Connor McDavid

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.

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.

Draisaitl picks his all-time Oilers team, talks life without hockey

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Oilers star (and NHL points leader) Leon Draisaitl answered several fan questions with Dave Amber for “Hockey at Home.”

Here are some of the subjects Draisaitl covered:

Draisaitl picks his all-time Oilers, talks running line without Connor McDavid

The more nuts-and-bolts hockey stuff was pretty straightforward.

Take, for instance, Draisaitl’s all-time Oilers picks. While he didn’t directly say he’d make such a team, Draisaitl admitted it would be fun to line up with Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid. His goalie choice was obvious (Grant Fuhr), but it was amusing to see him try to pick a second defenseman after Paul Coffey.

Draisaitl also discussed how well things have been going during the latest attempt to move him away from McDavid. That has indeed been going well, as Draisaitl is finding nice chemistry with Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Ennis, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has also been in that mix.

Pondering life without hockey

That more nitty-gritty hockey stuff aside, some of the best fun comes later in the interview.

When a young fan asked Draisaitl what he would do if he wasn’t a hockey player, Draisaitl struggled. He thought that, if he wasn’t an NHL player, Draisaitl would still be involved in the game somehow.

Then, after taking some time to reflect, he stumbled upon a Plan B or C … um, soccer player? Amusingly, Draisaitl explained that he gave up hockey for a year when he was eight or nine to focus on soccer.

Thankfully for Draisaitl and the Oilers, that didn’t stick. Perhaps Draisaitl should have followed that up with “Hey, kids, maybe don’t plan your life as hockey or nothing,” but this remains a fun interview.

And not just because of this fan’s hat:

fan Oilers Leon Draisaitl Hockey at Home

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.

NHL team executives dream up some interesting CBA changes

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Craig Custance and Thomas Drance collected seven changes NHL team executives would like to make to the Collective Bargaining Agreement at The Athletic (sub. required). It’s an illuminating story that’s worth your time, even if you don’t find it funny. (Personally? I chuckled several times. There might have been a snort or two.)

At times, it felt a lot like someone grumbling that, sure their yacht has a movie theater in it, but not an IMAX screen.

In my opinion, the final three items on the list rank as the most reasonable. Players, not just team owners and GMs, would probably be fine with salary arbitration being tweaked. I’m not sure anyone’s blood pressure would go up if the league clarified LTIR rules, either. And while I’m not enthused about the idea of compensating teams with picks for most reasons, it’s also a smaller deal.

For more on those smaller details, check out that piece from Custance and Drance.

Going forward, the first four ideas are worth a deep dive.

Mistake insurance / NHL CBA changes would aim to limit player movement even more

If you walk through the stages an NHL player goes through, you might get an idea of how unfair the process can sometimes be. To start, they don’t get to choose which team drafts them. Thus, you get Connor McDavid making that face when the Oilers won the lottery in his draft year.

After being drafted by a team they didn’t choose, said player could face about a decade before they hit unrestricted free agency. By then, smart teams will realize that player is either approaching their decline, or already there.

But that’s what a lot of the grumbling is really about. We’ve seen plenty of changes in free agency over different CBAs, yet plenty of teams make the same basic mistakes. They overvalue veteran and midrange players, handing out cap-compromising contracts over and over again.

So it’s not surprising to see that many NHL team executives basically want insurance against their own bad habits. They essentially demand that all midnight snacks retroactively become vegetable trays.

For me, the most amusing/insulting idea would be not allowing players to receive no-trade/movement clauses until age 30.

Broadly, a team could control a player’s movement until they’re 27, and a player couldn’t protect against being traded on a whim until they’re 30+. That’s … kind of audacious, right?

Now, don’t get me wrong. When you’re negotiating, you often start by asking for the moon. Some of this stuff feels more suited for another planet or solar system, though.

With the next CBA, NHL team executives should be careful what they wish for

One of the most interesting ideas would be changing term limits. The NHL already got its wish to cap contract terms at eight years to re-sign your own player, and seven for free agents. Custance and Drance report that NHL executives would instead like to limit that to five years.

This, again, feels like a rule that would aim toward keeping GMs from making self-destructive moves.

Let’s face, it, though. We haven’t always needed even five years to figure out when an especially bad contract is rotten. The Maple Leafs probably regretted the David Clarkson contract by exhibition time. Milan Lucic‘s contract would be less existentially frightening if it ended after 2020-21 instead of 2022-23. But it would probably carry more than a $6M AAV to balance that out.

Teams also would lose out on potential long-term bargains. Nathan MacKinnon would be entering a contract year next season (and again, would probably cost more per year).

Yes, things can get funky with signing bonuses and uneven year-to-year salaries, two things NHL team executives would like to see changed with CBA tweaks. But would that be as beneficial as teams think? It would certainly take some creativity out of the hands of agents, so maybe that’s enough of a “win.”

Pondering the players’ side, and other CBA thoughts

Look, it’s a bummer that a lower-budget team in a bad-weather market faces disadvantages. At some point, though, you need to recognize that there’s only so much you can do about reality.

Here’s the other thing: chaos and mistakes can be good. To be specific, big names hitting free agency creates buzz. Bad offseasons are bad for the league.

If anything, the NHL is guilty of making it too easy for teams to keep most of their best players. While the NBA and NFL create headlines almost all year long, there are some dreary off-seasons for hockey fans.

Let’s also realize the players will want CBA concessions, too. Back on May 1, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun hypothesized (sub. required) one main push for players:

From a players’ perspective, I have to think finding a way to limit escrow long term, finding a way to collect a closer percentage of their actual negotiated salaries has to be, as always, of utmost importance. But perhaps more than ever on that front with revenues taking a hit.

Overall, there’s nothing wrong with NHL teams or players asking for more in CBA talks, as long as such ideas embrace reality. After all, the current CBA has to be pretty good for such a lockout-hungry group of owners to mainly aim for tweaks rather than drastic changes, right?

With the league (and world) still needing time to assess the full impact of COVID-19, the NHL and NHLPA face big questions in both the short and long-term. It’s promising that the two sides are trying to figure out an extension before the current CBA’s September 2022 deadline, but it’s also clear that they all have more work to do. Maybe a lot of it.

MORE: Decision coming soon on early-June NHL draft; could be a ‘toss-up’

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.

NHL condemns Leipsic, Rodewald for ‘misogynistic,’ ‘reprehensible’ comments

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(UPDATE: Leipsic has been waived with the purpose of terminating his contract.)

Brendan Leipsic of the Capitals has apologized for comments made on social media that were leaked online Wednesday. Panthers prospect Jack Rodewald was also in the Instagram group chat where remarks were made about the appearances of Meaghan Pearson, whose husband, Tanner, plays for the Canucks, Lauren Kyle, the girlfriend of Oilers forward Connor McDavid, and other women.

“Yesterday my friend’s Instagram account was hacked and an individual circulated images that are representative of private conversations I was a part of,” Leipsic wrote in an apology note posted on Twitter. “I fully recognize how inappropriate and offensive these comments are and sincerely apologize to everyone for my actions. I am committed to learning from this and becoming a better person by taking time to determine how to move forward in an accountable, meaningful way. I am truly sorry.”

The NHL released a statement of their own stating they will address this with the players involved.

“The National Hockey League strongly condemns the misogynistic and reprehensible remarks made by players Brendan Leipsic and Jack Rodewald in a private group chat that has surfaced on social media. There is no place in our League for such statements, attitudes and behavior, no matter the forum. We will address this inexcusable conduct with the clubs and players involved.”

Leipsic, who has played 61 games with the Capitals this season, is on his fifth team in five years since entering the NHL. His current team wrote in a statement, “We are aware of the unacceptable and offensive comments made by Brendan Leipsic in a private conversation on social media. We will handle this matter internally.”

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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.

Locals pay tribute to Colby Cave by lining shoulder of highway with cars

Cars line up to pay tribute to Colby Cave
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Saskatchewan locals paid a heartwarming tribute to Colby Cave on Monday. Cars lined up on the shoulder of a highway to remember Cave, and also support Cave’s family.

Cave, a former Oilers and Bruins forward, passed away Saturday at age 25 after suffering a brain bleed last week.

From the look of photos taken of the area, it looks like hundreds of cars lined up for several kilometers to honor Cave and his family. Family friend Bob Bartkewich ranked among those who helped to organize that effort.

“It just goes to show you the impact that the Cave family and Colby had in town,” Bartkewich said, via the Canadian Press.

Photos, video of people paying tribute to Colby Cave

Former Oilers defenseman Eric Gryba joined those remembering Cave on Monday, sharing this photo:

Gryba also captured video of the tribute:

 

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe captured the scale of the turnout with this video:

Battlefords Now’s Josh Ryan shared striking photos of people paying tribute to Cave on Instagram. Ryan estimated that thousands showed up to silently honor Cave and his family.

“To see the community come out, considering everything else that’s going on in the world today, the amount of vehicles that are here in support of the family is incredible,” Family friend Heath Gabruch told Ryan. “It’s really nice to see.”

Many in the hockey world shared their condolences for Cave over the weekend.

That included Cave’s former Oilers teammate Connor McDavid, who wrote this on Saturday:

Heavy heart today. You were an amazing person and always brought so much energy and positivity into the room and peoples lives. You will be deeply missed Caver. Sending all my love to Emily and the entire Cave family through this difficult time.

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.