Brian Elliott

NHL Playoffs: How should top four East teams approach Round Robin?

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While the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams fight to make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Round Robin is merely for seeding. Such a scenario presents the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding teams (four in each conference) with many conundrums, including the age-old rest vs. rust debate.

PHT will take a look at such dilemmas for all eight teams in the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding, starting with the East. We’re going East first because the Bruins a) won the Presidents’ Trophy and b) addressed such debates recently.

We might as well go in order as they would be ranked, too.

Debates for East top four teams heading into NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding

Boston Bruins

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Bruce Cassidy said he’s open to the idea of resting players during the three-game Round Robin for Seeding.

“Would we like to win all three games? Of course, in a perfect world, but I think with all teams there’s going to be some sort of a preseason mentality worked in with how the lineups are constructed every game,” Cassidy said, via Haggerty. “But if the [veteran players] want to play every game then I’m going to listen to them. It’s their bodies and they would know best. Then in the last game in the third period we’re going to shut our eyes and hope nobody gets hurt in those situations.”

The Bruins are in a heightened situation. While it stings that they may lose the top seeding they earned with 2019-20’s only 100-point season, this is also a roster brimming with veterans.

Most obviously, Cassidy must manage Zdeno Chara (43) and Patrice Bergeron (34). Really, the list goes deeper even than Tuukka Rask, who’s 33.

Brad Marchand is 32, and stands as an example to other contenders. As you may recall, Marchand aggravated a previous hand injury before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Maybe it was coincidental, but Marchand’s top line struggled during that seven-game slugfest with the Blues. If teams like the Bruins want to go deep, they should emphasize caution most of all.

So, beyond the obvious, there are players who’ve been banged up like Torey Krug. Charlie McAvoy‘s also dealt with bumps and bruises despite ranking as one of the younger Bruins.

Overall, the Bruins rank among the East Round Robin teams with the most incentive to rest key players.

[MORE: How should the West’s top four teams handle rest vs. rust?]

Tampa Bay Lightning

How should the team with the most to lose deal with the Round Robin for Seeding?

Imagine how badly things could play out for the Lightning. We all know that their historic 2018-19 season ended in a stunning first-round sweep. Kenan Thompson mocked it. Andrei Vasilevskiy looked really steamed.

What if the Lightning fall short under these strange circumstances?

It could cost Jon Cooper his job. And there’s the increased risk of scapegoating a lack of “preparedness” if the Lightning take a preseason approach to the Round Robin for Seeding.

You could definitely make the argument that the Lightning took a while to get back into their elite form in 2019-20, too.

But … the Lightning are smarter than to cave to bad takes, right?

Let’s not forget that the Lightning didn’t really take their feet off the gas during that 2018-19 regular season — not really. Rather than resting stars more aggressively, Nikita Kucherov and others chased history.

Personally, it really looked like Victor Hedman was far from 100 percent, even missing some of that first-round sweep.

This Lightning team boasts a fairly old defense beyond Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev. Hedman is 29 already. Steven Stamkos is 30 (ponders own mortality for a second).

Cooper needs to find the right balance. If there’s any hint of failure in that regard, the vultures may start circling.

Washington Capitals

Zooming out, the most logical choice would be for the Capitals to promote rest.

Almost every major Capitals player is 30 or older, with the rare exception of breakthrough winger Jakub Vrana (24). There’s also some incentive to see if Ilya Samsonov (23) is still sharper than Braden Holtby (30).

But 34-year-old Alex Ovechkin doesn’t sit out a whole lot of games. Maybe the unique circumstances (and lack of a Maurice Richard Trophy to chase) might change Ovechkin’s approach, yet it’s not a slam-dunk to sit him. As Cassidy said, coaches will at times defer to players. It wouldn’t be shocking if such an approach occasionally backfires.

All things considered, the Capitals joust with the Bruins for the East Round Robin team with the most to gain from resting aging stars.

Philadelphia Flyers

The knee-jerk reaction would be to say that the Flyers want to shake off rust.

For one thing, the Flyers boast several core players in the younger range. Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are both 23, while Carter Hart is 21. The Flyers also are “playing with house money” as a team that could climb to the top spot if they end up hot during the Round Robin for Seeding.

But the Flyers have plenty of reason to be careful, too.

To start, the drop-off between Hart and Brian Elliott (or another goalie) looks pretty severe. You don’t necessarily want to increase injury risks with Hart, then.

Also, there are veterans to manage. Philly should aim to keep Claude Giroux (32) and Jakub Voracek (30) fresh, not to mention someone like Matt Niskanen (33). While Sean Couturier is only 27, he’s the sort of player you’ll lean on a ton in playoff situations. So you might want to tread lightly there.

Rather than overtaxing go-to guys, this could be an opportunity for others. Could Nolan Patrick crack the lineup if his migraine issues are behind him? Perhaps a prospect from Philly’s impressive farm system will make a jump?

The Flyers have a lot to like about this situation. Even so, they also need to avoid getting too greedy.

MORE ON NHL PLAYOFFS, ROUND ROBIN FOR SEEDING:

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.

Crawford, Howard, and other interesting veteran NHL free agent goalies

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Earlier this week, PHT looked at uncertain futures for veteran NHL free agent forwards. The league’s other positions face just as much, if not more, uncertainty. So let’s keep this going by tackling veteran NHL free agent goalies.

As with that forward focus, this isn’t a comprehensive list of NHL free agent goalies. This revolves around veterans, with an admittedly arbitrary cutoff of 30 years or older.

Said veteran NHL free agent goalies must also hit a sweet spot. We’re ignoring goalies who should be no-brainer signings (Robin Lehner‘s been one of the best netminders, and he’s also only 28). We’re also going to skate past goalies with dubious chances of being signed to NHL contracts.

You might think such specific parameters would mean zero veteran NHL free agent goalies. Nope, there’s a pretty interesting list. Actually, if you feel like someone prominent didn’t make the cut, do tell.

(We’ll know you are trolling if you blurt out “Robin Lehner,” by the way.)

[Players who might be considering retirement]

Corey Crawford

I was tempted to leave Crawford off of this list. The reasoning is simple enough: Crawford has plenty of name recognition, and he was actually quite good (16-20-3, but with a .917 save percentage) this season.

Ultimately, Crawford warrants a mention, though. For one thing, he’s not that far removed from injury issues that credibly threatened his career. Also, with the Blackhawks firing team president John McDonough and other signs of turmoil, there’s increased uncertainty regarding Crawford’s future with his longtime team. Crawford is 35, too, so there’s the risk of a 35+ contract likely limiting his term options.

Honestly, the Blackhawks might be justified in flinching at bringing back Crawford for a more cynical reason. If Chicago wants to blow things up, or at least institute a mini-reboot, Crawford may foil such plans by … being too good.

The 2018-19 season stands as one of just two seasons where Crawford’s Goals Saved Against Average was on the negative side. With a 9.01 mark for 2019-20, Crawford ranked ahead of the likes of Carter Hart (4.47), stellar backup Jaroslav Halak (8.83), and resurgent Cam Talbot (7.53).

It would be absurd if someone didn’t want Crawford. The NHL can be an absurd league sometimes, though.

Jimmy Howard

During the 2019 NHL trade deadline, it was a little surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade Howard. Outsiders can only speculate if it was more about then-GM Ken Holland asking for too much, or the market being truly, totally dry.

But, either way, Howard’s market value looks much different (read: worse) after a brutal 2019-20, both for the Red Wings and for their veteran goalie. The 36-year-old suffered through a lousy .882 save percentage this season after being steady for two seasons (.909 and .910) and fantastic in 2016-17 (.927).

My guess is that someone will be interested in Howard, but it would be a surprise if he wore a Red Wings sweater in 2020-21. I’d also guess he’s slated to be a clear backup.

Mike Smith

There are goalies teams talk themselves out of (like, seemingly, Robin Lehner). Then there are goalies who gain a lot of leeway, such as Smith.

Familiarity sure seemed to help Smith land with the Oilers. It’s safe to assume that Dave Tippett fondly recalled Smith’s outstanding work during the Coyotes’ 2012 Western Conference Final run. That nostalgia didn’t lead to enough timely saves, though, as Mikko Koskinen soundly surpassed Smith (and Talbot was better in Calgary).

At 38, and with two straight below-average seasons under his belt, Smith may be teetering out of the league. Then again, he’s a big goalie, can handle the puck, and some might weigh those increasingly distant memories almost as heavily as Tippett and the Oilers did last summer.

Other NHL free agent goalies

  • I assume that 34-year-old goalies Thomas Greiss and Anton Khudobin should earn ample interest. They’ve both been fantastic, so I didn’t feel they needed a section. If interest isn’t certain though … it should be.
  • For the most part, Ryan Miller‘s future hinges on his own choices, and preference to be in the California area. Still, he’s worth mentioning, being that he’s 39 and didn’t perform as well in 2019-20.
  • Brian Elliott, 35, came through at times for the Flyers when Hart was injured. The overall picture of his season wasn’t pretty, however. It was fair to wonder about his future last offseason, and he’ll need to keep his expectations modest if he wants to stick in the NHL.
  • The curious trend of Craig Anderson flip-flopping average and elite seasons ended a while ago. It’s now been three rough seasons for the 39-year-old. Maybe someone would believe he could regain some of his past form on a more … hopeful team than the Senators?
  • Aaron Dell ranked as one of the NHL’s better backups in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Then the past two seasons happened, casting serious doubt over the 31-year-old’s future. Perhaps a team might pin that on the Sharks’ system and give Dell, say, a competitive third goalie spot?
  • Could be mostly sad emojis for 30-year-old Keith Kinkaid.

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.

Long-term outlook for Philadelphia Flyers

Long-term outlook for Flyers Provorov Couturier Konecny
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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 Philadelphia Flyers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

When you look at the Flyers’ core, you should take a moment to appreciate the cleanup job Ron Hextall accomplished. The current regime took the baton and got off to a good run post-Ron, but give credit where it’s due. Hextall inherited a mess.

Now, sure, there are some risks.

One could see how the combination of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Kevin Hayes, and James van Riemsdyk could age poorly, and quickly. Concerns about the Flyers becoming the “next Kings/Sharks” are somewhat justified.

Yet … a lot of those risks are mitigated. Giroux’s contract ends after 2021-22, and there’s a strong chance he’ll still be worth the near-$8.3M. JVR and Voracek are both 30, but the terms could be worse. Same goes for Hayes; yes, it’s risky, but he won’t turn 28 until May 8. Chuck Fletcher (and Hextall) is guilty of some gambles, but not at the “slap the deed of your house on the poker stack” level.

Most importantly, nice to outright fantastic bargains give the Flyers leeway to roll the dice. After last season’s hiccup, Ivan Provorov looks like a gem, and a steal at $6.75M. Travis Konecny isn’t far behind at $5M, and both contracts run through 2024-25.

The Flyers really feasted on a deal with Sean Couturier, and the only bummer (for them, not Couturier’s accountant) is that a raise is coming from that $4.33M after 2021-22.

There’s a lot to like about the Flyers’ core, especially if the aging elements don’t rapidly go rotten.

Long-term needs for Flyers

Pondering the long-term needs of the Flyers, it’s clear the team needs some answers.

To start: how much is it going to cost to truly add Carter Hart to the core? The 21-year-old’s entry-level contract expires after 2020-21. Would it be better to lock him down as soon as possible, or see how he performs during a contract year? What kind of money and term would make sense for an extension?

While much of the Hart conundrums boil down to “good problems to have,” the Flyers need to find out about the future for players dealing with health issues. Beyond a frightening situation for Oskar Lindblom, Philly could use some insight on Nolan Patrick and Shayne Gostisbehere.

The latter found himself in trade rumors, yet “Ghost Bear” wasn’t exactly healthy. You don’t necessarily want to sell low on a player who can at least generate offense, and is still reasonably young (26) and generally cheap ($4.5M AAV through 2022-23).

Depth resonates as a need for the Flyers, at least if some of the above situations don’t work out.

Beyond depth, I also wonder: while the Flyers boast a strong core, can they really hang among the best of the best?

Long-term strengths for Flyers

Even as players graduate to regular or semi-regular NHL duty, the Flyers continue to hunt down strong draft prospects. Cam York, Morgan Frost, and Bobby Brink help the Flyers place eighth in Scott Wheeler’s prospect rankings (sub required), for example.

Could those players provide that extra “oomph” for this franchise?

It’s an enticing thought, especially as Travis Sanheim bolsters the bigger names, while Frost, Joel Farabee, and others attempt to make impressions.

The Flyers have a nice mix of veteran stars, budding younger stars like Provorov and Konecny, and those aforementioned intriguing prospects. Hart also made encouraging steps toward being that long lost goalie.

There are reasons to be optimistic about this team’s chances of being competitive for some time. What a difference a year makes, eh?

MORE ON THE FLYERS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

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 Face-Off: Hart’s splits; Kase’s impact on Bruins

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It’s Monday which means it’s time for the PHT Face-Off. We’ll look at different storylines from around the NHL and we’ll also break down certain trends that apply to the upcoming week.

Ondrej Kase‘s impact on Bruins

The Bruins acquired Kase from the Ducks for a first-round draft pick, but they also got to shed a good chunk of David Backes’ salary (that alone has a significant amount of value). But how was Kase fit in with his new team?

Well through five games, he’s picked up one assist and four penalty minutes while averaging 14:21 of ice time per game. It’s a small sample size, but the offensive side of his game hasn’t kicked in just yet.

Here’s what Joe Haggerty thinks:

Let’s compare and contrast his advanced numbers from 2019-20 (via Natural Stat Trick):

With Anaheim:
CF%: 54.66, FF%: 53.31, XG%: 49.55, HDCF%: 51

With Boston:
CF%: 48.78, FF%: 52.87, XG%: 49, HDCF%: 47.62

There’s a few things to keep in mind here. Again, it’s only five games. It’s the first time in his career that he gets traded, so it might take him a little bit more time to adjust to his new team. Give him some time.

Carter Hart‘s home/road splits:

Hart is having a terrific year for the Flyers. He’s a big reason why they’re in the hunt for top spot in the Metropolitan Division. But his home/road splits are so different.

In 24 games at home: He owns a 20-2-2 record with a 1.61 goals-against-average and .944 save percentage.

In 18 games on the road: He has a 4-10-1 record with a 3.81 goals-against-average and a .857 save percentage.

How is that going to work come playoff time? There’s a decent chance that they’ll have home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so maybe it doesn’t affect the team as much, but what happens as the playoffs keep rolling? It’s going to be an interesting story to follow.

Will they split time between Hart and Brian Elliott in the postseason?

Here’s a tweet from last week that’s still somewhat relevant today:

Alex Galchenyuk finally comes through for Minnesota: 

Galchenyuk has played for four different teams over the last three seasons. He went from a long stint in Montreal, to a one-year term in Arizona, to a 45-game stint in Pittsburgh, to Minnesota.

He was part of the trade that sent Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Galchenyuk is on an expiring contract and he may or may not be brought back in Minnesota. If the season doesn’t end well for him, what happens to him? Does he get another chance in the NHL? probably. But he’s running out of those.

The former third overall pick is still just 26 years old, but it seems like teams aren’t interested in keeping him around very long.

He didn’t exactly get off to a hot start in Minnesota, as he had four points in his first 11 games (two came in the same game). But he’s started making a little bit more of an impact on a team that’s hoping to make the playoffs.

Last night, he registered the primary assist on Mats Zuccarello‘s game-tying goal (1-1) and he added one of his own in the third frame to give his team a 4-3 lead (they eventually won in overtime).

He also scored a big second-period goal in last week’s 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Can he find a permanent home in Minnesota?

• Which Wisconsin first-rounders will go pro?

Cole Caufield, K’Andre Miller and Alex Turcotte. Will they be leaving the University of Wisconsin? Now that the team’s disappointing season has come to an end, we can finally start discussing whether or not these players will leave the Badgers.

Miller is two years into his career at Wisconsin, Turcotte and Caufield both wrapped up their first year.

Miller, a 20-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 18 points in 36 games this season. He already has NHL-ready size, as he’s listed at 6-foot-3, 206 pounds. The Rangers made him the 22nd overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

“I would guess that both (Miller) and [Flyers’ seventh-rounder] Wyatt (Kalynuk)  are going to have offers there for them,” head coach Tony Granato said, per Madison.com. “On (Turcotte) and Cole, I don’t really know. There might be a couple other guys that have opportunities. That’s something that we’ll look into talking about as the week goes along.”

Turcotte, who was Los Angeles’ fifth overall pick in 2019, had nine goals and 26 points in 29 games at Wisconsin this year. The 19-year-old also had two assists in five games for Team USA at the World Juniors this year.

The Kings won’t be good anytime soon, so you’d think that they’d want to take their time developing one of their high-end prospects.

And Caufield actually led the team in goals (19) and points (36) in 36 games this year. Those are impressive numbers for a freshman, but he’s also listed at 5-foot-7, 162 pounds. He also wasn’t much of a factor at the World Juniors (one goal, one assist in five games).

According to Pierre LeBrun, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin will meet with his 2019 first-round draft pick at some point this week. The Habs are already loaded with small players, but they don’t have an elite scorer. How quickly can Caufield become an effective player at the NHL level?

Bergevin’s job doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy heading into next season, but you’d have to think that next year will be his final opportunity to get his team into the postseason. At the same time, he’s also mentioned repeatedly that he won’t jeopardize the team’s future for immediate results.

This should be an interesting one.
What’s coming up this week?
• Playoff Preview? Tampa vs. Toronto, Tue. Mar. 10, 7 p.m. ET
Shea Weber vs. Nashville, Tue. Mar. 10, 7 p.m. ET
• Second-Round Playoff Preview? Boston vs. Toronto, Sat. Mar. 14, 7 p.m. ET
Joe Pavelski revenge game: Sharks vs. Stars, Sat. Mar. 14, 9 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN:
• Bruins vs. Flyers, Tue. Mar. 10, 7 p.m. ET
• Predators vs. Wild, Sun. Mar. 15, 7 p.m. ET

Wednesday Night Hockey: 
• Sharks vs. Blackhawks, Wed. Mar. 11, 8 p.m. ET

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.

Streaking Flyers closing in on Metro lead

Travis Konecny #11 of the Philadelphia Flyers scores a goal
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The Philadelphia Flyers moved within one point of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division with a 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals Wednesday.

Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov each had a goal and an assist as the Flyers won their seventh straight game. Brian Elliott made 25 saves and picked up his second win this season against the Capitals. Travis Konecny, Tyler Pitlick and Scott Laughton also scored for Philadelphia.

James van Riemsdyk left in the first period after blocking a shot with his right hand and did not return

“I’m not sure the severity of it,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters after the win. “There are different breaks but he took that shot right on the tip there. I’ll find out tomorrow (Thursday) for how long.”

Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway scored, but Washington fell for the second time in the previous three games. Four points separate the top three teams in the Metro and a slump could cost the Capitals, Flyers or Pittsburgh Penguins home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Provorov sealed the victory for the Flyers with a wicked wrist shot that sailed past the glove of Braden Holtby in the third period. Jakub Voracek patiently waited at the blueline until the young defenseman was able to join the rush and gave the Flyers a 4-2 lead. Philadelphia leads the NHL with 43 goals scored by defensemen this season.

The Flyers took a 3-1 lead in the second period with consecutive goals by Konecny and Hayes.

Konecny converted on the power play shortly after one of his attempts was waived off following a video review. Provorov took a shot from the point that Holtby couldn’t control and Konecny buried the rebound.

Hayes expanded the Flyers lead when Derek Grant wisely kicked a fluttering puck toward the other side of the crease for the tall center to finish. It was the 23rd goal and 40th point of the season for Hayes, his first with Philadelphia after signing a lucrative seven-year deal this summer.

Eller opened the scoring for Washington with a skillful backhand-forehand combination at 14:09 of the first period. Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin assisted on the play.

Hathaway helped the Capitals cut the Flyers’ deficit to 3-2 with a bar-down wrister from just above the crease in the second period.


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.