Last time we left off after the 2nd round of the 2017-18 playoffs and I'm now beginning training camp for season 3 (2018-19). Here's what has happened in the meantime (BTW, if you guys are reading this, feel free to comment in the general talk thread (viewtopic.php?f=3&t=13587
Round 3 against TB. We won the first game, then lost the 2nd, which was only our 2nd loss in the whole playoffs. I thought for sure this meant the rest of the series would be hard, but we ended up winning 3 in a row, all 3 capped by Palat empty netters giving us 2-goal leads (I guess that made him happy haha!)
Round 4 would be against Nashville and would be a cakewalk as we won all 4 games, capped off by a 3-0 game 4 shutout to become Stanley Cup champions for the first time in my career (Hello superb GM ranking
). Surprisingly, Cory Schneider, who was not as dominant as in the regular season, won the Conn Smythe over his teammates Taylor Hall (20 pts in 18 games) and Jakub Vrana (19 pts in 18 games). I guess that 14-2 record with 4 shutouts meant a lot to voters!
Unsurprisingly, we completely dominated the league awards this year, yet missing one the Calder, Hart and Norris in terms of major hardware. Hall won Art Ross and Rocket Richard award, Henrique won Lady Byng, Masterton and Selke, Andy Greene got the top +/- in the league and Schneider swept the Vezina, Jennings and Crozier trophies. Strangely, Hall and Schneider were both only selected to the 2nd team all-stars and Henrique (league's 2nd leading scorer) wasn't named at all.
Having already signed Pesce and Skjei to extensions during the year, the only major player left needing a new contract was 3rd line winger Devante Smith-Pelly. We recognized his important checking role on the 3rd line, where he actually matched his stats from the first year (when he played 1st line with Hall and Zacha), while still maintaining his top notch defensive play and signed him to a 5 year contract worth 3,9M$ a year. Other important signature was Nikita Soshnikov who we see as a 3rd line winger this year after 2 solid seasons leading our AHL team in scoring. We signed him a to 3 year contract worth just under a million dollars a year.
Next step was the draft, where the Panthers' pick ended up 3rd overall on virtue of them finishing 28th in overall rankings. That was the pick we got from trading them Travis Zajac before the 2017-18 season. Looking at our team report, we had needs at RD and on the wings in terms of future assets, especially at LW and we intended to address those needs. With Andrei Svechnikov and Rasmus Dahlin slated to go 1 and 2, we started looking at our options in terms of trading down, having no need for a forward and liking Halifax's Jarec McIsaac a lot. Then came the draft and a huge surprise happened as Montreal, who had won the lottery and were awarded the first overall pick, picked local boy Joe Veleno, changing the landscape of the draft. Boston went with the logical Andrei Svechnikov pick at number 2, leaving us our top prospect in the draft in Rasmus Dahlin, the Swedish 2-way defenceman.
Also owning our own 30th OV pick and the 33rd (Panthers 2nd rounder) and 57th, we decided to move up to select a player we had our eyes on, packaging picks 30 and 57 for pick 25 and a 2019 6th round selection, allowing us to select Sudbury LW David Levin, who our scouts compare to Marian Gaborik and we can see why, looking at his skating skills. With no other interesting pick in this range, we then traded down from pick 33 to net the 41st selection and a 2019 3rd rounder. With the 41st pick, we chose hulking Russian winger Grigori Denisenko who could become a solid checking forward, but also has some offensive skill. The draft also saw us trade winger Reid Boucher to Montreal for future 2nd round picks. This trade was made possible by the emergence of Soshnikov. The rest of the draft saw us pick mostly wingers and d-men, along with a centre and finally, a goalie, with the last overall pick. Considering that Swedish goalie was drawing interest from other teams in the league at that point, we are looking forward to seeing how he develops over time.
After the draft, a new issue showed up (and it was to be expected after those 2 loaded entry drafts): our reserve list was over the limit (84/80). It was June 25 and we had about a dozen players becoming UFA on July 1st, so I thought we were alright, but the game insisted on us cutting some weight off. Not knowing we could simply put those players on waivers, we decided to cut our ties with 4 players, starting with our worst prospect, Russian winger Mikhail Maltsev, who had not showed any kind of progress in 2 years. We then traded Sergey Kalinin for 2 mid-round picks. Final move was a big decision for us, but knowing many teams were looking for a goalie and having not been impressed at all by Korpisalo in his 2 years here, we shopped him around a bit, getting good offers from the Wild and Flyers. The best offer came from division rivals Islanders who, after some tweaks, ended up giving us their next 3 1st round picks in return for Korpisalo, who we had picked on waivers at the end of the 2016 training camp. The Finnish goalie was showing promise, but he was capped in a backup role here so we took advantage of his value and got something great for him. 21 year old MacKenzie Blackwood will handle backup duties next year.
The rest of our summer was rather quiet. We signed Slovak goalie Dennis Godla to an ELC, but couldn't get him to sign it before the end of the transfer window, meaning he will only report to our team next June. Tough blow as we wanted him to be our AHL starter as soon as this year. Erik Condra was signed to play on our 4th line along with mid-season waiver claim Philip Danault, leaving one spot open for an AHL veteran who will impress at camp. Considering our 4th line averages less than 2 minutes of icetime a game, we are content with not paying close to 4M$ for it this year. An under the radar signature might be defenceman Cameron Heath from small Atlantic Hockey's Canisius College. Our scouts already see him as a depth defender and he should start the year either as our number 7 or, most likely, on the top pair in Albany, probably with Rasmus Dahlin, who we signed to an ELC and who will get a shot at cracking the NHL lineup.
Looking at this year's lineup, Smith-Pelly and Soshnikov are both already training to learn the LW position and both should play alongside Nick Bonino who, despite not scoring in his final 61 games including the playoffs, was still an important player for us, scoring 31 pts in the season and adding 9 assists in the playoffs.
Condra-Danault-??? (likely Miles Wood, Blake Coleman or John Quenneville, who will all fight it out at camp, along with camp invitee Josh Jooris)
Top prospects to watch at camp are Owen Tippett, Miro Heiskanen, Logan Brown, Michael McLeod, Rasmus Dahlin, Jack Ahcan and Blackwood, but with so few spots available with the top team, none should end up getting a spot, aside from Blackwood, unless he struggles hard.
I'm really loving this team and I hope to keep it alive for a good while still, espcially having added Dahlin who represents exactly what we lacked in our prospect pool/team. Hopefully, Blackwood can slowly develop into a decent starter who can step in Schneider's shoes at some point, but for now, Schneider is still a premier goalie in this league and should be for the foreseeable future.
Around the league:
-After burning through 3 coaches in 2 years, Joe Sakic got the boot in Colorado
-Peter Chiarelli was fired in Edmonton, too
-Phil Kessel won the Hart trophy this year
-Our assistant coach Geoff Ward was not resigned as he was instead named as the new head coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets (love that this happened as it is quite realistic for teams to poach ACs from cup winning teams)
-As a Habs' fan, I was happy to see Andrei Markov get induced to the HHOF. He ended his career with 1010 games (20 more than he has now IRL)
-Brent Burns was not resigned by the Sharks and as of September 1st, is still a free agent.