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Trading Jeff Skinner would likely haunt Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes need to score more goals. You know what’s a bad way to do that? By trading away their best sniper.

More than a few rumors are swirling that the Hurricanes are shopping Jeff Skinner, a winger who easily leads Carolina in goals (89 versus 55 in second place) and points (163, with second coming in at 139) since 2015-16. Elliotte Friedman mentioned growing interest in Skinner in May 11’s “31 Thoughts” while Bob McKenzie opined that Skinner’s “days are numbered” during a recent podcast (or … Bobcast).

Let’s go over all of the reasons why this is a bad idea and an inopportune time to trade Skinner.

Not selling high

OK, it’s probably a stretch to say that the Hurricanes would be “selling low” on Skinner, but they wouldn’t be doing so during a moment of strength, either.

On one hand, Skinner – a player with past concussion problems – played a full 82 games in 2017-18. Skinner’s 24 goals ranked second to rising star Sebastian Aho, who potted 29. Skinner’s typically solid possession stats were even better than usual last season.

Still, if the Hurricanes must trade Skinner (a possibility at some point, as his $5.75 million cap hit expires after next season), they should wait. Skinner’s 8.7 shooting percentage was his lowest success rate since 2014-15, so rival GMs might view him as a less “sexy” option right now, as opposed to 2016-17, when he scored a career-high 37 goals and 63 points with a 13.7 shooting percentage, second only to his 14.4 percent mark from that memorable Calder-winning campaign in 2010-11.

The point is that recent history frowns upon trading players who were riding poor puck luck.

The Oilers didn’t get optimal value for Jordan Eberle. Reilly Smith was comically traded after his three seasons when his shooting percentage was under 10 (all in odd years).

At this moment, trading from a position of strength (defense) to improve a weakness (offense) makes sense for the Hurricanes, although there’s a challenge in getting that right. It’s tough to imagine Carolina enjoying the better end of a Skinner trade, especially in the immediate future.

Why rush this decision, particularly after a risky off-season of front office changes? Especially considering …

What a difference a year makes

It’s easy to forget how drastically an NHL team’s fortunes can change. Hot and cold streaks with goalies often explain why, too.

Last summer, the Winnipeg Jets seemed a lot like the Hurricanes: a team loaded with talent that couldn’t get over the hump, in part because of poor goaltending. The Senators and Oilers both saw flip-flopping seasons because of a number of factors, including stark contrasts between the good and bad for Craig Anderson and Cam Talbot respectively.

One could conceive of a situation where the Hurricanes look downright competitive if everything stayed the same and they merely improved in net, whether that means a rebound from Scott Darling or some other goalie coming in and pulling a Connor Hellebuyck.

This isn’t just about stopping pucks. Carolina wasn’t so great at scoring against goalies either in 2017-18, finishing ninth-to-last in the NHL with 225 goals. Skinner scored 24 of those, so would it really be wise to trade away essentially 10 percent of your tallies?

Hurricanes GM Don Waddell should take caution, as Skinner seems like he’d be part of the solution: a reliable scorer who can skate like few other players and who’s still in his prime at 26. The Hurricanes could regret trading Skinner as they battled in the playoff bubble, much like the Panthers missed Reilly Smith and/or Jonathan Marchessault.

And, if this team continues to flounder, you’d still likely be able to land a princely sum for Skinner during a mid-season or trade deadline move. Forcing a trade for the sake of making changes now seems almost certain to backfire, unless the Hurricanes convince a team to send a superstar their way. Somehow.

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Look, it’s plausible that someone will make the Hurricanes an offer they can’t refuse. Stranger things have happened.

Red flags wave over such rumblings when you consider how often teams regret trading a player when his shooting percentage has cooled, and sports/hockey history is bursting with examples of teams getting quarters on the dollar when they trade their better players.

It’s possible that the Hurricanes shouldn’t trade Skinner, period. Either way, this seems like a really risky time to make such a move.

I mean, unless Waddell wants to take some heat off of Dale Tallon, Peter Chiarelli, Marc Bergevin, and other GMs who’ve made trades that keep Hockey Twitter giggling into the night.

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.

Oilers robbing Connor McDavid of another MVP award

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The 2018 Hart Trophy race is one of the most fascinating ones we have seen in recent years because there really isn’t anyone that stands out head and shoulders above the pack, while there are also probably eight or nine players that all have a compelling argument to win it. It’s also brought back that maddening debate as to what “value” actually means to a team because the league’s best — and arguably most valuable — player, Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid, is stuck on a dog excrement team that can’t do anything right when he is not on the ice, all but completely submarining his chances of winning the award for the second year in a row.

The Oilers opened the season with the second best Stanley Cup odds in the NHL and are already mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and have, for all intents and purposes, been eliminated for at least half of the season.

That, in the eyes of many MVP voters, will disqualify McDavid from winning.

Maybe from even being a finalist.

Whether he wins the award or is a finalist or not, he is by any objective measure one of the most valuable players in the league this season. Maybe the most. If he played on a better team his performance would make him a slam dunk finalist. He might even win it. Given voting history, he probably would win it.

That is what is perhaps most maddening about this entire thing.

Teams that have players like him usually are better, and they should be better, and it’s a damning indictment on the Oilers organization that they are not better with a player like him on their roster. McDavid’s season presents such a firestorm of debate because we almost never see a season where a player this good, and this dominant, plays on a team this bad.

[Related: Connor McDavid may author one of NHL’s best wasted seasons]

With still four games remaining in the Oilers’ season McDavid has already scored 41 goals and recorded 103 points. He is almost certainly going to win the scoring title for the second year in a row, becoming the first player since Jaromir Jagr in the late 1990s to do so. He is also a back-to-back 100-point player in an era where 100-point seasons have all but disappeared. He has two in three years in the league. The rest of the league over that stretch has one.

Over the past 25 years there have been 36 teams that had at least one player hit the 40-goal, 100-point milestones. Out of that group, 32 of those teams made the playoffs. The only exceptions are McDavid’s Oilers, the 2005-06 Washington Capitals (Ovechkin’s rookie season on a clearly rebuilding team), the 1995-96 Anaheim Ducks (a third-year NHL franchise) with Paul Kariya, and the 1993-94 Philadelphia Flyers with Mark Recchi.

Nine of those teams with such a player went as far as the Conference Finals that year. Seven of them played in the Stanley Cup Final.

Only four Art Ross winners since 1980 have played on teams that missed the playoffs (Jamie Benn in 2014-15, Martin St. Louis in 2012-13, Jarome Iginla in 2001-02, and Mario Lemieux in 1987-88).

Iginla was the runner-up in his non-playoff Art Ross year. Lemieux won it in his year.

But McDavid doesn’t play on a better team. His team, independent of him, stinks.

Because hockey is a sport where the best and most impactful players (outside of the goalie) only play, at most, a third of the game there really isn’t an individual player, outside of maybe the occasional goalie (think Carey Price in 2014-15), that is going to single handedly drag a bad team to the playoffs.

Contrary to what you might have been told this season in other MVP arguments, there is no one really doing that for any of the bubble playoff teams, either.

Taylor Hall in New Jersey might be the player that is closest to doing that because even though the Devils have built a young, fast team that is on the rise, they’ve also been hammered by injuries and haven’t really had anything better than average goaltending. of course, average goaltending is better than whatever it is the Oilers are getting from a worn down and overworked Cam Talbot and their bad backups. The Devils, with a three-point lead over a Florida team that still has two games in hand on them, are also not a lock to make the playoffs.

Nathan MacKinnon’s breakthrough year is big reason the Colorado Avalanche have gone from being one of the worst teams the NHL has seen in decades a season ago to a potential playoff team this season. He has been absolutely amazing this season. But it is not just him behind that turnaround. The Avalanche also have another top-15 scorer on their roster in Mikko Rantanen and a goaltending duo that has combined for the ninth best save percentage in the NHL. The latter part being a pretty big development. The Avalanche, as of Friday morning, are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Pretty much any other MVP contender you can throw into the discussion plays on a team that has multiple impact players and better supporting casts around them. If you think that makes them more valuable than the league’s leading scorer and one of the most single dominant players in the game, more power to you.

I also disagree with you. Strongly.

When it comes to contributions to his team, creating wins, and, yes, adding value to his team, there may not be a better and more impactful player in the league than McDavid.

He has a point in 71 percent of the Oilers’ games.

He has contributed, by either scoring or assisting, on 46 percent of his team’s goals, which is just an obscene number.

His 13 three-point games this season are tied for the most in the league with MacKinnon.

Do you know the significance of a three-point game? When a team has a player record three points in a single game that team wins the game more than 90 percent of the time. It means his team has scored at least three goals, and in the NHL in 2017-18 three goals is more often than not enough to win a game on its own.

Somehow, in typical Oilers fashion, they have found a way to lose three of McDavid’s three-point games (a .769 winning percentage).

He has 30 games with at least two points (nearly 40 percent of the Oilers’ games), tied for most in the league with Kucherov

When he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Oilers are outscoring their opponents by 22 goals.

That is the level you see from playoff teams.

When he is not on the ice, the Oilers have been outscored by 30 goals. That is the level you see from lottery teams. That is also a 52-goal swing depending only on whether or not McDavid is on the ice. It is not uncommon for teams to be worse — or even slightly outscored — when their best player is not on the ice. It happens in most cases. It does not usually happen to this extreme.

The only three players and teams in the league that see anything close to that sort of swing is Taylor Hall and the Devils, Claude Giroux with the Philadelphia Flyers, and, shockingly, Mat Barzal with the New York Islanders.

When Hall is on the ice the Devils are outscoring their opponents by 17 goals. They get outscored by 23 without him (a 40-goal swing). The Flyers own a plus-22 goal differential with Giroux on the ice and have been outscored by 16 without him (a 38-goal swing). It’s a 37-goal difference for Barzal and the Islanders (plus-12 with him, minus-27 without him).

At the other end of that spectrum, the Lightning actually outscore their opponents by 23 goals when Nikita Kucherov is not on the ice (they are plus-21 with him). The Kings outscore their opponents by 18 goals when Kopitar is not on the ice (plus-13 with him).

When McDavid does not record a point in a game the Oilers’ points percentage on the season is only .181.

Want to see how that compares to the other top-20 scorers in the NHL at the moment?

They are 3-17-2 when he does not get on the scoresheet.

That means they are 31-20-6 when he does. That is actually a pretty good record!

Every single number you look at it it paints two crystal clear pictures. The first is that McDavid is probably the best and most impactful player in the league.

The second is that the Oilers organization around him is a raging tire fire that has squandered three years of the best and most impactful player in the league while that player was making peanuts against the salary cap.

As great as McDavid is and has been he is not so far above the rest of the pack that it should make him a slam dunk winner. Giroux has a great — and really underrated — argument. Hall and MacKinnon are in there, too. But if we are being honest none of them have really contributed to their teams what McDavid has or impacted the game the way McDavid has.

Nobody in the league has.

That is value. That is incredible value. It remains true no matter how bad the rest of McDavid’s team is.

The Oilers wasted it. By doing so they not only gave McDavid one less shot at a Stanley Cup in his career, they took away the chance for him to make some individual history as well.

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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.

Let’s examine the Ducks’ OT strategy of waiting out, exhausting the Oilers (Video)

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The addition of three-on-three overtime to decide regular season games is one of the best changes the NHL has made in … well … decades. It can be chaotic, fast-paced, insane fun, and a great opportunity to see the best and most talented players in the world really show off their skill and creativity. It has been so popular that the league even transitioned the All-Star game into a three-on-three mini-tournament.

The Anaheim Ducks’ strategy on Sunday night in their 5-4 win over the Edmonton Oilers was anything but exciting.

In the end it was kind of hilarious given the context of what was happening, but hardly exciting.

Let’s take a look at how they scored the winning goal to pick up a massive extra point in the standings.

After winning the opening faceoff the Ducks simply circled around in their own zone, ragging the puck around and passing to one another, for nearly a minute-and-a-half just playing an extended game of keep away.

Some facts.

  • The Ducks attempted and completed 10 passes to one another in the defensive zone
  • The puck never left the Ducks’ zone until 1:14 of the overtime period had passed
  • The Edmonton Oilers went the entire overtime period, nearly a minute-and-a-half, and never once had one of their sticks touch the puck.

The original thought — as was outlined on the Sportsnet broadcast as this was happening — was that they were probably just killing time waiting for Edmonton’s two best players, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, to leave the ice.

McDavid and Draisatl — as well as defenseman Darnell Nurse — ended up staying on the ice the entire shift. If nothing else all of that skating around and waiting tired them out. Meanwhile, the Ducks made several changes to their trio, one at a time, while they skated around in their own zone. So even though they didn’t get McDavid and Draisaitl off the ice, they were almost certainly not the freshest legs on the ice and only a fraction of what they might be when rested.

Once the Ducks decided to charge up the ice, they won the game on their first — and only — rush, ending the game when Hampus Lindholm pounced on a loose puck in the slot and snuck one through Oilers goalie Cam Talbot.

It is all kind of amazing to watch unfold.

First, it brings back some memories of when the Philadelphia Flyers refused to attack Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 alignment a few years back.

It was not quite to that extreme, but it was still at least somewhat reminiscent.

But what does this say about the Oilers that the Ducks were willing to just circle around in their own zone for 80 seconds, waiting for the one true threat on the other team (well, let’s be fair to Draisaitl and say two threats) to either exhaust himself or just leave the ice entirely before they actually tried to attack? Probably that there is nobody else on that team that put any fear into the Ducks, and the two players that could never even had a chance to make a play. In a lost, disappointing season full of low points, this was probably one of the worst moments for the Oilers, watching an opponent just toy with them for an entire overtime period.

Was it the most exciting 80 seconds of three-on-three overtime that we have ever seen?

Not at all.

But it worked to perfection, probably even better than the Ducks could have hoped.

For them, that is all that matters.

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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.

Here is the latest goalie interference call that has everyone angry (Video)

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In what seems to be almost a nightly occurrence, there was another goaltender interference call on Saturday night that left almost everyone that watched it completely confused.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0 in the second period, defenseman Brian Dumoulin appeared to get the Penguins on the board after making a power move to the front of the net and beating Frederik Andersen for what appeared to be a rather pretty goal.

The only problem for Dumoulin and the Penguins is that not only was the goal immediately disallowed on a goalie interference call, Dumoulin was actually given a two-minute minor penalty for goalie interference.

You can see the play in the video above.

Dumoulin does make contact with Andersen as he drives to the net, but a lot of it seems to be the result of him being pushed from behind by Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey.

Because there was a penalty called on the play the Penguins were not able to challenge the play.

Toronto went on to immediately score on the ensuing power play to take what could have been a 3-1 game and turn it into a 4-0 game. That two-goal swing would prove to be a big deal later in the game when the Penguins scored a pair of late third period goals to cut the deficit to 4-2 before giving up an empty net goal.

Based on the reactions there was plenty of disagreement with the call.

After the game Penguins coach Mike Sullivan echoed what a lot of other people around the NHL have said throughout this entire goalie interference ordeal by making the nobody knows what it is argument.

“It’s obviously a huge issue in the league,” said Sullivan. “It’s been discussed all year long. It seems every week there is something that this issue gets raised. It’s a challenge that the league has to try to iron out. I know it is being discussed, and everybody is going to try to do their best to clarify the language, clarify the criteria, whatever it may be because right now I don’t think anyone really knows what is goalie interference and what isn’t.”

Earlier this week the Toronto Maple Leafs were on the other end of a controversial goaltending interference ruling that resulted in coach Mike Babcock sounding off on the rule and demanding that the issue get fixed before the playoffs.

That came after Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot went on a profanity laced tirade over the situation following a loss one month ago.

Saturday’s incident came on the same day that Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that Colin Campbell, the man in charge of the NHL’s hockey operations department, is going to deliver the message to teams that the type of criticism the rule is facing is not okay.

As long as there seems to be this much confusion it does not seem that the criticism is going to go away.

Especially if it starts to impact playoff games.

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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.

Maple Leafs should rest workhorse goalie Andersen

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Earlier this season, much of the discussion about the Edmonton Oilers’ struggles revolved around the possibility that Cam Talbot was worn out from 2016-17. At least when people weren’t making trade jokes.

There’s no denying that Talbot carried a heavy burden last season, starting a Brodeurian 73 regular-season games and then heading Edmonton’s playoff push.

One cannot help but wonder if the Toronto Maple Leafs are taking similar risks with their 28-year-old workhorse goalie Frederik Andersen. No goalie has faced more shots (3,923) and made more saves (3,605) than Andersen since he joined the Buds last season. In fact, it’s not particularly close, with Andersen leading Talbot and the rest of the pack by at least 200 shots faced/saves.

To his credit, Andersen’s passed his tests with flying colors, generating a .919 save percentage so far despite those heavy minutes.

That’s all a testament to Andersen, who seemed pretty happy with the idea of carrying such a burden last season. Still, Mike Babcock & Co. should think long and hard about giving Andersen more rest down the stretch, even if they might need to ward off the occasional rebuttal. Take, for instance, what Nazem Kadri told the Canadian Press about resting players about a year ago:

“Never. Never,” Kadri said when asked about the subject before adding a slight caveat. “Maybe if you had first locked into place by a mile and it was the last game of the year on the road or something — maybe you sit a guy out. But never for multiple games … If a healthy player is healthy he’s playing.”

Now, the Maple Leafs don’t have “first locked into place by a mile,” yet they seem more or less stapled to third in the Atlantic Division. With the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins hammering out what could be a tight battle for the division crown, Toronto could make for a tough opponent if they bring younger and fresher legs into such a series.

As formidable as the Bruins and Lightning look, both teams are banged up. The B’s are playing it safe with Tuukka Rask, too:

The Maple Leafs are already taking a cautious approach with healing up Auston Matthews‘ shoulder injury, so why not play it safe with Andersen?

Beyond (ideally) reducing the odds of an injury, there are some other benefits to giving him a breather.

The Other Guys

Quietly, Curtis McElhinney has been fantastic as Andersen’s aging backup. The 34-year-old has 11 starts and 13 appearances, going 7-4-1 with a splendid .931 save percentage. He was pretty sturdy last season, too, generating a .917 save percentage between his time with Columbus and Toronto.

At minimum, it seems like McElhinney’s earned a few more looks, and the Maple Leafs would be wise to keep him sharp in case anything happens to Andersen.

Going further, the Maple Leafs also might want to take another glance or two at overqualified AHL goalie Calvin Pickard. The 25-year-old got a raw deal in being claimed off of waivers after getting lost in the shuffle with the Vegas Golden Knights, and if he’s sulking with the Toronto Marlies, he’s not exactly letting it affect his play. Pickard’s 17-8-0 with a .924 save percentage in the AHL this season.

With McElhinney signed through 2018-19 and Pickard set as a pending RFA, the Maple Leafs might have to make a choice regarding their backup situation soon. Giving one or both of them reps down the stretch might just bump up their trade value this summer, so there are benefits even beyond limiting Andersen’s fatigue.

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Now, this isn’t to say that Andersen should stick to the bench until April.

Goalies prefer to stay sharp, and considering the volume of shots the Maple Leafs often yield, he might feel like too much rest is like going cold turkey. There’s a balance to be struck here, and that may be the job of trainers, if not sports psychologists.

Still, the Maple Leafs lean a ton on Andersen, so they’d be wise to consider taking their feet off the pedal for a bit. At least until the real race begins in the playoffs.

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.