Chris Tanev

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Stars’ Nichushkin having historically uneventful (and dull) season

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After spending two years in the KHL, Valeri Nichushkin returned to the Dallas Stars this season on a two-year contract that will pay him nearly $3 million per season. A first-round pick by the team back in 2013, Nichushkin had shown flashes of the potential that made him a top-10 pick before leaving for Russia, but had never really taken a big step forward in his development.

Still, the Stars obviously had some decently high hopes to be willing to give him that much money in his return.

His first year back with the team has been, in a word, uneventful.

So uneventful, in fact, that it is reaching historic levels for its uneventfulness.

Earlier this week Stars beat writer Sean Shapiro pointed out the fun fact that Nichushkin had already set an NHL record (for a non-goalie) by going 48 games to start a season without scoring a goal or taking a penalty. He has since played in two additional games, including Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, meaning he has now gone 50 consecutive games to open the season without scoring a goal or taking a penalty. He also only has seven assists and is barely averaging more than a shot on goal per game.

Just for laughs, if you go back to his last appearance in the NHL during the 2015-16 he has now gone 76 consecutive games, including playoffs, without a goal, has taken just three minor penalties during that stretch, and has only recorded 11 total assists.

There is just nothing happening here with this player. No offense, no playmaking, nothing that is really putting the team at a disadvantage (other than not scoring) due to sloppy or careless play. He is literally just there.

Just a few things to consider here…

  • As of this writing Nichushkin has logged 607 minutes of ice-time this season without a goal or a penalty. Since the NHL started officially logging time-on ice numbers, the most minutes a player has played in a full season without registering either, was 464 minutes by Kevin Porter in 2015-16 in 41 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The only other player that has logged more than 364 minutes was Chris Tanev with in only 29 games with the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks.
  • Prior to the 2018-19 season there only six players in NHL history that played in at least 50 games, scored zero goals, and recorded fewer than 10 penalty minutes, and only two that had fewer than five (Carl Gunnarsson zero goals and four penalty minutes with the Blues in 2016-17; Rob Scuderi had zero goals and only two penalty minutes in 53 games with the Penguins in 2013-14).
  • Only two players have played in at least 50 games, recorded zero penalty minutes, and scored just one goal. Rick Kessell did it for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1972-73, while Lew Morrison did it for the Atlanta Flames during the 1973-74 season.

The Stars have 11 games remaining, and with Nichushkin not always a lock to be in the lineup he is getting extremely close to making some bizarre history.

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.

 

Canucks’ injury toll is getting ridiculous

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The Vancouver Canucks rank among the NHL’s better-than-expected rebuilders so far this season, and their respectable work (5-4-0 coming into Wednesday) is made that much more impressive when you consider their increasingly terrible health luck.

A lot of the air came out of the balloon in mid-October, when Michael Matheson‘s suspension-earning bit of violence sidelined rookie phenom Elias Pettersson with a concussion.

That already stings for a team that isn’t exactly loaded with talent on paper, and the hits keep coming. Veteran addition Jay Beagle is sidelined week-to-week. Brock Boeser missed tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks with a lower-body injury.

(So, Boeser – a big hope and sensational sophomore – and Pettersson both missed today’s game, and could miss more.)

Things haven’t been getting better during Wednesday’s contest itself. Underrated defenseman Alex Edler left the contest and would not return thanks to a lower-body injury. Oh, and Sven Baertschi, a winger charged with trying to replace some of the offense Boeser would produce, also left the Golden Knights game and will not be back.

There’s a chance Chris Tanev could be a little shaken up, as well.

To recap: the Canucks lost one or possibly even two of their top defensemen, two young forwards who are so good they’re giving fans hope, a solid top-six winger in Baertschi, and an expensive “heart-and-soul” guy in Beagle, with quite a few of those injuries happening recently.

It’s almost like the universe is trying to force this team to tank, even as Canucks head coach Travis Green seems like he’s getting the best out of this motley bunch.

Update: Remarkably, the Canucks ended up winning 3-2 via a shootout. Maybe this will be a costly win, but it’s impressive that Vancouver came out on top, anyway.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

More NHL teams than ever are entering season without captain

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Over the past 24 hours Jack Eichel (Buffalo) and Anders Lee (New York Islanders) have been announced as captains of their respective teams. For the Sabres, Eichel will be their first captain since Brian Gionta wore the “C” during the 2016-17 season, while Lee will be filling the role that was left vacated when John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency.

Even after those announcements there are still six teams in the NHL (approximately 20 percent of the league) that will be entering the 2018-19 season without anyone being designated as the “captain” of their team.

Those teams include…

  • The Vegas Golden Knights, who are going forward with the same leadership by committee approach they took during their expansion year (a “23 captains mentality as coach Gerrard Gallant likes to put it).
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs have not named a captain since Dion Phaneuf was traded during the 2015-16 season and will go forward with Tavares, Patrick Marleau, and Morgan Reilly as alternate captains.
  • After having just three captains (Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Steve Yzerman) over the past 32 years the Detroit Red Wings will not name a replacement for Zetterberg following the end of his playing career, instead going with four alternate captains in Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Niklas Kronwall, and Justin Abdelkader.
  • The New York Rangers are going with five alternate captains following the mid-season trade of Ryan McDonagh a year ago, naming Chris Kreider, Jesper Fast, Mike Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, and Marc Staal to the role.
  • The Ottawa Senators are not naming a captain following the trade of defenseman Erik Karlsson just before the start of training camp.
  • In Vancouver, the Canucks are filling the leadership void left by Henrik Sedin’s retirement with a quartet of alternates that includes Brandon Sutter, Bo Horvat, Alex Edler, and Chris Tanev.

In almost all of these situations the teams have opted to phrase it as a “leadership by committee” approach. While the majority of these teams are just starting massive rebuilding projects and just lost their long-time captain (either by trade, free agency, or retirement) within the past few months, Toronto and Vegas are playoff teams a year ago and both expect to be contenders for the Stanley Cup. Vegas was actually playing in the Stanley Cup Final just a few months ago without an official captain.

Regardless of the circumstances, it’s a unique situation because the NHL has never had a season where this many teams are entering the season without a captain. Just look at the past 25 years as the most recent example, where only once did the league have more than three teams without a captain … and that season was this past season when there were four such teams.

It is probably not yet time to say the role of the captain as we know it (a player having the letter “C” stitched on their jersey) is going away (how often do four teams lose captains in one four-month stretch), but it certainly seems teams aren’t as concerned about that letter being stitched on a player’s jersey as they used to be.

Just consider that since the start of the 2014-15 season (a stretch of only five years) there have been 16 teams to enter a season without an officially designated captain on their roster, including the six teams this season. In the 20 years prior to that there were only 19 such teams, or less than one per season on average.

At the end of the day everyone in a locker room knows who the leaders of the team are, whether they have a letter on their jersey or not. Everyone knows who is going to be the player to speak up, who is going to be the player to “lead by example,” and who is going to be the player to “hold everything together.” You should not need a letter to recognize that.

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.

Three questions facing Vancouver Canucks

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

1. Will Elias Pettersson make the team out of training camp?

The Canucks hit a home run when they selected Petterson fifth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. In his first season in the Swedish Hockey League, the 19-year-old led his team in scoring by a wide margin, as he racked up 24 goals and 56 points in just 44 contests. No other player on the team scored more than 41 points.

Pettersson doesn’t have anything left to prove over in Europe, so he has a legitimate shot of making the team out of camp. The Canucks aren’t necessarily the deepest team up front either. Brock Boeser was able to make an immediate impact in his first year, and the organization will have to hope the Pettersson is able to do the same thing during his first year.

If they want to ease his transition to the NHL, they could opt to put him on the wing instead of at center (at least for the first year), but that shouldn’t prevent him from earning on a top-six role on this team. It’s too bad that the fellow Swede won’t be able to play with Canucks legends Daniel and Henrik Sedin, but he should get every opportunity to help replace their production.

[2017-18 Review | Under Pressure: Benning | Breakthrough: Boeser]

2. How soon before Thatcher Demko becomes the starting goaltender?

Heading into the regular season with Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson as your number one and number two goaltenders is less than ideal (unless you’re trying to lose). Markstrom was once considered to be one of the best prospects in the NHL when he was a member of the Florida Panthers, but he’s never reached those expectations. Even though he played in 60 games last season, he’s probably better suited as a backup netminder. As for Nilsson, he’s kind of in the same boat. There are moments when he looks like he can be a starter and then at other times, he looks mediocre. Consistency has been a problem for him. Both players are on one-way contracts, so there’s no reason to believe that they won’t start the year with the Canucks (Markstrom will earn $3.67 million, Nilsson will make $2.5 million).

From a talent perspective, Demko has the ability to become a starting goalie in the near future. How soon? That remains to be seen. But after spending two years in the AHL, you’d have to think that he’s close to being ready for the show. The 22-year-old improve his numbers from his first year to his second year in the minors. Last year, he posted a 2.44 goals-against-average and a .922 save percentage, which are pretty solid numbers by AHL standards.

Goalies always seem to take a little more time to develop than forwards do, but you’d have to think he’s close being ready for the next challenge. The Canucks aren’t going to be very good this year, so they might want to take it easy on a young goaltender. That doesn’t mean that he can’t get an extended look though. Once Nilsson’s contract expires at the end of the season, Demko could be in line for a full-time promotion.

3. How much will the team miss the Sedin twins?

For the first time since the 1999-00 season, the Canucks will be playing without Daniel and Henrik. Both players proved to be valuable contributors to the organization for the better part of two decades. They helped lead the Canucks to a Stanley Cup Final and they carried them to the playoffs a number of times.

Even though they “only” combined for 105 points last season, there’s no denying that the Swedish twins will be missed. They weren’t the most vocal leaders, but they always managed to lead by example. With such a young roster, that type of experience would’ve been valuable to have around.

“You’re losing two Hall-of-Fame players out of your lineup,” head coach Travis Green said, per Sportsnet. “You just don’t replace those elements to your game.

“You’re happy for them; they’ve had amazing careers. To see them go out on their own terms with the season they’ve had, I think, means a lot to them. It’s means a lot to me. But also, it’s sad.”

Veterans like Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and Jay Beagle will need to step up in that department, but none of those players can replicate the experience that the Sedins brought to the table. The Canucks have enough talented youngsters to replace the production, but it’ll be a while before any of them can fill the void in (quiet) leadership.

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.

Under Pressure: Jim Benning

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vancouver Canucks.

Are the Vancouver Canucks rebuilding? If you’re going off recent results, you’d think that they were going through some kind of re-tooling. But if you look at what they’ve done in free agency the last few years, you’d think differently.

The Canucks finished 26th in the overall standings last season, 29th two years ago and 28th in 2015-16. You’d think that those kinds of results would lead to the team going in a different direction. Instead, general manager Jim Benning has spent money on free agents like Loui Eriksson, Michael Del Zotto, Sam Gagner, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller. There’s nothing wrong with those players. They can each serve as capable NHL players, but shouldn’t Benning have taken the time to give his younger players an opportunity to step in to bigger roles at the highest level?

There was more drama surrounding the team this off-season, as they decided to move on from president Trevor Linden. Some in Vancouver have speculated that Linden had a different vision for the team than Benning did, but the Canucks GM has denied having those kinds of disagreements with his former president.

[Canucks Day: 2017-18 Review | Breakthrough: Boeser | 3 Questions]

No matter how you slice it, the pressure is on Benning to deliver a quality product sooner or later. Even if the Canucks want to head into a full-out rebuild, positive on-ice results will have to come eventually. As we mentioned above, Benning is the GM of a team that has finished near the basement of the NHL for the last three years. Not many general managers get to keep their jobs after those kinds of runs.

There’s no denying that the team has some solid building blocks in place. Bo Horvat has been a productive NHLer, Chris Tanev is an underrated defenseman, Brock Boeser looks like he’s going to be a superstar and Elias Pettersson is one of the best prospects in all of hockey. But the rest of the roster looks kinds of “meh” to put it bluntly.

Even with the players mentioned above, there’s still a lot of work for this organization to do before they can get back to being one of the best teams in the Western Conference. Can Benning get them to where they need to go? So far, the answer to that question appears to be “no”. And how much more time does he have on his side? Only Canucks ownership can answer that question, but you’d have to think that he’s under the gun at this point.

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.