Getty

Will Hoffman, Panthers get last laugh?

1 Comment

Some of the hottest rivalries in hockey intensified on Tuesday.

No, not Penguins – Capitals or Bruins – Canadiens. Not even Matthew Tkachuk versus the Kings or Brad Marchand against that frozen pole in “A Christmas Story.”

Instead, two of Hockey Twitter’s favorite punchlines united – eventually – as Mike Hoffman (who will never want to scroll Twitter again) was traded to the Florida Panthers (who may never stop hearing about sending Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith to Vegas … at least on Twitter).

You could almost feel snarky hockey fans thanking the Panthers for efficiently consolidating their jokes into one spot. (Granted, not all of their jokes; the Canadiens and Senators are still reliable for that.)

The juicy part is that maybe, just maybe, Hoffman and the Panthers can band together to get the last laugh against their hecklers?

Let’s dig a little deeper on the shared motivations for the team and their newly acquired top-six winger.

The Panthers finished the season on a tear

Yes, Florida missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, giving them plenty of opportunities to painfully watch the Vegas Golden Knights’ deep run from the comfort of their own homes. (They probably opted to go to the beach or play golf instead, but still.)

It’s easy to forget how strong a push the Cats made for one of the East’s final playoff spots, though.

As a reminder, the Panthers finished with 96 points, leaving them a mere point behind the New Jersey Devils for the East’s final wild card spot after ending 2017-18 on a five-game winning streak. Consider that, since the calendar turned to 2018, Florida went 27-14-3. That tied them for seventh overall in points (57) during that span, and their 27 wins was the fifth-best mark.

(Again, not in the conference, but in the entire NHL.)

Pieces falling into place

While it’s fun to mock GM Dale Tallon’s decisions during the 2017 summer – by all means, keep the chuckles coming – it’s not true to say that every choice was a poor one.

That’s particularly poignant if the Panthers believed that they couldn’t add Evgenii Dadonov without getting rid of Reilly Smith.

During his first NHL season since 2011-12, the Russian winger generated 28 goals and 65 points in 74 games. Smith and Dadonov bring a lot of things to the table, including both forwards standing as strong possession players.

Dadonov wasn’t just a fantastic addition. He was also effective enough that the Panthers were starting to find a better balance among their top forwards.

Eventually, Nick Bjugstad enjoyed some of the best stretches of his career finishing chances created by Dadonov and Aleksander Barkov, as that trio formed one of the league’s scariest top lines. Meanwhile, Jonathan Huberdeau trickled down to the second line, and he really seemed to build something promising with Vincent Trocheck.

Now, the natural joke is to say “Wow, now imagine how great they’d be with all of those guys alongside Marchesssault and Smith?”

That’s fair, but it might not be that simple for a budget team.

And also …

Adding a key piece

… Hoffman could really make things interesting, and dull some of the ache that comes with being a go-to punchline on social media.

Florida (claims to) give Hoffman a clean slate, while Hoffman brings undeniable sniping abilities to a roster that could be downright scary if they don’t need to make any key subtractions this summer.

The 28-year-old scored 22 goals last season, which was actually his lowest total since he began his 20+ goal streak in 2014-15. Hoffman’s 104 goals ranks 24th in the NHL during that timeline, leaving him ahead of players such as James Neal, Taylor Hall, Blake Wheeler, and Mark Scheifele.

It’s notable that, with a $5.19 million cap hit, Hoffman also fits into the mix of Panthers forwards who are solid-to-ridiculous bargains (Barkov being the biggest steal as a true star at just $5.9M per year). With two years of term remaining, the Panthers get some cost certainty while Hoffman should be hungry to drive up his value in the market.

Of course, considering all of the things people will be snickering about on Twitter, his value is almost certain to go up.

***

As a veritable scamp, I can’t in good consciousness advise people to stop making jokes about the Panthers and/or Hoffman. That would be like asking Alex Ovechkin not to enjoy his time with the Stanley Cup.

That said, there’s a decent chance that Hoffman and the Panthers could silence at least some of their critics next season. Or at least win enough games to change the tone of some of the mockery.

Update: Hoffman provided this statement on the move.

More on the Mike Hoffman trade

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.

Oilers risk repeating terrible trade history with Lucic

Getty
11 Comments

NHL teams should stick to certain unwritten rules.

Don’t let the Washington Capitals’ power play send a pass to Alex Ovechkin in “his office.” Maybe skip blocking Zdeno Chara‘s slapper in an exhibition game. Avoid smelling Brad Marchand‘s breath. Giving a goalie a “snow shower” is just rude.

At this point, the Edmonton Oilers might just want to institute a “Don’t let Peter Chiarelli make a trade” rule. At least not any tide-turning trades.

There are plenty of rumblings about the Oilers possibly trading Milan Lucic after his first two rough years in Edmonton, with some back-and-forth about whether Lucic requested such a trade or not. Even the biggest Oilers apologist who admit that Lucic’s contract (a signing bonus-heavy deal that includes a $6 million cap hit through 2022-23) is … bad. The problem is that any reasonable hockey person knows that. Even some of the unreasonable ones probably get that message.

With that wide notion noted, it’s unavoidable to point out the elephant in the room: is there any reason to believe that the Oilers would win a trade involving Lucic?

The Ten Percent Rule

There are serious worries that the Oilers aren’t learning lessons from their mistakes, so allow me to suggest an amended rule: Chiarelli should never trade a forward coming off of a season with less than a 10-percent shooting percentage. It would apply a magic wand to some of the franchise’s most jarring (or funny, if you’re not an Oilers fan) mistakes. Consider that:

  • After generating at least a 10.4 shooting percentage for his first four seasons, Taylor Hall dipped below double digits during his last two campaigns in Edmonton. Despite icy puck luck (9.1 percent) in 2015-16, Hall still scored 26 goals and 65 points. Lucic scored six fewer goals in 2015-16 (20 in 81 games) with the Kings despite a 16.1 shooting percentage. As much as the Hall – Adam Larsson trade was about improving Edmonton’s defense, there was also the side argument that the Oilers were opening up money to sign Lucic.

Oops.

  • That Jordan Eberle trade is frequently cited, and rightfully so.

Eberle consistently put up robust shooting percentages with the Oilers … except during his final season, when he scored 20 goals via 208 shots on goal (9.6 percent). The right-handed shooter rebounded to his typical form with the Islanders while Ryan Strome predictably produced middling results for Edmonton.

Part of the argument for trading Eberle was saving on the cap, but Edmonton ended up with a ton of wasted space during the disastrous 2017-18 season, only highlighting a point:

Sometimes it’s not about if you trade a player, but when.

The Oilers could have given Eberle some time to get his game (and shooting percentage) back on track, almost certainly opening the door for a better return than Strome.

Cruelly, Chiarelli could learn something from Garth Snow, the former Islanders GM who swindled him on the Eberle deal (and most dramatically, sending Edmonton Griffin Reinhart for the picks that would become Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier).

One of Snow’s last great moves was sending Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for a set of futures that included Calgary’s 2018 first-round pick.

As you may recall, Hamonic was rumored to want a trade for family/personal reasons dating back to 2015, but he stuck with the Islanders longer than some expected. Snow traded Hamonic when the time was right for the Islanders, and he received a return that looked great then and now resembles a robbery.

Lucic’s stock couldn’t be much lower considering his tough start with Edmonton, particularly scoring a pathetic 10 goals on 147 SOG (6.8 shooting percentage) over a full 2017-18 season. Before that, Lucic consistently shot at a rate that was about as efficient as Eberle’s before he was traded. Lucic scored between 18-24 goals during the four seasons from 2013-14 to 2016-17, never seeing his shooting percentage dip below 12.8 percent for a full campaign.

So, the Oilers could experience the worst of both worlds if they trade Lucic this summer. After buying high after he rode high percentages, they might trade him when his value is at its absolute lowest.

Now, it’s fair to remark that the Oilers should at least poke around to try to get rid of an absolutely horrid contract. They might just find someone to dupe.

(Hey, the Toronto Maple Leafs are probably still snickering about the trade that netted them useful assets for Dion Phaneuf, and they somehow managed to do it without retaining salary.)

Don’t sell low, again

If the only way to move Lucic is to take on a different mistake (see: the exchange of problems that was the trade that got Phaneuf out of Ottawa), then the Oilers owe it to themselves to mitigate the damage. Whether it comes down to pairing him with Connor McDavid, lining him up with Leon Draisaitl, or trying to find advantageous matchups lower in the lineup, Edmonton can pump up Lucic’s value.

The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow provided some interesting insight (sub required) on how the Oilers might be misusing Lucic, for one thing, but Edmonton may just enjoy better results from Lucic getting more bounces in 2018-19.

An NHL GM can make his team marinate in a mistake by “doubling down,” such as exasperating a bad trade with a foolish contract extension. That said, an executive can also blunder by flipping from that stubborn script: you can overreact to a mistake. Such a risk gets scarier if the organization diagnoses the symptoms, but not the cause for disorders of the roster.

When in doubt, the Oilers must ask a painful question: “Do we really expect Chia to get it right this time?”

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.

Tom Wilson avoids suspension for late hit on Marchessault

57 Comments

It is the song that never ends …

Tom Wilson is 24 years old. Whether you believe that the Washington Capitals forward is a) extremely dirty, b) sometimes dirty, sometimes “walking the line” or c) mostly an “honest player,” it’s difficult to shake the sinking suspicion that hockey fans will be debating Wilson’s borderline hits over and over and over again.

Will it be weekly? Monthly? At least once-per-series during a given postseason run?

Capitals fans will undoubtedly bristle at the Matt Cooke comparisons floating around on social media, but there’s a salient bigger picture point. The NHL’s made its bed with this situation by leaving so much room for confusion and debate when it comes to illegal hits. As you may recall, Cooke’s notorious check on Marc Savard was “legal” or at least straddled that line, and now it feels like we’ll be counting each frame before a Wilson hit to decide how late it was. Or any number of exhausting debates that dive deep into minutiae instead of getting at the true heart of the matter.

(Revelations like this possibly NSFW tweet from TSN’s Rick Westhead? Now those get a little closer to the heart of the matter.)

So, let’s dust off the arguments (OK, there wasn’t enough time for dust to form), as the latest verdict is in. According to reporters including USA Today’s Kevin Allen, Tom Wilson will not have a hearing for his late hit on Jonathan Marchessault from Washington’s 6-4 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

One prevalent argument is that, while the late check may have been worthy of a five-minute major instead of the minor penalty (which didn’t result in a Vegas power play, as a David Perron cross-check on Alex Ovechkin canceled that out), but maybe not a suspension.

Mike Milbury discussed as much after Game 1, while the Capitals had their own beefs about Ryan Reaves getting away with cross-checking John Carlson before scoring the 4-4 goal. It wouldn’t be one bit surprising if that missed call made the NHL more reluctant to dive deeper into this specific situation.

Allen added some additional background on the decision.

But the NHL, as a general rule, has not suspended players in the past for an interference call unless there was head contact or the victim suffered an injury. Marchessault was placed in concussion protocol but returned to the game. He talked to members of the media after the game and appeared to be fine.

And, let’s face it, the NHL probably didn’t want to hand Wilson another suspension after making him sit three game earlier during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Wilson believes the attention is overblown.

For what it’s worth, multiple members of the Vegas Golden Knights – Marchessault included – stated that they believed (or at least hoped) that the NHL would “take care of it.” In league parlance, that’s one big elbow nudge to try to get someone suspended. With Marchessault seemingly OK after Game 1, the anger over this decision could die down quickly, which is another element of these debates that complicates decisions.

The thing is, the NHL really should take care of this.

Unfortunately, if prior history is any indication, dramatic changes will come slowly. Instead, the league will settle for putting a Band-Aid on a hole in the wall, even if it means that Wilson, Brad Marchand, and the rest of the Department of Player Safety’s speed dial list continues to play roulette with suspensions.

It’s a shame that these debates are overshadowing what was a scintillating Game 1, but this is the bed the NHL has made for itself.

————

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.

Bruins address Marchand licking, future plans

8 Comments

The Boston Bruins’ brass addressed the media on a wide range of issues Wednesday. If you want to keep your humor Brad Marchand-topical, you might call it an appetizer for the offseason.

After at least one lick/personal bubble-bursting moment in each round of their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs run (Leo Komarov and Ryan Callahan ranking among his … run-ins), Marchand eventually got a talking-to. Management addressed as much today, and they generally kept it from getting too salty.

“Brad should be contrite,” Cam Neely said (see around the minute mark). “ … He’s gotten to the point now where his game on the ice – without the antics – should speak for itself.”

You know it’s a serious headache – not just a punchline and strange routine – when Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs needs to weigh in. His comments give the impression that Marchand doesn’t have much of a margin of error.

More teaching, less licking

As refreshing as it is to discuss “Zen and the Art of Licking,” some might view it as empty calorie content.

Luckily, the Bruins also shed some light on how they view the 2017-18 season (mostly positive, especially when it comes to integrating young talent, while the ending was bittersweet) and how they might approach free agency and the summer. If you’re the type who shuddered at the idea of targeting a Rick Nash upgrade in free agency – and the comments indicate that quite a few people did – then you’d probably be glad to hear some of the reactions.

Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs spoke highly of players who could make a future impact on the B’s (“from Providence and Europe”), so Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy might be tasked with much of the “teaching” Cam Neely spoke of today.

Backup plan

Curiously, as NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty points out, the Bruins might make the backup goalie position an area they’re aiming for improvement with.

There are a few factors to consider in that regard.

For one thing, Anton Khudobin‘s $1.2 million contract expires. The 32-year-old played well enough at times – finishing with a nice-for-backup .913 save percentage – to drum up some minor goalie controversies (depending upon who you asked during 2017-18) when Tuukka Rask struggled. The Bruins are committed to Rask at $7M through 2020-21, yet they might want to at least attempt to get a No. 2 who could moonlight as a No. 1.

Beyond perusing trade opportunities, free agency, or even bringing back Khudobin, you wonder how long of a look the Bruins might give Zane McIntyre as Rask’s backup in 2018-19. After all, McIntyre’s already 25, and could be feeling a little restless (after a dominant AHL season in 2016-17, his numbers were solid but a bit more modest last season).

Other considerations, and a warning

There were discussions of other possible tweaks, such as possibly adding more size at the left D position behind Zdeno Chara. Even then, you wonder how deeply they’ll probe in that area; after all, Torey Krug had a strong season and Matt Grzelcyk came along nicely.

Broadly speaking, it sounds like the Bruins will lean more toward “improving from within” instead of pursuing more established players. Considering the way GM Don Sweeney’s been drafting and the team’s been developing lately, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Then again, perhaps some bolder opportunities might surface? As promising as some of the future pieces in Boston seem to be, the B’s must also realize that the window could start to close on their core. Zdeno Chara’s in the clearest battle with Father Time at 41, but sometimes the aging curve can dilute the dominance of guys like Patrice Bergeron (32) and Brad Marchand (30) with troubling speed. Considering how frightening Bergeron and Marchand were on most nights alongside young stud David Pastrnak, a slip – even from “elite” to merely “quite good” – could alter Boston’s trajectory, or force them to lean on younger talent even more.

***

So, there are some factors to juggle, but can you really blame management for feeling so optimistic compared to the mixed feelings that were likely on display during last year’s pressers regarding the team’s outlook?

Jacobs himself spoke of the Bruins being spry in keeping up with league trends, and justifiably so. If the NHL’s smartest teams continue this rapid evolution, then Boston must remain just as nimble this summer. At least if they want to maintain their status as a revitalized heavy-hitter in the NHL.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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 Morning Skate: Strangest moments in playoff history; Jagr isn’t done yet

8 Comments
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.

• Washington National slugger Bryce Harper gets more nervous watching Golden Knights games than he does playing baseball. (USA Today)

Brad Marchand‘s decision to lick an opponent was one of the weirdest moments in playoff history, so Adam Gretz looked at other strange moments that occurred in the postseason. (Yard Barker)

• Amanda Kraus Wilson is a Capitals fan that moved from Virginia to Rochester after she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. On a positive note, Wilson was cleared to fly back to Washington to catch Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. She even got a special jersey signed by some of the players. (Washington Post)

• The NWHL has decided to expand to the great state of Minnesota. “Minnesota is an essential part of women’s hockey in North America. When you consider all of the talented players in this area and the passion this community has for the game, the Whitecaps are going to be incredible on and off the ice,” commissioner Dani Rylan said. (NWHL.Zone)

• Former Montreal Canadiens forward David Desharnais has reportedly agreed to play in the KHL next season. (Montreal Gazette)

• 46-year-old forward Jaromir Jagr isn’t ready to hang up his skates just yet. He’s signed a new one-year deal with HC Kladno. Yes, he’s the owner of the team. (BarDown)

Nate Schmidt went from being a healthy scratch in the playoffs last season to being one of Vegas’ most important blue liners this year. (NHL.com)

• Check out this Q&A with NBC Sports broadcaster Kenny Albert, who talks about why Ovechkin is finally getting his big moment in the playoffs. (New York Post)

• Through two games, the Winnipeg Jets have been able to get shots on Marc-Andre Fleury from in close, but that wasn’t enough to give them a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Final. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• The Jets won some big games on the road in the second round and they’ll probably have to do that again if in Vegas if they want to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. (Winnipeg Sun)

• TSN’s Scott Cullen looks at what the Chicago Blackhawks have to do during the offseason to be successful in 2018-19. (TSN.ca)

• Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Capitals and Lightning.

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.