Chandler Stephenson

Looking at the 2019-20 Washington Capitals

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Washington Capitals.

Record: 41-20-8 (69 games), first in the Metropolitan Division, third in the Eastern Conference.
Leading Scorer: John Carlson – 75 points – (15 goals, 60 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves
• Traded Chandler Stephenson to Golden Knights for 2021 fifth-round pick.
• Acquired Brenden Dillon from Sharks for 2020 second-round pick, 2021 conditional third-round pick.
• Acquired Ilya Kovalchuk from Canadiens for 2020 third-round pick.
• Re-signed Nicklas Backstrom to five-year, $46 million extension.

Season Overview

After a surprising Round 1 exit ended their hopes for a Stanley Cup repeat, the Capitals didn’t allow that end to affect their start to 2019-20. By early in the new year they hit the 30-win mark and at the time of the NHL pause on March 12 they were atop the Metro and third in the conference. A lull in the final month — which saw them win only six out of 17 games — allowed for the division race to tighten up, with the Flyers and Penguins within four points after 69 games.

Two of the stories of the Capitals’ season so far are the play of John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin‘s 700th goal quest. Carlson has picked up points on a regular basis and leads the team with 75, a career high, along with 15 goals. The veteran defenseman is tops among all blue liners in scoring and is in the top 15 of overall skaters in points. His play has solidified himself in the Norris Trophy race as he will likely be one of the three finalists.

Ovechkin entered this season with 658 goals. In his 60th game of the season, the Capitals captain scored his 42nd to become the eighth NHL player to reach the 700-goal mark. It was quite the rollercoaster ride in the final games before he hit the mark. He went goalless in five straight games after previously scoring 14 in seven games, which included three hat tricks. He’s now part of an elite club with Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr, Brett Hull, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito, and Mike Gartner.

Another interesting storyline has been the situation in goal. Braden Holtby, who will be 31 in September, can be an unrestricted free agent in the off-season. Ilya Samsonov, 23, made his NHL debut this season, playing 26 games and posting a .927 save percentage at 5-on-5 vs. Holtby’s .905, per Natural Stat Trick. Head coach Todd Reirden, however, has continued to give the veteran the lion’s share of work of late, with Holtby starting 12 of the Capitals’ 17 games before the pause. With $71 million allocated for the 2020-21 season already, per CapFriendly, and the possibility of the cap remaining flat for at least one year, this could very well be Holtby’s last run with the team.

But that’s a question for the off-season. For now, general manager Brian MacLellan remains focused on regaining the Cup and bolstered his roster two moves at the trade deadline. First, he acquired a defenseman at the deadline for the fourth straight year, picking up Brenden Dillon from the Sharks. A few days later he added a reinvigorated Ilya Kovalchuk from the Canadiens. Both can be UFAs, but for now they’re two big pieces that strengthen a team that already had eyes on a deep playoff run.

Highlight of the Season

After a short slump, Ovechkin reached the 700-goal milestone on Feb. 22 in New Jersey:

 

MORE CAPITALS:
Biggest 2019-20 surprises, disappointments
Long-term outlook

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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.

Long-term outlook for Vegas Golden Knights

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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 Vegas Golden Knights.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

If you showed a non-hockey fan the salary structures of all 31 NHL teams, they’d probably not choose the Golden Knights as the team that’s only in the middle of its third season.

Rather than looking like they just entered the NHL, the Golden Knights are remarkably “established.” Consider their significant long-term commitments, which include luring players to Vegas:

That’s a lot of money, quite a bit of term, and many of those contracts include no-movement and/or no-trade clauses. Our Golden Knights are all grown up, already, folks.

On the bright side, a lot of those contracts are quite team-friendly. Theodore at $5.2M and Karlsson at $5.9M both stand out among the best deals (at least after Marchessault took a step back, and Tuch’s dealt with injury issues).

Few teams boast a strong mix of two top lines and some nice, prime-age defensemen at reasonable prices for considerable terms, let alone one that wouldn’t be old enough to go to Kindergarten. Yet, here we are with the Golden Knights.

[PHT Power Rankings: Where do Golden Knights rank among best and worst long-term outlooks?]

Long-term needs for Golden Knights

For some time, the Golden Knights experienced a serious need for a backup behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Considering that he’s 35, they had to know that MAF-or-bust wasn’t going to work forever. It sunk in 2019-20, to the point that they brought in Robin Lehner.

With Lehner being splendid during the past two years, and being much younger (in hockey terms) at 28, I can’t help but wonder if Vegas might try to be bold and keep Lehner around.

Doing so would require some juggling, possibly including trying to convince MAF to accept a trade … but it’s something the Golden Knights should at least consider.

Beyond figuring out goaltending depth one way or another — this free agent crop does look good, even beyond Lehner — Vegas faces the challenges most competitive teams do during this salary cap era. While I’d argue that Vegas is deeper than most, the Golden Knights could still use more help up and down the lineup.

Long-term strengths for Golden Knights

Under the assumptions you’d make about an expansion team, you’d expect the Golden Knights to possess a strong prospect pool. That they do, with the Golden Knights placing 10th on Scott Wheeler’s rankings at The Athletic (sub required), as one recent example.

When you pour over the details, the Golden Knights compiling a strong pool gets more impressive.

After all, the Golden Knights haven’t ever drafted higher than sixth (Cody Glass in 2017). They didn’t make a first-round selection in 2018, and only picked 17th (Peyton Krebs) in the 2019 NHL Draft.

In enjoying unexpected contention, Vegas also paid up for rentals and significant additions, bleeding picks and prospects like Erik Brannstrom and Nick Suzuki.

Despite losing key assets, the Golden Knights still managed to bulk up on prospects, giving them a strong chance of supplementing their current stars as they get older. Ideally, a Glass or Krebs may pick up the slack when players like Pacioretty run out of steam.

Beyond Pacioretty and Fleury, a lot of key Golden Knights are either in or around their primes. That Stone price tag might eventually be rough, but right now he’s a two-way superstar, and the Golden Knights can win plenty of best-on-best battles.

When you ponder the big picture, few teams enjoy a better long-term outlook than the Golden Knights.

MORE ON THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS:

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Vegas Golden Knights

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights. 

Record: 39-24-8 (86 games), first in the Pacific Division, third in the Western Conference.
Leading Scorer: Max Pacioretty – 66 points – (32 goals, 66 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

• Traded Chandler Stephenson to Capitals for a 2021 fifth-round pick.

• Acquired Alec Martinez from Kings for second-round picks in 2020, 2021.

• Traded Cody Eakin to Jets for a 2021 conditional fourth-round pick.

• Acquired Nick Cousins from Canadiens for 2021 fourth-round pick.

• As part of a three-team deal, acquired Robin Lehner, traded a 2020 fifth-round pick to Maple Leafs, traded Malcolm Subban, Slava Demin, and a 2020 second-round pick to Blackhawks.

Season Overview

Did the crushing end to 2018-19 affect the Golden Knights’ start to this season? It may have played a role, but the biggest issue was goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban could not provide support to a high-powered offense and a team that has been among the best in the possession department.

That weakness ultimately led to Gerard Gallant’s dismissal in January as the team sported a 24-19-6 record. At the time, Vegas had the third-best Corsi in the NHL (54%), were top-10 in 5-on-5 scoring, and had the best expected goals percentage (106.93). But a .985 PDO and a .911 even strength save percentage were anchors on a contending team. It all set up Peter DeBoer, who replaced Gallant after being fired by the Sharks in December, in prime position to help a rebound.

Through Vegas’ 22 games under DeBoer there were slight improvements in those weak areas. Special teams and goaltending were slightly better, but between the pipes remained an issue. Fleury’s ESSV% is his worst in nearly a decade, which is why general manager Kelly McCrimmon went out and acquired Robin Lehner at the trade deadline. The Golden Knights experienced a small sample of what the Swedish netminder can do with only three appearances before the NHL pause. But should we have a resumption of play for this season, Vegas will clearly be a big contender coming out of the Western Conference after strengthening that area.

In spite of their goaltending and special teams, the Golden Knights hummed along to atop the Pacific Division through 71 games. Four players — Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault — each topped the 20-goal mark. Shea Theodore is currently fifth among defensemen with 13 goals and early-season addition Chandler Stephenson has found a role in Vegas with 22 points in 41 games.

DeBoer has only had 22 games behind the Golden Knights’, so his impact may not be felt for some time. The goaltending decision will be an interesting one depending on if the NHL resumes with the regular season or goes right to the playoffs. Fleury, who has two more seasons at a $7M cap hit remaining, has been outplayed by Lehner, a pending unrestricted free agent, this season. With Vegas a Cup contender, it should be an easy choice who to ride out the rest of this unique season with.

Highlight of the Season: Nic Petan surely thought he had a goal until Fleury did his thing:

MORE ON THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS:
Biggest surprises and disappointments of 2019-20
Golden Knights’ long-term outlook

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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: NHL decides what to do about coronavirus, season

NHL season could be on hold coronavirus
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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.

• TSN’s Darren Dreger expects the NHL to make a “tough announcement” about the season being affected by the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, and wonders if the league has any choice but to follow the NBA’s lead and put things on hold. (TSN)

• Dreger’s TSN colleague Frank Seravalli goes into detail about why the NHL is waiting until today to make a decision about possibly suspending the season due to the coronavirus outbreak. In general, the league wants to make sure it “canvasses” as many parties as possible before making a decision. (TSN)

• Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston says it well, though: it sure looks the NHL’s season is “dangling by a thread.” Not the type of dangling we like to see in hockey, nope. (Sportsnet)

• Seravalli also took a look at the potential financial impact of this coronavirus crisis on the NHL’s bottom line. (TSN; Elliotte Friedman also discussed it in “31 Thoughts”)

• In case you missed it, Nathan MacKinnon could miss a week-or-two with a lower-body injury. Obviously most relevant if the NHL doesn’t miss at least a week or two as North America tries to limit the spread of the coronavirus. (Sporting News)

Max Pacioretty is considered out week-to-week with a lower-body injury. The Golden Knights are hurting now, with Pacioretty joining Mark Stone, Alex Tuch, and Chandler Stephenson on the injured list. (Jesse Granger on Twitter)

• Sean McIndoe aka “Down Goes Brown” proposes a solution to the NHL’s “loser point” standings system. (The Athletic, sub required)

• If/whenever there’s a postseason, the Flyers could prove to be a formidable foe. (Featurd)

• Are the Boston Bruins actually underrated? (NBC Sports Boston)

• A look at the Golden Knights’ active blueline. (Rotoworld)

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.

Detail-oriented DeBoer hoping to get Vegas back in playoffs

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LAS VEGAS — Peter DeBoer could have chosen a life inside a courtroom arguing in front of a judge’s bench, considering he has law degrees from th the University of Windsor and the University of Detroit.

Instead, he’s enjoyed a mostly successful career behind an NHL bench. In each of his first seasons with the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks, he took his team to the Stanley Cup final.

But in December, just 33 games into his fifth season with San Jose, the Sharks fired him after a lackluster start. He wasn’t out of work long. The Vegas Golden Knights hired him just over a month later.

The 51-year-old veteran coach can make strong arguments he can guide the three-year old franchise back to the postseason.

”They’re right in the middle of being one of those teams that has the opportunity to win now and for the near future,” DeBoer said. ”Sometimes when you’re bringing in some new concepts and some new ideas there’s some hesitation in the play that shows up on the ice just because guys are overthinking instead of reacting. The one thing I’ve appreciated, (this is a) really smart group. They’ve seemed to have incorporated what we’re asking them to do without slowing them down, and that’s been important.”

Vegas was 24-19-6 when Gerard Gallant was fired as coach last month. Under DeBoer, the Golden Knights are 4-3-2 and have outscored their opponents 31-27, even after back-to-back losses, including Tuesday’s 4-0 setback in Minnesota. Their shots per game have increased slightly from 34.0 to 34.9, while their shots-allowed have decreased from 30.5 to 27.8 per contest.

The Golden Knights have shown a commitment to hustling, they’re making an extra effort to block shots, they exit the defensive zone and they move in transition quicker and more cleanly.

Since DeBoer’s arrival, forwards Paul Stastny and Mark Stone are tied for 28th in the league with 10 points each, while defenseman Shea Theodore has registered nine of his 37 points (24.3%)

”The second he stepped into that room he had a lot of good things to say,” Theodore said. ”I think he’s got some really important systems that he put in place that makes us a stronger team. A lot of times it forces us to communicate. Maybe work a little bit harder towards the puck and I think key things that bring our game together.”

In a stacked Pacific Division, the Golden Knights will need to get through an upcoming tough slate if they want to make the postseason for a third consecutive season.

”There’s always a game plan for whatever team we’re playing against,” Vegas forward Chandler Stephenson. ”He’s just very detailed and I think that that shows because we got a lot of speed on the team and a lot of guys with high hockey IQs. That helps with the playing style that he’s come in and tried to push on us. It’s been working and we’re having fun with it.”

If they need further convincing they’ve got the right man, the Knights need only look at what he’s done after breaks in play, whether it’s been the All-Star Break, an Olympic break or the 2012 lockout.

DeBoer is 174-137-49 overall after those breaks, an average record of 15-12-4 with his three previous teams. In his more successful tenures, with New Jersey and San Jose, he is 138-96-36, an average mark of 17-12-4 after the breaks.

”I got to spend three years with him, he’s a great coach there’s no doubt in my mind,” Sharks forward Timo Meier said after DeBoer was hired. ”I think everybody here knew he was gonna get a job somewhere else. Obviously, they’re a good team. They’ve got loud fans. … It’s a good chance for him.”

The consensus is that DeBoer’s mindset and attention to detail will steer the Golden Knights in the right direction. He admits he uses his law background to his advantage, an important edge to have in convincing a group that was fond of Gallant, many of whom took the blame for his ousting.

DeBoer believes it’s not just their job to prove themselves, but also his job to persuade his players he’s the right person to lead the charge.

”I definitely apply my legal degree every day,” DeBoer said. ”Both in preparation for what we’re giving the players, but also in actually sitting down and making a case to them why we’re asking them to do certain things, both for their own good and for the good of the team.

”That’s today’s athlete, you have to tell them why and you have to convince them why it’s good for them and why it’s good for the team.”