Mark Pysyk

Florida Panthers
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What is the Panthers’ 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 Florida Panthers

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Everything about this team in the immediate future is going to be built around the forward duo of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

They are two of the best and most productive players in the league, while Barkov has developed into one of the NHL’s most complete two-way centers. Barkov is signed for two more seasons after this one, while Huberdeau is locked in for another three. They have matching salary cap hits of $5.9 million per season.

Beyond them, the core gets a little cloudier because all of their long-term investments come with some pretty significant risks.

Starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is signed for another six seasons at a salary cap hit of $10 million per season. They are going to need him to be significantly better than he has been so far if there is any chance of him playing out the remainder of that deal in Florida.

In front of him they have invested heavily in their defense with Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Anton Stralman, and Mike Matheson all signed for at least the next two seasons, while Ekblad, Yandle, and Matheson go for at least the next three years. Ekblad and Matheson are both signed for the next five. They have a ton of money invested in that quartet, but they haven’t really received a great return on that investment at this point.

Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov, two of their best forwards, are unsigned beyond this season and eligible for unrestricted free agency. If they can not re-sign one — or both — that would be a significant amount of offense going out the door.

Long-Term Needs

Even though the Panthers have made a huge long-term financial investment in their defense and goaltending, they are still one of the worst defensive teams in the league right now.

Ekblad and Yandle are a solid duo at the top, and maybe even a little underrated. Ekblad’s status as a former No. 1 overall pick definitely raises the expectations around him, but he has been an extremely productive player offensively and shown improvement in his all-around game. He may not win the Norris Trophy, but he’s a good player.

But once you get beyond that top duo there are a lot of flaws and question marks with the defense as a whole, and not a lot of immediate help on the horizon to help fix it. That is one of the things that made the in-season trade of Vincent Trocheck so confusing. It was a deal that did not need to be made, and they did not even use it to address their biggest flaw.

They could also be looking at a depth issue at forward if they can not get Hoffman and Dadonov re-signed.

Long-Term Strengths

The biggest strength for the Panthers is probably the simple fact they not only have two elite players in Barkov and Huberdeau, but that they have them both signed for multiple seasons at a combined salary cap hit of less than $11 million per season. They are exceptional bargains against the cap, they are both elite players, and they are both in the middle of their prime years in the NHL. Having that sort of situation at the top of the lineup should be a massive advantage for a front office to work with. Those are the hardest players to find (the elite, game-changers on offense) and they tend to cost the most money. The Panthers not only already have them in place, they have them for far less than they should ordinarily cost. That is a gift and a bonus you do not want to waste.

It also might seem weird saying this given how much Bobrovsky struggled in his debut season with the team, but they do seem to have a lot of goaltending options in the short-and long-term.

Even if Bobrovsky’s contract turns into a problem in a few years, he should be better than he was this season and at least give them a few seasons of high level play. Chris Driedger has also been a pleasant surprise in net this season and could settle in as a nice back-up option, while they also have one of the top goaltending prospects in the league in Spencer Knight after using a top-15 pick on him in the draft a year ago.

They also have one of the NHL’s best coaches in Joel Quenneville.

More:

• Looking at the 2019-20 Florida Panthers
• Panthers’ surprises and disappointments

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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers visit Panthers on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

In their game on Monday night, MacKenzie Weegar put the Panthers ahead 1-0 just over three minutes into the first period. The Flyers then scored four straight goals to win 4-1. James van Riemsdyk had a goal and assist in the win.

Philadelphia currently sits in the second Wild Card spot in the East and are three points behind the Islanders, who sit in third place in the Metro. Florida sits two points behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic, while the Panthers have a game in hand on the Maple Leafs. They are three points behind the Flyers for the second Wild Card in the East.

After a quick trip to Florida, the Flyers have a home-and-home against the Blue Jackets, who currently sit just one point above Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division. This is the second of a three-game road trip for the Flyers. The Flyers have earned points in five of their last six on the road (3-1-2), but are coming off a loss in Brooklyn against the Islanders.

Playing with eight defensemen at New Jersey on Tuesday, the Panthers fourth line consisted of center Noel Acciari and two defensemen, Mark Pysyk and Mike Matheson. The makeshift line combined for nine points in the win, as all three players put up three-point nights (1G-2A each). Matheson, who is in the second year of an eight-year contract, played forward for the first time this season after being a healthy scratch in Florida’s previous game (4-1 loss at Philadelphia on Monday).

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Philadelphia Flyers at Florida Panthers
WHERE: BB&T Center
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 13, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Flyers-Panthers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

FLYERS
Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Joel FarabeeKevin HayesTravis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk – Scott LaughtonTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflConnor BunnamanNicolas Aube-Kubel

Ivan ProvorovMatt Niskanen
Travis SanheimPhilippe Myers
Robert HaggJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

PANTHERS
Jonathan HuberdeauAleksander BarkovEvgenii Dadonov
Mike HoffmanVincent TrocheckBrett Connolly
Frank VatranoDominic ToninatoColton Sceviour
Mike Matheson – Noel Acciari – Mark Pysyk

MacKenzie Weegar – Aaron Ekblad
Riley StillmanAnton Stralman
Keith YandleJosh Brown

Starting goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky

John Forslund will call the action from BB&T Center alongside Pierre McGuire. Paul Burmeister hosts studio coverage alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Mike Johnson.

Thursday night’s coverage of Capitals-Avalanche will be the second half of an NHL doubleheader on NBCSN, immediately following originally-scheduled coverage of Flyers-Panthers, which begins at 7 p.m. ET. Pre-game coverage at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

The Buzzer: Benn’s hat trick; Draisaitl keeps rolling for Oilers

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. It hasn’t been the best season for Benn but he is refusing to go down quietly and now finds himself as the Stars’ leading goal scorer (18) this season thanks to his hat trick on Tuesday night in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. He has scored nine of those goals in the 15 games since January 1, and is just one goal away from the 300-mark for his career. He is now on pace for 26 goals this season.

2. Mike Matheson and Mark Pysyk, Florida Panthers. It might be cheating to include two players as one entry in the three stars section, but look, these two guys deserve some recognition here. The Panthers dressed eight defensemen on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils and played two of them — Matheson and Pysyk — at forward on a line with Noel Acciari. All that line did was score three goals (one for each player) in a 5-3 win, while Matheson and Pysyk each had a goal, two assists, and finished as a plus-three. Pysyk has previously played forward for the Panthers this season and had a hat trick a couple of weeks ago.

3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. No Connor McDavid, no problem for Draisaitl and the Oilers on Tuesday. The Oilers were 5-3 winners over the Chicago Blackhawks and it was Draisaitl leading the way with a four-point night (one goal, three assists) as he extended his current lead in the NHL scoring race to eight points over McDavid. He is now at 89 points on the season and on pace for 129 points this season. He had 105 points a year ago. If he continues that level of play during McDavid’s absence and helps get the Oilers back in the playoffs it might be enough to take the MVP award away from his teammate.

Along with Draisaitl, 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto also had another big game for the Oilers, scoring two goals in the win. He is now up to seven goals and 14 points in his first 15 games this season after joining the team in late December.

Other Notable Performances From Tuesday

  • Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 37 shots for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime to extend their winning streak despite a growing injury list. Read all about it here.
  • Alex Stalock stopped all 26 shots he faced for the Minnesota Wild as they shut out the Vegas Golden Knights. Kevin Fiala also had a big game for the Wild to extend his point streak to five games.
  • Another strong game for rookie New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin as he stopped turned aside 42 shots in a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Chris Kreider also scored two goals in the win.
  • Mathew Barzal had three assists for the New York Islanders as they won a wild game over the Philadelphia Flyers. Read all about it here.
  • Philipp Grubauer stopped 36 shots for the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night

Mikko Rantanen scored an absolutely beautiful goal late in the first period against the Ottawa Senators, starting it off with a spin move at the blue line.

Here is one of Mathew Barzal’s three assists on Tuesday night, setting up Jordan Eberle for a first period goal to give the Islanders a 3-0 lead. He just flipped it to himself and created a shot like it was nothing.

Not long after a potential Arizona Coyotes game winner was overturned for goaltender interference, Kasperi Kapanen scored the winner for the Toronto Maple Leafs by batting a puck out of mid-air, sending himself on a breakaway, and scoring the goal.

Moment of the Night

Jacob Trouba returned to Winnipeg for the first time as a visiting player on Tuesday night. He did this before the game.

 

Factoids

  • Kucherov extended his point streak to 12 games before leaving with an injury. It is the longest current point streak in the NHL and the fifth-longest in Tampa Bay Lightning franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Rasmus Dahlin is now tied for the most assists (76) by a teenage defenseman in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Hughes became just the third 18-year-old to record at least 20 points in a season for the New Jersey Devils. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 3, Detroit Red Wings 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Arizona Coyote 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 5, New Jersey Devils 3
New York Islanders 5, Philadelphia Flyers 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (OT)
Minnesota Wild 4, Vegas Golden Knights 0
New York Rangers 4, Winnipeg Jets 1
Dallas Stars 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Ottawa Senators 0
Edmonton Oilers 5, Chicago Blackhawks 3
St. Louis Blues-Anaheim Ducks (Postponed)

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: A very bad night for the Maple Leafs

Bad night for Maple Leafs The Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Mark Pysyk, Florida Panthers

Pysyk played a big role in the Panthers’ toppling the Maple Leafs on Monday, including icing the game. Pysyk managed a hat trick in the win, hustling for an empty-netter.

Scanning Pysyk’s Hockey Reference page makes it clear that this is his first hat trick. While the blueliner sports a pretty modest point total this season (13 in 40 games), seven of those points are goals. Pysyk’s seven goals easily rank as a career-high.

2. Mike Matheson, Florida Panthers

While Pysyk racked up three goals, Matheson generated three assists. Matheson produced primary assists on two of those three helpers.

Matheson also fired three shots on goal, enjoyed a +3 rating, and delivered a hit and blocked shot.

Mike Hoffman deserves a mention, too. He generated a goal and an assist, helping Florida storm back from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3 as much as the two defensemen listed.

3. Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars

Could this be the sign of a breakthrough? Joe Pavelski scored two power-play goals in 16 seconds as the Stars beat the Rangers on Monday. With that, he now has a two-game goal streak (3G).

In the past, that would just be a hot streak during a strong season. Instead, those three goals represent a significant portion of his 2019-20 totals (11G, 22 points in 52 games).

Pavelski languished with just seven points in 23 games between December and January. The Stars likely thought that Pavelski might hit a wall at some point during his three-year contract, but they have to hope that he looks more worthy of his $7M AAV down the stretch.

Of course, the Stars could help matters by opening things up a bit, though.

Highlights from Monday’s three games

The light schedule opens the door for clips from all of the games. To begin, we have the Maple Leafs’ meltdown against the Panthers, which began with a troubling injury to Frederik Andersen.

The Stars beat the Rangers 5-3, with some controversy surrounding the circumstances leading to Pavelski’s two goals.

Finally, the Flyers smothered the Red Wings 3-0. Brian Elliott only needed to make 16 saves for the shutout.

Factoids

  • The Red Wings remain winless (0-14-1) against Metropolitan Division teams. It’s no secret they’re bad, but … sheesh.
  • The Panthers generated their fifth hat trick as a team. That leads the NHL this season, and also ties their franchise record, according to NHL PR. That same NHL PR feed notes that the Panthers tied the Capitals for the league lead with four multi-goal, third period comeback wins.
  • Kaapo Kakko reached 17 points on Monday. With that, Kakko passes Manny Malhotra’s 16 points for the most by any Rangers player at age 18, according to the Rangers. If you’re like me, you’re still surprised Malhotra was drafted so high (seventh overall in 1998), considering how much of a specialist Malhotra would become.

Monday’s NHL scores

FLA 5 – TOR 3
DAL 5 – NYR 3
PHI 3 – DET 0

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.

Dual-role players? Defensemen as wingers show it can be done

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Brendan Smith caught his breath for a few seconds on the bench before New York Rangers coach David Quinn called his name again.

Smith had just skated a shift as a defenseman and was needed at forward, too. The natural defenseman hopped over the boards and got back on the ice at a different position.

”The more I do it, I get more comfortable,” he said.

Smith is one of a couple of throwback-style players bouncing between forward and defense this season. He and Florida’s Mark Pysyk are the latest to follow the lead of Hall of Famers Red Kelly and Mark Howe and present-day Brent Burns and Dustin Byfuglien, and their experience could open the door for more multiposition players in a sport that usually defines being a center, wing or defenseman very specifically.

”It’s definitely different,” Pysyk said. ”I think guys at this level probably could make the switch given enough time to get comfortable with their new position because everybody skates well.”

Kordell Stewart earned the nickname ”Slash” by playing quarterback and wide receiver in the NFL and slugger/pitcher Shohei Otani can star for the Los Angeles Angels in multiple ways in baseball. But specialization in hockey starts early as it does in other sports – forwards, defensemen and goalies all tend to be identified as such at a young age.

Smith as recently as Thursday shifted from his regular wing position back to defense to fill amid injuries, and the same night, Pysyk – back for another stint at forward – scored his third goal of the season. For one game in November, (almost) lifelong defenseman Tyler Lewington played a few shifts up front for the salary-cap strapped Washington Capitals when they could only dress 11 forwards.

”There’s a lot more to a forward’s game than I thought before,” said Lewington, 25, who hadn’t played forward since he was 10. ”It’s something that’s not easy.”

This kind of thing was more common in the 1920s and ’30s, Kelly played his first 12-plus seasons in Detroit as a defenseman and next eight-plus in Toronto as a forward, winning the Stanley Cup eight times – four at each position. Howe played his first three World Hockey Association seasons as a left winger alongside dad Gordie and brother Marty before switching to defense full-time.

Before video was more prevalent, Howe used to watch game replays late at night to figure out how to hone his game on the blue line. He made the Hall of Fame primarily for his time as a defenseman. Before and after his transition, he noticed differences like fewer scoring chances in practice as a defenseman – and more idle time on the bench as a forward biding his time for the next shift.

Now pro scouting director with the Detroit Red Wings, Howe called Smith the perfect example of a player who can adjust to the variations of playing forward and defense.

”(As a defenseman) it’s more of a game of you go when you can, but you have to be responsible defensively. You have to learn to read and when to jump up in the play,” Howe said. ”As a forward, you’re learning at key points of the game: ‘When do you try to make a play? When is it a smart play to dump the puck in the corner? When you definitely not want to turn a puck over?’ And with both (positions), you take different chances.”

While Pysyk hadn’t played defense since he was 6 or 7 until earlier this season, Quinn knew from recruiting Smith to Boston University that this dual role was possible. Quinn asked Smith last season to try it, and it worked so well that it has stuck, with Smith also killing penalties as a defenseman.

”You’ve got a guy who obviously plays forward 5-on-5 but he’s been one of our better (penalty) killing defensemen,” Quinn said. ”It gives you a little bit of flexibility on your roster, which is always nice game in and game out.”

Three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville trusts Pysyk the same way. He won the Cup in 2010 with Chicago moving Byfuglien back and forth and using the combination of his big frame, hard shot and smooth skating as an advantage.

”That versatility was a great asset to have in playoff series,” Quenneville recalled. ”Sometimes you could put him on a forward line to create space, I’d like to say, on power play (as a) net-front presence, but then you’ve got a big shot at the point. You could multitask with him in the course of the games.”

The same was possible for Burns when he played forward and defense with Minnesota earlier in his career. He became a full-time defenseman before a 2011 trade to San Jose and won the Norris Trophy as the best player at that position in 2017.

Quenneville likes having a defenseman at forward at times because they tend think of the game more conservatively.

”They usually have that mindset of being above the puck, so they keep themselves in the play, and defensively they have that responsibility,” Quenneville said. ”You get to handle the puck a little bit more, but I think they’re always in that position where offensively they’re complementing the guys they’re playing with, being either the safety guy or the extra guy that’s always going to be in the right spots.”

Pysyk, who’d prefer to play defense but can do both, is still getting used to the idea that he is not always the last guy back.

”It’s weird seeing a pass go past you and then chasing it from the other end,” he said.

Smith, who is in his 10th NHL season, is more comfortable on defense but thinks he could be a ”slash” player if need be.

”The biggest adjustment would be to change your mindset of defensive to offensive and knowing where to be at the right time because there’s so many moving parts,” Smith said. ”The hardest part is making sure that you can mentally prepare yourself for it.”

Vegas Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith sees his brother playing two different positions and knows he – and many others – wouldn’t be able to handle it.

”I can’t skate backward, can’t stop anyone,” Reilly Smith said. ”It takes a lot of versatility to be able to do that.”