New York Rangers

Calgary Flames ’15-16 Outlook

4 Comments

For the most part, there should be optimism in Cowtown.

After a great ’14-15 campaign in which they exceeded all expectations, the Flames had themselves an equally successful summer. GM Brad Treliving struck the perfect chord of adding to his upstart team without sacrificing youth or prospects; Dougie Hamilton came aboard at the expense of three draft picks while Michael Frolik joined in free agency, much like Karri Ramo, who was brought back to recreate last year’s successful goalie tandem with Jonas Hiller.

The Flames didn’t lose much, either.

Spare veteran parts like Raphael Diaz, David Schlemko and Brian McGrattan walked in free agency, and with good reason; the postseason emergence of youngsters like Micheal Ferland, Sam Bennett and Tyler Wotherspoon made the older guys expendable.

The real excitement in Calgary, though, is the prospect of putting everything together. Up front, the dynamic trio of Johnny Gaudreau-Sean Monahan-Jiri Hudler will be back for another go-round, only this time they’ll have depth behind them: Frolik, a full season of Bennett, a full season of Mikael Backlund (remember, he missed 30 games last season) and a real wildcard in Ferland, who showed flashes of being a havoc-wreaking power forward in the playoffs.

On defense? Imagine if that all comes together too. Adding Hamilton, getting Giordano back, building off the excellent playoffs from T.J. Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell — the Flames could have one of the better bluelines in the Western Conference.

So yes, Calgary certainly has momentum heading into ’15-16, but momentum can be a fickle thing. Especially when you’re trying to carry it from one year to the next.

What the Flames won’t have going for them is the element of surprise. It’s fair to say they snuck up on some few opponents last year, especially during their 17-8-2 start, but that’s unlikely to happen again. They’re a tough out, and the rest of the NHL now knows it. Upon being introduced to the Calgary media in July, Frolik, the former Winnipeg Jet, acknowledged part of his reason for signing in Calgary was recognizing how good the team was — and will be.

“With me and Dougie, I think that [expectations are] just going to be higher and higher,” he explained, per the Herald. “With what the guys did last year, the goal is for sure to make the playoffs.”

Calgary will also likely need to improve on its puck possession and shot-based metrics — we touched on that earlier today — but those improvements have a good chance of happening thanks to the new roster additions, and the maturation of incumbent youngsters.

Put it all together, and it’s easy to see why the organization’s already thinking about another boisterous postseason in front of the Sea of Red.

“Players want to be in a good situation, they want to have a chance to win,” Treliving said. “In the playoffs, seeing the atmosphere in the building, seeing this city come alive, seeing the support and the passion that our fans have, makes players excited.”

Quick: Pacioretty is ‘the most underrated player’

10 Comments

Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick wrote the second part of his Elite Snipers 101 article and while it’s a great read from start to finish, his take on Montreal forward Max Pacioretty is perhaps what stands out the most.

Per The Players’ Tribune:

When I think of Max, I think of the most underrated player in the NHL. Only three players have scored more goals than him over the past three seasons — and these aren’t all pretty power play goals. Most of his goals come in 5-on-5 situations where space is tight, and I know he had 10 game-winners last season. Max is similar to Tavares in the way he works in dirty areas. It blows my mind that he’s not talked about more because he’s such a great scorer.

Fair enough, so let’s talk about him a bit.

First off, to Quick’s point: He is of course correct that there are just three players that have netted more goals than Pacioretty over the last three seasons: Alex Ovechkin (136), Steven Stamkos (97), and Joe Pavelski (94). Pacioretty is tied with Perry for fourth place with 91 markers over that span. Granted, Perry has played in five fewer games, but if that’s going to be brought up, then the fact that Pavelski has participated in 15 more contests than Pacioretty has to be raised as well.

Quick also brought up power-play goals and sure enough just 21 of Pacioretty’s 91 markers have been scored with the man advantage, which is significantly less than the players ahead of him. Still, if you want to just look at five-on-five markers over the last three seasons, then Pacioretty’s still tied for fourth place with 55, it’s just that now it’s Rick Nash (64), Perry (62), and Ovechkin (56) ahead of him.

Whatever method you’re using though, it’s clear that Pacioretty is one of the top snipers in the game today, but if he’s not as popular a subject as some of the other players that have been roughly as productive as him, then perhaps there’s a simple explanation. Unlike Ovechkin, Stamkos, Nash, or Perry, the Canadiens forward hasn’t had a monster campaign yet. He’s around their level in terms of overall production because he’s been consistently great in recent seasons, but he hasn’t finished in the top-three in goals yet or being a major contender for the Hart Trophy. Pacioretty also hasn’t made his mark in a playoff run yet.

That’s a theory at least, but it doesn’t take anything away from him. Meanwhile, Montreal has him at a $4.5 million annual cap hit through 2018-19 while Pavelski is at $6 million through 2018-19, Stamkos has one campaign left at $7.5 million, Perry is at roughly $8.6 million through 2020-21, and Ovechkin is at about $9.5 million through 2020-21.

Talbot knows he has a ‘great opportunity’ in Edmonton

14 Comments

Not that anyone expects the Edmonton Oilers to win the Stanley Cup next season. But at the very least, with Connor McDavid, a new coach in Todd McLellan, and a few other tweaks, there’s pressure for them to be much better.

Cam Talbot will shoulder much of that pressure. The 28-year-old goalie that the Oilers got in a trade with the Rangers is expected to battle Ben Scrivens for the starting job next season. Another goalie, Anders Nilsson, is in the mix, too.

“It’s definitely an exciting time for this organization to get a generational player like everyone’s been saying like Connor,” Talbot said, per NHL.com.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for me here, to be able to come in and work with a good young group of guys and obviously a group that’s headed in the right direction.”

Goaltending was once again a major issue for Edmonton last season, despite the club’s best efforts to fix the problem with Scrivens and Viktor Fasth.

And let’s not forget that Talbot has only started 53 NHL games in his entire career. Though his numbers are impressive in that small sample (.931 save percentage), it’s like Craig MacTavish once said, “I think anyone who tells you they’re sure about the performance of their goaltenders based on a relatively small sample size, is not likely accurate.”

In Talbot’s favor, he’s been able to watch one of the best in the game go about his business.

“Getting to play behind a guy like [Henrik Lundqvist], you learn a lot and you get to see what it takes to be a No. 1 [goalie] in this league,” he said.

Here’s a chart that shows which teams have been good/bad at drafting

45 Comments

Via TSN.ca’s Travis Yost, here’s a chart showing draft success (or lack thereof) for all 30 NHL teams:

source:

A team that’s done well at drafting will be in the top right. A team that hasn’t will be in the bottom left.

To be considered a “successful” draft pick, Yost determined that the player would have to play 100 games in the NHL. He adds that sorting by other metrics, like points or time on ice, yields “similar results.”

Yost was focusing on the New Jersey Devils’ lack of success in the draft; hence, the bold.

Now, obviously, a team like Columbus (which the chart shows has done well at drafting) is going to have an advantage in the first three rounds over a team like Vancouver (which hasn’t), since the Blue Jackets had much higher picks than the Canucks enjoyed from 2000-2012.

In fact, the Jackets had 11 top-10 picks over those 13 years, including Rick Nash going first overall, along with notable busts Gilbert Brule, Nikita Filatov, and Alexandre Picard. The Canucks, meanwhile, never drafted higher than 10th.

Of course, that doesn’t excuse Vancouver’s inability to find players in the later rounds. The last “successful” players the Canucks took after the third round were Mike Brown, who was a fifth-round pick back in 2004, and Jannik Hansen, who went in the ninth round that same year.

In contrast, the New York Rangers have been extremely successful in those later rounds, having identified the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Marek Zidlicky, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin as worthwhile gambles.

Rangers rewarded Stepan for playing ‘big in the big moments on the biggest stage’

13 Comments

The New York Rangers made Derek Stepan their third highest-paid player on Monday and, to hear GM Jeff Gorton explain it, a major reason why was Stepan’s ability to perform under pressure.

“[You] want players who can play big in the big moments on the biggest stage — and there is no bigger stage than New York City,” Gorton said, per Blueshirts United. “Derek has proven he can do that.”

It’s a telling statement for a team in the midst of a Stanley Cup window.

Having been to the Final in 2014 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last season, the Rangers are clearly in win-now mode; Stepan has been a major part of that, and will continue to be moving forward.

The only difference now?

He’s got a contract to live up to.

The 25-year-old more than doubled his annual average value — from $3.075M to $6.5M — and, as mentioned above, trails only Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist in terms of New York’s highest cap hits. Gorton said Stepan was rewarded for “success he’s had, the leadership qualities he has,” adding the Rangers identified him as “one of the guys we want to build around.”

With this new contract, Stepan will receive an increase not just in dollars, but also responsibilities and pressure. He’s now getting paid like a true No. 1 center.

And to be fair, Stepan earned his pay bump. His 55 points in 68 games last season resulted in a 0.81 PPG average, on par with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar. He also finished third on the team in scoring in each of the last two playoffs and, quite memorably, scored the OT winner in Game 7 of New York’s second-round victory over Washington in May:

The hope now, of course, is that the best of Stepan is yet to come. It’s easy to forget this is still a relatively young player; thanks to an early debut (at 20) and his durability (he’s played 362 of a possible 376 games), Stepan has a wealth of experience for someone that only turned 25 last month.

It’s something Gorton banked on by shelling out $39 million over the next six years.

“We’re really happy to get Derek locked up,” he explained. “It’s a really good thing for the Rangers and for Ranger fans.

“This is a 25-year-old player, who has played well for us already, and who now will play his prime years for us moving forward.”