McDavid, Eichel headline NHLPA Rookie Showcase

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This year’s NHLPA Rookie Showcase won’t be lacking star power.

The top two picks at this year’s entry draft — Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel — will be in attendance, along with 38 other prospects that’ll descend upon Toronto on Tuesday, Sept. 1 for photo ops and media availability.

The list of invitees, per the players’ union:

Connor McDavid (Oilers), Jack Eichel (Sabres), Dylan Strome (Coyotes), Mitch Marner (Maple Leafs), Noah Hanifin (Hurricanes), Ivan Barbashev (Blues), Chris Bigras (Avalanche), Oliver Bjorkstrand (Blue Jackets), Madison Bowey (Capitals), Connor Brown (Maple Leafs), Michael Dal Colle (Islanders), Nikolaj Ehlers (Jets), Robby Fabbri (Blues), Zach Fucale (Canadiens), Nikolay Goldobin (Sharks), Ryan Hartman (Blackhawks), Connor Hellebuyck (Jets), Julius Honka (Stars), Kasperi Kapanen (Maple Leafs), Ronalds Kenins (Canucks), Slater Koekkoek (Lightning), Dylan Larkin (Red Wings), Sonny Milano (Blue Jackets), Samuel Morin (Flyers), Mike Matheson (Panthers), Michael McCarron (Canadiens), Josh Morrissey (Jets), Brendan Perlini (Coyotes), Nic Petan (Jets), Emile Poirier (Flames), Shane Prince (Senators), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), John Quenneville (Devils), Mike Reilly (Wild), Nick Ritchie (Ducks), Travis Sanheim (Flyers), Mackenzie Skapski (Rangers), Brady Skjei (Rangers), Shea Theodore (Ducks) and Jake Virtanen (Canucks).

This will mark the seventh year the PA has gathered rookies for its annual event. Last year’s Rookie Showcase featured 33 players, including Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad and fellow finalist Johnny Gaudreau.

Luongo: Panthers cannot accept anything ‘beneath’ playoffs

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When you miss the playoffs as often as the Florida Panthers do, it may be tough to raise expectations.

Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr are far more accustomed to success after game 82 of a season, however, and the Panthers’ goalie is adamant that the team must set its sights on the postseason.

NHL.com transcribed some of Luongo’s more confident comments:

“Last year we weren’t quite sure what we were going to get; we had a lot of new faces and a new coaching staff,” Luongo said. “This year it’s time to take that next step. It’s really all about the playoffs for our team; nothing beneath that will be acceptable. I think as a group we realize that and demand that of ourselves.”source: Getty Images

Florida did make some strides, but falling seven points short of the playoffs is more of a sign of work to do than some might expect (especially after it was sold as “just an extra win every six weeks”). In the age of “loser points,” seven standings points is actually a pretty significant margin.

That said, the Panthers were growing together, as Luongo mentioned. Setting the bar higher is important for young players who are developing as well as veterans who want to earn a few more shots at glory.

Want more on Luongo and the Panthers? PHT covered a lot of bases on that subject a few days ago:

Luongo is under pressure

How well will they mix the old with the new?

Panthers’ outlook in 2015-16

Boston Bruins ’15-16 Outlook

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Considering the significant changes that took place this summer, you’d think that the Boston Bruins fell from contender to cellar-dweller.

In truth, they didn’t miss the 2014-15 postseason by much, falling two points behind eighth-place Pittsburgh. Losing Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic won’t help matters, yet it’s not outrageous to imagine them back in the playoffs next season.

They do still employ Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, after all.

Now, it’s reasonable to wonder if they’re still a Cup contender, but what are their chances of making the playoffs?

Let’s ponder that in a slightly different way: by looking at how they compare to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Division opponents

Lightning – Tampa Bay made a huge leap last season, but they didn’t lose any significant players and are buoyed by young talent. They’re likely out of Boston’s league right now.

Canadiens – Some question Montreal’s possession merits, yet the Habs’ results have been satisfactory so far.

Senators – A clash of fading veterans in Boston and up-and-comers in Ottawa made for an exciting stretch run in 2014-15. Expect a sequel.

Red Wings – A franchise experiencing comparably large front office changes, although Detroit made some key additions instead of subtractions this summer. These two veteran-heavy teams may just battle it out in the bubble.

Panthers – The Bruins must watch out for a team brimming with young talent and familiar faces from the past in Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo.

Sabres – Much improved, yet it’s an open question regarding how far Buffalo must go to merely be respectable again.

Maple Leafs – Lottery fodder, you’d think

Metro considerations

Capitals and Islanders – Two teams that may only climb further out of Boston’s reach in the race for playoff spots.

Rangers – Could this team be a little vulnerable? Martin St. Louis’ retirement and Carl Hagelin’s trade lowers the skill level a bit, while a regime change is in order with Jeff Gorton taking over GM duties for Glen Sather. One would think that the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners hold an edge over Boston, perception-wise.

Penguins – Pittsburgh was right there with Boston as far as almost missing a playoff spot goes. The Pens’ outlook sure looks different with former Bruin draftee Phil Kessel in the mix, though, right? If it does come down to these two teams, just imagine Kessel being the deciding factor.

Blue Jackets – A dangerous team that almost seems like it’s being built in the bruising, Bruins’ mold.

FlyersDevils and Hurricanes – You’d think these teams will struggle in 2015-16, but at the same time, it’s dangerous to write these franchises off entirely. Still, you’d think that the Bruins would pass them by.

***

Looking at the East teams, do you think the Bruins might make the playoffs? Could they even threaten to win the Atlantic or, conversely, fall into the lottery? It’s an interesting outlook when you try to ponder Boston’s place compared in this mix.

Poll: Has the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window closed?

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Back in 2013, the last time the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final, their leading playoff scorers were, in order, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchard, Jaromir Jagr, Daniel Paille, Tyler Seguin, and Johnny Boychuk.

Of those 10 players, only four — Krejci, Bergeron, Chara and Marchand — remain on the roster. And Chara is 38 years old now.

Add to the fact Dougie Hamilton is gone too, plus the fact the Bruins missed the playoffs last year, and it’s no surprise that many feel their Cup window has closed.

But you won’t hear new GM Don Sweeney say that. Not with youngsters like Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, and Alex Khokhlachev up front. And not after picking up 27-year-old Matt Beleskey in free agency.

Remember that the NHL is a young man’s league. Teams that aren’t constantly refreshing their lineups are teams that get into trouble.

“I don’t think it’s a rebuild. We didn’t strip this down,” Sweeney said in June, per NHL.com. “We have a tremendous core group of guys that are going to obviously carry an even heavier load here in the short term while these other kids can come in and start to take footing.”

OK, time to vote:

Related: Zach Trotman is looking to make the leap

It’s Boston Bruins day at PHT

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If nothing else, you shouldn’t confuse next season’s Boston Bruins with the group who failed to make the playoffs in 2014-15.

After a pretty impressive run of seven postseason berths, the Bruins fell two points short of the postseason, but apparently the bitter flavor of that campaign was too much for management.

Granted, as much as new GM Don Sweeney wants to modernize the team’s transition game, there are still some core tenants remaining.

The defense will depend upon aging star defenseman Zdeno Chara, perhaps more than ever. Tuukka Rask may be expected to earn every cent of his $7.5 million salary in 2015-16. It looked dicey for some time, but Claude Julien remains behind the bench.

It’s tough to gauge what, exactly, we should expect from a very different Bruins team. People probably won’t be any happier if they miss the playoffs again, though.

Off-season recap

That’s because their offseason seemingly went from – pardon the cliche – rebuilding to reloading.

OK, maybe it’s wisest to label it a partial rebuild. Would they be totally blowing things up and still sign Matt Beleskey to a five year, $19 million contract? More than a few Bruins fans cringed at acquiring Zac Rinaldo, yet the move argues at least partially for a change of pace rather than punting on competitiveness altogether.

After all, they’re investing plenty of money in Chara, Rask, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, right?

It’s true that the Bruins did sacrifice the present a bit for the future, however. Moving Milan Lucic out of town took many aback, and trading away Dougie Hamilton will stand as a polarizing decision (to say the least).

One could say that Hamilton and eventually Lucic would be too expensive to keep, but again, they spent some of the cash they conceivably could have used on Hamilton to sign Beleskey.

In summary, the Bruins fired Peter Chiarelli in favor of Sweeney, essentially traded Lucic for Beleskey, added beef actually trading Reilly Smith for Jimmy Hayes and parted ways with Hamilton.

That’s a brain-full, and we could see even more changes if the Bruins don’t make gains next season. Stay tuned.