Cody Eakin

Golden Knights, Sharks ready to renew emotional rivalry

1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Game 7 was a new day for the Vegas Golden Knights. Having blown a 3-1 lead in their Round 1 series against the San Jose Sharks, the do-or-die battle inside SAP Center was an opportunity for a clean slate.

One game. One winner would advance.

Little did anyone know that the final game of that series would end as one of the more memorable back-and-forth evenings in recent history. There was controversy, an injury, an emotional comeback, and finally, a series-winning overtime goal.

***

The Golden Knights were playing a perfect road in Jonathan Marchessault’s eyes. The San Jose crowd was quiet having watched their team go down 3-0 nearly four minutes into the third period. Vegas was all over the Sharks, dominating every facet of the game and controlling play.

Five and a half minutes after Max Pacioretty appeared to have put the dagger in the Sharks’ heart, that play happened. You know the one — the push by Cody Eakin off the faceoff that led to Joe Pavelski awkwardly falling backward and hitting his head on the ice. As the blood leaked from the captain’s helmet, the officials gave Eakin a major penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct.

“I know with [our] team, any given night we’re going to win it,” Marchessault told NBC Sports. “Obviously, the wrong call happened. I pretty much blinked and they were up 4-3.”

The Sharks’ goal-scoring barrage did seem to happen in a blink. Seven seconds after the penalty was called Logan Couture cut the lead to 3-1. Forty-nine second later, it was 3-2, thanks to Tomas Hertl. Couture tied the game with his second of the night 2:44 after that.

The San Jose bench, already galvanized to win it for their injured captain, was a mix of disbelief and utter joy. A game and a season that seemed lost just 10 minutes earlier was given new life. Hertl said the atmosphere in the arena rivaled that of the noise levels hit during the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

“Everybody put everything [into the game],” said Hertl. “We lost to them the year before and we didn’t want to lose to Vegas again. It was an effort from every single guy.”

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST / WEST / STANLEY CUP]

Marchessault couldn’t believe it. The goals were coming from everywhere. The Golden Knights, still shorthanded, just didn’t know what to do.

As the Sharks and their fans were still celebrating the game-tying goal, they have reason to remain out of their seats a short while later. Kevin Labanc picked up the puck at the right point and drove toward the Vegas net with a surprisingly amount of time and space and fired the go-ahead goal past Marc-Andre Fleury.

Because this Game 7 was entirely bat—- crazy, there were still twists left to come. Marchessault would force overtime with 47 remaining and the Golden Knights’ net empty. Vegas was still fuming about the call on Eakin, but they took the overtime intermission to reset their emotions and focus on the task at hand: one more goal.

It took nearly all of the first overtime to get a winner, and it came off the stick of Barclay Goodrow at 18:19.

“It’s just still one of the craziest games we ever will play,” said Hertl.

“It was unfortunate,” said Marchessault, who unleashed his anger about the Eakin call afterward. “You’ve got to give them credit. They were down 3-1 in the series, they came back in Game 7 down 3-0, went to overtime and they still won it. … It was a good moment for their team and a good learning [experience] for our team as well.”

Game 7 exploded the rivalry between the two teams, especially the feud between Evander Kane and Ryan Reaves. Their first regular season meeting since that emotional April evening comes Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live stream) on opening night as part of 2019 NHL Face-off. They won’t miss one another for long as they play again Friday night in San Jose.

“We’re excited. Obviously we have a great rivalry with them,” said Marchessault. “They’re a good team and I think we’re a good team as well. It’s going to go for a couple of years and it’s going to be a good rivalry.”

“It’s almost as big of a rivalry than LA right now,” said Hertl. “I love these games. Not just the playing, but the fans from both sides. They enjoy the games and the rivalry is just building up. I love these games because it seems like playoff rivalry from the first game of the season.”

The Golden Knights can do one of two things with that Game 7 memory: either move on from it or store it upstairs as a reminder. Marchessault said what happened has stayed with him throughout the offseason.

“Always does. Extra motivation, personally,” he said. “I like to remind myself what happened so when it comes around next time in playoffs we don’t take it for granted, you’ve got to battle through adversity. That’s what they did and they won.”

Marchessault was happy to see officials get some help over the summer when the league expanded video review and will allow for major penalties to be reviewed. In the case of Eakin, the call would have been reduced to a two-minute minor. The new rules state a major cannot be rescinded.

As the memories of that third period stay with the Golden Knights they understand they can’t change what happened. The focus is on this season and continuing their trend upward.

“We’re here to win a hockey game, that’s it,” Marchessault said. “We cannot get our emotions too high. They have a good team. We have a good team. We’ll be, I think, in the top teams in the West again. I just wait to get out there and win a hockey game.”

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will have the call of Sharks-Golden Knights from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

MORE:
2019-20 NHL Power Rankings
PHT’s 2019-20 season previews
• 2019 NHL free agency tracker
NHL on NBC television schedule

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Golden Knights’ Tuch out week-to-week; Door opens for Glass?

Getty Images

It looks like the Vegas Golden Knights might limp into the start of the 2019-20 season, but there could be a silver lining to those dark clouds.

The bad news is that winger Alex Tuch is considered week-to-week with an upper-body injury, and is all but ruled out of Vegas’ season-opener against the Sharks on Wed., Oct. 2. It’s unclear if Cody Eakin will be able to suit up for that first game, either, as he’s considered day-to-day, according to Gerard Gallant (by way of reporters including the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Schoen).

The Athletic’s Jesse Granger pointed to this fall as the possible moment of Tuch’s injury.

On the bright side, those two injuries greatly improve the odds for Cody Glass to start the season with the Golden Knights, and maybe impress Gallant enough to stick around.

The Golden Knights lost quite a bit of skill during the offseason, thanks largely to cap challenges. On the forward side, they had to give up Erik Haula for nothing, and weren’t able to fit Nikita Gusev into the mix at a price they could accept.

Some of that comes from not finding a way to move on from players like Eakin, not to mention an asset of questionable value in Ryan Reaves, who is a little pricey for what he brings to the ice at a $2.775 million AAV (with Eakin being more expensive at $3.8M). While it’s possible that the Golden Knights simply wouldn’t be able to find a taker for Eakin and/or Reaves, even if they bribed a team to absorb the cap hit, there might be some nights where that decision stings, particularly if Gusev ends up being the next great KHL import this way of Artemi Panarin.

And so, while the Golden Knights’ depth advantage takes a big hit with Tuch out (Tuch is a worthy top-six-quality forward who’s been shuffled to the third line ever since Mark Stone created a domino effect), Glass could conceivably give Vegas that extra “oomph” of offense.

Back on Sept. 12, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman rated Glass, 20, as the league’s 16th-best prospect at age 23 or under (sub required), projecting Glass as a possible future first-line center in the NHL. Glass has already started drawing rave reviews from teammates such as Max Pacioretty, as Jesse Granger reported recently in an article for The Athletic.

“People that know hockey and see the game knew right from day one that this guy has the goods,” Pacioretty said. “That’s why they drafted him so high and why they felt he was so valuable to this organization. You saw a number of trades happen and he was obviously the guy who was untouchable for a reason.”

That said, those same teammates seemed to believe that Glass would best succeed at the NHL level with skilled linemates, rather than more defensive-minded ones who he might line up with on, say, a fourth line.

Theoretically, Glass might get to play with a higher-end talent with Tuch and possibly Eakin out, but might be pushed down the lineup once one or both of those veteran forwards gets healthy. Perhaps that personnel gravity will inevitably pull Glass down to the AHL?

We’ll see, but the optimal scenario might actually be for the Golden Knights to find a way to make sure Tuch and Glass are in the lineup, and are in prominent roles. Such a plethora of forward talent could potentially be something opponents would really struggle to handle.

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.

Will ‘Vegas flu’ continue for Golden Knights’ opponents?

3 Comments

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Vegas Golden Knights.

Plenty of sports teams boast rowdy fans and wild atmospheres, but until the Raiders and Jon Gruden’s grimaces give them company, the Vegas Golden Knights can boast an edge that’s truly unique.

Now, sure, people might get so carried away about “The Vegas Flu” that they might exaggerate the advantage, and downplay the fact that the Golden Knights win games because they’re really good, not just out of some notion that their opponents woke up that morning wondering where that tattoo came from.

But you’d be kidding yourself if you argued that there’s no advantage, and a strong home record so far adds credence to the arguments. After going 29-10-2 at home in their inaugural 2017-18 season, the Golden Knights were still pretty tough to beat in their own building, managing 24-12-5 home record despite some bumps in 2019-20 (including a 19-20-2 record away from Las Vegas).

So, an X-factor for the Golden Knights’ 2019-20 season is simple enough: how much of an advantage might home ice be for Vegas once again?

[MORE: 2018-19 Review | Three QuestionsUnder Pressure]

To some extent, you can’t blame coaches for merely washing their hands of various curfew-breaking risks, and just accepting the situation.

As James Neal said as part of NBC’s doc “Knight Fever,” there are certain temptations that come with Sin City, and Connor McDavid points out that those vices may drive you to lose some sleep. Even normally disciplined players might want to let loose, and that must be especially true for Eastern Conference opponents who don’t make it to The Strip all that often during a given season.

Vegas might provide an edge even if you ignore the most obvious elements that might leave players with bags under their eyes. The weather is generally a lot nicer, and like with plenty of Western Conference teams, travel can be a challenge.

Combine those factors with over-the-top “Medieval Times”-inspired entertainment before games, along with – again – this team being quite good, and getting minor line matching advantages when you’re actually on the ice, and it’s really just common sense that the Golden Knights are just that much more formidable at home. It’s probably a relief to the rest of the league that, generally, Vegas only has a small overall advantaged in “rested vs. tired” scenarios (counting both home and away).

Yet, with this being the Golden Knights’ third season in Vegas and NHL existence, opponents might be less vulnerable to various traps.

Most obviously, the novelty factor continues to wear off. Some players might have gotten those Galifianakis nights out of their systems already. Coaches might know what “works” or the closest thing to what works, by now. Gluttons may have tired of various buffets.

Whether the advantage moves the needle or is merely marginal, the Golden Knights should seek out home-ice nonetheless. After all, we’ll never really know the answer to a painful “What if?” question: would Cody Eakin have received that major penalty for the hit that bloodied Joe Pavelski if it happened in Vegas, rather than in front of horrified San Jose Sharks fans?

We’ll find out soon enough if the NHL teams have found their vaccines for “The Vegas Flu.”

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Top regression candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

Getty
1 Comment

A week ago we used our PHT Power Rankings to look at 10 players that could be on the verge of a breakout during the 2019-20 NHL season.

This week we go to the opposite end of the spectrum and look at 10 players that could be due for a regression back to reality.

Regression candidates tend to be pretty easy to spot and usually come from players coming off of outlier seasons or were riding extremely high shooting percentages or save percentages that are simply not sustainable from one season to the next. Can they still be good? Absolutely. Will they be as good? Probably not.

Who are the biggest regression candidates this season?

To the rankings!

1. Casey Cizikas, New York Islanders. Prior to 2018-19, Cizikas had played parts of seven seasons and never scored more than nine goals, averaging just eight per 82 games played. That is what made his 20-goal output such a surprise. It was a great year, but it was mostly driven by an 18 percent shooting percentage that was nearly 10 points higher than his career average. That sort of spike is not sustainable for any player, let alone one that has a 400-plus game sampling as a fourth-liner with limited offensive ability.

2. Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars. Pavelski has been one of the most underrated goal-scorers of his era and is coming off a monster 38-goal season for the Sharks. Even if he regresses from that number he should still be a great addition for a top-heavy Stars team that needs secondary scoring. They just shouldn’t be counting on him to push the 40-goal mark again. He had a career-high shooting percentage (20.2 percent!) at age 34, making him a textbook candidate for regression. Consider that only one other player since 2000 has shot higher than 20 percent at age 34 or older (Mario Lemieux during the 2000-01 season). A more reasonable expectation for Pavelski: 20-25 goals.

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks. With all due respect to Barry Trotz and the coaching job he did, no one person meant more to the 2018-19 New York Islanders than Lehner. His .930 save percentage masked a lot of flaws and was the driving force behind the team’s improbable defensive turnaround. That is an almost impossible performance to maintain year-to-year, and he is now going to a team in Chicago that still has some big question marks defensively and has been one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL the past two years.

4. Alex Chiasson, Edmonton Oilers. Chiasson was one of the few things Peter Chiarelli touched in Edmonton that didn’t immediately turn into a dumpster fire. He scored 22 goals for the Oilers, nearly doubling his previous career high, and was one of the small handful of players that actually exceeded expectations. Getting a lot of time next to Connor McDavid helped, as did an 18 percent shooting percentage.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

5. Cody Eakin, Vegas Golden Knights. In the three full seasons prior to 2018-19 Eakin scored just 30 total goals. He followed that up by scoring 22 last season alone. He is a negative possession player (and looks even worse relative to his team), doesn’t generate a lot of shots on goal, and is coming off of a career-high shooting percentage. Bet on him being closer to 10 goals this season than 20.

6. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. The 2018-19 season could not have worked out better for Skinner on an individual level. He had a career year in a contract year and cashed in with a mega-deal with the Buffalo Sabres. He scored 37 goals two years ago and seems to have great chemistry with one of the league’s best centers (Jack Eichel) so he should be capable of another huge year, but another 40-goal season seems like it’s asking a lot.

7. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. He filled in admirably for an injured Antti Raanta and was one of the biggest reasons the Coyotes were able to hang around in the playoff race until the final week of the regular season. That performance, however, was a pretty big outlier in his career, and if Raanta is able to stay healthy he will be in a competition for playing time. Expectations for Kuemper in 2019-20: Lower them … at least a little.

8. Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames. A fresh start in Calgary turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for Lindholm as it produced a career-year that saw him shatter all of his career highs. There is reason to believe a lot of the improvement is real (great possession numbers, a shooting percentage that wasn’t a huge outlier, playing alongside talented players) but another 50-assist, 78-point season seems like a high bar for him to match.

9. Andrew Shaw, Chicago Blackhawks. On a per-game basis the 2018-19 season was by far the best one of Shaw’s career, so it was probably a good idea for the Canadiens to sell high on that and move him. Given the Blackhawks’ lack of forward depth he is probably going to be given a significant role, but I don’t know how willing I am to bet on him scoring at 60-point pace over 82 games again.

10. Ryan Strome, New York Rangers. After a nightmare experience with the Oilers, Strome went to the Rangers and erupted offensively with 18 goals in the final 63 games of the regular season. He did this despite averaging just 1.27 shots on goal per game and getting caved in from a possession standpoint. Sometimes players go on hot streaks that eventually fizzle out. His debut with the Rangers was most likely a short-lived hot streak that will eventually fizzle out.

Also worth mentioning: Jaroslav Halak (Boston Bruins), Jared McCann (Pittsburgh Penguins), Ryan Dzingel (Carolina Hurricanes), Ben Bishop (Dallas Stars)

Related: Top breakout candidates for 2019-20 NHL 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.

Marleau-lites: How Red Wings, Senators can boost rebuilds

Getty Images
12 Comments

If you’re a fan of both hockey and team-building, the last few weeks have been Christmas in July. It might not be the most wonderful time of year if you demand smart team-building, though.

Plenty of teams have spent their money poorly lately, but at least two teams have really dropped the ball on boosting their rebuilds: the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators. Instead of seeing a blueprint in the Hurricanes creatively getting a first-round pick out of a Patrick Marleau trade and buyout, the Red Wings and Senators instead wasted their money on veterans who are unlikely to make much of a difference for their futures (Valtteri Filppula and Ron Hainsey, respectively).

The bad news is that Steve Yzerman and Pierre Dorion missed the boat at the most robust time. Jake Gardiner stands as a strong free agent option, yet the frenzy is now a dull rumble.

The good news is that there’s still time, as both teams have some space to take on Marleau-lite contracts, and there are contenders who need to make space. Before I list off some Marleau-lite contracts Detroit or Ottawa should consider absorbing, let’s summarize each team’s situations.

Bumpy road in Motor City

Filppula joins a bloated list of veteran supporting cast members who are clogging up Detroit’s cap, so it’s worth noting that the Red Wings only have about $5.284M in cap space, according to Cap Friendly.

The Red Wings have their normal array of picks for the next three years, along with an extra second in 2020, and also extra third-rounders in both 2020 and 2021. That’s decent, but why not buy more dart throws?

Senators’ situation

Ottawa has a whopping $22.84M in cap space, but of course, the real question is how much owner Eugene Melnyk would be willing to move above the floor of $60.2M. The Senators are currently at $58.6M, and RFA Colin White could eat up the difference and more. It’s plausible that Pierre Dorion is mostly closing down shop, at least beyond sorting out RFAs like White and Christian Wolanin.

The Senators have a ton of picks, as you can see from Cap Friendly’s guide, but only one extra first-rounder. That first-rounder could be very weak, too, being that it’s the San Jose Sharks’ 2020 first-rounder.

The one bit of promising news is that Melnyk’s already sent a message about this team being in rebuild mode. Why not make like the Rangers and take advantage of the situation by going all-out to land as many assets as you can, then?

Expiring deals contenders might want to trade away

  • Cody Eakin and other Vegas Golden Knights: Despite purging Colin Miller and Erik Haula, the Golden Knights are still in a tight situation, and that might mean losing out on intriguing RFA Nikita Gusev. Eakin seems like an excessive luxury at $3.85M. The 28-year-old could be very appealing as a rental at the trade deadline, so Ottawa/Detroit could gain assets in both trading for Eakin, then trading him away. Ryan Reaves ($2.755M) could make plenty of sense too — you may just need to distract fans with fights this season — but Vegas seems infatuated with the powerful pugilist.
  • Martin Hanzal: The Stars are primed to put the 32-year-old’s $4.75M on LTIR, but maybe they’d give up a little something to just get rid of the issue?
  • Sam Gagner: The Oilers are in tight. Maybe they’d want to use that $3.15M to, say, target Jake Gardiner on a hopeful one-year (relative) discount deal, or something? If there’s any way this ends in Ottawa or Detroit landing Jesse Puljujarvi, things get really interesting.
  • Patrick Eaves: Some scary health issues have cropped up for Eaves, who might be OK waiving his NMC, relieving the Ducks of $3.15M in cap concerns. Anaheim’s in a weird place between rebuilding and competing, which could make them pretty vulnerable.
  • Cody Ceci: Dare I wonder if the Red Wings might take on Ceci from Toronto for a price, allowing Toronto to focus on Mitch Marner and Alex Kerfoot? Ceci’s an RFA without a deal, so he probably fits in a different category, but worth mentioning if we’re going outside the box.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Longer deals, higher rates

  • David Backes: At $6M per year, Backes’ contract is as painful as his borderline hits often can be. That expires after 2020-21, though, making his term very interesting: it’s brutal for Boston (who have to tend to Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug), while it would be digestible for Detroit and especially Ottawa. How much would Boston be willing to fork over to gain some flexibility? If I’m Dorion or Yzerman, I’m blowing up Don Sweeney’s phone to find out.
  • Artem Anisimov: The Blackhawks have a slew of bad deals. They also seem like they’re living in the past, which means that an even bolder Brent Seabrook salary dump seems unlikely. A smart team would want to get rid of Anisimov’s contract ($4.55M AAV for two more years), and a savvy rebuilding team would extract assets to take on that burden.
  • Jack Johnson: It’s been a year, and I still can’t believe the Penguins gave Johnson $3.25M AAV for a single season, let alone for a mind-blowing term through 2022-23. Considering that contract, the Penguins probably still think too highly of Johnson, so they probably wouldn’t cough up the bounty I’d personally need to take on this mega-blunder of a deal. It’s worth delving into a discussion, though. If the Penguins hit a Kings-style wall, who knows how valuable their upcoming picks might end up being?
  • James Neal: Woof, the 31-year-old’s carrying $5.75M through 2022-23. That would be a lot to stomach, but Calgary’s in a win-now state, and might be convinced to fork over quite a bit here. The dream scenario of Neal getting his game back, and either becoming easier to trade down the line, or a contributor to a rebuild, isn’t that outrageous, though it is unlikely. Much like with Johnson, I’d want a significant haul to take this problem off of the Flames’ hands, but I’d also be curious.
  • Loui Eriksson: Much like with Johnson in Pittsburgh, the key here would be Jim Benning admitted that he made an enormous gaffe in Eriksson’s $6M AAV, which runs through 2021-22. That’s questionable, as the Canucks are making it a tradition to immediately ruin draft weekend optimism with free agent armageddon.

That said, if Vancouver admits that Eriksson is an albatross, and decides to pay up to rid themselves of that issue … at least this only lasts through 2021-22. That term might just work out for Ottawa, if Vancouver threw in enough sweeteners to appease The Beastie Boys.

  • Kyle Turris: What if the Senators brought back a beloved community figure, while charging the Predators an exorbitant rate to absorb his an exorbitant contract? It’s possible that Turris could enjoy a rebound of sorts, and Nashville made an already-expensive center group close to outlandish with Matt Duchene. Turris’ deal runs through 2023-24, and he’s already 29, so I’d honestly probably not do it … unless the return was huge. Nashville and these rebuilding teams should at least have multiple conversations on the subject.

***

Overall, my favorite ideas revolve around landing someone like Eakin or Backes. The urgency should be there for contending teams in cap crunches, while their deals aren’t the type to interfere with rebuilds.

(Sorry, but Detroit and Ottawa both have a lot of work to do, and should probably assume that work extends beyond 2020-21.)

Now, do the Senators and Red Wings have the imagination, hunger, and leeway from ownership to make the sort of deals discussed in this post? I’m not overly optimistic about that, but the good news for them is that there are likely to be opportunities, if they seek them out.

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.