It is time to recap what went on in the NHL this week — including the David Pastrnak show at Lake Tahoe, the M&M clinic in Canada, and what may be about to blow up in Buffalo.
David Pastrnak show at Lake Tahoe…
The NHL tried something new this past weekend by playing two outdoor games at Lake Tahoe. Despite weather delays and issues with the ice surface on Saturday during the Colorado Avalanche versus Vegas Golden Knights game, the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers were good to go Sunday night.
Led by forward David Pastrnak’s hat trick, the Bruins cruised to their fifth straight win over the Flyers and remain at the top of the East division standings. The Flyers are currently third in the division, and have only lost two other games this season to teams that are not the Bruins.
McDavid and Matthews Clinic in Canada…
It only took half of the game on Saturday for star forward Connor McDavid to register a hat trick and two assists. His Edmonton Oilers defeated the Calgary Flames by six goals and have quietly gone for eight wins in their past ten games. They currently are second in the North division, trailing only Toronto.
McDavid leads the league with thirty-seven points in twenty games this season.
On the other side of Canada, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews continues to score. I mentioned in a previous column that there was no conceivable way Matthews could reach fifty goals in the shortened season, citing that it would be the greatest campaign in decades. But after eighteen games, Matthews has eighteen goals on the year and has been truly remarkable. He is an early favorite for the Rocket Richard Trophy, which is awarded to the player with the most goals, the Hart Trophy for league MVP and the Ted Lindsay Award for most outstanding player, but no one will care if Toronto does not win a playoff series.
Time to blow it up in Buffalo…
While the season is still relatively young for the Buffalo Sabres, who are fourteen games into their fifty-six game schedule, some people around the NHL are suggesting it’s time to hit the panic button.
After another disappointing season last year, captain and superstar forward Jack Eichel vocalized his disappointment with the team’s progress, fueling trade rumors. Luckily for Buffalo, however, the offseason conversation quickly shifted as they were able to land free agent forward Taylor Hall on a one-year deal that shocked the hockey community, especially after Hall had expressed his desire to play for a Stanley Cup contender. Despite the team’s recent lack of success, Hall’s relationship with head coach Ralph Krueger and the opportunity to play alongside Eichel were enough to convince him to give it a try, setting the stage for an exciting year in Buffalo.
But now, six weeks into the season, Buffalo sits at a familiar last place in its division. And with the strength of competition in its division, it seems very unlikely that the team makes a run for the fourth playoff spot. This puts the Sabres management between a rock and a hard place.
Whether Hall wants to continue playing in Buffalo is the biggest piece of this puzzle. If Hall signs a contract extension, then Eichel would probably be willing to stay, but Buffalo must accelerate its process. This means trading draft picks and potential future stars like defenseman Rasmus Dahlin to give Eichel a chance to do something with the team that he has carried for so many years. They must also find a way to offload forward Jeff Skinner’s ridiculous contract, one of the worst in NHL history, which has six years remaining at an average annual value of $9 million. Trading Skinner with that contract may be impossible, but could happen if the Sabres sweeten the deal with a few draft picks. To me, this seems like the best path forward for the Sabres organization.
The alternative option is trading Eichel, a talent of which the Sabres may never see again, and start planning for the future. It would be a fumble of the most epic proportions on the part of the Sabres and would leave fans scratching their heads for decades, but it is certainly a possibility given the corner the Sabres have put themselves in with disappointing draft picks and the Skinner contract.
Once we hear word on Hall’s decision, things will start to move quickly for Buffalo.
Peter’s Power Rankings: The Top 10 Teams Right Now.
Last week’s ranking in parentheses.
- Toronto Maple Leafs (3)
- Carolina Hurricanes (5)
- Boston Bruins (2)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (4)
- Colorado Avalanche (9)
- Vegas Golden Knights (1)
- Florida Panthers (6)
- Winnipeg Jets (Not ranked)
- Edmonton Oilers (Not ranked)
- Philadelphia Flyers (7)
What to watch this week…
This weekend the NHL features a battle of offensive firepower with McDavid and Matthews going head-to-head, as well as a 2020 Stanley Cup Finals rematch in Tampa Bay.
Maple Leafs at Oilers: Saturday, February 27th at 4 p.m. PST
Stars at Lightning: Saturday, February 27th at 4 p.m. PST