Poll: Is Erik Karlsson an elite defenseman?

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While defensive defenseman seem to suffer when it comes to Norris Trophy voting,* offensive blueliners tend to get nitpicked an awful lot. In many cases, they’re labeled as double-edged swords; people believe that there’s a strong chance they can hurt their teams when aggressive bids to push the pace fall flat.

It’s pretty difficult to make an argument for anyone other than Erik Karlsson being the best player on the Ottawa Senators, yet that doesn’t mean that he’s a consensus pick as one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He’s generally downgraded by the same conversations people had about dynamos like Paul Coffey.

The question is: should he be considered among the very best at his position?

One thing that seems beyond debate is his sterling offensive ability. While most blueliners aim for 60 points and would likely be happy with 50, Karlsson is a rare threat to at least flirt with a point-per-game. Not only that, he creates so many shots that it’s easy to argue that the sum of his offense makes up for any defensive lapses (legitimate or exaggerated).

Silver Seven Sens advances the argument that the gifted 24-year-old makes the players around him better, too. The “fancy stats” smile upon Karlsson as well, as you can see here and here.

Circling back, though, his style can make it easier to pinpoint those moments when things don’t work out. The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy wondered if he’s “too soft” to be an elite defenseman, for one:

In 2012, the Sens star won the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in the NHL. The award, voted on by hockey writers, is notoriously slanted towards blueliners who put up offense and Karlsson was a gem that year with 19 goals and 78 points in 81 games. By contrast, runner-up Shea Weber had 49 points that season, playing more minutes than Karlsson and certainly make the space in front of his netminder a lot scarier for enemy forwards than Karlsson ever could.

But at the same time, is your team ever safe from getting scored upon if Karlsson is carrying the puck up the ice? No doubt the Swede is a special talent, but that attention to detail in his own zone seems to be lacking sometimes.

“Elite” means different things to different people, so let’s leave that to your own discretion. Based on whatever standards you’d like to consider, is Karlsson an elite defenseman?

* – The fact that Zdeno Chara only owns one Norris is pretty mind-boggling.

Five NHL veterans who could be on the move

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Many insiders are reporting that there’s a lot of trade chatter going on between general managers. Teams are pushing hard to make a move prior to the Dec. 19 roster freeze. But even if teams can’t pull the trigger on a deal before next week, all these talks should help set the table for trades later on in the season. So with that in mind, who are some of the bigger names that may find themselves on the move in the near future?

Alex Pietrangelo – D – St. Louis Blues: St. Louis has been one of the huge disappointments in the NHL this season. They’re terrible start has them 13 points behind Colorado for third place in the Central Division and they’re 11 points behind Vegas for the final Wild Card spot. Trading their captain would be a huge move, but it appears as though it might be time for them to change things up. They won’t give Pietrangelo away though. There’s enough teams looking for quality defensemen, which means they should be able to get something significant back.

Jeff Carter – C/W – Los Angeles Kings: Like the Blues, the Kings have also been a huge bust in 2018-19. Carter’s had a tough year, but there’s still enough offense there to make him an intriguing addition for any competitive team. The 33-year-old has six goals and nine assists in 33 games, but he could regain his scoring touch if he ends up in the right situation. Carter has three years left on his deal at a cap hit of $5.272 million.

Jake Muzzin – D- Los Angeles Kings: Sticking with the Kings theme, Muzzin could be a valuable add for any team that doesn’t want to pay what it’s going to take to get Pietrangelo out of St. Louis. The Kings reportedly had a deal in place to send Muzzin to the Montreal Canadiens last summer as part of a deal for Max Pacioretty, but that ended up falling through. The 29-year-old has one year left on his contract at $4 million.

Jimmy Howard – G -Detroit Red Wings: Shockingly, the Red Wings still find themselves in the mix for a playoff spot. Will they be able to sneak in? Probably not, but it would be tough to envision them selling off assets at this moment. That doesn’t mean that won’t change though. Many teams are looking to upgrade between the pipes, and Howard is having a terrific year. One of the things that teams will like about the veteran, is that there’s no term left on his deal.

Phil Kessel – W – Pittsburgh Penguins: Alright, it would be surprising to see this happen, but there’s been enough chatter about it that it’s impossible to ignore. GM Jim Rutherford isn’t shy about making moves. His team is currently out of a playoff spot and they’re coming off an embarrassing loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Kessel still has three years left on his current deal, but he only accounts for $6.8 million because the Toronto Maple Leafs are retaining some of his salary.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Golden Knights turnaround; How Hitchcock changed Oilers

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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 Hockey News breaks down five potential trade destinations for Alex Pietrangelo. (The Hockey News)

• TSN’s Travis Yost examines whether or not NHL teams have become better at combating score effects. (TSN)

• The Edmonton Oilers have been really good since Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench. What has he done to change them? (Sportsnet)

• Frank Seravalli has his updated Trade Bait board. A Blues defensemen tops the list, but it’s not Pietrangelo. (TSN)

• After getting off to a sluggish start, the Vegas Golden Knights have finally turned their season around. (NHL.com)

• Sabres forward Jeff Skinner has been able to fill up the net this year, so the Buffalo News looked at his family and figure skating background to see how they’ve helped him. (Buffalo News)

• Find out how a 2004 conversation with Todd McLellan changed everything for Todd Reirden. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Dani Probert was able to look back at the documentary about her husband, Bob, but it wasn’t easy. “I’m glad I’ll be with all my people,” said Dani. “I’ll have all my close friends and family around me for the support, thank goodness. I’m going to need it.” (Ottawa Sun)

Casey DeSmith is an undersized goalie, but he found a way to play big. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

• The Bruins have been searching for secondary scoring, and they’ve finally got some from Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Danton Heinen. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

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.

The Buzzer: Big nights for McDavid, Vasilevskiy

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Three Stars

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy

On paper, Thursday seemed like a rough draw for Vasilevskiy.

A foot injury sidelined him since Nov. 10, so you’d expect some rust. This was also a much-hyped game against a high-powered opponent in the Maple Leafs, and Toronto didn’t ease Vasi in, firing 49 shots on goal.

Only one of those attempts beat Vasilevskiy, however, as he returned to action to make 48 saves, a new career-high. The Lightning have now won eight in a row, and while seven came without Vasilevskiy, he absolutely earned this one.

Click here for more on that game, and Vasi’s big night.

2. Nino Niederreiter

Niederreiter ranked among three players who scored three points on Thursday, with Wild teammate Ryan Suter (three assists) also included.

The winger enjoyed the best all-around statistical night of the three, scoring two goals and one assist, generating a +4 rating, getting the game-winner, and firing four SOG.

Minnesota just seems to find ways to win under Bruce Boudreau, and maybe a hot streak from Niederreiter will power the latest surge. This strong night extended his goal streak to three games (four goals), giving him five points during that span. As is often the case with the underrated forward, Niederreiter stood out from a possession standpoint, too.

3. Mark Scheifele

Rounding out that trio of three-point nights, Scheifele scored one goal and two assists as the Jets narrowly edged the Oilers in overtime.

Scheifele logged quite a bit of ice time (23:55), enjoying a +2 rating and generating two SOG. He’s even hotter than Niederreiter lately, as Scheifele is now on a three-game multi-point streak, giving him two goals and six assists for a batty eight points in the past three contests.

While Niederreiter’s been up-and-down this season, Scheifele remains an elite point producer. He now has 40 points in just 31 games. tying Scheifele with his wingman Blake Wheeler for eighth in NHL scoring.

Highlights of the Night

This Vasilevskiy save is great enough to be worth another look (it originally appeared in this post):

This face is highlight-reel-material.

Speaking of other posts, Andrei Svechnikov‘s nice goal is probably worth your time. He might not have the best power-move-type goal in that game, judging by this Artturi Lehkonen tally:

Put your paws together for Barclay:

Ouch

Basically, James Reimer suffered through the opposite of that amazing Vasilevskiy stop.

Factoids

Connor McDavid hit 300+ career points before reaching age 22. Click here for a lot more perspective on his first 240 regular-season games.

Speaking of history, more astounding Patrik Laine fun:

Patrick Marleau‘s a machine.

Scores

BUF 3 – ARI 1
CBJ 4 – LAK 1
MTL 6 – CAR 4
TBL 4 – TOR 1
NSH 4 – VAN 3 (OT)
MIN 5 – FLA 1
WIN 5 – EDM 4 (OT)
SJS 3 – DAL 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Where Connor McDavid ranks after racing past 300 points

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The Edmonton Oilers saw their four-game winning streak end 5-4 in overtime against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, but they should feel some satisfaction in hanging with such a great team, and getting a standings point for their troubles.

Sometimes thoughts like those can soothe the irritation of a close loss. If that doesn’t work, the Oilers should find perspective in remembering how special superstar Connor McDavid truly is. Reaching a big milestone can do that.

With two assists in that 5-4 OT loss, McDavid crossed the 300-point barrier, finishing the night at 301 points in just 240 career regular-season games. As you might guess, the 21-year-old ranks among the best in league history in that regard:

If you’re like me, you muttered “imagine what McDavid could have done if his rookie season didn’t end with that unlucky shoulder injury?”

Interesting to see how closely McDavid’s work is paralleling that of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin, eh?

Let’s consider a few other enticing and impressive things about what McDavid has accomplished, and what might still come.

  • McDavid could probably argue that he’s been the best scorer since the moment he entered the league.

Using Hockey Reference’s fancy season tools, you can see that Patrick Kane (308 points) is the only player with more points since McDavid entered the NHL in 2015-16. That shoulder injury muttering comes into place here, though, as Kane hit 308 in 278 games, versus 240 for McDavid.

McDavid’s 1.254 points-per-game average easily ranks as the best in the NHL during that span.

  • If healthy, McDavid should compile three consecutive 100-point seasons. He scored 100 in 2016-17, while setting a career-high with 108 last year. With 45 points in 31 games this season, with one contest missed, McDavid could play 50 more games this season. He’d easily hit 100 at this pace, as he’d hit about 117-118 at this rate.
  • McDavid remains a premiere playmaker (Alex Chiasson‘s accountant is nodding so hard right now), as you can see most clearly with 28 assists in 31 games. But he’s becoming a more dangerous goal-scorer, too.

Sometimes that comes down to being more assertive as you spend more time in the NHL, and become more confident in your abilities. Sidney Crosby seemed to enjoy a similar growth in making defenses and goalies respect both his shot and his passing more or less equally.

With 111 SOG in 31 GP so far in 2017-18, McDavid’s averaging 3.58 SOG per contest. That’s a significant jump from last season’s 3.34 SOG per game, and he’s fired the puck more frequently in every season of his NHL career. It wouldn’t be one bit surprising to see him enjoy closer to a 1:1 ratio in goals to assists after collecting 104 goals and 197 assists for his first 301 points.

That’s not the most pleasant thought in the world for opposing goalies and defensemen.

  • It probably wouldn’t hurt if the Oilers get it together.

The Ken Hitchcock Era is off to a booming start, but that should inspire Edmonton to continue to make shrewd decisions, rather than rest on its laurels. At minimum, it can’t hurt McDavid’s spirits – and numbers – if he’s playing competitive hockey deep into the season, and ideally into the playoffs. Still, things could be even merrier if there was more help around number 97.

Imagine what McDavid can do with higher-quality teammates beyond Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?

Other NHL Teams: “We’d rather not.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.