George McPhee’s strategic moves help Vegas reach Cup Final

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — George McPhee’s endgame has always been about making the Golden Knights contenders.

Strategic moves to keep winning.

The veteran general manager has ridden his savvy all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, a stirring run by the first-year franchise and the first major sports team in Las Vegas. While the expansion draft gets most of the attention in attempts to explain the unusual success, the moves made by McPhee in late February, when the trade deadline came along, have proven just as important.

”I wanted to wait as long as we could to determine what we had as a team,” McPhee recalled. ”At the trade deadline we felt it was a very good team. But it was getting thin, we were getting banged up, guys out of the lineup, we had other guys playing hurt. We wanted to do the very best we could for this team that was playing its guts out, to help it.”

He began moving pawns across the NHL chessboard, starting with the acquisition of forward Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for three draft picks: a first-round pick in 2018, a second-round pick in 2019 and a third-round pick in 2021. Tatar brought with him a contract worth $15.9 million through the 2020-21 season.

While the Golden Knights did send Brendan Leipsic to Vancouver for Philip Holm, perhaps the biggest trade was the one for bruising forward Ryan Reaves from Pittsburgh, a move that included the Golden Knights acquiring 40 percent of Derick Brassard‘s contract. Brassard going to Pittsburgh from Ottawa meant the talented center would not be going to Winnipeg – the team Vegas just beat in a rugged Western Conference final.

Many wondered whether the trade would be worth it given Reaves’ notoriety for physical play. But Reaves brought some brawn to the Golden Knights and scored the game-winning goal in Game 5 at Winnipeg.

”We just thought when we get into the games down the stretch and we’re in the playoffs, we can have a guy that can play the game right,” McPhee said. ”Ryan did a good job of providing the line and getting us good, hard, safe minutes on some nights. Even though they’re not scoring like some of the other lines, they’re one of our better lines because they’re playing the game right. The other team isn’t getting chances, we’re keeping it deep on them and playing physical on them.”

McPhee and coach Gerard Gallant also wanted to make sure the chemistry built over the first five months of the inaugural season wasn’t disrupted. And that meant keeping most of the lineup intact.

That included unrestricted free agents David Perron and James Neal, both of whose names swirled in trade rumors, and at the beginning of the season were perceived as rentals until the deadline. Nobody saw the Golden Knights doing as well they did, so it was conceivable guys like Perron and Neal could’ve been sent to playoff contenders for future draft picks or younger, up-and-coming players by the deadline.

As it turned out, Perron and Neal were already on a playoff contender and on their way to stellar seasons. Perron registered a career-high 66 points in the regular season, while Neal piled up 25 goals, scoring at least 20 in each of his first 10 NHL seasons. The only other current players to do the same: Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and Thomas Vanek.

”We knew that we weren’t moving anybody out,” Gallant said. ”We were happy with our lineup, we were happy with the group of players we got. We talked about adding players to our team, to make our team better and we definitely did that. But there was no thought about moving any of players out at that time. We had a great season, everything was going good and we wanted to make sure we had enough security for a playoff run and that’s what they did.”

The Golden Knights await the winner of the East final between Tampa Bay and Washington, with Game 7 set for Wednesday night. The Stanley Cup Final begins Monday.

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Canucks’ Boeser taken to hospital for precautionary reasons after fall

The Vancouver Canucks were able to come from behind on Monday night to defeat the New York Islanders in overtime thanks to a three-point effort from their newest acquisition, Brendan Leipsic.

But that is probably not what the team or its fans are thinking about at the moment.

Instead it has to be the health of rookie sensation Brock Boeser after he took an awkward fall into the boards late in the third period and had to be taken to the hospital.

As Boeser went to deliver a hit on Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck, he was knocked backwards and fell awkwardly right in front of the Canucks’ bench, slamming into the edge of the boards where the door had been opened for a line change.

You can see the play in the video above.

Boeser remained down on the ice for several minutes before being helped off to the locker room.

After the game Canucks coach Travis Green said that Boeser was taken to a local hospital for precautionary reasons.

Green did not wish to comment any further.

“You’re concerned no matter what when a player is injured,” said Green. “I don’t want to a make a comment. I hope he’s alright. I think our guys feel like it’s a bruise.”

Boeser, one of the NHL’s standout rookies this season, has been one of the few bright spots in the Canucks lineup this year.

He is the leading goal scorer in the league among rookies with 29, and is second in total points (55) trailing only New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal.

He is the Canucks’ leader in goals, points, and shots on goal.

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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: Lucic snaps 29-game goal drought; Playmaking Phil

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Player of the Night: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

Erik Karlsson hasn’t had his best season for the Ottawa Senators, but he is still one of the NHL’s best and most impactful players.

He had a big night for the Senators on Monday night in their 3-2 overtime win over the Dallas Stars.

After setting up a Matt Duchene goal in the third period to give the Senators a 2-1 lead, he went on to score the game-winning goal in overtime to help give his team just its second win in the past eight games.

For Karlsson, it was his third multi-point game in the past four.

Leipsic leads Canucks over Islanders

Brendan Leipsic had quite a game for the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, scoring a pair of goals — including the overtime winner — and assisting on another in a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders. Since being acquired from Vegas before the NHL trade deadline Leipsic now has two goals and three assists in three games with the Canucks.

As for the Islanders … well … there is a reason we placed them at No. 31 in this week’s power rankings. They had a 2-0 lead on Monday night and then proceeded to get outscored 4-1 the rest of the night to lose their seventh game in a row.

They have won just four of their past 17 games.

Lucic finds the back of the net

Milan Lucic has had an absolutely miserable season for the Edmonton Oilers and it’s only been getting worse over the past couple of months.

Entering Monday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes he had recorded just one point (an assist) in his past 17 games and had not scored a goal in 29 consecutive games. It was still 2017 when he found the back of the net most recently. He had only five assists during that drought.

He finally put one on the board for the Oilers on Monday night. Here it is.

The Oilers let a two-goal third period lead slip away but were able to still get the win in overtime thanks to an Oscar Klefbom goal.

Highlight of the Night

Most of the attention directed toward Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel is because of his shot and ability to score goals. What does not get enough attention is his ability as a playmaker. Since arriving in Pittsburgh his 128 assists are the 18th most in the NHL during that stretch, and he always seems to have a way to find the open man. He did it again in overtime on Monday night to set up Justin Schultz for the game-winning goal. He faked everybody.

Factoid of the Night

What a rookie season for Mathew Barzal. Hit a milestone on Monday night with his 50th assist of the season.

That was the only bright spot for the New York Islanders on Monday night.

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Calgary Flames 3

Buffalo Sabres 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 3

Ottawa Senators 3, Dallas Stars 2

Edmonton Oilers 4, Arizona Coyotes 3

Vancouver Canucks 4, New York Islanders 3

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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.

Fantasy impact of 2018 NHL Trade Deadline: West

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PHT’s James O’Brien wrote the first part of this two-part fantasy series, yesterday. He broke down how the trade deadline affected teams in the Eastern Conference. You can read that story by clicking here.

Today, we’ll take a look at how the moves the Western Conference teams made will affect the fantasy world.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks made a minor move as they shipped Chris Wagner to the Islanders for Jason Chimera, who won’t be lighting the fantasy world on fire anytime soon. Anaheim will have to continue leaning on guys like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell and company to lead the charge offensively if they’re going to make the playoffs.

Arizona Coyotes: The ‘Yotes made a minor-league move, but nothing that will have any affect in fantasy leagues. Arizona will continue to be a graveyard for fantasy production between now and the end of the season.

Calgary Flames: Nick Shore was on the move for the second time in the month of February. The 25-year-old is a great depth piece, but don’t expect to contribute much offensively. He’s another player that won’t alter the fantasy landscape. Like Anaheim, if the Flames make it to the postseason, it’ll be because their top guns take them there (that means you Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan).

Chicago Blackhawks: Shipping Ryan Hartman to Nashville has opened up a spot on the wing. It looks like Tomas Jurco is going to get an opportunity to skate on the ‘Hawks second-ish line with Artem Anisimov and Anthony Duclair.

Trading Michal Kempny away to Washington on Feb. 19 seems to have opened up a roster spot for Carl Dahlstrom. The 22-year-old has three assists in eight games, but he’s still a little raw.

Colorado Avalanche: Outside of acquiring Ryan Graves from the Rangers, the Avs didn’t do much on deadline day. That means that Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen will continue to be the difference makers on a much-improved Avs team.

There were rumblings about Tyson Barrie potentially being on the move, but GM Joe Sakic decided to hold on to his offensive blue liner.

Dallas Stars: Jim Nill surprisingly didn’t make a move to help his team make a push for a playoff spot.

Edmonton Oilers: With Patrick Maroon now out of the picture in Edmonton, the Oilers are forcing Connor McDavid to carry Anton Slepyshev and Milan Lucic. All kidding aside, Slepyshev is a big body with some skill, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together at the NHL level yet. Assuming he continues playing with McDavid, he should get a nice little fantasy boost down the stretch. As for Lucic, not even McDavid can resurrect his fantasy stock. Sorry Connor, you’re on your own.

The Oilers were also able to land Pontus Aberg in the days leading up to the deadline. The former Predator has been skating on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Michael Cammalleri, so they’ve put him in an interesting position offensively, too.

Los Angeles Kings: GM Rob Blake made a couple of decent-sized moves earlier in February, but he didn’t do anything on deadline day. Obviously, Dion Phaneuf has fit in quite nicely since joining the group, as he’s picked up three goals and three assists in nine games with his new team.

Tobias Rieder, who was acquired in a trade with Arizona for goalie Darcy Kuemper, has had a tougher time adjusting to the Kings. He has just one goal in five games, but he’s been playing on a line with Adrian Kempe which is interesting.

Minnesota Wild: Chuck Fletcher seemed to learn from last year’s mistakes, when he made a splash for rental forward Martin Hanzal. That didn’t work out, so all the Wild did on deadline day was ship Mike Reilly to Montreal for a pick in 2019.

Nashville Predators: We talked about Hartman before, but he should get a significant fantasy boost now that he’s on the Predators. He’s been skating on a line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg, so he should be in a much better situation to produce. He racked up the game-winning goal in Tuesday’s win over the Jets and he also registered an assist against Edmonton on Thursday.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks arguably got the best bang for their buck when they landed Evander Kane. If they don’t sign Kane to an extension, they lose a second-round pick. If they do bring him back, it’ll cost them a first-rounder in 2019. The former Sabre has been skating with Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi. It doesn’t sound like the Sharks will bring him back, but maybe he’ll change their mind. Kane has picked up three assists in his first two games with his new team. Maybe he’ll put some life into Pavelski, too.

St. Louis Blues: Well, the Blues shocked the hockey world and some of their players when they sent Paul Stastny to Winnipeg. Losing Stastny will hurt the Blues playoff chances and it’ll hurt them offensively too because they’ve lost a playmaking center.

Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning was able to find a taker for Thomas Vanek, but they failed to get a draft pick for him. Tyler Motte is the youngster they got in the deal (they landed Jussi Jokinen too, but yeah). The 22-year-old will get every opportunity to become a regular with Vancouver, but he doesn’t augment their offense in any way.

They also sent Philip Holm to Vegas for Brendan Leipsic.

Vegas Golden Knights: The NHL’s newest team surprised some people when they traded three draft picks to land Tomas Tatar from Detroit. Tatar spent most of his first game with Cody Eakin and Tomas Hyka, but don’t be surprised if he’s thrown into more of an offensive role as the games go by.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets augmented their depth at center by adding Stastny from a division rival. On top of going to a contender, Stastny also has been slotted on a line with wingers Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. That should help him produce a little more regularly even if he’s on Winnipeg’s third line. He had a goal and an assist in Tuesday’s loss to Nashville. Having a playmaker like Stastny should also help both youngsters he’s playing with.

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.

‘Spare parts’ doing the unimaginable in Vegas

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WINNIPEG — Spare parts. Castoffs. Rejects. The unwanted.

“Misfits,” James Neal added, interrupting to offer another name to the list he’s heard before Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win against the Winnipeg Jets.

Take one of those labels and paste it into a thesaurus search. What you’ll find is an endless array of monikers that have been applied to the Vegas Golden Knights, both right after they were assembled, and still to this day — even as they occupy the top spot in the Western Conference as of Friday.

It’s become a running narrative this season. A team that was forged out of a spare parts bin, built with the near certain likelihood they’d fail given, well, history.

They’d need better parts to put forth a better, more reliable product. Those parts would take some time to acquire. Some would have to be built in-house while others would be acquired through meticulous vetting to ensure the proper fit.

Few, if any, figured an unknown product would fit so seamlessly together. It’s like if Apple’s most recent iPhone X was the first iPhone, skipping all the refinement, the little detail adjustments and tweaks, and stumbling into a masterpiece on the first try.

For Neal, who has clearly paid attention to what has been written in print and spoken on TV and radio, the parts assembled perhaps finally had a platform to perform at peak efficiency.

“I think the best part is everyone had a fresh chance with a new team, a chance they maybe hadn’t had in the past — something to prove,” he said. “Whether you’re an established player or an unestablished player or a three-time Stanley Cup champion like (Marc-Andre Fleury), you still have something to prove.”

Neal said the various parts of the Golden Knights had to come together in short order. The fit, he says, has been nothing short of remarkable.

“We wanted to come in and work hard,” he said. “We knew we could be competitive with the group we had. There was no reason why would couldn’t come in and be a good team.”

Fellow forward Brendan Leipsic fits into the unestablished category that Neal explained.

Leipsic, a rookie, had six games of NHL experience prior to this season. Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round in 2012, Leipsic was eventually traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. When the Leafs left him exposed, he was snatched up by George McPhee.

Since then, he’s played a further 39 NHL games.

“We were a team of a lot of guys who didn’t know each other,” Leipsic said. “We were in a situation unlike one that any of us had really been in.”

The mandate from head coach Gerard Gallant was simple: Come in, work hard.

“It will give us a chance to win,” Leipsic said, reiterating the words Gallant spoke when the team met for the first time last summer.

Leipsic said Gallant’s black and white approach to coaching has helped. Players know what they need to do. There’s no grey area.

“And I think guys like playing for each other,” Leipsic said, adding ‘blue collar’ to the list.

“It’s not a huge surprise to us.”

The Golden Knights aren’t infallible. They possess the flaws like any other team in the National Hockey League.

Gallant was not happy with his team’s game after Thursday’s win, despite his team winning its 34th game, which made them the most successful expansion team in its inaugural season, passing the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Florida Panthers, both who won 33 games during the 1993-94 season.

“We weren’t great,” Gallant said of his team’s effort. “We found a way. We know we’re playing a good team that plays a physical game. Like I said, I don’t think we were great and we didn’t play one of our better games but again we found a way.”

Resilient and relentless — the real identity of the Vegas Golden Knights.

“We’re a team that is four lines that continue to come at you shift after shift after shift,” Neal said. “We used (what was said about us) as motivation. We still are.”

Fittingly, Neal summed up his team by using something he’s heard many times before.

“It’s a good combination of parts.”


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