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Let the nitpicking begin: The first batch of NHL 12 player ratings are out

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Searching for (and then critiquing) the latest player ratings is a time-honored tradition for hockey fans ever since real-life hockey stars first appeared in video games. Normally, that’s something that you would do shortly after opening up the game, but thanks to Operation Sports, you won’t have to wait until the September 13 release date to gripe about Sidney Crosby being the highest rated skater at 94.

The sports gaming Web site revealed NHL 12’s ratings for skaters as well as the full team and legends ratings today. You can pour over every minute (if outdated) detail on those rosters at your leisure, but I thought I’d point out the each teams’ top three skaters – as in forwards and defensemen, not goalies – that were revealed in that post.

Before getting into the list of 30 teams’ highest rated skaters and legends, here are a few reactions.

  • Aside from the Blues, Panthers and Coyotes, just about every team has a borderline “star” (87 rating or above) player. That doesn’t always seem fair, but it could make the game more fun since the playing field might be a bit more even.
  • Still, I must admit I let out an audible “Wow” when I saw Dustin Byfuglien’s rating. Some might feel the same way about Phil Kessel, Erik Johnson, Jeff Carter and so on.
  • How can a legend be rated an 85?
  • Look, I know Marian Gaborik is ultra-talented and that games aren’t required to factor injuries as much as maybe they should but … is he really better than Brad Richards?

OK, now that I have my own knee-jerk reactions out of the way, let’s get cracking.

A couple notes first: These rosters are obviously a bit outdated (example: Alex Frolov is on the Rangers’ roster instead of in the KHL), so it’s quite possible that EA will release an immediate roster update that might change this quite a bit. That being said, player ratings often remain static through frequent updates, only to see drastic changes in certain situations.

There are a few teams with an extra player rating mentioned for your own aggravation/amusement. Legends ratings are listed at the end of this post. Finally, there are some ties for third place, so consult this link for a deeper look at those rosters.

Anaheim

Ryan Getzlaf – 91
Corey Perry – 90
Bobby Ryan – 89

Boston

Zdeno Chara – 91
David Krejci – 87
Milan Lucic – 87

Buffalo

Derek Roy – 88
Thomas vanek – 88
Jason Pominville – 87

(Ville Leino – 82)

Calgary

Jarome Iginla – 90
Alex Tanguay – 85
Jay Bouwmeester  84

Carolina

Eric Staal – 90
Joni Pitkanen – 84
Tomas Kaberle – 84

(Jeff Skinner – 83)

Chicago

Jonathan Toews – 91
Marian Hossa – 89
Patrick Kane – 89

(Duncan Keith – 89)

Colorado

Paul Stastny – 87
Erik Johnson – 87
Matt Duchene – 84

Columbus

Rick Nash – 89
Jeff Carter – 87
Kristian Huselius – 84

Dallas

Loui Eriksson – 87
Brenden Morrow – 87
Alex Goligoski – 85

Detroit

Pavel Datsyuk – 93
Henrik Zetterberg – 91
Nicklas Lidstrom – 88

Edmonton

Ales Hemsky – 87
Ryan Whitney – 85
Shawn Horcoff – 84

Florida

Stephen Weiss – 85
Brian Campbell – 84
David Booth – 84

Los Angeles

Anze Kopitar – 88
Drew Doughty – 88
Mike Richards – 87

Minnesota

Mikko Koivu – 88
Dany Heatley – 88
Devin Setoguchi – 84

Montreal

Michael Cammalleri – 87
Andrei Markov – 87
Tomas Plekanec – 87

Nashville

Shea Weber – 89
Ryan Suter – 87
Sergei Kostitsyn – 83

New Jersey

Ilya Kovalchuk – 91
Zach Parise – 91
Travis Zajac – 85

NY Islanders

Mark Streit – 87
John Tavares – 87
Michael Grabner – 83

NY Rangers

Marian Gaborik – 89
Brad Richards – 88
Marc staal – 85

Ottawa

Jason Spezza – 88
Sergei Gonchar – 85
Daniel Alfredsson – 84

Philadelphia

Chris Pronger – 90
Danny Briere – 87
Claude Giroux – 87

(Jaromir Jagr – 83)

Phoenix

Shane Doan – 85
Keith Yandle – 84
Rostislav Klesla – 83

Pittsburgh

Sidney Crosby – 94
Evgeni Malkin – 91
Kris Letang – 85

San Jose

Joe Thornton – 91
Patrick Marleau – 88
Dan Boyle – 87

St. Louis

David Backes – 85
Barrett Jackman – 84
Andy McDonald – 84

Tampa Bay

Steven Stamkos – 91
Martin St. Louis – 89
Vincent Lecavalier – 88

Toronto

Phil Kessel – 87
Dion Phaneuf – 85
Luke Schenn – 84

Vancouver

Sedin twins – 91
Ryan Kesler – 88

Washington

Alex Ovechkin – 93
Nicklas Backstrom – 87
Alex Semin – 87

(Mike Green – 87)

Winnipeg

Dustin Byfuglien – 87
Andrew Ladd – 85
Nik Antropov – 85

Legends

Mario Lemieux – 97
Wayne Gretzky – 97
Steve Yzerman – 92
Ray Bourque – 91
Gordie Howe – 91
Chris Chelios – 89
Jeremy Roenick – 88
Borje Salming – 85

***

If you ask me, EA made the smart move by giving Lemieux and Gretzky the same rating. Anyway, how do you feel about these initial ratings? Feel free to share your reactions in the comments.

(H/T to On the Forecheck.)

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.

Capitals bump Todd Reirden up to associate coach

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals announced that Todd Reirden (pictured) was promoted from assistant to associate coach on Monday.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, most directly, the team shared word that he’ll run Capitals training camp while Barry Trotz works with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Giving Reirden a promotion makes sense, as he’s been linked to some head coaching searches. The Washington Post compiled some of his opportunities:

In the past two years, Reirden has been a serious candidate for two NHL head-coaching gigs. According to the Calgary Sun, Reirden was a finalist to coach the Flames before they settled on Glen Gulutzan, and he was considered for the New Jersey Devils’ vacancy last summer, too. Lane Lambert, another Capitals assistant, was a finalist for the Colorado Avalanche head-coaching job earlier this month, according to the Denver Post.

The Capitals have a pretty well-regarded coaching group, as many credit goaltending coach Mitch Korn with some of Braden Holtby‘s improvement since Trotz took over.

Maybe we’ll see Reirden and Lambert get head coaching gigs at some point, but for now, Trotz’s “coaching tree” stays intact.

Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

“All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.

Win now, worry later: Why the Lightning should go all-in

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

The Chicago Blackhawks employed some great teams in winning three championships so far during the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane era, but there was something special about that first group.

For one thing, Toews and Kane were playing out the final years of their entry-level contracts. Those CBA-powered savings gave the Blackhawks a surplus of players who would eventually be too expensive to retain, most notably Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell.

That fantastic group never faced elimination during an overpowering run to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

Thanks to deft maneuvering by GM Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks were able to reload and put together other strong supporting casts even after big losses, and that could be a profound lesson for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It might be tempting for the Bolts to merely keep their window open as long as possible. Instead, they should take a big swing in 2016-17 and then trust management to recover from any fallout.

Bishop’s expiring contract

The safe move would be to trade away some of the expiring contracts on Tampa Bay’s roster instead of risking getting nothing when they leave.

Many believe that Ben Bishop is on his way out. With one year left on a contract that carries about a $6 million cap hit and Andrei Vasilevskiy getting the Jake Allen-style “you’re the man” extension, it seems like a matter of time.

Keeping Bishop around for one more season might just pay off, though.

For one thing, Vasilevskiy’s shown signs of brilliance, yet his current NHL numbers aren’t overwhelmingly strong. Bishop, meanwhile, kept the Bolts afloat during some tough times in 2015-16.

Even if the Lightning feel like Vasy is the guy, what if he gets hurt? They’ve already seen goalies get injured at inopportune times, and the reigning champion Penguins provide another reminder.

(For more on the Bishop situation, click here.)

Win low, worry later

GM Steve Yzerman deserves ample credit for signing Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to relative bargain deals, but those are still expensive contracts. The squeeze is coming.

That said, the Lightning may want to identify their own Byfugliens and Ladds and go for broke in 2016-17. Let’s not forget how close they were to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance even with Stamkos on the shelf.

It’s tough to imagine the Bolts managing to keep all of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine many opponents managing to contain an attack that features Stamkos, Johnson, Palat, Drouin and other dangerous attackers.

(Plus, another year of evaluation would give Yzerman time to determine who is truly a core member.)

***

It’s a challenging situation, but the Lightning easily rank alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and maybe a few other select teams as the cream of the East crop.

They’re positioned to jostle with the elites for some time, but why not take their best shot in 2016-17 and then make the best of things later on?

Sometimes the difference between really good and truly great comes down to having the courage to make these tough calls.