Getty

The Canucks have a big decision to make with Erik Gudbranson

4 Comments

Erik Gudbranson got his first goal as a Vancouver Canuck last night in Tampa.

It was not the most beautiful goal ever scored, coming halfway through the first period, after Gudbranson wristed a point shot wide. The puck bounced off the boards, hit Ben Bishop‘s left pad, and slid into the net, giving the Canucks a surprising 2-0 lead.

Vancouver would go on to win, 5-1, handing the Bolts an embarrassing loss to a team they should’ve been able to beat.

But the night was a welcome reprieve for Gudbranson, who’s “struggled a little” since coming to Vancouver in an offseason trade with Florida. The 24-year-old defenseman is a minus-13 in 27 games, partly due to his team’s lack of goal-scoring, but also because of his own inconsistent play.

“I personally struggled a little with the new systems and adapting to it and finding a way within that system to play physical,” he told the Vancouver Sun recently. “I want to be tough to play against. I want guys to know they’re going to get hit if they come to my side. For a while there, I was struggling to find a way to have that presence.”

Gudbranson (1G, 4A) has been paired exclusively with young Ben Hutton, and those two have been playing big minutes with Alex Edler and Chris Tanev out injured.

It’s actually a good opportunity for the Canucks to see what they’ve really got, because Gudbranson is a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights. This is his sixth season in the NHL, so he only needs one more season before he’s into his unrestricted years. His current cap hit is $3.5 million, and he probably won’t be looking to take a pay cut.

What to do with Gudbranson represents a huge decision for Canucks GM Jim Benning, who sent a good prospect in Jared McCann, as well as a second-round draft pick, to Florida to get the former third overall pick. Signing Gudbranson to a long-term contract is one option. But another has to be flipping him for help elsewhere, especially if Tanev isn’t going anywhere.

“We have depth on defense,” Benning said recently. “We’ve rebuilt our defense. (Nikita) Tryamkin is 22 years old, (Troy) Stecher is 22 years old. (Alex) Edler at 30 is our oldest defenseman, so we have a young, good group back there. We have depth back there. So if we look to make a move, we’d have to use some of our depth on the blue line to add a forward.”

Gudbranson, Tanev, and Stecher all play the right side, and Tryamkin can play it, too. Edler, Hutton, and Luca Sbisa play the left side. So does Olli Juolevi, who could be in the NHL next season.

So, do the Canucks see Gudbranson as a top-four defenseman? Or, is he a bottom-pairing guy behind Tanev and Stecher? Because if he’s a bottom-pairing guy, it’ll be hard to justify paying him big money on a long-term deal.

In fact, that’s why the Panthers traded him. It’s not because they didn’t like him. They just didn’t like him enough. They wanted puck-movers like Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, and Gudbranson is about as stay-at-home as it gets in today’s fast-paced NHL.

To be sure, there is a lot to like about Gudbranson. He’s big and he’s tough and he sticks up for his teammates. He’s always got a positive attitude.

“He’s a player that, in the analytics, maybe things don’t always measure out like you’d want them to,” Benning conceded back in September. “But as far as the intangibles, I really think he’s going to help our back end and our whole team.”

But again, how much is that worth?

Because in the salary-cap era, where every dollar counts, teams have to be very careful about overpaying for “intangibles.” The Canucks do have some cap space for next season, but remember that Bo Horvat is a pending RFA whom they’d like to get signed long term. And let’s face it, Vancouver isn’t good enough to waste cap space. If the money’s not going to good use, it needs to go elsewhere.

The Buzzer: Blue Jackets hold on for six wins in a row

Blue Jackets six wins in a row the buzzer
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Stars

1. Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets continue their run of resiliency by fighting back from three deficits (1-0, 2-1, and 3-2) to win in regulation. Their narrow victory against the Jets pushes the Blue Jackets to six wins in a row. With that, they tie the Panthers for the hottest streak entering the All-Star break.

Dubois ended up as Wednesday’s only three-point player, collecting them all on assists. That outburst leaves Dubois with 38 points in 51 games this season.

While those aren’t astronomical numbers, his strong all-around play confirms to me that PLD isn’t just a product of Artemi Panarin.

Now, does Panarin boost the numbers of about everyone he plays with, though? Sure, but Dubois is proving that he can stand on his own.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bjorkstrand merits an argument as the top star of the day. If nothing else, the winger is hotter than PLD — and plenty of others — if you zoom out.

Bjorkstrand scored two goals for Columbus for the third game in a row. In all three cases, Bjorkstrand collected the game-winning goal. Hmm … maybe Bjorkstrand really deserves that top star nod?

Watch out for a possible strong finish to 2019-20. Last season, Bjorkstrand scored more goals (16) and points (22) in 34 games after the 2019 All-Star break than he did in 43 games before it (seven goals, 14 points). While I’d chalk quite a bit of that up to linemates — wait for it, Bjorkstrand enjoyed some nice Panarin reps, and some Matt Duchene ones too — Bjorkstrand is also one of those snipers who can get on a hot streak. If he repeats history, it could be a big difference-maker for a Blue Jackets team forced to scratch and claw.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild

Flip Zadina might deserve the nod more than Staal. Zadina, like Bjorkstrand, generated his two points by way of goals. The rookie also affected the game in other ways, firing seven shots on goal and drawing a late penalty that gave Detroit a slight chance for a comeback.

The Wild won, however, and that strikes me as a tiebreaker. That said, even choosing the best Wild skater is tough. I’m giving Staal the edge because both of his points (1G, 1A) were of the primary variety. (Mats Zuccarello‘s 1G, 1A includes a secondary helper). Mathew Dumba makes a strong argument with his two assists and +3 rating, so really, it’s a matter of taste.

Either way, it’s surreal that Staal recently reached 1,000 points. It might even make some of us feel old.

/makes old man noise just from shifting in seat

Highlights

Wednesday provided us with a scant two games, so why not just enjoy clips from both? If you want a standout moment, I’d argue Seth Jones‘ goal was the pick:

Here are the highlights for Minnesota dominating the second period to beat Detroit:

Factoids

  • Again, the Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to six by coming back. It’s apparently their 15th comeback win of 2019-20, second only to the Capitals’ 16 for the most in the league, according to NHL PR.
  • Bjorkstrand became the first Blue Jackets player to score multiple goals in three games or more, via NHL PR. I’m a little surprised Rick Nash never managed that when he was their go-to guy and a premiere power forward.
  • Wednesday marked the first multi-goal game of Zadina’s career. The 20-year-old joins select Red Wings company.
  • Kyle Connor collected his 15th goal since Dec. 1. Auston Matthews is the only player with more (18) during that span, according to NHL PR. Connor has 25 goals overall in 2019-20.
  • Sportsnet stats notes the Jets are 1-6-0 in their last seven, and other numbers are disturbing.

Scores

CBJ 4 – WIN 3
MIN 4 – DET 2

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.

Wild avoid Red Wings upset, now five points from playoff spot

Leave a comment

If the Wild want to make a playoff push, they can’t afford being upset by a team like the Red Wings. Detroit gave Minnesota a scare by going up 2-1 in the first period, but the Wild ultimately won 4-2 on Wednesday.

Wild move within five points from playoff spot

Losing against dreadful Detroit would have been brutal for Minnesota. Instead, the Wild improved to 23-21-6 on the season, or 52 points in 50 games played.

Wild fans searching for optimism will find a mixed bag. The Wild hold an advantage over the two wild-card teams in games in hand, yet the Predators have a bigger advantage in that regard (Nashville: 47 GP) while sitting at 51 points. Take a look at the races for the wild-card spots:

Wild playoff wild card race

Not great, but it could be worse, too.

The larger plus is that, so far, the Wild have mostly taken advantage of a long stretch of home games, as originally discussed here.

Jan. 16: vs. Tampa Bay (3-2 win)
Jan. 18: vs. Dallas (7-0 win)
Jan. 20: vs. Florida (5-4 loss)
Jan. 22: vs. Detroit (4-2 win)
Feb. 1: vs. Boston
Feb. 4: vs. Chicago
Feb. 6: vs. Vancouver
Feb. 7: at Dallas
Feb. 9: vs. Colorado
Feb. 11: vs. Vegas
Feb. 13: vs. Rangers
Feb. 15: vs. San Jose

Three out of four wins is a pretty good start (but a bad “Meatloaf” cover). Once the Wild get back into the groove on Feb. 1, it’s key to exploit that stretch of seven of eight in Minnesota.

Minnesota gutted Wednesday out, dominating the second period in goals (3-0) and shots on goal (14-4). Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Mathew Dumba, and Mats Zuccarello triggered the rally:

Wild need Dubnyk to rebound

Bruce Boudreau deserves credit for molding the Wild into a dominant defensive team. While their scorers won’t terrify opponents, they’ve generally been competent enough.

But if the Wild are going to complete a difficult push into the playoffs, they need Devan Dubnyk to rebound.

Dubnyk came into Wednesday with a troubling .892 save percentage, versus a .915 mark for his career. Just about every metric points to the Wild providing a nurturing atmosphere for their goalies, so the results need to start rolling in.

Granted, sometimes luck just isn’t on your side:

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.

Brady Tkachuk replaces Auston Matthews at 2020 NHL All-Star Game

NHL All-Star Game
Getty
Leave a comment

Due to what the Toronto Maple Leafs are calling a lingering wrist injury, Auston Matthews will not participate in the 2020 NHL All-Star game this weekend in St. Louis, the league announced on Wednesday.

He will be replaced on the roster and in the skills competition by Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk.

Even though he will not participate in any of the events or the game itself, Matthews will still travel to St. Louis for the weekend.

Matthews is in the middle of a career year for the Maple Leafs and has already scored 34 goals and 57 points in his first 49 games of the season. He has scored at least 34 goals every year he has been in the league and is already just six goals away from matching his career high. The only thing that has kept him from hitting the 40-goal mark every season is injuries. It is not yet known if this injury will sideline him for any games when the Maple Leafs return from the break, but he has not missed any games as of yet this season. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, Matthews’ agent said the injury has been bothering Matthews for the past three weeks. The Maple Leafs have not played since Jan. 18 when they lost at home, 6-2, to the Chicago Blackhawks. Their next game is on Jan. 27 against the Nashville Predators.

The Maple Leafs will still be represented by forward Mitch Marner and goalie Frederik Andersen.

As for Tkachuk, the 2018 No. 4 overall pick is in his second year with the Senators. In 48 games he has 15 goals and 27 points.

He will join teammate Anthony Duclair at the game, as well as his older brother, Matthew Tkachuk, who will be there representing the Calgary Flames.

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.

Red Wings vs. Wild livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Minnesota made the playoffs six straight years from 2012-13 to 2017-18 before falling short of the postseason last year. A slow and inconsistent start to 2020 (3-4-1 since Jan. 1) has kept the Wild at the bottom of the standings and just when they put forth a dominant effort with a 7-0 win against Dallas on Saturday, they followed things up with a last-second loss to Florida on Monday.

Sitting last in the Central Division, the Wild will play the fourth game of a season-long seven-game homestand (separated by All-Star break). This homestand is part of a stretch in which Minnesota has 11 home games in a 12-game span and on the season they have fared much better at home.

Monday’s loss was not without positives as Minnesota went 2-for-4 on the power play, their fourth straight game with a power-play goal and second straight with multiple PP goals after going 3-for-3 on the PP Saturday against Dallas. It was just over a week ago that Minnesota went 0-for-5 on the PP vs. Vancouver and committed eight penalties (VAN went 1-for-8 on PP in that game and won 4-1).

With 28 points through 50 games, the Red Wings are on pace to finish this season with just 46 points, which would be the fewest points by any team in an 82-game season since the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 1999-00 (39 points). It would also be Detroit’s worst season since 1985-86, when they finished with 40 points in an 80-game season.

Detroit enters this game having lost five straight (0-4-1) and is coming off a 6-3 loss at Colorado on Monday in which they were outshot 46-25. The Red Wings are 1-for-18 in their last five games on the power play and have given up a league-high nine shorthanded goals this season.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Detroit Red Wings at Minnesota Wild
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Red Wings-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS
Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinFilip Zadina
Robby FabbriValtteri FilppulaGivani Smith
Darren HelmLuke GlendeningAdam Erne
Brendan PerliniChristoffer EhnJustin Abdelkader

Patrik NemethFilip Hronek
Trevor DaleyMadison Bowey
Dennis Cholowski – Alex Biega

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

WILD
Zach PariseEric StaalMats Zuccarello
Jason ZuckerRyan DonatoKevin Fiala
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkLuke Kunin
Jordan GreenwayMikko KoivuRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba
Greg PaterynCarson Soucy

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET, hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.