In this week’s Conn Smythe Trophy edition of the NHL Power Rankings we have a new name at the top.
Miro Heiskanen climbs into our No. 1 spot as he has helped the Stars jump out to a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Avalanche.
Heiskanen is driving an offense that has stunned everyone this postseason, while also being their go-to player defensively. He has made a noticeable impact in every phase of the game and has been one of the postseason’s most consistently impressive players.
The Stars are a win away from reaching the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2008, and Heiskanen’s rise to superstardom is one of the biggest reasons why.
1. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. Already highly regarded coming into this season, his performance so far is not only putting him in the running for the Conn Smythe, it is also going to help make him one of the favorites for the 2020-21 Norris Trophy.
2. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are in a world of trouble against the Stars, but you can not blame MacKinnon. His play is one of the reasons why you should not immediately dismiss the possibility of a comeback. He has been the most dynamic offensive player in the playoffs and a constant force every single time he is on the ice. He has four goals and eight points through four games against Dallas.
3. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. His line, which also features Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson, is just steamrolling the Canucks right now. Stone is at the center of all of it. They paid a steep price to get him and made a huge financial commitment ($9.5M per year), but he is absolutely worth it.
4. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. Point’s play is a big reason the Lightning have been able to overcome the absence of Steven Stamkos and keep winning. He has recorded at least one point in all but one of Tampa’s games, has three multi-point games, and two overtime goals. He may not be the biggest star in the lineup, but he is one of their most important players.
5. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, New York Islanders. What a pickup he has turned out to be. Pageau is a new name on this list and has really helped jumpstart the Islanders offense with seven goals. He has also played a huge role defensively for a team that has shut down and frustrated every star player it has faced.
6. Shea Theodore, Vegas Golden Knights. Another new name this week, Theodore has been one of the most overlooked components to this Golden Knights team. He is one of their big-minute eaters on the blue line, helps drive possession, and has been a huge offensive driving force. Another of their expansion draft steals three years ago.
7. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders. He has a .935 save percentage and two shutouts in his first 12 starts this postseason. The combination of their defensive play and his play in net has made every Islanders game seem like a “first goal wins” kind of event.
8. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. If I had more confidence in the Canucks’ ability to come back I would have him higher because he has been one of the most impactful players in the playoffs. But I am having a hard time seeing the Vancouver being able to win three in a row against Vegas, which means Pettersson’s run might end this week.
9. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. This postseason has been somewhat of an resurgence for Benn, and it is helping to drive the Stars’ offensive turnaround. They have been the best offensive team since the playoffs began, with Benn being especially hot over his past 10 games.
10. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. Point’s performance has kind of overshadowed what Kucherov has been able to do, but he is still one of the main cogs in the Tampa machine. He has 10 points over the past five games, including eight points in the first four games against the Bruins.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Saturday, Sept. 19 in the hub city of Edmonton. Now that we are through the conference finals, the full 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule has been announced.
The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round.
Rogers Place in Edmonton will host 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final.
Here is the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final schedule.
2020 STANLEY CUP FINAL (Rogers Place – Edmonton)
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (DAL leads 1-0)
Game 1: Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap) Game 2: Monday, Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream) Game 3: Wednesday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream) Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream) *Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC *Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC *Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
The New York Islanders have come a long way in two years.
It was the summer of the 2018 when things were looking bleak. They had missed the playoffs two years in a row and were an afterthought in the NHL. Making matters worse, their franchise player (John Tavares) bolted in free agency for Toronto after more than a year of contract drama.
But during that same offseason the Islanders hired a Hall of Fame general manager (Lou Lamoriello) and the reigning Stanley Cup winning head coach (Barry Trotz). All they have done since is go from being the absolute worst defensive team in the league to one of the best, compile the seventh best record in the league over the past two regular seasons, and have more postseason success than the organization had experienced in nearly three decades.
Just for some perspective on how far they have come…
In the first two years of the Lamoriello-Trotz duo the Islanders have already won three playoff series and 14 total playoff games.
In the 24 seasons prior to that the Islanders won only one playoff series and only 16 total playoff games.
It is not even a case of Lamoriello overhauling the roster. If you look at the Islanders’ top-11 point producers from this season, 10 of them were players that were members of the organization before he arrived. His most impactful additions in the two years have been the hiring of Trotz, the signing of a new starting goalie each year (Robin Lehner last year, Semyon Varlamov this season), and this year’s trade deadline acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Outside of Varlamov and Pageau, this is mostly the same roster that finished with 80 points and missed the playoffs by double digit points during the 2017-18 season. The turnaround is a testament to the goaltending improvement (and they have Ilya Sorokin coming next season) as well as the stability and structure that Trotz has brought to the team.
And that is what Lamoriello and Trotz have brought. Stability and respectability.
All of it has gotten then closer to a championship than they have been in nearly 30 years.
Now that they are here, how do they not only stay here, but also take the next step?
Which Islanders team is the REAL Islanders team?
This is the big question that has to be answered, because we saw two very different performances from this team this season.
Through the first 20 regular season games the Islanders were 16-3-1 and were in the process of putting together a 17-game point streak (15-0-2).
They followed that up by going in the tank for the remainder of the regular season and were statistically one of the league’s worst teams over their final 48 games (19-20-9 record), while also finishing on a seven-game losing streak (as part of a 2-5-4 stretch).
Then they came out in the playoffs after the four-month layoff and just started dominating teams again (Florida, Washington, and Philadelphia), right up until they ran into Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final.
Just like the 2018-19 season, they found their success this season despite some ugly underlying numbers, which doesn’t seem to be a thing that is going to change with this roster or playing style.
It is important to point out that the Islanders did have some major injury issues during that middle part, with defenseman Adam Pelech being the biggest. His return in the playoffs was a huge factor, as was the arrival of Pageau via trade with the Ottawa Senators. They are excellent players, and having a full season of Pageau will definitely help.
They could still use another impact forward
They saw a nice spike in scoring this postseason, but this is still one of the weaker offensive teams in the league at both even-strength and on the power play.
Yes, their game is all about defense and goaltending. And yes they have found success with that the past two seasons. But there is still a lot to be said for adding another potential game-breaker to a lineup that really only has one of them (Mathew Barzal).
That is not to take away from some of their forwards on the roster because there are some really productive players there. But after Barzal there really isn’t another player that is going to consistently strike fear into an opponent.
The problem: Finding another player like that isn’t easy.
Internally, the Islanders’ top forward prospects are Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, and Simon Holmstrom. Is there an impact player here? And if so, how soon?
The Islanders have $8 million salary cap space right now, but almost all of that (and perhaps more) is going to get eaten up by Barzal’s new contract (he is a restricted free agent). That means they will need to shed or hide salary somewhere else (and there are plenty of contenders for that).
On the free agent market Taylor Hall is the top forward available but he seems like a pipe dream given the salary situation (both his and the salary cap situation). Mike Hoffman or Evgeni Dadonov coming out of Florida could be intriguing.
Beyond that, it is slim pickings and you are looking into the trade market.
Hope Ilya Sorokin is the real deal
This one is pretty simple.
Great goaltending changes everything.
Islanders fans have been waiting for Sorokin for years now, and they will finally get a chance to see him next season. If he becomes the player they want him to be — and hope he can be — that gives them another outstanding goalie duo along with Varlamov.
Nothing cover up for shots against and below average offense like outstanding goaltending. If this guy is legit, the Islanders will be as well.
The 2020 NHL awards will be handed out to the top players, coaches, and general managers around the league during the postseason.
In normal times the 2020 NHL awards would be given out during a big to-do in Las Vegas at the end of June. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the winners will be announced in two parts. Last week NHL awards such as the Masterton, Jack Adams, Selke, and GM of the Year, among others, were revealed during the NBC Sports pre-game shows before each of the Conference Finals games.
The bigger 2019-20 NHL awards such as the Hart, Calder, Norris, Vezina, and Lindsay will be handed out Monday night at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream) before the start of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Pro Hockey Talk staff made our own votes for a collective ballot. Each place was given a numerical value with 5 points for first, 4 points for second, 3 points for third, 2 points for fourth, and 1 point for a fifth-place vote.
Votes were submitted by PHT writers Sean Leahy, James O’Brien, and Adam Gretz, as well as Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor, and Jake Abrahams, NBCSports.com Managing Editor of NHL content. All ballots were submitted before the start of the NHL Return to Play.
LEAHY: He was an expensive free agent signing, but proved to be an impactful one, finishing fourth overall in the scoring race with 95 points. The Bread Man had the most 5-on-5 points (71) and assists (46), and was a plus-40 in even strength goal differential when he was on the ice.
O’BRIEN: Carlson’s 10-point edge (75 to 65) over Josi will be tough to ignore, especially for more traditionally-minded voters. But Josi has blossomed as a player who’s better in all areas of the ice, including his own end — but also in transition, where he’s crucial at lugging the puck for the Predators. I don’t know how long Josi will be worth the $9M cap hit he’ll begin registering in 2020-21, but he was more like an $11M defenseman this season.
O’BRIEN: This was a special season for rookie defensemen — already saying something a year after Rasmus Dahlin debuted — as Hughes faced competition from the likes of Adam Fox, not just the brilliant Cale Makar. But, while it won’t count toward the Calder, we saw that Hughes is special not just because of his offensive ability, but by being one of the best all-around defensemen right out of the gate. It really feels like these playoffs are a “passing of the torch” to great young defensemen (see also: Miro Heiskanen) and Hughes enjoyed a rookie year for the ages.
LEAHY: Hellebuyck’s .929 5-on-5 save percentage was fifth-best in the NHL and his six shutouts were tops in the league. How valuable was he for Winnipeg? He helped the Jets win 31 of their 37 games during the regular season and he faced 37-or-more shots in 13 games, posting a .948 save percentage over that span.
GRETZ: O’Reilly has become one of the NHL’s best all-around players and a cornerstone piece of what has become one of the best defensive teams in hockey. He plays big minutes against other team’s top players and not only shuts them down (no forward with a minimum of 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season was on the ice for fewer shot attempts against per 60 minutes), but he also plays a tough, physical game without taking penalties. It is an incredible — and very unique — combination.
ABRAHAMS: When Johns returned to the Stars’ lineup in January following a 22-month absence, we knew he had been dealing with post-traumatic headaches, but there weren’t really any other details surrounding his time away from the game. Then, when this story from The Athletic was published in June, we learned that he had not only battled chronic pain, but also anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Johns persevered through those significant physical and mental health issues to resume his promising NHL career, and through making his story public, he hopes others dealing with emotional trauma or mental health will be encouraged to seek help.
JIM GREGORY GM of the YEAR (Presented to recognize the work of the NHL’s top general manager.)
1. Joe Sakic, Avalanche (23 pts.) 2. Kelly McCrimmon, Golden Knights (7 pts.) Jeff Gorton, Rangers (7 pts.) 3. Lou Lamoriello, Islanders (5 pts.) 4. Don Sweeney, Bruins (4 pts.) Julien BriseBois, Lightning (4 pts.)
Don Waddell, Hurricanes (4 pts.) Jarmo Kekalainen, Blue Jackets (4 pts.) 5.Chuck Fletcher, Flyers (3 pts.)
ABRAHAMS: Sakic led the Avs to the second-best regular record in the West, despite significant injuries to a number of the team’s top players (an issue that arose once again in the playoffs). Though he inherited franchise cornerstones Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, he has assembled pretty much every other aspect of the roster. From drafting and developing Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, to acquiring key pieces via trade such as Nazem Kadri, Samuel Girard, and Ryan Graves, to finding value in free agency with Joonas Donskoi and Pavel Francouz, Sakic has constructed a true Cup contender. Colorado also ranks among the league leaders in terms of available cap space, so they should be well equipped – at least, relative to other top teams – to sustain their championship window.
JACK ADAMS AWARD (Awarded to the NHL head coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”)
1. John Tortorella, Blue Jackets (21 pts.) 2. Alain Vigneault, Flyers (16 pts.) 3.Bruce Cassidy, Bruins (11 pts.) 4. Jared Bednar, Avalanche (5 pts.) 5. Mike Sullivan, Penguins, (4 pts.) 6. Dave Tippett, Oilers (3 pts.)
FINEWAX: When the 2018-19 season ended, the Blue Jackets were left for the dead as they were on the verge of losing Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene and Dzingel. They lost all four and were considered a bottom-three team by many, but Tortorella put together his usual great system and had them on the verge of the playoffs the whole season. They beat Toronto in the play-in series and gave the Islanders all they could handle in a tough five-game series. But his work in the regular season was outstanding as the Blue Jackets had no business making the playoffs with their roster after losing so many stars.
LADY BYNG TROPHY: (Awarded to NHL “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”)
1. Jaccob Slavin, Hurricanes (14 pts.) 2. Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche (12 pts.) 3. Ryan O’Reilly, Blues (11 pts.) Ryan Suter, Wild (11 pts.) 4. Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets (8 pts.) 5. Miro Heiskanen, Stars (7 pts.) 6.Aleksander Barkov, Panthers (5 pts.) 7.Teuvo Teravainen, Hurricanes (4 pts.) 8.Brayden Point, Lightning (3 pts.) 9.Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs (2 pts.)
GRETZ: Slavin might be one of the cleanest players the league has seen in years. In almost 1,600 minutes of ice-time during the regular season, in a top-pairing role against the most skilled players in the world on a nightly basis, Slavin committed just five minor penalties for the entire season. Two of those minor penalties were delay of game puck over the glass calls. His other three penalties were a trip (the only stick infraction), a hold, and an interference. No high-sticking, no roughing, no hits to the head, no slashing. Just a clean, solid, by-the-book player that is one of the best players in the league at his position.
Back on Friday, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that the St. Louis Blues told Alex Pietrangelo to “pursue unrestricted free agency” after contract talks broke down. In an interview with The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford, Pietrangelo confirmed that report.
The Blues star defenseman told Rutherford (sub required) that he hasn’t totally ruled out having a “change of heart” and returning to St. Louis. But it doesn’t really sound like the player and team see eye-to-eye on contract negotiations.
“We just think right now, with where things are at, that maybe it’s best for both sides to see what’s going on in free agency, what the team can explore, what I can explore and if there are better fits for each side,” Pietrangelo said, via Rutherford.
“ … We’re two weeks away. Not saying anything can’t change, but as of right now, that’s kind of our plan, and we’ll see where things go.”
What to know about Pietrangelo as Blues departure, free agency likely
Rutherford points to rumblings that Pietrangelo and the Blues didn’t just struggle with raw contract numbers, such as signing bonuses and cap hits. Apparently there likely were stumbling blocks, such as the topic of no-trade/no-movement clauses, term, and ways to protect against a buyout.
So, it’s likely worth considering that Pietrangelo would prefer term and a big number. Being that he’s been massively underpaid at $6.5M per year since 2013-14, it’s understandable that Pietrangelo wants to strike it rich.
And, even with massive pandemic-related financial uncertainty, Pietrangelo could get what he wants, or close to it. Defensemen like Pietrangelo simply do not hit free agency very often in the NHL’s salary cap era.
We have his most likely contract at 8 years x $8.43MM fwiw (60% likelihood of the 8 year term as well, which is very high). He's the kind of defenseman that GMs *payyy*.
By just about every measure, Pietrangelo is an excellent defenseman. While he may struggle to maintain his 2019-20 scoring pace (career-high 16 goals, 52 points overall in 70 games), Pietrangelo can really benefit an offense. And he’s generally quite competent defensively, to boot.
But Pietrangelo is also 30.
If it’s term-or-bust, then some contenders might feel a little trigger shy. Or, frankly, they should.
Basically, signing Pietrangelo to big term and money could be very high-risk, high-reward. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that multiple NHL teams would be willing to roll the dice, even during these shaky financial times.
If Pietrangelo leaves Blues for free agency, which NHL teams might pounce?
This isn’t a comprehensive list, yet let’s consider teams under two broader categories.
Potential Pietrangelo suitors with a lot of cap space and chances to contend
Colorado Avalanche: As of this writing, Cap Friendly places the Avs’ cap space at more than $22.3M. While Andre Burakovsky and Ryan Graves rank among those who should eat up a healthy portion of that surplus, Colorado sits in a position to exploit an unstable market. This is close to the ideal situation if Pietrangelo prizes Stanley Cup contention.
But finding the right term could be the sticking point, and the Avalanche might make more sense as a fallback plan if Pietrangelo can’t thread the needle between contending and getting the biggest, longest deal possible.
At least, the Avalanche should really push for huge money, but short term. With Cale Makar‘s rookie deal set to expire in 2020-21, and other concerns (only three more seasons of stealing Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog due for a raise after next season), Colorado needs to be smart here.
Calgary Flames: Maybe Calgary takes a wild swing with some concerns about their window closing?
Winnipeg Jets:Connor Hellebuyck obscured serious issues on defense last season, yet you wonder how often he can pull a rabbit of a hat. Pietrangelo could patch up (some of) the crater left behind by defensive departures.
Lots of cap space, maybe not the best hockey fit from Pietrangelo’s perspective
Buffalo Sabres: Following that shrewd Eric Staal trade, maybe the Sabres can improve their defense by adding Alex Pietrangelo? Kevyn Adams boasts an estimated $34.46M in cap space, and only a few players to worry about re-signing. Granted, like with Makar and Heiskanen, the Sabres need to pencil in money for Rasmus Dahlin‘s second contract.
Yes, Buffalo has been burned badly by big free agent bets over the years. Still, with an angsty fan base and room to give Pietrangelo the blockbuster deal he craves, they could be an outside-the-box fit.
Florida Panthers: Hey, you’re dug in with Sergei Bobrovsky, why not try to protect that investment by giving him some defensive support? Sure, it could also mean about $20M spent on aging free agents but … uh … *trails off*
New Jersey Devils: What if this team isn’t quite as bad as it looked last season? That may be a stretch, but New Jersey has a ton of cap space.
Montreal Canadiens: When in doubt, assume Marc Bergevin has something weird and wild up his (challenged-by-muscles) sleeves.
A cap-strapped team gets creative?
OK, this is honestly meant to be a catch-all for the dreamers out there. Could the Toronto Maple Leafs really jump through hoops and sign Pietrangelo in free agency? It’s tough to imagine that if Pietrangelo steadfastly demands a long-term, big-money deal.
Now, if those deals aren’t out there? Maybe Pietrangelo accepts a short-term fix to have fun and chase a Stanley Cup. Then, ideally, he’d get that mega contract when things (hopefully) settle down.
(Take the money and run, Pietro.)
Any other teams or scenarios stick out as possible destinations for Pietrangelo in free agency? Could the Blues pull off a stunner and bring their captain back? Do tell.