Improved depth makes Avalanche Stanley Cup contender

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NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings from Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Colorado Avalanche have had one of the NHL’s most dominant top lines for a couple of years now thanks to the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. When they are on the ice together and playing at their best they can be borderline unstoppable.

They carried the Avalanche to a playoff appearance a year ago and a Round 1 upset over the No. 1 seeded Calgary Flames.

They are the foundation of the team and a massive part of what makes them a playoff team.

But for the Avalanche to become a Stanley Cup contender — and potential Stanley Cup champion — they needed to address their biggest Achilles heel over the summer.

Secondary scoring.

It is not unfair to say that the 2018-19 Avalanche were a top-heavy team.

When none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio was on the ice last year they were outscored by a 95-76 margin and controlled just 48 percent of the total shot attempts.

With the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog on the ice they outscored teams 46-29 and controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts.

It is great to have an amazing top-line that can win games for you on any given night, but they are not going to be able to win games for you every night. The Avalanche had to address that over the summer.

And through a series of shrewd moves, they did.

  • After years of trade rumors and speculation, the Avalanche finally completed a Tyson Barrie trade and sent him (and Alexander Kerfoot) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for center Nazem Kadri, giving the team a bonafide second-line center that can play a shutdown role and score 30 goals. He was on track to score 30 goals again before his recent injury. Dealing Barrie was made possible by the emergence of young blue-liners Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and the selection of Bowen Byram with the No. 4 overall pick (acquired in the Matt Duchene trade).
  • They took advantage of Washington’s salary cap crunch and acquired Andre Burakovsky for two draft picks and Scott Kasmachuk. After being unable to fully reach his potential in Washington, Burakovsky is currently the Avalanche’s second-leading scorer.
  • They dipped into the free agent market and signed former Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi to a multi-year contract. While his offensive numbers were never going to make him a star, Donskoi has always been a strong possession-driving two-way player. He is having a career-year offensively for Colorado.
  • In what was perhaps their most under-the-radar signing, they signed Valeri Nichushkin to a one-year, $850,000 contract. After going through the most uneventful season in NHL history (0 goals, 0 penalty minutes in 57 games) he already has 11 goals in 51 games for the Avalanche.

Those four moves have helped turn the Avalanche into a true contender in the Western Conference.

They enter Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Los Angeles Kings with the second-best record in the Western Conference, just three points behind the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues with still two games in hand.

Even with Thursday’s loss to the Washington Capitals, they are also 8-2-2 in their past 12 games.

All of that added depth has paid off in a big way this season, especially as they had to deal with early season injuries to Landeskog and Rantanen.

The Avalanche are so much deeper this season that when none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio is on the ice they are outscoring teams 79-42 and controlling 52 percent of the total shot attempts. It is not even a comparison to what they managed a year ago, and there is no way the 2018-19 roster would have been able to overcome extended absences for two of their big three the way this year’s team did.

The trio of Kadri, Nichushkin, and Burakovsky had recently formed a dominant second line that out had scored teams 11-1 and controlled possession. Kadri being sidelined for the time being obviously takes that option away, obviously, but the option to reunite it when he returns will be there.

There is also the potential to keep adding to the roster as the Avalanche approach the NHL trade deadline with the second most salary cap space available in the NHL to add whatever they think they need to put them over the top.

It may not result in a Stanley Cup this season, but the Avalanche are positioned to be one of the powerhouse teams in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

It starts with the trio of stars on the top line.

But the pieces they added over the summer to complement them are what can help take them to where they want to go.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will call the matchup. On-site studio coverage at Air Force Academy will feature Kathryn Tappen hosting alongside analyst Patrick Sharp and reporter Rutledge Wood.

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.

Kreider, Panarin push Rangers past Blackhawks

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The New York Rangers don’t want to see key pieces sold off at the NHL Trade Deadline in the coming days.

The Blueshirts have seen impact players such as Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash and others shown the door this time of year the past two seasons and hope their 6-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday can change Jeff Gorton’s mind.

Chris Kreider had three points and Artemi Panarin recorded his 30th goal of the season in the Rangers’ fourth victory in the previous five games.

“We got to make the GM’s job tough and wins like this will do that,” Ryan Strome told Bryan Boucher on NBCSN following the game.

Dominik Kubalik scored twice and Drake Caggiula added another, but the Blackhawks fell for the second consecutive game and for the seventh time in the last eight games.

Value of Rangers assets keeps increasing

Kreider is the top rental available and the Rangers’ front office hopes a bidding war develops over the next few days. The speedy power forward converted a slick breakaway midway through the third period which turned into the eventual game-winner.

NHL insider Bob McKenzie reported on the pregame show that five teams were interested in Kreider’s services. The Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders, St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals have expressed interest, according to McKenzie.

In addition to Kreider, the Rangers have several other commodities that could intrigue playoff contenders. Ryan Strome netted his career high 51st point, Pavel Buchnevich scored, and Tony DeAngelo returned to the lineup.

“Honestly, we have been doing a pretty good job,” Strome said when asked about the potential movement. “We have got some guys that have been around and some young guys that are probably a little bit oblivious. That probably helps a little bit.”

The playoffs are a longshot for New York this season, but the question they need to answer internally is, how far away from the postseason are they?

Keith’s milestone assist

The alternate captain has been the foundation of the Chicago Blackhawks defense since arriving in the NHL for the 2005-06 season.

In the second period against the Rangers, Keith delivered a beautiful no-look, cross-ice pass to set up Kubalik’s game-tying goal. It was Keith’s 500th career assist.

Keith became the seventh player in franchise history to reach that accomplishment and joined Doug Wilson as the only defensemen in that group.

The 36-year-old was rightfully included in the 100 Greatest Players in NHL History announced during the League’s centennial celebration and continues to ensure that his No. 2 will float in the rafters with his three Stanley Cup championship banners at the United Center.

 


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Benn ejected for boarding Ekman-Larsson (Video)

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Jamie Benn was ejected midway through the second period for boarding Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Coyotes captain stayed down on the ice for an extended period of time before heading directly to the locker room.

Ekman-Larsson did return for the third period.

Due to a rule change this season, the referees had a chance to review the major penalty but confirmed the call and sent Benn off for the remainder of the game.

Ekman-Larsson and Benn had a slight history dating back to December when the Coyotes blueliner caught the Stars captain with a blindside hit.

The NHL Department of Player Safety will certainly take a look and Benn could miss more time in the near future.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Rangers vs. Blackhawks: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With just over six weeks to go in the regular season, the Rangers and Blackhawks find themselves on the wrong side of the playoff dividing line with several teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race. New York currently has three teams to jump ahead of to get into a playoff spot, while Chicago has four

New York’s season-high four-game win streak was snapped on Sunday at MSG against Boston, 3-1, as the Rangers now hit the road for away games in five of their next six contests. Overall, Chicago has lost six of its last seven games (1-4-2) with its sole win coming two games ago at Calgary, an 8-4 affair on Saturday – the Blackhawks most goals scored this season.

New York’s high-priced offseason acquisition, Artemi Panarin (7-year/$81.5M), leads the team in goals (29), assists (49), points (78 – fifth in NHL)– to name a few. The Russian playmaker, who set a career high in pts (87) last season with the Blue Jackets, is on pace to set new highs in goals, assists and points. The 28-year-old began his career with the Blackhawks (undrafted), winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2015-16 before being traded to Columbus after two seasons

Chris Kreider has come on of late with 29 pts in the last 29 games after just 13 points in his first 28 games. Kreider, who is on pace for his first career 30-goal season, is set to become a free agent after this season. There were reports last week that Kreider’s agent and the Rangers have been discussing a possible contract extension, while he has also been linked with a possible trade to his hometown Bruins (from Boxford, Mass.). Kreider was drafted 19th overall by New York in 2009 and has spent his entire career with the Blueshirts.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: New York Rangers at Chicago Blackhawks
WHERE: United Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Rangers-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
Chris Kreider – Mika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Artemi Panarin – Ryan StromeJesper Fast
Phil Di GiuseppeFilip ChytilKaapo Kakko
Brendan LemieuxBrett Howden – Julien Gauthier

Brady SkjeiJacob Trouba
Tony DeAngeloMarc Staal
Ryan LindgrenAdam Fox

Starting goalie: Igor Shesterkin

BLACKHAWKS
Dominik KubalikJonathan ToewsDrake Caggiula
Brandon SaadRyan CarpenterPatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatKirby DachDylan Strome
Matthew HighmoreDavid KampfAlex Nylander

Duncan KeithAdam Boqvist
Erik GustafssonConnor Murphy
Slater KoekkoekOlli Maatta

Starting goalie: Robin Lehner

Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call the action from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Ahmed Fareed will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury and NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

The Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary, featuring Al Michaels, who called the momentous matchup in 1980, and Mike Tirico, will premiere on Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. 40 years to the month, this 30-minute special will feature Tirico’s wide-ranging conversation with Michaels about the buildup to the game, his iconic call, as well as the legacy of the moment that became bigger than sports and still resonates today.

NHL Trade Deadline primer: Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

Tomas Tatar Trade
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With the NHL trade deadline getting close (February 24, 3 p.m. ET) the Pro Hockey Talk crew will be taking a closer look at some individual players that could be on the move. Today we focus on Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar.

Player: Tomas Tatar
Current Team: Montreal Canadiens
Position: Forward
Contract: One year remaining after this season with a $5.3 million salary cap number.

Why the Canadiens might trade him. If you squint really hard and give it your best effort you can maybe find a decent argument for why it makes sense for the Canadiens to keep Tatar.

He is an excellent player, and a very underrated one. He is signed through the end of next season and is not in danger of leaving as a free agent after this season. He has also been a great fit in Montreal since joining the team at the start of the 2018-19 season after coming over from Vegas in the Max Pacioretty trade. There is also the fact that the Canadiens might still believe they could be a playoff team next season, so it would make sense to keep your good players.

But all of that kind of goes out the window when you look at the current situation and the harsh reality that this team just is not very good.

The Canadiens are on track to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. They are completely going down the tube this season with five consecutive losses, including a dreadful 4-3 loss to Detroit on Tuesday where they blew a 3-1 lead to go 0-4 for the season against a team that currently has just 15 wins for the season and might be single the worst NHL team of the modern era. On top of that, the Canadiens are going to have a ton of contractual decisions to make over the next two seasons regarding Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher, Philip Danualt, and Jeff Petry.

With Carey Price and Shea Weber signed to monster contracts, they can’t keep everyone.

And given the current situation, why would they keep everyone?

There is also the fact that the price for players with term remaining on their contracts is sky high right now. Pounce while you can.

Teams that could/should be interested. Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders

What he provides. Whether it is traditional box score numbers or a more analytical look, Tatar stacks up extremely well with other top-line two-way wingers around the league. He is on track for a career year offensively this season (close to 30 goals, more than 70 points) and in a normal year is still going to give you 25 goals and 50 points.

His possession numbers have always been strong no matter what team he has played for, and this year they have reached an elite level.

Maybe you have a sour memory of him as a trade deadline acquisition after what happened with him Vegas two years ago, but small sample size decisions lead to mistakes. He is a good player and could be a great addition for a contender.

The Colorado Avalanche would be an intriguing option because they have the salary cap space to take him on and could be in the market for a winger with Mikko Rantanen sidelined (and just to give themselves a better chance to win).

Worth noting that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is in Denver on Wednesday night to watch the Avalanche-Islanders game in person.

Predicted Destination. A team like the Avalanche has a lot to offer and the flexibility to do it, but I have a suspicion that Bergevin is going to set an extremely high price, not get the offer he wants, and stand pat with the belief this team is closer to contending than it actually is.

More NHL Trade Deadline:

• Trade Deadline primer: Chris Kreider
Trade Deadline Primer: Ilya Kovalchuk
• Trade Deadline Primer: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
• Trade Deadline Primer: Joe Thornton
• Trade Deadline Primer: Robin Lehner
• Teams that need to be active at trade deadline

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.