P.K. Subban

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Lightning, Predators should take advantage of opportunity to rest players


The Nashville Predators announced on Thursday afternoon that forward Calle Jarnkrok will be sidelined for the remainder of the regular season due to an upper-body injury.

Given that Jarnkrok has 16 goals and 35 total points in 68 games this season it is not an insignificant injury for the Predators. But as long as he is back for the start of the playoffs it really is not going to be all that damaging of a blow because of their current place in the standings.

As of Thursday they are in first place in the Central Division (eight points ahead of the second-place Jets)  and five points ahead of Vegas for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference. Barring a major collapse down the stretch they should be in a pretty good position to wrap up both spots.

All of that brings us to something teams like the Predators — who have been doing this already — and Tampa Bay Lightning should consider down the stretch run of the regular season: Giving some of their key players an occasional night off.

This is taking a page out of the NBA playbook, but NHL teams that are pretty secure in their playoff spot should do it a lot more often. The NHL season (including regular season and playoffs) is an intense physical and mental grind, and lot of times the playoffs don’t just come down to the best team, they come down to the healthiest team.

Nashville is a team that has already played a ton of hockey the past two seasons given its run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago and it doesn’t exactly have a light schedule coming up down the stretch.

Eight of their remaining 13 games are on the road.

They have two sets of back-to-back remaining.

Along with that, they have a couple of stretches where they play four games in six nights.

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

That is a lot of hockey down where they don’t really have a ton to gain. What would it hurt to sit a different key player or two each game during those stretches? Just to keep their legs fresh, maybe reduce even a little bit of the wear and tear that goes along with the grind of playing in the NHL. It is a given that starting goalie Pekka Rinne will sit on those back-to-back nights and probably a few more games here and there.

But it does not have to stop there. Pick one night, give P.K. Subban the night off. Do the same for Filip Forsberg on the next night. Will it make a huge difference in the end? Probably not, but it can’t hurt, either, especially when there is very little to gain in the standings.

Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay, there’s already been talk about fatigue setting in for starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, going through his first full season as a No. 1 goalie and the Lightning have tried to schedule some spots where he can get some additional rest. As good as the rest of the Lightning roster is it is going to need a healthy and productive Vasilevskiy in the playoffs if it is going to go on a deep postseason run.

Tampa Bay’s schedule isn’t quite as grueling as Nashville’s down the stretch in terms of travel, but it still has a four-game-in-seven-night stretch at the end of the month and three more sets of back-to-backs. There is no reason that a player like Victor Hedman, for example, should be playing 26 minutes a night in all of those back-to-backs.

When it comes to the subject of rest there is always a bit of controversy that goes with it because fans pay a ton of money for tickets and expect to see star players in action. If you buy a ticket to a Lightning game you want to see Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Vasilevskiy on the ice playing at their best. But the team’s biggest obligation to the fan base is to put itself in the best possible position to win a championship. Hockey is probably the last sport this sort of strategy would be widely implemented (“resting” players seems to run counter to the grind it out, we’re tougher than you mindset the sport likes to sell), but it’s probably the sport where it would make the most sense given the length of the season and the physical nature of the games.

If giving a couple of star players an occasional night off down the stretch for a regular season game that probably does not have a ton of importance in the standings helps improve those chances even a little bit, it is something that is worth considering.


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.

Why Predators are so hot right now


Last night, the Nashville Predators beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-1, reaching 100 standings points in just 69 games.

(Yes, there were a lot of “nice” responses on Twitter.)

The reigning Western Conference finalists aren’t just having a strong season, they’re also playing their best hockey of 2017-18 right now. Yes, the Jets were tired and banged up last night, yet it was another instance of the Predators sending a message that they’re for real. A 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils on Saturday ended a 10-game winning streak, but at 11-0-1, they’ve now collected points in 12 consecutive games. They have a very real chance to win the Presidents’ Trophy, as the Tampa Bay Lightning are at 100 points but have played in one more game.

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

So, which players are really driving this success? Let’s start with the obvious.

Pekka Rinne, Vezina frontrunner?

A week ago, it was noted on PHT that Rinne and other goalies were gaining on Andrei Vasilevskiy in the race for the 2018 Vezina. It’s possible that Rinne has emerged as the new leader as of today, and not solely because of Vasilevskiy seemingly hitting a wall of fatigue.

As of this writing, Pekka Rinne sports an absurd record (38-9-4) with a fabulous .929 save percentage. His backup Juuse Saros is no slouch, either, making it quite likely that Nashville’s goalies will collect the William Jennings Trophy this season, too.

Rinne’s frequently received criticism from the fancy stats community, but this season? He’s been unassailable so far:

The season’s far from over, so Vasilevskiy could regain his lead in this race. Either way, Rinne is the top reason why the Predators are running away with the Central Division crown, the first spot in the West, and possibly the Presidents’ Trophy as well.

The return

Before his 2017-18 debut on Jan. 2, a popular refrain was “Imagine how good the Predators will be when Ryan Ellis is back?”

It felt like a dangerous assumption, however, to believe that Ellis would just bounce back from knee surgery. Plenty of athletes require a year or more to recover from certain procedures, and some are never the same.

As it turns out, the Predators have indeed taken off since the underrated defenseman returned to the lineup, as Ellis has been outstanding. The 27-year-old has generated 23 points in 31 games, and he’s been especially impressive lately. Since Feb. 14, Ellis scored 15 points in 14 games, tying Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, Anze Kopitar, Artemi Panarin, and Mark Stone during that span

Plenty of options

Ellis is a rising part of such a deep attack that Peter Laviolette is already resting players for the upcoming playoff run.

The 2017-18 season is proving that Viktor Arvidsson is a legitimate top-line forward, as he’s justified the rave reviews the Predators received for locking him down to a long-term, bargain contract that carries just a $4.25 million cap hit. Arvidsson has 16 points during the same month span that Ellis has been on fire for, and he’s on track for another 30+ goal season with 26 goals (not to mention 26 assists).

P.K. Subban is the Predators’ strongest Norris candidate with a brilliant all-around campaign that includes 15 goals and 50 points, but Roman Josi has been as explosive as ever, contributing 46 points in just 62 games.

[Earlier this season, P.K. was an even stronger Norris candidate]

Kyle Turris‘ numbers have dipped a bit since a hot start after being traded to Nashville, yet he’s been a catalyst for two Predators wingers for much of his time there, helping Kevin Fiala (22 goals) and Craig Smith (21) join Arvidsson as 20-goal scorers. Filip Forsberg‘s experienced an up-and-down season, yet he’s not that far behind them with 18 goals.

That’s the thing. The Predators boast the depth that allows for the team to navigate hurdles more comfortably than much of the league. At this current robust level, they’re simply overwhelming opponents.


This is all the masterwork of David Poile, who now boasts the most regular-season wins of any GM. In a way, this renaissance truly stretches back to the hiring of underrated head coach Peter Laviolette, who owns the distinction of bringing three different NHL teams to the Stanley Cup Final after last year’s memorable run.

It remains to be seen if Laviolette can help Poile win his first Stanley Cup, but if that happens, there’s a solid chance that they’ll get it done by one heck of a “committee.”

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.

Seth Jones builds Norris case in rallying Columbus


It seems like injuries are the only things that can slow down Seth Jones lately, and that’s exactly what happened as he was sidelined during the third period of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 5-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens.

Despite that setback, the 23-year-old defenseman extended his multi-point streak to three games with a goal and an assist. Jones now has four goals and two assists for six points during those three contests, helping the Blue Jackets bolster their playoff potential with five straight wins.

You have to wonder if Jones might be getting the attention of Norris Trophy voters in the process.

One delight of the 2017-18 season is that multiple award races continue to build intrigue. Sometimes it feels like there’s a reasonable Hart Trophy candidate for any team within a stone’s throw of the playoffs, at least with Nikita Kucherov cooling off thanks to injuries. Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s Vezina edge has dissolved, possibly due to fatigue. Meanwhile, in the case of the Norris Trophy, John Klingberg no longer seems to be the runaway leader, even if his shrinking scoring advantage probably can be blamed in part by the Dallas Stars’ systemic struggles.

Now, Jones isn’t leading defensemen in goals, though he’s close at 14 (P.K. Subban and Dougie Hamilton are tied for the NHL lead with 15). While those 15 goals and 48 points already mark a career-best for Jones, he’s still trailing Klingberg by a considerable margin, as the Stars defensemen stands at an impressive 57 points.

Possibly pushing the Blue Jackets into playoff position will help Jones’ case, but while this scoring streak brings him more attention, his best argument is probably is all-around game.

Jones doesn’t lead blueliners in ice time – stop if you’ve heard this before, but Ryan Suter is the top guy while Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson are right there with him – yet Jones does a little of everything, including killing just under two minutes of penalties (1:48) per night.

Beyond fantastic possession stats and nice counting numbers, Jones just seems to check all the boxes. Consider how competently he compares to former Norris winner Drew Doughty, another guy who rightfully gets praised for his all-around game. Via this handy tool from CJ Turtoro using Corey Sznajder’s data, you can see that Jones excels at transition elements of the game, too:

This is not necessarily to say that Jones is the frontrunner, mind you.

Again, he’s not necessarily the top choice in any specific category. He’s a rung or two down the ladder in scoring, with Klingberg and Brent Burns ahead of him. Erik Karlsson still seems to be in a class of his own according to certain metrics. Whether you look at sheer volume of work (Ryan Suter) or excelling in tougher circumstances (check P.K. Subban’s zone starts), Jones won’t be considered the biggest workhorse of the group.

Still, it has to be exciting for the Texas native and those who hyped him up heading into the 2013 NHL Draft, when he “fell” to the Nashville Predators as the fourth overall pick. John Tortorella is clearly gaining more and more trust for Jones, and his game is flourishing with all of those “rover” opportunities.

If his injury doesn’t slow this hot streak, Jones will only continue to work his way into the discussion. At worst, his name deserves to be mentioned among the biggest names among NHL defensemen, and that’s not an easy club to break into.

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 Buzzer: Panthers keep rolling, Devils end Preds’ win streak


Player(s) of the Night

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: Entering play on Saturday the St. Louis Blues had won just one of their past 10 games and managed to score just 14 goals during that stretch. That included three shutouts and two other games where they scored just a single goal. They put all of that behind them on Saturday afternoon by absolutely crushing the Los Angeles Kings, 7-2, to help keep their playoff hopes alive. It was a big game for Schwartz as he finished with a goal and two assists.

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: Toronto extended its home winning streak to a franchise record 10 games on Saturday night with a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Frederik Andersen made 38 saves in the win while Nazem Kadri helped drive the offense with a pair of goals.

David Krejci, Boston Bruins: No Patrice Bergeron? No Charlie McAvoy? No big deal for the Boston Bruins. They won their sixth game in a row on Saturday afternoon and continued to put up huge offensive numbers without two of their best players. Krejci had a huge game for the Bruins on Saturday with two goals in the 7-4 win.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: Thanks to their 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings losing to the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche were able to move back into a playoff position for the time being in the Western Conference. As usual, MacKinnon played a big part in the win by assisting on a pair of goals, giving him 49 assists and 81 total points on the season. He has only played in 60 games. That moves into fourth in the NHL in scoring. His 1.35 points per game average is tops in the NHL and would be a 110-point pace over 82 games.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: The Edmonton Oilers are not going anywhere this season but they still have a chance to get Connor McDavid the scoring title. He added three more points on Saturday night (two goals, an assist) in the Oilers’ 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. That gives the Oilers three consecutive wins, while McDavid has pretty much single handedly delivered each of the past two. After scoring the lone goal in regulation earlier in the week and then getting the game-winning goal in the shootout against the New York Islanders, he had a hand in three of the four goals on Saturday night including scoring the first two. He is now third in the NHL scoring race with 84 points, four behind Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov.

Panthers win again

The Florida Panthers’ late season surge continued on Saturday night with a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Rangers. Vincent Trocheck scored the winner in the shootout to help lift Florida to its 15th win in the past 19 games. The Panthers are also now on an eight-game point streak to help pull them to within two points of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with still three games in hand on the second Wild Card team, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It also helped them keep pace with the New Jersey Devils.

Speaking of which…

Devils put an end to Predators’ winning streak

The Devils are entering a brutal stretch of games here and it started on Saturday night with a trip to Nashville to take on a Predators team that entered the night having won 10 games in a row.

After allowing a late game-tying goal to Ryan Johansen to send the game to overtime, the Devils were able to come away with two huge points in the standings and put an end to the Predators’ winning streak. Brian Boyle scored the game-winning goal in the shootout after an exciting overtime period that saw Jusse Saros and Keith Kinkaid put on a goaltending clinic. Along with the shootout winner Boyle also scored a goal during regulation.

The most bizarre part of the overtime period though was probably when the Predators were given a power play with a minute to play in the extra period and came out with a power play unit that consisted of three defenseman (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis) and one forward (Ryan Johansen).

The Predators did not score on the man advantage, sending the game to the shootout where the Devils were able to come away with the win.

Highlight of the Night

Nicklas Backstrom does not score a lot of goals with his slap shot but he scored a big one for the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon when he absolutely wired this shot by San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones. What a shot.

That would be the only goal the Capitals would need in a 2-0 win to move back into first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Factoid of the Night

Another milestone for the expansion Vegas Golden Knights thanks to their 2-1 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon. What a season. What a story.


Vegas Golden Knights 2, Buffalo Sabres 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Montreal Canadiens 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Winnipeg Jets 1

Colorado Avalanche 5, Arizona Coyotes 2

St. Louis Blues 7, Los Angeles Kings 2

Washington Capitals 2, San Jose Sharks 0

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

Florida Panthers 4, New York Rangers 3

New Jersey Devils 3, Nashville Predators 2

Edmonton Oilers 4, Minnesota Wild 1


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.

Risk, reward, and Ron Francis


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.