Marian Gaborik

Stamkos focused on team success, not personal milestones

TAMPA, Fla. — Steven Stamkos celebrated another milestone in a stellar career with grace and humility.

The long-time captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning scored his 400th goal last weekend, joining an elite group that includes eight other active players – Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Marleau, Marian Hossa, Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Eric Staal, Joe Thornton and Marian Gaborik.

”I’m sure this will be one of those moments you reflect on after the fact, but in saying that it’s still pretty surreal,” the six-time All-Star, who’s played his entire career with Tampa Bay, said after accomplishing the feat during a loss at home to the Winnipeg Jets.

”You never envision scoring that many goals in the NHL, and hopefully a lot more to come,” Stamkos added. ”But it’s a great honor and privilege to play in this league for a long time, and to do it with one organization is pretty special.”

At 29, Stamkos is in his 12th season and no longer the most dynamic scorer on a deep, talented roster featuring reigning league MVP and scoring champion Nikita Kucherov and rising star Brayden Point. He remains the face of the franchise, though, and entered Tuesday night’s game against defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues with a team-leading seven goals, along with 13 assists for 20 points.

He scored No. 400 on a one-timer late in a 4-3 loss to the Jets, reaching the milestone in his 763 career games. Among active players with at least 400, only Ovechkin did it in fewer games.

”Minor hockey to juniors, I don’t think I’ve scored 400 goals in my life and he’s done it at the highest level you can play at. What an amazing accomplishment. …Probably him and Ovechkin are the best goal scorers in the league,” Lightning forward Pat Maroon said.

Maroon, in his first season with Tampa Bay, signed with the Lightning as a free agent after helping the Blues win their first NHL title.

”Every single night he proves he’s a natural goal scorer, and that’s why teams lock on him all the time. He’s dangerous at all parts of the ice, especially in the O-zone,” Maroon said. ”I’m really happy for him. … Now he gets to chase 500.”

A more immediate goal is to help the Lightning get back to the playoffs, where Tampa Bay was swept in the first round after matching the league record for regular season victories with 62.

The team is off to a slower than anticipated start – 9-7-2 after Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss at St. Louis – however coach Jon Cooper and his players say there’s no cause for alarm.

Thursday night’s game at Chicago concludes a season-opening stretch in which the Lightning play 12 of 19 games on the road, including an extended trip to Sweden for the NHL Global series, where they won two games against Buffalo and felt they began to come together as a team.

This weekend starts a five-week stretch in which they will play 14 of 18 at home.

”We’ve got to build on what happened in Sweden. It will be nice come end of November (and) December to get a little rhythm at home, and hopefully we can get a little traction,” Cooper said.

”Obviously, being away for two weeks is tough, but I’d say we made the most of it as a group,” Stamkos said. ”We got two big wins. It doesn’t stay over there, though. It’s about coming together now. We’ve had a really difficult season. We see the record that we have with two straight weeks on the road and the majority of our games being played (on the road). I think we’re pretty happy with the results. … I think we took a step forward (in Sweden).”

One potential benefit to playing so many early road games is the schedule has allowed for additional practice time, where the Lightning have focused on several areas that were problematic during the team’s first-round postseason loss to Columbus last spring.

The Lightning were the NHL’s highest scoring team last season. The offense remains elite, and there’s also a concerted effort to get better defensively.

”From the games in Sweden to (now), we’ve just to keep building, keep on playing the right way,” center Anthony Cirelli said, ”and good things will happen.”

HOLTBY BOUNCING BACK

Defensive miscues in front of Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby have made his numbers this season look less than stellar. But the 2016 Vezina Trophy winner has been better than the stats indicate and specifically is 10-0-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .926 save percentage since a brief ”reset” in mid-October.

”I said from that day there’s no goaltending controversy and there isn’t,” coach Todd Reirden said. ”He’s a winner. He’s a competitor. He battles. He’s not stopping until he figures out a way to improve. It’s such a credit to him as a person. (Goalie coach) Scott Murray does a great job with him. They work well together in terms of coming up with ways to figure out what’s going wrong.”

FLYERS ON TRACK

The typically slow-starting Philadelphia Flyers have points in 14 of their first 20 games, and much of the credit for that goes to Alain Vigneault. Philadelphia’s new coach put in video teaching that gets players to see their mistakes to correct them, and an onus on accountability is working.

”What we’re trying to do here is tell our players what they need to do on the ice, what they need to do as far as team preparation,” Vigneault said. ”Accountability, I think a lot of it has to do with understanding the game. When you can understand the game and evaluate your performance the way you’re supposed to, it helps you work on certain things and it helps you improve your game.”

Panarin changes everything for Rangers

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

The last time a New York Rangers player cracked the 80-point mark in the NHL was a decade ago.

Then, Marian Gaborik was a much younger version of his self and putting up impressive seasons as a marquee player.

Since then, the Rangers haven’t really had that sort of offensive pizazz. That hasn’t always stopped them from having success, of course. But adding a guy who has the potential to hit the 100-point plateau at just 27 years of age could figure in moving that success to the next level.

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

Being the team playing in an attractive destination and with mountains of cash on July 1 presents a wealth of opportunities in the free-agent market and for the Rangers, it was their lucky year.

Signing Artemi Panarin long-term as he just enters the prime of his career, is the single biggest get of the summer. For any team.

Panarin brings elite scoring to a club that needs it amidst their (now accelerated) rebuild. But Panarin is so much more than just premium point producer.

His possession numbers are off-the-charts good. He’s a responsible player at both ends of the ice, creates more goals than allowed when he’s on in five-on-five situations and creates more high-danger chances than are seen against him. Furthermore, in terms of goals above replacement, Panarin was 10th in NHL this past season.

And this season, Panarin doesn’t bring a bad full of distraction with him.

Last year, questions swirled all year about his future. There will be none of those this time around.

Instead, he’s likely to be paired with Mika Zibanejad and perhaps even Kaapo Kakko in what could be something of a mega line in terms of scoring and shutting down the opposition.

Panarin is that x-factor. He brings so much to a team and he’s now in a position to lead a much younger Rangers team into what appears to be a bright future.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Examining the Ducks’ options with Corey Perry

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One way or another it appears as if Corey Perry‘s time with the Anaheim Ducks is coming to a close over the next few weeks. Over the weekend the Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Eric Stephens both reported extensively on the team’s willingness to move on from their long-time star winger and former league MVP in an effort to get younger.

It should be pretty obvious as to why the Ducks are looking to move on and make a change. The franchise as currently constructed has hit its ceiling with its current core, while Perry carries a substantial salary cap hit (more than $8.6 million per season over the next two seasons) for what has been steadily declining production over the past three seasons.

LeBrun reported that if the Ducks fail to find a taker in a trade they would consider buying him out during the league’s buyout window later this month. According to the buyout calculator over at Capfriendly, a buyout of Perry’s remaining contract would leave the Ducks on the hook for a $2 million salary cap hit in 2019-20, 2021-22 and 2022-23, with a $6 million cap hit in 2020-21. That would be a pretty drastic step to take with a franchise icon, but the Ducks aren’t currently getting $8.6 million worth of production out of Perry and it seems unlikely that he is ever going to return to that level.

He was limited to just 31 games this past season where he scored six goals and four assists. That came after a 2017-18 season where he managed 17 goals and 49 total points in 71 games, which came after a 19-goal, 53 point season the year before. For three years now his production has been cratering across the board, whether it’s his traditional box score numbers (goals, assists, points) or his underlying numbers that look at his possession and shot numbers. It is not just that he’s lost some of his fastball when it comes to his shot and ability to beat goalies, but he is also not able to generate anywhere near as many shots as he did when he was a consistent 35-40 goal scorer and one of the league’s elite power forwards.

To get a sense for just how far — and how quickly — his game has fallen off, just consider that since the start of the 2016-17 season he has the following league-wide ranks among forwards that have played at least 100 games (rankings are out of 405 forwards):

Goals per game: 147th
Points per game: 122nd
Shots per game: 87th
Even-strength goals: 188th
Corsi Percentage: 273rd

Compare that to where he was in the three years prior to that:

Goals per game: 4th
Points per game: 16th
Shots per game: 28th
Even-strength goals: 1st (tied with Alex Ovechkin)
Corsi Percentage: 126th

That is significant.

So, yeah, it is understandable as to why the Ducks would be looking to move on.

The Ducks have a significant chunk of money tied up in an aging core (including Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler, whose career seems to be in serious jeopardy) that saw its run of six consecutive playoff appearances end this past season. Even though the franchise is just two years removed from a trip to the Western Conference Finals the team has rapidly declined over the past two seasons and looks to be several steps below the rest of the Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference. They looked overwhelmed in their 2017-18 Round 1 sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, and despite getting an All-Star worthy performance from starting goalie John Gibson this past season the team was never really even close to being competitive. The potential for major changes existed even before the start of the season, and given how badly things went once the season began it is clear the time has come to turn the page.

For as great as Perry has been for the team during career, he is at this moment a natural starting point for those changes given the total package he provides (age, contract, production).

The problem is the Ducks probably do not have many good options when it comes to moving on.

Keeping him is not really ideal because they would still paying superstar money for a player that, when healthy, is probably giving them second-line (at best) production. For a team that is looking to get younger and does not always spend to the salary cap that is a tough contract to justify, especially when it is likely that the production is only going to keep declining over the next two years.

Even with that being said, buying him out should be an absolute last resort because even though there are some cap savings that come with that, they are still going to be on the hook for a significant portion of money over the next four years while getting nothing in return for it. And it is not like Perry is a zero value player. Somebody else could use him as he can still play and produce a little bit. It just not at an $8.6 million dollar level. That salary cap number is probably double what he would get on the open market right now as a free agent.

That leaves the trade market, which probably will not be easy or result in a satisfying return for Ducks fans (or Perry’s current Ducks teammates).

Given the size of his salary the next two years and the decline he is experiencing it might have the look of an unmovable contract, but there is really no such thing in the NHL. Every contract can be moved, you just have to find the right team that is willing to work with you. If the Ducks do find a trade partner the framework of a deal is probably going to look like another trade involving a similarly aging player where they either have to retain a significant portion of salary, and/or take on another team’s bad contract in return.

It is the same situation the Edmonton Oilers find themselves in with Milan Lucic and the same situation the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in with Patrick Marleau. It is the same situation the Los Angeles Kings found themselves in with Marian Gaborik a couple of years ago and the Ottawa Senators with Dion Phaneuf (who were eventually swapped for one another, while the Kings will ultimately find themselves in the same situation now that they have Phaneuf).

The problem with that option is it still leaves them in a situation where they are probably overpaying a declining player under the cap, which then forces them to ask the question: Why even make the trade? In that case it would depend on what else they can get in return. Perry would still probably be better and more valuable than whatever player the Ducks take on in return, which should result in additional assets thrown their way (a younger player, a decent draft pick, etc.).

The other option in a trade: Retain a significant chunk of salary over the next two years. They are still paying something under the cap for a player that isn’t playing for them, but if the Ducks are willing to eat some of that money it should — should being the key word — result in a better return. Perry may not have much value to another team at $8.6 million per season, but he might have some value at, hypothetically speaking, $5 or 6 million. It is cheaper long-term than a buyout, and it gives them something tangible in return to add to the organization.

None of this is an ideal way for the Ducks to part ways with a player that helped the team win a Stanley Cup, won an MVP award, and is one of the franchise’s all-time greats. It is simply the reality of playing in a salary cap league and spending significant money on players well beyond their 30th birthdays.

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.

 

Stanley Cup Final: Stunning numbers for Blues, Bruins

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Throughout the season we have been taking an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the NHL.

Today, we take a look at some stunning numbers for the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins as they enter the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. 

This week’s numbers include Jaden Schwartz‘s incredible postseason run and the Bruins’ historic power play performance. 

Boston’s power play is scoring at an all-time great level

The Bruins had an outstanding power play during the regular season with potentially critical flaw — they kept giving up shorthanded goals at an alarming rate. Through the first three rounds of the playoffs that unit has continued to excel and has also cut down on the shorthanded goal problem, allowing just one in their first 17 playoff games.

The important number here, though, is 34 percent. That is the success rate for the Bruins through the first three rounds of the playoffs and puts them in some truly elite company. The NHL has power play data tracked as far back as the 1933-34 season and among teams that have played in at least 10 playoff games in a single postseason, only three teams have converted at a higher rate: The 1980-81 New York Islanders, the 2011-12 Philadelphia Flyers, and the 2017-18 Bruins. If you dig deeper and limit it to teams that have played in at least 15 playoff games, that Islanders team (37 percent) is the only one with a better power play and the only other one to exceed the 30 percent mark. It is an interesting contract for the Bruins when compared to the 2010-11 championship team that won the Stanley Cup despite an almost impossibly bad power play that converted on just 11.4 percent of its chances, one of the worst ever marks for a team with at least 15 playoff games.

Leading the way for the Bruins power play this postseason is Patrice Bergeron who enters this series having already scored a league-leading six power play goals. Before this season he had scored just seven power play goals in the playoffs in 112 career postseason games.

Tale of two seasons for Jaden Schwartz

With his 12 goals in the playoffs, a performance that has made him a contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, Schwartz has already eclipsed his total from the regular season (11 goals). According to the NHL, he is just the third player in NHL history to score at least 10 goals during the regular season and exceed that total in the playoffs following that season. The other two were Marian Gaborik during the 2013-14 season (11 regular season goals and 14 playoff goals) and Claude Lemieux during the 1996-97 season (11 regular season goals and 13 playoff goals). As the NHL noted, Lemieux (45 games) and Gaborik (41 games) both player significantly fewer regular season games than Schwartz’s 69 games.

Former Washington Capitals forward John Druce nearly made this list after scoring eight goals during the 1988-89 season (in 45 games) then following it up with 14 goals in 15 playoff games, a franchise record that stood until Alex Ovechkin broke it this past season on their way to a Stanley Cup win.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Another close matchup in the Stanley Cup Final

The Blues and Bruins have been two of the best teams in the NHL since January 1, nearly mirroring each other in their overall performances over the second half as the table below illustrates.

(All data via Natural Stat Trick.)

Their overall regular season place in the standings were also extremely close.

According to the NHL, this is the fifth time since 2014 the two Stanley Cup Finalists were separated by eight points or less in the standings, with the 2017 matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators being the one exception during that stretch.

Even with the slim gap between the two teams, the NHL also notes that the Blues are just the 10th team to ever make the Stanley Cup Final after ranking 12th or lower in the overall league standings during the regular season and the sixth since 2006. The biggest reason they finished so low in the standings, of course, is their slow start that was driven mostly by their problem spot in net.

Jay Bouwmeester‘s long wait

The Blues defender will be playing in his first ever Stanley Cup Final game on Monday night. He will be making his first ever appearance in the series after playing in 1,184 regular season games. Only seven player have waited longer.

Tuukka Rask chasing history

Rask has been the star of the playoffs for the Bruins and has emerged as the Conn Smythe favorite. He enters the series with a .942 percentage and is one of just five goals in league history to have a save percentage of .940 or better through his first 17 games in a single postseason. He is also just three wins away from tying Gerry Cheevers for first place on the Bruins’ all-time postseason wins list with 50. If the Bruins win the Stanley Cup (and assuming Rask gets the win in all four games) he would take over the franchise lead.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has the better defensemen?
• Who has the better goaltending?
• Who has the better special teams?

• X-factors
• PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
• Roundtable: Secondary scoring, underrated players
• How the Blues were built
• How the Bruins were built
• Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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.

Derick Brassard keeps getting traded, this time to Avalanche

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Burning question: do you think Derick Brassard ever bothered unpacking his bags when he – briefly – landed with the Florida Panthers?

The Panthers traded him “down the hallway” on Monday, sending Brassard to the Colorado Avalanche, their opponents tonight.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports the details as:

Avalanche receive: Brassard, conditional sixth-round pick in 2020.

Panthers get: 2020 third-round pick.

The Avs will lose that sixth-rounder if Brassard re-signs with Colorado.

Brassard bounces around

It’s staggering just how often the 31-year-old has been traded, especially lately.

  • In 2013, Brassard was part of the Marian Gaborik trade, as Brassard was sent from the Blue Jackets to the Rangers. His Rangers days were the highlight of his career so far, when you combine individual play and team success.
  • Before the 2016-17 season began, the Senators sent Mika Zibanejad to the Rangers for Brassard. That looked like a win for New York then (they even got a second-round pick for their troubles!) and only looks more lopsided now.
  • Around last year’s trade deadline, the Penguins sent a package including their 2018 first-rounder to Ottawa for Brassard. That clearly didn’t work out for Pittsburgh …
  • Because the Penguins traded Brassard, Riley Sheahan, a second-rounder, and two fourth-rounders for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann.

The trade to the Penguins technically included Brassard passing through the Vegas Golden Knights, so … yeah, Brassard’s piling up jerseys.

[Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline]

Rough season for Brassard

Looking at Brassard’s 2018-19 season stats, they’ve been disappointing, with just 19 points in 50 games.

He’s been especially disastrous from a possession standpoint this season. Just look at how Brassard’s 2018-19 work compares to 2017-18, which has generally been more typical of his work. This SKATR comparison chart by Bill Comeau (from Corsica’s data) lays a lot of information out in a stark way.

On the bright side, things leveled out a bit for Brassard when he landed in Florida, as he pushed through the distractions to score four points in 10 games with the Panthers.

Avalanche make a modest investment that could pay dividends

This is ultimately a close-to-ideal scenario for Brassard, and potentially a nice situation for the Avalanche.

With the Senators’ 2019 first-rounder setting up the Avalanche for a big gain – maybe even Jack Hughes – and Colorado being in a tough battle for a playoff spot, it makes sense that GM Joe Sakic has his eyes on the future more than the present.

Still, there’s some potential in the present. The Avalanche only trail the Wild by one point for the West’s second wild-card spot (and Colorado has a game in hand), and after a tough stretch, Colorado’s now on a four-game winning streak.

The Avalanche rely heavily upon their top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. The drop-off from there is steep, but maybe Brassard can stabilize the second or even the third line? Colorado badly needs depth scoring, and it’s perfectly reasonable to picture Brassard giving them a boost. He’s playing for his next contract, so the motivation would be there, even if Brassard’s got to be getting tired of all of this upheaval.

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.