PHT Power Rankings: Sharks are one player away

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We need to talk about the San Jose Sharks this week because they are looking awesome this season.

They do not have a single player in the top-20 in the league in scoring, and only one (Brent Burns) that is in the top-40. Despite that, they have seven different players that have already topped the 40-point mark this season (putting each of them on at least a 65-point pace for the season), an eighth that is already over 30 points, and then Joe Thornton casually hanging back with 26 points in only 44 games and still being a dominant one-man wrecking crew when it comes to driving possession (nearly a 60 percent Corsi rating this season).

So they are loaded at forward.

Their two Norris Trophy winning defenders in Burns and Erik Karlsson are playing at an elite level and they have at least one of them on the ice for nearly 45 minutes per night. So for more than two-thirds of the game their opponents are going up against probably one of the five-best blue-liners in the league. If Marc-Edouard Vlasic ever gets back on track and plays to his expected level the defense would look even scarier.

Overall, the Sharks enter the week with the sixth-best points percentage in the NHL (third best in the Western Conference) and look every bit like they contender we expected them to be at the start of the season.

They have almost everything they could possibly need.

The one thing they are missing? Goaltending. That has been the Achilles’ heel of this team this season as neither Martin Jones or Aaron Dell have played well at all.

Together, they have an .891 save percentage, a mark that is the third-worst in the league ahead of only the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers.

Do you have any idea how dominant and great the rest of your team has to be to get goaltending that bad and still be one of the best teams in the league? Just look at it this way: Of the 10-worst teams in save percentage this season the Sharks are the only one that occupies a playoff spot. Among the bottom-15 teams they are one of only three that is currently in a playoff spot, joining the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks, and the Canucks are a fringe team that is only really still in the race because the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff field isn’t any good.

The Sharks are as good as it gets in the NHL and have everything they could possibly need to win it all except for, at the moment, a goalie. Whether it comes from Jones improving or a trade they are going to need to hope it gets figured out because that is the worst possible position to have a weakness at come playoff time.

The Sharks sit in the No. 4 spot in this week’s Power Rankings. Let us see where everyone else sits.

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have cooled off the smallest bit, but until someone does something to close the gap on them even a little bit they have earned their spot at the top of the list.

2. Calgary Flames — There is nothing to suggest that they are not for real. A legitimate Stanley Cup contender with an exciting young core that might be around for a while.

3. Winnipeg Jets — They haven’t been playing their best hockey lately, but they keep winning. That counts for something. I feel like I’ve been saying this for a while now but imagine how good they could be when Patrik Laine gets back on track

4. San Jose Sharks — Imagine how great they could be with better goaltending.

The Second Tier Elites

5. New York Islanders — They are 15-3-2 in their past 20 games! It is not always pretty, but they just keep on winning and collecting points. There is no way that Barry Trotz does not win the coach of the year at this point. There are still some red flags that exist here, but you can’t take away what they have done and the position they have put themselves in.

6. Nashville Predators — When they are healthy they are as good as it gets. Viktor Arvidsson has only played in 30 games this season and already has 21 goals. Filip Forsberg has only played in 37 games and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Keep them healthy and this team can go far.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — If you were one of the people arguing they would need to trade William Nylander for defense what was your reaction to them getting a top-pairing defender in Jake Muzzin without having to trade Nylander? Or any other key player in the organization? What a perfect fit for what the maple Leafs need both this season and next season.

8. Montreal Canadiens — The surprising success of the Flames and Islanders has overshadowed the job Claude Julien has done in montreal. With Carey Price starting to get back to being Carey Price this team could be a real headache for somebody in the first round of the playoffs. Or maybe the second.

Still Contenders, But Going Through a Slump

9. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are so laughably hot and cold this season, but when they are at their best they beat anybody as they did when they rolled over the Tampa Bay Lightning this past week. They can also lose to anybody, as their 2-6-2 record against last place teams this season reflects. They really need Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to solidify their depth, though.

10. Vegas Golden Knights — I am still pretty high on this team and think that in some ways they are a bit better than their first season. They are not as reliant on goaltending, the first line has not been as good but the improved second line makes up for it. Little bit of a slump here recently but when you have rarely struggled in your first season-and-a-half in the league it is going to stand out when you do.

11. Boston Bruins — The top of the lineup is fine and the goalies have been great, but they have got to find some scoring depth to give them a shot in the stacked Atlantic Division playoff field.

12. Washington Capitals — Losing nine out of 10 games is not something we are used to seeing from this franchise in the Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom era. I still think it’s just a temporary speed bump and not yet a cause for real concern.

The Bubble Teams

13. Dallas Stars — They have only allowed 14 goals in their past nine games but are still only 5-4-0 during that stretch because they can’t consistently score and have gotten next to nothing offensively after Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg during that stretch.

14. Minnesota Wild — I still don’t fully know what to make of this team. I kind of like their roster, but I also kind of don’t. They are kind of good sometimes, they are kind of not good other times. Zach Parise is having a great bounce back season, and that certainly helps given that Eric Staal has regressed a bit. They will probably make the playoffs, but they will probably not go anywhere. Actually, when you look at all of that and put it together this is the perfect Minnesota Wild season.

15. Vancouver Canucks — Let’s be honest, their current position in a playoff spot is entirely due to the mediocrity that is surrounding them in the Western Conference. That is a fact. They are not even on pace for 90 points this season. But, they are there. They are in it. And they are in it despite Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, their two best players, combining to miss 24 man-games due to injury. That has no doubt robbed them of at least a couple of points in the standings.

16. St. Louis Blues — Every year we see a team that gets crushed early in the year and then plays like a contender for the last five months of the season only to fall just short because of that terrible start. This might be that team this season. But they are certainly playing well right now.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets — It wasn’t that long ago that I was telling you not to sleep on the Blue Jackets this season and then … everything fell apart. They lost a bunch of games, Artemi Panarin might be on his way out, and wow did all of that escalate quickly.

[Related: Is it time for struggling Blue Jackets to make a move?]

18. Carolina Hurricanes — Nino Niederreiter has been exactly what they needed.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — If Carter Hart keeps playing like this he is going to make Flyers fans start to believe they have a goalie. Maybe they have reason to believe that. He has certainly helped them in the short-term.

20. Arizona Coyotes –– They deserve a ton of credit for hanging in this thing as long as they have given the injury situation they have had to deal with this season.

21. Florida Panthers — It is going to be intriguing to see what they can do this offseason with the newfound salary cap space they have created for themselves. Will the Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky duo be heading to Miami soon?

22. New York Rangers — They are playing hard, but the talent just isn’t there.

23. Buffalo Sabres — Being just a few points out of a playoff spot is progress from where they are coming from in recent seasons. Based on where they were just a couple of months ago it is bitterly disappointing. They are fading fast and just got lit up at home by a Blackhawks team that is going nowhere this season.

24. Colorado Avalanche — One line, again, can only take you so far. They are 7-15-3 in their past 25 games and falling fast in the standings. Such a promising start, too.

25. Chicago Blackhawks — The Western Conference playoff field being as weak as it is creates the illusion they might still be in it, but they need to start dumping as many contracts as they can to try and still get something out of the Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane era.

26. Edmonton Oilers — Five losses in a row, three of them to teams out of the playoffs. A rudderless ship going nowhere.

The Lottery Teams

27. Detroit Red Wings — With three wins in a row and five in their past seven games they clearly have not quit on the season. Just too little, too late. Do not ruin your Jack Hughes chances!

28. Los Angeles Kings — Finally, the rebuild seems to be underway.

[Related: Muzzin trade should be start of Kings’ teardown]

29. New Jersey Devils — With Taylor Hall a year away from free agency you have to wonder what his future in New Jersey is. He spent the first part of his career surrounded by nothing in Edmonton, then spent the second part of his career in a similar situation in New Jersey. Have to imagine he wants to take advantage of free agency to get to a team that won’t surround him with nothing.

30. Ottawa Senators — They might get a first-round pick or two for trading Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, but it’s not going to be the potential Jack Hughes pick they sent to Colorado to get Duchene in the first place. That is unfortunate.

31. Anaheim Ducks — I know the overall record for the season does not reflect this, and technically speaking they are still very much alive in the Western Conference wild card race, but somebody needs to tell me why they do not deserve the No. 31 spot this week. They have the worst goal differential in hockey at minus-39. They just lost 9-3 in a game where they gave up six goals in the first 18 minutes. They are an abysmal possession team and get absolutely caved in when it comes to allowing shots. They are boring offensively. This team stinks. Stinks!

More: Ducks fans call for Carlyle’s firing

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.

Sharks’ Erik Karlsson to return after missing nine games

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The San Jose Sharks have been one of the most dominant teams in the league over the past two months and will be getting even more good news on Saturday night when defender Erik Karlsson makes his return to the lineup after missing the team’s past nine games.

Karlsson last appeared in a game for the Sharks on Jan. 16 and had playing some of his best hockey of the season prior to the injury, recording 28 points over the previous 20 games.

It took him a while for his offensive production to get back to his normal career level, but Karlsson has been an impact player all season after arriving in an offseason trade with the Ottawa Senators. Among defenders that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Karlsson is in the top-five in both on-ice shot attempt differential and scoring chance differential.

His 43 total points are also among the top-10 even though he has, again, missed the past nine games.

So, yeah, he has been pretty outstanding no matter metric you want to look at.

The Sharks still managed to go 6-3-0 without him during that stretch and enter Saturday’s game having won six of their past seven games, a pretty strong statement on the overall quality of the team and the depth they have assembled. They are one of the NHL’s best teams, a true Stanley Cup contender, and now they are getting one of the best players in the league back.

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.

Skinner focused on present in Buffalo rather than future

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By John Wawrow (AP Sports Writer)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Jeff Skinner knows how much the Sabres and their playoff-starved fans want him to stay in Buffalo beyond this season.

”Ha, ha, I’ve heard,” the forward memorably said with a laugh in December. ”I’m having a lot of fun, too.”

And yet, two months later, Skinner is nowhere closer to providing anything resembling a definitive answer regarding where he’ll be playing once his contract expires after this season.

”The present is still where we are, and that sort of thing will play itself out,” he said Thursday. ”I think there’s no point in really talking about it now because there’s nothing really to talk about from me on my end.”

Skinner, however, can’t hide his emotions when asked how much he enjoys Buffalo.

His eyes brighten and he breaks into wide, toothy smile in saying: ”I like it here. Yeah, I like it.”

Cast off by Carolina as part of the Hurricanes’ latest rebuilding plan, the three-time 30-goal-scorer and 2011 NHL rookie of the year is approaching career-best numbers since being traded to the Sabres in August.

He has a team-leading 34 goals – three short of matching a career high – and is second in the NHL behind Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (38). His seven game-winning goals are second in the NHL and most in Buffalo since Derek Roy had nine in 2008-09. Skinner has been so consistent, his longest goals drought was four games to start the season.

And he and captain Jack Eichel have been inseparable on a top line that’s played a significant role in keeping Buffalo in playoff contention in a bid to end a seven-year postseason drought, and on a team that finished last in the overall standings in three of the previous five years.

Despite going 11-15-5 since a 10-game win streak in November, the Sabres (28-21-7) already have 63 points – one more than they had last season – and sit 10th in the Eastern Conference, four points behind eighth-place Pittsburgh.

The topic of Skinner’s future is once again rising to the forefront with the NHL’s trade deadline looming on Feb. 25, and after Skinner was spotted having a lengthy conversation with his agent, Don Meehan, following a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

”To me it was just checking in,” Skinner said, referring to the meeting. ”No details to discuss. Nothing really to report.”

As for the approaching trade deadline, Skinner shrugged and said: ”I don’t think about it at all.”

It remains unlikely the Sabres will consider trading Skinner by Feb. 25.

General manger Jason Botterill told The Associated Press in December he didn’t consider that date as being a deadline for contract talks. And there has been no indication – publicly or privately – that Botterill’s stance has changed since.

Botterill has maintained regular contact with Meehan, and has said he wants Skinner to focus on playing and familiarizing himself with his new surroundings. What bolsters Botterill’s hopes is noting how Skinner chose to play in Buffalo by waiving his no-trade clause in a deal the Hurricanes acquired prospect forward Cliff Pu and three draft picks.

Eichel laughed when asked if he’s aware of Sabres fans campaigning for Skinner to stay.

”He has how many goals, 34?” Eichel said. ”I’m sure Sabres fans want him to stay. I mean, would they want him to leave?”

Eichel’s certainly on board, too.

”I’m not Skins’ agent. I’m not our GM, but he’s been a big part of our team this year,” he said. ”You could probably say we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”

It will ultimately be up to Skinner to decide.

One positive is how much the Toronto-born player has enjoyed playing closer to home, and having his family attend games in Buffalo (essentially a two-hour drive) as opposed to Raleigh, North Carolina (roughly a two-hour flight).

Coach Phil Housley noted Skinner’s proximity to home and family has provided incentive. And it helps playing alongside Eichel.

”Jeff finds that open area, he’s a positional player, and Jack seems to find him in those areas,” Housley said. ”They just seem to have a great chemistry together.”

Skinner must also weigh what offers he might command in free agency at a time more teams are spending less in free agency and committing more salary cap-space to re-signing their own players.

All that can wait.

”As a player, you can only sort of control a small number of things,” Skinner said. ”For us right now, that’s moving on to tomorrow’s game and getting ready for that.”

More AP NHL: http://www.apnews.com/NHL and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Sam Gagner headed back to Oilers after trade with Canucks

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The Edmonton Oilers continued shaking up their roster by shipping Ryan Spooner to the Vancouver Canucks for Sam Gagner.

A day after moving Cam Talbot to the Philadelphia Flyers for Anthony Stolarz, the Oilers made the one-for-one swap hoping  the 29-year-old Gagner can rekindle his scoring touch from his early days in Edmonton.

Gagner spent the first seven seasons of his NHL with the Oilers where he posted five consecutive 40-point seasons to start his career and was a big contributor on the power play. He did hit 18 goals and 50 points two years ago in Columbus, but was slowly phased out after moving on to th Canucks last season. He’s only played seven games in Vancouver this season, spending most of his time on loan to the AHL Toronto Marlies where he scored 12 goals and recorded 37 points in 45 games. The team is hoping to get him to Brooklyn in time for Saturday night’s game against the Islanders.

Spooner’s travels continue as he’s now joins his third NHL team of the season. After signing a two-year deal with the New York Rangers in the summer, they then shipped him to the Oilers for Ryan Strome in November. (The Rangers retained $900K of Spooner’s salary in the deal.)

It’s one of those “change of scenery” deals we see often in the NHL. In this case, the scenery is familar for Gagner and the Oilers are hoping he can be a beneficial presence as they try to salvage the mess that is this season.

MORE: PHT NHL Trade Tracker

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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.

What’s better than a goalie goal? A double OT goalie goal

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Everyone loves a goalie goal — a true goalie goal. Not one of those bad passes that turns into a goal and the netminder gets credit because they touched it last.

Goaltender Anthony Hurtubise scored a goal Friday night for his St. Thomas Stars of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. But it wasn’t just any goalie goal. The 20-year-old scored his in double overtime. Yes, double overtime. It was the only tally in the 1-0 win over the Komoka Kings.

Here’s Hurtubise describing how it went down inside the Joe Thornton Community Centre via Instagram:

We were tied 0-0 with about a minute and a half left in the second over time (3 on 3, if no one scores it’s a tie game, each team gets a point). Other team pulled their goalie to try and get two points as there are only a few games left before playoffs. I saw the goalie go to the bench while they were on the rush, made a glove save and took my shot.

(Komoka has already secured a playoff spot but clearly were trying to make up ground on fifth-place LaSalle.)

And not only did Hurtubise score the game-winning overtime goal, he also stopped 27 shots to record a shutout. Pretty nice way to spend a Friday night.

Stick-tap Chris Peters

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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.