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It’s Detroit Red Wings day at PHT

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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 Detroit Red Wings.

2017-18

30-39-13, 73 points (fifth in Atlantic, 13th in Eastern Conference)
Missed playoffs

IN:

Jonathan Bernier
Thomas Vanek
Chris Terry

OUT:

Xavier Ouellet
Jared Coreau
Eric Tangradi
Ben Street

RE-SIGNED:

Dylan Larkin (yesterday)
Anthony Mantha
Mike Green
Tyler Bertuzzi
Andreas Athanasiou
Martin Frk

The 2017-18 season was rough for the Red Wings, but you could argue that it was “the right kind” of rough. Or at least close enough.

As underwhelming as the Red Wings were, they remarkably finished ahead of three other teams in the Atlantic, which says a lot about the disparity between the haves and the have-nots in that division. Nonetheless, management could continue to prattle on about the team’s “culture,” as they enjoyed some of the fruits of tanking without fully doing so.

(Granted, the team would be better served pulling off the Band-Aid, but asking Ken Holland to go to a full-on rebuild seems like a waste of energy at this point.)

The Red Wings did acknowledge reality to a decent extent during the trade deadline, sending Tomas Tatar to Vegas for three picks and Petr Mrazek to the Flyers for a lesser package. Some wanted more – was there really no market for Mike Green? – but this is about as committed as you’ll see this proud franchise get to really trying to load up on future assets.

And, hey, it paid off quite nicely.

By just about all accounts, the Red Wings nailed it with their first-rounders, seeing two interesting forwards drop to them (Filip Zadina at sixth, Joe Veleno all the way down to 30th). It was a busy draft weekend overall, as the Red Wings drafted two players in the second round, three in the third, and then had the usual selection in rounds 4-7. We may look back at those 10 selections as the turning point for a franchise that seemed to be stuck in neutral for a while after their peak window closed.

Again, the regular season wasn’t much to write home about, although it was nice to see some young players thrive.

Dylan Larkin enjoyed the best year of his NHL career, and he received a healthy contract on Friday. Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou were signed to bridge deals after promising seasons, while Tyler Bertuzzi showed some evidence that he could be a useful pro for Detroit.

There are some good things to consider, even if there’s also some darkness to wade through (Henrik Zetterberg‘s health issues are a real bummer) and confusion to shake away (did this team really need to hand contracts to veterans Green and Vanek?).

The Red Wings have a long way to go, and they honestly probably would be better served stinking to an even higher level in 2018-19. This past draft was promising, but getting a true gem – Jack Hughes, perhaps? – would be crucial to go along with the nice players they’re starting to collect and nurture.

This might not be easy to watch next season, yet at least there’s hope.

Prospect Pool

  • Filip Zadina, RW, 18, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) – 2018 first-rounder

For much of the year heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, Zadina was the consensus third overall pick. In a rather surprising turn of events, the intriguing sniper instead slipped to No. 6 for Detroit. He’s already talking about haunting the teams who passed on him by filling their nets with pucks, but if the Red Wings have their way, he’ll be doing that to opponents who never got the shot to land him, too.

Zadina’s already captivating with slick highlights.

The 2018 draft haul drew rave reviews, while the 2017 edition inspired far more criticism. Rasmussen is a giant human, no doubt, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the ninth pick of 2017 make an impact on the Red Wings’ roster as early as 2018-19.

Can he prove he’s more than just a big body with decent skills? We’ll find out soon enough.

  • Filip Hronek, D, 20, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL), 2016 second-rounder
  • Dennis Cholowski, D, 20, Portland Winterhawks (WHL), 2016 first-rounder

We might as well group these two defensemen together, as you could start a spirited debate among hardcore Red Wings fans regarding who has the brighter future. Hronek has already received quite a bit of seasoning at the pro level considering his work in the AHL, and showed some signs of being a useful offensive weapon. Cholowski is the first-rounder with the bigger body, so who knows which guy will pan out to a larger degree?

The Red Wings would prefer “both.”

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.

Comeback, OT goal helps Great Britain avoid relegation at Worlds

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Ben Davies’ name will be sung forever in hockey circles around Great Britain.

The 28-year-old forward scored the overtime winner in a 4-3 victory over France Monday at the 2019 IIHF World Championship that will keep the Brits, who were facing relegation, in the top flight for next year’s tournament.

With the loss, the French move down to Division I-A for the 2020 event in Switzerland after an 11-year run. Great Britain will compete in back-to-back- top tier IIHF World Championships for the first time since 1950-51.

The historic game started very poorly for Great Britain, who entered the the tournament 22nd in the IIHF world rankings, as they fell behind 3-0 midway through the second period. But the turnaround began with a strong end to the middle frame when Robert Dowd and Mike Hammond scored 3:05 apart to cut France’s lead to 3-2.

The momentum stayed with Great Britain, who had been outscored 38-5 heading into the game, following the intermission as Robert Farmer tied the game with 14:46 to go, forcing overtime.

It was in the 3-on-3 overtime period that captain Jonathan Phillips was knocked to his feet after chasing down a loose puck in the French zone and found a streaking Davies for the winner.

“It’s pretty surreal right now,” Davies said afterward. “We were three down and everything seemed against us but it’s not our character to give up and we stuck with it. Things started going our way and the goals started to go in while [goaltender Ben] Bowns was incredible. I’ve never scored a bigger goal than that and I’ll remember it forever.”

The celebrations featured plenty of hugs and one humorous chant from the British players knowing they’ll be back in the top division for the 2020 tournament.

Great Britain, which hadn’t been in the top division since 1994, finished the tournament with one win in seven games after competing in a group that featured the U.S., Canada and Finland. The roster is made up of mostly players who ply their trade in the Elite Ice Hockey League, as well as Liam Kirk, the Arizona Coyotes’ seventh-round pick in last year’s draft who is attempting to become the first British-raised player to make it to the NHL. In 63 games this season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes, he scored 26 and recorded 47 points.

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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.

Karlsson’s health will dictate Sharks’ chances

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If you are a San Jose Sharks fan the current situation might seem a little bleak.

Your team was just dominated on home ice on Sunday afternoon and is heading on the road, facing elimination in the Western Conference Final, and needing to win the next two games to continue its Stanley Cup pursuit.

The odds, it would seem, are stacked against you.

If you are looking for something to be optimistic about it should be the fact Sharks have already been in a worse position this postseason and managed to overcome it. In Round 1 they trailed the Vegas Golden Knights 3-1 in the series, needed to win three games in a row, and then found themselves with a three-goal deficit in the third period of Game 7 after crawling back to tie the series. Sure, they needed one of the biggest breaks in Stanley Cup playoff history to complete the comeback, but they still found a way to do it and take advantage of the opportunity that presented itself.

There is one very big difference this time around that might hold them back, and it is the health of top defender Erik Karlsson.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Karlsson is one of the many Sharks players that exited Sunday’s game due to injury, logging just 10 minutes of ice-time in the team’s 5-0 loss as he continues to deal with a nagging groin injury that has limited him all season. Head coach Peter DeBoer refused to offer any update on his status (as well as the status of injured forwards Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski) or if he would travel with the team.

His health is going to be a major determining factor in what happens for the Sharks over the next two games.

The Sharks acquired Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators just before the start of the 2018-19 season with the hope that he would be the missing piece on a Stanley Cup contender. When he is healthy and at his best, he is one of the best players in the world and on an elite tier of superstars. He is a difference-maker, and when the Sharks have had him at anything close to full health this season he has played like it.

Putting him on a defense that already has Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic gives the Sharks one of the best defensive groups in the league.

When the Sharks overcame their Round 1 deficit against the Golden Knights, Karlsson was a huge factor in that result.

He played more than 92 minutes (more than 40 percent of the total ice-time in those games), had four assists (tops on the team), and was on the ice for nine of the 12 goals the Sharks scored in their Games 5, 6, and 7 wins. Only two other players on the team (Hertl and Logan Couture) were on the ice for more than six goals in those three games. He had at least two points in every game the Sharks won in that Round 1 series. He was at the center of everything and one of the biggest reasons they came back to win.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, the groin injury has resurfaced and he has been obviously limited over the past few games. Not only in terms of his lack of ice time and early exit in Game 5 (as well as the extended stretch in Game 4 where he did not see the ice), but just in watching him play. He is clearly not where he — or the Sharks — want him to be from a health standpoint.

That is going to be a problem because even if he does play in Game 6, there is no guarantee that he is going to make the kind of impact we are used to seeing from him.

The Sharks have overcome the absence of key players in these playoffs, whether it was Joe Thornton‘s suspension in Round 1 or the Pavelski injury that sidelined him for all but one game in their Round 2 series against the Colorado Avalanche. But for as good and important as those players are, having to replace a player like Karlsson is an entirely different animal.

The Sharks have other forwards that can step up and impact a game if they lose a player like Pavelski, or Hertl, or Thornton.

But a No. 1 defender does so much more on the ice given the minutes they play, the number of times they touch the puck, and the way they can control the pace of the game and where it is played. Everything starts with the blue line, and you need those players on the back end that can move the puck out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone. When he is healthy, there is nobody in the NHL that is better at that than Karlsson. It is not just his point production that makes him a superstar and a top-tier player — it is the way he can essentially be a one-man breakout coming out of the defensive zone and skate the puck out of danger when there are no passing options available.

There is nobody else stepping into his spot and doing that.

Yes, they still have a Norris Trophy winner (and a finalist for the award this season) in Brent Burns on the roster, but having Burns and Karlsson is what makes the Sharks such a fierce team to contend with.

Take one of them out of the lineup, or at least limit their ability to make an impact, and there is a major drop in how the team performs.

We have seen that over the past two games with Karlsson.

If the Sharks are going to come back in another series there may not be a bigger determining factor than Karlsson’s health and what he is able to do. It is going to require a significant turnaround from what we have seen over the past two games.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.

Bruins seek balance between enjoying rest, staying sharp ahead of Cup Final

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When the puck drops next Monday for Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET; NBC), the Boston Bruins will have had 11 days of rest.

Following their seven-game Round 1 series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins have only needed nine games to reach their third Cup Final since 2011. All that rest will certainly bode well for a team with an average age of 27.3 and seven players north of 30 years old. 

But will it be too much time off?

The Bruins and Tuukka Rask have won seven in a row and played dominant hockey over the last two rounds. They would love to maintain that level of sharpness, but that will be difficult to do so with a week and a half between games. Bruce Cassidy gave his players Friday and Saturday off following their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, but it’s since been back to business as they await to find out their Cup Final opponent.

“We have a plan on how we’re going to go through this week, balancing practices with days off,” Cassidy said on Sunday. “We are going to meet with the veteran guys who’ve been through it. We talked about scrimmaging. Will we do it at night? Prepare like a game or have it in the morning? We’ll talk to people outside the organization.”

Some of those outside people include the New England Patriots, who know a thing or two about winning championships after dealing with lots of downtime between games.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Zdeno Chara, who missed Game 4 due, was back at practice on Monday with “no issues,” per Cassidy. While he keeps himself in great shape, his 41-year-old bones certainly have welcomed the extended time off. Cassidy said the injury that forced him to sit wasn’t serious, which was a relief for a Bruins team that has relied on him to play over 22 minutes a night this postseason.

A nine-day break between Rounds 1 and 2 allowed John Tortorella to organize a full scrimmage for his Columbus Blue Jackets players after they earned the time off by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning. That could be an option for the Bruins to not lose their edge.

“In the short term, it’s really beneficial for our group,” Cassidy said. “We’ve been pedal to the metal here, mentally and physically, for a while. I do believe in the short term it will help us a lot. Then it’s incumbent upon us to simulate the best we can with what’s going to be required going forward.”

One player the Bruins desperately need to maintain his sharpness is Tuukka Rask, who’s posted a .945 even strength save percentage and two shutouts in 17 games this spring. They longest he’s gone between starts this season was from Jan. 19 to Jan. 31 after suffering a concussion against the New York Rangers. His recovery time was aided by the fact that the Bruins had their bye week right after the injury occurred, so the 31-year-old goaltender only missed one game.

The Conn Smythe frontrunner has been locked in this postseason and playing at a level that is reminiscent of the Bruins’ 2013 run to the Cup Final.

“When he was concussed, I think he missed quite a bit of time then came back and played well,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “He’s in a really good place, a really good place mentally and physically and his routines. He’s gone out game days. In the past, he hasn’t. He’s gone out for specific reasons. I think he’ll continue to do those things. It’s just the game, to get into the flow of the game and speed of the game you can’t ever simulate, so there will be challenges, certainly. Tuukka is in a really good place, and I expect him to return there.”

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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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.

Pro women hockey players form union in step toward league

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More than 200 of the world’s top women’s hockey players have formed a union, saying they must ”stand together” if there is to be a sustainable professional league.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Association said Monday the paperwork was filed Friday to help push for the creation of a ”single, viable women’s professional league in North America.”

The women had announced this month their pledge to sit out the upcoming season in North America after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League abruptly shut down this year. That leaves only the National Women’s Hockey League, which took back control of the Buffalo Beauts on May 8.

The PWHPA said in a statement the association also will help players coordinate training needs and opportunities and develop sponsor support.

”We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had,” Kendall Coyne Schofield said in a statement. ”It’s time to stand together and work to create a viable league that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of our hard work.”

Coyne Schofield won Olympic gold with the U.S. in 2018 and was an NWHL All-Star with the Minnesota Whitecaps this past season.

The new union’s members include players from Europe along with the U.S. and Canada.

”We might play for different teams, and come from different countries, but we’re united in our goals,” said goaltender Noora Raty, who has won two Olympic bronze medals with Finland. ”This is about protecting ourselves, protecting our future, and making hockey a better place for women and girls.”

The PWHPA made it clear the union wants a league that provides health insurance, money and infrastructure along with support for training programs.

”We are prepared to stop playing for a year, which is crushing to even think about, because we know how important a sustainable league will be to the future of women’s sports,” Canadian national team goalie Shannon Szabados said. ”We know we can make this work, and we want the chance to try.”

Liz Knox, former co-chair of the CWHL Players Association, said the players are uncertain about what happens next.

”But we move forward united, dedicated, and hopeful for our future and the future of this game we love so much,” Knox said.

The NWHL stresses that not everyone is boycotting the lone remaining women’s professional league.

The league announced a couple player deals, notably one featuring Madison Packer. Packer, who tied for most goals in NWHL history, signed for $12,000 to play the upcoming season with the Metropolitan Riveters. The NWHL previously announced players also will receive a 50 percent cut of revenue and 15 percent apparel sales with their names this upcoming season.

”I’m coming back for a fifth season because I am passionate about continuing my playing career and to advance the game and our league,” said Packer, who is tied for the NWHL’s most career goals.

”I’m confident in the direction our sport is headed, and in the plan the NWHL has laid out for a strong season and positive experience for players and fans. It’s important to build off the momentum created by the league’s success last season, and my body feels good enough to continue playing.”

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