The holiday roster freeze is in effect, but right before it happened there was one big and unusual event. The saga started on Tuesday when it was announced that Patrik Berglund would miss that night’s game due to an illness. Though that sounded innocent enough, he was suspended indefinitely on Saturday for failing to report to the team.
The situation came to a head on Wednesday when he was put on unconditional waivers. After going unclaimed, the Sabres are expected to terminate the remaining four-plus seasons on his five-year, $19.25 million contract. That would make Berglund an unrestricted free agent and get the Sabres out from under his cap hit. That’s very helpful for them, especially given that Berglund got off to a disappointing start with two goals and four points in 23 games while averaging 13:03 minutes.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the situation. One obvious question is if the NHLPA will get involved. It’s rare for a team to simply get a bad contract like that to vanish, but if Berglund and the NHLPA on his behalf, do chose to get involved, then perhaps this outcome won’t end up being as ideal for the Sabres as it currently is.
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The last week also saw another coach getting fired. Flyers bench boss Dave Hakstol was shown the doors after weeks of intense speculation and replaced on an interim basis by Scott Gordon. However, Flyers fans already have something bigger to focus on.
Carter Hart, the 20-year-old living legend finally descended from the heavens and into the Flyers’ net on Tuesday to lead them to the first of many, many victories. Obvious exaggerations aside, Hart is a legitimately top-tier prospect, but I worry too much is being hoped for here, at least in the short-term. While he was a dominate netminder in the WHL, he’s gone through understandable growing pains in the AHL, so to be thrust into the NHL so quickly, even if it’s due to injuries, could potentially do more harm than good when it comes to his development.
He was okay in his season debut, stopping 20 of 22 shots in a 3-2 win over Detroit. That’s given the Flyers confidence enough to start him again versus Nashville tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised if this game doesn’t go as well, but even if that ends up being the case, I do think that in another year or two, he could be the Flyers undisputed starter.
Jumping to another player that I was perhaps more pessimistic about than most, William Nylander has gotten off to a rough start with two assists in six games. I mentioned before that I was worried about rust being an issue, but that shouldn’t be a factor indefinitely. As long as he doesn’t allow his initial struggles to snowball by getting frustrated, it’s reasonable to believe that he will start to heat up in the not too distant future. If you already have Nylander, I would recommend patience and if you don’t, now might be a decent time to trade for him while his value is on the low-end.
Shifting gears to a more positive note: A neat statistic that is making the rounds on the hockey subreddit is that Mikko Rantanen is the first non-Penguins player to record at least 58 points through 35 games dating back to 1998-99. The other players that have done at least as well over that two decade span are Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby. That both highlights how envious Pittsburgh’s situation has been for quite a while now (granted there were some really bad years in there too), but it also shows how rare Rantanen’s level of success has been in recent years.
I don’t want to go too deep into that right now, because Rantanen was also a major subject in last week’s Fantasy Nuggets, but the fact that we’re approaching the halfway point of the season and he’s still on pace to record about 136 points in amazing.
Alex Ovechkin is also having an amazing season. His 14-game point streak just came to an end on Wednesday. During that run he found the back of the net in 12 of those games and had back-to-back hat tricks on Dec. 11 and Dec. 14. At this point he has 29 goals in 33 games while the next best player, Jeff Skinner, has 25 goals in 29 contests.
That hot run has sped him towards Dave Andreychuk on the all-time goals list. Ovechkin currently sits in 15th place with 636 markers while Andreychuk finished with 640. After that, Ovechkin’s next target would be Brendan Shanahan and his 656 goals. Ovechkin is 33-years-old now so you have to wonder how much longer he can keep this up, but rather than slow down in 2018-19, he’s having one of the best seasons of his career, so it’s hard to see him fading away anytime soon.