Jonathan Marchessault

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Long-term outlook for Vegas Golden Knights

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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 Vegas Golden Knights.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

If you showed a non-hockey fan the salary structures of all 31 NHL teams, they’d probably not choose the Golden Knights as the team that’s only in the middle of its third season.

Rather than looking like they just entered the NHL, the Golden Knights are remarkably “established.” Consider their significant long-term commitments, which include luring players to Vegas:

That’s a lot of money, quite a bit of term, and many of those contracts include no-movement and/or no-trade clauses. Our Golden Knights are all grown up, already, folks.

On the bright side, a lot of those contracts are quite team-friendly. Theodore at $5.2M and Karlsson at $5.9M both stand out among the best deals (at least after Marchessault took a step back, and Tuch’s dealt with injury issues).

Few teams boast a strong mix of two top lines and some nice, prime-age defensemen at reasonable prices for considerable terms, let alone one that wouldn’t be old enough to go to Kindergarten. Yet, here we are with the Golden Knights.

[PHT Power Rankings: Where do Golden Knights rank among best and worst long-term outlooks?]

Long-term needs for Golden Knights

For some time, the Golden Knights experienced a serious need for a backup behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Considering that he’s 35, they had to know that MAF-or-bust wasn’t going to work forever. It sunk in 2019-20, to the point that they brought in Robin Lehner.

With Lehner being splendid during the past two years, and being much younger (in hockey terms) at 28, I can’t help but wonder if Vegas might try to be bold and keep Lehner around.

Doing so would require some juggling, possibly including trying to convince MAF to accept a trade … but it’s something the Golden Knights should at least consider.

Beyond figuring out goaltending depth one way or another — this free agent crop does look good, even beyond Lehner — Vegas faces the challenges most competitive teams do during this salary cap era. While I’d argue that Vegas is deeper than most, the Golden Knights could still use more help up and down the lineup.

Long-term strengths for Golden Knights

Under the assumptions you’d make about an expansion team, you’d expect the Golden Knights to possess a strong prospect pool. That they do, with the Golden Knights placing 10th on Scott Wheeler’s rankings at The Athletic (sub required), as one recent example.

When you pour over the details, the Golden Knights compiling a strong pool gets more impressive.

After all, the Golden Knights haven’t ever drafted higher than sixth (Cody Glass in 2017). They didn’t make a first-round selection in 2018, and only picked 17th (Peyton Krebs) in the 2019 NHL Draft.

In enjoying unexpected contention, Vegas also paid up for rentals and significant additions, bleeding picks and prospects like Erik Brannstrom and Nick Suzuki.

Despite losing key assets, the Golden Knights still managed to bulk up on prospects, giving them a strong chance of supplementing their current stars as they get older. Ideally, a Glass or Krebs may pick up the slack when players like Pacioretty run out of steam.

Beyond Pacioretty and Fleury, a lot of key Golden Knights are either in or around their primes. That Stone price tag might eventually be rough, but right now he’s a two-way superstar, and the Golden Knights can win plenty of best-on-best battles.

When you ponder the big picture, few teams enjoy a better long-term outlook than the Golden Knights.

MORE ON THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS:

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.

Reilly Smith zings Panthers while pondering playing in front of empty arenas

Reilly Smith burns Florida Panthers coronavirus scares empty arenas
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Reilly Smith landed a pretty spicy zinger on his former team, the Florida Panthers, while pondering the prospect of playing in front of empty arenas as coronavirus fears spread.

“I played in an empty building for a couple years in Florida so I’m used to it,” Smith said, according to reporters including The Athletic’s Jesse Granger and The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s David Schoen.

Simple, sharp, and stinging. That’s how I’d describe that one-liner from Smith.

It also felt inevitable. As teams like the San Jose Sharks come to grips with possibly playing empty arena games, and the Blue Jackets among others try to hold out against doing so, the “well that will be no change for [criticized team]” jokes were going to come. It is, however, refreshingly saucy for a player like Smith to join in on the barbs.

Pondering Reilly Smith dropping that one-liner on the Panthers

This comment makes you wonder if “living well is the best revenge” just wasn’t convincing enough for Smith.

The Panthers were seemingly so eager to get rid of Smith at the expansion draft that they gave up Jonathan Marchessault as well. That decision hasn’t exactly worked out well for Florida, while Smith and Marchessault comprised two-thirds of a line that propelled Vegas to heights that … frankly soared above anything the Panthers have really accomplished.

(Sorry, John Vanbiesbrouck, Ed Jovanovski, and pile of rubber rats.)

Seeing a team give up on you can cause bitterness even if you’re better off elsewhere. One wonders if Smith experienced the jilted feelings of bitterly observing an ex, all while being in a healthier relationship.

Or … you know, Smith just blurted out the one-liner without really thinking about it. That could be it, too.

Either way, it’s honestly pretty fun. We might need that comic relief in this otherwise grim coronavirus situation, too.

MORE ON THE RIPPLE EFFECTS OF THE CORONAVIRUS FOR HOCKEY EVENTS

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.

Panthers have a lot to prove, starting with big test vs. Maple Leafs

Panthers face test in Atlantic third seed race vs. Maple Leafs
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What would be more embarrassing: the Maple Leafs or Panthers missing the playoffs? Because most signs point to the Maple Leafs and Panthers battling for one playoff spot as the Atlantic’s third seed.

There’s no question that the Maple Leafs missing the mark would draw more attention. Yet, as of Thursday, Feb. 27, I’d argue that Toronto would have more excuses than Florida. Not that such a notion would save anyone’s job, mind you, but it feels worth a mention.

Because, really, in a harsher market, there’d be more desperation in the air than the humidity in Sunrise as the Panthers host the Maple Leafs on Thursday.

[Maple Leafs perspective: can their banged-up defense survive?]

Panthers are a lot like Maple Leafs, but with fewer excuses

When you look at all the factors involved, these two teams are remarkably similar in strengths (scoring buckets of goals) and weaknesses (seeking shelter from a blizzard of goals). The biggest difference is that the Panthers’ most important players have generally stayed healthy, while the Maple Leafs feel like the NHL’s answer to Wile E. Coyote.*

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have experienced injuries to Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and the current list features Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Andreas Johnsson.

The point isn’t about the Maple Leafs’ challenges, as they have company among the most bruised teams in the NHL. Instead, it highlights Florida’s lack of excuses. They spent big on Bobrovsky and Joel Quenneville yet … from a big picture perspective, their situation doesn’t feel all that different from last season. Prominent Panthers will need to look hard in the mirror if they fall short (particularly GM Dale Tallon, who made another baffling move in shipping out Vincent Trocheck).

* – OK, the Blue Jackets are probably Wile E. Coyote, but the Leafs take a beating, too. Maybe Tom of Tom & Jerry?

Florida has a slightly friendlier schedule, so … again, not many excuses

The Panthers should be deeply disappointed if they don’t hold an advantage over the Maple Leafs after the first week-or-so of March.

A look at the standings cements the notion that Thursday’s game is huge for both teams:

Panthers Maple Leafs Atlantic standings

But the stage is set for Florida to gain ground. While the Maple Leafs play four of their next five games on the road, the Panthers begin a five-game homestand with this crucial contest.

Other contextual situations set the stage for the Panthers to go on a run, if this team has it in them.

The Panthers face the Senators two more times this season, and also have one game apiece against the Devils and Red Wings.

Will the Canadiens sag by March 7, and if not then, by March 26? The Rangers might also run out of magic by March 30, while the Capitals might opt to rest key players during a season-closing contest on April 4.

Of course, the two biggest games seem obvious. Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs in Florida could loom large, especially if it ends in regulation. The two teams meet for the final time in the regular season in Toronto on March 23.

Overall, the Panthers play 11 more games at home versus eight on the road, while the Maple Leafs see an even split (nine each).

No, that schedule doesn’t present a towering advantage for Florida, though it does seem like it’s more favorable. Instead, it makes it clearer that the Panthers have every opportunity to prove themselves, starting with Thursday’s big test against the Maple Leafs.

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: Bruins, Flyers stay hot; Habs finally win

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights

It’s felt like the Golden Knights haven’t had the greatest luck at times so far this season, and Marchessault fits into that argument, carrying what would be a career-high 5.3 shooting percentage into Wednesday’s game. It’s now at 7.7 percent after Tuesday.

That’s the least dramatic way of saying that Marchessault generated the third hat trick of his career. He turned that game on its head, spoiling the Devils’ first game after firing John Hynes with a natural hat trick.

Alex Tuck presents an alternate option, collecting three assists during this win. Marchessault now has five points in his past three games, while Tuck is at six.

2. John Carlson, Washington Capitals

While Marchessault crept into Tuesday a little cold, Carlson has been ghost pepper-hot for basically all of 2019-20. Carlson scored one goal and two assists during Washington’s win against San Jose, pushing the defenseman to a whopping 40 points in just 29 games. No other defenseman has reached 30 points yet (Dougie Hamilton is second with 28).

Carlson isn’t quite hanging with the absolute top scorers in the NHL any longer, but he’s still holding up pretty well, standing at sixth right now.

For more context on just how special Carlson’s start has been, check the factoids. To help his cause for a strong Tuesday, both of Carlson’s assists were primary assists, and his goal was the game-winner.

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

Connor Hellebuyck has easily been the most important part of the Jets surviving (and thriving) despite massive talent losses on defense. Key forwards are coming through too, though.

Patrik Laine has been dicing up Dallas for some time, but Connor was a standout on Tuesday, collecting a goal and two assists as the Jets beat the Stars.

Connor now has 24 points in 28 games this season. He’s been heating up lately, in particular, with three goals and three assists for six points during his last four games.

Highlights of the Night

Two examples of serious burst stand out tonight. First, there’s Jason Zucker for the Wild:

Then, Miro Heiskanen finds another gear for the Stars:

Factoids

  • NHL PR has some impressive John Carlson stats. Carlson is the first defenseman to reach 40 points in 29 games or less since Al MacInnis did so in 1990-91. Also, only three other defensemen beyond Carlson and MacInnis managed to generate at least 40 points in 29 games or less: Bobby Orr (who absurdly did so six times), Denis Potvin (twice), and Paul Coffey once. Yeah, pretty solid, Carlson.
  • The Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Islanders on Tuesday, ending an eight-game winless streak. The Boston Bruins were the last team to beat the Habs, and after blanking the Hurricanes, the Bruins are now on an eight-game winning streak. The Flyers are on a smaller-but-still-impressive five-game winning streak, which is notable also because of how sore the Maple Leafs were about it.
  • Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen almost earned a three stars nod with 44 saves on Tuesday, the most saves in a game for any rookie goalie in the franchise’s history.
  • The Canucks inducted Alexandre Burrows into their Ring of Hono(u)r on Tuesday.

Scores

BOS 2 – CAR 0
MTL 4 – NYI 2
MIN 4 – FLA 2
VGK 4 – NJD 3
PHI 6 – TOR 1
ARI 4 – CBJ 2
TBL 3 – NSH 2 (OT)
WPG 5 – DAL 1
VAN 5 – OTT 2
WSH 5 – SJS 2

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.

Devils fall short in first game after Hynes firing

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Sometimes, a team gets a burst of energy — and, ideally, a bump up the standings — after a coach has been fired. If the New Jersey Devils are going to soak up more W’s after firing John Hynes, that gratification will be delayed.

The Devils managed leads of 1-0 and 2-1 during their first game with Alain Nasreddine as interim head coach, but they couldn’t hold onto a win. Jonathan Marchessault managed a natural hat trick during the third period, and that burst served as enough of a cushion for the Vegas Golden Knights to beat the Devils 4-3 on Tuesday.

You have to think Mackenzie Blackwood would like at least one of those goals back, as early on, goaltending is dooming the Devils once again:

It’s not all bad.

For one thing, if you were engineering a game to get the good PR bump of winning after firing a coach, you’d probably not want to target the Golden Knights as an opponent. They’ve had their issues, yet can be a behemoth with the puck, and this marks Vegas’ fourth win in a row.

And you can at least point to a pretty solid overall game for the Devils. This Natural Stat Trick Corsi chart shows a decent broader night of effort from New Jersey, even if the result was all-too-familiar:

Ultimately, the Devils fell short of even getting a “charity point,” and some wonder if the 2019-20 season is more or less lost already. The same might be said of Taylor Hall, considering his uncertain contract status, and the shaky situation the Devils find themselves in.

But, hey, you can only do so much in one game, and you could argue that the Devils at least made some baby steps.

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.