Is Colorado’s rise a fair example of what might happen in Buffalo?

7 Comments

The Buffalo Sabres are frankly expected to be one of the worst teams in the league in 2014-15. It’s easy to see why: They’re a rebuilding club coming off of a season where they posted a 21-51-10 record. They could have added six wins last season and still finished in last place. For that matter, they could have scored 37 more goals and still ranked 30th offensively.

The short-term situation is so bleak that there are Sabres fans rooting against their team as they’ve already abandoned hope of them being competitive next season and just want them to be able to draft a potential superstar in Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Chris Stewart, who came to Buffalo from St. Louis in February as part of the Ryan Miller trade, doesn’t want the fanbase to write the Sabres off.

“Look at the Colorado Avalanche two years ago,” Stewart recently said. “They were a last-place team, and they were arguably one of the best teams in the league last year. So the past is the past. You look at our team now and there are 13 or 14 new faces. So we come in and think of last year as an anomaly.”

Of course you’d be hard pressed to find a player that wants to lose or, for that matter, one that is going to paint anything other than an optimistic picture going into the season, but does Stewart have a point? Does Buffalo have a chance to follow in Colorado’s footsteps?

Let’s move past the obvious answer, which is: Of course. Anything can happen, so obviously there’s a chance that Buffalo will make the playoffs. But is it a big enough one to give Stewart’s argument validity?

Well, first off, he is correct that the team will look very different than the one that opened the 2013-14 season, which right off the bat actually makes this story a lot different than the one in Colorado. The Avalanche team that surprised the hockey world in 2013-14 wasn’t substantially altered from the one finished with a 16-25-7 record in the lockout shortened 2013 campaign.

Additionally, different isn’t automatically better. The Sabres have lost Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek for example and you can make an argument that no one on their current roster is better than those two players — at least not yet as some of their youngsters have high ceilings.

A few things did change in Colorado though. Patrick Roy took over as the team’s head coach and, in addition to giving them new hope, he joined goalie coach Francois Allaire in helping Semyon Varlamov take a huge step forward. Varlamov was at the center of the Avalanche’s success as they were bombarded with shots all season and relied on him to stand tall.

Meanwhile, Buffalo struggled largely in spite of Miller’s goaltending last season so while the new combination of Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth might prove to be solid, the single biggest change that bolstered the Avalanche wouldn’t have quite the same effect on the Sabres.

What Buffalo needs is for its defense to improve, but more than that, they need someone to find the back of the net. Colorado saw its offense improve in part thanks to a strong rookie season from Nathan MacKinnon and while the Sabres have some promising young forwards that might step up, they have a far bigger gap to overcome.

The Avalanche’s offense wasn’t great in the lockout shortened campaign, but Buffalo’s offense last season was statistically the worst of the 21st century.

It’s that gap that will be difficult for the Sabres to overcome in a single campaign. They do have some noteworthy scoring threats such as Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Ennis, but their top two lines don’t look overly promising on paper.

So maybe Colorado isn’t an ideal example for Buffalo, but the thing about a young team is that you never know quite what will happen. It seems realistic to assume that this will be a season of growing pains for the Sabres, but if they find their groove early in the season, then they might surprise people.

Trade: Avalanche clear space for free agency; Coyotes get Soderberg

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Are the Colorado Avalanche loading up for a big free agent push this summer, or are they merely worried about how much it will cost to re-sign RFA star Mikko Rantanen? Or is it a little of both?

Such thoughts come to mind with Tuesday’s trade, as the Avalanche send center Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes. It’s largely a cash-clearing deal from Colorado’s perspective, considering the current details reported by The Athletic’s Craig Morgan, TSN’s Darren Dreger, and others:

Coyotes receive: Soderberg, a 33-year-old forward whose $4.75 million cap hit expires after 2019-20.

Avalanche receive: Kevin Connauton, 29-year-old defenseman, whose $1.375M cap hit expires after 2019-20. Also, the Avalanche receive a 2020 third-round pick.

One team clears cap room, the other profits

If there’s a theme of recent moves, it’s that one team is hoping to land a big fish in free agency, while another is happy to take on another contract to get better in a more modest (and maybe safer) way.

The Nashville Predators received a paltry return for P.K. Subban in that stunning trade, and on face value, the Avalanche didn’t receive much for Soderberg, either.

But, of course, context matters: both the Predators and Avalanche made their moves to save cap space.

Puck Pedia places Colorado’s cap space at just a little bit less than $38M, with 14 roster spots covered, and Rantanen headlining an RFA list that also includes Alex Kerfoot. The Avalanche boast some absolute bargain deals – most obviously in Nathan MacKinnon, yet also getting nice value in Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie – and Soderberg’s expiring contract was another reminder that the future was bright. Apparently the Avalanche believe that the future is now … although they’d probably argue that they’re enjoying both, as their 2019 NHL Draft weekend was acclaimed after they nabbed Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook.

Don’t sleep on the Coyotes’ takeaway, though.

Soderberg a hidden gem?

Soderberg might not be the sexiest talent in every way, yet he might have been the best example of Colorado’s sneaky value outside of their top guys. The bad news is that MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Rantanen generated the vast majority of the Avs’ offense during the past few seasons. The better news is that players like Landeskog and Kerfoot were strong two-way players who could hold down the fort when those guys weren’t on the ice.

Soderberg scored 23 goals for Colorado last season, and his 49 points ranked fifth-most on the team. There are a number of ways where he seems sneaky-good, including where he falls on this Goals Above Replacement chart among Avalanche forwards (visualization by Sean Tierney; data via Evolving Hockey).

Impressive, right? Surprising, even, considering that Soderberg compares so well to Rantanen, at least by those metrics.

The Coyotes have been building their roster by taking on other teams’ cap concerns, as much as by drafting, particularly since some of their picks haven’t worked out quite as planned (Clayton Keller rules; if Dylan Strome is going to rule, it will be for Chicago).

In Soderberg, the Coyotes might only be leaning into what almost got them into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: grinding opponents into a paste. On paper, the Coyotes figure to play a not-so-pretty style, but it’s increasingly trending toward being effective. At least, Soderberg inches them closer to having waves of quality players, maybe enough to wash over opponents and back into the postseason. Maybe their style will end up being desert-dry, but this gives them another quality two-way player, and at a reasonable price.

***

In a vacuum, this trade is a nice win for the Coyotes. However, if the Avalanche win by landing Artemi Panarin, then chances are, they’ll be OK taking the L in this one.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Dates of note from the 2019-20 NHL schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The 2019-20 NHL schedule has arrived and the 1,271-game regular season journey to the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins Oct. 2 and ends April 4. We’ll have banners being raised, old friends being reacquainted, outdoor games, games in Europe and CBA fun to deal with.

Check out the full schedule on NHL.com

Here’s a look at some notable dates on the 2019-20 season’s schedule:

CBA FUN

Sept. 1, 2019 – As the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiration date approaches in 2022, the NHL has the first crack to terminate the agreement as of Sept. 15, 2020.

Sept. 19, 2019 – Should the NHL pass, the NHLPA can choose to end the agreement early on Sept. 15, 2020.

OPENING NIGHT WITH A BANNER RAISING

Oct. 2, 2019 – Washington Capitals at St. Louis Blues

The defending champion Blues open their season with a Stanley Cup banner-raising party at Enterprise Center. This will be the fourth straight year that the Capitals (2016, 2018) or Blues (2017, 2019) will have been involved in a banner raising celebration.

Opening night will also feature the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Ottawa Senators, the Vancouver Canucks visiting Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, and a playoff rematch as the Vegas Golden Knights host the San Jose Sharks.

THE REMATCH

Oct. 26, 2019 – St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins

The last time these two met was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. They’ll meet for the first time next season back at TD Garden in late October.

TOP PICKS DEBUT AND MEET

Oct. 3, 2019 – Winnipeg Jets at New York Rangers

Kaapo Kakko makes his NHL debut at Madison Square Garden against fellow Finn Patrik Laine.

Oct. 4, 2019 – Winnipeg Jets at New Jersey Devils

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft will make his debut as Jack Hughes plays his first regular season game for the Devils. Also debuting that night with his new team will be P.K. Subban, who will also make his return to Nashville on Dec. 7.

Oct. 17, 2019 – New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils

Jack vs. Kakko for the first time in their NHL careers.

Getty Images

OUTDOOR GAMES

Oct. 26, 2019 – Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets

The Western Conference division rivals meet at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan in the Heritage Classic.

Jan. 1, 2020 – Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars

The Winter Classic will take place at the Cotton Bowl in Texas featuring a rematch of Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Feb. 15, 2020 – Los Angeles Kings vs. Colorado Avalanche

For the second time, the NHL brings a Stadium Series game to a U.S. Service Academy as the Kings and Avalanche meet at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

NHL GLOBAL SERIES

Oct. 4, 2019 – Chicago Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers.

Jakub Voracek and David Kampf will get the opportunity to play in front of their fellow Czechs with the game taking place at O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic. 

Nov. 8-9 – Buffalo Sabres vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

A nice homecoming for Johan Larsson, Rasmus Dahlin, Linus Ullmark, Victor Hedman, and Anton Stralman as they battle at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden.

HOCKEY DAYS

Feb. 8, 2020 – Ottawa Senators vs. Winnipeg Jets; Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens; Nashville Predators at Edmonton Oilers; Calgary Flames at Vancouver Canucks

Hockey Day in Canada will feature all seven Canadian teams in action.

Feb. 16, 2020 – Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins; Boston Bruins at New York Rangers; St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators; Chicago Blackhawks at Winnipeg Jets 

Hockey Day in America (on NBC and NBCSN) will see nine games beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET and the last game starting at 8:30 p.m. ET.

ALMOST SUPER SATURDAY

We need to wait until Seattle joins the NHL for every team to be in action in one day, but the 2019-20 season will end on April 4 with 30 of the league’s teams in action. Hopefully there will be some drama left on the final day.

Getty Images

REUNIONS

The San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights will exchange pleasantries in the first two games of the season on Oct. 2 and Oct. 4. Their playoff series was intense and epic, so there should be plenty of fun to be had in these two games.

Jack Hughes visits older brother Quinn and the Vancouver Canucks for the first time when the New Jersey Devils head west on Oct. 19.

Dave Tippett visits his old team for the first time when the Arizona Coyotes host the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 24, 2019.

It might be a better reception in Edmonton when well-liked Ralph Krueger leads his Buffalo Sabres against the Oilers on Dec. 8, 2019. Same goes for Dallas Eakins when the Anaheim Ducks visit on March 23.

There’ll be shotskis and Stanley Cup memories when Joel Quenneville and the Florida Panthers visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 21, 2020.

Jacob Trouba, if he does indeed end up signing in New York, makes his first trip back to Winnipeg to see his old friends on the Jets on Feb. 11, 2020.

The reception will be an interesting one when Alain Vigneault goes back to Madison Square Garden as Philadelphia Flyers head coach on March 1, 2020.

SALUTE TO THE SEDINS

The Vancouver Canucks will retire the jerseys of Henrik and Daniel on Feb. 12, 2020 before their game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

ALL-STAR WEEKEND

Jan. 24-26, 2020 – NHL All-Star Game, St. Louis

The best of the best will head to St. Louis for All-Star Weekend, which will once again feature the divisional three-on-three tournament on Sunday afternoon following the NHL Skills event on Saturday night.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Which teams need to add a goalie this summer?

Getty
4 Comments

Free agency is just days away and teams have already begun talking to potential unrestricted free agents about joining their club. Franchise players don’t often hit the open market, but it looks like a superstar netminder could make it to July 1st.

Sergei Bobrovsky will likely test free agency and unless something unexpected happens, it appears as though he’ll be leaving the Columbus Blue Jackets. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ve probably heard that the Florida Panthers are the front-runners for his services.

Whether Bobrovsky goes to Florida or not, there will only be one franchise goaltender available in free agency but there are several teams that need to add a goaltender before the start of next season. Some teams need to upgrade their starting netminder, but most simply need to add a backup that can help win them games.

Let’s take a look at which teams could stand to add a body between the pipes this summer.

Buffalo Sabres: Carter Hutton got off to a great start last year, but he fall apart in a hurry. The Sabres have to find a proven starting netminder if they’re going to turn this thing around. Will they be able to attract a quality free agent or will they need to pull the trigger on a trade?

Calgary Flames: Veteran Mike Smith will be a free agent on July 1st and David Rittich needs a new contract too (he’s a restricted free agent). Rittich will probably be back, but they could use another proven commodity between the pipes if they’re going to be serious about winning the Western Conference.

•  Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final with Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, which was very surprising. But both goalies are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st and the ‘Canes need a capable starter to replace them should they go elsewhere. Carolina acquired Anton Forsberg from Chicago on Monday, but he’s nothing more than a backup goalie at this point.

• Colorado Avalanche: Getting Philipp Grubauer from Washington last year proved to be a great move by general manager Joe Sakic. Now, he has to make sure he gets a capable backup goalie to add to this group assuming Semyon Varlamov doesn’t come back.

Columbus Blue Jackets: If Bobrovsky walks, they need to make sure they land a goalie that can help get them back into the playoff picture. Losing him isn’t going to be an easy pill to swallow.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers gave Miro Koskinen a three-year extension during the last season so whether Oilers fans like him or not, he’s probably going to be the starter heading into 2019-20. If that’s in fact the case, they need a capable backup goalie to play roughly 30 contests.

Florida Panthers: We already mentioned the Panthers earlier on in this post, so it’s obvious that they have a need. Roberto Luongo can’t stay healthy and James Reimer isn’t a starting goaltender. They need to do everything they can to make sure they can close a deal with Bobrovsky as soon as possible. This is a huge need for them.

Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price is the clear-cut starter in Montreal. Will they roll with Charlie Lindgren as his backup or will they opt for a more experienced netminder. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them bring in a free agent, especially given Price’s injury history.

New York Islanders: Robin Lehner was arguably the biggest surprise of the 2018-19 season. The Isles netminder was a Vezina Trophy finalist, but his contract expires on July 1st. Thomas Greiss has one year remaining on his deal. Greiss can be a 1B goalie, so the Isles would need to add 40 to 50 starts if Lehner decides to go elsewhere next week.

Philadelphia Flyers: Carter Hart was impressive during a 31-game stint during his rookie season, but Brian Elliott, Cam Talbot and Michal Neuvirth are all scheduled to become free agents on July 1st. The Flyers need to make sure they find a veteran to play behind Hart.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs didn’t trust Garret Sparks to get the job done as Frederik Andersen‘s backup down the stretch last season, so what makes them think he could give them 20-25 good starts next year? They probably won’t have the cap space to add a quality backup goalie though.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Brooks Orpik retires after 15 seasons, two Stanley Cups

3 Comments

Forwards around the NHL will have one less bruising defenseman to worry about heading into next season.

On Tuesday morning, Washington Capitals blueliner Brooks Orpik announced his retirement from the NHL. After being drafted in the first round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Orpik went on to play 15 seasons with the Pens and Caps.

The 38-year-old scored 18 goals and 194 points in 1035 games. He also added 972 penalty minutes during that time. Orpik skated in 156 more games in the postseason and he won two Stanley Cup titles (one with the Pens and one with the Caps).

After missing just four games in two seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18, the veteran managed to skate in just 53 contests last season because of a lower-body injury.

“I’ve been extremely lucky to have the best job in the world for many years, but my body is telling me it is time to move on to something new,” Orpik said in a team release. “I’m excited for more family time and to experience a lot of the things that being a professional athlete forces you to miss out on. Thank you to the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for giving me the opportunity to play against the best athletes in the world. I’ll be forever grateful for the memories and relationships that hockey has given me.”

On the international stage, he also represented Team USA on several occasions. He played for his country 2000 World Junior Hockey Championship, the 2006 World Hockey Championship and at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympic Games (he won a silver medal with that 2010 team).

“I had the great opportunity to see up close how impactful Brooks was for our team. Spending time as his defensive partner and playing alongside Brooks was something that I will always cherish,” said Caps defenseman John Carlson. “He showed his teammates the importance of hard work, accountability and always being there for your team every time he stepped on the ice. We all learned from Brooks; he was our role model and he made us better. I wish him and his family all the best!”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.