Patrick Kane

NHL Power Rankings: Top Draft Lottery memories

2 Comments

Hockey fans will get something to obsess about on Friday, June 26, as the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will air on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET. If one of the NHL’s bottom seven teams wins the first draw, we might know where Alexis Lafrenière is headed (assuming, reasonably safely, that he goes first). As promising as Lafrenière is, history shows that winning a draft lottery isn’t the only part of putting together a championship team — if you even get that far.

I mean … don’t get me wrong, as this list shows, it often helps. A lot.

The latest PHT Power Rankings list breaks down top memories that have come from draft lotteries. Sometimes we’ll see big winners, losers, or both. Sometimes there will be tragic comedy, or incredible luck (*cough* or both).

The experience of seeing your team’s luck swing on the bounces of lottery balls can be agonizing. It also makes just about every experience a personal one. So, if you have draft lottery memories that didn’t make the cut, absolutely share them.

Try not to ruin your day going over such memories, though.

[How the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will work. It could get complicated.]

1. Penguins land Crosby in strange 2005 NHL Draft Lottery

You know it’s an odd, memorable draft lottery when Sports Illustrated gives it the oral history treatment.

Sidney Crosby also ended up justifying the hype, making the 2005 NHL Draft lottery possibly the most pivotal since the format began.

On one hand, the Penguins received some of the best odds to win. They received three of the 48 lottery balls in the NHL’s strange setup, ranking among four teams with the most. Even so, they had a 6.3 percent chance to win the Crosby sweepstakes. (Somewhere, Brian Burke is still fuming about this.)

You can probably set off a brushfire of hockey debate by asking how much the Penguins’ success hinged on luck — not just landing Crosby, but Evgeni Malkin second in 2004, and a bucket of other high picks — and how much hinged on solid management. There’s no debate that the Penguins came out of the lockout with two enormous additions.

You can also entertain yourself with some Ducks alternate history. What if they did land Crosby? Imagine if Burke’s alleged aims to trade for Joe Thornton worked out? Would Burke still be challenging Kevin Lowe and others to barn brawls as Ducks GM to this day?

*Loosens tie over the whole thing*

Also:

  • The Canadiens only received one lottery ball, yet eventually drafted Carey Price fifth overall.
  • The Sabres had three lottery balls, but chose (*moves imaginary glasses from forehead to eyes*) … Marek Zagrapan? Oof.

That 2005 NHL Draft tops the list of lottery memories. There are plenty of other dramatic swings to mull over, however.

2. Blackhawks lose big in 2004, then win big in 2007

It’s easy to zero in on the top pick of a draft versus the second when you look back at draft lottery swings. But don’t sleep on the third pick, and on, because that’s where the deepest belly laughs and cringes often lurk.

Consider 2004. The Capitals rocketed back to relevance thanks to Alex Ovechkin. Malkin served as the first of the Penguins’ two superstars (but far from the only high picks, as the Penguins marinated in those during a run of profound ineptitude).

The Blackhawks? They chose Cam Barker third overall. Brutal.

Luckily, the Blackhawks ended up trading Barker for a future building block in Nick Leddy. Amusingly, fourth overall pick Andrew Ladd also helped Chicago down the line.

But most luckily, the Blackhawks landed the top pick in 2007 despite having the fifth-best chances (8.1 percent). Chicago selected Patrick Kane, pairing him with Jonathan Toews on their way to three Stanley Cups.

The Flyers suffered through a miserable season, yet instead of drafting Kane, they ended up with James van Riemsdyk. There’s a kinship, oddly, between JVR and Bobby Ryan: two New Jersey natives, who were second overall picks, and enjoyed bumpy-but-productive careers that probably didn’t soothe the wounds of those who were mad about draft lottery results.

Did we mention they were from New Jersey? (Crowd boos.)

[NHL Mock Draft: Lafreniere head of the 2020 prospect class]

3. The Oilers land McDavid, McDavid makes classic McDavid face

Compared to the Sabres’ 20-percent chance, the Oilers were underdogs to land Connor McDavid with the third-best odds (11.5). But the Oilers’ rain and reign of first overall picks continued.

As you may remember, McDavid looked thrilled.

There’s a sound argument for this rankings second, not third, among draft lottery memories. After all, McDavid ranks as the biggest star to emerge first overall since Crosby.

He also made that face.

But the other factor that looms large is the deep failure of the Oilers and the Sabres. Edmonton achieves borderline art in poor development (Nail Yakupov, first in 2012) and poor decisions (trading Taylor Hall, first in 2010) to squander so much good fortune. Only now are the Oilers flirting with the success they were practically gifted, and that hinges a ton on McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The Sabres have been a mess for about a decade. They can’t pin that on getting Jack Eichel instead of McDavid, even if they clearly tanked for McDavid.

Hockey fans might want to attribute the success of teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks to premium picks alone. Yet, the Sabres and especially Oilers show us that you can squander such riches.

4. Taylor Hall, lottery ball specialist

Taylor Hall, one-time MVP and himself the top pick of 2010, became a good luck charm for his teams — at least when it came to draft lotteries. The biggest win came when the Oilers won the McDavid sweepstakes in 2015, while the Devils also landed Nico Hischier and most recently Jack Hughes in lotteries with Hall in the fold.

Hall hasn’t just shown a good sense of humor about it. He’s done so multiple times.

In 2015, McDavid:

After 2017, when the Devils eventually added Hischier:

Hall still provided some great barbs in 2019, though he wouldn’t spend much time with Jack Hughes:

So, a question: do we gauge Hall’s continued lottery ball dominance based on where the Coyotes draft, or if he signs with a different team in free agency? This is important, I think.

[PHT Roundtable: Draft Lottery format reactions]

5. Flyers make biggest jump ever

Heading into the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, the Flyers held the 13th rank. Despite that standing, they jumped all the way to the second pick. Philly had a 2.4 percent chance to do that.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like a Blackhawks Barker-to-Kane flip. Early in his career, Nolan Patrick has been some combination of inconsistent and injured (his career outlook is still foggy because of migraines).

Patrick’s health issues make it seem way too harsh to throw the word “bust” around. But that jump to No. 2 definitely didn’t deliver for the Flyers quite like they dreamed.

The next three picks turn the knife deeper for Flyers fans. The Stars drafted a defensive pillar in Miro Heiskanen. Then the Avalanche got a pillar of their own in Cale Makar. Finally, the Canucks might have drafted the “real” top pick in Elias Pettersson.

Ouch.

Honorable mention NHL Draft Lottery storylines and memories

To reiterate, good draft lottery luck doesn’t always translate to the standings. Sometimes it doesn’t even mean you’ll choose the right player.

  • The Thrashers (Patrik Stefan) and Islanders (Rick DiPietro) followed back-to-back blunders, and made blunders around those moves. Trading Roberto Luongo, giving DiPietro a ruinous contract, and so on showed that winning the lottery isn’t everything. Granted, Atlanta eventually struck gold with Ilya Kovalchuk (2001) — at least for a while.
  • Buffalo suffered some bad luck, but they need more than lottery wins. Rasmus Dahlin (2018) looks legit, yet he hasn’t been able to solve the Sabres’ problems. That takes multiple shrewd moves … and, yes, some luck.
  • You could rank the Canucks among the teams that have been burned by bad draws. Even so, some of their best recent picks came outside the true no-brainer range. They selected Elias Pettersson fifth in 2017, and he’d probably be the top pick in a re-draft. The Quinn Hughes pick (seventh in 2018) looked smart then, and brilliant now.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

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.

Kane, Blackhawks preparing for training camp 2.0

1 Comment

CHICAGO — When Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks left the ice after their last game, they had little chance of making the playoffs.

Whenever they play their next game, it sure looks as if they will be one of 24 teams with a shot at the Stanley Cup.

Welcome to the strangest postseason berth in franchise history, one so unusual that it isn’t exactly a playoff appearance at the moment. Assuming everything goes according to plan and the final details are ironed out between the league and the players’ union, the Blackhawks will play Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in a best-of-five qualifier series for the playoff bracket.

”It’s been a weird three months,” Kane said during a video conference call with reporters.

No kidding.

Chicago hasn’t played since a 6-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on March 11. The Blackhawks were last in the Central Division and 12th in the Western Conference standings when the NHL season was suspended the next day because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While the Blackhawks were awaiting word on the fate of their season, team president John McDonough was fired by owner Rocky Wirtz. Danny Wirtz, Rocky’s son and a vice president with the team, replaced McDonough on an interim basis.

Longtime general manager Stan Bowman called McDonough a mentor Thursday in his first public comments since the dismissal.

”I think he did a lot of great things for your organization, so I thank him from that perspective,” Bowman said. ”Similarly, I’ve had a chance, I’ve known Danny Wirtz for a few years now and I’ve had a chance over the last six weeks to work closely with Danny, Rocky as well. And they’ve been fantastic to me, too. So I look at this for me as the opportunity to learn from Danny.”

The surprise move could lead to dramatic changes for Chicago’s front office once the season is over. But Kane and Co. are hoping to put that off for a while.

The Blackhawks took two of three against Edmonton this season, winning 3-1 way back in October and 4-3 on March 5. They should get forward Drake Caggiula and defensemen Adam Boqvist and Calvin de Haan back for training camp 2.0 next month after they were sidelined by injuries when the season was suspended.

The 29-year-old de Haan was expected to miss the rest of the year after he had right shoulder surgery in December. His return could be particularly helpful for the Blackhawks as they try to slow McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who won his first Art Ross Trophy for leading the league with 110 points.

”Obviously, we’ve got to get him on the ice, go through camp, and hopefully everything continues to progress as far as his health,” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said. ”But I thought the games he did play he was steady back there.”

The Blackhawks started voluntary workouts this week, with Kane and fellow forward Alex DeBrincat among the first players to return to the team’s practice facility.

The dates and site for their series against Edmonton are still to be determined. But Kane thinks making the most of all the time before the games could be a big key to a deep playoff run.

”It’ll definitely be an advantage for a team that can come back and get together quickly and have a good training camp and kind of find their game right away,” he said. ”So I think it might be some surprises, you know, if we get down to playing.”

NBCSN’s Stanley Cup Final Week: Kane’s goal, Pronger’s puck-stealing antics

1 Comment

NBC Sports presents Stanley Cup Final Week on NBCSN, reliving classic Stanley Cup Final games and original films and shows from the past decade across seven nights. Today, we give our favorite memories from the the 2010 Cup Final between the Flyers and Blackhawks.

JAKE: The Stanley Cup Playoffs always seem to produce an unlikely hero or two as 16 teams (24 this year, hopefully!) battle for Lord Stanley. On Monday we remembered Max Talbot’s multi-goal Game 7 in 2009 to deny Detroit back-to-back titles and bring Pittsburgh its first championship in 17 years.

One peripheral member of that losing Red Wings squad went on to play a major role for the Flyers on their run to the Cup Final the following season: Ville Leino.

As a rookie for Detroit in 2008-09, Leino played 13 regular season games and seven playoff games, including the first four games of that final against Pittsburgh. The next season he was traded to Philadelphia.

Entering the 2010 postseason, Leino had played a total of 75 NHL games and scored just 22 points. He was a healthy scratch for Philly’s first four playoff games that year. Who could have predicted the performance that followed?

SEAN: The series did not start the way the Flyers wanted. Losing a pair of one-goal games, including a wild, back-and-forth Game 1 that ended 6-5 in Chicago’s favor, Chris Pronger put the spotlight on himself. 

After the first two games, the Flyers defenseman was seen picking up the game puck after the final buzzer sounded. It became a thing. Pronger tried to distract from his team’s deficit in the series and it worked.

“I think it’s kind of comical,” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. “If Chris Pronger wants the puck, then he can have it, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have any problems with that. I don’t know what the big deal is.”

Asked where he put the pucks, Pronger replied as only he could: “It’s in the garbage – where it belongs.”

Perhaps that’s what happened to the Game 1 puck, but last month Pronger told Sportsnet that the one from Game 2 is still in his possession.

[FULL NBCSN STANLEY CUP WEEK SCHEDULE]

JAMES: It’s almost a little on the nose that this series ramped up with “Where’s the puck?” and then ended with … well, “Where’s the puck?”

Or, if you were Patrick Kane, you could motion to the net behind Michael Leighton and scream “There’s the puck!” And then celebrate the first Blackhawks Stanley Cup of the Kane – Jonathan ToewsDuncan Keith era.

Did Kane score the “Goal of the Decade” right here? That’s up for debate, but it earned NHL.com’s nod:

That also marked the first time PHT received the chance to cover a Stanley Cup victory. Discussing it in real time with readers via (whatever likely absolute chat app PHT used at time) made everything even more surreal.

***

NBC Sports presents Stanley Cup Final Week on NBCSN, reliving classic Stanley Cup Final games and original films and shows from the past decade across seven nights, beginning on Monday, June 8.

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Tuesday, June 9 – NBCSN
• Who Wore It Best? (Episode 4) – 5 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 1: Philadelphia vs. Chicago – 5:30 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 3: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 7 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 9 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 3: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 11 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 1 a.m. ET

NBCSN’s Stanley Cup Final Week schedule: June 8-14

Getty Images

NBC Sports presents Stanley Cup Final Week on NBCSN, reliving classic Stanley Cup Final games and original films and shows from the past decade across seven nights, beginning on Monday, June 8.

The memorable Stanley Cup broadcasts include the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues’ inaugural championships the past two seasons, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins victory in 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks’ wins in 2010 and 2013, as well as the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings Cup wins in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

Kathryn Tappen and Liam McHugh will introduce matchups throughout the week. Saturday and Sunday’s Stanley Cup clinching broadcasts will feature new commentary from actor and Blues fan Jon Hamm, 12-year-old Blues super-fan Laila Anderson and Capitals forward Lars Eller, who scored the 2018 Stanley Cup winning goal.

Below is each night’s highlighted Stanley Cup Final Week content:

• Monday, June 8: 2009 Stanley Cup Final
• Tuesday, June 9: 2010 Stanley Cup Final
• Wednesday, June 10: 2011 Stanley Cup Final
• Thursday, June 11: 2013 Stanley Cup Final
• Friday, June 12: 2014 Stanley Cup Final
• Saturday, June 13: 2018 Stanley Cup Final
• Sunday, June 14: 2019 Stanley Cup Final

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

MONDAY, JUNE 8 – 2009 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
The opening night of Stanley Cup Final Week features Game 2, 6 and 7 from the 2009 Stanley Cup Final that was won by Sidney Crosby and the PPenguins, after rallying from 2-0 and 3-2 series deficits, against the Red Wings. Evgeni Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy in this rematch of the 2008 Cup Final, which was won by the Red Wings.

Kathryn Tappen will introduce the opening night.

• NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban (Episode 3) – 5 p.m. ET
• 2009 Stanley Cup Final Game 2: Pittsburgh vs. Detroit – 5:30 p.m. ET
• 2009 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Detroit vs. Pittsburgh – 7 p.m. ET
• 2009 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Pittsburgh vs. Detroit – 9 p.m. ET
• 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins Championship Film – 11 p.m. ET
• 2009 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Pittsburgh vs. Detroit – 12:30 a.m. ET
• Gamechangers: All-Time Greats 2:30 a.m. ET

TUESDAY, JUNE 9 – 2010 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
On the tenth anniversary of the Blackhawks clinching Game 6 to win the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, Games 1, 3 and 6 of the Cup Final between the Flyers and Blackhawks highlight NBCSN’s coverage on Tuesday. In overtime of Game 6, the Blackhawks won the Cup, ending their championship drought, which was the longest active streak in the NHL at the time. Jonathan Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Liam McHugh will host Tuesday’s coverage.

• Who Wore It Best? (Episode 4) 5 p.m. NBCSN
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 1: Philadelphia vs. Chicago – 5:30 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 3: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 7 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 9 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 3: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 11 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 1 a.m. ET

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10 – 2011 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
On Wednesday, NBCSN will present Game 6 and 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and Canucks. Behind a 4-0 shutout win in Game 7, the Bruins ended a 39-year Stanley Cup drought with the victory. Boston goaltender Tim Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Tappen will host Stanley Cup Final Week on Wednesday.

• Skates & Plates – 4 p.m. ET
• 2011 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Vancouver vs. Boston – 4:30 p.m. ET
• 2011 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Boston vs. Vancouver – 10 p.m. ET
• 2011 Boston Bruins Championship Film – 11:30 p.m. ET
• 2011 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Boston vs. Vancouver – 1 a.m. ET
• Top 10: All-Time Records – 2:30 a.m. ET

THURSDAY, JUNE 11 – 2013 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
Three matchups from the 2013 Cup Final (Games 2, 4 and 6) between the Blackhawks and Bruins will be featured Thursday. Chicago won the championship in a thrilling last-minute comeback in Game 6, claiming their second Cup win in four years after also winning the title in 2010. Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks won MVP.

McHugh will introduce coverage on Thursday night.

• 2013 Stanley Cup Final Game 2: Boston vs. Chicago – 5 p.m. ET
• 2013 Stanley Cup Final Game 4: Chicago vs. Boston – 7 p.m. ET
• 2013 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Boston – 9 p.m. ET
• 2013 Chicago Blackhawks Championship Film – 11 p.m. ET
• 2013 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Boston – 12:30 a.m. ET
• Gamechangers: All-Time Greats – 2:30 a.m. ET

FRIDAY, JUNE 12 – 2014 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
NBCSN presents the Kings victory in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the Rangers on Friday. Los Angeles’ double-overtime victory in Game 2 will be followed by another double-overtime thriller in Game 5, as Alec Martinez of the Kings clinched their second Cup in three years following the franchise’s first-ever championship in 2012. The Kings’ Justin Williams won MVP.

On Friday, Tappen will host coverage of the 2014 Cup Final broadcasts.

• 2014 Stanley Cup Final Game 2: New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles – 8 p.m. ET
• 2014 Stanley Cup Final Game 5: New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles – 9:30 p.m. ET
• 2014 Los Angeles Kings Championship Film – 11 p.m. ET

SATURDAY, JUNE 13 – 2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
Saturday kicks off back-to-back nights highlighting franchises’ winning their first-ever Cup, beginning with the Capitals in 2018. Facing the expansion Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals rallied from a Game 1 loss to win four straight and capture Washington’s inaugural title. Ovechkin was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.

McHugh will introduce Saturday’s coverage and be joined by Capitals forward Lars Eller, who scored the Cup winning goal, during the Game 5 broadcast.

• 2018 Stanley Cup Final Game 1: Washington vs. Vegas – 8 p.m. ET
• 2018 Stanley Cup Final Game 5: Washington vs. Vegas – 9:30 p.m. ET
• 2018 Washington Capitals Championship Film – 11 p.m. ET
• 2018 Stanley Cup Final Game 5: Washington vs. Vegas – 1 a.m. ET
• Gamechangers: Knight Fever – 2:30 a.m. ET

SUNDAY, JUNE 14 – 2019 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
The concluding night of Stanley Cup Final Week highlights last year’s historic Stanley Cup Final between the Blues and Bruins. The deciding Game 7, won by the Blues, capped the team’s memorable turnaround from last place in the NHL standings in January, to the franchise’s first-ever Cup. Ryan O’Reilly won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Tappen will host the concluding night of Stanley Cup Final Week and be joined by actor Jon Hamm and Blues super-fan Laila Anderson during the presentation of Game 7.

• 2019 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: St. Louis vs. Boston – 10 p.m. ET
• 2019 St. Louis Blues Championship Film – 11:30 p.m. ET
• 2019 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: St. Louis vs. Boston – 12:30 a.m. ET
• #HockeyAtHome: 2019 St. Louis Blues Virtual Reunion – 2 a.m. ET
• Top 10: Stanley Cup Moments – 2:30 a.m. ET

NHL Return to Play: A look at the Western Conference matchups

While a lot can change between now and actual, meaningful hockey happening, the NHL announced its return-to-play plans on Tuesday. That means we learned the 24 teams who will be potentially playing hockey later this summer, with 12 from the Western Conference and 12 from the East. We also learned about the seven teams who will have a long wait until next season, and how the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will be handled.

Most directly enticingly, we found out about eight Qualifying Round matchups if play is to resume in a few months. We also learned that the top four teams in each conference will play in round robin tournaments to determine seeding for the First Round.

For the Western Conference, the winners of each Qualifying Round will go on to face one of the Blues, Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Stars.

Now that we know the teams, let’s take an overview of the four Western Conference qualifying round matchups.

[MORE: A look at the Eastern Conference matchups]

(5) Oilers vs. (12) Blackhawks

Regular season recap

The Oilers surged to the Pacific Division’s second spot on the strength of “The Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid Show.” A lot had to go right for that to happen, even beyond Draisaitl and McDavid dominating compared to their usual, lofty standards.

When it comes to judging the Blackhawks, it’s all about your expectations. If you were expecting the return of dynasty days, then sure, you’d be disappointed. Most have tempered such expectations, and with that in mind, the team at least found ways to scrap toward reasonable competitiveness. Sure, they can be a mess, but sometimes they snatched victory from the jaws of defensive defeat.

With a whopping 110 points, Draisaitl blazed by anyone else to win the Art Ross Trophy. No one else even crossed 100 points, as McDavid finished second in scoring with 97. Other Oilers didn’t provide much offense beyond Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (61 points), as Zack Kassian and Oscar Klefbom finished fourth on Edmonton with just 34.

The Blackhawks didn’t reach the same heights, but were similarly top-heavy. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews continue to run the show. Beyond them, Alex DeBrincat took a step back, but Dominik Kubalik emerged.

On paper, Chicago probably hopes to break even regarding special teams. Yes, both teams featured top-10 penalty kill units this season, but the Oilers boasted the most efficient power play in the NHL, while Chicago’s PP was almost the worst.

Even with Robin Lehner shipped away in a trade, the Blackhawks may hold a goaltending advantage. Corey Crawford finished 2019-20 on fire, while Edmonton’s options were merely average.

Season series

Blackhawks leads season series 2-1. Last meeting: Chicago won 4-3 on March 5.

Injured players who could return

Blackhawks: When Calvin de Haan underwent shoulder surgery in late December, it seemed to be season-ending. Now it’s not so clear. Concussions could be especially tricky to deal with in this climate, so we’ll see how Adam Boqvist comes along. One would think that Andrew Shaw and Brent Seabrook won’t be available, but who knows?

Oilers: Edmonton indicated that Mike Green and Joakim Nygard should both be ready for a return to play.

Storylines to Watch

Considering the gap between McDavid and Draisaitl vs. Kane and Toews, cynics might groan when things are framed as the battle between a dwindling dynamic duo and a rising one.

But … c’mon. It is fun to picture how those rising stars will try to learn new tricks from those old dogs. The truth is that Kane and especially Toews already “passed the torch,” yet this could be a lot of fun. Really, the (mostly) flawed rosters around both duos could make the battles more fun to watch.

I ranked this as the most exciting series of the Western Conference side, but click here to see if it got the overall nod.

Western Conference qualifying round matchups Predators Coyotes
(Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(6) Predators vs. (11) Coyotes

Regular season recap

After stumbling for much of the season, the Predators were starting to get their wits about them entering the pandemic pause. On the other hand, the Coyotes seemed to be running out of gas, and rank among the teams lucky to still be in the dance.

Even before COVID-19 disrupted life and sports, the Predators experienced plenty of drama. It says a lot about the ups and downs of the Predators’ season that they a) fired Peter Laviolette during the season, b) hired John Hynes, who was also fired during 2019-20, and c) managed to finish in the old wild-card setup entering the pause. Phew.

If you’re asking me, you need to squint to see major Predators improvements, unless you really have a thing for coaches benching star players.

That goes for Laviolette to Hynes, and also improving on issues from 2018-19. Despite adding Matt Duchene and removing P.K. Subban, the power play remains a drag. New issues surfaced, too, with Pekka Rinne‘s play sagging to a worrisome degree.

Speaking of things staying mostly the same … hey, at least the Predators still have that defense.  Mattias Ekholm‘s useful, yet Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis stood out the most. Check out where Ellis and Josi rank on Evolving Hockey’s GAR chart for all skaters, not just defensemen:

Evolving Hockey GAR Ellis Panarin Pettersson Josivia Evolving Hockey

Personally, the feeling with the Predators is “they made all of those changes to end up, basically, in the same spot?” You could say similar things about the Coyotes. Despite bringing in Phil Kessel and then Taylor Hall, the Coyotes continue to live off of goaltending (and to a lesser extent, defense).

At least Arizona’s goalies have delivered enough to make that living survivable, if not easy. Darcy Kuemper continued to quietly rank among the league’s best, while Antti Raanta came through when Kuemper got hurt.

Season series

The Coyotes and Predators split their season series 1-1. Nashville won the last meeting 3-2 on Dec. 23.

Injured players who could return

Coyotes: One would expect Conor Garland to be over his knee injury. Arizona should get young defenseman Jakob Chychrun back, too.

Predators: The 2019-20 season presented the Predators with injury issues, but they were healing up nicely around the time of the pause. Dan Hamhuis should probably be healed up, though.

Storylines to Watch

When you look at the way these teams are put together, both the Predators and Coyotes made bold moves to step forward. Instead, they’ve basically stood in place.

Will either team be able to argue that the gambles eventually paid off once play resumes? Can Duchene justify his price tag? Can Phil Kessel regain his scoring touch? How much money will Taylor Hall lose or gain in free agency?

The Predators and Coyotes have a lot to prove, and a lot to lose.

Also, “Coach vs. Player” doesn’t really do much for me when the two say glowing things about each other, but Hynes did coach Hall during Hall’s Hart season so …

Western Conference qualifying round matchups Canucks Wild
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

(7) Canucks vs. (10) Wild

Regular season recap

As different as their paths and outlooks have been, it’s fascinating how little space there ended up being between the Canucks (78 points, 69 games played) and Wild (77 in 69 GP).

The Canucks already boast some of the premium pieces the sort-of-rebuilding Wild should clamor for. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes look like stars now, let alone later. Their development buoyed Jim Benning’s gambles, from ones that were brilliant (J.T. Miller, costly or not) to not-so-much (Tyler Myers, mainly costly). Pettersson, a few other skaters, and an on-point Jacob Markstrom have made things work just enough.

By most underlying measures, the Wild were actually a pretty competent team in 2019-20. They played well enough, collectively, that Bruce Boudreau probably didn’t deserve to be fired. That’s just how it goes for coaches in the NHL, though, especially since Bill Guerin didn’t hire Boudreau. (Frankly, Jason Zucker wasn’t the problem either, but at least trading him seemed like a gesture toward rebuilding.)

Really, you could argue that Devan Dubnyk was as responsible as anyone for Boudreau getting fired. If the Wild played at about the level they did — including Kevin Fiala rising to something approaching a star level — Minnesota could be a fairly tough out.

They’ll need better goaltending, though, whether they hope Dubnyk can rebound, or they stick with Alex Stalock, who was increasingly grabbing starts.

Season series

Wild won two of the three games, although one of those victories came via a shootout. That aforementioned (Wild won 4-3 [SO]) happened during their most recent meeting on Feb. 19.

Injured players who could return

Canucks: It seems like Markstrom and Chris Tanev should probably be good to go from what seemed like minor, late-season injuries. The break could be beneficial for Micheal Ferland, who was dealing with concussion issues. Josh Leivo should be back.

Wild: Not much to speak of for Minnesota, as Eric Staal missed time for personal reasons. Staal spoke about that recently.

Storylines to Watch

Vancouver missed the playoffs for four straight seasons, and five of their last six. The Canucks also haven’t won a series since losing Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to the Bruins. As much as it sometimes feels like these youngsters are skipping to the front of line for Vancouver, Canucks fans must be getting antsy.

While it only seemed like the Wild were headed toward two consecutive seasons without postseason appearances, their larger decline extends further. Minnesota won two first-round series in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but otherwise haven’t seen much from the Zach PariseRyan Suter era. (Who, for all the negative talk around them, remain top contributors for the Wild.)

A Parise trade didn’t work out. Mikko Koivu did not get traded, whether the Wild wanted to or not. As badly as the Wild need a rebuild, this unexpected opportunity opens the door for a last hurrah.

So, will it be one more ride for the Wild, or a chance for the Canucks to take big steps toward an even bigger future?

Western Conference qualifying round matchups Jets Flames
(Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

(8) Flames vs. (9) Jets

Regular season recap

When considering the Flames’ 2019-20 season, don’t compare their work to 2018-19 alone. Unless you want to be sorely underwhelmed.

That’s because, frankly, multiple Flames put together career seasons they weren’t likely to replicate. You could argue that all of Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan might have played over their heads last season. Those players cooled off considerably — maybe extremely — and the Flames suffered as a result.

In a twist, that drop-off didn’t explain why Bill Peters got fired.

Even so, that group remains pretty good, especially with Matthew Tkachuk steadily improving (and thus becoming that much more annoying). Cam Talbot‘s also been a nice addition for the Flames, who are seemingly always looking for that goalie.

That goalie in Winnipeg ranks as far and away the main reason the Jets didn’t totally crash. Connor Hellebuyck absolutely saved Winnipeg’s season, as the Jets were absolutely dreadful on defense. As in: even worse than you’d expect after subtracting Dustin Byfuglien (voluntarily or not), Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers.

As leaky as the Jets were on defense, they still have the fuel for serious offensive firepower, as Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Patrik Laine remained productive in 2019-20.

Season series

The Jets took the season’s only meeting 3-1 in overtime on Oct. 26.

Injured players who could return

Flames: The timetable seems right for Travis Hamonic to return. Noah Hanifin had also been dealing with some concussion issues.

Jets: How serious were Bryan Little‘s issues? If they were season-threatening, maybe he could come back? If they are closer to career-threatening, then who knows? Perhaps we’ll learn more in the next few weeks.

Storylines to Watch

Last season, the Flames ranked first in the Western Conference, while the Jets managed 99 points. For all the disappointments in 2019-20, and even with some key omissions in mind, it’s not that difficult to imagine both teams putting something special together.

Two star-packed teams hoping to make the most of what is pretty close to a clean slate? That could be fun. Really, it could actually be the most exciting series for the Western Conference side if everything clicks.

Besides, Patrik Laine might say funny things, and Matthew Tkachuk has all that pent-up pandemic pest energy to release. (OK, that last part has me worried.)

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

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.