Jacob Trouba

Byfuglien-sized surprises, disappointments for Winnipeg Jets

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 the Winnipeg Jets.

Hellebuyck surprises with heck of a season for Jets

Depending on your interpretation of “most valuable player,” you can make a strong argument that Connor Hellebuyck deserves the Hart Trophy, not just the Vezina.

With injuries and the absence of Dustin Byfuglien dealing huge blows to the Jets’ defense, it’s truly remarkable that Winnipeg entered the pause in playoff position. To that, I offer a simple remark: it’s mainly because of Hellebuyck.

Hellebuyck managed a 31-21-5 record, but of course, it was about more than that. For one thing, you can break down Hellebuyck’s .922 save percentage compared to backup Laurent Brossoit‘s .895.

When you factor in the leaky Jets defense in front of him, Hellebuyck really shines.

Looking at Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Against Average stat, Hellebuyck (22.40) only trails Tuukka Rask (22.51). Anton Khudobin sits in distant third at 17.75, while Darcy Kuemper (16.65) is the only other goalie who reached 14+.

Hellebuyck saved a lot of goals. He saved the Jets’ bacon.

If you choose MVPs based on the most indispensible player of a season, you’d probably pick Hellebuyck.

It’s not shocking that Hellebuyck ended up playing well, but carrying the Jets on his shoulders ranks as one of the bigger surprises of the season.

Neal Pionk > Jacob Trouba?

People understood that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff had to trade Trouba’s rights. While one can only wonder if there was a better way to settle the situation, that moment passed.

Even so, plenty of people scoffed at Pionk being part of the return. Yes, Pionk scored a mind-blowing goal for the Rangers, and showed some scoring skill. But just about every other metric pointed to Pionk being … pretty bad.

Well, the Jets certainly can puff their chests out, because Pionk’s been crucial to their defense.

Now, it’s probably still true that you don’t necessarily want Pionk to be featured this much. An ideal blueline probably won’t lean on Pionk for a team-leading 23:23 per night. Sometimes things aren’t ideal, though. In reality, Pionk delivered incredible value for Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, Trouba looks like an $8M mistake for the Rangers. Pionk’s younger and cheaper than Trouba, and the Jets also nabbed a first-rounder in the deal. It’s remarkable just how similar Pionk and Trouba come across in this even-strength RAPM comparison chart via Evolving Hockey:

Wow. Pionk being arguably better than Trouba is quite the surprise for the Jets, and a massive disappointment for the Rangers.

Disappointments abound for Byfuglien, Jets

So, Pionk ended up being important to the Jets. And Hellebuyck cleaned up the many messes made by Pionk and that shorthanded blueline crew.

But none of it really washes down the disappointments involving Dustin Byfuglien and his now-former team, the Jets.

The COVID-19 pause creates extra uncertainty, but Byfuglien’s future seems like it would be cloudy either way. It’s also fuzzy figuring out what, exactly, happened. The situation ended up disappointing for Byfuglien’s accountant, at minimum, being that he walked away from a lot of money.

Hopefully we’ll get the pleasant surprise of an awkward-but-entertaining game whenever Byfuglien suits up for a different team against the Jets. The point being: it would be deeply, deeply disappointing if we never see the towering, one-of-a-kind defenseman ever play again. Especially since there would be no warning that we’d already seen his last game.

Either way, it was a highly disappointing end to Byfuglien’s lengthy, important stay with the Jets. The connections between the Thrashers days just keep fading away.

MORE ON THE JETS:

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: Devante Smith-Pelly sees how COVID-19 disrupts KHL

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

• Devante Smith-Pelly experienced quite the coronavirus-related disruption. As a member of Beijing-based KHL team Kunlun, he’s had quite the couple of months. William Douglas continued his great “Color of Hockey” feature for NHL.com by looking at Smith-Pelly’s journey, including “the road trip became a 35-day odyssey that contributed to Kunlun spending 58 of the last 67 days of the season outside of Beijing.” Wow.

Looking forward, DSP hopes to return to the NHL in the future. (NHL.com)

• Penguins GM Jim Rutherford discussed the team’s contingency plans for various scenarios, and how the organization is communicating during the pause. Stories like these can also be fun when you find out a little bit more about the person involved. In Rutherford’s case, he said that he also really misses baseball. While watching decades-old Pirates games brings Rutherford some joy, it’s not the same as new games live. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

• If play resumes, there are a lot of potential hiccups, including the loathed rust. But Avalanche GM Joe Sakic sees the benefits of rest, too: namely, players getting healthier. (Mile High-Sticking)

• What if the NHL allows teams compliance or “amnesty” buyouts, what with the cap ceiling possibly staying flat or even shrinking? Blue Seat Blogs takes an interesting look at hypothetical buyouts for the Rangers. The choices range from obvious (Marc Staal, Brendan Smith) to tricky but logical (Henrik Lundqvist) to a bold mulligan in Jacob Trouba. Fascinating. (Blue Seat)

• Plenty of teams should consider adding a big, talented, right-handed defenseman like Dustin Byfuglien if he isn’t simply going to retire. Here’s a look at how such a setup might work with the Coyotes. By Five for Howling’s parameters, I’m not sure if that would be the right fit for Big Buffy. (Five for Howling)

• The Senators hired Anthony LeBlanc as their new president of business operations. You may remember LeBlanc from his lengthy run as co-owner of the Coyotes. LeBlanc seems to be a busy fellow, as he’s also trying to bring a CFL team to the Halifax area. (Ottawa Sun)

• As someone who misses the brief-but-brilliant days where the Dallas Stars were aggressive and fun with Tyler Seguin on the roster, it’s nice to see other observers asking for the team to change their style from the current, very defensive-minded leaning. Could such a plan require an outside-the-box (and outside of North America) coaching hire? (Defending Big D)

• The Devils face tough decisions, including on two “interims” (GM Tom Fitzgerald and head coach Alain Nasreddine). They also must figure out what to do with Cory Schneider. Would a buyout or trade make sense, or should they just see what he can accomplish in 2020-21? (NJ.com)

• Meghan Chayka helped organize Zoom sessions cheekily titled “Hockey (Analytics) Night in Canada.” Read more about it at Sportsnet. (Sportsnet)

• Rotoworld held a mock draft for the 2020-21 season. Check out the results, along with interesting insight from Ryan Dadoun, who has frequently contributed to PHT. (Rotoworld)

• Travis Yost takes “All-Decade Teams” a step further. Rather than merely picking a handful of players from around the league, Yost targets selections for each NHL squad. While that’s a more expansive effort, it will provide people with an opportunity to argue about picks. That’s what is really important, right? (TSN) Sznajder

• Corey Sznajder provided a very detailed breakdown of a memorable 1996 Game 7 between the Blues and Red Wings. This stuff goes much deeper than that iconic Steve Yzerman goal, as you’ll quickly realize. (The Energy Line)

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.

New York Rangers: Biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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 the New York Rangers.

Adam Fox ended up being far more impactful than Jacob Trouba

While the Rangers’ mega offseason was highlighted by the addition of Artemi Panarin (who has proven to be worth every penny) they also did a lot of work to their defense.

Kevin Shattenkirk was bought out, highly touted prospect Adam Fox was acquired and signed, and Jacob Trouba came in from the Winnipeg Jets.

While Fox was always viewed as a high-ceiling prospect, Trouba was the player that was expected to make the most immediate impact this season. It did not work out that way at all. While Trouba struggled through a disappointing debut season in New York, Fox rapidly emerged as not only the Rangers’ most impactful defenseman, but one of the rising stars in the league. He has not received as much league-wide fanfare as Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes in Colorado and Vancouver, but the gap between them is not that large at all. Fox has been an immediate sensation both offensively and defensively and looks like he has a chance to be a cornerstone piece to the Rangers’ blue line for the foreseeable future.

Henrik Lundqvist gets phased out

It is a little surprising the way it happened, while also disappointing to see his time with the Rangers end the way it seems destined to end.

For more than a decade Lundqvist has been the face of the franchise. Heck, at times he has been the franchise. For years he helped propped up a shaky defense and elevate the Rangers to a level that exceeded their talent level, helping to make them a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. He is the greatest goalie of his era, and one of the best to ever do it. Now his future with the team seems cloudy at best.

As the 2019-20 season went on, it became clear that Lundqvist is no longer a significant part of the Rangers’ plans as he was mostly relegated to backup duties in the Rangers’ three-headed monster rotation.

While Lundqvist still has one year remaining on his contract beyond this one, the team seems ready to roll with the young duo of Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. So much so that Lunqvist started just five of the team’s 32 games after January 1 this season.

What happens next remains to be seen. Is there a trade to be made? A buyout that allows him to become a free agent and choose his destination in a quest to finally get his name on the Stanley Cup? Or perhaps even just calling it a career.

Chris Kreider stays

At the start of the 2019-20 season it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Kreider was going to be on the move before the trade deadline.

Even though the front office made huge additions in the offseason, it was still a team in the middle of a rebuild and Kreider was a player that seemed poised to bring a strong return.

While the possibility of a contract extension was always on the table, it just always seemed to be a long-shot and the least likely option. But with the Rangers inching back toward playoff contention, and a strong core starting to emerge that could make the Rangers a playoff team as soon as next season, the two sides were able to hammer out a deal to keep him in New York on a seven-year, $45.5 million contract. Given Krieder’s age the term definitely carries some long-term risk, but it is not an outrageous salary cap hit for what he can still provide.

He should still be a quality, productive top-line winger for a few more years before it becomes an issue.

The centers turned out to be a little better than expected

If you were to look at the Rangers’ roster at the start of the season the one big question mark that may have existed was their depth down the middle. And while that still may be the case when it comes to the bottom lines, the top-two duo of Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome exceeded any and all expectations.

Zibanejad has always been a fine, productive player, but he ended up being a perfect match alongside Kreider and has turned in a massive offensive performance that has helped form one of the league’s best top-line duos this season.

The bigger surprise was on the second line where Strome has had a career year offensively and is a 22-goal, 68-point pace offensively. He has played his best hockey since joining the Rangers in the middle of the 2018-19 season. He will still be a restricted free agent after this season.

MORE RANGERS:
Looking at the 2019-20 New York Rangers
Rangers’ long-term outlook

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.

Pageau makes quite the Islanders debut with fight, goal

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Time will tell if the Islanders will be glad that they invested so much in Jean-Gabriel Pageau. If nothing else, Pageau made quite the first impression in his Islanders debut on Tuesday.

Pageau didn’t just score a goal against the hated Rangers. The feisty forward also responded to a questionable Jacob Trouba hit on Michael Dal Colle by fighting the much larger Rangers defenseman. A fight and a fluky goal? That’s quite the way to endear yourself to new fans.

Check out the goal below, and watch the hit and fight in the video above this post’s headline.

Pageau collected his 25th goal of 2019-20, which again was his first with the Isles.

It’s surprising that Trouba didn’t get whistled for a penalty on this hit. Credit Pageau for sticking up for his new Islanders teammate, though:

Again, the Islanders gave up a lot for Pageau, and then doubled-down by handing him a hefty extension. That said, Pageau strikes as very much both a Lou Lamoriello guy and a Barry Trotz guy, and that showed right off the bat.

Pageau ended up getting tossed from the game following the fight and instigator penalty.

The Rangers won 4-3, but the Islanders rallied to get a point in a memorable Pageau debut by forcing the game to overtime.

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.

The Buzzer: Benn’s hat trick; Draisaitl keeps rolling for Oilers

NHL Scores
Getty

Three Stars

1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. It hasn’t been the best season for Benn but he is refusing to go down quietly and now finds himself as the Stars’ leading goal scorer (18) this season thanks to his hat trick on Tuesday night in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. He has scored nine of those goals in the 15 games since January 1, and is just one goal away from the 300-mark for his career. He is now on pace for 26 goals this season.

2. Mike Matheson and Mark Pysyk, Florida Panthers. It might be cheating to include two players as one entry in the three stars section, but look, these two guys deserve some recognition here. The Panthers dressed eight defensemen on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils and played two of them — Matheson and Pysyk — at forward on a line with Noel Acciari. All that line did was score three goals (one for each player) in a 5-3 win, while Matheson and Pysyk each had a goal, two assists, and finished as a plus-three. Pysyk has previously played forward for the Panthers this season and had a hat trick a couple of weeks ago.

3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. No Connor McDavid, no problem for Draisaitl and the Oilers on Tuesday. The Oilers were 5-3 winners over the Chicago Blackhawks and it was Draisaitl leading the way with a four-point night (one goal, three assists) as he extended his current lead in the NHL scoring race to eight points over McDavid. He is now at 89 points on the season and on pace for 129 points this season. He had 105 points a year ago. If he continues that level of play during McDavid’s absence and helps get the Oilers back in the playoffs it might be enough to take the MVP award away from his teammate.

Along with Draisaitl, 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto also had another big game for the Oilers, scoring two goals in the win. He is now up to seven goals and 14 points in his first 15 games this season after joining the team in late December.

Other Notable Performances From Tuesday

  • Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 37 shots for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime to extend their winning streak despite a growing injury list. Read all about it here.
  • Alex Stalock stopped all 26 shots he faced for the Minnesota Wild as they shut out the Vegas Golden Knights. Kevin Fiala also had a big game for the Wild to extend his point streak to five games.
  • Another strong game for rookie New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin as he stopped turned aside 42 shots in a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Chris Kreider also scored two goals in the win.
  • Mathew Barzal had three assists for the New York Islanders as they won a wild game over the Philadelphia Flyers. Read all about it here.
  • Philipp Grubauer stopped 36 shots for the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night

Mikko Rantanen scored an absolutely beautiful goal late in the first period against the Ottawa Senators, starting it off with a spin move at the blue line.

Here is one of Mathew Barzal’s three assists on Tuesday night, setting up Jordan Eberle for a first period goal to give the Islanders a 3-0 lead. He just flipped it to himself and created a shot like it was nothing.

Not long after a potential Arizona Coyotes game winner was overturned for goaltender interference, Kasperi Kapanen scored the winner for the Toronto Maple Leafs by batting a puck out of mid-air, sending himself on a breakaway, and scoring the goal.

Moment of the Night

Jacob Trouba returned to Winnipeg for the first time as a visiting player on Tuesday night. He did this before the game.

 

Factoids

  • Kucherov extended his point streak to 12 games before leaving with an injury. It is the longest current point streak in the NHL and the fifth-longest in Tampa Bay Lightning franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Rasmus Dahlin is now tied for the most assists (76) by a teenage defenseman in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Hughes became just the third 18-year-old to record at least 20 points in a season for the New Jersey Devils. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 3, Detroit Red Wings 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Arizona Coyote 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 5, New Jersey Devils 3
New York Islanders 5, Philadelphia Flyers 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (OT)
Minnesota Wild 4, Vegas Golden Knights 0
New York Rangers 4, Winnipeg Jets 1
Dallas Stars 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Ottawa Senators 0
Edmonton Oilers 5, Chicago Blackhawks 3
St. Louis Blues-Anaheim Ducks (Postponed)

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.