Jason Zucker

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Wild avoid Red Wings upset, now five points from playoff spot

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If the Wild want to make a playoff push, they can’t afford being upset by a team like the Red Wings. Detroit gave Minnesota a scare by going up 2-1 in the first period, but the Wild ultimately won 4-2 on Wednesday.

Wild move within five points from playoff spot

Losing against dreadful Detroit would have been brutal for Minnesota. Instead, the Wild improved to 23-21-6 on the season, or 52 points in 50 games played.

Wild fans searching for optimism will find a mixed bag. The Wild hold an advantage over the two wild-card teams in games in hand, yet the Predators have a bigger advantage in that regard (Nashville: 47 GP) while sitting at 51 points. Take a look at the races for the wild-card spots:

Wild playoff wild card race

Not great, but it could be worse, too.

The larger plus is that, so far, the Wild have mostly taken advantage of a long stretch of home games, as originally discussed here.

Jan. 16: vs. Tampa Bay (3-2 win)
Jan. 18: vs. Dallas (7-0 win)
Jan. 20: vs. Florida (5-4 loss)
Jan. 22: vs. Detroit (4-2 win)
Feb. 1: vs. Boston
Feb. 4: vs. Chicago
Feb. 6: vs. Vancouver
Feb. 7: at Dallas
Feb. 9: vs. Colorado
Feb. 11: vs. Vegas
Feb. 13: vs. Rangers
Feb. 15: vs. San Jose

Three out of four wins is a pretty good start (but a bad “Meatloaf” cover). Once the Wild get back into the groove on Feb. 1, it’s key to exploit that stretch of seven of eight in Minnesota.

Minnesota gutted Wednesday out, dominating the second period in goals (3-0) and shots on goal (14-4). Jason Zucker, Eric Staal, Mathew Dumba, and Mats Zuccarello triggered the rally:

Wild need Dubnyk to rebound

Bruce Boudreau deserves credit for molding the Wild into a dominant defensive team. While their scorers won’t terrify opponents, they’ve generally been competent enough.

But if the Wild are going to complete a difficult push into the playoffs, they need Devan Dubnyk to rebound.

Dubnyk came into Wednesday with a troubling .892 save percentage, versus a .915 mark for his career. Just about every metric points to the Wild providing a nurturing atmosphere for their goalies, so the results need to start rolling in.

Granted, sometimes luck just isn’t on your side:

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Who will Red Wings, Wild sell before deadline?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Red Wings and Wild aren’t currently sitting in playoff spots, but there’s several reasons why this will be an intriguing matchup. If both teams miss the postseason, they’ll have several key assets to sell off before the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

Which players could these teams put on the market? The Red Wings have a few rentals they could send to various contenders. Wild GM won’t have the luxury of making many “easy” rental deals between now and the deadline. A lot of his players are under contract beyond this season. Will the Wild be able to make multiple hockey deals? Can they find a way to get younger in a hurry?

One of the expiring contracts on the Wild roster is Mikko Koivu. It just doesn’t seem likely that they would move him at this point. Even though he’s 35, he’s been with the Wild his entire career and he probably won’t be going anywhere unless he wants to anyway.

Let’s take a deeper look at who both teams might make available:

Trevor Daley – D – Red Wings: 

Daley missed four games with an undisclosed injury earlier this month, but he’s managed to return to the lineup for the last three games. The 36-year-old is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. He has two assists in 25 games in 2019-20. He could be an intriguing depth addition for any team looking to add a bottom-pairing defender to their roster. Daley can provide the Red Wings with a 15-team no-trade list.

Mike Green – D – Red Wings: 

Green is expected to miss a couple of weeks after suffering an injury against Colorado earlier this week. The veteran isn’t nearly as productive as he was during his days with Washington, but he could provided some depth on the right side of a contender’s defense. He has just eight points in 41 games, but he’s averaging over 21 minutes of ice time with the Wings this season. Green has a full no-trade clause until Feb. 1. After that date, he submits a list of 10 teams he doesn’t want to go to. Like Daley, he’ll be a UFA at the end of the season.

Jonathan Ericsson – D – Red Wings:

Ericsson is another potential rental for a team looking to add a depth player. He’s been limited to just nine games this year, which limits his already limited value on the trade market. The 35-year-old also has a limited no-trade clause that prevents him from being dealt to 19 teams of his choosing. If the Wings can move him, it won’t be for very much.

Andreas Athanasiou – W – Red Wings: 

It’s been a tough year for Athanasiou. Not only has he missed the last 10 games with a lower-body injury, he’s also been a lot less productive when he’s actually in the lineup. After scoring 30 goals and 54 points last season, the 25-year-old has five goals and 19 points in 36 games this year. Athanasiou is scheduled to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, so the Wings shouldn’t be in a rush to trade him. Even though he’s having a down year, he should be able to net the team some significant assets.

Jonas Brodin – D – Wild: 

Sometimes, you gotta give to get. This draft class is considered to be one of the deepest we’ve seen in years. If the Wild want to accumulate more draft capital, they’ll need to trade someone with some heavy value. Brodin doesn’t put up big offensive numbers, but he’s a reliable defender that would be a welcomed addition on many teams. The 26-year-old has 20 points in 49 games. He has another year remaining on his contract at a reasonable cap hit of $4.166,667 million. If the Wild want to move him, multiple teams will be interested.

Ryan Donato – W – Wild: 

Donato was a big part of the trade that sent Charlie Coyle to the Boston Bruins last year. Unfortunately for the youngster, things haven’t worked out that well in Minnesota. He’s been a healthy scratch on four different occasions this year and he’s been on the fourth line recently, too. Donato has a year left on his current contract (he’ll earn $1.9 million) before he becomes a restricted free agent. He’s still only 23 years old. Someone out there will be interested in taking him on if the Wild want to unload him. Donato was the 14th player mentioned on Frank Seravalli’s Trade Bait board.

Marcus Foligno – W – Wild: 

Foligno isn’t known for his offensive skills, but he’s actually picked up eight points in his last eight games. The 28-year-old has the frame that a lot of teams are looking for for a Stanley Cup run (he’s 6-foot-3, 228 pounds). The veteran has one more season remaining on a contract that pays him $2.875 million. If Guerin wants to move him, he’ll find takers.

Jason Zucker – W – Wild:

Zucker’s been on the trading block since last year when former GM Paul Fenton clearly made him available. The 28-year-old has 13 goals and 27 points in 39 games this season. He missed time with a lower-leg injury, but he’s been back for five games now. Zucker can submit a 10-team no-trade list and he has three years remaining on his deal at $5.5 million per season. Trading him in-season won’t be easy.

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET, hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.

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.

How aggressive should Blue Jackets be at trade deadline?

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We need to talk a little more about the Columbus Blue Jackets because they are one of the most fascinating teams in the NHL right now.

Not only for their recent hot streak, but for what might still be ahead of them over the next couple of months.

Thanks to their win in New York on Sunday night, capped off with an Oliver Bjorkstrand goal with 26 seconds to play in regulation, they hold the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They are 15-2-4 since Dec. 9, while their overall record through 50 games is actually one point better than it was at the same point a year ago. Considering their offseason and the almost unbelievable run of injuries they have experienced once the season began, they are one of the biggest surprises in the league.

It all creates a pretty interesting discussion for what their front office does — or is able to do — before the NHL trade deadline.

1. They are in a position to buy, not sell

That is not up for much debate, either. This is the same team and front office that went all in before last season’s trade deadline at a time when they were still on the outside of the playoff picture. Not only are they in a playoff position right now, they are just one point back of the New York Islanders for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division.

There is also this: Their upcoming schedule through the trade deadline and end of February really softens up with only five of their next 16 games coming against teams that currently rank higher than 19th in the league in points percentage. Three of those games (two against Philadelphia, one against Florida) will be against teams they could be directly competing with for a playoff spot.

There is a chance to gain even more ground and solidify their spot even more.

2. What they need and what they have to spend

What they have to spend: A lot. The only teams with more salary cap space to spend ahead of the deadline are the New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, and Colorado Avalanche. Out of that group, only the Avalanche will be in a position to buy. The Blue Jackets, in theory, could add any player that is theoretically available before the trade deadline.

What they need: At the start of the season the easy — and expected — answer here would have been a goalie given the uncertainty of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins and their ability to replace Bobrovsky. After some early struggles, they have turned out to be the Blue Jackets’ biggest bright spot as that tandem has combined for the second-best five-on-five save percentage in the NHL and the third-best all situations save percentage. They have been great, and especially Merzlikins with his recent play.

What they really need now is some scoring. Getting healthy would help a lot (Cam Atkinson just returned to the lineup; Josh Anderson, Alexandre Texier are still sidelined) but they do not have a single player in the top-77 of the league in scoring (Pierre-Luc Dubois is 78th), and only two in the top-120 (Dubuois and Gustav Nyquist).

As a team, they are 24th in the league in goals per game.

Looking around the league, obvious forward rentals would include Tyler Toffoli (Los Angeles Kings), Chris Kreider (New York Rangers), Ilya Kovalchuk (Montreal Canadiens), and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Ottawa Senators). Potential trade options with term still remaining might include Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild) or Tomas Tatar (Montreal).

3. The problem: How aggressive can they be?

The downside to their “all in” trade deadline a year ago is that it absolutely decimated their draft pick cupboard for two years. They were left with just three picks in the 2019 class (none before pick No. 108) and as it stands right now they have just five picks in 2020, with only one of them (a first-round pick) slated to be in the top-100.

While players like Texier and Emil Benstrom are good prospects, their farm system is not the deep and the younger players currently on the NHL roster (Dubuois, Seth Jones, Werenski) are players they are going to build around.

That seriously limits what they can do.

Is general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in a position to trade another first-round pick to add to what is a pretty good, but probably not great team? Is there a player available that can a big enough difference to make that worth it? If there is, that player can not be a rental. It has to be a player that has meaningful term left on their contract and can be a part of the organization beyond just this season.

Even if you assume the Blue Jackets will not be able to maintain their current hot streak (and they will cool off at some point) they have at the very least put themselves in a position where they are going to be in the playoff race with a very good chance of making it. This is also not a team in a “rebuild” mode, either. When you are in that position you owe it to your fans and the players in that room to try to win. For the Blue Jackets, it is just a matter of how much they can do and how aggressive they should be over the next few weeks.

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: Elvis, Ovechkin, and others who rocked

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Three Stars beyond Elvis and Ovechkin

1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago blowing out Toronto will lead to some hand-wringing, no doubt. Yet, as much as that was on a tough night for Frederik Andersen, give the Blackhawks some credit. Toews topped all in that game with an outstanding four-point performance (two goals and two assists).

Saturday continued what’s been one heck of a month for Toews. The Blackhawks captained pushed his January total to 15 points (5G, 10A). Toews reached that total in just eight games, scoring at least one point in seven contests.

Scratch that. Toews has been on fire for a while now. He started off ice-cold with only two points in 11 October games. Toews took off after that, and has generated an impressive 41 points in his past 28 contests.

Underrated rookie Dominik Kubalik contributed to Chicago’s win, too, with three points (2G, 1A).

2. Riley Sheahan, Edmonton Oilers

Sheahan scoffs at Toews’ slow start. The journeyman forward failed to score a point in 12 October games, and managed one in 11 November contests. Sheahan went and matched his December points total (four in 14 GP) in one contest on Saturday.

That’s right, he generated four points, scoring an empty-netter plus three assists. Connor McDavid dominated in his own right with two goals, but Sheahan helped the Oilers rout the Coyotes. Josh Archibald generated three points (1G, 2A) as well.

This just in: the Oilers have a lot of “that guy’s still around?” forwards. It’s honestly cool to see some of them have such a strong day, and maybe take a bit of the pressure off McDavid here and there.

3. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s as though Atkinson never missed any time. After scoring a goal and an assist in his first game in almost one month on Thursday, Atkinson generated three points (2G, 1A) on Saturday. This gives Atkinson seven points (4G, 3A) in his past four contests.

Others give Atkinson a run for his money, even beyond the next section. Jason Zucker (1G, 2A) and James van Riemsdyk (1G, 2A) both contributed to their respective teams’ blowouts. Atkinson’s extra goal gives him the edge.

OK, now let’s consider Elvis and Ovechkin

Saturday featured enough strong performances that it feels better to give these two a mention. After all, they already received their own posts. Yes, these two probably rank as the “real” third and fourth stars of Saturday, or higher, depending upon your personal taste.

Highlight of the Night

Marc-Andre Fleury is suffering through a tough season, big-picture wise. “The Flower” keeps adding to his resume of breathtaking saves, though:

Comic relief

Jamie Benn provides us with a reason to laugh. At least those of us who aren’t immediately transported to our own memories of hilarious blunders.

That video summarizes the Stars’ night succinctly, as the Wild beat them 7-0.

Factoids

  • Ovechkin nabbed consecutive hat tricks to push his career goals total to 692. He passed Mario Lemieux (11th all-time, 690) and tied Steve Yzerman for ninth all-time (692). Mark Messier sits just two goals away at eighth with 694. Ovechkin also generated consecutive hat tricks for the third time in his career. In doing so, Ovechkin joined Joe Malone (four times) and Wayne Gretzky (three) as the only players to generate consecutive hat tricks three or more times, according to NHL PR. Again, this post delves deeper into Ovechkin’s latest accomplishments.
  • Ovechkin’s teammate John Carlson reached 60 points. Carlson managed the feat in just 49 games, getting to 60 faster than any Capitals defenseman; Mike Green held the previous mark with 60 by game 57. Opinion: Green deserved better treatment from hockey folks during his peak years.
  • Merzlikins authored the 18th instance of a rookie goalie getting a shutout of at least 41 saves, via NHL PR.
  • Cale Makar scored his 11th goal, setting a new record for goals by a rookie Avalanche defenseman.
  • Dominik Kubalik reached 20 goals in his 47th game. NHL PR points out that Kubalik ranks among sixth Blackhawks to reach 20 goals in 50 games or less.

Scores

WSH 6 – NYI 4
COL 5 – STL 3
EDM 7 – ARI 3
OTT 5 – CGY 2
CHI 6 – TOR 2
MTL 5 – VGK 4 (SO)
FLA 4 – DET 1
PHI 4 – LAK 1
CBJ 5 – NJD 0
NSH 2 – BUF 1
MIN 7 – DAL 0
VAN 4 – SJS 1

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.

Bad news on Hurricanes’ Hamilton: broken bone in leg

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(Update: the Hurricanes announced that Dougie Hamilton underwent leg surgery. The timeline remains unclear, as he’s considered out indefinitely.)

The Carolina Hurricanes and others hoped that Hamilton’s nasty injury looked worse than it was. Unfortunately, the result is pretty bad: Hamilton suffered a broken fibula (broken bone in his left leg) on Thursday.

You can watch and cringe at Hamilton’s bad luck in the video above.

Michael Smith of the Hurricanes website confirmed the broken fibula, stating that Hamilton may undergo surgery as soon as Friday. Smith noted that a recovery timeline might become known later tonight. Either way, it’s clear that this is a huge loss for the Hurricanes.

Hurricanes teammate Jaccob Slavin replaced Hamilton on the 2020 NHL All-Star Game roster.

What Hamilton broken fibula injury might mean to Hurricanes

The Hurricanes face a small margin of error after losing Hamilton and Thursday’s game to the Blue Jackets. Looking at the standings, it’s tough to imagine them wading into the Metro’s top three, while the bubble race could be tight:

Speculating on how long Hamilton might be out is pretty tricky. A commenter in this thread pointed out that Jason Zucker returned from a break in as little as four weeks. On the other hand, Nick Kypreos notes that Hamilton’s Hurricanes teammate Jordan Staal missed half of a season with a similar injury.

Plenty of injuries are tough to figure, and that’s quite true with breaks.

The bottom line is that even an optimistic recovery window would be painful for Carolina. Earlier in January, Adam Gretz broke down why Hamilton ranks as one of the best defensemen in the NHL.

In a nutshell: Hamilton provides explosive offensive (14 goals[!] and 40 points [!!] in 47 games this season) while being better defensively than his critics realize. This Hockey Viz Heat Map tells much of the story:

So, yeah, this hurts a lot for Hurricanes team that could be in quite the battle (most likely) for one of the East’s two wild-card spots. Perhaps it might even push the Hurricanes to try to find some help on the trade market?

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.