Michael Matheson

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Which teams should take a chance on Andrei Markov?

After being away from the NHL for two seasons, Andrei Markov is ready to return to North America. He made that clear during an interview with the Montreal Gazette last month. The Russian blue liner left for the AK Bars Kazan of the KHL two seasons ago and he’s hoping an NHL team will take a chance on him now.

His preference would be to play out the final year of his career with the only NHL team he’s ever played for, the Montreal Canadiens, but that doesn’t appear to be likely at this point.

The 40-year-old needs to play just 10 more games to reach the 1,000 mark for his career. That’s an important milestone for him.

“It’s something you want to be there,” Markov said of reaching that plateau. “It’s important, you know. But most important probably is to try to play one more year in the NHL, to prove that I can still play in that level.”

But can Markov keep up with the current pace of play in the NHL?

After multiple knee surgeries, it became clear that he wasn’t ever going to be the fastest player on the ice anymore. But his hockey smarts were always his biggest asset. There weren’t too many players that thought the game better than Markov when he was at his best. Whether or not the body can still perform at a high level remains to be seen.

Markov was negotiating his own contract the last time he and the Habs failed to come to terms on an agreement (two summers ago), but he’s since hired Allan Walsh to be his agent.

“He’s certainly looking to play on a team where there’s a role for him,” Walsh told TSN 690 radio in Montreal last week. “We believe that he can really help any team’s power play, that he can contribute meaningful five-on-five minutes, that he can serve as a veteran presence in the room, and he’s always been known as a bit of a quiet guy but he’s also been known as a quiet leader. He’s always been in amazing physical shape in his entire career and he’s in great shape right now.”

Walsh went on to say that his new client isn’t looking to sign a PTO and he’s looking to play for a team that’s ready to win right away.

Keeping all that in mind, which teams would be the best fits for Markov? Let’s look at some options.

• San Jose Sharks: We know that the Sharks are top-heavy on their defense with players like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, but they also have Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brenden Dillon. The issue with San Jose last year was that they didn’t have enough depth to fill out their blue line every night. During the postseason, there were many nights when Joakim Ryan was playing less than 10 minutes per game (sometimes less than five minutes). Ryan is no longer there, but they now have Tim Heed, Dalton Prout and Radim Simek on the fold. Markov on an affordable contract could be an intriguing fit in San Jose.

• Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers’ defense is a little more crowded than San Jose’s right now, but there’s an obvious connection between their team and Markov’s camp. Of course, Markov played for assistant coach Michel Therrien for many years in Montreal and he also played part of a season for Alain Vigneault a long time ago. Again, the Flyers have young depth on the blue line, they added Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun, but maybe they can find a way to make it work.

Florida Panthers: Markov has spent a good chunk of the summer training in Florida, so he’s familiar with the area. The Panthers made it clear that they want to start winning with a little more regularity. That’s why they signed Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year deal this off-season. They also added Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman this summer. Aaron Ekblad, Michael Matheson, Keith Yandle and Stralman will make up the top four, but Mark Pysyk, MacKenzie Weegar, Ian McCoshen and Joshua Brown will battle for the five, six and seven spots on defense. There’s room for Markov if they believe he can play.

Nashville Predators: Like the Sharks, the Preds are also top-heavy on defense. Even after trading P.K. Subban away, they still have Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm. Youngster Dante Fabbro is also expected to play a big role in Nashville this season, so the top four is full. Beyond that, there are some question marks. Also, the Preds also owned the worst power play in the NHL last season. Could Markov help them improve in that area?

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.

Panthers were wise not to blow things up at trade deadline

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Let’s face it. Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon has earned the criticisms he’s absorbed over the years.

The blunders surrounding moves like shedding both Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith are well-documented, and the critiques are very much justified.

With the Panthers primed to miss the playoffs for the third straight year (and continue their drought of playoff series wins that stretches back to 1995-96), there was some concern that the Panthers might get antsy and blow things up a bit. Rumors circulated that the Panthers might have had some interest in trading Mike Hoffman, or even more troublingly, Jonathan Huberdeau.

Instead, the Panthers did very little, beyond the seemingly inevitable Derick Brassard trade.

Well, sometimes the best move you can make is no move at all.

Many people were excited about the Panthers’ chances this season after their strong finish to 2017-18, particularly when you consider Florida’s best forwards. Florida could win many best-versus-best battles with a stockpile of Aleksander Barkov, (a healthy) Vincent Trocheck, Evgenii Dadonov, Huberdeau, and Hoffman.

Those forwards (plus some useful defensemen in Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, and Michael Matheson) couldn’t outchance and outscore Florida’s problems, particularly in net, but what if you added, say, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky to an already-impressive mix?

After the trade deadline, Tallon made it clear that the Panthers want to go big in free agency.

“We’ll be very aggressive after the season,” Tallon said on Feb. 25, via the Panthers’ website. “We have lots of room now. We have lots of picks. We’ll turn this into a positive thing. We had some bunt singles, to scratch and claw to improve our organization on a daily basis, and then we’ll eventually hit the home run.”

Affording those sluggers

Indeed, the Panthers moving contracts to clear up space (such as Bjugstad’s $4.1M cap hit) opens up room for Florida to work with. Cap Friendly places their cap spending at a bit more than $61M for 14 players heading into 2019-20, and it’s conceivable that the Panthers could fill roster spots with potentially useful players on entry-level deals, including Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett.

So, there could be quite a bit of room for Panarin and Bobrovsky, but if Florida wanted them both and the combined price tag fell around $20M, it might require some tweaking — even if rookie contracts for Borgstrom and Tippett keep spending down a bit.

The Panthers’ buckets of draft picks might be just as useful for moving problems out, as those picks might actually be for drafting prospects. They’ve really piled them up lately, as Jameson Olive of the Panthers’ site notes:

Looking ahead to the draft, Florida now owns a total of nine picks in 2019 and eight in 2020, including two picks in the first round, two in the second, three in the third and four in the fourth.

Would a package of certain picks convince, say, the Senators to take on James Reimer ($3.4M cap hit through 2020-21) and get to the cap floor? Perhaps Tallon’s old buddies in Chicago would involve picks in a deal for Corey Crawford if a Bobrovsky contract didn’t happen?

There are a number of ways the Panthers can open up space for Panarin in a home-run swing, including the admittedly grim idea of Roberto Luongo‘s quite legitimate injury concerns ultimately landing him on LTIR.

But credit the Panthers with giving themselves a chance at a grand slam, rather than just a solo homer …

Calling their shot

Because, frankly, the Panthers have been through enough rebuilds and quasi-rebuilds at this point. The stage is set for 2019-20 potentially being the old Babe Ruth/Owen Nolan “calling their shot” moment.

With a congested market for forwards at the trade deadline, getting the maximum return for Mike Hoffman didn’t seem realistic. And, honestly? The Panthers wouldn’t be likely to top Hoffman’s considerable sniping skills at his $5.188M cap hit, which expires after 2019-20.

(Huberdeau’s incredibly valuable, too, and his bargain $5.9M is cost-controlled through 2022-23.)

Adding Panarin, or even a consolation prize like Matt Duchene, to an already robust group of forwards could make the Panthers downright scary.

The goaltending situation is trickier, but considering how injury-plagued and generally disappointing this season has been for the Luongo – Reimer tandem, it’s also easy to imagine the Panthers upgrading in that regard.

Going big after Bobrovsky would be awfully risky — although maybe Panarin + Bobrovsky would accept a mild discount as a package deal? Maybe they’d even be willing to go that much lower for the Panthers, who allow for certain tax breaks as a Florida team?

***

There are big stakes here, and the Panthers could really suffer if they swing and whiff.

Instead of this being an off season because of contract distractions or just plain-old goalie struggles, 2018-19 Bobrovsky could be, more or less, the Bobrovsky we might expect going forward.

It’s plausible that Panarin, Duchene, and other, more valuable forwards will decide to re-sign with Columbus after all, or want to join a more established team than Florida.

There are nightmare scenarios where Plans A-Y fall through, and the Panthers waste a ton of money on an ill-advised Plan Z.

Still, for a franchise that’s often felt aimless, the Panarin target seems like something to shoot for. There’s already considerable talent on hand in Florida, and there’s room to work with to really bring things to the next level. It was wiser not to take a few steps backward, even if it remains to be seen if they can land the big leap that awaits.

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.

Which wrestling move did Jets’ Morrissey use on Capitals’ Oshie?

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(UPDATE: Morrissey was fined $8,467.74, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.)

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey‘s takedown on T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals inspires some key questions:

  • Should there have been a penalty?
  • Should there be a suspension involved?

Former NHL player Jeff O’Neill believes that Morrissey’s infraction paralleled that of Michael Matheson on Elias Pettersson, which drew a two-game suspension earlier this season.

Let’s look at them side-by-side:

All of those questions pale in comparison to the burning one, though: what kind of professional wrestling move most resembles what Morrissey did to Oshie?

If you’ve spent time on Hockey Twitter, you’ll realize that there’s a remarkable convergence between hockey fans and fans of pro wrestling, whether it be WWE or the days when WWE was the WWF.

Personally, I was taken aback by comparisons to the DDT, which was (of course) made famous by Jake “The Snake” Roberts. I put it closer to “The Rock Bottom,” which was – naturally – administered by The Rock before he starred in every big-budget action film in existence.

There were some lively replies, with people mentioning “The Sidewalk Slam” (that could be the ticket) and a hurricanrana (I strongly disagree). What say you, PHT readers? I think we can all agree that it’s crucial that we get this right.

Oh yeah, and the Jets beat the Capitals 3-1 on Wednesday, while Washington is experiencing some injury worries for Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

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.

Rookie sensation Pettersson channels Gretzky, makes history

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More young players are making an immediate impact in the NHL with each passing year, but even acknowledging that, Vancouver Canucks wunderkind Elias Pettersson is practicing hockey witchcraft, somehow at just age 19.

Call it a tired trope if you’d like, but Pettersson really is making it look easy right off the bat. Even Michael Matheson hitting him with his finishing move only slowed the Swede for a little bit.

Breaking records/ankles

Pettersson made some history – and recreated a historical moment – by scoring an emphatic goal that was his 10th in as many games during Tuesday’s shootout loss to the Red Wings, doing so in an eerily similar way to a memorable game-winner by Wayne Gretzky. The Canucks were kind enough to drive the parallels home in this comparison:

Pretty tough to deny the comparison, and it’s been even tougher to deny Pettersson from getting on the scoreboard.

To reiterate, he already has 10 goals in his first 10 NHL games, and also generated six assists for 16 points. As you might expect, such production is highly unusual for a rookie, and you can drop most caveats when you compare Pettersson’s start to other red-hot beginnings.

Here’s a quick rundown of where Pettersson’s run ranks in NHL history, via the Canucks’ Derek Jory:

-Pettersson became just the 17th player in NHL history to score 10+ goals through his first 10 career games, and just the fifth to do so outside of the NHL’s inaugural season.

-Pettersson is the only teenager in the last 30 seasons (1988-89 to present) to open their career with at least 10 goals through their first 10 career games played.

-Pettersson is the first player to record 16+ points through his first 10 career NHL games since 1992-93, when Dimitri Kvartalnov and Nikolai Borschevsky accomplished the feat.

(Jory gets more into Canucks-specific marks in that article.)

Dynamic fun

A lot of Canucks fans are simply enjoying the ride, as Vancouver games have felt like old-west (or Gretzky-era?) shootouts, with Pettersson and Brock Boeser pacing some wild offensive games.

Speaking of the Sedin twins, one of Pettersson’s most clever moments came when he set up Boeser for this goal, which echoed the preternatural chemistry Daniel and Henrik shared:

Blissful stuff.

Now, apologies to Canucks fans who’d rather luxuriate rather than complicate things when it comes to enjoying Pettersson’s work, but let’s … complicate things. How likely is it for Pettersson to replicate these results? Take a moment to dig a little deeper.

Can he keep this up?

Most obviously, Pettersson’s shooting is going to slow down, even if his shoot truly earns the Joe Sakic/other hyperbolic-or-are-they-hyperbolic? comparisons.

His 10 goals have come on 28 shots on goal, meaning Pettersson’s shooting percentage is 35.7. For some context, Mike Bossy ended his career with a ridiculous 21.2 shooting percentage, and he was firing pucks against goalies who weren’t outfitted like tanks. In other words, it would be impressive if Pettersson could go a full season with a shooting percentage at half of that 35.7 percent.

Talk of shooting isn’t just going to shoot him down, though.

While Pettersson won’t maintain that pace over the long haul (not going to throw a might not in here; he won’t), it’s clear that he’s already getting the green light to fire away. His 28 SOG means he’s close to three SOG per game. He might be able to push that to a full three per night if his already-solid ice time (17:49 TOI average*) jumps up another beyond-his-years level.

Pettersson’s likely already getting that bump. His average is diluted by that Matheson game, and being limited in his first-ever NHL game (where he still scored a goal and an assist, easy peasy). Pettersson has received more than 22 minutes of ice time during his past two games, and has been beyond 20 for three in a row.

Just about every luck-related percentage (shooting percentage, factoring in teammates with an on-ice shooting percentage of 14.3-percent, a PDO of 106.5) is bound to come screaming back to Earth, yet Pettersson seems likely to be a factor even when he loses his alien form.

The 9-6-1 (19 points) Canucks have 66 games remaining in the regular season, so let’s cross our fingers and hope Pettersson can appear in all of them. If he were to maintain his 2.8 SOG-per-game pace, that would translate to about 185 SOG. A 15 shooting percentage would leave Pettersson just under 40 goals, so you can see that there’s serious potential there for Pettersson to have a glorious rookie campaign even once gravity’s inevitable pull begins.

Pettersson can also make up for some of the difference in regression by improving as a player. He already seems to see the game at a higher level, and he’s still becoming acquainted with his teammates.

Granted, Pettersson’s also never experienced an 82-game season against grown men who happen to be the best players in the world (even if Pettersson often makes them look like less of an impediment than turnstiles). Last season, his campaign with Vaxjo HC spanned 44 regular-season contests plus a playoff run. You can factor international play into the mix and you still wouldn’t account for the kind of grind that’s ahead.

Such challenges could lead to cold spells, and sometimes that provides a greater test to a coach’s patience than a player’s endurance and confidence. “He’s just 19” will be a sentiment uttered when Pettersson inevitably slips, and we’ll have to see if head coach Travis Green allows his Swedish star to go through ups and downs. As silly as it can be, plenty of bench bosses get skittish at such thoughts.

So, no, Pettersson’s not going to score at a goal-per-game pace. It won’t be easy – yet it’s quite possible – that he might end up with a goal every other game, which is basically the gold standard in a league where it’s still incredibly difficult to score.

Either way, it sure seems like the Canucks have something special in Pettersson, with the main question being “How special?” If this sneak preview is any indication, finding out will count as must-see TV.

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.

Canucks’ injury toll is getting ridiculous

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The Vancouver Canucks rank among the NHL’s better-than-expected rebuilders so far this season, and their respectable work (5-4-0 coming into Wednesday) is made that much more impressive when you consider their increasingly terrible health luck.

A lot of the air came out of the balloon in mid-October, when Michael Matheson‘s suspension-earning bit of violence sidelined rookie phenom Elias Pettersson with a concussion.

That already stings for a team that isn’t exactly loaded with talent on paper, and the hits keep coming. Veteran addition Jay Beagle is sidelined week-to-week. Brock Boeser missed tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks with a lower-body injury.

(So, Boeser – a big hope and sensational sophomore – and Pettersson both missed today’s game, and could miss more.)

Things haven’t been getting better during Wednesday’s contest itself. Underrated defenseman Alex Edler left the contest and would not return thanks to a lower-body injury. Oh, and Sven Baertschi, a winger charged with trying to replace some of the offense Boeser would produce, also left the Golden Knights game and will not be back.

There’s a chance Chris Tanev could be a little shaken up, as well.

To recap: the Canucks lost one or possibly even two of their top defensemen, two young forwards who are so good they’re giving fans hope, a solid top-six winger in Baertschi, and an expensive “heart-and-soul” guy in Beagle, with quite a few of those injuries happening recently.

It’s almost like the universe is trying to force this team to tank, even as Canucks head coach Travis Green seems like he’s getting the best out of this motley bunch.

Update: Remarkably, the Canucks ended up winning 3-2 via a shootout. Maybe this will be a costly win, but it’s impressive that Vancouver came out on top, anyway.

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.