Mark Giordano

McDavid on NHL resuming play: ‘A fair season is a full season’

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Connor McDavid would prefer if the NHL played out the rest of the 2019-20 schedule once the coronavirus pandemic has passed and the league resumes play. Going straight into the playoffs after all this time off? Not ideal, the Oilers captain said on a Friday video conference with reporters.

“I think [the standings] look pretty good right now,” said McDavid of his second-place Oilers. “But you want a fair season. And a fair season is a full season. If we can do that, then that’s what we’d obviously prefer. I don’t think we can just step into playoffs, Game 1, Calgary comes to Edmonton, and guys are just running around killing each other and haven’t played a game in two months. It’ll end up the [AHL] Stockton Heat versus the Bakersfield Condors if that’s the case. We want to keep guys healthy and we want to make sure everyone’s up and ready to play some playoff hockey.”

Flames captain Mark Giordano would also prefer to see a full 82-game schedule played out, but a prolonged pause and an emphasis on not affecting the 2020-21 season would be a factor.

“I’ve thought a lot about this,” said Giordano, whose Flames are in third place in the Pacific Division, four points behind the Oilers. In a perfect world, you want to play a full regular season and whoever gets in, gets in. But I don’t think realistically we’re going to have that time.”

The Flames and Oilers have a bit of a cushion in their divisional playoff race, but what about a team like the Coyotes, who are four points out a wild card spot and five points behind Calgary in the division?

“I think it’s only fair to start where we left off here,” said Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson. “It would be good for the playoffs too, to get those games going again and get into a playoff spot and be ready for a really good playoffs. I think that would benefit all of us.”

One playoff format idea that’s been floated is using points percentage and including a few more than the usual 16 teams. Giordano isn’t a fan of the points percentage idea, but is keen on 12 teams in each conference making the postseason with Round 1 byes for top teams.

One thing Giordano and his fellow Pacific Division captains agreed on was that should a 2020 postseason be played, the time off would ensure a quality tournament.

“If we can ever get back to playing, it’s going to be one of the best playoffs ever,” said Giordano. “You’re going to be playing the best version of every team.”

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE:
Players doing what they can to stay in shape during NHL hiatus
Crosby, Ovechkin fine if NHL chooses to go right to playoffs

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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.

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.

Flames’ Giordano out at least a week with hamstring injury

NHL Injuries
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The Calgary Flames issued an update on the status of injured defenseman Mark Giordano on Thursday. While it is not necessarily great news, it is at least better than it was initially feared.

The reigning Norris Trophy winner will be sidelined for at least a week due to a hamstring injury that he suffered on Tuesday night in the Flames’ loss to the San Jose Sharks.

What is concerning for the Flames, though, is that they have a couple of huge games over the next week. That includes Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators and Saturday’s game against the first place Vancouver Canucks. The Flames enter play on Thursday in the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference but are just two points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks.

They only have a three-point cushion over Nashville, while the Predators still have two games in hand. That makes Thursday’s game absolutely massive in the playoff race.

Giordano’s offensive numbers have declined this season, but he remains the Flames’ most impactful defensive player.

Other notable injury news around the NHL

• The Montreal Canadiens announced on Thursday that Shea Weber has been placed on injured reserve due to a lower-body injury and will be sidelined for at least a week. When healthy Weber has still be an outstanding player for the Canadiens, but injuries have really sidetracked him for the past few years.

• Already playing without Morgan Rielly, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced on Thursday that defenseman Cody Ceci will be out “for a while” due to an ankle injury.

• In Philadelphia, the Flyers are getting one of their defenseman back in the lineup as Shayne Gostisbehere will make his return on Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils. Gostisbehere had been sidelined for the past month due to injury. With Gostisbehere returning, Robert Hagg will be out of the lineup.

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.

Giordano’s status big concern for Flames

Flames
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Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano underwent an MRI on Wednesday and his status for Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators (and potentially beyond) remains unknown due to a lower-body injury.

Giordano exited the Flames’ 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday midway through the second period and did not return.

Flames coach Geoff Ward did not have much of an update on Wednesday, only to say that Giordano’s status for the time being is all speculation and that it is now in the hands of the team’s doctors and medical personnel.

“He’s your captain. It’s a huge piece for us,” Ward said. “Not only are you losing a guy that’s your top-two defenseman, you’re losing potentially your leader if it turns out to be something serious for some period of time. Anytime you lose a guy of that stature out of your lineup it has the potential to have a big impact. For us, we have to shield ourselves against that and if he does miss some time that we’re ready to step up and fill the void left by him. I don’t think one guy can do that, but a lot of guys can.”

Losing Giordano for any length of time would be a pretty significant issue for a Flames that finds itself in a fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They occupy the second wild card spot in the Western Conference following Tuesday’s loss, while also sitting just two points back of second place in the Pacific Division. They are among that pack of teams in the Pacific that is separated by just a couple of points and seems to have an equal chance of getting home-ice advantage in Round 1 or missing the playoffs entirely.

While Giordano is not playing at the same level that resulted in his first Norris Trophy a year ago, he remains the Flames’ best overall defenseman and one of their top overall players.

Nobody plays more minutes than his 23:57 per game, he is by far the team’s top point-producing defenesemen, and also their most impactful defensive player.

He has only missed five total games since the start of the 2015-16 regular season.

The Flames’ next two games are absolutely massive in terms of the playoff race, hosting a Nashville Predators that is just three points behind them (with multiple games in hand) on Thursday, and then traveling to first-place Vancouver on Saturday. After that stretch they play five consecutive games against teams that are outside the playoff picture.

They have already lost five of their previous seven games, with their only two wins (January 16 at Toronto; January 29 at Edmonton) coming in shootouts. It has been nearly a month since they won a game in regulation.

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.

3-on-3 overtime in NHL has evolved over past 5 seasons

Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils scores the game-winning overtime goal
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ST. LOUIS — Victor Hedman fondly recalls the NHL’s first 3-on-3 overtime because it was madness.

”It was probably a minute and a half of just breakaways,” the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman said. ”Jason Garrison scored the goal – beat the D-man (and scored) five-hole.”

Trading breakaways and playing at a frenetic pace was what 3-on-3 was about when it debuted in 2015. The idea was to open up the ice for skilled players so fewer games needed to be decided by a shootout.

When All-Stars play their annual 3-on-3 tournament Saturday night, it’ll look like the overtimes of years past, with less regard for defense, of course. But in the regular season, 3-on-3 overtime has become a much more methodical game full of strategy predicated on holding on to the puck and only taking the highest of quality shots.

”You have tactics now,” Hedman said. ”In the beginning, you kind of didn’t know what to do. It’s all about maybe not coming down on an angle and taking a bad shot and it goes out and goes the other way. It’s all about puck possession. … I think as guys have played it more, they’ve learned more and now I think more and more games go to a shootout.”

At the All-Star break, 8.2% of games this season have been decided by a shootout, up slightly from 7.9% in the first four seasons with 3-on-3 overtime. The evolution of 3-on-3 with so many teams opting to circle back over and over has prompted talk about adding a shot clock, forcing teams to stay in the offensive zone and potentially adding time beyond the current five-minute period.

The initial theory was so much open ice made 3-on-3 coach-proof. Coaches and players have figured out different tactics, and the results are noticeable.

”The biggest change is probably the ability to get your players on and not allow them to change while maintaining puck possession,” Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”The goaltenders are used a lot more in terms of making line changes by throwing it back to the goalie. Regrouping – I think at first it was just get in the zone and try to find a give and go somewhere that works. Now, guys are going back, they’re going back, they’re going back, tire out the other team, try to score off the rush.”

There’s more science to 3-on-3 now, and, therefore, less fun. It’s still an entertaining product, only with more players thinking about fatiguing opponents than putting the puck on net as much as possible.

”The most important thing is line changes,” Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano said. ”I think we’ve all learned that you can’t change at the wrong time (because) it’ll cost you an odd-man rush. The puck possession, I think teams are figuring it out.”

A basketball-style shot clock could force more action. But the biggest conversation right now is about extending 3-on-3 OT to seven or perhaps even 10 minutes in an effort to further reduce shootouts.

As one of the players who would be taking on those extra minutes, Hedman is in favor of a longer overtime. But not all players want to see it doubled.

”Maybe a few more minutes tacked on would be cool,” Giordano said. ”We love playing it, but you’d have to look at how it would affect the guys who are playing and the more wear on their bodies with those minutes because 3-on-3 minutes are a lot different than 5-on-5 minutes. It’s a lot more taxing, for sure.”

Goaltenders would also get taxed with a heavier workload. They don’t see as many shots in 3-on-3 as the rest of the game, but almost every one is difficult to stop.

”Every single shot is dangerous,” Flames goalie David Rittich said. ”It’s usually hard. You kind of know you’re going to face some breakaways, 2-on-1s, 3-on-1s, so you’ve got to be ready for everything. … I’m not a big fan of 3-on-3 hockey, actually.”

Goalies are in the minority there. Arenas still feel a special buzz for 3-on-3 overtime, and skaters get to show off the skill that’s not ordinarily possible at 5-on-5.

”I think it’s cool for the fans, too,” Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. ”I just really like playing in that.”