Olympic Stock Watch: Brutal month for Jones; Russian goalie competition

2022 Winter Olympics
NBC Sports

The NHL currently plans on sending players to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, with an early February break in the schedule. For some Olympic men’s hockey teams, most roster spots are no-brainers. That said, there’s room to move. Players can work their way off or onto Olympic rosters. In some cases, a fringe player could end up being key.

PHT’s Olympic Stock Watch monitors ups and downs for players for the U.S. men’s ice hockey team, Team Canada, and other countries hunting for medals.

Olympic Stock: Down

Seth Jones

Woof.

When USA Hockey named Seth Jones among its first three Olympic selections, people already grumbled. Rumblings were picking up about Jones maybe not being quite the elite defenseman many believe(d) him to be, and the Blackhawks hastily paid him to be. Beyond that, Adam Fox is the reigning Norris Trophy winner.

It wasn’t unreasonable to draw line between then-U.S. GM Stan Bowman and Jones being among the first three named (two of three were Blackhawks, as Patrick Kane also received that honor).

Apparently a lot can change in a month.

Bowman is out as both Blackhawks and U.S. Olympic GM. The Blackhawks aren’t just a disaster off the ice — they’re also a mess on it.

Now, it’s absurd to lay all the blame on Jones’ feet. Chicago’s problems stem from before he ever arrived. Yet, if you look beyond scoring totals (11 assists in 13 games), it’s tougher and tougher to argue that he’s anywhere close to a $9.5 million defenseman.

You can’t even just wave it away as Jones being sunk by bad teammates alone. By metrics like Expected Goals, he ranks among the worst even relative to his teammates:

Olympic Stock Watch: Brutal month for Seth Jones, Fleury xGAR
via Evolving Hockey

Without Bowman’s ego attached to the situation, it’s fair to wonder where Jones should slot in. This isn’t the U.S. defense of the past; there are a ton of quality blue liners to choose from.

• USA Hockey management, in general

Grimly, Stan Bowman isn’t the only high-ranking U.S. Olympic official embroiled in off-ice controversy. U.S. assistant GM Bill Guerin was named in a lawsuit steming from his time as Penguins assistant GM.

You may also recall USA Hockey executive John Vanbiesbrouck’s past (in 2003, he resigned as an OHL coach after using a racial slur while describing Trevor Daley).

It all makes you wonder if Bowman’s resignation may be part of a larger change in USA Hockey management. Or, at least, if there should be more changes.

• Marc-Andre Fleury

Much like Jones, you can’t blame the Blackhawks’ blunders on Marc-Andre Fleury alone. This team’s been an absolute disaster defensively — extending beyond when Jones and “MAF” were around.

But there’s no denying Fleury’s stock plummeted with Team Canada. Harsh or not, a brutal month can make people forget about a surprise (but deserved) Vezina win. Quicker than the Blackhawks giving up a lead.

• Jakob Chychrun

After 11 tries, Jakob Chychrun and the Coyotes finally won a game — and only by the skin of their teeth. Amid that misery, Chychrun’s come crashing to Earth.

During that 11-game losing streak, Chychrun went pointless. The big defenseman fired a ton of shots, but his puck luck reversed from last season.

For traditionalists, his minus-20 rating will tell the story. The drop-off in undelying stats is drastic, too.

Last season, Chychrun was elbowing in on a possible Canadian Olympic team spot:

Olympic Stock Watch: Brutal month for Seth Jones, Fleury Chychrun RAPM 1
via Evolving Hockey

After one month, he might be lucky to even receive more than passing consideration.

Olympic Stock Watch: Brutal month for Seth Jones, Fleury Chychrun 2
via Evolving Hockey

Ultimately, the true Chychrun lies somewhere between those extremes. He might be closer to that quite-good player who nonetheless rode an unsustainably hot 2020-21 season. But as the Coyotes suffer, Chychrun’s Olympic chances fade.

Olympic stock: Up

• Russian goalies

After you consider their options on defense, something becomes clear: whoever tends net for the Russian Olympic team is going to have to be sharp.

If some of those candidates stay as hot as they were through one month, maybe that will be the case.

  • Early on, Igor Shesterkin looks like the goalie of the future for the Rangers — and maybe Russia.
  • After some rough years, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s … actually playing like a $10 million goalie?
  • Yes, you can downplay some if based on the Islanders/Trotz/etc. factor, but Ilya Sorokin‘s off to a strong start.

Frequently, Olympic teams like to bring a mix of veteran and young goalies. Russia might get there quite organically.

• Carter Hart? And Braden Holtby?

Want a lesson in waiting to bring out that “Jump to Conclusions” mat? Carter Hart suffered a pretty brutal start to the season, to the point that he might not make it through an early start. The Flyers stuck with Hart, and while there are valleys to go with the peaks, he’s looking … quite good overall?

Neither Hart (3-2-2) nor Braden Holtby (2-3-1) boast great records. But each goalie has a save percentage above .920 so far this season. Generally, that indicates that Holtby and Hart are giving their teams a chance to win. At least most of the time.

That might not be otherworldly praise. Yet, with Team Canada, you often aren’t asking Dominik Hasek to doctor his passport. Instead, you’re generally hoping for competence.

Now, it’s possible that the U.S. men’s Olympic team or another country might raise the bar and force Canada to lean on elite goaltending. Either way, Canada’s options looked pretty limited heading into the 2021-22 season. Neither Hart nor Holtby inspire the utmost competence, but solid might be good enough for Canada.

(At least if Connor McDavid is healthy enough to be, well, Connor McDavid.)

• Jack Eichel?

If PHT’s Olympic Stock Watch went up last week, Jack Eichel’s stock may have been at an all-time low.

Thanks to a surgical impasse and maybe other factors, the Sabres were really dragging their feet when it came to an Eichel trade. That cost Eichel precious months of recovery from his preferred disc replacement surgery.

Logically, it still feels like Eichel is a longshot to play for the U.S. at the 2022 Winter Olympics even as he preps for a Friday surgery which should require a three-month recovery period.

That said, Eichel expressed doing exactly that. Considering how much pent up hockey Eichel must have in his system, would you really want to count him out? (The Golden Knights might be saying “Uh, yes please.”)

At minimum, Eichel’s chances to participate look much better after that trade, so consider his stock up. It would certainly be welcome news for a U.S. team that’s mostly been rocked by ugly headlines.

• To be determined: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Thanks to a past failed drug test, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 2022 Olympic participation is uncertain and recent reports send mixed messages.

If you look at on-ice performance alone, though, Kuznetsov is off to a hot start. Through his first 11 games, he’s generated an impressive 13 points. Ultimately, the Russian’s Olympic hopes aren’t totally in his hands.

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.

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    Former B’s coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
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    BOSTON – The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games on Monday night.

    The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

    In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

    They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

    Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

    Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

    Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

    “Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

    Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

    “This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

    The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

    Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

    “This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

    Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

    Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

    Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

    “We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

    Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

    TRIBUTE

    The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

    The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

    “It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

    FOR THE RECORD

    Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

    EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

    The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

    UP NEXT

    Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers on Wednesday.

    Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.

    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

    kris letang
    Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
    Getty Images
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”