Mark Stone

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
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A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next few Thursdays. The first team created was a 23-and-under roster that would be fascinating to watch.

An NHL player usually reaches peak performance in his late 20’s and this roster is comprised of players in the prime of their career between the ages of 24 and 29. The combination of skill, size, wisdom and depth in this group will be difficult to match for any opponent. The most surprising part of building this team was seeing several superstars left on the sidelines.

Line Combinations

First line: Artemi PanarinNathan MacKinnonLeon Draisaitl

Thoughts: All three players are firmly in the conversation for the 2019-2020 Hart Trophy and the thought of them on the same team, let alone the same line would be highly entertaining. Panarin has established himself as one of the best passers in the NHL and having two lethal goal scorers alongside him should make for an explosive trio.

Second line: Johnny GaudreauMark ScheifeleNikita Kucherov

Thoughts: Both wingers don’t offer much size but Gaudreau and Kucherov are both electric players that have learned how to win in the corners despite their diminutive stature. Scheifele has long been one of the more underrated players in the league and should find instant chemistry with two players that possess elite on-ice vision.

Third line: Taylor HallMika ZibanejadMark Stone

Thoughts: Hall’s game has dipped since winning the 2018 Hart Trophy but still remains a top two-way forward. Zibanejad was one of the most controversial picks beating out the likes of John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and others. But No. 93 has improved his game since the New York Rangers acquired him in a one-sided traded.

Fourth line: Chris Kreider – Ryan O’Reilly – Jonathan Huberdeau

Thoughts: Kreider and O’Reilly have anchored shut down lines in the past but the addition of Huberdeau should add more offensive punch to a very responsible grouping. All three skaters play a disciplined, 200-foot game and could match up with any combination of forwards an opponent has to offer.

First D pairing: Roman JosiSeth Jones
Second D pairing: Victor HedmanDougie Hamilton
Third D pairing: Oliver Ekman-LarssonAaron Ekblad

Thoughts: It’s hard to find a flaw in this grouping of defensemen. These six players collectively possess all the attributes needed to shut down opponents and can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Starting Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Backup Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Just Missed: Aleksander Barkov, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares

Captain: Roman Josi

Alternate captains: Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl

Analysis

It was surprising to see only one player on this team with a championship ring and just seven players have participated in a Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this team has experience in best on best tournaments at every level and have routinely been through the grind of an NHL regular season.

On paper, there are limited areas of concern. The team is comprised of players with diverse attributes to form an extremely well-balanced roster. It has several explosive goal-scorers in the top-six and responsible players in the bottom-six that have the ability to consistently produce on the offensive side of the ice.

In addition, the blueline is staggered with lockdown defensemen and two Vezina candidates guarding the crease.

One challenge for this team, and for any roster in a tournament of this nature, is the ability to find instant chemistry with line mates. In theory, Panarin can set up a few of the top scorers but does it work in reality?

Due to the balance of the roster and varied characteristics, I believe this team would have the inside track to winning this mythical tournament.

Surprising omissions

John Tavares: It wasn’t too long ago that Tavares was the most sought-after free agent in the summer of 2018, but it was challenging to find a spot for the Maple Leafs captain on this roster. It was a tight race between No. 91 and Mika Zibanejad for the third line center position, but the Swedish right-handed centerman has become one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. Tavares is a world-class player. He could easily slide back onto the roster and change the narrative with a dominant stretch when professional hockey returns.

Erik Karlsson: This Swedish defenseman used to terrorize the league with his smooth skating and incredible vision. However, Karlsson hasn’t looked like himself since being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September of 2018. He routinely crossed the 60-point plateau and set a career-high with 82 points in 2015-16, but injuries have slowed him down the past two seasons. This mythical tournament will require teams to perform at an incredibly high level and there is no room for someone who has not been at the top of his game.


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

NHL Power Rankings: Where every team stands right now

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Even though there is no hockey at the moment but we will keep the NHL Power Rankings rolling along every Monday.

In future weeks during the NHL’s hiatus this will take a more off-beat approach, but for now, we are going to take another look at where every team in the NHL stood before the season was put on hold.

Here is where we are for right now.

1. Boston Bruins. The Bruins were well on their way to winning the Presidents’ Trophy and potentially finishing with one of the best records in franchise history. They have it all this season.

2. St. Louis Blues. The defending Stanley Cup champions were looking even better than a year ago and starting to hit their stride in the stretch run. There is also that possibility of a Vladimir Tarasenko return lurking in the background.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Even as the injuries mounted they kept winning. A lot. A truly scary team in both the short-and long-term.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers finally find a franchise goalie and then a global pandemic brings everything to a stop.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. They were starting to go on a roll at just the right time, have two great goalies, and were still going to get Mark Stone back.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning. They won just three out of 10 after their 11-game winning streak came to an end. Losing Steven Stamkos, and more recently, Victor Hedman, were two big injuries to deal with.

7. Washington Capitals. John Carlson was on pace for a 90-point season, which is still pretty absurd to think about it in today’s NHL for a defenseman.

8. Edmonton Oilers. If nothing else, Leon Draisaitl has shown this season he can not only carry his own line, he can dominate while doing so.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins. Their big question going into the playoffs would be whether or not one of Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray could step up and run with the goaltending job. Lately, neither one had done that.

10. Minnesota Wild. Truly one of the strangest teams in the league this season. At so many different points they seemed finished, only to keep coming back and staying in the race. They are 15-7-1 in their past 23 games and looking like a playoff team.

11. Carolina Hurricanes. The injuries on defense were going to be a lot to overcome, but getting Petr Mrazek back (and hopefully James Reimer) would have been a huge lift.

12. Nashville Predators. Once one of their goalies (in this case Juuse Saros) started making some saves they magically started winning again.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. There is no team in the NHL that has a wider range of possible outcomes than this one. They could win it all. They could lose in Round 1 in five games. They could keep everyone together. They could trade a core piece this summer. Who knows?

14. Winnipeg Jets. Not only should Connor Hellebuyck get serious Vezina Trophy consideration, he should get a few top-five MVP votes for what he has done for this team.

15. Calgary Flames. I feel like this team should be better than it has been, and at the same time, isn’t as bad as I thought it has been.

16. Dallas Stars. The offense would hold them back and be a concern. The goaltending would give them a chance.

17. New York Rangers. There is a foundation in place for this team to be very good, very fast, and for a very long time,.

18. Vancouver Canucks. They were set to get Brock Boeser back, which would have been huge, but the Jacob Markstrom injury was going to be a problem.

19. Florida Panthers. Back-to-back wins against Montreal and St. Louis (an extremely impressive win) helped them stay in it, but this season has mostly been a disappointment.

20. New York Islanders. Speaking of disappointments, after last year’s surprising performance and that 15-game point streak earlier this season the bottom completely fell out on this team. It was not getting any better down the stretch.

21. Chicago Blackhawks. The story of the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks was going to be “too little, too late.”

22. Los Angeles Kings. Say this for the Kings: The players still there never quit on this season. One of the hottest teams in the league going into the hiatus and beating playoff teams regularly.

23. Columbus Blue Jackets. It would have been interesting to see what this team was capable of with better injury luck.

24. Montreal Canadiens. He probably will not get many votes because he is very overlooked, but Philip Danault would be a good Selke Trophy sleeper.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They made a lot of the right moves, things just did not work out. Losing their two goalies definitely hurt. While Adin Hill did find in place of them, a healthy Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta were difference makers.

26. New Jersey Devils. One of the bright spots here was the late season resurgence of Cory Schneider. He has had such a great career it would have been a shame to see him just suddenly lose it all.

27. Anaheim Ducks. They desperately need an influx of offensive talent for next season and beyond.

28. San Jose Sharks. Get them healthy and give them better goaltending and let’s see what this core can do next season.

29. Buffalo Sabres. In a different year on a better team we would be talking about Jack Eichel as an MVP contender.

30. Ottawa Senators. With a little draft lottery luck they could have two top-five picks this year (their pick and San Jose’s pick). That could be franchise changing.

31. Detroit Red Wings. But no team needs the No. 1 overall pick more than the Red Wings.

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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 Morning Skate: NHL decides what to do about coronavirus, season

NHL season could be on hold coronavirus
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• TSN’s Darren Dreger expects the NHL to make a “tough announcement” about the season being affected by the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, and wonders if the league has any choice but to follow the NBA’s lead and put things on hold. (TSN)

• Dreger’s TSN colleague Frank Seravalli goes into detail about why the NHL is waiting until today to make a decision about possibly suspending the season due to the coronavirus outbreak. In general, the league wants to make sure it “canvasses” as many parties as possible before making a decision. (TSN)

• Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston says it well, though: it sure looks the NHL’s season is “dangling by a thread.” Not the type of dangling we like to see in hockey, nope. (Sportsnet)

• Seravalli also took a look at the potential financial impact of this coronavirus crisis on the NHL’s bottom line. (TSN; Elliotte Friedman also discussed it in “31 Thoughts”)

• In case you missed it, Nathan MacKinnon could miss a week-or-two with a lower-body injury. Obviously most relevant if the NHL doesn’t miss at least a week or two as North America tries to limit the spread of the coronavirus. (Sporting News)

Max Pacioretty is considered out week-to-week with a lower-body injury. The Golden Knights are hurting now, with Pacioretty joining Mark Stone, Alex Tuch, and Chandler Stephenson on the injured list. (Jesse Granger on Twitter)

• Sean McIndoe aka “Down Goes Brown” proposes a solution to the NHL’s “loser point” standings system. (The Athletic, sub required)

• If/whenever there’s a postseason, the Flyers could prove to be a formidable foe. (Featurd)

• Are the Boston Bruins actually underrated? (NBC Sports Boston)

• A look at the Golden Knights’ active blueline. (Rotoworld)

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.

Golden Knights looking like a major Stanley Cup threat

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Let’s talk about the Vegas Golden Knights for a bit, because they are starting to emerge as one of the top Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference.

They enter Monday’s game in Edmonton in first-place in the Pacific Division and are one of the league’s hottest teams having won 10 of their past 12 games, while also owning a 14-5-2 record since the hiring of new coach Peter DeBoer.

It’s not just the recent results that make them such a threat right now in the West. It’s the fact they are starting to systematically dominate teams. It is the perfect storm of the right results and the right process.

So what’s happening in Vegas that is making them such a threat?

They have tightened things up defensively

Just to make it clear at the start: I was very critical of their decision to fire coach Gerard Gallant earlier this season and replace him with Peter DeBoer. Not because DeBoer isn’t a good coach (He is, as is Gallant), but because the problems in Vegas at the time seemed to be more of a goaltending issue than anything relating to coaching.

But fair is fair to DeBoer, and the Golden Knights have definitely improved their overall performance defensively.

The table below shows some of their 5-on-5 defensive metrics under the two coaches, including shot attempts against, shot attempt differential, expected goals against, goals against, and save percentage.

The goaltending still hasn’t been where they want it to be, and while they were still a top-10 team in some key defensive metrics under Gallant, they have been quite literally the league’s best under DeBoer.

The big change is in dramatic decrease in total shot attempts against, as well as the way they have cut down on the scoring chances and expected goals against. Even though the goaltending performance has remained similar, the defensive play in front of them has definitely improved.

The type of performance we are seeing from the right now is one that is usually reserved for Stanley Cup teams.

Robin Lehner gives them an intriguing option

Speaking of the goaltending situation, it’s going to be interesting to see how this situation unfolds down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been the face of the franchise from the moment he was acquired in the expansion draft, and overall he’s been a rock for them in net. But the fact of the matter is that his overall performance has regressed this season, and outside of a handful of random games in February it hasn’t really consistently improved.

But with Robin Lehner now in the mix the Golden Knights have a very intriguing Plan B in place.

One of their biggest weaknesses the past two years has been the lack of a quality backup behind Fleury. It forced Fleury to take on a huge workload (not great for a goalie in his mid-30s) and had no safety net in case of an injury or poor play.

They not only have a great Plan B, their Plan B also happens to be one of the league’s best goalies the past two years, and he is 3-0 with a .940 save percentage since joining the Golden Knights at the trade deadline.

Forget the star power and reputations, there is no reason why that job should not be up for debate and an open competition down the stretch. If one of them emerges and solidifies that spot, it would take this team to an entirely different level.

Max Pacioretty has been amazing, and Mark Stone will be back

The Golden Knights may not have a true superstar in their lineup, but their top-end talent is legit. Leading the way is Pacioretty (he got a mention in this week’s MVP Power Rankings) who is having one of the best seasons of his career, driving play like a champion and scoring at close to a 40-goal pace.

As a team, they have six forwards scoring at a 20-goal pace over 82 games, while they have also played the past six games (4-2-0 record) without perhaps their best overall forward, Mark Stone.

They should have a very manageable playoff path

This might be one of the biggest things working in their favor.

There are a ton of factors that go into winning in the playoffs, from playing well, to health, to goaltending, to luck, to simply getting the right matchups.

Obviously nothing is a guarantee, but whether the Golden Knights finish first or second in the Pacific Division they should have an extremely manageable path through at least the first two rounds. They would almost certainly be favorites against any team they play in Rounds 1 and 2, while there remains a pretty significant gap between the top contenders in the Western Conference and the next tier of contenders.

Look at it this way: As of publication on Monday afternoon, only one of their potential playoff matchups in Rounds 1 or 2 (Edmonton) of the playoffs ranks higher than 15th in the league in points percentage, while several of their potential early matchups (Calgary, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Arizona, Nashville) are all in the 18-23 range.

It is entirely possible that they would not have to play a top-15 NHL team in the playoffs until a potential Western Conference Final matchup.

They still have to play the games and they still have actually win once they get there, but the way things are shaping up right now with their overall play and potential postseason path the Golden Knights should be one of the top teams to watch for coming out of the Western Conference.

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.

Mark Stone out week-to-week for streaking Golden Knights

Mark Stone out week-to-week for Golden Knights
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The Golden Knights announced that star winger Mark Stone is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

With a bit more than a month remaining in the regular season, losing Stone “week-to-week” sounds both scary and vague. Golden Knights Peter DeBoer notes that the team hopes Stone can return before the end of the regular season.

No doubt about it, this is a big loss. Stone generated 21 goals and 63 points so far in 65 games, continuing to draw more deserved attention as a Selke-worthy forward. Even so, you could argue that people still aren’t fully aware of how dominant Stone can be.

This ranks as a significant blow to the Golden Knights, and a frustrating one at that.

It’s been a turbulent season for Vegas, the toughest one in what’s somehow just the third campaign in the franchise’s existence. The Golden Knights are currently red-hot with an eight-game winning streak, seemingly finally putting everything together. And now they lost their two-way star.

Golden Knights hope to hold onto Pacific with Stone out week-to-week

To be clear, the Golden Knights still stand in a good position to win the up-and-down Pacific Division.

Yes, it could be worse, especially if Stone being out week-to-week translates to him still having time to get a few regular-season games in before the playoffs.

There’s also something to be said that the Golden Knights will be forced to find answers beyond Stone. Maybe they’ll stumble into different combinations that could work if matchups get dicey during the playoffs? Perhaps losing a key player will push the Golden Knights to see how much they can lean on Robin Lehner?

Overall, it’s clear this is very bad for the Golden Knights, who have spent big to contend in 2019-20.

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.