Risk Factors: New York Islanders edition

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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.

New York Islanders

1. Defense – Even when they made the Pittsburgh Penguins sweat bullets in a thrilling 2013 postseason playoff series, the Isles weren’t exactly setting Jacques Lemaire’s heart aflutter with their ability to suffocate opposing offenses. On the bright side, the Islanders are far alone in seemingly being stuck with an “outscoring their problems” plan, as a porous defense corps seems to be the defining characteristic of most of the Eastern Conference’s bubble teams (example: the Philadelphia Flyers … assuming they don’t blow up altogether).

Still, when the unique trait of your team is allowing opponents to casually stroll into your zone and more than a few teams are expected to emphasize puck possession this season, having such a permeable defense can be a frightening proposition.

That’s especially true if John Tavares and the Islanders’ offense isn’t as explosive as it looks like on paper or Jaroslav Halak is plagued by injuries (which has unfortunately been the case for him quite often in his otherwise underrated career).While there’s a bright spot (Travis Hamonic) here and there, the Isles might find themselves on the wrong end of score-fests more often than they’d like in 2014-15.

Hate to say it, but it’s not as if this group was a Dan Boyle away from being elite, either.

Hey, at least they finally have goalies who could conceivably clean up a lot of these messes though, right? That’s pretty refreshing.

2. Coaching – Jack Capuano has been the Islanders’ head coach since going behind the bench for 65 of 82 games back in the 2010-11 season. In four campaigns with the Islanders, he helped them make the playoffs once and while they pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins in a thrilling series, he’s never advanced to the second round.

Is anyone outside of the Islanders organization fully confident in arguing that Capuano is a difference-making coach?

Granted, the talent base hasn’t exactly been that stellar for much of Capuano’s stay in Long Island, yet it’s difficult to make a passionate argument that this team merely goes as far as Tavares can take it under Capuano’s watch. At some point, Capuano needs to distinguish himself as a difference-maker.

Honestly, it’s easy to imagine the Islanders pondering the possibility of a midseason replacement if things don’t work out. Perhaps the organization was jealously taking notes while would-be rivals like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers made leaps from up-an-comers to contenders once they finally pulled the trigger and brought in a new voice behind their benches?

(Yes, those coaches are no longer employed in those places, but the Isles would probably be OK with that proposition if it means finally enjoying a deep playoff run again.)

This truly seems like a make-or-break season for Capuano with the Islanders.

3. John Tavares’ health and line – Medical science has come a long way in the last few years, so it’s tempting to assume that the Islanders’ best player in ages will be that same rapidly rising star. Tavares hasn’t exactly looked out of place so far, either, but can we be certain that he’ll be a dominant force off the bat?

The bright side is that Tavares suffered an MCL sprain instead of a more serious ACL sprain, so it’s not outrageous to assume that he could be “the same guy” who’s been tearing up the NHL. Even ACL injuries aren’t quite the same killers they once were, so perhaps this is just a case of excessive worrying.

Still, there’s a difference between playing and thriving, and the Islanders are clearly resting a lot of their hopes on a healthy Tavares despite some nice offseason depth additions such as Mikhail Grabovski. Obviously Erik Karlsson’s injury is related to a different and even more vulnerable area, it’s telling that his recovery isn’t really complete after all this time. It’s true that Tavares doesn’t rely on his speed and skating to the same degree as a player like Karlsson, but it’s reasonable to wonder if he might be hindered a bit (especially early on).

Interestingly, the Islanders’ top line faces questions beyond Tavares’ health.

For one thing, Kyle Okposo is coming off a significant jump in production last season. While there are some substantial reasons to believe that he’s going to remain a difference-maker, it could be difficult to avoid at least a slight dip in production.

Maybe most importantly, Tavares and Okposo might see a rotation of running mates. After a season of enjoying great complimentary work from Matt Moulson and then Thomas Vanek, Tavares and Okposo may find themselves carrying an inferior winger.

Grade the Hurricanes’ new road uniform

Carolina Hurricanes
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On Tuesday morning Carolina Hurricanes unveiled a new road uniform for the 2019-20 NHL season, ditching their primary storm logo on the front for some diagonal lettering that spells out “Canes.”

It is a rather simplistic design, but it is clean and pretty sharp.

Along with the wording across the front, they also brought back the warning flags along the waistline of the jersey.

Have a look.

Other features as part of the new uniform: The new secondary logo (the hockey stick with the warning flags attached to it) appears on both shoulders, while the helmet will feature a raised 3-D sticker of the primary logo which you can see here.

You can check out all of the features at the Hurricanes’ website.

What do you think, hockey fans?

Is it a good look? Does the diagonal lettering work for a team that is not the New York Rangers? What is your grade for the Hurricanes’ new road uniform?

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

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Panarin changes everything for Rangers

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

The last time a New York Rangers player cracked the 80-point mark in the NHL was a decade ago.

Then, Marian Gaborik was a much younger version of his self and putting up impressive seasons as a marquee player.

Since then, the Rangers haven’t really had that sort of offensive pizazz. That hasn’t always stopped them from having success, of course. But adding a guy who has the potential to hit the 100-point plateau at just 27 years of age could figure in moving that success to the next level.

Being the team playing in an attractive destination and with mountains of cash on July 1 presents a wealth of opportunities in the free-agent market and for the Rangers, it was their lucky year.

Signing Artemi Panarin long-term as he just enters the prime of his career, is the single biggest get of the summer. For any team.

Panarin brings elite scoring to a club that needs it amidst their (now accelerated) rebuild. But Panarin is so much more than just premium point producer.

His possession numbers are off-the-charts good. He’s a responsible player at both ends of the ice, creates more goals than allowed when he’s on in five-on-five situations and creates more high-danger chances than are seen against him. Furthermore, in terms of goals above replacement, Panarin was 10th in NHL this past season.

And this season, Panarin doesn’t bring a bad full of distraction with him.

Last year, questions swirled all year about his future. There will be none of those this time around.

Instead, he’s likely to be paired with Mika Zibanejad and perhaps even Kaapo Kakko in what could be something of a mega line in terms of scoring and shutting down the opposition.

Panarin is that x-factor. He brings so much to a team and he’s now in a position to lead a much younger Rangers team into what appears to be a bright future.

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


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

It’s New York Rangers Day at PHT

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

2018-19
32-36-8, 78 points (7th in the Metropolitan Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Artemi Panarin
Jacob Trouba
Kaapo Kakko
Adam Fox
Greg McKegg

OUT: 
Neal Pionk
Kevin Hayes
Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey
Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan Spooner
Fredrik Claesson
Connor Brickley

RE-SIGNED:
Pavel Buchnevich

2018-19 Summary

It was understood going into this past season in the Big Apple that by the end of it, the New York Rangers would be on the outside looking in.

A sell-off during the end of the 2017-18 season pointed to a re-build that would likely take a couple of seasons to fully mature.

And thus, the on-ice product for the Rangers was much less about winning games as it was about putting some of their young guns in positions to grow.

Alexandar Georgiev, for instance, was given 30 starts between the pipes as the Rangers let Henrik Lundqvist‘s heir-apparent get well-acquainted with the No. 1 spot he will one day own.

He showed well on a poor team, with the 23-year-old posting a respectable .914 save percentage.

Others, too, were given a chance to develop. The likes of Pavel Buchnevich, 24, Tony DeAngelo, 23, Filip Chytil, 19, and Lias Andersson, 20, saw significant action.

Everything was following the simple stream that is a slow rebuilding process. Well, at least until June.

In June, the Rangers found out they’d be picking second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft after moving up four spots from the six-best odds at the draft lottery. Welcome, Kaapo Kakko.

They’d acquire the rights to Jacob Trouba (and eventually sign the blue line stalwart to a seven-year deal.)

And then July 1 came and Artemi Panarin was handed $81 million over the next seven years.

The rebuild that was rolling along at a typical methodical pace suddenly slammed into sixth gear. The Rangers now added a bona fide superstar forward, a potential superstar forward and a top-pairing defenseman to the mix.

General manager Jeff Gorton wasn’t messing around, announcing his intentions to the rest of the league with his wallet open wide.

So now, the Rangers have smashed the fast-forward button. There’s no talk anymore about another growing season. Instead, the narrative has shifted to a team that could compete for a playoff spot at minimum, especially if Lundqvist can bounce back and retain his crown as ‘King’ in one final hurrah in his storied career.

The Rangers have kept pace with the New Jersey Devils and their own aggressive summer. The Metro is quite the division — perhaps the best in hockey — and the Rangers should be right back in the mix in 2019-20.

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


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

PHT Morning Skate: Aho reveals offer-sheet decision; Ristolainen to Red Wings?

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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.

Sebastian Aho reveals why he signed an offer sheet from the Canadiens. (Sportsnet)

• NHL farm system rankings: Best, worst prospect pipelines for 2019-20, from 1 to 31. (The Sporting News)

• Should the Red Wings trade for Rasmus Ristolainen? (The Hockey Writers)

Matthew Tkachuk‘s agent says they gave the Flames a fair offer back in June. (Sportsnet)

• Overlooked teams in fantasy for 2019-20. (NHL.com)

• The All-Decade Team for all 31 NHL teams. (ESPN)

• Breaking down the format for a potential 2021 World Cup of Hockey. (Sportsnet)

T.J. Oshie is healthy and ready to take another run at the Stanley Cup. (NHL.com)

• When adding staffers, NHL Seattle must navigate complex minefield with those currently under contract elsewhere. (Seattle Times)

• Once healthy, Shea Weber’s value to the Canadiens remained high. (Eyes on the Prize)

• Who are the biggest Penguin killers in the NHL today? (Pensburgh)

• NHL “nowhere near a resolution” on allowing players to compete at 2022 Winter Olympics. (Inside the Games)

• NHL teams as dog breeds: The complete list of hockey dogs. (FanSided)

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


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