2020 NHL Trade Deadline

NHL Power Rankings: Round Robin teams with most to lose

With Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return to Play plan kicking in this week, the possibility of the 2020 Stanley Cup being raised remains alive. In recent power rankings posts, we’ve focused on Qualifying Round storylines and matchups. But what about the teams who aim to thrive rather than survive. Today we discuss the top four teams in each conference who will compete in Round Robin for Seeding.

To be more precise, we’re wondering which top four teams have the most on the line. In this case, we’re focused on the top four teams in each conference’s outlooks during entire NHL playoffs, rather than just the Round Robin for Seeding.

Let’s rank them first to last as far as desperation goes in each conference. At the end, we’ll debate who has the absolute most on the line, and who’s playing with house money.

The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy, so it seems fairest to start with the top four for the East.

Top four East (Round Robin) NHL teams with the most and least to lose

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Imagine if the Lightning draw the Blue Jackets at some point during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

(Are you cringing too?)

While the Lightning are lucky that they get to jet-ski around a market like Tampa Bay, the rumblings will grow to a fever pitch if they fall short again. (Like, we might need to physically separate Andrei Vasilevskiy from Kenan Thompson.)

Yes, this franchise owns a Stanley Cup. But that was from the Vincent Lecavalier – Martin St. Louis – Brad Richards era. For all Steven Stamkos has accomplished, he’s had his heart and face broken in many NHL playoffs. At some point, it’s going to get awkward if Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman “can’t win the big one.”

(Speaking of cringing, wait for those takes.)

2. Boston Bruins

The 2019-20 Presidents’ Trophy winners keep hiding Father Time’s coat and shoes. It’s not just Zdeno Chara hogging the Fountain of Youth/Lazarus Pit at 43, either. Patrice Bergeron remains dominant at 34. You might make a double-take when you realize Brad Marchand is already 32. Oh yeah, Tuukka Rask is 33, too.

You … gotta think the Bruins are peaking right? Right? I mean, I honestly felt like this group would hit the aging curve hard by now, yet they comfortably topped the NHL standings this season.

It’s not just about wondering if the window will close. Even before the pandemic pause, it seemed like pending UFA Torey Krug would represent a tight squeeze. If they want to bring Krug back, you’d think they’d need to break up some of the band.

As much as this group has accomplished, you have to think that Chara & Co. want a second Stanley Cup (and first for star David Pastrnak).

3. Washington Capitals

*Rubs eyes*

Wait a minute, is this really happening? Are the Capitals relatively unfettered by “must-win” pressure?

Well, not exactly. Aside from the occasional Jakub Vrana, this roster’s getting a little up there in age. If for some reason you want to ponder your own mortality during the escape of watching hockey, merely ponder Alex Ovechkin‘s gray hair.

Alex Ovechkin Round Robin NHL
It works for Ovechkin, but still. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

With Braden Holtby‘s pending UFA status lingering, there’s still room for Capitals drama. No doubt, though, slaying that Stanley Cup dragon relieves most of the angst.

4. Philadelphia Flyers

For some, the Flyers kinda slipped up the ranks under the radar. This has been a team that’s mainly been playoff bubble material, at least when the wheels don’t fall off. Now they’re a Round Robin for Seeding away from possibly swiping the East’s top seed.

Don’t blame at least some of the Flyers for feeling pretty loose, then.

Yet … it’s not as if they’re playing with zero pressure.

Obviously, Philly can be a tough market. If the Flyers flounder, people will grumble about squandering a golden opportunity.

Also, for all the considerable youth on this roster, could this be a “sweet spot” between rising talent and aging stars? Claude Giroux (32), Jakub Voracek (30), and James van Riemsdyk (31) all might be heading toward a decline.

Top four West (Round Robin) NHL teams with the most and least to lose

1. St. Louis Blues

Like the Capitals, the Blues recently ended their franchise’s decades-long Stanley Cup drought. I’d wager there are some Blues fans who view the rest as “all gravy.”

Still, when you’re defending champs, you have a target on your back.

Combine that thought with Alex Pietrangelo possibly being out the door, and the temperature rises. What if this is the Blues’ best chance at a second Stanley Cup for quite a while? That thought won’t inspire the “Jaws” theme, exactly, but there’s some heat on the Blues.

2. Vegas Golden Knights

It feels deeply weird to put a third-year team on this list. Shouldn’t the Golden Knights enjoy basically a decade-long “honeymoon phase?”

Well, the Golden Knights are a deeply unusual expansion team.

Rather than being full of young debris, this is a full-flavored contender. And that goes right down to having some expensive players who are getting a little older. Not “Bruins” old, but the core Golden Knights might suddenly enter declines in the not-so-distant future.

Most obviously, Marc-Andre Fleury probably already hit a wall at 35. The Golden Knights made the smart investment to acquire Robin Lehner, but that could set the stage for drama. After all, if we’re being honest … Lehner probably should be the No. 1 guy for now.

The Golden Knights gambled earlier than expected, so if they leave with empty wallets, it will be pretty painful. Not “Joe Pesci’s gruesome death in Casino” painful, but painful.

3. Dallas Stars

The Stars should rank lower. As much as any team, it’s bewildering to realize that they’re basically a hot week from owning the top seed in their conference.

But, honestly, any team that’s thrown Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn under the bus this often faces some bleeping horsebleep if they end with a whimper.

4. Colorado Avalanche

Honestly, it feels like we’re still in the “rising fast” portion of the Avalanche’s growth.

While they’ve made some nice moves, you get the impression something splashier lingers down the road. They haven’t gone all-in by any stretch yet, and most of their core is still so young. Nathan MacKinnon‘s 24, Mikko Rantanen‘s merely 23, and Cale Makar‘s a 21-year-old rookie.

If anything, this feels like the “young kids hit a bump in the road” part of the narrative. Sports can be strange even in pre-pandemic times, though, so who knows?

Round Robin Team with most, least to lose

• Lightning have the most to lose

If they fall especially flat, it could conceivably cost Jon Cooper his job. That’s absurd by any measure, and particularly now, but … it’s also far from unimaginable.

•  Flyers have least to lose

The best might be yet to come for this group, aside from the aforementioned aging players. Probably.

MORE NHL RETURN TO PLAY:
League clears up 2020 NHL Playoffs picture
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft odds
A look at the Western Conference matchups

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.

NHL clarifies how conditional picks will be handled for 2020 NHL Draft

Teams had plenty of questions after the NHL announced its return-to-play plan. Of the dangling threads, “How will conditional draft picks be handled?” represented one of the tougher conundrums. Certain details still need to be determined, yet the Athletic/TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that a memo cleaned up some of the biggest questions about conditional draft picks.

LeBrun’s full report at the Athletic (sub required) is well worth a read, as he drills deep on many questions on a case-by-case basis.

For this post, we’ll ponder broader strokes, and then ask some other questions.

How conditional draft picks from trades might be addressed for 2020 NHL Draft (and 2021)

Again, not every conditional draft pick situation was settled. After all, NHL teams got pretty creative, and thus things got pretty specific. But, thanks to LeBrun, we get to glance at the bigger picture.

One of the most common conditions revolves around whether a team reaches the playoffs or not. When NHL teams exchanged such conditional picks — during the trade deadline, or even before the season began — they of course didn’t realize there would be a 24-team format thanks to a global pandemic.

So how will it work? Via LeBrun, we can see how the league memo addressed this question:

“More specifically, for Trade condition purposes, a Club will not be deemed to have qualified for the Playoffs unless or until they have progressed into the Round of 16, and ‘Playoff Games/Rounds’ will only include the games/rounds played in the Round of 16 or later. We believe this interpretation will best reflect the intentions of the parties at the time of the Trade …”

Short version: making the cut for the 24-team format doesn’t meet the “make the playoffs” standard. Instead, you need to make it to “the Round of 16 or later.”

Seeing an actual example might help. Take, for instance, the Canucks’ 2020 first-round pick (and/or their 2021 first-rounder) that was conditionally tossed around in the J.T. Miller and Blake Coleman trades. Will the Devils make that 2020 first-round selection, or will it be the Canucks?

The parameters might make the most sense to you see if you see them via this screenshot from essential resource Cap Friendly:

Coleman Miller conditional draft pick Devils Canucks
via Cap Friendly

So who gets it? Well, that’s still to be determined:

  • If the Canucks win their Qualifying Round series against the Wild, then the Devils receive Vancouver’s 2020 first-rounder.
  • If the Canucks lose their Qualifying Round series vs. the Wild, then the Devils instead receiver Vancouver’s 2021 first-rounder.

That all seems pretty fair, really. At least considering the circumstances. But there are some other tricky situations, and maybe a few burning questions.

More complicated conditions and situations

On one hand, you have easier-to-resolve issues such as that conditional Canucks pick situation. LeBrun notes that there are still some details to hash out.

If you want to pinpoint a fairly zany situation, consider the performance-based elements regarding the Milan LucicJames Neal trade. Again, it might be easiest to get your head around things quickly by looking at the Cap Friendly screenshot first:

Lucic Neal conditional draft picks Flames Oilers
via Cap Friendly

That third-round pick is in flux, as Neal sits at 19 goals, 11 more than Lucic (eight). Lebrun guesses that you would “prorate” Neal’s goals over a full season, and give the Flames the third-rounder.

There’s room for argument, there, though. After all, it’s plausible that Neal could have been injured. It’s also worthwhile to note that Neal’s scoring was frontloaded. Neal started red-hot with 11 goals in 14 October games, and 19 goals through December 31. He failed to score a goal once the calendar turned to 2020, however, managing four assists over 13 games. What if that slump persisted?

So there are some tricky situations, at least if teams want to harumph about it. A more interesting discussion revolves around which situations teams might want to play out.

If you’re the Devils, do you prefer the Canucks’ 2020 or 2021 first-round pick? If you get the 2020, you get a prospect into your system, developing sooner. The 2021 pick would be more of a gamble. The Canucks could take another step to become a dominant team in the Pacific. On the other hand, they could slide back and present a situation like Ottawa earning a lucrative Sharks pick for 2020.

These are interesting questions to debate. They also might be useful ones, if you’re missing hockey and rooting for a team that won’t be able to return to play until whenever 2020-21 kicks off.

Of course, the NHL must also determine when the 2020 NHL Draft will actually take place, among other questions …

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.

Taylor Hall on quarantine, Coyotes possibly making playoff cut

Even among NHL players facing uncertainty, Taylor Hall faced an especially turbulent season, ultimately ending up with the Coyotes. Credit Hall for his calm demeanor, then — or at least deploying a convincing poker face — while being interviewed by Mike Tirico during “Lunch Talk Live.”

You can watch that interview in the video above.

Hall discusses return to play scenarios, other topics on “Lunch Talk Live”

Really, Hall is a lot like us — aside from being a Hart Trophy winner, and whatnot. Hall admits he’s not really sure what’s ahead if he can return to action with the Arizona Coyotes. (He did praise the NHL for how it’s handling a tough situation, though.)

Actually, speaking of the Coyotes, Hall naturally would be thrilled if the Coyotes squeezed into some sort of 24-team playoff format. That said, Hall said he understands if those plans fall through.

One thing Hall didn’t talk about was free agency. He’s still slated to become a UFA, and it will be fascinating to watch the situation play out. Would this uncertainty increase his chances of returning to the Coyotes, perhaps on a short-term deal? Is the market going to be soft for Hall if he explores free agency?

Such questions might not be on the forefront of Hall’s mind, or something he really wants to talk about. But it should be interesting.

A look at Hall’s abbreviated run with the Coyotes

My guess is that few minds were changed by seeing Hall with the Coyotes vs. his last stretch with the Devils. That isn’t meant as a criticism; the point is that he was largely the same player.

Through 30 games with the Devils in 2019-20, Hall scored 25 points (six goals, 19 assists). His scoring pace was a little slower with Arizona, but similar overall, as Hall generated 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points in 35 games.

While that wasn’t an awe-inspiring scoring run, Hall has been the highest-scoring Coyote since his first game with the team on Dec. 17. (Conor Garland and Nick Schmaltz tied for second during that span with 22 points.) Hall also produced similar possession stats with the defensive-minded Coyotes.

Unfortunately, Hall could only do so much to help the Coyotes avoid slippage.

Frankly, the Coyotes leaned heavily on goaltending in 2019-20, so when that dried up, so did the wins. Since Dec. 17, the Coyotes went just 14-7-4, which translated to a .457 points percentage. That ranked as the 27th-worst mark in the league during that span, while the Devils played pretty well (18-12-7 in 37 games, 14th-ranked .581 points percentage).

[Looking back at the Coyotes’ 2019-20 season.]

A return to hockey could set the stage for upsets, though

So, there were some disappointments here and there. Still, the Coyotes would make the cut under certain formats, and Hall is right in wondering how far they might be able to go. Hockey is a sport that’s already prone to surprises, so if you add in how much the pandemic pause might throw off rhythms, who knows?

Of course, “Who knows?” is also the response most give regarding whether the NHL can return to action at all for 2019-20. Hall is no different in lacking answers to such questions.

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.

Byfuglien and other veteran NHL free agent defensemen with unclear futures

NHL free agent defensemen Dustin Byfuglien Andy Greene
Getty Images

After covering forwards and goalies, let’s close things out with a look at fringe veteran NHL free agent defensemen.

Before we start, note that this isn’t about top defensemen available. Alex Pietrangelo likely only stands on the fringe between a huge contract or just a very big contract. Also, the sheer glut of defensemen means a lot of borderline players will either be off this list, or merely mentioned in passing.

A lot of stuff to consider with Buff

Going to an earlier post, health questions limit Corey Crawford‘s earning potential. Those issues loom even larger for very large defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.

After missing the 2019-20 season, it’s unclear how close Byfuglien can be to full-strength. Most of all, Byfuglien must decide if he even wants to come back. And at what cost.

Being that Byfuglien turned 35 on March 27, he’d need a 35+ contract. That could be a Byfuglien-sized sticking point if the defenseman wants term in any deal.

All of that aside, even a compromised version of Byfuglien towers over many of the fringe options.

Other reasonably prominent fringe NHL free agent defensemen

Let’s go over a few of them, while Cap Friendly features a more expansive list that drives home the glut.

  • Mike Green — There were times when it felt like criticisms were way, way too harsh for Green. (Maybe it was fury at the fauxhawk?) The temperature’s changed in 2020, though. Most of the people who bashed Green have moved on to (insert latest offensive defenseman who might win a Norris). But there are just enough teams with nostalgia for Green that he might get a chance in his reduced, 34-year-old form. Consider the Oilers trading an actual draft pick for Green during the past deadline if you need evidence.

While Green’s defensive game slips with age, he also doesn’t provide that zip on offense, either.

It’s sadly not too surprising to see Green — and some other fringe veteran NHL free agent defensemen — at the bottom of the ranks of this GAR chart from Evolving Hockey:

worst GAR NHL free agent defensemen Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey
  • While Green’s fellow 34-year-old defenseman Roman Polak plays a different style, he also finds himself in the dregs of that list. It’s even more common for some NHL GM to talk themselves into a hard-nosed Polak than it is for them to believe Green could rekindle his scoring touch, too. Both ideas seem ill-advised, although if you need to appease an old-school coach, maybe you throw them a bone by giving Polak a very cheap contract (that you can bury or get rid of)?
  • It was tough not to chuckle when the Islanders spent a second-round pick to acquire Andy Greene.

That’s not really a knock against Greene, generally speaking. He has some value as a defense-first defensemen. Instead, it’s just that the Islanders felt the need merely to add more of the same.

This isolated impact chart from Hockey Viz reinforces those points well enough:

Andy Greene iso NHL free agent defensemen
via Hockey Viz

Regardless, if the Islanders are willing to spend a prominent pick on Greene, the 37-year-old will probably draw some attention. By the muted expectations of this quantity-over-quality group, you could do worse … if you don’t pledge much money or especially term.

(There’s an argument that Greene is viable enough not to be fringe. Still, his advanced age makes it seem reasonable to list him.)

  • If your team must have someone like Polak, how about Justin Braun? The 33-year-old doesn’t bring offensive value, but he’s more useful defensively.
  • My guess is that there will be at least some market for Ron Hainsey. At 39, it’s fair to wonder how much Hainsey has left in the tank. That’s also a fair question for most of the veteran NHL free agent defensemen we’re discussing.

Veteran free agent NHL defensemen lightning round

  • I usually cut these lists off at 30+, but Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian are two 29-year-old defensemen who’ve garnered more attention than I’d usually expect. Maybe they will again? Teams can get pretty desperate for defense.
  • I haven’t mentioned Kevin Shattenkirk until now because I feel like anyone who observed his work in 2019-20 would give him a low-risk contract. But just in case, the 31-year-old would be a standout if he’s “fringe” material.
  • There are plenty of defensemen who might retire as much for health reasons as a lack of interest. Factor in age, too, and you could mark that box for defensemen including Jonathan Ericsson, Jay Bouwmeester, Deryk Engelland, and maybe Andrej Sekera.
  • Again, there are quite a few middling options who may ride meager name recognition. Teams have regularly inflated the value of 33-year-old Michael Stone, for instance.
  • Are Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber still NHL defensemen? GMs will decide that too.

(In case you’re wondering, Zdeno Chara‘s calling his own shot, and expected to be back. So that’s why he didn’t get a mention only now.)

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.

Byfuglien-sized surprises, disappointments for Winnipeg Jets

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 surprises and disappointments for the Winnipeg Jets.

Hellebuyck surprises with heck of a season for Jets

Depending on your interpretation of “most valuable player,” you can make a strong argument that Connor Hellebuyck deserves the Hart Trophy, not just the Vezina.

With injuries and the absence of Dustin Byfuglien dealing huge blows to the Jets’ defense, it’s truly remarkable that Winnipeg entered the pause in playoff position. To that, I offer a simple remark: it’s mainly because of Hellebuyck.

Hellebuyck managed a 31-21-5 record, but of course, it was about more than that. For one thing, you can break down Hellebuyck’s .922 save percentage compared to backup Laurent Brossoit‘s .895.

When you factor in the leaky Jets defense in front of him, Hellebuyck really shines.

Looking at Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Against Average stat, Hellebuyck (22.40) only trails Tuukka Rask (22.51). Anton Khudobin sits in distant third at 17.75, while Darcy Kuemper (16.65) is the only other goalie who reached 14+.

Hellebuyck saved a lot of goals. He saved the Jets’ bacon.

If you choose MVPs based on the most indispensible player of a season, you’d probably pick Hellebuyck.

It’s not shocking that Hellebuyck ended up playing well, but carrying the Jets on his shoulders ranks as one of the bigger surprises of the season.

Neal Pionk > Jacob Trouba?

People understood that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff had to trade Trouba’s rights. While one can only wonder if there was a better way to settle the situation, that moment passed.

Even so, plenty of people scoffed at Pionk being part of the return. Yes, Pionk scored a mind-blowing goal for the Rangers, and showed some scoring skill. But just about every other metric pointed to Pionk being … pretty bad.

Well, the Jets certainly can puff their chests out, because Pionk’s been crucial to their defense.

Now, it’s probably still true that you don’t necessarily want Pionk to be featured this much. An ideal blueline probably won’t lean on Pionk for a team-leading 23:23 per night. Sometimes things aren’t ideal, though. In reality, Pionk delivered incredible value for Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, Trouba looks like an $8M mistake for the Rangers. Pionk’s younger and cheaper than Trouba, and the Jets also nabbed a first-rounder in the deal. It’s remarkable just how similar Pionk and Trouba come across in this even-strength RAPM comparison chart via Evolving Hockey:

Wow. Pionk being arguably better than Trouba is quite the surprise for the Jets, and a massive disappointment for the Rangers.

Disappointments abound for Byfuglien, Jets

So, Pionk ended up being important to the Jets. And Hellebuyck cleaned up the many messes made by Pionk and that shorthanded blueline crew.

But none of it really washes down the disappointments involving Dustin Byfuglien and his now-former team, the Jets.

The COVID-19 pause creates extra uncertainty, but Byfuglien’s future seems like it would be cloudy either way. It’s also fuzzy figuring out what, exactly, happened. The situation ended up disappointing for Byfuglien’s accountant, at minimum, being that he walked away from a lot of money.

Hopefully we’ll get the pleasant surprise of an awkward-but-entertaining game whenever Byfuglien suits up for a different team against the Jets. The point being: it would be deeply, deeply disappointing if we never see the towering, one-of-a-kind defenseman ever play again. Especially since there would be no warning that we’d already seen his last game.

Either way, it was a highly disappointing end to Byfuglien’s lengthy, important stay with the Jets. The connections between the Thrashers days just keep fading away.

MORE ON THE JETS:

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.