Risk Factors: Colorado Avalanche edition

12 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.

Colorado Avalanche

1. Asking the world of Varly (again) – There’s no shame in voters handing Tuukka Rask and his sparkling .937 save percentage the 2014 Vezina Trophy, but Semyon Varlamov had a strong argument in his own right.

Simply put, no successful team asked more of their netminder than Colorado did in 2013-14. Varlamov faced 2,013 shots on goal while no other goalie cracked 1,900 (Kari Lehtonen came in second with 1,888 save attempts). The Avalanche allowed 32.7 shots per game overall, the sixth-worst rate in the NHL. No team below them made the playoffs and only two in the bottom 10 managed to make it past game 82.

Varlamov shouldered that burden last season, but one would understand if the team said “Look, we got away with that once, but let’s not allow that to happen again.”

Instead, it sounds like Patrick Roy seems content to defiantly stick with his “Ride Varly” plan, at least publicly speaking.

“I would expect Varly to continue to do the same thing,” Roy told Yahoo in a fascinating piece regarding the team’s polarizing philosophies. “He’s in his age where I think it’s time for him to shine, and I believe it’s only the start.”

Asking any goalie to replicate such success is a bit much, but Varlamov carries a few extra worries.

The 2013-14 season was the only time he carried the workload of a true No. 1 “workhorse.” (It’s difficult to put too much stock in 2012-13, since that campaign was limited to 48 regular season games.) Glancing at his year-by-year work, it seems like he’s endured two tough seasons, one middling one and two very good years:

2009-10: 26 games played, 15 wins, .909 save percentage
2010-11: 27 GP, 11 W, .924
2011-12 (first with Colorado): 53 GP, 26 W, .913
2012-13: 35 GP, 11 W, .903
2013-14: 63 GP, 41 W, .927

Is it impossible to picture Varlamov being great again? No, if nothing else, his talent is pretty apparent.

Still, the Avalanche are asking a lot from a guy who’s had an up-and-down career, and to say that the jury’s out on Reto Berra being worth the honestly startling amount of confidence management has in him is to make a serious understatement.

2. Defense – Time and time again, teams with seemingly crippling possession stats have trotted out the “shot quality” argument in pumping up their defensive systems. In the long run, results haven’t been kind to the teams that get massively out-shot and seem to live off of high shooting and save percentages. The disastrous finishes of the Randy Carlyle Era Toronto Maple Leafs simply illustrate such thoughts in the most dramatic ways.

Roy steadfastly believes that the Avalanche’s defense is better than people think.

“We’re not that far away on defense,” Roy told the Denver Post. “You look at (Erik) Johnson, who had a really good year, we have (Tyson) Barrie, who played really well at the end of the season, and we have Nick Holden, who we think is a solid defenseman. Are they where (the Kings are)? The answer is no, but now the (question) is, ‘Who are we going to add?’ You cannot just add the top players. You have to have a great mix, and you look at some teams as a model, and I think L.A. is a good example. If we could get the good mix — stay-at-home, physical defensemen playing with high-skill defensemen — I think that’s the approach that we’d like to have, and I think we’re heading in a pretty good direction. I think the future of our franchise on the defensive side of the game is a lot better than people think it is.”

Most people don’t share Roy’s optimism, and when you look at the group on paper and the massive amount of shots Colorado is supposedly OK with allowing, it’s easy to see why.

3. Losing Stastny and getting older in the offseason – The funny thing about the Avalanche is that youth is one of their biggest strengths … yet they may have erred in seemingly exchanging prime-age players for big names who might be a little long in the tooth.

The general feeling is that Colorado balked at Paul Stastny’s asking price, ultimately allowing him to become the most coveted free-agent center of the 2014 summer. At 28, he still has at least a few more prime years and generally did things that people believe Avalanche forwards do too rarely: drive play. Stastny’s deal is bigger and longer than Jarome Iginla’s three-year, $16 million pact, but many will frame the situation as giving up Stastny for Iggy.

Iginla’s much older than Stastny at 37, and he’s not quite the dominant force he once was, even if he can clearly still put the puck in the net. In a league where center play is at a premium, the Avalanche swapped a versatile prime-age pivot for an aging winger.

The Avalanche also leaned toward experience by trading a second-rounder for Brad Stuart, 34, and swapped P.A. Parenteau, 31, for Daniel Briere, 37.

Avalanche GM Joe Sakic emphasized that he was deliberately adding experience, but time will tell if the team’s better for essentially exchanging fresher legs for veteran voices.

It should be fascinating to see if Roy and Sakic will end up looking brilliant or foolish and stubborn as the 2014-15 season goes along.

PHT Morning Skate: Eichel, Skinner make donations; feel-good stories for NHL teams

NHL News
Getty
Leave a comment
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.

• Buffalo Sabres forwards Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner are donating to the COVID-19 fight. (NHL.com)

• Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett laments the team’s lost progress during season pause. (Sportsnet)

• PHPA and ECHL announce relief fund for ECHL players. (ECHL)

• The feel-good stories of the season for all 31 NHL teams. (ESPN)

• Who rules the NHL’s 3-on-3 format? (TSN)

• Does Quinn Hughes beat out Cale Makar for the Rookie of the Year award? (Vancouver Is Awesome)

• Florida Panthers not letting COVID-19 dictate the future. (Panther Parkway)

• Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk is awaiting the next step in his rehabilitation process. (NHL.com)

• The epic decline of fighting in the NHL. (NHL To Seattle)

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.

Eichel, Bauer team up to donate much-needed medical equipment

3 Comments

Jack Eichel was enjoying a career-best season up until the NHL pause, but his greatest impact has come during the stop in action.

Buffalo’s captain purchased 5,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) masks from the hockey equipment manufacturer, Bauer. The essential items will be distributed to various hospitals throughout Western New York.

“I am so thankful to all those medical professionals that are on the front lines taking care of our community in the battle against this virus,” Eichel said in a team issued release. “The dedication to Western New York that they continue to show is incredible. I am happy to work with my friends at Bauer to purchase these masks. Hopefully, they will help play a part in keeping our hospital workers safer and healthier.”

Bauer recently repurposed their production facilities and began developing medical shields for healthcare professionals, emergency responders and other heroes fighting the coronavirus on the front lines. According to ESPN.com’s Emily Kaplan, more than 100,000 units have been ordered across Canada as of last week.

“We’re all on the same team in helping our medical professionals get the necessary protective equipment they need to help in the fight against COVID-19,” said Mary-Kay Messier, VP of Global Marketing, Bauer Hockey. “Nurses, doctors and so many others are risking their own health to save the lives of others. These are the true heroes of coronavirus. Our team was eager to step up and do what we can, just like Jack is stepping up to help his community in Buffalo. We’re grateful for this partnership with Jack and the Buffalo Sabres, and we hope others continue to help because we all need to support our families, friends and neighbors right now.”

RELATED: Bauer VP of global marketing Mary-Kay Messier joined the Our Line Starts podcast this week to discuss the company’s production transition and how others are aiding them in making protective gear.


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

Long-term outlook for Dallas Stars: Free agents, prospects, and more

Dallas Stars long-term outlook Seguin Klingberg Heiskanen
Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Dallas Stars.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn stand as the Stars’ highest-paid players (almost $10M per year for each), and management’s most sought-after scapegoats. If CEO Jim Lites & Co. had issues with Seguin (28, contract expires after 2026-27) and Benn (30, 2024-25) already, one can only imagine how nasty things might get as Father Time really rubs it in.

At least both remain effective if you keep expectations fair — especially Seguin. Even if the Stars’ staunch and stingy system does little to goose their counting stats.

By investing quite a bit of term in Esa Lindell, the Stars figure to lean on Lindell, Miro Heiskanen, and John Klingberg for the foreseeable future. Heiskanen’s rookie deal runs out after next season, while Klingberg will only be a bargain through 2021-22.

Ben Bishop continues to provide fantastic goaltending, easily exceeding his near-$5M AAV so far. At 33, it’s fair to wonder if a big slide is coming, so that might go from a bargain to a burden before Bishop’s contract expires after 2022-23.

It will be interesting to see who else joins the core. Looking at the list of pending free agents alone, the Stars face interesting contract challenges with Hintz, Faksa, and Gurianov. The hope is those forwards can pick up the slack for aging players like Alexander Radulov, Joe Pavelski, and Andrew Cogliano.

One would think that a goalie-needy team would drive Khudobin out of the backup goalie price range, but if not, Dallas would be wise to see how much longer their two-headed monster over 33-year-old goalies can keep this up.

Seeing Hanzal’s cursed contract ($4.75M AAV) come off the books must be a massive, Hanzal-sized relief.

Long-term needs for Stars

Khudobin and Bishop delivered shockingly strong results, even for those who favored the two, but again, they’re both 33. Getting younger in net needs to be an emphasis, whether that means a younger (cheaper) backup, or someone on the horizon. Maybe prospect Jake Oettinger could be the answer to a number of questions?

Finding a better balance between risk and rewards lingers as a more abstract key.

Does that mean finding a different coaching option other than interim bench boss Rick Bowness? Perhaps. Seeing Seguin languish with a modest team lead in points at 50 is already a bummer. No one else reaching 40 points in 2019-20 is downright alarming.

There are some nice supplementary pieces in guys like Hintz, but if Seguin and Benn continue to sink from superstars to stars, do the Stars have enough star power? If not, they’ll need to manufacture goals by committee.

Long-term strengths for Stars

A different chef might be able to put together a winning recipe with the ingredients on hand.

In particular, there are pieces to ice a modern, mobile defense. Heiskanen already hovers somewhere between star and full-fledged superstar. Klingberg suffered through a disappointing 2019-20, yet he still has a lot of talent, and could rebound in a more creative setup.

While Lindell is a bit more meat-and-potatoes, prospect Thomas Harley provides potential for more explosive offense from the Stars’ defense.

Speaking of prospects, Ty Dellandrea and Jason Robertson might eventually help the Stars improve their depth on offense. If those two work out, they could help Dallas patch up slippage for Benn and Seguin alongside the likes of Hintz.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked the Stars’ farm system 18th overall in January (sub required), while his Athletic colleague placed Dallas’ sub-23 group at 15th. That’s not world-beating stuff, but it’s also pretty solid for a team that’s becoming a fairly consistent playoff squad.

Goaltending might remain a strength if Bishop ends up being one of those goalies who ages well. We’ll see.

Overall, Heiskanen stands out as the player Stars fans should be most excited about. There are a decent number of others, especially if Seguin gets better puck luck than the 6.9 shooting percentage that made his 2019-20 season far from nice.

MORE STARS:
• 2019-20 season summary
• Surprises and disappointments

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.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour: Capitals vs. Blues

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour continues this week with back-to-back matchups between the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues on Wednesday beginning at 5 p.m. ET.

At 5 p.m. ET NBCSN will present the EA Sports NHL 20 simulated Capitals game that originally aired on NBC Sports Washington on March 24. Washington, led by Nicklas Backstrom’s hat trick, beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues, 5-3, in an action-packed virtual matchup.

At 6 p.m. ET, in a season opening matchup that featured the past two Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals erased an early 2-0 deficit to defeat the Blues in overtime 3-2. Alex Ovechkin scored his 11th goal in his 15th NHL season opener, and Jakub Vrana netted the overtime winner. The raising of the Blues’ first-ever Stanley Cup championship banner will be featured.

HOCKEY HAPPY HOUR SCHEDULE
• Thursday, April 2: Penguins-Red Wings 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Game 7 (5 p.m. ET)

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.