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PHT Power Rankings: Looking at the possible trade deadline candidates

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We are trying something a little different with our PHT Power Rankings for this week and taking a look at the players that could be on the move before the NHL trade deadline next month.

With so many teams still in the running for a playoff spot it really limits the number of potential sellers that are out there, but we still have a pretty good idea as to the names that might be available.

The Canadiens and Rangers might tear things down, while the Sabres, Oilers and Senators are among the few teams that are going to clearly be sellers.

Let’s take a look at the list!

1.  Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens — Pacioretty has since broken out after that miserable slump a few weeks ago and is back to scoring goals in bunches. It still seems like a long-shot that he is going to be moved, but the Canadiens seem to be open for business and Pacioretty’s name has been out there. They probably need to tear things down and start over, and dealing Pacioretty, who still has one more year left on his contract at a bargain basement cap hit for what he produces, would almost certainly bring a big return if they chose to go in that direction.

[Related: The Canadiens should probably tear it all down]

2. Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators —  The Senators are a disaster this season and they still have to figure out what to do with Erik Karlsson and his contract situation this summer. Hoffman has been mentioned as a possible trade chip and would be an intriguing target because he is not only a really good player, but also still has term left on his contract. It would probably take a huge offer to pry him away from the Senators — as it should.

3. Evander Kane, Buffalo Sabres — In terms of players rumored to be available Kane might be having one of the better seasons, and he is still in the prime of his career, but he is purely a rental at this point and the Sabres seem to have an extremely high price tag attached to him. How much are you willing to give up for a really good, but not great player you may only have for a few months?

4. Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers — The Rangers are reportedly considering “blowing it up” regardless of where they stand in the playoff race. McDonagh has struggled a bit in recent seasons and his possession numbers have cratered a bit, but in the right situation and right system he could rediscover his previous form.

5. Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings — Green’s value is almost entirely centered around his offense at this point. And while he is never going to be the 30-goal, 70-point threat he was earlier in his career he can still help a power play and provide some offense from the blue line.

6. Michael Grabner, New York Rangers — Grabner is a bargain against the cap and has been one of the top even-strength goal scorers in the league the past two seasons. In a league that is starting to become dominated by speed and skating, Grabner is still one of the fastest forwards going.

7. Patrick Maroon, Edmonton Oilers — The Oilers would probably like to keep Maroon but their salary cap situation is going to make that really difficult. He is not far off from the 27-goal pace he scored at a season ago and still has strong underlying numbers.

8. Thomas Vanek, Vancouver Canucks — For the second year in a row Vanek looks to be a potential rental candidate after signing a one-year deal. Just for a point of reference, his numbers at this point are almost identical to what they were a year ago at the same time for the Detroit Red Wings. He landed the Red Wings a third-round pick and Dylan McIlrath in a trade.

9. Rick Nash, New York Rangers — One of the many Rangers that could be on the trade block. A free agent to be after the season, Nash is having one of his worst seasons offensively but he is still probably going to end up with close to 25 goals while also playing strong two-way hockey. A rental that carries a big salary cap hit, he is still an extremely useful player.

[Related: The Rangers might be ready to blow it up at deadline]

10. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators — Like Hoffman, another Senators player that still has term left on his contract that could be dealt. He might be an ideal fit for a team like Pittsburgh that is still in the market for a third-line center. Not a great offensive player, but he can be a tremendous shutdown defensive center and penalty killer.

11. Robin Lehner, Buffalo Sabres — There are not a ton of teams in the market for a goalie so there may not be a lot of options, but how could he not be an upgrade for a team like the New York Islanders, a team that can score as well as any team in hockey but can’t stop anybody?

12. Ian Cole, Pittsburgh Penguins — Cole’s situation is fascinating because he was such a reliable player on the past two Stanley Cup winning teams — especially the 2016-17 team that was decimated by injuries on the blue line — but he has clearly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. He has played well when given an opportunity, but his days in Pittsburgh seem to be limited.

13. Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings — As an upcoming restricted free agent and playing a position where there may not be a huge market he is in a similar situation to Lehner. Could still be an attractive option for a team looking to upgrade its backup spot.

14. Thomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens — His offense has declined significantly in recent years but still a really good defensive center.

15. Erik Gudbranson, Vancouver Canucks — A polarizing player because old time hockey guys love his blood-and-guts style of play, but there is really nothing outstanding in his performance. Still, it only takes one team to see him as a necessary addition for playoff style hockey.

16. Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets — Johnson requested a trade from the Blue Jackets but it is hard to see there being a huge market for him. His role has been greatly reduced in Columbus compared to what it used to be, and it’s unlikely he is going to find a team that is going to give him a bigger one than the one he currently has with the Blue Jackets.

17. Benoit Pouliot, Buffalo Sabres — A few years ago he was a favorite of the analytics community for his ability to drive possession, and he was an outstanding depth player that could play a variety of roles up and down your lineup. His play has regressed quite a bit since then. As a rental he might be worth taking a chance on down the stretch in the hopes that somebody can catch lightning in a bottle.

18. Radim Vrbata, Florida Panthers — He is having a miserable year for the Panthers offensively, but he is just one year removed from scoring 20 goals and being a 55-point player.

19. Mark Letestu, Edmonton Oilers — He can chip in some offense but is probably best suited for a fourth-line role on a contending team.

20. Brad Richardson, Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes don’t expect to be busy at the deadline, and there is hope that they can re-sign Richardson, but it only takes one phone call and offer to make a team change their mind. They could always flip Richardson for a pick or a prospect and try to re-sign him over the summer as a UFA.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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.

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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.