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Which NHL player is having best contract year?

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NHL teams are getting more sophisticated when it comes to avoiding truly boneheaded free agent moves (sorry, would-be next Bobby Holik), but the truth is that contract years can still swing a player’s contract by millions.

Just ask John Carlson — no, wait, he’s currently swimming in money.

(Note: he’s probably not literally swimming in money.)

We’re only in November, so a lot can change. Injuries happen in the violent, sometimes-randomly unlucky sports of hockey. Hot streaks can go ice-cold. Coaches can lose trust in a player, killing power-play opportunities and sabotaging line combinations.

At the moment, though, these are the players who are off to red-hot starts that could really fatten their future paychecks (and drive up their trade value, too). Cap Friendly’s free agent list was very helpful in putting this together, while stats cited come from Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.

(Also, this list focuses on pending UFAs, in case you were getting ready to holler at your screen about Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and other could-be RFAs.)

Mark Stone, Senators, 26, $7.35 million

Last night’s rousing five-point performance pushes Stone to six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in 15 games. Yes, you can note that his shooting percentage is a bit high (17.6), but his career average of 15.6 percent argues that he’s long been a talented – if selective – shooter.

There are other reasons why Stone should rank as high-end trade bait, yet will also be tough for Ottawa to let go. He’s still young at 26, and won’t turn 27 until May. Also, if wingers received more Selke attention, Stone would likely be in that conversation. Despite being deployed more defensively (starting 56-percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, versus a career average of 47-percent), Stone’s possession stats are off the charts, especially compared to his often-overwhelmed teammates in Ottawa.

If you’re a contender who could land him in a trade, Stone might be worth quite the ransom if he’d also talk extension.

Matt Duchene, Senators, 27, $6M

Despite his Wile E. Coyote-level luck when it comes to finding himself in miserable situations, Duchene is not one of Stone’s overwhelmed Senators teammates. Granted, his possession stats haven’t been resilient like those of Stone’s, but the speedy center still has 15 points in as many games this season.

Old-school executives will also love his abilities in the circle, as he continues to be strong on faceoffs (winning 53.2-percent so far in 2018-19).

One request is for Duchene to shoot more often, as he’s been below 2 SOG per game (1.87), which is not in line with his career average of 2.46 SOG per night.

Artemi Panarin, Blue Jackets, 26, $6M

“The Bread Man” is on the other end of the spectrum, flexing his skills with a resounding 51 SOG in 15 games (3.40 per night, towering over his 2.62 career average).

It would be the latest example that Panarin is for real, except I believe people no longer need convincing that he’s a star. His 16 points in 15 games feels more like “business as usual.”

Of course, the actual business side is where things are most fascinating, as the Blue Jackets need to figure out what to do with Panarin (and struggling contract year goalie Sergei Bobrovsky). Whether he remains in Columbus or is traded somewhere else, motivation shouldn’t be an issue.

Jeff Skinner, Sabres, 26, $5.725M

with Jason Pominville, Sabres, 35, $5.6M

For one of Jack Eichel‘s linemates, it’s about Skinner lining up that first UFA mega-deal, whether it’s with Buffalo (possibly as extension?) or not. On the other end of the spectrum – and on the other wing – we have Pominville, who’s merely hoping to keep his career alive and vibrant.

Both are off to raucous starts, and both are at risk of slowdowns.

Skinner’s generated a fantastic 16 points in 15 games, with nine of those points being goals on a shooting percentage of 18. Then again, maybe the universe is merely repaying Skinner for his unlucky shooting season in 2017-18, when he only connected on an 8.7 success rate? He’s really been all over the place during his career, suffering four seasons with a shooting percentage below the general shooter’s Mason-Dixon line of 10-percent.

Skinner’s long been a very effective player who sort of leaves you hoping for even more, so maybe he’ll put it together at the most lucrative time?

Pominville felt like a nostalgia-friendly addition (and an expensive deal to make the money work) in the trade that netted Marco Scandella, yet the veteran winger has 14 points in 15 games. His eight goals come from some luck, as he’s connected on a whopping 19.5-percent of his shots. He’s also done so with a miniscule ice time average of a mere 13:43 per game, actually down from his recent years of decline.

Both are likely to slip from point-per-game play over the long haul of 82 games, but that’s fine. In Skinner’s case, he could easily exceed his career-high of 63 points. Meanwhile, Pominville could very well show that he still has a place in the NHL, possibly as the full-time “third-best guy on a good line.”

(Another Pominville-like, veteran impact who falls a little short of the top of this list is Jason Spezza, who’s managed a helpful 10 points in 15 games despite limited minutes.)

Anders Lee, Islanders, 27, $3.75M

Hey, maybe Lee is good, not just John Tavares-enhanced?

Either way, it’s been an impressive start to 2018-19 for Lee, who presents an interesting conundrum for the shockingly fast-starting Islanders: do you take advantage of him being the “hot hand” or do you pencil him in as a core player?

Lee has 13 points in 14 games, and his 12.5 shooting percentage is actually below his career average of 14.5 (OK, that might be the Tavares effect).

Interestingly, Lee is succeeding despite being deployed in a resoundingly different way. He’s begun 59.2-percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, versus a career average of 45.1. Lee’s possession numbers aren’t the prettiest in every regard, yet they look rosier relative to his teammates.

Lee’s numbers might suffer if things really bottom out for the Islanders as this season goes along; while he’s not really riding inane puck luck, the Isles in many ways have been.

Still, it’s heartening to observe his start, whether you’re an Islanders exec pondering an extension or a team hoping to poach Lee.

Lightning round

  • Spezza: It sure seems like has a new lease on life unshackled from Hitch’s clutches.
  • Erik Karlsson and Jake Gardiner: These two defensemen are in interesting situations. Each are scoring at about a point-every-other-game pace, even though Karlsson hasn’t scored a goal and Gardiner has been limited to one. All three have the potential to go on red-hot streaks to up their value; all three will get paid nicely one way or another.
  • Jakob Silfverberg: Even at 27, it’s tough to tell if we’ve seen everything Silfverberg has to offer. Injuries diluted his totals, but his nine points are more impressive when limited to 11 games. He can’t expect to maintain a 21 shooting percentage, though.
  • Wayne Simmonds: So far, the intriguing winger has 10 points in 15 games. His value is tough to gauge, so his earning power may very well hinge on how 2018-19 shakes out.
  • Semyon Varlamov, Ryan Miller, Robin Lehner: Goalies who are having the strongest contract years so far, with Varlamov and Lehner playing bigger roles.
  • Keith Kinkaid, Jimmy Howard: Two goalies in very different situations, with very similar save percentages. A lot on the line for all of the goalies in UFA situations.
  • Bob, Mike Smith: Among the goalies penciled in as starters who are off to tough contract years. We’ll see if they can get back on track.

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.

The Buzzer: Point’s 91 second hat trick; Kinkaid ties NHL-lead with third shutout

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Three stars

1. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

Three goals in 91 seconds, all on the power play. What a night and what a way to score your first career hat trick.

Point becomes the second fastest player to score three goals on the power play after the late, great Jean Beliveau (he did it in 44 seconds back in 1955). He also now ranks sixth all-time in terms of the fastest hat-trick.

Point also shot up the goal-scoring rankings for this season, now sitting in a tie for third place with 12 goals. Oh, and the Lightning bested the Penguins 4-3 to boot.

2. Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

Beauvillier scored his first career hat trick and added an assist in 7-5 Islanders win against the New York Rangers.

Beauvillier had just one goal coming into the game and no assists. His first apple of the season came on Leo Komarov‘s third-period goal, which stood as the game winner.

Perhaps Thursday’s game will get Beauvillier going again. He had 21 goals in 71 games last season but had just one tally through 16 games entering Thursday.

3. Keith Kinkaid, Florida Panthers

The man known as ‘Blockaid’ on Twitter lived up to his handle on Thursday night, steering aside all 29 shots he faced from the Philadelphia Flyers in a 3-0 win.

Kinkaid is now tied for the NHL lead in shutouts at three with Marc-Andre Fleury. It wasn’t just a standard, run-of-the-mill night for Kinkaid, either. As you will see below, Kinkaid had to pull out a miraculous save to preserve the goose egg.

Other notable performances

  • Nikita Kucherov assisted on all three of Point’s goals.
  • Patric Hornqvist was great for the Penguins, scoring a brace and adding an assist in a losing effort.
  • Craig Anderson stopped 34-of-35 in a 2-1 win for the Ottawa Senators at home to Detroit, including shutting the door on two penalty shots within seconds of each other.
  • Michael Grabner scored his league-leading fourth shorty of the year and the 10th of the season for the Coyotes. The league record for more shorthanded goals in a season is 36. Arizona is well on their way to eclipsing that.
  • Speaking of Arizona, Darcy Kuemper was a bloody stud on Thursday, stopping 44-of-45 shots he faced — a new career high — in a 2-1 win against the Nashville Predators. Twelve of his saves came on on the penalty kill and he took a penalty himself for good measure.
  • Mikko Koivu was gifted a goal and added two helpers as the Minnesota Wild ran over the Vancouver Canucks 6-2.
  • Cary Price made 43 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens to a 3-2 win against the Calgary Flames.
  • Mitch Marner assisted on the game-winner and then put the game to bed with his sixth of the season as the Toronto Maple Leafs prevailed in a 5-3 win against the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the night

Kinkaid’s shutout-preserving save:

Point’s hatty:

Beauvillier’s hatty:

You always remember your first time:

Factoids

Scores

Islanders 7, Rangers 5

Devils 3, Flyers 0

Lightning 4, Penguins 3

Blue Jackets 7, Panthers 3

Senators 2, Red Wings 1

Wild 6, Canucks 2

Canadiens 3, Flames 2

Coyotes 2, Predators 1

Maple Leafs 5, Sharks 3


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

Canucks’ Bachman gifts Mikko Koivu with easy power-play goal

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Mikko Koivu won’t score an easier goal in his life.

And he can thank Vancouver Canucks goalie Richard Bachman for that.

Bachman was in a giving mood in the first period against Koivu’s Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. With the Canucks trying to kill off a Wild power play, Bachman tried to be a hero on an outlet pass from behind his net after Koivu dumped it into Vancouver’s zone.

What occurred next was less than heroic:

It is Bachman’s first start with the Canucks this season and just his 48th NHL game for the American Hockey League veteran. The 31-year-old is playing backup to Jacob Markstrom while Anders Nilsson has been on the shelf since late October with a fractured finger.

To Bachman’s credit, the pass was as good a tape-to-tape job as you’ll see from a goalie. He’ll just want to find a teammate’s stick next time.


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

Lightning’s Brayden Point scores three power play goals in 91 seconds

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PITTSBURGH — One of the weirdest sequences of the season took place in Pittsburgh on Thursday night when Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point needed just 91 seconds of game-time to score three consecutive power play goals in their 4-3 win over the Penguins.

How exactly did that happen?

After dominating the first 19 minutes of the game and building a two-goal lead (with a pair of power play goals of their own), the Penguins melted down at the end of the first period by taking three consecutive penalties in a span of 20 seconds.

First, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin were called for tripping and slashing on the same play to give the Lightning a full two-minute, five-on-three advantage.

Just 20 seconds in to that power play Matt Cullen took a tripping penalty of his own to put three Penguins in the penalty box. Because the Penguins were already down two players on the ice his penalty would not begin until one of his teammates penalties expired (or was wiped out by a goal).

Just 10 seconds after Cullen was sent to the box, Point scored his first goal of the game (and 10th of the season) when he took advantage of a clear lane to the net and wired a shot just under the crossbar to get Tampa Bay on the board with 2.7 seconds to play in the period.

At this point Cullen’s penalty began, keeping the Lightning on an extended two-man advantage.

Just 41 seconds, into the second period Point tied the game with his second goal of the night by one-timing a Steven Stamkos pass behind Penguins goalie Matt Murray.

They made it look easy.

He credited this goal to all of the attention that Stamkos and his shot get on the power play.

“Not a set play, but it’s just guys worry about his shot so much and that’s such a heads up play by him to find me on the back post,” said Point. “I don’t think it’s a set play. It’s just a really creative, smart play by him.”

At this point Cullen’s penalty was the only one still on the board, and it took Point just 47 seconds to give the Lightning the lead with his 12th goal of the season when he blasted a shot into the net from the slot.

Three goals in 91 seconds is the sixth fastest hat trick in NHL history and the fastest since Derek King of the New York Islanders scored three goals in 78 seconds (also against the Penguins) in 1991.

Point was very understated about the whole thing after the game.

“They told me after the game,” Point said when asked if he was aware of where it stood in NHL history. “That’s pretty cool. Obviously just a couple 5-on-3 situations. You’re going to get put out in those spots and guys found me so, but just pretty cool.”

When asked later if he has ever had a night like this at any level of hockey, he again deflected credit to his teammates and the situation.

“No, that’s a first for me,” he said. “But like I said, guys made good plays and I was able to score.”

It was more impressive than he let on, based on nothing more than the fact that almost no one in league history has done anything like it.

The other players in the top-five for fastest hat tricks:

  • Bill Mosienko with three goals in 21 seconds for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1952
  • Jean Beliveau with three goals in 44 seconds for the Montreal Canadiens in 1956
  • Jack Darragh with three goals in 60 seconds for the Ottawa Senators in 1919
  • King with three goals in 78 seconds for the Islanders in 1991
  • Harry Oliver with three goals 85 seconds for Boston Bruins in 1927

Beliveau scored his three goals in 44 seconds on the same power play as players served the entire penalty in those days whether or not a power play goal was scored.

This is also the fastest hat trick in Tampa Bay Lightning history, breaking the record that was originally held by Martin St. Louis (three goals in 6:17).

“It’s just great to see because he’s such a hard worker and plays the game the right way,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said regarding Point’s night. “You like to see those guys get rewarded and he was.”

Point, still only 22 years old, is quickly developing into one of the Lightning’s best players and a core piece for a Stanley Cup contender. His three goals on Thursday give him a team-leading 22 points.

He is coming off of a 32-goal, 66-point performance a year ago and is on track to exceed all of those numbers this season.

 

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.

 

Ducks are a mess and most obvious fix is also most painful

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On Wednesday night, the Vegas Golden Knights absolutely throttled the Anaheim Ducks. The score was 5-0, but it felt like Vegas could name its score, and they really took their foot off the accelerator during the third period.

Between injuries and Ryan Getzlaf‘s tendency to “ease into” some regular seasons, it’s likely tempting for the Ducks to explain their struggles away as the usual growing pains of a veteran-heavy team. After all, the Ducks’ mediocre record (8-9-3 for 19 points in 20 games) isn’t all that different from last season, when they were a fairly lousy 7-7-3 for 17 points in 17 games.

Those arguments provide a smokescreen for something that seems pretty clear if you’ve watched the team with any regularity: the Anaheim Ducks stink right now.

[Gibson was saving the day, until he couldn’t as often.]

Bottom of the barrel

Toggle through Natural Stat Tricks’ various team stats and you’ll see the Ducks rank in the basement in a ton of telling categories. Only the Islanders rank lower in Corsi For Percentage. Want to eliminate blocked shots from the equation? Oops, they fall all the way to last place.

Don’t try to use the “Well, they just give you the low-quality chances while taking away the high-price real estate,” as the Ducks generate 38.37 of the high-danger chances in their games, easily the worst rate in the NHL.

Too much jargon for you? They’re also the NHL’s worst team at even-strength when it comes to scoring chance percentage.

John Gibson looks like he was sent from some other hockey-playing planet like an NHL take on “Space Jam” lately, but even he can’t bail out the Ducks every night. That much was clear as he was pulled from Wednesday’s drubbing against Vegas.

Now, could you attribute some struggles to injuries? In the short term, sure.

Mounting evidence of an overmatched coach

The excuses start to melt away when you consider Randy Carlyle’s larger track record as a frequently – justifiably – criticized NHL head coach. Via Corsica Hockey, the Ducks have been the 11th-worst team in the NHL from a Corsi perspective since Carlyle took over in 2016-17. Carlyle’s previous work with the Toronto Maple Leafs provided ghastly results (second worst in Corsi during his run, also via Corsica), casting the veteran head coach as someone bandied about during ugly-funny analytics debates.

The Ducks have problems that are rooted deeper than Carlyle’s system. They had issues stemming from Boudreau’s days, and to some extent, they’re getting the bill for going all-in on the present and whiffing on their big chances.

That said, it doesn’t seem like the Ducks are going into liquidation mode, so the easiest (and potentially most effective) fix would be to admit that Carlyle’s ways simply don’t work in the NHL any longer. We could argue until our faces are blue about how long they haven’t worked, but the evidence is building that the Ducks are nearing a minor crisis.

You could almost imagine literal wheels of realization slowly turning for Carlyle and GM Bob Murray after the Ducks were brusquely swept from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the San Jose Sharks. Consider what Murray said about the Sharks playing “faster” than the Ducks:

“Are Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski really fast skaters? Are they?” Murray asked, via Eric Stephens, then of the OC Register. “I had one of them in Team Canada. No. They’re good hockey players. But if your team plays fast, you can make players faster. And that’s the first thing that has to be addressed around here.”

Hmmm, the Sharks played too fast for the Ducks, yet Murray himself admitted that San Jose might not inherently feature faster players? You almost wonder if that might come down to the style of play, and the coach’s scheme? Nah …

This internal struggle has spilled out multiple times, even if you can mix the moments of at least acknowledging reality with exhibits of old-school, possibly out-of-date views on the game. For instance, earlier this season, Carlyle spoke about the Ducks playing “too cute” and needing to be dirtier.

Now, some of that boils down to inane hockey buzzwords, but any objective observer can see that the game is shifting away from grunting, grinding, low-talent work to puck-moving defensemen, smaller players, and speed mixed with skill.

The good news is that the Ducks actually possess quite a few players who can play that game, although it does hurt their transition game to lose Cam Fowler for some time. That’s particularly true on defense, as Anaheim has some very solid defenseman, with Hampus Lindholm standing tall as the most underrated piece of the bunch. And, while Getzlaf has never been known for being fast, Murray’s done a decent job of supplementing this roster with some skaters, from Ondrej Kase and Pontus Aberg to an aging speedster like Andrew Cogliano.

Is it a perfect group? No, but if Murray doesn’t want to aim for a soft-reboot, he must think long and hard about pulling the plug on Carlyle. Even if that means powering up the, uh, hot-take factory?

Firing a head coach is always easier said than done, yet that’s especially true in this case.

Fool me once, shame on you …

After all, if Murray were to do this, he would essentially admit that he was wrong to hire Carlyle … twice. Murray stuck his neck out for the guy who was bend the bench for the Ducks’ Stanley Cup win, and this quote from hiring Carlyle shows how personal the decision was:

“Everything came back to Randy in the end,” Murray said in June 2016, according to The Globe & Mail. “I know in my heart that this is the right move at this time for this hockey team.”

This situation is another reminder that, as analytical as GM moves can often feel, things can get messy when you’re so close to decisions. Frankly, one can openly speculate that many other head coaches could’ve guided a Ducks team featuring Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger to a Stanley Cup at that time; in Murray’s eyes, though, Carlyle brought him to that summit.

It wouldn’t be one bit surprising to see Murray and the Ducks doubling down on this decision, and considering how putrid the Pacific Division is, Anaheim could easily squeeze into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Is that really the goal for this aging team? Murray himself wondered if the Ducks would have been better off missing the postseason altogether last season, so you probably don’t need to visit the hot-take factory to realize that it might be wise to be proactive rather than throwing away another season with a questionable ceiling.

Yes, we’re just 20 games into the Ducks’ season, but these aren’t exactly new problems, and it’s tough to imagine all but the most modest improvements.

We’re easily at the point where Murray might need to make an “agonizing” decision once again. If not, Murray runs a serious risk of going down with what looks like a sinking ship, and the coach who’s left them adrift.

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.