Corey Crawford

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The 6 coaches and general managers that will impact NHL playoff race

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With the NHL All-Star break wrapping up and the second half of the 2019-20 season ready to begin, we are taking a look at some of the players, coaches, and general managers that could have the biggest impact on the Stanley Cup Playoff races and which teams make the postseason.

Here, we focus on six general managers and coaches that could stand out.

For 10 players that could impact the Stanley Cup Playoff races, click here.

1. Ken Holland (General manager), Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are outstanding. They are the best offensive duo in hockey and there probably isn’t anyone even all that close to them. For the second year in a row they are on track to finish among the top-four scorers in the league (literally top-two at the moment) while they carry an overwhelming majority of the Oilers’ offense. But two players on their own can only take an NHL team so far.

They need help, and it’s going to be up to Holland to provide it. He has some big decisions to make over the next few weeks and months, not only when it comes to the tricky situation regarding a new contract for Zack Kassian (this seems like an overpay waiting to happen) but also adding more depth to a team that can not continue to waste two superstars in the prime years of their careers.

2. Stan Bowman (General manager), Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks’ roster moves this past summer were the actions of a team and general manager that still believed it had a window to compete with its veteran core. So far, it’s hard to argue that it’s really worked. For as hot as they have been over the past few weeks they are still only on pace for 87 points this season and are currently three points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Hardly an insurmountable deficit, but probably not as easy as it may seem.

The first problem: The defense is still lousy and a lot of their improvement has simply been from the goaltending performances of Robin Lehner (mostly him) and Corey Crawford. The second problem: Both goalies are UFA’s after this season, and Lehner in particular wants to be paid his fair market value. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson is also a UFA.

How does Bowman play this? His offseason makes it look like he’s not ready to punt on the remaining prime years of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. But the team also still has flaws and has a couple of pending UFA’s that might have some value. Trading Lehner and/or Gustafsson would be putting up the white flag on the season. But is the team as currently constructed good enough to truly add to for a run? The middle-ground between Stanley Cup contender and rebuilding lottery team is a terrible place to be for an NHL team.

3. John Hynes (Head coach), Nashville Predators. This might be a long-shot, but the Predators are not totally out of this yet. Yes, they still have a six-point gap between them and a wild card spot, but they also have multiple games in hand on every team they are chasing, including FIVE on the second wild card team as of Sunday. Games in hand are not wins in hand, but it helps. The two biggest things holding Nashville back this season have been goaltending and special teams. The goaltending might be out of his hands, but special teams are one area where a coach can make a noticeable impact and special teams were the one area his recent Devils teams had the most success. Let’s see what he can do here.

4. Lou Lamoriello (General manager), New York Islanders. Lamoriello hasn’t been very active since taking over as the Islanders’ general manager, with his only noteworthy trade being the acquisition of Matt Martin before the start of the 2018-19 season. The time might be here for him to do something because this team just looks like it could use something different. They are closer to the playoff bubble than you might realize, they are still a bottom-10 team offensively, and they are just 13-12-3 in the 28 games since their 17-game point streak ended. They need another scorer (maybe two?) if they are going to be a serious Stanley Cup contender.

5. Peter DeBoer (Head coach), Vegas Golden Knights. Based on what we have seen over the first half of the season the goaltending will probably be the biggest factor in Vegas’ second half, but all eyes are going to be on DeBoer given the circumstances around his hiring. Not only did he change sides in what has quickly become one of the NHL’s fiercest rivalries, but he is replacing a coach in Gerard Gallant that had taken an expansion team to the playoffs in each of its first two seasons and was only point out of a playoff spot in year three when he was fired. Gallant helped set a high bar already in Vegas, and now Golden Knights’ management is betting that DeBoer is the person to get them a Stanley Cup.

6. Joe Sakic (General manager), Colorado Avalanche. Sakic is worth a mention here because he has one of the league’s most talented teams, plenty of trade chips to deal from, and more salary cap space to play with than every team but Columbus. He could add pretty much anyone he wants to a team that is already a Stanley Cup contender.

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Blackhawks need shake up in goal

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For the first time in a long time, the Chicago Blackhawks came into a season with a goaltender that could push Corey Crawford or at least fill in for him if he were to sit out for an extended period of time. Bringing in Robin Lehner was smart because he makes them better at the position and he came with a low-risk, one-year contract. But what do they do between the pipes after this season?

Both Lehner and Crawford are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. That means that the Blackhawks can blow up the position and go in a totally different direction this summer if they want to do that. That could be a tempting way to go.

It’s not surprising to see Crawford’s play has dropped off quite a bit over the last couple of years. He’s missed so much time with concussions and vertigo that it was only normal that he was going to start to dip at some point. Also, he’s 34 years old so this is natural regression too. His expiring contract will free up $6 million on the cap.

As for Lehner, he was unable to find a long-term contract when he hit the market last July, so he opted to sign a one-year, $5 million deal with the Hawks in free agency. Overall, he’s put up much better numbers than Crawford and he’s been more consistent.

But the reality is, if the Blackhawks decide to go in a completely different direction between the pipes next season, they’d be able to free up a significant amount of salary. Sure, they’d have to find and pay two other goalies, but they’d likely be able to do so at a much lower cost.

Obviously, they could also decide to bring back one of the two, which would make sense from their perspective. As of right now, you’d have to believe that if they bring one guy back, it should be Lehner. The 28-year-old is younger than Crawford and he has a 7-6-4 record with a 2.87 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage. On the flip side, Crawford owns a 6-9-2 record with a 3.08 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage.

Every team was reluctant to commit to Lehner last summer. Will that change next July?

Lehner’s proven to be a solid goaltender. He can get the job done. But given where the Hawks are as a franchise right now, it might make more sense to just go in a different direction completely. They haven’t made the playoffs in years, they’re in the basement of the Western Conference standings as of right now and they just seem stuck as a franchise.

What’s the best option(s)?

They could always opt to sign someone in free agency, they can draft and develop someone until their ready to takeover, or they can make a trade to land a new body.

If you look at the potential free-agent list for 2020, Braden Holtby‘s name jumps out at you right away. He’s a former Stanley Cup Champion, he’s 30 and he’s going to be expensive. Holtby is older than Lehner, but he’s a much more proven commodity. If the Capitals can’t find a way to get their starting netminder under contract, Chicago would have to be considered a landing spot for him. But again, the Blackhawks just aren’t very good. Does committing to a player like Holtby make sense?

Instead of drafting someone and waiting for them to develop into a starter, they could also just make a move for a young goalie that’s being groomed in a different organization.

For example, Cayden Primeau in Montreal would be a perfect candidate for the Blackhawks. The Canadiens already have Carey Price, Primeau is two years removed from being drafted, he’s already in the professional ranks, and he’s been reliable during his first AHL and NHL stints.

This seems like the best way to go.

It doesn’t necessarily have to Primeau, but the Canadiens have been scouting the Blackhawks and their farm team quite a bit over the last few weeks, so this is the example that makes the most sense in this case.

Can general manager Stan Bowman pull something like that off?

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. For the first time, NBC Sports will feature two ‘Inside-the-Glass’ commentators on this week’s Wednesday Night Hockey broadcast, as Eddie Olczyk will join analyst Brian Boucher to call the action from ice-level. John Forslund will handle play-by-play duties from United Center in Chicago, Ill.

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.

The Buzzer: Another shutout for Jarry; Draisaitl puts Oilers back in first

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Three Stars

1. Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins. Another big win for the Penguins on Friday night, and they owe this one to Jarry as he recorded his second consecutive shutout and stole the show in Phil Kessel‘s first visit back to Pittsburgh as a visiting player since the offseason trade. Jarry has been getting the bulk of the starts over the past couple of weeks and is making a pretty convincing case to keep getting them as he improved his season save percentage to .942 with Friday’s win. He has stopped all 61 shots he has faced over the past two games and has won six of his past seven appearances.

2. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. Thanks to the Arizona Coyotes’ 2-0 loss in Pittsburgh, the Oilers were able to jump back ahead of them for first place in the Pacific Division with their 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Draisaitl was again one of the big impact players for the Oilers by factoring into both of the team’s goals. He opened the scoring in the first period by banking a shot in off of Kings defender Drew Doughty, then set up Alex Chiasson‘s game-winning goal just a few minutes later. With his two points he takes over sole possession of the league lead in the scoring race with 53 points, moving one point ahead of his teammate — and linemate — Connor McDavid, who now has 52 points. No other player in the league has more than 44 points right now.

3. Jakub Vrana, Washington Capitals. Vrana continued his hot streak — and great season — on Friday with a pair of points, including the game-winning goal, in the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. He now has at least one point in seven of his past nine games, including three multi-point games. His goal on Friday was already his 15th of the season and has him on pace for close to 40 goals this season.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Shea Weber was great for the Montreal Canadiens in their 2-1 win over the New York Rangers, but he also had a painful night by taking a puck right to the face. Read all about it here.
  • Alex DeBrincat scored for the second game in a row (his seventh goal of the season) as the Blackhawks were able to get a 2-1 shootout win in New Jersey. Corey Crawford was also great in net for the Blackhawks, stopping 29 out of 30 shots throughout regulation and overtime three out of five shots in a five-round shootout.
  • Mikko Koskinen stopped 35 out of 36 shots for the Oilers in their win over the Kings.

Highlights of the Night

Nate Thompson gives the Canadiens the lead with his game-winning goal against the Rangers.

When you record consecutive shutouts you probably have a lot of big saves on your individual highlight reel, and this was probably Jarry’s best of the night on Friday against the Coyotes. This helped protect what was at the time a one-goal lead.

The Blackhawks were 2-1 shootout winners in New Jersey and it was rookie Kirby Dach scoring the winning goal in the fifth round on this slick move.

Blooper of the Night

This could have been a problem for Capitals goalie Braden Holtby as he nearly put the puck in his own net.

Factoids

  • The past two days have seen almost every game across the NHL be decided by just a single goal. The only two that have been decided by more than one goal were only decided by more because of late empty net goals. [NHL PR]
  • Claude Julien moved into a tie for sixth place on the Canadiens’ all-time coaching wins list on Friday night. [NHL PR]
  • The Oilers’ power play is one of the big reasons they are in first place in the Pacific Division so far this season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 2, Arizona Coyotes 0
Montreal Canadiens 2, New York Rangers 1
Chicago Blackhawks 2, New Jersey Devils 1 (SO)
Edmonton Oilers 2, Los Angeles Kings 1
Washington Capitals 3, Anaheim Ducks 2

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.

Stars run out of steam, fall to Blackhawks

The Dallas Stars used a 12-game point streak to help regain their footing in the competitive Central Division. However, the Blackhawks ended the surge with a 3-0 victory against the Stars Tuesday.

Brandon Saad, Patrick Kane and Connor Murphy scored while Corey Crawford made 32 saves as the Blackhawks snapped their own three-game losing streak.

Stars run out of gas

The Stars have participated in five games since last Tuesday and ran out of energy in the third period against the Blackhawks as they completed a stretch of three game in four days.

Dallas only managed nine shots in the third period as it failed to set a franchise record with eight straight victories.

The Stars had a busy offseason adding Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry to the mix this summer. After a 1-7-1 start to the season, the Stars have posted a 14-2-1 record in their past 17 games and climbed up the standings.

Crawford vs. Lehner

The backup goalie position has become more important in recent years as teams try to lighten the load of the starting netminder. Crawford has made more than 30 starts in seven of the previous 10 seasons but with Robin Lehner in the fold, the Blackhawks are hoping to ride the hot goaltender throughout the course of the regular season. The Islanders had tremendous success last season utilizing this strategy with Lehner and Thomas Greiss. Chicago is hoping that strong goaltending on a consistent basis could help springboard a return to the postseason.

Dallas made a strong push in the second period, but Crawford made 14 saves before Kane scored a timely goal in the third period to double Chicago’s advantage. Crawford recorded his first shutout of the season.

Kane extends point streak

The American winger has been a force with Chicago since entering the NHL in 2007 and extended his individual point streak to 13 games with a third-period power-play goal against Dallas. Kane, 31, has recorded nine goals and 13 assists during the streak. The Blackhawks will need Kane to continue to produce at an elite level to keep pace in the Western Conference.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Blackhawks add to Golden Knights’ troubles

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During a hectic stretch during an overall hectic game, it looked like the Vegas Golden Knights might end their losing streak by beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.

The game turned on its head during a dizzying second-period sequence during what was overall a pretty dizzying game. Ultimately, the biggest takeaway is that the Blackhawks won 5-3, pushing the Golden Knights’ losing streak to four games.

Rough night/nights for the Knights

The Golden Knights opened up the game with a 2-0 goal lead 6:29 into Wednesday’s contest, but it (obviously) ended up being insufficient.

Things really tumbled out of control during what had to be a maddening sequence in the second period.

3:54 in: It seemed like Alex Tuch expanded Vegas’ lead to 3-1, only a review determined that the goal was not over the line. So the score remained 2-1 in Vegas’ favor.

4:09: About 15 seconds later, Calvin de Haan tied the game up 2-2.

4:54: One minute after that Tuch goal didn’t count, Erik Gustafsson gave Chicago a 3-2 lead.

If that wasn’t enough to make things miserable, the Golden Knights’ fear of a messy goalie situation – particularly if something happens to their starter – came to the forefront when Marc-Andre Fleury was shaken by a collision with Alex DeBrincat. It seems like MAF was OK, although it’s tough to overlook Vegas losing so convincingly despite generating a 42-26 shots on goal advantage.

Again, this pushes Vegas’ losing streak to four games in a row, and the headaches extend beyond that. The Golden Knights have only won one in their past seven games (1-3-3). Getting some charity points could end up being crucial if these struggles persist (and it’s worth mentioning that they’ve only won twice in their last nine, going 2-4-3).

[More on the Golden Knights’ worries in net.]

Scraphawks

With an eight-game homestand to begin the season, it seemed like the Blackhawks had a chance to start 2019-20 on fire. Instead, they limped to a 2-4-2 record during that span.

That’s bad, but they’ve been reasonably scrappy since then, as they’re now 7-7-4 after following that homestand with a fairly tough schedule. No, it’s not world-beating stuff, and this franchise probably isn’t comfortable shooting for “respectable” … but, hey, the Blackhawks might at least be a tough out at times this season. Five of the Blackhawks’ next seven games take place in Chicago, so maybe this time they can take advantage of some home cooking?

Young guns

Perhaps the most exciting development for Chicago is the work of developing players.

Yes, Corey Crawford was great (39 saves), as was Patrick Kane (one goal, two assists), but hopeful forwards of the future factored heavily in this win, too. Kirby Dach authored his first multipoint game with a goal and an assist. Dylan Strome is heating up; he generated three points on Wednesday, and now has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in his last four games. DeBrincat also pitched in two assists.

***

While the Blackhawks have the weapons to at least occasionally put up a decent fight, you could probably still mark this as an upset for the Golden Knights. That said, it will be upsetting for MAF & Co. if Vegas cannot right the ship soon.

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.