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PHT Morning Skate: Canada names staff for World Championship; Who should coach Rangers?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Washington Capitals have always played pretty well against the Columbus Blue Jackets. (DC Puck Drop)

• Who should replace Alain Vigneault as head coach of the Rangers? A head coach that’s currently employed and a hall of fame goalie could be on the short list. (FanSided)

Jeff Skinner could be in the playoffs as soon as next season, but it probably won’t be as a member of the Hurricanes. (Raleigh News & Observer)

Stanley Cup Playoffs streaming, schedule and more

• Avs head coach Jared Bednar believes that Nathan MacKinnon and Taylor Hall are the favorites to land the Hart Trophy. (Denver Post)

• Two of the NHL’s top four teams will be knocked out of the playoffs early because of the current format the league has adopted. (Associated Press)

• Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau really struggled during his stint in the NHL, he’s hoping to find his game in the minors, where he’s had a ton of success. (MLive)

• We all know that the captain of the team that wins the Stanley Cup is always first to raise the trophy, but who will each captain potentially pass it to if they win it this year? (NHL.com)

• Marc Bergevin seems to have a problem with the attitude his team had all year. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Speaking of the Canadiens, they signed Notre Dame captain Jake Evans on a two-year, entry-level contract. (NHL.com/Canadiens)

• Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters will be the head coach of Team Canada’s squad at the World Hockey Championship next month. Blues bench boss Mike Yeo will serve as an associate coach, while Panthers coach Bob Boughner will be an assistant. (Hockey Canada)

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.

Red Wings extend GM Ken Holland, for better or worse

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Some teams dive in the deep end when it comes to rebuilding (and/or “tanking”). Generally speaking, the Red Wings have instead opted to dip their toes in that pool.

With that in mind, it’s probably not too surprising to see the team hand GM Ken Holland a two-year contract extension.

As the Red Wings note, this opens the door for Holland to enter his 22nd season as GM. The team does a solid job of listing his biggest accomplishments as the league’s second-longest tenured general manager:

Under his watch, the Red Wings have won four Presidents’ Trophies, captured 10 division championships, won five regular-season conference titles and reached at least 100 regular-season points a league-high 13 times in the last 17 seasons. The Red Wings have also won 893 regular-season games and 119 playoff games since Holland assumed general manager duties in July 1997, topping the NHL in both categories during that span.

Of course, that press release doesn’t ruminate much on the present, and it only fixates on one positive part of the future: that they made 10 picks in the 2017 NHL Draft, hold 11 in the upcoming 2018 edition, and already claim 10 for 2019.

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Bracket, Streams and More

For one thing, the massive haul of draft picks are a mixed bag. Holding such a quantity of picks does open the door for Holland to justify the belief that the Red Wings might once again unearth gems as they had in the past, a thought that becomes more promising if you still believe that they’re better than most at developing prospects.

On the other hand, such a smorgasboard of selections could also have been useful for a new GM to define a new vision. And, hey, maybe some of those picks could be packaged in a deal to ship some crummy deals out of Detroit.

Because, make no mistake about it, this team is a real mess on paper. Despite missing the playoffs for the second straight season in 2018-19, they were essentially a cap team. Via Cap Friendly, the Red Wings already have $56.875 million in cap space devoted to 14 players, and that’s with key young players (including Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Andreas Athanasiou) needing new deals as pending RFAs.

Now, there are some contracts that even the most creative, aggressive executive would probably just need to deal with.

Still, you wonder if Holland might be “too close” to some deals and decisions, thus keeping the Red Wings from making crucial calls to accelerate the process toward being competitive again. This franchise clearly needs to yank the “Band-Aid” off swiftly, and you have to wonder if the chief architect is truly willing to undergo a necessary makeover.

This is yet another example of a franchise handing a polarizing GM an extension, such as the Vancouver Canucks re-upping oft-criticized exec Jim Benning. Time will tell if Holland can turn the Red Wings around, but from a sheer PR standpoint, it’s not a move savvy Red Wings fans are very happy about.

In other key organizational news, the team is expected to make an announcement regarding head coach Jeff Blashill in the coming week. The Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James and others indicate that he’ll probably be back, and it’s worth noting that Blashill has one year remaining on his contract.

Holland’s name has been connected to the Seattle expansion franchise, and while it’s feasible that he could still move on, this extension should at least turn the volume down on such speculation for a while.

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.

Which NHL teams will make a coaching change after the season?

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The 2017-18 NHL season will come to an end this weekend and barring some last-minute decision, no head coach will have been fired; that’s something that hasn’t happened since the league expanded in 1967.

It’s a rarity that no coach has been canned, despite the calls for management to take action in a handful of markets. But general managers have decided to use a little patience and ride out the full 82-game schedule without seeking a new voice behind their bench.

Patience can swing in different ways, however. Remember when Philadelphia Flyers fans were calling for Dave Hakstol’s head as the team went through a long losing streak earlier this season? GM Ron Hextall wasn’t having any of it, and now they’re on the verge of a playoff berth. Then there are places like Calgary, Dallas, New York and Carolina where head coaches stayed put and left fans wondering if their seasons would have gone in an opposite direction had a change been made.

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

The NHL has seen 34 in-season coaching changes over the last nine years, and since we’re likely to see zero this regular season, what does that mean for next week once those teams who’ve missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs reassess their futures?

Darren Dreger was on the NBCSN pre-game show Wednesday night and listed 10 NHL head coaches whose seats are feeling pretty warm these days.

Glen Gulutzan, Calgary Flames – In a conversation with Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun, GM Brad Treliving wasn’t going to speculate on the future of his head coach after a season that saw the Flames tumble out of a playoff spot in the second half.

“That’s an easy thing in sports to do — the first thing is to look at the coach. I think we’ve got a good coach,” Treliving said. “We’ve got some good players, but we’re all subject to scrutiny when a season goes like this.”

Gulutzan has an 81-67-14 record in two seasons in Calgary. He only got two when he was in Dallas. Will Treliving give him a little more rope?

Bill Peters, Carolina Hurricanes – New owner Tom Dundon has already started making his mark on his team, moving Ron Francis from the GM’s chair to president of hockey operations. A search for a new GM is under way, but will Dundon wait until that position is filled before making a decision on Peters? Peters has one year left on his contract and reportedly has an “out” in his deal. It’s hard to believe he’d walk away from what’s believe to be a $1.6 million salary, but the new boss can’t be happy with the team’s lack of progress the last few seasons.

Ken Hitchcock, Dallas StarsAnother disappointing season in Dallas will lead with questions about the future of the head coach and GM Jim Nill. Since his first tenure with the Stars ended in 2002, Hitch has had a bit of a shelf life as he moved on to three other organizations before returning last summer. Is he a one-and-done? The Stars were expected to be improved this season but a second half collapse could change owner Tom Gaglardi’s plans.

Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings – Three Detroit outlets reported last week that not only will GM Ken Holland be back next season, but so will Blashill, who has a 104-104-36 record and one playoff appearance in three seasons with the Red Wings. The franchise is in a bit of a transition phase right now and letting Blashill ride out his contract — he has one year remaining — might be the way to go.

Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers – Is it McLellan’s fault that Connor McDavid‘s all-world season is being wasted because of the lack of talent surrounding him? Nope. That blame falls on one person’s shoulders only.

Doug Weight, New York Islanders – Time after time, loss after loss, you can see the frustration in Weight’s face during his post-game media scrums. The Islanders can score at will, but can’t keep the puck out of their own net. There will be no playoffs for the second straight season and summer looms with John Tavares eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and a question of whether owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky will bring GM Garth Snow back.

Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers – The Rangers threw in the towel in February to let the kids get experience for the future. But with Henrik Lundqvist still under contract for three more seasons, now is not the time for a tear-it-all-down rebuild. With plenty of cap space to fill this summer, Vigneault could be given time to coach into next season, but possibly on a short leash.

Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators – The Erik Karlsson decision is first and foremost for the Senators. Will he stay or does he want to go? Is he OK with Boucher returning as head coach? What is GM Pierre Dorion’s vision for the future and does it include being aggressive in free agency and the trade market this summer? There are many questions to be answered in Ottawa.

Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals – GM Brian MacLellan was quietly given an extension last month, but Trotz is still without one with an expiring deal after the season. What will keep him safe? Will reaching the conference finals be enough?

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

1 team, 1,000 games: Milestone increasingly common in NHL

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Victor Hedman refused to go to sleep without a contract.

A full year before he could become a free agent, the hulking No. 1 defenseman told his agent he wanted to sign a long-term extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning the first day he could. Hedman put pen to paper on an eight-year contract well before the sun went down.

”It was never a doubt,” Hedman said that day. ”Staying in Tampa was the No. 1 priority.”

Patrice Bergeron felt the same way when he signed his second, third and fourth contract with the Boston Bruins. Like Hedman, Bergeron wanted to stay with the organization that drafted and developed him for as long as possible while taking less money to surround himself with enough talent to win.

Now each player is on the road to joining an exclusive and growing club of players who reach 1,000 games with one team. Over the past week, Chicago’s Brent Seabrook and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin became the 49th and 50th players in NHL history to play their first 1,000 regular-season games with the same organization, and that group will welcome many members in the next several years as franchise building blocks lock in to long-term deals.

”You’re going to see it more often now,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ”Just the way the CBA is and the way the bigger names probably don’t move around as much as they did in earlier years.”

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

Next season alone, longtime Seabrook defensive partner Duncan Keith and Bergeron are expected to join the one for 1,000 group, with Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu and Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar in reach of the milestone before the end of 2018-19 if they stay healthy. San Jose’s Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren’t far behind as this era of long-term stability produces a parade of silver-stick ceremonies for one-team foundation pieces.

”If you’re playing 1,000 games in one organization, you have to be a certain level of player,” said agent Kent Hughes, who represents Bergeron. ”It’s really significant because you’re talking about a series of contracts and we’re in a cap world and in order for that to happen in a lot of cases, I think there needs to be a little bit of give and take on both sides.”

In Ovechkin’s case, it was a $124 million, 13-year contract signed in early 2008 that then-NBA commissioner David Stern told Capitals owner Ted Leonsis he’d live to regret. The only regret now for Leonsis is not signing his face of the franchise for 15 years, and Ovechkin said if he could turn back time, he’d sign for 16 years.

Ovechkin is an anomaly in today’s NHL, where contract lengths were capped at eight years in the last round of collective bargaining talks. Since that CBA went into effect in January 2013, 33 different players have signed eight-year contracts – 28 of whom re-upped with his original team.

”It means a lot to any player to get off their career and say, ‘Well, look at this, I played 1,050 games with one team – my whole career, I’m one of the few,”’ said agent Peter Wallen, who counts one-team players Hedman, St. Louis forward Patrik Berglund and Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog among his clients. ”The only reason you will stay there for 1,000 games is that’s because you’re in the playoffs every year, you know your GM is giving you the opportunity to go deep in the playoffs and they want to win the Stanley Cup.”

The other most-recent players to reach 1,000 games with one team – Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown, Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and New Jersey’s Patrik Elias – all lifted the Stanley Cup, while Daniel and Henrik Sedin went to the 2011 final and were part of a perennial contender in Vancouver. It’s a delicate balance for teams between paying stars their value and maintaining roster flexibility to contend for several years.

”It’s difficult because you can’t let that key player go while he’s in the prime and you have to keep him content,” Hughes said. ”If the player doesn’t work with you, then it becomes more and more of a challenge to find a way to remain competitive.”

Yet the one-team, 1,000-game players should keep piling up with the likes of the Flyers’ Claude Giroux, Devils’ Travis Zajac, Bruins’ David Krejci, Kings’ Drew Doughty and possibly the Islanders’ John Tavares – if he re-signs this summer – on pace to hit the mark. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov could follow Ovechkin as the only players to get to 1,000 with the Capitals after none did it in the first 40-plus years of the franchise’s history.

”Organizations want to build a core group maybe, and that’s maybe why it’s so common these days that more guys stick with one team,” Backstrom said. ”For me, personally, I like that, and obviously not move around. But sometimes you can’t control it, either. I feel like we’ve been fortunate here that we’ve been here a long time, so I’m happy about that.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

NHL Power Rankings: Blue Jackets entering playoffs as one of NHL’s hottest teams

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As of Monday afternoon the Columbus Blue Jackets have not yet officially clinched a playoff berth, but let’s face it, they are going to be one of the eight teams in the Eastern Conference. It would take a monumental collapse over the next three games combined with the Florida Panthers pretty much winning out for the Blue Jackets to fall out of the top-eight. They are returning to the playoffs, and once they get there they are going to be going in as one of the hottest teams in the league.

Let’s just take a look at what they have done over their past 20 games.

The record: 15-4-1, the third best record in the league during that stretch behind only the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators.

They have outscored teams by a 74-48 margin, a goal differential of plus-26. Only Boston’s plus-28 mark over that stretch is better.

Their 74 goals are third most in the league (again behind only Nashville and Boston). Their 48 goals against are tied for the second fewest (with the Los Angeles Kings) behind only the Anaheim Ducks’ 41.

They are also a top-10 possession team during that stretch, meaning that the process is there along with the results.

Driving the offense over that stretch has been Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson. Panarin’s 30 points over the past 20 games are tied for the third-most in the league (behind only Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon) while Atkinson has really started to find his game after a tough first half. Panarin is the one that has a chance to be the real difference-maker for this Blue Jackets team.

For as good as they were a year ago during the regular season, they really seemed to lack a true go-to-threat offensively. Coming over in an offseason trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for Brandon Saad, Panarin has become just that player for Columbus. He is scoring at a nearly a point-per-game rate, has been one of the best possession driving forwards in the league this season, and is playing some of his best hockey right now.

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

The two big questions for them: Will Sergei Bobrovsky give them a better playoff performance than he did in his first two postseason appearances (where his save percentage is only .896), and how will their center depth (probably their biggest weakness) hold up against a potential first-round matchup against Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay or Boston (all of which are potential first-round matchups)?

Those are two big questions, but for the moment the Blue Jackets have to be excited about the way their team is playing down the stretch. Right now there are few teams playing better.

That has them in the top-five of this week’s Power Rankings.

On to the rankings.

The Elites

1. Boston Bruins — They cannot seem to catch a break on the injury front but all they do is keep on winning. They have to be the favorites in the Eastern Conference right now.

2. Nashville Predators — It remains to be seen how much of an impact Eeli Tolvanen can make down the stretch and in the playoffs but he is certainly an intriguing addition to an already loaded team.

3. Winnipeg Jets — With wins in seven of their past eight games they are starting to get on a roll as the playoffs draw near. The only concern is only three of those recent wins have come in regulation.

The Rest Of The Contenders

4. Columbus Blue Jackets — They are the third place team in the Metropolitan Division, so why are they so high? It’s basically all about the way they are playing at the moment as we just described up above.

5. Washington Capitals —  They lost Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt over the summer. All they did was come back and win a third consecutive Metropolitan Division title.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have cooled off down the stretch and now Steven Stamkos is banged up. Not great.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — We probably have not paid enough attention to the type of season that Mitch Marner has had. Already 69 points in 79 games to lead the team in scoring. He is 20 years old.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins — Still 9-4-2 in their past 15 games. You sometimes would not know it listening and reading to what people say about them at the moment.

9. Vegas Golden Knights — There probably wasn’t a more fitting way for them to clinch the Pacific Division title crown than William Karlsson scoring an absolutely unbelievable goal. Everything about this season for them — from the overall team success, to the success of a player like Karlsson, to that goal itself — has been absolutely unbelievable.

The Middle Ground

10. New Jersey Devils — They are on a six-game point streak and seem to have opened up enough of a lead over the Florida Panthers to get back into the playoffs. Taylor Hall is still driving the bus for this group.

11. San Jose Sharks — After winning eight in a row they have hit a little bit of a skid by dropping three in a row. They end the regular season with three in a row at home and then will open the playoffs at home. Good chance to get back on a roll.

12. Philadelphia Flyers — Claude Giroux has a pretty strong MVP argument given how much better the Flyers are with him on the ice versus when he is not. They get wrecked on the scoreboard when he is off the ice.

13. Anaheim Ducks — Those wins over Los Angeles and Colorado the past two games have been huge, especially that come-from-behind win against the Avalanche on Sunday night. Not a team that will be a fun first-round matchup. The biggest concern: John Gibson keeps getting hurt. Ryan Miller has been really good in his absence, but Gibson is still the best goalie on the team.

14. Los Angeles Kings — Anze Kopitar has always been one of the NHL’s best two-way players and a great player offensively. The latter part of his game has really taken off this season.

15. Minnesota Wild — Don’t let Eric Staal‘s huge season overshadow the breakout year Jason Zucker has had, already shattering his previous career highs in goals and points.

16. St. Louis Blues — They won six in a row to make up all of that ground then dropped two in a row and were absolutely demolished by the Arizona Coyotes.

17. Colorado Avalanche — Losing Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson for the rest of the regular season is going to complicate things for their playoff push.

18. Florida Panthers — Do not let anybody ever tell you games in October and November are not important. The Panthers are 20-8-2 in their past 30 games, the third best record in the league during that stretch. Even with that they are still seven points out of a playoff spot.

The Lottery Teams

19. Carolina Hurricanes — Carolina Hurricanes goalies have to be cursed.

20. New York Rangers — Neal Pionk has looked pretty impressive down the stretch.

21. Arizona Coyotes — The final record is going to stink, but they are 16-8-2 in their past 26 games and over the past week have beaten Tampa Bay, Vegas, and St. Louis. The Vegas and Tampa Bay games were on the road, too.

22. Calgary Flames — Their seven-game losing streak finally ended with a win over Edmonton. Still a really disappointing season for a team that entered the year with a lot of hype. Their lottery pick is also going to the New York Islanders.

23. Dallas Stars — After winning another offseason they are going to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, third time in four years and eighth time in 10 years.

24. Vancouver Canucks — Four wins in a row and five of their past six. You are tanking all wrong! The big news in Vancouver right now is the fact the Sedin era is officially coming to a close with their retirement at the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season. They were amazing for a long time.

25. Chicago Blackhawks — The Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad trade has to be one of the more underwhelming offseason transactions. At least from a Blackhawks perspective.

26. Edmonton Oilers — The most fitting game of their season was the one where Connor McDavid had three points in the first period to give his team a three-goal lead. Then they gave up seven goals in a row to lose 7-3.

27. Detroit Red Wings — Anthony Mantha‘s 24-goal season is one of the few bright spots on this year’s team.

28. New York Islanders — They have given up 18 more goals than any other team in the NHL this season. That is astonishing.

29. Montreal Canadiens — They have not beaten a team in a playoff position since February 3, a win over the Anaheim Ducks. They only have eight total wins against any team over that stretch.

30. Buffalo Sabres — At least they are getting a good look at their future with Casey Mittelstadt showing up and recording a pair of assists in his first two games in the NHL.

31. Ottawa Senators — They have lost seven of eight and given up 32 goals during that stretch.

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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.