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Central Division schedule analysis: What Blackhawks, others face in October

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Teams can transcend back-to-backs and road trips. Conversely, it’s common for squads to squander the opportunities that come with long homestands.

Either way, it’s interesting to break down schedules; context can allow cooler heads to prevail. Sometimes you can see something extra-special forming when a team goes on a run even without factors working in their favor.

This is the third of four divisional breakdowns for October. Check out the Atlantic Division outlook here and the Pacific Division one in this post.

Also, click here for PHT’s in-depth season preview for the Central Division.

Blackhawks (won first two games, both at home)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 @ Toronto
Tue, Oct 10 @ Montreal
Thu, Oct 12 vs Minnesota
Sat, Oct 14 vs Nashville
Wed, Oct 18 @ St. Louis
Thu, Oct 19 vs Edmonton
Sat, Oct 21 @ Arizona
Tue, Oct 24 @ Vegas
Fri, Oct 27 vs Nashville
Sat, Oct 28 @ Colorado

After starting with two games at the United Center, the Blackhawks play six of their next 10 games on the road. It’s a fairly away-heavy schedule through late November, overall. None of it seems too outrageous, though.

The bigger issue might be back-to-back sets, particularly with a core that has a lot of mileage on it. Chicago faces three back-to-back sets in October alone.

Avalanche (One win and one loss, both games on road)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 @ Boston
Wed, Oct 11 vs Boston
Fri, Oct 13 vs Anaheim
Sat, Oct 14 @ Dallas
Tue, Oct 17 @ Nashville
Thu, Oct 19 vs St. Louis
Tue, Oct 24 vs Dallas
Fri, Oct 27 @ Vegas
Sat, Oct 28 vs Chicago

The Avalanche begin the season with a three-game road trip, which ends on Monday. They face a back-to-back set in mid October and late in the month. Starting with five of seven road games is a challenge overall.

Colorado’s schedule is generally heavy on road games through Nov. 19. The table is set for tough times, which might not be such an issue if the Avs count on “tanking,” anyway.

Stars (Lost twice, one at home and one away)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 vs Detroit
Thu, Oct 12 @ Nashville
Sat, Oct 14 vs Colorado
Tue, Oct 17 vs Arizona
Thu, Oct 19 @ Arizona
Sat, Oct 21 vs Carolina
Tue, Oct 24 @ Colorado
Thu, Oct 26 @ Edmonton
Fri, Oct 27 @ Calgary
Mon, Oct 30 @ Vancouver

Don’t be surprised if there’s talk of the Stars being inconsistent even if they start to get it together.

Tuesday begins a reasonably kind stretch, with four home vs. six road games.

They’ll be rotating home and road runs in more dynamic ways starting on Oct. 24. That visit to Colorado begins a five-game road trip, then Dallas will see three at home and three more away.

With one back-to-back remaining in October, it could be worse.

Wild (Lost two games, both on the road)

Schedule

Thu, Oct 12 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 14 vs Columbus
Fri, Oct 20 @ Winnipeg
Sat, Oct 21 @ Calgary
Tue, Oct 24 vs Vancouver
Thu, Oct 26 vs NY Islanders
Sat, Oct 28 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 31 vs Winnipeg

The Wild will close off a three-game road trip on Thursday, although their season also starts with three of five games on the road. Some of that is tempered by the big gap in their loss in Carolina on Saturday vs. Thursday’s trip to Chicago. They begin a five-game homestand on Oct. 24, only to follow that with four away contests.

Minnesota’s going to have to grind to keep from a bad start. This isn’t the most extreme schedule, but it’s not the easiest by any stretch.

Predators (two losses, both on the road)

Schedule

Tue, Oct 10 vs Philadelphia
Thu, Oct 12 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 14 @ Chicago
Tue, Oct 17 vs Colorado
Thu, Oct 19 @ Philadelphia
Sat, Oct 21 @ NY Rangers
Tue, Oct 24 vs Calgary
Fri, Oct 27 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 28 vs NY Islanders

The Predators need to shake off this tough start to the season. With three of four games at home coming up, there’s an opportunity to get back on track (and for boisterous “Smashville” crowds to give this group a little more energy).

Oct. 19 begins a dicey stretch. They play three of five games on the road, but when you check the four-game trip that begins November, that’s seven of nine games away from Nashville from Oct. 19 – Nov. 7.

There are some solid opportunities after that, but the Predators need to keep their cool for the next month or so.

Blues (Won first two games, one at home and one away)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 @ NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 10 @ NY Rangers
Thu, Oct 12 @ Florida
Sat, Oct 14 @ Tampa Bay
Wed, Oct 18 vs Chicago
Thu, Oct 19 @ Colorado
Sat, Oct 21 @ Vegas
Wed, Oct 25 vs Calgary
Fri, Oct 27 @ Carolina
Sat, Oct 28 vs Columbus
Mon, Oct 30 vs Los Angeles

The Blues begin the season with two straight wins, an especially nice achievement considering all the injuries they’re dealing with.

It’s also useful considering what is ahead. Beginning on Monday, the Blues go on a four-game road trip against East teams, including a back-to-back set. The Blues also play six of seven games on the road (and face two back-to-back sets) from Oct. 9-21. Extending from Oct. 9 – 27, seven of nine games are on the road.

Yeah, not easy.

The Blues then get four straight home games and six of seven in St. Louis. Most of that comes in November, so this next month could be a struggle.

Jets (Two losses, one at home and one on the road)

Schedule

Mon, Oct 9 @ Edmonton
Thu, Oct 12 @ Vancouver
Sat, Oct 14 vs Carolina
Tue, Oct 17 vs Columbus
Fri, Oct 20 vs Minnesota
Thu, Oct 26 @ Pittsburgh
Fri, Oct 27 @ Columbus
Sun, Oct 29 vs Pittsburgh
Tue, Oct 31 @ Minnesota

Not the greatest start to the season or to a three-game Western Canada road trip for the Jets here. The good news is that their schedule is fairly reasonable, with only one back-to-back set and fairly standard home vs. away mixes.

Then again, as fun as probably will be to watch, two games apiece against the Blue Jackets and Penguins might not be the easiest draw.

What’s the right contract for Tom Wilson, Capitals?

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What kind of price to put on grit, agitation, intimidation?

In the NHL, it’s something of a Rorschach Test for GMs. It’s easier to gauge the value of elite players and middle-of-the-pack guys when scoring is their calling card, but when it comes to “intangibles,” prices can vary.

Even with that in mind, Tom Wilson stands as a tricky test case.

You can tie yourself in knots examining the agitating winger, especially if you’re a Washington Capitals fan nervously hoping that the RFA signs a deal soon. Relief won’t come from the latest update, either; the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan reports that Wilson’s agent Mark Guy said that the two sides aren’t “done or close.”

Khurshudyan provides some interesting ranges for a possible contract: Guy told her that a new deal could be “north of four years,” while Washington also indicated a preference for a long-term agreement. The salary cap could fall somewhere in the $3.5-$4.5 million range, according to Khurshudyan.

With Wilson (probably wisely) opting against salary arbitration, it’s a lot tougher to guess when something will formulate.

But, hey, that gives hockey people plenty of time to bicker about his value. Back when Wilson was suspended during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert summarized the debate regarding the 24-year-old’s value.

” … He is more accurately described a middle-six forward who has been thrust into a bigger role because Barry Trotz is trying to spread the offense across the first two lines more evenly. A lot is made of the fact that Wilson finished with 32 points at 5-on-5 this season, because that was fourth on the Capitals behind only Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Nick Backstrom. But look at the guys who had that many 5-on-5 points this year: Alex DeBrincat, Dustin Brown, Gabe Landeskog, Gus Nyquist, Josh Bailey, Kevin Fiala, and Vince Trocheck. These are guys for whom a pretty reasonable evaluation is “They’re mostly pretty good,” but not much more than that, and with the exception of Landeskog and Brown, none of them played with guys who, like Ovechkin, were legit MVP candidates.

The remarkable thing about Wilson is that various debates can swing both ways.

From an “intangibles” perspective, you could argue that he can be something of a poor man’s Todd Bertuzzi, “opening up space” for forwards such as Alex Ovechkin, and maybe get opponents off their game with a violent hit or a fight. Conversely, someone could argue that his tendency to take penalties could put his team in a bad position, or perhaps that players looking to deliver crushing checks may find themselves out of position.

The pure numbers get more complicated as you burrow deeper.

On one hand, his career-high came this season, with a modest 14 goals and 35 points. While he rode shotgun with Ovechkin for significant chunks of time, he also didn’t get a lot of reps on the Capitals’ deadly power play.

Wilson’s possession stats were pretty good for a player of his style … yet again, that sometimes came with high-end players, and he also enjoyed some cushy offensive zone starts in some cases, too.

Still, a guy who can score a bit, hit a lot, and kill a ton of penalties brings quite a bit of value. As a former first-rounder (16th overall in 2012), few would doubt that the Caps hold Wilson in high regard.

The Capitals also boast a pretty robust $8.26M in cap space, according to Cap Friendly, so even though they’ve been prudent when it comes to bringing back members of their championship squad, they’d struggle to say that they can’t afford to pay Wilson at full value.

*Phew*

Is your head spinning yet? That would be understandable, and maybe that explains why contract negotiations seem stilted. What kind of deal would make sense for Wilson?

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.

Sharks should still go bold after failing to land Tavares

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No doubt about it, landing John Tavares was the best-case scenario for the San Jose Sharks this summer. They showed as much with what was reported to be a generous offer, but it was not to be.

The question, then, is what is Plan B?

So far, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has been content to lock up some noteworthy in-house talent, and that’s really soaked up a lot of that would-be Tavares money. After signing Joe Thornton for one year, extending Evander Kane to a big deal, and giving term to Tomas Hertl, the Sharks knocked off one of the final items on their to-do list by avoiding salary arbitration with Chris Tierney via a two-year deal.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the cap hit comes in at $2.9375 million per season.

As it stands, the Sharks aren’t actually all that flush with money. According to Cap Friendly, they’re only about $4.4M under the ceiling with all 23 roster spots covered.

Does that mean that Wilson can go tan on a beach for the rest of the summer? Maybe that’s the call now that Tavares is off the table, but allow some advice: the Sharks should instead go for it … in 2018-19.

There are a slew of interesting trade options for players with expiring contracts right now, and for many teams, that’s the stumbling block. Why give up assets just for a guy who can walk in free agency next summer? Such a thought process might explain the lack of an Erik Karlsson trade, in particular, right now.

The funny thing is, the Sharks might get protected from themselves by such a barrier.

Simply put, the Sharks’ core is aging, a point we’ve made plenty of times at PHT. Even beyond the obvious (Joe Thornton at 39), Brent Burns is already 33, Joe Pavelski is 34 and entering a contract year, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 31, and even recently extended Logan Couture is 29. Adding another risky long-term contract could make for a scary situation in San Jose, especially when you consider that Max Pacioretty – one of the optimal targets – is 29 himself.

(Jeff Skinner would theoretically be a more palatable risk since he’s 26, yet just about any long-term contract carries risks for an aging team such as the Sharks.)

Let’s list off the reasons why the Sharks should make big commitments, but mainly for 2018-19, since this is theoretically a great time to poach someone on an expiring contract.

  • Again, this team’s window could close soon. The Sharks might as well swing for the fences while they still can.
  • The free agent market is too shallow for a shark to swim.
  • Beyond the worrisome miles on key players (and the possibility that they might have to let Pavelski walk after this coming campaign), the Sharks are simply formatted for this. They’re already heading into 2019 without their first and fourth-round picks, while their two second-rounders could help them put together the sort of trade package that might be acceptable for a Skinner or Pacioretty.
  • Pacioretty would work under the cap, as his $4.5M cap hit essentially matches the room San Jose currently possesses. They’d either demote someone to the AHL or include some salary in a hypothetical trade to make it actually fit. Skinner’s a little pricier at $5.725M, but moving around deals or some salary retention would alleviate those concerns.
  • Both Skinner and Pacioretty could really give the Sharks that extra boost as scoring wingers. Pacioretty would play with the best center of his career – whether he’d land with Couture or Thornton – while Skinner would be shooting for his first-ever postseason bid. Naturally, both would carry contract motivations, which never hurts one’s ambition.
  • And, hey, maybe a player like Skinner or Pacioretty would earn such rave reviews during an audition that the Sharks decide to re-sign them anyway? The cap could always rise for 2019-20, and such a player could serve as a Pavelski replacement.

That’s a pretty decent list, right?

Now, naturally, the Canadiens and Hurricanes might just want to keep those players for themselves, or perhaps their asking prices will be too steep for San Jose. From here, it sure seems like the right strategy for the Sharks.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it would just be flat-out fun to watch Thornton set up Pacioretty for goal after goal …

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.

Trouba, Jets millions apart as arbitration date nears

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With less than 48 hours to go before his arbitration date, Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets are reportedly millions apart in valuation for the top-pairing defenseman.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Wednesday that Trouba is looking for $7 million per season while the Jets, at the moment, are sitting at the $4-million mark instead.

This isn’t unusual for a team to be low-balling ahead of an arbitration case while a player shoots for the moon — it’s an oft-used strategy.

Trouba’s underlying numbers suggest he’s among the league’s best rearguards, but when it comes to goals and assists, he doesn’t show as well. And with Trouba, there’s always the question about his durability, having completed 81 games just once in his career and never playing more than 65 in a season in his four other seasons in the NHL.

Arbitration is no fun for either side, where the dirty laundry is aired and teams tell players why they don’t deserve the money they think they do. But it appears increasingly likely that Trouba’s July 20 date will come to fruition in what would be a first for the Winnipeg Jets and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff since the team relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.

The Jets also have forward Adam Lowry (July 22), Brandon Tanev (July 25) and Marko Dano (July 30) with scheduled arbitration hearings. Last week, the Jets handed Vezina runner-up Connor Hellebuyck a six-year, $37 million contract, avoiding a potential arbitration hearing with him as well.

Looking at the comparables likely doesn’t favor Trouba and his current valuation of himself.

Take for instance Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He’s in the third year of a six-year deal that sees him pocketing $5.4 million per season.

Jones had 57 points last year, including a career-high 16 goals.

Trouba finished the season with three goals and 24 points and has eclipsed 30 just once (33) in his five-year career.

Colton Parayko also comes to mind.

The St. Louis Blues d-man signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal last summer after a 35-point season and put up the same total in 2017-18.

Another deal that can be used as a comparison is Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. Josi signed a seven-year, $28 million deal prior to the 2013-14 season.

In the two years before signing the deal, Josi’s numbers were comparable to Trouba’s and Josi is now likely going to get a significant pay raise after hovering around the 50-point mark for the past four seasons.

The end game, at least this season, likely results in a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $5 to $5.5 million for Trouba. The Jets have the option to give Trouba two years, but he would become an unrestricted free agent following the 2019-20 season, so a one-year deal makes sense for the Jets and will put both sides in the same scenario next season if a long-term deal isn’t hashed out before then.

Both sides have said they’d like to commit to one another long-term. The Jets would like to see Trouba’s production go up, and if he can hit the 45-50-point window this season, there’s a good chance there wouldn’t be a second arbitration case but rather a long-term deal to stick in Winnipeg.

Trouba has been given everything he wanted after initially wanting out of Winnipeg two years ago. He’s on a contender playing on one of the league’s best shutdown tandems and commanding big minutes every night.

If he wants to get paid like an elite defenseman, he needs to score like one and will have every opportunity to earn the raise next summer, assuming the Jets hand him a one-year deal after their arbitration hearing on Friday.


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: How much, how long for Wilson?; What if Panarin pulls a Tavares?

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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.

Tom Wilson needs a new contract. Said contract is likely to be signed with the Washington Capitals. The question is: how much and for how long? (The Washington Post)

• Assessing the cost if Artemi Panarin pulls a John Tavares and leaves in free agency next summer. (The Dark Blue Jacket)

• The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is investigating after one of its workers made a homemade sign calling for the ousting of Eugene Melnyk. (Ottawa Citizen)

• The New York Rangers coaching a staff is going to have a distinct Boston University feel to it next season. (College Hockey News)

• Should the Boston Bruins make any more moves this offseason? (WEEI)

• The New York Islanders should leave the Barclays Center and Brooklyn behind after next season. (IslandersPointBlank)

• After signing Connor Hellebuyck, is it possible for the Winnipeg Jets to afford the rest of their core? (The Score)

• The Nashville Predators have managed to widen the window they have to win the Stanley Cup. (Pred Lines)

• The Florida Panthers have one prospect, Henrik Borgstrom, who stands as their best and brightest, and maybe their key to pulling the trigger on a trade to bring in a big name. (The Puck Under the Sun)

• A quick check on the rebuild happening in Detroit shows that while it’s not without its flaws, it appears to be moving in the right direction. (The Sporting News)

• Is Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford done dealing this summer? (Penguin Poop)

• Marred by the gong show that is Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, here’s a look at the least evil owners in the NHL. (Welcome to your Karlsson Years)

• A new NHL team in Seattle means a new AHL team to keep all the kids on the farm. Where will that farm be? (NHL To Seattle)

• With James Neal and Elias Lindholm added to the mix in Cow Town, will the Calgary Flames breakup the 3M line? (Puck Daddy)

• Flames GM Brad Treliving has finally filled a hole that has existed in Calgary’s lineup for seven years. (Flames from 80 feet)

• A look at if NHL contracts should include an opt-out option. (Devils Army Blog)

• With Kyle Dubas now steering the ship, is there a way back into the good graces of Mike Babcock for some out in the doghouse? (Editor in Leaf)

• Should the NHL start up a summer league? (Gotham Sports Network)


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