There are a few certainties you can always count on in any given NHL season.
The Philadelphia Flyers having a disastrous goalie situation is always going to be at the top of the list, and the 2018-19 season is, of course, no exception.
Somehow, things seem to be getting worse for them.
Already plagued with one of the worst team save percentages in the league through their first 14 games, the Flyers find themselves entering Monday night’s game in Arizona with a possible goaltender duo of Calvin Pickard and Alex Lyon.
The team announced on Monday that Lyon has been recalled from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League, and that Michal Neuvirth, who has played in just one game this season, has been placed on injured reserve.
Lyon will be available for Monday’s game, and will probably have to backup Pickard.
Why could he be backing up Pickard and not regular starter Brian Elliott? Well, that would be because Elliott was injured in practice on Sunday when he was involved in a collision with forward Travis Konecny. He is currently listed as being day-to-day and his status for Monday night’s game is currently doubtful.
This is obviously not ideal if you are the Flyers, a team that, again, already has a less than ideal goalie situation.
In his four appearances so far this season Pickard has already given up 15 goals on just 101 shots (that is an .851 save percentage), while the 25-year-old Lyon appeared in just 11 NHL games a season and recorded a .905 save percentage.
Even when Elliott has been healthy this season he has struggled mightily with a sub-.900 save percentage.
The fact the Flyers are in this situation should not be much of a surprise. Injuries have plagued Neuvirth’s entire time in Philadelphia, while Elliott has always been alarmingly inconsistent and the team was perfectly willing to enter another season with them manning the position. Add in a sprinkle of bad luck (Elliott’s injury on Sunday) and you have the perfect storm of Flyers goaltending.
It is truly remarkable how this team always finds itself with this exact same hole. In the end, all of these guys are simply placeholders until prized prospect Carter Hart is ready for NHL action. But if the Flyers’ history at the position over the past 30 years is any indication of what is to come, Hart should maybe hope for a trade to a team that isn’t perpetually cursed at the position.
NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here.
The San Jose Sharks started their current five-game road trip with a solid 3-2 overtime win against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. On Monday, they followed that up with a flat performance during a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders. They don’t have much time to regroup as they face the Philadelphia Flyers a little more than 36 hours later.
In this particular matchup, the Sharks have dominated and won 18 of their last 23 meetings with the Flyers dating back to 2002.
What could help get the Sharks going is waking up their power play, which is a shocking 0-for-10 so far. They did have nine chances Monday in Brookyln, but failed to capitalize on four opportunities.
Brian Elliott has started every game for the Flyers this season as Michal Neuvirth heals up and they allow Calvin Pickard to settle in after being claimed on waivers from Toronto last week. Philadelphia plays the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, which would be a good opportunity to give their No. 1 in Elliott a rest.
What: San Jose Sharks at Philadelphia Flyers Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia When: Tuesday, October 9th, 7:30 p.m. ET TV: NBCSN Live stream: You can watch the Sharks-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page.
The NBCSN Thursday night doubleheader continues with the Vegas Golden Knights hosting the Philadelphia Flyers at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here.
It’s been nearly four months since the Golden Knights had to watch the Washington Capitals celebrate a Stanley Cup championship at T-Mobile Arena. They’re back tonight to follow up an historic first year in the NHL.
Owner Bill Foley’s original plan of “playoffs in three, Cup in six” was blown out of the water with the Golden Knights’ success last season. Over the summer, GM George McPhee bolstered his lineup by adding Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty and extending Marc-Andre Fleury, Shea Theodore and William Karlsson. There’s no reason to believe that, even with some regression areas, Vegas can’t be contenders again.
What: Philadelphia Flyers at Vegas Golden Knights Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada When: Thursday, October 4th, 10 p.m. ET TV: NBCSN Live stream: You can watch Flyers-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page.
We should start all of this off with a prediction.
As the 2018-19 NHL season is set to begin, I am fairly confident in saying the following playoff teams from this past season are going to once again find themselves in the playoffs again this year: Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, and San Jose Sharks. Those seem like the safest bets. They have the best rosters, they have the best talent, they are at the top of the league and should be the biggest contenders for the Stanley Cup.
It is also a given that a couple of teams that missed the playoffs a season ago are going to make enough improvements and take a couple of the remaining spots. A few weeks ago we looked at the best possibilities to do that, with the St. Louis Blues and Florida Panthers leading the way (you can read about all of them). Obviously if a couple of them make it, that has to mean that a couple of other teams are going to fall back out.
So which 2018 playoff team is at most risk for having that happen? Assuming the eight teams mentioned above return, that leaves eight on the bubble that need a closer look. We start with the teams at most risk of missing and working our way up to the teams that should be able to return to the postseason.
1. New Jersey Devils
Usually when one player single handedly carries a mediocre team to the playoffs it is a goalie doing the heavy lifting. For the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils it was winger Taylor Hall as he put together the best season of his career, won the Hart Trophy as league MVP, and did everything in his power to lift the Devils to a playoff spot. Independent of Hall (and even with Hall, actually) this was a remarkably average hockey team.
They weren’t bad. They weren’t great. They were just … average. In every possible category.
Goals for: 15th
Goals against: 15th
Power play: 10th
Penalty kill: 8th
Shot Attempt Percentage: 21st
Team save percentage: 18th
Overall record: 14th
It would be nearly impossible to be more average than that. They ended up making the playoffs as a wild card by just a single point. The team right behind them, Florida, is coming back even stronger this season and if Hall regresses even a little bit it could spell doom for the Devils’ playoff chances.
What can keep them in? Taylor Hall goes superman again, and/or Marcus Johansson is healthy and productive while 2017 top pick Nico Hischier builds on a strong rookie season and has a breakout performance.
2. Colorado Avalanche
The Western Conference version of the Devils.
The Avalanche were another mediocre team that came out of nowhere to make the playoffs thanks to an incredible season from their franchise player. In this case, it was Nathan MacKinnon (with some help from Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog).
It was a truly stunning one-year turnaround because the Avalanche in 2016-17 were one of the worst teams in recent NHL history. They stunk. So to go through that big of a turnaround in one year was truly remarkable and unexpected, especially when they traded one of their best players (Matt Duchene) at the start of the year. That trade, for what it is worth, is probably going to work out in the long-run and look like a genius move because Samuel Girard looks like he might be a player for them on the blue line and they now own one of the most valuable assets in the NHL this season as a result of it — the Ottawa Senators’ 2019 first-round draft pick.
Having said all of that, like the Devils, the Avalanche are what is basically a one-line team that needed an MVP-caliber season from its best player to just barely, by the slimmest of margins, be good enough to make the playoffs and lose in the first round.
3. Philadelphia Flyers
I actually like this Flyers team a lot, but they also have a lot of boom-or-bust potential.
If everything breaks right for them this could be a team that not only makes the playoffs again, but potentially even makes some noise. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek can be great, and their young talent is captivating, particularly second-year forward Nolan Patrick who at times was one of their most dangerous forwards in the playoffs.
If Giroux and Voracek repeat what they did a year ago, and the young players like Patrick, Travis Konecny, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Ivan Provorov take big steps forward they are going to an exciting team. That is the boom potential.
The bust potential is that if the young players (especially on defense) don’t take a step forward, and/or if the goaltending implodes on them. Given the franchise history of the Philadelphia Flyers and its goaltenders, especially the goaltenders they are currently employing, that bust potential is certainly possible. Likely? Maybe not. Possible? For sure.
4. Los Angeles Kings
It was not that long ago that the Kings were one of the NHL’s elite teams, in a yearly battle with the Chicago Blackhawks for Western Conference supremacy and the Stanley Cup. Not really the case anymore either team.
The Kings, to their credit, are still a ferocious defensive team that will suck the life out of every game they play and keep everything close. That gives them a chance every night. The problem is they just lack the offense to be any kind of a serious threat, and even last season with Anze Kopitar having a career year and Dustin Brown somehow reviving his career offensively for one season they were still only slightly below average offensively.
Ilya Kovalchuk could be a nice addition, but it is very likely that Brown, and yes, maybe even Kopitar are not as productive as they were a year ago. As I wrote in the Pacific Division preview on Thursday, the Kings have been a bubble playoff team for four years now and will continue to be one as currently constructed. They are teetering closer and closer to needing an organizational overhaul.
5. Minnesota Wild
I mean this in the most respectful way possible — I have no opinion on the Minnesota Wild.
None. No positive opinion. No negative opinion. No emotion of any kind toward them. There is nothing about them that makes me passionate in any way. This, I think, is the only attitude to take toward the Minnesota Wild if you are not actually a Minnesota Wild fan because this is the only attitude they deserve.
They are just a hockey team that exists.
If you were to ask someone to construct the most bland, run-of-the-mill NHL franchise imaginable, this would be it because that is what they are, what they have been, and what they will continue to be.
They have enough talent to make the playoffs. They have enough talent to be kind of relevant but not really relevant.
They do not have enough talent to get out of the first or do anything of significance once they get there. What they are now is probably what their ceiling is. They just … exist.
Minnesota Wild: hockey team.
6. Anaheim Ducks
Losing Corey Perry for most of the season definitely hurts, especially when this isn’t a great offensive team to begin with. But we also have to remember they are losing 2018 Corey Perry and not 2010 Corey Perry. There is a difference. He is still a very good top-six player, but he also has not topped 20 goals or 60 points in two years.
Anyone that can say certain what they expect from the Vegas Golden Knights this season is lying, because nobody really does. There is every reason to believe that a lot of players that shined in their debut season are going to regress. They also made some significant additions (Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny) that can make up for it.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have some problems. They play in a division with Pittsburgh and Washington. Their two best players — Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky — are free agents after the season and management may have to make a big decision on what to do with them before they risk losing them for nothing in free agency. Seth Jones is starting the season injured. They still have not made it out of the first round of the playoffs in their existence. Those are the problems.
The positives are the fact that for right now they still do have Panarin and Bobrovsky on the roster, and they are great players.
Jones will be back at some point and along with Zach Werenski will form what should be one of the league’s best defensive pairings. They also have Pierre-Luc Dubois who, I think, could be on the verge of a monster season. They play in a tough division, but it is a top-heavy division. Once you get beyond Pittsburgh and Washington at the top everything is wide open. They will keep their two stars throughout the season, make one more run at something with them, and see where things go after that.
The Metropolitan Division produced the Stanley Cup champion for the third season in a row, yet you couldn’t call it a familiar sight.
After decades of heartbreak as a franchise and a decade of heartbreak for signature star Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals finally did it. After seeing their Presidents Trophy run end and “only” winning the Metro, the Capitals won their first-ever title. Fittingly, they ended up needing to get through the Penguins, a team that’s crushed their dreams multiple times in the past. In hindsight, it HAD to happen that way.
Five Metro teams ended up making the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the surprising Devils, persistent-if-frustrated Blue Jackets, and rising Flyers joining the Capitals and Penguins. Few would bat an eye if the division once again sent a maximum of five squads to the postseason in 2018-19, although the cast of characters could change.
This post winds through the ups, downs, dreams, and fears for all eight teams.
Better or worse?: Oh dear, that’s a loaded question.
One thing’s for sure: they’re different. They changed their coach and GM, so we’ll see if Rod Brind’Amour can maintain the possession-happy ways that partially explain why the Hurricanes have frequently been go-to dark horse candidates. (Here’s hoping that “Rod the Bod” is more progressive and modern than “Team Grit” and “Team Grind” would indicate.)
Let’s lean toward better because, frankly, it’s tough to imagine their goaltending declining from last year’s season-sinking mess.
Strengths: Hamilton and free agent signing Calvin de Haan bolster a defense that already ranked among the deepest in the NHL. That’s especially true if the Hurricanes hang onto Justin Faulk, even if Brind’Amour will need to juggle to get everyone proper ice time. (Most other NHL GMs are sarcastically playing the world’s smallest violin.)
Beyond defense, Carolina boasts a ton of youth, and Svechnikov only strengthens that point.
Weaknesses: Goaltending, duh.
Mrazek didn’t exactly stop every puck that came his way after being traded from Detroit to Philadelphia, and while he showed flashes of brilliance in the past, his best Red Wings days are moving further away in the rearview mirror. Mrazek and Scott Darling could be OK, yet they don’t exactly inspire utmost confidence.
Also, while that offense has some pieces, it’s fair to wonder if there are enough gamebreakers. Trading away Skinner did not help.
2017-18 Highlight: The team kindly collects the best of last season in this clip.
MVP Candidate: Hamilton may put on an exhibition that will make him the guy in Carolina, but let’s bet on Aho, who led the team in scoring last season and is just 21 years old. Aho isn’t a household name, yet if you turn on a Hurricanes game, he’ll likely be the player who captivates you.
Playoffs or Lottery?: As “fool me once” as this feels, Carolina leans closer to the playoffs. No, this is not a recording; yes, it will be tough for them with plenty of other viable teams in the East. Whether they actually make it or not, Carolina is much more likely to be in the bubble than in the cellar this season.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Better or worse?: Worse, in some ways for matters that are out of their hands. The uncertainty surrounding Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky – two enormously important players – hangs over Columbus like a dark cloud. If one or both gets traded away, you can move this from a soft worse to a hard worse.
Strengths:Zach Werenski and Seth Jones might comprise the NHL’s most dazzling young defensive duo, and if they continue progressing in this current direction, you might not need the young caveat much longer.
Also, the Blue Jackets currently have a high-end forward (Panarin) and a Vezina-quality goalie (Bob). Currently.
Weaknesses: It could all come crashing down if they move Bob and Bread. We can all acknowledge that Pierre Luc-Dubois was a success as a rookie, but how good is he really if he doesn’t have one of the world’s most explosive wingers helping him out? They might need to go back to a rat-like mentality if they lose their stars.
MVP Candidate: Panarin and/or Bob if one or both stays. If not, Seth Jones was really drumming up Norris Trophy buzz, although he’d need to fight off his buddy Zach, who’s generally an even more explosive scorer.
Playoffs or Lottery?: It’s easy to forget that the Blue Jackets generated 108 points in 2016-17, and were quite potent with 97 last season. They haven’t met their goals during the postseason yet, but they’ve been a force during regular seasons. Of course, losing their stars could warp that outlook …
Generally speaking, they’ve mostly just stayed in place, but call it a step back.
Strengths:Taylor Hall faces long odds in producing back-to-back Hart Trophy seasons, but he’s a spectacular winger who absorbed a comically outsized array of abuse during his Edmonton days. Hall is awesome, and the Devils have some other nice forwards, including Nico Hischier, who immediately backed up his status as the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. Kudos to New Jersey for embracing its strengths on offense last season, and there’s little reason to expect them to turn away from what worked.
Weaknesses:Cory Schneider was basically in a crisis in 2017-18, and it’s not as if that defense is really equipped to bail him out. The Devils’ forward group has some other nice pieces (especially if Marcus Johansson can get healthy), yet they still ask Hall to pull off one too many miracles.
2017-18 Highlight: All Hail Hall.
MVP Candidate: Uh, duh, the reigning MVP.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Last year, it was a no-brainer to be lottery, and then the Devils made a stunning run to a playoff berth. GM Ray Shero deserves some credit for not overreacting and messing things up by adding a bunch of short-term investments, but New Jersey is unlikely to walk that tightrope again. They’re closer to lottery fodder heading into 2018-19.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS:
Better or worse?: (Laughs awkwardly.)
Strengths:Mathew Barzal should soothe some of the John Tavares-related wounds, as he is a splendid scoring wizard of a sophomore. Sure, it will be tough to ask him to top or match last season, especially with a lot more pressure on his shoulders and far more attention from opposing defenses. Barzal, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Nick Leddy provide the sort of offensive spark that might make the Islanders fun to watch, at times.
Also, Barry Trotz could help clean up that disastrous defense.
Weaknesses: Good grief, that defense was horrendous last season, and the goaltending couldn’t clean up matters, either. Both stand as likely problems heading into 2018-19, although improvements are easy to imagine simply because the bar is so long. Unfortunately, no Tavares means that their offense is weaker by a face of the franchise-sized margin.
2017-18 Highlight: The Islanders might as well put up a Barzal billboard.
MVP Candidate: Sorry to heap all of these expectations on you, Barzal, but there’s no other choice. The 21-year-old scored 85 points in 82 games last season, and who’s to say that isn’t just the tip of the iceberg?
Playoffs orLottery?: Lottery, by a mile. On the bright side, the Islanders hit it out of the park during the 2018 NHL Draft, and could very well land another blue chipper in 2019. Jack Hughes could look really nice as a one-two punch with Barzal, eh?
NEW YORK RANGERS
Better or worse?: Worse, yet by design. Management acknowledged that a rebuild is in motion. The fascinating question is: how long will they commit to that plan? What happens if Artemi Panarin really does heart New York?
Weaknesses: That defense is a tire fire inside a Dumpster fire transported by a train wreck. Holy smokes. Also, Lundqvist may indeed be feeling his age and all of that past hockey mileage, and the offense is unlikely to hang with other explosive groups in the Metro. So, let’s broadly say “lots.”
2017-18 Highlight: Pavel Buchnevich made a fan’s day last season.
MVP Candidate: If anyone’s even in the realm of Hart chatter, it has to be King Henrik. Even Rangers management might root against that, consider New York’s eyeing of the basement.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Lottery, and expect the Rangers to chase more chances at first-round picks. Could they trade Zuccarello? Maybe the question is actually, “Who won’t they trade?”
Better or worse?: The glorious return of James van Riemsdyk gives a boost to a power play that already consistently ranked among the NHL’s most terrifying groups. Considering how Nolan Patrick ended last season, it wouldn’t be surprising if he made a nice jump – if not leap – this season, too.
Strengths: Remember that bit about Columbus’ defensive duo? Philly readers might have been yelling at their screens while eating decadent sandwiches (seriously, I need to get to Philly one of these days). Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are right up there with the best young duos in the NHL. With Claude Giroux revamped last season, Sean Couturier climbing the Selke ranks, and other scorers looking promising – opponents can’t be happy that Travis Konecny blew up once the calendar turned 2018 – this offense should be potent.
It sure seems like GM Ron Hextall’s vision is coming into focus, and it’s a sight for sore eyes.
Weaknesses: Head coach Dave Hakstol isn’t exactly beloved by Flyers fans, so that’s something to watch if Philly stumbles out of the gate.
Brian Elliott tends to play best when people count him out, and all three of Philly’s potential goalies should have motivation (contract years for Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, Carter Hart wanting to prove himself as NHL goalie now). Still, goaltending is the eternal question for the Flyers, and this year probably won’t disappoint.
2017-18 Highlight: Giroux clinched a Flyers playoff spot in style.
MVP Candidate: Giroux crossed the triple-digit barrier for the first time last season, collecting a whopping 102 points. If he can avoid the erosion of age – he turned 30 in January – then the Flyers captain could be in the Hart discussion once again.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Playoffs. Considering the young players Philly boasts, it’s not outrageous to daydream about exponential growth for the Flyers. If they see more baby steps than leaps, they’re still likely to at least be in the bubble.
On one hand, Matt Murray is likely to enjoy a better season, and the hope is that Kris Letang will be healthier. On the other, this team’s getting older; considering how star-dependent this team can be, any slippage from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could really sting.
Strengths: Still, those stars.
Crosby and Malkin remain among the cream of the crop. All of the drama around Phil Kessel really distracts from the remarkable feat he accomplished in 2017-18, setting a new career-high with 92 points, including 34 goals.
This team has a lot of weapons, and a coach willing to actually deploy them. It’s plausible that Derick Brassard will rebound during a contract year, too.
Weaknesses: This Penguins team gives up almost as much as it produces, and that puts a heavy burden on Murray. If Brassard and others can’t get it together, Pittsburgh will continue to ask the world of their world-beaters. In a team sport like hockey, that frequently translates to asking too much.
2017-18 Highlight: Last season felt like an elaborate MLB tryout for number 87.
MVP Candidate: The Penguins remain a pick your poison proposition: will Crosby be the top star this year, or will Makin snatch the crown? Despite playing four fewer games in 2017-18, Malkin generated 98 points to Crosby’s 89. Sometimes it’s as simple as which superstar center enjoys the most help. In that regard, did you know that Jake Guentzel is entering a contract year?
Playoffs or Lottery?: Playoffs. This team’s managed to clinch berths even during seasons when multiple star players miss huge chunks of time due to injury. The Penguins remain all-in, and the window to contend remains open. We’ll see if they can put it all together.
Better or worse?: Worse, yet not to the extreme that plenty of championship teams encounter. They managed to bring back key pieces of their magical curse-breaking Stanley Cup run, with John Carlson‘s re-signing ranking as arguably the biggest surprise. They didn’t even break the bank with depth players, generally speaking, as many championship teams do. That Michal Kempny deal was remarkably reasonable.
Then again, they did give Tom Wilson a gobsmacking amount of money, and Barry Trotz is out. Also, they killed untold number of brain cells celebrating their epic victory …
Strengths: The Capitals feature the many building blocks of a juggernaut. Alex Ovechkin is the high-end sniper. They have a great one-two punch of centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while their supporting cast features a nice veteran (T.J. Oshie) and intriguing young scorers such as Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky. For all the worries about Todd Reirden taking over for Trotz, he might be more willing to unleash Vrana and Burakovsky. The defense has some nice pieces, and Braden Holtby shook off a tough regular season to remind us why he’s one of the league’s most reliably great goaltenders.
There just aren’t a lot of holes on this team.
Weaknesses: Reirden’s never been a head coach, and he’s facing a huge challenge in trying to repeat. Like the Penguins, the Capitals aren’t ancient, yet Father Time is at least hovering as a threat, at least when it comes to competing at the highest levels. With Philipp Grubauer in Colorado, Washington may not have much of a safety net if Holtby once again falters.
2017-18 Highlight: Pick your favorite.
MVP Candidate: People expect Ovechkin to stagger through the first few months of the season after knocking the biggest, silver item off of his bucket list, and understandably so.
On the other hand, he’s Alex Ovechkin. Despite playing a physical style where he receives and delivers a raucous number of hits, Ovechkin’s managed to play almost every game possible. Ovechkin’s played in far more games than Crosby (1,003 to 864) despite his rambunctious style.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Most seasons, it’s more reasonable to merely wonder if the Capitals will win the Presidents’ Trophy, or just their division. With a coaching change, less certainty at backup, creeping age, and the Stanley Cup hangover, maybe the Capitals will relinquish the Metro crown. Regardless, they still have the tools for a playoff berth.