Ranking the best (and worst) divisions in the NHL

Despite the fact that the Eastern Conference now has a newly minted respectable division – the resoundingly revamped Southeast – the Western Conference still reigns supreme. Yet ESPN’s Scott Burnside decided to take the conference debate a step further and instead ranked the NHL’s six divisions from first (the rough and tumble Central) to last (the somewhat hopeless Northeast) in this column. Here are a few observations, with Burnside’s findings in bold and teams listed in order of their rankings as of today.

(For the record, I agree with his rankings.)

1. Central Division (Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus)

2. Pacific Division (Dallas, Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose)

I was leaning toward the Pacific, but Burnside makes a good point that the Central division includes two of the last three Stanley Cup winners (not to mention the last three finalists for the West) in Detroit and Chicago. They also have the best team of the 10 in Detroit.

After the top teams, I might like some of the Pacific depth teams a bit more from a talent perspective, although the Kings and Ducks are in a free fall right now.

3. Atlantic Division (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, N.Y. Rangers, N.Y. Islanders, New Jersey)

The Atlantic includes two teams that are serious Cup contenders as well the Rangers, a scrappy bunch who just beat the top team in the NHL last night (that would be Vancouver). Yet they also house the two worst teams in the league, so middle of the pack seems reasonably fair.

4. Southeast Division (Tampa Bay, Washington, Atlanta, Carolina, Florida)

Fourth place might seem like an insult, but the Southeast was once just the Capitals, two awful teams and the hot-and-cold Hurricanes. In other words, they were probably the worst division in the league. Two spots is a solid jump.

5. Northwest Division (Vancouver, Colorado, Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton)

The Northwest includes the best team in the NHL and the flawed but fun Avalanche, but their bottom three teams leave much to be desired. The Wild and Flames seem like they’re stuck in neutral while the Oilers are still in dress rehearsal mode with their band of youngsters.

6. Northeast Division (Boston, Montreal, Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa)

It’s tough to argue with this choice. Ottawa and Toronto are mostly horrible. Buffalo is paying dearly for relying too heavily upon Ryan Miller after his super 2010-11 season. Even their two best teams are a little limited offensively, although the Bruins are showing signs of developing into a serious Cup contender.

PHT Morning Skate: Crosby would ‘love to’ be a goalie for a game

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Sidney Crosby has accomplished so much in his career, but there’s still one thing he wants to cross off his bucket list. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Crosby admitted that he’d like to be a goalie for a game. “I’d love to play one game in the NHL (as a goalie). We’ll see. There’s still some time left if it ever came down to it. I’d love to get that.” Just a hunch, but I don’t think the Pens would go for that. (Top-4:20 mark)

–The Score looks at three 2017 draft prospects that will have the most long-term value to their respective teams. The first two picks of the draft are on the list, but the third name may surprise you. (The Score)

–As you may remember, Connor McDavid took an awkward looking picture with two strangers hugging him pretty tight. The picture, which took place at an airport, immediately went viral. Now, McDavid explained exactly how everything unfolded. Well, that story is pretty stupid. I was walking into the security line and I had actually walked past them. And then they say ‘hey Connor can we get a picture?’ and I say ‘sure’ and sure enough they come up to me and start hugging me. (Yahoo)

–Devils beat reporter Chris Ryan sat down for a Q&A with top pick Nico Hischier, who has a pretty busy summer ahead of him. “I’ll go back (o Switzerland) and practice and do my workouts every day, then I’ll come for Development Camp, and they’ll sit together and tell me what I still need, what I need to improve. Then I’ll go back again and work on those things.” (NJ.com)

–Speaking of Hischier, did you know that he didn’t start playing hockey full time until he was 12 years old? That’s only six years ago. “What you’re looking at is a guy who has a big upside and isn’t even close to reaching the ceiling,” Devils head coach John Hynes said. (New York Times)

 –Kyle Beach was selected 11th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2008. Unfortunately for Beach, he never made it to the NHL and he still isn’t over that. “Whenever you get as close as I did and don’t make it, there are going to be a lot of questions that never can be answered. I was a player growing up who never had to work that hard because I was always a top player. It was a rude awakening. Could I have been more prepared? Absolutely.” (Chicago Tribune)

Video: Crosby to Dan Patrick – Subban fight ‘wasn’t as bad as it looked’

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Listerine, the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and a growing rivalry. Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban battled it out at the highest level not so long ago, but some of that action looked worse than it actually was.

At least, that’s the message Crosby sent on “The Dan Patrick Show,” as you can enjoy in the clip above.

As a bonus, Crosby also discussed his favorite Stanley Cup traditions – hey, there can be traditions when something happens three times – and how Mario Lemieux inspires some especially creative ideas:

Rebuild on hold? Red Wings reportedly eye Girardi, Hainsey, Daley

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For the first time in ages, the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. To some, the sliver lining was that this might send a message to management to truly commit to a rebuild.

Perhaps GM Ken Holland & Co. aren’t quite ready for that.

Look, one or even a couple of potential free agent signings won’t disqualify the Red Wings from going younger. Still, the rumored defensemen they’re targeting aren’t exactly spring chickens.

Three names floating out there are Trevor Daley, Dan Girardi, and Ron Hainsey.

Daley was mentioned by The Athletic’s Craig Custance, MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, and the Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James. Khan and Custance both mention Hainsey and Girardi, too.

Even in one-case mentions, the “veteran” theme continues, with Brian Campbell‘s name coming up while forward Thomas Vanek seems like at least a remote possibility to return to Detroit.

Let’s look at the ages of the defensemen mentioned, noting that Daley is older than some might have expected.

Daley – 33
Girardi – 33
Hainsey – 36
Campbell – 38

In the case of Daley and Girardi, you could also argue that each blueliner also has a lot of “mileage” for their age. Girardi, in particular, plays the sort of grinding, shot-blocking style that might have accelerated his troubles with the Rangers.

As great as experience might be, even for a “final push,” this sends a troubling signal. In Mike Green (31), Jonathan Ericsson (33), and Niklas Kronwall (36), the Red Wings already have an aging group of defensemen. Kronwall and Ericsson are dealing with injuries that may hinder them for the remainder of their careers, too.

When you also note that Holland exposed 25-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek instead of 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, the picture isn’t especially pretty.

Maybe the Red Wings can have their cake (push for a playoff rebound) and eat it too (start to transition to youth), yet it’s not necessarily the aggressive move toward a rebuild that many likely hoped to see.

At least there’s time for Holland to prove these early worries wrong.

Note: In other Red Wings news, the team signed Ben Street to a one-year extension.

Blue Jackets sign Schroeder after trading for him

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Not long after acquiring him in a minor trade from the Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed Jordan Schroeder to a two-year contract.

The team confirms that it is a two-way deal for 2017-18 and then becomes one-way in 2018-19.

Schroeder is guaranteed $350K for the first year of that contract and then $650K in 2018-19, according to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

The 22nd pick of the 2009 NHL Draft receives a fitting contract: he’s been a “tweener,” bouncing around the NHL and AHL. He hasn’t been able to make much of an impact, Schroeder at least provides some organizational depth.

That could come in handy, as Portzline indicates that Sam Gagner – not so surprisingly – is expected to garner a lot more attention this time around in free agency. Perhaps Schroeder could serve as insurance for Gagner?