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Third Time's The Charm(?) - Atlanta Firebirds

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Old 01-08-2019, 11:02 PM   #25
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Re: Third Time's The Charm(?) - Atlanta Firebirds

Fire Brigade: Larsson to Rangers In Four Player Swap

Firebirds trade D Adam Larsson and LW Brandon Pirri (minors) to Rangers for C Kevin Hayes and D Tony DeAngelo.



Good evening everybody, this is Brock Whitney with a special edition of the Fire Brigade. We have our full panel with us tonight to discuss some breaking news -- the Firerbirds decided to shake things up, sending top defenseman Adam Larsson to the Rangers along with Brandon Pirri. In return, the Firebirds add center Kevin Hayes and promising young defenseman Tony DeAngelo.

From what we understand, the initial framework of the deal was Larsson for Hayes straight up. Similar salaries in the $4M range, Hayes has more years left on his deal. From talking to sources in the organization, Atlanta wanted to get a little more back and the Rangers viewed DeAngelo as expendable. Pirri doesn't sound like a major component -- I think the Rangers just wanted to get a body back at forward, and Pirri is what made the deal work.

With us as always are Stu Kennedy, Logan Marx, and Sarah Shaw. Who wants to jump in first?

Ed: My general plan is that Logan Marx will generally represent my thinking or close to it, Stu Kennedy is going to kind of be Old School Hockey Guy, and Sarah Shaw will focus on analytical stuff like contracts, roster spots, etc. Brock Whitney will mostly be a facilitator/company guy that sets up questions and agrees with whatever the team does.

Stu: I'm gonna jump right in and say I love this deal. This front office has been assembling a team of little speedy guys but they've been lacking size and toughness. Kevin Hayes gets you a big kid who can crash the net and put a body on some people. You hate to lose Larsson, but he's been hurt for a couple of stretches, and even when he's in the lineup... for a #1 guy he doesn't seem to be involved on the scoresheet. I know he's not Kris Letang, but 43 games and all he's got to show for it is 4 assists? You get the sense he never quite fit.

Logan: I think you look at these low-scoring close games they've dropped lately, I think a little more offense might have turned a couple of them around. This move does that without really breaking the bank. You're upgrading... I assume Letestu is the odd man out... while dealing from a position of strength -- they can maybe give DeAngelo a crack or bring up Dylan DeMelo from the minors or even just lean on Kevin Bieksa a little more and not lose THAT much on defense. If Hayes pushes his line to a new level of production, I think that's a good deal.

And looking at DeAngelo... he's a throw-in, but a potentially interesting one. I know we have a lot of young D's because of how expansion played out and you can kind of lose track, but this guy looks like he could be more offense-oriented than the other guys, maybe run point on the power play in a few years. So maybe he brings a dynamic that some of those other guys like Pelech and DeMelo don't offer.

Sarah: I like the deal for the reasons you mention, but I have a few concerns. First, DeAngelo has to go through waivers to get back to the minors, so that kind of paints them into a corner for now. If DeAngelo or Bieksa can't replace Larsson adequately, they almost have to make another deal to clear a roster spot, don't they?

The other thing that worries me a little bit is that Larsson was probably the guy other teams around the league were most interested in. If this doesn't have the desired result and they need to go bigger at the deadline, is it going to turn out they gave away their biggest chip too early and missed some better opportunity as more teams become sellers?

Stu: The other way to look at it is they got a jump on the market. Maybe you wait until the deadline and you don't get Hayes either. I think identifying a need and getting something done is a win here.

Logan: But to Sarah's point. Let's say they need to add something more at the deadline. Where WOULD they go from there?

Sarah: Well, they still have lots of decent draft picks -- a first and THREE seconds. But the other thing they have lots of is cap room, so maybe they take on a contract that might be a pain point for some other team. I mean, they're around $13M under the cap already, and eyeballing their free agents, if you assume Hagelin, Rick Nash, and Del Zotto could be replaced with in-house options, that's another $10M right there. So flexibility to take on salary is their other big chip. I don't think you want to go too crazy because it's shaping up as a pretty good free agent class, and $20 or $25M could buy some serious talent upgrades, but if it's the difference between making the playoffs or not, there's room to get creative.

Logan: One move I thought of might be Bobby Ryan in Ottawa. He's a little pricy and OK, he's been hurt the last few years and isn't the 30-goal scorer he was when he was a kid. But he's possibly someone who could provide an incremental upgrade over Fast or Pitlick. Maybe try to get Ottawa to retain some of the salary, make his cap hit a little more befitting his role as a supporting player?

Stu: Bobby Ryan at $4M or $5M? Maybe. Bobby Ryan at 7 and a quarter? No thanks. Remember he's got like 4 more years left.

Brock: Well, it'll be fascinating to see how it all unfolds, but before we start making the next deal, let's see how this one goes. We'll get our first glimpse of that Friday when the Devils are in town.

Ed: just for book-keeping, stat lines at the time of the trade: Hayes 11-10-21, +1; DeAngelo 2-9-11, +1)

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Old 01-09-2019, 01:20 AM   #26
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Re: Third Time's The Charm(?) - Atlanta Firebirds

I think it sounds like a good deal.

Great report, good to read, sounded exactly how a sports edition would go.
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Old 01-09-2019, 12:43 PM   #27
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Re: Third Time's The Charm(?) - Atlanta Firebirds

Excellent write up.
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Old 01-10-2019, 01:31 PM   #28
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Re: Third Time's The Charm(?) - Atlanta Firebirds

February 2019: Kesler Injury Places Firebirds At Crossroads Near Trade Deadline



The good news is the Firebirds seemed to respond well to the Kevin Hayes trade. They started February with a 4-game win streak, and although they gave some of it back, they still finished the month a respectable 8-5-1, including an exciting 1-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, currently leading all of hockey in points.

The bad news: Ryan Kesler. Kesler suffered a concussion late in a month that -- after evaluation -- is going to put him out of action until late March. So the Firebirds will have to figure out how to handle their captain and leading scorer being on the shelf for most of their stretch drive. Try to add a body? Muddle through with the guys on hand? It's a tough call.

Also: idiot moment on my part. I realized the one-week break back in January is probably where the All-Star Game would sit in real life.

2/1 vs New Jersey – 3-1 W
After a scoreless first, the teams trade goals in the 2nd. But Perron starts the third period with a score less than a minute in, and Sbruev adds an insurance goal a few minutes later.

2/3 vs St. Louis – 2-1 W
Rick Nash scores with 7:45 left and Grubauer weathers 36 shots as the Firebirds get past the Blues. Sbruev scores the other Atlanta goal. On the downside, David Perron is injured and out for evaluation.

2/6 at Tampa Bay – 5-4 W (SO)
Darren Helm, filling in for the injured Perron, is the hero of the game, scoring once in regulation and scoring the game-winner in the shootout. Steve Stamkos scored a pair in the losing effort for Tampa; Atlanta’s four goals were a motley assortment – Fast, Smtih, Helm, and Hagelin. Also worth mentioning that I gave Tony DeAngelo his first start, giving Bieksa a day off.

Interesting deal offered by Arizona: Martinook, 2020 3rd and 2020 4th for 2019 3rd and 2020 3rd. If we pretend the 2020 3rds are roughly a push, it’d be Martinook (an expiring contract) for a chance to move up from 2020-4 to 2019-3. That’s not BAD but I’m going to hold off a little longer. In general, the pace of trade offers is picking up -- I'm pretty much getting one per day as we move toward the deadline.


2/6 at Las Vegas – 6-2 W
That's four in a row since the trade. This time, Atlanta chases Fleury from between the pipes with four third-period goals. Even though it was the final goal and not pivotal to the outcome, Kevin Hayes scores his first. We also get good news on Perron, as he’s only going to be out about a week with a sprained ankle.

2/8 vs Los Angeles – 1-0 L
The streak was bound to end some time. Atlanta only gives up one goal – Tyler Toffoli, about four minutes in -- but it’s not much help when Jonathan Quick stands on his head.

2/10 at New York Islanders – 5-1 L
Another weak offensive performance, only this time the other team scores in bunches. Tavares scores his 30th and 31st. Kesler scores the lone goal for the Firebirds.

2/12 at Colorado – 6-2 L
Jeez. Four game win streak, meet three-game losing streak! Colorado scores the game’s first three goals, and then adds two more after Sbruev gets Atlanta on the board for the first time. MackKinnon notches his 30th goal of the season for the Avalanche.

2/16 vs Philadelphia – 4-1 W
Surely the flailing Flyers are a recipe for breaking a streak, right? In a scoreless first period, the answer is “maybe not” but then the Firebirds rattle off four unanswered in the second period to stop the slide, a third-period tally by Philly notwithstanding.

Perron is due back, but he’ll be replaced on the injury list by Mirco Mueller. In the meantime, we get an interesting offer from Toronto. Our 3rd and 4th in 2020, and Eric Gustafsson (more of a spare body, though he’s had a good year in the minors) for Artem Zubov – a 19-year-old left wing with Elite potential (not fully scouted, 3 ticks). I think I’m going to take that one – Gustafsson isn’t a major piece, and Zubov is probably better than one of those two picks is going to be.


TRADE: Toronto gets D Eric Gustafsson, ATL 2020-3, and ATL 2020-4 for LW Artem Zubov.


2/18 vs Winnipeg – 2-1 L
Blake Wheeler scores on a botched clearance attempt in the 1st, and Mark Scheifele adds insurance in the second period. Alex Petrovic buries a slapper to make it 2-1 with about seven minutes left, and the Firebirds had chances down the stretch, but couldn’t quite get the equalizer.

2/20 vs Carolina – 3-2 W
It looked like the home fans were in for another disappointing snoozer, as Carolina carried a 1-0 lead into the third period. But then Perron and Cogliano scored third-period goals to pull ahead, and even after Carolina tied, Riley Nash put the game-winner home with 11:25 left.

2/21 vs Montreal – 3-1 L
There’s the letdown game that the Carolina game looked like it was going to be. Gallagher and Mete score first period goals, and then Shea Weber extends it to 3-0. Adam Lowry added a third-period afterthought, but the Firebirds never really got in gear.

2/23 vs Vancouver – 6-2 W
Ahhh, refreshing. The first period wasn’t too bad – a single goal by Riley Nash. But the second? Three unanswered: Hayes, Cogliano, and Rick Nash. Vancouver got a few goals in garbage time to make it look closer than it was, but a solid effort.

Bad news? Ryan Kesler is out until the end of MARCH with a concussion. Because losing your captain and best player for the final playoff push is really what you want to happen. I’m probably going to see how the next two games go and then decide at the deadline if I want to make any sort of major move.


2/24 vs Columbus – 1-0 W
Going up against one of the best teams in the league and a potential playoff foe is going to be an impressive test for the Firebirds, and a strong defensive effort gets it done. Early in the second, Craig Smith fires a one-timer from David Perron past Bobrovsky for his 13th goal of the season, and Philipp Grubauer makes it stand up.

2/27 vs Edmonton – 2-1 L (OT)
The final game of the month slips away in overtime. Ryan Strome and David Perron trade second period goals to account for all the regulation scoring, but Jujhar Khaira scores 2:03 into overtime to cost the Firebirds that second point.

And one more potential gut punch -- Rick Nash is being evaluated for a wrist injury. What's the only thing better than making a playoff push without your best player? Doing it without TWO of your best players!



MONTHLY SUMMARY

STANDINGS REPORT
MONTH: 8-5-1
YEAR-TO-DATE: 35-23-5, 75 points
DIVISION: Still in 3rd place, behind Toronto and Tampa, tied at 79. Things have separated a bit below, as it's Florida 72, Boston 71, and Buffalo 69.
CONFERENCE: Also the same as last month: still currently 5th in points. Columbus 83, Toronto 79, Tampa 79, Pittsburgh 77, Atlanta 75, Carolina 74, Florida 72, and New Jersey and Boston are tied at 71 for the 8 seed.

TEAM LEADERS

GOALS: Kesler 23, Rick Nash 17, Sbruev 17, Riley Nash 15, Perron 14
ASSISTS: Perron 31, Kesler 28, Fast 27, Sbruev 25, Murphy 24
POINTS: Kesler 51, Perron 45, Sbruev 42, Fast 40, (both Nashes) 37
PLUS-MINUS: Riley Nash 13, Petrovic 13, Smith 12, Djoos 12, Murphy 11.


ON THE FARM
As a team, the Birmingham Bandits sit at 36-19-7, 3rd behind Syracuse (40-18-4, 84 points) and Utica (37-18-8, 82 points). The top five scorers are Simon 47, Yakupov 45, Martinook 42, Bennett 36, and Froese 36. Simon leads the team in goals with 20; Yakupov leads in assists with 33 (and is just barely in the Top 10 league-wide). Linus Ullmark is still having a good year now that he's healthy. Stats line is 24-12-3, .923 save percentage, 1.93 GAA. He’s one of the league’s top goalies in the rate stats; he's still outside the Top 10 in wins because of how much time he missed early in the season.
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Old 01-10-2019, 01:45 PM   #29
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Re: Third Time's The Charm(?) - Atlanta Firebirds

February 2018: Around The League

I'm probably going to tone down the commentary in these updates and just post the figures unless something particularly jumps out or unless Atlanta players feature prominently.

STANDINGS


The Penguins might not be right -- there was a typo in the Excel sheet and I tried to correct it based on what I think it should be, but it could be off by a point or two. The notes I took last night say they had 77 points, but 35-20-8 makes 63 games and 78 points. I'm sure it'll come out in the wash next month.

LEAGUE LEADERS


Ovi was day-to-day with an injury when I was looking around, so that may have contributed to him falling out of the scoring lead (though he still leads in goals). I'll talk about trades separately, but note Max Pacioretty moving from Montreal to Minnesota. Also, LA having Doughty and Muzzin sitting 1-2 in plus-minus is kinda neat.

CALDER WATCH


Sbruev continues to make his case for the Calder, Svechnikov pushes past some of the other pretenders into a solid second, Filip Zadina becomes the newest 2018 draft pick to make noise, and Elias Pettersson still has weird defenseman numbers, but at least his total points are finally correct.
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Old 01-10-2019, 03:47 PM   #30
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Ugg down your two best players... Rooting for you..
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Old 01-11-2019, 12:07 AM   #31
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Re: Third Time's The Charm(?) - Atlanta Firebirds

Fire Brigade: Breaking Down The Trade Deadline

Cliff's Notes: I didn't get the deals I wanted, got a little flustered and made a few moves I'm not thrilled with. Won't sink the franchise, but also not making me all that excited, either.

Welcome to the Fire Brigade, your source for all the breaking news on your Atlanta Firebirds. I'm your host, Brock Whitney. As you know, the Birds hit a bit of a bump in the road this week as Ryan Kesler and Rick Nash both went down with injuries. Kesler is definitely going to be out for a while, and the medical staff is still evaluating Nash's wrist.

The moves we got were a little unexpected, as they almost decided to be buyers and sellers at the same time. On one hand, they sent 2nd round pick Filip Hallander to Buffalo to rent Jason Pominville, but then on the other hand, they traded away expiring contracts Jordan Martinook and Michael Del Zotto in separate deals.

We'll have our team of experts break all this down in a minute but first let's look at the deals. We have:
  • Filip Hallander, an 18-year-old center selected in the 2nd round this past year to Buffalo for RW Jason Pominville.
  • LW Jordan Martinook to the Tampa Bay Lightning for 22-year-old center Mitchell Stephens.
  • D Michael Del Zotto traded to Chicago for a 2020 3rd-round pick.

So, our panelists as always, Logan Marx, Stu Kennedy, and Sarah Shaw. The floor is open.

Stu: Oh boy. I am not happy with these moves. I don't know if it's inexperience in the front office, or they just don't have an overall strategy, or maybe we'll be charitable and assume the injuries caught them off guard, but I can't make heads or tails of these moves. Picking up Pominville seems like a smart move -- he gives you a veteran presence and he's probably a minor upgrade over Pitlick. I can see that. But what does sending Jordan Martinook to a division rival get you? And if you're trying to stay viable for the playoffs, why send Del Zotto packing? It's not like the salary was doing any harm, and he comes off the books at the end of the year.

Logan: Well, I agree that the Del Zotto move doesn't really fit with the rest of it. But if you take the other two moves as a package deal, it sort of makes sense. They probably weren't going to get Buffalo to do expiring contract for expiring contract, so you send them a prospect in Hallander, and then the Martinook trade recoups that for a guy that's maybe a little more NHL-ready. It's not a drastic upgrade, but at the edges, you move talent from the left wing where you're already pretty deep to the right wing where you need it more, and you get a prospect who's maybe a little closer to contributing. Does it single-handedly replace Kesler? I would say no. But it's something.

Sarah: I think the thinking on Del Zotto is twofold. First, they took a step back after the Artem Zubov trade and I think they weren't crazy about going from the 2nd round to the 5th in 2020. I don't think they regretted the trade itself, but they wanted to maybe close that pick gap. But I also think they wanted to start moving forward with DeMelo or Koekkoek or maybe give Olofsson one last chance before his contract expires after the year, to see if one of those guys can be a contributor.

Stu: Why are they worrying about the 2020 draft now? You need draft picks, go trade for some draft picks later. Right now, there's a playoff race going on.

Sarah: Sure, there's a playoff race. I do think you have to look at the big picture, though. At the end of the day, it's still an expansion team. It's exciting that they're competing, but they're still pouring the foundation, the cement is still wet. Maybe they didn't take a huge leap forward, but they also didn't disrupt things either. They didn't take on some other team's problem contracts, like we talked about with Bobby Ryan. They didn't give away their best draft picks, like Boston did to get Henrique from the Ducks. I do think there's a danger where if you go too far too fast, you undermine the long-term goals, and they didn't do that.

Brock: That's a good point, Sarah. Look at Vegas last year. They generated a lot of excitement with their playoff run, but then they took a step back this year. Did that early success interfere with their long-term building in ways that they didn't intend?

Stu: I don't think anyone roots against winning, Brock.

Logan: Come on, Stu, that's not what he meant. However, to your earlier point about inexperience and learning curve, I will say this. I do think, talking to my sources within the organization, that it's a fair criticism that the market moved faster than they anticipated. I think they were looking to wait as long as possible and put something together in the last day or two of the month, and a lot of other teams had already made their deals by then. I think a lesson for next year and beyond is to be a little more aggressive, maybe not wait until the last minute to get something done.

Brock: So what does the team on the ice look like in the wake of these deals?

Logan: Well, a lot of it is still fluid until we know more about Nash's situation. I know they're reluctant to send anyone through waivers, so for the moment, nobody has been sent down. They're just going to manage scratches as best they can for now. There's a little internal.... I wouldn't even call it disagreement, but some back and forth. Some people want to stick with Pitlick and keep Pominville as insurance against further injuries, but the more prevailing sentiment is "you went to the trouble to get this guy, might as well use him". We're also seeing some interesting things at center where Letestu and Helm are both getting work at center. We'll see how that shakes out.

As far as defense, I'm told DeMelo is day-to-day at Birmigham, but he probably gets the call-up when healthy. If he's going to be out for a while, they might go with Olofsson or Koekkoek instead. Again, there's a sense that whoever they bring up will probably be with the team the rest of the way because of waivers, so they're willing to take a day or two to make sure they make the right choice. Bieksa and DeAngelo will just hold down the fort until then.

Brock: Now that we've discussed things from Atlanta's perspective, let's bring back Sarah Shaw to give us a rundown of how things looked across the rest of the league. Sarah, who was making the big moves out there?

Sarah: Well, the single biggest name on the move was former Montreal Canadien Max Pacioretty, who went to Minnesota for a package that included Matt Dumba, along with pick-shuffling on both sides. Boston was probably the single biggest buyer, making separate deals with Anaheim for Adam Henrique and Patrick Eaves; and with New Jersey for center Brian Boyle and goaltender Keith Kinkaid. St. Louis also went big, grabbing Josh Bailey and Thomas Hickey from the Isles, and making a smaller deal with the Senators. San Jose grabbed Clayton Stoner from the Vegas Golden Knights. Ottawa and New Jersey were probably the most aggressive sellers out there, both making multiple deals. A few other teams got involved with smaller roster tweaks.

FULL TRADE LIST

Numbers in parens are age/OVR (as best I've scouted it), Potential.
  • 2/1 - Firebirds trade D Adam Larsson (26/83/T4) and LW Brandon Pirri (27/78/T9) to Rangers for C Kevin Hayes (26/82/T6) and D Tony DeAngelo (23/77/T4)
  • 2/6 - Kings trade D Markus Phillips (20/??/??) and their 2020 1st-round draft pick to Devils for LW Marcus Johnansson (28/83/T6), C Torrey Mitchell (34/76/B6) and New Jersey's 2020 3rd-round pick.
  • 2/8 - Coyotes trade D Andrej Sustr (28/81/T4) and a 3rd-round pick in 2019 (orig: CGY) to Flyers for LW Michael Raffl (30/77/B6), their 2nd-round pick in 2019, and two other draft picks.
  • 2/11 - Bruins trade their 2nd and 3rd round picks in 2019 to Devils for C Brian Boyle (34/80/T9) and G Keith Kinkaid (29/81/FS).
  • 2/14 - Wild trades D Matt Dumba (24/85/T4), their 2nd round pick in 2019, and two other draft picks to Canadiens for LW Max Pacioretty (30/82/Elite), Montreal's 2nd-round pick in 2020, and two other draft picks.
  • 2/14 - Blues trade C Ty Dellandrea (18/??/Elite) and their 4th round pick in 2020 to Senators for D Fredrik Claesson (26/80/T6) and Ottawa's 2nd and 3rd round picks in 2020.
  • 2/16 - Maple Leafs trade LW Artem Zubov (19/62/T6) to Firebirds for D Eric Gustafsson (30/78/7D) and the Firebirds' 3rd and 4th-round picks in 2020.
  • 2/17 - Blues trade C Jordan Kyrou (20/68/T9), C Robert Thomas (19/??/B6) and their first-round pick in 2020 to Islanders for LW Josh Bailey (29/85/T6) and D Thomas Hickey (30/82/T4).
  • 2/18 - Panthers trade RW Jamie McGinn (30/77/T9) and a 4th-round pick in 2020 to Senators for LW Alexandre Burrows (37/77/B6) and a 3rd-round pick in 2019 (orig: PIT)
  • 2/19 - Oilers trade their 2nd and 4th-round picks in 2020 to Canucks for D Carl Gunnarsson (32/84/T4) and the Canucks' 2nd and 4th round picks in 2020.
  • 2/19 - Panthers trade D Brandon Davidson (27/78/T6), a 3rd-round pick in 2019 (orig: PIT), and their 7th-round pick in 2020 to Stars for RW Chris DiDomenico (30/78/T9) and the Stars' 3rd-round pick in 2020.
  • 2/21 - Bruins trade RW Zach Senyshyn (22/77/T6) and their 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020 to Ducks for C Adam Henrique (29/84/T6) and RW Patrick Eaves (34/80/B6).
  • 2/24 - Hurricanes trade C Matt Cullen (42/77/B6), C Vaclav Skuhravy (40/76/B6), and their 3rd round pick in 2020 to Devils for Ben Lovejoy (35/79/T6) and the Devils' 4th-round pick in 2020.
  • 2/24 - Sharks trade LW Rudolfs Balcers (21/74/B6) and D Jeremy Roy (21/76/Elite) to Golden Knights for D Clayton Stoner (34/79/T6), D Brad Hunt (30/76/7D), and a 2nd round pick in 2020 (orig: PIT).
  • 2/26 - Canadiens trade C Markus Kruger (28/79/B6) and a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (orig: MIN) to Flames for LW Michael Ferland (26/81/T6) a 2020 3rd round pick, and two other draft picks.
  • 2/27 - Penguins trade C Linus Olund (21/58/B6), and their 3rd and 4th round picks in 2020 to Flyers or LW Michael Mersch (26/71/B6) and the Flyers 3rd-round pick in 2020.
  • 3/1 - Firebirds trade C Filip Hallander (18/61/T9) to Sabres for RW Jason Pominville (36/80/T9).
  • 3/1 - Firebirds trade LW Jordan Martinook (26/78/T9) to Lightning for c Mitchell Stephens (22/74/T9).
  • 3/1 - Firebirds trade D Michael Del Zotto (28/79/T6) to Blackhawks for a 3rd-round pick in 2020.

Last edited by PFellah; 01-12-2019 at 10:24 AM.
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Old 01-13-2019, 07:07 AM   #32
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Re: Third Time's The Charm(?) - Atlanta Firebirds

March 2019: Birds Soar Into Playoffs, Catch Toronto For Atlantic Lead



The month starts with the roster in weird shape. Kesler out for a while. Rick Nash out for... who knows? Down to six defensemen, but would rather ride it out because DeMelo is the guy I want to bring him up, but he's day-to-day and I can't promote him because he's injured. The CPU and I can't reach an agreeement on whether Pominville is really an upgrade on Pitlick. Let's get to work.

3/2 at Dallas – 3-2 W (SO)
The retooled Firebirds start March with a scrappy shootout win in Dallas. The visitors fall behind 2-1 but Mark Letestu gets the equalizer early in the third and Jesper Fast wins it in the shootout.

Between games, we got a bit of good news on Rick Nash; turns out he’ll only be out a few more days – the 7th, specifically. We can hang on that long. DeMelo will also be back shortly, so we’ll try to plow with six defensemen until he’s ready for a callup.

3/5 vs Ottawa – 4-3 W (SO)
Despite being out of contention, Ottawa proves to be surprisingly feisty, but the Firebirds eventually come out on top. The Sens roll up a 3-0 lead by the early stages of the 2nd, before the Firebirds get things going, but then Lowry, Healthy Nash, and Lowry again get it back. Craig Smith provides the difference maker in penalty shots.

We’ve got a stretch coming up against the league’s elite – Nashville, Washington, Toronto, and Chicago are our next four – so this is the right time to get Rick Nash back. The CPU chooses Darren Helm as the odd man out, and I have no reason to dispute that. Though the CPU favors Pitlick over Pominville, and I kinda want to play the rental acquisition.

3/7 at Nashville – 3-2 L (SO)
Twice the Firebirds took leads on the Predators (including a shorthanded goal by Craig Smith), but they could never get that extra insurance goal, and twice the Predators answered back. Atlanta even had a chance to win in OT as Perron had wide open net on a rebound but couldn’t lift the puck over a sprawled-on-the-ice Pekka Rinne’s pad. Filip Forsberg scored the only goal of the shootout for the Nashville win.

3/8 vs Washington – 5-1 W
Washington puts backup Pheonix Copley in net and the Firebirds take fuil advantage, putting 38 shots on the rookie. Perron and Smith stake the Birds to a 2-0 first-period lead, and three goals in the third make it the margin more comfortable.

3/10 at Toronto – 6-3 W
Toronto is one of the league’s best teams and Frederik Andersen is one of the league’s best goalies, but tonight, they got absolutely shelled. HATS OFF to David Perron, who scores the first hat trick in team history (and hit the pipes on a 4th); Hayes, DeAngelo, and Riley Nash also scored. Wide open offense on both sides as the Leafs put 44 shots on Grubauer.

And before our next game, reinforcements arrive from the minors as Dylan DeMelo, Scourge Of The Trade Block, gets the call from Birmingham. He’ll wear #74 and start on the third pair with Tony DeAngelo. THE KILLER De’S!

3/12 at Chigago – 4-1 L
Win #40 on the season is a doozy. OK, I’m not sure how to process this. 5-0-1 for the month against (mostly) the best teams in the league… without Ryan Kesler. Hayes, Pominville (his first point, I believe), Riley Nash, and Fast with the goals. Duncan Keith scored with 4:41 left in the game to spoil the shutout. (NOTE: I’m realizing I forgot to look at Pominville’s stats in the immediate wake of his trade, and if the game has splits, I haven’t seen ‘em, soI’ll allow 11 G 22 A as the closest thing to a starting point. It’s not like he’s going to go off for 30 and end up in the league leaders anyway.)

Between games, Nashville waives defenseman Paul LaDue. On one hand, I could use the organizational depth after the deals I made, and I have salary cap space. On the other hand, not sure I need to tie up 3 years @ $1.325M for a guy who’s pretty much done growing and whose ceiling appears to be roster filler. I’d rather have my filler either have room to grow, or shorter contracts.

3/15 at Minnesota – 2-1 W
Minnesota did add Max Pacioretty to give them some scoring punch, but it doesn’t help them here as Grubby turns back 35 of 36 shots. Riley Nash and Fast score in the first and the Firebirds coast from there.

3/17 at Anaheim – 3-1 W
KEEP ‘EM COMING. Cogliano and Kerdiles trade goals in the 1st but Lowry and Smith add insurance.

Draft rankings? You’re bothering me with this NOW?

3/18 vs Buffalo – 3-2 L
Ah well. Had to end some time. Zemgus Girgensons scores with 4:19 left to hand Atlanta its first defeat of the month. Hayes gets his 19th and Cogliano his 14th in the losing effort. At least it wasn't Hallander scoring the game-winner?

3/22 vs Florida – 3-2 L
Back to back losses. Colton Sceviour gives Florida the lead they’ll never relinquish early in the second, and Aleksander Barkov adds an insurance goal early in the third. Tony DeAngelo gets one back a few minutes after Barkov's, but the equalizer never comes.

A few days earlier than advertised, KESLER’S BACK! Of course, robbing Peter to pay Paul, Craig Smith goes down with an injury, so we’re still not at full strength. For the moment, just means Pominville and Pitlick both get to play.

3/24 at Calgary – 3-1 W
Exciting finish as Jesper Fast scores with 51 seconds left, and Kevin Hayes adds an empty-netter to provide some cushion.

3/25 vs New York Rangers – 3-2 W
Atlanta rolls out to a 3-0 lead and things are looking good. But the Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich scores a pair (24 and 25 on the season) in the second period to put the Rangers back in the hunt. However defense (on both sides wins out down the stretch) and 3-2 stands up as the final margin.

Craig Smith will be out a few more games (broken nose – April 1) and Alex Petrovic joins him on the shelf with a sore knee (April 4). Neither represents a crisis, just means Pitlick and Bieksa (respectively) will get a few starts.


3/28 at San Jose – 4-2 W
The Firebirds are OFFICIALLY headed for the post-season. DeMelo and Perron score within the first five minutes, and after the Sharks’ Tierney cuts the lead to 2-1, Djoos and Fast score late in Period 2 to restore a margin of safety. At 96 points, they can fall no further than 3rd place, so.... they're in.

And ohbytheway Craig Smith is already back. Don't want to complain about a positive development, but our team doctor needs to work on his estimates.

3/29 at Pittsburgh – 3-2 L (SO)
Ryan Kesler picks a dramatic time to score his first goal since returning, scoring with 42 seconds left to tie the game and send it to overtime. But the Pens’ Olli Maata proves to be the unlikely hero of the shootout, forcing the Firebirds to leave town with one point instead of two.

So there it is. The single biggest development is making the playoffs, but we've also caught up to Toronto for the division lead. The month ends with us and Toronto at 97 points, and Tampa Bay at 96, and then a BIG jump to the rest of the field, meaning we'll finish somewhere between 1st and 3rd. The last five games are all about seeding, but we'll look at the playoff picture more in a separate note.

MONTHLY SUMMARY

STANDINGS REPORT
MONTH: 10-2-2
YEAR-TO-DATE: 45-25-7, 97 points
DIVISION: Division: TIED for first with Toronto. Tampa sits one point back at 96, but then there’s a big drop off – Florida 85, Boston 84, Buffalo 81. Montreal 80. Clinched a Top 3 finish, so we’re definitely going to the playoffs.
CONFERENCE: : 4th overall in points, but tied with Toronto. Columbus 104, Pittsburgh 102, Toronto 97, Atlanta 97, Tampa Bay 96, Carolina 89, Islanders 88, Panthers 85. ITPST, we would host Tampa Bay.

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS: Perron 60, Kesler 55, Fast 52, Rick Nash 46, Sbruev 46
GOALS: Kesler 24, Rick Nash 20, Hayes 20 (9 for us), Perron 19, Riley Nash 18, Fast 18, Sbruev 18
ASSISTS: Perron 41, Fast 34, Kesler 31, Sbruev 28, Riley Nash 27
PLUS-MINUS: Djoos 22, Petrovic 17, Riley Nash 14, Murphy 13, Perron 11.


ON THE FARM
Birmingham hasn’t clinched a playoff spot but are sitting in 2nd in their division and 4th in the Eastern conference. Nail Yakupov moved in front of Dominik Simon for the team scoring lead, 63-60, but Simon still leads the team in goals with 25. Ullmark’s rate stats have dipped a little – I’d probably blame trading Gustafsson and calling up DeMelo more than Ullmark’s innate talent level.
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