Jared Spurgeon

Canucks vs. Wild: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups. In this case, it’s Canucks vs. Wild.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild: TV schedule, start times, channels

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET – USA Network
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

Canucks – Wild preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Can Canucks’ young guns take over this series?

The Canucks and Wild entered the pandemic pause separated by a mere standings point. Yet, as close as these teams were results-wise, the Canucks boast a lopsided advantage in young star power.

None of this is to say that the Wild lack any talent. Even so, if you were to draft players off of both of these teams for the near future, the top picks would be dominated by the likes of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.

(Especially since Kirill Kaprizov isn’t allowed to participate in the NHL Return to Play.)

Those stars haven’t dealt with playoff pressure, and criticisms could ratchet up quickly for Pettersson, Hughes, Brock Boeser, and others. It likely wouldn’t help their cause if the Wild maintain their stingy defense from the past couple of seasons, either.

How big a factor will special teams be for Canucks, Wild?

Branching off on that point, the Canucks did a ton of damage on the power play this season. By scoring 57 power-play goals, the Canucks tied the deadly Bruins for second-most in the NHL, and reached that mark in one fewer game played.

As strong as the Wild often have been as an even-strength unit, they struggled on the PK this season, too. That penalty killing unit ranked in the bottom-10 in power-play goals allowed (47) and efficiency (77.2 percent) in 2019-20.

On paper, special teams could be a massive advantage for Vancouver, even if the Wild were respectable on the PP.

Perhaps a couple other factors might mitigate the Canucks’ dominance, and the Wild’s struggles, though? (Even beyond the rust that comes from this long layoff, not to mention the very unusual circumstances.)

Will the Wild be able to get competent goaltending — from Stalock, or someone else?

It’s not fair to say that Devan Dubnyk got Bruce Boudreau fired. Unfortunately, it’s probably fair to claim that Dubnyk ranked as the single biggest force in pushing Boudreau out the door, though.

Dubnyk fell from middle of the pack to downright dismal (.890 save percentage) in 2019-20, forcing the Wild to rely on Alex Stalock to keep their season alive. To the longtime backup’s credit, Stalock did a pretty good job.

That said, the Wild may feel that tug of nostalgia to at least keep Dubnyk in the discussion. After all, all sorts of strange things can happen during a best-of-five series. (With that in mind, don’t totally count out the possibility of seeing Kaapo Kahkonen get some looks — or at least hear people calling for him if things really slide.)

At times, Jacob Markstrom was downright brilliant for the Canucks. He’ll have that strong work — not to mention motivation to earn a new contract as a pending UFA — driving him. But, again, things can escalate quickly in a short series. If the Wild received comparable goaltending, that would be huge.

Still-new elements for the Wild, including Evason as head coach

During the last few seasons, the Wild cycled through a couple GMs, their head coach, and made some significant trades. (Let’s allow a moment for Wild fans to grumble about Nino Niederreiter.)

The NHL Return to Play provides a moment to reflect upon those changes. While it feels like Mats Zuccarello signed ages ago, the Norwegian winger is still trying to find his footing during his first season with the Wild. Players like Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Donato, Ryan Hartman, and even to an extent Kevin Fiala are still fairly new to the team.

And, while Dean Evason is reasonably familiar with the Wild, he only came on as an assistant in 2018, and just recently saw the “interim” tag removed from his title as head coach.

Who’s out, Who might return for Canucks, Wild?

Canucks: The Canucks look to have a clean bill of health, as the time off seemingly allowed Markstrom and others to get back on track.

Wild: Minnesota also seems as close to full-strength as you can ask for.

More on 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, NHL Return to Play series:

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.

What is the Wild’s long-term outlook?

Minnesota Wild
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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 Minnesota Wild.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Wild are kind of drifting toward that middle ground where they are not a true contender and they are not exactly awful, either. They have good players, but they also have some pretty significant flaws.

One of the biggest might be the fact they have a lot money tied up in players that are on the wrong side of 30. Mikko Koivu is a free agent after this season, and no one really knows what his future is at this point, but Zach Parise, Mats Zuccarello, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Devan Dubnyk are some of their biggest contracts beyond this season and Spurgeon is the only one younger than 32 years old. It is not a stretch to believe that every single one of those players has already played their best hockey. Parise was also the subject of trade rumors on deadline day with the New York Islanders, something that could be revisited later.

Beyond that, the Wild do have some intriguing younger players making up a second-wave of talent.

Kevin Fiala has been an outstanding pickup and is having an outstanding year, while Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, and Joel Eriksson Ek are other younger players the Wild are hoping can become bigger contributors.

The most intriguing young player in the organization, though, has yet to even play a game in North America. That player is Kirili Kaprizov, the 22-year-old winger that has dominated the KHL for the past few seasons. He was a fifth-round pick by the team a few years ago and his arrival in Minnesota has been anticipated for some time now.

Long-Term Needs

Really what the Wild need is a difference-maker. A game-changing forward that can be the focal point of the offense and carry it. A franchise cornerstone to build around both in the short-and long-term.

They do not really have that player right now, and the ones that most closely resemble that player on the roster right now are older and on the downside of their careers. They are also not really well positioned to get one without a lot of luck going their way in the draft lottery. It is a tough spot to be in.

Their biggest hope for that sort of presence might be with the aforementioned Kaprizov. For as intriguing and exciting as his potential is, it is still just exactly that — potential. Even if he does eventually become that top-line standout player, it may not happen as soon as he arrives next season. There could be some growing pains and an adjustment period along the way.

Long-Term Strengths

When they are all healthy their defense has some intriguing players and can be really good with Suter, Spurgeon, Mathew Dumba, and Jonas Brodin are all signed through the end of next seaon, with the former three names all being signed to long-term deals. When it comes to scoring chances against and expected goals against the Wild have been one of the league’s top teams this season. The only thing that has held them back from being an elite defensive team has been inconsistency in net.

The addition of Cale Addison in the Jason Zucker trade also adds another intriguing blue-liner to the long-term outlook.

If Fiala can duplicate his 2019-20 performance he could also turn into a pretty big strength. He has been one of the league’s most productive 5-on-5 players on a per-minute basis this season and is still signed for another year at a very manageable salary cap hit.

The presence of him, Kaprizov, a still productive Zuccarello and hopefully improvements from players like Kunin, Greenway, and Eriksson Ek could give the Wild a formidable group of forwards.

MORE WILD:
Looking at the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild
Minnesota Wild surprises and disappointments so far

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: Red Wings eliminated before trade deadline; Spurgeon’s surge

Red Wings already eliminated from playoffs PHT Buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild

Spurgeon collected a hat trick on Friday. It was the first hat trick of his career, making him the second Wild defenseman to pull off such a feat after Ryan Suter. Spurgeon enjoyed a tremendous all-around performance, managing six shots on goal, a +3 rating, three blocked shots, and one hit in 21:55 TOI.

Spurgeon reached the 10-goal mark in just 53 games. He’s hit double digits in goals during four of his last five seasons, and could top his 2018-19 career-high of 14. He also generated nine goals in 2014-15 and 2017-18. In other words, it’s almost OK to write “Spurgeon, hands of a surgeon” in headlines. Almost.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins provided quite an effort for the Oilers in their loss to Spurgeon’s Wild. RNH managed two goals and one assist, but Edmonton fell short.

2. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders

Eberle generated the third hat trick of his career as the Islanders took care of business against Detroit. Eberle supplied the game-winner in a 4-1 win. His last hat trick came on April 9, 2017, while he was still with the Oilers. The only knock against his hat trick is that it came against the Red Wings, who have already been officially eliminated from playoff contention.

The Islanders decided to re-sign Eberle despite a down season in 2018-19 where he was limited to 19 goals and 37 points. With 13 goals and 34 points in 50 games, Eberle looks closer to the player he was during his debut season with the Isles. (Interestingly, Eberle is enjoying similar rebounds in his possession stats after a slight dip last year.)

Mika Zibanejad and Colton Parayko also enjoyed strong three-point nights, but the third star goes to …

3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

The Predators received five power-play opportunities, including some 5-on-3 time. They fired 20 SOG on Crawford during the second period alone, failing to beat him during that frame.

Crawford ended Friday making 42 out of 43 saves in a goalie duel with Pekka Rinne (36 saves). Alex DeBrincat ended up scoring both of Chicago’s goals to grab an OT win for the Blackhawks. Crawford broke a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) with this splendid performance.

Highlights of the Night

Now, this is one strange goal credited to Leon Draisaitl:

DeBrincat broke loose for the OT-winner:

(This Petr Mrazek save ranks as a runner-up.)

Red Wings already eliminated and other factoids

  • The Red Wings became the first team to be eliminated before the trade deadline since the Penguins suffered that ignominious fate in 2003-04. Hey, at least that paved the way for better things for Pittsburgh, eh?  Getting mathematically eliminated in game 63 is the quickest boot-out since the 1995-96 Senators. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Colton Parayko has been a nightmare for the Stars this season. The big Blues blueliner collected one goal and two assists on Friday. Parayko increased his output to seven points (4G, 3A) in three games vs. the Stars in 2019-20.
  • Pavel Francouz celebrated his contract extension with a steady performance for Colorado with his first career shutout.
  • Spurgeon’s hat trick was of the natural variety. He became the 12th player listed as a D to score a natural hat trick. Justin Faulk and Dustin Byfuglien authored the most recent ones that preceded Spurgeon’s surge. (NHL PR)
  • The Rangers pushed their road winning streak to seven consecutive games, tying a franchise record. (NHL PR)
  • The Bruins fell behind the Flames 3-0 less than four minutes (3:23) into Friday’s game. Despite that, Boston ended up winning. This marks the seventh instance where a team fell behind 3-0 within the opening four minutes of a game, only to win. (NHL PR)

Scores

NYR 5 – CAR 2
NYI 4 – DET 1
CHI 2 – NSH 1 (OT)
STL 5 – DAL 1
BOS 4 – CGY 3
MIN 5 – EDM 3
COL 1 – ANA 0

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.

My Favorite Goal: Spurgeon’s baseball swing goal for Wild

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers, personalities and NHL players remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, Derek Stepan of the Coyotes remembers Jared Spurgeon‘s baseball swing goal vs. the Devils in 2017.

Derek Stepan wasn’t even involved in the game that featured his choice for favorite goal. With the Devils visiting the Wild on Jan. 17, 2017,  a deflected shot was saved by Cory Schneider and flew into the air to the side of the New Jersey net. That’s when Spurgeon quickly gloved the puck and dropped it to himself and swung for the fences for a goal.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
Darren McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Alex Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie
Marek Malik’s stunning shootout winner
Paul Henderson scores for Canada
• Mario Lemieux’s end-to-end masterpiece; Hextall scores again
Tomas Hertl goes between-the-legs
Borschevsky’s goal sealed with a kiss

————

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.

Wild’s Spurgeon 10 seasons into size-defying career

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The defining moment of Jared Spurgeon‘s hockey career came when he was just 13: His peewee coach in Edmonton moved him from forward to defenseman.

There was no going back for Spurgeon, even though he hasn’t grown much bigger since then. Minnesota’s 5-foot-9, 167-pound stalwart on the blue line has been defying size stereotypes ever since.

”I just fell in love with the position,” Spurgeon said.

The Wild have felt the same way about him over the last 10 seasons. The 30-year-old Spurgeon, who set career highs in games (82), goals (14), assists (29), shots (152) and hits (91) during the 2019-19 season, signed a seven-year, $53 million contract extension at the beginning of training camp.

Not bad for a sixth-round pick the New York Islanders ultimately declined to sign, paving the way for a tryout with the Wild two years after he was drafted.

”Probably the best in the NHL at breaking the puck out. Unbelievable on his edges. One of the smartest players in the game,” said Buffalo defenseman Marco Scandella, who played with Spurgeon in Minnesota for seven seasons. ”He’s got a lot of things in his toolbox, and he doesn’t even need the size.”

Spurgeon, who is halfway through an expected two-week absence for a hand injury sustained while blocking a shot, has ranked over the last four years in the top 20 among NHL defensemen in goals, power play goals, blocked shots and time on ice.

”That’s one of those players that you’re just like, ‘How?’ ” Scandella said. ”You just have to watch him over a season. Play with him, and you understand how good he is.”

The ability to skate – and pass – quickly will always be critical for a player with Spurgeon’s frame. Part of that is being fast enough to elude opponents, but it also means maximizing his power by maintaining leverage and balance for the moments when he does initiate or absorb contact.

”You don’t need to be huge and massive to be strong on your skates,” said St. Louis center Ryan O'Reilly, who faces Spurgeon frequently as a Central Division rival. ”You go in and forecheck, and he is so strong. It’s like going against a big guy.”

Awareness is just as important as fearlessness to succeed as a 5-foot-9 player, of course.

Spurgeon simply doesn’t get pushed around much because he’s rarely caught off guard by a big hit. The advantage of vision from the blue line, being able to see the plays develop in front of him, was one of the benefits that immediately drew Spurgeon to defense. He tried to emulate players who came before him like Brian Rafalski and Dan Boyle, sub-6-foot defensemen who were offensive threats but never a liability in their own zone.

”The emphasis of moving the puck and getting up ice and being able to contribute offensively as well is a whole lot different than it used to be, where maybe you had one of those guys before and a bunch of a big, mean guys,” Spurgeon said. ”But I think now the game is so fast that I think it gives the ability for smaller guys to play.”

According to Sportradar data, there are 41 defensemen who have appeared in at least one NHL game this season and are listed at 5-foot-11 or shorter. That number drops to 18 at 5-foot-10 or less and to six at 5-foot-9 and under.

In the 2005-06 season after the lockout, which brought rule changes to encourage more free-flowing action in the neutral zone and increase goal scoring, there were only 29 defensemen at 5-foot-11 or shorter, 11 at 5-foot-10 or less, and three at 5-foot-9 and under. Twenty years ago, there were fewer still: 22 players at 5-foot-11 or shorter, eight at 5-foot-10 or less, and just one at 5-foot-9 and under.

The Wild have two 5-foot-9 blue-liners with Spurgeon and Brad Hunt. Boston’s Torey Krug is another standout in the club. Those lanky veterans around the league like St. Louis’ Colton Parayko (6-foot-6), Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton (6-foot-6) and Boston’s Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9) have obvious advantages with reach and strength, but there’s plenty more to sound defense than being able to poke a stick at a puck.

”We have the quickness and the first two or three strides in order to close plays so that they don’t get the possession of the puck and move on. I think it’s just using our skating abilities,” Krug said. ”I think it’s been a long time coming, especially with the real changes in the way the game is trending. It’s funny, years ago to have one of those guys on your team, people kind of scoffed at that. Now we’ve got two and sometimes three in the lineup at once, and it creates really mobile back end.”

STREAKING

Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry had a franchise-record scoreless run of 177:15 that ended during a 4-1 loss to Montreal on Tuesday, just the second defeat in eight starts for the backup to Matt Murray. Jarry stopped 82 consecutive shots during the streak, the longest in the league this season.

SLUMPING

The Detroit Red Wings are sliding toward a four-year absence from the playoffs after the end of their famous 25-season streak of making it. The Red Wings are on a 12-game winless streak, going 0-10-2 since Nov. 12, and have the worst record in the NHL at 7-22-3. They’ve dropped 10 straight games in regulation by a 47-16 margin.