Kevin Shattenkirk

NHL Power Rankings
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NHL Power Rankings: Best 2019-20 free agent signings

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we shift our focus back to the summer of 2019 and the free agent signings that have ended up working out the best so far.

Free agency is always a risky proposition for teams because it forces them into a bidding war for players that have most likely played their best hockey for somebody else. Most long-term contracts signed during the free agency signing period have a tendency to end in trades or buyouts. Not even one full season in and there are already a handful of contracts that are off to slow starts (Sergei Bobrovsky in Florida, Matt Duchene in Nashville, Joe Pavelski in Dallas).

Some of them, however, have worked out as planned. Those are the contracts we are focussing on here today.

When it comes to identifying the “best” contracts at this point we are trying to take into account overall performance and the value of the contract. Sometimes it is a long-term deal that looks good, other times it is a short-term “prove it” deal where everyone ended up getting exactly what they wanted.

Which free agents make the cut?

To the rankings!

1. Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers. While most long-term free agent contracts end up failing to meet expectations, this is one that looks like it is going to work. Panarin is having one of the best individual seasons in the history of the Rangers’ franchise and is playing at an MVP level. Maybe he will not play at a superstar level for the entire seven-year term of the contract, but there is little reason to believe he will not be an impact player in New York for several years. One of the league’s best offensive players.

2. Kevin Shattenkirk, Tampa Bay Lightning. This was one of those “prove it” contracts. After having his previous deal with the Rangers bought out, Shattenkirk found himself back on the open market this past summer and landed in Tampa Bay on a one-year, $1.75 million contract. It has worked out tremendously for the Lightning. Shattenkirk has bounced back across the board with an improved offensive performance and dominant possession numbers. He may not be a No. 1 defender, but as a No. 2 or 3 on a contender he can still make an impact.

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks (traded to Vegas). After being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy a year ago, the Islanders allowed Lehner to walk and become an unrestricted free agent. He ended up getting a one-year, $5 million contract with the Blackhawks and was one of the biggest reasons they were able to at least somewhat stay in playoff contention instead of dropping down toward the bottom of the league. They ended up trading him to Vegas at the trade deadline, and even though that return was underwhelming it was still a strong signing.

4. Joonas Donskoi, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche entered the offseason armed with one of the league’s best young cores and the most salary cap space to play with. While they did not get the big ticket free agents, they did make some really smart moves. Donskoi’s four-year deal is right at the top of that list. He has been an outstanding depth addition and provided some much-needed secondary scoring.

5. Gustav Nyquist, Columbus Blue Jackets. He is not a superstar by any means, but Nyquist has given the Blue Jackets exactly what they thought he would: 15-20 goals, a 50-point pace, and all around solid top-six play. He has also been one of the few Blue Jackets players that has not missed significant time to injury this season. His $5.5 million salary cap hit over the next three seasons (after this one) is a more than fair price tag for what he provides.

6. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders. All things being equal he is probably a downgrade from what they lost in Lehner, but he has stayed healthy and been very good for the Islanders. The four-year contract seemed like a risk (and still is) but he has been productive so far.

7. Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche. Nichushkin’s 2018-19 season was the dullest individual season in NHL history. I do not mean that as a knock. It legitimately was given that he played 57 games and did not score a single goal or record a single penalty minute (the first time any player ever did that). That resulted in him signing a one-year, $850,000 contract with Colorado. In 65 games he already has 13 goals, 27 total points, and has been another outstanding depth addition.

8. Tyler Ennis, Ottawa Senators (traded to Edmonton). Another one-year bargain. Ennis was one of the few bright spots in Ottawa this season before he was flipped to the Oilers at the trade deadline. Before this season his production had fallen off a cliff as he bounced from Buffalo, to Minnesota, to Toronto, and then to Ottawa. This was a nice bounce-back year for him.

9. Noel Acciari, Florida Panthers. Before this season Acciari scored 18 goals in 180 career games. In his first 66 games with the Panthers he has already scored 20 goals. He makes just a little more than $1 million per season. Is this goal scoring output a short-term fluke? Maybe. Does that make me overrate him right now? Probably. But finding a 20-goal scorer for just over a million against the cap is a steal no matter how you look at it.

10. Tyler Myers, Vancouver Canucks. I hated this contract at the time and thought it signaled more bumbling from a directionless Vancouver front office that was just trying to sneak into the playoffs to save face. Maybe that’s what it still is. But once I get beyond my initial criticism I have to admit that Myers has been a pretty solid addition to the Canucks’ defense. Maybe it won’t look that way in two or three years, but for now he has helped.

Honorable mentions

  • Brandon Tanev, Pittsburgh Penguins. Like Myers, I hated the length of this deal at the time, but he has been a great addition to their bottom-six and helped defensively.
  • Brett Connolly, Florida Panthers. The Bobrovsky contract might not work, but the additions of Acciari and Connolly were solid moves to add offense.
  • Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild. My biggest complaint here is Zuccarello added another player on the wrong side of 30 to a team that already has a lot of them making big money. Overall, though, he has been good.
  • Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs. By no means is he a top player anymore, but as a veteran third-or fourth-line center he is great for that salary cap hit.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: ‘No easy fix’ for emergency backup goalie situations like Ayres’

David Ayers NHL tries to fix emergency backup goalie situations EBUGS
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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.

• Bill Daly told reporters that there “are no easy fixes” for the NHL regarding emergency backup goalie situations like David Ayres suiting up for the Hurricanes. Ah yes, the league definitely must do something about the scourge that is getting a feel-good story that landed on outlets such as “Today Show” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Why would any league want scores of cheap attention if it comes with even an ounce of embarrassment? Preposterous! (Sportsnet)

• You’d think hockey people didn’t need to hear this, but stories like Ayres’ is why we love sports. (The Portage Citizen)

• Great stuff from William Douglas on memorable former NHL player Mike Grier, who ranks among four black assistant coaches in the NHL. Grier explains that his father Bobby Grier inspires his work ethic, as the elder Grier once was an assistant coach for the New England Patriots. (NHL.com celebrates Black History Month)

• Plenty of big names for the U.S. roster heading into the women’s world championship, including Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, and Brianna Decker. If a familiar face isn’t there, it might be due to them having children. (Olympic Talk)

• Great news for the Blues, and really for hockey: Vladimir Tarasenko may return sooner than expected. As in, before the end of the regular season. (NHL.com)

• Blues GM Doug Armstrong explains why the team was quiet at the trade deadline. Frankly, Armstrong’s made enough splashes over the years that it’s understandable to sit one out. Plus, the Blues can make people roll their eyes by saying Tarasenko is their “trade deadline acquisition.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• If you only look at points, John Carlson ranks as the next Erik Karlsson when it comes to seemingly easy Norris Trophy calls. That said, the Capitals experienced a high-scoring blueliner getting downgraded before when Mike Green was at his fauxhawk’d peak. Could it happen again? Kevin Klein went into deep, fascinating detail on that question. (Japers Rink)

• Speaking of Capitals-related no-brainers, what about Alex Ovechkin playing a game in front of a Russian crowd? Daly says the league is working on it. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Adam Gretz argues that Conor Sheary can score enough to stick with Sidney Crosby on the Penguins’ top line. Pittsburgh showed off its new look in a narrow loss to the Kings on Wednesday. (Pensburgh)

• When Viktor Arvidsson is rolling, the Predators often roll with him. Amid a turbulent season, it seems like Arvidsson is finding his way. That’s extremely promising for Nashville’s chances. (A to Z Sports Nashville)

• Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman lays out his plan, explaining that the draft and young players are “the lifeblood of your team.” (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Senators fans waved goodbye to key players in multiple trades now, from Karlsson to Mark Stone to now Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Could Pageau be the end of that line? (TSN)

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.

Trade: Capitals get Brenden Dillon from Sharks to beef up defense

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If the war for the Metro title ends up being a battle of attrition, then the Capitals just added a tank named Brenden Dillon. The Capitals landed Dillon in a trade that sends draft picks to the San Jose Sharks.

The official release confirms that the Sharks retained half of Dillon’s cap hit/salary ($3.27M) in the trade.

Capitals receive: Dillon (29, 50-percent of $3.27M AAV retained by Sharks)

Sharks get: Colorado’s 2020 second-round pick, a conditional 2021 third-rounder

Pierre LeBrun reports that these are the conditions for that third-rounder:

Dillon adds beef to Capitals’ defense

Washington already boasted decent size on the blueline with John Carlson and Jonas Siegenthaler, but Dillon becomes the biggest blueliner. (Dillon is listed as 6-foot-4, 225 lbs.) Dillon scored one goal and 14 points in 59 games with the Sharks. He’s had a feisty season with 83 penalty minutes, only three short of his career-high already.

“Brenden is an experienced defenseman who plays a solid defensive game with a high compete level and physicality,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. “We felt it was important for us to add a player of his caliber to our defensive group.”

MacLellan is right: Dillon stands out most as being a physical, pure defenseman. Hockey Viz and other metrics spotlight a player who brings a lot of defense, without much offense:

Capitals Dillon Hockey Viz

Considering the Capitals’ scoring capabilities, that seems like a smart addition. Ideally, he’ll make Washington more versatile for another postseason run.

This continues a run of the Capitals adding defensive help around deadline time.

  • Last deadline, the Capitals landed Nick Jensen, who they swiftly extended.
  • Heading into their Stanley Cup run, Washington unearthed a hidden gem in Michal Kempny. The Capitals also kept Kempny around beyond the initial trade.
  • The Kevin Shattenkirk trade from the 2017 trade deadline didn’t work out as hoped, but it remains part of the pattern of spending on defense.

Will Dillon be another Jensen/Kempny-style addition who becomes more than a rental? That’s unclear, but either way, the Capitals added a big body. Meanwhile, the Sharks got some solid picks for their trouble.

MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

Get ready to learn a lot about the Lightning

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With a cursory glance at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s upcoming schedule, it was tempting to predict that the team will look like a juggernaut again very soon.

After beating the Predators in overtime in an unexpectedly nasty game in Nashville, the opportunity is indeed there to enjoy some home cooking. The Lightning play:

  • Their next three games at home.
  • Seven of their next eight games in Tampa Bay.
  • Could be set for a big December overall with 10 of their next 12 games at home.

Yet, when you dig a little deeper, the situation is even more interesting because a hot streak isn’t necessarily a slam dunk for Tampa Bay. While it’s dangerous to read too much into any month in the marathon that is an NHL regular season, it’s fair to say that we should get a better idea of what kind of team the Lightning might be in 2019-20.

Bumpy start

Chalk it up to a hangover from that jarring sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets, Brayden Point limping into the early part of the season, or any other number of factors, but it’s clear that something’s been a bit off about the Lightning in 2019-20.

It wouldn’t have been reasonable to expect the Lightning to duplicate 2018-19’s regular-season magic, but it’s still jarring that, as of Dec. 4, Tampa Bay is not in a playoff position.

Now, sure, some of that is misleading. After all, the Lightning have only played in 25 games, the lowest total in the NHL. Still, a 13-9-3 record feels closer to a drizzle than a thunderstorm.

It’s a tad bit unnerving that Tampa Bay’s record is closer to “meh” than dominant when you consider that a decent number of things are going right for the Lightning.

Their power play is still humming along with a robust 29.3 percent success rate, third-best in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov isn’t on another 120-point pace, he’s still a dangerous scorer, and the Lightning are getting strong production from Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman (remarkably, 23 points in as many games), and Brayden Point. Beyond the usual suspects, they’re also seeing an even-more-revitalized-than-expected Kevin Shattenkirk (not far behind Hedman with 20 points in 25 GP), and some nice contributions from rising players like Anthony Cirelli.

The Lightning’s even-strength PDO (1.017) ranks seventh-highest in the NHL, a quick reference that indicates that they aren’t suffering from particularly terrible puck luck.

While their goaltending hasn’t been great (Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney share matching .908 save percentages), it hasn’t been a full-fledged disaster.

So … it’s fair to wonder if this Lightning team might fall closer to good than great. But, again, this stretch will tell us quite a bit about their ceiling — not everything, but quite a bit.

Another look at this home-heavy stretch

Here’s that span of 12 games, with road contests in italics:

Dec. 5: vs. Minnesota
Dec. 7: vs. San Jose
Dec. 9: vs. Islanders
Dec. 10: at Florida
Dec. 12: vs. Boston
Dec. 14: vs. Washington
Dec. 17: vs. Ottawa
Dec. 19: vs. Dallas
Dec. 21: at Washington
Dec. 23: vs. Florida
Dec. 28: vs. Montreal
Dec. 29: vs. Detroit

While the Senators and Red Wings stand as games the Lightning absolutely should win, and there are matches against teams who have been up and down (Wild, Sharks, Stars), it all looks like a set of challenges as much as this is a golden opportunity.

After all, the Lightning are only 6-4-1 so far at home this season, and that’s with that trip to Sweden mucking things up a bit.

***

It’s hyperbolic to say that this is a do-or-die stretch for the Lightning, but it’s still one of the more significant spans of their season.

Consider it the equivalent to an animal storing fat for in preparation for a difficult winter. From Dec. 31 through Feb. 1, the Lightning face what could be a treacherous run of away games: four in a row to begin 2020, 12 out of 15 games on the road. While that set of opponents is softer (at least on paper), it would likely help if they entered that run on a high note.

Do you think the Lightning can take advantage of December to prove that they’re still truly among the elite, or will they continue to face peaks and valleys?

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Shattenkirk finds perfect fit in new role with Lightning

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There were four days between the Rangers buying out the final two years of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract and the Lightning signing the 30-year-old defenseman to a one-year deal. Despite how swift his fortunes changed, there was a period of anger and frustration at not being able to make the “hometown boy returns” story work out.

Shattenkirk hails from New Rochelle, N.Y., which is about 20 miles outside of New York City. When he became an unrestricted free agent in 2017, it was clear that the Rangers would be atop his preferred destinations list. He would sign a four-year, $26.6 million deal to head home, but nothing went right during his two-season stop in the Big Apple.

During training camp in 2017 Shattenkirk suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee, an injury that would bother him during his entire tenure in New York. He played only 46 games in 2017-18, with surgery ending his season that January. Last season he managed to get into 73 games, but it was clear he wasn’t himself. He scored only two goals and recorded 28 points and was healthy scratched while trying to fight through the knee issue.

When the Rangers made the buyout official on August 1, he felt plenty of emotions.

“On a personal level, for not being able to make it work from my end, and when a team makes that decision you want to prove them wrong,” Shattenkirk told NBC Sports on Monday. 

Shattenkirk was at a low point and began to question himself. But then the phone started to ring. Considering he’d been bought out, a team looking to add to its blue line wouldn’t need to shell out major bucks to sign him, and would be banking on a bounce-back season from the now-healthy defenseman. It was a rollercoaster few days, but the interest level from other NHL teams helped restore his confidence.

“All of a sudden you start to realize that there are a lot of teams out there that could use you and may value you,” he said. “In my mind, it was something I was able to move through pretty quickly and it allowed me to focus on the season again. I was pretty driven this summer to have a big bounce-back season regardless of where I was. I think being able to know I was coming to Tampa and being on this calibre of a team, I wanted to make sure I was ready to go when the time training camp started.”

The knee injury is in the past now and the results show it. Shattenkirk, who’s been mostly paired with Victor Hedman, is third on the Lightning in minutes played, averaging 20:30 a night, and he’s tied for fourth on the team in points with seven, which includes four goals. The pressures of having to perform in your hometown or having to play like a No. 1 defenseman and produce on a regular basis is absent now in Tampa.

“There’s a lot of guys who are above me in that role and it just allows me to fit in to my role perfectly,” he said. “It’s been comforting, it’s been nice to be here. Great group of guys, great fans, and I think they all appreciate for what I bring to the table. It’s up to me to not try to be more than they need me to be.”

Shattenkirk spent this past summer training in Connecticut with Ben Prentiss, who has worked with NHLers James van Riemsdyk, Jonathan Quick, Cam Atkinson, Charlie McAvoy, and Jack Eichel, among many others. He also focused on edge work in his skating with skills coach Erik Nates, whom Shattenkirk has used in the past.

“When you have an injury like [my knee], you tend to overcompensate and you don’t realize you’re losing a lot in your stride,” he said. “I had a lot of bad habits in there I needed to break. It helped me out tremendously.”

A healthy Shattenkirk returns to New York City Tuesday night for the first time as a member of the Lightning. Because Tampa’s games this week are at the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders, family and friends in the area won’t descend upon one specific game, they’ll instead spread out among the three, and others will be watching from Mustang Harry’s, a sports bar not far from Madison Square Garden.

It remains to be seen what kind of salute the Rangers have in store for Shattenkirk. The defenseman said he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would receive from the Garden faithful, but knowing the area as well as he does, he’s ready for anything.

“I had a great time playing there. They were very supportive of me and obviously knowing what I was going through,” he said. “But it’s New York, and if you don’t perform in New York they have something to say about it. I’m sure there’ll be a couple of boo birds out [Tuesday] night, but that’s New York, and that’s something I’m accustomed to growing up there and being a New York fan. In a way, it’ll probably make me laugh a little bit on the inside, but that’s how you’ve got to approach it and we’ll see how it goes.”

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will call Lightning-Rangers from Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y. Paul Burmeister will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Patrick Sharp.

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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.