PHT Report Card

PHT Midseason Report Card: Pacific Division

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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.

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  • 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.)

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  • 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.

Goaltending remains biggest question for much-improved Blues

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Sometimes it feels like the St. Louis Blues have faced questions in net for about as long as water’s been wet.

In signing Jake Allen to a four-year, $17.4 million contract a little more than two years ago, the Blues hoped that they might finally have a true No. 1 goalie after bouncing around from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller to Brian Elliott. They even gave Martin Brodeur a brief shot during the twilight games of his career.

(No, you weren’t hallucinating. Brodeur really did play for the Blues.)

Instead, Allen’s been a liability, to the point that he briefly more-or-less lost the 2017-18 starting job to Carter Hutton.

Interestingly, both of the Blues goalies cross their fingers for a rebound next season. The transition from Hutton to Chad Johnson is disastrous on paper if you only judge the netminders by their 2017-18 numbers, yet the bigger picture argues that Johnson can be one of the more reliable backups. Despite a horrendous .891 save percentage from last season, Johnson still has a career average save percentage of .910.

You can’t ask for much better than that from your No. 2, but the Blues still missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs even after Hutton played like a great starter for chunks of the past season. Simply put, the Blues need more from Allen.

Let’s consider some of the factors that might impact Allen.

  • To some extent, the 27-year-old (who turns 28 on Aug. 7) is who he is. Allen already has 219 regular-season and 22 playoff games under his belt. His career .913 save percentage is pretty mediocre, thus there’s a fear that the Blues will need to overcome Allen on more than a few occasions.
  • That said, he did generate a .920 save percentage over 47 games in 2015-16, and strong work during the 2016-17 postseason argues that Allen has a higher ceiling than many might assume.
  • No doubt, Allen’s 2017-18 was abysmal, as he went 27-25-3 with a backup-caliber .906 save percentage.

It’s frequently wise to dig a little deeper to try to figure out why a goalie might struggle. In Allen’s case last season, it came down to special teams situations. While he boasted a virtually identical even-strength save percentage in 2017-18 (.919) compared to 2016-17 (.918), his shorthanded save percentage plummeted from a career-high .901 to a career-low .834.

There’s a real worry with some goalies who simply can’t cut it in PK situations, whether that comes down to questionable lateral movement, struggles to see around screens, or any number of explanations. Even after considering those long-term concerns, it’s comforting to realize that last season might just be an aberration.

  • The Blues aren’t that far behind powers like the Maple Leafs when it comes to improving during the off-season. One of the delights of their bold moves to try to contend is that they landed a near-Selke-level two-way player in Ryan O'Reilly.
  • Some good and bad news is that the Blues generally carried on the tradition of playing strong defense and hogging the puck last season. At even-strength, they allowed the fifth-fewest “high-danger” chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The bright side is that the structure could very well give Allen a chance to enjoy a rejuvenation. The less optimistic take is that Allen has struggled at times even with a sturdy team in front of him.

  • Such digging doesn’t immediately dismiss Allen’s shorthanded struggles. Apparently the Blues allowed the fifth-fewest high-danger chances on the penalty kill, also according to Natural Stat Trick. It’s up to Allen more than anyone else to turn around those bad PK numbers, or at least it appears that way on paper.

***

Blues GM Doug Armstrong made quite a few moves that lead you to believe that St. Louis is swinging for the fences heading into 2018-19. If a letdown costs him his job, at least he’d be going out with a bang by making some attractive tweaks.

As wise as Armstrong often appears, so far, the organization making Allen “the guy” in net has really backfired.

Ultimately, his job and the Blues’ fate probably lands on Allen’s shoulders. Improvement seems plausible, yet we’ll need to wait and see if he’ll improve enough to allow the Blues to take advantage of all the weapons they added this summer.

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.

Immediate jump unlikely to be best for Kotkaniemi, Habs

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The Montreal Canadiens shouldn’t ask “can Jesperi Kotkaniemi jump straight from the 2018 NHL Draft to the main roster?” Instead, they’re better off wondering if he should.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said that the 18-year-old will get a chance to impress in training camp after performing well at development camp, according to NHL.com’s Sean Farrell.

“He got better every day, so we’re going in with an open mind,” Bergevin said. “I don’t know, but just the fact that he’s signed and he’s coming to camp and he’s closer to the NHL. Where he’s going to be Oct. 1, I can’t tell you, but we see a lot of potential and growth in this young man.”

That’s fair, and the Canadiens would be justified in giving the third pick of the 2018 NHL Draft the nine-game audition before sending him to Finland or the AHL instead of burning the first year of Kotkaniemi’s entry-level contract.

Cautionary tale

But, big picture, this is probably one of those situations where both sides would be better off if Kotkaniemi dips his toes in the water rather than diving right in. If Montreal needs a quick example of a player whose rookie deal hasn’t been used in an optimal way, they might want to consider Jesse Puljujärvi, who went fourth overall in 2016.

Puljujärvi only played in 28 games in 2016-17, making a minimal impact while pushing himself that much closer to ending his rookie deal. Things didn’t get that much better last season, as he only generated 20 points in 65 games. A breakthrough is quite possible in 2018-19, but the downside would be that the Oilers would then need to give him a raise, and would only really enjoy one high-value season from his entry-level contracts.

That’s the sort of poor asset management Montreal should be concerned about, especially if they’re being realistic about their chances next season.

Tension in the air

Now, it’s plausible – maybe probable – that things could go a little better in 2018-19. For the most obvious example, the Habs could conceivably be viable if Carey Price returns to elite form (and good health).

In all honesty, the Lightning and Maple Leafs seem slated to be light years ahead of Montreal. The Panthers and especially the Bruins head into the season with higher hopes, too. The Habs run the risk of falling short of the postseason even if they improve considerably, so why not just push Kotkaniemi’s contract back a year instead of possibly wasting it?

The Finnish forward only turned 18 on July 6, so you’d expect him to be a bit less polished compared to an older prospect like, say, Brady Tkachuk. The worst-case scenario might be if Kotkaniemi plays well enough to hit double digits in games played, yet generally struggles and ends up stunting his growth while wasting a year of that ELC.

It might not be the healthiest environment for Kotkaniemi to debut, either.

Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien must be at least a touch concerned about job security, and the atmosphere has a chance to be pretty toxic. Critics blast Julien for how he handles young players at the best of times, but how ugly might the scene be if fans are calling for Bergevin and Julien to be replaced?

Montreal seems pretty locked-in to its forward group this season, too, and that’s possibly accurate even if they actually pull the trigger on a Max Pacioretty trade. The return could be pretty modest if Kotkaniemi’s is merely a minor upgrade over a replacement-level player.

***

The Habs already made a divisive choice in selecting Kotkaniemi after lucking into the third pick in 2018. Many believe that Montreal aimed at need first and foremost, with the expectation being that Kotkaniemi will develop into the first-line center, a piece that’s eluded Montreal for ages. The pressure’s eventually going to be pretty fierce for the prospect to deliver, so the Canadiens would be wise to wait until he’s truly ready.

And, again, the decision need not be based on altruism alone. Instead, by doing what’s most likely best for Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens stand a better chance to take advantage of his cheap contract when they’d ideally be better prepared to contend.

There are worse problems to have, yet Montreal really needs to start getting these decisions right if they want to turn things around.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Jagr still holds NHL hope?; Islanders turning the page

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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.

• Jaromir Jagr hasn’t given up on the NHL, but he’s in no rush to return either. (Sportsnet)

• The New York Islanders are looking to turn the page after the departure of captain John Tavares. (NHL.com)

Artemi Panarin has given the Columbus Blue Jackets a contract deadline. (The Athletic)

• Would Tyler Seguin want to play with the Montreal Canadiens? (Montreal Gazette)

• Ranking each NHL team based on their locked-in, young core. (ESPN)

• With the thrill of the 2018 NHL Draft already worn off, we might as well take a look ahead to the 2019 rendition and all that it has to offer. (Last Word on Hockey)

• From wives’ room fights to brotherly competition, St. Louis molded Brady Tkachuk. (The Sporting News)

• Do the Vancouver Canucks have an asset on defense that they can work into a trade that would benefit the club? (The Province)

• If you don’t want to read and would rather take two minutes to watch a video, here’s some possible reasons why a trade for Erik Karlsson hasn’t happened yet, here’s your chance. (Sportsnet)

• Where does the line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson — the JoFA line — fit in the pantheon of the league’s top lines? (Pred Lines)

• You want offseason grades for all 31 NHL teams? Here you go. (The Athletic)

• And here’s a list of the best player to ever wear each number in the NHL. (Puck Prose)

• The Class of Canada: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets. (The Hockey Writers)

• Help is on the way for the Chicago Blackhawks aging defense. (Chicago Mag)

Mike Hoffman‘s fiancée files for disclosure of information in harassment allegations. (Ottawa Citizen)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Vegas Golden Knights, U.S. Army agree to end trademark dispute

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The Vegas Golden Knights and the U.S. Army have called an end to their trademark battle regarding the usage of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name.

Owner Bill Foley announced on Thursday that the two sides have entered into a trademark coexistence agreement where the U.S. Army will continue using the ‘Golden Knights’ marks and names with its parachute exhibition team. The Golden Knights will continue to use ‘Vegas Golden Knights’ and ‘Golden Knights’ in regards to the hockey team.

“We are pleased that we have agreed to coexist regarding the use of the ‘Golden Knights’ mark and name,” said Foley in a statement. “Our discussions with the Army were collaborative and productive throughout this entire process. We are appreciative of their efforts and commitment to reaching an amicable resolution.”

The U.S. Army filed a notice of opposition in January against against Black Knight Sports and Entertainment over the use of the name ‘Golden Knights.’ Foley is a graduate of West Point and originally wanted to name the team the Black Knights (after the Army sports teams) but decided against it.

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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.