Jonathan Toews

Crosby, Toews, Weber, Price lead pack in NHL 16’s ratings

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After unveiling the top 10 goaltenders for the upcoming video game NHL 16, EA Sports has done the same for every other position.

As was the case last season, Sidney Crosby has the highest overall rating at 96, but there are some alterations after that. In 2015, Steven Stamkos ranked second overall with a 93 rating and he kept that rating for 2015-16, but he’s been leapfrogged by Jonathan Toews (94), Shea Weber (94), and Carey Price (94).

Pavel Datsyuk (93) and John Tavares (92) round out the top-five among centers. Both Detroit and Pittsburgh have two players in the top-10 with Henrik Zetterberg (92) and Evgeni Malkin (92) securing eighth and sixth place respectively.

As previously established, Weber leads the pack among defensemen and is followed by Duncan Keith (93), Drew Doughty (93), Ryan Suter (93), and Erik Karlsson (91). Nashville is the only team with two defensemen in the top-10 as Roman Josi (90) ranks ninth.

When it comes to right wingers, Corey Perry (92) got the top position, although he’s closely followed by Patrick Kane (92). Vladimir Tarasenko (91), Jakub Voracek (90), and Marian Hossa (90) make up the remainder of the top-five. Phil Kessel, who was traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh over the summer, saw his rating slip from 90 in 2014-15 to 89 following a rough campaign with the Maple Leafs.

When it comes to left wingers, it won’t surprise many to learn that Alex Ovechkin secured the top rating at 93. He’s followed by Jamie Benn (92), Taylor Hall (90), Zach Parise (90), and Max Pacioretty (89). The Dallas Stars’ acquisition of Patrick Sharp means that they now have two players in the top-10 as Sharp took the final place on that list with his 89 rating.

NHL 16 will be out on Sept. 15 in North America and Sept. 17 in Europe. If you want to see each position’s top-10 list, you can view them here.

Kings, Kopitar ‘not even in the ballpark’ on new contract

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Anze Kopitar is heading into the last year of his deal, and eligible to sign an extension at any time.

Just don’t expect that “any time” to be “anytime soon.”

From LA Kings Insider:

The Kings and Kopitar are are “not even in the ballpark” in their discussions, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi told LA Kings Insider over email when asked whether the two sides were “close” to reaching an agreement.

Kopitar, 28, is making $6.8 million annually on his current deal, which expires next July. Given his status as one of the NHL’s elite centers, it would stand to reason his camp’s initial ask is sky-high; he’s big, he’s strong, he’s won a pair of Stanley Cups, been a Selke finalist two years running, topped 60 points in each of the last two seasons and, for his career, has 60 points in 70 playoff games.

Bottom line? Kopitar is going to get paid.

The question is how much.

One would think the bar’s been set by Chicago’s Jonathan Toews who, starting next year, will pull down $10.5 million annually. Another comparable would be Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who pulls in $9.5M per season.

The hangup, of course, is that Los Angeles might not have a ton of financial flexibility in the future. Dustin Brown’s deal, a $5.875M cap hit that runs through 2022, gets more onerous by the day and there’s still no clear picture if the termination of Mike Richards’ contract will hold up after the NHLPA’s grievance is heard.

Still, it’s hard — impossible even — to envision a scenario where Kopitar doesn’t get extended. Top-line centers are some of the most coveted entities in the NHL and, in a Western Conference featuring the likes of Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Tyler Seguin, Kopitar carries immense value.

The real question now, it seems, is if the Kings and Kopitar can avoid the distraction of entering the season without a new deal in place.

Blackhawks ’15-16 Outlook

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Despite the plethora of changes made to their roster this summer, the Chicago Blackhawks should once again be contenders in this season. Immediately following their third Stanley Cup victory in six years, oddsmakers chose Chicago as the favorite to win the cup again.

Chicago’s success this season will depend on how newcomers fair. The Blackhawks lost four key pieces of their team in the offseason with Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Brad Richards all finding new homes.

Salary cap constraints will force the Blackhawks to rely on younger players such as Teuvo Teravainen this season. The 20-year-old appeared in 34 games with the ‘Hawks last season, scoring four goals and nine points.

Artem Anisimov, acquired in the Saad deal, will likely slot in behind Jonathan Toews as the ‘Hawks second line center. Newcomers Ryan Garbutt and Marko Dano will also fill holes in the Blackhawks roster this season.

Rookies Kyle Baun, Ryan Hartman and Artemi Panarin could also challenge for roster spots.

“I think change is good, and I think we’ve embraced that in the past and been able to bring in some players that now are household names … but at one point they were new,” GM Stan Bowman told NHL.com. “It’s going to be the same thing for some of the new guys that are part of this group next year. They might be new to the fans and media, but as you’ll see in time, I think we’re really going to fall in love with some of these guys.”

Chicago will also have new regulars on the blue line with the likes of Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad vying for roster spots behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor Daley. Erik Gustafsson and Ville Pokka will also battle for spots on the back end.

In goal, Corey Crawford is the clear cut No. 1 while Scott Darling beat out Antti Raanta for the backup role. Raanta was dealt to the New York Rangers during the offseason.

One wild card for the Blackhawks is, of course, Patrick Kane. The 26-year-old is currently the subject of a police investigation. Kane would’ve challenged for the scoring title last season, if a shoulder injury hadn’t forced him to miss the final 21 games of the regular season.

Chicago will once again be a threat in the Western Conference, but how deep they go will depend on how well the newcomers fit.

It’s Chicago Blackhawks day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Chicago Blackhawks.

The Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in June.

Defenseman Duncan Keith, who recorded 21 points in 23 playoff games while averaging over 31 minutes a night in ice time, was the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

After missing the final 21 regular season games due to a broken left clavicle, Patrick Kane returned for the playoffs and finished with a team-leading 11 goals and 23 points.

Despite a slow start to the postseason, Corey Crawford finished with a 13-6 record in 20 appearances while posting a 1.46 G.A.A. and a .924 save percentage.

Chicago finished the regular season with a 48-28-6 record – good for the third seed in the Central Division.

Jonathan Toews led the Blackhawks in scoring with 28 goals and 65 points in 81 games. Despite playing in just 61 games, Kane was right behind Toews in team scoring with 27 goals and 64 points.

Off-season recap

Following the cup win Toews admitted the 2015 win felt a lot like 2010. With new contracts for Toews and Kane set to kick in, and the Blackhawks up against the salary cap, GM Stan Bowman was forced to trade away key pieces.

To get things started, Bowman dealt Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a seven-player trade. Chicago received Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a 2016 fourth round pick in return.

Brad Richards left for Detroit signing a one-year, $3 million deal.

Then Bowman dealt Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars along with Stephen Johns in exchange for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt.

Five days later, Johnny Oduya joined Sharp in Dallas signing a two-year, $7.5 million deal.

Antoine Vermette returned to Arizona signing a two-year contract with the Coyotes.

Chicago also dealt goaltender Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers for Ryan Haggerty.

There are still question marks surrounding the Blackhawks’ roster as training camp gets set to open next month. Kane’s situation remains uncertain, as he is the subject of a police investigation.

Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom remain restricted free agents while Dan Carcillo is pondering retirement, as he remains unsigned.

Under Pressure: Brandon Saad

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Brandon Saad has won the Stanley Cup twice and he deserves recognition for his role in that, but when he was in Chicago, he wasn’t the player people expected to step up when it mattered most. He was a valuable forward for the Blackhawks, but not one of the team’s biggest stars.

Columbus is a decidedly different situation for him. The Blue Jackets provided Chicago with a significant package to get Saad and made a serious commitment by inking him to a six-year, $36 million contract. His $6 million annual cap hit will place him second on the team next season, behind goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Even factoring in the two titles he’s been involved in, it seems fair to say that he’s getting paid based on potential rather than past accomplishments. His 23 goals and 52 points in 82 contests last season, taken by itself, wouldn’t typically warrant that kind of payday. That’s especially true when you remember that his most common five-on-five linemates by a wide margin last season were Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, per Hockey Analysis, so while playing alongside Ryan Johansen will be a luxury, it’s not as if he wasn’t sharing the ice with highly skilled forwards already.

Of course, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a 22-year-old forward (23 in October) still has some untapped upside and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue to improve and become a player that looks more than worthy of that contract. But for the first time in his life, someone has bet tens of millions of dollars on the idea that will happen and a city is putting their faith in him being a player that can lead the charge.

It’s a big opportunity for him and if he lives up to expectations, then there could be quite a few more serious playoff runs in his future.