Getty

PHT Power Rankings: Looking at every NHL team’s offseason

13 Comments

With the 2019 NHL Draft in the rear-view mirror and all of the major unrestricted free agents signed, it is time to check in on how each team has improved (or failed to improve) so far this offseason.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we will be taking a look at the teams that have done the most (and the least) to get better.

Before we get to the rankings we do need to specify something very important: This is NOT a ranking of where each team stands in the league in terms of Stanley Cup contender or playoff status, or a ranking of how good each team is overall. It is simply a look at which teams have had the best and worst offseasons. If you have had a good offseason, you rank high. If you had a bad offseason, you rank low.

Obviously there is still time this summer for teams to get better (or worse), but this is simply a progress report of where their offseason stands right now.

Teams that are significantly better

1. New York Rangers. It would be difficult to have a better offseason than the one the Rangers have had. They added one of the league’s top offensive players (Artemi Panarin), a potential superstar thanks to some draft lottery luck (Kaapo Kakko), and a top-four defender (Jacob Trouba). They did all of that while giving up nothing of significance from their NHL roster. Is it a playoff team this season? That probably depends on how much Henrik Lundqvist has left in the tank, but they are close.

2. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban joining a core that already has Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall makes the Devils a fascinating team to watch. Now they just need to find a way to keep Hall beyond this season. Like the Rangers they may not be a playoff team this season, but they are definitely improved.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Losing Tyson Barrie off the blue line might hurt, but the Avalanche are loaded with young, impact defenders and by trading Barrie they found a perfect second-line center (Nazem Kadri) to complement Nathan MacKinnon … as long as Kadri stays on the ice and out of the player safety office. Along with the additions of Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky they now have some actual scoring depth to support their big three.

4. Dallas Stars. It would not be an NHL offseason without general manager Jim Nill raising another offseason championship banner. Even if Joe Pavelski shows some signs of decline and regresses from his 38-goal output this past season he is still just what the league’s most top-heavy team needed.

5. Arizona Coyotes. Phil Kessel is the big, headline-grabbing addition but Carl Soderberg could be a nice depth pickup as well. Even if Kessel starts to slow down he should still be able to run the Coyotes’ power play and make a significant impact.

Teams that are probably better

6. Florida Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s contract will almost certainly be an albatross on their salary cap in the next three or four years and probably end up in a buyout, but he might get them to the playoffs a couple of times before that. Bobrovsky is the big name, but don’t sleep on Anton Stralman and Brett Connolly as depth additions.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs. Their salary cap concerns were always overblown and they were always going to find a way to get out of them. They not only shed a lot of bad contracts and almost certainly created enough space to re-sign Mitch Marner, but they also managed to add a much-needed top-defender in Barrie. Jason Spezza may not be what he once was, but he should be fine as a third-line center for this team.

8. Chicago Blackhawks. The worst defensive team in the league made two solid additions in Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan, then found a starting caliber goalie that just so happened to be a Vezina Trophy finalist this past season.

9. Minnesota Wild. Still do not understand the direction Paul Fenton has this team going in, but Mats Zuccarello is a definite upgrade in the short-term.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene is a nice addition and gives them another impact forward that might help a dreadful power play. So why only “probably” better? Because they had to trade an impact defender for almost nothing to be able to sign him. How much better you think the Predators are depends on whether or not you think they needed Duchene more than Subban. Or, probably more accurately, if you think Duchene is that much more valuable than Subban.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Good teams that have stayed the same

11. St. Louis Blues. It has been a quiet offseason for the champs, adding nothing of significance and losing nothing of significance. Nothing wrong with that when you are parading the Stanley Cup around.

12. Boston Bruins. The Bruins look to be returning mostly the same roster next season, and it will still be a Stanley Cup contender.

13. Carolina Hurricanes. Some musical chairs in net, but there should not be much of a drop off. The big win this offseason was Montreal helping them out with Sebastian Aho’s new contract.

14. Washington Capitals. Radko Gudas is probably a better player than Matt Niskanen at this stage of his career. Andre Burakovsky never panned out, but they made a couple of solid depth signings to fill his spot.

15. Calgary Flames. Still a potential Stanley Cup team with one pretty massive flaw in net.

Bad teams that are marginally better

16. Buffalo Sabres. Colin Miller, Marcus Johansson, and Jimmy Vesey are all solid additions for what amounts to very little in cost. That is the good news. The bad news this team still has a long way to go before it is a serious threat in the Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference Wild Card races.

17. Vancouver Canucks. J.T. Miller is pretty good and an upgrade for their forward group, but does this team, in this position, in this stage of its rebuild, need to be doing things like trading a future first-round draft pick or giving Tyler Myers a five-year, $30 million contract? It’s like … you’re kinda better, but what’s the point? The Jim Benning era, folks.

Good Teams that have gotten worse

18. Pittsburgh Penguins. Does swapping Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta for Alex Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun, and Brandon Tanev move you closer to a Stanley Cup? You should have serious doubts about that. At least the speculation on trading Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang turned out to be just that and nothing ever came from it.

19. San Jose Sharks. Keeping Erik Karlsson is significant, but losing Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and returning the same starting goalie is also significant … for the wrong reasons.

20. Tampa Bay Lightning. The salary cap crunch and the RFA status of Brayden Point has resulted in some subtractions to the roster and no significant additions. That makes them a little worse simply by default, but they are still going to be one of the top teams in the league. Instead of 60 games, they might win … 50? 55?

21. Winnipeg Jets. I don’t really want to call Kevin Hayes a “loss” since he only played 20 regular season games with the team, but they have lost a lot off of their blue line with very little coming in to replace it.

22. Vegas Golden Knights. They are going to miss Colin Miller, and might really miss out on Nikita Gusev if they move him before they even realize what they had.

23. New York Islanders. They kept all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, but going from Robin Lehner to Semyon Varlamov in net could be a huge downgrade. Given how important goaltending was to the Islanders’ success this past season that could be a problem.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets. The free agent exodus that everyone expected to happen took place with the departures of Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Duchene (and probably Ryan Dzingel). Gustav Nyquist is a fine pickup on a pretty fair deal, but they still lost a ton. And they still do not have a clear replacement for Bobrovsky.

Bad teams that have stayed the same 

25. Montreal Canadiens. The Aho offer sheet had us excited for about 20 minutes until we realized it was just a waste of everyone’s time. The only solution now is to try and offer sheet someone else!

26. Philadelphia Flyers. Kevin Hayes isn’t bad, but there is no way he plays out that seven-year contract in Philadelphia. They added Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen to their defense about four years after they should have. In the end, downgrading the defense (which I think they did) kind of cancels out whatever upgrade Hayes might be at forward. They have made a lot of transactions to remain right where they were.

27. Edmonton Oilers. Based on the moves this offseason (as well as the lack of moves) it seems likely that another prime season of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is about to be wasted. Such a shame.

28. Ottawa Senators. They brought in a bunch of new faces but nothing that is going to prevent this team from continuing to be one of the worst in the league.

29. Detroit Red Wings. Steve Yzerman has a lot of work to do and has been fairly quiet this summer.

30. Anaheim Ducks. They had to get rid of Corey Perry’s contract, but they still have a ton of money tied up in players on the wrong side of 30 (or very close to 30).

31. Los Angeles Kings. So far their effort to rebuild and get younger has involved trading Jake Muzzin and buying out Dion Phaneuf. The longer they drag their feet in gutting this roster the longer this team will remain in the basement.

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 questions for Nashville Predators

Leave a comment

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Nashville Predators. 

Let’s examine three key questions for the Predators next season …

1. Is this really a better winning formula?

The Predators could have a deeper offense by adding Matt Duchene, while still having one of the best defense corps in the NHL if Dante Fabbro can make up for enough of what Nashville lost in P.K. Subban. By subtracting from a strength in hopes of bolstering a weakness, maybe the Predators will find a perfect balance.

There’s an uncomfortable possibility that David Poile might have outsmarted himself here, though.

For one thing, what if the Predators sold low on Subban, whose struggles were a bit exaggerated in 2018-19, and was a Norris finalist as recently as 2017-18? It’s difficult to ignore that Subban’s still someone who wins the shot share battle, while Duchene’s possession numbers have regularly been negative/average.

It’s possible that Fabbro might stumble considerably, considering he’s only played in four regular season and six playoff games at the NHL level. It’s also possible that the Predators have overrated both Duchene as a difference-maker and Roman Josi as a defenseman.

One must also wonder if this team’s just made too many changes over the years. They’ve traded for Subban and traded him away, brought in Kyle Turris in a big trade, were fairly bold in trading Kevin Fiala for Mikael Granlund, and so on. If you’re a stickler for “chemistry,” aren’t you a touch worried?

Duchene hasn’t been on a ton of winning teams during his career, but this is the best roster he’s ever joined … so we’ll see if this works out. At least you can’t accuse the Predators of being too timid.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | X-factor]

2. What kind of goaltending will they get?

Pekka Rinne‘s had his critics over the years, yet he’s shut most of them up. But speaking of years … Rinne turns 37 on Nov. 3, so there’s a real threat for a decline.

If that drop-off comes in a dramatic way, will promising young goalie Juuse Saros be able to hold down the fort? The 24-year-old was fine in 2018-19 (.915 save percentage), but did stumble a bit at times. Where Rinne is a towering presence, Saros bucks the trend by being a smaller goalie. Might that get exposed with more reps?

If you forced me to choose a duo to roll with in 2019-20, this one would be one of the top options, but as we’ve seen with goalies, that doesn’t mean strong play is a guarantee. With Subban gone and Duchene not exactly a perennial Selke pick, the Predators goalie job could be tougher than ever, and there have been certain stretches where the Predators’ defense already depended upon their goalies more than some might think. (Example: they were middle-of-the-pack in high-danger chances allowed in 2018-19.)

3. Did they fix their power play?

Duchene changes the Predators’ personnel options, and they changed to a new power play coach in Dan Lambert.

Ideally, those tweaks will modernize a Predators’ man advantage that relied far too much on point shots from defensemen, and sputtered to the tune of a league-worst 12.9 percent success rate.

With Subban gone, that’s one less force pressuring the Predators to play that way, and maybe lean more toward a three-forward, two-defensemen setup, compared to the wider league trend toward four forward, one defenseman setups.

Will those changes be enough to improve that woeful unit? Maybe positive regression would have taken care of some of that bad production, anyway?

The Predators might flat-out need a better power play if their new-look team isn’t as impressive at even-strength, so we’ll see.

***

There are a lot of questions swirling around Nashville, but the most fascinating one is: are they actually better than they were last season? The Predators certainly are gambling a lot on that being the case.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Canucks reportedly give GM Jim Benning an extension

Getty Images
9 Comments

If the Minnesota Wild – Paul Fenton fiasco reminds us of anything, it’s that as bad as a GM can be, a struggling NHL franchise usually comes down to more than one person flubbing major decisions.

That thought comes back to the forefront with Friday’s report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that the Vancouver Canucks handed a contract extension to frequently (and usually justifiably) ridiculed GM Jim Benning. Rick Dhaliwal, also of Sportsnet, reports that the extension is believed to be for three years.

It’s important to note that, curiously, the Canucks have not officially announced that extension for Benning just yet. Some wonder if maybe the franchise realizes this sort of move isn’t something that will receive, um, unanimous support from Canucks fans, media, and other onlookers.

If there’s one silver lining even for Benning haters, it’s that Benning is no longer a “lame duck” GM, as he was slated to go into 2019-20 in the final year of his contract.

That’s relevant because a GM without job security can be a dangerous thing. Rather than focusing on the long-term future, an especially flawed GM might instead just focus on immediate returns, with a “that won’t be my problem anyway” attitude about drawbacks down the line. Such a prospect would absolutely be terrifying with Benning.

Unfortunately, Benning’s already running the team in that way, anyway.

Rather than taking a sober approach that the Canucks are better off with a steady rebuild, Vancouver’s instead taken one positive (Benning’s drafting netting them blue chippers in Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, etc.) and tried to accelerate to a level of contention by making highly questionable win-now moves.

The worst contracts really sting. Years after making a terrible $6M bet on Loui Eriksson, Benning showed how much he learned by making a terrible $6M bet on Tyler Myers. At best, spending $6M combined on Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel would be something a contender would do in hopes of getting over the top. Vancouver making that decision reeked of a delusional front office.

J.T. Miller‘s a fine player, but giving up a first-round pick for him is, again, something an obvious contender would do, not a team that could very well still miss the playoffs by a mile. As a true Benning trademark, it’s also a dubious value proposition, as the Lightning were looking to shed salary, yet they got Miller’s money off the books and got a first-round pick for their troubles.

(Conditions of that pick mean it is a 2021 first-rounder if Vancouver missed the playoffs in 2019-20, but who’s to say they won’t miss it in both of the next two seasons?)

Not every Benning signing or trade acquisition is a huge blunder, but the mistakes really pile up, and even more defensible ones (Micheal Ferland, keeping Alexander Edler) would make more sense if Vancouver’s contending chances weren’t so iffy.

All of these mistakes really start to stack up, to the point that they nullify Benning’s rare strokes of genius. Yes, he’s made some fantastic moves in the draft, but the Canucks aren’t in a great position to fully take advantage of strong players on entry-level contracts because of all of the bloated salaries around them.

That can be seen most clearly in the case of Brock Boeser still needing a deal as an RFA. The Canucks are, somehow, cap-challenged, with a bit more than $5M in room, according to Cap Friendly. That’s … honestly pretty inexcusable, and it all revolves around an inflated viewpoint of what this team is truly capable of at this time.

And this reported extension argues that it’s not just Jim Benning who has a faulty view of what the Canucks are capable of.

The Canucks haven’t spent their money very wisely lately, and they’ve missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, and five of their last six. There are some reasons for longer-term optimism, but this remains a flawed roster, with contracts that could box Vancouver into a corner.

You would think the Canucks wouldn’t be thrilled to sign up for more of that, but clearly the Canucks think differently. Time will tell if they end up being right, but the early returns aren’t very promising — at least when it isn’t draft weekend.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Will Laviolette bring out best of Predators?

Getty Images
1 Comment

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Nashville Predators. 

In the grand scheme of things, I’d rate Peter Laviolette as a very good coach, if not a great one.

Even so, there have been times when the Predators haven’t felt optimized, and that inspires some questions about whether swapping out P.K. Subban for Matt Duchene will take this team to the next level. Here are a few areas where Laviolette’s coaching style and decisions become a big x-factor.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three questions | Under Pressure]

Integrating the new guy: Nashville has experienced mixed results from David Poile’s many big trades.

Kyle Turris is facing a legit crisis of confidence. Mikael Granlund really didn’t move the needle, Wayne Simmonds barely produced any offense as a rental, and Nick Bonino‘s been a meh addition at best. Blaming Laviolette isn’t totally fair, but he must work to make sure that Duchene is placed in the best possible situation to succeed.

That might require some experimentation.

Would the Predators be better off with Duchene on a top line with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, or should Ryan Johansen remain between them? Should they try to find two different duos from those four? Might Duchene be better off as a winger with less offensive responsibility? Laviolette must find the right answers.

Rehabbing: It’s almost as important to get more out of Turris and Granlund.

Can Laviolette convince Turris to put struggles behind him? Don’t underestimate the power of a clean slate … unless Turris is simply done as an effective top-six or even top-nine forward.

Is Granlund better off as a center or wing, and where should he slot in the lineup? Nashville still needs to solve that riddle.

Powering up: The Predators’ power play was absolutely miserable last season, and while the team hired someone new to run the power play, it’s hard not to put some blame on Laviolette, too.

Their excessive reliance on point shots and far-too-defensemen-heavy focus was easy for even a layman to see, so why did Laviolette stand idly by? Did he learn from those issues, and if he didn’t, can his new PP coach Dan Lambert make up the difference?

Perhaps the Duchene – Subban roster swap will fix some of the problems for the Predators, as there should be an organic push to go for what works more (four forwards and one defenseman, forwards taking more shots) than before, when Nashville might have been trying to placate both Subban and Roman Josi. That said, as skilled as Josi is, if he’s still too much of a focal point on the power play, then the results may remain middling. With Subban out of town, Nashville may see a step back at even-strength, too, making better man advantage work that much more crucial.

Handling the goalies: On paper, Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros rank as one of the most reliable duos in the almost inherently unreliable goaltending position.

But there are still ways a coach can mess this up. Making the right calls regarding when to play Rinne or Saros – depending upon rest and possible playoff meltdowns – could very well decide a close series, or even a playoff push if things are bumpy at times in 2019-20.

Eeli’s struggling: Eeli Tolvanen is far from the only frustrating prospect, but it feels like the risks are increasing that he’s going to fall into the Jesse Puljujarvi Zone of Prospect Dread. Why not give him a little more room to breathe and see if Tolvanen can keep his head above water enough at five-on-five that his deadly release could be another weapon for Nashville’s offense?

It won’t be easy to ace all of those tests, but Laviolette’s proficiency is a huge X-factor as the Predators hope to compete for a Stanley Cup.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Duchene under pressure to make Predators Stanley Cup contenders

Getty Images
1 Comment

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Nashville Predators. 

Few players enter the 2019-20 season with more to prove than Matt Duchene.

He’d be under pressure for his fat new contract in any context. Frankly, there’s plenty of room for debate that Duchene will be worth his $8 million cap hit next season, let alone as the 28-year-old ages out of his prime, since the hefty deal runs through 2025-26. His two-way flaws have been there for a while, but don’t be surprised if they’re discussed more regularly now that he’s making bigger bucks.

Things could get even dicier if P.K. Subban knocks it out of the park in New Jersey, too.

Sure, the Predators didn’t technically trade Subban for Duchene directly, as the former was moved while the latter was signed by free agency, but even GM David Poile admitted that this was functionally a trade, as The Tennessean reported.

“Let’s call it like it is,” Poile said. “If we don’t make the Subban trade and get rid of his money, it’s going to be much more difficult to get into the Duchene sweepstakes. … It took the pressure off. So Subban for Duchene sounds like a reasonable way to say it.”

And Duchene is no stranger to people being unreasonable when they’re grading a trade.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three questions | X-factor]

It might be difficult to believe, but for a while there, a big reaction to the first Duchene trade was that Kyle Turris was outplaying Duchene. Things soured to the point that Duchene grew tired of the comparisons, and the narrative took quite a while to shift. By the time Duchene showed he was far and away the superior player, people basically just moved on.

Fair or not, the story shifted to Duchene failing to be the upgrade the Ottawa Senators hoped he would be, and there are uncomfortable parallels between Senators GM Pierre Dorion long coveting Duchene, and Predators GM Poile having the same long-time interest.

Could it be that teams have been overrating Duchene for all this time, right down to the Blue Jackets making the questionable decision to basically sell their 2019 NHL Draft to rent Duchene and Ryan Dzingel?

In a fairer world, most of the ridicule would go to the GMs. We don’t live in a world of nuance, though, which means players like Duchene catch most of the heat, even if they’re producing at about the level they always have.

It doesn’t help that team-wide failures have followed Duchene to a tragically comical extent, and his teams have only made the playoffs three times during his 11-season NHL career, with Duchene generating 16 points in just 18 playoff games.

Memorably, Duchene was traded out of a miserable Avalanche situation, only to see that Colorado team burst into the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Senators … well, ended up becoming even more miserable than the Duchene-era Avs were. Heck, the Blue Jackets almost missed the playoffs despite going all-in, too.

Maybe most awkwardly, Duchene could perform at the level any reasonable person would expect, and still receive merciless mockery.

Duchene carrying an $8M cap hit and $10M salary sets the stage for sticker shock because, as speedy and skilled as he is, he’s always been average at-best from a two-way standpoint.

It’s fair to question if he can be a 70-point player with consistency. He’s hit that mark before, including last season, yet he scored 59 points or less from 2014-15 through 2017-18, including languishing with just 41 points in 77 games in 2016-17.

If Duchene settles into a 25-goal, 60-65 point range while Subban reclaims his Norris form (he was a finalist as recently as 2017-18), and the Predators struggle to get to the next level, are people going to be fair to Duchene? Probably not.

This is arguably the first time that Duchene’s truly chosen where he wants to play, and he’s been linked to the Predators for years. Considering the pressure Duchene is under, this could end up being a “be careful what you wish for” situation.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.