Aleksander Barkov

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Five non-playoff teams that could make postseason in 2020

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The New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars all had something in common in 2019. They all went from being non-playoff teams in 2018 to making it to the postseason last year. So if that scenario were to repeat itself next season, who would the new five playoff teams be?

There’s no denying that the current salary cap system has created way too much parity in the NHL over the last few years. It’s not difficult to envision five non-playoff teams sneak into the postseason at all, because a lot of these teams are so evenly matched.

So which non-playoff teams do we expect to make it to the postseason in 2020?

Florida Panthers: The Panthers made a couple of significant acquisitions in free agency this summer, as they added franchise netminder Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Brett Connolly. Signing Bobrovksy was huge because it addressed the team’s biggest need. Roberto Luongo couldn’t stay healthy anymore and James Reimer simply wasn’t getting the job done. The Panthers also have several offensive weapons at their disposal, including Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trocheck. They could make a lot of noise in 2019-20.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens put up 96 points last year and still missed out on the playoffs, but there were plenty of positives for them to build on. First, Max Domi‘s adjustment to Montreal was seamless. He fit like a glove. Secondly, Carey Price and Shea Weber were able to stay healthy down the stretch. That will be the biggest key for the Habs in 2019-20. Getting sophomore forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi to contribute more offensively could also propel them into a playoff spot.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers got off to a bad start last year for a few reasons, but none more obvious than their mediocre goaltending. Once Carter Hart came into the picture, he managed to settle things down between the pipes. Avoiding a sophomore slump will be key for him if the Flyers are going to get back into the postseason, but they clearly have a talented enough roster to get themselves in.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

New York Rangers: The Rangers have been incredibly aggressive with their roster since sending a letter out to their fans outlining their plan to rebuild. Not only did they luck into getting Kappo Kakko in the NHL Entry Draft, they also found a way to sign the most dynamic free agent on the market, Artemi Panarin. The biggest question mark on this team is on defense, as they have big money committed to Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal and Brendan Smith. In goal, Henrik Lundqvist isn’t the same player he used to be but Alexandar Georgiev has the ability to fill in whenever King Henrik needs a break.

Chicago Blackhawks: Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has made tweaks to his roster this summer. He’s added Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Andrew Shaw via trade and he also signed Robin Lehner in free agency. The core group of players is still around and they can still contribute at a high enough level to help the ‘Hawks get into the postseason. But the West is going to be competitive this year, so the Blackhawks will have to stay pretty consistent throughout the year.

Honorable mention: The New Jersey Devils have added P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes to their roster, so seeing them improve by a wide margin wouldn’t be surprising. There’s still big questions surrounding the team’s defense and goaltending, but they were a playoff team two years ago. They could definitely be one of the biggest surprises in 2019-20. For now, they’re the sixth-likeliest team to go from not being in the playoffs to making it again.

MORE: 5 playoff teams that could miss postseason in 2020

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.

Panthers land Bobrovsky, and now thinking big

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida won its offseason. Now it is all about the postseason.

The Panthers’ offseason transformation is essentially complete after free agency netted them four players Monday. The biggest move was the signing of two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a seven-year, $70 million deal and will replace the now-retired Roberto Luongo as Florida’s top goaltender.

Also added: defenseman Anton Stralman, and forwards Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari. All told, the Panthers committed $104.5 million Monday and general manager Dale Tallon was thrilled to add four players with playoff experience.

”All we’re trying to do is make our team better for the long haul,” Tallon said. ”And whatever that plan was, we stuck with it and we were very successful at getting it done, I think.”

The Panthers were aiming at landing perhaps the two biggest free agents on this year’s market by talking last week with both Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. When it became evident that Panarin wasn’t picking Florida – he ultimately chose the New York Rangers – Tallon and the Panthers pivoted in other directions.

All four of the new signees will be in South Florida for their formal introductions Tuesday, joined by new coach Joel Quenneville. The Panthers’ offseason started with the hiring of Quenneville – a three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach who Tallon considers the best in the game. The Panthers now have a top-tier goalie to help the plans for a turnaround.

”It’s been great so far,” Tallon said of the offseason. ”We’ve got work to do and we’ve got to keep improving every day and that’s what we’re all about.”

A clear sign of how much better Florida thinks it can be immediately with Bobrovsky between the pipes: He led the NHL with nine shutouts last season. That’s one more shutout than the Panthers have had, total, in the last two seasons combined. And if nothing else, Florida won’t have to face him anymore – Bobrovsky is 13-1-2 all-time against the Panthers.

”He’s a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and he gives you a chance to win every night,” Tallon said. ”He’s durable. He’s a student of the game. Nobody works harder.”

So now it’s up to Quenneville and Bobrovsky to lead the way in Florida’s annual quest to shake out of its long playoff slump. The Panthers haven’t won a series since 1996, but believe they are finally in position – with an offensive core led by Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau – to become contenders for years to come.

”We have plenty of scoring ability, we have plenty of offense,” Tallon said. ”We had to address physicality and goals-against. Those were the biggest concerns we had and I think we did a good job addressing those needs.”

Rangers select Kaapo Kakko with second overall pick

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VANCOUVER — Kaapo Kakko will be the center of the New York Rangers’ youth movement after he was selected second overall during the 2019 NHL Draft Friday night in Vancouver.

The 6-foot-2, 187 lbs. Kakko, who was the top international skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, finished sixth in scoring in Finland’s Liiga this past season with 22 goals and 38 points in 45 games. Those 22 goals broke Aleksander Barkov‘s league record (21) for a U18 player.

Kakko was also the hero of the 2019 World Junior Championship after scoring the gold medal-winning goal in overtime against the United States. He also led his country to gold at the U-18 World Championship and the senior men’s World Championship where every game he seemed to put on a show.

Kakko, 18, was projected to be the No. 2 pick following American center Jack Hughes, who was taken first overall by the New Jersey Devils. Ending up in the second spot put the Rangers in a “no-lose” situation as new team president John Davidson put it last month. Their decision was going to be made by their rivals in New Jersey and either way they were going to land a promising player.

“These are the types of players that could help define a franchise,” Davidson said. “You have to make sure the timing is right, make sure they’re ready, etc. But I think every Ranger fan should have a smile on their face at picking No. 2.”

Along with Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Adam Fox, and Vitaly Kravtsov, among others, Kakko is another piece for general manager Jeff Gorton to add as the franchise transitions to get younger. With two more years remaining on Henrik Lundqvist’s contract, it’s not a complete rebuild, which could signal an aggressive summer in free agency and the trade market.

MORE: Kakko ready to make NHL leap next season

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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.

NHL Draft: Kakko ready to make NHL leap next season

VANCOUVER — Kaapo Kakko has not been to New York City but has heard all about it, especially after the NHL Draft Lottery when it became clear he would be going No. 2 overall to the New York Rangers.

While he is friendly with Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev after playing with him with TPS of Finland’s Liiga, the 18-year-old winger knows one thing about the Big Apple.

“I think it’s so nice. It’s a nice city,” Kakko said during Thursday’s NHL Draft Top Prospects media availability. “It’s a little bit bigger than [my hometown of] Turku.”

Kakko has worked on improving his English ahead of an NHL career that will more than likely begin in September. Movies and television have helped, as well as playing with former NHLer and TPS teammate Lauri Korpikoski.

When Kakko arrives in New York City next season, he’ll only be a short drive away from Jack Hughes, who is likely to be selected by the New Jersey Devils with the top pick Friday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; livestream). The two forwards have been the consensus top two in projections all season long. Now they’ll be linked together for the rest of their careers.

[Rotoworld’s 2019 Mock Draft]

Kakko, who will become the seventh Finnish-born player all-time to be selected in top three, spent his draft year wowing the hockey world and just winning. In January he scored the gold medal-winning goal — at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena, no less — to top Hughes and the U.S. at the World Junior Championship. Four months later, he scored six times in 10 games to help Finland win gold at the World Championship. Toss in gold at the U-18 World Championship in April 2018, and it’s been quite a successful run for him.

This past season with TPS he scored 22 goals and recorded 38 points in 45 games. Those 22 goals set a Liiga record by a U18 player, which was previously held by Aleksander Barkov (21).

“If New Jersey wants a winner, they should pick Kaapo,” said Finnish national team head coach Jukka Jalonen to the New York Times last month. “Hughes is a great player as well, but in the important games, Kakko has always been better. He is already playing like a man. He could play in the NHL right now, and in a few months, he will be even better. After a few years, he will be one of the best players in the world.”

Kakko, who said he wants to add strength to his 6-foot-2, 194 lbs. frame this summer, has always played against older competition and excelled. That experience has prepped him to make the transition to the NHL as soon as the 2019-20 season, which will fit in nicely with the rebuild plans of the Rangers.

“That’s my plan, my goal, to be in NHL next [season],” Kakko said.

NBC Sports presents live, exclusive coverage of first round of the 2019 NHL Draft this Friday, June 21, at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

MORE 2019 NHL DRAFT COVERAGE:
Jack Hughes and the impact of USA Hockey
Dylan Cozens eager to make Yukon hockey history

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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.

2019 NHL Awards: All the winners, video, more

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A lot naturally happened during the 2019 NHL Awards and there are still some winners left to highlight. Before we do that though, let’s recap some of tonight’s big winners:

Calder Trophy: Elias Pettersson

Lady Byng: Aleksander Barkov

GM of the Year: Don Sweeney

Norris Trophy: Mark Giordano

Masterton Trophy: Robin Lehner

Selke Trophy: Ryan O’Reilly

Jack Adams: Barry Trotz

Vezina Trophy: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay: Nikita Kucherov

Now let’s tackle the other winners.

King Clancy Trophy: Jason Zucker,

Zucker and his wife Carly began the Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio with a $160,000 donation and have raised over $1.2 million in under a year. The project allows kids and their families at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital to watch Minnesota Wild games in a space that mimics the experience of being at the game.

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award: Wayne Simmonds

Before being traded to the Nashville Predators in February, Simmonds was deeply involved with the Flyers’ community efforts. Among other things, he was a board member for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation for six years. He also spent four years as an honorary chairman of their annual golf tournament, which is the foundation’s biggest fundraiser.

Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award: Rico Phillips

Of course, the Art Ross Trophy went to Nikita Kucherov, the Rocket Richard Trophy went to Alex Ovechkin, and the Jennings Trophy was shared by Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.

First All-Star Team:
G: Andrei Vasilevskiy
D: Brent Burns
D: Mark Giordano
C: Connor McDavid
RW: Nikita Kucherov
LW: Alex Ovechkin

Second All-Star Team:
G: Ben Bishop
D: Victor Hedman
D: John Carlson
C: Sidney Crosby
RW: Patrick Kane
LW: Brad Marchand

All-Rookie Team:
G: Jordan Binnington
D: Rasmus Dahlin
D: Miro Heiskanen
F: Elias Pettersson
F: Anthony Cirelli
F: Brady Tkachuk

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.