PHT Power Rankings: Red Wings hit rock bottom

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For two decades the Detroit Red Wings were on top of the NHL (or at least consistently close to it) and one of the elite franchises in the league. Always in the playoffs, usually a legitimate threat to win it all, and a Stanley Cup Finalist six times between 1995 and 2009, more than any other team in the league during that stretch.

Eventually that run was going to end, and in recent seasons you could kind of see the slide slowly starting to begin. They stopped winning in the playoffs. They had become a team that would get into the top-eight but never really go anywhere once they got there. Core players got older. The scouting staff and farm system wasn’t finding and developing Hall of Famers in the back half of the draft anymore.

The team was clearly starting to descend down the mountain.

That descent has now turned into a complete collapse, and they may have hit rock bottom over the past couple of weeks.

At least for this season. Who knows how much deeper this can go in future seasons.

After being systematically dismantled by Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, the Red Wings enter the week having lost 10 games in a row, have one of the worst records in the NHL, and just look … bad.

The most concerning thing of all, though, is that this is not just a bad team this season, it is one of the oldest teams in the NHL, one of the most expensive teams in the NHL, and 15 of the players on the roster are under contract for next season with more than $58 million in cap space committed to them.

Even worse: Who on this team is a player that can be the centerpiece of any sort of a rebuild or offer legitimate hope for the future?

Dylan Larkin is still only 21 years old and has shown flashes of being an impact player at various times in his young career. But he has also 23 goals … over the past two years. Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou look like they could be useful players, but they are not franchise building blocks. Gustav Nyquist is going to be 29 next season and has topped 50 points once in his career. There is not one player on the defense right now that is under the age of 27 and other than Mike Green all of them are signed through at least next season.

All of that, including the recent 10-game losing streak, has them sitting in the No. 31 spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else sit?

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Nashville Predators — These guys have not lost a game in regulation since Feb. 17 and have only lost two in regulation since the beginning of February. Best record in the league, hottest team in the league, where else are they going to be in the standings?

2. Boston Bruins — Maybe the wrong Bruin has been getting MVP buzz this season. Instead of Patrice Bergeron it might be Brad Marchand that is driving the bus.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have not played their best hockey lately … and they are still 10-2-1 over their past 13 games. Insanity.

4. Winnipeg Jets — Patrik Laine is still an unstoppable force right now. Ovechkin-like in his recent dominance.

The rest of the contenders

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They have not had Auston Matthews, their best player, since Feb. 22 and are still 6-2-2 in 10 games without him and enter the week riding a four-game winning streak.

6. Vegas Golden Knights — They are only 7-6-1 in their past 14 games and starting to cool off just slightly. Still have a firm grip on the Pacific Division and William Karlsson is going to score more than 40 goals this season. What a season.

7. Washington Capitals — Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s injury could be a big deal in the short-term. Also sort of a big deal: What is going on with the goalie situation where Philip Grubauer is taking some starts from Braden Holtby. And playing really, really, really well.

8. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is two goals away from what would be his third 40-goal season. Only six other active players (Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, and Marian Hossa — technically he is still active) have at least three such seasons.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins — Goaltending is still a huge question mark with Matt Murray sidelined, but he seems to be getting closer to a return. The Penguins need him if they are going to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

The middle ground

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — With seven wins in a row they have not only solidified their playoff position, they have a real chance to get back into the top-three in the Metropolitan Division. Would that give them the best possible matchup in the first-round, though (potentially playing Pittsburgh instead of Washington)?

11. San Jose Sharks — Not many people are talking about the Sharks but they are going for home-ice in the first-round and have won seven of their past nine games. All of this without Joe Thornton for most of the season.

12. Colorado Avalanche — They have earned at least a point in 12 of their past 14 games and Nathan MacKinnon is playing like the league MVP. They are quietly making a push at a top-three spot in the Central Division.

13. New Jersey Devils — After going five consecutive games without a point, No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischer has bounced back with five points in his past five games. He may not be Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews as a No. 1 overall pick, but he is the second-leading scorer on a playoff team as a 19-year-old. That is impressive.

14. Philadelphia Flyers — Petr Mrazek has not been good since arriving in Philadelphia, carrying an .888 save percentage with the Flyers into the week.

15. Anaheim Ducks — Rickard Rakell is making a run for the title of “NHL’s most underrated player.” He is currently in the middle of his second straight 30-goal season.

16. St. Louis Blues — It is kind of amazing they are still hanging around. They looked finished a week ago but four wins in five games has kept their playoff hopes alive.

17. Los Angeles Kings — They are clinging to a playoff spot but their inconsistency has made it impossible for them to put any distance between them and the rest of the pack.

Fading fast

18. Florida Panthers — All of that work to get back into the playoff race then they lose home games to Ottawa and Edmonton and now have to play seven of their next eight games on the road.

19. Calgary Flames — Mike Smith had a great season prior to his injury and his absence was a big part of their late season slide. His return has not yet made an impact as he has given up 10 goals in his first two starts.

20. Dallas Stars — There is never a good time to lose eight out of 10, but the worst possible time to do it is late in the season when you are in the middle of a tight playoff race with five other teams. They are spending way too much money to be this mediocre.

The Lottery

21. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid is trying to win the scoring title for the second year in a row, and with the way he is going right now it would probably not be wise to bet against him. It is appalling that the team around him is so bad.

22. New York Rangers — Alexandar Georgiev has played well down the stretch, and Ryan Spooner has put up a ton of points since being acquired in the big trade with the Boston Bruins. So there is that.

23. Carolina Hurricanes — This season has been the past few years of this organization in a nutshell. Just enough to build up excitement, seem like they are getting close, then fell apart.

24. Chicago Blackhawks — Alex DeBrincat has three hat tricks this season and is tied for the team lead in goals as a rookie. He has been a bright spot in a lost season.

25. Ottawa Senators — They had a chance to play spoiler with three wins in a row recently, including two over playoff hopefuls Florida and Dallas.

26. Arizona Coyotes — They still have the worst record in the league, but as we said a week ago they haven’t played like the worst team in the league for a few weeks. And have you seen the teams below them lately? Yikes.

27. Buffalo Sabres — Jack Eichel is back which should give Sabres fans something worthwhile to watch down the stretch.

28. New York Islanders — They have won five of their past 22 games and only one of their past 12. What else is left to say? The only win for this team this season is they own Calgary’s first (and second) round draft pick which should give them two shots at the draft lottery.

A tier all their own at the bottom

29. Montreal Canadiens — An already mediocre team without three of its top players (Carey Price, Shea Weber, Max Pacioretty) and the recent results are reflecting that.

30. Vancouver Canucks — Sometimes it seems like we have not really paid much attention to just how bad the Canucks have been over the past three seasons.

31. Detroit Red Wings — Ten. Games. In. A Row.

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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.

Senators seem to be in no-win situation with Erik Karlsson

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Imagine being an Ottawa Senators fan right now.

Now that you have done that for a second and hopefully resisted the urge to set yourself on fire, try to picture the situation that your favorite team is currently facing.

Less than one year removed from being a double overtime Game 7 loss away from being in the Stanley Cup Final, your team is now one of the worst in the NHL and doesn’t seem to have a terribly bright short-term future in front of it.

Your team does have one of the NHL’s best players in Erik Karlsson, a generational talent on defense that can impact the game in a way few defenders ever have.

That is good.

But now your team is in a situation where it probably won’t be able to keep him.

That is … less than good.

It is no secret that Karlsson, whose contract expires after the 2018-19 season, is going to want to become one of the highest paid players in the NHL (as he should be) and is difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Senators are going to be able or willing to handle that demand. And even if they could, Karlsson has to actually want to re-sign there.

Are the Senators going to be able to build a competitive team around him? Is he going to want to commit to the team they might be able to build or are building?

Big questions that leave the team in the situation it is facing right now where it has to decide whether or not to trade him at some point before the end of next season.

There is already growing speculation that it could happen before Monday’s trade deadline.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie wrote on Wednesday that the Senators are at least open to the idea of trading Karlsson this season before the deadline, and that a potential deal could also include the Senators trying to package Bobby Ryan with him in an effort to dump the remainder of Ryan’s contract. That would not only severely limit the number of teams that could actually complete a trade, but it would also probably reduce the return they get for Karlsson.

At this point it’s all just talk and speculation, but it’s still a sad reality to consider for Senators fans.

Think about the message that sort of trade would send to your fans.

It would basically be: Hey, we can’t really keep the best player we have and maybe the best player you will ever see play for our team in your lifetime. Oh, and one more thing, we also took a slightly lesser return for him so we could dump another contract we can’t afford. Sorry about that.

It just stinks to even consider.

Having said that, if the Senators are going to do it, if they are going to trade Erik freaking Karlsson, this might sadly be the best possible time to do it.

Normally I am one billion percent opposed to trading players like Karlsson.

You can’t win without them. They are nearly impossible to acquire. You can rarely, if ever, get fair value for them back in return. It is worth paying them top dollar under the salary cap, even if it means you have to trim somewhere else around the edges to keep them. One truly great player is worth more than two pretty good players.

But if you think your chances of keeping the player are slim — whether because you can’t afford them or because they don’t want to re-sign with you — can you really risk losing a player like that for nothing?

If the Senators wait until the offseason or at some point into next season the return likely diminishes because the team getting him is only guaranteed to have him for one season (or less). Any team that trades for him now gets two potential Stanley Cup runs with him. His value is probably never going to be higher than it is right now.

If the Senators actually go through with it would be the type of move we don’t normally see at trade deadline time. The biggest impact players that have been traded over the past years (Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk, etc.) have been players that were already in the final year of their contracts. This is a player that is not only one of the best in the world, but still has term remaining.

In the end, it all just seems to be a no-win situation for the Senators.

Keeping him and hoping that he re-signs is a huge risk because losing him for nothing would be a devastating.

Trading him is a gut punch to your fans because you only get players like him every so often and you’re probably not going to get fair value back.

Waiting to trade him next season probably only lessons the return based on how much time the team trading for him is guaranteed to have with him.

But what other choice do the Senators have? There is nothing to suggest this season is a fluke for the Senators (if anything, the previous season was the fluke) and that better days are ahead. There is nothing to suggest they are going to make significant investments to build a better team around Karlsson in the next year to convince him to stay.

If these are the final days of Karlsson as a member of the Senators, it is a frustrating way to go out.

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.

 

Price of success finally catching up to Blackhawks

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The Chicago Blackhawks have made the playoffs in each of the last nine seasons, but that streak looks like it’s in some trouble.

After last night’s 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars, the ‘Hawks find themselves eight points behind Minnesota for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Both teams have played 54 games.

If you’re rooting for them to make the playoffs, you’ll likely be disappointed by what general manager Stan Bowman said yesterday.

“I don’t expect us to be a buyer this year,” Bowman said, per The Athletic’s Scott Powers. “It has nothing to do with where we are in the standings. It’s just that each season is a little bit different. Your team is different.

“I think the strength of our team is we’re trying to build some young players we’re going to have. We have a lot of new players this year relative to last year. I think it’s hard when you bring in 11, 12 new players every year.”

The price of success

Obviously, Bowman has a point. Being successful in today’s NHL comes at a price. Eventually, your best players have to get paid. And since you can’t pay everybody, you’re bound to lose players either via trade or in free agency.

Last summer, for example, they were forced to trade Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa had to stop playing because of an allergy and Scott Darling‘s rights were dealt to Carolina. Those are three pretty signifiant pieces of the puzzle to lose in one offseason.

On top of losing those players, the Blackhawks have also been without starting goalie Corey Crawford for a good chunk of the year (having Darling would’ve helped). They’ve watched as “new” acquisitions like Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad have struggled and to make matters worse, long-time ‘Hawks Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith don’t appear to be as effective as they once were.

Thankfully for them, they have young players that have made progress in 2017-18. Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz lead the way in that department. Both players have have shown that they have a bright future ahead of them. The problem is that Chicago doesn’t have a ton of young assets to work with. That’s another down side to winning, you draft late and you have to work harder to find quality prospects.

Heading into this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Bowman is already without his second and fourth round draft picks, but he does have two selections in round five. So using picks to help improve the roster right now shouldn’t be an option.

Fixing the cap situation

Bowman shouldn’t be in a hurry to offload big names either, but if Chicago is going to turn this thing around quickly they’ll have to get their salary cap situation in order, which won’t be easy considering Toews, Keith, Seabrook, Saad and Patrick Kane combine to make almost $39.5 million per season. All five of them are also signed for at least three more years.

We’ve heard that scoring wingers like Rick Nash, Evander Kane, Max Pacioretty and Mike Hoffman are all available, but it’ll be interesting to see if the ‘Hawks are willing to unload Saad after a mediocre season. They could certainly use the $6 million in cap space, but getting rid of him when his value is at its lowest probably isn’t a great idea, either.

It would be surprising to see them try to unload Keith and/or Toews, so that’s likely not an option and there’s no way they’re moving Kane. The biggest challenge will be to find a way for someone to take Seabrook off their hands. If they could get rid of his $6.875 million cap hit (signed through 2023-24), that would change the game. Unfortunately for them, his play and no-move clause make that nearly impossible.Bowman will have to continue being creative with the bottom of his roster, if he’s going to help his team make it back to the postseason soon.

It’s clear that the roster isn’t in good shape, but it’s important to remember that this core won three Stanley Cups together. But a lot of teams would sign up for a few years of salary cap hell if it meant taking home three championships.

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.

Connor McDavid may author one of NHL’s best wasted seasons

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Considering the fact that he plays for the Edmonton Oilers, it’s probably most tempting to compare Connor McDavid to Wayne Gretzky.

The 2017-18 season might prompt McDavid to feel a little bit more like early-years Mario Lemieux: a superlative player whose sensational scoring often wasn’t enough to lift some putrid teams into the playoffs.

Thanks to last night’s dazzling four-goal, one-assist effort in a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, McDavid is now tied for third place in scoring with 61 points, just five behind Nikita Kucherov‘s 66 for the NHL lead.

Monday served as the exclamation point to what’s been another great season by McDavid, yet it’s difficult to shake the impression that even his superstar work won’t foist the Oilers into the playoffs.

As of this writing, the Oilers are barely ahead of the Vancouver Canucks for third-to-last in the West, and they trail the final wild card spot by a whopping 11 points. Different forecasts put their playoff chances somewhere between three and less than one percent.

Quotes like these make it sting to realize that hockey fans probably won’t see McDavid during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

With a scoring pace just a step behind last year’s 100-point masterpiece, McDavid might end up putting together one of the truly great runs for a player whose team missed the playoffs.

Actually, it begs the question: what are some of the best performances by players whose teams missed out?

This isn’t a comprehensive list, so feel free to add your own suggestions.

Might as well call it The Mario Lemieux Trophy

From his debut in 1984-85 through the 1988-89 season, Lemieux scored 715 points in just 368 regular season games. During that same time period, “The Magnificent One” only played in 11 postseason contests.

McDavid’s run with Edmonton lasted 13 games last postseason, so number 97 can take solace in the suffering number 66 endured before Lemieux eventually raised the Stanley Cup on two occasions.

Then again, if forced to choose, McDavid would rather follow the path of Lemieux rather than all-time great/bad luck case Marcel Dionne, who collected 1,771 points during his career but only played in 49 playoff games.

Some interesting contemporary examples

  • Last season, Kucherov provided a preview of what he could do, even without a boost from Steven Stamkos (who’s suffered through a few lousy seasons of his own, during the darker Lightning days). Kucherov’s 40 goals ranked second in the NHL last season, and his 85 points placed him fifth, but Tampa Bay still fell short of the playoffs.
  • You might as well consider a section for Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.

Marian Hossa had some great seasons in his short stay with the Thrashers, with his 100-points season in 2006-07  helping Atlanta actually make the playoffs … only to be swept. Ilya Kovalchuk slogged through eight seasons with the Thrashers, scoring 328 goals while being limited to that lone sweep. Kovalchuk got a chance to show that he could be a prolific playoff performer in New Jersey, as Hossa did bouncing around from great teams until he stuck with the Blackhawks.

The Thrashers make the Winnipeg Jets’ growing pains seem modest, but that doesn’t mean that Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele haven’t seen some strong seasons go to waste. Wheeler’s been there since the latter Atlanta days (23 games before the move), so he deserves extra kudos if Winnipeg can finally make a big run this season.

  • It’s a blessing that Jarome Iginla enjoyed the spotlight of a run within one win of a Stanley Cup, because he dealt with a raw deal in 2001-02.

His 52 goals and 96 points were pretty outstanding during the height of the ugly “clutch and grab” days, yet he was robbed of the Hart Trophy (sorry, Jose Theodore) and finished out of the playoffs with 79 standings points.

  • Taylor Hall is about to play his 500th regular season game without ever playing in the postseason. At least he’s had a sense of humor about his lack of team luck … maybe this is the year he finally makes it?

  • Jack Eichel is closing in on his first truly great season, as he’s on pace to shred his career-highs of 24 goals (he’s already at 20) and 57 points (Eichel has 49 in 52 games). The top two picks of the 2015 NHL Draft probably don’t want to have this sort of thing in common, but alas.

***

You could probably throw some great goalies and defensemen from bad teams into the mix, too, but this post was already getting a little sprawling, so add your own picks in the comments (or on Twitter/via email).

It would be a shame (some might argue a fireable offense) to see McDavid’s wonderful work wasted this season. At least he’s not alone, though.

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.

Coach Q: Blackhawks must work to get out of ‘terrible spot’

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CHICAGO (AP) It was quite a first impression. The Chicago Blackhawks began their season with a dominant 10-1 victory over two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, looking very much like a contender to unseat the Penguins atop the NHL.

It has been more mess than masterpiece since that impressive opening night in October.

Chicago begins the second half of the season looking up at the rest of the loaded Central Division, where every team has at least 20 wins and 46 points. Goaltender Corey Crawford and key center Artem Anisimov are on injured reserve, and they don’t appear to be coming back anytime soon. Coach Joel Quenneville has tried several different lines and defensive pairings, but remains in search of the consistency almost taken for granted during his long tenure with the Blackhawks.

“We know our division, our conference is tough,” Quenneville said. “We’re in a terrible spot, a spot we haven’t been in in a long time. We got to do it ourselves and find a way to climb out of it and work our way through it.”

Chicago has made the playoffs every year since Quenneville took over four games into the 2008-09 season. The Blackhawks won it all in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but lost in the first round of the postseason in each of the last two years, including an embarrassing sweep by Nashville last April.

If Quenneville and company can’t get back on track in the final part of the season, the organization could be headed for wholesale changes.

“We’ve had some games where we want to be and then some nights where we’re way off,” center Nick Schmaltz said after Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Edmonton. “If we can find that consistency where we bring the same effort every night – a full 60 minutes is huge. Tonight was a great showing of that. Hopefully we can build off that and continue to put together a strong performance.”

The return of Crawford and Anisimov could provide a big lift. Crawford (2.27 goals-against average, .929 save percentage) was working on perhaps his best season when he was placed on IR on Dec. 27. Anisimov, who has 13 goals, was placed on the injured list two days later.

Crawford and Anisimov are out with upper-body injuries, and Quenneville has provided scant details on what is bothering each player or when they might return. He has indicated Anisimov is closer to coming back than Crawford, and each player should be able to return this season.

“Over the course of seasons, we’ve had some years relatively injury-free,” Quenneville said. “This year was looking pretty clean for a while, but they can happen.”

While the injuries and standings are cause for concern for the Blackhawks, there have been some positive signs recently. Vinnie Hinostroza has three goals and five assists in 11 games since he was promoted from the minors last month, adding a speedy presence to Chicago’s top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. Young defenseman Jordan Oesterle has three goals in his last five games.

Chicago (20-15-6) also should be able to take on some money at the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 26. Marian Hossa has been on long-term injured reserve all season, creating some valuable salary-cap space for the Blackhawks as they try to chase down a playoff spot in their crowded division with just 11 points separating Chicago and Central-leading Winnipeg.

“The other day we were plus-five and now we’re plus-five and now we’re still chasing it,” Quenneville said after the win over the Oilers. “We got some work to do. Obviously you’re going to have to have a good strong second half to get in.”

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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