Risk Factors: Chicago Blackhawks edition

4 Comments

From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Chicago Blackhawks

1. Did they really solve the 2C problem? Much was made of Chicago’s lack of depth at center last year, especially in the Western Conference Final when Michal Handzus — who gamely tried to fill the second-line center spot — was overwhelmed in the playoffs.

Zeus is gone now, though, and in his place steps Brad Richards, the New York Rangers castoff that inked a modest one-year, $2 million deal to join the ‘Hawks in July. On paper, Richards is a nice fit; a veteran presence with good playmaking ability that’s been to two Stanley Cup Finals, winning once.

But that’s on paper.

There’s no denying that Richards, 34, is in the twilight of his career. The Rangers opted to buy out the remainder of his nine-year, $60 million deal this summer following a tough postseason in which he scored two points over his final 10 games and was dumped to the fourth line during the Cup Final.

Chicago will rejuvenate Richards to a certain degree. He’s going to be surrounded by talent on a (projected) line with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, and will run the point on the second powerplay unit. But in terms of strictly upgrading the 2C position, other contenders in the West did more.

The Anaheim Ducks acquired Ryan Kesler from Vancouver to slot in behind Ryan Getzlaf. The Dallas Stars traded for Jason Spezza to play behind Tyler Seguin. The Blues, who often used David Backes as their No. 1 center last year, added Paul Stastny to the mix. And lest we forget the quality tandems already in place in Colorado (Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene) and Los Angeles (Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter).

The Western Conference has become an arms race down the middle and if you can’t keep up, you could be out — just ask Stars GM Jim Nill.

“If you want to be one of the elite teams, you have to have it,” Nill told the Globe and Mail earlier this summer. “You look at the other teams that are winning on our side now, you need to have two elite centermen.”

2. The cap crunch. Per CapGeek:

source:

“[The salary cap’s] gotten a lot of attention, and rightfully so,” Hawks GM Bowman explained, per CSN Chicago. “But what I’ve tried to say all along is that we’re going to get it worked out and we’re going to be compliant come [the start of the season].

“It’s one of those topics where we’ve had a lot of discussions internally, we know how we’re going to make it work.”

Bowman wouldn’t reveal how Chicago will get cap compliant, though many have speculated one two defensemen — Johnny Oduya or Nick Leddy — will be traded. If that happens, it’s going to chip away at one of the club’s strengths; the next men up on defense are David Rundblad, Kyle Cumiskey, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Adam Clendening, and one of them might get called into action earlier than expected now that Michal Rozsival’s sidelined with an upper-body injury.

There’s another wrinkle to this cap situation. Compliance is one thing, but what about wiggle room?

Teams like to operate with some breathing space beneath the ceiling in the event something unforeseen happens. Injuries, slumps, ineffectiveness can often cause for a roster shakeup… and then there’s the trade deadline.

The ‘Hawks were hamstrung last year, resulting in Rundblad and Peter Regin being the lone acquisitions of significance — nice pickups, but ones that were relatively minor compared to what Los Angeles (Marian Gaborik), St. Louis (Ryan Miller, Steve Ott), Anaheim (Stephane Robidas) and Minnesota (Matt Moulson) did. Granted, not all of those deals worked out and the Kings were the only Western team to best Chicago, but the value of having trade deadline flexibility can’t be understated; during Chicago’s Cup championship in 2013, the Handzus pickup proved invaluable.

3. Age and health. Rozsival (36), Marian Hossa (35), Richards (34), Oduya (33), Patrick Sharp (33 in December) and Duncan Keith (31) have played an awful lot of hockey over the last two years, be it regular season — especially during the condensed ’13 campaign — playoffs, and international (everybody but Richards played in the Sochi Winter Olympics.)

At some point, it’s going to have an effect.

As mentioned above, Rozsival is currently sidelined with an upper-body injury. Hossa’s been dealing with a lower-body issue throughout camp and has a lengthy history of ailments while Sharp looked lethargic at times during last year’s run to the Western Conference Final, scoring just two goals in his first 14 games.

Health-wise, one of the more underrated stories over the last two seasons was the durability of Chicago’s regulars. Patrick Kane missed 12 games last year to a lower-body ailment, which was a rarity; he’s played 80 games or more four times in his career (and played 47 of 48 during the lockout-shortened ’13 season). Bryan Bickell missed 23 games with a variety of bumps and bruises, yet rebounded to show up when he often does — in the playoffs — scoring seven goals in 19 games.

But in the NHL, injuries are unavoidable. The grind and physical toll often wears down even the fittest of players and we’re talking about a collection of Blackhawks players that are getting older and have played a remarkable amount of games over the last 24 months.

Lightning-Bruins stream: NHL Return to Play round-robin game

Lightning-Bruins stream
Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s round-robin matchup between the Lightning and Bruins. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Bruins stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This Round Robin game features several compelling matchups, pitting the league’s best offense (TB: 3.47 g/gm) against the best defense (BOS: 2.39 ga/gm), and two Vezina Trophy candidates (Andrei Vasilevskiy; Tuukka Rask) in a tilt between the last two Presidents’ Trophy Winners. Steven Stamkos is once again not expected to play for the Lightning.

The last time these teams met (TB 5-3 win on March 7) they combined for 26 penalties and 94 penalty minutes.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Current standings

Tampa Bay Lightning (1-0-0, 2 points)
Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
Washington Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-0-0, 0 points)

Scenarios based on Wednesday’s result

Boston wins in regulation
• All teams can still earn the No. 1 seed.

Tampa wins in regulation
• Boston can finish no better than third.
• The other three teams can still earn the No. 1 seed, but Tampa Bay controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 Seed by beating Philadelphia.

Boston wins in OT/SO
• All teams can still earn the No. 1 seed.
• Boston would need Washington to beat Philadelphia in regulation on Thursday to make that outcome possible for them.

Tampa wins in OT/SO
• Boston could finish no higher than second.
• The other three teams could still earn the No. 1 seed, but Tampa Bay controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 seed by beating Philadelphia

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Eastern Conference round-robin schedule

Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers 4, Bruins 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3
:
Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5:
Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Thursday, Aug. 6:
Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9:
Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Strong third period start helps Panthers stave off elimination

panthers islanders elimination
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mike Hoffman and Brian Boyle scored twice in the opening three minutes of the third period to lift the Panthers to a 3-2, Game 3 win over the Islanders.

New York leads the series 2-1 with Game 4 Friday.

The Islanders gave Florida five power plays Wednesday and the Panthers’ special teams unit made sure to take advantage.

Erik Haula started the scoring with his first of the postseason following an Islanders’ too many men penalty. Hoffman’s shot from the point was blocked by Semyon Varlamov, but the rebound popped out to Evgenii Dadonov. The Panthers forward drew the attention of Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield, opening up space to feed a pass to Haula.

Given the opportunity to end the series, the Islanders kept pushing for an equalizer. It finally came with 3:34 to go in the second as Jean-Gabriel Pageau netted goal No. 2 of the series. But any momentum New York took into the intermission was gone after Varlamov played the puck outside of the trapezoid and was whistled for delay of game seven seconds into the third.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Hoffman fired home a shot 34 seconds later and Brian Boyle doubled the lead shortly after.

“I made a mistake on that play, very simple,” Varlamov said afterward. “I should have handled the puck better.”

New York would cut the lead to one when Brock Nelson scored with 1:27 to go, but it wasn’t enough. Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 20 saves.

This is Florida’s first postseason win since April 20, 2016 — a span of 1,568 days — when they beat the Islanders in their First Round series.

The Islanders will get a second chance to close out the series in Game 4 on Friday (NBCSN).

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 1
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

————

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.

Coyotes-Predators stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Coyotes-Predators stream
Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Coyotes and Predators. Live look-in coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Coyotes-Predators Game 2 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Coyotes don’t have long to dwell on Tuesday’s loss. Back at it Wednesday for Game 3 and a series tied 1-1, Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet is telling his players to have a short memory.

“We’ll tweak a couple of things, but you have to get a good meal in and get a good night’s rest,” he said. “You win, everything’s great, you lose, everything stinks. That’s the way the playoffs are. The teams that are even-keel are the teams that are successful. We’ll move past this in two minutes and get ready for tomorrow.”

Darcy Kuemper may have a new backup Wednesday as Antti Raanta left Game 2 midway through the second period. The team says he is “unfit to play,” opening the door for Adin Hill to don the baseball cap on the bench.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, August 5, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Predators live look-in stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (live look-in stream)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Maple Leafs’ Muzzin out for rest of series vs. Blue Jackets

1 Comment

There’s some good news for Jake Muzzin.

The defenseman has left a local Toronto hotel after leaving Game 2 on a stretcher following a collision late in the third period. Muzzin was cross-checked by Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and sent off-balance, causing his head to collide with Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s knee.

According to the Maple Leafs, Muzzin will miss the rest of the series and remain in quarantine until he’s ready to return.

“No question, seeing one of your teammates go down, especially a guy like ‘Muzz,’ you know the type of warrior he is.” said Maple Leafs captain John Tavares. “I think what he brings to our team is unmeasurable, obviously very tough. All signs are very positive being around him, and nice to close it out for him. But certainly tough to see, especially just how much we love that guy.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

When Muzzin is ready to return, the Toronto Hub Medical Director will decide quarantine/testing protocols before he’s allowed to practice and play again.

“He does a big part for this team, penalty kill, even strength against the best players against the other team,” said Mitch Marner said. “He really does mean a lot to us. So being beside when he did go down and stayed down, obviously it’s a little worrisome. And when you see the stretcher come out, a lot of things run through your mind. We’re all on his side and all praying for him. We just want to make sure that when he does come back he’s 100 percent, and there’s a lot bigger things than hockey.”

The series is tied 1-1 with Game 3 Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

————

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.