PHT Power Rankings: Post NHL trade deadline edition

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After weeks and months of speculation, rumors, scout watching, and hypothetical dreamland trades the NHL trade deadline has officially come and gone.

Who ended up making themselves better? Who ended up making themselves worse? Will any of this matter come playoff time and what sort of impact can it possibly have on the race for a playoff spot and the Stanley Cup?

We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s PHT Power Rankings as we look at the league after the dust has settled on the trading season.

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They did nothing, and that is fine. They needed nothing. If it is not broken, do not break it.

2. Nashville Predators — David Poile makes more blockbusters than anybody these days, and he always tends to make his team better as a result. He did that again this season with the Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds moves. Granlund in particular looks like a home run.

3. San Jose Sharks — Gustav Nyquist makes an absurdly deep team even deeper. Still can not help but wonder if they traded for the wrong Red Wing, though. Maybe if they score five goals per game the goaltending will not matter.

4. Boston Bruins — Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson add some nice depth to a team that badly needed it. Not enough is made of the fact they enter the week with the third best points percentage in the NHL.

[Related: Trade reunites Johansson with his buddy Marchand]

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They made their big trade last month to get Jake Muzzin. The best addition for them would be William Nylander returning to form.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets — I find this entire situation fascinating. Never before have I seen a fringe playoff team go all in on trying to win right now. Given the contract situations of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, I can’t say I blame them. This is your best shot, go all in. Having said that, there is a solid chance this all backfires horribly because they are probably still not a Stanley Cup team even with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and the rest of their additions. They also have only two draft picks right now in 2019. They also are not a lock for the playoffs. I admire the tightrope walk without a net. This feels like a make-or-break season for Jarmo Kekalainen’s reputation as a general manager.

7. Washington Capitals — Nick Jensen wasn’t the biggest name to move but I think he is just what the Capitals needed to improve what has been, at times, a leaky defense. Carl Hagelin may not be the player he was when he was frustrating Capitals fans as an opposing player seemingly every postseason, but he is still a tremendous defensive player that will also help. They got what they needed.

8. Calgary Flames — Like the Sharks I still question the goaltending. Unlike the Sharks they didn’t make another meaningful move anywhere (sorry, Oscar Fantenberg) else while everybody around them did.

9. New York Islanders — I actually kind of like that they stood pat even as the other top teams in the East got better around them. This was never supposed to be a contending year for the Islanders, it is all a bonus at this point, and this team as it is has gotten them this far, see where it can take them.

10. St. Louis Blues — Their best addition came in the form of a goalie who could stop a few pucks. They have been a different team ever since.

11. Winnipeg Jets — They didn’t get Mark Stone but they did get something that they needed in Kevin Hayes. That center depth was looking sketchy. The other thing they need is for Patrik Laine to start filling the net again … and he just might be ready to do that.

12. Vegas Golden Knights — Mark Stone is a star, and maybe getting away from Ottawa will make the rest of the league take notice. He drives possession, he scores goals, he is a huge addition for a fringe contender in a wide open Western Conference.

13. Carolina Hurricanes — Nino Niederreiter has been a huge addition and hey, look at this, now Jordan Staal is back. He may not be a huge driver of the offense but he is still an outstanding two-way player that will make a surging team even better.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are now making a run at a playoff spot with Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson making up one third of their defense.

[Related: Constant roster shuffling makes Penguins look directionless]

15. Colorado Avalanche — After watching their season take a cliff dive for a solid two months in the middle of the season they have now earned at least a point in nine of their past 11 games to stay in the hunt. Maybe Derick Brassard will be a better trade deadline acquisition for them than he was for Pittsburgh a year. Scoring in his debut game already puts him off to a better start.

16. Dallas Stars — Adding Mats Zuccarello, watching him make a huge impact in his first game, and then watching him leave that game with an injury that is going to sideline him for at least four weeks is a perfect representation of the absurdity that has been the 2018-19 Dallas Stars.

17. Minnesota Wild — It is something of a minor miracle this team is still lurking around a playoff spot. Their captain is done for the season and they traded two of their best players in Granlund and Nino Niederreiter Victor Rask and Kevin Fiala. That is a lot to overcome to earn a playoff spot, but the Western Conference this season is dumb enough to allow it to happen.

18. Florida Panthers — They are 11-5-0 in their past 16 games and for the second year in a row are playing really well in the second half. For the second year in a row it will not matter because the first half was so bad. The positive: They have positioned themselves for a serious run at any free agent (or free agents) they want in the summer.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — Their season has definitely taken on a more optimistic look lately, but the subtraction of Simmonds and the injury to Carter Hart is definitely a bit of a downer at the moment.

20. Montreal Canadiens — Losing six out of eight games has put them on the edge of the playoffs. Do they have enough to outlast one of Pittsburgh, Columbus, or Carolina?

21. Arizona Coyotes — There really was not a reason for them to be active at the trade deadline. There really was not anything to sell, there was no need to buy, they have probably overachieved given the ridiculous injury situation.

22. Buffalo Sabres — Brandon Montour is a decent enough addition, and maybe he looks better away from the mess that is the Ducks, but he is not really someone that is going to move the needle for this team. They still have two first-round picks even after trading one for him.

23. Chicago Blackhawks — The combination of a seven-game winning streak driven by a spike in shooting percentage and a weak Western Conference created the illusion of a team that might still be able to make the playoffs. Did that stop them from shopping some veteran players that maybe it’s time to move on from?

24. Vancouver Canucks — Dumping Gudbranson for Tanner Pearson might be addition by subtraction on the blue line and saves them a little salary cap space over the next two years.

25. New York Rangers — They did what they needed to, but man, how could you not feel bad for Henrik Lundqvist when watching him talk about the trade of Zuccarello? He has given so much to that organization and now it seems like he knows he will never get to win a championship with it.

26. New Jersey Devils — Hey, good for Cory Schneider for finishing the season strong. He has had a miserable couple of years and looks to have some confidence back now.

27. Anaheim Ducks — Hopefully getting some time behind the bench will give Bob Murray the information he needs to start tearing this thing down and starting over.

28. Detroit Red Wings — Gustav Nyquist’s no-trade clause probably limited what the Red Wings could do with him, but I’m a little surprised they didn’t try to sell more. They have collected a lot of draft picks the past few years but it seems like there was a missed opportunity for more here.

29. Edmonton Oilers — The trade deadline came and went with little fanfare and the stench of the previous regime’s roster moves still lingers throughout the organization. Yuck.

30. Los Angeles Kings — As of Tuesday they are riding an eight-game losing streak and they really didn’t really do much to look ahead to the future. The offseason could be active. It should be, anyway.

31. Ottawa Senators — Remember the scene in “Pulp Fiction” when John Travolta’s character walks into the Wallace household and is looking around, all confused, trying to figure out where everything is? I imagine that is what is going on in Bobby Ryan‘s head right now.

MORE: Winners and losers of the NHL trade deadline

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.

Roundtable: Best hub cities for NHL’s Return to Play

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Which two potential hub cities would be the best options for the NHL?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: I’m going to rule out Canadian cities because … frankly, Canada is (broadly speaking) taking a more cautious approach. That’s positive for the greater good, but not those who want to hand out a 2020 Stanley Cup. That said, if the NHL was willing to comply with 14-day quarantines and the like, that would be a different ballgame.

But I’ll go with two cities in the U.S. to try to be more realistic.

My choices:
• Las Vegas, NV
• Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Look, you’re not going to find “perfect” options. But, after looking at the CDC’s listings for states/jurisdictions with the least and most infections, Nevada and Minnesota seem like decent bets. Of course, a lot can change in a few weeks, which is the timeline Gary Bettman discussed while pondering potential “hub cities.”

Personally, I’d be weighing safety far and away more than other factors, which is why I leaned (tentatively or not) toward Las Vegas and Minneapolis/St. Paul. In all honesty, the low infection rates of places like North Dakota make me wonder if ND really does rank among the best options. But oh well?

I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably repeat it some more: the NHL’s going to really need to show some finesse in threading the needle of actually pulling this off.

[Decision on NHL Return to Play hub cities weeks away]

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: I agree with James on the Canadian options. Given the current government mandates, if the NHL wants these two hub cities decided on in the next few weeks, I can’t see Edmonton, Vancouver or Toronto having the time to appease the league’s desires.

The one clear front-runner is Vegas, for obvious reasons. Hotel capacity, transportation, rinks, low COVID-19 case rates. The Nevada summer heat is one worry I have, which will give Dan Craig and his team plenty of work to do to ensure the sheets are up-to-par.

Columbus or Pittsburgh would make sense if you want that East/West mix for TV. If the schedule is going to be something similar to the NCAA basketball tournament, the Columbus/Pittsburgh side would start their games at noon ET and we’d have hockey all day with the Vegas games ending the night.

Both have key factors in their corner: multiple ice sheets, hotel proximity, and have been flattening the curve when it comes to COVID-19 cases.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: From the outside, it would seem the top considerations for hub city destinations are the COVID-19 conditions, and whether the infrastructure is sufficient to execute a tournament of this scope. The former is a variable that involves expert opinion and decision making, so I won’t attempt to weigh the cities based on that. The latter is something the league had time to evaluate before it announced the 10 candidates, so one would assume that all the “finalists” meet whatever minimum standard is required to host.

My initial thought from the very beginning was that Las Vegas should be a lock, and the details of what that might look like were described in a recent report from The Athletic. Vegas seems uniquely equipped to create the most controlled environment for these purposes. That’s got my first vote.

With that in mind, my second hub city choice is Pittsburgh, for a few reasons:

First, geographical balance is important considering that, at least at the very beginning, there figure to be several games per day across the two sites. This Olympic-style format would work best on TV if there were staggered start times to accommodate audiences in every time zone. That rules out Los Angeles and Vancouver.

Second, it’s unclear to what extent the US-Canada border situation will influence the final decision, but given where things stand at this exact moment, it seems more practical to have both sites in the US. That rules out Edmonton and Toronto.

That leaves Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Pittsburgh. I’ve got no good reason for picking Pittsburgh except: why not give a carrot to the team that has to go up against Carey Price (who was the overwhelming choice for best goalie in this year’s NHLPA Player Poll) and the Montreal Canadiens (who effectively had a zero percent chance of making the playoffs when the season paused)?

There you have it. Las Vegas and Pittsburgh. The Marc-Andre Fleury bowl.

MORE:
NHL announces return-to-play plans
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft odds
A look at the Western Conference matchups

Russia hires Bragin as men’s national hockey team coach

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia hired Valery Bragin as coach of the men’s national hockey team on Friday as it gears up to defend its Olympic title in 2022.

Bragin moves up from his longtime role in charge of the Russian under-20 team, which he led to the silver medal at this year’s world junior championships.

The Russian Hockey Federation didn’t say for how long Bragin’s contract runs. Bragin said his main aim was to prepare the team for next year’s world championships with a focus on players from outside the NHL.

Bragin replaces former Toronto Maple Leafs player Alexei Kudashov, who moves into a consultant role with the national team after 11 months as head coach.

Bragin also takes over from Kudashov as head coach of club team SKA St. Petersburg, whose operations are tightly intertwined with those of the national team. Roman Rotenberg is the general manager for both teams and holds vice president roles in both the club and the federation.

Rotenberg said in a statement that Kudashov “cannot currently put his full focus on coaching work.” He did not elaborate further.

Three-time Stanley Cup champion Igor Larionov replaces Bragin in charge of the junior team.

Russia’s players won the men’s hockey gold medal at the 2018 Olympics under the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” name after the country was officially barred from the games for doping offenses.

PHT Morning Skate: Willie O’Ree, others on racism in and outside of hockey

Willie O'Ree racism in hockey
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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.

O’Ree and others on racism in and around hockey

• Hockey trailblazer Willie O’Ree described George Floyd’s death and the events surrounding it as “very discouraging.” O’Ree added that, on a larger level, racism isn’t going to go away overnight. That said, after witnessing statements from the likes of Blake Wheeler acknowledging their privilege, O’Ree wonders if the truth about racism is finally “sinking in.” Maybe players can show that they’ve learned such lessons once play resumes? [CBC]

• Michael Traikos caught up with Kevin Weekes for his perspective on racism in and around hockey. On one hand, Weekes celebrates players “without a horse in the race” such as Jonathan Toews and Blake Wheeler for speaking up. On the other hand, Weekes emphasizes that there’s still a lot of work to do. [Toronto Sun]

• Jeff Veillette spots the sometimes-rampant racism in the “NHL 20” community. Unfortunately, it seems like EA Sports has a lot of work to do to improve this area. Also unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the company is putting a lot of resources into fixing this problem, either. [Faceoff Circle]

CBA talks intensify, and other hockey bits

• Both TSN’s Darren Dreger and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman report that the NHL and NHLPA are intensifying talks to extend the CBA. Stabilizing escrow is a big factor for the players, as the pandemic pause is likely to hit them hard, and for quite some time. [More detail in 31 Thoughts, in particular]

• Read up on the Sens Foundation ending its relationship with the Ottawa Senators. [Sports Daily]

Nick Foligno and his family open up a new chapter with “The Heart’s Playbook.” [The Hockey Writers]

• The Oilers realize that, with the “championship pedigree” of the Blackhawks, an upset isn’t out of the question during the Qualifying Round. [Sportsnet; also read PHT’s previews for the West here]

• Which teams are oddsmakers favoring if action starts up again? [Featurd]

• Emily Kaplan looks at a coronavirus trend for Ducks fans: getting married at the Honda Center. Pretty fun. [ESPN]

• Could the Rangers repair their relationship with Lias Andersson? Such a push could help them as early as the Qualifying Round against the Hurricanes. It certainly beats things only getting bitter and Andersson’s development stalling. [Blue Seat Blogs]

• When you get drafted 34th overall, as Dalton Smith did in 2010, you expect to play in the NHL. You don’t necessarily expect to only do so for one minute and 26 seconds in one game in late 2019 with the Sabres. Smith’s journey is quite the story by Nick Faris. [The Score]

• Grant Fuhr talks about what drove him to become a coach for one of the team’s in the upcoming 3-on-3 hockey league 3ICE. Sounds like it could be pretty wild stuff. [Desert Sun]

• Bill Hoppe goes in-depth on Victor Olofsson‘s chances of having staying power as a scorer with the Sabres. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

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.

NHL: Players can start voluntary group workouts next week

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The NHL cleared the way Thursday for players to return to practice rinks next week and firmed up its playoff format even as a ninth player tested positive for the coronavirus.

After unveiling the final details of its 24-team plan if the season is able to resume this summer, the league said teams could reopen facilities and players could take part in limited, voluntary workouts beginning Monday. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association must still iron out health and safety protocols before moving ahead with training camps and games.

Players can skate in groups of up to six at a time under “phase 2,” which includes specific instructions on testing, mask-wearing and temperature checks. It’s another step closer to the ice after the league said every playoff series will be a best-of-seven format after the initial qualifying round and teams will be reseeded throughout.

That announcement came at nearly the same time the Pittsburgh Penguins revealed one of their players had tested positive. The team said the player is not in Pittsburgh, isolated after experiencing symptoms and has recovered from COVID-19.

Of the nine players who have tested positive, five are from the Ottawa Senators, three from the Colorado Avalanche and one from Pittsburgh. The league is expected to test players daily if games resume. The NHL is still assessing health and safety protocols for what would be 24 teams playing in two hub cities.

“We still have a lot of things to figure out, namely the safety of the players,” Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler said earlier this week. “We’ve got to make sure that our safety is at the top of that list. Because we’re a few months into this pandemic, we don’t know what the long-term effects are going to be. A lot of questions to be answered.”

The final details of the format answered one question: Players preferred re-seeding throughout a 24-team playoff as a means of fairness, though the league likes the brackets that have been in place since 2014.

“We prefer as a general matter brackets for a whole host of reasons,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week. “We’ve told the players who have been debating it internally if they have a preference, we’re happy to abide by it.”

The top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding. Re-seeding each round puts more value on the seeding tournaments between Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East, and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West.

“Those games are going to be competitive,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said.

The remaining 16 teams will play best-of-five series to set the final 16.

Toronto captain John Tavares, a member of the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play committee, said he preferred the traditional seven-game series once the playoffs were down to the more traditional 16 teams. A majority of players agreed.

“Everybody is used to a best-of-seven,” Pittsburgh player representative Kris Letang said. “You know how it’s structured. You know how it feels if you lose the first two or you win the first two. You kind of know all the scenarios that can go through a best-of-seven.”

Having each series be best-of-seven will add several days to the schedule to award the Stanley Cup as late as October. But players felt it worth it to maintain the integrity of the playoffs.

“Any team that is going to win five rounds, four rounds of best-of-seven … I think it will be a very worthy Stanley Cup champion and they’ll be as worthy as any team or players that won it before them,” Tavares said.