Matt Duchene

Predators’ investment in Bonino is paying off

Sometimes, when a player is on an unsustainable hot streak, it can lead to overreactions. Every now and then, though, such a run of good fortune can shine a spotlight on a good player who normally gets the job done in more subtle ways.

Nick Bonino is off to that sort of start for the Nashville Predators.

Consider that, with eight goals, Bonino is currently tied with the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Mark Stone, and T.J. Oshie. Overall, Bonino has 12 points in his first 15 games to start 2019-20.

Circling back to that opening paragraph: yes, “Bones” has been undeniably lucky. His eight goals have come on a scant 31 shots on goal, good for a whopping 25.8 shooting percentage. Even for a player who has been a pretty lucky shooter since joining the Predators (no lower than a 14.4 shooting percentage in any campaign since signing before the 2017-18 season), that luck will cool off.

Again, though, that puck luck gives us an opportunity to appreciate just how effective Bonino has been, normally when you ignore the goals and assists.

The book on the Predators has been that, for all their bargains elsewhere on the roster — and getting premium defense, goaltenders, and wingers at high value is ultimately worth it — their centers haven’t been worth what Nashville has paid for. That risk continued when they signed Matt Duchene at $8 million per year, but you could argue the same for Ryan Johansen (also $8M AAV) and most troublingly Kyle Turris ($6M AAV, gulp, through 2023-24).

Bonino and his $4.1M AAV were lumped into that argument, but I’m not so sure how fair that ever was, and he’s been delivering some great play for some time now.

Hockey Viz’s aesthetically appealing heat maps show that Bonino’s had a knack for limiting opponents’ opportunities close to his net, while doing a decent job of creating positive opportunities on the flipside offensively:

Bonino did see a slight dip in 2017-18, his first season in Nashville and away from the glories of the “HBK Line” run with the Penguins, but overall he’s been a solid offensive contributor while seemingly making a considerable impact on defense.

We might explain Bonino’s redemption going under the radar because a) most of the time he’s not scoring like he’s done through the small sample of 2019-20 and b) the mood was generally sour in Nashville toward the end of last season. (It’s amusing that, for all the grief the Predators got for putting up banners, their last Central Division win was met with such indifference.)

Consider how much value Bonino brought to the table in 2018-19 in Goals Above Replacement value, as compiled by Sean Tierney using Evolving Hockey’s data:

Pretty impressive.

The Predators have leaned heavily on Bonino basically since day one, as he’s only begun 32.6 of his shifts in the offensive zone on average in Nashville, with this season so far representing the lowest at just 25 percent.

Such deployment makes it even more likely that Bonino’s offensive numbers will slide. After all, Bonino’s only passed 20 goals once (22), which happened in 2013-14, the only season he hit 40+ points with 49. He was limited to 35 points in 2018-19 and 25 in 2017-18, just to mention his Predators years.

This hot streak gives us a chance to really bask in the under-the-radar work he’s done. If you’ve ever wanted to argue for a player who brings more to the table than meets the eye, then make no “Bones” about Bonino being one of those guys.

If you need to throw out a bunch of Boninos in the process, then so be it.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

The Buzzer: Penguins have no answer for Bruins’ Marchand

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Three Stars

1. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Almost every night, there can be fierce debate about who deserves the first star, and all the great players who couldn’t quite make it in the top three.

A lot of times, when Marchand is involved, it’s difficult to tell if there’s a single member of his line that deserves top billing, as David Pastrnak is off to a blistering start, and Patrice Bergeron is … well, Patrice Bergeron.

This was not one of those times. Pastrnak and Bergeron certainly contributed to the Bruins’ hard-fought, hard-skated win against the Penguins on Monday, but Marchand stood high above everyone on that ice surface — and on the night overall. He scored a ridiculous five points (two goals, three assists), giving him 28 points in 14 games this season. Pastrnak is one step ahead of Marchand overall in 2019-20 with 29 points, but Pastrnak “only” scored a goal and an assist on Monday (the slacker).

David Krejci is worth mentioning, as well, with two assists.

2. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators

There will probably be instances of “Well, someone has to score” with the Senators top line, including when the constellation involves Pageau, Brady Tkachuk, and Anthony Duclair.

That trio didn’t really need such caveats on Monday against the up-and-down Rangers. Tkachuk had a two-point night of his own (1G, 1A), but the pesty Pageau scored both of his points on goals, and had a nice spread of stats overall: +3 rating, three shots on goal, 8-8 on faceoffs, two hits, three blocks, and, of course, a penalty.

Rangers fans can take solace, at least, in Kaapo Kakko being involved in both of their goals (1G, 1A).

3. Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators

Like Pageau, Duchene scored two goals on Monday. I’m giving JGP the slight edge because, well, one of Duchene’s goals probably shouldn’t have counted. Consider this error the blooper of the night:

Considering that Duchene was far offside on a controversial goal against the Predators that helped inspire a greater push for video reviews, it seems like the speedy center just seems to get these occasional breaks. Luckily, he’s good even when the goals and assists are beyond debate; despite a four-game pointless streak heading into Monday, Duchene has 13 points over his first 14 games as a member of the Predators.

Highlight of the Night

Since we already covered Connor McDavid‘s coast-to-coast goal in a post that didn’t feature Space Ghost, let’s enjoy that impressive game-winner by Marchand:

Marchand’s other goal against Pittsburgh might have been even more impressive, but the above one was the more momentous since it won the game.

Factoids

  • The Marchand/Pastrnak stats are … pretty out of control. NHL.com’s Matt Kalman collected some of them. Marchand is the first Bruins player to collect two different five-point games through his first 14 games, and NHL PR notes that Marchand recorded just the 10th instance of doing so since 1986-87. Mario Lemieux had three five-point outings through such a span twice, Wayne Gretzky collected three five-point outings once, and everyone else did it twice. Marchand’s 13-game point streak is also rare for the Bruins.
  • NHL PR also notes that Pastrnak is the second Bruins player in history to post multiple 12+ game point streaks before their 24th birthday, joining Bobby Orr, who did it three times. Pastrnak’s done it twice, and his 24th birthday isn’t until May 25, so he at least has a chance to tie Number Four’s … three.
  • Fun #specificstat from NHL PR: John Marino of the Penguins is the second player in three seasons to score their first NHL goal in their home state. Ryan Donato, also of Massachusetts, was the most recent to do it.
  • Darcy Kuemper‘s more reliable than (insert the car you find most durable).

Scores

BOS 6 – PIT 4
OTT 6 – NYR 2
NSH 6 – DET 1
ARI 3 – EDM 2 (OT)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Top-line injuries to Blues and Avalanche shake up Central

Not long after the St. Louis Blues raised their Stanley Cup banner and the Colorado Avalanche got rolling on a season of high expectations each team has a significant obstacle to overcome.

The Blues will be without sniper Vladimir Tarasenko for five months, basically the rest of the regular season. The Avalanche – already missing injured winger Mikko Rantanen – ruled out captain Gabriel Landeskog indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Those injuries to top-line players on two Central Division powerhouses could shift the balance of power in the Western Conference for months.

”It shakes things up big time,” said retired forward Patrick Sharp, who spent 12+ of his 15 NHL seasons playing in the Central. ”It’s going to test the depth of these two teams.”

Tarasenko underwent right shoulder surgery Tuesday. The Russian winger scored 11 goals and added 15 assists on the Blues’ Cup run and is difficult to replace.

St. Louis will try to compensate but not by leaning too hard on playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly and fellow stars Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. The onus is on the likes of Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas and Robby Fabbri to step up.

”Our team is built as the sum of all the parts,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. ”We’re going to have to have a strength in numbers (approach), and I believe that we can get it done.”

Sharp, who played 65 games against the Blues and watched their Cup triumph as an NBC Sports analyst, doesn’t doubt that. Because of Tarasenko’s production 5-on-5 and on the power play, he said losing him will test their offensive depth. He is looking specifically to Thomas to fill the void.

”The numbers didn’t really reflect the kind of playoffs that he had, but it seemed like every big game that the Blues had, Robert Thomas was one of the best forwards on the team,” Sharp said. ”If he can kind of recapture that playoff magic and show it in the next five, six months of the regular season, the Blues will be in good shape.”

Colorado opened the season 8-2-1 but will need to tread water until Rantanen and Landeskog return. First-line center Nathan MacKinnon is a one-man playmaker who no doubt benefits from having Rantanen and Landeskog and will have to be at his best – and try to stay healthy.

Much like the Blues, though, the Avalanche can’t put the pressure on one player.

”We have a significant amount of players that want more and feel like they’re playing real well,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. ”I’m hoping they strive in situations like this and prove that they can take on a bigger role. … Having everyone dig in and try to step up their game, and make up for the guys that are out of the lineup is an important piece to winning especially if you’re going to try and sustain it over the course of the season.”

Knowing Colorado couldn’t be a one-line team and contend for the Cup, GM Joe Sakic traded for Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky and signed Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to bolster his forward depth.

”These injuries to top players, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re talking about the landscape of an eight-month season for Colorado,” Sharp said. ”If they have aspirations of going deep in the playoffs, they’re going to need big contributions from everybody. So a little adversity at the start of the year doesn’t hurt anybody.”

It might help the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars in the stacked Central Division. Predators center Matt Duchene on Tuesday night returned from a brief absence with a lower-body injury.

LANDESKOG X2

Colorado’s captain isn’t the only injured Landeskog. The horse by the same name was scratched from the upcoming $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

”Horse always comes first,” Avalanche defenseman and racehorse part-owner Erik Johnson tweeted. ”Bad day for Landeskog human and equine.”

Told of Landeskog’s human namesake also being hurt, trainer Doug O’Neill said, ”Maybe it’s twin pain.”

JOSI DOMINOES

Roman Josi‘s eight-year extension with the Predators worth $9.1 million a season will have a ripple effect on other top pending free agent defensemen like Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and Boston’s Torey Krug.

Since all three were full-time NHL players beginning in 2013, Josi has 327 points and averaged 25:30 of ice time, Pietrangelo has 284 points and averaged 25:19 and Krug has 294 points and averaged 25:30.

”Every contract is relative when you’re talking about comparable players,” said agent Mark Guy, who represents Pietrangelo. ”Obviously whenever you go through and you sit down and negotiate with a team, players and teams have comparables that they shoot towards, and Josi and Alex are obviously in most people’s minds comparable players.”

Roman Josi signs eight-year extension with Predators

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It’s been a good month for Swiss hockey players and their bank accounts.

A little over a week after Nico Hischier inked a $50.75 million extension with the Devils, the Predators have signed defenseman Roman Josi to an eight-year deal worth $72.472 million. The contract, which carries a $9.059 million cap hit, kicks in beginning with the 2020-21 NHL season and features $33.75 million in signing bonuses. He’ll also be the owner of the third-highest cap hit among defenseman behind Erik Karlsson ($11.5 million) of the Sharks and the Kings’ Drew Doughty ($11 million).

“Roman Josi is one of the top defensemen in the National Hockey League and our team leader as captain,” said Predators GM David Poile. “As he enters his prime, we look forward to Roman continuing to showcase his elite skills in Smashville and guiding our team in pursuit of the ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup.”

Per Pierre LeBrun, here’s the year-by-year breakdown:

2020-21: $750,000 salary / $11 million signing bonus
2021-22: $750,000 salary / $10 million signing bonus
2022-23: $1 million salary / $8.75 million signing bonus
2023-24: $5 million salary / $4 million signing bonus
2024-25: $9 million salary
2025-26: $8 million salary
2026-27: $7.222 million salary
2027-28: $7 million salary

In 574 career games in Nashville Josi has 98 goals and 361 points. He’s been a regular in the positive possession department (53% Corsi rating since 2014-15).

Josi is now one of seven Predators who are signed through at least the 2023-24 NHL season, joining Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons, and Ryan Ellis.

How much do the Predators value the 29-year-old Josi, who Poile dubbed “our Roger Federer” after naming him captain in Sept. 2017? His deal will include a full no-move clause for the entire length of the contract. The only other time that’s happened was when Pekka Rinne signed a seven-year extension in 2011 and the first four years of the deal featured such trade protection.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blue Jackets haven’t fallen apart without Panarin, Bobrovsky

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After Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene all walked in free agency, outside expectations for the Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t very high. Why would they be? Panarin was their most talented player and Bobrovsky was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. But through 10 games, they’ve found a way to keep their head above water.

The Jackets head into this weekend with a 5-3-2 record, which is good enough to put them in a Wild Card spot right now. Yes, we’re 10 games into the season, but that little factoid is important when comparing their work to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Without Panarin, the offense has produced exactly the way you’d imagine. They don’t have anybody that’s scored more than six points in 10 games, but they have received plenty of contributions from different players. As of right now, nine players on the roster have scored at least two goals and 14 players have found the back of the net at least once.

Pierre-Luc Dubois leads in the team in goals, with 4, and he’s tied for the scoring lead with six points. That puts the 21-year-old on pace to score a solid 33 goals and 49 points this season. The only way to have success when your leading scorer is on pace for under 50 points is for everyone behind him to contribute too. So far so good in that respect.

The fight this team has shown has been nothing short of impressive. For example, in last night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus found themselves down 3-1 after the first period. Thanks to goals by Ryan Murray and Sonny Milano, they managed to even the score before Cam Atkinson won it in OT.

“It was another opportunity presented to us as far as not blowing up starting that second period,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said after the game, per NHL.com. “We need to stay patient, not try to score. We just need to stay above the puck. It’s such a fast team over there.

“So we kept our patience, played above the puck and probably played, out of all the minutes we’ve put in this year, probably the fastest we’ve played as far as our transition.”

The other pleasant surprise is Joonas Korpisalo, who has done a good job between the pipes for the Jackets this year. The 25-year-old has won four of his last five games. If he can continue to keep them in games, they’ll be one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot near the end of the season.
It’s important to note that this is a small sample size, but 10 games isn’t insignificant either. Most of the hockey world may have been guilty of overlooking players like Dubois, Atkinson, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski coming into this season, so it’s up to them to continue to prove people wrong.
Even though the Blue Jackest are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to goals scored (16) and goals against (32), they’re finding the way to get the job done with a committee of contributors. That’s definitely not a the sexy approach, but if it’s effective enough to get them back into the playoffs, that’s what they’ll continue to do.
“I don’t know what we are yet,” Tortorella said via The Athletic. “It’s 10 games. You can’t say ‘You are this’ after 10 games, but we certainly have shown some resilience here.”

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.