Islanders vs. Hurricanes: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff preview

1 Comment

The Carolina Hurricanes ended a marathon of a series to upend the Washington Capitals, the defending champions. Meanwhile, the New York Islanders have been chilling after sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins, aka the team that won the two Stanley Cups before Washington grabbed theirs.

So, yes, you can call this a war of the underdogs, although in the upset-happy 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Islanders – Hurricanes has plenty of competition. (And some would argue the Hurricanes weren’t underdogs, but that’s a whole other thing.)

There are some other fun storylines, too. This could be the quintessential rest vs. rust test case, as the Hurricanes were pushed to the limit on Wednesday, while the Islanders haven’t played since April 16.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In true Carolina fashion, there’s another analytics experiment going on. The Islanders have defied the odds and possession metrics to keep winning games, while the Hurricanes finally seem to be benefiting from hogging the puck for years now. Winning this series won’t end the (often obnoxious) debates one way or another, yet you can bet that someone will claim as much on Twitter once the dust settles.

And, if you were tired of the same old teams in Round 2, you won’t get a much fresher matchup than Hurricanes vs. Islanders.

Schedule

Surging players

Islanders: With goalies getting their own section, there’s no reason to hesitate to mention Jordan Eberle first. He scored four goals in as many games against the Penguins, finishing that sweep with six points and a +6 rating, riding a red-hot 26.7 shooting percentage. Mathew Barzal was right there with him, generating five assists.

Brock Nelson scored three goals with a 25 shooting percentage, with two of his tallies being game-winners. Josh Bailey‘s three goals and one assist impress, and his luck was strong too (33.3 shooting percentage). Valtteri Filppula carried over his surprising work from the regular season, generating four assists. Anders Lee weighed in, too, with three points.

Hurricanes: Jaccob Slavin‘s gaining much-deserved mainstream attention, tying Erik Karlsson for the playoff lead in points for defensemen with nine (both with nine assists). Overtime work inflates things, but Slavin’s 26:59 TOI average remains robust.

Jordan Staal finished the series on a roll, scoring the goal that sent Game 7 to OT, while nabbing the game-winner in Game 6. Warren Foegele‘s four goals (along with two assists) came on just 12 SOG (33.3 shooting percentage), while Dougie Hamilton‘s six points flew under the radar because of that overblown talk about allegedly wincing at contact with Alex Ovechkin on a memorable goal. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen don’t tower over others production-wise, but they really took over during key parts of the series, and remain the Hurricanes’ two aces.

Oh yeah, and Justin Williams continues to be Mr. Game 7, whether he likes it or not.

Struggling players

Islanders: Not many, what with this team riding a hot streak and managing a sweep.

After scoring easily a career-high with 20 goals (on an 18 shooting percentage) during the regular season, Casey Cizikas didn’t generate a point during that sweep. Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin didn’t score any, either, and Martin only averaged 12:42 TOI. Nothing too troubling, as the Isles generally count on those guys as physical presences, with any goals being a bonus. You can apply similar logic to modest-scoring defensemen, as they were pretty happy to limit the Penguins’ big guns in Round 1.

Hurricanes: Nino Niederreiter only managed an assist during that seven-game series against the Capitals, and it’s possible he might be banged-up (although that assist was gorgeous). Trevor van Riemsdyk didn’t generate a point during that series, and found himself planted on the bench a bit in key moments … which isn’t as big of an insult as it might seem, since Carolina has such outstanding defensemen to lean on when they want to shorten their bench. It’s tough to tell how much injuries factor into struggles of players like Micheal Ferland, who failed to score while being limited to three games.

Goaltending

Islanders: After a tremendous, redemptive regular season where he generated a fantastic .930 save percentage, Robin Lehner … somehow played even better? For all the hand-wringing about the Penguins, a near-impenetrable brick wall in net can really magnify your warts, and Lehner did that, producing an even-better .956 save percentage during that sweep. There’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument regarding how much Lehner’s numbers boil down to his own great play versus Barry Trotz’s defensive structure, but the results are so great, the debate feels moot (at least until it comes time for Lehner to get paid, as he’s in a contract year). Thomas Greiss‘ regular season numbers were nearly identical to Lehner’s, so few teams have a better option in case something happens with their starter.

(Unless Greiss reverted back to his 2017-18 form, in which case it would be a double-whammy.)

Hurricanes: Petr Mrazek‘s full season stats were just solid (.914 save percentage), but he really went on a tear down the stretch, generating a .938 save percentage in 17 games following the All-Star break. Mrazek’s .899 save percentage against the Capitals wasn’t so great, but Alex Ovechkin & Co. tend to generate high-danger chances, so he graded out reasonably well overall — just not dominant, like Lehner. Mrazek got bumped a bit late in that series, including a hard collision with teammate Justin Williams. He seems OK, yet it could be something to monitor. Like with Lehner and Greiss, Mrazek has a backup who produced similar results in the regular season in veteran Curtis McElhinney.

On paper, judging by this season alone, the advantage is the Islanders’, but we’ll see how it actually plays out.

Special teams

Islanders: The Islanders scored two power-play goals on 13 opportunities (15.4 percent), with both goals scored at home. Such a small sample size only tells you so much, so consider that, during the regular season, the Isles only converted on 14.5 percent of their chances, the third-worst total in the NHL. They were middle-of-the-pack on the PK in the regular season (79.9 percent), but only allowed the powerful Penguins’ power play a single PPG during that sweep. On paper, special teams is either neutral or a weakness for this team.

Hurricanes: The Hurricanes only killed 75 percent of their penalties against the Capitals, but is that really so bad against a singular man advantage menace like Alex Ovechkin, who scored three power-play goals during that series? Carolina ranked eighth in PK efficiency during the regular season, which isn’t shocking considering their strong defensive personnel. Carolina’s power play has been middling at best, and they will forever befuddle me by not putting Dougie Hamilton on their top unit. Hamilton scored two PPG against the Capitals despite that questionable deployment, so maybe the Hurricanes will finally change that up and reap some rewards?

As it stands, these two teams generally grade out as pretty strong on the PK, and mediocre on the PP. This seems to be a push overall, although maybe strong coaching/video work might swing this area during the actual series?

X-Factor for Islanders

Normally, in hockey, home-ice advantage is overblown.

The Islanders are an especially interesting case study, though. This is anecdotal, of course, but it’s really hard to believe that the Isles didn’t at least get a slight boost from an absolutely raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum for Round 1. Now, with the scene changing to the less-fan-and-hockey-friendly Barclays for Round 2, will things be more tepid? A more muted crowd may only play into the “rust” factor, as maybe Nassau’s sheer volume might have been like a bucket of ice water to the head.

X-Factor for Hurricanes

Are the Hurricanes anywhere near 100 percent?

As much as rest is a worry (they just finished a double-OT game and multiple series/in-game comebacks that finished on Wednesday), my biggest concern is injuries. Andrei Svechnikov is still feeling the effects of losing that fight to Alex Ovechkin. Ferland’s hurt, and Jordan Martinook‘s injuries seem to be piling up. And that says nothing about players who are fighting through unreported ailments, stuff that piles up when you play three more games than your opponents, and get basically the bare minimum of rest.

(Again, I wonder at least a bit about Mrazek.)

I’m sure the Islanders have their own bumps and bruises, but they likely pale in comparison to the Hurricanes, who probably lived in ice baths for the last week.

Prediction

Islanders in 6. If everything was equal – rest, injuries, etc. – I’d probably go with the Hurricanes. Even if players like Svechnikov suit up in Round 2, I’m not so sure they’ll be full effective. It wouldn’t be surprising if Trotz gets at least a minor edge on Rod Brind’Amour, what with Trotz being one of the most experienced defensive-minded coaches in the game, and Brind’Amour being in his rookie coaching season. It’s a tough call, and I’d wager that the Islanders will start to see their luck cool off, but here’s saying the Isles’ unlikely run extends to at least Round 3.

(But, yeah, the Hurricanes have a lot going for them.)

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info
Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1
Blues – Stars
Bruins – Blue Jackets
Sharks – Avalanche

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.

Maple Leafs’ Marner mum on contract negotiations

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s not much, but for Toronto Maple Leafs fans willing to hang on anything said by still-unsigned restricted free agent Mitch Marner, it was at least something.

When Marner stepped in front of a crowd of reporters on Thursday, he did undoubtedly knowing what the first line of questioning would be. And the second, and the third.

When is he going to sign?

“Hopefully sooner than later,” Marner said. “I want to be there for the start of camp, so hoping something can get done then.”

From there, Marner steered those questions toward his agent as he threw on his best pair dancing shoes and showed he could sidestep with the best of them.

If you’re looking for a t-shirt slogan, “You have to ask my agent” is right up there with the best of them in Toronto these days.

 

“My agent and Kyle are doing it, and they’re going to figure something out,” Marner said.

One thing Marner made pretty clear is he wouldn’t be at training camp without a contract.

“Probably not,” he said. “There’s so much risk with that. It’s just something you don’t want to risk.”

What about an offer sheet?

Marner whipped out the agent line once again, while saying he’s trying to stay out of all of that “stuff.”

So the uncertainty hasn’t affected you?

“None,” he said, before once again talking about his agent’s role in the negotiations.

What about fans’ concerns that you may not sign a contract with the Maple Leafs.

“I’m leaving all of that to my agent right now,” he said.

Those agents, man. Ruining Toronto’s summer for the second year in a row.

View this post on Instagram

First 3 🤟🏄

A post shared by Mitch Marner (@marner_93) on

Marner seemed unfazed by it all and appears to be enjoying his summer.

Why wouldn’t he? He’s about to get paid in a major way, but the Maple Leafs or any number of teams that would be willing to lavish cash upon him if given the chance.

Marner’s situation is one of several playing out this summer. He’s not the only big-ticket RFA without a deal so far.

Patrik Laine in Winnipeg, Brayden Point in Tampa Bay, Mikko Rantanen in Colorado are just a few others. It’s become commonplace for big names without arbitration rights on the RFA list to let negotiations span the summer, if not further.

Marner’s contract is only illuminated better because of where he plays. Dominating two national TV broadcasters on a daily basis in Canada.

And the fear in Leafs Nations is made only worse knowing all-too-well where this path can lead.

William Nylander‘s contract last summer dragged right into the regular season and Nylander and the Maple Leafs felt those effects throughout the season.

The same scenario with Marner would be worse, given he’s the team’s leading point-getter from last season.

A Toronto native, Marner said he’s well-accustomed to the media and said his phone has been shut off for much of the summer.

Like he said, his agent is running the show. Marner’s merely the main protagonist who has yet to be revealed in a complex script.

When he will is anyone’s guess.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ron Francis has big hopes as GM of Seattle’s new NHL club

AP Images
Leave a comment

SEATTLE (AP) — Ron Francis has all kinds of eye-popping statistics attached to his Hall of Fame career. He averaged more than point a game, is second in NHL history in assists behind Wayne Gretzky and fifth in career points.

When CEO Tod Leiweke and the ownership group of the Seattle NHL expansion team looked at his playing resume, though, they were most impressed by another statistic: Francis was voted captain by three teams for 14 of his 23 years, first earning the role at age 21.

That leadership ability spurred them to hire Francis on Thursday as general manager of the yet-to-be-named team – well ahead of their schedule.

”Ownership made an incredible commitment . in supporting this idea of let’s do this a year early,” Leiweke said. ”If we’re really here working for our fans, let’s reward their belief. They said we’re willing to make this commitment a year early. We’re willing to bring on a general manager earlier than any other expansion team in the history of the NHL and that gift of an additional year will serve us well and give us a chance to scout and build and plan. But we had to find the right person.”

They believe the 56-year-old Francis is that person, announcing his hiring at a news conference that was attended by the mayor and a state senator. He’ll have complete control of building the organization under Leiweke. He said he’s already drawn up an organizational chart that will guide hiring as the team prepares to open play in 2021 as the NHL’s 32nd franchise.

And he’s already started daydreaming about how his team will look.

”I think if you look at my past experience, it’s a team that’s fast,” Francis said. ”I think it’s a team that needs to have skill and hockey sense. I like a team that’s extremely competitive. And for me I think you need a team that has character. It’s easy to be a good person when things are going well. When things get a little bit tough, that’s when character rises to the top and pulls you through those tough times.”

Character defined Francis’ playing career. Jaromir Jagr, his teammate on the 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins, called Francis perhaps the most underrated player in NHL history. After starting his career as the No. 4 overall pick in the 1981 draft for the Hartford Whalers, he played for the Penguins and the Toronto Maple Leafs before returning to the Whalers in 1998 after they moved to Carolina.

He guided that team to the NHL finals before retiring. He joined the Hurricanes’ front office and worked through a number of jobs under Hall of Fame GM Jim Rutherford, including assistant GM and associate head coach. He was promoted to GM in 2014 when Rutherford left for Pittsburgh and held that position until an ownership change in 2018, a year before Carolina played in the finals.

Francis said he was depressed after leaving the Hurricanes, but found his drive again while working at the Spengler Cup and with Hockey Canada during last year’s world championships.

”Getting around the NHL players again, the NHL coaches and stuff, the passion started burning again and I thought, ‘OK this is really where I want to be,”’ Francis said. ”And when Tod called, I looked at the opportunity and said, ‘What a great chance.’ We get to build it from the ground up. We get to establish our culture and how we want to do it. I think it’s a unique opportunity. It doesn’t happen every day.”

Connor McDavid’s signature forged on Oilers jerseys

Getty Images
Leave a comment

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — A man has been charged with forging the signature of Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid on team jerseys and then selling them for big profits.

Edmonton police say the 23-year-old man in April 2018 contacted several people on Facebook, claiming he was employed by either the Edmonton Oilers Entertainment Group or Pro Am Sports, and was selling autographed McDavid jerseys.

Chandra Vinesh Singh has been charged with fraud, forging documents and false pretense.

Investigators believe he sold two items bearing bogus signatures to someone for $1,400, then defrauded another person of $23,000.

Oilers Entertainment Group executive Tim Shipton thanked fans for their support but stressed that this case is a ”good reminder for our fans to always go to trusted sources.”

PHT Morning Skate: Triple-A ball club to wear Sabres inspired jerseys; Talbot comeback?

WKBW Buffalo
Leave a comment

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.

• What’s up with Ivan Provorov’s contract negotiations? (Broad Street Hockey)

• Is Cam Talbot set for a bounceback season? (TSN.ca)

Keith Kinkaid’s arrival should help Canadiens manage Carey Price’s load. (Sportsnet)

• Montreal’s front office made quite a few moves this off-season, but will they pay off? (Eyes on the Prize)

• The Top 10 reasons an NHL team should trade for Milan Lucic. (Edmonton Journal)

• After adding Kessel & Soderberg, Coyotes should secure a playoff berth. (Featurd)

• A little roster juggling could do the Winnipeg Jets a lot of good next season. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Islanders add Varlamov as they try to build off an impressive season. (NHL.com)

• Buffalo Bisons baseball team to wear Sabres’ royal blue and gold for ‘Hockey Night at the Ballpark’ (WKBW Buffalo)

• Six young players who need a change of scenery. (The Hockey News)

• For all their efforts, did the Minnesota Wild gain anything from all the shuffling? (StarTribune)

• Most offer sheets get matched. Now what? (Sin.Bin Vegas)

• Hockey cards that need to be made. (Puck Junk)

• A look back, two years on, at the Mikhail Sergachev-Jonathan Druin trade. (Raw Charge)

• Chris Kelly is back with the Bruins in as a player development coordinator. (Boston Bruins)

• Former Predators captain Greg Johnson’s sucide should spark change. (Predlines)

• Blues anthem singer Charles Glenn ready for his encore. (Ladue News)

• How should the Vancouver Canucks utilize Thatcher Demko next season? (The Canuck Way)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck