Stat of the Day: Thomas Vanek nearing point-per-game pace

When Thomas Vanek signed a one-year, $2.6 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings over the summer, it looked to many like a ‘show-me’ deal for Vanek to get his last big contract as he knocks on the door of his mid-30s.

Well if that was the case, it’s certainly been executed to plan as Vanek – who turns 33 on Thursday – is nearing a point-per-game pace for the Red Wings, with 12 goals and 30 points in 33 games. He trails Henrik Zetterberg by one point for the team lead. Zetterberg has played 11 more games than Vanek has this season.

Vanek scored the lone goal for the Wings on Monday night in Detroit’s 1-0 win over Montreal to extend his personal point streak to six games, a stretch in which he’s put up nine points. He has 15 points in his last 13 games.

It’s been a rough few years for Vanek since he left Buffalo – the team that drafted him 5th overall in 2003 – via trade in 2013. After finishing out an up-and-down 2013-14 season between the Islanders and Montreal (he was traded again that season), Vanek landed in Minnesota, which was followed by more inconsistency. He put up 93 points in 154 games over two seasons, with a minus-15 rating over those two years.

Bruins Face Canadiens for First Time, Scott Stevens Returns to New Jersey, Brian Elliot Faces Blues

Quite a bit to watch on Saturday night as 12 NHL games are being played, including the first game between Boston and Montreal, Flames goaltender Brian Elliot facing the Blues, who traded him over the offseason. Zach Parise and Scott Stevens will make their returns to New Jersey as the Wild face the Devils; Parise, of course, as a player, and Stevens as an assistant coach to Bruce Boudreau.

Here’s the games being played: Toronto at Chicago, 7; N.Y. Rangers at Washington, 7; Montreal at Boston, 7; Carolina at Philadelphia, 7; Tampa Bay at Ottawa, 7; Colorado at Florida, 7; San Jose at Detroit, 7; Minnesota at New Jersey, 7; Pittsburgh at Nashville, 8; Columbus at Dallas, 8; Vancouver at Los Angeles, 10; St. Louis at Calgary, 10.

Players to Watch

Chicago: Richard Panik; Don’t look now but Panik is leading the Hawks with five goals in five games. Patrick who?

Toronto: James van Reimsdyk; Will not be playing against his brother, Trevor, as its being reported the younger van Reimsdyk will miss 5-6 weeks with an upper-body injury, as it’s being reported by Scott Powers of The Athletic. The two have played each other just once.

N.Y. Rangers: Mike Zibanejad; Off to a nice start with five points in four games.

Washington: Zach Sanford; The rookie expected to play Saturday after being out of the lineup on Thursday. Will face fellow ex-BC big forward Chris Kreider for the first time.

Montreal: Tomas Plekanec; The 33-year-old center seems to like playing the Bruins, his 46 points against the archrival is the most he’s scored against any NHL opponent.

Boston: David Backes; First game in the rivalry. In 11 games against Montreal, he has four goals and eight points.

Carolina: Victor Rask; The Swedish center leads the Hurricanes with five goals in four games. He had 48 last season, up from 33 his rookie season.

Philadelphia: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare; The French centerman is leading the Flyers with a 54 percent faceoff percentage. He’s won 24 of 44 draws.

Tampa Bay: Ben Bishop; The Lightning netminder played 23 games in Ottawa from 2011-13 before being traded to Tampa, where his career has since blossomed. He is 117-53-17 since that deal, with a .921 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. Bishop has twice finished in the top three of the Vezina Trophy voting in a Lightning uniform.

Ottawa: Guy Boucher; Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s a coach. But the Senators first-year bench boss spent three seasons as the head man in Tampa Bay, going 97-79-20. He led the Bolts to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final in 2011, his first season behind the bench.

Colorado: Patrick Wiercioch; The defenseman has four points in four games.

Florida: Jaromir Jagr; Jagr coming off his 750th goal of the season.

San Jose: Brent Burns; The defenseman has points in five consecutive games to begin the season.

Detroit: Thomas Vanek; Still second on the team with six points.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; Still hanging on 299. How fitting would it be to get 300 in New Jersey, where he spent the first seven years of his career?

New Jersey: Cory Schneider; Has a .938 save percentage and 2.00 GAA in four games. Going to need to keep it up; the Devils have six goals in four games.

Pittsburgh: Patric Hornqvist; He has four points in five games, second on the team behind Evgeni Malkin, who has five.

Nashville: James Neal; Played in Pittsburgh from 2011-14, had 89 goals and 184 points in 199 games.

Columbus: Zach Werenski; The rookie leads the Jackets in scoring.

Dallas: Devin Shore; The 22-year-old tied with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for the team lead with four goals.

Vancouver: Jacob Markstrom; He’s stopped 68 of 73 shots that have come his way in three games.

Los Angeles: Jeff Carter; His 58.8 faceoff percentage ninth in the league.

St. Louis: Jay Bouwmeester; The defenseman played four seasons in Calgary. His 25:52 average time on ice was the highest among the three teams he played for (Florida 2002-09, St. Louis 2013-present).

Calgary: Brian Elliot; Played five seasons in St. Louis, had a 2.01 GAA and .925 save percentage in 181 games.

#HatTrickChallenge

James Neal: Hasn’t found the net in four games. Breaks out against his former team.

Game of the Night

Montreal at Boston: It’s never a dull one when these two teams face each other.

Lock to Win

Minnesota: Zach Parise gets his 300th goal against the team that drafted him and the Wild continue to roll.

 

 

Quiet Friday Night Across the NHL

Fridays are never big night in the NHL, but theres still some games. Here’s what is being played: Chicago at Columbus, 7; Arizona at N.Y. Islanders, 7; Nashville at Detroit, 7:30.

Players to Watch

Chicago: Patrick Kane; The defending Hart Trophy winner has six points in his last two games. He has 15 goals and 42 points in 38 games against the Jackets.

Columbus: Brandon Saad; Helped the Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups in his three full seasons in Chicago from 2012-13 to ’14-15. He had 15 goals and 33 points in 67 games he played in the Stanley Cup playoffs over that span. Chicago won 10 of 11 playoff series in those three tournaments.

Arizona: Dylan Strome; Strome’s third career game will be his first against older brother, Ryan, who is a forward for the Islanders.

N.Y. Islanders: Ryan Pulock; The promising young defenseman will make his NHL debut.

Nashville: Pekka Rinne; Expected to start against once-division rival Detroit, Rinne is out to a nice start. In two games, the 34-year-old netminder has stopped 57 of 61 shots.

Detroit: Petr Mrazek; Now-backup Jimmy Howard was phenomenal in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Rangers. Meanwhile, Mrazek hasn’t looked sharp in three games.

#HatTrickChallenge

Patrick Kane: Kane has six points in four games but has just one goal, which he got in Tuesday’s 7-4 win over Philadelphia. His 16 shots lead the Blackhawks and is tied for 14th in the NHL.

Game of the Night

Nashville at Detroit: The Predators visit Joe Louis Arena for one final time. They have won just 13 of 46 games Nashville has played there.

Lock to Win

Nashville: The Predators get the important road win and avoid the 1-3 start.

Links

Friday is never a slow night in the college hockey circuit. Here’s a good read on Maine’s fast start to the season.

Scoring is up in the NHL. Here’s a look at what it means and what we should expect.

Lucas Sedlak will make his NHL debut for the Blue Jackets on Friday night.

Brothers Ryan and Dylan Strome set to faceoff against each other for the first time.

Three Stars of the Midweek: Marian Hossa Latest in 500-goal club

NHL

Marian Hossa: Hossa scored his 500th career goal on Tuesday night, a 7-4 win over Philadelphia. He’s the 43rd player in NHL history to reach that mark, but just the third among players that made their debut after the 1994-95 lockout. The other two? Jarome Iginla and Alex Ovechkin.

Mike Green: Goal scoring has never been a weakness for the defenseman, his 123 goals ranking sixth among blue liners going back to the start of the 2005-06 season. He’s the only defenseman to score 30 goals over that span, scoring 31 in the 2008-09 season. On Monday night, he added the hat trick to the list of accomplishments, scoring three goals in a game for the first time in his career.

Patrik Laine: Facing Auston Matthews for the first time, the young Jets sniper registered his first career hat trick as well.

AHL

Anthony Mantha, Grand Rapids: The Red Wings top prospect found the net three time in a 4-3 win over the Iowa Wild on Tuesday night. He now has five goals in three games this season, his third for the Griffins. He played 10 games for the Wings last season. Expect him to be in Detroit at some point this season.

Mark Jankowski, Stockton: The former first round pick and Providence College standout had a goal and three points in a 5-1 win over the Texas Stars on Wednesday.

Nick Ellis, Bakersfield: Another strong showing for a former Providence Friar. The Condors netminder made 30 saves on 31 shots in a 4-1 win over Manitoba on Tuesday night.

CHL

Taylor Raddysh, Erie: The Lightning prospect had two and four points in the Otters 6-5 win over Niagara on Wednesday. He has 21 points in eight games.

Dmitri Sokolov, Sudbury: The Minnesota Wild prospect registered his second hat trick in four games in the Wolves’ win over the Soo Greyhounds on Wednesday. He has eight goals in his last five games.

Reilly Pickard, Acadie-Bathurst: Made 37 saves in a 3-1 win for the Titan over Saint John, who outshot A-B, 38-28.

Thoughts Are Mine Only: How About That Laine Guy?

Thoughts from a quiet yet not so quiet night around hockey.

*You couldn’t have drawn it up any better. Auston Matthews gets stoned on a breakaway by Michael Hutchinson in overtime, Patrik Laine takes the feed from Dustin Byfuglien on the counterattack and puts a laser past Frederik Andersen for his first career hat trick.

*Speaking of which, who did I have in the hat trick challenge last night?

*Laine is unbelievable. His release is in mid-career form already. The first goal he scored on the night may have been his best yet, the poise in tight space along with ability to create space for himself before firing one past Andersen was quite impressive.

*High circle on the left side will now be named ‘Laine’s Office’.

*Going up 4-0 only to lose in overtime is the latest in Maple Leaf growing pains, something they’ve experienced plenty of through three games. Expect more over the course of the remaining 79. Such is expected of a young team flush with talent.

*Mark Scheifele with a three-point night. He’s up to six through four games.

*Jimmy Vesey talked the talk over the summer with his holdout until August 15 deadline for teams to sign drafted players, saying no to the Nashville Predators, who eventually traded his rights to Buffalo, where he said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ again. Signing with the Rangers days after being released into the open market, he’s walking the walk now. He has just one goal through four games, but he’s making things happen on the ice. On a breakaway chance in the first period of New York’s 2-1 loss to Detroit, he did everything but finish.

*Jimmy Howard looked like his old self on Wednesday, stealing the show with 32 saves as the Red Wings managed to win, 2-1, despite being outshot by a 33-18 margin. Since winning 130 games and posting a 2.35 GAA to go along with three seasons of .920-plus save percentages, Howard has won just 58 games with a 2.61 GAA and .909 save percentage in three seasons since. Petr Mrazek might have some competition on his hands.

*Chris Kreider’s three-game streak of multi-point games to begin the season was snapped, but he picked up an assist on Mika Zibanejad’s goal 1:09 into the game. He has points in 10 of 12 games going back to last season. He has 8-8–16 totals in those 12 games.

*Henrik Lundqvist has just an .875 save percentage through three games.

*Lightning prospect Taylor Raddysh with four more points for Erie Wednesday night in the OHL, now has seven goals and 21 points through eight games. The Bolts took him in the second round of this past draft. Can’t Steve Yzerman just catch a break for once?

*Minnesota prospect Dmitry Sokolov recorded his second hat trick in four games for Sudbury. All eight of his goals this season have come in his last five games.

*From the Western Canada U16 Challenge: Mitchell Brown had two goals and four points in British Colombia’s win over Manitoba. Brown, a defenseman already listed at 6-foot-1 and 176 pounds at 15 years old has his rights held by Tri-City. He plays for the Okanagan Hockey Academy in the CSSHL. He has a point in four games this season. He played at the bantam level last season, putting up 22 points in 25 games. Dylan Holloway scored with two seconds remaining to give Alberta the 4-3 win over Saskatchewan.

*First overall pick in the 2016 WHL Draft, Peyton Krebs, had two goals and an assist for Alberta. Krebs, who will suit up for Kootenay next season, has six goals and 15 points for the UFA Bisons AAA Midget team. He spent the last two seasons with the Rocky Mountain Raiders AAA Bantam squad, in which he put up 74 goals and 168 points in 60 games over the two seasons. He had 102 in just 27 games last year.

*Two more assists on Wednesday night for Cal Foote (son of Adam) a top defensive prospect for next year’s draft. He’s got eight assists in 11 games, but no goals.

*Medicine Hat hung 10 on Kootenay on Wednesday; the third time this season the Tigers have broken the seven-goal mark.

*Battle of Connecticut in college hockey as Quinnipiac took on UConn. The fourth-ranked Bobcats won 5-2 in a game closer than the score indicated.

Links

Five general managers around the NHL who might already be on the hot seat.

Here’s an ICYMI: SI media columnist Richard Deistch does his NHL media roundtable. Lots of interesting stuff in here.

Matt Murray returned to the ice on Wednesday. There could very well be a goalie controversy brewing in Pittsburgh.

The Kane-Anisimov-Panarin line carrying the load for the Blackhawks once again.

Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts for the week.

 

Matthews v. Laine I Tonight

The No. 1 pick in this past NHL Draft faces off against the No. 2 for the first time what should be a good matchup between top-heavy teams in Toronto and Winnipeg. The only other matchup isn’t half-bad, either, as Detroit takes on the New York Rangers.

Here’s the slate of games for Wednesday: Toronto at Winnipeg, 8; Detroit at N.Y. Rangers, 8.

Players to Watch

Toronto: Auston Matthews; Facing Patrik Laine for the first time in what should be a showdown between two players, picked first and second, respectively, in the 2016 NHL Draft, and should be two of the best players of their respective generation. Matthews hasn’t scored since his four-goal performance in the opener against Ottawa.

Winnipeg: Patrik Laine; For the reasons listed above.

Detroit: Tomas Tatar; Has no goals and is a minus-four through three games.

N.Y. Rangers: Mats Zuccarello; Has taken five shots, two have gone in. He might want to shoot the puck some more.

#HatTrickChallenge

Patrik Laine: Pots the hat trick right in front of Matthews.

Game of the Night

Toronto at Winnipeg: Two choices, both of which are good. But this matchup is too good to pass up.

Lock to Win

N.Y. Rangers: The Rangers look much improved in what has been a small sample thus far, especially on the defensive side of the puck.

 

The Joe Louis Arena Farewell Tour Kicks Off Tonight

Nothing that really jumps out in terms of game action for Monday; the most notable likely the Red Wings beginning its 81-game home slate at the ‘Joe’ for the final time, as the club will move to a shiny new venue in downtown Detroit next fall.

Here’s the action for tonight: Colorado at Pittsburgh, 7; San Jose at N.Y. Rangers, 7; Ottawa at Detroit, 7; Boston at Winnipeg, 8.

Players to Watch

Colorado: Joe Colborne – Scored a hat trick in his first game in an Avs uniform on Saturday night, a 6-5 win over Dallas. The former first round pick, playing in fourth organization after stays in Boston, Toronto, and Calgary, looks like he’s finally finding his game. He went for a career-high 44 points last season (previous was 28), and looks to only be continuing on the upward path.

Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin – Has three points in two games but has struggled in the faceoff circle, winning just 14 of 42. A 43.6 percent faceoff man for his career, Malkin’s faceoff percentage has gone down every year since his career-high 48.8 percent success rate in 2013-14.

San Jose: Martin Jones – It’s been two games, but he’s out to show last season was no fluke; 2-0 record with 47 saves on 50 shots in two games.

New York: Rick Nash – He’s pointless through two games, with just five shots on goal. Just the third time in his career he’s been held to such a low output through two games. Last season was one of them; the other was in 2006.

Ottawa: Craig Anderson – Senators are 2-0, but it’s not because Anderson has stood on his head. In fact, he’s allowed seven goals on 62 shots.

Detroit: Dylan Larkin – His praises were being sung – and rightfully so – during his standout rookie season a year ago. But he’s a minus-four with just one point through two games, winning 42.9 percent of his draws.

Boston: David Backes – Injured his hand in a fight during Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Toronto. He’s expect to play.

Winnipeg: Blake Wheeler – He has four points through two games while peppering eight shots at the cage in 21:55 average of ice time. The Bruins could use a guy like him…

#HatTrickChallenge

David Pastrnak: The Bruins forward caps off National Pasta Day the right way.

Game of the Day

Ottawa at Detroit – Not the sexiest matchup but nonetheless the home opener for the Red Wings, the final one at Joe Louis Arena.

Lock to Win

Red Wings – The Wings need the win on the heels of an 0-2 start. They haven’t been terrible offensively, but the Sens are vulnerable on defense.

Links

Larry Brooks stumps for the Rangers to go get Jacob Trouba.

Jimmy Vesey has yet to register a point, but he’s already making an impact.

Major decisions loom for Senators new head coach Guy Boucher.

Sidney Crosby continues to skate.

Red Wings shuffle lines after struggling in opening two games.

 

Preseason Power Rankings: Lightning the Class of the NHL

Here’s how the last two seasons have ended for the Tampa Bay Lightning; 2014-15, two wins shy of winning its first Stanley Cup since 2004; 2015-16, one win shy of becoming the first team in seven years to win back-to-back Prince of Wale Trophies.

And here’s the thing – the Bolts are only getting better.

The talk in the East has been about Washington, whether or not its the year the Capitals finally break through and put Alex Ovechkin’s name on the Stanley Cup. Of course, that’s been the dialogue for quite some time now. Then there’s also those who bring up the yearly ‘is this the year a Stanley Cup winner defends its title?’ That’s the conversation around Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, down in the central Florida resides the best team the NHL has to offer.

The Lightning are a team built for the modern NHL. A team the plays at a pace that emulates its name, Tampa goes four lines deep of skill players who use their legs as their greatest weapons in creating pressure and forcing teams to make mistakes. The defense corps is among the elite fluent-skating blue lines, led by behemoth Victor Hedman.

Steven Stamkos leads the charge as he kicks off an eight-year pact to remain in Tampa Bay. He’s complimented by rising superstar Nikita Kucherov up front, along with Tyler Johnson, who comes in poised for a breakout campaign.

Goaltender Ben Bishop is one of the world’s premier puck stoppers, while Andrei Vasilevskiy is as good a second option you’ll find.

Health is the big x-factor going into the season, which kind of goes without saying. But when you consider injuries that have befallen key players on the club over the past couple seasons, including Stamkos, Johnson, Bishop, and Anton Stralman, it becomes a little more magnified.

Regardless, this looks like the team to beat at the early goings.

2- Washington: Some might say 1-A. The Capitals have never been built so well for the playoffs during the Ovechkin era.

3- Anaheim: The window is closing. Expect Bob Murray to deal Cam Fowler or one of his blue-chip defensive prospects to provide help up front.

4- Pittsburgh: No team has repeated since the 1997-98 Red Wings. Reports out of Pittsburgh is that the Penguins really want to be that team to do it.

5- Chicago: 30 goals and 77 points as a rookie, yet Artemi Panarin remains grossly underrated.

6- Montreal: Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw add a lot of what was missing in the Canadiens room last season.

7- Dallas: Jim Nill needs to find a goaltender. But you knew that.

8- San Jose: The young guys on the Sharks were flying under the radar this time last year.

9- Nashville: The most exciting team in the NHL. Mike Fisher caps first year as captain by posing for a picture alongside Gary Bettman.

10- St. Louis: If Jake Allen performs to expectations, this team won’t miss a beat.

11- Florida: The Cats have a rebuilt blue line that emulates its in-state rival.

12- Calgary: The Flames won’t finish 30th in defense this season.

13- N.Y. Rangers: Sleeper Stanley Cup pick.

14- Detroit: A defensively suspect team, but the Red Wings should score at a pretty reasonable clip.

15- Minnesota: Bruce Boudreau wins. I could make a cheesy Donald Trump pun, but I’m not going to.

16- N.Y. Islanders: John Tavares wins the Hart Trophy.

17- Philadelphia: Steve Mason is solid, but the goaltending is still feast-or-famine. Everybody is falling in the Michael Leighton trap with Michal Neuvirth.

18- Boston: They’ll be in the thick of the wildcard race again, but the Bruins remain a good year or two away.

19- Los Angeles: The Kings are an Anze Kopitar away from being Team USA-bad.

20- Winnipeg: Newly-christened as the Jets captain, Blake Wheeler finally gets his due among the NHL’s best.

21- Buffalo: Don’t be surprised if this team makes the playoffs.

22- Edmonton: Connor McDavid leads the league in points.

23- Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson makes a push for the Norris.

24- Carolina: Justin Faulk is a finalist for the Norris.

25- Ottawa: Erik Karlsson wins the Norris (again).

26- New Jersey: Cory Schneider can only do so much.

27- Toronto: Still 2-3 years away.

28- Columbus: Potential surprise team. Blue Jackets dispel the ‘John Tortorella only plays guys who trap and block shots’ theory. Zach Werenski wins Calder Trophy.

29- Colorado: MacKinnon and Duchene the bright spots in Denver.

30- Vancouver: It was clear Alain Vigneault was the problem.

Facts, Figures, Predictions on the Atlantic

*If the Boston Bruins miss the postseason, it will be the first time the B’s have missed the postseason since missing it eight straight years from 1960-67.

*Erik Karlsson’s 82 points was the most for a defenseman since Brian Leetch (85) and Ray Bourque (82) hit that total in 1995-96.

*Jaromir Jagr needs 19 points to tie Mark Messier for second place on the all-time points list, with 1,887. Currently sitting in third at 1,868, he needs 132 to become the second player ever to notch 2,000 NHL points. Last season he closed within 1,000 of Wayne Gretzky, who stands atop the leaderboard at 2,857.

*Max Pacioretty is one of just four players to record 30 goals and 60 points in each of the last four 82-game NHL seasons. The other three are Jamie Benn, Alex Ovechkin, and Joe Pavelski.

*Steven Stamkos is one of four players with three such seasons; joining Corey Perry, John Tavares, and Tyler Seguin. The one season in which Seguin failed to hit 30-60 was 2011-12, when he managed the 60 (67, to be exact) but scored just 29 goals for Boston.

*Morgan Reilly, who averaged 23:14 of ice time last season at the age of 21, is the youngest Toronto defenseman to log 23 minutes per game since the stat began being recorded in 1998.

*Average production by Henrik Zetterberg the last two seasons – 15.5 and 59.8 goals and points per 82 games. Nine seasons prior – 32 and 83.9.

*Brad Marchand has scored 0.35 goals per game going back to 2010-11, his first full NHL season, which equates to about 29 goals per season. That ranks fifth among left wingers, trailing only Ovechkin, Benn, Rick Nash, and Patrick Sharp.

*Ryan O’Reilly led all forwards last season with an average ice-time of 21:44. Evander Kane was second with 21:02. *Buffalo hasn’t had a 30-goal, 60-point season since Jason Pominville put up 30 goals and 73 points in 2011-12.

*Patrice Bergeron and Marchand were on the ice for 192 of the 493 shorthanded faceoffs the Bruins took last season, according to puckbase.com. One-hundred one of those draws were won by the Bruins.

*No Eastern Conference player has averaged 29 minutes of ice-time since Adrian Aucoin averaged 29-flat for the Islanders in 2002-03. Karlsson averaged 28:58 last season.

*Of the top 12 goaltenders in terms of save percentage over the last three seasons (min. 125 games played), five are expected to be starters for Atlantic Division teams this season; Carey Price (1st, .931), Ben Bishop (t-3rd, .922), Tuukka Rask (t-3rd, .922), Roberto Luongo (t-6th, .921), and Frederik Andersen (12th, .918).

*Price’s 17 shutouts over that span, which ranks second to Marc-Andre Fleury (20), came in just 137 games. Four other netminders posted 15 shutouts over that span (Fleury, Jonathan Quick, Braden Holtby, Bishop), all needing at least 186 games.

*Buffalo allowed just 30.6 shots per game last season, the first time it had allowed less than 31 shots per game since 2010-11 (30.7), the last time the Sabres qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Predictions

1- Tampa Bay: The most complete team from top to bottom. Expect a breakout season for Tyler Johnson.

2- Montreal: The Canadiens go as far as Price takes them.

3- Detroit: The Red Wings acquisition of Frans Nielsen the best offseason signing nobody talked about.

4- Florida: The Panthers have made the postseason in back-to-back years just one time; 1995-96 and 1996-97.

5- Buffalo: If they don’t make the playoffs this year, you can pencil them in for next season.

6- Boston: Three straight playoff DNQs could be too much for Claude Julien to overcome.

7- Ottawa: Guy Boucher came within a win of the Prince of Wales Trophy in Tampa Bay. He won’t be pushover in Ottawa.

8- Toronto: The pieces are moving into place, but more holes must be filled.

 

 

2020 Vision: Why the Atlantic Division Will Be the NHL’s Best in Four Years

It’s 2020.

The Montreal Canadiens have never looked more poised to win Stanley Cup No. 25 since winning Stanley Cup No. 24 back in 1993. The Toronto Maple Leafs are knocking on the door of its first title of the NHL’s Expansion Era while the Buffalo Sabres are in pursuit of its first title in, well, ever. On the verge of he 10th anniversary of its only Cup in the last half-century, the Boston Bruins aren’t to be counted out. Nor are the Ottawa Senators. Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Detroit Red Wings are still there, like they’ve been for quite some time.

The Atlantic Division has no let up. The best division in the NHL. It’s not even up for debate.

It’s amazing to think the Montreal Canadiens have gone nearly three decades without a Stanley Cup. Prior to this latest drought, the longest the Habs had gone without winning a title was eight between 1916-24, when the bleu, blanc et rouge took a backseat to the original rendition of the Ottawa Senators – who won three Cups in that span – while having the 1919 final wiped out due the great flu pandemic ripping through the world at the time.

But that was 100 years ago, and the Canadiens are looking to erase a drought nearly four times longer. A 2021 Stanley Cup will be its first in 28 years. They’ve been close the last two years. In 2019, they fell to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals before getting to the Cup final in 2020, losing to Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

Max Pacioretty hoisting the revered 35-pound trophy isn’t hoped for — it’s expected.

Montreal hasn’t had a goaltender like Carey Price since Patrick Roy, who appropriately enough manned the crease of the most recent championship. At 33, Price is on the back end of his prime. He’s going for his fifth straight Vezina Trophy, looking to become just the fourth player to win six Vezinas, joining Montreal legends Jacques Plante and Bill Durnan, along with Dominik Hasek.

Nobody in the Montreal lineup makes anyone forget about Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard, or Larry Robinson, but there’s plenty to be desired. Shea Weber might not be the player he was when general manager Marc Bergevin famously swapped P.K. Subban for in 2016, but he doesn’t have to be. Mikhail Sergechev is quickly blossoming as one of the world’s best blueliners. Up front, mainstays Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk lead the Habs charge.

The Canadien faithful has its swagger back, and the time to win is now.

But it won’t be that easy.

For one, there’s a border battle brewing between Western New York and Southern Ontario.

Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews, currently pegged to bring Team USA back from the shadows of its 2016 embarrassment at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, lead the way for two of the most rabid yet tortured fan bases; the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. The Leafs haven’t won a title since 1967. The Sabres have never won one ever.

Eichel and Matthews were second and third in last season’s Art Ross Trophy race behind McDavid, whose 131 points were the most since 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux and current Florida Panthers player-coach Jaromir Jagr eclipsed that mark.

Defending Norris Trophy winner Morgan Reilly anchors the Toronto blue line, which is backed up by Frederik Andersen. Buffalo counters with Norris favorite Rasmus Ristolainen and ace netminder Cal Petersen. Buffalo’s one-two center combination of Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly is the envy of the division.

Meanwhile, for Boston Bruins fans, it’s been years that end in ‘1’ that have been kind to the B’s; at least of late (we can forget about Ken Dryden in 1971, or Ulf Samuelsson’s cheap shot on Cam Neely in 1991). In 2001, Bruins fans watched black-and-gold icon Ray Bourque retire with his first Stanley Cup (albeit with Colorado). In 2011, it was the B’s capturing a Stanley Cup of their own, the first since 1972.

It’s been a rough past few years for Bruins fans. Amidst a rebuild, the B’s have missed the playoffs four of the last six seasons. Goaltender Tuukka Rask, who turns 34 in March, is playing for what would be the last big contract of his career. With dynamic duo Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand well into their 30s, the top line of Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Spooner, and Zach Senyshyn have picked up the load offensively for the B’s. The backline continues to come of age, with many expecting 23-year-old Jeremy Lauzon to hop into the Norris discussion as seamless as the way he can jump into the rush. The pairing of Lauzon and Brandon Carlo are among the top young defensive pairings in the game.

The Ottawa Senators continue to pride themselves on being the Minnesota Twins of the NHL, finding ways to sneak into the playoffs despite being glossed over year after year in the preseason talk. The player who is no longer being glossed over? That would be Erik Karlsson, who last season became just the third defenseman ever to record multiple 100-point seasons, joining Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. Yeah, can’t say it’s bad company.

Let’s not forget about the three teams that represent the old guard of the division, the veteran teams giving chase to the young blood atop the division.

Captain Dylan Larkin leads the charge for the Detroit Red Wings, which has rebuilt itself on the fly once again while continuing the make the playoffs. The Wings finally won a playoff round after losing in the first round six years in a row. It’s been 30 years since Detroit last missed the playoffs. The Panthers are led by player-coach Jaromir Jagr, who last season became the second player to record 2,000 points in the NHL. Approaching his 49th birthday, Jagr is giving no indications he’ll step away anytime soon. He even says he plans on catching Wayne Gretzky’s record of 2,857 points. Based off his average of 35 points over the last four years, it will only take about 25 seasons for him to reach that mark. The Lightning continue to dazzle offensively, with Tyler Johnson coming off his first 40-goal season. And we all know about that Stamkos guy.

None of the eight teams in this division have won a Stanley Cup since the Bruins most recent banner, in 2011. If it doesn’t change in 2021, the wait won’t last much longer.

How much longer? Who knows.

But what we do know? No division stacks up with this one.