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Will Coyotes give Dylan Strome a real shot?

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Aside from seeing who can tank harder, it might be tough to sell the Arizona Coyotes’ game against the Buffalo Sabres tonight. There is one interesting storyline, though: will Dylan Strome finally gain some traction? And will the Coyotes give him a solid chance to actually do so?

A failure at one level

Take a look at the top 10 picks of the 2015 NHL Draft, and you’ll see that nine of those prospects have played in at least 106 regular-season games.

The lone exception is Strome, the third selection by the Arizona Coyotes, who’s only appeared in 18 games at the highest level so far during his fledgling NHL career.

Strome’s development has been a frustrating process, as the book on Strome seems to be that he can dominate at lower levels, yet his strength and especially foot speed just isn’t there. This season backs up that even with Strome slowing down a bit at times in the AHL, as Strome generated 50 points in 47 games for the Tucson Roadrunners.

No doubt, it’s distressing to see Strome struggle, especially with Mitch Marner (fourth overall), Noah Hanifin (fifth), Ivan Provorov (seventh), Zach Werenski (eighth), and Mikko Rantanen (10th) all looking like studs who were selected behind him.

Sink or swim

No doubt about it, that stings. Allow some advice, then: the Coyotes should give him a better chance to prove himself than Strome has been afforded thus far.

Look, there’s no denying that his scant production (one goal, one assist in 18 games spread between last season and this one) is troubling. A can’t-miss prospect would probably be able to make every moment count, and you can’t really make that argument for Strome.

Still, with very little to lose – in fact, with plenty of incentive to lose – why not really set the table for him? That hasn’t exactly been the case at the NHL level; Strome averaged a measly 12:26 TOI per game during that 11-game span this season, and that was slightly down from his seven games in 2016-17. Strome averaged 1:23 power-play time on ice per night.

To Arizona’s credit, they’ve given him quality linemates during his brief window of action this season. According to Natural Stat Trick, his most frequent forward linemates have been Clayton Keller and Christian Fischer. Not too shabby, especially by the standards of Coyotes forwards.

It’s unclear who the Coyotes will line Strome up with during tonight’s game, but it could be very helpful for them to get a better read on him by really rolling him out. Ideally, they’ll give him more reps on the man advantage, strong linemates, and more opportunities in general.

Ten games won’t answer every question or solve any riddle.

For a team that’s shown signs of growing impatience with a slow rebuild, it sure would be nice to find out if Strome has a better chance of helping them out in 2018-19. What better time to find out than now?

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.

Injury updates: Penguins’ Murray, others deal with concussions

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NHL teams provided injury news updates on Monday, with the most noteworthy bits revolving around players dealing with concussions. Let’s sort through that mixed bag:

  • First, we’ll begin with promising news. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan considers Matt Murray to be “an option” to play on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. That said, it’s a preliminary viewpoint, as Sullivan wants to see how Murray handles practice.

You’d get the impression that the optimism is high despite that caveat, as the Penguins sent Tristan Jarry back to the AHL today. That could still change, but the team must feel a lot more confident about Murray being ready for the postseason.

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

Actually, it’s worth questioning whether it’s really worth risking Price’s health in meaningless games for Montreal, especially when you note that he’s frequently suffered from bad injury luck lately. Sure, he wants to play; that ambition is part of what makes him great. Concussions can be tricky, though, and you wonder if the reward would justify the risks involved.

  • Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is in “concussion protocol,” according to TSN’s Sara Orlesky. Trouba will reportedly see specialists, which isn’t that shocking considering how shaken up he looked after getting the worst of a hard collision with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars:

Brutal.

  • Also brutal: Noah Hanifin is out indefinitely in dealing with a concussion, via the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 21-year-old set a new career-high with eight goals this season, and despite being limited to 71 games, he matched last season’s peak of 29 points. Hanifin is starting to show why he was the fifth pick of the 2015 NHL Draft as part of a stacked Hurricanes defense, yet much like his team, it looks like his season’s going to end on a low note.

Hopefully he’ll be able to rebound fully in 2018-19.

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.

Risk, reward, and Ron Francis

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As PHT’s Scott Billeck chronicled upon word of the Carolina Hurricanes firing, er, “re-assigning” Ron Francis out of the GM position, goaltending is the one big thing that doomed Francis. At least in the big picture.

Publicly speaking, new Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon made it clear that he wants to take a hands-on role with some of the Hurricanes’ decision making. He told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that a cricket-chirp of a trade deadline wasn’t the deciding factor.

One thing Dundon disagreed with is the idea that something happened at the deadline that caused the final rift. He said the team was considering adding before a home-heavy stretch in February, but it didn’t go well. Therefore both he and Francis decided it wasn’t worth what it would take to acquire more at the end. The cost, in terms of Carolina’s best young players/prospects, was too great.

Still, it’s tough not to notice the timing of this firing and not think that this comes down to a tepid trade deadline, and Carolina’s slow-burn team-building approach.

What can other GMs learn from Francis’ demise, beyond “Make sure you’re on the same page as your owner?” Let’s see:

Not too hot, not too cold

When a GM runs too hot with trades, he could get burned. I mean, unless that GM is Steve Yzerman or David Poile. Then other GMs should just click the “ignore call” button.

Peter Chiarelli (Oilers) and Marc Bergevin (Canadiens) both could have done well to take a cold shower instead of making moves that look worse with each passing month.

Every night seems to bring about a new insult to Chiarelli, whether it comes from Mathew Barzal generating a highlight-reel goal or Taylor Hall bolstering his Hart Trophy credentials. Bergevin, meanwhile, gets to watch P.K. Subban chase a Stanley Cup while his locker room crumbles.

It must burn Francis to see Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff make a big splash after years of people making “dayo off jokes,” with Paul Stastny‘s parallels to Francis making for especially cruel timing. While Francis only served as Hurricanes GM for four seasons, Cheveldayoff has been at his perch since 2011. Cheveldayoff bests Francis in trade volume because just about everyone does, but this was really his first major trade since moving Evander Kane for Tyler Myers in 2015. Cheveldayoff got time to wait things out; Francis did not.

During the last few years, the Hurricanes assembled an enviable warchest of defensemen, hired a competent coach who’s helped them hog the puck, and collected some nice forward assets. That’s not enough in a tough Metro division, and so the Hurricanes idle by.

While there’s some talk about the Golden Knights greasing the wheels for Francis’ exit, it’s difficult to shake the notion that the Hurricanes failed to add that “extra oomph” to their lineup while other teams did.

Sure, it might make you flinch to trade a young defenseman, whether that is Noah Hanifin or an older, still-young piece like Justin Faulk, but look at the Predators. It couldn’t have been comfortable to trade Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, and maybe history will smile upon the Blue Jackets’ take more than Nashville’s when it’s all over. That trade, and others like it, helped Nashville go from a team of extremes to a more balanced attack. It wasn’t long before they were two wins away from a Stanley Cup.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, stand as fancy stats darlings that haven’t tasted playoff play since 2008-09, and that was their only playoff appearance since that stunning Stanley Cup win in 2005-06.

No doubt, if you look at the Hurricanes PDO (or shooting percentage and save percentages individually, if that’s more your speed), you’ll see that they’ve been unlucky much of the time. Still, sometimes you have to “make your luck.”

(And do note that, bad goaltending aside, this team scored goals at a rate far fewer than league average. Wouldn’t that lack of punch inspire you to hit the phones a little harder during deadline time? Just saying.)

Backup plan

And, hey, it’s not like Francis took zero risks.

You can bellow about hindsight being 20/20 all you want, but there were some leaps of faith when it came to goaltending moves. For one thing, there was little evidence that Cam Ward would deliver on the two-year, $6.6 million extension he’s playing out. (Few deals truly say “We don’t have any better ideas” quite like that.)

There’s little sense arguing that Scott Darling was a safe choice, either.

Now 29, the big goalie didn’t come in with much pedigree as the 153rd pick of the 2007 NHL Draft. His pre-NHL stats are a mixed bag, though he was starting to pick up steam starting in 2013-14.

No doubt, his .923 save percentage with the Chicago Blackhawks was fantastic, yet that mark came in just 75 regular season games. It makes you wonder if the Hurricanes should have hedged their bets a bit. That said, few would have expected the Darling signing to blow up in Carolina’s face to this degree.

Goalies are a tough breed to gauge, with even mostly bright franchises whiffing at times. Still, maybe the Hurricanes were better off following their overall MO of not making bold, dangerous moves for the sake of making them? If you’re not truly certain a goalie is a franchise fit, maybe it’s better to leave your options open?

This Hurricanes situation provides additional evidence that NHL teams might be wise to put more resources into finding capable backups, whether it mean scouting, cap space, or both.

Take a look at the Calgary Flames. They defied critics by landing Mike Smith, who’s been great … only now he’s injured, and even after taking care of business against Buffalo last night, Calgary is up against a tough haul to fight its way back into the playoffs. Some of that is bad luck, some of it’s poor preparation; after all, Smith is 35 and has an injury history.

***

Look, it feels quite unfair to see Francis get such a short leash while other GMs continue to blunder away, even though they seem less capable. Even with the nitpicks in this post, it’s important to note that Francis leaves Carolina behind in a position to contend in the near future.

Sports, like life, can be cruel and unfair, though.

There’s a thin line in managing risk and reward. Ultimately, Francis couldn’t successfully walk that tightrope. It’s a reminder to other front offices just how difficult it can be to find the right balance.

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.

Boeser owns All-Star weekend with MVP; Pacific beats Atlantic

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What a weekend for Brock Boeser and hockey fans.

It wasn’t enough that Boeser won the official trophy for best hair (MWF – Most Wonderful Flow?), and it wasn’t even enough that the Vancouver Canucks rookie clobbered the accuracy shooting competition. Boeser scored the game-winning goal for the Pacific Division in a 5-2 win against the Central Division, and then helped the Pacific beat the Atlantic 5-2 to split $1 million in winnings. With that, he was named the MVP.

“I was definitely nervous coming into it. I had some sweat going down my palms yesterday before the shooting contest,” Boeser said. “But I think once you get here, meet most of the guys and have some laughs, it’s easier to enjoy the experience. I wasn’t too nervous about today — just have fun, smile and play hockey. That’s what I did and I enjoyed all of it.”

Unsolicited opinion: It’s cooler when a guy on an entry-level contract ends up winning the MVP, and thus a car, rather than a guy who’s already making mega-bucks. That was a sneaky bonus of the already-tremendous moment of John Scott winning an MVP. Boeser is set to be an RFA after 2018-19, although a shampoo company should probably make him rich before then, if there’s any justice in the universe.

Seriously though, All-Star Weekend was good to hockey’s new favorite Thor look-alike.

The Pacific vs. Atlantic matchup was a little less wild than the first two games. Check out this post for a bucket’s worth of great GIFS, pictures, videos, and antics.

The Pacific Division thought this moment was exciting, by the way.

Bradvillain

That said, there were some fun moments, including Brad Marchand continuing to really milk the whole villain thing. One of the highlights: Marchand drawing a rare penalty on Johnny Gaudreau, then really hamming it up.

The Sweater song

Misc.

Mike Smith was pretty close to scoring as a goalie:

D’oh. Let’s just throw some more Brock hair fun in there, with apologies to other noteworthy flows, including that of fellow All-Star Noah Hanifin.

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

A worthy cause:

Good times.

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.

WATCH LIVE: NHL All-Star Game

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE AT 3:30 ET

Atlantic Division

Forwards:

Steven Stamkos
Nikita Kucherov
Brayden Point
Auston Matthews
Aleksander Barkov
Brad Marchand
Jack Eichel

Defensemen:

Erik Karlsson
Mike Green

Goalies:

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Carey Price

[Best, funniest, most heartwarming 2018 Skills Competition moments]

Metropolitan Division

Forwards:

Alex Ovechkin
Brian Boyle
Sidney Crosby
Josh Bailey
John Tavares
Claude Giroux

[Alex Ovechkin fires hardest shot at 2018 All-Star Skills Competition]

Defensemen:

Zach Werenski
Noah Hanifin
Kris Letang

Goalies:

Henrik Lundqvist
Braden Holtby

[Brian Boyle ‘thankful’ to be a part of NHL All-Star Weekend]

Central Division

Forwards:

Patrick Kane
Nathan MacKinnon
Blake Wheeler
Brayden Schenn
Eric Staal
Tyler Seguin

Defensemen:

P.K. Subban
Alex Pietrangelo
John Klingberg

Goalies:

Pekka Rinne
Connor Hellebuyck

[NHL All-Star Game returns to thriving Tampa Bay market]

Pacific Division

Forwards:

Connor McDavid
Johnny Gaudreau
Brock Boeser
James Neal
Rickard Rakell
Anze Kopitar

[2018 NHL All-Star Skills Competition Fastest Skater: Connor McDavid]

Defensemen:

Drew Doughty
Brent Burns
Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Goalies:

Mike Smith
Marc-Andre Fleury

[Coolest hair wasn’t enough, Boeser wins accuracy competition]