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Which NHL GM has toughest job this summer?

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Every general manager has an extremely difficult job when trying to assemble a championship contending team.

No matter the sport it is a daunting task that requires vision, a plan, an ability to actually perform that plan, having the right people around you, and an understanding of not just where the league and their own team is today, but where all of that is headed in future seasons. It requires great scouting, an eye for talent, asset management, a lot of luck, and countless other factors to get their team to a championship level.

Even when all of those things work together in near perfect unison they are still more likely to fall short of their ultimate goal (a championship) than they are to achieve it.

With the NHL offseason officially underway, the league’s 31 general managers are beginning the process of putting their vision into practice, and while they all have a difficult job in front of them not all of their jobs are created equal. Some of them have significantly taller mountains to scale over the next couple of months. Some out of their own creation, and others out of the circumstances and hands they have been dealt.

These general managers are part of that group and have what will almost certainly be the toughest offseason jobs ahead of them.

Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers

It is a testament to how bad and completely incompetent the previous front office was that Holland is walking into a situation where he has two of the NHL’s top-four scorers from this past season (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), both still not even in the prime of their careers yet and signed to long-term contracts, and your first reaction to his situation is, “wow, this team seems like it is light years away from contending.”

The Oilers have missed the playoffs in 12 of the past 13 seasons, including three of the first four years of McDavid’s career, having completely wasted what might be some of the best and most dominant hockey he ever plays (at least offensively).

They are a team that plays at the level of an early 1990s expansion team when their two-headed monster of McDavid and Draisaitl is not on the ice, they need an overhaul on defense, a ton of depth at forward, and a goalie. And Holland is likely going to have less than $10 million in salary cap space to start with.

What his roster lacks in talent it makes up for in bad contracts that are sinking the organization’s ability to build around its two superstars at the top.

Milan Lucic‘s contract is, for all intents and purposes, buyout proof and trading him will require Holland to take on a similarly bad contract in return or give up a far more valuable asset to entice a team to take the remaining $6 million per year cap hit (for four more years!) for a player that has just 54 points over the past two seasons (161 games) with only 43 of them coming at even-strength.

His returning starting goalie, Mikko Koskinen, will be 31 years old on opening night and has just 59 games of NHL experience with a .904 save percentage. He is also signed for three more seasons at $4.5 million per season, a rather lousy house-warming gift from the previous regime on their way out the door.

He has eight defenders under contract for close to $27 million under the cap for this season and doesn’t have a No. 1 or anything close to a top-tier puck-mover among them.

At least three of them (Andrej Sekara, Kris Russell, and Brandon Manning) are legitimate buyout candidates this summer.

There are only a handful of teams with less cap space than the Oilers entering the offseason, and it is not because of the contracts they are paying McDavid, Draisaitl, or even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the top.

It is because of the $17 million(!) that is going to Lucic, Russell, Manning, and Koskinen.

Other than that, things are pretty good.

If Holland manages to turn this situation into something positive within two years they should build him a statue.

Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs

Dubas’ situation is pretty much the exact opposite of Holland’s because his team is actually … good.

Really good.

Really, really, really good.

Championship contending good.

The problem Dubas and the Maple Leafs are going to run into is the same one they have run into in previous years. That “problem” is that it is a lot easier to go from being a “bad” team to a “good” team than it is to go from being a “good” team to a championship team. Having lost in the first-round of the playoffs three years in a row, including to a divisional rival in Boston in each of the past two seasons, kind of illustrates that. The Maple Leafs can score, they can win a lot of games in the regular season, but there is still a hurdle they have to get over because for as good as they have become, this group still does not have a finish higher than third place in its own division or a playoff series win.

But that is all narrative. When it comes to the actual team building Dubas’ challenge is going to be finding a way to get a contract done with Mitch Marner, one of his team’s best and most important players.

The Maple Leafs certainly do not want to go through a replay of last year’s William Nylander restricted free agency saga, and there is always that (please try not to laugh at the ridiculous suggestion) possibility of an offer sheet from another team (hey, one of these years it could happen again).

Finding the salary cap room for Marner is going to be a challenge as the Maple Leafs are already paying Nylander, Auston Matthews, and John Tavares huge money at the top of the lineup. As I wrote a few months ago, this is not a problem. The Maple Leafs can (and most likely will) compete for a championship with a significant chunk of their salary cap allotment going to the quartet of Matthews, Tavares, Marner, and Nylander.

Before they can get there they have to shed some contracts, specifically the ones belonging to Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev. The top-four might also cost them a couple of other depth players around the edges, but it is a heck of a lot easier to find another Conor Brown or Kasperi Kapanen than it is to find another Mitch Marner or William Nylander.

Along with that, he is also set to lose a little bit off of his blue line with the pending free agencies of Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey, while also dealing with the elephant in the room that is the highly paid head coach whose recent resume hasn’t matched his reputation.

Add in the fact this is all playing out in a hockey market where all reason and logic gets thrown out the window and he not only has a difficult task ahead of him, he is going to be under a constant microscope to get it done.

No matter what he does this offseason he has a playoff team on the ice this season.

Simply being a playoff team is no longer enough in Toronto.

Jarmo Kekalainen, Columbus Blue Jackets

He put together the most successful season in Blue Jackets history by not only getting them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third year in a row (first time the franchise has ever done that), but by putting together a team that shocked the hockey world by sweeping one of the best teams of the modern era (the Tampa Bay Lightning) in Round 1 for the team’s first-ever playoff series win.

He did that by betting big on keeping his own pending free agents (Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky) but by acquiring several more at the trade deadline in Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.

It gave Blue Jackets fans their first taste of postseason success and built a ton of excitement around the team.

Now he is facing the possibility of losing all of Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene, and Dzingel in free agency, while having only two draft picks (a third-round pick and a seventh-round pick) this year and only five draft pick in the 2020 class.

Do we really need to go any further as to what his challenge here is?

Panarin and Bobrovsky have seemingly had one foot out the door all season and their departures just seem to be a matter of where they go and not if they go, and there is little doubt that Duchene is going to test the open market for his one last shot at another big contract (Nashville seems like a perfect fit for him, right?).

The Blue Jackets will still a decent core coming back with Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Cam Atkinson, and the constantly improving Pierre-Luc Dubois, but Panarin and Bobrovsky are not players that you just easily replace. They have been impact players and significant pieces of what has been a consistent playoff team the past few years. Bobrovsky in particular is going to be a huge loss because he is not only a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and one of the best regular season goalies of his era, but they do not really have any kind of an internal option that is a sure thing and limited options outside the organization.

Kekalainen did an outstanding job to raise the bar and set a new level of expectation in Columbus this season, but he also left himself in a situation where it is going to be extremely difficult to reach it (or exceed it) this upcoming season.

Jason Botterill, Buffalo Sabres

This seems like a make-or-break year for Botterill in Buffalo.

The Sabres are basically Edmonton-east right now given their consistent lack of success, inability to build around a young franchise player (Jack Eichel), and complete lack of depth.

Also like the Oilers: They recently traded an eventual major award winner (2019 Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly) for some magic beans. The situation in Buffalo is so bleak right now that probably overpaying winger Jeff Skinner is seen as a win for the organization, and I don’t really mean that to be as critical as it sounds because I do like it. If you are going to “overpay” someone under the cap, you are better off making sure it is a player that might score 40 goals for you and seems to have developed some chemistry with your best player.

But after the Eichel-Skinner duo, and 2018 No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, this is a roster that just … well … who in the hell excites you here?

The Sabres are in a division with three powerhouse teams at the top, a team a Florida that is already ahead of them with a better core, more salary cap space to work with, and is probably going to be a destination for top free agents (Panarin and Bobrovsky) this summer.

Oh, and there is also Montreal that missed the playoffs this past year by just two points.

This is, at best, the fifth best team in its own division after years and years and years of rebuilding and entering year three with his finger on the button (and with a new coach) there has to be immense pressure for Botterill to make something out of this mess. He has to do a lot, and he has to do it quickly.

More NHL offseason
Lessons NHL teams should (and should not) learn from the 2019 St. Louis Blues
Capitals trade Matt Niskanen to Flyers for Radko Gudas
Islanders re-sign Jordan Eberle
Binnington’s next contract challenge for Blues
Bruins could look different next season

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.

Flyers’ Konecny out ‘indefinitely’ due to concussion

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The Philadelphia Flyers’ chaotic win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon proved to be a costly one as leading scorer Travis Konecny had to exit after he was rocked on an open-ice hit by Mark Borowiecki.

The team issued an update on Konecny’s status on Monday, and it is not good.

Konecny is going to be sidelined “indefinitely” after being diagnosed with a concussion. Here is a look at the play that knocked him out of the lineup. It was one of the turning points that saw the game devolve into a series of fights, trash talk, and a late cheap shot from Brady Tkachuk on Scott Laughton (you can read about all of that here).

“He’s been our best scorer and he’s found a way to contribute offensively and defensively,” said Flyers coach Alain Vigneault on Monday. “We were using him five-on-five and the PP. It’s going to give the opportunity to someone else to see more ice time and step up and contribute.”

The Flyers have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the past couple of weeks and have won seven of their past nine games to climb up to the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. The play of Konecny has been one of the driving forces behind their success as he leads the team in goals and total points during what has been — so far– a breakout season offensively. He is in the first year of a six-year, $33 million contract.

He scored in the first period of Saturday’s win, giving him three goals in the past four 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.

PHT Face-Off: Board of Governors tackle Code of Conduct; NHL’s best meet

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It’s the start of another week, so that means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off to look ahead to some of the trends and topics that will dominate over the next seven days.

• Board of Governors meets this week

The NHL’s Board of Governors will meet this week in Pebble Beach, Calif. with plenty to discuss. But one agenda item that was recently added was discussing a Code of Conduct in light of the Akim Aliu accusations and the other abuse allegations that have surfaced in the last two weeks.

Aliu met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly last week in Toronto and in a short statement afterward said that “big change is coming.” The league currently does not have a Code of Conduct in place for players, coaches and team officials, but one is certainly coming and we’re likely to hear this week what kind of policy could be implemented. Per TSN, “In order to encourage more diversity and inclusion in the sport and for fans, the NHL is aiming to ‘break the culture of silence,’ according to a person familiar with the discussions.”

If “big change” is to be implemented, the league would have to work together with the Players’ Association to add it to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement; so whatever comes out of this week’s BOG meetings likely won’t be instituted right away.

• NHL’s best meet on Wednesday Night Hockey

The Bruins and Capitals are the league’s top two point-getters as of Monday and both head into this week winners of eight of their last 10 games. They’ll meet on Wednesday Night Hockey (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN) in Washington. Boston has dropped their last two entering tonight’s game in Ottawa, and had their run of success playing from behind come to an end in their defeat to the Avalanche.

But Saturday’s loss to Colorado — who has handed them two of their four regulation losses this season — could be viewed as a good thing for the group, and act as a bit of a wake-up call.

“You can’t continue to get down by a couple goals, especially with really good teams,” said Brad Marchand. “Teams like that really know how to keep a lead, and regardless of how many times we’ve come back in the past, eventually it’s going to catch up to us like it did tonight. Unfortunately, it is good to lose every now and again, it’s good to be able to right the ship again, so maybe this is that game.”

Both teams will be getting back key pieces this week as Patrice Bergeron will return for the Bruins and Nicklas Backstrom re-enters the lineup Monday for the Capitals, who are riding a six-game winning streak.

NBC Sports has announced it has flexed into the Thursday, Dec. 19 matchup between the Islanders and Bruins (7 p.m.; NBCSN.)

Kevin Hayes used to ref, ya know?

What’s coming up this week?
• When Joe Thornton takes the ice Thursday against the Rangers he’ll become the 12th NHL player to play in 1,600 career regular season games. If he plays in each of San Jose’s final 50 regular season games he’ll move into the eighth spot all-time in the category. Jumbo’s teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic will hit the 1,000-game mark Saturday when the Sharks host the Canucks.

• With a goal Saturday night in Detroit Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin moved to within one of 400 for his career. He’ll have three chances this week as Pittsburgh begins a three-game homestand against the Canadiens, Blue Jackets and Kings.

NHL ON NBCSN
• Blues at Sabres, Tues. Dec 10, 7:30 p.m. ET.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY
• Bruins at Capitals, Wed. Dec. 11, 7 p.m. ET
• Flyers at Avalanche, Wed. Dec. 11, 9:30 p.m. ET

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Best 3-on-3 producers; should Avs pay Hall price?

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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.

• An interesting look at the players who have been the the best at 3-on-3 overtime. [The Hockey News]

• Should the Avalanche pay what’s expected to be a hefty price to acquire Taylor Hall? [Mile High Hockey]

Andrei Svechnikov is showing that the dreaded “sophomore jinx” isn’t going to affect him. [NHL.com]

• “Ottawa Senators defenceman Nikita Zaitsev was not talking publicly Friday about allegations that he took his daughters from his ex-wife, Margo Gotovtseva, while in Russia last month.” [Ottawa Citizen]

• Penguins GM Jim Rutherford on Alex Galchenyuk‘s future as he struggles offensively: “The fact of the matter is, when we’re totally healthy he’s going to have to work very hard just to get in the top 12.” [TSN]

Anders Lee is finally coming around offensively for the Islanders. [Islanders Insight]

• “How To Improve The Lack Of Consistency In The NHL Department of Player Safety” [NoVa Caps Fans]

• Daniel Carcillo admits he was an abuser, a bully and worse, but the former NHLer has stories to tell and a past he wants to make amends for. [Toronto Star]

• The Blackhawks know what they are this season: inconsistent. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Fun read on the man who many NHL superstars go to when they have equipment needs. [Sportsnet]

• “Mark Pavelich case is one of sadness and frustration” [LA Times]

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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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Brodin, Tuch among this week’s top adds

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Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Sami Vatanen, Devils – D: Vatanen traditionally was a solid contributor offensively for a defenseman, but the 2018-19 campaign was rough for him. He had four goals and 17 points in 50 games, which was a steep drop from his 32-point showing in 2017-18 and ended his run of five straight campaigns with over 20 points. He’s bouncing back nicely in 2019-20 with four goals and 13 points in 25 contests. He’s also doing fairly well right now with four assists in his last four contests, so he’s a pretty good short-term pickup, but he’s also a solid enough contributor that he wouldn’t look out of place as a long-term depth defenseman on most standard fantasy league teams.

Alex Tuch, Golden Knights – LW/RW: Tuch took a big leap forward in his second full NHL campaign with 20 goals and 52 points in 74 contests. An upper-body injury kept him out until Oct. 31st though and he struggled to get going after that with a goal and an assist in his first 10 games. He seems to have shaken off the rust though with four goals and seven points in his last five contests. He’s a gamble to be sure, but he has the potential to be a fairly good contributor for the rest of the season.

Brandon Tanev, Penguins – LW/RW: The Penguins decision to sign Tanev to a six-year, $21 million contract over the summer drew some immediate critics, but so far it’s worked out well. He’s chipped in regularly offensively with six goals and 16 points in 30 games, which puts him on pace to comfortably surpass his previous career-high of 29 points in 80 contests. With eligibility for both wings, he’s a solid option for most teams in general and worthy of partial consideration right now because he’ll be going into Tuesday’s contest on a three-game point streak.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: Danault set a career-high in 2018-19 with 53 points and he’s on pace to top it with seven goals and 23 points in 30 contests. He’s still only owned in 21% of Yahoo leagues though, which can be partially attributed to his center-only eligibility. Even with that limitation, he’s a pretty good pickup right now given how effective he’s been for the last little while. He has two goals and 13 points in his last 13 games and is on a three-game point streak.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Jonas Brodin, Wild – D: Brodin is a pretty okay defenseman offensively, but not good enough that he’s typically worth owning in standard leagues. Right now is a potential exception though given how effective he’s been lately. He has six assists in his last five contests. If you do grab him in the hopes of riding what’s left of his hot streak, don’t hesitate to drop him if he goes quiet for a couple games.

Ryan Graves, Avalanche – D: Cale Makar has obviously captured the spotlight in Colorado as far as young defensemen go, but Graves is slowly becoming a meaningful part of the Avalanche’s blueline too. After a quiet start to the campaign, he’s scored three goals and eight points in his last 14 games. It’s helped that he’s averaged 17:18 minutes over that span, up from 15:28 minutes per contest over his first 14 games. It’s worth adding that Makar unfortunately suffered an injury during Saturday’s game. At the time of writing, the extent of his injury isn’t known, but if he does miss time, then Graves’ responsibilities might increase further while he’s out.

Alex Killorn, Lightning – LW/RW: Although he’s owned in just 20% of Yahoo leagues, Killorn is having a great campaign with eight goals and 22 points in 25 games. It helps that he’s averaging 17:29 minutes, up from just 14:52 minutes in 2018-19 when he finished with 2018-19. He’s never recorded more than 47 points in a single season, so you might be worried about sustainability and that’s fair, but even as a short-term pickup, he’s worthy of consideration. He’s on a three-game goal scoring streak and is coming off a four-point game on Saturday. That’s all part of a longer-term run of six goals and 16 points in his last 12 contests.

Kevin Fiala, Wild – LW/RW: Fiala got off to a quiet start this season with just an assist in his first eight games, but since then he’s been great. He’s scored six goals and 14 points in his last 17 contests, putting him in a three-way tie for the Wild’s scoring lead from the start of November onward. He’s never recorded more than 48 points in a single season, but at the age of 23, it’s not unreasonable to believe that he’s capable of further growth. If nothing else, he’s a decent gamble while he’s hot. 

Matt Niskanen, Flyers – D: Niskanen saw his offensive contributions decline to 25 points in 80 games last season with the Washington Capitals, but the trade to Philadelphia seems to have done him some good. One big difference is that he was averaging just 0:35 power-play minutes in 2018-19 and that’s jumped to an average of 2:15 power-play minutes now that he’s in Philadelphia. He has 13 points in 30 games this season, with six of those points being scored with the man advantage in contrast to 2018-19 when he recorded all of two power-play points over the entire campaign. All this has made Niskanen a decent option in standard fantasy leagues this season and a good stopgap measure if you have any injured blueliners.

Clayton Keller, Coyotes– LW/RW: Keller had an amazing rookie campaign with 23 goals and 65 points in 82 games. He went through something of a sophomore slump, scoring 14 goals and 47 points in 82 contests last season, but he seems to be rebounding a bit in his third full season. He has five goals and 20 points in 32 contests, which doesn’t put him on pace to challenge his rookie showing, but it is still a step in the right direction. He’s also on a hot streak right now with a goal and five points in his last five games.

Players You May Want To Drop

Carter Hutton, Sabres – G: Hutton has basically had two different seasons in 2019-20. He couldn’t have asked for a better start to the campaign with a 6-0-0 record, 1.65 GAA, and .943 save percentage in six starts through Oct. 22nd. He hasn’t even won a single game since Oct. 22nd though. Instead he’s gone 0-5-4 with a 3.99 GAA and .875 save percentage in nine starts. Obviously, neither stretch is a full representation of what he is as a goaltender, but if you also take his 2018-19 campaign into consideration, then he hasn’t proven yet that he’s up for the task of being a starting goaltender. Keep in mind that he’ll turn 34 on Dec. 19th, so while he’s still relatively new to being a serious competitor for a starting gig, he’s in no way a young goaltender with upside. If you’ve been holding onto him since that hot start, you should look elsewhere.

Jared McCann, Penguins – C/LW: McCann had a terrific run from Nov. 4-27 with five goals and 12 points in 11 contests, but that hot streak is now firmly in the rear view mirror. He’s been limited to just an assist over his last five contests. McCann is still worth keeping an eye on, but given his relatively limited role in Pittsburgh – he’s averaging 14:34 minutes – the merit of keeping him on your team in a standard fantasy league when he’s not hot is still very much open to debate.

Derick Brassard, Islanders – C/LW/RW: There have been times in Brassard’s career where he’s been a solid contributor, but he hasn’t been reliable since being traded from Ottawa in the 2017-18 campaign. He went on an incredible run of six goals and 15 points in 12 games from Oct. 24-Nov. 21, but he did almost nothing offensively before that run and he’s been similarly cold since his hot streak ended. He’s not nearly consistent enough to warrant holding onto at all times.

Roope Hintz, Stars – C/LW: Hintz has 11 goals in 24 games, but that’s thanks to a 23.4 shooting percentage that he probably won’t be able to come close to sustaining. He’s already slowing down with just one goal in his last seven contests. Given that he doesn’t bring much to the table from a fantasy perspective beyond goals, there’s not much reason to keep him on your team at this time.

Tyson Barrie, Maple Leafs – D: I’m a little hesitant to suggest you should drop Barrie, but it’s certainly worth considering your other options. The Maple Leafs acquired Barrie over the summer and he was a huge disappointment early on with just five assists in his first 21 games. Then Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as the bench boss and it looked like the coaching change might have a positive impact on Barrie in particular. He went on a run of three goals and five points in Keefe’s first three games behind the bench. Since then though, Barrie has no points and a minus-four rating in five games. That’s not a huge slump, but given the overall scope of the season, it is discouraging to see him go cold again so soon after the coaching change. So far, Toronto just hasn’t been an ideal fit for him.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.