PHT’s Season Preview: 30 questions, 180 answers

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We made a list of 30 questions ahead of the 2013-14 NHL season, then we tried to answer those questions. Enjoy:

1. Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, or Alex Ovechkin: Who will have the best season, with individual and team success taken into account?

Jason Brough: Crosby. Assuming he can stay healthy, he’s the best player of the three, on the best team of the three.

Mike Halford: Crosby. Plenty of motivation after losing the Hart to Ovechkin (Ovi now leads Sid 3-1 in that category) and another disappointing playoff exit.

Joe Yerdon: Crosby, and it won’t be close unless he’s injured again. He was on a record pace last year before his jaw got smashed.

Ryan Dadoun: Sidney Crosby. His injury history is obviously a concern, but if he can finally stay healthy, then he could surpass his career high of 120 points.

James O’Brien: At some point, Crosby has to shake his Forsbergian injury luck, so why not 2013-14? This team is loaded and Sid remains almost unstoppable.

Cam Tucker: Alex Ovechkin. He’ll be extra motivated to have a good season in part because the Olympics are in Russia.

2. The biggest worry for the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks is…

JB: Motivation. Some of them struggled with it last time they won the Cup. One of the many reasons repeat champions have been rare.

MH: Getting worn down. One, this was an unusually short offseason. Two, almost all their key players look to figure prominently in the Olympics. And three, they’re the champs. Everybody’s going to be gunning for them.

JY: The Los Angeles Kings. The Blues will knock them around in the division, but the Kings are built to win the Cup again as well.

RD: Whether or not their young complimentary players can perform as advertised to give them a solid bottom six and, to a lesser extent, general fatigue.

JO: Injuries. Marian Hossa is the most obvious example, but the 2013 run put tough miles on everyone.

CT: Health. With an even shorter offseason than normal, the wear of last season’s playoff run may still take its toll early on.

3. True or false: the Red Wings have a better chance to win the Cup than the Senators. (A.k.a. was Daniel Alfredsson right?)

JB: True. The biggest concern remains the defense, but it grew leaps and bounds last season, thanks to a masterful coaching job from Mike Babcock.

MH: True, based purely on experience. The likes of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and Kronwall know what it takes to win a Cup; Ottawa’s talented, but lacks the veteran know-how.

JY: Can I say “push?” No? I’ll say true then, as they return a team that was a win away from beating Chicago.

RD: Neither team strikes me as much more than a second-round squad this season. If I had to pick though, I’d go with Detroit; the presence of Alfredsson is the thing that tips the scales.

JO: True, but by a very slim margin.

CT: True. Ottawa will be tough in the East, but the Sens don’t yet have players on their roster with that championship experience.

4. Of all the teams that missed the playoffs last season, the most likely to make the playoffs this season is…

JB: Philly. Too many good players on the Flyers, and I have more confidence in Ray Emery than I had in Ilya Bryzgalov.

MH: Dallas, which greatly improved its two main areas of need — defense and center. The Stars will also benefit from new head coach Lindy Ruff, who has nearly 600 career wins.

JY: It’s hard to not like the Oilers for this role. Yes, early injuries, but that youth has to evolve eventually…right?

RD: The Philadelphia Flyers. They have so much talent and I think their goaltending will be less of an issue this season.

JO: New Jersey. Losing Ilya Kovalchuk hurts a lot, but this team was better than its record in 2013 and added some enticing pieces, especially Cory Schneider.

CT: Hard to imagine the Flyers missing the playoffs again, although with goalies like Ray Emery and Steve Mason, making them is no guarantee.

source: Getty Images

5. The Edmonton Oilers have the longest playoff drought in the NHL, at seven straight seasons. Will they finally make it this year?

JB: Yes. So long as they can tread water early in the season with Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the sidelines.

MH: Nope. Still too many question marks on the blueline and, perhaps more pressingly, in goal. Devan Dubnyk’s never won more than 20 games in a single season.

JY: Looks like I just answered this question. Yes, they’ll make it as the fourth seed in the Pacific Division.

RD: No, but they’ll be close. They still have depth and defensive issues to work through.

JO: No. Big injuries to start and will probably struggle defensively.

CT: Yes. Young crop of talented forwards is augmented by an improved group of veteran players. Time to take the next step.

6. Of all the teams that made the playoffs last season, the most likely to miss the playoffs is…

JB: Anaheim. It’ll be a long fall for the Ducks, from second in the West to out of the top eight.

MH: Toronto. Last year feels like it was a bit of smoke and mirrors, as the Leafs were routinely out-possessed and had unsustainable shooting percentages.

JY: I’m coming out of left field here a bit and saying Anaheim. Their defense is nerve-racking. Luckily they can score a bit.

RD: The New York Islanders. Losing Mark Streit hurts and I’m not sure how much longer Evgeni Nabokov can be heavily leaned on.

JO: The Isles. There’s a lot to like about what Garth Snow is building, but it looks like they’re sleeping on goaltending until Brooklyn.

CT: Montreal Canadiens. There is an awful lot riding on goaltender Carey Price, who didn’t have the best season in 2013.

7. Will the Toronto Maple Leafs make it back to the playoffs?

JB: Yes, they’ll sneak in. Two capable goalies makes it doubly possible one of them gets hot.

MH: No. See above.

JY: They’re close. They could be the team that steals a spot from the Metropolitan Division. Right now, I’m leaning towards no.

RD: Just barely, but yes. I didn’t like much of what they did this summer, but I like their goaltending a lot and I think their offensive core is solid.

JO: Despite a circus-like offseason, my gut says Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf contract years will squeeze this odd bunch in.

CT: Yes. After the disappointment of collapsing in Game 7 of the first round against Boston, they’ll be hungrier to prove they belong in the postseason.

8. The worst team in the NHL will be…

JB: Everyone’s going to say Calgary, so I’ll say Nashville. How is this team going to score?

MH: Calgary. Did anybody answer differently?

JY: The Calgary Flames, and it won’t even be close.

RD: The Calgary Flames. At least they’ve taken steps to build for the future.

JO: Calgary.

CT: The Tampa Bay Lightning. This isn’t a bad thing. Finishing at the bottom gives them more of a chance at selecting first overall in 2014.

9. The winner of the Presidents’ Trophy will be…

JB: Chicago. I said earlier that the ‘Hawks may struggle with motivation, but I meant more in the playoffs, when the intensity really picks up and prices have to be paid.

MH: The Blues. Ken Hitchcock has racked up the regular season wins (.670 winning percentage) since coming to St. Louis in 2011. Expect that trend to continue.

JY: Chicago Blackhawks. They’re still the team to beat and still have a ridiculously loaded roster.

RD: The Chicago Blackhawks. It helps that the Central Division is, in my mind, the weakest in the NHL.

JO: The super-deep Blues, at least if they can hold off Chicago in a cozier version of the Central Division.

CT: The Pittsburgh Penguins. Too much talent and it will come to the forefront as the season progresses. But the Penguins are judged by playoff performances.

10. The biggest wildcard team (i.e. could be good, could be awful) in the NHL is…

JB: Edmonton. So much talent there, but we said that last year, didn’t we? The “we’re too young” excuse has expired.

MH: Ottawa. There’s potential for the Jason Spezza-Bobby Ryan combo to rack up huge numbers…but it’s also possible Alfie’s departure is too much to overcome.

JY: Montreal. Does Carey Price bounce back? How does their defense hold up? Do their young forwards improve? I like them, but I wouldn’t throw money on them.

RD: Columbus. I don’t have a ton of confidence in Sergei Bobrovsky being better than solid, but if he plays like he did in the second half of the 2013 campaign, they could be good.

JO: Colorado. That offense could be deep and explosive but the D remains porous and their goalies are a huge coin flip.

CT: Columbus. Narrowly missed playoffs in lockout-shortened 2013. But that that Metropolitan Division appears highly competitive.

source: Getty Images

11. True or false: Roberto Luongo will prove he’s still an elite goalie in the NHL.

JB: False. For me, elite is in Vezina Trophy consideration, so this isn’t a huge slap in the face. He’ll probably be above average. I’m just not loving the vibe in Vancouver these days.

MH: True. Luongo will get massive playing time this year as there’s literally nobody challenging him (all apologies to Eddie Lack). Could be like his first season in Vancouver, when he played a career-high 76 games and earned a Vezina nomination.

JY: True. The fans were on him hard and now he’s won them over showing what a great guy he is on Twitter. Like in “Gladiator” you win the crowd, you win your freedom.

RD: You mean statistically or in the eyes of public? Statistically, I think he’ll be an elite goaltender, but every cold stretch he has will scare people.

JO: True (after a rocky start).

CT: True. He may start slow, because that’s what he does. But after Oct. 31, he’ll settle into a groove.

12. True or false: Tim Thomas will prove he’s still an elite goalie in the NHL.

JB: False. I think he’ll help the Panthers quite a bit though. Which says a lot about the goaltending they got last year.

MH: False. Too much time away from the game, and he’s playing on a Florida team filled with inexperienced players.

JY: False. He won’t be elite, but he’s not going to be bad either. Florida just needs competency in goal. He will do that.

RD: False. At best, I think he’ll be above average, but I don’texpect him to carry the Florida Panthers in his comeback season at the age of 39.

JO: False, but he could be above average.

CT: True. He should be, if nothing else, refreshed from his sabbatical from hockey. And Thomas has always had a knack for proving his critics wrong.

13. If the Devils make the playoffs, their starting goalie will be…

JB: Martin Brodeur, because he’s Martin Brodeur. Schneider will have the better regular season though. I don’t think the Devils will make it anyway.

MH: Cory Schneider.

JY: Cory Schneider. The team will do right by Martin Brodeur until it starts costing them games. Schneider will bring the consistency they need.

RD: Martin Brodeur, even if Schneider has a better season.

JO: Cory Schneider, and it’s not even close.

CT: Cory Schneider. Martin Brodeur has had a fine career but he’s also 41 years of age.  Schneider’s entering his prime.

14. The team that should be most concerned about its goaltending is…

JB: Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury has been awful the past two postseasons; Tomas Vokoun is 37 and dealing with a pretty serious health issue.

MH: Minnesota. Niklas Backstrom turns 36 in February and missed last year’s playoffs with a groin injury. If he falters, the gig falls to Josh Harding, who filled in admirably during the postseason but has significant health concerns of his own.

JY: It’s cliché but it’s Philadelphia. Steve Mason and Ray Emery could split to be great, but last season’s sample sizes were pretty small.

RD: I’ll cheat and go with Columbus. Not because I think Bobrovsky is the worst starter out there by any stretch of the imagination, but because Columbus is extremely dependent on Bobrovsky, who is in turn a big X-Factor.

JO: The Flames, unless they actually want to lose.

CT: The Vancouver Canucks. What do they do if Roberto Luongo gets injured or doesn’t perform? Eddie Lack, their current back-up, has never played in an NHL game.

source: AP

15. A young player who you expect to burst onto the scene is…

JB: Charlie Coyle in Minnesota. Seems like he has a great attitude. Zach Parise’s been raving about him.

MH: Boone Jenner. Big, physical forward that will open the season on Columbus’ top line with Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky.

JY: There are so many choices here that I’m going to pick two: Seth Jones and Valeri Nichushkin.

RD: Aleksander Barkov. He’s talented, has already played against men, and should get his fair share of opportunities in Florida.

JO: Mark Scheifele in Winnipeg, especially if he’s lining up with Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi.

CT: Morgan Rielly. Will begin the season in Toronto. Presence of young defensemen can come with a high number of mistakes. But can’t deny the talent.

16. Will Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller re-sign with the Sabres?

JB: No. I see Vanek in particular as a chip the Sabres can turn into some assets at the deadline.

MH: No. Buffalo will at the center of about 1,983 rumors heading into the trade deadline.

JY: I think they’re both elsewhere next year. Both guys could fetch huge returns for what will be one of the youngest teams in the league this year.

RD: No, I think Vanek will be traded by the deadline and Miller might end up walking as a free agent. I wouldn’t completely rule out Miller getting traded too, but trading a starting netminder midseason is rare.

JO: Vanek stays, Miller goes.

CT: No. In Miller’s case, it would appear his past few seasons in Buffalo have produced a fractured relationship with teammates, the franchise and fans.

17. Will Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf re-sign with the Leafs?

JB: Phaneuf, yes. Kessel, I’m not so sure. Does he really like playing in a market like Toronto? I don’t get the sense he does.

MH: Yes. Can’t envision a scenario where Toronto loses its captain and leading scorer.

JY: Kessel will stay and the Leafs will pay up huge for him to do so. Phaneuf should stick around but I suspect he’ll be gone after this year.

RD: Phaneuf should, but I’m not as confident about Kessel. I think what Kessel does will be partially dependent on what kind of season Toronto has.

JO: Yes, both do.

CT: No. Even with the salary cap expected to go up, the Leafs may have to turn in another direction if both are asking too much.

18. Will Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau re-sign with the Sharks?

JB: I’ll say yes, but Thornton will have to take a hometown discount after the Sharks locked up centers Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski.

MH: Yes, and so will Dan Boyle. Sharks GM Doug Wilson said he’s already spoken — and will continue to speak — with all three about extensions.

JY: Yes they will. The Sharks don’t really do “change” and they’re still top players in the league. They won’t get giant, long-term deals however.

RD: I think they both will end up finishing their careers in San Jose.

JO: Both take less money to stay in sunny San Jose.

CT: Yes. Patrick Marleau has never played for another NHL team so it’s easier to believe he would stay so as to potentially finish out his career in San Jose.

19. One big-name player that will get traded before the deadline is…

JB: Mike Cammalleri. No reason for Calgary to give the 31-year-old a big extension at this point in the rebuild.

MH: Paul Stastny. The Avs have an embarrassment of young riches at center in Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, and Stastny’s a UFA at season’s end.

JY: Keith Yandle. Coyotes GM Don Maloney has been dying to add another top-six forward and they’re loaded with defensive depth. Gotta give to get.

RD: I already said Vanek, but I’ll throw Marian Gaborik in the mix too. Like I said, Columbus is a wild card and if things don’t go as planned for them, I think they’ll put Gaborik on the block.

JO: Ryan Miller. Bonus guesses: Brad Richards and Dan Boyle.

CT: Does Steve Ott count as a big-name player? Entering final year of his contract, and other teams would love his toughness.

source: AP

20. The player with the most to prove is…

JB: Kris Letang. Got absolutely shredded by the critics for his playoff performance, and deservedly so. The Pens then gave him a $58 million contract extension. A lot of people thought they’d be better off trading him.

MH: Alex Pietrangelo. He played hardball with the Blues and was rewarded with a massive contract — now, the pressure’s on to prove he’s worth $45.5 million (and deserves a spot on the Canadian Olympic team).

JY: Claude Giroux. He didn’t have a great season last year and the Flyers missed the playoffs. He’ll have a lot of weight on his shoulders to get them back.

RD: Roberto Luongo, but I want to give an honorable mention to Ray Emery. After all the setbacks he’s endured, he’s slowly worked up to the point where he can fight for a starting job on a talented team. That opportunity is there now and it might never come again if he has a bad season.

JO: Marc-Andre Fleury could maintain his spot as Pittsburgh’s franchise goalie or land on the trading block based on his performance.

CT: Martin St. Louis. He’s small, he’s skilled and he’s getting older. But should be motivated to try and make Canada’s Olympic team.

21. True or false: Tyler Seguin will have a big year for the Dallas Stars.

JB: True. I’m expecting at least 70 points out of the 21-year-old. (Yes, remember, he’s still only 21.)

MH: True, because of an increased opportunity and role with the Stars. Remember that Seguin only averaged 17 minutes a game last year, and that was his highest TOI average in three seasons with the B’s.

JY: True. He was on pace for a 30-goal season last year in Boston even in spite of being a supposed party hound. He’ll flourish in Dallas.

RD: I think he’ll largely meet expectations, which in my mind translates to about 70 points.

JO: True, just make sure to give Jamie Benn credit, too.

CT: True. He got traded from a Stanley Cup contender because of his act off the ice. If that doesn’t wake him up, what will?

22. The best offseason signing (player joining a new team) will turn out to be…

JB: Brenden Morrow. He’s not what he used to be, but he’s perfect for the Blues.

MH: Jarome Iginla in Boston. Never gets hurt, is a perfect replacement for Nathan Horton and, despite talk of his demise last season, still managed to score 23 points in 28 games for the Penguins.

JY: Mikhail Grabovski in Washington. Mike Ribeiro gave them a taste of what it’s like to have a really good No. 2 center last year. Grabovski will be even better in Washington.

RD: Vincent Lecavalier. This free agent class wasn’t stunning overall, but Lecavalier is a great forward at a fair price.

JO: The Washington Capitals grabbing Mikhail Grabovski for peanuts.

CT: Mike Ribeiro. Re-united with former Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett. Seem to have a good rapport together.

23. The worst offseason signing (player joining a new team) will turn out to be…

JB: Nathan Horton. Don’t trust him to stay healthy.

MH: Valtteri Filppula in Tampa Bay. In seven NHL seasons, he’s only scored more than 40 points once. He’s also got to deal with the weight of heightened expectations (you know, signing for $25 million) and the inevitable “replacing Vinny” narrative.

JY: Considering how much Ryane Clowe has already been banged up in training camp, looking ahead to five seasons of that in New Jersey seems ominous.

RD: Valtteri Filppula. One good season – and not even his contract season – was apparently good enough to warrant $25 million.

JO: David Clarkson.

CT: Dustin Penner. At a price of $2 million this season, it’s not a terrible signing. But he’s underachieved in each of the last four regular seasons.

24. The first head coach to be fired will be…

JB: Claude Noel in Winnipeg. I thought he’d get the axe last season, so let’s go double or nothing.

MH: Claude Noel. Just seems like a matter of time.

JY: Mike Yeo in Minnesota. Some Wild fans were crowing to have Yeo sacked this summer even after making the playoffs. Tough crowd there and lots of pressure to win.

RD: Kirk Muller. This is a team that needs to be a serious contender for a playoff spot and if the Hurricanes underperform, I think they’ll change coaches rather quickly.

JO: Claude Noel, even though his GM isn’t providing him with much. Particularly in goal.

CT: Claude Noel. Jets are entering their third year back in Winnipeg and if they struggle, expect public outcry. And coaches are expendable.

25. True or false: Alain Vigneault’s first season as head coach of the New York Rangers will be successful.

JB: True, the Rangers will respond to a different voice. But can we stop acting like he’s the nicest guy in the world and the NHL’s version of Mike D’Antoni? He can still be hard on players, and he’s hardly a run-and-gun coach.

MH: True, if only because they respond to a new voice in the room. The Rangers looked burnt out under Tortorella last season.

JY: True. He’s not the offensive God-send some are making him out to be, but the culture change there will do wonders for the Rangers.

RD: True. The Rangers are a good team with some gifted forwards and a great goalie that should find success under Alain Vigneault.

JO: True, a smashing success.

CT: True. He’s a good coach, for starters. The team on the ice isn’t bad, either. And they have a top goalie in Henrik Lundqvist.

source: Getty Images

26. True or false: John Tortorella’s first season as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks will be successful.

JB: False. The Torts hiring reminds me of the time the Capitals tried to change their style. I think the entire Canucks organization is a bit lost right now.

MH: False, though it probably won’t be Tortorella’s fault. The window looks like it’s been closing on Vancouver in each of the last two seasons.

JY: True, to a point. He’ll get the accountability from the players the front office wants but if they can’t stay healthy it’ll look like a failure.

RD: False. I think Luongo will have a statistically great season and Vancouver is a capable team, but I don’t see Tortorella taking them very deep into the playoffs, which is what he was brought in there to do.

JO: True, at least if making the playoffs is the standard. (Though I guess if AV got fired after making them, it isn’t.)

CT: False. What counts as success in Vancouver is, at the very least, a berth in the Western Conference final. Seems beyond that team’s capabilities.

27. The Canadian team with the best chance to win the country’s first Stanley Cup since 1993 is…

JB: Vancouver. Considering what I said in my previous answer, this says a lot. But if Torts can help the Canucks get their swagger back, they’ve got the forwards, defensemen, and goalie to make another run.

MH: Ottawa. Which probably says more about the state of Canadian teams than it does the Senators.

JY: Ottawa. They’ve got the goaltending, offensive depth, and defensive skill to make a deep run. Their biggest issue will be escaping their division.

RD: Vancouver by default. I don’t think there will be a Canadian team in the conference finals.

JO: The Vancouver Canucks, even though they’re treading water.

CT: The Ottawa Senators. Nice run last year and they have solid goaltending in Craig Anderson.  But the team might not be at that level yet.

28. True or false: Phoenix Coyotes fans will show up to support their team.

JB: False. This will take some time. The Coyotes’ brand has been badly damaged in that market.

MH: True. It’s amazing what, you know, actually having an owner can do for club morale.

JY: True. Things can’t really get worse there and the new ownership seems dedicated to making the fans happy. Team-supported tailgating? Heck yes.

RD: False. I don’t think they will see a huge jump in interest compared to 2013.

JO: False, at least unless they make the playoffs.

CT: True. But only in the playoffs, provided the Coyotes make it that far.

29. True or false: the NHL will announce at least one expansion team in the next year.

JB: False. Seattle is coming relatively soon though.

MH: False, though it could happen during the 2014-15 campaign.

JY: False. I can’t see this happening for at least two years.

RD: False. But maybe in a couple years.

JO: A Supersonic truth.

CT: True. The Pacific Northwest is intriguing to the NHL, as per deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Lots of smoke there. Has to be fire.

30. Finally, make a crazy prediction that probably won’t happen, but on second thought, you never know…

JB: The Florida Panthers will go from worst to, well, not first, but the playoffs. Tim Thomas wins the Vezina, then retires to run for President.

MH: Poor weather conditions lead to the first-ever canceled outdoor game.

JY: Hyrbid icing becomes such a raging success that the NHL adopts a “Beat the Icing” event at the All-Star Skills Competition in 2015. Somehow, Tim Thomas will win it.

RD: We’ll have two players that reach the 60-goal mark this season.Stamkos and Ovechkin have done it before and look great going into this season.

JO: Jarome Iginla will score more goals than years he’s lived (36).

CT: An all-Canadian Stanley Cup Final. No Canadian team appears to be at a championship level and even if it were the case, in a numbers game alone, the odds are still stacked against this happening. But dare to dream for this Canadian.

Do it, Flames: Put Jagr with Gaudreau, Monahan

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After an agonizing wait, the Calgary Flames bit the bullet and signed Jaromir Jagr.

To little surprise, skipping the preseason and not having an answer about the future has made for a bit of a stilted integration for the 45-year-old, who is still something of a possession monster when the puck gets on his stick.

Jagr finally collected his first point (an assist) with the Flames on Saturday, during their 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks. It came, fittingly, on the power play.

If assisting on a Johnny Gaudreau goal wasn’t enticing enough, take a look at the Flames’ offensive lines on Tuesday, a tempting tease with their next game coming Thursday:

Circumstance could play a role in Jagr getting at least a look with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. As Sportsnet’s Pat Steinberg noted, Kris Versteeg wasn’t around, so Glen Gulutzan might have been adjusting to Versteeg – Sam Bennett – Jagr not being an option.

(Micheal Ferland also has been a little banged up lately, although you can see that he at least suited up.)

Still, it’s fun to cross one’s fingers and hope that Jagr gets an extended look with the dynamic duo, especially since he enjoyed so much success in a similar situation with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau during his time with the Florida Panthers.

So far, the Flames have already experimented with Jagr in such a situation. From an even-strength perspective, he’s spent about two-thirds of his time with Bennett/Versteeg and one-third with Gaudreau/Monahan, according to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers.

Flames Nation’s Ari Yanover provides a fascinating perspective: maybe the experimenting should continue, with Jagr being used in a variety of attacking zone situations.

Perhaps the focus is a little less on “who should Jagr be playing with” and more on “whoever is getting the most offensive zone starts, that’s Jagr’s line”. And typically, it’s Gaudreau’s line getting the offensive zone starts. So maybe, once Jagr is ready, that should be his line after all. We know he has it in him – not just because he’s, well, Jaromir Jagr, but also because that’s exactly what he was doing in Florida half a year ago.

Interesting.

Selfishly, as fans of the aging wonder, many of us simply want more Jagr.

Being selective with how he’s deployed might just be the ticket for the Flames. It’s sensible that Jagr’s getting 13 minutes of ice time per game (with almost exactly three of them coming on the power play), especially as he eases in. Greedily, we still want more, but it’s up to Calgary to decide if that’s actually the best way to optimize what they have.

As the season goes along, it will be fun to see how Jagr is used. There aren’t many weapons like him in the NHL, and that’s assuming that he can still get it done.

(So far, the answer seems to be “mostly yes.”)

For another look at how Jagr could fit into the Flames’ lines, check out this bit from before the season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Why Oilers are struggling, and what needs to change

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Sure, Connor McDavid scored all three of their goals, but it was still electrifying to see the Edmonton Oilers open their season with a 3-0 win against the Calgary Flames.

For those who saw red flags, the last week must have felt like retribution, as the Oilers dropped three straight, with their most recent loss (6-1 to the Ottawa Senators) marking a low point.

With that 1-3-0 record in mind and Leon Draisaitl on the shelf, spirits are low and frustrations might be high in Edmonton. Let’s dig deeper to see which patterns should continue and how much this boils down to bad luck.

Plenty of shots, but maybe the wrong guys shooting?

The Oilers lead the NHL in Corsi For rating with 59.42 percent, and Edmonton sports the classic signs of bad luck: they fall in the bottom five in PDO and team shooting percentage. (Fancy stats via Natural Stat Trick.)

The takeaway there is quite basic: more bounces are bound to go their way. Just consider McDavid alone: he hasn’t scored a goal since that thrilling hat trick to start the season.

A lot of those trends will end merely by playing more games.

That said, the distribution of shots on goal is a bit troubling, and it’s something that Oilers head coach Todd McLellan should address either through tweaking lines or his system (or both?).

Check out the Oilers’ top five players in shots on goal:

1. McDavid (19)
2. Oscar Klefbom (15)
3. Darnell Nurse (13)
4. Draisaitl (12 in three GP)
5. Adam Larsson (11)

Yes, three of the Oilers’ top five shooters are defensemen. McLellan pointed out the team’s most glaring offensive deficit, so far, to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal.

“We’re not getting enough from the wingers or our bottom six and if you’re not scoring (as a team), you can’t be giving up six (goals),” McLellan said.

Indeed, the Oilers need more from their supporting cast.

Most of those players should expect a rebound; the more frightening question is: how much can the Oilers really expect? Even in Milan Lucic‘s best days, he’s never been a volume shooter; his career average is well under two shots on goal per contest.

Ryan Strome hasn’t scored a point so far for the Oilers, but some of that might come down to a lack of opportunities. He’s averaging almost one fewer minute of ice time per game vs. his last season with the Islanders, which is a touch surprising since many expected this to be an opportunity for him to break through.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins simply needs to do more. While RNH has two goals so far, he’s only fired five SOG in four games. You can explain some of that away by explaining playmaking leanings, but when your team is struggling, sometimes a passer must be a bit more assertive, too.

Again, expect better things from RNH and Lucic in particular, not to mention Patrick Maroon, Kailer Yamamoto, and Jussi Jokinen. Even so, some of this might come down to the makeup of this team.

Depth can often be key for scoring in the NHL, and the Oilers have something to prove in that area.

Frustrations for Cam Talbot

Credit Edmonton Oilers workhorse Cam Talbot for accepting blame for his part in the Oilers’ 1-3-0 start, as the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones notes.

“I’ll find a way to fix it. I know I will because I’ve always done it before,” Talbot said. “We’re going to turn this around here, no doubt. It starts with me in net. Once I start making the saves I’m supposed to make, the guys in front of me can do what they’re supposed to do. It starts in net and we work our way out from there.”

If you want to look at the surest spot where things will improve for Edmonton, look to Talbot.

Much like a host of other NHL goalies, he’s off to a shockingly bad start. Talbot’s GAA is just under four (3.96) and his save percentage probably gives Grant Fuhr some unpleasant flashbacks (.880). Talbot’s numbers should rise considerably, even if he fails to match the heights of 2016-17.

In the meantime, the Oilers turn to Laurent Brossoit, who’s off to a solid start.

***

In most cases, the Oilers should settle things down.

Still, it’s important to remember that this team has Stanley Cup aspirations. For all the justifiable criticisms GM Peter Chiarelli receives, if he can identify issues during the season and address at least some of them with savvy “rentals,” then he’ll earn his place as the guy who lucked into having McDavid on his roster.

Things will get better. It’s just going to be a challenge when you consider how high they set the bar for themselves.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Slow start pushes Marner to Maple Leafs’ fourth line

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The Toronto Maple Leafs were one of the pleasant surprises of the 2016-17 season. The biggest reason they were able to make the playoffs last year was because of the play of their three terrific rookies: Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner.

Matthews and Nylander are off to roaring starts (Matthews has eight points in five games, Nylander has five points in five games). But things haven’t gone as well for Marner, who has a four points in five games.

That’s far from a poor point total for the sophomore forward, but head coach Mike Babcock hasn’t been impressed with his overall play (for whatever it’s worth, he’s a minus-6 this season).

On Monday, Babcock tweaked his lines, which shocked the fans and media in Toronto. Marner was no longer skating on a line with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. Instead, he was with Dominic Moore and Matt Martin on the fourth line.

“Their line wasn’t going, so tie goes to the veterans,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “(Marner) just happens to be the kid on the line, that’s it. Let’s not read too much into that. You have to have all your units going and we’re trying to do that. It was a big win in Montreal (on Saturday), but saying that, we didn’t generate a lot and they did.”

If you thought the Leafs coach was just trying to send a message for one day on Monday, guess again. Marner was right back out on the fourth line during Tuesday’s morning skate ahead of tonight’s game against Washington.

It looks like Babcock is serious about this wake up call.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Lightning vs. Devils; Canadiens vs. Sharks

The Buzzer: Nikita Kucherov just keeps scoring goals

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Lightning vs. Devils; Canadiens vs. Sharks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Tuesday night. In the early game, the New Jersey Devils host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7:30 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here

The Lightning are coming off a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night. For the sixth game in a row, Nikita Kucherov managed to find the back of the net (he actually scored twice, including the game-winner).

When injuries were piling up for the Bolts last season, the Russian winger was the guy they relied on to get the job done. This season, that hasn’t changed. The Lightning are healthier than they were a year ago, but he just keeps on rolling.

Another player who’s performed well, is goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. The young netminder became the full-time starter when the Lightning traded Ben Bishop to the Kings last season. Although he had some ups and downs last year, he’s been terrific this season.

His individual numbers might not jump off the page (3.00 goals-against-average and a .914 save percentage), but he’s come up with a number of big saves already in 2017-18. Last night’s game against the Wings was no different.

“He’s our starter for a reason,” head coach Jon Cooper said after the win over the Wings, per the Tampa Times. “If you want to win in this league, you have to check and you need your goaltender to bail you out on occasions. And the times we haven’t been checking, Vasy has bailed us out.”

After missing the playoffs last season, many expected the Lightning to be better now. The same can not be said for the Devils, but they’ve been one of the pleasant surprises so far.

New Jersey has a 4-1-0 record and they own a plus-8 goal differential. This young team has really come together early, and it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to keep it together.

Rookies Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt have been nothing short of fantastic in the early going. Butcher, who the Devils signed as a college free agent this summer, has eight assists in five games. Bratt has accumulated six points in five contests, which isn’t bad for a 19-year-old drafted in the sixth round.

“He’s a good player,” forward Drew Stafford said of Butcher, per NJ.com. “You guys are seeing that. Doesn’t really surprise me anymore. He’s a heck of a player, so for him to have the success that he’s had so far — granted, it’s power play — but that’s something I feel like he can ride as far as he can.”

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Montreal Canadiens at 10:00 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here

It’s been a tough start to the year for the Canadiens, as they’ve managed to come away with one win in their first five contests.

Despite adding Jonathan Drouin this off-season and having Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk and a few others, Montreal is still the only team in the league to has played five games and scored less than 10 goals.

They scored a season-high three goals against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night, but they fell 4-3 in overtime thanks to Auston Matthews‘ game-winner.

“I think our guys are focused on what needs to be done internally, inside the dressing room, and what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Claude Julien said, per the Montreal Gazette. “I think so far they’ve done a pretty good job of that. There’s no doubt when you got some guys that are goal-scorers that haven’t scored yet … it’s a normal thing that they might be squeezing the stick a little bit. But that’s what they got to overcome and that’s what we got to try and do and improve our game as we go along here.”

Pacioretty scored a goal in the season opener against Buffalo, but he hasn’t found the back of the net since. Drouin and Galchenyuk both netted their first goals of the season on Saturday night. Three goals in five games from those three players simply isn’t enough.

This will be the first of a three-game road swing in California that never seems to treat the Canadiens well.

Things haven’t been much better for the San Jose Sharks, as they have just one win in four contests.

“It’s on us as players,” Logan Couture said, per the San Jose Mercury News. “If we’re playing well, then the lines aren’t going to change. If we’re not, then they’re going to change them around. How we play will dictate what the lineup is.

“No one’s scoring. You could say our line’s not scoring and we’re not, but no one is. As a team, we’ve got to find ways to create some more offense.”

The Sharks have scored eight goals, like Montreal, but in one less game. Kevin Labanc has three of the eight markers.

If you’re a betting person, you may want to look at the under in this one, but weird things seem to happen when east coast teams go play out west.

Enjoy the hockey!

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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