PHT’s Season Preview: 30 questions, 120 answers

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We made a list of 30 questions ahead of the 2015-16 NHL season, then we tried to answer those questions. Enjoy:

1. Of all the teams that missed the playoffs last season, the most likely to make the playoffs this season is…

Jason Brough: The Kings. I still wonder about their defensive depth, but this should be a very motivated group.

James O’Brien: The Kings. Edging their pals from San Jose by a hair.

Ryan Dadoun: The Kings. The extra rest alone should close the gap.

Mike Halford: Way to go out on a limb, guys. But you’re all wrong. It’s Columbus.

2. Of all the teams that made the playoffs last season, the most likely to miss the playoffs is…

JB: Vancouver. Especially if Ryan Miller starts the majority of games.

JO: Vancouver. Expect them to fall into the 10th-12th range of the Western Conference.

RD: Ottawa. The Sens have some promising young forwards, but I have reservations about their goaltending.

MH: Winnipeg. The Central Division is too hard. It’s kinda unfair.

3. One team that isn’t getting enough respect is…

JB: Florida. The Panthers’ extreme mix of youth and experience has definite playoff potential.

JO: San Jose. Still a ton of talent, now with a clean(er) slate.

RD: Toronto. I don’t think the Leafs’ fundamental problem has been a lack of talent. With Mike Babcock in charge, they might surprise by contending for a playoff spot.

MH: Columbus. I’m big on Columbus this year. Brandon SaadRyan JohansenNick Foligno will be one of the league’s highest-scoring lines.

4. One team that’s getting too much respect is…

JB: Columbus. I get why people are excited about the Jackets — there’s a lot of talent up front and in goal. But is that blue line good enough? I’m not so sure.

JO: Calgary. Although watch out in a couple of years.

RD: Minnesota. What happens if Devan Dubnyk doesn’t play like an elite goalie? Because that’s quite possible.

MH: Pittsburgh. The Pens have a real 2003 Colorado Avalanche vibe about them. (Also, don’t listen to Brough. Columbus! Columbus!)

5. The worst team in the NHL will be…

JB: Arizona. The Coyotes should finish in pole position to win the draft lottery. Given local boy Auston Matthews is projected to go first overall, you wonder if that’s been the plan all along.

JO: Arizona. But this isn’t the no-brainer that Buffalo was last season.

RD: Arizona. I want to be a contrarian, especially seeing as I like the Coyotes’ core of prospects, but they’re a ways off.

MH: Carolina. I’m only saying that to be different. (It’ll be Arizona.)

6. The biggest wildcard team (i.e. could be decent, could be a disaster) is…

JB: Vancouver. I know I said the Canucks would miss the playoffs, but they do have some young talent now. Bo Horvat is a future star. And if they give him the chance and he steps up, Jacob Markstrom has the potential to outplay Miller (and create yet another goaltending controversy).

JO: Columbus. Honestly, 2014-15 was so insane with all the injuries that it might as well be deleted from the ledger, although Nick Foligno’s accountant would disagree.

RD: Dallas. If that goaltending duo works out, and if Ales Hemsky and Patrick Sharp can bounce back, then the Stars could be a very dangerous team. None of those players are sure things though.

MH: Buffalo. Everyone’s expecting a significant leap forward, but the defense is still lousy and I have major doubts that Robin Lehner is the answer in goal.

7. The Canadian team with the best chance to win the country’s first Stanley Cup since 1993 is…

JB: I guess it’s still Montreal. It’ll be Calgary soon though, assuming the Flames figure out their goaltending.

JO: Montreal. They’re limited by their coach’s whims, but they have P.K. Subban and Carey Price.

RD: Montreal. The Habs aren’t my top pick to win the Cup, but they have the pieces to make a run.

MH: Quebec City.

8. The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs 24 straight seasons. Will they make it 25?

JB: Yes. Unless Pavel Datsyuk is hurt all the time. Even at 37, he’s still the key to their success.

JO: Yes. If Datsyuk were healthier, they’d be downright frisky. Love the addition of Mike Green.

RD: Yes. Excited to see what Dylan Larkin is all about.

MH: Yes. And James, please don’t say frisky. The Red Wings are not a dog that’s chasing a tennis ball.

9. Two teams are guaranteed to miss the playoffs in the Central Division. Those two will be…

JB: I’ll say Colorado and Minnesota. The former with a decent amount of confidence, the latter with practically none.

JO: Colorado and Winnipeg. Both have some strengths, yet their weaknesses (scheme for Avs, goaltending for Jets) leave them behind the impressive Central pack.

RD: Winnipeg and Minnesota. For the record, I am very uneasy predicting that.

MH: Winnipeg and Nashville. Very tough question, so I’ll just pick the two with the lowest payrolls.

10. Are the Chicago Blackhawks more likely to repeat as champions or miss the playoffs?

JB: Repeat as champions. Nobody’s done that in the salary-cap era, but some team will eventually. I actually think the Hawks upgraded at second-line center by getting Artem Anisimov.

JO: Miss the playoffs. The Blackhawks are no more immune to missing the postseason than the Kings were last season.

RD: Repeat as champions. They’ve had significant turnover, but they are still built for another serious run.

MH: Miss the playoffs. The last time they lost so many guys (after 2010), they barely qualified and lost in the first round.

11. Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel: who will finish with more points?

JB: McDavid. He’s a points machine, and he’s already showing chemistry with Taylor Hall.

JO: McDavid. Believe the hype.

RD: McDavid. As great as Eichel looks, which is pretty freaking great.

MH: McDavid. McDavid will score more with Hall, who’s a better trigger man than anyone Buffalo can put with Eichel. Yeah, yeah, Evander Kane scored 30 goals once. I know.

12. McDavid’s Oilers or Eichel’s Sabres – which team will finish higher in the standings?

JB: Sabres by a nose. But both teams still have serious blue-line deficiencies, with questionable goaltending to boot. I expect each to be back in the draft lottery.

JO: Oilers. It’s beyond “put-up or shut-up” time for the Oil, while Buffalo remains a work in progress.

RD: Oilers. Edmonton’s core is more firmly in place compared to Buffalo, which will need some time to come together.

MH: Brough’s right on this one, and it pains me to say that. Buffalo by the slimmest of margins.

13. If neither McDavid nor Eichel win rookie of the year, this player will:

JB: Sam Bennett in Calgary. Have I mentioned the Flames are going to be a serious contender soon?

JO: Sam Bennett. I know, not very creative.

RD: Sam Bennett. The Flames only had one good scoring line last season, but Bennett will help change that.

MH: I think James and Ryan are scared of disagreeing with Brough. I’ll take Max Domi in Arizona.

14. A young player (not a rookie) who’s primed to take the next step is…

JB: Evgeny Kuznetsov in Washington. He already took a step last season. If he takes another, the Caps have a legit shot of winning it all.

JO: Jonathan Drouin for the Bolts. The talent is obviously there. He just needs to earn his coach’s trust.

RD: Valeri Nichushkin in Dallas. He might have taken that step last season if not for his hip injury.

MH: Matt Dumba in Minnesota. His rise will also allow the Wild to cut Ryan Suter to a mere 47 minutes a night, which is nice.

15. The team that should be most worried about its goaltending is…

JB: Dallas. The Stars have a huge amount of cap space tied up in Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, neither of whom are trending in the right direction.

JO: Calgary. It’s astounding they made the playoffs considering how mediocre their net play was last season.

RD: San Jose. Martin Jones and Alex Stalock are cheap for a reason. Neither’s done much at the NHL level.

MH: Edmonton. The starter (Cam Talbot) has never been a full-time starter before. The backup (Anders Nilsson) has never been a full-time backup before. And behind that defense? Yikes.

16. The team that should be most worried about its defense is…

JB: Boston. Only Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have averaged more than 20 minutes in a full NHL season. Chara is 38. Seidenberg is 34, and starting the season hurt.

JO: Carolina. Justin Faulk is a gem, no doubt, but it feels like their defense has been leaky since … always?

RD: Edmonton. The Oilers have made strides towards addressing the blue line, but it remains a significant point of concern.

MH: Pittsburgh. The group was held together by medical tape last year, dressed two warm bodies in the playoffs, lost Paul Martin, and the big offseason get was… Adam Clendening?

17. The team that should be most worried about its forwards is…

JB: Nashville. True, guys like Craig Wilson and Colin Smith are underrated, but the Preds don’t have a Hart, Art Ross, or Selke candidate up front. When was the last time a team won a Cup without one or two of those?

JO: Toronto. People loved bashing Phil Kessel; just wait ’til they see the drop-off now that he’s gone.

RD: New Jersey. But drafting Pavel Zacha was a good start to solving the problem. Did you know that Zacha was the first forward the Devils drafted in the top 10 since Bill Guerin?

MH: Boston. Last year’s forward group struggled to score, and now it’s without Milan Lucic, Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith. Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes aren’t going to make it all better.

18. The player with the most to prove is…

JB: Alex Semin. With all that’s been said about him? He’d better have something to prove.

JO: Ryan O'Reilly got his money. Now it’s time to show he was worth it.

RD: Evander Kane’s time in Winnipeg didn’t end well. He’s getting a fresh start in Buffalo, surrounded by young talent.

MH: Rick Nash. Not regular season Rick Nash, of course — I mean playoff Rick Nash. The Rangers’ Cup window is closing, and he can’t pull another Houdini act as soon as the games start to matter. He’s paid to score goals.

19. The best free-agent addition will be…

JB: Paul Martin in San Jose. Under-the-radar signing. The Sharks should expect nothing less than getting back to the playoffs.

JO: Christian Ehrhoff for $1.5 million seems like a good deal for the Kings, as long as he can stay healthy.

RD: Cody Franson in Buffalo. The Sabres took advantage of favorable market conditions to get him at a steep discount.

MH: Justin Williams in Washington. Perfect fit for that team. HE WINS GAME 7’s!

20. Phil Kessel’s goal total: over or under 40?

JB: Under. That’s not a knock on Kessel; he’ll get a lot of goals. But only three guys scored more than 40 last year. It’s the new 50.

JO: Over, barely. A scary power play will push him over the top.

RD: Over. If Kessel could score 37 goals with Tyler Bozak as his regular center, then getting paired up with Sidney Crosby should be enough to push him over that hump.

MH: Under. He’ll get around 35, which is by no means a bad year.

21. Will Steven Stamkos re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning?

JB: Yes, with 70 percent confidence. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, but come on, you don’t trade a guy like Steven Stamkos. Do you?

JO: Yes, big-time free agents almost never go free in the NHL, which is kind of a bummer in some ways.

RD: No. Stamkos is a critical part of the Lightning and if they weren’t able to come to terms with him this summer in spite of that, then that’s telling to me.

MH: Yes. The key is Steve Yzerman making the money work, which he will. He kinda has to.

22. One big-name player that will get traded before the Feb. 29 deadline is…

JB: Is Mark Streit a big name? I’ll say him. He’s 37 and has two years left on his contract. Obviously, he’s not part of the Flyers’ future. Might as well flip him to a contender.

JO: Dustin Byfuglien. Another tough call for Kevin Cheveldayoff, especially if the Jets are in a playoff position at the deadline.

RD: Eric Staal. Carolina is likely to miss the playoffs for a seventh straight season and there’s questions as to whether he’ll re-sign.

MH: Shane Doan. The Coyotes will to be horrible and, to thank Doan for his years of service, they’ll send him to a contender.

23. The first head coach to be fired will be…

JB: Claude Julien. Cam Neely says he’s not on the hot seat, but I have trouble believing that.

JO: Claude Julien, though I also considered Jack Capuano and Mike Yeo.

RD: Claude Julien, but I don’t feel great about that prediction.

MH: The three amigos strike again. You all said Claude Julien when there’s a perfectly good Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis.

24. The NHL general manager on the hottest seat is…

JB: Jarmo Kekalainen. Not because I think his job is in jeopardy, but he’s committed a lot of money to that roster and it’s time for some results. Just ask Blue Jackets superfan Mike Halford.

JO: Dale Tallon. The Panthers haven’t played self-destructive GM roulette in a while …

RD: Doug Armstrong. I’ve liked the Blues for a while now, but every year they fall flat in the playoffs causes the pressure on management to increase.

MH: Jim Rutherford. Did everybody forget that Pens ownership had to give him a vote of confidence after his first year on the job? Now imagine if Kessel’s a flop.

25. True or False: the NHL will expand to Las Vegas and Quebec City this season.

JB: True. I just have trouble picturing the owners saying “Nah, we’ll pass” on divvying up $1 billion. Never know if that money’s still there in the future.

JO: True. Although the wilting Canadian dollar does make me worry a bit about Nordiques Redux.

RD: False. The short-term payoff has to be weighed against the long-term risks, and Quebec City raises concerns because of its market size and the Canadian dollar. I think the NHL is more likely to wait for a market like Seattle.

MH: True. /makes money sign with fingers

26. I’ll be a happy hockey fan if…

JB: We see a legitimate Cinderella run in the playoffs. And don’t tell me the 2012 Kings already did that. I’m talking about a bad possession team like Calgary last year or Colorado the year before, but instead of getting knocked out early, it goes all the way. Let’s see a team beat Corsi!

JO: Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel produce rookie seasons that rival the ones by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. We can pretend they hate each other!

RD: A budget team wins the Stanley Cup. I know I just wrote that I don’t think Quebec City will end up with an expansion franchise, but I love seeing that type of market succeed.

MH: Some youngish veterans that got squeezed by the cap crunch get NHL jobs. Curtis Glencross being out of work at 32 makes me sad.

27. I’ll be a sad hockey fan if…

JB: Coaches find a way to ruin 3-on-3 overtime. Because you know they’ll try their best.

JO: The NHL doesn’t do anything to address the lack of goal-scoring.

RD: If McDavid or Eichel suffer a serious injury — and worse still, if it’s a concussion.

MH: The Canadian dollar keeps falling. I don’t know much about economics (OK I know nothing about economics), but I do know a sagging loonie makes free agency way less fun.

28. Your worst prediction from last season was…

JB: Picking the Flames to finish last. Not only did Calgary make the playoffs, the Sabres were so, so bad.

JO: Silly me for thinking the Pittsburgh Penguins would part ways with Marc-Andre Fleury.

RD: I didn’t have enough faith in Peter Laviolette and picked him to be the least successful new coach.

MH: I said Carolina’s goaltending situation would be the most interesting to follow, which was wrong because it wasn’t interesting at all.

29. The prediction you’re least confident about this season is…

JB: The expansion one, because the NHL clearly wants to be in Seattle. If somebody in that city can get their act together over the next few months, Quebec City could be out.

JO: Saying Calgary is getting too much respect. There’s decent reason to believe the Flames will be a better possession team this year. That wasn’t really the case with Colorado last season.

RD: Picking Claude Julien as the first coach to be fired. The first one to go is often out of left field.

MH: Everything pertaining to the Blue Jackets. I might be a little too high on Columbus.

30. Finally, make a crazy prediction that probably won’t happen, but on second thought, you never know…

JB: The Oilers miss the playoffs and win the draft lottery. An investigation is launched. People go to jail.

JO: Jaromir Jagr leads the Florida Panthers in scoring. His mullet finishes second.

RD: Connor McDavid wins the Art Ross Trophy. And, somehow, the Norris Trophy.

MH: The Canadian dollar makes a triumphant comeback, because it’s gritty and clutch, like a good Canadian kid.

Enjoy the season!

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

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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.

• 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

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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
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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

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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.