Dougie Hamilton

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
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A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next few Thursdays. The first team created was a 23-and-under roster that would be fascinating to watch.

An NHL player usually reaches peak performance in his late 20’s and this roster is comprised of players in the prime of their career between the ages of 24 and 29. The combination of skill, size, wisdom and depth in this group will be difficult to match for any opponent. The most surprising part of building this team was seeing several superstars left on the sidelines.

Line Combinations

First line: Artemi PanarinNathan MacKinnonLeon Draisaitl

Thoughts: All three players are firmly in the conversation for the 2019-2020 Hart Trophy and the thought of them on the same team, let alone the same line would be highly entertaining. Panarin has established himself as one of the best passers in the NHL and having two lethal goal scorers alongside him should make for an explosive trio.

Second line: Johnny GaudreauMark ScheifeleNikita Kucherov

Thoughts: Both wingers don’t offer much size but Gaudreau and Kucherov are both electric players that have learned how to win in the corners despite their diminutive stature. Scheifele has long been one of the more underrated players in the league and should find instant chemistry with two players that possess elite on-ice vision.

Third line: Taylor HallMika ZibanejadMark Stone

Thoughts: Hall’s game has dipped since winning the 2018 Hart Trophy but still remains a top two-way forward. Zibanejad was one of the most controversial picks beating out the likes of John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and others. But No. 93 has improved his game since the New York Rangers acquired him in a one-sided traded.

Fourth line: Chris Kreider – Ryan O’Reilly – Jonathan Huberdeau

Thoughts: Kreider and O’Reilly have anchored shut down lines in the past but the addition of Huberdeau should add more offensive punch to a very responsible grouping. All three skaters play a disciplined, 200-foot game and could match up with any combination of forwards an opponent has to offer.

First D pairing: Roman JosiSeth Jones
Second D pairing: Victor HedmanDougie Hamilton
Third D pairing: Oliver Ekman-LarssonAaron Ekblad

Thoughts: It’s hard to find a flaw in this grouping of defensemen. These six players collectively possess all the attributes needed to shut down opponents and can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Starting Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Backup Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Just Missed: Aleksander Barkov, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares

Captain: Roman Josi

Alternate captains: Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl

Analysis

It was surprising to see only one player on this team with a championship ring and just seven players have participated in a Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this team has experience in best on best tournaments at every level and have routinely been through the grind of an NHL regular season.

On paper, there are limited areas of concern. The team is comprised of players with diverse attributes to form an extremely well-balanced roster. It has several explosive goal-scorers in the top-six and responsible players in the bottom-six that have the ability to consistently produce on the offensive side of the ice.

In addition, the blueline is staggered with lockdown defensemen and two Vezina candidates guarding the crease.

One challenge for this team, and for any roster in a tournament of this nature, is the ability to find instant chemistry with line mates. In theory, Panarin can set up a few of the top scorers but does it work in reality?

Due to the balance of the roster and varied characteristics, I believe this team would have the inside track to winning this mythical tournament.

Surprising omissions

John Tavares: It wasn’t too long ago that Tavares was the most sought-after free agent in the summer of 2018, but it was challenging to find a spot for the Maple Leafs captain on this roster. It was a tight race between No. 91 and Mika Zibanejad for the third line center position, but the Swedish right-handed centerman has become one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. Tavares is a world-class player. He could easily slide back onto the roster and change the narrative with a dominant stretch when professional hockey returns.

Erik Karlsson: This Swedish defenseman used to terrorize the league with his smooth skating and incredible vision. However, Karlsson hasn’t looked like himself since being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September of 2018. He routinely crossed the 60-point plateau and set a career-high with 82 points in 2015-16, but injuries have slowed him down the past two seasons. This mythical tournament will require teams to perform at an incredibly high level and there is no room for someone who has not been at the top of his game.


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.

What is the long-term outlook for the Hurricanes?

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 Carolina Hurricanes.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

This has the potential to be one of the best long-term situations in the league given their collective age (one of the youngest teams in the league), the talent and potential on the roster, as well as the fact that so many of the key players are already signed to long-term deals.

The Montreal Canadiens did them a huge favor this offseason by signing Sebastian Aho to an easily matchable offer sheet, locking him in place for the next five years.

Meanwhile, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, and Brett Pesce are all signed to long-term deals for at least the next two seasons. Several of them signed beyond that, while only two of those players (Aho and Staal) count more than $5.5 million against the salary cap individually.

Add in the fact that Dougie Hamilton is signed for another year, while Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas are both still on their entry-level deals and will not be eligible for unrestricted free agency for another six seasons and all of the most important players are locked in place.

Out of that core group, Staal is the only one over the age of 30 (currently 31), while the majority of them are still age 26 or younger. That means they are all either in the prime of their careers right now, or are just about to reach their prime years in the coming seasons.

Aho, Svechnikov, and Necas are already outstanding players, and all might still have their best days ahead of them.

Long-Term Needs

Goaltending has been the single biggest question mark for this team for almost a decade now, and that still might be the case.

That is not meant to be a knock on the current duo of James Reimer and Petr Mrazek. They have been solid this season when healthy, and a team could certainly do worse than having those two as their regular goalie tandem.

Given the overall strength of the team — and especially the defense when it is healthy — they do not need a game-saving superstar between the pipes to give them a chance. They simply need solid, steady, consistent play. They are getting that.

The question comes from the fact that I just do not know if either one is a true long-term solution in net, and if they have that solution somewhere else in their organization right now.

Both players are signed through the end of next season.

Other than maybe finding a potentially better long-term option in net, there are not a lot of truly pressing needs here. As mentioned above, their core group is locked in place and the addition of Trocheck from the Florida Panthers just before the trade deadline adds what could be an ideal long-term fit in the second-line center spot.

Long-Term Strengths

This current core has been built around its young defense, and that is still by far the team’s biggest strength both now and in the immediate future.

Slavin, Pesce, Skjei, and Gardiner are all signed through at least the 2022-23 season, while the former three all go through the end of the 2023-24 season. Add in Hamilton, who is signed through the end of next season, and that is as good of a top-five as you will find in the NHL right now. They are all in the prime of their careers, they are all outstanding players that fit the modern NHL game with their mobility and puck skills, and they are the backbone of what has been one of the league’s best teams when it comes to limiting shots and scoring chances over the past four years.

If they can manage to get Hamilton re-signed that would be another major piece in place.

Along with the defense, they also have what look to be two of the most important pieces for any contending team already in place with the duo Aho and Svechnikov — impact forwards that can carry the offense.

Aho is already a sensational player and a top-line star, while Svechnikov might end up being the best of the bunch. Aho’s contract could end up looking like a steal over the next four years, while Svechnikov still has one more year on an entry-level contract, giving them a huge advantage when it comes to adding pieces next season.

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Hurricanes
Hurricanes surprises and disappointments
• John Forslund tells his quarantine story

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.

Carolina Hurricanes: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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 surprises and disappointments for the Carolina Hurricanes.

What happened to Nino Niederreiter‘s offense?

From an overall performance standpoint this might be the single biggest disappointment for this year’s Hurricanes team.

The Hurricanes acquired Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild a little over a year ago for Viktor Rask, and it looked like an immediate steal. At the time he seemed to be an ideal bounce-back candidate and made an instant impact on the Hurricanes’ lineup during the stretch run of the regular season. He’s been a dependable two-way player for several years and along with strong defensive play and an ability to drive possession, he’s also been a near lock for 20-25 goals and around 50 points every season.

This season, though, his offense took a dive off the cliff.

While his underlying numbers remain outstanding, he managed only 11 goals and 29 points in 67 games. That put him on an 82-game pace for just 13 goals and 35 points. Just for comparisons sake, In 36 games with the Hurricanes a year ago after the trade he recorded 14 goals and 30 points. Given his career track record, as well as the fact that he is still an elite possession-driver, it’s possible that it’s just an outlier of a season driven by some bad luck and a poor shooting percentage. He seems to be a good bet to bounce back next season, but the overall production was still a bit of a disappointment.

Andrei Svechnikov takes a big step toward stardom

I don’t know if this is technically a “surprise” as much as it is the expectation, but the second-year forward (and 2018 No. 2 overall pick) looks like an emerging superstar for the Hurricanes.

After scoring 20 goals as a 18-year-old rookie, he came back in his sophomore season and was on track to hit the 30-goal mark while playing an advanced all-around game for his age.

As if that was not enough, he also brought the Lacrosse goal to the NHL. Not once, but twice.

Dougie Hamilton loses his shot at the Norris Trophy

This is one of those disappointments that is simply the result of bad luck. Nobody is to blame here.

In mid-January Hamilton was playing at a level that almost no other defenseman in the league could match and was starting to emerge as one of the leading contenders for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. He was leading the Hurricanes’ offense from the blue line, driving possession, and helping to form one of the league’s best defense pairings alongside Jaccob Slavin.

Then a broken bone in his leg sidelined him for months and not only robbed the Hurricanes of one of their best players, it took away his opportunity and winning a major piece of hardware to finally cement his status as one of the league’s best blue-liners.

Justin Williams returned and made an immediate impact

Williams was not with the team at the start of the season as he contemplated his future, but it always seemed inevitable that he was going to return at some point before the playoffs.

The question was always going to be how much he would have left in the tank at age 38 and after missing half of a season.

The answer: A lot.

In his 20 games after re-joining the team Williams played like he never took any time off. He scored eight goals, scored shootout winners, and was the same outstanding all-around player he has been for his entire career. It was like getting a significant in-season trade addition without having to give up anything and made an already deep roster just that much better.

The Jake Gardiner question

The Hurricanes added Gardiner to their roster just before the start of the season, signing him to a four-year, $16.2 million contract to add even more depth to an already loaded defense.

But has it really worked out as hoped or planned?

The traditional box score numbers paint a rather uninspiring picture. His offensive production is down from where it has been at its peak despite getting decent power play time, he is a team-worst minus-24, and has mostly played a third-pairing role in terms of his usage. Probably not what you want from a $4 million per year blue liner.

He has looked a lot better from the analytical side of things where his possession, scoring chance, and expected goal differentials are all quite strong. None of that is a new development for his career.

Gardiner has always been a polarizing player because the analytics always seem to like his performance more than the eye test does. That creates some strong extremes in the narrative surrounding his career and allows him to become either extremely overvalued or undervalued depending on which side of the fence you reside on.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Hurricanes
Hurricanes long-term outlook
John Forslund tells his quarantine story

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes

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 Carolina Hurricanes. 

Carolina Hurricanes

Record: 38-25-5 (68 games), Fourth place in Metropolitan Division; first Wild Card spot in Eastern Conference
Leading scorer: Sebastian Aho 66 points (38 goals, 28 assists)

In-season roster moves

  • Acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen from the New Jersey Devils for Janne Kuokkanen, Fredrik Claesson, and a conditional 2020 fourth-round draft pick.
  • Acquired defenseman Brady Skjei from the New York Rangers for a 2020 first-round draft pick.
  • Traded for Vincent Trocheck by sending Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Eetu Luostarinen, and Chase Priskie to the Florida Panthers.
  • Veteran forward Justin Williams returned mid-season after using the first half of the season to contemplate his future.

Season Overview

After their surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final during the 2018-19 season, expectations were sky high for the Hurricanes at the start of this season.

The results so far have been a bit of a mixed bag.

At the time of the NHL’s hiatus the Hurricanes occupied the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference but were in the middle of an intense fight alongside the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Florida Panthers for those two playoff spots. They still seem to have the inside track for one of them, but the overall results may not be exactly as good as they hoped given their success last year and the improvements they attempted to make to the roster in the offseason (additions of Jake Gardiner, Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel) and internal improvements from young players like Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas.

One of the biggest things that has held them back — injuries.

Specifically, the injuries to top defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce.

Prior to breaking a bone in his leg in mid-January, Hamilton was not only having a Norris Trophy caliber season, he may have been the best all-around defensemen in the NHL this season. It was a completely dominant performance and one that was not going to be easy to replace.

When Pesce was injured a month later — along with James Reimer and Petr Mrazek, the teams top two goalies — it put a pretty significant dent in their greatest overall strength.

They attempted to address the defense at the trade deadline by acquiring Vatanen and Skjei in separate trades, while also adding another potential impact forward in Trocheck. The latter joins an already impressive core of forwards that includes Aho, Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen.

Assuming everyone on defense is healthy, that is a potentially imposing roster.

Highlight of the Season

What else could it be other than 42-year-old David Ayres, a zamboni driver by day, entering a game and getting the win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

MORE:
Hurricanes’ biggest surprises and disappointments
Hurricanes long-term outlook
John Forslund tells his quarantine story

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.

Goaltending help on the way as Mrazek returns for Hurricanes

Hurricanes
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Injuries have been a pretty big hurdle for the Carolina Hurricanes recently in their push for a playoff spot.

Not only are they without two of their top defensemen — Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce — but they have also been down to their third-and fourth-string goalies due to the injuries to James Reimer (lower-body) and Petr Mrazek (concussion).

They will be getting one of them back on Tuesday when Mrazek gets the start against the Detroit Red Wings.

Both goalies were injured six games ago in Toronto, resulting in emergency goalie David Ayres taking their spot and getting the win.

With Mrazek and Reimer sidelined, the Hurricanes then went on to lose the next four games before finally snapping that streak with back-to-back wins against the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins this weekend.

In 39 appearances this season Mrazek has a 20-16-2 record with a .904 save percentage.

Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg split the playing time over the past couple of weeks. Together, they had a sub-.900 save percentage in the six games.

Reimer has also been back on the ice this week and has accompanied the Hurricanes on their current road trip.

They enter Tuesday’s game against the Red Wings sitting in the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, owning a tiebreaker over the New York Islanders.

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.