Anthony Cirelli

Animal Crossing hockey NHL Morning Skate
via Reddit user "Goomba Face"

PHT Morning Skate: Animal Crossing and Hockey, of course; Shea Weber robocalls

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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.

Animal Crossing and Hockey? Of course.

Despite being a video game nerd (more on that later on Tuesday, actually), I’ve figured that Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t quite for me. Yet, with people piling up adorable, relaxing-looking photo after photo on social media, I’m starting to wonder. Making matters worse/better is the invasion of hockey-type stuffs.

Russian Machine Never Breaks’ Rachel Cohen provided a nice little roundup of Animal Crossing-hockey connections, which maybe we should call Animal Cross-Checking?

Perfectly named Reddit user “Goomba Face” created a collection of NHL jerseys (and sometimes extras) for you to adorn your adorable avatars with.

Cohen went the extra mile and drew NHL mascots in the style of how they’d look like as Animal Crossing villagers (your little town is built to draw in various cute critters, from what I gather).

Inevitable COVID-19 related links

• In many corners of the world and Internet, people are taking COVID-19 seriously. Yet, there are also many embarrassing people who are flaunting warnings about social distancing, or reacting in downright tragic ways.

It’s nice to see people in the hockey world take the coronavirus outbreak seriously, and do their part in helping others. In a surreal but kind of sweet twist, Shea Weber is contributing robocalls to help inform the Montreal public. (Montreal CTV News)

• As a reminder, NBC News presents running updates for the pandemic. Please take this seriously, everyone. (NBC News)

• Olympic Talk explains that the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to 2021. (Olympic Talk)

• The Blues addressed the fact that a relative of a team employee tested positive for COVID-19. (Blues)

General hockey links

• Great stuff on 20-year-old Kiara Scott, who became the first woman hired as scout for an OHL team. Scott hopes to eventually work for an NHL team. It’s part of William Douglas’ “Color of Hockey” feature at NHL.com, which is absolutely worth your time. (NHL.com)

• As part of The Score’s “Without Hockey” series, John Matisz looks at how the Lightning’s chance at redemption was put on hold. No doubt, they were a strong contender to win it all after dealing with early bumps in the road. (The Score)

• This one might hit you like a laser-beam slapper: an argument for the return of “FoxTrax”-inspired Glow Pucks. (Forever Blueshirts)

• How the Sabres can remodel their roster during the offseason. Should the Sabres try to send stealth Selke candidate Anthony Cirelli an offer sheet? (Die By The Blade)

• Rating Penguins jersey designs, from worst to first. I knew the “gradient” Penguins look would be low, but I’ll probably always have a soft spot for that tacky little thing. (Hockey By Design)

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.

NHL Power Rankings: The most underrated players

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus to individual players. Specifically, the most underrated players in the NHL right now.

We are trying to keep this to players that are legitimately underrated, overlooked, and do not get the proper amount of attention they probably deserve.

So we are just going to put this out here at the front front: You will not see Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom or Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov on this list. They are staples on every underrated list or ranking that is compiled and both have reached a point where everyone knows exactly how great they are (pretty great).

Who does make this list?

To the rankings!

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers. While everyone falls all over themselves to talk about how underrated Barkov is, the Panthers’ other star forward is actually still fairly overlooked. Especially when you consider just how productive he has been, and for how long he has played at that level. Huberdeau has been a monster offensively for four seasons now and one of the league’s top scorers. Since the start of the 2016-17 season he’s in the top-15 among in points per game among all players with at least 100 games played, and has climbed into the top-10 over the past two seasons.

2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s probably a lot of people that would put him at the top of a most overrated list, and it’s truly one of the more baffling narratives in the league right now. Nylander is a constant lightning-rod for criticism and is always the first player that gets mentioned as being dangled as trade bait. What makes it so baffling is that he is an outstanding hockey player. Outside of the 2018-19 season (disrupted by his RFA saga) he has been a possession-driving, 60-point winger every year of his career, is still only 23 years old, and is on pace for close to 40 goals this season. Here’s a hot take for you: His $6.9 million salary cap hit will look like a steal before the contract expires. 

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have a pretty good core of players that get their share of recognition — Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler specifically. Even Conor Hellebuyck is getting the proper level of respect this season and is going to be a Vezina Trophy front-runner. But Connor just quietly slides under the radar casually hits the 30-goal mark every season. His pace this season would have put him close to the 45-goal mark.

4. Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators. Ellis is underrated in the sense that he seems to be generally regarded as a really good defenseman and another in a long line of outstanding defenders to come through the Nashville pipeline. He is much more than that. He is actually one of the best all-around defensemen in the entire league.

5. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Over the summer I thought the Canucks were insane to trade a future first-round draft pick for Miller given where they were in their rebuild. It is not looking all that crazy right now. If anything, it is looking pretty outstanding. He was always a good player with upside in New York and Tampa Bay, but Miller has blossomed in Vancouver and become a bonafide top-line player.

6. Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning. As if the Lightning were not already dominant enough, they had another young talent come through their system to make an impact. Cirelli is only 22 years old and is already one of the league’s best defensive forwards while also showing 25-30 goal, 60-point potential.

7. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars. Klingberg is an interesting case because he’s received some serious Norris consideration on occasion (sixth-place finish two different times), but he still probably doesn’t get enough recognition for how good he has consistently been in Dallas. He is one of the top offensive-defensemen in the league and is much better defensively than he tends to get credit for. Heck, he’s better in every area than he tends to get credit for.

8. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin might be starting to get into that Backstrom-Barkov area of underrated where he’s referred to as “underrated” so often that he is no longer underrated. But he is not quite there yet. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard or put up huge offensive numbers, but he is one of the best pure shutdown defensemen in the league.

9. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens. Gallagher is generally viewed as a pest, but he is also on track for his third straight 30-goal season, is strong defensively, and is always one of the best possession players in the league. You may not like him when he plays against your team, but you would love him if he played for it.

10. Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils. He is a recent No. 1 overall pick and just signed a huge contract extension so there is a certain level of expectation that comes with all of that. Maybe you think he has not matched it. But that is probably setting an unfair bar. Not every top pick is going to immediately enter the NHL and become a superstar at a Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid kind of level. Sometimes it takes a few years. In the short-term, Hischier has already proven to have 20-goal, 50-point ability while playing a strong defensive game. There’s a lot more upside here, too. Don’t let the draft status and contract term trick you into thinking he hasn’t been good. He has been. He is also only going to get better.

Honorable mentions: Jeff Petry (Montreal Canadiens), Brian Dumoulin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Evgenii Dadonov (Florida Panthers), Tomas Tatar (Montreal Canadiens), Roope Hintz (Dallas Stars), Conor Garland (Arizona Coyotes), Jakub Vrana (Washington Capitals), Torey Krug (Boston Bruins), Ben Bishop (Dallas Stars), Jared Spurgeon (Minnesota Wild)

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.

Chaos breaks out in Bruins-Lightning game (Video)

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The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning teamed up for what might have been the wildest sequence of the 2019-20 NHL season on Saturday night.

It all unfolded late in the second period of Tampa Bay’s 5-3 win and it featured, well, everything.

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

But a quick breakdown of everything that happened.

With just under two minutes to play in the period and the Lightning leading 3-1, Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev checked Zdeno Chara from behind into the boards. It was a play that angered Chara. The two continued to tussle in the corner, and Chara eventually executed a stick-lift on Sergahev that sent his stick into orbit.

You can see that part of the sequence here.

From there, the Bruins maintained possession in the offensive zone and eventually poked the puck through Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy only to have it swept away as it slowly slid toward the line.

The Bruins thought it was a goal, but play continued.

Eventually, though, the horn of doom sounded in TD Garden to stop play, signaling the fact that the situation room in Toronto had already reviewed the play and determined that the puck crossed the line.

But before we could get to that official announcement, a line brawl broke out out at center ice that resulted in fighting majors and misconduct penalties. One player that did not get penalized, though, was Lightning Anthony Cirelli even though he skated behind Zdeno Chara and cross-checked him while he was already engaged with Patrick Maroon.

Seven games of this in the Stanley Cup Playoffs would certainly be a sight to see.

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 Power Rankings: Lightning keep getting stronger

NHL Power Rankings
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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings the Tampa Bay Lightning climb back to the top spot thanks in part to yet another 10-game winning streak.

Yes. Another 10-game winning streak.

Their current streak entering play on Monday is their second 10-game winning streak since Dec. 22. During that time they are 22-2-1, have 10 more points than any other team in the league, and own a .900 points percentage. No other team in the league has a points percentage better than .762 during that stretch.

What makes this particular run even more impressive is that they have recently been hit hard by injuries with Ryan McDonagh, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Anthony Cirelli all missing some time in recent games, while each of their past seven wins have come against teams currently in a playoff spot. That includes two wins against a Pittsburgh team that has the second-best record in the league since the middle of December.

As if that is not enough, they went out on Sunday and added Blake Coleman from the New Jersey Devils, giving them another 20-goal scorer, an outstanding penalty killer, and steal against the salary cap through next season.

They are easily in the top spot entering the week.

Where does every other team sit?

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning. They paid a lot to get Blake Coleman but if he helps them bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay no one is going to care.

2. Boston Bruins. The race between the Lightning and Bruins for the top spot in the East — and the Presidents’ Trophy — is going to be great. They play each other twice during a four-game stretch in early March.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins. Jim Rutherford finally acquired Jason Zucker, and he should be a great fit for both this season and future seasons.

4. Colorado Avalanche. The superstars at the top of the lineup are the foundation, while the added scoring depth over the summer is what makes them a Stanley Cup contender. All of the salary cap space they have to play with could help put them over the top.

5. Washington Capitals. Their lead in the division is quickly disappearing, but they still have three games remaining against the team they are competing with (Pittsburgh).

6. Dallas Stars. They enter the week tied for first place in the Central Division with St. Louis, and while Colorado is just two points back with two games still in hand, they have made this a three-team race.

7. New York Islanders. A defenseman may not have been my first choice for their trade deadline acquisition, but they really did need a replacement for Adam Pelech on the blue line. Andy Greene fits that. Now, go get a forward that can score.

8. Edmonton Oilers. It would be really something if, after Connor McDavid lost out on winning the MVP award the past two years because his team was not any good, that the Oilers return to the playoffs this year and McDavid again loses the MVP, this to his teammate, Leon Draisaitl.

9. Philadelphia Flyers. The Metropolitan Division is insane. The Flyers have one the 10 best records in the league, have won 10 of their past 16 games, and are still probably only about 50-50 shot to make the playoffs right now.

10. Carolina Hurricanes. Everything we just said about the Flyers? Yeah. The same thing applies here.

11. St. Louis Blues. Maybe you think this is too low for the defending champs — who are still one of the top teams in the West, I might add — but they enter the week with just two wins in their past 12 games, and one of those wins was a shootout win over Calgary. They are struggling right now in a big way.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs. Jack Campbell went into Toronto with huge expectations and a ton of pressure on him for a backup goalie, but he has handled it well so far.

13. Columbus Blue Jackets. Maybe the injuries are starting to catch up to them a little bit. Seth Jones is going to be impossible to replace. They have lost five in a row (three in overtime or shootout) and just gave up a point on Sunday to a bad Devils team that is in the process of getting rid of everything that is not nailed to the floor.

14. New York Rangers. They are playing in the wrong division to make a serious playoff push at this point in the season, but they are 11-6-0 in their past 17 games and on a 90-point pace for the season. They are not far away.

15. Vegas Golden Knights. The coaching change has not really changed much in terms of their results. It probably will not until they add to their blue line and get better goaltending.

16. Nashville Predators. They open the week just a point out of a playoff spot with multiple games in hand. They will be a problem for teams if they get in.

17. Vancouver Canucks. There is not a more underrated goalie in the NHL right now than Jacob Markstrom. He may not be one of the elites, but he has been a well above average goalie and stabilizing presence for the Canucks since taking over the job.

18. Minnesota Wild. A coaching change seemed inevitable at some point, but the timing is weird just as the Wild were starting to make a push.

19. Winnipeg Jets. They are sticking with Paul Maurice beyond this season, but with all due respect to him and his job behind the bench the Jets’ ability to stay in the playoff race is entirely on the shoulders of starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

20. Florida Panthers. They are trending in the wrong direction, which has to be a massive disappointment given the investment they put into this season.

21. Calgary Flames. Goaltending was probably the biggest question on this team entering the season and, quite honestly, it has been fine. That is what makes their overall performance such a letdown. Everyone else has disappointed.

22. Arizona Coyotes. They are hanging onto a playoff spot by a thread after winning just four out of their past 16 games.

23. Buffalo Sabres. They have won four out of five, and Sunday’s win against Toronto had to be especially satisfying. Not enough to fix the mess this season has become, but it is at least something.

24. Chicago Blackhawks. Honestly can not think of a good reason why this team would not sell players like Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson before the trade deadline.

25. Montreal Canadiens. The recent Shea Weber injury timeline has been a roller coaster of emotions and updates.

26. San Jose Sharks. It would be for the best if the Sharks could just pretend this season never happened. Bad, disappointing team and significant injuries to some of the team’s best players. Adding to the misery: Their lottery pick belongs to the Ottawa Senators. Yikes.

27. Anaheim Ducks. The lack of offense on this team is staggering. They desperately need some of their young players to make a big leap next season.

28. New Jersey Devils. Taylor Hall, Andy Greene, and Blake Coleman are already out the door. Who is next?

29. Ottawa Senators. Anthony Duclair was the one pleasant surprise on this team this season and even that has disappeared. He has not scored a goal since Dec. 23, a stretch of more than 20 games entering Monday.

30. Los Angeles Kings. It seems to be a broken record at this point in the season but the Kings are facing a key stage of their rebuild.

31. Detroit Red Wings. Not a stretch to say this is the single worst team of the modern era. Excluding first-year expansion teams it might be one of the worst teams the NHL has ever seen.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

Devils trade Blake Coleman to Lightning for Foote, first-round pick

Blake Coleman Trade
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The for sale sign is officially up for the New Jersey Devils.

The team completed its second trade of the day on Sunday evening when it sent forward Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for prospect Nolan Foote and a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick that previously belonged to the Vancouver Canucks.

The Lightning originally acquired that pick from the Canucks over the summer in the J.T. Miller trade. If the Canucks fail to make the playoffs this season, they will hold on to the 2020 first-round pick and the Devils will then receive the Canucks’ 2021 first-round pick.

Just hours before sending Coleman to the Lightning, the Devils traded captain Andy Greene to the New York Islanders for David Quenneville and a second-round draft pick.

It’s a little surprising to see the Devils part with Coleman because he is one of their best players and is signed for one more season at a bargain salary cap hit of just $1.8 million. He is an excellent penalty killer and proven 20-goal scorer in the league. He is currently on track for 30 goals this season.

The only reason they were willing to part with him now: The Lightning were willing to pay a fairly steep price to get him. Along with the conditional first-round draft pick that belongs to Vancouver, the Devils are also getting Foote, the Lightning’s 2019 first-round draft pick (No. 27 overall). He is currently playing for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League and is now going to be counted on to be part of the Devils’ future alongside recent top picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.

The Devils could now be in a position to have three first-round draft picks this season. Along with their own, they also have a top-three protected pick from the Arizona Coyotes (Taylor Hall trade) and also the conditional pick from the Canucks.

As for the Lightning, this is a pretty big addition and makes an already dominant team that much deeper and stronger. They are already riding a 10-game winning streak entering the week.

Coleman is now one of five players on the Lightning (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn, and Brayden Point) to already have 20 goals this season. Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat could eventually get there as well.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.