Roundtable: Binnington’s Calder hopes, Tampa’s challengers, Blue Jackets’ pressure

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Despite his number of games played, will Jordan Binnington garner enough support to win the Calder Trophy?

SEAN: It’s going to be hard to unseat Elias Pettersson as winner for rookie of the years, but certainly Binningon can make a challenge. He’ll likely get around 10 starts the rest of the regular season, putting him in 30 games player territory.

Only four goaltenders have won the award in the last 25 years with Martin Brodeur playing 47 games in 1994, the fewest of any netminder who took home the Calder. Binnington leads all goalies with at least 20 starts in even strength save percentage (.941) and is tied for third in the NHL with five shutouts. That’s all quite good for a guy who wasn’t a regular until Jan. 7.

But when the PHWA submit their ballots, Binnington likely won’t pass Pettersson for the award, but he definitely deserves a trip to Vegas in late June as one of the 2018-19 Calder finalists.

JAMES: The gap is simply too large between Elias Pettersson and everyone else, but I wonder if Binnington’s fantastic season might spark up some conversations about getting more Calder attention for non-forwards in the future.

In a slower season (like, say, when Nail Yakupov won a Calder), Binnington would be getting far more consideration, and Rasmus Dahlin or Miro Heiskanen would also get more hype. When it comes to the main awards, people often sequester goalies to the Vezina and skaters to the Hart, barring a truly transcendent season from a netminder. The Calder doesn’t allow such latitude, and I wonder if we may gradually change the way we measure different accomplishments.

It’s far too easy to dismiss just how enormous an impact Binnington’s made. He’s won 16 games despite being limited to just 20 starts (and 22 games played), which almost feels like it should be impossible. Pettersson’s special, and should probably be a unanimous choice (don’t get weird about it, Buffalo/Dallas/St. Louis beat writers), but Binnington saved the Blues’ season.

JOEY: I just don’t see it happening. Binnington has been terrific since taking over between the pipes for the Blues, but the fact that he’ll likely play in just over 30 games means that he can’t overtake Canucks forward Elias Pettersson in the race for the Calder Trophy. Pettersson has slowed down a bit, but he’s still a point-per-game player in his first season. What Binnington has done definitely puts him in the mix, it just doesn’t put him over the top. He probably won’t mind falling short in this race considering his team will be playing meaningful games in April. The 25-year-old’s short tenure in the NHL has been a huge success regardless of whether or not he’s named rookie of the year. 

ADAM: In any other year where there wasn’t a clear cut favorite that played in significantly more games I would say yes, because he has been that good and has quite literally been the savior of the Blues’ season. Okay, maybe not the savior, but definitely one of them. I just think Elias Pettersson is so far ahead of the pack and so outstanding that it would be really tough to unseat him. Point-per-game in his first full season in the NHL, and as electrifying as he is? Definite rookie of the year for me. Binnington probably definitely gets in the top-three, but the award is Pettersson’s.

SCOTT: He should be considered, but he won’t be because of when his rookie season began. The problem comes down to this all starting in early January and not in early October or November. He’s a victim of things outside of his control, like waiting half a year to give the kid a shot.

I get it, Jake Allen was the guy. Again, it’s just nothing something Binnington could control. But he deserves to be on the ballot and deserves to win the award. Why? Because while Elias Pettersson has been great, he hasn’t single-handedly put his team into the playoffs quite like Binnington has. This raises the prospects of him garnering some Hart votes, too. Call me crazy, but in its purest form, few have been as integral to their team’s success like Mr. Winnington.

[PHT’S PUSH FOR THE PLAYOFFS]

What team in the East poses the biggest threat to the Tampa Bay Lightning come playoff time?

SEAN: It’s not a big list, but you have to believe the Washington Capitals will take what they did last spring in the Eastern Conference Final and use it again against an even better Lightning team. 

If they’re to meet again it will once again be in the third round where the Capitals will have likely use the same approach as Barry Trotz did a year ago. If Todd Reirden keeps the same game plan, it’s slowing down the pace and suffocating the Lightning’s stars. Tampa was blanked in Games 6 and 7 last May, unable to solve Braden Holtby. 

Washington also managed to limit Tampa to only 24.8 shots per game in the seven-game series. As dangerous as their arsenal is, if they aren’t getting shots on goal, it’s hard for them to keep up their explosive offense. It’s a big challenge, but the Capitals know they can do it in a series.

JAMES: I find myself waffling between the Lightning’s likely second-round opponents: the Maple Leafs and the Bruins, a.k.a. my choices for second and third-best in the East.

It’s dangerous to imagine everything going right when it hasn’t always actually come together on the ice, but I just can’t shake the impression that Toronto has the higher ceiling.

With Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Nazem Kadri down the middle, they’re one of – maybe the only – teams that could credibly hang with the Lightning’s deadly forwards. Both the Bruins and Maple Leafs have goalie(s) who could conceivably have a better best-of-seven series than Andrei Vasilevskiy, too.

So Toronto has a shot, but it’s not outrageous to look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Lightning as the NHL’s closest answer to a Golden State Warriors-style juggernaut. Luckily for Tampa Bay’s opponents, upsets are more common in the NHL … but the Bolts remain heavy favorites to win it all.

JOEY: The Bruins have been red-hot since the start of 2019. They’ve been just as good as the Lightning and they’ve found a way to do it despite missing David Pastrnak. Boston has one of the top lines in hockey with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak (when healthy), they have secondary scoring with Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle and a few others, they’ve got a solid group of defensemen, and they have a great one-two punch between the pipes with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. If anyone can take down the Lightning in a seven-game series, it’s the Bruins. 

ADAM: It is going to either take a great team with superstar talent all clicking at the same time, or a team with great goaltending. Or more likely a team that has both. When it comes to the latter, the Boston Bruins stand out to me as someone that could do it. They may not be able to match Tampa Bay’s offensive firepower or depth, but they have two starting caliber goalies that are both playing at an extremely high level this season. Washington is definitely a threat because of the talent they have at the top of the roster and as we saw last year if Braden Holtby gets on a roll at the right time he can change a series and a season. Then there is Pittsburgh. For as mediocre as they have looked for most of the season they still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and presumably come playoff time, a healthy Kris Letang. Matt Murray is playing like a true No. 1 goalie again and they might be a good matchup for one another.

SCOTT: Boston. Tampa made Toronto look like a JV squad on Monday night. Boston beat them 4-1 earlier this year and lost a close 3-2 decision. Simply put, Boston has the experience and the skill to run with Tampa, and with Tuukka Rask playing as well as he is, if there’s anyone that can duel Andrei Vasilevskiy, he’s the guy to do it at the moment in the East.

Now, with that said, can any team in the East (or even the West) go toe-to-toe with the Lightning over seven games and win four of them? I’m not sure that’s possible at this point. Tampa can make the best teams look like they belong in the American Hockey League (no disrespect to the AHL, but you get the point).

Boston has the only outside shot in my opinion, and everything would have to go right.

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If the Blue Jackets’ big gamble doesn’t pay off with a playoff berth, should that be the end for Jarmo Kekalainen and/or John Tortorella?

SEAN: I don’t believe there will be a cleaning of house should the Blue Jackets’ fail to either get in the playoffs or get out of the first round. I do think there will be a shortening of the leash, especially for Tortorella if that happens as we head into next season.

Kekalainen’s big moves at the deadline were one to push the franchise forward and accomplish something they’ve never done in 17 seasons: win a playoff round. It’s a big bet, but one that should be applauded next time we complain about a general manager sitting on their hands and standing pat rather than try and improve their team.

JAMES:  A thought has lingered in my mind this season: what if Artemi Panarin simply wants out because of John Tortorella?

Torts is brighter than his dimmest rants would indicate, but would it be that surprising if players found him gruff and intimidating, maybe leading to embarrassments in the film and locker rooms? Tortorella’s been around forever, and as his successes become more distant in the rearview mirror, I think that missing the playoffs should probably be it for him.
That’s a sad thought from an entertaining quote standpoint, and perhaps the Blue Jackets might flinch on replacing either their coach or GM after giving both of them extensions heading into this season. But what does it say about Columbus’ front office if they view this year as a time to go all-in and then they miss the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs altogether? Kekalainen’s been around since 2013 and Torts has been around since 2015. You have to wonder how many chances they’d need to get things right if they fall short here.
If Columbus misses, I’d move on, despite my belief that Kekalainen’s a pretty good GM.

JOEY: I really didn’t like what the Blue Jackets did at the deadline. I felt like they were in a unique situation given the contract statuses of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Adding more high-end free agents doesn’t make that situation better. If the Jackets fail to make the playoffs, I don’t think Kekalainen or Tortorella lose their jobs, but I feel like they’ll be on the hot seat going into next season. Even if they get into the postseason and lose in the first round, jobs will be on the line going into next season. 

ADAM: Should it? That is a tougher question to answer than “will it?” Because if they miss the playoffs I think it would be awfully difficult for ownership to rest easy looking at this situation. You give up almost your entire draft class for rentals, you may lose some or all of them, you may lose your two best players that were already on the roster, and then you have to deal with the brutal look that is going all in as a buyer and falling on your face. But I also think that would be a knee-jerk reaction to the result more so than the process. Even if they do get in the playoffs they are probably not winning the Stanley Cup, so you are still going to be sitting there at the end of the season with no championship, no draft picks, and maybe a bunch of free agents walking out the door. If you want your GM to be aggressive and “go for it” I don’t see how you can punish him for doing just that, because he theoretically put his team in the best possible position to succeed. If it doesn’t, at that point it comes down to the coaching staff and the players themselves. Truly one of the most fascinating teams to watch down the stretch, because what they do is likely to have huge implications on what the upper management and ownership does in the summer.

SCOTT: I mean, for Kekalainen, he’d be gone as soon the word eliminated appeared beside the name of the Blue Jackets, no?

He went out, kept the two players that would have brought in a decent haul at the deadline, brought in two players who cost them most of this year’s draft and could conceivably have nothing to show for it come July 1… at least the league’s punch line (Ottawa) was able to recoup some goods when they lost everybody.

Torts goes, too. If they don’t make the playoffs and somehow manage to keep Kekalainen, then Torts takes the sword for him. If Kekalainen goes and a new general manager is hired, I assume they look at Torts in the same way — had a bunch of talent handed to him and couldn’t do anything with it. Goodbye.

It’s win or bust for both of them.

McQuaid already out of Blue Jackets’ lineup just one week after trade

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The Columbus Blue Jackets pushed all their chips to the center of the table at the NHL trade deadline and went all in on this season by acquiring Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Keith Kinkaid, and Adam McQuaid over a three-day stretch, exhausting almost their entire allotment of draft picks for 2019.

It was such a bold approach because the team was not even a lock to make the playoffs at the time of the trades and enters the week on the outside of the playoff picture after dropping back-to-back games to the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets over the weekend. It also puts a ton of pressure on the team to win this season because Duchene, Dzingel, Kinkaid, McQuaid, Artemi Panarin, and Sergei Bobrovsky are all unrestricted free agents after this season.

There is a real chance many — if not all — of them could be gone after July 1. Given what they gave up at the deadline, the headlines they made, and the uncertainty about the roster after this season missing the playoffs would be … well … bad.

So far, the early returns have not produced the results the Blue Jackets were looking for as they have dropped three of their first four games since the deadline.

It also looks like one of those acquisitions is going to struggle to get a regular spot in the lineup.

McQuaid was a healthy scratch in Sunday’s loss to the Jets, having been replaced by Dean Kukan, and based on coach John Tortorella’s press conference on Monday it appears the same lineup will be used on Tuesday night when the team takes on the New Jersey Devils.

That means, again, no Adam McQuaid, just one week after the team traded a prospect and two draft picks for him.

“I have to make decisions on who I think is our best six, and right now [McQuaid] isn’t that,” Tortorella said on Monday. “I don’t know what he is; I know the character of this guy, that is a big reason why we got him, he is a high character guy. Little concerned about the speed of the game with him, so we went back to the other guys. [Kukan] had some good games prior to being taken out, in fact it was probably unfair that comes out, but because we make a deal I wanted to look at [McQuaid], and I feel [Kukan] should be in right now, so we will go with those six.”

In his first three games with the team McQuaid was a minus-four in just around 40 minutes of total ice time.

Of all the players Columbus acquired prior to the deadline McQuaid was always the one that seemed to be the most unnecessary. Obviously Tortorella loves the person and presence he can provide off the ice, but his style of play just doesn’t seem to fit with the way the Blue Jackets play on the back end or with the direction the NHL is moving. But, players get injured and if you are a team that has any hope of going on an extended playoff run you are probably going to have to use at least eight or nine different defenders. Plus, the Blue Jackets probably no doubt see McQuaid as some kind of an answer to Tom Wilson should they encounter the Washington Capitals again at some point. So here we are.

As for the Blue Jackets’ other main additions, Duchene has one goal and two assists in his first six games, while Dzingel has a pair of assists in four games.

PHT Power Rankings: The NHL’s best under-the-radar performances

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: Roslovic rocks Ducks; Duck-duck-goose truce?

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Three Stars

1. Jack Roslovic

Saturday almost makes you wonder if Randy Carlyle will be sadly muttering “Roslovic” in his sleep.

The young forward played a big role in the Jets humiliating the Ducks 9-3, as Roslovic generated his first hat trick while also adding an assist for four points. You could probably put some other Winnipeg players as 1B, as … you know, there were obviously a lot of goals to go around.

2. Vladimir Tarasenko

There were some other players who generated big nights, even ones who don’t play for Winnipeg. Ryan Pulock‘s a nice example, as he generated three assists to help the Islanders stay surprisingly hot.

Tarasenko’s three points came via one goal and two assists, so consider that a slight boost compared to others.

It’s been a tough season for Tarasenko – at least by his lofty standards – but the deadly sniper has been heating up. This three-point game extends his point streak to four games (three goals, three assists for six points). Tarasenko also fired five shots on goal and generated a +2 rating.

The Blues face an uphill battle to make the playoffs, although they’re improving their chances with strong recent play. This also really hurt Columbus, as the Blue Jackets’ losing streak stretched to five games.

3. Jonathan Bernier

There were some other strong goaltending performances on Saturday, but Bernier comes out ahead because a) he nabbed a shutout and b) had to make 35 saves to do so.

Bernier generated his first shutout as a member of the Red Wings, and his first victory since December. He’s not playing that much behind Jimmy Howard – and in all honesty, it’s probably better for Detroit that he struggles, at least for draft lottery purposes – but this had to be big for Bernier’s confidence.

Speaking of the Blue Jackets

While Nick Foligno believe that the Blue Jackets aren’t far from getting back on track despite losing five in a row for the first time in a long time, John Tortorella isn’t so easily convinced. He seemed pretty glum after the loss.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Blue Jackets have a team meeting coming soon. There might be yelling.

Highlights

Lightning – Rangers had some great moments. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov made great music together. Mika Zibanejad‘s pass on Kevin Hayes‘ goal was saucy, and Henrik Lundqvist sent Zibanejad with a great pass of his goalie-own. Lundqvist’s save on Ryan Callahan was gorgeous. So just enjoy the full highlights.

Video evidence of Roslovic’s rollicking night.

This is a hectic one. First, Tomas Hertl makes a nice play (it’s tempting to call him Tomas Hurdle, even if that’s a stretch), then Brent Burns makes some great moves to score the OT-winner.

Ridiculous goal by Connor McDavid, part bajillion.

Mad at silly geese

The next evolution of Carolina Hurricanes celebrations is “Duck-Duck-Goose,” and it’s wonderfully goofy.

But there are plenty of hockey people who do not approve of players go the way of the silly goose.

As you’d probably expect, Brian Burke remains displeased with the Hurricanes’ antics, deeming that “bush league.” (You can see his rant in the final 30-45 seconds of this Sportsnet video.)

There seems to be disapproval from younger onlookers, too, though:

Factoids

Scores

PHI 5, EDM 4 (OT)
NJD 3, MTL 2 (OT)
WIN 9, ANA 3
TOR 3, PIT 2
DET 2, OTT 0
FLA 3, VGK 1
NYI 4, LAK 2
STL 4, CBJ 2
TBL 3, NYR 2
DAL 3, NSH 1
CHI 4, MIN 3 (OT)
VAN 5, COL 1
SJS 3, ARI 2 (OT)

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.

Blue Jackets lose in especially painful fashion after Torts tirade

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John Tortorella probably won’t call Thursday a “no-show” performance from the Columbus Blue Jackets, but when it comes to the standings, they still have nothing to show for it.

[Torts’ tirade]

When you take a step back, just about everything is painful about Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, which extends the Blue Jackets’ losing streak to four games (all in regulation).

For one thing, you have the more literal pain.

During warm-ups, All-Star forward Cam Atkinson was struck with a wayward puck off of a crossbar, the kind of freak accident that might inspire someone to gripe about players warming up without helmets (looks at Patric Hornqvist), but Atkinson had his lid on. If there are hockey gods, perhaps they simply determined that Atkinson would not play against the Jets.

Those hockey gods must also have a sick sense of humor during another sequence. With the game tied 3-3, the Blue Jackets received a key power-play opportunity after Mark Scheifele put a puck over the glass and into the safety netting. Lucky break, right? Maybe, but an unlucky moment came when the play was whistled dead when Brandon Tanev was struck by a Zach Werenski shot.

As you may remember, the Blue Jackets suffered from a power-play goal scored by the Pittsburgh Penguins during one of Columbus’ ill-fated playoff runs, even though Werenski was injured by a shot in a similar way.

Do you think this gross image of Werenski’s face popped up in Tortorella’s mind as he raged about the play being called dead? It’s certainly possible.

*Gross hockey wounds warning*

That would probably have left Torts & Co. grumbling even if they won the game in overtime, or at least took a point out of this.

Instead, Kyle Connor scored what would be the game-winning goal with just 1:14 remaining in the third period, and the Blue Jackets were unable to respond.

So, losing in regulation, with such little time remaining, is one reason why there was also some serious figurative pain on Thursday.

It may also sting to see Columbus fall short, even as both of their trade targets/free agent conundrums Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky made some big plays.

Panarin was especially impressive, scoring his 20th goal of the season with authority, and also setting up Atkinson’s replacement Josh Anderson for a nice power-play tally. Panarin played almost 26 minutes (25:52) and generally reminded the hockey world why he’s such a big deal, as if he hadn’t already done so by inspiring free vodka for life.

Bobrovsky’s had a tougher time this season, yet he’s still had his moments, including making this save.

Panarin’s points, Bob’s stops, and Torts rants were not enough, at least not on Thursday.

The Blue Jackets now sit at 59 points in 50 games, three ahead of the Buffalo Sabres (also 50 GP) for the East’s second wild card. While it’s not extraordinarily difficult, their stretch heading into the trade deadline may be challenging enough to increase the strain on everyone involved:

Feb. 2: vs. St. Louis
Feb. 5: at Colorado
Feb. 7: at Arizona
Feb. 9: at Vegas
Feb. 12: vs. Washington
Feb. 14: vs. Islanders
Feb. 16: at Chicago
Feb. 18: vs. Tampa Bay
Feb. 19: at Montreal
Feb. 22: at Ottawa
Feb. 22: vs. San Jose

While there are a decent number of home games sprinkled in there, quite a few of them are against dangerous opponents (possibly all if the Blues continue to trend upward).

To Columbus’ credit, they’ve battled through a lot this season. Thursday was a microcosm of that, as they gave the Jets a good fight despite unexpectedly losing Atkinson. And the Blue Jackets deserve at least a mention that they nearly fought back from a significant deficit before losing to the Sabres in the very game that enraged Tortorella.

Then again, this is also the sort of talk that the Blue Jackets are fighting against. A franchise that’s never won a playoff series likely isn’t soothed by the word “close.”

Losses like these have to hurt that much more.

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.

Bobrovsky wants to move on from incident, but questions linger

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Considering how tight-lipped NHL players can be even about the most mundane subjects, Sergei Bobrovsky deserves credit for being patient with the media in addressing the incident that essentially prompted the Columbus Blue Jackets to unofficially suspend him for Thursday’s eventual win against the Predators.

Of course, this is the NHL and Jim Lites isn’t involved, so Bobrovsky’s comments aren’t the most candid, prompting us to read way, way too much into things.

As it turns out, there are definitely some interesting questions and non/semi-answers that linger in the air, even as Bobrovsky wants to “move on.”

(Warning: do not take a shot for every time that phrase is uttered. This isn’t “Mad Men,” you can’t drink like that at lunch time.)

To review and to overthink things:

  • Most directly, Bobrovsky explained that he let his emotions get to him regarding Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Lightning.

Bob seemed to say that he “cleaned”/cleared the air, and began the festival of move-ons.

(By the way, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen joined that party, as he told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun: “Matter resolved, we are moving on.”)

Bobrovsky then said it would stay in the room, which follows the pattern of the Blue Jackets handling the situation in the vaguest way possible.

  • One big eyebrow-raiser came when Bobrovsky asked (around the 1:15 mark) if he wanted to stay in Columbus for the rest of the year.

“Well, I am here.” Bobrovsky said. “And I will play here. I will do my best as I’ve done for this team, this organization, for these fans, for this city. I’ve been working hard, and I will continue to do that.”

Interesting semi-answer, right?

This does little to curb speculation that Bobrovsky wants out of Columbus, and might not be happy. Elliotte Friedman speculated as much during an appearance on Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup on Friday, reporting that Bobrovsky has been “unhappy all year.”

  • When asked if he thought the suspension was right, Bob merely said “It doesn’t matter” and essentially what happened, happened. (And, yes, that he wants to move on.)

It’s a professional response, yet he’s not exactly absolving the organization of criticism there. Interesting.

  • One of the funnier moments came when Bobrovsky looked perplexed around the 2:22 mark. He was asked if anything came back to a different loss to Tampa Bay, which was an 8-2 defeat way back on Oct. 18. Fun comic relief, if you’re a Blue Jackets fan wiping sweat from your brow right now.
  • It remains unclear if there’s a rift with coach John Tortorella.

When asked if his relationship is the same with Tortorella as it had been in past seasons, Bob said “Torts is Torts. He’s an honest guy … and will do what he believes his best for the team.”

That’s nice, but what about what he’s doing for the starting goalie?

***

This incident is prominent not just because of the air of mystery surrounding why Bob was suspended, and not even because Torts can be one of the most entertaining coaches in the NHL when it comes to comical meltdowns and golden one-liners.

It’s fascinating because of just how unusual this situation is.

Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina winner, yet Bob and the Blue Jackets haven’t won a single playoff series. Bobrovsky and star winger Artemi Panarin are on expiring contracts, so the team is in an extremely tough spot, especially if free vodka for life, free dental work, and an extension aren’t enough to keep Panarin around.

Losing Bobrovsky for nothing isn’t ideal, especially if the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals once again frustrate the Blue Jackets in the playoffs. Then again, what happens if Columbus trades away Bob? While he hasn’t been his world-stopping self in 2018-19, Joonas Korpisalo hasn’t exactly looked like the goalie of the future they were hoping for.

The Blue Jackets are dealing with an extreme set of challenging circumstances here, and while Bobrovsky technically says more or less the right things, it’s tough to argue that he’s actually happy right now.

Such happiness absolutely matters because Bobrovsky could shoot down potential trades with his no-movement clause. Yeah.

Whether the Blue Jackets like it or not, this matter is far from resolved.

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.