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Panthers still aren’t getting money’s worth with Bobrovsky

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Few teams needed better goaltending more than the Florida Panthers last summer. So, when Sergei Bobrovsky hit the free agent market, the Panthers ignored red flags like age and a mixed 2018-19 season to snatch Bob up.

On paper, the move makes a ton of sense. The Panthers disappointed last season, yet there was a feeling of “… But what if they could just get some stops?” Then, poof here comes a seemingly perfect opportunity. Goalies of Bobrovsky’s caliber rarely hit the open market. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time a two-time Vezina winner became available at least somewhat close to their prime years, yet there Bobrovsky was.

But, again, there were some red flags flashing.

During a busy Saturday afternoon in the NHL, the hockey world got a reminder that you don’t always get what you pay for when you hand $10 million per year to a goalie, even one as accomplished as Bobrovsky.

[Bobrovsky wasn’t off to a great start, in particular.]

Panthers pull Bobrovsky against Sabres

The Panthers likely already entered the first intermission vs. Buffalo with serious frustration. Despite managing an 11-5 shots on goal advantage through 20 minutes, the Sabres managed a 1-0 lead.

Things spiraled out of control for Bobrovsky and the Panthers during the middle frame, as Bob allowed two more goals. Joel Quenneville saw enough, pulling Bobrovsky after the 31-year-old gave up three goals on just seven SOG.

Blaming Bobrovsky alone is unfair, as he could only do so much. Take, for example, this Conor Sheary 2-0 goal:

 

Still, there’s only so much you can do when a goalie barely stops more than half of the attempts he faces.

Bobrovsky giving Panthers more of the same numbers

Teams who allow too many goals face chicken-and-the-egg arguments. That’s often fitting, really, because usually the problems are a mix: goalies should stop more pucks, but their teams could put them in better situations.

Panthers GM Dale Tallon either misdiagnosed the problem as mostly goalie-related, or was throwing up a Hail Mary pass that Bobrovsky could save his bacon.

Either way, it’s painful to note how similar the Panthers’ problems are despite throwing a ton of money and resources at goaltending.

Heading into Saturday, Bobrovsky sported a putrid .897 save percentage. Adjusting for context only helps so much; Bob’s -10.94 goals saved against average languishes among the worst in the NHL. By that standard at Hockey Reference, Bob has only been slightly more effective than the likes of Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones, starters suffering through profoundly miserable seasons.

Such numbers parallel the season-sinking work of James Reimer and Roberto Luongo from 2018-19. Uncomfortably so.

Also uncomfortable: comparing 2018-19 Reimer with the 2019-20 version. Nestled in the Carolina Hurricanes cocoon, Reimer improved his save percentage to .914 versus last season’s rough .900 mark. Reimer’s career average is also .914, making you wonder what happened in Florida — though it’s crucial to remember that, as always, “goalies are voodoo.”

Nature versus nurture

When the Panthers hired Quenneville, they described Coach Q as “transformative.” So far, the Panthers’ overall play seems … mostly middle of the pack?

The Panthers give the impression of probably deserving a little bit better from goaltending, but by how much? What portion of the blame goes to Bobrovsky and other goalies versus the team around them?

Panthers outscore some, but not all, of their problems

Florida deserves credit for hanging around the East playoff bubble considering their troubles stopping pucks.

While allowing a third-worst 3.35 goals against per game (before Saturday) qualifies as worrisome, the Panthers also rank third-best with 3.55 goals for per game. The Panthers generate more goals than they allow, so maybe the situation isn’t so dire.

Perhaps the Panthers’ well-compensated coach can turn enough knobs to make life easier for their well-compensated goalie?

After performances like Saturday’s dud against Buffalo, it’s easy to get pessimistic about Bobrovsky. An optimist may counter that Florida isn’t that far away from finding the right balance.

Unfortunately, a realist will note that the Panthers wouldn’t be in the playoffs if they began right now, and face a significant hill to climb in an Atlantic Division that’s starting to look stacked once again — at least at the top.

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Rust, Zadina among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Filip Zadina, Red Wings – LW/RW: This obviously isn’t the Red Wings’ season, but Zadina is a big part of what Detroit hopes is a bright future. He started the campaign in the AHL, but he made his NHL season debut on Nov. 24th and has been chipping in regularly with two goals and seven points in his last seven games. He’s definitely a gamble, but he has the offensive upside to make him worth the risk. It doesn’t hurt that the Red Wings are incentivized to give their younger players healthy minutes given that the idea of making the playoffs is already long gone.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: If nothing else, Duclair is worth taking a shot on right now given how hot he is. He has an incredible seven goals and eight points in his last four games alone. He’s been really good for a while though with 17 goals and 24 points in his last 25 games. He does have a 20.5 shooting percentage over that span, which is a pretty big red flag, but I do think he’s still worth taking a chance on. Duclair is a forward who has shown promise before and might be hitting his stride now that he’s getting a bigger opportunity with Ottawa.

Jordan Eberle, Islanders – RW: Eberle left something to be desired last season, but he did end it on a positive note that gave us hope for the 2019-20 campaign. Unfortunately he got off to a rather rough start this season too and plenty of fantasy owners ditched him as a result. He’s shown signs of life in December though with three goals and seven points in seven games. This might just be a hot streak, but Eberle’s a player who has bounce back potential so if you pick him up now, there’s at least a chance he’ll be a valuable asset for the rest of the campaign.

Josh Bailey, Islanders – LW/RW: If you want to double down on Islanders, Bailey is another option. Like Eberle, Bailey is owned in under 20% of Yahoo leagues at the time of writing and like Eberle, he’s red hot right now. Bailey has a goal and eight points in his last eight games. Just as an aside, while Eberle and Bailey obviously are on the same team, they aren’t typically on the ice together. In fact, Bailey has 22 points in 31 games in 2019-20 while only combining with Eberle four times. This is all to say that Eberle and Bailey aren’t linked, so it’s entirely possible that one will stay hot while the other cools down.

Tyler Toffoli, Kings – LW/RW: Los Angeles is taking a breather on Monday, but when they face Boston Tuesday night, Toffoli will be entering the contest on a four-game point streak. He has an impressive three goals and seven points over that span. Taking his season as a whole, he has nine goals and 20 points in 34 contests, which is good for third place on the Kings scoring race, but is pretty borderline in standard leagues and his lack of contributions on the power play or with hits makes him not a terribly viable long-term option. Still, he’s at least an option worth entertaining while he’s hot.

Bryan Rust, Penguins – LW/RW: I’ve mentioned Rust before as a possible add candidate, but I feel justified in mentioning him again given that he’s still available in over half of Yahoo leagues. He’s just been a great contributor this season with 12 goals and 22 points despite being limited to 19 games. He’s also hot right now, scoring three goals and five points in his last three contests.

Jason Zucker, Wild – LW/RW: Zucker isn’t particularly hot right now with a goal and three points in his last five games, but he’s been a regular contributor throughout the season. His 12 goals and 24 points in 34 games aren’t amazing, but it’s solid and his eligibility on both wings is a great bit of flexibility. If you’re been battered by injuries or have an underperforming winger, Zucker is a pretty safe stopgap measure.

Robby Fabbri, Red Wings – LW/RW: Fabbri didn’t have a spot with the St. Louis Blues, but he certainly has one in Detroit. He’s averaged 17:07 minutes since being acquired by the Red Wings and he’s paid them back for the opportunity by scoring eight goals and 15 points in 18 contests. Fabbri is still owned in just 17% of Yahoo leagues, so he’s flown under the radar to an extent, but he’s had some decent value since the trade and should continue to be a significant contributor with Detroit.

Christian Dvorak, Coyotes – C/LW: Dvorak has been decent this season, but he’s dialed it up lately with two goals and nine points in his last 10 games. I don’t expect him to maintain that kind of pace, but he’s an asset while it lasts. Once he cools down though, I’d lean towards dropping him in favor of some other option.

Eric Staal, Wild – C: Staal had 22 goals and 52 points in 81 games in 2018-19, which was his worst showing since coming to Minnesota. This season is shaping up to be better though. He has 12 goals and 26 points in 34 contests. He only had an assist in his first seven games this season, but since then he’s been an excellent and relatively regular contributor. His center-only eligibility is a definitely knock against him, but he still has use in standard leagues.

Players You May Want To Drop

Adam Fox, Rangers – D: This is a bit of a tough one. He’s having a great rookie season with five goals and 16 points in 32 games, but that might not be quite enough reason to hold onto him if you’re in a standard league. A lot of that production comes from a great run that occurred from Oct. 29-Nov. 30, but more recently he’s been limited to two assists in seven games. Rookies can have more extreme hot-and-cold spells than veterans, so it’s a little riskier to hold onto one while they are cold. That said, even if you do decide to part ways with him for now, he’s definitely still worth keeping a close eye on.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman enjoyed a big hot streak from Nov. 13-28, scoring six goals and 10 points in eight contests. He hasn’t done much else this season though. In fact, if you take away that streak, then he’s left with three goals and six points in 24 games in 2019-20. He’s a decent secondary scorer and was certainly worth having during his hot streak, but there’s not much incentive to keep him now that he’s cooled down.

Jeff Skinner, Sabres – C/LW: Skinner has surpassed the 30-goal milestone four different times in his career, but never in back-to-back seasons. It’s looking more-and-more like that unfortunate trend will continue. Although he scored 40 goals last season, he’s been limited to 11 goals and 18 points in 34 contests this season. It gets worse if you look at what he’s brought to the table since mid-November. He’s scored just three goals and six points in his last 16 games. His shooting percentage is just 6% over that span, which is pretty low for him, so it seems reasonable to believe he’ll eventually bounce back, but not necessarily to the levels that some are hoping.

Kaapo Kahkonen, Wild – G: Kahkonen has spent most of the season in the minors, but he’s been with the Wild during Devan Dubnyk’s absence for personal reasons.  The Wild had a full schedule last week with four games, including three contests in four nights from Dec. 12-15, so Kahkonen has seen plenty of action lately. He saved 31 of 33 shots in an overtime loss on Dec. 10th, but then he allowed five goals on Dec. 12th and four markers on Dec. 15th. In other words, he’s been a mixed bag and even if he wasn’t, his stint with Minnesota would probably be coming to a close anyways. Dubnyk didn’t participate in Sunday’s game, but there’s a fair chance he’ll be back soon and once he is, Kahkonen return to the AHL.

Martin Jones, Sharks – G: This has been a pretty shaky season for the Sharks and Jones has certainly been impacted by that. He has a 3.30 GAA and .888 save percentage in 27 games, which would both be career lows if this continues. That said, I’m a little hesitant to recommend dropping or otherwise getting rid of him at this time. The Sharks shook up their coaching staff just two games ago and part of that change was bringing in former Sharks starter Evgeni Nabokov as the new goaltending coach. It’ll be interesting to see if those changes can help San Jose in general and Jones in particular turn things around. However, I do see this as something of a final opportunity as far as the 2018-19 campaign is concerned. If Jones hasn’t rebounded in the next few weeks then it would make sense to explore other options.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Stunning numbers on Flyers, Penguins, Coyotes, and more

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Here is what stood out to us through the first two months of the season. 

The Flyers’ best start since … Eric Lindros played?! This, to me, is literally stunning. The Philadelphia Flyers started December with 35 points, which is their highest point total at the start of the month since the 1995-96 season. That stat comes via NBC Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall. Not sure if this says more about the Flyers’ 2019-20 performance, or the Flyers’ performance between 1996 and 2019.

McDavid and Draisaitl’s dominance. It would not be a stunning numbers update if we did not look at the performance of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl out in Edmonton because everything about these two is completely stunning. They are both at the 50-point mark entering play on Tuesday and are No’s. 1 and 2 in the scoring race. No other players in the league have more than 43 points so far this season. The only other Oilers players in franchise history to hit 50 points through December 1 are Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. No other player on the current Oilers team has more than 19 points this season. These two are the offense.

The Penguins’ absurd injury run. With Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Nick Bjugstad all currently sidelined, the Penguins have more than $25 million in salary cap space sitting in the press box. That represents more than 30 percent of their total salary cap number. Since the start of the season the Penguins have lost 85 man games (and counting) to injuries to Crosby, Rust, Dumoulin, Schultz, Bjugstad, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Alex Galchenyuk, Patric Hornqvist, and Jared McCann. It is incredible they are still in a playoff position and played as well as they have.

Quick’s continued decline: The Kings were hoping that Jonathan Quick could bounce back from his brutal 2018-19 performance, but he has been just as bad this season. Since the start of last season he has managed only an .888 save percentage. Among goalies with at least 45 starts during that stretch, that is the worst mark in the league. San Jose’s Martin Jones is the only other goalie with sub-.900 save percentage.

Darcy Kuemper is Arizona’s MVP: In February, 2018, the Arizona Coyotes traded Tobias Rieder and Scott Wedgewood to the Los Angeles Kings for backup goalie Darcy Kuemper. It was a trade that probably snuck under your radar. It is also a trade that might get the 2019-20 Coyotes back in the playoffs. Since arriving in Arizona Kuemper has been one of the league’s most productive goalies, owning a .924 all situations save percentage. Of the 55 goalies that have logged at least 2,000 minutes of ice-time since then, that number places Kuemper sixth in the entire league. His goalie partner in Arizona, Antti Raanta, is fifth (Kuemper has played more nearly 5,000 minutes, while injuries have limited Raanta to just a little over 2,000 minutes). They are one of the best goalie duos in the league, right up there with Boston (Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak), Dallas (Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin), and New York (Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov).

Cale Makar is better than advertised. The Colorado Avalanche top forwards are incredible, and when the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog is healthy and together they are borderline unstoppable. But what is really exciting about the Avalanche and the biggest reason they have emerged as one of the rising NHL powers is the development of their young defense, specifically Cale Makar. He is averaging a point-per-game so far this season (26 points, 26 games) and is off to one of the best starts ever for a rookie defensemen. Since 1979-80 the only defender with more points through his team’s first 26 games was Larry Murphy, who had 29 points in 26 games for the 1980-81 Los Angeles Kings. Combined with Sam Girard and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram the Avalanche have a trio of young defenders that will shape their blue line for a decade or more.

Blues keep rolling. No Vladimir Tarasenko, no problem for the Blues. Since their top forward and most impactful player was sidelined with an injury, the Blues have managed to go on a 13-3-3 run. Leading the way for the Blues offense is David Perron, who is off to one of the best starts of his career with 28 points in 29 games, including five game-winning goals.

Red Wings’ struggles. The Detroit Red Wings have a minus-56 goal differential entering play on Tuesday. The next worst team (New Jersey Devils) is only at minus-31. That goal differential through 30 games is the 23rd worst in the history of the league and the worst since the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators.

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.

Sharks finally starting to turn things around

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With just four wins in their first 15 games it was easy to have some very valid concerns about the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks.

They not only still had what was probably the least productive goaltending duo in the league, but the team in front of those goalies looked to be a fraction of the one that had been a Stanley Cup contender in previous years. They were getting dominated territorially, their best players were not producing, and it seemed like a team that was inching its way toward a coaching change — or some other massive change — in an effort to shake things up. Especially since they already tried one roster move to try and turn things around by bringing back veteran forward Patrick Marleau long after it seemed like that was no longer going to be an option.

Things have rapidly started to change for the better in San Jose.

They enter Tuesday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers riding a six-game winning streak and are gaining ground on the teams around them in the Pacific Division.

[COVERAGE OF OILERS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

They will have an opportunity to keep gaining that ground over the next few weeks with five of their next seven games –including Tuesday’s — coming against Pacific Division foes.

What has changed for the Sharks over the current winning streak?

How about everything.

Well, almost everything.

As a team, the Sharks are finally starting to dictate the pace of play, carrying the possession, and out-chancing teams, all of which is massive shift from earlier in the season. That is also starting to turn into goals, which is turning into ones.

Their top forwards have gone on a tear offensively starting with Logan Couture who has 11 points during the current winning streak. Beyond him, Tomas Hertl is pacing the team with six goals while Timo Meier has nine points.

On defense, Erik Karlsson has started to play like a true impact player and the Norris Trophy contender he should be every year. He has played 25 minutes per night during the streak, is rolling along at a 55 percent Corsi, has six points, and the Sharks are outscoring teams 11-3 when he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play.

They are also winning the special teams battle, and especially on the penalty kill. Since Nov. 4 (the day before the winning streak started) the Sharks have successfully killed 18 out of 19 penalties. That is good enough for the second best success rate in the league during that stretch, behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins who have been a perfect 12-for-12.

The only big question that exists right now is still the goaltending.

Even with all of their improved play overall the Sharks have still allowed 17 goals in six games, while starting goalie Martin Jones — who has appeared in all six games — still somehow has a save percentage of .891 during the streak, one of the worst marks in the league. It is absolutely amazing the Sharks have been able to turn their season around while Jones still struggles that much, and it is very reminiscent of how the team had to win a year ago.

It still seems like it is going to be a long-term issue that needs to be corrected if this team is going to get back to a championship level.

For now, though, the team in front of him is doing enough to dominate and take goaltending out of the equation and start getting the Sharks back on track.

Randy Hahn, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Bret Hedican will call the Oilers-Sharks contest from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

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: Not time to fire Babcock; Who are elite goalies?

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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.
• It’s not time for the Leafs to fire Mike Babcock, but they should look at moving William Nylander. (Toronto Star)

• Who are the elite, good and replaceable goalies in the NHL? (Pension Plan Puppets)

• Teammates and rivals share their stories about Hall-of-Famer Hayley Wickenheiser. (Sportsnet)

• Canadiens rookies Nick Suzuki and Cale Fleury have improved every game. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Find out how the Washington Capitals have looked through 20 games. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• What’s wrong with Sergei Bobrovsky? (The Rat Trick)

• Jim Rutherford put the final touches on his Hall-of-Fame career by fixing the Penguins. (Pensburgh)

Robby Fabbri has given the Red Wings’ second line a spark. (MLive.com)

• The Golden Knights have had a different start to the season than they did one year ago. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• How much has Patrik Laine really improved this season? (Arctic Ice Hockey)

Martin Jones has been key during San Jose’s six-game winning streak. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Stars head coach Jim Montgomery was once traded for Guy Carbonneau. (Dallas Morning News)

Jason Zucker is struggling to find the back of the net. (Hockey Wilderness)

• Here are five players that are providing the least amount of value right now. (The Hockey News)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.