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It’s New Jersey Devils Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils.

[Under Pressure | Building off a breakthrough | Three questions]

2017-18:

44-29-9, 97 pts. (5th Metropolitan Division; 8th Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-1 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, second round

IN:

Eric Gryba

OUT:

Michael Grabner
Patrick Maroon
Jimmy Hayes
Brian Gibbons
Christoph Bertschy
John Moore
Ken Appleby
Drew Stafford

RE-SIGNED:

Blake Coleman
Stefan Noesen
Steven Santini
Nick Lappin

The New Jersey Devils took a nice step in the right direction last season.

Gifted with some luck even before the season started, the Devils jumped from fifth to first in the draft lottery and selected Nico Hischier with the pick.

From there, the team battled through adversity in the form of a mid-season trade of a fan favorite, an oft-injured starting goalie and the heat of the playoff chase down the stretch.

And at the end of it, New Jersey made it to the playoffs, returning to the promised land for the first time since they lost in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings and they did so on the back of a Hart Trophy-winning season by Taylor Hall, who put the Devils on his back with a 26-game point streak that began on Jan. 2 and carried right on their the beginning of March.

Hischier also rose to the occasion, playing in all 82 games last season and finished second in team scoring with 20 goals and 52 points.

That’s a good year in most books, especially given New Jersey’s recent drought come spring.

The Devils weren’t without fault, however.

There was a large disparity in scoring. Hall finished with 93 points, and the next closest, Hischier, finished a distant 41 points adrift. Third-best ended with 44 points, a 49-gap, and only three players on the team had 20 or more goals, leaving the Devils in the middle of the pack in terms of goals-for as a team.

The Devils shuffled the deck in November, sending Adam Henrique to Anaheim in exchange for Sami Vatanen. The deal filled the needs of both teams at the time. Vatanen, in just 57 games, finished sixth on the team in scoring, but the Devils missed Henrique’s production, especially in the playoffs where they managed just 2.4 goals per game.

A slow offseason means the Devils will continue to drink from their fountain of youth (they have 11 players 25 years of age or younger), and Jesper Bratt shouldn’t be forgotten amongst the Hischiers and the Halls of the team.

Bratt had 13 goals and 35 points during his rookie season last year and the Devils will hope he can take the next step this coming year.

A healthy Marcus Johansson, who was limited to just 29 games due to a bevy of injuries, will also give the roster a shot in the arm, offensively.

New Jersey can tie a lot of it together with a bounce-back year from Cory Schneider in goal. Schneider battled injury and inconsistent play, not winning a game in 2018 until he surfaced in the playoffs.

Schneider is the starter, no doubt. He’s making $6 million a season and has four years left on his deal. His save percentage has gone from .908 in 2016-17 to .907 last year.

It goes without saying, but the Devils need him back to his best, such as the numbers he displayed in 2015-16 with a .924.

Prospect Pool:

• Ty Smith, D, 18, Spokane Chiefs (WHL) – 2018 first-round pick

Smith took a big step in the Western Hockey League last season with 14 goals and 59 assists in 69 games, more than doubling his numbers from his rookie season. His play helped him to the 17th spot in the draft where the Devils took him. He prides himself on his skating ability and is a future stalwart in New Jersey’s rearguard if he continues to progress.

Michael McLeod, C, 20, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) – 2016 first-round pick

Big — he’s 6-foot-2 — and has the ability to move his feet very quickly. McLeod was only slowed last season by an injury at the beginning of the year. He was still able to put up 16 goals and 44 points with the Steelheads in 38 games and had four points in seven games at the world juniors, helping Canada to gold. The Devils haven’t added much on forward this offseason, so a good showing in camp could help McLeod onto the opening night roster.

• John Quenneville, C, 22, Binghamton Devils (AHL) – 2014 first-round pick

Quenneville, like McLeod, will have a shot at making the big club out of camp. The 22-year-old produced another solid year in the AHL with 34 points in 43 games and has the ability to play on either wing as well as his natural center positon, which will only help his chances come the fall.


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

It’s Anaheim Ducks day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

2017-18
44-25-13, 101 pts. (2nd, Pacific Division; 5th, Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-0 vs. San Jose Sharks, first round

IN:
Brian Gibbons
Andrej Sustr
Luke Schenn
Carter Rowney

OUT:
Francois Beauchemin
Reto Berra
Jared Boll
J.T. Brown
Derek Grant

RE-SIGNED:
Adam Henrique
Kale Kossila
Brandon Montour

A fifth straight 100-point season ended with a thud when the Ducks were swept out of the first round by the Sharks. That prompted general manager Bob Murray to say there would be changes before the 2018-19 campaign began, but as we arrive in the final month of summer, these Ducks have a pretty similar look to the Ducks of last season.

The biggest changes for the Ducks when the puck drops in October could be the return of Patrick Eaves and the absence of Ryan Kesler. Eaves missed all but two games last season dealing with post-viral syndrome. Kesler, meanwhile, played only 44 games and all four playoff games while battling through injury. In May, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that there was a chance the 33-year-old forward would sit out the entire ’18-19 season.

“I’m more confident that Patrick Eaves is going to play for the full season than I am of Ryan Kesler at the moment, although ‘Kes’ says he’s going to be fine,” Murray told season-ticket holders during an event last month via the Orange County Register.

[Under PressureBuilding Off a BreakthroughThree Questions]

Injuries down the middle early on forced Murray to trade defenseman Sami Vatanen to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Henrique. He would settle in nicely and find chemistry with linemates Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase. His addition would help an offense that needed some assistance as veterans Ryan Getzlaf (11 goals) and Corey Perry (49 points) were again among the team’s scoring leaders, but posted some of their lowest numbers of the past few seasons. Meanwhile, Rickard Rakell had another career season (34 goals, 69 points) and continued to show what a bargain ($3,789,444 AAV through 2021-22) he is around the NHL.

Josh Manson (37 points) and Brandon Montour (9 goals) made huge strides on the blue line, aiding Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm on the back end. Then there was John Gibson, who put himself into the Vezina Trophy conversation. With four shutouts and a .927 even strength save percentage, the 25-year-old has set himself up for a hefty pay raise should he continue his strong play. He’s set to become a restricted free agent next summer.

Prospect Pool

• Sam Steel, C, 20 – Regina (WHL) – 2016 first-round pick

In 54 games last season captaining the Pats, Steel led the team in scoring with 83 points and finished second with 33 goals. He led Regina to the Memorial Cup Final and would earn MVP honors with 13 points in five games. After being one of the final cuts for Canada’s World Junior Championship team two years ago, he made the roster for this past season’s tournament in Buffalo, scoring four goals and recording nine points in seven games.

Troy Terry, C, 20 – Denver (NCAA) – 2015 fifth-round pick

The 2018-18 season was an adventurous one for Terry. His college season with Denver was interrupted when he got the opportunity to represent the U.S. at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games. After he returned, he finished his collegiate career before joining the Ducks for two games. Averaging 1.3 points per game in his final two seasons with the Pioneers, Terry will battle for one of the final roster spots on the Ducks in training camp, but he may be better served playing regular minutes in the AHL at first.

• Max Jones, LW, 20 – Kingston (OHL) – 2016 first-round pick

Jones spent a third season back in junior in ’17-18 and while production dropped (24 points) after an injury-plagued year, he did curtail his time in the penalty box as he adjusted to a mid-season trade from London. He’ll get another shot to stick with the Ducks roster during training camp

————

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.

Henrique’s great fit with Ducks pays off with $29 million extension

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As the New Jersey Devils went through a transition this season, it became clear Adam Henrique’s role had changed, and his production took a hit. A late November trade and a new role with the Anaheim Ducks fueled a turn in the right direction — one that has resulted in a five-year extension for the 28-year-old forward.

The Ducks announced on Monday that Henrique, who still has one year left on his deal, signed on through the 2023-24 NHL season with a total contract value of $29.125 million. The $5.825 million cap hit, per The Athletic’s Josh Cooper, puts him fifth-highest on the team beginning with the 2019-20 season.

(Now that Henrique has signed an extension with the Ducks, per the conditions of the deal New Jersey will receive a 2019 third-round pick from Anaheim.)

In 57 games in Anaheim during the regular season Henrique scored 20 goals and recorded 36 points. He found great chemistry on a line with Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase as the trio put up terrific numbers together. The trade was one that filled needs for both sides and both Henrique and Sami Vatanen, who went to New Jersey, immediately found fits in their new locations.

“With us, it puts him back into a more offensive role, which I think he’s going to love,” said Ducks general manager Bob Murray earlier this season. “He’s not old by any means. Sometimes when teams rebuild or reboot, or have this process, maybe it’s time for people to get a change of scenery. It doesn’t mean they’re bad players.”

The work continues for Murray, who has Henrique’s restricted free agent linemates and Brandon Montour to re-sign this summer. Then there are extensions for Jakob Silfverberg and John Gibson, who both have one year left on their current contracts, to figure out. Add all that to the fact that Murray vowed changes after a disappointing playoff exit, plus Ryan Kesler‘s questionable status for next season and a roster re-shaping could be in the plans.

————

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.

Significant changes could be coming to Ducks roster

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After losing in the Western Conference Final to the Nashville Predators in 2017, many expected the Anaheim Ducks to go on another run this year. The Ducks had an up-and-down regular season, but did enough to finish second in the Pacific Division. Unfortunately for them, that’s as good as it got.

Once the playoffs kicked off, all they did was make a quick appearance. They had home-ice advantage going into their first-round series against the Sharks, but they still failed to win a single game during the series. They packed their bags for the summer after a 4-0 sweep at the hands of their California rivals.

Veteran teams that get swept in the first round are rarely spared of major changes the following off-season. So what changes might be coming in Anaheim this summer?

Corey Perry

When looking at the Ducks roster, the first name that jumps out as a possible trade candidate is Corey Perry.

Perry has won everything there is to win at the highest levels of hockey, but there’s no denying that his production has dried up over the last few years. Since 2013-14, his goal totals have been 43, 33, 34, 19 and 17. That’s a significant drop off for a guy who’s about to earn$8.625 per year for the next three years. If the Ducks can find a taker, they’d pull the trigger on a deal.

There’s a couple of issues though. First, he’s expensive. Second, we’ve already talked about his dip in production. And lastly, he also has a no-movement clause. Finding a team willing to take Perry and finding a squad he’s willing to go to won’t be easy for GM Bob Murray.

Oh, and by the way, Perry also added a zero points during Anaheim’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Sharks.

Taking a look at the 33-year-old’s advanced stats (via Natural Stat Trick), you can see the regression jump off the page. His CF% (47.46), FF% (46.70), SF% (46.70) and SF% (48.9) are some of the lowest numbers he’s posted in his career. This comes one year after he had already posted a bunch of new lows.

Ryan Kesler

Another veteran that might not be available for totally different reasons, is Ryan Kesler. The veteran has had injury troubles the last couple of years and his aching hips could cause him to miss all of 2018-19.

The Ducks only had him for 44 games in 2017-18, but it’s clear that he’s an important part of their team. He’s able to contribute offensively while playing a sound defensive game, too.

Again, unlike the Perry situation, this one is injury related, but it still affects their depth down the middle in a negative way.

Depth forwards

As of right now, the Ducks only have nine forwards under contract if you count Troy Terry, who played two regular season games at the end of last season. Depth players like Derek Grant, Antoine Vermette, Chris Kelly, Jason Chimera and J.T. Brown are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie are restricted free agents and both are expected back.

Murray has the benefit of being able to add some fresh new bodies to his lineup. There’s no need to bring back many (if any) of those depth forwards, so they could look at signing quality depth once the market opens.

As of right now, Anaheim has $65 million committed to next year’s team (the cap is expected to be between $78 million and $82 million next season). They’ll have a little wiggle room, but it’s important to note that Kase, Ritchie and defenseman Brandon Montour will all need to get raises this summer. Also, Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg and John Gibson will all need new contracts next off-season, so the Ducks can’t spend foolishly right now.

Defense

There probably won’t be too many changes on the back end in terms of veterans coming in and out of the lineup, as the Ducks already traded Sami Vatanen in-season. Expect them to roll with Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Montour and Korbinian Holzer. The biggest changes might come in the form of rookies Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson, who could be ready to take on a regular shift with the Ducks next season. Both are highly-regarded prospects that should be around for many years to come.

One familiar face that will likely be gone is Kevin Bieksa, whose two-year, $8 million contract has finally come to an end. He served as a healthy scratch a few times last season, so don’t expect them to bring him back into the fold for another stint.

Goaltending 

Things probably won’t be much different between the pipes. Both Gibson and veteran backup Ryan Miller have one year remaining on their current contracts. Gibson will be an RFA next summer, while Miller will be free to test the open market if he chooses to do so.

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.

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy shine as Lightning eliminate Devils in 5

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One’s up for the Hart as the NHL’s best player while the other is up for the Vezina as the league’s top goaltender. Both combined their talents to eliminate the New Jersey Devils with a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday.

Nikita Kucherov was once again on point for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Saturday’s matinee. Leading 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov scored a clutch goal — his fifth of the series — to put the Lightning from just inside the blue line to put the Bolts up two with seven minutes and change remaining.

It proved vital, Kucherov’s goal, as the Devils attempted a late comeback with Kyle Palmieri scored with three minutes remaining after Devils pulled Cory Schneider for the extra attacker 30 seconds earlier.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the final 180 seconds, stopping 26-of-27 to help usher the Lightning into the second round.

Tampa, the Atlantic Division winners in the regular season, will face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, who play later on Saturday in Game 5. The Bruins lead the series 3-1.

Kucherov was as immense for the Lightning as he was oppressive for the Devils, adding five assists to bring his series total to 10 points. His usual scoring touch was supplemented by his play in the physical department, including this bone-crushing hit on New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For the Devils, it was hard-fought series from a young team still trying to find its way in the playoffs.

The Devils abandoned goalie Keith Kinkaid after dropping the first two games. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t won a game in 2018 before Game 3, came in and provided the spark in goal, one that seemed to get the Devils going at the other end of the rink as well as they rolled to a 5-3 win.

But that well ran dry in Game 4 as the Devils produced just one goal in a 3-1 loss. Game 5 was much the same, production-wise, with the Devils only managing one goal.

Fellow Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall provided two goals and six points in the series after a 93-point regular season. Rookie Nico Hischier managed just a goal after scoring 20 in his rookie campaign.

For Vasilevskiy, after looking far more human in the second half of the season, finding his mojo again can only be mean bad things for future playoff opponents.

The young Russian finished with a .941 save percentage in the series.


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