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NHL trade deadline deals deliver for several playoff teams

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Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman earned accolades for making the boldest moves in improving Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup aspirations at the NHL’s trade deadline in February.

Evander Kane, however, might have been the biggest beneficiary after being dealt by eventual last-place Buffalo to San Jose on Feb. 26. Kane couldn’t contain his glee on his Twitter account a week ago in posting a message which read: ”#playoffmode it’s about time!”

It took him nine years and four cities – from Atlanta to Winnipeg, Buffalo and now San Jose – since being selected with the No. 4 pick by the then-Thrashers in the 2009 draft to finally prepare for his playoff debut. It will happen Thursday, when the Sharks open their Pacific Division first-round series at Anaheim.

Stanley Cup Playoffs streaming, schedule and more

”It makes it easy to come to the rink. It makes it easy to play with this group of guys,” Kane said. ”I’m having a lot of fun right now.”

The Sharks, who gave up a prospect and two conditional draft picks, including a potential first-rounder, might not be in this position without Kane. The 26-year-old picked up the offensive slack on a team that closed the season minus star Joe Thornton. Kane scored nine goals, including two game-winners, and added five assists in 17 games.

In closing the season at 12-7-1, the Sharks’ 25 points ranked in a tie for 10th among NHL teams since the trade deadline.

”He’s a crucial part of our team,” center Chris Tierney said of Kane. ”Just gives us an extra layer of everything.”

Kane wasn’t the only late-season addition to provide his new team a boost.

Yzerman added offense, defense and leadership to an already elite team by acquiring New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller in one of the final trades completed. Miller led all players traded on Feb. 26 by scoring 10 goals and piling up 18 points in 19 games.

”When you add two players like that and give up what they did, it’s you know: They’re in it to win it,” former player and NBC hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk said of the Lightning.

Fellow analyst, Pierre McGuire looked to the moves made by Nashville.

The Predators gave up a first-round draft pick in adding size and versatility to acquire forward Ryan Hartman from Chicago. They welcomed back veteran Mike Fisher, who signed out of retirement. They also signed forward Eeli Tolvanen , after the rookie first-round pick’s Kontinental Hockey League season ended last month.

”You look at everything Nashville has done, they never messed with the roster integrity that was created at the beginning of the year by David Poile and Paul Fenton,” McGuire said, referring to Predators management. ”So I think Nashville quietly, whether it’s at the deadline or just before, did some amazing things.”

The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Predators (15-4-2), Winnipeg (15-4-1), Columbus (14-4-2) and Boston (13-5-4) led the NHL in points since Feb. 26.

Columbus jumped from 19th in the overall standings to 14th in a run that coincided with the additions of forward Thomas Vanek and defenseman Ian Cole.

Paul Stastny scored four goals and 13 points with playoff-bound Winnipeg, after being traded by St. Louis for a first-round pick. The Blues, by comparison, closed 10-7-2 and missed the playoffs with a season-ending loss to Colorado. And don’t forget Patrick Maroon, who had three goals and 10 points in 17 games for New Jersey, which acquired him from Edmonton.

The Capitals filled secondary defensive needs by adding Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek just before the trade deadline.

”We had holes to fill this year and we filled them with guys that aren’t as high-profile, but are just steady, and provided the things we needed for our team,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said.

After appearing in just 31 games in Chicago, Kempny played 22 in Washington while securing a role alongside Norris Trophy-candidate John Carlson.

In Philadelphia, goalie Petr Mrazek held the fort in going 6-6-4 in place of injured starter Brian Elliott. Elliott returned in time to win the final two games including a 17-save shutout in a season-ending, playoff-clinching 5-0 win over the Rangers.

Not all the trades paid off down the stretch.

Rick Nash missed Boston’s final 12 games with an upper body injury after being acquired in a trade with the Rangers.

Tomas Plekanec managed just two assists in 17 games with Toronto after being acquired from Montreal.

Tomas Tatar had four goals and six points in 20 games with Vegas, which landed him in a deal with Detroit.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno, in Washington, and sports writers Josh Dubow, in San Jose, and Teresa M. Walker, in Nashville, contributed to this report.

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Biggest contract years for NHL playoff teams

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Technically speaking, NHL players only get paid for the 82-game regular season, aside from the pocket change that comes from certain bonuses for playoff wins.

In reality, a player can make a living off of a magical postseason run or two.

A strong couple of months could end up being costly in contract negotiations, yet greed can also be good in helping a team in the short run. Let’s take a look at the biggest contract year situations for all 16 of the teams that made the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In several cases, it’s not as much about deals that will expire after this season, but instead core players lining up for their first cracks at extensions in July.

It only seems fair to begin with the Presidents’ Trophy winners, even if their concerns are minor …

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

West

Nashville Predators

Biggest contract year: Nashville’s biggest concerns come down to the guys whose contracts end after 2018-19: Ryan Ellis and Pekka Rinne.

Still, there are a couple of RFAs who could mop up. Ryan Hartman needs to prove his value after being traded from the Blackhawks, while Juuse Saros could break the bank if something happens with Rinne and he goes on a big run.

Colorado Avalanche

Biggest contract year: Jonathan Bernier is at quite the fork in the road in his career.

The 29-year-old played a key role in keeping things going for the Avalanche earlier this season when Semyon Varlamov went down with an injury, to the point that he probably did enough to earn another backup role. If he can author a big playoff run, then who knows what sort of offer he might be able to command?

With Varlamov’s own deal expiring after 2018-19, a red-hot run from Bernier could even force questions about a changing of the guard.

Winnipeg Jets

Biggest contract year: Connor Hellebuyck is a pending RFA who just broke the single-season wins record for an American goalie, going 44-11-9(!) with a fantastic .924 save percentage. If the Jets make a long-awaited but easy-to-imagine deep run, Hellebuyck will inspire many “buck”-related headlines.

The Jets also have Jacob Trouba and Paul Stastny to consider, while this playoff run will play a role in Patrik Laine‘s extension. Tough to imagine Winnipeg going through the summer without a new deal for Laine, whose rookie deal ends next season.

Minnesota Wild

Biggest contract year: Jason Zucker blew away career-highs in goals (33) and assists (31) this season, generating 64 points. He doesn’t have a huge body of work of scoring at this level (Zucker’s 47 points from 2016-17 were easily his best before this season), so proving it in the postseason could help him earn even more of a boost.

Matt Dumba generated a sneaky-great season of his own, scoring 14 goals and 50 points. The Wild are very lucky that these two players are RFAs.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Vegas Golden Knights

Biggest contract year: The Golden Knights cleared up some concerns, such as handing Jonathan Marchessault a team-friendly extension. Even so, the Golden Knights may lead in greed.

William Karlsson is a pending RFA after leading the Golden Knights in scoring. Some of their biggest names are soon to be UFAs, including James Neal and David Perron. This team has a lot to prove and a lot to gain in the postseason.

Los Angeles Kings

Biggest contract year: For better or worse, most of this Kings team is locked in place. Tobias Rieder could be one of those “flavor of the month” types if he rides some high percentages.

Anaheim Ducks

Biggest contract year: Depth youngsters are looking to earn new contracts in Ondrej Kase and Brandon Montour.

Really, John Gibson might be the guy shooting for the most money in Anaheim. His dirt-cheap $2.3 million cap hit expires after 2018-19, so the Ducks will get their first shot at extending the underrated goalie in July. If he can get healthy and lead a surge, Gibson could drive up his price.

San Jose Sharks

Biggest contract year: Evander Kane generated 14 points in 17 games since being traded to the Sharks, and that includes a three-game drought at the end of the season. Few players had as much to gain or lose as Kane did coming into 2017-18, and that remains true entering the postseason.

Tomas Hertl also approaches free agency as an RFA.

[Want to follow the action? Here’s the full schedule, including where to watch.]

East

Tampa Bay Lightning

Biggest contract year: J.T. Miller could really market himself if he can produce alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

The Lightning stand out as one of the teams with the most interest in how this might grease the wheels for extensions, though. Kucherov’s due for an enormous raise over his almost-insulting $4.767M cap hit, while Ryan McDonagh‘s similar mark also runs out after 2018-19.

New Jersey Devils

Biggest contract year: There are quite a few depth players on expiring deals in New Jersey, yet the most interesting names are imports from the trade deadline in Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon.

So far, Maroon has been especially useful since being traded to the Devils, as he has 13 points in 17 games with New Jersey. It could really help him to prove that he can score without Connor McDavid‘s help.

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Boston Bruins

Biggest contract year: “Ri-Nash needs cash.” Both Rick Nash and Riley Nash are in contract years, with each forward set to be UFAs. Rick Nash probably grades out an “Incomplete” so far in Boston, as he’s only scored six points with the B’s, yet he’s been limited to 11 games played.

Considering how snakebitten Rick Nash has been, it would be pretty funny if he went on a tear in the playoffs. The Bruins wouldn’t mind, even if it would mean that his time would be short with Boston.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Biggest contract year: The Maple Leafs decided to keep rather than trade James van Riemsdyk, even though a lot of signs point to JVR moving on after this season.

For the second time in his career, he passed the 30-goal mark, collecting a career-high 36 goals. Still, this has been far from a fluke, as he’s scored 29 and 27 during other campaigns and has been a reliable 50+ point guy when healthy.

It’s anyone’s guess what kind of deal he’ll command, and that’s doubly true if he helps the Maple Leafs beat the Bruins.

There are other notable names (Tyler Bozak, Tomas Plekanec, and Leo Komarov especially), but JVR is the contract year player to watch for Toronto.

Washington Capitals

Biggest contract year: John Carlson‘s long been a solid scorer for Washington, generating 37 points three times and even hitting 55 once. His contract year’s been one to note, though, as he topped all NHL defensemen with a whopping 68 points, including a career-high of 15 goals.

Carlson is poised for a big raise over his near-$4M cap hit. Piling on big postseason numbers would inflate that even more.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Biggest contract year: Boone Jenner fits the mold of a guy who could blow up for a playoff run, as right now, it’s really tough to truly gauge the value of a one-time 30-goal scorer who only managed 32 points this season.

Thomas Vanek and Jack Johnson both have a lot to play for, even though they’re in supporting roles for CBJ.

The biggest situations to eye are players whose deals run through 2018-19. Sergei Bobrovsky and Zach Werenski both could get extensions during the off-season.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Biggest contract year: Some of the bigger concerns fall after 2018-19, although Jamie Oleksiak might be the latest member of The Justin Schultz Club: players who landed with Pittsburgh and then revitalized their careers (and paychecks). Bryan Rust and Riley Sheahan also need to earn some dough.

Philadelphia Flyers

Biggest contract year: None of the Flyers’ goalies are locked up for all that long. Petr Mrazek‘s deal is expiring this summer, while Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both see their contracts run out after 2018-19. Philly’s goalies pose plenty of questions, yet you’d think that motivation won’t be lacking.

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.

Capitals vs. Blue Jackets: PHT 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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The matchup between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets will see a pair of teams that have failed to make long playoff runs in recent history. The Jackets have never made it out of the first round, while the Caps haven’t made it further than the second round in the “Ovechkin era”.

For the first time in three seasons, the Capitals didn’t come away with the Presidents’ Trophy. That might not be a bad thing considering they got knocked off in the second round each of the last two years they took home the regular-season award. Even though they didn’t finish with the best record in the league in 2017-18, the spotlight will still be bright if they fail to make a run again this year.

They already lost a number of key free agents over the last couple of years and potentially losing John Carlson would be another devastating blow to their Cup window. Saying it’s a do-or-die year for the Capitals is probably a little excessive, but they aren’t getting any younger, that much is clear.

Washington finished the year with a Metropolitan-best 49-26-7 record. That was good enough to give them 105 points in the standings, which was sixth-best in the entire NHL.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

As for the Blue Jackets, they had an up-and-down year. They won some games early in the year, despite not playing good hockey, per their head coach John Tortorella. They hit a major bump in the road in the middle of the year before finally getting back on track at the end of the season. Of course, having Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes certainly helps smooth over some of the rough patches that occur during a season.

Have they peaked too early? That remains to be seen, but there’s no denying that they saved their best hockey for the end of the regular season. Although they didn’t finish in the top three in the Metro, they’re probably happy to avoid the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions, who have knocked them out of the playoffs each of the last two times they were in them.

Despite having three more wins than the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus finished in the first Wild Card spot in the East while the Flyers were third in the Metro (Philadelphia lost 14 games in OT/shootouts). The Blue Jackets had a 45-30-7 record, but three of those losses came against the Capitals. They only managed to take down Washington once in their four meetings with their division rival.

SCHEDULE

FORWARDS

Washington: The Capitals have one of the most dynamic forward groups in the league. Led by Rocket Richard winner Alex Ovechkin (49 goals, 87 points), they have the ability to put the puck in the net as regularly as any other team in the playoffs. Outside of Ovechkin, the Caps also have solid depth down the middle with Nicklas Backstrom (21 goals, 71 points), Evgeny Kuznetsov (27 goals, 83 points), Lars Eller (18 goals, 38 points) and Jay Beagle. That doesn’t even include the likes of T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson (14 goals, 35 points) and Andre Burakovsky (12 goals 25 points). The Caps are set up front. Oshie missed the final game of the season, but he’s expected to be ready for the start of the playoffs.

Columbus: Cam Atkinson (24 goals, 46 points) got off to a rough start this season, but he emerged as one of the key figures in the Blue Jackets’ turnaround late in the season. They may not have a superstar like Ovechkin, Backstrom or Kuznetsov, but they have more than enough depth to help them get by. Atkinson, Artemi Panarin (27 goals, 82 points), Nick Foligno (15 goals, 33 points), Boone Jenner (13 goals, 32 points), Pierre-Luc Dubois (20 goals, 48 points), Oliver Bjorkstrand (11 goals, 40 points) Alexander Wennberg (eight goals, 35 points) and Thomas Vanek (15 points in 19 games with Columbus) can all help facilitate offense.

Advantage: Capitals. They’re superior down the middle and the overall quality and depth is simply better than what Columbus has at their disposal. Oh, and that Ovechkin guy makes a big difference, too.

DEFENSE

Washington: The Capitals have a quality number one defenseman in Carlson (15 goals, 68 points), but there’s a steep drop off after that. Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov have the experience of being in the playoffs before, while Michal Kempny, Christian Djoos, Jakub Jerabek and Madison Bowey will attempt to serve as more than just depth pieces at this crucial time of year.

Columbus: Zach Werenski (16 goals, 37 points) and Seth Jones (16 goals, 57 points) arguably make up the best pairing in the NHL. Matchups will be key in this series, and Tortorella being able to lean on those two could be the difference between winning the round and going home early. Those two are elite, there’s no denying that. Don’t be surprised if you see them log close to 30 minutes per game in the postseason. Columbus also has Markus Nutivaara, Ryan Murray, David Savard and Stanley Cup champion Ian Cole on the back end.

Advantage: Columbus. It’s clear that the Capitals don’t have a pairing that comes close to what Jones and Werenski can do. The duo have the ability to be game-changers in this series. But don’t sleep on Nutivaara, either. He’s another useful asset for this team.

GOALTENDING:

Washington: Under normal circumstances, the Capitals would have an advantage between the pipes because they have Braden Holtby, but the veteran has struggled throughout the year (2.99 goals-against-average, .907 save percentage). He managed to play better down the stretch, which is encouraging if you’re a Caps fan. But Philipp Grubauer has been named the starter in Game 1. It’ll be interesting to see if they utilize both in the series.

Columbus: Sergei Bobrovsky (2.42 goals-against-average, .921 save percentage) has probably been the most consistent Blue Jacket all year. When their stars weren’t performing early on, it was Bobrovsky that bailed them out. There’s no denying it, as good as some of the forwards and defensemen are on this team, he’s the backbone of the operation. The Russian netminder has the ability to steal a game, a series and potentially a Cup. Solving him won’t be easy.

Advantage: Columbus. The Capitals may have two capable goaltenders, but the Blue Jackets have “the” goaltender. That’s not to say that Grubauer or Holtby can’t get hot, but if you look at the body of work that each of these three players put in this season, you can’t deny that Bobrovsky is the best of the bunch. He has the ability to push the Blue Jackets over the top.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Washington: As you’d imagine, the Capitals finished the regular season with the seventh best power play in the NHL at 22.5 percent. Ovechkin led the way with 17 goals on the man-advantage. The Caps rely heavily on their top five players when it comes to power-play production. Carlson (32), Ovechkin (31) Kuznetsov (30), Backstrom (26), Oshie (18) led the Caps in points on the power play. The sixth best forward in that category was Lars Eller, and he only had six.

The Caps were in the middle of the pack when it came to the penalty kill during the regular season. At 80.3 percent, they were the 15th-best PK unit in the league.

Columbus: The Blue Jackets power play was near the basement of the NHL for most of the early part of the season, but a slight improvement allowed them to jump up to 25th in the league at 17.2 percent. Typically, power play goals are harder to come by in the playoffs, so the Jackets have to make sure that they get some kind of production from that unit.

Believe it or not, they were even further down the list when it came to the penalty kill, as they ranked 27th in the league at 76.2 percent. Only Tampa, Philadelphia, Montreal and the New York Islanders were worse. Ironically enough, two of those four teams are in the playoffs.

Advantage: Washington. The numbers couldn’t be any clearer.

X-FACTORS

Washington: Yes, Grubauer is starting Game 1, but the Caps’ X-factor still has to be Holtby. If he can regain his Vezina Trophy-winning form, he’ll make the Capitals that much more of a force this postseason. If he goes back to being the mediocre goalie he was throughout the 2017-18 regular season, it’ll be tougher for them to get through to the next round. That’s not to say that Grubauer can’t get the job done, but the Caps are a better team when Holtby is on his game.

Columbus: Atkinson managed to find his game, thankfully, but he’s going to have to keep it going right through the postseason. He finished the year by collecting 25 points in his final 20 games, which was huge for Columbus because it gave them another red-hot option behind Panarin.

PREDICTION

Capitals in seven games. Both teams will be eager to put their lackluster playoff track records behind them, but the Capitals’ star-power will push them over the edge. Even though Washington is a better team overall, it still won’t be easy for them to dispose of the Blue Jackets.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Nashville Predators vs. Washington Capitals

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Watch Live On NBCSN

Nashville Predators

Forwards

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson

Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith

Colton SissonsNick BoninoRyan Hartman

Miikka SalomakiMike FisherAustin Watson

Defense

Roman JosiRyan Ellis

Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban

Alexei EmelinAnthony Bitetto / Matt Irwin

Goaltender: Juuse Saros

NHL On NBCSN: Predators can clinch Central Division, Western Conference

Washington Capitals

Forwards

Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson

Andre BurakovskyNick BackstromTJ Oshie

Brett ConnollyLars EllerDevante Smith-Pelly

Chandler Stephenson-Travis Boyd- Alex Chiasson

Defense

Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson

Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Goalie: Philip Grubauer

————

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Playoff Push: Must-win games

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For a select few NHL teams, we’re truly in “must-win” territory.

In fact, certain games could determine if we’ll see much drama during the final week of the 2018-19 season. On the bright side, it sure seems like the Avalanche and Blues will finish their seasons with a do-or-die game in Colorado on Saturday.

Now, it’s true that the Stars aren’t technically out of the running yet, although their chances remain slim. It’s also tough to imagine the Kings and Ducks slipping out (the odds look good for three California teams to make it, based on multiple projections). So, yes, there’s at least some room for more plot twists.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

It’s easiest to picture one playoff spot coming down to the Avs or the Blues, though. Naturally, both teams need to hold up their ends of the bargain to make that a do-or-die scenario instead of an underwhelming formality.

West

While the competition’s been heftier for the Avalanche, they’ve also been afforded more opportunities to face other bubble teams head-to-head.

They received one of those chances on Sunday, managing to grab a point in overtime before succumbing to the Ducks. The Avs face a tough test in closing up a back-to-back set, as they’ll face a (comparatively) rested and driven Kings team in Los Angeles. No doubt, this 48-hour span is a real test for Nathan MacKinnon & Co.

The Avs might not get much help from the Blues’ opponent, as the Capitals clinched the Metro Division and don’t have anything but pride and individual pursuits to play for. St. Louis can’t totally dismiss the latter point, however, as John Carlson is hoping to drive up his free agent value while Alex Ovechkin aims for another Maurice Richard Trophy.

 

Still, the Blues probably drew the Capitals at the perfect time to grab a win, so we’ll see if they can follow through.

Other West games are more about playoff positioning than fighting for a postseason berth altogether.

The Wild would really need to collapse to not end up with the third spot in the Central Division. They might be reeling with Ryan Suter‘s injury, and the Oilers have spoiler potential with Connor McDavid on fire to close out the season, but this is the type of game Minny should win. Or so you’d think.

Winnipeg is almost certain to face Minnesota as the Central’s second seed, but if the Jets want to keep any hope of winning the division alive, they’ll need to beat Ottawa. Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting the night off, among others, so the Jets might err on the side of caution.

East

Monday stands as a bigger day out West, and it’s up to the Florida Panthers to keep any drama alive in the East.

The Cats trail the Devils by seven points for the final wild-card spot in the East, but they’re not totally hopeless with two games in hand on New Jersey (not to mention Columbus and Philly, if those two teams aren’t totally out of reach already).

The Panthers have been a lot more effective at home than on the road this season, so the table is set for a win against Carolina in Florida. That said, the Panthers are suffering from a three-game losing streak while the Hurricanes have won four of their last six contests, so there’s at least a mild threat that another upset might happen.

Losing to Carolina in regulation would almost certainly doom Florida’s playoff hopes, even if it wouldn’t mathematically eliminate the Panthers from contention.

If the playoffs started today

Biggest games

Hurricanes at Panthers, 7:30 p.m. ET
Capitals at Blues, 8 p.m. ET
Avalanche at Kings, 10:30 p.m. ET

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.