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Four stunning numbers as NHL season enters stretch run

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Every month we take a look at some stunning numbers around the NHL.

What is standing out to us lately?

Let’s take a look…

The Islanders’ worst-to-first turnaround

The 2017-18 New York Islanders were one of the worst defensive teams of the modern era. This is not really opinion, either. It is an objective fact no matter what set of numbers you looked at.

But let’s just for now focus on goals against, the ultimate number when it comes to measuring defense.

A year ago the Islanders were giving up 3.57 goals per game, a mark that was the fourth-worst of any team in the salary cap era. The only three teams that gave up more goals were the 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, and the 2006-07 Philadelphia Flyers. Those three teams were also three of the worst overall teams of the salary cap era. They stunk. All of them.

Fast forward to this year, and with 15 games remaining in the season the Islanders are on track to be the top team in the league when it comes to goals against, giving up just 2.36 goals per game. That number is also among the top-40 of all teams that have played in the NHL since the start of the 2005-06 season.

Maybe it’s the Barry Trotz effect. Maybe it’s two goalies in Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss having career years at the exact same time. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. No matter what the reason, it is a stunning turnaround to see a franchise, with largely the same personnel on the backend, go from one of the worst defensive teams in in the NHL in a generation to one of the best in just one season.

The Blackhawks and Senators have replaced the Islanders 

While the Islanders have rocketed to the top of the league when it comes to goal prevention, the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators have taken their place among the worst of the worst in this era.

The Blackhawks have been especially bad, entering the weekend having allowed 3.78 goals per game, tied with the ’05-06 Penguins for the worst mark in the league since 2005-06.

It’s actually worse than that.

If you go as far back as the 1995-96 season the only team that allowed more goals per game was the 1999-00 Atlanta Thrashers at 3.82 per game.

The scary thing for the Blackhawks is that it’s hard to see this situation getting any better in the short-term as pretty much all over the major players on the blue line are signed through at least next season, or still under team control. They actually have some salary cap space to play with this offseason, but this is a very bad defensive team with some significant questions in goal given the health issues Corey Crawford has had the past two seasons.

Then we have the Senators.

We knew given everything that happened with this team over the past year regarding its rebuild was going to produce a terrible product on the ice. Consider those expectations reached. Everything about this team defensively is just … bad.

Their 3.74 goals against per game is among the worst in the NHL since 2005-06 (third worst, technically) while the 36.1 shots on goal they allow per game is the absolute worst in the league dating back to the 1993-94 season. It is an impossibly bad defensive team.

Leon Draisaitl is on pace for 50 goals

A lot has been made of the fact that the Edmonton Oilers are set to waste another peak year of Connor McDavid, and it remains as unbelievable as it was earlier in the season. He is going to be a 100-point scorer for the third year in a row, he is the most dominant offensive player in the league, and after this season they will have made the playoffs just one time in four years with him.

But it is not just him.

They are also wasting Leon Draisaitl who never seems to get much respect for his offensive ability.

For example, did you know that he is currently second in the league in goals scored with 41? And that he is currently on pace for 50 goals? Well, he is. And if he manages to pull it off and reach that mark it might be one of the quietest, overlooked 50-goal seasons in recent NHL history.

The Oilers have one player that is on pace for at least 110 points, a different player on pace for 50 goals, they are playing in one of the weakest Wester Conference fields in years, and they are still not even close to making the playoffs.

Stunning, indeed.

The Blues already have nine shutouts

This is a stunning number just because of how bad the Blues’ goaltending was early in the season. It was probably the single biggest reason they had such a slow start, but the emergence of Jordan Binnington has helped save their season.

He is 16-3-0 with a .929 save percentage so far, including five shutouts which is tied for the third-most in the league. He is one of five goalies in the league with at least five shutouts.

The other four have all played in at least 39 games. Binnington has only played 22. That is a shutout every 4.4 games.

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.

 

Golden Knights introduce AHL affiliate: Meet the Henderson Silver Knights

Henderson Silver Knights
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The Vegas Golden Knights revealed their AHL affiliate’s name and logo on Thursday night.

Introducing the Henderson Silver Knights!

“Today is a momentous day for our organization, the City of Henderson and the entire Southern Nevada community. After years of planning and preparation, we finally get to welcome the Henderson Silver Knights home,” said Henderson Silver Knights owner Bill Foley. “When we started our initial ticket drive to bring hockey to Vegas and create the team we now know as the Golden Knights, it was obvious this community had all the makings of a great hockey city. That being said, the passion and enthusiasm our fans have shown us over the past three years is greater than anything we could have imagined. Now our fans can watch more hockey right in their backyard and keep a close eye on our players’ journeys as they advance through our ranks with the intention of achieving the ultimate goal: Becoming a Vegas Golden Knight.”

The Golden Knights purchased the San Antonio Rampage in February in order to move them to Henderson, Nevada. The sale was approved by the AHL Board of Governors later that month.

The Silver Knights will begin play with the 2020-21 AHL season at the Orleans Arena. In August, workers are expected to break ground on an $80 million, 6,000-seat arena set to open with the 2022-23 season. That project was approved earlier this month.

According to Foley, the Silver Knights already have 7,600 season-ticket deposits and jerseys will be revealed in a few months.

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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.

Hurricanes agree to arena lease extension through July 2029

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes have reached a five-year lease extension to remain in PNC Arena through July 2029.

Arena owner Centennial Authority and Hurricanes parent company Gale Force Sports and Entertainment announced the agreement Thursday. The current lease agreement runs through the end of June 2024.

The News and Observer of Raleigh reported that deal provisions include an agreement by the Hurricanes not to relocate during the current lease, as well as eliminating rent payments following the 2020 fiscal year.

In a news conference, team president and general manager Don Waddell said the new deal comes after more than a year of discussions along with talks about about facility upgrades and more development in the surrounding property.

”The authority believes that the Hurricanes are very important to the community, and that’s why we worked really hard to try to keep them here,” said Tom McCormick, Centennial Authority board chairman.

The Hurricanes have played in the arena since its 1999 opening and shares it with the North Carolina State men’s basketball team.

”This extension gives us the flexibility and time to make sure we make the best long-term decision for the Hurricanes and the Triangle – whether that means a major renovation, development around this arena or a new arena,” Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon said in a statement. ”We have a great place to play, but there are things we need to address based on the age of the facility, the arena’s amenities and the area around the building.”

PHT Morning Skate: Neely on Return to Play; NHLers on extended downtime

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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.

• Bruins president Cam Neely on the Return to Play format: “With what the team was able to accomplish in the first 70 games and then the point spread we had — not only with the teams in the league, but also with the teams in our division and conference — to kind of have three games dictate where we fall in the conference standings is somewhat disappointing.” [NBC Sports Boston]

• Why did St. Louis fail to land on the NHL’s list of potential hub cities? [Post-Dispatch]

• The NHL and NHLPA will be pushing back the June 1 signing date for players whose contracts begin next season. [TSN]

• NHL players look to manage uncertain injury risks after extended downtime. [Sporting News]

• This playoff will allow the Avalanche a real good chance to win the Stanley Cup. [NHL.com]

• Columbus’ strong defensive DNA will be important to slow the Maple Leafs’ offense. [Sportsnet]

• The expanded playoff format will only be “a one-time thing.” [The Hockey News]

• How USA Hockey hopes to bring kids back to the ice after the pandemic. [ESPN]

• When free agency opens, the Coyotes should be bold in improving their roster. [Five for Howling]

• Finally, here are the five worst players in EA Sports’ NHL series, according to Operation Sports:

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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.

Sabres fans are fed up with losing, and so is Jack Eichel

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While 24 NHL teams aim to return to play, the Buffalo Sabres will not. Despite seeing a league-leading playoff drought extend to nine consecutive seasons, the Sabres confirmed that GM Jason Botterill will be back. This all translates to deeply frustrating times for Sabres fans — not to mention star Jack Eichel.

And both Eichel and those Sabres fans made some waves with the way they aired their grievances.

Eichel and other Sabres are “fed up with losing”

Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, and other Sabres vented during recent days. In Eichel’s case, he admitted that he’s “fed up with losing.” When you listen to Eichel, you can hear that mixture of fatigue and anger.

Eichel carries a lot of the burden as the Sabres’ biggest star. Yet, as much as Eichel’s suffered through five years of failures, Rasmus Ristolainen absorbed even more over seven. Rumors circulated that Ristolainen wanted out last summer, and he only (kind of) calmed things down later on.

Maybe that sets the stage for some eyebrow-raising comments? Ristolainen told reporters that he realizes that if someone gets traded, he might be the first to go. The defenseman also acknowledged how comments about building toward the future must make everyone sound like a broken record.

No doubt, missing the postseason in such an embarrassing way has to sting Sabres players like Eichel and Ristolainen. The angst also makes it more awkward for Botterill to try to say all the right things.

With cap space opening up and huge needs still lingering, this is a huge offseason for the Sabres. It also could be a long one in a more literal way, if the 2020-21 season starts in, say, December. Clearly, plenty of Sabres players won’t be feeling very patient if the team suffers through another stretch of setbacks.

Fans share discontent — sometimes creatively

It’s clear — and it’s been clear for a while — that Sabres fans are out of patience, too. (Remember Duane?)

Sabres fan Jill Thompson put the team “up for sale” on Craigslist. While the listing was not very surprisingly removed, Thompson shared a screenshot of it on Twitter:

Thompson wrote this in the listing:

For Sale: NHL Hockey Franchise
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Available: ASAP

*Lost team with diehard fanbase looking for wealthy owner who actually understands hockey*

Organization on the cheap. Could be flipped. Major structural damage but few core pieces still in tact.

Non-Negotiable Terms:
-Franchise must stay in current city and is ineligible for relocation.
-Immediate family (i.e. wife) is not eligible for internal position within the organization
-Must provide “team puppy”

Not crazy about the “immediate family” barb personally, but otherwise? Pretty good. Really, all 31 NHL teams should have at least one puppy.

Thompson explained the listing to the Buffalo News, and capturing the mood of many Sabres fans in the process:

“When I post about the Sabres on Twitter, it’s sadly in a negative light and that is because I am upset for the level of disrespect/lack of accountability/neglect of everything down to the smallest details that we are shown from the owners,” Thompson wrote to the Buffalo News. “As one of the most loyal fan bases in all of sports, we deserve better.”

With serious questions lingering regarding goaltending, defense, and forward depth, the Sabres have a long way to go to turn things around. And they might not have a ton of time to win back fans like Thompson.

More on the Sabres

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.