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Six NHL teams that made themselves worse this summer (so far)

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A good rule of thumb in sports is that if you are not doing anything to make your team better, you are actively making it worse.

Earlier this week we looked at six teams that have done the most to make themselves better this summer (so far) and it’s only natural to take a look the other side of that spectrum with a few teams that have managed, one way or another, to make themselves worse.

We still have a few months to go before the season begins so none of these rosters are complete or final and there is still time for all of them to find ways to improve.

Just consider this as an offseason progress report through the draft and the initial free agency signing period where the biggest moves tend to get made.

1. New York Islanders — The New York Islanders hired the reigning Stanley Cup winning coach and a Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup champion general manager and none of it is going to matter in the short-term.

John Tavares is gone. They lost Calvin de Haan. They acquired a bunch of fourth liners to go with the rest of their fourth-liners and are paying the entire group a ton of money. Robin Lehner should be a little bit of an upgrade in net, and they still have Mathew Barzal to build around, but you can not replace John Tavares with Leo Komarov, Matt Martin and Valterri Filppula and come away looking better.

Losing Tavares stinks, and given the circumstances there probably was not much else they could have done to keep him from going to the Maple Leafs, but that doesn’t mean you have to compound the problem by making all of the other corresponding roster moves.

2. Ottawa Senators — What is really scary here for the Senators is the fact they have not even traded Erik Karlsson yet.

This might be the worst situation of any team in the NHL given everything that is happening with this organization, on and off the ice.

They absolutely had to trade Mike Hoffman but even that made them look bad because they ended up getting a worse return for him than the team they traded him to did. When Karlsson is sent out this might be an early contender for worst team in hockey.

3. Montreal Canadiens — You can’t really blame them for Shea Weber being injured and missing the next five-to-six months following surgery.

You can blame them for trading P.K. Subban for an older player with a worse contract whose career already has a ton of miles on it and was likely to start breaking down physically before that contract expired.

You can also blame them for fumbling Alex Galchenyuk‘s career and then trading him, one-for-one, for a player that doesn’t address their biggest issue (goal-scoring) and has scored just 18 goals over his past 163 games. By comparison, Galchenyuk scored 19 this past season and the only time over the past four years he scored less was when he scored 17 in 2016-17 … in only 60 games.

They also brought back Tomas Plekanec on a one-year contract after he wasn’t particularly good for them a year ago and is now one year older.

It is going to be a lonely year for Carey Price, especially if they finally complete a Max Pacioretty trade.

4. Vancouver Canucks — I just … I just do not get it. I just do not get what is happening here or what the plan is or how the Canucks plan to get better and rebuild this team back into something that is worth watching. There is nothing wrong with adding Jay Beagle or Antoine Roussel to your team in a bottom-six role if you are contending team because they could probably help out and be useful in such a role.

But why — WHY!? — if you are the Vancouver Canucks, a team that has not made the playoffs in three years and has won fewer games than every team in the NHL (Vegas excluded) during that stretch, do you need to not only sign them, but sign them to matching four-year contracts?!

Do they necessarily make the Canucks worse? Probably not, because it’s not like the Canucks’ bottom six last year wasn’t a disaster, but how do long-term contracts to bottom-six players make the long-term situation here any better?

Combine that with the fact that Henrik and Daniel Sedin (still productive players a year ago) are retired and the fact that Brandon Sutter is probably going to have to take on an increased role as a result and it just looks like another bleak season on the horizon in Vancouver.

5. Chicago Blackhawks — The Blackhawks’ biggest issue in 2017-18 was goaltending thanks to the combination of Corey Crawford missing most of the season while none of his replacements were up to the challenge of filling that spot. As the 2018-19 season draws near we still have no real concrete update on Crawford’s status as he recovers form his mystery “upper-body injury” and their approach to improving the depth behind him was to sign, quite literally, the least productive goalie in the NHL (at least among goalies that have received regular or semi-regular playing time) over the past six years.

Chris Kunitz might still have a little something left in the tank as a depth player and the price is certainly right on him, but the addition of Ward and the uncertainty around Crawford is scary.

They have been mentioned as possible landing spot for Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, and that would be a great way to improve a defense that has rapidly declined in recent years. Whether or not they can get it done remains to be seen, but the roster as constructed (as of this moment) looks similar to the one that disappointed a year ago.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins — With all due respect to Jim Rutherford, Mike Sullivan, and Sergei Gonchar and everything they have accomplished over the past three years I am going to need to see something from Jack Johnson to prove he will not drag their defense down the way he has literally dragged down every defense he has played on throughout his career.

Matt Cullen was an incredible depth player on their past two Stanley Cup winning teams, is by all accounts a great locker room presence, and costs next to nothing against the salary cap. That is all great for the Penguins. But he is also going to turn 42 years old this season and father time eventually comes for everybody. You could argue that it started to get the best of Cullen in 2017-18 when the Minnesota Wild were absolutely caved in possession-wise when Cullen was on the ice. Are they really better than they were at the end of the season, even when taking into account the likelihood that Derick Brassard has more to offer than he showed in the playoffs? Not convinced.

Rutherford’s tenure in Pittsburgh has been a healthy mix of brilliance and head-scratching decisions. You can not argue with two championships in four years. But that does not mean he is above criticism or second-guessing because just last summer he had an offseason that made the roster worse and resulted in him jettisoning every player he acquired within a year. This summer so far does not look much better.

At the same time, also not convinced that he does not have another blockbuster up his sleeve that will turn the look of the offseason around. That is just how it goes with Trader Jim.

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 show off quick-strike offense in win over Canadiens

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The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2019-20 NHL regular season with an obvious chip on their shoulders. Despite winning 62 games last year and running away with the Presidents’ trophy, a first-round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 playoffs left a perennial championship contender with something to prove.

On Wednesday evening, the Lightning reminded the Montreal Canadiens, and the rest of the NHL, that they have the ability to strike at a moment’s notice. Braydon Coburn, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson each lit the lamp in the span of 2:08 to lead the Bolts to a 3-1 victory over the Habs.

Andrei Vasilevskiy recorded 33 saves and Nikita Kucherov added two assists as the Lightning captured their third win of the season. Tampa Bay heads to Boston Thursday to conclude an early six-game road trip.

Jeff Petry opened the scoring for Montreal with a power-play blast at 15:46 of the first period. Max Domi assisted on the play and has picked up six points (three goals, three assists) in the previous four games. But the Lightning answered with a surge of their own.

Coburn tallied the equalizer late in the first period when his shot from the high slot sailed past Carey Price at 19:53 of the opening period. Then, Stamkos and Johnson scored early in the second period to give Tampa Bay full control of the contest.

The Lightning have so much offensive firepower, but they have to caution themselves against relying on their quick-strike ability.

Stamkos led by example on the ice, notching two points, but also sent his teammates a minor warning through the media following a loss on October 6 against the Hurricanes.

“We just continue to be the freewheeling team that thinks that we can just come into games and win because we’re skilled,” Stamkos told reporters. “We keep falling back into the same old bad habits that we’ve been doing, that cost us the season we had last year. Unless we change things, it’s going to be a really, really, really long year.”

The Lightning have not gotten off to the smoothest of starts this season, posting a 3-2-1 record and somehow finding themselves on the outside of the Eastern Conference Playoff picture on the young season.

In the past two years, the Metropolitan Division has supplied both wild card teams in the East, but this year figures to be different with several changes in the Atlantic. The Buffalo Sabres are off to a tremendous start with Ralph Krueger behind the bench. In Florida, the Panthers made a number of offseason additions and brought in three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville. Additionally, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins expect to be near the top of the standings when it is all said and done.

From the Lightning perspective, the division will be much more competitive, and a slow start could have big ramifications in terms of playoff positioning, making this early Wednesday Night Hockey game more important than it is viewed on the surface.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV Schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

El Paso Rhinos on rallying community after tragedy

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As you can see from the video above, NBC’s Anson Carter took a look at how the El Paso Rhinos responded to the Aug. 3, 2019 tragedy that claimed the lives of 22 people and injured at least 24 more.

Along with donating $10K, the Rhinos added proceeds stemming from a game against Mexico’s National Under-20 team on Sept. 28 and 29. Between the game and charitable jersey auctions afterward, Carter notes that the Rhinos almost doubled those $10K contributions.

One of the video’s best moments came when Carter revealed that, with the help of Bauer and the NHL and NHLPA’s industry growth fund, there’s a donation of 20 hockey gloves to Mexico’s National Under-20 team. You can see their head coach Diego De La Garma wearing what are apparently New Jersey Devils-themed gloves:

More on that here:

Good stuff, and another reminder that sports can often bring people together after tragic events.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• 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.

Stuck on zero: Notable NHL players still searching for first goal

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We are a couple of weeks into the 2019-20 NHL season and there have been some surprising players at the top of the goal-scoring leaderboard, including James Neal, Anthony Mantha, Victor Olofsson, Brayden Schenn, and Erik Haula.

Perhaps just as surprising is the list of players still searching for their first goal, fighting through extended early season slumps.

Every player will go through hot streaks and cold streaks over the course of a season, and when those streaks happen now we tend to pay extra attention to them because there is nothing else around them to hide them. A first line player stuck on zero goals after six or seven games will stick out more than a six-or seven-game drought in the middle of March.

Here are eight notable players still trying to find that first goal. We are limiting this to players that have played in at least six games.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
Games played entering Tuesday:
6
Shots on goal: 16

After scoring 67 goals over the past two seasons Karlsson has gone six games without a goal to open the 2019-20 season. The good news for him: He started each of the past two seasons with zero goals in his first six games before scoring in his seventh game each year.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 14

Barkov has become one of the NHL’s best all-around players over the past couple of years and is one of the reasons for optimism in Florida. He has not scored yet this season but he is doing literally everything else, having already recorded five assists while the Panthers are attempting more than 54 percent of the shot attempts when he is on the ice. Only a matter of time before the puck starts finding the back of the net for him.

Nino Niederreiter, Carolina Hurricanes
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 13

Getting a full season of Niederreiter is a big reason to like the Hurricanes this season. He was a significant addition in the middle of the 2018-19 season and is an outstanding two-way winger that can defend, drive possession, and help create offense. He is still helping to drive possession at an elite rate. He is not a big-time goal-scorer, but he is always a lock for at least 20 goals.

Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars
Games played entering Tuesday: 7
Shots on goal: 10

The Stars have been one of the league’s most disappointing teams so far and Pavelski might be their most disappointing player through the first seven games. Not only as he failed to score a goal, but only generating 10 shots on goal in seven games is a concerning sign. Some regression had to be expected from his 38-goal campaign a year ago (he had a career-high shooting percentage at age 34, which was never going to be repeated) but this has to be discouraging. He also has just one assist.

Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 21 (combined)

The two recent No. 1 overall picks are two of the most important players on the Devils’ roster from a big picture outlook, and so far both have struggled. Hughes has failed to record a point in his first six games and can not seem to buy a goal. Just another thing that has gone wrong for the Devils in a season where nothing has gone as expected.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 6

Schwartz had a bizarre 2018-19 season, struggling through one of the worst regular season performances of his career (mostly due to a terrible shooting percentage) before being unstoppable in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The trouble for Schwartz this season (unlike last season) is he is not yet generating shots.

Milan Lucic, Calgary Flames
Games played entering Tuesday: 6
Shots on goal: 4

The Flames will try to sell you on the idea he is doing exactly what they want, providing physical play and serving as some sort of protection for their stars. But man, zero goals, zero points, only four shots on goal, a lot of penalty minutes, a huge contract, and the guy he was traded for (James Neal) can not stop scoring goals for their biggest rival. There is no way that trade is a win at this point.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens vs. Lightning on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

These Atlantic Division foes meet for the first of four times this season as the Canadiens continue with the third game of their four-game homestand. The Lightning, on the other hand, play away from home for the fifth time in six games this season.

One of the biggest questions for Tampa entering this season was when Brayden Point would re-sign. The 23-year-old is coming off a season in which he set career best marks in goals (41), assists (51) and points (92). On September 23, he signed a three-year contract to stay with the Lightning, the only team he’s played for as he begins his fourth season. Point missed the first three games this season while recovering from off-season hip surgery but made an immediate impact in his season debut, scoring twice against Toronto and adding an assist.

While the Canadiens, who are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years (2017), are coming off an encouraging early-season win, the Lightning, after a record-setting regular season, have already lost as many games this season as they did the entire opening month of last season

Jonathan Drouin played a career-high 81 games last season (tied career high with 53 points). The 2013 third overall pick by Tampa has started this season by recording a point in every game for a total of six points in five games. If he adds to that in this game, he’ll be the fourth Canadiens player in the last 32 seasons to open the year with a point streak of six-plus games.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Bell Centre
WHEN: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Steven Stamkos – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph
Ondrej PalatTyler JohnsonYanni Gourde
Patrick Maroon – Carter Verhaeghe – Luke Witkowski

Victor HedmanErik Cernak
Ryan McDonaghKevin Shattenkirk
Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhillip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiJordan Weal
Jonathan Drouin – Jesperi KotkaniemiJoel Armia
Paul ByronNate Thompson – Nick Suzuki

Victor MeteShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Ben ChiarotChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

MORE: Offseason work paying off for Canadiens’ Drouin

Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec.