The terrifying lack of talent to compliment the few quality players beyond those blueliners, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, a handful of young forwards and … that’s about it.
  • The somewhat-comforting fact that the Avalanche don’t have a ton of old players locked up to scary, long-term contracts any longer.

Yes, the Avalanche only have these players locked up for three or more years:

Nathan MacKinnon ($6 million per year through 2022-23, 21 years old)
Landeskog ($5.571M through 2020-21, 24)
Carl Soderberg ($4.75M through 2019-20, 31)
Johnson ($6M through 2022-23, 29)
Barrie ($5.5M through 2019-20,26)

It’s also easy to forget that MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, and quite a few other key Colorado players are all still in the meat of their prime years.

For all the understandable trade rumors regarding Duchene and Landeskog, that Johnson contract might be worth a little shopping if Colorado shows few signs of improvement, even if that would mean draining the defensive talent pool to a Slip-n-Slide size.

Either way, the Avalanche face a refreshingly clean slate … that could also be terrifying if you don’t believe in GM Joe Sakic’s ability to take advantage of these opportunities.

(Read more on Sakic specifically in Under Pressure: Joe Sakic.)

Let’s rattle off some burning questions for this franchise, then:

  1. Echoing that earlier point, is Sakic the right guy to make these choices?
  2. If so, is Jared Bednar the head coach to lead them out of the darkness … or maybe just the one to take the fall for one more “tanking” season?
  3. Semyon Varlamov‘s contract has two more years on it, while backup Jonathan Bernier has one. The Avalanche need to decide how they’ll handle goaltending in the future (a future without Calvin Pickard).
  4. Do you trade Duchene? If so, what kind of package is acceptable after reportedly passing up the likes of Travis Hamonic in previous offers?
  5. Also, do you trade Landeskog? It would probably be wise to drive up the value of both Duchene and Landeskog rather than trading from a position of weakness, at least now that it’s mid-August.
  6. Who else should be considered a core player? Colin Wilson is 27, so you wonder how long he’ll reside in Colorado.
  7. Are the Avalanche doing a good enough job developing prospects? With Tyson Jost looking to make the leap, Mikko Rantanen showing flashes of brilliance, and Cale Makar headlining this past draft class, much of the future will come down to making the most of these players. Some wonder if they haven’t optimized other talents, such as MacKinnon.

***

Some of those questions are really tough, and the wrong answer could set the Avalanche up for more suffering in the future.

For all the current problems and how low things went in 2016-17, at least Sakic & Co. have a lot of freedom to sculpt this team into something respectable, and then competitive. Now they just need to start actually doing just that.

Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done.

Poll: Will the Avalanche finish with the NHL’s worst record again?

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The 2016-17 season was a disastrous one for the Colorado Avalanche pretty much across the board.

They not only ended up missing the playoffs for the third year in a row and the sixth time in the past seven years, they ended up finishing with the NHL’s worst record, recording just 48 points. More than 20 behind the NHL’s second-worst team. Those 48 points ended up being the worst point total for any team in an 82-game season (including the tank-for-McDavid Buffalo Sabres teams) since the NHL went to the three-point game format at the start of the 2005-06 season. The only teams that finished with a worse point total were teams during the lockout shortened 48-game season in 2013.

The only offseason additions the team has made this season have been to bring in goalie Jonathan Bernier, buy a huge lottery ticket in Nail Yakupov, and make a decent trade for Colin Wilson. They also have prized prospect Tyson Jost ready to make the leap to the big leagues on a permanent basis, but they will also still probably lose Matt Duchene at some point to a trade. They also still have a haphazardly pieced together defense that isn’t particularly strong.

Is that enough to make up 20 points in the standings to get out of the cellar?

But Adam, you’re probably saying, there is an expansion team in the NHL this season and they might be contenders for the worst record in the NHL. And they certainly could be!

But keep in mind that the NHL’s past nine expansion teams finished with an average of 57 points in their first season, including five that finished with at least 65.

 

It’s Nashville Predators day at PHT

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The Nashville Predators entered the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs as the second wild card team in the Western Conference.

When the postseason was over, they were two wins away from a championship, sweeping Chicago in the opening round and beating St. Louis and Anaheim to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Along the way there was the breakout campaign of Viktor Arvidsson while on a top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg; the emergence of a dangerous top-four group of defensemen following the acquisition of P.K. Subban last summer; a fishy hockey tradition and playoff atmosphere that garnered national headlines, and the recognition of general manager David Poile for his efforts in putting together a Stanley Cup contender that will remain in its window to win next season, and likely for a few more years given the age of their core players.

There have been changes in Nashville this summer.

James Neal was selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. Mike Fisher announced his retirement. Colin Wilson was traded to Colorado. Phil Housley, an assistant coach responsible for Nashville’s group of blue liners, took the head coaching job in Buffalo.

To bolster their club at center, the Predators signed Nick Bonino to a four-year, $16.4 million contract — just a few weeks after his former team, the Penguins, hoisted the Stanley Cup in Nashville. They also signed veteran forward Scott Hartnell and acquired defenseman Alexei Emelin.

Today at PHT, we’ll dig into the big storylines surrounding the Predators ahead of training camp next month.

Why bringing back Scott Hartnell was a great move for the Predators

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Of the many reunions that took place on the first day of free agency the Nashville Predators’ move to bring back Scott Hartnell on a one-year, $1 million contract might have been the best one.

It also might have been one of the better free agent signings — reunion or not — any team made on the day. Or will make this entire summer.

The Predators needed to make some moves to address their forward lines after losing James Neal in the expansion draft and not knowing for sure whether or not they will get Mike Fisher back.

To this point they have been unable to swing a deal for an impact player — like Colorado Avalanche star Matt Duchene — but they did add Nick Bonino and Hartnell into the mix as they look to make another run at the Stanley Cup in 2017-18. But while Bonino’s contract will get most of the attention because of his role on a back-to-back Stanley Cup winner, as well as the years and dollar figures his contract carries, Hartnell’s small one-year deal might end up being the best value out of the two.

Even though Hartnell’s overall role and production declined rapidly this past season in Columbus and resulted in the remainder of his contract being bought out this summer, making him an unrestricted free agent, he should still provide plenty of value to the Predators.

The key to Hartnell’s value is that he still looks like a pretty outstanding player at 5-on-5.

Even though he logged an average of just 10 minutes of even-strength ice-time per game, he still managed to record 34 points during those minutes, the fifth most on the Blue Jackets. That total would have been fourth among all Predators forwards this past season, and more than outgoing forwards Neal and Colin Wilson.

It gets even better when you drill it down to a per-minute basis where his 2.42 points per 60 minutes of even-strength play was the eighth highest total in the entire league. 

He did all of that while still posting strong possession numbers, including a 52.4 percent Corsi that was fourth best on the Blue Jackets.

A lot of his overall decline in production this past season seemed to have more to do with a change in his role (less ice time overall, and especially less power play time) than a sharp decline in ability. At 35 he is obviously not going to be the player he was earlier in his career when he was an occasional 30-35 goal scorer, but given his cage-rattling style of play and even-strength production he should still have plenty to offer a Stanley Cup contender.

Especially when it is only going to cost them $1 million against the cap.