Who’s going to win the turtle race for 30th – and gain a franchise player?

Columbus Blue Jackets v Carolina Hurricanes

If Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin are the top three amigos for the 2015 NHL draft, the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames are their top three suitors.

Yesterday, my esteemed boss Jason Kay wrote a blog wondering if the Sabres killed their chances of winning the McDavid sweepstakes by filling out their roster with established veterans Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Cody McCormick. No need to worry, the Sabres aren’t going anywhere other than 30th place.

Read more

Roberto Luongo, Al Montoya a good bet to lead Florida back into the playoff picture

Rory Boylen
Roberto Luongo

On Friday, the Florida Panthers signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year contract extension, though the long-time rumor mill subject may not play out all three seasons with the Panthers. We’ll see.

With Kulikov, the Panthers defense is taking pretty good shape. Brian Campbell, despite carrying a very heavy cap hit, is the most productive and best possession player on their blueline. Kulikov and likely third-pair guy Dylan Olsen had positive Corsi relative percentages in 2013-14, while Erik Gudbranson had a 51.2 percent 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage – not bad at all for a defensive blueliner. Willie Mitchell replaces Ed Jovanovski for that experience and Aaron Ekblad is brand new.

Florida is a team of promise and hope that never fulfills its prophecy. Jonathan Huberdeau should bounce back some from a disappointing sophomore season. Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad have all sorts of potential to become a dominant 1-2 force down the middle, but they’re a few years away from hitting their primes. Jussi Jokinen was a good, quiet signing. Dave Bolland provides depth and, hopefully, doesn’t see more than third or fourth line duty. If the Panthers’ younger players could just grow a little and give the team some more, the pieces would be in place for this team to make a jump up the standings.

Ya. We’ve all heard this tune before.

But what if the Panthers could get into the post-season, or at least into the race, if their kids did not improve at all?

The pieces are in place for that, too. Florida will be in the hunt next season. Read more

THN’s pre-season prediction debates underscores how parity has made the NHL unpredictable

Adam Proteau
Roberto Luongo (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Every year around this time, THN’s editorial staff convenes in a boardroom to hash out our pre-season NHL predictions. The predictions meeting is a raucous couple of hours in which, after consulting with coaches, scouts, and our larger network of contacts, we debate the merits and flaws of every team before we slot them into divisional finishes. And by its conclusion, we’ve established some semblance of probability for each franchise’s fortunes.

But this year’s meeting had some particularly interesting aspects. For one thing, a majority of staffers liked one team in particular to win the Stanley Cup – yes, you’ll have to wait until our annual Yearbook is released in mid-August to find out which team that is – but the more intriguing development was the astonishing range of opinion on the grand majority of teams.

Now, there wasn’t much differentiation in what we thought of the league’s very best and worst franchises (nobody was willing to argue the Ducks would miss the playoffs, nor that the Sabres would win the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season squad), but once we stopped talking about a handful of teams destined for the penthouse or outhouse, our expectations varied drastically.

Take the New Jersey Devils, for instance. Read more

Dmitry Kulikov re-signs with Florida, but his Panthers career may still end before his contract does

Adam Proteau
Dmitry Kulikov (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Panthers signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year, $13-million contract Friday, finishing one of the final pieces of team business for GM Dale Tallon this summer. (Only fellow restricted free agent Jimmy Hayes still needs a new contract.) But given the trade rumors that surrounded Kulikov and that franchise’s history of consistent and widespread roster turnover, his long-term future in Florida hardly is secure.

This isn’t a personal slight against Kulikov. As noted on THN.com a couple weeks ago, many veterans never finish the contracts they sign. Kulikov is just 23, but in his four NHL seasons with Florida there’s been an underlying sense of dissatisfaction with him. Although his possession numbers are solid and he logged the second-most time-on-ice (21:41) of any Panther last year, he hasn’t been a standout at either end of the ice in the way some people believe a first round draft pick should. And the specter of him going home to play in the Kontinental League has complicated matters, despite his consistent denials. All those factors combined to create the sense Kulikov could be an ex-Panther at any moment.

Florida’s new commitment to him allays some of those fears, but the pressure on the Panthers and their boosted payroll to make the playoffs means that few of their players – other than those Tallon has bestowed with virtually untradeable deals (hello, Willie Mitchell!) – will be safe if the team struggles. Read more

Which franchise will be the next to win its first-ever Stanley Cup?

Wild-Blues

We recently sorted out our Yearbook predictions for 2014-15, which included projected standings and which team will win the Stanley Cup. Without giving it away, our anticipated winner has been to the promised land before. Which mathematically, should not be surprising. Only 12 of the NHL’s 30 teams have never won the league title and it’s hard to say who will be next. When the Los Angeles Kings won their first Cup in 2012, they broke a streak of futility that had stretched back to 1968 when the team originally entered the league. The following teams would like to join them:

Read more

The NHL’s weakest division? Um, “congratulations”, Metro

Marc-Andre Fleury

When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.

I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.

So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.

So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more

Can you imagine the Florida Panthers with a teal logo? It could have happened

Rory Boylen
Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s a really neat series going on at Icethetics that’s been looking at designer Ken Loh and his involvement with NHL logo designs in the 1990s. It started out with a teal Philadelphia Flyers alternate jersey that never saw the light of day, during a time when the NHL was seeking to break with tradition.

Here’s what Loh told the website about the Flyers redesign and what the league wanted its jersey redesigns to explore during this time:

“The idea was to break the mold and be less traditional with the designs. The league … wanted us to push the envelope, which is probably why there were some pretty garish patterns and gradients being used for other third jerseys around the league. Personally, I was never a fan of that approach so I tended to stick with solid colors in my designs.

While the brief was to redesign the jersey, we were encouraged to come up with new, alternate treatments for secondary logos and wordmarks. There wasn’t really any expectation that any of the artwork we designed would replace any of the existing team logos or identities at that time.” Read more