PHT Morning Skate: Brassard opens up; Duchene uncertain

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.

• Goodbye, dead-puck era. (FiveThirtyEight)

• Things didn’t go so well for Derick Brassard in Pittsburgh. Now that he’s been traded, he opens up about those challenges. (Post-Gazette)

• Despite talks going well, Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene appears unsure about what he wants. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Nashville Predators GM David Poile went out and grabbed some depth on Wednesday, but don’t bet on him being done adding other pieces. (Tennessean)

Alex Ovechkin‘s parents salute their son, Russia’s most productive NHLer. (NHL.com)

• The 2019 IIHF Hall of Fame inductees include Miro Satan, Mike Modano, Hayley Wickenheiser, and Ziggy Palffy. (IIHF)

• Beware: Dustin Byfuglien is back. (Winnipeg Sun)

• The Jori Lehtera Era appears to be over after the Philadelphia Flyers waived the forward. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

Auston Matthews is evolving into a generational goal scorer. (Sportsnet)

• The biggest trade deadline deal the Canucks can swing is re-signing Alex Edler. (TSN)

Matthew Tkachuk‘s contract conundrum hasn’t gotten any easier for the Calgary Flames. (Flames Nation)

• Somehow, the St. Louis Blues are climbing back up the standings. (St. Louis Game Time)

• Who knows what to expect from Columbus at the deadline, so expect the unexpected. (Union and Blue)

• A Q&A with Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford, interim commissioner of the CWHL. (ESPN)

• Rebuilding the Rangers means building second and third scoring units. (Blue Seat Blog)

• 10 players from the Swedish Elite League that could be of interest for NHL teams. (EP Rinkside)

Here’s Ep. 4 of The P.K. Project:


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

Laine’s cold streak isn’t only warning sign for Jets

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Search Patrik Laine‘s name and you’ll see a lot of pessimism lately, and that makes sense.

After all, the Finnish winger is ice-cold, to the point that you can slice and dice his numbers in a wide variety of unflattering ways, at least if you make sure to skate past the whole “18 goals in November” thing.

The takes really hit a boiling point after possibly Laine’s lowest point as an NHL player. While the Winnipeg Jets managed a 4-3 shootout win against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, Laine only logged 10:55 of ice time, and again — that’s in a game that included a full five-minute overtime of 3-on-3 action. (That “free hockey” accounted for 52 seconds of Laine’s ice time.)

That ice time marks the second-lowest of Laine’s career, but his worst was a game cut short by injuries, so this was the harshest “coach’s decision” the sniper’s faced yet.

The Winnipeg Sun’s Ted Wyman wonders if that tough game was a “wakeup call,” one that might even merit a healthy scratch, and he’s far from the only person cringing at Laine’s numbers.

No doubt about it, the Jets need to make sure that Laine is focused and confident with the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs not much more than two months away.

Is it possible, though, that Laine’s struggles distract from some issues for the Jets? Winnipeg isn’t necessarily in a crisis, but there are some things to consider.

While that trio is dominant, Laine isn’t exactly riding with high-end scorers. During the last month or so, he’s mostly been skating with Bryan Little (a decent but unspectacular center) and Jack Roslovic (an intriguing but unfinished talent). It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if the Jets would be wise to move Little or Roslovic off that combination in favor of Mathieu Perreault, a long-underrated play driver who has played at center in the past.

Either way, it’s clear that injured winger Nikolaj Ehlers is missed, whether Ehlers would line up with Wheeler and Scheifele (allowing Connor to boost Laine), or if Ehlers could join up with Laine.

  • The Jets aren’t lighting opponents up possession-wise.

Perhaps Winnipeg is coasting through the season while saving that “extra gear” for the postseason, but they’re not necessarily dominant by certain measures.

Before that Bruins game, Money Puck tweeted that the Jets have been looking like an “average team” at times in 2018-19, and that they were stronger according to the same expected goals metrics last season. Looking at Natural Stat Trick, Winnipeg is middle-of-the-pack by a variety of standards, including Corsi and Fenwick. They can’t explain it away by “shot quality” alone, as they’re middling in high-danger scoring chances, too.

Again, this isn’t to say that the Jets are a “paper tiger.” There’s plenty of talent on hand, and this team’s also dealt with substantial injuries to the likes of Ehlers and Dustin Byfuglien.

That said …

  • They might indeed want to spend at the trade deadline.

On Monday, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun postulated that there might be something of an arms race between the Jets and the Nashville Predators during the deadline (sub required).

Winnipeg was happy with the addition of Paul Stastny last season, and there have been murmurs about Derick Brassard, but this could be a time for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to gamble a bit.

For one thing, this team may very well need a bigger boost than you’d think, at least considering some of the struggles depicted in their underlying numbers.

Really, though, this might be the Jets’ best chance. Both Laine and Connor are due significant raises with their rookie contracts set to expire after this season, and Jacob Trouba needs a new deal as an RFA, too. Much like the Maple Leafs, things could really start to get tight for the Jets once they pay some of their brilliant young players — and they might lose some key ones in the process.

Cap Friendly projects the Jets’ deadline cap space at about $26.45 million. They should spend as much of it as ownership will allow.

***

Again, this situation is far from “doom and gloom,” as the Jets are set to be a competitive team for some time. Maybe some of their sneaky (possession stats) and headline-grabbing (Laine slump) issues could actually inspire this patient franchise to go bold, and possibly win big in the process?

Ultimately, Winnipeg’s challenges – and ambitions – could really spice things up during the trade deadline. Again.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Will Jets get over hump this year?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After winning a franchise record 52 games last season, the Jets are putting together another terrific year. They’re actually on pace to put the same amount of wins but less points than they did in 2017-18, but the difference is they’re on pace to win the Central Division, which is something they didn’t do last year.

Last year, the Jets beat the Wild in the first round and they took down the top team in the division, the Nashville Predators, seven games. Unfortunately for the Jets, they didn’t have much left in the tank for the Western Conference Final against Vegas, which they lost in five games.

So is this the year the Jets get over the hump?

We all know they’re deep at every single position. They have a ton of quality options up front, they have a great group of defensemen and the duo of Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit has been incredible.

The Jets have accumulated 64 points in 46 games with a number of injuries. Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Chiarot and Nikolaj Ehlers are all on the shelf for now. Byfuglien is expected to miss the remainder of the month with a leg injury. Ehlers’ upper-body injury will keep him out until mid-February, too. So the scary thing is that this team can get a whole lot better without even making a trade.

The Jets could also receive a boost from a more consistent Patrik Laine. The Finnish winger is tied for the team lead in goals, with 25, but he scored just three times in 12 games in October, 18 times in 12 games in November and four goals in 24 games in December and January.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“I hope so,” Laine said of being recharged after the break, per the Winnipeg Free Press. “Just not thinking about hockey and just doing something else. Just trying to get the batteries full. We’re going to be ready for the last stretch and the last games before the playoffs.

“I think there’s been good stretches and bad stretches, but still, 25 goals is more than I’ve had before an all-star break. That’s good enough for me.”

We also know that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff isn’t shy about making a trade or two on Trade Deadline Day. Last year, he went out and acquired Paul Stastny from the Blues for a package that included a first-round pick. He also added Joe Morrow from Montreal for a fourth-rounder.

So if Cheveldayoff is willing to sacrifice more draft picks for immediate help, the Jets might be able to add another solid piece or two before February 25th.

But even if they don’t make a major splash, they still have the talent to make a run to the Stanley Cup.

Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

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.

NHL Injury roundup: Updates on Byfuglien, Hall, Schultz and Karlsson

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Now we will take a quick look around the NHL at some of the significant injury situations and where they stand as the league comes out of the All-Star break this week. 

Byfuglien getting closer, but not expected to play this week

Dustin Byfuglien has not been in the Winnipeg Jets lineup since the end of December, and while he is expected to return to the ice this week for practice he is not expected to play in any of the team’s three games and did not accompany the team on its upcoming two-game road trip.

The Jets are in Philadelphia and Boston on Monday and Tuesday before returning home to play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

Jets coach Paul Maurice was asked on Sunday if there is any possibility that Byfuglien could return for that Thursday game and seemed to downplay the chances of it.

“I’m gonna say no because I haven’t seen him skate yet,” said Maurice, via Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. “If he comes out and he’s flying around we’d consider it. I don’t expect him to be.”

Byfuglien is the Jets’ top defender and has 29 points (five goals, 24 assists) in 32 games this season while playing more than 24 minutes per night.

In his absence the Jets have still managed to go 7-3-0 over the past 10 games to remain tied with the Nashville Predators at the top of the Central Division. That number is even more impressive when you consider they have also been without forward Nikolaj Ehlers for eight of those games.

Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey have done a fantastic job stepping up on the blue line without him.

After the home game against Columbus on Thursday the next chance for him to get back in the lineup would be two nights later against the Anaheim Ducks.

Taylor Hall not progressing as quickly as Devils had hoped

The reigning league MVP has not played since Dec. 23 and is not progressing as quickly as the Devils had hoped in his recovery from a lower-body injury.

He did skate for the first time before practice on Sunday, but is not yet ready to return to the lineup and will not accompany the team on its trip to Pittsburgh for Monday’s game against the Penguins.

Even though Hall has only appeared in 33 games this season and has not played in more than a month, he is still the team’s second-leading scorer with 37 points, just one behind Kyle Palmieri.

Palmieri has played in 15 more games.

For the season Hall has 37 points in 33 games and is still the driving force behind everything the Devils do when he is in the lineup. He has arguably been just as good as he was a year ago when he nearly single-handedly carried the team to a surprising playoff spot. Injuries, however, have limited him and the Devils.

The Devils won the first three games of Hall’s absence but have fallen apart in the weeks since going just 3-7-0 in their past 10 games, with only two of those wins coming in regulation.

Justin Schultz is getting closer

While there is no official timetable for his return at this point, and even though he is not returned to full practice with the team, Pittsburgh Penguins defender Justin Schultz has been skating on his own and seems to be inching closer toward a return.

After practice on Sunday Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said that Schultz is “approaching” being able to join the team for practice and that he is more “week-to-week” than day-to-day.

Schultz has played in just four games this season after fracturing his leg back on October. He was originally expected to miss at least four months. That timeframe, assuming it is unchanged, would set him up for a return sometime around mid-February. Or in other words, about two weeks from today.

His return, whenever it happens, would be a significant one for the Penguins because he would help solidify their top-four on defense without having to make another trade (though, they still might). While their top-pairing is set with Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, and they seem willing to ride with a third-pairing of Marcus Pettersson and Jack Johnson, their second pairing has been a bit unsettled as they’ve rotated Jamie Oleksiak and Juuso Riikola alongside Olli Maatta. None of those combinations have been bad, but Schultz brings an element offensively that neither Oleksiak or Riikola (or Maata, for that matter) can.

He would also help what is an already dangerous power play unit.

Erik Karlsson gets another week off to prepare

After being shut down for the three games leading up to the NHL All-Star break, San Jose Sharks defender Erik Karlsson was at least healthy enough to play for the hometown fans in Sunday’s game.

Now he has another week to recover as the Sharks do not return to action until Friday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes. It is expected that Karlsson should be ready for action at that point.

Prior to the injury Karlsson had returned to his usual Norris Trophy form where he can dominate the pace of the game and score at a level that is unmatched by almost any other defender. He has recorded 28 points in his past 20 games, while also posting some of the best shot attempt and scoring chance numbers of any player in the league. He has been great, and everything the Sharks could have hoped for him to be when they added him to an already strong defense in an offseason trade with the Ottawa Senators. The Sharks struggled in the three games he missed, winning just one of them and giving up at least six goals in all three of them.

They were 8-2-0 in the 10 games prior to that stretch.

More: Sharks soak in love from fans during All-Star weekend

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.

 

Six stunning numbers at the NHL All-Star break

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With the NHL on its All-Star break throughout the rest of the weekend it is time to once again do our periodic check in on some stunning numbers around the league.

What is standing out to us lately?

Have a look…

Offense is still up and goaltending is way down

The spike in offense around the NHL is always viewed through the lens of offensive players.

As in, look at how many 40-goal scorers we could have this season, or maybe a bunch of players will actually hit the 100-point mark again!

In the end, it means a lot more pucks are going in the net, and if a lot more pucks are going in the net, and more players are seeing their offensive numbers surge, that also has to mean that goalies are seeing their numbers drop. They are. Big time.

Right now there are only two goalies in the NHL that have appeared in at least 30 games and have a save percentage higher than .920.

On this same date a year ago there were nine, same as there was in 2016-17.

On this date in 2015-16 there were 11.

In 2014-15 there were 10.

The game might be shifting back to offense, at least until the league’s 31 coaches figure out how to shut it down again. They always do.

Southern California Power Outage

While everyone else in the NHL is scoring goals at an increased rate, the two southern California teams are stuck in another era. The Los Angeles Kings (2.26 goals per game) and the Anaheim Ducks (2.29) are the two lowest scoring teams in the league this season, and their marks would be among the 15-worst in the NHL over the past 10 years.

Among the teams they are keeping company with in that group: The 2013-14 and 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres Tank teams. The tanking 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes. Five different New Jersey Devils teams. The 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche team that only won 22 games and only recorded 48 points on the season.

These two teams are not only bad offensively for this season, they would be bad among the bad teams from worse offensive seasons. Not a great sign!

Fifty-Two Percent

The percentage of the Edmonton Oilers goals this season, at the All-Star break, that Connor McDavid has a goal or an assist on.

Fifty.

Two.

Percent.

That is insane. But not quite as insane as the fact that when he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Oilers are a positive possession team and outscore their opponents by a 31-22 margin (plus-nine goal differential), and drop down to a 48 percent possession team and get outscored 46-70 when he is not on the ice.

Keep in mind this is a team that also has another top-10 scorer in the league (Leon Draisaitl) on it and another No. 1 overall draft pick that is a pretty darn good player in his own right in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

That is just how bad the rest of the roster is.

The Vegas Golden Knights might be better in year two

Their record is slightly worse (though not by much), but they might actually be playing better than they did in their magical debut season.

Let’s just take a look at some of their underlying 5-on-5 numbers including Corsi Percentage (CF%), Scoring Chance percentage (SC%), High-Danger Scoring Chance percentage (HD SC%), Goals For percentage (GF%), their save percentage, shooting percentage, and PDO (5-on-5 save percentage plus 5-on-5 shooting percentage, a measure of “puck luck”) through the first 52 games of each season.

Their league-wide rank in each category is in parenthesis.

Interesting numbers here.

Their possession and scoring chance numbers are all significantly better and among the top in the league, right where the Stanley Cup contenders usually reside.

The big difference is in the goal differential, and a lot of that drop is probably related to 1) Lesser goaltending, and 2) Some poor shooting puck offensively. The fact they are creating as many shots and chances as they are, and dominating the way they have, is an encouraging sign that goal differential could spike. Vegas had a slow start to the season when some injuries piled up and they were still without Nate Schmidt, but once they got healthy they have really taken off.

And there is something else worth keeping in mind here: Their top line is not as good as it was a year ago. They are carrying the play at a high level while getting less production from their best group.

This team is legit, and it is for real.

Patric Hornqvist has taken only one penalty this season

This is kind of mind-blowing because Patric Hornqvist is one of the most relentless and physical players in the NHL. He is a pest around the front of the net, he is always bumping into goalies and wrestling with defenders around the crease, and he is so fiery and intense that he has been prone to take the occasional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Throughout his career he typically averages around 35-50 penalty minutes per 82 games played. Now, that does not put him in goon territory but it’s still far more than his current pace which would put him on track for 4.6 penalty minutes over 82 games this season.

No one is better than Aleksander Barkov at this

By now we should all know that Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov is one of the NHL’s best all-around players, mixing top-line skill with shutdown defense. One of his most underrated skills is his ability to put his team on the power play through drawn penalties and his ability to keep his team off of the penalty kill by never taking penalties. At the All-Star break he has already drawn a league-best 28 penalties this season, while only taking … one. That is a penalty-differential of plus-27 on the season, a number that is far and away better than any other player in the league. Just for comparisons sake, the second best mark in the league belongs to Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson at plus-18. That is impressive on its own just because of how many games Pettersson has missed, but it is still not on the same level as Barkov.

The worst penalty differential in the league?

Winnipeg Jets defender Dustin Byfuglien and St. Louis Blues defender Joel Edmundson, both at minus-18.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

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.