Sam Girard

NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines entering training camp

1 Comment

In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we take a look at some of the biggest storylines across the league that are worth watching throughout the 31 training camps. The top issue throughout the offseason has been the ongoing RFA standstill, but that has been discussed so much and is starting to resolve itself with signings trickling in that we are going to focus on topics outside of that.

Included among them, a major goaltending competition that could impact one team’s entire season, new coaches in new places, coaches on the hot seat, and whether or not a recent league MVP will want to re-sign with his current team.

What else are we keeping an eye on this preseason? Let’s get to the rankings to find out!

1. Columbus’ goalie competition. It might be the most interesting and important competition in any camp across the league. The Blue Jackets are getting fed up with being told how bad they will be this season, and while they still have a lot of reasons for optimism on the roster the ability of either Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins to adequately replace Sergei Bobrovsky will determine what the team is capable of doing.

2. Joel Quenneville’s impact in Florida. It has been a long time since Panthers fans have had a reason for optimism at the start of a season. This might even be the first time since they came off a Stanley Cup Final appearance all the way back in 1996 that they have reason to believe better days are ahead. They had a huge offseason that was kicked off with the addition of a future Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup winning coach.

3. Taylor Hall‘s future in New Jersey. Ray Shero was one of the NHL’s busiest general managers this summer with the additions of P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, and the drafting of Jack Hughes with No. 1 overall pick. His biggest move, though, will be convincing his best player to stay in New Jersey and sign a long-term deal. Hall missed most of the last season due to injury and the Devils were never able to recover from that. Now that he is back the pressure is on New Jersey to get back to the playoffs. If they can’t do that after all of their summer additions, what motivation is there for Hall to want to re-sign?

4. Connor McDavid‘s health. This could probably be even higher on the list, but it seems like he is going to be ready for the start of the season. Still, he is coming back from a pretty significant injury at the end of the last season and there is reason to believe he may not quite be 100 percent at the start. He is the league’s best player and if the Oilers have any hope of competing they not only need him to be healthy, they need him to put the entire franchise on his back and carry it. Tough ask.

5. Coaches on the hot seat. Bruce Boudreau has to be pretty high on this list. He has already done the impossible for an NHL head coach and outlasted two GMs in Minnesota, but how long of a leash will he get under new GM Bill Guerin? Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice also has to be near the top of this list. The Jets badly regressed a year ago and have a ton of question marks entering the season and a slow start could lead to a change behind the bench.

6. The Colorado hype. They have what might be the best young core in the NHL, addressed their biggest depth needs at forward with the additions of Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Nazem Kadri, and have a couple of young stars on defense in Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram. They already took a huge step a year ago by reaching Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and with the roster they have entering this season (as well as the salary cap space at their disposal) there is going to be plenty of pressure to take the next step.

7. First-round picks competing for roster spots. Jack Hughes (New Jersey) and Kaapo Kakko (New York Rangers), the top two picks in the 2019 NHL draft, seem to be locks to make their respective rosters, but are there any other 2019 first-round picks that can find their way onto a roster this season? Kirby Dach with the Blackhawks? Byram in Colorado? Maybe Dylan Cozens in Buffalo?

8. Craig Berube and Jordan Binnington in St. Louis. The hiring of Berube and call-up of Binnington were the two turning points for the Blues on their way to a Stanley Cup. What will the duo be capable of for an encore when expectations will undoubtedly be higher than they were when they made their Blues debuts? The biggest question probably rests with Binnington’s ability to duplicate his 2018-19 performance over a full season.

9. Ralph Krueger in Buffalo. The Sabres’ head coaching position has been a revolving door of mediocrity over the past eight years. Can Krueger be the one break the cycle that has seen them make a change every two years? Or will his tenure be more of the same for an organization that has given its loyal fans nothing but grief for nearly a decade now?

10. Will it be another lost season for the Southern California teams? The Kings were terrible from the start a year ago, while the Ducks eventually cratered in the second half after goaltending carried them as far as it could early in the year. Is there any reason to expect anything different this season? The Ducks already lost veterans Corey Perry (buyout), Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves (injury) and did not really add much to their roster over the summer. The Kings still seem stuck in limbo in what direction they want to take as an organization and will be relying heavily on bounce-back years from veterans. Instead of fighting for a Stanley Cup, this intense rivalry might be about draft lottery odds.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

How good can Avs be next season?

Getty
3 Comments

The future is looking bright in Colorado. Not only have the Avs made several additions to their roster this summer, but they haven’t even reached the salary cap floor of $60 million yet. So how good are they and what’s left for them to accomplish this off-season?

For starters, they won’t be below the cap floor for much longer. They have to sign prized restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen to a new deal that will likely exceed $8 million per season and they also have to give newly acquired forward Andre Burakovsky a new contract, too. Add defenseman Nikita Zadorov to the mix, and you’re looking at adding a total of roughly $16 million in salaries between the three of them.

Even once those players sign, the Avalanche will still have a significant amount of cap space to go out and make even more additions to their roster. As of right now, they have $27.15 million worth of room under the cap, so general manager Joe Sakic should be feeling good about the way things are shaping up.

Sakic will continue to be busy in the next few days and weeks, but he’s already made some key additions via the draft, trades and free agency. They selected defenseman Bowen Byram fourth overall in the NHL Entry Draft, they added Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri by trade, and they signed Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in free agency.

They lost Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot in the deal for Kadri, but upgrading down the middle isn’t easy to do in the NHL. Those guys rarely become available, so when they do you need to pounce on them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

So, how good are the Avalanche right now?

Well, if we assume Rantanen is coming back, that means that one of the best lines in hockey will remain intact. Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are a force when they’re together, and the Avs should be confident rolling them out there against anybody in the league.

Kadri will add some scoring touch to the second line and to their power play, and Burakovasky and/or Donskoi could be intriguing fits on that line. They could probably use some of their left over cap space to add one more top six forward via free agency or trade, but the top two lines look solid.

Also, we haven’t seen the best of Tyson Jost just yet either. The 21-year-old 11 goals and 26 points in 70 games last season. Expect him to get more and more comfortable in the NHL as he gains experience. He’s one of the “boom” candidates on Colorado’s roster going into 2019-20.

As for their defense, the Avs have some of the best young defenders in the league on their blue line. We all saw what Cale Makar was able to do in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He looks like he’ll be a number one defenseman in the near future. Sam Girard is a smaller player that’s perfectly suited for today’s NHL, and they drafted Byram. Now, you can understand why they were so open to trading Barrie to Toronto. They also have veterans like Erik Johnson and Ian Cole that can show these youngsters what it takes to be regular NHLers.

That brings us to their goaltending situation. The Avs went into last season with Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer as their one-two punch between the pipes. They quickly realized that Grubauer was the superior option, and he didn’t disappoint them. The 27-year-old played well in the playoffs, and it looks like he’ll be the one to lead this team next season. There are plenty of question marks surrounding Grubauer though. Most notably, he hasn’t suited up in more than 37 games during the regular season at any point in his career. Of course, he played 37 last year and 12 more in the playoffs, but how will he respond to potentially playing 50 regular-season games plus the postseason? We simply don’t know.

Overall, the Avs look like a solid team on paper with a good blend of veterans and young players. There’s still some question marks on this roster, but they’ve done a great job of locking in players like MacKinnon and Landeskog to very fair contracts, which has led to them having plenty of cap space to address other needs.

They finished in the final Wild Card spot in the West last year, and it wouldn’t surprise anybody if they managed to leap over any of the three other teams (Nashville, Winnipeg and St. Louis) as soon as next season. Whether or not they’re ready to make an appearance in the Western Conference Final remains to be seen, but they’re not that far off.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL Draft

8 Comments

VANCOUVER — The 2019 NHL Draft is complete. Jack Hughes went first and Jeremy Michel was chosen with the 217th and final pick. A quiet first day was followed by a loud second day that saw a handful of big trades and a number of teams swapping draft picks.

A lot happened, so let’s take a look at some winners and losers from draft weekend.

WINNER: USA Hockey

There were 59 Americans were selected in Vancouver this weekend, led by Hughes, who went first overall to the New Jersey Devils. Hughes is the eighth American to be chosen with the first pick and only the second since 2007.  For the first time in draft history, seven of the first 15 picks were from the U.S., with a record eight coming directly from the United States National Team Development Program. (Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, Spencer Knight, Cameron York, Cole Caufield, who makes the Canadiens a winner, and John Beecher.)

LOSER: Ontario Hockey League

For the first time in 33 years no players from the OHL went in the top 10 picks. They ended up with 25 players going in the seven rounds, down from 35 a year ago.

WINNER: Colorado Avalanche

A team that is on the rise had two first-round picks and are positioning themselves as big players over the next few seasons. Thanks to the Senators, the Avalanche had the No. 4 pick and used that on defenseman Bowen Byram. With Cale Makar and Sam Girard excelling already, Byram, a quality puck mover, will only strengthen the blue line.

At No. 16 they picked center Alex Newhook, who became the sixth Newfoundland native to be a first-round selection.

WINNER:  Yukon hockey

Yukon-born Dylan Cozens became the first player selected in the first round when was picked by the Buffalo Sabres seventh overall. He’s the third Whitehorse native to be drafted following Peter Sturgeon (1974, Boston) and Bobby House (1991, Chicago).

LOSER: Day 1 trades

Usually the lead up to the draft and then Round 1 gives us some interesting trades. This year? Nope. There was no fun to be had Friday night as teams continued discussing moves, but there was no player moves consummated.

WINNER:  Day 2 trades

Before Round 2 even began we had news that Patrick Marleau and P.K. Subban had been traded, along with the initial details of J.T. Miller being sent to the Canucks. There was talk of there being a ton of chatter among general managers this week compared to previous off-season. Maybe now that we know the salary cap range for next season the deals will continue into the week leading into free agency?

LOSER: The J.T. Miller price

The Canucks were part of that active Saturday morning adding Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a conditional 2020 or 2021 first-round pick, a 2019 third-round selection, and goaltender Marek Mazanec. The versatile 26-year-old forward still has four years left on his deal that carries a $5.25M cap hit. Tampa gets cap relief while the Canucks gets a top-six forward coming off a year where he shot four percent. GM Jim Benning gave up a bit of the future — a potential lottery pick — in an attempt to fix problems now. 

WINNER: Walk-up songs

The 31 first round draft picks were able to choose their own walk-up song this year as they made their way to the stage at Rogers Arena. Sadly, Arthur Kaliyev went early in Round 2, robbing us of hearing “Old Town Road.”

View this post on Instagram

31 first rounders. 31 walk-up songs. #NHLDraft

A post shared by NHL (@nhl) on

LOSER: Slovakia

While countries like the U.S. (57) and Finland (22) saw increases in the number of players drafted from last year, Slovakia saw a drop from five in 2018 to one in 2019. Meanwhile, Belarus had three players drafted this year, tying the record from 2004.

WINNER:  The Foote family

Two year after the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Cal Foote with the 14th pick in 2017, Julien BriseBois added another member of the Foote family to the franchise by choosing Nolan 27th overall. The Footes are now the fourth set of brothers to be drafted by the same team, joining Dave and Mark Hunter (Montreal), Daniel and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver), and Duane and Brent Sutter (New York Islanders).

WINNER: Ray Shero

In the span of about 16 hours, the New Jersey Devils Jack Hughes first overall and then acquired Subban. He had the salary cap space to work with and took full advantage of it, knowing some teams may have shied away until they learned what the 2019-20 cap range would look like.. 

So if you’re keeping track, Shero has acquired Subban and Taylor Hall — how will this affect his extension talks? — for a package of Adam Larsson, Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and two second-round picks. Pretty, pretty good.

LOSER: The return for Subban

While moving Subban’s contract and not retaining any salary in the deal will help in his pursuit of an impact forward (Matt Duchene, hello!) this summer, the return for the defenseman was underwhelming. 

“We had to make a business decision,” Poile said in a statement. “With an aim at strengthening our forward corps this offseason, and the continued strength of our defensive group, we felt it was necessary to clear up salary cap space this way.”

It was a straight salary dump and now freeing up the cap space ups the pressure to land a big fish in free agency, especially if Duchene is the No. 1 target.

WINNER:  Devils-Rangers rivalry

P.K. Subban. Jacob Trouba (if he signs!). Jack Hughes. Kaapo Kakko. There was an injection of juice into the Metropolitan Division rivalry this weekend. Both teams are in the midst of changing their futures, and the additions on draft weekend will certainly go a long way to doing that. Add in the New York Islanders to the mix and the Metropolitan Division and hockey in the New York metropolitan area just got more interesting.

MORE 2019 NHL DRAFT COVERAGE:
Shero on Subban trade, Hall’s future with Devils
Round 1 draft tracker
Rounds 2-7 draft tracker

————

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.

Barrie the difference as Avalanche take Game 2, even series with Sharks

Tyson Barrie is sometimes the forgotten member of the Colorado Avalanche core.

While forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog get most of the attention — and deservedly so — for their All-Star level production and consistent offensive dominance, Barrie has quietly been one of the league’s most productive defenders and a huge part of their team for several years now.

He was the difference in Game 2 of their Round 2 series against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Barrie scored a goal and recorded two assists — his second three-point game of the postseason — to help lead the Avalanche to a 4-3 win that tied the series at one game apiece.

He recorded an assist in the second period when Landeskog deflected his shot behind Martin Jones to tie the game, and then gave the Avalanche the lead just eight minutes later with his first goal of the playoffs.

He also picked up an assist on Matt Nieto‘s third period goal that extended their lead.

Barrie’s goal came with a little bit of controversy. After the Avalanche dumped the puck into the Sharks’ zone from behind the center red line, it appeared the Sharks had won the race to the face-off dot which should have resulted in an icing call and a face-off at the other end of the ice. Play, however, was allowed continue and after the Avalanche won possession of the puck were able to capitalize with Barrie’s goal.

Nathan MacKinnon added an empty-net goal in the final minute that would prove to be the game-winner after San Jose’s Brent Burns scored a pair of late goals, including one with 10 seconds to play to cut the deficit to one.

But let’s get back to Barrie for a second, because he was tremendous on Sunday.

Along with the offensive production, the Avalanche just seemed to control the pace of the game when he was on the ice. During 5-on-5 play the Avalanche out-chanced the Sharks 15-5 (including 8-1 in “high-danger” chances) with Barrie on the ice (via Natural Stat Trick) and outscored them 3-1.

The Avalanche defense isn’t made up of household names, but it is a rapidly improving group thanks to the emergence of youngsters Sam Girard and Cale Makar to go with the steady production of Barrie. Since becoming a full-time player on the Avalanche blue line at the start of the 2013-14 season, Barrie has scored at least 10 goals in five of the past six seasons, is 10th among all defenders in goals scored, and eighth in total points. It is really difficult to be much better than that. He was at his all-around best on Sunday, and it is probably the biggest reason this series is shifting back to Denver all tied.

Game 3 of Avalanche-Sharks is on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Sharks visit Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Sharks and Avalanche meet for the first time this season in a matchup of teams that would each be in the playoffs if the season ended today but enter the new year on very different paths. San Jose won nine of 15 games in December (9-4-2) including a 7-2-2 stretch in its last 11. Colorado, on the other hand, is mired in a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and has lost nine of its last 11 games (2-6-3).

San Jose has been streaky over the last five weeks or so, losing four straight at the end of November into December followed by winning seven of eight and then losing three straight prior to Christmas before winning two in-a-row ahead of Monday’s loss.

Sharks captain Joe Pavelski leads the Sharks with 23 goals. The 34-year-old finished with 22 goals last season in a full 82 games. Pavelski picked a good time to be on a career pace (on track for 46 goals – career high is 41 from 2013-14), since he will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

The Avs are led by their trio – what was known as the MGM line – of Landeskog, last year’s Hart Trophy runner-up in MacKinnon and rising star Rantanen. Like the team, the three of them have come a long way since Colorado’s disastrous 2016-17 season when they finished last in the NHL.

Rantanen ranks second in the NHL in points and MacKinnon sits third. Not since Evgeni Malkin (1st) and Sidney Crosby (3rd) in 2008-09 has a pair of teammates finished in the top three in scoring in the same season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 9:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Marcus SorensenJoe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Kevin LabancBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

AVALANCHE
Tyson JostNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen
Gabriel LandeskogAlex KerfootJ.T. Compher
Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert
Gabriel Bourque – Sheldon Dries – Logan O’Connor

Sam GirardErik Johnson
Ian ColeTyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth – Ryan Graves

Starting goaliePhilipp Grubauer

John Forslund (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Sharks-Avalanche from Pepsi Center.