Getty Images

Is Duchene right in saying Senators could be better than expected?

6 Comments

Ah, September. The month of the year when training camps begin, the season is about to start but hasn’t begun yet, and thus just about everyone is optimistic (or at least saying optimistic things when reporters are around). Inevitably, about close to half of the teams will end up being wrong about making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and only one will be correct in dreaming of winning it all.

So, yes, it’s fun to giggle at the tropes about players being in “the best shape of their lives,” especially since injuries are just as likely to follow such proclamations as any sort of fitness-related career year.

Still, it can be instructive to break down such chances. If nothing else, we can illuminate the past and attempt to bring a sober analysis to the future.

Matt Duchene, in particular, knows that things can change drastically from one season to the other.

His 2016-17 season with the Colorado Avalanche was a disaster, both for the player and team. Some of that had to do with the turmoil that came from Patrick Roy’s bizarre exit; some came from individual struggles for Duchene. Either way, things were rough, and there were plenty of memes that revolved around Duchene being “freed” of a bad situation in Colorado.

If you follow the NHL even tangentially, you probably know what happened next: Duchene was traded to Ottawa, yet the Senators’ and Avs’ fates essentially flip-flopped.

Avs from 2017 offseason to now: Awful 2016-17 season with a seemingly rudderless outlook, tumultuous dealings that ended with Duchene trade, stunning run to 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and now a promising future, in part thanks to the Duchene trade.

Senators from 2017 offseason to now: While their run was flukey, it can’t be forgotten that Ottawa was an overtime goal from an appearance in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps partially motivated by money, they moved Kyle Turris in the Matt Duchene trade with the (unspoken) belief that the draft picks they sent to Colorado wouldn’t be a big deal. Oops, that pick could be a premium one in 2019. This summer has seen off-the-ice upheaval to such a jarring degree that Roy’s departure looks like a couple breaking up but remaining good friends (and not just saying they’d stay friends).

Yeesh.

So, here’s what Duchene said about Ottawa’s chances to be better than most of us expect, via the Canadian Press:

“We should have a chip on our shoulder after last year,” Duchene said. “We’re a lot better hockey team than we showed and we can be a lot better hockey team than people are giving us credit for.”

Duchene points to the Senators having speed and “a lot of talent” that is being overlooked. Is it possible that the swift-skating center could be onto something?

Low expectations, yet less incentive to ‘tank’

In all honesty, my answer is “probably not,” unless the goal is to merely save face instead of being an absolute disaster. Making a strong bid for a playoff spot feels far-fetched, at least if they’re wise and try to get something for Erik Karlsson. (A full season with Karlsson, as ill-advised as that would be, could change things a bit. He’s that talented.)

Plenty of people expect little from the Senators, and many analytics models forecast doom and gloom. For example, The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn discusses the grim possibilities in a season preview (sub required), and they’re far from unthinkable:

Without him, the Senators are easily the worst team in the league and it’s difficult to see how they make it out of the bottom five. They currently have a 63 percent chance of landing there. Without Karlsson that jumps up to 89 (!) per cent, with a 45 per cent chance at being dead last.

The agonizing thing is that the Senators can’t dream of Jack Hughes being the light at the end of that tunnel, unless a Karlsson trade somehow netted them a lottery pick. That’s because the Avalanche own their 2019 first-rounder, something that makes the Duchene trade look even worse before you realize that Duchene’s far from guaranteed to stay after his contract expires. (He’s saying the right things about staying with the Sens, but what if Ottawa is abysmal again? The guy must want to compete sometime during his prime.)

Bad stuff, but this context makes Ottawa tougher to predict in some ways, as there’s limited incentive to “tank.” Management might put resources into competing more than maybe they should in 2018-19, in part to save face.

Does that mean hanging onto Karlsson until close to the trade deadline, as dreadful as that might sound? Well, at least he could lean on Duchene to learn about how it feels to play for a team in such a lame duck (and just plain lame) situation.

A more comfortable Duchene

Much was made of how well Turris performed early in Nashville, while the numbers weren’t coming for Duchene to begin his run with Ottawa.

Things evened out in the end, though. In fact, Duchene scored more points (49 points in 68 games) in Ottawa in 2017-18 than he did during his full 2016-17 season with Colorado (41 points in 77 games).

Duchene could make Ottawa more spry – and really make a difference at the bank – if he plays all of 2018-19 like he did to close out last season. He quietly averaged almost a point-per-game after the All-Star Break (34 points in 35 games) and was generally the center Pierre Dorion pined for once the calendar hit 2018.

Motivation

If nothing else, this bunch should be hungry … even if that hunger isn’t just to get paid, but maybe to audition for a different team.

Duchene’s in a contract year, as is Mark Stone, who will surely want a long-term deal after tabling the issue with a $7.35M deal for 2018-19. Karlsson might feel awkward if he ends up playing for Ottawa, yet he has a lot of money on the line, so that tension could turn coal to diamonds.

Rebounds

Even beyond the human nature element of wanting to secure futures, there are also players who could conceivably bounce back from tough times.

Craig Anderson‘s developed a downright bizarre tradition of rotating seasons: one mediocre or flat-out bad, then one where he’s basically an All-Star. If that strange pattern continues, he could see an enormous improvement. It’s tough to imagine him being near-Vezina-quality, yet it’s not that hard to picture the aging goalie at least improving noticeably on last year’s odious .898 save percentage. He’s only a season removed from a .926 mark, not to mention stellar postseason work.

Bobby Ryan‘s health situation inspires obvious questions, but it’s easy to forget that he’s just 31. The once-lethal sniper isn’t worth $7.25M, yet he’s been hearing about that over and over again, so maybe his wrist can hold up enough that he can remind people – at least to some extent – of the player he once was?

I mean, he did this during that 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, and that was when he was pretty deep in the doghouse:

Also, Guy Boucher’s shown signs of being a shrewd NHL coach before. For all we know, he might not get another chance to prove he can be more than assistant, so he’ll have motivation, too.

A few boosts from youth

For a team in a fairly dire scenario, the Senators’ farm system is perceived to be close-to-middle of the pack in some rankings lists. That said, they have some players who could conceivably help out a bit in 2018-19.

Thomas Chabot is the type of talented defenseman that Ottawa’s rarely found to support Karlsson, and we might see more of that after getting some sneak peaks next season.

It remains to be seen if Brady Tkachuk can follow in the footsteps of his brother Matthew Tkachuk and jump right from the draft to full NHL duty (and, in Matthew’s case, he flourished and frustrated right away).

Those two names stand out the most, but there could be at least a modest infusion of talent soon. Maybe not enough to stop fans from being sad about the Senators lacking a first-rounder heading into what (still) looks like a grim season, but still.

The good brand of regression

PDO is a stupidly simple stat (but a handy one, in my opinion) that can gauge luck – to some extent – by adding a team’s save and shooting percentages. If it’s way over 100, that team’s probably a little lucky, although skill skews it. The opposite can be true for teams that are under 100.

Via Corsica Hockey, Ottawa’s 98.53 PDO ranked fourth-worst in the NHL in 2017-18. Poor goaltending was the biggest factor there (they had the worst save percentage as a team), but their shooting luck wasn’t top of the pack, either.

Now, poor shooting can at least have something to do with a lack of scoring talent, which is an obvious concern for an already-bad Senators team that lost a key sniper in Mike Hoffman.

That said, if you’re the glass-half-full type, you could imagine things swinging in the other direction.

***

To reiterate, if I were to bet, I’d say that Ottawa’s season is going to be bad. Really bad.

Even so, there are areas where things could go better than 2017-18. If nothing else, there’s something to be said for being underdogs, rather than following a magical run – even a Cinderella run – like the one Ottawa enjoyed the year before.

You also can’t blame Duchene for trying to project confidence, whether he truly believes what he’s saying or not.

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.

Blackhawks lose 8th game in a row on comical Hurricanes goal

Getty
1 Comment

Heading into an emotional return to Carolina, Cam Ward was the focus of Monday’s Blackhawks – Hurricanes game. Ward didn’t get the last laugh as he faced his old team, yet it was Brent Seabrook who absorbed most of the mockery.

While Ward was on the ice trying in vain to stop Sebastian Aho from scoring the 3-2 overtime winner, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you kept your eyes trained on Ward … or Aho alone, for that matter. Instead, make sure you watch Seabrook during that decisive goal, and there are high odds that you’ll get a good laugh.

(Unless you’re a Chicago Blackhawks fan. Fans tend to miss the humor in eight-game losing streaks.)

This is one of those instances where you should stick it out deeper into the video, as the best angles of Seabrook’s unintentionally funny defense crop up around the 30-ish second mark:

When someone gets faked out, you might hear a Jeremy Roenick talk about a jock strap being sent to the bleachers. In Seabrook’s case, it looked more like a sleepy person fumbling aimlessly to silence an alarm clock.

That moment of levity was just part of a rocky night for Seabrook.

The Blackhawks built a 2-0 lead, yet former Chicago forward Teuvo Teravainen began the comeback with a power-play goal after Seabrook was whistled for delay of game. Seabrook also drew the ire of Jordan Martinook by boarding Hurricanes rookie Andrei Svechnikov:

Ward wasn’t able to protect that lead and gain a win against his former team, but the Hurricanes still embraced their longtime goalie, including rolling with the type of tribute video you’d expect:

The Blackhawks were on a five-game losing streak when they fired Joel Quenneville. So far, new head coach Jeremy Colliton hasn’t enjoyed the honeymoon period that a team often experiences after such a change, as he’s 0-for-3 in trying to get his first win as an NHL head coach.

You can forgive Cam Ward for wondering if he’s shuffled off from a playoff drought with the Hurricanes to what could be a painful stretch for his new team in the Blackhawks.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Fight: Jamie Benn’s vicious bout with Josh Anderson

4 Comments

In the rare moments when a star player fights, you usually grade them on a scale. You don’t really need to do that with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars.

The big winger isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, and he’s done so with some big names – and big humans – such as Dustin Byfuglien. Benn engaged in another frightful fight on Monday, as Benn and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson were throwing bombs.

(You can watch that fight – which seems like it’s going to end quickly, but then just keeps going – in the video above this post’s headline.)

Earlier this season, Benn fought with New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood. Benn’s already matched his two fights from 2017-18 (vs. Byfuglien and Corey Perry). Considering we’re not even halfway through November yet, this could be an awfully ornery season for Benn.

You have to wonder if he’s tempting fate a bit – you’d call Benn’s hands soft when they’re not landing haymakers – in risking injuries with these fights. You can’t debate that by losing his temper, Benn’s leaving the ice for long stretches (decisions that can be especially onerous if he gets additional penalties).

On the other hand, hockey’s a rough sport, and perhaps being so physical helps Benn stay engaged?

Selfishly speaking, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to see him keep up this habit, as it’s quite the spectacle. Nothing will top his fight with Joe Thornton from many moons ago, which set the stage for a photo that would make for a great Fathead-style wall-sized poster:

via Getty

Classic.

Despite playing in different conferences, this game has had the nastiness of a heated divisional rivalry. You could see it in moments beyond Benn’s fight, particularly when Seth Jones was whistled for a nasty hit on Jason Dickinson.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Ward’s return to Carolina, Kesler vs. Johansen highlight Monday schedule

Getty
Leave a comment

There are only four games on the NHL schedule Monday night, but they feature a couple of intriguing storylines worth watching.

First, in Carolina, former long-time Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward will be making his return as a visiting player for the first time when he is expected to the start for the Chicago Blackhawks. He will be trying to help them snap their seven-game losing streak and get them their first win under new head coach Jeremy Colliton.

Ward did not play when the two teams met in Chicago (a 4-3 Hurricanes win) this past week.

Ward is certain to get a warm welcome, and already did when he first arrived in the arena on Monday.

Ward’s time with the Hurricanes is a complicated one.

On one hand, he spent 13 years as the primary starting goalie for the team. That is, to say the least, a long-time, and there are not many goalies that spend that much with one franchise. So it is always going to be a big deal when — or if — they return as a visiting player. But goaltending was a constant thorn in the Hurricanes’ side during Ward’s time with the team and that is usually what his time there is remembered for to everyone outside of Raleigh.

But, he is still a significant part of the team’s history for helping the Hurricanes win their first and only championship during the 2005-06 season. And he played a huge role in that title.

Ward was a rookie during the 2005-06 season, and even though he only appeared in 28 games during the regular season, he was a rock for the team in the playoffs with a .920 save percentage, picking up 15 of the team’s 16 wins during the postseason. That run included two shutouts, including one in the Stanley Cup Final, as he took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

The Hurricanes only made the playoffs one other time during Ward’s tenure with the team (a trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009 when they were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins).

But banners hang forever, and thanks in large part to Ward’s contributions as a rookie the Hurricanes have one.

That should never be forgotten if you are a Hurricanes fan, no matter what happened after that.

The other intriguing game on the Monday schedule is in Anaheim where the Ducks are hosting the NHL-leading Nashville Predators.

The intrigue here isn’t so much with the game itself, because, quite honestly, it looks to be a rather one-sided matchup on paper. Nashville is rolling — again — while the Ducks are going in the complete opposite direction and trending toward the bottom of the league.

What stands out with this one is it could be another chapter in the ongoing personal feud between Predators center Ryan Johansen and Ducks center Ryan Kesler. They do not like each other. At all.

For a quick refresher, refer back to this August post from our Sean Leahy highlighting the feud that was continued with this Tweet from Kesler over the summer.

Things really escalated between the two during the 2017 Western Conference Final (which Johansen and the Predators won) and consisted of some back-and-forth trash talk between the two.

Among the highlights:

Johansen to Kesler: “Nobody likes you”

And…

Johansen on Kesler: “I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that.”

And…

Kesler on Johansen: “He’s not my friend. He’s not going to be my friend. He can say whatever he wants.”

So there is that little backstory.

Kesler, who was limited to just 44 games a season ago due to injury, only played in one of the Ducks’ three games against the Predators so we really have not seen them have a chance to renew their relationship on the ice since that Western Conference Final series.

In the one game they did face each other since then the two spent five minutes on the ice together and, of course, got into a fight late in the second period.

Referees Gord Dwyer and Jake Brenk, as well as linesmen Darren Gibbs and Brian Murphy, will be the ones in charge of trying to maintain order between the two on Monday night.

 

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.

Campbell injury adds to Kings’ frustrating season

Leave a comment

Nothing is going right for the Los Angeles Kings this season.

Already stuck with the league’s worst record and having just fired their coach, the team announced on Monday that goalie Jack Campbell will be sidelined for the next four-to-six weeks due to a torn meniscus.

Rookie Cal Petersen has been recalled from the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League to take his place.

This is problematic for the Kings because Campbell has taken over the starting goaltending duties while regular starter Jonathan Quick continues to recover from his own meniscus injury that has sidelined him since Oct. 23.

Not only had Campbell taken over the starting role, he has been one of the few bright spots on the team during this otherwise abysmal start. As of Monday, he had a .923 save percentage on the season and had been especially good in November with a .939 save percentage in his past five appearances. That includes a 35-save effort over the weekend when he lost a tough-luck 1-0 decision to the Calgary Flames.

[Related: Kings’ problems run far deeper than their coach]

Now he is out, too, and a team that is 31st in the league in goal scored (only 2.06 goals per game) is going to have to rely on an unproven rookie that has yet to play an NHL game, and a 36-year-old Peter Budaj to keep the puck out of their own net.

Budaj has appeared in just one game this season for the Kings, stopping 10 out of 11 shots.

Petersen, meanwhile, was originally a fifth-round draft pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 2013 and was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent in July, 2017. He signed with the Kings after an incredibly successful collegiate career at Notre Dame, and in his first year of pro hockey finished the 2017-18 season with a .910 save percentage for Ontario.

So far this season his play has dropped off considerably as he had just an .881 save percentage in his first 10 games.

In other words: Good luck, Willie Desjardins. You are going to need it.

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.