Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Pool Outlook for Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens almost made that miraculous comeback to the post-season in 2019, being right there in the last few days of the season, but some poor stretches midway through the season kept them out of a lot of the tie-breaking situations, but ultimately, that didn't matter too much, as they were 2 points short of Columbus for that last wild card spot in the east. 

Given that this team was 28th overall last season and they were going to be starting the 2019 campaign with their captain on the shelf, not to mention a couple of other key injuries, they managed to overcome some of those long odds to put together a fairly respectable season.  The expectations were pretty low, but the emergence of Tomas Tatar and the rookie, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, renewed some hope in front of Carey Price, who played his heart out through the season.

The challenge now will to be building upon a decent season that came up short in Montreal and they have got a lot of the key pieces already in place, which should help.  There could be a good push from some of the young players that they have already in the system and are ready to make the jump, plus they do have some roster spots available for the taking in the free agent marketplace. 

Fortunately for the Canadiens, Carey Price was back to being himself and he tried to carry the load for this team, but it was just too much weight to carry by himself and thus, the team fell a bit short.  Price was a busy boy, appearing in 66 games for the Habs, posting 35 wins and 79 points this season, good enough for 5th among all goalies and 34th overall.  A healthy number one will be key to any success that the Canadiens have next season and at least their franchise player is trending in the right direction again.

There was certainly an uptick in scoring for the Canadiens, as they had 11 skaters that were also pool worthy this season, which certainly brought them much closer to the playoffs.  Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Drouin, Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron all figured into the top 200 forwards this season, which is very solid.  Domi emerged as a top scorer, ranking 45th among all forwards in scoring, leading the way for these forwards.  The blueline provided some decent offense as well, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber and Jordie Benn all figured into the scoring a fair bit this year, Petry ranking 15th among all defenders this season.  Weber was solid, despite not starting play until Week Nine and he got up to 44th among defensemen in the back two-thirds of the year.

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

Montreal should be and will be better in 2019... talk about a low expectation bar to set, but it's true. How much better depends on their two highest paid players in Price and Weber and their respective health. If these guys are 100% heading into camp and into the regular season, Montreal will be set to compete. Moving some pieces around in the summer may be in their best interest, since the years of failure in recent memory might weigh heavily on some of the longer tenured players on the roster and bringing in some fresh faces could be what this team needs to take a new approach to the year. They're not that bad, they get to add a premier forward at the draft and there is still some talent waiting in the wings, so it's hard to think that they won't be better than 28th overall in 2019.

Yes, the Canadiens were definitely much better than 28th overall in the standings in 2019, that was going to be a given, unless there were some unforeseen circumstances, but we covered all the foreseeable events, so the improvement was certainly there.  The additions to the club, both at the trade deadline last season and the entry draft were huge for this club, adding scoring and solid play down the middle and they were definitely competitive.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

It was a very disappointing season for defenseman Noah Juulsen, who wasn't able to claim one of those spots on the blueline in training camp, thanks mostly to injury troubles at the beginning of the season.  He couldn't quite get his feet set with the team and then in December, he was sent down to the AHL and was having vision problems down there after his facial fracture and missed most of the back half of the season, unable to come up and play for the big club again in 2019.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Jonathan Drouin 5.500 Shea Weber 7.857 Carey Price 10.500
Tomas Tatar 4.800 Jeff Petry 5.500 Charlie Lindgren 0.750
Andrew Shaw 3.900 Karl Alzner 4.625
Brendan Gallagher 3.750 Noah Juulsen 0.863
Paul Byron 3.400 Christian Folin 0.800
Max Domi 3.150 Victor Mete 0.748
Phillip Danault 3.083
Dale Weise 2.350
Nicolas Deslauriers 0.950
Jesperi Kotkaniemi 0.925
Ryan Poehling 0.925
Matthew Peca 0.650

A team that grows together, wins together.  11 of 12 pool worthy players are signed on for next season for the Canadiens and they are adding some top end talent in Ryan Poehling, luring him out of college and into their lineup, so this team has the ability to be special, right out of the gate.  There has to be a real sense of optimism among the Montreal faithful.  They will be a popular team at the hockey pool draft, one would have to believe.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The only pool worthy player not on the roster at the time of this post is defenseman Jordie Benn, as he heads to unrestricted free agency, if he isn't extended before July 1st.  His 22 points may earn him a bit of a raise from the $1.1 million he counted against the cap in 2019, so we'll see where that lands him. 

On the restricted free agent list, there are some notable names, if not worthy, in Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia, both had some positive impacts on the team this season and could find their way back in the lineup again next season.

I have the Canadiens with a fairly thin 20-man roster up above and that has them in at $66.4 million, still $16.6 million clear of the projected cap ceiling of $83 million.  This can certainly make them aggressive in this off-season, possibly to bolster the blueline.

The scoring depth at the forward position appears to only be getting better with Ryan Poehling being signed out of college, one year early.  The Canadiens were able to offer the 6'2" and 200-pound forward the ability to jump into the lineup for the team's last game of the season and he posted a hat-trick in that game, which should make us poolie salivate at the prospect of taking him in the draft this fall.  He'll definitely be one to watch, but how early do you want to take him?

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

With much of the top defensemen available already snapped up in this mock entry draft, to date, I think the Canadiens won't be digging too deep, unless they have a real good line on a top defender and bump him up.  From this spot, they would be wise to take a good skating forward, which is really their MO these days.  Well, how about finding a new brother combination in the draft, adding Ryan Suzuki to the mix, who has skating, vision and some finish and uniting him with his brother, Nick, who they acquired from Vegas last fall.  That has to be a very entertaining idea.

If the Montreal Canadiens are going to make, or at the very least, compete, for the playoffs, who is going to come out of the Eastern Conference picture right now?  I guess that can't really worry about that, but they will be eyeing up some of those teams, looking to knock one of them out next year and I think they have a really good chance at doing that, all things considered equal.  This team has had its share of health concerns over the last couple of seasons and if that sort of thing can be overcome, their scoring depth and a premier goalie should allow for another shot at the playoffs.  I like the direction they're going in and barring a complete disaster, they should be right there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Pool Outlook for Arizona

The Arizona Coyotes were a very pleasant surprise in the 2019 season, as they were remarkably competitive and in the hunt for a playoff spot for the better portion of the regular season.  The team is finally starting to come around from just being the league's dumping ground for older contracts, they are now a hard-working bunch with a little bit of finish and some goaltending.

The Coyotes went from 29th in the 2018 season and moved themselves up to 18th overall in the entire league in the 2019 season, thanks in large part to a better team defense and a goalie that they could really lean on in the back half of the season, Darcy Kuemper.

2nd year coach, Rick Tocchet, should get a fair amount of credit as well, as he has done a pretty good job, tightening up the on-ice product of this team, which has been exceptionally leaky for a long time.  The only thing he really needs now is just that extra touch of offense in his lineup, which could tip the scales more in their favour, especially in those close games.  Nevertheless, you can't argue with their first season over the .500 mark since the 2014 season.  That's how you know, for sure, that things are going in the right direction.

It shouldn't come as a huge surprise that Darcy Kuemper was the team's best player in the hockey pool this season, he had some exceptional hot streaks that had the whole team smelling that sweet playoff air, if only to come up just 4 points shy of that last wild card spot in the west.  The 28-year old made 55 appearances in the Coyotes' net this season, posting 27 wins and 66 points this year, good enough for 75th overall in pool scoring and he was 13th among all goalies.  A very fine year.

Nine players, in total, including Kuemper, made the cut for the hockey pool worthiness conversation, which does show the lack of offensive depth the team had in the year, highlighting the need for improvement next season.  Clayton Keller, Alex Galchenyuk, Vinnie Hinostroza, Derek Stepan and Richard Panik were all among the top 200 forwards this season, Keller leading the way ranking 116th among all forwards.  On the blueline, Oliver Ekman-Larsson was 21st among all defenders, leading the way for Alex Goligoski and Jordan Oesterle, who were also in the top 100 at the position.  Thanks to injuries, no other goalie finished in the top 50, but it was Kuemper's net down the stretch and no one else was going to get in during the meaningful part of the schedule.

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

Having a good number of kids with entry-level deals on the list as pool worthy players is very promising for the Coyotes, but they still miss that X-factor that brings a team up to the ranks of being relevant in the standings. Management seems to be confident in their goaltending tandem at the end of the year, but I could see them shop for an upgrade. Their defense is very mobile, but needs to tighten up, while the offense is a collection of young talent that is a spark away from really setting the league alight. Can the Coyotes find that X-factor to bring it all together? That's the big question and the difference between being competitive, fighting for a playoff spot, and being an early post in these Pool Outlook overviews.

Just because the Coyotes didn't make the playoffs, doesn't mean they didn't find their X-factor and we go back to the goalie, Kuemper, for that.  He was the right guy for the job, even if he needed a little bit of time to find his feet and an unfortunate injury to his platoon partner, to eat up all of those minutes for him.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

The new surroundings didn't exactly make Alex Galchenyuk break out in the desert, but that's not to say he wasn't a decent contributor to this team.  He was still worthy of a pool selection, 19 goals and 41 points in 72 games in his first season with Arizona, but he wasn't the game-breaker that he was initially drafted as by Montreal either.  It would have been something, if he was that kind of player, the Coyotes may have been that much closer to the promised land.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Derek Stepan 6.500 Oliver Ekman-Larsson 8.500 Antti Raanta 4.250
Nick Schmaltz 5.850 Alex Goligoski 5.475 Darcy Kuemper 1.850
Marian Hossa 5.275 Niklas Hjalmarsson 5.000
Alex Galchenyuk 4.900 Jakob Chychrun 4.600
Christian Dvorak 4.450 Jason Demers 3.938
Michael Grabner 3.350 Kevin Connauton 1.375
Vinnie Hinostroza 1.500
Brad Richardson 1.250
Barrett Hayton 0.925
Clayton Keller 0.886
Christian Fischer 0.822
Conor Garland 0.775
Michael Chaput 0.675

The Coyotes don't have all nine of their pool worthy players signed on for next season just yet, but they aren't missing too many.  There are a few names on this list, which were hampered by injury last season, like Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak, who could still make an impact next season and are on the list, so that's a big plus.  I think the outlook here is still pretty positive.  I would imagine that the team will remain fairly active this summer, trying to tinker and making those necessary improvements.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Forward Richard Panik and defenseman Jordan Oesterle are both headed to unrestricted free agency this summer, unless they can be extended by the club before July 1st.  They are the only two worthy players heading to market and they did play a solid role with the club, so I would imagine that they get a long look at extensions.

The RFA situation isn't overly dire for the team, but they do have a few kids on the list that are in need of a new deal, who likely have a strong future with the club, like a Lawson Crouse or Nick Cousins.

The Coyotes still have a bit of flexibility left in their cap situation, thanks to hanging on to Marian Hossa's deal, as he awaits its expiry before officially retiring.  Hossa still has one more season left on his deal, but if the Coyotes get to the cap ceiling, Long Term Injury Reserve relief will kick in.  Right now, even with his deal on the books, I am showing that 21-man roster in at $74.1 million, which also includes a buyout, which leaves them some space to make some moves still.

Could this finally be the year that Nick Merkley finally cracks the big club?  The 2015 1st round pick has had nothing but bad luck in his pro career, injury after injury, but now it looks like he's turned the corner a bit and he finally could be ready for a spot on the big club.  The Coyotes certainly have some bubble spots open for him and if his skill set, which was good enough to make him a 1st round pick way back when, is any indication, he could be one to watch this season as a sleeper rookie.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

The Coyotes hold the 14th overall selection in this year's draft and it's a very low pick by their recent standards, which isn't a bad thing, if the team truly wants to be progressing.  The team is starting to see some of their previous picks bear some fruit at the top level and I think there will be a push on patience on another pick, there's no real need to push a kid through too early, they just want to make sure that they have some good talent developing through the system.  One kid that fell through the picks a bit in this mock entry draft has been centre Peyton Krebs of the Kootenay (soon to be Winnipeg) Ice in the WHL, as he has been branded as an exciting centre, who plays a decent two-way game.  He could be a good fit for the club in a couple years or so.

As much as the Coyotes are trending in a positive direction, I am not completely sold on this team being a playoff team just yet.  Expectations are certainly going to ramp up on this club, which means that there will be teams keeping a closer eye on them and there isn't enough leadership-type character players on this team to help guide these kids through to the next level, especially when the times get tough.  If the Coyotes are going to get to the next level, they should be shopping for that kind of player that can not only put the puck in the net, he should be experienced in the ways of getting to the playoffs and playing in the playoffs.  If that's something they can provide for themselves, I think we really have something here.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Pool Outlook for Florida

The Florida Panthers had some relatively high expectations coming into the 2019 season and rightfully so.  They increased their talent level by the acquisition of Mike Hoffman in the off-season, their core group is really on the upswing in their careers, the blueline is really starting to come around and their goaltending has a great veteran presence to help guide their youth along.

Unfortunately, it all didn't come together for this Panthers team and they were 12 points out of the playoff picture and if you had to find the telling statistic about this team, it would be their goals against.  They ranked 28th in the league, allowing 280 goals, while they had the 9th best offense with 267 goals, so keeping the puck out of their own net was a huge weight keeping them down.

The Panthers offense was deadly on the power play, ranking 2nd in the regular season, scoring 72 power play goals and having a success rate of 26.8% and their penalty kill was actually decent, ranking 10th at a success rate of 81.3%, so even strength was definitely an issue for this team.  Only Ottawa and Philadelphia were worse at 5-on-5 than the Panthers this season and that's just a lack of team defense in the bulk of the ice-time, game after game.

Once these Panthers can figure this out, they should be a formidable bunch to play against, but they really should have been able to figure it out this season and that's what makes the 2019 campaign so disappointing.

If you haven't started talking about Aleksander Barkov as being an elite scorer in the league, there's no better time than the present to get going on that.  35 goals and 96 points in all 82 games for the Panthers this season saw him rise to 10th overall in the hockey pool scoring ranks and his game might still have a little bit more left to reveal.  Barkov was fairly consistent this season, but he was also a -3 in the plus/minus department, so if his defense can improve at even strength, he would most certainly be an unstoppable force.

Barkov wasn't the only 90-point player on the team this season, as Jonathan Huberdeau was the best of the rest of the pool worthy forwards, finishing with 92 points in all 82 games, giving the Panthers #10 and #14 on the list.  Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, Frank Vatrano and Vincent Trocheck were also among those worthy of your selection in the hockey pool this season, making a fairly impressive list of forwards.  Keith Yandle, Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson were all worthy from the blueline this season, putting up some good numbers in the offensive end, while both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer were worthy of a pool spot, but neither finished in the top 31, which was telling in the overall scheme of things in Florida.

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

The combination of Barkov, Trocheck, Huberdeau and Ekblad gives the Panthers a really solid core, especially with them all being under the age of 25 right now. This team has made some good additions in recent years and they could do with one or two more in this off-season, maybe the emergence of Borgstrom will be one of those, maybe a free agent on the back end as well. This team is going places and that may get lost on some people, given that they are a way down in the sun belt, where hockey coverage does get a little lost. Just paying attention to this team on paper may need an extra keen eye, but I think this team could make its way into the playoffs, with one or two decent pieces. They'll certainly be a good team to pick from at the hockey pool draft in the coming year(s).

In a hockey pool solely based on offense, this team was very good to pick from, as you could see above.  They had 11 good players on the hockey pool list, but just because they played well in the offensive end alone, doesn't mean that they were going to make the playoffs.  They had to be good at both ends and that was something that they were not.  This team made some really sound moves in the off-season, it was looking like a sure thing, but in the end, it just wasn't going to be their year.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

The Panthers' main pickup in the off-season, Mike Hoffman, did well with his new surroundings, leading the team in goals with 36 and also finished with 70 points in all 82 games.  He certainly didn't disappoint in his first season in Sunrise, now it will be about what happens next!

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Aleksander Barkov 5.900 Aaron Ekblad 7.500 Roberto Luongo 4.533
Jonathan Huberdeau 5.900 Keith Yandle 6.350 James Reimer 3.400
Mike Hoffman 5.188 Mike Matheson 4.875
Vincent Trocheck 4.750 Mark Pysyk 2.733
Evgenii Dadonov 4.000 Brady Keeper 0.925
Frank Vatrano 2.530 Riley Stillman 0.773
Colton Sceviour 1.200 Josh Brown 0.675
Henrik Borgstrom 0.925
Owen Tippett 0.894
Cliff Pu 0.745
Paul Thompson 0.675

In terms of goal scoring, having the whole crew from last season back for another year and signed on is a great start to the summer.  Things are really looking up for this offense, if they can stick together and put those same numbers up again.  The outlook for 2020 is very positive, now the new coaching staff, headed up by Joel Quenneville, will start to work on the other aspects of the game and try to turn this team into a real contender.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Speaking of Joel Quenneville, that may have already been the best free agent signing that this team could have made after the regular season had ended, as the Panthers used their connections from teams previous to swing this deal and now the winningest active coach in the league will be back at the helm with some real potential.

In terms of their on-ice free agents, the Panthers don't have anyone heading to market with any pool worthiness to them, so it will be a readjustment of the team's depth through the free agent market and why not?  A new coach will have some new ideas and might have a good idea of what to add this year.

With the 20-man roster above, I am still showing the Panthers with nearly $18 million in projected cap space, assuming that the league goes up to $83 million this year.  That could acquire some more quality defense, for sure.

I'm always pretty curious to see how well the NCAA free agents turn out, as they are a little bit of a crap shoot coming out of college, albeit a little bit more physically mature than the junior kids, but whether or not they take at the NHL level is such a curiosity.  Defenseman Brady Keeper is a 22-year old with some decent size that the Panthers were able to sign out of the University of Maine, where he put up some good numbers offensively.  Keeper did make it into one game for the Panthers before the season was out and he'll be one to watch, as the Panthers are lacking depth on the blueline at the moment.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

Despite a smaller stature, I think the Panthers continue on with the goal scoring trend with a dynamo in Cole Caufield, a 5'7" winger, currently playing for the US at the Under-18 tournament and is lighting it up over there.  He might be a bit of a project player, which is okay given his size.  He's already committed to Wisconsin in the NCAA, where he can work on his game and adapt to playing with the bigger bodies there and maybe he'll have himself a growth spurt and turn into a very viable scoring machine at the top level.

It's hard not to like where the Panthers are at the moment, besides not being in the playoffs right now.  They are poised to really take the Atlantic Division by storm, assuming they can get all their loose ends in order.  They have the scoring depth, they have some very good pieces at the back end, they just need to tighten up their play and they could very well be challenging for top spot in the division with the likes of the Lightning, Bruins and Leafs.  I'm already starting to pencil in some really good numbers for the projection piece later on in the summer.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Pool Outlook for Minnesota

The Central Division has had a reputation of being rather difficult in recent years and it seems like exceptional things have to happen for your team to succeed in this division or else you're just left behind.  The Minnesota Wild didn't have a star rookie and whatever player was getting on a hot streak, would end up getting hurt and the Wild, as competitive as they were, finished in last place in the division, but was only 7 points out of a playoff spot and 21st overall in the league.

The season was looking fairly promising for the better part of the year, but a stretch at the beginning of February, losing 10 of 11 games, starting on February 1st, was ultimately their undoing, as they couldn't claw back all of those points they lost in that stretch. 

Injuries to Matt Dumba in December and Mikko Koivu in January were also huge hits to this team, losing two of your core players to season-ending injuries so early on in the year meant that the depth of the team was going to surely be tested and in the difficult Central Division, that's the sort of thing that gets eaten alive.

The Wild were still able to make a couple of moves at the trade deadline, trying to improve their overall depth and contract situation, picking up a couple of younger players with speed, but it was far from enough for this season, but this team should still be competitive for the next little while yet.

Another year done in Minnesota, another year where Devan Dubnyk leads the team in hockey pool scoring.  This season, he appeared in 67 games for the Wild, tying a career-high, but he only posted 31 wins and 68 points and didn't have the point total that would generally have him among the top players and goalies in the league.  His 68 points were only good enough for 68th overall and 10th among all goalies, a real down year for him, thanks mainly to the 28th ranked offense in the league that played in front of him.

Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and newcomer Kevin Fiala were the only four forwards to finish in the top 200 in scoring this season, making them the only notable forwards on the roster at the final buzzer.  Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon led the way from the blueline, while Matt Dumba only played in 32 games this season, but still had 22 points and finished 91st among all defensemen in scoring.  Of course, with Dubnyk taking the big part of the workload, no other goalie was really going to be worthy, more for a lack of action, than a lack of performance.

Only eight players on the Wild roster finished in the hockey pool conversation, which makes it somewhat surprising that they mustered a strong 21st place finish in the standings.

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

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.

They tried so hard to run with the big dogs this year, they really did.  When the injuries set in, February rolled around and stomped their hopes completely.  The only thing about what I said last year that really truly resonated was that their blueline corps, with Dumba healthy, was pretty dynamic and it will likely mean business moving forward, but there wasn't much they could do without him.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I was expecting a little bit more out of the hulking forward Jordan Greenway in the 2019 season, but only 12 goals and 24 points in 81 games just wasn't going to be enough to be worthy or help carry this team to the promised land.  The 22-year old has great size and decent hands, but maybe lacks that extra little bit of speed that the league seems to be trending towards, but if he can find another gear, then he'll certainly be one to watch.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Zach Parise 7.538 Ryan Suter 7.538 Devan Dubnyk 4.333
Mikko Koivu 5.500 Matt Dumba 6.000 Alex Stalock 0.785
Jason Zucker 5.500 Jared Spurgeon 5.188
Victor Rask 4.000 Jonas Brodin 4.167
Eric Staal 3.250 Greg Pateryn 2.250
Marcus Foligno 2.875 Nick Seeler 0.725
Luke Kunin 0.925
Brandon Duhaime 0.925
Jordan Greenway 0.917
Alexander Khovanov 0.843
Kyle Rau 0.700
J.T. Brown 0.688

There is a pretty good core group of players on this team and if Koivu and Dumba were healthy for the back half of the regular season, they may have made a few more players better and point totals all around would have been better.  Still, they do have the important names still signed on and primed to play next season

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

As you may have noticed, that 20-man roster above is lacking some serious depth and that is a product of the free agency period to come this summer.  Kevin Fiala is the only pool worthy free agent on the list, but they do have some other key players unsigned for the upcoming season, like Pontus Aberg, Ryan Donato and Joel Eriksson Ek.

From a numbers perspective, the team is pretty top heavy, when it comes to cap hits, so even this 20-man roster above is still safely over the projected cap floor by almost $5 million, so they have some room to play and fill out their roster, but there might not be any real big ticket purchases on the free agent market this year.

The Minnesota Wild were considered to be big winners in the NCAA free agent sweepstakes with the signing of Nico Sturm out of Clarkson University, where he posted 45 points in 39 games in his final season in school.  The 23-year old German already has size, 6'3" and 207 pounds, and he did figure into a couple of games before the end of the year, burning the only year on his entry-level deal, making him a restricted free agent this summer.  Nevertheless, he should be re-signed fairly easily and inserted into this roster that is desperate for a bit more oomph.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

The Wild are going to be selecting with the 12th overall pick in the opening round of the draft in Vancouver this summer and they just need to stock up on the best players available this year.  Their cupboards are bare and there isn't a whole lot coming up through the system for them.  The Wild like a bit of size in their kids, so a scoring winger with a decent frame on him leads me to believe that they could be looking at Matthew Boldy of the US Development Team.  Boldy is already 6'2" and 192 pounds, playing at the World Under-18 tournament at the moment and is destined to head to Boston College next year.  He is ranked in the top-10 in many lists as a scoring forward, so the Wild would be fairly fortunate to see him drop down this far.

The Central Division isn't going to get any easier, so the Wild are going to have to get better and right away, if they want to make good use of the window of opportunity that they have with this core group of players.  This team does have a fair bit of flexibility coming up this summer, but it will be a competitive marketplace out there for free agents and probably even trades as well.  The Wild certainly have the core group to overcome what they were missing in the 2019 season, but they will need to pad their depth, if they truly want to make a solid run at anything.  The Wild will be back in the wild card chase next spring, that much we feel certain about, but the variables on getting in or missing out are just too great for them right now.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Pool Outlook for Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Flyers were much better on paper, looking down the list of their scorers and point totals, than their 22nd place finish in the overall league standings would suggest.  They had a whole lot of firepower, but the downside to their season was the back end, as they set a new NHL record for the most number of goalies to get a start in one season and as much as they received some pretty decent goaltending from their goalie of the future, Carter Hart, it just wasn't enough to save them from a horrible start and then a sputtering finish.

The real telling statistic to the Flyers' season was their goals against, as they ranked 29th in the league with 281 pucks in their own net and a goal differential of -37, which was only 23rd in the league.  There was just no sense of a totally cooperating unit throughout the season, as the team would push forward, but not come back or really lack in their special teams, ranking 26th on the penalty kill or 23rd on the power play.  This team just didn't want to come together for the whole season and it really hurt them.

The winds of change are already blowing through this organization, looking for serious improvements and it starts with the coaching, where they have hired Alain Vigneault in the last couple of weeks to take over the reins of this side and hopefully turn this team back into a contender.  Again, on paper, it doesn't look like it should be too hard, but there might be a whole lot more to it than just the coaching staff.

Captain Claude Giroux didn't quite have the repeat season of the 2018 campaign, where he was over 100 points, but he was still over a point-per-game player with the Flyers this season, posting 22 goals and 85 points in all 82 games for the club.  That was good enough for 22nd overall in pool scoring and 19th among all forwards.  His scoring ability, however, wasn't enough to carry this team very far.

The Flyers were not short on pool worthy talent either.  Unlike some of the teams we've seen already in these outlook posts, the Flyers have 14 players on the list, including Giroux, and thanks to a deadline deal, they finished with three worthy goalies on that list too.  Up front, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, James Van Riemsdyk, rookie Oskar Lindblom and Scott Laughton all finished within the top 200 forwards, Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg were all among the top 100 defensemen and then Carter Hart, Cam Talbot and Brian Elliott were all in the top 50 goalies.  With a lineup like that, it is very surprising that they couldn't clinch a wild card spot in the east, but that is a testament to how hard it is to make the playoffs nowadays, especially when your defense is in shambles.

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

Flip a coin to decide which Flyers team we'll see in the 2019 season. Can we trust a guy like Claude Giroux to have a big season again? Has Shayne Gostisbehere really arrived now as a top level defenseman at the NHL level? Maybe these two are tied together at the hip and each of their seasons will rely on one another. That's a certain possibility too. I like where the Flyers are headed next season, they do appear to have a fairly strong core, especially at the back, goaltending may still be a little bit of a question mark, but it's quite serviceable at the moment. If this side can stay competitive, there's no reason why they couldn't go back to the playoffs, but much like Columbus, their path to the holy grail is paved with incredibly tough divisional opponents.

The coin flip didn't quite work in their favour this year, despite Giroux still among the top players in the league and Gostisbehere still coming along as a scoring defenseman.  Their core still remains fairly strong and goaltending was a huge let down for them this season, while the division was insanely difficult, thanks to Carolina and Long Island really making their pushes.  They were a bubble team for the playoffs and that bubble burst pretty early.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

I thought this was going to be the season that Travis Konecny really broke out of his shell, as he had seen some improvements, year over year to start his career, but year number three was a bit of a plateau, only going up a couple points and still scoring 22 goals, the same as 2018.  He was still worthy of a pool selection and would have been a very good option for those middle rounds, as he played quite well at times, but he'll be leaned upon next season to tighten up his two-way game, which may keep his numbers plateaued to some degree.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Claude Giroux 8.275 Andrew MacDonald 5.000 Alex Lyon 0.750
Jakub Voracek 8.250 Shayne Gostisbehere 4.500 Carter Hart 0.731
James Van Riemsdyk 7.000 Radko Gudas 3.350
Sean Couturier 4.450 David Schlemko 2.100
Michael Raffl 1.600 Robert Hagg 1.150
Oskar Lindblom 0.925 Samuel Morin 0.700
Nolan Patrick 0.925 Philippe Myers 0.678
Joel Farabee 0.925
German Rubtsov 0.894
Morgan Frost 0.894
Mikhail Vorobyev 0.784

Free agency will really take its toll on this team, once July 1st rolls around, since they really got stripped of a number of regular players, but that does allow this team some flexibility at this point moving forward.  There is a good core still remaining, like the big ticket players like Giroux, Voracek, Gostisbehere and now Hart, so there are some positives for points here on this team and you know that they will be aggressive this summer to shore up all their positions.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Unrestricted free agency won't strip away much from the skaters this summer, just more so raise some questions about the goaltending moving forward, since they will have a bunch hitting the open market, including the other two pool worthy keepers, Brian Elliott and Cam Talbot.  I believe one is expected to come back, but probably not both.

Restricted free agency is where the hard work will go into, with Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov all in need of new deals this summer.  These four will really shape the rest of the summer, especially the defensemen, as their deals will give management the rough number they can take to the open market and be aggressive with.

Currently, against the projected cap numbers of $83 million for the ceiling and $61 million for the floor, the Flyers are $7.1 million below the floor, so flexibility isn't going to be an issue here.  They have plenty of money to play with, even after the four RFAs.

The Flyers are not short on talent coming up through their own system, as they do have a couple of key forwards making their way to the pros and it might be sooner, rather than later, when a guy like Morgan Frost takes to the ice.  Frost was one to watch at the World Juniors, unfortunately falling short at the tournament, but his skills were on full display and it probably had the Flyers organization drooling, wondering how soon they can see that raw talent in their lineup.  If all goes well, maybe it's next season.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

If there has been one thing the Flyers have been really good at of late, it's been stockpiling picks and doing well with them.  They will pick from the 11th spot in the opening round of the draft and if there was one spot where they could really use a top end prospect, it's probably on the blueline once again.  A mobile, two-way defenseman like Victor Soderstrom sounds like a good piece to help shape the future with.  He isn't the biggest defenseman in the draft class, but we've been learning that this league isn't about the huge defenders any longer, so a kid that just plays smart and a little bit physical, could go a long ways.

Has anything really truly changed with this Flyers team over the last 12 months?  They have some great offensive players on their side, they're slowly coming along defensively and their goalies couldn't stay healthy to win them any games.  This team is going to probably go as far as Carter Hart can possibly take them, but an aggressive summer spending plan could certainly aid this team, especially if they drop their dollars in the right pockets.  If they can go defense-first in the summer spending plan, they do have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs once again, but it's going to be a competitive market, likely to a point where a team like the Flyers will overspend.  They're close, so they'll have to make the push.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Top Prospect Signings (Apr 19)

This past week, the Dallas Stars locked up one of their top prospects for the start of next season, 2016 1st round draft pick Riley Tufte. Tufte and the Stars agreed upon a 3-year entry-level deal, which will start next season and work the rookie maximum cap hit of $925,000, but doesn't have a great deal, in terms of performance bonuses, according to CapFriendly.

Tufte just finished his 3rd season with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he didn't put up any staggering numbers, but he does have a staggering body size, 6'5" and 190 pounds, so he should be able to jump right into the league at 21 years old and probably pick up a solid bottom six role to start.  It will be interesting to see how he fits into the Stars' scheme next season.

The Vegas Golden Knights finally lured Russian forward Nikita Gusev over to North America, as he had been playing in the KHL since he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2012.  Gusev was dealt to the Golden Knights prior to the expansion draft, as part of a deal that would see the Golden Knights play ball and claim the right player in the draft.  Nevertheless, Gusev has joined the Golden Knights for the playoff run, signing a deal that goes through to the remainder of the playoffs and he will be a restricted free agent come July 1st.

The plan for Gusev is to possibly dress in a playoff game, but at the very least, have him acclimate himself in the North American rinks ahead of joining the team next season.  This past season, he posted 82 points in 62 games with St. Petersburg in the KHL and the last time we saw him on this blog page, he was part of the Russian team at the Olympics and was selected in the pool we had there.  He will be an interesting figure next season, possibly good for a late round pick.

Pool Outlook for Vancouver

The expectations for the Vancouver Canucks were pretty low coming into the season, no one was talking about playoffs, but there was a certain buzz around the team, because of their youth movement and the hype that was building in the season previous.

The team had shown off a goal scoring winger to go along with a franchise centreman in the 2018 season and everyone was waiting for the dynamo from Sweden to come over and show us all the razzle-dazzle... which he did!

The combination of the youth movement, the lack of expectations and a coaching staff now going into year number two creating a pretty good working environment for this team and they ended up competing for much of the season, but a lack of depth and the youth hitting the proverbial wall in a long season stalled progress and they went from competing for a playoff spot to finishing 23rd overall in the league.

This team isn't without a bunch of optimism, as their youth turns over and new fresh faces come to join the squad for next season, there is hope that the playoff push will last long into March and April going forward.

The Canucks were led by one of the favourites for the Calder Trophy this season, forward Elias Pettersson, who got off to a rocket start to the season, but slowed considerably down the stretch, but still left a pretty good impression on the league as a whole.  He finished with 28 goals and 66 points in 71 games this season, tops for points among all rookies as well, 57th among all forwards and 72nd overall in the hockey pool.  A little bit more conditioning and some more bulk on that slender frame will make him a hockey pool stud, year after year.

The depth was certainly lacking for the Canucks this season, as they finished with only seven players in the pool worthiness conversation and that includes Pettersson.  Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser were the only other two forwards to make the grade this season, while Alex Edler, Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton was good enough from the blueline and Jacob Markstrom emerged as a solid number one guy in the 2019 season.   That lack of depth was their ultimate undoing, since they couldn't quite give their goaltending the scoring support, they so desperately needed to win a few more games.

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

With the Sedin twins now departed, the Canucks depth will be challenged even more in the 2019 season. They will have to replace two 50+ point players, find a way to keep their key players healthy and hope that some of their kids can climb up the depth charts a little faster than initially expected, in order to stay relatively competitive. The Canucks did show flashes of what they could be moving forward, but it all goes back to depth and what they didn't have when Horvat and/or Boeser got hurt. A solid summer, some promising young kids and a strong camp might make this a better team, but the playoffs do still seem like a little ways away.

The kids stepped up in a big way in 2019, but they were unable to drag the rest of the scoring depth with them, which was probably the biggest issue.  There were plenty of flashes for this team, but overall, the playoffs are still a little ways away, but there is certainly more optimism that this rebuild is going well, rather than some of their divisional opponents still spinning their wheels.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

The coming of Elias Pettersson was told in the scriptures of the 2018 season and he didn't disappoint.  He was the most intriguing player on the roster coming into the 2019 season and he broke out in a big hurry and there's promise for even more to come.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Loui Eriksson 6.000 Christopher Tanev 4.450 Jacob Markstrom 3.670
Bo Horvat 5.500 Troy Stecher 2.325 Richard Bachman 0.675
Brandon Sutter 4.375 Quinn Hughes 0.917
Tanner Pearson 3.750 Alex Biega 0.850
Sven Baertschi 3.333 Guillaume Brisebois 0.698
Antoine Roussel 3.250 Ashton Sautner 0.675
Ryan Spooner 3.100
Jay Beagle 3.000
Tim Schaller 1.900
Jake Virtanen 1.250
Elias Pettersson 0.925
Adam Gaudette 0.917

The Canucks have quite a bit of work ahead of them in this off-season, since a trio of their pool worthy players are now headed to free agency this summer and there are plenty of holes in their lineup, which sort of leaves the immediate hockey pool impact at a less-than-optimal position.  Other than the obvious names on this list, this team will need the summer to determine how excited a poolie should get when projecting the points for this team.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The big three free agents, Brock Boeser, Alex Edler and Ben Hutton are all expected back in the blue and green, even though Edler is the only one of the three headed to unrestricted free agency, if a deal doesn't get done.  It sounds like Boeser will likely get a long-term deal and Hutton will get a long negotiation, likely into something mid-range, but they are all expected back.  The Canucks have a number of other free agents, who weren't worthy for the pool, but filled a role on the team and that list is fairly big, so it will be interesting to see how quickly they mow through it all.

The team certainly has the cap space to get through most of these negotiations with some relative ease, as the 20-man roster still has a few spots left open on it and against the new projected numbers for the salary cap next season, they still sit $9.4 million below the cap floor of $61 million.  Boeser may be looking at a bank-breaking deal, but he is only coming out of his entry-level deal, so it might not be too bad.

There was a brief glimpse of five games for defenseman Quinn Hughes and he came away with 3 points in his late-season debut for the Canucks and his skating ability was more than enough to get everyone excited.  The league is starting to fill out with these dynamic skating, somewhat smaller defensemen, who are going to be real game changers in the end.  Hughes is regarded quite highly in the scouting circles and the Canucks were able to pull him out of the college ranks and get him signed.  He'll be a good pickup in the draft next season and should finish in the worthiness conversation.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

This summer, the Canucks currently hold the 10th overall selection in the entry draft, thanks to dropping down another spot in the lottery proceedings.  Their stable of prospects is fairly well-rounded and they have players in every position, so it could be more of getting the best skilled player available at that selection, because you just can't have too many skilled players.  Picking up another centre likely isn't a bad idea and Alex Turcotte's name seems to be a popular one, playing a good two-way game with speed and he is destined for the NCAA ranks as well, finishing the year with the US Development Team, so he'll hone his skills among some big bodies and will possibly a couple steps closer to the big leagues after a year or two there.

The biggest need for the Canucks in this off-season will be some quality scoring depth, since that was what they didn't have in 2019 and that was the difference between a playoff spot and a lottery pick, at the end of the day.  The future looks very bright for the prospect pool and the youth already on the big team, but how the team builds around that will be just as important.  It will be another year on for this side and they have gained some valuable experience, so they should be competitive for a wild card spot next season, but it will come down to their depth once again, which will either see them push forward into the fray or just fall short for another year.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Pool Outlook for Anaheim

Father Time has not been very kind to the Anaheim Ducks, a team that has done their best to reward their top talent with long-term deals, worth lots of money, only to be betrayed by the rigors of the calendar and now a good portion of those long-term investments are getting the best of this team.

Injuries played a very big role for the Anaheim Ducks in the 2019 season and it hit some of the bigger contracts on the team and it did sort of handcuff this team to a point, where it struggled to find any sort of consistency through the season.

After a 5-1-1 start to the season, they lost 12 of their next 15 games and really couldn't find any recovery from that.  There was a slight surge at the end of November and into December, but it wasn't enough to make up for the early season and then the team just fell off the map again.

Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves were all hurt for the long-term and that worked out to be $18.65 million against the cap in three players, gone for the long-term.  Perry didn't come back until the back third of the season, Kesler missed 22 games throughout the season and Eaves only figured into seven games after broken ribs and then an illness a couple weeks after his return, which finally led to an AHL demotion.  Those were three guys that were hard to replace and the team never really got its footing with the youth they had to use.  At the back, Cam Fowler missed 22 games to some broken bones in his face and there were other minor injuries there as well, which certainly didn't help their cause at all.

With that being said, the Ducks' offense sputtered, only 199 goals for, last in the NHL, they were tied for 18th in goals against at 251 and that all adds up to 24th place overall in the league standings.

Through all of that this season, John Gibson still plowed through and appeared in 58 games for the Ducks this season, registering 26 wins and 56 points, ranking 25th among all goalies in the hockey pool.  He was certainly trying his best to keep this team's head above water, because it certainly wasn't as water tight as their team's name may have suggested.  This is back-to-back seasons for Gibson, leading Anaheim in pool scoring and his new contract extension will certainly reflect that.

Only seven players, including Gibson, were pool worthy in the 2019 season and Gibson was the only goalie worthy.  Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell and Adam Henrique were the only forwards worth taking in the end, none of which finished in the top 100 at the forward position, they were all in the bottom half of those rankings.  Both Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler were worthy from the blueline, but neither of those two were in the top half of their respective position either.  Last season, the Ducks finished with 13 players in this conversation and seemed to be doing a lot of things right, but they ran into the unforeseeable and it cost them big time.

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

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.

The kids were given their opportunity, thanks to all of those injuries, but they didn't exceed any expectations or see any flying colours this year.  On their roster at the end of the year, 21 players, age 25 and under, made an appearance in various capacities and a couple of them were worthy of the pool (Rakell and Lindholm).  The rest couldn't find their footing and the veterans that were there to guide the way, were struggling to stay healthy.  The idea of the playoffs was there and I think many had the same idea, even through the year, but it just wasn't to be.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

NCAA standout forward Troy Terry was thought to be the next best thing to come into Anaheim, but he was among those young players that really struggled this season.  4 goals and 13 points in 32 games, plus a good portion of his season down in the AHL, didn't make him a great hockey pool player this year, but the Ducks will hope he found a bit more confidence in the minors and just enough experience in the NHL to know how much harder he needs to work in this off-season.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Corey Perry 8.625 Cam Fowler 6.500 John Gibson 6.400
Ryan Getzlaf 8.250 Hampus Lindholm 5.250 Kevin Boyle 0.675
Ryan Kesler 6.875 Josh Manson 4.100
Adam Henrique 5.850 Jacob Larsson 0.894
Jakob Silfverberg 5.250 Josh Mahura 0.759
Rickard Rakell 3.800 Patrick Sieloff 0.700
Patrick Eaves 3.150 Brendan Guhle 0.698
Ondrej Kase 2.600
Devin Shore 2.300
Nick Ritchie 1.533
Carter Rowney 1.133
Troy Terry 0.925
Sam Steel 0.894
Max Jones 0.894

Health is the number one concern for these Ducks in the off-season, especially since they have a solid portion of their 2019 roster already signed on for the 2020 campaign.  If Perry and Kesler can find their way to full health, the latter may be a bit more of a stretch than the former, there could be some recovery from their dismal offense this past season.  Right now, it doesn't feel like we should be very confident in this group, but this is why we have a summer to figure these things out.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Currently, I am showing a fairly full 23-man roster above for the Ducks and against a projected $83 million salary cap ceiling, this team would still have about $4.9 million in cap space to work with.  That won't make them into big players on the free agent market this year, unless they can start wheeling and dealing a little at the same time.

None of their current free agent batch was deemed pool worthy, but defenseman Andy Welinski is heading to unrestricted free agency, along with backup goalie Ryan Miller, and they would be the only two that bear any interest at this point.  The bodies that are heading out are very much just depth players or minor league talent.

A rough finish to the World Juniors be damned, I think a kid like Maxime Comtois is one of those players that could really step up and be a force for good on this Anaheim Ducks team and there are a couple of bubble spots up for grabs in that roster I have above.  The kid has plenty of size and a little bit of swagger to his game, which isn't unlike some of the Anaheim greats of the past (and/or present), so I would think that he will get a long look again at camp this fall and he could be the one that really surprises some.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

The Ducks were one of the few teams I got right in last year's mock draft, so let's look for back-to-back years of good picks.  The lottery bumped them down from 8th overall down to 9th overall, only one spot lost, which isn't too bad.  Their own prospect pool suggests that they might be in the market for a defenseman with their top pick and I think it would be very beneficial for this team to add a young player like Philip Broberg to their mix, as they have had plenty of success with Swedish defensemen before.  The NHL game is now becoming a skating man's game and Broberg supposedly has that in spades and at 17 years old, he already has a 6'3" frame to fill out and that's something you can't teach.

Right now, the Ducks have a decent prospect pool to pick from, but they are really weighed down by their veteran contracts and health statuses.  Writing off the Ducks completely at the early part of the off-season is hasty, at best, but there is a certain lack of confidence one feels with where this team is on paper.  The numbers don't reflect a good season on the ice and they certainly don't inspire us poolies to get on board with the lot of them, although you might be able to find a decent bargain pick, if you're carefully looking.  If the Ducks can shift a contract or two out of their stable in this off-season, install some of their youth full-time and in a top six role, they might have a real shot again, but it's a long shot for any of that to happen right now.  I think the trend is downward until further notice.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Pool Outlook for Edmonton

The narrative in Edmonton remained the same in 2019... some top end talent in the entire league, some reasonably high expectations and the eventual belly flop into mediocrity.

The Oilers had a coaching change after a slow start to their year, which resulted in an increase of hope in and around the end of November and December, but the team reverted back to what it was earlier and it cost the General Manager his job and then it was a struggle through the rest of the season, somehow maintaining some hope into the New Year and it was an arduous stretch to the end of the regular season.

At the trade deadline, all they could do was rid themselves of a goalie, trying to lessen the controversy of the number one goalie on the club and right the ship in time for a big push, but it didn't work.

The Oilers were not short on top end talent again this year and for the first time since the 1990 season, did a team finish with two 100-point players on their roster and fail to make the playoffs.  One of those 100-point players was even a 50-goal scorer this year for the Oilers and they still couldn't win games and realize some of their potential.  Their depth and defense let them down once again and trying to improve upon those are going to run into some heavy cap barriers, but that will be the job of the new GM, whenever he gets hired.

It was year number four for Connor McDavid in an Oilers uniform and it was his 3rd 100-point season of his career, finishing with 41 goals and 116 points in 78 games this season, good enough for 2nd in the league and hockey pool in scoring this season.and now it's back-to-back seasons without a playoff appearance.  This does have the talking heads of the media questioning his patience level with this organization, but it still sounds like he's committed to being there.  Either way, in Edmonton or not, he's a dominating force for us poolies to cling on to.

Last season, since I have those windows open, the Oilers had 10 players worthy of a hockey pool selection and a true testament to their depth in the 2019 season, they only finished with seven, including McDavid.  Leon Draisaitl was the other big performer in the season, finishing with 50 goals and 105 points, but then Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was next on the list at 69 points.  Alex Chiasson rounded out the worthy forwards, while Darnell Nurse and Oskar Klefbom were the only defensemen worthy and Mikko Koskinen was left to be the number one guy and he played (and won) enough to be worthy by season's end.

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

The Oilers need to be faster and harder to play against. The Pacific Division is full of fast teams that work extra hard and in this new era of the Golden Knights, the Oilers do not keep up. Connor McDavid needs some help on his line, so he's not doing it all by himself and the Oilers need more depth, so they don't lean so heavily on their superstar. The Oilers will be busy in this off-season, they have to be. Is there enough out there to make it work for the Oilers? Not in the free agent pool, at least. The Oilers will have to make some more trades and if they can pull off a good one, two or three deals, then we'll talk about the playoffs.

The Oilers didn't get faster, they provided little help to their franchise player, didn't add any quality depth and with all of that, they didn't make the playoffs.  It was plain and simple here.  What they didn't do was very apparent and the result was very much of the same as it has been in years previous.  I haven't gotten down to the bottom of this page in the writing scheme, but I can assure you, it's probably going to be very much the same again this year.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Maybe Matt Benning isn't the player that I thought he was or maybe the team he's on has limited his ability to flourish as an offensive defenseman?  I don't think I can say definitively, one way or the other, but 17 points in 70 games and a healthy scratch at times this past season was an indication that he wasn't buying in to what the Oilers were selling as a whole and that may have gone for a number of players on this team.  Either way, he was also a disappointment this season.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Connor McDavid 12.500 Andrej Sekera 5.500 Mikko Koskinen 4.500
Leon Draisaitl 8.500 Oscar Klefbom 4.167 Stuart Skinner 0.784
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 6.000 Adam Larsson 4.167
Milan Lucic 6.000 Kris Russell 4.000
Sam Gagner 3.150 Darnell Nurse 3.200
Zack Kassian 1.950 Brandon Manning 2.250
Kyle Brodziak 1.150 Matt Benning 1.900
Josh Currie 0.688
Colby Cave 0.675
Kailer Yamamoto 0.894
Tyler Benson 0.808

Looking ahead at 2019, the Oilers still have a goalie that will play a lot, their two pool worthy defensemen and three out of four worthy forwards.  This isn't a great sign and probably what makes things worse is that they have all seven defensemen signed on for another season (at least), which suggests that defense may not be getting any better, even if it is only on paper right now.  The Oilers are not showing a lot of promise at the moment, so the outlook is rather bleak.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The salary cap will be an issue with some large contracts on that table above that don't have green names right beside them.  That means that they were not getting good value for the cap space taken up and against a potential $83 million cap ceiling, that 20-man roster above only leaves $8.6 million in cap space, which isn't enough to fix the issues at hand.  This summer may be more about trades than free agency, but that's another story altogether.

Alex Chiasson is the only pool worthy player on the list destined for free agency and he'll be an unrestricted free agent in July, along with a number of other underachievers.  None of the team's restricted free agents were worthy, but there are some notable names like Jesse Puljujarvi on that list, so some decisions will have to be made there.

The Oilers' best prospect in their pool is a defenseman and until they can clear up a spot for Evan Bouchard, he won't exactly be one to watch just yet.  They will need Kailer Yamamoto to finally step up and be a secondary scorer this season to help the team move forward in their attempts at the playoffs.  Yamamoto has lost his rookie eligibility after a couple of seasons of more than enough games, so as he enters his second full season as a pro, he will need his creative abilities to rise up to the forefront and the management team and coaches will have to find someone for him to play with.  He's definitely the one to watch today.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

Teams that have spent a lot of drafts eyeing up and selecting top defensemen have done well in recent years, Nashville is a pretty good example of that.  The Oilers are in desperate need of a change in philosophy and there's hope that a new GM can bring that in for them.  If I'm installed as their GM, I'm looking for a top end defenseman again this year and will keep doing so, trying to develop a blueline factory and turn it all into asset gold.  This year, I'm looking at Cam York from the US Development Program, who will play for the Americans at the Under-18 tourney and is set for Michigan in the NCAA ranks.  He may not be tomorrow's answer to fix this team, but he looks like he has the size and the numbers to be a good investment for the future.

The fate of the Oilers in 2020 rests solely on the poor sonofabitch that take the job as the team's GM this summer.  This team needs someone who is bold and has his own direction and he'll be tasked with making hard decisions that may not have an immediate pay off, much to the chagrin of their fan base.  The way this team sits right now, they're not in line to make the playoffs, teams around them are better and improving, while this roster has very few directions to go.  If a new GM comes in and makes some sweeping changes, he'll likely have to pay extra for them, which may write-off the 2020 season for the sake of a better 2021, which is increasingly difficult in a Canadian market, which doesn't measure success against expectation, rather the wins and losses of today.  If they can find a GM that makes sweeping changes and still wants this job at this time next year, I would consider that a win.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Pool Outlook for Buffalo

The Buffalo Sabres haven't been to the playoffs since the 2011 season and this year was looking like it was finally going to be their triumphant return to the post-season, as the stars were aligning, goals were being scored and the wins were piling up... all before the flip of the calendar to the New Year.  A 10-game winning streak in November saw these Sabres at the top of the heap for a while, but the injuries really took their toll on this team and the crash was hard, falling all the way down to 27th overall in the league.

When you look at harsh falls, mostly due to injury, you have to blame organizational depth for that, as the team obviously doesn't have the quality of players that could take over for their fallen comrades and give the team an adequate solution for a brief period of time.

In all fairness, the Sabres have been rebuilding for quite some time already and now that they are seeing their team blossom into a decent group of NHL'ers, they are still fairly young and their result this season is a stark reminder of just how young they are.  It goes all the way up to the management team, which is still fairly fresh, in the broad scheme of things, but the foundation that he has put together to this point has been good and it shows some real promise.

The bright side to this season, now that it's over, is that this team can only really move forward from here.  You shouldn't be able to regress from 27th overall in a rebuild situation.  It's possible, I suppose, there are 31 teams, but it should only get better from here... in theory.

A brief absence in the season for Jack Eichel certainly didn't help things for the Sabres, as their franchise player has been very good for them, when healthy, and he showed a little bit more of what he can do for this team with a great 2019 campaign.  In total, he played in 77 games, scoring 28 goals and posted 82 points, ranking him 27th overall in hockey pool scoring, just outside of a 1st round pick in this year's draft of 25 teams.  He was 23rd among all forwards and was over a point-per-game player.  Once the Sabres can give him some quality depth, this team will be going places.

Of course, the depth is really thin, only 10 players in total were deemed pool worthy this season, including Eichel.  Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner were very complimentary to the team's cause, both in the top 100 in overall scoring, but then it was a long wait to see the next Buffalo forwards, Conor Sheary and Jason Pominville, who were 30 points back and ranking closer to the bottom of the top 200 forwards.  The defense got a huge boost from rookie sensation Rasmus Dahlin, 23rd among all defensemen, followed closely by Rasmus Ristolainen and a deadline acquisition in Brandon Montour.  The goaltending was great at times, but then they had their issues, but both Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark made the top 50, splitting the minutes for a good portion of the season and made names for themselves in the year.

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

Get a goalie! A good goalie. Jonathan Bernier is set to become an unrestricted free agent... he played well in Colorado. Get him! Just do something better in net. The Sabres have a lot of good pieces on their squad, they do have to overcome some bad luck and some injury bug bites, but overall, they do have some pieces that could make them competitive in the 2019 season and possibly right this ship. Add a full-time Mittelstadt and Dahlin to this mix, they'll be playing a boat load of talent and with the right amount of tinkering in this off-season, they could be looking for a wild card spot, not unlike what the Devils did this year.

I wouldn't necessarily would have banked on Carter Hutton as my guy to get exactly, but in the first half of the 2019 season, he was looking rather sharp and so were the Sabres.  They were challenging for that playoff spot, as Rasmus Dahlin came in and took off, but it all came crashing down in the New Year, as some injury troubles did hamper the team, to the point where they just couldn't get their groove back on track.  They certainly showed flashes of what they intend to be and that was a huge positive, but it just didn't last for them to the end of the season and the playoff push.  So very close though.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

There were plenty of eyes on rookie forward Casey Mittlestadt, as he was being looked upon to be a catalyst for success for this Sabres team, right off the hop.  It wasn't exactly what happened, as he only posted 12 goals and 25 points in 77 games and he didn't have that dominant force on the games, like he did at the junior level.  It isn't to say that it isn't coming, because he certainly has the talent to get there, my guess is that the move to pro was somewhat overwhelming.  I don't usually expect a lot out of sophomores, but he could be an exception next season.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Jack Eichel 10.000 Rasmus Ristolainen 5.400 Carter Hutton 2.750
Kyle Okposo 6.000 Zach Bogosian 5.143 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen 0.793
Sam Reinhart 3.650 Marco Scandella 4.000
Vladimir Sobotka 3.500 Brandon Montour 3.388
Conor Sheary 3.000 Matt Hunwick 2.250
Scott Wilson 1.050 Rasmus Dahlin 0.925
Casey Mittelstadt 0.925 Lawrence Pilut 0.925
Tage Thompson 0.925 Casey Nelson 0.813
Andrew Oglevie 0.925
Alexander Nylander 0.894
Rasmus Asplund 0.845
Matej Pekar 0.776
Victor Olofsson 0.768

For us hockey pool enthusiasts, the Sabres only have a few names on their roster for next season that is of any interest, highlighted in green, but they are nothing, if they are not flexible going into this off-season.  They have contract and roster spots open in their organization, which means they will be busy getting business done.  Right now, pre-business, they are not an exciting team to plan around, but when September rolls around, this will be a much different looking roster.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Against a projected salary cap ceiling of $83 million or a cap floor of $61 million, the Sabres are much closer to the latter, still yet to reach the floor with the 23-man roster above and a small buyout still on the books.  This means that the Sabres have some money to throw around and they are not shy about it, almost spending to the ceiling in the 2019 season.

Free agency has taken away some pool worthy names from the list above, Jeff Skinner and Jason Pominville are both headed to the open market on July 1st, if the Sabres don't get a deal done, while goaltender Linus Ullmark is a restricted free agent, in need of a new deal.  The real key will be Skinner and his 40 goals in 2019, because if he goes, where are those 40 goals going to come from?  The Sabres are just hoping they did enough to keep him from hitting the open market.

The player that drew some interest with a late-season was Swedish rookie Victor Olofsson, who posted 2 goals and 4 points in six games at the end of the year.  His teammates were singing his praises upon his arrival and he showed a little bit of flair in his brief stint in garbage time for the club this season.  He could be a hidden little gem next season, assuming he can find a role on this team from the get-go.  He'll be 24 at the start of camp, so he really could be coming into his own at a maturity level as well.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

The Sabres are putting together a solid foundation of young players and their system is regarded quite highly among some groups, which means this team has the potential to really turn things around soon.  They still should be looking for more scoring help and now that we're to the 7th overall pick in the draft, it's a bit of a crap shoot.  US Development Team forward Trevor Zegras fits the bill of a two-way player with some agitating attributes to his game, not unlike some of the best pests in the game, something they could certainly match-up with against divisional teams, like Boston.  Versatile, plays centre and wing, posted some decent numbers and will try his hand at college to mature.  It's a long-term pick, but one that could certainly work out.

The nucleus of this team's core is still rather small: Eichel, Reinhart, Dahlin and Ristolainen, so parts need to be added to it before we can really start getting excited about this team.  Mittelstadt is one of those players looking to jump in, same with Nylander and Montour.  To get there, you need to be able to be leaned upon in the clutch to get where the team needs to go.  I think this team still needs some goaltending and it will need to re-sign Skinner or at least shop for a sniper in the free agent marketplace to replace him.  There is a good base to work from and flexibility to get the Sabres where they need to go.  The playoffs are not very far off, if that 10-game winning streak was any indication, but the work this summer needs to get done, before they get anywhere.  The playoffs can happen for this team, but it all rests on management's shoulders.