Travis Hamonic

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NHL Power Rankings: Here come the Flames

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Expectations were high for the Calgary Flames entering this season.

They have a promising young core of talent centered around Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Dougie Hamilton, then spent a bunch of money to bring in Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith over the summer. Hamonic, along with Hamilton, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie seemed to give them one of the better defensive units in the NHL (at least as far as the top-four is concerned) and Smith was expected to solidify a goaltending position that had been a pretty big sore spot the past couple of years.

When we last checked in with our power rankings two weeks ago the Flames were looking like one of the bigger disappointments in the league. They were on the outside of the playoff picture and looking like they were running out of time to make a big move in the standings.

But a six-game winning streak can change a lot.

Entering the week the Flames find themselves in the No. 2 spot in the Pacific Division and have built a four-point cushion over the first non-playoff teams in the West. One of those teams (San Jose) still has four games in hand on them, but the Flames are finally starting to resemble the team they were expected to be over the summer. They are 9-2-1 in their past 11 games.

Gaudreau is blossoming into a superstar while Smith has been on a roll in net over the past few weeks.

They made one of the biggest jumps in this week’s rankings.

Here is a look at where everyone else falls this week.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Losing Victor Hedman for 3-6 weeks is going to hurt in the short-term, but the Lightning have their bye week for the first week of that timetable and have given themselves a huge cushion in the standings. They have the offense and goaltender to withstand that loss for a couple of weeks.

2. Vegas Golden Knights — Yes. Somehow Vegas gets included in the elites now, too. I only saw somehow because this story is still insane. An expansion team. A legitimate Stanley Cup contender more than halfway through the season. Madness. Entering Monday the Golden Knights are 14-1-2 in their previous 17 games, a stretch that includes games against Anaheim, Nashville (twice), Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, St. Louis and Washington. They are going to get a big test here with a four-game road trip including games against Nashville and Tampa Bay.

The Rest Of The Best

3. Washington Capitals — After losing a lot this offseason it was supposed to be a step back this season. That step back still has them on pace for 109 points and another Metropolitan Division title. As the NHL standings sit today, their reward for that would be a first-round matchup against … the Pittsburgh Penguins.

4. Boston Bruins — Given the offseason seasons for Mathew Barzal and Brock Boeser it is going to be tough for him to get a lot of attention in the Calder Trophy race, but Charlie McAvoy has been just as impactful as both. If not more impactful.

5. Nashville Predators — P.K. Subban should be one of the leaders in the clubhouse for the Norris Trophy at this point. His defensive play right now is laughably underrated.

6. Winnipeg Jets — It is really impressive how much offensive talent the Jets have, and how much of it is still young. Kyle Connor is scoring at a 30-goal pace over 82 games as a 20-year-old rookie and nobody even really mentions him much. If the goaltending can hold it together they will be a fascinating team to watch.

7. Los Angeles Kings — Jonathan Quick has at times been a little overrated in his career, but his performance this season has matched the reputation he has built. It’s almost as if he’s been a little underrated this year.

Just A Step Below

8. St. Louis Blues — The Blues need more from Jake Allen. A lot more. Carter Hutton has been really strong in a backup role this season and it’s probably time to give him a few more starts and ride the hot hand.

9. Calgary Flames — What a difference a couple of weeks can make in a team’s outlook for the season.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Jack Johnson wants a trade, but it is hard to see him bringing much of a return. Not only because every team knows he wants out, but because he is probably best suited as a third-pairing defenseman. There doesn’t seem to be a lot for Columbus to gain here and it’s hard to see Johnson getting more playing time on a team that will give him a better chance to win than Columbus will.

11. New Jersey Devils — They enter the week on a six-game losing streak. Time to panic, or just a small speed bump during  a long season full of peaks and valleys? They are still scoring goals so that is a good sign they can turn things around again.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs — They still have flaws, but it is amazing they are a top-five team in goals scored while getting only 14 goals from William Nylander and Mitch Marnrer and with Auston Matthews missing 10 games. Crazy depth up front.

13. Colorado Avalanche — One of the hottest teams in the NHL at the moment. Six game winning streak and 11-3-1 in their past 15 games. They are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, but they are only two points back and have two games in hand on the team they are chasing.

The Middle Ground

14. Pittsburgh Penguins — The Penguins are really on to something with this Sidney Crosby, Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon line. It has also added a lot more balance to their forward lines. With Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel all rolling now the Penguins look like the Penguins again.

15. Dallas Stars — Alexander Radulov isn’t getting enough attention this season. He is on track for a career year offensively, is driving possession, and has generally been pretty outstanding for the Stars.

16. San Jose Sharks — Still having a hard time getting a feel for the Sharks. They are not bad, they are not really anything special, they are currently on the outside of the playoff picture … but they also have only played in 41 games and have multiple games in hand on everyone. They are not out of it by any stretch.

17. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal‘s resurgence in Minnesota the past two years has been a pretty stunning development. He looked like he was done toward the end of his time in Carolina.

18. Philadelphia Flyers — Sean Couturier is on pace for 47 goals while playing dominant, shutdown defense. The goal scoring might end up being a bit of an outlier in his career (he is not a 19 percent shooter every year) but it is still a remarkable season for him.

19. New York Rangers — They have always been dependent on Henrik Lundqvist but right now they are taking that to an entirely new level. The defensive strategy just seems to be “pray that Lundqvist stops everything.”

20. Chicago Blackhawks — Like the trade for Anthony Duclair. Fresh start on a talented team might be good for him, and the Blackhawks could certainly use another young forward to fly around and create offense. But is the defense good enough to get them in the playoffs, especially with Corey Crawford‘s status still in question?

21. Anaheim Ducks — If they get healthy — and stay healthy — they could still be a team to watch out for in the second half. As of Monday they are two points back of a playoff spot. The challenge will be overcoming the five teams ahead of them at the moment.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — Just when it looked like they were ready to make a big move in the East they dropped six out of eight. Still a lot of intriguing talent and the new owner seems like he is fired up and can bring plenty of excitement. There is a core here you can win with.

23. New York Islanders — They might not make the playoffs, they still have to re-sign John Tavares and Josh Bailey, but Mathew Barzal looks dynamite. They fall so low because they are really cold right now and have lost a lot of ground in a short period of time. Still very much in the playoff race, but trending in the wrong direction.

Better Luck Next Season

24. Detroit Red Wings — They enter the week 5-2-0 over their past seven games, trying to show some signs of live. That is good news. The bad news: Even with that nice little run they are still probably out of the playoff race.

25. Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov got a much deserved spot on the Atlantic Division All-Star team. A true bright spot for the Panthers and a foundational player to build around for a long, long time.

26. Edmonton Oilers — They won two in a row heading into the bye week but the mountain standing in front of them for a playoff spot is still a massive one.

27. Montreal Canadiens — Don’t look now but Max Pacioretty is starting to turn it around. He has points in four consecutive games, including three straight with a goal.

28. Vancouver Canucks — It’s still the Brock Boeser show in Vancouver.

29. Ottawa Senators — After scoring at least 15 goals in each of the past four seasons Erik Karlsson has only three goals in 37 games this season. That is by far the worst goal-scoring pace of his NHL career. The only other time it was that low was his rookie season when he only played in 60 games as a 19-year-old.

30. Buffalo Sabres — The big thing worth watching now is where does Evander Kane end up before the trade deadline?

31. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes are on track to be one of the worst teams in recent memory. Only 27 points through 45 games and a minus-55 goal differential.

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.

Sakic’s patience pays off for Avs in Duchene trade

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All of a sudden, things look a lot more positive for the Colorado Avalanche, not to mention how people view Joe Sakic as a GM.

Now, that’s not to say it was easy. The Avalanche took a lot of heat before finally pulling the trigger in trading Matt Duchene, but with the monster deal involving three teams, Colorado was able to land a pretty staggering package of picks, prospects, and Hamburglar.

Prospects: Samuel Girard, Vladislav Kamenev, and Shane Bowers.

Picks: First-rounder from Senators (see details below for how it is briefly lottery-protected), second-rounder in 2018 from Predators, third-rounder in 2019 from Ottawa.

Hamburglar: Andrew Hammond

Phew, that’s quite the haul for the Avalanche. Here’s the thing: I don’t think any single player in this deal will end up better than Duchene (or Kyle Turris). If that’s the only way you’ll judge a trade, then after all this time, Sakic may still lose.

On the other hand, it was clear that Duchene needed to go. With two years left at $6M per pop, it’s plausible that he would have left eventually, and for nothing but cap space. Even if the Avalanche re-signed Duchene in an alternate scenario, are they truly primed to contend during his peak years?

[Breaking down blockbuster Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris trade]

This deal seems close to optimal for the Avalanche as far as realistic “gets” are concerned; such a choice only seems wiser when you consider that Travis Hamonic is struggling and injured with Calgary, as just one example.

The cooler element is that, for the first time in a long time, it feels like things are trending up for the Avalanche.

Consider the players who are leading the charge for the refreshingly respectable 8-6-0 Avs. Nathan MacKinnon has been on a tear lately, reminding us that it’s a little weird to be disappointed in a guy who’s still just 22. Tyson Barrie ties MacKinnon with a team-leading 14 points, and he’s old by Avs standards at 27. Mikko Rantanen is already looking great at 21. Alex Kerfoot could be a keeper at 23. J.T. Compher (22) and Tyson Jost (19) are showing intrigue. It’s hard to believe that Gabriel Landeskog is only 25.

Heck, the Avalanche may just revive Nail Yakupov, who’s been given up on a lot for a player who is just 24.

Add intriguing first-rounder Calle Makar to that group and the Avalanche were already enjoying some reasons for optimism. This mixture of picks and prospects just gives them more ammunition.

Girard, 19, is the gem of this group. To my eyes, he was already showing some real promise with the Predators, and he’ll almost certainly get more of a chance to show what he can do (and, yes, maybe also get exposed a bit more) on an Avalanche team that sorely needs defense.

Kamenev, 21, is one of those prospects who could go either way. The good news, though, is that he’s been putting up solid AHL numbers. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman broke down the trio (subscription required) in greater detail, arguing that Kamenev and Shane Bowers, 18, may ultimately be depth or mid-range guys.

In case you’re wondering, Girard (47th in 2016) and Kamenev (42nd in 2014) were second-round picks while Bowers went 28th overall in this past draft.

TSN’s Scott Cullen did a nice job breaking down how those draft picks might work out for the Avalanche:

The haul of draft picks increases the overall value of the deal for Colorado. Ottawa’s first-round pick could be in the middle of the round, give or take a few spots, and that should generally yield an NHL-calibre player. Second and third-round picks bring about a one-in-three and one-in-four chance, respectively of yielding an NHL player. For a team like Colorado, coming off a historically terrible season, obtaining five young assets (plus Hammond) for Duchene is the smart long-term play.

Ultimately, this deal could go in a lot of ways for the Avalanche. It’s important to remember that a significant element of all of this could very well be player development.

Possible value for the Hamburglar?

It’s fair to say that, from Ottawa’s perspective, trading Andrew Hammond came down to a pure “salary dump.”

I wonder if Sakic might be able to do something interesting here, though. At the moment, Semyon Varlamov is on a two-year deal at $5.9M per season, while backup Jonathan Bernier has a one-year, $2.75M contract.

If you’re a team hurting for a backup goalie, call Colorado. Sakic could conceivably make something work in a variety of ways, whether it be moving Hammond or maybe retaining some salary in a trade involving Bernier.

***

Yes, that’s a lot to digest for the Avalanche, but in the spirit of the Hamburglar, at least Sakic provided Avalanche fans with a rare trade that feels like a Happy Meal.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: What’s a bit different about Ovechkin

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–The Capitals talked with Alex Ovechkin over the summer about how he could tweak his game. Those talks included having Ovechkin trim his weight, which led to him showing up to camp four pounds lighter, and put a greater emphasis on getting in front of the net for tip-ins and rebounds at even strength. Already he has six even-strength goals this season, compared to his 16 in 2015-16, which matched his career-low. (Washington Post)

–The Dallas Stars have lost their first two games, but they’ve been dominated from a shots perspective. Stars coach Ken Hitchcock is encouraging the team to stay patient. (Dallas Morning News)

–Speaking of shots, the Florida Panthers’ 84 in their first two games is a franchise record. (Steve Goldstein)

Travis Hamonic has begun Hamonic’s D-Partner Program presented by MEG Energy in Calgary. Each home game he’ll host a child or children who suffered the loss of a parent at a young age. Hamonic’s own father passed away when he was 10-years-old and part of what he does with this program is have a sit-down where he encourages them to talk about their loss and shares his own story. He’ll also often give the kids his e-mail address so that he can stay in touch and offer guidance if they need it. It’s a program he previously ran with the Islanders and got permission to begin with the Flames after he was traded over the summer. (Calgary Sun)

Sam Morin, 22, has been a healthy scratch in the Philadelphia Flyers’ first three games. If he doesn’t crack the lineup soon then the Flyers might send the promising defenseman down to the minors. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

–Blake Coleman’s drink of choice during games is pickle juice. Apparently its the only thing that he’s found that will help him prevent cramps, but it’s not something his Devils teammates have taken to. (NJ.com)

Oilers, Golden Knights, Cali teams, and more in PHT’s Pacific preview

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Let’s cut to the chase and wrap up these division previews.

Check out these other previews: Atlantic DivisionCentral Division, Metropolitan DivisionPHT’s picks and predictions.

Anaheim Ducks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Arizona Coyotes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Calgary Flames

Poll/looking to make the leap

Edmonton Oilers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Los Angeles Kings

Poll/looking to make the leap

San Jose Sharks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vancouver Canucks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Vegas Golden Kngihts

Poll/looking to make the leap

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