Valeri Nichushkin

PHT Morning Skate: Hockey community rallies for Nashville tornado relief

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.

• People are stepping up to help those affected by the Nashville tornadoes. That includes the Predators’ Alumni Association donating $20K, but not just that team. Both the Wild and current Wild owner/former Predators owner Craig Leipold are donating $25K apiece in tornado relief efforts. The NHL announced that it is matching that $50K for tornado relief as well. Fantastic stuff stemming from that terrifying natural disaster. (The Tennessean)

• How did the Lightning turn their season around? Can this season’s team compare to the 2018-19 version that stomped through the regular season, and what about the playoffs? (ESPN)

• Some of the Lightning’s turnaround boils down to Andrei Vasilevskiy getting on track. This post looks at a similar trajectory for Mike Smith, who is heating up while Mikko Koskinen stays steady. Between the two, the Oilers have enjoyed reliable goaltending lately. (Oilers Nation)

Bryan Rust‘s breakout season boils down to combining his talent with the Penguins giving him a better opportunity to succeed. (Pensburgh)

• The Maple Leafs look better by a lot of metrics since Sheldon Keefe took over, but goaltending hasn’t been panning out. How much might it help to lighten Frederik Andersen‘s burden? (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of underlying numbers, these smile upon the chances for both the Wild and Hurricanes making late-season playoff pushes. (NHL.com)

[HURRICANES FACE FLYERS ON NBCSN ON THURSDAY; WATCH IT LIVE]

• Now, while goaltending has been letting the Leafs down lately, GM Kyle Dubas views defense as a “long-term need.” (TSN)

• Are the Flames on the verge of a goalie controversy? (Sportsnet)

• In standing firmly behind Claude Julien going forward, Habs GM Marc Bergevin is also gambling on himself. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• No, Valeri Nichushkin hasn’t generated the kind of offense that was expected of him as the 10th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. Nichushkin has, however, become a useful play-driving forward as he settles into a still-fairly-new niche as an Avalanche supporting cast member. (The Hockey News)

I mean, look at these almost-off-the-charts Evolving Hockey RAPM charts for Nichushkin:

Kevin Fiala continues to be a catalyst for the Wild’s surge. (Pioneer-Press)

• Breaking down the Flyers’ elite penalty kill. (Broad Street Hockey)

• What’s been different about Cory Schneider during his latest return back with the Devils? (NJ.com)

• Hm, it’s been a while since the Senators experienced some drama … (The Score)

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.

Improved depth makes Avalanche Stanley Cup contender

NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings from Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Colorado Avalanche have had one of the NHL’s most dominant top lines for a couple of years now thanks to the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. When they are on the ice together and playing at their best they can be borderline unstoppable.

They carried the Avalanche to a playoff appearance a year ago and a Round 1 upset over the No. 1 seeded Calgary Flames.

They are the foundation of the team and a massive part of what makes them a playoff team.

But for the Avalanche to become a Stanley Cup contender — and potential Stanley Cup champion — they needed to address their biggest Achilles heel over the summer.

Secondary scoring.

It is not unfair to say that the 2018-19 Avalanche were a top-heavy team.

When none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio was on the ice last year they were outscored by a 95-76 margin and controlled just 48 percent of the total shot attempts.

With the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog on the ice they outscored teams 46-29 and controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts.

It is great to have an amazing top-line that can win games for you on any given night, but they are not going to be able to win games for you every night. The Avalanche had to address that over the summer.

And through a series of shrewd moves, they did.

  • After years of trade rumors and speculation, the Avalanche finally completed a Tyson Barrie trade and sent him (and Alexander Kerfoot) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for center Nazem Kadri, giving the team a bonafide second-line center that can play a shutdown role and score 30 goals. He was on track to score 30 goals again before his recent injury. Dealing Barrie was made possible by the emergence of young blue-liners Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and the selection of Bowen Byram with the No. 4 overall pick (acquired in the Matt Duchene trade).
  • They took advantage of Washington’s salary cap crunch and acquired Andre Burakovsky for two draft picks and Scott Kasmachuk. After being unable to fully reach his potential in Washington, Burakovsky is currently the Avalanche’s second-leading scorer.
  • They dipped into the free agent market and signed former Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi to a multi-year contract. While his offensive numbers were never going to make him a star, Donskoi has always been a strong possession-driving two-way player. He is having a career-year offensively for Colorado.
  • In what was perhaps their most under-the-radar signing, they signed Valeri Nichushkin to a one-year, $850,000 contract. After going through the most uneventful season in NHL history (0 goals, 0 penalty minutes in 57 games) he already has 11 goals in 51 games for the Avalanche.

Those four moves have helped turn the Avalanche into a true contender in the Western Conference.

They enter Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Los Angeles Kings with the second-best record in the Western Conference, just three points behind the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues with still two games in hand.

Even with Thursday’s loss to the Washington Capitals, they are also 8-2-2 in their past 12 games.

All of that added depth has paid off in a big way this season, especially as they had to deal with early season injuries to Landeskog and Rantanen.

The Avalanche are so much deeper this season that when none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio is on the ice they are outscoring teams 79-42 and controlling 52 percent of the total shot attempts. It is not even a comparison to what they managed a year ago, and there is no way the 2018-19 roster would have been able to overcome extended absences for two of their big three the way this year’s team did.

The trio of Kadri, Nichushkin, and Burakovsky had recently formed a dominant second line that out had scored teams 11-1 and controlled possession. Kadri being sidelined for the time being obviously takes that option away, obviously, but the option to reunite it when he returns will be there.

There is also the potential to keep adding to the roster as the Avalanche approach the NHL trade deadline with the second most salary cap space available in the NHL to add whatever they think they need to put them over the top.

It may not result in a Stanley Cup this season, but the Avalanche are positioned to be one of the powerhouse teams in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

It starts with the trio of stars on the top line.

But the pieces they added over the summer to complement them are what can help take them to where they want to go.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will call the matchup. On-site studio coverage at Air Force Academy will feature Kathryn Tappen hosting alongside analyst Patrick Sharp and reporter Rutledge Wood.

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.

NHL Trade Deadline primer: Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators

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With the NHL trade deadline getting close (February 24, 3 p.m. ET) the Pro Hockey Talk crew will be taking a closer look at some individual players that could be on the move. Today we focus on Ottawa Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

Player: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Current team: Ottawa Senators
Position: Center
Contract Situation: Unrestricted free agent after this season with a salary cap hit of $3.1 million.

Why the Senators might trade him: He is one of the final remaining pieces of their 2017 Eastern Conference Final team and, like everyone before him, is destined to be sold off to the highest bidder at the trade deadline as the scorched earth rebuild rolls on. Like the overwhelming majority of the Senators’ current roster, he has no contract beyond this season. Unlike the majority of the Senators’ roster, he can bring back a strong return in a trade even as a rental. If he will not re-sign (what incentive would there be for him to want to?) they have to trade him.  The Senators already have five picks in the first rounds of the 2020 draft (including two first-round picks) and there is no reason to believe Pageau will not bring back another first-round pick (and probably something else).

Teams that could/should be interested: Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers

What he provides: For most of Pageau’s career his value has always centered around his defensive play, especially on the penalty kill where he is a constant threat to score a shorthanded goal. His defensive metrics aren’t as good as you might expect given his reputation as a shutdown center, but the Senators absolutely bury him with defensive zone starts on a rebuilding team that is lacking in talent around him. That is going to hurt any player’s defensive numbers no matter how good they are.

What is standing out about him this year is the offense.

He is on track for a career year offensively and is scoring at a 32-goal pace. His career high in goals entering this season was only 19 goals. He has already topped that mark. That boost comes from a 17.4 percent shooting percentage that is driven by a bonkers run in November where he scored 11 goals in 13 games on only 31 shots. None of that will continue long-term, but sometimes a player just has a year where everything clicks for them. This is that year for Pageau.

In a normal year he is a 15-20 goal third-line center, and a darn good one.

The Oilers are in desperate need for scoring depth after the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl duo and are actually in a position where adding someone like Pageau might make sense. The playoffs are within reach, and their path through the first two rounds in the Pacific Division (provided they can stay in the top-three of that division) is manageable where no potential opponent is clearly better than them. They also have the advantage of having the two best players on the ice in any given matchup. Getting him would also keep him away from their chief rival — and another team that should have interest in him —  the Calgary Flames.

Predicted Destination: Having said all of that the Colorado Avalanche are still the team that stands out here. Adding Pageau as a third-line center behind Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri would make this already loaded roster a monster for teams in the Western Conference to deal with. The Avalanche spent the offseason boosting their forward depth with the additions of Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin, and Andre Burakovsky. Adding Pageau down the middle could really help put them over the top. The Avalanche are swimming in salary cap space (more than every team in the league other than the Columbus Blue Jackets) and giving up what should be a late first-round pick and a prospect for a chance at the Stanley Cup is worth the price.

More NHL Trade Deadline:

• Trade Deadline primer: Chris Kreider
• Trade Deadline primer: Tyler Toffoli
• Trade Deadline Primer: Ilya Kovalchuk
Trade Deadline Primer: Alec Martinez
• Teams that need to be active at trade deadline


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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Stephenson, Fiala lead this week’s top adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Jimmy Vesey, Sabres – LW/RW: Vesey has just eight goals and 18 points in 52 games this season, but he might end up having a strong end to the campaign. Through Jan. 30 he averaged a mere 13:38 minutes, but that’s skyrocketed to 19:37 minutes per contest over his last five games. He’s been put on a line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart and the trio has done well with Vesey scoring two goals and four points in his last three contests. If that line stays intact, then it should continue to mean great things for Vesey.

Derick Brassard, Islanders – C/LW/RW: Brassard has been a hot-and-cold player this season who has unfortunately spent a bit more time on the cold side of the spectrum. Right now though, he’s doing well with two goals and four points in his last three games. He’d need to get a bigger role with the Islanders for him to be worth holding onto for the rest of the season and that seems unlikely for him to get at this time. So if you do decide to pick him up, you’ll need to be willing to drop him at the first sign of trouble.

Chandler Stephenson, Golden Knights – C/LW/RW: Stephenson started the season with Washington and had just three goals and four points in 24 contests, but he was also averaging only 11:50 minutes. On Dec. 2, the Capitals dealt Stephenson to Vegas in exchange for a 2021 fifth-round pick and the Golden Knights had bigger plans for him. He’s averaged 15:58 minutes since joining Vegas and he’s rewarded them for that expanded role by scoring eight goals and 17 points in 28 contests. Along with his eligibility in every offensive position, he’s a decent pick up, especially right now that he’s hot with two goals and five points in his last five games.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: I mentioned Cirelli last week too, but he’s still only owned in 32% of Yahoo leagues, so if you wanted to pick him up now while he’s still hot, you can do so. He has five goals and 12 points over his last 10 games and has only been held off the scoresheet twice over that stretch. It helps that the Lightning will play on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Monday Feb. 17, so if you pick him up now, you’ll get a lot of use out of him in short order.

Ondrej Palat, Lightning – LW: And given how active the Lightning will be in the coming week, you might want to consider Palat as well. Like Cirelli, Palat has been very effective lately with two goals and 10 points in his last nine games. Palat’s left wing eligibility will also make him more appealing than Cirelli to certain fantasy owners. If you’re hurting for hits, Palat is worth considering in that regard too given that he has 111. He is owned already in 47% of leagues though, so there will be some of you who have the option to take Cirelli, but not Palat.

Kevin Fiala, Wild  – LW/RW: Fiala is on a four-game point streak and three of those contests have been multi-point contests for him. He was doing fairly well even before this point streak though. Fiala’s only significant cold spell came at the beginning of the season when he was limited to an assist in his first eight games. Since then he has 13 goals and 34 points in 42 contests while never enduring a point drought longer than back-to-back games. So while the hot streak makes it an easier decision to grab him now, there’s value in holding onto him even beyond that.

Jakob Chychrun, Coyotes – D: Chychrun is only owned in 24% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s a decent fallback option for owners who are hurting defensively either due to blueliners who have disappointed or are injured. His 11 goals and 22 points in 57 contests are nothing great, but those are decent numbers and it helps that he’s also accumulated 131 shots. Right now he’s also on a little bit of a hot streak with a point in each of his last three games. He’s no one’s ideal fantasy option, but in a pinch, he’s worth keeping in mind.

Damon Severson, Devils – D: Severson had three goals and seven points in his first 33 games this season, but since then he’s started to contribute at a solid pace offensively. From Dec. 20 onward, he has four goals and 15 points in 21 games. The Devils don’t exactly have a lot of bright spots right now, but he’s one of them.

Colton Parayko, Blues – D: Parayko is a big part of the Blues’ defense, but not a major offensive contributor. He has six goals and 18 points in 49 games and endured a terrible offensive drought from Nov. 30-Feb. 1 where he was limited to just an assist in 19 contests. He’s bounced back recently though with five goals and six points in his last three games. I have doubts about him as a long-term pickup, but it might be worth grabbing him for now in the hopes that the hot streak will last a little bit longer.

Jake Gardiner, Hurricanes – D: Gardiner has been effective recently with five assists in his last four games. He also might end up being of some use for the rest of the season if you decide to pick him up and then hold onto him beyond just this hot streak. He was averaging 16:14 minutes before Dougie Hamilton suffered a broken left fibula and that’s jumped to 19:50 minutes since the injury. That increased role gives him the potential to be a significant contributor going forward, especially given his past offensive success when he was getting big minutes in Toronto.

Players You May Want To Drop

Rasmus Sandin, Maple Leafs – D: Sandin is an exciting defenseman, but for now he’s a pretty big gamble. He has a goal and seven points in 16 contests, which is pretty good, but he has just one assist in his last six games. More importantly, he’s averaging 13:40 minutes, which is a very small role for a defenseman to have. The 19-year-old has value in keeper leagues, but if you’re in a single season league you might want to consider other options.

Esa Lindell, Stars – D: Lindell had a goal and nine points in seven contests from Dec. 29-Jan. 14, but that hot streak is well in the rear view mirror at this point. He has just two assists in his last nine games and no points in his last four contests. He’s still worth keeping an eye on even if you do drop him given that he’s a decent defenseman who might be worth reacquiring at a later time.

Antti Raanta, Coyotes – G: Darcy Kuemper will be a game-time decision on Monday, but even if he doesn’t play, it’s pretty clear that his return is imminent. That means Antti Raanta’s time as the de facto starter is at an end. On top of that, Raanta is having injury problems of his own. He was a last minute scratch on Saturday due to a lower-body issue. Lower-body injuries have plagued Raanta this season, which makes his latest setback of particular concern.

Valeri Nichushkin, Avalanche – LW/RW: Nichushkin’s success this season has come in short spurts. His latest hot streak lasted just three games from Feb. 1-6 with him scoring two goals and five points over that span. If you picked him up hoping that his streak would continue, unfortunately that’s not likely to be the case. He’s been held off the scoresheet in each of his last two games.

Devan Dubnyk, Wild – G: This has easily been Dubnyk’s worst season since he joined the Wild. He has a 10-14-2 record, 3.33 GAA, and .893 save percentage in 27 games. He’s showing no signs of bouncing back either. He’s allowed at least three goals in seven of his last 10 games.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

Burakovsky finding his fit with Avalanche after summer move

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It became clear last season that Andre Burakovsky did not have a future in Washington. The winger was in the final year of his contract, but the team owned his rights as a restricted free agent. But inconsistent production and the Capitals’ need for salary cap space fueled a trade to the Avalanche.

After five seasons of inconsistencies, Burakovsky’s trade to Colorado and his one-year deal was a classic change of scenery move. The Capitals had other priorities heading into the 2019 off-season and it was clear it was time to move on.

In Colorado Burakovsky is taking advantage of the chance that he couldn’t keep hold of in Washington. Through 51 games he’s recorded a career high 40 points. His 17 goals is tied for the highest total in his six-season NHL career. 

“I think I have been fitting in pretty good with this team. I like everyone and everyone is good to me, so that helps,” said Burakovsky this week via the Avalanche website. “Feeling comfortable here, coming to the rink every day, you are looking forward to it and that wasn’t something I had in the past. It was not always the best time to go to the rink, but like this year I just want to go see the boys all the time.”

[COVERAGE OF AVS-WILD BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

It’s not just Burakovsky, who has 12 points in his last seven games, having a resurgent year on that second line. Valeri Nichushkin has bounced back from zero goals in 57 games last season in Dallas to 10 in 47 games in Colorado. Factor in veteran Nazem Kadri’s presence and 19 goals, and you have a line that’s been together for a month adding to the team’s depth up front. Also of note: none of those three players were with the team a season ago.

“I think we have the keys that we need to have a successful line,” said Burakovsky. “We got Val, he is like a horse out there. It is tough to get the puck from him, he is working really hard and making plays and he is having a really good year too. Obviously Naz, making all the plays and is so, so good with the puck and finding open lanes and just give it to us.”

As the Avalanche enter Sunday’s meeting with the Wild (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) they sit only a few points behind the Blues for the Central Division lead with games in-hand. The division race will be something to watch down the stretch, especially in a year where many are expecting Colorado to take another big step forward.

With much of the focus on the top dogs in Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche will need Burakovsky to continue delivering scoring depth. It will not only pay off for the team, but also for the soon-to-be restricted free agent.

Chris Cuthbert and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul., Minn. Liam McHugh hosts studio coverage with Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.

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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.