Conn Smythe Power Rankings: Ovechkin makes his move

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When we last checked in with our Conn Smythe Power Rankings before the start of the Stanley Cup Final I argued that it was still Marc-Andre Fleury‘s award to lose, and that barring a total collapse in this series he might have a case to win it even if the Vegas Golden Knights end up losing to the Washington Capitals.

Given that the series is tied one game apiece as it shifts to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday night it would be way too premature to say that has happened. Still, through the first two games of the series Fleury has given up seven goals on 54 shots and has an .870 save percentage. Some regression was inevitable given the super-human level he played at through the first three rounds of the playoffs, but Vegas isn’t winning this series with .870 goaltending from their starting goalie.

With that said, for the first time since our initial look at the Conn Smythe race way back in the first-round we have a new leader in the clubhouse.

The new leader is…

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He has been everything for the Capitals in these playoffs and has not only scored a ton of goals and recorded a ton of points, he’s scored — and been a part of — quite a few big goals, the type of moments that can forever chance a tired, lazy narrative about a player’s big-game ability. He assisted on Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s series-clinching goal in the second round after scoring a game-winner of his own earlier in the series in the final minute of regulation. He set the tone early in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final by scoring what would be the eventual game-winner. He already has 13 goals in the playoffs — including the two aforementioned game-winners — and gave the Capitals a second period lead in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final with his fifth power play goal. He has at least one point in 16 of the Capitals’ playoff games and is the engine that makes what has been an historically good power play unit work. Only one player has scored at least 15 goals in a single postseason run over the past 20 years (Sidney Crosby for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2008-09 playoffs) and Ovechkin has a very real chance to not only match that number, but perhaps even exceed it.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights. If Vegas ends up winning this series Fleury is going to win it, there is no doubt about that. But as we sit here right now after two games in the series his stranglehold on the award (the one where he wins the award whether his team wins or loses the series) has slipped just a little. As I mentioned before the series even though he has been on the winning side of his two previous postseason matchups against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals they have been able to get to him. So far in this series they have done the same thing. If that continues it will all come down to the goalie at the other side of the rink.

3. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals. This is probably not his best postseason performance, but man has he had his moments. Back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to help the Capitals come from behind in the series? That save on Alex Tuch in the closing minutes of the third period of Game 2 in the Stanley Cup Final? If the Capitals go on to win this series that save will be talked about in Washington forever.

[Related: Save of the playoffs highlights Holtby’s tremendous Game 2]

4. Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights’ top line has been driving much of their offense this postseason, and Marchessault is the player that makes the line go. When the line of Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Golden Knights have controlled more than 55 percent of the total shot attempts and outscore their opponents by a 19-12 margin. When none of them are on the ice the Golden Knights still have strong goal advantage (12-6) but their territorial advantage all but disappears (only 48 percent of the shot attempts) which makes things a lot more difficult for their goaltender. When Smith and Karlsson are on the ice without Marchessault, an admittedly small sampling of only around 20 minutes the Golden Knights attempt just 40 percent of the shot attempts. He drives play, he is their leader in every major offensive category, and he is their best player.

5. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals. I want to put him higher. He should probably be higher given his production, the big goals he has scored, and the fact he took an 11-game point streak into Wednesday’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. His injury situation and the fact we do not really know his status for the rest of the series leaves him here in the fifth spot.

He won’t win, but worth a mention: Lars Eller, Washington Capitals. When it comes to the Capitals’ Conn Smythe candidates Eller is behind the obvious choices in Ovechkin, Holtby, and Kuznetsov, but do not overlook his value. Not only does he have 16 points (an impressive total on its own), but he has been incredible in stepping up for both of the Capitals’ top centers (Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov) when they have been out of the lineup and has played an excellent two-way game. He has the points, he has the big goals, he has great possession numbers.

Related: Capitals’ Lars Eller excels once again with increased responsibility

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

John Carlson gets $64M payday as Capitals lock up defenseman

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The Washington Capitals cleared salary cap space for a big reason and it paid off on Sunday as they’ve agreed to a long-term deal with defenseman John Carlson.

It’s a $64 million extension over eight years for the 28-year-old. According to Pierre LeBrun, within the details of the contract are $2 million signing bonuses that land on July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2022, a.k.a. Possible Lockout Seasons.

“John has been an exceptional and consistent player for our franchise and has blossomed into being one of the top defensemen in the NHL,” said Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. “Defenseman like John are a rare commodity in our League and, at 28 years of age, we feel he is just entering his prime. As a right-handed defenseman, John plays in all key situations and has contributed greatly to our team’s success on the special teams. We are pleased for both parties to have come to an agreement and for him to continue his great career as a Washington Capital.”

Carlson, who would have been an unrestricted free agent on July 1, picked the right time to have a career season and lead all NHL defensemen in scoring. In playing all 82 games during the regular season, he posted career highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68), ice time (24:47) and power play assists (28). The production continued in the playoffs with five goals and 20 points as the Capitals claimed the 2018 Stanley Cup. He would finish fifth in the Norris Trophy voting.

The Capitals and Carlson’s camp had not come to an agreement as of Sunday morning, so his agent began taking calls from other interested teams as the free agent interview period opened. MacLellan did a good job of clearing cap space for an extension, shipping Brooks Orpik and his $5.5 million cap hit to the Colorado Avalanche along with restricted free agent goaltender Philipp Grubauer on Friday.

Carlson’s priority was to remain in Washington.

“This has been my home. I’ve lived here every summer since I’ve been here,” Carlson said during locker clean out day. “This is my home base and obviously the guys that I’ve been around, the experiences we’ve had. I love the area and this is all I know.”

In other Capitals defenseman news, the team has an offer out to Carlson’s defense partner Michal Kempny, who was acquired in February from Chicago and turned into a valuable piece en route to the Cup. And then there’s Orpik, who was waived after being acquired by the Avalanche. Once his buyout from Colorado becomes official, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent, setting up the possibility of a return to Washington.

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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.

Could Capitals be on verge of losing John Carlson?

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(UPDATE: No, he’s staying. Eight-year, $64 million extension for Carlson.)

While the sweet aroma of winning the Stanley Cup isn’t likely to fade any time soon, the brief stench of the business side of hockey could once again crop up in Washington.

Already having lost Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz last week, the Capitals could be on the verge of losing top-scoring defenseman John Carlson from the 2017-18 season as well.

Maybe.

With no deal in place to extend the skilled rearguard, Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, said while they’re still trying to hash out a deal with the Capitals, his client, who led all NHL d-men with 68 points this past season, is going to listen to other teams after the interview period commenced at 12:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.

On Friday, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said a deal with Carlson was “close” to being achieved.

“Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close,” he said.

But as of Sunday morning, there’s still no deal in place for the man who set a Caps franchise record for most points by a defenseman in the playoffs with 20.

MacLellan has made room for Carlson. Needing the necessary cap space to give him his raise, MacLellan dealt backup netminder Philipp Grubauer and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche — the later of which had a $5.5 million cap hit attached to him.

For now, the savings account hasn’t been touched.

For Carlson, he has earned the right to test the free agent waters, and Washington obviously hasn’t met whatever demands 28-year-old has for his new deal.

It’s important to point out, as the Associated Press’ Stephen Whyno did Sunday, that Washington is the only team that can give Carlson eight years of term in a new deal. As Whyno said, this shouldn’t be overlooked.

Losing Carlson would be a big blow, so it’s kind of surprising it’s gotten to this point from the Capitals side, although Carlson could be doing what he’s earned — looking to see if the grass is greener on the other side — and using this time as leverage in talks with Washington.

A simple formula: Player wants the team to meet demands, the team isn’t there yet, forcing the player to play hardball, in turn forcing the team’s hand, or something like that, roughly speaking.

Caps beat writer for the Washington Post Isabelle Khurshudyan wrote Sunday that despite the noise surrounding Carlson, she still expects the d-man to re-sign in the nation’s capital.

#CarlsonWatch continues for now.

Have your say here:


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

Hurricanes have much to do, but headed in right direction after blockbuster deal

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There’s a long way to go to rebuild the Carolina Hurricanes into a contending hockey team, but they took a nice step in the right direction on Saturday.

The hockey world has had 24 hours to digest that five-player blockbuster trade on the second day of the 2018 NHL Draft — one that included defenseman Dougie Hamilton heading to the east coast once again and defenseman Noah Hanifin heading to Cow Town.

The verdict? That we won’t know for some time yet (as with any trade in its immediate infancy), but for a Hurricanes team desperate for a sheet of ice in the playoffs, the move certainly turned their aim in that direction.

Calgary got younger with 21-year-old Hanifin and 23-year-old Elias Lindholmbut the move broke up one of the league’s premier defense pairings in the process. Carolina added one-half of that pairing, and it seems more clear that the Hurricanes — who also used their second overall selection on Andrei Svechnikov earlier in the day — got better.

Worlds like “elite defenseman,” “career-year” and “highly-touted” were all uttered to help explain the three players — Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox, respectively — that Carolina snatched up in Saturday’s wheeling and dealing.

Not too shabby, right? The Hurricanes got immediate help on defense and forward with a quality prospect on the backend developing (if he eventually signs).

Winning trades has been something of a foreign concept when attached to Don Waddell during his tenure as an NHL general manager. His exploits as the GM of the Atlanta Thrashers meant years of needed repair after the team moved to Winnipeg in 2011, for instance.

So Saturday’s deal was a win-win for Carolina fans, who had to fear what Waddell might do to their team after being handed the reigns earlier this year.

“We’ve gone nine years missing the playoffs… we’re going to try to change up the culture a little bit,” Waddell said from the draft. “We feel that all three pieces are going to make our hockey club better not just today but going into the future.”

The Canes received a beefy, skilled defenseman in Hamilton who’s good for 40 points a year and can play big minutes. He’s also still just 25 and comes in at a nice price point at $5.75 AAV with three years left on that deal.

With Jaccob Slavin, captain Justin Faulk, Haydn Fleury and Trevor van Riemsdyk also in that rearguard, it became all the more formidable with the arrival of Hamilton.

Hamilton seems to carry around an aura of split opinion on his ability (and personality, apparently). But his underlying numbers suggest he’s among the best defenseman in the game. Elite, even.

Carolina also acquired fellow d-man Adam Fox in the deal, a promising 20-year-old prospect who’s been showing great signs playing at Harvard in the NCAA.

And they got Micheal Ferland, a physical terror on the ice who found his scoring punch this past season with 21 goals.

(It should be noted that Bill Peters — now the coach in Calgary — coached Hanifin and Elias Lindholm in Carolina. He knows the duo like the back of his hand.)

What’s next?

This bit is critical now.

With one issue squared away, the Hurricanes can now turn to other areas that need addressing.

The futures of the aforementioned Faulk (UFA ’20) and Jeff Skinner (UFA ’19) need attention, of course. Both have been churning in the rumor mill and would likely command a nice haul in return. Keeping Faulk in that now-formidable backend might seem like a no-brainer. Or maybe not…

If Faulk is expendable, then he’d be best used in a deal that shores up Carolina’s most pressing issue — its goaltending.

Scott Darling hasn’t worked out and Cam Ward isn’t coming back.

With Philipp Grubauer going to Colorado (perhaps, in part, by design), the list of unrestricted free agent goaltenders capable of being starters is slim at best.

Carter Hutton has shown flashes, as has Anton Khudonbin (who already had one stint in Carolina). With Grubauer out of the picture, those are the two best options with UFA status

Skinner and/or Faulk could be the carrot dangled in a potential move that would see a goalie in return and Waddell told reporters in Dallas on Saturday that he intends on landing a netminder.

A trade involving either could also be used to help Carolina find a left-handed defenseman. They have a glut of right-hand shots now with the arrival Hamilton and the departure of Hanifin on the backend, so perhaps something that turns Faulk into another top LHD helps Waddell pull the trigger.

For the moment, Hurricanes fans can rest on the fact that their team got better over the weekend. And they can hope that the direction from this weekend will filter down into next when the free agency window opens up on July 1.


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

Liam Kirk 1st born-and-trained Brit selected in NHL draft

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DALLAS (AP) Liam Kirk has become the first player born and trained in England to be selected in the NHL draft.

The Arizona Coyotes picked the 18-year-old left wing 189th overall on Saturday with their seventh-round pick.

Kirk was home, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean about 4,600 miles away from Dallas, when he was drafted.

The 6-foot, 161-pound Kirk played this season for Sheffield Steelers in the Elite Ice Hockey League, the highest level of competition in the United Kingdom. He had nine goals and seven assists in 52 games for the Steelers in his second season with the team.

When Kirk attended this year’s NHL scouting combine in Buffalo, he became the first player born and trained in Britain to attend that annual pre-draft event.

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/tags/NHLhockey