No way to sugarcoat loss of Letang

10 Comments

Even though Kris Letang isn’t the best player on the Pittsburgh Penguins, there is a strong argument to be made he is probably their most important player, the most difficult to replace, and the one they can not afford to lose if they are going to win another Stanley Cup.

That is why the Penguins’ announcement on Wednesday that Letang will be sidelined for 4-6 months due to a herniated disc in his neck is such a significant blow to their Stanley Cup chances, even if they get all of their other injured players back in the lineup in time for the start of the postseason. None of them are Kris Letang.

In all honesty, they would probably have a better chance to win it all if they had a healthy Letang, but were without one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, than they do with both Crosby and Malkin, but no Letang.

The thought process behind this is simple. Without one of Crosby or Malkin they still have another No. 1 center. They still have a forward that can drive the offense. But when you take Letang out of the lineup, there is nobody else that can play the 28 minutes per night that he does in the playoffs. There is nobody else that can dictate the pace of the game in every key situation the way Letang does. There is nobody else that can serve as a one-man breakout coming out of the defensive zone and skate the puck out of danger. Or join the rush as smoothly as he does. Or chase down just about any forward in the NHL.

Crosby might be the Penguins’ heart and soul, but Letang is the engine the makes the whole system run.

“He’s an elite player and a great teammate,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan on Wednesday. “He’s a tough guy to replace.”

Every Stanley Cup team needs that type of workhorse defenseman, and every one that wins has it. The Penguins have Letang. The Chicago Blackhawks have Duncan Keith. The Los Angeles Kings have Drew Doughty. The Boston Bruins had Zdeno Chara.

So how are the Penguins going to make this work?

The biggest key will be the play of Justin Schultz, because he is probably the one defender on the blue line that can at least somewhat replace some of what Letang does, at least when it comes to sparking the offense.

After starting to regain some of his confidence late last season and in the playoffs following the trade from Edmonton, Schultz’s career has taken a massive step forward in 2016-17.

With 49 points in 76 games he is starting to resemble the player the Edmonton Oilers thought he would be so many years ago.

But he has mostly been doing that in a complementary, support role. Now he has to be not only one of the go-to guys on defense, but perhaps the go-to guy.

Since Letang went out of the lineup on Feb. 28 no defenseman on the team has logged more minutes per game than Schultz’s 23:42, and while his play has remained strong, his production has fallen off a little from where it was before then. Prior to March he was averaging 0.66 points per game and was a 52 percent corsi player in 19 minutes per game. Since March 1 he is at 0.55 points per game and is a 49 percent corsi player. And again, there is also the fact that for as good as he has been, he still isn’t Kris Letang.

If the Penguins have one thing going for them it is the fact they were at least somewhat prepared for something like this and have some depth thanks to the trade deadline additions of Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit.

Think back two years ago to when Letang was also sidelined for the playoffs and the Penguins went into their first-round series against the New York Rangers having to rely on the likes of Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy to play 22 minutes per night, while also using Taylor Chorney on their bottom pairing. That was a bad situation.

Things are not quite that dire this time around. With Hainsey, Streit, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, and the possible returns of Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, they at least have enough bodies to piece together a very formidable NHL defense that can help them compete.

To their credit, they have been able to withstand Letang’s absence (on top of several other key players) for the better part of the past two months. They have the quantity on the blue line to maybe get through it.

They just don’t have the elite, No. 1 guy.

Where that becomes a problem is the playoffs are an entirely different animal than the regular season.

While the Penguins have been able to get by in recent weeks, it may not be as easy when they have to play a playoff caliber team every night for potentially seven games. That team might be able to better exploit that weakness. They will not get the occasional game against a last place team or non-playoff team that they can sneak past.

And for the Penguins, coming out of the Metropolitan Division bracket their postseason path is going to have to take them through Columbus and most likely Washington in the first two rounds if they are going to come out of the Eastern Conference again. That is two of the four best teams in the NHL right now.

Even with Letang that would have been a tall mountain to climb.

It is simply that much steeper without him.

Vegas has 15 d-men, but won’t keep them all

3 Comments

The Vegas Golden Knights suddenly have 15 defensemen.

Just don’t expect all 15 to remain Knights for long.

“We’re going to have to move some defensemen,” general manager George McPhee said Tuesday, “because we’re going to claim a bunch.”

So, who might get flipped?

Well, a highly touted youngster like Shea Theodore, acquired in a trade with Anaheim, is unlikely to go. Theodore, 21, could be a core member of the Knights for years to come.

Deryk Engelland probably won’t be going anywhere either. He just signed a one-year contract with the Knights, and he already has ties to Sin City.

But a 32-year-old like Marc Methot? He could be dealt. The Dallas Stars are reportedly quite interested.

A few others could be on the move, too, but we’ll have to wait to find out which ones.

Here’s the full list of d-men that officially became Vegas property today:

Jake Bischoff
Deryk Engelland
Alexei Emelin
Jason Garrison
Brayden McNabb
Jon Merrill
Marc Methot
Colin Miller
Luca Sbisa
David Schlemko
Griffin Reinhart
Nate Schmidt
Clayton Stoner
Shea Theodore
Trevor van Riemsdyk

Vegas Golden Knights name their team

22 Comments

The Vegas Golden Knights are taking shape.

After completing a cavalcade of trades, the Knights picked 30 players from each existing NHL team in today’s expansion draft. Vegas was obligated to select at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies.

The players were announced in reverse order from last season’s standings.

From the Avalanche: Calvin Pickard (G)

From the Canucks: Luca Sbisa (D)

From the Coyotes: Teemu Pulkkinen (F)

From the Devils: Jon Merrill (D)

From the Sabres: William Carrier (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires 2017 sixth-round draft pick

From the Red Wings: Tomas Nosek (F)

From the Stars: Cody Eakin (F)

From the Panthers: Jonathan Marchessault (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires Reilly Smith (F), Panthers receive 2018 fourth-round draft pick

From the Kings: Brayden McNabb (D)

From the Hurricanes: Connor Brickley (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires 2017 fifth-round draft pick

From the Jets: Chris Thorburn (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires 2017 first-round draft pick and 2019 third-round draft pick, Jets get 2017 first-round pick (acquired by Vegas from CBJ)

From the Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (F)

From the Lightning: Jason Garrison (D)
Trade: Vegas acquires Nikita Gusev (F), 2017 second-round pick, 2018 fourth-round pick

From the Islanders: Jean-Francois Berube (G)
Trade: Vegas acquires Mikhail Grabovski (F), Jake Bischoff (D), 2017 first-round draft pick, 2019 second-round draft pick

From the Predators: James Neal (F)

From the Flames: Deryk Engelland (D)
Signing: Engelland gets one-year contract with AAV of $1 million

From the Maple Leafs: Brendan Leipsic (F)

From the Bruins: Colin Miller (D)

From the Senators: Marc Methot (D)

From the Sharks: David Schlemko (D)

From the Blues: David Perron (F)

From the Rangers: Oscar Lindberg (F)

From the Oilers: Griffin Reinhart (D)

From the Canadiens: Alexei Emelin (D)

From the Ducks: Clayton Stoner (D)
Trade: Vegas acquires Shea Theodore (D)

From the Wild: Erik Haula (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires Alex Tuch (F), Wild get third-round draft pick in 2017 or 2018
Signing: Haula gets three-year contract worth AAV of $2.75 million

From the Blue Jackets: William Karlsson (F)
Trade: Vegas acquires David Clarkson (F), 2017 first-round draft pick, 2019 second-round draft pick

From the Blackhawks: Trevor van Riemsdyk (D)

From the Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury (G)
Trade: Vegas acquires second-round draft pick in 2020

From the Capitals: Nate Schmidt (D)

ROSTER BY POSITION
Forwards:
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Connor Brickley
William Carrier
David Clarkson
Cody Eakin
Mikhail Grabovski
Nikita Gusev
Erik Haula
William Karlsson
Brendan Leipsic
Oscar Lindberg
Jonathan Marchessault
James Neal
Tomas Nosek
David Perron
Teemu Pulkkinen
Reilly Smith
Chris Thorburn
Alex Tuch

Defensemen:
Jake Bischoff
Deryk Engelland
Alexei Emelin
Jason Garrison
Brayden McNabb
Jon Merrill
Marc Methot
Colin Miller
Luca Sbisa
David Schlemko
Griffin Reinhart
Nate Schmidt
Clayton Stoner
Shea Theodore
Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goalies:
Jean-Francois Berube
Marc-Andre Fleury
Calvin Pickard

After stockpiling picks, Vegas aims to ‘draft our way to success’

2 Comments

On Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena, the Las Vegas Golden Knights took form.

But there’s no denying this team will really take shape at the next couple of entry drafts.

That was the big storyline this evening, as Golden Knights GM George McPhee introduced his 30-man roster, almost in the shadow of an unprecedented stockpiling of draft picks from rival clubs.

“[The objective] was to acquire prospects and surplus draft picks that can help draft our way to success,” McPhee explained. “Time will tell if we met those objectives, but we’re certainly delighted with the way that it went.

“It was a fascinating experience.”

We’ll get to see the fruits of McPhee’s labor shortly. When the dust settled this evening, he and the Golden Knights emerged with three top-15 picks in Friday’s first round of the draft — the sixth, which Vegas won in the lottery, the 13th, acquired in a trade with Winnipeg, and the 15th, acquired from the New York Islanders.

In addition to that, the Golden Knights also received:

• Buffalo’s sixth-round pick on Friday (as part of drafting William Carrier)

• Carolina’s fifth-round pick on Friday (as part of drafting Connor Brickley)

• Tampa Bay’s second-round pick on Friday, and the Bolts’ fourth-rounder in 2018 (for laying off the club’s young d-men, and taking Jason Garrison)

• The Islanders’ second-round pick in 2019 (for taking on Mikhail Grabovski, in addition to the first-rounder listed above)

• Columbus’ second-round pick in 2019 (for not taking Josh Anderson or Joonas Korpisalo, also in addition to the deal above)

• Winnipeg’s third-round pick in 2019 (for taking Chris Thorburn instead of Tobias Enstrom, and also in addition to the above deal)

• Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2020 (as part of drafting Marc-Andre Fleury)

Add it all up, and the Knights now have 12 picks at the upcoming draft in Chicago, with five of them coming in the first two rounds. It’ll result in a huge influx of talent and, given the relatively thin nature of the active roster, a real chance for the kids selected on Friday to have a shot at NHL minutes in the fall.

But remember — until these picks have been used, they’re assets. And that’s worth mentioning, because the league-wide trade freeze lifts at 8 a.m. ET Thursday morning.

Stay tuned.

Connor McDavid captures the Hart Trophy (video)

8 Comments

Only one player in the National Hockey League scored 100 points this season. That would be Connor McDavid.

He accomplished the feat at the age of 20.

On Wednesday, after such a terrific sophomore season in which he was fully healthy throughout, he was recognized with the Hart Trophy , given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team.

McDavid scored 30 goals, many in spectacular fashion, and 100 points to win the Art Ross, often showing a dominant display of speed and hands quick enough to keep up.

The Oilers made the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006, making it to Game 7 of the second round against the Anaheim Ducks..

McDavid beats out Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who has been perhaps the best player in the world over the last two years with Stanley Cups, Conn Smythe trophies and a Rocket Richard Trophy to show for it, and Columbus Blue Jackets Vezina-winning netminder Sergei Bobrovsky for the award.

McDavid also captured the Ted Lindsay Award earlier in the evening.

Here is the Hart Trophy voting:

Points: (1st-2nd-3rd-4th-5th)

1. Connor McDavid, EDM 1604 (147-17-3-0-0)
2. Sidney Crosby, PIT 1104 (14-119-19-11-3)
3. Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ 469 (4-17-40-29-23)
4. Brent Burns, SJS 273 (1-3-25-29-30)
5. Erik Karlsson, OTT 258 (0-5-28-23-14)
6. Patrick Kane, CHI 206 (0-3-20-20-25)
7. Brad Marchand, BOS 184 (1-1-14-22-31)
8. Nikita Kucherov, TBL 119 (0-0-11-15-19)
9. Nicklas Backstrom, WSH 60 (0-0-3-11-12)
10. Braden Holtby, WSH 19 (0-0-2-3-0)
11. Auston Matthews, TOR 17 (0-0-2-1-4)
12. Alex Ovechkin, WSH 7 (0-1-0-0-0)
Ryan Suter, MIN 7 (0-1-0-0-0)
14. Victor Hedman, TBL 5 (0-0-0-1-2)
15. Devan Dubnyk, MIN 4 (0-0-0-1-1)
Vladimir Tarasenko, STL 4 (0-0-0-1-1)
17. Cam Atkinson, CBJ 1 (0-0-0-0-1)
Cam Talbot, EDM 1 (0-0-0-0-1)