Erik Gustafsson

Looking at the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks

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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 Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago Blackhawks

Record: 32-30-8 (70 games), seventh in the Central Division, Out of Playoffs
Leading scorer: Patrick Kane 84 points (33 goals and 51 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

• Traded Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights for Malcolm Subban, Slava Demin, 2020 second-round pick.
• Acquired T.J. Brennan from the Philadelphia Flyers for Nathan Noel.
• Shipped Erik Gustafsson to the Calgary Flames for a 2020 third-round pick.
• Traded Graham Knott to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Joseph Cramarossa.
• Acquired Alec Regula from the Detroit Red Wings for Brendan Perlini.
• Sent Aleksi Saarela to the Florida Panthers for Ian McCoshen.

Season Overview:

The Blackhawks didn’t get off to the greatest of starts in 2019-20. They began their campaign with a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Czech Republic and then came home to play seven consecutive games at the United Center. How did those games go? Well, they only managed to win two of the seven. When October was all said and done, the ‘Hawks had a 3-6-3 record.

They managed to rattle off a four-game winning streak in November, but quickly followed that up by losing five of their last six games to close out the month.

Get the picture?

There was no semblance of consistency with this edition of the Blackhawks. Sure, they still have an elite talent in Patrick Kane and, yes, Jonathan Toews is still a really good player. They also have Dominik Kubalik, who scored 30 goals in his first year, and Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Brandon Saad. Those are all talented players, but the entire roster just doesn’t stack up with the elite teams in the Western Conference anymore.

Their defense still features Duncan Keith, but the unit got old in a hurry. Keith has played a lot of hockey, Seabrook was struggling badly before being shut down with an injury and the acquisition of Calvin de Haan and Olli Maata helped, but not enough.

Management has to decide what the next step is for this group. It’s always tempting to “go for it” when you have Kane, but the supporting cast just isn’t strong enough. Can they make it work by tweaking the roster, or is this a team that needs a major overhaul?

Whenever the off-season starts, they’ll have to address the goaltending position too, because Corey Crawford isn’t getting any younger and he’s scheduled to become a free agent on July 1st. He had been playing well down the stretch, but he’s become a question mark when it comes to staying healthy.

Big decisions are coming.

Highlight of the Season:

Kane has been one of the few bright spots on the ice for the this team and he continued to pile up incredible numbers throughout the season.

On January 19th, in a game against the Winnipeg Jets, Kane picked up a secondary assist on Saad’s goal late in the third period. That point allowed the Blackhawks forward to reach the 1,000-point club.

MORE BLACKHAWKS:
Biggest surprises and disappointments

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Calgary Flames

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 Calgary Flames.

Calgary Flames

Record: 36-27-7 (70 games), third in Pacific Division
Leading Scorer: Matthew Tkachuk — 61 points (23 goals and 38 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves: 

• Traded away Michael Frolik to the Buffalo Sabres for a fourth-round pick in 2020.
• Sent Brandon Davidson to the San Jose Sharks for future considerations
• Acquired Erik Gustafsson from the Chicago Blackhawks for third-round pick in 2020.
• Traded away a conditional fourth-round pick in 2021 to the Los Angeles Kings for Derek Forbort.

Season Overview: 

It seems like a long time ago now, but the Flames had the best record in the Western Conference last year. Of course, the season didn’t end on a positive note though, as they were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Colorado Avalanche.

Heading into the NHL pause, they hadn’t really come close to locking up a postseason berth. Although they were sitting in the third spot in the Pacific Division, the Vancouver Canucks, who were on the outside of the playoff picture, were just one point behind the Flames.

Why the Flames have failed to improve on their regular-season success from a year ago isn’t exactly rocket science. Just look at the difference in production for some of their top players.

Johnny Gaudreau went from 36 goals and 99 points last year, to 18 goals and 58 points in 2019-20. Sean Monahan had 34 goals and 82 points during Calgary’s standout season a year ago only to see those numbers drop to 22 goals and 48 points this year. Elias Lindholm was still having a strong season so far in 2019-20, but his numbers went from 27 goals and 78 points to 29 goals and 54 points.

Captain Mark Giordano, who won the Norris last season, missed a 10-game stretch due to a hamstring injury. He put up an incredible 17 goals and 74 points in 78 games last year. This year, he had a very respectable five goals and 31 points in 60 games.

Let’s not forget the head coaching change/controversy that went on at the beginning of the season. Bill Peters lost his job because of the way he had been mistreating some of his players over the year. Geoff Ward has come in and picked up the pieces of what was left behind by Peters, but that couldn’t have been a comfortable situation for all involved.

If the season resumes, the final spot in the Pacific Division will be one of the best races in the NHL. Can the Flames hang on to it? What does the future look like for them? This is going to be an interesting situation to monitor going forward.

Highlight of the Season So Far: 

The biggest moment that stands out has to be the battles between Tkachuk and Zack Kassian. When I think of the 2019-20 Flames season, that’s the first snippet that pops into my mind. If the playoffs started today, the Flames and Oilers would go head-to-head. Can you imagine what that would be like? A best-of-seven series between two teams that hate each other would be must-see TV.

MORE FLAMES BITS:
Biggest surprises and disappointments for Flames

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 looks like Blackhawks are sticking with Bowman, Colliton

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Before the 2019-20 NHL season went on pause the Chicago Blackhawks were headed toward their third consecutive non-playoff season and their fifth consecutive season without a playoff series win (with only three playoff game wins during that stretch).

It has been a pretty sudden fall from the top for an organization that was once the gold standard for winning in the salary cap NHL.

They are not only no longer a Stanley Cup contender, they are not even all that close to being a playoff team in what has been a mostly watered down Western Conference the past two years.

Despite the sudden descent into mediocrity, there does not appear to be any significant changes coming to the coaching staff or front office after this season.

In an interview with the Athletic’s Scott Powers, Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said the trio of team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, and head coach Jeremy Colliton will all be back next season.

From the Athletic:

Wirtz isn’t on the same page as those fans. Asked about his confidence level in the trio, Wirtz replied, “I think they’re all good.”

Does he envision all three returning next season?

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Wirtz said. “There’s not going to be any changes in the front office.”

Wirtz reiterated that when he was asked about a rumored Bowman contract extension.

“I’ll let John (McDonough) get into all the details,” Wirtz said of Bowman’s contract. “But there’s not going to be any changes, so let’s put that away.”

The level of confidence there is a little surprising given the current state of the Blackhawks’ organization, especially as it relates to the key people in the front office responsible with building the team.

It was just a little over a year ago that the team parted ways with a three-time Stanley Cup winning coach (Joel Quenneville) after a slow start to the season 2018-19 season. It wasn’t a stretch to think that move would have started the timer on Bowman given that the attention would eventually drift toward the team’s roster management. Especially after the Blackhawks seemed to go all in this offseason on trying to fix their flaws with the hope of squeezing another run out of this remaining core. Obviously, that gamble has not paid off.

While the Blackhawks have to deal with salary cap restrictions that come from paying a pair of superstars big money at the top, that alone isn’t enough of a justification for the drop in success, especially while teams like Washington and Pittsburgh have maintained consistent success with a similar cap structure. The issue still comes back to roster management and some questionable decisions over the years. The Blackhawks tried to get ahead of their salary cap issues over the years but simply made things worse in the short-and long-term.

They needed to dump Bryan Bickell’s contract and did so by attaching Teuvo Teravainen to it and trading him to Carolina for next to nothing. Today, Teravainen is one of the Hurricanes’ best players and would easily be a top player in Chicago.

They feared how much Artemi Panarin would cost on his next contract and dealt him to Columbus to bring back Brandon Saad and some cost certainty. Talent-for-talent, the trade was laughably one-sided and saw them deal a superstar for a good player. Maybe they couldn’t have re-signed him for his current contract and lost him anyway, but how much more competitive would they have been the previous two years with him at forward with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat?

Then there were smaller, minor deals this offseason like trading Dominik Kahun and Henri Jokiharju for Olli Maatta and Alex Nylander, and then getting an underwhelming return on Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson at the trade deadline. There are big mistakes. There are a bunch of small mistakes adding up into big mistakes. It all just keeps building up into what the Blackhawks have now.

That is not to say there have not been some successes.

Acquiring Dominik Kubalik has been one of the Blackhawks’ best steals in recent years. DeBrincat has turned out to be an outstanding second-round pick, while recent top picks Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach look like they can be young building blocks going forward. But even with those successes and the promise they bring there are still more questions than solutions throughout the roster. Without dramatic change somewhere, the mediocrity might only continue to build.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Teams that improved the most at trade deadline

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the teams that did the most to improve at the 2020 NHL trade deadline.

We have the teams ranked in a handful of tiers from the potential playoff teams that made significant moves, to the teams that got worse in the short-term to maybe get better in the long-term, to the teams that do not seem to have a plan.

This is not a ranking of current team ability or play. It is simply a ranking of how each team did at the NHL trade deadline.

How did your team do?

To the rankings!

Teams that made significant moves

1. Washington Capitals. Brenden Dillon is the practical addition and gives them exactly what they need. Ilya Kovalchuk might seem like a luxury but they could actually use a little help on the power play and he might still have something left to offer.

2. Vegas Golden Knights. It remains to be seen as to how much he will play, but Robin Lehner will do more to improve their playoff chances than the coaching change did. Now Marc-Andre Fleury has someone to give him a break and the Golden Knights have a safety net if they need it.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning. They paid a steep price in terms of draft picks Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, but neither first-round pick should be very high. Both players are signed through next season on cheap contracts and Coleman in particular is an outstanding player.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. Still not sure about giving up Dominik Kahun, but they wanted to add depth at forward and they did exactly that. Jason Zucker will make the biggest impact, but Patrick Marleau, Conor Sheary, and Evan Rodrigues will greatly improve their bottom-six forwards.

5. Edmonton Oilers. They didn’t add a star, but they definitely made their lineup better. Connor McDavid and Andreas Athanasiou might be the fastest duo in the league if they play together.

6. New York Islanders. Adam Pelech‘s injury made an Andy Greene type addition a must, and while I am hesitant to pay a player having a career year in a contract year, Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a good player and a strong pickup. Even if a costly one.

7. Boston Bruins. I love the idea of Ondrej Kase and the potential he brings both now and in the future. They just need him to be healthy and stay healthy.

8. Carolina Hurricanes. They did what they needed to do given the circumstances on defense. Sami Vatanen‘s health will determine how that trade works, but I do wonder where Brady Skjei fits when everyone is healthy in future seasons. Vincent Trocheck is the addition to be really excited about here.

9. Vancouver Canucks. On one hand I don’t know if the Canucks are in a position to give up significant assets for a rental. On the other hand, have you seen the Pacific Division? Why not try something?

Teams that made small improvements

10. St. Louis Blues. Marco Scandella‘s name won’t steal a lot of headlines, but he’s a solid addition to the Blues defense and for a decent price.

11. Colorado Avalanche. Little surprising to see the Avalanche not utilize all of their salary cap space and go for a blockbuster addition (that is not to say they did not try), but Vladislav Namestnikov brings some versatility and skill to the bottom of their lineup.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs. Adding a backup goalie like Jack Campbell was a must. Kyle Clifford and Denis Malgin are fine bottom of the lineup additions, but aren’t going to change much. And you know what? That’s fine. This situation isn’t as dire as Toronto is making it seem.

13. Calgary Flames. Erik Gustafsson‘s success or failure in Calgary will depend on how they use him. He will give you offense. He will not give you much defense.

14. Buffalo Sabres. Trading for Wayne Simmonds in their situation is weird, but it didn’t cost much. Kahun is a sneaky good pickup. 

15. Philadelphia Flyers. Derek Grant could be an okay pickup as long as he keeps scoring on 18 percent of his shots. I do not know if Derek Grant can do that.

You got worse now, but it might pay off in the future

16. New Jersey Devils. This season turned out to be a mess and they traded a ton of talent off the roster, but they at least positioned themselves well in terms of draft picks. They now have three first-round picks this summer.

17. Ottawa Senators. With Pageau now off to Long Island, the only players remaining on the roster that played in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final are Bobby Ryan and Craig Anderson. They do have a ton of draft picks. Good draft picks.

18. Minnesota Wild. That rumored Zach Parise trade would have been interesting to see, but they did do well in the Zucker trade. Cale Addison is a strong prospect.

19. New York Rangers. I don’t hate the Chris Kreider contract. They are on the right track and could be a playoff team as soon as next season, and Kreider will still be a part of that. I don’t know that Skjei was worth that contract and they not only dumped it, they picked up a first-round pick for it. That said, it still creates another hole on defense they have to fill.

20. San Jose Sharks. They managed to get a first-round pick back (they were without one due to the Erik Karlsson trade) for Goodrow and collected a second-round pick and two conditional thirds (one of which could become another second-round pick). Maybe they can flip some of those picks this summer for a goalie.

21. Los Angeles Kings. They traded the players they needed to trade and have 11 picks in the 2020 class, including eight in the first four rounds.

22. Detroit Red Wings. Pretty much a similar situation to the Kings. Did they what they needed to do and got some draft picks. They still have a massive undertaking ahead of them over the next several years.

23. Anaheim Ducks. There was a lot of deck chair shuffling here, but trading Kase was a big move. I just wonder if they got enough for a talented player and for taking on a bad contract (David Backes). If Kase excels in Boson it will not look good for Anaheim.

Teams that mostly stayed the same (teams 24-28 — rank them in any order)

Arizona Coyotes. They made their big trade deadline addition in December when they got Taylor Hall.

Dallas Stars. There was a brief rumor that might be in on Joe Thornton but nothing ever came of it.

Nashville Predators. Getting a healthy Ryan Ellis back will do more for them than any trade could have done.

Winnipeg Jets. They did add Dylan DeMelo and Cody Eakin, but their playoff chances will still rest on the pads of Conor Hellebuyck.

Columbus Blue Jackets. They had almost no draft pick capital to trade, so mostly standing pat makes sense. What they really need is for the injuries to stop.

What’s the plan here?

29. Chicago Blackhawks. I’m just having a hard time seeing how this team, as constructed, gets significantly better before it gets significantly worse.

30. Montreal Canadiens. Here is what should concern Canadiens fans: This team isn’t very good, and I am not sure Marc Bergevin is aware of that reality.

31. Florida Panthers. Why spend all that money to hire Joel Quenneville and sign Sergei Bobrovsky only to give them a crappy defense, do nothing to improve the defense, and then trade one of your core players at what might be his lowest value for a quantity over quality return? What are you doing? What. Are. You. Doing?

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.

NHL On NBCSN: What does future hold for Stan Bowman, Blackhawks?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.  Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

By trading starting goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Erik Gustafsson on Monday the Chicago Blackhawks officially raised the white flag on the 2019-20 NHL season.

They enter Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in 12th place in the Western Conference and eight points out of a wild card spot with still four teams ahead of them.

Right now the cut-off point for a wild card spot in the West is around 88 points. The Blackhawks at the moment are only on pace for 82 points and would need to collect 27 points in their final 20 games (think 13-6-1 record) to gain enough ground to give themselves a chance. Given the way the season has played out, and the players they are now without, that seems unlikely.

It also means that the Blackhawks are almost certainly headed for their third straight non-playoff season and their fifth straight season without a playoff series win. Their decline from dynasty to mediocrity has been stunning and swift.

What makes it all even more shocking is they still have two superstar forwards (Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews) playing at a high level, while the threshold to make the playoffs in the Western Conference the past two seasons has been as low as we have ever seen it in the era of the three-point game. It only took 90 points to get in a year ago. It may not take that many this season. And the Blackhawks still seem unable to reach even that.

Adding to the frustration is that on Monday the returns for Lehner and Gustafsson just seemed, for lack of a better word, underwhelming. Trading them was the absolute right call. It had to be done. But there is nothing coming back in return that moves the needle in a meaningful way.

So what happens if (or when) this season reaches the conclusion it seems destined for? Is there any short-term hope that next season won’t produce the same result? And how much longer will Bowman get to try and get this team back on track?

As long as Kane and Toews are in the lineup there is at least a foundation in place. Dominik Kubalik has been one of the few home run moves hit by the front office in recent years, while recent first-rounders Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist both look to be loaded with potential.

But that’s not enough, especially as the two superstars get deeper into their 30s. There has to be more, and Bowman has made his share of significant missteps the past few years. Brent Seabrook‘s contract to further complicate their salary cap structure. Trading Artemi Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen in an effort to fix their salary cap problems (there had to be better, more productive ways). Dealing young players like Dominik Kahun and Henri Jokiharju this summer for a pair of players (Olli Maatta and Alex Nylander) that simply have not added much.

Bowman’s roster moves this past summer were him betting on the current roster still being able to compete with a couple of tweaks.

That gamble has not worked, and it remains a roster that still seems to have more questions and problems than actual solutions.

When you add all of that up it’s put the Blackhawks in the worst possible position a team can be in — the middle ground. A team that is not good enough to compete, but still has enough reasons to think it should.

Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Tonight’s studio coverage will be hosted by Liam McHugh with Scott Hartnell and Mike Johnson.

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.