Getty Images

Panthers were wise not to blow things up at trade deadline

5 Comments

Let’s face it. Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon has earned the criticisms he’s absorbed over the years.

The blunders surrounding moves like shedding both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith are well-documented, and the critiques are very much justified.

With the Panthers primed to miss the playoffs for the third straight year (and continue their drought of playoff series wins that stretches back to 1995-96), there was some concern that the Panthers might get antsy and blow things up a bit. Rumors circulated that the Panthers might have had some interest in trading Mike Hoffman, or even more troublingly, Jonathan Huberdeau.

Instead, the Panthers did very little, beyond the seemingly inevitable Derick Brassard trade.

Well, sometimes the best move you can make is no move at all.

Many people were excited about the Panthers’ chances this season after their strong finish to 2017-18, particularly when you consider Florida’s best forwards. Florida could win many best-versus-best battles with a stockpile of Aleksander Barkov, (a healthy) Vincent Trocheck, Evgenii Dadonov, Huberdeau, and Hoffman.

Those forwards (plus some useful defensemen in Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, and Michael Matheson) couldn’t outchance and outscore Florida’s problems, particularly in net, but what if you added, say, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky to an already-impressive mix?

After the trade deadline, Tallon made it clear that the Panthers want to go big in free agency.

“We’ll be very aggressive after the season,” Tallon said on Feb. 25, via the Panthers’ website. “We have lots of room now. We have lots of picks. We’ll turn this into a positive thing. We had some bunt singles, to scratch and claw to improve our organization on a daily basis, and then we’ll eventually hit the home run.”

Affording those sluggers

Indeed, the Panthers moving contracts to clear up space (such as Bjugstad’s $4.1M cap hit) opens up room for Florida to work with. Cap Friendly places their cap spending at a bit more than $61M for 14 players heading into 2019-20, and it’s conceivable that the Panthers could fill roster spots with potentially useful players on entry-level deals, including Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett.

So, there could be quite a bit of room for Panarin and Bobrovsky, but if Florida wanted them both and the combined price tag fell around $20M, it might require some tweaking — even if rookie contracts for Borgstrom and Tippett keep spending down a bit.

The Panthers’ buckets of draft picks might be just as useful for moving problems out, as those picks might actually be for drafting prospects. They’ve really piled them up lately, as Jameson Olive of the Panthers’ site notes:

Looking ahead to the draft, Florida now owns a total of nine picks in 2019 and eight in 2020, including two picks in the first round, two in the second, three in the third and four in the fourth.

Would a package of certain picks convince, say, the Senators to take on James Reimer ($3.4M cap hit through 2020-21) and get to the cap floor? Perhaps Tallon’s old buddies in Chicago would involve picks in a deal for Corey Crawford if a Bobrovsky contract didn’t happen?

There are a number of ways the Panthers can open up space for Panarin in a home-run swing, including the admittedly grim idea of Roberto Luongo‘s quite legitimate injury concerns ultimately landing him on LTIR.

But credit the Panthers with giving themselves a chance at a grand slam, rather than just a solo homer …

Calling their shot

Because, frankly, the Panthers have been through enough rebuilds and quasi-rebuilds at this point. The stage is set for 2019-20 potentially being the old Babe Ruth/Owen Nolan “calling their shot” moment.

With a congested market for forwards at the trade deadline, getting the maximum return for Mike Hoffman didn’t seem realistic. And, honestly? The Panthers wouldn’t be likely to top Hoffman’s considerable sniping skills at his $5.188M cap hit, which expires after 2019-20.

(Huberdeau’s incredibly valuable, too, and his bargain $5.9M is cost-controlled through 2022-23.)

Adding Panarin, or even a consolation prize like Matt Duchene, to an already robust group of forwards could make the Panthers downright scary.

The goaltending situation is trickier, but considering how injury-plagued and generally disappointing this season has been for the Luongo – Reimer tandem, it’s also easy to imagine the Panthers upgrading in that regard.

Going big after Bobrovsky would be awfully risky — although maybe Panarin + Bobrovsky would accept a mild discount as a package deal? Maybe they’d even be willing to go that much lower for the Panthers, who allow for certain tax breaks as a Florida team?

***

There are big stakes here, and the Panthers could really suffer if they swing and whiff.

Instead of this being an off season because of contract distractions or just plain-old goalie struggles, 2018-19 Bobrovsky could be, more or less, the Bobrovsky we might expect going forward.

It’s plausible that Panarin, Duchene, and other, more valuable forwards will decide to re-sign with Columbus after all, or want to join a more established team than Florida.

There are nightmare scenarios where Plans A-Y fall through, and the Panthers waste a ton of money on an ill-advised Plan Z.

Still, for a franchise that’s often felt aimless, the Panarin target seems like something to shoot for. There’s already considerable talent on hand in Florida, and there’s room to work with to really bring things to the next level. It was wiser not to take a few steps backward, even if it remains to be seen if they can land the big leap that awaits.

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.

The Buzzer: Vatrano’s four-point night; Laviolette earns win No. 600

Getty Images
2 Comments

Three Stars

1. Frank Vatrano, Florida Panthers: Continuing his career year, Vatrano notched his 16th goal and added three assists as the Panthers beat the San Jose Sharks 6-2. The score was knotted at two as the third period began but goals from Keith Yandle and Vincent Trocheck nine seconds apart blew the game open in the Panthers’ favor. Aleksander Barkov chipped in with three helpers of his own. According to the NHL, Vatrano is the third undrafted player in franchise history to record a four-point game, joining Steve Reinprecht and Jesse Belanger.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: The Finnish netminder turned aside 35 of 36 shots he faced as Nashville downed the Colorado Avalanche 4-1. The win snapped Rinne’s three-game losing streak and helped Predators head coach Peter Laviolette earn his 600th NHL victory. Nick Bonino recorded his 100th career goal and now has four goals in his last four games. Nashville has won 12 of its last 13 regular-season games against Colorado.

3. Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild: Staal scored his 15th of the season and later helped set up Charlie Coyle‘s game-winning goal during a 4-2 Wild victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. Devan Dubnyk made 30 saves and has stopped 64 of his last 67 shots faced. Minnesota is now 4-0-1 against Vegas and are one of two teams (St. Louis) without a regulation loss against the reigning Western Conference champions.

Highlights of the Night

Pretty little goal here from Viktor Arvidsson, who leads all NHL players with 10 goals since the calendar turned to 2019:

Paul LaDue‘s first goal since October was the difference as the Kings topped the Blues:

Congrats to Mackenzie MacEachern for scoring his first NHL goal in the Blues loss:

One heck of an effort by Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise to help set up Mikko Koivu‘s empty-netter:

Justin Braun‘s going to want another shot at this one:

Factoids of the Night

• Via the AP: Laviolette is the 20th coach in NHL history to each 600 career wins and third this season joining John Tortorella and Claude Julien.

• Per the NHL, birthday boy Jonathan Quick recorded his 302nd victory, which is fourth-best among U.S.-born goaltenders. He’s now 67 behind Tom Barrasso.

• Also per the NHL, Aaron Ekblad of the Panthers is the 13th defenseman in the League’s modern era (since 1943-44) to record at least 10 goals in each of his first five seasons.

Scores
Predators 4, Avalanche 1
Kings 4, Blues 3
Wild 4, Golden Knights 2
Panthers 6, Sharks 2

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: History for Lundqvist; Blood from McDavid

Getty
8 Comments

Three Stars

1. Jonathan Marchessault

The Golden Knights have been pretty hot lately (now eight wins in their last 10 games), but Marchessault isn’t having the easiest time. Heading into Saturday, he only had a goal and an assist in his last 10 contests.

Marchessault broke out during Vegas’ lopsided win against the Penguins, generated his second career hat trick. He’s the second Golden Knights player to generate a hat trick, with William Karlsson providing the other two.

This gives Marchessault 17 goals and 34 points in 50 games this season.

2. Steven Stamkos

Stamkos extended his point streak to six games with two goals and an assist, giving him three goals and seven assists for 10 points during that span.

This gives Stamkos 26 goals in 2018-19, one short of last season’s total.

3. Tyson Barrie

The Avalanche lit up the Kings on Saturday, and Barrie played into that, collecting three assists. Barrie now has five assists in his last three games.

It’s quite the season so far for the underrated offensive defenseman, as he has 37 points in 44 games. The Avs blueliner was quite impressive last season, too, as his 57 points came in just 68 contests last season.

Barrie’s 37 points ties him for eighth among defensemen with Keith Yandle, even though Barrie’s missed some time with injuries.

Rough, eventful night for the Oilers

Connor McDavid wasn’t just on the losing end of a game against the Flames, he was also left bloodied on Saturday.

Despite the loss, Mikko Koskinen made some impressive saves. This behind-the-back bit was the odder one, while this one was more … traditional?

Consider this a 3b (or maybe 2b?) for the three stars: Mark Giordano generated a goal and two assists for three points in this one. Giordano now has an outstanding 52 points in 48 games this season, leaving him just four points behind his career-high of 56 from 2015-16.

Hey, at least Milan Lucic is heating up for the Oilers, right bummed out fans?

Oh yeah, the Zamboni also broke down, playing into the night of comic relief.

Highlights of the Night

Here’s that behind-the-back Koskinen save, to spare you a click:

Nolan Patrick really did pull a move straight out of “NHL 19,” didn’t he?

This Stamkos to Yanni Gourde goal is a lot of fun to watch.

Factoids

Up next at fifth place is Curtis “Cujo” Joseph, who’s at 454 wins. After that, it’s a steeper climb to fourth place (Roberto Luongo at 480 and counting).

Scores

ANA 3 – NJD 2
COL 7 – LAK 1
STL 3 – OTT 2
DAL 4 – WPG 2
NYR 3 – BOS 2
PHI 5 – MTL 2
TBL 6 – SJS 3
FLA 4 – NSH 2
MIN 2 – CBJ 1
VGK 7 – PIT 3
CGY 5 – EDM 2

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.

The Buzzer: Seguin again; Karlsson keeps cooking

Getty

Three Stars

1. Blake Wheeler

By my most recent count, there were 12 skaters who generated at least three points on Tuesday, so sussing out three stars is especially difficult. (At least the goalies mostly cooperated, as Tuukka Rask‘s shutout was of the modest, 24-save variety.)

Wheeler is the one player whose night stood out the most, as he topped everyone with four points: one goal and three assists. His goal was a) shorthanded and b) one of the best highlights of the night, throwing two cherries on top.

Two of Wheeler’s Jets teammates hit three points in Winnipeg’s win, as well, as both Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba enjoyed one-goal, two-assist performances.

2. Tyler Seguin

In determining the other two stars, let’s go with the most exciting stories. This is highly subjective, so feel free to close your eyes and picture your choices taking up these spots, instead.

(Going to stand my ground about Wheeler, though. That’s math for you.)

Seguin remains red-hot, with the only drawback being that a ton of people are probably going to give profanity-laced CEO directives the credit, rather than a prodigiously talented player who’s finally getting the bounces we’ve been wah-wah-ing about.

The Stars star extended his point streak to six games with two goals and an assist. Seguin’s generated six goals and four assists during that span, with half of those games including multi-point efforts.

3. Erik Karlsson

Seguin gets the edge because two of his three points were goals, while all three of Karlsson’s points were assists. But Karlsson is going to ratchet up his Norris Trophy hype considering just how scorching his streak really is.

Karlsson now has a 14-game assist streak, joining a ridiculous group of scoring defensemen that only includes Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Phil Housley, and Brian Leetch. Expanding out, he’s only the 13th defenseman to generate a point streak of at least 14 games, and just the sixth since 1990-91.

Karlsson’s plus/minus ended up being +3 in this one, he generated five shots on goal, and logged 23:45 of ice time, so this was quite the all-around effort. The Sharks are really heating up, and it’s no coincidence that Karlsson and Brent Burns are leading the charge.

Again, Tuesday was brimming with other worthy runners-up. Sharks forward Evander Kane was one of the other players who generated three points, by the way.

Highlights

Again, that Blake Wheeler SHG was sweet. Scheifele deserves serious kudos here, too, naturally.

What do you get when you combine a figure skater with a high-end sniper? You get Jeff Skinner, who’s going to get paid.

Andreas Athanasiou provided some sweet sniping, particularly on the first of his two goals (jump in around the 1:10 mark to see it develop):

More Factoids

Scores

BOS 4 – MIN 0
BUF 5 – NJD 1
CAR 4 – NYI 3
PIT 5 – FLA 1
WSH 5 – PHI 3
MTL 3 – DET 2
TBL 4 – CBJ 0
DAL 3 – STL 1
WPG 7 – COL 4
VGK 4 – NYR 2
SJS 7 – EDM 2

(Seems like quite a busy night to have no overtime, eh?)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Eight stunning numbers from first half of season

Getty
8 Comments

Every month we will take a look around the NHL at some stunning (or even bizarre) numbers that jump out at us.

This month we take a look at the return of the 100-point scorer,the Flyers’ revolving door of goalies, and some impressive individual performances around the NHL, including from a pair of standout rookies.

The 100-point scorer might be back

Did not think this was ever going to happen. Not with the way the game was trending for so long.

Entering play on Friday there are currently 13 players in the NHL that are on pace for more than 100 points this season (and that does not include players like Patrice Bergeron and Auston Matthews who are on a 100-point pace over 82 games but have missed too much time due to injury to actually threaten the 100-point mark) and a few others on pace for 98 or 99 points and could make a run at it.

Let’s think about those numbers for a second.

  • During the 2017-18 season there were only three 100-point scorers in the NHL (Connor McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, and Claude Giroux), and at the halfway point there were only four player on a pace to reach it.
  • In the seven years prior to last season there were only five 100-point scorers in the NHL, and never more than one in a single season.
  • The last time the NHL had more than 10 100-point scorers in a single season was 1995-96. The last time there were 13 was the 1992-93 season when more than 20 players topped it.

There was an eight or nine year stretch where even reaching 90 points seemed to be impossible, given the way the games were being officiated, the quality of the goaltending, and the way the league had become such a structured defensive game. Just like it wasn’t one specific thing that resulted in the decline in scoring, it hasn’t been just one specific thing that’s resulted in the reversal. Goalie equipment has gotten smaller, power plays are up a little bit, three-on-three overtime has added some goals, and, quite frankly, there has been a pretty good influx of young superstar talent to enter the league that has been given a bit more freedom to create.

The Flyers’ revolving door of goalies

After claiming Mike McKenna on waivers the Philadelphia Flyers could be in a position to use a seventh goalie this season. The season is just now half over. Only two teams in the league this season have had to use more than three different goalies, while none have had to use more than four. The Flyers are already at six and have a very real chance of using seven.

What is most amazing about this number is that all six goalies have appeared in at least two games, and five of them have appeared in at least five.

[Related: Flyers welcome Mike McKenna to the goalie carousel

An historically great offense in Tampa Bay

At the halfway point the Tampa Bay Lightning are averaging 4.17 goals per game, an incredible number in any era.

In the history of the league only 70 teams have scored more goals than Tampa Bay’s 171 through the first 41 games of a season, and the overwhelming majority of those teams played in the firewagon days of the 1980s when goalies were awful and power plays were plentiful.

Since 1990, only nine teams have topped that mark through 41 games, and all but one of those teams played between 1990 and 1993 (the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins are the lone exception) just before the start of the dead puck era.

The Lightning are truly scoring goals like a team from a different era.

The second-highest scoring team in the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs, is at 3.67, an incredible 0.50 goals per game behind the Lightning. The gap between Tampa Bay and Toronto (which is also an obscenely good and deep offensive team), is the same as the gap between Toronto and the 11th highest scoring team in the league, the Ottawa Senators.

They are also scoring on 30.5 percent of their power plays. Only three teams in league history have ever finished a full season higher than 30 percent — the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens, the 1977-78 New York Islanders, and the 1978-79 New York Islanders.

Elias Lindholm has already exceeded anything he has ever done in the NHL 

I admit, I hated the Dougie Hamilton trade for the Calgary Flames because they were dealing an elite defender for a package of players that … did not seem elite.

It has gone better for the Flames than I — or really anyone — could have expected because one of the key players in that deal, Elias Lindholm, is having an absolutely magnificent season.

Entering play on Friday he has already scored 20 goals, recorded 28 assists, and totaled 48 points in 42 games.

Before this season his previous career highs in those respective categories were 17, 34 (he will almost certainly pass that one soon), and 45.

Granted, a lot of this production (especially as it relates to the goals) is tied to a 19.8 shooting percentage that will only regress, but it has still been a huge surprise season for the Flames.

Morgan Rielly chasing history

With 44 points in his first 40 games, the Toronto Maple Leafs defender is on pace for 90 points this season. Only 10 different defenders in league history have topped that mark, and none have done it Ray Bourque during the 1993-94 season.

The list of defenders to do it: Paul Coffey (seven times), Bobby Orr (six times), Ray Bourque (four times), Denis Potvin (three times), Al MacInnis (two times), Phil Housley (one time), Brian Leetch (one time), Gary Suter (one time).

Elias Pettersson‘s elite company

The Vancouver Canucks rookie was injured again on Thursday night, and that is terrible news for his team and the league. He has been one of the the most explosive rookies to enter the league in quite some time.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season only three rookies have ever scored more than Pettersson’s 22 goals in the first 38 games of their career.

Teemu Selanne with 30 goals in 1992-93, Eric Lindros with 27 goals in 1992-93, and Alex Ovechkin with 24 goals in 2005-06.

[Related: Canucks’ Pettersson leaves game with ugly looking leg injury]

Speaking of great rookie performances

Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres, has been having a noteworthy rookie season of his own.

The 18-year-old has already tallied 20 points in his first 41 games. Going as far back as 1987 only one other rookie defenseman at the age of 18 had more points than that (Aaron Ekblad with 24 points for the Florida Panthers during the 2014-15 season). Nobody else has recorded more than 15 during that stretch.

Playmaker Blake Wheeler

We touched on Blake Wheeler’s stat line a month ago and it hasn’t really changed.

In 39 games this season he has recorded 44 assists for the Jets.

He has only scored six goals.

Over the past 35 years no player has recorded at least 44 assists through the first half of the season and scored fewer goals.

(Data in this post via the Hockey-Reference database)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.