NHL Draft Lottery: What Blackhawks, Rangers gained; what Kings, Avalanche lost

9 Comments

On Tuesday night 15 NHL teams had a significant part of their future come down to a couple of ping pong balls.

In the end, it was the New Jersey Devils getting the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft for the second time in three years, going from the third spot in the lottery up to the top spot. It is there that they will have the opportunity to select prized prospect Jack Hughes and add him to their core alongside Nico Hischier (the No. 1 overall pick two years ago) and, hopefully, Taylor Hall assuming they can work out a long-term contract extension.

It was a great night for the Devils and their fans, but they were not the only team to win big.

Others, however, lost big.

It’s not an earth-shattering revelation to point out that there is a significant difference between picking first versus picking fourth, or picking third instead of 12th. You can find good players at any pick in any round, and there are always good players available, it’s just that your odds drop dramatically with each spot.

Obviously the higher you pick in the draft, the better chance you have to land an impact player that can change the long-term outlook of your franchise.

You expect to get, at the bare minimum, a consistent All-Star with the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick. You might get a good first-or second-liner with the 10th pick. You hope to just find someone that will make the NHL and have a nice career as you get toward the bottom half of the first round and beyond.

[Related: Devils win draft lottery, will get No. 1 overall pick]

But what exactly does that look like from a numbers and production perspective, and how does that impact the big winners and losers from Tuesday night?

The Colorado Avalanche were big losers

The Avalanche entered the night with the best odds of winning the No. 1 overall pick (18.3 percent) due to the fact they have the Ottawa Senators’ top pick as a result of the 2017-18 Matt Duchene trade. It could have been a PR disaster for the Senators, especially after they passed on the opportunity to send their 2018 pick to Colorado and hang on to this pick to complete the trade. Had the Avalanche won there would have been a ton of second guessing going on in Ottawa.

But the Avalanche not only did not win the top pick, they fell as far as they could have possibly fallen and ended up with the No. 4 overall pick. That is still a great position for a playoff to be in, but it is probably not going to be as franchise-changing as it could have been.

The table below shows the past 20 players to go No. 1 and No. 4 overall, their career totals, and the average games played and total production from each slot.

Obviously this is not the most scientific way to do this, but it does at least give us a little bit of a baseline of what to expect from each spot.

Look at how big the drop off is, not only in terms of the star power each side has, but also in the overall careers. There are some outstanding players on the right side (Andrew Ladd, Ryan Johansen, Evander Kane, Seth Jones, Mitch Marner, Alex Pietrangelo) and a likely Hall of Famer (Nicklas Backstrom). There are also quite a few busts, or players that did not quite fulfill expectations.

Then look at over the left side. You have two clear busts in Patrik Stefan and Nail Yakupov, a couple of really players in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Aaron Ekblad, and Erik Johnson, an injury ravaged career in Rick Dipietro … and then every other player is either a superstar or has the potential to be one day be one. There is a massive difference in value, and we are only talking about three spots in draft position, while they are both considered prime draft picks.

This is a tough break for the Avalanche.

The Los Angeles Kings were even bigger losers, while the New York Rangers were huge winners

At least if you are an Avalanche fan you have a playoff team to watch this season, while you still have your own first-round draft pick to go with a top-four pick. That is a huge bonus and can still land you a really good young player to add to your core. Not getting the No. 1 overall pick might stink, but your team is still in a great position.

The Kings, however, had some rotten luck because this is not the way they wanted their rebuild to start.

Entering the night with the second-best odds to win the top pick, the Kings fell all the way back to the No. 5 overall pick. And if you thought the gap from No. 1 to No. 4 was big, the gap from No. 2 to No. 5 might be even bigger.

The No. 5 spot has produced some legitimately great players (Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Carey Price, Thomas VanekElias Pettersson is certainly trending in that direction) and some really good ones, but other than Ryan Murray, whose career has been sabotaged by injuries, and probably Kari Lehtonen, just about every player at the No. 2 spot has had an impact career as either a top-liner or franchise player.

At No. 2 the Kings probably would have been guaranteed to get a star in either Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. They could still get a star, or at least a really good player, at No. 5, but history suggests their odds of doing so dramatically drop.

Their fall down the draft board coincided with the Rangers going from the sixth spot to the No. 2 spot, where their rebuild now gets accelerated as they will be the ones getting the opportunity to select Hughes or Kakko.

It is a huge win for them, and it all happened because of Ryan Strome‘s overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season finale. If the Rangers do not win that game, it is the Edmonton Oilers in the lottery spot that would have moved to the second pick. The Oilers, of course, traded Strome to the Rangers mid-season for Ryan Spooner.

Luck is a funny thing sometimes.

The Blackhawks were HUGE winners

The Devils were the biggest winner of the night simply because they received the No. 1 overall pick. But the Chicago Blackhawks were not far behind them, and if you wanted you could probably build a convincing argument the Blackhawks were the biggest winners just because of how much they stand to gain by going from the No. 12 pick all the way up to the No. 3 overall pick.

That is a massive jump in games, goals, points, production … everything. It should — should — help the Blackhawks land another young building block, and maybe even a potential star, to go with Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and their core of veterans that are still around. The ping pong balls falling the way they did may have helped keep the Blackhawks’ championship window open a little bit longer in the near future.

The 2019 NHL Draft will take place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The first round will be held Friday, June 21. Rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday, June 22.

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.

 

Stunning numbers: It was a terrible March for Sabres

5 Comments

Every month we take a look at some stunning numbers around the NHL.

What is standing out to us lately?

Let’s take a look…

The Buffalo Sabres didn’t win a game in regulation in March

The Sabres are not going to finish the 2018-19 season with the NHL’s worst record, but you could probably put together a pretty convincing argument that they are, in fact, the worst team in the league as their perpetual rebuild continues to go nowhere (read more about that here).

Everything about their early season success was built around a 10-game winning streak that, while impressive, was dominated by overtime and shootout wins. That is no way to sustain success in the NHL, and the Sabres most definitely did not sustain success this season and the month of March may have been their worst stretch of them all.

Their 4-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night, a game where they were booed off the ice after the first period, wrapped up a month where they managed to go just 2-12-2 in their 16 games. The six points they tallied in the standings was the lowest total in the league for the month, four behind the New Jersey Devils and five behind the New York Rangers, the two teams directly ahead of them. What is worse? Buffalo played one more game than both of them. Even the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings managed to pick up 13 points in their 14 games in March.

Even uglier for Buffalo? Neither of their two wins came in regulation, winning one in overtime (their first game in March against the Pittsburgh Penguins) and one in a shootout (against the St. Louis Blues). They went an entire calendar month without winning a game outright in regulation.

Even worse than that? They have only won 19 games in regulation all season, a mark that is currently tied for the worst in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings.

Never before has a 10-game winning streak actually been a bad thing considering all of the flaws it masked with this team.

Panthers’ top players did not go away quietly

The Florida Panthers are going to miss the playoffs for the 16th time in the past 18 season, and sticking true to the form they displayed all season the month of March was a very hit-and-miss month for them with a four-game losing streak, a four-game winning streak, and a bunch of inconsistent results. What was consistent, though, was the play of their top forwards. Aleksander Barkov (24 points) and Jonathan Huberdeau (23 points) were the second and third leading point producers in the NHL for the month, trailing only Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (27 points). Evgenii Dadonov also had a huge month with 19 points, good enough for the seventh most in the league in March.

[Related: Is there quick fix for Panthers’ continued woes?]

Ben Bishop was nearly unbeatable in March

Goaltending has been one of the biggest factors in the Dallas Stars’ push for a playoff spot as Bishop and Anton Khudobin have both been outstanding this year. Bishop was at his best in March as he recorded a .969 save percentage in his nine appearances and only allowed seven total goals in more than 478 minutes of action. That also included four shutouts. Only 15 goalies in the NHL have recorded four shutouts for the season.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored all the goals for themselves

Two of the stranger stat lines in March belong to Columbus Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand and Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

In Edmonton, Nugent-Hopkins continued to be one of the few bright spots on an otherwise forgettable Oilers team as he scored eight goals in the team’s 14 games. He only recorded a single assist, the the second most lopsided goal-to-assist ratio in the league for the month.

The only player that had a more lopsided stat line was Bjorkstrand who finished the month with eight goals for the Blue Jackets and zero assists.

Darcy Kuemper takes a lot of penalties for a goalie

Kuemper has been amazing for the Arizona Coyotes this season, stepping in for the injured Antti Raanta and helping to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive. He was incredible in March, and if they make the playoffs he will be a huge reason why. But we need to talk about something here: He has 14 penalty minutes this season, by far the most in the NHL among goalies, and had eight penalty minutes alone in the month of March.

No other goalie in the league has more than six penalty minutes for the season.

The penalty breakdown for Kuemper: Three delay of game penalties and a tripping penalty in March. For the season, he has four delay of games and three(!) tripping penalties!

Only three goalies recorded more than 14 penalty minutes in a season over the past three years.

Then again, considering how good the Coyotes’ penalty kill has been this season and how many shorthanded goals they have scored maybe he is just looking to give his team an edge. (Obviously I am joking about that … I think?)

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.

Oilers’ Nugent-Hopkins scores first-period hat trick vs. Kings

The second half of back to backs suck. Just ask the Los Angeles Kings.

They don’t suck for the team getting to play the tired team, however. And Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of his Edmonton Oilers teammates feasted on a Kings team that was still coming down from an impressive (and unlikely) win against the Calgary Flames on Monday.

Yes, the one-night world-beating Kings returned to their familiar digs in the NHL’s basement as ‘The Nuge’ and Co. orchestrated a five-goal first period, including a hat trick from Nugent-Hopkins on three shots and a trio of assists from Oscar Klefbom.

Leon Draisaitl also continued his charge to catch Alex Ovechkin in the goal-scoring race, potting his 44th to sit one behind John Tavares and five back of Ovi, who ended a four-game drought with his 49th earlier in the night. (Update: Draisaitl has 45 46 now after recording the game’s second hat trick — his first as an NHLer).

Oh, and some guy named Connor McDavid set a new career high with his 109th point on an apple Nugent-Hopkins’ hat-trick marker. (Update: McDavid now has 112 points after a one-goal, three assist night).

The Oilers are still talking playoffs, and if they can hold on against the Kings, will move five points back of the Colorado Avalanche as the turtle derby/log jam in the Western Conference wildcard race roars on.

Their chances are low, but who knows. The West has been weird this season.

Edmonton won the game 8-4.


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

Oilers face much bigger questions than what to do with Hitchcock

3 Comments

When the Edmonton Oilers hired Ken Hitchcock, they were essentially hoping he could be the firefighter who could save the day as the franchise was surrounded by flames like a meme dog with a cute hat and a cup of coffee.

Now that it’s clear that the Oilers’ 2018-19 season is very-much-not-fine, it’s now time to ask a question that seemed almost beside the point at the moment of Hitch’s hiring: should Edmonton bring him back? Sportsnet’s Mark Spector posits such a point in a Tuesday article about Hitch’s “old-school style being just what the young Oilers need.”

For his part, Hitchcock wants to be back. As the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones reports, Hitchcock described coaching the Oilers as “the best experience of my life” and added the great line that “the way I feel, I can coach until I’m 99.”

But should the Oilers bring him back? And, really, how much does it matter compared to the real front office choice that will truly shape the future of this franchise? Let’s dive in.

Minimal impact

The Spector piece revolves around Hitchcock getting in the “face” of players, relying on emotion rather than “Xs and Os.”

And, no doubt, Hitch has a reputation for barking at players. One can debate all day about whether that approach is effective, and if it’s appropriate for the Oilers.

But what about his actual work behind the bench? When the Oilers fired Todd McLellan, they were a mediocre 9-10-1. With Hitchcock … they’ve been a mediocre 24-24-7.

Their underlying stats are actually worse, too. Through 20 games, Edmonton was basically middle-of-the-pack at even-strength under McLellan. They actually slipped even further under Hitchcock by Natural Stat Trick’s metrics.

Much of the same?

In a lot of ways, it shouldn’t be that surprising that there wasn’t a night-and-day difference. Back in October, I pointed to the Oilers’ system relying far too heavily on defensemen shooting pucks —  defensemen who, really, weren’t even the type of blueliners who seem to be especially adept at that practice.

Once you get by the usual suspects in the top three of shots on goal (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), there are a lot of pucks being fired by blueliners overall in 2018-19. Edmonton has eight players with 100+ SOG, and of that group, three are defensemen. Four of the top nine are blueliners, too. You might explain that away as Edmonton simply being top-heavy, yet look at another top-heavy offense – like, say, the Avalanche – and you’ll see the top shooters far more populated by forwards.

None of this is to say that Hitchcock is totally out of touch. As this great bit from The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis discusses (sub.  required), Hitchcock has a firm grasp on why successful teams are able to transition the puck in ways that are more successful than the Oilers.

Hitchcock hasn’t been able to transfer “using the middle of the ice” onto the current makeup of the Oilers, but maybe – just maybe – he’d be able to cook better meals with better ingredients. The true key, then, is for the Oilers to find a better grocery shopper.

The GM question matters far more than to keep or replace Hitch

Ultimately, hiring the right GM is enormously important. It’s key for any team, but especially for an aimless franchise like the Oilers, whose executive have made blunder after blunder.

Peter Chiarelli isn’t the only person to blunder far too often in Edmonton, yet looking at the salary structure at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that he’s “accomplished” the unlikely feats of leaving the Oilers with limited skill around their star players and limited cap space to fill in the gaps.

The Oilers slogan might as well be low skill, high bills.

Allan “Lowetide” Mitchell (also of The Athletic) went deep on the Oilers’ future in a multitude of ways lately, coming to two conclusions I share: 1) the Oilers need to emphasize speed and skill in future acquisitions and 2) fixing their problems might be more than a “one summer” job.

It won’t always be easy, and it probably won’t be a seamless transition, but the Oilers need more of the types of players who could move the puck the way Hitchcock described here:

“If you look at any teams that are quick transition, they find the middle of the ice and they’re not afraid to,” Hitchcock said, via Willis. “There’s a risk and a dynamic to play that way, but any of the successful teams use the middle of the ice way more than they use the boards. You can’t be a good transition team if you just keep putting it on the boards. You end up chipping it out and chasing it, you don’t end up with possession metrics at all. You can’t be afraid to use the middle of the ice on your exits.”

The Oilers have been “chipping it out and chasing it” for far too long, valuing brawn and over-emphasizing buzzwords about “character” instead of searching for the sort of swift, slick players who would supplement superhuman speed genius Connor McDavid.

Would Hitchcock truly optimize a roster that had more skill and speed? It’s not clear one way or another, but what is clear is that the current plan isn’t working.

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: Oilers visit Golden Knights on NBCSN

Getty

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Edmonton Oilers’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread heading into their game on Sunday against the Vegas Golden Knights, and if they have any hope of pulling off the impossible and erasing what is a seven-point gap (and jumping over four teams!) over the next 11 games it is going to have to begin with a win tonight.

Standing in their way will be a Vegas Golden Knights team that has won seven of its previous eight games and is pretty much locked in to the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division. At this point it is simply a matter of whether or not they will have to play the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks in their first-round matchup.

The Oilers are led by Connor McDavid who enters the game riding an 11-game point streak, while also recording at least one point in 19 of his previous 20 games. That 20-game stretch for McDavid features 12 multi-point games, including seven in a row.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Edmonton Oilers vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Where: T Mobile Arena
When: Sunday, March 17, 2019, 10 p.m, ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Oilers-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards

Milan Lucic – Connor McDavid — Zack Kassian
Tobias RiederLeon DraisaitlAlex Chiasson
Jujhar KhairaRyan Nugent-HopkinsSam Gagner
Joseph Gambardella – Colby CaveJosh Currie

Defense

Oscar KlefbomAdam Larsson
Darnell NurseKris Russell
Andrej SekeraMatt Benning

Starting Goalie: Mikko Koskinen

Vegas Golden Knights

Forwards

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max PaciorettyPaul StastnyMark Stone
Tomas NosekCody EakinAlex Tuch
Ryan CarpenterPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Defense

Nate SchmidtDeryk Engelland
Brayden McNabbShea Theodore
Jon Merril – Colin Miller

Starting Goalie: Malcolm Subban

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.