Martin Necas

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How Hamilton injury impacts Hurricanes’ trade deadline approach

Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell was able to shine some light on his team’s strategy approaching the trade deadline when he spoke with NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti this week. The most intriguing information to come out of the interview was Waddell’s optimism that standout defenseman Dougie Hamilton may not be done for the season and could be in line to return before the end of the regular season. That prognosis is far more optimistic than the recent one from head coach Rod Brind’Amour a couple of weeks ago when he said that the team was expecting that Hamilton would be done for the year.

Hamilton, one of the mid-season contenders for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best all-around defenseman, has been sidelined since the middle of January after breaking his fibula.

Waddell’s hope that Hamilton could return has made him reluctant to put the defenseman on the long-term injured list, which could create some additional salary cap space to work with at the trade deadline.

Said Waddell, via NHL.com:

“The only thing that I’m cautious about is with Dougie they say 8-12 weeks,” Waddell said Friday. “If he’s 10 weeks, that’s the last week of March. If he was ready to go that last week of the season, the last week of the season, starting on March 28, we have five games. Those might be the most important five games of the year. So if he was ready to come back, you’d want to try to keep space to bring him back.”

Waddell also said the Hurricanes can currently add a contract of more than $5 million before the deadline without having to go into LTIR.

At this point the Hurricanes have played just three games without Hamilton (going 2-0-1, earning five of a possible six points) but they still have a lot of work ahead of them without his services. The Hurricanes are clinging to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as of Friday and now have to start a significant stretch of the season without one of their best, most impactful players in Hamilton.

Waddell told NHL.com that he was already in the market for a defenseman prior to Hamilton’s injury, but that the Hamilton’s absence has probably changed the type of player they are looking for. Instead of looking for a more defensive-minded player, Waddell said they are more open-minded on that.

Hamilton is a massive part of the Hurricanes’ defense, and while the unit is still strong overall even without him, there isn’t another player on the blue line that can provide the offensive impact that he does. Jaccob Slavin is the only other defenseman on the roster that currently has more than 16 points this season (he has 23) and no one has his ability with the puck.

There’s also limited options on the trade market that could be available to replace even a fraction of that.

New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen could be intriguing as a rental.

He is not Hamilton, but he might be the most productive blue line rental on the market.

The forward situation

While Waddell tries to figure out how to navigate the blue line situation, the Hurricanes look to be pretty set at forward where they have already made their big in-season addition — the return of veteran forward Justin Williams.

Getting Williams back is a huge bonus for the stretch run because it basically sees them add a top-six forward — one that can still produce offensively while also play a great two-way game — without having to give up anything off of their roster.

The Hurricanes’ forward situation is interesting because that unit of the team doesn’t get a ton of attention for how good it is.

For years the focus from outside has been on the overall strength of their defense (it is a young, talented group with great depth) or the constant question marks that have followed them around in net.

But the trio of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen has become an outstanding foundation to build on long-term, while rookie Martin Necas looks to be on the verge of joining them as an impact core player.

The addition of Ryan Dzingel and return of Williams only strengthens that group.

Something that else that could strengthen them: A second-half bounce-back from Nino Niederreiter.

He was their big in-season addition before the trade deadline a year ago and was outstanding during the stretch run. But he has struggled through a brutal first half this season with only six goals in his first 50 games. He is looking like he could be a healthy scratch for Friday’s game against Vegas.

If he can return to the form he has shown throughout his career — and especially his post-trade performance from a year ago — that might be more important than any outside addition they could possibly make.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Top rookie performances so far

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we keep it on an individual player level and dig into the 10 best rookie performances so far this season.

It has been an interesting rookie class because two of the most anticipated rookies — top-two picks Jack Hughes and Kappo Kaako) have gone through some early growing pains and have not really played their way into the Calder Trophy discussion. That is nothing to be concerned about, either. Not every 18-year-old is going to jump right into the league and make an immediate impact. Sometimes it takes a year. Sometimes it takes two. They both still have great futures ahead of them and should be stars (maybe even superstars?) in the NHL.

It has, however, been a great first half for rookie defensemen (four in the top-ten) and a couple of rookie goalies.

Which rookies have stood out the most so far this season?

To the rankings!

1. Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. Makar entered the season as one of the Calder Trophy favorites, and he has not only met the high expectations placed upon him, he has probably exceeded them. He is already the best defenseman on one of the NHL’s best and most exciting teams. An exceptional skater, great passer, and a lightning fast release that just looks effortless and unstoppable. He is a one-man highlight reel almost every night.

(See it here, too)

2. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. When the 2019-20 season began it was expected that a Hughes would be at the top of the rookie class. And there is. It’s just probably not the one (Jack, the No. 1 overall pick this year) that most thought would be this high on the list. For the third year in a row the Canucks have one of the league’s top-two rookies as Hughes joins their promising core alongside Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.

3. Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres. One of the few bright spots in yet another massively disappointing season for the Sabres. At 24 he is a little older than your average rookie, but he has been a great fit next to Jack Eichel on the Sabres’ top line when he’s been healthy. As of Monday he still leads all rookies in scoring even though he has not played in close to a month due to injury.

4. John Marino, Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins acquired Marino from the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional sixth-round draft pick in a trade that few people noticed when it was announced. All Marino has done this season is help transform the Penguins’ defense into one of the league’s best. He is already a 20-minute per night player, helps drive possession, has great defensive metrics, and has helped bring back mobility and puck skills to the Penguins’ blue line.

5. Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks. Stan Bowman has made some questionable trades and decisions over the past few years, but this is one that he knocked out of the park. The Blackhawks acquired Kubalik from the Los Angeles Kings for a fifth-round draft pick almost exactly one year ago. He was always considered a talented prospect with offensive upside (something the Kings could use!), but he hadn’t shown a willingness to actually sign with the Kings. So they traded him. The Blackhawks were the team that pounced and added some desperately needed scoring depth. He has 21 goals on the season, with 10 of them coming over the past two weeks. Recency bias plays a role here, but he has made a huge jump in the Calder Trophy discussion from where he was even a few weeks ago when he probably was not even on the radar.

6. Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals. The Capitals’ goalie of the future should probably be getting even more playing time in the present. In his 19 appearances this season he owns a 15-2-1 record with a .927 save percentage and is currently on a run where he has won 10 consecutive decisions. He has not lost a start since Nov. 15 against the Montreal Canadiens. His play is probably making it easier to say goodbye to long-time starter (and long-time top-shelf goalie) Braden Holtby this summer in free agency.

7. Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets. Like Kubalik, he is another rookie that has picked up his play very recently. When Blue Jackets starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo went down with an injury, Merzlikins had yet to win a game in the NHL and had a sub-.900 save percentage. It would have been easy to write off the Blue Jackets’ playoff chances at that point. Instead, Merzlikins has helped carry the team into the first Wild Card spot (as of Monday) in the Eastern Conference thanks to an 8-2-0 record, three shutouts,

8. Adam Fox, New York Rangers. Not going to lie, I kind of hate putting him this low because I feel like it underrates the season he has had. He has been really good. But, I also think the top-four here are clearly the head of the rookie class. It is also hard to ignore how downright dominant Kubalik and Merzlikins have been recently and the role they have played for their teams. Fox was one of two key additions to the Rangers’ blue line over the summer alongside Jacob Trouba. Trouba has the big name and the massive contract, but there is no denying which player has been the better addition for the Rangers — it is Fox.

9. Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes. Necas is very quietly putting together a strong rookie season. He is the fifth-leading scorer on the team and his current scoring pace would put him on track for nearly 20 goals and 50 points with strong possession numbers. Not quite enough to be a Calder Trophy favorite, but that is still a heck of a season for a 21-year-old in his first full NHL season.

10. Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens. Suzuki was the key long-term player for the Canadiens in the Max Pacioretty trade, and they are getting their first taste of what he is capable of this season. He is still a bit of a work in progress, but he has improved dramatically over the past couple of months and is currently the fifth-leading scorer among all rookies. Pacioretty is having a career year for the Golden Knights, but Tomas Tatar (the other key player in that trade) having a great year of his own, and Suzuki showing a ton of potential, it is one that — so far — has worked out well for both teams.

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.

What Hurricanes should expect from Justin Williams

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Now that Justin Williams is officially back with the Carolina Hurricanes the waiting game is on for when he makes his season debut. Coach Rod Brind’Amour isn’t putting a timeline on it and just wants to make sure the 38-year-old winger is up to speed.

Once that happens he has the potential to be a significant addition and make an already talented, deep Hurricanes roster even better.

Let’s take a look at what they can — and should — expect from him once he makes his debut.

Even at 38 Williams has not slowed down

If there is a concern with Williams at this point it has to be the fact that he is going to be one of the oldest players in the league, having just turned 38 back in October. There are only four other players in the league age 38 or older this season (Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Ron Hainsey).

The thing that should give the Hurricanes a lot of optimism about Williams’ ability to produce is the fact his game never really showed any sign of slowing down in recent seasons. Everything about his level of production has remained remarkably consistent.

Durability? He has that, having missed just three regular season games since the start of the 2011-12 season, and none during his two most recent seasons in Carolina.

Production? Still very much there. He has yet to shown any sign of dropping off, averaging 20 goals and 50 points with fairly strong shot rates in each of the past four seasons.

While it is inevitable that every player will slow down as they get deeper into their 30s, there are some decent comparable players to Williams that suggest he could still have another year of similar production.

Dating back to the start of the 2000-01 season, Williams is one of five forwards that averaged between 0.60 and 0.70 points per game between the ages of 34-37 (minimum 300 games during that stretch).

The others: Patrick Marleau, Andrew Brunnette, Luc Robitaille, and Keith Tkachuk. Marleau and Brunnette came back in their age 38 seasons and maintained a very similar level of production. Robitaille missed his age 38 season due to the 2004 lockout, and came back at 39 and scored 15 goals in 65 games. Tkachuk retired.

Great value beyond just offense

What makes Williams such a big addition is that his game is far more than just offense. It always has been. Williams is an ice-tilter. When he is on the ice you know the puck is going to be at a certain end of the ice and that his team is going to be in control.

He has consistently been one of the best possession players in the league, and even the past two years in Carolina had some of the best defensive metrics not only among Hurricanes forwards, but also the entire league.

There were 350 forwards that played at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey the past two full seasons. Williams ranked among the top-20 in shot attempt share, scoring chance share, and expected goals share (via Natural Stat Trick). Defense doesn’t slump, and the type of high hockey IQ that Williams has had throughout his career doesn’t go away. So even if his finishing ability and offensive production slides a little, he is still going to be able to provide a lot of value.

The Hurricanes get even deeper 

When the Hurricanes’ roster gets discussed a lot of the focus tends to fall on their blue line, and for good reason. They are loaded on defense with young, impact players that are some of the best in the league. But their forwards are nothing to sleep on, either.

That group is also better than it was a year ago, even before the addition of Williams.

Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are bonafide top-line stars. Andrei Svechnikov is turning into a superstar. They added strong depth players like Ryan Dzingel and Erik Haula (an outstanding player when healthy) over the summer. Martin Necas is blossoming into good, young NHL player. They have good options on every line, and that doesn’t even include Nino Neiderreiter who can still be better than he has shown.

Now they just added a top-six caliber winger without giving up anything in return.

With Williams having a half season to rest and coming in fresh with no wear and tear, combined with his all-around play, he could be one of the most significant additions an Eastern Conference team makes before the trade deadline.

Related: Hurricanes sign Williams to 1-year contract

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: Blues, Maple Leafs, others roar into holiday break

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Three Stars

1. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs

Pity any hockey fan, but especially Leafs and Hurricanes fans, if they didn’t know it was an afternoon game. The two teams put on an epic show, with Toronto rally to win a game with 13 combined goals. This serves as the latest bit of evidence that the Maple Leafs are soaring under Sheldon Keefe.

Marner exploded for two goals and five assists, extending his point streak to eight games (six goals, 11 assists). The gifted playmaker improved his season total to 35 points in 27 contests. In generating five points, Marner matched his career-high for a single game.

Consider this a blanket top star for the most prolific point producers of that game. Martin Necas demands a mention, as the Hurricanes younger scored two goals and two assists. John Tavares (1G, 2A) and Zach Hyman (3A) both cracked three points. Auston Matthews authored the best play of the night with his assist, and also scored a goal. Check the highlights for more on this game, and also this.

2. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning

Point helped the Lightning bombard the Panthers 6-1 on Monday. The undersized star generated one goal and three assist for four points, managing a +3 rating and two shots on goal.

Even with that outburst, Point falls a bit short of a point-per-game (30 in 32). Climbing that mountain could be quite feasible if he stays as hot as he’s been. During the last six games, Point scored four goals and five assists, failing to score in just a single contest.

3. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

On a jam-packed Monday, Anderson faced plenty of competition to reach Buzzer three-star status. Producing one of the highlights of the night counts as a nice tiebreaker, however.

Overall, Anderson finished with 43 out of 44 saves. While the 38-year-old endures more valleys than peaks lately, Anderson has won three of his last four decisions. He’s also taken four of five games.

If this continues, the Senators might need to trade Anderson to maintain an efficient tank-job.

Highlights of the Night

Matthews managing an outrageous spinning assist is the singular highlight, but enjoy the full deal because it’s a delight:

Anderson gives Matthews a run for his money by pulling a Dominik Hasek, though:

Factoids

Scores

TOR 8 – CAR 6
MIN 3 – CGY 0
BOS 7 – WSH 3
TBL 6 – FLA 1
CBJ 3 – NYI 2
PHI 5 – NYR 1
OTT 3 – BUF 1
NSH 3 – ARI 2
MTL 6 – WPG 2
NJD 7 – CHI 1
STL 4 – LAK 1
VAN 4 – EDM 2
COL 7 – VGK 3

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: Malkin a comeback; Bernier’s bad day

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Three Stars

1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

If you really wanted to, you could really pile up Penguins (and to some extent, Canucks, what with Quinn Hughes generating three assists) in the top three. Jake Guentzel managed two goals and two assists, while Bryan Rust had a four-point night (1G, 3A).

But Malkin led the way with a five-point night on the strength of two goals and three assists. The fact that one of his tallies was an empty-netter feels trivial.

This Penguins team has been running on defense more than expected, yet nights like these remind you that this team is a chameleon that seems to find ways to win, whether that means adapting styles or dealing with injuries.

Read more about the Penguins’ wild win against the Canucks in this post.

2. Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings

OK, look … you can swap Bernier out for someone from the team that won Wednesday’s game 6-0. Choose a Maple Leafs player such as Andreas Johnsson (2G, 1A) or Frederik Andersen (25-save shutout).

To me, though, Bernier deserves recognition for even appearing in the game.

Bernier had been dealing with flu-like symptoms, so he apparently didn’t even dress for Wednesday’s contest. Yet, with Jimmy Howard getting hurt as the Maple Leafs scored a 3-0 goal against the Red Wings, Bernier was pressed into action.

Toronto fired 26 shots on goal during the second period alone, forcing Bernier to make 37 out of 40 saves to keep the game at least in the same zip code. While some might give Bernier demerits for spoiling the coveted emergency goalie experience, he deserves credit for working this hard while sick and that close to a holiday.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

If hockey was pro wrestling – and sometimes it feels like it almost is, considering the overlap in fans – then Lundqvist might have demanded a “You still got it” chant on Wednesday.

Lundqvist made 41 saves in helping the Rangers steal one against the Hurricanes, with this stop against Martin Necas ranking as a candidate for highlight of the night:

Other highlights of the night

Speaking of still having it, Alex Ovechkin produced a beauty here, and kudos to Evgeny Kuznetsov for a well-timed and well-placed drop pass:

Max Pacioretty tied things up for the Golden Knights and Predators with .3 remaining in regulation, and Vegas ended up beating the Predators in OT. Ouch. If you want to frame-by-frame it, the video shows when the puck hits the net somewhere between the .4 and .3 mark at around the minute mark of the clip.

Factoids

  • Paul Stastny reached the 700-point milestone during the Golden Knights’ comeback win against Nashville. NHL PR notes that Paul and Peter Stastny became the third father-son combo to reach 700+ points apiece, joining Gordie and Mark Howe and Brett and Bobby Hull.
  • Sheldon Keefe is the first Maple Leafs coach to win the first three games of his NHL coaching career, according to NHL PR.
  • Phil Kessel joins a rare group of seven NHL players to play 800+ games in a row, via NHL PR.
  • Sportsnet points out that Patrik Laine already has at least one goal against every Western Conference opponent.
  • Another from Sportsnet: Matthew Tkachuk‘s 23 third-period goals since 2018-19 leads all NHL players.

Scores

CGY 3 – BUF 2 (OT)
BOS 2 – OTT 1
TOR 6 – DET 0
STL 4 – TBL 3
NYR 3 – CAR 2
PIT 8 – VAN 6
WSH 4 – FLA 3
PHI 3 – CBJ 2
VGK 4 – NSH 3 (OT)
ARI 4 – ANA 3 (SO)
COL 4 – EDM 1
LAK 4 – NYI 1
WPG 5 – SJS 1

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.