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2019 Conference Final Previews

In BOS, DEL, PAR, SAL, Special Features on April 14, 2019 at 11:19 am

After one round of play and no upsets, the matchups are set for the conference finals en route to the Gump Cup! The first and second seed in the Plante and Sawchuk conferences will face off against each other. Here’s what those series might hold.

Plante Conference Final
The series: (1) Salem (56-20-6) vs. (2) Parry Sound (52-18-12)

Season scoring leaders:
Salem: Kopitar (82, 46-60-106), Couture (78, 42-34-76), Gourde (82, 17-56-73), Backstrom (81, 21-43-64), Pietrangelo (78, 11-53-64)
Parry Sound: Pastrnak (82, 38-65-103), McDavid (82, 42-54-96), Dadonov (74, 35-51-86), Kuznetsov (79, 30-44-74), Rakell (77, 30-34-64)

Season goalie stats:
Salem: Fleury (44gp, 28-12-3, 2.68, .917, 4so), Andersen (38gp, 28-8-2, 2.09, .925, 4so)
Parry Sound: Rinne (57gp, 39-12-6, 2.38, .928, 6so)

Players to watch:
Salem: With 9 points in 6 games, Alex Pietrangelo leads Salem in points — and is a two-way force who’ll be a big part in trying to contain Parry Sound’s big guns.
Parry Sound: McDavid’s 6 goals and 7 assists in 5 game is huge, but it’s the way he stepped it up on the road — scoring the overtime winner in game 4, then setting up the double-OT series clincher in game 5 — that make him a force to be reckoned with.

This is it. The grudge match we were waiting for. After getting stomped in 5 games by eventual champs Salem last year, the Parry Sound Orrsmen are looking for revenge. They’ve ousted El Dorado in 5 and look to be in true playoff form. Unfortunately for them, Salem is a more than worthy opponent, as shown by Salem’s dominance in the regular season series between these two clubs. The Sabercats got some big performances from Pietrangelo and Anze Kopitar in their first-round victory over Baltimore, although, and all due respect to El Dorado, they haven’t faced anything as potent as the Orrsmen’s top line of McDavid with Evgeni Dadonov and David Pastrnak.

On the other hand, Parry Sound’s offense hasn’t been met with goaltending as strong as Salem’s either. After having its way with Tuukka Rask, the Orrsmen will be in tough against the tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury (4 games, .924) and Frederik Andersen (2 games, .939). It’s a huge question which goalie Salem will run with, but it’s clear that team defense is a big factor, too. Salem didn’t give up a single powerplay goal to Baltimore in its opening series. If any team can slow down Parry Sound’s big line, it’s probably this one.

Head-to-head regular season record:
Salem won 4-1-1, and went undefeated on Parry Sound’s home ice.

Sawchuk Conference Final
The series: (1) Delta (51-23-8) vs. (2) Boston (48-27-7)

Season scoring leaders:
Delta: Kucherov (80, 41-62-103), MacKinnon (74, 42-44-86), Hall (76, 33-47-80), Nugent-Hopkins (62, 29-33-62), Staal (82, 31-28-59)
Boston: Zucker (82, 40-39-79), Couturier (82, 27-47-74), Boeser (62, 35-33-68), Pavelski (82, 15-43-58), Giordano (82, 11-34-45)

Season goalie stats:
Delta: Gibson (43gp, 28-10-4, 2.82, .918, 1so), Raanta (39gp, 22-13-4, 3.12, .907, 2so)
Boston: Murray (23gp, 14-7-2, 3.31, .891, 0so), Miller (25gp, 16-6-3, 2.50, .919, 4so)

Players to watch:
Delta: Nikita Kucherov has 4 goals in 6 games but the scoring winger is also second in playoff shots so far — he has another offensive gear.
Boston: Matt Murray’s playoff save percentage is solid (.915) and a lot better than his regular season stats. But Boston management only trusted him to play 4 of 7 games in round 1. Will he be able to take the job and run with it?

A year ago, the Boston Banshees thought they might be heading for a retool, but here they are in the final four — facing off against the league’s newest powerhouse in Delta. The Farmington Fighting Saints gave the Sturgeon some trouble before falling in 6 — but Boston really got taken to the wire by the Ice Harbor Storm, who pushed their opening series to a seventh game, which Boston narrowly won despite carrying the play.

A huge factor once again for Boston will be goaltending. As mentioned, Murray was pretty good in 4 starts, but Boston management still went with vet Ryan Miller in 3. Teams have been sunk by playing the goalie platoon game in postseasons past, and Delta’s lofty 41.2% PP percentage puts even more pressure on the guy between the pipes. The Sturgeon are built for a run. The Banshees can’t afford any mistakes.

Head-to-head regular season record:
Boston won 3-2-1. Interestingly, neither team managed a home win against the other — all the wins came on the road, making this one especially tough to call.

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Records & Milestones from the 2018-19 Season

In Special Features on April 5, 2019 at 10:15 am

With decades of GWMHL history, it’s not easy to make a mark in the record books. But in the 2018-19 regular season, several players and teams did just that, carving their names in the league annals and passing major career milestones. Here are a few noteworthy examples.

Single Season League Records

Portland defenseman Brent Seabrook set a new record for blocks in a single season with 125, well ahead of former record-holder Greg Zanon’s 107 in ’09-’10.

Salem‘s Anze Kopitar, acquired in the offseason from Charleston, finished with a whopping +80 which is tied for 8th all-time and stands as the best total since 2010.

Vancouver rookie phenom Mathew Barzal‘s 83 points is 7th best all-time among rookies, a hair behind Paul Stastny’s 84 in ’07-’08.

Single Season Team Records

Delta‘s Nikita Kucherov became the first Sturgeon player to surpass 100 points, and he set a new team record for assists with 62.

Vincent Trocheck tied the Farmington team record for points in a season with 94.

David Pastrnak‘s 103 points is the best single-season total by any player in Parry Sound franchise history, eclipsing Vinnie Prospal’s 100 in 2009. Also, Seven Orrsmen posted all-time plus-minus numbers for the team, and Pekka Rinne‘s 39 wins is also a franchise best. Definitely a record-smashing year for that club.

Connor Hellebuyck faced more shots — by a huge margin — than any other goaltender in South Side history, with 2,511. The next closest was Sean Burke’s 1,867 in ’95-’96.

Winnipeg‘s Jamie Benn set franchise records for points (109) and assists (60), and he and teammate Tyler Seguin both tied Jarome Iginla for most goals in a season with 49.

Single-Season Franchise Records

The only team to set a new single-season record was the Winnipeg Falcons, whose 60.37% in the faceoff dot is the best in Gump history — and the only time a team has finished north of 60.

The Salem Sabercats‘ combined +630 was the 6th best plus-minus mark in league history. On the flip side, the Great Lakes Pilots -635 was the fourth lowest plus-minus all-time, just -12 back from dead worst.

Finally, led by Seabrook’s record-breaking year, the Portland Wintherhawks blocked the third most shots in a season, with 304.

Career Milestones

Sidney Crosby of Baltimore and Alexander Ovechkin of El Dorado both passed the 1,000 point plateau (1,036 and 1,045 respectively). Crosby also passed the 600-assist mark early in the season, and now sits at 656.

Retiring wingers Rick Nash (Delta) and Daniel Sedin (Parry Sound) leave the GWMHL shy of the 500-goal mark with 483 and 466.

Ageless Salem Sabercat Patrick Marleau moved to 3rd in all-time games played with 1,498, just two games shy of second-place Nicklas Lidstrom. Marleau will, of course, join that exclusive 1,500-game club early in 2019-2020.

Explore the GWMHL record books here

Sawchuk Playoff Preview: Boston vs. Ice Harbor

In BOS, IHS, Special Features on April 3, 2019 at 3:42 pm

The series: (2) Boston (48-27-7) vs. (3) Ice Harbor (45-32-5)

Scoring leaders:
Boston: Zucker (82, 40-39-79), Couturier (82, 27-47-74), Boeser (62, 35-33-68), Pavelski (82, 15-43-58), Giordano (82, 11-34-45)
Ice Harbor: Schenn (82, 31-55-86), Barkov (79, 31-48-79), Wheeler (81, 33-40-73), Huberdeau (82, 31-40-71), Tkachuk (68, 27-35-62)

Goalies:
Boston: Murray (23gp, 14-7-2, 3.31, .891, 0so), Miller (25gp, 16-6-3, 2.50, .919, 4so)
Ice Harbor: Lundqvist (50gp, 23-21-4, 3.47, .901, 3so), Bernier (20gp, 11-8-1, 2.97, .904, 1so)

Players to watch:
Boston: Boston veteran Joe Pavelski put up just 15 goals in the regular season — everyone knows he has another gear. He’s due for a hot streak.
Ice Harbor: Aleksander Barkov is built for the playoffs — responsible, hard-working, and offensively gifted — and will likely be asked to shoulder a heavy matchup burden by the Storm.

After management seemed to suggest a rebuild was coming, the Banshees instead loaded up — especially down the middle with Ryan Getzlaf and, at the trade deadline, Mika Zibanejad. It paid off to the tune of nearly 50 wins. No surprise — this is a team that’s made the Cup Finals in consecutive years, after all.

On the flip side, the Ice Harbor Storm are about to make just their second postseason appearance in 12 years. And although Boston bested them in the standings this season, the Storm have depth to burn, including — weirdly — four forwards with exactly 31 goals (plus one with 33). And although Henrik Lundqvist should have been better than his .901 regular season save percentage, Boston is total a mess in goal, having played half a season with a vet they’d ultimately release in Mike Smith, which will likely force them to platoon inconsistent young Matt Murray and veteran backup Ryan Miller.

In short, these are both deep, talented teams with potential problems in net. We could see lots of goals in this series.

Head-to-head regular season record:
Boston won the season series 4-2-0 and was 2-1-0 both home and away, shutting out the Storm twice.

Sawchuk Playoff Preview: Delta vs. Farmington

In DEL, FFS, Special Features on April 3, 2019 at 9:04 am

The series: (1) Delta (51-23-8) vs. (4) Farmington (40-33-9)

Scoring leaders:
Delta: Kucherov (80, 41-62-103), MacKinnon (74, 42-44-86), Hall (76, 33-47-80), Nugent-Hopkins (62, 29-33-62), Staal (82, 31-28-59)
Farmington: Trocheck (82, 45-49-94), Rantanen (81, 30-54-84), Carlson (82, 25-46-71), Miller (82, 28-38-66), Fiala (80, 25-20-45)

Goalies:
Delta: Gibson (43gp, 28-10-4, 2.82, .918, 1so), Raanta (39gp, 22-13-4, 3.12, .907, 2so)
Farmington: Lehner (34gp, 18-14-2, 3.62, .888, 2so), Crawford (28gp, 11-4-2, 2.65, .930, 2so)

Players to watch:
Delta: Delta’s “Big Three” get all the attention, but Jonathan Toews’ first playoffs with the Sturgeon should give him a chance to shine in ways not always captured on the scoresheet.
Farmington: John Carlson gives Farmington one thing Delta doesn’t have — an explosive weapon on the back end. He led all defensemen in scoring during the regular season.

No one was surprised by the emergence of the Delta Sturgeon. After a decade of playoff absence, Delta loaded up in the offseason and were poised to compete with the top teams in the league — and that they did, coming in third overall and scoring 349 goals, tops in the league. They’re as deep as any team in the GWMHL, and while most of their core is untested in the postseason, veterans Toews and Zdeno Chara are hoping to shepherd this young squad to the finals.

On paper, it’s a mismatch. After Vincent Trocheck and Mikko Rantanen, the Fighting Saints are thin up front, and even worse, word is that top goalie Corey Crawford may only be healthy enough to play a handful of postseason games. That puts the weight on Robin Lehner, whose regular season numbers were, to put it kindly, less than scintillating.

But you can’t count the Saints out. First of all, Gump history is littered with first-round upsets. And while Delta has the shinier toys, Farmington has a couple of big guns on the back end in Carlson and Dustin Byfuglien that could make up for its middling forward ranks. They’ve also seen a lot more playoff action in the last few years. The Sturgeon would be wise to not take this first-round matchup lightly.

Head-to-head regular season record:
Delta won the season series 4-1-1, although Farmington stole a 3-2 win on the road in the second quarter — and a road win is all you need to tilt an entire series.

Plante Playoff Preview: Parry Sound vs. El Dorado

In EDH, PAR, Special Features on April 2, 2019 at 8:45 pm

The series: (2) Parry Sound (52-18-12) vs. (3) El Dorado (48-24-10)

Scoring leaders:
Parry Sound: Pastrnak (82, 38-65-103), McDavid (82, 42-54-96), Dadonov (74, 35-51-86), Kuznetsov (79, 30-44-74), Rakell (77, 30-34-64)
El Dorado: O’Reilly (81, 28-62-90), Granlund (76, 30-57-87), Ovechkin (82, 43-35-78), Petry (82, 16-54-70), Keller (82, 23-37-60)

Goalies:
Parry Sound: Rinne (57gp, 39-12-6, 2.38, .928, 6so)
El Dorado: Rask (49gp, 32-10-6, 2.39, .923, 7so)

Players to watch:
Parry Sound: Overshadowed somewhat by the team’s star centres, David Pastrnak put up a marvelous season, breaking the 100-point barrier and leading the entire league in assists with 65.
El Dorado: Jeff Petry finished second among defensemen with 70 points, an offensive explosion the team hopes will continue into the postseason.

The Parry Sound Orrsmen finished second overall with two fewer wins than it managed in ’17-’18. But a stunning loss in five games to Salem in the conference finals should have the Orrsmen hungry for a decisive opening round this year. Unlike the previous season, Parry Sound relied heavily on a single goaltender, offseason acquisition Pekka Rinne, and he was magnificent during the regular season. Some consistency in goal may be just what the doctor ordered this time around.

But it won’t be easy. After three seasons of missing the playoffs, the El Dorado Lynx are back and should make for a very tough opponent for the Orrsmen. The team didn’t make as many splashy acquisitions as its counterpart, but the biggest — centre Ryan O’Reilly — paid off in spades, as he skated to an eye-opening 90 points, with good defensive play to boot. Nobody in the league can match Parry Sound’s McDavid-Matthews-Kuznetsov trio down the middle, but O’Reilly gives the Lynx a chance of shutting one or two of them down. And the Lynx have a red-hot Finnish goalie of their own in Tuukka Rask. It’s going to be a hell of a series.

Head-to-head regular season record:
Tied 3-3-2. This should dispel any notion that this isn’t a closely matched series, as these teams fought each other to a .500 head-to-head record on both El Dorado and Parry Sound ice.

Plante Playoff Preview: Salem vs. Baltimore

In BAL, SAL, Special Features on April 2, 2019 at 10:47 am

The series: (1) Salem (56-20-6) vs. (4) Baltimore (37-33-12)

Scoring leaders:
Salem: Kopitar (82, 46-60-106), Couture (78, 42-34-76), Gourde (82, 17-56-73), Backstrom (81, 21-43-64), Pietrangelo (78, 11-53-64)
Baltimore: Crosby (82, 40-59-99), Tarasenko (79, 24-45-69), Forsberg (67, 25-40-65), Schwartz (64, 28-36-64), Burns (82, 11-48-59)

Goalies:
Salem: Fleury (44gp, 28-12-3, 2.68, .917, 4so), Andersen (38gp, 28-8-2, 2.09, .925, 4so)
Baltimore: Luongo (36gp, 21-13-1, 2.67, .912, 3so), Grubauer (28gp, 10-13-5, 3.03, .900, 1so)

Players to watch:
Salem: Logan Couture led the league with 12 game-winning goals. His clutch play could be a series-decider.
Baltimore: It’s fair to say that Vladimir Tarasenko’s 24 regular season goals were a disappointment. Can he hit the reset button in time for the playoffs?

It’s seemed like consensus for years now — the Salem Sabercats were due for a regression. But it hasn’t happened yet. The winners of 5 of the last 6 championships skated to the best record in the league this season, scored more goals than any team other than Delta, and allowed the fewest goals against.

But wait! Lest we call this series before it starts, let’s remember that the only other team with a Gump Cup during Salem’s dynasty years is their opponent, Baltimore — a team whose disappointing fourth-place finish likely belies its true ability to compete. The Crab ran into major injury trouble late in the season, but word is its core is mostly healthy now. The only remaining question mark is in net — rumour has it that the team may platoon Roberto Luongo and Philipp Grubauer, but that yielded less-than-stellar results during the regular season.

Head-to-head regular season record:
Tied 3-3-0. In all 6 games, the home team won, but, notably, Baltimore soundly outscored Salem 24-15.

Recapping Our 2018-19 Season Previews

In Special Features on October 12, 2018 at 9:29 am

Our four-part season preview is complete! Catch up here:
Plante East
Plante West
Sawchuk East
Sawchuk West

And here’s a recap, and a ranking, of where these teams could be headed in 2018-19.

But first, a note: When we began compiling these previews, we were absolutely determined to keep science out of it. (If you want science, here’s your freaking Martin Ratings already.) The, ahem, evidence for this is clear: we’ve chosen too many playoff teams in each conference! Chalk it up to wanting to keep the hope alive.

Plante
1. Parry Sound – Contender
2. Baltimore – Contender
3. Salem – Contender
4. El Dorado – Playoffs
5. Pittsburgh – Playoffs
6. Winnipeg – Bubble
7. Charleston – Rebuilding
8. South Side – Rebuilding
9. Great Lakes – Rebuilding
10. Denver – Rebuilding

Sawchuk
1. Delta – Contender
2. Ice Harbor – Playoffs
3. Hamilton – Playoffs
4. West Virginia – Playoffs
5. Adirondack – Playoffs
6. Boston – Bubble
7. Farmington – Bubble
8. Portland – Bubble
9. San Jose – Rebuilding
10. Vancouver – Rebuilding

An interesting trend emerges when you look at the conferences this way. In the Plante, it’s go-big-or-go-home, as it hosts three of the league’s true powerhouses, and a couple of dark horses. Nearly everyone else is full-on rebuilding. The Sawchuk is much closer (as we saw in last year’s tight playoff race), with Delta the only sure-fire contender, and Ice Harbor a near-contender. Neither even made the playoffs last year, and the next five or six slots are anybody’s guess.

Now let’s drop that puck!

Season Preview: Sawchuk West

In DEL, HAM, IHS, PWH, Special Features, VAN on October 11, 2018 at 8:48 am

In our fourth and final season preview, it’s time to look at the Sawchuk West, where big changes are afoot.

Check out the other previews:
Plante East
Plante West
Sawchuk East


Delta Sturgeon
Last Season’s Finish: 38-34-10 (6th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Jonathan Toews, D Jake Muzzin, D Zdeno Chara
Notable Departures: F Scott Hartnell, F Kris Versteeg, F J.T. Compher, D Cody Ceci

Wow! Sensing that its core — Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Taylor Hall, and veteran Eric Staal — was on the cusp of becoming something truly special, the Sturgeon threw caution to the wind, dealing draft picks for the second straight season and acquiring the pieces it needed most: a faceoff guy (Toews), a puck-mover (Muzzin), and a stay-at-home beast (Chara). Mission accomplished. With a deep, if a bit workmanlike, blueline and the makings of a truly great goalie tandem in John Gibson and Antti Raanta, Delta has found itself in long-forgotten territory: contending not just for a playoff berth but for a championship. This is a roster with very few weaknesses. After missing the playoffs last year, the Sturgeon is about to become the league’s most improved team.

Verdict: Contender


Hamilton Ti-Cats
Last Season’s Finish: 42-35-5 (4th in conference); lost in 1st round
Notable Arrivals: F Mark Jankowski, F Blake Coleman, F Alex Iafallo
Notable Departures: D Mark Streit, D Toby Enstrom

The sign on the front door says ‘Under New Management’ and that may be the biggest difference for a team that’s contended for years without ever quite having enough for a championship. The team has stagnated badly over recent seasons as stars like Daniel Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg have aged. With those two nearing retirement, the Ti-Cats have two big factors keeping them in the playoff mix: a trio of star scorers in Claude Giroux, Patrick Kane, and Jakub Voracek, and one of the finest and most dangerous top-fours in the league in P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Tyson Barrie, and T.J. Brodie. They weren’t able to add much besides bottom-sixers over the offseason, though, and if one of Corey Schneider or Keith Kinkaid can’t come through big, they may struggle. But a playoff spot is a safe bet for now.

Verdict: Playoffs


Ice Harbor Storm
Last Season’s Finish: 30-47-5 (8th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Alex DeBrincat, D Nick Leddy
Notable Departures: none

One of last season’s biggest mysteries was why the Storm were underperforming. On paper, they should have been vying for a playoff spot. In practice, they limped along to a terrible record, scored the second fewest goals in the league, and came up with another high draft pick. So is this the year they turn it all around? Once again, on paper, it’s hard to find glaring weaknesses in Ice Harbor’s lineup. And with just-drafted Alex DeBrincat, they addressed one of them: the need for a scorer who’d be hungry for goals. The Storm have, bar none, some of the best forward depth in the league, especially up the middle, where Kyle Turris and Mikael Backlund will be competing just for 4th line minutes. Blake Wheeler, Aleksander Barkov, Kris Letang, Rasmus Ristolainen… This team should be scoring plenty to support a still-solid Henrik Lundqvist. But that’s just on paper.

Verdict: Playoffs


Portland Winterhawks
Last Season’s Finish: 22-50-10 (9th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Pierre-Luc Dubois, F Jesper Bratt, F Riley Nash, F Mattias Janmark, G Michal Neuvirth
Notable Departures: F Luke Glendening, F Mark Letestu, F Dale Weise, D Radko Gudas, D Brandon Montour

The very definition of a bubble team, the Winterhawks followed up a surprisingly good ’16-’17 campaign with a disappointing one in ’17-’18 but have yet to throw in the towel and call rebuild. Last year’s acquisition of Phil Kessel, combined with the emergence of Brad Marchand and Artemi Panarin as top left-wingers, is a good base to build around. They parlayed the second overall pick into Pierre-Luc Dubois, who has a good shot at some top six time this season, and also drafted Jesper Bratt who will also be seeing GWMHL action. Still, the Hawks aren’t an especially deep team — David Krejci will be asked to do an awful lot as their top centre, and beyond Matt Niskanen the defense is a huge question mark, especially after the team flipped Brandon Montour for more forward help just prior to the season. They could sneak in, but will most likely find themselves out of the playoffs.

Verdict: Bubble


Vancouver Night Train
Last Season’s Finish: 42-30-10 (2nd in conference); lost in 2nd round
Notable Arrivals: F Denis Malgin, D Matt Grzelcyk, G David Rittich
Notable Departures: F Jonathan Toews, F Tomas Plekanec, F Johan Larsson, F Zack Kassian, D Alex Edler, D Kevan Miller, G Pekka Rinne

After making the postseason and taking the Boston Banshees to seven games in the Sawchuk Final, the Night Train made the surprising decision to commit to a rebuild. But did they go far enough? Vancouver brass has seemed reluctant to part ways with Mark Stone, Anders Lee, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and with Sergei Bobrovsky in goal, they’ll probably win a few. But with big gains coming from division rivals Delta and Ice Harbor, the Night Train chose to part ways with Rinne, Toews, Plekanec, and Edler. It’s a huge burden to put on the shoulders of young players Mathew BarzalThomas Chabot, and Shea Theodore, and the majority of the Train’s 2018 draftees are a season or three away. The loss of glue guys Shea Weber (to injury) and Toews will make them a lot easier to play against than in years past.

Verdict: Rebuilding

Season Preview: Sawchuk East

In ADI, BOS, FFS, SJH, Special Features, WVR on October 9, 2018 at 3:13 pm

Welcome to part 3 of our season previews, featuring what’s maybe the toughest division to predict: the Sawchuk East.

Missed the Plante Conference previews? Check it here: East and West.


Adirondack Aces
Last Season’s Finish: 43-35-4 (3rd in conference); lost in 1st round
Notable Arrivals: F Jake DeBrusk, F Alexander Kerfoot, F Justin Williams, D Ethan Bear
Notable Departures: G Cam Ward

The Aces’ slow ascendance culminated in a playoff berth last year before the team was dumped in the first round.  They’re also a big reason why this division is tough to call. Even as Henrik Sedin enters his final season, the team has a ton of talent in the forward ranks, starting with Patrice Bergeron and Johnny Gaudreau. On top of that, there are whispers that management foresees a huge breakout year for William Karlsson, and the Aces managed to grab a couple of GWMHL-ready draftees in Jake DeBrusk and Alexander Kerfoot. The team’s goaltending duo of Devan Dubnyk and Semyon Varlamov is the most solid it’s been in years, too. The acquisition of Justin Williams for third-stringer Cam Ward gives the team options for the middle six. But the team’s Achilles’ heel may be on defense, which is overflowing with journeymen after the top-flight pairing of Drew Doughty and Zach Werenski and stay-at-homer Brett Pesce.

Verdict: Playoffs


Boston Banshees
Last Season’s Finish: 50-27-5 (1st in conference); lost in Gump Cup final
Notable Arrivals: F Ryan Getzlaf, F Cody Eakin, F J.T. Compher, F Micheal Ferland, F Tage Thompson
Notable Departures: F Artem Anisimov, F Justin Williams, F Brandon Dubinsky, D Mike Green, D Zdeno Chara, D Nick Leddy, D Jake Dotchin

Are they rebuilding, or what’s going on here? After the Banshees pushed the Cup Final all the way to a seventh game, there were surprising rumbles of a total rebuild. It seemed to be going that way when they shipped out Nick Leddy and, later, Zdeno Chara. But as the offseason wore on, the team took a flyer on 33-year-old centre Ryan Getzlaf after the draft, not to mention a pair of veteran goalies (Jimmy Howard and Cam Ward), only to release them both. Anyway, the team seems poised to at least make the playoffs, with Getzlaf joining a competitive group led by Sean CouturierJoe Pavelski, and highly touted rookie Brock Boeser up front. It seems Mike Smith will see the lion’s share of starts, and the team will have to lean hard on young defensemen Darnell NurseJosh Morrissey, and Brandon Carlo after the Banshees ditched Leddy, Chara, and Mike Green. The team may find itself at a crossroads come mid-season. Will they load up or throw in the towel?

Verdict: Bubble


Farmington Fighting Saints
Last Season’s Finish: 37-35-10 (7th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Matt Nieto, D Greg Pateryn, D Vince Dunn, D Christian Djoos
Notable Departures: F Mike Cammalleri, F Matt Cullen, F Dmitrij Jaskin, D Niklas Kronwall, D Trevor Van Riemsdyk

Historically, Farmington management has taken a patient approach to team-building and it’s paid off. Without sacrificing wins in the present, the Saints have managed to keep the cupboard stocked with good talent, most notably Mikko Rantanen, who’ll quite possibly the team’s top scorer of this coming season, alongside a truly great group of centres headlined by Vincent Trocheck and Ryan Johansen. Still, the team made some big changes on D, dumping declining veteran Niklas Kronwall and bringing in rookies Vince Dunn and Christian Djoos, that add an air of uncertainty despite the overall consistency of John Carlson and Dustin Byfuglien. The winger talent on the club is good if not great. But by far the biggest concern is the health of starting goalie Corey Crawford. If Crawford misses significant time, the team won’t be going anywhere without a career performance by Robin Lehner.

Verdict: Bubble


San Jose Hosers
Last Season’s Finish: 23-52-7 (10th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: D Charlie McAvoy, D Joakim Ryan
Notable Departures: F Brock Nelson, F Antoine Roussel, D David Schlemko

The Great San Jose Rebuild continues! When defender Charlie McAvoy fell to the Hosers at #3 in this year’s draft, management couldn’t say no, and the team now has unquestionably one of the most promising groups of young defensemen in the league with John Klingberg, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Mikhail Sergachev. That alone could be deadly, especially on the powerplay. And at a certain point, this team has to turn the corner, right? Up front, the team has some nice weapons in John Tavares and Jack Eichel, with Gabriel Landeskog and Mitch Marner on the wings, but after that quartet the Hosers have a lot of rising talent that hasn’t quite, well… risen yet. A big season from Martin Jones would be start, and it definitely seems unlikely that this will be a bottom-three team again, but San Jose probably needs one more season before making a run at the playoffs.

Verdict: Rebuilding


West Virginia River Rats
Last Season’s Finish: 40-34-8 (5th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F T.J. Oshie, F Brock Nelson, D Travis Sanheim, D Jan Rutta
Notable Departures: F Andrew Shaw, F Antoine Vermette, D Marc Methot, D John Moore

Here’s where San Jose hopes to be a year from now. After a bold selloff over the course of two seasons and missing the playoffs by one measly point in 2017-18, the River Rats are finally poised to push for a top-four finish and a postseason berth. Newly acquired winger T.J. Oshie may well debut on a top line with Sebastian Aho and Leon Draisatl, allowing the team to roll out a deadly combo of Patrick Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers on the second. The defense is also maturing at the right time: reports are that Matt Dumba may be ready for top-pairing minutes alongside ever-dependable rearguard Jaccob Slavin. By far the biggest unknown for this exciting young group is in net. Will Jacob Markstrom be asked to shoulder the starter’s burden? Or will the team rely on Ryan Miller and Juuse Saros? At least they have options.

Verdict: Playoffs

Season Preview: Plante West

In BAL, CHA, EDH, GLP, PAR, Special Features on October 8, 2018 at 2:56 pm

Welcome to part 2 of our season previews: a look at the Plante’s West division, which includes not one but two bonafide cup contenders. You can read our preview of the Plante East here.


Baltimore Crab
Last Season’s Finish: 47-29-6 (3rd in conference); lost in 1st round
Notable Arrivals: F Sidney Crosby, D Kevan Miller
Notable Departures: F Jonathan Drouin

After being stunned in the first round, the 2017 champs must have known they needed something to keep up with the Joneses. And they did it in a big way, flipping three draft picks and young forward Jonathan Drouin for Sidney Crosby. Already a powerhouse up front, Crosby instantly becomes the Crab’s best player and will likely centre a first line with Vladimir Tarasenko and one of Filip Forsberg or Jaden Schwartz on his wings. No team scored more in 2017-18, and the goals should flow freely again this season. Add to that a strong top-4 D, headlined by Brent Burns and Ryan McDonagh, and you have a contending recipe. The only wild card is in goal, where Roberto Luongo and Philipp Grubauer will duke it out for the starting role. Can either of them be the go-to guy over a long season and playoffs?

Verdict: Contender


Charleston Chiefs
Last Season’s Finish: 29-45-8 (8th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: D Haydn Fleury, D Andreas Borgman
Notable Departures: F Anze Kopitar, F Cody Eakin, F Chris Kunitz, D Luke Schenn, G Kari Lehtonen

The Chiefs’ promising season was totally undone by injuries to Jonathan Quick and Steven Stamkos. But with both vets back in the saddle, fans’ expectations may have been high — until the team unloaded Anze Kopitar. Talented prospects Casey Mittelstadt and Dylan Sikura aren’t quite ready to make the jump, outside of Viktor Arvidsson there isn’t much to get excited about on the wings, and the blueline is a bit thin after Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Morgan Rielly. Even with Stamkos and Brayden Point still patrolling the middle, the Kopitar deal took the Chiefs from a bubble team to a rebuilder.

Verdict: Rebuilding


El Dorado Lynx
Last Season’s Finish: 37-34-11 (6th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Ryan O’Reilly, F Darren Helm, D Jonas Brodin, D Alexander Edler
Notable Departures: F Teuvo Teravainen, F Torrey Mitchell, D Johnny Oduya, D Dennis Seidenberg

The Lynx have been living life on the bubble for what seems like forever now. Shrewd drafting has stocked the forward ranks with a host of exciting talent around Alexander Ovechkin: Clayton Keller, Kyle Connor, Mikael Granlund… the list goes on. It’s one of the most exciting winger groups in the league. And the Lynx can usually count on one of Tuukka Rask or Carey Price to have an “on” year. Most notably, El Dorado went out and addressed its two biggest weaknesses through trades, grabbing a top-line centre to step in for injury-plagued Ryan Kesler (Ryan O’Reilly) and acquiring Alex Edler and Jonas Brodin to fill out a less-than-stellar defense corps. The Lynx still don’t have a star puck-mover on the back end and that may cost them, but now have the pieces to make a serious run. This is squarely a playoff-bound team.

Verdict: Playoffs


Great Lakes Pilots
Last Season’s Finish: 28-49-5 (9th in conference); missed playoffs
Notable Arrivals: F Jonathan Drouin, F Nolan Patrick, F Jason Pominville, D Madison Bowey
Notable Departures: F Sidney Crosby, F Ryan Getzlaf, F Jussi Jokinen, F Brian Gionta, F Nail Yakupov

The writing was on the wall for the Pilots after a very disappointing season: It’s rebuild time. They jettisoned Crosby for Drouin and picks, then parted ways with Ryan Getzlaf too, and grabbed highly touted Nolan Patrick in the first round. It’s a promising, if painful, start. But progress will be slow. While the Pilots’ D, led by Jacob Trouba, Jake Gardiner, and Erik Johnson, is pretty solid, and the team expects Andrei Vasilevskiy to be a high-end starter for years to come, much of the team’s young talent — Patrick, Ryan Donato, Jesse Puljujarvi, Tyson Jost — is at least a season or two away from contributing to a competitive top 6. Led by Tomas Hertl, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Drouin, the Pilots will find goals and wins hard to come by in 2018-19. Especially in this division.

Verdict: Rebuilding


Parry Sound Orrsmen
Last Season’s Finish: 52-24-4 (1st in conference); lost in 2nd round
Notable Arrivals: F Evgeni Dadonov, F Blake Comeau, F Brandon Dubinsky D John Moore, D Thomas Hickey, G Pekka Rinne, G Curtis McElhinney
Notable Departures: F T.J. Oshie, D Braydon Coburn, D Ben Lovejoy, G Jimmy Howard

The league’s best team during the regular season was left reeling after being bumped in the conference finals by Salem. One reason may have been a distracting goalie platoon. The Orrsmen nipped that in the bud early in the offseason when they acquired veteran Pekka Rinne from Vancouver to take sole possession of the starter’s job, and then signed veteran backup Curtis McElhinney. Parry Sound still has the best top 9 in the entire league, led by Connor McDavid, Evgeni Kuznetsov, and Auston Matthews down the middle, and David Pastrnak‘s emergence as a top sniper makes it a truly deadly group. The Orrsmen went big at the Free Agent Draft, picking up several roleplayers who should contribute to a cup run. The defense is still lacking oomph, especially if rumours of health issues for Kevin Shattenkirk are true. But that won’t be enough to stop this powerhouse. This team wants the cup.

Verdict: Contender