James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Catch up on Bruins, Sabres, Red Wings, more (PHT’s Atlantic Division preview)

Between August’s “Team of the Day” series and all the other articles that gets published, Pro Hockey Talk generates a ton of material to get you hyped for the 2017-18 season.

With that in mind, it’s understandable if you missed some great stuff. While these collections aren’t comprehensive, consider these divisional previews to be a good way to get hyped for the rapidly approaching season.

For the PHT’s staff picks, click here.

Boston Bruins

Poll/looking to make the leap/

In more immediate Bruins news, Bergeron and Backes seem a little banged-up.

Buffalo Sabres

Poll/looking to make the leap

Detroit Red Wings

Poll/looking to make the leap/

Florida Panthers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Montreal Canadiens

Poll/looking to make the leap

In more immediate news, the Habs made a minor trade.

… And another one:

Ottawa Senators

Poll/looking to make the leap

Tampa Bay Lightning

Poll/looking to make the leap

Toronto Maple Leafs

Poll/looking to make the leap

PHT predictions for 2017-18: Stanley Cup picks, McDavid love, and more

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Expert take: Connor McDavid is really something.

OK, such a thought is evident to virtually every sentient hockey fan/person even vaguely interested in the NHL. The PHT staff covers that base in the predictions and picks below, but there are also spicier topics at hand. You be the judge if anything warms up to the level of a hot take.

So, rejoice, and bookmark this page in case you want to vengefully point out how your team was totally robbed of the things people grow up dreaming about: approval from hockey writers.

Of course, if these predictions end up looking good in hindsight, never mention them again. That’s how it works, right?

Also, NHL.com provides this handy guide to opening-night rosters.

Anyway, here are our picks, with staff members listed in alphabetical order:

Joey Alfieri

Art Ross: Connor McDavid. It’s the “boring” answer, but this kid is too good and too fast. I can’t go against him after what I saw last year.

Rocket Richard: Steven Stamkos. I’m not going out on a limb with my Art Ross pick, but I think this one will surprise some people. Obviously, we all know that Stamkos can put the puck in the net. The question with him is whether or not he can stay healthy. I think he’ll play enough games to score a lot of goals in 2017-18.

Hart: I think it’s McDavid again.

Vezina: Braden Holtby. A lot of people seem to think that the Capitals will take a step back this year (maybe they will), but I think they’ll be able to lean on Holtby.

Norris: Victor Hedman. He didn’t get as much spotlight as Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns last year, but he somehow managed to quietly put up over 70 points.

Calder trophy: Nico Hischier. He really impressed me during the preseason. I didn’t know if he’d be NHL-ready right out of the gate, but he answered all those questions for me. We’ll see if he can translate his preseason success into regular season success.

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Washington
Atlantic: Tampa Bay
Central: Minnesota
Pacific: Edmonton

SCF matchup: The Eastern Conference is still very wide open in my mind, so I’m not ruling out the Pittsburgh Penguins going back to the final for a third straight year. I’ll make it a Sidney Crosby vs. McDavid final, as I think the Oilers will make it out of the West.

Champ: Give me the Edmonton Oilers.

Worst team: The Vancouver Canucks will be worse than Vegas. Book it.

Wild card (team that could go very wrong or very right): Winnipeg Jets. They’re loaded with talent up front (see Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers) and on defense (Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Josh Morrissey), but the goaltending duo of Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck might hold them back.

One 2017 playoff team that won’t make it in 2018: The New York Rangers. I don’t like their situation down the middle. Also, if Henrik Lundqvist struggles during the regular season, Antti Raanta is no longer there to hold down the fort.

Team that missed last year that will make it in 2017-18: The Tampa Bay Lightning. They dealt with a lot of injuries last year and barely missed the postseason. I think they’ll get there in 2017-18.

Adam Gretz

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Nikita Kucherov

Hart: Connor McDavid

Vezina: Carey Price

Norris: Erik Karlsson

Calder Trophy: Nico Hischier

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Columbus
Atlantic: Tampa Bay
Central: Nashville
Pacific: Anaheim

SFC Matchup: Columbus vs. Nashville
Champ: Nashville

Worst team: Colorado
Wild card: Carolina
Playoff team that won’t make it: St. Louis
Team that missed that will make it: Tampa Bay

James O’Brien

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Alex Ovechkin. Don’t underestimate all the goals he’ll get from “his office.” Also, the Capitals need more from him this season. Maybe that will goose his shot attempts and numbers?

Hart: Connor McDavid

Vezina: Braden Holtby. He’s quietly wrestling the “most consistently great” torch from Henrik Lundqvist.

Norris: Victor Hedman. Erik Karlsson is a treasure, but his health is very worrisome.

Calder trophy: Nico Hischier

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Pittsburgh Penguins
Atlantic: Montreal Canadiens
Central: Minnesota Wild
Pacific: Edmonton Oilers

SCF matchup: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins. Ryan Ellis‘ injury situation leads me to believe that Nashville will, once again, struggle a bit in the regular season. (Even at 100 percent, they might just be better suited for the playoffs.)

Champ: The Predators get revenge. It’s not foolish to assume that they get Matt Duchene, right? (Gulp.)

Worst team: The Vegas Golden Knights. Don’t despair, though, budding fans: this franchise is off to a strong start.

Wild card (team that could go very wrong or very right): The Dallas Stars. They’ve once again “won the offseason,” yet with every great move like adding Alex Radulov, there are troubling signs that this franchise is still behind the curve. What if Ben Bishop is another goaltending blunder? Did the game finally pass Ken Hitchcock by? Many sins will be forgiven if the Jamie BennTyler Seguin show rebounds after a rough 2016-17.

One 2017 playoff team that won’t make it in 2018: Ottawa Senators. The Boston Bruins also worry me.

One 2017 team that did not make the playoffs, but will in 2018: I’ll give you one for each conference: the Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets.

Cam Tucker

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Nikita Kucherov

Hart: Connor McDavid

Vezina: Carey Price

Norris: Victor Hedman

Calder trophy: Charlie McAvoy. Off the board, perhaps?

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Columbus Blue Jackets
Atlantic: Toronto Maple Leafs
Central: Nashville Predators
Pacific: Edmonton Oilers

SCF matchup: Edmonton Oilers versus Toronto Maple Leafs. All of Canada can rejoice!

Champ: Well, I guess I have to pick one of those two teams, so I’m going to say…….the Edmonton Oilers. Sorry, Toronto.

Worst team: Colorado Avalanche. Again.

Wild card (team that could go very wrong or very right): The L.A. Kings. Fascinated to see the difference in style after an offseason coaching change. Still believe they’re a playoff team but last year was a massive disappointment.

One 2017 playoff team that won’t make it in 2018: Ottawa Senators.

One 2017 team that did not make the playoffs, but will in 2018: Tampa Bay Lightning. If Steven Stamkos can stay healthy, this offence — and by extension this entire team — should be a force. The Carolina Hurricanes are, to me, an honorable mention in this category.

Capitals sign Alex Chiasson for cheap

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The Washington Capitals added some veteran forward depth on Wednesday, upgrading Alex Chiasson’s tryout to a one-year, $600K deal.

(That’s official from the team. Hurray to cutting down on needless salary mysteries.)

Chiasson, 27, boasts 320 regular-season games and 14 postseason contests of NHL experience. The Dallas Stars selected him with the 38th pick of the 2009 draft.

After a rough 2015-16 season with the Ottawa Senators, Chiasson scored 12 goals and 24 points in 81 games with the Calgary Flames in 2016-17. He was unable to score in four playoff games.

The general rap for Chiasson is probably “inoffensive.”

The only area where this might be offensive in that Chiasson could take shifts and opportunities from younger players who, while possibly being rawer, might have higher ceilings for Washington.

Those are the types of questions that might make a generally nondescript addition a little less savory.

Blackhawks squeeze Franson, DeBrincat, Forsling under salary cap ceiling

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If you’re a team-building nerd, the Chicago Blackhawks’ ongoing rivalry with the NHL’s salary cap is almost as entertaining as their often-blistering on-ice product.

GM Stan Bowman & Co. finalizing their shimmying under the salary cap ceiling with the season set to begin, and these tweaks make things fairly tantalizing.

For one thing, the Blackhawks recalled dazzling young forward Alex DeBrincat and defenseman Gustav Forsling after demoting them entirely for cap reasons. The excitement surrounding DeBrincat, 19, continues to build; now fans get to see how the undersized forward can handle NHL competition. It’s easy to forget that, while his OHL numbers are stellar, they also came in the OHL.

Personally, it’s also heartening to see the occasional PTO turn into a real contract.

Now, Cody Franson seems too worthwhile to need to go through the song and dance of a tryout, but still. The Blackhawks can sorely use the veteran blueline presence that Franson, 30, may very well provide.

Franson may not be the 30-point man he once was with the Maple Leafs any longer, but it’s clear that he’s earned his status as a subtle analytics darling. This HERO chart makes you wonder if the Blackhawks have pulled off another steal.

via Dom Galamini

Franson could be very helpful if, say, Connor Murphy really struggles. It’s reportedly a one-year, $1 million deal for Franson.

There’s still some uncertainty for a Blackhawks team that’s become a chic choice to regret. Final moves like Wednesday’s could keep the train on the tracks.

Sabres’ salary cap outlook with Jack Eichel’s massive extension

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PHT already discussed whether Jack Eichel is really worth $80 million over eight years for the Buffalo Sabres. Although the short answer is “Yes,” there’s room for debate, so click here for more.

Fair or not, many hockey fans will judge Eichel based upon how the Sabres fare as a team; if they remain also-rans, big numbers might not save Eichel from taking the heat for his $10M cap hit.

Really, though, Eichel will need some help. Let’s take a look at the structure of this Sabres team to see where the strengths lie, the big decisions ahead, and the red flags waving in front of our faces.

This is part of a running series at PHT, so click here for more salary cap breakdowns.

Long-term commitments

Eichel’s contract extension won’t kick in until 2018-19, so the Sabres get one more year of rookie-deal savings before they pay up. His extension expires after 2025-26; the Sabres own Eichel’s prime years, so it will be fascinating to watch the ups and downs.

Eichel joins a few other lengthy commitments. Ryan O'Reilly, 26, isn’t cheap with a $7.5M cap hit. He’s a borderline Selke-worthy two-way forward who’s still in his prime, and it’s unlikely that he’ll regress sharply during this current deal, which runs for six more seasons.

At worst, “ROR” is a “$5 shake.”

Kyle Okposo, 29, carries a $6M cap hit through 2022-23. It’s tough to beat up too much on the winger considering how comforting it is that Okposo is OK after his health scares. Okposo’s a solid guy right now, assuming he’s healthy, but that could be a problem deal.

Rasmus Ristolainen ($5.4M for five more seasons) is a fascinating case. On one hand, he scored 45 points at the ripe age of 22. On the other hand, he’s framed as a disaster in his own end; TSN’s Travis Yost listed him as a “dud” from an analytics standpoint. You might not find a better case of perception … unless “eye test” types aren’t impressed, either?

The Sabres boast two other mid-range guys with expensive, three-year deals: Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella. That’s almost $10M in debatable defensemen (though they both could help, even if one or both might be overpriced).

Off the books soon

Jason Pominville ($5.6M) and Matt Moulson ($5M) are two aging wingers whose contracts expire after two more seasons. Pominville has more to offer going forward, but you’d think that management is keen on transferring many of those dollars to younger players.

Josh Gorges only has one year remaining on his $3.9M, so as much as Eichel adds to the bottom line, Buffalo is ridding itself of some problems soon.

You almost wonder if Buffalo might accept a bad expiring deal or two if this season goes wrong, just to gain riches soon enough?

Big choices

Robin Lehner can be a scary dude. The 26-year-old has also shown flashes of serious brilliance as a goalie. He’s in a contract year, so the Sabres must decide if the intimidating netminder is a part of the future or not.

Chad Johnson backs him up with a one-year deal of his own.

Evander Kane, 26, faces quite the crossroads in his career, as his $5.25M cap hit will expire after 2016-17. Kane is on the short list of players who future value is difficult to determine; seriously, what kind of contract do you expect for the power forward? Years and term both stand as tough to determine.

Growth areas

The Sabres have some interesting guys on two-year deals: Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu, and others could be key fixtures or short-term guys.

Naturally, the Sabres also have some other young players, with Alex Nylander and Sam Reinhart being make-or-break types. Buffalo’s been enjoying some strong draft picks while adding some potential foundational pieces; the crucial thing, then, is to actually develop some of them into difference-makers.

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Cap Friendly places Buffalo’s 2018-19 cap spending at $56.56M with Eichel’s deal in mind. That provides some serious room to maneuver, even if the ceiling remains flat at $75M.

Despite this huge investment, the Sabres’ new management has room to operate. They have some nice pieces and a worry or two. Some crucial decisions and serious progress (or failed developments) may determine if Buffalo can really contend.