Zach Werenski

NHL Power Rankings: Teams with the best long-term outlook

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the teams with the best long-term outlook.

How are we defining long-term outlook? Pretty simple, and it comes down to one fairly important question: Does this team have a chance to win the Stanley Cup (or two Stanley Cups) over the next five years.

That takes into account talent currently on the roster, talent coming through the farm system, salary cap situation, and pretty much everything else that is required to win it all.

Where does your favorite team sit?

To the rankings!

1. Colorado Avalanche. Unless they royally screw it up somehow this is the ideal situation in both the short-and long-term. They could win the Stanley Cup as soon as this season, and should be a constant contender for the next five years (and more). They have superstar players just now entering their prime, they have great young players on cheap deals and a nice pipeline of talent coming through the system, and they have a great cast of complementary players around the stars. Nearly every core player is signed long-term and they have a ton of salary cap flexibility to add players where needed.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning have been one of the best teams in the NHL for more than five seasons now and are still searching for that championship for this particular core. Even with their recent postseason shortcomings this core is still absolutely good enough to get it done, they are still mostly in their primes, and signed long-term. Salary cap situation will be tight, but they have elite players at every position on the ice and plenty of depth.

3. Boston Bruins. A Stanley Cup Finalist a year ago and the best team in the NHL this season. The Bruins are one of the league’s elite teams and well positioned to compete for the foreseeable future. The only thing that might start to slow them down is the age of some of their top players and a few questions beyond this season (contract status for their goalies, adding depth within the salary cap).

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. As long as they still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel performing the way they have been they are going to be in a position to compete. There will come a time in the next few years where the former three really start to slow down (or maybe even retire) but that time is not here yet.

5. Washington Capitals. Similar outlook as the Penguins, where as long as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie are doing their thing they are going to be in the mix for the Stanley Cup. They also have a really nice wave young talent starting to emerge with players like Ilya Samsonov and Jakub Vrana.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs. At some point they have to get through Round 1 of the playoffs, and until they do they will be a postseason punchline. But I like to bet on talent, and Toronto, even for all of its flaws, has a ton of talent. Championship talent. The big contracts at the top will require some creative salary cap maneuvering, but every team that wins a Stanley Cup has a similar roster construction with a small number of players eating up a significant portion of salary cap space. That concern is overblown.

7. St. Louis Blues. I like the Blues in the short-term. I like their chances to repeat this season, especially in the Western Conference. But they have some big free agents to deal with in the coming years and that creates at least a little bit of long-term uncertainty. They are not going away yet. But they do have some big questions to answer down the line (Alex Pietrangelo, the goalies, Jaden Schwartz, David Perron, etc.)

8. Carolina Hurricanes. A team that has been on the rise for a while and arrived last season with a stunning trip to the Eastern Conference Final. The Hurricanes have a great young nucleus in place with a sensational defense and a handful of outstanding young forwards led by Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and an emerging superstar in Andrei Svechnikov.

9. Philadelphia Flyers. There is a lot to like in Philadelphia right now. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracak can still be impact players in the short-term, while they have two front-line players in Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny in the prime of their careers. The X-factors here are the trio of Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, and Carter Hart. If they progress and become the players the Flyers hope they will that can be a game-changer in Philadelphia. That is especially true as it relates to Hart.

10. Vegas Golden Knights. An outstanding team in a very winnable division. The big concern here is that it is a little bit of an older team with several players in their core starting to approach age 30 and beyond.

11. New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin is one of the league’s most best offensive players, but what truly makes this team fascinating going forward is the young talent around him. They have two outstanding young goalies (Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev), an emerging star on defense in Adam Fox, and a potential superstar in Kaapo Kakko.

12. Edmonton Oilers. It is very tempting to put them higher on the list because Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are that good. They are the best 1-2 punch in the league, and in theory that should give them a great window to compete in. But there remains a lot of questions after them.

13. Calgary Flames. They are not as good as their 2018-19 record and they are probably a little better than they have showed this season. There is a good core in place, as long as they do not do something outrageous like trade Johnny Gaudreau, or something.

14. Vancouver Canucks. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes is a potential championship trio, and 2019 first-round pick Vasili Podkolzin has enormous potential for when he makes the jump to North America. They still have a lot of work to do around that young core, though.

15. Florida Panthers. This season has been a massive disappointment, but Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are an amazing steals at the top of the lineup which gives them a huge advantage.

16. Nashville Predators. A tough team to get a feel for long-term. I like their talent, I think they still have a chance to compete for a title, but I also wonder if they already missed their best opportunity.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets. There is some really good talent here, and the defense duo of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski is tremendous. The performance of the goalies in the short-term will dictate a lot.

18. Dallas Stars. I feel like they need more impact talent at forward. Tyler Seguin is still really good, but Alexander Radulov isn’t getting any younger. John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen are the long-term faces of the franchise. A lot of their success this season is goaltending driven, and that’s fine in the short-term, but you can’t rely on that every single season.

19. New York Islanders. Given the current construction of the roster the Islanders are positioned to be a fringe playoff team, but lacking the superstar talent to really become a true Stanley Cup contender.

20. New Jersey Devils. Sometimes timing is everything. The Devils have had two of the past three No. 1 overall picks, but they did not have them in a year where there wasn’t a Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, or even a Steven Stamkos available. Nico Hischier is outstanding, and Jack Hughes has the potential to be there, but there are some big questions around them.

21. Winnipeg Jets. Love the forward talent, really like the goalie, but have some serious concerns on defense. Like Nashville, I think we may have seen this team miss its best shot.

22. Chicago Blackhawks. The window slammed shut rapidly and brutally. They still have some high-end players, and Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach have big-time potential, but this is going to be three consecutive non-playoff seasons and five years without a playoff series win. Not sure if the window opens backup anytime soon. By the time Dach and Boqvist become stars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews might be slowing down.

23. San Jose Sharks. I could see the Sharks rebounding next season and being a playoff team again, but the age of their core and the salary cap situation with some of those contracts is a long-term concern.

24. Minnesota Wild. I’m still having a hard time seeing the long-term direction here or where this team is going. Not a bad team. Not a great team. Just sort of stuck in the middle.

25. Arizona Coyotes. This is not a bad team, and there is definitely upside here, but if they can not re-sign Taylor Hall they will have a glaring lack of impact talent at forward and without some significant luck in the draft lottery will not be in a position to add any anytime soon.

26. Montreal Canadiens. They have good players and Marc Bergevin has made his share of good moves, but the end result is never anything other than mediocrity. That is a difficult cycle to get out of.

27. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin should be a reason for optimism, but there is no sign that ownership or management knows how to properly build around them.

28. Detroit Red Wings. The current roster is not good but they have draft assets and one of the most respected general managers in the league. The salary cap situation is also better than it looked a year or two ago. They are still a LONG way from contention.

29. Los Angeles Kings. They are finally starting to lean into the rebuild and have an interesting farm system, but it is going to take some time.

30. Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks have had a pretty great run throughout the salary cap era, winning a Stanley Cup, making three other Western Conference Finals, and almost always being a playoff team. But that chapter has closed and it is time for a new beginning and a rebuild.

31. Ottawa Senators. There should be reason for optimism here. There are some really good young players in place, they have salary cap space, but it all starts at the top with ownership. It is really tough to buy into them long-term for that reason.

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 is the Columbus Blue Jackets’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Pending Free Agents
Josh Anderson (RFA)
Gabriel Carlsson (RFA)
Pierre-Luc Dubois (RFA)
Vladislav Gavrikov
Jakob Lilja (RFA)
Joonas Korpisalo (RFA)
Ryan MacInnis (RFA)
Elvis Merzlikins (RFA)
Devin Shore (RFA)
Kevin Stenlund (RFA)

The Core

The Columbus Blue Jackets do not have the elite goal-scorer or dangerous playmaker that top-tier NHL teams have, but they do possess a few critical components of their foundation to build a long-term successful roster.

Zach Werenski and Seth Jones anchor the Blue Jackets’ blue line and make up one of the top defensive pairings throughout the NHL. Their steady play helped goaltender Joonas Korpisalo become an All-Star this season and Elvis Merzlikins look like a seasoned veteran in his rookie season between the pipes.

Pierre-Luc Dubois continued his development as a top-line center and was in position to match his 61-point total from a season ago. However, Cam Atkinson and Josh Anderson’s production dropped off dramatically. Atkinson only netted 12 goals in 44 games this season, while Anderson scored one time in 26 games. Both players missed time with injuries this season (along with most of the Blue Jackets’ roster) but couldn’t produce offensively the way they have in the past.

Despite Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin leaving the organization last summer, the Blue Jackets remained in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race up until the NHL Pause a few weeks ago.

The experience gained in the spring of 2019 when the Blue Jackets secured a playoff spot and won a series for the first time in franchise history paid dividends for the team this season.

Long-Term Needs

The Blue Jackets averaged 2.57 goals per game in the 70 games they played this season and desperately need to add more playmakers. The lack of production from Atkinson and Anderson hurt dramatically and injuries contributed to them becoming one of the bottom-five teams in goals per game this season.

One area of concern is depth at the center position. Dubois is on track to become a building block every successful team needs in the middle, but the roster lacks playmakers behind the promising young player.

Alexandre Texier showed promise this year before a back injury derailed his season and John Tortorella believes he could fill a gaping hole in the lineup.

“The thing I like about Tex is I think he understands how to play low in that (center) position,” Torts told the team website. “A lot more comes into play as a centerman when you don’t have the puck in your end zone, a lot more reads like a defenseman, and I think he has the intelligence to do that.”

Columbus does not have the sexiest roster in the NHL, but they do have the right pieces of the puzzle to be a playoff team for the next several seasons.

Long-Term Strengths

While Tortorella’s antics during press conferences have been entertaining, he had one of his strongest seasons behind the bench and proved to be one of the NHL’s best bench bosses. The Blue Jackets did not have a 50-point scorer and proved to be greater than the sum of their parts with a strong season following a tumultuous summer.

The Blue Jackets sustained a league-leading 15 overtime/shootout losses (including a mistake which produced an epic postgame press conference) and could have pulled away from a crowded playoff wild-card race if a few of those outcomes went their way.

Jones and Werenski are two world-class defenders and Dubois is growing into a dynamic center but Columbus needs to fill out its roster. The Blue Jackets’ front office must find the right corresponding pieces to skate alongside their foundational players in order to take the next step as a franchise.

MORE:

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

NHL Power Rankings: Top MVP candidates

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the biggest individual award race — the Hart Trophy for league MVP.

This is always a complicated argument because everyone has a different definition of what consists of “value.” Is it simply the the best player? Does the player have to be on a playoff team to be considered? Those are the questions that bring people to screaming matches the most in this discussion, and this season will almost certainly be the same. Especially since there does not seem to be a runaway favorite at this point.

With these rankings I’m trying to strike a balance between players I think deserve to win, and the players that have the most realistic chance of winning.

Who makes the list?

To the rankings!

The Favorites

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. He might be the perfect candidate this season because he checks absolutely every box any MVP voter could possibly have. He is the best player on one of the league’s best teams. He has helped carry that team through injuries. He is one of the league’s top scorers and, at this point, one of the best overall players. There is not a single mark against him or his case at this point.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Recent history suggests players that the scoring title by the margin Draisaitl is on pace to win it by tend to be slam-dunk MVP winners as long as their team makes the playoffs. Barring some kind of incredible meltdown over the next month, the Oilers will be in the playoffs, so he has that going for them. The only factors that might hold him back are the presence of Connor McDavid on his team, and the fact his defensive impact isn’t great. But another 50-goal season and 125 points would certainly get a lot of attention.

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins. He has a shot at becoming just the third-player in the past 20 years to hit the 60-goal mark while also taking the Rocket Richard award away from Alex Ovechkin. Both would be significant accomplishments. Combined with his all-around player he has rapidly become one of the league’s best players.

4. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. He has been worth every penny the Rangers paid him this summer. But with the team being a real long-shot to make the playoffs at this point his standing is going to take a hit in the eyes of many voters. But he will still get votes (probably a lot of them, too) because he has been the single biggest reason the Rangers have remained in playoff contention as long as they have.

5. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. It is absolutely crazy that after losing out on the MVP award in each of the past two years because the team around him completely stunk, he is going to lose out on the MVP this year because he missed a few games and his teammate (Draisaitl) is having an historically great year.

The second tier contenders

6. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks. This guy needs more attention. Pettersson has been a franchise-changing talent in Vancouver, while presence has rapidly accelerated the team’s rebuild. He is quickly turning into a complete force all over the ice. A one-man highlight reel every shift.

7. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. Hellebuyck is the single biggest reason the Jets are in playoff contention right now. He has not only been a workhorse in net, playing a ton of games and facing more shots than any other goalie in the league, he has also been outstanding. The Jets needed an MVP effort from him this season to be competitive, and he has more than delivered.

8. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. The reigning league MVP should probably be getting a little more attention than he currently is. He is on track for his third consecutive 100-point season.

9. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. Hate him all you want, the list of wingers in the NHL that make a bigger impact than him is small enough to be counted on one hand.

Worthy of consideration

10. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. He faced a lot of criticism for his performance a year ago, but he has been a force for the Penguins this season and helped get them through a never-ending run of injuries. On a per-game level, this is the third-most productive seasons of his career behind only the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons. He finished in the top-two in MVP voting in those two years.

11. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs might be a disappointment as a team based on overall expectations, but Matthews is having one of the best offensive seasons in franchise history and is one of the few players on the roster that hasn’t failed to meet expectations.

12. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. He is having one of the best offensive seasons in NHL history. That alone will almost certainly get him the Norris Trophy, and it will probably get him more than a few MVP votes.

13. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. Coming into the season it seemed as if Pacioretty’s days as an elite goal scorer were in the rear-view mirror. Not the case. He is having one of the best seasons of his career and is on track for close to 40-goals while also posting dominant possession numbers. I don’t know that his performance is getting enough attention, though, to put him at the top of the list. Even if it is good enough.

14. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. I don’t think he’s going to win, but he still has a shot to league the lead in goals on a potential division champion. He’s finished in the top-10 in voting four of the past five years and will probably be somewhere in that neighborhood again this season.

15. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars. Bishop is one of the league’s best goalies, and has proven that over several years now. He has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy multiple times and very well could be there again this season. He also has a decent MVP argument given his overall play, combined with the fact the Stars are one of the league’s worst offensive teams among contenders.

16. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. He is very quietly on track for 45 goals this season and is one of the best possession-drivers in the league. He is the face of the Hurricanes’ franchise and the foundation for everything they have built (and are continuing to build).

17.  Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. In a season where almost the entire Blue Jackets roster has been decimated by injury (including Werenski himself for a stretch of games), Werenski has been a rock on their blue line and one of the driving forces of their offense. He’s on a 25-goal pace over 82 games and has helped keep his team in the race.

18. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. If there was any justice he would have a much better chance to win this season. Not only because his season deserves it for the season he is having, but because it is a shame that one of the league’s best, most exciting, and most impactful players is stuck on a franchise that hasn’t given him a chance to win. As it stands, he has virtually zero chance of winning simply because his team stinks. HIs season still deserves recognition.

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: Werenski, Gaudreau, and Ovechkin all shine in big wins

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He recorded his league-leading 12th multi-goal game of the season in the Capitals’ 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild, scoring two goals from his signature spot on the ice. He is now at 45 goals for the season and is just two back of Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the league lead. You can read more about Ovechkin’s big game and the Capitals’ big win right here.

2. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. Gaudreau found out on Saturday that his grandfather passed away before their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He came back on Sunday with a huge performance for one of his biggest supporters. Gaudreau was dominant for the Flames in a 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers, scoring a goal, recording an assist, and even drawing a penalty shot in the first period. After a slow start to the season offensively Gaudreau’s production has really started to pick up in recent weeks, averaging a point per game (25 points in 25 games) since the start of January.

3. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. Werenski was a beast for the Blue Jackets in their come-from-behind win against the Vancouver Canucks, playing 25 minutes, scoring the game-tying goal (his 20th of the season) in the third period, picking up an assist, and finishing the night as a plus-two. The Blue Jackets desperately needed this win and it is not a stretch to call it a potential season saver. With Seth Jones sidelined due to injury a lot of the Blue Jackets’ workload on defense is going to fall on Werenski, and he has been brilliant this season. You can read more about their big win on Sunday night here.

More Standout Performances From Sunday

  • Cory Schneider recorded his first shutout in more than a year for the New Jersey Devils in a 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Anze Kopitar scored two goals and Cal Petersen was a wall for the Los Angeles Kings by stopping 42 out of 43 shots to help them put a stop to the Vegas Golden Knights’ winning streak. Read more about the Kings’ win here.

Highlights of the Night

Trevor Lewis helped the Kings pull the upset over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday night with this beautiful spin-o-rama goal to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.

Derek Grant had a huge game for the Philadelphia Flyers with an assist on Michael Raffl‘s shorthanded goal, and this beautiful goal for himself. Read more about the Flyers’ big win here.

Ovechkin’s second goal of the night came on this beautiful passing play between him, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Blooper of the Night

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson absolutely levels Devils forward Kevin Rooney behind the net and earns himself a two-minute minor for interference.

Factoids

  • Werenski is the first Blue Jackets defensemen to ever score 20 goals in a single season. [NHL PR]
  • Artemi Panarin extended his point streak for the New York Rangers. [NHL PR]
  • Ovechkin now has 144 multi-goal games in his career, putting him into fifth place in NHL history. [NHL PR]

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2
Calgary Flames 3, Florida Panthers 0
New Jersey Devils 3, Anaheim Ducks 0
Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Vancouver Canucks 3
Washington Capitals 4, Minnesota Wild 3
Los Angeles Kings 4, Vegas Golden Knights 1

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.

Blue Jackets rally for potential season saving win

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Thanks to an offensive outburst in the final seven minutes of regulation on Sunday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets were able to pick up a massive win against the Vancouver Canucks that they absolutely needed to have.

Columbus scored four goals in the final seven minutes of regulation to erase a two-goal deficit and storm back for a 5-3 win.

Zach Werenski scored his 20th goal of the season to tie the game with less than five minutes to play in regulation, while Emil Bemstrom scored the game-winner just three minutes later. Gustav Nyquist added an empty-net goal with 10 seconds to play.

It may not be much of a stretch to say the could be a season saving victory in Columbus.

Even though Columbus entered the game in a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference (and improved that standing with Sunday’s win) they had a couple of hurdles standing in their way.

For one, they had been mired in a massive slump that had seen them lose 10 out of 11 games.

They are also about to face an absolute gauntlet of a schedule that will see them play their next seven games against Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Boston, Washington and Toronto. Every one of those teams currently occupies a playoff spot.

But perhaps their biggest issue is the fact every team they are in competition with for a playoff spot has two or three games in hand on them.

That matters quite a bit, and when you dig into the projected point paces and possible points that are still remaining the Blue Jackets were starting to get themselves in trouble.

Just look at the current Metropolitan Division/Wild Card standings for the teams after Washington (The Capitals still hold the top spot in the Metropolitan Division) as of Sunday night.

The Blue Jackets are clinging to one of those wild card spots based on current points, but with only 15 games remaining there are only so many points left for them to collect. Based on their current pace and the games they still have remaining, the Carolina Hurricanes (currently outside the playoff picture based on total points) are still on pace to finish with more points than Columbus this season.

Now, these are just projects and current paces and games in hand do not necessarily mean “wins” in hand. A lot can still happen when the games actually get played. But it does at least give a sense of how big of a swing Columbus’ win on Sunday was and how much work still needs to be done to get one of those spots. A loss on Sunday would have put them at a 92-93 point pace.

No matter what happens this has been an incredible effort by the Blue Jackets this season given all of the free agency departures over the summer and the absurd injury list they have dealt with all season (and are still dealing with now).

As for the Canucks, this one has to hurt. This looked to be a game they had completely wrapped up and it all disappeared in a matter of minutes. For the time being they fall out of the top-three in the Pacific Division but still hold one of the Wild Card spots. They still have games in hand on a lot of the teams around them, but the current injury situation that has them without Brock Boeser and starting goalie Jacob Markstrom is going to make things a little uncomfortable down the stretch.

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.