Dean Evason

Canucks vs. Wild: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

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The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups. In this case, it’s Canucks vs. Wild.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild: TV schedule, start times, channels

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET – USA Network
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

Canucks – Wild preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Can Canucks’ young guns take over this series?

The Canucks and Wild entered the pandemic pause separated by a mere standings point. Yet, as close as these teams were results-wise, the Canucks boast a lopsided advantage in young star power.

None of this is to say that the Wild lack any talent. Even so, if you were to draft players off of both of these teams for the near future, the top picks would be dominated by the likes of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.

(Especially since Kirill Kaprizov isn’t allowed to participate in the NHL Return to Play.)

Those stars haven’t dealt with playoff pressure, and criticisms could ratchet up quickly for Pettersson, Hughes, Brock Boeser, and others. It likely wouldn’t help their cause if the Wild maintain their stingy defense from the past couple of seasons, either.

How big a factor will special teams be for Canucks, Wild?

Branching off on that point, the Canucks did a ton of damage on the power play this season. By scoring 57 power-play goals, the Canucks tied the deadly Bruins for second-most in the NHL, and reached that mark in one fewer game played.

As strong as the Wild often have been as an even-strength unit, they struggled on the PK this season, too. That penalty killing unit ranked in the bottom-10 in power-play goals allowed (47) and efficiency (77.2 percent) in 2019-20.

On paper, special teams could be a massive advantage for Vancouver, even if the Wild were respectable on the PP.

Perhaps a couple other factors might mitigate the Canucks’ dominance, and the Wild’s struggles, though? (Even beyond the rust that comes from this long layoff, not to mention the very unusual circumstances.)

Will the Wild be able to get competent goaltending — from Stalock, or someone else?

It’s not fair to say that Devan Dubnyk got Bruce Boudreau fired. Unfortunately, it’s probably fair to claim that Dubnyk ranked as the single biggest force in pushing Boudreau out the door, though.

Dubnyk fell from middle of the pack to downright dismal (.890 save percentage) in 2019-20, forcing the Wild to rely on Alex Stalock to keep their season alive. To the longtime backup’s credit, Stalock did a pretty good job.

That said, the Wild may feel that tug of nostalgia to at least keep Dubnyk in the discussion. After all, all sorts of strange things can happen during a best-of-five series. (With that in mind, don’t totally count out the possibility of seeing Kaapo Kahkonen get some looks — or at least hear people calling for him if things really slide.)

At times, Jacob Markstrom was downright brilliant for the Canucks. He’ll have that strong work — not to mention motivation to earn a new contract as a pending UFA — driving him. But, again, things can escalate quickly in a short series. If the Wild received comparable goaltending, that would be huge.

Still-new elements for the Wild, including Evason as head coach

During the last few seasons, the Wild cycled through a couple GMs, their head coach, and made some significant trades. (Let’s allow a moment for Wild fans to grumble about Nino Niederreiter.)

The NHL Return to Play provides a moment to reflect upon those changes. While it feels like Mats Zuccarello signed ages ago, the Norwegian winger is still trying to find his footing during his first season with the Wild. Players like Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Donato, Ryan Hartman, and even to an extent Kevin Fiala are still fairly new to the team.

And, while Dean Evason is reasonably familiar with the Wild, he only came on as an assistant in 2018, and just recently saw the “interim” tag removed from his title as head coach.

Who’s out, Who might return for Canucks, Wild?

Canucks: The Canucks look to have a clean bill of health, as the time off seemingly allowed Markstrom and others to get back on track.

Wild: Minnesota also seems as close to full-strength as you can ask for.

More on 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, NHL Return to Play series:

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 Morning Skate: Oskar Lindblom reflects on battling cancer

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lindblom’s battle, key Wild decisions, and more

• Alex Prewitt shares a detailed, touching account of Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom‘s battle with cancer. [SI]

• USA Hockey announced the cancellation of the 2020 World Junior Summer showcase. The event was originally scheduled for July 24-31, but it makes sense to err on the side of caution. [USA Hockey]

• Ken Campbell believes the Wild took care of the present by dropping the interim tag from head coach Dean Evason, and secured the future by signing Kirill Kaprizov. I’d say the jury is still out on Evason, but getting Kaprizov signed is huge — even if COVID-19 presents more bumps in the road. [The Hockey News]

• How about some more detail on Evason, then? Tony Abbott breaks down why Wild GM Bill Guerin might have been impressed with Evason. In particular, it’s interesting to see that the Wild picked up the pace with Evason after firing Bruce Boudreau. [Zone Coverage]

• A fun one from John Matisz on various skills that hockey players find difficult to master. Some covet Nicklas Lidstrom’s ability to walk the line. Kevin Shattenkirk marvels at the deceptive “hitch” Nikita Kucherov can put on his shot. [The Score]

• Ranking the Detroit Red Wings’ jerseys, from worst to first. That 1928-29 Cougars logo is choice. [Hockey by Design]

NHL training camps, insight on playoff matchups, and free agency

• The Maple Leafs don’t view training camp as merely an opportunity to tune up. Instead, such activities are being framed as competition for playoff roster spots. I imagine players like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly don’t have to worry too much, though. [Sportsnet]

• Sin Bin Vegas transcribed key Robin Lehner quotes about his free agent future. Over and over again, it seems clear that Lehner craves term in contract offers, making me wonder if a savvy team might be able to bring his AAV down by giving him some stability. Goalies are unpredictable, but you could make worse bets than Lehner, who’s been outstanding since at least 2018-19. [Sin Bin Vegas/TSN 1200 interview]

Really, the biggest story for today’s PHT Morning Skate might be Lehner’s silly leg pads:

 

• Count Brenden Dillon among the pending UFAs who would prefer to stick with their teams. In Dillon’s case, it’s the Capitals, whom he’s still becoming acquainted with. Looking at the Capitals’ cap situation, Dillon returning isn’t out of the question, although that might boil down to what kind of deal the rugged defenseman expects. Also, it may hinge on other decisions, such as what to do with Braden Holtby. [Nova Caps Fans]

• As the Canadiens await, which players are the biggest X-factors for the Penguins? [Pensburgh]

• Being that the Flames and Jets only met in an outdoor game, Paul Maurice doesn’t believe there’s much video to use in preparing for Calgary. He also explains how NHL systems are like battleships. Hopefully the return to play doesn’t flop like that movie. [Winnipeg Free Press]

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.

Dean Evason named full-time head coach of Wild

As the Wild enters training camp, the players will know Dean Evason isn’t an interim head coach anymore.

The team announced on Monday that they are dropping the interim tag and making the 55-year-old their full-time coach. Evason also gets an extension out of the deal, with his contract running through the end of the 2021-22 NHL season.

“Dean has done a fantastic job as our interim head coach and deserves this opportunity,” said Wild general manager Bill Guerin in a statement. “I look forward to watching our team under his leadership going forward.”

[Full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

Evason took over coaching duties on Feb. 14 following Bruce Boudreau’s dismissal. In 12 games he led the Wild to an 8-4-0 record. He was part of Boudreau’s staff after joining the team for the start of the 2018-19 season following six years in charge of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Wild are set to face the Canucks in their best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series beginning on Aug. 2.

MORE:
Hockey is back: NHL, NHLPA ratify CBA, return to play agreement
Salary cap to stay flat at $81.5 million

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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.

Dubnyk, Stalock, or Kahkonen? Gauging potential Wild goalie competition

Can the Minnesota Wild make the most of an unexpected Qualifying Round opportunity against the Vancouver Canucks? For all we know, that might boil down to the right goalie winning a competition to start for the Wild.

Heading into 2019-20, Devan Dubnyk carried the top job. To put things mildly, things didn’t go as planned for Dubnyk. The veteran goalie lost the No. 1 job to Alex Stalock, while Bruce Boudreau lost his job altogether.

Not great for Dubnyk, but a few forces give him a chance to wrestle that job back.

To start, Dean Evason is still fairly freshly new as interim Wild head coach. But most obviously, the pandemic pause opens the door for competition. Stalock acknowledged as much to NHL.com’s Pete Jensen.

“I think whoever is looking the sharpest you got to go with the first night,” Stalock said last week. “You roll right into a [qualifying] series. It’s probably the first time for a lot of people to go through a training camp, and then all of a sudden you’re playing some of the most meaningful games of your lives.”

Evason reinforced the notion of the Wild having some goalie competition, too.

“We expect our goaltenders both to be ready and have that opportunity to make that choice as a staff — and hopefully a very difficult one because they’ll both be ready to go,” Evason told Sarah McLellan of the Star-Tribune in early June.

In that case, Evason was discussing a Wild goalie competition of Dubnyk vs. Stalock. For the purposes of this post, we’re also making an argument for Kaapo Kahkonen.

Breaking down the potential Wild goalie competition

Stalock currently leads Wild goalie competition

Heading into the All-Star break, Stalock (25 games played) and Dubnyk (24 GP) shared a pretty even workload overall. Afterward, Stalock played 13 games vs. just six for Dubnyk.

Such a transition cannot be solely pinned on Dubnyk’s struggles. Stalock caught fire after the break, managing an impressive .924 save percentage to go with a promising 9-3-1 record. The 32-year-old really only marginally outplayed Dubnyk earlier in the season, but that changed in a big way down the stretch.

Stalock had been a career backup before 2019-20. While he set a career-high with 38 games played before the pandemic pause, Stalock previously peaked with 28 GP in 2017-18.

His career .909 save percentage qualifies as “pretty strong for a backup, but maybe a little off the mark for a starter.”

Dubnyk has been there before, plenty of times.

Stalock is no stranger to NHL play with 151 career regular-season appearances. Even so, I must admit that I made a double-take at Dubnyk’s sheer experience. Dubnyk, 34, has already appeared in 520 regular-season games.

During unsteady times, the Wild may prefer to lean on Dubnyk’s experience. Maybe Dubnyk can rebound to somewhere close to his career work (.915 save percentage), or maybe most greedily, his larger Wild resume (.918 save percentage in 328 games over six seasons)?

You could argue that Dubnyk possesses the largest ceiling, at least for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then again, the Wild have seen so much of his floor in 2019-20. This Evolving Hockey chart captures Dubnyk’s struggles, even behind a strong Wild defense, quite well:

Dubnyk Evolving Hockey Wild goalie competition

Kahkonen a wild card for the Wild

Perhaps you could argue that the Wild would choose the past if they went with Dubnyk, the present if they chose Stalock, and the future if they tabbed Kahkonen.

That’s probably an oversimplification, but the Wild should probably give Kahkonen more than a token shot in a goalie competition.

For one thing, Kahkonen looked sharp at multiple levels. While you can only take so much from five games at the NHL level (3-1-1, solid .913 save percentage), Kahkonen dominated in the AHL (25-6-3, .927 save percentage). Aside from a bumpy first AHL season in 2018-19, Kahkonen’s recent numbers look pretty promising across the board.

There’s also something to be said for mystery.

Sure, the Wild might not know everything about Kahkonen. That could make it tougher for defenders to, say, get a feel for his rebound control.

But the same could be said for the competition. The Canucks would have less “tape” on Kahkonen, while they’ve seen plenty of both Dubnyk and Stalock over the years.

Whether it’s by skill, that lack of tape, coincidence, or some combination, we’ve seen brand-new goalies dominate. Go back from the likes of Ken Dryden to Cam Ward all the way to Matt Murray and you’ll see some serious runs behind goalies who weren’t particularly well known to friends or foes.

Does that make Kahkonen the best option over Dubnyk or Stalock in a Wild goalie competition? Not necessarily, but the Wild would be foolish not to at least explore the option.

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 on NBCSN: Blues looking to keep rolling, Wild aim to keep hopes alive

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues and Wild are in very different situations, yet both teams have dealt with tumultuous times heading into their Sunday game on NBCSN.

Blues starting to heat up again?

Things were starting to look a little dicey for St. Louis. The Blues lost five in a row from Feb. 6-16, with a game against the Ducks postponed following Jay Bouwmeester’s health scare. Pulling back further, the Blues managed just two wins from Jan. 15 – Feb. 16 (2-7-3).

For some time, it looked like the Blues would cruise to a Central Division title despite Vladimir Tarasenko‘s absence.

Now the Blues are on an upward trend again. In dispatching the Stars 5-1 in Dallas, St. Louis is now on a three-game winning streak.

“The way the guys in front of me and [Jordan Binnington] have played the last four games has been pretty remarkable,” Jake Allen said, via the Blues’ website. “Scoring chances created, back-checking and blocked shots. It’s great to see.”

There are also positive vibes regarding trade acquisition Marco Scandella. Craig Berube provided a positive early review to how Scandella is working with Colton Parayko, as the Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reported (sub required).

“He’s a big guy,” Berube said. “Plays physical, good defender, good stick. Two big guys out there that we can play against anybody, be hard on the other team, be hard on top players on the other teams. (Jay Bouwmeester) was there for a long time with Parayko. This is a similar fit that I see.”

Wild try to hang in there

Minnesota’s been through quite a bit in 2019-20, as well.

After quite a few instances where he seemed to be on the hot seat, Bruce Boudreau got the axe. Plenty of Wild players have wondered about their future, a thought highlighted by Jason Zucker being traded. Interim head coach Dean Evason has had his hands full in trying to keep the Wild in the West playoff hunt.

It still looks like a serious uphill battle, but the Wild have won two in a row. Jared Spurgeon‘s hat trick was the highlight of a frenetic 5-3 Friday win against the Oilers.

“We had a real scramble-fest going there in the third period,” Evason said, via the Wild website. “But guys were committed and it didn’t really matter who we called up, they just played and played the right way. It’s very encouraging.”

With all of that in mind, will it be the Blues or Wild who end Sunday’s NBCSN game feeling encouraged?

Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Xcel Energy Center alongside analyst Pierre McGuire. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.

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.