PHT Power Rankings: Blackhawks hit bottom

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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.

The Buzzer: Phil thrills with four-point night; Smith wins fifth straight with shutout

Associated Press
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Three stars

1. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins

Kessel’s name was all over this game. He assisted on the first of two goals by Kris Letang, scored twice himself in the second period to give the Penguins a comfortable 5-1 lead and then grabbed his fourth point of the night on Sidney Crosby‘s 15th of the season in the third period.

With the Penguins reportedly “testing the market” when it comes to Phil the Thrill, performances like this one only raise the price. More importantly, it gives the Penguins less and less of a reason to trade him. He simply makes the team betters, as PHT’s Adam Gretz wrote on Thursday.

2. Mike Smith, Calgary Flames

Talk about a resurgence. Smith has won five straight starts now after dropping six of his previous.

His latest victory comes in the form of a 31-save shutout in a 2-0 win against the Minnesota Wild. Smith is slowly starting to repair a horrible start to the season. He entered the game with a .884 save percentage and left with a .892, which just goes to show that he still has a ways to go if he wants to own some respectable numbers by seasons’ end.

Still, a five-game heater is nothing to scoff at and it’s helped the Flames open up a three-point lead atop the Pacific Division.

3. Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets

Jones’ overtime winner was the fastest in Blue Jackets history after he potted it 10 seconds into the extra frame for his second of the game.

In doing so, he also helped John Tortorella become the first coach in a long time to win a game behind the bench while wearing a tracksuit.

But back to Jones… his first goal extended his point streak to five games with three goals and four assists in that span.

Other notable performances:

  • Brayden Point continues to light the lamp, scoring his 21st of the season to tie Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine for the NHL’s top scorer.
  • Elias Lindholm scored both goals for the Flames in their win. He’s on a five-game point streak and has at least a goal in his past three games.
  • Gustav Nyquist had a goal and two assists to help the Red Wings to a 5-4 OT win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. His second assist sprung Dylan Larkin in on a breakaway to win it in the extra frame.
  • Travis Sanheim‘s first two goals of the season weren’t enough for the Philadelphia Flyers, who lost to Jones and the Blue Jackets in OT.
  • Paul Byron scored twice in a 5-2 win for the Montreal Canadiens against the Ottawa Senators.
  • Alex Ovechkin‘s goal helped the Capitals secure a 4-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes and put him into a tie with Laine and Point on 21 goals.
  • Reilly a three-point effort (a goal and two helpers) as the Golden Knights came from behind in the third period to win 4-3 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Highlights of the night

Crosby doesn’t care about your tight angles:

This kid is far too good:

Larkin’s OT winner highlight by this head fake:

Factoids

Scores

Red Wings 5, Maple Leafs 4 (OT)

Avalanche 5, Panthers 2

Blue Jackets 4, Flyers 3 (OT)

Penguins 6, Islanders 2

Canadiens 5, Senators 2

Lightning 3, Bruins 2

Capitals 4, Coyotes 2

Flames 2, Wild 0

Canucks 5, Predators 3

Golden Knights 4, Blackhawks 3

Devils 6, Kings 3


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

NHL on NBCSN: Maple Leafs visit Sabres as they await Nylander’s return

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

William Nylander is signed, but won’t be in the lineup as the Maple Leafs visit the Sabres Tuesday night. It’s unclear if he’ll play Thursday when Toronto is back home against Detroit, but he now has a six-year contract so his availability is pretty clear for the long-term.

He won’t be going anywhere despite some thought that because his extension looks pretty tradeable after next season. According to Nylander, general manager Kyle Dubas has assured him he won’t be moved under his watch.

“Kyle has told me multiple times that as long as he is here, he is not going to trade me and from what I saw that [Mike] Babcock said that I was going to be here a long time, I’m not really too worried about that,” he said while meeting the media on Monday.

Nylander will be paid $21M of the $45M owed to him by the end of the 2019-20 NHL season. His cap hit will remain $6,962,366M, but he’ll only be paid $6M in salary a season in each of the final four years. He also wasn’t eligible for a no-trade clause until the last year of the contract, which is 2023-24 and is a 10-team no-trade list.

[WATCH LIVE – 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“[Nylander’s] contributions that you’ve seen year in and year out, the effect that Mike Babcock, Jim Hiller and D.J. Smith have on him, he continues to grow as a player, not just as a producer of points which we know he can do but continues to get better and better,” Dubas said. “I have faith knowing him and his intelligence level, his dedication to his craft that he’s going to continue to improve. That’s not the type of person that we want to see walk out of here.”

As the Leafs welcome back Nylander, they face the Sabres in a battle between the two of the top teams in the Atlantic Division.

After a 2-1 defeat to the Western Conference-leading Nashville Predators Monday night, the Sabres have now lost three straight games all by one goal. But Buffalo has had a lengthy streak of playing well against solid competition. During their 10-game winning streak, they defeated Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and San Jose.

The Maple Leafs will have to find a way to slow down red-hot Jeff Skinner, who has six goals in his last seven games. The pending UFA leads the Sabres in goals with 20 and his tied for second overall in the NHL with Brayden Point. He had just 24 goals all last season with Carolina and played in all 82 games.

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Fletcher hiring reaction; crowded Calder field

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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.

• The Edmonton Oil Kings are going all out for their upcoming Teddy Bear Toss Night.

• Dave Hakstol is safe. For now. “I’m just coming in. I’m a big believer in trying to get to know a situation before you make a reaction. I’d like to think we can solve a lot of the issues that have plagued this team this year and find a way to get better. I certainly have no intention of making a coaching change tomorrow, if that’s your question. I’m gonna meet with Dave, we’re going to try to work together and push. Our goal is to make the playoffs this year. It’s that simple and we have work to do and it will be a challenge. There’s no reason why we can’t get better and we can’t push to make the playoffs and find a way to get in.” [Courier Post]

• “This move, by all means, is not the ‘sexy’ pick. The Flyers did not go out and find another Kyle Dubas. They found someone with a lot of experience at the position and someone who’s built very competent and capable hockey teams. Fletcher’s Wild teams may never have made it past round two of the playoffs, but they were consistently in or fighting for the playoffs.” [Broad Street Hockey]

• Voting for the 2019 NHL All-Star Game in San Jose is open. [NHL.com]

• A look at how William Nylander will affect the Toronto Maple Leafs. [Sportsnet]

• Why the Brayden Point extension talks with the Tampa Bay Lightning should begin with what Nylander got from the Maple Leafs. [Raw Charge]

Elias Pettersson, Brady Tkachuk, Rasmus Dahling — it’s a pretty great Calder Trophy field. [TSN]

• Why Paul Stastny should be cemented on the second line when he returns to the Vegas Golden Knights’ lineup. [Sin Bin Vegas]

• A three-time Olympic gold medalist with Canada’s women’s national team on the ice, Jennifer Botterill has taken her off-ice talents as a broadcaster to the MSG Network. [Winnipeg Sun]

• Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy is still working his way back from a concussion. [Bruins Daily]

• Here’s the 3D Christmas jersey that the ECHL’s Allen Americans will wear on Dec. 22. The Reading Royals donned 3D looks for a game last month:

• Florida Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck gives an update on his recovery from a nasty leg injury. [Panthers]

• What the Panthers can learn from the Lightning. [The Rat Trick]

• The fourth line has been delivering for the Washington Capitals. [NBC Washington]

• Good read on Jared Doyon, Quinnipiac University hockey PA announcer who deals with Tourette’s syndrome. [Quinnipiac]

• Finally, Patrick Gaul didn’t allow losing his stick to prevent him from scoring an overtime winner for the South Carolina Stingrays:

The Buzzer: Kucherov, Point dazzle again

Associated Press

Three stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov extended his point streak to 10 games in style with a four-point night as the Lightning crushed the New Jersey Devils 5-1.

Kucherov scored the game’s opening goal and then assisted on three of the team’s next four goals. No. 86 has five goals and 24 points during his 10-game heater.

2. Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators

Goals had been few and far between for Fiala up until last week. Since Nov. 27 — four games now — Fiala has three goals in that span and now five on the season.

Fiala’s second-period marker proved to be the game winner as Pekka Rinne did the rest, stopping 21 shots to put Nashville alone atop the Western Conference standings.

3. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

Kucherov being an assist machine as of late has certainly benefitted those around him, including Point, who was the beneficiary of another Kucherov pass on the power play to give Point his 20th goal of the season — one back of Patrik Laine.

Kucherov has assisted on 11 of Points 20 goals, but Point isn’t too bad at dishing out the apples himself. His two assists in the game were his 16th and 17th of the season to put him third on the team in that category.

Highlights of the night

Totally meant to do that:

Kind of not fair:

Ditto with this one:

Factoids

Scores

Lightning 5, Devils 1

Predators 2, Sabres 1

Stars 4, Oilers 1


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