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NHL Power Rankings: Jets offense can be scary good

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When we talk about the top Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference the first team that comes to mind would have to be the Nashville Predators. They were in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, made significant additions to the roster, and are still in a position to make at least one more this week before the NHL trade deadline.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights, currently the top team in the West, also have to be in that conversation as well. They have a great offense, strong goaltending, and seem to have that intangible chip on the shoulder with something to prove.

But after that who do we have next?

Well, it might just have to be the Winnipeg Jets thanks in large part to an offense that has become ridiculously good in a short period of time. After finishing sixth in the league in goals a season ago, the Jets have come back this season and entering play on Monday are third in the league in goals per game.

Now that Mark Scheifele is back in the lineup that are clicking on all cylinders.

They not only have high-end talent like Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers, it is a deep, balanced offense that really does not have many weak links.

Entering the week they have the top spot in the Central Division (though Nashville is only two points back with two games still in hand) and are just two points back of Vegas for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference.

This is an organization that is still searching for its first ever postseason victory, and how well Connor Hellebuyck holds up in net will determine how many wins they will be able to get in the playoffs once they get there, but this offense is going to give them a chance against anybody.

They reach the No. 3 spot in this week’s power rankings.

Let us take a look at where everyone else sits this week.

The Elites

1. Boston Bruins — They were blown out by Vancouver recently but that is just a small blip on the radar. They are still 20-3-3 in their past 26 games.

2. Vegas Golden Knights — Entering play on Monday the Vegas Golden Knights have the best points percentage in the NHL. That means they are on track to win the Presidents’ Trophy. In their first season.

3. Winnipeg Jets — They are a fun team to watch. The rebuild has been slow, but it is finally paying off.

4. Nashville Predators — They have to be considered one of the top favorites in the NHL at this point and you have to assume they are going to make a big addition before the trade deadline. Rick Nash seems perfect.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning — With four losses in their past seven games that qualifies as a little bit of a slump. Still not much to worry about big picture. This team is legit. Slumps like this happen over 82 games.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins — Matt Murray and Carl Hagelin starting to round into form is a pretty big deal for the Penguins. Could be game-changers.

The Rest Of The Contenders

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — They lost four games in a row in mid-January. Since then they are 11-4-0 and scoring a ton of goals. They are never boring.

8. Dallas Stars — Remember just a couple of years ago how their games were just defense optional goal scoring surges? The Stars are fifth in the NHL in goals against this season. The Ken Hitchcock effect.

9. Philadelphia Flyers — They are winning an awful lot but with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth injured who is going to play in goal?

10. Washington Capitals — The results are there, but the more I watch them the more doubts I have about them. Still very good. Still a dangerous team. Just not sure about them.

All Of These Teams Seem The Same

11. San Jose Sharks — Have to give the Sharks a lot of credit for getting through some pretty significant injuries and still finding ways to score goals and win. Not easy to be without a player like Joe Thornton.

12. New Jersey Devils — Just when it looked like they were in danger of really falling out of the playoff race they go on a four-game winning streak. Taylor Hall is making a strong MVP argument for himself.

13. St. Louis Blues — A three-game losing streak, as well as a surging Dallas team, has pushed the Blues back into a Wild Card spot and a little closer to the playoff bubble. They are still in pretty good shape so concern shouldn’t be too high. Yet.

14. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is quietly having a better season this year than he did last year. His performance last year was completely unexpected, too. If they make the playoffs he will be a big reason why.

15. Calgary Flames — Along with the Kings and Ducks, the two teams that follow them in this week’s rankings, they could either finish in the top-three of the Pacific Division or just as easily miss the playoffs. They have only won five of their past 14 games.

16. Los Angeles Kings — They don’t have a ton of talent and could probably use a bit of a reset in terms of how they build their team. They could make the playoffs, but even if they do, do they seem like a threat to go far?

17. Anaheim Ducks — Right in the thick of that jumbled Western Conference playoff race, but everyone they are competing with has games in hand on them, giving them a slightly steeper mountain to climb with less margin for error than some of the other teams they are competing with.

18. New York Islanders — They already have seven players with at least 14 goals this season. Imagine them with a halfway decent defense and goaltending situation.

19. Carolina Hurricanes — Let’s take a look at how things have gone for the Hurricanes over the past month. Lost two. Won three. Lost three. Won three. Lost three. Consistently inconsistent.

20. Florida Panthers — They have won a lot recently, they still have a ton of games in hand on everybody, but it still seems like that gap is still too much to make up. But we will give them credit for the way they have played recently and bump them up a few spots.

21. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon returned, and that is good. Then they lost to Edmonton at home. That is … not good.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets — They are trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time. They should be better than this. They might be better than this. They need to start getting some results though.

Buy A Lottery Ticket

23. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist looks completely exhausted and totally worn out. The team in front of him is lousy defensively and is probably only going to get worse over the next week when players get traded.

24. Detroit Red Wings — Bad time for Mike Green to be injured. Unless they are just keeping him out of the lineup to preserve him for a trade?

25. Chicago Blackhawks — The eight-game losing streak got a lot of attention but it is actually much worse than that. They have won just five of their past 17 games entering play on Monday.

26. Ottawa Senators — Who is going to go over the next week? Derrick Brassard? Mike Hoffman? Jean-Gabriel Pageau? Dare we ask … Erik Karlsson?

27. Vancouver Canucks — When you are rebuilding and out of the playoff race you just have to re-sign Eric Gudbranson. Well, no, no you don’t, but the Canucks seem determined to make that happen anyway.

28. Arizona Coyotes — They still have the worst record in the league but give them a lot of credit for playing the way they have recently and stringing some wins together.

A Level Of Their Own At The Bottom

29. Edmonton Oilers — Updating a stat from a week ago. Since Feb. 1, a stretch of nine games, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined to score 16 goals. The Edmonton Oilers have won two of those games. Keep boosting those draft lottery odds.

3o. Buffalo Sabres — They were lousy with Jack Eichel. They are even lousier without him. Perhaps the low point of the season came over the weekend against the Los Angeles Kings when they gave up three goals on three consecutive shots.

31. Montreal Canadiens — Only 4-11-1 in their past 16 and one of the worst records in the NHL overall.

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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.

Will coaching change be enough to give Ducks’ goalies some help?

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Since becoming the Anaheim Ducks’ starter, John Gibson has become one of the best goalies in the NHL.

For the first part of the 2018-19 season he was almost single-handedly carrying the team and helping to keep it at least somewhat competitive. He was not only in the Vezina Trophy discussion, but as long as the Ducks were winning he was a legitimate MVP contender. But for as good as Gibson performed, the entire thing was a house of cards that was always on the verge of an ugly collapse.

The Ducks couldn’t score, they couldn’t defend, they forced Gibson to take on a ridiculous workload in terms of shots and scoring chances against.

Eventually, everything fell apart.

Once Gibson started to wear down and could no longer steal games on a nightly basis, the team turned into one of the worst in the league despite having a top-10 goaltending duo. That is a shocking accomplishment because teams that get the level of goaltending the Ducks received from the Gibson-Ryan Miller duo usually make the playoffs.

How bad was it for the Ducks? They were one of only three teams in the top-15 in save percentage this past season that did not make the playoffs.

The only other teams in the top-15 that missed were the Montreal Canadiens, who were just two points back in a far better and more competitive Eastern Conference, and the Arizona Coyotes who were four points back in the Western Conference and the first team on the outside looking in.

The Ducks not only missed, they were 10 points short with FIVE teams between them and a playoff spot. Again, almost impossibly bad.

It is a testament to just how bad the rest of the team performed in front of the goalies, and it continued a disturbing trend from the 2018 playoffs when the Ducks looked completely overmatched against the San Jose Sharks in a four-game sweep. It was clear the team was badly flawed and was falling behind in a faster, more skilled NHL.

The problem for the Ducks right now is that so far this offseason the team has remained mostly the same.

They bought out the remainder of Corey Perry‘s contract, will be without Ryan Kesler, and have really not done anything else to change a roster that has not been anywhere near good enough the past two seasons.

That means it is going to be another sink-or-swim season for the Ducks based on how far the goaltending duo of Gibson and Miller can carry them.

It is a tough situation because the Ducks have made an absolutely massive commitment to Gibson as he enters the first year of an eight-year, $51.2 million contract. T

hat is a huge investment in a goalie, and for the time being, the Ducks have not really done anything to support him. Even if you have the best goalie in the league — or just one of the best — it is nearly impossible to win based only on that. Great goalies can help, they can mask a lot of flaws, and they can even carry a mediocre or bad team to the playoffs if they have a historically great season (think Carey Price during the 2014-15 season). But that still puts a ton of pressure on the goalie, and it is nearly impossible to ride that all the way to a championship.

There is, however, one small cause for optimism.

A lot of the Ducks’ problems defensively last season seemed to be based around their system and structure in the early part of the season under then-coach Randy Carlyle.

Under Carlyle the Ducks were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to suppressing shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances during 5-on-5 play.

They were 29th or worse when it came to shots on goal against, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances, and 26th in total shot attempts against. This is something that always happened with Carlyle coached teams and they would always go as far as their goaltending could take them. In recent years, Gibson masked a lot of those flaws by playing at an elite level and helped get the Ducks in the playoffs. He was able to do it for half of a season this year before finally playing like a mortal instead of a goaltending deity.

But after Carlyle was replaced by general manager Bob Murray, the Ducks showed some massive improvement defensively, shaving multiple shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances per 60 minutes off of their totals.

They went from 26th to seventh in shots on goal against, from 29th to 19th in shot attempts, from 30th to 17th in scoring chances against, and from 29th to 17th in high-danger scoring chances against.

Still not great, but definitely better. Much better. So much better that even though Gibson’s overall performance regressed, the Ducks still managed to win games and collect points at a significantly better rate than they did earlier in the season. They were 14-11-1 from Feb. 10 until the end of the season under Murray.

That is a 91.3 point pace over 82 games. That would have been a playoff point total in the Western Conference this past season.

Under Carlyle, it was a 74.6 point pace. That would have been one of the four worst records in the league.

Coaching changes are very rarely a cure-all. It is still a talent-driven league, and if you do not have talent you are probably not going to win very much. But there are always exceptions and outliers, and sometimes a coaching change is a necessity and can help dramatically improve a team.

New Ducks coach Dallas Eakins has an incredibly short NHL head coaching resume so we don’t have much to go by when it comes to what he will do What we do have to go by came in Edmonton where it has become abundantly clear over the past 15 years that the problems go far beyond the head coach (because they have all failed there). The Ducks are still short on talent at forward and defense, but it should still be able to perform better than it did a year ago. And with a goalie as dominant as Gibson can be (with a great backup behind him) there is no excuse for them to be as far out of the playoff picture as they were.

The Ducks don’t need to be the 1995 Devils defensively to compete.

They just need to not be the worst shot suppression team in the league.

If Eakins can figure out a way to build on the momentum the Ducks showed over the final two months of the 2018-19 season, they might actually have a fighting chance.

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.

Calgary Flames set with arena plans to replace Saddledome

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The Calgary Flames have a tentative agreement for a new arena to replace the Saddledome.

The city, NHL team and the Calgary Stampede have agreed in principle to terms. The Stampede, a rodeo exhibition, owns the land.

The deal was to be presented to the City Council on Monday and then put to a vote. Calgary citizens would then have a week to voice their opinion before a council vote next week to ratify the deal.

The Saddledome is almost 36 years old. The cost of the event center is $550 million to $600 million. It is to have a seating capacity of about 20,000 for sports and would be the heart of a larger revitalized commercial and residential district.

Penguins sign Zach Aston-Reese to 2-year deal

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins and forward Zach Aston-Reese avoided arbitration on Monday, agreeing to a two-year deal that runs through the 2020-21 season.

The deal is worth $1 million annually. The two sides came together minutes before heading to arbitration.

”We were actually setting up for the meeting and kind of right before it started, right at nine o’clock, it got done,” Aston-Reese said. ”Right on time.”

Aston-Reese, 24, posted career highs in goals (eight) and assists (nine) despite being limited to 43 games because of a hand injury. Aston-Reese – who skated alongside Sidney Crosby on the top line but also put in work with the fourth line – gives the Penguins more options as they try to bounce back from a first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the New York Islanders.

”Zach is a responsible player who plays a solid two-way game,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. ”He has a heavy style of play that is especially effective on the forecheck and penalty kill.”

Aston-Reese admitted he was relieved to get a new contract ironed out before going through arbitration.

”It’s a little bit awkward and I was just really happy to get the deal done before that meeting began,” he said. ”You hear stories of things like that and it’s no coincidence that only what, 5% actually go through with the meeting. I was happy to avoid that.”

How Phil Kessel can transform Coyotes’ offense

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The Arizona Coyotes made a significant splash this offseason when they acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins, adding a much-needed impact player to the top of their lineup. Getting him was a perfect confluence of events that involved the Penguins feeling desperate to shake up their roster, Kessel having almost full control over where he ended up going, and the Coyotes having a head coach (Rick Tocchet) the Kessel liked playing for in the past and wanted to play for again.

Despite an impossibly bad run of injury luck the Coyotes made a valiant push for a playoff spot only to fall just short, in large part because they did not have enough offense.

They finished the season 28th in goals scored, 20th in shots on goal, and 26th on the power play. None of that is promising.

One player alone can not fix all of that — especially a player that will be turning 32 at the start of the season — but adding a player like Kessel certainly helps.

A lot.

Acquiring Kessel is so significant because the Coyotes have simply not had a player like him in more than a decade. Maybe even longer.

A *bad* year for Kessel offensively is probably 25 goals and 60 points, while he is also still capable of being an 80-90 point player. Even the middle ground between those two is bonafide first-line production.

To put all of that that into perspective, just consider that since the start of the 2008-09 season the Coyotes have had only two players top the 70-point mark in a single season, and none since Ray Whitney did it during the 2011-12 season. No one has topped 80 points during that stretch.

Over that same stretch they have had only five 60-point performances (and only Clayton Keller has done it since 2011-12), only two 30-goal seasons (none since, again, 2011-12) and only three 25-goal seasons.

Twenty-five goals and 60 points are not huge numbers. Those are great second line numbers in today’s NHL and pretty good first line numbers. But even those have been almost unheard of in Arizona for the past decade. They just simply have not had anyone that is even close to being an impact forward.

Should Kessel be expected to be the same 80-or 90-point player that he has been the past two seasons? Probably not, not only because he will not have the luxury of Hall of Fame centers next to him, but also because he is also going to be another year older. There is a definite recipe for regression there, especially at even-strength. But he is still gifted enough of a player (and passer and playmaker, perhaps his most underappreciated skill) that he will still be one of the best and most productive offensive players to wear a Coyotes uniform in years.

But the area he should make the biggest impact is on Arizona’s dreadful power play.

The Coyotes have been one of the worst teams on the man-advantage for five years now, mostly because they just have not had anyone at forward that could really take over and run things.

The power play is where Kessel does a significant part of his damage.

Over the past three seasons Kessel is sixth in power play assists per 60 minutes (5.49), 11th in primary assists per 60 minutes (2.91), and third in total points per 60 minutes (7.47).

It is easy to write that off in recent years to playing alongside the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Kessel was often the one that unit ran through and it was far less dangerous when he was not on the ice. His passing, vision, and playmaking made him an elite weapon and one of the most productive players in the league on the man-advantage.

The Coyotes have had no one that even comes close to that level of performance over the past few years.

Kessel definitely has his flaws, and his defensive shortcomings are very real, but he remains an impact winger and a player that can still completely help transform a power play unit. He alone may not make them the best unit in the league, or even one of the best, but he is going to make them better. Very likely a lot better.

The Coyotes have been assembling a promising roster that is pretty good defensively and definitely has the potential to grow into a good team in the not too distant future. The biggest thing they have been lacking in this rebuild is a forward that can change a game and be a difference-maker offensively. Ideally, that player would be someone younger and still closer to the prime of their career and would better match up with some of their core players, but those players are nearly impossible to acquire without a lot of luck or a top-pick in the right draft year.

Kessel may not be perfect, but can definitely still help give them a lot of the elements they have been lacking offensively and help bring some firepower to an offense that has been one of the dullest and least dangerous in the league.

Combined with the addition of Carl Soderberg and, hopefully, some better injury luck and that should give the Coyotes a fighting chance to make up that ground in the Western Conference playoff race.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference)

Related: Coyotes acquire Phil Kessel from Pittsburgh Penguins for Alex Galchenyuk

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.