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.

‘Matthew Tkachuk Friendship Tour’ billboard starts popping up in Edmonton

Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton
via CJAY 92
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Fans must wait about a week for the next round in the “Battle of Alberta,” but if they need a reminder, the “Matthew Tkachuk Friendship Tour” billboard began showing up in Edmonton on Wednesday.

Calgary radio station CJAY 92 made it happen, and also helped to make this Tkachuk-centric trolling effort turn into a boon for charities. The billboards hype up the next meeting between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, which happens in Edmonton on Jan. 29. Deliciously enough, the two teams then meet again in Calgary on Feb. 1. Think of all of the opportunities for friendship.

Take a look at the Tkachuk billboard in Edmonton

CJAY 92 shared photos of the billboards that began sprouting up:

You may, however, notice an omission. The final version includes Tkachuk’s name, the amusing “friendship tour,” and his jersey number. It does not, however, feature Tkachuk making a face like he smelled something rancid, or really didn’t appreciate that pun.

Yeah, that bitter beer face plus the heart background did kind of tie the billboard together.

That said, there’s the real fear of Oilers fans defacing the image in Edmonton. Heck, there’s the risk of someone getting injured trying to vandalize a billboard with Tkachuk’s actual face on it. Maybe it was also a rights issue with getting that picture?

So … yes, it’s a very, very mild letdown. Nonetheless, this adds another wrinkle to this fun, silly rivalry within a rivalry.

Recap of feud with Kassian

As a reminder, the ball got rolling as a feud formed between Tkachuk and Zack Kassian. Tkachuk delivered multiple hits — ones that Kassian found dirty — and then Kassian ragdolled the pesty winger. You could say that Tkachuk got the last laugh, as the Flames scored the game-winning goal during power-play opportunities stemming from Kassian’s penalties. The two also traded trash talk after the game.

After letting the two-game suspension sink in, Kassian warned that Tkachuk “messed with the wrong guy.” Kassian implied that the previous outing was merely a skirmish in a larger war (or, you know, “Battle of Alberta”).

This feud would rank as one of the most glorious in hockey if it stayed onto the ice. Yet, off ice moving and shaking really brings this to another trolly, splendid level.

Tkachuk billboard becomes a boon for charities in Edmonton and Calgary

Once CJAY 92 took care of the more fun aspects of the Tkachuk billboard, Mohamed Elsaghir’s Go Fund Me drive instead focused on raising money for ALS. Between that drive and a $10K donation by entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson helped bump the total contributions above $20K.

While that charitable run came via Flames fans, Oilers devotees made waves for a good cause, too. What started with a fun tweet and $25 donation from Oilers fan Samantha Costa ended up being a boon, too.

Brown Bagging It, one of the benefiting charities, summed everything up nicely:

***

Overall, great stuff. It makes you wonder: could enterprising Oilers fans come up with a billboard idea for the next game on Feb.1? Maybe something along the lines of, “Thanks for James Neal?”

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.

Most dangerous lead in hockey? This season, it’s all of them

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Joel Quenneville remembers years past when NHL teams leading going into the third period could feel comfortable chalking up two points. A win was a pretty sure bet.

Earlier this season, his Florida Panthers erased a four-goal deficit to win a game. And then they did it again. Even the three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach didn’t see that coming.

”We didn’t envision coming back either game,” Quenneville said.

It’s becoming easier than ever to envision. There have already been five four-goal comeback wins this season, the most in NHL history. And the 18 three-goal comebacks are the most through the same number of games in 30 years.

No lead is safe.

”Used to be the dreaded, two-goal lead is the most dangerous in hockey, but now it seems like the four-goal lead’s the hardest one to hold on to,” Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ”Teams believe they can come back at any time.”

Coaches and players point to a number of different factors for all the rallying going on, ranging from rules designed to create more offense to better power plays, more skill and talent, and human nature when t comes to holding a comfortable lead or facing a difficult deficit.

”It’s very difficult to hold leads now just with some of the rules that have been added,” said coach Todd Reirden, whose Washington Capitals recently erased a three-goal deficit to beat the New York Islanders. ”Just different little nuances that have helped scoring increase in the league. It’s just the way that penalties are called, too, and the league wants offense and they love that aspect of teams coming from behind like that.”

Those rules include more penalties called for obstructing, hooking, holding and slashing and increased advantages on faceoffs for the offensive team. Just like the standings that are set up to be neck-and-neck down the stretch to the playoffs, the modern game is designed for no team to be out of a game.

When David Quinn’s New York Rangers went down 4-0 at Montreal this season, the second-year coach considered it a little unfair based on their effort. They won 6-5 in regulation.

”One of the things we talked about in between the first and second period was: ‘Don’t play the score. If you do the right thing over and over again, the game will reward you,”’ Quinn recalled. ”And I thought that’s what happened. Within a game, you’ve got to be mentally tough, and you’re going to have to have resiliency.”

See the Panthers, who stunned Anaheim and Boston with those four-goal comebacks. Quenneville has been behind an NHL bench for a long time and doesn’t have a scientific explanation for this phenomenon.

”You get a fortunate break on a bounce here, and it can really shift the momentum,” Quenneville said. ”There’s been a lot of offense in this year’s game, teams going for it. You’ve got a 4-0 lead, whether you take your foot off the pedal and all of a sudden you maybe relax a little bit, but the other team’s pressing, they’re pinching, they’re taking more offensive zone chances and thinking that way. You get a couple of breaks and all of a sudden, the other team’s on their heels.”

Much of it is psychological. Players after building a big lead could naturally think their heavy lifting is over for the game. Those on the other side are just getting started.

”The team that’s ahead, as much as you fight it, there’s a natural instinct to just ease off the gas a little and give (up) opportunities,” said Matt Niskanen, whose Philadelphia Flyers recently beat the Bruins in a shootout after trailing by three goals. ”Mentally, you tell yourself, ‘Don’t let up, keep playing the same way because we’re having success for a reason.’ It’s a really hard thing to fight.”

After reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins lead the Atlantic Division at the All-Star break despite a penchant for blowing leads (and their 0-7 shootout record isn’t ideal).

”We’ve got to bear down,” Boston center Patrice Bergeron said. ”You can’t just have a good effort, be satisfied with that, and then just play for a half a game.”

Half a game isn’t enough, especially since hockey has moved toward more offensively skilled players and away from those tasked with keeping the puck out of the net. There’s also the fact that 25 of 31 teams are either in or within 10 points of a playoff spot, and it’s hard for teams to dominate a whole game — let alone a season.

”It just shows the parity of the league and that on any given night, everybody can beat somebody else” Reirden said ”It’s extremely competitive.”

Carlson, Makar, McDavid among PHWA 2020 midseason award winners

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For the third year in a row the Professional Hockey Writers Association has released midseason awards as its members submitted ballots in the days leading up the 2020 NHL All-Star break.

“We’re proud of the work our members put in throughout the entire season, crunching numbers, following trends and speaking to sources to gather the best ballot possible,” PHWA president Frank Seravalli said. “The Midseason Awards are the latest example of that, beginning an independent evaluation process in January that won’t conclude until early April when the real ballots are returned.” 

There were 117 writers representing all 32 PHWA chapters who cast ballots for 10 awards, including the Hart, Norris, Calder, Lady Byng, and Selke.

There were also votes for the Vezina Trophy, GM of the Year, as well as two non-traditional awards, including the Rod Langway Award, for best “defensive defenseman,” and Comeback Player of the Year, awarded to a player who has returned to a previous high level of performance that was interrupted by subpar play, long-term injury or major illness.

Here are the results:

Hart Trophy to the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team.
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins 

Norris Trophy to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-round ability in the position.
1. John Carlson, Washington Capitals
2. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
3. Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes 

Selke Trophy to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.
1. Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
3. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues 

Calder Trophy to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition.
1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche
2. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks
3. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres 

[NHL AWARDS: PHT hands out hardware at the All-Star Break]

Lady Byng Trophy to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues 

Vezina Trophy to the goaltender adjudged to be the best at his position.
1. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
2. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes 

Jack Adams Award to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.
1. Mike Sullivan, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues 

Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award to the General Manager adjusted to have contributed most to his team’s success.
1. Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche
2. John Chayka, Arizona Coyotes
3. Doug Armstrong, St. Louis Blues 

Rod Langway Award to the defenseman who best excels in the defensive aspect of the game.
1. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators 

Comeback Player of the Year Award to the player who returned to a previous high level of performance that was interrupted by subpar play, long-term injury or major illness.
1. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators
3. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights 

Established in 1962, the Professional Hockey Writers Association is dedicated to preserving the rights and improving the access for members of the North American- based media who cover ice hockey. The PHWA is comprised of approximately 300 dues-paying members in NHL markets who write about the sport for newspapers, magazines and online media. PHWA members vote on the following seven NHL Awards: Hart Trophy, Calder Trophy, Selke Trophy, Lady Byng Trophy, Norris Trophy, Masterton Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy, in addition to NHL All-Star and All-Rookie teams.

PHT Morning Skate: Mystery of McDavid’s knee injury; Should Penguins make trades?

McDavid knee Morning Skate
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Don’t be surprised if the elite women’s hockey 3-on-3 ends up being the best part of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game. (Tampa Bay Times)

• Solving the mystery of Connor McDavid‘s knee injury. (Edmonton Journal)

• Arguing in favor of the Penguins being aggressive and making a trade to improve their supporting cast. Sidney Crosby is 32, while Evgeni Malkin is 33. Kris Letang is also 32. You never know when your championship window is truly going to close, so why not go for it? (Pensburgh)

• What the Maple Leafs can learn from the hated Bruins. (The Star)

• Could the Jets’ slippage cost Paul Maurice his job? The fellow is basically a coaching vampire, so I’ll believe it when I see it. (National Post)

• Rick Tocchet feels like most of us about replacing Gerard Gallant as Pacific All-Star coach because the latter was fired: weird. (Ottawa Sun)

• Justin Williams exceeded expectations during his return to the Hurricanes. (Charlotte News & Observer)

• Comparing Alex Ovechkin‘s remarkable 2019-20 season to his other best sniping years. He’s basically a Terminator robot on skates … right down to some good one-liners. (Japers’ Rink)

• Which forwards should the Ducks look to trade? I agree with Jake Rudolph that trading Ryan Getzlaf would be wise, and also agree that getting Getzlaf to sign off on a trade is a whole other ballgame. (Anaheim Calling)

• Gus Katsaros explores why the Islanders haven’t drawn many penalties. (Rotoworld)

• The Blues are showing off impressive depth during what’s been a strong title defense so far. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• Larry Brooks argues that a lack of urgency might submarine the Rangers’ playoff hopes. Personally, I think “rarely having the puck” and “being bad at defense” rank higher on their list of worries. (New York Post)

• Breaking down the coaching job Alain Vigneault is pulling off with the Philadelphia Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• Can the Coyotes use the All-Star break to regroup? They’ve slipped a bit lately. (Five for Howling)

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.