Johnny Gaudreau

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) pushes the puck forward on a break-away as Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau
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A best on best mythical tournament: Players in their prime

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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 over the next few Thursdays. The first team created was a 23-and-under roster that would be fascinating to watch.

An NHL player usually reaches peak performance in his late 20’s and this roster is comprised of players in the prime of their career between the ages of 24 and 29. The combination of skill, size, wisdom and depth in this group will be difficult to match for any opponent. The most surprising part of building this team was seeing several superstars left on the sidelines.

Line Combinations

First line: Artemi PanarinNathan MacKinnonLeon Draisaitl

Thoughts: All three players are firmly in the conversation for the 2019-2020 Hart Trophy and the thought of them on the same team, let alone the same line would be highly entertaining. Panarin has established himself as one of the best passers in the NHL and having two lethal goal scorers alongside him should make for an explosive trio.

Second line: Johnny GaudreauMark ScheifeleNikita Kucherov

Thoughts: Both wingers don’t offer much size but Gaudreau and Kucherov are both electric players that have learned how to win in the corners despite their diminutive stature. Scheifele has long been one of the more underrated players in the league and should find instant chemistry with two players that possess elite on-ice vision.

Third line: Taylor HallMika ZibanejadMark Stone

Thoughts: Hall’s game has dipped since winning the 2018 Hart Trophy but still remains a top two-way forward. Zibanejad was one of the most controversial picks beating out the likes of John Tavares, Tyler Seguin and others. But No. 93 has improved his game since the New York Rangers acquired him in a one-sided traded.

Fourth line: Chris Kreider – Ryan O’Reilly – Jonathan Huberdeau

Thoughts: Kreider and O’Reilly have anchored shut down lines in the past but the addition of Huberdeau should add more offensive punch to a very responsible grouping. All three skaters play a disciplined, 200-foot game and could match up with any combination of forwards an opponent has to offer.

First D pairing: Roman JosiSeth Jones
Second D pairing: Victor HedmanDougie Hamilton
Third D pairing: Oliver Ekman-LarssonAaron Ekblad

Thoughts: It’s hard to find a flaw in this grouping of defensemen. These six players collectively possess all the attributes needed to shut down opponents and can quickly move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Starting Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Backup Goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

Just Missed: Aleksander Barkov, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Tyler Seguin, John Tavares

Captain: Roman Josi

Alternate captains: Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl

Analysis

It was surprising to see only one player on this team with a championship ring and just seven players have participated in a Stanley Cup Final. With that said, this team has experience in best on best tournaments at every level and have routinely been through the grind of an NHL regular season.

On paper, there are limited areas of concern. The team is comprised of players with diverse attributes to form an extremely well-balanced roster. It has several explosive goal-scorers in the top-six and responsible players in the bottom-six that have the ability to consistently produce on the offensive side of the ice.

In addition, the blueline is staggered with lockdown defensemen and two Vezina candidates guarding the crease.

One challenge for this team, and for any roster in a tournament of this nature, is the ability to find instant chemistry with line mates. In theory, Panarin can set up a few of the top scorers but does it work in reality?

Due to the balance of the roster and varied characteristics, I believe this team would have the inside track to winning this mythical tournament.

Surprising omissions

John Tavares: It wasn’t too long ago that Tavares was the most sought-after free agent in the summer of 2018, but it was challenging to find a spot for the Maple Leafs captain on this roster. It was a tight race between No. 91 and Mika Zibanejad for the third line center position, but the Swedish right-handed centerman has become one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. Tavares is a world-class player. He could easily slide back onto the roster and change the narrative with a dominant stretch when professional hockey returns.

Erik Karlsson: This Swedish defenseman used to terrorize the league with his smooth skating and incredible vision. However, Karlsson hasn’t looked like himself since being traded to the San Jose Sharks in September of 2018. He routinely crossed the 60-point plateau and set a career-high with 82 points in 2015-16, but injuries have slowed him down the past two seasons. This mythical tournament will require teams to perform at an incredibly high level and there is no room for someone who has not been at the top of his game.


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.

Long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames

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 Calgary Flames. 

Pending free agents

The Core

The Flames played a little over their heads for much of 2018-19, building some belief that the Flames might possess one of the NHL’s best cores. Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs rained on that parade during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and things got downright soggy at times in 2019-20.

Overall, though? The Flames’ core still looks quite good. Not best-in-class, but quite good.

If nothing else, they boast some serious value.

Thankfully, they didn’t overreact and trade Johnny Gaudreau, who’s almost insultingly underpaid ($6.75M AAV through 2021-22). Maybe 2018-19 inflated expectations for “Johnny Hockey,” but he’s still an excellent player.

It’s actually difficult to tell how much Sean Monahan and/or Elias Lindholm lean on Gaudreau for production, but both are cheap and covered for years, so it doesn’t really matter.

Matthew Tkachuk? He’s worth every bit of that $7M per year through 2021-22. So the forward group is covered pretty nicely.

And, yes, Mark Giordano‘s age (36) is troubling for the future, but we’ll get to that. For now, consider Giordano pretty fantastic (not quite Norris-fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless), and nicely cost-efficient at $6.75M. Giordano’s contract ending after 2021-22 mitigates much of that aging curve concern, too.

Now, not every long-term dollar is well-spent. While Milan Lucic isn’t as bad of a player as the snark suggests, his contract really is a headache. There are other issues, such as Mikael Backlund‘s troubling term.

Ultimately, though … not bad. Not cream of the crop stuff, but you can bump that group up quite a bit thanks to a mix of bargains and relatively limited risks.

Long-term needs for Flames

Consider Cam Talbot’s resurgence triage for the Flames’ goaltending situation. Talbot provided a short-term fix, but considering his pending UFA status and how unpredictable the position can be, will the Band-Aid slip off soon?

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty there, whether Talbot returns or the Flames find the “next” Talbot. Meanwhile, David Rittich presents an unpleasant form of predictability: he’s been consistently mediocre.

Unfortunately, the Flames face questions about how to insulate their goalies. Their defense lacks clarity beyond aging star Giordano, especially if both Hamonic and Brodie played their last games for the Flames. There are worse groups out there, but the Flames may be stuck with “good” while seeking “great.”

In ranking the NHL’s farm systems for The Athletic in January (sub required), Scott Wheeler placed the Flames 26th. Even at such a low ranking, Calgary’s highest rank prospects were forwards (and goalie Dustin Wolf), not defensemen. If the Flames get help on defense, it might have to come via free agency.

Oh yeah … they might need a coach, too, if they aren’t impressed with Geoff Ward.

Long-term strengths of Flames

While the Flames’ forward group ranks a notch or two behind the best of the best, it’s still quite good. The one-two punch of Gaudreau’s playmaking on one line and Tkachuk’s two-way peskiness on another can be very effective.

The Flames also lack a cap hit above Tkachuk’s $7M. That flexibility could come in very handy if other teams need to shed salary thanks to a coronavirus-related cap squeeze.

Even certain weaknesses could be spun as strengths.

Yes, their goalie situation is uncertain, but the Flames also enjoy flexibility. Before you scoff at that point, consider that Sergei Bobrovsky‘s performing at a sub-backup level for $10M per year at age 31.

Who’s to say that the Flames won’t successfully target better goaltending, at better prices, without the risky term other teams hand out?

Such flexibility opens up lanes for free agency, too. Perhaps the Flames could take that next step by landing, say, Alex Pietrangelo or Taylor Hall?

As is, the Flames mostly show the makings of a good team. Last season showed they could flirt with great, while this one reminded that there’s still work to do. They have a decent shot at getting there, even if they aren’t there yet.

(Then again, there’s also the possibility that they already missed their best chance or chances. Hockey’s fickle that way.)

MORE FLAMES BITS:
Looking at the 2019-20 Flames (so far?)
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.

Calgary Flames: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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 Calgary Flames.

Gaudreau, Monahan have been disappointments for Flames

Johnny Gaudreau enjoyed the best season of his NHL career in 2018-19, setting career highs for goals (36) and points (99). Gaudreau blew away his previous career high of 84 points.

In doing so, Gaudreau might have set expectations too high for both himself and the Flames.

Some might pin Gaudreau’s slippage to a morale-busting first-round loss to the Avalanche during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, Gaudreau failed to score a single goal during that series, managing a measly assist over five games. If there was a shred of doubt about Gaudreau vs. Nathan MacKinnon, that debate was crushed with the speed of an authoritative overtime playoff game-winner.

Maybe Gaudreau is suffering from a minor crisis of confidence, but that armchair psychology likely falls short. Simply put, he was probably playing over his head last season, and then he regressed.

It’s still a disappointment for the Flames, though. With 58 points in 70 games, Gaudreau’s .83 points-per-game average is the third-worst of his career.

And, generally speaking, as Gaudreau goes, so does Sean Monahan.

It’s not surprising that Matthew Tkachuk ranks higher than Monahan and Gaudreau on this GAR chart (via Charting Hockey using Evolving Hockey’s stats), being that Tkachuk is such a five-on-five demon. But the two being run-of-the-mill by their standards made it tough for Calgary to pull away from the Pacific pack.

Flames firing Bill Peters was part of a run of coaching surprises

The series of events that ultimately led to the Flames firing Bill Peters was quite ugly, and there were also surprises along the way.

Frankly, the fact that Peters faced actual consequences — rather than another powerful person’s indiscretions merely being brushed under the rug — was a pleasant surprise. Peters facing repercussions doesn’t delete the unpleasant experiences Akim Aliu and others went through, yet it was a sign of progress in hockey — whether you consider the changes big or merely incremental.

Peters’ firing was part of a series of surprises in the coaching ranks that would probably go down as a bigger story for 2019-20 if COVID-19 hadn’t halted play altogether.

Cam Talbot rebounds for Flames

In a season of slippage for the Flames, Talbot’s lifting Calgary up.

After seeing his save percentage sink below .90 during his final year with the Oilers, Talbot’s been huge for Calgary. Talbot entered the “pause” with a three-game winning streak, and generated a strong .919 save percentage overall.

That’s all been crucial, as David Rittich remained mediocre. If he’s “Big Save Dave,” perhaps Rittich needs to focus a bit more on the small and medium-sized stops?

Flames aren’t getting pleasant surprises from Sam Bennett

Expecting more from Rittich (.907 save percentage in 2019-20) was foolish considering his .908 career average. Projecting a dramatic transformation from Bennett might have been even more foolish.

Yet, even by diminished standards, Bennett’s 2019-20 was extremely meh. Bennett only managed 12 points over 52 games, which translates to a career-worst .23 ppg.

The Flames have tried to hold out for value in potentially trading Bennett. That makes sense, as it would sting to receive very little for the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft. But considering how his numbers (and ice time) are sinking, maybe it would be best for everyone involved if a trade happened?

A change of scenery might be the only thing that leads to pleasant surprises for Bennett and the Flames.

Oh, and as a bonus surprise: Milan Lucic … not as bad as maybe people think. His contract remains bad, but Lucic seems like he can be an OK contributor overall. Yup, life and the Flames are both full of surprises … and OK, perhaps disappointments.

MORE FLAMES BITS

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: Brodie leads Flames to OT win; sizzling Flyers win seventh straight

Sean Monahan #23, T.J. Brodie #7 and Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames celebrate
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Three Stars

1) Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers

Wins on the road have been tough to come by for the Flyers this season, but they earned two points in a 5-2 victory against the division-leading Washington Capitals Wednesday. Provorov had a goal and an assist as the surging Flyers picked up their seventh straight win and moved to within one point of the Capitals for the Metro Division lead. Provorov and the rest of the Flyers defensive group have recorded an NHL-best 43 goals this season. The 23-year-old blueliner scored 6:36 into the final period to give the Flyers a 4-2 lead and wrap up the critical inter-division victory.

2) Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks

Rakell needed every second of overtime to lead the Ducks to a 4-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. The Swedish forward fired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle and notched his first goal since January 31 with 1.2 seconds remaining in OT. Rakell also assisted on Brendan Guhle’s marker which gave Anaheim a 2-1 lead at 13:40 of the opening period.

3) TJ Brodie, Calgary Flames

With less than 11 seconds remaining in overtime, Brodie fired a wrist shot from the slot to propel the Calgary Flames to a 3-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Sean Monahan couldn’t finish a feed from Johnny Gaudreau prior to the game-winning goal, but never gave up on the play. He collected the rebound, skated around the net and found an open Brodie in between the circles. The Flames erased a two-goal third-period deficit with goals from Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk to force the extra session. Calgary sits in third place in the Pacific and trails the Vegas Golden Knights by five points for first place in the division.

Highlights of the Night

Derek Grant masterfully kicked a puck over to Kevin Hayes to help the Flyers take a one-goal lead in the second period.

Nick Foligno delivered a perfect saucer pass to Gustav Nyquist when the Blue Jackets opened up a two-goal lead on the Flames.

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog feathered a wrist shot from the right circle to even the score at 2-2 late in the first period.

Blooper of the night

Coyotes forward Carl Soderberg ends up with credit for this fluky power-play goal.

Push for the Playoffs

Notable injury

James van Riemsdyk blocked a shot and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future with a broken right hand.

Stat of the Night

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, Washington Capitals 2

Calgary Flames 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 4, Colorado Avalanche 3 (OT)

Arizona Coyotes 4, Vancouver Canucks 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: Werenski, Gaudreau, and Ovechkin all shine in big wins

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. He recorded his league-leading 12th multi-goal game of the season in the Capitals’ 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild, scoring two goals from his signature spot on the ice. He is now at 45 goals for the season and is just two back of Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the league lead. You can read more about Ovechkin’s big game and the Capitals’ big win right here.

2. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. Gaudreau found out on Saturday that his grandfather passed away before their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He came back on Sunday with a huge performance for one of his biggest supporters. Gaudreau was dominant for the Flames in a 3-0 win over the Florida Panthers, scoring a goal, recording an assist, and even drawing a penalty shot in the first period. After a slow start to the season offensively Gaudreau’s production has really started to pick up in recent weeks, averaging a point per game (25 points in 25 games) since the start of January.

3. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. Werenski was a beast for the Blue Jackets in their come-from-behind win against the Vancouver Canucks, playing 25 minutes, scoring the game-tying goal (his 20th of the season) in the third period, picking up an assist, and finishing the night as a plus-two. The Blue Jackets desperately needed this win and it is not a stretch to call it a potential season saver. With Seth Jones sidelined due to injury a lot of the Blue Jackets’ workload on defense is going to fall on Werenski, and he has been brilliant this season. You can read more about their big win on Sunday night here.

More Standout Performances From Sunday

  • Cory Schneider recorded his first shutout in more than a year for the New Jersey Devils in a 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks.
  • Anze Kopitar scored two goals and Cal Petersen was a wall for the Los Angeles Kings by stopping 42 out of 43 shots to help them put a stop to the Vegas Golden Knights’ winning streak. Read more about the Kings’ win here.

Highlights of the Night

Trevor Lewis helped the Kings pull the upset over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday night with this beautiful spin-o-rama goal to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.

Derek Grant had a huge game for the Philadelphia Flyers with an assist on Michael Raffl‘s shorthanded goal, and this beautiful goal for himself. Read more about the Flyers’ big win here.

Ovechkin’s second goal of the night came on this beautiful passing play between him, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Blooper of the Night

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson absolutely levels Devils forward Kevin Rooney behind the net and earns himself a two-minute minor for interference.

Factoids

  • Werenski is the first Blue Jackets defensemen to ever score 20 goals in a single season. [NHL PR]
  • Artemi Panarin extended his point streak for the New York Rangers. [NHL PR]
  • Ovechkin now has 144 multi-goal games in his career, putting him into fifth place in NHL history. [NHL PR]

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2
Calgary Flames 3, Florida Panthers 0
New Jersey Devils 3, Anaheim Ducks 0
Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Vancouver Canucks 3
Washington Capitals 4, Minnesota Wild 3
Los Angeles Kings 4, Vegas Golden Knights 1

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.