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NHL Power Rankings: The Lightning, then everybody else

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A little more than one month into the NHL season and we are starting to see which teams are good and which teams are … well … not.

We are still at a point where one or two teams could emerge from the bottom of the pile or fall from the top, but once the NHL season gets to Thanksgiving there typically is not much change in the standings. At least not much of a significant one.

With that said, there should be no question at this moment as to who the best team in the NHL is. It’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, and really, there might not be anybody close to them.

At times this season the Lightning have looked like an on-ice version of the Harlem Globetrotters and have just been toying with their opponents. Entering the week the Lightning have the best record in the league (three points ahead of the next best team) and own a plus-25 goal differential. That is 11 goals better than any other team in the league.

Two of their four losses have come on the second end of back-to-backs (with one of them coming against a team that had been rested for three days). Their current four-game winning streak includes a perfect road trip through California that saw them beat the Kings, Sharks and Ducks (two of those teams are excellent at the moment) by a combined score of 12-4. The fourth win in that streak is against Columbus, another likely contender in the NHL this season.

They have the NHL’s leading goal-scorer (Nikita Kucherov has a three-goal lead over John Tavares) and the top-two point producers (Steven Stamkos and Kucherov), both of whom are at least seven points ahead of the No. 3 scorer in the league (Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler).

As if the talent up front is not enough, their starting goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy has a .930 save percentage in 15 starts.

Right now in the NHL it is Tampa Bay, then everybody else fighting for second.

So where is everybody else at the moment? Let us take a look.

Positively terrifying

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They are, quite simply, the best team in the NHL right now for all of the reasons mentioned above.

The rest of the best right now

2. St. Louis Blues — I had little expectation for the Blues heading into this season, largely due to their injury situation, but they still have the second best record in the league, the second-best goal differential, and one of the best lines in hockey.

3. Los Angeles Kings — Dustin Brown has found the fountain of  youth. He has topped 30 points just once in the past five years with 36 being the high point during that stretch. He is pretty much halfway to that total just 18 games into this season.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs — They hit a little bit of a rut a couple of weeks ago but have come back strong with four straight wins. What is truly impressive is three of those wins heading into the new week came without Auston Matthews.

5. New Jersey Devils — The Devils are … fun?! Seriously, what is this? Who is this team? Fifth in the league in goals scored and coming off of a 7-5 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Brian Gibbons, out of the NHL for two years, somehow has eight goals so far.

6. Ottawa Senators — Everybody complains about watching them play but all they do is collect points. It is not pretty, but this is pro sports. Teams don’t have to apologize for doing what they need to do to win.

Teams on the rise

7. Winnipeg Jets — Could this be the year the Jets finally turn all of that individual talent into something good?

8. New York Rangers — What a difference a couple of weeks can make. After a disastrous start the Rangers have ripped off six wins in a row. Big time move in this week’s rankings.

9. Nashville Predators — No team improved more in the big Matt DucheneKyle Turris-Colorado trade than the Predators thanks to the addition of Turris at the expense of nothing significant from their roster. The defending Western Conference Champs enter the week 7-3-1 in their past 11 games.

10. San Jose Sharks — Entering Monday the only team that has beaten them over their past seven games is the Tampa Bay juggernaut. Just when you think the Sharks are going away they always find a way to still be hanging around in the Western Conference.

11. Washington Capitals — Don’t look now but here come the Capitals! After a slow start they are starting to look like the team that has dominated the regular season the past two years. Entering the week 6-2 in their past eight games while only allowing 16 goals during that stretch.

12. Montreal Canadiens — The overall record still stinks, I get it, but like the Rangers the Canadiens are starting to erase all of the memories from a miserable start to the season with wins in seven of their past 10 games. That qualifies as a team on the rise even if there are a lot of teams in the league that still have a better overall record.

Teams still looking good

13. New York Islanders — Nikita Kucherov’s start has kind of hidden the fact that John Tavares is scoring goals whenever he feels like it as well. Mighty fine time for a contract year, eh?

14. Calgary Flames — Mike Smith is giving the Flames exactly what they need in net. If he can continue to do that they are going to be a tough out in the Western Conference with that defense and that young talent up front.

15. Dallas Stars — I may have underrated them a bit a couple of weeks ago. They are solid, and in a bizarre twist from recent Stars teams are 20th in the league in goals scored and third in goals against. John Klingberg is playing fantastic hockey right now.

Teams on the decline

16. Columbus Blue Jackets — I still like this Blue Jackets team an awful lot and think they can be right there at the end of the season when it comes down to winning the Eastern Conference, but they have slipped a bit in recent weeks with just five wins in their past 12 games.

17. Vegas Golden Knights — Being down to their fourth and fifth goalies is not helping, but they are starting to expansion team results in recent weeks. They still have a lot of forwards playing really well and producing.

18. Philadelphia Flyers — Brian Elliott has started to look better in his recent starts. With their top forwards going the way they are this could still be an interesting team if they can get that goaltending spot solidified.

19. Chicago Blackhawks — After starting the season 3-0-1 with 21 goals in their first four games the Blackhawks are just 5-8-2 with only 32 goals in the 15 games since.

20. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries have decimated this team this season and they just keep getting worse with Ryan Getzlaf being sidelined for another two months.

Still need some work

21. Pittsburgh Penguins — The schedule with all of these back-to-backs is hurting them. So is the bottom of the roster. The depth problems that plagued them from 2010 through 2015 are back in a bad way.

22. Minnesota Wild — It has been the Jason Zucker and Devan Dubnyk show lately, but other than them nobody else is really doing much of anything to help the cause.

23. Carolina Hurricanes — Everything about this team looks good. They are exciting. They play hard. They once again have dominant underlying numbers. But there is still something missing.

24. Vancouver Canucks — They had a great start to the season that seemed to have them exceeding expectations but things are starting to return to normal for the Canucks. The early start was a mirage.

25. Boston Bruins — A very top-heavy roster. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are great, but where else is the offense going to come from?

26. Detroit Red Wings — Anthony Mantha has been a nice bright spot so far this season with a team-leading 16 points. He has been especially strong lately with eight points, including four goals, in his past seven games.

27. Colorado Avalanche — They picked up some intriguing young players in the Matt Duchene trade but an already bad team ended up getting worse in the short-term.

28. Buffalo Sabres — They have scored more than two goals just twice in the past seven games.

29. Edmonton Oilers — Not to keep hitting this same point over and over again, but Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have more points than every player on the Oilers not named Connor McDavid.

30. Florida Panthers — Only two wins in their past nine games with 37 goals against.

31. Arizona Coyotes — In their first 19 games of the season the Arizona Coyotes have exactly zero wins in regulation. Their only two wins, as of Monday, coming by way of overtime or a shootout. That is … really something.

Where does NHL’s coaching carousel stop after Trotz resignation?

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The NHL’s coaching carousel is officially in motion after the stunning news from Monday that Barry Trotz is stepping down as head coach of the Washington Capitals less than two weeks after lifting the Stanley Cup.

It leaves a lot of questions to be answered in the coming days and weeks. Let’s get into some of them!

Is the Capitals’ job Todd Reirden’s to lose?

At the start of the playoffs the possibility of Trotz not returning to Washington seemed to be very real, especially given his contract situation.

If the Capitals fell short of winning the Stanley Cup yet again it seemed inevitable that a coaching change was going to be coming.

Then the Capitals went and actually won the Stanley Cup and at that point it seemed inevitable that Trotz was absolutely going to return, especially when general manager Brian MacLellan said right after the Game 5 victory that if Trotz wanted to return, he would. The whole contract extension issue kept getting pushed back, and then Monday’s news broke that winning the Stanley Cup actually kicked in an automatic two-year extension for Trotz — an extension that would have been below market value for a Cup-winning coach.

With the two sides unable to work out a suitable extension, Trotz stepped down creating the new opening.

The obvious answer here is a promotion from within, and they seem to have a replacement already waiting in current assistant coach Todd Reirden.

[Related: Barry Trotz steps down as Capitals head coach]

Reirden has been with the Capitals as an assistant since the 2014-15 season and has been mentioned as a candidate for several head coaching vacancies in recent years, but the Capitals — obviously valuing him as a coach — did not allow him to interview for head coaching vacancies a year ago. In 2016, he was promoted to associate coach.

One thing is for sure, no matter who takes that job would be facing an enormous amount of pressure. You are not only replacing a coach that just finally helped end the organization’s Stanley Cup drought, but the coach that is without question the most successful coach in the history of the franchise. Expectations are going to be through the roof.

What are Trotz’s options?

Now that Trotz is a free agent his situation becomes especially intriguing because as the reigning Stanley Cup winning coach he can pretty much call his shot.

At the moment his options are extremely limited as the New York Islanders are the only team without a head coach. That could be a pretty intriguing job, especially if the Islanders are able to get superstar center John Tavares re-signed before he hits the open market. That is a dynamic offensive team that could have a superstar in Tavares (assuming he re-signs), an emerging star in Mathew Barzal, another 40-goal scorer in Anders Lee, and two other really strong top-six forwards in Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle. They need to solidify the back end and the disastrous goaltending situation (think about the possibility of a Trotz and Philip Grubauer reunion in Brooklyn!) but there is a lot to work with there.

The Islanders had a bad year, but it is not a situation that is going to require an extensive, lengthy rebuild. With a few tweaks here and there this could be a playoff team this season.

But if that doesn’t appeal to Trotz (or if the Islanders can’t make an agreement work) he is going to have to play the waiting game.

There is always the possibility that another team could see Trotz become available and decide to make a coaching change given the opportunity to add someone of that caliber.

Other than that it might be a waiting game until someone decides to pink slip their coach during the 2018-19 season. There were no coaching changes during the 2017-18 season (almost unheard of in the NHL) but given the availibility of Trotz it is not a stretch to think that a team like St. Louis, Minnesota, or Anaheim could make a change early in the season if things are not going well out of the gate.

The other option: Trotz takes the entire year off and starts fresh in 2019. He would still have the drawing card of being a Stanley Cup winning coach, still be a big name, and still be at the top of almost every “want list” for a team with a vacancy.

Either way, Trotz’s decision on Monday unexpectedly threw the NHL’s coaching carousel into overdrive and it is going to be fascinating to see where it stops.

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.

Barry Trotz steps down as Capitals head coach

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Some massive news from the Stanley Cup champions on Monday as the Washington Capitals announced that Barry Trotz is stepping down as head coach of the team.

“After careful consideration and consultation with my family, I am officially announcing my resignation as Head Coach of the Washington Capitals,” said Trotz in a statement.

“When I came to Washington four years ago we had one goal in mind and that was to bring the Stanley Cup to the nation’s capital. We had an incredible run this season culminating with our players and staff achieving our goal and sharing the excitement with our fans. I would like to thank Mr. Leonsis, Dick Patrick and Brian MacLellan for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this great organization. I would also like to thank our players and staff who worked tirelessly every day to achieve our success.”

At this point you might be thinking to yourself, “wasn’t Trotz a free agent after this season with an expiring contract? What exactly is he stepping down from?” 

Well, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that was going to be true had the Capitals not won the Stanley Cup. But Trotz’s contract had a clause in it that kicked in an automatic two-year extension if the Capitals won the Cup, which they obviously did earlier this month when they defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. According to Friedman the extension was for below the market value given the exploding market for coaching contracts in the NHL.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that it was a $300,000 raise that would have brought his contract value to $1.8 million per year.

The two sides attempted to negotiate a new extension but could not come to terms.

Now that Trotz has resigned, the Capitals will grant permission to any team that wishes to hire Trotz, essentially making him a free agent.

Other than the Capitals, the only other team in the NHL without a head coach at the moment is the New York Islanders and it would be absolutely shocking if they did not have some serious interest in hiring him.

The last two coaches to leave a Stanley Cup champion the year after winning were Scotty Bowman when he retired following the Detroit Red Wings’ win in 2002 and Mike Keenan following the New York Rangers’ win in 1994.

During Trotz’s four years with the team the Capitals won the Stanley Cup, two Presidents’ Trophies, and compiled a 205-89-34 record. No other team in the NHL won more than 192 games during that stretch.

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.

Ryane Clowe to join ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers as head coach: Report

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The Newfoundland Growlers will be the ECHL’s newest team for the 2018-19 season. They have a pretty sweet logo and now have their first head coach.

According to The Telegram, the Growlers are set to name former NHLer Ryane Clowe as head coach this week. Clowe has spent the last two seasons as one of John Hynes’ assistants with the New Jersey Devils.

Last week, the Growlers announced an affiliation agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 35-year-old Clowe, who saw his career end due to concussions, last played in the 2014-15 season, but got his first taste of coaching during the 2012 NHL lockout. After joining up with the ECHL’s now-defunct San Francisco Bulls to skate with the team, he found himself helping out behind the bench during games. That’s when the door opened to a post-playing career.

“It kind of opened my eyes to something maybe after (I finished playing) that I was thinking about possibly doing,” Clowe told Kevin Kurz of The Athletic earlier this season. “I was like, you know what, this is something I really enjoyed when I was behind (the bench). It’s not playing, but it’s kind of second-best. 

“I would have liked to go on longer (as a player), but to get in on an NHL staff right away and now be behind the bench is fortunate.”

During his two years on Hynes’ staff, Clowe was actually still under contract with the Devils as the five-year deal he signed with the team in 2013 finally expires on July 1. He did some scouting for the team in 2015-16, but coaching was the area he found he really wanted to dive into.

“Once I got into coaching, I knew that was where I wanted to be,” Clowe told The Telegram last summer. “And I know that if I get out, not only is it hard getting back in, but I’d likely have to start at the bottom.”

Now Clowe gets to be part of an organization starting from scratch and use the experience he gained from the past two years in New Jersey to get the Growlers off to a good start in their inaugural season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Dave Tippett joins Seattle NHL group as senior advisor

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At this point it simply seems to be a matter of when, and not if, the NHL officially moves forward to expand to Seattle in the coming years. In the meantime, the potential ownership group led by Tod Leiweke continues to take the steps necessary to ensure it becomes a reality.

One of their more recent moves was the addition of former Arizona Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett as a senior advisor for the group.

According to the Seattle Times “nobody is ruling out” the possibilty that Tippett could one day become the first head coach of the yet-to-be-named team, but for now he will help oversee development of the organization.

Here is Tippett talking about his new role, via the Times’ Geoff Baker.

“The challenge of trying to build a team from the foundation up is something not a lot of people get the chance to do,’’ Tippett, 56, told me last week in lower Queen Anne, near his new office at the NHL group’s headquarters. “That’s what makes it very intriguing to me.’’

Tippett, a former winger for 11 NHL seasons with Hartford, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, will bring a hockey insider’s voice to everything, from where to locate the training facility to how to decorate the dressing rooms at a revamped KeyArena.

“There are a lot of times where you need somebody with some hockey experience, whether it be infrastructure like the dressing rooms, the training facilities, or putting together the groundwork of what a skeleton hockey staff would look like,’’ Tippett said.

A player for more than 11 years in the NHL, Tippett most recently worked in the NHL as the head coach for the Arizona Coyotes, a position he held between the 2009-10 and 2016-17 seasons. During his time in Arizona he led the Coyotes to the playoffs three times, including a stunning run to the Western Conference Final during the 2011-12 season. But after five consecutive non-playoff appearances Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways following the 2016-17 season.

He also coached the Dallas Stars for six years, making the playoffs five times.

Tippett’s addition to the Seattle group seems reminiscent of the role former NHL player Murray Craven took on with the Vegas Golden Knights during their expansion process when he joined Bill Foley’s group as an advisor. After serving in that role for two years he was officially named the senior vice president of the team in August, 2016.

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.