Sam Girard

Getty

How good can Avs be next season?

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.

Domi’s been electric since trade, but don’t give up on Galchenyuk

2 Comments

The Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes are set to play at Gila River Arena on Thursday, making it only natural to rehash the still-fascinating Max DomiAlex Galchenyuk trade.

There’s no denying that the immediate returns have been drastically one-sided. While Galchenyuk’s been a mixture of injured and inconsistent (three goals and 11 points, limited to 23 games played), Domi’s defied all but the wildest expectations in scoring almost a point per game (33 in 35).

Considering the very different results for each player, his team, and the very different hockey markets they play in, you’d expect some over-the-top reactions.

Yet, even some of the warmer takes still acknowledge that the differences are probably exaggerated. While the headline for Eric Engels’ Sportsnet story is a bit much, maybe, in deeming Montreal “already clear-cut winners” of the trade (I’d personally go with “currently” instead of “already”), there’s a nod to the possibility that both players may meet closer to the middle in the future:

Yes, we’ve considered that Galchenyuk, who has 11 points in 23 games, suffered an injury in training camp that required a minor procedure and forced him to the sidelines until the eighth game of the season; that he produced eight points in his first nine games at centre; that it’s still early in his tenure with the Coyotes; and that Domi, who’s producing at an unprecedented rate in his first full year at centre in the NHL, could be in for a course correction.

That “course correction” is crucial to understanding the potential longer-term effects of this trade, or how things could look considerably different down the line.

Whenever you’re looking for red flags about a player being too good to be true, or way too cold to predict future contributions, you’ll often find answers in uncanny shooting percentages, and that’s true here.

It’s almost too perfect that Alex Galchenyuk’s 6.8 shooting percentage this season is so comparable to Domi’s from 2017-18, when he only connected on six percent of his SOG (and that was with four empty-netters). Remarkably, Galchenyuk’s 17.5 shooting percentage this season matches his combined shooting percentage from last season and 18-goal rookie effort from 2015-16, when he shot at 11.5 percent.

So, a healthier, luckier Galchenyuk will probably score more often than he is now. And Domi might cool off a bit, causing the two to meet somewhere close to the middle … which isn’t that far off from where they were upon the trade. As TSN’s synopsis notes, they both had .61 point-per-game averages before the swap, with Galchenyuk being more of a sniper while Domi was a more prolific playmaker.

The key, then, is not to smear either forward. Instead, it’s far more interesting to consider some of the takeaways, and to ponder some of the talking points that might get emphasized too often.

Time will tell

Pat Brisson serves as an agent for both players, giving him a unique – if sympathetic – perspective on both Galchenyuk and Domi. So it’s interesting to see Brisson deliver a “pump the brakes” message on the trade, as he told Craig Morgan of The Athletic (sub required).

“I usually look back later, not after 30-some games,” Brisson said. “I wait and see. So far Max is happy, but the whole team in Montreal is going way better than anyone expected. They have a lot more wins and a lot of players on that team seem to have found themselves and it has a domino effect …”

There’s some recent history that points to maybe not jumping to too many conclusions.

Shortly after the landmark Kyle TurrisMatt Duchene – Sam Girardi – Ottawa’s future hopes and dreams trade, many were burying Duchene and lavishing Turris with praise as the two went through cold and hot streaks respectively. With more time and games under their belts, it’s clear that Duchene is fantastic, Turris is effective, and those early impressions were knee-jerk reactions.

(Also: we probably won’t truly know the impact of that trade until we find out what kind of pick the Senators cough up to the Avalanche.)

Considering their polar opposite shooting luck, the way their teams are playing, and health concerns, things look dramatically different now, but Galchenyuk has a decent chance of catching up to Domi, at least once he gets healthy.

Center of attention

It seems like every big hockey market has a narrative or two that just won’t go away.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins, rumors of Phil Kessel trades loom like Michael Myers creepily staring off from a distance, waiting to make us roll our eyes. When it comes to Galchenyuk, talk of center vs. wing seems inescapable, even now that he’s in Arizona.

Much has been made about Galchenyuk at least briefly moving back to the wing, while Domi’s had success at center, with Jonathan Drouin over on his wing. That’s worth noting, but the obsessiveness sometimes loses the big picture: good players can make a difference from various positions on the ice.

If Galchenyuk can flourish with fewer responsibilities playing on wing, much like Claude Giroux has with the Flyers, then who really cares? Many believe that the flow of modern hockey already obscures centers/wings to more generic “F1”-type designations, so such talk can often get overstated.

Not every mention of Galchenyuk’s perceived inability to play center is meant as a slight, yet sometimes it seems like a coy way of making a blanket insult, without explicitly making them.

Details that might matter

For teams all around the NHL, there are some potential lessons to take from these situations.

The first is one that’s hammered often: it can be very dangerous to trade a player suffering from a low shooting percentage, as you might be guilty of selling low. (Looking at you, Oilers, with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.)

But the Coyotes and Canadiens might have been right in merely identifying that two players simply weren’t fitting in properly, and making a logical-enough lateral move, with things working out undeniably better for Montreal so far through close to half of 2018-19.

Arpon Basu made an interesting point for The Athletic (again, sub required): during his years in Arizona, Max Domi rarely had the same linemate, let alone the same two.

It’s plausible that hockey-mad Montreal fits Domi’s personality better (just ask his dad), while Galchenyuk may get back on track in part because Arizona’s more laid back. But, perhaps the Coyotes might want to put Galchenyuk in less situations of upheaval?

You also wonder if there’s something systemic that’s making skill players struggle to score a bit more in Arizona, while Claude Julien’s done masterful work in optimizing Montreal to be a faster, more attacking team that many expected. After all, the Coyotes’ 2.45 goals-per-game ranks second-worst in the NHL this season, so you can’t pin that all on Galchenyuk.

***

Interestingly, Coyotes GM John Chayka is making virtually the same “potential”-related comments about Galchenyuk finding his game now that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made about Domi when he was acquired. Bergevin was vindicated, and it’s possible that Chayka will be too, although the Coyotes’ overall outlook seems bleak with crucial goalie Antti Raanta out indefinitely.

As of today, Domi’s been a smash success in Montreal, while Galchenyuk’s a mixed bag for the Coyotes.

It’s plausible that we’ll feel the same way about the trade in several months, and maybe years, but it’s too early to be sure right now.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.