Brian Burke says Ron Wilson is a “Hall of Fame coach”

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Leafs general manager Brian Burke met with the media today to discuss the extension of coach Ron Wilson’s contract. As per usual, Burke provided reporters with some memorable sound bites. (There’s audio of the scrum here. Just cover your ears for the first two seconds. You’ll thank me).

So, why did Burke commit to Wilson past this season even though the team could still miss the playoffs?

“I think it’s important that the players know that the coach isn’t going anywhere,” Burke said. “When the coach goes into the cage, he needs the chair and the whip.”

And if the Leafs don’t make the playoffs?

“You can ask me that at the end of the season,” Burke replied. “I’m not interested in hypothetical questions.”

Can he clarify the term of Wilson’s extension?

“I can clarify term, but I won’t,” said Burke. (TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted earlier that it was a one-year deal.)

Burke heaped praise on Wilson, calling him a “Hall of Fame coach…if you can get into the Hall of Fame without a Cup.”

Burke also claimed, “If the Toronto Maple Leafs fired Ron Wilson, he’d be working again in about two weeks,”

For those that would question the decision to stick with a coach that’s missed the playoffs his first three season behind the bench, Burke made sure to shoulder most of the blame for the Leafs’ shortcoming under his watch, saying he’s only been expecting results out of Wilson since last season’s all-star break.

“Up until then I feel that I haven’t given (the Leafs) good enough players,” Burke said, adding later, “I’m disappointed in how long it’s taken me to do this.”

But the burden, Burke says, has now “shifted to the coach.”

PHT on Fantasy Hockey: Add them while you still can

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We’re still early in the 2018-19 season, which means that fantasy hockey owners continue to wrestle with conflicting thoughts: “Am I overreacting?” versus “Am I being too slow to react?”

There are a wide variety of fantasy league formats, so it’s essentially impossible to cover every base in one add/drop-style column. With apologies to those in aberrant leagues or in expert-heavy pools where you already need to keep an eye on AHL call-ups, this list is intended for those in the lighter range. Here’s hoping that this could be a useful read even for the types who bring spreadsheets and laptops to fantasy drafts.

Note: position eligibility and percentage owned are based on Yahoo leagues.

[PHT fantasy preview: bounce-back candidates, sleepers, and risky players]

Micheal Ferland, LW/RW, 65-percent owned

Ferland is taken in about two-thirds of Yahoo leagues, so this likely is only useful for a small section of fantasy owners. Still, the people who could actually land Ferland probably need to make a decision soon. As in: open a new tab and add him if this section convinces you he’s worthy.

The former Flames forward isn’t going to sustain his current scoring pace (four goals and seven points in seven games). After all, Ferland was limited to 21 goals and 41 points last season (a career-high) with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan as his primary linemates. The good news is that Ferland is once again riding with strong linemates in Carolina, as he’s played almost every even-strength minute alongside Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. That’s awesome, yet it’s also important to temper expectations; he’s not likely to maintain a point-per-game pace this season after scoring a point every other game in 2017-18.

Ferland’s averaging an extra minute of ice time per contest so far, but he’s not on the top power-play unit, so … again, just pencil him in for … say, a 50-point potential.

Such scoring ability is easy to praise when you consider Ferland’s peripheral output. The 26-year-old has 18 hits so far in seven games, while he’s delivered 612 over 257 NHL games. Ferland’s been sending a ton of pucks on net so far this season (26, close to four per game), so if he’s going to flirt with three per night overall, that’s a heck of a jump from his two per game that’s been a general career trend.

So, Ferland’s bound to regress, yet he’s worth your time as long as he’s a regular on the top line.

Brady Tkachuk, LW, 34%

Now, you might be asking, “But Brady Tkachuk is on IR?” My answer: exactly.

This is a bit of an off-the-beaten-path strategy, but if you are planning on doing an add/drop anyway (and have free IR spots), why not drop your player, add Tkachuk, place him on IR, and then add someone else? Again, this plan hinges on your team not already being bitten by the injury bug; there’s also the worry that Ottawa might opt to avoid burning a year off of Tkachuk’s rookie contract once he does come back.

But … overall, Tkachuk could be really intriguing, and worth keeping on your IR to at least monitor the situation. Worst-case scenario, you can just drop him if things don’t work out.

Habs: Tomas Tatar, LW/RW, 50% / Brendan Gallagher, RW, 61% / Jeff Petry, D, 25%

I’ve said this once, I’ll say it again: the Montreal Canadiens are going to slow down.

Still, even (potential) cellar dwellers need someone to score, and the Habs feature some interesting choices. These three stand out as players who are a) off to hot starts, b) play prominent roles, and c) figure to at least remain important for the Canadiens.

[More Fantasy: Pick up the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

Gallagher isn’t much more fantasy-available than Ferland, and he’s the most obvious choice among these players, so I’ll move on beyond stating that Gallagher is a clear first-line-caliber winger who’s worth your time. (His modest career PIM totals are a bit surprising, considering his ability to agitate.)

Tatar is solid enough, albeit with a not-so-exciting ceiling. He’s not a great peripheral option, yet his LW/RW eligibility might put things over the top in deeper leagues. At worst, I’d consider watch-listing Tatar.

Petry might, honestly, be the most intriguing … although he’s most interesting in deeper leagues.

Since coming to Montreal – I have to admit, I didn’t realize this was already his fifth season with the Canadiens – Petry’s averaged 22:28 TOI per game, with his totals going over 23 minutes per night since last season.

So far in 2018-19, Petry’s topped all Montreal skaters with an average of 4:53 of power-play TOI. With just one PPP, he hasn’t exactly been killing it from that perspective, but Petry should rack up a ton of reps until Shea Weber returns. (And, considering Weber’s mileage, there’s the possibility that a Weber return would be short-lived, anyway.)

Even once Weber is back, I’d expect Petry to carry a heavy workload. Would that be enough for him to be roster-worthy? Cross that bridge when you come to it, because he’s a nice defensive workhorse at this very moment.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C/LW, 75%

Look, I’m not going to belabor the point with this one, as “The Nuge” is mostly scooped up. Still, 25-percent-availability is enough to at least mention him here, with faint hopes that you might actually grab him.

More than Ty Rattie, Nugent-Hopkins is super-appealing as Connor McDavid‘s fire hydrant-er, linemate. RNH can also score at a respectable level on his own, but the “don’t think, just add him” feeling comes from his current role. It doesn’t hurt that you can place him as a LW, either.

Henri Jokiharju, D, 47%

The 29th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft might end up being a comparable steal to Eeli Tolvanen, the guy who Nashville selected one pick later.

Jokiharju has made quite an impact over his first six NHL games, collecting five assists, largely playing on the top pairing alongside Duncan Keith, and – maybe most impressively – earning praise from Coach Q.

Is he going to sustain all of this enough to remain fantasy-relevant? That I don’t know. He’s not currently on the top PP unit, and his ice time (21:18 average) is outstanding for a rookie, but not at the high-end of defensemen overall.

That said, the Blackhawks need right-handed defensemen, and Joker (I assume people call him that?) fits that bill. Your interest here might just rise or fall according to how viable you expect Chicago to be. If you add him, I’d recommend being liberal with add/drops if he slips.

Honestly, his greatest value probably comes in Daily Fantasy formats, as he’s been dirt-cheap in that regard.

[More Fantasy: Rotoworld’s DFS Toolkit]

Goalie considerations

Consider me a proponent for Raanta.

I know the Coyotes got off to a rough start, and “run support” could be a weak point during multiple stretches this season. That said, Raanta’s body of work (a dazzling .922 career save percentage) indicates that he could be legit, and I’d expect him to rack up a lot of starts if he can stay healthy. Raanta stands as a nice second goalie, and could be a game-changer if it makes sense for you to carry three.

How is this happening?

Will it continue to? I’d wager not, but if you’re hurting for a goalie, you could do worse than to find out.

Meh. The combination of questionable team (Kings blowout or not) and substantial competition from Thomas Greiss scares me away. Lehner is fighting for his career, however, so at least motivation is a plus. I’d probably only add Lehner on a weekend where you hope to steal a goalie stat or two on a Sunday in a weekly head-to-head match, or something like that. Mostly meh here, gang.

Quick hits

  • Chris Kreider, LW, 49% – A heck of a player who boosts his value by being a nice source of PIM and hits. He’d be extra valuable if “running goalies” was a category, especially since Corey Perry‘s on the shelf.
  • Kevin Labanc, LW/RW, 22% – Easy to like that he’s currently on the Sharks’ top line, yet he’s not getting much ice time. Eyeball him in DFS, but I’d wait to see if he gets more reps before adding him in all but the deepest leagues.
  • Zach Parise, LW, 40% – It’s easy for a player to eat far too much criticism when they’re carrying a big contract … but hey, you’re not shelling out his checks, right? Parise’s getting significant ice time, firing a nice volume of pucks on net, and is scoring at a nice rate. He’s one of the safer options for a depth LW.
  • Hampus Lindholm, D, 49% – One of those “better in reality than fantasy” defensemen, Lindholm gets a lot more interesting if your stat categories go deeper, as he averages more than a hit and blocked shot per game during his NHL career (380 hits, 459 bs in 378 GP, and he’s upped those numbers in recent years of heavier usage). His solid-but-unspectacular points totals are frustrating at times – again, because Lindholm is just so good; Marc-Edouard Vlasic fans can relate – yet Lindholm does a little of everything.

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.

Mikko Rantanen turning into ‘driving force’ for Avalanche

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One of the goals entering the 2018-19 NHL season for Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar was to push Mikko Rantanen to become a more consistent, impact player. Through seven games, the young Finnish star is leading the NHL in assists with 11 (eight of which are primary) and his team in points with 13, showing that even after a 29-goal, 84-point performance last season there’s more to come.

“He’s a hard-working guy in the off-season and also during the season. I think he’s just scratching the surface of his potential,” Bednar told Pro Hockey Talk recently. “He’s still a young player, both age-wise and from an experience standpoint in the league. I think that he has another level that he can get to, we’re going to try to push him to that level here this year as a coaching staff and demand more of him. He can still become more consistent. But he’s a real receptive guy. He’s a highly-intelligent, highly-skilled player and he’s got great size and strength, too. Sky’s the limit for Mikko.”

The soon-to-be 22-year-old Rantanen has registered a point in all seven Avalanche games this season, including a four-point night against the New Jersey Devils Thursday that saw him have a hand in all three of Gabriel Landeskog’s goals.

At 6-4, 215 lbs., Rantanen is able to use his size to his advantage to fend off opponents and has shown he can handle the responsibilities of playing on the Avs’ top line. Bednar thought he was the team’s best forward against the Calgary Flames and New York Rangers in the past week, describing him as the “driving force” of the trio with Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon.

Rantanen, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, got his first taste of the NHL during a nine-game stint at the start of the 2015-16 season. With a revolving door of linemates, he averaged only 8:57 of ice time and failed to record a point. He was still going through the adjustment phase of transitioning from the big ice sheets in Europe while playing for TPS, his hometown team, to the smaller ones in North America, which force players into making quicker decisions.

Going down to AHL San Antonio and getting 20 minutes a night helped Rantanen greatly. He would score 24 goals and record 60 points in 52 games for the Rampage, a clear sign he was ready for a second shot at the NHL.

The Rantanen-Landeskog-MacKinnon line was put together during the 2016-17 season and it became apparent that the chemistry between the three would give Bednar a weapon to unleash. Rantanen would pot 20 goals and record 39 points that season and add power play duties to his list of responsibilities.

“I think knowing the league, knowing his opponents, pushing himself to be a difference-maker every night and getting more consistent in year two,” Bednar said. “[He] was healthy to start the season, he got dinged up his first year and it gave him a little bit of a slow start, so he was out of the gates right away playing well.”

The jump in production was a result of his linemates and experience. Rantanen’s off-season training routines haven’t changed much since arriving in North America. He’s always worked on improvement his quickness, but most everything else is pretty standard. The one change he did make was going from a 100 flex on his stick to a 90 as he looked for something whippier.

But while Rantanen, who credits Landeskog and Jarome Iginla as big influences during his rookie year, was finding success during his rookie season, his team wasn’t as the Avalanche failed to make the playoffs for the third straight season and finished dead last in the NHL. 

It was a tough balance between personal success and team failure.

“It’s not easy. Young guy, first full year in the league and we won only 22 games, so it’s really hard, actually,” Rantanen said. “I think it’s probably harder for the older guys because as a young guy everything is new. You go to the new rinks, you play first time wherever you go on the road. Everything is kind of new, so you’re still enjoying it even though it’s not nice to lose because then the team attitude is not great.”

Last season, with a year together under their belts, the Avalanche’s top line took off. MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog finished top three on the team in points, with MacKinnon (39-58—97), who ended up a finalist for the Hart Trophy, and Rantanen (29-55—84) posting career years. Landeskog would finish with the second-most goals (25) and points (62) of his career and the team would grab the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

“Our line was a big reason, we started pretty much right away,” Rantanen said. “We played the whole season together, so I think the chemistry builds up when you play together so long… I was more ready last year mentally than rookie year because you’ve been one year in the league, so you kind of know what to expect.”

Opponents know what kind of handful Rantanen, Landeskog and MacKinnon will be in trying to stop them on a nightly basis. So far, it’s been an uphill battle for other teams with MacKinnon netting seven goals, Rantanen recording 13 points and Landeskog chipping in five goals and eight points. 

The issue confronting other teams is that all three have dynamic skill sets. Landeskog is strong down low in creating chances; MacKinnon can out-skate anyone and has one of the league’s best shots; and Rantanen is a playmaker who can find himself in the right place at the right time.

As Bednar said, there’s still another level that Rantanen can reach, which bodes well for the Avalanche going forward and serves as a warning for the rest of the NHL.

“He’s so big and he’s got good vision. He sees the ice so well,” said MacKinnon. “He’s a great passer and he creates a lot of room for me. He protects the puck. He’s so good down low, so it takes a lot of heat off me. The way he controls the play. I’m lucky to play with him, for sure.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

 

NHL on NBCSN: Stars look to get back to winning ways vs. Wild

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday night’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Dallas welcomes Minnesota on Friday looking to rebound after back-to-back losses to the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils, games that saw them score a combined single goal in six periods of hockey.

That kind of production doesn’t win games and highlights how the Stars can struggle when their top line of Alexander Radulov, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin aren’t putting pucks in the back of the net. The line has combined for 28 points this season but only Radulov was able to notch an assist (a secondary one at that) in the past two games.

The good news for Dallas is they return home to American Airlines Arena where they are 3-1-0. Now, they need to start playing the same game as they were when they began the season strong out of the gate.

“We have to be five guys in the picture, whether on forecheck, or rush defense, or in the defensive zone,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery told NHL.com. “We’re just not connected. You don’t see the five guys together. That’s what we are missing now. We can’t sustain offense or get the puck out quickly because we are not together.”

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Finding a way to win on the road will be top of the order for the Wild on Friday.

They’ve gone 0-2-0 in road games so far this season and are facing a Stars team that has been solid at home. That said, Minnesota has found success against the Stars in recent times, with an 11-4-4 record in their past 19 meetings (including a 5-3-2 record in their previous 10 games in Texas).

The Wild aren’t doing themselves any favors early on, allowing 38.2 shots per game. Their savior at the moment has been Devan Dubnyk, who’s been sensational with his .940 save percentage despite seeing nearly 40 shots per game in his five starts.

The Wild have struggled to find the back of the net as well with just 14 goals through five games. Couple that with their porous possession numbers (45.64% as a team), and it’s no wonder Dubnyk has been shelled game after game.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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

PHT Morning Skate: McDavid or Matthews?; Goalie concussion concern

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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 best player in the NHL debate rages on. (NHL.com)

Corey Crawford‘s lengthy absence due to a concussion has the NHL worried. (TSN.ca)

• Power play goals are up (as is scoring) in the NHL season. Here’s an analysis as to why. (Sportsnet)

• Your team might have one. Here’s a list of the NHL’s underperforming stars. (ESPN)

• Matt and Ashley Duchene brought out the creativity to announce their pregnancy. (Daily Hive)

• Like arena food? Here are some tasty looking options coming to a rink near you. (Business Wire)

• An excellent story here on the biggest “tells” in hockey. (The Athletic)

• The NHL paid USA Hockey to support the US Women’s National Team. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• A story on the wonderful art of fly-by stick replacement in the NHL. (Sports Illustrated)

• The search for Seattle’s AHL affiliate is on. (Sonics Rising)

• Tomas Hyka’s NHL odyssey lands him on the Golden Knights second line. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• On Duncan Keith and his unfinished legacy. (The Hockey Writers)

• Ken Holland isn’t looking over his shoulder with Steve Yzerman on the horizon. (Sportsnet)


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