Mathieu Joseph

Red Wings rebuild won’t be easy, but Yzerman is right GM choice

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Detroit Red Wings fans are right to rejoice. While the move’s been telegraphed for a while, this is indeed a good Friday for the Red Wings, as Steve Yzerman was officially named as their next GM.

Whether it was convincing Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman to sign team-friendly deals, or identifying the league’s general prejudice against smaller players to unearth draft day bargains, Yzerman* did such a great job with the Tampa Bay Lightning, that I’ve called him a magician and/or wizard on multiple occasions.

Even if you’re a vociferous defender of Ken Holland’s latter, sometimes-rebuild-resistant years, chances are, you’re probably very excited about Yzerman’s hiring. The team announced official titles for both Yzerman and Holland, if you like your updates especially granular.

So, to me and plenty others – not just Red Wings fans – this is a shrewd hire.

Still, if there’s one talking point that stands out as especially valid, it’s this: when Yzerman took over the Lightning, he already had an elite center in Steven Stamkos, and a future Norris-winning defenseman in Victor Hedman.

All due respect to Dylan Larkin (who had a strong season, and is only 22) and some other nice players, but the Red Wings don’t have foundational players at quite that superstar level. They do, however, have a pretty interesting setup. If Yzerman is as bright as he seemed to be in Tampa Bay, the Red Wings could really turn things around. All they need is some luck and patience.

Let’s get an idea of the path ahead for Yzerman.

On a Larkin

Look, there’s no shame in Larkin not being quite what Stamkos was in 2010, when Stevie Y took over in Tampa Bay. It’s easy to forget just how potent Stamkos was (the NHL’s most goals [156] and second-most points [283] from 2009-10 to 2010-11), possibly because a few catastrophic injuries briefly derailed his career.

Larkin is fantastic, and stands as the sort of contract you’d build around: a 22-year-old star with a bargain $6.1 million cap hit running through 2022-23.

Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi showed great chemistry with Larkin late in the season, with Mantha in particular boasting the sort of pedigree that points to continued success. One of Yzerman’s early challenges will be to strike affordable deals with Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou, three useful forwards whose contracts expire after 2019-20. Would the best deals come in earlier extensions, or would the Red Wings be wiser to wait? It’s up to Yzerman & Co. to decide, and getting good deals could be key if they want to build a winning core.

Early fruits of rebuild

While I’d argue that Holland dragged his feet multiple times when it came to the rebuilding process, the good news is that when Holland did act, he landed some nice building blocks. In trading away Gustav Nyquist, Nick Jensen, and especially Tomas Tatar, the Red Wings have really loaded up on draft picks, most of which land in the top three rounds.

The development processes are already underway for a few interesting prospects, particularly 2018 first-rounders Filip Zadina (sixth overall) and Joe Veleno (30th). The Red Wings once again pick sixth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, so it’s up to Yzerman to land another blue-chipper, even if Detroit doesn’t get the luxury of a more obvious choice like Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko.

Almost as important is that the Red Wings have loaded up on picks like they’re at Prospect Costco:

  • Last year, they had those two first-rounders, plus: two second-rounders, and three third-rounders to go with their normal set of choices (minus a fifth-rounder).
  • Via Cap Friendly’s handy chart, the Red Wings have two extra second-round picks and one additional fifth-rounder in 2019.
  • In 2020, they have an extra second and third-round pick. (The third-rounder could turn into a second-rounder depending upon the San Jose Sharks’ actions.)
  • They already have an extra third-rounder in 2021.

That’s a fantastic start, eh? Even the best drafting teams would admit that there’s a lot of “dart throwing” involved in drafting, so it makes sense to load up on those darts, especially when you get the added precision of picks in earlier rounds.

The Lightning were adept at finding quality talent off-the-beaten-path under Yzerman,* most notably identifying Brayden Point as a third-rounder (79th in 2014) and Nikita Kucherov in a second round (58th in 2011). If Yzerman can carry that success over to Detroit, even partially, the Red Wings could really make some exciting leaps.

Cleanup duty

Which brings us to the messier part.

For all of Holland’s accomplishments, he left behind a shaggy salary structure. There’s dead money (Stephen Weiss’ buyout lingers through 2020-21), scary contracts (Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser), and, erm, maybe too much of a “veteran presence.”

By that I mean this team is old, at least beyond the core. Niklas Kronwall is 38 with a (mercifully) expiring contract, both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 35, and Mike Green is a very banged-up 33. DeKeyser is oft-criticized and not really a spring chicken, either, at 29.

The goalie duo is also creaky. Jimmy Howard was fantastic in 2018-19, but at 35, it’s still surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade him, even with the understanding that they’d come calling during free agency time in July. Jonathan Bernier is 30 and his $3M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.

Most of those trends are disturbing, and while the Red Wings need more talent basically everywhere, the defense and goaltending likely need the most strenuous surgery.

The good news is that a significant chunk of those contracts aren’t lingering too long after Yzerman takes the reins. Kronwall is headed to free agency (or retirement?), while Ericsson, Green, and Daley come off the books after 2019-20. Howard’s extension only lasts through 2019-20, so maybe Yzerman will get trade value out of the veteran where Holland could or would not.

In the short term, and in the case of a few lengthier deals, there’s a significant mess to clean up. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t too dim, however.

Some pain for future gains

I’ve seen at least mild arguments to try to win now, with at least a portion of The Athletic’s Craig Custance piece (sub required) mentioning certain surprise stories in the NHL. And, sure, if the goal were only to make it back to the playoffs (and maybe even win a series), then speeding up the rebuild would make sense.

My guess is that mega-winner Stevie Y wants his best chance at a Stanley Cup, not merely getting the Red Wings to the playoff bubble.

The free agent market dries up pretty quickly when you realize that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky likely wouldn’t find much of a lure to join a rebuilding team in a cold weather city (heck, “Detroiters” even got canceled).

So, instead of chasing mid-tier free agents and settling for mid-tier expectations, Yzerman should use his clout to absorb another rebuild year or two. Doing so would raise the ceiling on this rebuild, for a few reasons:

  • Most directly and obviously, tanking for an even better pick in 2020. If you look at the teams who regularly contend, virtually all of them required high-end talent found early in drafts.
  • Rather than giving valuable playing time to long-in-the-tooth veterans, why not let younger players learn on the job? You might just get an idea of what you have in, say, Michael Rasmussen. Difference-making players are hitting the NHL earlier and earlier, so why not find out which players can actually make a difference?
  • Allow the Red Wings to be a short-term receptacle to clear cap space, with Detroit taking a bribe, whether that means quality draft picks or useful players. See: the Coyotes landing an important scorer in Vinnie Hinostroza in exchange for keeping Marian Hossa‘s contract warm. Yzerman could even call up his buddies in Tampa Bay and offer to absorb the final year of Ryan Callahan‘s contract ($5.8M cap hit). Boy, Anthony Cirelli and/or Mathieu Joseph would look nice with a winged wheel …
  • Going further, getting more cap space means that the Red Wings could position themselves to land better players in trades than they’d likely entice in free agency. Perhaps teams would ready for the expansion draft by sending good, would-be-exposed players to Detroit for something? Maybe the Hurricanes would sour on Dougie Hamilton, or something similar would happen with P.K. Subban, considering his hefty $9M price tag? Could the Red Wings echo former exec Jim Nill in being the next team to say “Why, yes, we’d love to take Tyler Seguin for 25 cents on the dollar, thank you.”

***

This isn’t an easy job, and again, some of this comes down to luck. Still, it’s easy to see why Red Wings fans are excited.

Make no mistake about it, though: Yzerman has his work cut out for him. It could be the fun sort of work that you’d get from tinkering with a car in the garage, and it should be fascinating for those of us who are dorks when it comes to studying how teams are put together.

* – And his staff, including current GM Julien BriseBois. We could have a lengthy, basically impossible-to-resolve discussion about who was most responsible for the great building in Tampa Bay, but it would be pretty fruitless. And, really, wouldn’t all smart GMs want to surround themselves with other smart people?

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.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins host Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tampa Bay, which last played on Jan. 19, comes out of the All- Star break with the best record in the NHL at 37-10-2. With 76 points, the Lightning occupy first place in the NHL, and are five points ahead of the Calgary Flames for most in the league entering Wednesday night’s action.

Tampa Bay has been in first place in the NHL since Nov. 29 – just more than two months – and are looking to capture the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history. They are currently on pace to win 62 games this season, which would tie NHL record (set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings – 62 wins).

The last team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and win the Stanley Cup was the Blackhawks in 2013, and before that was the Red Wings in 2008.

[WNH: Sidney Crosby’s Selke Trophy push]

On Monday, the Penguins lost at home to the New Jersey Devils, 6-3, its fourth loss in the last five games (all in regulation – 1-4-0 record since Jan. 12). Pittsburgh has allowed five-plus goals in all four of those losses. This recent stretch of struggles follows Pittsburgh’s hottest streak of the season, when they won 10 of 11 games from Dec. 19 – Jan. 11.

One thing the Penguins need to improve is on the power play. They are just 2-for-13 (15.4%) on the power play in their last four games, and have allowed three shorthanded goals in the last six games. In fact, Pittsburgh leads the NHL with 11 shorthanded goals allowed this season. Last year they were tied with Tampa Bay and San Jose for the fewest shorthanded goals allowed (3).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins
Where: PPG Paints Arena
When: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej PalatSteven StamkosYanni Gourde
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliJ.T. Miller
Adam ErneCedric PaquetteMathieu Joseph

Victor HedmanDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Mikhail SergachevAnton Stralman

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

PENGUINS
Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyDominik Simon
Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Tanner PearsonMatt CullenPatric Hornqvist
Riley Sheahan – Teddy Blueger – Garrett Wilson

Brian DumoulinKris Letang
Olli MaattaJuuso Riikola
Marcus PetterssonJack Johnson

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

MORE: Kendall Coyne Schofield to serve as NBC Sports analyst on Wednesday Night Hockey

Coyne will join the broadcast team of John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) for the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Wednesday night.

The Buzzer: Hornqvist makes history; Flames score nine

Associated Press
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Three stars

1. Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins

He scored the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fastest-ever hat trick on hat night.

Not bad from the 230th and final player drafted in the 2005 NHL Draft.

Hornqvist’s goals came pretty much the same way they always do: by working hard. He cleaned up some trash in front of the net, had a knuckle puck fool a goalie and then saw his shot on the hat trick goal re-direct off a defenseman. Hornqvist added an assist for the four-point night.

2. Sean Monahan & Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames

Look, I have to cheat here. Tuesday was a wild night and the wildest game came in Calgary (highlights here), where the Flames won 9-6 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s right, 15 goals, and Monahan and Gaudreau each had four-point nights to help propel the Flames past their Blue Jackets.

Both Monahan and Gaudreau scored twice and added two helpers in the game. Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and two assists. Mark Giordano had three helpers.

3. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers 

Luongo has dealt with a couple injuries now this year and still comes back with a vengeance each time.

Lu returned from a five-game hiatus due to a knee injury and stopped 33 shots for his 77th career shutout (and first of the season) in a 5-0 win against the Boston Bruins.

Luongo returned after a month off in early November and steered the Panthers to a win against the Winnipeg Jets in Finland. He plays well in these games coming off a layoff, but the Panthers need him to stay healthy from here on out. Tuesday was a good example as to why.

Other notable performances:

  • Cam Atkinson extended his point streak to 11 games with a hat trick of his own. On any normal night in the NHL, Atkinson would be among the three stars. Tuesday wasn’t a normal night.
  • Ditto for Frans Nielsen, who scored a natural hatty. [Video]
  • Auston Matthews scored an incredible goal in overtime to help the Toronto Maple Leafs past the Buffalo Sabres by a 4-3 margin. Matthews scored earlier in the game and added an assist. He’s got 15 goals in 14 games this season and five goals and two assists in three games since returning from injury.
  • Jack Eichel scored twice, bringing the Sabres from 2-1 down to a 3-2 lead in the third period.
  • Eddie Pasquale, 28, got his first win in his NHL debut. It wasn’t pretty, but he turned aside 19 of 24 shots in through 65 minutes and two of three Red Wings shooters in the shootout. [Highlights]
  • Max Domi had two goals and an assist as the Montreal Canadiens downed the Ottawa Senators 5-2.
  • Sticking in Tampa, Mathieu Joseph had two goals and an assist in the Lightning win.
  • Mike Hoffman had two goals for the Panthers. Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists.
  • Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist. [Highlights]
  • Adin Hill keeps winning. He’s now 4-0-0 in five games played this season after making 25 saves.
  • Nate Schmidt scored twice and added an assist in a 5-3 win over his former team in the Washington Capitals.

Highlights of the night

Hornqvist makes history:

Auston Matthews doing the impossible:

Matheson goes coast-to-coast:

One-handed:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 5, Bruins 0

Jets 3, Islanders 1

Penguins 6, Avalanche 3

Flames 9, Blue Jackets 6

Maple Leafs 4, Sabres 3 (OT)

Canadiens 5, Senators 2

Lightning 6, Red Wings 5 (SO)

Wild 3, Canucks 2

Golden Knights 5, Capitals 3

Coyotes 2, Kings 1


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

WATCH LIVE: Lightning host Blackhawks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Improvement has been there, but there’s plenty of work to do for new Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton. Since the 0-6-2 slump that led to Joel Quenneville’s firing, Chicago is 2-3-2 under the new bench boss, which has featured the team’s top line providing a big offensive push.

In Colliton’s seven games behind the bench, Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have scored six goals and recorded 16 points. The rest of the Blackhakws have totaled six goals and 20 points.

“If we play them together, they’ve got to produce. But sometimes when you spread them out, no one produces,” Colliton explained about putting the three together. “By loading them up, it puts some pressure on them. But hopefully they play so well, it doesn’t matter who has the puck — they’re making plays, they break through anyway, no matter who they’re playing against. That’s what we ask of them, and so far they’re coming through for us.”

The Lightning beat the Florida Panthers Wednesday to move to within two points of the top spot in the NHL. The dynamic offense scored seven goals for the third time this season, keeping them atop the league with a 3.73 goals per game average.

Goaltender Louis Domingue has made five starts since Andrei Vasilevskiy broke his foot last week. Tampa has won three of those games with the netminder posting a .939 even strength save percentage.

“He’s winning hockey games for us,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “[H]e’s given us a chance to win games and he’s played well.”

[WATCH LIVE – 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Tampa Bay Lightning
Where: Amalie Arena
When: Friday, November 23rd, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Lightning stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane
Nick SchmaltzArtem AnisimovAlex DeBrincat
Alexandre FortinDavid KampfDominik Kahun
Chris KunitzLuke JohnsonMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithGustav Forsling
Erik GustafssonBrent Seabrook
Brandon ManningJan Rutta

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

LIGHTNING
Yanni GourdeSteven StamkosJ.T. Miller
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph
Adam ErneCedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor HedmanDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Louis Domingue

Rick Peckham (play-by-play) and Brian Engblom (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Blackhawks-Lightning from Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

WATCH LIVE: Sabres host Lightning on NBCSN

Getty

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

For years, the Tampa Bay Lightning have chased a second Stanley Cup (and first with Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Nikita Kucherov as their main stars). Meanwhile, the Buffalo Sabres have mainly chased competency.

Both teams seem like they’re heading nicely toward their goals. The Lightning just saw a four-game winning streak end, and with a 12-4-1 record (25 points), they lead the Eastern Conference and rank second in the NHL.

The Sabres have won three of their last four games, placing them at 9-6-2 for 20 points. Entering Tuesday’s action, Buffalo currently holds the East’s second wild-card spot.

[WATCH LIVE – 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

While the Lightning combine Stamkos-Kucherov with Brayden Point‘s impressive second line, the Sabres have enjoyed great work from Jack Eichel. Almost as importantly, they’ve seen marked improvements in various areas of the game.

Eichel vs. Stamkos/Point should be fun, and fans can also get a look at Rasmus Dahlin, who’s made a smooth transition for Buffalo after becoming the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. This game should be an interesting barometer for the Sabres, as they face one of the league’s clearest powerhouses.

[Extended preview for Tuesday’s game]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres
Where: KeyBank Center
When: Tuesday, November 13th, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Sabres stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING

J.T. Miller — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov

Yanni Gourde — Brayden Point — Tyler Johnson

Alex KillornAnthony CirelliMathieu Joseph

Danick Martel — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor Hedman — Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak

Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Louis Domingue

Sabres

Jeff Skinner — Jack Eichel — Sam Reinhart

Vladimir SobotkaEvan RodriguesJason Pominville

Conor ShearyCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo

Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonTage Thompson

Jake McCabeRasmus Ristolainen

Marco ScandellaZach Bogosian

Nathan Beaulieu — Rasmus Dahlin

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.