This week on Inside The Cru, Tyler Yaremchuk begins his Crusaders season preview and chats with play-by-play voice Brenden Escott & veteran forward Brandon Wallis.
Earlier this week, the NHL Network released their list of who they believe are the “Top 20 Defensemen”.
Every year in the NHL there is a handful of teams who really have no hope of competing, and most of the time that’s by design. The teams will obviously never admit that they’re tanking, but instead, say that they’re focused on getting younger and giving ice time to their “next generation”. The best example of this was when the New York Rangers wrote a letter to their fans this past season:
I’ll get to the Eastern Conference in a second, but for now, I want to focus on the Western Conference where it appears that there are as many as 15 organizations who are coming into this season with a “playoffs or bust” mentality.
Notice that I used the word “organization” instead of “teams”. Obviously, the players in the room are going out trying to win every single night, but it isn’t that hard to see which organizations are more focused on the future, than the upcoming season.
Let’s start with the teams who made the playoffs last year:
NASHVILLE PREDATORS: They led the West with 117 points last season and there’s no doubt that they’re going for it. With over $7 million in cap space, I could even see David Poile make another move before the season starts.
WINNIPEG JETS: Yes, they lost Paul Stastny, but the rest of their young core is still in-tact. They didn’t make any big additions, but it’s more-or-less the same roster that delivered last years 114 point season. It’s clear what their intentions this year are.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS: The biggest surprise in sports last year went out this offseason and brought in Paul Stastny and Nick Holden. They lost David Perron and James Neal, but they still have decent depth on the wings. It still sounds weird to say, but anything less than the playoffs for Vegas would be disappointing.
MINNESOTA WILD: With a new GM at the helm, I was expecting big changes to the Wild’s roster this summer. That didn’t happen. It’s still the same team that finished fourth in the West last season. If they don’t make it this year? Then we could be looking at a roster overhaul.
ANAHEIM DUCKS: Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler are only getting older but they do have some really nice young pieces who could take steps forward this year. They’ll be leaning on the likes of Rakell, Montour, Silfverberg, Kase, and Ritchie more than ever this year, but it’s obvious that the organization has playoff expectations.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: They missed out on John Tavares, but locked up Evander Kane and brought back Joe Thornton. Playoffs have been the standard in San Jose for close to a decade, that isn’t changing this year. With only 5 forwards under contract for 2019-20 though, a disappointing year could lead to some big changes.
LOS ANGELES KINGS: All three California teams are in similar spots. While they all have some nice young pieces, their cores are aging. LA is another example of that. Their window is closing, and with the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk, it’s clear that they won’t be satisfied with anything less than a playoff berth.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: The Avalanche didn’t get a lot of attention for their breakthrough 17-18 campaign and that’s mainly because everyone was too busy gushing over the Golden Knights. They squealed thanks to a win in game 82 over St. Louis and had a good offseason as well. With a new goalie (Grubauer), some added depth (Cole and Calvert), and a young core that should take another step forward, it’s easy to see why the Avs have their sights set on taking another step forward.
So those were the eight teams that made the playoffs last year, and it should be no surprise that they all expect to be right back in the big dance this season. The West gets interesting when you start looking at the teams that missed the playoffs last season. Almost every team that missed out last year, is in “playoffs or bust” mode.
ST.LOUIS BLUES: After dealing Paul Stastny at last years deadline, there were reports that Doug Armstrong was making close to everyone available. Instead of selling off in the summer, he bought into his current core. They gave their forward core a facelift by adding Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon, and David Perron. If the playoffs don’t happen this year, jobs will most likely be lost.
DALLAS STARS: Many thought the Stars would be a juggernaut last season after they had added Martin Hanzal and Alex Radulov. They missed the playoffs last year and you’d imagine that a second straight miss for a team with the amount of skill that the Stars have, someone will have to pay the price.
CALGARY FLAMES: Glen Gulutzan and Brian Burke got the ax after the team underperformed last year, only winning 37 games. They made a big splash acquiring Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm in exchange for Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland. They also signed James Neal, which should give their offense a much-needed boost. Goaltending still worries me, but there incredibly improved and should be right there in terms of the playoff picture.
EDMONTON OILERS: No playoffs this year will likely mean the end for both Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan. They didn’t do a lot to improve their team this summer, instead, they’ll be relying on some bounce-back performances and better special teams. They’re good enough to make the playoffs, they just need to live up to their potential. There isn’t an organization with more on the line than Edmonton.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Did I say no one has more on the line than Edmonton? I lied. After missing the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade, there were rumours that the Hawks would be making huge changes. They have a core that appears to be getting close to its expiration date, and they didn’t do a lot to change that this summer. Still, they have a tonne of skill and they know how to win. A healthy Corey Crawford will go a long way to helping them rebound, but if the Hawks miss this season, it could lead to the dismantling of a dynasty.
ARIZONA COYOTES: Clayton Keller is going to be a superstar, Oliver Ekman-Larsson already is, and Antti Raanta was one of the best goalies in the league once the calendar flipped to 2018. The pieces are there in Arizona, and it might sound surprising, but this is a team that could shock a lot of people in 18-19. When they say their goal is to make the playoffs, you better believe they mean it.
That’s 15 teams who will be playoff contenders. Only eight will get in and that means seven teams will be mightily disappointed. Now you might be thinking “well there are 16 teams in the Western Conference. What do you mean only seven will be disappointed?”.
Well, that brings me to the Vancouver Canucks. Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat are fantastic young players. Quintin Hughes will be one day as well, and I’m very high on Jonathan Dahlin and Elias Pettersson as well. The bottom line is that they will not be remotely good enough for the playoffs this year. Coming dead last and getting the first overall pick would be fantastic for this organization and I’m pretty sure they recognize that, even if they won’t admit it publicly.
The West is clearly jam packed and it should make for a fantastic 2018-19 NHL season.
The gold medal game at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Tournament featured a matchup that shouldn’t have happened.
Apart from the John Tavares signing and the Ryan O’Reilly trade, there really weren’t a lot of massive moves this summer. Things stayed pretty quiet at the draft. Erik Karlsson was never dealt, and John Carlson stayed with the defending Cup champions.
Maybe it should have been expected because I think GM’s are starting to learn that when you make a big splash in the free agent market, there’s a good chance you’re going to regret it.
Richest UFA deals signed on July 1, 2016:
Milan Lucic, 7 yrs, $42M
Kyle Okposo, 7 yrs, $42M
Andrew Ladd, 7 yrs, $38.5M
Loui Eriksson, 6 yrs, $36M
Frans Nielsen, 6 yrs, $31.25M
David Backes, 5 yrs, $30M
Darren Helm, 5 yrs, $19.25M
Troy Brouwer, 4 yrs, $18M
What a day.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) August 3, 2018
But still, there were teams out there who needed to make changes and simply didn’t.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons, I thought the Hawks would be aggressive in trying to change the makeup of their team.
While they did manage to get rid of Marian Hossa’s dead contract, they didn’t use the cap space they had wisely. While Marcus Kruger was part of the Hossa deal and his contract expires soon, they are still spending close to $3 million on a player who was sent to the AHL last season.
To shore up their goaltending, they signed Cam Ward to a $3 million deal, which was an overpay. They could have waited out a flooded goaltending market and grabbed one of Steve Mason or Kari Lehtonen, both of which posted similar numbers last year.
They finished in the bottom third of the league in goals against per game, and while a lot of that was because they didn’t have a healthy Corey Crawford, they also gave up the eighth most shots against per game. I believe that’s the result of an ageing d-core.
I would have liked to see the Hawks make a big splash like trading Brent Seabrook or use their cap space to try and refresh their blueline a little. That didn’t happen.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
They made changes, just not any good changes. They started the offseason by bringing in Lou Lamoriello and then Barry Trotz, but in the end, they couldn’t keep their franchise player.
With John Tavares out of the picture and boatloads of cap space, I was expecting more from the Isles. I thought they would make a deal for a scoring forward and try to fill the hole created by the departure of Tavares. They didn’t.
Instead, they went out and signed Leo Komarov to a four-year deal, signed Valtteri Filppula, and acquired Matt Martin. None of those players will help the team score goals next year.
Their other glaring hole was between the pipes. It’s sunk them in years past, and I assumed this was the year we would see the organization try to find their guy. Again, they disappointed, taking a chance on the inconsistent Robin Lehner.
Could Lehner find his game under goaltending guru Mitch Korn? Maybe. But it’s still a massive gamble.
They lost their best player in John Tavares, a solid d-man in Calvin De Haan, and didn’t solidify their goaltending. It was not a good summer in Brooklyn.
I’ll start with this: I actually like the team’s decision to draft Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall. The easiest way to get a top line centre is in the draft, and I think Kotkaniemi can be a top-line centre by the end of his entry-level contract.
That’s still a few years away, and the problem for the Habs is that their best players aren’t getting any younger. Last year, I saw a team that wasn’t close to being a playoff team. They either had to sell off and get young or try to bring in proven talent to compete.
Neither of those happened. The Galchenyuk for Domi deal will be lateral at best, they still have the Max Pacioretty saga hanging over their heads, and the injury to Shea Weber leaves their defence looking incredibly thin.
They couldn’t get Paul Stastny in free agency and didn’t even get to make a pitch to John Tavares (which says a lot in my opinion), and when I look at their roster, I still don’t think they’re close to a playoff team.
Carey Price returning to form could certainly change that, but I wish Marc Bergevin would have found a way to acquire a little more talent and certainty this summer.
Is there a team that should be on the list that isn’t? Let us know on our Twitter @BelowTheIce
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