Roman Josi

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John Klingberg one of the driving forces behind Stars’ success

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The Dallas Stars have one of the season’s breakthrough players in 19-year-old defenseman Miro Heiskanen.

He has been so good, so impactful, and so impressive at such a young age that his team’s starting goalie has already called him a “no doubt” Hall of Famer, and one of the best defenders he has ever played with. While it might be just a little early for Hall of Fame talk, the praise toward the No. 3 overall pick from 2018 is certainly justified because he has been great all season.

All of that praise and hype has made it a little too easy to overlook the performance of John Klingberg, Dallas’ other top defender.

So let’s take a few minutes to look at the impact he has made because he has been one of the best players in the postseason so far and a huge part of the Stars’ current run.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

If you have been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the Stars it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Klingberg has been excelling because he has been an outstanding defender for several years now. While his defensive play has sometimes been unfairly criticized, he has been an elite possession-driving, point-producing player since he arrived in Dallas, having already twice finished in the top-six in Norris Trophy voting.

But because the team around him has always been so top-heavy and so flawed in so many areas, he has never had an opportunity to truly shine on the league’s biggest stage or get the recognition other top defenders around the league tend to get. Reputations tend to be made in the playoffs, and Klingberg hasn’t had a chance to consistently play on this stage. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are just the second time in his career he has played in the postseason, and it has been some of the best hockey he has ever played in the NHL and a big reason why the Stars are in Round 2 and looking to get the upper-hand in their series against the St. Louis Blues.

He is simply operating at an elite level right now.

Entering play on Friday, there have been 26 defenders in the 2019 playoffs that have logged at least 150 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time.  Out of that group Klingberg ranks third in shot attempt differential, first in goal-differential, first in scoring-chance differential, and first in high-danger scoring chance differential (all via Natural Stat Trick). Along with the territorial domination, he also has eight points, including two goals, one of which was a series-clinching overtime goal in Round 1 against the Nashville Predators.

He is pretty much everything you want in a modern-day, top-pairing defender with his ability to skate, move the puck, join the rush, and help drive his team’s offense.

He is also one of the league’s biggest steals against the cap.

There are only six other defenders in the NHL that have produced as much offense on a per-game level as Klingberg over the past five seasons (Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Kris Letang, Victor Hedman, John Carlson, and Roman Josi). Other than Josi (who still only makes $4 million per season), every other player on that list makes north of $7.25 million per season.

The Stars have Klingberg signed for three more full seasons after this one at just $4.25 million per season, two years longer than what Nashville has Josi signed for.

When you combine that with the fact that Heiskanen still has two years remaining on his entry level deal, the Stars are going to get two potentially elite, two-way defenders, both of whom are capable of playing top-pairing minutes, for a grand total of just over $5 million against the salary cap. That is insane value.

General manager Jim Nill has made his share of mistakes over the years, but drafting Heiskanen at No. 3 overall and getting Klingberg on that contract has been a massive score for him and the organization. Defenders like this are really difficult to come by, and the Stars have two of them for way below market value for the next few years.

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.

 

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Questions for the final eight teams

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Catch your breath yet? That was an exciting Round 1, but there’s no time for rest! Round 2 begins tonight with a pair of matchups as the quest for the Stanley Cup rolls on.

We begin Round 2 without the Presidents’ Trophy winners or the top seeds in either conference or any division winners. Six 100-point teams are enoying their off-season. Three teams remain who are hoping for their first championship and Joe Thornton’s beard lives to see another round.

Moving on.

As we progress in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, here are questions for each of the eight teams left in the tournament.

How far can these “Bunch of Jerks” go?

The Carolina Hurricanes ended the first round in dramatic fashion with their double overtime win over the Washington Capitals in Game 7. They’ve become the “second favorite team” of many hockey fans this season, led by Rod Brind’Amour and their captain, Justin Williams. The “Storm Surges” and their sticking it to the old dinosaurs around the game has endeared them to fans. After plenty of teasing that they’d finally take a step forward, 2018-19 has been their year and it’s been an incredible run so far after a decade-long drought. They get 48 hours to come down from the high before taking on the Islanders. There are probably a few more surprises left in their tank.

Will there be an early emotional letdown or continued momentum for the San Jose Sharks?

Game 7 had it all. Controversy, goals, a dramatic comeback, overtime, incredible postgame quotes… The Sharks have two full days off to decompress and turn their attentions to the Colorado Avalanche. Sometimes it’s good for a team to have that time off to heal up and come down from the emotional high of such a victory. Sometimes it’s good for a team to keep that positive momentum going as soon as possible. How will Peter DeBoer ensure his players — with hopefully Joe Pavelski back in the lineup — maintain that level for Game 1?

Which St. Louis Blues defensemen will chip in the goals?

The Blues scored 16 goals in their six-game series victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Zero came off the stick of one of their defensemen, who combined for 46 during the regular season to lead the NHL. The shots were there, as the St. Louis blue line fired 56 pucks on goal, but their contributions came in the form of assists (16). The opportunities won’t get any easier facing a stingy Dallas Stars defense.

How will the extended time off affect the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders?

John Tortorella and Barry Trotz had the right idea. Following their Round 1 sweeps, and realizing they would have a ton of time off, the two coaches wanted to keep their players’ competitive juices going during the break so they organized intrasquad scrimmages. The Blue Jackets welcomed 5,550 fans to Nationwide Arena for theirs, while the Islanders kept theirs only open to the media. The goal was the same: give the players a different reason for coming to the rink and break up the monotony of a typical NHL practice. How they come out at the start of their respective Game 1s will give us a clue how the extra rest affected them.

Can Miro Heiskanen play more minutes, please?

Only three other players averaged more minutes per game (26:32) in Round 1 than the 19-year-old Finnish defenseman. Only Roman Josi (32:49) played more minutes in the Dallas Stars’ overtime clincher in Game 6 than Heiskanen (32:35), who became the third teenage defensemen since the NHL began tracking ice time to play at least 32 minutes in a playoff game. He’s so fun to watch and so fluid in his skating. You can see why the GM Jim Nill was so reluctant to include him in any trade for Erik Karlsson.

Can the Bruins’ bottom six production keep up?

The Bruins’ first three goals in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs were scored by Joakim Nordstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Sean Kuraly. That’s the kind of contributions you need to this time of year. In Game 6, the bottom six, despite being held pointless, had an 18-7 advantage in shot attempts. Tuesday night they stepped up offensively and made their impact felt. Coyle scored three times, Joakim Nordstrom chipped in a pair of goals. Bruce Cassidy found combinations that clicked in his bottom line forwards, and they can’t disappear against the Blue Jackets.

Is Playoff Colin Wilson here to stay?

The Nashville Predators know this Colin Wilson. They know this Colin Wilson well, the one who really makes himself noticeable in the postseason. Through six games, the Avalanche forward has two goals and four points and giving Colorado hope that he can repeat some of his previous playoff production. He scored five times for the Predators in six games in 2015 and tallied five goals and 13 points in 14 games a year later. His two big goals in the second period of Game 5 helped put the Calgary Flames to bed. Now the Avs will need more of that to help their secondary scoring against the Sharks.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1
Blue Jackets vs. Bruins
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars
Avalanche vs. Sharks

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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.

Where it went wrong for Predators, and how they could fix it

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There has been a changing of the guard in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins? Out without winning a single game between them.

The Winnipeg Jets, a Western Conference Finalist a year ago and a popular Stanley Cup pick this season? They are finished.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Now the Nashville Predators, one of the top teams in the Western Conference for a couple of years now, have joined them. Just like the Jets, it probably should not be a huge surprise to see them go out as early as they did because something just seemed to be off with this team for much of the season, and especially in the second half.

It’s not hard to find the biggest culprit in their demise this season, either, and it begins with an inconsistent offense that was dragged down by the league’s worst power play unit. It was a unit that hit rock bottom in their Round 1 loss against the Dallas Stars.

To say it was bad would be an understatement.

It wasn’t just bad, it was historically bad. The type of performance that would make even an objective third party with no rooting interest scream at the TV at its overall incompetence.

After finishing the regular season converting on just 12.9 of their power play opportunities, one of the worst marks the NHL has seen over the past 15 years, the Predators went 0-for-the-series against Dallas, failing to score on even one of their 15 power play attempts. This is not something that just happens. The NHL has tracked power play success rates as far back as the 1933-34 season, and the Predators were just the 11th team during that time to get at least 15 power play opportunities in the playoffs and fail to score a single goal. You probably will not be shocked to learn that none of those 11 teams advanced beyond Round 1. You don’t need a great power play to win the Stanley Cup, but you need to get something out of it on occasion.

The Predators got nothing, continuing what turned out to be a season-long trend.

Dallas’ PK deserves a lot of credit here, and especially starting goalie Ben Bishop, but Nashville’s struggles on the power play weren’t a new thing in this series, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest it wasn’t just a run of bad luck — it was simply a bad unit that needs drastically improved.

Not only did they have the NHL’s lowest success rate, but they were only 19th in the league at generating shot attempts on the power play and even worse (24th) at actually getting those attempts on net. If you can’t generate shots, and if you can’t get them on net when you do, you’re not going to score many goals.

Now comes the question on how to address it.

Injuries were a big problem for the Predators throughout the season, with Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K, Subban, and Kyle Turris all missing significant action, and when Turris was on the ice, his production took a cliff dive. It is worth wondering if they are in need of another big-time forward. Forsberg and Arvidsson are outstanding, but they might still need another impact player up front. Maybe a full season from Mikael Granlund will help (he was mostly silent after coming over from the Minnesota Wild in a pre-deadline trade), but even he is not really a player that is going to put the fear of God in an opposing defense. He is very similar to what the Predators’ forward group is already made of — really good and really productive players, but not really a game-changing, impact talent.

If there is one thing to be said about general manager David Poile it is that he is not afraid to swing for the fences in trades. He has made several blockbusters over the past few years and it has played a significant role in building the roster the Predators have today. Would he be willing to make another one, and would he consider dipping into his pool of star defenders and flipping one for another impact talent up front to help strengthen an offense that went stale this year and a power play unit that collapsed on itself from the very beginning of the year?

He already did it once when he traded Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen, and it might be worth at least considering again. It is a delicate balance to strike because the Predators’ defense, especially their top-four of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm is a huge part of what has made the team so good. But it is also a very clear strength and could be used to maybe help address what is now looking like a pretty significant weakness.

The other option is to keep your All-Star defense, shed salary elsewhere on the roster (Turris, if you think he is done as a top-six performer; maybe a Craig Smith or Nick Bonino?) and try to position yourself for a run at an Artemi Panarin or Jeff Skinner in free agency.

Whatever path they choose, it would be awfully difficult to come back next season with the same collection of forwards after they struggled so much this season and helped assemble such a dreadful power play unit. They simply need another finisher somewhere on the roster that can bring a level of consistency to the offense and improve a power play that failed the team all season.

Related: Stars eliminate Predators in overtime thriller

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.

Stars chase Rinne early, win big to even series vs. Predators

Four goals on eight shots in just under 14 minutes in the first period. In as tight of a series as it’s been between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, Wednesday’s aberration on the scoreboard was a byproduct of Dallas squad that simply took advantage of many of their opportunities in a 5-1 win.

Swiss-cheese goaltending and a porous defensive effort certainly didn’t help the Preds as Dallas evened the best-of-7 series 2-2, but Dallas played the game that helped them down the stretch in the regular season, and it was effective.

[2019 NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS HUB]

The first three games of the series had been decided by a single goal, meaning every opportunity to fire one into the back of the net had a little extra meaning to it. Both Pekka Rinne, who was yanked after a terrible opening 14 minutes, and Ben Bishop had been superb, a continuation of their stellar regular-season play.

But when the dam cracked in the Predators crease on Wednesday, it didn’t take long before it all came crashing down.

Dallas imposed their will on the Preds from the onset.

In the first five minutes, they had drawn two penalties and converted on both of their power play chances (one by Roope Hintz, the other by Alex Radulov). Their suffocating style kept Nashville struggling to make it through the neutral zone.

Conversely, the Stars had no issues working their way into the Nashville end of the ice, with Andrew Cogliano‘s goal to make it 3-0 a prime example of a great break out and some lazy defending by the Predators. Mats Zuccarello‘s third of the series was another power-marker, a snipe job from the slot that ended Rinne’s night.

Hintz found the net for his second of the playoffs and second of the game in the second. Hintz nearly scored shorthanded, too, but his attempt ringed off the post to deny his hat trick.

Ben Bishop’s shutout bid ended nearing the mid-way mark of the third as Roman Josi sent a seeing-eye wrist shot past the Vezina candidate. It’s some consolation as the series shifts back to Tennessee this weekend, although Dallas mostly sat back on the lead they built in the final 20.

Stars-Predators Game 5 from Bridgestone Arena goes Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Predators’ Boyle, Simmonds out ‘week-to-week’

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Hours before their Game 3 matchup against the Dallas Stars (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) the Nashville Predators announced that both Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds are considered “week-to-week” with separate ailments.

Boyle, who missed Game 2 due to “illness,” had an appendix procedure, while Simmonds, who only has one goal for the Predators since being acquired just before the February NHL trade deadline, is out with a lower-body injury.

Simmonds left Game 2 in the first period after taking a Roman Josi shot to the knee. After coming back to the ice to test out his leg during a timeout, he retreated back to the dressing room and did not return. Miikka Salomaki, who hasn’t played for the Predators since Jan. 4, is expected to take his place on the fourth line with Rocco Grimaldi and Calle Jarnkrok.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Both players were acquired in February as Predators general manager David Poile looked to strengthen his team’s bottom six. Two experienced veteran forwards, Boyle and Simmonds gave even more balance to a roster that looks to make another deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring.

But with the Predators using the phrase “week-to-week,” especially this time of year when team’s are even more reluctant to say anything about injuries, is not good for either player.

MORE: ‘Grind’ games likely to continue as Predators-Stars series shifts to Dallas

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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.