The John Tortorella Effect Taking Shape in Columbus

If you’re a general manager of a young, talented, up-and-coming team seeking a coach to get the right message across, John Tortorella should be atop your wish list.

There’s no better proof of that than Tampa Bay, where he took over a fledgling team representing a fledgling franchise in a fledgling hockey market and made it into a Stanley Cup champion. In the process, he kickstarted the careers of longtime stars Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Pavel Kubina, and Dan Boyle.

Should you have a coach in your back pocket should the best laid plans go awry? For sure. The message might wear on the guys in the room as the years go on, as happened later in Tortorella’s Tampa years – which, in fairness, happens to most coaches. It was rinse and repeat, after all, in New York when despite not winning a Cup molded the careers of Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Kreider, Henrik Lundqvist, Michael Del Zotto, and Carl Hagelin, among others. The Rangers didn’t reach the Stanley Cup in his tenure, but did qualify the year after his 2013 Broadway dismissal.

Now he’s doing it again with the Blue Jackets.

After Tortorella’s reputation was torn to shreds in a disastrous 2013-14 season in Vancouver, in which he was a bad fit in a bad situation, he landed in Columbus in October 2015. Taking over a club that was out to an 0-7 start under Todd Richards, the Jackets went 34-33-8 the rest of the way. While Columbus missed the playoffs, things were at least stabilized following the coaching change.

The Blue Jackets have taken off in season two, a full offseason under the lead of the 58-year-old coach (save for a hiatus in September to coach Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey, in which Tortorella didn’t come out looking good, to put it nicely).

Out to a 20-5-4 record, the Jackets’ 44 points are good enough for third place in the Metropolitan Division, a standing that is no indicator of just how strong this team has through one-third of the season. Columbus is the hottest team in hockey with nine straight wins, and sits a point behind Pittsburgh and three behind the Rangers in the Metro. The Jackets have three games in hand on the Penguins, five on New York.

Columbus is a franchise that has seen no success since setting up shop in 2000, with just a pair of playoff appearances scattered among a bevy of disappointing seasons. It’s a situation not dissimilar to what Tortorella walked into in Tampa Bay when he took over the 2001. Only thing is Tortorella finds himself on a bench closer to contention this time.

Few goaltenders have been as good as Sergei Bobrovsky since he was traded to Ohio from Philadelphia in 2012. Among goalies to play 180 games since the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (in which Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy), Bobrovsky is tied with Cory Schneider and Henrik Lundqvist with a .922 save percentage. Only Carey Price (.927), Tuukka Rask (.924), and Corey Crawford (.923) have stopped pucks at a higher rate over that span. The 28-year-old is playing his best hockey yet, with a .932 save percentage and 1.94 GAA in 26 games.

Columbus is good in front of Bobrovsky as well, much better than in recent years. The Blue Jackets are a combination of quick, strong, and skilled on the back end while being heavy and creative up front. Zach Werenski has been one of the league’s best rookies, while Seth Jones joins him as a budding star on the blue line. Jack Johnson and David Savard are reliable defenseman that aren’t too old but have experience and can play big minutes. Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Sam Gagner, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, and Alex Wennberg have brought the blend of brawn and skill to the forward position.

This team has been among the more talented, young squads in the NHL for some time. The Jackets have been no stranger to the trendy ‘breakout pick’ in recent falls.

That breakout appears to be happening, and it’s all coming together under Tortorella. Just as it did in Tampa Bay. Just as it did in New York.

When Tortorella won his 500th game by way of the Jackets 4-3 overtime win at Vancouver on Sunday night, he entered unchartered territory among American-born coaches. He joined a fraternity that includes just 24 of the 362 coaches (per hockey-reference.com) to command an NHL bench. He joins a group of 10 active coaches in Joel Quenneville (823), Ken Hitchcock (774), Lindy Ruff (715), Barry Trotz (677), Darryl Sutter (611), Alain Vigneault (589), Paul Maurice (571), Mike Babcock (568), Dave Tippett (534), and Claude Julien (529). Not bad company. And it comes as no fluke.

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Steven Stamkos Injury Adds to Troubling Trend for the Forward

You can call them freak injuries. You can call them isolated incidents. Give the recent injury history of Steven Stamkos any label, spin, whatever have you. But at what point does it become a concern?

Stamkos, according to Bob McKenzie, is headed to Colorado to get arthroscopic surgery to repair the lateral meniscus tear he suffered in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 win over Detroit on Tuesday night. The expect timetable for recovery is four to six months.

The news is a blow to the Tampa Bay Lightning, as it would be any team given Stamkos is world-class talent. The Bolts are in the first season of the eight-year, $68 million pact the franchise signed with the 26-year-old sniper this past summer. Stamkos had nine goals and 20 points in 17 games this season for Tampa, who drafted him first overall in the 2008 draft.

The minimum four-month timetable suggests a best-case scenario return of mid-March for Stamkos.

The lengthy absence makes this season the third of four seasons Stamkos has been either wiped out – or at the very least interrupted – by an injury.

Now granted, the blood clots that hindered Stamkos last season cost him just the final five games of the regular season, but it also caused him to miss 16 of the 17 postseason games Tampa Bay played, his only action coming in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals, in which the Lightning fell, 2-1, to eventual Stanley Cup winner Pittsburgh. Stamkos played 11:55 over 20 shifts in the loss, finishing as a minus-one and winning just three of the eight faceoffs he took.

The leg injury he suffered in 2013-14 limited him to 37 games. Again, on the play, which happened in a November 2013 matinee game in Boston, he gets tangled up with then-Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton and loses an edge, his leg turning just the right that resulted in his tibia snapping in half. Freak play? For sure. And let the record show he’d played in 362 consecutive games (playoffs included) prior to that, having not missed a game since January 2009. The injury cost him 45 games that year, as well as a chance to win a gold medal for Canada in Sochi.

It should also be pointed out that in his one healthy year in this four-year stretch, he played all 82 for the Bolts, scoring 43 goals in the regular season before playing all 26 postseason games en route to Tampa Bay’s second Stanley Cup final appearance.

What’s in Stamkos’ favor is he’ll be just 27 years old when he returns (his birthday falls in February, about a month before the four-month timetable closes). Nobody doubts how good he is when healthy. The Lightning, barring further injuries (Jonathan Drouin is currently out with a concussion, Anton Stralman is day-to-day with an upper-body injury), will be in contention when Stamkos returns. Teams as good as Tampa Bay don’t fold with one injury.

But looking long-term, the recent injury history of Stamkos suggests a negative trend, one that isn’t unreasonable to have concern over.

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.

 

 

Thoughts Are Mine Only: All Hail Jagr

Here are some thoughts as you try not to get trampled jumping onto the Oilers bandwagon.

*Jaromir Jagr scored his 750th career goal on Thursday night, in Florida’s 4-2 loss to Washington. He joins Wayne Gretzky (894) and Gordie Howe (801) in the 750 club.

*Jagr is one of the top 10 greatest players to ever play (please don’t ask me who other nine are and tell me to rank them). His career is far and away the most unique. It spanned three different decades, five presidential administrations (provided, of course, he doesn’t pull a fast one and retire within the next three months), played for eight different teams, had a three-year stint in the KHL, was beloved, then wasn’t beloved, then ran himself out of organizations, then fled for the KHL before a sea of dry eyes, then returned, then was beloved. Had a mullet, then didn’t have mullet, then had a mullet again. Yeah.

*FWIW – Last Time Jagr Did ‘BLANK’ Trivia. Last time he won a Stanley Cup? 1992. Last time he won the Hart Trophy? 1999. Last time he won the Art Ross Trophy? 2001. Last time he won the Ted Lindsay Award? 2006.

*Jagr never led the league in goal scoring.

*Great job by Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon setting up the goal by Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson in the third period of the Penguins 3-2 comeback win as he was trying to draw a cheap penalty. Dillon did the classic turn-the-back-as-the-forchecker-is-coming in the left corner as Patric Hornqvist was approaching. Hornqvist successfully separated the puck from Dillon, as the puck soon met the tape on Wilson’s blade and the rest is history. You have to appreciate the honesty of a hockey puck.

*So Edmonton is 4-1, its latest win an impressive 3-1 win over St. Louis.

*The Oilers won the final meeting between the two teams last season. This is the first time since 2009 that Edmonton has defeated St. Louis in back-t0-back games in regulation. The two-game winning streak for the Oilers was preceded by a 1-12-1 stretch against the Blues.

*The loss for the Blues snapped a 10-game streak of getting at least a point against Western Conference opponents. The last time St. Louis failed to come out of a game with a point against a team from the West? A 6-4 loss to Edmonton on March 16.

*The Kings needed those two points badly.

*The Stars aren’t easy to keep up with offensively, but they still have quite a ways to go on the defensive side of the puck.

*The Canucks are 4-0.

*After allowing four goals on 16 shots in a 4-0 loss to Colorado, Lightning netminder Ben Bishop has a .861 save percentage in three games this season.

*Cliff Pu scored a goal and won 17 of 27 draws in London’s 5-4 win over Kitchener in OHL action. Pu has five goals and 11 points in seven while winning 63.6 percent of the 151 faceoffs he’s taken. A third round pick by Buffalo in this past year’s draft, he should be a first-rounder in the redrafts we’ll see sprinkled all over the place this time five years from now. Sabres fans should be happy to have him.

Links

Bobby Orr sat down with Bob McKenzie in a one-on-one interview in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his NHL debut. Worth the 20 minutes and change. Part one is about 13 minutes, part two about seven.

ICYSYUAR (In Case You Spent Yesterday Under A Rock): Matt Murray signed a three-year extension with Pittsburgh.

So does the Murray extension mean the Marc-Andre Fleury era in Pittsburgh is all but over? This one writer seems to think so.

Here’s a very good breakdown by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about what the Murray signing does, may, or may not mean for the future of the Pens crease.

Jimmy Howard adjusting nicely into his new role with the Red Wings.

The rumblings of one Pierre LeBrun.

The Nashville Predators tapping into the robust fountain of Swiss hockey talent.

The talk of college hockey are the new rules, er enforcement of rules, that caused a rash of penalty calls in the first weekend of the NCAA season.

NHL Power Rankings: Lightning Still the Class of the NHL

It was a classic Steven Stamkos goal.

In the waning seconds of regulation on Tuesday night, with the Panthers holding onto a one-goal lead against the Lighting, the 26-year-old superstar forward cycled down to the goal line on the left side, camping out before one-timing a pass from Victor Hedman that beat James Reimer with five seconds remaining in regulation. It was an off-angle shot put in just the right spot, with too much snap for Reimer to glove. It was an only-Stamkos-can-do-that type of score.

The Lightning went on to win the game, 4-3, in a shootout against its cross-state rivals. It was huge two points Tampa nearly got none of. With the two teams battling each other in the Atlantic Division race (two Florida teams duking it out for supremacy in the East, who’da thunk it?), points are at a premium.

Games like Tuesday are the ones Stanley Cup champions are made of. Getting breaks when they can in the game, having big players come up huge at key times, and most of all – getting the result.

The Lightning got all of that on Tuesday night, as they improved to 3-0 on the young season. Tampa Bay will put its unblemished record to the test on Thursday when the Colorado Avalanche comes to town. After its attempt to accrue eight points through its first four games (the other was in the Stanley Cup season of 2003-04), the Bolts will embark on a six-game road trip.

2- Washington: Braden Holtby and Philipp Grabauer have combined for a .957 save percentage and 0.98 GAA through three games.

3- Pittsburgh: Marc-Andre Fleury (.914 save percentage/2.94 GAA) has to be better if he expects to keep the crease when Matt Murray returns.

4- Chicago: Want a red flag? The Blackhawks are 30th in shots per game, a 24.5.

5- Montreal: Jeff Petry leads the team with four points in two games.

6- San Jose: The Sharks are the best forechecking team in the league.

7- St. Louis: The Blues lost Kyle Brodziak, Carl Gunnarsson, and Jori Lehtera in one night. Ouch.

8- Florida: The Panthers are five seconds out of first place in the Atlantic.

9- Dallas: Kari Lehtonen 39-of-41 on shots faced since taking over for Antti Niemi on Saturday night. Who said goaltending was a problem for the Stars?

10- Nashville: Five of the Predators’ seven goals have come on the powerplay.

11- Minnesota: The Wild have scored 10 goals and have put 57 shots on goal in the last two games, both wins.

12- N.Y. Rangers: Chris Kreider is playing like a man possessed, with six points in three games.

13- Edmonton: Don’t look now but Connor McDavid is pointless in his last two games. His full-season pace has taken a nosedive, from 246 points to 123.

14- Boston: David Backes has injected energy back into the Boston lineup.

15- Philadelphia: Travis Konency tied with Claude Giroux for the team lead in points, with four. Ivan Provorov – who had rough go of it on Tuesday in Chicago – leads all rookies with 28.3 shifts per game. Not bad for a couple freshmen.

16- N.Y. Islanders: The Islanders 2.25 goals per game 26th in the league. They’ve lost three games by a combined four goals.

17- Detroit: Eight of the Red Wings’ 10 goals have come from three players; Mike Green (3), Darren Helm (3), and Thomas Vanek (2).

18- Anaheim: This is the second straight year the Ducks are winless through four games.

19- Colorado: The Avs are amidst a meat-grinder of a start to the season; facing Dallas, Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay, and Florida, in their first five games. The worst Colorado can finish is 2-3. Anybody would take that.

20- Calgary: The Flames have allowed a league-high 17 goals.

21- Winnipeg: Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler account for five of the Jets nine goals.

22- Ottawa: The Senators are 3-1 despite an .869 save percentage from its goaltenders Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond.

23- Toronto: Auston Matthews is pretty good.

24- Buffalo: The Sabres are one of just three teams yet to yield a powerplay goal.

25- New Jersey: Two of the bold consensus predictions entering the season – the Flames wouldn’t be last in defense, the Devils wouldn’t last in offense. Yes, there’s still plenty of hockey to play, but neither respective unit looks very promising through a week of action.

26- Vancouver: Are the Canucks for real? Well, they beat a pretty good St. Louis team on Tuesday night.

27- Los Angeles: Only 27th because they have some good players and a pedigree of success in recent seasons. But man, do they look awful.

28- Carolina: Leading scorer for the Hurricanes? Who else but Lee Stempniak, with five points in three games.

29- Arizona: Mike Smith has a lower-body injury. It looked worse than that.

30- Columbus: 2017 Calder Trophy winner Zach Werenski has two points in two games while leading all rookies with an average time on ice of 21:55.

 

Canadiens Celebrate Home Opener No. 99

It’s the first big Tuesday night in the NHL, and one of the headliners will be the Montreal Canadiens opening up the Bell Centre against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the 99th opener for the Habs. It will also be the home debut for big ticket defenseman Shea Weber, acquired from Nashville over the summer.

Here’s the slate of games for Tuesday; Colorado at Washington, 7; Anaheim at New Jersey, 7; San Jose at N.Y. Islanders, 7; Pittsburgh at Montreal, 7:30; Florida at Tampa Bay, 7:30; Arizona at Ottawa, 7:30; Dallas at Nashville, 8; Los Angeles at Minnesota, 8; Philadelphia at Chicago, 8:30; Buffalo at Calgary, 9; Carolina at Edmonton, 9; St. Louis at Vancouver, 10.

Players to Watch

Colorado: Gabriel Landeskog; The Avs captain has nine points in seven games against the Captials, the second-highest output against a team that has been in the Eastern Conference the entirety of his career. He has 10 points in seven games against Ottawa.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov; The Capitals pivot has yet to record a point through two games. Tuesday’s matchup against Colorado would seem like a setup for a breakout for Washington’s leading scorer last season. In two games against the Avalanche last year, he had a 1-3–4 line. Against 28 games against Western Conference opponents last season, he had 36 points.

Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf; Has landed 17 shots but has just one goal, coming off a season in which he buried just 7.3 percent of his chances. They have to go in at some point, don’t they?

New Jersey: Kyle Palmieri; Had a 30-goal season in 2015-16, his first year in New Jersey following five seasons in Anaheim. The Ducks would gladly take him back.

San Jose: Brent Burns; He’s got six points in three games. Looks like a man on a mission.

N.Y. Islanders: Cal Clutterbuck; Three points through three games to begin the season.

Pittsburgh: Chris Kunitz; Passed Mike Bullard for 15th place on the Penguins all-time points list with his 361st career point on Monday night. Next up is Greg Malone, at 364. Within striking distance: Mark Recchi (385) and Ron Schock (404). Needs a few seasons for Mario Lemieux’s 1,723.

Montreal: Al Montoya; Carey Price still isn’t ready to return to the ice. Thankfully, Montoya has been pretty good, with 65 saves on 69 shots through two games.

Florida: Jon Marchessault; The 26-year-old is filling in nicely for the injured Jonathan Huberdeau, with two goals and four points through two games.

Tampa Bay: Alex Killorn; He has 11 points in 16 games against the Panthers, the most points against any opponent for the 27-year-old forward.

Arizona: Oliver Ekman-Larsson; Played a yeoman-like 31:46 in the Coyotes opener.

Ottawa: Erik Karlsson; Facing Ekman-Larsson, he makes up half of the showdown between go-to Swedish defensemen.

Dallas: Kari Lehtonen; Will get his first start of the season after making 12 saves on 13 shots in relief of Antti Niemi on Saturday.

Nashville: Mike Fisher; The newly-elected captain has played 19:23 while scoring two points, taking a team-high 44 faceoffs, winning 26.

Los Angeles: Tyler Toffoli; Has put eight shots on net, but just one goal to show for it.

Minnesota: Zach Parise; His next goal will be No. 300 for his career. He ranks 18th among active players.

Philadelphia: Claude Giroux; The only player left over from the Flyers 2010 Stanley Cup run who remains on the Philly varsity.

Chicago: Richard Panik; His four goals in three games are two off the pace he totaled in 30 games for the Hawks.

Buffalo: Ryan O’Reilly; Has 40 points in 55 games against the two Alberta franchises, coming off a monstrous four-point performance against Edmonton on Sunday.

Calgary: Johnny Gaudreau; No goals on nine shots, he’s snakebit.

Carolina: Sebastian Aho; The Finnish phenom has points in each of his first two NHL games.

Edmonton: Cam Talbot; The Oilers netminder has stopped just 86 of the 99 shots he’s faced.

St. Louis: Jake Allen; Needs a shutout to tie Brent Johnson for fifth on the Blues all-time shutout list. A shutout after that matches the 13-shutout output by Roman Turek, who played 121 games from 1999-2001. Lurking in the distance was Glenn Hall, whose 16 shutouts stood as a club record for 42 years until Jaroslav Halak recorded his 17th of 20 shutouts he had in a Blues uniform in October 2013. Brian Elliot, who is the franchise leader at 25, became the standard bearer in March 2015.

Vancouver: Alex Edler; The defenseman is averaging 25:20 through two games. His 24:27 ice-time per game last season was a career-high.

#HatTrickChallenge

Kyle Okposo: The big winger had a great debut on a Sunday, with a goal and assist in the Sabres 6-2 win over Edmonton. He puts up three against a Flames defense corps that looks suspect yet again.

Game of the Night

Pittsburgh at Montreal: It’s the defending Stanley Cup champions visiting the franchise with the most. You can count on the bleu, blanc et rogue reminding them of that at some point during the night. Opening night at the Bell Centre is always a spectacle.

Lock to Win

St. Louis: The Blues jump out to a 4-0 start against a Vancouver team who is out to a 2-0 start, but hasn’t faced a team as good as St. Louis and will be playing its backup goaltender.

Links

Craig Custance looks into Doug Armstrong’s penchant for scooping up first-round picks that didn’t work out for other franchises.

Shea Weber set to introduce himself to the Montreal faithful.

Zach Parise, closing in on his 300th career goal, touches upon his unique relationship with Wild assistant Scott Stevens. Parise’s early days in New Jersey (he was drafted by the Devils with the 17th pick of the 2003 draft, played there until 2012) intersected with the final days of Stevens’ years with the Devils, where he played 13 of his 22 seasons in his Hall of Fame career.

Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, originally expected to miss a month, could return earlier than initially expected. Matt Murray could be close to returning for the Penguins.

With Ryan Miller unavailable, the Canucks have called upon University of British Columbia netminder Matt Hewitt as an emergency backup for Tuesday’s game against St. Louis.

The Avalanche feed off the energy from new coach Jared Bednar and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

 

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.