Despite the rough start to the Detroit Red Wings‘ 2019-20 season, the 24-year-old forward is on pace to top his stats from last season — currently leading his team with 15 goals and 31 points.
Bertuzzi won’t be the only first-timer at this year’s event in St. Louis though, as players such as Dougie Hamilton and Frederik Andersen also will be making their All-Star debuts. And there could be even more newbies going with them.
Fans still have time to cast their Last Men In votes, and there are 10 candidates from across the NHL who are looking for their first tickets to the midseason spectacle.
Here’s what makes these 10 candidates deserving of their first All-Star bid.
Cale Makar – Defenseman, Colorado Avalanche The rookie defenseman exploded onto the scene when he joined the Avs during last season’s playoffs and is making a strong case to win the Calder Trophy through his first regular-season campaign. Heck, if he hadn’t missed eight games due to an upper-body injury, he would probably be leading all rookies in scoring.
Not only would a trip to the All-Star Game be a nice way to top off Makar’s first season in the pros, but it also would be nice to see a new face on this year’s Central Division squad.
Mitch Marner – Forward, Toronto Maple Leafs As with all things Maple Leafs, it made headlines last year when Marner was denied participation in the ASG festivities in San Jose. The young forward took the rebuff well, however, and he is back in the mix yet again this time around.
The 22-year-old leads the Leafs with 29 assists, and his 40 points are second only to Auston Matthews, who has already earned his fourth consecutive All-Star nod.
The first quarter of the 2019-20 NHL season is in the books, and we are starting to get an idea of where every team stands, what they need to improve on and what they might be capable of. Here we take a look at every NHL team’s biggest question through the first quarter of the season.
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Anaheim Ducks: finding some offense
This is not a playoff team, and it was probably never supposed to be a playoff team this season. But the Ducks still have some major issues when it comes to scoring goals. They were 31st in the league in goals scored a year ago and are only marginally better this season. The core that once made them a contender is older or has moved on, and they need some young players and new faces to step forward.
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Arizona Coyotes: Do they have enough scoring?
The Coyotes are off to a great start and have put themselves in a position to get back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season when they went on a surprise run to the Western Conference final. They have a solid defense and two outstanding goalies who are helping to drive them there. The big question is whether they can score enough to maintain it. They have a pretty balanced lineup with a lot of different people who can contribute, but they are still lacking a true impact, go-to player up front. Phil Kessel was supposed to be that player, but he has not yet produced at that level. 3 of 31
Boston Bruins: Will David Pastrnak win the goal scoring crown?
Honestly, this team is as solid as it can get, and there really is not a huge weakness to worry about. The top line is amazing, the depth is better than it was at the start of last season, the defense is great and the goaltending duo is as good as it gets in the NHL. Pastrnak is trying to put an end to Alex Ovechkin’s reign at the top of the goal scoring leaderboard and with 25 goals in his first 27 games, it looks like he has a great chance to do it. His current pace of more than 70 goals seems unsustainable, but 50 is absolutely within striking distance and maybe even 60 goals if everything goes right for him.
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Buffalo Sabres: Can they avoid another late season fall?
They have already cooled off after their hot start, and for the second year in a row the Sabres look to be in danger of crushing their fans by wasting an amazing start. Jack Eichel is a legitimate superstar, but the rest of the roster around him is filled with question marks. This team is hanging around but still needs a lot of improvement to end this playoff drought that is closing in on a decade. 5 of 31
Calgary Flames: Can they get Johnny Gaudreau going?
Gaudreau is the foundation of the organization and the most impactful player, but so far this season he has been relatively quiet. Some regression had to be expected for this team, and maybe even some of the individual players, but Gaudreau seemed to be a safe bet to maintain his scoring pace from a year ago. So far it has not happened, and if the Flames are going to make any noise this year he needs to return to that level.
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Carolina Hurricanes: Nino Niederreiter
The presence of Niederreiter for a full season was supposed to be one of the big game-changers for the Hurricanes this season. The team itself is fine overall and right on track to be a contender in the Eastern Conference again, but Niederreiter has just three goals and 10 points in his first 28 games this season. If he gets going offensively the way he did at the end of last season, it would make a massive impact for the Hurricanes.
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Chicago Blackhawks: still the defense
The Blackhawks’ attempts to fix their blue line over the summer have failed, and they remain one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Add in the fact they have an aging roster, a coach who might not be the answer and a terrible salary cap situation, and this is one big mess for general manager Stan Bowman — assuming he is the one who gets to try and fix it. 8 of 31
Colorado Avalanche: Is Philipp Grubauer a Stanley Cup goalie?
There are not many questions on this team. When healthy, it might be one of the five best rosters in the NHL with an elite top-line, improved scoring depth and an outstanding young defense. The biggest question might be whether Grubauer is the goalie to take them to a championship. He has not been bad, but if you were looking for a weak link right now it might be here.
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Columbus Blue Jackets: goaltending
The free agency exodus has definitely caught up to them, and while they miss the offense of Artemi Panarin, they still have no real long-term solution in goal. Both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins seem like backup options instead of starters, and there does not seem to be much immediate help coming through the organizational pipeline.
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Dallas Stars: Will Jamie Benn get going?
The scoring depth is still a concern, but the thing that makes the Stars a contender is the play of their top players. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn may face criticism (often times internally), but they have been the best players on the team for years. So far this season their numbers are down a bit, and it is especially true for Benn. Is it just an early slump, or a sign that his career is finally starting to slow down? 11 of 31
Detroit Red Wings: When does Steve Yzerman start making changes?
He had to know this was going to be a huge job when he took it, but it might be even more daunting than Yzerman first realized. So far he has not made many roster moves as Red Wings general manager, but he has some big decisions to make, including the future of head coach Jeff Blashill. The record is not his fault, but at some point you might need a new voice. This team is on track to be historically bad this season.
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Edmonton Oilers: Can they sustain this start?
If we are being honest, it still seems unlikely. The offense is completely dependent on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, which is the same story as in the past three years. The only change so far this year is that the goaltending of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen has masked all of the other many flaws this team still has.
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Florida Panthers: Did they make a mistake signing Sergei Bobrovsky?
It was always going to be a long-term question, but the assumption was that they would at least get a few solid years and some playoff appearances out of Bobrovsky before his career declined. So far, the Panthers have not even been able to get one good year out of him. He has performed poorly, been benched and is owed $10 million per year over the next six seasons.
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It was always going to be a long-term question, but the assumption was that they would at least get a few solid years and some playoff appearances out of Bobrovsky before his career declined. So far, the Panthers have not even been able to get one good year out of him. He has performed poorly, been benched and is owed $10 million per year over the next six seasons.
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Los Angeles Kings: Do they start the rebuild?
What to do with Ilya Kovalchuk is a big question, but it seems his time with the team is already done. The concern is when the Kings actually start rebuilding this organization. Seriously, it is time. To be blunt, they are not good and even with a strong farm system, their short-term outlook looks rough. The team is going nowhere as currently constructed and is long overdue for a real rebuild that involves the team trading significant pieces to look toward the future. They have been dragging their feet on this for years, and the longer they wait the harder the rebuild will be once they actually start it. 15 of 31
Minnesota Wild: Bruce Boudreau’s status
At this point it seems to be a matter of when, and not if, a coaching change is made. The Wild are headed toward a second straight non-playoff season, they are one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, and first-year general manager Bill Guerin is almost certainly going to want his own coach. Boudreau would get another job quickly if the Wild decide to make a change, which seems inevitable at this point.
It is hockey’s most valuable skill and the one that is most difficult to consistently do well — goal scoring. Some players are great at it because they have a great shot, a lightning quick release or just have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Every team needs a great goal scorer to win, and here we take a look at the best pure goal scorer on every team in the NHL. Some you know well, but others may not get the recognition they fully deserve.
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Anaheim Ducks: Rickard Rakell
With Corey Perry now playing in Dallas, and Ryan Getzlaf getting older, the Ducks’ best goal scorer is the 26-year-old Rakell. His production slumped a bit this past season, but before that he scored 97 goals in the three previous seasons, including a pair of seasons with at least 33 goals. He does not get a lot of attention around the league, mainly because the team around him has not been great, but he is an outstanding player. 2 of 31
Arizona Coyotes: Phil Kessel
The Coyotes have not had a player like Kessel in more than a decade. He may be getting older and have his share of flaws away from the puck, but he can also still be one of the NHL’s best offensive player. Arizona needed an impact player who could be the focal point of the offense, and he provides exactly that.
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Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak
The Bruins have the NHL’s best line with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak. Bergeron and Marchand are the superstars, and Pastrnak is set to join them. He has topped the 30-goal mark in three straight seasons and had he not missed nearly 20 games due to injury a year ago, he would have been a near lock for 40 goals. If you wanted a sleeper pick for the NHL’s goal scoring crown this year, he would be a good choice given his talent and the quality of the players around him. 4 of 31
Buffalo Sabres: Jeff Skinner
After being a top goal scorer without the luxury of playing next to a legitimate No. 1 center in Carolina, Skinner arrived in Buffalo at the start of the 2018-19 season and found an instant chemistry alongside Jack Eichel. Playing next to one of the league’s best young players helped him produce his first-ever 40-goal season and landed him a huge long-term contract to stay in Buffalo. He may not score 40 every year, but with combination of his quick shot and Eichel’s playmaking, he should always have a chance to do it. 5 of 31
Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk
Just three years into his career, and Tkachuk is already an impact player in every possible way. He scores goals, he makes plays, he agitates opponents and he plays on the edge of the line. He is basically the Western Conference version of Brad Marchand. He is going to be a 35-40 goal winger for a long time.
Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho
In just a couple of years the answer to this question will be Andrei Svechnikov, but for now Aho still gets the edge because he has done it consistently over three years in the league. He may not be a challenger for the league lead, but he is going to score 25-30 goals every year throughout his prime. Add in his playmaking and two-way game, and you have a great franchise player. 7 of 31
Chicago Blackhawks: Alex DeBrincat
Is it a bold call to choose DeBrincat over, say, Patrick Kane? Probably, and maybe Blackhawks fans disagree, but DeBrincat is just now entering his third year in the league and already has 70 goals in 168 games, including a 41-goal performance in his second year. He is going to be the foundation of the next chapter in the Blackhawks franchisee. He is also one of the latest examples that teams should not be afraid to take smaller, undersized players. Talent wins. 8 of 31
Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon
After bursting onto the scene as an impact rookie at the age of 18, MacKinnon’s career kind of leveled off for a few years. Then he blossomed into a mega star and one of the league’s best players. He is the cornerstone piece of a team that should be a Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future and has scored 80 goals over the past two full seasons.
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Columbus Blue Jackets: Cam Atkinson
It is a good bet that Cam Atkinson is a lot better than you realize. One of the most overlooked players in the league, Atkinson has scored 35, 24 (in only 65 games), and 41 goals the past three seasons, respectively. With Artemi Panarin now in New York playing for the Rangers, Atkinson is going to have to be one of the go-to players in the Blue Jackets lineup. 10 of 31
Dallas Stars: Joe Pavelski
Pavelski was the Stars’ big offseason acquisition this summer, as they hoped he could be one of the missing pieces in their lineup. They needed secondary scoring, and Pavelski has been one of the league’s best goal scorers for the past six years. A late bloomer when it comes to being an impact player, Pavelski is coming off a 38-goal season for the Sharks, the fifth 30-goal season of his career.
Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
One of the league’s fastest players, Larkin finally had a big breakout goal-scoring year during the 2018-19 season and recorded his first 30-goal season. Even though it seems like he has been around forever, he is still only 23 years old and is one of the bright spots on a rebuilding Red Wings team. He figures to be a huge part of their future.
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Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid
He already has a pair of 40-goal seasons on his resume, and it is only a matter of time until he hits 50. Combined with his game-breaking speed and precision passing, he is the most complete offensive player in the sport and seems like a lock to finish near the top in every major offensive category every year as long as he stays healthy. He has already won two scoring titles, and there is almost certainly a goal scoring crown in his future.
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Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov
He is one of the league’s best all-around players and is an absolute steal under the salary cap. Along with his great defensive play and superb playmaking, he also has scored at a 30-goal pace the couple of years. He is only 24 years old and might still have his best days ahead of him.
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Los Angeles Kings: Ilya Kovalchuk
Maybe this is a testament to how far the Kings have fallen the past few years, but Kovalchuk probably really is the answer. At his peak he was one of the most dominant forwards in the league and was the league’s best goal scorer before Alex Ovechkin arrived. He spent a large chunk of his career playing in the KHL only to return this past season. The Kings coaching staff a year ago never seemed to trust him (or want him), but he should be poised for a bounce back year under Todd McLellan.
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Minnesota Wild: Eric Staal
This was a toss-up between Staal and Zach Parise. But with Parise slowing down and Staal being the best goal scorer on the team in recent years, we are going with him. A few years ago Staal looked like his career was about ready to come to an end, but joining the Wild seemed to spark something for him and he has been a completely different player, even hitting the 40-goal mark once.
Montreal Canadiens: Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher has really evolved over the years, going from a depth player whose biggest intention seemed to be rattling the cages of his opponents to a legit top-line player who can score 30 goals. He has hit the 30-goal mark in each of the past two seasons and has become one of the Canadiens’ best and most important players.
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Nashville Predators: Filip Forsberg
Predators general manager David Poile has assembled his team over the years through a series of major trades. The best of them all was getting Forsberg from the Washington Capitals for Martin Erat. Erat was a flop with the Capitals, while Forsberg has blossomed into one of the league’s best players and an outstanding goal scorer. Since joining the Predators, he has averaged more than 30 goals per 82 games. 18 of 31
New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall
When healthy, Hall has been everything the Devils wanted him to be when they acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers for Adam Larsson. The big question for the Devils is whether they can convince him to re-sign with the team, especially as they are off to a brutal start of the 2019-20 season. 19 of 31
New York Islanders: Anders Lee
A sixth-round draft pick and at one time an afterthought in the Islanders organization, Lee has transformed into one of the best net-front players in the league and the best goal scorer on the team. With 28 goals a year ago, he showed that his production was not just the result of playing alongside John Tavares and that, yes, he can score on his own and help drive the offense. 20 of 31
New York Rangers: Artemi Panarin
From the moment he arrived in the NHL, Panarin has been one of the league’s most impactful offensive players. He is an outstanding playmaker who makes his linemates better, but he is also an outstanding goal scorer who is going to push the 30-goal mark every year. The Rangers signed him to a massive contract in free agency to be a significant part of their rebuild.
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Ottawa Senators: Brady Tkachuk
It is slim pickings on this Senators team for goal scoring talent. About 10 years ago the answer would have easily been Bobby Ryan, but he has not been that player for some time now. Brady Tkachuk is in only his second year in the league but has already shown a goal scoring touch and is one of the few bright spots that this team has to build around long term. 22 of 31
Philadelphia Flyers: James van Riemsdyk
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier are the best players on the Flyers, but none of them has ever been a truly great goal scorer. Their brilliance is in their passing (Giroux, Voracek) and defensive play (Couturier). It is van Riemsdyk who has been one of the more overlooked goal scorers in the league and a truly good one. In his first year back with the Flyers in 2018-19, he scored 27 goals in only 66 games. 23 of 31
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby
Crosby is known more for his passing and “200-foot game,” but one of the most overlooked parts of his career is that he has two Rocket Richard Trophies on his resume. He makes the wingers around him better goal scorers, yet he is still the best goal scorer on his team — one of the best players ever.
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San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture
With Joe Pavelski now in Dallas and Patrick Marleau at the age of 40, the Sharks do not really have a great pure goal scorer on their roster. They have a lot of great all-around players and impact offensive performers but nobody who has really established himself as a great goal scorer every year. The closest is probably Couture, the team’s best forward. In a good year he will challenge the 35 mark but is usually a good bet to score close to 30 for the Sharks. 25 of 31
St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko
He is probably the one player on the Blues’ 2018-19 Stanley Cup winning team who has a shot at the Hall of Fame. He is lock to score at least 30 goals every season and can carry the team’s offense on his back when he is at his best. He also proved to be a big-time performer in the playoffs with 33 goals in 70 career postseason games, including 11 during the team’s championship run.
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Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos
The second best goal scorer of his era, trailing only the great Alex Ovechkin in Washington. Stamkos has five 40-goal seasons on his resume, including a pair of 50-goal campaigns (and one 60-goal season!). The disappointing thing is that his career could look even better had it not been for a run of serious injuries (plus a half-season lockout) between the ages of 23 and 26 that robbed him of a significant portion of his peak years. Even with that, he is still one of the most dangerous goal scorers in hockey.
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Toronto Maple Leafs: John Tavares
There is a convincing case to be made for Auston Matthews to get this call for the Maple Leafs (he has scored at a 40-goal pace over the first three seasons of his career), but Tavares is coming off a 47-goal season and has been scoring at an elite rate in the NHL for more than a decade now. That is worth something. A lot, actually. He came to Toronto, his hometown, with huge expectations and a massive free agent contract and not only never seemed phased by the pressure, but he actually had the best season of his career. 28 of 31
Vancouver Canucks: Brock Boeser
It would be tempting to put Elias Pettersson here after the rookie season he had, and he is certainly the Canucks’ most impactful player. But a lot of his rookie goal scoring total came off a hot stretch in the first month of the season that he may not be able to duplicate. Boeser, on the other hand, has shown over two full seasons that he can regularly put the puck in the net. The only thing that has slowed him down is injury. If he can ever play 82 games, he might have a 40-goal season in his future. 29 of 31
Vegas Golden Knights: Max Pacioretty
Mark Stone is the best all-around player on this team, but Pacioretty still gets the slight edge when it comes to pure goal scoring. He may not be the 40-goal threat he was a couple of years ago when he was at his peak in Montreal, but as long as he stays healthy enough to play a full season he should be good for 30-35 goals. 30 of 31
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin
I mean, come on. Who else was this going to be? There is a convincing argument to be made that Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer who has ever played in the NHL, and he has a legitimate shot to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record. Even if he does not, the fact he is going to seriously challenge it in this era of defensive, structured hockey with goaltending at the best level it has ever been is an incredible accomplishment.
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Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine
Laine has already proved to be such a great goal scorer that when he scored 30 goals during the 2018-19 season (only his third season in the league) it was viewed as a down year for him. He has scored at least 30 goals every year he has been in the league and seems destined to have a couple of 50-goal seasons in his future. The Jets being positioned to draft him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2016 was one of the biggest turning points for the franchise.
A new NHL season always brings a lot of questions that need to be answered, from the who the contenders and pretenders are, to potential coaching changes, to free agent finds and flops to identifying the breakout players. We dig into all of those areas — plus many more — as we ask 25 important questions about the 2019-20 NHL season.
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What will the Blues do for an encore?
For the first time ever, the St. Louis Blues are entering a season on top of the NHL’s mountain, defending the Stanley Cup. General manager Doug Armstromg strengthened the roster just before the start of the season by trading for Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes, adding to an already strong defense. A lot of the season will rely on Jordan Binnington’s ability to repeat his second half — and postseason — performance. 2 of 25
Will the Avalanche match the hype?
Big things are expected in Denver this season, and for good reason. The Avalanche advanced to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago, have as much young talent as any team in the league, bolstered their depth over the summer and still have the salary cap space to add much more help if needed. They are poised to make a serious championship run right now. But with great expectations comes great pressure, and they will definitely not be sneaking up on anyone this season.
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How will the Lightning bounce back from their latest postseason disappointment?
Of all the postseason disappointments the Lightning have had over the past five years, their Round 1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was by far the worst. They won 62 games and tied a league record, seemed destined to return to the Stanley Cup Final and then failed to win a single playoff game. They are still the best team in the league on paper, but expectations are going to be through the roof to finally get over the hump. The Blues and Washington Capitals eventually shook their postseason disappointment labels…now it is up to the Lightning to shake theirs. 4 of 25
Will Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs finally do something that matters?
It may seem like a harsh question to ask, but so far the Babcock era in Toronto has produced a lot of hype and nothing but a bunch of third-place finishes and Round 1 losses in the playoffs, including two in a row to the Boston Bruins. Yes, the division is tough at the top. Yes, the Leafs lost two Game 7s to a great team. But they should have higher expectations by this point while a Babcock-coached team has made it to the second round just once in more than a decade. That cannot continue to be acceptable. 5 of 25
Will anyone challenge Alex Ovechkin?
Ovechkin is the most dominant goal scorer in the history of the league and is not slowing down. He has won the league’s goal crown in seven of the past eight seasons and has rarely been challenged. Can anyone top him this season? Look for John Tavares, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak and Steven Stamkos to be the closest. 6 of 25
Connor McDavid or Nikita Kucherov for the scoring title?
These two have been the top point producers in the NHL over the past three seasons and seem destined to hold their places at the top for the near future and continue to compete for the Art Ross Trophy. Who takes it this year? McDavid managed to overtake Kucherov with a late surge two years ago, while Kucherov bounced back in 2018-19 with a 128-point season that was one of the best offensive seasons of the modern era.
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Are the Jets finished as contenders?
It is just really difficult to see a path for them to compete. Their defense was already decimated, and with the uncertainty around Dustin Byfuglien’s future (will he retire or won’t he?) it could quickly get worse. Add in the fact St. Louis, Colorado Dallas, and Nashville all made big moves around them to try and get better, and this is a season that could be really ugly, really fast.
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Which coaches are on the hot seat?
ou know at some point multiple teams will make a coaching change. It could be a bad team that has run out of answers and has no other card to play, or it could be a contender that is off to a slow start and looks to shake things up. Some names to watch: Bruce Boudreau in Minnesota, Paul Maurice in Winnipeg and Jeff Blashill in Detroit. 9 of 25
Which top rookie will win the Calder Trophy?
This year’s rookie class looks to be exceptionally deep with potential impact players all over the league. The top two picks in the draft, Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, will help reignite the Devils-Rangers rivalry, while young defenders Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes should make big impacts in Colorado and Vancouver. Those four seem to be the preseason favorites, but who else will emerge? 10 of 25
Which free agent signings will work? Which ones will flop?
Free agency is always a massive gamble, and there were some pretty significant contracts signed this summer. The early front-runner for most successful signing would seem to be Artemi Panarin in New York, while Joe Pavelski could be just what the Stars need. Sergei Bobrovsky may become an issue five years from now in Florida, but in the short term he should be solid. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Kevin Hayes in Philadelphia, Brandon Tanev in Pittsburgh and Tyler Myers in Vancouver all look like investments who are destined to end in a trade or a buyout. 11 of 25
Will the Blackhawks get back to the playoffs?
Not long ago they were the NHL’s most successful team, but they enter this season riding a two-year postseason drought and are still clinging to the hope that their veteran core has a chance to still compete. The offense is there, but did they do enough to address the defense? And if they did not, will they think about moving on from longtime general manager Stan Bowman? 12 of 25
Will the Islanders regress?
No performance was more unexpected last season than the one-year turnaround of the Islanders, going from 31st in the league in goals against to first and overcoming the free agent departure of John Tavares to advance to the second round of the playoffs. But there were a lot of red flags in that performance and the table seems to be set for a regression this season, especially if Semyon Varlamov cannot match Robin Lehner’s performance in goal. Can they find the magic again? Most teams in this situation do not. 13 of 25
Are Panthers a playoff team?
Honestly, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be. They already have some key pieces in place — the biggest being Aleksander Barkov — and they made some huge additions in the offseason with the hiring of a future Hall of Fame coach ( Joel Quenneville) and the signing of a franchise goalie. The latter was the biggest missing piece they had, and for the money they spent and the core they have in place, the playoffs should be a bare minimum expectation this season. 14 of 25
Will the Sabres show any progress?
When the Sabres started to rebuild way back in the Tim Murray era, the expectation was that the process would eventually produce positive results. Those results should have started by now. The Sabres are entering the season riding an eight-year postseason drought (the NHL’s longest) and have stuck in place for most of that time. They have two franchise players (Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin) but not much else around them. They have topped 81 points in a season just once since 2011. They still seem to be light years behind the top teams in their division. 15 of 25
What is the Hurricanes’ ceiling?
Every year the Hurricanes were always a preseason sleeper pick in the NHL, and every year for one reason or another they would find a way to underwhelm. That has all changed and after their trip to the Eastern Conference Final, they will be entering this season with real expectations. Their defense is as deep as any other unit in the league, they have an underrated group of forwards led by Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter and Andrei Svechnikov and an exciting style of play that makes them a must-see team. They are for real, and they are not going away. 16 of 25
Will Evgeni Malkin bounce back?
This is the big question in Pittsburgh. Even though his final point total from the 2018-19 season was strong, it was clearly one of Malkin’s toughest years in the league. He slowed down considerably after a fast start and never seemed to be happy with his game. He arrived in camp motivated and with a chip on his shoulder, ready to show he is still one of the game’s best. If he does, the Penguins could once again be tough to beat.
With NHL training camps starting to get under way and the start of the 2019-20 NHL season less than a month away, it is time to look back at the offseason and see what every team did to improve. We assign a grade for all 31 NHL teams. See which teams received a passing mark and which teams did not make the grade.
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Anaheim Ducks: D
This could be another long season for the Ducks. Their big move this summer was buying out Corey Perry’s contract, and they really didn’t add anything to a team that was one of the worst in the NHL last. year. Ryan Kesler won’t play, Ryan Getzlaf is a year older, and it is going to be up to John Gibson and Ryan Miller in net to carry this team to respectability. They are a great goalie duo, but they may not be great enough to do the impossible. 2 of 31
Arizona Coyotes: B
Acquiring Phil Kessel has given the organization a much-needed boost at the box office and has the potential to do the same on the ice. The Coyotes have not had an impact offensive player like this in more than a decade. His addition, the under-the-radar pickup of Carl Soderberg and what will hopefully be some better health luck might be just enough to get this young, exciting team over the hump and back to the playoffs. They also committed to another part of their young core by signing Clayton Keller to a huge long-term contract extension. 3 of 31
Boston Bruins: C
Not much here to evaluate. The Bruins lost a couple of depth players to free agency but are mostly returning the same team that was one game away from winning the Stanley cup. They might take a step back just because it is difficult to go through that postseason gauntlet two years in a row, but they are still going to be a contender. They just have not really added much this offseason.
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Buffalo Sabres: B
They paid a huge price to re-sign Jeff Skinner, but he seems to work really well with Jack Eichel. Marcus Johansson, Colin Miller and Jimmy Vesey are nice complementary additions to the core of Eichel, Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin. It was a good offseason and they should be a better team, but I am not sure they added enough to close the gap between them and the top teams in the Atlantic Division or the top wild-card teams in the Eastern Conference. 5 of 31
Calgary Flames: D
The Flames were outstanding a year ago, but a lot of things went right to help them climb to the top of the Western Conference standings. Will all of that happen again? Their big offseason moves were bringing in Cam Talbot to replace Mike Smith in net and trading James Neal for Milan Lucic. Hardly the type of moves that should excite fans and convince them that the team can take the next step this season. 6 of 31
Carolina Hurricanes: A
They will be without some important players from last year’s team (Justin Williams, Curtis McElhinney, and Micheal Ferland) but they did find some solid replacements in Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel and James Reimer. They also added to an already stacked defense by signing Jake Gardiner to a four-year contract in early September. Their biggest offseason win, though, was the Montreal Canadiens signing Sebastian Aho to a restricted free agent offer sheet they were easily able to match, helping them avoid a summer of painful contract negotiations and getting their franchise player locked in on a team-friendly contract. 7 of 31
Chicago Blackhawks: B
The Blackhawks are banking heavily on their core still being good enough to win. Instead of making big changes and going for a rebuild, they worked to improve their defense with Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan and the addition of goaltender Robin Lehner. The Blackhawks were one of the worst defensive teams in the league a year ago and are hoping these additions can help them improve enough to complement their offense. 8 of 31
Colorado Avalanche: A
The Avalanche are beginning to emerge as a power in the Western Conference with their young core of superstars led by Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. They added to that this summer with the additions of Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi and Nazem Kadri to bolster their forward depth. Combined with a young defense that will feature Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and eventually Bowen Byram (No. 4 overall pick this summer), they should be a Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future. 9 of 31
Columbus Blue Jackets: D
This is a tough one. Gustav Nyquist was a strong free agent addition, but this team was gutted in the offseason with Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene all moving on. They still have a strong core of young players, especially on defense with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, but goaltending is going to be a huge question mark. 10 of 31
Dallas Stars: B
The Stars were the most top-heavy team in the NHL last season and needed to do something to address the lack of depth. They hopefully did that with the additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. Their impact will ultimately depend on how much both players have left in their tanks in their late 30s, but they at least tried to address their biggest shortcoming from a year ago. 11 of 31
Detroit Red Wings: C
This is only so high because they managed to get Steve Yzerman to return to Detroit and oversee this rebuild. He is one of the league’s top general managers and should give Red Wings fans reason for long-term hope. In the short-term? This is almost the exact same team that has been one of the league’s worst for three years now. Yzerman has a full cupboard of draft picks and some intriguing young talent in the system, but the NHL roster is as weak as it has been in years. 12 of 31
Edmonton Oilers: D
Ken Holland has his hands full with this rebuild. The team made a couple of OK depth signings and took a chance on James Neal rebounding from a down year in Calgary (dumping Milan Lucic’s albatross contract in the process), but Edmonton needs a lot more than that. The roster around Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is as weak as it has been over the past two years and there is little reason to think the results on the ice are going to be any different. This looks like another wasted year of McDavid’s prime. 13 of 31
Florida Panthers: B
There are real questions about how long Sergei Bobrovsky’s contract will be a good value, but in the short term he satisfies Florida’s biggest need. This team is good enough to make the playoffs this season with competent goaltending, and Bobrovsky should be able to provide that. Along with a franchise goalie, the Panthers also lured Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville to Florida and made a couple of solid depth signings with Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman. With Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau back, anything short of the playoffs would be a disappointment. 14 of 31
Los Angeles Kings: F
Other than hiring Todd McLellan as head coach, the Kings did nothing to fix what was one of the NHL’s worst teams a year ago. They have been stale for more than four years now and have been badly in need of a rebuild. That process still has not started. They are banking heavily on bounce back years from Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, and while all three should be better than they were, improvements from them alone will not be enough to get them back in the playoffs. 15 of 31
Minnesota Wild: D
Mats Zuccarello is a decent enough signing, but he is another big-money player on the wrong side of 30, something the team already has too many of. The Wild also fired general manager Paul Fenton after just one miserable season, making the organization look like it is kind of directionless. Fenton was replaced by Bill Guerin. Guerin is obviously an unknown, but he is going to have a lot of work to do in cleaning up the mess Fenton left behind. 16 of 31
Montreal Canadiens: D
want to give them credit for being bold and signing Carolina’s Sebastian Aho to a restricted free agent offer sheet, but it was such a lame effort that was so easy for the Hurricanes to match that I can’t even give them credit for that. In fact, it makes me actually lower their grade. As if that wasn’t enough, they also made a run at free agent Jake Gardiner only to have him turn them down to sign with, you guessed it, Carolina. Their big addition was Ben Chiarot. Jesperi Kotkaniemi could be ready for a breakout season, but there might be some regression from Max Domi and Tomas Tatar. 17 of 31
Nashville Predators: C
Matt Duchene is a big addition and gives the Predators another top-line forward and hopefully someone who can help fix their awful power play. But to get him they had to dump P.K. Subban’s entire contract, which meant they received almost nothing for him. They have plenty of depth on defense, and they did need forward help. I just don’t know if they are a significantly better team today than they were before that sequence of transactions. 18 of 31
NHL free agency can be a difficult thing for general managers to navigate. They think they are adding the missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle but are often times overpaying a player who will one day have to bought out or traded. Sometimes, though, teams make it work. Here we take a look at the winners and losers of the 2019 NHL free agency period. This is ONLY focusing on free agents and not the draft or trades.
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Buffalo Sabres: winner
t has been a strong offseason for the Sabres, who re-signed Jeff Skinner and added Jimmy Vesey and Colin Miller via trade. They also dipped into the free agency pool by getting Marcus Johansson on a cheap deal from the Boston Bruins. They are still probably a long way from the playoffs, but they took a nice step closer this summer. 2 of 23
Calgary Flames: loser
The Flames had one major flaw on their roster during the 2018-19 season in net: goalie. They attempted to address it but did so in a rather disappointing way by signing Cam Talbot, statistically one of the worst goalies in the NHL this past season, to a one-year contract. Maybe getting out of Edmonton and playing behind a better defensive team will help. If it doesn’t, it is an inadequate offseason for the Flames. 3 of 23
Carolina Hurricanes: winner
The Hurricanes picked up Ryan Dzingel on a cheap, short-term deal and also managed to lock up Sebastian Aho on a long-term contract thanks to some help from the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens’ weak offer sheet attempt was an easy match for the Hurricanes and helped them avoid a summer of negotiating with their franchise player. 4 of 23
Chicago Blackhawks: winner
Stan Bowman has been a busy man this offseason, trying to get the Blackhawks back to the playoffs, making multiple trades and adding one fairly significant free agent. That was goalie Robin Lehner, a Vezina Trophy finalist from this past season with the New York Islanders. Lehner will be a great complement to Corey Crawford and a fantastic insurance policy if Crawford is injured again. 5 of 23
Colorado Avalanche: winner
The Avalanche are building a powerhouse in Denver. They made a blockbuster trade with Toronto to get Nazem Kadri while also adding Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi to help round out their forward depth. This is a Stanley Cup contender right now and is only going to get better, plus Colorado still has more salary cap space than almost every other team in the league.
Columbus Blue Jackets: loser
Gustav Nyquist was a nice addition at a decent value, but the free agency exodus that saw Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel walk out the door leaves several significant holes on the roster.
Before you fill out your postseason bracket, we break down one key matchup across five first-round series that could make or break a team in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
It’s no secret – for the Leafs to trump the Bruins, they need to find an answer for the three-headed monster of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand.
The Leafs were tormented by the Bruins’ top line in their seven-game series last postseason. Bergeron and Co. controlled possession, posting a Corsi rating of 64.90, and dominated Toronto in high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five, 49-26. An encouraging note for the Leafs is that the Corsi number dropped to 54.84 when matched with Auston Matthews and shot up to 75 when going against Tomas Plekanec – suggesting the trio dominated much of the play against a veteran player who is no longer in the league.
Looking at the regular season, both Matthews and Bergeron were out of the lineup for two of the teams’ meetings this season, so we’ll have to see how the coaches choose to deploy their top talent with the pair back in the mix.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders
Goaltending vs. star power
The Islanders claiming home-ice advantage was key, but perhaps their biggest edge sits between the pipes. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss combined to capture the William M. Jennings Trophy this season, and their dominant play must continue for the team to be successful against the Penguins’ offensive arsenal.
Though neither netminder has a ton of playoff experience, the job will likely be Lehner’s to lose. Since returning from injury on March 19, the 27-year-old has posted a 5-2 record with a .942 save percentage.
Barry Trotz’s club allowed a league-low 191 goals on the campaign and posted a record of 38-2-2 when scoring at least three times in a game. Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins boasted the fifth-best offense this year and rostered four players with 70-plus points.
Pittsburgh mustered 13 goals in four games against the Islanders during the regular season, with Crosby and Malkin combining for eight points.
Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche
Can ‘Johnny Hockey’ outperform MacKinnon?
Calgary’s Gaudreau and Colorado’s MacKinnon each notched a career-high 99 points this season. Though they play different positions up front, the two will be a joy to watch compete as they best embody the speed and skill that will be on display in this series.
The All-Stars have no problem facing the pressure of playoff hockey, either, as MacKinnon has tallied 16 points in 13 career contests, with Gaudreau posting 11 points in 15.
Both men know how to deliver when it matters most, too. “Johnny Hockey” racked up 39 points and 17 goals in the third period or overtime this season, while MacKinnon contributed 37 points and 15 goals in those clutch moments. When the game is on the line, look for one of these two studs to follow through.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Stingy penalty kill vs. Electric man advantage
Special teams will heavily influence this matchup between one of the greatest regular-season teams ever and a franchise looking for its first playoff series victory.
The Lightning’s power play was lethal this season, clicking at a league-leading rate of 28.2 percent. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, deploy the NHL’s top penalty kill.
The Lightning and Blue Jackets posted similar possession numbers with Corsi ratings of 51.59 and 50.21, respectively. The more even-strength hockey Columbus can play, the better its chances of pulling out the upset – in the regular season, the Lightning erupted for six power-play goals on 11 attempts in their three victories over the Jackets this year.
St. Louis Blues vs. Winnipeg Jets
Battle in the crease
This Central Division clash is about as even as any playoff series on the slate. The Jets won 47 regular-season games and sported a goal differential of plus-28, while the Blues won 45 contests and were plus-24. Both teams finished with 99 points, but what may ultimately separate the two in this series is the play in the crease.
The Blues netminder was one of the best stories of the season. In 32 appearances, Binnington posted a .927 save percentage and an unbelievable 1.89 goals-against average en route to setting a franchise record for wins by a rookie goaltender with 24. The 25-year-old has yet to face the Jets this season, perhaps to the Blues’ advantage.
Hellebuyck was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season but will need to regain his form in a hurry after taking a step backward this year. The 25-year-old won 10 fewer games and saw his goals against average spike from 2.36 to 2.90.
With two netminders trending in opposite directions, goaltending will be the deciding factor in this series.
The NHL has announced the four rosters for the 2019 All-Star Game today, scheduled to be held on January 26th in San Jose. Earlier today, Alex Ovechkin, who was elected captain of Metropolitan Division squad, told the league that he wouldn’t be attending and will accept the punishment of missing one game either before or after the break. Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Auston Matthews will represent the Pacific, Central and Atlantic respectively, as the other captains. A replacement captain for Ovechkin has yet to be named.
The full rosters are as follows:
G John Gibson (ANA)
G Marc-Andre Fleury (VGK)
D Erik Karlsson (SJS)
D Brent Burns (SJS)
D Drew Doughty (LAK)
F Connor McDavid (EDM)*
F Johnny Gaudreau (CGY)
F Joe Pavelski (SJS)
F Elias Pettersson (VAN)
F Clayton Keller (ARI)
G Pekka Rinne (NSH)
G Devan Dubnyk (MIN)
D Roman Josi (NSH)
D Miro Heiskanen (DAL)
F Nathan MacKinnon (COL)*
F Mikko Rantanen (COL)
F Blake Wheeler (WPG)
F Patrick Kane (CHI)
F Mark Scheifele (WPG)
F Ryan O’Reilly (STL)
G Jimmy Howard (DET)
G Carey Price (MTL)
D Keith Yandle (FLA)
D Thomas Chabot (OTT)
F Auston Matthews (TOR)*
F Nikita Kucherov (TBL)
F Steven Stamkos (TBL)
F John Tavares (TOR)
Youth continues to be served in the NHL, as almost every team has a first-year player making an impact. For this week’s ESPN NHL Power Rankings — voted on as always by ESPN’s panel of experts — we take a look at some of its best freshmen (or, in some cases, middle schoolers waiting to get the call-up to the big school) of the 2018-19 season thus far.
1. Nashville Predators
Previous ranking: 1
Eeli Tolvanen. There was a time when this talented Finnish winger was being chatted up as a potential Calder Trophy contender, before being demoted to the AHL in the preseason. So far, he has eight points in 14 games with Milwaukee, with four of his seven assists coming on the power play.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Previous ranking: 2
Anthony Cirelli. The Lightning forward has four points in 15 games, skating 13:50 per night, with a minus-4 goal differential at 5-on-5.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Previous ranking: 5
Igor Ozhiganov. The 25-year-old KHL import doesn’t have a point in 12 games while skating 13:50 per night. As Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star wrote: “He hasn’t done anything particularly noteworthy — no big goals, or memorable passes. But he hasn’t done anything wrong, and that in itself is often praise-worthy of a defenseman.” So, congrats on not being noteworthy, Igor.
4. Colorado Avalanche
Previous ranking: 3
Vladislav Kamenev. Acquired from the Predators as part of the Matt Duchene trade, Kamenev had his arm broken by defenseman Brooks Orpik last season, limiting him to just three games. He’s played nine games this season with a goal and an assist, skating just 9:05 per game as a fourth-line center.
5. San Jose Sharks
Previous ranking: 6
Antti Suomela. The 24-year-old Finnish center has two goals and three assists in 14 games. His 1.91 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 is third best on the Sharks this season.
6. Boston Bruins
Previous ranking: 7
Ryan Donato. One of the most surprising demotions of the season thus far. Donato had one goal in 11 games and was sent down to AHL Providence to work on his offensive game. That’s after his incredible nine points in 12 games debut for the Bruins in 2017-18.
7. Winnipeg Jets
Previous ranking: 8
Brendan Lemieux. The most notable accomplishment for the spawn of Claude Lemieux this season has been a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Vincent Trocheck. Otherwise, he’s averaged 5:32 per game and is a minus-17 in shot attempts at 5-on-5.
8. Washington Capitals
Previous ranking: 10
Travis Boyd. The depth forward, 25, was injured in the preseason and returned on Nov. 5 with two assists against the Oilers.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins
Previous ranking: 4
Juuso Riikola. Injuries on defense for the Penguins gave the 24-year-old Finn some early-season chances. He’s been a bit overwhelmed, to the tune of minus-39 in shot attempts, worst among Pittsburgh defensemen. Yes, including Jack Johnson.
10. Minnesota Wild
Previous ranking: 9
Jordan Greenway. The promising winger was sent down to the AHL after a rough start, playing a couple of games for Iowa. He returned with a rediscovered confidence, and has a goal and two assists in his last four games.
11. Calgary Flames
Previous ranking: 15
Juuso Valimaki. Another Finn! Valimaki, a first-rounder for the Flames in 2017, is skating 14:46 per game. He’s on the plus side of possession but has a minus-5 in goal differential.
12. Vancouver Canucks
Previous ranking: 24
Elias Pettersson. The Canucks star rookie became the first player to record 16-plus points through his first 10 career NHL games since 1992-93, when Dimitri Kvartalnov and Nikolai Borschevsky accomplished the feat. You heard it here first: Elias Pettersson, the new Nikolai Borschevsky.
13. New York Islanders
Previous ranking: 16
Josh Ho-Sang. As usual, interesting things are happening around Josh Ho-Sang. He was on fire for the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, including a 12 points in 12 games run. At the same time, he had to apologize for comments he gave to the New York Post about his lack of premium ice time.
14. Montreal Canadiens
Previous ranking: 14
Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He’s 18 years old, the No. 3 overall pick in June, and has seven points in his first 15 NHL games for the resurgent Habs.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets
Previous ranking: 17
Calvin Thurkauf. He’s missed a bit with an undisclosed injury, but the former Swiss world junior team captain had 24 points in 75 games with Cleveland last season. He’s got some upside, and the Jackets will have an eye on the AHL to see what the winger does in his second pro season.
If we’ve learned one thing over the past 13 months, it is to keep an eye on Nashville Predators general manager David Poile, a cagey veteran who seems ready to dial up a blockbuster at a moment’s notice.
From the Seth Jones-for-Ryan Johansen deal in January 2016 to the Shea Weber-P.K. Subban swap heard around the world in June, Poile has been making aggressive moves in an effort to get his team to the promised land — the Stanley Cup finals — for the first time in franchise history.
(All of which has triggered my Spidey senses when it comes to auctioning offMatt Duchene in Colorado, but more on that later.)
First, I caught up with Poile after the board of governors’ meeting on Saturday in Los Angeles to gauge his frame of mind ahead of the March 1 trade deadline. His team began the post-All-Star break sitting in a playoff spot, four points clear of the danger zone. So, are the Predators going to be an aggressive buyer at the deadline?
“We’ve had our pro meetings and we’re organized in terms of what we think we might need or want, and looked at certain teams that might be traders,” Poile said. “But I don’t know. Two weeks ago, I might have had a bit more of an aggressive answer, but in the last two weeks we’ve played a lot better and won some games. We seem to be jelling as a team more than we’ve had at any point in the season.”
Poile is wary of altering his team’s chemistry. That’s interesting because it’s exactly what Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan alluded to last week when we chatted about his team’s trade deadline approach. He expressed concern that any big move might alter the tremendous chemistry the Caps have going.