Jake Allen

Rest vs. rust for top four West teams in Round Robin

It’s time to break down how the top four teams in the West should approach the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding. Earlier on Wednesday, PHT examined similar “rest vs. rust” debates for the East’s top four teams in this format.

Debates for West top four teams heading into NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding

St. Louis Blues

Compared to some of the East’s aging teams, the Blues are reasonably spry. Yes, Alex Pietrangelo is 30, and David Perron is 32. There are some veterans to watch, but the larger picture is a team heavy on mid-prime players.

That said, the Blues should monitor a few situations.

Most obviously, they need to keep an eye on Vladimir Tarasenko. All signs point to Tarasenko being good to go, but it’s unclear if he’ll need to be managed after shoulder surgery.

If the Blues are being proactive, they also might want to keep an open mind with their goalies. Sure, it seems like the top job is Jordan Binnington‘s to lose. But it should be noted that Jake Allen enjoyed a shockingly redemptive season, besting Binnington in save percentage (.927 to Binnington’s .912) and more advanced stats (Allen GSAA: 11.23; Binnington: 3.31).

As defending champions, the Blues enjoy a certain “honeymoon phase,” especially since they broke the franchise’s Stanley Cup curse. Combine that with the wear-and-tear on players like Pietrangelo and 29-year-old Ryan O'Reilly, and there should be a push to rest the top-ranked West team in the Round Robin for Seeding.

Colorado Avalanche

On one hand, the Avalanche rank as one of the youngest contenders in recent memory. Scarily so, if you’re a team preparing to jostle with them in the West over the next few years.

That said, the Avs suffered from a notable number of injuries, including late in the eventually paused season.

Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Philipp Grubauer, and Andre Burakovsky suffered injuries of varying severity in February. Nathan MacKinnon got a little dinged up in March.

Colorado persevered through some pretty significant injuries late in 2018-19, as well, so the Avalanche must be thrilled by the possibility of entering the West Round Robin for Seeding healthier than usual.

Ideally, at least. Managing this might come down to a mix of luck (those players healing up on time) and caution (not getting too greedy in this three-game format).

Vegas Golden Knights

Normally, the concern would revolve around insulating 35-year-old goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Instead, the Golden Knights should think long and hard about nudging the starting job toward Robin Lehner. NHL teams rarely are so bold, though, so we’ll assume “MAF” is the guy. Maybe Lehner allows Vegas to be more fast-and-loose with “The Flower.”

If you want another way to summarize the strangeness of this season, consider that the Golden Knights could grab the top seed in the West despite firing their coach. On that note, is Peter DeBoer truly comfortable with the team he has in front of him? It will be necessary to supplement the West Round Robin for Seeding with makeshift training camp, but sometimes you get the most “intel” with something on the line.

And, despite only being in their third season, the Golden Knights face stakes.

After shocking the hockey world, the Golden Knights have stocked up with the likes of Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. With that in mind, the Golden Knights are closer to the Blues than the Avalanche when you’re considering the age of go-to players.

Many of those players probably benefited from this break. Pacioretty and Stone ranked among those nursing injuries. It’s not certain, yet this seems like a situation where Vegas might get Alex Tuch back, too.

Vegas basically falls in the middle of the pack as far as the “rest vs. rust” debates go in the Round Robin for Seeding, in the West and overall.

Dallas Stars

Aside from a youthful defense, the Stars stand out as one of the teams that should really be careful with veteran players.

Size is one of the factors that helps Ben Bishop (33) dominate, yet that also likely heightens his injury risk. On the bright side, Anton Khudobin (34) stands right there with him as two goalies who deliver. They’re also both on the old side, though.

The forward group is up there as well. As much has been made about Tyler Seguin (28) and especially Jamie Benn (30) losing a step or two, it’s the supporting cast that’s dancing with Father Time. Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry are both 35, while Alexander Radulov and Andrew Cogliano are both 33.

(At least there’s 23-year-old Roope Hintz and a few others to add some youth to that mix.)

It’s important for Rick Bowness to read the room here.

While there’s an argument that this interrupted format might benefit high-scoring teams, it’s also possible that a stingy group could make a run. Maybe that lack of crowd noise will suffocate offenses that much more?

The Stars aren’t favorites, so it wouldn’t be bleeping horsebleep if this didn’t work out. It would be if the Stars fall short because of self-inflicted wounds, though.

MORE ON NHL PLAYOFFS, ROUND ROBIN FOR SEEDING:

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.

What is the Blues’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the St. Louis Blues.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Outside of top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who would be the top free agent available this summer, pretty much every key player on the Blues’ roster is signed (or under team control) through the end of next season.

Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are the two most impactful forwards on the roster and both have long-term deals through the end of the 2022-23 season at a combined salary cap number of $15 million. As long as they maintain their current levels of play (Tarasenko being a 30-35 goal winger; O’Reilly being a dominant two-way center) they are going to be the foundation of a contending team at a pretty fair price against the cap.

Things do get a little more complicated after next season when forwards Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, and Tyler Bozak, as well as BOTH goalies (Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen) will all be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou also provide some nice long-term potential at forward, with Thomas being especially intriguing. The team’s first-round pick (No. 20 overall) in 2017 has already shown flashes of top-line ability and is one of their best play-making forwards at even-strength. Still only 20 years old, big things could be in his future. He still has one more season after this one on his entry-level deal. Given how good he has already been, the potential he still has, and his current contract status he could be one of the Blues’ most valuable assets next season.

On defense, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Marco Scandella and Robert Bortuzzo are all signed to long-term deals, while Dunn is still under team control as a restricted free agent after this season.

Overall, it remains a top-tier team in the NHL in the short-term and should still be a Stanley Cup contender.

Long-Term Needs

Getting Pietrangelo re-signed would probably be at the top of the list.

He is their captain, their top defenseman, and if he leaves they do not really have another option to take over that role. With Parayko, Faulk, Dunn, and Bortuzzo there would still be a solid defense there, but none of those players really fills the No. 1 defender spot. It is also unlikely — if not impossible — they would be able to find anyone comparable to Pietrangelo on the open market.

Scott Perunovich is probably their top prospect, and he does have a lot of potential on the blue line, but he has yet to play a game of professional hockey and is a long way off from being able to fill a top-pairing or meaningful role.

Beyond that, their farm system as a whole is not the strongest and they have some fairly significant free agents over the next two years that they will need to do with — including the two goalies.

Long-Term Strengths

In the more immediate future they have an outstanding goalie with Binnington and Allen in place, and that is also probably the one position in their farm system that has some potential long-term options.

Their biggest strength, though, is simply the players they have at the top of their lineup.

Acquiring O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres before the 2018-19 season has turned out to be an enormous win for the organization. Not only because it gave them a bonafide No. 1 center that could drive play at both ends of the ice, but because it cost them almost nothing of consequence to get him. He scores at a top-line rate, is a sensational defensive player, and plays big, tough minutes against other team’s best players while being able to stay out of the penalty box. At a $7.5 million salary cap hit that is an enormous bargain.

Then there is Tarasenko.

He has been one of the NHL’s most dangerous goal-scorers for the past six years and can be a game-changing talent when he is on the ice. The Blues did not really get a chance to experience much of that this season due to injury, but he is a star and might be the one player on this roster that might (emphasis on might) have Hall of Fame potential if he continues on his current path.

MORE Blues:
Looking at the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues
Blues biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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.

Can Blues re-sign Pietrangelo after Scandella extension?

Can the Blues keep Alex Pietrangelo Marco Scandella Vince Dunn
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The hockey world is asking it once again: “Can the Blues really afford to keep Alex Pietrangelo?” The discussion re-emerged this week after the Blues signed Marco Scandella to a substantial contract extension.

Now, as St. Louis Game Time’s Dan Buffa argued, the Scandella extension doesn’t rule out the Blues re-signing Pietrangelo by itself.

Those questions get trickier when you zoom out and analyze GM Doug Armstrong’s overall plan. In attempting to be proactive, could Armstrong overthink things and see one or more of Pietrangelo and Vince Dunn leave town?

This post explores the uncertainty surrounding this situation, and how St. Louis might find ways to work around limitations.

The perils of being proactive: Blues possibly losing Pietrangelo or Dunn?

Armstrong is clearly trying to plan ahead. Consider the extensions Armstrong handed out while the Pietrangelo question dangled in the distance:

Between Faulk (28) and Scandella (30), you’re paying nearly $10M. You’d think that would be the higher end of what Pietrangelo might receive during these uncertain times. Locking down those two makes it tougher to argue that the Blues are merely being smart about the aging curve regarding 30-year-old Pietrangelo.

Fascinatingly, with all of the uncertainty regarding the potential cap ceiling for 2020-21 and maybe beyond, it’s possible the Blues could (or could’ve?) sign Pietrangelo for a risk-reducing shorter term.

The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford argued as much in a recent mailbag (sub required):

[Pietrangelo] was likely in line for a long-term extension in the range of $9 million per year, but that might not be possible with the Blues or with any other team. He might have no other option than to take a shorter-term contract now and position himself for a long-term deal later, when the cap rises again.

Losing Dunn could stun

Later in this post, we’ll discuss ways the Blues can earn space to retain Pietrangelo, even if the ceiling caps at $81.5M again or even slips. But something eventually has to give, and it could really sting if the Blues must wave goodbye to pending RFA Vince Dunn.

Dunn, 23, is younger than both Faulk and Scandella, and could conceivably show even more if given greater opportunities. Consider how Dunn compares to Faulk on this RAPM chart via Evolving Hockey (Dunn generally looks better than Scandella as well, though not as drastically):

Blues Pietrangelo Dunn vs. Faulk

Personally, it’s difficult for me to shake the concern that the Blues locked down useful but not essential players (Scandella, Faulk on better days) and nice yet maybe not as important ones (Schenn) instead of keeping a crucial one in Pietrangelo. An opportunistic team would be wise to try to pry Dunn away when there’s room for the blueliner to grow into an even more useful player.

Much of it smells like a team that assumes things are going to work out.

Could Armstrong have tricks up his sleeves to keep Pietrangelo?

And that’s where I wonder if Armstrong has a Plan B, or maybe through Plan Z.

Looking back over the years, we’ve wondered how, say, the Lightning could keep their big names. They always seemed to find the deals, and often convince players to take less money than expected.

Armstrong’s been able to pull rabbits out of his GM hat on plenty of occasions, too. Such a thought strengthens the retort many have: “Just assume Armstrong knows what he’s doing.”

And, yes, there are some options.

  • What if the league works out a compliance buyout? As Jonathan Willis explored for The Athletic (sub required), that could be a way for teams like the Blues to shake loose of players like Alex Steen ($5.75M AAV).
  • Failing that, the Blues could bribe a budget team to take on that Steen cap hit, or do the same for Tyler Bozak and his $5M AAV.
  • Jake Allen played so well in 2019-20 that it might be tough to part ways with a goalie insurance policy. Still, at $4.35M and coming off of that strong year, some team might want to give Allen a shot.

As you can see, the Blues could wiggle their way out of a jam or two with the above moves. Maybe they’d manage that enough to keep Pietrangelo and Dunn around, even if it’s on shorter deals?

Who knows, really?

I can’t help but wonder if the Blues hurt their margin of error a little more than they should have here. Then again, if the Blues keep another big name in Pietrangelo, they’d also have depth locked down.

Considering all that could change between now and free agency, maybe we’re the ones overthinking things about the Blues and Pietrangelo, actually?

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.

The Buzzer: Geekie cool for Carolina; Wild continue wild-card push

Morgan Geekie Carolina Hurricanes debut The Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Detroit Red Wings’ top line

Handing out a collective award feels appropriate here.

Both Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha managed one-goal, three-assist performances. Two of Mantha’s assists were primary ones, while Next Bert nabbed one. Dylan Larkin only finished a stride behind generating a goal and two assists (one primary) while also chipping in a shootout tally to help Detroit upset Tampa Bay. (Larkin even dominated in the faceoff circle, going 14-7.)

The Bertuzzi – Larkin – Mantha trio really seemed to catch fire during “garbage time” last season. Really, Bertuzzi especially saw the benefits start to kick in last March.

The Red Wings are so far behind everyone else for the highest draft lottery odds that they can enjoy these performances from the top line, and maybe some keyed-in work from Jonathan Bernier if this small pattern holds.

2. Morgan Geekie, Carolina Hurricanes

It’s cool enough that Geekie scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Like a cinematic nerd avenging a movie jock, Geekie went big. The 21-year-old generated a three-point debut, scoring two goals and one assist.

This makes Geekie the second player in Hurricanes/Whalers history to generate three points in a debut, and the second in said history to generate two goals in their debut.

In case you’re wondering, the 21-year-old presents some interesting potential to be more than a one-day curiosity.

While his draft pedigree his modest (third round [67th overall] in 2017), Geekie’s produced some solid offense at lower levels. After scoring 19 goals and 46 points in the AHL last season, Geekie already had 22 goals and 42 points in 55 AHL contests in 2019-20.

If nothing else, Geekie helped the Hurricanes complete a key weekend, as Carolina also beat the Islanders in OT on Saturday.

3. Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks

Like Geekie, Silfverberg generated two goals and one assist for his team. Unlike Geekie, Silfverberg’s team lost, as Kevin Fiala continued his red-hot streak by scoring in OT for the skyrocketing Wild.

Nonetheless, SIlfverberg deserves recognition. By collecting those two tallies, Silfverberg reached the 20-goal mark for the second season in a row, and the fourth in his last five seasons. It’s unclear if Silfverberg can match his career-high for points (49), but he could enjoy one of his best campaigns with 38 points already.

Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog rank as honorable mentions with one-goal, two-assist nights in Colorado’s snug win. Jake Allen demands some attention for his 29-save shutout against Chicago, too.

Highlight of the Night

Elias Pettersson ranks high on the list of players you don’t want to let loose out of the penalty box. He probably climbed a rung or two up that ladder with this blazing bit of speed and fancy finish:

Standings after Sunday (big wins for Carolina, Minnesota, Columbus)

East

West

Scores

CAR 6 – PIT 2
DET 5 – TBL 4 (SO)
STL 2 – CHI 0
MIN 5 – ANA 4 (OT)
CBJ 2 – VAN 1
COL 4 – SJS 3

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.

Blues sweep season series vs. Blackhawks for first time

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For the first time in franchise history, the Blues managed a sweep of their season series against the Blackhawks.

In Sunday’s case, the Blues beat the Blackhawks 2-0 on Sunday to complete that sweep. Jake Allen made all 29 saves, earning his second shutout of 2019-20 and the 21st of his career. Allen already came into Sunday with a quietly strong season, considering a .925 save percentage that improved that much more.

Following this post about the Blues’ underrated defense, blueliners provided both of St. Louis’ goals. They were both from the same angle, more or less, as Robert Bortuzzo and Alex Pietrangelo beat Corey Crawford. Here’s the game-winner (click here for Pietrangelo’s goal):

Winning this game improves the Blues’ chances of holding off the Avalanche for the Central Division crown. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks’ hopes look dimmer and dimmer.

Blues – Blackhawks broadcast features first all-female crew

Kate Scott and A.J. Mleczko called the action on Sunday, while Kendall Coyne-Schofield provided analysis between the benches “Inside the Glass.” Meanwhile, producer Rene Hatlelid and director Lisa Seltzer handled game production.

[PHT Q&A with Kate Scott]

This served as a first-of-its-kind broadcast, which fell on International Women’s Day. Coverage also included features and other coverage involving NBC’s “On Her Turf” brand.

Scott Mleczko Blues Blackhawks
Kate Scott (L) and A.J. Mleczko (R) (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In a Q&A with PHT, Scott spoke of how she hopes the broadcast inspires others.

“I’m hoping that they take away that they can do this. That calling a game, analyzing a game, directing a game, producing a game, shooting a game, I’m hoping that they turn off the television on Sunday night thinking, ‘Wow, that was never something I thought I could do before, but I think I can do that.’ That’s one of the reasons, in my opinion, that we are still seeing such slow growth when it comes to women calling and analyzing sports because it starts when you’re a kid,” Scott said. “You go to most of the college radio and television stations around the country and they’re still predominantly male because you’ve got to see somebody doing what you want to do when you’re a kid and have that seed planted early on to be able to go and then learn the skills early enough in life to then be prepared to call moments and games like Sunday.”

From here, it looked (and sounded) like a great success, and hopefully represents merely another step toward greater progress.

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.