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NHL Awards 2019: PHT hands out hardware at the All-Star break

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It’s the NHL All-Star break, so it’s probably a good time to reflect back on the first three-and-a-half months of the season and take a sneak peek at who’s in the awards conversation. There’s been plenty of surprises, disappointments, coaching changes, general manager changes and we still have lots more hockey left to play.

As we get set for the All-Star Skills and All-Star Game, let’s take a look at who we think is deserving of the Hart, Norris, Vezina, Adams, Calder and Selke Trophies, along with some first-half surprises and disappointments.

Biggest surprise (player)
SEAN: Robin Lehner
JAMES: Robin Lehner
ADAM: Elias Lindholm
JOEY: Elias Lindholm
SCOTT: Robin Lehner

Biggest surprise (team)
SEAN: Islanders
JAMES: Islanders
ADAM: Islanders
JOEY: Islanders
SCOTT: Islanders

Biggest disappointment (player):
SEAN: Ilya Kovalchuk
JAMES: Ilya Kovalchuk
ADAM: Ilya Kovalchuk
JOEY: Sergei Bobrovsky
SCOTT: James Neal

Biggest disappointment (team)
SEAN: Panthers
JAMES: Flyers
ADAM: Flyers
JOEY: Kings
SCOTT: Blues

HART TROPHY

SEAN: Even among a team of stars and budding stars (Brayden Point), Kucherov has set himself apart from the pack. The current scoring leader is ahead in a race that could change drastically in the second half. If the Oilers somehow find a way to make the playoffs, does that help McDavid’s chances? What about Gibson if the Ducks manage a turnaround?

JAMES: With scoring growing like Super Mario post-mushroom, there’s a positively dizzying number of great options this year. When in doubt – and I’m very much in doubt – I ask myself the schoolyard sports question of “If I were picking teams, which player would be my first choice?” and McDavid comes up without a thought. He’s the best player in the world, and he’s producing at that level even as the Oilers let him down at every turn. Kucherov’s ridiculous in his own right, and Gibson is the clear No. 1 at the most game-changing position in the sport, so he deserves kudos in his own right.

ADAM: Kucherov has been the best offensive player in the league on the best offensive team, and Gaudreau is just behind him for a Calgary team that is the best team in the Western Conference. Both are among the games best and most exciting players and are as dominant as it gets. As for Gibson, well, it goes without saying: He is taking what should be a lottery team, maybe a bottom-five team, and keeping it in the playoff race.

JOEY: I realize that the Lightning are loaded with talent, but it’s important to note that Kucherov has five more points than any other player in the league right now. He led the league in scoring for a good chunk of last season, before he slowed down a little bit in the second of the year. We’ll see if he can keep this up. As for Gaudreau, no one expected the Flames to be this good this year and he’s a big reason why they’ve been able to exceed expectations. And what more can I say about Ovechkin? After winning the Stanley Cup last June, the Caps captain has managed to score 36 goals in just 40 games. That’s insane.

SCOTT: Would the Flames be where the Flames are if Gaudreau wasn’t playing there? I think not. Gaudreau isn’t far off Kucherov’s point pace and he’s not playing with Steven Stamkos or Brayden Point. Gaudreau has turned into a superstar this season and has done the most for his team. Wheeler, meanwhile, has been the gas that fuels Winnipeg’s power play, and he’s just behind the top spot in terms of assists.

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NORRIS TROPHY

SEAN: If he hadn’t been injured in the past, Giordano may have one, maybe two Norris Trophies in his cabinet. He’s having his best offensive season at age 35 with 52 points in 49 games. His career high is 56 set back in 2015-16. He’s again a strong driver of possession and has posted a strong relative Corsi (5.23). With the play of Karlsson, Rielly and Brent Burns, the final voting come April could leave for a handful of worthy candidates.

JAMES: All three of these players just jump off the charts, along with a few other worthy defensemen (including John Carlson, whose defensive game is catching up to his prolific offense in exciting ways this season). Giordano somehow has more than a point-per-game in 2018-19 (52 points in 49 games heading into Wednesday), and remains an elite two-way presence. Letang’s somewhat quietly having an absolutely stellar year in his own right, and even a “slow start” for Karlsson keeps him in the discussion as a defensive demigod.

ADAM: These three have been pretty much in a class all to themselves this season. They are all elite scorers, they are all elite possession drivers, they are all elite when it comes to scoring chances for and against. The big omission here is probably Rielly, and he would probably be a very close fourth for me. Just think these three have been far and away the best all-around defenders in the league this season. I thought Karlsson’s early season struggles were a bit overblown because the underlying numbers were always there. Just took some time to get the points to go with it. Letang has had an amazing bounce back year and is back to being elite, and Giordano has just been sensational.

JOEY: Giordano is putting together a career-year at 35 years old. The Flames defender has 52 points in 49 games and he’s managed to put up a CF% of 55.66 percent, which is remarkable. Burns leads all defensemen in points, with 55, and he’s also a strong CF % of over 55 percent. Letang has had to overcome a lengthy injury history, but he’s put together quite the season for the Penguins. Hopefully he can continue to stay healthy.

SCOTT: Giordano is the other piece in the Flames’ puzzle that has been fantastic this season. Gaudreau is taking care of everything up front and Giordano, with his point-per-game pace, is getting business done on the blue line. Burns belongs here because the Norris often goes to the guy with the most points. Chabot belongs here because he’s making the most of playing on a bad team.

VEZINA TROPHY

SEAN: Fourth in high-danger save percentage (.871), a .925 even strength save percentage, tops in goals saved above average (14.27) (a stat that shows many goals have been saved above a league-average netminder), and only one of two goaltenders who have faced at least 1,000 shots at 5-on-5. Imagine the Ducks without Gibson’s level of performance this season.

JAMES: Again, Gibson is incredible, and carrying the sort of workload that makes you worry that he might break down in the future. Lehner is the only goalie who matches Gibson’s outstanding 18 Goals Saved Against Average, and his case could get interesting as time goes on, especially if he works on his one relatively weak area (only 27 games played compared to Gibson’s 42), and Lehner has a ridiculous .931 save percentage. Andersen’s numbers are strong, and considering how often Toronto collapses defensively, he’s been an immensely valuable presence for Toronto. Could be some fascinating jockeying for finalist positions down the stretch.

ADAM: If you are a goalie that gets MVP consideration you are also probably in the Vezina discussion, or at the very top of it. This should be Gibson’s to lose at this point because he has clearly been the best goalie in the league this season. Andersen is the rare Toronto Maple Leafs player that is actually underrated. He plays a ton of minutes, has been mostly durable, and does it all at an above average level. There is a lot to be said for that. As for Lehner, well, he is one of the driving forces behind the Islanders climbing to first place.

JOEY: It’s a little strange to give my top Vezina vote to a goalie that lost 10 consecutive starts not too long ago, but Gibson has really been that good. He’s the only reason the Ducks are anywhere close to a playoff spot at this point. If they want to play deeper into April, they’ll need him to continue playing at a high level. Both Andersen and Vasilevskiy have missed some time with an injury, but they’ve been so consistent for most of the season.

SCOTT: Gibson, because the Ducks would be the worst team in the NHL without him. He’s just been spectacular despite very little run support. Fleury, meanwhile, is defying the laws of age as he puts up another ridiculous season. He leads the league in shutouts and is leading Vegas back to the promised land. Lehner could pip both of them if he continues as the hot hand in Long Island. He’s a huge reason why the Islanders are in first place in the Metropolitan.

JACK ADAMS

SEAN: You knew there’d be some improvement with Trotz behind the bench, but this? Not a chance. The Metro leaders are better in all facets of the game this season.

JAMES: As much as I want to make a trendy/contrarian coaching pick, and as much of a red flag as the Isles’ goaltending is, how can we deny the work Trotz has done this year? It’s almost like the dude just won a Stanley Cup or something. Cooper’s team is loaded, but the Bolts are so far ahead of everyone else, it’s ridiculous, and that’s even with Andrei Vasilevskiy missing some time. It’s not just that the Canadiens are overachieving; the Habs are somehow a dominant possession team, and Julien has this group playing a relentless style that makes Montreal a headache many nights. You’d think Montreal’s only hope would be Carey Price wearing an S on his chest, but that S has really just stood for “solid” this season.

ADAM: I am probably the only person in hockey that does not have Trotz first, but I am taking a stand here. The Jack Adams is kind of a joke to me anymore because it never actually goes to the best coach or the best coaching job. It just gets given to the coach whose bad team from a year ago had the best goalie this season and surprisingly dragged them to a playoff spot. Now, that does not mean I am discounting the Trotz impact. He has been great and he is a great coach. He just is. He has been. He still is. He will continue to be. But here’s the thing: I think Peters has done a better job this season. Does he have more talent on his roster? Perhaps. But he is also coaching a team that was out of the playoffs last year and he has them playing at a level that is good enough to potentially compete for the Stanley Cup this season … with shaky goaltending. Are the Islanders, with great goaltending, at that level? Still not sure yet. But Peters and Trotz are the two top of this and Peters probably is not getting enough attention. Cooper just simply might be the best coach in hockey and will get punished in the voting because his team is *too* good.

JOEY: I realize that I’m not giving Cooper any love, but the three coaches I listed above have done a remarkable job in 2018-19. Nobody expected the Islanders to be leading the Metropolitan Division by three points heading into the All-Star break. Nobody. Trotz and his staff have done a great job getting their team organized defensively. As of right now, there’s a huge gap between him and the rest of the coaches on the ballot.

SCOTT: Trotz has revitalized the Islanders in a year where most would have guessed they would have struggled. Instead, the Islanders have quickly forgotten about John Tavares and worked themselves into the first spot in the Metro. That’s remarkable. Peters has turned the Flames into what appears to be a Cup contender, as well. Cooper gets here by default. The Lightning are a very good team.

SELKE TROPHY

SEAN: A winger? Yep. Stone is starting more in the defensive zone (51.8 percent) than he has in the last five years and even on a mediocre Senators team he’s putting up positive possession numbers (52.4 percent Corsi) while also recording a 12.7 Corsi-Relative, meaning Ottawa is directing nearly 13 more shots on goal when he’s on the ice compared to when he’s off.

JAMESSidney Crosby‘s possession numbers are so bonkers, it was really tempting to give him more Hart Trophy love. Seriously, scroll down to his possession metrics and note the ridiculous Corsi Relative number of 10.3%. That’s get-your-glasses-fixed stuff. The Selke voting leans toward two-way prowess rather than pure defense (sorry Mikko Koivu), and Crosby’s tilting the ice on an epic level. Barkov and Stone are splendid choices if 87 is too bold for your blood.

ADAMTatar is not going to win the Selke for a variety of reasons. First, he is a winger and wingers never win unless they are Jere Lehtinen. Also I am not sure anyone realizes just how good he has been. Among forwards that have played at least 600 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season Tatar is first in Corsi Percentage, third in scoring chance differential, 14th in high-danger scoring chance differential, and seventh in goal differential. He has been an all-around outstanding player this season. Crosby is still an elite offensive player and I think his defensive game has caught up to it. His line is doing everything for the Penguins at the moment. As for Marchand, I still think he is one of the best all-around players in the league and has been great this season. 

JOEY: This is very much a reputation award, but it’s tough to ignore the job Bergeron has done this season. Despite missing 15 games this season, the Bruins forward is on pace to score 83 points. Bergeron has controlled 56 percent of the shot attempts when he’s on the ice. Even at 33 years old, he’s still got it. It’s important to note that Crosby has also put up similar possession numbers this year. Both players could easily come away with the award this season.

SCOTT: Crosby is silly good again this season, which means he might finally win this award. He’s putting up his second-best season in terms of possession and his best season in terms of his relative Corsi at 10.64. That’s very good. Possession metrics and relative Corsi is also the reason why Tatar is on here. He’s having a splendid season in Montreal and deserves some recognition. Stone is just being Stone again. Even on a bad team, he continues to put up a point-per-game while suppressing offense from opponents.

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CALDER TROPHY

SEAN: A couple of injuries haven’t slowed the Canucks’ rookie. His 1.13 points per game average crushes the competition, with Brady Tkachuk (0.61) trailing far behind.

JAMES: Oh, no big deal, Pettersson’s just restored hope for the Vancouver Canucks. Heiskanen and Dahlin are neck-and-neck in a battle of beyond-their-years defensemen, with Heiskanen’s logging more than 23 minutes per game and Dahlin carrying a significant workload (almost 21) and having more all-around success. Somehow, both Heiskanen and Dahlin are still teens. You can feel old now.

ADAM: Simply put, it is Pettterson’s award. Heiskanen and Dahlin have been outstanding as teenage defenders, but Pettersson changes the entire outlook of the Canucks when he is on the ice.

JOEY: Pettersson is clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest of this rookie class. Despite missing 11 games due to injury, the Canucks rookie still leads the league in rookie scoring by an 18-point margin over Ottawa’s Colin White. The 20-year-old is a huge reason why Vancouver finds themselves in the middle of a playoff race, when most people expected them to be one of the worst teams in the league. This one’s easy.

SCOTT: Out of all of the awards, this is the one that is already sewn up. It doesn’t matter who second or third is, although Heiskanen and Dahlin are having solid seasons in their own right. But it’s Pettersson, who despite missing time on two separate occasions this season because of injury, has lit the NHL on fire in his first season.

(All numbers via Natural Stat Trick)

Pittsburgh prospect’s incredible Ovechkin-like goal (Video)

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Earlier this week James O’Brien continued our “My Favorite Goal” series with a look back at Alex Ovechkin’s signature goal from his rookie season when he scored that seemingly impossible, sliding goal in Arizona.

On Thursday, Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Samuel Poulin did his best to try and recreate the finishing portion of that goal in a QMJHL game when he scored on an absolutely bonkers play late in his team’s 6-1 win.

Have a look.

As if the finish wasn’t enough, how about the move in the slot to get around the defender?

Poulin, a forward for the Sherbrooke Phoenix, scored the goal late in the third period of their win over the Cape Breton Eagles. It was Poulin’s 16th goal of the season.

The Penguins selected him in the first round (No. 21 overall) of the 2019 NHL draft as part of a promising draft class that also included Nathan Legare. Those two have been a much-needed boost to a farm system that has been depleted a bit due to trades in recent years to keep the current Stanley Cup window open.

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.

Maple Leafs, Sharks, Golden Knights entering make-or-break stretches

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Even though the NHL season is only a quarter of the way through it is not too early for teams to start worrying about playoff seeding, or more importantly, whether or not they will even be able to make the playoffs.

The St. Louis Blues showed last year it’s possible to overcome a slow start, but there’s a far larger sampling of recent history that suggest it’s not very likely. Once the calendar starts to approach the end of November not many teams that are outside of a playoff position tend to climb into one, and the ones that do aren’t more than a couple of points back. We tend to emphasize the stretch run of the regular season as being the most important games, but it’s really difficult to make up lost points from early in the season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three teams that should be Stanley Cup contenders that are facing some really big stretches over the next couple of weeks that could potentially make or break their season.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Honestly, it’s time for this team and this coach to do something with all of this talent they have assembled. That is not even to say a Stanley Cup should be the expectation, but they should be capable of more than nothing but third places finishes and Round 1 playoff exits.

So far this season they have done nothing to show that anything with this team will be different.

Here’s the situation they are facing: They have lost three games in a row entering Friday’s game against a Boston team that has ended their season two years in a row, they are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division (sixth place by points percentage), and after playing the Bruins will be heading on a six-game road trip that begins Saturday night in Pittsburgh where they will be starting a backup goalie making his NHL debut. That road trip will also take them through Vegas, Arizona, and Colorado and be the start of a 15-game stretch where they will play 12 games outside of Toronto.

They have struggled on the road this season, still have not solved their defensive issues and do not have the goaltending to mask it. Even worse, they will now be without two key forwards (Mitch Marner and now Alexander Kerfoot) for the next few weeks. That is a pretty big challenge they are facing and if they don’t come out of it successfully things are going to get even more tense in Toronto than they already are.

Vegas Golden Knights

There was reason to believe at the start that this could be the best team in the Western Conference with a talented group of forwards, a solid defense, and a really good starting goalie. But so far pretty much everything about the team has been very ordinary. Their possession and scoring chance numbers paint the picture of a team that has maybe been a little unlucky so far, but they still have their share of issues, especially when it comes to finding another goalie that will not force them to run Marc-Andre Fleury into the ground, an issue that does not seem likely to go away anytime soon.

With only 21 points in 20 games they are on an 86-point pace for the season (that probably would not be anywhere near good enough for the playoffs) and have lost eight of their past 11 games entering the weekend. Some of the teams around them in the Pacific Division have been better than expected so far (specifically Edmonton and Arizona), while it is reasonable to conclude that San Jose and Calgary are going to improve as the season goes on.

If you assume 95 points is the “safe” number to secure a playoff spot, that would require Vegas to earn at least 60 percent of the possible points available to them the rest of the way. It’s a not impossible for this team, but it’s still a big number.

Saturday would be a good time to start making up that ground when they visit the Los Angeles Kings. Seven of their next eight games are either against Pacific Division opponents, or teams they are competing directly with for playoff spots in the Western Conference (Dallas, Nashville).

San Jose Sharks

Unlike the other two teams here the Sharks have already started to get their disappointing season back on track, winning five in a row entering the weekend. They are in the middle of a 16-game stretch where 12 games will be played at the Shark tank, and that home cooking has helped them stack some wins together. The offense has been ignited, the goaltending has at least been passable, and they are starting to get some production from their big defense duo of Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns.

Of all the contenders that stumbled out of the gate this always seemed to be the one that had the best chance of righting the ship because of the talent they have and the fact a lot of their problems could easily be solved with only one change (goaltending). They are not there yet, but they are on their way and with six of their next nine games on home ice they have a nice opportunity to keep digging out of that early hole.

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.

Flames’ update on Brodie: Tests negative, no timetable for return

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The Calgary Flames received a huge scare on Thursday when veteran defenseman T.J. Brodie had to be taken to a hospital after collapsing on the ice and convulsing during practice.

On Friday, the team issued an update on his status.

General manager Brad Treliving said that the initial neurological tests on Brodie have all come back negative so far, while also adding that more tests still need to be done and that no stone will be left unturned in trying to figure out what happened.

Team Doctor Ian Auld also added that so far it looks the incident was more likely related to a fainting episode than anything inside the brain.

“An event like this can be caused by something inside the brain, something scary, and it can also be caused by syncope or fainting episodes. The reasons for why people faint are many,” said Auld, via the Flames’ website. “I don’t think we have all the answers yet and we still have a few more tests to go but all the early indications are that it’s very likely more related to a fainting episode than something significant and inside the brain.”

There is obviously no timeline for Brodie’s return to the lineup at this point.

“We’re going to go through the process of checking every box and make sure we administer every test,” said Treliving. “But he’s come through everything thus far and doing well, feeling good. He’s on the mend. He will obviously not travel with us today as we head to Arizona and Las Vegas. He will stay under the supervision of our medical team led by Ian (Auld).”

The 29-year-old Brodie has spent all 10 years of his career with the Flames after the team drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL draft.

With him sidelined indefinitely the team has recalled Oliver Kylington from the American Hockey League.

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.

NWHL buoyed over future after adding financial backers

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The National Women’s Hockey League announced Thursday it had added enough financial backing after a two-month capital campaign to ensure its viability beyond its fifth season this year.

The league declined to reveal specifics in noting its number of private investors has grown beyond 20 with the addition of insurance and technology entrepreneur Andy Scurto. In 2017, Scurto sold his firm for $160 million.

“This infusion of capital from Andy Scurto and our partners who believe in the power and value of professional women’s hockey is another important milestone for the NWHL, our players, supporters and fans,” NWHL Commissioner and founder Dani Rylan said. “This provides us with long-term viability.”

The league is a little over a month into its season with teams in Boston, Buffalo, New York, Connecticut, Minnesota and New Jersey.

The NWHL was able to add investors despite losing the backing of a majority of the world’s top players in the offseason. In May, more than 200 players – including members of the U.S. and Canadian national teams – pledged not to compete in North America this season following the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association to push for establishing a league with what they said needed to have a viable, sustainable economic model.

The Buffalo Sabres relinquished ownership of the NWHL Buffalo Beauts, while the New Jersey Devils ended their agreement with the NWHL’s Metropolitan Riveters.

In September, Rylan vowed her league wasn’t going anywhere, and added the NWHL was proving it could be viable without the NHL.

The league said the new funding will be directed toward building the league’s infrastructure, enhancing player development and attracting more investors, including team owners. Two months ago, Miles Arnone led a group of investors to purchase the Boston Pride.

Arnone said the focus on infrastructure and adding owners will eventually lead to an increase in player salaries. The NWHL no longer reveals its salary scale, though players can now earn a bump in pay through a newly introduced 50-50 split of sponsorship and media right revenue.

In September, the NWHL announced players had already earned a 26% pay increase based on new agreements reached over the summer.