PHT Midseason Report Card: Pacific Division

PHT Report Card
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Now that the All-Star break has arrived it’s time to look back at the first half of the 2017-18 NHL season. Our team-by-team report cards will look at the biggest surprises and disappointments for all 31 clubs and what their outlook is for the second half, including whether they should be a trade deadline buyer or seller.

  • Anaheim Ducks

Season Review: A fully healthy Ducks team would be a disappointment where they are: on the Western Conference playoff bubble, currently out of the top eight. How often have we seen this team at its full potential, though? Maybe the 13 games Ryan Kesler‘s been healthy for? Less? Tough not to give the Ducks a mulligan, so that’s what they get. Grade: Incomplete.

Biggest Surprise: Their goaltending. John Gibson continues his climb up the ladder of great goalies, but he’s not the only netminder helping Anaheim scrape wins together. Ryan Miller has a .929 save percentage, even better than Gibson’s .920 mark. Even Reto Berra’s been good in rare moments where he gets NHL reps. The Ducks would be waddling in the basement without their goalies.

Biggest Disappointment: No doubt, it’s been their poor health. Again, Kesler’s only been in action for 13 games. Ryan Getzlaf‘s not much luckier, playing 26 so far in 2017-18. Others have missed serious time, too. This troubling pattern may continue if Gibson’s lower-body injury costs him serious time.

Trade Deadline Strategy: The Ducks would be wise to dip their toe in the market, but they can’t go too wild, not with some much uncertainty regarding their actual chances of making the playoffs. In other words, they might be buyers, yet it would be best to go the dollar store route. Either that, or focus on additions that can be more than rentals.

Second half outlook: Anaheim can probably just see how they play over the next few weeks and make a true decision about buy, sell, or stand pat. A five-game road trip awaits their return from the break, and they play nine of their next 11 games on the road. If they thrive despite those challenges, then the Ducks could be a very dangerous team. That’s a significant if, however, considering their poor luck so far in 2017-18.

via Getty
  • Arizona Coyotes

Season Review: So, uh, maybe it wasn’t time to take the Coyotes seriously after all.

With the worst record and worst goal differential (-54) in the NHL, this has been another dire season in the desert. Grade: F.

Biggest Surprise: Gang, Max Domi has been almost as frustrating as the Coyotes’ endless arena woes.

Domi has connected on a horrendous 2.9 percent of his SOG, generating a pittance of three goals this season. His shooting percentage has dropped in each of his three seasons in the NHL, and with 21 points in 50 games, he’s not making up for it enough in other areas.

Much like with the Coyotes, the bright side is that it’s tough to imagine things getting worse in 2018-19.

Biggest Disappointment: Look, Dylan Strome might have his problems, but is it really better for him to be buried in the AHL  considering the limited scoring options in Arizona?

His AHL stats are nutty-good: 40 points in 29 games. Yes, he could be a “Quadruple A” player, so to speak, what with a mere assist in 11 NHL games this season. Are you really going to find out when he’s averaging a miniscule 12:26 TOI, though? Even if you ultimately want to trade Strome, this is far from the optimal way to make the most of the third pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. Shades of Nail Yakupov.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Sure, you want to sell, but who’s buying?

The Coyotes don’t really have a ton of veterans to move, especially if they aren’t interested in punting on Antti Raanta. You’d also expect them to be more comfortable trading a big-deal-guy like Oliver Ekman-Larsson during the offseason, too. So aside from Jason Demers (and maybe Alex Goligoski, though he seems like he could be part of the solution), there’s only so much merchandise to move.

Second Half Outlook: The Coyotes are on track to have the best draft lottery odds. If not, they’ll be in the top three.

So why not use this time to experiment? If Rick Tocchet or his assistants want to try different things, now’s the time to tinker. They might find a few things that work … and regain a little dignity in the process.

  • Calgary Flames

Season Review: The Flames are the opposite of that Godfather III line: every time you start to believe, they push you back out. After winning seven games in a row, Calgary dropped four straight. Even that wasn’t straightforward, as they grabbed a charity point in all four games. If the Flames are an emoticon, they’re a mixture of a fairly happy face and the _(ツ)_/¯. Grade: C+

Biggest Surprise: Unquestionably, Mike Smith‘s stellar play.

Now, Smith’s shown flashes of brilliance before, but injuries, inconsistency, and poor play in front of them have combined to make him seem like an uninspired choice. Especially at age 35. Instead, he’s a serious workhorse, generating the best work of his career with a .926 save percentage; Smith was an eventual All-Star, but deserved the nod from the start.

Goalies!

Biggest Disappointment: Travis Hamonic seemed like the missing piece of a would-be beautiful defensive puzzle in Calgary. Instead, it turns out that his rough 2016-17 season with the Islanders might be the new normal rather than an anomaly. Go fancy or traditional, either way, Hamonic’s stats underwhelm.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Add away.

The Flames could use supporting scoring beyond their excellent top two lines, and could use a defenseman if a useful one isn’t too expensive. The frustrating thing is that the Flames always seem to be on the verge of becoming great, yet they often slip back to good or merely OK. The West is tough, but also wide open, so maybe a move or two could push them to great in a more permanent way?

Second half outlook: The Flames have played nine more games (26) at home than on the road (17), and they’ll pay the troll toll soon. They begin a six-game road trip on Feb. 6, and the road run continues for there; from Feb. 6 to March 9, only four of their 17 games take place at home. That’s scary stuff for a team with a flimsy hold on a playoff spot right now, but maybe they really will “learn something about themselves” in the process?

  • Edmonton Oilers

Season Review: Woof.

Instead of last season’s playoff run being the start of a new era, 2017-18 makes it look like an aberration. This has just been a parade of Peter Chiarelli’s mistakes, sometimes cruelly so. Few teams could claim to be even in the realm of disappointment as Edmonton this season. Grade: F. Maybe Z?

Biggest surprise: You could forecast the Oilers regretting trading Jordan Eberle, and further regretting other moves like the Taylor Hall swap. These penalty kill numbers are just bonkers, though.

Biggest disappointment: Cam Talbot might be the NHL goalie answer to an NFL running back hitting a wall after getting too many touches. Last season, he easily topped the league with 73 games played and 2,117 shots faced (Frederik Andersen was the only other goalie who saw 2,000+), not to mention strenuous playoff work.

Whether he’s worn out or just was playing over the head, the drop has been steep. Talbot’s record is 18-17-2 with a lousy .901 save percentage. The Oilers minimal investments in a backup only compounded the problems.

Trade Deadline Strategy: There’s a post for that.

Second half outlook: In my opinion, the Oilers dug too deep of a hole for themselves for a playoff run. With that in mind, it’s another lost season for Edmonton, so the key is to set the table for 2018-19. Stop shooting yourself in the foot. Experiment with alignments involving Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and others to see if you find something that sticks.

And cross your fingers that you infuriate the hockey world once more with a good bounce in the draft lottery, for the (checks notes) millionth time.

  • Los Angeles Kings

Season Review: If this came up at the end of 2017, the grade would be higher, but you wonder if their magic is running out. The Kings have only won three of 10 games in January, failing to get any points in those seven defeats. Still, they’re in the mix for the wild card spot, which just about any Kings fan would’ve taken coming into the season. Grade: B-.

Biggest Surprise: The instinct is to say “take your pick,” yet Dustin Brown is probably tops. Who would have thought he’d be an effective top-line winger in 2017-18? Even if you justifiably give Anze Kopitar much of the credit, it’s still a staggering development.

Biggest Disappointment: If someone told you the Kings would be battling for a playoff spot with zero goals from Jeff Carter, you’d probably need to sit down for a minute. Carter’s only played in six games this season, collecting three assists. A healthy Carter could very well make or break this season.

Trade Deadline Strategy: A lot like their buddies in Anaheim, Los Angeles might want to pilfer the bargain bin. Granted, a bolder move could be more plausible if a team would take on Marian Gaborik‘s troubling contract. (Gaborik’s been more spry than expected, but it’s still a scary deal.)

via Getty
  • San Jose Sharks

Season Review: With an aging-but-still-skilled core, this might be the new reality for the Sharks. They’re not fighting for the Presidents’ Trophy any longer. The Sharks are currently second in the Pacific, but by a slim margin. That might just be the way in San Jose, at least while core players can still make a difference. Grade: B-.

Biggest Surprise: Young supporting cast players such as Kevin Labanc, Chris Tierney, and Joonas Donskoi aren’t dominating, but they’re generating supplemental offense for a team with aging stars. They’re all over 20 points, easing some of the pressure on big guns, to at least some degree. (Also Aaron Dell has been great as a backup.)

Biggest Disappointment: Lower-level veterans are letting them down: Mikkel Boedker has 15 points in 40 games as a $4M player. Joel Ward has nine points and Jannik Hansen has zero goals and four assists. Paul Martin is in the AHL. There’s a lot of poorly spent money on this roster, and the fear is that it’s a forecast for the future.

Trade Deadline Strategy: With an aging core and quite a bit of projected trade deadline cap space according to Cap Friendly, why not roll the dice with some rentals? Joe Thornton‘s knee surgery practically demands it, unless the Sharks decide to totally punt.

(They really aren’t formatted to punt.)

Second half outlook: Despite being 38, Joe Thornton is a crucial catalyst for the Sharks, and he’s out indefinitely after knee surgery. Really, the Sharks might be wise to make their trade deadline deals early, as their hold on a playoff spot isn’t especially secure. Their February schedule is brutal on paper. The good news is that the Sharks are very much in this; the bad news is that they could easily fall out of the mix without Jumbo Joe.

  • Vancouver Canucks

Season Review: You kind of have to “grade on a curve” with these report cards, which is why the Canucks don’t fail. Every indication is that this season would be desolate, yet certain moments provide at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Still, the Canucks are tied for fourth-worst in the NHL. There’s still much work to do. Grade: D.

Biggest Surprise: Brock Boeser showed promise, but it was unclear if he’d stick with the team all year, let alone be a Calder Trophy frontrunner. Also, he has cool hair, looks like Thor, and just won the accuracy competition. That’s checking all the boxes.

Biggest Disappointment: Honestly, the Sedin twins really haven’t been that bad. This season stands as another reminder that they’re toward the end of the road, with twin expiring contracts only spotlighting that likely reality.

If that’s too esoteric, let’s go with Jake Virtanen‘s mediocre season.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Everything must go, aside from Boeser. Last year, the Canucks did fantastic work during the deadline. They don’t have as much to offer this time, but maybe they’d grab an extra asset or three anyway.

Second half outlook: This is a lot like the Coyotes’ situation. Travis Green’s made a solid impact already, but why not tinker with different ideas, maybe seeing if some AHL tricks translate to the NHL?

Let’s be honest. It’s also probably OK to lose a lot, which was sort of the original plan anyway.

  • Vegas Golden Knights

Season Review: It’s almost February, and it’s still shocking just how good this team is in its debut year. They even dealt with a ridiculous run of goalie injuries, so it’s not like every bounce is going their way. And it seems like they’re actually getting better; during the last 25 games, they’re tussling with the Bruins and Lightning for the best possession stats. Grade: Is an A+ enough? Maybe an S?

Biggest Surprise: Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal have been big parts of Vegas’ success, yet you can make very legitimate arguments that other players have been more integral to this incredible run. William Karlsson‘s play has been sassier than his hair flips: a team-leading 27 goals, and second-best 42 points (Jonathan Marchessault leads the way with 46 points, as if Gerard Gallant’s no-brainer Jack Adams run wasn’t already a slap in the face of the Florida Panthers).

Seriously though, that hair flip. Maybe we should have known …

Biggest Disappointment: n/a?

OK, fine, the Vadim Shipachyov situation was a letdown. His NHL potential will remain a “What if?” question, it seems.

Trade Deadline Strategy: What kind of odds would you have needed to bet that the Golden Knights would potentially be buyers at the trade deadline if you were asked in October?

Vegas management still faces some conundrums. Neal is 30 and David Perron will be 30 in May, so even though they’re productive players, the Golden Knights must mull over their futures. It would be tough to blame them for rewarding some of the key cast members during this magical run, yet if that backfires, it’s the sort of thing that can hamstring a young franchise.

On the other hand, if they sell those guys off, who knows if they’ll be anywhere near this good in 2018-19 and other recent seasons? Cap Friendly projects their current cap space at $8.4 million, so rentals could really make sense … though the Golden Knights still need to use their picks to build their prospect pool.

Do you double down or cash out while wondering if you’re ending a hot streak too soon? Tough questions ahead for GM George McPhee.

Second half outlook: Certain hot streaks probably will cool off. Fleury’s unlikely to maintain a .942 save percentage all season. Karlsson’s shooting percentage won’t stay at 26.7 percent forever. This team is increasingly legitimate, but there are red flags here and there. That said, they lead their division by a ridiculous nine standings points right now. Figuring out just how good they really are is crucial to the trade deadline and to extension decisions, but William H. Macy would need to cool them full-time to thwart a playoff berth at this point.

Previous: Atlantic Division / Metropolitan Division / Central Division

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.

Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
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FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

“I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

“It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

“We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

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Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

“We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

“It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

NEW COACHES

The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

“Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

CAMP TRYOUTS

Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

“They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

EARLY START

Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

“We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

“I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

“The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

With that, Barkov was sold.

And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

“We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

“The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

“I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

“I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

CAMP ROSTER

Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

Terms of the deal were not released.

The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.