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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.

It’s Vancouver Canucks day at PHT

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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.

2017-18
31-40-11, 73 pts. (7th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)
Missed playoffs

IN
Antoine Roussel
Jay Beagle
Tim Schaller

OUT
Henrik Sedin
Daniel Sedin
Jayson Megna
Michael Chaput
Nic Dowd
Jussi Jokinen

RE-SIGNED
Sven Baertschi
Markus Granlund
Jake Virtanen
Derrick Pouliot
Darren Archibald

– – –

The Vancouver Canucks weren’t expected to move the needle much last season and they obliged many preseason predictions that had them finishing in the basement of the league.

Trying to turn around this ship with the additions of Thomas Vanek, Michael Del Zotto and Sam Gagner weren’t exactly the earth-shattering moves needed. Sure, the Canucks were a busy bunch last summer as they tried the fix-on-the-fly strategy, but that’s almost always a futile task.

The 2018-19 Canucks were a team that couldn’t score (26th fewest). They gave up too many goals (sixth most). Their team save percentage was among the worst in the league (.902, 26th) and neither goalie outworked the other to be called a bona fide No. 1.

[Under Pressure: Benning | Breakthrough: Boeser | 3 Questions]

These are the days of an NHL rebuild and a team waiting for promising young talent to emerge and take over.

Perhaps, then, it was as good a time as any for the Sedin twins to retire. Daniel and Henrik called it a career after 17 years of heroics in Vancouver. Even in their elder years as NHL players, the Sedins were still responsible for a good chunk of Vancouver’s offense, which is a hole that someone is going to have to fill.

The bad news is that likely won’t happen this season. It’s quite likely the Canucks wallow at the bottom of the tank for another year.

The good news is that among the rubble of the rebuild is several signs of life.

Brock Boeser may have given Mathew Barzal a run for the Calder if not for an apparent scary back injury that forced him to miss the final 20 games of the season. His 29 goals led all rookies until Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets pipped him for the title late in the year. He finished with 55 points in 62 games and 23 power-play points, which was second among rookies and helped the Canucks to a top-10 showing with the man-advantage.

Bo Horvat‘s season was also derailed by injury. A fractured foot forced him to miss over six weeks from early December to late January. How’d Vancouver fare without him in the lineup? They were 4-12-2.

Horvat still managed 22 goals, a career-high. He likely would have set a new mark in points, too, if not for those 18 missed games. He finished with 44 points and appears to be coming into his own as a top-line NHL center.

The Canucks went out and added once again this offseason.

It’s highly unlikely that Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle or Tim Schaller are going to be world-beaters, but that’s not what they’re being tasked with.

Their purpose is to help the Canucks’ young core along and provide Vancouver with the ability to develop some of those prospects in the minors instead of slotting them into the Show earlier than they need to be. Continued development is key, and there are several models the Canucks can look to around the league to help them resist those temptations.

A quick note on team defense: It certainly needs to improve, but it should be noted that a healthy Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson should go a long way to helping that. The duo missed a combined 70 games last season.

Prospect Pool

Elias Pettersson, C/RW, 19, Vaxjo (SHL) – 2017 first-round pick

One prospect that likely won’t need much seasoning in the minors is Pettersson. He’s already played among men in the Swedish Elite League, where he dominated as an 18-year-old, scoring 24 goals and 56 points in 44 games.

That kind of production helped his team to a league championship, the honor of being named the top forward in the SHL, its MVP, it’s top point-producer, it’s playoffs MVP and it’s rookie of the year. Those are just some of his accolades from last year, too. He also won a silver medal at the world juniors and followed that up with gold hardware at the world championships.

Did we mention he’s Swedish? Vancouver loves their Swedes.

Quinton Hughes, D, 18, University of Michigan (NCAA) – 2018 first-round pick

Hughes had a solid freshman season with the Wolverines with 29 points in 37 games, garnering him a spot on the NCAA (B1G) All-Rookie Team. He captured bronze at the world juniors and the world championships with Team USA, contributing five assists across 17 combined games in both tournaments.

He was also the best player at this summer’s world junior showcase.

“He’s going to be that type of player that young kids try to emulate — that they want to be, that they strive to be — but it’s going to be very difficult to duplicate what he does,” said Hughes’ U-18 coach John Wroblewski. “With this guy, he’s another generational-type talent, and he’ll be an influence on defensemen for years to come. I truly believe that.”

Thatcher Demko, G, 22, Utica (AHL) – 2014 second-round pick

We’ve highlighted one forward, one defenseman and now one goalie that could change the landscape for the better in Vancouver.

Demko is Vancouver’s future in goal, and he was solid with Utica last season in the American Hockey League with a .922 save percentage and 25 wins in 46 games played. For his efforts, he was named an AHL All-Star and got his first NHL start and subsequently his first NHL win on the last day of March.

Demko is likely to see more time this season in Vancouver, but there needs to be a fine balance of not letting him sit when he could be hogging the crease in the AHL. The Canucks aren’t shooting for the playoffs, so keeping him where he will play the most seems like the best option until the Canucks are willing to give him plenty of action as their backup.


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

PHT Morning Skate: Marc-Andre Fleury meets Bark-Andre Furry

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• Golden Knights goalie coach Dave Prior has helped take Marc-Andre Fleury‘s game to the next level this season. (SinBin.Vegas)

• Speaking of Fleury, he got to meet a four-legged friend named Bark-Andre Furry. The Golden Knights netminder even signed the dog’s tiny jersey. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• This edition of the Washington Capitals has an opportunity to redeem themselves for all their years of playoff futility. (Japers Rink)

• This is as close as Barry Trotz has ever been to winning a Stanley Cup, but he still doesn’t have a contract extension from the Capitals. (Washington Post)

• Whether they win or lose, the Tampa Bay Lightning have different variations of a shake after every game. These shakes help the players drum up more energy, especially during a difficult playoff series. (Tampa Times)

• The ESPN roundtable looks at different reasons why the Tampa Bay Lightning will make it back to the Stanley Cup Final. Whether it’s their top line, their depth up front of their stacked defense, the Bolts have a good shot at advancing. (ESPN)

Tyler Myers and Quentin Grimes can become the first set of brothers to suit up in the NHL and NBA. Myers is currently playing with the Winnipeg Jets, while Grimes is heading to Kansas to play college basketball. He could be in the NBA in the next year or so. (USA Today)

• Say what you want about commissioner Gary Bettman, but this postseason has shed even more light on how successful some of the expansion franchises he’s brought to life have been. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

• Don Waddell was working as a scout in Pittsburgh when he received a phone call that would change his career significantly. Taking a job in Carolina proved to be a very wise decision. (Raleigh News & Observer)

• If the Islanders decide to bring in Lou Lamoriello, that would likely trigger a chain of significant moves across the organization. (SNY.tv)

• Two-time Olympic gold medalist Cassie Campbell-Pascall will be donating her brain to concussion research. “I loved playing sports and have no regrets, but having had some concussions I would like to make sure that future generations are protected as much as possible while still being able to play sports at all levels.” (The Ice Garden)

• Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand has put together some solid performances for Denmark at the World Hockey Championship. (1st Ohio Battery)

• After a disappointing 2017-18 season, the Calgary Flames will have some interesting decisions to make when it comes to their restricted and unrestricted free agents. (Flames Nation)

Chris Tanev is arguably the Canucks’ most important defenseman. Unfortunately, he played just 42 games this season, so they have to find ways to keep him on the ice. Vancourier looks at eight (funny) ways to keep him healthy. (Vancourier)

• Here’s a Q & A with the founder of the “Hockey Fights” website. He talked about NHLers using his website as a resource, where fighting in hockey is heading and much more. (Sporting Ground)

• Up top, check out the highlights from Game 7 between the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators.

MORE:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.