Which no. 8 seed is likeliest to suffer a drop off 2018-19?

Getty
9 Comments

The Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils shocked the hockey world last season when they managed to make the playoffs. Both teams snuck into the postseason by finishing in the final Wild Card spot in their respective conferences and both were eliminated in the first round, but the fact that they made it at all was an impressive accomplishment. Will they be able to do it again?

Neither team made much of a splash this summer. The Avs added Matt Calvert in free agency and Philipp Grubauer via trade, while New Jersey didn’t really add any significant piece to their team. Both teams have quite of bit of cap space remaining (Colorado has just over $14 million, New Jersey has $19.537 million).

When you look at the way both teams are built, it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t want to add a major veteran piece in free agency. Neither organization should be in a rush to get older. Both are loaded with young players that are bound to take the next step in their professional careers. So rather than block a youngster from making the team by signing an older player, both Joe Sakic and Ray Shero decided to stay the course.

But waiting for youngsters to grow into important roles could come with short-term consequences.

Having Nathan MacKinnon and Taylor Hall at their disposal will cover up a lot of flaws. Both players had MVP-type seasons, but it was Hall who came away with the award when it was all said and done. For either team to have a shot at making it back to the playoffs, they need their franchise players to carry them.

The biggest advantage Colorado has over New Jersey, is that their supporting cast is more established. MacKinnon was great last year, but he also had Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot and Samuel Girard. Tyson Jost could also be ready to take on more of an important role if all goes well with his development.

That’s not to say that Hall doesn’t have a supporting cast, but he’s in a bit of a different situation. Nico Hischier is going to be a huge part of the organization going forward, but how good will he be in year two? Can he make the same kind of impact that Rantanen made for Colorado last season? That’ll be an interesting story to watch. The same goes for Jesper Bratt, who got off to a great start in training camp before he tailed off. The Devils will need Marcus Johansson to stay healthy and they need to find a way to get more out of a guy like Pavel Zacha, who simply hasn’t lived up to the hype of being a top 10 pick.

Both teams have a franchise forward, but the depth advantage definitely goes to the Avs.

Goaltending is another thing to consider when analyzing these two teams. If all the goalies on the roster are at their best, there’s an argument to be made for Cory Schneider being the best of the bunch. Unfortunately for Schneider, he hasn’t always showed that over the last two years. Injuries and inconsistency have been his biggest problem. Keith Kinkaid has stepped in nicely for him though.

On the flip side, Colorado has similar problems with Semyon Varlamov, who also just can’t seem to stay healthy. Sakic sort of addressed the question marks surrounding Varlamov by adding Grubauer from Washington. Grubauer hasn’t been a full-time starter at the NHL level, but he’s proven to be an effective short-term option if the starter gets injured or falters.

In the end, it’s hard to give an advantage to one side or the other in this case because there are too many question marks between the pipes. Both teams have goalies that can be difference-makers.

But the other thing to factor into this equation is the competition that both teams will face for a playoff spot. In the East, teams that missed the postseason include: Florida, Carolina, both New York teams, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo. Some of those teams are going to be better, but it’s difficult to envision one of them becoming a juggernaut. Sure, the Panthers are better and the Hurricanes are looking different, but there’s way more competition in the Western Conference.

The Avalanche will have to fight off teams like St. Louis, Dallas, Chicago, Calgary and maybe Edmonton. That’s not going to be easy for this young team.

Even though there’s more competition in the West, it looks like the Avs are better equipped to have another strong season because their roster is superior at this point. That’s not to say that both teams can’t make it back to the postseason again, but at this point Colorado’s roster just seems to be ahead of New Jersey’s.

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.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced Wednesday.

The Knights termed the procedure Tuesday as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

brunette dui
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
0 Comments

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested early Wednesday morning in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released later Wednesday on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.