PHT Morning Skate: Hakstol firing fallout; Leafs prepared for offer sheets

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• According to NBC Philadelphia, Chuck Fletcher didn’t plan on firing Dave Hakstol on Monday. Good times! [NBC Philadelphia]

• Planning to submit an offer sheet to one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ young studs next summer? Go ahead. Kyle Dubas isn’t scared. “Our salary cap situation is set up that we can defend any of those threats with no worry at all. I know (offer sheets) have become a huge topic of late, but I spend zero per cent of my time having any worry about that.” [Toronto Sun]

William Nylander has some advice for potential offer sheet targets Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner: sign early. [TSN]

• After suffering another concussion, what does the future hold for Corey Crawford? [Sun-Times]

Matt Duchene could be back for the Ottawa Senators sooner than expected. [Ottawa Citizen]

• Mike Tirico will be the host for NBC’s coverage of the 2019 Winter Classic and 2019 NHL All-Star Game. [NBC Sports Press Box]

• An abdominal injury has put New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider on IR. [NJ.com]

• NHL Seattle looking to incorporate indigenous art into team logo. [King5]

• We’re witnessing a very good Tampa Bay Lightning team. Is this roster the most complete yet? [Tampa Bay Times]

Mark Scheifele is a stud and has become one of the Winnipeg Jets’ biggest offensive leaders. [Winnipeg Free Press]

• Short-term pain could lead to long-term benefits for the Los Angeles Kings. [The Hockey News]

Matt Murray is healthy, but should he carry the bulk of the workload for the Pittsburgh Penguins? [Pensburgh]

• It’s been a tough season in net for the Arizona Coyotes, but Adin Hill has been a bright spot. [NHL.com]

• Overcoming adversity will tell us a lot about the 2018-19 New York Islanders. [Islanders Insight]

• What will the NHL scoring race look like at the end of the regular season? [Spector’s Hockey]

• Will Alex Ovechkin score 50 in 50 this season? [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Arizona State is coming along real well as a NCAA D-I hockey program. [Scotty Wazz]

• A chat with Jay Deutsch, one of the members of the NHL Seattle ownership group, about branding and marketing the franchise, competing with other sports in Seattle, the NBA and more. [Forbes]

• Finally, please check out episode three of Desert Gold: How Hockey Became a Smash Hit in Vegas:

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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.

Nylander already showing flashes of brilliance for Maple Leafs

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After a contract holdout that extended almost until the last minute on Dec. 1, William Nylander finally signed with the Maple Leafs, yet he was unable to generate a point in his first two games back. One could almost feel the restlessness build in Toronto, but there were breakthrough moments in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win against the Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Granted, there were also some breakdowns on Nylander’s part, too. Some of that is just the nature of the beast when it comes to NHL hockey, but rust is a factor, as well.

Nylander generated his first two points of 2018-19 in Tuesday’s win, both being assists.

His first didn’t seem like an assist at all, as Morgan Rielly was credited with a goal after it became clear that Dougie Hamilton was guilty of a tragicomic own-goal. Nylander’s second assist came on a brilliant pass to Patrick Marleau, who converted on what was the hockey equivalent of a layup:

Nylander might just deserve that token assist, really, as he made another brilliant pass to Marleau that did not result in a goal.

That’s some great stuff, and the Maple Leafs have the potential to be truly terrifying if Nylander, Marleau, and Nazem Kadri can make for a strong line while Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner also confound defenses at different times. We’ve seen a lot of NHL teams load up with supreme top lines, hoping that the gains would offset any losses. Toronto could score a monumental advantage over most opponents if they can really leverage this depth.

As tantalizing as those thoughts are, it’s not as though Nylander is a finished product.

The 22-year-old experienced some sloppy moments during that same game against Carolina, finishing the night with six penalty minutes. Maybe his high-sticking penalty ranks as one of those things that just happens, but Nylander essentially had to take an interference penalty out of exhaustion, as he was caught out on the ice during a shift that went too long.

After the game, Nylander acknowledged that some shifts went too long, while Mike Babcock had an interesting take on what the winger is going through.

“It’s going to take some time, let’s not get carried away,” Babcock said. “They’re all fine as long as the ice is open. As soon as it is in contact and you’ve got to get your legs going and you can get stuck out on a shift. He took a penalty the one time he got stuck out on a shift … It’s going to take some time. We’ll be patient and he has to be.”

Maple Leafs fans should be heartened by that last sentence: the team will be patient with Nylander. That’s crucial, and it’s especially promising coming from a coach who can sometimes be … hard-driving, like Babcock’s known to be.

Now, about that patience: when should the Maple Leafs expect Nylander to be at full speed?

Ignoring the potential advantages that come with skipping months of bumps and bruises by beginning his season in December instead of October, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Toronto believes that a player gets truly up-and-running about 12 days after training camp.

By the best estimates of the Leafs sports science department, it typically takes a player 12 days after training camp before his heart rate levels out during exertion.

That would put Nylander on schedule to be functioning at his peak sometime in mid-January after hitting the ground running last week and so far playing more games (three) than he’s had full practices (two) with the Leafs.

As much as any other team, the Maple Leafs have the resources to research such sports science issues, so the league should keep an eye on developments like these. If any league could see a franchise exploit “rest versus rust” for, say, gains in the playoffs, it might be someone in the NHL. Plenty of franchises lack that eye for innovation, so those who do might enjoy at least a brief edge.

The thing is, it’s human nature to fixate on mistakes like Nylander’s interference penalty, and lose sight of the big picture (his assists, and strong overall play).

Consider that, according to Natural Stat Trick’s individual rates, Nylander’s Corsi For Percentage was 61.29-percent on Tuesday, the second-best mark of any Maple Leafs player in that game (Igor Ozhiganov topped all at 65.22). Perhaps you can nitpick that a bit being that Nylander didn’t face the toughest Hurricanes competition during much of the contest, but you’d be grasping at straws.

In other words, there’s already a lot to like about Nylander three games into his latest season, even if there are signs of growing pains. He could be a boon to the Maple Leafs in his current form, and chances are, he’ll get up to game speed and shake off all the rust, possibly quite soon.

Long story short, Nylander’s showing that he’s worth the wait.

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.

Seven stunning NHL numbers through first two months

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Every month we will take a look around the NHL at some stunning (or even bizarre) numbers that jump out at us.

This month we look at the crazy stat lines for Patrik Laine, Mitch Marner, and Blake Wheeler, take another look at the ridiculous Arizona Coyotes penalty kill unit, and marvel at Alex Ovechkin‘s ability to get pucks on the net. 

Patrik Laine scores all the goals — He has not even played three full seasons in the NHL but the Winnipeg Jets forward is already one of the top-three (probably top-two) goal-scorers in the league.

He has already topped the 100-goal mark for his career, is on track to be one of the league-leaders again this season, and is as dangerous as any other player in the league when the puck is on his stick.

Entering play on Friday he has 21 goals on the season, an incredible number through 27 games.

Also incredible? He only has three assists this season, producing one of the funniest stat lines in the league. He is on pace to score more than 60 goals this season while recording only nine assists!

The fewest assists any player has had in a 50 goal season was the 21 Ovechkin had during the 2015-16 season.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season (via the hockey-reference database) Laine’s three assists are the fewest assists a player has had through the first 27 games of the season while scoring at least 20 goals.

During the 2008-09 season Thomas Vanek had 20 goals and only five assists for the Buffalo Sabres through his first 27 games. He finished that season with 40 goals and 24 assists.

At some point things will start to balance out a bit for Laine (his goal-scoring pace will almost certainly slow down, at least a little bit; he will get more assists) but it is still amazing to look at that stat line in the first week of December.

Wheeler and Marner are the Anti-Laines — At the complete opposite end of the offensive spectrum we have Laine’s Winnipeg teammate Blake Wheeler and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner.

Let’s start with Marner who has already recorded 34 assists through the Maple Leafs’ first 29 games, putting him in some elite company. It is only the 24th time since the start of the 1987 season a player has recorded that many helpers this far into the season, and 10 of those instances belong to either Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky (five times each).

What stands out about Marner’s performance is that he only has six goals to go with those assists.

Craig Janney (seven goals) during the 1992-93 season is the only player on that list to have fewer than 10 goals at this point.

It is certainly possible that Wheeler could join him on that list. Through the Jets’ first 27 games he has already recorded 32 assists, while scoring only four goals.

The Arizona Coyotes’ penalty kill still has a positive goal differential — We touched on this a month ago but it is still true today and it is still absurd so we need to look at it again.

We are more than a quarter of the way through the NHL season and the Coyotes have already scored 11 shorthanded goals this season, more than double any other team in the league.

During the entire 2017-18 season only one team scored more than 11 shorthanded goals all year, and none scored more than 12. Arizona is on pace to shatter that number.

Even more incredible than the number of shorthanded goals is the fact they have still only allowed eight power play goals and are still successful on more than 90 percent of their penalty kills. No other team in the league has allowed fewer than 13 power play goals at this point, while the Coyotes’ plus-three goal differential on the penalty kill is still by far the best in the league.

The Vegas Golden Knights, currently at minus-8, are the only other team in the NHL that are currently better than minus-10 while shorthanded.

The worst Chicago Blackhawks start in 15 years — The window is officially closed.

After missing the playoffs a year ago the Blackhawks have won just nine of their first 30 games to start to the 2018-19 season, making it their worst start since the 2003-04 season when they won just seven of their first 30 games.

It is only the second time since 2000 they have won fewer than 10 games at this point in the season.

That is a lot of shots on goal — Ovechkin recorded his 5,000th shot on goal during the Washington Capitals’ win over the Coyotes on Thursday night, becoming the fastest player in league history to reach that mark.

Only seven other players have ever recorded that many shots on goal (at least since shots on goal have been an official NHL stat).

The player immediately behind Ovechkin on the list is Brett Hull, who finished his career with 4,876. The next player on the list that Ovechkin will pass, probably in a couple weeks, is Brendan Shanahan with 5,086.

Hull played 1,269 games in his career. Shanahan played 1,525.

Ovechkin has currently played in only 1,031.

Connor McDavid is being asked to do even more — For the first three years of McDavid’s career he has been asked to be a one-man team in Edmonton, so why should year four be any different?

If anything, he is being asked to do even more this season.

Through the Oilers’ first 28 games he has already contributed to 49 percent of the team’s goals (scoring or assist on 36 out of 76). After the same number of games a year ago he had “only” contributed to 42 percent of the team’s goals (scoring or assisting on 34 out of 80).

Keep in mind he actually missed one of the team’s first 28 games this season.

In terms of the raw numbers it’s not that big of a difference, but it is still stunning that four years into the career of the most dominant offensive player in the league the organization that was lucky enough to get him has not given him any kind of help. When you combine this with Ken Hitchcock’s approach to playing him and Leon Draisaitl seemingly every other shift the Oilers are counting on him to single handedly carry the team even more than before.

Somebody help Craig Anderson — If you like games with a lot of offense and no defense you really need to start checking out the Ottawa Senators.

For as bad as things seem with the organization overall, they do at least have some promising young players that are putting up big numbers. They also have a completely invisible defense. That combination of young, skilled players results in a lot of high-scoring, action-packed games that may not be the best hockey, but are at least very exciting.

One player that is probably not loving it is starting goalie Craig Anderson, who has already had to face 936 shots this season!

Since the start of the 1987 season no goalie has had to face more shots through their team’s first 30 games, while only two (Ken Wreggett in 1995 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc Denis with the 2003 Columbus Blue Jackets) topped the 900-shot mark (both faced 906 shots).

He is currently facing 36 shots per game! If he maintains that pace and plays in the same number of games he did a year ago (58) he would face more than 2,000 shots on goal this season.

That is a lot of shots, but it’s not totally unheard of as it’s been done 108 teams in league history. But almost every goalie that has been a part of the 2,000 shot club in a season did so by playing more than 60 games.

The overwhelming majority played 65 or more.

The only ones that faced more than 2,000 shots while playing in fewer than 60 games were Gump Worsley (59 games in 1960-61),  Bernie Parent (58 games) 1968-69, and Al Rollins (58 games) 1955-56. Somebody help Craig Anderson before he joins that list.

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.

Get ready for full-strength Maple Leafs, as Nylander’s set to debut

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Even the Toronto Maple Leafs’ biggest haters should turn their frowns upside down for at least a little while, as hockey fans are rapidly approaching quite the gift.

Multiple reporters (including Sportsnet’s Shawn McKenzie) pass along word that William Nylander announced that he’ll play in the Maple Leafs’ next game, which takes place against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday. To make the situation even more joyous, consider that the game is happening in Toronto.

To make things more delightful – and maybe excite a dork or two in advanceAuston Matthews hasn’t missed a beat since returning from injury. Thursday will only represent Matthews’ fourth game back in the lineup, yet he’s been making up for lost time, as the American star has five goals and two assists for seven points in three contests. (Yes, seriously.)

The Red Wings should expect to hold on for dear life, as Thursday represents the first time that we’ll get a full vision of what this Maple Leafs team can be in 2018-19: Matthews and Nylander joining John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, and other talented offensive players to form what could be one of the most explosive offenses in recent history.

[Can they keep the band together beyond this season? That’s another story.]

Zooming out a bit, it will be fascinating to see how head coach Mike Babcock pieces things together.

Via Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, Matthews and Zach Hyman were far and away Nylander’s most common even-strength linemates last season. Hyman’s instead been lining up with Tavares and Marner lately, while Patrick Marleau and Kasperi Kapanen have been Matthews’ wingers.

It’s been noted that Kapanen was dreaming about Nylander returning, but will his buddy’s reemergence bump him down the Maple Leafs’ lineup? Someone has to get moved down the order, after all … unless Babcock boldly put Nylander on the third line with another overqualified forward in Nazem Kadri.

That’s anyone’s guess, and as hockey fans know, coaches tend to throw line combinations in a blender, anyway. Injuries, cold/hot streaks, and the scoreboard can all affect how things shake out.

Even so, it’s intriguing to see how some are drawing up combos.

Jeff Veillette, for example, argues for a line of Andreas Johnsson – Matthews – Nylander (with Tavares joined by Hyman and Marner) in this post for The Faceoff Circle. It’s interesting to see Veillette discuss salary cap implications in his explanation:

This line exists to win hockey games, not chess matches. If it was a chess match, it would probably be closer to what the coaching staff is doing to win hockey games – Patrick Marleau near the top to try to pad his point totals (in case he’s willing to waive his No-Movement Clause on the final year of his contract this summer), and Johnsson near the bottom to keep his production down (so he doesn’t cash in on his “prove it” year).

Stylistically, Nylander would certainly make a lot of sense back with Matthews, at least with Marner clicking so well as Tavares’ wingman. Nylander’s a right-handed shot who can create great opportunities for Matthews, while also punishing opponents severely if they overcommit to stopping that connection. It’s pretty terrifying to imagine having to deal with a pair of one-two punches on the scale of Matthews – Nylander and Tavares – Marner, especially considering how successful Toronto’s been, even at less-than-full-strength.

The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel also postulates (sub required) that Nylander could be a big boost to the Maple Leafs’ second power-play unit.

Putting Nylander in that group makes some sense. For one thing, that top group is dominating opponents. For another, Siegel notes that Babcock still gives plenty of PP ice time to Marleau, Jake Gardiner, and the second unit. Some might lean toward the “load up on one group” mantra, but it becomes increasingly sensible when you realize that top players often are the ones drawing penalties, so giving them a breather (rather than throwing them right back on the ice, or extending shifts) makes a lot of sense.

So, whether you go big picture or really get into the nuts and bolts, Nylander’s addition is a significant boon for the Maple Leafs.

Delightfully, it should bump an already-exciting team to an absolutely must-watch level.

And, hey, you could always go back to hating the Maple Leafs again when the games start to matter a bit more. You know, if hating the Leafs is your thing.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Maple Leafs, Sabres meet in Atlantic Division clash

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Tonight’s matchup features two of the top teams in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs are riding a four-game winning streak and are 11-3-0 in their past 14 games, while the Sabres have dropped three straight, including a 2-1 loss last night to Nashville.

After missing 14 games with a shoulder injury, Auston Matthews has three goals and an assist in two games since his return. Matthews has 13 goals in 13 games this season, the best goals per game mark of any player in the league. Toronto native Jeff Skinner has been electric for Buffalo this season, leading the Sabres with 20 goals (t-2nd in NHL). He had just 24 goals all last season with Carolina and played in all 82 games.

This will be the first of four meetings between these clubs this season. They will also meet in Toronto on Feb. 25 and March 3, before ending their regular season series on March 20 in Buffalo. The Leafs and Sabres have alternated wins and losses over the past six meetings.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres
Where: KeyBank Center
When: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Maple Leafs-Sabres stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

MAPLE LEAFS
Zach HymanJohn TavaresMitch Marner
Patrick Marleau – Auston Matthews – Kasperi Kapanen
Par LindholmNazem KadriConnor Brown
Tyler EnnisFrederik GauthierAndreas Johnsson

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey
Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev
Travis DermottIgor Ozhiganov

Starting goalie: Frederik Andersen

SABRES
Jeff Skinner – Jack EichelSam Reinhart
Tage ThompsonCasey MittelstadtKyle Okposo
Remi ElieEvan RodriguesVladimir Sobotka
Patrik BerglundJohan LarssonZemgus Girgensons

Rasmus DahlinZach Bogosian
Lawrence PilutRasmus Ristolainen
Nathan BeaulieuCasey Nelson

Starting goalie: Linus Ullmark

Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y.