Jet City Ice helps you make the most of your limited TV hockey time
with our picks for the upcoming weekend.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
When: Sunday, 2/9, 4:30pm PST
The Central Division battle for playoff berths is getting down to the nitty-gritty, as second-place Colorado is headed to the Twin Cities to face a Minnesota team scratching and clawing for enough points to eke their way into a wild card berth. Trying to make up 4 wins and leap over 4 teams in the standings is no easy task; but honestly, you wonder why the Wild would even bother.
Minnesota is playing nearly .500 hockey, but that has more or less been their calling card for some time. They can beat you on any given night, or not. The Wild’s lack of consistency has been evident for over a decade now, coupled with an absence of any desire to go deep in the playoffs. There are no bona fide stars on this squad, no standout performances. The Wild doesn’t have a single player who has amassed even 40 points this season — the Winnipeg Jets, a mere 3 points ahead of the Wild in the standings, has 5. But it’s not as if Minnesota hasn’t invested in top talent; they’re only $3 million below the cap limit, and 5 guys will clear $6 million each next season. So they’re paying top dollar; it’s just that nobody is delivering the goods. Then there’s coach Bruce Boudreau, who guided the team to two first-round playoff exits before missing the playoffs in 2018-19. He was recently quoted as saying, referring to his team’s 6-1 loss to Boston last weekend, “It’s just obviously as bad as you can possibly get in this league.” Nice. Something has to change if this team is going to have any chance of a postseason berth, or accomplishing anything should they actually secure one. My guess is that it’s Boudreau’s head on the chopping block if Minnesota ends up with early tee times in April.
Contrast this with Colorado, who are following the lead of emerging star Nathan McKinnon and starting to streak up the Central Division standings. McKinnon apparently had a terrific New Year’s Eve, because on January 2nd he had 4 points against St. Louis and hasn’t looked back. He has 6 goals and 16 points since the first of the year, leads the team in all offensive categories, and appears like he’s just getting warmed up. That mojo is a big part of the Avs’ Conference-leading +41 goal differential through 51 games. Couple this with the defensive dynamo of Ryan Graves (19 points, plus-32) and Ian Cole (23 points, plus-25) and you’re in pretty good shape. The Avalanche goaltending is… strange. Colorado appears to be trying a duo of experienced backup Phillip Grubauer and inexperienced backup Pavel Francouz, and so far they’ve allowed the second fewest goals against in the conference. Whether they can compete in the crucible of a playoff race is subject to debate. Sunday’s game is the second of back-to-back games for the Avs, and the last of 5 games in an 8 day stretch. So if Colorado can get through warm-ups without collapsing from exhaustion, we should see a good one.
Possible Future Seattle Players: From Minnesota we’ve previously talked about forward Ryan Donato, so here’s an update. Donato has pumped in 9 goals and added 6 assists while maintaining a plus-3 on the left wing beside Mikko Koivu on the 4th line. On the blue line the situation is murky, as the Maple Leafs are reportedly giving serious consideration to acquiring defenseman Matthew Dumba, who the Wild would likely protect. If Dumba gets traded, then that likely takes Jonas Brodin off the board for the expansion draft, and that doesn’t leave much to choose from. But if their goaltender duo stays in tact with starter Devan Dubkyk and backup Alex Stalock, no matter which one the Wild protect Seattle would be wise to snatch the other one. I can’t see that happening, as they both (currently) have value on the open market, and Stalock in particular is a steal at $785K AAV for the next two seasons. Whether Minnesota becomes a seller at the trade deadline, either this year or next, will likely be the determining factor.
From the Avalanche, I have a feeling that Colorado might lean towards protecting some of their younger talent, and expose veteran Gabriel Landeskog. He’s due for a new deal on July 1, 2021, and they might just consider ridding themselves of his $5.5 million AAV cap hit. I’m luke-warm on this possibility; while Landeskog is a skill player who can deliver in the playoffs, he’s not a game-changer in my book. For what he brings and the price tag he commands, I think Seattle would be wise to spend that money elsewhere. Colorado has two versatile forwards in Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher who would be solid choices, both at less than half the cost of Landeskog. When Jost signs his new deal at the end of this season we’ll see if the Avalanche are prioritizing him for the future.
NHL Center Ice/NHL.tv
Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks
Saturday, 2/8, 7:00pm PST
Look no further than the Pacific Division for the tightest and most hotly-contested race for the post-season. The first-place Canucks are separated from the fifth-place Flames by just 5 points. Right now a single win or loss is literally the difference between making the playoffs and missing them, and the tension between division rivals is palpable — as the line brawl/goalie fight between the Oilers and Flames last weekend illustrated very clearly. Did we tell you that game would be a barn-burner? Yes, yes we did.
Calgary got a dealt a severe blow this week. Adding to the insult of a loss to the sixth-place Sharks on Tuesday was the injury to captain Mark Giordano during that tilt. The Flames are still awaiting word on a timeline for the return of their top-pairing defenseman, who is leading all Flames’ blueliners with 27 points and 136 blocked shots. Calgary is going to have to dig deep to make up for this loss on the back end, especially when top-dollar forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are now only sporadically on the scoreboard, but consistently landing themselves in the minus column. Putting the fate of the team in the hands of netminder David Rittich is also a risky strategy, with a 16-save, 5-2 loss to perennial laughing stock Ottawa just 2 weeks ago serving as a warning. It’s pretty plain that things are bleak, and looking less and less promising, in Cowtown.
In Vancouver by contrast, things are going so well for the Canucks that season ticket reservations are surging for next season. They’re 7-2-1 in their last 10, having endured some hiccups recently with shutout losses to Boston and Winnipeg. But otherwise they have been wiping their asses with the rest of the Western Conference. It’s a good problem to have when the guys leading your team in scoring and combining for 153 points are the 3 forwards on your second line. You’re also not going to argue when defenseman Quintin Hughes, first-round pick in 2018, racks up 39 points in 53 games in his first full season in the NHL. The Canucks’ goaltenders are holding their own, having apparently used the 9-2 thrashing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in early January as the catalyst for upping their game. All this, plus the absence of Calgary captain Giordano, will combine to present the Flames with a difficult outing on Saturday night.
Possible Future Seattle Players: From the Flames, nothing much has changed since last week’s update for forwards Derek Ryan and Sam Bennett, nor for AHL goaltender Artyom Zagidulin, so we’ll spare you the redundant coverage.
From Vancouver, we previously mentioned veteran forward Brandon Sutter. The latest on him is that he’s playing limited minutes in the bottom-six at the moment, having missed roughly two dozen games due to injury. However in only 30 games he has 11 points and sits at a plus-6 on the year. The Canucks have only one defenseman signed past 2021, so trying to predict a potential draft target from their blue line corps is like drawing names from a hat. But one possibility is youngster Olli Juolevi, a big Finn and former 5th-overall draft pick who has shown promise in Junior with the London Knights and playing one season for TPS in Finland’s top professional league. At just 21 he’s got a fair amount of maturing to do, but he’s currently 2nd in points among defensemen with Vancouver’s AHL affiliate Utica Comets. He’ll be a restricted free-agent at the time of the expansion draft, so if he has a good year in 2020-21 he might be a player that Ron Francis would consider.