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Eight stunning numbers from first half of season

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Every month we will take a look around the NHL at some stunning (or even bizarre) numbers that jump out at us.

This month we take a look at the return of the 100-point scorer,the Flyers’ revolving door of goalies, and some impressive individual performances around the NHL, including from a pair of standout rookies.

The 100-point scorer might be back

Did not think this was ever going to happen. Not with the way the game was trending for so long.

Entering play on Friday there are currently 13 players in the NHL that are on pace for more than 100 points this season (and that does not include players like Patrice Bergeron and Auston Matthews who are on a 100-point pace over 82 games but have missed too much time due to injury to actually threaten the 100-point mark) and a few others on pace for 98 or 99 points and could make a run at it.

Let’s think about those numbers for a second.

  • During the 2017-18 season there were only three 100-point scorers in the NHL (Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, and Claude Giroux), and at the halfway point there were only four player on a pace to reach it.
  • In the seven years prior to last season there were only five 100-point scorers in the NHL, and never more than one in a single season.
  • The last time the NHL had more than 10 100-point scorers in a single season was 1995-96. The last time there were 13 was the 1992-93 season when more than 20 players topped it.

There was an eight or nine year stretch where even reaching 90 points seemed to be impossible, given the way the games were being officiated, the quality of the goaltending, and the way the league had become such a structured defensive game. Just like it wasn’t one specific thing that resulted in the decline in scoring, it hasn’t been just one specific thing that’s resulted in the reversal. Goalie equipment has gotten smaller, power plays are up a little bit, three-on-three overtime has added some goals, and, quite frankly, there has been a pretty good influx of young superstar talent to enter the league that has been given a bit more freedom to create.

The Flyers’ revolving door of goalies

After claiming Mike McKenna on waivers the Philadelphia Flyers could be in a position to use a seventh goalie this season. The season is just now half over. Only two teams in the league this season have had to use more than three different goalies, while none have had to use more than four. The Flyers are already at six and have a very real chance of using seven.

What is most amazing about this number is that all six goalies have appeared in at least two games, and five of them have appeared in at least five.

[Related: Flyers welcome Mike McKenna to the goalie carousel

An historically great offense in Tampa Bay

At the halfway point the Tampa Bay Lightning are averaging 4.17 goals per game, an incredible number in any era.

In the history of the league only 70 teams have scored more goals than Tampa Bay’s 171 through the first 41 games of a season, and the overwhelming majority of those teams played in the firewagon days of the 1980s when goalies were awful and power plays were plentiful.

Since 1990, only nine teams have topped that mark through 41 games, and all but one of those teams played between 1990 and 1993 (the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins are the lone exception) just before the start of the dead puck era.

The Lightning are truly scoring goals like a team from a different era.

The second-highest scoring team in the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs, is at 3.67, an incredible 0.50 goals per game behind the Lightning. The gap between Tampa Bay and Toronto (which is also an obscenely good and deep offensive team), is the same as the gap between Toronto and the 11th highest scoring team in the league, the Ottawa Senators.

They are also scoring on 30.5 percent of their power plays. Only three teams in league history have ever finished a full season higher than 30 percent — the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens, the 1977-78 New York Islanders, and the 1978-79 New York Islanders.

Elias Lindholm has already exceeded anything he has ever done in the NHL 

I admit, I hated the Dougie Hamilton trade for the Calgary Flames because they were dealing an elite defender for a package of players that … did not seem elite.

It has gone better for the Flames than I — or really anyone — could have expected because one of the key players in that deal, Elias Lindholm, is having an absolutely magnificent season.

Entering play on Friday he has already scored 20 goals, recorded 28 assists, and totaled 48 points in 42 games.

Before this season his previous career highs in those respective categories were 17, 34 (he will almost certainly pass that one soon), and 45.

Granted, a lot of this production (especially as it relates to the goals) is tied to a 19.8 shooting percentage that will only regress, but it has still been a huge surprise season for the Flames.

Morgan Rielly chasing history

With 44 points in his first 40 games, the Toronto Maple Leafs defender is on pace for 90 points this season. Only 10 different defenders in league history have topped that mark, and none have done it Ray Bourque during the 1993-94 season.

The list of defenders to do it: Paul Coffey (seven times), Bobby Orr (six times), Ray Bourque (four times), Denis Potvin (three times), Al MacInnis (two times), Phil Housley (one time), Brian Leetch (one time), Gary Suter (one time).

Elias Pettersson‘s elite company

The Vancouver Canucks rookie was injured again on Thursday night, and that is terrible news for his team and the league. He has been one of the the most explosive rookies to enter the league in quite some time.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season only three rookies have ever scored more than Pettersson’s 22 goals in the first 38 games of their career.

Teemu Selanne with 30 goals in 1992-93, Eric Lindros with 27 goals in 1992-93, and Alex Ovechkin with 24 goals in 2005-06.

[Related: Canucks’ Pettersson leaves game with ugly looking leg injury]

Speaking of great rookie performances

Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres, has been having a noteworthy rookie season of his own.

The 18-year-old has already tallied 20 points in his first 41 games. Going as far back as 1987 only one other rookie defenseman at the age of 18 had more points than that (Aaron Ekblad with 24 points for the Florida Panthers during the 2014-15 season). Nobody else has recorded more than 15 during that stretch.

Playmaker Blake Wheeler

We touched on Blake Wheeler’s stat line a month ago and it hasn’t really changed.

In 39 games this season he has recorded 44 assists for the Jets.

He has only scored six goals.

Over the past 35 years no player has recorded at least 44 assists through the first half of the season and scored fewer goals.

(Data in this post via the Hockey-Reference database)

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.

 

Hurricanes losing Dudley, still in talks with TV’s Forslund

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Carolina Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell said Wednesday that executive Rick Dudley won’t return and the team is still in talks with longtime TV play-by-play announcer John Forslund on a new deal.

The 71-year-old Dudley had worked as Carolina’s senior vice president of hockey operations since 2018, part of nearly five decades in professional hockey. That included serving as general manager for four NHL franchises, and he also played and coached the Buffalo Sabres.

“Rick and I talked months ago and he said that at the end of his contract, he was going to move on,” Waddell said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Waddell said the team has reached agreements with all employees whose deals expired Tuesday so far except for Forslund, who is in his 25th season with the franchise and also does national broadcasts with NBC.

“We’ve had multiple talks: I’ve talked to the agent numerous times, I’ve talked to John a couple of times,” Waddell said. “We’ve laid it out. They didn’t yesterday ask for anything other than some time.”

Reached by the AP on Wednesday evening, Forslund said: “I’ve said it (before), the door’s always open until it’s completely closed. And as of right now, that’s where it stands.”

Los Angeles Kings at 2020 NHL Draft: Byfield or Stutzle with second pick?

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Thanks to the very zany (and very NHL) draft lottery, we don’t know which team will get to draft Alexis Lafreniere first overall. What about picks 2-8, though? PHT will break down those picks one by one, aside from the Senators and their two selections. Let’s start with the second pick, then: what should the Kings do with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft?

For many, the debate boils down to Quinton Byfield or Tim Stutzle. Let’s break down, and also ponder more elaborate ideas (that are probably pretty unlikely).

Kings head into 2020 NHL Draft with a top system already — and some quality centers

Before we dive into Byfield vs. Stutzle, it’s worth noting that they’ll be adding to the foundation of the Kings’ rebuild, rather than starting it.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler calls this an embarrassment of riches for the Kings (sub required). Wheeler noted that some ranked Los Angeles’ farm system first overall before they traded for Tyler Madden, let alone before they can add Byfield or Stutzle.

There are some concerned that the Kings might compile too much of a good thing, as they’re center-heavy among their top prospects. Kings GM Rob Blake didn’t seem concerned about adding a center to a group that includes Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari, and Gabriel Vilardi, though.

“No,” Blake told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “You mention those three, we’ll take four centers like that.”

Frankly, much of the “too many centers” talk seems silly to me.

For one thing, the game is trending more toward players rotating positioning. Even to the point where defensemen and forwards might swap spots depending upon certain circumstances.

Beyond that, we see prospects involved in so many trades that it often seems silly to overthink going for anyone but the “best player available.” That said, we’ll touch on some alternative ideas if the Kings want to avoid too many cooks/centers.

Case for Kings taking Byfield over Stutzle with No. 2 pick of 2020 NHL Draft

After observing how NHL teams fawn over size for years, the reflex might be to roll your eyes about Byfield. Until you realize that Byfield isn’t just a Huge Hockey Human; he’s also put up fantastic numbers during his hockey career.

Byfield produced 82 points (including 32 goals) in 45 games in the OHL last season. That 1.82 PPG pace matches not just fellow top prospect Cole Perfetti, it’s also not far behind the likes of Matthew Tkachuk (1.88 PPG in 2015-16).

Byfield isn’t just big, he’s also fast and skilled. Combining those types of factors inspire lofty comparisons to the likes of Evgeni Malkin or his possible Kings teammate Anze Kopitar.

But most of all, it’s a projection based on potential. Not only his Byfield huge (listed at times at 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5), he might get a little bigger. The 17-year-old won’t turn 18 until Aug. 19. Several months might not seem like much, but this is the age range where players can make big leaps.

If for some reason Byfield couldn’t adapt to playing wing if needed … is that really that big of a concern? My guess is others will be trying to earn spots as his wingers, not the other way around.

The closest thing to a consensus I’ve found calls for the Kings to select Byfield at No. 2, rather than Stutzle.

Colin Cudmore compiled an expected range of mock drafts that generally favored Byfield at No. 2, as did PHT’s collection of mock drafts from before the lottery.

The case for Stutzle over Byfield for the Kings at No. 2

But it sounds like things are pretty close. You could joke that Stutzle is closing in on Byfield as if he was in a race, but scouting reports indicate that Byfield can put on the burners, too.

In a great Byfield vs. Stutzle comparison, Prospect Report’s Ben Misfeldt stated that while he believes Byfield reaches a faster “top speed,” Stutzle sets him apart from others with his agility and ability to accelerate.

Stutzle might be more NHL-ready than Byfield. The 18-year-old showed that he could keep up in DEL (Germany’s top hockey league), generating 34 points in 41 games for the Mannheim Eagles.

“They are both skilled,” An anonymous executive said of Byfield and Stutzle, according to Lisa Dillman of The Athletic (sub required). “Stutzle is just more polished at this point but it’s also hard to find 6-foot-5, 230-pound centermen that can produce.”

In a league shifting more toward skating and speed, could Stutzle be the better pick for the Kings than Byfield? Some lean that way.

Unlikely, but should Kings trade the No. 2 pick of the 2020 NHL Draft?

As stated, it doesn’t seem like the Kings would trade the second overall pick. You can certainly rule out the rebuilding Kings from trading the No. 2 pick for an immediate roster player.

While Alexis Lafreniere seems like a more seamless addition as a winger, it’s also tough to imagine the Kings trading up to get the top selection.

But what about trading down?

As Wheeler and others have noted, the Kings’ biggest prospect needs revolve around defense. Theoretically, the Kings could move that No. 2 pick to slide a little lower, get another pick, and get the player they actually want. What if they view someone like Jamie Drysdale or Jake Sanderson as the player they need? Mock drafts and prospect rankings come in all over the place for those two, so the Kings could view it as feasible to get one or both of them later.

Granted, it’s unlikely for the Kings to land, say, the sixth pick from the Ducks. But what if the Red Wings (fourth overall) or someone else would pay fairly big for the No. 2 pick? It’s at least worth considering.

Not that I’d do it, mind you.

So, what should the Kings do with No. 2?

The Kings have a long time to make this decision. Maybe too much time.

That gives them opportunities to study tape and stats on Byfield and Stutzle. Perhaps they’d even soul search about that unlikely trading down idea, too.

But, if I were running the show? I’d probably try to keep it simple and just take Byfield. Luckily for the fans of all 31 NHL teams, I’m not making those calls, though. What do you think the Kings should do with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft?

More 2020 NHL Draft coverage from PHT

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.

Rested Phil Kessel thinks he can get back on track as Coyotes await NHL return

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By just about any measure, 2019-20 marked a disappointing debut season for Phil Kessel with the Arizona Coyotes. Kessel acknowledged his “tough year,” but believes that he can bounce back as an NHL return looms.

“Obviously I had a tough year,” Kessel told Alex Kinkopf of the Coyotes website. “I think it’s probably the most injuries I’ve had in a year, but that’s no excuse, right? It’s one of those years, and obviously I’m going to look to never have that again. I’ve never had a year like that.”

Kessel pointed to the pandemic pause, saying that his body “feels good” and that he’s rested.

Of course, just about any returning player probably expects to rebound from a bad season. Especially a driven one like Kessel, a player who’s reached considerable heights — both individually, and by helping the Penguins win two Stanley Cups.

But the question is: does Kessel have the ability to rebound after a 14-goal, 38-point letdown?

Kessel thinks he can bounce back, but he needs a rebound from beyond his Coyotes debut

The more interesting question is: can Kessel regain a form from longer ago?

Yes, Kessel still produced even as things soured with the Penguins (Evgeni Malkin, or otherwise). You can look at point-per-game production in 2018-19 (82 points in as many games) and even better 2017-18 numbers and think that Kessel was at his peak.

But the criticisms that once unfairly dogged Kessel caught up to him quite a while before Kessel joined the Desert Dogs. Plenty of metrics indicated that Kessel’s defensive game nullified his offense. Depending upon what you weigh and who you ask, some viewed him as a net negative toward the end of his Penguins days:

Really, the defensive criticisms of Kessel have frequently been warranted — it’s just that the tenor’s been overly harsh. Attribute it to advancing age at 32 or whatever else, but Kessel at some point declined from “worth the trouble” to “not nearly productive enough to look away” during the past few seasons.

Pandemic pause could negate (some of the) possible downside of that “ironman” streak

But one interesting consideration is: maybe Kessel has been playing at less than 100 percent for quite often?

Consider the lengths Keith Yandle has gone to maintain his league-leading active games played streak of 866 games. Kessel is right behind Yandle with an 844-game “ironman” streak of his own. Perhaps Kessel — a perceived stubborn player — has sometimes played when he shouldn’t have?

This pandemic pause gave Kessel no choice but to be more rested. Or at least not to play professional hockey.

There’s absolutely a chance that such a break would be bad for a professional athlete. Some rely on playing games and practicing to stay in shape, rather than supplementing with training.

Yet, if you want to be optimistic about Kessel returning to form, then the break is a legitimate reason to focus on. Just realize that even the “best” Kessel will probably take something from the table — you just have to hope he brings more than he takes away.

If nothing else, it would be fun to watch Kessel if he got a new lease on life with the Coyotes, both against the Predators during the Qualifying Round and possibly beyond.

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.

Reports: Edmonton, Toronto emerge as hub city favorites

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As the NHL and NHLPA continue hammering away at a return-to-play plan, we’re closer to learning which two cities will act as hubs.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie and ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, Edmonton and Toronto have emerged as the likely destinations. Once details on Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (games being played) are finalized, the agreement would then need to be ratified by the entire Players’ Association and voted on by the NHL’s Board of Governors. Those votes could take place later this week.

Since Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s return-to-play plan in May, Las Vegas was seen as a lock. But the number of COVID-19 cases has surged recently, prompting both sides to look to Canada should play resume later this summer.

[MORE: NHL announces return-to-play plans]

The NHL entered Phase 2 last month, allowing players to hold voluntary workouts in small groups. The tentative plan is to open full training camps in mid-July with games taking place beginning in early August.

This is all subject to an NHL/NHLPA agreement, which could also include an extension to a Collective Bargaining Agreement that is set to expire in Sept. 2022. That deal would see a cap on escrow at 20% for 2020-21, and one season where players would defer 10% of their salary. That money would be returned to them in the future. The salary cap ceiling would also be set at around $81.5 million for the next three seasons. Compliance buyouts are not expected be part of any agreement.

And according to Pierre LeBrun, Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026 would also be in the deal between the league and union. That would then require further discussions with the International Olympic Committee before players would get the green light to go.

MORE:
NHL: 26 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft lottery results
A look at the Western Conference matchups

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.