Getty Images

Let’s pick the 2018 NHL All-Star Game captains

5 Comments

The NHL opened up voting for the 2018 All-Star Game on Saturday. The event will take place the weekend of Jan. 27-28 at Amalie Arena in Tampa. As usual, Saturday night will be all about the Skills Competition, while Sunday will mark the third straight year the league goes with the 3-on-3 divisional tournament format.

Voting, you’ll remember, is only for the four captains representing each division and runs through Jan. 1. The remaining All-Stars will be named some time next month.

So with the All-Star Game on the mind, we decided to take it upon ourselves and help the NHL come up with their four captains. There won’t be any John Scott-type fun this year, unless the NHL agrees to change the Metropolitan Division jerseys to feature Ryan Reavesawesome Phil Kessel shirt.

In the meantime, here’s what we’re going with…

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Sean Leahy: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: This one is pretty automatic. The event is in Tampa. The Lightning are ridiculous. Stamkos is the local captain. He’s going to get the loudest cheers of the weekend with Nikita Kucherov coming in a close second.

Joey Alfieri: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: It’s hard not to root for Stamkos after all the injuries and health scares he’s gone through over the last couple of years. The Bolts captain has had an impressive season so far with 37 points in 26 games, but what’s even more remarkable is that he’s gone from sniper to set-up guy. He might not have a ton of personality, but he’s a feel-good story. Also, the All-Star game is being held in Tampa.

Adam Gretz: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov has more goals and more points, but Stamkos has been the face of the Lightning organization for a decade, the game is in Tampa, and now that Stamkos is finally back healthy again we are being reminded as to just how great of a player he is. A huge portion of his prime years have been taken away. He is back.

James O’Brien: Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Kucherov is way too important to the Lightning’s top pairing alongside Stamkos to be the Robin to Stamkos’ Batman, but he’s certainly paid that way. Hardcore fans know (or hopefully, are starting to truly realize) how great Kucherov is. Mainstream fans might not, so maybe this could be a beacon for them, at least before Kucherov starts collecting hardware at the NHL Awards?

This honor pretty much has to go to a Lightning player since the event is in Tampa, but it’s nice that it’s also warranted.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

Leahy: Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils: Remember, this is a weekend about fun, not super serious hockey. Tavares, Crosby, Kessel, Ovechkin, Bobrovsky… There sure are a handful of solid choices in the Metro, but Boyle’s a great choice here because of how he worked his way back after an early season battle with leukemia and how he’s performed since returning to the ice (4 goals, 6 points in 16 games). Plus, he has personality, which is something that is supposed to shine during All-Star Weekend.

Alfieri: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: I know Kessel isn’t a fan of interviews and being in the spotlight, but hear me out on this one. Kessel plays in the game, while teammate (and resident prankster) Reaves is running around in Kessel-inspired t-shirts playing jokes on him. I seriously believe that would add another layer of entertainment to the weekend’s festivities. If you want Reaves to play in the game, I’m not opposed to it.

Gretz: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: He has been the best player on a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion, plus everybody seems to love him. Seems like a perfect fit for what the All-Star game is supposed to be about: A deserving player that is a fan favorite.

O’Brien: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins: As of this writing, Kessel is the division’s most prolific point producer. This honor serves to right the wrong (the hilarious wrong, but a wrong nonetheless) of Kessel being selected last in the 2011 All-Star fantasy draft. And, really, it must be emphasized over and over that he’s a great player, full-stop. It’s OK if his captain’s ‘C’ is actually one of those hot dogs that curls, turned to the side.

(Honorable mention: Taylor Hall, who deserves to be thought of as more than just a lucky rabbit’s foot for the draft lottery.)

CENTRAL DIVISION

Leahy: Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets: The St. Louis trio of Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are certainly deserving, but Wheeler’s been a beast so far with 35 points in 27 games. He’s been a consistent producer since his first full season in Winnipeg, so this would be a great chance for him to get some more (deserving) love.

Alfieri: Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars: I fully realize I’m going off the board with this pick, but let me explain. I got to cover Radulov a little bit while he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens last season. The guy is funny (he kept referring to Carey Price as “Corey” without even realizing it), he has personality and he’s having a pretty good season in 2017-18. He might not get the national coverage that some of the other players in the division get, but he’d add some life to All-Star weekend.

Gretz: Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are finally, for the first time in their existence, a really good hockey team that has a promising core of impact players to build around. Scheifele has become one of the focal points of that group and has quietly been one of the best offensive players in the league for three years now. Give him his due.

O’Brien: Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: Yes, Schwartz and Schenn have the sexier totals so far this season, but Tarasenko is the guy I’m most confident about when it comes to sustained star play. “The Tank” really isn’t far behind Alex Ovechkin as far as sniping goes, and this honor stands as a testament to that notion.

PACIFIC DIVISION

Leahy: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid will definitely be in Tampa, regardless. They’re having strong seasons. While the NHL tries to get one player from each team involved, who’s to say they don’t go with Drew Doughty for LA? Kopitar is back to being the dominant force we remember and has bounced back with 14 goals and 31 points in 28 games. As an added bonus, he might even bring his awesome pup Gustl to the festivities.

Alfieri: Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights: How can you not go with a Golden Knight here? Marchessault has had a terrific season for the expansion side. He somehow put up a point-per-game in the first quarter of the season, and giving Vegas some more exposure would definitely be a good thing for the team and league. Maybe the team’s Twitter account has rubbed off on him a bit (not too much though).

Gretz: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers for the most part stink. Mismanagement from up top has put a lousy team around the franchise player and they are by far the biggest disappointment in the league this season. That does not mean that Connor McDavid isn’t still the best player in the league.

O’Brien: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Don’t let his hapless team fool you; McDavid is still the best player in the world. Plus he’s been willing to be at least funny-adjacent lately.

Previewing the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers

Leave a comment

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: The Oilers have a new GM (Ken Holland) and a new head coach (Dave Tippett), but as far as personnel changes go, this was a very quiet offseason.

Considering some of the blunders of the Peter Chiarelli era, there might be a feeling of “no news is good news,” although try telling that to Connor McDavid, who didn’t get much of a bright side to look on beyond hoping that Mike Smith channels his solid playoff production, rather than Smith’s more troubling body of work.

The Oilers are almost the same team as last year, although James Neal could be a nice upgrade over Milan Lucic.

Strengths: McDavid! OK, thanks for coming!

Alright, the Oilers also have Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and maybe some help coming – eventually – with prospects such as Evan Bouchard.

And, hey, having the best player in the world is a pretty big strength.

Weaknesses: … And squandering McDavid’s talents almost takes talent in itself.

You know you’re weak on the wings when people are hoping that James Neal is a solution, and crossing their fingers that Alex Chiasson can approach last season’s numbers.

This team is weak on the wings, and that’s far from their only issue. Their defense doesn’t play the sort of modern game that you’d want to propel McDavid in transition, and lacks elite skill overall. Maybe Tippett can scheme this group to competence, but it’s unclear how much potential has been untapped after Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan tried their hands at the same.

Oh yeah, their goaltending duo of Smith and Mikko Koskinen is a bowl of “meh,” too.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Consider this: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is about to enter his ninth season in the NHL, and Tippett will be his ninth head coach.

The Oilers have been the definition of dysfunctional for a distressingly long period of time, and while there’s the feeling that McDavid and others are far beyond the point of being tired of losing, it’s time for some stability. That’s what Tippett represents: a steadying presence, something that must appeal to the deliberate approach Holland also seems to prefer.

That said, Edmonton’s also subject to about-faces, as that seems to be their M.O. Let’s put Tippett at a three.

Three Most Fascinating Players: McDavid, Koskinen, Darnell Nurse

Number 97 would be a pick every year based on his captivating speed and skill alone. Maybe eyes are fixed on him a bit more now, though, as he’s shown signs of frustration, occasionally actually letting that be known in vague media comments. If the Oilers unravel again, will McDavid vent in an even bigger way?

Re-signing Koskinen tied a baffling bow around the Chiarelli era. Along with Smith, it’s tough to know what exactly we should expect from Koskinen. If Tippett’s system dumbs games down and makes it all a slog, that might actually set the stage for some redemption. (James Neal is another fascinating redemption story.)

The Oilers have precious few defensemen of merit, so it’s crucial for them to see Nurse take additional steps forward. Then again, he’s entering a contract year, so they also probably don’t want to break the bank for the RFA. That should make Nurse intriguing to watch.

Playoffs or Lottery: It’s tough to pick against McDavid, especially since Draisaitl and RNH give him some support. One can imagine a decent formula of McDavid + stingy defense and goaltending = grinding out wins.

Hockey teaches us time and time again that one superstar rarely is enough to mask a ton of blemishes, though. While a weak Pacific gives some hope for Edmonton sneaking in, I’d lean closer to the lottery than the playoffs with Edmonton.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Agent surprised Point, Lightning are so far apart ‘this late’

Getty Images
2 Comments

The thought was that Mitch Marner finally signing with the Maple Leafs would set off a flurry of other big RFA signings, but that appears to only be partially true.

Much like the Winnipeg Jets with Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, the Tampa Bay Lightning appear to be at an impasse with star forward Brayden Point. Point’s agent Gerry Johannson admitted as much to Sportsnet 650 on Thursday.

The interview is a mix of good and bad for anxious Lightning fans. The bad is that Johannson said more than once that the two sides aren’t very close to a new deal. On the other hand, Johannson didn’t seem to give the threat of an offer sheet much merit. He comments on both subjects around the three-minute mark, while Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston transcribed this key bit:

“We’ve been sort of ready to go since last July,” Johannson said. “It’s just I’m a little surprised we’re this far apart this late, but on the other hand every negotiation is a bit different and there’s different pressures and different circumstances and all sorts of different things.”

Johannson didn’t give much of an indication regarding whether Point preferred a longer-term contract like something Marner received, or a “bridge” deal like what Brock Boeser signed for with Vancouver.

Via Cap Friendly, the Lightning have about $8.477M in space as of this writing. That honestly feels a little bit low for a 23-year-old forward who generated 41 goals and 92 points in 79 regular-season games last season, even if you account for Point losing less money playing in a tax-friendly state like Florida.

Marner is younger, and Toronto doesn’t have that state tax edge, but you could make some very reasonable comparisons between the two players, especially since Point is a center while Marner is a winger. They’re both impact scorers, and Point may be a little bit more well-rounded, as you may believe when considering metrics such as Evolving Hockey’s RAPM even-strength comparison charts:

Of course, where the Maple Leafs have been paying premiums for Auston Matthews and John Tavares, multiple Lightning players are receiving AAVs below their perceived value, including Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman.

Combine that notion with the feeling that Point very much wants to stay with Tampa Bay – Johannson doesn’t deny that at all – and you can see why the Lightning might be almost brazen about nickel-and-diming Point.

Johannson is right in saying it’s fairly late, with less than two weeks remaining until the 2019-20 regular season starts. Yet Point’s agent himself said that a deal can get done if the will is there, so it wouldn’t be that surprising if Point and the Lightning hash something out soon. Maybe media appearances like these might even speed things up ever so slightly?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Jaromir Jagr is still scoring goals at age 47

Kladno / Twitter
2 Comments

Jaromir Jagr can’t quit playing hockey, and we’re all better off for it.

After saying years ago he’d like to play beyond 50, Jagr can’t stay away from the ice. After returning to Rytiri Kladno, his hometown club that he owns, in 2018 after injuries ended his time with the Calgary Flames, the future Hall of Famer tried to get healthy but managed only 27 total games in a year as he helped the team get promoted from the Czech second division, which included a four-goal game.

An injury kept him out of the lineup early this season, Kladno’s first in the Czech Extraliga since 2014, but on Friday the 47-year-old (!) Jagr was back in action. Playing over 22 minutes, the fifth overall pick in the 1990 (!!) NHL Draft scored a goal during a 7-4 loss to HC Energie Karlovy Vary.

Kladno is winless through three games early in the season.

As for Jagr, the stories of his dedication to training are legendary, which makes the fact he’s playing so late in his 40s not entirely a surprise. Hockey is his life, as he told Sportnet’s Kristina Rutherford in 2015.

“The time between when I quit hockey and I die, I want it to be the shortest,” Jagr said. “It’s not going to be as exciting, that time. So as long as I can play, that’s what I’m doing. If I can play ’til I die, that’s what I will do. What else are you gonna do? Even if you retire, you will still have to go work out, and maybe harder than you do when you play hockey because you don’t want to look ugly and fat. At least I don’t want to.”

Stick-tap Derek O’Brien

————

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Calgary Flames

Leave a comment

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: This was an offseason of mostly lateral moves for the Flames, exemplified by Calgary bringing in an uncertain but slightly younger goalie (Cam Talbot) for an aging and all-over-the-place netminder (Mike Smith).

The Milan LucicJames Neal trade seems like a loss for the Flames, but then again, Neal just didn’t fit for Calgary, to the point that things bordered on awkward.

Let’s consider the Flames marginally worse. In all honesty, the biggest hits came in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they were embarrassed by the Avalanche.

Strengths: When you look at the best of the best in Calgary, the Flames boast talent that can hang with just about anyone. Mark Giordano‘s been considered an uncrowned Norris Trophy defenseman for some time, and he finally sat on that throne after 2018-19. Johnny Gaudreau is one of the most sublimely gifted playmakers in the NHL, and thus helps his top line usually rank among the best in the league most seasons. Matthew Tkachuk isn’t just an antagonist; like Brad Marchand, he’s also a player who annoys opponents because he’s also really good.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the Flames are still a bit lacking when it comes to depth at both the forwards and defense positions. If Gaudreau’s line falters and Tkachuk’s trio cannot score, the Flames are in trouble — and there’s quite a bit of a drop from Giordano to other blueliners.

Goaltending remains a big question, too. Can Talbot form a strong tandem with David Rittich?

[MORE: Under Pressure: Treliving | 3 QuestionsTalbot the X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): For the most part, Bill Peters’ first season in Calgary was a success, although the postseason was rough, and you wonder if some blame Peters for lacking answers as Colorado mopped the floor with his Flames.

Peters’ seat warms up in part because his “riverboat gambler” GM Brad Treliving has made a lot of big bets, and many some are wondering if Calgary should cash out. Coaches often get sent out with fired GMs, so that’s something to consider.

Overall, I’d put Peters at about a four.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Cam Talbot, Matthew Tkachuk, Milan Lucic.

Talbot went from being a fantastic backup with the Rangers to a workhorse early on for the Oilers — to the point that Edmonton wore him out like an NFL RB who saw far too many carries. Talbot’s stature in the league plummeted, yet at 32, he’s not so old that a rebound is totally out of the question.

Tkachuk stands with a handful of high-profile RFA stars who still need new contracts. He’ll be fascinating to watch as those negotiations play out, whether we’re debating the merits of a deal soon, or watching as things drag out into the season. Either way, he’ll draw attention, especially when he has that mouthpiece dangling obnoxiously out of his maw.

Every now and then, a “change of scenery” really does work out, at least if you keep expectations in check. The Flames may end up playing to Lucic’s strengths more effectively than the Oilers, or Lucic may simply have needed a reboot. Or he’s just washed. It could be that last one.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. It seemed like a few Flames played over their heads, and Giordano’s getting up there in age at 35, so there’s a risk that Calgary lags behind the Sharks and/or Golden Knights during the regular season. Still, with the Pacific being as weak as it is, it would be a surprise if the Flames missed the postseason altogether.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.