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Long-term outlook for Vegas Golden Knights

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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 Vegas Golden Knights.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

If you showed a non-hockey fan the salary structures of all 31 NHL teams, they’d probably not choose the Golden Knights as the team that’s only in the middle of its third season.

Rather than looking like they just entered the NHL, the Golden Knights are remarkably “established.” Consider their significant long-term commitments, which include luring players to Vegas:

That’s a lot of money, quite a bit of term, and many of those contracts include no-movement and/or no-trade clauses. Our Golden Knights are all grown up, already, folks.

On the bright side, a lot of those contracts are quite team-friendly. Theodore at $5.2M and Karlsson at $5.9M both stand out among the best deals (at least after Marchessault took a step back, and Tuch’s dealt with injury issues).

Few teams boast a strong mix of two top lines and some nice, prime-age defensemen at reasonable prices for considerable terms, let alone one that wouldn’t be old enough to go to Kindergarten. Yet, here we are with the Golden Knights.

[PHT Power Rankings: Where do Golden Knights rank among best and worst long-term outlooks?]

Long-term needs for Golden Knights

For some time, the Golden Knights experienced a serious need for a backup behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Considering that he’s 35, they had to know that MAF-or-bust wasn’t going to work forever. It sunk in 2019-20, to the point that they brought in Robin Lehner.

With Lehner being splendid during the past two years, and being much younger (in hockey terms) at 28, I can’t help but wonder if Vegas might try to be bold and keep Lehner around.

Doing so would require some juggling, possibly including trying to convince MAF to accept a trade … but it’s something the Golden Knights should at least consider.

Beyond figuring out goaltending depth one way or another — this free agent crop does look good, even beyond Lehner — Vegas faces the challenges most competitive teams do during this salary cap era. While I’d argue that Vegas is deeper than most, the Golden Knights could still use more help up and down the lineup.

Long-term strengths for Golden Knights

Under the assumptions you’d make about an expansion team, you’d expect the Golden Knights to possess a strong prospect pool. That they do, with the Golden Knights placing 10th on Scott Wheeler’s rankings at The Athletic (sub required), as one recent example.

When you pour over the details, the Golden Knights compiling a strong pool gets more impressive.

After all, the Golden Knights haven’t ever drafted higher than sixth (Cody Glass in 2017). They didn’t make a first-round selection in 2018, and only picked 17th (Peyton Krebs) in the 2019 NHL Draft.

In enjoying unexpected contention, Vegas also paid up for rentals and significant additions, bleeding picks and prospects like Erik Brannstrom and Nick Suzuki.

Despite losing key assets, the Golden Knights still managed to bulk up on prospects, giving them a strong chance of supplementing their current stars as they get older. Ideally, a Glass or Krebs may pick up the slack when players like Pacioretty run out of steam.

Beyond Pacioretty and Fleury, a lot of key Golden Knights are either in or around their primes. That Stone price tag might eventually be rough, but right now he’s a two-way superstar, and the Golden Knights can win plenty of best-on-best battles.

When you ponder the big picture, few teams enjoy a better long-term outlook than the Golden Knights.

MORE ON THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS:

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.

The Buzzer: Streaks go wrong way for Islanders, Flyers, Stars

Canucks extend Islanders losing streak, streaks go bad for Stars Flyers
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Stars, Islanders, and Flyers don’t get good breaks regarding their respective streaks

Tuesday was a bad day for streaks, whether teams wanted to end them (Islanders, Stars) or continue them (Flyers).

As discussed earlier, Tuukka Rask blanked the Flyers to end Philly’s winning streak at nine games. You can read more about that here, and get more info on Rask’s performance below.

Again, teams that wanted their streaks to end didn’t have luck, either. The Islanders put forth a valiant effort, taking the Canucks to a shootout. Vancouver took home the win, however, pushing the Islanders’ streak to seven straight losses. On the bright side, the Islanders are at least hanging in the wild-card races by managing four “charity points” during this skid (0-3-4). Still, being limited to two wins since Feb. 13 (2-7-4) is no way to secure a playoff spot. The Islanders also play eight of their next 11 games on the road, which won’t make things any easier.

The Stars aren’t in quite the same dogfight to secure a 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs spot, but they must be troubled by the Rangers extending their losing streak to six games (0-4-2). Home-ice looks unlikely after this slump, but Dallas seems reasonably insulated as far as holding onto the third Central spot is concerned … unless this really festers.

Three Stars

1. Nicolas Deslauriers, Anaheim Ducks

With some big performances in bigger games on Tuesday, it was tough to give this spot to a player who won a game between to dreary teams in the Ducks and Senators.

That said, a hat trick is tough to argue with … and a natural hat trick is nigh-undeniable. In this case, it’s fully undeniable, as I’m giving the nod to Deslauriers.

If you don’t like the highlight of the night pick later in this post, soothe your seething anger with this as the alt choice:

Deslauriers generated his hat trick 11:49 into the Ducks’ win, breaking Teemu Selanne’s old mark (12:58) as the fastest in franchise history. It’s also the earliest hat trick since Taylor Hall generated three 7:53 into a March 30, 2013 game as a member of the Oilers (both via NHL PR).

2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

The Flyers probably have a point if they argue that they should’ve extended their winning streak to 10 games. They played quite well against the Bruins, but couldn’t accomplish enough to score against Rask. Rask managed a 36-save shutout to celebrate his 33rd birthday on Tuesday.

Rask helped the Bruins reach 100 points before any other NHL teams. This also happens to be the seventh time the Bruins reached 100+ points in 70 games or fewer (this time 70).

3. A tie between players with two goals and one assist

Look, if you have a convincing argument for Evgeni Malkin, Sebastian Aho, or Filip Forsberg authoring the superior two-goal, one-assist game on Tuesday, have at it. All three are excellent players, and I didn’t really see much that made one stand far above the other on this specific night.

Highlight of the Night

Hey, it technically doesn’t need to be the NHL highlight of the night, does it? Maybe not? Kings prospect and WHL goalie Lukas Parik scored a goal, and that’s good enough for me. Parik plays for the Spokane Chiefs, and may have a chance to score an NHL goal, as the Kings selected Parik 87th overall in 2019.

NHL Standings after a bad night for streaks

East, with wild card battles continuing to confuse

West, with a nice jump for Predators

Scores

 

TOR 2 – TBL 1
NSH 4 – MTL 2
PIT 5 – NJD 2
BOS 2 – PHI 0
CAR 5 – DET 2
NYR 4 – DAL 2
ANA 5 – OTT 2
VAN 5 – NYI 4 (SO)

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.

Kings face key stages of rebuild with trade deadline, 2020 NHL Draft

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.

While the Avalanche hope to become true Stanley Cup contenders, the Kings wonder how to reclaim that form.

The next few months are crucial for both teams, only in dramatically different ways. After looking at Colorado’s climb to contention, let’s ponder how the Kings are handling their rebuild.

Kings get off to strong start with rebuild

Experts already rave about the building blocks the Kings have amassed.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler (sub required) and The Hockey Writers’ Josh Bell both ranked the Kings’ farm system number one in recent articles. In fact, Wheeler ranked the Kings first with “no hesitation.”

They seem to be combining quantity with quality. Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed six Kings prospects in his top 100 rankings (sub required), with Arthur Kaliyev finishing highest at seventh. Five of those six landed in the top 50 of that list, with Samuel Fagemo barely missing at 53.

You can nitpick elements of that pool, as with just about any. But overall, it seems like the Kings are pressing many of the right buttons. So far.

Trade deadline provides opportunities as Kings rebuild

Rob Blake could accelerate this rebuild with deft trades.

To his credit, he was already aggressive in landing a nice haul for Jake Muzzin last season, and once again extracted a solid package from Toronto in the Jack Campbell trade.

Neither Tyler Toffoli nor Alec Martinez boast the same trade value as Muzzin, but maybe the Kings can seize some opportunities anyway? This year’s deadline market seems pretty shallow, so perhaps Blake may take advantage.

Who should stick around?

Looking further down the line, it’s tough to imagine the Kings shaking loose from Jeff Carter or Dustin Brown. Moving Jonathan Quick also sounds unlikely.

(That said, the Kings should pull the trigger if there are suitors, and if Carter and others would comply.)

Ultimately, your optimism may vary regarding the futures for veteran stars Kopitar (32, $10M AAV through 2023-24) and Doughty (30, $11M AAV through 2026-27). Actually, go ahead and take a moment to wince at those contracts. That’s a natural reaction.

There’s only so much the Kings can do about the aging curve, at least since they already signed the extensions. The Kings could at least take steps to be proactive, though, with hopes that Doughty and/or Kopitar can still help out once the prospects (hopefully) bloom.

Right now, Doughty is averaging almost 26 minutes of ice time per game (25:56) while Kopitar is logging almost 21 (20:46). With the Kings far out of contention, I must ask … why would you run them into the ground? Wouldn’t it be wiser to take measures to keep them fresher for 2020-21 and beyond?

That’s where Todd McLellan creates an interesting dialogue. On one hand, there’s evidence that he’s a good or even very good coach, including in Hockey Viz’s breakdowns. That data argues that McLellan positively impacts his teams on both ends, especially lately:

McLellan HockeyViz

The Kings can’t judge their coach based on structure alone, though. McLellan received some criticism for how he handled young players like Jesse Puljujarvi in Edmonton, so Los Angeles must be wary about McLellan’s development impact.

If McLellan can’t be convinced to scale down minutes for the likes of Doughty and Kopitar (at least after the deadline, in particular), then that’s a contextual problem, too.

Kings need some lottery ball luck for next phase of rebuild

Right now, the Kings rank as the worst team in the West, and second worst in the NHL. The Senators could sink below the Kings and grab the second-best lottery odds:

via NHL.com

Shrewd moves propel rebuilds forward, but luck is crucial, too. As excited as people are about their prospects, the Kings’ rebuild could swing based on getting the chance to draft Alexis Lafreniere, landing another blue-chipper like Quinton Byfield, or slipping just out of the truly elite range.

[Mock Draft for 2020; prospect rankings heading into the season]

Up to this point, the Kings are doing a good job “making their own luck.” Even so, the trade deadline and 2020 NHL Draft represent the biggest make-or-break moments of all.

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.

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.

How aggressive should Blue Jackets be at trade deadline?

Blue Jackets Trade
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We need to talk a little more about the Columbus Blue Jackets because they are one of the most fascinating teams in the NHL right now.

Not only for their recent hot streak, but for what might still be ahead of them over the next couple of months.

Thanks to their win in New York on Sunday night, capped off with an Oliver Bjorkstrand goal with 26 seconds to play in regulation, they hold the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They are 15-2-4 since Dec. 9, while their overall record through 50 games is actually one point better than it was at the same point a year ago. Considering their offseason and the almost unbelievable run of injuries they have experienced once the season began, they are one of the biggest surprises in the league.

It all creates a pretty interesting discussion for what their front office does — or is able to do — before the NHL trade deadline.

1. They are in a position to buy, not sell

That is not up for much debate, either. This is the same team and front office that went all in before last season’s trade deadline at a time when they were still on the outside of the playoff picture. Not only are they in a playoff position right now, they are just one point back of the New York Islanders for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division.

There is also this: Their upcoming schedule through the trade deadline and end of February really softens up with only five of their next 16 games coming against teams that currently rank higher than 19th in the league in points percentage. Three of those games (two against Philadelphia, one against Florida) will be against teams they could be directly competing with for a playoff spot.

There is a chance to gain even more ground and solidify their spot even more.

2. What they need and what they have to spend

What they have to spend: A lot. The only teams with more salary cap space to spend ahead of the deadline are the New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, and Colorado Avalanche. Out of that group, only the Avalanche will be in a position to buy. The Blue Jackets, in theory, could add any player that is theoretically available before the trade deadline.

What they need: At the start of the season the easy — and expected — answer here would have been a goalie given the uncertainty of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins and their ability to replace Bobrovsky. After some early struggles, they have turned out to be the Blue Jackets’ biggest bright spot as that tandem has combined for the second-best five-on-five save percentage in the NHL and the third-best all situations save percentage. They have been great, and especially Merzlikins with his recent play.

What they really need now is some scoring. Getting healthy would help a lot (Cam Atkinson just returned to the lineup; Josh Anderson, Alexandre Texier are still sidelined) but they do not have a single player in the top-77 of the league in scoring (Pierre-Luc Dubois is 78th), and only two in the top-120 (Dubuois and Gustav Nyquist).

As a team, they are 24th in the league in goals per game.

Looking around the league, obvious forward rentals would include Tyler Toffoli (Los Angeles Kings), Chris Kreider (New York Rangers), Ilya Kovalchuk (Montreal Canadiens), and Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Ottawa Senators). Potential trade options with term still remaining might include Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild) or Tomas Tatar (Montreal).

3. The problem: How aggressive can they be?

The downside to their “all in” trade deadline a year ago is that it absolutely decimated their draft pick cupboard for two years. They were left with just three picks in the 2019 class (none before pick No. 108) and as it stands right now they have just five picks in 2020, with only one of them (a first-round pick) slated to be in the top-100.

While players like Texier and Emil Benstrom are good prospects, their farm system is not the deep and the younger players currently on the NHL roster (Dubuois, Seth Jones, Werenski) are players they are going to build around.

That seriously limits what they can do.

Is general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in a position to trade another first-round pick to add to what is a pretty good, but probably not great team? Is there a player available that can a big enough difference to make that worth it? If there is, that player can not be a rental. It has to be a player that has meaningful term left on their contract and can be a part of the organization beyond just this season.

Even if you assume the Blue Jackets will not be able to maintain their current hot streak (and they will cool off at some point) they have at the very least put themselves in a position where they are going to be in the playoff race with a very good chance of making it. This is also not a team in a “rebuild” mode, either. When you are in that position you owe it to your fans and the players in that room to try to win. For the Blue Jackets, it is just a matter of how much they can do and how aggressive they should be over the next few weeks.

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.

Rangers’ Chytil blasts through Ducks defense for great goal

Chytil goal
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Times have been tough for young Rangers players, but a beautiful Filip Chytil goal highlights their promise. Chytil showed speed, hands, and finishing ability in slicing through the Anaheim Ducks’ defense on Sunday.

Again, that goal stands in contrast to some troubling updates for some of the Rangers’ prospects/young players. Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Lias Andersson wants out via a trade. Also, the Rangers didn’t just lose their third consecutive game on Friday; 2019 second overall pick Kaapo Kakko also suffered an injury.

So, yeah, Chytil scoring this splendid goal could soothe some uneasy feelings. Either way, enjoy this beauty of a goal:

Could this Chytil goal start another hot streak?

Chytil burst onto the scene once the Rangers called him up in late October.

The 20-year-old scored a goal in each of his first two games, setting off a hot run of six goals and one assist in eight games. By late November, Chytil generated 10 points (including eight goals) in an impressive 16 contests.

For whatever reason, Chytil froze up with the weather starting in December. Before scoring that sensational Sunday goal, Chytil managed just one assist in nine games this month. Call it a chicken-and-the-egg situation, but either way, his ice time has dropped from 16:37 per night in November to less than 14 minutes per game in December heading into this afternoon.

Later in the game, Chytil suffered a scary fall. The early word is that Chytil might avoid an injury:

Kreider value rising?

While fans watch young players develop, other GMs are eyeing potential trade targets — at least if the Rangers end up as sellers.

Chris Kreider looms as the most obvious person to watch, even if the Rangers hang in there. He’s a pending UFA, so Kreider simply might not fit into their long-term plans. Games like Sunday could pump up Kreider’s trade value, as he has two goals (and counting?) against the Ducks.

The Rangers beat the Ducks 5-1.

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.