Alex Steen

PHT Morning Skate: 5 toughest opponents Mark Scheifele has ever faced

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–Check out the highlights from Wednesday’s game between the Capitals and Penguins. Pittsburgh beat Washington in the playoffs last season, and they did it again last night. (Top)

–Surprisingly enough, Matt Duchene is still a member of the Colorado Avalanche. But how long before his teammates become as fed up of the current situation in Denver as he is? GM Joe Sakic has to pull the trigger on a move before this thing spirals even further out of control. (scottywazz.com)

–The Vegas Golden Knights are off to a strong 3-0-0 start, but their power play has been ineffective since the preseason. On top of not having the best talent at their disposal, they also don’t get to dangerous areas of the ice enough. (knightsonice.com)

–Goal scoring has been at a premium since the last lockout. On average, teams have been combining for 5.34 to 5.45 goals-per-game. It might be a small sample size, but teams are scoring 6.22 goals-per-game. Also, 15 teams are averaging three goals per game. (Fanragsports.com)

–Despite missing a number of key players like Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford and Jay Bouwmeester, the Blues have managed to start the year 4-0-0. “I would say our veterans have really stepped up their game, and not allowed any type of adversity to creep in and give us any type of excuses,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “Our group is a competitive group, and we believe despite having some guys out of the lineup, we’re still capable of winning hockey games.” (Sporting News)

–Carolina isn’t a traditional hockey market and they haven’t made the playoffs in a while, so it’s not surprising that their attendance is low, but the fact that they had just 7,892 fans for their home opener is mind-boggling. “I talk to our sales staff all the time (that) winning or losing doesn’t stop us from doing our job,” president Don Waddell said. “If we win, it’s going to make our job a little easier to sell more tickets. But we don’t use that as an excuse.” (Charlotte Observer)

–Lightning forward J.T. Brown was the first player to protest during the anthem this season. Commissioner Gary Bettman might not want to see protests from his players because the league isn’t political in his mind, but that’s not exactly true. (fiveforhowling.com)

–The Vancouver Canucks should be in rebuild mode, but the fact that they have so many veteran players is a problem for their NHL and AHL team. Top prospect Brock Boeser hasn’t been able to get into an NHL game yet, while Anton Rodin and Patrick Wiercioch have been scratched in AHL games. (vancourier.com)

–Jets forward Mark Scheifele describes himself as a “hockey nerd”. He watches hockey all the time, he thinks about hockey all the time, and now he’s even writing about hockey for The Players’ Tribune. In this story, Scheifele identifies the five most difficult players he’s ever played against. One of the players in the list is Montreal’s Carey Price. Scheifele had no problem admitting that Price has made him look silly before. (Players’ Tribune)

–A few years ago, the NHL decided to force every player that had under 26 games of experience to wear a visor when they got to the league. Today, 94 percent of NHLers have a visor in, which means that only 34 players don’t have one. That’s remarkably low. (Associated Press)

–Hockey has clearly become a young man’s game. A good number of superstars in the league are 23 years old or younger, which isn’t surprising considering what we saw from Team North America at last year’s World Cup. Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Filip Forsberg, Johnny Gaudreau and many others are still incredibly young, but also dominant. (NHL.com)

Scott Hartnell was bought out by the Blue Jackets this offseason, so he made his way back to Nashville where his career began. It’s early, but he looks rejuvenated now that he’s back with his old team. He’s scoring, contributing and causing problems for the other team in front of their net. (Tennessean)

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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PHT’s Central Division preview: Blackhawks, Wild, Predators, and more

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For ages, it felt like the Central Division was the reigning champion as the toughest division in the NHL.

The Metropolitan Division seemed to knock the Central off its perch, right down to the Pittsburgh Penguins beating the Nashville Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Still, much of those stumbles seemed self-imposed, as the Dallas Stars struggled, the Winnipeg Jets disappointed, and the Colorado Avalanche were jaw-droppingly bad.

Let’s take a look at PHT’s material on the Central Division with the 2017-18 season set to begin.

Click here for the Atlantic Division preview.

Click here for PHT’s staff predictions.

Chicago Blackhawks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Colorado Avalanche

Poll/looking to make the leap

Dallas Stars

Poll/looking to make the leap

Minnesota Wild

Poll/looking to make the leap

Speaking of signings, the Wild inked a deal with Daniel Winnik today:

Nashville Predators

Poll/Looking to make the leap

St. Louis Blues

Poll/looking to make the leap

One other Blues note:

Winnipeg Jets

Poll/looking to make the leap

Possible bad news for Jagr? Blues reportedly sign Upshall

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With a rash of injuries, the St. Louis Blues are making at least one move to improve their depth at forward, as reporters including Sportsnet’s Rick Dhaliwal indicate that they’re bringing back Scottie Upshall.

Upshall, 33, had been with the Vancouver Canucks on a PTO. There were rumblings that something was in the works when Upshall was scratched in favor of Anton Rodin on Thursday.

Do note that the Upshall signing isn’t official, especially according to the Canucks organization.

You might call this Upshall’s second stint with St. Louis, but that’s really a matter of semantics. He just concluded two seasons with the Blues, including 2016-17, when he scored 18 points. The sixth pick of the 2002 NHL Draft has settled into a role as an energy guy in the NHL, and he provides some familiar insurance.

Of course, the question is: would this hurt the chances of Jaromir Jagr signing with the Blues? The team acknowledged considering signing Jagr, though they also want to make sure he’s a stylistic fit. Upshall has already played with this group, so that’s not as much of a mystery.

This isn’t to say that Upshall cancels out a Jagr signing altogether, though. With Robby Fabbri out for the season, Zach Sanford missing possibly that much (if not close), Patrik Berglund out months, and Alex Steen likely to start on IR, it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine the Blues bringing in Jagr and Upshall.

We’ll just have to wait and see. In this case, Upshall’s a lower-risk, lower-reward pickup for the Blues.

Blues have ‘talked about’ signing Jaromir Jagr amid wave of injuries

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Even with terrible news such as Robby Fabbri being ruled out for the entire 2017-18 season by the St. Louis Blues, there can, conceivably, be a silver lining.

Or maybe it’s more like a gray-haired lining?

Blues GM Doug Armstrong admitted that the team has at least discussed the possibility of signing inexplicable* free agent Jaromir Jagr, though he provided himself plenty of wiggle room not to.

Interesting.

Blues fans can chime in here, but on paper, it seems like St. Louis might be able to find veteran/slower linemates who might make sense with Jagr.

Generally speaking, the Blues were a bruising team that still tried to significantly out-chance opponents under Ken Hitchcock. In a small sample size under Mike Yeo, they didn’t necessarily evoke the Pittsburgh Penguins’ attacking style in 2016-17, either.

The question is: would Yeo believe that Jagr could fit in to what he wants to do in 2017-18? With all of those injuries, there are at least seems to be some daylight for Jagr to assume the sort of role he likely craves: decent time on the power play, possibly some quality linemates. If nothing else, a Paul Stastny – Jagr combo would probably be dynamite for puck possession.

Actually, there’s one other question: money.

Cap Friendly pegs the Blues’ current cap space at $2.2 million. The final year of Fabbri’s rookie deal means he was carrying a cap hit just under $900K while Zach Sanford comes in at $875K. If Alex Steen and Jay Bouwmeester go on IR even for a limited time, that would open up a ton of money, temporarily.

In other words, they could probably squeeze Jagr in, though it could be a little tight. Most of us can agree that Jagr is probably worth the headache, and the Blues might just agree strongly enough to give the legend a contract.

* – OK, there are some hangups that make his free agent status possible to explain, but the consensus is that Jagr still deserves a chance.

Blues rule out Robby Fabbri for entire 2017-18 season

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This has already been a rough summer/preseason for the St. Louis Blues, but Wednesday presented the worst news so far.

The Blues announced brutal news: the promising young forward Robby Fabbri will miss the entire 2017-18 season after re-injuring his surgically repaired left knee.

With this coming season already off the table, the bigger questions revolve around Fabbri’s long-term future.

Is this the sort of issue he’ll just need some time to bounce back from? Will he ever be the same if he does return? As a smaller scorer, a loss of speed and agility could be a huge problem.

Hopefully these broader concerns are overly pessimistic. Either way, this is lousy news for the Blues, and really for fans of exciting offense in general.

Promising signs early on

The 21-year-old seemed like a potential steal for the Blues as the 21st pick of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Fabbri showed some significant flashes of brilliance even as a rookie in 2015-16. He almost scored 20 goals (18 goals, 37 points in 72 regular-season games) despite modest ice time with an average of 13:19 per night. The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs were an even better showcase for Fabbri, who managed 15 points in 20 games despite still receiving only modest ice time.

Unfortunately, his sophomore season was derailed by these issues, as Fabbri last suited up for St. Louis in early February. To call this another setback is an understatement.

Bruised Blues

Fabbri isn’t the only key Blues player dealing with a substantial issue.

Bad news could conceivably come when St. Louis takes another look at Jay Bouwmeester‘s fractured ankle. Patrik Berglund is expected to miss months while Alex Steen might begin 2017-18 on IR. Zach Sanford‘s season was essentially derailed thanks to a shoulder injury, too.

The Blues were coming into this campaign with a chance to sneak up on some people, especially with Mike Yeo getting a chance to truly put his stamp on the team. That can still happen, but these injury issues likely take the wind out of some of their buzz as a dark horse team in the West.