Tyler Myers

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Markstrom’s absence shows his importance to Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks have a massive game on Wednesday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes.

Not only are they looking to snap a three-game losing streak and break out of a funk that has seen them lose nine out of their past 13, but they are just two points ahead of the Coyotes in the Western Conference playoff race. They have quickly gone from first place in the Pacific Division, to bubble team just trying to get in the playoffs. Wednesday is your classic four-point game that could either see the Canucks take a major step toward distancing themselves from the Coyotes in the standings, or leave the door wide open for the Coyotes to eventually catch them and move ahead of them.

Probably the biggest issue facing the Canucks at the moment is the injury situation.

Brock Boeser, one of their top overall players, remains out of the lineup, while two of their top defensemen — rookie of the year candidate Quinn Hughes and veteran Tyler Myers — are both game-time decisions for Wednesday.

The biggest injury, though, is the one that has currently sidelined starting goalie Jacob Markstrom.

He is been out of the lineup for more than a week now (and is still at least one week away from returning, and maybe more), a stretch that has seen the Canucks go 0-3-0 and surrender 14 totals goals. Since the start of February the Canucks are just 1-4-1 in the six games Markstrom has not started, while their two backups (Thatcher Demko and Louis Domingue) have a combined .882 save percentage during that stretch.

That is a problem.

Their struggles without him are a testament to how much of an impact Markstrom has made for the Canucks this season when healthy.

For as much progress as they have made this season, and for as good as Hughes has been on their back-end, this still is not a particularly strong team defensively. Entering play on Wednesday, the Canucks rank among the bottom-six teams in the NHL in several defensive metrics, including total shot attempts against per 60 minutes, shots on goal against, scoring chances against, and expected goals against. That is a problem. The one thing that has consistently bailed them out this season and helped mask those flaws has been the play of Markstrom in net. For the season, he sits among the top-eight goalies in both overall save percentage and even-strength save percentage.

Given the number of shots and chances the Canucks give up on a nightly basis, Markstrom is easily one of the two or three most impactful players on the entire roster right up there with Hughes and Elias Pettersson. And given the position he plays and how dependent the Canucks’ defense is on his play, there is an argument to be made he is the most impactful player on the team.

This has been a huge season for Markstrom, not only for what it’s meant for the team, but also for what it’s meant for him personally. He is eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season, and he has made a pretty convincing case that he has a ton of value to the Canucks.

They have seen it when he is in the lineup with the way he’s helped get them back into a playoff position. And they are seeing it now when he’s not there to help stabilize their defense.

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.

Revisiting 7 of the NHL’s biggest offseason trades

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With the first half of the 2019-20 NHL season complete and the trade deadline just a couple of weeks away we wanted to take a quick look back at seven of the biggest trades that were made during the offseason and how they have worked out.

Let’s dig in to them.

The Nazem KadriTyson Barrie trade

Toronto Maple Leafs received: Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, 2020 sixth-round pick
Colorado Avalanche received: Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, 2020 third-round pick

How it’s worked: This is one of those trades where everyone is probably getting just what they thought they would get. And exactly what they wanted. Kadri gives the Avalanche a center to drive their second line, has been a huge part of their improved depth, and is scoring on a 30-goal pace (again) over 82 games. Barrie is under a far more intense microscope in Toronto, is the type of player that always be prone to criticism due to his style of play, and had a brutal start to the season. (Who didn’t on that team?) But he has looked like a completely different (and better) player under Sheldon Keefe than he did under Mike Babcock (who hasn’t?). Not sure how the Maple Leafs handle him and Jake Muzzin beyond this season (both free agents) but for right now it’s been a hockey trade where both teams benefitted.

The Phil Kessel trade

Pittsburgh Penguins received: Alex Galchenyuk, Pierre-Oliver Joseph
Arizona Coyotes received: Phil Kessel

How it’s worked: Nobody is winning it right now. This was always a weird trade from the Penguins’ perspective because they didn’t get the better player and they didn’t really save a ton of salary cap space. Kessel has been slightly more productive than Galchenyuk, but he’s definitely not Phil Kessel anymore. There’s no way the Coyotes are happy with four even-strength goals in 55 games. Galchenyuk, meanwhile, has just been a terrible fit with the Penguins. He works hard, he plays hard, he does his best, but it’s just not working. It will be a surprise if he remains with the team into March. The development of Joseph will make or break this trade for the Penguins, while the Coyotes have to hope Kessel has another big postseason in him.

The Jacob Trouba trade

New York Rangers received: Jacob Trouba
Winnipeg Jets received: Neal Pionk, 2019 first-round pick

How it’s worked: Probably not the way anybody expected it to work. Trouba was part of the Rangers’ big offseason and resulted in him getting a HUGE contract. He was also part of a mass exodus off of the Winnipeg blue line that also saw it lose Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, and — apparently — Dustin Byfuglien.

The twist here is that Pionk has  been the better player this season and one of the few bright spots on an otherwise bad defense. He has been the more productive player across the board offensively, while Trouba has quite literally had one of the worst defensive impacts of any player in the NHL. Granted, he’s playing on a dreadful defensive team, but he has not been good. Given his salary they are going to need a lot more. The Jets used that first-round pick to select Ville Heinola, a promising young defenseman that had an eight-game cup of coffee in the NHL to start the season and looked impressive.

The J.T. Miller trade

Vancouver Canucks received: J.T. Miller
Tampa Bay Lightning received: Marek Mazanec, 2019 third-round pick, conditional 2020 first-round pick

How it’s worked: The Lightning desperately needed to shed salary to get Brayden Point re-signed, and Miller was an obvious choice to go. It seemed like a risky move for the Canucks to give up a future first-round pick given where they were in their rebuild, but Miller has been one of their most impactful players, biggest game-changers and is helping to drive their run toward a Pacific Division title. An increased role and a bigger opportunity to shine is resulting a career year, and there is not much to suggest it is a fluke. As long as the Canucks make the playoffs and that first-round pick is in the bottom half of the round this is a win for the Canucks, and simply the cost of doing business for a cap-strapped Lightning team.

The P.K. Subban trade

New Jersey Devils received: P.K. Subban
Nashville Predators received: Steve Santini, Jeremy Davies, 2019 second-round pick, 2020 second-round pick

How it’s worked: The good news for the Devils is that they didn’t give up anything too valuable here. The bad news is Subban’s days as an elite player may be behind him and they still owe him $18 million over the next two years. It’s not that Subban has been bad, but he hasn’t been a $9 million per year player, either. It’s simply been a tough spot for a defenseman that plays his style to be in. The goaltending behind him has been bad, there isn’t a lot of forward talent around him, and the team as a whole has simply underwhelmed. Nashville, meanwhile, used its new salary cap space to sign Matt Duchene. He’s been fine, even if the team itself hasn’t.

The James NealMilan Lucic trade

Edmonton Oilers received: James Neal
Calgary Flames received: Milan Lucic

How it’s worked: “Our contract we don’t want for your bad contract you don’t want.” During the first month of the season this looked like it was going to be a laugher for the Oilers when Neal could not stop scoring goals, but he has just eight goals since Nov. 1 and has been a complete non-factor outside of the power play. Lucic has just been a non-factor. In the end, both players are exactly what we thought they were at this point in their careers, just in different sweaters.

The Justin Faulk trade

St. Louis Blues received: Justin Faulk, 2020 fifth-round draft pick
Carolina Hurricanes received: Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk, 2021 seventh-round draft pick

How it’s worked: After years of speculation and rumors the Hurricanes not only finally traded Faulk, but they sent him to the defending Stanley Cup champions. Faulk is the bigger name and the better player, but objectively speaking there has not been a huge difference in the performance of the two players this season, while the Hurricanes didn’t have to give Faulk the huge contract the Blues did. Bokk is an intriguing prospect (2018 first-round pick) for them, and they still have a pretty deep blue– and young — line to build around. Faulk still figures to be a huge part of the Blues going forward.

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.

Report: Jets, Byfuglien working toward contract termination

The Winnipeg Jets and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien are headed toward a solution.

According to a report from TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the Jets and Byfuglien are closing in on a mutual contract termination that will officially end his time with the franchise.

Byfuglien has not played for the Jets this season after stepping away from the team just before training camp to contemplate his future. The Jets officially suspended him, while Byfuglien filed a grievance in November arguing that he should have still been paid as he was recovering from a hockey injury.  He underwent ankle surgery in October.

He has played for the organization since the start of the 2010-11 season when it was still based in Atlanta.

During his time with the team has been one of the league’s most productive offensive defensemen and the foundation of the Jets’ blue line. He was limited to just 42 games a year ago due to injury, but the Jets were still planning on him playing a significant role on this year’s team. But as training camp approached he stepped away from the team, leaving an already undermanned Jets’ defense without its best and most impactful player.

That came after the Jets had traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers and saw Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot exit in free agency.

If the two sides eventually come to an agreement on a contract termination, Byfuglien would become an unrestricted free agent, while the Jets would clear a significant amount of salary cap space before the trade deadline and for next season. Byfuglien’s current contract carries a salary cap hit of $7.6 million per season.

What comes next for Jets, Byfuglien

The big thing here for the Jets is that it would finally give them some clarity on their defense, what they need, and what they have to work with.

They would know for sure that Byfuglien is not returning, and it would also create a ton of salary cap flexibility for the offseason to fill that spot and upgrade the entire position. As of now, the only defensemen the Jets have under contract for next season are Josh Morrissey, Neal Poink, Tucker Poolman, and Carl Dahlstrom. Not exactly a great situation. While Morrissey and Poink figure to be long-term pieces, Poolman and Dahlmstrom are both in their mid-20s and have limited NHL experience.

It would also create a serious of questions for Byfuglien that still need to be answered.

That includes whether or not he is healthy enough to play this season and if he actually wants to play this season. If the answer to both of those questions are yes, he could still be a potential difference-maker in the stretch run and into the playoffs assuming he is healthy. The age and health situation are legitimate concerns, but he was still one of the top point-producing defenseman in the league just last season when he was on the ice.

Putting him on a contending lineup (without having to give up anything in return) would be a pretty big addition for someone if it happens.

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.

 

The Buzzer: Huberdeau sparks Panthers; Stars complete comeback

Jonathan Huberdeau #11 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his second goal of the game
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Three Stars

1) Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

After recording two assists in the first half of the Panthers’ 6-5 win against the Montreal Canadiens, Huberdeau added two goals of his own in a 35-second span in the second period. The 26-year-old forward benefitted from a fortuitous bounce when his cross-ice pass attempt deflected off a Canadiens player into the back of the net. Moments later, Huberdeau wired a wrist shot to extend Florida’s lead to 5-3 at the time. Huberdeau is currently the Panthers’ leading scorer and is well on his way to matching or surpassing his 92-point total from last season.

2) Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils

When selected at the top of the draft, you are expected to be one of the players leading the way for that organization. Sunday, Hughes recorded his first NHL overtime-winning goal and helped lead the Devils to a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. The 18-year-old forward showed a lot of maturity during his breakaway attempt, wisely keeping the puck out of reach from the chasing Senators skater. The simple, yet effective move to the forehand allowed Hughes to lift the puck over Craig Anderson’s glove. Hughes also recorded an assist earlier in the game giving him his third multi-point game of the season.

3) Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

In their final game before the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, the Stars erased a two-goal third-period deficit in a 4-2 win over the Coyotes. Benn had a nifty goal and added an assist during the comeback. The Stars captain showed off his net-front skills as he collected a loose puck in front of the crease then cleverly kicked it over to his backhand to help jumpstart the rally and get Dallas on the scoreboard early in the third period.

Other notable performances from Sunday

John Tortorella – The Blue Jackets were the recipient of some bad fortune, and Tortorella let everyone know the facts of the situation in a clear, concise message after the game. More on the referee’s costly mistake here

Jaden Schwartz – The undersized forward scored two goals Sunday as the Blues captured their eighth straight victory.

David Pastrnak – The NHL’s leading goal-scorer picked up his 29th goal and 29th assist in the Boston Bruins’ 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres.

Tyler Myers – The defenseman had two goals early in the first period to help Vancouver start with a 2-0 lead against the Calgary Flames.

Highlights of the Night

Jake DeBrusk – Two power-play goals in 18 seconds helped the Bruins extend their point streak to seven games.

Jakub Voracek – The Flyers forward had two assists but his pass to set up Kevin Hayes’ overtime-winning goal was a thing of beauty. From the top of the left circle in the defensive zone, Voracek fired a pass up ice to Hayes as Anaheim made a poor line change. The Flyers improved to 5-1-0 in their last six games.

Andrej Sekera’s blind pass from behind the net set up Alexander Radulov’s game-tying goal.

Brayden Point found the smallest of openings when he scored the go-ahead goal in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 victory against Detroit.

Stats of the Night

NHL Scores

St. Louis Blues 4, Winnipeg Jets 1

New Jersey Devils 4, Ottawa Senators 3 (OT)

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (SO)

New York Islanders 3, Minnesota Wild 1

Boston Bruins 3, Buffalo Sabres 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Detroit Red Wings 1

Florida Panthers 6, Montreal Canadiens 5

Dallas Stars 4, Arizona Coyotes 2

Philadelphia Flyers 2, Anaheim Ducks 1 (OT)

Vancouver Canucks 5, Calgary Flames 2

Bad night for defense injuries as Werenski, Dumoulin, Edler all exit games

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Saturday turned out to be a costly night for NHL defensemen as four defenders had to leave their teams respective games with injuries.

A quick rundown of the injuries.

Blue Jackets lose game and Werenski. The Blue Jackets were unable to beat the Islanders’ goaltending duo of Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov in a 2-0 loss (Greiss had to exit the game because he was not feeling well) on Saturday, but the biggest loss may have been the injury suffered by Zach Werenski, one of their top defensemen and top overall players.

He left the game with an upper-body injury after he was involved in a collision with Islanders forward Anders Lee early in the first period and was in immediate discomfort.

That came on just his third shift of the game. He did not return. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella had no immediate update after the game, and with the Blue Jackets off on Sunday it may not be until Monday when we learn more about his status.

(UPDATE: Werenski is expected to miss the next four weeks.)

Another significant injury for the Penguins. This team can not keep its top players on the ice. Already playing without Sidney Crosby, Justin Schultz, Nick Bjugstad and Bryan Rust (he was injured in the morning skate before Friday’s game in Columbus), they lost Brian Dumoulin on his very first shift during Saturday’s loss to the St. Louis Blues with an apparent leg injury. After hobbling to the bench he needed assistance in getting to the locker room and did not return.

Coach Mike Sullivan was unable to give an update only to say that Dumoulin is dealing with a lower-body injury. His injury comes just a couple of games after the Penguins’ top defenseman — and Dumoulin’s regular partner — Kris Letang returned to the lineup and perfectly sums up the team’s injury situation this season — when one top player returns, another one immediately exits. Between the current injured list, as well as previous injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Rust, Jared McCann, Alex Galchenyuk, and Patric Hornqvist the Penguins have been one of the most injured teams in the league this season.

(UPDATE: The Penguins announced on Sunday that Dumoulin will be out for at least eight weeks after surgery to repair lacerated tendons in his left ankle.)

Edler exits with upper-body injury. Entering the game having lost two in a row, including an incredible third period meltdown against Pittsburgh in their previous game, the Vancouver Canucks were able to rebound with a strong performance in Edmonton on Saturday.

That performance came with a big price, however.

Top defenseman Alexander Edler exited the game after two periods with an undisclosed upper-body injury and was immediately ruled out for the third period.

The 33-year-old veteran has been having a really strong season for the Canucks, entering Saturday’s game with 15 points in 26 games and helping to push the pace of games with positive possession numbers. He has spent most of the season skating next to Tyler Myers.

Canadiens also lost Victor Mete.

[Update: We initially forgot about this one]

The Canadiens not only lost their seventh game in a row on Saturday afternoon, but they also lost defenseman Victor Mete to a lower-body injury.

He will not travel with the team to Boston as it continues its current road trip and looks to snap its losing streak.

He recorded an assist in the loss before exiting the game. It is another significant injury to a Canadiens team that really can not afford one right now, already playing without Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron at forward.

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.