Roundtable: Bold predictions for the 2020-21 NHL season

What under-the-radar free agent move will pay off big this NHL season?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Anthony Duclair in Florida could pay off big for the Panthers. He scored a career high 23 goals last season in Ottawa, but the market wasn’t kind to the 2020 free agent class, so the 25-year-old had to settle for a one-year, $1.7M deal. In another contract year, the goals may continue as he’ll be look to help lead the Cats’ offense.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: I’m not sure Cam Talbot is that great, but the Wild’s defense was so suffocating, he doesn’t need to be. He could really help Minnesota if he’s merely above-average, and that doesn’t seem like a tall task

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Love the Craig Smith signing by Boston. He is a really good player (possession driver, 25 goals), is a great fit for the way the Bruins play, and that contract term is outstanding. All of the focus in Boston is on the defensemen they lost, the goalies, and even the injury to David Pastrnak, and everyone seems to ignore the one guy they did add. He is going to make an impact. 

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: I think Tyler Toffoli was an excellent move for the Habs. Montreal made a lot of moves and I admire in general their mentality going into the year. I expect Toffoli to be an impact and help some of the younger players.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Justin Schultz. The Caps have undergone a bit of a makeover on ‘D’. They extended trade deadline acquisition Brenden Dillon, picked up Trevor van Riemsdyk, and recently signed Zdeno Chara. But Schultz, who signed a 2-year/$8M deal, has the potential to be the biggest difference maker of this group. He was a polarizing player in Pittsburgh but brings offensive upside and a championship pedigree.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: If the talk is true, then the Calgary signing of Josh Leivo could pay off big. Right now (and it’s early) he is playing with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk. The Flames told him at the time of signing that they wanted him to play an offensive role and if he sticks on the second line with Lindholm and Tkachuk, he certainly will have the offensive role he desires.


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Do you want to see re-seeding of the final four playoff teams beyond this NHL season?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: We’re at the point where the league should just go to a 1-16 overall playoff format. Keep the conference setup for schedule purposes, maybe give division winners an edge, but give us the best 16 teams in the postseason. For now, re-seeding in third round could see some years where the series are subpar, but I feel more often than not the series would be more intriguing and potentially lead to even better Stanley Cup Final matchups.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Absolutely. For years, the NHL’s swung far too much in favor of parity over rewarding teams for being elite. No league should ever be happy with a conference final round being deemed “the real Stanley Cup/Super Bowl/etc.,” so this is the NHL’s chance to tweak the playoffs so the best truly face the best.

(Well, in theory. There would still be plenty of upsets in reality, because, as always … hockey.)

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: My initial reaction to this is the Conference vs. Conference format works, and I have no problem with it. But I also love the possibility of the new potential Stanley Cup Final matchups that are out there. Do I love it because it could legitimately be great, or do I love it because it is a new possibility? I am still leaning toward the former so I am going to say yes, reseed them every year!

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Yes. Parity is cool but I want to see the best teams advance more than I care about arbitrary division markers.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Let’s look at what would’ve played out the past few seasons:

2019-20: TB vs NYI & VGK vs DAL
2018-19: BOS vs STL & SJ vs CAR
2017-18: WSH vs WPG & TB vs VGK
2016-17: PIT vs NSH & ANA vs OTT
2015-16: STL vs TB & SJ vs PIT

Honestly, I’m not sure I like those matchups better (note that last season, those were the matchups produced by the current format). My take on the playoff format debate: no matter what method is used, there will always be complaints that, in a given season, a different format would’ve produced better matchups. I’m not sure there’s one solution that would give the fans everything they want year after year. Playoff hockey is great already, let’s be happy with what we have.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Yes. Only The NHL and NBA still go with an East-West Final and it should be the best two teams. Reseeding for the final four will allow this to happen.

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Give us one bold prediction you have for this NHL season.

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: After signing a deal following his camp PTO, Mike Hoffman will lead the Blues in scoring.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: I chose Rick Tocchet to be the first coach fired, but he won’t get that pink slip during the regular season. That’s right: no in-season coaching firings for 2020-21. (But all bets are off during the 2020 offseason.)

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: The Winnipeg Jets trade Patrik Laine to the Philadelphia Flyers. 

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Predicting the Sharks as a playoff team is probably the boldest take I have, but the wilder take in the back of my head has been about the Kings making a playoff push, but still falling short.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Taylor Hall will pair perfectly with Jack Eichel and will sign a massive contract extension to stay with the Sabres.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The Stanley Cup will finally return to Canada with the Toronto Maple Leafs claiming the crown.

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    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    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

    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

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    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.”


    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.


    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

    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.”