The IIHF World Championship gets underway in just a few weeks and USA Hockey has announced the first group of players that will be suiting up for them. GM Chris Drury released 17 names that will be taking part, including captain Patrick Kane. The group is an impressive list of NHL stars that could very well bring home the country’s first gold medal at the tournament in nearly 60 years. The roster so far is as follows:
The Florida Panthers have locked up one of their own Saturday when they signed winger Frank Vatrano to a three-year contract extension worth $7.59MM, according to The Athletic’s George Richards. The contract, which will buy out on unrestricted free-agent year, will give him an AAV of $2.53MM.
Vatrano, who was acquired from Boston almost a year ago today for a third-round pick, has been quite successful in Florda as he has already has a career-high 20 goals this season and has been a key part to the team’s offense. Vatrano looked like he had potential after the team picked him up at the trade deadline as he posted five goals in 16 games last year while Florida made an impressive run to get into the playoffs last year. However, this year, he’s taken his game up a level and has proven that is a key piece to the team’s future.
Vatrano, who was making $925K this season will get quite a boost next season. Vatrano had two years remaining as a restricted free agent and with arbitration being a possibility for him, it isn’t a surprise that Florida tried to get him locked up now and getting an extra year out of him in the deal makes the deal that much better, especially with many restricted free agents getting more and more at this point in their careers.
Not much has gone right for the Florida Panthers this season, but the team hopes that they may have good news on the horizon after goaltender Roberto Luongo was on the ice Sunday taking shots, according to NHL.com’s Jameson Olive. The team lost the oft-injured netminder during the second period of the season opener when teammate Frank Vatrano fell on him, forcing him out of the game with a lower-body injury.
The 39-year-old has fared well when healthy, but he hasn’t played more than 40 games since the 2015-16 season, which isn’t great considering the team is paying him $4.53MM per year for four more years. Head coach Bob Boughner was thrilled to see Luongo back on the ice, but has no intention of bringing him back until he is 110 percent healthy.
“He’s a huge part of this team. And you can see, no slight to anybody else, this team’s missed him,” Boughner said. “We’re a different team when he’s playing.”
- The Columbus Blue Jackets also had good news as winger Brandon Dubinsky participated in Sunday’s morning skate, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (subscription required). Dubinsky has been out since Oct. 8 with a partially torn oblique muscle, but there remains no timetable for his return. The original diagnosis for Dubinsky’s injury was four to six weeks. He hasn’t been out three weeks yet, but the 32-year-old said that he’d be disappointed if he didn’t play on the team’s upcoming road trip, starting Thursday and going through Sunday. “I would say I’m ahead of schedule, but I don’t want to come back early and set myself back a few weeks,” Dubinsky said. The veteran had only played in two games before getting injured, but already had a goal and an assist.
- The Colorado Avalanche may be without one of their top youngsters for a while as BSN’s Adrian Dater reported that the team will be without center Tyson Jost indefinitely. Jost, who suffered a head injury Friday in the third period against Ottawa, has a goal and an assist in 11 games so far this season. The 20-year-old scored 12 goals in his rookie season last year, but had worked his way higher up in the lineup this year.
- Newsday’s Colin Stephenson reports that New York Rangers head coach David Quinn said that defenseman Adam McQuaid is day-to-day with a lower-body injury he sustained in the first period Thursday. He is not expected to play Sunday against Los Angeles, which could open up another chance for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, who has only appeared in two games for the Rangers this season.
With the NHL season now just underway, we continue our look at what each team has done this summer and what to watch for in the year to come. Next up is a look at the Boston Bruins.
Last Season: 50-20-12 record (112 points), second in the Atlantic Division (lost in second round to Tampa Bay Lightning)
Remaining Cap Space: $5,246,849 per CapFriendly
Key Additions: F Martin Bakos (free agent, Liberec – Czech Rep.), G Jaroslav Halak (free agent, NY Islanders), D Steven Kampfer (trade, NY Rangers), D John Moore (free agent, New Jersey), F Joakim Nordstrom (free agent, Carolina), F Chris Wagner (free agent, NY Islanders)
Key Subtractions: F Kenny Agostino (free agent, Montreal), D Tommy Cross (free agent, Columbus), F Austin Czarnik (free agent, Calgary), F Brian Gionta (retirement), D Nick Holden (free agent, Vegas), G Anton Khudobin (free agent, Dallas), D Adam McQuaid (trade, NY Rangers), F Rick Nash (free agent, unsigned), F Riley Nash (free agent, Columbus), D Paul Postma (free agent, Kazan – KHL), F Tim Schaller (free agent, Vancouver), F Tommy Wingels (free agent, Geneve – NLA)
[Related: Bruins Depth Chart From Roster Resource]
Player To Watch: F Ryan Donato – Rookie forward Donato made his NHL debut last year in the midst of a season most only dream of. Donato wrapped up a stellar collegiate career with Harvard University by leading the NCAA in goals per game with 26 tallies – and 43 points – in 29 games. The effort made Donato a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in college hockey. Donato also starred for his country, playing a major role for Team USA at the Winter Olympics where, again, he led the tournament in goals per game, potting five in six contests. He then stepped right into the NHL, notching five goals and four assists in 12 regular season games down the stretch and even skating in three playoff games. After such an impressive campaign, the question now is can he keep it up?
The ceiling for Donato is clear: as a supremely talented shooter and intelligent offensive player, Donato is able to seamlessly transition into a regular scoring role on a skilled Boston lineup. Donato is currently skating on the off-wing, something he did little of in college, on the Bruins’ second line with veteran center David Krejci and impressive sophomore winger Jake DeBrusk. He’s also been tasked with first unit power play work, getting to share the ice with the NHL’s best line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. If he adjusts well to this role, Donato could be looking at 30+ goals and not only in the conversation for the Calder Trophy, but perhaps the favorite.
However, the floor for Donato is also apparent. The Bruins have recently seen what can happen when a talented offensive player with a knack for putting the puck in the net during his developmental years fails to transition that ability to the NHL. Frank Vatrano, traded late last year to the Florida Panthers, was a goal-scoring phenom in the AHL and was expected to take over a top-nine role last season, only to struggle with scoring, too often get exposed defensively, take too many bad penalties, and ultimately end up as an extra skater later jettisoned away. While Donato is a far superior prospect to Vatrano and is in no way at risk of being dealt, his rookie year could go similarly to Vatrano’s final season in Boston. The Bruins ask all of their forwards to play a responsible, two-way, forechecking game. Donato is still developing those skills and, if he isn’t scoring enough on the second line, could find it hard to get play time in the bottom-six. Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork already have a pro experience, and more importantly two-way IQ, to their credit and could push Donato for an opportunity in the top-six or even force him out of the lineup entirely. The Bruins also have their eye on a Stanley Cup this year and could seek to replace a disappointing Donato via trade if it comes to that down the line.
It says a lot that the Bruins let several middle-six free agent forwards walk without finding viable replacements this off-season, as they clearly trust Donato, as well as DeBrusk, Heinen, Bjork, and other options in the AHL, to be reliable NHL scorers. Already, through just three games, secondary scoring has been an issue for Boston and Donato needs to prove management right that he is ready to take on his current role. The Bruins’ season rests with the ability of their young forwards to continue improving and provide stable secondary scoring. Of that group, Donato is the most important, having been handed the second-line opening early on, and bears watching all season long.
Key Storyline: For much of last season, the Boston Bruins were neck-and-neck with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in both the division and the conference and at times even the league’s best record. Boston ended up only one point behind the Bolts in the final standings and then fell to their foes in the second round of the playoffs. Part of the reason that Tampa was able to relatively easily dispatch the Bruins: their trade deadline additions of Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, both of whom remain on the team moving forward. The Bruins added Rick Nash, who was a good fit while healthy but a bust overall, as well as several depth pieces. None of those players are donning the black and gold this year.
Then, this off-season the Toronto Maple Leafs, who finished third behind the Bruins in the division last season and proved to be a difficult first round opponent, landed the biggest fish in free agency, superstar center John Tavares. The Bruins were in on Tavares as well, but after they missed out, opted not to pursue any other prominent free agent scorers.
The Atlantic Division has improved right before the Bruins’ eyes, with many calling the Lightning and Leafs favorites not only to win the division, but the Stanley Cup. And that isn’t even considering the improvements made by the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres as well. Meanwhile, Boston continues to rely on their current core and the young players they have shuffled into the lineup. Without many noticeable external improvements – outside of a top backup goaltender in Jaroslav Halak and a reliable, versatile defenseman in John Moore – can the Bruins keep up? Is this team as good as the patient front office thinks they are?
Overall Outlook: The answer, of course, is yes. This Bruins team is great. Ignore an ugly opening night loss to the banner ceremony-fueled Washington Capitals and Boston still enters the season with some of the highest expectations in the NHL. The best line in the league is supported by young, exciting scoring forwards, dependable veterans like Krejci and David Backes, and several capable fourth line options. The defense is anchored by a legend in Zdeno Chara and a wunderkind in Charlie McAvoy, not to mention offensive dynamo Torey Krug and young Brandon Carlo. Tuukka Rask and Halak could also prove to be the best goalie tandem in the league and not a stretch as Jennings Trophy favorites behind a possession-dominant, defensively responsible lineup. Not to mention, the Bruins have ample cap space and will almost assuredly be a top suitor come trade deadline time. Yes, the Bruins are great. But is “great” enough in a division that is stacked at the top with arguably three of the NHL’s top five teams? Or to make it out of the Eastern Conference, which features the past three Cup winners in the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins?
Monday: George Richards of The Athletic reports that Luongo will be out two to four weeks with an MCL strain.
Sunday: After Florida Panthers’ star goalie Roberto Luongo was injured and helped off the ice last night and the team quickly recalled Michael Hutchinson from the AHL this morning, this outcome is far from a surprise. The Panthers have placed Luongo on the injured reserve, according to CapFriendly. Seeing as the injury was suffered last night, the IR placement won’t be retroactive and Luongo won’t be eligible to return to action for a week, if he is even ready at that point.
Luongo’s injury, although not yet confirmed by the team, appeared to be a lower-body injury caused by his own teammate, Frank Vatrano, falling on his leg during a scrum in front of the net. Luongo missed 26 games with a lower-body injury last season and 19 games in 2016-17 as well. The injury prone keeper, also 39 years old, has taken a fair amount of time to recover from injuries in the past and this time may not be any different.
Fortunately, the Panthers do have James Reimer ready to take over. The split-time starter made 43 and 44 starts in each of the past two seasons respectively and, while he had struggles last year, put up strong numbers in 2016-17. Hutchinson is also as solid as No. 3 goalies come, with 102 games of NHL experience and outstanding numbers in the AHL. Hutchison was signed this off-season specifically to safeguard against Luongo’s frequent injuries. Florida also has incentive to give young Samuel Montembeault some action at some point this season, perhaps even while Luongo is out. The injury is obviously a tough way for the Panthers to start the season, but they have the pieces to pick up the slack.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said today that there is a chance there will be a 2020 World Cup, but one major obstacle is the collective bargaining agreement, according to The Athletic’s Corey Masisak.
With the collective bargaining agreement coming up, both the NHL and the NHL Players Association exercise their right to terminate the agreement next year. If either the NHL of NHLPA opts to do that, a World Cup would be “unlikely” to happen.
The last World Cup was in 2016 when Canada defeated Team Europe (a team made up of countries that didn’t make it into the tournament) in a two-game sweep of the best-of-three finals. If they can pull off a 2020 World Cup, it would be the fourth instalment. There was a World Cup in 1996 and 2004.
- The Florida Panthers may be without their starting goaltender again as Roberto Luongo was forced out of tonight’s game against Tampa Bay. NHL.com’s Corey Long writes that Luongo will not return after a scramble in front of Florida’s net when Panthers defenseman Mark Pysyk and forward Frank Vatrano collided in front of the net with Vatrano falling on top of Luongo’s right leg at 12:21 of the second period. Luongo, who had made 13 saves, needed assistance getting off the ice, which could force the injury-prone goaltender to miss some time again. James Reimer took over for Luongo.
- Dana Wakiji of NHL.com writes that Detroit Red Wings’ newly acquired veteran Thomas Vanek has been especially impressed by the play of Anthony Mantha and believes that the 24-year-old will develop into a top-line power forward sooner than later. “I think he can become the next power forward in this league,” Vanek said after the Wings’ practice Saturday. “His size, his skill-set, his skating, you don’t see that combination that much. He’s still young. The consistency is probably for all us, still not quite there, but he can become a real good power forward in this league.” The winger posted 24 goals last season and at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, is capable of doing more. He will play alongside Dylan Larkin this year, which should increase his chances of goal-scoring success.
- Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News released his list of the Top 75 collegiate players with the Vancouver Canucks and the Colorado Avalanche owning the rights to the top two college players, Michigan defenseman Quinn Hughes and University of Massachusetts defenseman Cale Makar. Hughes, the fifth-overall pick in this year’s draft had 29 points as a freshman for the Wolverines last year, while Makar, the fourth overall pick in 2017, posted 21 points as a freshman last year for the Minutemen.
The Panthers have signed their trade deadline acquisition to a new deal, announcing that they’ve signed winger Frank Vatrano to a one-year, one-way contract. Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reports (Twitter link) that the contract is worth $925K, a nice little bump over his qualifying offer which checked in at just over $787K. He would have been eligible for salary arbitration.
The 24-year-old was acquired in exchange for a 2018 third-round pick and fit in quite nicely with his new team. After putting up just two goals in 25 games with Boston, Vatrano picked up five goals and three assists in just 16 games with Florida. In his career between the Bruins and Panthers, he has 25 goals and 14 assists in 124 games.
Vatrano played in a middle-six role in Florida down the stretch and should do so again in 2018-19 even with their earlier acquisition of Mike Hoffman. As things stand, he likely slots in on their third line left wing.
Free agency opens exactly three weeks from today and teams are well on their way to evaluating both their own impending free agents and those likely to reach the open market. There are quite a few prominent players expected to be available as unrestricted free agents, while many key restricted free agents will be looking to sign new contracts with their current squads. Here is a breakdown of the Florida Panthers’ free agent situation.
Key Restricted Free Agents: C Jared McCann – At age 22 and heading into his fourth NHL season, McCann is still a very raw talent. The 2014 first-round pick often thinks the game faster than he plays it and is prone to mistakes. He plays little special teams role for the Panthers and struggles with many of the defensive aspects of the game at the pro level. McCann is also well below average at the face-off dot. With all that said, his offensive upside is still tremendous. McCann set a career-high with 28 points in 68 games this year and for the first time was a plus player in the league. He has great vision, a strong skating game, and a good shot. When he is on his game he can be dominant; when he is off of it, it’s easy to see why the Vancouver Canucks didn’t hesitate to trade him late into his rookie year. McCann needs to find some consistency and pace to his game and he will flourish, but that still may take some time.
So how should Florida handle that contractually? McCann will understandably want a considerable raise from his entry-level contract, but he also has a fair amount of developmental concerns that he continues to deal with. McCann very well could turn out to be a long-term star for the Panthers, but this situation seems far more likely to warrant a short-term bridge deal for “show me” money. McCann needs to display far more of his impressive offensive ability and far fewer mental lapses and disappearing acts if he wants to command greater salary and term.
LW Frank Vatrano – It’s never an easy situation to sort out when a restricted free agent is acquired mid-season. Florida could not have asked for a better start from Vatrano, who came over from the Bruins at the trade deadline after falling out of favor in Boston. After putting up just two points in 25 games with the Bruins, Vatrano posted eight points in the final 16 games with the Panthers and seemed to fit in well in the team’s top six. Vatrano showed in his first pro season that he has a ton of scoring talent: the undrafted UMass product was the goal-scoring champ of the AHL with 36 goals in 36 games, put up another eight goals in 39 games in Boston, and even recorded eight points in ten games with Team USA at the World Championships. However, Vatrano lacks much depth to his game outside of having a knack for finding the back of the net. Injury and inconsistency over the past two years with the Bruins limited his scoring chances and exposed his lack of an all-around game. When playing with Florida’s finest, his scoring ability came back and those flaws faded into the background. However, Florida is now being asked to evaluate him on just those 16 games.
Like McCann, Vatrano has not earned a long-term deal. The Panthers hope that they get the player they saw down the stretch and gave up a third-round pick to acquire, but there is also the risk he will revert to the mistake-prone, one-track-mind player he was in Boston in recent seasons. Vatrano could be an important piece for Florida moving forward but he could also have a ceiling as an elite AHLer and nothing more. Only time will tell, but because of that risk, expect Vatrano to earn a relatively cheap, one-year deal (even if it has to come through arbitration).
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: None. Congratulations to Florida on entering free agency with literally nothing to lose. The team has five impending free agents and one, veteran winger Radim Vrbata, has already announced his retirement. The other four played little role in the successes or failures of the Panthers in 2017-18 and would be unlikely to make much of an impact if they were to be re-signed. Connor Brickley is the most notable name, as he recorded 12 points in 44 games on the team’s fourth line. However, Brickley spent no additional time in the AHL, simply watching from the press box for the much of the season. The 26-year-old forward was a 2010 second-round pick, but seems to have developed into a checking winger with limited offensive upside, the exact type of player that is easy to replace. The loss of fellow 26-year-old forwards Chase Balisy (8 games) and Alexandre Grenier (0 games) would mean even less. Third-string goalie Harri Sateri, 28, returned from Europe to play for the Panthers this year and performed well enough in nine appearances, but with two high-end veteran goalies in the mix, Florida hardly needs to stress over their AHL starter. Young Sam Montembeault will likely be just fine if Sateri is not re-signed.
Projected Cap Space: The trade-off of having no unrestricted free agents to worry about is that you don’t have much salary coming off the books either. When you have your top five forwards, your top four defenseman, and two starting-caliber goalies locked up long-term, things can get expensive. The Florida Panthers got off to a slow start last season and narrowly missed the playoffs, but don’t be fooled: this is a solid team without a ton of holes and their cap situation reflects that. The cap ceiling is expected to rise this off-season to somewhere between $78-$82MM. At the midpoint of $80MM, the Cats will have around $14MM in space to work with. While that is a decent amount, it still puts the team in the bottom third of the league in terms of flexibility.
Assume that McCann gets a substantial pay increase and Vatrano and potentially one or both of Petrovic and Weegar get a fair amount in their new contracts, and the Panthers will likely be operating the free agency market with around $8-$9MM or so in space. Is that enough to add the top-six forward that they desperately want and need? Probably, but they would strapped for cap space after that. Expect Florida to be players on the trade market this summer as a result.
Despite an impressive second-half run – 19-7-2 since February 1st – the Florida Panthers are still fighting for their playoff lives in each and every game. They face a major test this afternoon against the Boston Bruins and will do so without two offensive weapons. According to Panthers play-by-play man Steve Goldstein, both Denis Malgin and trade deadline acquisition and former Bruin Frank Vatrano are too “banged up” to go today. Vatrano has four points in eleven games since joining Florida, while Malgin has 11 goals and 20 points in 49 games for the Cats thus far. Their replacements, unproven Maxim Mamin and grinder Micheal Haley, have been far less productive in 2017-18. Given the importance of the match-up and the fact that Boston is getting Jake DeBrusk back in the lineup makes the absences of Malgin and Vatrano a stroke of bad luck for the playoff-hungry Panthers.
- A postseason-bound club getting healthier is the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets will welcome defenseman Jacob Trouba back into the lineup tonight, reports Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. Trouba has missed the past two weeks while battling concussions symptoms. He suffered that head injury in just his second game back after missing 20 games due to a lower-body injury. If Trouba is really back at 100% and ready to return to his major role on the Winnipeg blue line, it will be a major boost for the Jets.
- Making his long-awaited debut for the Nashville Predators today is 2017 first-round pick Eeli Tolvanen. Tolvanen finished up his KHL season last week and joined the Preds on Wednesday, but head coach Peter Laviolette confirmed that he will be in the lineup today against the Buffalo Sabres. While Tolvanen found instant success in Europe and looks poised to be a big-time player for a long time in Nashville, it’s no surprise that he makes his debut in a relatively meaningless game against the lowly Sabres. Tolvanen may need an adjustment period to get used to the North American game and it remains to be seen how he will be used down the stretch and in the postseason.
Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand could miss some time — not due to injury — but after another incident in which the forward collided with Chicago Blackhawks winger Anthony Duclair in Saturday’s game. You can see the video here. While on the surface it does look as if Marchand was attempting to avoid Duclair, one has to wonder how the Department of Player Safety will treat the incident after numerous incidents this season. A repeat offender, Marchand served a five-game suspension back in January for concussing New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson.
Marchand was given a two-minute interference penalty on the play, but Duclair was forced to exit the game as he suffered a knee injury. The Blackhawks later announced that he will not return for the rest of the game and Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that he will miss one-to-two weeks.
- Matthew DeFranks of the SunSentinel writes the Florida Panthers have activated forward Frank Vatrano and will make his Panthers debut Saturday night. Vatrano, who was acquired a week before the trade deadline from the Boston Bruins for a third-round pick, will attempt to find his game with the rising Panthers despite missing some time with a high ankle sprain. He is slated to appear on the team’s second line alongside Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau as the team hopes Vatrano could be a valuable addition to their core. After putting up 39 goals in 45 career AHL games, he has struggled in the NHL. With Boston, the 23-year-old had just two goals in 25 games this year and often found himself scratched.
- Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd MacLellan said defenseman Oscar Klefbom will miss the next two games to undergo a “minor procedure.” With rumors that Klefbom was been playing injured for much of the year, the eventual question will be whether the team should shut him down in the near future.
- Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Steve Carp writes that center Reilly Smith was sent back to Las Vegas after he sustained an upper body injury during Tuesday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is not playing today and is not expected to be ready for Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Smith is having a career year with 22 goals and 38 assists in his first year with Vegas.
- Kyle Fredrickson of the Denver Post writes that the team intends to start Jonathan Bernier today after Bernier has missed the past 10 games with a head injury. Starter Semyon Varlamov has struggled recently having allowed 11 goals in the past three games. The scribe also writes that defenseman Erik Johnson skated Friday in a non-contact jersey. He hasn’t played in a game since Feb. 18. There is no timeline for Johnson, according to head coach Jared Bednar. Forward Vladislav Kamenev, who broke his arm in November after being acquired from Nashville, practiced Friday and is likely to be sent to the AHL for a couple of games on a conditioning stint.
- Sarah McLellan of the StarTribune writes that defenseman Nick Seeler, who has been dealing with a right bicep strain and the flu, is improving, but did not travel with the team to Vancouver and would only join the team in Edmonton if there is an injury on defense before then.