Elias Lindholm

Fumbling Flames must not panic — certainly not with Gaudreau

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Things are pretty miserable for the Calgary Flames right now.

After suffering their fifth consecutive loss, Calgary saw its current spot solidified: out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, if they began today. They’re “below .500” at 10-11-3, and whenever they need to add insults to their injuries, they merely need to glance at the latest snarky update about James Neal vs. Milan Lucic.

Johnny Gaudreau (and to an extent, Sean Monahan) haven’t been immune to tough times, either. Their lackluster play relative to their usual work is a cause for concern.

One might look at, say, Gaudreau’s RAPM chart from 2018-19 (via Evolving Hockey):

Then compare it to the slow start so far in 2019-20:

And start to wonder if there are deeper concerns than merely a star player experiencing a slump that also is extending to a big chunk of the team around him, one that came into 2019-20 with pretty high expectations.

That’s when things start to get a little bumpy. On Monday, The Athletic’s Darren Haynes goes as far as wonder: if it’s time for the Flames to trade Gaudreau (sub required)?

Amusingly, in arguing that the Flames waited too long to trade Jarome Iginla, Haynes uses basically the exact same phrasing I would deploy to talk Calgary off the ledge if there was any notion of trading the superstar winger.

Iginla’s situation remains a textbook example of the perils of listening to the heart, not the head, when it comes to the handling of star players on a team getting worse, not better, or underperforming and in need of a shake-up.

For those who actually need it, here’s why the Flames would be using anything but their heads in the hypothetical knee-jerk reaction of trading away Johnny Gaudreau.

1. Obvious buy-low situation for other teams

Any team pondering a rash decision with a player should do one almost-agonizingly obvious thing: look at their shooting percentage, and general luck.

Ding, ding: Gaudreau’s shooting percentage is just 7.8 so far in 2019-20, well below his career average of 12.5, and a far cry from last season’s 14.7. On-ice shooting percentage is a decent (but not perfect) quick-reference way to see if a playmaker’s passes aren’t resulting in as many goals as usual, and Gaudreau is cold there, too, with a nine-percent mark versus his career average of 10.6 percent.

Basically every sign (including PDO) makes this point: if this sustained for all of 2019-20, it would be easily the unluckiest in Gaudreau’s career. As we’ve learned from players ranging from Taylor Hall to Jeff Skinner, the best way to become a notoriously ridiculed GM is to trade someone when their value is at an all-time low.

2. The Flames’ overall luck has been bad, too.

In 2018-19, quite a few Flames enjoyed the best years of their careers, with Mark Giordano finally winning a Norris Trophy and Elias Lindholm loving life with Gaudreau and Monahan. The problem with career years is that, sometimes, you won’t be able to repeat them.

The truth about Calgary is likely somewhere between the red-hot run of the 2018-19 regular season and the ice-cold 2019-20 start.

The instinct might be to make a bold move to shake things up, but that’s exactly the type of situation that could lead to other teams taking advantage of your desperation.

3. Gaudreau is a steal

Thanks to bargains on other second-contract stars like Nathan MacKinnon (somehow $6.3M AAV through 2022-23), Johnny Gaudreau’s contract isn’t the biggest steal in the NHL. That said, Gaudreau carrying a $6.75M AAV through 2021-22 is still “maybe you should have a little talk with your agent” material.

At 26, Gaudreau remains deep in his prime, and at an attractively cost-controlled price. Giving up on that value because of a brief swoon is the sort of mistake that makes you an eternal — and, honestly, justified — punchline on social media.

4. Gaudreau is really popular

Flames GM Brad Treliving has been described as a “riverboat gambler,” but trading Gaudreau would probably be close to losing his deed in a bad bet than even losing his shirt.

Trading away Gaudreau wouldn’t just run the risk of being a bad hockey move and a bad bit of cap management. It would also be a dangerous PR gamble for a team that’s already dealing with some frustrated fans.

***

Look, the truth is that the Flames might not be quite as potent as they thought they were. That’s a bummer, and it’s understandable that they might grasp for answers, but panicking would likely only make things worse — especially if that meant parting ways with Gaudreau.

Frankly, it would be a troubling sign if they’d even consider it.

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 Power Rankings: Most dangerous duos in the league

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a break from ranking all 31 teams and instead look at some of the best, and most dangerous forward duos in the league.

We are looking at forward duos that are regularly used together on a line and can not only produce offense, but help carry their teams and drive play.

Which duos make the list? Let’s get to the rankings!

1. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. There is not a duo in the NHL right now that is even close to these two.

Individually, the are the top-two point producers in the league since the start of the 2018-19 season and both are among the top-three in goals scored.

When they are on the ice together during 5-on-5 play the past two seasons the Oilers have outscored their opponents by an 82-57 margin (when neither is on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 67-97) while they have been on the ice for more than 55 percent of the Oilers’ total goals (all situations) during that time. As they go, the Oilers go. It is not a stretch to say this is the most dominant offensive duo the league has seen since the days of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh. Breaking them up should be a fireable offense.

2. David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. These two are so good that they have made Patrice Bergeron (still one of the best players in the league) arguably the third best player on his own line.

While Bergeron does drive a lot of the defensive play and plays the shutdown role to near perfection at center, the Pastrnak-Marchand duo on the wings is behind the offense. So much so that Pastrnak and Marchand have scored goals at a higher rate the past three years when they are playing without Bergeron than they do with him.

Goals per 60 minutes since start of 2017-18 season:

  • Pastrnak, Marchand, and Bergeron together: 3.64
  • Pastrnak and Marchand without Bergeron: 3.89
  • Marchand and Bergeron without Pastrnak: 3.49
  • Pastrnak and Bergeron without Marchand: 2.75

That is not to say the team would be better off without Bergeron centering the line, it is just a testament to how good Pastrnak and Marchand are offensively.

3. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. They have been to the Avalanche what the McDavid-Draisaitl duo has been to the Oilers. Top producers individually, completely dominant as a duo, and until this season the line that had to carry what was an incredibly top-heavy team. The Avalanche did serious work to address those depth concerns over the summer and it’s helped them stay afloat in the current absence of Rantanen (and the third member of that line, Gabriel Landeskog). When MacKinnon gets his regular wingers back the Avalanche should be considered one of the top Stanley Cup contenders.

4. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. It is easy to write off Guentzel’s success as being a product of playing next to Crosby, but here is the thing about that: A lot of players, many of them very talented, have spent significant time alongside Crosby throughout his career and have never approached the level of production that Guentzel has. He is the consistent finisher that Crosby never really had earlier in his career, and together they are the biggest driver of the Penguins’ offense.

5. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers. These two have really emerged as top-tier offensive players the past two years. Barkov still carries the “underrated” label even though everyone around the league knows exactly how good he is (you should know how good he is, anyway). The truly underrated one in this duo at this point is Huberdeau. Both players are among the top-10 scorers in the league the past two years and have been outstanding this year. If Sergei Bobrovsky ever plays like the big money goalie the Panthers signed him to be this duo will take the Panthers to the playoffs.

6. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning. They haven’t been quite as dominant as they were a year ago, but no one in Tampa Bay has been just yet. Plus, they are still both around a point-per-game offensively and they are carrying the play when the Lightning use them together (3.50 goals per 60 minutes; dominant possession numbers). They could be on the verge of a breakout at any moment.

7. Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. This duo became a thing last year after Vegas’ in-season trade for Stone last season, and it has been their best line ever since. Stone is one of the best all-around wingers in the NHL and should once again get serious Selke Trophy consideration, while Pacioretty still has the lightning quick release that can make him a 30-goal scorer. These two may not score as many goals as some of the duos on this list, but they control the pace of play and dictate the game as well as any duo in the league.

8. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. You might consider this a nod to past dominance or their reputation, but these two still have it. The Capitals mix their line combinations up a bit (Ovechkin has spent a lot of time in recent years with both Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov as his center) but this is still the one that seems to work the best. Both players are in their 30s and still on track to put up huge numbers this season for a Capitals team that looks like it could win another Stanley Cup.

9. Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. This duo might change everything in Vancouver. The Canucks have had comically bad luck in the draft lottery during this rebuild, never picking higher than fifth despite being one of the league’s worst teams the past few years. They have still managed to find some incredible building blocks with their top picks including Pettersson, Boeser, and Quinn Hughes. The Boeser-Pettersson duo is a must-see every night and has helped rapidly  accelerate the rebuild. The only thing that has held them back so far in their young careers are injuries.

10. Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames. Going from Carolina to Calgary has completely turned around Lindholm’s career thanks to the instant chemistry he found alongside Gaudreau. In the three years prior to his move to Calgary he scored just 38 goals in 235 games. He already has 37 goals in only 104 games with the Flames. Since the trade the Flames have outscored teams 68-48 with the Gauderau-Lindholm duo on the ice and averaged close to three-and-a-half per 60 minutes.

(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.

The Buzzer: A scary night for leads in the NHL

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Three Stars

1. Austin Watson, Nashville Predators

Watson’s team didn’t get the win, but when he looks back on this Halloween, he’ll probably have fond memories.

For one thing, the Predators announced Watson’s three-year, $4.5 million extension during Thursday’s game. Watson responded with a four-point night, scoring two goals and two assists. His two helpers were the only assists on Calle Jarnkrok‘s consecutive shorthanded goals.

This outburst ended an eight-game pointless streak for Watson, which had to be a relief, even if he’s the type of gritty player whose main focus is to hit the opposition, rather than for his pucks to hit the net. Jarnkrok’s two shorthanded goals certainly put him in the conversation for a three stars nod, too.

2. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames

While the main parts of what is normally the Flames’ top line in non-semi-crisis mode (Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm) spearheaded Calgary’s early push back from a 4-1 deficit, Tkachuk scored the goals that helped the Flames complete an unlikely comeback.

Tkachuk scored the 5-5 tally that sent the game to overtime, and he did it with just 39 seconds remaining in the third period.

His second goal came with less than two seconds remaining in that overtime frame, and considering the circumstances, it’s almost audacious that Tkachuk could pull off such a fancy between-the-legs move. Tkachuk ended Thursday with two goals and one assist, while adding three hits and a blocked shot.

3. Max Domi, Montreal Canadiens

Much like the Flames, the Canadiens found themselves down more than one goal, in the third period, on the road.

In Montreal’s case, the Golden Knights began the third period with two goals to transform a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 Vegas lead. Tomas Tatar got some revenge on his former team to score one goal, Brendan Gallagher sent it to OT with a bit less than two minutes remaining in the third, and Domi only needed 26 seconds to put the finishing touches on the OT-winner.

Domi also had an assist early in the game, so he had two points overall. Pretty impressive stuff from a Canadiens team closing out a back-to-back. Hot take: Domi will cost a lot more than his expiring $3.15M AAV after this season.

The overtime game-winners

On a spookily unusually quiet Thursday night (don’t hockey on a tummy full of treats), there were only two games, and both went to overtime. So why not expand the highlights of the night to both?

That said, the Tkachuk OT winner would take that spot if there was only one:

But, hey, Domi’s OT goal counts the same in the grand scheme of things:

Factoids

  • Max Pacioretty scored the 500th point of his NHL career on an assist, and he did it against his former team in Montreal. He didn’t get the last laugh, however.
  • Johnny Gaudreau reached his 400th career point with two assists, and only needed 409 games to get to that milestone. My expert math skills make me aware that he’s pretty close to a point-per-game.
  • Actually, he wasn’t alone in Flames milestones:

  • Via NHL PR, this is only the seventh time the Flames have faced a third-period deficit of three goals or more and won that game in any fashion.
  • Also via NHL PR, Calle Jarnkrok is the second Predators player to score two SHG in one game. The other was Scott Nichol. Remarkably, both did so in the same period, too.
  • Based off of Sportsnet’s earlier tweet, it looks like the Flames improved their Halloween record to 10-2-0. Save those boos for November, Calgary fans?

Scores

CGY 6 – NSH 5 (OT)
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (OT)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

NHL Power Rankings: Pastrnak, Marchand carry Bruins to top spot

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The Boston Bruins may have their share of question marks, but if you are going to be a top-heavy team you better have one hell of a top line and a darn good goalie to help mask whatever flaws your roster may have. Fortunately for the Bruins, they have both of those things.

Their top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been the ultimate game-changer in the NHL this season, and when you sprinkle in some great goaltending from the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak it has helped power them to an 8-1-2 start and the top spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

The Pastrnak-Marchand duo is the one grabbing headlines here. Entering play on Monday both players are among the top-five point producers in the league, while they rank first and second in points-per-game. They each have eight points apiece (in only three games) over the past week alone. When they are on the ice at 5-on-5 for the season the Bruins are controlling 60 percent of the shot attempts and outscored teams by a 14-4 margin. When neither player is on the ice those numbers drop to 49 percent (shot attempts) and a minus-2 goal differential (8-10). They are as dominant as a line can get.

Is it a sustainable way to win? Probably not, and eventually they will need some help. But the Bruins have time to address the depth issues again, and there is certainly room for improvement from within. For now, though, they get the top spot.

Where does everyone else fit this week? To the rankings!

1. Boston Bruins. The forward depth after the top line is a concern, but we have said this for about two years now and it never seems to slow them down.

2. Colorado Avalanche. Mikko Rantanen‘s injury is a big loss but they should have enough to overcome it for as long as he is sidelined, especially after their big offseason to improve their depth.

3. Washington Capitals. They keep scoring goals and piling up wins and it still feels like they have another level they can still get to.

4. Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres can not collapse again. They can not do that again to a loyal fan base that has waited so long for something to get excited about. Do not do this to them again, Buffalo.

5. New York Islanders. This season was going to be a big test to see how much of last year’s turnaround was Barry Trotz and how much of it was the two goalies. Even with a different goalie in place they just keep right on winning. Seven in a row entering Monday.

6. Arizona Coyotes. After losing their first two games (and only scoring one goal) the Coyotes are 6-1-1 in their last eight and are averaging more than four goals per game.

7. Nashville Predators. Not very often you see two defenders leading a team in scoring, but that is the situation the Predators are in right now with Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis pacing their team.

8. Carolina Hurricanes. They cooled off a bit after their fast start, but they are still waiting for their top players to start filling the back of the net. Still a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.

9. Florida Panthers. There is probably no team in the NHL that wants to ban the shootout more than the Panthers, consistently one of the league’s worst teams in the tiebreaker.

10. Edmonton Oilers. There is still a glaring lack of talent around the top four forwards, and that will eventually do them in.

11. Vancouver Canucks. Who knows how many games the Canucks are capable of winning this season, but this much is certain: With Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes they will be worth watching every night.

12. Tampa Bay Lightning. What is mildly concerning about this team after 10 games is that they are one of the league’s worst teams in shot-attempt differential, a strong indicator they are spending way too much time defending and not enough time dictating the pace of the game. Something to watch.

13. Vegas Golden Knights. The results have been inconsistent but the process is there and the roster is still full of talent. They will put it together.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins. They are starting to get healthy and for the first time this season we might get to actually see what their roster was intended to look like. Evgeni Malkin said on Monday he’s targeting a Saturday return to the lineup.

15. St. Louis Blues. The Vladimir Tarasenko injury is a huge blow to the defending champs. He is this team’s game-breaker offensively and that is nearly impossible to replace.

16. Philadelphia Flyers. It is actually surprising they have collected as many points as they have given how poorly Carter Hart‘s season has started.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets. They may take a step backwards but they are not going to go away quietly.

18. Montreal Canadiens. Jonathan Drouin becoming the impact player Montreal hoped he would be when he was acquired a couple of years ago would be a big development.

19. Toronto Maple Leafs. They still have their share of questions on defense, but the biggest thing sinking them right now is goaltending. Frederik Andersen has not played up to his standard and Michael Hutchinson has been a mess in the backup role.

20. Minnesota Wild. They are starting to show some signs of life after a horrendous start. The recent schedule has helped, but beating the teams you are supposed to beat is a good start.

21. Calgary Flames. In the three years before joining Calgary Elias Lindholm scored 38 goals in 235 games. He already has 34 goals in 94 games with the Flames.

22. Anaheim Ducks. This team is going to need goaltending to carry it, and fortunately for them they might have the best duo in the league.

23. Winnipeg Jets. Given the way their entire defense disappeared on them in the span of six months they have probably overachieved a bit. They still only have two regulation wins all year and none since Oct. 10. Not a great sign.

24. Dallas Stars. They won a few games this week to maybe start getting back on track, but they did not look particularly good in doing so. Still a team with a lot of flaws.

25. San Jose Sharks. The goaltending still stinks and the rest of the team is not playing well enough to cover it up as it did a year ago. Bad combination.

26. Chicago Blackhawks. Playing one of the few teams that has been worse than them so far (Los Angeles) was just what they needed on Sunday. There are still a lot of problems with this team.

27. Los Angeles Kings. This is a bad team, but Jonathan Quick is giving up four-and-a-half goals every time he starts. How much longer can they continue running him out there even semi-regularly?

28. New York Rangers. If Mika Zibanejad has to miss any time that would make an already sluggish offensive team even worse.

29. New Jersey Devils. This team has already blown a season’s worth of multiple-goal leads. On the plus side, Jack Hughes has points in three consecutive games (five points total in those games).

30. Ottawa Senators. Do you know what the best news for Ottawa is right now? A lot of players that could be used as trade chips (Conor Brown, Anthony Duclair, Vladislav Namestnikov) are having decent starts.

31. Detroit Red Wings. If Steve Yzerman wasn’t already aware of how big of a job he had to do when he took over, he certainly does now.

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.

Jets rally to take Heritage Classic from Flames: 3 takeaways

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The Winnipeg Jets needed this one.

They entered Saturday’s Heritage Classic against the Calgary Flames in Regina, Saskatchewan having lost five of their past six games and were less than five minutes away from heading to what would have almost certainly been another frustrating defeat.

But a Josh Morrissey goal with 4:11 to play sent the game to overtime where Bryan Little scored the game-winner to lift the Jets to a 2-1 win.

What stood out about this game? Here are three quick takeaways.

1. This was the result this game deserved. First, the Jets played really well. They ended up finishing the game with a pretty significant edge in shots on goal and were right there with the Flames all night.

There is also the fact that the Flames’ only goal — and for a while it looked like it might have been the only goal in the game — came with a little bit of controversy.

Elias Lindholm put the Flames on the board in the second period only to have the Jets challenge the play because they felt Matthew Tkachuk kept the play alive with a high stick. The play was reviewed and at first glance it looked like it may have been a high-stick, but the NHL determined that it agreed with the on-ice officials ruling that Tkachuk’s stick “was at or below the normal height of his shoulders when he contacted the puck prior to Elias Lindholm’s goal.” (Official wording from the league right there.)

It infuriated Jets coach Paul Maurice and the Jets’ bench, but that was the call.

Here is the play. You be the judge on whether or not that is a high stick on the puck or not.

Fortunately for the Jets they were able to rally and take the two points.

2. Even with the win the Jets’ offense has still cooled off. If the Jets are going to have a chance to compete this season with the current state of their defense they are going to need their forwards and offense to carry a lot of the weight. Lately that has been a struggle. Even with Saturday’s win the Jets have managed just nine goals in their past six games, and have not scored more than two goals in a game in two weeks. It is not a surprise they have lost four of those games. Even in the two games they did win offense has been nearly impossible to come by. Their 1-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers was a shootout win (meaning they scored zero goals in regulation or overtime) and even on Saturday they managed just two goals. It could just be a simple cold streak, or it could still be the result of the undermanned defense not being able to get the puck to the forwards to generate offense. A lot of offense in the NHL starts with your blue line. Either way, two goals (or less) per game is not going to cut it for anyone long-term.

3. Adam Lowry‘s hit on Oliver Kylington was scary. Tough moment at the end of the second period when Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry was penalized for boarding Calgary’s Oliver Kylington with a scary hit from behind into the glass. The way Kylington dropped to the ice and remained down was concerning, but the good news for him and the Flames is that he was able to return to the game. Lowry was given a two-minute minor for boarding. It will no doubt be reviewed for supplemental discipline by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, but they have been fairly quiet so far this season so Lowry may be able to get away with just the penalty.