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PHT’s 2018-19 Metropolitan Division Preview

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(The 2018-19 NHL season is almost here. This week Pro Hockey Talk will be previewing all four divisions looking at strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

Atlantic Division Preview
Central Division Preview
Pacific Division Preview

The Metropolitan Division produced the Stanley Cup champion for the third season in a row, yet you couldn’t call it a familiar sight.

After decades of heartbreak as a franchise and a decade of heartbreak for signature star Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals finally did it. After seeing their Presidents Trophy run end and “only” winning the Metro, the Capitals won their first-ever title. Fittingly, they ended up needing to get through the Penguins, a team that’s crushed their dreams multiple times in the past. In hindsight, it HAD to happen that way.

Five Metro teams ended up making the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the surprising Devils, persistent-if-frustrated Blue Jackets, and rising Flyers joining the Capitals and Penguins. Few would bat an eye if the division once again sent a maximum of five squads to the postseason in 2018-19, although the cast of characters could change.

This post winds through the ups, downs, dreams, and fears for all eight teams.

CAROLINA HURRICANES:

Better or worse?: Oh dear, that’s a loaded question.

One thing’s for sure: they’re different. They changed their coach and GM, so we’ll see if Rod Brind’Amour can maintain the possession-happy ways that partially explain why the Hurricanes have frequently been go-to dark horse candidates. (Here’s hoping that “Rod the Bod” is more progressive and modern than “Team Grit” and “Team Grind” would indicate.)

They’re also wildly different on the ice, with the biggest tweaks being Dougie Hamilton, Petr Mrazek, and Andrei Svechnikov joining the mix while Jeff Skinner, Cam Ward, Noah Hanifin, and Elias Lindholm are out of town.

Let’s lean toward better because, frankly, it’s tough to imagine their goaltending declining from last year’s season-sinking mess.

Strengths: Hamilton and free agent signing Calvin de Haan bolster a defense that already ranked among the deepest in the NHL. That’s especially true if the Hurricanes hang onto Justin Faulk, even if Brind’Amour will need to juggle to get everyone proper ice time. (Most other NHL GMs are sarcastically playing the world’s smallest violin.)

Beyond defense, Carolina boasts a ton of youth, and Svechnikov only strengthens that point.

Weaknesses: Goaltending, duh.

Mrazek didn’t exactly stop every puck that came his way after being traded from Detroit to Philadelphia, and while he showed flashes of brilliance in the past, his best Red Wings days are moving further away in the rearview mirror. Mrazek and Scott Darling could be OK, yet they don’t exactly inspire utmost confidence.

Also, while that offense has some pieces, it’s fair to wonder if there are enough gamebreakers. Trading away Skinner did not help.

2017-18 Highlight: The team kindly collects the best of last season in this clip.

MVP Candidate: Hamilton may put on an exhibition that will make him the guy in Carolina, but let’s bet on Aho, who led the team in scoring last season and is just 21 years old. Aho isn’t a household name, yet if you turn on a Hurricanes game, he’ll likely be the player who captivates you.

Playoffs or Lottery?: As “fool me once” as this feels, Carolina leans closer to the playoffs. No, this is not a recording; yes, it will be tough for them with plenty of other viable teams in the East. Whether they actually make it or not, Carolina is much more likely to be in the bubble than in the cellar this season.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Better or worse?: Worse, in some ways for matters that are out of their hands. The uncertainty surrounding Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky – two enormously important players – hangs over Columbus like a dark cloud. If one or both gets traded away, you can move this from a soft worse to a hard worse.

Strengths: Zach Werenski and Seth Jones might comprise the NHL’s most dazzling young defensive duo, and if they continue progressing in this current direction, you might not need the young caveat much longer.

Also, the Blue Jackets currently have a high-end forward (Panarin) and a Vezina-quality goalie (Bob). Currently.

Weaknesses: It could all come crashing down if they move Bob and Bread. We can all acknowledge that Pierre Luc-Dubois was a success as a rookie, but how good is he really if he doesn’t have one of the world’s most explosive wingers helping him out? They might need to go back to a rat-like mentality if they lose their stars.

2017-18 Highlight: If this John Tortorella medley isn’t enough, enjoy that awesome Artemi Panarin overtime game-winner from the Capitals series.

MVP Candidate: Panarin and/or Bob if one or both stays. If not, Seth Jones was really drumming up Norris Trophy buzz, although he’d need to fight off his buddy Zach, who’s generally an even more explosive scorer.

Playoffs or Lottery?: It’s easy to forget that the Blue Jackets generated 108 points in 2016-17, and were quite potent with 97 last season. They haven’t met their goals during the postseason yet, but they’ve been a force during regular seasons. Of course, losing their stars could warp that outlook …

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Better or worse?: If you’re comparing them to the team that made the playoffs, they’re worse, as they lost rentals (Patrick Maroon and Michael Grabner) along with defenseman John Moore.

Generally speaking, they’ve mostly just stayed in place, but call it a step back.

Strengths: Taylor Hall faces long odds in producing back-to-back Hart Trophy seasons, but he’s a spectacular winger who absorbed a comically outsized array of abuse during his Edmonton days. Hall is awesome, and the Devils have some other nice forwards, including Nico Hischier, who immediately backed up his status as the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. Kudos to New Jersey for embracing its strengths on offense last season, and there’s little reason to expect them to turn away from what worked.

Weaknesses: Cory Schneider was basically in a crisis in 2017-18, and it’s not as if that defense is really equipped to bail him out. The Devils’ forward group has some other nice pieces (especially if Marcus Johansson can get healthy), yet they still ask Hall to pull off one too many miracles.

2017-18 Highlight: All Hail Hall.

MVP Candidate: Uh, duh, the reigning MVP.

Playoffs or Lottery?: Last year, it was a no-brainer to be lottery, and then the Devils made a stunning run to a playoff berth. GM Ray Shero deserves some credit for not overreacting and messing things up by adding a bunch of short-term investments, but New Jersey is unlikely to walk that tightrope again. They’re closer to lottery fodder heading into 2018-19.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS:

Better or worse?: (Laughs awkwardly.)

Strengths: Mathew Barzal should soothe some of the John Tavares-related wounds, as he is a splendid scoring wizard of a sophomore. Sure, it will be tough to ask him to top or match last season, especially with a lot more pressure on his shoulders and far more attention from opposing defenses. Barzal, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Nick Leddy provide the sort of offensive spark that might make the Islanders fun to watch, at times.

Also, Barry Trotz could help clean up that disastrous defense.

Weaknesses: Good grief, that defense was horrendous last season, and the goaltending couldn’t clean up matters, either. Both stand as likely problems heading into 2018-19, although improvements are easy to imagine simply because the bar is so long. Unfortunately, no Tavares means that their offense is weaker by a face of the franchise-sized margin.

2017-18 Highlight: The Islanders might as well put up a Barzal billboard.

MVP Candidate: Sorry to heap all of these expectations on you, Barzal, but there’s no other choice. The 21-year-old scored 85 points in 82 games last season, and who’s to say that isn’t just the tip of the iceberg?

Playoffs or Lottery?: Lottery, by a mile. On the bright side, the Islanders hit it out of the park during the 2018 NHL Draft, and could very well land another blue chipper in 2019. Jack Hughes could look really nice as a one-two punch with Barzal, eh?

NEW YORK RANGERS

Better or worse?: Worse, yet by design. Management acknowledged that a rebuild is in motion. The fascinating question is: how long will they commit to that plan? What happens if Artemi Panarin really does heart New York?

Strengths: If there’s one person who can derail a Rangers’ tanking attempt, it’s Henrik Lundqvist, even at age 36. They aren’t totally bereft of talent, either, with Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, and Mats Zuccarello coming to mind. Kevin Shattenkirk might deserve a mulligan after last season’s injury issues. Also, David Quinn could be a huge upgrade over Alain Vigneault, for all we know. (Plenty of Rangers fans almost wanted to co-opt their rivals’ “Yes!” chant right there.)

Weaknesses: That defense is a tire fire inside a Dumpster fire transported by a train wreck. Holy smokes. Also, Lundqvist may indeed be feeling his age and all of that past hockey mileage, and the offense is unlikely to hang with other explosive groups in the Metro. So, let’s broadly say “lots.”

2017-18 Highlight: Pavel Buchnevich made a fan’s day last season.

MVP Candidate: If anyone’s even in the realm of Hart chatter, it has to be King Henrik. Even Rangers management might root against that, consider New York’s eyeing of the basement.

Playoffs or Lottery?: Lottery, and expect the Rangers to chase more chances at first-round picks. Could they trade Zuccarello? Maybe the question is actually, “Who won’t they trade?”

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Better or worse?: The glorious return of James van Riemsdyk gives a boost to a power play that already consistently ranked among the NHL’s most terrifying groups. Considering how Nolan Patrick ended last season, it wouldn’t be surprising if he made a nice jump – if not leap – this season, too.

Strengths: Remember that bit about Columbus’ defensive duo? Philly readers might have been yelling at their screens while eating decadent sandwiches (seriously, I need to get to Philly one of these days). Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are right up there with the best young duos in the NHL. With Claude Giroux revamped last season, Sean Couturier climbing the Selke ranks, and other scorers looking promising – opponents can’t be happy that Travis Konecny blew up once the calendar turned 2018 – this offense should be potent.

It sure seems like GM Ron Hextall’s vision is coming into focus, and it’s a sight for sore eyes.

Weaknesses: Head coach Dave Hakstol isn’t exactly beloved by Flyers fans, so that’s something to watch if Philly stumbles out of the gate.

Brian Elliott tends to play best when people count him out, and all three of Philly’s potential goalies should have motivation (contract years for Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, Carter Hart wanting to prove himself as NHL goalie now). Still, goaltending is the eternal question for the Flyers, and this year probably won’t disappoint.

2017-18 Highlight: Giroux clinched a Flyers playoff spot in style.

MVP Candidate: Giroux crossed the triple-digit barrier for the first time last season, collecting a whopping 102 points. If he can avoid the erosion of age – he turned 30 in January – then the Flyers captain could be in the Hart discussion once again.

Playoffs or Lottery?: Playoffs. Considering the young players Philly boasts, it’s not outrageous to daydream about exponential growth for the Flyers. If they see more baby steps than leaps, they’re still likely to at least be in the bubble.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Better or worse?: While there were smaller moves, you can boil down Pittsburgh’s summer to giving up valuable forward Conor Sheary to make room for ( … polarizing?) defenseman Jack Johnson. The Penguins are resolute that Johnson is a great fit, but they’re making a dangerous leap of faith.

On one hand, Matt Murray is likely to enjoy a better season, and the hope is that Kris Letang will be healthier. On the other, this team’s getting older; considering how star-dependent this team can be, any slippage from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could really sting.

Strengths: Still, those stars.

Crosby and Malkin remain among the cream of the crop. All of the drama around Phil Kessel really distracts from the remarkable feat he accomplished in 2017-18, setting a new career-high with 92 points, including 34 goals.

This team has a lot of weapons, and a coach willing to actually deploy them. It’s plausible that Derick Brassard will rebound during a contract year, too.

Weaknesses: This Penguins team gives up almost as much as it produces, and that puts a heavy burden on Murray. If Brassard and others can’t get it together, Pittsburgh will continue to ask the world of their world-beaters. In a team sport like hockey, that frequently translates to asking too much.

2017-18 Highlight: Last season felt like an elaborate MLB tryout for number 87.

MVP Candidate: The Penguins remain a pick your poison proposition: will Crosby be the top star this year, or will Makin snatch the crown? Despite playing four fewer games in 2017-18, Malkin generated 98 points to Crosby’s 89. Sometimes it’s as simple as which superstar center enjoys the most help. In that regard, did you know that Jake Guentzel is entering a contract year?

Playoffs or Lottery?: Playoffs. This team’s managed to clinch berths even during seasons when multiple star players miss huge chunks of time due to injury. The Penguins remain all-in, and the window to contend remains open. We’ll see if they can put it all together.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Better or worse?: Worse, yet not to the extreme that plenty of championship teams encounter. They managed to bring back key pieces of their magical curse-breaking Stanley Cup run, with John Carlson‘s re-signing ranking as arguably the biggest surprise. They didn’t even break the bank with depth players, generally speaking, as many championship teams do. That Michal Kempny deal was remarkably reasonable.

Then again, they did give Tom Wilson a gobsmacking amount of money, and Barry Trotz is out. Also, they killed untold number of brain cells celebrating their epic victory …

Strengths: The Capitals feature the many building blocks of a juggernaut. Alex Ovechkin is the high-end sniper. They have a great one-two punch of centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while their supporting cast features a nice veteran (T.J. Oshie) and intriguing young scorers such as Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky. For all the worries about Todd Reirden taking over for Trotz, he might be more willing to unleash Vrana and Burakovsky. The defense has some nice pieces, and Braden Holtby shook off a tough regular season to remind us why he’s one of the league’s most reliably great goaltenders.

There just aren’t a lot of holes on this team.

Weaknesses: Reirden’s never been a head coach, and he’s facing a huge challenge in trying to repeat. Like the Penguins, the Capitals aren’t ancient, yet Father Time is at least hovering as a threat, at least when it comes to competing at the highest levels. With Philipp Grubauer in Colorado, Washington may not have much of a safety net if Holtby once again falters.

2017-18 Highlight: Pick your favorite.

MVP Candidate: People expect Ovechkin to stagger through the first few months of the season after knocking the biggest, silver item off of his bucket list, and understandably so.

On the other hand, he’s Alex Ovechkin. Despite playing a physical style where he receives and delivers a raucous number of hits, Ovechkin’s managed to play almost every game possible. Ovechkin’s played in far more games than Crosby (1,003 to 864) despite his rambunctious style.

What I’m trying to say is that Ovechkin is nigh-indestructible. This Russian Machine May Not Break.

Playoffs or Lottery?: Most seasons, it’s more reasonable to merely wonder if the Capitals will win the Presidents’ Trophy, or just their division. With a coaching change, less certainty at backup, creeping age, and the Stanley Cup hangover, maybe the Capitals will relinquish the Metro crown. Regardless, they still have the tools for a playoff berth.

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.

How should Rangers approach the trade deadline?

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Whether by design or not, the New York Rangers have been better than expected so far in 2018-19.

Despite waving the white flag of rebuild, they’re only one point behind the Islanders for third place in the Metro, which would help them sneak into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With five of their next six games at home, they might even make that jump, at least briefly.

But, honestly, it still seems like the Rangers should be sellers come trade deadline time.

Just about every stat points to slippage, if not a collapse. They remain one of the weakest possession teams in the NHL, but you can go simpler and merely look at their -10 goal differential so far this season.

So, the Rangers should sell … but how far should they go?

Let’s run down some of the most interesting considerations, from the no-brainers to more far-fetched scenarios, like actually trading Hank.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Mats Zuccarello: 31 years old, $4.5 million

It looks like the veteran winger-wizard could return Friday, which would mark his first game since Nov. 23. It also seems like Zuccarello realizes a trade might happen, as he discussed with Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post.

“There’s no secret that it’s out there. For me, I prepare for everything, try to do my best as long as I’m here. Hopefully I’m here for a long time. If not, it’s nothing I can control.”

The Norwegian forward doesn’t have much power over the situation, but the Rangers have the power to get maximum bang for their buck if they do part ways with Zuccarello.

Before he began his injury absence, Zuccarello was on a five-game pointless drought, and he failed to score in seven of his last eight games, managing a goal and an assist in one productive game during that span. Despite that slump, his overall season numbers are reasonable (10 points in 17 games), and it wouldn’t be surprising if he surged into the trade deadline.

Considering his reasonable cap hit and track record as someone who comes in at 53-61 points during a healthy season, Zuccarello would be a boon for virtually every contender looking for a skillful rental.

For all we know, the Rangers could convince him to come back after a brief run somewhere else, which doesn’t seem outrageous after seeing Zuccarello describe New York as his “second home.”

That scenario would be a “eat your cake and have it too” scenario, as the Rangers could land some assets, but not go too long with a rebuild, if they got Zuccarello back.

Either way, trading Zuccarello seems like the right call. If I were a contender, he’d also be  a very, very desirable target.

Kevin Hayes, 26, $5.175M

In the latest edition of “31 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman reported that the Boston Bruins might have some interest in Boston native Hayes, which wasn’t the first time the team was connected with the player. Friedman also pointed to Colorado as a team that could really use some more support at center.

While Zuccarello could be “pumped up,” it’s hard to imagine opinions going any higher on Hayes. He has 21 points in 30 games this season, including two goals and two assists over his last two contests. At this .70-point-per-game pace (about 54 points over 82 games), Hayes could very well shatter his career-high of 49 points. He’s getting easily the most ice time of his career (19:14 TOI average), and Hayes’ possession numbers are at least strong relative to his teammates.

Is this a straight-up “pump-and-dump?” I have no clue, but the Rangers should be giddy if they can get serious assets for Hayes.

In the case of Hayes (in particular) and Zuccarello (to a lesser extent), the Rangers might also be willing to retain salary to make a trade work with a cash-strapped contender. After all, they’d only be on the hook for a portion of that cap hit for the remainder of this season, so it wouldn’t block future efforts.

(According to Cap Friendly, the Rangers are retaining one of two possible salaries, as they’re absorbing $900K from the Ryan SpoonerRyan Strome trade through this season and 2019-20.)

TWO YEARS LEFT

Chris Kreider, 27, $4.625M expires after 2019-20

The Rangers have quite a collection of players with two years remaining, but Kreider’s the headliner because he poses such interesting questions to New York.

If they wanted to move Kreider, you’d expect a hefty return. The winger presents something for everyone. Old-school types should like his nastiness. Analytics-minded execs will notice that his underlying stats have basically always towered above his teammates. His size is a strength, and just about everyone should love his speed relative to that formidable frame.

His contract is also wonderful for a contender: it’s a bargain, and you’d get two playoff runs out of it. If the agitating winger rubs people the wrong way, at least the term is short enough that you could cut ties. Just about perfect.

Those very factors should also register with the Rangers, especially if they’re looking at this as an extremely quick rebuild. If I were running the show, I’d hesitate to move Kreider, unless the ransom was just undeniable.

Vladislav Namestnikov, 26, $4M through 2019-20 and others

The Rangers have quite a few other two-year deals they could move. Getting more for Namestnikov would only increase the quantity of assets they’ve garnered from moving Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller.

There are other, cheaper options, too. Someone might like Jesper Fast, 27, at a cool $1.85M. Jimmy Vesey (25, $2.275M) and Ryan Strome (25, $3.1M) could fit into more complicated trades. Similarly, Matt Beleskey’s $1.9M cap hit might work for cap fodder.

THE WHOPPER

Henrik Lundqvist, 36, $8.5M through 2020-21

Back in a May episode of The Hockey PDOcast, former Rangers staffer William Kawam described essentially being laughed at when bringing up trading Lundqvist during a discussion that a bunch of team execs, including Rangers GM Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers were courageous in sending out a rebuilding press release last season, but are they trade-Lundqvist brave? I’m not so sure. Especially in the event that Lundqvist wouldn’t want to relocate, which would limit options to local rivals, like the goalie-needy Islanders.

But it’s a topic that should be broached, however gingerly, for a wide array of reasons.

And it’s not just about brushing their long-time icon aside. Lundqvist wants to win a Stanley Cup, so a change of scenery would make sense for the competitive goalie. (Granted, that argument wouldn’t go too far if the only option really is the Isles. Yes, they’re better than expected, but a contender? That’s a tough sell.)

There really might not be a better time for the Rangers to trade Lundqvist and still get something back for him, particularly if he actually would leave his comfort zone. A wide array of teams would find their ears perking up by the concept of landing Lundqvist. Imagine how much interest might rise if the Rangers ate at least some of that $8.5M cap hit to make something work?

So, there’s already a lot of demand for goalies, from the Islanders, Flyers, and Hurricanes to, perhaps even the Flames?

If courageous enough to do so, the Rangers would be wise to be proactive, especially if the Blackhawks decide to bite the bullet with Corey Crawford and/or the Kings embrace reality and move Jonathan Quick.

It helps that Lundqvist’s enjoyed a pretty strong 2018-19 season, at least for a 36-year-old. King Henrik has a .916 save percentage through 23 games, and that’s with a tough mini-stretch (nine goals allowed in two contest) putting a slight damper on his numbers.

Moving Lundqvist would require “ice water in the veins,” yet you can argue that there might not be a better time to do it than between now and the 2019 trade deadline.

***

The Rangers could get really creative with this situation, if they’d like.

Would they absorb problem contracts from contenders either during the deadline or during 2019 NHL Draft weekend, maybe taking a bribe to accept the last year of Ryan Callahan/Patrick Marleau/etc.? Might they go even further by stomaching even tougher, longer deals (Brent Seabrook? Milan Lucic?) if they view this as a rebuild that requires more drastic surgeries? Things could get really interesting if they instead convinced someone else to take on Marc Staal or Kevin Shattenkirk.

One thing’s clear: the Rangers would likely miss out on some golden opportunities if they did nothing.

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.

Golden Knights are red-hot, but have some issues

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After a bumpy start to their second season, the news has been mostly good for the Vegas Golden Knights lately.

By beating the surprisingly feisty Islanders 3-2 on Thursday, Vegas is now measurably hot, winning nine of their last 11 games. Plenty of underlying numbers indicate that this could very well be a team to stay, or at least one that can really make opponents uncomfortable with their frenetic pace.

Unfortunately, you can also see a red flag pop up for the Golden Knights here and there.

Few players fit the dichotomy of the Golden Knights’ short-term/long-term situation quite like Marc-Andre Fleury.

On one hand, “MAF” has put together a commendable 2018-19 so afar, a run that makes it easier to accept his middling save percentage of .909. While his individual stats have been up and down (just check his strong November vs. weak October and December), Fleury’s been an absolute workhorse, appearing in 29 of Vegas’ 33 games. He edges Craig Anderson for the most games played and minutes played so far this season, and both goalies are getting up there in age and wear-and-tear (Anderson is 37, Fleury is 34).

The Athletic’s Jesse Granger notes the troubling history for workhorses in recent postseasons (sub required):

Of the 13 starting goaltenders that have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup since the beginning of the salary cap era in 2005, none played more than 70 games in the regular season. In fact, only two of the 13 played more than 60 games. Fleury is currently on pace to play 72.

Last season, we saw wizard-like Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (now 24) and eventual champion Braden Holtby (now 29) admit that they were worn down, and both of those netminders have faced way fewer pucks over their careers than “The Flower.”

To some extent, this might be part of Gerard Gallant’s M.O. with goalies. During his years with the Florida Panthers, he seemed comfortable with leaning fairly heavily on Roberto Luongo, who logged 61 and 62 GP at ages 35 and 36. That’s not monstrous, yet it’s also more than ideal; it feels akin to an NFL team handing far too many carries to a RB, arguably shortening that runner’s career in the process. Could Luongo’s workload partially explain his health struggles? Maybe.

This isn’t to say Gallant is outrageous, as Malcolm Subban‘s really struggled this season, generating a lousy .859 save percentage in five appearances. It would be easier to criticize Gallant’s choices if he … had other good ones.

Still, there’s likely a safer medium between throwing away starts (if Subban can’t rebound) and running MAF into the ground, as Friday game against the Devils represents Fleury’s 12th consecutive start.

The Fleury situation is far from the only curious one, as it seemed like Max Pacioretty might be a healthy scratch. After some digging, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Schoen unearthed that Pacioretty might sit instead of playing through an injury:

At this point, the goal is to parse coach-speak. After all, Schoen reports that Gallant said that “there’s nothing wrong” with Pacioretty. That could mean that this is merely a minor issue, or it could mean that it would have been more of a coach’s decision.

Overall, it’s still a situation to watch. Pacioretty has absolutely had his relative struggles during his first campaign with Vegas. “Patches” only managed two goals and zero assists through 10 October games, but seemed to right the ship with 16 points in his last 18 contests. Granted, in the last three games, Pacioretty was held without a shot on goal twice (though he managed four SOG in that other contest), so maybe there are subtle signs of struggle.

It’s a bummer for hockey dorks (raises hand) that Pacioretty could miss Friday’s game, as Paul Stastny is slated to finally return. Many of us were intrigued by the prospect of seeing a seemingly rejuvenated Pacioretty with Stastny, particularly since Alex Tuch has been pretty fantastic since he got back into the swing of things upon recovering from his own injury.

Alas, it looks like we’ll need to wait a little longer, unless the Golden Knights decide to let him play through his minor injury and/or minor struggles.

Overall, things are looking up for the Golden Knights, but they’re not perfect. Luckily for Vegas, you could say that about virtually every other team, including Friday’s opponent in New Jersey.

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.

Roundtable: Naming Seattle’s NHL team; GMs on the hot seat

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You have the power to name to the expansion NHL Seattle franchise. What are you choosing?

SEAN: Kraken is already a popular choice, and as a fan of hockey history (and their original jerseys) I’d love to see the Seattle group bring back the Metropolitans name. But do you then keep the Metropolitan Division name? The NHL is stubborn for change sometimes, so I doubt it.

Let’s get crazy in this post-Gritty world and go with Sasquatch. It’s perfect for the region (ever watch “Finding Bigfoot?”) and would allow Seattle to welcome back Squatch, the Sonics old mascot. The jerseys would be great. The plushy toys at the arena team stores would be sold out on a regular basis and he’d be a welcomed addition to the annual mascot game during All-Star Weekend.

Squatch is legendary, and with the NBA likely returning to Seattle at some point, might as well get him started before he has double duty. He was a dynamic performer, willing to take big risks to entertain the crowd, and even had his own theme song, thanks for Chris from Presidents of the United States of America:

JAMES: Deep down, my answer is the Sonics/Supersonics, but I’m aware that a ton of people from Seattle are giving me the stink-eye just for bringing that up, so I relent. Go ahead and name the Seattle team after the Kraken, or some other mystical and/or tuff beast.

For my money, the greater battle revolves around the mascot.

Allow me to introduce “Jittery,” an anthropomorphic cappuccino mug with cartoonish arms, legs, and comical googly eyes. Let’s face it; we’re in a Post-Gritty world, so you have to go big – which usually means some combination of garish, frightening, funny, and cute – or go home.

Jittery would have the potential to edge the Golden Knights’ gila monster, with the far-flung dream of at least competing with Gritty for viral potential/mindshare.

The greatest potential would be in what you could put in the Jittery’s head, which, again, is a coffee mug. Would mysterious, coffee-like liquid splash out of its head when Jittery is excitedly celebrating a goal? Would Jittery cry coffee tears upon defeat? Maybe you could fill Jittery’s head with toys/treats for the kiddos, and the young-at-heart. Just imagine Seattle winning a Stanley Cup, but drinking out of their mascot’s head, instead.

This is clearly a bullet-proof, genius concept, and I demand royalties.

ADAM: I know there is virtually no chance of it happening, and I think any reference to it has always been made in a joking manner (or maybe even a half-joking manner), but I am 100 percent on board with the Seattle Sasquatch. I think the biggest reason I like it is just for the mascot possibilities. Look at how crazy everyone went over Gritty. But I think Sasquatch seems to have just as much potential, maybe even more. Think Harry from Harry and the Hendersons.

But given that Sasquatch doesn’t seem to be a realistic option, I think I can accept Kraken. I was originally opposed to the Sockeye suggestion but I’ve even come around on that, too, and I assume Sockeye Salmon hitting the ice will be a thing at some point no matter what. I’m not on board with Metropolitans. I get the history — and I love hockey history — but we need something new, fresh, unique. Sasquatch is the answer.

JOEY: I’m going with Metropolitans. That was the team’s name when they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, and that’s the name they should keep. Yes, I realize that you’d have to re-name the Metropolitan Division, but I don’t care. There’s hockey history behind the name and I think it would be pretty cool if they came back with it in 2021.

SCOTT: Seattle Kraken. Scrap the skyscraper odes and all that other garbage and RELEASE THE KRAKEN!

I’m all for this shift in marketing philosophy made popular by the Philadelphia Flyers this year with Gritty. It’s opened the door to other possible ideas that are, well, not just the same old cliche, safe stuff we’re used. Seattle Kraken has so much potential. Incredible jerseys, a ridiculous number of options for a mascot, a title sponsor with the Kraken Rum brand. There’s probably some death metal band with Kraken in their name that could sing the anthems and fit right into the Seattle music scene vibe.

I’m not holding out much hope here. They’ll probably be named the Skyscrapers or something like that with the Space Needle as their logo and some type of fish as a mascot.

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We talk a lot about head coaches and hot seats, but what about some general managers who could follow in Ron Hextall’s footsteps out the door?

SEAN: It’s pretty amazing that Marc Bergevin’s seat has cooled considerably when you think about all the talk last season, but the Canadiens are playing better than expected and owner Geoff Molson isn’t close to making that kind of move.

Two GMs who should be feeling the heat are Doug Armstrong and Stan Bowman. I’ve harped on Armstrong since the Mike Yeo firing and am curious how long owner Tom Stillman will wait before making a change. Another season appears to be wasting away and some big names could be out the door by the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Then what? It won’t be a complete teardown, just a retooling if that’s what happens. But does he get one more season to make it work?

The move to fire Joel Quenneville hasn’t gone as planned and Chicago could be another place where big names are dealt, whether by the trade deadline or in the summer. Bowman’s helped construct championship teams and now some of those heavy-term, big money extensions have hamstrung building around the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. Another playoff-less season won’t make upper management happy and you wonder if the changes won’t stop with Quenneville.

JAMES: Honestly, it boggles my mind that Peter Chiarelli survived last season, so if his Hitchcock Hail Mary falls short, that Oilers era should come to a merciful end. It’s nigh-criminal to accomplish so little with Connor McDavid and a bucket of other high-profile picks (which Chiarelli’s squandered either through trades, bad picks, or stuttered development).

I like a lot of what Doug Armstrong’s managed, particularly since – beyond Alex Pietrangelo – the Blues really haven’t been built by lottery picks. Still, it’s clear that the Blues need a change of direction, and a fresh voice would be more inclined to undergo the painful, necessary surgery to right the ship … which may, in fact, come down to trading Pietrangelo.

There’s also Ken Holland, if the Red Wings truly are planning on moving to Steve Yzerman, but can’t say out loud because of tampering.

Three more who I’d say are less pertinent, but interesting to watch:

• Jim Nill – Yes, he’s made some great trades, not unlike Armstrong. But the Stars also failed to truly take advantage of Jamie Benn‘s former-bargain contract, and seem headed toward the same with Tyler Seguin‘s $5.75M expiring after 2018-19. They’ve made significant missteps in slowing down their style (baffling with Seguin & Co. as their best players), failed to find difference-making goalies despite paying huge money, and have whiffed hard on some key drafts. Nill’s been there since April 2013. It’s fair to wonder about him if Dallas can’t make big strides.

Dale Tallon – Normally, I’d be more empathic about Tallon. After all, he willingly gave up Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith rather than parting with, say, Alex Petrovic? Yeah, that’s really bad. That said, the Panthers have changed course as an organization alarmingly often for far too long, and with stifling consequences, so maybe it’s best to be patient … even if there are moments when Tallon seems breathtakingly out of touch.

John Chayka – The Coyotes are in a much better place than they were when Chayka took over, and it would be nice to see him get some more time to bring them to the next level.

Sometimes sports can be especially cruel, however, and there are factors that make you wonder about Chayka. For one, the Coyotes have made some bold moves to get better, yet they seem on track to miss the playoffs once again. Ownership might grow impatient.

Let’s not kid ourselves, either: the ownership situation is often in flux, and if that changes, they might want to bring in “their guy.” Hopefully Chayka gets at least a bit more time, but it’s something to watch, either way.

ADAM: My answer earlier this season was Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton, but the Oilers have gone on enough of a roll and Ken Hitchcock seems to have them doing something right (mostly playing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl until the wheels fall off) and I think that is going to buy him some time.

I think now we have to look over at the Central Division and either Doug Armstrong in St. Louis or Stan Bowman in Chicago.

The Blues spent a ton of money and gave up a ton of assets this summer after missing the playoffs a year ago, and now they stink. They already fired the coach, so that card has been played, and the next logical conclusion is the guy that built the team. Other than a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2015-16 this has been a first-or second-round team at its best (usually a first-round team) and now is on track to miss the playoffs for a second year in a row. Not a great sign for the GM who has, again, already played his “try to save the season” card by changing coaches.

This might be a controversial position to take, but I think if Stan Bowman were named Stan … Smith. Or Stan Johnson. Or anything other than Stan Bowman his seat would probably be a LOT warmer than it is now. His track record in Chicago is obviously great, but it’s been a few years now since the Blackhawks have been a Stanley Cup team, they missed the playoffs a year ago, are currently one of the worst teams in the league, and it didn’t really have to be THIS bad. I know they had salary cap constraints and they have some big contracts, but he has made a lot of questionable to bad moves over the past couple of years. Then he went and fired the most successful coach in franchise history and one of the best coaches in NHL history and the team has completely sunk after that. Not sure the Blackhawks are going to make a change now or even after this season, but if this season keeps going as it is and they do not get better next season they might consider doing something.

JOEY: You can’t mention general managers being on the hot seat without bringing up Doug Armstrong’s name. Last season, he traded Paul Stastny away because he felt his team was a year away from being a serious threat, but that hasn’t been the case in 2018-19. He pulled the trigger on a major deal for Ryan O'Reilly over the summer, and although O’Reilly’s been good, the team simply hasn’t been. Armstrong has fired a coach this season and if the Blues can’t turn it around, he’ll be next. With Jake Allen struggling for the most part over the last few seasons, Armstrong hasn’t found a solution to the problem between the pipes. This might be it.

Stars GM Jim Nill is also likely on thin ice. His team has some high-end talent, but depth has been an issue for them since he’s taken over. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg can only carry the team so far. Getting contributions from the rest of the team has been an issue. As of this moment, the Stars are on the outside of the playoff picture. If they were to miss the postseason again, you’d have to think that someone will play the price. It won’t be new head coach Jim Montgomery, so who else can it be but the GM?

And you can’t forget ‘Pistol’ Pete Chiarelli. Like Armstrong, Chiarelli also made a coaching change to try to get his team going. The Oilers are currently sitting in a Wild Card spot, but if they were to fall out of the playoff picture again at the end of the season, you’d have to think that Edmonton’s decision makers will want to make a change. You can’t just keep wasting all of Connor McDavid’s great years.

SCOTT: It would seem that Peter Chiarelli has bought himself some time after bringing in Ken Hitchcock to be the team’s savior. Edmonton is in a playoff spot, which isn’t something you would have uttered a month ago.

Of course, a losing streak of four or five games would change the above narrative, so Chiarelli is still certainly in the conversation and is by no means out of the woods just yet. He’s done little to improve this team since he arrived and still probably needs a miracle to happen if he’s to be in the same position this time next year.

Sticking in the west, Doug Armstrong’s leash must be retracting a bit. There were a lot of people who believed the Blues won the summer. But as we approach Christmas, we now know that wasn’t the case.

The Blues don’t look half bad on paper, but their on-ice product has been truly poor this season. Maybe the Blues just need to head in a new direction.

The last guy I have on a hot seat is Stan Bowman. If Bowman’s last name wasn’t Bowman, he’d probably already be gone.

I suppose he bought some time firing Joel Quenneville, but it’s clear Quenneville wasn’t the problem. Jeremy Colliton has been tasked with the impossible and it hasn’t worked out so far.

Bowman did well to win the Stanley Cup three times (partly due to drafting done before he got there), but there’s little coming up through the system these days that provide any hope for better times ahead. And trades to get picks and younger assets don’t seem to be in the cards either (see: Brent Seabrook contract). All the “bad” contracts are shrouded with no-movement clauses.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Five NHL veterans who could be on the move

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Many insiders are reporting that there’s a lot of trade chatter going on between general managers. Teams are pushing hard to make a move prior to the Dec. 19 roster freeze. But even if teams can’t pull the trigger on a deal before next week, all these talks should help set the table for trades later on in the season. So with that in mind, who are some of the bigger names that may find themselves on the move in the near future?

Alex Pietrangelo – D – St. Louis Blues: St. Louis has been one of the huge disappointments in the NHL this season. Their terrible start has them 13 points behind Colorado for third place in the Central Division and they’re 11 points behind Vegas for the final Wild Card spot. Trading their captain would be a huge move, but it appears as though it might be time for them to change things up. They won’t give Pietrangelo away though. There’s enough teams looking for quality defensemen, which means they should be able to get something significant back.

Jeff Carter – C/W – Los Angeles Kings: Like the Blues, the Kings have also been a huge bust in 2018-19. Carter’s had a tough year, but there’s still enough offense there to make him an intriguing addition for any competitive team. The 33-year-old has six goals and nine assists in 33 games, but he could regain his scoring touch if he ends up in the right situation. Carter has three years left on his deal at a cap hit of $5.272 million.

Jake Muzzin – D- Los Angeles Kings: Sticking with the Kings theme, Muzzin could be a valuable add for any team that doesn’t want to pay what it’s going to take to get Pietrangelo out of St. Louis. The Kings reportedly had a deal in place to send Muzzin to the Montreal Canadiens last summer as part of a deal for Max Pacioretty, but that ended up falling through. The 29-year-old has one year left on his contract at $4 million.

Jimmy Howard – G -Detroit Red Wings: Shockingly, the Red Wings still find themselves in the mix for a playoff spot. Will they be able to sneak in? Probably not, but it would be tough to envision them selling off assets at this moment. That doesn’t mean that won’t change though. Many teams are looking to upgrade between the pipes, and Howard is having a terrific year. One of the things that teams will like about the veteran, is that there’s no term left on his deal.

Phil Kessel – W – Pittsburgh Penguins: Alright, it would be surprising to see this happen, but there’s been enough chatter about it that it’s impossible to ignore. GM Jim Rutherford isn’t shy about making moves. His team is currently out of a playoff spot and they’re coming off an embarrassing loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Kessel still has three years left on his current deal, but he only accounts for $6.8 million because the Toronto Maple Leafs are retaining some of his salary.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.