PHT’s Season Preview: 30 questions, 120 answers

17 Comments

We made a list of 30 questions ahead of the 2015-16 NHL season, then we tried to answer those questions. Enjoy:

1. Of all the teams that missed the playoffs last season, the most likely to make the playoffs this season is…

Jason Brough: The Kings. I still wonder about their defensive depth, but this should be a very motivated group.

James O’Brien: The Kings. Edging their pals from San Jose by a hair.

Ryan Dadoun: The Kings. The extra rest alone should close the gap.

Mike Halford: Way to go out on a limb, guys. But you’re all wrong. It’s Columbus.

2. Of all the teams that made the playoffs last season, the most likely to miss the playoffs is…

JB: Vancouver. Especially if Ryan Miller starts the majority of games.

JO: Vancouver. Expect them to fall into the 10th-12th range of the Western Conference.

RD: Ottawa. The Sens have some promising young forwards, but I have reservations about their goaltending.

MH: Winnipeg. The Central Division is too hard. It’s kinda unfair.

3. One team that isn’t getting enough respect is…

JB: Florida. The Panthers’ extreme mix of youth and experience has definite playoff potential.

JO: San Jose. Still a ton of talent, now with a clean(er) slate.

RD: Toronto. I don’t think the Leafs’ fundamental problem has been a lack of talent. With Mike Babcock in charge, they might surprise by contending for a playoff spot.

MH: Columbus. I’m big on Columbus this year. Brandon SaadRyan JohansenNick Foligno will be one of the league’s highest-scoring lines.

4. One team that’s getting too much respect is…

JB: Columbus. I get why people are excited about the Jackets — there’s a lot of talent up front and in goal. But is that blue line good enough? I’m not so sure.

JO: Calgary. Although watch out in a couple of years.

RD: Minnesota. What happens if Devan Dubnyk doesn’t play like an elite goalie? Because that’s quite possible.

MH: Pittsburgh. The Pens have a real 2003 Colorado Avalanche vibe about them. (Also, don’t listen to Brough. Columbus! Columbus!)

5. The worst team in the NHL will be…

JB: Arizona. The Coyotes should finish in pole position to win the draft lottery. Given local boy Auston Matthews is projected to go first overall, you wonder if that’s been the plan all along.

JO: Arizona. But this isn’t the no-brainer that Buffalo was last season.

RD: Arizona. I want to be a contrarian, especially seeing as I like the Coyotes’ core of prospects, but they’re a ways off.

MH: Carolina. I’m only saying that to be different. (It’ll be Arizona.)

6. The biggest wildcard team (i.e. could be decent, could be a disaster) is…

JB: Vancouver. I know I said the Canucks would miss the playoffs, but they do have some young talent now. Bo Horvat is a future star. And if they give him the chance and he steps up, Jacob Markstrom has the potential to outplay Miller (and create yet another goaltending controversy).

JO: Columbus. Honestly, 2014-15 was so insane with all the injuries that it might as well be deleted from the ledger, although Nick Foligno’s accountant would disagree.

RD: Dallas. If that goaltending duo works out, and if Ales Hemsky and Patrick Sharp can bounce back, then the Stars could be a very dangerous team. None of those players are sure things though.

MH: Buffalo. Everyone’s expecting a significant leap forward, but the defense is still lousy and I have major doubts that Robin Lehner is the answer in goal.

7. The Canadian team with the best chance to win the country’s first Stanley Cup since 1993 is…

JB: I guess it’s still Montreal. It’ll be Calgary soon though, assuming the Flames figure out their goaltending.

JO: Montreal. They’re limited by their coach’s whims, but they have P.K. Subban and Carey Price.

RD: Montreal. The Habs aren’t my top pick to win the Cup, but they have the pieces to make a run.

MH: Quebec City.

8. The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs 24 straight seasons. Will they make it 25?

JB: Yes. Unless Pavel Datsyuk is hurt all the time. Even at 37, he’s still the key to their success.

JO: Yes. If Datsyuk were healthier, they’d be downright frisky. Love the addition of Mike Green.

RD: Yes. Excited to see what Dylan Larkin is all about.

MH: Yes. And James, please don’t say frisky. The Red Wings are not a dog that’s chasing a tennis ball.

9. Two teams are guaranteed to miss the playoffs in the Central Division. Those two will be…

JB: I’ll say Colorado and Minnesota. The former with a decent amount of confidence, the latter with practically none.

JO: Colorado and Winnipeg. Both have some strengths, yet their weaknesses (scheme for Avs, goaltending for Jets) leave them behind the impressive Central pack.

RD: Winnipeg and Minnesota. For the record, I am very uneasy predicting that.

MH: Winnipeg and Nashville. Very tough question, so I’ll just pick the two with the lowest payrolls.

10. Are the Chicago Blackhawks more likely to repeat as champions or miss the playoffs?

JB: Repeat as champions. Nobody’s done that in the salary-cap era, but some team will eventually. I actually think the Hawks upgraded at second-line center by getting Artem Anisimov.

JO: Miss the playoffs. The Blackhawks are no more immune to missing the postseason than the Kings were last season.

RD: Repeat as champions. They’ve had significant turnover, but they are still built for another serious run.

MH: Miss the playoffs. The last time they lost so many guys (after 2010), they barely qualified and lost in the first round.

11. Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel: who will finish with more points?

JB: McDavid. He’s a points machine, and he’s already showing chemistry with Taylor Hall.

JO: McDavid. Believe the hype.

RD: McDavid. As great as Eichel looks, which is pretty freaking great.

MH: McDavid. McDavid will score more with Hall, who’s a better trigger man than anyone Buffalo can put with Eichel. Yeah, yeah, Evander Kane scored 30 goals once. I know.

12. McDavid’s Oilers or Eichel’s Sabres – which team will finish higher in the standings?

JB: Sabres by a nose. But both teams still have serious blue-line deficiencies, with questionable goaltending to boot. I expect each to be back in the draft lottery.

JO: Oilers. It’s beyond “put-up or shut-up” time for the Oil, while Buffalo remains a work in progress.

RD: Oilers. Edmonton’s core is more firmly in place compared to Buffalo, which will need some time to come together.

MH: Brough’s right on this one, and it pains me to say that. Buffalo by the slimmest of margins.

13. If neither McDavid nor Eichel win rookie of the year, this player will:

JB: Sam Bennett in Calgary. Have I mentioned the Flames are going to be a serious contender soon?

JO: Sam Bennett. I know, not very creative.

RD: Sam Bennett. The Flames only had one good scoring line last season, but Bennett will help change that.

MH: I think James and Ryan are scared of disagreeing with Brough. I’ll take Max Domi in Arizona.

14. A young player (not a rookie) who’s primed to take the next step is…

JB: Evgeny Kuznetsov in Washington. He already took a step last season. If he takes another, the Caps have a legit shot of winning it all.

JO: Jonathan Drouin for the Bolts. The talent is obviously there. He just needs to earn his coach’s trust.

RD: Valeri Nichushkin in Dallas. He might have taken that step last season if not for his hip injury.

MH: Matt Dumba in Minnesota. His rise will also allow the Wild to cut Ryan Suter to a mere 47 minutes a night, which is nice.

15. The team that should be most worried about its goaltending is…

JB: Dallas. The Stars have a huge amount of cap space tied up in Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, neither of whom are trending in the right direction.

JO: Calgary. It’s astounding they made the playoffs considering how mediocre their net play was last season.

RD: San Jose. Martin Jones and Alex Stalock are cheap for a reason. Neither’s done much at the NHL level.

MH: Edmonton. The starter (Cam Talbot) has never been a full-time starter before. The backup (Anders Nilsson) has never been a full-time backup before. And behind that defense? Yikes.

16. The team that should be most worried about its defense is…

JB: Boston. Only Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have averaged more than 20 minutes in a full NHL season. Chara is 38. Seidenberg is 34, and starting the season hurt.

JO: Carolina. Justin Faulk is a gem, no doubt, but it feels like their defense has been leaky since … always?

RD: Edmonton. The Oilers have made strides towards addressing the blue line, but it remains a significant point of concern.

MH: Pittsburgh. The group was held together by medical tape last year, dressed two warm bodies in the playoffs, lost Paul Martin, and the big offseason get was… Adam Clendening?

17. The team that should be most worried about its forwards is…

JB: Nashville. True, guys like Craig Wilson and Colin Smith are underrated, but the Preds don’t have a Hart, Art Ross, or Selke candidate up front. When was the last time a team won a Cup without one or two of those?

JO: Toronto. People loved bashing Phil Kessel; just wait ’til they see the drop-off now that he’s gone.

RD: New Jersey. But drafting Pavel Zacha was a good start to solving the problem. Did you know that Zacha was the first forward the Devils drafted in the top 10 since Bill Guerin?

MH: Boston. Last year’s forward group struggled to score, and now it’s without Milan Lucic, Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith. Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes aren’t going to make it all better.

18. The player with the most to prove is…

JB: Alex Semin. With all that’s been said about him? He’d better have something to prove.

JO: Ryan O'Reilly got his money. Now it’s time to show he was worth it.

RD: Evander Kane’s time in Winnipeg didn’t end well. He’s getting a fresh start in Buffalo, surrounded by young talent.

MH: Rick Nash. Not regular season Rick Nash, of course — I mean playoff Rick Nash. The Rangers’ Cup window is closing, and he can’t pull another Houdini act as soon as the games start to matter. He’s paid to score goals.

19. The best free-agent addition will be…

JB: Paul Martin in San Jose. Under-the-radar signing. The Sharks should expect nothing less than getting back to the playoffs.

JO: Christian Ehrhoff for $1.5 million seems like a good deal for the Kings, as long as he can stay healthy.

RD: Cody Franson in Buffalo. The Sabres took advantage of favorable market conditions to get him at a steep discount.

MH: Justin Williams in Washington. Perfect fit for that team. HE WINS GAME 7’s!

20. Phil Kessel’s goal total: over or under 40?

JB: Under. That’s not a knock on Kessel; he’ll get a lot of goals. But only three guys scored more than 40 last year. It’s the new 50.

JO: Over, barely. A scary power play will push him over the top.

RD: Over. If Kessel could score 37 goals with Tyler Bozak as his regular center, then getting paired up with Sidney Crosby should be enough to push him over that hump.

MH: Under. He’ll get around 35, which is by no means a bad year.

21. Will Steven Stamkos re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning?

JB: Yes, with 70 percent confidence. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, but come on, you don’t trade a guy like Steven Stamkos. Do you?

JO: Yes, big-time free agents almost never go free in the NHL, which is kind of a bummer in some ways.

RD: No. Stamkos is a critical part of the Lightning and if they weren’t able to come to terms with him this summer in spite of that, then that’s telling to me.

MH: Yes. The key is Steve Yzerman making the money work, which he will. He kinda has to.

22. One big-name player that will get traded before the Feb. 29 deadline is…

JB: Is Mark Streit a big name? I’ll say him. He’s 37 and has two years left on his contract. Obviously, he’s not part of the Flyers’ future. Might as well flip him to a contender.

JO: Dustin Byfuglien. Another tough call for Kevin Cheveldayoff, especially if the Jets are in a playoff position at the deadline.

RD: Eric Staal. Carolina is likely to miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season and there’s questions as to whether he’ll re-sign.

MH: Shane Doan. The Coyotes will to be horrible and, to thank Doan for his years of service, they’ll send him to a contender.

23. The first head coach to be fired will be…

JB: Claude Julien. Cam Neely says he’s not on the hot seat, but I have trouble believing that.

JO: Claude Julien, though I also considered Jack Capuano and Mike Yeo.

RD: Claude Julien, but I don’t feel great about that prediction.

MH: The three amigos strike again. You all said Claude Julien when there’s a perfectly good Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis.

24. The NHL general manager on the hottest seat is…

JB: Jarmo Kekalainen. Not because I think his job is in jeopardy, but he’s committed a lot of money to that roster and it’s time for some results. Just ask Blue Jackets superfan Mike Halford.

JO: Dale Tallon. The Panthers haven’t played self-destructive GM roulette in a while …

RD: Doug Armstrong. I’ve liked the Blues for a while now, but every year they fall flat in the playoffs causes the pressure on management to increase.

MH: Jim Rutherford. Did everybody forget that Pens ownership had to give him a vote of confidence after his first year on the job? Now imagine if Kessel’s a flop.

25. True or False: the NHL will expand to Las Vegas and Quebec City this season.

JB: True. I just have trouble picturing the owners saying “Nah, we’ll pass” on divvying up $1 billion. Never know if that money’s still there in the future.

JO: True. Although the wilting Canadian dollar does make me worry a bit about Nordiques Redux.

RD: False. The short-term payoff has to be weighed against the long-term risks, and Quebec City raises concerns because of its market size and the Canadian dollar. I think the NHL is more likely to wait for a market like Seattle.

MH: True. /makes money sign with fingers

26. I’ll be a happy hockey fan if…

JB: We see a legitimate Cinderella run in the playoffs. And don’t tell me the 2012 Kings already did that. I’m talking about a bad possession team like Calgary last year or Colorado the year before, but instead of getting knocked out early, it goes all the way. Let’s see a team beat Corsi!

JO: Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel produce rookie seasons that rival the ones by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. We can pretend they hate each other!

RD: A budget team wins the Stanley Cup. I know I just wrote that I don’t think Quebec City will end up with an expansion franchise, but I love seeing that type of market succeed.

MH: Some youngish veterans that got squeezed by the cap crunch get NHL jobs. Curtis Glencross being out of work at 32 makes me sad.

27. I’ll be a sad hockey fan if…

JB: Coaches find a way to ruin 3-on-3 overtime. Because you know they’ll try their best.

JO: The NHL doesn’t do anything to address the lack of goal-scoring.

RD: If McDavid or Eichel suffer a serious injury — and worse still, if it’s a concussion.

MH: The Canadian dollar keeps falling. I don’t know much about economics (OK I know nothing about economics), but I do know a sagging loonie makes free agency way less fun.

28. Your worst prediction from last season was…

JB: Picking the Flames to finish last. Not only did Calgary make the playoffs, the Sabres were so, so bad.

JO: Silly me for thinking the Pittsburgh Penguins would part ways with Marc-Andre Fleury.

RD: I didn’t have enough faith in Peter Laviolette and picked him to be the least successful new coach.

MH: I said Carolina’s goaltending situation would be the most interesting to follow, which was wrong because it wasn’t interesting at all.

29. The prediction you’re least confident about this season is…

JB: The expansion one, because the NHL clearly wants to be in Seattle. If somebody in that city can get their act together over the next few months, Quebec City could be out.

JO: Saying Calgary is getting too much respect. There’s decent reason to believe the Flames will be a better possession team this year. That wasn’t really the case with Colorado last season.

RD: Picking Claude Julien as the first coach to be fired. The first one to go is often out of left field.

MH: Everything pertaining to the Blue Jackets. I might be a little too high on Columbus.

30. Finally, make a crazy prediction that probably won’t happen, but on second thought, you never know…

JB: The Oilers miss the playoffs and win the draft lottery. An investigation is launched. People go to jail.

JO: Jaromir Jagr leads the Florida Panthers in scoring. His mullet finishes second.

RD: Connor McDavid wins the Art Ross Trophy. And, somehow, the Norris Trophy.

MH: The Canadian dollar makes a triumphant comeback, because it’s gritty and clutch, like a good Canadian kid.

Enjoy the season!

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

tampa bay lightning
Scott Audette/Getty Images
0 Comments

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced Friday that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
Julian Avram/Getty Images
2 Comments

TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

marc-andre fleury
David Berding/Getty Images
2 Comments

ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.

Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

“I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

“It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

“We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”