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NHL Power Rankings: Here come the Golden Knights

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So let’s talk about the Vegas Golden Knights for a little bit.

At this point they are no longer just a fun story at the start of the season. They might actually be a legitimately good hockey team that is getting better.

They enter the week riding their second five-game winning streak of the season and what makes this one so impressive is the fact they are starting to carry the play in games. It is not just a matter of of them winning games with some percentage based success. During their current winning streak the Golden Knights have attempted 54 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts in its games and has outshot every single team during the streak by a a 180-120 margin. That includes two absolutely dominating performances against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

What makes all of this even more astonishing is the fact they are still doing it with their third, fourth and fifth string goalies.

The driving force behind Vegas’ success has clearly been the play of their forwards, with James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, David Perron and William Karlsson all putting up huge numbers.

The Golden Knights are already off to the best start of any expansion team in NHL history, so now we really have to start asking if this team is a legitimate threat to make the playoffs.

Recent history suggests they just might be.

As of Monday they have 31 points in their first 22 games. Over the past five seasons there have been 23 teams that had a similar start. Twenty-one of those teams went on to make the playoffs.

Early on Vegas’ success seemed to be more of an unsustainable, percentage driven run of good luck producing unexpected results.

Now the process is starting to match the results.

We have them among the elites in this week’s edition of the power rankings, as well as new teams at the top and bottom of the rankings.

The best of the best

1. St. Louis Blues — We have a new team in the top spot, and it is still incredible what this team has accomplished this season given the injury situation it has dealt with at times.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Still a terrifying team, but it was only a matter of time until they hit a little bit of a cold snap. That has happened this past week with two regulation losses in a row. The first time all season that has happened.

3. New Jersey Devils — Simply one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season and it is a lot of young players (Nico Hischier, Will Butcher) making a big impact. Taylor Hall is also having what could be a career year.

4. Vegas Golden Knights — If the Devils are one of the biggest surprises, then Vegas is most definitely the biggest surprise.

5. Nashville Predators — Kyle Turris has already made a huge impact since his arrival in Nashville. With that center depth this is going to be a fierce team to contend with.

The second tier

6. Columbus Blue Jackets — They are not scoring goals at the same pace they did a season ago but Sergei Bobrovsky looks like he is putting together yet another Vezina Trophy caliber season in net.

7. Winnipeg Jets — Connor Hellebuyck has been quite a pleasant surprise this season. His play in net is a big reason the Jets have climbed to the top of the standings.

8. New York Islanders — Goaltending could be a concern, but this is an offense that is clicking on all cylinders right now. For as great as John Tavares has been the team’s leading scorer as of Monday is … Josh Bailey.

9. New York Rangers — The overall record is not great but since starting the season 2-6-2 the Rangers have won 11 of their past 14 games including four in a row entering the week.

10. Washington Capitals — They may not win the Presidents’ Trophy for a third consecutive season but this is still a dangerous team. Alex Ovechkin is currently on pace for close to 60 goals this season.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — They tend to run really hot and cold, which is probably what should be expected of a young team with a ton of talent but still a couple of weaknesses that need to be addressed.

The middle ground

12. San Jose Sharks — The duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has been tremendous in net this season and has helped the Sharks become one of the toughest teams in the league to score against.

13. Los Angeles Kings — After an incredible start the Kings have won just two of their past nine games and are back to having trouble finding the back of the net. This looks familiar.

14. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau has taken the leap from “good young player” to “one of the most dominant offensive players in the NHL.”

15. Chicago Blackhawks — More than a quarter of the way through the season and I am still not sure what to make of the Blackhawks. Sometimes they look like a contender again. Sometimes they look like the top-heavy team that lacks depth on paper.

16. Boston Bruins — When they are healthy they can be an extremely dangerous team. Still need a little more depth. But the top of the lineup is strong.

17. Carolina Hurricanes — Teuvo Teravainen is starting to put it together. This has the makings of a breakout season for him.

18. Vancouver Canucks — Brock Boeser has been everything the Canucks have needed in a young player. Currently leading all NHL rookies (and the Canucks as a team) in scoring.

19. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is proving that last season’s bounce back year in Minnesota was not a fluke.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins — Great showing against Tampa Bay, but still a team that has a lot of holes that need to be addressed before it can make another Stanley Cup run.

21. Dallas Stars — They won the offseason again, but the results still are not what they should be on the ice given all of the roster movement and preseason hype.

22. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries, particularly to centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, have absolutely devastated this team’s ability to score goals.

23. Ottawa Senators — Okay maybe we had them a little too high in recent editions of the power rankings. They enter the week with six losses in a row and have won just eight of their first 22 games. This is starting to become a concern.

24. Montreal Canadiens — Just when it looked like Montreal was starting to turn it around they go and drop six of their next eight games.

25. Detroit Red Wings — They have probably overachieved a bit to this point and it is kind of amazing they open the week in a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. Still, their points percentage is 24th in the NHL. This is not a good team.

26. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon is having a breakout season for the Avalanche, while Mikko Rantonen and Alexander Kerfoot look like they can be players to maybe build around. It is not much, but it is a little progress.

The Basement

27. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid‘s defense has been called into question. Why is it that when a team underachieves or fails to meet expectations the blame always shifts to the best players and not, say, the management team that put together a flawed roster around the game’s best player?

28. Philadelphia Flyers — With wins in just three of their past 15 games it is a big fall in the rankings for the Flyers. They enter Monday on a seven-game losing streak.

29. Florida Panthers — This team could really use a couple of forwards like Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith at the moment.

30. Arizona Coyotes — With wins in four of their past six games the Coyotes are able to finally climb out of the bottom spot in the power rankings. This team was never as bad as its early record indicated. How good is it? Still a mystery. But it was never that bad.

31. Buffalo Sabres — Such a disappointing situation. This team should be so much better than it is at this point and it only seems to be taking steps backwards.

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.

Panthers ready to welcome Mike Hoffman, fiancee with ‘clean slate’

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When Dale Tallon was contacted by Pierre Dorion last week about potential interest in Mike Hoffman, the Florida Panthers general manager thought the asking price from the Ottawa Senators GM was a bit high. He put that conversation to the side until he was contacted Monday night by Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks. Then a deal was made.

It was a wild Tuesday morning that saw Hoffman traded twice in the span of a few hours. He first went from Ottawa to the Sharks and then was later flipped to the Panthers.

“We felt this would be a perfect fit for our team,” Tallon said on a conference call Tuesday morning. “He’s 28, he can score, he can skate, he’s got a cannon for a shot.”

Hoffman, who played with Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau for one year with the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, has scored 104 goals over the last four seasons and was the type of player Tallon was looking to add to his lineup to potentially play alongside Vincent Trocheck.

“Our power play will be better, too. He’s got a great one-timer, great shot,” Tallon said.

[Sharks flip Hoffman to Panthers]

Dorion was seeking players in a return, presumably so the team could stay above the salary cap floor for next season with more trades likely on the way (Karlsson, Bobby Ryan?). Wilson, however, was merely looking for draft picks for Hoffman as he’s been clearing cap space with many believing he’ll go strong after Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares.

By acquiring Hoffman, that comes with the questions about last week’s allegations about his fiancee cyberbullying Erik and Melinda Karlsson. 

Tallon said he spoke with some of his players and staff and “had no pushback at all” when it came to bringing Hoffman and his fiancee, Monika Caryk, into the Panthers family. “I trust my guys. I trust my staff,” he said.

He also spoke with Hoffman directly and Tallon noted he has a good relationship with the player’s agent, former NHLer Mike Liut. He feels confident that Hoffman and Caryk will be embraced by the team and by the Panthers’ wives and girlfriends.

“Together, we discussed that what happened there is in the past and we’re moving forward with a clean slate,” Tallon said.

————

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.

Sharks flip Hoffman to Panthers; Clearing space for Kovalchuk, Tavares?

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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Mike Hoffman has been traded.

Hours after going from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Hoffman found himself on the move, again, as the Sharks flipped him to the Florida Panthers along with a seventh-round pick in 2018. In return, the Panthers gave up second-rounder in 2019, a fourth and fifth-round pick in 2018.

“Mike is a skilled, consistent and hard-working player who has proven himself to be a talented goal scorer in the NHL,” said Panthers general manager Tallon. “His speed, experience and offensive abilities will bolster our top-six group.”

Obviously, we know what the Panthers are getting in Hoffman. He’s scored at least 22 goals in each of his last four seasons, but he comes with some baggage. Hoffman’s fiancee, Monika Caryk, had an order of protection filed against her by Erik Karlsson‘s wife, Melinda, last month.The Hoffmans have since denied those allegations, but it made for a messy situation in Ottawa.

The Sens were motivated to unload Hoffman as soon as possible, but they obviously took an inferior deal to make sure he didn’t stay in the Atlantic Division. Unfortunately for the Senators, the Sharks seemed to have pulled a fast one on them.

You’re probably wondering why San Jose would acquire the 28-year-old from Ottawa just to ship him away hours later. Well, they managed to dump underachieving forward Mikkel Boedker‘s $4 million salary to Ottawa in the first trade and now they’ve sent Hoffman’s $5.187 million salary to Florida for draft picks.

“This series of trades has allowed us to accomplish several organizational goals,” Sharks GM Doug Wilson said. “We have witnessed some tremendous growth in our younger forwards over the past season and we feel that we have another group of players that are ready to challenge for additional ice time, including Kevin Labanc, Marcus Sorensen, Dylan Gambrell, Max Letunov, Rudolphs Balcers, Antti Suomela, Vincent Praplan and Lukas Radil. These transactions have also allowed us to add to our pool of draft selections, as well as free up a substantial amount of cap space for internal and external player options in the coming months.”

The Sharks have been linked to both John Tavares and Ilya Kovalchuk, so you’d have to imagine that this extra cap space they’ve created will go towards trying to sign one or both of those players.

The salary cap is expected to jump to anywhere between $78 million and $82 million. If we split the difference and project ahead to a cap of $80 million, that would leave the Sharks with $16.5 million. They still have to re-sign RFAs Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney, so it’s more realistic to assume that they would only be able to afford one of Kovalchuk or Tavares. But if today’s trades have taught us anything, it’s that anything is possible when it comes to hockey transactions.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

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Thanks, Vegas.

That’s what NHL general managers are saying this offseason after the success of the expansion Golden Knights contributed to what’s expected to be a healthy increase for the salary cap. With elite center John Tavares, No. 1 defenseman John Carlson and a strong group of free agents available soon, the ceiling for player spending will rise to between $78 and $82 million from $75 million.

“The higher the better,” Washington Capitals Stanley Cup-winning GM Brian MacLellan said. “It makes it a lot more fun.”

Gentlemen, open your wallets – players like Tavares, Carlson and forwards James van Riemsdyk and Paul Stastny won’t come cheap. They’re just a few of the big-name players who could be on the move this offseason.

With GMs meeting Thursday in Dallas and around each other this weekend at the draft, trade talk is percolating before free agency opens in July. Ottawa forward Mike Hoffman, Buffalo center Ryan O'Reilly, Pittsburgh forward Phil Kessel, Montreal captain Max Pacioretty and Washington backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer could all be on the move in the next several days.

Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson is the star who will go to the highest bidder if the Senators are willing to trade the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman with one year remaining on his contract. GM Pierre Dorion is in a tough spot, potentially having to deal either Karlsson or Hoffman after it was revealed last week that Karlsson’s wife Melinda has filed an order of protection against Hoffman’s girlfriend, Monika Caryk, alleging harassment and bullying.

Decisions are far more immediate for the Islanders and Capitals. New York should probably make a move to re-sign Tavares before its face of the franchise can begin speaking with other teams June 25, and recently hired president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello has to hire a new coach.

The Islanders might’ve gotten a fortunate bounce there when Barry Trotz resigned from his job with Washington less than two weeks after lifting the Cup. Re-signing Tavares and hiring a replacement for fired coach Doug Weight go hand-in-hand.

If it doesn’t work out and Tavares hits the open market, a contract with a salary approaching Connor McDavid‘s $12.5 million isn’t out of the question. Nashville GM David Poile said cap situations put five or six teams in position for top-end free agents and knock about half the league out of the running.

“We all have different commitments already of contracts,” Poile said. “Some teams have a lot of room. Some teams don’t have very much room.”

Big-revenue teams with money to spend include the retooling New York Rangers and the rising Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers are among several teams linked to Russian Olympic MVP Ilya Kovalchuk, who’s looking to return to the NHL after five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, who won an Olympic gold medal with Kovalchuk, is back in the U.S. and could also be on the way to returning. Voynov was convicted of domestic abuse and is suspended indefinitely by the NHL, which makes it unclear how a team will pave the way for him to play.

Even excepting Voynov, hundreds of current free agents don’t know where they’ll be playing next season. Beyond Tavares, Carlson is the most in-demand pending free agent after leading all defensemen in regular-season and playoff points.

Carlson plans to have his day with the Stanley Cup in Washington, but because of the uncertainty of the offseason, there’s no guarantee he’ll be there this fall.

“We’ll see what happens,” Carlson said. “We’ll talk and go from there. I don’t really know what else to say other than that. I love it here and all that, I want to stay here, but there’s more to it than that.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

PHT Morning Skate: Bob McKenzie’s final prospect rankings; Pens need to make moves

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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.

• TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie came out with his final prospect rankings for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. These are always must-see for every hockey fan. Yes, Brady Tkachuk is in the top three and Jesperi Kotkaniemi makes an appearance in the top five. (TSN.ca)

• Now that the Capitals won the Stanley Cup after many thought their championship window had closed, Sean McIndoe looks at eight teams who enter next season in a similar position. (Sportsnet)

• Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had one of the best seasons between the pipes in franchise history, but is it enough for him to come away with the Vezina Trophy? Bryan Burns makes a case for Vasilevskiy. (NHL.com/Lightning)

• TSN’s Frank Seravalli looks at the three biggest priorities for every Canadian team in the NHL this summer. The Sens have already accomplished one of their three goals, so that’s pretty good! (TSN.ca)

• Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty made an appearance at the Open Door homeless shelter in Montreal. Pacioretty and his wife donated sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres to the shelter. (Montreal Gazette)

• Sportsnet breaks down all the latest news and rumors regarding the top 12 potential free agents. Yes, John Tavares is at the top of the list, but there’s also some other quality free-agent options. (Sportsnet)

• The best way to improve the Penguins roster is for GM Jim Rutherford to make a splash or two at this week’s NHL Draft. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)

• Hall-of-fame defenseman Denis Potvin has some advice for Rasmus Dahlin: “I know the great career Phil (Housley) had as a player, the fantastic skating abilty he had and the way he was able to put up points so consistently. I just sure hope his focus is to make sure the young man plays defense first. And that will take teaching, I don’t care where he comes from.” (Buffalo News)

• Former NHL defenseman Sheldon Souray opened up about his battle with pain medication. “At the beginning, it was embarrassing. I never felt really like telling my story. All my friends know, obviously, and I’m very proud of it now. (Montreal Gazette)

• Adidas has created a custom Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Champion shoe. It looks exactly how you’d expect it to look. (BarDown)

• How would signing John Tavares affect the Vegas Golden Knights’ forward lines? Let’s just call that a classy problem. (SinBin.Vegas)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.