Niklas Hjalmarsson

Trade: Could Duclair be Blackhawks’ next great find?

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A day after the Chicago Blackhawks made Brent Seabrook a $6.875 million healthy scratch, GM Stan Bowman made a move that reminded the hockey world that he’s still one of the NHL’s nimblest minds.

The fact that he made a promising move with the Arizona Coyotes after a Connor MurphyNiklas Hjalmarsson trade that didn’t work out very well (for either side, really) only adds icing to the cake for Blackhawks fans.

Here are the official terms:

Blackhawks receive: Anthony Duclair and Adam Clendening.

Coyotes get: Richard Panik and Laurent Dauphin.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reports that no salary was retained in the trade.

The biggest names here are Duclair and Panik. With LeBrun reporting that no salary was retained in the deal, it seems like it’s either a solid win or a significant win for the Blackhawks; that all depends upon how Duclair handles the change of scenery he requested.

Objectively, Duclair is younger (22) and cheaper than Panik (26). Panik’s cap hit is $2.8 million through 2018-19, while Duclair is a pending RFA with a $1.2M cap hit. The negative side is that Duclair could play exceptionally well and drive up his price, but the struggling Blackhawks would gladly deal with that “problem,” much like they were generally happy to deal with Artemi Panarin being so darn effective.

At the moment, Duclair’s production is more Panik-like than Panarin-like, mind you. There’s actually little separating Duclair’s numbers (15 points in 33 games) from those of Panik (16 points in 37 games).

Duclair’s potential, however, is what makes him very intriguing, especially for a Blackhawks team that’s found more than a few diamonds in the rough over the years.

If you’re a Blackhawks fan who’s already pleased with some elements of the deal, Sportsnet’s Jonathan Willis might make you downright giddy, as he pegged Duclair as the possible hidden gem of the trade market just yesterday:

Duclair looks pretty good at first blush. Last season, which was a mammoth disappointment, he still outperformed the team average. Over 172 games with one of the league’s worst teams, Duclair has actually been on the ice for more goals for than against, which is difficult to do. It’s a massive achievement: Arizona’s goal differential improves by almost a full goal for every hour Duclair plays versus every hour he doesn’t.

While his 2016-17 season was brutal at times, you don’t have to dig into fancy stats to find the only reasons to be excited. Duclair scored 20 goals in 2015-16, his first full season in the NHL, after being involved in the Keith Yandle Rangers trade. His 19-percent shooting percentage indicates there was some luck there, but he was very young, and still is at 22.

Now, the Blackhawks have some problems, and Duclair isn’t the defenseman they likely need the most. There’s also a chance that he’d provide the same production as Panik, as it’s worth doubling back that they’re near equals in at least the simplest stats right now.

Still, there’s an undeniable “nature versus nurture” element to this that could make it very exciting to see how a seemingly more skilled, inarguably younger player might do with more talented people around him. Not to mention a change of pace.

And, hey, at minimum he saves cash-strapped Chicago some money.

You might say Bowman’s back, although he’s been doing this for years.

Also:

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.

Corey Crawford has become Chicago’s most important player

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The big news out of the Chicago Blackhawks this past week was the announcement that starting goaltender Corey Crawford has been placed on injured reserve, and that there is currently no timeline for his return to the lineup.

If he has to miss an extended period of time it could be a damaging blow to a team at a position where it really can not afford one. If there is one player this Blackhawks team can least afford to lose, Crawford is probably the one.

Prior to his injury Crawford had been having an outstanding season for the Blackhawks and owned a .930 save percentage that is fifth best in the league. That performance has been huge for a Blackhawks team that has its share of flaws, especially when it comes to its defense.

The Blackhawks are allowing 34 shots on goal per game this season, the third highest total in the league and it continues a trend from recent seasons that has seen the team go from being one of the absolute best shot suppression teams in the league to one of the absolute worst. Typically, that has not been a great recipe for success in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins showed last season that it is possible to win giving up that sort of shot volume, but onlly if a team has scoring depth and great goaltending to cover it up.

With Crawford in net the Blackhawks have been getting great goaltending. That has allowed them to stay in the top-five in goals against despite bleeding shots and shot attempts against.

So just how much has Crawford been saving the Blackhawks this season?

The difference between a .914 save percentage (which would still be above the league average this season) and the .930 mark on the same number of shots that Crawford has faced so far this season would have been an additional 10 goals against at this point. That may not seem like a lot right now, but that is only through 20 games. Those goals against quickly add up, and given a normal workload (think 60 games) that could be an additional 30 goals against over the course of a season.

That is a lot, and it could swing a season for a team that is currently sitting on the playoff bubble in the Western Conference.

What really hurts the Blackhawks this season is they don’t really have a proven backup that can step up in Crawford’s absence. At least not one that we know of yet. In recent years Scott Darling had proven to be one of the top backup goaltenders in the NHL and was more than capable of filling in for Crawford when he was injured or just simply needed a break or hit a slump. But Darling was traded over the summer to the Carolina Hurricanes to become their starter, turning the backup job over to Anton Forsberg.

In just six appearances this season Forsberg has already allowed 18 goals on just 187 shots and has managed only an .889 save percentage in his career.

The Blackhawks have won just one of his five starts so far this season.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks they don’t expect Crawford’s injury to be anything long-term.

They better hope that turns out to be the case.

When the Blackhawks were at the height of their power between 2010 and 2013 the rest of the team was so stacked that they didn’t really need elite goaltending to win.

Antti Niemi was solid in 2010, but not irreplaceable. That was proven the following offseason when they walked away from his arbitration ruling and allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent (they decided re-signing Niklas Hjalmarsson was far more vital to their success).

The same was mostly true for Crawford during their 2013 championship run. They had four dominant scoring lines and a defense that had four horses all in the prime of their careers that could shut down any offense. But the salary cap has ripped apart a lot of that forward depth while the defense is not what it used to be.

Players like Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell are gone, Brent Seabrook is a shell of his former self, and the rest of the unit outside of Duncan Keith is mostly a patchwork group of young players still finding their way and veterans signed on the cheap.

They still have forwards up front that can score, but their ability to prevent goals has shifted from having dominant defense to a huge reliance on their goaltender.

For years Crawford was the forgotten player among Chicago’s core, constantly getting overlooked behind Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Keith and Seabrook.

Now he might be the most important part of it.

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.

Let’s daydream about Doughty, Karlsson as free agents

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As much as people (*raises hand*) complain about the NHL lagging behind the NBA when it comes to blockbuster trades, it also seems like the league could use a real boost when it comes to free agency.

Blame it on the dangers of the game inspiring players to value long-term security over getting every last buck, team-friendly RFA quirks, or any number of factors, but this league rarely sees true star players hit the open market. Seriously, think about it; when’s the last time a true gamebreaker actually shopped his services? Would you count Brad Richards? Was it really as long ago as that Ilya Kovalchuk oddness?

(Sorry, Kevin Shattenkirk, I like you more than most, but you don’t count.)

With that in mind, it’s dangerous to look two years ahead and drool over the pool of potential, splashy UFA defensemen (see this Cap Friendly list as an example). That said, it’s also fun: imagine your team landing Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Ryan McDonagh, or even Ryan Ellis/Anton Stralman/Niklas Hjalmarsson.

It’s such a fun thought that even Doughty is getting in on the speculation, as he discussed in this fascinating interview with Craig Custance of The Athletic (sub required):

“I know I’m going to talk to Karlsson back and forth, kind of see what money he’s looking for. I’ll kind of look at what money I’m looking for,” Doughty said. “I don’t know if he’s going to re-sign with Ottawa, I don’t know if I’ll re-sign with L.A. You just never know what’s going to happen.”

In case you’re wondering, yes, Doughty teased the idea of playing for the Maple Leafs once again. Is cheeky the right word, or is he merely candid?

Note: Doughty also said the right thing in claiming Los Angeles was his first choice, though.

Maybe the most delightful line came when Doughty said that he – along with Karlsson – might use P.K. Subban‘s contract as something of a measuring stick. Note that the Canadiens signed Subban for eight years at a $9 million cap hit, a deal that’s now owned by the Predators.

Really, you can’t blame Karlsson and Doughty for wanting that sort of cap hit, especially when you consider how sorely they’re being paid under their true market value.

Doughty signed his current deal in 2011, and for all the sass the Kings take for bad contracts, he’s been carrying just a $7M cap hit. Karlsson’s incredible bargain is actually at $6.5M, signed back in 2012. For a penny-pinching team like the Senators, those savings have been absolutely essential. Those deals also rank among the most enviable steals in all the league (especially once you throw out cheats like rookie contracts with artificial ceilings).

The fascinating thing about both Karlsson and Doughty is that, theoretically, it’s plausible that both might actually test the market. Many of these thoughts could also apply to OEL; for all we know, he may be closer to their levels by the end of 2018-19.

Not just about what Doughty wants with L.A.

As a fan of good hockey, it’s been delightful to see the Kings rebound, mostly because they’ve done so by modernizing the way they play. You have to think that Doughty’s having more fun, himself.

The #Kings debating who will cover #ErikKarlsson in overtime is everything 😂😂

A post shared by TSN (@tsn_official) on

The Kings are in a better position to compete now, and it’s conceivable that their window might extend through 2018-19.

It’s not as easy to say what lies ahead in 2019-20 and beyond. Consider that Doughty turns 28 on Dec. 8; if he wants a long-term contract, it might be a bad situation for an L.A. franchise that might want to pivot toward a rebuild after taking another swing or two at a Stanley Cup.

Really, GM Rob Blake merely needs to look to San Jose if he wants a cautionary tale and doesn’t want to think about the mess he inherited. We all love Brent Burns, but his age and contract look as scraggly as his beard right now.

So, as painful as it might be, Doughty leaving town might actually be what’s best for both the player and the team. And it certainly would be fun for dorks like us, who love the drama of a free agent frenzy.

Note to Drew: even if the Maple Leafs are a slam-dunk, please play things up by at least pretending to field multiple offers. Hey, you’d get some steak/sushi dinners out of the deal and entertain us in the process. Pretty much everyone wins.

The cost of Karlsson

There are parallels with Karlsson’s situation, too, including him turning 28 soon (in his case, May).

Ottawa is incredibly dependent upon the otherworldly Swede, probably more than even Doughty, who’s immensely important to the Kings as well. That said, the Senators are a budget team right now, with open questions about ownership.

As much as GM Pierre Dorion wanted Matt Duchene for his speed and higher-end skill compared to Kyle Turris, there was also cost certainty to consider. Ottawa may decide that they’re simply not in a position to contend in the twilight of Karlsson’s prime, particularly if he’s getting paid *close* to what he’s actually worth.

For those who sometimes cringe at the Senators’ frequently bland style of play under Guy Boucher, it’s tantalizing to picture Karlsson serving as the catalyst to a high-powered, all-out-attacking offense.

***

It’s perfectly plausible that these defensemen will stick with their teams. Especially with Ottawa, Karlsson is the type of guy who’s so good he can help management avoid being, you know, fired. That has to weigh heavily on such thought processes.

There’s also the likely scenario where the Kings and/or Sens would realize they needed to part ways with their stud defensemen, leading to a sign-and-trade situation that saps some of the drama.

Still, hockey fans can dream, and compared to thoughts of Steven Stamkos dancing like sugar plums in your head, these visions might actually end up with real moves.

Hey, we can dream.

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.

Are Penguins wise in reportedly trying to trade Ian Cole?

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Beyond an increase in penalty calls, you might chalk up some of the climbing scoring stats in the NHL to teams observing the Pittsburgh Penguins’ formula for success.

Granted, a huge part of it is “employ Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.” Even so, the Penguins were struggling at times before Mike Sullivan took over as head coach and, essentially, decided to throw caution to the wind.

Long story short, the argument goes that the Penguins decided to “outscore their problems,” with said problems being placed mostly on the shoulders of their defensemen. As you’ve likely heard hundreds of times by now, their second run came with no Kris Letang during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Still, you do need some capable defensemen, and the Penguins surely can’t feel too cocky right now, what with a -17 goal differential heading into Monday’s action. Despite such worries, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey provides an intriguing update: blueliner Ian Cole has been a regular healthy scratch, in part, because the Penguins are actively trying to trade him.

Mackey provides some more background on the situation, noting that it’s unclear if a trade is imminent:

It does not appear the desire to trade Cole has anything to do with his play. It’s more a function of him being an attractive option to other teams, and, according to a source, interest in him has already been several teams deep.

Note: The report has been backed up by multiple reporters after Mackey first broke the news.

One key element is that Cole, 28, will see his $2.1 million cap hit expire after 2017-18. Like virtually every other regular contender during the era of the salary cap, the Penguins often need to let valuable supporting cast members leave, and it sounds like Cole would leave their price range. Mackey reports that the Penguins want to get something for him now rather than allowing him to leave for nothing via unrestricted free agency.

Mackey believes that Pittsburgh seeks a scoring boost, and considering how defensemen are held at a premium in the NHL, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a depth piece.

A solid piece amid a struggling group

That said, allow me to wonder if this is really the best idea for the Penguins.

As defending repeat champions, the Penguins shouldn’t be shy about leaning a bit more toward the present than the future, although it still must be a balancing act. By just about any measure, Cole has been a valuable piece for a defense corps that doesn’t look positioned to handle the loss of helpful pieces.

Cole is an experienced defenseman who grades out as a second-pairing guy, as you can see from his HERO chart, via Dom Galimini:

via Dom Galimini

Really, the Penguins might be better off looking for cheaper ways to improve their scoring depth.

Keeping the window open

When they made a move to acquire Riley Sheahan, they gave up a pick, and that might be the best course of action. The trade deadline would be an obvious time to do this, yet if the Penguins want to be more proactive, they could probably land something earlier as well. Beyond that, it never hurts to keep an eye on the waiver wire.

Look, no GM wants to see a useful player leave without any sort of return, but you can also sacrifice a viable option at the altar of “cost certainty.” The Blackhawks were worried about eventually losing Niklas Hjalmarsson, but Stan Bowman probably wishes he actually procrastinated rather than settling for a middling defenseman in Connor Murphy.

Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Phil Kessel are all 30. Evgeni Malkin is 31. Sports teams sometimes see their windows slam shut with cruel speed, so the Penguins would be wise to think long and hard about how moving Cole for something might hurt their chances this season.

This isn’t to say that Cole is a make-or-break player, but you never know how many pieces you can remove from the puzzle before the Jenga tower collapses.

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.

The Arizona Coyotes’ season is only getting worse

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WINNIPEG — The Arizona Coyotes’ start to the 2017-18 season — a complete tire fire by all accounts — managed to burn a little brighter on Tuesday.

After dropping a 4-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, the Coyotes, now 2-15-3, became the first team in National Hockey League history to play their first 20 games and not register a regulation win.

It’s not the first time the Coyotes have flirted with the unfortunate side of the history books through the first quarter of the season.

Arizona’s first win came just in time to partially save their own blushes after ending an 11-game slide to start the year (partially, because they still tied a league record set back during the 1943-43 season for most games without a win to start a season) and prevented them from becoming the sole owners of a piece of history coveted by no one.

“I’ve been saying it all year: You can’t complain, you can’t moan,” Coyotes forward Brandon Perlini said on Tuesday after the loss. “Like, just go play, work hard. There’s no other special secret or special juice. You just have to work your way out of it everyone shift after shift … and eventually I believe it will turn.”

Perlini’s frustration, despite trying to remain positive, was evident, and while the results for the Coyotes are borderline shocking, to say the least, they might not be all that surprising.

The Coyotes have been bleeding for a while now, missing the playoffs in their past five seasons since their remarkable run to the Western Conference finals in 2012.

They lost veteran captain Shane Doan to retirement over the offseason and traded away Mike Smith, who had backstopped the ‘Yotes for six seasons as they entered full-fledged rebuild mode.

They gained Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta via trade with the New York Rangers and have watched Clayton Keller blossom into the league’s best rookie early this season, although he’s been held off the scoresheet in four straight games.

Adding three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson didn’t hurt either, but he hasn’t played since Halloween due to an upper-body injury.

Arizona is in the middle of the pack in terms of goals for but last in goals against. They’re second last in expected goals for and have the second-worst team save percentage.

None of that equates to wins and the Coyotes aren’t even getting lucky from time to time.

“It’s been a rough start,” said Raanta, who got the yank in Tuesday’s game. “When you have a young team and lots of new things going on, you need that confidence that comes from those wins. We haven’t gotten that early on in the season. But we’re still working hard. It’s the only way we can get over it.”

Raanta, who was arguably considered the best goalie without a starting role in the NHL over the past couple of seasons, said he’s had to battle his own demons this year amid all the losing.

“It’s tough when you’re a goalie and you lose a couple games in a row, you start looking at yourself and wondering what is going on,” said Raanta, who missed nine games with a lower-body ailment earlier this year. “For me, I just have to give us a chance to win. If I can look in the mirror after the game and say that I did whatever I could, of course, you can’t be satisfied, but you can find a positive.”

The land where the Coyotes are a contending team in the Western Conference seems like its far, far away at this point.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.