Sunday, May 28, 2017

Pool Outlook for Ottawa

A year off where no Canadian clubs were in the playoffs, the Ottawa Senators found themselves being the last one standing in the Eastern Conference Finals, in what was a very good turnaround season in 2017.

The Senators were the closest team to the playoffs last year, so it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that they clinched this season, after a very solid year, where their captain was remarkable again, their number one goalie played through some trying times at home and when he was away tending to his family matters, everyone else really stepped up and played well.

Ottawa wasn't the best Canadian club in the regular season, but with 44 wins on the year, they weren't too bad either, finishing 3rd among their fellow teams north of the border, but they were certainly better suited for the playoffs, lasting longer than Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton, grinding their way to those Conference Finals.

In the playoffs, the Senators withstood challenges from the Boston Bruins in the opening round, defeating them in six games, six games as well against the New York Rangers, but then they got their backs up against the wall with the reigning champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins and they took them to seven games, losing out in double overtime only a few days ago.  It was certainly a disappointing result for the Senators, but it was a season and playoff run that they really could be proud of.

The Senators were just as popular as the Capitals, who were featured yesterday, at the draft, as they had 12 players taken, but no 1st round picks to speak of for their team.  Craig Anderson and Erik Karlsson were both taken in the 2nd round, but then they were distributed well throughout the draft.  The Sens saw a couple more players picked up in the first player swap, but they saw an even trade of two drops and picks in the second swap.  The Senators acquired Alex Burrows at the trade deadline and they were one of the most popular teams by the end of the year, finishing with 15 players on active pool rosters.

Karlsson wasn't quite as dominant in the 2017 season as he was a year before, when he was the top defenseman in the league in scoring.  No, this year, he finished 3rd in the position, with 17 goals and 71 points in 77 games played, which was still good enough for tops among all Senators in the season.  Karlsson was taken 30th overall in the draft and came out as a slight bargain, finishing 28th overall, which is still darn good and I would expect he would be a 1st or 2nd round pick again this coming draft.

Were the Senators worth all of that attention they got this year?  Craig Anderson and Mike Condon were both worthy from the crease, while Dion Phaneuf, Chris Wideman and Cody Ceci all joined Karlsson on the blueline and up front, it was Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Derick Brassard, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Ryan Dzingel and Alex Burrows.  That only gives the Sens 11 pool worthy players, a team that the hockey pool slightly overshot, but not without taking a goon or two, so it wasn't all bad.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

It's hard to say what the new coaching regime is going to bring to this Senators team, which has a lot of the right pieces to go in the right direction in the 2017 season.  Having to guess today, I think the combination of Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford behind the bench will give an interesting dynamic about being responsible in their own zone and find new and exciting ways to break out of their zone and transition their game on the fly.  This team has the talent to make this possible, so I am leaning towards the Senators making a move for the playoffs next season, barring any unforeseen circumstances, of course.

It was hard to say what the new coaches would do, but given the roster they had at the time, it certainly did seem feasible that they would make the playoffs, which they did... and more!  Now, the team has to live up to some great expectations, management will have to help this team go further with some moves, but it looks as though the team is buying into the system, at the very least.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Mike Hoffman 5.188 Dion Phaneuf 7.000 Craig Anderson 4.200
Derick Brassard 5.000 Erik Karlsson 6.500
Kyle Turris 3.500 Cody Ceci 2.800
Mark Stone 3.500 Chris Wideman 0.800
Zack Smith 3.250
Alexandre Burrows 2.500
Bobby Ryan 7.250 Marc Methot 4.900 Andrew Hammond 1.350
Clarke MacArthur 4.650 Mark Borowiecki 1.100 Marcus Hogberg 0.835
Colin White 0.925 Thomas Chabot 0.894
Logan Brown 0.925 Andreas Englund 0.776
Filip Chlapik 0.759 Maxime Lajoie 0.730
Gabriel Gagne 0.743 Macoy Erkamps 0.655
Mike Blunden 0.738 Ben Harpur 0.653
Francis Perron 0.703 Fredrik Claesson 0.650
Nick Paul 0.670 Cody Donaghey 0.617
Chris DiDomenico 0.613
Vincent Dunn 0.611

The thought of the successes that the Senators have had in the 2017 season should still be fresh in the minds of many poolies, come draft time in September/October, so the guys in green will be prime targets for pool teams throughout the draft.  The Senators would probably like to see some of their bigger paid players to excel a little bit more, but they were certainly helpful when it came down to it in the playoffs.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

There is a rumour out there that the Senators are willing to grease the wheels, one way or another, for the Vegas Golden Knights to take Bobby Ryan off their hands, which is going to be a tough sell, especially for the cap hit and term that he has left on his deal.  It is a feasible rumour, so I would leave him exposed on my sheet, and I would likely be leaving Alex Burrows available given his age.  Marc Methot loses out to three defenders, including Dion Phaneuf, the only player with a no-move, and Andrew Hammond should be left dangling as well.  It will be interesting to see who the Senators actually lose, as it could go one of many ways.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

I am showing three pool worthy players ready to hit free agency this summer, two restricted and one unrestricted, which should make things fairly straight forward for Ottawa management.  Ryan Dzingel and Jean-Gabriel Pageau are the two RFA's in need of a deal, both have arbitration rights, which makes things tough, but not too hard, one wouldn't think.  Mike Condon, who helped the Sens in a time of goaltending need, is poised to be a UFA and the team's decision on him will have a real impact on the rest of the goaltending decisions moving forward.

Cap-wise, I am showing 11 players who are cap worthy, already signed on for the 2018 season, coming in at $44.2 million.  Bobby Ryan looks like a huge lump, Clarke MacArthur is healthy again and could figure back in and the Sens are paying for Marc Methot's defense, so he'll be an important piece moving forward.  Add those three players and the Sens are already up to $61 million against the undetermined ceiling.

Can the Sens pawn Ryan off on Vegas?  It would certainly help.

The Senators youth has a pretty good hype machine running it and there's a pretty good chance that there are going to be two young kids making waves for this club next season, including St. John Sea Dogs defenseman Thomas Chabot, who has been a big focus at this year's Memorial Cup, and forward Colin White, who came out of the NCAA system this spring to sign his entry-level deal and he'll make a push for an everyday job.  If you're looking for some late kids to pick up in the draft, these are two that look very promising for the coming year.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

The Senators still have their 1st round pick in the entry draft this June and thanks to their trip to the Conference Finals, that pick has shifted down the line to 28th overall, where they are still going to be looking for some kind of top end talent to compliment their team down the line.  Speed was a big reason the Senators were as good as they were in these playoffs and that has to be the theme of their next top prospect, which leads me to a gamble for the team in Spokane Chiefs diminutive forward Kailer Yamamoto, who is said to be all kinds of quick and his scoring numbers are pretty darn good at the junior level.  With the Senators already possessing size at the forward level, even in their current prospects, adding a dash of pure skill & speed at a cost of size isn't a terrible idea.

This Senators team really showed how playoff-ready they are and it really starts on their blueline.  The drive and will of the captain, through the serviceable Phaneuf and the shut down prowess of Methot, it really did make Anderson's job much easier, no matter how well he was playing already.  Anderson is already 36 years old and his window is creeping down, so if the Sens are going to do it for him, they better act quickly.  I think the Senators are capable of some great things in the 2018 season, but they will need some more help, keeping their fingers crossed that the youth movement brings a big push, but they would also require a favourable set of match-ups in the playoffs, kind of what they had in these last few weeks.  They're a playoff team, for sure, and they have the core group to be more than that.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pool Outlook for Washington

Back-to-back President's Trophies... that's about as good as it gets for the Washington Capitals, as they cannot get that to translate regular season successes into playoff wins.

The Capitals absolutely steamrolled through the NHL in the 2017 regular season, as they had clinched the best record in the league, before a good number of teams had even clinched a playoff spot, winning a total of 55 games and finishing with 118 points in the standings, 7 points better than Pittsburgh.

This was supposed to be their year though.  Signing Justin Williams in the off-season, acquiring Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline, the pieces were surely coming together to help the core group of players get over the hump in the playoffs.

It wasn't to be though.  The opening round was certainly a rocky ride, as they had their hands full with the youngsters in Toronto, but they were able to overcome their speed and youthful enthusiasm with bearing down on them late in the series, dispatching them in six games.  The Capitals goal of making it past the second round in the Alex Ovechkin era was going to have a tough task, getting the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the rivalry was back on again.

The series was an excellent one to watch, as the two teams traded blows, shot for shot, and it went the distance, all the way to Game 7, where they couldn't find their way past Marc-Andre Fleury in the deciding game and it was another early finish to the playoffs.

What does this team need to do to have more playoff success?

The Washington Capitals are always a good hockey pool option for the regular season and their popularity was certainly there this year, as 12 of them were taken at the opening draft in October, including two 1st round picks in Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin, but their depth got off to a slow start, hence a couple drops at the first swap, while the second swap saw their popularity bounce back with three picks.  With Kevin Shattenkirk getting deal to the Capitals at the deadline, that lifted their overall end of season to 14 players.

Holtby was the 1st overall pick in this year's pool, to be more exact, and he finished as the pool's MVP, finishing 1st overall in pool scoring, with 42 wins and 102 points in 63 appearances, leading the charge for the President's Trophy for the Capitals.  Unfortunately for Jeremy, the pick didn't translate into back-to-back wins in the hockey pool.

In terms of the rest of the team, the Capitals were also good about spreading the wealth, as Philipp Grubauer was also pool worthy this season.  There were eight forwards worthy of the conversation, including Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Andre Burakovsky and Jay Beagle.  Backstrom was good enough for a 1st round pick, while Ovechkin was only worthy of a 2nd round pick.  On defense, the Caps finished with Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt as worthy blueliners, giving the team 15 players worthy of the pool, so our teams were a player or two short.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

I don't think I can bet against the Capitals having another big year in the 2017 season, especially given how they look on paper today.  Any team with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson and Holtby on it, signed and ready to be delivered, has an optimal chance of being tops in any conference and/or league.  Unless the unforeseeable happens, which the Montreal Canadiens proved, this team can be a top team in the league again.  They have to be considered Cup contenders and it will be how the management team tinkers with this lineup, which will determine their fate again.  I believe that they're very close and they need to believe that they can be there in the end.

They really could have been there, but the extra pieces that management managed to rustle up were not the pieces that pushed them over the top, rather they only pushed them to the brink, where they have been before, just to the end of the second round of the playoffs.  The team was fun to watch and a great hockey pool team in the regular season again, but this has to be frustrating for Capitals fans, as they should be doing much better than they are.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Alex Ovechkin 9.538 Matt Niskanen 5.750 Braden Holtby 5.100
Nicklas Backstrom 6.700 John Carlson 3.967
Marcus Johansson 4.583
Jay Beagle 1.750
Lars Eller 3.500 Brooks Orpik 5.500 Vitek Vanecek 0.714
Tom Wilson 2.000 Lucas Johansen 0.925 Adam Carlson 0.705
Riley Barber 0.925 Taylor Chorney 0.800
Hampus Gustafsson 0.884 Kristofers Bindulis 0.793
Mason Mitchell 0.884 Colby Williams 0.751
Jakub Vrana 0.863 Connor Hobbs 0.722
Garrett Pilon 0.776 Jonas Siegenthaler 0.720
Beck Malenstyn 0.763 Madison Bowey 0.695
Tim McGauley 0.663 Tyler Lewington 0.665
Zach Sill 0.613 Aaron Ness 0.613

Free agency has really taken this team down to the bare minimum, in terms of who they have signed and who is pool worthy today.  Out of 15 pool worthy players at the end of the regular season, seven have contracts for next season, but with the names they have signed, they should have no problems attracting new talent, if needed.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

Required exposure could be a bit of an issue for the Capitals, as of today, as they are light on signed players that could meet all the requirements, so there could be something left out there for the Golden Knights to happily snap up.  Lars Eller at $3.5 million or even Jay Beagle at $1.75 million look like the most likely candidates today, to be left exposed at the forward position, but the Capitals could sign a few other players that could meet that exposure requirement to help protect those two, if needed.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Well, where do we begin?  Let's look at the potential losses of pool worthy players through unrestricted free agency.  Oshie, Shattenkirk and Williams highlight the worthy players that could possibly hit the open market, if their love for Washington wanes this summmer.  All three are certainly good pick ups for any team and if they hit the open market, they'll likely get paid well.

Restricted free agency will be where the difficulty lies for the Capitals, as they have Kuznetsov, Burakovsky, Orlov, Grubauer and Schmidt all hitting at the same time and Burakovsky is the only one of the bunch coming off his entry-level, which would suggest he wouldn't get the same kind of leeway in negotiations.  The Capitals will likely have to step up for the rest, possibly offering some UFA years in their new deals.

The Capitals are not exactly working with a lot of space either, as their projected roster is only sitting at 11 signed players and $50.2 million, which doesn't leave a lot for those RFA's to wrestle over.  They could really use a big boost, when it comes to the ceiling being raised by the league, which would give them a little more flexibility.

Given the cap and roster situation for the Capitals, it will be high time that they raid the cupboards, trying to find any and all of their young talent for some cheap help.  Forward Jakub Vrana and defenseman Madison Bowey appear to be closest to making the jump and having rookie status for next season, just in case we run into the rookie scoring pool again.  If either or both of these guys can crack the lineup on a full-time basis, points should just fall into their laps, as they would have to be good enough to get points to begin with.   Keep an eye on these two, once training camp rolls around.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

The 2017 season was their time... they spent a lot of futures on the roster that they had going for them and now they won't pick until the 4th round of this year's draft, where it gets pretty thin.  Hell, even the 1st round is getting pretty thin, where they would have picked, down at 27th overall.

Instead, it will be the St. Louis Blues, who received this pick, thanks to the deal that saw Shattenkirk end up with the Caps.  I already have the Blues picking up a defenseman in the draft already, so a forward should be in order to round it all out.  It looks like there is a fair bit of upside to Jesper Boqvist, so the Blues will head in that direction with their pick.

Even with the number of bodies that have been removed from the table above, most of which should come back, the Capitals still have a very good core group of players to build around.  Re-signing Kuznetsov will probably be the toughest job of them all, but once that contract is signed, the scoring depth isn't nearly as questionable, as he'll make his line better and things should keep moving forward.  Right now, it's hard to imagine that the Capitals will be nearly as dominant in the regular season, from a wins perspective, since all the pieces are not there, but there's no doubt that the quality of top players is there, so the playoffs should be a given.  The race for the Metropolitan Division title might be a bit closer though, but the Capitals should be participating, with all things being equal.  President's Trophy is a stretch today, but not impossible.  Stanley Cup?  That's going to need some real elbow grease by the team's management.

Fringe Signings (May 27)

Of course, the morning after posting the outlook for Chicago, the Blackhawks go ahead and make a key signing. Restricted free agent-to-be defenseman Michal Kempny got his new deal and I believe he'll now be leaned upon, in his second NHL season, to really help with the workload on the blueline with some unrestricted free agents likely heading to market in July.

The 26-year old from the Czech Republic appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks last season, scoring only 2 goals and 8 points, only good enough for 176th among all defenders.  With the likes of Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya leaving town, that should open up the number four or five spot on the blueline, which should come with more minutes.

Kempny reportedly signed a 1-year deal, but no cap information has been disclosed, as of yet.  It would be hard to imagine his number over $1 million, given the numbers he had, so it would be a good incentive for him to play hard and earn that bigger deal, be it in Chicago or somewhere else.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pool Outlook for Chicago

The methodology of spending the bulk of your team's cap space on a very established and successful core group of players and then trying to find the recipe for depth to play around them at a cost-effective rate has quickly become the focus in Chicago and the results haven't been poor, by any stretch, but in the 2017 regular season, they were far from flashy, but they still managed positive results.

The Blackhawks didn't quite have the same feel as years before, when their top players seemed to dominate the headlines and the highlight shows most weeks.  No, they were a little bit more blue collar, it seemed, but it still worked in their favour, as they still walked away with the Central Division title and the best record in the Western Conference.

Unfortunately, their prize for being the best in the conference was playing the Nashville Predators in the opening round and the Blackhawks still hadn't quite found any zip to their game, as they were thoroughly out-played and out-worked in that series, getting swept out of the playoffs by the team who is now on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The aftermath of the opening round sweep hit the assistant coaches the hardest, as they were handed their walking papers early on in the off-season and now the winds of change are blowing through the league, as we wait and see what happens with Vegas and the salary cap ceiling, two big factors to how the Blackhawks will be approaching this summer.

First things first though, let's have a quick peek at how much of an impact the Blackhawks had in last year's hockey pool draft, before we look at how they will impact next season's pool.

The Blackhawks have been a steady hockey pool team for a good number of years now and having 11 picks in the draft says a lot more to their core group never really changing and some real uncertainty about the depth around those players.  Two 1st round picks were among those 11, to no surprise, as Corey Crawford and Patrick Kane are usually locks for big points.  There was one key pick-up at the first Waiver Draft, as Richard Panik emerged as quality depth this year, while the second swap was Blackhawk-free.  And just like that, there were only 12 players from Chicago on active teams at the end of the year, somewhat of a boring season.

Kane finished atop the Blackhawks scoring list again in the 2017 season, making it back-to-back years, following his pool MVP season in 2016.  The 28-year old finished 8th overall in pool scoring with 34 goals and 89 points in all 82 games for Chicago, overcoming a fairly slow start, but still finding a way to finish over a point-per-game on the season.  Kane was 3rd among all forwards in scoring and was a bargain pick, if only slightly, taken 12th overall at the draft.

And as if we all knew what we were doing in this hockey pool, there were only 12 pool worthy players playing for Chicago, the exact number we finished with this year.  Joining Kane at the forward position were Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Richard Panik and Ryan Hartman.  Four blueliners were also good enough for the nod this year and there were no surprises here, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell led the way.  The Blackhawks were a little more generous in sharing the net this year (not to mention one injury helped share time), as Corey Crawford and Scott Darling were both worthy of the pool, finishing 12th and 33rd among all goalies.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

It's hard to bet against this team, especially with what they already have signed on for next season.  Yes, the Blackhawks will struggle to put the best lineup they can out on the ice next season, but it's hard to look at a roster with Kane, Toews, Keith and Seabrook and not think they are going to do well next season.  Panarin has established himself as a prime time player in the NHL and he's not a teenager, so I don't see the jinx falling on him too much.  This Blackhawks team will be good again for the regular season, no doubt, but they will struggle with their depth, it may cost them some games here and there and it will culminate into an early opening round playoff loss, unless the math works in their favour, through a ceiling raise and some LTIR help, so they can add some more at the deadline.  Good team to pick from for your hockey pool, but I wouldn't get my overall expectations too high here.

An early opening round playoff loss?  Get outta town!  Now, I'm not entirely sure that it was the team's depth that did in the Blackhawks, rather the big stars didn't quite shine nearly as bright as many thought they would and to me, that's where the Blackhawks lost out to the Predators.  Not to take anything away from Nashville, they were ready to play and played really well.  Nevertheless, the Blackhawks system of keeping their roster, may be getting a bit stale and with the lumps that they have against the cap, it will be hard to move away from it any time soon.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Patrick Kane 10.500 Brent Seabrook 6.850 Corey Crawford 6.000
Jonathan Toews 10.500 Duncan Keith 5.538
Artemi Panarin 6.000 Niklas Hjalmarsson 4.100
Marian Hossa 5.275
Artem Anisimov 4.550
Richard Panik 2.800
Ryan Hartman 0.863
Marcus Kruger 3.083 Gustav Forsling 0.873 Jeff Glass 0.613
Nick Schmaltz 0.925 Trevor Van Riemsdyk 0.825
Tyler Motte 0.925 Luc Snuggerud 0.768
John Hayden 0.925 Carl Dahlstrom 0.751
Alexander DeBrincat 0.809 Viktor Svedberg 0.750
David Kampf 0.778 Robin Norell 0.718
Matthew Highmore 0.776 Michal Rozsival 0.650
Nathan Noel 0.776
Anthony Louis 0.775
Tanner Kero 0.750
Matt Iacopelli 0.743
Vincent Hinostroza 0.718
Luke Johnson 0.718
Graham Knott 0.718
Jordin Tootoo 0.700
Alexandre Fortin 0.685
Kyle Baun 0.625

With the way the salary cap numbers are already looking, more on that below, I would have to think that something is going to change on this table before too long, as the Blackhawks already have $63 million tied up in pool worthy talent and that's only 11 players.  That would leave $10 million for 12 players to fill out a 23-man roster and that takes an even bigger hit, when you start to include Marcus Kruger.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

The Blackhawks are going to have a lot of decisions made up for them early on in the expansion process, as they have four forwards, three defensemen and Corey Crawford all protected under their no-move clauses.  Thanks to required exposure, the Blackhawks could very well make Kruger available, hoping that Vegas sweeps up his $3 million cap hit... or at least trying to guide them in his direction through bribes of draft picks, to which they have a lot of late picks this year.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The early cap numbers, according to CapFriendly, are showing that the Blackhawks are in desperate need of a big increase at the cap ceiling and for Vegas to snag a big contract off their books, as they are already $3 million over the 2017 ceiling and holding on to 21 players on a projected roster.  That's starting to get pretty dicey.

Unrestricted free agency helps a little bit, as both Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya come off the list or else they'd be $5.25 million further into the hole, so it would seem unlikely that either of them will be coming back for another spin, barring a cheap contract or flexibility happens elsewhere.

Restricted free agency has the potential of being somewhat difficult as well, but none of their current RFA crop were pool worthy, but that isn't to say they wouldn't be down the road.  Tomas Jurco and Michal Kempny still have some upside with regular minutes, but they need new deals first.

The Blackhawks may need to dip into their rookie pool this year or dive into the college free agent pool to help fill out their roster at a reasonable cost.  Forward John Hayden, a 2013 draft pick out of college, played in 12 games before the playoffs kicked in and had 4 points, he would have a leg up on some of the competition, while Erie Otters forward Alex DeBrincat is having a great year, including playing in the Memorial Cup tournament right now, but with his size, he should still be a couple years away, but given the team's situation, he may be rushed up to fill in a gap.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

The Chicago Blackhawks have not been shy at using a home run swing on some of these late picks, trying to uncover that extra bit of talent that the teams before them have overlooked or underappreciated.  That seems to be the M.O. of Guelph Storm forward Issac Ratcliffe, who has been scouted as having really great hands, but lacks the strength to be an impact player right now.  The Blackhawks are never in a big hurry to move prospects up to the big club, unless they are going to make an impact, but if they can get Ratcliffe to get bigger, add that extra strength, they could have an impact player in a few years.

I don't see the trend lines for Chicago's regular season numbers falling off the edge of the world after a division title in 2017, but there is a lot that needs to happen before we can talk about trending back upwards in the playoffs.  The sweeping loss to the Predators this past season was a sign that things are not moving in the right direction for the Blackhawks and management will have to start getting real creative with what they already have.  It seems improbable that the Blackhawks will trade one of those big contracted core players, unless someone else felt that the player was the difference between winning and losing, because those contracts are daunting.  Unless something drastic changes in Chicago's roster make-up, I believe they are doomed for another early playoff exit in the 2018 season.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Off-Season Injury Notes (May 25)

Big news out of Anaheim, as the Ducks have announced that defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen have undergone major shoulder surgery and they are going to be out for quite a while.  The official tweet/report says that team management has said that Lindholm would be out of commission for 4-to-5 months and that they expect that Vatanen will be out even longer.

4-to-5 months now puts Lindholm out of action until either the end of training camp or the end of the first month to the season and if Vatanen is longer, that means there are going to be a couple of decent defensemen on the shelf at the start of the year and that could sway some decisions at the hockey pool draft.

We'll definitely be keeping an eye on this, as we get closer to draft day.

Pool Outlook for Montreal

The argument has been made that even though Carey Price didn't play for the better part of the 2016 season, he should have still been a finalist for the Hart Trophy, given how poor their season was without him.  Further proof to that statement, was the turnaround that happened in the 2017 season, all thanks to the relative health of the Habs' number one player.

Division titles in two of the last three seasons and a healthy Price in two of the last three seasons... the same two seasons, I might add.  Coincidence?  Nope.

Yes, the return of Price was a regular season hit for Montreal, the addition of Shea Weber for P.K. Subban still is debated from coast-to-coast, especially with how the playoffs went for the two players, but no matter what the regular season results show, the Montreal Canadiens are still not built to play the long grind in the playoffs, by anyone's guesstimation.

The Habs were fairly convincing, when it came to their Atlantic Division title and some of that was likely due to their competition, not quite being up to par, namely the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Then, once they hit the playoffs, their lack of size, drive and some injuries this year, really couldn't help Price and company out of the opening round, dropping the series against the Rangers.

The Rangers out-muscled the Canadiens and you can argue the goaltending match-up finished in their favour as well.  Now that they know what they're up against, the Canadiens can maybe try and retool a bit in their lineup, trying to make it work for the playoffs.

The general excitement for the Canadiens took a hit at the October draft, normally a team that bleeds down to the nitty-gritty, only 10 players were taken initially, leaving a lot of depth out there for later.  One 1st round pick to speak of... guess who?  The first swap only saw two pick-ups, as their depth was deemed important after eight weeks, and then an injury drop gave way to two more pick-ups at the second swap as well.  Two trades mid-season, including one at the deadline, brought two more new Habs to the draft, which left them with a similar total to other years, 15 players by the end of the year.

37 wins, 3 shutouts and 1 assist in 62 appearances wasn't quite the numbers that was expected of Carey Price, but he still was the top pool scorer on the team with 81 points, still a 1st round pick at 13th overall, but his season left something to be desired... or was it the team in front of him?  Nevertheless, expectations were higher in the pool, since he was taken with the 3rd overall pick.

The Canadiens were not short on pool worthy talent and that even seeped down into the back-up goalie role, where they allowed Al Montoya to get enough action in to warrant being 49th among all goalies in scoring with 22 points.  Also getting the nod for being worthy includes Max Pacioretty, Alex Radulov, Alex Galchenyuk, Paul Byron, Philip Danault, Andrew Shaw and Brendan Gallagher up front, while Shea Weber, Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry, Nathan Beaulieu, Jordie Benn and Nikita Nesterov were all good enough from the blueline.  That is a very impressive group, signalling that maybe it wasn't all the team up front of Price, but maybe somewhat on the goaltending?

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

How the Montreal season hinges on one player is exceptionally difficult to offer an off-season prediction around.  The Canadiens fully expect Price to be ready to play and get a warm up in the World Cup of Hockey in September and then be ready for the grind of the 2017 season and if he can be healthy, then yes, the Canadiens will be better all the way around their lineup.  Confidence will be up, the willingness to take some more calculated risks will have a higher return and that should all add up to more games won and they'll be in that fight for a division title.  If the Canadiens could lock up one more quality defenseman though, that could put them a step up from where they were at the end of the 2015 season.

Price came back, they were in the race for a division title.  Done and done.  Did they lock up one more quality defenseman?  No, they dealt one for another.   Adding Alexander Radulov in the off-season was a plus, but he doesn't play much for defense and he only made up for a few shortcomings offensively through the lineup, didn't really push the team over the top.  It's going to be interesting to see, further down in this outlook, whether or not they are moving in the right direction still.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Max Pacioretty 4.500 Shea Weber 7.857 Carey Price 6.500
Andrew Shaw 3.900 Jeff Petry 5.500 Al Montoya 1.063
Brendan Gallagher 3.750 Jordie Benn 1.100
Paul Byron 1.167
Phillip Danault 0.913
Tomas Plekanec 6.000 Alexei Emelin 4.100 Zachary Fucale 0.714
Torrey Mitchell 1.200 Brandon Davidson 1.425 Michael McNiven 0.623
Artturi Lehkonen 0.925 Mikhail Sergachev 0.925
Nikita Scherbak 0.863 Jakub Jerabek 0.925
Michael McCarron 0.863 Noah Juulsen 0.894
Antoine Waked 0.727 Victor Mete 0.748
Daniel Carr 0.725 Simon Bourque 0.720
Jeremiah Addison 0.720 Thomas Parisi 0.718
Martin Reway 0.707 Brett Lernout 0.637
Chris Terry 0.650 Zach Redmond 0.613
Daniel Audette 0.643
Jeremy Gregoire 0.607

At the end of the season, the Habs had 15 players that were pool worthy on their roster and potential free agency has seen that drop down to 10 players, just on this table alone.  You would have to believe that the Canadiens are on top of this development and are in full swing, trying to either lock down their free agents or already window shopping for some replacements.  The numbers reflected well upon Montreal and a healthy Price to finish the year, should ensure their impact as being heavy at the draft next year.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

Carey Price and Jeff Petry are the only two that hold immediate protection, thanks to no-move clauses, and neither would likely be talked to about waiving those clauses.  Youth and being a part of the core group makes this fairly academic, but it could leave Alexei Emelin, Jordie Benn and Paul Byron exposed, but would any of those three really drop the value of this team?  Byron could be tough to replace, speed-wise, but he was nowhere in the playoffs and that's what they need to replace anyways.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Montreal Canadiens are poised to be one of the busiest teams, when it comes to their own free agents, especially since they have five pool worthy players getting ready to hit free agency on July 1st.

Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov are both poised to become unrestricted free agents, if they don't get a contract extension soon, while Alex Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu and Nikita Nesterov are all ready to become restricted free agents, offering up the club a bit more time to work on their deals.

The 10 pool worthy players already signed are coming in at $36.2 million and that doesn't even include the $10.1 million from Tomas Plekanec and Alexei Emelin, who are pretty big lumps without the scoring production last season.  Between Radulov and Galchenyuk, the Canadiens may have to get creative with their deals or else they'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel for lineup depth.

It sounds like the Canadiens are going to get a real boost on the blueline, as their 2016 1st round pick, defenseman Mikhail Sergachev is poised and ready to make the jump, even at the tender age of 18, 19 when the season starts, something fairly uncommon in the NHL today, as defensemen are brought along slower than other players, but the consensus is, he's ready.  His offensive instincts are there and he already has a filled out frame at 6'3" and likes to use it, so he'll be a force early on.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

Size, grit, with a touch of scoring... that would be an ideal combination for the Canadiens at this year's draft and they might be able to get some of that from a kid like Klim Kostin, as the 6'3" Russian has a good portion of those elements that they are looking for.  The Habs have had some good luck with Russians in the last couple of years and if they can lock down a few of those Russian free agents, they would have a solid mentor system for the youngster and he could be an impact player in a couple seasons.

The Canadiens still have the tools to be a very good regular season team, despite how much work they have to do this summer and I have no doubts that they will be able to accomplish the signings of those key players to boost their chances at a division title repeat.  Nevertheless, there just doesn't seem to be enough on paper for me to think that they're going to make waves in the playoffs.  I wouldn't say impossible, but still rather improbable.  If Sergachev can come in and be that impact player in the 2018 season, it would give them another big body on the blueline and it could make them harder to play against, but that's a lot to put on a rookie.  They are an impact player short and if they can find it, we can discuss, at length, how much further they'll go.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pool Outlook for Columbus

Like the Minnesota Wild yesterday, you can draw quite a few comparisons to the Columbus Blue Jackets, in terms of how the team was built, how it was a properly slow build and then how unlucky they were to be in such a good division, that finishing 3rd in the Metropolitan was hardly a proper reward for such a good season.

The Jackets management team have done a magnificent job of drafting quality players and making great use of players that they have acquired, that may have been cast offs from somewhere else.  They have been able to put these guys together, form a cohesive group and they were able to win games in the regular season.

50 wins, in fact, but that was still only good enough for 3rd place in their division, as they were unfortunate to be playing in the same division, at the same time, with the likes of the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were not slouches this season either.  108 points would have been great in the Atlantic or the Pacific divisions, but no, they finished 3rd and drew the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs.

In terms of playoff experience, the Jackets may not have had as much as some teams and that may have been the real telling factor, especially matching up against the defending champs and if they had any hopes, they would have been hoping that the Penguins had played too much hockey in the last couple years.  That wasn't the case, as the Penguins rolled over the Jackets in five games and that was just the first stepping stone for the champs.

Columbus may not have been able to find the scoring they needed in the playoffs, but there are still lots of good things coming, another comparison to the Wild yesterday, it's all coming around for them, but with this many teams making good, it'll be hard to share the championship with so many.

The hockey pool could identify with what the Blue Jackets were doing, even after a poor 2016 season, everyone knew that their injury situation was the reason why the year before was so poor, so it didn't stop the group from picking 13 players at the October draft.  A bit of a rough start saw a bit of a shift in that thinking, as three were dropped to two being picked up at the first player swap, while another drop happened at the second swap as well.  That still left 11 players active on pool teams, which is still pretty deep, it was just a matter of finding the right players.

There was sense of normalcy returned to the team, as Sergei Bobrovsky came back from an injury-plagued year to be the team's top pool scorer, finishing with 41 wins in 63 appearances for 96 points, good enough for 4th overall in pool scoring.  He turned out to be a bargain pick, as he was the top Jackets player taken, down in the 3rd round, 60th overall.  I'm sure there were 20+ teams still kicking themselves for passing over him two or three times this year.

Believe it or not, the Jackets were under-utilized in the pool, as 14 players finished the year in the pool worthy conversation, but of course, Bobrovsky was the only goalie worthy, thanks to his workload.  Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Saad, Nick Foligno, Sam Gagner, Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson were all worthy from up front, while rookie Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, David Savard and Jack Johnson were all worthy from the blueline.

That's a lot of scoring depth for one season!

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Last season's prediction wasn't terrible, but it stumbled when the Jackets lost so many important pieces to long-term injury.  This summer for Columbus should be about making sure their depth is accounted for, especially on the blueline, because as good as Joonas Korpisalo was in relief, he couldn't do it all.  I don't expect a lot of improvement from the Jackets in the 2017, unless Sergei Bobrovsky is able to play 65+ games and they are able to add a good veteran piece to their blueline.  Seth Jones will come around to play a lot more meaningful minutes and he'll likely produce in them, but it seems more likely that the Jackets will need some extra help, like a team above them falling off the map, than having their own merits guide them to the playoffs.  The Jackets will compete, but succeed is a different story.

The return of Bobrovsky was the key to the return of the Jackets to the playoffs, but it sure helped that the combination of Werenski and Jones on the blueline really made the team pop from the back end, but it was one of those situations lacking experience, that dropped them a bit in the playoffs.  Nevertheless, you can't gain the experience without getting there and the Jackets are really getting somewhere now.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Brandon Saad 6.000 Seth Jones 5.400 Sergei Bobrovsky 7.425
Brandon Dubinsky 5.850 Jack Johnson 4.357
Nick Foligno 5.500 David Savard 4.250
Scott Hartnell 4.750 Zach Werenski 0.925
Cam Atkinson 3.500
Boone Jenner 2.900
Matt Calvert 2.200 Ryan Murray 2.825
William Karlsson 1.000 Gabriel Carlsson 0.925
Pierre-Luc Dubois 0.925 Markus Nutivaara 0.818
Sam Vigneault 0.925 Jacob Graves 0.751
Sonny Milano 0.863 Blake Siebenaler 0.678
Lukas Sedlak 0.825 Scott Harrington 0.675
Jordan Maletta 0.793 John Ramage 0.613
Paul Bittner 0.778
Vitali Abramov 0.776
Justin Scott 0.751
Dante Salituro 0.725
Kole Sherwood 0.722
Nick Moutrey 0.693
Keegan Kolesar 0.692
Markus Hannikainen 0.675
David Clarkson 5.250

The Jackets head into this off-season with a good portion of their pool worthy players already signed up for the 2018 season, which suggests that they should be a popular team again this coming season and rightfully so.  Teams are going to feel that there is very few gambles on this team, besides the usual gamble about health, as they were scoring from just about everywhere last season.  Prepare for Columbus to be popular.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

The Jackets may lose a veteran of either the forward or blueline persuasion, but it doesn't look like they'll be players that are key to their situation moving forward, rather it could be a benefit to their cap situation in the end.  Four players have no-move clauses, all of which are pool worthy, in Bobrovsky, Dubinsky, Foligno and Hartnell, I would imagine that they would lean towards youth in the 7F/3D/1G format of protection, which could leave both Matt Calvert and Jack Johnson as the two more interesting exposed players.  Of course, if I'm Vegas, I'm leaning towards a defenseman of quality, instead of a forward of quantity.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Jackets have three free agents of pool worthiness to look after this off-season and I would have to think that all three are going to get long looks and not just because that two of them are restricted.  Both Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson are both underage free agents and they were big this past year, while Sam Gagner appeared to earn himself another deal from Columbus, as he meshed well with this club and how they were built.

The 11 players that are pool worthy and signed are coming in at $50.9 million today, which isn't leaving a great deal for their depth, but there are some names below that will fill in those gaps at a reasonable cost.  The Jackets only really need to tinker with their lineup, trying to find a veteran player that could lift them over, so some quality shopping around may generate that player at a reasonable cost.

There are a few places projecting that the 3rd overall pick in last year's draft, forward Pierre-Luc Dubois is going to make the jump up to the big club after being one of the last cut's from last season's camp.  Dubois is regarded as a top prospect in the league and he had a pretty good junior year, despite having a mediocre showing at the World Juniors for Canada.  Dubois is going to have to push an established player out of a spot, which will be okay by team management, if he can come around and score like they expect him to, as they drafted him over Jesse Puljujarvi last June.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

The Jackets will pick from the 24th spot, much worse than their 3rd place pick last time around, but that's an indicator of how well they turned their season around.  With how this team has been built so far, they are not in a rush to get new, young blood in their lineup right away, so they can definitely find someone in need of some extra work, if they know that the instincts are there.  Speed and instincts are some of those attributes you can't really teach, so Morgan Frost has the upside that the Jackets could use in the future, as they'll let him get a bit bigger and figure out his overall game, but he's going in the direction they could use in a long-term prospect.

The Jackets are still a pretty young team, which has me on the fence about what they could do come playoff time still.  Losing out in the opening round with this talented group wasn't enough for me to think that they are going to improve by leaps and bounds.  one of the team's best players, Zach Werenski, will also have the potential of the sophomore jinx, which shouldn't do too much to the team making the playoffs, but some struggles might make it into a wild card spot, instead of a divisional spot... you know, if it happens.  Everyone is different.  The Jackets are prepped and ready to be good in the 2018 season, certainly a team to be excited about for the hockey pool, but they could just use more, be it experience or veteran savvy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pool Outlook for Minnesota

It takes a whole lot to become a powerhouse in the Central Division these days, but the Minnesota Wild quietly went about their business, collected many of the right pieces and through no fault of anyone else, they put together a solid roster, which not only competed well against fellow division teams, they put up significant results everywhere they went.

Thanks to a fantastic core group of talented players, all sitting at ripe ages, and a few savvy signings in the off-season sprinkled in, the Wild became the second-best team in the Western Conference, by virtue of points and they appeared to be ready to make some noise in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, for the second-best team in the Central Division, which they were, their prize in the playoffs is getting the third-best team in the division, which ended up being the St. Louis Blues.  Now, as much as their record wasn't quite as stellar as Minnesota's, they also had a hunger for the playoffs and a team that was very solid right through it and they made short work of the Wild, dispatching them in five games.  A bitter disappointment for Minnesota, indeed, but certainly like Edmonton yesterday, they have the team that can also learn from those failures and put something stronger together next season.

The Wild are far from a team that needs to worry, but they could really use another savvy add somewhere in their lineup that could really boost them over the top in the 2018 season.

The Wild's depth was not really questioned at the draft this year, as teams sought after them, more at the deeper levels, taking 11 players in total.  Devan Dubnyk was the team's only 1st round pick, taken 9th overall in the goalie rush, but then it was an even spread past the 4th round of the draft itself.  Their popularity grew at the start of the season, adding two more players at the first swap and then an injury forced a drop at the second swap, not to be replaced.  The Wild landed Martin Hanzal and Ryan White at the deadline and that gave the Wild 14 active players on rosters, by the end of the year.

Dubnyk was more than justified with his 1st round selection and even bettered his pick rank, by finishing 6th overall in pool scoring, finishing with 40 wins in 65 appearances and 90 points in total.  He has quickly become the back bone of this team and in impressive fashion, no less.

The Wild were not short on pool worthy players, further justifying the hockey pool's fondness of the team.  Nine forwards finished in the top 200 and in order they are, Mikael Granlund, Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Jason Pominville, Zach Parise and Martin Hanzal, an impressive list, even if a couple of those names may have underachieved a little.  The blueline was also strong for the Wild, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin were all worthy as well and will likely be looked upon to do big things again in the 2018 season.  With the workload of Dubnyk, the back-up goaltending did not get many sniffs of the net for points, thus devaluing them severely.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The foundation is certainly there for the Minnesota Wild: a good goalie, a core group of defensemen that are still relatively young and a veteran laced forward group that are able to guide some talented youth.  To me, this has the makings of another playoff spot next season, but that position has a lot to do with the way the rest of the Western Conference teams either improve or regress.  The Wild, at best, are going to tinker with this lineup, they likely won't do anything too drastic, so if the coach makes positive strides on this lineup, they will be in good shape at this time next year.

The Wild certainly didn't regress in the 2017 season and I wouldn't call an opening round loss to a formidable opponent as a horribly disappointing finish, rather it's just unfortunate.  The Wild are still coming up and they have some potential to still realize, but it will be about commitment at every level of the franchise, which sees that through.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Zach Parise 7.538 Ryan Suter 7.538 Devan Dubnyk 4.333
Mikko Koivu 6.750 Jared Spurgeon 5.188
Jason Pominville 5.600 Jonas Brodin 4.167
Eric Staal 3.500 Matt Dumba 2.550
Charlie Coyle 3.200
Jason Zucker 2.000
Chris Stewart 1.150 Marco Scandella 4.000 Adam Vay 0.843
Alex Tuch 0.925 Nick Seeler 0.718 Alex Stalock 0.650
Luke Kunin 0.925 Gustav Bouramman 0.713
Joel Eriksson Ek 0.894 Dylan Labbe 0.693
Sam Anas 0.793 Hunter Warner 0.612
Justin Kloos 0.793
Mario Lucia 0.793
Christoph Bertschy 0.776
Adam Gilmour 0.718
Chase Lang 0.687
Pavel Jenys 0.662

The Wild were an impact team in the pool this past season and I foresee much of the same again for the 2018 season, maybe even more so.  There might be another Wild player, besides Dubnyk, taken in the first three rounds of the draft, it's hard to say.  The team has a lot of work and tinkering to do this summer, so opinion could sway a little, depending on who is in and who is out.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

Vegas will have a long look at what the Wild have to offer at the expansion draft, especially when it comes to the blueline, as someone is going to be left exposed, most certainly.  The four no-move clauses are academic, the rest of the forwards to be protected are fairly straight-forward, we know which goalie is going to stick around, it's just a matter of who is left on defense.  Suter has one of those no-moves on his deal, so he'll stick around, but between Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Matt Dumba, who do you protect?  You can only protect two.  If it's me, I'm keeping the top two, Spurgeon and Brodin, right now and maybe trying to grease the wheels of the Golden Knights, trying to keep them away from the other two.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Three pool worthy players are headed to free agency, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter are preparing to become RFA's, while Martin Hanzal will be left alone to go to the open market on July 1st.  Granlund and Niederreiter are both poised for reasonable pay days, given their numbers over the last season or two and it does have some potential to complicate the team's salary cap picture for the 2018 season.

Considering that the first 11 pool worthy players are already coming in at $52.4 million, Marco Scandella still has another $4 million on the roster, the Wild are starting to feel a slight pinch on their books, before we even know what the new salary cap number is going to be, beyond the current $73 million ceiling.  The Wild could get some reprieve from Vegas, but it will only be a little bit, the Wild have some thinking to do this summer.

The kid we're likely going to have rated for pool worthiness next season is Swedish forward Joel Eriksson Ek, who finally made his debut for the Wild near the end of the regular season, getting in 15 games, scoring 3 goals and 7 points.  The 20-year old will still have his rookie status and is poised to fill in a gap somewhere on this roster and will do so with that entry-level deal, which should help that cap number out a bit.  2016 1st round pick, Luke Kunin, scored his entry-level deal out of college already, which could give him an extra push towards a lineup spot or at least start his development in the AHL.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

The Wild are the first team of the bunch to not have their 1st round pick, as they dealt it away to acquire Martin Hanzal from the Coyotes, a move that both ownership and management have publicly kicked themselves about already in this off-season.

With that being said, the Coyotes will use the 23rd overall pick, just to keep the mock draft going from this end, to take undersized centre Elias Pettersson, who fell through the ranks of the 1st round, due to his size for me.  Very few doubts about his hands, just his willingness to get bigger and adapt to the North American game.

The Minnesota Wild have a lot of potential for good things in the 2018 season.  They could quietly have a very productive summer, through the expansion draft, maybe trying to wiggle out another top pick at the entry draft, as they don't have a pick until the 3rd round right now, and right through free agency.  The Wild don't have to do a lot, but they will likely be shopping around for that extra little bit that puts them over, but as it stands right now, they still have the ability to be a top three team in the Central Division, arguably, they have enough for a run at the division title.  I like where the Wild are, what they've done so far has been impressive and there is more to come, I'm sure.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pool Outlook for Edmonton

One could say that the immediate turnaround of the Edmonton Oilers, from pretenders to contenders, was all on the shoulders of the chosen one, Connor McDavid, but there was a whole lot that went into this 2017 version of the Oilers, which made them into the team that they are now and probably will be for the next few years, at least.

The Oilers were a formidable opponent in the 2017 regular season, finishing 8th in the league in points, goals for and goals against, which all added up to being tough to play against at either end of the ice.  The transition game was the team's bread and butter and with the speed and puck moving ability through this lineup, this is what's going to keep them in business, not unlike some former Oilers teams of the past.

Still, it doesn't matter which superstar you have or how good your regular season is, experience is key in the playoffs and as much as these young Oilers didn't have a lot of it, they sure gained a bunch, when they beat the reigning Western Conference champs, the San Jose Sharks, and ending up losing to the well-traveled Anaheim Ducks in the second round.

The Oilers cannot be disappointed with how their 2017 season and playoffs had gone, especially knowing where they were coming from, but now the expectation levels are going to be high and living up to those will be the first challenge of many, come puck drop on the 2018 season.

The buzz was real at the hockey pool draft in October, as 13 Oilers were taken in the first round.  Both McDavid and Cam Talbot were 1st round picks and it was all fairly spaced out, all the way down to the last round, number 14.  Adjustments were made at the first swap, as a couple of Oilers were dropped for one being picked up and the second swap evened it back out, two dropped for three picks.  The Oilers stood pat at the trade deadline and they finished the year with what they started with, 13 players on active pool rosters.

There was no surprise in the team's leading point-getter, as McDavid was worth the 2nd overall pick, finishing 2nd overall in points with 100 on the year, followed by his fellow 1st round pick, Talbot and a third Oilers player finished among the top 25 players, a 6th round pick in Leon Draisaitl.  This trio will be a force to be reckoned with, especially at contract extension time.

The Oilers buzz wasn't quite on the pulse, as they had a couple too many players for what was actually pool worthy in the 2017 regular season.  Only 11 Oilers finished within the ranks of their position to get the nod here in the blog post, but to be fair, a goon was taken as well.  Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu were also among the pool worthy forwards on the year, while Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson were the trio of pool worthy defenders.  Talbot was the busiest goalie in the NHL, not leaving much time for his back-up to gain many points at all, so he was the only worthy keeper.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Now is truly the time for the Oilers management to really get serious about rounding out their lineup.  Even with a healthy McDavid and Klefbom all year, there isn't enough in that lineup that says that this team is going to finally make the next step.  The Oilers are in a division that is now ruled out of California, the Canucks and Flames have potential to be a little bit better next season, so it will take some immense strides to find a divisional playoff spot, let alone try and keep up with the Central Division, which owned the wild card spots this year.  If there are significant changes made to the blueline, we could revisit an improved prediction, but today... no dice.  I'm expecting another down year at this rate.

So many people underestimated the value of trading for Adam Larsson from New Jersey, but the Oilers certainly got what they needed from him and there's still more to come from him.  The addition of Kris Russell also panned out to be a very complimentary move and the blueline all of a sudden turned around.  Of course, the addition of Milan Lucic was also a pretty big help, bringing some much needed playoff experience to the table, the Oilers did a lot of the right things in the off-season, which led to massive improvements.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Jordan Eberle 6.000 Oscar Klefbom 4.167 Cam Talbot 4.167
Milan Lucic 6.000 Adam Larsson 4.167
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 6.000
Patrick Maroon 2.000
Mark Letestu 1.800
Connor McDavid 0.925
Benoit Pouliot 4.000 Mark Fayne 3.500 Nick Ellis 0.925
Drake Caggiula 0.925 Matthew Benning 0.925 Dylan Wells 0.759
Anton Slepyshev 0.925 Darnell Nurse 0.863 Laurent Brossoit 0.750
Jesse Puljujarvi 0.925 William Lagesson 0.742
Patrick Russell 0.925 Ethan Bear 0.722
Ryan Mantha 0.870 Caleb Jones 0.705
Kyle Platzer 0.735 Ben Betker 0.683
Iiro Pakarinen 0.725
Greg Chase 0.715
Andrej Sekera 5.500

How high will these Oilers go in next year's draft?  It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.  McDavid went 2nd this past season, could he possibly go 1st overall?  Well, of course he could... there are enough Oilers fans in the regular roster of teams that would certainly see to it.  The impact from the rest of the lineup however, will be fairly swift I'm thinking, as Talbot and the rest of the forwards found ways to get points and that's the name of the game.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

Three no-movement clauses are sprinkled through the Oilers' roster and they are all pool worthy, so there isn't too much concern with Lucic, Sekera and Talbot being pre-protected.  The rest of the defense is rather academic, protecting Larsson and Klefbom, but required exposure could very well leave Benoit Pouliot and newly-signed Iiro Pakarainen.  I don't think that would hurt very many feelings.  It's hard to say what the Oilers would lose, their lack of quality players exposed would likely make them one of the last teams to choose from, likely filling in a gap or two in the Vegas lineup.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Lots has already been made about contract talks and the Edmonton Oilers, not only for their only pool worthy free agent this summer, RFA-to-be Leon Draisaitl, but when July 1st kicks over, they will be able to negotiate the first extension for McDavid.  Draisaitl should be the main focus, before July, since he will be without a deal, but both these players are going to be getting paid here soon, it will be a matter of how much of that hometown discount gets applied.

I would imagine that re-signing fringe defenseman Kris Russell will be high up on the priority list, as the potential UFA did make an impact with this club and they would be hard pressed to replace him with as tight as the defenseman market it.

The Oilers aren't in salary cap hell, yet.  The nine contracts on top of the table above, for the pool worthy players, are only coming in at $35.2 million.  Andrej Sekera will start the season on the injured reserve and will likely count against, unless the Oilers spending goes out of control this summer.  That brings it up to $40.7 million, still plenty of room under the current $73 million ceiling, plus whatever gets added, to fill out that 23-man roster.

The Oilers don't have a lot of rookie qualified talent to watch out for, as they have started players too far into their statuses, to keep their qualifications for the Calder Trophy, but that doesn't mean they're not short on young players coming through.  Everyone is still wondering if Jesse Puljujarvi is going to be the next best thing, as he was demoted after 28 games by the Oilers this past season, but it sounded like he did okay down in the minors.  At defense, we're now waiting to see if Griffin Reinhart can make that jump to a full-time NHL'er, but he'll need a new deal and whether or not it's a one-way or a two-way deal, will be the indication of how the Oilers feel about that.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

The Oilers will be picking a ways down, at the 22nd overall spot and by this time, it should be more about the best player available, as they could restock their shelves at either the forward or defensive positions, trying to find more depth in their system.  Finnish defensemen seem to be all the rage right now and Urho Vaakanainen seems to be a kid that could fit the bill of a safe puck mover, with pretty good vision.  The Oilers wouldn't necessarily need this kid right away, so he can toil in Europe, gain that physical maturity and then find his way over down the line, which would make him a very solid pick.

It's scary to think of what the Oilers could be capable of here in the next year, two and/or three.  We've seen most of the Pacific Division already in these outlook posts and there shouldn't be a lot there that scares the Oilers moving forward.  They gained some regular season experience with a big year, they played two playoff seasoned teams before getting eliminated this year, so most of that should add up to something fantastic, before too long.  Undoubtedly, the Oilers are going to score a lot of goals and Cam Talbot will play as much hockey as he can, but the long-term results will always stem from the blueline here and with Sekera starting the season hurt and Russell unsigned right now, there are holes to fill and a division title and/or playoff success will hinge on what the Oilers do to help their defense.  Everything is possible for these kids right now,, they just need help.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Pool Outlook for New York

Well, it was crazy to think that a 102-point season was only good enough for 4th place in the Metropolitan Division and a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but that's what the New York Rangers finished as.

The Rangers finished the year 20 games above .500, despite being without their number one goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, for a couple of weeks, due to a hip problem, but Antti Raanta stepped in and helped to make us forget that Lundqvist was even hurt.

If anything, the Rangers proved that they were still a pretty good team in the regular season, the players that they brought in performed admirably and the team seemed to be working fairly well.  The opening round test of the Montreal Canadiens was an even match-up on paper and one that proved to be an entertaining series, one that the Rangers were able to prevail in, taking the series in six games.  Next up, however, was the Ottawa Senators and as fast paced as this series was, there was again no answer for Erik Karlsson and his boys, much like Boston before them, losing in six games.

Now, the questions about the window of opportunity are hanging overhead and the Rangers are still rather invested in a good portion of their core players.  No one is too old, yet, but is the make up of this team going to work, the way it is built?

The Rangers continue to be a popular team to draw from at the hockey pool draft and it's usually for a good reason.  At this year's draft last October, there were 13 Rangers selected and to no one's surprise, Lundqvist was the team's only 1st round draft pick.  Remarkably, there were no Rangers taken through the 2nd and 5th rounds, but two more were taken in the 6th round and then the floodgates opened.  At the first swap, the Rangers' popularity soared, as an injury was dropped and five more were picked up, while at the second swap, they came back down to the rest of the teams, with four drops and two picks.  The total count, at the end of the year, was 15 Rangers on active pool teams, keeping their popularity alive.

Thanks to his hip injury, Henrik Lundqvist wasn't exactly a 1st round pick, finishing 40th overall in pool scoring, but he still was the Rangers' top player in the 2017 season, winning 31 games and finishing with 67 points in 57 appearances.  That was still good enough for 14th among all goalies in the league, which is still pretty darn good and should keep him in consideration for a high pick next season.

In total, there were 13 Rangers that were considered pool worthy, in the top 200 of the forwards, top 100 defensemen and top 50 goalies, so that is a pretty impressive number.  Up front, it was Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Michael Grabner, Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad leading the way, in order, while on the blueline, we saw Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei and Nick Holden and Antti Raanta was also worthy from the crease.  That's a busy team and they certainly could have had one or two more, barring injuries, of course.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The threat of missing the playoffs is real.  The team that is listed above will definitely be much different before the puck drops on the season and likely even more so, by the time I write this piece at the same time next season.  There will be a lot of turnover for the Rangers, which means the Rangers are in danger of hanging Lundqvist out to dry in the 2017 season and if their number one goalie can't come up with another stellar season, the overhaul will be thorough and without mercy.  I can honestly see the Rangers struggle to maintain a wild card spot next season, mostly because the Atlantic Division couldn't possibly be as terrible next season, as they were in 2016 and the wild card will get drastically more difficult at a time where the Rangers are most vulnerable.

Somehow, the Rangers managed to remain fairly consistent, in terms of their roster, only flipping a few spots here and there, no better or worse than most teams we've already looked at.  I think the feeling again this year is we're just waiting for the Rangers' bubble to burst.  The results of this past season should indicate that they will remain, for the most part, on the status quo, as we'll review below, it doesn't look nearly as daunting of a summer, as it did last year.

2018 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Rick Nash 7.800 Ryan McDonagh 4.700 Henrik Lundqvist 8.500
Derek Stepan 6.500 Nick Holden 1.650 Antti Raanta 1.000
Chris Kreider 4.625 Brady Skjei 0.925
Mats Zuccarello 4.500
J.T. Miller 2.750
Michael Grabner 1.600
Kevin Hayes 1.300
Jimmy Vesey 0.925 Marc Staal 5.700 Chris Nell 0.925
Pavel Buchnevich 0.925 Dan Girardi 5.500 Brandon Halverson 0.773
Vinni Lettieri 0.925 Kevin Klein 2.000
Ryan Gropp 0.808 Neal Pionk 0.925
Robin Kovacs 0.803 Alexei Bereglazov 0.925
Adam Tambellini 0.803 Sean Day 0.776
Adam Chapie 0.800 Vince Pedrie 0.768
Cristoval Nieves 0.755 John Gilmour 0.743
Steven Fogarty 0.750 Sergey Zborovskiy 0.734
Dawson Leedahl 0.749 Ryan Graves 0.633
Malte Stromwall 0.743
Gabriel Fontaine 0.737
Tim Gettinger 0.737

There is certainly no indication above, that would suggest that the Rangers won't be a popular team at the draft again next year.  With the likes of Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich, who were fringe players by the end of the year, it could be just a matter of how much ice-time they need to make the jump as well.  The Rangers will certainly have an impact next year and should continue to win, in theory.

Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft

Four players are all protected by their no-move clauses, including Rick Nash, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist, but as you can see, only two of them are pool worthy.  I wouldn't try to diminish the value of Staal and Girardi to the team, but that's $11.2 million in cap space unavailable to move and didn't produce.

Nevertheless, under the 7F/3D/1G protection structure, I'm thinking that guys like Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast and Nick Holden will be left to the Golden Knights, barring some behind closed doors negotiation.  Fast and Holden would be good candidates to move, given their talent and their relative age in the league.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

There's only one pool worthy free agent scheduled for this summer and that's forward Mika Zibanejad, who really fit in well with the team, since being acquired from the Senators last summer.  He'll be the guy that warrants the most attention from team management and he could get a nice raise from his 2017 cap hit of $2.625 million.

The 12 signed pool worthy players are coming in at $45.9 million against the salary cap for next season, leaving 11 spots and $28 million left to spend to fill in the gaps.  Let's not forget Staal and Girardi, leaving nine spots and now $16.8 million in space and then it gets a little tighter.  The Rangers have the better part of their roster taken care of, minus Zibanejad, so there shouldn't be many worries this off-season.

It's going to be tough for a young player to crack this Rangers lineup in the 2018 season, as they haven't been overly keen on pushing their youth into regular action too quickly, unless they have truly excelled their way to that point.  The better candidates may still be Nicklas Jensen, a 2011 1st round pick of the Canucks or Cristoval Nieves, a Rangers 2nd round pick in 2012.  Jensen has some NHL experience already, while Nieves has been honing his craft in the AHL lately.  You may want to just stick to the veterans next season.

Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft

The Rangers still have their 1st round pick and they will select from the 21st spot in the draft in June.  It's not going to be an easy spot to pick from, given that they could really use someone to bolster their talent pool outside of the big club.  I think the Rangers will try and find the best player available and according to a lot of the rankings I've seen across the web and the magazines, a kid like Nick Suzuki has dropped through my mock draft a bit, thanks to his size, but his brand of hockey is a lot more about tenacity and hard work, something that would look good on Broadway.

If I were the Rangers, I would try tinkering just a little bit this summer, much like the Zibanejad/Brassard trade, just one move trying to find that extra jump that boosts them a little bit further in the playoffs... you know, to championship levels.  If the Rangers opt to stay with the status quo, they will still be a pretty good team to pick from for us poolies, but I would expect much of the same as the past couple of years.  I don't think the drop off will come this year, the one I was panicking about last year at this time, everyone on the roster proved that they weren't ready to quit, but no one proved they were ready to take it to another level.