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PHT Morning Skate: Zetterberg on his injury; importance of Subban

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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.

• Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg talks about the injury that ended his playing career. [Detroit News]

• How smaller goalie equipment will impact scoring in the NHL. [Sportsnet]

• Gone are the days when top pairing defensemen are carrying heavy minutes. [TSN]

• Why P.K. Subban may be the NHL’s most important player. [Tampa Bay Times]

• IIHF president Rene Fasel plans to retire when his term is up in 2020. [TASS]

• Willie O’Ree, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame later this month, gets the honor of having a street hockey rink named after him in Boston. [NHL.com]

• Examining the tough start for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ blue line. [The Leafs Nation]

William Nylander remains unsigned. So how might the Philadelphia Flyers fit in as a possible trade destination? [NBC Philadelphia]

• It’s been quite a road to 1,000 games for Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• A good read on the way New Jersey Devils head coach John Hynes balances coaching and using analytics. [NJ.com]

• If Bruce Cassidy broke up his top line, how would the Boston Bruins look? [Bruins Daily]

• The Vancouver Canucks are off to a good start, but there’s reason to be cautious and optimistic. [Pass it to Bulis]

• Why Tyler Myers should be on Jim Benning’s shopping list this summer for the Canucks. [Daily Hive]

• A look at Filip Chytil‘s start to the season with the New York Rangers. [Blue Seat Blogs]

• Finally, Patrik Laine talks about his hat trick on home soil Thursday vs. the Panthers:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Zetterberg drops ceremonial puck before Red Wings opener

Much like with Pavel Datsyuk, it seemed like Henrik Zetterberg‘s retirement came along so abruptly.

Granted, Detroit Red Wings fans had to know that both players’ days were numbered, but neither enjoyed lengthy farewell tours. (Maybe, in part, because their Red Wings days ended before their contracts technically expired.)

Regardless, Zetterberg’s gone from suiting up to … well, wearing an actual suit, a reality that was driven home as the Red Wings opened the 2018-19 season. Zetterberg dropped the ceremonial puck before the Red Wings hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday:

It’s still hard to believe that his Red Wings days are really over, yet this was a nice touch for fans coming to grips with that truth.

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.

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.

PHT’s 2018-19 Eastern Conference predictions

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There was plenty of change in the off-season in the Eastern Conference.

In the Atlantic Division the Toronto Maple Leafs added John Tavares. Rasmus Dahlin landed with the Buffalo Sabres. Henrik Zetterberg is done playing hockey. Steve Yzerman is no longer general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. After being traded seven times over the summer, Erik Karlsson is now a San Jose Shark.

The Metropolitan Division houses the defending Stanley Cup champions for the third straight season. Meanwhile, the champs have a new head coach and their old head coach is now with the New York Islanders. There’s also a cloud above the heads of the Columbus Blue Jackets with the unknown futures of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. The New York Rangers are in a weird transitional phase while Henrik Lundqvist remains atop of his game. There’s been an identity change in Carolina, but they still want to eat up that revenue-generating goodness that comes with selling Hartford Whalers merchandise. And the Flyers, well, they gifted the world Gritty.

With the season beginning Wednesday night, we’re rolling out our conference predictions. Below are our picks for the East along with who we believe will stand out from the rest and reach the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. (Our playoff selections sit above the line in each column.)

Let us know in the comments how you see both East divisions shaping up.

EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION

LEAHY: Maple Leafs. It’s been building to this and John Tavares is the final piece of the puzzle. The young Leafs have been growing together the last few years, gaining valuable experience as they trended in the right direction. They’re set up front and in goal and maybe could use a little help on the backend, but that’s something that can be fix in-season. Their toughest job this season may be getting out of the Atlantic Division.

O’BRIEN: Maple Leafs. People forget just how explosive this offensive core already was, and Tavares makes it almost unfair. If you want tiebreakers – and this is a tough call – then consider greed (contract years for Marner and Matthews) and supply (Toronto has a ton of rental-friendly cap space, even once Nylander signs). This isn’t a make or break year, but as strange as it sounds, this might be Toronto’s biggest chance before they sacrifice depth thanks to expiring rookie contracts. Here’s saying they make that chance count.  Bonus points if Mike Babcock really is a great coach.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

GRETZ: Bruins. They have the best line in hockey, high-end talent at the top of the lineup, and a bunch of really good young players that were able to get their feet wet in the NHL last season that are going to give them top-line production for a dirt cheap price, giving them the added cap flexibility they will need to make another big splash at the trade deadline.

ALFIERI: Bruins. Yes, I think the Bruins will finish third in the division, but I also think they have what it takes to go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are three big reasons why I feel Boston can do damage. I also like some of the youth the Bruins have up front. Guys like Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Jake DeBrusk will all contribute, too. On defense, Charlie McAvoy is a year older, which means he should be even better.

BILLECK: Lightning. Perhaps the most complete team in the NHL. If Vasilevskiy can stay relatively fresh, there’s no reason to think this team, with all it’s scoring, with its potent blueline, can’t finally finish the job. 

PHT’S SEASON PREVIEW:
• Atlantic Division
• Metropolitan Division
• Central Division
Pacific Division

Western Conference predictions
Stanley Cup picks
NHL Awards picks
Power Rankings: Who is the NHL’s best team entering 2018-19?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Power Rankings: Who is the NHL’s best team entering 2018-19?

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There are real, meaningful hockey games starting on Wednesday, and that means it is time to take our first real look at the Power Rankings for the 2018-19 season.

After spending most of the summer ranking everything from the best trades of the summer, to the most absurd mascot moments, to the people around the NHL that need to be better this season, to the best teams to not win the Stanley Cup yet in the salary cap era, to those old, random third jerseys it is finally time to start looking at where the NHL’s 31 teams stand entering this season.

Our plan for the season is to do a bi-weekly traditional power rankings, and then mix in a different sort of ranking on the off week in between (similar to what we did over the summer).

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have potential award winners behind the bench (Jon Cooper), on the top line (Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov), on defense (Victor Hedman) and in net (Andrei Vasilevskiy). The top of the roster is as good as any other team in the league, and the complementary players are outstanding. You don’t become a final four team in three of the past four years by accident. Now they just have to figure out a way to go from being a consistently great team to a championship team.

2. Nashville Predators — Their defense is, at worst, the second best group in the NHL and they have to goalies that are good enough to start and play at a high level. They will be one of the toughest teams to score on once again and a top-10 offense.

3. San Jose Sharks — They are loaded, especially on the blue line where they have three players that are regulars in the Norris Trophy voting. That alone should make them Stanley Cup contenders. Then you add in the fact they have a solid goalie and a deep group of forwards and it is hard to find a weakness here.

4. Washington Capitals — It is pretty remarkable — and kind of funny —  that the Capitals team that finally did it, that finally overcame the postseason demons, that finally brought a championship to Washington, was probably one of the weaker Capitals teams (at least on paper) during this era. That this was probably one of the “weaker” teams is also a testament to how consistently great and competitive they have been, because it was an obviously great team.

5. Winnipeg Jets — The forwards on this team are incredible, especially on the wings where they boast one of the best depth charts in the league. Patrik Laine scoring 50 goals this season is a legitimate possibility. If Connor Hellebuyck comes close to matching his performance this team could win it all. If he does not they could disappoint.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins — If Derick Brassard has a bounce back year after a disappointing debut with the Penguins following the trade this lineup could be laughably deep.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — The oddsmakers have them as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, and they are definitely loaded with talent up front especially after adding John Tavares in free agency. But they also have some flaws that could hold them back, particularly on defense and in potentially in net if they overwork Frederik Andersen again. We also have to acknowledge the fact that before they can win the Stanley Cup they have to get out of the first round of the playoffs, something they have not done in two NHL lockouts. I know, I know, different teams, different players, different times. But facts are facts.

8. Boston Bruins — The depth is a question mark after the top-line, but they have some really intriguing young players all over the lineup. Tuukka Rask could be the one player that makes or breaks where this team goes.

9. Vegas Golden Knights — Asking them to repeat the success and magic from year one might be asking the impossible, but this is still a really good roster with a lot of salary cap flexibility and the assets (prospects and draft picks) to make another big move if needed.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Even with all of the preseason distractions relating to the contract statues of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky this is a really talented team. Talented enough to finally get through the first-round of the playoffs? That remains to be seen, but a talented team nonetheless.

[Related: Roundtable discussion on Blue Jackets, Rinne, surprise teams]

11. Minnesota Wild — The Wild are going to make the playoffs where they will likely run into a powerhouse Nashville or Winnipeg team in the first round, and should they happen to get through that they will probably have to face the other one in the second round. They are good. They are not good enough to get through both of those teams.

12. Philadelphia Flyers — Could see this team making the playoffs and winning a round (maybe even two?) or being a massive disappointment and missing the playoffs because the defense and goaltending end up not being good enough. A true wild card of a team. At least the mascot rules.

13. St. Louis Blues — The Blues were one of the best defensive teams in the league a season ago and missed the playoffs because they could not score. They tried to address that over the summer with Ryan O'Reilly, Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and Patrick Maroon. O’Reilly is the big addition here because he is an awesome two-way player that does everything well, mixing shutdown defense with 60-point offense, and a tough, hard-nosed style of play that does not result in him taking penalties.

14. Anaheim Ducks — Losing Corey Perry hurts the offense, but the defense and goaltending should be good enough to carry this team back to the playoffs in a weak (after the top two teams) Pacific Division.

15. Florida Panthers — They were the hottest team in the league in the second half and added a 25-goal scorer to a core group of forwards that already boasts one of the league’s best two-way players (Aleksander Barkov) and some top-line talent in Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck.

16. Dallas Stars — Maybe first-year coach Jim Montgomery can find a way to get something more out of this team than what Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock were able to get in recent years. Still a lot of talent on this roster even if it never seems to translate to success in the standings.

17. Los Angeles Kings — The most stunning thing about the way the Kings were swept out of the playoffs isn’t just that they dropped four consecutive games to the Vegas Golden Knights, scoring just three goals in the series, it is that they looked completely overmatched, slow, and never seemed to be a threat to score. It was like they were playing a different sport.

[Related: Are the Los Angeles Kings in trouble already?]

18. Carolina Hurricanes — Absolutely love this defense with Dougie Hamilton joining the team and Justin Faulk remaining there (for now). But will Scott Darling be better than he was, and what sort of impact will rookies Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov make on an offense that was one of the worst in the league and traded one of its leading goal-scorers over the summer?

19. Colorado Avalanche — The big question here will be what type of player Nathan MacKinnon is and will be. After a great rookie season his career kind of stalled a little bit. It is not that he was bad, but he just did not really build off of that debut year in a big way … until 2017-18. Will the Avalanche get that Nathan MacKinnon or will they get the 60-65 point Nathan MacKinnon?

20. New Jersey Devils — A healthy Marcus Johansson will help, and Nico Hischier looks like he has star potential, but what if Taylor Hall does not duplicate his MVP level performance? Even with that performance this was a very average team.

21. Calgary Flames — Like the signing of James Neal in free agency as he should be able to add some secondary scoring to a team that badly needs it. Love Johnny Gaudreau and the way he plays. Hate the Dougie Hamilton trade, the mindset behind it, and the return they got for him.

22. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid is going to dominate, but who is going to help him? This is still a team lacking depth, defense, and goaltending.

23. Arizona Coyotes — Call me crazy but I think this team has the potential to make a big leap this season, especially if Antti Raanta can stay healthy and repeat what he did a year ago. A breakthrough year from Dylan Strome would also be helpful. Probably not a playoff team yet, but certainly a better team.

24. Buffalo Sabres — Jeff Skinner is a great pickup for that price, even if he leaves after this season, and they have a couple of preseason Calder Trophy candidates on this team in Casey Mittelstadt and 2018 top pick Rasmus Dahlin. Jack Eichel is pretty great, too.

25. New York Rangers — There are a lot of questions for the Rangers as their rebuild begins. Among them: How much does Henrik Lundqvist have left? Can a healthy Kevin Shattenkirk make a difference? Which veterans are the next go be traded?

26. Chicago Blackhawks — If Corey Crawford is not ready to go this team could be a mess again, and as we sit here on Monday on the verge of the season opener we still do not what he will be able to do or when he will be ready to go.

27. Montreal Canadiens — They traded a lot of offense this season with Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk leaving town, and this was not a great offense with them. Shea Weber may be starting to break down and the rest of the defense around him is suspect at best. They will need an MVP season from Carey Price to have a chance.

28. New York Islanders — I am not sold on what they are doing in the short-term with the grit-and-sandpaper approach to building a roster. What is most concerning is how many of those players are signed to long-term contracts. That does not even get into the state of the defense and goaltending.

[Related: Latest round of roster moves should make Islanders fans angry]

29. Vancouver Canucks — The best thing the Canucks will have going for them this season are the return of a healthy Brock Boeser and the potential emergence of Elias Pettersson.

30. Detroit Red Wings — Henrik Zetterberg may not have been Selke contender and Conn Smythe winning Henrik Zetterberg anymore, but he was still probably the best player on the team. Now his playing career is over, Mike Green is not ready to start the season due to a health issue, and the rest of the roster does not inspire much confidence.

31. Ottawa Senators — This was a bad team with Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson. Now they are both traded for nothing that is going to make a significant impact this season and they are almost certain to deal more players off of this roster. Their fans do not even have a first-round draft pick to look forward to. Things are not going to be fun in Ottawa this season.

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.