Schmaltz’s season is over as Coyotes’ injury woes continue

The Arizona Coyotes were already one of the league leaders in terms of man-games lost due to injury.

That total is only going to get worse.

The team announced on Tuesday that forward Nick Schmaltz will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2018-19 season due to a lower-body injury.

Schmaltz has not played since Dec. 30, missing each of the team’s past three games.

It is disappointing news for the Coyotes because Schmaltz had been playing very well since he was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this season in exchange for Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini. In his first 17 games with the Coyotes he had tallied 14 total points (five goals, nine assists) and was on pace for more than 50 points overall for the second year in a row.

The 22-year-old forward scored 21 goals and 52 total points in his first full NHL season a year ago with the Blackhawks.

Strome has had nearly identical production for the Blackhawks since the trade.

Along with Schmaltz, the Coyotes are also currently without Michael Grabner, Christian Dvorak, Jason Demers, and starting goalie Antti Raanta due to injury.

Alex Galchenyuk, Jakob Chychrun, and Alex Goligoski have also missed significant time this season due to injury. All of that has helped contribute to another difficult season for the Coyotes.

Entering play on Tuesday the Coyotes are in 12th place in the Western Conference with an 18-21-3 record, sitting six points out of a playoff spot with four teams in front of them.

Related: Strome making most of his fresh start with the Blackhawks

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.

Domi’s been electric since trade, but don’t give up on Galchenyuk

2 Comments

The Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes are set to play at Gila River Arena on Thursday, making it only natural to rehash the still-fascinating Max DomiAlex Galchenyuk trade.

There’s no denying that the immediate returns have been drastically one-sided. While Galchenyuk’s been a mixture of injured and inconsistent (three goals and 11 points, limited to 23 games played), Domi’s defied all but the wildest expectations in scoring almost a point per game (33 in 35).

Considering the very different results for each player, his team, and the very different hockey markets they play in, you’d expect some over-the-top reactions.

Yet, even some of the warmer takes still acknowledge that the differences are probably exaggerated. While the headline for Eric Engels’ Sportsnet story is a bit much, maybe, in deeming Montreal “already clear-cut winners” of the trade (I’d personally go with “currently” instead of “already”), there’s a nod to the possibility that both players may meet closer to the middle in the future:

Yes, we’ve considered that Galchenyuk, who has 11 points in 23 games, suffered an injury in training camp that required a minor procedure and forced him to the sidelines until the eighth game of the season; that he produced eight points in his first nine games at centre; that it’s still early in his tenure with the Coyotes; and that Domi, who’s producing at an unprecedented rate in his first full year at centre in the NHL, could be in for a course correction.

That “course correction” is crucial to understanding the potential longer-term effects of this trade, or how things could look considerably different down the line.

Whenever you’re looking for red flags about a player being too good to be true, or way too cold to predict future contributions, you’ll often find answers in uncanny shooting percentages, and that’s true here.

It’s almost too perfect that Alex Galchenyuk’s 6.8 shooting percentage this season is so comparable to Domi’s from 2017-18, when he only connected on six percent of his SOG (and that was with four empty-netters). Remarkably, Galchenyuk’s 17.5 shooting percentage this season matches his combined shooting percentage from last season and 18-goal rookie effort from 2015-16, when he shot at 11.5 percent.

So, a healthier, luckier Galchenyuk will probably score more often than he is now. And Domi might cool off a bit, causing the two to meet somewhere close to the middle … which isn’t that far off from where they were upon the trade. As TSN’s synopsis notes, they both had .61 point-per-game averages before the swap, with Galchenyuk being more of a sniper while Domi was a more prolific playmaker.

The key, then, is not to smear either forward. Instead, it’s far more interesting to consider some of the takeaways, and to ponder some of the talking points that might get emphasized too often.

Time will tell

Pat Brisson serves as an agent for both players, giving him a unique – if sympathetic – perspective on both Galchenyuk and Domi. So it’s interesting to see Brisson deliver a “pump the brakes” message on the trade, as he told Craig Morgan of The Athletic (sub required).

“I usually look back later, not after 30-some games,” Brisson said. “I wait and see. So far Max is happy, but the whole team in Montreal is going way better than anyone expected. They have a lot more wins and a lot of players on that team seem to have found themselves and it has a domino effect …”

There’s some recent history that points to maybe not jumping to too many conclusions.

Shortly after the landmark Kyle TurrisMatt Duchene – Sam Girardi – Ottawa’s future hopes and dreams trade, many were burying Duchene and lavishing Turris with praise as the two went through cold and hot streaks respectively. With more time and games under their belts, it’s clear that Duchene is fantastic, Turris is effective, and those early impressions were knee-jerk reactions.

(Also: we probably won’t truly know the impact of that trade until we find out what kind of pick the Senators cough up to the Avalanche.)

Considering their polar opposite shooting luck, the way their teams are playing, and health concerns, things look dramatically different now, but Galchenyuk has a decent chance of catching up to Domi, at least once he gets healthy.

Center of attention

It seems like every big hockey market has a narrative or two that just won’t go away.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins, rumors of Phil Kessel trades loom like Michael Myers creepily staring off from a distance, waiting to make us roll our eyes. When it comes to Galchenyuk, talk of center vs. wing seems inescapable, even now that he’s in Arizona.

Much has been made about Galchenyuk at least briefly moving back to the wing, while Domi’s had success at center, with Jonathan Drouin over on his wing. That’s worth noting, but the obsessiveness sometimes loses the big picture: good players can make a difference from various positions on the ice.

If Galchenyuk can flourish with fewer responsibilities playing on wing, much like Claude Giroux has with the Flyers, then who really cares? Many believe that the flow of modern hockey already obscures centers/wings to more generic “F1”-type designations, so such talk can often get overstated.

Not every mention of Galchenyuk’s perceived inability to play center is meant as a slight, yet sometimes it seems like a coy way of making a blanket insult, without explicitly making them.

Details that might matter

For teams all around the NHL, there are some potential lessons to take from these situations.

The first is one that’s hammered often: it can be very dangerous to trade a player suffering from a low shooting percentage, as you might be guilty of selling low. (Looking at you, Oilers, with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.)

But the Coyotes and Canadiens might have been right in merely identifying that two players simply weren’t fitting in properly, and making a logical-enough lateral move, with things working out undeniably better for Montreal so far through close to half of 2018-19.

Arpon Basu made an interesting point for The Athletic (again, sub required): during his years in Arizona, Max Domi rarely had the same linemate, let alone the same two.

It’s plausible that hockey-mad Montreal fits Domi’s personality better (just ask his dad), while Galchenyuk may get back on track in part because Arizona’s more laid back. But, perhaps the Coyotes might want to put Galchenyuk in less situations of upheaval?

You also wonder if there’s something systemic that’s making skill players struggle to score a bit more in Arizona, while Claude Julien’s done masterful work in optimizing Montreal to be a faster, more attacking team that many expected. After all, the Coyotes’ 2.45 goals-per-game ranks second-worst in the NHL this season, so you can’t pin that all on Galchenyuk.

***

Interestingly, Coyotes GM John Chayka is making virtually the same “potential”-related comments about Galchenyuk finding his game now that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made about Domi when he was acquired. Bergevin was vindicated, and it’s possible that Chayka will be too, although the Coyotes’ overall outlook seems bleak with crucial goalie Antti Raanta out indefinitely.

As of today, Domi’s been a smash success in Montreal, while Galchenyuk’s a mixed bag for the Coyotes.

It’s plausible that we’ll feel the same way about the trade in several months, and maybe years, but it’s too early to be sure right now.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Blackhawks hit bottom

7 Comments

If you turn on any random Chicago Blackhawks game on any random night against any random opponent it is a good bet they are already going to be losing by two or three goals 10 minutes into the first period. It has been a constant trend for about two months now.

Sometimes they are able to push back a little and tie the game only to lose in backbreaking fashion, just as they have done in their most recent losses to the Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens.

Sometimes they never push back and just get completely run out of the building.

Either way the result is the same — a loss. Those losses keep piling up at an alarming rate and are sending the Blackhawks toward what is looking to be their worst season in years.

Thanks to the seven-game losing streak they are carrying into the week the Blackhawks officially have the worst record (based on points percentage) in the entire league and are just 3-11-2 since firing Joel Quenneville.

In other words, things are bad. Really bad.

The problems are obvious. The good players that were part of the core that won three Stanley Cups in six years are older, more expensive and not as good as they once were (if they are even still on the team). Those larger contracts, combined with the salary cap, once again ripped apart the depth that always made the Blackhawks such a strong team.

The latter point is where a lot of the problems really start to show up. The Blackhawks went through salary cap purges before but were always able to find ways to restock the cupboards, often times to the point of them still being able to compete for, and even win, championships.

They have not done that over the past few years.

Just consider this question: Who is the last truly impactful and useful the Blackhawks have added to their organization through free agency or a trade? Have there been any over the past three or four years? The re-acquisition of Brandon Saad is probably the answer you could come up with because he is a fine, decent player. But when you had to give up an even better player (Artemi Panarin) to get him back that does not really help things.

Big contracts, an aging core, and no fresh talent entering the organization is a bad combination, and for this week it has the Blackhawks at the bottom of the PHT Power Rankings. They may be there for a while, too.

On to the rest of the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Quite simply the best hockey team in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are early season MVP candidates, Steven Stamkos is a point-per-game player right behind them, and they are 11-3-0 since their Vezina Trophy finalist goalie has been injured. That includes the six-game winning streak they carry into the week. They also are coming off of a dominant 7-1 win against a really good Colorado Avalanche team.

2. Winnipeg Jets — The Jets are 10-4-1 in their past 15 games and are averaging more than four goals per game during that stretch. There may not be a better collection of top-line forward talent anywhere in the league.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs — Not too worried about the fact they haven’t won since William Nylander returned. The biggest concern here, just like last season, is that Frederik Andersen gets worn down from the workload he is being asked to carry. His play will determine how far they go in the playoffs.

4. Nashville Predators — They have cooled off a bit in recent weeks but that has coincided with the team being crushed by injuries. When healthy this is still one of the league’s best teams.

5. Washington Capitals — The champs are starting to get on a roll and Alex Ovechkin is still scoring goals at an unprecedented pace given his age.

The Surprises

6. Colorado Avalanche — Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon are both on pace for more than 120 points this season. Doubtful they will maintain those numbers over 82 games, but the fact they have done it over even 30 games is incredible.

7. Calgary Flames — Have to be honest, did not see the Flames being the team to crawl to the top of the Pacific Division at any point this season. How long will they remain there?

[Related: Are the Flames ready to contend?]

8. Buffalo Sabres — When every game you play is decided by a single goal sometimes you are going to get the breaks, and sometimes you are not. Thirteen of the Sabres’ past 15 games have been one-goal games, a stretch that has seen them win 10 games in a row and then also lose five games in a row.  They are not as good as they looked during the winning streak and they are not as bad as they have looked during the losing streak. Things balance out.

Strong Playoff Teams

9. Boston Bruins — They are still going to have to find some secondary scoring if they are going to be a serious threat to win the Stanley Cup.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Sergei Bobrovsky picked a terrible time to have his worst season as a starter. How good would the Blue Jackets be this season if he was playing at his normal level?

The Middle Ground

11. Vegas Golden Knights –– They might still be the best team in the Pacific Division and when all is said and done will probably end up winning it.

12. Dallas Stars — The rapid emergence of rookie defenseman Miro Heiskanen has helped make up for the absence of John Klingberg.

13. Anaheim Ducks — John Gibson should be a finalist for MVP at this point, while Daniel Sprong has made a nice little impact in his first few games with the team. Nice move in the shootout on Sunday night to help pick up the win.

14. Edmonton Oilers — If this team makes the playoffs Connor McDavid should be a unanimous MVP winner. He is doing even more than he did a year ago.

Related: Seven stunning numbers from the first two months of the NHL season]

15. San Jose Sharks — They have won three out of their past four and they don’t have a tough schedule coming up this week. Is this where it starts to turn around?

16. Montreal Canadiens — The P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade gets ripped (and deservedly so) which makes it kind of easy to forget that Weber is still pretty good. He is just older, has a worse contract, and might be starting to break down a bit physically. Still, he can play a little. He has five points in his first six games since returning to the lineup this season.

17. Pittsburgh Penguins — Every time it looks like they are going to get everything together and go on a roll they put together a terrible showing. Still, they have picked up 13 out of a possible 20 points over their past 10 games.

18. Minnesota Wild — They have some concerns right now, with the biggest potentially being whatever is wrong with starting goalie Devan Dubnyk.

19. New York Islanders — Still not sure they have enough offense to emerge from the pack and make the playoffs this season.

20. Carolina Hurricanes — The Hurricanes can not catch a break in goal. Curtis McElhinney came out of nowhere to solidify the position for a little bit, played extremely well, and then ended up injured. Now it is back to the Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek duo that was not working earlier this season

21. Arizona Coyotes — It is really tough to see the Coyotes hanging around in the Western Conference playoff race given the injury situation with Antti Raanta.

22. Detroit Red Wings — Dylan Larkin is on track for the best season of his career and several of their potential trade chips (Gustav Nyquist, Jimmy Howard) are having productive seasons. So they have that going for them.

23. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist is still getting it done, he just doesn’t have enough around him for it to really matter.

24. Philadelphia Flyers — Now that they have a new general manager in place it will be interesting to see where this team goes from here and where “bias for action” takes them.

[Related: Chuck Fletcher’s plate will be full as new Flyers’ GM]

25. Ottawa Senators — Losing Matt Duchene and Bobby Ryan to injury for the foreseeable future is really going to hurt what has been a surprisingly good offense this season.

26. Florida Panthers — With better goaltending this season they may not be needing another second half surge just to get back into playoff contention.

Lose For Hughes

27. Los Angeles Kings — The worst goal scoring team in the league by a huge margin and the third-fewest shots on goal per game. They are redefining what bad offensive hockey is in this era.

28. Vancouver Canucks — Since starting the season 10-6-2 the Canucks have managed to go only 3-10-1 over their past 14 games. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are still studs, though.

29. New Jersey Devils — Taylor Hall has to be having flashbacks to his Oilers days.

30. St. Louis Blues — After getting blown out on Sunday the Blues sounded like a completely broken team. They are still better than their rivals.

31. Chicago Blackhawks — Maybe Jeremy Colliton goes on to be a good NHL head coach, but right now the decision to fire Quenneville just looks comical.

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.

Can Coyotes keep playoff hopes alive without Raanta?

Getty
6 Comments

One of the saddest phrases in sports is “[Player X] would really have been something, if only they could stay healthy.”

Some argue that avoiding injuries counts as a “skill,” and it’s plausible that certain players may simply be better at staying healthy than others, but there are still instances when the injury gods feel awfully cruel.

We’re rapidly approaching that point with Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta.

Even with a challenging start to 2018-19 (just a .906 save percentage over 12 games), Raanta’s been fantastic for the Coyotes so far … when he’s been able to actually play.

That caveat was frustrating last season, as Raanta missed crucial chunks of time – most painfully being unhealthy as the Coyotes went without a win in October 2017 – yet was essentially elite when he could play, generating a splendid .930 save percentage in 47 games.

Unfortunately for the Coyotes, it’s looking like 47 Raanta appearances would have been a gift compared to the likely reality. The team announced that the 29-year-old goalie is out “indefinitely,” while The Athletic’s Craig Morgan provided a more detailed (and more troubling) update: Raanta might miss the rest of this season.

Brutal.

It’s fair to wonder if this might become the story of Raanta’s career.

Again, the Finn fought nagging injuries last season, and this year’s been even worse. At 29, he’s not ancient, but Raanta isn’t exactly a spring chicken, either. (If you need a glum example of how quickly a goalie can start looking older-and-more-fragile, look at all of the injury headaches Carey Price has been dealing with at just 31.)

That said, Raanta’s limited starts pre-Arizona came from him being a backup, not necessarily from injuries. There’s the hope that, in hindsight, these past two years will look like speed bumps rather than Raanta’s promising career hitting a brick wall. If nothing else, Raanta is listed at just 6-0, so he’s not one of those prototypical towering goalies whose huge frames only increase odds of additional injuries.

Either way, Raanta’s lengthy absence deals an enormous blow to the Coyotes’ fledgling playoff hopes.

You could argue that they’d be in tough to land a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs even with a keyed-in Raanta. As of this writing, Arizona’s record is 13-13-2 for 28 points in as many games, leaving them in 12th place in the West (five points behind Vegas for the final wild card spot, and seven behind Anaheim for the Pacific’s third seed).

Various projections aren’t totally dismissing the Coyotes’ chances of waging a comeback, but few give them much better than a 20-percent shot to pull that off … and those odds likely only drop once you factor in Raanta’s absence.

The Coyotes haven’t just been without Raanta, who’s been sidelined since Nov. 27. Backup goalie Darcy Kuemper has been hurt, too, making way for Adin Hill and waiver claim Calvin Pickard. To Hill’s credit, he began with a four-game winning streak and currently boasts a .939 save percentage, but his larger history indicates that he probably won’t be able to produce such results over the long haul.

All of this leaves Coyotes GM John Chayka in a tough spot.

If you’re the Coyotes, do you try to trade for a more seasoned goalie, particularly one on an expiring contract?

Or, do you do the uncomfortable and all-too-familiar, and punt on the season?

This Coyotes team is structured largely to compete, with an increasing number of longer-term contracts crowding the team’s salary cap.

Granted, the Coyotes have an interesting player or two. Would someone pay up some futures to land, say, Alex Galchenyuk? The 24-year-old’s endured a quiet first season with Arizona (just 11 points in 21 games), but there’s plenty of talent there. While Galchenyuk isn’t on an easy-to-move expiring contract, his deal doesn’t last much longer, as his affordable $4.9 million cap hit runs out after 2019-20. If you’re a contender, would you hand the Coyotes some futures to add some skill for Galchenyuk, particularly if the Coyotes absorbed a contract you wanted to get rid of (and/or retained some of Galchenyuk’s salary?).

It’s not pleasant to discuss who the Coyotes might sell off in a trade, and it’s even more unpleasant to wonder if Raanta will be injury-prone for the remainder of his career, but Arizona at least needs to ponder these scenarios. They might not have much of a choice, even if Raanta technically finds a way to play a bit toward the end of this season.

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.

Compher scores twice on the same penalty kill

Associated Press

The Arizona Coyotes know a thing or two about scoring shorthanded goals.

In fact, they lead the NHL in shorties with 10, six more than any other team coming into Friday’s full slate of games.

What they don’t know much about is getting shorthanded goals scored against them. Well, that was until Friday night while hosting the Colorado Avalanche.

The Coyotes entered the game as just one of three teams yet to surrender a goal with the man-advantage and it stayed that way until J. T. Compher decided to dazzle.

Compher’s first came on a nice rush up the ice from Matt Nieto, who stopped and found Compher trailing the play. Compher’s well-placed long-range wrist shot beat Antti Raanta.

His second shortie came 1:25 later on the same penalty kill, this time doing it all himself for his second of the game on a breakaway.

Compher has been sidelined with a concussion since Oct. 13, meaning Friday was his return to the lineup. He now has five goals in six games this season.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck