Thursday, May 31, 2018

Pool Outlook for Nashville

The 2017 Western Conference champions were riding quite the wave of expectations and they didn't seem overly bothered by that.  The strength of their team, coming from the crease outwards, really believed that they were up to the task of reliving some of their playoff success last season and they were really flexing their collective muscles in the 2018 regular season.  The Predators finished as the league's best team, winning the President's Trophy with 117 points, which led them to an opening round match-up against the Colorado Avalanche.  The Avs gave them a challenge, but in six games, the Preds were through to the next round, facing an even bigger challenge, the league's 2nd-best team, the Winnipeg Jets.

The Predators and Jets put on quite the performance, but in the end, the seventh game, Winnipeg emerged victorious, bouncing last year's Western Conference representation in the finals two rounds early.  A disappointing finish to the season, indeed, but you can still look upon this Nashville team and be sure that they have what it takes to be a contender for the next few years.

The pride of the Predators has to be the way that they have been built over the years, there is a very solid foundation of players on this team's roster and they have also been very good at the draft, adding complimentary talent, and then choosing well in free agency.  It's hard not to like what this team has done and you have to believe that they'll be strong for a while yet.

Predators number one, Pekka Rinne, again led the team in hockey pool points, appearing in 59 games this season, winning 42 games and posting 101 points, 5th overall in the league in pool scoring and 3rd among all goalies.  He was a brick wall for this team in the regular season and a top pick at this past year's draft.

The Predators also did well using their number two guy, Juuse Saros more often to keep Rinne fresh, and he was good enough to be a pool worthy keeper in 2018 as well.  In total, there were 11 more skaters included in the hockey pool conversation from Nashville, including forwards Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, Kyle Turris, Kevin Fiala and Calle Jarnkrok, while defensemen P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis rounded out a very potent offense from the blueline.  The Predators were not short on scoring in 2018, finishing 7th in the NHL in goals for, not to mention 2nd in goals against, which has you in firm belief that this team was worthy of top spot in the regular season standings.

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

Having been built from the back out, the Predators have a strong shot at repeating much of their playoff success, but the Western Conference is a tricky maze to work their way through and it remains anyone's game to take, riding that hot goaltender and strong system. The Predators still don't have that consistent top six, in terms of scoring, so their regular season still may not be too amazing, but all they have to do is make the playoffs and let their crowd guide them deep into the playoffs. If they can get their hands on one more bonafide scoring forward, on top of a healthy Ryan Johansen, I would like them a lot more to repeat in the West, but that'll be a tough task with Vegas now coming on the scene.

The Predators were able to add from within, as Fiala was finally breaking out as a good offensive option, not to mention adding Turris in the 3-way deal with Colorado and Ottawa in November, so they were able to get more talent up front and they were a little more stable, in terms of their top six or even their top nine.  They were able to take their biggest rivals in the Central Division to seven games in the playoffs, but it just wasn't to be for this team and it wasn't for a lack of trying.  They were beat by a good team and they played well themselves.  Disappointing, but the potential for more success is definitely there.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I don't think I was the only one questioning whether or not Viktor Arvidsson was going to be able to repeat his breakout performance in 2017, but he did just that.  61 points the season before, 61 points in 2018 as well, so there you have it.  He was able to do it and I would feel a little more confident going into this next season, likely looking for the 55-to-60 point range again, keeping expectations level, as this is more of a scoring committee team, than a one-man army.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Ryan Johansen 8.000 P.K. Subban 9.000 Pekka Rinne 7.000
Filip Forsberg 6.000 Roman Josi 4.000 Niclas Westerholm 0.826
Kyle Turris 6.000 Mattias Ekholm 3.750
Viktor Arvidsson 4.250 Ryan Ellis 2.500
Craig Smith 4.250 Matt Irwin 0.675
Nick Bonino 4.100 Yannick Weber 0.675
Calle Jarnkrok 2.000 Anthony Bitetto 0.650
Austin Watson 1.100
Eeli Tolvanen 0.894
Kevin Fiala 0.863
Frederick Gaudreau 0.667
Tyler Gaudet 0.650
Colton Sissons 0.625

The Predators have the better part of their core already signed on, which seems to be a bit of pattern among these top teams.  They know what it has taken to get to the top and they are sticking with their clubs, the way they are, at the moment.  Nashville already looks strong for next season, looking to only a minimal amount of work to keep the momentum strong.  This could be good for us poolies.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Only one pool worthy player is heading to free agency for the Predators, in backup goalie Juuse Saros, and he's only a restricted free agent, but he'll likely get himself a raise, since he was more than an adequate number two guy in 2018.

The current cap situation is positive for the Predators, currently holding $5.4 million in space against the current $75 million cap ceiling, but with the ceiling going up by at least $3 million, they do hold a great deal of space to help tinker with their depth, if necessary.

It's hard not to circle back to Eeli Tolvanen at this point, as his entry-level deal was signed at the end of the regular season, but the Predators were not prepared to burn off any of those years, by giving him time in the playoffs, so his time on the ice with the big club was limited to only three games in the end, where he failed to register a point.  Tolvanen is scouted to be a natural goal scorer and there are going to be some high expectations on him in the 2019 season, something a good summer of training could see through to the end.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft

I think you can say that the Predators overpaid for forward Ryan Hartman at the deadline, when trading with the Chicago Blackhawks, as they didn't get much of a return for him on the ice and a top prospect and this year's 1st round pick went for him.  That has to be disappointing.  You probably are not hearing the Blackhawks complain too loudly though.

With the 27th pick in the draft, I have the Blackhawks selecting Halifax Mooseheads centre Benoit-Olivier Groulx, who has been tapped as a safe pick, good at being a two-way player and should be able to play anywhere between the 2nd line or a grinding 3rd line.  That sounds like the kind of kid that the Chicago coaching staff could be all over.

The Predators' foundation is very steady, built strong to last for a few seasons, barring an absolute collapse or some very poor trade choices.  The core of this group is still exceptionally young, as the average age of their pool worthy players last season is only 26.6 years old, which means they have plenty of time to work their way back to a shot at the Cup before too long.  When you consider that they could very well be adding a kid like Tolvanen to their mix, that average age goes down yet again.  This is going to be a good team again in the 2019 season and one that should be highly considered, when you're picking your hockey pool team.

Morning Playoff Notes (May 31)

By the score line alone, you can tell that both the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights were looking to tighten things up and special teams did play a huge role in Game 2, but possibly none bigger than the Capitals penalty kill in the 3rd period.

With Washington up 3-2 in the final frame, their penalty kill was put under duress, with both Tom Wilson and Lars Eller in the box, giving the Golden Knights a two man advantage, which was killed magnificently, with Braden Holtby standing tall and leading the troops.

Holtby had to be great in Game 2 and he was, making 37 saves for the eventual victory, including a 10-bell save with less than three minutes to go, keeping the Golden Knights at bay in their own barn.  The 3-2 score stood up to be the final and this series now heads back to Washington for the weekend, tied at 1-1.

Brooks Orpik was credited with the eventual winning goal, scored in the 2nd period, giving him a 2-point night, while Lars Eller had himself another great night, picking up a goal and 2 assists, while Andre Burakovsky also had a pair of assists to be notable in this game.

Injury news in this one, as the Capitals lost the services of one of their top scoring forwards early on, as Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the 1st period with an upper-body injury, after taking a big hit from Brayden McNabb.  There was no update on his condition after the game, but we're keeping a close eye on this one.

Brenda's team continues to lead in the Cup Finals with 13 points through two games, with big props going to the Orpik winner in this one, giving her team another bonus point and her team is now 2 points out of 2nd place, not that it would do her much good in the end.  The pool isn't paying for 2nd place.

Tony's team is holding steady in 1st place, as it gave up those early points gained in Game 1, but still holds a 20-point advantage over Neil's side.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Goalie Announcements (May 30)

Braden Holtby versus Marc-Andre Fleury
Well, needless to say, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals was not a goaltending showcase, by any stretch of the imagination.  Neither Holtby or Fleury had much help, as shooting and passing lanes were not closed down by their defense, but the Golden Knights got the best of the Capitals in the opening game, in a 6-4 victory, and I wouldn't hesitate to think that tonight's Game 2 will be much different.

I am expecting the jitters to be out of the system of both teams and both goalies and they'll be really looking to close each other down tonight, likely trying to push through on special teams. 

The goaltending match-up between Holtby and Fleury is quite a small battle in this year's hockey pool, 1st place Tony has Fleury, 3rd place Buddy has Holtby and 7th place Thor has Fleury as well... that's it!  Only three pool teams have goalies in this series.  It's almost not even worth writing about anymore.  In fact, this will likely be the last goalie post of the year, barring a change of personnel in any one of the following games for whatever reason.

Pool Outlook for Boston

After a slow start to the Boston Bruins' regular season, they finally found their legs midway through the year and they became a very dominant side down the stretch, working their way back up the standings in the Atlantic Division to finish 2nd and earn themselves a 1st round match-up against their rivals from Toronto.  That opening round series went seven games and the Bruins were eventually victorious and they took that momentum into the next round, where they faced off against the Lightning.  The momentum was good for one game, but the Lightning were just too skilled and determined, as they swept the final four games and ended the Bruins' season in five games.

It took a while, but the Bruins' best players needed the time to get their legs underneath them, but once they did, they had one of the more dominant top lines in the game, as Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak took the game by storm and they imposed their will on most nights.  It was too bad, for their sake, that the Lightning had an answer for them or else they could be the ones in the Stanley Cup Finals these days, they were looking that good.

Things were looking quite questionable for the Bruins heading into the summer last year, as there were a number of question marks about the team that needed answering.  When it came down to it though, their best players were their best players and they didn't look out of place in the overall standings.

The trials and tribulations of Brad Marchand in the 2018 season were very well documented.  Injuries in November and another lengthy suspension in January limited his season to only 68 games for the Bruins, but he was a dominant offensive force, finishing with 34 goals and 85 points, finishing with one of the best scoring rates in the league and 18th overall in pool scoring.  His antics may have continued into the playoffs, but so did his scoring, but again, it was the Lightning, capable of shutting him and his line down, made for their eventual downfall.  Marchand has been excellent in the last couple seasons, but he does come with a warning label, take at your own risk.

The Bruins were very active in the scoring department, finishing with 14 players in the hockey pool conversation.  Pastrnak and Bergeron were not very far behind Marchand up front, while Danton Heinen, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, Riley Nash, Rick Nash and David Backes were all among the pool worthy forwards.  On defense, Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara led the charge, while both goalies, Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin were among the top 50 at their position.  The Bruins offered up some good depth in the year and it is a promising sign moving forward into the 2019 season.

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

The Bruins were a tough team to read heading into last season and not a lot has changed. The influx of youth has been a big positive for the Bruins, both on the ice with their performances and off the ice with their cap hits. The Bruins are retooling more than they are rebuilding, which could work in their favour, but there have been a number of teams that have tried it and it's a slow burn out of the playoff picture, year after year. If Bruins management can identify some pieces that could move and find some more compatible pieces to play with the current roster, they have a much better chance at making the playoffs again. No guarantees on that, however, as teams may not be keen to trade for some of Boston's cast offs. If none of that happens, then it will be put on the shoulders of Rask and Marchand again and that's a tall task, two seasons in a row.

The Bruins were able to do more from within their organization, like adding young players like Heinen and DeBrusk to their everyday roster and having them excel in their roles and then the Bruins went out and spent a ton on Rick Nash at the deadline, which didn't necessarily help them much, since the power forward spent the better part of the stretch run on the injured list and really couldn't shake off the rust for the opening round of the playoffs.  Still, the best players carried the team, Marchand got some more help from Pastrnak and the Bruins looked great.  It was a tall task in the Atlantic Division, but the Bruins were up to it, much to their own credit.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I was expecting a little bit more out of Charlie McAvoy in the 2018 season, but the 20-year old was still an effective everyday defender for the Bruins, finishing with 7 goals and 32 points in 63 games this season, hampered by a couple of health issues in the New Year.  He probably could have hit those projected numbers, if he didn't miss those 19 games.  He's going to round out to be a very good offensive defenseman in the coming years and a hockey pool staple, indeed.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
David Krejci 7.250 Torey Krug 5.250 Tuukka Rask 7.000
Patrice Bergeron 6.875 Zdeno Chara 5.000 Zane McIntyre 0.650
David Pastrnak 6.667 Adam McQuaid 2.750
Brad Marchand 6.125 Kevan Miller 2.500
David Backes 6.000 Charlie McAvoy 0.917
Ryan Donato 0.900 Jakub Zboril 0.863
Danton Heinen 0.873 Brandon Carlo 0.789
Jake DeBrusk 0.863
Joonas Koppanen 0.768
Peter Cehlarik 0.743
Noel Acciari 0.725
Jordan Szwarz 0.650

11 of the team's 14 pool worthy players are already signed on for the 2019 season, which means that the Bruins should be well-versed in team chemistry and depth for the coming year, which should also bode well for their chances at the playoffs and possibly a strong.  More importantly though, they should be a good team to pick from, even in the later rounds, when you're looking for sneaky picks, if there are any of them left.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Anton Khudobin leads the unrestricted free agent class for the Bruins, followed by both Nash's, Rick and Riley, and the Bruins will have to pick and choose wisely, if they are going to want to continue with any of these guys moving forward.  They paid quite the ransom to rent Rick at the deadline, but his salary demands may still be out of the team's range.

I currently have the Bruins with a 21-man roster above and with some retained salary and buyouts on the books, this is leaving them with only $6.9 million left under the current cap, which has recently been said to be going up to at least $78 million, a $3 million raise.  That would certainly help this team (and a lot of teams) out this summer, making sure they get all their required talent under contract.

22-year old forward Ryan Donato made quite the impression in his 12 games with the club at the end of the regular season, scoring 5 goals and 9 points and he'll be a top target for those who like to choose from the rookie class at the hockey pool draft.  Donato looked like an everyday pro with the team, in the Bruins' style, which made him a great fit early on.  He played pretty well at the Olympics for the USA and once he finished his NCAA career at Harvard, he was inserted immediately at the NHL level and he looked very good.  I'm expecting big things from him.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft

Unfortunately, that huge ransom paid to the New York Rangers for the rental of Rick Nash, included the Bruins' 1st round pick in this year's entry draft and this gives the Rangers another pick, their 2nd of three picks in the opening round, as they have done well to try and expedite their rebuilding process.

I already have the Rangers selecting a defenseman in this draft, so with the Bruins' pick, 26th overall, I am looking for them to add some offensive flair up front, taking Russian forward Grigori Denisenko, who is described to be a highly-skilled player, but needs to tone down some of the on-ice antics that occasionally cost his team.  He sounds like the kind of guy that could be a star on Broadway.

The Bruins have rumbled down some rocky roads in the last few seasons, but they have seemingly managed just fine and now they have a top line that should have a little bit of staying power for another couple seasons, at least.  Their blueline is slowly getting younger, although Zdeno Chara is set to come back for the 2019 season, but his role is decreasing, as the younger players are getting more experience.  Tuukka Rask still showed that he has gas left in the tank for another long ride, so he should still be good at 31 years old.  I think there is still enough in this Boston team to keep themselves very competitive next season, comfortably reaching the playoffs and then pushing to get deep.  If they can keep that youth movement churning out good young prospects, they'll be in good shape for a long time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Pool Outlook for Toronto

Much of the talk already into the Toronto Maple Leafs' off-season has been about the changing of the management team and how the organization has finally handed the reins to the young assistant GM, Kyle Dubas, while long-time hockey people like Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter have left the organization in a huff.  It's not like the Maple Leafs had a terrible 2018 season either, it is more about the natural progression through the years, as the team's President, Brendan Shanhan, seemed to have a plan for Dubas and now it's coming to fruition.  Will it make them better?  It's hard to say, they're not so bad right now.

The Leafs finished 7th in the league standings, which is a darn good year, falling short of an Atlantic Division title by 7 points.  Their youthful core did very well to impress everyone yet again and they did so on a more consistent basis, which means this upswing for the team is likely going to continue for a few more years, at least.

The Leafs play an exciting brand of hockey, tied for 2nd in the NHL in goals for with 277, but they still lack that bit of experience that would have helped them through a tough opening round playoff series against the playoff-ready Boston Bruins.  Toronto took Boston to seven games, but couldn't quite get the job done, but you have to know that they're pretty darn close.  That killer instinct is coming and it might be here really soon.

The backbone of this Maple Leafs team is Frederik Andersen, who has now posted back-to-back seasons as the team's top hockey pool point-getter.  In the 2018 season, the Dane appeared in 66 contests, picking up 38 wins and 87 points, which was good enough for 15th overall in hockey pool scoring and 4th among all goalies.  Andersen doesn't seem to mind carrying the load for this team and they seem to enjoy playing in front of him.  It has been a great mix, so far.

In total, the Maple Leafs had 13 players worthy of being picked in the pool and that included both goalies, since Curtis McElhinney proved to be a really good number two guy, appearing in 18 games for the club this season.  Up front, Mitch Marner led the way for all Toronto forwards, followed by Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, James Van Reimsdyk, Patrick Marleau, Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman.  On defense, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey were the only three worth mentioning here, which isn't a lot, but they were effective.  The youth movement is there in Toronto and it's worth picking up on, if you haven't already.

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

The Toronto Maple Leafs put a lot of eggs in the freshman basket in the 2017 season and it took a lot of teams by surprise. This will not be the case in the 2018 season, as teams will be ready for these guys and there will be better game plans set for them, especially as we go deeper and deeper into the season. Matthews and Zaitsev are the better bets to avoid the jinx, but it isn't a sure thing that they'll have the same seasons in the NHL either, while Marner and Nylander could face the struggles of some, if not larger, expectations, put upon them by the fans and the media. If there was a playoff team in the Eastern Conference that could fall out, it would be Toronto right now, as they wait for this foundation of youth to settle into their roles moving forward.

I clearly underestimated this team last season, but for good reason... we've all seen those second year jitters before.  Besides some upper-body/shoulder problems, Matthews was good, while Zaitsev suffered with injury too.  The Leafs continued to trend upwards, which looked really good on them and bad for me, since I didn't believe that they could do it in their second season together.  This is a strong group, clearly, and once they had a couple more pieces, they'll be very dangerous.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I was looking closely at what Auston Matthews was going to do for an encore to his rookie season and averaging a little over a point-per-game was pretty well what I was expecting.  I'm sure most Toronto fans were hoping that he would play more than 62 games, just to see how good he was going to be through a full season.  This kid is the real deal and a pillar to which the Leafs will be more than happy to build their franchise on.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Patrick Marleau 6.250 Morgan Rielly 5.000 Frederik Andersen 5.000
Nathan Horton 5.300 Nikita Zaitsev 4.500 Curtis McElhinney 0.850
Nazem Kadri 4.500 Jake Gardiner 4.050
Matt Martin 2.500 Ron Hainsey 3.000
Zach Hyman 2.250 Igor Ozhiganov 0.925
Connor Brown 2.100 Timothy Liljegren 0.925
Auston Matthews 0.925 Calle Rosen 0.925
Par Lindholm 0.925 Travis Dermott 0.863
Pierre Engvall 0.925
Carl Grundstrom 0.925
Trevor Moore 0.925
Mitchell Marner 0.894
Kasperi Kapanen 0.863
Jeremy Bracco 0.843

There is an expectation of a few changes coming to the Toronto lineup for the 2019 season, as free agency will play a big role on their roster this summer.  The team does have the bulk of their pool worthy players coming back for next season, so there will be plenty to choose from in blue and white, but you may want to play close attention to some of their lesser-known names, as the Leafs have already been busy putting pen to paper with previous draft picks and European free agents.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak appear to be on their way to the open market this summer, as the two unrestricted free agents have been rumoured to be on the trading block all year, mostly because of their likely salary demands, versus what the Leafs will be able to afford long-term. 

William Nylander is the first of many long-term pieces for the Leafs that will need deals over the next 13 or 14 months, as he will hit restricted free agency this summer and he'll need a new deal to play, while some of his young teammates will be looking for extensions this year.

At this very moment, things don't look too bad for the Leafs, as the 24-man roster above, including Nathan Horton's injured cap hit, has barely gotten above the salary cap floor for last season, so they'll have some flexibility with their spending this summer.  Matthews, Marner and Kapanen will all be RFAs next summer and that's where a lot of that flexibility will need to be stretched over.  We'll be seeing and hearing a lot from this Leafs team in the coming months.

The Maple Leafs are going to need some extra help at the back in the coming season and it might be high time that Calle Rosen gets a shot at one of those key spots on the blueline, as he spent the bulk of last season on the farm with the Marlies.  The undrafted European free agent put up some decent numbers for the Marlies in 2018 and even had a brief stop up with the big club, when needed.  At 24 years old, this would be the right time to see if he's NHL-ready now, if at all.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
Toronto is one of the couple teams in the bottom quarter of the 1st round to still have their pick this summer and they'll be selecting from the 25th position.  The team's forwards are still a point of strength, so I can see the Leafs continuing to try and build from the back end out, so I can see them taking a kid like Mattias Samuelsson.  The son of Kjell Samuelsson, already has most of his father's size and probably exceeds him in skill.  This kid was a part of the US Development squad in 2018 and put up some very reasonable numbers, which would make him a pretty good fit for a somewhat undersized blueline in Toronto.

Well, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to underestimate this Leafs team again this season, they were definitely put together well and they stayed together through thick and thin in the past year.  This is the sort of thing that the great teams have been built on.  If they are going to part ways with Van Riemsdyk and/or Bozak, they will have to replace that offense some way and that won't necessarily be an easy task.  Ideally, they'll want to do it from within and they'll certainly explore that option thoroughly.  I think the Leafs are headed in the right direction and they'll be a strong scoring team, so their hockey pool strength will be there too.  Now, the question is, have they acquired enough experience to go further in the playoffs?  Yes, I think they have.

Morning Playoff Notes (May 29)

It took a long stretch of days to finally get here and then getting through the theatrics of the Vegas pregame display, we finally had ourselves Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals and what a cracking game it was!

The Capitals and Golden Knights went toe-to-toe and slugged it out like it was the heavyweight fight that Michael Buffer usually kicks off.  It took a few minutes to really get going, but once Colin Miller got the Knights on the board, we were really in for a treat.

The Caps scored a pair of quick goals to take a quick lead, but before the 1st period was out, William Karlsson tallied late in the frame and we went to the break tied 2-2.  Reilly Smith and John Carlson exchanged goals in the 2nd period, which saw it's share of great skating and physical play, and the two teams headed into the 3rd tied 3-3.  Tom Wilson gave the Capitals an early 3rd period lead, but Vegas' tough guy Ryan Reaves tied it up, just over a minute later.

The two sides traded chances back and forth early on in that 3rd period, but midway through, non-pool forward Tomas Nosek broke through with a one-timer tap-in for the Knights to take the lead and they went on to lock the game down.  Marc-Andre Fleury only had to make 9 saves in the 3rd period (24 in total), Nosek added an empty-netter and the game finished 6-4 for the home team, giving them a 1-0 series lead.

If your team isn't in this final, then all you would be hoping for is some good hockey to watch and we got that in spades in Game 1.

For the hockey pool, the victorious Golden Knights didn't offer a great deal in notable players, except for Fleury getting the win Reilly Smith getting a goal and an assist and Deryk Engelland got his first 2 points of the playoffs with a couple of helpers.  On the Washington side, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie both came away with 2 points in the loss and were instrumental in keeping this game as tight as it was.

Game 2 goes on Wednesday night, another 6pm MT start in Vegas.

Brenda's team had the best start to the Finals, picking up 8 points in Game 1, which was good enough to see her team move up to 4th place, ahead of Antonio's team.  Tony's leading team also had a good night, picking up 7 points on opening night and his team now has a 23-point lead atop of the standings, as the gap gets larger and larger.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Pool Outlook for Minnesota

The Minnesota Wild were a strong team in an exceptionally strong division and it was going to be their all-around game that was hopefully going to take them places this season.  Their goaltending was strong, their blueline had been blossoming at the right time and up front, they had a good mix of experience and zest that was going to make any series interesting.

Unfortunately, that strong division that they were in made it difficult to put themselves in an advantageous spot for the playoffs and they ran into a high-flying Jets team in the opening round and they didn't have much of an answer for their speed and skill, losing in five games.

It's disappointing to any team, when they don't make it very far in the playoffs, but there are some positives that can be drawn from this 2018 season for the Wild, as they are building up a stable of some great young talent, which should keep them competitive for quite a while, they should be able to consider themselves one or two pieces away from really contending with Nashville and Winnipeg and they play a good brand of hockey that will keep the fans coming back for more.

And you know... some of these players are pretty good for your hockey pool team too!

It was another solid season for Devan Dubnyk in his green jersey, finishing 6th among all goalies in hockey pool scoring in 2018.  The 32-year old appeared in 60 games for the Wild, registering 35 wins and 83 points in the season, also good enough to be 25th overall, the last pick of the 1st round in a draft redo.  That's a strong player, now coming through his best years as a goalie, so keep tabs on him.

In total, the Wild had 12 players in the pool conversation, six forwards, four defensemen and both goalies, including Dubnyk.  Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter all led the way up front, sprinkled well through the top 200 forwards.  Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin made for a very solid blueline, it was a real shame when Suter suffered that late season injury and couldn't play in the playoffs, probably one of the biggest reasons for the team's quick exit.  Finally, Alex Stalock was a very serviceable backup this year for the Wild, didn't play a whole lot, but did what needed to be done, when called upon.

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

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.

Well, a top three finish in the Central Division was what they got and for a little while there, they were in the running for a division title.  They didn't tinker too much, they were hoping that they could build from within and to some degree, it may have worked a bit.  There's still more to come from this Wild team, I'm sure and they'll be fun to watch.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I think it is fair to say that it was a disappointing rookie season for Joel Eriksson Ek, who came in with a lot of promise to be an offensive standout for this team.  That's not to say that it won't happen, but 6 goals and 16 points in 75 games, a couple trips to the minors, doesn't really add up to a great year.  Do keep an eye out for him though, he's about to break loose.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Zach Parise 7.538 Ryan Suter 7.538 Devan Dubnyk 4.333
Mikael Granlund 5.750 Jared Spurgeon 5.188 Alex Stalock 0.650
Mikko Koivu 5.500 Jonas Brodin 4.167
Nino Niederreiter 5.250 Nate Prosser 0.650
Tyler Ennis 4.600 Louie Belpedio 0.925
Eric Staal 3.500 Carson Soucy 0.925
Charlie Coyle 3.200 Gustav Bouramman 0.720
Marcus Foligno 2.875 Brennan Menell 0.717
Luke Kunin 0.925
Jordan Greenway 0.917
Joel Eriksson Ek 0.894
Landon Ferraro 0.700
Cal O'Reilly 0.700

The Minnesota Wild have a good portion of their pool worthy players all locked in for next season, but there is still some work to be done.  If they can get the likes of Eriksson Ek or Jordan Greenway going at a good clip offensively, they will again be a strong team.  Depth on the blueline looks a bit shady right now, but it can come around.  The Wild will certainly have options for your pool team at various times.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba are the two big restricted free agents that the Wild will have to look after this summer and that could mean a fair bit of work to be done to slide them into their roster.  I slotted together a rag-tag group of 23 players above, just to fill it in and that only left the Wild with $6.8 million in cap space, with some extra help coming with the ceiling being raised for next season.  It's not going to be a lot of money, but the Wild will have to spend wisely, since that blueline is looking thin.

Now that Jordan Greenway is out of college and signed his entry-level deal, he's the one to watch for the Minnesota Wild next season, as his size and strength, not to mention his overall skill set, should have him in pretty good shape to get a lot of minutes next season.  The Wild are already pretty set in their top six, but if they can put together three solid scoring lines, they will be looking to really compete with those top teams in their division next season and it could be quite the race.  I'd earmark Greenway as a late round sleeper pick, if you're looking to jump in that rookie pool race.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft

I can see the Minnesota Wild jumping on the blueline train at the draft this year and one name that sticks out as a guy that could certainly help is Soo Greyhounds defender Rasmus Sandin, another one of those offensive Swedish defensemen.  A great first pass, some excellent vision and a decent skater, he's got some tools that could really help the Wild break out of their own zone quickly and get the puck to those swift skaters up front.  The Wild need depth back there, so here's some more depth.

We haven't seen the Predators or the Jets yet in this set of posts, but it should be fair to assume that they're going to be very good again next season, making the job of the Wild to keep up with them, more than anything else.  They have a goalie in his prime, once Dumba is signed, they'll have a great blueline core group and their forwards are being infused with some unique talent from across the board, which will keep their opposition on their toes.  I think it's an exciting time for the Wild and they'll continue to run with the big dogs, even if they still finish 3rd in the division, it'll be nice and close.  I wouldn't hesitate to keep a close eye on their young players for next season either, there could be some good pool assets there too.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Cup Finals Pool Preview

I'd feel it would be a shame if there wasn't some kind of pool preview to the Stanley Cup Finals, which get started tomorrow night.  I mean, we've come this far and we've watched a lot of hockey already this year, so why not finish the season off right?

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have defied the odds and the Washington Capitals have exorcised their own playoff demons and now they have both landed in the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals, both teams looking for their first championship.

Both teams runs have certainly made the hockey pool interesting this year, as there were some teams that were putting a little bit of money down on the new guys and hoping that Alex Ovechkin would inch ever closer to his first Stanley Cup and if you guessed correctly, you're a much better prognosticator than I.

Five teams finished the first three rounds of the playoffs with all six possible players left on their roster, while another five teams had five players and two with four players.  The Capitals are the favourites in the pool, taking the selection count, 48-38, but that hasn't mattered at all to the Golden Knights, as they have mowed through all their underdog match-ups to this point.

The most popular players in this series are T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky of the Capitals, each taken seven times and there are a handful of players taken six times as well, so there are a number of unique picks throughout.  Only Colin Miller of the Golden Knights is the only player among the 24 still in the pool to not have a single selection from our 23 teams.

So, most importantly... is there actually a race to have in the hockey pool?  Well, not really.  Tony has run away with the lead, thanks to some great picks through the first three rounds and he has all six possible players left, giving him quite the cushion to the finish.  Only Neil and Buddy have an outside, long, long, long shot at catching him, but it is very improbable.  Here's what we're looking at:

Box # Tony Neil Buddy
6 Erik Haula Erik Haula
7 Tomas Tatar
10 Deryk Engelland Deryk Engelland
11 Shea Theodore Shea Theodore
12 Marc-Andre Fleury
15 Nicklas Backstrom
16 T.J. Oshie T.J. Oshie
19 Andre Burakovsky
21 Matt Niskanen
22 Dmitry Orlov Dmitry Orlov
23 Brooks Orpik
24 Braden Holtby

Buddy will start the Finals with a 27-point deficit to make up and his team may have the best shot at Tony, if Braden Holtby can continue his current shutout streak, that would be another 16 points right there, assuming Vegas doesn't score a goal in four games.  Then Nicklas Backstrom would have to be the catalyst of the Washington offense and then Buddy will have a shot at it.

With all of that being said, it looks like it's a cake walk to the finish for Tony.

Pool Outlook for Anaheim

When offense wasn't coming as quickly as they needed it to, the Anaheim Ducks could rely on their defense and goaltending to get them through the tough spots in the 2018 season, as their 4th-best goals against in the NHL helped them get to 2nd place in the Pacific Division, since they had the worst goals for record among all 16 playoff teams in the league.

Of course, for us hockey poolies, not having a whole lot of offense didn't make the Ducks a favourite team this season and of course, it translated right into the playoffs, where they were swept out of the tournament by the San Jose Sharks in the opening round.  The Ducks were only able to score four goals in the four games and they just didn't have an answer for their division rivals in the 2-3 series.

The Ducks are a curious bunch, as they have lost the offense that has come from Corey Perry and that has to be a pretty big concern, given that he is an $8.625 million player for the next three seasons and his production is continually dropping off.  If it wasn't for the team's defense, that huge payroll hit for production ratio would have seriously done some harm to their playoff chances, but they were able to stick it out for another season, but how long can they possibly rely on that, without getting some new scoring talent in there?

Of course, it was John Gibson who led the way for the Ducks in their regular season hockey pool scoring, as the 24-year old keeper finished the year with 31 wins and 71 points in 60 appearances this season, good enough for 42nd in pool scoring, 9th among all goalies.  It was really a standout season for him and he should only continue to improve as a goalie, but it will be the team in front of him that will dictate his production moving forward.

Despite having some horrible goal scoring numbers among playoff teams this season, the Ducks still had 13 players in the hockey pool conversation, right up there among the rest of those playoff teams.  Ryan Miller was an adequate sidekick for Gibson this season, also finishing in the top 50 among goalies, continuing on the goaltending topic.  Rickard Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique, Corey Perry, Jakob Silfverberg, Ondrej Kase and Andrew Cogliano were all worthy forwards this year, Rakell being the only one worthy of the top two rounds in a draft redo.  On the blueline, the Ducks did have some injury problems, but they still finished with four players to talk about: Josh Manson, Brandon Montour, Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm.  If Fowler and Lindholm were healthy all year, it would have been neat to see how well they would have done defensively.

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

The Ducks truly got a taste of what they are going to face moving forward, within their own division. The Flames are not going to roll over and the Oilers took them to the limit, while their own key players are not getting any younger. Getzlaf still appears to be a force for the Ducks, but with the way the team plays, they are going to be susceptible to injury, which likely was the difference between having an early start to the summer and a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. The Ducks will still be in the mix for a divisional playoff spot in the Pacific next season, but the challenge for the division title may be greater than their team can muster through. Once they make the playoffs, however, it'll be hard to bet against them, since they are a team built for the Spring Dance. As long as they can get there, they'll be able to grind it out with the best of them.

Okay, no one saw Vegas coming and how they'd roll over everyone in the Pacific, so there was that, and that the Ducks did still challenge for the division title, especially with a late run in the season.  Their team looked like the playoff juggernaut on paper at the end of last year, but they were certainly a dud this year, especially against a Sharks team that had a bit more bite than most would have given them credit for.  I feel I was close, but at the same time... not really.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

The feeling on Josh Manson was pretty much bang on, as he did get the minutes in the 2018 season and he really didn't disappoint, leading all Ducks blueliners in pool scoring with 7 goals and 37 points in 80 games.  Granted, he can thank injuries to Fowler and Lindholm for both the minutes and the points, as he was given the opportunity to shine and it was all on him to get the most out of that extra time... and he did!

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Corey Perry 8.625 Cam Fowler 6.500 John Gibson 2.300
Ryan Getzlaf 8.250 Hampus Lindholm 5.250 Ryan Miller 2.000
Ryan Kesler 6.875 Korbinian Holzer 0.900
Adam Henrique 4.000 Jacob Larsson 0.894
Rickard Rakell 3.800 Jaycob Megna 0.650
Jakob Silfverberg 3.750 Steven Oleksy 0.650
Andrew Cogliano 3.250
Patrick Eaves 3.150
Troy Terry 0.925
Max Jones 0.894
Sam Steel 0.894
Maxime Comtois 0.820
Joseph Blandisi 0.680
Sam Carrick 0.650

The outlook for the 2019 season isn't terrible, the Ducks still have a fair bit of their youth signed on and whatever they don't have signed, are coming back through restricted free agency... in theory.  The big concerns are the large lumps of salary that might not be getting the job done and it could really weigh this team down.  Still, there are some guys you should be high on from Anaheim, especially the likes of Rakell and Lindholm, as they're really coming on.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

I currently am showing a 22-man roster, short a defenseman, and they're coming in with some cap room, which does seem a tad surprising, given how much crap I've been giving them for their overpaid lumps.  Currently, the cap space is estimated at $8.8 million with the roster above, before the cap ceiling goes up, so they may have some play money, after the work that they need to get done.

Speaking of that work that needs to get done... Ondrej Kase, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour all need new deals and a guy like Manson, won't come cheap.  The restricted free agent class for the Ducks could be a difficult one to manage through, but if done properly, they could be in really good shape.

Thankfully for the Ducks, their summer was made a whole lot more flexible, due to the number of unrestricted free agents that they'll like see off to pasture.  Kevin Bieksa, Jason Chimera and Antoine Vermette were worth $8 million in cap space alone last season and I wouldn't expect them back for 2019.

Well, it's kind of hard not to pick Sam Steel or Josh Mahura here, as we can all watch them both tonight, playing for the Regina Pats in the Memorial Cup Final on Sportsnet.  These are the sort of kids that the Ducks could use to ease the burden of some of their overpaid lumps, as they are both scouted as solid two-way players, with some offensive kick to their game.  Both players are already rounding out to have good size and their work ethic has been one of the big reasons why they are playing for Canada's national championship at the under-20 level, so both would be good ones to watch tonight and moving forward.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
I don't think there is a specific need for the Ducks, heading into this year's draft, as their cupboards, beyond what I have already added to their projected roster for next season, are looking pretty bare.  Adding some talent down the middle never hurts and a kid like Isac Lundestrom, already playing in the main Swedish league, would add some play-making ability to their roster, if and when he would be able to join the Ducks.  He's already got some decent size to him and has some offensive flair, so I would figure him to be a very good fit for a Ducks team in need of both.

The Ducks still appear to be quite solid at the back, which will be their greatest strength, even if it is on paper right now.  A good pair of goalies and a fresh and young blueline that has already gained some much-needed experience, they should be able to keep this team in a lot more games than their offense would give them on most nights.  Once the pool worthy three are re-signed this summer, I think you can begin to feel confident that the Ducks will be a playoff race team, rather than lottery hopefuls.  Get on board with the kids here, I think they're about to show the old dogs who's boss.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Pool Outlook for Pittsburgh

Winning the Stanley Cup is an impressive feat these days. Winning back-to-back Cups in this era is even more impressive, to say the least. And then... bowing out in the 2nd round of the playoffs to their arch-nemesis of a team in seven games, this close to moving on to another Conference Finals, that's still fairly impressive, given how much hockey the core group of players has played in the last three seasons. No one could be overly disappointed with this result.

The Penguins put together a pretty impressive regular season, finishing 2nd in the Metropolitan Division, after playing all of that extra playoff hockey in the last few years, they really put on a good show.  They were tied for 4th in goals for in the year, making their players great candidates for your hockey pool team, if they weren't already.  Their defense was hit and miss, but they can thank their lucky stars for all of that offense, so it didn't matter too much.

Now, with a couple extra playoff rounds of rest to help heal, the Penguins are striving to be quite the force for another season coming up and really paint that dynasty title all over their franchise once again.  Some may argue that back-to-back wins or even just two wins in three or four years could be tabbed as a franchise, but I don't think I am one of those guys.  I do, however, think they're capable of three in four years, so that's got to mean something, right?

The 2018 season was one hell of a mission for Evgeni Malkin, who really looked like the MVP version of himself in the 2012 season.  Malkin finished with 42 goals and 98 points in 78 games this season and surely would have cracked the 100-point mark, if he played 80 or more games.  In this season though, with all the hockey pool points that were being thrown around, 98 points was only good for 7th overall, 4th among forwards.  By comparison, his 2012 season was 109 points and 1st overall, so he was close, but not quite at his 2012 level.

The Penguins were certainly top-heavy in the scoring department, but they did finish with 12 players on the pool worthiness list this season, including Malkin.  Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby both finished among the top 10 forwards, followed by Patric Hornqvist, Jake Guentzel, Derick Brassard and Bryan Rust at the forward position.  Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz didn't light it up this year, but all had quality seasons on the blueline.  In net, Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry each finished within the top 50 keepers, thanks in part to Murray's mid-season injuries, giving Jarry ample time to pick up some wins.  Scoring depth might have been an issue, if there wasn't so many goals being scored at the top of this list.

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

About this time last year, I thought it was a lot easier to project the Penguins, because they had a lot more key pieces in place and that's what made them look so appealing at prediction time. This time around, they don't have many pieces on defense signed on, we know they're going to lose Fleury and free agency gets even more difficult with the excitement of Vegas rolling around. Nevertheless, the Penguins do have an experienced core group of veterans, a 2-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender and still some cap room to dabble with, but with the salary cap ceiling not expected to go up by much, it's a tough sell to say they're going to three-peat. The Penguins should find a way to get something back for Fleury before the expansion draft, which should ease the burden, the off-season should atract some help, but that blueline... that will be the make-it or break-it point for this team. Playoffs, sure... success in those playoffs? Seems very doubtful today.

Instead of gaining something for Fleury at the expansion draft, they provided more incentive for Vegas to take Fleury and that has really gone well for the Golden Knights, hasn't it?  With cap problems abound, you can't blame the Penguins for what they had to do.  They did, however, play like they could really have some more playoff success, but over course, they didn't... but they were not very far away.  Was it their defense?  Maybe.  I think it was the expected lack of gas in the tank in the end.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

In last year's playoffs, you really got to know Jake Guentzel and I was really excited to see what he could do in the regular season.  How did he fare?  Well, he was pool worthy... 151st overall, 107th among all forwards, so it wasn't like he was scoring at the rate that he was in the playoffs.  No, he saved that for this year's playoffs, where he was off the charts, 21 points in 12 games and then a pair of game-winners on top of that too.  Maybe he isn't the regular season guy we think he can be, but he can sure turn it on when it counts.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Evgeni Malkin 9.500 Kris Letang 7.250 Matt Murray 3.750
Sidney Crosby 8.700 Justin Schultz 5.500 Casey DeSmith 0.675
Phil Kessel 6.800 Brian Dumoulin 4.100
Patric Hornqvist 5.300 Olli Maatta 4.083
Carl Hagelin 4.000 Matt Hunwick 2.250
Derick Brassard 3.000 Chris Summers 0.650
Conor Sheary 3.000 Chad Ruhwedel 0.650
Zach Aston-Reese 0.925
Adam Johnson 0.925
Sam Lafferty 0.768
Frederik Tiffels 0.743
Jake Guentzel 0.734
Garrett Wilson 0.650

I don't think you can have a team that has Malkin, Crosby, Kessel, Letang, Schultz and Murray on it and not be shopping for them at next year's hockey pool draft.  This also means that they should probably have some regular season success in 2019 as well, so I would say that their outlook remains fairly strong.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Penguins will be pinching their pennies again this summer, but they do have a sufficient core group of players, where they could likely get away with that.  The 22-man roster you see above is currently projecting to leave a shade over $1 million in cap space, before the ceiling goes up.  Sure, they could have as much as $6 million to play with, but they might need every penny.

Bryan Rust and Tristan Jarry are the only two pool worthy free agents on the team, both heading to restricted free agency, but they do have some other good prospects, like Dominik Simon and Daniel Sprong, both needing new deals too.

Penguins management has already said that they expect to see Daniel Sprong at the NHL level next season and he'll likely be an impact player.  He is the kind of player that can play in the top six and when you get a centre like Crosby or Malkin, it's hard not to do good things and you do even better, if you have the talent.  Sprong is believed to be this player and you might hear more about him, as we lead up to next year's draft.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
At pick number 22, the Penguins could really do well to improve their blueline, but they can't.  They moved their pick to the Ottawa Senators in the deal that brought over Brassard, so they'll be doing their adds the old fashioned way.  For the Senators, since I have been fairly forward-heavy in the last handful of picks, there could be something good waiting in the wings .  An already hulking defenseman, K'Andre Miller has the potential to be a bruising force in the NHL one day.  Already committed to the University of Wisconsin, Miller will get to work on his overall game at the college level, but with his size, if he can excel there, the Penguins may give him a great chance in only a year or two.

The only thing really stopping the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2019 season, from the perspective of being on paper, is the wear and tear of these long hockey seasons.  They didn't get much rest over the last couple of years and they still made a huge push this past year, so a little bit of extra rest could do them some real good.  The Penguins have a lot of the right pieces in all the right places, which is a huge bonus already and if they can bring up some young talent and watch them excel at this level, they could do more damage on the cheap and that should scare a lot of teams in the east.  I like where this team is and I expect them to do very well next season.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Top Prospect Signing (May 25)

The Vancouver Canucks announced that they have signed their top pick from the 2017 entry draft, Elias Pettersson, to his 3-year entry-level deal on Friday.  Pettersson was taken 5th overall by the Canucks, somewhat of a surprise pick to many, but the scouting staff was made out as a bunch of geniuses when Pettersson dominated the Swedish Elite League, leading the league in regular season and playoff scoring, winning the championship over there and collecting all kinds of hardware.  Pettersson is still somewhat smaller in stature, but the 19-year old will still challenge for a spot on the roster next season.  Consider him one to watch!

Pool Outlook for San Jose

The San Jose Sharks remained a strong team in the 2018 season, just going about their business, as they have been doing for the last 10 years or so.  Even the departure of Patrick Marleau didn't seem to disrupt the make-up of the team and the mid-season injury to Joe Thornton was only a minor hiccup.  The acquisition of Evander Kane at the trade deadline seemed to smooth everything over and the Sharks continued right along and finished in 3rd place in the Pacific Division, only a point behind Anaheim for 2nd place in the regular season.

In the opening round, the Sharks swept the Ducks rather easily, but the next round, they faced the Vegas Golden Knights and ended up giving them their best challenge in the playoffs, as we now see the Golden Knights head off to the Cup Finals.  The Knights beat the Sharks in six games, as they really couldn't answer the blue collar speed approach to the game that Vegas had.

The times, they are a changin' in San Jose, as it seems fairly likely that we won't be seeing Thornton in a Sharks jersey, after two straight seasons of major knee injuries and surgeries, it seems like a foregone conclusion that his days are numbered.  The addition of Kane gives the Sharks a little more offense and the team's leadership seems to be in good hands with Joe Pavelski, so the transition seems to be moving along well.

Goaltender Martin Jones was the steadiest of all the Sharks players in the 2018 season, appearing in 60 games, winning 30 and posting 68 points to lead all San Jose players in hockey pool scoring.  That does seem to be a fairly low number for points for a team leader in the playoffs, but it was a pretty solid year throughout their lineup.  Jones ranked 11th among all goalies in scoring, 51st overall, which would put him as the top pick in the 3rd round of a draft redo.

The Sharks did have 17 players that were considered pool worthy, by far the most we've seen so far in these blog posts.  Aaron Dell, the team's backup goalie, also appeared on the list, which is also rare for a team that was led by a goalie.  Up front, the Sharks had Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, Kevin Labanc, Mikkel Boedker, Timo Meier, Joe Thornton and Joonas Donskoi all posting enough points to be in the conversation.  There wasn't a lot of points to be had by any one of these guys, but just enough to be worthy of being on a pool team and competing.  On defense, it was much of the same, with Brent Burns, Justin Braun, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brenden Dillon and Dylan Demelo, all coming in the top 100 blueliners.  That is some pretty crazy depth there.

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

The lack of current scoring depth is what could hurt the Sharks in the long run and it could really start to sting as soon as next season. The core group of Pavelski, Couture, Burns, Vlasic and Jones is still in need of that forward that is going to round out their five and they might have it in a kid like Timo Meier, but that's not a certainty, as of yet. There is some serviceable depth still on their team, but without the playmaking or the finishing of Thornton and Marleau, even in their later years, on the roster right now, it leaves me a bit skeptical about their 2018 season. Back-to-back years in 3rd place in the Pacific and only Calgary really pressing to pass them next season, the Sharks should be well within the wild card race, but they'll be in tough with Nashville, Winnipeg and maybe even Dallas.

Make it back-to-back-to-back years in 3rd place in the Pacific and no one saw what Vegas was going to do by this time last year, so that has to count for something, right?  Thornton came back, Marleau didn't, but the Sharks did find some more scoring in Kane, not to mention Meier having a decent season as well.  Really, the team's scoring woes were taken care of by committee in the 2018 season, which is definitely good news for them moving forward.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

My pick for the Sharks before the season started was Tomas Hertl and he did pretty well for the team this season.  I was looking to him to be that potential breakout player again, maybe hitting that 40-goal mark, even though I really only had him pegged for 40 points in my projections.  In the end, he finished with 22 goals and 46 points in 79 games, which is nothing to sneeze at and like I had pointed out, this team was scoring by committee and Hertl was definitely a positive influence on that committee.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Evander Kane 7.000 Brent Burns 8.000 Martin Jones 5.750
Logan Couture 6.000 Marc-Edouard Vlasic 7.000 Aaron Dell 1.900
Joe Pavelski 6.000 Paul Martin 4.850
Mikkel Boedker 4.000 Justin Braun 3.800
Melker Karlsson 2.000 Brenden Dillon 3.270
Joonas Donskoi 1.900 Tim Heed 0.650
Dylan Gambrell 0.925 Joakim Ryan 0.650
Timo Meier 0.894
Maxim Letunov 0.834
Rourke Chartier 0.703
Marcus Sorensen 0.700
Barclay Goodrow 0.650

The Sharks had a lot of pool worthy players in the 2018 season and a good chunk of them are already coming back for the 2019 season, including Evander Kane, who re-signed earlier this week.  With the core group of players thinning out the older folks, this team has some real upside coming and they may just stay the course of being a consistent contender in the Pacific Division.  I wouldn't say they have it all right now, but they're staying in the mix.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

There is going to be a delicate balance between free agency and the team's overall salary cap number this summer and this could have a major effect on what the team looks like in October.  The team is stocked up with signed young talent, but it's a pretty good guessing game to figure out who could make it out of camp, so I have pieced together that 21-man roster above, leaving some flexibility.  That roster there is coming in with $7.5 million in cap space before the ceiling hike, so there will be some money to spend.

Tomas Hertl, Kevin Labanc, Dylan Demelo and Chris Tierney lead the RFA class of pool worthy players for the Sharks, giving the team quite a bit to think about.  If they are going to manage through that salary cap conundrum, they'll have to spend wisely through these four players or else use more of their youth in the coming season.

Joe Thornton is on the list as a pending UFA this summer, it will be interesting to see if he decides to call it quits or not.  I don't see him coming back from another major knee injury, but you never know.

The Sharks don't have a lot of stellar prospects in the pipe right at the moment, most of their crops are in the NCAA ranks, maturing in college.  One guy who has now come out of college, Maxim Letunov, has signed his entry-level deal and is going to get a long look at camp, one would imagine.  Especially if the Sharks have troubles with their cap space.  The 22-year old is fairly big, excelled in the college ranks as an all-star, so it will be interesting to see how he pans out.  He could be one to watch.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
The Sharks will be picking from the 21st spot this year and their prospect pool could really use another forward.  Unafraid of the European talent, the San Jose Sharks might score well with Russian forward Vitali Kravtsov.  The 18-year old played at a number of different levels, including with his KHL team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, excelling in the playoffs, where he had 11 points in 16 games.  It sounds like this kid is ready to play at some higher levels, as he really shot up the leagues in Russia, as he carries some good hockey awareness and isn't afraid to use his size in physical play.

Compared to everyone else that I have reviewed in the past few weeks, the San Jose Sharks are the most likely to finish around the same spot as they did in the 2018 season.  They have a lot of the same pieces ready to go for next year, they are working some of their youth in to take the spots of the elders that are slowly making their way out, so I would say that the franchise is in pretty good shape.  Could it be better?  Sure.  A blockbuster deal that would bring that extra element of offense to this team would be a great way to challenge the likes of Anaheim and Vegas next year, but those deals are hard to come by.  Still, they'll be players in the 2019 season.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Fringe Signings (May 24)

It was a rough start to the 2018 season for goaltender Antti Niemi, bouncing out of Pittsburgh to Florida and then bouncing again up to Montreal, but it was that last bounce on the waiver wire that landed him to a spot, where he found a little bit more success. On Tuesday this week, Niemi was rewarded for that success, as the Habs gave him a 1-year, $950,000 deal, bringing him back to be Carey Price's backup for the 2019 season.

Niemi finished 54th in pool scoring among goalies and did make an appearance in the hockey pool, when Derek B. drafted him, eventually dropping him.  He now doesn't look like a terrible option again, but we'll wait and see on that judgement, closer to the draft.

Kane Re-Ups in San Jose

I have been sitting on the San Jose Pool Outlook post for a few days for a couple of reasons: 1) I've been too busy to finish it up and 2) I've heard that Evander Kane has been close to a contract extension with the team and I thought I might as well wait.

On Thursday, it became official, the Sharks and the 26-year old came to terms on a 7-year, $49 million deal after he made quite the positive impression on the organization upon arriving from a trade deadline deal with the Buffalo Sabres.  Kane was set to become an unrestricted free agent in July, but the Sharks were able to pony up some cash for the winger and one might argue that it was a steep price to pay.

Sure, in the 2018 season, he scored 29 goals between Buffalo and San Jose, finishing with 54 points, ranking 115th overall in pool scoring and 84th overall among all forwards, but I'm not quite sure if that's worth being tied for 35th in cap hits in the NHL next season.  The Sharks had some room for some signings, something that I'll touch on tomorrow with my outlook, but if you're playing in a fantasy league where the players' cap hits count in some fashion, this is an expensive player for only 54 points.