Artemi Panarin

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
Getty Images

A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

Leave a comment

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next few Thursdays. The first team created was a 23-and-under roster that would be fascinating to watch.

An NHL player usually reaches peak performance in his late 20’s and this roster is comprised of players in the prime of their career between the ages of 24 and 29. The combination of skill, size, wisdom and depth in this group will be difficult to match for any opponent. The most surprising part of building this team was seeing several superstars left on the sidelines.

Line Combinations

First line: Artemi PanarinNathan MacKinnonLeon Draisaitl

Thoughts: All three players are firmly in the conversation for the 2019-2020 Hart Trophy and the thought of them on the same team, let alone the same line would be highly entertaining. Panarin has established himself as one of the best passers in the NHL and having two lethal goal scorers alongside him should make for an explosive trio.

Second line: Johnny GaudreauMark ScheifeleNikita Kucherov

Thoughts: Both wingers don’t offer much size but Gaudreau and Kucherov are both electric players that have learned how to win in the corners despite their diminutive stature. Scheifele has long been one of the more underrated players in the league and should find instant chemistry with two players that possess elite on-ice vision.

Third line: Taylor HallMika ZibanejadMark Stone

Thoughts: Hall’s game has dipped since winning the 2018 Hart Trophy but still remains a top two-way forward. Zibanejad was one of the most controversial picks beating out the likes of John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and others. But No. 93 has improved his game since the New York Rangers acquired him in a one-sided traded.

Fourth line: Chris Kreider – Ryan O’Reilly – Jonathan Huberdeau

Thoughts: Kreider and O’Reilly have anchored shut down lines in the past but the addition of Huberdeau should add more offensive punch to a very responsible grouping. All three skaters play a disciplined, 200-foot game and could match up with any combination of forwards an opponent has to offer.

First D pairing: Roman JosiSeth Jones
Second D pairing: Victor HedmanDougie Hamilton
Third D pairing: Oliver Ekman-LarssonAaron Ekblad

Thoughts: It’s hard to find a flaw in this grouping of defensemen. These six players collectively possess all the attributes needed to shut down opponents and can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Starting Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Backup Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Just Missed: Aleksander Barkov, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares

Captain: Roman Josi

Alternate captains: Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl

Analysis

It was surprising to see only one player on this team with a championship ring and just seven players have participated in a Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this team has experience in best on best tournaments at every level and have routinely been through the grind of an NHL regular season.

On paper, there are limited areas of concern. The team is comprised of players with diverse attributes to form an extremely well-balanced roster. It has several explosive goal-scorers in the top-six and responsible players in the bottom-six that have the ability to consistently produce on the offensive side of the ice.

In addition, the blueline is staggered with lockdown defensemen and two Vezina candidates guarding the crease.

One challenge for this team, and for any roster in a tournament of this nature, is the ability to find instant chemistry with line mates. In theory, Panarin can set up a few of the top scorers but does it work in reality?

Due to the balance of the roster and varied characteristics, I believe this team would have the inside track to winning this mythical tournament.

Surprising omissions

John Tavares: It wasn’t too long ago that Tavares was the most sought-after free agent in the summer of 2018, but it was challenging to find a spot for the Maple Leafs captain on this roster. It was a tight race between No. 91 and Mika Zibanejad for the third line center position, but the Swedish right-handed centerman has become one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. Tavares is a world-class player. He could easily slide back onto the roster and change the narrative with a dominant stretch when professional hockey returns.

Erik Karlsson: This Swedish defenseman used to terrorize the league with his smooth skating and incredible vision. However, Karlsson hasn’t looked like himself since being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September of 2018. He routinely crossed the 60-point plateau and set a career-high with 82 points in 2015-16, but injuries have slowed him down the past two seasons. This mythical tournament will require teams to perform at an incredibly high level and there is no room for someone who has not been at the top of his game.


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

What is the Columbus Blue Jackets’ long-term outlook?

Seth Jones #3 and Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets talk
Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Pending Free Agents
Josh Anderson (RFA)
Gabriel Carlsson (RFA)
Pierre-Luc Dubois (RFA)
Vladislav Gavrikov
Jakob Lilja (RFA)
Joonas Korpisalo (RFA)
Ryan MacInnis (RFA)
Elvis Merzlikins (RFA)
Devin Shore (RFA)
Kevin Stenlund (RFA)

The Core

The Columbus Blue Jackets do not have the elite goal-scorer or dangerous playmaker that top-tier NHL teams have, but they do possess a few critical components of their foundation to build a long-term successful roster.

Zach Werenski and Seth Jones anchor the Blue Jackets’ blue line and make up one of the top defensive pairings throughout the NHL. Their steady play helped goaltender Joonas Korpisalo become an All-Star this season and Elvis Merzlikins look like a seasoned veteran in his rookie season between the pipes.

Pierre-Luc Dubois continued his development as a top-line center and was in position to match his 61-point total from a season ago. However, Cam Atkinson and Josh Anderson’s production dropped off dramatically. Atkinson only netted 12 goals in 44 games this season, while Anderson scored one time in 26 games. Both players missed time with injuries this season (along with most of the Blue Jackets’ roster) but couldn’t produce offensively the way they have in the past.

Despite Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin leaving the organization last summer, the Blue Jackets remained in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race up until the NHL Pause a few weeks ago.

The experience gained in the spring of 2019 when the Blue Jackets secured a playoff spot and won a series for the first time in franchise history paid dividends for the team this season.

Long-Term Needs

The Blue Jackets averaged 2.57 goals per game in the 70 games they played this season and desperately need to add more playmakers. The lack of production from Atkinson and Anderson hurt dramatically and injuries contributed to them becoming one of the bottom-five teams in goals per game this season.

One area of concern is depth at the center position. Dubois is on track to become a building block every successful team needs in the middle, but the roster lacks playmakers behind the promising young player.

Alexandre Texier showed promise this year before a back injury derailed his season and John Tortorella believes he could fill a gaping hole in the lineup.

“The thing I like about Tex is I think he understands how to play low in that (center) position,” Torts told the team website. “A lot more comes into play as a centerman when you don’t have the puck in your end zone, a lot more reads like a defenseman, and I think he has the intelligence to do that.”

Columbus does not have the sexiest roster in the NHL, but they do have the right pieces of the puzzle to be a playoff team for the next several seasons.

Long-Term Strengths

While Tortorella’s antics during press conferences have been entertaining, he had one of his strongest seasons behind the bench and proved to be one of the NHL’s best bench bosses. The Blue Jackets did not have a 50-point scorer and proved to be greater than the sum of their parts with a strong season following a tumultuous summer.

The Blue Jackets sustained a league-leading 15 overtime/shootout losses (including a mistake which produced an epic postgame press conference) and could have pulled away from a crowded playoff wild-card race if a few of those outcomes went their way.

Jones and Werenski are two world-class defenders and Dubois is growing into a dynamic center but Columbus needs to fill out its roster. The Blue Jackets’ front office must find the right corresponding pieces to skate alongside their foundational players in order to take the next step as a franchise.

MORE:

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

It looks like Blackhawks are sticking with Bowman, Colliton

Blackhawks
Getty
1 Comment

Before the 2019-20 NHL season went on pause the Chicago Blackhawks were headed toward their third consecutive non-playoff season and their fifth consecutive season without a playoff series win (with only three playoff game wins during that stretch).

It has been a pretty sudden fall from the top for an organization that was once the gold standard for winning in the salary cap NHL.

They are not only no longer a Stanley Cup contender, they are not even all that close to being a playoff team in what has been a mostly watered down Western Conference the past two years.

Despite the sudden descent into mediocrity, there does not appear to be any significant changes coming to the coaching staff or front office after this season.

In an interview with the Athletic’s Scott Powers, Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said the trio of team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, and head coach Jeremy Colliton will all be back next season.

From the Athletic:

Wirtz isn’t on the same page as those fans. Asked about his confidence level in the trio, Wirtz replied, “I think they’re all good.”

Does he envision all three returning next season?

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Wirtz said. “There’s not going to be any changes in the front office.”

Wirtz reiterated that when he was asked about a rumored Bowman contract extension.

“I’ll let John (McDonough) get into all the details,” Wirtz said of Bowman’s contract. “But there’s not going to be any changes, so let’s put that away.”

The level of confidence there is a little surprising given the current state of the Blackhawks’ organization, especially as it relates to the key people in the front office responsible with building the team.

It was just a little over a year ago that the team parted ways with a three-time Stanley Cup winning coach (Joel Quenneville) after a slow start to the season 2018-19 season. It wasn’t a stretch to think that move would have started the timer on Bowman given that the attention would eventually drift toward the team’s roster management. Especially after the Blackhawks seemed to go all in this offseason on trying to fix their flaws with the hope of squeezing another run out of this remaining core. Obviously, that gamble has not paid off.

While the Blackhawks have to deal with salary cap restrictions that come from paying a pair of superstars big money at the top, that alone isn’t enough of a justification for the drop in success, especially while teams like Washington and Pittsburgh have maintained consistent success with a similar cap structure. The issue still comes back to roster management and some questionable decisions over the years. The Blackhawks tried to get ahead of their salary cap issues over the years but simply made things worse in the short-and long-term.

They needed to dump Bryan Bickell’s contract and did so by attaching Teuvo Teravainen to it and trading him to Carolina for next to nothing. Today, Teravainen is one of the Hurricanes’ best players and would easily be a top player in Chicago.

They feared how much Artemi Panarin would cost on his next contract and dealt him to Columbus to bring back Brandon Saad and some cost certainty. Talent-for-talent, the trade was laughably one-sided and saw them deal a superstar for a good player. Maybe they couldn’t have re-signed him for his current contract and lost him anyway, but how much more competitive would they have been the previous two years with him at forward with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat?

Then there were smaller, minor deals this offseason like trading Dominik Kahun and Henri Jokiharju for Olli Maatta and Alex Nylander, and then getting an underwhelming return on Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson at the trade deadline. There are big mistakes. There are a bunch of small mistakes adding up into big mistakes. It all just keeps building up into what the Blackhawks have now.

That is not to say there have not been some successes.

Acquiring Dominik Kubalik has been one of the Blackhawks’ best steals in recent years. DeBrincat has turned out to be an outstanding second-round pick, while recent top picks Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach look like they can be young building blocks going forward. But even with those successes and the promise they bring there are still more questions than solutions throughout the roster. Without dramatic change somewhere, the mediocrity might only continue to build.

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.

Anaheim Ducks: This season’s biggest surprise, disappointment

Ducks
Getty

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Anaheim Ducks.

Biggest surprise so far

There are not many, but Adam Henrique would easily qualify.

He is not only the Ducks’ leading goal-scorer and point producer, he was also on track for a career year offensively with 26 goals and 43 points along with strong possession numbers in his 71 games. He has done most of that damage at even-strength while playing only around 16 minutes per game. By comparison, when he scored 30 goals during the 2015-16 season in New Jersey he did it while playing close to 20 minutes per game.

How efficient has his goal scoring been this season? Among the 334 forwards that have logged at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, Henrique ranks 27th in the league in goals per 60 minutes. That has him sandwiched directly between Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin. In other words, at even-strength he has been one of the best goal-scorers in the league.

An impressive accomplishment in any context. Even more impressive while playing on an otherwise offensively starved hockey team.

Biggest disappointment so far

It is not any one particular player, but rather a collective group effort.

That group being all of their young forwards not really taking any sort of a meaningful step forward in their development. This isn’t to say that they should be written off, or that they still can’t become good NHL regulars, but the group of Sam Steel, Max Jones, Troy Terry, Max Comtois, and Sprong (before his trade to Washington) did not really make any sort of a meaningful impact this season offensively. That was going to be a must for the Ducks to be even remotely competitive.

Now, to be fair, all of them are age 22 or younger and have very brief NHL resumes. Not every rookie or young forward is going to step right into the NHL and succeed. But there had to be an expectation that somebody would make a big leap this season and take on a bigger role with the offense. It did not happen.

John Gibson still did not get much help

Entering this season Gibson had established himself as one of the league’s top goaltenders. A game-changer that could help elevate any team he plays on and give them a chance to win any given a game.

If there was a reason to believe this team as constructed could remain competitive, it would be the goaltending duo of him Gibson and Ryan Miller. It is an unfair expectation to put all of that expectation on just two players at one position, but it was the reality of the team’s situation right now. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they did not even really get that this season as Gibson went through the least productive seasons of his NHL career.

It is also hard to put a lot of the blame on him. The defense in front of him was mired by injuries all season and just didn’t perform at a level that was high enough to give their goaltenders any support. That in itself is a bit of a disappointment. That the Ducks have been blessed with one of the league’s most valuable assets (not only a franchise goalie, but an outstanding backup) and still were not able to be even remotely competitive.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks
Ducks’ long-term outlook

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.

Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo

1 Comment

Here we are, into the unknown…

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the NHL to put the 2019-20 season on “pause.” When will see hockey again? How will the rest of the season play out? Will the Stanley Cup be awarded? Those are questions that will remain unanswered for the moment.

As we wait for hockey’s return, let’s remember where we left off after Wednesday night’s NHL action.

The standings

The Capitals, Bruins, Blues, and Golden Knights are your four division leaders and the Flyers, Penguins, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Avalanche, Stars, Oilers, and Flames are your No. 2 and No. 3 divisional seeds. Rounding out the playoff picture we have the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Jets, and Predators as the four wild cards.

Eager to find their way into a playoff spot, the Islanders, Rangers, Panthers, Canucks, Wild, and Coyotes are just a few points out.

The NHL could contemplate several options if there’s a timely return to playing games again. 

• The remainder of the season could be played with the beginning of the playoffs being pushed back beyond the original April 8 start date. 

• Cut down from 82 games to something in the 70’s and go from there. 

• End the regular season and use points percentage to determine the 16 playoff teams and seeds.

• Remember all that talk about “play-in” games like the NCAA basketball tournament? If there will not be a resumption of the regular season, teams can play a mini tournament to determine the final two playoff spots in each conference.

This situation is obviously very fluid and the NHL is contemplating a range of situations as they hope for a green light to play again.

There is the sense, though, that if the season extends into summer, it won’t affect the start of the 2020-21 schedule. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Sportsnet that he expects 2020-21 to be a “normal season.”

[RELATED: NHL decides to ‘pause’ regular season due to coronavirus]

That Brendan Lemieux hearing

The Rangers forward was scheduled to have a Friday hearing with the Department of Player Safety for his hit on Joonas Donskoi of the Avs.

Will we hear that announcement on Friday? Or will Lemieux have a long wait to not only learn his fate?

UPDATE:

The scoring races

Leon Draisaitl holds a 13-point lead over Oilers teammate Connor McDavid for the Art Ross Trophy:

Leon Draisaitl – 110 points
Connor McDavid – 97
David Pastrnak – 95 
Artemi Panarin – 95
Nathan MacKinnon – 93

Draisaitl is also in the mix for the Rocket Richard Trophy, but is five goals behind David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin, who each have scored 48 this season:

David Pastrnak – 48 goals
Alex Ovechkin – 48
Auston Matthews – 47
Leon Draisaitl – 43
Mika Zibanejad – 41

If there was a Gretzky Award for most assists, Draisaitl would have an edge there with 67, four more than McDavid and Artemi Panarin.

Leon Draisaitl – 67 assists
Artemi Panarin – 63
Connor McDavid – 63
John Carlson – 60
Brad Marchand – 59

The draft lottery picture

Here’s where the race to draft Alexis Lafreniere No. 1 overall stands:

Detroit Red Wings — 18.5 percent
Ottawa Senators  — 13.5 percent
Ottawa Senators* — 11.5 percent
Los Angeles Kings — 9.5 percent
Anaheim Ducks — 8.5 percent
New Jersey Devils — 7.5 percent
Buffalo Sabres — 6.5 percent
Montreal Canadiens — 6 percent
Chicago Blackhawks — 5 percent
New Jersey Devils** — 3.5 percent
Minnesota Wild  — 3 percent
Vancouver Canucks — 2.5 percent
Nashville Predators — 2 percent
Florida Panthers — 1.5 percent
Calgary Flames — 1 percent

(* SJ’s 2020 first-round pick owned by OTT)
(** ARZ’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round pick owned by NJ. If top three, moves to 2021)

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Pierre LeBrun on Friday that a decision on the draft and scouting combine has not been made at this point. He did add, “The only thought to conducting an on-line draft (or one conducted telephonically/technologically) would be if there would be a need to do so.”

The post-lockout 2005 NHL Draft was held in an Ottawa ballroom and featured no fans and only the top 20 prospects in attendance.

Bettman said on Thursday that he “expects” the league to resume at some point and he wants to award the Stanley Cup this season. TSN’s Frank Seravalli reported on Thursday that the league has reached out to teams to get arena availabilities through the end of July as part of preparing for what could happen next.

Then you also have the questions about what to do about free agency and when player contracts expire if the season goes beyond July 1? How is the 2020-21 salary cap, which was expected to rise, affected by this potential hit on revenue?

So many questions, and we don’t know when we’ll have any answers.

MORE:
Hockey leagues following NHL’s lead
Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19

————

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.