Ivan Provorov

NHL Playoffs: How should top four East teams approach Round Robin?

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[UPDATE – JULY 10: NHL announces full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]

While the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams fight to make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Round Robin is merely for seeding. Such a scenario presents the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding teams (four in each conference) with many conundrums, including the age-old rest vs. rust debate.

PHT will take a look at such dilemmas for all eight teams in the NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding, starting with the East. We’re going East first because the Bruins a) won the Presidents’ Trophy and b) addressed such debates recently.

We might as well go in order as they would be ranked, too.

Debates for East top four teams heading into NHL’s Round Robin for Seeding

Boston Bruins

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Bruce Cassidy said he’s open to the idea of resting players during the three-game Round Robin for Seeding.

“Would we like to win all three games? Of course, in a perfect world, but I think with all teams there’s going to be some sort of a preseason mentality worked in with how the lineups are constructed every game,” Cassidy said, via Haggerty. “But if the [veteran players] want to play every game then I’m going to listen to them. It’s their bodies and they would know best. Then in the last game in the third period we’re going to shut our eyes and hope nobody gets hurt in those situations.”

The Bruins are in a heightened situation. While it stings that they may lose the top seeding they earned with 2019-20’s only 100-point season, this is also a roster brimming with veterans.

Most obviously, Cassidy must manage Zdeno Chara (43) and Patrice Bergeron (34). Really, the list goes deeper even than Tuukka Rask, who’s 33.

Brad Marchand is 32, and stands as an example to other contenders. As you may recall, Marchand aggravated a previous hand injury before the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Maybe it was coincidental, but Marchand’s top line struggled during that seven-game slugfest with the Blues. If teams like the Bruins want to go deep, they should emphasize caution most of all.

So, beyond the obvious, there are players who’ve been banged up like Torey Krug. Charlie McAvoy‘s also dealt with bumps and bruises despite ranking as one of the younger Bruins.

Overall, the Bruins rank among the East Round Robin teams with the most incentive to rest key players.

[MORE: How should the West’s top four teams handle rest vs. rust?]

Tampa Bay Lightning

How should the team with the most to lose deal with the Round Robin for Seeding?

Imagine how badly things could play out for the Lightning. We all know that their historic 2018-19 season ended in a stunning first-round sweep. Kenan Thompson mocked it. Andrei Vasilevskiy looked really steamed.

What if the Lightning fall short under these strange circumstances?

It could cost Jon Cooper his job. And there’s the increased risk of scapegoating a lack of “preparedness” if the Lightning take a preseason approach to the Round Robin for Seeding.

You could definitely make the argument that the Lightning took a while to get back into their elite form in 2019-20, too.

But … the Lightning are smarter than to cave to bad takes, right?

Let’s not forget that the Lightning didn’t really take their feet off the gas during that 2018-19 regular season — not really. Rather than resting stars more aggressively, Nikita Kucherov and others chased history.

Personally, it really looked like Victor Hedman was far from 100 percent, even missing some of that first-round sweep.

This Lightning team boasts a fairly old defense beyond Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev. Hedman is 29 already. Steven Stamkos is 30 (ponders own mortality for a second).

Cooper needs to find the right balance. If there’s any hint of failure in that regard, the vultures may start circling.

Washington Capitals

Zooming out, the most logical choice would be for the Capitals to promote rest.

Almost every major Capitals player is 30 or older, with the rare exception of breakthrough winger Jakub Vrana (24). There’s also some incentive to see if Ilya Samsonov (23) is still sharper than Braden Holtby (30).

But 34-year-old Alex Ovechkin doesn’t sit out a whole lot of games. Maybe the unique circumstances (and lack of a Maurice Richard Trophy to chase) might change Ovechkin’s approach, yet it’s not a slam-dunk to sit him. As Cassidy said, coaches will at times defer to players. It wouldn’t be shocking if such an approach occasionally backfires.

All things considered, the Capitals joust with the Bruins for the East Round Robin team with the most to gain from resting aging stars.

Philadelphia Flyers

The knee-jerk reaction would be to say that the Flyers want to shake off rust.

For one thing, the Flyers boast several core players in the younger range. Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are both 23, while Carter Hart is 21. The Flyers also are “playing with house money” as a team that could climb to the top spot if they end up hot during the Round Robin for Seeding.

But the Flyers have plenty of reason to be careful, too.

To start, the drop-off between Hart and Brian Elliott (or another goalie) looks pretty severe. You don’t necessarily want to increase injury risks with Hart, then.

Also, there are veterans to manage. Philly should aim to keep Claude Giroux (32) and Jakub Voracek (30) fresh, not to mention someone like Matt Niskanen (33). While Sean Couturier is only 27, he’s the sort of player you’ll lean on a ton in playoff situations. So you might want to tread lightly there.

Rather than overtaxing go-to guys, this could be an opportunity for others. Could Nolan Patrick crack the lineup if his migraine issues are behind him? Perhaps a prospect from Philly’s impressive farm system will make a jump?

The Flyers have a lot to like about this situation. Even so, they also need to avoid getting too greedy.

MORE ON NHL PLAYOFFS, ROUND ROBIN FOR SEEDING:

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.

Mikhail Sergachev thinks Lightning will find a way to work out his next contract

Tampa Bay Lightning Mikhail Sergachev contract salary cap
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By just about any standard, it sure doesn’t look like it will be easy for the Lightning to sign pending RFA defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to a new contract. Sergachev told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen that he believes it will all work out, though.

“It’s a little different obviously right now, but I’m trying to leave it to my agent (Mark Gandler),” Sergachev said on Thursday, via Rosen. “He’s going to deal with it, I guess. But for me, I just want to continue the season, play and get better and see what happens. I feel like they’re going to work out something. I have a good agent.”

Here’s why this is an interesting situation to watch, considering Sergachev’s potential, and also the Lightning’s larger cap challenges.

What is the right contract?

Sergachev, 21, really earned more trust — and playing time — from the Lightning this season.

Sergachev’s ice time climbed from 15:22 per game in 2017-18 to 17:55 in 2018-19, and finally 20:22 on average this season. Despite the pause, Sergachev set career-highs in goals (10) and points (34).

The Lightning see improvements in his all-around play, too, as Victor Hedman noted to The Athletic’s Joe Smith in January (sub required).

“He’s evolved into a great two-way defenseman,” Hedman said. “ … He’s an unbelievable talent offensively, we all know that. But the shot blocks, the hits, the way he plays in his own end, it’s fun to watch.

“I’ve said this many times before, the sky is the limit for this guy. This is just the start.”

During certain stretches, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Lightning were holding Sergachev back a bit.

Such a thought makes you wonder if we haven’t really seen his offensive ceiling yet. On the other hand, theoretically, veteran defenseman Hedman and Ryan McDonagh could also insulate Sergachev defensively.

So what’s a fair contract for Sergachev? Again, it’s tough to tell.

Using Evolving Hockey’s contract projection tool while adjusting for an $81.5M cap hit, the anticipated deal might be for eight years with a $6.5M cap hit. While Evolving Hockey’s model puts an eight-year deal at a 32-percent chance, other most likely outcomes sit at six years (25 percent) or a two-year bridge (13%).

Let’s zoom out, though, as the Lightning’s overall situation and history could factor into Sergachev’s individual value.

Can the Lightning pull off salary cap magic again with Sergachev, Cirelli, Cernak?

Time and time again, we’ve seen the Lightning pull off serious wizardry in tight cap situations. All of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman signed for less than market value.

Watching Alex Killorn zoom around Tampa Bay docks on his jet ski provides a reminder of why they took discounts, along with the “playing for a really good team in a state with tax breaks” factors.

Financial blowback from COVID-19 might make this offseason the trickiest one yet for Tampa Bay. After all, they were already anticipating some challenges if the cap went up to, say, $84.5M or so.

When rating all 31 NHL teams’ salary cap situations, The Athletic’s James Mirtle ranked Lightning dead last (sub required).

(You’d think it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to be compared to a “deep-fried pickle,” but alas.)

Via Cap Friendly, the Lightning already have $76.16M devoted to 15 players for 2020-21. That’s before you factor in new contracts for Sergachev, but also dark horse Selke candidate Anthony Cirelli, and useful defenseman Erik Cernak.

Going back to Evolving Hockey’s projection tool, hypothetical estimates combine the three at $14-$15M. Even Mirtle’s more generous estimate would tack on $11M.

(Frankly, if the Lightning signed Sergachev and Cirelli for $11M, let alone Cernak, they’d be getting great deals.)

But, yeah, we’ve seen players accept less than they might otherwise get with the Lightning. It wouldn’t be shocking to see this happen again, especially if Sergachev is OK betting on himself by taking a shorter “bridge” deal.

Even so, expect painful losses for the Lightning. It’s tough to imagine bargain bin free agent Kevin Shattenkirk squeezing in again, and you’d expect Tampa Bay to lose one or more of Tyler Johnson or Yanni Gourde.

Yes, there are worse problems to have … which is probably why Sergachev will just relax and do cat-centric exercises rather than worrying too much.

More on the Lightning:

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.

Long-term outlook for Philadelphia Flyers

Long-term outlook for Flyers Provorov Couturier Konecny
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

When you look at the Flyers’ core, you should take a moment to appreciate the cleanup job Ron Hextall accomplished. The current regime took the baton and got off to a good run post-Ron, but give credit where it’s due. Hextall inherited a mess.

Now, sure, there are some risks.

One could see how the combination of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Kevin Hayes, and James van Riemsdyk could age poorly, and quickly. Concerns about the Flyers becoming the “next Kings/Sharks” are somewhat justified.

Yet … a lot of those risks are mitigated. Giroux’s contract ends after 2021-22, and there’s a strong chance he’ll still be worth the near-$8.3M. JVR and Voracek are both 30, but the terms could be worse. Same goes for Hayes; yes, it’s risky, but he won’t turn 28 until May 8. Chuck Fletcher (and Hextall) is guilty of some gambles, but not at the “slap the deed of your house on the poker stack” level.

Most importantly, nice to outright fantastic bargains give the Flyers leeway to roll the dice. After last season’s hiccup, Ivan Provorov looks like a gem, and a steal at $6.75M. Travis Konecny isn’t far behind at $5M, and both contracts run through 2024-25.

The Flyers really feasted on a deal with Sean Couturier, and the only bummer (for them, not Couturier’s accountant) is that a raise is coming from that $4.33M after 2021-22.

There’s a lot to like about the Flyers’ core, especially if the aging elements don’t rapidly go rotten.

Long-term needs for Flyers

Pondering the long-term needs of the Flyers, it’s clear the team needs some answers.

To start: how much is it going to cost to truly add Carter Hart to the core? The 21-year-old’s entry-level contract expires after 2020-21. Would it be better to lock him down as soon as possible, or see how he performs during a contract year? What kind of money and term would make sense for an extension?

While much of the Hart conundrums boil down to “good problems to have,” the Flyers need to find out about the future for players dealing with health issues. Beyond a frightening situation for Oskar Lindblom, Philly could use some insight on Nolan Patrick and Shayne Gostisbehere.

The latter found himself in trade rumors, yet “Ghost Bear” wasn’t exactly healthy. You don’t necessarily want to sell low on a player who can at least generate offense, and is still reasonably young (26) and generally cheap ($4.5M AAV through 2022-23).

Depth resonates as a need for the Flyers, at least if some of the above situations don’t work out.

Beyond depth, I also wonder: while the Flyers boast a strong core, can they really hang among the best of the best?

Long-term strengths for Flyers

Even as players graduate to regular or semi-regular NHL duty, the Flyers continue to hunt down strong draft prospects. Cam York, Morgan Frost, and Bobby Brink help the Flyers place eighth in Scott Wheeler’s prospect rankings (sub required), for example.

Could those players provide that extra “oomph” for this franchise?

It’s an enticing thought, especially as Travis Sanheim bolsters the bigger names, while Frost, Joel Farabee, and others attempt to make impressions.

The Flyers have a nice mix of veteran stars, budding younger stars like Provorov and Konecny, and those aforementioned intriguing prospects. Hart also made encouraging steps toward being that long lost goalie.

There are reasons to be optimistic about this team’s chances of being competitive for some time. What a difference a year makes, eh?

MORE ON THE FLYERS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

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.

Philadelphia Flyers: Biggest surprises, disappointments

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for Philadelphia Flyers.

Vigneault and overall front office among very positive surprises for Flyers

Like many, I wondered if Alain Vigneault was really the right hire for the Flyers.

While I was impressed with Vigneault during his time with the Canucks, his latter Rangers years inspired fears that he was behind the times. Leaning so much on the likes of Tanner Glass? Not great.

There were some similar fears with GM Chuck Fletcher coming in pretty recently. Was this just going to be a team full of rehashes? Would a fairly talented foundation end up being wobbly at the top?

So far … nope, things have gone really well. It sure sounds like the Flyers are taking a progressive approach. Consider Vigneault’s comments about the analytics approach back in December, via The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor (sub required).

“In the past, (analytics) were more used by the general manager,” Vigneault said. “Chuck has made it really open, and I’m going to those guys (in the analytics department), and we’re exchanging information. They were part of our meetings this summer. So it’s an area that I think our hockey people are using more and more now.”

Vigneault used such information to pull goalies aggressively, and seemed to be making generally wise lineup decisions.

In general, the front office has been one of the season’s most promising surprises for the Flyers.

Konecny leading the team in scoring ranks among the bigger surprises for the Flyers

From the eye test alone, you could tell that Travis Konecny possesses brilliant talent. Still, it’s not a given that a player will also translate potential to production.

With that in mind, Konency’s rise is an even more pleasant surprise for the Flyers.

Despite being pandemic-limited to 66 games played, Konecny tied his career-high of 24 goals (from the two previous seasons, curiously). Konecny pushed his point total to a career-high of 61 points, seizing the opportunity of getting a big bump in ice time.

While you can nitpick a bit (a 17 shooting percentage is a touch high), it sure seems like the Flyers have a star on their hands.

Some other big situations worked out, too.

Matt Niskanen enjoyed a nice rebound year. More importantly, Ivan Provorov rebounded as well. Carter Hart continued his trajectory up the ranks of the NHL’s most promising goalies. There was a lot to like for the Flyers in 2019-20, right down to a hot finish.

Slightly disappointing season for Giroux

In the grand scheme of things, Claude Giroux remains a very good player. Giroux pumped out solid possession stats, as usual. Take, for instance, this sturdy-looking RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey:

It’s fair to say that Giroux’s point totals (53 in 69 games) were modest by his lofty standards. Chalk it up to a substantial drop in ice time (21:27 TOI average last season vs. 18:59 in 2019-20), or maybe unusually quiet power play production, but Giroux’s playmaking plummeted. He actually scored almost as many goals (21 vs. 22) in fewer games, yet his .46 assist per game average ranked as his lowest since 2009-10.

I wouldn’t be too concerned overall, though at 32, there is slight worry about Father Time messing things up.

Frustrating health luck for Flyers

Injuries strike just about every team (even the Washington Capitals every now and then).

Still, the Flyers had to weather some unexpected health issues that make you wonder if this team could have been even better.

Most frighteningly, Oskar Lindblom saw his season end after he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. Obviously, his health stands as a far larger concern than wins and losses.

Nolan Patrick experienced his own struggles as his 2019-20 campaign was derailed by migraine issues. It’s unclear if Patrick will be able to alleviate such issues in the long term, but at minimum, it sidelined him this season.

Overall, the good surprises outweighed on-ice disappointments for the Flyers. Most of all, here’s hoping for positive news regarding Lindblom’s health.

MORE ON THE FLYERS:
Looking at their 2019-20 season

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.

A best on best mythical tournament: Players that missed the cut

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament. The first teams created were a 23-and-under, players in their prime and players 30-and-older.

While the other teams in this mythical competition secured the best players from each age bracket, there were still plenty of high-impact players available to form another super team. This roster was able to take a unique combination of characteristics from players of all ages and create a team that is very well-balanced. They have the star power to skate stride for stride with the other teams in the tournament, and the depth to not only survive a long series but potentially thrive.

Line Combinations

First line: J.T. MillerSteven StamkosVladimir Tarasenko

Thoughts: It was surprising to slide Miller onto the top line, but he has finally lived up to his potential playing with elite talent on the Vancouver Canucks. He is 17th in the league with 72 points this season and skating alongside two highly skilled players should only increase his offensive production. Tarasenko has missed most of the season with a shoulder injury but his body of work speaks for itself.

Second line: Anders LeeJohn TavaresPhil Kessel

Thoughts: Lee had his only 40-goal season playing alongside John Tavares two years ago with the New York Islanders and has remained one of the league’s best net-front presences since No. 91 signed with Toronto. Patrick Kane echoed Mathew Barzal’s suggestion that Lee was one of the best puck tippers in the entire NHL. Kessel should also add an element of speed and an ability to score to balance out this dangerous trio.

Third line: Elias PetterssonAleksander BarkovWilliam Nylander

Thoughts: All three of these players are on the cusp of being superstars and each one should have a sizeable chip on his shoulder. This tournament would be a perfect opportunity for these players to elevate their status from up-and-coming players to established stars. Barkov has the entire skillset to bring out the best in each of his linemates on both ends of the ice.

Fourth line: Ondrej PalatSean CouturierTom Wilson

Thoughts: Wilson was an interesting player to include in this tournament, but he has proven in the past that he possesses the offensive skill to go along with his tough style of play. Couturier has become one of the top shutdown centers in the league and will be a contender for the Selke trophy for years to come. All three individuals understand the commitment it takes to be sharp in their own end of the ice without diminishing their offensive abilities.

First D pairing: Quinn HughesShea Weber

Second D pairing: Ivan ProvorovErik Karlsson

Third D pairing: Miro HeiskanenBrent Burns

Thoughts: There is not much else you need on a blueline but the biggest question facing this collection of defensemen: is Hughes is ready to handle top line minutes against the high-scoring lines from the opposition? If not, Provorov and Heiskanen are more than capable of sliding up the lineup and the group has more than enough talent to compete against any combination of forwards.

Starting Goalie: Carey Price

Backup Goalie: John Gibson

Just Missed (again): Nicklas Backstrom, Brock Boeser, Tyler Seguin, Ryan Suter, Jonathan Toews

Captain: Shea Weber

Alternate captains: John Tavares, Steven Stamkos

Coach: We have not had this category for our other teams, but is there a better coach in the league to motivate players passed over than John Tortorella? He didn’t have much success with Team USA in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but his performance behind the Blue Jackets’ bench this season has been superb after the departure of several key stars.

Analysis

Even though these players missed the cut for the initial rosters, this group of misfits is still a formidable team that could stand its ground against the competition. Whether its firepower, depth, size, speed, skill, toughness or any other critical characteristic a team needs to compete, this group of players is not lacking in any department. Without the restrictions of players fitting into a certain age bracket, this team has a strong mix of diverse skillsets.

One characteristic that stands out amongst this group is their size. Each line has a strong net-front presence and the ability to pin a team in their own zone for long stretches of time.

Despite the collection of prolific talent there are a few questions up front. Was Miller a one-hit wonder in Vancouver playing on the top line or can he replicate his production from this past season alongside Stamkos and Tarasenko? Will Tavares and Lee instantly find their chemistry?

Similarly to the 30-and-over team, can the third line win matchups against the top lines from the opposition? In addition, can the veterans on the blueline bring out the best in the three young lefties in the defensive group?

Even though there are plenty of questions and these players were pushed aside from the original rosters, this group has a legitimate shot to win the tournament.

Surprising omissions

Brock Boeser: It was a close call between him and Nylander for the third-line right-winger position, but the Canucks forward has not established himself as an elite winger just yet. In a few years this could be a very different discussion but at the current time, Nylander has been the more dynamic player.

Ryan Suter: A solid minutes-eating defenseman is an ingredient any roster could use during this tournament, but the other three left-handed shot defensemen were harder to omit. Suter’s veteran presence will be missed but Hughes, Provorov, and Heiskanen have developed into elite defenseman faster than anticipated.

Jonathan Toews: The captain of the Chicago Blackhawks has justifiably developed a reputation as one of the top two-way centermen in the NHL. He was within striking distance of crossing the 70-point mark for the second consecutive season. Toews was a very tough player to leave off the roster, but Couturier and Barkov are just a cut above.


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.