Scott Darling

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PHT Morning Skate: Is Matt Duchene a big upgrade on Kyle Turris?

–On Sunday evening, the Senators, Avalanche and Predators pulled off a major swap that involved Matt Duchene and Kyle Turris. Did Ottawa really upgrade their roster that much by making this deal? The Score takes a deeper look at the Duchene vs. Turris debate. (The Score)

–Marijuana will become legal in Canada as of July 1st, so will hockey players be able to use it for medicinal purposes? It’s something the players’ association and owners have to talk about it. (TSN.ca)

–The NHL usually makes a big deal of their outdoor games, but it seems like the tilt between the Maple Leafs and Capitals in Annapolis this March isn’t getting much attention. (scottywazz.com)

Cam Ward had been serving as the starting goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes for years. This year, he’s been the backup to Scott Darling for the most part. That’s a difficult adjustment to make. “There’s no question it has been an adjustment,” Ward said. “I’m doing what I can to stay sharp in practice. When you’re not playing as much you have to emphasize more the practices and trying to stay sharp.” (Charlotte Observer)

–Popular Nashville Predators fan Ben Butzbach, who used to have painted messages on his stomach at games, passed away at the age of 33. “Big Ben” was extremely popular with both fans and players and he will be missed. (NHL.com)

–The Columbus Blue Jackets are off to a great start this season, and their advanced stats are quite impressive too. The Jackets have the fourth-best corsi in the league and their expected goals for indicate that more offense could be on the way. (unionandblue.com)

–There are three reasons the Capitals are struggling this season. First, injuries have been problematic for them. Matt Niskanen and Andre Burakovsky are both on the shelf right now. The Caps also have a lot of new faces, and their early-season schedule is pretty difficult. (novacapsfans.com)

–Cardiaccane.com looks at three reasons why the team should move defenseman Noah Hanifin. There’s a number of big-name players around and teams definitely hold the young blue liner in high regard.  Will they pull the trigger on a deal? (cardiaccane.com)

Kalle Kossila has made quite an impression with the Anaheim Ducks this season. No one expected the team to rely on him so heavily, but that’s exactly what’s happened this season. “We didn’t expect we were going to have to use him as much in this situation,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “But that’s what happens. You get injuries and you’re going to have to call on the depth of your organization to supplement your lineup.” (OC Register)

 –Adam Twenter of thesinbin.net wrote a thoughtful piece about how cancer isn’t fair. He’s encouraging all his readers to join this hockey-related fundraising campaign. (thesinbin.net)

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 Power Rankings: Kings climb to top spot

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When we last checked in with our Power Rankings we were trying to make sense of the early season standings, and in a lot of ways we still kind of are. The first month is a little crazy sometimes and this season is no exception (New Jersey in first place? Vegas with wins in eight of its first nine games? Edmonton stinks again?).

One of the more surprising results last time was the fast start by the Los Angeles Kings.

Two weeks later, it has not stopped.

What is perhaps most surprising about it is the fact they are currently seventh in the league in goals scored with largely the same roster that has been near the bottom of the league over the past couple of seasons. Also surprising: They have done it while getting just six games from Jeff Carter, one of their best, most consistent and most important offensive players.

Anze Kopitar, a seemingly reborn Dustin Brown and Adrian Kempe (already with six goals) are helping to pace the offense for a Kings team that is 9-1-1 to open the season.

They are the new top team in our Power Rankings.

Have a look at the rest of the rankings as we get ready to move into the second month of the NHL season.

1. Los Angeles Kings — It took Dustin Brown 24 games to record his 11th point last season. He has 11 in 11 games as of Monday.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are the two most dominating offensive players in the NHL right now. It is still early, but it is very clear that the 2016-17 season was the fluke for the Lightning.

3. St. Louis Blues — Vladimir Tarasenko gets all of the headlines (rightfully so) but Jaden Schwartz has been the straw stirring the drink this season for the Blues. Where would they be without him?

4. New Jersey Devils — A trio of rookies (Nico Hischier, Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt) has the Devils at the top of the Metropolitan Division for the time being and gives their fans a lot of hope for the future.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets — The offense still probably has another level it can get to but Sergei Bobrovsky is following up his second Vezina Trophy with another stellar start to the season with a .938 save percentage.

6. Vegas Golden Knights — Is their success sustainable? Probably not! But it is a heck of a lot of fun to watch right now. We know they can win at home. Now we get to see what happens when they have to play a few road games.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — Still the most exciting team in the league. They will score more than any team in the league … and they will give up more than just about anybody.

8. Ottawa Senators — If you are going to lose, lose in overtime when you can collect points and that is exactly what Ottawa has done this season. With only one regulation loss this season the Senators have managed to collect point in 10 of their first 11 games.

9. Vancouver Canucks — The Canucks were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the league, and given their roster they still might end up there when all is said and done. But with wins and five of their past six, including four in a row into Monday, they are one of the biggest surprises in the NHL so far.

10. New York Islanders — In his past four games heading into Monday John Tavares has seven goals and 10 total points, including a pair of hat tricks. Consider his slow start officially over.

11. Anaheim Ducks — If he stays healthy John Gibson can be a top-tier goaltender in the NHL for a long time. He has been downright dominant in his past five starts.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins — The Penguins still don’t look great, they still have some depth issues and they have won just one game in regulation in more than two weeks. They have been absolutely blown out three times this month. Not encouraging.

13. Chicago Blackhawks — After scoring 15 goals in their first two games the Blackhawks have managed to score only 23 in the 10 games that have followed. There were depth concerns at the start of the season. Maybe they are starting to show now.

14. Philadelphia Flyers — The Flyers wanted to see Sean Couturier take a step forward this season offensively and he has given them exactly that, averaging more than a point-per-game through the first 11. Put that production with his defensive game and you have one heck of a top-line center.

15. Winnipeg Jets — On paper this is still a pretty talented team that just needs to get some consistent goaltending. So far Conor Hellebuyck has given them that in his starts. How long that continues will determine how far the Jets are able to go this season.

16. Calgary Flames — This has the look of a breakout season for Johnny Gaudreau. Not only is he pacing the Flames with 15 points in 12 games but he is also sporting a dominating 55 percent Corsi mark. He is doing it all.

17. Minnesota Wild — The Wild are hanging around at the start of the season thanks to the stunning offensive performance of … *checks papers* … Chris Stewart? Well that is unexpected. After scoring just 13 goals in 79 games a year ago Stewart already has six in his first nine games this season. He has always been a streaky scorer and the Wild are getting one of those hot streaks at the right time.

18. Washington Capitals — It hasn’t been the offense that has been hurt by the offseason departures of Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, it is the defense that has been the problem. Entering the week the Capitals are 26th in the league in goals against and 25th in shots against.

19. Nashville Predators — Pekka Rinne has been a question mark in recent seasons but so far this season he has been the Predators’ best, most valuable player. They somehow have six wins while getting just one combined goal from Ryan Johansen and P.K Subban.

20. Boston Bruins — With seven goals in his first nine games Brad Marchand has scored 83 goals since the start of the 2015-16 season. That is the fifth best mark in the NHL behind only Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko.

21. San Jose Sharks — After winning just three of their first four games the Sharks have won four out of their past six games, including a wildly successful five-game road trip.

22. Dallas Stars — So far this Stars season is going about as should have been expected. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are carrying the offense and everything else is just kind of … average. Against playoff teams from a year ago they are only 1-3-0 so far this season.

23. Carolina Hurricanes — Here is a story you have almost certainly heard before: Goaltending has been an early season problem in Carolina. In his first taste as an everyday starter Scott Darling has an .897 save percentage.

24. Colorado Avalanche — Another team that has been hit by a sharp dose of reality after an early season surge. That 7-0 loss to an expansion team is going to leave a mark.

25. Edmonton Oilers — They are still better than their record indicates but the lack of secondary scoring is going to be a real problem. Maybe trading Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle for Adam Larsson and Ryan Strome wasn’t the best idea.

26. Florida Panthers — They have four players at the top of the lineup all averaging a point-per-game but things are not going well defensively or in net where Roberto Luongo remains sidelined.

27. Detroit Red Wings — A fast start has quickly turned into disappointment thanks to a six-game losing streak. This is more of what should have been expected from this team.

28. Montreal Canadiens — It has been the perfect storm of chaos in Montreal so far this season. A bad start, some off ice drama, the captain has just three goals (zero assists) in his first 11 games.

29. New York Rangers — At this point it is not quite clear if the defense is still an issue or poor goaltending performances are still clouding things. Either way, the Rangers probably did not expect to be near the bottom of the standings at any point this season. This team should not be this bad.

30. Buffalo Sabres — Jason Pominville has played well in his return to Buffalo and Jack Eichel is great. Everything else is lousy.

31. Arizona Coyotes — You really do not need to say anything when you look at the standings to see 0-10-1.

Injury pauses start of Antti Raanta era in Arizona

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With Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler headlining a dizzying list of injured Ducks, Anaheim won’t open its season at full-strength. On the other hand, the Arizona Coyotes won’t dress their would-be new starting goalie in Antti Raanta.

The team announced that Raanta is sidelined with a “minor lower-body injury,” so Louis Domingue gets the nod, instead.

The holding pattern lingers

At 28, Raanta’s been waiting for a chance to be a top guy for a long time – excelling as a backup for both the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers – so this really has to sting.

And, really, it likely stings quite a bit more than it would for, say, Scott Darling.

Both backups were traded into intriguing opportunities, but while Darling signed a four-year, $16.6 million deal, Raanta didn’t get a new contract with the Coyotes. Instead, he’s in a high-pressure contract year; the Coyotes could easily decide that he’s not the goalie of the future. Meanwhile, goalies like Darling and Frederik Andersen got their money before they stopped a single puck for new teams.

(Raanta probably relates more to fellow former Rangers backup Cam Talbot, who didn’t receive an extension with the Edmonton Oilers until midway through his first season.)

The Coyotes deserve kudos for taking their potential new goalie for a test drive rather than splurging on an extension right away. That said, there’s the potential for an especially cruel turn for Raanta.

Prove it (again)

Consider this: Domingue ($1.05M) actually carries a slightly larger cap hit than Raanta ($1M). There’s at least a chance that he might outplay Raanta, especially if this is the type of issue that lingers.

In the bigger picture, this remains a golden opportunity. Just check out Raanta’s sparkling stats from the past three seasons:

2014-15 (Chicago): 12-7-4, .936 save percentage, .936 GAA

2015-16 (Rangers): 18-11-6, .919 save percentage, 2.25 GAA

2016-17 (Rangers): 26-16-8, .922 save percentage, 2.26 GAA

With what could be a stout Coyotes defense, it’s perfectly realistic to picture Raanta transitioning from a backup with strong starter numbers to a proven number one.

Can you blame Raanta if there’s at least a slight fear that this opportunity will split through his fingers, though?

* – Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a little banged-up but playing, so the Coyotes have their own injury challenges. Just nowhere near as many as the Ducks are facing.

Penguins, Rangers, Capitals headline PHT’s mighty Metro Division preview

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The Metropolitan Division hasn’t just produced the last two Stanley Cup winners (Pittsburgh Penguins) and last two Presidents’ Trophy winners (Washington Capitals).

It’s also a division that runs deep. The Columbus Blue Jackets took the league by storm in 2016-17, and while Sergei Bobrovsky might not be sensational again, many still believe they’re legit. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders still boast significant strengths, while the Carolina Hurricanes are dark horse candidates once more.

Even the New Jersey Devils keep adding promising talent.

Let’s preview what might once again be the best division in the NHL.

Also, check out these other previews: Atlantic Division, Central Division, PHT’s picks and predictions.

Carolina Hurricanes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Columbus Blue Jackets

Poll/looking to make the leap

New Jersey Devils

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Islanders

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Rangers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Philadelphia Flyers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Pittsburgh Penguins

Poll/looking to make the leap

Something noteworthy from today:

Washington Capitals

Poll/looking to make the leap

Sebastian Aho one of the reasons for optimism in Carolina this season

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Even though the organization hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2009 there is a lot of excitement around the Carolina Hurricanes heading into the 2017-18 season. A lot of the attention is directed toward their young defense that is the backbone of their current rebuild, but they also have a ton of talent up front and leading the way is 20-year-old forward Sebastian Aho.

Aho was one of the standout rookies that shined in the NHL during the 2017-18 season, and while he didn’t get as much attention as Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine, his performance was still one worth paying attention. His 24 goals were third among all rookies, and he did that while not scoring a goal until his 15th game of the season.

That goal total put him in some pretty strong company in recent NHL history.

Since the start of the 2005-06 season only 11 players under the age of 20 have scored at least 24 goals in their debut season. That list, other than Aho, includes Sidney Crosby, Matthews, Laine, Jeff Skinner, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Jack Eichel, John Tavares, Jordan Staal, and Jonathan Toews. Pretty good list to be a part of, and everything about Aho’s rookie season would seem to indicate it was not a fluke performance. He was a possession-driving forward (53 percent Corsi) and averaged more than two-and-a-half shots on goal per game, finishing as one of the league’s top rookies in terms of shot on goals.

That is the early career resume of a potential All-Star level player for a long, long time.

Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said this week, via Chip Alexander of the News & Observer, that he is going to give Aho one more season on the wing to help his development before moving him back to his natural position of center.

With Aho becoming one of the focal points of the roster the Hurricanes definitely have a lot of reasons for optimism heading into the season.

Their defense has helped them become one of the best shot suppression teams in the league in recent years, while they are hoping that Scott Darling can help solve the long-standing problem in net. Jeff Skinner is one of the league’s best goal-scorers and they now have an intriguing collection of younger forwards just ready to hit the prime of their careers with Aho and Teuvo Teravainen leading the way.

We’ve been hearing about the Hurricanes’ young talent for a couple of years now, and they have entered previous seasons as a popular sleeper pick to make some noise in the Eastern Conference, and this year’s version might be the team to finally fulfill some of that promise.