Blues coach demands more from homegrown players next season

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St. Louis’ elimination on Friday night provided coach Ken Hitchcock the opportunity to assess who on his team needs to step up and play better. After all getting bumped out of the postseason by the same team two years in a row can give you a good idea.

As Hitchcock told the press after Friday night’s game, he wants more from a particular group of players as the AP’s R.B. Fallstrom shares.

“Quite frankly, we need more from the people that are homegrown,” Hitchcock said. “And that’s something we’ll address the off-season and in conversations with each individual.

“We need the boys we built around.”

That seems like a very pointed criticism and you have to wonder who he’s calling out. Is it David Backes who was tied for the team lead in points in the playoffs with three? T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, or Alex Pietrangelo who had two points apiece. Or is it just a sneaky way of assessing blame with a broad brush?

Regardless of who he wants more from, he needs more from all of them. A good team like St. Louis shouldn’t get shoved out of the playoffs so quickly.

Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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2018-19 NHL on NBC Schedule Features Most Games Since NBC Sports Acquired Rights Prior to 2005-06 Season

New “Wednesday Night Hockey” on NBCSN to Showcase Its Most Diverse Exclusive Schedule to Date and NHL’s Rising Stars 

2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Features Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1 on NBC from Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.

NBC Sports Presents 2019 NHL All-Star Game from San Jose, Calif., Live in Primetime on Broadcast Television for First Time Since 1997 

NBC Sports is scheduled to present 109 NHL regular-season games during the 2018-19 season – its most since acquiring NHL rights prior to the 2005-06 season. Coverage begins Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, when Alex Ovechkin and the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals raise their championship banner to the rafters and host the Boston Bruins. All games will be streamed live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app to authenticated users via TV Everywhere.

NBC Sports’ 2018-19 NHL schedule is highlighted by the debut of “Wednesday Night Hockey” on NBCSN, which will showcase the network’s most diverse schedule since it acquired NHL rights prior to the 2005-06 season, as well as NHL’s current and rising stars. Highlights of NBC Sports’ “Wednesday Night Hockey” schedule on NBCSN include: 

  • Doubleheaders – 17 of 25 “Wednesday Night Hockey” showcases on NBCSN will be doubleheaders, the most in the network’s history, with a nearly equal balance of Eastern and Western Conference teams;
  • Diverse schedule – “Wednesday Night Hockey” will feature NBCSN’s widest variety of teams to date on Wednesday nights, including multiple appearances by Tampa Bay, Colorado, Toronto, Vegas, Edmonton, Nashville, and Winnipeg. The defending champion Washington Capitals lead all teams with eight “Wednesday Night Hockey” appearances;
  • Earlier start times – While some games will begin at 8 p.m. ET, the majority of “Wednesday Night Hockey” games and doubleheaders will begin at either 7 p.m. ET or 7:30 p.m. ET. On many occasions, coverage of the second game of “Wednesday Night Hockey” doubleheaders begins at 9:30 p.m. ET, earlier than past years. 

“With the impressive growth of fan interest in non-traditional NHL markets combined with the emergence of a number of rising stars, we felt the time was right to broaden our Wednesday night schedule and evolve the brand,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President, Production, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “Fans will still see plenty of games between traditional powers, but our new approach to Wednesday nights – including a record number of doubleheaders – allows us to show more rising stars and more Western Conference and Canadian teams than ever before.”

Following are highlights of NBC Sports’ 2018-19 NHL regular-season schedule:

  • The season opens with a “Wednesday Night Hockey” doubleheader on Oct. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN as the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals host the Boston Bruins, followed by the Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks at 10:30 p.m. ET;
  • NBC Sports will present the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks from iconic Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind., on Jan. 1, 2019, at 1 p.m. ET on NBC;
  • NBC Sports will present exclusive primetime coverage of the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC;
  • NBC will present coverage of the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., home of the San Jose Sharks, on Jan. 25-26, highlighted by live coverage of the All-Star Game on Saturday, Jan. 26, in primetime on NBC, the first time the All-Star Game will be televised live on a broadcast network since 1997;
  • NBC Sports will present 13 NHL games on NBC, beginning with the 2018 Discover Thanksgiving Showdown on Friday, Nov, 23, when the Philadelphia Flyers host the New York Rangers;
  • 67 of 110 scheduled regular-season games on NBC and NBCSN – more than 60% – will feature at least one Western Conference team.

NHL WINTER CLASSIC AND NHL STADIUM SERIES

On Jan. 1, the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will feature the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks from Notre Dame Stadium in Notre Dame, Ind., on NBC. The NHL Winter Classic has produced the five most-watched regular-season games in NHL history. The 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series will feature the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 23 in primetime on NBC at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY

NBCSN’s exclusive “Wednesday Night Hockey” coverage will feature the NHL’s established stars and young phenoms, and NBC Sports’ most diverse schedule to date. In addition, many “Wednesday Night Hockey” games and doubleheaders will feature earlier start times (7-7:30 p.m. ET). In many cases, Eastern Conference teams will be featured in the first game of the doubleheader, followed by a Western Conference matchup in the nightcap. Notable games on the “Wednesday Night Hockey” schedule include:

  • October 10 – A 2018 Stanley Cup Final rematch between the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals;
  • October 24 – Two of the best young stars in the NHL will clash when Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets;
  • January 23 – Ovechkin and the Capitals host Matthews and the Maple Leafs, followed by a battle out west between P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators vs. Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights;
  • February 13 – Three-time Stanley Cup champion Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton’s only visit to Pittsburgh;
  • March 20 – A rematch of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final, as Ovechkin and the Capitals host Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

NBCSN 2018-19 NHL “Wednesday Night Hockey” schedule (subject to change):

Date Away Home Time (ET)
October 3* Boston Washington 7:30 p.m.
Anaheim San Jose 10:30 p.m.
October 10 Vegas Washington 8 p.m.
October 17 N.Y. Rangers Washington 7 p.m.
Boston Calgary 9:30 p.m.
October 24 Toronto Winnipeg 7 p.m.
Tampa Bay Colorado 9:30 p.m.
November 7 Pittsburgh Washington 7:30 p.m.
Nashville Colorado 10 p.m.
November 14 St. Louis Chicago 8 p.m.
Anaheim Vegas 10:30 p.m.
November 28 St. Louis Detroit 7 p.m.
Pittsburgh Colorado 9:30 p.m.
December 5 Edmonton St. Louis 8 p.m.
Chicago Anaheim 10:30 p.m.
December 12 Pittsburgh Chicago 8 p.m.
December 19 Pittsburgh Washington 8 p.m.
January 2 Pittsburgh N.Y. Rangers 7 p.m.
San Jose Colorado 9:30 p.m.
January 9 Nashville Chicago 8 p.m.
January 16 Boston Philadelphia 7:30 p.m.
San Jose Arizona 10 p.m.
January 23 Washington Toronto 7:30 p.m.
Nashville Vegas 10 p.m.
January 30 Tampa Bay Pittsburgh 8 p.m.
February 6 Boston N.Y. Rangers 8 p.m.
February 13 Edmonton Pittsburgh 8 p.m.
February 20 Chicago Detroit 7:30 p.m.
Boston Vegas 10 p.m.
February 27 Tampa Bay N.Y. Rangers 7:30 p.m.
Chicago Anaheim 10 p.m.
March 6 Washington Philadelphia 7:30 p.m.
St. Louis Anaheim 10 p.m.
March 13 Chicago Toronto 7 p.m.
New Jersey Edmonton 9:30 p.m.
March 20 Tampa Bay Washington 7:30 p.m.
Winnipeg Anaheim 10 p.m.
March 27 N.Y. Rangers Boston 7:30 p.m.
Vegas Colorado 10 p.m.
April 3 St. Louis Chicago 8 p.m.
Calgary Anaheim 10:30 p.m.

NBC SPORTS PRESENTS 2019 NHL ALL-STAR GAME LIVE IN PRIMETIME ON BROADCAST TELEVISION FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 1997 

NBC and NBCSN will present extensive coverage of the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., home of the San Jose Sharks, highlighted by the NHL All-Star Game in primetime on NBC on Saturday, Jan. 26, marking the first time the NHL All-Star Game will be shown in primetime on broadcast television since 1997. NHL All-Star will take place January 25-26, 2019, and will include the NHL All-Star Skills Competition™ on Friday, Jan. 25, on NBCSN. Last year’s NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, Fla., was the third consecutive All-Star Game to feature the popular 3-on-3 tournament style format.

NHL ON NBC

NHL on NBC coverage begins on Friday, Nov. 23, at 1 p.m. ET, with the 2018 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown featuring the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers, marking the first of 13 games scheduled to air on NBC during the regular season. Beginning on Jan. 20, and continuing through the end of the regular season, NBC will present the NHL Game of the Week, generally occurring on Sunday afternoons. Following is the 2018-19 NHL on NBC regular season schedule:

Date Away Home Time (ET)
Fri., Nov. 23# N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia 1 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 1* Boston Chicago 1 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 20 Washington Chicago 12:30 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 2 Tampa Bay N.Y. Rangers 8 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 2 Minnesota Chicago 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 3 Boston Washington 12:30 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 10 St. Louis Nashville 12:30 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 17 N.Y. Rangers Pittsburgh 12:30 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 17 St. Louis Minnesota 3 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 23^ Pittsburgh Philadelphia 8 p.m.
Sun., March 3 Washington N.Y. Rangers 12:30 p.m.
Sun., March 24 Philadelphia Washington 12:30 p.m.
Sun., March 31 N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia 12:30 p.m.

#2018 Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown; *2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic; ^2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series

NHL ON NBCSN

NBCSN will televise at least 96 NHL regular-season games this season, including the Opening Night doubleheader, 40 “Wednesday Night Hockey” games, and 21 doubleheaders, as well as NHL All-Star coverage from San Jose, Calif. In addition, NBC Sports has left the majority of the final week of the regular season on NBCSN open to allow for the biggest games with playoff implications to be added to the schedule.

NHL LIVE AND NHL OVERTIME

NHL Live and NHL Overtime, NBC Sports’ live pre- and post-game show with highlights and analysis of NHL matchups, will air before and after most games on NBCSN. A 60-minute edition of NHL Live will air prior to most games, while NHL Overtime will air immediately following most games.

STREAMING COVERAGE ON NBCSPORTS.COM AND THE NBC SPORTS APP

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming platforms for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs — will provide live streaming coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs via “TV Everywhere,” giving consumers additional value for their subscription service, and making high quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms. 

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app are powered by Playmaker Media and available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TVs, Xbox, and Chromecast.

NBC Sports Group 2018-19 NHL regular-season schedule (subject to change):

Date Away Home Network Time (ET)
Wed., Oct 3 Boston Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Anaheim San Jose NBCSN 10:30 p.m.
Thur., Oct. 4 Nashville N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Philadelphia Vegas NBCSN 10 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 9 San Jose Philadelphia NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Oct. 10 Vegas Washington NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 16 Arizona Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Oct. 17 N.Y. Rangers Washington NBCSN 7 p.m.
Boston Calgary NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 19 Minnesota Dallas NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 23 San Jose Nashville NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Oct. 24 Toronto Winnipeg NBCSN 7 p.m.
Tampa Bay Colorado NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Tues., Oct. 30 Vegas Nashville NBCSN 8 p.m.
Thur., Nov. 1 Winnipeg Florida NBCSN 2 p.m.
Tues., Nov. 6 Edmonton Tampa Bay NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 7 Pittsburgh Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Nashville Colorado NBCSN 10 p.m.
Tues., Nov. 13 Tampa Bay Buffalo NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 14 St. Louis Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Anaheim Vegas NBCSN 10:30 p.m.
Tues., Nov. 20 Edmonton San Jose NBCSN 10:30 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 21 Philadelphia Buffalo NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Fri., Nov. 23 N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia NBC 1 p.m.
Chicago Tampa Bay NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., Nov. 27 Vegas Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Nov. 28 St. Louis Detroit NBCSN 7 p.m.
Pittsburgh Colorado NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Tues., Dec. 4 Toronto Buffalo NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 5 Edmonton St. Louis NBCSN 8 p.m.
Chicago Anaheim NBCSN 10:30 p.m.
Tues., Dec. 11 Detroit Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 12 Pittsburgh Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., Dec. 18 Nashville Chicago NBCSN 8:30 p.m.
Wed., Dec. 19 Pittsburgh Washington NBCSN 8 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 21 Buffalo Washington NBCSN 7 p.m.
Thur., Dec. 27 Philadelphia Tampa Bay NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 1 Boston Chicago NBC 1 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 2 Pittsburgh N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
San Jose Colorado NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Thur., Jan. 3 Chicago N.Y. Islanders NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 6 Chicago Pittsburgh NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 8 Philadelphia Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 9 Nashville Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Thur., Jan. 10 Winnipeg Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Mon., Jan. 14 Montreal Boston NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 15 Los Angeles Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 16 Boston Philadelphia NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
San Jose Arizona NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., Jan. 17 Chicago N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
Sun., Jan. 20 Washington Chicago NBC 12:30 p.m.
Mon., Jan. 21 St. Louis Los Angeles NBCSN 4 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 22 Detroit Edmonton NBCSN 9 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 23 Washington Toronto NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Nashville Vegas NBCSN 10 p.m.
Mon., Jan. 28 Winnipeg Philadelphia NBCSN 7 p.m.
Tues., Jan. 29 Philadelphia N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 30 Tampa Bay Pittsburgh NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 2 Tampa Bay N.Y. Rangers NBC 8 p.m.
Minnesota Chicago NBC 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 3 Boston Washington NBC 12:30 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 6 Boston N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 10 St. Louis Nashville NBC 12:30 p.m.
Toronto N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
Mon., Feb. 11 Pittsburgh Philadelphia NBCSN 7 p.m.
Tues., Feb. 12 Chicago Boston NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 13 Edmonton Pittsburgh NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 17 N.Y. Rangers Pittsburgh NBC 12:30 p.m.
St. Louis Minnesota NBC 3 p.m.
Philadelphia Detroit NBCSN 6 p.m.
Mon., Feb. 18 Tampa Bay Columbus NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Boston San Jose NBCSN 10 p.m.
Tues., Feb. 19 Toronto St. Louis NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 20 Chicago Detroit NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Boston Vegas NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., Feb. 21 Los Angeles Nashville NBCSN 8 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 23 Pittsburgh Philadelphia NBC 8 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 24 St. Louis Minnesota NBCSN 7 p.m.
Mon., Feb. 25 Los Angeles Tampa Bay NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., Feb. 26 Buffalo Philadelphia NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., Feb. 27 Tampa Bay N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Chicago Anaheim NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., Feb. 28 Tampa Bay Boston NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Sun., March 3 Washington N.Y. Rangers NBC 12:30 p.m.
Nashville Minnesota NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., March 5 Minnesota Nashville NBCSN 8 p.m.
Wed., March 6 Washington Philadelphia NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
St. Louis Anaheim NBCSN 10 p.m.
Thur., March 7 Columbus Pittsburgh NBCSN 7 p.m.
Sun., March 10 Boston Pittsburgh NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Anaheim NBCSN 10 p.m.
Mon., March 11 San Jose Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., March 12 Washington Pittsburgh NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., March 13 Chicago Toronto NBCSN 7 p.m.
New Jersey Edmonton NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Sun., March 17 Philadelphia Pittsburgh NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Edmonton Vegas NBCSN 10 p.m.
Tues., March 19 Washington New Jersey NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., March 20 Tampa Bay Washington NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Winnipeg Anaheim NBCSN 10 p.m.
Sun., March 24 Philadelphia Washington NBC 12:30 p.m.
Colorado Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Mon., March 25 Nashville Minnesota NBCSN 8 p.m.
Tues., March 26 Carolina Washington NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., March 27 N.Y. Rangers Boston NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Vegas Colorado NBCSN 10 p.m.
Sun., March 31 N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia NBC 12:30 p.m.
Boston Detroit NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Wed., April 3 St. Louis Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
Calgary Anaheim NBCSN 10:30 p.m.

*Some games will be blacked out in local markets and televised in those markets by a regional carrier.

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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.

Under Pressure: Ilya Kovalchuk

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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings.

Since 2013-14, Ilya Kovalchuk has been plying his trade in the KHL instead of the NHL. Really, with the year before including the abysmal, lockout-shortened campaign, we haven’t really seen much of Kovalchuk at this level since helping the Devils reach the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

For fans of beautiful hockey, such thoughts are borderline offensive.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough]

That said, Kovalchuk gave fans a lot to enjoy over 816 NHL regular-season games, even if many of those contests happened on some crummy Atlanta Thrashers teams. While there’s a lot of “what could have been?” with Kovalchuk, it’s also fitting that he left the NHL with exactly as many points (816) as games played.

The Los Angeles Kings make a lot of sense as the team he’ll return to the NHL with, too.

Most obviously, and also the point of most pressure, is that the Kings need Kovalchuk. They really need a shot in the arm, so landing arguably the most lethal shooter of his generation might just do that.

Yes, the Kings surprised many by making the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, even with Jeff Carter – the closest player they had to a Kovalchukian sniper – mostly on the shelf in 2017-18.

That’s great, but it only does so much to mask recent struggles. After all, the Kings were swept from the first round, have only won one playoff game since winning the 2014 Stanley Cup, and have missed the postseason altogether in two of the last four seasons.

Kovalchuk and the Kings are bonded by a scary question: “How much do they have left?”

The good news is that Kovalchuk performed well during his KHL sojourn, and seemed to be his usual self in international competition. Still, the aging curve can be especially unkind to snipers, and Kovalchuk’s a 35-year-old who’s been playing a lot of hockey considering he jumped straight from being the top pick of the 2001 NHL Draft to full-time duty with Atlanta in 2001-02.

At least his confidence hasn’t wavered all that much, as PHT’s Sean Leahy noted after Kovalchuk came to terms with the Kings.

“When I was making my decision, it was all about hockey because I have three or four years left in my tank where I can really play at a high level,” Kovalchuk said. “L.A. has a great group of guys. Like I said, great goaltending, great defense, and they have one of the best centers in the league. I never had a chance to play with those kinds of guys, so it’s really exciting for me. It’s great.”

The situation he’ll be in with the Kings could make a big impact on how seamless his transition back to the NHL might be.

During Kovalchuk’s days with the Devils, he’d log a jaw-dropping amount of ice time (we’re talking “deployment usually reserved for top defensemen”-type stuff), and that would often mean spending tons of time playing the point on the power play. Los Angeles seems to have a simple-and-wise plan for Kovalchuk, considering his age and world-class shot: put him in Alex Ovechkin‘s “office.”

“We just want him to do exactly what [Alex] Ovechkin does,” Luc Robitaille said to The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman during draft weekend (sub required).

While we’ll have to see if it works in practice, this is a really bright idea on paper.

Speaking of things that make sense, at least in our minds, Kovalchuk and Anze Kopitar could form a symbiotic relationship that could pay big dividends for the Kings.

Kopitar would rank as Kovalchuk’s best center in ages, if ever, at the NHL level. Meanwhile, Kovalchuk presents a dramatic skill boost for Kopitar, who put up an incredible effort lugging Dustin Brown and Alex Iafallo last season.

(All due respect to Brown’s bounce-back efforts and Iafallo’s scrappy work, but Kovalchuk presents a tantalizing upgrade. Ideally.)

Kovalchuk’s contract is another interesting element to this situation.

He could very well be a huge bargain, considering his skills at a fairly modest $6.25 million cap hit. Kovalchuk surely could have held out for more dollars, particularly on a shorter contract, but he made it clear that he wanted to compete too. (Granted, the sunny climes of Los Angeles probably didn’t hurt, either.)

On the other hand, Kovalchuk counts as a 35+ contract, so this could get ugly if it’s clear that the NHL game passed him by in a stark way.

If onlookers give Kovalchuk a fair shake as a talented player whose age will probably limit his all-around abilities, and maybe open the door for the normally-sturdy winger to maybe deal with the occasional injury, then this could be a happy marriage.

Talented players like Kovalchuk often open the door for out-sized expectations, and harsh criticisms, however, so this one could go either way.

Whatever happens, Kovalchuk makes this Kings team a lot more intriguing in 2018-19.

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.

Building off a breakthrough: Adrian Kempe

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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings.

When people think of the Los Angeles Kings, they often think of an aging team.

That’s fair, but the Kings have been able to unearth some solid young talent, too. Adrian Kempe is one of those key players, and the hope is that the best is yet to come for the 21-year-old Swede.

[Looking back at 2017-18]

After going without a point in his first five games of 2017-18, Kempe exploded against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 18, generating his first NHL hat trick and adding an assist.

That began a run of nine points over five games, signaling to the NHL that Kempe was a player you’d need to game plan for, and not just because of his speed. As Curtis Zupke reported for the Los Angeles Times in November, Kings management was taking notice of his leap forward.

“He has the trust of the coaches, but we’re starting to see, to be honest with you, I can start to see some plays that we haven’t even seen,” Kings assistant general manager Mike Futa said. “It’s a testimony to how hard he’s working. … If we can start to mix in some North American muddy goals with that, that’s when your stats start to look different.”

Kempe brings things to the table that the Kings crave: youth, speed, and swagger.

Still, to tweak Futa’s phrase, the Kings would like to see certain stats look different.

Despite the considerable advantage of beginning 68.3 percent of his shifts in the attacking zone, Kempe’s possession stats were still pretty ugly. While analytics types will be disappointed in those numbers, old-school hockey people would be unhappy to see that he only won 38.5 percent of his draws.

So, yes, it’s promising that Kempe scored 16 goals and 37 points in 81 games last season, particularly since he only averaged 13:20 TOI. You can’t really blame a Kings fan for imagining the former first-rounder (29th overall in 2014) reaching even greater heights.

At minimum, Kempe could conceivably be given more reps on the power play. He averaged 1:07 PP TOI per game, far behind quite a few other Los Angeles forwards (injuries to Jeff Carter and Michael Cammalleri’s brief time in Los Angeles skew things a bit). Kempe rode some high percentages at times in 2017-18, yet getting more shifts on the man advantage could help him at least achieve similar stats, even if his luck levels out.

Of course, more ice time tends to come with better all-around play, so Kempe needs to clean up his two-way game if he hopes to see a significant increase in shifts. There also could be some challenges in getting those “offensive specialist” nods with the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk and possibly a healthier season for Carter.

Either way, Kempe’s a player to watch for the Kings, and possibly a crucial one when it comes to the team’s ability to remain viable as core players age.

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.

Ryan Ellis earns eight-year, $50 million extension from Predators

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The Nashville Predators locked up another defenseman long-term as they agreed to an eight-year, $50 million extension with Ryan Ellis.

“Ryan is a huge part of our team on and off the ice and we are happy to have his leadership remain in our locker room for the foreseeable future,” said Predators general manager David Poile. “We have talked about wanting to keep the core of our team together, and this is another opportunity to help us do so while continuing to compete for a Stanley Cup. Ryan is entering his prime and is one of the reasons why we feel this team has a chance to win every time we step on the ice.”

As TSN’s Bob McKenzie notes, the extension lacks any no-movement or no-trade clause, which is kind of what happens — if you’re not Pekka Rinne — when you work a deal with Poile.

Ellis is entering the final year of his current contract, which means he’s now tied to the Predators through the end of the 2026-27 NHL season. He’s now one of three defensemen on the team signed beyond the 2020-21 season.

That’s a pretty picture right there if you’re Poile, Peter Laviolette or a Predators fan. Arguably the best top-four in the league are signed for the next two seasons, which will again see the team on the short-list of Stanley Cup contenders. When you’re able to retain core pieces on very team-friendly deals, that’s how you build a group that can keep its elite status on an annual basis.

After returning from off-season knee surgery, Ellis was terrific over the final 44 games of the season. He scored nine goals and recorded 32 points while averaging over 23 minutes a night. He was Nashville’s best defenseman possession-wise with a 55 percent Corsi and was only behind Mattias Eklholm in Relative Corsi (4.63), per Corsica. He is dependable and productive and showed no ill effects from the injury.

The Predators will likely be among the leagues stingiest defenses in 2018-19 and Ellis plays a big part in that.

————

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.

ProHockeyTalk’s NHL free agency tracker

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The NHL’s off-season is under way and with free agency beginning July 1 there will be plenty of action this summer. Check back here for all of the trades and signings that teams will be making in hopes of improving their chances at winning the 2018-19 Stanley Cup.

August 14
• The Devils re-sign Steve Santini to a three-year, $4.25 million extension. (Link)

Ryan Ellis, Predators agree to an eight-year, $50 million extension. (Link)

August 13
• Noah Dobson signs his three-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders. (Link)

August 10
Dylan Larkin and the Red Wings agree to a five-year, $30.1 million extension. (Link)

August 9
Christian Dvorak inks a six-year, $26.7 million extension with the Coyotes. (Link)

August 4
William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights avoid arbitration with one-year, $5.25 million contract. (Link)

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks agree to an eight-year extension with a $6.4 million AAV (Link)

August 3
Mark Stone gets a one-year, $7.35 million contract from the Senators. (Link)

• Stars forward Gemel Smith is awarded a one-year, $720,000 contract in arbitration. (Link)

Cody Ceci gets a one-year, $4.3 million deal via arbitration. (Link)

August 1
• The Flyers and Robert Hagg agree to a two-year, $2.3 million deal (Link)

Patrik Nemeth and the Avalanche agree to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)

July 31
• The Rangers and Ryan Spooner agree to a two-year, $8 million deal. (Link)

July 30
• Flames, Garnet Hathaway avoid arbitration and agree to a one-year, $850,000 deal. (Link)

Miikka Salomaki and the Predators come to terms on a two-year, $1.5 million extension. (Link)

• Matt Read joins the Wild on a two-way deal. One-year, $650,000. (Link)

July 28
Brady Skjei and the Rangers agree to a six-year, $31.5 million deal. (Link)

July 27
Tom Wilson gets a six-year, $31 million extension from the Capitals. (Link)

July 26
• David Rittich, Calgary Flames agree to one-year, $800,000 contract. (Link)

Tristan Jarry re-signs with the Penguins. Two years, $1.35 million (Link)

July 25
• Mark Jankowski and the Flames agree to two-year, $3.35 million deal to avoid arbitration. (Link)

• Dan Hamhuis returns to the Predators with a two-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)

Mattias Janmark signs a one-year, $2.3 million deal with the Stars. (Link)

Jake Virtanen re-signs with the Canucks. Two years, $2.5 million. (Link)

• An arbitrator has awarded Flames defenseman Brett Kulak a one-year, $900,000 contract. (Link)

MacKenzie Weegar returns to the Panthers one a one-year deal. (Link)

Jason Zucker and the Wild agree to a five-year, $27.5 million extension. (Link)

July 24
Joel Edmundson and the Blues avoid arbitration and agree to a one-year, $3 million deal. (Link)

• Another arbitration session avoided as Brandon Montour and the Ducks reach a two-year, $6.775 million deal. (Link)

Tucker Poolman and the Jets agree to a three-year, $2.325 million deal. (Link)

Brooks Orpik returns to the Capitals on a one-year, $1 million contract. (Link)

• Jets, Marko Dano agree to a one-year, $800,000 deal. (Link)

July 23
William Carrier stays with the Golden Knights with a two-year, $1.45 million contract. (Link)

• Islanders, Brock Nelson avoid arbitration with one-year, $4.25 million deal. (Link)

July 22
• Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is awarded a one-year, $5.5 million contract in arbitration. (Link)

Brandon Tanev and the Jets agree to a one-year, $1.15 million deal. (Link)

July 21
Matt Dumba signs a five-year, $30 million extension with the Wild. (Link)

July 20
• Troy Stetcher and the Canucks agree to a two-year, $4.65 million extension. (Link)

July 19
Adam Lowry and the Jets come to terms on a three-year, $8.75 million extension, avoiding arbitration. (Link)

Madison Bowey re-signs with the Capitals. Two years, $2 million. (Link)

Derek Grant joins the Penguins on a one-year, $650,000 deal. (Link)

July 18
• Chris Tierney, San Jose Sharks avoid arbitration with a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.9375 million. (Link)

• The Edmonton Oilers sign their 2018 first-round pick Evan Bouchard to an entry-level deal. (Link)

July 17
• The Devils agree to terms with Blake Coleman on a three-year, $5.4 million deal (Link)

• A busy morning for Ray Shero also sees Stefan Noesen agree to a one-year, $1.725 million deal. (Link)

Ryan Pulock, Islanders agree to a two-year, $4 million contract. (Link)

Jimmy Vesey and the Rangers avoid arbitration and agree to a two-year, $4.55 million deal. (Link)

Tomas Nosek re-signs with the Golden Knights. One-year, $962,500. (Link)

July 16
Ryan Hartman and the Predators agree to a one-year, $875,000 deal. (Link)

Elias Lindholm inks a six-year, $29.1 million extension with the Flames. (Link)

• The Ducks lock up Adam Henrique with a five-year, $29.125 million extension. (Link)

Juuse Saros signs a three-year, $4.5 million extension with the Predators. (Link)

Jon Gillies and the Flames agree to a two-year, $1.5 million deal. (Link)

July 15
• The Blue Jackets and Oliver Bjorkstrand agree to a three-year, $7.5 million extension. (Link)

• Philip Danult re-signs with the Canadiens. Thee years, $9.249 million. (Link)

July 14
Ryan Murray accepts his qualifying offer with the Blue Jackets. One year, $2.825 million. (Link)

Rob O'Gara re-signs with the Rangers. One year, $874,125. (Link)

July 13
Joel Armia and the Canadiens come to terms on a one-year, $1.85 million contract. (Link)

Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights agree to a three-year, $21 million extension. (Link)

Andreas Johnsson accepts his qualifying offer, a one-year, $787,500 deal with the Maple Leafs. (Link)

• The Stars extend Devin Shore with a two-year, $4.6 million contract. (Link)

July 12
Connor Hellebuyck signs a six-year, $37 million extension with the Jets. (Link)

• The Blackhawks send the contract of Marian Hossa’s contract, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle and a 2019 third-rounder to the Coyotes for Marcus Kruger, Jordan Maletta, Andrew Campbell, MacKenzie Entwistle’s rights and a 2019 fifth-rounder. (Link)

Cody McLeod returns to the Rangers on a one-year deal. (Link)

Jamie Oleksiak and the Penguins agree to a three-year, $6.4125 million extension. (Link)

July 11
Adam Erne re-signs with the Lightning. One-year, $800,000. (Link)

Anthony Mantha and the Red Wings agree to a two-year, $6.6 million extension. (Link)

July 10
Patrick Maroon heads homes to St. Louis and signs a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Blues. (Link)

Nikita Kucherov signs an eight-year, $76 million extension with the Lightning. (Link)

July 9
Ross Johnston gets a four-year, $4 million extension with the Islanders. (Link)

Rasmus Dahlin inks his three-year, entry level contract with the Sabres. (Link)

• The Islanders add forward Jan Kovar, who spent the last five seasons in the KHL, with a one-year deal. (Link)

July 7
• Alex Lyon re-signs in Philadelphia. Two years, $1.5 million. (Link)

Dmitrij Jaskin and the Blues agree to a one-year, $1.1 million extension. (Link)

Colin Miller signs four-year, $15.5 million extension with the Vegas Golden Knights (Link)

Dylan DeMelo re-ups with the San Jose Sharks. Two years, $1.8 million total. (Link)

July 6
Matt Nieto stays with the Colorado Avalanche. Two years, $3.95 million total. (Link)

• Oscar Dansk re-signs with the Vegas Golden Knights. Two years, $1.35 million total. (Link)

• The Dallas Stars re-sign Jason Dickinson to a one-year, $875,000 contract. (Link)

Alexander Petrovic re-signs with the Florida Panthers with a one-year deal. (Link)

• After getting bought out by the Wild, Tyler Ennis signs with the Maple Leafs. One year, $650,000. (Link)

Ryan Strome re-ups with the Oilers with a two-year, $6.2 million extension. (Link)

Oskar Sundqvist inks a one-year, $700,000 to remain a St. Louis Blue. (Link)

July 5
Cedric Paquette gets a one-year, $1 million deal to stay with the Lightning. (Link)

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Hurricanes avoid arbitration with two-year, $4.6 million deal. (Link)

Anthony Duclair heads to the Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 deal. (Link)

Andreas Athanasiou stays with the Detroit Red Wings with a two-year, $6 million deal. (Link)

Jacob De La Rose re-signs with the Canadiens with a two-year, $1.8 million contract. (Link)

• The Ducks bring on Andrej Sustr with a one-year, $1.3 million contract. (Link)

Boone Jenner gets a four-year, $15 million extension from the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Link)

Christian Folin gets a one-year deal from the Philadelphia Flyers. (Link)

Jordan Nolan heads to the St. Louis Blues. One year, $650,000. (Link)

July 3
Robby Fabbri stays in St. Louis with a one-year, $925,000 deal. (Link)

• The Boston Bruins re-sign Sean Kuraly for three years, $3.825 million. (Link)

Remi Elie re-signs with the Dallas Stars. One year, $735,000 (Link)

Calvin de Haan signs with the Carolina Hurricanes on a four-year, $18.4 million contract in free agency. [Link]

• The Islanders signed goalie Robin Lehner to a one-year contract. [Link]

Brad Richardson is back with the Arizona Coyotes on a two-year contract. [Link]

• The Islanders bring back Matt Martin in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Link)

July 2
Tomas Hertl re-ups with the Sharks on a four-year, $22.5 million contract. (Link)

Carter Rowney gets a three-year deal from the Anaheim Ducks. (Link)

Joe Thornton re-signs in San Jose with a one-year, $5 million deal. (Link)

Brian Gibbons lands a one-year, $1 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks. (Link)

Slater Koekkoek is back with the Tampa Bay Lightning. One year, $865,000. (Link)

Zac Rinaldo has a new home with the Nashville Predators. One year, $650,000. (Link)

James Neal gets a five-year, $28.75 million deal from the Calgary Flames. (Link)

Tom Kuhnhackl joins the Islanders on a one-year deal. (Link)

July 1
Matt Calvert joins the Colorado Avalanche on a three-year, $8.4 millon deal. (Link)

Valtteri Filppula joins the Islanders on a one-year, $2.75 million deal. (Link)

• The Buffalo Sabres send Ryan O'Reilly to the St. Louis Blues for a 2019 first-rounder, 2021 second-rounder, forwards Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, and Vladimir Sobotka. The Blues also pick up O’Reilly’s $7.5 million signing bonus. (Link)

Luke Schenn will be manning the Anaheim Ducks’ blue line next season. One year, $800,000. (Link)

• Defenseman Nick Holden is joining the Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights. Two years, $4.4 million (Link)

• Islanders sign Leo Komarov for four years, $12 million. (Link)

Sven Baertschi is back in Vancouver on a three-year, $10 million contract. (Link)

Riley Nash cashes in on a big year and gets a three-year, $8.25 million deal with the Blue Jackets. (Link)

Vladislav Namestnikov is staying with the New York Rangers with a two-year, $8 million extension. (Link)

Tobias Rieder hooks up with the Oilers on a one-year, $1.3 million contract. (Link)

Matt Cullen goes back to Pittsburgh on a one-year. $650,000 deal. (Link)

John Moore gets a big contract from the Boston Bruins. Five years, $13.75 million. (Link)

• #TavaresWatch is over. John Tavares has signed a seven-year, $77 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Link)

• The Sabres and Blues basically swap backup goalies now that Chad Johnson signs for one year, $1.75 million in St. Louis. (Link)

• The Hurricanes find their backup in Petr Mrazek. One year, $1.5 million. (Link)

Michael Grabner heads west with a three-year, $10.05 million deal with the Coyotes. (Link)

Kyle Brodziak joins the Oilers for two years, $2.3 million. (Link)

• After two seasons in the KHL, Val Nichushkin returns to Dallas with a two-year, $5.9 million deal. (Link)

J.T. Brown joins the Wild on a two-year, $1.375 million contract. (Link)

Ryan McDonagh inks a seven-year, $47.25 million extension to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Link)

• The Stars stay busy adding Roman Polak (one year, $1.3 million) to their blue line. (Link)

Tomas Plekanec is member of the Montreal Canadiens again. One year, $2.25 million. (Link)

• The Chicago Blackhawks add Cam Ward ($3 million) and Chris Kunitz ($1 million) on one year deals and ink Brandon Manning to a two-year, $4.5 million contract. (Link)

• The Coyotes make Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s eight year, $66 million extension official. (Link)

• The Colorado Avalanche add to their blue line bringing in Ian Cole on a three-year, $12.75 million deal. (Link)

Blake Comeau is signed by the Dallas Stars, three years, $7.2 million. (Link)

Tyler Bozak joins Perron in St. Louis as the Blues ink the center to a three-year, $15 million deal. (Link)

Thomas Hickey heads back to the Islanders with a four-year, $10 million contract. (Link)

Paul Stastny leaves Winnipeg for the Vegas Golden Knights on a three-year, $19.5 million deal. (Link)

• The Jack Johnson to the Penguins deal is real and it’s $16.25 million over five years. (Link)

Thomas Vanek (one year, $3 million), Mike Green (two year, $10.75 million) and Jonathan Bernier (three year, $9 million) have all signed with the Detroit Red Wings.

James van Riemsdyk heads back to Philadelphia with a five-year, $35 million contract. (Link)

David Perron returns to St. Louis and signs a four-year, $16 million deal with the Blues. (Link)

Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel each get four-year, $12 million deals from the Vancouver Canucks. (Link)

• The Calgary Flames pick up Derek Ryan (three years, $9.375 million) and Austin Czarnik (two years, $2.50 million). (Link)

Greg Pateryn gets a three-year, $6.75 million deal from the Minnesota Wild. Eric Fehr (one year, $1 million) is joining him. (Link)

• The Bruins, Sabres Stars find backups with Jaroslav Halak (two years, $5.5 million) headed to Boston, Anton Khudobin (two years, $5 million) on his way to Dallas and Carter Hutton (three years, $8.25 million) going to Buffalo.

Matt Hendricks moves on to the Wild with a one-year, $700,000 deal. (Link)

June 30
• Winnipeg Jets clear valuable cap space by shipping Steve Mason to Montreal Canadiens. (Link)

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks agree to eight-year, $64 million extension. (Link)

Ryan Reaves is sticking in Sin City, signing a two-year, $5.5 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. (Link)

Chris Wagner heads to the Boston Bruins on a two-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)

Eddie Lack returns to New Jersey on a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Devils. (Link)

• The Carolina Hurricanes hand Andrei Svechnikov his three-year, entry level deal worth $2,497,500. (Link)

Niklas Hjalmarsson inks a two-year, $10 million extension (kicks in 2019-20) with the Arizona Coyotes. (Link)

June 29
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings agree to eight-year, $88 million extension. (Link)

Michal Kempny stays in Washington with four-year, $10 million extension. (Link)

• Capitals name Todd Reirden as Barry Trotz’s replacement. (Link)

Frank Vatrano returns to Florida Panthers on one-year, $925,000 contract. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes re-sign Valentin Zykov with two-year, $1.35 million contract. (Link)

June 28
• Penguins hand one-year, $650,000 deal to J.S. Dea. (Link)

June 27
• Penguins deal Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick to Buffalo Sabres. (Link)

Devante Smith-Pelly returns to Washington Capitals with one-year, $1 million deal (Link)

• Penguins re-sign Riley Sheahan to $2.1 million, 1-year deal. (Link)

• Arizona Coyotes bring back Kevin Connauton with two year, $2.75 million extension. (Link)

June 26
• Vancouver Canucks re-sign Derrick Pouliot, one year, $1.1 million. (Link)

• Pittsburgh Penguins re-sign Bryan Rust with 4 year, $14 million deal. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators buy out final year Alex Burrows’s contract. (Link)

J.T. Miller gets five-year, $26.25 million extension from Tampa Bay Lightning. (Link)

• Sam Morin gets three-year, $2.1 million extension from Philadelphia Flyers. (Link)

Joe Morrow re-signs with Winnipeg Jets for $1 million over one year. (Link)