NHL Power Rankings: Metropolitan Division dominance

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings it is all about the Metropolitan Division which is proving itself to be the best, most competitive, and top-heavy division in the league.

It is so good right now that as of Monday five of the league’s top-11 teams in points percentage (Washington, New York Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Carolina) all play in it, and four of those teams (Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh) are in the top-seven.

All five are also in the top-10 in goal-differential.

The Capitals look like they have a shot to win another Presidents’ Trophy and maybe a Stanley Cup, the Islanders are still locking things down defensively, the Penguins are playing like a legit contender even though they they have been the most injured team in the league, the Flyers are one of the hottest teams in the league, and the Hurricanes are quietly surging along with a blossoming superstar on their roster.

Those teams also dominate the top of this week’s Power Rankings.

Where do they — and the rest of the league — currently sit?

To the rankings!

1. Washington Capitals. John Carlson is on pace to be the first defenseman since the 1991-92 season to hit the 100-point mark and the Capitals are on pace to win their fourth Presidents’ Trophy since the 2009-10 season.

2. Colorado Avalanche. If they can get Taylor Hall they would be the clear favorite to win the Western Conference, and maybe the Stanley Cup. They might be the favorite for both even if they do not get Taylor Hall.

3. Boston Bruins. Imagine how good they can be when they get Patrice Bergeron back.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. In any given week it feels like they could be a top-five team or a bottom-five team. Right now? Top-five. Losing Travis Konecny for now is going to be tough.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins. The way they are playing through significant injuries should make the rest of the Eastern Conference worried about what they are capable of when they start getting people back — including Sidney Crosby.

6. New York Islanders. They have come back to earth a little bit since that 17-game point streak came to an end, which is to be expected. Should not be a cause for concern yet.

7. St. Louis Blues. They could still use a little more offense, but the goaltending has been good enough to mask their flaws.

8. Winnipeg Jets. Forget the Vezina Trophy, Connor Hellebuyck is building himself an MVP case right now. Not saying he will win it, but he is building an argument.

9. Carolina Hurricanes. Andrei Svechnikov is starting to become a monster, leading the team in goals, points, and averaging more than a point-per-game. He is only 19 years old.

10. Arizona Coyotes. They are off to one of the best starts in franchise history while getting minimal goal-scoring from three of their top players (Phil Kessel, Clayton Keller, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson). If they can get going they might be on to something here, especially with that goaltending duo.

11. Dallas Stars. With this goaltending they can make a lot of noise, assuming the goaltending keeps playing the way it has.

12. Minnesota Wild. A season that looked lost a little more than a month ago is now on the verge of being salvaged. The Wild have earned a point in 14 out of their 17 games (10-3-4) since the start of November and are climbing back up the standings.

13. Edmonton Oilers. There are a lot of cracks in the foundation. Still no depth, and since their 7-1 start they have managed to win just 11 out of 24 games. They are going in the wrong direction.

14. Vancouver Canucks. I don’t think even they expected J.T. Miller to be as impactful as he has been since they acquired him.

15. Calgary Flames. They have started to turn things around the past couple of weeks, and even Milan Lucic is on a two-game goal-scoring streak.

16. Tampa Bay Lightning. Two things have hurt their spot in the standings. The first is they have played a league-low 27 games. The second is they have been wildly inconsistent in the 27 games they have played.

17. Florida Panthers. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are incredible. The goaltending is still incredibly bad.

18. Toronto Maple Leafs. Every team in the Atlantic Division behind Boston is a jumbled mess of mediocrity, and I don’t think the Maple Leafs expected to find themselves in that pile. They have shown signs of going on a run since the coaching change, but it has not all come together yet.

19. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel is having a dominant, breakout season. Hopefully the Sabres can do enough around him so it does not go to waste.

20. New York Rangers. They are hanging in there and have given a lot of teams headaches lately. I don’t know if they are as good as their record, but having a superstar like Artemi Panarin and two outstanding goalies playing the way they are it is going to give a team a chance.

21. Vegas Golden Knights. Something is just off here. This team should be better than it currently is.

22. Nashville Predators. The usually dependable goaltending duo of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros is sinking their season at the moment.

23. San Jose Sharks. Speaking of teams that should be better than they currently are, the Sharks are in a lot of trouble after a miserable road trip through Florida. Teams that get blown out as often as this team does do not typically do very well.

24. Montreal Canadiens. They simply do not have enough depth to overcome the injuries to Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

25. Chicago Blackhawks. Robin Lehner has been a great addition and helped give an otherwise awful defensive team a chance to win. He just can not stop anything in the shootout.

26. Columbus Blue Jackets. We knew the goaltending would be a question mark, but the offense has dropped off even more than it was expected to.

27. Ottawa Senators. After a brief surge in the middle of November the Senators are back to their struggles. The biggest thing to watch here is where Jean-Gabriel Pageau ends up.

28. Anaheim Ducks. They have three wins in their past 15 games. Somehow two of those wins have been against the Blues and Islanders.

29. New Jersey Devils. John Hynes may not have been the right coach for the Devils, but he also wasn’t the biggest problem.

30. Los Angeles Kings. What do you do with Jonathan Quick? Trading him does not seem to be an option given his play. A buyout will be a significant salary cap hit for a long time. He also has shown no sign that his career is on the verge of turning back around.

31. Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings are trending toward “historically bad” territory this 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.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

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Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.