Jaccob Slavin

Carolina Hurricanes
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What is the long-term outlook for the Hurricanes?

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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 Carolina Hurricanes.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

This has the potential to be one of the best long-term situations in the league given their collective age (one of the youngest teams in the league), the talent and potential on the roster, as well as the fact that so many of the key players are already signed to long-term deals.

The Montreal Canadiens did them a huge favor this offseason by signing Sebastian Aho to an easily matchable offer sheet, locking him in place for the next five years.

Meanwhile, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, and Brett Pesce are all signed to long-term deals for at least the next two seasons. Several of them signed beyond that, while only two of those players (Aho and Staal) count more than $5.5 million against the salary cap individually.

Add in the fact that Dougie Hamilton is signed for another year, while Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas are both still on their entry-level deals and will not be eligible for unrestricted free agency for another six seasons and all of the most important players are locked in place.

Out of that core group, Staal is the only one over the age of 30 (currently 31), while the majority of them are still age 26 or younger. That means they are all either in the prime of their careers right now, or are just about to reach their prime years in the coming seasons.

Aho, Svechnikov, and Necas are already outstanding players, and all might still have their best days ahead of them.

Long-Term Needs

Goaltending has been the single biggest question mark for this team for almost a decade now, and that still might be the case.

That is not meant to be a knock on the current duo of James Reimer and Petr Mrazek. They have been solid this season when healthy, and a team could certainly do worse than having those two as their regular goalie tandem.

Given the overall strength of the team — and especially the defense when it is healthy — they do not need a game-saving superstar between the pipes to give them a chance. They simply need solid, steady, consistent play. They are getting that.

The question comes from the fact that I just do not know if either one is a true long-term solution in net, and if they have that solution somewhere else in their organization right now.

Both players are signed through the end of next season.

Other than maybe finding a potentially better long-term option in net, there are not a lot of truly pressing needs here. As mentioned above, their core group is locked in place and the addition of Trocheck from the Florida Panthers just before the trade deadline adds what could be an ideal long-term fit in the second-line center spot.

Long-Term Strengths

This current core has been built around its young defense, and that is still by far the team’s biggest strength both now and in the immediate future.

Slavin, Pesce, Skjei, and Gardiner are all signed through at least the 2022-23 season, while the former three all go through the end of the 2023-24 season. Add in Hamilton, who is signed through the end of next season, and that is as good of a top-five as you will find in the NHL right now. They are all in the prime of their careers, they are all outstanding players that fit the modern NHL game with their mobility and puck skills, and they are the backbone of what has been one of the league’s best teams when it comes to limiting shots and scoring chances over the past four years.

If they can manage to get Hamilton re-signed that would be another major piece in place.

Along with the defense, they also have what look to be two of the most important pieces for any contending team already in place with the duo Aho and Svechnikov — impact forwards that can carry the offense.

Aho is already a sensational player and a top-line star, while Svechnikov might end up being the best of the bunch. Aho’s contract could end up looking like a steal over the next four years, while Svechnikov still has one more year on an entry-level contract, giving them a huge advantage when it comes to adding pieces next season.

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Hurricanes
Hurricanes surprises and disappointments
• John Forslund tells his quarantine story

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.

NHL Power Rankings: The most underrated players

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus to individual players. Specifically, the most underrated players in the NHL right now.

We are trying to keep this to players that are legitimately underrated, overlooked, and do not get the proper amount of attention they probably deserve.

So we are just going to put this out here at the front front: You will not see Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom or Florida Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov on this list. They are staples on every underrated list or ranking that is compiled and both have reached a point where everyone knows exactly how great they are (pretty great).

Who does make this list?

To the rankings!

1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers. While everyone falls all over themselves to talk about how underrated Barkov is, the Panthers’ other star forward is actually still fairly overlooked. Especially when you consider just how productive he has been, and for how long he has played at that level. Huberdeau has been a monster offensively for four seasons now and one of the league’s top scorers. Since the start of the 2016-17 season he’s in the top-15 among in points per game among all players with at least 100 games played, and has climbed into the top-10 over the past two seasons.

2. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s probably a lot of people that would put him at the top of a most overrated list, and it’s truly one of the more baffling narratives in the league right now. Nylander is a constant lightning-rod for criticism and is always the first player that gets mentioned as being dangled as trade bait. What makes it so baffling is that he is an outstanding hockey player. Outside of the 2018-19 season (disrupted by his RFA saga) he has been a possession-driving, 60-point winger every year of his career, is still only 23 years old, and is on pace for close to 40 goals this season. Here’s a hot take for you: His $6.9 million salary cap hit will look like a steal before the contract expires. 

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have a pretty good core of players that get their share of recognition — Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler specifically. Even Conor Hellebuyck is getting the proper level of respect this season and is going to be a Vezina Trophy front-runner. But Connor just quietly slides under the radar casually hits the 30-goal mark every season. His pace this season would have put him close to the 45-goal mark.

4. Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators. Ellis is underrated in the sense that he seems to be generally regarded as a really good defenseman and another in a long line of outstanding defenders to come through the Nashville pipeline. He is much more than that. He is actually one of the best all-around defensemen in the entire league.

5. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Over the summer I thought the Canucks were insane to trade a future first-round draft pick for Miller given where they were in their rebuild. It is not looking all that crazy right now. If anything, it is looking pretty outstanding. He was always a good player with upside in New York and Tampa Bay, but Miller has blossomed in Vancouver and become a bonafide top-line player.

6. Anthony Cirelli, Tampa Bay Lightning. As if the Lightning were not already dominant enough, they had another young talent come through their system to make an impact. Cirelli is only 22 years old and is already one of the league’s best defensive forwards while also showing 25-30 goal, 60-point potential.

7. John Klingberg, Dallas Stars. Klingberg is an interesting case because he’s received some serious Norris consideration on occasion (sixth-place finish two different times), but he still probably doesn’t get enough recognition for how good he has consistently been in Dallas. He is one of the top offensive-defensemen in the league and is much better defensively than he tends to get credit for. Heck, he’s better in every area than he tends to get credit for.

8. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin might be starting to get into that Backstrom-Barkov area of underrated where he’s referred to as “underrated” so often that he is no longer underrated. But he is not quite there yet. He’s not going to light up the scoreboard or put up huge offensive numbers, but he is one of the best pure shutdown defensemen in the league.

9. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens. Gallagher is generally viewed as a pest, but he is also on track for his third straight 30-goal season, is strong defensively, and is always one of the best possession players in the league. You may not like him when he plays against your team, but you would love him if he played for it.

10. Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils. He is a recent No. 1 overall pick and just signed a huge contract extension so there is a certain level of expectation that comes with all of that. Maybe you think he has not matched it. But that is probably setting an unfair bar. Not every top pick is going to immediately enter the NHL and become a superstar at a Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid kind of level. Sometimes it takes a few years. In the short-term, Hischier has already proven to have 20-goal, 50-point ability while playing a strong defensive game. There’s a lot more upside here, too. Don’t let the draft status and contract term trick you into thinking he hasn’t been good. He has been. He is also only going to get better.

Honorable mentions: Jeff Petry (Montreal Canadiens), Brian Dumoulin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Evgenii Dadonov (Florida Panthers), Tomas Tatar (Montreal Canadiens), Roope Hintz (Dallas Stars), Conor Garland (Arizona Coyotes), Jakub Vrana (Washington Capitals), Torey Krug (Boston Bruins), Ben Bishop (Dallas Stars), Jared Spurgeon (Minnesota Wild)

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.

The Buzzer: Zucker finding rhythm with Penguins; Kreider’s trade value soaring

Jason Zucker #16 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second goal
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Three Stars

1) Jason Zucker, Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby has always excelled when one of his wingers could skate like the wind. General manager Jim Rutherford tried to capitalize on this strategy and acquired Jason Zucker to fill the void. The winger cashed in twice in the Penguins’ 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens, while Crosby assisted on both tallies. If Zucker thrives on Crosby’s wing, his contract will start to look like a bargain for the next couple of years. The Penguins have survived an extraordinary amount of injuries this season, but Zucker’s emergence would provide a necessary boost.

2) Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

On one hand, Jeff Gorton has to be pleased that Kreider is acting as his own salesman ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline. However, the thought of trading a premium talent instead of re-signing the forward is dangerous for any general manager. Kreider picked up a goal and an assist in the Rangers’ 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York collected its fourth consecutive win. The Blueshirts are not ready to take the next step but the upcoming decision about Kreider could shape the next few years in a positive or negative way.

3) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets came up one goal short against the San Jose Sharks Friday, but Connor’s second-period tally was a thing of beauty. The 23-year-old received a pass to the left of the Shark’s goaltender then slid the puck and his stick between his legs to even the game at 1-1. Connor is one goal shy of scoring 30 for the third consecutive season and continues to be one of the more underrated forwards in the NHL. The Jets will continue to rely on their high-powered offense as they look to keep pace in the Western Conference playoff race.

Highlights of the Night

Described above, Connor stole the show with this impressive maneuver.

Nikita Gusev stepped around Jaccob Slavin and Travis Zajac set up Mirco Mueller for the easy tap-in.

Kreider scored the go-ahead goal when he hammered a one-timer from the slot.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Rangers 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 1
San Jose Sharks 3, Winnipeg Jets 2
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Montreal Canadiens 1
Carolina Hurricanes 5, New Jersey Devils 2


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.

The Buzzer: Stone ties career high; Vasilevskiy keeps point streak alive

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Three Stars

1) Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights

He opened the game with two goals and then added three assists in the Golden Knights’ 7-2 win. Stone tied a career high with five points, a feat he previously recorded twice with the Ottawa Senators. Stone lit the lamp early in the first period when he banged home a loose puck in front, but his prettiest goal of the game came early in the second period. No. 61 danced around Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson and then lifted a shot over the glove of Sergei Bobrovsky. His three assists were also impressive as the Golden Knights ended a season-long eight-game road trip.

2) Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

It can’t get much worse in Detroit this season. However, Larkin has given Red Wings fans a reason to believe they have a foundational building block for the future. No. 71 scored twice including a neat breakaway deke with less than one second remaining in the opening period as Detroit snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres. Larkin also added a shootout tally after Detroit surrendered the game-tying goal in the final minute.

3) Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Russian netminder improved to 15-0-2 in his last 17 starts and set a Lightning record for longest point streak by a goalie in the 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Vasilevskiy made 29 saves as he broke Nikolai Khabibulin’s record that stood since April of 2003. He also picked up his fourth assist of the season when Nikita Kucherov tallied an empty-net goal in the final minute. After a slow start to the season, the Bolts have regained their form as an elite team in the Eastern Conference.

Other notable performances

  • Marc-André Fleury claimed sole possession of fifth place on the NHL all-time wins list with his 460th victory, passing Henrik Lundqvist.
  • Kieffer Bellows scored twice in his second career NHL game in the New York Islanders’ 5-3 win against the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Cale Makar has made the transition to the NHL look too easy as he picked up his 39th and 40th point of the season.
  • Mackenzie Blackwood made 46 saves in his second career shutout as the New Jersey Devils rolled past the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-0.
  • Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho each had two goals and an assist as the Hurricanes topped the Coyotes, 5-3.
  • Steven Stamkos recorded his 25th of the season and has scored seven goals in the previous six games.
  • Jeff Petry sniped the overtime winner as the Montreal Canadiens collected their fourth win in the past five games.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid can fly on the ice but his speed when he has possession of the puck makes him the most dangerous player in the NHL.

Vincent Trocheck showed great vision when he fired a pass from the top of the crease on one knee to set up Mike Hoffman late in the first period.

Kieffer Bellows scored his first NHL goal after Anthony Beauvillier delivered a pretty touch pass to set up the rookie forward. In two career NHL games, Bellows has a two-game point streak.

Damon Severson went coast to coast and wired a wrist shot off the post and in to give the Devils a two-goal advantage early in the second period

Ryan Dzingel sets up in Wayne Gretzky’s office and finds Jaccob Slavin darting toward the high slot.

Nikita Kucherov is known for his offense, but made a strong play in the defensive zone which led to a Stamkos goal. The Russian hustled back to intercept a cross-ice pass from Sidney Crosby, then corralled the loose puck to set up the Lightning’s offensive attack.

Bloopers of the Night

Jacob Markstrom has to make a smarter play with the puck in this situation.

Panthers defenseman Riley Stillman over skated the puck, then struggled to find it and the Golden Knights capitalized.

Stat of the Night

Injury News

  • Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh did not return after blocking a shot in the second period against the Penguins.
  • Penguins defenseman John Marino took a puck to the face but early reports are that it was not as bad as it looked.

Scores

New York Islanders 5, Los Angeles Kings 3

Detroit Red Wings 4, Buffalo Sabres 3 (SO)

Montreal Canadiens 3, Anaheim Ducks 2 (OT)

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

Vegas Golden Knights 7, Florida Panthers 2

New Jersey Devils 5, Philadelphia Flyers 0

Colorado Avalanche 4, Ottawa Senators 1

Winnipeg Jets 4, St. Louis Blues 2

Minnesota Wild 4, Vancouver Canucks 2

Nashville Predators 3, Calgary Flames 2

Carolina Hurricanes 5, Arizona Coyotes 3

San Jose Sharks 6, Edmonton Oilers 3


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.

How Hamilton injury impacts Hurricanes’ trade deadline approach

Hurricanes trade
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Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell was able to shine some light on his team’s strategy approaching the trade deadline when he spoke with NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti this week. The most intriguing information to come out of the interview was Waddell’s optimism that standout defenseman Dougie Hamilton may not be done for the season and could be in line to return before the end of the regular season. That prognosis is far more optimistic than the recent one from head coach Rod Brind’Amour a couple of weeks ago when he said that the team was expecting that Hamilton would be done for the year.

Hamilton, one of the mid-season contenders for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best all-around defenseman, has been sidelined since the middle of January after breaking his fibula.

Waddell’s hope that Hamilton could return has made him reluctant to put the defenseman on the long-term injured list, which could create some additional salary cap space to work with at the trade deadline.

Said Waddell, via NHL.com:

“The only thing that I’m cautious about is with Dougie they say 8-12 weeks,” Waddell said Friday. “If he’s 10 weeks, that’s the last week of March. If he was ready to go that last week of the season, the last week of the season, starting on March 28, we have five games. Those might be the most important five games of the year. So if he was ready to come back, you’d want to try to keep space to bring him back.”

Waddell also said the Hurricanes can currently add a contract of more than $5 million before the deadline without having to go into LTIR.

At this point the Hurricanes have played just three games without Hamilton (going 2-0-1, earning five of a possible six points) but they still have a lot of work ahead of them without his services. The Hurricanes are clinging to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as of Friday and now have to start a significant stretch of the season without one of their best, most impactful players in Hamilton.

Waddell told NHL.com that he was already in the market for a defenseman prior to Hamilton’s injury, but that the Hamilton’s absence has probably changed the type of player they are looking for. Instead of looking for a more defensive-minded player, Waddell said they are more open-minded on that.

Hamilton is a massive part of the Hurricanes’ defense, and while the unit is still strong overall even without him, there isn’t another player on the blue line that can provide the offensive impact that he does. Jaccob Slavin is the only other defenseman on the roster that currently has more than 16 points this season (he has 23) and no one has his ability with the puck.

There’s also limited options on the trade market that could be available to replace even a fraction of that.

New Jersey’s Sami Vatanen could be intriguing as a rental.

He is not Hamilton, but he might be the most productive blue line rental on the market.

The forward situation

While Waddell tries to figure out how to navigate the blue line situation, the Hurricanes look to be pretty set at forward where they have already made their big in-season addition — the return of veteran forward Justin Williams.

Getting Williams back is a huge bonus for the stretch run because it basically sees them add a top-six forward — one that can still produce offensively while also play a great two-way game — without having to give up anything off of their roster.

The Hurricanes’ forward situation is interesting because that unit of the team doesn’t get a ton of attention for how good it is.

For years the focus from outside has been on the overall strength of their defense (it is a young, talented group with great depth) or the constant question marks that have followed them around in net.

But the trio of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen has become an outstanding foundation to build on long-term, while rookie Martin Necas looks to be on the verge of joining them as an impact core player.

The addition of Ryan Dzingel and return of Williams only strengthens that group.

Something that else that could strengthen them: A second-half bounce-back from Nino Niederreiter.

He was their big in-season addition before the trade deadline a year ago and was outstanding during the stretch run. But he has struggled through a brutal first half this season with only six goals in his first 50 games. He is looking like he could be a healthy scratch for Friday’s game against Vegas.

If he can return to the form he has shown throughout his career — and especially his post-trade performance from a year ago — that might be more important than any outside addition they could possibly make.

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.