Taylor Chorney

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Nate Schmidt is underrated star of Golden Knights

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When it comes to the success of the Vegas Golden Knights the lion’s share of the praise is being thrown in the direction of starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the top-line of Jon Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith. All of it, of course, is richly deserved. All four of them have been incredible all season and have arguably been even better in the playoffs. Other than the emergence of Karlsson — which is still kind of baffling — there was reason to believe that the quartet could make a positive impact immediately.

Fleury has been a No. 1 goalie in the league for more than a decade. His name is on the Stanley Cup three times. Everybody knew he was going to give them a chance to at least be competitive on most nights. Maybe we didn’t think he would be quite this dominant, but he has been good, is good, and will continue to be good. Likewise, pretty much everyone knew right away that the Jon Marchessault/Reilly Smith move had a chance to backfire on the Florida Panthers. Marchessault scored 30 goals last year! Smith has been a 50-point player in the NHL! It is not like their success this year is totally out of nowhere.

But perhaps the biggest actual surprise with this team has been the fact that the defense has been really, really good.

[Related: Deryk Engelland completely reinvented himself with Golden Knights]

Leading the way on that front has been former Washington Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt who has finally had an opportunity to shine as a top-pairing defender.

It’s not that Schmidt wasn’t a useful player in Washington, because he was. He probably deserved more playing time than he was getting. He showed some offensive ability, he was consistently a positive possession player, and he always seemed to make an impact when he was in the lineup and on the ice. The problem was that he was playing for a team that was winning the Presidents’ Trophy every year, had a really good defense in place, and had invested a ton of assets in the players ahead of him on the depth chart, most of whom were really productive. The argument could be made that he maybe could have (should have?) been used a little more and players like Brooks Orpik and Karl Alzner a little less, but those were great Capitals teams and there’s only so much ice-time to go around.

He was a good young player that was blocked on a good team. It happens.

When it came time for the expansion draft this past June the Capitals were one of the teams that was stuck between a rock and a hard place and was going to became a victim of their own success.

While some teams (*cough* … Florida … Minnesota … St. Louis … *cough*) either paid through the nose to protect certain players, or just flat out made bizarre choices on their protected lists, there truly were some teams that were just going to lose somebody really good and there was nothing they were going to be able to do to change that.

The Capitals were one of those teams as they had no choice but to leave players like Schmidt and Philipp Grubauer unprotected, either of which would have been an excellent selection for Vegas. It is not like the players they did protect were controversial, either. Of course Braden Holtby was going to be their protected goalie. You can’t blame them for protecting John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Dmitry Orlov as their three defenders. They could not have gone with the eight skaters route and protected an additional defender because that would have left a top forward exposed.

It’s not like they protected Orpik or Taylor Chorney over Schmidt, or traded Andre Burakovsky and a first-round pick to keep Vegas from taking him.

They didn’t do anything stupid. They just accepted one player was leaving and let him go.

That player turned out to be Schmidt.

Joining a Vegas team that was starting from scratch the 26-year-old finally had a chance to do something he never could in Washington — get a real, honest look as a top-pairing defender.

He has excelled in that role.

[Conn Smythe Trophy Power Rankings: Scheifele, Marchessault make their case]

During the regular season no skater played more minutes during the regular season than Schmidt. He played close to 19 minutes per night in even-strength situations (nearly two more minutes than any other player on the team). He played on the power play. He played on the penalty kill. He recorded a very respectable 36 points from the back end (25 of them coming at even-strength, most among the team’s defenders) and was once again a positive possession player despite starting more of his shifts in the defensive zone than any other player on the team. He played big minutes and did a ton of the heavy lifting on the blue line.

In the playoffs, his game seems to have reached yet another level.

He is taking on an even bigger workload, already has six points in the first 13 games (most among Vegas defenders), has helped Vegas to a 12-5 goal differential when he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play, and despite playing 24 minutes a night against the oppositions best players has taken just a single minor penalty.

He is doing everything in what is one of the most critical roles for a team.

Given what is going on around him with the play of Fleury and Marchessault it is understandable that his impact is taking a bit of a backseat and is getting overlooked.

Goaltending is a difference-maker, especially in the playoffs, and Fleury is playing out of his mind right now. Goal-scoring and points will always get noticed over a quiet, steady impact from a defender.

None of that should take away from just how important Schmidt has been for Vegas and how big of a role he is going to continue to play for them as one of the building blocks on their defense.

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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.

Trade: Capitals acquire defenseman Michal Kempny from Blackhawks

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

The trade deadline is one week from today so buckle up for a busy week of transactions. It started on Monday with a deal involving the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals.

The Deal: The Blackhawks send defenseman Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals in exchange for a conditional third-round draft pick.

The condition on the pick is that the Blackhawks will acquire the higher of Washington’s two third-round picks. The Capitals own their own pick, as well as the third-round pick that originally belonged to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Capitals acquired that pick (via New Jersey) in the Marcus Johannson trade over the summer.

Why the Capitals are making this trade: They get a cheap, left-handed shot to add some depth to their blue line. Kempny isn’t going to steal trade deadline headlines the way the Kevin Shattenkirk deal did for the Capitals a year ago, but he definitely adds some depth to the blue line.

Along with the usual suspects on Washington’s blue line (John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Brooks Orpik) the Capitals have also been using some younger players like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, as well as veteran Taylor Chorney to fill out their D pairings.

In 31 games this season Kempny has one goal and six assists while logging more than 15 minutes of ice-time per game.

Why the Blackhawks are making this trade: It is pretty simple, really. The Blackhawks are pretty much out of the playoff race at this point and this could be the start of them selling off some pieces over the next week. Kempny is an unrestricted free agent after this season and given the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation he may not be someone that figures into their long-term plans.

They are also short on draft picks this summer and do not currently own a second-or fourth-round pick.

They were able to get back a pick in this trade giving them two picks in the third-round (to go with two in the fifth-round and one each in the first, sixth, and seventh).

The other bonus for the Blackhawks: The draft pick carries no salary cap hit next season. Kind of a big deal for them.

Who won the trade: At the moment probably an edge to the Capitals because, well, they’re getting an NHL player to help for a playoff push and the Blackhawks are getting to what amounts to a scratch off lottery ticket. That third-round pick is almost certain to be in the bottom half of the third-round which means it probably only has a 10-20 percent chance of turning into a player that ever plays a single game in the NHL, let alone becomes any sort of an impact player.

————

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.

Brian MacLellan wants you to know that the Caps are still ‘a good team’

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The Washington Capitals will look pretty different when training camp opens.

Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov will all be back, but players like Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner are starting new journeys somewhere else.

Some have suggested that the big number of departures will bring the Caps down a notch or two when it comes to regular season dominance. GM Brian MacLellan simply doesn’t see that happening.

“People make it sound like we’re a lottery team,” said MacLellan, per the Washington Post. “I’m shocked by that. We’ve got good players. I want people to know: We’ve got a good team.”

The Caps will have to rely on young veterans and/or rookies to fill the void left by all of those departures. Andrei Burakovsky and Tom Wilson may have to play bigger roles, while rookies like defensemen Lucas Johansen  and Christian Djoos may crack the lineup sooner than expected.

As of right now, the Caps have five defensemen on one-way contracts (Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney), so there’s plenty of room for those youngsters to leave their mark on the team.

“It’s a good team, I think,” MacLellan said. “We have good goaltending. We have skilled players. We’re going to have to see how Djoos plays, how Johansen plays. We might take a little while to get up to speed in that area. I guess there’s a little uncertainty. But I feel good.”

 McLellan’s team might take a bit of a dip because the supporting cast took a hit this offseason, but expecting them to fall off the map because of it is a little premature.

NHL reveals all 30 teams’ available, protected players for expansion draft

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That moment is finally upon us: the NHL released protected and available players lists for all 30 teams regarding the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft on Sunday.

As you’ll see, teams generally chose two alignments:

1. Protecting four forwards, four defensemen, and one goalie.

– 0r –

2. Protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie.

The New York Islanders interestingly bucked the trend, protecting five defensemen.

While you dream up armchair GM (or armchair GM GM, in the case of George McPhee) scenarios, do note that the Golden Knights must meet these requirements as they select 30 players overall:

Also remember that McPhee can strike deals with teams to not pick certain exposed players, though such arrangement will come at a price. In addition to that note, it’s crucial to remember that younger players might not be exposed just because they weren’t protected, as some are exempt.

Got the basics? Good. The league lists the expansion draft rules here if you want to dive into the full details.

Excuse the big list, but here are all the players who are available and protected for each team.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Available
Spencer Abbott (F)
Jared Boll (F)
Sam Carrick (F)
Patrick Eaves (F)
Emerson Etem (F)
Ryan Garbutt (F)
Max Gortz (F)
Nicolas Kerdiles (F)
Andre Petersson (F)
Logan Shaw (F)
Nick Sorensen (F)
Nate Thompson (F)
Corey Tropp (F)
Chris Wagner (F)
Nate Guenin (D)
Korbinian Holzer (D)
Josh Manson (D)
Jaycob Megna (D)
Jeff Schultz (D)
Clayton Stoner (D)
Sami Vatanen (D)
Jonathan Bernier (G)
Jhonas Enroth (G)
Ryan Faragher (G)
Matt Hackett (G)
Dustin Tokarski (G)

Protected
Andrew Cogliano (F)
Ryan Getzlaf (F)
Ryan Kesler (F)
Corey Perry (F)
Rickard Rakell (F)
Jakob Silfverberg (F)
Antoine Vermette (F)
Kevin Bieksa (D)
Cam Fowler (D)
Hampus Lindholm (D)
John Gibson (G)

ARIZONA COYOTES

Available
Alexander Burmistrov (F)
Shane Doan (F)
Tyler Gaudet (F)
Peter Holland (F)
Josh Jooris (F)
Jamie McGinn (F)
Jeremy Morin (F)
Mitchell Moroz (F)
Chris Mueller (F)
Teemu Pulkkinen (F)
Brad Richardson (F)
Garret Ross (F)
Branden Troock (F)
Radim Vrbata (F)
Joe Whitney (F)
Kevin Connauton (D)
Jamie McBain (D)
Zbynek Michalek (D)
Jarred Tinordi (D)
Louis Domingue (G)

Protected
Nick Cousins (F)
Anthony Duclair (F)
Jordan Martinook (F)
Tobias Rieder (F)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (D)
Alex Goligoski (D)
Connor Murphy (D)
Luke Schenn (D)
Chad Johnson (G)

BOSTON BRUINS

Available
Matt Beleskey (F)
Brian Ferlin (F)
Jimmy Hayes (F)
Alex Khokhlachev (F)
Dominic Moore (F)
Tyler Randell (F)
Zac Rinaldo (F)
Tim Schaller (F)
Drew Stafford (F)
Linus Arnesson (D)
Chris Casto (D)
Tommy Cross (D)
Alex Grant (D)
John-Michael Liles (D)
Adam McQuaid (D)
Colin Miller (D)
Joe Morrow (D)
Anton Khudobin (G)
Malcolm Subban (G)

Protected
David Backes (F)
Patrice Bergeron (F)
David Krejci (F)
Brad Marchand (F)
Riley Nash (F)
David Pastrnak (F)
Ryan Spooner (F)
Zdeno Chara (D)
Torey Krug (D)
Kevan Miller (D)
Tuukka Rask (G)

BUFFALO SABRES

Available
William Carrier (F)
Nicolas Deslauriers (F)
Brian Gionta (F)
Derek Grant (F)
Justin Kea (F)
Matt Moulson (F)
Cal O’Reilly (F)
Cole Schneider (F)
Brady Austin (D)
Mathew Bodie (D)
Zach Bogosian (D)
Justin Falk (D)
Taylor Fedun (D)
Cody Franson (D)
Josh Gorges (D)
Dmitry Kulikov (D)
Anders Nilsson (G)
Linus Ullmark (G)

Protected
Tyler Ennis (F)
Marcus Foligno (F)
Zemgus Girgensons (F)
Evander Kane (F)
Johan Larsson (F)
Ryan O'Reilly (F)
Kyle Okposo (F)
Nathan Beaulieu (D)
Jake McCabe (D)
Rasmus Ristolainen (D)
Robin Lehner (G)

CALGARY FLAMES

Available
Brandon Bollig (F)
Lance Bouma (F)
Troy Brouwer (F)
Alex Chiasson (F)
Freddie Hamilton (F)
Emile Poirier (F)
Hunter Shinkaruk (F)
Matt Stajan (F)
Kris Versteeg (F)
Linden Vey (F)
Matt Bartkowski (D)
Ryan Culkin (D)
Deryk Engelland (D)
Michael Kostka (D)
Brett Kulak (D)
Ladislav Smid (D)
Michael Stone (D)
Dennis Wideman (D)
Tyler Wotherspoon (D)
Brian Elliott (G)
Tom McCollum (G)

Protected
Mikael Backlund (F)
Sam Bennett (F)
Micheal Ferland (F)
Michael Frolik (F)
Johnny Gaudreau (F)
Curtis Lazar (F)
Sean Monahan (F)
T.J. Brodie (D)
Mark Giordano (D)
Dougie Hamilton (D)
Mike Smith (G)

CAROLINA HURRICANES

Available
Bryan Bickell (F)
Connor Brickley (F)
Patrick Brown (F)
Erik Karlsson (F)
Danny Kristo (F)
Jay McClement (F)
Andrew Miller (F)
Andrej Nestrasil (F)
Joakim Nordstrom (F)
Lee Stempniak (F)
Brendan Woods (F)
Klas Dahlbeck (D)
Dennis Robertson (D)
Philip Samuelsson (D)
Matt Tennyson (D)
Daniel Altshuller (G)
Eddie Lack (G)
Michael Leighton (G)
Cam Ward (G)

Protected
Phillip Di Giuseppe (F)
Elias Lindholm (F)
Brock McGinn (F)
Victor Rask (F)
Jeff Skinner (F)
Jordan Staal (F)
Teuvo Teravainen (F)
Trevor Carrick (D)
Justin Faulk (D)
Ryan Murphy (D)
Scott Darling (G)

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Available
Kyle Baun (F)
Andrew Desjardins (F)
Marcus Kruger (F)
Pierre-Cedric Labrie (F)
Michael Latta (F)
Brandon Mashinter (F)
Dennis Rasmussen (F)
Jordin Tootoo (F)
Brian Campbell (D)
Dillon Fournier (D)
Shawn Lalonde (D)
Johnny Oduya (D)
Ville Pokka (D)
Michal Rozsival (D)
Viktor Svedberg (D)
Trevor van Riemsdyk (D)
Mac Carruth (G)
Jeff Glass (G)

Protected
Artem Anisimov (F)
Ryan Hartman (F)
Marian Hossa (F)
Tomas Jurco (F)
Patrick Kane (F)
Richard Panik (F)
Jonathan Toews (F)
Niklas Hjalmarsson (D)
Duncan Keith (D)
Brent Seabrook (D)
Corey Crawford (G)

COLORADO AVALANCHE

Available
Troy Bourke (F)
Gabriel Bourque (F)
Rene Bourque (F)
Joe Colborne (F)
Turner Elson (F)
Felix Girard (F)
Mikhail Grigorenko (F)
Samuel Henley (F)
John Mitchell (F)
Jim O’Brien (F)
Brendan Ranford (F)
Mike Sislo (F)
Carl Soderberg (F)
Mark Barberio (D)
Mat Clark (D)
Eric Gelinas (D)
Cody Goloubef (D)
Duncan Siemens (D)
Fedor Tyutin (D)
Patrick Wiercioch (D)
Joe Cannata (G)
Calvin Pickard (G)
Jeremy Smith (G)

Protected
Sven Andrighetto (F)
Blake Comeau (F)
Matt Duchene (F)
Rocco Grimaldi (F)
Gabriel Landeskog (F)
Nathan MacKinnon (F)
Matt Nieto (F)
Tyson Barrie (D)
Erik Johnson (D)
Nikita Zadorov (D)
Semyon Varlamov (G)

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Available
Josh Anderson (F)
Alex Broadhurst (F)
Matt Calvert (F)
Zac Dalpe (F)
Sam Gagner (F)
Brett Gallant (F)
William Karlsson (F)
Lauri Korpikoski (F)
Lukas Sedlak (F)
T.J. Tynan (F)
Daniel Zaar (F)
Marc-Andre Bergeron (D)
Scott Harrington (D)
Jack Johnson (D)
Kyle Quincey (D)
John Ramage (D)
Jaime Sifers (D)
Ryan Stanton (D)
Oscar Dansk (G)
Anton Forsberg (G)
Joonas Korpisalo (G)

Protected
Cam Atkinson (F)
Brandon Dubinsky (F)
Nick Foligno (F)
Scott Hartnell (F)
Boone Jenner (F)
Brandon Saad (F)
Alexander Wennberg (F)
Seth Jones (D)
Ryan Murray (D)
David Savard (D)
Sergei Bobrovsky (G)

DALLAS STARS

Available
Adam Cracknell (F)
Justin Dowling (F)
Cody Eakin (F)
Ales Hemsky (F)
Jiri Hudler (F)
Curtis McKenzie (F)
Mark McNeill (F)
Travis Morin (F)
Patrick Sharp (F)
Gemel Smith (F)
Matej Stransky (F)
Mattias Backman (D)
Andrew Bodnarchuk (D)
Ludwig Bystrom (D)
Nick Ebert (D)
Justin Hache (D)
Dan Hamhuis (D)
Patrik Nemeth (D)
Jamie Oleksiak (D)
Greg Pateryn (D)
Dustin Stevenson (D)
Henri Kiviaho (G)
Maxime Lagace (G)
Kari Lehtonen (G)
Antti Niemi (G)
Justin Peters (G)

Protected
Jamie Benn (F)
Radek Faksa (F)
Valeri Nichushkin (F)
Brett Ritchie (F)
Antoine Roussel (F)
Tyler Seguin (F)
Jason Spezza (F)
Stephen Johns (D)
John Klingberg (D)
Esa Lindell (D)
Ben Bishop (G)

DETROIT RED WINGS

Available
Louis-Marc Aubry (F)
Mitch Callahan (F)
Colin Campbell (F)
Martin Frk (F)
Luke Glendening (F)
Darren Helm (F)
Drew Miller (F)
Tomas Nosek (F)
Riley Sheahan (F)
Ben Street (F)
Eric Tangradi (F)
Adam Almquist (D)
Jonathan Ericsson (D)
Niklas Kronwall (D)
Brian Lashoff (D)
Dylan McIlrath (D)
Xavier Ouellet (D)
Ryan Sproul (D)
Jared Coreau (G)
Petr Mrazek (G)
Edward Pasquale (G)
Jake Paterson (G)

Protected
Justin Abdelkader (F)
Andreas Athanasiou (F)
Anthony Mantha (F)
Frans Nielsen (F)
Gustav Nyquist (F)
Tomas Tatar (F)
Henrik Zetterberg (F)
Danny DeKeyser (D)
Mike Green (D)
Nick Jensen (D)
Jimmy Howard (G)

EDMONTON OILERS

Available
David Desharnais (F)
Justin Fontaine (F)
Matt Hendricks (F)
Roman Horak (F)
Jujhar Khaira (F)
Anton Lander (F)
Iiro Pakarinen (F)
Tyler Pitlick (F)
Zach Pochiro (F)
Benoit Pouliot (F)
Henrik Samuelsson (F)
Bogdan Yakimov (F)
Mark Fayne (D)
Andrew Ference (D)
Mark Fraser (D)
Eric Gryba (D)
David Musil (D)
Jordan Oesterle (D)
Griffin Reinhart (D)
Kris Russell (D)
Dillon Simpson (D)
Laurent Brossoit (G)
Jonas Gustavsson (G)

Protected
Leon Draisaitl (F)
Jordan Eberle (F)
Zack Kassian (F)
Mark Letestu (F)
Milan Lucic (F)
Patrick Maroon (F)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (F)
Oscar Klefbom (D)
Adam Larsson (D)
Andrej Sekera (D)
Cam Talbot (G)

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Available
Graham Black (F)
Tim Bozon (F)
Jaromir Jagr (F)
Jussi Jokinen (F)
Derek MacKenzie (F)
Jonathan Marchessault (F)
Colton Sceviour (F)
Michael Sgarbossa (F)
Reilly Smith (F)
Brody Sutter (F)
Paul Thompson (F)
Shawn Thornton (F)
Thomas Vanek (F)
Jason Demers (D)
Jakub Kindl (D)
Brent Regner (D)
Reece Scarlett (D)
MacKenzie Weegar (D)
Reto Berra (G)
Sam Brittain (G)
Roberto Luongo (G)

Protected
Aleksander Barkov (F)
Nick Bjugstad (F)
Jonathan Huberdeau (F)
Vincent Trocheck (F)
Aaron Ekblad (D)
Alex Petrovic (D)
Mark Pysyk (D)
Keith Yandle (D)
James Reimer (G)

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Available
Andy Andreoff (F)
Justin Auger (F)
Dustin Brown (F)
Kyle Clifford (F)
Andrew Crescenzi (F)
Nic Dowd (F)
Marian Gaborik (F)
Jarome Iginla (F)
Trevor Lewis (F)
Michael Mersch (F)
Jordan Nolan (F)
Teddy Purcell (F)
Devin Setoguchi (F)
Nick Shore (F)
Matt Greene (D)
Vincent Loverde (D)
Brayden McNabb (D)
Cameron Schilling (D)
Rob Scuderi (D)
Zach Trotman (D)
Jack Campbell (G)
Jeff Zatkoff (G)

Protected
Jeff Carter (F)
Anze Kopitar (F)
Tanner Pearson (F)
Tyler Toffoli (F)
Drew Doughty (D)
Derek Forbort (D)
Alec Martinez (D)
Jake Muzzin (D)
Jonathan Quick (G)

MINNESOTA WILD

Available
Brady Brassart (F)
Patrick Cannone (F)
Ryan Carter (F)
Kurtis Gabriel (F)
Martin Hanzal (F)
Erik Haula (F)
Zack Mitchell (F)
Jordan Schroeder (F)
Eric Staal (F)
Chris Stewart (F)
Ryan White (F)
Victor Bartley (D)
Matt Dumba (D)
Christian Folin (D)
Guillaume Gelinas (D)
Alexander Gudbranson (D)
Gustav Olofsson (D)
Nate Prosser (D)
Marco Scandella (D)
Mike Weber (D)
Johan Gustafsson (G)
Darcy Kuemper (G)
Alex Stalock (G)

Protected
Charlie Coyle (F)
Mikael Granlund (F)
Mikko Koivu (F)
Nino Niederreiter (F)
Zach Parise (F)
Jason Pominville (F)
Jason Zucker (F)
Jonas Brodin (D)
Jared Spurgeon (D)
Ryan Suter (D)
Devan Dubnyk (G)

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Available
Daniel Carr (F)
Connor Crisp (F)
Jacob De La Rose (F)
Bobby Farnham (F)
Brian Flynn (F)
Max Friberg (F)
Charles Hudon (F)
Dwight King (F)
Stefan Matteau (F)
Torrey Mitchell (F)
Joonas Nattinen (F)
Steve Ott (F)
Tomas Plekanec (F)
Alexander Radulov (F)
Chris Terry (F)
Brandon Davidson (D)
Alexei Emelin (D)
Keegan Lowe (D)
Andrei Markov (D)
Nikita Nesterov (D)
Zach Redmond (D)
Dalton Thrower (D)
Al Montoya (G)

Protected
Paul Byron (F)
Phillip Danault (F)
Jonathan Drouin (F)
Alex Galchenyuk (F)
Brendan Gallagher (F)
Max Pacioretty (F)
Andrew Shaw (F)
Jordie Benn (D)
Jeff Petry (D)
Shea Weber (D)
Carey Price (G)

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Available
Pontus Aberg (F)
Cody Bass (F)
Vernon Fiddler (F)
Mike Fisher (F)
Cody McLeod (F)
James Neal (F)
PA Parenteau (F)
Adam Payerl (F)
Mike Ribeiro (F)
Miikka Salomaki (F)
Colton Sissons (F)
Craig Smith (F)
Trevor Smith (F)
Austin Watson (F)
Colin Wilson (F)
Harry Zolnierczyk (F)
Taylor Aronson (D)
Anthony Bitetto (D)
Stefan Elliott (D)
Petter Granberg (D)
Brad Hunt (D)
Matt Irwin (D)
Andrew O’Brien (D)
Adam Pardy (D)
Jaynen Rissling (D)
Scott Valentine (D)
Yannick Weber (D)
Marek Mazanec (G)

Protected
Viktor Arvidsson (F)
Filip Forsberg (F)
Calle Jarnkrok (F)
Ryan Johansen (F)
Mattias Ekholm (D)
Ryan Ellis (D)
Roman Josi (D)
P.K. Subban (D)
Pekka Rinne (G)

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Available
Beau Bennett (F)
Michael Cammalleri (F)
Carter Camper (F)
Luke Gazdic (F)
Shane Harper (F)
Jacob Josefson (F)
Ivan Khomutov (F)
Stefan Noesen (F)
Marc Savard (F)
Devante Smith-Pelly (F)
Petr Straka (F)
Mattias Tedenby (F)
Ben Thomson (F)
David Wohlberg (F)
Seth Helgeson (D)
Viktor Loov (D)
Ben Lovejoy (D)
Andrew MacWilliam (D)
Jon Merrill (D)
Dalton Prout (D)
Karl Stollery (D)
Alexander Urbom (D)
Keith Kinkaid (G)
Scott Wedgewood (G)

Protected
Taylor Hall (F)
Adam Henrique (F)
Kyle Palmieri (F)
Travis Zajac (F)
Andy Greene (D)
John Moore (D)
Mirco Mueller (D)
Damon Severson (D)
Cory Schneider (G)

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Available
Josh Bailey (F)
Steve Bernier (F)
Eric Boulton (F)
Jason Chimera (F)
Casey Cizikas (F)
Cal Clutterbuck (F)
Stephen Gionta (F)
Ben Holmstrom (F)
Bracken Kearns (F)
Nikolay Kulemin (F)
Brock Nelson (F)
Shane Prince (F)
Alan Quine (F)
Ryan Strome (F)
Johan Sundstrom (F)
Calvin de Haan (D)
Matthew Finn (D)
Jesse Graham (D)
Thomas Hickey (D)
Loic Leduc (D)
Scott Mayfield (D)
Dennis Seidenberg (D)
Jean-Francois Berube (G)
Christopher Gibson (G)
Jaroslav Halak (G)

Protected
Andrew Ladd (F)
Anders Lee (F)
John Tavares (F)
Johnny Boychuk (D)
Travis Hamonic (D)
Nick Leddy (D)
Adam Pelech (D)
Ryan Pulock (D)
Thomas Greiss (G)

NEW YORK RANGERS

Available
Taylor Beck (F)
Chris Brown (F)
Daniel Catenacci (F)
Jesper Fast (F)
Tanner Glass (F)
Michael Grabner (F)
Marek Hrivik (F)
Nicklas Jensen (F)
Carl Klingberg (F)
Oscar Lindberg (F)
Brandon Pirri (F)
Matt Puempel (F)
Adam Clendening (D)
Tommy Hughes (D)
Steven Kampfer (D)
Kevin Klein (D)
Michael Paliotta (D)
Brendan Smith (D)
Chris Summers (D)
Magnus Hellberg (G)
Antti Raanta (G)
Mackenzie Skapski (G)

Protected
Kevin Hayes (F)
Chris Kreider (F)
J.T. Miller (F)
Rick Nash (F)
Derek Stepan (F)
Mika Zibanejad (F)
Mats Zuccarello (F)
Nick Holden (D)
Ryan McDonagh (D)
Marc Staal (D)
Henrik Lundqvist (G)

OTTAWA SENATORS

Available
Casey Bailey (F)
Mike Blunden (F)
Alexandre Burrows (F)
Stephane Da Costa (F)
Christopher DiDomenico (F)
Nikita Filatov (F)
Chris Kelly (F)
Clarke MacArthur (F)
Max McCormick (F)
Chris Neil (F)
Tom Pyatt (F)
Ryan Rupert (F)
Bobby Ryan (F)
Viktor Stalberg (F)
Phil Varone (F)
Tommy Wingels (F)
Mark Borowiecki (D)
Fredrik Claesson (D)
Brandon Gormley (D)
Jyrki Jokipakka (D)
Marc Methot (D)
Patrick Sieloff (D)
Chris Wideman (D)
Mikael Wikstrand (D)
Mike Condon (G)
Chris Driedger (G)
Andrew Hammond (G)

Protected
Derick Brassard (F)
Ryan Dzingel (F)
Mike Hoffman (F)
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (F)
Zack Smith (F)
Mark Stone (F)
Kyle Turris (F)
Cody Ceci (D)
Erik Karlsson (D)
Dion Phaneuf (D)
Craig Anderson (G)

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Available
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (F)
Greg Carey (F)
Chris Conner (F)
Boyd Gordon (F)
Taylor Leier (F)
Colin McDonald (F)
Andy Miele (F)
Michael Raffl (F)
Matt Read (F)
Chris VandeVelde (F)
Jordan Weal (F)
Dale Weise (F)
Eric Wellwood (F)
Mark Alt (D)
TJ Brennan (D)
Michael Del Zotto (D)
Andrew MacDonald (D)
Will O’Neill (D)
Jesper Pettersson (D)
Nick Schultz (D)
Steve Mason (G)
Michal Neuvirth (G)

Protected
Sean Couturier (F)
Valtteri Filppula (F)
Claude Giroux (F)
Scott Laughton (F)
Brayden Schenn (F)
Wayne Simmonds (F)
Jakub Voracek (F)
Shayne Gostisbehere (D)
Radko Gudas (D)
Brandon Manning (D)
Anthony Stolarz (G)

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Available
Josh Archibald (F)
Nick Bonino (F)
Matt Cullen (F)
Jean-Sebastien Dea (F)
Carl Hagelin (F)
Tom Kuhnhackl (F)
Chris Kunitz (F)
Kevin Porter (F)
Bryan Rust (F)
Tom Sestito (F)
Oskar Sundqvist (F)
Dominik Uher (F)
Garrett Wilson (F)
Scott Wilson (F)
Ian Cole (D)
Frank Corrado (D)
Trevor Daley (D)
Tim Erixon (D)
Cameron Gaunce (D)
Ron Hainsey (D)
Stuart Percy (D)
Derrick Pouliot (D)
Chad Ruhwedel (D)
Mark Streit (D)
David Warsofsky (D)
Marc-Andre Fleury (G)

Protected
Sidney Crosby (F)
Patric Hornqvist (F)
Phil Kessel (F)
Evgeni Malkin (F)
Brian Dumoulin (D)
Kris Letang (D)
Olli Maatta (D)
Justin Schultz (D)
Matt Murray (G)

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Available
Mikkel Boedker (F)
Barclay Goodrow (F)
Micheal Haley (F)
Patrick Marleau (F)
Buddy Robinson (F)
Zack Stortini (F)
Joe Thornton (F)
Joel Ward (F)
Dylan DeMelo (D)
Brenden Dillon (D)
Dan Kelly (D)
Paul Martin (D)
David Schlemko (D)
Aaron Dell (G)
Troy Grosenick (G)
Harri Sateri (G)

Protected
Ryan Carpenter (F)
Logan Couture (F)
Jannik Hansen (F)
Tomas Hertl (F)
Melker Karlsson (F)
Joe Pavelski (F)
Chris Tierney (F)
Justin Braun (D)
Brent Burns (D)
Marc-Edouard Vlasic (D)
Martin Jones (G)

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Available
Kenny Agostino (F)
Andrew Agozzino (F)
Kyle Brodziak (F)
Jordan Caron (F)
Jacob Doty (F)
Landon Ferraro (F)
Alex Friesen (F)
Evgeny Grachev (F)
Dmitrij Jaskin (F)
Jori Lehtera (F)
Brad Malone (F)
Magnus Paajarvi (F)
David Perron (F)
Ty Rattie (F)
Scottie Upshall (F)
Nail Yakupov (F)
Robert Bortuzzo (D)
Chris Butler (D)
Morgan Ellis (D)
Carl Gunnarsson (D)
Jani Hakanpaa (D)
Petteri Lindbohm (D)
Reid McNeill (D)
Jordan Binnington (G)
Carter Hutton (G)

Protected
Patrik Berglund (F)
Ryan Reaves (F)
Jaden Schwartz (F)
Vladimir Sobotka (F)
Paul Stastny (F)
Alexander Steen (F)
Vladimir Tarasenko (F)
Jay Bouwmeester (D)
Joel Edmundson (D)
Alex Pietrangelo (D)
Jake Allen (G)

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Available
Carter Ashton (F)
Michael Bournival (F)
J.T. Brown (F)
Cory Conacher (F)
Erik Condra (F)
Gabriel Dumont (F)
Stefan Fournier (F)
Byron Froese (F)
Yanni Gourde (F)
Mike Halmo (F)
Henri Ikonen (F)
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (F)
Tye McGinn (F)
Greg McKegg (F)
Cedric Paquette (F)
Tanner Richard (F)
Joel Vermin (F)
Dylan Blujus (D)
Jake Dotchin (D)
Jason Garrison (D)
Slater Koekkoek (D)
Jonathan Racine (D)
Andrej Sustr (D)
Matt Taormina (D)
Luke Witkowski (D)
Peter Budaj (G)
Kristers Gudlevskis (G)
Jaroslav Janus (G)
Mike McKenna (G)

Protected
Ryan Callahan (F)
Tyler Johnson (F)
Alex Killorn (F)
Nikita Kucherov (F)
Vladislav Namestnikov (F)
Ondrej Palat (F)
Steven Stamkos (F)
Braydon Coburn (D)
Victor Hedman (D)
Anton Stralman (D)
Andrei Vasilevskiy (G)

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Available
Brian Boyle (F)
Eric Fehr (F)
Colin Greening (F)
Seth Griffith (F)
Teemu Hartikainen (F)
Brooks Laich (F)
Brendan Leipsic (F)
Joffrey Lupul (F)
Milan Michalek (F)
Kerby Rychel (F)
Ben Smith (F)
Andrew Campbell (D)
Matt Hunwick (D)
Alexey Marchenko (D)
Martin Marincin (D)
Steve Oleksy (D)
Roman Polak (D)
Antoine Bibeau (G)
Curtis McElhinney (G)
Garret Sparks (G)

Protected
Tyler Bozak (F)
Connor Brown (F)
Nazem Kadri (F)
Leo Komarov (F)
Josh Leivo (F)
Matt Martin (F)
James van Riemsdyk (F)
Connor Carrick (D)
Jake Gardiner (D)
Morgan Rielly (D)
Frederik Andersen (G)

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Available
Reid Boucher (F)
Michael Chaput (F)
Joseph Cramarossa (F)
Derek Dorsett (F)
Brendan Gaunce (F)
Alexandre Grenier (F)
Jayson Megna (F)
Borna Rendulic (F)
Anton Rodin (F)
Drew Shore (F)
Jack Skille (F)
Michael Zalewski (F)
Alex Biega (D)
Philip Larsen (D)
Tom Nilsson (D)
Andrey Pedan (D)
Luca Sbisa (D)
Richard Bachman (G)
Ryan Miller (G)

Protected
Sven Baertschi (F)
Loui Eriksson (F)
Markus Granlund (F)
Bo Horvat (F)
Daniel Sedin (F)
Henrik Sedin (F)
Brandon Sutter (F)
Alexander Edler (D)
Erik Gudbranson (D)
Christopher Tanev (D)
Jacob Markstrom (G)

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Available
Jay Beagle (F)
Chris Bourque (F)
Paul Carey (F)
Brett Connolly (F)
Stanislav Galiev (F)
Tyler Graovac (F)
Garrett Mitchell (F)
Liam O’Brien (F)
T.J. Oshie (F)
Zach Sill (F)
Chandler Stephenson (F)
Christian Thomas (F)
Nathan Walker (F)
Justin Williams (F)
Daniel Winnik (F)
Karl Alzner (D)
Taylor Chorney (D)
Cody Corbett (D)
Darren Dietz (D)
Christian Djoos (D)
Tom Gilbert (D)
Aaron Ness (D)
Brooks Orpik (D)
Nate Schmidt (D)
Kevin Shattenkirk (D)
Pheonix Copley (G)
Philipp Grubauer (G)

Protected
Nicklas Backstrom (F)
Andre Burakovsky (F)
Lars Eller (F)
Marcus Johansson (F)
Evgeny Kuznetsov (F)
Alex Ovechkin (F)
Tom Wilson (F)
John Carlson (D)
Matt Niskanen (D)
Dmitry Orlov (D)
Braden Holtby (G)

WINNIPEG JETS

Available
Marko Dano (F)
Quinton Howden (F)
Scott Kosmachuk (F)
Tomas Kubalik (F)
JC Lipon (F)
Shawn Matthias (F)
Ryan Olsen (F)
Anthony Peluso (F)
Chris Thorburn (F)
Ben Chiarot (D)
Toby Enstrom (D)
Brenden Kichton (D)
Julian Melchiori (D)
Paul Postma (D)
Brian Strait (D)
Mark Stuart (D)
Michael Hutchinson (G)
Ondrej Pavelec (G)

Protected
Joel Armia (F)
Andrew Copp (F)
Bryan Little (F)
Adam Lowry (F)
Mathieu Perreault (F)
Mark Scheifele (F)
Blake Wheeler (F)
Dustin Byfuglien (D)
Tyler Myers (D)
Jacob Trouba (D)
Connor Hellebuyck (G)

No way to sugarcoat loss of Letang

10 Comments

Even though Kris Letang isn’t the best player on the Pittsburgh Penguins, there is a strong argument to be made he is probably their most important player, the most difficult to replace, and the one they can not afford to lose if they are going to win another Stanley Cup.

That is why the Penguins’ announcement on Wednesday that Letang will be sidelined for 4-6 months due to a herniated disc in his neck is such a significant blow to their Stanley Cup chances, even if they get all of their other injured players back in the lineup in time for the start of the postseason. None of them are Kris Letang.

In all honesty, they would probably have a better chance to win it all if they had a healthy Letang, but were without one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, than they do with both Crosby and Malkin, but no Letang.

The thought process behind this is simple. Without one of Crosby or Malkin they still have another No. 1 center. They still have a forward that can drive the offense. But when you take Letang out of the lineup, there is nobody else that can play the 28 minutes per night that he does in the playoffs. There is nobody else that can dictate the pace of the game in every key situation the way Letang does. There is nobody else that can serve as a one-man breakout coming out of the defensive zone and skate the puck out of danger. Or join the rush as smoothly as he does. Or chase down just about any forward in the NHL.

Crosby might be the Penguins’ heart and soul, but Letang is the engine the makes the whole system run.

“He’s an elite player and a great teammate,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan on Wednesday. “He’s a tough guy to replace.”

Every Stanley Cup team needs that type of workhorse defenseman, and every one that wins has it. The Penguins have Letang. The Chicago Blackhawks have Duncan Keith. The Los Angeles Kings have Drew Doughty. The Boston Bruins had Zdeno Chara.

So how are the Penguins going to make this work?

The biggest key will be the play of Justin Schultz, because he is probably the one defender on the blue line that can at least somewhat replace some of what Letang does, at least when it comes to sparking the offense.

After starting to regain some of his confidence late last season and in the playoffs following the trade from Edmonton, Schultz’s career has taken a massive step forward in 2016-17.

With 49 points in 76 games he is starting to resemble the player the Edmonton Oilers thought he would be so many years ago.

But he has mostly been doing that in a complementary, support role. Now he has to be not only one of the go-to guys on defense, but perhaps the go-to guy.

Since Letang went out of the lineup on Feb. 28 no defenseman on the team has logged more minutes per game than Schultz’s 23:42, and while his play has remained strong, his production has fallen off a little from where it was before then. Prior to March he was averaging 0.66 points per game and was a 52 percent corsi player in 19 minutes per game. Since March 1 he is at 0.55 points per game and is a 49 percent corsi player. And again, there is also the fact that for as good as he has been, he still isn’t Kris Letang.

If the Penguins have one thing going for them it is the fact they were at least somewhat prepared for something like this and have some depth thanks to the trade deadline additions of Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit.

Think back two years ago to when Letang was also sidelined for the playoffs and the Penguins went into their first-round series against the New York Rangers having to rely on the likes of Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy to play 22 minutes per night, while also using Taylor Chorney on their bottom pairing. That was a bad situation.

Things are not quite that dire this time around. With Hainsey, Streit, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, and the possible returns of Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, they at least have enough bodies to piece together a very formidable NHL defense that can help them compete.

To their credit, they have been able to withstand Letang’s absence (on top of several other key players) for the better part of the past two months. They have the quantity on the blue line to maybe get through it.

They just don’t have the elite, No. 1 guy.

Where that becomes a problem is the playoffs are an entirely different animal than the regular season.

While the Penguins have been able to get by in recent weeks, it may not be as easy when they have to play a playoff caliber team every night for potentially seven games. That team might be able to better exploit that weakness. They will not get the occasional game against a last place team or non-playoff team that they can sneak past.

And for the Penguins, coming out of the Metropolitan Division bracket their postseason path is going to have to take them through Columbus and most likely Washington in the first two rounds if they are going to come out of the Eastern Conference again. That is two of the four best teams in the NHL right now.

Even with Letang that would have been a tall mountain to climb.

It is simply that much steeper without him.