Jarome Iginla

NHL on NBCSN: Avs seek vengeance against the Wild


NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Minnesota Wild host the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center at 9 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

With about eight minutes remaining in Game 7 of their first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche, the Minnesota Wild looked like they were in trouble.

The Avalanche held a 4-3 lead thanks to an Erik Johnson goal 11:16 into the third period, and shortly after that, Darcy Kuemper left with an injury, prompting struggling goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to come in cold.

Of course, things unraveled for Colorado instead, as Jared Spurgeon tied that game up with less than three minutes remaining and then Nino Niederreiter capped an impressive night with the series-clincher in overtime, sending Minnesota to the second round and ending the Avs’ season in the process.

It’s the sort of defeat that sticks with you.

“It was a nightmare for all of us, especially for me,” Semyon Varlamov told NHL.com in July.

Much like the San Jose Sharks against the Los Angeles Kings last night, beating Minnesota in their 2014-15 season-opener wouldn’t totally make up for that playoff letdown, yet it’s a start for the Avalanche. It won’t be easy, especially on the road, however.

Tonight’s contest also provides an opportunity to see how far the two teams have come after some significant offseason moves. The Avalanche parted ways with Paul Stastny and P.A. Parenteau while adding veterans Jarome Iginla, Brad Stuart and Daniel Briere. The Wild added dangerous sniper Thomas Vanek and saw Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom emerge from all their goalie drama. Each franchise made big moves, yet predictions are all over the board for Colorado and Minnesota.

Of course, both teams have plenty of young talent to get excited about, with Nathan MacKinnon drawing all kinds of hype this summer:

While one night won’t make or break Patrick Roy’s system, the debate between his traditional stance and the “fancy stats” crowd adds yet another intriguing storyline to the mix.

Could we see more seeds planted for a growing Central Division rivalry? Will MacKinnon and Matt Duchene wow us some more in 2014-15? Is this the year in which the Wild take all that marquee talent and make a big run?

The Avalanche and Wild will begin answering those questions tonight.

(Oh, and also that whole Matt Cooke-Tyson Barrie thing. Might want to keep an eye on that.)

Avs name Iginla alternate captain


Jarome Iginla is back in an official leadership role — on Wednesday, Colorado announced that Iginla would serve as an alternate captain this season, along with fellow veteran Cody McLeod.

Both will serve alongside Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s worn the “C” since 2012.

Iginla, 37, spent nine of his 16 seasons in Calgary as team captain and, prior to that, spent three years as an alternate under Dave Lowry, Bob Boughner and Craig Conroy.

His appointment in Colorado follows with a recent trend of teams appointing free agent signees to their leadership group. In Buffalo, prized UFAs Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges were named captain and alternate; Andrew Ference got the “C” in Edmonton a short while after coming over from Boston; Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were named alternates in Minnesota prior to playing their first games for the Wild.

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers, Bruins open season with plenty to prove


NBCSN will begin its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight when the Boston Bruins host the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

For the Flyers and Bruins, the wait will finally end tonight. After being eliminated in seven games by the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens respectively, both teams are looking to do more despite being prevented from making major upgrades due to the salary cap.

In fact, an argument could be made that Boston and Philadelphia both took a step back over the summer. The Bruins watched 30-goal scorer Jarome Iginla walk away as an unrestricted free agent and recently dealt top-four defenseman Johnny Boychuk in the interest of freeing cap space. On top of that, their points leader in 2013-14, David Krejci, will start the campaign on the injured reserve list due to an undisclosed problem.

That’s a huge gap in their offense compared to 2013-14, but the Bruins are hoping Loui Eriksson can help fill the void. His first season with the Bruins was derailed due to multiple concussions, but after having the summer to regroup, he’ll get a chance to put his past struggles behind him.

At least Krejci might not be out for long; the Philadelphia Flyers haven’t been so fortunate with their players. They have no idea when defenseman Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) will be back or if he will return at all. That’s problematic because while the Bruins have a young core that’s capable of filling the void left by Boychuk, Philadelphia’s defense was a significant question mark even before Timonen’s injury.

“You don’t replace Timonen, a very good defenseman, intelligent,” coach Craig Berube told CSN Philly. “But as a group, they can replace him. Or try to, to a certain extent. They’ve got to all step up and play good. I think our D core, all seven of them that are here (Nick Schultz is the team’s current seventh defenseman), are very capable of getting the job done.”

Michael Del Zotto might help in that regard. He started the 2013-14 campaign as a projected top-four defenseman with the New York Rangers, but fell from grace to the point where the Rangers sent him to Nashville, which didn’t even retain his rights as a restricted free agent. The 24-year-old had to wait until August before he signed with Philadelphia and who knows what his situation would be if Timonen was healthy.

He’s going into this season with a lot to prove, which sums up these two teams nicely. Both would like to demonstrate that they’re as strong as ever despite their summer setbacks. They both want to assert themselves as serious contenders for the Stanley Cup and that battle starts tonight.

Risk Factors: Colorado Avalanche edition


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Colorado Avalanche

1. Asking the world of Varly (again) – There’s no shame in voters handing Tuukka Rask and his sparkling .937 save percentage the 2014 Vezina Trophy, but Semyon Varlamov had a strong argument in his own right.

Simply put, no successful team asked more of their netminder than Colorado did in 2013-14. Varlamov faced 2,013 shots on goal while no other goalie cracked 1,900 (Kari Lehtonen came in second with 1,888 save attempts). The Avalanche allowed 32.7 shots per game overall, the sixth-worst rate in the NHL. No team below them made the playoffs and only two in the bottom 10 managed to make it past game 82.

Varlamov shouldered that burden last season, but one would understand if the team said “Look, we got away with that once, but let’s not allow that to happen again.”

Instead, it sounds like Patrick Roy seems content to defiantly stick with his “Ride Varly” plan, at least publicly speaking.

“I would expect Varly to continue to do the same thing,” Roy told Yahoo in a fascinating piece regarding the team’s polarizing philosophies. “He’s in his age where I think it’s time for him to shine, and I believe it’s only the start.”

Asking any goalie to replicate such success is a bit much, but Varlamov carries a few extra worries.

The 2013-14 season was the only time he carried the workload of a true No. 1 “workhorse.” (It’s difficult to put too much stock in 2012-13, since that campaign was limited to 48 regular season games.) Glancing at his year-by-year work, it seems like he’s endured two tough seasons, one middling one and two very good years:

2009-10: 26 games played, 15 wins, .909 save percentage
2010-11: 27 GP, 11 W, .924
2011-12 (first with Colorado): 53 GP, 26 W, .913
2012-13: 35 GP, 11 W, .903
2013-14: 63 GP, 41 W, .927

Is it impossible to picture Varlamov being great again? No, if nothing else, his talent is pretty apparent.

Still, the Avalanche are asking a lot from a guy who’s had an up-and-down career, and to say that the jury’s out on Reto Berra being worth the honestly startling amount of confidence management has in him is to make a serious understatement.

2. Defense – Time and time again, teams with seemingly crippling possession stats have trotted out the “shot quality” argument in pumping up their defensive systems. In the long run, results haven’t been kind to the teams that get massively out-shot and seem to live off of high shooting and save percentages. The disastrous finishes of the Randy Carlyle Era Toronto Maple Leafs simply illustrate such thoughts in the most dramatic ways.

Roy steadfastly believes that the Avalanche’s defense is better than people think.

“We’re not that far away on defense,” Roy told the Denver Post. “You look at (Erik) Johnson, who had a really good year, we have (Tyson) Barrie, who played really well at the end of the season, and we have Nick Holden, who we think is a solid defenseman. Are they where (the Kings are)? The answer is no, but now the (question) is, ‘Who are we going to add?’ You cannot just add the top players. You have to have a great mix, and you look at some teams as a model, and I think L.A. is a good example. If we could get the good mix — stay-at-home, physical defensemen playing with high-skill defensemen — I think that’s the approach that we’d like to have, and I think we’re heading in a pretty good direction. I think the future of our franchise on the defensive side of the game is a lot better than people think it is.”

Most people don’t share Roy’s optimism, and when you look at the group on paper and the massive amount of shots Colorado is supposedly OK with allowing, it’s easy to see why.

3. Losing Stastny and getting older in the offseason – The funny thing about the Avalanche is that youth is one of their biggest strengths … yet they may have erred in seemingly exchanging prime-age players for big names who might be a little long in the tooth.

The general feeling is that Colorado balked at Paul Stastny’s asking price, ultimately allowing him to become the most coveted free-agent center of the 2014 summer. At 28, he still has at least a few more prime years and generally did things that people believe Avalanche forwards do too rarely: drive play. Stastny’s deal is bigger and longer than Jarome Iginla’s three-year, $16 million pact, but many will frame the situation as giving up Stastny for Iggy.

Iginla’s much older than Stastny at 37, and he’s not quite the dominant force he once was, even if he can clearly still put the puck in the net. In a league where center play is at a premium, the Avalanche swapped a versatile prime-age pivot for an aging winger.

The Avalanche also leaned toward experience by trading a second-rounder for Brad Stuart, 34, and swapped P.A. Parenteau, 31, for Daniel Briere, 37.

Avalanche GM Joe Sakic emphasized that he was deliberately adding experience, but time will tell if the team’s better for essentially exchanging fresher legs for veteran voices.

It should be fascinating to see if Roy and Sakic will end up looking brilliant or foolish and stubborn as the 2014-15 season goes along.

Islanders land Boychuk for bounty of assets


In a trade that begs for “Oh Boy” puns, the New York Islanders grabbed defenseman Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins for an impressive set of assets, according to New York Newsday’s Arthur Staple.

Update: Staple reports that the Islanders indeed nabbed Leddy, as well.

(Note: it hasn’t been made official just yet, but Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston seems to rank among those who back up the report.)

Staple reports that the Islanders sent a 2015 second-rounder, 2016 second-round pick and a conditional 2015 third-round pick to Boston.

These are the conditions of that third-rounder, according to the Canadian Press’ Stephen Whyno:

The benefits and risks are pretty clear for both teams.

The Bruins lose an underrated blueliner, yet it’s clear that they were unlikely to re-sign the 30-year-old after his $3.667 million cap hit expires after the 2014-15 season. If nothing else, this helped them squeeze bargain deals out of Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, although Boston’s list of 2015 free agents is pretty foreboding.

Defense was an obvious problem for the Islanders, but Boychuk could really give them improved versatility. He won’t set the world on fire offensively (23 points in 75 games last season), but he’s still solid in that area. It’s his physicality and possession prowess that really proves promising, though.

Sportsnet’s Stephen Burtch believes that Boychuk is a bigger find than Leddy and could be quite the catch overall:

The Islanders paid a significant price asset-wise, yet for a team that clearly wants to take the next step, their offseason looks awfully impressive. Especially if you spin it as the Isles more-or-less “trading” possession stats whipping boy Andrew MacDonald for Boychuk. (Click here to see the somewhat similar assets moved in that trade.)