Lightning lead NHL’s best special teams units

Getty Images

When it’s time for a power play, you’ll usually just see a quick graphic with a team’s percentages. If you’re lucky, the sound crew will play Super Mario’s powering up sound effect when it’s time for a home power play.

Flashing up those percentage stats give you a perfectly fine snapshot, but let’s dig deeper. Now, to clarify, we’ll still keep it pretty simple, as we’ll leave expected goals and high-danger chances to the Natural Stat Tricks of the world (for now? ominous music plays, probably from a Super Mario Bros. castle).

Allow me to re-introduce a stupidly simple study: special teams plus/minus. The formula is pretty simple, even if it takes some manual inputs (risking some human error) to actually put together the crude Google spreadsheets that power this list:

(Power play goals [PPG] forshorthanded goals [SHG] for) – (PPG against + SHG against) = special teams plus minus.

Generally speaking, deeper stats often reinforce what we already know, and this is the case here. What we already know is that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s power play was frighteningly effective, especially last season. Now we … uh, extra know that.

Cream of the crop

To keep this from getting too unwieldy, Part 1 of these two posts will feature the teams who had a “plus” rating for 2017-18 and 2018-19 combined, while Part 2 will include the teams on the negative side. You can see the full results in the chart at the bottom of each post. Interestingly, only 13 teams hit the “plus” side, at least for 2017-18 and 2018-19 combined.

Tampa Bay Lightning: +43 in 2018-19, +51 overall during the past two seasons.

The Lightning made history last season, and their special teams dominance stood as a big reason why. Not only was their power play deadly (74 PPG), it also took very little off the table, as Tampa Bay only allowed three shorthanded goals, behind only three other NHL teams. Remarkably, they tied the Devils for third-fewest power-play goals allowed with 40, and scored an impressive 12 shorthanded goals. The Bolts have the talent to be strong in this area once again in 2019-20, but we may not see many seasons like this one again anytime soon.

Other teams that were at least +20 combined the past two seasons:

  • Florida Panthers: +19 in 2018-19, +26 combined. The Panthers were the only other team to hit 70+ goals alongside Tampa Bay, as the Cats grabbed 72. They flipped shorthanded goals allowed (12) and for (three) with the Lightning, though. The Panthers will need to show that their special teams dominance wasn’t due to power play/assistant coach Paul McFarland, who was fired this offseason. The Panthers were among just five teams with 70+ power-play goals since 2009-10, so a dip should be expected — it’s likely a matter of how much.
  • Winnipeg Jets: +13 in 2018-19, +29 combined the past two seasons. You’d think this will be a consistent strength for Winnipeg, especially as Patrik Laine climbs the ranks … right?
  • San Jose Sharks: +12 in 2018-19, +36 combined. Seems safe to bet on continued competence, if not brilliance, in this area.
  • Colorado Avalanche: +9 in 2018-19, +23 combined. Improved depth could help Colorado after allowing 58 PPG this season.
  • Boston Bruins: +8 in 2018-19, +28 combined. The Bruins power play was deadly (65), but also high-risk, high-reward, with 15 shorthanded goals allowed.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: +9 in 2018-19, +26 combined. Penguins special teams sequences are frantic. Not only are the power play goals going both ways, but the Penguins scored plenty shorthanded (12 for) and allowed even more (15 against) last season.

Still positive, not as dramatic

Teams with at least 10+ (but less than 20+) combined during the past two seasons

  • New Jersey Devils: +5 in 2018-19, +18 combined. Should be fascinating to see how Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban might move New Jersey up the ranks.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: +1 in 2018-19, +13 combined. Maybe trading away Nazem Kadri means more William Nylander on the top unit? Either way, a middling 46 PPG for and troubling nine SHG against is hard to fathom with all of that talent.
  • Vegas Golden Knights: +4 in 2018-19, +16 combined. Limiting shorthanded goals allowed (two) while scoring 11 shorthanded goals of their own, the Golden Knights were otherwise uninspiring on special teams last season. The Golden Knights have so much forward talent, they might want to experiment a bit; maybe try that whole five forward power play idea?

Remaining teams with positive special teams plus/minus over the past two seasons:

  • Calgary Flames: +14 in 2018-19, +8 combined. The Flames’ power play was rough in 2017-18 (just 16 percent success rate, 43 goals for and seven shorthanded against), accounting for the slip into mediocrity. An absurd 18 shorthanded goals for is what really pushed them into having one of the league’s most beneficial special teams last season, as they only scored three more goals on the power play (53) than they gave up on the penalty kill (50).
  • Minnesota Wild: +6 in 2017-18, +5 combined. Minnesota enjoyed some net benefits from special teams last season, but the difference was fairly marginal.
  • Arizona Coyotes: +15 in 2017-18, +2 combined. Darcy Kuemper was the main reason the Coyotes almost made the playoffs despite a slew of injuries, but effective special teams, particularly managing 16 shorthanded goals, helped Arizona stay in the mix, too. Can Phil Kessel help Arizona make special teams a net positive once again next season? It’s tough to ask Kuemper to repeat last season’s magic, that’s for sure.

Full list

Again, Part 2 will include teams that were in the minus – even marginally so – during the past two seasons combined. Here are the full 31 teams, sorted from highest to lowest in special teams plus/minus for 2018-19. You may note that some teams were positive one season and negative the other, so teams with recent strong seasons (Arizona, Calgary) could be interesting to monitor. The chart also includes: 2017-18 special teams plus/minus, the ST plus/minus for the past two years, and then to the right: goals totals for the four different special teams categories from 2018-19:

TEAM special teams +/- 2017-18 +/- two years +/- PPG SHGA PPGA SHGF
Tampa Bay 43 8 51 74 3 40 12
Florida 19 7 26 72 13 43 3
Arizona 15 -13 2 42 9 34 16
Calgary 14 -6 8 53 7 50 18
Winnipeg 13 16 29 62 7 52 10
San Jose 12 24 36 57 9 45 9
Colorado 9 14 23 63 5 58 9
Boston 8 20 28 65 15 49 7
Pittsburgh 8 18 26 56 15 45 12
Minnesota 6 -1 5 49 4 44 5
Dallas 6 -10 -4 45 2 41 4
Columbus 6 -15 -9 34 6 30 8
New Jersey 5 13 18 45 10 40 10
St. Louis 5 -13 -8 50 7 43 5
Vegas 4 12 16 39 2 44 11
Toronto 1 12 13 46 9 41 5
Carolina 0 -2 -2 44 8 44 8
Buffalo -1 -4 -5 46 9 41 3
Ottawa -3 -17 -20 46 8 45 4
Washington -6 -2 -8 49 5 55 5
Vancouver -6 -10 -16 43 8 48 7
NY Islanders -6 -11 -17 33 1 44 6
NY Rangers -11 5 -6 44 4 58 7
Nashville -12 9 -3 33 8 45 8
Edmonton -12 -20 -32 47 7 62 10
Montreal -14 -15 -29 31 4 46 5
Chicago -16 -8 -24 48 7 63 6
Detroit -17 -13 -30 39 7 56 7
Philadelphia -18 -7 -25 40 11 51 4
Anaheim -24 -2 -26 36 10 55 5
Los Angeles -28 11 -17 35 13 54 4

Yep, the Lightning have been living large on special teams lately.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

avalanche injuries
André Ringuette/Getty Images
1 Comment

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.