Brayden Schenn

NHL Power Rankings: Early season surprises and slow starts

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we take a look at some of the early season results around the league.

The first couple of weeks can be tricky to analyze because there is a lot of random noise still taking place, and that can cloud our early outlook on a lot of teams. Over the course of an 82-game season every team is going to hit hot streaks and cold streaks, and if one of those streaks happens early in the year with nothing else around it we can easily jump to some wrong conclusions.

So far some Stanley Cup contenders have struggled, while a couple of teams that were thought to be at the bottom of the league have excelled.

Which teams are for real and which ones are not? Let us try to figure some of that out now.

To the rankings!

The early elites

These teams are at the top and will likely stay here…

1. Carolina Hurricanes. Anyone that thought this team’s second half and postseason run was a fluke was mistaken. They are for real and they are not going away. If they get the goaltending they could be a serious contender to win it all.

2. Colorado Avalanche. So far the preseason hype is legit. They still have the superstars at the top of the lineup, and now they have some actual depth to go with it. Cale Makar looks like a potential Calder Trophy winner.

3. Boston Bruins. When Tuukka Rask is on his game — as he has been so far — the Bruins can be close to unbeatable.

4. Vegas Golden Knights. They do have two losses (a one-goal loss to a great Boston team, and a random off night in Arizona) but they have absolutely steamrolled every other team they have played, including several division foes. Mark Stone could be a real sleeper MVP contender this season.

Great starts but still have something to prove

These teams have started fast, but may not stay here…

5. Edmonton Oilers. The good news: They won their first five games, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl look unstoppable, and James Neal is doing exactly what they hoped. The bad news: The roster after those three is still littered with questions and their underlying numbers point to an unsustainable hot streak. We will see where this goes.

6. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin is a heck of a duo to build around, but after the way they started last year and fell apart after the first two months the rest of the team has to prove they can do it all year before anyone buys into them.

7. Anaheim Ducks. John Gibson might be the best goalie in hockey, and because of that they always have a chance on any given night. Having Ryan Miller is a backup is a pretty darn good Plan B in net, too.

8. Philadelphia Flyers. Still not quite sure what to make of the Flyers. The top of their lineup is great but the rest of the roster has question marks. A lot here still depends on what Carter Hart does. They started the season with three games in three different countries and managed to collect five out of six points during that stretch. Nice start.

The contenders that you know will be there

These teams are almost certainly going to be in the playoffs, and maybe even have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, but have not yet played their best (or close to their best)…

9. St. Louis Blues. Brayden Schenn is responding to his new eight-year contract extension by scoring a ton of goals. We know he is good now, but that contract comes down to how good he looks four or five years from now.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene has been everything they could have hoped for so far. If he continues that he will be a significant addition to this roster.

11. Washington Capitals. They have not really played their best yet but are still managing to collect points in the standings almost every night. Good thing to do when you are not yet at your best.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins. The injury situation has left their forward lines a jumbled mess, but they are still finding ways to score goals and win. Sidney Crosby has been completely dominant.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. The defensive questions that have followed this team around for the past few years are still there right now.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning. Something seems a little off so far. This is the best roster in the league on paper, but they have been really hit-and-miss so far this season. Their 4-2 loss in Ottawa over the weekend was ugly.

15. Calgary Flames. Some regression was to be expected this season, but they still have enough talent to be a factor in the Western Conference. Johnny Gaudreau is superb with the puck and is off to a great start.

The great unknowns

These teams are still mysteries whose seasons could still go in any direction…

16. Winnipeg Jets. Their defense is not very good, and that is going to be a big problem, especially if Dustin Byfuglien does not re-join the team. But they do still have a great collection of forwards and the big wild card is Patrik Laine having a monster season. So far, he is.

17. Montreal Canadiens. What this team really needs is for Jonathan Drouin to have a breakout year and become the star forward they hoped he could (and would) be.

18. Detroit Red Wings. They have to be thrilled with the start Anthony Mantha is off to. They have played well, but the roster just does not seem to stack up to the other potential playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

19. New York Rangers. Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin looks like it has a chance to be quite a duo this season.

20. New York Islanders. They are still going to struggle to score goals, but Mathew Barzal will produce more than he has so far. They will still go as far as the goalies can take them.

21. Florida Panthers. They won just one of their first five games entering Monday, but two of their losses came in a shootout. Yeah, they missed out on two points, but we are talking about a coin flip away from their start looking dramatically different than it does. Sergei Bobrovsky being off to a slow start is not helping.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets. So far the goaltending has been the issue it was expected to be, but Pierre Luc-Dubois looks like he is on track for the huge year that was expected of him.

23. Vancouver Canucks. Quinn Hughes was the big reason for excitement this season and so far he is looking like a player that wants to insert himself into the Calder Trophy discussion.

24. Los Angeles Kings. The expectation was that there was no way Jonathan Quick could play worse than he did a year ago. In his first three games he has surrendered 19 goals. That is not going to cut it.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They are still getting great goaltending, but the lack of offense is a real concern.

Good teams that should be better

These are good rosters and should be playoff teams, but they have struggled so far…

26. San Jose Sharks. Not sure if a 40-year-old Patrick Marleau was the missing piece here, but they did win their first two games after he arrived, helping to ease the frustration from an 0-4 start. Do not expect this team to remain this low all season. Too much talent here. Still a potential Western Conference champion.

27. Dallas Stars. Roope Hintz has been the lone bright spot on what has been, so far, one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL.

Could be a long season

These teams have looked bad and may continue to look bad all season…

28. Ottawa Senators. Their win over the Lightning this weekend really was impressive, but other than that they have looked exactly like we expected the Senators to look.

29. Chicago Blackhawks. The early returns on the “did they do enough to fix their defense?” question are not looking promising.

30. New Jersey Devils. Their best players and their new faces are all off to slow starts, and that should help when those players get things turned around. Not sure if the goaltending will turn around, though. So far the Devils have not really done anything well this season.

31. Minnesota Wild. There is just — well — there is just not much positive happening here.

MORE:
• 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.

Flyers, fans gave Wayne Simmonds a great tribute

It felt strange seeing Wayne Simmonds briefly in a Nashville Predators uniform last season, and for the many Philadelphia Flyers fans who loved Simmonds, it might be even tougher to see him suit up with divisional rivals the New Jersey Devils.

As NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall notes, Simmonds felt like it would only be right to hear some boos during Wednesday’s Devils-Flyers game in Philly, and he got some — but make no mistake about it, Flyers fans also gave Simmonds a fantastic reception after a tribute video played.

Not very surprisingly, Simmonds’ former Flyers teammate also saluted him with some stick taps:

Simmonds came into Wednesday’s game with an assist over his first two games with the Devils.

When Simmonds was traded to Philadelphia from the Los Angeles Kings, it seemed like he would be a smaller part of the package that featured Brayden Schenn going to Philly, and Mike Richards becoming a member of the Kings.

Instead, Simmonds propelled his game to another level, becoming one of the deadliest shooters from the “dirty areas” in front of the net, especially on the power play. Simmonds scored 203 goals (91 on the power play) and 378 points in 584 regular-season games over eight seasons with the Flyers, also endearing himself to fans with a physical style that yielded 784 penalty minutes.

That rough-and-tough style might explain Simmonds’ recent decline at 31, but Flyers fans would likely be glad to see him rekindle his scrappy, scoring game — just not when the Devils are facing their team.

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.

The Buzzer: Wrapping up wild Saturday around the NHL

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Three Stars

1. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers. What a start to the year for the Rangers’ top center. Playing alongside big free agent acquisition Artemi Panarin, Zibanejad already has eight points in two games and had a hat trick on Saturday in a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, scoring an even-strength goal, a power play goal, and a shorthanded goal. Read more about it here.

2. Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers. The other hat trick in the NHL on Saturday belonged to Hoffman as he was the difference in the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. After scoring a career-high 36 goals in his debut season with the Panthers a year ago, he already has four goals in his first two games this season.

3. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks. When he is on top of his game Gibson can be the best goalie in hockey. He showed that on Saturday by turning aside 35 of the 36 shots he faced in a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks. Gibson and the Ducks handed San Jose its third consecutive defeat to begin the season. The Ducks are now 2-0 with Gibson stopping 67 of the first 69 shots he has faced over the first two games.

Other notable performances on Saturday

  • Patric Hornqvist and Jared McCann both scored a pair of goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they rebounded from an ugly season opening loss to rout the Columbus Blue Jackets, 7-2.
  • The Sabres dominated the New Jersey Devils, 7-2, thanks to a pair of two goal efforts from Sam Reinhart and rookie Victor Olofsson. Rasmus Dahlin also had three assists for the now 2-0 Sabres.
  • James Neal scored two goals for the Edmonton Oilers as they were able to hold on for a wildly entertaining back-and-forth win over the Los Angeles Kings. Connor McDavid also had four points (one goal, three assists) in the win.
  • Tyler Bertuzzi scored two goals and added two more assists to help lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators to open their season.
  • Brayden Schenn celebrated his new eight-year contract extension with the St. Louis Blues by scoring his first goal of the season in their 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars.
  • Jaroslav Halak stopped all 35 shots he faced for the Boston Bruins, and they needed every one of those saves in a 1-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
  • Colorado’s big three of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog were once again dominate in a 4-2 over the Minnesota Wild.
  • Johnny Gaudreau had three points (one goal, two assists) and David Rittich stopped all 34 shots he faced for the Calgary Flames in their 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

Highlights of the Night

The Carolina Hurricanes were overtime winners once again, this time erasing a two-goal third period deficit against the Washington Capitals. New addition Jake Gardiner scored the game-winner, his first as a member of the Hurricanes.

The prettiest play of the night was still probably the passing play by the Rangers to set up Zibanejad’s second goal.

Blooper of the Night

The Oilers were winners, but it was still a frustrating night for goalie Mike Smith at times as he had a couple of early mishaps playing the puck. This one was especially tough for him.

He had another turnover behind the net later in the period that resulted in another easy Kings goal. Fortunately the Oilers offense showed up in a big way.

Honorable mention blooper: Kasperi Kapanen‘s ridiculous stick-throwing penalty that helped complete the Montreal Canadiens’ third period rally. Watch it again here. It set the stage for the Canadiens’ shootout win. Brendan Gallagher also had a huge night for Montreal, recording three points.

Factoids

  • The Boston Bruins have won 15 consecutive games against the Arizona Coyotes, tied for the longest active win streak for one team against a single opponent. [NHL PR]
  • Phil Kessel played in his 776th consecutive regular season game on Saturday night, tying him for the seventh-longest consecutive games played streak in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Jeff Petry‘s penalty shot goal was just the second penalty shot goal by a defender in Canadiens history. [NHL PR]
  • Sidney Crosby had a fight and moved into a tie with Jean Beliveau for 41st on the NHL’s all-time points list. [NHL PR]
  • The Avalanche are nearly unbeatable when all three of MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog record at least one point in a single game. [NHL PR]
  • McDavid’s four-point game was already his eighth in the NHL. Only Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, and Johnny Gaudreau have more four-point games since McDavid entered the league. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 7, New Jersey Devils 2

Montreal Canadiens 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 5 (SO)

New York Rangers 4, Ottawa Senators 1

Florida Panthers 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Washington Capitals 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 3, Dallas Stars 2

Detroit Red Wings 5, Nashville Predators 3

Boston Bruins 1, Arizona Coyotes 0

Colorado Avalanche 4, Minnesota Wild 2

Anaheim Ducks 3, San Jose Sharks 1

Calgary Flames 3, Vancouver Canucks 0

Edmonton Oilers 6, Los Angeles Kings 5

MORE:
• 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.

Brayden Schenn signs eight-year extension with Blues

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The St. Louis Blues are keeping an important piece of their championship team around for the foreseeable future. On Friday, the defending Stanley Cup Champions signed Brayden Schenn to an eight-year, $52 million contract extension.

The 28-year-old had 28 goals and 70 points in his first year with the Blues and 17 goals and 54 points in 72 games last season. Schenn added 12 points in 26 games during St. Louis’ run to the Stanley Cup.

Schenn was entering the final year of his contract ($5.125 million cap hit). That number will jump to $6.5 million per season starting next year.

Beyond his obvious statistical contributions, Schenn has also found a way to create offense during his time with the Blues. Check out his heat map for last season:

The Blues have now eliminated one of the two important potential unrestricted free agents. Now, they have to find a way to extend captain Alex Pietrangelo whose contract is also up. Veteran Jay Bouwmeester is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but he’s not as high of a priority as Pietrangelo.

Things can change in a hurry, but as of right now St. Louis has $73.777 million committed to the cap. They currently have 11 forwards, four defensemen and two goalies under contract for next year. The salary cap is currently set at $81.5 million and it should go up at least a little bit heading into 2020-21. Still, the Blues have to re-sign some restricted free agents and they need to ice a full roster. General manager Doug Armstrong will have to make some tweaks to fit everyone under the cap.

Keep in mind, Armstrong traded for Justin Faulk and then signed him to a seven-year deal with an AAV of $6.5 million. Paying Faulk and Schenn before working out a deal with Pietrangelo is an interesting strategy, but there’s still plenty of time for the two sides to figure it out before July 1st.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Pietrangelo and beyond: Faulk’s impact on Blues’ salary cap future

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It wasn’t all that surprising that the Carolina Hurricanes traded Justin Faulk, but it absolutely was a little stunning that the St. Louis Blues ended up being the winner of that sweepstakes on Tuesday.

In fact, Faulk seemed surprised, too, so it’s not that off base.

Maybe we should have seen this coming, as the Blues were very quiet this summer, and made a big impact last year by landing Ryan O'Reilly. Either way, acquiring Faulk amplified a question people already had: what about Alex Pietrangelo?

When Faulk’s contract extension kicks during the 2020-21 season, it will carry a $6.5 million AAV. It’s a strangely fitting mark, as Pietrangelo carries a $6.5M cap hit for 2019-20, the final year of his current deal.

One cannot help but wonder if the Blues view Faulk as a replacement for Pietrangelo, right down to both being right-handed defensemen who can run a power play.

This is all fair to ask, as Pietrangelo is almost certain to make a significant raise from $6.5M per year. Without a Norris Trophy to his name, Pietrangelo might not command Drew Doughty money of $11M, but who knows? Demand figures to be high for Pietrangelo either way, even though he’ll turn 30 on Jan. 18.

Pietrangelo’s future is the biggest question that springs from the trade-plus-extension for Faulk, but it’s not the only interesting conundrum for the Blues. Let’s consider some of the questions ahead, including how Pietrangelo might fit in.

After 2019-20

Again, Pietrangelo is the headliner, but he’s not the only relevant expiring contract.

Cap Friendly estimates the Blues’ spending at about $65.6M with 16 roster spots covered for 2020-21. If the salary cap ceiling stays at $81.5M, the Blues would have about $16M to work with.

Rob Thomas and Jordan Kyrou could easily fill roster spots on their entry-level deals, which expire after 2020-21.

The Blues could actually do some juggling to keep Pietrangelo, especially if the ceiling goes up. They’d need to make a painful choice or two, possibly letting Schenn walk, but it’s not outside the realm of reason, especially if Pietrangelo takes a little less than his highest market value.

There are also some two-year deals the Blues could try to get out of …

After 2020-21

  • Both of their goalies only have two years left on their current contracts, with Jordan Binnington, 26, costing $4.4M and Jake Allen, 29, at $4.35M. It was a little surprising that the Blues didn’t trade Allen during this offseason, but if they can unload him sometime between now and next offseason, that could open up crucial space for Pietrangelo and/or Schenn. This current arrangement does provide some buffer if Binnington falters after his breakthrough, but the Blues likely don’t want to spend this much on a backup if that’s Allen’s fate.
  • Alexander Steen, 35, carries a heavy $5.75M. His salary is $5.5M in 2019-20, and then drops to $3.5M; maybe that would make Steen palatable for a cap-bribery trade to a team like the Ottawa Senators?
  • Tyler Bozak, 33, is expendable at $5M per year.
  • Jaden Schwartz, 27, could get a raise from $5.35M.

As you can see, there are some situations where the Blues might be able to free up some breathing room, particularly if they can convince someone to absorb Steen’s cap hit (or even a portion of it) for 2020-21.

Between Bozak, David Perron ($4M per year through 2021-22), and other mid-level players, St. Louis could conceivably cut out some inessentials.

This also serves as a reminder that teams should remain careful about giving depth players bigger commitments. If Oskar Sundqvist ($2.75M through 2022-23) indirectly costs the Blues a better player, that could sting.

***

It won’t be easy for the Blues to keep Pietrangelo, as Faulk could create an imbalance with Colton Parayko also being a prominent right-handed defenseman. While Faulk could give the Blues a relevant short-term boost, the long-term implications are messy.

That said, as you can see from the exercise above, there are ways that Blues GM Doug Armstrong can wiggle out of the toughest losses. That would mean waving goodbye to a surplus player or two, maybe even someone very useful like Schenn, but it’s possible.

Beyond seeing the Blues try to repeat, it will also be fascinating to see if they can keep the band together — or at least the virtuoso performers. Check out the Blues’ Cap Friendly page if you want to dig even deeper.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• 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.