Aaron Ekblad

PHT Morning Skate: Top 30 free agents; Golden Knights could make changes

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here’s the NBC Sports Stanley Cup playoff update for May 1

• What type of statistics should you expect from your backup goalie? (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The Washington Capitals will have to shed some salary if they’re going to add to their talented roster. (CSN Washington)

Morgan Rielly has to be the front-runner to be the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Toronto Star)

• How has Anders Lee performed in the playoffs for the Islanders this year? (Lighthouse Hockey)

• The Pittsburgh Penguins have a rich history with the Hart Trophy. (Pensburgh)

• Like soccer, the NHL might have a diving problem. (Bleedin Blue)

• The Golden Knights roster could look very different heading into next season. (Las Vegas Sun)

• The fact that the Oilers will have a new GM this summer makes their offseason plan unpredictable right now. (Oilers Nation)

• The Hockey News breaks down the top 30 unrestricted free agents of 2019. (The Hockey News)

Cale Makar went from playing college hockey to jumping into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a hurry. (ESPN)

• We can start thinking about Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby‘s next contracts. (Washington Post)

• The Lightning can’t use the laundry list of upsets in the playoffs as a “get out of jail free” card. (Tampa Bay Times)

Aaron Ekblad had a relatively quiet season, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t productive for the Panthers. (The Rat Trick)

• The Detroit News ranked the top 50 Red Wings in order of organizational value. (Detroit News)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Pettersson, Binnington, Dahlin are Calder Trophy finalists

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The NHL announced on Saturday the three finalists for the Calder Trophy, the award that is handed out annually to the league’s top rookie.

The finalists for the 2018-19 season are Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, and Buffalo Sabres defender Rasmus Dahlin, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft.

The award is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

The NHL’s top rookie has been honored since 1936 when Frank Calder, president of the NHL, began purchasing a trophy that was to be handed out to the top rookie every year. Following Calder’s death in 1943 the league began presenting the Calder Trophy in his memory.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The case for Pettersson: He was not only an impact player from the moment he arrived in the NHL, but also a constant highlight reel for the Canucks. He finished the regular season with the most goals (28) and points (66) among all rookies even though he missed 11 games due to injury. No other rookie in the NHL finished the season with more than 22 goals or 45 points. He was so far ahead of the pack offensively that the gap between him and the second-leading rookie scorer, Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk, was the same as the gap between Tkachuk and the 17th leading rookie scorer (Minnesota’s Jordan Greenway.) He also had multiple five-point games during the season, something only five other rookies have done during the expansion era of the NHL. This is the second year in a row the Canucks will have a Calder Trophy finalist after Brock Boeser was the runner-up this past season.

The case for Binnington: Simply put, Binnington was a season-saver for the Blues along with new coach Craig Berube. When he made his first NHL start on Jan. 7 the Blues had one of the worst records in the NHL, had an unsettled goaltending situation that had been sinking their team through the first half of the season, and seemed to be a team that was simply going nowhere. All Binnington did that night was stop all 25 shots he faced in a 3-0 shutout over the Philadelphia Flyers and then never stopped winning. He finished the regular season with a 24-5-1 record and a .927 save percentage that was fourth among all NHL goalies that appeared in at least 30 games, trailing only Ben Bishop, Robin Lehner, and Jack Campbell. That performance helped the Blues not only make the playoffs, but also make a late run at the Central Division title. He has continued that strong play into the postseason where he has helped lead the Blues to a Round 2 matchup with the Dallas Stars.

The case for Dahlin: The No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Dahlin stepped right into the Sabres lineup and immediately became one of their go-to defenders as an 18-year-old. He had a huge year that saw him play more than 20 minutes per game and finish with 44 points, third among all rookies. The truly impressive thing about that point total is that only one other defender in the history of the league had a higher total during their age 18 season. Phil Housley, Dahlin’s coach during his rookie season, had 66 points during the 1982-83 season. If Dahlin wins the award he would be only the 12th defender to win it, and only the third since 1998 (Barrett Jackman, Tyler Myers, and Aaron Ekblad).

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.

NHL Draft Lottery: What Blackhawks, Rangers gained; what Kings, Avalanche lost

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On Tuesday night 15 NHL teams had a significant part of their future come down to a couple of ping pong balls.

In the end, it was the New Jersey Devils getting the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft for the second time in three years, going from the third spot in the lottery up to the top spot. It is there that they will have the opportunity to select prized prospect Jack Hughes and add him to their core alongside Nico Hischier (the No. 1 overall pick two years ago) and, hopefully, Taylor Hall assuming they can work out a long-term contract extension.

It was a great night for the Devils and their fans, but they were not the only team to win big.

Others, however, lost big.

It’s not an earth-shattering revelation to point out that there is a significant difference between picking first versus picking fourth, or picking third instead of 12th. You can find good players at any pick in any round, and there are always good players available, it’s just that your odds drop dramatically with each spot.

Obviously the higher you pick in the draft, the better chance you have to land an impact player that can change the long-term outlook of your franchise.

You expect to get, at the bare minimum, a consistent All-Star with the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick. You might get a good first-or second-liner with the 10th pick. You hope to just find someone that will make the NHL and have a nice career as you get toward the bottom half of the first round and beyond.

[Related: Devils win draft lottery, will get No. 1 overall pick]

But what exactly does that look like from a numbers and production perspective, and how does that impact the big winners and losers from Tuesday night?

The Colorado Avalanche were big losers

The Avalanche entered the night with the best odds of winning the No. 1 overall pick (18.3 percent) due to the fact they have the Ottawa Senators’ top pick as a result of the 2017-18 Matt Duchene trade. It could have been a PR disaster for the Senators, especially after they passed on the opportunity to send their 2018 pick to Colorado and hang on to this pick to complete the trade. Had the Avalanche won there would have been a ton of second guessing going on in Ottawa.

But the Avalanche not only did not win the top pick, they fell as far as they could have possibly fallen and ended up with the No. 4 overall pick. That is still a great position for a playoff to be in, but it is probably not going to be as franchise-changing as it could have been.

The table below shows the past 20 players to go No. 1 and No. 4 overall, their career totals, and the average games played and total production from each slot.

Obviously this is not the most scientific way to do this, but it does at least give us a little bit of a baseline of what to expect from each spot.

Look at how big the drop off is, not only in terms of the star power each side has, but also in the overall careers. There are some outstanding players on the right side (Andrew Ladd, Ryan Johansen, Evander Kane, Seth Jones, Mitch Marner, Alex Pietrangelo) and a likely Hall of Famer (Nicklas Backstrom). There are also quite a few busts, or players that did not quite fulfill expectations.

Then look at over the left side. You have two clear busts in Patrik Stefan and Nail Yakupov, a couple of really players in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Aaron Ekblad, and Erik Johnson, an injury ravaged career in Rick Dipietro … and then every other player is either a superstar or has the potential to be one day be one. There is a massive difference in value, and we are only talking about three spots in draft position, while they are both considered prime draft picks.

This is a tough break for the Avalanche.

The Los Angeles Kings were even bigger losers, while the New York Rangers were huge winners

At least if you are an Avalanche fan you have a playoff team to watch this season, while you still have your own first-round draft pick to go with a top-four pick. That is a huge bonus and can still land you a really good young player to add to your core. Not getting the No. 1 overall pick might stink, but your team is still in a great position.

The Kings, however, had some rotten luck because this is not the way they wanted their rebuild to start.

Entering the night with the second-best odds to win the top pick, the Kings fell all the way back to the No. 5 overall pick. And if you thought the gap from No. 1 to No. 4 was big, the gap from No. 2 to No. 5 might be even bigger.

The No. 5 spot has produced some legitimately great players (Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Carey Price, Thomas VanekElias Pettersson is certainly trending in that direction) and some really good ones, but other than Ryan Murray, whose career has been sabotaged by injuries, and probably Kari Lehtonen, just about every player at the No. 2 spot has had an impact career as either a top-liner or franchise player.

At No. 2 the Kings probably would have been guaranteed to get a star in either Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. They could still get a star, or at least a really good player, at No. 5, but history suggests their odds of doing so dramatically drop.

Their fall down the draft board coincided with the Rangers going from the sixth spot to the No. 2 spot, where their rebuild now gets accelerated as they will be the ones getting the opportunity to select Hughes or Kakko.

It is a huge win for them, and it all happened because of Ryan Strome‘s overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season finale. If the Rangers do not win that game, it is the Edmonton Oilers in the lottery spot that would have moved to the second pick. The Oilers, of course, traded Strome to the Rangers mid-season for Ryan Spooner.

Luck is a funny thing sometimes.

The Blackhawks were HUGE winners

The Devils were the biggest winner of the night simply because they received the No. 1 overall pick. But the Chicago Blackhawks were not far behind them, and if you wanted you could probably build a convincing argument the Blackhawks were the biggest winners just because of how much they stand to gain by going from the No. 12 pick all the way up to the No. 3 overall pick.

That is a massive jump in games, goals, points, production … everything. It should — should — help the Blackhawks land another young building block, and maybe even a potential star, to go with Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and their core of veterans that are still around. The ping pong balls falling the way they did may have helped keep the Blackhawks’ championship window open a little bit longer in the near future.

The 2019 NHL Draft will take place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The first round will be held Friday, June 21. Rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday, June 22.

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.

 

Quenneville sees Panthers roster with right ‘ingredients to win’

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As his new players watched from the back of the room, Joel Quenneville had a message to them during his introductory press conference as Florida Panthers head coach.

“I want everyone of you guys to remember where you’re at right now, and remember the feeling that you have today,” Quenneville said Monday. “Next year we want to be right now coming off the ice with our skates on and we’re preparing for our first-round opponent, and you’re going to know that when you’re on that ride it’s the ride of a lifetime and the memories are going to be ever-lasting.”

The Panthers, who have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the last seven seasons, hope that is the reality a year from now. The move to open up the wallet and splash the cash for Quenneville — a reported five-year deal worth north of $30 million — is the first step in an aggressive off-season for the franchise.

“We need to win now,” said team president and CEO Matthew Caldwell.

“This is a great start. This is a good kick off to it, I think,” said Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who added he was “giddy like I’ve never been before” after landing Quenneville. “We’re going to put our heads together and we’re going to come together with a great plan. We have a great core of young players and we’re going to take this to another level.”

Quenneville’s resume put him on a level where he would be sought after hard by NHL teams and would have his choice of where he coached next. So why the Panthers? He sees a parallel with his new team that he did in 2008 when Tallon promoted him to the Chicago Blackhawks’ head coaching job.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I believe that this team is close to winning,” said Quenneville, who was fired in November by the Blackhawks. “I was fortunate to be the luckiest guy in the world when I walked into the Chicago situation there — a team ready, sitting on go to win. I feel the same thing here now.”

The young talent is certainly there with Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad, plus the still-developing Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett, among others in the pipeline. Building around that group this summer in free agency could go a long way to realizing the playoff vision the franchise has for next season.

Quenneville has seen it from the outside, saying he believes the Panthers have the “ingredients to win” and that he wasn’t going to return behind a bench if didn’t believe the team was a Stanley Cup contender.

“I meant that, and I believe it,” he said.

————

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.

Panthers were wise not to blow things up at trade deadline

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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.