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Golden Knights can still land Erik Karlsson after Pacioretty trade

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By trading for Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights management declared that this team is for real. So why stop there?

The Golden Knights have prominently factored into Erik Karlsson trade rumors stretching back to last season’s deadline, and while extensions to Pacioretty and Marc-Andre Fleury could make it tougher to continue adding pieces, they could make things work with Karlsson. Especially for next season, but not just exclusively so.

Cap Friendly estimates the Golden Knights’ cap space at $9.438 million, and the situation is actually cozier than that, as David Clarkson‘s $5.25M is almost certain to go to LTIR … assuming his contract remains on the books. That brings us to a point: Golden Knights GM George McPhee (or VGKGMGM) has a lot of tools to make a Karlsson trade happen, even after giving up Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki, and a second-round pick to land Patches.

[Read about the Pacioretty trade, plus his extension]

Let’s examine the factors that could serve as catalysts for a trade:

A different timeframe

Credit the Golden Knights for displaying the agility to zig and zag with their contrasting opportunities. It’s a message to rebuilding teams: if you can pile up an absolute treasure trove of draft assets, you can set yourself up handsomely in two very different ways: 1) by keeping the picks, thus giving you a ton of “dart throws” to land gems or 2) you can package those picks for the Pacioretties (plural for Pacioretty, obviously) and Karlssons of the world, if the opportunity strikes and makes sense.

A stunning trip to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final is one reason why it makes sense – OK, the best reason, let’s be honest – but not the only one.

The Golden Knights managed to lock up significant prime-age players to term, as 27-year-old wingers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith will see their contracts (both at a team-friendly $5M cap hit) extend into their thirties. Pacioretty will turn 30 shortly after his reasonable-enough four-year extension kicks in to start 2019-20. Paul Stastny is 32 and set to begin a three-year deal, while MAF’s already 33 and under contract through 2021-22 (for better or worse).

We can spend days debating the merits of going all-in after a hot streak, as Vegas is risking doing just that, even after showing some restraint in letting James Neal and David Perron walk.

The bottom line is that Vegas’ outlook is different now, so they might as well go big with this shorter window.

Still plenty of picks/futures to move

Despite only being in existence for two offseasons (and lacking a first-round pick for 2018), the Golden Knights have managed to accrue some nice assets. Before the Suzuki trade, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked Vegas’ farm system eighth overall [sub required], with Suzuki ranking as their fourth-best prospect.

So, if Vegas deemed it worthwhile, they could still trade a prospect, with Cody Glass ranking as the headliner.

The notion that they still have some gems in their system must be comforting for McPhee, who apparently worried about Filip Forsberg parallels after moving Suzuki (another mid-first-rounder moved not very long after that player was drafted by McPhee).

Plenty of people were quick to lampoon the Golden Knights for all the draft picks they’ve traded away lately, as the Tatar trade cost them a first, second, and third, while Pacioretty cost them a second and Suzuki.

That’s fair, yet it’s crucial to remember that Vegas absolutely hoarded picks heading into the expansion draft.

Via Cap Friendly’s listings, the Golden Knights have:

2019: their original picks aside from a seventh-rounder, two additional third-round picks, and one additional fifth-rounder. (Nine picks overall.)

2020: Their seven original picks, plus two more second-rounders. (Nine overall.)

2021: Six of their seven own picks, only missing a third-rounder. (Six picks overall.)

Vegas could send Ottawa a package of merely its excess picks (two thirds, a fifth in 2019, two seconds in 2020) and do well enough for Senators owner Eugene Melnyk to reference it as a win in another deeply strange video. The Golden Knights could also make a mix of players, prospects, and picks that could conceivably land Karlsson without totally mortgaging their future.

[Highlights from Melnyk’s odd video.]

Contracts that could move, and possibly cancel out some of Ryan’s cost

The Senators’ cash troubles are painfully apparent, to the point that Melnyk’s outdated jersey almost feels symbolic.

With that in mind, it could be crucial for Vegas to find a way to absorb one of Ottawa’s roughest contracts in Bobby Ryan ($7.25M cap hit through 2021-22) or Marian Gaborik ($4.875M through 2020-21). The Golden Knights likely realize that, from a sheer salary standpoint, they’d be doing Ottawa the biggest favor if they took on Ryan, and Clarkson’s salary structure would be highly appealing to penny pinchers.

Consider the year-by-year breakdown (cap hits in parentheses):

Ryan (7.25) Gaborik ($4.875) Clarkson ($5.25) Ryan – DC Gaborik – DC
2018-19 $7.5 $4.575 $4.75 $2.75 -$0.1750
2019-20 $7.5 $3.175 $3.25 $4.25 -$0.0750
2020-21 $7.5 $3.075 n/a $7.5 $3.0750
2021-22 $7.5 n/a n/a $7.5
Savings: Ryan—> $22
Savings: Gabby-> $2.8250

So, overall, the Golden Knights would save Melnyk $22M in total salary (ignoring the potential 2020-21 lockout) over four years if Clarkson’s deal was exchanged for Ryan’s contract, including $2.75M this season. Gaborik’s salary is actually a bit higher than Clarkson’s during the next two seasons, yet Gabby’s deal is more expensive because it lasts for one additional season. (If Melnyk is penciling in a lockout of any kind, it would negate some of the advantage of a Clarkson – Gaborik swap. It would also negate happy thoughts.)

If the Senators truly demand moving salary in a Karlsson deal, then a Clarkson – Ryan swap would be a huge selling point, and one would assume Vegas pointed this out before.

Managing the Ryan cap hit would be a considerable challenge, assuming his wrist/hand issues wouldn’t also plop him on the LTIR at some point during his career. Ottawa is only retaining Dion Phaneuf‘s salary, so perhaps Vegas could convince Ottawa to eat a bit of that egregious Ryan money?

The Golden Knights could also mix in a smaller, mid-level contract or two to make things work.

Cody Eakin makes a $3.85M cap hit and salary for two more seasons, and he’s a solid player at 27. Erik Haula‘s also 27, and a fantastic value at $2.75M per year through 2019-20 (fantastic enough that Vegas would probably not want to give him up). Ryan Reaves is making slightly more than Haula during the same two seasons, and Ottawa might be so bad that fights become the main attraction some nights, which would make Reaves that much more valuable.

There are also some depth defensemen who could conceivably be part of a deal, such as Nick Holden, Deryk Engelland, and Jon Merrill.

***

All things considered, the Golden Knights have a lot of ammo – and incentive – to get an Erik Karlsson trade done.

The sheer array of variables likely explains why this process is taking so long, and not just when Vegas has been involved.

How much value does Vegas place on Karlsson agreeing to an extension? Will Ottawa drastically reduce its asking price if the Golden Knights take on Ryan’s enormous contract? These are questions that loom over the process.

The bottom line is that Karlsson is absolutely world-class, particularly right now, and the Golden Knights boast the sort of cap space, prospects, and picks to make something happen. After adding Pacioretty, it might be a flat-out disappointment if they don’t trade for the Senators’ star.

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.

BriseBois faces plenty of questions in replacing Yzerman as Lightning GM

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Bombshell news dropped on Tuesday, as word surfaced that Steve Yzerman is transitioning to advisory role with the Tampa Bay Lightning, while Julien BriseBois gets a promotion to GM.

It’s all a lot to take in, and the hockey world is scrambling to find out what happens next with Stevie Y, and why Stevie Y is stepping down in the first place. Could Yzerman be coming back home to the Detroit Red Wings, or perhaps setting the stage to be build a potential Seattle expansion team?

Those questions – along with a simple “Wait, what?” – come to mind immediately following such news.

What about the Lightning’s side of the equation, though?

BriseBois (pictured to the right of Jacques Martin in this post’s main image) has been the subject of GM rumors for some time, so the 41-year-old carries some hype into his promotion. He’s undoubtedly ranked as a big part of the picture in Tampa Bay, including running an outstanding operation for their AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch.

Now it’s his chance to justify that hype, and while Yzerman’s done great work in locking up stars Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman to team-friendly extensions, BriseBois faces challenges in molding all of that promise into postseason glories.

Consider some of the key decisions BriseBois must make over the next couple of years:

The bill’s coming for Vasi

Andrei Vasilevskiy has two years remaining on a bargain $3.5 million cap hit. Soak that outstanding value in for a moment, as while his Vezina campaign fizzled as his energy waned in 2017-18, he was still a worthy finalist at a remarkably cheap rate.

Those savings won’t last forever, although note that the 24-year-old would once again be slated for RFA status. (Seriously, this team is a well-oiled machine for cap management.)

Can BriseBois leverage that last RFA year into savings, or the sort of term that would benefit Tampa Bay? Of all the decisions ahead, Vasilevskiy’s future is the most pivotal single scenario.

Court Karlsson?

Could he make a big splash by getting Erik Karlsson?

This would be tricky, yet it’s worth exploring, particularly if the Golden Knights relent in their pursuit of the star defenseman after landing Max Pacioretty.

Cap Friendly lists Tampa Bay’s cap space at just $2.646M, so a Karlsson trade might be easier around the trade deadline. And, really, such a move seems tough to imagine if the Senators truly require Bobby Ryan or Marian Gaborik to be a part of any package. Maybe the ship sailed once Tampa Bay committed to Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller, along with Kucherov, anyway.

Still, it’s worth asking: would BriseBois pursue Karlsson – or perhaps some other splashy upgrade – with even more vigor than Yzerman did?

Young guns

Moving back to situations with brilliant young players, Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point are entering contract years.

Gourde (26, $1M cap hit in 2018-19) is slated to become a UFA, while Point (22, dirt-cheap rookie deal) would become an RFA. BriseBois must gauge how much additional leverage each forward might gain – or lose – by playing out their deals, and react accordingly. Would it save money to sign them soon, or would it be better to see where the cap comes in for 2019-20?

(For whatever it’s worth, Point mostly developed in the WHL before flourishing with the Lightning, while Gourde began his Crunch days in 2013-14.)

In defense

Whether he makes the unlikely move to land Karlsson or not, there are some decisions looming regarding the Lightning’s defense.

Granted, Stevie Y and BriseBois already did the heaviest lifting, as most NHL teams would practice dark arts to put together a trio like Hedman, McDonagh, and Sergachev, especially considering that the veterans are locked up long-term and Sergachev is still covered for two more seasons.

Still, this is a team with lofty ambitions, so surrounding that trio with other capable defensemen could be the difference between hoisting the Stanley Cup or looking back wistfully at near-misses.

Anton Stralman might be the odd man out among capable defenders, as his $4.5M cap hit expires after this season, and he’s arguably already showing signs of decline at 32. It’s likely a relief that Braydon Coburn (33, $3.7M) and Dan Girardi (34, $3M) will see their deals expire, too, but Tampa Bay could see a lot of experience evaporate in the near future.

A shrewd GM would use those expiring contracts to possibly get out of trouble, or grab some rentals. Getting rid of Ryan Callahan‘s contract would be huge, and it’s plausible that BriseBois would be far more interested in doing so than Yzerman, who seemed to love collecting former Rangers.

Beyond those older defensemen, BriseBois will need to ascertain the value of younger expiring contracts in Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin.

The coach?

Jon Cooper’s a great quote. He’s also enjoyed success just about everywhere he’s gone, hustling through some obscure coaching gigs to make his way to Tampa Bay. You could do a lot worse than sticking with him.

While BriseBois must respect Cooper – he briefly coached the Crunch – it’s possible that Cooper might not be “his guy.” Even if he is, if there’s a belief that Cooper is nearing his expiration date – as many believe just about every coach reaches at some point – then it’s a situation to watch.

The Lightning don’t operate in a pressure cooker of a hockey market, which might explain why they didn’t absorb too much criticism after falling short in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, not to mention missing the postseason altogether in 2016-17. Considering context, it’s totally reasonable for them not to draw much heat.

The heat could really rise if the Lightning don’t meet expectations this time around, particularly if it seems like Cooper commits Typical NHL Coach Sins like not trusting young players enough. You could argue that he should have given Sergachev a longer leash last season, among other situations, so it’s not totally out of the question.

***

If you were to poll NHL executives about “dream” GM jobs, the Lightning would almost certainly land in the top five. In plenty of cases, they’d probably rank first overall.

So, there are a lot of blessings that come with this, although the curse is that critics will be harsh if BriseBois stumbles now that he’s landed the top gig.

Fair or not, many will view him as a failure if this outstanding Lightning core fails to nab the franchise’s second Stanley Cup (and possible more). There are worse situations to be in, but that doesn’t mean this is necessarily an easy job.

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.

Senators’ Cody Ceci awarded $4.3 million deal in arbitration

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Hours after the Ottawa Senators announced a one-year extension for Mark Stone, an arbitrator sided closer to the team’s case following their hearing with defenseman Cody Ceci.

Ceci, 25, elected for the hearing and was seeking $6 million, while the Senators offered $3.35 million. The arbitrator decided on a $4.3M salary for one season.

If no extension is reached by next summer, Ceci will once again be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.

Last season, Ceci scored five goals and recorded 19 points in 82 games. He led all Senators defensemen not named Erik Karlsson in time on ice with 23:20 per night, the second straight season he’s played that many minutes a game.

His underlying numbers are not good, however, as Silver Seven Sens pointed out earlier this week:

“Ceci finished the season ranked 131st out of 133 defensemen in terms of even-strength puck possession with a negative 43.76 Corsi. He also held the honours for being the defenseman with the highest amount of shots attempted against with 1862. All in all, Cody Ceci has been on the decline for the past 2 seasons and has not been showing any signs of revival.”

Late bloomer? The Senators would certainly hope so, and Ceci’s one-year deal puts general manager Pierre Dorion in an interesting position before next summer. At the moment, Ottawa currently has nine players — Stone, Matt Duchene and Erik Karlsson included — set to become unrestricted free agents and three scheduled to become RFAs on July 1, 2019. That should spell a lot of change for the roster, one that sorely needs an overhaul. 

So as we wait for the inevitable Karlsson (and maybe Bobby Ryan, too) trade, Dorion has a massive job ahead of him in turning a team with likely a high lottery pick next June back into a playoff team.

But the big issue, as in the Stone case, is Dorion’s inability to lock up the team’s best players long-term. It was a big move in acquiring Duchene last October, but it all went in the wrong direction and the only three players signed beyond 2020 are Ryan, Marian Gaborik (buyout candidate) and Zack Smith. Who would want to commit to losing for the next several years?

What once was looking like a strong core to build around is falling apart and there doesn’t appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

————

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.

The Buzzer: Blues keep rolling, a surprising hat trick, Ducks miss chance

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Players of the Night

Thomas Vanek, Columbus Blue Jackets: One of the more underrated trade deadline acquisitions has been Columbus’ pickup of Thomas Vanek from the Vancouver Canucks. He is averaging more than a point per game with the team and recorded a hat trick in their come-from-behind win on Tuesday night. The Blue Jackets fell behind by three goals in the first 10 minutes then scored seven consecutive goals to rout the Oilers.

Brandon Tanev, Winnipeg Jets: Entering play on Tuesday night Brandon Tanev had scored just four goals in 55 games for the Winnipeg Jets this season. He had not recorded a point in 12 consecutive games and had just two in his past 20. All he did on Tuesday night in a 5-4 overtime win against the Boston Bruins was score three goals for his first career hat trick. Is that the most random, unexpected hat trick in the NHL this season? It almost certainly has to be.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues: As improbable as it seemed a little over a month ago, the St. Louis Blues now occupy the top wild card spot in the Western Conference. Vladimir Tarasenko scored the game-winning goal in overtime on Tuesday night to lift the Blues to a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks, extending their current winning streak to seven games. They have also won eight out of their past nine and are 9-2-1 in their past 12 games. A stunning turnaround given the trade of Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets and the number of injuries the team is currently dealing with.

Staal gets No. 40

The Minnesota Wild were losers in a shootout in Nashville on Tuesday night, but Eric Staal scored the lone goal for the Wild in the loss and in the process recorded the 40th goal of the season. He now has three 40-goal seasons in his career, making him one of just six active players in the league this season to have three of them. The others are Alex Ovechkin (nine), Steven Stamkos (four), Marian Gaborik (three), Evgeni Malkin (three), and Rick Nash (three).

Ducks let two points slip away

The Anaheim Ducks entered the night in the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division and a game against one of the NHL’s worst teams, the Vancouver Canucks. Seemed like a good opportunity to pick up two points and gain some ground in the playoff race, right?

Wrong.

They ended up scoring just a single goal and losing 4-1.

They remain one of three teams in the West tied with 91 points, joining the Blues and Kings.  They are just one point up on the Colorado Avalanche, the first team on the outside of the playoff picture. If the Kings get a point on Thursday night, and if Colorado beats the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, the Ducks could find themselves back on the outside of playoff picture this week. It is going to be an incredibly tight right between these four teams for those three spots.

The Panthers didn’t get any help

The Florida Panthers had the night off on Tuesday (they play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday) but it was still a tough night for them as the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils all gained points. The Blue Jackets and Devils were winners, while the Flyers picked up a point by losing in overtime to the Dallas Stars.

The Panthers still have several games in hand but they are now three points back of the Devils, five points back of the Flyers, and six points back of the Blue Jackets.

Their schedule the rest of the way is not easy with three games against the Boston Bruins, as well as games against the Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators.

Highlight of the Night

It may end up being too little, too late, but the Dallas Stars finally snapped their eight-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a 3-2 overtime win against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was Alexander Radulov getting the winner on a 2-on-0 rush with Tyler Seguin.

Factoid of the Night

The New York Islanders are not going to the playoffs, they might lose John Tavares after the season, but they have another cornerstone building block in Mathew Barzal who is having an absolutely unbelievable rookie season. He continued it on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators in their 4-3 win.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 3

Detroit Red Wings 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

St. Louis Blues 3, San Jose Sharks 2

Nashville Predators 2, Minnesota Wild 1

Winnipeg Jets 5, Boston Bruins 4

Dallas Stars 3, Philadelphia Flyers 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 7, Edmonton Oilers 3

Vancouver Canucks 4, Anaheim Ducks 1

————

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 Power Rankings: Red Wings hit rock bottom

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For two decades the Detroit Red Wings were on top of the NHL (or at least consistently close to it) and one of the elite franchises in the league. Always in the playoffs, usually a legitimate threat to win it all, and a Stanley Cup Finalist six times between 1995 and 2009, more than any other team in the league during that stretch.

Eventually that run was going to end, and in recent seasons you could kind of see the slide slowly starting to begin. They stopped winning in the playoffs. They had become a team that would get into the top-eight but never really go anywhere once they got there. Core players got older. The scouting staff and farm system wasn’t finding and developing Hall of Famers in the back half of the draft anymore.

The team was clearly starting to descend down the mountain.

That descent has now turned into a complete collapse, and they may have hit rock bottom over the past couple of weeks.

At least for this season. Who knows how much deeper this can go in future seasons.

After being systematically dismantled by Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, the Red Wings enter the week having lost 10 games in a row, have one of the worst records in the NHL, and just look … bad.

The most concerning thing of all, though, is that this is not just a bad team this season, it is one of the oldest teams in the NHL, one of the most expensive teams in the NHL, and 15 of the players on the roster are under contract for next season with more than $58 million in cap space committed to them.

Even worse: Who on this team is a player that can be the centerpiece of any sort of a rebuild or offer legitimate hope for the future?

Dylan Larkin is still only 21 years old and has shown flashes of being an impact player at various times in his young career. But he has also 23 goals … over the past two years. Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou look like they could be useful players, but they are not franchise building blocks. Gustav Nyquist is going to be 29 next season and has topped 50 points once in his career. There is not one player on the defense right now that is under the age of 27 and other than Mike Green all of them are signed through at least next season.

All of that, including the recent 10-game losing streak, has them sitting in the No. 31 spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else sit?

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Nashville Predators — These guys have not lost a game in regulation since Feb. 17 and have only lost two in regulation since the beginning of February. Best record in the league, hottest team in the league, where else are they going to be in the standings?

2. Boston Bruins — Maybe the wrong Bruin has been getting MVP buzz this season. Instead of Patrice Bergeron it might be Brad Marchand that is driving the bus.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have not played their best hockey lately … and they are still 10-2-1 over their past 13 games. Insanity.

4. Winnipeg Jets — Patrik Laine is still an unstoppable force right now. Ovechkin-like in his recent dominance.

The rest of the contenders

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They have not had Auston Matthews, their best player, since Feb. 22 and are still 6-2-2 in 10 games without him and enter the week riding a four-game winning streak.

6. Vegas Golden Knights — They are only 7-6-1 in their past 14 games and starting to cool off just slightly. Still have a firm grip on the Pacific Division and William Karlsson is going to score more than 40 goals this season. What a season.

7. Washington Capitals — Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s injury could be a big deal in the short-term. Also sort of a big deal: What is going on with the goalie situation where Philip Grubauer is taking some starts from Braden Holtby. And playing really, really, really well.

8. Minnesota Wild — Eric Staal is two goals away from what would be his third 40-goal season. Only six other active players (Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, and Marian Hossa — technically he is still active) have at least three such seasons.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins — Goaltending is still a huge question mark with Matt Murray sidelined, but he seems to be getting closer to a return. The Penguins need him if they are going to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

The middle ground

10. Columbus Blue Jackets — With seven wins in a row they have not only solidified their playoff position, they have a real chance to get back into the top-three in the Metropolitan Division. Would that give them the best possible matchup in the first-round, though (potentially playing Pittsburgh instead of Washington)?

11. San Jose Sharks — Not many people are talking about the Sharks but they are going for home-ice in the first-round and have won seven of their past nine games. All of this without Joe Thornton for most of the season.

12. Colorado Avalanche — They have earned at least a point in 12 of their past 14 games and Nathan MacKinnon is playing like the league MVP. They are quietly making a push at a top-three spot in the Central Division.

13. New Jersey Devils — After going five consecutive games without a point, No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischer has bounced back with five points in his past five games. He may not be Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews as a No. 1 overall pick, but he is the second-leading scorer on a playoff team as a 19-year-old. That is impressive.

14. Philadelphia Flyers — Petr Mrazek has not been good since arriving in Philadelphia, carrying an .888 save percentage with the Flyers into the week.

15. Anaheim Ducks — Rickard Rakell is making a run for the title of “NHL’s most underrated player.” He is currently in the middle of his second straight 30-goal season.

16. St. Louis Blues — It is kind of amazing they are still hanging around. They looked finished a week ago but four wins in five games has kept their playoff hopes alive.

17. Los Angeles Kings — They are clinging to a playoff spot but their inconsistency has made it impossible for them to put any distance between them and the rest of the pack.

Fading fast

18. Florida Panthers — All of that work to get back into the playoff race then they lose home games to Ottawa and Edmonton and now have to play seven of their next eight games on the road.

19. Calgary Flames — Mike Smith had a great season prior to his injury and his absence was a big part of their late season slide. His return has not yet made an impact as he has given up 10 goals in his first two starts.

20. Dallas Stars — There is never a good time to lose eight out of 10, but the worst possible time to do it is late in the season when you are in the middle of a tight playoff race with five other teams. They are spending way too much money to be this mediocre.

The Lottery

21. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid is trying to win the scoring title for the second year in a row, and with the way he is going right now it would probably not be wise to bet against him. It is appalling that the team around him is so bad.

22. New York Rangers — Alexandar Georgiev has played well down the stretch, and Ryan Spooner has put up a ton of points since being acquired in the big trade with the Boston Bruins. So there is that.

23. Carolina Hurricanes — This season has been the past few years of this organization in a nutshell. Just enough to build up excitement, seem like they are getting close, then fell apart.

24. Chicago Blackhawks — Alex DeBrincat has three hat tricks this season and is tied for the team lead in goals as a rookie. He has been a bright spot in a lost season.

25. Ottawa Senators — They had a chance to play spoiler with three wins in a row recently, including two over playoff hopefuls Florida and Dallas.

26. Arizona Coyotes — They still have the worst record in the league, but as we said a week ago they haven’t played like the worst team in the league for a few weeks. And have you seen the teams below them lately? Yikes.

27. Buffalo Sabres — Jack Eichel is back which should give Sabres fans something worthwhile to watch down the stretch.

28. New York Islanders — They have won five of their past 22 games and only one of their past 12. What else is left to say? The only win for this team this season is they own Calgary’s first (and second) round draft pick which should give them two shots at the draft lottery.

A tier all their own at the bottom

29. Montreal Canadiens — An already mediocre team without three of its top players (Carey Price, Shea Weber, Max Pacioretty) and the recent results are reflecting that.

30. Vancouver Canucks — Sometimes it seems like we have not really paid much attention to just how bad the Canucks have been over the past three seasons.

31. Detroit Red Wings — Ten. Games. In. A Row.

————

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.