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Capitals need emergency backup with Holtby out

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Facing the Winnipeg Jets with your number two goalie starting and an emergency backup behind him isn’t exactly the ideal scenario, but that’s what the Washington Capitals face tonight.

Hey, things happen during an 82-game season.

Braden Holtby‘s out with an upper-body injury, giving way to wonderfully named Pheonix Copley. (Do you think Pheonix Copley knows Micheal Ferland? They should be best friends, right?)

Copley isn’t just facing the high-powered Jets unexpectedly. He’s also dealing with back-to-back starts, so this could be a real challenge.

The Washington Post’s Isabelle Kurshudyan reports that Holtby’s upper-body injury isn’t believed to be serious, so perhaps Capitals fans can enjoy some of the novelty aspects of this situation?

Of course, the novelty aspects that stand out the most is the guy who was pressed into backup duty out of the blue. That fellow is 6-foot-7 Gavin McHale, 31, who serves as the goalie coach for the University of Manitoba women’s team.

PHT’s Scott Billeck notes that McHale has been thrust into this sort of role before, so the giant netminder is at least collecting some lightly-worn NHL sweaters and strange memories to share at cocktail parties.

Not having Holtby ranks as “not fun,” but the rest of this could be entertaining. Also: NBC Sports Washington’s J.J. Regan notes that it’s possible that highly touted goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov could end up being called up depending upon how this works out over the next few days, so that could be fun, too.

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.

This looks like the season Sebastian Aho becomes a household name

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With a middling 5-3-1 record so far this season, the Carolina Hurricanes haven’t stormed out of the gate yet in 2018-19. Despite some big roster changes and a dramatically different front office, they feel like the same team: promising, puck-hogging, yet at times snake-bitten.

(The goalies? They remain a question mark, yet have been good enough so far.)

For some time, these critical darlings have felt like a herd of solid players. Jordan Staal – a very, very impressive defensive forward with a certain ceiling on offense – felt like a microcosm of the Hurricanes. They lacked that game-breaking star.

It’s dangerously early, but so far, Sebastian Aho looks like he’s going from “the closest thing the Hurricanes have to a star” to … simply, a star.

Through nine games, the 21-year-old center has four goals and 10 assists for 14 points. Two of his goals have been game-winners, including an overtime-clincher.

Aho was incredible in that game, scoring two goals and two assists. His 14 points put him in a tie for seventh place in scoring with the likes of Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane. Yeah.

Now, sure there’s been a bit of puck luck involved. Aho scored his four goals on 24 shots on net, making for a 16.7 shooting percentage that’s likely to fall at least a bit (his career average points to some shooting skill, though, at 13-percent).

That’s not a everyone-doubting-William-Karlsson-type shooting percentage, though. There should be some drop-off, yet Aho’s unlikely to be fool’s gold.

As much as the flashier numbers bring Aho much-deserved attention (three multi-point games already this season), his consistency is as exciting as anything else. The Hurricanes star hasn’t failed to score in a game yet in 2018-19, and he aims to extend his season-opening point streak to 10 games on Friday as the Hurricanes take on their puck-hogging twins, the San Jose Sharks.

It hasn’t taken long for Dougie Hamilton to note that Aho boasts the sort of skill set that really fits with the way the game is played these days.

“He can get going really fast and still make plays while picking up speed,” Hamilton said, via the Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required). “That’s the dynamic part of his game. It’s pretty impressive to watch.”

Aho’s also getting the green light from new Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

The Finnish forward has been on a steady incline during his short time in the NHL, scoring 24 goals and 49 points in his rookie season (16:47 TOI in 2016-17), while taking another step forward with 29 goals and 65 points as a sophomore (17:55 TOI in 2017-18). Another promising sign for Aho’s climb up the ranks of the elite is that he’s carrying a clearer first-line workload so far in 2018-19, averaging an impressive 19:10 TOI.

Here’s hoping nothing gets in that way, then.

Aho’s possession stats are generally strong, with them only looking iffy relative to his puck-magnet teammates. There’s mild concern over some turbulence regarding his work at center, if he hits a cold streak. As recently as late September, there were rumblings about Aho struggling at center, and maybe face-off wizard Rod Brind’Amour will chafe at the Finn’s hit-or-miss work at draws (46.9-percent winning percentage this season, 46.3 for his career).

Ideally, Brind’Amour would see that the good massively outweighs the bad for Aho, and it’s plausible that the young forward will improve his all-around game with experience. There’s still plenty of time for improvement at 21.

That’s a scary thing for opponents, especially since Aho’s found such early chemistry with Teuvo Teravainen and Micheal Ferland.

One wouldn’t expect Aho to maintain his current 127.5-point pace, yet it’s also more than fair to expect a healthy jump from last season’s 65 points. That leap might just be enough to end Carolina’s nine-year playoff drought.

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.

PHT on Fantasy Hockey: Add them while you still can

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We’re still early in the 2018-19 season, which means that fantasy hockey owners continue to wrestle with conflicting thoughts: “Am I overreacting?” versus “Am I being too slow to react?”

There are a wide variety of fantasy league formats, so it’s essentially impossible to cover every base in one add/drop-style column. With apologies to those in aberrant leagues or in expert-heavy pools where you already need to keep an eye on AHL call-ups, this list is intended for those in the lighter range. Here’s hoping that this could be a useful read even for the types who bring spreadsheets and laptops to fantasy drafts.

Note: position eligibility and percentage owned are based on Yahoo leagues.

[PHT fantasy preview: bounce-back candidates, sleepers, and risky players]

Micheal Ferland, LW/RW, 65-percent owned

Ferland is taken in about two-thirds of Yahoo leagues, so this likely is only useful for a small section of fantasy owners. Still, the people who could actually land Ferland probably need to make a decision soon. As in: open a new tab and add him if this section convinces you he’s worthy.

The former Flames forward isn’t going to sustain his current scoring pace (four goals and seven points in seven games). After all, Ferland was limited to 21 goals and 41 points last season (a career-high) with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan as his primary linemates. The good news is that Ferland is once again riding with strong linemates in Carolina, as he’s played almost every even-strength minute alongside Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. That’s awesome, yet it’s also important to temper expectations; he’s not likely to maintain a point-per-game pace this season after scoring a point every other game in 2017-18.

Ferland’s averaging an extra minute of ice time per contest so far, but he’s not on the top power-play unit, so … again, just pencil him in for … say, a 50-point potential.

Such scoring ability is easy to praise when you consider Ferland’s peripheral output. The 26-year-old has 18 hits so far in seven games, while he’s delivered 612 over 257 NHL games. Ferland’s been sending a ton of pucks on net so far this season (26, close to four per game), so if he’s going to flirt with three per night overall, that’s a heck of a jump from his two per game that’s been a general career trend.

So, Ferland’s bound to regress, yet he’s worth your time as long as he’s a regular on the top line.

Brady Tkachuk, LW, 34%

Now, you might be asking, “But Brady Tkachuk is on IR?” My answer: exactly.

This is a bit of an off-the-beaten-path strategy, but if you are planning on doing an add/drop anyway (and have free IR spots), why not drop your player, add Tkachuk, place him on IR, and then add someone else? Again, this plan hinges on your team not already being bitten by the injury bug; there’s also the worry that Ottawa might opt to avoid burning a year off of Tkachuk’s rookie contract once he does come back.

But … overall, Tkachuk could be really intriguing, and worth keeping on your IR to at least monitor the situation. Worst-case scenario, you can just drop him if things don’t work out.

Tomas Tatar, LW/RW, 50% / Brendan Gallagher, RW, 61% / Jeff Petry, D, 25%

I’ve said this once, I’ll say it again: the Montreal Canadiens are going to slow down.

Still, even (potential) cellar dwellers need someone to score, and the Habs feature some interesting choices. These three stand out as players who are a) off to hot starts, b) play prominent roles, and c) figure to at least remain important for the Canadiens.

[More Fantasy: Pick up the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

Gallagher isn’t much more fantasy-available than Ferland, and he’s the most obvious choice among these players, so I’ll move on beyond stating that Gallagher is a clear first-line-caliber winger who’s worth your time. (His modest career PIM totals are a bit surprising, considering his ability to agitate.)

Tatar is solid enough, albeit with a not-so-exciting ceiling. He’s not a great peripheral option, yet his LW/RW eligibility might put things over the top in deeper leagues. At worst, I’d consider watch-listing Tatar.

Petry might, honestly, be the most intriguing … although he’s most interesting in deeper leagues.

Since coming to Montreal – I have to admit, I didn’t realize this was already his fifth season with the Canadiens – Petry’s averaged 22:28 TOI per game, with his totals going over 23 minutes per night since last season.

So far in 2018-19, Petry’s topped all Montreal skaters with an average of 4:53 of power-play TOI. With just one PPP, he hasn’t exactly been killing it from that perspective, but Petry should rack up a ton of reps until Shea Weber returns. (And, considering Weber’s mileage, there’s the possibility that a Weber return would be short-lived, anyway.)

Even once Weber is back, I’d expect Petry to carry a heavy workload. Would that be enough for him to be roster-worthy? Cross that bridge when you come to it, because he’s a nice defensive workhorse at this very moment.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C/LW, 75%

Look, I’m not going to belabor the point with this one, as “The Nuge” is mostly scooped up. Still, 25-percent-availability is enough to at least mention him here, with faint hopes that you might actually grab him.

More than Ty Rattie, Nugent-Hopkins is super-appealing as Connor McDavid‘s fire hydrant-er, linemate. RNH can also score at a respectable level on his own, but the “don’t think, just add him” feeling comes from his current role. It doesn’t hurt that you can place him as a LW, either.

• Henri Jokiharju, D, 47%

The 29th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft might end up being a comparable steal to Eeli Tolvanen, the guy who Nashville selected one pick later.

Jokiharju has made quite an impact over his first six NHL games, collecting five assists, largely playing on the top pairing alongside Duncan Keith, and – maybe most impressively – earning praise from Coach Q.

Is he going to sustain all of this enough to remain fantasy-relevant? That I don’t know. He’s not currently on the top PP unit, and his ice time (21:18 average) is outstanding for a rookie, but not at the high-end of defensemen overall.

That said, the Blackhawks need right-handed defensemen, and Joker (I assume people call him that?) fits that bill. Your interest here might just rise or fall according to how viable you expect Chicago to be. If you add him, I’d recommend being liberal with add/drops if he slips.

Honestly, his greatest value probably comes in Daily Fantasy formats, as he’s been dirt-cheap in that regard.

[More Fantasy: Rotoworld’s DFS Toolkit]

Goalie considerations

Consider me a proponent for Raanta.

I know the Coyotes got off to a rough start, and “run support” could be a weak point during multiple stretches this season. That said, Raanta’s body of work (a dazzling .922 career save percentage) indicates that he could be legit, and I’d expect him to rack up a lot of starts if he can stay healthy. Raanta stands as a nice second goalie, and could be a game-changer if it makes sense for you to carry three.

How is this happening?

Will it continue to? I’d wager not, but if you’re hurting for a goalie, you could do worse than to find out.

Meh. The combination of questionable team (Kings blowout or not) and substantial competition from Thomas Greiss scares me away. Lehner is fighting for his career, however, so at least motivation is a plus. I’d probably only add Lehner on a weekend where you hope to steal a goalie stat or two on a Sunday in a weekly head-to-head match, or something like that. Mostly meh here, gang.

Quick hits

  • Chris Kreider, LW, 49% – A heck of a player who boosts his value by being a nice source of PIM and hits. He’d be extra valuable if “running goalies” was a category, especially since Corey Perry‘s on the shelf.
  • Kevin Labanc, LW/RW, 22% – Easy to like that he’s currently on the Sharks’ top line, yet he’s not getting much ice time. Eyeball him in DFS, but I’d wait to see if he gets more reps before adding him in all but the deepest leagues.
  • Zach Parise, LW, 40% – It’s easy for a player to eat far too much criticism when they’re carrying a big contract … but hey, you’re not shelling out his checks, right? Parise’s getting significant ice time, firing a nice volume of pucks on net, and is scoring at a nice rate. He’s one of the safer options for a depth LW.
  • Hampus Lindholm, D, 49% – One of those “better in reality than fantasy” defensemen, Lindholm gets a lot more interesting if your stat categories go deeper, as he averages more than a hit and blocked shot per game during his NHL career (380 hits, 459 bs in 378 GP, and he’s upped those numbers in recent years of heavier usage). His solid-but-unspectacular points totals are frustrating at times – again, because Lindholm is just so good; Marc-Edouard Vlasic fans can relate – yet Lindholm does a little of everything.

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.

The Buzzer: Sharks spoil Kovalchuk’s NHL return; Brind’Amour gets first win

Three Stars

1. Micheal Ferland, Carolina Hurricanes. I’ve made this point several times since the trade and am going to continuing making it until he gives me a reason not to, but Micheal Ferland was an outstanding addition to the Dougie Hamilton trade for the Hurricanes. He is an underrated offensive player, plays on a fairly cheap, bargain contract, and can play up and down the lineup without being totally out of place in any role. He made a big impact for the Hurricanes on Friday night in their 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets by setting up Sebastian Aho‘s game-winning goal on a slick pass to thread the needle between the defense, and then adding the insurance-marker early in the third period. Aho also had two points on the net, assisting on Ferland’s third period goal.

2. Kevin Labanc, San Jose Sharks. After dropping their season opener against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night, the Sharks were able to get their first win in the Erik Karlsson era on Friday night with a 3-2 overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings. Overall it was a pretty strong performance that saw the Sharks limit a relatively punch-less Kings offense to just 21 shots on goal. Kevin LaBanc was the hero of the night for the Sharks as he scored the game-winner in overtime, taking advantage of a tired trio of Kings that were stuck on the ice during an extended shift in the 3-on-3 period of bonus hockey.

3. Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks. Not only did he pick up his first point as a member of the Sharks by setting up LeBanc’s overtime winner, but he played a pretty dominant all-around game on Friday night. He played more 5-on-5 minutes than any other player on the team (20-plus minutes), while the Sharks attempted nearly 70 percent of the total shot attempts and badly outchanced the Kings (all numbers via Natural Stat Trick) when he was on the ice. He also attempted a game-high eight shots, including four on goal. This is what the Sharks were expecting to get when they traded for him and if he keeps playing like that this defense is going to be a force for every team in the NHL to deal with.

Kovalchuk makes his NHL Return

The Kings were desperate for offense this summer and tried to make a big splash by bringing Ilya Kovalchuk back to the NHL after a five-year absence.

They wasted no time getting getting him involved, giving him more than 20 minutes of ice time in his debut with the team. He finished with six total shot attempts, including two on goal, and was a plus-one.

It still seems that his role is a bit of a work in progress in some areas, particularly on the power play where he seemed to spend some time parked in front of the net. Not exactly the place where you expect to see a player with a shot like Kovalchuk’s.

Overall it was a pretty dismal showing by Kings’ offense as they were limited to just 21 shots on goal in 63 minutes of hockey, while their second goal (scored by Tyler Toffolli) was simply a bad goal by Sharks goalie Martin Jones to give up. Given how bad their offense was the last time we saw them on the ice (a four-game playoff series where they scored only three goals) this was not an encouraging start to the year.

Highlights of the Night

The Hurricanes’ win in Columbus was a special one for head coach Rod Brind’Amour because it was his first win as an NHL head coach. He was presented with the game puck in the locker room after the game by Jordan Staal.

San Jose’s Evander Kane scored his second goal in as many games for the Sharks in their win on Friday night, and this shot was an absolute rocket right underneath the crossbar to beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.

Factoids

Curtis McElhinney had a great debut for the Carolina Hurricanes, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced to help backstop the team to its first win of the season. For McElhinney this gives him a win as a member of seven different NHL teams, something that only a small handful of other goalies in league history can claim.

Wins for seven different teams! He is the modern-day, goalie version of Mike Sillinger.

San Jose Sharks forward Joe Thornton has been around for a long time and is climbing up the NHL’s all-time games played leaderboard. He tied Phil Housley on Friday night and will move ahead of Mike Modano later this month.

Scores

Hurricanes 3, Blue Jackets 1

San Jose Sharks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2 (OT)

 

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT’s 2018-19 predictions: NHL Awards, first coach fired, overrated teams

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Pre-season predictions are fun to track once things get under way because it’s interesting to see how they start to look as more and more games are played. It’s a good way to see what people are thinking heading into the season, and it’s especially a fun time to check back on them during different points of the year.

Below are our picks for the NHL awards which will handed out in June, plus some various topics like overrated and underrated teams, first coach fired, how many goals William Karlsson will score and more. Please be sure to forget these when they turn out to be 100 percent wrong at the end of the season. But do please come back and praise those individuals for their predictive ways if any of these end up being correct.

Be sure to give us your picks in the comments!

HART: Laine (Leahy), McDavid (O’Brien), Ovechkin (Gretz), MacKinnon (Alfieri), Kucherov (Billeck)
ART ROSS: McDavid (all)
ROCKET RICHARD: Ovechkin (Leahy, Gretz), Laine (O’Brien, Alfieri, Billeck)
VEZINA: Rask (Leahy), Gibson (O’Brien, Gretz), Vasilevskiy (Alfieri, Billeck)
NORRIS: Jones (Leahy), Karlsson (O’Brien, Gretz), Subban (Alfieri, Billeck)
CALDER: Mittelstadt (Leahy, Gretz), Dahlin (O’Brien, Alfieri), Pettersson (Billeck)
SELKE: Bergeron (all)

OVERRATED TEAM

LEAHY: Blues. Every year it’s the same thing: They play well, Vladimir Tarasenko lights it up, and then something happens where they crap out in the playoffs. Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron will help, but Jake Allen needs to rebound.

O’BRIEN: Kings. Considering the age of their core, the Kings could easily crash and burn this season. That’s especially true if Jonathan Quick proves his critics right by regressing.

GRETZ: Kings. They will do what they always do. They will post great possession numbers, they will not give up many goals, but they are still so lacking in talent and creativity offensively that they just will not be able to keep up with the rest of the contenders in the Western Conference. Ilya Kovalchuk will help, but the 35-year-old version of him is not enough to fix everything wrong with this team offensively.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

ALFIERI: Ducks. Ryan Kesler’s going to miss a lot of time due to injury and Corey Perry isn’t the player he once was. How much longer can the Ducks continue to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference? Sure, there’s some new blood on the roster, but Ryan Getzlaf can’t just keep shouldering the load for them. The Ducks will get into the playoffs, but they won’t do much damage.

BILLECK: Maple Leafs. Sure, they got Tavares. But did they improve on defense? Nope. The Maple Leafs are getting close, but they need a better backend to be Stanley Cup competitive.

UNDERRATED TEAM

LEAHY: Panthers. Roberto Luongo still has some juice left and a young core has been growing together as prospects Owen Tippett and Henrik Borgstrom could play big factors this season. Bob Boughner did a great job in year one. With more familiarity with his system and core players taking the next step, it’s a fine recipe for a big jump.

O’BRIEN: Oilers. It’s deeply unsettling to leave McDavid’s Oilers out of the playoffs, yet Edmonton missed last season even though the unparalleled megastar scored 108 points. That seems kind of impossible, doesn’t it? I expect a significant rebound, but not enough lessons were learned to get in the West’s eight.

GRETZ: Flyers. I don’t know if Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek will be exactly as good as they were a year ago, but they are still front-line players and the young talent on this team is really, really good. Once again they are a goalie away from being a serious contender.

ALFIERI: Golden Knights. Somehow, people are still doubting the Vegas Golden Knights. I don’t know if they’re an underrated team because they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but I feel like people aren’t giving them the respect they deserve. They also made some solid acquisitions over the summer.

BILLECK: Sabres. Great summer of moves, including bringing in Jeff Skinner. Carter Hutton should provide better goaltending and Ramus Dahlin. 

OVERRATED PLAYER

LEAHY: Ryan Johansen. What’s $8 million supposed to get you these days? Probably a little more offense than he’s provided for the Predators. He’s hit the 20- and 30-goal marks before and there’s plenty of talent in Nashville that he can get there again.

O’BRIEN: Jonathan Toews. Is Toews still overrated? Yeah, let’s go with Toews.

GRETZ: Marc-Andre Fleury. He had an amazing year, he had the best playoff run of his career, he is still a pretty good goalie, but he is not going to repeat what he did last year and throughout the playoffs.

ALFIERI: Paul Stastny. I liked the Stastny pick up for Vegas, but you can’t help but feel like his stock has picked up a lot of steam over the last few months. He’s still an extremely useful player but will he be able to contribute much more than 50 points? I don’t know about that. His $6.5 million price tag isn’t cheap.

BILLECK: William Karlsson. From 18 points to 78. From nine goals to 43. I’ll glady eat this if Wild Bill does it again, but until he does, I’m skeptical.

UNDERRATED PLAYER

LEAHY: Mikko Rantanen. Playing with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, it’s easy to overlook the talents of the 21-year-old Finn. He played a huge role in the MGM line’s success last season and heading into the final year of his entry-level contract, he could set himself up for a rich deal next summer.

O’BRIEN: William Karlsson. I’m starting to think that Karlsson is the bizarro version of Stars-era Loui Eriksson. Karlsson was deemed overrated so often – and harshly – last season thanks to his abrupt production and 23.4 shooting percentage. Now he enters 2018-19 as a perfectly skilled player making a perfectly fair $5.25M, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Vegas regrets going the “prove it” route with “Wild Bill.” (Note: I may be swayed by hair flips, though.)

GRETZ: Dougie Hamilton. He led all defenders in the league in goal-scoring last season, is a 50-point player from the blue line, posts dominant possession numbers, and is signed long-term at below market salary cap number. He might be a top-10 defensemen in the NHL right now and is a tremendous value, and the Hurricanes got him — and a pretty good forward in Micheal Ferland — without giving up a ton

ALFIERI: Blake Wheeler. Sure, Wheeler got paid, but it feels like people still don’t consider him as one of the top players in the league. Only eight players scored more points than he did last season and nobody had more assists. He’s an underrated playmaker.

BILLECK: Blake Wheeler. Glossed over for the Hart despite a 91-point season. One of the best power forwards in the game and filled in admirably at center when Mark Scheifele went down for 16 games. 

FIRST COACH FIRED

LEAHY: Todd McLellan. This is how it’s trending in Edmonton, right? Connor McDavid is there having to do it all himself and general manager Peter Chiarelli had a quiet summer. That’s not going to inspire much confidence that the Oilers can rebound this season, and before the ax falls on him, Chiarelli will make a move behind the bench early.

O’BRIEN: Todd McLellan. Normally I’d say Guy Boucher would be the fall guy, but I doubt Ottawa has the scratch to fork over more money for an in-season hire. So let’s go with McLellan, who’s probably lucky he avoided the axe after 2017-18.

GRETZ: Todd McLellan. When you have the best player in the league and miss the playoffs twice in three years you do not get a very long leash. I don’t think Edmonton addressed its shortcomings enough in the offseason so not sure the winning will return just yet.

ALFIERI: Jeff Blashill. I know the Red Wings don’t typically make coaching moves during the season, but I expect it to be a very difficult year for Detroit.

BILLECK: Guy Boucher. It’s Ottawa and Boucher is in a no-win situation. 

BIGGEST FREE AGENT BUST

LEAHY: Jay Beagle. Good for Beagle getting that money, but that’s a long, pricey contract for a bottom-sixer*. (*Also applies to Antoine Roussel.)

O’BRIEN: Leo Komarov. John Ta-just kidding. Komarov edges Jack Johnson and Antoine Roussel by a hair, because that signing kicks Islanders fans while they’re down.

GRETZ: Carter Hutton. He had a great year for the Blues in part-time duty but the rest of his career performance at the NHL level is just okay. Don’t see him as a solution to the Sabres’ problems in goal.

ALFIERI: James Neal. He got off to a great start with Vegas last year, but he ended up with 25 goals and 44 points in 71 games. Even though those are far from bad numbers, I’m not sure they warranted a five-year, $28.75 million deal.

BILLECK: James Neal. Nearly $6 million a year for a guy who can’t reach 50 points anymore. 

BLUE JACKETS KEEP OR TRADE PANARIN?

LEAHY: Keep. The Blue Jackets could be contenders coming out of the East, but the futures of Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are going to be huge sub-plots this season. If they’re a playoff team come February, how could not look to add to their roster and try and make a roster and hope for the best in free agency?

O’BRIEN: Trade. Trade him close to the deadline after they a) gauge where their team is and b) have a better shot at landing NHL-ready assets in return.

GRETZ: Keep. The Blue Jackets will keep him because they will be too competitive to trade him. Have to see where the team goes with him.

ALFIERI: Keep. They’ll be in a playoff race and they’ll need him to make sure they get in. I think he ends up walking in unrestricted free-agency.

BILLECK: Keep until the deadline and sign if the opportunity arises.

Erik Karlsson RE-SIGNS WITH SHARKS OR BECOMES UFA?

LEAHY: Re-signs. Doug Wilson is not going to let this big fish get away, and when Karlsson sees the talent that surrounds him in San Jose, he’ll want to stay. Maybe he’ll even grow out his beard after hanging out with Brent Burns and Joe Thornton  (OK, maybe not Jumbo now) for a while?

O’BRIEN: Re-signs… after the trade deadline.

GRETZ: Re-signs. Karlsson will sign with the Sharks before he reaches UFA. The Sharks can make it work under the cap and he can be the focal point of their defense and organization going forward.

ALFIERI: Re-signs. No way he’s leaving San Jose. He’ll be back on an eight-year deal.

BILLECK: Re-signs with a max contract.

PHT’S SEASON PREVIEW:
• Atlantic Division
• Metropolitan Division
• Central Division
Pacific Division
Power Rankings: Who is the NHL’s best team entering 2018-19?

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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.