NHL Power Rankings Calgary Flames
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NHL Power Rankings: Flames on the rise

In this week’s NHL Power Rankings the Metropolitan is still the league’s most dominant division, the defending champs are still picking up wins, while the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers both hit a little bit of a slump to fall a few spots.

One team on the rise has been the Calgary Flames as they have collected at least one point in 10 of their past 11 games and are finally starting to make a move in the standings. They are 6-1-0 since Geoff Ward took over behind the bench, Johnny Gaudreau is starting to break out of a slump that saw him go 10 consecutive games without a goal earlier this season, and even Milan Lucic has chipped in offensively after going 27 consecutive games without a goal to open the season.

Given the lack of a truly dominant team in the Pacific Division this season they are still right in the thick of that race even after their slow start.

They make a move up to No. 7 this week.

Where does every other team sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Colorado Avalanche. The league’s best top line is united again, they have scoring depth, they have a young superstar on defense, and they have earned a point in 14 of their past 17 games. The best team in hockey.

2. Washington Capitals. John Carlson is still putting up absurd numbers and one of the most impressive offensive seasons ever for a defenseman.

3. New York Islanders. They will not score a lot of goals, but they give up nothing. It is working for them. Again.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. They just keep finding ways to win and looking really good while doing so. Tristan Jarry has been their big star in recent weeks as he continues to earn playing time over Matt Murray.

5. St. Louis Blues. David Perron has stepped up in a big way to help fill the void offensively left by the absence of Vladimir Tarasenko.

6. Carolina Hurricanes. His performance is getting overshadowed by Carlson’s points production in Washington, but Dougie Hamilton is putting together a Norris-caliber season for the Hurricanes.

7. Calgary Flames. They have collected 19 out of a possible 22 points in their past 11 games to climb to within two points of first place in the Pacific Division. They are one of the hottest teams in the league.

8. Boston Bruins. Over an 82-game regular season even the very best teams are going to go cold on occasion. The Bruins hit one of those stretches lately. Nothing to be concerned about.

9. Winnipeg Jets. Every year there is that one team whose success comes out of nowhere and makes no sense. The Jets are that team this season.

10. Dallas Stars. No team in the league gives up fewer goals per game than the Stars. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin are having outstanding years in net.

11. Minnesota Wild. Eric Staal recorded his 1,000th career point over the weekend, a testament to his longevity and productivity. But it’s not just about playing for a long time, either. He was a truly dominant offensive player early in his career. You might think this spot is too high for the Wild, but they have been one of the league’s best teams for the past month-and-a-half.

12. Arizona Coyotes. They have the defense and goaltending. They just need a little more offense.

13. Vegas Golden Knights. They were always better than their early record indicated. Now the results are starting to show up to prove it.

14. Philadelphia Flyers. The most hot-and-cold team in the league. They enter the week having lost four out of five while being outscored by a 20-10 margin.

15. Tampa Bay Lightning. Do you know what would really help here? If Andrei Vasilevskiy started to play like the Vezina caliber goalie that he is.

16. Toronto Maple Leafs. They had a great west coast road trip that saw them take six out of eight points. Thankfully for them the Atlantic Division has been so bad this season that their slow start did not totally bury them.

17. Buffalo Sabres. They enter the week in second place in the Atlantic, have one of the league’s best players who is playing the best hockey of is life, and have still lost more games (18, including overtime and shootout games) than they’ve won (16). If they make the playoffs Jack Eichel will be in the MVP discussion. He should be even if they do not.

18. Vancouver Canucks. Quinn Hughes is going to be a superstar, but he needs a lot of help on the blue line if the Canucks are going to take the next step in their rebuild.

19. Montreal Canadiens. Shea Weber is having an absolutely monster season and can still be an impact player.

20. New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin just keeps getting better and more productive. He is worth the price of admission all by himself.

21. Edmonton Oilers. They are trending in the wrong direction as this season starts to look disturbingly similar to the 2018-19 season.

22. Nashville Predators. They really miss Viktor Arvidsson. But will his return be enough to salvage what is one of the league’s most disappointing teams?

23. Florida Panthers. Joel Quenneville and Sergei Bobrovsky have not yet solved their goal prevention issues. When it comes to the former there is only so much a coach can do with the talent they have to work with. When it come to the latter, they have a lot of reason to be concerned given that contract.

24. San Jose Sharks. They clearly needed to change something, but a goalie is still probably the bigger priority over the coach.

25. Ottawa Senators. Anthony Duclair has been an incredible find for them and is showing what he can do with a real chance.

26. Anaheim Ducks. They have used eight players age 22 or younger this season, with six of them playing in at least 18 games. It is not a particularly good team, but at least they are giving their future a chance to play.

27. Chicago Blackhawks. They are a long way from contending again, and that loss on Saturday may have been rock bottom for them this season.

28. Los Angeles Kings. Jonathan Quick put together a couple of decent games for the first time this season. Does he have more of that in him?

29. Columbus Blue Jackets. John Tortorella was livid with his team’s effort against an undermanned Penguins team this past week, and for very good reason. It was bad. Then they followed it up by losing to Ottawa in overtime the next day. 

30. New Jersey Devils. Maybe it was time for a new voice behind the bench. That could be true. It is also true that the team given to him wasn’t good enough to compete.

31. Detroit Red Wings. They are four points behind New Jersey, the second-worst team in the league, even though they have played in three more 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.

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.