2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

NBC

Bettman: NHL puck and player tracking to start in playoffs

4 Comments

Puck and player tracking is coming to the NHL in the playoffs.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday that puck and player tracking will be up and running in all playoff arenas this spring and is expected to be fully operational leaguewide next season.

”There will be more data than ever before,” Bettman said. ”I believe the players will generate something like 200 data points per second and the puck 2,000 data points a second, so in terms of getting inside the game, telling stories, as a fan delving in to get what you’re interested in, you’re going to be able to do more things than ever before and even imaginable.”

The league will test the system – which is a mix of sensors and optical tracking – during certain games in the regular season. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league hasn’t decided which games will be chosen for that testing.

During his annual state of the NHL address, Bettman also revealed there had been a few complaints raised about a team official’s behavior since the topic garnered significant attention at the Board of Governors meeting last month. Bettman and Daly said those complaints were investigated, and none turned out to be of significant concern.

”Obviously, what we announced at the board meeting, some people have followed up and there have been some things reported to us,” Daly said. ”I’ve gotten a couple calls from clubs who have had issues raised with them. This is I think what I’ll expect when we have a platform up and running that people are going to utilize it.”

Bettman also touched on the status of collective bargaining talks with players, a potential deadline to decide about going to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the possibility of changing the All-Star format next year.

Four months since owners and players each decided not to opt out of the CBA that goes until 2022, Bettman said the Players’ Association has taken a ”deep breath” on negotiations. He expects CBA talks to resume in earnest soon, despite the lack of an urgent deadline.

”My expectation is we’ll re-engage shortly in a more energetic way than perhaps we’ve been in the last couple of months,” Bettman said. ”Perhaps knowing there’s more time than we had going into September, I wouldn’t read anything into it other than we’re both still focused on it.”

Bettman brushed off the notion of a deadline for an Olympic decision set by the International Ice Hockey Federation. He continued to say it’s disruptive for the NHL to stop its season to go to the Olympics, which it did five times from 1998 to 2014 before skipping 2018, but didn’t rule out sending players to Beijing.

Some international hockey could be coming closer than Asia before 2022. Bettman alluded to having a ”distinct international flavor” at the 2021 All-Star Weekend, which will be hosted by the Panthers in South Florida.

The league and players abandoned plans to hold a World Cup of Hockey as soon as the winter of 2021, but Daly said there’s a working model on what might be coming at the next All-Star Weekend. Much like the women’s 3-on-3 game at this year’s Skills Competition, that event could showcase the U.S.-Canada rivalry and others.

”I think we have a general understanding of what we’re talking about and what it looks like,” Daly said.

Stanley Cup Playoff race: Second half record every team needs

4 Comments

With half of the 2019-20 season officially in the books we are starting to get an idea as to which teams have a realistic chance of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and which teams do not. It’s extremely rare for teams to overcome point deficits of even four or five points at this stage of the season, and the standings rarely change much down the stretch.

There are, of course, exceptions to that. They are rare, but they do exist. Every team currently on the outside of the playoff picture is going to look at the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues as a reason for optimism. Exactly one year ago today they were 17-20-4 and needed a near miraculous second-half turnaround just to get into the playoffs. They finished the regular season on a 28-8-5 record from that day on, nearly came back to win the Central Division, then went on a run through the playoffs to finally claim the franchise’s first ever championship.

All it took was finding a new franchise goalie out of nowhere to completely alter their season. Not everyone has that card to play in the second half.

But, if you are a fan of a team currently on the outside of the playoff picture, let’s take a quick look at what that team is going to need to do the rest of the way to make the playoffs.

Let’s start with the Eastern Conference

Right now the Philadelphia Flyers hold the second Wild Card spot in the East and with their current points percentage are on track for 96.4 points this season. So let’s say the cutoff to make the Eastern Conference playoffs this season is 97 points (it was 98 points a year ago, but we will stick with 97 for now).

Here is a complete look at the Conference showing what every team has currently done, and what they will need to do the rest of the way to reach the 97-point mark.

Teams are ranked by their current points percentage. 

Washington, Boston, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have all given themselves a pretty good cushion and have some margin for error in the second half. They basically have to play just a little over .500 (Washington and Boston could actually play below that) the rest of the way and still have their spot secured.

Carolina and Toronto also look to be a solid position, but don’t have quite as much margin for error.

Philadelphia and Florida have almost nothing separating them (a game-and-a-half basically), while Columbus is going to need to maintain its recent hot streak for the next few months.

Everyone after Columbus? They are going to need a miracle. Is there a roster there that you can see making a Blues-type turnaround? Who there is just a goalie away from fixing it? Nobody.

Now the Western Conference

The target for the West is slightly lower than the East, and right now the line to get is sitting at 95 points.

Same deal as above, let’s look at where everyone is and where they have to get to.

The West is definitely the weaker of the two conferences. Once you get beyond the Central’s Top-three of St. Louis, Colorado, and Dallas everything just devolves into mediocrity. Arizona, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vegas, and Vancouver are all kind of lumped in together in the Pacific, and you know at least three of them are getting in because of the divisional playoff format.

Yes, it appears as if Edmonton is actually in a position to salvage this season and get Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl back to the playoffs.

Everybody after Vancouver is in a world of trouble.

It is a testament to how much Nashville struggled in the first half that it still needs that sort of second half just to get a wild card spot in what is a very watered down Western Wild Card race.

The same thing is true for San Jose, only with even more emphasis. How does that roster, sit in that spot, in that conference?

Can the Sharks do it?

If there is a team in the NHL that could possibly do what the Blues did a year ago that might be the one you look at — at least before Logan Couture’s injury. It is a team that is built to win now (just like the Blues were), a team that still has high-end talent (just like the Blues did), and could fix a lot of problems with a significant upgrade in goal (like the one the Blues got).

But I just don’t know that this Sharks team has shown any sign of actually being able to do that, or the desire to actually pursue a goaltending upgrade.

Add in the fact their top forward is now out for several weeks and this season that was supposed to be one more Stanley Cup push for Joe Thornton looks like it might just end up being a completely wasted season.

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.

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup predictions

3 Comments

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season begins with Wednesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals when the Blues raise their 2019 Stanley Cup banner. Coverage begins at 6:30p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

We’ve looked at the East, the West, who will win some of the NHL trophies this season, and now, finally, it’s time to say who we think will win it all this season.

Will the Blues repeat? Only one team has done so in two decades, and they know how difficult it will be to go through the grind of the season and the playoff battle in order to raise the Cup again. There are plenty of contenders in both conferences, and here’s who we think will finish on top when all is said and done.

Who do you see winning the Stanley Cup this season?

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EASTERN CONFERENCE / WESTERN CONFERENCE]

STANLEY CUP CHAMPION

SEAN: Golden Knights in 6. Mark Stone wins Conn Smythe. The window remains open for Vegas and with their core players locked up, they won’t be going anywhere over the next few years. There’s plenty in the pipeline, but for now, this team remains a contender and the aggressiveness by George McPhee, new GM Kelly McCrimmon and owner Bill Foley have ensured that their inaugural was not a one-off.

JAMES: Lightning in 7. Brayden Point wins Conn Smythe. This team was a regular-season juggernaut, and while they had to do some salary cap juggling, they managed to come out the other side almost as strong. In fact, if someone like Mikhail Sergachev makes a leap, the Lightning could actually be even better — not in the standings, but when it matters the most.

JOEY: Lightning in 6. Victor Hedman wins Conn Smythe. You won’t see them put up the same crazy amount of points during the regular season this year, but they’ll win the conference and the division. They’ll also find a way to keep rolling heading into mid-April. For this to happen, they can’t afford to lose Victor Hedman, again, though. 

ADAM: Avalanche in 7. Nathan MacKinnon wins Conn Smythe. I am just going to go all in on the Avalanche this season. The only thing that might hold them back is if Philipp Grubauer isn’t up to the challenge of being a championship goalie. But I like him, I don’t think he is going to have to be a game-stealer for them, and this team looks to be as loaded on paper as anyone.

PHT’S SEASON PREVIEW:
2019-20 NHL Power Rankings
PHT’s 2019-20 season previews
Which 2019 NHL playoff teams are in danger of missing this season?
• NHL Awards, free agent busts, overhyped teams
Breakout players, bold predictions for 2019-20

Which 2019 NHL playoff teams are in danger of missing this season?

It is a near certainty that one of the NHL’s 16 Stanley Cup playoff teams from 2018-19 is going to miss the playoffs this season. It happens every year, and it would be completely unheard of if it did not happen again.

It is just a matter of which team (or teams) ends up missing.

Now, not every team is in danger as there are a handful at the top that would seem to be virtual locks: We will put the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals, and Nashville Predators in that group. Is there a team in there that you could see missing the playoffs? Even a significant injury to one or two players doesn’t seem to be enough to keep one out.

That leaves us with nine teams whose fanbases might have reason to be a little worried.

These are those teams.

A lot of things would have to go wrong (least likely to miss)

Colorado Avalanche. I almost put them among the locks because I am definitely buying their hype and think big things are ahead for them in the very near future. Their ceiling this year? Possible Stanley Cup team. But they have just enough questions (strong division around them, goaltending, relying heavily on a young defense) to put just a touch of doubt in there. Not a lot of doubt, but just enough.

Carolina Hurricanes. Like the Avalanche, I also wanted to put them in the “playoff lock” category but there are two things that could potentially hold them back. The first is the goaltending falls flat, which is something that has happened to this team on more than one occasion over the past decade. The second is they are in an absolutely loaded division where pretty much everybody made some kind of major change this summer. Not all of these teams can make the playoffs, and while I don’t think the Hurricanes are going to be one of the teams on the outside, the goaltending is enough of a question that the possibility is at least lurking.

Vegas Golden Knights. The top of the Golden Knights’ roster is great, and should be even better this season with a full year of Mark Stone on their top-line. It also took a Game 7 meltdown for the ages to keep them from advancing to Round 2. Their flaws are that the roster gets a little thin toward the bottom and I wonder how long they keep can giving a 35-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury such a heavy workload before he starts to break down. If everything goes right they could win the West for the second time in three years, but if something happens to Fleury or he starts to show some cracks things could unravel a bit.

It could happen (missing is possible, but not likely)

Pittsburgh Penguins. They had to fight down the stretch to make the playoffs a year ago, failed to win a single game once they got there, and made some pretty significant changes this summer. It remains to be seen whether or not they made the right changes, or if they are any better. The good news for them is they still have a few superstars and a No. 1 goalie.

Calgary Flames. They were the No. 1 team in the Western Conference going into the 2019 playoffs and had the second best record in the entire league, so going from that to outside of the playoffs would be a pretty big swing. They probably will not be that good again and a regression should be expected. But missing the playoffs? How could that possibly happen. Well, how confident are you in Cam Talbot and David Rittich in goal? That is how it could — emphasis on could — happen.

[MORE: NHL Power Rankings: First look at 2019-20 season]

Most likely candidates

Dallas Stars. This sort of feels like a long shot because they have great talent at the top and added another top-line player this summer in Joe Pavelski. But they made the playoffs with only 93 points a year ago (most years that is not good enough) and still have some depth issues at forward. They are in a really tough division, the depth is lacking, and they relied heavily on Ben Bishop‘s .934 save percentage.

Winnipeg Jets. Two years ago this team was in the NHL’s final four and looking like an emerging power in the Western Conference. Last year they never looked quite right and took a big step backwards. This summer they watched as their defense was decimated one piece at a time. If Dustin Byfuglien stays away they will barely be able to put together an NHL caliber blue line. Connor Hellebuyck is a solid goalie, but he may not be good enough to cover for that group.

Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the team everyone expects to miss after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky, and admittedly, it does look grim. But they won 50 games the year before Panarin arrived, Duchene only played a handful of games in Columbus, and they still have some great young core players coming back. The key is the goalies. Replacing Bobrovsky won’t be easy, and that will be the hurdle that could prove to be too tall, especially in that division.

New York Islanders. Islanders fans are no doubt tired of hearing about how their team is likely to regress this season, and honestly, I don’t blame them. The 2018-19 season was an incredible story and unexpected success that reignited a hurting fanbase. But there are real flaws with this team, especially offensively. Like the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets they have to deal with a loaded division, and they were the only team that did not do anything significant except to replace Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner with Semyon Varlamov. That is a concern.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rangers begin training camp with goal of making the playoffs

Getty Images
2 Comments

The New York Rangers have two clear goals this season: to keep improving and return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

The addition of forwards Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko, and defenseman Jacob Trouba this summer helped accelerate the team’s rebuild, and now the Rangers believe they are ready to take the next step in the second year under coach David Quinn.

”We want to make the playoffs,” Quinn said Friday at the team’s practice facility in Greenburgh, New York, ‘Obviously it’s something we want to accomplish. The moves we made over the summer are just a continuation of what we’ve been doing over the last 16, 17 months. Within the walls of our locker room and the walls of this building, we feel good about the direction we’re going in and we’re going to continue to get better daily.”

The Rangers went into rebuilding mode by dealing some veterans at the trade deadline in 2018 and continued it at last season’s deadline. There were a lot of ups and downs in the first full season of the makeover, and they finished 32-36-14. New York had just five wins in its last 21 games (5-10-6) to end up seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division, 20 points out of the last wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Now, the team that began training camp with on-ice testing on Friday has even higher expectations than the one that left for the summer five months earlier.

”I want improvement,” Rangers team president John Davidson told reporters one day earlier: ”Playoffs is a goal for sure, but there’s got to be improvement the right way that you can count on long-term to get gratification out of the season.”

Quinn believes the familiarity the returning players have with his system should help their second training camp together get off to a better start than a year ago. And they should be better prepared for their coach’s physical demands.

”They certainly have done everything we’ve asked them to do away from the rink,” Quinn said. ”They look in better shape, they’re a little bit older, a little bit more mature. We just want to continue to build on the progress they made last year.”

Signing Panarin in free agency was a big boost. The 27-year-old had 28 goals and 59 assists last season while helping Columbus get the last wild card in the Eastern Conference and then beat Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay to advance to the second round. He brings career totals of 116 goals and 204 assists in 322 games over four seasons with Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks.

Kakko was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NHL draft, and Trouba was acquired in a trade with Winnipeg and then signed as a restricted free-agent.

Davidson, who rejoined the organization in May after stepping down as the president of the Columbus Blue Jackets, knows Panarin well.

”He’s competitive, really competitive,” Davidson said. ”The big spots in games, he likes to find a way. … He’s’ a guy that’s going to show up for work every day and you don’t have to worry about him.

”He’s very strong, strong on the puck, strong in loose-puck battles.”

Some other things to know as the Rangers head into their first practice sessions on Saturday:

BETWEEN THE PIPES: Henrik Lundqvist back for his 15th season after going 18-23-10, with career-worst of a 3.07 goals-against average and a .907 save-percentage. It also marked the first time he had fewer than 24 wins.

Alexandar Georgiev is coming off a solid season as the backup, going 14-13-4 with a 2.91 GAA. The 23-year-old could be challenged for the No. 2 spot by Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers’ fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft, who has come over from the KHL.

Davidson and Quinn both said they don’t have a target for games in mind for Lundqvist, but don’t want to overuse him.

”We want him to have a great season so that when we do make the playoffs he’s in a position where he’s fresh,” Quinn said.

LINE COMBINATIONS: Quinn said he plans on starting camp with Pavel Buchnevich joining the first line with Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. Filip Chytil will get a look at centering the second line with Chris Kreider on the left wing and possibly Kakko or fellow rookie Vitali Kravtsov on the other side.

Lias Andersson and Brett Howden will get chances in the middle on subsequent lines. Ryan Strome is likely to start out on a wing, but could also see some time at center.

O CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: The Rangers haven’t had a captain since trading Ryan McDonagh at the deadline in 2018, and there doesn’t appear to be a standout favorite to fill that role.

”I think we’d like to have a captain but that’s something that’s going to evolve,” Quinn said. ”We’re in a situation where it’s going to happen and the captain will pick himself in a lot of ways.”