Ilya Kovalchuk

No NHL return for Pavel Datsyuk, who signs one-year deal to stay in KHL

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If there was a glimmer of hope that Pavel Datsyuk might return to the NHL for 2020-21, that is now gone. Datsyuk signed a one-year deal with Yekaterinburg Automobilist (or Ekaterinburg Avtomobilist) keeping the former Red Wings star in the KHL.

Considering that Datsyuk will turn 42 on July 20, we may have seen the last of him in the NHL.

For one thing, playing close to home appeals to the veteran forward. It’s also possible to wonder how many NHL teams would be interested in the 42-year-old. Datsyuk’s already four seasons removed from the NHL (spending three with St. Petersburg SKA, and this past with Automobilist).

After putting up some pretty strong offensive numbers from 2016-17 to 2018-19 with SKA, Datsyuk’s numbers dipped this past season. He scored five goals and 22 points in 43 KHL games, although he managed four points in as many playoff contests.

Then again, most hockey fans attest that scoring numbers only tell part of what made Datsyuk a “magic man.”

It’s difficult to find “fancy stats” for the KHL, so it’s difficult to tell if Datsyuk remains a two-way standout. (It certainly would be difficult for anyone — even Datsyuk — to approach his peak-level work at an advanced age.)

But, frankly, it would have been a delight to see Datsyuk put together an NHL farewell tour. Even a diminished Datsyuk. Consider how fun it was to see Ilya Kovalchuk score some big-time goals during his redemptive run with the Canadiens.

That said, it’s easy to see why Datsyuk decided to stay in the KHL. Even if he was holding out hope for an NHL return, who knows if the league will be able to hold a 2020-21 season (in December, or otherwise)?

Datsyuk staying in KHL, not returning to NHL, is coherent part of a strange summer

It’s already been an odd summer of sorts for Datsyuk. M Live’s Ansar Khan points out that Datsyuk’s agent Dan Milstein shot down rumors about Datsyuk being … “holed up” at a monastery that had been seized by “Father Sergei,” a priest pushing a COVID-19 conspiracy?

Milstein tweeted this:

After these rumors circulated:

It all seems strange, either way. But then again, so is 2020.

Datsyuk not returning to the NHL? That’s not nearly as odd — quite understandable, actually — but it’s still a bit of a bummer.

How about a fun exercise to fill your time? If he returned to the NHL, but not with the rebuilding Red Wings, where would he make sense? (Even parsing through hypotheticals doesn’t keep this from being a bummer, though.)

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 Power Rankings: Top Draft Lottery memories

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Hockey fans will get something to obsess about on Friday, June 26, as the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will air on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET. If one of the NHL’s bottom seven teams wins the first draw, we might know where Alexis Lafrenière is headed (assuming, reasonably safely, that he goes first). As promising as Lafrenière is, history shows that winning a draft lottery isn’t the only part of putting together a championship team — if you even get that far.

I mean … don’t get me wrong, as this list shows, it often helps. A lot.

The latest PHT Power Rankings list breaks down top memories that have come from draft lotteries. Sometimes we’ll see big winners, losers, or both. Sometimes there will be tragic comedy, or incredible luck (*cough* or both).

The experience of seeing your team’s luck swing on the bounces of lottery balls can be agonizing. It also makes just about every experience a personal one. So, if you have draft lottery memories that didn’t make the cut, absolutely share them.

Try not to ruin your day going over such memories, though.

[How the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will work. It could get complicated.]

1. Penguins land Crosby in strange 2005 NHL Draft Lottery

You know it’s an odd, memorable draft lottery when Sports Illustrated gives it the oral history treatment.

Sidney Crosby also ended up justifying the hype, making the 2005 NHL Draft lottery possibly the most pivotal since the format began.

On one hand, the Penguins received some of the best odds to win. They received three of the 48 lottery balls in the NHL’s strange setup, ranking among four teams with the most. Even so, they had a 6.3 percent chance to win the Crosby sweepstakes. (Somewhere, Brian Burke is still fuming about this.)

You can probably set off a brushfire of hockey debate by asking how much the Penguins’ success hinged on luck — not just landing Crosby, but Evgeni Malkin second in 2004, and a bucket of other high picks — and how much hinged on solid management. There’s no debate that the Penguins came out of the lockout with two enormous additions.

You can also entertain yourself with some Ducks alternate history. What if they did land Crosby? Imagine if Burke’s alleged aims to trade for Joe Thornton worked out? Would Burke still be challenging Kevin Lowe and others to barn brawls as Ducks GM to this day?

*Loosens tie over the whole thing*

Also:

  • The Canadiens only received one lottery ball, yet eventually drafted Carey Price fifth overall.
  • The Sabres had three lottery balls, but chose (*moves imaginary glasses from forehead to eyes*) … Marek Zagrapan? Oof.

That 2005 NHL Draft tops the list of lottery memories. There are plenty of other dramatic swings to mull over, however.

2. Blackhawks lose big in 2004, then win big in 2007

It’s easy to zero in on the top pick of a draft versus the second when you look back at draft lottery swings. But don’t sleep on the third pick, and on, because that’s where the deepest belly laughs and cringes often lurk.

Consider 2004. The Capitals rocketed back to relevance thanks to Alex Ovechkin. Malkin served as the first of the Penguins’ two superstars (but far from the only high picks, as the Penguins marinated in those during a run of profound ineptitude).

The Blackhawks? They chose Cam Barker third overall. Brutal.

Luckily, the Blackhawks ended up trading Barker for a future building block in Nick Leddy. Amusingly, fourth overall pick Andrew Ladd also helped Chicago down the line.

But most luckily, the Blackhawks landed the top pick in 2007 despite having the fifth-best chances (8.1 percent). Chicago selected Patrick Kane, pairing him with Jonathan Toews on their way to three Stanley Cups.

The Flyers suffered through a miserable season, yet instead of drafting Kane, they ended up with James van Riemsdyk. There’s a kinship, oddly, between JVR and Bobby Ryan: two New Jersey natives, who were second overall picks, and enjoyed bumpy-but-productive careers that probably didn’t soothe the wounds of those who were mad about draft lottery results.

Did we mention they were from New Jersey? (Crowd boos.)

[NHL Mock Draft: Lafreniere head of the 2020 prospect class]

3. The Oilers land McDavid, McDavid makes classic McDavid face

Compared to the Sabres’ 20-percent chance, the Oilers were underdogs to land Connor McDavid with the third-best odds (11.5). But the Oilers’ rain and reign of first overall picks continued.

As you may remember, McDavid looked thrilled.

There’s a sound argument for this rankings second, not third, among draft lottery memories. After all, McDavid ranks as the biggest star to emerge first overall since Crosby.

He also made that face.

But the other factor that looms large is the deep failure of the Oilers and the Sabres. Edmonton achieves borderline art in poor development (Nail Yakupov, first in 2012) and poor decisions (trading Taylor Hall, first in 2010) to squander so much good fortune. Only now are the Oilers flirting with the success they were practically gifted, and that hinges a ton on McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The Sabres have been a mess for about a decade. They can’t pin that on getting Jack Eichel instead of McDavid, even if they clearly tanked for McDavid.

Hockey fans might want to attribute the success of teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks to premium picks alone. Yet, the Sabres and especially Oilers show us that you can squander such riches.

4. Taylor Hall, lottery ball specialist

Taylor Hall, one-time MVP and himself the top pick of 2010, became a good luck charm for his teams — at least when it came to draft lotteries. The biggest win came when the Oilers won the McDavid sweepstakes in 2015, while the Devils also landed Nico Hischier and most recently Jack Hughes in lotteries with Hall in the fold.

Hall hasn’t just shown a good sense of humor about it. He’s done so multiple times.

In 2015, McDavid:

After 2017, when the Devils eventually added Hischier:

Hall still provided some great barbs in 2019, though he wouldn’t spend much time with Jack Hughes:

So, a question: do we gauge Hall’s continued lottery ball dominance based on where the Coyotes draft, or if he signs with a different team in free agency? This is important, I think.

[PHT Roundtable: Draft Lottery format reactions]

5. Flyers make biggest jump ever

Heading into the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, the Flyers held the 13th rank. Despite that standing, they jumped all the way to the second pick. Philly had a 2.4 percent chance to do that.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like a Blackhawks Barker-to-Kane flip. Early in his career, Nolan Patrick has been some combination of inconsistent and injured (his career outlook is still foggy because of migraines).

Patrick’s health issues make it seem way too harsh to throw the word “bust” around. But that jump to No. 2 definitely didn’t deliver for the Flyers quite like they dreamed.

The next three picks turn the knife deeper for Flyers fans. The Stars drafted a defensive pillar in Miro Heiskanen. Then the Avalanche got a pillar of their own in Cale Makar. Finally, the Canucks might have drafted the “real” top pick in Elias Pettersson.

Ouch.

Honorable mention NHL Draft Lottery storylines and memories

To reiterate, good draft lottery luck doesn’t always translate to the standings. Sometimes it doesn’t even mean you’ll choose the right player.

  • The Thrashers (Patrik Stefan) and Islanders (Rick DiPietro) followed back-to-back blunders, and made blunders around those moves. Trading Roberto Luongo, giving DiPietro a ruinous contract, and so on showed that winning the lottery isn’t everything. Granted, Atlanta eventually struck gold with Ilya Kovalchuk (2001) — at least for a while.
  • Buffalo suffered some bad luck, but they need more than lottery wins. Rasmus Dahlin (2018) looks legit, yet he hasn’t been able to solve the Sabres’ problems. That takes multiple shrewd moves … and, yes, some luck.
  • You could rank the Canucks among the teams that have been burned by bad draws. Even so, some of their best recent picks came outside the true no-brainer range. They selected Elias Pettersson fifth in 2017, and he’d probably be the top pick in a re-draft. The Quinn Hughes pick (seventh in 2018) looked smart then, and brilliant now.

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Washington Capitals

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Washington Capitals.

Record: 41-20-8 (69 games), first in the Metropolitan Division, third in the Eastern Conference.
Leading Scorer: John Carlson – 75 points – (15 goals, 60 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves
• Traded Chandler Stephenson to Golden Knights for 2021 fifth-round pick.
• Acquired Brenden Dillon from Sharks for 2020 second-round pick, 2021 conditional third-round pick.
• Acquired Ilya Kovalchuk from Canadiens for 2020 third-round pick.
• Re-signed Nicklas Backstrom to five-year, $46 million extension.

Season Overview

After a surprising Round 1 exit ended their hopes for a Stanley Cup repeat, the Capitals didn’t allow that end to affect their start to 2019-20. By early in the new year they hit the 30-win mark and at the time of the NHL pause on March 12 they were atop the Metro and third in the conference. A lull in the final month — which saw them win only six out of 17 games — allowed for the division race to tighten up, with the Flyers and Penguins within four points after 69 games.

Two of the stories of the Capitals’ season so far are the play of John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin‘s 700th goal quest. Carlson has picked up points on a regular basis and leads the team with 75, a career high, along with 15 goals. The veteran defenseman is tops among all blue liners in scoring and is in the top 15 of overall skaters in points. His play has solidified himself in the Norris Trophy race as he will likely be one of the three finalists.

Ovechkin entered this season with 658 goals. In his 60th game of the season, the Capitals captain scored his 42nd to become the eighth NHL player to reach the 700-goal mark. It was quite the rollercoaster ride in the final games before he hit the mark. He went goalless in five straight games after previously scoring 14 in seven games, which included three hat tricks. He’s now part of an elite club with Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr, Brett Hull, Marcel Dionne, Phil Esposito, and Mike Gartner.

Another interesting storyline has been the situation in goal. Braden Holtby, who will be 31 in September, can be an unrestricted free agent in the off-season. Ilya Samsonov, 23, made his NHL debut this season, playing 26 games and posting a .927 save percentage at 5-on-5 vs. Holtby’s .905, per Natural Stat Trick. Head coach Todd Reirden, however, has continued to give the veteran the lion’s share of work of late, with Holtby starting 12 of the Capitals’ 17 games before the pause. With $71 million allocated for the 2020-21 season already, per CapFriendly, and the possibility of the cap remaining flat for at least one year, this could very well be Holtby’s last run with the team.

But that’s a question for the off-season. For now, general manager Brian MacLellan remains focused on regaining the Cup and bolstered his roster two moves at the trade deadline. First, he acquired a defenseman at the deadline for the fourth straight year, picking up Brenden Dillon from the Sharks. A few days later he added a reinvigorated Ilya Kovalchuk from the Canadiens. Both can be UFAs, but for now they’re two big pieces that strengthen a team that already had eyes on a deep playoff run.

Highlight of the Season

After a short slump, Ovechkin reached the 700-goal milestone on Feb. 22 in New Jersey:

 

MORE CAPITALS:
Biggest 2019-20 surprises, disappointments
Long-term outlook

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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.

PHT remembers hockey video games: An ode to the NHL 2K series

Thornton NHL 2K cover
via 2K Sports

Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look back at the NHL 2K series, which served as great competition for EA’s NHL games, particularly during the Playstation 2 era.

This past weekend, ESPN’s feed gave Twitter addicts welcome reprieve from “pick three” lists with the question: “What is the peak of your personal athletic achievements?”

Naturally, I sat that out, as my peak athletic achievements lean toward “not being chosen last in a pickup game.” Now, if you ask about the peak of my fake video game athletic achievements, the NHL 2K series etched one moment in my memory.

A personal highlight from the NHL 2K series

Allow me to set the scene.

It was late in the summer of 2006, in my deeply crummy Texas apartment. If “Guitar Hero” wasn’t on the screen, chances are, it was “NHL 2K6.”

Facing off for the first time against someone who would become a lifelong friend, I was controlling Ilya Kovalchuk. And, folks, I made the move.

If you’ve ever gotten hooked on hockey video games, you know that there are some surefire ways to score goals. In that run of NHL 2K games, this cheesy behind the net plus backhand move was money. Especially with Kovalchuk.

Yet, instead of cash registers ringing from said money, there was … nothing. Was I mad? Perhaps, but I was undoubtedly perplexed.

Well, it turns out that the money move was indeed money. Maybe Kovalchuk doing the move broke the game. The puck actually hit the very top of the glass behind the net, bounced back off of the opposing goalie, hit the crossbar, and went in.

Speaking of being mad or not, if my friend was upset, he didn’t exactly show it. We were both perplexed, and frankly in awe.

During the latter years of the Playstation 2 era, the NHL 2K series captured my attention away from EA’s offerings. That turned out to be short-lived, as EA pulled away with the “skill stick” and jump to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

NHL 2K didn’t just fall behind in the race. It ended up falling out altogether.

But, like the Blackhawks and Kings … hey, we still have the memories. And a lot of the NHL 2K memories ended up being fond ones. For a while.

The birth of the NHL 2K series

As with 2K Sports’ other sports titles, including the still-running NBA 2K franchise, and the still-beloved NFL 2K games, the NHL 2K series got its start on the all-too-briefly realized Sega Dreamcast console.

(If you want to observe people getting weird about video game hardware, do some Dreamcast deep diving.)

  • NHL 2K launched the series with Brendan Shanahan on the cover.
  • The series took a year off, returning with Chris Drury-starring NHL 2K2. It might have been the final North American release for the Dreamcast.
  • NHL 2K3 and the following release ESPN NHL Hockey both featured Jeremy Roenick on their covers. (The 2K games did this around that era, as Allen Iverson basically had a monopoly on the NBA 2K games.)

ESPN NHL 2K5: darkest spot of the golden era

There was a lot to like about ESPN NHL 2K5. It was part of the run of 2K games that were only $20, and it didn’t backfire for the NHL 2K series like it did for NFL 2K.

(People also lionize ESPN NFL 2K5 to this day.)

But whenever I saw that cover with Martin St. Louis, I couldn’t avoid thoughts about the 2004-05 lockout.

2K Sports/Youtube

Dark times.

  • Personally speaking, NHL 2K6 and NHL 2K7 were the last titles in the series that truly hooked me (and friends).

NHL 2K7 wasn’t just a swan song to many. It also featured out of place songs by way of a soundtrack with acts like The Postal Service. It’s uncomfortable that the latter stages of the series were more worthy of emo.

EA Sports pulls away

Things drastically changed when EA made a more successful jump to the next consoles thanks to brilliant execution of “the skill stick.”

  • You could really start to see the strain to catch up with NHL 2K8, which wasn’t received particularly well. Things didn’t get much better for NHL 2K9, either.
  • Consider NHL 2K10 something of the end of an era, as it was the last in the series to appear on the more powerful consoles. It’s also an oddity that Alex Ovechkin was on the cover, being that he also appeared on the cover for EA’s NHL ’07.

NHL 2K10 did cater to fans in two specific ways: being the first to feature the Winter Classic, and also helped turn the tide for the Hartford Whalers’ jerseys to appear in games again.

  • Things really fizzled out from there with NHL 2K11 (Wii and iPhone) and simply NHL 2K (mobile game) years later in 2014. Curiously, Ryan Kesler was the cover star for the latter two games.

***

Basically, the NHL 2K series went out like … erm, Ryan Kesler, actually. But like a beloved star who stayed around too long, let’s try to remember the good times instead of the sadder moments.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

  • NHL Championship 2000, Fox’s rare foray into hockey video games, starring Mike Modano.
  • NHL Slapshot, a Wii video game with a small plastic hockey stick peripheral that even Wayne Gretzky found delightful.
  • EA’s NHL ’98, when the company hit its polygonal stride, and also featured a great soundtrack (ironically and unironically?).

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens.

2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

Record: 31-31-9 (71 points in 71 games), fifth in the Atlantic Division, 12th in East
Leading Scorer: Tomas Tatar – 61 points (22 goals and 39 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

It’s tempting to summarize the Habs’ last two seasons by making a parallel with Max Domi‘s past two years.

Heading into 2018-19, people mocked Domi for his previous season’s goals total (nine) following the Alex Galchenyuk trade. They made fun of Marc Bergevin as his moves looked, at that moment, quite regrettable. Then Domi and the Canadiens played really well, and almost made the playoffs.

Of course, almost everything went right for Domi (easily career-highs in goals [28] and points [72]) and the Canadiens in 2018-19 … yet they didn’t make the playoffs.

Both Domi and the Habs performed reasonably well in 2019-20, but they also cooled off. Domi was fine, really (17 goals, 44 points falling in line with the strong start to his Coyotes career), yet people were likely let down after he set expectations higher.

Naturally, boiling things down to a Domi comparison simplifies things too much.

Really, if you’re going to gripe about any top Habs player, it might be Carey Price — or more accurately, the goaltending overall. Or maybe luck?

The Canadiens looked strong by just about every five-on-five measure, from sheer shot shares to controlling high-danger chances. They simply couldn’t finish (8.6 shooting percentage), get enough saves (.900 save percentage as a team), and continued to struggle on the power play (17.74 percent success rate).

This all leaves the Canadiens in a strange place. Bergevin isn’t quite as worthy of ridicule as before — even the Shea Weber/P.K. Subban trade looked better with time — but he also couldn’t capitalize on Price’s prime.

Now what? The Habs haven’t been tanking, making their long-term future look good (thanks to some smart picks and maneuvering) but maybe not great. In the short term, any path to postseasons seems bumpy as long as the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs already seem primed to hog the Atlantic’s top three spots most years.

(Honestly? As often as the Panthers shoot themselves in the foot, many would still take their foundation over Montreal’s thanks to Florida’s value-heavy, impressive forward group.)

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Canadiens

Is it too crass to argue that it was Bergevin turning a fourth-rounder into a second-rounder and conditional fourth-rounder via the Scandella trades?

Maybe zoom out and ponder the bucket of picks Montreal landed by moving out inessential parts in Cousins, Thompson, Reilly, and Kovalchuk? There was a lot of “something from nothing” in Bergevin’s work once it was clearer that Montreal’s 2019-20 ceiling was fairly low. Cap Friendly’s chart of Canadiens picks tells the story of a team that landed a lot of volume:

2019-20 Canadiens draft picks and beyond

Sure, you could argue that the Canadiens lack the “premium” picks of, say, their division rivals in Ottawa. But such a bulk of picks opens up options for Bergevin. He can try to trade up, or maybe shake loose some talent by moving his picks for roster players.

For all we know, not trading Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry could end up being a highlight, too.

If you want a more hockey-related highlight, try the Canadiens’ early-season run.

After starting 1-1-2, the Canadiens rumbled their way to an 11-5-3 record by mid-November. Unfortunately for the Habs, it was not a sign of a larger rise, as they entered the pause at 31-31-9.

MORE ON THE CANADIENS:

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.