Alexander Edler

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The Buzzer: Amazing Mrazek; Red-hot Rielly

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Three Stars

1. Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes headed into 2019-20 as the Hurricanes analytics darlings, a team that hogged the puck with considerable greed for the vulcanized rubber. Before them, the Kings were in a similar boat as a team that would often horde the Corsi and Fenwick, even while not always dominating the standings in the same way.

Maybe Tuesday was fitting, then, for how these two teams are moving in different directions. When Jonathan Quick isn’t in the net facing an existential crisis and Jack Campbell is looking like a first-rounder about a decade late, the Kings are proving to be a tougher-than-expected out.

That was the case against Carolina, as Los Angeles managed a 31-23 shots on goal advantage against a Hurricanes team that recently kept the dangerous Lightning without a SOG during a full period.

Despite that edge, the Kings couldn’t beat Mrazek, who pitched a 31-save shutout.

Mrazek’s off to a 4-0-0 start despite being mostly mediocre before Tuesday, and in a way, that’s scarier for the Hurricanes’ opponents. If they can win most nights just by denying possession to opponents, but occasionally get a gem from Mrazek, how scary can Carolina become?

2. Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs

Yes, Morgan “Typo” Rielly plays for a fast-paced, talented team like the Maple Leafs. He certainly gets to baste his stats in secondary helpers, and generally get access to opportunities that a comparable defenseman might not on a more tortoise-speed-like team would not.

Still, it’s hard not to shake your head in awe at Rielly’s 72 points from last season. That’s the sort of year that could make forwards unaffordable for their current team.

While his production has been streaky – Rielly failed to score in his previous three games before Tuesday – the talented blueliner had himself a night, collecting an assist on all four of the Maple Leafs’ goals in a 4-2 win against the Wild. That boosts him to nine points – all assists – in seven games so far this season, giving Rielly more fuel for a Norris argument — or at least a really big raise once his $5M cap hit expires after 2021-22.

The only thing that keeps him from being Tuesday’s top star is that all four of his assists were (wait for it) secondary ones.

3. Alexander Edler, Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks had some nice contestants in their 5-1 win against the Red Wings, including Brock Boeser (three assists) and J.T. Miller (two goals).

Edler gets the edge via his one-goal, two-assist night. For one thing, his goal was a game-winner. For another, Boeser piled up three secondary assists, while Edler had one primary and two secondary. Edler also fired three SOG, delivered three hits, and blocked four shots in an consummate 25 minutes of ice time on Tuesday night.

Highlight of the Night

The move Viktor Arvidsson made to set up Calle Jarnkrok‘s goal was really something else, and a reminder that Arvidsson is more than just a very nice (and remarkably underpaid) sniper.

If that’s not enough, enjoy some howitzers from Jeff Petry and Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay’s 3-1 win against Montreal (more on that here).

The latest Marc-Andre Fleury oopsie

MAF is good for, what, four of these per season?

Factoids

  • Via NHL PR, Reilly’s four assists – all in the second period – match the franchise record for most in a single period, tying Rick Vaive, who managed the feat in 1984. Sportsnet notes that Brock Boeser’s three assists in the second period is the most since Henrik Sedin managed as many Feb. 18, 2012.
  • The Hurricanes’ 6-1-0 record marks the best start in franchise history, according to NHL PR.
  • One more from NHL PR: Filip Forsberg extended his season-opening point streak to six games, sharing the Predators’ franchise record held by Marek Zidlicky.

Scores

TOR 4 – MIN 2
TBL 3 – MTL 1
ARI 4 – WPG 2
CGY 3 – PHI 1
NSH 5 – VGK 2
VAN 5 – DET 1
CAR 2 – LAK 0

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Free agent market for defensemen looks thin without Karlsson

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After the Sharks signed Erik Karlsson to that megalodon of an extension on Monday, the already-thin free agent market for defensemen dried up that much more. It’s tempting to depict that group as a tumbleweed rolling through a dusty town.

Of course, that’s not totally fair.

There are a few good defensemen available, at least if teams find the right combination of contract and role.

Unfortunately, things aren’t always so sober when demand simply can’t meet supply, as there simply aren’t a lot of great UFA options when it comes to defensemen. Scratch that: there simply aren’t a lot of passable UFA options, at least when you consider likely price tags.

With some help from Cap Friendly’s UFA tools, let’s look at the most prominent potential UFA defensemen, and try to get an idea regarding whether they’re worth splurging on.

Let’s start with Jake Gardiner, who in my opinion is the best option potentially available, and then contrast Gardiner with Tyler Myers, who stands out as a huge risk for less savvy NHL teams.

Also, a quick note: there’s a chance that some of these defensemen will just return to their current teams, rather than hitting the free agent market. So keep that in mind, too.

  • Jake Gardiner: The 28-year-old has been the Maple Leafs’ second-best defensemen for some time now, which may rank as a curse more than anything else. Every mistake is magnified, and every wart shines under the spotlight.

Overall, Gardiner is a very productive scoring defenseman – throwing out lockout seasons, he’s only failed to reach 30+ points once – and tends to check out pretty well from a possession standpoint.

Gardiner isn’t perfect, but he’s every good, particularly when you realize just how tough it is to land quality blueliners. If I were a GM who absolutely needed to get better on defense now, and couldn’t pull off a trade, Gardiner would be far and away my target. But, if he gets paid too much, then Gardiner will be a go-to scapegoat. Sadly, that’s just how sports work.

Looking at Evolving Wild’s salary projections spreadsheet, a potential Gardiner contract would clock in at seven years, with just less than $7 million in AAV. That term leads me to believe that Gardiner would eventually become a source of harsh scorn, but really, giving scary term away is just the nature of the beast. (I’m a huge proponent for Erik Karlsson, but that deal adds a huge block to what was already a wobbly Jenga puzzle that is the Sharks’ salary structure.)

I don’t know if $7M-ish is ideal for Gardiner, and big term would scare me, but teams could do worse, especially if they’re really opening up their wallets.

[More: Sharks’ salary cap challenges after Karlsson extension]

  • Tyler Myers: While Gardiner tends to shoulder too much blame, Myers sometimes gets a free pass from hockey people.

Those hockey people see a massive 29-year-old defenseman who can score, and who can skate remarkably well for his size. For whatever reason, many look away from Myers’ mistakes more than they would with Gardiner, and that’s a problem since Myers takes away more from the table than someone like Gardiner does.

The red flags become flashing neon signs the deeper you look.

Sean Tierney’s Visualization uses Evolving Wild’s GAR metrics to provide a snapshot of certain player values, and it’s eye-popping to see how poorly Myers checks out, including looking worse than Dmitry Kulikov, a defenseman the Jets should be eager to trade away for cap space:

Via Sean Tierney, with Evolving Wild data

To be clear: I’m not saying that Myers can’t be the type of player who would help a team. Instead, I’m saying that he profiles as someone who will cost way too much, and thus will be asked to do too much, and there’s a strong chance that an expensive mistake would be made.

Again, there are a lot of red flags, and I’m not alone in seeing them with Myers.

  • Alexander Edler: For the second season in a row, the veteran defenseman scored 34 points, and this last time he did so in just 56 regular-season games. The 33-year-old generally brings a respectable two-way game to the table, too, so there’s some appeal there.

Edler’s an interesting choice if a team can stomach forking over a fairly beefy cap hit, but doesn’t want to hand out the sort of term Gardiner-types likely will demand.

At 33, there’s definitely a risk of a plummet, especially if Edler mainly looks promising compared to a rough group of Canucks defensemen, and might not be that much of a difference-maker on a contender.

So, there are some worries … but Edler is one of the better options beyond Gardiner, at least if you’re talking about more prominent choices (assuming he makes it to UFA status).

  • Anton Stralman – There was a time when Stralman was underrated, but now the risk is that a team’s view of the Swede would be steeped in the past. Stralman’s not the same player at 32, and the projected cost of $4.5M AAV for three years is downright scary for a potential suitor.

Now, could Stralman be a reclamation project if he fell into a PTO-type situation? That would be a fair question to ask. Actually, most of the veterans on this list should be approached that way. If you like a guy, don’t splurge early and heighten your risks. Instead, hope for a tepid market, and strike. If not? Chances are, you saved yourself money and a roster spot.

  • Jordie Benn, Patrik Nemeth – On one hand, you could make bigger mistakes. On the other hand … are you sure that you can’t get similar value from a prospects climbing to the NHL?
  • Braydon Coburn – At 34, an older version of Benn/Nemeth.
  • Niklas Kronwall, Dion Phaneuf – Name recognition might let them hang around, but your team is likely better off looking elsewhere.
  • Ron Hainsey, Deryk Engelland – Two players who’ve generally exceeded low expectations lately. Unfortunately, that only means so much, and you can’t ignore just how old they are. Hainsey is 38, and Engelland is 37. Veterans like these can get a salary boost because of past accomplishments, and that could be enough to drop them from “Eh” to “Oh no.”
  • Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Adam McQuaid – More former Rangers defensemen teams might ponder, and more “Meh.”

If you’re like me, you’ve grimaced at quite a few names on this list, or at best shrugged your shoulders.

To reiterate, not every hypothetical situation ends in disasters. PHT will monitor this offseason for that very reason: maybe a team will be creative in making something work, or conversely, make huge mistakes based on faulty assumptions.

As far as moves that can be truly substantial, Gardiner stands out as the most appealing option; even then, handing Gardiner big money and big term is pretty scary. So … the UFA route ultimately seems like a perilous one, at least for defensemen.

That’s just one person’s opinion, however. Would you want your team to go after any of the above defensemen, or other options on this list?

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.

Hedman’s stellar play draws attention to Olympic omission

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Defenseman Victor Hedman need some time to develop into a player worthy of the expectations thrust upon him when he was taken with the second overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry, but he’s certainly been a big part of the Lightning’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

In fact, Hedman has been playing at an elite level for a little while now and it’s gotten to the point where it’s encouraged of a reexamining of Sweden’s 2014 Olympic roster decisions. He was left off that team as they went with a defensive core of Alexander Edler, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Erik Karlsson, Niklas Kronwall, Johnny Oduya, and Henrik Tallinder. That group is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but was there really no room in there for Hedman?

Swedish coach Par Marts was the one to reject Hedman and he doesn’t regret that decision, per Aftonbladet. As he pointed out, it’s easy to criticize in hindsight and he argued that Hedman wouldn’t have gotten the ice time he deserved if he was put on the roster, in part because they leaned towards the defensive pairings in Detroit (Ericsson-Kronwall) and Chicago (Hjalmarsson-Oduya). At the same time though, plenty of star players go into the Olympics with the understanding that they won’t get the minutes that they’re accustomed to.

“I was surprised that he didn’t make the team,” Blackhawks defenseman Hjalmarsson said during Tuesday’s press availability. “Obviously he’s a good player.”

Hedman admitted to being disappointed, but he said it wasn’t difficult for him to switch his focus to Tampa Bay’s next game after finding out he wouldn’t make the team. Certainly he has plenty to be pleased about at this point as he took another step forward in 2014-15 and needs just two more wins to win the Cup.

Marts did leave the door open to him reaching out to Hedman over the summer. The fact that he didn’t make the 2014 team was eyebrow raising, but it will be a far bigger story if NHL players go to the 2018 Olympics and Hedman is once again left off the roster.

Buffalo beware? Vancouver hands Arizona its eighth straight loss

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Since February 9th, the Arizona Coyotes have only earned one victory, a 3-2 shootout decision over Vancouver on March 5. The Coyotes came close to stealing another game away from the Canucks, but in the end Vancouver earned a 3-1 victory.

Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom made his first start since his “nightmare” game against San Jose on March 3 and managed to turn aside 24 of 25 shots. The lone Arizona goal came from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who now leads all defensemen with 20 markers.

That goal tied the game at 1-1 late in the first period and it remained an even contest until 16:47 of the third when Vancouver blueliner Alexander Edler collected the game-winner with 3:13 minutes remaining in regulation time.

Arizona was never great this season, but the Coyotes haven’t even won a game in anything other than a shootout since Feb. 3. They’ve also dropped eight straight contests, bringing them down to 21-44-8 this season.

That collapse has resulted in Arizona challenging Buffalo for last place in the NHL and the guarantee of getting one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. The 29th spot is significantly less desirable because you only get a 13.5% chance of winning the first pick (presumably Connor McDavid) in the lottery and it becomes possible that you will end up moving down to the third slot, which would put McDavid and Eichel out of reach.

This win has given the Canucks a six-point lead over Los Angeles in the battle for a playoff spot. With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, that’s a very strong position for Vancouver to be in.

Maurice scratches Kane, Jets lose in OT to Canucks without him

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The Winnipeg Jets traveled to Evander Kane’s hometown of Vancouver for tonight’s game against the Canucks, but he wasn’t on the ice as head coach Paul Maurice decided to list him as a healthy scratch. Without Kane, Winnipeg suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to Vancouver.

For a while it looked like a broken stick would be the difference as Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler missed a chance to clear the puck with his team down a man for that reason. Andrew Ladd capitalized on the situation by claiming the puck and feeding it to Bryan Little, who fired it past goaltender Eddie Lack.

Forward Ronalds Kenins, 23, stepped up in his third career game though to score the game-tying goal. The contest went to overtime, but Vancouver only needed 36 seconds to finish off the Jets, courtesy of a Luca Sbisa marker.

“The puck was bouncing around a bit, but we stuck to our game,” Sbisa said, per the team’s Twitter feed. “We can’t play like we’re afraid to lose.”

It’s a key victory for Vancouver as it provides the squad with a four-point cushion in the playoff race after Colorado and Minnesota won tonight. It also moves the Canucks from the second Wild Card seed to the third spot in the Pacific Division, ahead of the Calgary Flames.

The Jets have now lost five straight, although they still have a six-point edge in the battle for a postseason berth.

Related:

Slumping Jets trying not to panic