PHT Power Rankings: Don’t sleep on the Blue Jackets

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It can be really easy to sometimes forget about, or even completely overlook, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Historically, they are still a franchise that has yet to get out of the first-round of the playoffs. They have been constantly stuck in the shadows behind perpetual Stanley Cup contenders (and Stanley Cup winners) like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the standings, and unable to knock them off their thrones when it comes to the postseason.

This season they not only have to deal with those two teams that have won each of the past three Stanley Cups, but the New York Islanders have also emerged as the story in the Eastern Conference.

So again, it is easy for them to kind of get … lost.

But the Blue Jackets are good. They are really good, and they are a team that you should be paying attention to as we head into the second half of the 2018-19 season.

How good are they? For starters, they are a top-10 team in the league standings as of Monday. They have an exciting game-breaker at forward in Artemi Panarin, and they have one of the best all-around defenders in the league in Seth Jones who continues to get better every single season. Along with them, second-year player Pierre-Luc Dubois is developing into a legit top-line center, while Cam Atkinson is the best goal-scorer in the league that nobody ever talks about (14th in the league since the start of the 2015-16 season). Their underlying numbers are strong. They are a good possession team, they typically win the scoring chance battle, and they are really good on the penalty kill.

What makes them such an intriguing team is that they have maintained such a high spot in the standings and are still right in the thick of the Metropolitan Division race despite getting some of the worst goaltending in the league this season.

At least as far as potential playoff teams go.

Sergei Bobrovsky‘s play has dropped significantly from where it has been in previous seasons, and while Joonas Korpisalo is a decent backup he’s probably not going to be backstopping a team to a title.

Overall, the Bobrovsky-Korpisalo duo has managed only a .900 save percentage for the season. That is 20th in the NHL. The only teams currently occupying a playoff position that are worse than them are the Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks. When it comes to even-strength play, they drop down to 24th where Sharks are the only team in a playoff spot with a worse mark. Typically teams that get this level of goaltending don’t end up winning many games. The fact the Blue Jackets are, and winning as regularly as they are, is a testament to how strong the team in front of their goaltenders can be.

Long-term this team has some question marks, specifically as it relates to Bobrovsky and Panarin who are both eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. Losing one or both could be pretty damaging, especially with Panarin because it is going to be extremely difficult to replace his production. But in the short-term, this is a really good hockey team that is decent goaltending away from being a true contender in the Eastern Conference. Especially as the two teams that have stood in their way the longest have seemingly taken a step back this season.

The only question is whether or not they can actually get that goaltending this season, and if it is going to come from Bobrovsky or from somebody that is currently outside of the organization.

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Still in a class all to themselves. The pressure to win it all is going to be immense this season.

2. Calgary Flames — An absolutely incredible one-year turnaround. In any other year Bill Peters would probably be a lock for the Jack Adams Award, but he is probably already stuck in second place behind Barry Trotz.

3. San Jose Sharks — It’s not usually a good sign when two of your top-three scorers are defenders. But when those two defenders have combined to win three Norris Trophies (and be finalists three other times) and are both point-per-game players, you can win with it. Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns are giving the Sharks just what they expected this season. Unfortunately for the Sharks Karlsson is going to be shut down for a couple of games.

The second tier

4. New York Islanders — They have won 15 of their past 18 games and enter the week with a three-point cushion over every other team in the Metropolitan Division. If they win it Barry Trotz will probably be a unanimous coach of the year winner.

5. Winnipeg Jets — They haven’t always looked great in recent weeks, but they keep scoring a lot of goals and piling up a lot wins.

6. Vegas Golden Knights — Alex Tuch has been the big breakout player for the Golden Knights this season, and now that they have a healthy Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny there is an argument to be made they are even deeper than last year’s team.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets — Imagine how good they would be this season with decent goaltending.

The Other Contenders

8. Nashville Predators — They’ve slumped a bit recently, but I am still not worried. The types of peaks and valleys that every team faces over an 82-game season.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs — They have lost seven out of 10 and some of their big-money players, specifically William Nylander, are not scoring like they are expected to. Surely this will all result in a calm, rational response in Toronto

10. Washington Capitals — A five-game losing streak is almost unheard of for the Capitals. They gave up at least seven goals in two of those games during the current losing streak.

11. Boston Bruins — You have to think there is going to be a trade for some more forward help. Their top three forwards are incredible. They do not have much help.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins — They were on a roll and looking like a Stanley Cup contender until they went on this most recent Western Conference road trip where they reverted back to their early season ways. The bye week and All-Star break is coming at the absolute perfect time for them.

13. Montreal Canadiens –Carey Price is the X-factor for this team. He has a .951 save percentage so far in January and a .930 mark since the start of December.

The Bubble Teams

14. Carolina Hurricanes — They are not going away quietly and really trying to make a run at a playoff spot. Nino Niederreiter was an outstanding pickup that will help not only this season, but in the future as well.

15. Minnesota Wild — They still have the inside track for a playoff spot at the moment, but the status of defenseman Matt Dumba and swapping Niederreiter for Victor Rask is not a promising development for their roster.

[Related: Dumba’s anger led to indefinite stint on sidelines]

16. Vancouver Canucks — They are definitely benefitting from the bottom half of the Western Conference being completely mediocre, but they are still exceeding expectations in a big way. Will Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser be enough to drag them to the playoffs? That is a big ask, but they are at least an interesting team because of them.

17. Buffalo Sabres — With Jack Eichel continuing to develop into a star, Jeff Skinner erupting offensively, and the team winning 17 of its first 25 games it seemed like the playoffs were a given. Not so much now.

18. Colorado Avalanche — The more this season goes on the more it seems that this is a completely ordinary team that just so happens to have one truly dominant line up front. They are just 5-11-3 in their past 19 games.

19. St. Louis Blues — Somehow they are still very much in the Western Conference wild card race, and at the moment are probably playing better than any of the teams around them. Unfortunately that terrible start to the season may make this a case of too little, too late.

20. Arizona Coyotes — Not only are they are 8-4-2 in their past 14 games, but they are doing it with a roster that has been held together with duct tape and playing really well against some of the league’s best teams.

21. Dallas Stars — Just when they started to show some signs of getting it together, they dropped four in a row this past week. Hopefully the bye week is an opportunity for them to recharge and put the first half drama behind them.

The Lottery Teams

22. New York Rangers — After David Quinn ripped his team’s effort in a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets they responded by winning three in a row. Not enough to make a dent in the deficit they are facing in the Wild Card race, but a nice response either way.

23. Anaheim Ducks — It is downright stunning that a team that lost 12 games in a row, 13 out of 15, and has a minus-29 goal differential on the season is still anywhere near a playoff spot. Have to imagine that is the season goes on they settle more into the lottery pack than the playoff pack.

24. Philadelphia Flyers — Positive signs for the Flyers include Carter Hart looking good in net and Nolan Patrick starting to heat up offensively. They could be difference-makers in the very near future.

25. Edmonton Oilers — Placing Ryan Spooner on waivers is just another reminder as to how bad the roster management of this team has been. What a waste.

[Related: Oilers shuffle more deck chairs, waive Spooner and Rattie]

26. Chicago Blackhawks — Patrick Kane is still scoring at an elite level, Jonathan Toews is having one of the best seasons of his career, and Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are two young players that look to be emerging on cheap contracts. There are some positives here. The negatives are pretty much everything else.

27. Florida Panthers — With every loss coach Bob Boughner seems to call out his big-money players more and more. Can’t imagine that will be very impactful for very long.

28. Ottawa Senators — The Senators seem determined to get Matt Duchene re-signed, and that leads to a very big question: Why? As in, why would he want to re-sign there, and why are the Senators going to probably overpay a 29-year-old forward to be a part of a rebuilding team that is probably years away from being relevant again? The only logical answer here is that with the salary floor they have to pay someone.

29. New Jersey Devils — Without Taylor Hall in the lineup there just is not much here.

30. Los Angeles Kings — Their 7-1 loss to the Avalanche over the weekend was as ugly as it gets.

31. Detroit Red Wings — This will be the first time since the early 1980s that the Red Wings will have missed the playoffs three years in a row. Given the state of the roster and the current rebuild it’s worth wondering how many years this particular streak will continue.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Oilers shuffle more deck chairs, waive Spooner and Rattie

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Following a dreadful weekend that saw them lose consecutive blowouts to Calgary and Carolina (getting scored by a 12-6 margin), the Edmonton Oilers made a few more changes to their roster on Monday by placing forwards Ryan Spooner and Ty Rattie on waivers.

The noteworthy name here, of course, is Ryan Spooner because of what he represents. What he represents is the type of roster management that has resulted in the Oilers wasting the first four years of a generational talent in Connor McDavid.

Follow along for a minute just to recall how we got here:

  • The Oilers just acquired Spooner a couple of months ago from the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Strome.
  • That trade came just one year after they acquired Strome in a one-for-one deal with the New York Islanders for Jordan Eberle.
  • That means in less than a year-and-a-half the Oilers managed to turn a consistent 20-goal, 50-point winger in Eberle into a player they are placing on waivers. The only natural winger on the Oilers roster this season that is on track to even come close to that sort of production is Alex Chiasson. That is … not good.

Let us not forget how that sequence of trades started just one year after Taylor Hall was traded to New Jersey straight up for Adam Larsson.

Spooner still carries a $4 million salary cap hit through the end of next season.

Rattie spent the 2017-18 season split between Edmonton and the AHL and has appeared in 29 games with the big club this season, scoring two goals to go with six assists. He was a preseason standout this year with five goals and three assists while mostly playing on a line with McDavid. That success never translated over to the regular season.

Whether or not the Oilers make any other moves to accompany these waiver transactions this still has the look of an organization that doesn’t really have any kind of a set plan in place and is just making it up as it goes along.

Related: Oilers add two defenders, including McDavid nemesis Manning

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.

 

Devils’ Palmieri replaces injured Hall at NHL All-Star Game

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New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall is going to take the team’s upcoming bye week to heal, and that will include missing the 2019 NHL All-Star Game.

The Devils made the announcement on Saturday, with Jersey boy Kyle Palmieri set to take his spot at SAP Center in San Jose next weekend.

“It’s a pretty cool honor,” Palmieri told reporters prior to the Devils game against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday “Obviously, it will be my first one so looking forward to that. I’d easily trade it to have [Hall] backs in the lineup and be healthy but it’s a cool opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to it.”

Palmieri has had a solid season for the lowly Devils, posting 22 goals and 16 assists in 47 games.

“It’s nice to see Kyle really develop as an NHL player over the fours years since he’s been traded from Anaheim,” Devils coach John Hynes told reporters on Saturday. “He’s come in here. He’s played a big role. He’s improved his game. He’s a big, big part of our team and it’s nice to see him continue to develop. It’s certainly a nice honor.”

Hall remains sidelined with a lower-body injury and hasn’t skated since a game on Dec. 23.

The Devils sit in 26th place overall in the NHL standings and are fighting for better lottery odds at this point.


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

Stage set for Oilers to make panic trade

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If you want to make an Edmonton Oilers fan wince in pain, utter this line: “Peter Chiarelli isn’t done yet.”

It’s gotten to the point where a lot of hockey people wouldn’t trust Chiarelli to make a lunchroom snack trade with grade-school children, yet a bunch of factors point in the direction of another bold move … and in almost every case, bold trades have been unmitigated disasters for the Oilers.

Let’s consider the rumblings at hand.

  • On Monday, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reported that the Oilers are in a “full-court press” to land some help at forward. They’re shopping three possible components according to Rishaug, with the two scariest components bolded to express my horror for Oilers fans: goaltender, first-round pickand “a young developing forward” are in play.

Now, it’s not necessarily guaranteed that the “young developing forward” could be Jesse Puljujarvi, but that brings us to an additional, well-sourced report that should make Oilers fans pour out flop-sweat, and any number of opportunistic opposing GMs lick their chops.

  • In the latest edition of 31 Thoughts on Wednesday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman also confirms that the first-round pick is “definitely in play,” while depicting an internal tug-of-war regarding whether Puljujarvi should be dangled, as well.

Friedman also notes a crucial facet of this, and something that could really increase the chances of Chiarelli throwing up a Hail Mary pass, only to be intercepted by a waiting defender/happy GM:

It sounds like people above Chiarelli are taking a “playoff or bust” mentality.

This would be a concern with your run-of-the-mill, good-to-average GM. But with a GM who’s shot himself in the foot with trades so often, you’d think he didn’t have any toes left, it’s terrifying with Chiarelli.

(I mean, unless you’re rooting for one of the NHL’s other 30 teams. Then you’re calling for someone’s head if they aren’t calling Chiarelli every 15 minutes.)

Last week, Friedman noted in a 31 Thoughts podcast that executive suites and other ticket packages will be up for the Oilers after 2018-19, so the team has some very bottom-line-related reasons to chase a playoff spot, even if it means giving up dangerous value.

History repeating

In a more immediate sense, it feels like Chiarelli’s been more likely to make a one-for-one-type “hockey trade,” then moving a pick or prospect for a rental. After all, his most famous (Oilers) blunders involve Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, and then somehow losing another Strome trade with Ryan Spooner (who the Oilers are – pause for laughter – already trying to shop).

Chiarelli’s history is really just a buffet of bad trades, though.

After all, one of his most notorious trades meant paying up Edmonton’s 2015 first and second-rounders for Griffin Reinhart, who’s currently playing in the AHL and hasn’t made an NHL appearance since 2015-16.

Dig deeper and you open old wounds, including to Chiarelli’s trades with Boston.

Looking at those days, it’s even scarier to trust Chiarelli’s speculative abilities when it comes to a young player’s future, whether it means making the right move with Puljujarvi (not easy for anyone right now, frankly) or determining if a rental is worth a first or even second-rounder.

After all, Chiarelli traded Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. The disastrous Tyler Seguin trade has Chiarelli’s fingerprints all over it.

It’s not fair to lay the Nail Yakupov era at Chiarelli’s feet, yet that name brings up uncomfortable parallels for Puljujarvi. Edmonton faces a crisis here: is there potential that some other team might unlock in Puljujarvi once they trade for him, or could it be that he’ll continue to be exposed as a potential bust, ultimately leading to the Oilers getting very little for him if they trade him later?

(That agonizing groan you just heard came from Edmonton.)

One minor salve

This all seems like a disaster waiting to happen for Edmonton, and an opportunity for another team to sucker a desperate GM and franchise, right?

Probably, and that’s where things get worse once again: if Chiarelli believes – reasonably – that his job security is on the line, wouldn’t he be more likely to make reckless, short-sighted moves that hurt the franchise in the long run?

With that in mind, there might be one way for the Oilers to mitigate a larger-scale disaster, even if it might mean a lower ceiling for this season. The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis makes a very even-keeled suggestion (sub required): the Oilers should determine Chiarelli’s future in the next week, whether that means firing him or keeping him around.

Now, sure, more Chiarelli could open the door for more mistakes. In the grand scheme of things, he doesn’t seem to be learning from those mistakes.

Yet, making that decision now instead of later would at least help the Oilers avoid digging a hole even deeper for the would-be next GM, if they part ways with Chiarelli anyway.

After all, as Chiarelli said, other teams aren’t looking to help you come trade time, and the Oilers might just experience that sensation one last time under their much-maligned GM.

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.

NHL All-Star Game: Draisaitl, Landeskog, Letang, Skinner voted ‘Last Men In’

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Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres, Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers have been added to the 2019 NHL All-Star rosters after fans elected them through the Last Men In vote.

Following the player announcement last week, the NHL left one spot open on each divisional roster for the new Last Men In competition. After a week of voting by fans, those four will be heading to All-Star Weekend in San Jose later this month.

According to the NHL, more than 11.5 million votes were cast over in the last week, including two million on Thursday, which was the final day of balloting.

Still to be announced is the new captain for the Metropolitan Division after Alex Ovechkin pulled out for more rest. And barring another injury replacement, the Montreal Canadiens will be the only team without a representative after Carey Price announced he would not be participating.

Here are the updated rosters:

Atlantic Division
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres (Last Men In vote)
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Captain)
F David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs
D Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
D Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers
G Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning*
(*Injury replacement for Carey Price)

Metropolitan Division
F Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
F Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
F Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
F Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
D Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Men In vote)
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
G Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
(*Captain Alex Oveckin pulled out.)

Central Division
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Last Men In vote)
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Captain)
F Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
F Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
F Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
D Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
D Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
G Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Pacific Division
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Captain)
F Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Last Men In vote)
F Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
F Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
G Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE:
NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters
Pass or Fail: NHL’s eco-friendly 2019 All-Star Game jerseys
NHL announces 2019 All-Star game coaches

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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.