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Roundtable: Naming Seattle’s NHL team; GMs on the hot seat

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You have the power to name to the expansion NHL Seattle franchise. What are you choosing?

SEAN: Kraken is already a popular choice, and as a fan of hockey history (and their original jerseys) I’d love to see the Seattle group bring back the Metropolitans name. But do you then keep the Metropolitan Division name? The NHL is stubborn for change sometimes, so I doubt it.

Let’s get crazy in this post-Gritty world and go with Sasquatch. It’s perfect for the region (ever watch “Finding Bigfoot?”) and would allow Seattle to welcome back Squatch, the Sonics old mascot. The jerseys would be great. The plushy toys at the arena team stores would be sold out on a regular basis and he’d be a welcomed addition to the annual mascot game during All-Star Weekend.

Squatch is legendary, and with the NBA likely returning to Seattle at some point, might as well get him started before he has double duty. He was a dynamic performer, willing to take big risks to entertain the crowd, and even had his own theme song, thanks for Chris from Presidents of the United States of America:

JAMES: Deep down, my answer is the Sonics/Supersonics, but I’m aware that a ton of people from Seattle are giving me the stink-eye just for bringing that up, so I relent. Go ahead and name the Seattle team after the Kraken, or some other mystical and/or tuff beast.

For my money, the greater battle revolves around the mascot.

Allow me to introduce “Jittery,” an anthropomorphic cappuccino mug with cartoonish arms, legs, and comical googly eyes. Let’s face it; we’re in a Post-Gritty world, so you have to go big – which usually means some combination of garish, frightening, funny, and cute – or go home.

Jittery would have the potential to edge the Golden Knights’ gila monster, with the far-flung dream of at least competing with Gritty for viral potential/mindshare.

The greatest potential would be in what you could put in the Jittery’s head, which, again, is a coffee mug. Would mysterious, coffee-like liquid splash out of its head when Jittery is excitedly celebrating a goal? Would Jittery cry coffee tears upon defeat? Maybe you could fill Jittery’s head with toys/treats for the kiddos, and the young-at-heart. Just imagine Seattle winning a Stanley Cup, but drinking out of their mascot’s head, instead.

This is clearly a bullet-proof, genius concept, and I demand royalties.

ADAM: I know there is virtually no chance of it happening, and I think any reference to it has always been made in a joking manner (or maybe even a half-joking manner), but I am 100 percent on board with the Seattle Sasquatch. I think the biggest reason I like it is just for the mascot possibilities. Look at how crazy everyone went over Gritty. But I think Sasquatch seems to have just as much potential, maybe even more. Think Harry from Harry and the Hendersons.

But given that Sasquatch doesn’t seem to be a realistic option, I think I can accept Kraken. I was originally opposed to the Sockeye suggestion but I’ve even come around on that, too, and I assume Sockeye Salmon hitting the ice will be a thing at some point no matter what. I’m not on board with Metropolitans. I get the history — and I love hockey history — but we need something new, fresh, unique. Sasquatch is the answer.

JOEY: I’m going with Metropolitans. That was the team’s name when they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, and that’s the name they should keep. Yes, I realize that you’d have to re-name the Metropolitan Division, but I don’t care. There’s hockey history behind the name and I think it would be pretty cool if they came back with it in 2021.

SCOTT: Seattle Kraken. Scrap the skyscraper odes and all that other garbage and RELEASE THE KRAKEN!

I’m all for this shift in marketing philosophy made popular by the Philadelphia Flyers this year with Gritty. It’s opened the door to other possible ideas that are, well, not just the same old cliche, safe stuff we’re used. Seattle Kraken has so much potential. Incredible jerseys, a ridiculous number of options for a mascot, a title sponsor with the Kraken Rum brand. There’s probably some death metal band with Kraken in their name that could sing the anthems and fit right into the Seattle music scene vibe.

I’m not holding out much hope here. They’ll probably be named the Skyscrapers or something like that with the Space Needle as their logo and some type of fish as a mascot.

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We talk a lot about head coaches and hot seats, but what about some general managers who could follow in Ron Hextall’s footsteps out the door?

SEAN: It’s pretty amazing that Marc Bergevin’s seat has cooled considerably when you think about all the talk last season, but the Canadiens are playing better than expected and owner Geoff Molson isn’t close to making that kind of move.

Two GMs who should be feeling the heat are Doug Armstrong and Stan Bowman. I’ve harped on Armstrong since the Mike Yeo firing and am curious how long owner Tom Stillman will wait before making a change. Another season appears to be wasting away and some big names could be out the door by the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Then what? It won’t be a complete teardown, just a retooling if that’s what happens. But does he get one more season to make it work?

The move to fire Joel Quenneville hasn’t gone as planned and Chicago could be another place where big names are dealt, whether by the trade deadline or in the summer. Bowman’s helped construct championship teams and now some of those heavy-term, big money extensions have hamstrung building around the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. Another playoff-less season won’t make upper management happy and you wonder if the changes won’t stop with Quenneville.

JAMES: Honestly, it boggles my mind that Peter Chiarelli survived last season, so if his Hitchcock Hail Mary falls short, that Oilers era should come to a merciful end. It’s nigh-criminal to accomplish so little with Connor McDavid and a bucket of other high-profile picks (which Chiarelli’s squandered either through trades, bad picks, or stuttered development).

I like a lot of what Doug Armstrong’s managed, particularly since – beyond Alex Pietrangelo – the Blues really haven’t been built by lottery picks. Still, it’s clear that the Blues need a change of direction, and a fresh voice would be more inclined to undergo the painful, necessary surgery to right the ship … which may, in fact, come down to trading Pietrangelo.

There’s also Ken Holland, if the Red Wings truly are planning on moving to Steve Yzerman, but can’t say out loud because of tampering.

Three more who I’d say are less pertinent, but interesting to watch:

• Jim Nill – Yes, he’s made some great trades, not unlike Armstrong. But the Stars also failed to truly take advantage of Jamie Benn‘s former-bargain contract, and seem headed toward the same with Tyler Seguin‘s $5.75M expiring after 2018-19. They’ve made significant missteps in slowing down their style (baffling with Seguin & Co. as their best players), failed to find difference-making goalies despite paying huge money, and have whiffed hard on some key drafts. Nill’s been there since April 2013. It’s fair to wonder about him if Dallas can’t make big strides.

Dale Tallon – Normally, I’d be more empathic about Tallon. After all, he willingly gave up Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith rather than parting with, say, Alex Petrovic? Yeah, that’s really bad. That said, the Panthers have changed course as an organization alarmingly often for far too long, and with stifling consequences, so maybe it’s best to be patient … even if there are moments when Tallon seems breathtakingly out of touch.

John Chayka – The Coyotes are in a much better place than they were when Chayka took over, and it would be nice to see him get some more time to bring them to the next level.

Sometimes sports can be especially cruel, however, and there are factors that make you wonder about Chayka. For one, the Coyotes have made some bold moves to get better, yet they seem on track to miss the playoffs once again. Ownership might grow impatient.

Let’s not kid ourselves, either: the ownership situation is often in flux, and if that changes, they might want to bring in “their guy.” Hopefully Chayka gets at least a bit more time, but it’s something to watch, either way.

ADAM: My answer earlier this season was Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton, but the Oilers have gone on enough of a roll and Ken Hitchcock seems to have them doing something right (mostly playing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl until the wheels fall off) and I think that is going to buy him some time.

I think now we have to look over at the Central Division and either Doug Armstrong in St. Louis or Stan Bowman in Chicago.

The Blues spent a ton of money and gave up a ton of assets this summer after missing the playoffs a year ago, and now they stink. They already fired the coach, so that card has been played, and the next logical conclusion is the guy that built the team. Other than a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2015-16 this has been a first-or second-round team at its best (usually a first-round team) and now is on track to miss the playoffs for a second year in a row. Not a great sign for the GM who has, again, already played his “try to save the season” card by changing coaches.

This might be a controversial position to take, but I think if Stan Bowman were named Stan … Smith. Or Stan Johnson. Or anything other than Stan Bowman his seat would probably be a LOT warmer than it is now. His track record in Chicago is obviously great, but it’s been a few years now since the Blackhawks have been a Stanley Cup team, they missed the playoffs a year ago, are currently one of the worst teams in the league, and it didn’t really have to be THIS bad. I know they had salary cap constraints and they have some big contracts, but he has made a lot of questionable to bad moves over the past couple of years. Then he went and fired the most successful coach in franchise history and one of the best coaches in NHL history and the team has completely sunk after that. Not sure the Blackhawks are going to make a change now or even after this season, but if this season keeps going as it is and they do not get better next season they might consider doing something.

JOEY: You can’t mention general managers being on the hot seat without bringing up Doug Armstrong’s name. Last season, he traded Paul Stastny away because he felt his team was a year away from being a serious threat, but that hasn’t been the case in 2018-19. He pulled the trigger on a major deal for Ryan O'Reilly over the summer, and although O’Reilly’s been good, the team simply hasn’t been. Armstrong has fired a coach this season and if the Blues can’t turn it around, he’ll be next. With Jake Allen struggling for the most part over the last few seasons, Armstrong hasn’t found a solution to the problem between the pipes. This might be it.

Stars GM Jim Nill is also likely on thin ice. His team has some high-end talent, but depth has been an issue for them since he’s taken over. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg can only carry the team so far. Getting contributions from the rest of the team has been an issue. As of this moment, the Stars are on the outside of the playoff picture. If they were to miss the postseason again, you’d have to think that someone will play the price. It won’t be new head coach Jim Montgomery, so who else can it be but the GM?

And you can’t forget ‘Pistol’ Pete Chiarelli. Like Armstrong, Chiarelli also made a coaching change to try to get his team going. The Oilers are currently sitting in a Wild Card spot, but if they were to fall out of the playoff picture again at the end of the season, you’d have to think that Edmonton’s decision makers will want to make a change. You can’t just keep wasting all of Connor McDavid’s great years.

SCOTT: It would seem that Peter Chiarelli has bought himself some time after bringing in Ken Hitchcock to be the team’s savior. Edmonton is in a playoff spot, which isn’t something you would have uttered a month ago.

Of course, a losing streak of four or five games would change the above narrative, so Chiarelli is still certainly in the conversation and is by no means out of the woods just yet. He’s done little to improve this team since he arrived and still probably needs a miracle to happen if he’s to be in the same position this time next year.

Sticking in the west, Doug Armstrong’s leash must be retracting a bit. There were a lot of people who believed the Blues won the summer. But as we approach Christmas, we now know that wasn’t the case.

The Blues don’t look half bad on paper, but their on-ice product has been truly poor this season. Maybe the Blues just need to head in a new direction.

The last guy I have on a hot seat is Stan Bowman. If Bowman’s last name wasn’t Bowman, he’d probably already be gone.

I suppose he bought some time firing Joel Quenneville, but it’s clear Quenneville wasn’t the problem. Jeremy Colliton has been tasked with the impossible and it hasn’t worked out so far.

Bowman did well to win the Stanley Cup three times (partly due to drafting done before he got there), but there’s little coming up through the system these days that provide any hope for better times ahead. And trades to get picks and younger assets don’t seem to be in the cards either (see: Brent Seabrook contract). All the “bad” contracts are shrouded with no-movement clauses.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

As Capitals surge, Backstrom off to best start of career

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With eight wins in their past 10 games the Washington Capitals are back in their customary spot at the top of the Metropolitan Division.

Alex Ovechkin is one of the league’s leading goal scorers, Tom Wilson suddenly can not be stopped offensively, and they are continuing to pile up wins even though they have been hit by some injuries to key players in recent weeks that have sidelined Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.

That is a lot of business as usual, especially as it relates to Ovechkin and the team’s place in the standings.

Also business as usual is the fact Nicklas Backstrom is dominating and not getting much attention for it.

His goal in Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Anaheim Ducks was his 10th of the season and gives him 33 points through the team’s first 26 games. That includes 20 points in the past 15 games alone.

This is not only the best start to a season offensively for Backstrom in his career, it is one of the best starts any Capitals player has had over the past 30 years.

Going as far back as the 1987-88 season, only one Capitals player — Ovechkin with 34 during the 2008-09 season —  has ever recorded more points than Backstrom’s 33 through the first 26 games of a season (via the Hockey-Reference database).

His current point-per-game pace puts him on a 104-point pace over 82 games and would exceed his previous career high of 101 during the 2009-10 season. Just for comparison, he only had 24 points through the first 26 games of that season. Given that goal-scoring is on the rise again throughout the league, and that Backstrom is playing sensational hockey in all phases it is not out of the question to think he could maintain that pace and set a new personal best.

It is also another reminder as to how consistently great Backstrom has been throughout his career.

He is one of just two players (Sidney Crosby and Tyler Seguin being the others) to record at least 70 points in each of the previous five seasons, while no one has more assists than his 613 since he entered the league at the start of the 2007-08 season (he is just behind Connor McDavid and Crosby on a per-game basis, but still at an elite level).

It wouldn’t be fair to say he’s been completely overlooked throughout his career, because he is a very highly regarded player and a true star in the league. But it is still probably true that he hasn’t always received the recognition he has fully deserved for being one of the 10 best offensive players in the league with an outstanding defensive game to match it.

He is one of those players that will always be underappreciated in his time — probably because he just so happens to be teammates with a legend — and then 10 or 15 years after he retires we’ll look back and say, “wow, that guy was pretty damn great.” 

So with him off to one of the best starts of his career for the defending Stanley Cup champs, let’s just say it now.

 

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

What will Rantanen’s next contract look like?

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Despite the fact that he’s leading the NHL in scoring, it still feels like Mikko Rantanen is an underrated superstar. Maybe that’s because he plays in Colorado, maybe that’s because he’s on the same team as Nathan MacKinnon, but it just feels like he doesn’t get the love he deserves.

He’ll probably get more attention if he wins the Art Ross Trophy, or if the Avs pay him huge money on his next contract. Rantanen is in the final year of his entry-level deal, which means the two sides will be taking care of business in the near future.

The line of Rantanen, MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog has arguably become the best in the NHL. Rantanen and MacKinnon are first and second in the league in scoring, while Landeskog is also running at a point-per-game pace this year. The Avs may be top-heavy, but it’s totally fine if you have three players that can produce at this rate.

When it comes to contracts, Colorado has already taken care of MacKinnon (four years remaining at $6.3 million) and Landeskog (two years remaining at $5.571 million).

So what should the Avs expect to pay Rantanen starting next season?

First, no matter what the number is, expect him to become the highest paid player on the team by a wide margin.

In 2017-18, the 22-year-old had 29 goals and 84 points in 81 games, which means he was tied for 16th in scoring last season. This year, he’s already up to 42 points in just 25 contests. That puts him on pace for 138 points. There’s no way he comes close to 140 points, is there? Regardless, he’ll be getting a significant raise before the start of the 2019-20 campaign.

To figure out how much he’ll make, let’s take a look at some of the recent major extensions that have been signed by elite wingers.

Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, who was one of three players to hit the 100-point mark last season, inked an eight-year, $76 million deal ($9.5 million AAV) with Tampa last summer. That’s a decent comparable. Last year was really Kucherov’s second big year. He also had a pair of 60-point seasons before that, but he’s three years older than Rantanen, which means he’s had more time to prove himself. This feels like a strong comparable.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who is 10 years older than Rantanen, just signed a five-year, $41.25 million deal ($8.25 million AAV) with Winnipeg. The 32-year-old is coming off a 91-point season in 2017-18, and he’s on pace to surpass that number this year, as he has 32 points in 24 contests. He out-produced the Avs forward by a few points last year, but there’s a huge difference in age here. Given the difference in age, you’d have to think that Rantanen’s AAV will be higher than Wheeler’s.

Sharks forward Logan Couture and Stars forward Tyler Seguin are both part-time wingers, who also play down the middle at times. Couture signed an eight-year, $64 million deal last summer, while Seguin inked an eight-year, $78.8 million extension in September. Both players are older than Rantanen and neither of them had more points than him last year.

Keeping all of the above numbers in mind, it sure looks like Rantanen is heading for an eight-year deal worth north of $80 million total. Kucherov out-performed him last year, but the fact that the Avs forward is only 22 years old makes him that much more valuable. That’s not to say that Kucherov is old or anything, but wasn’t as productive as Rantanen is when he was 22.

If the Finn keeps producing at a similar clip, it’s not unreasonable to think that he could earn somewhere around $11 million per season on a long-term deal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Stars lose Ben Bishop to injury

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Monday is looking like an all-around tough night for the Dallas Stars.

Heading into the third period tied 1-1 with the New York Rangers, the Stars had to replace starter Ben Bishop with Anton Khudobin. Bishop’s night was over thanks to a lower-body injury.

Khudobin only allowed one goal against the Rangers, yet Filip Chytil‘s tally ended up being the game-winner as New York prevailed 2-1. So, the Stars lost the game and their starting goalie in this one, and the hope is that Bishop doesn’t miss much more time from there.

The bad news is that the Stars are missing a goalie who’s quietly been quite effective so far in 2018-19. Bishop came into this contest with a strong .923 save percentage. It’s also no secret that Bishop has been hounded by injuries during his career, including during his days with Dallas.

(After the game, the Stars labeled Bishop day-to-day.)

On the bright side, Anton Khudobin’s been strong so far, too. His save percentage was .926 before this contest, so perhaps the experienced backup can hold down the fort even if Bishop is on the shelf for a while?

Either way, the Stars could stand to give their goalies more run support. Dallas only managed 17 shots on goal against Henrik Lundqvist on Monday, only managing a power-play goal by Tyler Seguin.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Burke not impressed with ‘clown’ Marchand; Matthews returns to practice

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Artemi Panarin saga continues to roll along. Here’s a take on him being a luxury and not a necessity for the Blue Jackets. (Union and Blue)

• How a love for fashion changed the course of one NHL prospect’s career. (Daily Hive)

• Arizona was doing so well, then injuries hit hard. (AZ Central)

• How the numbers aren’t telling the whole story of Connor Hellebuyck‘s pedestrian start to the season. (The Point)

• The New York Rangers are a pleasant surprise so far this season, but they may need to shake up their defensive pairings to keep the good times rolling. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• On Frederik Andersen and how he’s been incredible for the Toronto Maple Leafs so far. (The Hockey News)

• Speaking of the Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews returned to practice on Sunday. (TSN)

• The Pittsburgh Penguins need help from their lesser-known players. (Pensburgh)

• Faint murmurs of another lockout are starting to sprout up but the NHL is doing everything it can to avoid that happening again. (New York Post)

• As the NHL and a consortium of players settled their concussion lawsuit, the legacy of Gary Bettman remains unclear. (New York Times)

• An inside look at the offseason training program that Tyler Seguin used. (SportsDay)

• This story is about the Ottawa Senators and it is incredible. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Brian ‘Burkey’ Burke wants Brad Marchand to stop acting like a fool. (WEEI)

Gritty!


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