Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Afternoon Player Notes in the Playoffs (May 3)

Believe it or not, this series is only going into Game 3, despite getting started good and early.  The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders will finally open up in Brooklyn after a long layoff, series drawn up at 1-1 and there won't be any shortage of fresh legs out there.

Sounds like Josh Bailey is ready to return for the Islanders, which means that Ryan Strome is penciled to come out as a healthy scratch.  Bailey has two selections in the pool, while Strome has three, so if the pool is right... is this the right move for the Islanders?

The expectation is that the goaltending match-up doesn't change at this point... Ben Bishop for the Bolts, Thomas Greiss for the Isles.

San Jose is rolling along after their two wins at home, but this is kind of like what Nashville saw against Anaheim in the opening round, so they likely won't be afraid of dropping two games early, as they know that its possible to come back from it.  Okay, so the Ducks dropped their games at home to the Preds, but still... it's the same principle, just some key details are different.

There are no roster changes expected, as the walking wounded will continue to play for both teams and our starting goalies won't change here either.  Martin Jones and Pekka Rinne, head-to-head, once again.

The Central Division slugfest will continue tonight, this time in the Blues' barn in St. Louis, as the Dallas Stars bring their show on the road, hoping to light the lamp a few more times behind Brian Elliott.

The Blues will get a boost from their own crowd, as they try and grind down those Stars, who want to keep the pace up and their opponents on their heels.  It's a battle of wills in this series and momentum likely won't count for a whole lot, when it comes down to it.

Haven't seen confirmation of it yet, but since there was a Dallas loss, it is assumed that Antti Niemi will take to the Dallas crease again tonight.

Click here for the updated injury/news page on the website

Letang Banned For Game 4

Indeed, not long after the NHL Department of Player Safety came down on non-pool defenseman Brooks Orpik for a late hit the game before, Kristopher Letang was also the subject for his hit on Marcus Johansson on Monday night and was given a 1-game suspension for a high interfering hit.

As you can gather from the video below, Letang's late hit made significant head contact, which led to the suspension itself.  Fortunately for Letang, Johansson did finish the game or else the defenseman with a history or supplemental discipline may have had his suspension increased.

In this year's Playoff Pool, Letang is situated in Box 20 and was taken 18 times out of 50 entries, the most popular player in the box, out of the four remaining teams in the playoffs.  In eight games in these playoffs, Letang has 1 goal and 6 assists for 7 points.

In terms of the money spots, Brenda, in 3rd place, has Letang, and her team is only 3 points out of 2nd place money, so this could be a decent loss for her side, unless the Capitals win and extend the series to at least six games.

Pool Outlook for Columbus

After a very good 2015 season, the Columbus Blue Jackets had a lot of those pieces still in place, heading towards the 2016 season and there were some high, but fair, expectations on this team heading into the new year.  If anything, the 2016 season showed us all the fine line that the Jackets run on, when their depth might not be as good as other teams in their conference or division.

Injuries certainly played a big part of the lack of quality that the Jackets had suffered from this season, as Sergei Bobrovsky only figured into 37 games and defensemen Jack Johnson and David Savard missed some significant time as well, which really hurt their back end.

Management tried to throw this team a life preserver by making a blockbuster trade between themselves and the Predators, but by that time, any help that was added had more of a long-term benefit, than any short-term gain.

Still, the Blue Jackets can look at this 2016 season, find the flaws in their depth and address them for the 2017 season and maybe that fine line will get a little bit thicker and this team can last a little bit longer, compete harder and be there, when the playoffs come calling.  There is certainly lots there to be positive about.

The Jackets were well-represented in this year's hockey pool draft, so you could safely say that everyone felt that they had something to offer us poolies, trying to make a few extra bucks this year.  12 Jackets were taken in the first 14 rounds of the draft, but they were sort of hidden away at the Waiver Draft, no one picked or dropped in Week Nine, while in Week Eighteen, there was one of the youngsters picked up, so there was still some positivity out there somewhere.

When the final horn sounded on the year, there were still 12 Columbus players active in the pool, the only real changes came in the trade market through the year.

The team's big acquisition in the off-season, collecting Brandon Saad from the off-loading Blackhawks, came up trumps for the team, leading the side in points, tied with Cam Atkinson, with 53 points, but had 31 goals, compared to Atkinson's 27.  The two finished off the year, ranked 89th & 90th in overall pool scoring, which was a good reflection on where this team was going, but they really lacked that 1st round pick in talent, as these two would have been suited for the 4th round of the draft, when it was all said and done.

Boone Jenner, Scott Hartnell, Brandon Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg and Nick Foligno all rounded out the pool-worthy forwards, but you could argue that they could have been ordered a bit differently for better success.  Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard and Kevin Connauton were all worthy of being picked on defense, while Sergei Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo were both worthy, but neither finished in the top 30.  If you had Jackets this year, it wasn't them who were winning you the money, they were likely giving you reasonable depth.

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

The real heel of this team is on the blueline, maybe not so much from an offensive standpoint, even though it may not be as solid as some teams, it just may be as a whole.  If the Jackets can shore up their blueline over the Summer, I think there is a real chance that they can push for that wild card spot in the East.  The t will be tough and a pretty tough go in the East, but I think their core has what it takes to be a real contender for at least a playoff spot and all they need is to get into the show to be effective.

The loss of Sergei Bobrovsky to injury was a huge hole for the Blue Jackets and they had to rely on some young goaltending to get them through the tough spells.  The Jackets did shore up their blueline, but not until the middle of the season, when they acquired Seth Jones from Nashville, but by then, it was already too late.  The core attracted some attention, helped win them some games, but that Eastern Conference was tough and the Jackets didn't have enough to stay in the race.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Brandon Saad 6.000 David Savard 4.250 Sergei Bobrovsky 7.425
Brandon Dubinsky 5.850 Ryan Murray 2.825 Joonas Korpisalo 0.743
Nick Foligno 5.500
Scott Hartnell 4.750
Cam Atkinson 3.500
Boone Jenner 2.900
Alexander Wennberg 0.925
David Clarkson 5.250 Fedor Tyutin 4.500 Curtis McElhinney 0.800
Matt Calvert 2.200 Jack Johnson 4.357 Oscar Dansk 0.776
Jared Boll 1.700 Gabriel Carlsson 0.925
Gregory Campbell 1.500 Zach Werenski 0.925
Kerby Rychel 0.894 Dillon Heatherington 0.771
Sonny Milano 0.894 Dean Kukan 0.768
Paul Bittner 0.809 Cody Goloubef 0.750
Jordan Maletta 0.793 Blake Siebenaler 0.709
Justin Scott 0.751 Jamie Sifers 0.625
Brett Gallant 0.750 John Ramage 0.613
Kole Sherwood 0.750 Oleg Yevenko 0.575
Keegan Kolesar 0.723
Markus Hannikainen 0.718
Josh Anderson 0.709
Nick Moutrey 0.693
Oliver Bjorkstrand 0.678
Daniel Zaar 0.665

The Blue Jackets are one of those teams that have a lot of cap space tied up in players that were not pool worthy in the 2016 season, so it is questionable to think that they could make a push to be a better source of points in the 2017 season, with the current make-up they have.  Above are the signed players heading into next season and the top players were deemed pool-worthy last year, but you may adjust some thinking, especially in net, if Bobrovsky can stay healthy.

The Jackets are still high on a number of players in their system and their defense may get a real boost from Zach Werenski, who signed on from one year in college.  Werenski is a good sized offensive defenseman, but is still only 19 years old, so he should be one to watch and probably not pick next season, unless you're really feeling like a good gamble.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

And the third winner at the Draft Lottery on Saturday was these Jackets, as they moved up one position, from 4th to 3rd, and they will get a shot at Jesse Puljujarvi, who has been anywhere between 2nd and 3rd in the draft rankings, leading up to the off-season.  This kid has some slick hands and some good size and has the potential to be a franchise player as well, which should really lift this franchise up from where it has been floundering for the last few years.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Restricted free agency will be a busy season for the Jackets, who have a number of players in need of new deals moving forward.  Three of their pool-worthy defenders, Jones, Connauton and Prout, all need deals, while William Karlsson, who was on the verge of having a good year, will need a new deal to try and lift his stock up.

Columbus and the salary cap is an interesting situation, as their need for depth will meet some resistance from some large contracts they already have on the books.  When the team isn't getting good scoring years from David Clarkson, Fedor Tyutin or Jack Johnson, they look like big lumps against the cap, something that may need to be rectified, one way or another.  All of their signed players today, come in around $82.2 million, but of course, that's for 41 players.

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.

Morning Player Notes in the Draft (May 3)

There is no question that Pittsburgh rookie goalie Matt Murray is stealing the show in the Capitals/Penguins series, as another huge effort led to a huge 3-2 victory on Monday night and a 2-1 series lead.  Murray, a non-pool player this season, made 47 stops for the win.  Boy, is this kid making a case for next season or what?

Two goals in a minute in the 1st period was a great way to start for the Penguins, who added another one in the 2nd period and took a 3-0 lead into the final frame.  Then it was time to batten down the hatches and hold on for dear life, as the vaunted Capitals offense tried to come back, but fell one goal short in the end.

For notable players in the pool... Carl Hagelin earned the bonus point for credit on the game-winning goal, while Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist in the comeback attempt.  That's it.  That's all we've got.

News this morning suggests that Kris Letang will be on the carpet today at some point, for his crushing hit on Marcus Johansson in last night's game.  Letang was a marked man after that hit and now the league has their sights on him as well.  After Brooks Orpik's hit on Olli Maatta in Game 2, this is becoming a sensitive issue.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Afternoon Player Notes in the Playoffs (May 2)

Only one game on the docket tonight, as Game 3 between the Capitals and Penguins goes tonight at the Igloo in Pittsburgh.  Lots going on leading up to this one, as the Penguins will retain a little momentum from winning Game 2, they get to head home and both teams will be without key non-pool defensemen, so it will be very interesting to see how either team responds to these circumstances in Game 3.

The Capitals will be without physical defenseman Brooks Orpik for the next three games, thanks to his suspension for the high hit on Olli Maatta, who will be out on the other side for an undetermined amount of time.  Will Justin Schultz draw back in to the lineup tonight?  We'll just have to see.

Pool Outlook for Winnipeg

There were some pretty high expectations for the Winnipeg Jets in the 2016 season, none of which were met and the team found themselves as sellers at the trade deadline and the dynamic of this team going into the off-season had to be adjusted.

The Jets were being built from the crease outwards and they were pretty comfortable with their number one, their blueline was getting bigger and better and they were complimenting it with some fairly reasonable scoring up front... but that was all on paper.  It didn't quite work out that well for this team, as they went 35-39-8 and finished 25th overall in the standings.  A very poor showing, indeed.

The leadership core changed, as Andrew Ladd was dealt to Chicago at the deadline, Dustin Byfuglien was chosen as the guy that will stay long-term out of the two and now this team looks at their core group of youth and they have to think that they will be back in it before too long.

No team wants to finish poorly in the regular season, but what it does do is give a franchise a chance to make some changes and with a little bit of luck, those changes can expedite that process.

In the hockey pool this year, the Jets were a pretty popular team heading into the year.  13 Winnipeg players were taken in September, as both of their goalies to start the year were picked in the 2nd round and then it was a good mix of their scoring forwards and defensemen down the line.  The Jets added a player to the mix in Week Nine, as their third goalie joined the ranks and made an impact, while their numbers remained the same after Week Eighteen.  When it was all said and done, after the trade deadline, there was still 13 Jets on active rosters at the end of the season.

Blake Wheeler was the best of the bunch and he quietly had himself a damn fine season.  The 29-year old forward finished 16th overall in pool scoring, thanks to 78 points in all 82 games, which would make him into a 1st round pick, by the rankings.  He was taken with a 4th round pick in the draft, making him into quite the bargain pick.  Does this season finally concrete him in as a top end pick in the draft?

As for other pool worthy players from the Jets' organization, all three goalies finished in pool worthy spots, Connor Hellebuyck, Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson all finished within the top 54 keepers in the pool.  Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, Drew Stafford and rookie Nikolaj Ehlers were all worthy in the forward ranks, while Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba were all decent defenders for pool teams to rely on last season.

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

Today, this team is short of a guaranteed fireworks show, but if Nikolaj Ehlers is going to make an impact in the 2016 season, the Jets could go from a wild card team to a 2-3 team in the Central Division, no matter how difficult the Central may be going into next season.  The Jets have the makeup of a team that plays a very hard-nosed Western Conference game and one that can dominate the East, where they can make up a lot of points in the standings.  It's hard not to like where this team is going and I think the Jets will reward those who have faith in them.

There were undoubtedly some high hopes pinned on the young Danish rookie, I must admit, but the Jets did have a make-up that suggested that they were ready to grind out a tough season and make a go of it in the Central.  The Central was ridiculous this year, as the Stars ran a huge offense, the Blackhawks didn't suffer, the Blues were strong and the Avalanche added some flavour, for sure.  This team still has lots of positives to build from, but they didn't have the showing that I thought they would around this same time last year.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Blake Wheeler 5.600 Dustin Byfuglien 7.600 Connor Hellebuyck 0.668
Bryan Little 4.700 Tyler Myers 5.500 Ondrej Pavelec 3.900
Mathieu Perreault 3.000
Drew Stafford 4.350
Nikolaj Ehlers 0.894
Alexander Burmistrov 1.550 Toby Enstrom 5.750 Eric Comrie 0.637
Andrew Copp 0.925 Ben Chiarot 0.850
Chris Thorburn 1.200 Mark Stuart 2.625
Marko Dano 0.925 Paul Postma 0.888
Nic Petan 0.758 Joshua Morrissey 0.863
Anthony Peluso 0.675 Jan Kostalek 0.693
Scott Kosmachuk 0.720
Chase De Leo 0.875
Axel Blomqvist 0.583
Kyle Connor 0.925
Brendan Lemieux 0.870
Jimmy Lodge 0.668
Ryan Olsen 0.619

The Jets do have a lot of cash tied up in their big stars and all of these guys are signed on for next season and those top guys will be expected to be in the pool again next season.  A player like Toby Enstrom, does stand out as a guy that should have been pool worthy, but his season in 2016 was a bit disappointing and he needs to bump his numbers up to be worth that big cap hit.

The Jets are not short on young talent and the main guy to watch out for in training camp next season is Kyle Connor.  The NCAA standout was signed to a deal earlier in April and there are some pretty high expectations for the 19-year old, who was taken in the 1st round of the 2015 draft.  If he is going to forego some school years, you have to think that the Jets see a player that can play right away.  Don't forget about Josh Morrissey, who played in one game in 2016, he may figure into the mix one way or the other this year as well.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

You know that luck I was talking about earlier?  Well, the Jets had a bunch of it on Saturday night, as the Jets moved up from the 6th pick overall to the 2nd pick overall and it is very likely that they will be able to find some more offensive punch with a kid like Patrick Laine.  Laine has been dazzling in the Finnish Elite League, showing off all kinds of skills in shooting and skating, so it will be a quick jump from one men's league to another.  The Jets will really have a prize to covet for years to come.

The Jets also have the Blackhawks' pick in the 1st round and with Chicago already being eliminated from the playoffs, which appears to be the 26th overall pick.  That could give them another top prospect in any one of the positions, stocking up their cabinets even more.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Jets are going to be working hard on a few restricted free agents this Summer, as Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Michael Hutchinson are due up for new deals and two of those three deals are likely going to make a serious impact.  Unrestricted free agency won't take too much away from the Jets' roster this Summer, especially from a hockey pool perspective.  Depending on what kind of deals get handed out this Summer, it will be interesting to see how much of a player the Jets will be in the free agent market.

An early count of signed players brings us to $59.8 million in cap hits already for next year, which looks good against a $71.4 million cap ceiling from last season, but we must remember, the Jets are a budget team and likely won't spend to the cap, unless they have a real push for the playoffs.

The 2017 season for the Jets shouldn't be about the learning curve, but it likely will be.  They are going to install a whole bunch more youth into this lineup and trying to translate into wins immediately is going to be very difficult.  It's not impossible, but it is very improbable.  If there was one element to this team that leads me to believe that they could do something special next season, it would be their blueline.  Extending Byfuglien long-term, keeping Myers around, Enstrom won't hurt them and then re-signing Trouba will be key.  These are the guys that will make or break the Jets, as they should have the goaltending to compete and then it is a bunch of youthful enthusiasm up front.  In that Central Division, they'll have their work cut out for them.

Morning Player Notes in the Playoffs (May 2)

Getting the early jump didn't do a great deal for the Stars on Sunday afternoon, as they scored early to take a 1-0 lead, because the Blues scored three straight before the end of the 1st period to chase Kari Lehtonen from the net, as Antti Niemi started the 2nd period.  The goalie change seemed to at least spark the Stars into tightening the game up, as the 2nd period went without a goal and the game was 3-1 going into the 3rd period.

Cue the comeback!  A streaking Mattias Janmark made it 3-2 early in the 3rd period, then with less than three to go, Jamie Benn tied the game in a late scramble and off to overtime we went!

You would think that all this Stars coverage would mean that Dallas took a 2-0 series lead in this one, right?  Wrong!  David Backes saved the day for the St. Louis Blues, scoring a power play goal in overtime to even  up the series, as it heads back to St. Louis this week.  What a game!

Backes finished with 3 points, including the bonus, while Robby Fabbri and Kevin Shattenkirk each had a couple of assists in the win.  On the losing side, Cody Eakin had 3 assists and Jamie Benn finished with a goal and an assist.

This game was a touch better for the hockey pool than the opener, hopefully, they can ramp it up just a little bit more for our purposes.

The San Jose Sharks are now the only team in the second round to hold a 2-0 series advantage, thanks to some late-game heroics from the big guys in San Jose.

Joe Pavelski scored to break a 1-1 tie with less than three minutes to go and then Joe Thornton added an empty-netter with under one minute to go, making it into a 3-1 hockey game.  Ryan Johansen did put one back with four seconds to go, which made Thornton's into the eventual winning goal of the game, but there isn't any bonus point for scoring the heart-breaking goal of the game, which was definitely Pavelski's.

Martin Jones was solid again for the Sharks, as he made 37 saves for the win.  Pavelski still finished with a 3-point night (1 goal, 2 assists), as did Thornton, picking up the bonus point and let's not forget about Logan Couture, who had a goal and an assist as well.

The Sharks are propelling the leading teams that much further ahead in this playoff pool, because they are paying back those teams that picked them up in spades, with all of this scoring.  At least someone is scoring, that's a relief.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Pool Outlook for Toronto

The Toronto Maple Leafs were preaching for patience at the beginning of the 2016 season, they were going to go out and make some slower, more calculated moves this season, helping to provide more building blocks for the future and it would appear that they did just that and in fine fashion.  The Maple Leafs finished dead last in the NHL standings this year, according to plan, one might assume, so they put themselves in a great position to pick no lower than 4th overall at the Entry Draft and hopefully get that player that is the foundation for the right movement for this franchise.

There are some identifiable pieces to this Maple Leafs team that should give some optimism to their scores of faithful and the prospect of adding a real blue chip player this June has to be wetting the appetite for the 2017 season already, even though we don't officially know who that is, as of yet, but we can certainly guess, can't we?

With the Maple Leafs set to have a huge centennial season, full of celebration, memories and Hall of Fame player appearances, does Toronto have enough in their reserves to put a decent product on the ice?  The pomp and circumstance will certainly be there, but for us poolies, are we really going to get excited about picking Toronto players?

Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs had a pretty good contingency in the hockey pool draft last September, as 11 players were taken from the centre of the universe, two goalies, six forwards and three defensemen.  It was also surprising that despite their poor year, none of those players were dropped in Week Nine and two were picked up.  In Week Eighteen, one was dropped, but none were picked up and thanks to trades through the season, nine Maple Leafs were on a pool roster when the final horn sounded in the regular season.

Thanks to having 27 teams in last season's pool draft, to be considered pool worthy, players had to rank in the top 216 of forwards, 108 of defensemen and 54 of goalies.  Out of those pool worthy rankings, the Maple Leafs did have nine players at the end of the year, so the pool was fairly spot on.  Nazem Kadri led the way for the remaining Leafs, ranking 150th overall in pool scoring, thanks to 45 points in 76 games for the club and his

P-A Parenteau, Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk and Peter Holland all finished as pool worthy forwards, while Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner were expected to be pool worthy on their blueline and didn't disappoint, while Jonathan Bernier finished 38th among all goalies, barely making him pool-worthy by the end of the year.

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

Can the Leafs turn it around in 2016? No. The simple prediction, I suppose. No, if they tear down this team, they will have to either retool this team for a mediocre year, but with the impression that I'm getting from management, they may be very comfortable with a tanking year in 2016, although the prize for tanking or the lottery will not nearly be as kind of them. I fully expect the Leafs to play a lot of youth in their system and offer some opportunity for ice-time to guys who may not see much elsewhere. Free agency won't be kind to them this year, so the real indicator of how well they'll do in the season is in the trade market. Good luck!

This one was easy, I suppose.  No matter how much the media from the centre of the universe may have hoped and dreamed for their beloved buds to be much better than they are, they weren't and it makes the off-season all that much more interesting.  We did get to see a lot of youth, closer to the end of the season, as the likes of William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and Garret Sparks all made appearances and showed us all a glimmer of 'maybe.'

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Nazem Kadri 4.500 Morgan Rielly 5.000 Jonathan Bernier 4.150
James Van Riemsdyk 4.250 Jake Gardiner 4.050
Tyler Bozak 4.200
Leo Komarov 2.950
Nathan Horton 5.300 Jared Cowen 3.100 Kasimir Kaskisuo 0.925
Joffrey Lupul 5.250 Stephane Robidas 3.000 Antoine Bibeau 0.655
Brooks Laich 4.500 Matt Hunwick 1.200
Milan Michalek 4.000 Travis Dermott 0.925
Colin Greening 2.650 Rinat Valiev 0.778
Mitchell Marner 0.925 Viktor Loov 0.693
Zach Hyman 0.900
William Nylander 0.894
Frederik Gauthier 0.894
Kasperi Kapanen 0.894
Andreas Johnson 0.751
Nikita Soshnikov 0.737
Connor Brown 0.718
Andrew Nielsen 0.701
Tobias Lindberg 0.693
Dmytro Timashov 0.692
Brendan Leipsic 0.653
Byron Froese 0.575

This roster has all kinds of flexibility, heading into the Summer, as the players that are separated at the top are your pool worthy players, while there are lots of players signed on and ready to make their mark on a team that is looking to make some positive strides in 2017.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are suddenly not short on young talent in their organization, as they brought up a whole bunch at the end of the 2016 season to show off their wares to the coaching staff and fans.  Looking at that group above, you might want to start looking at guys like Nylander or Kapanen for next season, but also keep a close eye on Mitchell Marner, who has all kinds of scoring talent.

Oh yeah, they might have one more young player to keep an eye out for next season as well.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

On Saturday night, the Maple Leafs had the best odds of winning the NHL Draft Lottery and the odds fell in their favour, as they stayed the course and were picking 1st overall, which appears to be a pretty easy pick this year.  The consensus number one prospect in the ranks is Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs truly need a franchise player, as Kadri is not that guy and they could really use a blue chip forward to go with their top two blueliners.

The Leafs also have the Penguins' pick this year, thanks to the Phil Kessel deal in the off-season last Summer,  Where they get to use that pick depends on where the Penguins finish, but they get another good chance at a great player in the opening round.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Leafs have some more decisions to make, leading up to the 2017 season, as free agency will also allow for this club to have some flexibility.  Parenteau, Brad Boyes, Michael Grabner and Nick Spaling all lead the UFA class out of town, while the team will hum and haw over some restricted free agents, like Peter Holland, Martin Marincin and Garret Sparks.

Now that the team will likely have Matthews in tow for next season, there might be a pretty good push by the Leafs to pick up some free agent talent, if it is available in July, which could be good for business.

As for the salary cap, the number hasn't been announced yet and we probably won't see it until just before the draft, but if it remains close to the $71.4 million that we saw this past season, they will have lots of money to play with, since they will probably have a good number of entry-level deals in their lineup.  With Nathan Horton's $5.3 million going back on the Long Term Injured Reserve for the 2017 season, the combined total of all the players signed above is only $66.8 million and they'll have to pare down to a 23-man roster from there.

There's no question that Auston Matthews is going to be a game-changer for the Maple Leafs, but like Connor McDavid and Jake Eichel last year, they were not immediately changing the landscape of their teams, as there is still a lot to build around these guys on their respective lineups.  Nevertheless, with all the celebrations that are planned for Toronto next season, they will want to put an entertaining product on the ice, which they should.  Will it win a bunch of games and get the team back into the playoffs right away?  Probably not, but that's just with the lineup they'd have from the list above.  I would imagine that this team will prep for a big year, hit the free agent market and give Matthews someone to play with.  Steven Stamkos, perhaps?

Noon Player Notes in the Playoffs (May 1)

The second game in the St. Louis/Dallas series certainly has some appeal to it and the 1pm MT start should give it a different readiness to the game, which will certainly make things interesting. It will certainly be a race to see which team can get their legs moving fastest, as the Blues will want to punish the Stars physically, while the Stars will want to skate circles around their opponents and the team that comes out sluggish, likely won't be in this one for very long.

With the Dallas win in Game 1, we can certainly expect Kari Lehtonen in the net for the Stars this afternoon, while it should be Brian Elliott in the St. Louis net, since his side wasn't blown out of the water in that opening game loss.

In the late game tonight, a 6pm MT start, the Nashville Predators will have to find an adequate response for being trounced in the 3rd period of Game 1, by giving the San Jose Sharks a dollop of what got the Predators there, more of a 60-minute effort from top to bottom in this lineup.  The Sharks showed off some real bite on Friday night and they will carry a lot of momentum from the home win, something they won't want to relinquish in Game 2, trying to make full use of their home-ice advantage tonight.

Predators forward Craig Smith missed Game 1 due to a lower-body injury, but it is unclear whether or not he will be cleared for a return on Sunday night.  His status is currently listed as day-to-day, which should come as no surprise.  His presence would be clutch for Nashville, if they want to split this series, heading home.

Although Pekka Rinne didn't quite finish Game 1, he is expected to be the starter for the Predators in Game 2, although there are some whispering doubts about the whole thing.  Stay tuned.  Of course, in the Sharks goal, we'll see Martin Jones tonight, who has been great in these playoffs, so far.

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Morning Player Notes in the Playoffs (May 1)

Game 2 between the Penguins and the Capitals was not short on end-to-end skating, as both teams were going at a pretty reasonable pace, but the goaltending was quite superb in this one and it really kept the scoring down to a minimum.

In the end, it was a clever deflection from non-pool forward Eric Fehr of the Penguins, with less than five minutes to go in the 3rd, which was the deciding goal, in a 2-1 win for the visitors, evening up the series at a game a piece, before heading back to Pittsburgh.

Carl Hagelin and Marcus Johansson captured the first two goals of the game, thankfully for the pool, but with a Matt Murray win, there were no multiple-point players in the pool in this one, a rather dull game for the standings.

Box 22 defenseman Dmitry Orlov was a healthy scratch in Game 2 for the Capitals, as his lack of offense on the scoresheet has obviously not sat well with the coach.  His 1 assist in seven games could have been better, so he came out.  With a possible Brooks Orpik suspension upcoming, there is a good chance he'll draw back in for Game 3 on Monday.

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