Calgary Flames disappointments surprises Monahan Gaudreau
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Calgary Flames: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames.

Gaudreau, Monahan have been disappointments for Flames

Johnny Gaudreau enjoyed the best season of his NHL career in 2018-19, setting career highs for goals (36) and points (99). Gaudreau blew away his previous career high of 84 points.

In doing so, Gaudreau might have set expectations too high for both himself and the Flames.

Some might pin Gaudreau’s slippage to a morale-busting first-round loss to the Avalanche during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, Gaudreau failed to score a single goal during that series, managing a measly assist over five games. If there was a shred of doubt about Gaudreau vs. Nathan MacKinnon, that debate was crushed with the speed of an authoritative overtime playoff game-winner.

Maybe Gaudreau is suffering from a minor crisis of confidence, but that armchair psychology likely falls short. Simply put, he was probably playing over his head last season, and then he regressed.

It’s still a disappointment for the Flames, though. With 58 points in 70 games, Gaudreau’s .83 points-per-game average is the third-worst of his career.

And, generally speaking, as Gaudreau goes, so does Sean Monahan.

It’s not surprising that Matthew Tkachuk ranks higher than Monahan and Gaudreau on this GAR chart (via Charting Hockey using Evolving Hockey’s stats), being that Tkachuk is such a five-on-five demon. But the two being run-of-the-mill by their standards made it tough for Calgary to pull away from the Pacific pack.

Flames firing Bill Peters was part of a run of coaching surprises

The series of events that ultimately led to the Flames firing Bill Peters was quite ugly, and there were also surprises along the way.

Frankly, the fact that Peters faced actual consequences — rather than another powerful person’s indiscretions merely being brushed under the rug — was a pleasant surprise. Peters facing repercussions doesn’t delete the unpleasant experiences Akim Aliu and others went through, yet it was a sign of progress in hockey — whether you consider the changes big or merely incremental.

Peters’ firing was part of a series of surprises in the coaching ranks that would probably go down as a bigger story for 2019-20 if COVID-19 hadn’t halted play altogether.

Cam Talbot rebounds for Flames

In a season of slippage for the Flames, Talbot’s lifting Calgary up.

After seeing his save percentage sink below .90 during his final year with the Oilers, Talbot’s been huge for Calgary. Talbot entered the “pause” with a three-game winning streak, and generated a strong .919 save percentage overall.

That’s all been crucial, as David Rittich remained mediocre. If he’s “Big Save Dave,” perhaps Rittich needs to focus a bit more on the small and medium-sized stops?

Flames aren’t getting pleasant surprises from Sam Bennett

Expecting more from Rittich (.907 save percentage in 2019-20) was foolish considering his .908 career average. Projecting a dramatic transformation from Bennett might have been even more foolish.

Yet, even by diminished standards, Bennett’s 2019-20 was extremely meh. Bennett only managed 12 points over 52 games, which translates to a career-worst .23 ppg.

The Flames have tried to hold out for value in potentially trading Bennett. That makes sense, as it would sting to receive very little for the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft. But considering how his numbers (and ice time) are sinking, maybe it would be best for everyone involved if a trade happened?

A change of scenery might be the only thing that leads to pleasant surprises for Bennett and the Flames.

Oh, and as a bonus surprise: Milan Lucic … not as bad as maybe people think. His contract remains bad, but Lucic seems like he can be an OK contributor overall. Yup, life and the Flames are both full of surprises … and OK, perhaps disappointments.

MORE FLAMES BITS

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.

A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next few Thursdays. The first team created was a 23-and-under roster that would be fascinating to watch.

An NHL player usually reaches peak performance in his late 20’s and this roster is comprised of players in the prime of their career between the ages of 24 and 29. The combination of skill, size, wisdom and depth in this group will be difficult to match for any opponent. The most surprising part of building this team was seeing several superstars left on the sidelines.

Line Combinations

First line: Artemi PanarinNathan MacKinnonLeon Draisaitl

Thoughts: All three players are firmly in the conversation for the 2019-2020 Hart Trophy and the thought of them on the same team, let alone the same line would be highly entertaining. Panarin has established himself as one of the best passers in the NHL and having two lethal goal scorers alongside him should make for an explosive trio.

Second line: Johnny GaudreauMark ScheifeleNikita Kucherov

Thoughts: Both wingers don’t offer much size but Gaudreau and Kucherov are both electric players that have learned how to win in the corners despite their diminutive stature. Scheifele has long been one of the more underrated players in the league and should find instant chemistry with two players that possess elite on-ice vision.

Third line: Taylor HallMika ZibanejadMark Stone

Thoughts: Hall’s game has dipped since winning the 2018 Hart Trophy but still remains a top two-way forward. Zibanejad was one of the most controversial picks beating out the likes of John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and others. But No. 93 has improved his game since the New York Rangers acquired him in a one-sided traded.

Fourth line: Chris Kreider – Ryan O’Reilly – Jonathan Huberdeau

Thoughts: Kreider and O’Reilly have anchored shut down lines in the past but the addition of Huberdeau should add more offensive punch to a very responsible grouping. All three skaters play a disciplined, 200-foot game and could match up with any combination of forwards an opponent has to offer.

First D pairing: Roman JosiSeth Jones
Second D pairing: Victor HedmanDougie Hamilton
Third D pairing: Oliver Ekman-LarssonAaron Ekblad

Thoughts: It’s hard to find a flaw in this grouping of defensemen. These six players collectively possess all the attributes needed to shut down opponents and can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Starting Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Backup Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Just Missed: Aleksander Barkov, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares

Captain: Roman Josi

Alternate captains: Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl

Analysis

It was surprising to see only one player on this team with a championship ring and just seven players have participated in a Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this team has experience in best on best tournaments at every level and have routinely been through the grind of an NHL regular season.

On paper, there are limited areas of concern. The team is comprised of players with diverse attributes to form an extremely well-balanced roster. It has several explosive goal-scorers in the top-six and responsible players in the bottom-six that have the ability to consistently produce on the offensive side of the ice.

In addition, the blueline is staggered with lockdown defensemen and two Vezina candidates guarding the crease.

One challenge for this team, and for any roster in a tournament of this nature, is the ability to find instant chemistry with line mates. In theory, Panarin can set up a few of the top scorers but does it work in reality?

Due to the balance of the roster and varied characteristics, I believe this team would have the inside track to winning this mythical tournament.

Surprising omissions

John Tavares: It wasn’t too long ago that Tavares was the most sought-after free agent in the summer of 2018, but it was challenging to find a spot for the Maple Leafs captain on this roster. It was a tight race between No. 91 and Mika Zibanejad for the third line center position, but the Swedish right-handed centerman has become one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. Tavares is a world-class player. He could easily slide back onto the roster and change the narrative with a dominant stretch when professional hockey returns.

Erik Karlsson: This Swedish defenseman used to terrorize the league with his smooth skating and incredible vision. However, Karlsson hasn’t looked like himself since being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September of 2018. He routinely crossed the 60-point plateau and set a career-high with 82 points in 2015-16, but injuries have slowed him down the past two seasons. This mythical tournament will require teams to perform at an incredibly high level and there is no room for someone who has not been at the top of his game.


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.

What is the Detroit Red Wings’ long-term outlook?

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Detroit Red Wings.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

This is kind of an odd situation at the moment because the players with the longest contracts and biggest financial commitments are players that probably do not actually fit in with the long-term direction of the team.

For example, here is the list of players that are actually signed to contracts beyond this season: Dylan Larkin, Filip Zadina, Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Luke Glendening, Patrick Nemeth, Alex Biega, Danny DeKeyser, and Jonathan Bernier.

Out of that group, Larkin and Zadina (who is still on an entry-level contract) are the only ones that are under the age of 28.

Nemeth (who is 28) is the only other player under the age of 30.

Mantha, Bertuzzi, and perhaps Fabbri all figure to stick around for a while and are still under team control as restricted free agents this summer, but they are not technically signed yet.

All of that leaves general manager Steve Yzerman with a fairly clean slate to build from. He also has a couple of really interesting building blocks in Larkin, Mantha, and Zadina.

Larkin and Mantha may not be superstars, but they still very good top-line players in the prime of their careers, and in Larkin’s case signed to a long-term deal. Mantha will need a new contract this summer but has blossomed into a potential 30-goal, possession driving power forward. Zadina is still a bit of a mystery, but he probably has the most potential of any young player in the organization and has flashed the ability that made him one of the most sought after goal-scoring prospects in his draft class.

Long-Term Needs

When you miss the playoffs four years in a row and are having one of the worst seasons in the modern history of the sport it is safe to say that you have a lot of needs at pretty much every position.

That is the case with the Red Wings.

More specifically, they need impact players.

They need a superstar forward they can build around and make the centerpiece of this entire thing. Maybe they will get some draft lottery luck and get the top pick, which is always a good place to start. It would also be helpful if Zadina blossomed into the top-shelf goal-scorer he was projected to be (and you should not give up on that possibility).

They also need a lot of long-term help on defense.

Moritz Seider, the No. 6 overall pick in 2019, is their best defense prospect, but he is probably a ways away from contributing as a top-pairing player.

Perhaps the biggest long-term hole in the organization though is in net. Howard and Bernier are both over the age of 31 and neither is likely to be standing in the crease for the Red Wings’ next playoff team. That goalie is also probably not in the organization right now.

Long-Term Strengths

It might just be the simple fact that they have a very successful and very good general manager that has a lot of resources to work with.

The salary cap situation is not perfect, but it is also not as bad as it looked a year or two ago. They have a couple of contracts they might like to shed (Nielsen, Abdelkader, DeKeyser) but it is nothing that is crushing them at the moment and there is some long-term flexibility there.

Along with having the best odds for the top pick in the 2020 NHL draft, they also have 18 draft picks over the next two years, including seven in the first two rounds (two first-round picks, five second-round picks) in those classes.

That comes after making 11 selections in the 2019 class, including four in the first two rounds.

The best way to find NHL talent in the draft is to give yourself more chances at finding a player (more picks) and the Red Wings are overflowing with them. That helps increase the odds in your favor a bit.

Larkin and Mantha should also be viewed as strengths because both players are good enough and young enough to stick around in Detroit and play in meaningful games for the team. Larkin is one of the league’s fastest players, has great underlying numbers, and has become a 60-point player every year. The only thing that has stopped Mantha from being a 30-goal player the past two years has been injuries. There are a lot of positions that need to be addressed, but they have the right person in charge to do it and some pieces to work with.

More:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings
Biggest surprises and disappointments 

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.

Detroit Red Wings: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Detroit Red Wings.

Robby Fabbri has had a nice bounceback in Detroit

It was just four years ago that Fabbri looked like he was on his way to becoming an outstanding top-six player for the St. Louis Blues. Then an unfortunate run of devastating injuries completely crushed the early part of his career and left him as the odd man out in St. Louis.

The Red Wings, in need of talent anywhere they can find it, took the low-risk gamble on trading for him earlier this season.

The early returns have been promising.

Fabbri has been one of the Red Wings’ most productive offensive players since arriving in Detroit earlier this season with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in his 52 games with the team. That’s a 20-goal, 50-point pace over 82 games and a nice bounce-back for a once promising player whose development was sidetracked through no fault of his own.

Jimmy Howard‘s tough year

Howard has been a rock in the Detroit crease for parts of 14 seasons now, and just last season was one of their few bright spots. All of that is what makes his 2019-20 season so hard to watch.

In his 27 appearances this season Howard has an .882 save percentage — the worst mark in the NHL by a fairly significant margin — to go with a 2-23-2 record.

Here is the complete list of goalies that appeared in at least 25 games in a single season and won two or fewer games:

  • Jimmy Howard (2019-20 Red Wings)
  • Jeff Hackett (1992-93 San Jose Sharks)
  • Michel Dion (1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins)
  • Wilf Cude (1930-31 Philadelphia Quakers)
  • Daniel Berthiaume (1992-93 Ottawa Senators)
  • Michel Belhumeur (1974-75 Washington Capitals)

Howard is one of the most accomplished goalies in franchise history, sitting in the top-four of games played (third), wins (third), save percentage (third) and shutouts (fourth) but not even he was immune to the struggles the rest of the team faced this season.

Another injury for Anthony Mantha

Mantha has played like a bonafide top-line power forward the past two seasons when he’s been healthy and in the lineup. The only thing that has slowed him down are the injuries that robbed him of 43 games since the start of the 2018-19 season.

It’s so disappointing because it’s probably robbed him of a couple of 30-goal seasons.

Over the past two years he has scored at 30-goal, 65-point pace while posting outstanding possessions numbers (better than 53 percent shot-attempt share) on a team that has been completely dominated at even-strength. He is an outstanding player in the prime of his career, and one that probably does not get a lot of attention due to the circumstances around him as well as the fact he has missed so much time to injury.

The continued offensive declines of Frans Nielsen and Justin Abdelkader

Age and injuries continued to add up for two of Detroit’s biggest remaining contracts, at least when it comes to their offensive production.

Nielsen and Abdelkader count nearly $10 million against the salary cap for each of the next three seasons (while Abdelkader has a fourth year remaining on his deal) and combined for just four goals (all belonging to Nielsen) and 12 total points this season. With both players having already celebrated their 33rd birthdays there is little reason to believe those downward trends offensively will rebound in the coming seasons.

You can’t really blame the players themselves because it’s certainly not for a lack of effort and they didn’t offer themselves the contracts. They can also still contribute quite a bit defensively with both being among the Red Wings’ best performing defensive forwards. The disappointment just comes from the fact that their biggest long-term investments are with players that can not really drive their offense in a meaningful way.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings
What is the Red Wings’ long-term outlook?

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Detroit Red Wings.

Detroit Red Wings

Record: 17-49-5 (71 games), eighth place in Atlantic Division
Leading Scorer: Dylan Larkin 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

  • Acquired Brendan Perlini from Chicago Blackhawks for Alec Regula
  • Acquired Robby Fabbri from St. Louis Blues for Jacod De La Rose
  • Acquired Eric Comrie from Arizona Coyotes for Vili Saarijarvi
  • Acquired Kyle Wood from Carolina Hurricanes for Oliwer Kaski
  • Traded Mike Green to Edmonton Oilers for Kyle Brodziak and a conditional 2020 fourth-round draft pick
  • Traded Andreas Athanasiou and Ryan Kuffner to Edmonton Oilers for Sam Gagner, 2020 second-round draft pick, and 2021 second-round draft pick

Season Overview

Everyone had to know this was going to be a tough season for the Detroit Red Wings.

They are in the middle of a complete teardown and rebuild and had already missed the postseason three years in a row. The roster was already short on impact talent and depth when the season began, and it was a given that even more talent was going to be traded away during the season.

But it was still difficult to imagine things being this bad.

The Red Wings not only have the worst record and worst goal differential in the league this season, they were on track to be one of the worst teams in the modern NHL era.

They have won just 17 out of their first 71 games, putting them on pace to win only 19 this season. Since 1990 there have only been 11 teams that failed to win at least 20 games in a season (excluding lockout shortened seasons), and out of that group most of those examples were early expansion seasons for teams like Ottawa, Atlanta, and San Jose.

At the time of the NHL’s season pause they had a minus-122 goal differential for the season, by far the league’s worst. The next worst team? The Ottawa Senators at minus-52. That minus-122 mark is among the 20-worst marks in NHL history through the first 71 games of a season.

For the season they are 31st in goals scored, 31st in goals against, 31st in shots on goal per game, 31st on the penalty kill, 31st in total shot attempt share at even-strength, 29th on the power play, and 27th in shots on goal against per game.

In other words, this particular version of the Red Wings has performed at a level that is comparable to some of the worst expansion teams in NHL history. They are not an expansion team.

That is not to say that the entire situation is hopeless long-term. They do have some intriguing young players to build around, they have stockpiled draft picks, they will have the best shot at landing the top pick in this year’s draft lottery, and Steve Yzerman is one of the most respected executives in the league. He helped turn the franchise once as a player. Now he has a chance to do it as the general manager.

Highlight of the season so far

There are actually a couple! If you wanted, you could point to Anthony Mantha‘s four-goal game against the Dallas Stars back in early October. But we are going to go with their two — TWO! — different wins over the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins are the NHL’s best team this season and running away with the Presidents’ Trophy. They have lost just 14 games in regulation. Two of those losses have come against a Red Wings team that has won just 17 games.

This is why they play the games.

More:
Red Wings biggest surprises and disappointments
What is the Detroit Red Wings’ long-term outlook?

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.