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Six NHL teams that improved the most this summer (so far)

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The start of the NHL season is still a few months away and there is obviously time for a lot to change between now and then when it comes to roster movement.

Erik Karlsson is still likely to get traded.

Artemi Panarin and Max Pacioretty could get traded.

There are still probably a handful of bargain bin free agents floating around that are capable of making some sort of an impact. There are still ways for the 31 general managers to improve their rosters before the puck drops on the 2018-19 regular season.

So while it is probably still a little early to officially determine the winners and losers of the offseason, we can at least take a look at which teams have done the most to improve themselves so far.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs — Uh, this one is pretty obvious, right? The Maple Leafs, already loaded with young impact talent at forward, added one of the best players in the league in John Tavares on the first day of free agency and that alone makes them better.

The Maple Leafs still have some work to do when it comes to solidifying their blue line, but you can’t fault them for adding Tavares. When you have a chance to add a player of that caliber (and it is rare that you do) you have to take advantage of that. Now they have a 1-2-3 center group of Auston Matthews, Tavares, and Nazem Kadri that is every bit as good as any other center trio in the league.

[Related: John Tavares signs with Maple Leafs]

2. Carolina Hurricanes — A lot here depends on whether or not they trade Jeff Skinner and/or Justin Faulk and what they might end up getting for them in return. Overall, though, this has been a strong offseason for the Hurricanes. Still not sold on their goaltending situation and until that gets fixed that is probably always going to be the thing that holds them back, but can Petr Mrazek really be any worse than Cam Ward was? And, hey, Scott Darling really has nowhere to go but up after a dismal debut with the team. So there is that.

The real encouraging news comes from the fact they were fortunate enough to address probably their second biggest need (after goaltending) when they selected goal-scoring sniper Andrei Svechnikov with the No. 2 overall pick.

Then they went and traded for Dougie Hamilton (full trade here), a borderline elite defenseman, to strengthen their blue line.

Hamilton led all defenseman in goals last season, is a dominant possession player, is still only 25 years old, and is signed for three more seasons at $5.75 million per season, — a steal of a price given his production. Hamilton’s addition perhaps could give them some added flexibility to maybe trade Faulk for help elsewhere, or perhaps even better, simply keep him and continue to build what could be an outstanding defense around those two, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce.

Update: The Hurricanes continued to strengthen their defense on Tuesday by signing Calvin de Haan, formerly of the New York Islanders, to a four-year, $18 million contract in free agency.

3. Philadelphia Flyers — The Flyers seem like an intriguing possibility for Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, given need, cap space, and perhaps even assets that could be traded. Will it actually happen? Well, probably not, but it sure is fun to think about. As far as actual moves the team has made, bringing back James van Riemsdyk was a strong addition in free agency as it gives the Flyers some much-needed secondary scoring punch.

Once you got below Tavares on the list of available free agents van Riemsdyk was probably the best pure offensive name available on the market and still at an age where a long-term contract (in this case five years) wasn’t a massive gamble.

He has scored at least 27 goals in four of the past five seasons, a stretch where he has been one of the best goal-scorers (both at even-strength and in all situations) in the entire league.

[Related: Five logical landing spots for Erik Karlsson]

4. St. Louis Blues — The immediate reaction to the Blues’ acquisition of Ryan O'Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres seemed to be one of shock because of the number of pieces going the other way. But that is just it. It was a quantity over quality package, and when you break down the assets that the Blues gave up how many of them were actually something that they might truly miss?

Prospect Tage Thompson and the first-round pick are obviously the key pieces. But what else are the Blues going to miss?

Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka turned into contracts that the Blues probably no longer wanted, and a second-round pick (probably one in the second half of that round) is nothing more than a lottery ticket with low odds of turning into anything impactful. At the end of the day the Blues still got what was by far the best player in the trade.

They also added Tyler Bozak and David Perron in free agency, two players that will probably end up outproducing what Berglund and Sobotka provided (or will provde). The Blues were 24th in the NHL in goals this past season and needed to do something to address that. They absolutely did address it.

[Related: Blues acquire Ryan O’Reilly from Sabres]

5. Arizona Coyotes — There is reason for optimism in Arizona. They kept their franchise player in Oliver Ekman-Larsson on a long-term contract, they have some outstanding young talent starting to emerge from their farm system, and after a miserable first half of the 2017-18 season they finished on a very strong note by going 17-10-2 over their final 29 games (that would be a 101-point pace over 82 games). How much that carries over to this upcoming season obviously remains to be seen, but for the second offseason in a row they made some big additions.

They landed a potential impact player in Alex Galchenyuk in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for Max Domi, and then dipped into the free agent market by bringing in speedster Michael Grabner. Grabner has his flaws, but his speed can cause havoc during 5-on-5 play and the penalty kill while they have more than enough salary cap space to handle his three-year, $10 million contract. Those additions, combined with what will hopefully be a full year from Antti Raanta and perhaps the development of Dylan Strome could make Arizona a surprise team in the Western Conference. Especially in a Pacific Division that is completely wide open.

6. Los Angeles Kings — The Kings didn’t really do much to make themselves younger or faster, and there are some questions as to how much he has left in the tank given his age and the fact he spent the past five years playing in Russia, but Ilya Kovalchuk gives the Kings the type of offensive weapon they desperately needed this past season. I still don’t love the Kings’ long-term outlook, but Kovalchuk could be a pretty big addition and makes them better in the short-term even if he is not the 40-goal, point-per-game player he was during his prime years in the NHL.

[ProHockeyTalk’s NHL 2018 free agency tracker]

More NHL Free agency:
Paul Stastny smart addition for Golden Knights
Kings add Kovalchuk on three-year contract
Penguins make it official with Jack Johnson, bring back Matt Cullen

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.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa scored three goals in the first 15:16 minutes of the game, including two on the power play, and held off a late push by Dallas to win 3-2 and even the Stanley Cup Final at one game apiece. Brayden Point opened the scoring by netting his 10th of the postseason and Ondrej Palat and Kevin Shattenkirk each scored to give the Lightning a three-goal lead they would not relinquish.

Since the beginning of their First Round series against Columbus, the Lightning are a perfect 5-0 following a loss this postseason. Tampa last lost consecutive games on March 8th and 10th – its final two games before the pause. Andrei Vasilevskiy has not lost consecutive starts since dropping three straight from Feb. 20-25.

After going 0/14 on the power play in their previous four games, the Lightning scored twice on the man-advantage in Game 2, with both tallies coming in the first period. Point and Palat scored power-play goals 2:59 apart in the first period in the win. Dallas took three penalties in the first 14 minutes of play and the Lightning were able to take control by scoring twice.

Tyler Seguin, who is making his third appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28- year-old has gone 11 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span. His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, September 23, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Can Tyler Seguin break out of scoring slump for Stars during Stanley Cup Final?

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During the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Tyler Seguin is enduring a scoring slump at the “even the Dallas Stars can’t deny it” level. Stars coach Rick Bowness couldn’t totally dismiss Seguin’s scoring struggles before Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET. NBCSN; livestream).

“Do we need more from him? Yes,” Bowness said. ”He had some really good looks last game. He needs one of those to go in, there’s no question. He’s working. He needs a break.”

Seguin believes he can shake off 2020 Stanley Cup scoring slump

During the past 11 playoff games, Seguin failed to score a single goal, and settled for a single assist. Stretching back through the entire 2020 postseason, Seguin produced two goals and six assists for eight points over 22 games played.

Not good.

While I’m sure Seguin is growing weary about production questions, he gave an upbeat answer to the media.

”I feel like I’ve been playing a lot better as of late,” Seguin said. ”Definitely looking for that one bounce, but good things are happening when you’re getting chances and that’s what you look at.”

Indeed, Seguin’s gotten some looks.

Through the first two games of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, Seguin fired five shots on goal. During this postseason, he’s averaged about 2.64 SOG per game (58 in 22).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

That’s a little off his full career playoff average (3.05 SOG per game), which already represents a drop-off from Seguin’s regular season career (3.51 SOG per game), but it’s not like Seguin’s totally in his own head. Maybe.

Can Seguin snap out of this streak?

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Seguin heat up as this series goes along. The talent is there, and at 28, it’s not as if he’s totally out of the window of his peak.

That said, it’s also fair to wonder if we should become accustomed to Seguin shooting slumps.

Consider his playoff career. While Seguin’s career shooting percentage (5.1, 13 goals in 84 playoff games) is better than his ice-cold 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs run (3.4 percent, two goals in 22 games), it’s not exactly promising.

As mentioned before, Tyler Seguin’s playoff scoring struggles remind me of Rick Nash. Whether it’s a flaw in his game, or prolonged bad luck, it’s baffling (because it’s not just one postseason).

Throughout his playoff career, Seguin’s been snakebitten. His playoff debut represents the only time his postseason shooting percentage was in double digits (three goals, seven points in 13 games, 13.64 percent during the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup run).

Aside from that, Seguin’s second-best percentage was just 8.16 percent, while he’s mostly been below even five percent.

It’s fair to wonder if, for all of his skill, Seguin may simply settle for being a “volume shooter.”

After enjoying 11.9 percent shooting or better through his first three seasons with the Stars, Seguin’s shooting percentage went below 10 percent during three of his last four campaigns. Overall, his career 10.7 shooting percentage is respectable, but maybe not quite what you’d expect from someone whose talent seems evident from the “eye test.”

While it seems clear that Seguin is working hard, he’s generally been getting out-chanced, so he’s not exactly providing lockdown defense in lieu of production.

Being that his frequent linemates Jamie Benn (18 points in 23 GP) and Alexander Radulov (17 points in 23 GP) have been making big impacts, it’s all the more puzzling that Seguin can’t buy a bucket.

None of this is to condemn Seguin as a player. We see plenty of scorers go ice cold, especially when goals are so hard to come by amid playoff competition. It seems like Seguin’s been close on multiple occasions, and he might get on a roll if he can work past this.

Yet, as the 2020 Stanley Cup Final wages on, it’s also fair to wonder if Bowness may feel tempted to make some tweaks. Maybe someone like Roope Hintz would get more out of Radulov and Benn? Perhaps Benn could center a line with Radulov and, say, Denis Gurianov or Joel Kiviranta, being that Benn’s been beastly on faceoffs lately? And maybe easier matchups may open up space and confidence-boosting chances for Seguin?

Aggravating as it must be, Seguin’s struggles remain a factor to watch during this tight series.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

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.

Stanley Cup Faceoff: Stars, Lightning showing value of draws

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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — When Ron Francis knew something was working on faceoffs, he would experiment and not use his best moves right away.

That was usually during the regular season. In the playoffs and in the Stanley Cup Final, the Hall of Fame center knows players can’t afford not to go all out to win them.

”They’ve become more and more key as the games become more and more important,” said Francis, now the general manager of the NHL’s expansion Seattle Kraken. ”In its simplest form, if you win the puck, you have possession. You start with possession and then you’re automatically on offense. If you lose the draw, now you’re on defense and you’ve got to go hunt to get it back and expend energy to kind of get it.”

Faceoffs late in tight games are always important, particularly those in the zone of a team clinging to a lead. While overall faceoff performance has been debated in recent years with more information available and different ways to analyze its importance, this final is showing the value of draws because of how the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning prefer to play.

Dallas lost 64% of faceoffs in the first period of Game 2 and fell behind 3-0. The way Tampa Bay can dominate when it has the puck puts a spotlight on the faceoff circle in this series.

”It’s hard enough to get the puck, so it’s a set situation: one of the few times you can somewhat control what’s going to happen, and faceoffs are it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ”Often times you can see a team, if they’ve got a huge advantage in the faceoff circle, especially on special teams, it’s an advantage.”

Keith Jones thinks it’s a bigger advantage than ever before because of faceoff rule changes designed to increase offense. Gradually since 2005, the NHL has made it so all power plays start in the offensive zone; the team that ices the puck can’t change its players; the player on defense has to put his stick down first; and any puck shot out of play on offense stays in the attacking end.

Jones, a former NHL winger and now an NBC Sports analyst, pointed to multiple overtime goals in the Islanders-Flyers series that resulted from an icing mistake and a lost defensive-zone faceoff. Francis also noted the Stars’ power-play goal in Game 2 that came five seconds after a faceoff win.

”Certainly the four dots in the end zones are the most critical because they can lead to goals,” said Francis, a top faceoff artist as a player. ”It’s a part of the game that maybe a lot of people don’t talk about, but I think it’s extremely important and it leads to possession, which leads to offense.”

That’s why Stars interim coach Rick Bowness harped on the faceoff discrepancy early in the game Monday night. His team lost 13 of 20 even-strength faceoffs, then took penalties and turned the puck over more as a result of not being in control. The Lightning scored twice on the power play and once at 5-on-5.

”When you’re losing the faceoffs like we did in the first period, you’re chasing the game,” Bowness said. ”To beat this team, we need to be better in the faceoff circle and we need to manage the puck a lot better. If we do that, then we’re going to take less penalties.”

Because Dallas is the most penalized team in the playoffs, faceoffs are a nice starting point to cutting down on the lack of discipline. It becomes a mix of video study and practice, taking draw after draw during a morning skate.

”Every single time when you win the faceoffs, you are in charge of the game and you are creating the plays,” Stars defenseman Andrej Sekera said. ”We’ve just got to make sure that we have a plan after every faceoff and try to get the puck out from our zone up and go in their zone and play some hockey there.”

Easier said than done, especially without injured center Radek Faksa, who has won 128 of his 266 attempts for Dallas but brings added value no matter the result.

”I don’t think we can underestimate how important Faksa’s been to that team for a long time, and that’s part of his game,” Jones said. ”Probably not something that jumps off the page, but he’s an important guy not just in the faceoff circle but then sorting things out after a faceoff win or a loss.”

Possibly missing forward Blake Comeau, too, Dallas might have to find a way to better compensate if faceoffs again tilt heavily in the Lightning’s favor. Francis as an assistant coach would chart faceoffs live on the bench to know which matchups were good and bad for his team.

”To me, it was always kind of a chess match sort of within the game with me and the other centermen,” Francis said. ”If you’re losing multiple draws against (someone), you can’t keep sticking with the same thing. You’ve got to try and change something up or figure out what’s kind of going wrong for you.”

Figuring out what’s going wrong on faceoffs could also help players on the Stars – and Lightning, who Cooper said have been ”hot and cold in that department” – get their all-around game in order. Jones looks at how someone like Sidney Crosby shored up his faceoff prowess and believes it there is a clear boost from winning a visible, one-on-one competition.

”How it must feel psychologically to a centerman who’s struggling on the draws and knows that he’s letting his team down – he knows his wingers have to go out there and block a big blast from the point,” he said. ”Some of those things are critically important to a player’s psyche, not just the importance of possessing the puck but also the importance of winning draws and building confidence.”

NHL schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Final

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.  

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.  

Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.  

Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.

2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Game 2: Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

CONFERENCE FINAL RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Lightning beat Islanders (4-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
Stars beat Golden Knights (4-1)

***

SECOND ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Lightning beat Bruins (4-1)
Islanders beat Flyers (4-3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Canucks (4-3)
Stars beat Avalanche (4-3)

***

NHL QUALIFYING ROUND / ROUND-ROBIN RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Philadelphia Flyers (3-0-0, 6 points)
Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0, 4 points)
Washington Capitals (1-1-1, 3 points)
Boston Bruins (0-3-0, 0 points)

Canadiens beat Penguins (3-1)
Hurricanes beat Rangers (3-0)
Islanders beat Panthers (3-1)
Blue Jackets beat Maple Leafs (3-2)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Vegas Golden Knights (3-0-0, 6 points)
Colorado Avalanche (2-1-0, 4 points)
Dallas Stars (1-2-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-1, 1 point)

Blackhawks beat Oilers (3-1)
Coyotes beat Predators (3-1)
Canucks beat Wild (3-1)
Flames beat Jets (3-1)

***

FIRST ROUND RESULTS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Flyers beat Canadiens (4-2)
Lightning beat Blue Jackets (4-1)
Islanders beat Capitals (4-1)
Bruins beat Hurricanes (4-1)

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Golden Knights beat Blackhawks (4-1)
Avalanche beat Coyotes (4-1)
Stars beat Flames (4-2)
Canucks beat Blues (4-2)