Deryk Engelland

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Golden Knights need to let Colin Miller out of playoff doghouse

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The Vegas Golden Knights know they need to make changes heading into Game 2 against the San Jose Sharks on Friday night (10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; Live stream), but perhaps they’re learning the wrong lessons.

To head coach Gerard Gallant, Vegas wasn’t “hungry” enough in a convincing 5-2 Game 1 loss, while defenseman Jon Merrill emphasized the perceived need for the Golden Knights to check Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson early and often, as the Athletic’s Jesse Granger notes.

We could debate the merits of that plan for quite a while, actually. After all, wouldn’t you think every playoff opponent in existence would want to make life miserable for top-flight defensemen, especially a smaller one like Karlsson? You could probably file that under “Easier said than done,” as if you go too far out of your way to try to hit Karlsson, you might just give him the extra space he covets to send silky-smooth passes. See: his brilliant pass to Evander Kane in Game 1, among many, many, other examples of transition and offensive brilliance.

But, honestly, those tactical tweaks aren’t as important as putting the right players in the lineup.

This discussion starts with the most crucial point: Gallant needs to put Colin Miller back in the mix.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

There are a number of choices for who to bring back out to make room for Miller. Nick Holden was the defenseman who seemed to bump Miller in Game 1, and Miller would be an upgrade there. It might be a tough sell to Gallant (who loves his bruisers) to consider scratching Deryk Engelland, but it should be a consideration, too. Engelland struggled possession-wise in Game 1, and while he exceeded expectations since joining the Golden Knights, the bottom line is that he tends to be under water on a nightly basis.

Really, if Gallant is really being stubborn, you could argue for going with a seven-defensemen, 11-forward set … although that might require scratching Ryan Reaves, which might be an even tougher (though possibly valid) sell.

Whoever you’d move out of the lineup, Miller’s the type of player you really want in your mix, especially when every lineup decision counts against a hauntingly deep team like the Sharks. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs seem like the wrong time for refusing to give up on “sentimental favorites” like Reaves, Engelland, or Holden (the latter standing out, particularly because it might be an argument Gallant would truly consider).

Miller looms as an upgrade from a wide variety of perspectives. Take his potential transition impact compared to Holden, via CJ Turturo’s visualization (which uses Corey Sznajder’s data):

If bar charts and so-called “fancy stats” aren’t your thing, consider that Miller does the really obvious stuff. That includes scoring.

Last season was a breakout year for Miller, as he scored 10 goals and 41 points during the 2017-18 regular season, then tied for second among Golden Knights defensemen with seven points during their run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

My guess is that a colder 2018-19 season (three goals, 29 points in 65 games) may partially explain Miller’s doghouse residence, alongside some specific turnover that probably stuck in Gallant’s craw. Generating 29 points in an abbreviated season still ranks as useful offense, particularly if the bar is merely “getting in the lineup,” and Miller’s puck luck (career-low 2.3 shooting percentage this season, versus a career average of 4.9 percent) could very well warm up when it matters the most.

The Golden Knights lack that Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson-type game-changer on defense, but they have the potential to manufacture offense from a group that’s still pretty effective. Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt can help in that regard, but Miller’s up there in being among the most potent scorers from Vegas’ blueline. Miller also grades well from just about every analytics metric, particularly if you’re comparing him to bottom-of-the-order players.

So, sure, Gallant, ask your players to be “hungrier.” Just reconsider which players you’re sending to the dinner table.

Golden Knights – Sharks Game 2 from The SAP Center will be Friday night at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. (Livestream)

For more on Friday’s Game 2 matchups, read The Wraparound.

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.

Calgary presents Ryan Wilson with PTO

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After missing the vast majority of the 2014-15 campaign due to a shoulder injury, it seems Ryan Wilson hasn’t been able to secure a new contract this summer. He might still end up on an NHL roster though as he’s been invited to attend the Calgary Flames’ training camp on a tryout basis, per the team’s website.

Wilson originally signed with the Flames back in 2008 after going undrafted. However, he didn’t play for Calgary before being dealt along with Lawrence Nycholat and a 2009 second round pick (Stefan Elliot) to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Jordan Leopold. Wilson went on to score seven goals and 67 points in 230 games with the Avalanche.

The 28-year-old defenseman was coming off of a three-year, $6.75 million deal, but this has been a particularly difficult summer for veteran players as teams have been more disciplined than usual in light of the relatively modest cap increase for the 2015-16 campaign.

That’s created openings for the Flames and other teams to extend tryouts to players like Wilson, but it’s hard to see how he would fit into their plans. Calgary has a deep blueline that features Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie, and Kris Russell. Throw in the fact that Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland are slated to come with $3.5 million and roughly $2.9 million annual cap hits this season and there just doesn’t appear to be room for another established blueliner barring an injury.

Pittsburgh’s biggest question: Is the defense good enough?

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For a team not really known for its defense, the Penguins sure have seen defensemen fly off the shelves.

Last summer, teams spent $76.45 million to lure away Deryk Engelland (Calgary), Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik (Washington).

This summer, more of the same with the Sharks signing Paul Martin and the Kings inking Christian Ehrhoff.

The issue here is obvious — if Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t that great to begin with and then lost all these guys, how good will it be heading into 2015-16?

“I’m comfortable with (our defense) going into the season,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said earlier this summer, per USA Today. “But it is certainly the area we will watch the closest.”

Rutherford isn’t the only one that’ll be watching.

Eyes across the league will be glued to Pittsburgh following Rutherford’s bold renovation project. Nearly all of his moves this summer were designed to improve his forward group — adding the likes of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and KHLer Sergei Plotnikov — essentially banking on the idea that, ready or not, his collection of young defensemen will carry the load.

And it really is a young group.

Only Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy have appeared in over 200 NHL games; even a “veteran” presence like 26-year-old Ian Cole is a bit of a wildcard, given he was buried on a deep Blues blueline before being acquired last season (prior to ’14-15, Cole’s career high in games played was 46).

As such, kids are going to take on some pretty hefty roles.

Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, both 21, figure to get a lion’s share of the now-available minutes, while the likes of Adam Clendening (22), Brian Dumoulin (23) and Tim Erixon (24) will be fighting for depth spots — which, in Pittsburgh, are pretty important spots.

This is a defensive unit, remember, that was ravaged by injury a year ago (recall when the Pens only dressed five d-men against San Jose?) Things got so bad that, by the time the playoffs rolled around, Taylor Chorney was in the lineup.

Though the club has since hired two new staffers in an effort to “minimize injuries,” losing blueliners to injury always remains a concern.

But there is a wrinkle.

Rutherford, who took heat last year for rolling the dice on a thin blueline while stockpiling offense, says that his abundance of forwards may actually help out should he to add a defenseman.

“Hopefully the younger guys can fall into place and do a consistent job,” he explained. “If not, part of having more depth up front, is that it can help us in the long run because if we have to go get a defenseman we have those extra pieces.”

Translation: Rutherford knows the group might need help.

“I’m fully aware,” he said, “that at some point in time we may have to address that position.”

Burrows’ instigator suspension rescinded, allowed to play Game 4

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Sounds like Vancouver forward Alex Burrows will have his instigator-related suspension from late in Sunday’s loss to Calgary rescinded, meaning he’ll be eligible to play Game 4.

The report, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, comes just hours after Burrows was given a five-minute fighting major, a two-minute boarding minor and the aforementioned instigator penalty following a scrap with Calgary d-man Kris Russell in Game 3:

Though NHL rules state that instigator penalties levied in the final moments of games can be grounds for suspension, it’s possible that Burrows’ ban was rescinded because he wasn’t judged to have been sending a message, or exacting retribution.

It’s also worth noting that the league has already rescinded an instigator penalty in this series — the one called against Flames defenseman Deryk Engelland in the waning moments of Game 2.

Update: NHL confirms it:

No hearing scheduled for Hamhuis after Bennett headshot

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Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis does not have a hearing scheduled following his illegal check to the head of Sam Bennett on Sunday night, per an NHL spokesman.

Here’s the hit in question, which earned Hamhuis a two minute minor:

Bennett, 18, returned to the ice shortly afte and was on for Jannik Hansen’s goal at 17:41 that cut Calgary’s lead to 4-2. Bennett didn’t play another shift following the goal.

The illegal check to the head was the second incident Hamhuis’ been in the middle of in as many games. During the brawl at the end of Game 2, he was the third man in a fight between Derek Dorsett and Deryk Engelland and received a game misconduct.

As for this latest incident, it’s worth nothing that NHL discipline czar Stephane Quintal could still schedule a hearing with Hamhuis for the Bennett hit. That said, it would need to happen rather quickly (and probably already would’ve) as the Flames and Canucks are right back in action tomorrow at the Saddledome.