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PHT’s midseason trophy picks (Joe Yerdon’s choices)

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Most teams are approaching, at or beyond the 41-games played mark, so the PHT gang will make its choices for the NHL’s trophies at this point in the season. Feel free to call us evil/wrong in the comments. If you missed James’ picks yesterday, fear not, we’ve got your hookup right here.

Hart Trophy – Sidney Crosby

Yeah, really going out on a limb here but Crosby has been, by far, the best player in the NHL . Crosby’s season has been so good to this point he’s made the other Hart candidate, Steve Stamkos, seem average by comparison and that takes serious effort. Crosby’s absence from the Penguins lineup of late and the Penguins lack of success only shows how important he is to them.

Suffice to say, when you’ve got 32 goals and 34 assists through 41 games you’re doing pretty damn well and worthy of the platitudes that are given to you. Love him or hate him, Sid is the real deal and he’s proved it this year. Now if only he can keep his melon safe the rest of the way.

Vezina Trophy – Ondrej Pavelec

Contrary choice I know but let’s discuss things here. Tim Thomas has been great this year and would likely be the #1 choice on anyone’s ballot and rightfully so. That said, whether it’s through pity or looking to reward a guy for putting in “harder” work, I’ve always been more on the side of guys that don’t play behind stifling defensive systems. I was never a Brodeur guy, I was always a Hasek guy.

In this case, Ondrej Pavelec is playing the role of Dominik Hasek while Tim Thomas is Martin Brodeur (save the fat jokes for now). Pavelec doesn’t play behind a team that makes defense their first priority and his numbers are astounding in leading the Thrashers. His .932 save percentage is incredible while his 2.27 goals against average is equally stunning. Before you ask, no, I’m not being swayed by what a great story this would make after how Pavelec’s season began with him passing out on the ice before the start of their first game. Pavelec has simply been the rock-solid starter Atlanta desperately needed and he’s proved himself.

That said, if the award were to be handed out today I have absolutely zero doubts that Tim Thomas would be a runaway winner and rightfully so. I’m sticking with Ondrej.

Norris Trophy – Nick Lidstrom

How do you not pick Nick Lidstrom? It’s a virtual no-brainer this year. After struggling last season being one of the only Red Wings to not suffer an injury, Lidstrom has bounced back in a huge way this year with 11 goals and 28 assists all while being the Wings’ most dependable guy going the other way. He’s 40 years-old and leads all Red Wings skaters in time on ice playing an average of 23:44 per game.

He plays as much time on the power play as he does shorthanded and he’s the straw that stirs the drink in Detroit. There’s a reason they call him “The Perfect Human” there and it’s always steady play on the blue line that does it. His main competitors this year in Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Pronger are great at what they do and are/were having great seasons by anyone’s standards, Byfuglien in particular, but Lidstrom’s work is on another level. It’s tough being perfect.

Jack Adams Trophy – Craig Ramsay

By far this is going to be the toughest choice this season if things hold up. James and I had an Internet arm wrestling match over who to pick on this one and you can decide on who you think the winner was, but my choice was made easy getting to pick Atlanta’s Craig Ramsay. Ramsay compares well with Tampa’s Guy Boucher, and while both teams were bad last year, with the Thrashers dumping Ilya Kovalchuk confidence was very low in what Ramsay would be able to do there.

Instead, Ramsay has turned the Thrashers into a hard-nosed team with Andrew Ladd leading the way with the forwards with Evander Kane emerging as a star. Ramsay’s noted work with defensemen is paying off in big ways with Dustin Byfuglien as he leads the team in scoring, but also with Tobias Enstrom who is no longer a strictly offensive blue liner and has become the team’s ice time horse averaging over 24 minutes a game. Add in those factors along with Ondrej Pavelec’s great season and you’ve got yourself a guy in Craig Ramsay who’s made something out of nothing overnight with no superstars to speak of.

Calder Trophy – Logan Couture

This one is a tighter race than just about any of them and we’re sure people are going to complain about the prior work Couture got to do last season and in the playoffs but frankly that doesn’t sway me. He’s got 19 goals already this year and has emerged as one of the most reliable Sharks scorers on a team loaded with star power.

Other Calder candidates are still looking very good and some might not get more consideration because of their position. Guys like Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, Colorado’s Kevin Shattenkirk, Philly’s Sergei Bobrovsky, Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle, and Nashville’s Anders Lindback are all seriously in the hunt here but it’s Couture who’s shown the most grace under pressure, something which his superstar teammates should take note of to improve their games.

Selke Trophy – Ryan Kesler

You can put Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit down here as 1B to Kesler’s 1A in the race for this award. You could choose either of these players and not have to hear anything from fans of the other team because both guys are equally as great as defending forwards. Kesler’s game has evolved greatly over the past few seasons to the point where Kesler is getting the call consistently against top forwards. Kesler’s game is also improving in ways that help him finally catch up to the heights Datsyuk has reached over the years in that he’s added the ability to make opponents pay for their mistakes with goals.

If we told you that Kesler had 23 goals already this year, you’d likely think we’re nuts but that’s how it is right now. He’s the forward that averages the most time on ice on the Canucks roster and considering that includes the incredible Sedin twins that’s saying something. Much like with the Vezina race, we’d expect that Datsyuk gets the call to win this award but Kesler is making the decision a lot harder and I’d expect some votes to change this year if Kesler keeps potting goals while shutting down opponents.

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Got some points you want to raise? Hit us in the comments with your barbs and wisdom. Not comfortable with that? E-mail us at prohockeytalk@gmail.com to let your voice be heard.

Hughes has potential to take Devils to next level

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

Given all the changes in New Jersey this offseason, there’s no shortage of x-factors heading into the 2019-20 campaign.

One could argue, for instance, that P.K. Subban‘s arrival on the blue line is the biggest change of the offseason. I would disagree and a team that gave up as many goals as the Devils did could use a boost on the backend to take the pressure off their goaltending situation, which is suspect at best heading into the season.

But, in this scribe’s opinion, it’s the arrival of Jack Hughes who has the potential to make the biggest difference.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three questions | Under Pressure]

The Devils need offense, plain and simple. Getting by on a leading point-producer who had just 50 points isn’t going to cut it in the NHL these days.

And while a healthy Taylor Hall will make a big difference as well, we know how big the gap can be between himself and the rest of the scoring on the team (see: 2017-18 season.)

With the potential for a breakout season for Nico Hischier — and one not limited by injuries — the addition of P.K. Subban to the power play and Nikita Gusev and Hughes to the forward contingent, the Devils should be miles ahead of their 25th-ranking in goals-for from last season.

And the expectation is Hughes will play a big role in that. He could start the season as the team’s second-line center and depending on usage, could easily hit the 20-goal mark, if not more.

“Jack’s play will determine to us what he can handle and how much,” coach John Hynes told NHL.com. “We’re not going to put pressure on him and we’re not going to put limits on him right away. We continue to put young players in situations they can handle while also challenging them in the right ways where they can have success but also see how they respond outside their comfort zone.”

Hughes does everything so well. His vision, speed and knack for scoring are all welcome additions to the Devils who sorely need more in each of those areas.

The key will be to find him the right linemates in training camp and let some chemistry develop. If it does, an 80-point season may take shape providing he’s healthy.

And, perhaps, a Calder Trophy for his efforts.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Hischier set to face pressures of contract year

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

The guys at the Spitting Chiclets podcast did an excellent interview last week with Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche.

Why are we talking about MacKinnon on Devils Day at PHT? Just keep reading.

MacKinnon spoke about his sophomore season being a tough one with just 14 goals after winning the Calder Trophy a year before.

It took him two more seasons before he’d flip a switch in his head, one that would take him from a mid-50-point guy to the near-100-point player he’s been for the past two seasons.

MacKinnon said he was starting to feel like he was a bust after being taken first overall in the 2013 NHL Draft.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three questions | X-factor]

Now, I’m not saying that Hischier feels the same way. Both are different players. But both are first-overall picks with a tremendous amount of expectations levied upon them, ones that will last throughout their respective careers.

So if MacKinnon was battling mental demons, one could come to the conclusion that Hischier may do so at some point as well.

Hischier dealt with injury in his second year, much like MacKinnon, and was limited to 17 goals and 47 points — down from the 20 goals and 52 points in his rookie season. That said, his points per game rose in his second campaign even if the overall number didn’t.

And none of this is to say that Hischier has been a bust at all. He’s far from that and an excellent two-way center who, now given some tools around him, a great candidate to have a breakout season.

But the pressure is, nevertheless, going to be there for the Swiss kid. There’s a lot of money waiting on the table for him next offseason when his entry-level deal comes to a close.

Hischier remains a massive piece for the Devils moving forward.

The team now has him and Jack Hughes as their 1-2 punch down the spine of the team, a better defense with the addition of P.K. Subban and a greater supporting cast with Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds.

And while the point totals may not jump off the page, the fact is the Devils outscore opponents and create more high-danger scoring chances when Hischier is on the ice.

Hischier is far from being labeled a bust, much like MacKinnon was.

The pressure is on, however, as he enters a season where a big impact could lead to a bigger contract next summer.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Will Taylor Hall re-sign long-term?

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

Let’s ponder three questions for the 2019-20 Devils:

1. Has all the offseason work enticed Taylor Hall to re-sign?

In early June, a report from The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta suggested that Hall had no interest in re-signing with the club.

Fast forward a month, and the team that managed just 74 points in a dismal regular season now had Jack Hughes, the top prospect in the 2019 NHL Draft, P.K. Subban, one of the league’s best defensemen, and were about to embark on adding Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev before August hit.

Ray Shero needed to do something to convince Hall that the Devils were heading in the right direction and perhaps it has worked, although there is still no long-term extension in place for the former Hart Trophy winner.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

Hall’s agent, for what it’s worth, says there’s no rush. As does Shero.

And while that may be true, these sort of things only become distractions as the regular season hits in 2019-20. The Devils would certainly need to know by the trade deadline so they could avoid a John Tavares incident.

Two first-overall picks in the past three seasons and a genuine attempt to make the team better has to sit well in Hall’s camp. But there’s always going to be that allure of having the world at his feet with truckloads of money and the ability to chose his destination next summer.

2. What role will Mackenzie Blackwood take on this season? 

Cory Schneider went more than a calendar year without a win and he was horrific to start the season, posting a 0-7-2 record before finally getting that elusive ‘W’ in the middle of February.

From there, he went 6-6-2 with a .927 save percentage down the stretch as he finally looked like the goalie sans the hip issue that had plagued him (and was surgically repaired in May 2018.)

Schneider’s injuries and Keith Kinkaid not being very good allowed the Devils a chance to see what Blackwood could do. And 22-year-old didn’t disappoint, even with the mess in front of him.

In 21 starts he went 10-10-0 with a .918 save percentage and two shutouts.

While Schneider appeared to begin his bounceback from surgery in the last half of the season, Blackwood should see increased time (even if the former is making $6 million a season.) Blackwood appears to be the future in New Jersey and the Devils shouldn’t be married to Schneider being their de facto No. 1.

3. What, if anything, will Shero do the rest of his cap space? 

There’s roughly $8 million still sitting in his kitty, although the team still needs to sign restricted free agent Pavel Zacha.

Evolving Wild’s model has Zacha coming in around the $2 million mark in terms of annual average value, which gives the Devils $6 million-ish to work with they want to strengthen the team further.

Of course, the unrestricted free agent pool has shrunk over the summer, but you wonder if a guy such as Patrick Maroon might make for a good addition in terms of grit and experience.

What about a Ben Hutton on defense to make another improvement on the blue line?

There still may be some bargains out there and the Devils appear to have assembled a team worthy of playoff talk.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s New Jersey Devils Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

2018-19
31-41-10, 74 pts. (8th in the Metropolitan Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Jack Hughes
P.K. Subban
Wayne Simmonds
Nikita Gusev
Connor Carrick
John Hayden

OUT
Kurtis Gabriel
Brian Boyle
Keith Kinkaid
Ben Lovejoy
Kenny Agostino
Stefan Noesen
Drew Stafford
Eric Gryba
Eddie Lack

RE-SIGNED
Will Butcher
Mirco Mueller

2018-19 season review

Season grade: F
Offseason grade: A+

Yes, it appears it can all change that quickly for some teams.

Much like the Florida Panthers, who I wrote about last week, the New Jersey Devils can rest easy knowing that last season is going to feel like a distant memory after the summer Ray Shero and Co. put together.

The Devils were very bad last season, so bad that, for the second time in the past three seasons, they were rewarded (thanks to a bit of luck) with the first-overall pick back in June.

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

They came into the draft lottery with the third-best odds but moved up to spots for the honor of selecting Jack Hughes.

They then shook up the hockey world, dropping a massive trade bomb on the second day of the draft as they acquired P.K. Subban to fortify their blue line.

Getting Hughes and Subban in the same weekend helped take the sting off a poor season where they couldn’t score much and couldn’t stop the puck a whole lot at the other end of the ice.

Just two players cracked the 20-goal plateau, only one player hit 50 points and their goaltending was abysmal. It didn’t help that Taylor Hall was limited to just 33 games because of injury and then there were the rumors of his long-term future not being in Newark.

Some of those questions still remain, especially between the pipes, but there’s a reason for optimism after such a big summer.

Aside from Hughes and Subban, the Devils also added some grit in Wayne Simmonds. It’s a one-year ‘prove it’ sort of deal that will keep Simmonds hungry as he goes searching for a longer-term deal next offseason.

And they added a player some consider the best who wasn’t playing in the NHL in Nikita Gusev, a former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick who was then signed by the Golden Knights last year and then traded to New Jersey in July.

A lot of good has happened since the Devils played their final regular-season game of 2018-19. They’ve had to keep up in an arms race across the Hudson River as the New York Rangers took Kaapo Kakko right after New Jersey took Hughes and added Artemi Panarin in free agency and signed Jacob Trouba to a long-term deal.

Either way, gone should be the days where the Devils aren’t considered a perennial playoff contender.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck