Predators goalie Pekka Rinne calling it a career

By Neil Becker

Following an impressive 15- year career with the Nashville Predators, fan favorite Pekka Rinne has decided to hang up the pads.

Drafted in the eighth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Predators, this 36- year-old goaltender established himself by playing 683 career games and posting a 369-213-75 record along with 60 total shutouts and a 2.43 G.A.A.

Rinne, who is a four- time all-star and leads the franchise in all time wins and shutouts, enjoyed his finest season in 2017-18, when he posted a 42-13-4 record with eight shutouts and a 2.31 G.A.A. which earned him the Vezina Trophy.   

“For more than 15 years, I’ve been on an incredible, life-changing journey with the Nashville Predators that has taken me to more places than I could have ever imagined and given me more than I could ever hope to give back,” Rinne told NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen.

 “This decision wasn’t easy, but I know this is the right one at the right time. As I announce my retirement, I’m thankful for my parents, sisters, fiancé Erika, everyone in the Predators organization-management, coaches and trainers-my teammates and my youth coaches back in Finland. Last but not least, I'm thankful for the people of Nashville. Each of you helped me grow into the man, father and person I am today.”

Proving to be a strong positive role model, Rinne, has made history by ranking number one among Finnish goalies for NHL games, starts and wins.

Rinne has also left his mark in the post-season where he ranks number one in Predators franchise history with 89 starts and 45 wins.

Leaving on a high note Rinne, who this year completed a two- year 10 million contract, finished off his career on May 10th with a 5-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at Bridgestone Arena.  

“I don’t know how much that factored in to my decision to retire, but you can’t reproduce that,” Rinne told NHL.com. “For sure everything went like in the movies. Now looking back, it was such a special ending to my career.”

Other notable accomplishments in Rinne’s storied career also include winning this year the King Clancy Memorial Trophy and that magical night on January 9, 2020, against the Chicago Blackhawks, when he made history by becoming only the 12th goalie to score a goal.  

There is no question that Rinne, who was the face of the Predators franchise will be greatly missed.

Veteran defenseman Dougie Hamilton wants to stay in Carolina

By Neil Becker

Once NHL Free Agency kicks off, you can bet there would be a ton of interest in blue chip defenceman Dougie Hamilton.

Hamilton, who at 27 years of age, is still in his prime, is coming off a strong season which saw him lead the Carolina Hurricanes defense core with 10 goals and 42 points in what was the final year of a lucrative six- year $34.5 million dollar contract.

Originally drafted ninth overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, this up-and-coming star played three years in Beantown before being dealt on June 26, 2015 in a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames. Days later, Hamilton was awarded with a lucrative six-year $34.5 million dollar contract which he signed.

In Calgary, Hamilton’s offensive statistics would continue to steady rise as he became among the league’s elite defenseman. During his second year as a Flame, Hamilton produced 13 goals and a career high 50 points. All together he would stay a total of three years out west until once again finding himself on the move. This time, he was traded on June 23, 2018 in another blockbuster trade only this time with the Carolina Hurricanes.

This past season, which was Hamilton’s third in Carolina, he was getting early consideration for the Norris Trophy until he suffered a fractured left fibula on January 16 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He still managed to score a more than respectable 14 goals and 40 points in only 47 games played.

Looking ahead, Hamilton, who on July 28, will be an unrestricted free agent, stressed that he would like to stay in Carolina.

“For me, I’d like to stay here, but I’m going to let my agent (J.P. Barry) and (Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell) talk,” Hamilton, back in early January told nhl.com Independent Correspondent Kurt Dusterberg.  “I just want to focus on hockey and helping the team win.”

During Hamilton’s career this 6 foot 6, 245- pound nine- year veteran has competed in 607 games where he has scored 106 goals along with 341 points and 390 penalty minutes.

Without question, Carolina would like to re-sign Hamilton, however they do have some major decisions to make in the coming years on other important expiring contracts.

Next summer, decisions will have to be made on the contracts of scoring forwards Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter and Martin Necas. Meanwhile, the following off-season will see captain Jordan Staal’s contract up for renegotiation. Other tough decisions will have to be made when in the summer of 2023, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei’s contracts all expire.

Hamilton is an established smooth skating top six defenseman who not only bring offensive punch but plays physical and is a leader. He wants to stay in Carolina, but if an agreement can’t be met, expect plenty of interest in the open market.

Longtime Chicago Blackhawk, Duncan Keith traded to the Edmonton Oilers

By Jordan Laroche

In what is one of the first major trades in the 2021 NHL offseason, the Edmonton Oilers sent Caleb Jones and a third round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for Duncan Keith.

Keith, now 37 years old is a Blackhawks legend. Winning two Stanley Cups with the team in 2013 and 2015, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015. But in recent years the Blackhawks have struggled to make it to the postseason with the an aging core of players who won both of those cups.

The Blackhawks group of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith once dominated the NHL and were on the cusp of becoming a dynasty. But a first round loss to the St Louis Blues in 2016 and being swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators in 2017 put an end to their playoff success.

Caleb Jones, brother of Seth Jones, who has one year left on an $850,000 extension has been a bubble player for the Oilers. The 24 year old defenseman has played a total of 90 NHL games over a three year span is a solid up-and-comer who has shown potential in being a solid defenseman.

This is a great deal for the Blackhawks as they try to rebuild their team with more youth they also opened up $5,230,000 in cap space for this summer. The Blackhawks have been interested in top UFAs Dougie Hamilton and Seth Jones, so dumping Keith’s salary gives them more flexibility in Free Agent negotiations this summer.

*The Blackhawks did not retain any of Keith's salary in the trade. His No Move Clause was waived for the trade but carry to Edmonton. 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signs lucrative eight -year deal to stay with the Oilers

 Veteran Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might not be a 50- goal scorer or throw bone-rattling bodychecks, but that hasn’t stopped this forward in being a beloved figure among the Edmonton Oilers fanbase.

 Affectionately known by fans as ‘Nuge,’ this centreman, who was selected by the Oilers 12th overall in the 2011 Entry Draft, recently showed his loyalty to the franchise by signing an eight-year deal worth 41 million.

“It’s a huge deal to me,” the 28 -year-old told NHL.com. “It’s always been my goal to be able to stay in Edmonton. That’s just what I’ve wanted. I’ve loved my time in Edmonton so far. The team is progressing the way we want it to, and I want to be a part of that, and obviously the biggest reason I want to stay is that I want to win in Edmonton. We have lots of connections there. Fans have treated me so well. The organization has been great, so it was the easy decision to want to say and (I’m) just happy to be able to make it work.”

Nugent-Hopkins, who on July 28th, would have been an unrestricted free agent, played in 52 games this past season where he scored 16 goals and 35 points along with 22 penalty minutes.

During his NHL career, Nugent-Hopkins has played in 656 games and tallied an impressive 185 goals along with 478 points and 223 penalty minutes.

His best season came in 2018/2019 when he posted career highs with 28 goals and 69 points.

Looking ahead to unrestricted free agency, Nugent-Hopkins strongly expressed his love of playing hockey in Edmonton and his desire to helping this proud organization eventually win the Stanley Cup.

“Obviously I knew I was unrestricted, but if we were able to work something out with Edmonton before that even came, then that’s what I wanted to do,’ Nugent-Hopkins told NHL.com.  “Obviously, you think about because you have some freedom at this point to kind of explore things, but I didn’t think of it with a stance that’s what I wanted to do. I just knew it was an option, but like I said, my whole mindset about it was trying to find a way to stay in Edmonton.”

Prior to his NHL draft, Nugent-Hopkins opened eyes with his strong play with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. In total, he played 141 games where he totaled 57 goals and 177 points. During his draft year, Nugent-Hopkins posted career numbers with 31 goals and 106 points.

No question that June 29, 2021, was a day for Oilers fans to celebrate as Nugent-Hopkins once again showed his long terms commitment to being an Edmonton Oiler.

Patrick Maroon celebrates his third straight Stanley Cup

By Neil Becker

Lifting the Stanley Cup never gets old for Tampa Bay Lightning veteran forward Pat Maroon.

This past season, Maroon has unbelievably won his third Stanley Cup not all with the same team.

Maroon, who was originally drafted sixth round by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2007 Entry Draft, started this cup streak in 2019 when during what was a magical playoff spring, scored three goals and seven points to help the St. Louis Blues win the organization’s first Stanley Cup.

During that off-season, Maroon switched teams as he agreed on August 24, ,2019, to a one -year contract valued at $900,000 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In his first year with Tampa, this agitating forward scored nine goals and 23 points in 64 regular season games. Continuing to provide toughness and some offence, Maroon played well during post season as he registered a goal and six points, along with 32 penalty minutes in helping Tampa win the club’s second Stanley Cup.

Returning to Tampa Bay, Maroon re-signed last October 29 to a two -year 1.8 million-dollar contract.

Affectionately known as the “Big Rig,” along with “Hometown Hero,” or “Fat Pat,” Maroon once again provided Tampa with secondary scoring and toughness as he scored four goals along with 18 points and 55 penalty minutes in 55 regular season games.  Once again Maroon proved clutch in playoffs as he scored two goals and four points in recently helping the Lightning successfully defend their Stanley Cup Championship.

“This one was special,” Maroon told NHL.com writer David Satriano. “It’s hard to win, and I was blessed to be able to be a part of a good team and get on a roll. It’s hard to go back-to-back and to be part of the group, that’s so special. It’s just amazing. I was glad my family got to come around the second time around and party with us.”

In his career, Maroon has played for the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils, Blues and Lightning.

He has competed in 568 games where he has scored 101 goals and 247 points. His best season came in 2016/17 when he scored 27 goals and 42 points. And 95 penalty minutes.

Maroon along with Claude Lemieux and Cory Stillman are the only players to triumphally lift the Stanley Cup with different teams in consecutive seasons in the pre=expansion era

 
 

NHL Free Agency Preview Part 2: Goalies

By Jordan Laroche

Tuukka Rask/Jaroslav Halak

Last Contract: Rask – 8 years x $7,000,000, Halak – 1 year x $2,250,000

Team: Boston Bruins

Stats: Rask – 2.28GAA, .913SV%, Halak – 2.53GAA .905SV%

Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have been the backbone of the Boston Bruins success over the last several years. The pair won the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2020 and have been one of the premier goaltender duos in the league since Halak joined the team in 2018.

While Halak has been a solid number two, the Bruins may not look to sign him this year. When Rask and Halak were hurt in March, the Bruins looked to prospect, Jeremy Swayman, and he delivered in their absence, posting a 1.50GAA and a .945SV% in 10 starts for the Bruins.

Because of that success, the Bruins looked to Swayman as Rask’s backup for the playoffs and it looks like he could be the backup for the Bruins next year.

Although the Bruins have around $30,000,000 in cap space this summer, going with Swayman will give them more cap flexibility.

In Rask’s case, all signs point to him resigning with the Bruins. He put a great performance in for them in the playoffs with a 2.36GAA and a .919SV%, playing with a defensive core that lost Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug.

My Prediction: Rask will resign with the Bruins, Halak will be on the move.

Frederik Andersen

Frederik Andersen

Last Contract: 5 years x $5,000,000

Team: Toronto Maple Leafs

Stats: 2.96GAA .895SV%

This was a tough year for Andersen and the Toronto Maple Leafs. In addition to blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens, Andersen lost the starter’s role to Jack Campbell.

Andersen did not look like himself this year posting a 2.15GAA and a .921SV% and he missed significant time due to a lower-body injury. As a result, Campbell was named the starter for the playoffs and played well, with a 1.81GAA and a .934SV% in the post-season.

With only $10,000,000 in cap space, letting Freddie walk gives the Leafs more options to fill out their bottom six and beef up their defensive group.  

My Prediction: Andersen will sign elsewhere.

Petr Mrazek

Petr Mrazek

Contract: 2 years x $3,125,000

Team: Carolina Hurricanes

Stats: 2.06GAA .956SV%

Petr Mrazek was sidelined for most of this season after requiring thumb surgery in February. This looked like it could hurt the Carolina Hurricanes season, but much like the Maple Leafs, another goalie would steal the crease from Mrazek.

This season saw the rise of Alex Nedeljkovic, a second-round draft pick by the Hurricanes in 2014. Nedeljkovic was a star in Mrazek’s absence and posted a 1.90GAA and a .932SV% this season. Nedeljkovic would be named the Hurricanes starter for the playoffs.

He would put an impressive performance on against the Nashville Predators, but struggled against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

If Mrazek didn’t get hurt, or missed as much time as he did, this would be a very different outlook for Mrazek as the Canes would likely resign him. Mrazek is still a solid number one goaltender, but Carolina appears to have found their guy in Nedeljkovic.

My Prediction: Signs with a new team.

Chris Driedger

Chris Driedger

Contract: 2 years x $850,000

Team: Florida Panthers

Stats: 2.07GAA .927SV%

In Driedger’s first full NHL season he managed to give former Vezina winner and Florida Panthers starter, Sergei Bobvrosky, a run for his money. While Driedger never became the “Starter” for the Panthers, he made a strong case to do so.

In addition to Driedger’s stellar play, Bobvrosky struggled this year with a .906SV% and a 2.91GAA, and as a result Driedger but the pair would be one of the better duos in the league this year.

However, later in the year the Panthers wanted to give some games to their first-round draft pick in 2019, Spencer Knight. Even with just four starts this year, Knight left a lasting impact on the Panthers coaching staff.

When Driedger and Bobvrosky struggled in their first round matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Knight would start the final two games of the series. With $10,000,000 tied up in Bobvrosky and Spencer Knight looking NHL-ready, it looks like the Panthers will let Driedger walk and there will be plenty of teams looking for his services.

My Prediction: Signs with a new team.  

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews announced he will be returning

By Neil Becker

The Chicago Blackhawks organization and fans alike received some exciting news about their beloved captain Jonathan Toews.

This past season, which saw the Blackhawks miss the playoffs, there was concern and questions about Toews who missed what was a shortened 56 game regular season due to a mysterious lingering ailment.

Affectionately known as “Captain Serious,” this 6’2, 201- pound centerman, has been the heart and soul of the Blackhawks since being drafted by them third overall in the 2006 Entry Draft.

Toews, who on May 16, 2007, inked a three-year entry level contract, has over his course in the NHL enjoyed a great run in the Windy City, which has seen this popular player score 345 goals along with 815 points in 943 career games. Meanwhile in the playoffs, Toews has proven clutch in scoring 45 goals and 119 points in 137 games. He has of course played a pivotal role in helping them three Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

Throughout a tremendously disappointing 2021 season, Chicago Blackhawks fans not only saw their team miss the playoffs but were also wondering about the future of Toews, who missed the entire campaign due to a mysterious ailment.

After staying tight lipped about his condition and out of the spotlight, Toews recently gave Hawks fans and management alike, some encouraging news.

‘I’m excited to get back to the United Center and play again, I just want to go out there and have fun,” Toews wrote on his Twitter account. “I think my best is going to come now and I’m excited to get back in front of the fans.”

In what was a shortened 56 game regular season, Toews decided not to play due to a medical ailment leaving him feeling lethargic and drained, which was recently referred to as chronic immune response syndrome.

“I just think there’s a lot of things that just kind of piled up where my body just fell apart,” Toews told NHL.com. “So, what they’re calling it is chronic immune response syndrome, where I just couldn’t quite recover and my immune system was reacting to everything I did, any kind of stress. Anything that I would do throughout the day. It was always kind of a stress response.”

The last time fans got to watch Toews perform was back on August 18, 2020 when the Hawks were eliminated in five games during their first-round playoff series against the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Next season, fans will be able to watch either live or on television, Toews achieve that milestone of 1,000 games played. Entering the season, Toews is only 57 games shy of that special milestone.

The National Hockey League will be an even better product with the return of this humble superstar who without doubt is a future Hall of Famer.

Canadiens captain Shea Weber four wins away from his first Stanley Cup

By Neil Becker

Montreal Canadiens veteran defenceman Shea Weber knows this opportunity might not come around again.

Playing on the back-nine of what has been a solid NHL career, Weber, who has played well over 1,000 games, now finds himself one series away from winning his first Stanley Cup.

Weber, who is 35 years-old, was originally drafted second round, 49th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators.

Known for his lethal slapshot, Weber had 11 strong seasons in Nashville where his best offensive season came in 2013-14, when he scored 23 goals along with 56 points. During his time with the Predators, this 6’4” 229 pound warrior has scored 50 or more points three times while being among the team’s leader for ice time.

Following Weber’s 11th season in Nashville, this fan favorite, who scored 166 goals and 443 points, was involved in a blockbuster controversial deal when on June 29, 2016, the hockey world saw him go to Montreal in exchange for defenceman P.K. Subban.

In making an immediate splash, Weber flourished offensively when the following year, he scored 17 goals and 42 points along 38 penalty minutes in 78 regular season games played.

Recognized for his hard work and leadership, Weber was appointed on October 1, 2018, the 30th captain in franchise history.  He would replace forward Max Pacioretty who shortly beforehand was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights.

This past season, Weber played in 48 games, including on February 2, 2021, when against the Vancouver Canucks he competed in what was his 1,000th career game. For the season, Weber scored six goals and 19 points, while playing his usual tough brand of game in helping the Canadiens land that final playoff spot.

Weber, with his strong veteran leadership and offensive presence has played a key role in helping the Canadiens on this current deep magical playoff run which has seen them defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and most recently the Vegas Golden Knights to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup finals. While they are only four wins away, the Canadiens are facing a tough challenge in playing the defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning.

Heading into the finals, Weber has averaged 25:38 of ice time, and has scored one goal and four points.

“I think we’re just going to stay in the moment, to be honest,” Weber told NHL.com. “I don’t think you look at anything being where you want to be. We’re in the position we want to be, but we’re not at the end result. So, I think we’ve got to live in that moment and stay focused and just keep on the grind.” "I think we're just going to stay in the moment, to be honest," he said during Stanley Cup Final media day on Sunday. "I don't think you look at anything being where you want to be. We're in the position we want to be, but we're not at the end result. So I think we've got to live in that moment and stay focused and just keep on the grind."

Revisiting the NHL Playoffs Ahead of Game One

By Jordan Laroche

The Stanley Cup Finals start Monday night, and as we get ready for them, Gouche Live wanted to take a quick look at how the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning have made it to where they are.

Montreal Canadiens

Starting the playoffs with a 1-500 chance of winning the Stanley Cup, many people believed they would get swept in the first round (including me.)

In the first round, the Canadiens had a matchup against the first place team in the Scotia North Division, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The original six matchup did not disappoint as the series went the distance, and Montreal had to win three games in a row to move on.

It was a weird series as in game one, John Tavares fell and was kneed in the head accidentally by Corey Perry. The Leafs looked shocked after it and the Habs took game one.

The Leafs would rally around their captain and take a 3-1 hold on the series. But in what was probably Carey Price’s best playoff series this year, the Habs narrowly avoided elimination and won game 7, 3-1.

The Montreal Canadiens kicked off the second round against the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets had just had some time off seeing as they swept the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers. Many of us on the show thought that the Jets would have the upper hand in the series with the rest between the series, as Montreal was still considered a long shot.

Montreal swept the Winnipeg Jets following Mark Schiefle’s suspension after hitting Jake Evans in game one.

After the Montreal Canadiens beat out the rest of the North Division, they had an incredible series against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights came into the playoffs as one of the favorites to win the cup, but after two tough series against the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche, they would lose to the Canadiens in six games.

The Canadiens shut-down style of play came to the fore front as Vegas forwards only accounted for five goals in the series.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning came into the playoffs as the defending champions, but were still overlooked by many due to injuries to Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. But the pair were ready to come back and have been the pulse of this team.

The first round saw the first-ever all Florida playoff matchup in the NHL as the Lightning took on the Florida Panthers. The Panthers won the season series between the two clubs, 4-2. The two teams have a lot of offensive firepower and the series showed that with high scoring games on both sides. But the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to beat the Florida Panthers in 6 games.

The Lightning would then have to face-off against the first place team in the Discover Central Division, the Carolina Hurricanes. But Tampa Bay made pretty quick work of the Hurricanes as they looked to be the better team in every game. The Hurricanes are still a young team and Tampa’s experience in the playoffs led them to a 4-1 series win.

In the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals, Tampa Bay ran into a hard-nosed New York Islanders team. The Islanders have come off back-to-back six game series against the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders defensive style of play worked through most of the series, but they struggled to provide much offense with outstanding play by Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning defense only kept the Islanders to two wins in the series.

The Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning will make for an entertaining Stanley Cup Final, with two teams that are built very differently. Montreal will have their hands full, but many of us at Gouche Live still believe they can pull it off.

Rene Bourque - Trials and Tribulations

Having played his minor Hockey career in Saskatchewan, Rene Bourque made the move to Alberta at 19 years old to play for the St. Albert Saints in the AJHL. After just one season in St. Albert, Bourque committed to the University of Wisconsin where he played for four years. His last year in the NCAA, Bourque was given the “C” to represent them as a captain, that year he had 16 goals, 20 assists for 36 points in 42 games.

After his last year at Wisconsin, Bourque was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks, but spent the 2004-2005 season with the team’s affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. He had an impressive rookie campaign where he had 60 points in 75 games, along with 105 penalty minutes.

This caught the eye of the Blackhawks, and Bourque would start the 2005-2006 season in the NHL.

After three seasons in Chicago, Bourque was traded to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a second round pick. In the 2008-2009 season Bourque hit his stride with the Flames, and he set a personal season high in his second year with the Flames where he had 27 goals, 50 points in 80 games.

However, injuries during his first season with the Flames would plague his career, as for the next four seasons he struggled to play in more than 40 games in a single season.

Bourque would spend the rest of his NHL career bouncing between a few teams including the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche and the Columbus Blue Jackets. But his last season of professional Hockey he played for Djurgardens IF in the Swedish Hockey League.

The same year he was chosen to represent Canada at the Olympics, and was recognized as an Assistant Captain on the team. Bourque had an impressive tournament where he had 4 points in 6 games and Canada would win the Bronze Medal that year.

Ray also traveled on the Ice Hockey Classic tours and was not only an amazing player but a tremendous ambassador for the game and our causes. Ray is always an incredible person, when Kerry Goulet’s sister was extremely sick in Kelowna, he went out of his way to visit her in the hospital and kept Kerry informed on her condition.

NHL Free Agency Preview Part 1: Forwards

By Jordan Laroche

As we head into the Stanley Cup Finals, a lot of teams around the NHL are thinking about the moves and signings they will have to make to improve their rosters. It’s an exciting time of year as fans hope their team can bring in someone who can bring their team to the next level, and this off-season there will be several UFAs that can fit that role.

Whether teams are looking to add a superstar to their top line or looking to add more depth to their roster, teams will be spoilt for choice this year as several big name forwards could be changing teams this summer. This is the first in a series of blogs where we take a look at some of the top UFAs heading into the offseason. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest UFAs this year:

Taylor Hall

Last contract: 1 year x $8,000,000

Team: Signed by the Buffalo Sabres, traded to the Boston Bruins

Stats: 10G 23A 33P in 53GP, 3G 2A 5P in 11GP (Playoffs)

This could have been Taylor Hall’s make-or-break season, as the former Hart Trophy winner has been on a slide since a knee injury the year after winning the MVP. Hall has struggled to put up the same point total as he did in 2017-18, but after a season with the Arizona Coyotes, Hall took a chance on a one year - “bet on yourself” contract.

Hall could have been a guy to turn the Sabres hopes around, but Buffalo went on to have one of the worst seasons in NHL history. The Sabres would lose, a record setting, 18 games in a row this season, and Hall only had two goals in his time in Buffalo. As a result, Hall was shipped to the Boston Bruins and he was able to turn his season around. In the last 16 games of the season Hall would tally 8G 6A 14P and was impactful in the playoffs as he had 5 points in 11 games.

Hall’s outlook could have been drastically different had he not turned his year around with the Bruins. He has publicly expressed interest in staying in Boston, but the Bruins have several other players to resign including Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak and David Krejci.

My prediction: If Boston can afford him, they’ll keep him.

Tomas Tatar

Last contract: 4 years x $5,300,000

Team: Montreal Canadiens

Stats: 10G 20A 30P in 50GP, 0G 1A 1P in 5GP (Playoffs)

Tomas Tatar’s numbers took a dip this season, granted it was a shorter season, but in 2019-20 Tatar had 61 points in 68 games but would fall to 30 points in 50 games. Later on in the season Tatar struggled in the defensive-end, and after just five playoff games, Tatar was scratched by the Canadiens and has not played since then.  

Now that the Montreal Canadiens are moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals, without Tatar, it is unclear if the team has him in their plans. If I had to guess, Tatar won’t be a Canadien next season with around $10,000,000 in cap space and having to resign a few key pieces it looks like Tatar’s time as a Hab is done.

Prediction: Signed by a new team, possibly a contender.

Paul Stastny

Contract: 4 years x $ 7,000,000

Team: Winnipeg Jets

Stats: 13G 16A 29P in 56GP, 1G 1A 2P in 6GP (Playoffs)

Paul Stastny, who turns 36 in December, could still have some juice left in the tank. Only two seasons ago he was close to a point-per-game pace as he had 42 points in 50 games with the Vegas Golden Knights. While his production since moving to Winnipeg has dipped, he should be able to provide some secondary scoring on any roster.

The Jets had a good regular season before enduring a 7 game losing streak to end the season. They were able to sweep the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs, but lost four straight games to the Montreal Canadiens. Stastny missed some games in the playoffs due to an undisclosed injury, but when he was on the ice he couldn’t produce, which can leave a bad taste in a GM’s mouth.

With around $20,000,000 in cap space, Winnipeg will have a busy summer as players like Neal Pionk, Andrew Copp and Logan Stanley are must-signs for the Jets, and with Pierre’Luc Dubois’ contract ending next season, Stastny could be on the move.

Prediction: Signed by a new team.

Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin looking like a genius

By Neil Becker

The proof is evident that Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin has in fact made all the correct moves.

After losing last year in the best of seven first round series 4-2 against the Philadelphia Flyers, Bergevin made quite a few off-season moves, which have really paid off for the Habs, who are going to the Stanley Cup finals.  

Among his many moves, Bergevin strengthened the offence by signing free agent forward Tyler Toffoli to a four- year 17- million- dollar contract along with trading forward Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Josh Anderson which brought a lot of size.

The Toffoli signing turned out to be huge as the 29 -year-old veteran led the team with 28 goals and 44 points in 52 regular season games. Without Toffoli, Montreal wouldn’t even have made it to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Montreal, who captured the final playoff spot in the Scotia North Division, has continued in post-season to get a strong performance from Toffoli who heading into the Stanley Cup finals leads the team with five goals and 14 points in 16 playoff games. One of those goals included a Game 4 overtime thriller which completed a second -round sweep against the Winnipeg Jets.

Meanwhile, Anderson had a monster year in Montreal. He provided speed and toughness along with consistent scoring depth as he scored 17 goals and 24 points in the regular season. In the playoffs, Anderson has chipped in with three goals along with four points. Showing that ability to shine in the spotlight, Anderson scored his biggest goal in semi-finals play during Game 3 overtime which propelled Montreal to a 3-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights at the Bell Centre.

Besides signing Toffoli, Bergevin also signed another former Stanley Cup winner in Corey Perry to a one-year contract. This past March, the G.M. was once again active as he purchased some more veteran leadership and another cup winner in forward Eric Staal. These two have brought valuable leadership for the youngsters and have scored some clutch post-season goals.

Following three playoff series, Perry has scored three goals and nine points while Stall has scored two goals and eight points for Montreal.

Last off-season, Bergevin also improved the defence by dealing a 5th round draft choice to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for 29- year-old defeceman Joel Edmundson who has registered six assist this off-season while playing solid defensively.

Bergevin might not have won General Manger of the year, but there is no question that without his many moves, the Canadiens wouldn’t be playing for the Stanley Cup.

Leafs forward Jason Spezza signs one-year contract extension

By Neil Becker

Veteran forward Jason Spezza will once again be wearing Toronto Maple Leafs colors.

Following his second year with the Leafs, which saw the 38-year-old score 10 goals and 30 points in 54 regular season games, Spezza agreed on June 16th, to a one-year contract extension with the Leafs at $750,000.

Proving to be one of the best Leafs during this year’s playoffs, Spezza proved there is still lots in the tank as he produced three goals along with five points during their first- round loss against the Montreal Canadiens.

Spezza, who in 2001 was looked upon as the Top CHL prospect, was selected second overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators.  

During the 2002-03 season, Spezza embarked on his NHL career as he played in 33 games with the Senators where this future star scored seven goals and 21 points. He would go on to play 10 more years in Ottawa where this popular forward was a fixture on the number one line which featured Dany Heatley along with captain Daniel Alfredsson.

This Senator, who during his time in Ottawa played in the 2008 and 2012 NHL All-Star Games, scored an impressive 251 regular season goals with Ottawa along with 687 points before being traded on July 1, 2014 to the Dallas Stars.  

His best year wearing Senators colors came in 2007-2008, when he scored 34 goals along with 92 points which had him tied with Detroit Red wings forward Henrik Zetterberg and Tampa Bay Lightning Vincent Lecavalier for sixth overall in league scoring. Meanwhile in postseason play with Ottawa, Spezza played in 56 games where he registered 17 goals and 51 points. His most most productive spring came in 2007 when he produced 7 goals and 22 points in helping Ottawa go to the finals where they ended up losing to the Anaheim Ducks.

In Dallas, Spezza signed on November 21, 2014 a four -year contract worth 7.5 million per season. He would go on to play five seasons with the Stars with his best season coming in 2015-2016 when he posted 33 goals and 63 points.

After his tenure in the Lonestar state, agreed in 2019 as a free agent to a one- year deal worth $700,000 to play for the Leafs.

“Just to have a chance to put on a Leafs jersey is going to be pretty special for me,” Spezza said.

This will be Spezza’s third year with the Leafs as he will enter next season only 70 points shy of 1,000 in his illustrious career. 

Islanders GM Lamoriello making all the right moves

By Neil Becker 

New York Islanders General Manger Lou Lamoriello is looking like a genius following the blockbuster deal he engineered prior to this year's trade deadline with the New Jersey Devils.

Four days prior to the April 12th 2021 deadline, Lamoriello drastically improved his Islanders team by acquiring veteran forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils.

Lamoriello, who once upon a time ago won three cups with the Devils as their GM, has in the past shown no hesitation in pulling the trigger on blockbuster deals at or near the  NHL deadline.

A year ago near the deadline, Lamoriello made a major deal in acquiring shifty forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a 2020 conditional first round pick, a 2020 second round selection and a conditional third round pick. That year, they also obtained veteran stay at home defenceman Andy Greene from the Devils for a 2021 second round pick.

Meanwhile in this year's deal for Palmieri and Zajac, the Islanders surrendered minor league forwards A.J. Geer and Mason Jobst along with a couple of draft picks. 

Palmieri, who brings lots of grit to his game, scored two goals and four points in 17 regular season games with New York before catching fire in the post season with seven goals along with nine points in 13 games.

Zajac, who was once upon a time ago drafted by former Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello, has scored a goal and two points so far during the Islanders playoff run, which has seen them in a best of seven series defeat first the Pittsburgh Penguins followed by the Boston Bruins.   

"They have assimilated with this group very, very well," Islanders coach Barry Trotz told NHL.com following the Bruins series. "They've got great personalities. They've got great professionalism and, honestly, I said to the coaching staff, I think they're having a ball right now."

Showing lots of chemistry has been the Islanders line of Palmieri, Zajac and Pageau, which have produced some pivotal goals during this year's playoff run.

 Heading into Game 3 of their semi-finals playoff series against the defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning, Pageau has produced 13 points and a  +11 in 14 playoff games.

During their playoff series win against Boston, Palmieri led the team with four goals in the series and tied with Matthew Barzal along with Pageau for the team lead with seven points in the series.

On defence, Greene, who is 38 years-old, has proved valuable in blocking shots and providing veteran leadership while playing strong defensively.

The blockbuster deals swung by Lamoriello over the past couple of years before the deadline are major reasons why the Islanders currently find themselves in the final four with a good shot to win the cup. 

The Long Shot

By Jordan Laroche

For John Scott an NHL career seemed like a long shot, but against all odds, he became an NHL All-Star.

The Edmonton native started his Junior career with the Thorold Blackhawks, in what is now the GOJHL, tallying just 11 points in 40 games. He would move on to play for the Chicago Freeze in the NAHL where he would put up 12 points in 53 games. While Scott’s offensive numbers seemed low for a young forward, he made up for it with his physicality with 99 and 240 penalty minutes respectively.

His year with the Chicago Freeze was enough for him to earn a spot on Michigan Tech’s team. Scott would do much of the same as he had 350 penalty minutes in 126 NCAA games. Scott would finish his four years at Michigan Tech if his Hockey dream failed, but as a Free Agent in 2006, Scott would sign with the Houston Aeros in the AHL.

Scott would spend the next two years with the Aeros, where he would put up a combined nine points and 291 penalty minutes before being called up by the Minnesota Wild. After one more stint in the AHL during the 2008-2009 season, Scott would spend the majority of his career in the NHL playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks and the Arizona Coyotes.

Scott would be named an NHL All-Star during the 2015-2016 season, in what was one of the biggest storylines in the NHL over the past decade. Scott had just one point in 11 games after spending much of the season as a healthy scratch. But with the NHL allowing fans to pick who they wanted to appear in the All-Star game. As a result, Scott received the most votes of anyone in the NHL that season, which allowed him to be a captain for the All-Star game. Scott became the only player in NHL history to make it to the All-Star game while not playing in the NHL, also stating in his book “A Guy Like Me” that the NHL tried to persuade him to not play in the game. Another exciting story about John is the fact right after his All-Star MVP win, he joined the Ice Hockey Classic Australian tour where is was selected to the All-Star team and was Player of the Game. He enjoyed it so much he saved a page to talk about his experience in his book. He was not only a tremendous asset ion the ice as he entertained the large crowds but he was even more impressive off the ice.

“John Scott is a giant of a man but one of the nicest ice hockey players I have ever met. He took time to sign ever autograph, pose for every picture and took time telling stories, class act.” - Aaron Cusack, Melbourne, Australia

“I have had several unbelievable characters join us on the Classic Down Under, like Eric Neilson, Kyle Quincey, Tim Stapleton and the man “Brent Burns” but no like John. Larger than life, always smiling and joking with his teammates and the crowd and a very talented player in his own right. He brought his beautiful family and we saw first-hand what a wonderful husband and father he was too,” - Kerry Goulet, Global Director of the IHC.

Winnipeg Jets Pierre-Luc Dubois will be looking to rebound 

By Neil Becker 
To say it's been a rough year for Winnipeg Jets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois would be an understatement.
Dubois, who was a highly touted player drafted third overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2016 Entry Draft, was referred to by scouts as being a multi-dimential player and a future star.
 
Following a stellar Quebec Major Junior Hockey League career, Dubois officially began his NHL career with Columbus during the 2017-18 campaign.  Life couldn't have been better for this 6 foot 2, 220 pound centerman who as a rookie scored a respectable 20 goals along with 48 points.
 
Among his many first year highlights came on March 29, 2018, when he scored a hattrick against the Calgary Flames, which put Dubois name in the Blue Jackets record book for most points by a rookie. That record previously belonged to Rick Nash who as a rookie in 2002-03 scored 17 goals and 39 points.
 
In his second year, Dubois stock continued to rise as this future star improved on his rookie numbers by scoring 27 goals along with 61 points as many Columbus fans were seen at Nationwide Arena wearing his jersey.
 
The following year, Dubois only played in 70 games where he flashed his offensive talents by producing 18 goals along with 49 points. 
 
Showing to be a clutch player, Dubois had a solid 2020 playoffs with his best moment coming against the Toronto Maple Leafs during Game 3 of the Blue Jackets best of five qualifying round series. 
 
In a series which Columbus would win in five games, Dubois scored a Game 3 hatrick in what was an eventual 4-3 overtime win.
 
This season, back in January, Dubois went public in his request to be traded. A couple of days after he was benched during a 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, he was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets. 
 
Dubois, who upon being traded had only one goal in five games, was involved in a blockbuster transaction which one of the other players involved was superstar Patrik Laine who went from Winnipeg to the Blue Jackets.
 
Unfortunately for the Jackets, Dubois production suffered as he had only eight goals and 20 points in 41 games played with them this year. 
 
This past spring, things didn't go much better for the big centerman who scored three points in their first round series loss which went the full seven games against the Montreal Canadiens.
 
Next season, the NHL should see a more determined Dubois who will be looking to bounce back from an off- year. 

Chris Driedger's long route to the NHL

By Jordan Laroche


Chris Driedger has been a bubble player through most of his NHL career, but surprised a lot of people with a breakout season in the league. But before that, Driedger broke in with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL as a 16 year old. That same year, Driedger represented Canada at the U17 World Hockey Championship where he started in four games for Team Canada.

Driedger was then moved to the Calgary Hitmen where his numbers would improve with more experience. During the 2012-2013 season Driedger posted a 2.51GAA and a .915SV% which was enough for him to get drafted in the third round (#76 overall) to the Ottawa Senators. 

Driedger would spend the majority of the next eight years bouncing between the NHL, AHL and the ECHL. In 2018 Driedger would be released from the Ottawa Senators organization as a Free-Agent and he spent that season with the Springfield Thunderbirds in the AHL and the Manchester Monarchs in the ECHL.

Driedger would sign a two-year deal with the Florida Panthers in 2019, and this past season enjoyed a breakout season with the Panthers. He had a .927SV% and a 2.07GAA in 23 starts, outperforming teammate and former Vezina Trophy Winner, Sergei Bobvrosky. With Bobvrosky’s cap hit and the emergence of Spencer Knight, it is unlikely that the Florida Panthers will resign Driedger this year, but off the back of this season there will be many teams who will try to sign him.

Driedger was also instrumental in the growth of the Ice Hockey Classic Down Under. He has backstopped the Canadian teams in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and excited the amazing crowds in every arena. He received the Player of the Match on three separate occasions sponsored by Zonte Footsteps.

“To have the opportunity to travel the world and support great causes like StopConcussions is amazing. The crowds were over the top! Look forward to doing it again and help grow our game.” -  Chris Driedger.

The "Other Golden Goal"

By Jordan Laroche

Nick Paul started his professional career with the Brampton Battalion in the OHL during the 2012-2013 season, the same year he was drafted in the 4th round (101st overall) by the Dallas Stars. Paul would stay in Brampton for two more seasons scoring 46 and 66 points, respectively, before making his Team Canada debut at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. Paul would score three goals in seven games for the Canadians as they took home the Gold Medal at the tournament.

Paul’s first taste of the NHL came in the 2015-2016 season where he had five points in 24 games as he split time between the Ottawa Senators and their AHL affiliate at the time, the Binghamton Senators Paul’s highest NHL point totals have come from his last two seasons where he tallied 20 points in 56 games both seasons.

In 2019 Paul participated in the Ice Hockey Classic in Australia and New Zealand. He put on the Team Canada jersey with pride and was an incredible ambassador as well as a star in the series. He gave an allstar performance both on and off the ice.

“Nick Paul is a true sportsman. Not only did he have chat with my 10-year old nephew during pre-game warm-up at the 2019 Ice Hockey Classic but he found him after the game and gave him a signed puck and his hockey stick” - Michelle Bond, Australia

What will most likely be Paul’s highest accomplishment would be scoring the OT winner against Finland at the 2021 IIHF World Championship Final, securing another Gold Medal for Canada. The Canadian team had a tough start to the tournament going 0-3, so chances for them to even qualify for the elimination games were slim. But the group came together quickly after losing their first three games, beating the Russian Olympic Committee and Team USA on route to a 3-2 Overtime win against the Finns.

Montreal Canadiens heading to the Stanley Cup Semi Finals

By Neil Becker

The Montreal Canadiens have astounded the hockey world.

Finding themselves matched in first round playoff action against the heavily favored Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadiens trailed their best of seven series by a 3-1 count, when they suddenly proved their critics wrong.  

Fighting to keep their season alive, the Canadiens who were facing elimination suddenly got red hot and did the unexpected in winning three in a row by scores of 4-3 (OT), 3-2 (OT) and 3-1 to complete what was a stunning opening round comeback win. 

Montreal, who were led by the strong goaltending of Carey Price along with youngsters such as young forwards Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi along with veteran Tyler Toffoli continued to make a statement with their play as they would go on to un-expectantly complete a North Division finals playoff sweep against the Winnipeg Jets. 

Another key component to Montreal's playoff success has been the blueline where they are led by captain Shea Weber and Jeff Petry who both log well over 20 minutes per game. Also stepping up in providing grit and effective shot blocking have been Joel Edmundson and Ben Chiarot. 

Also playing some standout hockey has been veterans and former Stanley Cup winners Eric Staal, who won it with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and Corey Perry who captured Lord Stanley in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks. 

Riding the momentum of their first round victory against a Toronto team who finished the regular season 18 points ahead, Montreal continued to make the critics eat their words. 

Continuing to get strong goaltending and timely goals, the Canadiens never trailed in their second round Norht Division Finals against Winnipeg. 

Winnipeg, who finished third in the division, couldn't recover after a long rest which came after they swept the Edmonton Oilers in first round action. 

Showing no rust after their Game 7 win against Toronto, the Canadiens defeated Winnipeg by scores of 5-3, 1-0, 5-1 and the series clincher which came in a 3-2 OT thriller at the Bell Centre in front of 2,500 singing fans. 

The overtime hero was Toffoli, who scored 1:39 into overtime when he banged home a tape to tape pass from rookie Cole Caufield. 

Montreal will now play the winner of the Colorado Avalanche vs. Vegas Golden Knights series in the Stanley Cup semifinals.

A positive omen for Montreal fans is that there team has now won seven games in a row and the last Montreal team to win seven straight was in 1993 when they won the Stanley Cup. 

Toronto Maple Leafs once again suffer first round playoff disappointment

By Neil Becker

This promises to be a long and ultra painful off-season for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Following a strong regular season which saw the Leafs finish first in the North Division with 77 points, there was sky high expectations within the organization for a long successful playoff run.

Playing the Montreal Canadiens, who finished fourth in the North Division, 18 points behind, Toronto was heavily favored in this best of seven original Six first round series.

Toronto, who were looking to advance for the first time since 2004 past the opening round, found themselves in great shape as they had their Original Six arch rivals on the ropes with a 3-1 series lead before the roof caved in.

 Montreal, who got some strong goaltending from veteran Carey Price, stayed alive with a Game 5 overtime goal from forward Nick Suzuki in a 4-3 Game 5 victory followed two nights later by forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who thrilled the Bell Centre by delievering an overtime goal in a 3-2 win to force back in Toronto a deciding Game 7.

Various Leafs players and management along with fans have epressed how this year's heartbreaking defeat stings more than previous years.

In the past, there were reasons such as youth and inexperience for the Leafs first round exists. Now, it's been five straight years for the talented first round picks of Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and defenceman Morgan Rielly.

Starting in 2017 with these talented core players, the Leafs lost to the Washington Capitals who a year later would win the Stanley Cup. In 2018 and 2019, the Boston Bruins provided heartbreak as they posted Game 7 wins in back to back years. Last year, in a decided Game 5, the Leafs dropped a 3-0 decision against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This year, leading scorer Austin Matthews only scored one goal and Marner, who had 90 plus points this year ended up with two playoff assist.

Last off-season Leafs GM Kyle Dubas added experience and toughness with Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian.

Now the question is, with so many decisions on who to re-sign where do they go from here?

Kotkaniemi is enjoying a breakout playoff run

By Neil Becker

Montreal Canadiens wins Game 1 against the Winnipeg Jets in convincing style. It is marred by an ugly hit by Mark Scheifele on Jake Evans and will no questioned be suspended. With a 5-3 win against the Jets, it was forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi who opened the scoring with his fourth goal of the playoffs. This goal was not his biggest because that was his overtime goal in Game 6 on May 29th against the Toronto Maple Leafs as the his Habs were facing elimination in their first-round best of seven series. That goal allowed him to score tonight because without it they may have not been in Winnipeg.

 

In that game with 2,500 nervous fans looking on, it only seemed a matter of time for a loss as Toronto was pouring on the pressure outshooting Montreal by a 15-2 margin, until Kotkaniemi emerged as the eventual hero.

 

The heroic moment came at 15:15 of overtime, when this talented 20-year-old Finn, showed why he was a first round pick, when parked in the high slot, he scored glove side in what was his third playoff goal of the spring.

 

However, this was obviously the biggest, as it guaranteed a winner take all Game 7 which was played Monday, May 31st at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, a big 3-1 win for the Canadiens.

 

Adjusting to the NHL has been a bumpy transition for the 6-foot 2 201-pound Kotkaniemi, who on July 2, 2018, signed a three year entry level contract with the Canadiens.

Upon being drafted, Kotkaniemi had a reputation for being a smart, skilled two-way player. He scored his first NHL goal on November 1, 2018 against the Washington Capitals and ended up scoring a respectable 11 goals and 34 points. That was followed up by an injury riddled sophomore campaign where he scored six goals and 11 points.  

Kotkaniemi has shown to excel on the big stage of playoff hockey and he showed that once again tonight. He is hot at the right time and the Habs will need him to continue scoring to win the North Division.

Islanders rookie goalie Sorokin coming up big in playoffs

By Neil Becker

Obviously a key ingrediant to winning the Stanley Cup is quality goaltending; and that's exactly what the New York Islanders have with rookie IIya Sorokin.

Selected third round by New York in the 2014 NHL Draft, Sorokin has with his strong post-season play, really made a name for himself.

Following a rookie season which saw the 25 year-old post a 13-6-3 record, with a 2.17 G.A.A., Sorokin was the story following a thrilling 4-3 playoff Game 1 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sorokin, who originally wasn't supposed to start, showed no jitters, as he wrote his name in the Islanders franchise playoff record book by making 39 saves, which tied former Islander and current broadcaster Kelly Hrudey for the most stops in post-season by an Islanders rookie netminder.

With the win, Sorokin also joined Glenn (Chico) Resch in the franchise record books as the only Islanders rookie goalies to be victorious in their post-season debut.

From the opening face-off, Sorokin was sharp as he made a statement by stopping 17 of 18 first period shots. Meanwhile, in overtime, he was the story as he made 10 saves before Islanders trade deadline acquisition Kyle Palmieri scored the overtime winner.

Despite the impressive performance, Sorokin didn't play again until Saturday May 22nd when he thrilled the Nassau Colliseum socially distanced crowd with a 30 save Game 4 performance in what was a 4-1 win, which tied the series up at two games apiece.

Every spring playoff legends are born, and Sorokin continued to be a big story when two days later in Pitsburgh, he provided some more playoff magic as he registered 48 saves during a thrilling 3-2 double overtime victory.

On Wednesday, May 26th, Sorokin once again proved unflappable as he stopped 37 shots at home in leading the Islanders to a Game 6 first round series clinching 5-3 win.

True it's early in the playoffs, but so far Sorokin has been the big story for the Islanders who are feeling extremely confident heading into the second round against the Boston Bruins.

Habs prospect Cole Caufield makes impressive playoff debut

By Neil Becker

Montreal Canadiens top rated prospect, Cole Caufield was a dominating presence in his playoff debut.

After being a healthy scratch for the opening two games of Montreal’s best of seven first round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, fans finally got to see what he can do in post season play.

Caufield, who was drafted first round, 15th overall by Montreal in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, is coming off a standout sophomore season with the University of Wisconsin which saw him average a point a game in tallying 19 goals and 36 points in 36 games, which earned him the Hobey Baker Award.

During last year’s World Junior Hockey tournament, Caufield’s stock rose when he displayed his elite offensive skills by scoring two goals and five points in helping the USA celebrate a gold medal win.

This 5’7”, 165 pound shifty forward, electrified the Montreal Canadiens fanbase when on March 28, 2021, he officially signed with the Canadians. 

It would be less than a month later, on April 26th, that this projected star played his first NHL game, which came in a 2-1 win against Montreal’s division rivals the Calgary Flames.

Showing a definite flair for the dramatics, Caufield’s first NHL goal came in overtime at the Bell Centre during what was a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators.  

Unbelievably, approximately 48 hours later, Caufield came through again as he scored another overtime goal in giving Montreal a big win against the Leafs.

Caufield’s two other goals would come once again against the Leafs in a 5-2 loss, along with another goal during a 4-3 overtime loss against the Edmonton Oilers. A game which saw Caufield generate five shots on goal and end up with two points.  

After sitting out the opening two playoff games, which saw the teams split at Scotiabank Arena, Caufield dressed on Monday, May 24th, where at the Bell Centre, he registered three shots on goal and hit a goalpost in just over 15 minutes of ice time in a 2-1 loss to the Leafs. A night later, Caufield, who continued to see some power play time, had a shot on goal but was a -1 in what was a 4-0 Leafs win. 

Montreal is now facing elimination but we can still expect to still see plenty Caufield. Montreal desperately needs offence and that’s something this projected star can provide. 

Leafs Joe Thornton looking to win first Stanley Cup

By Neil Becker

Every spring, prior to the Stanley Cup playoffs, I often like to think about what veteran players most deserve to hoist the Stanley Cup.

Throughout the years, my favorite part of the Stanley Cup finals was seeing the reaction of players who for the first time accomplish that ultimate life -long goal of kissing and lifting the Stanley Cup.

Being a sensitive person, I loved watching these tough warriors such as Raymond Bourque (2001), Lanny McDonald (1989), Dallas Drake (2008) and Kimmo Timonen (2015) to name a few, who in the sunset of their illustrious career, get all emotional as they finally lift and kiss Lord Stanley.

My favorite Stanley Cup moment, and one that is part of Stanley Cup lore, took place on June 9, 2001, when Bourque capped off his 22 -year Hall of Fame career, by lifting what was his first ever Stanley Cup. Many factors made this moment special, including when Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic received Lord Stanley from commissioner Gary Bettmen, and right away, without even kissing or hoisting it, gave it to the emotional Bourque who had 1,826 regular season games under his belt. Bourque’s emotional Stanley Cup hoist, which came after Colorado’s 3-1 Game 7 win against the New Jersey Devils, was also extra historic because no player in the NHL’s history has ever had to play so many years before winning their first cup. Prior to this, the closest Bourque came to winning a Stanley Cup was losing in the 1988 and ’90 finals when he was with the Boston Bruins against the Edmonton Oilers. Bourque, as all hockey fans know, made his mark with the Boston Bruins, where he would star for 20 years, before becoming a Colorado Avalanche.

A few years earlier, a similar inspirational story was written by another Hockey Hall of Famer in forward Lanny McDonald who on May 25, 1989, capped off his illustrious career by winning his first Stanley Cup. Playing for the Calgary Flames, McDonald scored the second goal n what was an eventual 4-2 Game 6 Stanley Cup clinching win against the Montreal Canadiens.

Unbelievably, this was the first time in Canadiens history, that an opposing team has won the Stanley Cup in the Montreal Forum.

“You always dream of playing in a game that makes a difference and playing in the Stanley Cup Final, especially in Montreal,” McDonald told NHL.com. “To be able to score a goal in your final game, in Montreal, where no team had ever won the cup before (by defeating the Canadiens) and to be a large part of that and then to celebrate on Forum ice, was special”

The image which was often seen on Stanley Cup playoff videos is a smiling McDonald along with veteran teammates Tim Hunter and Jim Peplinski enthusiastically hoisting the Stanley Cup. McDonald, would end his career with an even 500 goals scored and 1,006 total points.

Being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, the ideal story I would love to see written this spring, is team captain John Tavares handing the Stanley Cup over to future hall of famer Joe Thornton.

Following a simply dominating 122- point season with the OHL’S Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Thornton was selected first overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins.

Affectionately known as “Jumbo Joe,” this 6 foot 4, 235 pound forward went on to play seven seasons in Beantown, before getting traded on November 30, 2005, out west to the San Jose Sharks in what was a multi-player transaction.

Prior to getting traded, Jumbo Joe had started the year on fire with nine goals along with 33 points in 23 games before becoming a Shark. Continuing to blossom, Thornton when traded, played in 58 contests with San Jose, where he showcased his offensive potential with 20 goals and 92 total points,

That 2005-06 campaign saw him score 29 goals along with a league leading 125 points which of course earned him the Art Ross Trophy. Thornton also won that same year the Hart Trophy.

Following that season Thornton, who was known for his elite playmaking, would play 14 more seasons with the Sharks with his best shot at a Stanley Cup coming in 2016, when the Sharks made franchise history when for the first- time, they advanced to the Stanley Cup finals.

It was a magical spring for Thornton who scored three goals along with 24 points as the Sharks fell short as they lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Thornton, has had success on the International stage where he helped Canada capture gold in such events as the 1997 World Junior Championships, World Cup of Hockey in 2004 and 2016 and of course the 2010 winter Olympics where he helped Canada win gold.

Last September, there was excitement in Toronto as management officially signed “Jumbo Joe’ to a one -year contract worth $700,000. Jumbo has obviously slowed down with age, but he does bring physicality, offence and leadership to the young and talented Leafs core which includes Austin Matthews, Mitch Marner and captain Tavares.

While there has been no official word about Thornton’s future, winning a Stanley Cup and getting that first hand-off from Tavares would be like what happened with McDonald and Bourque years prior. If the Leafs do go on to win, it would be a sweet way to end what has been a hall of fame career.  

Edmonton Oilers Puljujarvi enjoying breakout season

By Neil Becker

Edmonton Oilers hulking forward Jesse Puljujarvi is the latest example as to why NHL General Managers need to be patient with their young first-round selections.

Through the years, many general managers have gone down in hockey history for being impatient by trading a first rounder only to see him go on to have a solid to hall of fame playing careers.

One example, which still makes Vancouver Canucks fans cringe was when General Manager Jeff Gordon pulled the trigger on a June 6, 1986 deal, which saw former 1983 first round pick (ninth overall) Cam Neely traded from the West Coast to the Boston Bruins where he would go on to carve out a hall of fame career. Neely, who coincidently was traded on his 21st birthday, played his first three years in Vancouver where he totaled 51 goals along with 104 points and 320 penalty minutes.

In what could be described as a mega shocking deal, the Canucks moved not only Neely but also their 1987 first round pick ((third overall) to Beantown in exchange for centreman Barry Pederson.

Starting in his first year with Boston, when Neely posted career highs with 36 goals and 72 points, this young winger began his ascent to greatness. During his 10- year reign with the Bruins, Neely scored 344 goals and 590 points along with a solid +137 and 921 penalty minutes in 525 games played. No doubt, if Gordon could do it again chances are he wouldn’t have traded this 2005 Hockey Hall of Famer inductee.

Other familiar names such as future hall of famers in forward Joe Thornton and goalie Roberto Luongo are two more examples of many past NHL first round selections who blossomed after being traded.

Thornton, who was drafted first overall in the 1997 draft by the Boston Bruins, played a little over seven years in Beantown before being part of a deal, which sent him to the San Jose Sharks, where over the past 15 years or so, he starred.

 Meanwhille, Luongo, who was selected fourth overall in that 1997 draft by the New York Islanders, would play only seven games for them during the 1999-2000 campaign before eventually getting traded to the Florida Panthers. Luongo had a 7-14-1 record in that brief stint in Long Island, before blossoming in Sunrise with the Panthers and later with the Vancouver Canucks. When he retired, Luongo ended up with 489 wins along with 77 shutouts.

There is an old saying that sometimes the best moves you make are the ones you don’t, which applies perfectly to the Edmonton Oilers.

There was lots of excitement back in 2016, when the Oilers drafted fourth overall, 6 foot 4, 201 -pound skilled forward Jesse Puljujarvi.

At the beginning things went well for this teenaged Fin who on July 13, 2016, signed a three -year entry-level contract. Showing a flair for the dramatics, this up and -coming prospect scored his first career NHL goal, during the October 12th season opener.

In a rookie year full of many challenges, Puljujarvi ended up splitting time between the Oilers and AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. He played 28 games with the Oilers that season where he scored one goal and eight points. In the AHL, Puljujarvi produced 12 goals and 28 points.

A year later, Puljujarvi had his best moment on January 20, 2018 when playing against the Vancouver Canucks, he earned first star honors after recorded a goal in what ended up being a three-point game.

However, it was not a smooth sophomore season for Puljujarvi who once again saw time playing in Bakersfield. As a sophomore, he played in 65 games with the Oilers where he scored 12 goals along with 20 points. In Bakersfield, he competed in 10 games where he recorded a goal along with five points.

Around this time, Puljujarvi, who at only 19 years of age, was starting by some frustrated fans to get compared to a previous Oilers first round disappointment in forward Nail Yakupov.

The following season, Puljujarvi continued to have trouble with consistency as he scored four goals along with nine points in 46 games with the Oilers.  He also dressed for four games with Backersfield where he produced two goals and four points.

Shortly after the completion to the 2018-19 season, it became public that Puljujarvi wanted to be dealt from Edmonton.  At the time, when in the Oilers line-up, this projected star found himself on the fourth line, getting less than 10 minutes of ice time per game.

At the time, Edmonton stressed that they were going to be patient with this young Fin by taking their time on deciding what they were going to do.

“I’m not trading anybody because they want to be traded,” Oilers GM Ken Holland said at the time. “But if we can find something that works for everybody, I’ll look at it. If not, I’m not doing anything.”

At the time Puljujarvi expressed his desire for a trade, he had scored only 37 points in 139 NHL games played.

Puljujarvi went back to Finland and dominated in the Finnish Elite League, where playing for the Oulun Karpat, he scored 24 goals and 54 points during the 2019-20 season.

The following season, he played 16 games for Oulun and came away with 7 goals and 12 points.

Whether it be a couple of years older or more comfortable with the language, a much -improved Puljujarvi returned to Edmonton after changing his mind about wanting to be traded.

This year, Puljujarvi, who is 6 foot 4 and 201 pounds, has really used size to his advantage, and has provided some valuable secondary scoring with 15 goals and 25 points in 54 games played.

“I think being a high pick and the other high picks making a name for themselves, and then him going to the minors and not really getting the chance, that was really hard for him,” former NHL and Karpat teammate Jussi Jokinen said via NHL.com’s Tim Campbell. “Lot’s of young players have those growing pains, and that was just Jesse’s time to go through those growing pains and find his way.”

While I’m not saying he’s going to turn into a 50- goal scorer like Neely or a 100- point producer, this developing forward could very well develop into a 30- goal scorer and play a critical role in the Oilers success. 

 

Connor McDavid hits the 100- point mark!

By Neil Becker

There is something about the big stage which brings the absolute best out of superstar players such as Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid.

Heading into the regular season’s stretch run, all eyes were on McDavid as he continued his strong pursuit of scoring 100 points during what is a shortened 56 game schedule.

Showing his true modesty and team first attitude, McDavid continuously said during past press conferences that what’s foremost on his mind isn’t scoring one hundred points, but helping the Oilers solidify a playoff spot.

As the McDavid count reached the high 90’s, teammates continuously stated to media how they really wanted to see their beloved captain achieve the milestone and what it would mean.

McDavid, who isn’t one to talk about his accomplishments, showed a flair for the dramatics, when during the regular season’s final Hockey Night In Canada telecast, he thrilled the coast-to coast fans, with a four point performance, including number one hundred, which came in a 4-3 win at Rogers Place against the Vancouver Canucks.   

“I was trying not to think about it,” McDavid told nhl.com, in relation to reaching the century mark. “I was trying to get myself ready to go in the playoffs and keep my game where it needs to be. Obviously, when you’re sitting around 96, 97, 98 points, and you get to 99, it’s obviously in the back of your mind, and thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long to get there.”

It was a determined McDavid who on Saturday, May 8th, in what was the Hockey Night In Canada late game, skated onto home ice and right away, created several quality chances.

This former 2015 first overall pick made hockey history as he earned his way on a prestigious list by tallying what was one goal and three assists in becoming the first player in 25 years, and only the ninth all-time to reach the 100- point mark in 53 games regular season games.

“Four-point nights aren’t something that comes regularly,” McDavid told NHL.com. “I was just trying to come in and play a good game, play like I can. My legs felt pretty good. I was able to get on the board on the first shift, that always helps. I think after the first one, it kind of crosses your mind, and I was fortunate to feel pretty good throughout the night, and a couple of great shots from my teammates.”

By reaching the century mark in only 53 games, McDonald joined a pretty exclusive club consisting of elite players such as Steve Yzerman, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Phil Esposito, Marcel Dionne, Jari Kurri and Bernie Nichols who have all accomplished that ultimate achievement of scoring 100 in 53 games or less.

Oilers head coach Dave Tippett had lots of praise for his young captain as he stated afterwards in an NHL.com article,

“It solidifies that he’s one of the top players to ever play the game. The level he’s played at this year and just what he’s accomplished, it’s one of those years when you look at Wayne or Mario. He’s taken his talents to another level that is just elite for the League.”

Unbelievably, McDavid who is now just entering his prime, was on pace for a 154 -point points if this was a normal 82 regular game season.

Showing that he meant business, McDavid started the evening against Vancouver by scoring his 32nd goal, and 97th point of the season, 45 seconds into regulation.

In the second, McDavid at the 6;53 mark, set up forward Jesse Puljujarvi for his 15th goal, which gave the Oilers a 2-0 lead. Nearly six minutes later, the captain was at it again as he drew an assist of what was Leon Draisaitl’s 29th goal and 500th point of his career.

This pair would strike again as Draisaitl, with only 40 seconds left in the second, scored his second with McDavid getting an assist and earning his 100th point of the season.

Prior to this feat, McDavid reached the milestone three years in a row, when starting in 2016/17 he scored exactly 100 points followed by seasons of 108 and 116 points.

Again, what makes this so special was that it was achieved in a shortened season in only his 53rd game.

A big congratulations to Connor McDavid who continued to amaze by what he does on the ice.

Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews is an Emerging Star

By Neil Becker

A strong argument can be made that Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Austin Matthews, is currently the NHL’s most explosive goal scorer.

He might not produce Connor McDavid like end- to- end rushes, or score highlight-reel breakaway goals, but Matthews, who was drafted by Toronto first overall in the 2016 draft, has a gift for scoring goals.

Matthews, who processes an accurate powerful wrist shot, lived up to his pre-draft hype when in his NHL debut, he made a bold statement by scoring four goals as the Leafs opened up the 2016/17 season, with a 5-4 overtime road loss against the Ottawa Senators.

Looked upon as a future superstar, Matthews gave Leafs Nation lots of reason to get excited, as he enjoyed a solid campaign which saw him play all 82 games, where he set a Maple Leafs franchise record with 40 goals as a rookie. He would go on to produce 69 points which was good enough to see him capture the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year.

In what was truly a magical rookie season, this emerging superstar represented the Leafs at the 2017 NHL All-Star Game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Prior to getting drafted, the scouts who had published the rankings heading   into the 2016 NHL draft, had Matthews, who is a 6’2” 194- pound centerman from Scottsdale Arizona, a near unanimous choice as the number one ranked player. Scouts had praised him as being a natural goal scorer and a great playmaker.  

During his draft year, Matthews played for the Zurich Lions in the NLA in Switzerland, where he produced 24 goals along with 46 points and helped them capture the Swiss Cup title.

As a teenager, Matthews excelled on the international stage for the United States, where he played a pivotal role in winning the U17 WHC gold medal along with two U18 WJC gold medals.

In his second NHL season, Matthews avoided the dreaded sophomore slump as he continued to carve out a reputation as an up and -coming elite player. Unfortunately, that season would see him miss 20 games due to an assortment of injuries, but still manage an impressive 34 goals and 63- point season.

Continuing to get better, Matthews, who was among a fan favorite in Toronto, enjoyed a career high 73 points in his third season. In getting off to a solid start, Matthews was named the NHL’s first star of the week, after starting the campaign with five goals and eight points in the first three games. Matthews continued producing at a torrid pace, as he scored 12 points in the seasons first five games. In December, Matthews was given the ultimate honor of being named captain of the Atlantic Division for the upcoming 2019 All-Star Game. Approximately two months later, on February 14th, Matthews hit the century mark as he scored his 100th and 101 goals in his career. Also, Matthews once again hit the 30- goal mark as he scored 37 goals for the season.

Starting the 2019/20 campaign as the Leafs alternative captain, Matthews once again got off to a torrid start as he scored twice in the season opener against the Senators. He was named to his fourth consecutive NHL All-Star game but had to pull out due to a lingering wrist injury. In what was his best season to date, Matthews finished with 47 goals, which placed him second in the race for the prestigious Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for most goals in the regular season. In what was a regular season to remember, Matthews had a career high of 80 points.

Playing this year in a season shortened 56 game schedule, Matthews continues to be a serious offensive threat and a strong reason why the Leafs should be considered this spring as serious Stanley Cup contenders.

Most recently, on Thursday, May 6, Matthews, who is the NHL’s runaway  goal scoring leader, registered his 40th goal in what was a 5-2 win at home against the Montreal Canadiens. The team that Toronto will more than likely face in a couple of weeks as their first -round playoff opponents.

According to the Toronto Star, Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe stated about Matthews,

“I think I’ve used a lot of my words on him, but there’s been so much talk about him all season long. It’s just so great to see him get rewarded offensively because he puts pressure on himself, or at least knows he has great responsibility to produce for our team offensively, and he delivers on it. He’s delivering on it at such a great rate. Nice to see him get that accomplishment here.”

Matthews, who is in his fifth NHL season has scored 198 goals along with 349 points in 331 games. This year, with a talented supporting cast which includes the likes of forwards Mitch Marner, captain John Tavares and defenceman Morgan Rielly, there is a great chance that he might add a Stanley Cup to his resume. This is a true superstar who has been strongly embraced by Leafs fans.    

Phil ‘the thrill’ Kessel closing in on 400 career goals

By Neil Becker

It’s never been a secret that forward Phil Kessel has always had a talent for scoring goals.

Prior to being selected by the Boston Bruins fifth overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, there was some negative speculation and concerns among scouts about this Madison Wisconsin prospect.

A scout based in Minneapolis who saw Kessel a lot during his draft season stated,

“I wonder about his game awareness sometimes.”

During the 2006 Draft Combine, scouts raved about Kessel’s strengths, which included his speed and scoring abilities.

On the flip side scouts also said about Kessel,

“A little bit immature, needs to work a little harder in the gym, practice a little harder, needs to learn some social skills, people skills.”

Apparently at one of his Draft Combine interviews, defenceman Jack Johnson, who was drafted third overall in the 2005 draft by the Carolina Hurricanes used the word ‘dirtbag’ in one of his many combine interviews when mentioning Kessel.

Prior to being drafted, Kessel played for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, where in 2005/06, he dressed for 39 games where he showed that scoring touch in registering 18 goals and 51 points. His standout season didn’t go unnoticed as he took home the 2005-06 WCHA Rookie of the Year award and was also included on the 2005-6 All- Rookie Team.

Kessel faced a major health scare during his 2006/07 rookie season as he missed a couple of weeks in December after undergoing testicular cancer surgery. This early season shocker, which occurred after Kessel had scored five goals and nine points in his first 27 games, ended up to have a happy ending. This player, affectionately known as ‘Phil the Thrill’, would come back to the NHL on January 9th for a game against the Ottawa Senators and finish his rookie season with 11 goals and 29 points in 70 games played.  

This budding star was getting better each year. Kessel, who incidentally won the 2007 Masterton Trophy, avoided the sophomore jinx as he scored 19 goals along with 37 points in his second season. During his third and what would be his final season in Beantown, Kessel erupted for 36 goals and 60 points.

In what was a major blockbuster trade, the Bruins on September 18, 2009 traded Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a package deal involving the Leafs 2010 first round pick, a 2010 second round pick and their 2011 first round pick.

After Kessel committed for five years at $27 million dollars, this star forward was under more scrutiny by Leafs Nation in what was clearly a controversial deal.

Throughout his six years wearing the blue and white, Kessel did impress by scoring 181 goals along with 394 points in 446 games played.

Despite producing, and being named to play in the 2011, 2012 and 2015 All-Star Game, Kessel and the Toronto media often didn’t have, to put it mildly, the best relationships.

Probably most notably was the time when an angry Kessel called a Leafs reporter an idiot, after being asked by the reporter if he was hard to coach.

In 2015, right after the NHL trade deadline, Kessel went on a rant in ripping the Toronto media for the way they treat and criticize captain Dion Phaneuf.

The media also often criticized Kessel for not being in the best of shape and his supposed love for hot dogs.

Kessel might have been perceived as cold and aloof but in reality, he was a shy kid who just wanted to let his play do his talking. And his on-ice play has definitely spoke volumes.  

Following the 2014-15 campaign which saw him score 25 goals and 61 points along with a -34 plus/minus rating, Kessel was traded in the off-season from Toronto to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a deal involving six players along with draft picks.

In Kessel, the Penguins acquired a five time 30 plus goal scorer who to that point in his career had scored 227 goals scored in 668 games played.

Finding a home in Pittsburgh, Kessel continued his scoring ways as he played an integral role in helping them win back- to- back Stanley Cups in 2016 against the San Jose Sharks followed in 2017 against the Nashville Predators.

During that 2016 Stanley Cup run, Kessel stared on what was called the HBK line, where he was the team’s leader with 98 playoff shots on goal, along with 10 goals and 22 post season points.

Playing his first season in Pittsburgh, Kessel didn’t waste any time in making an impression as he scored the second game of the 2015-16 season against the Arizona Coyotes. In that first season with the Pens, Kessel scored 26 goals along with 59 points, which was followed in his second year with 23 goals and 70 points.

Fresh off winning his second straight Stanley Cup, Kessel had a career 2017-18 season, when he was finished eighth in league scoring with 92 points.

After following that up with a 27 goal, 82-point season, Kessel was traded in June, 2019, to the Coyotes.   

This talented forward ended his Penguins tenure by scoring 130 goals (20 in playoffs), 229 assists and 359 points.

Once Kessel was officially traded, rumors began swirling that Kessel couldn’t get along with coach Mike Sullivan and that he didn’t get along with linemate Evgeni Malkin which paved the way for a trade. Coach Sullivan mentioned that those rumors of a rift between them was false.

“A lot of what’s been written, in my estimation, from my standpoint, has been false. I know where my relationship is with Phil, and I certainly have a comfort level with it. I think Phil does, too.”

These rumors might have stemmed from his time in Toronto when former Leafs coach Ron Wilson strongly criticized the forward during a press scrum.

During his first year with Arizona, Kessel had a down year with only 14 goals and 38 points in 70 games played. This year, Kessel has nicely rebounded with 18 goals along with 38 points in 50 games played.

Kessel, who helped Team USA win silver at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, might take a lot of criticism, but one thing is certain and that’s his ability to score goals. Currently, Kessel has an impressive 389 career goals along with 899 points. By the time his career is over, ‘Phil the Thrill’ should have over 1,000 points and close to 500 career goals which is an impressive career. 

Sam Bennett Thriving With the Florida Panthers

By Neil Becker

An argument could be made that no one needed more of a fresh start then former Calgary Flames forward Sam Bennett.

Back in 2014, big things were expected of Bennett when the Calgary Flames drafted this centerman fourth overall in the NHL Entry Draft.

Coming off a second full season with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, which saw him play 57 games, where he scored 36 goals along with 91 points and 118 penalty minutes, he was looked upon as a future superstar with the Flames.

Bennett’s growing talent was recognized by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau when in the 2013-14 mid-season rankings, his name was number one on the list for top North American Prospects.

“His puck-handling and playmaking are excellent and he has one of the best shots in this year’s draft class,” one of the Bureau Scouts said. “He has scored several goals from the high slot and coming in off the wing and has been very effective on the power play.”

Since being drafted 9th overall by Kingston in the 2012 OHL draft, Bennett’s stock started to rise starting in his rookie season when he played 60 games and scored 18 goals along with 40 points and 87 penalty minutes. These numbers didn’t go unnoticed as he was selected to the OHL’s Second All-Rookie Team.

Continuing to impress, Bennett had a breakthrough sophomore campaign, which saw him play 57 games, where he scored 36 goals, along with 91 points and 118 penalty minutes. As mentioned, this was the year which at mid-season, had him ranked the number one North American skater by Central Scouting Bureau.

It wouldn’t be until April 12, 2015, when Bennett made what was a successful NHL debut where he registered an assist in the Flames regular season finale which was a 5-1 loss against the Winnipeg Jets.

During his Calgary tenure Bennett had some great moments such as on January 16, 2016, when he had a four- goal game against the Florida Panthers.

In his sixth season, Bennett’s best year came in 2015/16 when as a rookie he played in 77 games where he scored 18 goals along with 36 points and 37 penalty minutes.

Last season, Bennett had production wide his worse season with only four goals along with 12 points and 36 penalty minutes in 52 games played.

Over the past couple of years, Bennett had spent time in the Flames doghouse and had been playing on the third and fourth lines.

Earlier this season, Bennett made headlines when his agent, Darren Ferris admitted to Sportsnet’s insider Elliotte Friedman that his client wanted out of Calgary.

Once Darryl Sutter took over in March as Calgary’s coach, Bennett was awarded with more ice time and responsibility which of course had him highly praising the new coach.

“I want to have a big role and important role to help this team win,” Bennett said. “When I’m playing more, I’m playing better and can help the team have success. It definitely makes it fun and makes me enjoy coming to the rink when I have a big role. I’ve definitely been in a better mindset.”   

After putting on the Flames jersey for 402 total games, where he scored 67 goals along with 140 points and 319 penalty minutes, Bennett was traded on the April 12th NHL trading deadline in a packaged deal to the Florida Panthers.

This trade saw the Flames deal Bennett along with a 2022 sixth round pick to the Sunshine state in exchange for their 2022 second round selection and Swedish winger Emil Heineman. 

Since becoming a Florida Panther, Bennett has played in seven games where he has scored four goals along with seven points and 19 penalty minutes.

Heading into playoffs, it will be interesting to see if Bennett can maintain this scoring pace. If he can do that along with continuing to provide that toughness, than Florida could be that dark-horse who ends up competing for the Stanley Cup.

The Ottawa Senators are Definitely on the Rise

By Neil Becker

Ottawa Senators fans have reason to be incredibly excited about the immediate future.

While fans suffer through what will be another season of not making post-season, they can take solace in knowing that with this vastly talented young core group of Senators players, the future looks extremely promising.

Among those talented players who also provides plenty of physicality is 21- year-old left winger Brady Tkachuk, who was chosen 4th overall in the 2018 Entry Draft by the Senators.

This up- and coming power forward, who is the Senators assistant captain, has in what is his third season scored thus far, 15 goals and 29 points, along with 49 penalty minutes in 46 games played.

This first line player, who is among the NHL’s leaders with 185 shots on goal is also among the league leaders with 207 hits.

So far, in 188 career games, this budding star has scored 58 goals, 118 points along with racking up 230 penalty minutes. Brady’s brother is current Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk and their father is former NHL forward Keith Tkachuk.

Another of the many young Senators making his mark in the NHL is 21- year-old forward Josh Norris who in his first full season has so far scored 13 goals, 29 points and 8 penalty minutes in 46 games played.

Norris, who was selected in 2017, first round, 19th overall by the San Jose Sharks, became part of the package a year later, which, on September 13, 2018, sent him to Ottawa in the big Erik Karlsson trade.

In locking up their talented forward, the Senators on May 27, 2019, officially signed Norris to a three-year entry contract.  

Prior to making his NHL debut, Norris dominated with the AHL’s Belleville Senators, where he registered 58 points in 51 games. His success didn’t go unnoticed as it earned him a promotion. He eventually made his NHL debut on February 20, 2020 against the Montreal Canadiens.

It wouldn’t be until the season home opener on January 15, 2021, that he celebrated his first NHL point, which came in a 5-3 win against their North Division rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Four days later, in a 4-3 overtime loss against the Winnipeg Jets, Norris scored his first NHL goal.

The Ottawa Senators struck gold in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft when they selected 4th round, 121st overall, another skilled forward in Drake Batherson. Ranked 117th among North American players at the 2017 draft, Batherson made history this past February when he equaled the franchise all-time record of recording a goal in six consecutive games. That record would be broken about six weeks later by teammate Connor Brown.

Coincidently, Batherson’s father Norm Batherson, once played in the Senators organization with the Price Edward Island Senators and the Thunder Bay Senators. Also, during the 1990’s, his uncle, Dennis Vial was a feared enforcer with the team.  

After making an early statement by starting the 2018-19 season by recording 20 points in 14 games with the AHL’S Belleville Senators, he made what was a successful NHL debut. Batherson couldn’t have asked for a better debut as he ended up scoring the game winner in a 2-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. He would end up scoring 3 goals and 8 points before he headed back to the AHL. The following year, Batherson split time between the NHL and AHL. Now, he is excelling as a top six forward for the Senators with a promising future.

Ottawa took another giant step forward in their rebuild when they selected German forward Tim Stutzle with the third pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Last season, Stutzle was awarded rookie of the year after impressing by registering 34 points and a +4 plus/minus rating, as a rookie playing for Alder Mannheim of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) Germany’s best league.

Prior to last year, Stutzle, who is known for his strong first step and exceptional vision, competed in a U20 league where he strongly dominated by scoring 23 goals and 55 points in only 21 games played.

Stutzle didn’t wait long to make an impression as he scored his first NHL goal on January 16th, in what was a 3-2 loss against their North Division rivals the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 2020 third overall pick scored in the third period on what was a highlight reel one timer, past goalie Jack Campbell.

“He’s going to be a really good player,” Smith told NHL.Com. “It’s great he gets that goal. I think you’re going to see more and more of that as the year goes on.”

So far this season, Stutzle has scored seven goals and 24 points along with 12 penalty minutes in 43 games played.

Meanwhile, on the blueline, Ottawa has a young budding star in 24- year-old Thomas Chabot. Selected by Ottawa 18th overall in the 2015 draft, enjoyed a breakout season in 2018-19, when he scored 14 goals and 55 points in 70 games.

Back in September 2019, the Senators committed to Chabot by signing him to an eight-year 64- million dollar contract. This season, Chabot has scored 4 goals and 28 points along with 36 penalty minutes in 43 games played.  

These talented up and coming core of players is why the future looks so bright in Ottawa.

Senators Forward Connor Brown Makes Franchise History

By Neil Becker

It’s been an exciting time for Ottawa Senators forward Connor Brown, who recently made some franchise history.

Brown, who is in his second year with the Senators isn’t known for his goal scoring, but had enjoyed a sudden hot streak which saw him put his name in the Senators franchise history books by scoring in eight straight games.

The streak started on Thursday, March 25, when Brown scored a first period shorthanded goal in what was an eventual 3-2 overtime loss at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

A week later, once again playing at home, Brown scored again with 1:47 left in regulation but it wasn’t nearly enough as the rebuilding Senators dropped a 4-1 decision against their North Division rivals the Montreal Canadiens. Continuing to roll, two days later, on Hockey Night In Canada, Brown on Saturday, April 3rd extended his scoring streak to three games when at the Bell Centre in Montreal, he scored a first period shorthanded goal in what was a 6-3 win in the rematch against the Canadiens.

Despite being well out of a playoff spot, excitement was building among Ottawa fans as they witnessed on tv, or heard on radio two days later, Brown running his consecutive goals scoring streak to four with a third period tally in what was a 4-3 loss at Bell MTS Place against the Winnipeg Jets.

Continuing to stay red hot, Brown added to his totals during back-to back games on Aril 7th and 8th at home against the Edmonton Oilers. In the opener, which was a 4-2 loss, Brown scored a third period goal. The next night, the streak continued, as Brown extended the streak to six with a second period goal in what was a 3-1 setback against the Oilers.

Ironically enough, it was against his old team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, where on Saturday, April 10, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Brown would set the Senators franchise record, as he scored in a seventh straight game in what was an eventual 6-5 overtime loss.

“It means a lot, to be honest,” Brown said in a zoom call about the record.

“I feel like I’ve grinded pretty hard in my career. There have been times when I’ve been a checker. I’ve had a real good opportunity here under D.J. (Smith, Senators coach). He has let me play offensively, find my game, and I really feel like I’m finding it more and more. Last season, I found it. This season, I feel like I’m finding another step. I’m just going to keep building off that.”

Two days later, which was also NHL Trade Deadline Day, Brown extended the record to eight as he scored a late first period goal at home, as they doubled up on the Jets 4-2.

“Nobody deserves it more than him,” Senators forward Brady Tkachuk said. “He’s one of the hardest workers that I know. Everybody’s proud of him, and everything that he’s shooting is going in. "Nobody deserves it more than him," Tkachuk said. "He's one of the hardest workers that I know.

"Everybody's proud of him, and everything that he's shooting is going in."

Browns second period goal, which at the time tied the game at 2-2, was his 14th of the season.

Actually, former Senators 2001 second overall draft pick Jason Spezza also scored in eight straight games but did it in a different fashion. His streak began on December 12, 2009 and ended on February 4, 2010, as Spezza missed 20 games due to being injured.

Brown’s consecutive goal streak has been the NHL’s longest this season. Prior to the streak, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Austin Matthew’s had scored in seven straight games followed by Ottawa Senators forward Drake Batherson, Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele and Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen who both scored in six- straight.

Brown, who was originally selected 156th overall in the 2012 draft by the Leafs, had his best season points wise with the Senators last season when he scored 16 goals and 43 points.

The future definitely looks promising for the Senators who have a collection of young promising players such as Brown, Batherson, Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Josh Norris and Tim Stutzle to name a few.

Will Jack Eichel Remain a Sabre?

By Neil Becker

With the Buffalo Sabres fire sale in full effect, one has to wonder what’s going through team captain Jack Eichel’s mind.

Last May, hockey fans might remember that Eichel made headlines when the 2015 Sabres second overall pick stated,

“I’m fed up and I’m frustrated… I’d be lying if I said I’m not getting frustrated with the way things are going.”

The Sabres, who haven’t participated in a playoff game since 2010-2011, were coming off a disappointing season, which saw them finish 13th in the Eastern Conference with a below .500 record at 30-31-8.

Perhaps fearful of the prospect of Eichel asking for a trade, the Sabres had a busy off-season. In making a statement, and getting their fanbase excited, management went out and signed blue chip free agent forward Taylor Hall along with also signing Tobias Rieder, Cody Eakin and trading for former2003 first round pick Eric Staal.

“We’re really excited,” Eichel told NHL.Com. “They’re great moves from management in the offseason. Now, more than anything at this point, you want to get back to playing. I think it’s great. I think it definitely sparked some excitement in me and other guys in the room.”

To say that things didn’t go according to plan this year in Sabre land would be a complete understatement. In what has been a nightmare season, Buffalo endured an 18- game losing streak which tied an NHL record with the 2003-2004 Pittsburgh Penguins. Finding themselves last in the NHL standings, with no hope of sneaking into the playoffs, Buffalo has been busy leading up and at the April 12th deadline.

On Friday, March 26th, Buffalo traded Staal to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a third and fifth round selection in the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft.

Stall, who has scored over 400 goals and 1,000 points in his career, had a disappointing tenure in Buffalo which saw him score only 4 goals along with 11 points along with a -25 in 36 games.

Approximately two weeks later, on Saturday, April 10th, the Sabres were active once again as they traded promising defenceman Brandon Montour to the Florida Panthers in exchange for a 2021 third round draft pick.  

Montour, who will be an unrestricted free agent, was originally selected 55th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. It wasn’t until February 2019, that Montour began his Sabres tenure, as he was traded from Anaheim in exchange for Brendan Guhle and a first round pick.  

This season, the 27- year-old offensive defenceman has scored 5 goals and 14 points with a -13 plus/minus in 38 games.

The Sabres remained busy on trade deadline day as they pulled the trigger on a deal which sent former 2018 Hart Trophy Winner Taylor Hall to the Boston Bruins in what was a multi- player deal.

Hall, who in 2010 was selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers, has also played for the New Jersey Devils and 35 games with the Phoenix Coyotes, before coming to Buffalo.

This left winger couldn’t get on track in Buffalo as he scored only 2 goals and 19 points, while posting a -21 plus/minus rating.

Meanwhile Lazar, who is a former 2013 Ottawa Senators first round pick had 5 goals and 9 points in 33 games with Buffalo along with a respectable -4 rating. Coming back to Buffalo is forward Anders Bjork and a 2021 second round draft pick.

Back in May, when Eichel expressed frustration, there were rumours, which he denied, that he wanted to be traded.

This year, Eichel has played in only 21 games, where he has scored only 2 goals along with 18 points, before a neck injury on March 7th in a loss against the New York Islanders put him on the shelf.

The big question is if Eichel, who has never participated in a playoff game, will change his mind and ask to be traded in the not to distant future.

Is Connor Bedard the Future of the NHL?

By Jordan Laroche 

Regina Pats’ Connor Bedard has been tearing up the WHL this season, with 26 points in 14 games this year he is the league’s second leading scorer. While that may seem normal for someone who is in his draft year, Bedard has accomplished this feat while on Exceptional Status as a 15-year-old in one of Canada’s premiere Junior leagues.  

Heading into this pandemic-shortened season, Bedard was on loan to HV71 in the J18 Region league in Sweden to prepare for the season. He only skated in one game with the U18 team before moving to the organization’s J20 Nationell team where he had two goals and two assists in four games. HV71 J18 and J20 General Manager Max Bohlin said in an interview with the Regina Leader-Post, that Bedard had left a strong impression on the team and the league in his short time there. 

“[Bedard] has all the tools. You could view him as a goal scorer definitely, but he’s also a really good passer. He waits until the exact right time to pass or shoot the puck. He has the mentality that when you shoot you want to go for the rebound as well. He has the attack mindset in combination with poise and Hockey sense.”  

Bohlin also noted that Bedard’s rare skill is complemented by a rock-solid frame with room to grow. While Bedard is only five foot nine and 165 pounds, he has shown that he’s not afraid to battle against older and tougher players. This has helped him secure a spot on Canada’s U18 World Championship teamBedard will be travelling to Frisco, Texas to start an isolation period before the tournament starts on April 17th 

To put this into perspective, Bedard is only the third double underaged player to represent Canada at this tournament, joining Connor McDavid and John Tavares as the only players to accomplish this. McDavid stood out from the competition at this tournament with 14 points in seven games, while Tavares only had five points in seven games. 

McDavid holds the record for the most points by an Exceptional Status player when he had 25 goals 41 assists for 66 points in 63 games. Bedard is on pace to crush that with 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points in 14 games this year. Bedard is currently second in the WHL for points, only trailing Vegas Golden Knights first rounder, Peyton Krebs who has 27 points in 14 games. 

Bedard has also helped forward Carson Denomie have a breakout season. Last season the 20-year-old had just 16 goals 37 points but skating with Bedard he is now the leading goal scorer in the WHL with 12 goals in 14 games, scoring on nine of Bedard’s 16 assists. Pats Head Coach, Dave Struch, has said that everyone needs to step up in Bedard’s absence, including Denomie.  

“Carson has earned the right to score 12 goals. His teammates around him have also contributed, Connor being one of them. Without having Connor after the Brandon game, he is just going to have to work with his new line mates on getting those opportunities. When he gets them, he needs to bear down. He doesn’t have to change.” 

The Regina Pats currently sit at 5-6-3 and hold the second Wild Card spot in the East and will be without Bedard until mid-May. Bedard also has 11 more points than the Pats second leading scorers Carson Denomie and Ryker Evans, so his presence will be missed for the next month.  

Leafs Goaltender Jack Campbell Sets Franchise Record

By Neil Becker

Is there a possible goaltending controversy brewing in the Toronto Maple Leafs camp?

Making the most of his opportunity has been 29- year-old Leafs backup goalie Jack Campbell who recently made franchise history by becoming the first goalie in the team’s 104 -year history to win 10 straight games.

Campbell, who in February 2020, was part of a packaged deal, which sent him from the Los Angeles Kings to the Leafs, has definitely proven that he can be more than an understudy to first string goalie Frederick Anderson.

Following the trade, Campbell played in six games where he registered three wins and an impressive 2.63 G.A.A. 

This season, Campbell got his chance and has never looked back. With Anderson on the shelf with a lingering lower body injury, both Campbell and Michael Hutchinson have had the Leafs net and have both been impressive. Hutchinson has started eight games and has registered four wins with a 2.42 G.A.A. and .919 save percentage.

Meanwhile Campbell, who is extremely popular with teammates, officially put his name in the Leafs record book when on Wednesday, April 7th, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, he made 32 saves in the record breaking 3-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens.

“It’s super special and an honor and something I’ll be able to look back on sometime,” Campbell said. “But right now, it’s just back to work and try and get better.”

In what has been a career season, Campbell, now has a record of 10-0-0 with a 1.57 G.A.A. and a .944 save percentage.

After the final buzzer, when an emotional Campbell got that tenth straight win, he stated in an interview with Sportsnet’s Shawn McKenzie,

“It’s pretty awesome. I’m lost for words right now. It’s been a long journey, and just to have their support, every single guy, it’s crazy. It’s a dream come true, something I worked very hard for. There’s not a day I don’t thank the Lord for putting me here in Toronto with these amazing guys. And I don’t want to forget my L.A. teammates and coaches there because they got the ball rolling for me in the NHL and without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

With that tenth straight win, Campbell has moved past Felix Potvin (1993-94), Jacques Plante (1970-71), and last but not least, John Ross Roach (1924-25), into first all time on the franchise list.

The win, which was the Leafs fifth in a row, puts them comfortably in the driver’s seat for first in the North Division, seven points ahead of second place Winnipeg Jets.

Following an OHL career with the Windsor Spitfires and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Campbell who was looked upon as a can’t miss prospect, was chosen first round, 11th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars.

Despite being a first round selection, Campbell couldn’t crack the Stars lineup as he was in the organization for seven years, but only played one NHL game. That game came on October 20, 2013, where he made 41 saves in what was an eventual 6-3 loss against the Anaheim Ducks.

A few years later, on June 26, 2016, Campbell’s career took him to La La land, as he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. After spending a couple of years still toiling in the American Hockey League, this resilient goaltender experienced the ultimate thrill when on February 27, 2018, he had a night to remember when he made 41 saves in earning his first NHL victory, which came in a 4-1 decision against the Vegas Golden Knights. Serving as Jonathan Quick’s backup, Campbell got in five games where he had a 2-0-2 record and a 2.47 G.A.A.

The following year, in 2018/19, CCampbell would go on to play in a career high 31 games for the Kings where he had 10 wins and a solid 2.30 G.A.A.

Continuing to be a fixture as Quick’s backup, Campbell in 2019’20, played in 20 games for Los Angeles, where he had eight wins and a 2.85 G.A.A. before the big trade which sent him to hockey mad Toronto.

It’s no secret that the Leafs have Stanley Cup aspirations this year and with Anderson not at one hundred percent, there have been suggestions by fans that perhaps Campbell should get serious consideration in about five weeks from now when playoffs start.

Colorado Avalanche Goalie Philipp Grubauer Having a Season to Remember

By Neil Becker

 When hockey fans are asked to name the top 10 NHL goalies, there’s a good chance that Colorado Avalanche netminder Philipp Grubauer wouldn’t be on that list.

 Grubauer, who was selected fourth round, 112th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 2010 entry draft, has taken that next giant step with the Colorado Avalanche towards being an elite goaltender. Currently, this former backup finds himself among the league leaders for wins, save percentage, goals against average and shutouts.

Following an earlier stint as the Capitals backup goalie, Grubauer was traded on June 22, 2018 to the Colorado Avalanche where in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, he would go on to record back-to-back career high 18- win seasons with a 2.64 G.A.A. in that first year followed by 2.63 G.A.A. the next.

This season has been a coming out party for the 29 -year-old who presently sits in the top three among the league leaders with a 1.83 G.A.A., first in shutouts with five, first in wins with 24 and sixth in save percentage at .929.

“Grubi has been playing fantastic. He feels good” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar told ColoradoAvalacnhe.com writer Ron Knabenbauer in late March. “He just broke that record for most wins in a month by a goaltender, and he’s rested and feeling good.”

Coach Bednar was referring to that historic moment when on Monday, March 29 th Grubauer, at Ball Arena in Denver, he turned in a 13 save performance during what was a 5-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks. This was truly a historic win as it not only marked Grubauer’s 100th career victory, but it also put his name in the team’s record books for most wins in a month, as he had 11 for March.

Grubauer joins former Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig (303) and Detroit Red Wings goalie Thomas Greiss (139) as the only three German goalies to hit 100 -win plateau.

“Olie was definitely one of the goalies I idolized. When I got to meet him in Washington, it was almost like a dream come true,” Grubauer told Knabenbauer. “You watch him growing up, you watch him make some crazy saves on TV and all of a sudden you’re standing in front of him and he’s your goalie coach on year. That was incredible.”

Another incredible feat was in 2018, when Grubauer won the Stanley Cup as the Capitals backup goaltender.

The beautiful thing about the NHL, is that many feel good stories often pop up. A few years ago, it was St. Louis Blues rookie goalie Jordan Binnington who took came out of nowhere to have a magical first year which included leading the Blues to the 2019 Stanley Cup. There was also the feel- good story of journeyman forward Warren Young who got his chance with the Penguins in 1984, where as an overaged rookie, he scored 35 goals and 70 points.  Naturally it helped that he was playing with future Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. Needless to say, Young never came close to repeating those numbers.

This year, among the many feel good storylines, there is the emergence of Grubauer who will obviously be key this spring to their drive for a Stanley Cup.

As a die hard hockey fan, it always thrills me to see someone like Grubauer getting his opportunity as a starter and proving himself as a strong goaltender.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

David Zalubowki // AP Photo

By Neil Becker

Make no mistake, come springtime the expectations for a long playoff run are enormous for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This organization, who hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, has for the past number of springs suffered playoff disappointment; the good news is that they have a strong team who if things go right, can make it to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Leafs, who won their last playoff series in an epic Game 7 win in 2004 against the Ottawa Senators, suffered some growing pains as they haven’t made the post-season from 2006 through until 2012. A year later after being eliminated in the first round, Toronto fans once again experienced disappointment as the Leafs didn’t qualify from 2014-2016 for the post season dance.

While missing the playoffs is naturally always disappointing, Leafs fans and the organization had reason to get excited about the future, as they drafted potential superstar, forward Austin Matthews with the first pick in the 2016 Entry Draft. This emerging superstar had a solid rookie campaign as he scored 40 goals and 69 points in becoming the first American born player since 2010 to win the Calder Trophy.  Matthews, who so far this season has scored 21 goals and 36 points, has already scored 179 goals and 321 points in 311 games played.

“Toronto is the hockey mecca; that’s the hockey universe right there,” Matthews said shortly after being drafted. “They sure do love the Maple Leafs. They are a very good sports city in general, but especially with the Leafs.”

Matthews, who was born in San Ramon California, but grew up in Scottsdale Arizona, became the first American to win the Calder since former Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers won in 2010. This budding superstar, who is often compared to Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid, became the first Leaf rookie to win the Calder Trophy since Brit Selby following the 1965-66 season.

Despite the emergence of Matthews, there was more heartbreak in Leafs nation as they were once again bounced after first round action in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In 2020, they ended up not even making the playoffs.

During that time, the organization continued to stockpile serious talent as they selected some skilled forwards including William Nylander who was chosen first round, 8th overall in the 2014 draft; A year later they picked another forward, former London Knights star, Mitch Marner, who quickly flourished as a first -round selection.

These are just a few of the many moves made by Leafs management which in my opinion have made the team a serious Stanley Cup contender. Last season, Nylander played in 68 games, where he scored a career high 31 goals along with a respectable 59 points. This was only two points shy of his career high of 61 points scored in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.

Meanwhile, Marner, who instantly became a fan favorite, currently as of March 25, occupies fourth spot among the NHL scoring leaders with 12 goals and 40 points which puts him on pace for a career high of 31 goals and 103 points.

Another move which has really paid off was the June, 2015 trade with the Florida Panthers when the Leafs obtained a forward no one really heard about named Zach Hyman, who has turned out to be an energy clutch player. Over the past few years, he has come up with numerous clutch goals and strong defensive plays.  Hyman, who has gotten better and better each year is having another productive season with 11 goals and 20 points while sporting an impressive plus/minus of a +14 rating.

On July 1, 2018, after another playoff disappointment, Leafs management made a statement to their fanbase when they loosened the purse strings and signed former New York Islanders captain and superstar forward John Tavares who was an unrestricted free agent. Tavares, who was chosen first overall by the Islanders in the 2009 draft, gave Leafs fans reason to get excited when he officially signed a seven- year contract worth 77 million dollars.

Though he missed some time due to injury, Leafs forward Joe Thornton is proving to be a key addition to the roster. According to various media reports, the veteran is a great locker room presence.  Along with providing veteran leadership, Thornton has contributed some timely offence. Last off-season, the Leafs added some toughness up front when they signed veteran forward Wayne Simmons to a one- year deal worth 1.5 million.

In the 2012 draft, Leafs management drafted fifth overall Morgan Rielly, who at 27 years of age, is just entering his prime. Rielly, who in 2018/19 had a career year of 20 goals and 72 points, is the teams anchor on the blueline.

Even though goalie Frederik Andersen might be currently slumping, he has proven for much of his tenure with the Leafs to be a quality, clutch goaltender.

In sports, there is a saying that you have to lose before you can win. That has happened to such great hockey teams as the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings to give two examples of teams who have suffered and learned from playoff heartbreak before finally winning. I’m not saying the Leafs will win multiple Stanley Cups like them, just that after so many early playoff round losses, this group is now mature enough and knowns what it takes to have a long playoff run. Another first round exit would be unacceptable.

A Deeper Look Into Lafreniere's Painful Season

By Jordan Laroche

All eyes were on the New York Rangers heading into the last offseason when they acquired the first overall pick in the 2020 Entry Draft. It wasn’t a secret that they were going to focus on Alexis Lafreniere as he topped just about every expert’s draft rankings. While Lafreniere may be struggling through his rookie season, Rangers fans should not panic as this season has presented a lot of challenges for the league and it’s players.

Many believed that Lafreniere would make an immediate impact for the Blueshirts as he did when he joined the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. His first season with the Oceanic he had 42 goals and 38 assists for 80 points in 60 games, the most goals scored by a rookie since Sidney Crosby. He followed that up with two 100-point seasons, tallying 105 and 112 points respectively. He also won the Canadian Hockey League David Branch Player of the Year award in both of his 100-point campaigns.

Having the youngest roster in the NHL, the Rangers didn’t know what to expect coming into this year as their younger players get accustomed to the league. While players like K’Andre Miller, Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren have exceeded any expectations, Lafreniere continues to struggle. Lafreniere has five goals and five assists in 34 games this season while bouncing up and down the lineup.

Recently Lafreniere has been spending most of his time skating on the Rangers third line with another potential star in Filip Chytil, and a rotating cast of right wingers. This was a change for Lafreniere as he started the season on the Rangers 1A/1B lines and was forced into lineups against other teams’ top players. Lafreniere struggled in his time on the top lines, scoring his first career goal two weeks into the season against the Buffalo Sabres. Moving to the third line has taken a lot of pressure off Lafreniere as he looked good towards the end of February where he had six points in seven games but has become seemingly invisible as of late. Rangers Head Coach, David Quinn, is not afraid to change his lineup on-the-fly as several bottom six forwards have been in and out of the lineup. Quinn has tried to slot different players into that right-wing spot including Colin Blackwell and Pavel Buchnevich to try and get Lafreniere going.

Having a struggling rookie on the roster isn’t new for the Rangers as the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 Entry Draft, Kaapo Kakko, had a rookie season to forget. Last season Kakko tallied 10 goals and 13 assists in 66 games and at times looked out of place, being the worst forward in the league according to advanced statistics. Kakko has looked better this season but hasn’t quite lived up to expectations just yet. Kakko has earned a spot on one of the Rangers’ top lines, skating with Ryan Strome (32 points) and Artemi Panarin (29 points) who are first and third on the team in points respectively. While the production might not be there yet, he does look a lot more comfortable on the ice and is utilizing his six-foot-three, 200-pound frame more than he was last year.

In the last few years, the expectations from rookies have increased dramatically as they’re almost expected to affect their teams instantly. While there are a few who have made an instant impact like Connor McDavid and Kirill Kaprizov, but it is a lot to ask from 18 and 19-year old's who have to adjust to a faster game. In Lafreniere’s case he was coming straight from the QMJHL, arguably the weakest of the Canadian Major Junior leagues, with a limited training camp and no preseason. Where his rookie peers like Kaprizov who has spent the last six seasons in the KHL, has already had the experience playing against men.

High Playoff Expectations for the Maple Leafs?

By Neil Becker

Make no mistake, come springtime the expectations for a long playoff run are enormous for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This organization, who hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, has for the past number of springs suffered playoff disappointment; the good news is that they have a strong team who if things go right, can make it to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Leafs, who won their last playoff series in an epic Game 7 win in 2004 against the Ottawa Senators, suffered some growing pains as they haven’t made the post-season from 2006 through until 2012. A year later after being eliminated in the first round, Toronto fans once again experienced disappointment as the Leafs didn’t qualify from 2014-2016 for the post season dance.

While missing the playoffs is naturally always disappointing, Leafs fans and the organization had reason to get excited about the future, as they drafted potential superstar, forward Austin Matthews with the first pick in the 2016 Entry Draft. This emerging superstar had a solid rookie campaign as he scored 40 goals and 69 points in becoming the first American born player since 2010 to win the Calder Trophy.  Matthews, who so far this season has scored 21 goals and 36 points, has already scored 179 goals and 321 points in 311 games played.

“Toronto is the hockey mecca; that’s the hockey universe right there,” Matthews said shortly after being drafted. “They sure do love the Maple Leafs. They are a very good sports city in general, but especially with the Leafs.”

Matthews, who was born in San Ramon California, but grew up in Scottsdale Arizona, became the first American to win the Calder since former Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers won in 2010. This budding superstar, who is often compared to Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid, became the first Leaf rookie to win the Calder Trophy since Brit Selby following the 1965-66 season.

Despite the emergence of Matthews, there was more heartbreak in Leafs nation as they were once again bounced after first round action in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In 2020, they ended up not even making the playoffs.

During that time, the organization continued to stockpile serious talent as they selected some skilled forwards including William Nylander who was chosen first round, 8th overall in the 2014 draft; A year later they picked another forward, former London Knights star, Mitch Marner, who quickly flourished as a first -round selection.

These are just a few of the many moves made by Leafs management which in my opinion have made the team a serious Stanley Cup contender. Last season, Nylander played in 68 games, where he scored a career high 31 goals along with a respectable 59 points. This was only two points shy of his career high of 61 points scored in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.

Meanwhile, Marner, who instantly became a fan favorite, currently as of March 25, occupies fourth spot among the NHL scoring leaders with 12 goals and 40 points which puts him on pace for a career high of 31 goals and 103 points.

Another move which has really paid off was the June, 2015 trade with the Florida Panthers when the Leafs obtained a forward no one really heard about named Zach Hyman, who has turned out to be an energy clutch player. Over the past few years, he has come up with numerous clutch goals and strong defensive plays.  Hyman, who has gotten better and better each year is having another productive season with 11 goals and 20 points while sporting an impressive plus/minus of a +14 rating.

On July 1, 2018, after another playoff disappointment, Leafs management made a statement to their fanbase when they loosened the purse strings and signed former New York Islanders captain and superstar forward John Tavares who was an unrestricted free agent. Tavares, who was chosen first overall by the Islanders in the 2009 draft, gave Leafs fans reason to get excited when he officially signed a seven- year contract worth 77 million dollars.

Though he missed some time due to injury, Leafs forward Joe Thornton is proving to be a key addition to the roster. According to various media reports, the veteran is a great locker room presence.  Along with providing veteran leadership, Thornton has contributed some timely offence. Last off-season, the Leafs added some toughness up front when they signed veteran forward Wayne Simmons to a one- year deal worth 1.5 million.

In the 2012 draft, Leafs management drafted fifth overall Morgan Rielly, who at 27 years of age, is just entering his prime. Rielly, who in 2018/19 had a career year of 20 goals and 72 points, is the teams anchor on the blueline.

Even though goalie Frederik Andersen might be currently slumping, he has proven for much of his tenure with the Leafs to be a quality, clutch goaltender.

In sports, there is a saying that you have to lose before you can win. That has happened to such great hockey teams as the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings to give two examples of teams who have suffered and learned from playoff heartbreak before finally winning. I’m not saying the Leafs will win multiple Stanley Cups like them, just that after so many early playoff round losses, this group is now mature enough and knowns what it takes to have a long playoff run. Another first round exit would be unacceptable.

San Jose Sharks Patrick Marleau an Underrated Superstar

By Neil Becker

Former 1993 Ottawa Senators first overall pick, Alexandre Daigle is perhaps best known for what he said shortly after being drafted.

“I’m glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers number two,” Daigle said.

As all hockey fans know, that statement proved to be false as Hall of Fame defenceman Chris Pronger was picked by the Hartford Whalers, right after Daigle with the second overall pick.  

Four years later, during the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, which took place at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, that long ago statement made by Daigle once again came back to haunt him. At this draft, a humble future NHL superstar, Patrick Marleau was chosen second by the San Jose Sharks. After finishing off his WHL career with a 51 goal, 125-point campaign with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Marleau embarked on what has truly been a hall of fame career.

Marleau, who that year was the youngest player drafted, began his Sharks career during the 1997/98 campaign, where, as a teenager he showed promise by scoring 12 and adding 32 points.

The following year this native of Swift Current Saskatchewan played in 81 regular season games and took the next step in his development by scoring 21 goals and 45 points as he avoided the dreaded sophomore slump.

His best offensive season came in 2005/06 when he broke through with 34 goals along with 86 points, as his popularity and star status in the NHL really began to blossom.

In the 2003/04 season’s second half, Marleau received the honor of being named captain which he would proudly wear with dignity and pride for 12 seasons.

During his time with San Jose, Marleau, made some franchise history starting on January 4, 2007, where in a game against the Detroit Red Wings, he scored a goal and collected four points, as he passed former Sharks Owen Nolan’s then franchise record of 451 points. This underrated superstar continued to set records as he, a week later in a January 11th game against the Los Angeles Kings, once again surpassed Nolan only this time as the franchise goal scoring leader with his 207th.  

Currently, Marleau, is still the franchise leader in goals with 520 along with points at 1,108.

Marleau, who is Mr. San Jose Shark, has played with the franchise starting in the 1997/98 season until 2017/18, when as a free agent he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.       

After playing in Toronto for two years, Marleau proved that you can come home again as he returned to San Jose for the 2019-20 season. This fan favorite scored 10 goals and 20 points in 58 games before being traded on February 24, 2020, to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 2021 third round draft choice. 

“Patrick is a player ho can play anywhere in our lineup,” then Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford told NHL.com shortly after the move. “He’s a good two-way player, provides leadership and will be a good fit with our team.”

Playing in what likely will be his last year, this 41- year-old has played in 35 games this year where he has scored two goals and six points.

Whenever some thinks of Marleau’s career, it’s hard not to also think of Joe Thornton who went first overall in that 1997 draft, and is also still playing.

Thornton, who was drafted by the Boston Bruins, was on November 30, 2005, involved in a blockbuster trade which made him a teammate with Marleau where they developed a close friendship on the Sharks.

The two nearly won a Stanley Cup together, when back in 2016, they helped the Sharks get to the Stanley Cup finals where they ended up losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In representing Team Canada, Marleau shined on the international circuit where he helped Team Canada win gold at the 2010 Olympic games in Vancouver and four years later in Sochi.

Also added to his medal collection is a gold from the 2003 World Championships in Finland, a gold at the 2004 World Cup and a silver from the 2005 games held in Austria.

In late March, Marleau leap frogged Hall of Famer Mark Messier and into second place for all time games played at 1,757. He is only 10 games behind the all-time leader Gordie Howe. Barring the season suddenly being called off due to a COVID outbreak or an injury, Marleau will catch Howe this year.

With the trade deadline not far away, it will be interesting to see if the Sharks try to due Marleau a favor of trading him to a contender or if he will more than likely end his career on the same team he was drafted by in the Sharks.

One thing is almost for certain, and that’s Marleau should on first ballot be enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

 

 

Oilers Capable of Pulling Off Some Playoff Magic

By Neil Becker

 These are exciting times for Edmonton Oilers fans, whose team have the definite makings for a long and entertaining playoff run.

While I’m not predicting a Stanley Cup to be hoisted this summer in Alberta, I do believe that the Oilers, who have the best player in the world with Connor McDavid, along with a rapidly improving defenceman in Darnell Nurse and a clutch goalie in Mike Smith, could, come spring be a real playoff surprise.

McDavid, who was selected first overall by Edmonton in the 2015 entry draft, is in the mist of another dominating season, which currently has him comfortably holding down top spot among the league’s scoring leaders with 62 points. Meanwhile, he has scored 21 goals, one behind Toronto Maple Leafs star forward Austin Mathews in the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy race for most goals in the season.This Oilers captain, whose main asset is his speed and playmaking abilities, is obviously a major reason why the Oilers rank second in the league with 122 goals scored, which is only one behind the defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning.

Along with McDavid, the Oilers also have a dynamic player in Leon Draisaitl, who is currently right behind McDavid for second in the NHL scoring race with 53 points.

A year before selecting McDavid with the first overall pick, Edmonton took a giant step towards respectability, when at the 2014 draft in the first round, third overall they selected Draisaitl who now at 25 years of age is just starting to come into his prime years.

Following two -solid 70 plus points campaigns, Draisaitl broke through in 2018/2019, when he thrilled the Oilers faithful with his offensive explosion as he cracked the 50- goal barrier. Not only did Draisaitl score exactly 50 goals, but he also experienced the thrill of surpassing the 100 point plateau as he ended up with 105. A year later, he didn’t quite reach 50, as he scored 43 goals, but did improve on his regular season points mark as he scored 110 points which clinched the Art Ross Trophy for league’s top regular season point producer. Coincidently enough, he finished 13 points ahead of second place finisher, teammate Connor McDavid.

These two superstars don’t always play on the same line but when they do, there is instant chemistry, which probably reminds some Oilers fans of watching the magic of Wayne Gretzky and line mate Jari Kurri in their primes.

Another former first round pick who is loved in Edmonton and has quietly gone about his business playing a strong two-way game, and scoring some important goals is 27 -year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Taken by Edmonton first overall in the 2011 draft, this 6 foot, 184 pound forward had his best season in 2018/2019 when he reached career highs with 28 goals and 69 points. Last year, he scored 22 goals and 61 points. This season, Nugent-Hopkins has so far produced a respectable 11 goals and 26 points.

Also chipping in with some vital secondary scoring is 2016 Oilers first round draft choice, Jesse Puljujarvi, who has turned things around and resurrected his career. After a bumpy beginning to his NHL career, this hulking 6’4” 201 pound forward has finally found his confidence and has really improved. After 33 games this season, Puljujarvi, who has also been effective on the power play has scored 8 goals and 13 points which puts him on pace for a career season.

Meanwhile, someone else who is on pace for a career year is forward and a 2017 first round selection in Kailer Yamamoto who has provided lots of energy and depth scoring. Selected by Edmonton 22nd overall, Yamamoto has scored seven goals and 16 points in 32 games.

Back on October 10, 2020, the Oilers made what turned out to be a great move, when they bolstered their blueline by signing offensive minded defenceman Tyson Barrie to a one- year contract. Though he was coming off a sub-par season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Barrie brings with him a proven track record which had seen him score 346 career points in 554 total games with the Colorado Avalanche and the Leafs. So far, Barrie has been having a solid season, which so far has seen him score five goals and 32 points along with a solid +22.

Another reason for Oilers country to be excited about the future and possibly a long playoff run this spring, is the emergence of number one defenceman Darnell Nurse.

Playing at another level this year, Nurse, who was drafted first round by the Oilers, seventh overall in the 2013 draft, has after only 34 games tied a career high of 10 goals while putting up 25 points and a solid +21 plus/minus rating. Not only does Nurse have an offensive upside, but he also provides sandpaper and grit to the Oilers blueline. Both Nurse along with fellow defenceman Adam Larson take pleasure in playing physical and are not afraid to drop the mitts. The big question about Nurse is whether there is a Norris Trophy in his future?

Up front, the Oilers also have toughness in the likes of 30- year-old Zack Kassian, James Neal and 6 foot 4, 212- pound Jujhar Khaira who aren’t afraid to throw down when necessary. Meanwhile on the blueline, the Oilers have reason to be excited about puck moving Ethan Bear who doesn’t mind playing physical.

In net, the Oilers have 39- year-old veteran Mike Smith who has been playing unbelievable. In playing like a 29- year-old, Smith has in 17 games put together a 12-3 record with a 2.41 GAA, two shutouts and a .919 save percentage.

Again, I’m not saying the Oilers will win the Stanley Cup, but with the best player in the world, a stud on defence and a red hot goalie, it could spell disaster for whoever they face in this year’s playoffs.  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ovechkin Passes Phil Esposito to Become NHL's Sixth All-Time Scoring Leader

By Neil Becker

It’s clear that time hasn’t caught up to Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin, who has proven during his illustrious Hall of Fame career to be one of the best all-time pure goal scorers, recently celebrated another major milestone as he scored his 718th career goal, which moved him ahead of Hall of Famer Phil Esposito into sixth spot on the NHL’s all-time goal scoring list. The big question which has been asked for the last year is whether Ovechkin, who is now 35 years-old, can stick around long enough to surpass the all- time leading scorer, Wayne Gretzky, who sits at number one with 894 goals.

Coincidently enough, goal number 718, which was scored on Tuesday, March 16, in a 3-1 win at Capital One Arena against the New York Islanders, came against Ovi’s good friend and a former teammate, goalie Semyon Varlomov.

It wasn’t until late in the second period with Washington holding a 1-0 lead that history was made when Ovechkin unleashed that record breaking tally on a trademark one-timer.

Following that record breaking goal, play didn’t resume right away as Esposito appeared on the Capital One Arena scoreboard and had a special message for Ovechkin.

“You are a fantastic hockey player,” Esposito said. “I don’t know how you score all those goals with the way these guys block shots with the great equipment that they wear. Good luck.”

Affectionately known as ‘The Great 8,’ Ovechkin, who this season has scored 14 goals and 25 points in 27 games played, has leapfrogged over both forward Mike Gardner and of course Esposito on the NHL’s all-time goal list.

Ovechkin, who was drafted by Washington first overall in the 2004 draft, made history in early February, 2021 when in a 4-2 loss at Madison Square Gardens, he scored a third period goal. This was his 709th in his illustrious career, which moved him past Gardner. 

"It's an amazing accomplishment," Washington coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought Alex was hunting the whole night. He was firing and he was firing from all over. I've watched him for so many years from a different bench, and appreciate his talent, it’s even more special. So, it’s a great accomplishment for him.”

Washington, starting with their next game on March 25th at home against the New Jersey Devils, have only 25 more games remaining in this shortened season. This will be enough games left for Ovechkin to make a run at passing another Hall of Famer,, Marcel Dionne, who sits just ahead of Ovechkin in fifth spot with 731 goals. During his time with the Los Angeles Kings, Dionne was, as all hockey fans know, on the famous Triple Crown line which also consisted of Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer. Dionne had his glory years with the Kings before finishing off his illustrious career playing a few seasons with the New York Rangers.

If Ovechkin gets on one of his hot streaks, which he has shown in the past to be more than capable of doing, then he could even catch Brett Hull this year for fourth. In those remaining 25 games, he will need to score 21 times in the remaining 25 games just to tie him for fourth on the all-time scoring list with 741 goals.

On the condition that Ovechkin can avoid any long- term injuries, 800 goals is in the next couple of years within reach. Naturally it’s expected that Ovechkin will slow down when he reaches his late 30’s but while he does have a shot of catching Gordie Howe for second place with 801 goals, it will be very hard to catch Gretzky’ all- time scoring record of 894 goals.

Some however, such as Esposito himself, believe that he can indeed still catch Gretzky for that number one spot.

“Alex is going to score another probably 150 goals, maybe more, before he retires,” Hall of Famer and fellow 700 goal-scorer Phil Esposito said. “He’s got a chance to catch Wayne. There’s no doubt about that.”

Last season, when Ovie scored to become the second youngest, behind Gretzky, to reach the 700- goal plateau, debates began about whether in fact there was enough time to catch Gretzky. Naturally he wasn’t helped by this year’s shortened 56 game schedule, but this is one determined hockey player.

Proving that time hasn’t caught up to this future Hockey Hall of Famer, last year in a shortened season due to the pandemics outbreak, Ovechkin shared the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals in a season with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak, who both scored 48 goals. It was Ovechkin’s ninth Rocket Richard trophy.

There is no arguing that Ovechkin is, at 35 years of age, still an elite player, but the only question is whether he can keep up the production once he gets older and make a serious run at Gretzky’s all- time scoring record.

 

Buffalo Sabres Having a Season to Froget

By Neil Becker

Things have definitely gone from bad to worse for the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Following an exciting off-season which saw Sabres rookie general manager Kevyn Adams spark some excitement with the signing of prized free agent in scorer Taylor Hall along with other free agents such as veterans forwards Eric Staal and Cody Eakin, the Sabres entered the 2021 shortened NHL season with greater expectations.

Among those giving his thumbs-up to the off-season moves was Sabres 24- year-old captain and former 2015 first round pick, forward Jack Eichel who previously showed some frustration towards the organization. 

“We’re really excited,” Eichel originally told NHL.com. “They’re great moves from management in the offseason. Now, more than anything at this point, you want to get back to playing. I think it’s great.  I think it definitely sparked some excitement in me and other guys in the room.”

Coming off a disappointing shortened 2019-2020 season which saw the Sabres finish with a 30-31-8 record and not qualify for post-season, many questions needing to be addressed. One issue of concern was the declining production of left winger Jeff Skinner, who last year was in his second season playing for Buffalo. Originally drafted seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2010 Entry Draft, Skinner had eight exciting years with the Hurricanes before being dealt in August 2018 to the Sabres. Skinner made an immediate impression in his first year by scoring a career high 40 goals along with a respectable 63 points. Last year, Skinner’s production took a big hit as he scored only 14 goals and 23 points while posting an ugly -22 rating in only 59 games. This year, he has disappointed with only two goals, three points and a -9 rating in his first 25 games played.

Meanwhile another one of the many reasons why on St. Patrick’s Day the Sabres found themselves in the midst of a 12- game losing streak which has left them with the league’s worst record at 6-18-4, is due to having what is the league’s worst offence.

Armed with a collection of young emerging power forwards in the likes of Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson who are both team co-leaders with 19 points apiece and the dynamic offensive potential from Eichel along with Taylor Hall and Jeff Skinner, it’s a shock that the Sabres have been struggling to score goals.  

Last off season, SabreLand had reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season as prized free agent and former 2018 Hart Trophy winner forward Taylor Hall shocked the NHL by agreeing to a one year 8-million-dollar contract with the Sabres. So far, it’s been a struggle for Hall who has scored only two goals and 16 points and an unflattering -17 plus/minus rating.

Selected first overall in the 2010 Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, Hall, who plays left wing, spent the first six years of his career playing in Edmonton before being traded in the off- season of 2016 to the New Jersey Devils. Hall spent two full seasons in New Jersey before being traded in December 2019 to the Phoenix Coyotes. Following a brief stint in the desert, Hall signed last off season with Buffalo.

It was with New Jersey, during the 2017/2018 campaign, where Hall posted career numbers with 39 goals and 94 points. During his career he has posted some solid numbers including in the 2013/2014 season when with Edmonton he scored a respectable 27 goals and 80 points. Playing with Edmonton, Hall also had seasons of 53 and 65 points.

Last year Hall, who is still in his prime, combined with New Jersey and Arizona to score 16 goals and a solid 52 points. However, for whatever reason the offensive numbers this year haven’t been there for Hall and it’s a real possibility that he might be traded come the April 12th. NHL trade deadline.

Another big name who was brought in this year to provide veteran leadership while chipping in with some timely offence is hulking centerman Eric Staal, who also could find himself after the trade deadline on another team.

Drafted second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2003 Entry Draft, this 6 foot 4 veteran played 10 full seasons with Carolina before getting traded in February 2016 to the New York Rangers. After playing only 20 games for the Rangers, Staals next stop was with the Minnesota Wild where he played for the past four seasons. Showing at age 36 not to be washed up, Staal posted a solid 19 goals and 47 points. Only three years ago in 2017-2018, Staal made a statement that he was still an offensive force when he scored 42 goals and 76 points. This year he has produced only three goals, 10 points and a minus 18.

Looking to improve the penalty kill, which last year ranked as the 30th best, Buffalo went out and signed forward Tobias Rieder to a one-year contract. This right winger, who came over from the Calgary Flames, is an accomplished penalty killer. Originally chosen 114th overall in the 2011 Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, Rieder set a rookie record when on December 1, 2014, skating for Arizona Coyotes, he made a statement by scoring two shorthanded goals less than a minute apart against the Edmonton Oilers. Rieder, who has also played for Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames, has as of mid-March scored five goals this season. In an effort to improve the penalty killing unit, Buffalo also signed another accomplished penalty killer in center Cody Eakin. Selected 85th overall by the Washington Capitals in the 2009 Entry Draft, this 29 -year-old has played for the Capitals, Dallas Stars, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets before this year becoming a Sabre. So far, this veteran has posted one goal, four points and a -6 rating.

Sabres fans do have some reason to be excited about the future and one big reason is 20 -year-old defenceman Rasmus Dahlin. Drafted first overall by Buffalo in the 2018 Entry Draft, this hulking Swedish defenceman has had some growing pains but also shown some elite skill. This year however has been a struggle. After scoring 44 points as a rookie and 40 last year, Dahlin has at the halfway point of this season scored only 1 goal, 11 points and is a -27.

Heading towards the trade deadline, Sabres management has made it been known that they are open for business.

Meanwhile Eichel, who is currently on the long- term injury list, has been the subject of trade rumours with the New York Rangers.  

As if things couldn’t get worse, the Sabres  made headlines on March 17, when they fired head coach Ralph Krueger.

The Sabres weren’t expected to compete for a Stanley Cup this year, but no one expected them to be struggling this badly halfway through the shortened 2021 season.