Wednesday Night Hockey: Capitals raise Cup banner; Karlsson’s Sharks debut

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season starts with a doubleheader on Wednesday. In the first game, the Washington Capitals host the Boston Bruins at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

For the first time in franchise history, the Capitals will enter the regular season as defending Stanley Cup Champions. It didn’t come easy, but Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Braden Holtby and the rest of the team were able to get it done. So how do they respond after a summer of living it up with Lord Stanley? That’s the biggest question.

The Caps should be fine. Will they win the division? It’s possible. Will they repeat as Stanley Cup champs? You never know. All we know for sure, is that the team doesn’t look a whole lot different than it did a year ago. Outside of a few depth additions, Washington is bringing back all the characters that you know and love. Of course, Tom Wilson won’t be among them in the first few games of the season because of a suspension.

Before tonight’s game against the Bruins, the Caps will get to watch their Stanley Cup banner go up to the rafters. That’ll be an exciting and emotional moment for the team and for its fans.

“It is going to be a very exciting moment, a very special moment,” Ovechkin said, per NHL.com. “The atmosphere is going to be unbelievable. The people are going to be happy. Some might even cry. It’s all about the Cup, it’s all about this team and this organization, how we did it. We share it with all the people who live in Washington.”

As for the Bruins, they seem to be flying under the radar in a division that includes the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. Boston put together a terrific regular season before being bounced by the Lightning in the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Bruins have three of the better players in hockey with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak up front. They also have a cast of young players like Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Donato that could take big steps forward in 2018-19.

On defense, veteran Zdeno Chara and youngster Charlie McAvoy will continue to lead the way for a group that’s relatively underrated. And between the pipes, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak should provide the Bruins with a strong one-two punch throughout the season.

In the late game, the San Jose Sharks will host the Anaheim Ducks at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

Of all the additions and transactions that were made between the end of the playoffs and start of the regular season, no team made a bigger move than the Sharks, who acquired Erik Karlsson from Ottawa for a less-than-stellar package of players and picks.

Adding Karlsson to a blueline that already includes Brent Burns seems to be unfair. Can you imagine what the what that power play is going to look like? Of course, they’ll have to find a way to get Karlsson to sign a contract extension, but for now they should just enjoy the luxuries they have on that defense. The Sharks will have to find a way to put it all together, but they have so many veterans that they’ll probably be able to make this whole thing work pretty quickly.

Evander Kane, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones will also have a hand in leading this team to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. The only major loss they suffered in 2018 was Thornton’s beard.

“My wife’s been wanting this done for a long time and the guys kind of got on it and all of a sudden the shaver came out, and there it was on the plate,” Thornton said, per the Mercury News. “My 5-year old wasn’t happy this morning. When he woke up, he didn’t want to see dad. I’ve got to make it up to him somehow.”

The Ducks are in an interesting position heading into the year. Corey Perry‘s going to miss an extended period of time and Ryan Kesler, Ondrej Kase and Patrick Eaves are all opening the season on IR. They’ll still be able to count on guys like Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Adam Henrique, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and John Gibson.

Instead of playing that physical brand of hockey that they’re used to playing, the Ducks are going to try play quicker.

“We’re trying to put in a new system and different line combinations, and that takes time,” Henrique said, per the Associated Press. “It takes some time to adjust to everything we’re being asked to do, but we’re already seeing flashes of it, for sure. For us, it’s a matter of just trying to get it into our games.”

Ahhhhhhhh hockey season is back, everybody! Enjoy!

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.

Ovechkin to play role of NHL ambassador in China

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Alex Ovechkin will be taking a week away from his summer break to play a different kind of role in the NHL next month.

Ovi is heading to China as the NHL’s international ambassador on the week of Aug. 4. He will travel to Bejing, China’s capital, a trip that will include the Russian superstar holding youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings.

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a release from the Caps. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL continues to try and grow the game at the international level in places traditionally not hotbeds for hockey.

China has been seeing a lot of the NHL over the past three seasons. Although no preseason games are scheduled for the 2019-20 season, the NHL has played a total of four since 2017, with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks contesting two games in 2017-18 and the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames playing the other two prior to last season.

The Stanley Cup found its way to the country for the first time last September, as well.

“We are very excited that Alex Ovechkin will be joining us in China this summer,” said David Proper, NHL Executive Vice President of Media and International Strategy. “Alex represents the best in sports, as he epitomizes that combination of great talent, great personality and great sportsmanship. He is the perfect person to represent the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China.”

China, with a population of over 1.3 billion, expects to expand its participation in winter sports, including hockey, to 300 million people by 2022.


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

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

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DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

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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.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


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

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.