Getty

PHT Power Rankings: Flyers worth watching

5 Comments

Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The Philadelphia Flyers did something that should have been nearly impossible a season ago by winning 10 games in a row and then somehow missing the playoffs. How does that even happen?

This season they are trying to reverse that performance.

After losing 10 games in a row earlier this season the Flyers now find themselves in a pretty good position to make the playoffs.

After their win in Vegas on Sunday night (only the fourth team to win a game in Vegas in regulation this season) the Flyers find themselves in third place in the Metropolitan Division, just one point behind the second place Penguins and five points behind the first place Washington Capitals. They also have a five-point cushion over the pack of non-playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

Since that 10-game losing streak came to an end the Flyers are 20-8-2 in the 30 games that have followed. That is a 115-point pace over 82 games.

How many teams have a better record over that stretch? Two. The Boston Bruins and the Vegas Golden Knights.

They have three of the top-17 point producers in the NHL in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier (Giroux and Voracek are both in the top-seven), a great power forward in Wayne Simmonds, and some really intriguing young talent in Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nolan Patrick. They just need to get a little more out of Brian Elliott to really be on to something.

They have been on the rise in our power rankings in recent weeks and check in this week just outside of the top-10.

Here is the rest of the list.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — The Lightning have been the top team in the NHL from almost day one. Great group of forwards. One of the top defenseman in the NHL. A front-line starting goalie. Now try to imagine them with Ryan McDonagh on their blue line on top of all of that. It could happen.

2. Boston Bruins — Tuukka Rask went nearly two months between losses in regulation. With him playing like an elite goalie once again the Bruins look like they are going to be a force. Patrice Bergeron is having another wonderful season. Is he an MVP candidate? Maybe he should be. History is not kind to his chances though.

3. Vegas Golden Knights — The more I watch the Golden Knights the more I think they have a legitimate shot to win the Western Conference. Fast. Skilled up front. Good goaltending. They have a lot going for them.

4. Nashville Predators — How much will Mike Fisher be able to provide? Expectations should be kept within reason, but their center depth is ridiculous. That was their biggest undoing in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. Should not be a problem this year.

The Strong Contenders

5. Winnipeg Jets — The fact they kept winning as much as they did without Mark Scheifele in the lineup is a great example as to how deep this team has become.

6. Washington Capitals — Are they as good as their record? Tough to say because they give up a ton of shots and their possession numbers are not great, but Braden Holtby is a game-changer. So is that Alex Ovechkin guy.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — Their big three up front with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel is still on a roll right now. Also starting to get on a little bit of  a roll lately? Matt Murray. If he gets going again for this team, watch out.

8. Dallas Stars — Okay, maybe I undersold the Stars a bit in last week’s power rankings. Let’s try to correct that this week.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs — Their defense stinks, but they have a ridiculous group of forwards that can score with anybody in the NHL and a goalie that is playing really, really, really well. They have a tough path through the playoffs, but it is still an exciting team. They have also won eight of their past 10 games entering play on Monday.

10. St. Louis Blues — They do not seem to get a lot of love but they have a really good record, one of the best players in the world in Vladimir Tarasenko, and have won eight of their past 12 games.

Close To Contenders

11. Philadelphia Flyers — At least they are never boring. They have been one of the best teams in the league over the past two months.

12. Los Angeles Kings — I really don’t know what to make of this team. They enter the week on the outside of the playoff picture … but they are also two points away from being in second place in the Pacific Division. They also have the fourth best goal differential in the Western Conference and are still tough to score against and control possession.

The Middle Of The Pack

13. San Jose Sharks — After a slow start to the season Brent Burns is once again one of the top scoring defenders in the NHL. They are going to need him to carry the offense with Joe Thornton sidelined.

14. Minnesota Wild — This is where things start to get a little bit messy in the West. A bunch of teams all thrown together, only separated by a handful of points. The Wild with a healthy Zach Parise and Nino Neiderreiter could be an intriguing team out of that group.

15. Calgary Flames — They better hope Mike Smith‘s injury is not serious. He has been really good this season and they can not afford to lose him.

16. New Jersey Devils — They are trending in the wrong direction. Fortunately they built themselves a nice cushion early in the season, but that cushion is getting smaller and smaller with each loss.

17. Anaheim Ducks — I keep thinking a healthy Ducks team could make a big move but it hasn’t really happened yet. Losses in four of their past six have not helped.

18. Carolina Hurricanes — They keep hanging around and are not going away. They open the week in a playoff spot and have a pretty good shot to end that postseason drought.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets — Really disappointing team right now. I thought the addition of Artemi Panarin was going to be a game-changer for them. He has been great, but the rest of the offense has gone in the tank lately. Now they are in a fight just to make the playoffs.

20. New York Islanders — They are dangerously close to wasting what has been a great offense and great seasons from John Tavares, Josh Bailey and Mat Barzal. The latter is having one of the best rookie seasons we have seen in the NHL in years.

21. Colorado Avalanche — After winning 10 in a row the Avalanche have now dropped six of their past nine. Losing Nathan MacKinnon has hurt a ton.

22. New York Rangers — They pretty much admitted they are going to be sellers and trade off anyone they can. They are still “in it” but once they start dealing players like Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, and perhaps even Ryan McDonagh or Mats Zuccarello, it is hard to see them being in it for much longer.

Buy A Lottery Ticket

23. Florida Panthers — They had a nice winning streak to make things a little interesting, but it was probably too little, too late.

24. Chicago Blackhawks — After losing to the Minnesota Wild in regulation the Blackhawks sit 10 points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them. That might have been it for the Blackhawks this season. Corey Crawford might be back soon but he can not save this season.

25. Detroit Red Wings — Having a 5-2 lead with six minutes to play and then losing by giving up four goals on a five-minute power play might have been one of the low points of the season.

26. Montreal Canadiens — The Canadiens current players are probably tired of hearing about P.K. Subban, but that’s too bad. Historically dumb trades that set a franchise back always get remembered and talked about.

27. Vancouver Canucks — They dominated the Dallas Stars to end what had been a pretty miserable four-game road trip. So they at least have that going for them.

28. Ottawa Senators — They did win four of their past six games but … this team is still not very good. Neither is the entire situation with the team. Like the Rangers they recently hinted that a rebuild is on the way.

29. Edmonton Oilers — There was a four-game stretch here recently where Connor McDavid scored seven goals and recorded 10 points. The Edmonton Oilers won only one of those games. That pretty much sums up what this team is right now. Connor McDavid then a bunch of guys just occupying the roster.

30. Buffalo Sabres — Jack Eichel was the only thing this team really had going for it right now. Now he is injured with a high ankle sprain.

31. Arizona Coyotes — It is not a matter of effort, it is simply a lack of talent. A ridiculously young team with too many holes to compete.

————

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.

Is Dumba’s five-year, $30M a good deal for Wild?

Getty
Leave a comment

Matt Dumba‘s been enjoying a meteoric rise up the rankings of the Minnesota Wild’s most important players. Now he’s getting paid as such.

The Wild confirmed that the 23-year-old defenseman signed what should be a fascinating contract to ponder over the years: five years, $30 million (so a $6M cap hit). With that, Dumba becomes the Wild’s third-highest paid player, trailing only the twin monster contracts for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

It’s really remarkable to look at how much Dumba’s numbers leapt during the last three seasons. In 2015-16, he generated 10 goals and 26 points in 81 games despite modest ice time (16:50 per game). Dumba then saw a better role in 2016-17, collecting 11 goals and 34 points while averaging 20:20 minutes per night. Last season is when his numbers went from good to great; he generated an impressive 14 goals and 50 points while logging 23:49 per contest.

While the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs were generally frustrating for the Wild, Dumba’s work provided a tantalizing argument that the best may still be to come. Ryan Suter was on the shelf, so Dumba took charge, averaging a whopping 26:58 per playoff game against the Winnipeg Jets, and not really looking out of place in the process.

That said, Dumba’s possession numbers have generally been pretty run-of-the-mill, so this contract is far from unanimously approved. Wild GM Paul Fenton made some interesting comparisons between Dumba and P.K. Subban, as The Athletic’s Michael Russo reports (sub required).

“The risk has certainly allowed him to score in double-digit goals, for one,” Fenton said. “It’s hard to find right defensemen who have the ability to game-break, if you will. He’s got a bomb. You look at how guys have molded themselves over the years, there’s a risk-reward factor. P.K. Subban basically does the same thing in a lot of lights. You’re looking at him and saying, ‘Oh my god. He tried that in that particular point in the game or that position in the game.’ As he matures and goes forward, I think it will smooth itself out.”

The dream scenario is for the hockey world to look at the value of Dumba’s contract as an extension of Fenton’s days with the Predators, as Nashville’s knack for signing blooming defensive stars to team-friendly deals can be seen in the bargains for Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm. (Subban, as Norris-worthy as he tends to be, isn’t cheap at $9M per year.)

Paying Dumba $6M per season might seem steep today, yet considering the gold rush on defensemen now that Drew Doughty/Oliver Ekman-Larsson signed and Erik Karlsson‘s eventually awaiting a Brinks truck, this could very well be the sort of pact that ages very well.

Then again, it’s no doubt that people are making jokes about other long-term Wild commitments that haven’t exactly aged like fine wine.

During the past three seasons, Dumba’s tied with Ellis for 15th place among NHL defensemen in goals scored with 35. His 110 points during that frame tie him with Jake Muzzin for 29th. When in doubt, you pay young defensemen who can generate offense, and Dumba certainly fits that bill.

(This also allows the Wild and Dumba to avoid salary arbitration.)

Minnesota stands in an odd spot as far as the future goes, as you can notice from all the mockery related to the Parise and Suter deals. As a team that’s been consistently good but rarely able to find the next gear to great, some will be queasy about another player receiving another meaty contract.

That’s not Dumba’s fault, nor is it on Fenton, who is still just beginning his run as Wild GM. If Minnesota’s taking the next step anytime soon, it will be on the back of strong play from young pieces, and Dumba ranks among their most important talents.

For the most part, this is a very fair example of “the cost of doing business,” as Dumba brings a lot to the table. Still, if he remains mixed at best defensively and the Wild struggle overall, the heat could turn up on the player and his team for this contract. So, again, this one will be fascinating to look back on once we gain hindsight.

(Personally, it seems more than reasonable, but time will tell if that inkling is correct.)

This summer stands to get even costlier for the Wild, as Jason Zucker needs a new contract after a breakthrough of his own. His salary arbitration hearing is currently set for July 28, so expect movement on that front in the next week.

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

Getty
7 Comments

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

Getty
4 Comments

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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