Mikhail Sergachev

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These GMs are paying dearly for bad gambles

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Earlier today, PHT spoke about the resounding, uncomfortable parallels between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel struggling to start this season (or at least struggling to find team success).

One can see a similar phenomenon occurring with some NHL GMs who made bold, polarizing moves to craft their teams in their images. In each case, their teams are likely to rebound – at least to some extent – yet it’s remarkable to see the similarities in how they’re being burned for, essentially, making unforced errors.

Ugly growths for Peter Chiarelli

Look, it’s not just about the Adam LarssonTaylor Hall trade, or even the Ryan StromeJordan Eberle move.

Instead, we’re looking at an Edmonton Oilers team built in the image of what GM Peter Chiarelli believes is a modern winner. Players like Hall and Eberle are gone, in part, to make room for Milan Lucic and Kris Russell. With more than $8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, the Oilers assumed that they didn’t need to make additional moves during the summer – particularly to improve their defense – and there’s debate that it’s already too late to make a push.

In this salary cap age, sometimes you need to wave goodbye to quality players, but Chiarelli has instead moved younger, possible core guys out for older, slower, less effective pieces. I’m not the first to make this joke, but Chiarelli is the “general disappointment,” not the team. He’s the one who shopped for questionable ingredients.

The Oilers are asking too much of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Cam Talbot (who carried a ridiculous workload last season). Merely look to Tuesday night to see the strain for these players.

Bergevin in a bind

The parallels between Chiarelli and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin are, honestly, almost startling. (Bergevin’s the better dresser, though.)

Bergevin’s bet big on the Canadiens in the short term. Most obviously, he moved a younger star defenseman in P.K. Subban for an older one with a scarier contract in Shea Weber. Even the Mikhail SergachevJonathan Drouin trade made the Habs older.

In many cases, the Habs suffer from old-school thinking in similar ways to the Oilers. The addition of Karl Alzner is divisive in that way, and it hasn’t gone well. Nathan Beaulieu isn’t a world-beater, but he can play a transition game that can help him fit in with the modern game, and the Canadiens gave him up for a pick. Andrei Markov walked to the KHL.

Much like $20M soon going to Connor McDavid + Leon Draisaitl, we can debate the Carey Price extension, especially with his health faltering, but those are the risks many NHL teams take. The thing that really stings Montreal is the unforced errors Bergevin’s made in crafting a team that plays “the old way” in some cases.

It hasn’t been pretty.

Another parallel between the Canadiens and the Oilers is that they both have cap space used for (???). It brings up a painful thought: Bergevin and Chiarelli, two swashbuckling traders, probably couldn’t get things done early this season. It’s basically the worst of both worlds for fans of the Canadiens and Oilers.

This quote from Bergevin via The Athletic’s Apron Basu (again, sub required), almost feels like he’s becoming slowly, painfully self-aware:

” … So it’s hard to make trades, it’s just the way it is,” Bergevin said. “There’s a few here and there, but at the end of the day teams want to keep their core players. That’s just the way it is.”

Bad defenses, a feeling of desperation mixed with little room for moves, and all this cap space going to waste. Yeah, this is sounding familiar. Both teams are also suffering with goalie headaches, with Carey Price ailing and Talbot struggling.

Thank goodness Dale Tallon’s back?

Of course, in both cases, asking for an Oilers/Canadiens trade is a “careful what you wish for” proposition.

Just look at the Florida Panthers and reinstated GM Dale Tallon, who showed an almost charming lack of self-awareness in discussing his return to a team that … still seems rudderless.

The Panthers allowed Jaromir Jagr to walk in free agency and gave Jason Demers, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault away for little more than mulligans.

Last season, Florida saw crushing injuries to Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau while experiencing a slew of front office headaches. Tallon’s been able to resume control, and in doing so, going back to … wait for it … and old-school design.

Oh yeah, and gutting the sort of depth you need to succeed when that awesome Barkov line can’t do everything, kind of like Edmonton struggling when McDavid can’t do everything. This all sound familiar, doesn’t it?

***

Seriously, the parallels get creepier the deeper you dive.

The three teams even boast nearly identical records. Both the Oilers and Panthers are 7-11-2 as of this writing, while the Canadiens sit at 8-11-2.

Now there are differences at hand; it seems like the Canadiens and Oilers are at least regretting decisions, while there’s some (at least public) defiance from Tallon. It’s also fair to expect improvements in each situation, especially with Montreal and Edmonton.

And that brings us to an important question: are these teams learning any lessons about giving up skill and speed? For all we know, it might be too late for this season, but McDavid, Barkov, and others are still easily young enough that their teams can get back on the right path.

That might not happen if their teams keep making the same, critical mistakes.

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.

Is it time for the Canadiens to blow up their roster?

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The 2017-18 season isn’t even two months old, and the Montreal Canadiens already find themselves at a crossroads. Is it time for them to start rebuilding?

The Canadiens, who are 8-11-2 after three straight losses to Columbus, Arizona and Toronto, have over $7 million in cap space, but they have nowhere to use it. They already traded a blue-chip prospect in Mikhail Sergachev over the summer, and it’s not like their prospect pipeline is overflowing with quality either.

Clearly, losing Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov (for nothing) hurt this edition of the Canadiens.

The team just completed a six-game homestand  that they should have used to make up for their incredibly poor start to the year. Instead, they finished the stretch at the Bell Center with a mediocre 2-3-1 record (they barely beat Vegas and Buffalo, who were both playing their second game in two nights when they took on Montreal).

During the six-game home stretch, they managed to find the back of the net just 10 times (four of those goals came in the 5-4 loss to the Coyotes).

Up until this point, general manager Marc Bergevin has been unwilling to trade away his veterans for prospects and/or draft picks. That might be about to change, per Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

On Saturday’s “Headlines” segment, Kypreos mentioned that ownership and the front office will have a discussion about the direction of the team.

The one player that was singled out on the broadcast was Max Pacioretty, who has one year remaining (after this season) on his current contract.

Would the Canadiens be willing to move him? Maybe, but would they do so with the idea of a rebuild in mind? That remains to be seen.

You have to believe that Bergevin’s on thin ice. Despite being under contract until 2022, he has to be feeling the pressure right now. Montreal is a demanding hockey market, and although they have plenty of cap space, this team clearly isn’t better than it was last year.

The core is far from terrible. Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Carey Price and Jonathan Drouin are all quality hockey players, but they don’t have much depth up front and their defense might be one of the worst in the league after Weber. Jeff Petry has struggled, the contract they handed out to Karl Alzner appears to be a mistake, Jordie Benn, Joe Morrow and Brandon Davidson are all depth players, and Victor Mete is a promising 19-year-old that’s had his ice time cut lately.

When it comes to the center ice position, the Canadiens are still searching for answers. Drouin has been forced to learn on the job, which is far from ideal for a number one center. Behind him, there’s Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec, who are both better suited to be third liners.

In order to become one of the elite teams in the NHL, the Canadiens have to take a step back over the next couple of years. They might not have to rebuild from scratch because they do have key pieces, but the roster definitely needs a lot of work.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Do the Blues have the best first line in hockey?

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–Avalanche rookie Alex Kerfoot had an interesting Wednesday in Sweden, as he had an allergic reaction to something he ate in a small cafe. To make matters worse, he didn’t have his phone to contact anyone from the team, so he just went straight to a hospital. (NHL.com)

–The 2022 Beijing Olympics will be held in China, and the NHL is doing everything it can to grow the game in that market. There have been exhibition games there and teams have held youth and coaching seminars there, too. (NBCNews.com)

–Some Canadian filmmakers got an opportunity to take a deeper look at the North Korean National Team. Let’s just say their equipment and training methods are a little outdated though. (New York Times)

–Flames center Mikael Backlund is making just over $3.5 million in the final year of his contract. Calgary would like to keep him around, but they’re going to have to shell out a lot more money to lock him up. (The Hockey Writers)

–There have been rumblings about the availability of Oliver Ekman-Larsson via trade, but GM John Chayka made sure to set the record straight during a radio interview earlier this week. It doesn’t sound like the blue liner is going anywhere. (arizonasports.com)

Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t put up the numbers everyone expected him to over the last couple of years, but BSN Denver argues that he’s a much better player than most people think. (BSN Denver)

–Light House Hockey takes an in-depth look at a shift that got Josh Ho-Sang benched for a long time. After watching this, you’ll be able to understand why head coach Doug Weight has been frustrated with him. (Light House Hockey)

–A lot of people expected Mikhail Sergachev to stick with the Lightning this year, but there weren’t many who believed he’d have this kind of impact on the team in 2017-18. (Tampa Bay Times)

–There are a number of quality first lines in the NHL. When you break them all down, the Blues top trio of Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko might just be the best one in the league right now. (St. Louis Game Time)

–You may or may not have seen a photo of Islanders goalie Billy Smith sitting next to a pond (with all his equipment on) in the early 80’s. Well, many years later, The Score got the story behind this incredibly weird shoot. (The Score)

–Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will be honoring fallen K-9 officer Craig Lehner prior to Friday’s game. The netminder will wear a jersey with a C. Lehner nameplate during the warmup. Instead of wearing his usual number 40, Lehner will have number 43 on the back (the officer’s radio call sign). (Buffalo News)

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.

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Bruins vs. Rangers; Lightning vs. Sharks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. In the early game, the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins at 8:00 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

The Bruins are coming off a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Monday night. The victory was their second in three games. It appears as though they’re starting to get the ball rolling in the right direction despite being without some key pieces.

They’ve been forced to deal with a significant amount of injuries to key veterans, including David Krejci, David Backes and Brad Marchand. Starting goaltender Tuukka Rask and top center Patrice Bergeron have also missed games at different times in 2017-18.

“Guys are stepping up. They see their chance, they’re getting more ice time, getting more looks,” defenseman Zdeno Chara said after the win over the Wild, per the Boston Herald. “It’s great to see that guys are taking advantage of those chances, and they want to play and earn their ice time.”

Boston currently sits in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, but they’ve only skated in 13 games this season (no team has played in less games).

After getting off to a sluggish start, the Rangers have put together some positive momentum, as they’ve won four in a row and five of their last six contests.

Alain Vigneault’s hot seat seems to have cooled down (at least a little bit) now that the team has strung together a few wins.

One of the big reasons New York has been successful over the last week or so, is because their power play has starting cashing in on their opportunities. On Monday night, they scored three power play goals against Columbus. In their last five contests, they’ve gone 7-for-19 on the power play.

“We all have to be shooters first, and I think that’s the first thing that we tell each other,” Kevin Shattenkirk said, per the New York Post.

“I’m getting very clear lanes because everyone is shielding over to Mika (Zibanejad) because he is such a threat. So it’s important that I’m chipping in and getting my shots through, because at that time they’re going to have to pick someone.”

Despite being between the pipes for all four of the victories, Henrik Lundqvist‘s individual numbers are still lacking. He’s given up three goals or more in three of the four wins. He has a 3.07 goals-against-average and a .900 save percentage.

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 10:30 p.m. ET. To stream that game live, click here. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning will kick off their three-game California road trip with a visit to the Shark Tank. It’s never easy for an Eastern Conference team to head out to the West Coast, but the Lightning are well equipped to do on-ice damage in any city.

The Bolts are off to an incredible 11-2-2 start. A lot of the credit will be given to forwards like Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who have 25 and 23 points respectively in 15 games. But you can’t ignore the contributions they’ve received from Brayden Point, Vladislav Namestnikov, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev, Andrei Vasilevskiy and many others.

This team may have missed the playoffs last year, but they’re healthy and clearly on a mission. They’ve dropped just one decision in regulation since Oct. 9, and they’ve showed absolutely no signs of slowing down.

Tonight’s contest should provide us with an interesting special teams battle, as Tampa has the second ranked power play in the league, while the Sharks own the second best penalty killing unit.

San Jose has been a whole lot better on the kill this year than they were last year. To learn more about their remarkable improvement, check out this story by NBC Sports Bay Area‘s Marcus White.

The Sharks’ biggest problem is that they can’t find the back of the net with any kind of regularity. Their 36 goals rank 29th in NHL behind only Carolina and Edmonton.

On a positive note, they’ll come into this game having won four in a row. They scored just one goal in regulation during their 2-1 shootout win over Anaheim on Saturday night, but they scored four times against the Predators last Wednesday night.

Is the offense starting to come around? We’ll find out tonight.

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.

With Tortorella in town for Cup memories, is this best Lightning team since?

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When sports teams milk nostalgia, like the Tampa Bay Lightning did on Saturday by remembering their 2003-04 Stanley Cup run, it often comes with that tinge of sadness that is part of the word’s meaning.

With John Tortorella watching on from the opposing bench of a very good Columbus Blue Jackets squad, the Lightning’s 5-4 shootout win brought about some different feelings tonight. Granted, coughing up a lead made it tenser than the Bolts probably hoped for, yet it also opened the door for Steven Stamkos to collect the shootout-winner.

The Stanley Cup memories and Tortorella’s presence inspire a bold question: is this the best team the Lightning have boasted since that championship run?

Before we dive into that, here’s video of the ceremony:

And a shot of modern players in those slightly-old throwbacks:

The game itself was a thriller, as the Blue Jackets stormed back from a 4-2 deficit to tie things up 4-4, forcing an eventual shootout. Former Tortorella acolyte Dan Girardi delivered a thunderous check on Matt Calvert during the contest:

Remarkably, the Lightning have reached some pretty high marks even though they haven’t sipped from the silver chalice since the season before the NHL went dark. They’ve enjoyed three deep runs since Torts left town:

2010-11: Finished second in their division (103 points), fell to Boston Bruins in Game 7 of a memorable Eastern Conference Final. The Bruins eventually won it all.

2014-15: Finished second in their division (108 points), lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

2015-16: Finished second in their division (97 points), lost to Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of Eastern Conference Final. Penguins won it all.

Those three deep runs are a helpful reminder that there have been some very good Lightning teams, from Guy Boucher’s brief run to a transition away from Martin St. Louis under Jon Cooper’s reign. It’s interesting to note that the eventual champions knocked out the Bolts in all three of those runs, likely inspiring some fun/wistful “What if?” discussions for hardcore fans in Tampa.

Let’s consider a few facets of this Lightning team, which may just be their best since 2003-04:

  • They’re running away with the Atlantic Division so far. As strong as those previous seasons were, the Bolts peaked in the playoffs. Maybe the Lightning can combine strong regular season work and postseason play, much like in those championship days?
  • They have an identity in net. Do not underestimate how well Andrei Vasilevskiy has been so far in 2017-18. The Ben Bishop – Vasi combo was very strong, but there are advantages to having a clear-cut top guy.
  • A deadly duo: Some of the best Lightning teams have deployed some dynamic duos. St. Louis and Stamkos constituted a prolific partnership, yet Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov might be even better. In a fun twist, Stamkos has taken the Marty role early on, as he’s been more of a facilitator to Kucherov.
  • Interesting supporting cast members: In retrospect, the magic of “The Triplets” line may have largely come from Kucherov. Still, there are some nice players who may be able to help generate some points for the Lightning, with Brayden Point seemingly being GM Steve Yzerman’s latest deft discovery.
  • A brilliant, dangerous defenseman: As great as Dan Boyle was, Victor Hedman is truly special. The addition of Mikhail Sergachev may also help the rest of the blueline maintain a solid level of play.

It’s too early to say that the 2017-18 Lightning will rank among the best in team history. Stamkos and Kucherov need to stay healthy and productive. Cold streaks are bound to come.

Even so, nights like these make it tough not to at least think about such comparisons.

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.