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Three questions facing Columbus Blue Jackets

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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 focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

For even more on Columbus, check these posts out, too:

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off breakthrough | Under Pressure]

1. Is this the year they finally make the leap?

Sports fans don’t love hearing about how “close” their team was to winning that elusive game, series, or title, but such thoughts can be absolutely crucial for decision makers.

To put it in stupidly simple terms, consider this: the Washington Capitals lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions (both times Pittsburgh) before finally winning a championship of their own. To put it mildly, people were running out of patience with the Capitals. The Blue Jackets failed to get out of the first round these past two seasons, yet in each case, they lost to the eventual champions (Pittsburgh, then Washington).

Even beyond the questionable elements of the Penguins’ statements after signing Jack Johnson, you can understand why Torts blew a gasket. This team is scratching and clawing to build something special, yet sports can be cruel to those who fall just short. It’s easy to forget, for instance, that the Blue Jackets held a 2-0 series lead before things went sideways against Washington.

The Blue Jackets face some challenges in figuring out what’s next regarding Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, two rare star players who enter 2018-19 on expiring contracts.

In Panarin’s case, in particular, there’s the very reasonable notion of trading him to get something in return, rather than losing him for nothing via free agency.

What if the Blue Jackets just throw caution to the wind and try to see how far this current group can take them, letting the chips fall where they may next summer? There’s a sober argument to be made that, while it would be painful to see Panarin go, they might have their best chance at a big run merely by taking one more shot with “The Bread Man” on their roster.

2. Youth movement, instead?

It’s not the easiest sell to ask Blue Jackets fans to tolerate a pivot, consider they’ve still never won a playoff series (“hey, look at the Winnipeg Jets,” they might say) and the darker days of the Rick Nash/Steve Mason eras.

On the other hand, the Blue Jackets could also be cagey about this, waiting just a little while for the right opening to really take control of the Metropolitan Division.

Consider these factors:

  • The Penguins and Capitals aren’t exactly spring chickens. Sidney Crosby is 31, Evgeni Malkin is 32, and many of Pittsburgh’s other key players could hit the aging curve. Alex Ovechkin is 32 and Nicklas Backstrom is 30. Both teams have unearthed some very nice, younger players, but those top stars still drive success the most. The Blue Jackets already gave the Penguins and Capitals some tough fights; imagine if they could bide their time and come back with another fleet of young players?
  • It really might be best to trade Artemi Panarin, and maybe even part ways with Sergei Bobrovsky, for all we know. Being proactive with Panarin, in particular, could be an example of short-term pain, long-term gains.
  • This team already boasts an enviable core of young talent. Seth Jones is 23 and is signed for four more years at a bargain $5.4M rate. They need to sign Zach Werenski after next season, but that’s a nice problem to have considering that he’s just 21. There are some nice forwards at young ages (Pierre-Luc Dubois, Alexander Wennberg, and Oliver Bjorkstrand in particular), too. This point is especially prescient if Joonas Korpisalo can be a No. 1 guy, as he’s 24 (compared to 29-year-old Bob).

If the Blue Jackets decided to hand the torch to young players, in some ways out of necessity if Panarin’s leaving, then there is the risk that they can fall into a rut like before: boasting plenty of nice players, yet few of the game-breakers like Panarin who can swing a series. It might be frustrating to settle for the team resembling “a bunch of little rats” once again.

Sometimes it’s crucial to read the writing on the wall, though. Slipping a bit in 2018-19 wouldn’t be pleasant, at all, yet it might increase their odds of bigger gains in the future.

3. Is this the right front office for Columbus?

Naturally, a big barrier to a pivot or “soft reboot” is that GM Jarmo Kekalainen and head coach John Tortorella might – understandably – believe that they’re fighting for their jobs.

You’d understand each front office figure being pretty impatient with such an idea, even if there was enough job security to take a bigger swing in, say, 2019-20.

As stated before, the Blue Jackets haven’t won a playoff series in their franchise history, and Keklainen’s been a part of that drought since 2013. Tortorella’s dealt with a long personal drought, too, as he hasn’t presided over a team that won a playoff series since his tense final year with the Rangers in 2012-13.

This Blue Jackets franchise faces some incredibly tough questions and decisions in the near future. At some point, those tough calls may also revolve around the people making those decisions.

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.

How has Galchenyuk fit in with Coyotes?

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Earlier this season we took a look at the way Max Domi was producing for the Montreal Canadiens, so it’s only natural that we take a deeper look at the player he was traded for — Alex Galchenyuk.

If we’re evaluating the trade right now, it’s clear that the Canadiens were the big winner. After all, Domi is up to 33 points in 34 games, while Galchenyuk has 11 points in 23 games. Thankfully for the ‘Yotes, there’s still time for 24-year-old to get back on track this season and beyond.

Adapting to new surroundings isn’t always easy. It’s even more difficult when it’s the first time a player has been traded. That’s the exact situation Galchenyuk was in this summer. He had spent the previous six seasons in Montreal before being moved to Arizona in mid-June. Also, he’s going from hockey-mad Montreal, where you can never get a moment away from the spotlight, to Arizona, where you can fly under the radar with a little more ease. That’s gotta be a shock in itself.

Missing the first four games of the regular season didn’t help make the transition any easier. Instead of being able to develop chemistry with new teammates, Galchenyuk was forced to sit and wait, which put him behind the eight-ball right away.

Whether it was Michel Therrien or Claude Julien, the Canadiens never really trusted Galchenyuk to play center. His ability to produce offense was never a concern, but his ability to read and react on the defensive side of the puck always was. When the Coyotes were able to land him in the summer, GM John Chayka made it clear that they believed he could play down the middle.

Galchenyuk got a few weeks to prove himself at center, but in the end the ‘Yotes decided that he was better suited for the wing, again. Have they completely closed the door on him at that position? Probably not. But if two organizations and three coaches don’t believe he’s capable of doing the heavy-lifting down the middle, he’s probably never going to be able to do it at a high level. But that’s okay. He can still be an effective winger in the NHL.

So let’s take a look at some of the numbers he’s put up thus far.

When Galchenyuk recovered from his lower-body injury, he managed to put up eight points in his first nine games. That’s solid enough. Unfortunately, his production has tailed off now, as he’s put up three assists in 14 games. During that stretch, he also missed three more contests because of a lower-body ailment.

His on-ice advanced numbers are just as underwhelming as his offensive totals. He has a CF% of 46.14, a FF % of 44.42 and his team controls 43.55 percent of the shots on goal when he’s on the ice. His team scores 37.5 percent of the goals scored when he’s on the ice and his high-danger CF% is at 35.9. All of the numbers mentioned here at career-lows. (Stats via Natural Stat Trick). Those advanced metrics are all below the Coyotes’ averages.

The numbers aren’t great, but it’s still really tough to be doom-and-gloom about Galchenyuk’s potential in the desert. He’s missed two separate stints because of injury, which you simply can’t ignore. He might not be providing Arizona with the immediate results Domi has given Montreal, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get himself on track before the end of the season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Alex Ovechkin’s stunning numbers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Washington Capitals on Wednesday Night Hockey with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins are still trying to find some consistency this season and work their way back into a solid playoff position, while the Capitals are once again rolling toward the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. Also rolling is their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who is playing some of the best hockey of his career and going for yet another goal-scoring crown.

He enters Wednesday’s game with a league-best 29 goals in the Capitals’ first 32 games, good enough for a four-goal lead over Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner … who has played in three more games.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season only six players have scored more than 29 goals through their team’s first 32 games: Bernie Nicholls (34 in 1989), Mario Lemieux (who did it twice with 33 in 1993 and 31 in 1989), Brett Hull (32 in 1991), Steve Yzerman (31 in 1989), and Jaromir Jagr (30 in 1997).

On their own those numbers are incredible. They become even more stunning when you realize he is doing this in his age 33 season at a point when players are usually slowing down. Instead, he just keeps getting better.

With that in mind let’s take some time to look at some other stunning numbers from Ovechkin’s career to this point.

A 74-goal pace. Entering play on Wednesday Ovechkin is on a 74-goal pace for the season. If he were to maintain that he would be just the 15th player in league history to top the 70-goal mark in a season. All but one came between the 1980 and 1993 seasons when goal-scoring in the NHL was at an all-time high (Phil Esposito’s 76 goal season in 1970-71 was the only one that did not happen during that stretch). No one has scored 70 goals in a season since the 1992-93 season when Alexander Mogilny and Teemu Selanne both hit 76 for the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets, respectively. There have only been two 60-goal seasons over the past two-and-a-half decades — Steven Stamkos with 60 during the 2011-12 season and Ovechkin with 65 during the 2007-08 season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

• Chasing another 50-goal season and Richard Trophy. Barring an injury, this start to the season makes another 50-goal season seem inevitable. If he gets there it will be the eighth time in his career. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy (both with nine) have more. He would also be just the fourth player in league history to have done it in his age 33 season or later, with Jaromir Jagr (54 in 2005-06) and Johnny Bucyk (51 in 1970-71), and Bobby Hull (50 in 1971-72) being the others.

If he ends up leading the league again it will be the ninth time he has done that.

Nobody else in league history has led the league in goal-scoring more than seven times.

No one close during his era. Since entering the NHL in 2005-06 Ovechkin’s 636 goals are 210 more than the second-leading goal scorer during that stretch. That player? Penguins captain Sidney Crosby with 426. The gap between Ovechkin and Crosby at No. 1 and 2 is the same as the gap between Crosby and the 69th ranked player on the list, Patric Hornqvist.

Not even Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer, had that big of a gap over the rest of his peers at the same point in his career.

When Gretzky was 14 seasons into his career he had a 183-goal lead over the second-leading goal-scorer during that stretch.

Power play dominance. Everyone in the league knows where Ovechkin is going to be on the power play, and everybody knows what is going to happen once he gets there and the Capitals get the puck to him. Ovechkin’s 237 career power play goals are 99 more than any other player in the league. Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin is second with 138. The gap between those two is the same as the gap between and the 172nd player on the list (Patrik Berglund).

• Nobody shoots the puck as often as Ovechkin. He has already topped the 5,000 shot mark for his career and enters play on Wednesday eighth on the all-time list. If he continues at his current four shots per game pace for the rest of the season he would finish the season in fifth place on the all-time list behind only Ray Bourque, Jaromir Jagr, Marcel Dionne, and Al MacInnis. Assuming he plays in all 50 games, he would be at 1,085 games played. The four players ahead of him all played in more than 1,340 games with three of them having played in more than 1,400.

By the end of next season he could be as high as third on the list.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin isn’t slowing down]

He’s currently in seventh place in shots on goal for the season, 32 off the league lead. He has led the league 11 times prior to this season. Bobby Hull is the only player in league history that has done it at least seven times since the league started tracking shots on goals.

A fifth of the franchise’s goals during his career. That is what Ovechkin has done for the Capitals since entering the league. He has scored just under 20 percent of the team’s goals since the start of the 2005-06 season. Let’s take a look at how that percentage stacks up to some of the more prominent goal-scorers since then that have played for one team.

Nobody is really even close.

Gretzky played the first nine years of his career with the Edmonton Oilers and “only” scored 16.76 percent of the team’s goals during that time.

As of Wednesday, he is 15th on the NHL’s all-time goals list and could potentially climb as high as the No. 12 spot before the end of this season. He is currently 258 behind Gretzky’s all-time record of 894. If he finished this season with exactly 50 goals he would be 237 behind. If he played until age 40 he would need to average 33 goals per season to match it. If he played until age 38 he would need to average around 37 goals per season.

That would be an almost unprecedented pace, but pretty much everything he has done in his career from a goal-scoring perspective is unprecedented in this (or any) era.

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Kathryn Tappen hosts NHL Live ahead of Penguins-Capitals on Wednesday, alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and insider Darren Dreger.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Plan to get Flyers on track; 15 impressive youngsters

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Here’s a plan to get the Philadelphia Flyers get back on track. (ESPN)

• Just because Dave Hakstol didn’t get good goaltending, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have been fired. (Broad Street Hockey)

• One month after Eugene Melnyk sued John Ruddy over the development of the LeBreton Flats development project, Ruddy is now countersuing for a $1 billion. What a mess. (Ottawa Citizen)

• NHL Seattle announced that KEXP will become the official music partner of the team. They’ll be in charge of in-arena music. (NHL Seattle)

• Even though they probably won’t admit, the Winnipeg Jets are playing like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. (Winnipeg Fress Press)

Jack Eichel is quietly putting together one of the greatest seasons in Buffalo Sabres history. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Travis Yost breaks down how the Sabres have become one of the top penalty-killing teams in the NHL. (Buffalo News)

• Canucks prospect Olli Juolevi underwent successful knee surgery. He’s expected to miss the rest of the season, but he’ll be ready for training camp. (Canucks)

• ‘Canes defenseman Calvin de Haan knows a thing or two about beer. De Haan is part owner of a brewery back in his hometown. (The News & Observer)

• Wild defender Matt Dumba is expected to miss one week of action. (Pioneer Press)

• 1st Ohio Battery provides arguments for the Columbus Blue Jackets players that deserve to be in the All-Star game. (1st Ohio Battery)

Aleksander Barkov continues to do incredible things for the Florida Panthers. (Panther Parkway)

• The Chicago Blackhawks have agreed to loan Henri Jokiharju to Team Finland for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship. (Second City Hockey)

• Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy talks outdoor hockey and skating on the Rideau canal. [Bruins Daily]

• Players that dominate the USHL tend to have great NHL careers (just ask Brock Boeser). (The Hockey News)

• Adam Gretz breaks down the 15 most impressive young players in the NHL this season. (YardBarker)

• NHL players reveal their favorite Christmas songs. Warning: Nathan MacKinnon may or may not disappoint you:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Hart wins in debut, Bishop leaves, returns in shutout

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Three stars

1. Ben Bishop (and Anton Khudobin), Dallas Stars

Bishop and his backup edge Hart here due to the fact that Bishop got run over by Calgary Flames forward Garnet Hathaway, forcing him to leave the game in the second period with the Stars up 1-0.

Khudobin held down the fort while Bishop was getting checked out to close out the second period.

Bishop would only miss about six-and-a-half minutes as he led Dallas back onto the ice in the third and resumed where he left off. The duo combined for 24 saves for the shutout as Dallas won 2-0, making some history in the process.

2. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

Hart made history as he stepped onto the ice in his NHL debut, becoming the Flyers’ sixth goalie to appear in their first 35 games. That’s not a great record to hold, but he’ll be in the annals of hockey history for a while, I’d imagine.

History or not, Hart was solid in his inauguration. He turned aside 20 saves as he and newly-minted head coach Scott Gordon picked up their first wins at their respective positions.

Hart is facing a lot of pressure here. He’s dubbed as the future in Philly and for good reason. Some call the City of Brotherly Love a graveyard for goaltenders. Perhaps Hart can buck the trend. Who knows.

For now, he’s certainly earned another start.

3. Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

An all-goalie lockout in the three stars tonight finishes with Jones.

The Sharks netminders earned his first shutout of the season, making 26 saves for career goose egg No. 20. Jones’ save percentage this season has left a bit more to be desired, so Tuesday’s effort was a good refresher for fans on what he’s capable of.

San Jose has now won five in a row as they continue their ascent to the top of the Pacific Division.

Other notable performances: 

Highlights of the night

As advertised, this is a nice goal:

Luuuuu:

Given how the Flyers crease situation has played out this season, Gritty may want to keep these goalies healthy:

Factoid

Scores

Panthers 5, Sabres 2

Maple Leafs 7, Devils 2

Rangers 3, Ducks 1

Flyers 3, Red Wings 2

Sharks 4, Wild 0

Blackhawks 2, Predators 1

Stars 2, Flames 0

Blues 4, Oilers 1

Islanders 3, Coyotes 1

Lightning 5, Canucks 2

Kings 4, Jets 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