Artemi Panarin

NHL Power Rankings: Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?

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With the NHL just announcing how Phase 2 will work — but not even exactly when it will start — the NHL has a long way to go before a 24-team playoff format might actually happen. That “long way to go” part gives us a lot of time to mull over different possibilities, though. So let’s mull, then.

A lot must still be determined, but if everything holds, there will be eight “play-in” series (four per conference, featuring the 5th through 12th seeds). Each series would include a best-of-five format.

So which of those current, play-in series would be the best? Which would brim with drama, even with fans relegated to watch at home? Let’s rank them. You can also see the proposed 24-team NHL playoff format at the bottom of this post.

1. Penguins vs. Canadiens

Look, it’s true that there’s a lot of evidence that the Carey Price players imagine has not been the Carey Price players actually face most nights over the past, say, three years.

But in your heart of hearts, can you truly dismiss how fun it could be to see “Carey Price vs. Sidney Crosby” in headlines? Especially when you can throw Evgeni Malkin in the mix? Then maybe Brendan Gallagher to add some humorous wrinkles on TikTok?

The actual, not just imagined, hockey would really sell it. Even with a more defensive bent at times in 2019-20, the Penguins remain one of the league’s most electric teams. Sometimes that electricity stems from the static energy of making mistakes. For all of the Canadiens’ flaws, they are the sort of smaller, speedy, skilled team that might carry upset potential during these uncertain times. Montreal boasts the possession numbers of a viable team, too.

Maybe Shea Weber can shoot a puck through a net and make us forget about the state of the world for at least a few moments?

Bonus points if this would set the stage for the Penguins facing the Flyers, who currently stand as the East’s fourth seed.

2. Oilers vs. Blackhawks

When in doubt, go with star power. You could do a lot worse than Connor McDavid vs. Patrick Kane. Heck, you could do worse than Leon Draisaitl vs. Jonathan Toews, too.

In a macro sense, there are some parallels between the way the teams are built, too. McDavid and Draisaitl often feel the burden of carrying not-so-balanced Oilers teams. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are a very top-heavy, deeply flawed team. But their top players are dangerous.

Corey Crawford‘s quietly strong finish to 2019-20 sprinkles in some extra intrigue as well.

If nothing else, this could be messy-but-fun.

3. Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Sometimes you stick to star power. Other times, you subsist on the potential for soap opera drama.

On one side, you have the explosive Maple Leafs, whose explosiveness can backfire. The media will seize on any of their stumbles, and this talented team nonetheless gives critics plenty to chew on.

On the other, you have John Tortorella, who basically has a quota for dramatic press conferences. The NHL basically owes us some controversial calls to leave Torts fuming. It’s basically an unwritten right for us hockey fans. Don’t let us down during this play-in series, then, NHL.

The contrast between a defensive-minded team and an explosive offense can let us olds rattle off “irresistible force vs. immovable object” references if we really feel saucy.

Speaking of saucy, it’s possible the Maple Leafs would go on to face the (gulp) Bruins.

4. Flames vs. Jets

If this happened a year earlier, it might take the top spot. Both teams have fallen quite a bit, though, making this a series where you wonder if they can reclaim past magic.

Even with tempered expectations, the Jets and Flames bring a lot to the table. Matthew Tkachuk has all of that pent-up pest energy from the pandemic pause. Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine can fill up highlight reels. Mark Giordano vs. Blake Wheeler would be fun.

From an actual hockey standpoint, this series might deserve a better spot on the list.

5. Hurricanes vs. Rangers

You have to assume that the Hurricanes will come up with some sort of viral sensation, right? They’ll stumble upon something.

Luckily, the Hurricanes can back up that sizzle with the steak of good hockey. Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho also give Carolina more star power than most might realize.

All of that aside, it will be tough to resist this becoming “The Artemi Panarin Show.” He generated justified Hart Trophy hype, and the Rangers were finishing pretty strong this season.

(I’m admittedly artificially boosting this on the hope that we’ll get one last Rangers playoff run from Henrik Lundqvist, by the way.)

6. Canucks vs. Wild

I’m not sure the hockey world has totally clued in to how great Elias Pettersson is. The play-in for the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs seem like a great opportunity to see the light.

And, hey, some funny Bruce Boudreau facial expressions won’t hurt, either.

7. Predators vs. Coyotes

There’s no way we can sneak P.K. Subban back onto the Predators for entertaining purposes, is there? (*Puts hand to imaginary earpiece*) It appears there is no way.

These two teams can play some high-quality hockey when they’re on. For all of Nashville’s headaches, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis were incredible this season. Maybe Pekka Rinne can get back on track, and create a memorable goalie duel with Darcy Kuemper? (Kuemper deserves more credit for his elite work from the past two seasons.)

Even with no Subban, there are players to watch. How might Taylor Hall perform with a lot to prove, and his next contract hovering? Will Phil Kessel rebound, or at least amuse us?

8. Islanders vs. Panthers

As much as people might want to replay John Tavares‘ series-clinching goal (it ruled), that clip might honestly bother both Panthers and Islanders fans at this point.

*cough* And yet I must …

 

There’s not really much of a rivalry here, yet even as the eighth-ranked NHL play-in series, it’s not that hard to find reasons to get excited.

Can the Islanders contain an explosive Panthers offense starring Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov? Maybe Sergei Bobrovsky can get his mojo back after a wildly disappointing first Florida foray? Joel Quenneville vs. Barry Trotz is kind of fun. And, really, take any excuse you can to witness the splendor of Mathew Barzal.

However you rank the NHL’s potential play-in series, the odds are strong that you’ll get some fun hockey. Will it be strange to watch it without fans? Sure, but the talent and intrigue might just make it all work.

Brushing up on the NHL’s proposed 24-team playoff format, including play-in series

As a reminder, here’s how it might look, and what we’re basing the play-in series upon.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Bruins
Lightning
Capitals
Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
Blues
Avalanche
Golden Knights
Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

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.

Rangers coach Quinn explains what makes Panarin special

Rangers head coach David Quinn gets a firsthand look at how dominant Artemi Panarin can be, so it makes sense that he’d provide interesting insight on the superstar winger.

During the latest episode of NBC Sports’ “Our Line Starts” podcast, Quinn explained that he believes Panarin is a unique talent. “Sneaky strength” is part of what makes Panarin special, according to Quinn.

Quinn explains what sets Panarin apart

It’s not sheer brute strength in the most direct, muscle-mass sense. Instead, Quinn explains that Panarin possesses significant hand and stick strength. Combine that with a world-class hockey IQ, and it helps explain why Panarin is so tough to stop.

Quinn cites a specific example of those qualities producing strong results for the Rangers. Back in late February, Panarin overpowered and beguiled multiple Islanders defenders to set up Mika Zibanejad‘s overtime goal:

Panarin sits tied with David Pastrnak for third in scoring this season with 95 points (32 goals, 63 assists [all career-highs]). The Hart Trophy argument improves for Panarin when you dig deeper. Take, for instance, Panarin standing atop the entire league by Evolving Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement metric:

Quinn Rangers Artemi Panarin GAR

More on the Rangers in “Our Line Starts”

Whether you prefer the “eye test,” enjoy supplementing sensory details with “fancy stats,” or delight in all of it as a hockey buffet, it’s clear that Panarin is a superstar. He’s also a lot of fun to watch, especially when he breaks out one of his goal celes.

Rangers head coach Quinn touched on other Rangers talking points with Liam McHugh and Anson Carter.

One of the more interesting bits revolves around how Henrik Lundqvist handled the competition with Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. It’s not surprising to learn that Lundqvist shows class, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. Especially considering Mats Zuccarello‘s righteous anger regarding the treatment of Lundqvist from late April.

Check out the full episode in whatever format you prefer. There’s video above this headline, and an audio version below. Here’s a guide for different topics in case you want to skip around:

3:20-4:55 Quinn’s assessment of Rangers’ season
4:55-7:30 Zibanejad, and Panarin’s second half MVP push
7:30-9:45 Lundqvist’s demotion and the dilemma in goal
9:45-11:40 Learning from Bill Belichick
11:40-13:15 Taking over for the legendary Jack Parker
15:25-19:45 Quinn’s memory of his draft day in 1984
19:45-24:10 Fallout from Quinn’s hemophilia diagnosis
25:40-28:00 BU’s crushing loss in 2015 NCAA title game

 

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

More on the Rangers’ 2019-20 season:

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: David Quinn on Panarin, Lundqvist, learning from Belichick

This week, Liam McHugh and Anson Carter are joined by New York Rangers head coach David Quinn. Among the topics: the incredible performances of Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad this season, how Henrik Lundqvist handled a reduced role, and lessons learned from Bill Belichick while he was coaching at Boston University. Quinn also remembers his summer job delivering soda as a 1st round draft pick.

3:20-4:55 Quinn’s assessment of Rangers’ season
4:55-7:30 Zibanejad, and Panarin’s second half MVP push
7:30-9:45 Lundqvist’s demotion and the dilemma in goal
9:45-11:40 Learning from Bill Belichick
11:40-13:15 Taking over for the legendary Jack Parker
15:25-19:45 Quinn’s memory of his draft day in 1984
19:45-24:10 Fallout from Quinn’s hemophilia diagnosis
25:40-28:00 BU’s crushing loss in 2015 NCAA title game

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

What is the Rangers’ long-term outlook?

New York Rangers
Getty

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 New York Rangers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

There are a lot of very intriguing pieces in place here and a lot to like about where this team can go in the very near future.

Artemi Panarin is a superstar, while Mika Zibanejad (still signed for two more years after this one) has proven to be a perfect complement for him on the top line.

Kaapo Kakko may have experienced some growing pains in his rookie season, but he still has star potential and they have two outstanding young defensemen in Anthony DeAngelo and Adam Fox to be the foundation of the defense. DeAngelo is a restricted free agent this summer and has played his way into a raise, but the in-season trade of Brady Skjei should give them enough flexibility under the salary cap to easily get a new deal completed with him.

Add in the return of Chris Kreider and a couple outstanding young goalies in Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev and they have some of the most important pieces of a contending team in place — top-line players, including a handful of already elite (and potentially elite) players.

Those are the most difficult pieces to find in any rebuild, and the Rangers have them. They definitely have some work to do around the edges with the depth, but it is a heck of a lot easier to find the complementary pieces than it is to find the core pieces.

Long-Term Needs

It mostly comes down to depth. At forward, center depth could still be a concern in the short-term if Ryan Strome is unable to duplicate his offensive performance this season.

Defensively, they have some big question marks after Fox and DeAngelo.

Marc Staal remains a fraction of what he used to be and still has a fairly significant salary next season. Jacob Trouba was supposed to be a big addition, he was a disappointment this season and still carries a huge salary cap hit for the next six years with a no-movement clause that will kick in this summer. They need him to be significantly better than he has been for that $8 million price tag he carries.

It would also be a huge boost to their long-term outlook if Kakko became a star. That would be a game-changer for them to have another elite winger to help take some of the pressure off of the top-line and give opponents another big-time scoring threat to worry about.

They also need a solution to the Henrik Lundqvist situation.

Long-Term Strengths

Goaltending is a potentially intriguing one due to the presence of Shesterkin and Georgiev. If you are going to phase out a legend the way the Rangers did this season, you better have one hell of an option already in place. As it turns out, the Rangers might have two of them.

Goalie is always the X-factor position in the NHL and can be the biggest difference-maker on the ice. It would be foolish to expect Shesterkin to maintain the .932 save percentage he has had in his first 12 appearances, but the upside is there for both of them to be outstanding NHL goalies. If it plays out that way, the Rangers could have the position set for the next decade.

They also have one of the league’s best offensive players in Panarin to serve as their franchise player, and the potential of Kakko to join him in that class.

Looking even further ahead, they also have two first-round draft picks in the 2020 draft class.

MORE RANGERS:
• Looking at the 2019-20 New York Rangers
Rangers biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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.

New York Rangers: Biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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 New York Rangers.

Adam Fox ended up being far more impactful than Jacob Trouba

While the Rangers’ mega offseason was highlighted by the addition of Artemi Panarin (who has proven to be worth every penny) they also did a lot of work to their defense.

Kevin Shattenkirk was bought out, highly touted prospect Adam Fox was acquired and signed, and Jacob Trouba came in from the Winnipeg Jets.

While Fox was always viewed as a high-ceiling prospect, Trouba was the player that was expected to make the most immediate impact this season. It did not work out that way at all. While Trouba struggled through a disappointing debut season in New York, Fox rapidly emerged as not only the Rangers’ most impactful defenseman, but one of the rising stars in the league. He has not received as much league-wide fanfare as Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes in Colorado and Vancouver, but the gap between them is not that large at all. Fox has been an immediate sensation both offensively and defensively and looks like he has a chance to be a cornerstone piece to the Rangers’ blue line for the foreseeable future.

Henrik Lundqvist gets phased out

It is a little surprising the way it happened, while also disappointing to see his time with the Rangers end the way it seems destined to end.

For more than a decade Lundqvist has been the face of the franchise. Heck, at times he has been the franchise. For years he helped propped up a shaky defense and elevate the Rangers to a level that exceeded their talent level, helping to make them a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. He is the greatest goalie of his era, and one of the best to ever do it. Now his future with the team seems cloudy at best.

As the 2019-20 season went on, it became clear that Lundqvist is no longer a significant part of the Rangers’ plans as he was mostly relegated to backup duties in the Rangers’ three-headed monster rotation.

While Lundqvist still has one year remaining on his contract beyond this one, the team seems ready to roll with the young duo of Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. So much so that Lunqvist started just five of the team’s 32 games after January 1 this season.

What happens next remains to be seen. Is there a trade to be made? A buyout that allows him to become a free agent and choose his destination in a quest to finally get his name on the Stanley Cup? Or perhaps even just calling it a career.

Chris Kreider stays

At the start of the 2019-20 season it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Kreider was going to be on the move before the trade deadline.

Even though the front office made huge additions in the offseason, it was still a team in the middle of a rebuild and Kreider was a player that seemed poised to bring a strong return.

While the possibility of a contract extension was always on the table, it just always seemed to be a long-shot and the least likely option. But with the Rangers inching back toward playoff contention, and a strong core starting to emerge that could make the Rangers a playoff team as soon as next season, the two sides were able to hammer out a deal to keep him in New York on a seven-year, $45.5 million contract. Given Krieder’s age the term definitely carries some long-term risk, but it is not an outrageous salary cap hit for what he can still provide.

He should still be a quality, productive top-line winger for a few more years before it becomes an issue.

The centers turned out to be a little better than expected

If you were to look at the Rangers’ roster at the start of the season the one big question mark that may have existed was their depth down the middle. And while that still may be the case when it comes to the bottom lines, the top-two duo of Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome exceeded any and all expectations.

Zibanejad has always been a fine, productive player, but he ended up being a perfect match alongside Kreider and has turned in a massive offensive performance that has helped form one of the league’s best top-line duos this season.

The bigger surprise was on the second line where Strome has had a career year offensively and is a 22-goal, 68-point pace offensively. He has played his best hockey since joining the Rangers in the middle of the 2018-19 season. He will still be a restricted free agent after this season.

MORE RANGERS:
Looking at the 2019-20 New York Rangers
Rangers’ long-term outlook

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.