slow start

Underachieving NHL teams: Off to a slow start, eh?

It is typical at times for a perceived great team to get off to a surprisingly slow start. It’s tough to judge a team just 8-10 games in, but you would like to see positive signs moving forward.

Montreal, Edmonton and New York (Rangers) are three of the five bottom teams in the league at the moment. The only team with a worse record (as of Oct. 26) is the Arizona Coyotes (0-8-1). All three of these teams finished with over 100 points last season.

This is a small sample size. However, after a long offseason, teams are typically high on new energy at the start of the year. Moreover, the points you deposit in October are worth the same as the points put in the bank in March. Ask the Canadiens of last year. Montreal started the season 13-1-1, played .500 hockey the next 43 games (18-18-7), and still captured a division title finishing 47-26-9.

Every team hits a lull, or multiple lulls over the course of a season. A hot start isn’t 100 percent crucial to a successful season, but it is your first imprint on the year. It’s the first building block. Your season can be made or broken based off of how it starts. It’s very early again, but what’s going on with three of the league’s current bottom feeders?

off and walking habs

underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Habs began their season with a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. They then proceeded to lose their next seven. Montreal ended that skid Tuesday night with a 5-1 win over a Roberto Luongo-less Florida squad. The team is giving up close to four goals a game and both net minders (Price and Montoya) have save percentages under .900.

The Canadiens are a team that depends on their goaltending heavily having arguably the best in the league in Carey Price. The 2015-16 season saw them skate to a 10-2-0 record with Price in the net and a 4-15-1 record the next 20 after his injury. Thirty-seven of their 47 victories last season came with Price manning the crease. The pressure on Price is huge because they only possess one player (Max Pacioretty) that had over 20 or more goals for them last season.

Montreal is scoring less than two goals a game. They are averaging over 38 shots a game lacking finish. The Habs have the eighth worst power play at just under 14 percent in a year where special teams is ruling with the amount of penalties being called. It’s just not clicking for the Canadiens nine games into their season.

We could see a flip of the script of last year where Montreal could trend upward after October instead. There are 73 games remaining. It’s simply a slow start for the Habs.

Not Much Fuel early For the Well-Oiled Machine

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The curious case of the not so well-oiled machine at the moment is concerning. Edmonton has won only two of their first eight games. Connor McDavid is still doing Connor McDavid things (nine points). However, the depth along with the stellar goaltending from Cam Talbot isn’t showing up currently.

Edmonton is giving up an even three goals a game after giving up 1.89 per game through eight games last season. They needed everything and more from their starter Cam Talbot last year. The 30-year old played in 73 of the 82 games. It started with him as the Oilers let up the eighth fewest goals of any team. They’re going to need Talbot to be who he was last year and maybe more if the offense doesn’t pick up.

The league MVP is obviously the catalyst for everything that goes on offensively for the Oilers. However, to be successful and a true contender, you need production from all four lines. The 2016-17 season saw Edmonton possess five 20+ goal scorers, four 50+ point getters and one fourth liner (Mark Letestu) net 16 goals. McDavid can turn this team around in a hurry as they have almost everyone from a year ago minus Jordan Eberle.

Great teams sometimes suffer when they are aware of the talent they have. This can be seen at times with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA regular season. They get bored occasionally. However, the Oilers have no excuse having just made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years despite having the second best preseason Cup odds at 10-1. They haven’t won or proven anything yet.

broadway at a standstill

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Rangers have played in 10 games so far this season and have come away victorious twice. However, they have shown the most positive signs of improvement statistically of the other two teams. New York has been in three one-goal games, averaging 2.50 goals per game, and converting on close to 20 percent of their power plays.

The Blue Shirts’ defense is centered around Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh after an offseason trade with Arizona and free agency. They traded Antti Raanta (backup goalie) and Derek Stepan (key bottom six depth player).

Their new backup (Ondrej Pavelec) is 0-2 and has given up six goals in 96 minutes of action. The penalty kill (manned by much of the bottom six) sits at 23rd in the league at 77.8 percent. The new defensive core is a combined -11.

New York finished ninth overall in the league last year with 102 points. They captured a series win over Montreal and took Ottawa to six games who was one goal away from reaching the Finals. The Rangers organization then presumed a few tweaks were needed to take the next step. Sometimes that’s valid and other times it isn’t the case at all.

This could be nothing like the previous two teams discussed. Hopefully (for the front office) this will be a footnote to the next 72 games for the Rangers.

No time to worry

There are new faces up and down a roster coming into the year. Chemistry and figuring out how to play with one another is crucial. Some teams learn faster than others and there is no way to project where these particular teams will be in the standings later on in the season.

The key is to have a short memory and always be in the right frame of mind. Each of these hockey clubs believe they can win with the personnel they possess.

The longest losing streak for the Stanley Cup winning Penguins last year was four. Therefore, the seven game losing streak by the Habs is alarming. The league worst 15 goals that the Oilers have registered in their eight games is concerning. The lack of cohesion from the new-look Rangers is also worrisome. However, they can’t look back.

Will these teams get it together sooner rather than later?

 

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big brother little brother

Best NHL rivalries: Big brothers and little brothers

The NHL is full of great historic rivalries that are usually between two cities in close proximity. Bad blood runs deep on and off the ice. You see it during the games in the players and in the stands with the fans. These brutal hatreds are a part of what drives the emotional investments in what many call just a game.

Many of these mutual uneasy feelings involve one team playing the big brother role, with the other playing little brother. One usually has championship pedigree while the other has been in dire search for that particular respect for years. There is appeal to both sides. You either root for sustained excellence or the fighting underdog.

History deals with evolutionary concepts. This is what makes these rivalry stories so intriguing. Two teams have been hating each other ever since their existence. The hatred is passed down through generations of fans that must never fade away. You either pick a side or are born into a side that you must never switch.

Canadiens/Maple Leafs

One of the most historic rivalries in the sport is between two Canadian teams. Two franchises that are the oldest in the league.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs joined the NHL in 1917 (league’s inaugural season). There has been no love lost between the two cities since.

A combined 24 Stanley Cups were won between the two from 1917 to 1967. The two teams were in a class of their own and a competitive rivalry ensued. However, Montreal would claim the big brother role of the feud as Toronto has yet to win a championship since 1967.

Thirty-seven cups have been won in total between the two organizations which is the most by any rivalry and any pair of teams. Twenty-four have been won by Montreal and 10 since the last time Toronto did so in ’67.

It is something the Leafs are reminded by every time they visit Montreal as they look up at each banner. Oct. 14 was the first Maple Leaf victory in Montreal in the last 14 tries thanks to an OT-winner from none other than Auston Matthews.

Now that these two hockey clubs are both playoff caliber teams, we may see the first postseason meeting between the two in 38 years.

Blackhawks/Blues

Fighting in the stands is never appropriate, but it seems to be when St. Louis and Chicago play each other. These two hockey communities are one of today’s biggest big brother/little brother rivalries.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

These arch rivals are separated by under 300 miles and both fan bases find their way into enemy territory every time they link up. The dispute spreads further than the ice. It goes into the stands and onto the baseball diamond.

Both cities are crazy about their teams and it is a true war zone when they play. However, in terms of the teams on the ice, one of these teams has had all the fun recently when it comes to winning.

It used to be a true battle between the Hawks and Blues as both teams had two of the three longest cup droughts. Chicago had not won since 1961 and St. Louis had not since 1967. That changed in 2010 as the Hawks won their first of three championships within the last seven-year time frame.

Today, the two clubs have met 12 times in the postseason with Chicago winning eight of the 12 series. The Blues are still in search for their first Stanley Cup as the Hawks continue their reputation of being the league’s modern-day dynasty. This is truly a big brother/little brother rivalry with one team uncomfortably admiring the other and one team giving the other little respect. Nevertheless, the hate is very much mutual.

The Hawks and Blues meet for the first time this year on Oct. 18 at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Penguins/Capitals

A rivalry with undeniable similarities to Chicago/St. Louis is between Pittsburgh and Washington. One team has reached the top of the NHL mountain multiple times while the other has yet to capture such glory.

Best NHL rivalries

Photo: NHL.com

This could be the most lop-sided of the rivalries discussed. The two teams have met in the playoffs 10 times. Pittsburgh has won nine of those meetings and has captured five Stanley Cups since the berth of the rivalry.

This would usually make a similar matchup unwatchable. However, the 2004 and 2005 drafts have made this matchup unquestionably entertaining.

The No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Capitals in 2004 was Alex Ovechkin. The 2005 No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins was Sidney Crosby.

These two have been the faces of the league since the 2005-06 season putting their teams near the top of the standings each year since. Ovechkin and the Caps have won three Presidents Trophies as the No. 1 team in the regular season. Crosby and the Penguins have eliminated the Capitals three times en route to three Stanley Cups in the Crosby/Ovechkin era.

The Penguins lead the all-time regular season series against the Caps with 145 wins including a win in their first meeting of the year on Oct. 11. Washington has yet to reach a conference final since Ovechkin arrived in the nation’s capital. However, as long as they have the talent they possess to compete with Pittsburgh with the potential to win, this rivalry will never be unwatchable.

Today’s most heated Rivals

Historic rivalries will never die, but today, California is host to three teams who may hate each other more than any two teams do in the NHL.

This is unlike the big brother/little brother rivalries in that all three of these teams have had success. Three Stanley Cup championships are combined by each organization since 1993. This is like three big business rivals fighting each other to be the dominant force. Each of these teams are in the same division and meet regularly. The battle of California is heated and is home to extremely passionate fans from Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose.

Rivalries are important. Professional sports and all forms of competition need motives to put those involved in the right frame of mind. Mental toughness and a teams’ psyche is one of the biggest components in winning a hockey game. The teams that win it all are the ones that are mentally tough. Therefore, there is no room to like the opposition.

 

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Take Flight

About to Take Flight

Training camps take flight this week for NHL clubs. But, this weekend we received a prelude to the near and far future with the 2017 NHL Prospect Tournaments.

Storylines are coming together for another event filled 82-game grind. Four tournaments began Friday that included 19 teams. Showcases were held in Toronto, Buffalo, British Columbia and Traverse City Michigan.

The 2017 Rookie Tournament

Young stars aligned in Toronto this weekend at the 2017 Rookie Tournament. Top draft picks of Toronto, Ottawa and New York joined forces in a terrific showcase of young talent. And it is important for these prospects to have as much in-game experience as possible.

Timothy Liljegren of the Maple Leafs was drafted 17th overall in this year’s draft. And the first evaluation for the rookie defenseman did not go well. The 18 year old was beat on the outside in the first ten minutes of the game. Later in the third he clears the puck through the middle of the ice in his own zone right to a Montreal player that led to another goal. Liljegren finished the night -4.

Take Flight

Liljegren (Left) losing battle after battle in this weekend’s tournament.              Photo Courtesy of SBNation

Eyes were on Thomas Chabot and Colin White of the Ottawa Senators organization in this tournament. Both of these prospects had great starts to the showcase. White made numerous plays in an 8-2 victory over Montreal. But, the standout was Chabot as he quarterbacked the Ottawa power play finishing with 3 assists.

Noah Juulsen of the Canadiens (2015 1st Round Pick) also aimed to make an impression this weekend. The 20-year old looks to be a part of the Habs’ 3rd defensive pairing this year. This was not his 1st rookie tournament. And he looked to make it his last as he exhibited “great strength and vision” on the ice.

The Prospects Challenge

Nico Hischier (1st Overall pick in 2017 Draft) suited up in an NHL uniform for the first time this weekend at The Prospects Challenge. The Swiss born rookie did his best to get acclimated to NHL pace of play and to not get injured. And his goals were achieved.

Take Flight

Nico Hischier suiting up for the New Jersey Devils for the first time getting his first NHL experience. Photo Courtesy of NJ.com

Hischier was “pretty quiet” when the 1st game began, but settled in as the game progressed. The 18 year old showed off his speed and ability to work well in tight spaces. According to Todd Cordell, Hischier created a scoring chance “every time he touched the puck” down the stretch. But, the rookie was not able to register a point in his debut. However, the Devils opened the tournament with an overtime winner.

The Devils need a spark this year. They have not made the playoffs since making it to the Final in 2012. Veterans have been added, stars have been kept and the rookies are ready to go.

 

Young Stars Classic & Traverse City Tournament

Three Canadian teams (Oilers, Flames and Jets) played in the Young Stars Classic in British Columbia this weekend. And eight teams competed in Traverse City, MI. This concluded the weekend’s rookie showcases.

The Young Stars Classic continues through the 11th and has already seen great play. And everyone was waiting see Kailer Yamamoto (Oilers 2017 1st Round Pick). But, it was Chad Butcher who stole the show in their game against Winnipeg. The Oiler hopeful netted his 2nd goal in three games as Edmonton took down the Jets 3-0. The present and future seem to be very bright in Edmonton.

Take Flight

Minnesota rookies roar back for a 6-5 victory over the Blues in the Traverse City Tournament. Photo Courtesy of SBNation

The tournament in Traverse City saw a series of events occur in the battle between St. Louis and Minnesota. Blues first round picks (Robert Thomas and Klim Kostin) were showing everyone why they were taken early in this year’s draft. Kostin scored midway through the 3rd, which gave St. Louis a 5-1 lead. Then, the team Bus driver left the Arena due to his presumption that the game was won. But, the Minnesota rookies then scored 5 unanswered goals and took the lead with 1:02 remaining.

These tournaments provide great experience for young upcoming professionals. But, they do not exactly do a good job giving us an idea of where these prospects are in this small sample size.

What have we learned?

In this short period of time, we have learned not much at all. Each of the teams that took part in these weekend tournaments know now what they have always known that there is promise in the future. And the future is much closer to the present. The youth movements that are going on in almost every franchise are taking flight. That is what we have learned.

We know that the waiting game is not as long as it used to be in this league. There is more of a business mindset with these showcases maybe than in recent years. This makes the buildup to opening night of the regular season go by a bit faster.

Take Flight

The NHL’s Elite Prospects were on display this weekend. Photo Courtesy of NHL.com

 

More storylines, more excitement and more hockey related news is what we need. We need the lag time between the Cup presentation and the start to the season to seem shorter than in reality.

Hockey moves at a furious pace. And if you let it, so does the offseason.

Training camps open this week.

 

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Kevin Shattenkirk free agency: Best options

Ever since the end of the Stanley Cup Final, the NHL offseason hasn’t slept. The expansion draft built the Vegas Golden Knights while New Jersey and Philadelphia selected Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, respectively. One of the top free agents expected to hit the market, T.J. Oshie, heads back to the Capitals on an eight-year deal.

With Oshie settled in the Capitol, the best all-around player available is former Caps defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. The seven-year veteran is the most talented offensive blue liner.

This season, he finished with 56 points, trailing Norris finalists Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman. He’s notched 27 goals the past two seasons with both St. Louis and Washington. Defensively, he’s a solid skate who can move the puck from zone to zone.

Where he has the most value is on special teams. His eight power play goals and 27 points were second-most for a defenseman this season. His shot percentage has improved each season since 2013-14. He can lead the attack on the man advantage.

While his plus-minus isn’t pretty to look at the past two seasons, it improved on a stable Capitals blue line. Teams will keep that and the price he will garner in mind when signing him. What teams are in the running for him?

The Favorites

Boston Bruins – Kevin Shattenkirk has been linked to Boston for a few years. He played college hockey at Boston University after growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut. Boston inquired about him at the trade deadline, but the Blues reportedly wanted two first-round picks and David Pastrnak, which was way too high.

The Bruins have a young core of defensemen with Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Torey Krug does well on the power play, but he was the main quarterback on special teams. McAvoy had two assists on the power play in the playoffs, but he may need more time.

With Shattenkirk, Boston gets a proven asset that makes their blue line fast and deadly on offense. Its roughly $13.5 million in cap space means they can afford him if he stays around the $6-$7 million AAV range. He provides that leadership for a young core. General Manager Don Sweeney has to think about if Shattenkirk’s offense is enough of an upgrade without breaking the bank.

Kevin Shattenkirk free agency

Shattenkirk (left, playing with Blues) could join the Rangers in free agency. Photo courtesy of Newsday/Photo by Mary Altaffer, AP

New York Rangers – On paper, the Rangers and Shattenkirk is a perfect marriage. New York now has $20 million in cap space after buying out Dan Girardi and trading Antti Raanta and Derek Stepan. Rumor has it Shattenkirk favors the Rangers for its location close to home.

On the ice, he fills a dire need for the Blueshirts. Girardi, while a gritty player, is not the same puck mover as Kevin Shattenkirk. On the power play, their special teams were 3-for-39 in the postseason after a top 10 finish in the regular season. Shattenkirk can replace Brady Skjei on the second unit, giving them a Ryan McDonagh-Shattenkirk combo on the man advantage.

Despite the recent trade for Anthony DeAngelo, New York still needs help on defense. Brendan Smith is still in play for New York, and they can still sign both. He checks every box on both sides. Even if the Rangers may look to get younger and cheaper after shedding Stepan’s contract, Shattenkirk can still make them competitive and fill multiple needs.

Dark Horses

Tampa Bay Lightning – Tampa’s interest in Kevin Shattenkirk is one of the worst-kept secrets in the NHL. In January, the Lightning tried to trade for the blue liner from St. Louis. It did not come to fruition. Now, the Tampa Bay Times reported GM Steve Yzerman is kicking the tires on Shattenkirk.

Even after snagging Montreal’s pristine defensive prospect, Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa is looking for top-four defensive help. Shattenkirk joining Hedman gives the Lightning one of the best combos in the league. His offense and his right-handed stick, according to Times’ writer Joe Smith, is a fit for Tampa Bay.

Ultimately, Shattenkirk’s willingness to come to Tampa Bay is the biggest obstacle. He rejected a seven-year, $42 million extension and a deal to head to the Sunshine State. Does he want to be there? Are the Lightning built to succeed in the next few years? With Shattenkirk, they can, but it’s hard to see unless they gain more pieces.

Kevin Shattenkirk free agency

Shattenkirk (left) could become teammates with Miles Wood next season. Photo courtesy of My NHL Trade Rumors/Photo by USATSI

New Jersey Devils – Any Rangers fan might have a tough time reading this, but it has some traction to it. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in March he wouldn’t be surprised if the Devils threw money at him.

New Jersey has $24 million free in cap space, so their offer could blow almost every other team out of the water. They have five total defensemen and a restricted free agent on their roster at the moment. Andy Greene and Damon Severson were their best defenders, and they were -16 and -31 for a weak team last season.

Basically, Kevin Shattenkirk becomes their best blue liner if he signs. New Jersey should make him their biggest priority. An offense with Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and now Nico Hischier is impressive, while Cory Schneider is strong in net. However, he needs help badly in front of him. Shattenkirk helps them out, and they have room to look at other names such as Cody Franson or Karl Alzner.

Other Possible Destinations

Buffalo SabresTSN’s Darren Dreger reported last week of the Sabres’ interest. Like the Devils, they have a vast amount of cap space. They have a nice defensive core already in Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian. Buffalo is very young, so Shattenkirk would have to be patient with them.

Montreal Canadiens – No surpise here, but Montreal needs to shore up their defense. They have space with $21 million, but there hasn’t been a lot of mutual interest. Plus, if they deal Alex Galchenyuk and lose Alexander Radulov, they may need to prioritize finding some forward help.

 

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Grades for the latest NHL trades

Browsing social media this week, hockey fans were champing at the bit for newsworthy NHL trades. There were minor deals as the expansion draft passed, and the suspense only grew as the NHL Draft approached.

It’s safe to say that the fans got their wishes.

The past two days have featured former first round picks, backup goaltenders and Stanley Cup champions. If that wasn’t enough, there are likely more coming even before free agency hits on July 1. Until that happens, let’s analyze the top NHL trades that went down before the draft.

Golden Knights ship Trevor van Riemsdyk to Hurricanes

Trevor’s time in Vegas was short-lived, as the expansion team acquired a 2017 second round pick for trading him and a 2018 seventh round selection.

van Riemsdyk is a young asset heading to a younger team. One needs perspective when analyzing his season. He missed time with an upper-body injury which underscored his stats. Still, he was +17 with 100 blocks and 16 points in 58 games.

The former Blackhawk joins three former teammates in Teuvo Teravainen, Joakim Nordstrom and Scott Darling. Perhaps that can help his transition. He’s a capable right-handed shot that helps Carolina get younger and faster. Vegas adds another high draft pick to build their team.

Grade: B+ for Carolina, B for Vegas

Oilers and Islanders swap Jordan Eberle and Ryan Strome

Jordan Eberle was the first of what Isles fans hope to be more NHL trades.

Jordan Eberle heads to the Big Apple. Photo by Andy Devlin, NHLI via Getty Images.

New York getting Eberle long seemed inevitable, but it was intriguing how it occurred. It was a one-for-one swap after many reports had Edmonton seeking a prospect or draft picks.

This was an excellent move from Isles general manager Garth Snow. He paid a heavy price in a first-rounder to prevent Vegas from taking a number of players, and it essentially means they traded it for Eberle.

The former first-round pick disappointed with the Oilers after scoring just 51 points. Pairing with his world championship teammate, John Tavares should boost his input and give Tavares confidence to sign in New York long-term.

As for Edmonton, this was a move that helps more for cap than on-ice skill. They ship $6 million on Eberle’s contract, which helped them extend defenseman Kris Russell. It also increases cap space for when Hart winner Connor McDavid needs a new deal.

As for Strome, he didn’t live up to his fifth overall selection with just one 50-point campaign in four years. He could benefit from a new environment, but on the ice, the Oilers don’t benefit as much. Edmonton could’ve received more for Eberle, it seemed.

Grade: A for New York, B- for Edmonton

Canadiens bring in David Schlemko from Golden Knights

Vegas sends out another expansion draft pick for a 2019 pick. This was a minor move from both sides, which didn’t have to give up much.

Montreal needed defensive help after shipping prospect Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu. In Schlemko, they get a blue liner with back-to-back double-digit point seasons. The 30-year-old vet had 112 blocks and a 53.6 percent Corsi rating. It’s not a major step forward; he hasn’t played a full season. If he’s healthy, he helps.

Grade: B for Montreal, INC for Vegas with draft pick too far away to judge

Niklas Hjalmarsson moves from Blackhawks to the Coyotes

Niklas Hjalmarsson's move to Arizona ignited the flurry of NHL trades.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is headed to the Coyotes. Photo by Matt Marton, AP.

This is when the NHL trades started to boil. Chicago sent their 10-year defenseman to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin.

Even though Arizona’s front office is in a tenuous phase, they still took a big swing for a three-time Stanley Cup winner. He logged over 20 minutes per game in the past six seasons and had a career-high 181 blocks last season. He has excellent size, moves the puck well and can anchor the Coyotes’ blue line for a few more years.

As for Chicago, let’s just say fans were not happy about the news. They lose a strong core of their championship teams to relieve their cap.

Murphy is the better piece in the return deal, but he’s not as skilled as Hjalmarsson defensively. He’s 6-foot-4 and more lauded for his skating ability. The 2011 first-round pick can develop well under new assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. How well he does dictates if this gamble pays off for Chicago.

Grade: A- for Arizona, C+ for Chicago with chance to work out better

Brandon Saad returns to Midway while Artemi Panarin heads to Columbus

Chicago wasn’t finished. In fact, they dropped a bomb on the NHL with this move. Saad returns to the Blackhawks along with goalie Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-rounder. The Blue Jackets receive Panarin as well as forward Tyler Motte and a sixth round pick in today’s draft.

This is a slam dunk for Columbus. They receive a Calder Award winner with consecutive 30-goal seasons. He’s dominant on the power play and adds a versatile offensive game to a team that can use it. His contract runs for two more years at $6 million, about the same as Saad.

The decision-making behind this for Chicago stems from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Panarin’s next contract would cost too much for Chicago based on their contracts. Plus, Saad was impressive playing on Toews’s line for two Stanley Cups.

Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus made a good point yesterday: Toews could regain his success with Saad while Kane will still produce without Panarin.

The Blackhawks have turned their team around to keep themselves atop the Western Conference. They have the chance to do that after these trades, but it’s a gamble. Columbus should get a productive Panarin, but it remains to be seen if he can contribute just as much without Kane. Each trade has its risks, but this is a balanced trade on both sides.

Grade: A- for Columbus and Chicago

Rangers dispatch Antti Raanta, Derek Stepan to Coyotes

Arizona continued to wheel and deal yesterday when they snagged their new starting goalie and a top-six forward. In exchange, young blue liner Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick, which the Rangers used to pick center Lias Andersson.

As written last week, Raanta was a name to watch in the expansion draft. When Vegas didn’t select him, Arizona was salivating. The Blueshirts’ netminder enjoyed a career season. He deserves the chance to nab the starting job.

As for Stepan, his contract was steep for New York and he’s automatically the Coyotes’ most expensive player. He’s also the best center now, recording four straight 50-point campaigns. Stepan also helps on the power play that ranked 26th last season in the desert. This was a high-upside trade that fills multiple roles. Now, about finding a head coach…

Meanwhile, New York gets younger on defense with DeAngelo. He’s just 21 years old with an offensive acumen, notching 14 points in 39 games for the Coyotes. DeAngelo is undersized and will have to improve defensively to crack the Rangers’ lineup. Andersson’s play will determine how this trade shakes out for New York. He comes from the elite HV71 in Sweden. While his skating, versatility and defense are superb, he didn’t stuff the scoresheet with 19 points in 42 league games.

Grade: A for Arizona (not just for the alphabet), B- for New York

Blue Jackets and Wild exchange forwards

Rounding out yesterday’s pre-draft NHL trades came with a small move for both teams. Dante Salituro heads to Minnesota while Jordan Schroeder goes the other way.

The 20-year-old Salituro provides goal scoring ability from a 5-foot-8 frame. He impressed in training camp and signed a three-year, two-way contract with Columbus last July. In 295 games across five OHL seasons, he tallied 122 goals and 160 assists. He won’t arrive in the Twin Cities anytime soon, but he has potential.

Schroeder is another small forward but is six years older. With the Wild this year, Schroeder scored six times for 13 points in 37 games. At 5-foot-9, he has to overcome his size. But on the ice, he has the instincts to maintain a roster spot.

Grade: B for Minnesota, C for Columbus

Blues snag Brayden Schenn from Flyer to shed Jori Lehtera

While yesterday trade hype built in the afternoon, it was quiet for most of the draft. There was a minor Blackhawks-Stars trade, but St. Louis and Philadelphia broke the silence. Schenn heads to the Blues by himself while Philly acquired Lehtera, the 27th overall pick (used on Morgan Frost) and a future conditional first-round pick. Elliotte Friedman breaks down the conditional pick.

The Blues upgrade with a more bona fide scorer in Schenn, who has 82 goals in the past three seasons. Lehtera is a great facilitator, but Schenn is an upgrade and Lehtera is making a lot of cash. The negatives for St. Louis is the possible price. They went back into the first round by trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, so the 27th doesn’t hurt. Two possible first-round picks can be a steep price.

Philadelphia can use Lehtera for depth as they ease new draft pick Nolan Patrick into the team. Frost provides speed and special teams abilities down the middle too. It seems the Flyers are prioritizing playmakers that can move the puck. Depending on where the conditional pick winds up, they can add even more pieces.

They have to replace Schenn’s production. Will they give Patrick the chance? Those two questions are the risks for Philadelphia at the moment, but ones that have quick solutions for a team on the rise.

Grade: B for St. Louis, B+ for Philadelphia

The Final Trade

As for Reaves heading to Pittsburgh, it’s icing on the cake for the Metro division. Reaves is an aggressive player that was 10th last season in hits. The Penguins love those types of players. He should perform well there as the division improves exponentially.

 

Feature image of Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman by Anthony Souffle of the Chicago Tribune

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Is P.K. Subban skating towards the NHL Hall of Fame?

It is the first time P.K. Subban was at this point. After seven missed opportunities and two misses in the conference finals, he heads to the Stanley Cup Final. But even when Subban’s Nashville Predators dispatched the Anaheim Ducks 6-3 on Monday night, he knew exactly what to do at the postgame ceremony.

Don’t touch the Campbell Bowl.

That’s the superstition for a conference finals winner. There’s no celebration for reaching the end when there’s a better trophy to hoist. Nonetheless, Subban has his first shot at holding up the ultimate trophy: Lord Stanley’s Cup.

As Subban climbs the ladder to the hockey pinnacle, how is his progress towards becoming an NHL great? Is he on the path to the Hall of Fame, and will a Stanley Cup put him in the discussion?

The Pros for P.K. Subban

It’s easy to analyze Subban’s body of work from a statistical standpoint to start. He’s a four-time All-Star who won the Norris Trophy back in 2013. Multiple aspects of a defenseman’s game judge Norris winners, one of them being scoring.

Subban brings that to the table. Since his first full season in the NHL back in 2010, Subban’s 316 points are the sixth-most for a defenseman in that span. He’s also done well on the power play with 143 total points in his career.

Other statistics also jump out on his resumé. His 576 penalty minutes are third-most amongst his blue line colleagues in the last seven seasons. The advanced metrics across are also favorable. In his career, his Corsi and Fenwick ratings are 52.5 and 52.4 percent, respectively, meaning his team controls the puck more when he’s on the ice.

Entering this season, his offensive zone starts and finishes were virtually even around 53 percent. Therefore, his teams did not cede possession while in the offensive zone much during his ice time. In short, he does well in moving and keeping the puck for his team.

P.K. Subban Hall of Fame

P.K. Subban has charged up the Predators fanbase. Photo courtesy of NHL.com.

This may not be as important to his case as his play, but it still holds value: he’s a talented and well-liked person. He’s come in to a new atmosphere and brought excitement to the Predators franchise. He’s embraced his new home with acts of community service and is a solid presence in the locker room.

It won’t stand for much when it comes down to voting, but it spotlights his character and his play instead of detracting from it.

The Cons for P.K. Subban

Subban has done well in his time in the NHL, but anointing him into the Hall of Fame may be premature. For starters, he’s only 27 years old. There is still plenty that could happen in the rest of his career, be it injuries or decline in play. Other factors include varying statistics in other categories and the competition playing around him.

Hits, blocks and takeaways have been measured for a defenseman’s effectiveness for a while, even though the categories do not tell the entire story. Even so, they have merit as to the type of player one is.

Subban’s marks in these categories have ranged from inconsistent to uninspiring. In the 2014-15 campaign, Subban had 142 blocked shots. Yet in the season after, he finished with just 80.

His 135 hits in 2013-14 are a career-high, but he ended with just 78 in Nashville this year.

He had 183 takeaways in his career, but that hardly stands up against other defensemen. All of these statistics are mutually exclusive, and the defensive system can alter them as well. The question is if the variance will hurt his chances.

P.K. Subban Hall of Fame

Back in his Montreal days, P.K. Subban squared off against Erik Karlsson often, Photo by John Mahoney, The Montreal Gazette.

Not only do some stats falter in comparison, but other players excel at his strengths, too. Subban has only reached the top 3 in Norris voting twice out of seven seasons. In that span, other players such as Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have more points and ice time.

Karlsson is an excellent skater while Burns has a fearsome shot. With players that do better in similar areas, Subban’s place amongst the premier defensemen is not as clear.

How does P.K. Subban get there?

P.K. Subban is a talented player. Overall, he had a fine season for Nashville and is now leading them into the Stanley Cup Final. Great players always have more incentive to get into the Hall of Fame with a title.

If Subban takes the Music City to the top, it’ll boost his chances. Karlsson and Burns have yet to win the Cup.

As for his play on the ice, his value comes from his puck handling and his ability to score. Looking at the recent defensemen inducted into the Hall of Fame, Subban has work to do. Scott Niedermayer, elected in 2013, had 838 total points in 18 seasons. Subban has 358 in eight years, and he averages more points per game than Niedermayer.

At the same time, he doesn’t produce as much as Nicklas Lidstrom did in his career. Other players like Chris Pronger excelled in other areas such as PIM. Chris Chelios played 28 seasons and his incomparable to most defensemen.

As it stands, Subban would probably need around seven to nine more seasons of high-quality performances. Regression is expected at some point, but Subban has the potential. Hoisting the cup with Nashville is just one step, but it goes a long way.

 

Stats via Hockey Reference, Puckalytics and Behind the Net. Feature image courtesy of SportsNet.ca

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Zack Kassian, Brandon Prust, Marc Bergevin, John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon, Ben Scrivens, NHL, NHL Playoffs, Playoffs, 2017 Playoffs, 2017 NHL Playoffs, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks

The Incredible Career of Zack Kassian

Alright, incredible is quite the exaggeration. But say what you will, Zack Kassian is playing incredibly right now.

After the San Jose Sharks took a 1-0 series lead, Kassian has found himself Edmonton’s series savior. Potting two game winning goals in as many contests. Edmonton now leads the series 2-1.

And Kassian’s career couldn’t have turned around at a better time for the Edmonton Oilers.

FROM BUFFALLO TO EDMONTON

Drafted in the first round, 13th overall, by the Buffalo Sabres, Zack Kassian enjoyed a productive – if also turbulent – junior career. He won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010 but his personal problems sometimes over shadowed his career potential.

Attitude, alcohol and drug problems plagued Kassian.

Zack Kassian, Brandon Prust, Marc Bergevin, John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon, Ben Scrivens, NHL, NHL Playoffs, Playoffs, 2017 Playoffs, 2017 NHL Playoffs, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks

Photo Credit: NHL.com.

These issues followed him to the big leagues, too. His career in Buffalo was cut short when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. But Kassian failed to shine on John Tortorella.

On July 1, 2015, in one of the saddest trades in recent memory, the Canucks traded

Zack Kassian, Brandon Prust, Marc Bergevin, John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Milan Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon, Ben Scrivens, NHL, NHL Playoffs, Playoffs, 2017 Playoffs, 2017 NHL Playoffs, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks

Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw, Getty Images.

Kassian and a 5th Round Pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the Montreal Canadiens who sent an aged Brandon Prust back in return.

Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin was willing to give Kassian one last shot at the NHL. But Kassian’s now notorious pre-season car crash, followed by a stint in rehab, effectively ended any hope of the former first-rounder making a comeback.

In December of 2015 he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for goaltender Ben Scrivens.

ZACH KASSIAN – THE EDMONTON OILER

Perhaps it was the publicity of it all. Perhaps the partying had finally gotten old. Perhaps he just needed to be in the right place, at the right time. And perhaps Edmonton is that right place, and that time is now. Maybe it’s just something in the air in Edmonton. Whatever it is, it’s working.

Kassian has been playing like the young, fast, power forward Buffalo drafted 13th overall all those years ago.

Zack Kassian’s size and grit have been a welcomed addition to the Edmonton lineup. Complimentary to the other big bodies in the lineup like Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon and Milan Lucic, just to name a few.

In tight, Kassian is once again showing his skills. Pretty plays and quick hands have scored Edmonton’s last two game winning goals. For a big man, he is deceivingly fast as well. Those jets are a big reason the Oilers are up in the series.

Whether it’s the twilight of his career or just a renaissance, the Edmonton Oilers owe it all to Kassian’s play as of late.

And though the road has been a rocky one, Kassian owes it all to the Oilers as well.

The Edmonton Oilers and the San Jose Sharks play Game 4 tonight at 10:00pm Eastern; 7:00pm Pacific Time.

Edmonton leads the series 2-1.

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NHL Contender Deadline Deal, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Martin Hanzal, Brian Boyle, Alex Burrows, Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jim Rutherford, Marc Bergevin, Doug Armstrong, Joe Sakic, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitry Kulikov, Matt Duchene, NHL, Trade Deadline, NHL Trade Deadline 2017

Three Contenders in Need of a Deadline Deal

Each season’s NHL trade deadline brings its own je ne sais quoi; its own certain something. And this year has been no different.

NHL Contender Deadline Deal, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Martin Hanzal, Brian Boyle, Alex Burrows, Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jim Rutherford, Marc Bergevin, Doug Armstrong, Joe Sakic, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitry Kulikov, Matt Duchene, NHL, Trade Deadline, NHL Trade Deadline 2017

Photo credit: Jillian Wagner, Hockey Fan Land.

Deadline trends this year have been dictated, and complicated, by an extremely tight Eastern Conference and an unpredictable wild card race on both coasts. Coupled with the high volume of quality pending free agents, high asking prices,

and an impending expansion draft, this season’s deadline has been a roller coaster already.

In earnest, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Carolina Hurricanes kicked things off last Thursday but it’s been the last 48 hours that general managers have really begun to make moves. Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings; Martin Hanzal to the Minnesota Wild; Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs; Alex Burrows to the Ottawa Senators; Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals; many of the League’s top pending free agents have already been dealt.

But there are still a lot of big names out there, and more than one contender who needs to bulk up their roster before the big show.

So welcome to the hot stove, pull up a seat, from our Haus to yours this is The Game Haus’ Contenders in Need of a Deadline Deal.

NEW YORK RANGERS

NHL Contender Deadline Deal, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Martin Hanzal, Brian Boyle, Alex Burrows, Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jim Rutherford, Marc Bergevin, Doug Armstrong, Joe Sakic, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitry Kulikov, Matt Duchene, NHL, Trade Deadline, NHL Trade Deadline 2017

Photo credit: Jared Silber, Getty Images.

The New York Rangers have been awfully quiet thus far but don’t mistake their patience for disinterest. The Rangers boast over $10-million-dollars in deadline cap space, a number of draft picks, and plenty of young talent to attract potential trade partners.

The Rangers have been rumored to be looking at Brendan Smith. The Detroit Red Wing would add grit and bringing depth on the left side of the lineup.

The Rangers were also rumored to have been in the market for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. But, in what can only be described as a cruel twist of fate, the Washington Capitals appear to have acquired the coveted young defensman first. If all goes well for Alex Ovechkin and the President’s Trophy front runners, Shattenkirk will suit up tonight in New York against the Rangers.

Regardless, expect the Rangers to make a move or two before the deadline in order to improve their playoff chances.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

As if not to be outdone by his offseason wheelin’ and dealin’, Montreal Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin went ahead and brought Claude Julien back to the Bell Centre. Though this move has the potential to overshadow any other made by Bergevin this season it’s not likely to be his last.

NHL Contender Deadline Deal, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Martin Hanzal, Brian Boyle, Alex Burrows, Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jim Rutherford, Marc Bergevin, Doug Armstrong, Joe Sakic, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitry Kulikov, Matt Duchene, NHL, Trade Deadline, NHL Trade Deadline 2017

Photo Credit: NHL.com.

The Canadiens were in talks to acquire Martin Hanzal, but Arizona Coyotes’ general manager John Chayka chose to deal with Minnesota instead. In need of a defenseman to help Montreal’s big blue liners with the big minutes they’ve been carrying, Bergevin swapped Greg Pateryn and a fourth for Dallas Stars defenseman Jordie Benn.

Still, the Habs will need more than just a new coach and another mediocre defenseman if they have any hopes of advancing very far in the playoffs. Montreal desperately needs depth down the middle.

Despite the fact that Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has been very hard on his price point for star center Matt Duchene, the rumors around his being dealt have not slowed down. If Duchene’s price remains too high perhaps Bergevin might consider looking elsewhere for a new forward as the March 1 deadline fast approaches.

The Tampa Bay Lighting are flush with forwards pending restricted free agency. While teams like Detroit and Arizona posses similarly attractive assets.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

The defending Stanley Cup Champions have zero projected cap space, so they are looking strictly for a rental player only. That is, of course, unless they can unload a contract or two in the process.

NHL Contender Deadline Deal, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Martin Hanzal, Brian Boyle, Alex Burrows, Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jim Rutherford, Marc Bergevin, Doug Armstrong, Joe Sakic, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dmitry Kulikov, Matt Duchene, NHL, Trade Deadline, NHL Trade Deadline 2017

Photo credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images.

Though he has a no trade clause in place, Marc-Andre Fleury represents roughly $6-million-dollars of cap space. Cap space which the Pittsburgh Penguins could otherwise use to their advantage. Though Penguins’ general manager Jim Rutherford has expressed his wish to keep Fleury and Matt Murray both, Fleury has recently voiced that he would rather be playing; opening the door for speculation once again.

But that’s the least of Rutherford’s worries at the moment.

What Pittsburgh lacks is a healthy defense. With Pittsburgh’s cap in mind, there are plenty of less expensive options on the open market. And Buffalo, Detroit, Philadelphia, and of course St. Louis, have a wide range of pending free agent defensemen for sale.

In addition to Pittsburgh’s defensive woes, the Penguins have experienced injury issues all year on the front end as well. That being said, don’t be surprised if Rutherford adds some depth to the bottom six.

 

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*all Salary Cap information courtesy of CapFriendly.com

Atlantic Division Playoff Predictions

The Atlantic Division is a mess right now. Literally anything could happen. When it comes to the standings, nobody is safe. What counts for first place in the Atlantic doesn’t even warrant a wild card in the Metropolitan.

Needless to say, it’s a tight race.

So with that in mind, please enjoy the Game Haus’ Atlantic Division Playoff Predictions.

OTTAWA Wins the division

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: Andre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images.

Guy Boucher and the Ottawa Senators have surprised a lot of NHL fans this season. They currently sit in second place in the Atlantic Division, trailing Montreal by only two points.

Under Boucher’s leadership the Sens have employed a much more defensively responsible system. Fantasy owners may not be happy about this, Erik Karlsson’s point production this season has suffered as a result. But in combination with the outstanding goaltending of Mike Condon and Craig Anderson Boucher’s system has raised the Senators’ stock significantly.

Look for Ottawa to finish the season strong, they’ve gone 6-4-0 in their last ten and have three games in hand compared to the division leading Habs.

Ottawa will finish first in the Atlantic Division

MONTREAL follows close behind

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo Credit: NHL.com.

Though it has not always been smooth sailing for the Montreal Canadiens this season they remain on top of the Atlantic Division. That lead, however, has become increasingly narrow as the season wears on Montreal’s slump continues.

Under the leadership of their new head coach Claude Julien the Habs will become a more dominant team, with better puck possession, and score more goals. But it will take time to adjust.

Though a change behind the bench was just what the doctor ordered for the Canadiens, the institution of a new system will take time. And in that time the Canadiens will fall behind and lose their Atlantic Division lead to the Sens.

Montreal will finish cecond in the Atlantic Division.

FLORIDA FINDS A PLAYOFF SPOT

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: La Presse Canadienne.

The Florida Panthers have weathered the storm and are finally firing on all cylinders again.

With the return of Bjugstad, Barkov and Huberdeau the Panthers are again a force to be reckoned with. Earlier this month they pulled off a feat no Eastern Conference team has managed this season, a California sweep.

Don’t let their goal differential (-14) fool you, they’re 8-2-0 in their last ten outscoring their opponents 38 – 30 over that span.

Look for a healthy Panthers squad to make a late surge in the standings.

Florida will finish third in the Atlantic Division,

TORONTO FINDS THE WILDCARD

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski, USA Today Sports.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs this year. But it won’t be pretty.

There are a lot of New York Islanders fans that will probably hate this prediction, but the young Leafs have been explosive all season long.

The first wild card spot in the East will undoubtedly go to a Metropolitan Division team. The New York Rangers, who currently hold the position, have 78 points in the standings; more than even the first place Canadiens in the Atlantic. Still, Toronto will manage to secure a wild card spot for themselves.

Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock knows a thing or two about making the playoffs. But his young squad will fatigue as the season grinds on. Their upcoming schedule includes a tour of the California teams and it remains unlikely that the Leafs will be able to find any easy wins on the West coast. As a result, the Leafs will fall from their third place position in the Atlantic.

Toronto will finish fourth in the Atlantic Division and secure a wild card spot in the process.

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Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine Square Off Again

Nobody knew quite what to expect when the Winnipeg Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs met for the first time this season. It was the first time that the number one and two over draft picks Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine faced each other on NHL ice.

If you recall, it was only seven days into the young 2016-17 NHL season. It was only Toronto’s third game, and Winnipeg’s fourth.

It took place only seven days after Auston Matthews’ stunning four-goal debut game and as a result the NHL had fallen head over heals for Matthews. Laine had yet to impress in the rookie scoring race.

But it was Laine who stole the show that night, back on Oct. 19 in Winnipeg. While Matthews was left off the scoreboard, Laine tallied three goals including the overtime winner.

Though the NHL is rife with rookie talent this year, Matthews and Laine stand out as among the league’s most elite goal scorers. They stood out when they were drafted consecutively first and second overall and they continue to stand out today.

THat WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE JETS & LAINE

The Winnipeg Jets weren’t exactly in hot shape when they faced the Leafs back in October. They had gone 1-2-0 in their first three games with a 3.75 goals against average. Nor was much really expected of the team this season.

One could comfortably say that the Jets are in a transitional stage at the moment. Not quite in full rebuild mode but not ready to compete for the cup either. Sitting fifth in the Central Division with 61 points, it’s unlikely they’ll even grab a playoff spot.

Though they are only four points from a wild card position, they lack the games in hand that many of their Central Division competitors hold.

Then

GPGAPTS+/-PIMSOG
3112105
Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Jonathan Kozub, NHLI via Getty Images

Still, Patrik Laine shines on.

In four fewer games than Matthews, the Finnish rookie has tallied three more points and a better plus/minus rating than the young American.

Though he shoots far less than Matthews, Laine has managed to find the back of the net just as much and with far fewer shots on goal.

He has played remarkably consistent but let us not forget the explosiveness of Laine’s game. He has amassed an incredible three hat tricks this year, making him the first Jets’ rookie to do so since Teemu Selanne managed five in his rookie season.

Now

GPGAPTS+/-PIMSOG
54282452918123

 

THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW: THE LEAFS & MATTHEWS

As with the Jets, very little was expected of the Toronto Maple Leafs entering the 2016-17 season. They were 1-0-1 when they met the Jets back in October and destined for mediocrity. But then some strange happened. The Atlantic Division began to cave in on itself.

Though the Leafs are in the middle of a major rebuild, they find themselves competing for a playoff spot in the mess that is the Atlantic Division. Seven teams are within 10 points of first place and the Leafs are within only five.

While it remains unlikely that they will leave the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens (or even the Florida Panthers for that matter) in their dust, the Toronto Maple Leafs may very well make the playoffs.

It is well within reason to believe that that the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time four years.

Then

GPGAPTS+/-PIMSOG
2404308
Auston Matthews Patrik Lane

Photo credit: Adre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images

And that’s in large part due to the outstanding play of Auston Matthews.

Matthews wasted no time showing the league what he was made of with his four goal debut. Only seven players in NHL history had managed a hat trick in their first game while Matthews went ahead and did one better.

With over 200 shots on goal this season it should come as no surprise that he has already eclipsed the 20 goal plateau. Matthews has 28 goals and 49 points on the season which makes him first among Leafs players in both categories.

Matthews is a big part of the reason why Toronto is even competing for a playoff spot this year.

Now

GPGAPTS+/-PIMSOG
58282149312205

WHAT TO EXPECT

The game takes place tonight, in Toronto, at 7:30 p.m. EST.

Winnipeg is 14-15-2 on the road so far this season and sport a 7-6-1 record against Atlantic Division foes. Meanwhile, Toronto is 13-9-4 at home this season have gone 3-5-3 against Central Division competitors this campaign.

Winnipeg won 5-4 in overtime back on Oct. 19 and it would be fair to assume another high scoring affair is in order this time around.

Aside from Matthews and Laine, plenty of young-talent will be on display as well. Toronto’s William Nylander, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaisev will suit up along with Winnipeg’s Josh Morrissey. Expect a fast-paced, high-scoring, two-way game with lots of shots on goal.

It remains unclear whether or not Toronto’s Mitch Marner will suit up. He is dealing with an undisclosed injury which has kept him out of two-contests so far.

 

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