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NHL Power Rankings: The Predators are starting to roll

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The Nashville Predators have not only built a powerhouse team in the Western Conference, they have done it in such a way under the salary cap that they not only have their core locked in for the foreseeable future, they still have enough salary cap space to add players like Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino on long-term deals.

Those additions have helped make an already strong team one of the absolute best in the NHL, and they only seem to be getting better.

They not only enter the week with one of the best records in the league, they are starting to look better than the team that was in the Stanley Cup Final just a few months ago.

Entering play on Monday the Predators 13-2-2 in their past 17 games.

Since acquiring Turris in that blockbuster three-team trade with the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators they are 10-2-2 while Turris himself has already recorded 13 points.

What is perhaps scariest about this team for the rest of the Western Conference is they have not really been fully healthy yet this season. Ryan Ellis, a key part of their defense, which is the backbone of their team, has yet to play this season. Bonino missed a significant chunk of the season and they are currently dealing with injuries to Johansen and Scott Hartnell. When totally healthy this team is going to be an abslute nightmare matchup for just about any team in the NHL with that defense and newfound center depth.

Their current run has them fourth in our power rankings.

Here is a look at where everybody else fits in.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They still have the NHL’s top two scorers, the NHL’s best goal differential, and the NHL’s best points percentage. Kind of hard to put anybody else on top of the league at this point, right?

2. St. Louis Blues — Losing Jaden Schwartz is just another injury added to the list this season for the Blues, but they keep finding ways to power through and keep winning. It helps that Brayden Schenn is on his way to a career year offensively.

3. Los Angeles Kings — They had a rough stretch where they lost seven out of eight games, but then they followed it up by winning eight in a row. They are once again at the top of the NHL’s goals against leaderboard and have started to find some offense. Anze Kopitar is making a very strong early season MVP case for himself. He is third in the league in scoring, playing a ton of minutes, and dominating in all three zones the way he did when he was the focal point of a two-time Stanley Cup winning team.

4. Nashville Predators — The roster is not only better than the one that went to the Stanley Cup Final, they also just simply look like a better team, too.

The Rest Of The Best

5. Vegas Golden Knights — They. Won’t. Stop. Winning. And now they are getting Marc-Andre Fleury back, the player that was supposed to be the cornerstone of their inaugural season. Quite a story that is developing here.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets — Imagine how good they can be when Cam Atkinson, a healthy scratch over the weekend, starts scoring goals again.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — It’s not just that the Maple Leafs have a superstar like Auston Matthews at the top of their lineup that makes them so dangerous and exciting offensively. It is the fact their lineup is just incredibly deep overall. Every line is capable of scoring goals on any given shift.

8. Washington Capitals — With wins in eight of their past 10 games, while also averaging 3.6 goals per game during that stretch, they are climbing the standings and starting to look like the Capitals again.

9. New York Rangers — As I said two weeks ago, winning just one of their first eight games put them in a hole that will be tough to climb out of in the standings. They are doing their best to make sure they do, in fact, climb out of it. They are 13-4-0 in their past 17 games.

10. Winnipeg Jets — They have cooled off a bit recently, but let’s not panic just yet. That offense is still great.

Stuck In The Middle

11. New Jersey Devils — A little bit of a fall from where they were two weeks ago, but the young talent on this team is still worth watching and giving Devils fans a lot of reason to believe, both for this season and the future.

12. Boston Bruins —  With wins in eight of their past 10 games the Bruins are really starting to put it together. David Pastrnak is becoming a star and looking to improve on his 34-goal, 70-point performance from a season ago.

13. New York Islanders — After scoring 34 goals a season ago Anders Lee is doing everything he can to show it was no fluke. With 17 goals in his first 34 games entering the week he is now on pace for 41 goals this season.

14. San Jose Sharks — If you like goals, their games are not the games to watch. The enter the week 26th in the league in goals scored and second in the league in goals against.

15. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau‘s brilliance has kind of overshadowed the fact that Sean Monahan is having a career year offensively (he has five more goals than Gaudreau) and is also starting to post dominant possession numbers.

The Mystery Teams: Are They Good Or Not? 

16. Minnesota Wild — Are they good or not is a question that we seem to be able to ask about the Minnesota Wild every season.

17. Chicago Blackhawks — An aging team that is pretty dependent on its goaltender at this point. Sometimes they look great. Sometimes they don’t. Is this the new normal for the Blackhawks?

18. Dallas Stars — After what was a mostly up-and-down 2016-17 season John Klingberg looks like he has back to being one of the NHL’s most dynamic and dominant defensemen.

19. Pittsburgh Penguins — On any given night they can look like the team that has won back-to-back Stanley Cups. They can also look like a team that has no idea what it is doing.

20. Vancouver Canucks — Whether the Canucks maintain their early season success and actually make the playoffs is secondary to the fact the two best players on this team are under the age of 23 and look to be like legitimate building blocks.

21. Montreal Canadiens — The ultimate “are they good or not?” team this season. One night they are winning 10-1. Another night they are getting routed by the Oilers. Who knows what team is showing up when the puck drops.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — They are once again breaking hockey math.

23. Philadelphia Flyers — They snapped their 10-game losing streak by rolling through Western Canada, beating the Flames, Oilers and Canucks by a combined score of 13-5. Jakub Voracek is very quietly putting together a dominant season offensively, at least as far as his playmaking is concerned.

24. Anaheim Ducks — Adam Henrique has been pretty outstanding since coming over in the big trade with the New Jersey Devils. Given their injury situation down the middle it has been a much-needed addition.

25. Florida Panthers –– Losing Roberto Luongo could be a devastating blow to a team that really can not afford one. He has been spectacular when in the lineup while his backups have been … well … anything but spectacular.

The Basement

26Colorado Avalanche — They overachieved for a while at the start of the year but with losses in 10 of their past 15 games they are starting to become the Avalanche again.

27. Edmonton Oilers — The deeper we get into the season the more likely it seems they are going to miss the playoffs and waste one of Connor McDavid‘s prime years. That remains astonishing.

28. Detroit Red Wings — In the past week they’ve lost games by scores of 10-1 and 6-1. They’ve also lost seven out of eight overall and are quickly falling down the standings. There just is not a lot to be excited about here.

29. Ottawa Senators — Not only is the team on the ice losing games with regularity, Erik Karlsson‘s future with the team has never been more in doubt. Other than that everything is great.

30. Arizona Coyotes — The travel schedule has not been kind to them. The good news? Ten of their next 12 games are at home. The bad news? Three of those first four games are against the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

31. Buffalo Sabres — The Sabres had a stretch where they were shutout three games in a row and were about 10 minutes away from a fourth. Since November 1 they have played 18 games. They have scored more than one goal in only nine of them.

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.

Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom rings bell after final cancer treatment

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A week after hitting the ice with his teammates for the first time in six months, Oskar Lindblom got to ring the bell marking the end of his chemotherapy treatments.

The 23-year-old Flyers forward was diagnosed in December with Ewing sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and played only 30 games this season.

On Thursday, Lindblom walked down the hall at Abramson Cancer Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia to ring the bell and celebrate with the nurses who took care of him.

“I can’t even explain how I feel,” he told the Flyers website. “It feels I’m having a birthday, Christmas and all those holidays at the same time. It feels awesome to be done. I can’t wait to just get back to normal life again and start feeling like I’m living.”

(Lindblom will not play for the Flyers later this summer if the NHL resumes the 2019-20 season.)

Since being diagnosed, Lindblom received support from all over the hockey community. Players from the Flyers and around the NHL wore#OskarStrong” shirts and he was given a standing ovation when shown on the Jumbotron during a January game.

“From family to friends to fans, I can’t explain how much they’ve meant to me,” said Lindblom, who is the Flyers’ Masterton Trophy nominee. “Especially at the start when it was a rough time and I got all those kind words. It just made me feel so much better, calm, and it really helped along the way.”

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Top free agents; O’Reilly up for ‘unique’ challenge

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• A look at the top 50 free agents who could hit the market at some point in the next few months. [TSN]

• Which UFA moments have defined the NHL’s salary-cap era? [Sportsnet]

Ryan O'Reilly is up for the “unique” challenge of helping the Blues defend their Stanley Cup title. [NHL.com]

• “There are health risks for the players who will be quarantined in hub cities for the Stanley Cup playoffs, but their concerns don’t end there. It’s possible the players will be paying for the lost revenues caused by COVID-19 for years.” [The Hockey News]

• On players potentially opting out of playing if the NHL resumes this summer. [NBC Sports Washington]

• It’s not looking good for Alexander Romanov, Kirill Kaprizov, and Ilya Sorokin in their attempts to play this season. [Hockey Wilderness]

• The NHL should thank college hockey for producing so many impactful young defensemen. [Grand Forks Herald]

• What Alexis Lafreniere would mean to the Blackhawks. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Why Shane Doan should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. [Five for Howling]

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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.

Hurricanes losing Dudley, still in talks with TV’s Forslund

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Carolina Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said Wednesday that executive Rick Dudley won’t return and the team is still in talks with longtime TV play-by-play announcer John Forslund on a new deal.

The 71-year-old Dudley had worked as Carolina’s senior vice president of hockey operations since 2018, part of nearly five decades in professional hockey. That included serving as general manager for four NHL franchises, and he also played and coached the Buffalo Sabres.

“Rick and I talked months ago and he said that at the end of his contract, he was going to move on,” Waddell said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Waddell said the team has reached agreements with all employees whose deals expired Tuesday so far except for Forslund, who is in his 25th season with the franchise and also does national broadcasts with NBC.

“We’ve had multiple talks: I’ve talked to the agent numerous times, I’ve talked to John a couple of times,” Waddell said. “We’ve laid it out. They didn’t yesterday ask for anything other than some time.”

Reached by the AP on Wednesday evening, Forslund said: “I’ve said it (before), the door’s always open until it’s completely closed. And as of right now, that’s where it stands.”