Martin Jones

NHL Power Rankings: Fun ways the free agent frenzy could go

2 Comments

With at least some of the NHL future getting less muddy, it sure looks like the next “Free Agent Frenzy” will take place on or around Nov. 1. Unfortunately, an expected flat $81.5M salary cap could make the NHL “Free Agent Frenzy” more of a flurry.

But managing a flat salary cap — likely by shedding players they didn’t want to expel — is a job for overwhelmed GMs, particularly of big-market teams. For the rest of us, we can fill some time by daydreaming about different NHL free agent scenarios. (Some more realistic than others.)

Back in April, Adam Gretz ranked the top 20 (possible) NHL Free Agents. Being that Sean Leahy recently looked at the best destinations for assumed top 2020 NHL Draft pick Alexis Lafreniere, how about we combine those ideas?

In other words, what are the best destinations for some of the NHL’s top free agents? Actually, scratch that. Let’s go with the most fun NHL free agent situations. They occasionally might even make sense!

1. Avalanche go on one-year NHL Free Agent Frenzy with Alex Pietrangelo and Taylor Hall

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

NHL fans have watched too many “super teams” form in the NBA. In some of those cases, said NBA stars flexed their leverage by agreeing to shorter deals. LeBron James left Cleveland after getting a hometown ring. Kawhi Leonard can eat apples elsewhere if the whole Clippers thing doesn’t work out.

In the case of this hypothetical scenario with the Avalanche, it would be more of an “everybody wins” scenario — except maybe Colorado’s competition. Consider these factors:

  • Pietrangelo would just block promising young defensemen like Bowen Byram working into the mix with Cale Makar if Pietrangelo signed a long-term deal. But if it was short? He buys Colorado time and can maybe hand down some life lessons to those kiddos.
  • Taylor Hall has suffered enough. Let’s get him on a good team, which Colorado … at least has a good chance of being for the foreseeable future. Right? Possibly?
  • Let’s be honest, with all of the financial turmoil going on, Pietrangelo and Hall might not enjoy much of a market. Truly, Pietrangelo might be better off taking a one-year deal to stay in St. Louis. But that’s not as fun (unless you’re a Blues fan).
  • The Avalanche figure to have a lot of money to burn, but I’m not sure that it would be wise to risk Hall and Pietrangelo hitting the aging curve. This scenario basically buys everyone some time for longer-term solutions, while taking a big swing at a 2020-21 Stanley Cup.

Now, some will point to that time the Avalanche brought in Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, and that was kind of a disaster.

To which I retort: we’d get to talk about that time the Avalanche brought in Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. Was it as much of a disaster as we thought? (Sounds like quality content either way.)

2. Buffy to Buffalo

Just imagine the bad puns and headlines that could come from Dustin Byfuglien reviving his career with the Buffalo Sabres.

As much as anything else, the Sabres and their fans need some joy. Adding a much-needed defenseman who’s as flat-out as unusual as Byfuglien would be pretty fun, if you ask me.

Could it be another disaster? Sure, but in that scenario, at least cruel people would have fun? I think it’s worth the risk. (<— Person not signing any of these checks.)

3. Hurricanes and Robin Lehner, an NHL Free Agency story of “Finally”

Despite putting up fantastic numbers for two seasons, Robin Lehner can’t seem to get the sort of stability he wants. Despite putting together deep and talented teams, the Hurricanes are always a few netminding meltdowns from throwing all of that shrewd team-building away.

Frankly, I was a little surprised the Hurricanes shrugged their shoulders at Lehner last summer. Sure, they’re analytics-leaning with Eric Tulsky calling a lot of shots (although I wonder if Don Waddell “went camping” by acquiring Brady Skjei and his not-particularly-fancy-stats?). But Lehner seemed like a buy-low candidate, particularly in signing a low-risk, one-year deal with the Blackhawks during the 2020 offseason.

Maybe it’s finally time for Carolina to take the plunge?

OK, so the smarter move might be to continue going shorter term. Perhaps Corey Crawford would take a shorter deal than what Lehner is clearly seeking. Jacob Markstrom might be the craftier addition, if the Canucks let him walk.

Lehner and the Hurricanes would rank as the more interesting story, though.

4. Can Braden Holtby halt the sinking of the Sharks?

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

Speaking of interesting narratives that might not be as wise as they look on paper, Holtby to the Sharks would be fascinating.

Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have been disastrous for the Sharks lately. Of course, there’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument, though, as the Sharks defense often hangs its goalies out to dry.

In Holtby, you have a Stanley Cup winner whose overall body of work is highly impressive. For a Sharks team tormented by playoff letdowns, Holtby’s postseason resume shines especially bright (Stanley Cup win, .928 save percentage over 89 career playoff games).

Yet, on the other hand, things have been bumpy for Holtby for some time. His game had already been slipping, but it really dipped badly in 2019-20 with a disturbing .897 save percentage. Holtby probably will demand a hefty contract thanks to his prior work, too.

So … there are a lot of red flags here. That said, the Sharks are pretty desperate. At minimum, it would be interesting to see if that gamble would pay off for San Jose.

Assorted fun NHL free agent scenarios of varying realism

  • As interesting as it would be for Joe Thornton to ship back up to Boston, I keep going back to Thornton with the Winnipeg Jets for some reason. The Jets would actually be a sensible landing spot for someone like Torey Krug, but Thornton chasing a Stanley Cup with the Jets just feels right.
  • The Maple Leafs are going to experience an agonizing cap squeeze. If Kevin Shattenkirk took another one-year, low-dollar deal, maybe Toronto would come calling? He’s the sort of double-edged sword defenseman who could help the Maple Leafs more than hurt them. But oh, how that hockey-crazed media and fan base will overreact to those mistakes …
  • The Blackhawks seem pretty deep in a “just try to outscore their problems” phase. Is there a better defenseman for that pursuit than Tyson Barrie? I mean, probably, but that could make for a white-knuckle ride.
  • Let’s get Evgenii Dadonov to a California team. With any luck, Dad would attend a Padres game.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

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.

What is the Sharks’ 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 San Jose Sharks.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The San Jose Sharks had a strong core for years that helped lead to consistent playoff appearances over the last decade. But general manager Doug Wilson is looking for the next crop of players to usher in a new era of hockey in San Jose. Joe Thornton and Brent Burns are still around but the organization is relying on Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Erik Karlsson and others to lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.

The Sharks stumbled this season through the first 70 games and currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. San Jose will not even be rewarded with a top draft pick due to the trade with the Ottawa Senators for Karlsson in September of 2018.

Thornton entertained the idea of waiving his no-movement clause at the NHL Trade Deadline if a true contender wanted to acquire the savvy centerman. There was a lack of interest but if Thornton is interested in chasing the Stanley Cup next season, there is a strong chance he will not be back in the Bay Area.

Despite the horrific season in San Jose, there is still plenty of talent on the roster. Timo Meier led the team in points with 49, Evander Kane was closing in on a 30-goal season and Karlsson still had 34 assists in only 56 games. In addition, Couture and Hertl missed time with injuries and should provide further offensive firepower.

Long-Term Needs

The most glaring weakness for the Sharks has been their play between the pipes. Martin Jones had a sub .900 save percentage and a 3.00 goals against average. The 30-year-old goaltender still has four additional years remaining on his contract and will be a difficult asset to move via trade.

San Jose also has significant cap space tied up in several long-term contracts and has to solve problems from within. Between Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Karlsson, the Sharks have more than $26 million committed through 2024-25.

Looking at the forward group, Couture, Kane, Meier, Hertl all have lengthy contracts and Kevin Labanc will need a new deal after taking an extraordinarily team-friendly agreement last summer. Similar to every NHL team, Wilson and his staff need to find the right pieces at a bargain price to fill out the roster.

Long-Term Strengths

The Sharks have taken great pride in building a culture that allows players to thrive. Thornton was a key figure in building the foundation, but he has passed on the characteristics of a strong locker room to his teammates.

Trade acquisitions are able to seamlessly fit in both on and off the ice while young players looking to earn their stripes at the professional level feel comfortable right from the beginning.

While Thornton could switch uniforms in the upcoming offseason, it will be up to Couture, Burns and others to make sure that culture isn’t lost.

The Sharks struggled mightily with the departure of Joe Pavelski this past summer but are too skilled to have a second straight dreadful season. If their play in net can improve, and key players can remain healthy, the Sharks could bounce back next season.

MORE ON THE SHARKS
• Looking at the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks
• Sharks biggest surprises and disappointments so far


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.

San Jose Sharks: Biggest surprises, disappointments

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 surprises and disappointments for the San Jose Sharks.

Father Time, defense, and other disappointments for Sharks skaters

Upon hearing about Erik Karlsson‘s new contract with the Sharks last summer, many of us cringed at how an aging San Jose roster might look in the future.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, Father Time showed up uncomfortably early. The thing is, while Karlsson didn’t really look like an $11.5 million defenseman in 2019-20, he wasn’t the biggest problem. If I were running the Sharks, I’d be especially worried about Brent Burns and Marc Edouard-Vlasic.

Karlsson sits atop the Sharks’ xGAR chart at Evolving Hockey, along with expected standouts like Timo Meier. It’s not all pretty for the Sharks, though, particularly among expensive defensemen:

Sharks XGAR disappointments
via Evolving Hockey

The possession stats looked shaky, and so did the counting numbers.

After leading the Sharks (by nine points) with 83 points in 2018-19, Burns managed 45 points in 70 games this season. Rolling with Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts, you wonder how much Burns and Vlasic counted as “net positives” this season:

Burns Vlasic RAPM Sharks disappointments
via Evolving Hockey

When it comes to Burns, it’s OK to take some bad with the good. The key is just to make sure he can generate more offense. The Sharks must hope that this isn’t just the sign of a star on the decline at age 35. No, Burns might not be able to be a beast like in 2016-17, but this season presents at least some argument for a “mulligan.”

One way or another, the Sharks need to find a better balance, even if that means accepting mistakes in hopes of creating bunches of chances. Even amid injuries and the COVID-19 pause, it’s tough to stomach no one reaching 50 points (Timo Meier topped all Sharks with 49).

Disappointments meant a lot of pucks in the wrong net for the Sharks

Look, we can argue about the Sharks’ goals against disappointments until we’re blue in the face. Some will defend Peter DeBoer’s system, thus accusing Martin Jones and Aaron Dell of being humanoid Swiss Cheese. Others may point to issues on defense that doomed their goalies. Such arguments may or may not revolve around the flaws of Karlsson and Burns as aggressive scorers from the backend.

Whatever your hypothesis might be, the bottom line is that the Sharks couldn’t patch up those holes.

San Jose declined in goals allowed per game, going from 11th-worst in the NHL in 2018-19 (3.15) to fifth-worst in 2019-20 (3.21). The biggest difference was that they scored almost a goal fewer per game (2.57) than they did in 2018-19 (3.52).

It’s limiting to score a lot of goals while allowing almost as many, but you can win — ugly — that way. If the Sharks tried to play more conservatively this season, that backfired with worse goals allowed and drastically worse goals-for numbers.

There are a lot of questions that swirl around these issues. One of the most painful is: did Doug Wilson do enough to address these issues? Perhaps there were a lack of options, yet with a bunch of seasoned coaches and impressive goalies likely available, will Wilson make the right moves next time around?

An unexpected surprise for the Sharks

For whatever reason, the otherwise-dreadful Sharks sported one of the season’s best penalty kill units.

The Sharks killed 85.7 percent of their penalties in 2019-20, the best mark in the NHL. Interestingly, being penalized frequently (seventh-most times shorthanded at 224) only soured things a tiny bit when you look at volume. Despite the increased workload, the Sharks allowed only 32 power-play goals (Columbus and Edmonton tied for least allowed at 31).

San Jose even scored seven shorthanded goals, so penalty kills were merely a “net” negative of 25 goals this season.

Unfortunately, an unexpectedly modest power play negated many of those strengths.

It zeroes in on a larger point: the Sharks ultimately failed at even-strength this season, and they ultimately don’t even get to enjoy the lottery pick stemming from their massive disappointments.

Hey, at least that PK was killer, though. *awkward laugh*

MORE ON THE SHARKS:

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 San Jose Sharks.

2019-20 San Jose Sharks

Record: 29-36-5 (63 points in 70 games), last place in West, third-worst in the NHL.
Leading Scorer: Timo Meier – 49 points (22 goals and 27 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview:

Despite losing Joe Pavelski to free agency, the Sharks entered 2019-20 with Stanley Cup aspirations. Instead, well … woof.

The season began on a rough note, with the Sharks starting off 0-4-0 and 4-10-1. Simply put, they never really found their footing this season. In hindsight, just about every flash of brilliance turned into a mirage.

Now, there were some warning signs from 2018-19.

During that season, the Sharks spackled over serious defensive and goaltending issues by scoring tons of goals and generally outscoring their problems. When the Sharks signed Erik Karlsson to a new deal, many expected the bill to come for San Jose at some point. Few anticipated that things would go sideways so fast, though.

Blame it on leaky defense or shabby goaltending from Martin Jones and Aaron Dell (or most likely, both), but the Sharks continued to allow too many goals in 2019-20. Unfortunately, their offense couldn’t make up the difference any longer.

This failed season cost Peter DeBoer his job, landing him with rival Vegas. It’s unclear what happens next with Boughner or another coach. (For all the Sharks indicated about keeping Boughner, it’s not as though he solved all/many of their problems.)

Ultimately, the Sharks must hope that this season was an aberration. If not, they’ll be haunted by recent decisions, starting with when they try to look away from the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery.

Highlight of the season

You could try to lean on the Sharks receiving a pretty nice bucket of assets for Goodrow, Marleau, and Dillon. Yet, even then, it remains perplexing that they couldn’t find a destination for Joe Thornton. After all, Thornton made it clear he wanted another shot at a Stanley Cup.

(It’s possible the Sharks didn’t cost him a shot in the scenario where the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs don’t happen … but they could have gotten something for Thornton if they made a trade, anyway.)

So let’s think of a time when the Sharks’ script read a bit more storybook than disaster movie.

Patrick Marleau made a triumphant return to the Sharks, scoring two goals. He helped San Jose get its first win of the season in a feel-great story:

All things considered, Marleau performed pretty well in his return. That moment didn’t end up turning the Sharks’ season around, though, and it’s telling that they didn’t provide many other highlights to choose from.

MORE ON THE SHARKS
Examining the Sharks long-term outlook
• Sharks biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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.

The Buzzer: Fiala stays hot; Rust’s hat trick gets Pens back on track

Kevin Fiala #22 of the Minnesota Wild celebrates after scoring a goal
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins

His third NHL hat trick helped the Penguins end a six-game slide as they defeated the Ottawa Senators, 7-3. Rust broke a 1-1 tie late in the opening period with a perfectly placed wrist shot from the high slot. He netted his second at 13:29 of the third when he buried a loose puck in front after crashing the net. No. 17 would complete his hat trick late in the third after forcing a turnover near the blue line then firing a wrist shot between the goaltenders’ pads. Evgeni Malkin had four assists and Sidney Crosby recorded his 800th career helper as the Penguins restored order in Pittsburgh with an important victory.

2) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

When you think of elite goal scorers, Connor does not immediately jump to the top of the list for many. However, the 23-year old is tied for sixth in the NHL scoring race and is closing in on his first career 40-goal season. Connor scored twice and added an assist in the Jets’ 3-1 win against the Sabres at Bell MTS Place. He has scored in four consecutive games and registered his sixth multi-goal game of the season as the Jets picked up their second win in the previous two games. Connor netted his first of the evening when he buried a perfect feed from Blake Wheeler at 13:59 of the first period. He notched his second of the game in the middle frame when he quickly pounced on a loose puck in front and buried the rebound.

The Jets remain in a heated wild-card race in the Western Conference, but Connor’s consistent offensive production should help Winnipeg reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

3) Kevin Fiala, Minnesota Wild

Fiala scored in his fifth straight game to lead the Wild to a crucial 3-1 victory against the Nashville Predators. The Swiss forward has five goals and six assists in the previous five games. Minnesota is only one point from both Western Conference Wild Card spots and has played two less games than the Jets who occupy the position currently. Fiala’s 23 points since February 4 are second most in the NHL, trailing the scorching-hot Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers.

Highlights of the Night

Jake DeBrusk won a foot race and converted a breakaway to break a 10-game scoring drought as the Bruins topped the Lightning, 2-1.

Mitch Marner put the puck between his legs then slid a backhanded shot past Martin Jones to even the score at 2-2.

Fiala maneuvered around Ryan Ellis with a patient toe drag and then evened the score at 1-1 with a nifty wrist shot.

Charles Hudon’s wicked wrist shot helped the Montreal Canadiens cruise past the New York Islanders, 6-2.

Patrick Kane helped Dylan Strome notch his second goal with a perfect cross-ice pass in the Blackhawks’ 6-2 win.

Craig Smith snagged a puck with his glove then rifled a bouncing puck into the back of the net.

Push for the Playoffs

Stats of the Night

Injury news

Scores

Montreal Canadiens 6, New York Islanders 2
St. Louis Blues 3, New York Rangers 1
Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Ottawa Senators 3
Boston Bruins 2, Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Minnesota Wild 3, Nashville Predators 1
Winnipeg Jets 3, Buffalo Sabres 1
Chicago Blackhawks 6, Anaheim Ducks 2
Edmonton Oilers 2, Dallas Stars 1 (OT)
Vegas Golden Knights 3, New Jersey Devils 0
San Jose Sharks 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2


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.