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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.

Advice for new Wild GM Bill Guerin

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In a lot of ways, it’s fitting that the Minnesota Wild announced Bill Guerin as their next GM during Ottawa Senators Day at PHT.

After all, Guerin is stepping into a GM gig that might be just as tough as what Pierre Dorion is dealing with in Ottawa, even if the challenges are different.

Despite missing the playoffs in 2018-19 and failing to win a series from 2015-16 through 2017-18, Craig Leipold continues to drink the Kool-Aid, rather than pulling off the Band-Aid. He wants the Wild to contend, so if any rebuilding happens, it needs to take place while the Wild also try to compete.

Mock former GM Paul Fenton all you want, but that isn’t exactly an easy juggling act.

The question, then, is will Guerin be able to juggle better than Fenton? (After all, he does have the hands of a former NHL sniper.)

Here’s some friendly advice for Guerin because, frankly, he’ll probably need all the help he can get.

1. Find out who wants out

As a former player, Guerin likely has a leg up on most GMs when it comes to being able to relate to other players. That might come in handy when it comes to a sensitive subject: waiving no-trade and no-movement clauses.

Theoretically, it would be awkward to have such a conversation with a veteran player who’s meant a lot to the franchise, whether that be Zach Parise and his seemingly eternal contract, or Mikko Koivu on a one-year deal. Yet, as we’ve seen from Parise doing some summer soul-searching with The Athletic’s Michael Russo (sub required), some of these players have already pondered moving on. It’s easier to have such chats when you’re accomodating a veteran player trying to win that elusive Stanley Cup than it is to ask if you can uproot their family via a trade, after all.

2. Identify your core, and don’t settle

Such clause talk brings up some tough decisions for Guerin when it comes to who is a core Wild player and who is expendable.

As stuck as the Wild seem right now, it’s remarkable how much of a clean slate Guerin can enjoy in the not-so-distant future … at least if he makes smart calls. Via Cap Friendly, the Wild have about $9.5M in cap space, although RFAs Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek still need deals. Even if the cap remained at $81.5M, the Wild’s 2020-21 cap space would rise to $22M, and then all the way up to about $44M heading into 2021-22.

With that in mind, Guerin needs to be cold and calculating. Should the Wild sign Jared Spurgeon, a soon-to-be 30-year-old defenseman who figures to be expensive following this upcoming contract year, or would it be smarter to trade a quality defenseman for what could be a big haul, and build for the future? The Wild have already seen how bad a long-term contract can look, and while Spurgeon could age gracefully, he could just as easily become another albatross.

Spurgeon isn’t the only tough call, but he’s among the toughest.

[From Wild Day at PHT: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

3. Invest in analytics

Firing Fenton after a bit more than a year wasn’t the greatest look for the Wild, but the silver lining was that it kept Fenton from flubbing a Jason Zucker trade in the same way he made the worst blunder of his time, the atrocious Nino Niederreiter trade.

According to Russo’s scathing, incredible rundown of Fenton’s reign in Minnesota, the Niederreiter trade was essentially made during a Florida retreat where the Wild’s top analytics staffers weren’t even invited.

The dream would be for Minnesota to be cutting edge, yet at a minimum, Guerin can avoiding shooting himself in the Fenton … er, foot.

4. Bring in your people

On the other hand, Russo’s reporting also enforced why it can be so important to surround yourself with people you trust.

As much criticism as Fenton drew in that piece regarding being paranoid about leaks … it also is worth mentioning that stunning details ended up leaking out of Minnesota about Fenton’s foibles. Is that ironic, or Alanis Morissette ironic? Considering all that surfaced, can you blame Guerin if he poaches some of the people he knew from Pittsburgh?

Guerin must aim for the right balance between hiring people you can trust, and fresh faces who innovate. I’d wager there’s a sweet spot between Lincoln’s “team of rivals” and Jon Gruden sending his scouting staff home during draft time out of paranoia.

5. Manage Leipold

Perhaps reality will slowly dawn upon Leipold that the Wild need to at least reboot things a bit. In the meantime, though, Guerin needs to hit the right buttons: keeping this team reasonably competitive, without totally mortgaging the future for marginal present-day gains.

***

Chances are, there will be missed shots here and there for Guerin, but if he gets big picture decisions right where Fenton right wrong, the Wild might just become the top-shelf team Leipold demands.

Eventually.

MORE:
• Did the Wild learn from the Fenton era?
• Why the Wild are better off being terrible this season
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

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.

Three questions for Senators in 2019-20

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

Let’s take a look at three questions surrounding the Senators that don’t revolve around mercurial owner Eugene Melnyk.

1. Can D.J. Smith start building something?

Ideally, Smith will begin with Ottawa much like David Quinn started his time with the Rangers: as a coach with very limited expectations.

Honestly, it would probably be best if the Senators “lost respectably” in 2019-20. Score some goals, excite some fans, and maybe distract from the mess surrounding the team at times.

In the grand scheme of things, Smith will be able to help Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk to continue their ascent up the rankings among young NHL blue chippers, while also helping to develop the team’s more mid-range prospects. Bonus points if Smith can also put veteran players in the right situation for “pump and dumps” during the trade deadline, whether that means helping Craig Anderson maximize his value, or merely others in positions to succeed.

Basically, there are ways Smith can “succeed” even if the Senators don’t really win the battle on the scoreboard very often. They don’t seem to have the weapons necessary to light up many scoreboards, either way.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. What defines “success” for this team, in general?

And that really brings it to another question: what should Ottawa really be striving for?

Yes, there’s a chance that Smith innovates and this team overachieves, but even if that happens, what’s the ceiling for such situations?

The worst-case scenario might be that the Senators play so well that they end up in the playoff bubble, but can’t quite make it, so they also end up with a mediocre first-rounder. It would also be quite bad if a relatively competent Senators team inspired Pierre Dorion to decide against trading veterans who aren’t likely to be part of the future, from Anderson to Ron Hainsey to maybe even a more borderline case like Chris Tierney.

Yes, there’s some young talent in Ottawa, but they should be greedy and try to grab as much as they can. Especially since it’s unclear how many of their current prospects will actually move the needle. After watching the Avalanche use their fourth overall pick in 2019, the Senators could really use at least one more player in that range.

Being realistic about their chances is pretty important, and it’s part of what makes Dorion such an X-factor.

3. Can the Senators get some stops?

Despite having Mark Stone and Matt Duchene for a significant chunk of the 2018-19 season, the Senators still were outscored by 59 goals, allowing an NHL-worst 301.

Losing Stone, in particular, should make it that much tougher to keep the goal differential battle respectable, as Stone is one of those rare wingers who gets very deserved attention as a Selke candidate. On paper, there’s little reason to believe that Ottawa will be a particularly competitive team, especially with so many young players learning on the job.

Maybe D.J. Smith’s system might make life a little easier for Craig Anderson, though? Anderson suffered through some terrible play the past two seasons (.898 save percentage in 2017-18, not much better with .903 in 2018-19), yet the 38-year-old has had some great runs in the past, often when people least expected it.

Even with great goaltending, the Senators’ chances are limited, but it would probably do a lot for their collective psyche – and maybe even their young players’ development – if they could at least put up a fight most nights.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Senators GM must manage a rebuild — and Melnyk

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa handing Colin White a six-year, $28.5 million contract was more than just conveniently timed for Senators Day here at PHT. It was also a pivotal moment for a big Senators X-factor: GM Pierre Dorion.

To be more specific, this team’s future hinges on how Dorion manages the Senators’ rebuild … and in what might be an even bigger challenge: managing owner Eugene Melnyk.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | Three questions]

You don’t have to be an accountant to notice that, at least in the short term, the vast majority of the Senators’ moves have been about saving money. It’s to the point that people are already joking that White will be long gone from Ottawa before his actual salary peaks at $6.25M in 2024-25:

But that really was an eye-opening signing because it shows that Dorion can occasionally convince Melnyk to fork over dough for “core players.”

It will be interesting, then, to see how the rest of that core develops, as there are some other potentially pivotal contracts to sign, and Dorion will eventually need to add pieces, whether that means NHL-ready players through trades and free agency, or additional prospects through the volume of draft picks the team has (painfully) accumulated by trading away the likes of Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, and Matt Duchene.

Consider Thomas Chabot the next pressing test case. He’s entering the last year of his rookie contract, so will Ottawa get that done briskly, or will that situation linger ominously? There’s nightmare scenarios where another team poaches Chabot with an offer sheet, knowing that Melnyk seems allergic to signing bonuses.

Dorion truly needs Melnyk on board in cases like these, especially since more are on the horizon, notably with Brady Tkachuk‘s entry-level contract expiring after 2020-21.

There are a ton of factors that could sway things as time goes on, from Seattle’s expansion draft to possibly even a new CBA forming as the Senators’ rebuild goes along. Such thoughts might complicate things if Melnyk believes that a new CBA would be kinder to his wallet.

But, even in the shorter term, Dorion could make some interesting moves if he’s creative — and in cases like retaining salary to get trades done, if he can get Melnyk to buy in.

I’ve already argued that the Senators should embrace short-term pain for long-term gains, not unlike the Hurricanes absorbing Patrick Marleau’s buyout to land a first-round pick. That’s not to say Ottawa needs to clone such moves detail by detail; instead, the point is that Dorion should be creative, and also embrace the likely reality that this team is unlikely to be any good this season, so they might as well build for the future.

That’s where the 2019-20 season presents interesting opportunities.

Craig Anderson seems long in the tooth, but he’s surprised us before with seemingly random near-elite years, and what better time for the 38-year-old to pull another rabbit out of a hat than this one, where he’s in the last season of a deal that carries a $4.75M cap hit?

That sounds like a hefty sum today, but it would be manageable for a contender around trade deadline time, where they could “rent” Anderson. Maybe Ottawa would take on a contract a contender doesn’t want (perhaps Anderson to the Calgary Flames in a deal that involves Cam Talbot and Michael Frolik, if Talbot doesn’t work out) for the price of picks and prospects?

Ottawa doesn’t have marquee trade bait like they did with Karlsson, Duchene, and Stone last year, but you can land nice assets for mid-level players, too, from Anderson to someone like Chris Tierney.

There’s only so much Dorion can do about Melnyk’s penny-pinching ways, whether the Senators owner is truly just being “cost-conscious” now only to eventually spend when it’s time to contend, or if that “unparalleled success” talk was merely just talk.

But as we’ve seen with teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, you can build something pretty special even while dealing with budget constraints. You need some creativity from a GM, and an owner who will spend money when it counts.

Is Dorion up to the task? So far, the results have been mixed, but how he handles this situation (now, and in the future) is an enormous X-factor for the Senators.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Former Rangers and ‘Miracle on Ice’ player charged in attack

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GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — Mark Pavelich, a forward on the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team who went on to play for the New York Rangers and two other NHL teams, has been charged with assault for allegedly beating a neighbor with a metal pole and breaking several of the man’s bones.

The 61-year-old Pavelich allegedly attacked his neighbor last week at Pavelich’s home in the small Lake Superior community of Lutsen, Minnesota, after they returned from fishing, authorities allege in the criminal complaint. Pavelich told investigators he believed the man had “spiked” his beer, leading to the alleged attack, the complaint says.

First responders found the neighbor in shock with “obvious disfigurement of his leg,” KMSP-TV reported. He also had a bruised kidney, two cracked ribs and a fractured vertebra.

Pavelich faces charges of second- and third-degree assault, possession of an illegal shotgun and receiving a gun with an altered or missing serial number. During a hearing Monday in Cook County District Court, the judge ordered a mental competency hearing for Pavelich, who didn’t have an attorney listed in online court records as of Wednesday.

He remains in custody in lieu of $250,000 bail, the Star Tribune reported.

Pavelich played five seasons with the Rangers and parts of one season each with the Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks, compiling 137 goals and 192 assists in 355 NHL games. He also played professionally in Europe.

Pavelich had two assists in the United States’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the 1980 Olympic tournament. The U.S. went on to beat Finland in the final to win the gold medal.

In 2012, his 44-year-old wife, Kara, died in an accidental fall from a second-story balcony at their home. Two years later, Pavelich sold his gold medal for $262,900 through an auction house, saying he wanted to help his adult daughter.